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something in the water

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in the darkness and silence of a summer’s night, the water is eerily calm—too calm, almost, a foreboding feeling about it. in a storm, things get compromised: ships overturned, crew members washed out to sea. but there’s a strange sort of comfort in the chaos, in wrangling that chaos into submission until, safely out of harm’s way, the satisfaction and triumph of surviving is so sweet that it almost hurts.

but this—this is different. the moon shines overhead, casting a long trail of white light along the shapeless water, few ripples or waves to mark any turbulence further into the sea. it laps at the rocky shore, in and out and in and out, constant, fervent. the sky is clear, stars dotting the black canvas of space overhead, no wind or rain to mark this night as memorable.

jeongguk doesn’t like it.

he’s always been better at it: wrestling storms, outlasting hurricanes and typhoons. and, too: fighting his way out of a hard-won battle, sword in hand and a victorious smirk on his lips as he sails from one disaster to the next, toeing the line between bravery and insanity. given an enemy, a battle, he can find order and a voice with which to command his inferiors. it’s only in the midst of danger that jeongguk has been able to feel some sort of alive for years, seeking out the risky jobs, the thrill of peril. in danger, he can always have a plan, two, three.

but on a calm night, no storm or chaos in sight, jeongguk can’t help feeling a foreboding unease. he stands with one foot on a jagged black rock marking the shore and the other against the bow of a boat, watching the horizon suspiciously. the boat rocks against the shore with the weight of the tide, and further by the men inside shifting, moving, carefully storing the loot they’ll have to row back to their ship.

jeongguk’s eyes shift across the water to the ship, looming above the water in its glory—the mourning star. he’s grown increasingly fond of it over the past four years, having salvaged it and restored it himself after he was left for fucking dead by—

“captain!”

he turns his attention to his first mate shin as she breaks free from the rocks of the shore, hauling a large wooden crate. “this is the last of it,” she says when she reaches him, out of breath once she hands the crate to the two men waiting in the boat. “cabin boys are doing one last sweep of the area, but this should be it.”

jeongguk’s eyes narrow as he counts the crates they’ve amassed in the boat—and comes up short. “no,” he says. “there should be one more. i told you there were seven, and we only have six here.”

“there were seven when we found the stash,” says shin, “and i personally counted each crate as it was taken. i saw all of them, each one carried by someone back here.”

again, jeongguk counts the crates, and again, there are only six in the boat. it only takes him a moment of thought, and then—jeongguk draws his pistol, eyes slowly sweeping the shore as he cocks it. it’s too dark to make out much other than the edges of the rocks and the members of his crew making their way back to the boat. now, he realizes he’s been foolish—foolish not to do a better sweep of the area before he let anyone off that ship, foolish to put so much trust in this crew. they’re not his crew—jeongguk has been without one for four years, instead hiring crew members as he sees fit for whichever job he decides to go after. he and this crew have been on the sea for only a month, not nearly enough time to gain the trust he so desperately needs when it comes to looting.

“someone thinks it’s funny to cross me,” murmurs jeongguk as he steps down from his perch, footsteps wet against the rocks of the shore. he stops in front of shin, letting his gun tip forward until the barrel taps against her collarbone. “you wouldn’t do that to me, would you, shin?”

her stare is hard. “no, captain,” she says. “if a member of this crew is trying to steal from you, it’s being done without my knowledge.”

jeongguk considers it, and then moves on, looking back over his shoulder at the two men still in the boat. “don’t fucking move,” he tells them. “if i come back to find the rest of this treasure is gone, i’ll blow you so high into the sky, you’ll come down as rain in europe.”

see, the thing about jeon jeongguk is that he’s done this long enough to know. he’s been a pirate long enough to know that trust is hard to gain and so, so easy to lose—to know that even the most loyal of crew members or closest of companions can easily stab their captain in the back. the pirate code was written for a reason, but god knows no one ever fucking follows it—not when it counts most. not when they deal with treasure and gold and jewels, not when anyone even thinking of becoming a pirate is immoral enough to take their chances in stealing from a captain, killing a crewmate, mutiny.

jeongguk doesn’t pretend about any of this, about this life. he’s pillaged and he’s thieved and he’s killed. oh, he’s killed. although he tries to abide by some code, tries to treat his crew fairly in hopes of gaining some mutual respect, he’s all too aware that if he wouldn’t think twice about betraying one of his crew members should he need to, why should he expect anything different from them? years ago, things were different. years ago, he had a crew, had friends, knew what it meant to be part of a some fucked up family.

he was just a boy then. and now—

now someone’s trying to steal his fucking treasure.

he marches over the rocks, pistol held in one hand and his sword waiting at his side. he knew—he knew something was going to go wrong with this job. it was the calm waters, the clear skies. if he had to fight his way to this treasure, he could have done it, could have trusted the crew to not want to die; they’d have been too preoccupied with keeping themselves safe to even fathom running off with the treasure—his treasure. jeongguk has promised each of them a fair, albeit small, portion of the loot, but in truth, it’s not even about what he’ll make. he cares little for money or precious jewels or fancy artifacts at this point.

these days, every step jeongguk makes is predicated on anger. on revenge. he could just give one of the crates to the group of imbeciles trying to steal from him for all he cares, but it’s the very act of stealing that has his hand tightening on the gun, finally rounding the last of the rocks and heading into the trees toward where the treasure was buried.

there—torches, an orange glow in the darkness. jeongguk tries to calm the racing of his heart as he makes his way through the trees, formulating a suitable punishment for the traitors. he could kill them, make an example… but he’s not planning on keeping this crew beyond sailing back to the mainland after this. he could keep them out of the share of the treasure, leaving them high and dry after a month of searching and work and without a means of surviving until they find another crew.

he’s just decided on a more humiliating option when he gets close enough to the clearing to realize—his crew isn’t alone. “what the f—” he begins, but is interrupted by something hard cracking against the back of his head. jeongguk lets out a grunt of pain as he’s knocked forward, but his survival instincts kick in. in an instant, jeongguk has fallen to the ground and rolled onto his back, aiming his gun upward and shooting blindly. the resulting bang is enough to finally incite all of that chaos he works so well in.

jeongguk doesn’t stay to tell whether the bullet hits, instead rolling again and getting to his feet, running for the clearing as shouts begin to ring from his crew members—both in front and behind him, more gunshots firing, and jeongguk growls when he sees dark shadows moving toward him in the darkness.

he loads and shoots at the first, a satisfying thump against the ground his reward. the second he pulls his sword on, waiting until the mass is close enough to slice where he imagines the chest is. and then jeongguk is bursting into the clearing, only having a moment to take in the sight before him: the mound of earth they’d dug up to find the buried treasure, shovels and other tools scattered around the site, and the rest of his crew engaged in a battle with uniformed men, their colours so distinct and familiar that jeongguk almost throws up on the spot: it’s the military of the king.

the fucking government has finally come knocking at his door.

“captain!” he hears amid the gunshots and clash of sword on sword, and jeongguk runs into the clearing sword first. he should have known this day would come, but he’s always been careful about avoiding ports known to be monitored by the military, not dealing with pirates who might compromise his safety, and laying low as best as he can. someone must have ratted him out—and if that person manages to make it out of this alive, jeongguk will make sure to give them the harshest punishment possible.

jeongguk throws his sword up in time to block the swing of a man in a red military uniform, cocking his gun and shooting him in the stomach before he twirls out of the way and engages the next uniform. quick glances give him enough information about the battle—his crew, unfortunately less experienced in this area than he would have liked, are losing badly, although the military seems to have been ordered not to kill anyone. rather, one by one, his crew is being detained, weapons dropped to the ground below and necks bared to the blades and guns of their enemies.

but no matter—jeongguk works best under these conditions. he cuts his way through another pair of soldiers, ducking out of the way of bullets and fists thrown toward him, trying to shout orders to his crewmates. and then, in a miscalculation almost too embarrassing to admit, jeongguk steps too close to the hole his crew has made. thrown off balance, his opponent takes the opportunity to kick him in the chest and send him flailing into the shallow hole below.

jeongguk lands with a dull thump, gun knocked from his hand as he stares up at the night sky—and the half dozen naval soldiers who appear around the edges of the hole, pointing their own guns at him. breathing hard, jeongguk prepares to haul himself up and fight longer, but the complete lack of aid from his crew and the appearance of a lieutenant at the edge of the hole don’t afford him a chance of making it out of this.

“give it up, jeon,” says the lieutenant even as jeongguk begins to sit up; there’s a round of clicks as the naval soldiers cock their guns at him, and even with his determination not to get caught, jeongguk knows he doesn’t have the upper-hand. “unless you’d like to die with six bullets in your head in the bottom of a hole on an island in the middle of the ocean, i suggest you put down that sword.”

jeongguk considers putting down the sword by throwing it at the lieutenant and hoping it strikes him, but no doubt noncompliance will get him killed—along with the rest of the crew. generally, dealing with the military grants a pirate jailtime upwards of several years, though, and at this point, being dead might be the better option.

still—still. jeongguk lets his sword clatter to the dirt below, putting up his hands to show his submission.

“good,” says the lieutenant. “jeon jeongguk, otherwise known as the pirate captain starling, i hereby place you under arrest for piracy.” jeongguk grits his teeth. “get him out of that hole, would you?”

the cell they place him in is small and dirty, even for a military ship. they had the good sense not put him in a cell with the rest of his crew, considering jeongguk might have strangled each and every one of them for managing to get them into this situation in the first place—and they’re not really his crew anyway, none of them a pirate he would willingly put his life on the line for. jeongguk stopped letting himself grow so attached to other pirates years ago.

hello?” he shouts, banging on the metal bars caging him in. it’s dark in the underbelly of the ship, even with the lanterns offering enough light to see where he’s being kept. “you can’t fucking prove anything, lieutenant! i’ll throw those fuckers under the ship and claim they were taking the loot without my knowing!” there’s no response, even from the two soldiers left guarding his cell as though jeongguk will somehow muster up enough strength to break out on his own. had he been given anything other than the clothes on his back, he just might, but there’s nothing in the cell other than dirt on the floor.

more than not wanting to be thrown in a real prison for his crimes, jeongguk simply wants answers on what’s happening—to his ship, for the most part. as far as he can tell, they haven’t set sail from where the military ship had been hiding out of sight of the mourning star, but he imagines they’ve managed to detain the few pirates left on his ship to watch for trouble. fat load of good that had done.

“get me out of this fucking cell!” jeongguk yells, taking a step back to kick at the bars. “i demand to talk to someone!” he’s slaved over that goddamn ship and refuses to see her left on the shores of this godforsaken island or, worse, destroyed merely for belonging to a pirate. he wants to know where they’re planning on taking him, if they’ve made him go through a goddamn trial even though he’s well aware he’ll be found guilty for any number of things: piracy, theft, fraud, murder. as much as he’s tried to lay low for years, jeongguk is well aware he’s made a name for himself. he’s well aware he has enemies, not just in the government.

“i said—” he growls, kicking at the cell again; this time, jeongguk loses his balance on the ground, slipping backwards and landing on the back. pain shoots through his spine, groaning even as he hears a low chuckle from outside of the cell. “shut the fuck up,” he snaps at the soldier. “i could kill you with two fingers.”

“i’d like to see you try,” says the soldier. and jeongguk could—but he’s tired and angry, so he just sits up, scooting until he reaches the side of the ship and leans against it, glowering into the darkness. how stupid to be caught this way, stealing some treasure from an island like any old pirate. it hadn’t even been a good fight, what with his crew pissing themselves so easily. going to prison for this doesn’t even seem worth it. and yet, here he is. and yet—

no one comes for an hour, for two. no matter how many times he yells, no one comes. no matter how many threats he makes, no one comes.

and then, when jeongguk is beginning to think they’ve all abandoned ship and left him to rot here as some cruel and unusual punishment, he hears footsteps on the stairs. he rises from his spot on the floor, stalking forward and holding onto the bars of his cell, trying to see through the muddled darkness who they’ve chosen to speak to him—maybe a simple seaman, deeming jeongguk unworthy to hear from anyone but the lowest ranked man. or maybe the highest ranked officer onboard, afraid he won’t listen to anyone else, afraid he’ll bite.

“finally,” he snaps as the footsteps echo closer, a shape moving in the darkness. by some movement he can’t see, the two soldiers stationed outside of his cell step away. “i demand to know what you’re doing with my sh—”

he stops as the newcomer steps into the light. the words get caught in jeongguk’s throat as a strange chill settles over him—shock, maybe. disbelief. sickness, something swelling up in the pit of jeongguk’s stomach as he stares at the man that comes to a stop in front of him, hands clasped behind his back. he’s—different from how jeongguk remembers. cleaner, hair shorter and neatly tucked away from his face. taller, somehow—maybe it’s the naval boots he wears, the uniform trimmed and proper against his slender body. maybe it’s the way he holds himself with that badge against his chest, the mark of a commander, maybe, or a captain, whatever he is.

and yet—it’s like seeing a ghost, like a memory that has haunted jeongguk for four years. he knows that face all too well: the sharp eyes, dark and barely crinkled at the corners. that rounded nose, those careful lips. he’s older, but so is jeongguk. he’s a stranger in so many ways. but jeongguk would know him anywhere.

“min yoongi,” says jeongguk, voice barely a whisper. disbelief colours the words, along with confusion, with a thread of coolness. he stares at yoongi for as long as he can muster, trying to fit the pieces together.

yoongi has the audacity to grin at him. “jeon jeongguk,” he says, his voice so familiar and damning. jeongguk hates the way it sends a shiver down his spine, just to hear it. “we meet—”

“what the fuck are you doing?” snaps jeongguk before they can pretend with pleasantries. his hands tighten on the bars of his cell, knuckles white with the pressure, and that disbelief is immediately replaced with pure, unadulterated anger. “who the fuck do you think you are, hauling me in here, leaving me in this fucking cell for hours?

“we arrested you,” says yoongi evenly. “you are in no position to make demands about your well-being, jeon.”

captain,” jeongguk growls. “it’s captain jeon.”

“congratulations,” says yoongi dryly. “now, if you’ll allow me t—”

“you disgust me,” says jeongguk. despite his calm demeanor, he sees something flare in yoongi’s eyes, something so much more familiar than the uniform, the complete lack of recognition he’s been affording jeongguk—“you absolute piece of shit, min yoongi. you traitor. you stand there in your uniform and your fancy shoes—”

“it’s commander, actually,” says yoongi. “commander min yoongi. if we’re being technical.”

“fine, commander. let me go.”

yoongi just looks at him. looks at him, shoulders so straight, eyes so cold. he looks at jeongguk and jeongguk feels as though they’re perfect strangers. was it under yoongi’s orders that he was found, captured, arrested? has yoongi been hunting him down? has he made all of this a game just to spite jeongguk, forgetting all they did together? were together?

yoongi just looks at him, and then says, “no.”

jeongguk spits in his face.

and maybe—maybe the worst part of it is that yoongi doesn’t even react. he merely brings a hand to his face, wipes away the spit that landed on his cheek, and says, voice even, “you’ve been arrested under the new piracy act.”

“i said, let me go,” says jeongguk.

“the king has recently passed a law allowing the military to take swift and harsh action against those terrorizing our waters and citizens—”

“do you think this is a joke, min? after everything we’ve been through.”

“—in which any person caught violating the laws surrounding piracy, including theft or murder with the intention of piracy, or caught on board a pirate ship, fraternizing with a pirate, or engaging in illegal activity with a pirate—”

“you leave me on that goddamn island and then turn around and betray everything we worked for, everything we lived for—”

“—is subject to death by execution.”

jeongguk closes his mouth, startled out of every insult he thinks to throw at yoongi by this last piece of information. and yoongi, of course, looks unscathed by his words, his accusations. “what?”

“execution,” repeats yoongi. “the new piracy act allows the military to execute pirates. without trial, without a single word from the likes of you.” he cocks his head. “what was that you were saying about letting you go, captain?”

jeongguk swallows, throat and mouth dry, fingers itching. executed—he always knew it was a possibility. but the military never had the manpower to find and execute every goddamn pirate on korean seas, couldn’t hope to be given permission. only the most notorious and bloodthirsty of pirates were given such a sentence. being caught for looting an uninhibited island, stealing treasure the military couldn’t even prove didn’t belong to jeongguk should only land him months, maybe a year, in prison.

and now he’s going to be executed.

“well,” says jeongguk slowly. “in that case, shouldn’t you be the first with the noose around your neck, commander?

for the first time—he sees yoongi waver. it’s nothing more than a pinch of his lips, his jaw clenching in a tell that jeongguk knows too well: he’s angry. trying to hold back a comment, trying not to lash out with an insult that will roll so sweetly off of that tongue of his. even with the military garb, even with the new hair and the new title—jeongguk knows him. somehow, that only makes him angrier.

just as quickly as the look comes, it goes. “we’ll be sailing back to the mainland shortly,” says yoongi, and jeongguk realizes—no matter how angry he is, it’s not solving any of his problems. no matter how upset he is with the situation, with his crew, with yoongi, it won’t free him. he has to change tactics. “your ship, since you seem so concerned about it, will likely be destroyed or repurposed, whichever the admiral sees fit.”

“commander min,” says jeongguk, forcing softness into his voice.

“as for your crew… they’ll likely be executed as well,” yoongi continues, already stepping back from the cell, and he’s leaving, he’s leaving—“unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done considering you were all caught in the act of thievery and as you are a somewhat notorious pirate, their association with you immediately paints them as guilty.”

“yoongi.

he turns back toward the shadows, taking a step into them. “i hope our journey will give you ample time to reflect on the mistakes of your life, captain jeon,” says yoongi. “unless you’ve managed to grow wings to complement that pirate name of yo—”

hyung.

yoongi stops. there, a flicker of hope within him—a flame of something more, spurred on by such an immediate reaction. yoongi’s back is to him, still rigid and professional, but jeongguk can see his hands clasped behind his back. can see the way his fingers clutch each other, nails digging into the meat of his hand hard enough to break the skin.

jeongguk takes his chance. “yoongi-hyung, please,” he whispers. “please don’t do this to me. i don’t—i don’t want to die, not like this. if you… care—

“i don’t,” says yoongi, so casually that jeongguk recoils. maybe it would hurt less if yoongi was angry, harsh. if what jeongguk was saying, alluding to affected him enough to warrant such a reaction. but his voice is as calm as the first moment he spoke to jeongguk, and when he turns again, there’s no hint of emotion on his face. somehow, it hurts more than a bullet to the chest, seeing yoongi look at him and knowing… he’s telling the truth. he doesn’t care, even now—even after everything, even after all they’ve sacrificed and lost and bled for together.

it’s been four years since jeongguk last saw min yoongi. he supposes a lot can change in that length of time.

yoongi returns to the bars of the cell, eyes raking over jeongguk’s form. they must look a pair—jeongguk with his long black hair, in desperate need of a cut now that he’s had to begin tying it back just to see; loose-fitting and dark clothing stained with dirt and sweat and blood, maybe, torn in places; face hardened from years of piracy and criminal acts and building walls around the most vulnerable parts of himself, the anger and pain and regret.

and yoongi, his short hair styled close to his head, clothes pristine and pressed, not a scuff of dirt or dust on him, a military officer, a commander.

yoongi, whom jeongguk once would have carved his heart out for, if only to see that smile, if only to hear those soft, sweet words, if only to know it would last forever

yoongi, pretending they don’t even know each other.

“i don’t care,” yoongi repeats, voice low. “you have broken the law, jeon jeongguk, and it is my duty to ensure that you pay for it. you chose this life. and now you must bear the consequences.” oh, jeongguk thinks. how the mighty fall. then—a moment of clarity in yoongi’s expression. a thought seems to pass over his face, brows furrowing as he watches jeongguk. “unless…”

“unless,” repeats jeongguk.

yoongi hums, the barest hint of a grin ghosting his lips. “i’ll give you an ultimatum, starling.” he steps back, running a hand over his jaw as he studies jeongguk. “see, you may be of some use to me yet. this new law… we can’t simply wait for you pirates to slip up and get caught. not everyone is as embarrassingly inexperienced as you.” jeongguk bristles, but yoongi barrels on—“too many of you have been terrorizing our seas and our people for too long. but i believe that the average pirate could do little damage without the sort of leadership exhibited by the most notorious pirates.”

jeongguk begins to feel a little queasy. “what are you proposing?”

“i have a list,” says yoongi, fully grinning now, like he enjoys this, “of five of the most notorious pirates on our seas. the ones without whom i believe the act of piracy would quickly dwindle, until it’s no longer such a prevailing threat to our citizens. i want you, captain jeon, to find them for me.”

“are you fucking kidding me?”

“if you aid the military in locating, capturing, and arresting these five pirates,” continues yoongi, “i’ll grant you immunity.”

jeongguk’s eyes narrow. “what kind of immunity?”

“i’ll let you walk free. you won’t be tried under any piracy law and you won’t be executed under the piracy act. at least—not for this.” yoongi tilts his head. “we find those five pirates and i’ll let you sail away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist for your behaviour. if you’re caught again after that, you’ll be executed, but it’ll be as though this arrest never happened. you, little starling, get to live.

suddenly, jeongguk is all too aware of the gentle rocking of the water below them. of the sounds of the sailors overhead, talking and laughing. of everything in this moment, perhaps the most important moment of his life—the way yoongi is looking at him, real and here for the first time in four years. for what feels like hours, jeongguk’s world narrows down to this: he is alive. he is entirely at the mercy of min yoongi, who could steer this ship to land and hang a noose around his neck and end his life of piracy and thievery and murder, but of everything else too—of laughter and love. of the good things.

the idea of doing anything with min yoongi has him stirring uncomfortably, so many memories and emotions surfacing from where he’s kept them locked away for years. it’s a suicide mission, sailing off with the military to find and capture five of the most notorious pirates on korean seas, most of whom he can guess the identities of: some his enemies, some… his friends, or people he used to consider friends. jeongguk is sure he’ll die trying.

but if he doesn’t try—he’ll die anyway. and wouldn’t he rather die on a ship, out on the open sea, battling pirates?

yoongi is giving him an out, giving him a choice. he doesn’t want to make it, wants to be on his fucking ship, heading into the night with his treasure and the entire world ahead of him. but given the circumstance, he has few options.

“i want to think about it,” says jeongguk, finally letting go of the bars. his fingers ache from holding on so tightly, but there’s no use putting up a fight—not anymore. he steps away from the bars, away from the light.

“you only have so many options, jeon,” says yoongi. “choose wisely. i’ll give you until morning.” for a moment, when he looks at jeongguk, there’s something more—something familiar, something jeongguk recognizes from four years ago. some sort of yearning, maybe, or regret. or want. but it’s all a trick of the light, he knows—after all of this, after their conversation and the truth it has revealed to jeongguk, he knows better than to fool himself into false beliefs. he knows better than to hope.

and anyway—yoongi says nothing more, turns away, leaves jeongguk alone and cold in his cell. and when jeongguk slumps onto the floor again, he feels as though yoongi takes so much of jeongguk with him as he goes—like he did once. like he always will.

in his dream, they’re together again. in his dream, everything is so familiar that it makes him ache—the sunsweet tone of their skin, browned and burnt from years under the open sky, on the open sea; the snapdragon laughter in his ears, breathless from too many bottles of rum and games of liar’s dice; the smell of the salt and the sea and something more, something like sweat and sex.

in his dream, everything is good again, as it once was, as he will always wish it to be.

he’s standing on a ship, a familiar ship, a ship that was his home for so many years. saw him through growth and heartache and this, too—love. the hangman’s daughter, he thinks idly. in his dream, he hasn’t gone yet, still knows the grain of the wood like the wrinkles in his palm. the sun is sharp as it touches him, the horizon an endless blue, the water disappearing where it touches the sky. his eyes trace the water, the bristles of the rope in his hand so familiar, so real. somehow, everything always feels different on the hangman’s daughter.

when he turns his eyes toward the deck of the ship, jeongguk sees he’s not alone. there—yoongi stands near the wheel. he’s wearing their captain’s hat, likely stolen in a dice game, and he’ll have to give it back. but it looks good on him—looks good against the long black hair, the freckles dotting his cheeks. the beaded bracelet jeongguk once gave him, something from his childhood, something linking this and that.

he’s grinning at the horizon. yoongi always had a way of looking at the sea like it was his—not in a way to conquer and own, but in a way to love.

in his dream, yoongi still looks at jeongguk like that, too.

“what are you doing down there?” yoongi asks, and then jeongguk is at his side, watching the sea with him. familiar hands, familiar fingers tangle with his, and if only he could close his eyes for this part—could revel in the rough skin of yoongi’s hand against his, the warmth of their arms pressed together, the way yoongi hums when he leans over and presses a kiss to jeongguk’s cheek.

“one day,” whispers yoongi, and unbidden, jeongguk imagines it all—what they could have, what they could be. together. in his dream, some part of jeongguk still believes they’ll be together. “one day, i am going to hurt you, jeon jeongguk. i am going to hurt you so horribly you’ll want to die from it.”

jeongguk jerks away, startled, but yoongi’s grip on him is tight tight tight, and the sky swirls into a molten red and the sea kicks up its waves and jeongguk feels himself beginning to hyperventilate as a plank stretches out from the edge of the ship, looming longer and longer as yoongi pushes him forward, laughing, whispering die die die

jeongguk wakes with a start, breathing hard as he snaps upright and blinks through the darkness in an attempt to place himself. the panic from the dream remains even as the images and memory immediately begin to fade, and he’s left staring at the bars of a cell and an unfamiliar woman staring at him from beyond it.

eventually, once he gets his breathing under control, jeongguk croaks out a, “what?

“are you okay?” she asks, not unkindly. “you were making weird noises and thrashing. i was beginning to worry.”

all at once, reality snaps into place and jeongguk remember—he’s a prisoner. he’s in a cell on a military ship and this woman is one of the seamen tasked with watching him, even through the night. despite her concern, jeongguk stiffens, pulling his coat tighter around his frame as he scoots against the side of the ship and averts her gaze. “m’fine.”

but even as she turns away from him, going back to manning her post, jeongguk feels an uneasiness settle over him. the details of the dream are alluding him now, a smoke signal disappearing into the night. and still, it’s impossible to forget certain things, not when this dream has always been a recurring one: the hangman’s daughter, a life he’s lost and still longs for.

yoongi.

it’s always yoongi, in all of his dreams—the good ones and the bad, with that grin and those eyes and the way he once looked at jeongguk with them. jeongguk tries to map any of those familiar feelings onto the eyes of this new min yoongi, commander. fucking sellout. but even in the night, all he sees is a stranger.

jeongguk sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face. sometimes on nights like these, when he wakes from such a dream, he allows himself just a taste of memory. for years, he’s drowned them out, tucked away what he knows he’ll never get back, but he’s tired. seeing yoongi again, speaking to him after four years, has dealt a shattering blow to his defenses, has left him weak and angry. but around that wound, the memories seep out. around that wound, he remembers that there was once a time he didn’t hate min yoongi. there was once a time he felt quite the opposite.

for—years. jeongguk sees the seas they have sailed together, the battles they have fought and won. the nights spent together, burning hot through his veins knowing that while he’s intimately aware of what yoongi looks like in anything other than that goddamn military uniform, he’s even more intimately aware of what yoongi looks like without anything at all. knows the feel of him, the weight, the taste.

he closes his eyes, letting his head fall back against the wood behind him. once, they were crewmates. once, they were friends. once, they were lovers.

once—they were strangers. and so it appears they are strangers once more, the past four years having driven them further apart than jeongguk thought possible. the last time he saw yoongi is still etched so carefully in his mind, the last memory he tried to hide away: yoongi’s cool, grieving eyes. his back as he turned away. the ship sailing off, leaving him, yoongi leaving him

for years, he thought of when this day would come. in the beginning, jeongguk wanted more than anything to find yoongi and make him hurt. to make him want to die from it. but anger eventually mellowed into resentment, resentment into a cool acceptance. now, jeongguk knows he could have gone the rest of his life without laying eyes on min yoongi again, if only to keep these feelings from being stirred up again, if only so not to realize that beneath the anger and the bitterness, there is still something that feels a lot like want.

there are too many questions he needs answered. beyond the glaring question of why and how could you abandon me like that and don’t you hate it sometimes, how lonely you get, how much you miss me, a new and startling one has appeared: what the fuck happened in the past four years to turn yoongi into a military man, a commander? once, yoongi was the most feared gunner on the open sea. but he turned on piracy like he turned on jeongguk, maybe, like a theme in his life: tossing away something once it no longer serves him a purpose, once he gets bored of it.

the idea of working with yoongi again, in any capacity—aboard a ship, so like but so unlike their years as part of the same pirate crew—makes jeongguk sick. but in the end, he knows he has little choice. either he dies at the hands of min yoongi like a goddamn coward, or he learns to do what he couldn’t four years ago, and the five years before that: put his feelings for min yoongi aside and be the pirate he knows he is.

starling, they called him, for the bird—at the time he’d been small, barely a teenager when he’d found himself a cabin boy onboard a pirate ship after running from his family. but he was vicious in the way he accomplished the tasks given to him, unsuspecting as a pirate the crew began to rely on in battles and quick thinking. and jeongguk is far from being that boy. he’s lived nearly twenty-eight years, has grown into something hardened and scarred, has no wings to fly with in this cell. but jeongguk is still a pirate. he’s still a captain.

and he refuses to die like this.

when yoongi comes for him in the morning, jeongguk is still sitting with his back against the side of the ship, waiting. with the sound of those boots against the deck, he stirs, watching as yoongi appears from the shadows—so unlike the yoongi from his dream, so unlike the yoongi he once knew. perhaps that will make this easier.

“i’ll do it,” says jeongguk before yoongi has a chance to ask, already setting the stage; he’ll dictate how this entire operation will go—he makes the calls. he’s the captain, after all. “i’ll help you find your pirates, commander. but i have conditions.”

yoongi cocks a brow. “i’m not sure you’re in a position to make demands, captain.”

“we go on my ship,” says jeongguk, holding up one finger. “with a crew of my choosing, none of whom will be arrested and executed for their assistance in this operation. your men may follow in your military ship to keep the prisoners and offer assistance should we need it, but we’re sailing right into pirate territory. anyone sees this pretty boat of yours and they’ll blow us to pieces, not to mention warn every pirate within a thousand-mile radius that the military is after them.”

he waits for yoongi to respond, but is met with stony silence. jeongguk holds up a second finger. “that puts me in charge,” he says. “you can be in charge of your men, but i’m the one you need here. you need me to tell you where these pirates are, how to capture them, how to keep us from dying in the meantime. which means i have ultimate authority when it comes down to it. i don’t mind working with you, but if i say we fight, we fight. and if i say we run, we run.

“you can’t possibly think—”

“we go to busan first,” continues jeongguk, holding up a third finger.

yoongi narrows his eyes. “why?”

“busan has my favourite rum. and i’m gonna need a hell of a lot of alcohol to get through this, commander.”

he knows it’s dangerous—trying to give conditions to the man holding jeongguk’s fate in his hands. should he push too far, yoongi can easily call this whole thing off and have jeongguk hung before he can think to argue. but yoongi doesn’t argue with him, not at first. he just steps up against the bars, peering at jeongguk through them, and for the first time in a very long time, jeongguk feels a familiar spark in his chest—a reminder of the pirate he once was: bold, brash, reckless. he should have known it would take min yoongi to find that again, buried beneath four years’ worth of pain.

“and why should i negotiate with you, jeongguk?” asks yoongi. “why should i negotiate with a dangerous pirate, who could easily be using all of this as a way to turn against me, to kill me and my men and sail away rather than complying?”

funny, jeongguk thinks. that idea had never occurred to him. “because, commander min,” he says. “you need me as much as i need you. if you could find those pirates without me, you wouldn’t be here. and if i could get out of this cell, murder your fleet, and be on my way with no trouble, i wouldn’t be here. you may have the power to execute me, but i could lead you on a fruitless chase ‘round and ‘round this sea until we both die from heatstroke.” jeongguk sighs, picking himself up from the ground and wiping off his hands. “but see, you want your pirates. and i want to stay alive. and the only way we’re both going to get what we want is if we’re on the same side.”

he makes his way across the cell, stopping only when he’s against the bars, mere inches separating he and yoongi. that spark returns, the one reminding him why he wanted to become a pirate in the first place—it’s the thrill of the open sea, the freedom. the power. an able crew under his command, a heading that will surely bring danger and peril—but oh, that’s half the fun of it.

jeongguk sticks his right hand out between the bars, raising an eyebrow. “do we have a deal, commander?”

yoongi looks at him. looks down at his hand. and jeongguk swears his lips curl upward at one corner, just a little—just enough.

then yoongi takes his hand, shaking it once. “we’ll make for busan today, begin planning tomorrow,” he says. and then he yanks jeongguk’s arm through the bars, hard enough that jeongguk’s body is forced against the metal painfully. he grunts, but yoongi’s face is so close that he can smell the other man’s breath. “and if you so much as raise your hand against me, jeon jeongguk,” he whispers. “i will throw you overboard and leave you to die.”

when yoongi lets go of him, stepping away from the bars and nodding to the woman still stationed beside his cell, jeongguk can’t help but chuckle. it’s as yoongi is disappearing back into the shadows that he calls out, “wouldn’t be the first time, spitfire.”

he sees yoongi hesitate, the barest flinch in his step. but when he looks over his shoulder, he’s only grinning. “good day, jeongguk,” says yoongi, inclining his head in a slight bow. “get some rest, won’t you? we have a very long journey ahead of us.”

Chapter Text

on that morning, the last morning, yoongi wakes up in the captain’s bed.

weeks ago, it would have been—strange. when he was just a boy, his mother was his captain, letting him run about on her ship despite the nuisance he was for the rest of her crew. then, over the years, yoongi found himself bouncing from crew to crew, never satisfied with what he found there. there was always something missing, until he found himself aboard the hangman’s daughter under the rule of a pirate who went by the name lionheart. there, at the age of twenty-three, yoongi finally felt at home on the sea, surrounded by pirates who were terrifying, sure, and ruthless, yes, but… became so much more.

became a family.

five years he sailed under lionheart. five years the hangman’s daughter traversed every inch of korean waters and beyond, pillaging and thieving and staking a claim for themselves in a world overrun by pirates.

five years he sailed with jeon jeongguk at his side, their starling. jeongguk had been with lionheart since he was fourteen years old, a common boy without the first thread of knowledge about piracy or the sea. but by the time yoongi joined the crew, jeongguk was nineteen. and he’d just been promoted to first mate.

now—when yoongi opens his eyes, it’s to the unfamiliar light of morning, so different from where he’s slept for his entire life below decks with the rest of the crew. it’s to a bed beneath him, sheets made of satin stolen from a market years ago. to a warm, familiar weight pressed against his side, even breathing. yoongi would know that breathing anywhere.

when he turns his head, jeongguk is still asleep, cheek pressed into yoongi’s shoulder. is it strange that yoongi has always liked this—watching jeongguk sleep, memorizing each crease of his face, mapping out the pattern of his moles? tracing his fingers over the scars jeongguk has accumulated from ten years of piracy? he was never meant for this, probably. jeongguk was supposed to go to school, to become a doctor or a professor or something his parents would have been proud of him for.

and here he is. just weeks ago, those dark circles under his eyes seemed less tragic. even in sleep, jeongguk looks tired, so, so worn. but heavy the head that wears the crown—just weeks ago, the hangman’s daughter sailed into a black hole of a battle, cannons ready, swords drawn.

lionheart didn’t sail back out of it.

so—yoongi shifts until he can press a kiss to jeongguk’s forehead. he knows not what it means to be captain, having been nothing more than a gunner for the past fifteen years of his life. he remembers his mother as a pillar against the raging of the sea, but he was just a boy then. now, he’s irreversibly tangled up with jeongguk, this boy who is now a man, who has invited yoongi into the most intimate parts of his life—and has pulled yoongi into the storm of this new life, too. as first mate, see, jeongguk was promoted to captain the moment a bullet found its way through lionheart’s head.

yoongi aches for him—for the kind of pressure he’s under, for the need to make the crew happy despite not being lionheart. he aches for the way things were weeks ago, when the two of them could easily find time for themselves, sneaking off to the most shadowed parts of the ship to swallow the laughter right out of each other’s mouths. yoongi has ached for jeongguk for a very long time, perhaps since the first time he ever laid eyes on him. the longer they’ve known each other, the longer they’ve been together—the worse it seems to get.

yoongi has been a pirate for a very long time. he has loved the sea for a very long time, has loved the thrill and the chase of it, getting away with murder, holding a man’s treasure in his hands and then squabbling it on gambling for his own pleasure. he’s seen blood and death and destruction, has fought and nearly lost, has run from the military and enemy ships more times than he can count.

but nothing has made him feel as much as this—as jeon jeongguk, the boy-captain breathing into his skin, tangling their limbs beneath the sheets. it terrifies him. but maybe—it can be good, too. maybe this can be their life now: captain jeon jeongguk and the gunner min yoongi, the starling and the spitfire. conquering the seas together.

once, his mother told him not to fall in love with a pirate. but yoongi has always been good at not following instructions.

yoongi sneaks out of the captain’s quarters before jeongguk wakes, pulling on his clothes after he finds them scattered around the room. he listens for any sounds of movement on the deck before, relieved to see only the lookout and the helmsmen doing their duties so early in the morning. in truth, it shouldn’t matter; the crew has been aware of yoongi and jeongguk’s relationship since before either of them ever said anything, all too perceptive to sneaking glances and wandering hands. but neither yoongi nor jeongguk likes making a fuss about it—and now that jeongguk is the captain, yoongi has a feeling the crew’s approval could easily be rescinded.

when he gets below decks, though, the crew isn’t sleeping. in fact, they’re gathered around the barrels of rum, deep in conversation—whispered words, urgency, something that sounds… angry. he gets close enough to hear the word mutiny before someone notices him and signals the others to fall silent, two dozen pairs of eyes on him as he comes to a stop on the outer margins of the group.

“what’s going on?” he asks.

it takes a minute for someone to speak—kim, the quartermaster. “nothing to worry about, min,” he says.

“i heard you say something about a mutiny,” says yoongi. “if you’re discussing anything to do with this crew, which i am a part of, then i deserve to be informed.”

“calm down,” says kim, holding a hand out to yoongi like he’s a wild animal. “we’re just… discussing a few things that have been concerning the crew lately.”

“such as?”

choi cuts in, promoted to first mate from his previous position of boatswain when lionheart died, clearly not interested in playing nice—huffs, says, “jeon is a shit captain. we’re mutinying him.”

yoongi stares at them.

“he’s a good kid,” says kim. “always has been. but fuck, he’s twenty-four years old. still green around the ears. he has no idea what he’s doing, especially with lionheart gone. he’s made enough questionable calls over the past few weeks to worry all of us and we can’t continue on like this, not if he’s just going to run us all into the ground—”

“he’s not a bad captain,” yoongi argues, brows furrowed. “so he’s young and a little inexperienced, so surely lionheart was the same when he started. it’s been three weeks. can’t you give him a chance?”

“we have,” snaps someone near the back of the group. “when lionheart made him first mate, i could have fucking killed him myself.”

“some of us have been part of this crew for as long as jeon has been alive,” says kim. “and most of us feel as though… he’s not the best captain for this crew.”

“then help him learn!” says yoongi. “don’t just throw him overboard!

“look, min,” says choi. “we know you’re… fond of him—” yoongi scoffs. “but even you can’t deny that kid isn’t right for this. lionheart didn’t know what he was doing making that kid captain after he died and we’re taking this ship into our hands. there’s nothing you can do.”

yoongi feels himself begin to sweat, the underbelly of the ship suddenly too warm, suffocating, it feels like his insides are beginning to constrict—“okay,” he says, just to placate them, knowing what they can do to him if he tries to fight. “okay, so then… put someone else in the charge. let jeongguk go back to first mate or—or something else.”

a low rumbling of laughter rises from the group. “you think he’s just going to sit back and let that happen?” asks choi. “he’s young and inexperienced, but he’s a piece of work, that jeon jeongguk.”

“what does that mean?”

after a moment, another voice joins in—“before you came…” it’s their navigator, lee. the oldest member of the crew, her sight failing, surely more of a burden to the crew than anything. but she knows a thing or two about stubbornness. “before you came, min, you should have seen that boy. when he was sixteen, we ran into trouble with the military. jeongguk hadn’t even grown into his limbs yet, all wide eyes and knobby knees… he got captured by them, right on their ship. but we had to sail away, unless we wanted them to tear our ship apart, take the rest of our crew.” yoongi swallows tightly, feels his breath coming quicker. jeongguk had never told him this story. “we’d just pulled back our gang planks from their ship when there was a commotion over there. and i watched as that boy fought his way through a dozen of their men with nothing but a dagger and his fists, cutting them down before they even knew he had gotten free. he was practically covered in blood by the time he jumped from their ship to ours, had this crazed look on his face when he landed.”

lee chuckles, fondness colouring her words. how could she want to mutiny him, with the way she speaks of him? “lionheart asked him about it,” she says. “asked him how he did it. and jeongguk looked him in the eye and told him that this is his ship. his crew. his family. and if anyone tries to take him from it, there’s nothing he couldn’t do to take back what’s rightfully his.”

yoongi stares at her.

“he’s the captain,” sighs lee when yoongi doesn’t respond. “this is his ship and his crew in a much greater way than when he was sixteen. for as long as i can remember, being captain is all he’s wanted. and if we try to take that from him…” she shrugs. and yoongi wants to argue—wants to say that jeongguk’s love for this crew will overshadow his desire to be captain, that he’ll agree to step down and cooperate if only they play fair. but the truth is that yoongi knows he won’t. he’s seen jeongguk in the midst of battle, seen him fight with a crewmate over the smallest things. he’s seen what ugliness lives in jeongguk’s heart.

and he knows that they’re right.

“what are you gonna do, then?” he finally whispers.

“we’ve been sailing for an island for a few days,” says kim. “we’ll mutiny him there.”

“you’re going to leave him on a fucking island?

“you’d rather we drop him in the middle of the goddamn ocean, min?”

“you can’t do that,” yoongi yells. “he’s spent ten years on this ship, part of this crew, and you’re going to betray him by leaving him for dead on an island in the middle of nowhere?”

suddenly, choi is stalking forward, taller and bigger than yoongi—leaves yoongi taking a step back, but only one before he remembers he’s the goddamn gunner. he’s the fighter. and when it comes to jeongguk, he’s more than willing to fight, too. “that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” says choi, pushing his fist into yoongi’s chest. “and if you don’t like it, we can leave you with him.”

yoongi breathes hard, staring at choi with all the defiance he can muster. it’s cruel, an injustice that he simply can’t stand for; he can understand being upset with how jeongguk has been captaining the crew, but he can’t agree with leaving him on an island and not looking back. and he could go with jeongguk—maybe that’s what he should do. maybe that’s what jeongguk would want. but he thinks of dying out there, thinks of he and jeongguk turning on each other in the end, thinks of everything he’s sacrificed to get here. to stay here. 

he doesn’t want this. only minutes ago, he’d been fantasizing about his future with jeongguk—sailing the seas together, commanding a crew together. waking up in jeongguk’s satin sheets for the rest of his life.

but the truth is that he’s terrified. and he can’t stand up against the rest of this crew, not when they’re all pirates. not when he’s seen what they’re capable of.

before he has a chance to argue further, though, there’s a shout from above decks—land ho! a swift bolt of panic rushes through yoongi, who turns with the intention of running back up the stairs and warning jeongguk, telling him to fight, to do anything—but then there are hands on him, pulling him back, threatening to run him through with a blade as the entire crew rushes back up the stairs to see the island they’ve been heading for, to… to betray their captain. to hurt the boy most of them knew since he was just fourteen years old, just a kid running from his family in order to find a new one.

they’ve seen him grow up. yoongi has, too, to an extent—seen him grow from a nineteen-year-old boy to the man he is now, sure of himself, of what he can do as a captain. he’s loved jeongguk for five years. they’ve been crewmates and partners and more for five years, and now suddenly yoongi is being dragged up by the stairs by a tight hand on his shoulder, forced to watch as two other crew members drag jeongguk out of his bed, sending him blinking into the morning light.

yoongi doesn’t really hear it—the speech they give him about the mutiny. about their grievances, about how they hope he doesn’t die but what do they fucking care anyway? yoongi is too busy focusing on the way jeongguk is looking at him.

is looking at him as yoongi says nothing, as yoongi just lets it happen.

he watches as jeongguk fights it, struggling against the pirates holding onto his arms, shouts and threatens to kill all of them for their betrayal. and then, when it doesn’t work—yoongi watches as jeongguk begins to beg and plead, asking for his life, asking that they spare him. it might be the saddest thing yoongi has ever seen, every part of him wanting to rush toward jeongguk, to hold him, to somehow make it better. but he can’t. because they’re pirates, and this is the law of the sea.

once they set up the plank over the side of the ship, they push jeongguk onto it. finally, he keeps his mouth shut—because he knows that any further arguments or threats from him would result in a sword through his heart, and at least on this godforsaken island, he has a chance of survival. yoongi trembles, kept back only by the grip his captor has on him, as he watches jeongguk walk out to the end of the plank, look down at the calm blue water below him. at the last second, he looks over his shoulder, eyes meeting yoongi’s for the final time.

jeongguk doesn’t say anything. and neither does yoongi. and just this morning, they were ln love. just this morning, they shared a bed, shared whispered words of devotion and more. just this morning, they were going to live forever.

and then yoongi watches as jeongguk steps off of the plank, plummeting into the sea below as a roar of approval goes up from the crew. yoongi watches as they leave him for dead, an immediate numbness beginning to spread from the very center of his heart outward, like a disease, like a cancer. he watches the beginning of the end.

now—four years later, yoongi watches as jeongguk walks back into his life, into his cabin where yoongi sits at his desk, papers spread out over it. yoongi still hasn’t gotten used to this part of it, being the commander of his own vessel and crew—the fancy bed, the office just for him: a desk and chairs and safes and maps, tools and globes and seamen waiting for his every order.

but the foreign feeling of being in charge and having so much at his disposal pales in comparison to the foreign feeling of being in jeon jeongguk’s presence again.

four years hasn’t done him well. but what could yoongi have expected, considering jeongguk was left on an island to die? his hair is long, tied back in a bun at the back of his head, but it only allows the years to show on his face: circles under his eyes, sunspots dotting his skin, scars and tattoos that yoongi has never seen before. four years ago, he had every part of jeongguk memorized. and although that same boy is there in the flare in his eyes, the way he holds himself as they make eye contact—this is a man yoongi is no longer familiar with. and he knows he has no right to be upset about that.

but god. god. what he would give for the oceans between them to be nothing but dry ground, to run and run until he can finally close the distance. but the moment jeongguk enters the room, yoongi feels the wall between them, feels the coldness that could freeze the sea ten times over.

so yoongi just says, “jeon.”

“commander,” replies jeongguk, refusing to take a seat when yoongi gestures to the chair across the desk from him. typical, of course—jeongguk was always stubborn down to his very DNA, little acts of deviance enough to get under the skin of his opponents. yoongi never thought he’d be on the other end of it, though.

he sighs. “i trust you had a better night out of that cell.”

“yes, how generous of you,” says jeongguk, voice tripping in venom. “giving your prisoner a long enough chain to make him feel free.”

“jeongguk,” says yoongi, already tired of this. “we’re not here to argue. if you would please sit down so we can begin—”

“i’m fine here.” jeongguk crosses his arms, intent on not moving. and suddenly, yoongi can see it so clearly—the next weeks, maybe months of their lives working this mission together. he can see every argument, every fight, every day where it feels like pulling his own teeth out trying to work with jeongguk. one step forward and two steps back every time they have to make a decision. jeongguk purposely messing up to anger yoongi, refusing to follow any instruction or advice, making all of this a living hell for the both of them.

he can see, too, how to fix it. all he has to do is tell the truth—but a conversation must be two-sided. and no matter how yoongi wants this to be smooth sailing, he’s well aware that saying anything jeongguk doesn’t want to hear right now isn’t going to help. there will be a time and a place, he reminds himself. one day, this might get easier. for now, he closes his eyes and breathes, willing his frustration away. it’s just one meeting. the sooner they get this over with, the sooner jeongguk can go back to resolutely ignoring him.

so—“alright,” says yoongi when he opens his eyes again, pushing a piece of paper toward jeongguk. “we need to start planning our voyage. obviously the big things are where we’re going and how to track down and capture our targets, but there are also a lot of smaller logistics.” he waits jeongguk to argue even though it’s objective fact, and moves on only when jeongguk stays silent. “can i trust you to put together a capable crew once we reach busan?”

“don’t trust me to be a good captain, min?”

“that’s not what i’m saying.”

“then why did you ask that?”

“because it’s—” yoongi groans, rubbing a hand over his face. “it was just a question, jeongguk. i’m not interrogating you. i just want to know if you’ll need any assistance or want any advice on how to choose your crew.”

jeongguk scoffs, finally moving from his spot. rather than sit, though, he begins wandering around the room, running his fingers over everything he can touch. “as if you know the first thing about pirates anymore, min,” he says. “you turned your back on that, didn’t you? sold out so you could be the king’s little bitch.”

yoongi grits his teeth, but jeongguk continues before he can argue. “i know you seem to think i’m a shit captain,” he says. “i mean, you wouldn’t have let me walk that plank otherwise.” he glances over his shoulder at yoongi, tossing a hand-sized globe up and down before continuing to walk. “but it’s been four years. you said so yourself—i’m a notorious pirate. if you don’t trust my judgment on this mission, i suggest you find someone else to do your work. i don’t need you meddling in my pirate affairs, commander. you gave up that right long ago.”

they stare at each other for a pregnant moment. then yoongi mutters, “i’ll take that as a yes, then,” before turning back to his papers. “i already have everything in place to stock the ship, so we don’t need to worry about that. i want to get going as quickly as possible, though, so i can only give you two days to put together your crew. understandable?” thankfully, jeongguk merely nods at that.

“right,” continues yoongi. “now, in terms of our timeline—”

“did you ever consider it?” jeongguk interrupts. it’s frustrating, trying to have a conversation with him, trying to work something out when there’s so much muddled history between them. yoongi had had such a good plan for all of this, and yet it comes as no surprise that jeongguk has his own agenda. he’s so good at doing what he wants and disregarding everyone else. the problem is that, for so long, it didn’t bother yoongi because they wanted the same things. now he turns in his chair to see jeongguk standing behind him, staring out of the window at the sea retreating from them.

yoongi takes a breath. then he asks, “consider what?”

“coming back for me.” jeongguk tosses the globe in the air again, each dull thwap against his hand feeling like a strange double-beat of yoongi’s heart. “you could have taken one of the tenders, stolen food and guns and supplies.”

“jeongguk—”

you could have,” says jeongguk, voice sharper now. he’s angry, yoongi can tell—he’s always so fucking angry. “but you didn’t. didn’t even look back as i was yelling in that water. calling all of you fucking cowards.

“jeongguk, can you please just sit down? can we please plan this out?”

“you left me to die, hyung,” says jeongguk.

just like the first time, the honorific burns through yoongi’s heart. and it shouldn’t—it’s just a word. it’s just a word and he doesn’t want it to mean anything, but he aches for it like he ached for jeongguk for so long. he just wants everything to go back to how it was, before they hurt each other, before he ended up here. and yet—that was four years ago. all he has now is this stupid plan, a map of the seas he already knows too intimately to be a naval commander, and a pirate who won’t listen to him.

“this isn’t the time nor place to have that conversation,” says yoongi evenly. “we are here to discuss logistics of completing this mission and if you don’t cooperate, i’ll be forced to dole out punishment. you are my prisoner, jeongguk, and we made a deal. so fucking sit down.

“so, what?” asks jeongguk. “we’re just going to sit here and pretend nothing has happened between us? we’re just going to be partners and sail around the world finding pirates and have a holly jolly time as we do it?”

“honestly? yes.”

“you’re just going to pretend you didn’t leave me to die.”

“jeongguk.”

“you’re just going to pretend we haven’t known each other for almost ten fucking years, like i’m just some dirty pirate you found on an island.”

jeongguk.

“you’re just going to pretend we didn’t love each other?”

“for fuck’s sake!” yoongi finally snaps, standing up so forcefully that he knocks his chair over. jeongguk is already staring at him near the window, and finally yoongi just—lets go. “what do you want from me, jeongguk? what do you want me to say? yes, i loved you. i’ve fucked you, held you sobbing, tended to your wounds in the midst of battle and feared that you wouldn’t make it and knew it would tear me apart if you didn’t. yes, i was part of the crew that left you for dead. and no, i didn’t come back for you. i have spent the last four years of my life thinking about you and hating myself and hating you, sometimes, and trying to do better with my life. i sold out, sure. became the king’s little bitch. i was given a command to find these five pirates and now here we are. here we are, jeongguk-ah, and i don’t care if you hate me or if you want to see me hurt for what i did to you. i just want to do my job. so i won’t ask you again—please sit down and cooperate with me, just for an hour. you can go back to arguing with me after that. but for the love of god, if we don’t figure this out now, we’ll never find those pirates. and mind i remind you that if we don’t find them, you die.

jeongguk falls silent after the outburst, merely watching yoongi with—with something almost predatory in his eyes. he looks as though yoongi’s anger has awoken something new within him, something much closer to the pirate that yoongi once knew him as. because when they were together, jeongguk could still be angry. he was still stubborn and uncooperative. but he was wild with love for the sea, love for the power he had as a pirate. when yoongi first laid eyes on him in that cell, jeongguk just looked… tired. but here he is, suddenly, just a spark of the man yoongi was once so intimately familiar with.

maybe that’s all he wanted: for yoongi to rise to the bait, to prove that he, too, still holds some of that fire that made him such an asset to their crew as a pirate. there’s a reason he was a gunner and such a good one at that. there’s a reason they called him spitfire.

sure enough—jeongguk’s lips curl into a smug little smirk, lifting his hands as he says, “fuck, alright.” he chuckles, finally taking a seat across from yoongi and propping his feet up on the desk. “no need to yell, commander min.”

yoongi groans, stepping away from the desk to glare out of the window. seeing jeongguk’s face isn’t the best idea at the moment. “you are the most infuriating person i’ve ever met.”

“i’ll take that as a compliment.”

the worst part, perhaps, is that yoongi has no reason to be upset with jeongguk, not in the way jeongguk has with him. but it’s just—jeongguk. a stubborn, angry jeongguk. a jeongguk who deemed yoongi an enemy four years ago and has had all of that time to cultivate his hatred, to plan exactly what he might do should they ever seen each other again. it’s just so easy to give in, to argue back, to let this ugly beast grow into something neither of them knows how to kill.

but he still has a job to do.

when he returns to the desk, jeongguk is using the sharp end of a compass to pick his teeth. yoongi resolutely ignores that, instead pushing several sheets of paper toward him. “we need to plan this strategically,” he says. “i don’t want to be running back and forth trying to find these pirates, so i trust that you have some knowledge on where and how we can find them.”

jeongguk hums, grabbing one of the papers. “whole lotta confidence you have in me, commander, considering you called me embarrassingly inexperienced yesterday.”

yoongi ignores him. “do you know the current whereabouts of any of these pirates?”

“it’s not like we keep tabs on each other,” jeongguk murmurs, and then—“hold on. park jimin?”

“park jimin,” says yoongi. “notorious for targeting small villages along the eastern shores, pillaging them, and purposely leaving a handful of people alive so they’ll run to the next town over and spread fear before he shows up.”

“i know,” says jeongguk. “i just—i’m surprised, i guess.”

“why? he’s one of the most notorious pirates on our seas right now. the point of this is to catch those pirates.”

“commander, c’mon,” says jeongguk, almost laughing. but yoongi knows what he means, anyway—jimin was once part of their crew, part of the hangman’s daughter. for a few years, the three of them were inseparable within the crew. but just under a year before jeongguk became captain and was mutinied, jimin went missing during a simple stop at a port in southern japan. they’d all presumed him dead, but soon enough, whispers had begun of a man that sounded a hell of a lot like jimin who had started his own crew and taken to terrorizing villages on the eastern coast of korea.

still. their past doesn’t change the fact that yoongi needs to find him. “haven’t i proven that i don’t take into account past relationships when capturing pirates?” yoongi asks carefully.

“i don’t like it,” says jeongguk. “no matter how you feel about jimin, we’re still… well. friends might be a strong word, but we’re certainly not enemies. and i can’t agree to helping you execute him.”

“it’s his neck or yours, jeon,” yoongi says. “must i remind you of that every time?”

jeongguk scowls at him, but he doesn’t argue further. “fine,” he says. “what about the rest of these guys?”

“kim namjoon,” says yoongi, moving down the list. “no crew to worry about there, as he’s known for being a solo pirate who impersonates government officials or royalty in order to steal jewelry, artwork, and other important belongings so he can sell them on the black market.” he sighs. “which makes him notoriously hard to catch.”

“fantastic,” mutters jeongguk.

“kim taehyung, better known as v,” continues yoongi.

“he hasn’t been a pirate for a while,” says jeongguk. “last i heard, he kind of dropped the whole thing. now he’s like, sailing around the world trying to find supernatural and mystical creatures.”

“correct,” says yoongi. “but i’m sure you haven’t forgotten that he used to be particularly ruthless when he was a pirate. this is more… cleaning up the past, trying to prove to anyone thinking about changing their ways that they’ll always be a pirate. always guilty of whatever they did, even if they sweep it under the rug.”

it takes him a beat to realize what he’s just said. and then jeongguk is snorting. “like i said, shouldn’t that mean your neck is the first with a noose around it?” he asks, tilting his head as he smirks at yoongi. “little spitfire min yoongi. how many men have you killed?”

“that’s different,” yoongi argues, ignoring jeongguk’s protests as he moves down the list instead. “kim seokjin and jung hoseok.”

jeongguk groans. “you’ve got to be kidding me,” he says. “you think we’ll be able to capture those two? fucking… worst pirates in history.”

“that’s why we have to catch them.” jeongguk levels him with a look that clearly says he’s not impressed, but yoongi isn’t interested in that. he’s been given this list, this command, and he refuses to think of the consequences if he can’t complete the task. “kim seokjin, the captain. fucking ego on that prick… captain of the cry of hades, famously one of the most feared captains and vessels not just on our waters, but around the world. known for being particularly ruthless in their dealings with other pirates and civilians. they just like killing people.”

“honestly, it’s not kim i’m worried about,” says jeongguk.

“jung hoseok,” says yoongi, and the very name has a chill running down his spine. “bones. surgeon of the cry of hades, known for the unusually cruel experiments he performs on their prisoners.” he’s well aware of the horror stories. the idea of catching hoseok and making him pay for what he’s done to so many innocent people might not even be worth facing him. what if they fail?

“how do you intend to capture them, commander?” jeongguk asks. “i hope you have plenty of seamen willing to sacrifice themselves for this, because i doubt any of my crew will willingly run headfirst into the cry and let themselves be taken apart by jung hoseok.”

“that’s what we’re supposed to figure out,” says yoongi. “but we can start at the beginning. who is the easiest to capture?”

easy?” laughs jeongguk. “jesus, you’ve been out of the pirate business for too long, min. you just said so yourself—these are the most notorious pirates on our seas. you think you can just walk in and take them?”

“i said easiest,” argues yoongi. “you must know something about where one of these men will be. put that big pirate brain of yours to good use, jeon, or i might just throw you overboard a second time.”

the smirk slips from jeongguk’s face at that, letting his feet fall to the ground before he scoots closer to the desk. “jimin-hyung,” he says. “probably where we should start. we know he rarely strays from the eastern coast, so if we start sailing up, we can catch wind of where he might be. and since we’re friends… i suppose i can devise a plan to capture him.”

it’s not much, but it’s a start, at least. “alright,” says yoongi. “from there?”

“jimin-hyung knows kim taehyung,” says jeongguk, almost resigned as he hands the information over to yoongi. “i’ve seen hyung a few times over the past few years and i’ve gathered enough that it’s… intimate.” he wrinkles his nose. “if we play it right, we can get taehyung’s whereabouts and possibly information on how to capture him from jimin.”

“and the others?”

“i don’t know about namjoon,” says jeongguk. “but i’d bet he and taehyung run in similar circles. either he or jimin might have some information on how to find him. as for bones and the captain…” for a second, when his eyes meet yoongi’s, there’s just a hint of genuine fear in them. “it’s not hard to find them. they don’t make a secret of their whereabouts.” jeongguk laughs. “most people tend to run away from them, though.”

“we’ll have to devise a real plan on how to deal with them,” says yoongi. “but this is a good start, for now. from busan, we’ll start up the eastern coast to find jimin and then get taehyung from there.” planning it out on paper is easy, of course. it’s the actual execution of their plans that yoongi worries for—especially if jeongguk still doesn’t want to cooperate with him. he has no idea how they’ll fight pirate crews and lure captains out of their holes if they can hardly stand to be in each other’s presence for a minute.

jeongguk puts down the paper, scraping back his chair. “are we done now?” he asks. “i’d like to go back to arguing with you.”

it almost makes yoongi grin—how so similar jeongguk is to the boy that yoongi knew, blunt and honest and unafraid to voice his desires.

“yeah,” says yoongi with a sigh. “we should be in busan within two days. you can argue with me all you want until then.”

“good,” says jeongguk as he stands up. “i intend to remind you constantly how unhappy i am with this arrangement and how little i’ve forgiven you over the past four years.” it won’t be a pleasant journey—not this portion, and certainly not anything moving forward. but all yoongi can do is bear it.

when he hears footsteps retreating, yoongi drops his head into his hands and lets out a long sigh. he doesn’t know he’ll do it, how he’ll last after everything—after four years of waiting and wanting and searching, after all he’s sacrificed for this. after all that has been taken from him. he imagined for so long what their reunion would be like, and there’s nothing he can do to change it, but he just—he wants something. he doesn’t know what it is yet, but he knows that each moment with jeongguk so close but not close enough will be a special kind of torture. inexplicably, he feels tears sting the back of his eyes—tears of frustration, of sorrow, of yearning but knowing it’s useless. yoongi sniffs, lifting his head and freezing when he realizes that jeongguk hasn’t actually left—he’s standing in the doorway, watching yoongi.

for a moment when their eyes connect, before jeongguk thinks to throw up the anger and hatred he’s gotten so good at wearing on this ship, yoongi swears he sees something that looks a lot more like sadness on his face. like regret, like longing. but just as quickly as he sees it, jeongguk’s eyes cloud over with bitterness.

“what do you want?” yoongi finally snaps, trying to will away the wetness of his eyes.

“your hair looks stupid,” says jeongguk. “i liked it better when—” he catches himself, nostrils flaring. “it’s just stupid,” he mutters, and then he’s finally gone.

yoongi was never a captain—not of a pirate ship, anyway. he couldn’t wish that kind of pressure on himself after seeing what jeongguk was put through, preferring to keep his head down just enough to be known but not expected to lead his own vessel. but he supposes this must be what it feels like—watching barrels and boxes of supplies being loaded onto both jeongguk’s ship and his own military vessel, two dozen pirates hurrying back and forth to prepare them for the journey ahead.

absently, he thinks that this is what their lives could have been like—should have been like, before jeongguk stepped off of the hangman’s daughter. he spots jeongguk already on the ship, shouting orders at the men below who are still carrying supplies up the gangplank, and—he belongs there. the role of captain fits him well, would have fit him well on the hangman’s daughter had the crew given him a chance. or maybe it’s the four years of anger and spite and bitterness that has taught jeongguk how to command a crew.

for a moment, yoongi allows himself to pretend that he’s still a pirate, still just a gunner under jeongguk’s crew. they’re going out to find treasure, to make the most of their freedom. and they’re still—

“commander.” there’s a hand on his shoulder for a brief moment, and yoongi tears his gaze from jeongguk to look at the woman standing beside him.

“minsoo,” he greets her with a nod. as a lieutenant, minsoo is the second-highest ranking officer on board and has already proven to be yoongi’s saving grace more than once.

she clasps her hands behind her back. “everything looking ready for the voyage?”

yoongi eyes the pirates hauling the last of their supplies on board. on paper, they have everything they need; for the past few days in busan, they’ve gathered their supplies and jeongguk has put together his crew. how he managed to convince any of those pirates to willingly go on this mission, yoongi has no idea—to willingly work with the military, the people most pirates would rather avoid their entire lives or see dead, to willingly go on a voyage with no real reward other than possibly not dying, to willingly head into the unknown in order to find and potentially fight five of the most notorious and feared pirates on the sea… well. either jeongguk is a really fucking good captain or he has something on each of them.

they do seem to be a good crew, though, from the introductions that yoongi was given. he recognizes some of them, although he’s never been on a crew with any of them, so he can only take jeongguk’s word that they’ll do any of this right.

beyond the crew, they have their tentative plan, a heading to sail up the eastern coast of korea to find park jimin. they have guns and food and everything they should need, but—it’s different when yoongi is standing on the dock, watching the crew ready the mourning star for what’s to come. it’s different when he realizes what he’s actually getting himself into: living and working with jeongguk in close quarters for the indefinite future, having to cooperate with him, having to try and work around the plum pit in both of their hearts at their past.

in truth, he doesn’t think he’ll ever be ready for this. but yoongi doesn’t exactly have a choice.

“seems like it,” he replies. “honestly, i’m not sure i trust these pirates, but they’re the only hope we have of completing this mission.”

“you’ll be alright, sir?”

yoongi almost laughs. “i can hold my own against a pirate, minsoo, but thank you for the concern.”

“i didn’t mean that.” when he looks at her, minsoo isn’t looking back, and when he follows her line of sight, he finds jeongguk standing at the helm of his ship, directing a few cabin boys on where to put the boxes they’re holding. the grin on yoongi’s face disappears. “i don’t… mean to pry, commander, but i can’t help but worry about the two of you. i don’t know what happened between you two, but if it’s going to jeopardize this mission—”

“he’s a pirate,” says yoongi swiftly, firmly. noticing that something is off between jeongguk and yoongi can’t be difficult, but he had been hoping no one would bring it up. and he can’t tell the truth either way—can’t admit to his entire crew that he used to be one of them, although he knows plenty of them are already aware. he knows minsoo was told to keep careful watch over him, as though he’ll betray them all and defect to jeongguk’s side the moment they’re out on the open sea. and he can’t admit that he and jeongguk were once more than enemies, more than friends. he wouldn’t know how to go about having that conversation, anyway. “he’s a pirate and he’s… stubborn. and calculating. and i’ve captured him on threat of death, so of course he’s going to be hard to work with. but i’ve threatened him enough so if he doesn’t cooperate, we can just kill him.”

“it’s not that,” says minsoo carefully. “i can tell it’s not that. if you don’t want to tell me, of course you don’t have to. that’s your personal business, commander. but i see the way you look at him. and i see the way he looks at you.” on cue, jeongguk’s head turns toward the dock, eyes meeting yoongi’s over the side of the ship. it almost feels like a reversal of their past: jeongguk on a ship, leaving yoongi behind.

“i just don’t want this to implode,” adds minsoo. “and i’m not one to tell you how to run your ship. but whatever you’ve done to each other… i hope it stops hurting you. both of you.”

the honesty of it almost winds yoongi. “yeah,” he mumbles after a second. “me too.”

even after minsoo has left his side with a bow and a parting promise to make sure they finish packing quickly, yoongi stays rooted to his spot, staring up at jeongguk on the mourning star. he hadn’t thought of it that way—that what happened between he and jeongguk could cause the rest of the mission to come crumbling down around them, could affect everyone else. and he’s done his best to be civil, to make jeongguk be civil, but he’s known for years that he could never hope to control jeon jeongguk.

little starling, with those wings to take him anywhere he wanted. and oh, how they’ve hurt each other. oh, how they’ve ruined each other.

it’s a dead end, this. it’s a disaster waiting to happen. and yet, he has no choice but to move forward—to watch as the last of the supplies are hauled onto the ships, as the crews assemble themselves. yoongi has put minsoo in charge of the military ship, allowing himself to stay onboard the mourning star with jeongguk—to watch him, to make sure this all goes smoothly.

there’s nothing to do but climb onboard, ignoring how familiar all of it feels to be surrounded by pirates again, to be among their crew. ignoring how good it feels, ignoring the way he can immediately feel himself relax like this, slipping back into who he once was—who he could be again.

“commander,” says jeongguk when yoongi joins him by the helm.

“captain,” says yoongi.

“still think this is a good idea?”

yoongi snorts. “never.”

for the first time, jeongguk grins at him, the corner of his mouth turning upward into something crooked. and just like that, yoongi is back to four years ago, back to feeling his heart beat only for this pirate before him, standing on the helm of a ship and looking out at the wide open sea before them. “well, commander,” says jeongguk. his grin widens, turning feral, making yoongi ache. “let’s go catch ourselves a pirate.”

Chapter Text

by the time they reach the smoking port town, it’s too late.

they’ve been steadily sailing up the eastern coast for close to a week now, trying to track down the notorious park jimin—but each little town they’ve come across has already been visited, some already in the process of rebuilding. it seems jimin likes to take his time, likes to savour each destruction like a good hit of a drug, leaving weeks, sometimes months between each town. jeongguk can guess why: the anticipation, the build. jimin doesn’t pillage and burn the towns because he’s a terrible person, not because he wants to hurt people, not because he’s just a pirate.

jimin does it because he loves it. because it leaves him feeling powerful, gives him a sense of euphoria he’s been able to find nowhere else in the world. he could easily take out the entire eastern coast of korea as quickly as he can sail it, but he doesn’t. he doesn’t because then it wouldn’t feel the same. so he forces himself to wait, lets the anticipation and excitement build and build in the pit of his stomach until he almost can’t take it anymore—and then he sails. and then he burns. and oh, it tastes that much better.

and—the anticipation for whichever helpless little port town knows they’re next. they can try all they might to put together defenses, call on young men and their fathers to protect the town, but they all know it’ll be useless, as it has been for every town before theirs. they never know when he’ll show, each night spent in terror as they wait for any sign of jimin’s ship on the horizon. they live in terror, each waking thought occupied by one park jimin and the rumours that have been spread about him: his wicked smirk and his gleaming eyes. the gold tooth, the scar that runs right through one of his eyes to make him look like a wild thing, a beast. a demon.

that’s what jimin wants. he wants them to be terrified of him. it doesn’t matter what he does to them, in the end—what he wants is the foreplay, the build-up. he wants people to see him and know, without a shadow of a doubt, that his will be the last face they see.

the last town they came across, just a day ago, had been pillaged and burned to the ground three weeks ago. only a few families remained, having been out on the sea at the time. they came back to find the entire town decimated and almost everyone dead, other than the few lucky souls jimin left alive to warn the next town. with nowhere else to go, the families chose to attempt to rebuild—but there’s only so much a few pairs of hands can do. they’d barely been able to clean up a quarter of the wreckage and lay the dead to rest when the mourning star sailed into their waters and the survivors assumed the worst.

but—there is still hope. three weeks isn’t a long time, not in the pattern that jimin has set out for his attacks. once they learned of the town to be the next victim, jeongguk set them sailing again, hoping to catch jimin before he could decimate the next town. on his part, at least, it was less about saving lives—he could care less, being a pirate himself. but it would be more difficult to find jimin if he had already stricken and moved on. and the less time jeongguk could spend on this stupid mission with yoongi, the better.

then—

“jesus christ,” whispers yoongi as they crest the final bend of the shore and see what awaits them. they’re too late—but just nearly. jeongguk’s hands tighten on the railing of the ship where he stands against it, taking in the destruction that jimin has left behind in the next town. plumes of black and grey smoke billow into the air from the fires that have been set, red and orange and yellow flickering into the approaching night; from this far out, jeongguk can’t make out much detail, only that everything appears to be on fire, including some of the surrounding trees and the boats in the harbour, preventing escape for anyone who attempted it.

as the mourning star comes to a halt, jeongguk stares at the harrowing scene before him. his entire crew is silent for the first time all day. and it’s—not an unfamiliar sight by any means. jeongguk has done this to countless towns, too, has aided in this, has turned a blind eye to it. but after spending a week witnessing nothing but the aftermath, it’s breathtaking to see it all in motion.

something silent and dangerous sparks in jeongguk’s heart. what he wouldn’t give to be the one responsible for this rather than a prisoner of min yoongi, forced to do the king’s dirty work and put his own brothers behind bars.

“fuck, what’s that?” someone asks, and jeongguk directs his attention to the water nearer to the ship, where dark masses are floating in the water. they have faces.

he narrows his eyes. “park jimin’s treasure,” he says, and then turns to look at the helmsman. “keep going. he’s not here.”

“wait,” says yoongi, and jeongguk’s impatience flares at the challenge to his authority. but yoongi points to something in the water rather than trying to give his own command and when jeongguk looks, he sees a young boy floating on a piece of driftwood in the water, alive. “you, boy!” yoongi waves an arm. “what happened here?”

the boy, when he turns his attention to them, is waterlogged and covered in filth. even from dozens of feet above the water, jeongguk can tell there’s something… missing in his eyes. “what does it look like?” the boy calls back. “mul gwishin.

jeongguk almost rolls his eyes. “where is he going next?” he calls, since that’s all they’re interested in.

the boy points north, the direction they’ve been sailing in. it’s enough—jeongguk doesn’t let them entertain further conversation with the boy, instead instructing his crew to raise the sails and continue north to the next town. they’ll have to catch jimin there, since it’s too soon for him to have attacked again.

then, amid the burst of movement on the deck, he makes eye contact with yoongi and tilts his head toward his captain’s cabin, turning on his heel and assuming yoongi will follow. once in his own cabin, he rounds on the large table in the middle, covered in most of yoongi’s papers and the information he’s gathered about their targets. thankfully, yoongi hasn’t commented on how similar the room—as well as the rest of the ship—looks to the hangman’s daughter. it’s not a conversation jeongguk is keen on having.

“i have a plan,” says jeongguk once yoongi joins him and closes the door, approaching the table. jeongguk spreads his hands out on it, leaning on them as he watches yoongi stand just inside the door, hands clasped behind his back. still fucking professional as ever, even onboard a pirate ship. when yoongi doesn’t immediately object—which jeongguk expects, considering the struggles they’ve had in the past week with yoongi constantly trying to call the fucking shots even though jeongguk explicitly said he was the captain of this crew—he continues.

“jimin will be hiding somewhere in the next port, i assume,” says jeongguk. “from what i know of his behaviour, he prefers to… get to know the town a little. its ins and outs, the people there. it makes murdering all of them that much more fun.” yoongi grimaces. “my best guess is a pub. especially if he’s just attacked, he’ll want to celebrate.”

“what if you’re wrong?” asks yoongi.

“then we search for him elsewhere. but i know him.” jeongguk catches his tongue before he adds, once, you did too. “we’ll have to anchor the mourning star out of sight of the town so not to cause panic but close enough that we’ll be able to lure jimin onto it. your ship, on the other hand, has to be out of the sight of this ship, too. your men must stay on that ship and can’t even think about coming ashore.”

“how do we lure him?”

jeongguk licks his lips, and then straightens up. “it has to be me and you,” he says, even though the very idea makes him sick to the stomach. “he knows us. we have to gain his trust and lure him back to the mourning star on his own, at which point we can detain him. no fight, no fuss. just a couple of old friends on a pirate ship.”

the way yoongi is watching him tells jeongguk he knows there’s more. the unspoken but rings in the air, and when yoongi cocks an eyebrow, jeongguk adds, “you have to pretend to be a pirate.”

finally, yoongi reacts, moves. he groans, letting his hands drop as he takes a step toward the table, like he’s going to argue—“you have to,” says jeongguk. “the only way this is going to work is if jimin thinks nothing is wrong. he can’t know you’ve defected. he can’t even suspect it. the only way we’re going to gain his trust is if we pretend to be who we were when he knew us.”

“jeongguk,” begins yoongi.

and the next part—the next part is the hardest to say. jeongguk takes a breath, finally dropping his gaze to the table. he can’t say it while looking at him. “you have to be a pirate,” he says, “and… we have to pretend to be together again.”

no,” says yoongi, immediately arguing.

“we have to!” snaps jeongguk, lifting his eyes again. “if he suspects that we’re anything but—but fine together, then he’ll know something is wrong. and he won’t listen to us, he won’t follow us. unless you want to fight him, we have to do this.”

“and how is that supposed to work, hm? i thought you said you’re friends. surely you’ve told him sometime in the past four years how much you fucking hate me.”

“i don’t—” begins jeongguk and then grits his teeth, thinking better of it. “yes, i’ve told him things. but i haven’t seen him for a long time. we pretend that… you found me. we pretend you’ve been looking for me for four years and you found me and we made up and now everything is fine with us. we’ve just been sailing together and came across jimin’s handiwork and decided to have a chat for old time’s sake.”

he can tell yoongi is struggling not to say what he wants to—his jaw is clenched, throat straining against it. his eyes are wild, almost the pirate that jeongguk once knew, a hint of something real beneath that naval commander façade he’s hiding behind. and jeongguk knows that pirate is still there somewhere. he knows the min yoongi he fell in love with is still there, knows that it’s impossible to just stop being a pirate.

yoongi was a pirate for his entire life, born into it. piracy is in his blood. but now he’s simply put clean boots and a red uniform over it and told himself that he doesn’t still have that bloodlust, doesn’t wish to be one of jeongguk’s crew. it’s why jeongguk knows this plan will work—because yoongi is still a pirate. mess up that hair of his, give him a rusty sword, and he’s still the spitfire gunner of the hangman’s daughter. jeongguk knows he’s still in there somewhere. he just wants to see it.

just wants to know that yoongi hasn’t been able to let go of it, let go of jeongguk, the way jeongguk hasn’t been able to let go of yoongi.

“this is a terrible idea,” says yoongi finally, once he’s managed to calm down. jeongguk is almost disappointed.

“and you have a better one?”

“no, but—”

“this is our only chance. it has to be the two of us, no back-up. we bring a single military man or pirate onto that shore with us and he’ll know. we look suspicious and he’ll know. this is park jimin, commander. you know as well as i do he’s ruthless, can turn on anyone if he suspects they’re double-crossing him.” jeongguk waits for the protest even though he knows there can be no feasible one. “look, i don’t like it much either,” he says more quietly. “but this is how we have to do it. this is how we get him.”

they reach their destination within hours and jeongguk sits in his cabin, staring at nothing the entire time. although he’d been bold in outlining the plan to yoongi, leaving no room for argument, the truth is that—he’s oddly terrified of it. it’s been four years since he’s seen yoongi and now he’s meant to pretend that everything is alright between them again. all he wants to do is throw yoongi into the water and be done with it, but he can’t. he has to look at yoongi and smile, has to laugh at his jokes. has to touch him and not burn with it.

the worst part, perhaps, is that jeongguk realizes it might be easier to do all of that than he originally anticipated.

because beneath the hatred, beneath the anger over what yoongi did to him, beneath everything he’s piled over his love for yoongi in the past four years, maybe some part of him still—

“captain!” there’s a knock at the closed door and jeongguk snaps out of his thoughts, raising his eyes in time to see his first mate opening the door and peeking his head in. “we’re in position. commander min has been given appropriate clothes and weapons and we’re lowering a tender now.”

jeongguk swallows tightly and then nods, standing and wiping his suddenly sweaty hands on his pants. it’s just… acting, isn’t it? if he just focuses on jimin, he won’t have time to focus on yoongi. and he’s doing this so that he can live. although he feels a certain amount of guilt over selling out jimin for his own life, he can’t think too hard on it. jimin was a good friend to him for years and has been a good distant friend for years after that. but—jeongguk doesn’t want to die.

and to do that, he has to pretend to be in love with min yoongi again.

he gathers himself, and then grabs his sword, sliding it through its holster at his side, and tucks his pistol into his waistband. he doesn’t anticipate a physical fight, not unless yoongi somehow fucks this up, but he has to be prepared for anything. once he’s ready, he exits his cabin, making his way to the main deck where the rest of his crew is gathered. as instructed, the military ship is nowhere in sight, hanging back enough that once yoongi and jeongguk have jimin onboard the mourning star, he won’t know the truth just yet. it’s still a whirlwind of activity, pirates anchoring the ship and letting down the tender and rope ladder, preparing for what is hopefully a short wait until their captain has returned.

at first, jeongguk almost misses him. yoongi blends into the crew so well when he’s dressed as a pirate that jeongguk’s eyes move over him, that his mind immediately makes sense of it. for just a moment, when jeongguk finally looks at yoongi standing in the middle of the crew and fiddling with a pistol, it feels like nothing changed. it feels like four years ago, when jeongguk was the captain of the hangman’s daughter, however short-lived the position was. it feels like yoongi is just part of his crew, is just another pirate, is just—the love of jeongguk’s life.

and then yoongi looks up, and those eyes are still different, and he doesn’t grin at jeongguk the way yoongi would have back then. and if he looks closely enough, the clothes don’t fit quite right, too small around the shoulders and too big around the hips. and jeongguk shakes himself out of it, approaching yoongi instead.

“commander,” says jeongguk when he reaches him, forcing himself to be a nuisance as he tugs on yoongi’s shoulders, fixing them. he’s still been knocked off-centre but he can do this, can act as he has been for the past few weeks. he frowns as he takes in yoongi’s appearance, reaching up and (not gently) mussing up yoongi’s hair to make him look less put together.

yoongi scowls, batting his hand away. “i look fine,” he says.

“haven’t forgotten how to be a pirate, have you?” asks jeongguk, a sneer to his voice. “you’ll have to drop your pretty formal language, commander. slouch a bit. don’t be afraid of the other pirates, hm?”

“i’m not afraid of them.”

“i don’t know what they teach you in your fancy military training,” says jeongguk. “but like you said—once a pirate, always a pirate, hm? it might be best if you just shut up and let me do the talking.”

and yoongi—makes a sound that almost sounds like a growl. when he looks at jeongguk next, he’s all pirate. “i’ll run this fucking sword through your heart, jeon,” he snaps.

jeongguk grins. “there he is. welcome back, spitfire.” then he turns on his heel, heading for the edge of the ship. “alright, lads and ladies! commander min and i will be going ashore and will be back shortly, hopefully. if we’re not back within a few hours, assume i’ve drowned the commander for his insolence.” a smattering of snickers goes up from the crew, and jeongguk shoots a disgruntled yoongi a winning smirk. “in all seriousness, keep a look out in case we run into trouble, but if all goes to plan, we should be back on this ship within a few hours, in which case we’ll detain park jimin. if anything goes wrong, just remember we are not to kill him. the king would like the pleasure of executing park himself.” it’ll be fine. jeongguk is sure of it.

he turns back to yoongi, then, clapping his hands together once. “ready, darling?”

yoongi looks—pained. and oh, this will be fun.

the town is surprisingly lively for the time of night, the streets dotted with lanterns and banners proclaiming some sort of festival or celebration. yoongi and jeongguk squeeze their way through the crowded streets, seeming to blend in despite their worn clothing and weapons; no one is looking for a pirate in the midst of the light and music on the streets. it’s a young town and drunken laughter echoes into the night air. jeongguk can’t help thinking that jimin will like it here, that maybe he’ll spare this town.

it’s evident that no one from the last town has arrived to warn them of their impending doom—not yet, at least. this is a town still filled with life and hope, a town that knows not what demons lurk within its shadows. in a few weeks, maybe a few months—this, too, will all be in flames, will be a smoking remnant of what it once was. each smiling face they pass will no longer exist. for the first time, jeongguk almost feels bad for them.

“how do you know he’s here?” yoongi asks him as they leave their third pub empty-handed, having searched for jimin inside and found no pirate in sight.

“trust me,” says jeongguk, leading the way down yet another street filled with drunken celebration. “i know you seem to think i’m still a child.

“jeongguk, must you turn everything into an argument?”

“if you would just—hold on.” jeongguk comes to a halt so quickly that yoongi almost runs into him, but he’s peering down what appears to be a back alley. with only the light of the moon illuminating it, he sees a wooden sign hanging in the middle of the alley: the mermaid and manatee. with a grin, he heads into the alley despite yoongi’s whispered protests; it would be so like jimin to find the one pub out of the way of everyone else, the one with a hint of mystery and magic to it.

the pub is dark and dinghy when jeongguk carefully opens the door, hit first by the mellow atmosphere. it feels like a different world from the celebrations on the street, only a somber tune being played on the lute by a man in the corner of the pub. only a handful of people populate the pub, offering quiet conversation amid the distant din from the main street. when jeongguk steps fully into the pub, he scans it, searching for the familiar form of park jimin.

“what are you—” yoongi begins as he enters after jeongguk, too loudly, and jeongguk elbows him in the side to keep him quiet. for jeongguk has found their treasure—a lonely man sits at the bar, hunched over the mug of whatever poison he’s chosen for the night, dark hair falling into his eyes. jeongguk hasn’t seen jimin for a fair few months, maybe a year. but suddenly, seeing him, seeing him knowing yoongi is standing behind him, it feels like he’s nineteen again. feels like, in some way, nothing changed.

park jimin was once one of jeongguk’s dearest friends. oh, he has stories to tell of their years on the hangman’s daughter, battles lost and treasures won, scars they earned together. but now he’s staring at one piece of his freedom, one step toward going free. it’s his neck or yours, yoongi had told him. and so it is.

“what do we say to him?” yoongi mutters as jeongguk takes a step forward. “we can’t possibly pretend this is a coincidence.”

“what did i say about letting me do the talking?” jeongguk hisses back. “you’re fucking useless, min, as usual. you used to be so proud of that tongue of yours.”

“pardon me for wanting to get this right when it’s our one sho—”

“are you two going to stand there and argue all night or are you going to sit down and have a drink with me?” jeongguk’s head snaps sideways to see jimin staring at the two of them from the bar, eyebrow curved into an inquisitive command. just having jimin’s eyes on him strikes something cold within jeongguk, knowing that if jimin so much as suspects the truth of what the pair of them are doing here, it will spell the end for both of them. they can’t risk getting this wrong.

it’s his neck or yours, jeon.

“hyung,” says jeongguk, an easy smirk on his lips as he crosses the pub and leans against the bar beside jimin before sitting on the nearest stool. “we weren’t sure if you wanted to be bothered.”

“i don’t,” says jimin, eyes narrowing the slightest at jeongguk. calculating. but then he returns jeongguk’s grin, reaching out to knock his knuckles against jeongguk’s arm. “but i can never say no to you, starling.” then—his eyes rise past jeongguk, the grin falling as easily as it came, and when he says, “min yoongi,” he sounds surprised. “haven’t seen you for a while.”

“been busy,” says yoongi, and jeongguk almost shivers at the timbre of his voice, because—he recognizes, suddenly, why commander yoongi bothers him so much. it’s his voice: he sounds different, pitches his voice so smoothly. uses correct speech, more formal, his syllables rounded properly to make himself sound more educated. he speaks half an octave higher than jeongguk is used to, but suddenly, here, yoongi is just… a pirate. he looks the part. now he sounds the part. there’s that gravely texture to his voice that jeongguk loved so much, the way it could vibrate through jeongguk’s entire being.

with just two words, suddenly jeongguk is back there again, four years ago. suddenly, it’s all too easy to pretend.

jimin’s eyes shift to jeongguk, questioning. “stranger seeing both of you in one place,” he says, lifting his mug to his lips. “last i heard, jeongguk-ah, you wanted to run him through with a sword.”

“still do most days,” says jeongguk like it’s a joke, turning over his shoulder to look up at yoongi where he stands just behind jeongguk. “but you know how things go, hyung. how things change.” after a second, he murmurs, “the sea has a funny way of mending broken things.”

“we ran into each other, if you’re wondering,” says yoongi, but he’s watching jeongguk, and for the first time since they reunited, his gaze is void of everything that has convinced jeongguk their hatred is mutual. he holds his tongue, keeping himself from making a snarky comment about yoongi hunting him down, knowing he can’t give into his need to always have the upper-hand now that they’re meant to be on equal footing in front of jimin. “on purpose.”

“god, spare me the details,” sighs jimin. “you two were disgusting enough five years ago so i can only imagine now. should have seen it coming, i guess, considering how much jeongguk still lo—”

“i’m more interested in you, actually,” jeongguk cuts him off, heartrate spiking as he thinks of what jimin might let slip. now, he regrets any of their late-night conversations when they happened to run into each other, all of the things he’s said about yoongi over the past four years. he’s playing a very delicate game with both of them now. “we were just passing through before heading to japan and noticed your ship. thought you’d be part of the celebrations outside.”

jimin scoffs before nodding to the bartender to order three more drinks. “i’d rather not get so involved here,” he says. “i plan on decimating this poor little town within a month, so i’ll let them have their celebrations without tainting it for them.”

“why do you do that, anyway?” asks yoongi. “i’ve always wondered. your… methods are notorious, but i’ve never understood them.”

their drinks arrive. jeongguk immediately downs half of his out of pure nervousness, although he’s not sure if it’s because jimin is here, because they could be an hour away from having him in their grasp—or the fact that yoongi hasn’t fucking moved from where he’s practically pressed against jeongguk’s back. it’s for appearances, of course. but he hopes yoongi can’t feel how hard his heart is beating where their bodies meet.

“you mean spending time in the places i plan on destroying?” asks jimin. “letting myself get to know the place?” he tilts his head back and forth, thinking. “let me ask you this, min. which is more satisfying: killing a pirate you’ve never seen before or a pirate you know intimately, know how to hurt most?”

“i don’t think i’m as vindictive as you, park.”

“the second option,” says jimin. “i spend my time here, memorizing the faces, the names. learning what makes these people happy, what hurts them most. i’m quietly looking for the tender spot, the place where i can reach in and tear the heart out of this town.”

jeongguk swallows tightly.

“but anyway,” says jimin, laughing into his drink. “you’re going to japan?”

“uh, yeah,” says jeongguk, glancing up at yoongi quickly. “you know about my revenge plots, right?”

“how could i forget?” asks jimin. “you’re even more brutal than me sometimes, jeon. trying to fuck over every pirate who was part of the crew that mutinied you…” his eyes shift to yoongi again. “and i suppose you’re helping him, are you? true love, that is.”

“i stole some treasure near jeju a few weeks ago,” says jeongguk, not giving yoongi a chance to reply, not wanting him to react to hearing about this for the first time. it’s been jeongguk’s silent project for years now, trying to get his own revenge on the crew who abandoned him. “belonged to one of the navigators. i’ve heard that there should be some promising stuff in japan, so we’re going there next.”

jeongguk doesn’t like the way jimin is watching him, that sly little grin on his face. the problem with park jimin, of course, is that jeongguk has never been able to tell what he’s really thinking. he’s notoriously good at hiding his emotions, hiding behind a mask of grins and smirks. back when they were part of the same crew, his biggest problem with this skill was that jimin was extraordinarily good at dice games. now, though, it’s life or death.

“you look tense, yoongi-hyung,” says jimin suddenly, and jeongguk feels yoongi stiffen against him. “sit down, have a drink. we’re all friends here, aren’t we? well.” he winks at jeongguk. “friends, if that’s what you want to call it.”

“he’s eager to get onto the sea,” says jeongguk before yoongi can reply. he can’t let yoongi blow this by stumbling his way through an explanation. “you know how hyung was never most comfortable on land.”

“the sea’s in my bones,” says yoongi after a second. “pirate through and through.”

jimin’s grin is predatory. “of course,” he says. “i remember you never really liked leaving the ship.”

“as if you were much better,” says jeongguk, glad to steer the conversation toward objective truth—their past together, the thing none of them can argue about. this is meant to be his plan.

“what do you expect from a young man in love with the sea?” asks jimin, laughing now. jeongguk feels yoongi relax, sees him reach for the drink left for him on the bar. “the sea was—still is—promise. freedom. on land, people have expectations and laws. on land, i always feel… trapped.”

“me too,” says yoongi. “realistically, a ship is a much smaller place to be than a town, but it never felt that way.”

“we were smaller, then,” counters jimin. “everything seemed bigger. hell, jeongguk-ah, you were on that ship since you were barely a teenager. first time i saw you, your eyes didn’t even fit on your face.”

“shut up,” huffs jeongguk, although he can’t help laughing. he feels himself relaxing, too, now that they’re reminiscing; he can’t help slipping back into those old times where they were all friends, where there was no reason to be suspicious. when he wasn’t a prisoner. “you were the chubbiest pirate i’d ever seen,” he argues, and then laughs as he looks at yoongi, real laughter, remembering how they all were so long ago—“hyung was small when we met him, though. still is.”

hey,” frowns yoongi. “i would have been taller than you at one point. not my fault you were already a beanpole when i met you.”

“ah, there’s nothing wrong with being shorter than other people,” says jimin. “honestly, it’s better for being a pirate if you ask me. quicker with the sword.”

“if you’re even strong enough to hold it,” says jeongguk.

who won that three-year long bet we had about who could kill more people with a sword?” snaps jimin. “need a reminder? it was me.”

“only because you cheated!”

“it’s your fault for not checking if those last four pirates were actually dead after slicing them down! it was my sword that ended them for good so they were my kills.”

“you are still such a little shit, park jimin.”

“and you’re still a sore loser, jeon jeongguk.”

“hyung,” says jeongguk, force of habit, turning to yoongi and looking up at him with a pout entirely uncharacteristic of a pirate. “he cheated, right? i’m the rightful winner of the bet?”

“sorry, jimin-ah,” laughs yoongi, sliding his hand around the back of jeongguk’s neck, fingers curling into the hair at his nape. “i’m with the little one on this.” and jeongguk beams, some instinctual habit within him making him lean up just a little, like he’s going to—

jeongguk catches him at the last second, attention snapping back to jimin as he realizes what his body is doing, what it wants. he’s fallen back into routine too easily, knowing he was going to kiss yoongi. but that’s what he would have done—what he used to do when yoongi would gang up on jimin with him. he always knew yoongi would have his back. would grin at him like that, starshine in his eyes. would kiss him for it, giggling into his mouth as jimin made obnoxious retching noises.

it’s been—all of an hour pretending they don’t hate each other and jeongguk’s traitorous heart is already falling back into the patterns it was once set in, the ruts in his behaviour that four years of allowing himself to be in love with yoongi made—the ruts that an additional four years of forcing himself to hate yoongi haven’t been able to fill in.

if jimin notices the aborted movement, he doesn’t comment on it or show it on his face. instead he chuckles, sipping at his drink as jeongguk desperately tries to think of how to steer this the way he wants it to.

yoongi hasn’t taken his fingers out of jeongguk’s hair. he burns where their skin touches.

his thoughts occupied by that single truth, jeongguk blurts out, “i miss it.” jimin stops laughing, giving him a curious glance. “us, i mean. how it used to be on the hangman’s daughter. i know we can’t have that back and it’s been years and years, but—i can’t help it.” jeongguk realizes, a hollow feeling showing in his chest, that he’s telling the truth. “it was really good, wasn’t it?”

to his surprise, it’s not jimin who answers but yoongi, voice filled with longing when he says, “yeah. yeah, it was.”

“it wasn’t perfect,” says jimin with a shrug. “no crew is perfect. but… yeah. we were a real family, weren’t we?”

“to be honest, i’ve been chasing that ever since—well,” jeongguk laughs. “i’ve been trying to get that feeling back. but it’s like every crew i captain doesn’t care enough for it. doesn’t want to build that trust. pirates these days… they only care about themselves and what they want. on the hangman’s daughter, we were willing to die for each other. now everyone just wants to die for themselves.”

“well, what do you expect?” asks jimin. “with everyone only wanting their cut of the profit and the military hunting down pirates,” he feels more than hears yoongi suck in a sharp breath, fingers tightening in jeongguk’s hair, “no one wants to commit to anything. the age of pirates is changing. and i think our only choice is to change with it.”

jeongguk knows he has to take his chance—the longer they sit here and talk, the more likely jimin is to figure out the truth or to end it and be on his way before yoongi and jeongguk can lure him back to their ship. if they haven’t gained his trust by now, they won’t. “we should go for a ride,” he says. “just for old time’s sake. even just down the coast a mile or two. wouldn’t that be nice?”

he looks up at yoongi again, trying to tell him with just a look that this is the next phase of their plan. thankfully, yoongi gets it, smirks a little at jimin when he says, “yeah, we should.”

jimin’s grin is easy, almost too easy. “yeah?” he asks. “that’s a great idea. we can take my ship.”

jeongguk’s stomach drops. “why yours?” he asks. “you should check out my ship. i think you’d like it.”

“no, no,” says jimin, already slipping off of the stool, sliding a handful of coins to the bartender to pay for their drinks. “my guests, my ship. i insist.”

when jeongguk stands, yoongi’s hand finally slips from his hair, but it instead lands on his waist, and somehow, that movement is the least of his worries now. even as jimin leads the way out of the pub, jeongguk throws yoongi a panicked look—this wasn’t part of their plan. “what the fuck do we do?” he hisses, the first time he’s ever asked for yoongi’s direction rather than taking the lead himself. yoongi is the fucking naval commander here, after all.

but yoongi just stares at him, looking as lost as he is. if it’s two against one, they can still detain jimin, but his crew will likely be on his ship. they anticipated being on the mourning star where they could use their crew to capture him. willingly stepping onto jimin’s ship is risky, is like giving him power over them. but they can’t make a fuss without looking suspicious.

“well, lovebirds?” jimin calls to them from the door. “are you coming or do you want to make out in the corner first?”

jimin’s ship is hiding not far from where the mourning star has been anchored, within sight of it. jeongguk almost considers trying to send a distress signal to the ship but knows it’ll only tip jimin off, instead choosing to rapidly work through as many possibilities for how to turn this around, to make this right. they can still salvage this, he knows. they just have to get jimin alone, have to make sure the rest of his crew can’t interfere when jeongguk and yoongi attack.

“she’s a beauty, isn’t she?” asks jimin once they’ve climbed onto the deck, grinning as he runs his hand over the mast. “i call her misery.

near the railing, yoongi snorts. “fitting.”

jeongguk’s nerves are only doubled when he notices a handful of pirates, jimin’s crew, moving about in the shadows, although they don’t say anything. almost so smoothly that jeongguk doesn’t notice it, the ship begins moving, the anchor pulled up, the sails unfurled. the only thing he can think of, suddenly, is the final thing they need from jimin—if this plan is going overboard and they won’t be able to capture jimin here, they can find him again elsewhere. but the reason they decided to capture jimin first was because he’s meant to tell them where to find their next pirate.

as casually as he can, jeongguk begins wandering through the deck, letting his hand slide over the railing, the rigging. “you ever thought about working with other well-known pirates?” he asks, peering over the side of the ship and into the black water below, moving past them slowly.

jimin hums. “why do you ask?”

“i was thinking about… yoongi-hyung and i,” he says. “it’s easier to work with someone who has made a name for themselves within this pirate world of ours. but it can also be… a challenge when you’re both used to being the ultimate authority, when you have your own ideas about how things should be done.” that much is true, at least. “i was just wondering if you ever thought about working with someone else.”

jimin seems to take this as a genuine question. “i like being in charge too much,” he says, “and it’s not so easy to convince a pirate who has their own plans to go along with yours.”

“you’re friends with other pirates, though, aren’t you?” asks yoongi, having picked up on what jeongguk is trying to do. “jeongguk was telling me a bit about… well—”

“taehyung?” asks jimin. there’s a smirk on his lips when jeongguk looks at him. “naughty of you, jeongguk-ah, blabbering about my love life.”

“can’t help it,” says jeongguk. “you know i can’t keep a secret from yoongi-hyung.” he doesn’t look at yoongi as he says it, keeping his eyes trained on jimin. it’s for the best—if jimin tries anything funny, he has to be prepared for it. he has no idea where the ship is going, but he doesn’t like that they’re moving away from the town.

leaning against the main mast, jimin’s smirk widens. “to answer your question, yoongi,” he says. “yes. i’m friends with other pirates. if you’re curious about kim taehyung, however, i haven’t seen him for a while.”

“why?” asks yoongi.

“nosy one, you are. but if you must know, he’s been off searching for mermaids.”

mermaids. suddenly, a plan is already formulating in jeongguk’s mind, a way to trap taehyung—“what does he want a mermaid for?” yoongi asks.

“he loves his mythical creatures,” laughs jimin, fondness colouring the words. “he’s chased dragons and fenghuangs and moon rabbits. this is just another in a long list of things he’ll likely never find.”

jeongguk cocks his head. “do you know where he is?”

jimin levels him with a look that frightens jeongguk, his eyes suddenly revealing a stranger. all at once, jeongguk knows—they’ve been caught. “why?” asks jimin, cold now as he pushes off of the mast and takes a few lazy steps toward jeongguk. “you want to find him, too? want to do to him whatever you plan on doing to me?”

suddenly, jeongguk’s mouth has gone dry. “i don’t—” he begins, eyes turning to yoongi’s for help. “i have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“c’mon, jeongguk-ah,” laughs jimin. “you didn’t really think i’d fall for all of that in the pub, did you? you and yoongi just running into each other, just passing through town? wanting to catch up for old time’s sake?” somehow, the air has cooled by ten degrees. jimin is close enough to lean into jeongguk’s space, lips against his ear, whispering so that yoongi can’t hear. “i know how you feel about him, ggukie,” he says. “you would have told me.”

“i don’t know what you mean,” says jeongguk, although his voice sounds thin even to his own ears.

jimin is laughing, then, taking steps backwards as he shoves his hands in his pockets, gaze turning from jeongguk to yoongi and then back again. “it’s a shame it has to come to this,” he says. “i did enjoy seeing the two of you again, truly. we did have some good times together. we were a family.” suddenly, jeongguk sees it in his periphery, and he turns his eyes toward the ship that is suddenly visible around the next bend of the coast that they’ve crested: the military ship that yoongi’s crew is on, meant to be hidden away from the town so that jimin didn’t find out the truth of their operation. jimin is sailing them right into their own trap, nodding toward the sight of the ship that catches them in the act. “but you’re right, jeongguk-ah,” sighs jimin. “pirates only care about themselves these days.”

for a long, terse moment, nothing happens. it feels like all sound and light has been sucked out of the air as jeongguk stares at the military ship, too far away to do much good for yoongi and jeongguk, but close enough for jimin to clearly know what it is and what it means. when jeongguk finally looks back to jimin, the smirk is gone. and suddenly, he’s not the boy that jeongguk once knew, the man he’s bled for and would bleed for again.

he’s just a pirate. an angry pirate.

jimin cocks his head at them. and then he says, “kill them.”

jeongguk’s body is moving before he even has time to think, all of his instincts taking over the moment the shadows hurl themselves into humans, into pirates with weapons trained on him. he draws his sword in time to block the first attack, a pirate jumping from the shadows to swing down at him. but there’s no time to think, to consider what all of this means: to be gravely outnumbered aboard a pirate ship captained by someone he once trusted. their mission has been compromised. now the only thing to do is—survive.

he’s swift as he kicks the pirate in the gut, sending them away from him as he turns and parries with another pirate who has taken their place. it’s too dark to make out exact numbers, but it’s all a blur as he swings his sword, grunting when he narrowly misses a sword to his own throat. metal clanks, shouts echoing from the ship, and as jeongguk sees an opening, driving his sword through the chest of his opponent, he takes a moment to glance sideways.

despite having left the pirate life behind, yoongi was right all along—being a pirate isn’t something someone can just give up. it’s ingrained in him, in his blood. yoongi was once the master gunner of the hangman’s daughter, the pirate who would teach each new crew member how to hold their sword properly, how to fire a gun. jeongguk almost gets distracted watching the way yoongi handles having three pirates on him at once, sword moving so quickly it’s as though the weapon doesn’t weigh a thing.

he snaps out of his own reverie when yoongi pulls a pistol from his side, cocks it, and sends a bullet into the gut of one of his opponents. it occurs to him, suddenly, that they’re probably going to die here.

but jeongguk will be damned if he doesn’t fight for it—he turns back to his own opponents, slicing his sword downward to cut through the arm of one of them, turning quickly and parrying a pirate behind him. he dodges and swipes his sword, pulling his own pistol from his side and, pivoting, sends a bullet through the head of a pirate approaching him. even then, he has no time to celebrate as his sword is nearly knocked from his hand by a downward arc of another sword, and jeongguk lets out a shout of frustration.

they can’t possibly win like this. even knowing he and yoongi are leagues above this crew, they can’t overtake all of them alone. but maybe—maybe they can do some damage. maybe, by some miracle, one of jeongguk’s or yoongi’s crew will have noticed something is amiss and will come to save them. if yoongi and jeongguk can hold off until then, they can make it.

they’ve done it before, haven’t they?

jeongguk spares another glance at yoongi as the other man takes a less conventional approach, knocking the sword out of someone’s hand and punching them square in the nose in lieu of having a loaded gun to finish the job. but they have done this before—have fought in so many battles together, have been at each other’s sides time and time again, even in situations more dire than this. for the yoongi and jeongguk of four years ago, this would hardly have been a challenge. because facing an entire crew as two separate people is impossible, but—that’s never how they worked.

they could always do it because they did it together.

for the first time in weeks, since jeongguk first laid eyes on yoongi standing outside of that cell, he forces himself not to see the man who broke his heart, who stood by and said nothing as his crew betrayed him. he forces himself not to see the naval commander who has captured and imprisoned him, the man who holds jeongguk’s life in his hands and seems to have great fun playing with it.

instead, he sees… min yoongi. he sees a pirate. he sees the spitfire of the hangman’s daughter—jeongguk’s partner, above all else.

“yoongi-hyung!” he calls, grunting as he turns back to the pirate currently trying to fucking kill him, blocking his attack. “give me your sword!”

there’s a belated clang of metal against metal and then yoongi’s gruff, “what?”

sword!” jeongguk drives his own sword through the chest of another pirate, using his foot to push the man off of the weapon to join the steadily growing pile of dead bodies on the deck. he takes a moment to turn to yoongi, eyes wild as he holds up his pistol. and he sees it, when they make eye contact—yoongi knows just what he’s thinking. they used to do this all the time, working better as one unit rather than two separate pirates. it’s risky and stupid, maybe, but in that moment, he knows yoongi knows as well as him that it might be their only shot.

as jimin’s laughter echoes from somewhere near the helm of the ship, jeongguk tosses his pistol to yoongi. says, somehow, in the silence between them—trust me.

yoongi narrows his eyes, but he tosses his sword to jeongguk anyway, and a dangerous smirk curls on jeongguk’s lips as he catches it by the handle and lets his instincts take over.

jeongguk hurries toward yoongi, gripping a sword in each hand as he laughs—laughs, a surge of adrenaline filling him—and yoongi crouches time in time for jeongguk to leap over him, bringing both swords down on the pirates about to take yoongi out. there’s no need to look at what yoongi is doing, trusting he has his own part of the operation down; the problem with these goddamn pistols is that they can only fire one bullet at a time, but yoongi is a gunner. jeongguk has never seen someone handle a gun like him before, and by the time jeongguk has disarmed two more pirates, yoongi is already saying, “down,” and jeongguk drops to his knees as yoongi pops back up, firing one shot each into the chests of the pirates jeongguk was fighting.

on the ground, jeongguk takes the chance swipe at the feet of another pirate on his right, stabbing his sword through the woman’s chest as he stands up again and then turns to see yoongi using the butt of one pistol as a club, smashing it into the face of another pirate.

“clever,” breathes jeongguk, and yoongi just grunts at him as jeongguk gets back on his feet, backing up until he and yoongi are brushing shoulders, their opponents on each side. despite the numbers, each opponent that falls merely replaced by another as though jimin’s crew is a never-ending supply of swords and pistols and frowning faces, jeongguk feels… better. feels stronger like this, how it used to be—with yoongi heaving against his side, rapidly reloading the pistols as jeongguk works double to defend and disarm their opponents.

“left!” yoongi calls and jeongguk lunges, swinging his sword at the pirate who attacks them, their weapons meeting in a clank high above their heads; jeongguk leans back just slightly as yoongi’s arm is suddenly across his chest, the bang of the pistol going off nearly deafening him, but the pirate goes down. jeongguk wastes no time in turning away, swiping his swords in opposite directions to catch two opponents at once, kicking one in the chest as he drives a sword through the groin of another.

another gunshot goes off. jeongguk misjudges his next swing, losing his grip on one of his swords as it collides with another sword, and the weapon goes tumbling to the deck below. then—“gguk!” jeongguk turns in time to see a sword arcing toward his head, but he doesn’t have time to throw up his own weapon. yet even as he winces, preparing for the inevitable blow, it doesn’t come; when he opens his eyes, he sees yoongi standing in front of him and the pirate staggering back, blood already staining the bottom half of his face.

jeongguk breathes hard, darting forward and wrapping his free arm around yoongi’s waist to pull him out of the way before he drives his remaining sword into their opponent’s stomach, hard.

“i’m running out of bullets,” breathes yoongi when jeongguk lets go of him, turning until they’re back to back as he parries yet another sword swung in his direction. but—the attacks are coming less fiercely and even in the light of the moon, jeongguk can see something very clearly: “they’re running out of pirates.” even then, he casts a glance toward the helm of the ship, but it’s empty—jimin is nowhere to be found. he was relying on his crew to take down jeongguk and yoongi, but he seems to have misplaced his trust.

or—he underestimated his opponents. despite four years of absence from each other’s lives, they’ve managed to slip back into their old habits so easily. even with only one sword now and yoongi reloading the pistols at a slower rate, jeongguk feels triumphant. it’s always worked like this: yoongi is jeongguk’s brain, but jeongguk is yoongi’s heart. when jeongguk starts fighting, he forgets to think and here yoongi is, reminding him to look before swinging. “right,” yoongi breathes and jeongguk moves, carving his sword through the air to parry the opponent before yoongi shoots them in the chest.

but when yoongi starts fighting, he sees too many strategies, too many possibilities. it’s what made him a good gunner in the first place, that analytical mind of his. but sometimes he forgets to move, then, to put that mind into action, and when jeongguk lets out a yelp at a sword nicking his arm, yoongi has already turned and bashed the pistol into the arm of this new opponent hard enough to break the bone, leaving jeongguk to slice him open.

it’s so easy to find themselves back here. it’s so easy to feel as though nothing ever really changed, to remember how well they worked together. no matter what yoongi did to him four years ago, they still know each other too intimately to ignore. they still fit together like puzzle pieces, working like the delicate bits of a weapon, like the very pistol in yoongi’s hand.

by the time he hears yoongi breathe a quiet, “shit,” and jeongguk knows they’ve run out of bullets, there’s suddenly an array of shouting from the starboard. jeongguk blocks one last blow before the entire ship seems to freeze in confusion, and jeongguk turns his head to see—the mourning star. the other ship seems so out of place that jeongguk almost doesn’t understand what he’s seeing, but then he makes out the shouting of his crew, can see them swinging onto jimin’s ship, weapons drawn.

jeongguk stares. his crew comes tumbling onto the ship, immediately hurrying to overtake the rest of the enemy crew with a vigorousness he couldn’t have imagined from them. it’s only when he sees them, though, that he realizes how tired he’s gotten, how hard his own heart is beating. for a moment, jeongguk can only stand in the middle of it as a miracle happens, and then—“park jimin!” shouts yoongi, still beside him.

jeongguk turns to see yoongi already running across the deck amidst a dozen new battles, stopping to pick up a sword that has fallen to the ground. “hyung!” he calls, taking off after yoongi, knowing—not all is lost, finally. he leaves his own crew to deal with detaining the rest of jimin’s crew as yoongi leads the way into the captain’s quarters of the ship, kicking the doors open as he stalks inside.

by the time jeongguk joins them, yoongi and jimin are facing off, pistols pointed at each other’s heads. yoongi has backed jimin against a wall of windows where jimin clearly meant to escape, a small bag thrown over his shoulder. jeongguk comes to a stumbling halt behind yoongi.

“coward,” says yoongi.

“you’re the ones trying to kill me,” spits jimin.

“we don’t have to kill you, park,” says yoongi. “it’s over. our crew is currently cleaning up yours and even if you jump out of those windows into the sea, we’ll capture you anyway. give it up.”

jimin meets jeongguk’s eyes over yoongi’s shoulder, and he does know there’s no point in fighting. for the first time since jeongguk saw jimin’s name on that list, he feels… guilty. he pushed it down, not wanting to think of the implications of sending one of his own friends to his death all to gain his own freedom. oh, how they’ve changed. oh, how they’ve done such horrible things to each other.

once, the three of them were brothers. now—

“park jimin,” says yoongi.

“what happened to that family you spoke of, jeongguk-ah?” asks jimin as he finally drops his gun, kicking it toward the pair of them.

jeongguk doesn’t apologize.

“i hereby place you under arrest for piracy,” says yoongi.

“i guess the two of you do deserve each other. for a second back there, it was like… nothing changed.” jimin laughs. slowly, yoongi lowers his gun, tucking it back into its holster at his side. he turns to look over at shoulder at jeongguk, opening his mouth to say something.

jeongguk sees it the moment before jimin moves—the massive paper weight in his hand, and his intention to hit yoongi with it, to kill him, maybe, when yoongi is distracted. and jeongguk doesn’t have time to shout a warning to him as jimin’s arm moves up, hand grasping the paper weight, and jeongguk just—moves. he uses his free hand to shove yoongi out of the way and throws his sword up to block jimin’s arm, blunt side up to keep from slicing through his arm.

the blow is jarring either way and he reaches up to grab jimin’s wrist as he tugs him down at the same time that he brings his knee up, colliding with jimin’s sternum. he twists jimin’s wrist painfully until his grip loosens on the paper weight, the heavy object clattering the ground as jeongguk lets go of him and jimin goes down, too, groaning in pain when he falls at jeongguk’s feet.

“he said you’re under fucking arrest,” snaps jeongguk, practically trembling with adrenaline. “some things have changed, park, but if you so much as lay a finger on yoongi-hyung, i’ll carve your fucking eyes out.” on the ground, jimin rolls to look up at him, but he has no time to speak before there are two pirates brushing past jeongguk to haul jimin off of the floor. jeongguk recognizes them from his own crew, meaning they must have detained the rest of the pirates out on the deck.

jeongguk stays where he is even as the pirates haul jimin away from him, jimin shouting angrily at them the whole time. he’s—shaking, pent up adrenaline and tension ringing through him as he tries to come to grips with the past twenty minutes. he knows he’s been injured, although not seriously; nonetheless, he can’t feel the pain yet, too riled up from the battle, from jimin’s near-miss. he doesn’t know what to do with himself.

he’s only aware that he’s not alone when he feels a hand on his shoulder and jeongguk startles, turning around to see yoongi standing behind him. his face and hair are drenched in sweat, dirt streaking his features. he must have gotten hit in the head at some point because there’s a thin trail of blood drying from the hairline at his temple down the side of his face. but it’s not this that jeongguk pays attention to—it’s the feral look in yoongi’s eyes, the wild sort of expression jeongguk knows is mirrored in his own.

they almost died. they almost died together and somehow managed to claw their way out of it, to fight together to come back from the brink of death. jeongguk’s heartbeat is the only thing he can hear pounding in his ears, barely masking the sound of both of their breathing, too loud in the silence of the room. jeongguk is high on it—on the adrenaline and the victory, on having done all of that with yoongi. again. on having yoongi here at all, at the strange sense of euphoria that floods him now as he remembers, suddenly, everything that he tried so hard to forget about those five years of being with yoongi.

but here it is, suddenly: how good it feels to be on top of the world with yoongi at his side, to defeat their enemies together. to move as one, to be as one.

and for a moment, everything grinds to a halt. between one trembling breath and the next, jeongguk just—stops thinking.

he doesn’t know who moves first, only that they collide in the middle, only that yoongi’s lips on his feels like both heaven and hell at the same time. it’s harsh, jeongguk’s hands grabbing at the sides of yoongi’s face to tug him in harder, to keep him there even as yoongi’s arms wrap around jeongguk’s waist, no intention of letting go. jeongguk pays no attention to his own swirling thoughts, focusing instead on the press of yoongi’s lips, hard enough to bruise, to leave a mark.

his nails dig into yoongi’s skin, breathing hard through his nose as his chest heaves against yoongi’s. it’s a game of push and pull, this outpouring of everything left in jeongguk’s mind and heart—the battle, almost dying, saving yoongi one last time. and he’s here, he’s here, it’s been four years and jeongguk missed this, missed the two of them being an extension of each other. yoongi parts his lips and jeongguk tilts his head into it, letting his tongue swipe along yoongi’s mouth like he can taste everything he’s missed in the past four years.

but yoongi just tastes like blood.

somehow, it’s this that kickstarts jeongguk’s mind again, and then he realizes what he’s doing. it’s yoongi who moves first, then, hands suddenly between them as he pushes jeongguk away, and part of jeongguk doesn’t want that, wants to reach, wants to exist in some in between place where jimin is right, where nothing has changed.

but then they break apart, jeongguk stumbling back a step as his hands fall from yoongi’s face, and their eyes find each other in the moonlight shining in from the windows. jeongguk breathes harder than he did before, mouth dry, heart stuttering over and over in his chest, tripping over itself, over the want that has suddenly set up road blocks inside of him.

“oh my god,” jeongguk whispers, taking another step back, and the realization dawns on him what they’ve done, matching the surprise and guilt and horror on yoongi’s face.

“sorry,” whispers yoongi, like it’s his fault, like he moved first—and did he? did he stop thinking, too, did he want it as much as jeongguk did, does? “jeongguk—”

“oh my god,” jeongguk whispers again, and then merely turns and flees before yoongi can say anything else, hand coming to rest against his lips as he hurries back through the ship to the main deck, to the moonlight and the torches, wanting nothing more than to block out the thoughts and feelings that have come tumbling forth, the dam he’d spent so long building having broken with the kiss.

wanting nothing more than to block out the realization that he wanted it, that he still wants it, that he wants it again.

as he finally reaches the deck in time to see the gangplank stretching out between the two ships, his own crew hauling jimin back over to the mourning star, jeongguk tries his hardest to block out the thought. but he can’t, not when it’s always been there, just waiting below the surface for something to wake it again. he can’t ignore it when it’s screaming now, along with the rabbit beat of jeongguk’s heart—the truth.

he’s still in love with yoongi.

the sea is calm, as it tends to be on the turning nights of jeongguk’s life. from where he stands against the rigging of his ship, hand on the ropes and eyes watching the unmoving horizon, he can’t help likening this night to the one weeks ago, on an island near jeju, all of that treasure that should have been his. the night yoongi came sneaking back into his life, like a shadow moving through the world until he could cast himself upon jeongguk again.

he doesn’t like to believe in signs but even a hapless stowaway would see the pattern.

it’s been hours since they captured jimin, the sky already colouring itself in shades of pink and orange as the world begins to wake. before long, the sun will rise from the waterline. but jeongguk has yet to sleep, has yet to do much but stand on his boat and stare at the water. after hauling jimin onto the mourning star, they sailed to the military vessel equipped to hold him the way it held jeongguk. and jimin didn’t say a thing—maybe that’s the worst part of it. he didn’t fight them, didn’t yell blasphemies at them. didn’t even ask for the truth. he just went, all the while casting knowing and smug glances at jeongguk, like he knows something jeongguk doesn’t. or—like he’s realized something jeongguk has tried to keep secret for a very long time.

maybe jeongguk has begun to realize it, too.

he can still feel yoongi’s lips on his, feels like they’ll bruise even though the kiss didn’t last long enough for that. but—it doesn’t matter, does it? jeongguk’s lips know the shape of yoongi’s so intimately, has missed them like shipwrecks miss the sunrise. he knows not what to make of it, knowing that it wasn’t just his doing. for yoongi moved too. maybe yoongi moved first. and they were caught up in the rush of it, the thrill of a battle and of a capture, remembering how good it felt to be fighting alongside each other again. it just seemed… right.

despite the way it makes his heart burn, jeongguk has to admit they always had the best sex after nearly dying together.

a sound from the other side of the ship draws jeongguk’s attention, and when he turns over his shoulder, he sees yoongi’s military ship anchored not far from the mourning star. they’ll set sail to find kim taehyung later, once they’ve figured out where to go, once they’ve all rested and recovered from a night of excitement. for now, here they sit, the ships close enough that jeongguk could jump from one to the other. not for the first time, he curses working so closely with the military—both figuratively and literally.

but he has no time to think of it when he sees what has drawn his attention; on the other ship, there’s a pirate appearing from belowdecks. or—not a pirate. it’s yoongi, still dressed in his pirate garb. for the first time, it’s not anger that fills jeongguk at the sight of him, but—something more akin to sorrow. to regret and disappointment, not in yoongi but himself.

when they were younger, it was so easy to speak without words, for yoongi to know just what jeongguk wanted him to without having to open his mouth. but they are no longer the young men they were. and despite his stubbornness, jeongguk knows what has to be said.

he waits for yoongi to notice him, eyes meeting across their ships. it feels symbolic somehow. when yoongi doesn’t run, instead hesitating, jeongguk takes his chances and steps down from onto the deck, heading across it until he can take a seat on the opposite railing, swinging one leg over so he’s straddling it. it’s a silent invitation that yoongi takes after only a brief pause, joining jeongguk at the railing of the military vessel so there’s only a few feet of water between them.

neither of them speaks, not at first. jeongguk isn’t sure what to say. what he settles on, after he begins to feel awkward, is, “is your, um—is your head okay?”

yoongi fingers prod gently at his temple, although there’s no sign of an injury or blood now. “yeah,” he says. “s’just tender. nothing serious.”

“good.”

suddenly, jeongguk feels like a child again. feels like he’s nineteen and talking to yoongi for the first time again rather than twenty-eight and the captain of his own vessel with the scars to tell every story of how he got here.

when yoongi first joined the crew of hangman’s daughter, jeongguk felt small in a way he never had before. he had just been made first mate, arguably had more authority and responsibility than most others onboard, and he’d been a pirate on the ship for five years. he knew the ins and outs, had fought and bled for that crew. but speaking to yoongi, standing next to him, none of that mattered. suddenly, he was just a boy enamoured by this man who had been a pirate for his entire life, who had scars and tattoos that jeongguk didn’t understand, who looked at jeongguk and smiled when jeongguk told yoongi that he liked the scar that cut through one of his eyebrows, who told jeongguk the story of how he’d gotten it and had stars in his eyes the entire time.

strangely, how he felt then is how jeongguk feels now: frightened, a bit, and curious, of course, and lonely. lonely in a way that he knew then, as he knows now, that only yoongi can fix.

he takes a breath. “yoongi—”

“i’m sorry,” says yoongi, cutting him off. “about—about kissing you. that was inappropriate and i don’t know what i was thinking and… i’m sorry.”

“that’s what i was going to say.”

yoongi’s eyes are dark when he looks at jeongguk, and jeongguk has to look away, down to his hands braced against the wide railing between his thighs instead. “i’m sorry, too,” jeongguk adds. “i don’t think it’s anyone’s fault but i still wanted to apologize.”

it’s the first conversation they’ve had that hasn’t involved arguing—not yet, at least. but jeongguk doesn’t really feel like arguing with yoongi right now, not after being shaken like that—both in the battle and because of the kiss, his heart knocked askew by all of these old feelings resurfacing.

“i think i kind of forgot where we were,” admits yoongi with a laugh. “like, it just… felt like we were back there, you know? how we used to be.”

“yeah,” agrees jeongguk, looking up to find yoongi looks—sheepish. like this, in the barest light of sunrise, he looks different from both the commander he’s been for weeks and the pirate he was tonight. now, he just looks like… yoongi. “i didn’t think we would still be able to work that well together, like we used to. it’s a good thing, though; otherwise, we’d probably be dead.”

“it was like we never stopped,” says yoongi. “i guess you do something enough times and your body doesn’t really forget how to do it.”

“it felt good.” it’s too vulnerable to admit that, but somehow, it feels as though he can only say that here and now—between one day and the next, dawn just descending upon them, and when the rest of the world is still asleep. there’s something magical about it. “i haven’t… i haven’t felt like that in a really long time. i never stopped being a pirate, but after the mutiny, i think i lost something. i lost what made me love being a pirate in the first place, and it was only then when we were about to die that i felt it again.” when yoongi doesn’t immediately respond, jeongguk burns with embarrassment, is quick to add, “sorry, that’s stupid.”

“no,” says yoongi quickly. “no, i… i get it. i should have been terrified, but i don’t think i’ve felt that alive in a long time. i forgot how good it felt to—” he stops suddenly, and jeongguk can almost see his cheeks flush. but it might just be a trick of the light. “to do that. with you. to… be with you.”

he’s almost shy when he raises his eyes to lock gazes with jeongguk, and jeongguk can’t help the way his stomach swoops within him. oh no, he thinks. it’s not just him, is it? and is that better or worse?

for the first time in a very long time, jeongguk doesn’t hate yoongi. he just misses him.

gingerly, jeongguk says, “i’m really glad we didn’t die. that was a really close call.”

“i don’t think we were as subtle as we thought we were,” laughs yoongi. “we’re just lucky jimin didn’t try to kill us himself.”

“we’ll know better for next time, then. one down, four to go.” although the mission seemed impossible before this, he now knows that he and yoongi can work together. and that it feels good to do so, despite what jeongguk might have assumed before. if anything, the near-failure to capture jimin is just a warning that they have to figure out how to work together before they’re facing death. it was only luck and quick thinking that managed to keep them alive, but they can’t rely on that for the next four pirates. something has to change.

he’s not sure what—but then yoongi says, “gguk-ah,” all quiet and soft, and jeongguk’s heart seizes in his chest. their eyes meet, and yoongi’s are suddenly filled with regret. “that’s not all i have to apologize for.” jeongguk’s breath hitches. “i shouldn’t have left you, four years ago. i shouldn’t have—let them do that to you. i should have come back for you.”

it’s not the first time yoongi has said it—he said those same words a week ago, when they were arguing on yoongi’s ship. but unlike last time, he says the words with sincerity and sorrow, feels like he’s holding his heart out to jeongguk and asking him to accept it, knowing that it’s up to jeongguk what he wants to do next.

“i’m really sorry,” yoongi adds. “i tried arguing with them, but i knew they would have killed me if i made a fuss about it. but that doesn’t change the fact that i didn’t stop them. i wanted to stop them. i wanted to come back for you, i spent—” he stops, shaking his head. “i wanted to, jeongguk. but i didn’t. and that doesn’t excuse what i did, so i’m sorry. but i never… i never stopped wanting to. i never agreed with what they did. i should have done better, but i can’t change it. but i just want you to know that if i could change it, i would.”

the truth is, yoongi’s words can’t fix what was broken. they can’t retroactively keep jeongguk’s heart from shattering as they made eye contact for the last time four years ago. they can’t stop him from hating yoongi for four years, for vowing to break yoongi the way yoongi broke him. and normally, an apology of any level of sincerity would make jeongguk scoff, would make him angry.

but he can see, from the pained look on yoongi’s face, that he means it. that he’s agonized over this for so long that it’s worn him down, broken his own heart. and in light of recent events and revelations, jeongguk knows that more anger isn’t going to help anything. yoongi is standing here, asking jeongguk to understand. and maybe jeongguk’s anger and bitterness isn’t going to be wiped away by one apology.

but maybe he can stop putting up those walls. maybe he can try to let yoongi’s sincerity chip away at his own pain. maybe it doesn’t have to be like this.

“you broke my heart, min yoongi,” says jeongguk, and yoongi’s face falls even further, if possible. “you really did. i’ve spent four years hating you and being angry at you, but… i’m tired. i’m so tired, hyung.” he takes a breath, almost disbelieving that he’s about to say it, but he does, he does—“i accept your apology. it’s not going to change what happened and it’s not going to change the fact that i’ve hated you for four years, but i don’t want to hate you anymore. not if it’s going to cause us to die. because you’re right—i forgot what it felt like to be with you and i hate my stupid heart for missing you, but it does. i do.” he averts his eyes again, watching the first sliver of the sun peeking above the horizon.

“i think it’ll take me some time to stop being angry at you,” says jeongguk, “but there’s no use in that anymore. we have to work together if we want to do this thing properly and we can’t do that if we’re arguing with each other all the time. it just hurts to do that.” he knows he’ll slip up out of habit, knows that he won’t be able to forget what yoongi did. but he can choose not to react to it every time he thinks about it.

“i know it’s not my place to say it,” says yoongi. “but i don’t want to argue with you anymore. and you have every right to be upset with me and to hate me and to not want to work with me, considering i—well. i’ve fucked you over more than once.” jeongguk almost forgot about it, if that’s even possible—the fact that he’s still yoongi’s prisoner. “i didn’t want to do this to you. and i still don’t, but i have to. and i’ll take whatever you want to give me, because i deserve that much.”

“where was that attitude for the past two weeks?” asks jeongguk, lips tugging upward into a grin.

yoongi looks vaguely startled that jeongguk is joking with him, but then he matches the grin. “you’re very good at riling people up, jeongguk. i think you know that.”

“i don’t want to argue with you, either, for what it’s worth,” says jeongguk. “at least for the sake of this mission. i’m willing to put the past behind us if you’re okay with that.” he can’t guarantee what will happen after all of this is over—granted they actually complete the mission and don’t end up dead somewhere in the sea of japan, which is a much more likely outcome. but for now, for the sake of their mission and his own sanity, he can do this.

“i’m more than okay with that,” nods yoongi.

and it’s not—fixed, not by any means. but when jeongguk takes a deep breath, it feels better. and he’ll take what he can get.

suddenly, he feels all of the exhaustion of the day, knowing he hasn’t slept in nearly twenty-four hours and has fought a short battle during that time. forcing a yawn down, he tries to play it off—and he doesn’t know if it’s because he wants to stay here with yoongi, wants to keep existing in this limbo where it feels like he can say anything without consequence—but yoongi notices anyway. he always notices. “you should get some sleep,” he says. “it’s been a really long day and… you did good. we can figure out how to get taehyung after we’ve gotten some rest.”

jeongguk sighs, swinging his leg over the railing and sliding down until his feet are on the deck. “you, too,” he murmurs, leaning against the railing as he takes another moment to watch yoongi. “you did good, too.”

“once a pirate, always a pirate, eh?”

jeongguk grins. “goodnight, hyung.”

when yoongi grins back at him, jeongguk hates the way he feels warm just to see it. hates his traitorous heart, hates how he wants to still be angry at yoongi because it’s easier than whatever this is. but hating it doesn’t change the truth.

jeongguk is halfway across the deck when he stops, turning back around to find that yoongi hasn’t moved from his spot against the railing of his own ship, still watching jeongguk. “for the record,” he says. “you look better as a pirate. suits you more.”

“goodnight, jeongguk,” calls yoongi. he’d almost mistake yoongi’s exasperated grin for fondness.

(that night, when jeongguk dreams of yoongi, for the first time in four years, he doesn’t try to wake up.

for the first time, he doesn’t want to.)

Chapter Text

“morning, commander.”

“good morning, lieutenant.” yoongi tips his head in a bow to minsoo as he makes his way onto the main deck, surveying the small amount of activity there. they’re still anchored outside of the town they found jimin in, but it seems everyone is eager to set sail again, to find their next target. yoongi feels it, too—a sort of itch beneath his skin, a desire to see nothing but blue, blue sea on all sides of him. but maybe that has less to do with wanting to get on with the mission and more to do with whatever was awoken within him last night in the heat of battle.

“has our prisoner been a hassle in the past few hours?” yoongi asks.

minsoo shakes her head. “surprisingly quiet. granted, no one in the crew wants to talk to him out of fear, but there’s been no yelling or banging of heads against the bars. welcome change.” yoongi has to keep down the guffaw he wants to give at that, reminded of how jeongguk behaved as their prisoner.

speaking of which—yoongi’s gaze sweeps to the ship anchored directly next to them, the mourning star. although he’s loathe to admit it, he searches for one man among the pirates there, and finds himself oddly disappointed when he sees only unfamiliar faces. the thought of being disappointed leaves him embarrassed, though, cheeks flaring with colour as he turns back to minsoo.

she’s already smiling at him, something vaguely smug. “looking for someone?” she asks.

“i have to meet with captain jeon to discuss our next steps,” he says quickly, but the thought of jeongguk has a memory returning to him, unbidden—jeongguk’s lips against his, familiar and warm and relieving, and the look in his eyes when he accepted yoongi’s apology. in all honesty, yoongi isn’t sure he wants to see jeongguk. not yet, at least. what if nothing has changed? what if, after a few hours of sleep and in the light of day, whatever dream-like conversation they had last night was just that: a dream?

“he’s already in your office,” says minsoo. “i told him not to piss on your papers.”

“he’s not a dog,” mutters yoongi, but can’t deny he feels oddly flustered knowing jeongguk is waiting for him. and why should he feel that way? it’s hardly the first time jeongguk has been in his office. in fact, just yesterday he would have felt a tinge of annoyance at that, knowing jeongguk has taken residence in yoongi’s personal cabins, thinking he can take over everything, thinking he can just grow to fit the available space.

now, though—well. now yoongi isn’t sure how he feels about that.

“let me know what you decide we ought to do next,” says minsoo, already turning away from him. “time is wasting, commander. the king has his orders for us.” she cocks an eyebrow at him. yoongi holds her gaze, narrowing his eyes only slightly before he nods to her and turns toward his cabins, already trying to rapidly formulate his first words to jeongguk.

“oh, and min?” he turns around as minsoo calls to him. this time, her smirk is blatantly smug. “nice outfit.” yoongi looks down at what he’s wearing—the same pirate garb he was wearing last night when he and jeongguk headed into the town. rather than dignify her comment with a response, yoongi just huffs, moving quicker toward his goal. he’ll pretend it was just easier to throw this on than his navy uniform, considering it was closer to his bed, but, well. maybe it just… fits better. not physically, of course. but there’s something comforting about them. something that makes him feel more… min yoongi.

when yoongi enters his office, jeongguk is indeed waiting for him—sitting in yoongi’s chair, feet propped on the desk and head tilted back, mouth wide open. he’s sleeping. against his will, new memories surface—jeongguk managing to fall asleep anywhere at any time, taking the opportunity for rest whenever it came up. he always seemed to think that sleeping during the night was wasting time, instead staying up until odd hours reading or working on maps of the stars or simply sitting out on the deck and watching the waves pass by.

yoongi could often find him just like this, passed out in broad daylight and always, always in yoongi’s space. like he felt safe enough to sleep surrounded by yoongi’s things, yoongi’s presence, yoongi himself.

of course, back then, yoongi would try to toss as many small objects as possible into jeongguk’s gaping mouth while he slept. now, he just—watches. just for a second. allows himself to revel in lost time, and time that they may yet be able to make up. last night, jeongguk accepted his apology, agreed to put their past behind them for the sake of their mission. and it’s by no means a cure to the disease of hatred and bitterness that has infested jeongguk’s heart. but it’s a start, at least.

when yoongi has gotten his fill—allowed himself just a minute of tenderness—he closes the door behind him a little more harshly than necessary. the sound jerks jeongguk out of sleep, the pirate making a snorting sound as his head snaps up, blinking sleepily in yoongi’s direction before his eyes focus and he seems to remember where he is.

shaking his head, jeongguk puts his feet down. smacks his lips a few times, furrows his brow as he takes in yoongi’s appearance. “are you—” he begins, and then thinks better of it with another shake of his head. “uh. commander.”

“good morning, captain,” says yoongi, forcing away that stupid swell of fondness as he approaches the desk, taking a seat in the chair opposite. “good nap?”

“shut up,” mutters jeongguk, grasping at a few papers on the desk and focusing on them rather than on yoongi’s smirk, the amusement that dances in his eyes. “you’re the one who took too long to get here. i think i aged a year waiting for you to wake up.”

“and how much sleep did you get?”

“enough,” grumbles jeongguk, finally meeting yoongi’s eyes. it doesn’t look like he slept at all. but to be fair—yoongi didn’t either. he was too busy trying to remember the exact shape of jeongguk’s lips against his when they kissed, but that’s neither here nor there. “we’re here to talk about kim taehyung, not my sleeping habits.”

“i have an idea,” says yoongi instantly. “but we’re gonna have to talk to jimin.”

jeongguk’s face gets cloudier, if possible. but he just sighs, and then runs a hand through his hair before standing up. “alright,” he says. “but if he tries to chew your arm off through the bars of his cell, i’m not saving you.”

yoongi has never liked military vessels. there’s something so obnoxious about them—the décor, the paint job, the fact that they can house a number of prisoners and feel no remorse about it. a regular pirate ship could do the same, but the underbelly of a military vessel has always given yoongi anxiety like nothing else. he’s been on the inside of those bars, after all—and he likes them no better than being on the outside, even knowing that he’s not the prisoner. a cage is a cage. it never feels like he’s free even on the outside.

still—yoongi puts on a stony face as he and jeongguk come to a stop in front of jimin’s cell. jeongguk was housed in it just weeks ago, and now jimin is sitting against the side of the ship, picking at his nails. he doesn’t bother looking up when yoongi relieves the men guarding him, or when jeongguk raps his knuckles against the bars.

it takes a minute of jimin inspecting his nails and then he lifts his head enough to glare at the two of them, voice cold when he asks, “what do you want?”

“kim taehyung,” says yoongi.

“your skincare routine,” says jeongguk. “how do you keep yourself looking so flawless as a pirate?”

“it’s called not betraying my friends and arresting them for piracy and having them executed,” says jimin, turning back to his nails. “and i’m not going to help you find taehyung, so don’t even bother.”

“we don’t want you to help us find him,” says yoongi, and jeongguk throws him a bewildered look. yoongi folds his arms over his chest, leaning against the bars. “i just wanna have a little chat about him.”

“his dick is bigger than yours,” says jimin. “and no, i don’t want to test the theory. jeongguk, remember when you told me that we’d be brothers forever?”

jeongguk audibly grits his teeth. “can’t say i recall.”

“shame. i just want the both of you to know that i will get out of this cell and i will slit both of your throats and then drown you in the ocean. and it will feel really, really good.”

yoongi and jeongguk make eye contact—jeongguk’s filled with a quiet sort of anger, yoongi’s filled with boredom. he’s argued with enough pirates over the past few weeks and he doesn’t feel like going through all of this again. and he can’t blame jimin for being uncooperative, considering he is going to die when they return to the mainland and hand him over to the king to be executed. but yoongi refuses to spend the rest of his life on this mission, even if it does mean potentially having another chance to make things right with jeongguk.

“last night, you said that taehyung is looking for mermaids,” says yoongi, turning back to jimin. “why?”

jimin sighs. “fuck if i know,” he admits. “he likes collecting things, mystical things. it’s a hobby.”

“does he make deals with people who have what he wants?”

this finally makes jimin look up, sharp eyes catching yoongi’s. he doesn’t reply to that, although perhaps that’s all the response yoongi needs. “what are you planning, traitor?” he asks. “taehyung isn’t a fucking idiot. you can’t find him; he’s too elusive. you can’t reason with him. he’s a goddamn pirate. he’ll be a lot harder to capture than you think.”

“just like you were so hard to capture?” asks jeongguk. yoongi is beginning to think he gets a kick out of being a little shit to people he used to love. “c’mon, hyung. spitfire min yoongi and i aren’t stupid, either.”

jimin’s gaze is scathing. “you think you two are so invincible,” he says. “so you caught me, congratulations. but one day, you’re going to forget that you’re only human. and it’s going to cost you very dearly.”

yoongi catches jeongguk’s eye again, raising an eyebrow. “so i’ll take that as a yes, he’s willing to deal with traders and other collectors?”

“if you lay a fucking finger on taehyung, i swear to god—”

“thanks, park,” grins yoongi, tilting his head for jeongguk to follow as he turns away from the bars, already heading away from the cell. “your cooperation will be noted.”

catching up to him on the way up the stairs, jeongguk nudges yoongi’s arm. “i don’t see how that was a success whatsoever,” he says.

“oh, i wasn’t trying to get any real information out of him,” says yoongi with a shrug, leading the way back to his office. “but he might come in handy later. i just want to rile him up a little. you never know where it might be useful.”

“the only place park jimin’s anger is going to be useful is in his plans to murder all of us as we sleep and escape.”

“do you wanna hear my plan?” asks yoongi, gesturing for jeongguk to take a seat at his desk. for the first time all morning, he sees irritation flicker over jeongguk’s features—whether at the request to sit or at yoongi’s apparent elusiveness and inability to fear the danger jimin poses to them. but then, unlike every other time jeongguk has been annoyed with him, he doesn’t voice it. he just takes a seat.

progress.

“i don’t think we have to find taehyung at all,” says yoongi. “no one really knows where he is, and even if jimin did, it’s clear he’s not going to tell us that. so we have to make taehyung come to us.

“and how are we meant to do that?” asks jeongguk. “there’s no way he’ll sail right into our clutches if he knows what we’re doing.”

“then he doesn’t have to know what we’re doing. jimin said taehyung is looking for mermaids. if he’s staking his entire livelihood on this hobby of his, i’m willing to bet he would be up for at least meeting someone who says they have what he’s looking for.”

jeongguk stares at him. “mermaid dealers,” he says.

“mermaid dealers,” grins yoongi. he hates how much he’s enjoying this, coming up with plans, trying to capture pirates he used to fear. the hangman’s daughter was never one of the most feared vessels among korean pirates, and for good reason: lionheart didn’t want them to gain such a reputation that they would have the military after them. outsmarting people he used to think of as enemies or, at the very least, competition is giving him an inordinate amount of satisfaction.

“what do you propose, then?” asks jeongguk.

“we lure him to us,” says yoongi. “we choose a remote location—an island somewhere that is uninhabited, unlikely to be a stop for any passing pirates, and hard enough to get to that only people who really want to find it will find it. we send some of our men out to spread the word that there are dealers stationed on this island who have a mermaid and are willing to sell or trade it for a decent price. not too cheap or we’ll have useless idiots stopping by—something we know that will make kim take us seriously. and then we wait.”

“we wait,” deadpans jeongguk. “on an island in the middle of nowhere for someone who might not even show up.”

yoongi nods. “there’s no way we can find taehyung on our own, and we need to get him alone—or as alone as possible—if we’re going to detain him once he lands on the island,” he says. “and i know it’s not ideal to sit around and wait for him to show up when there’s no guarantee that he will, but i have a good feeling about this. rumours of these creatures spread like wildfire. and if we have a mermaid, kim taehyung will come.” when jeongguk doesn’t immediately agree, yoongi is quick to add, “plus, it’ll give us some time to figure out the next step of our plan. we might be able to get some information out of jimin about any of the other pirates, or we can figure out where to start in trying to find them.”

“what if it doesn’t work?” asks jeongguk. he props his feet on yoongi’s desk again, chewing on a hangnail. “what if we just waste a few weeks, a few months of our time on this island and nothing happens?”

yoongi knows it’s a very real possibility. when he’d first thought of the plan somewhere around the third hour he’d been lying awake and staring at his ceiling and trying not to feel lonely knowing jeongguk was on the other ship, sleeping alone—he’d been all too aware that it’s a reckless and risky plan. but he knows pirates like kim taehyung. he knows how far these pirates will go to find what they want, what they’re looking for. he knows the risks they’ll take, knows how that desire will consume them until it’s all they can think about, going after every possibility and rumour just in case the next one is the one.

he watches jeongguk carefully. oh, yoongi knows so fucking much about what those pirates will do to find what they’re looking for. 

“it’ll work,” he says firmly. “we can give it a time limit, but it’ll work, jeongguk. i need you to trust me.”

something changes in jeongguk’s expression. his eyes grow darker, forehead pinching together in thought and what yoongi recognizes as turmoil. he knows what he’s asking of jeongguk, knows how hard it will be. four years ago, yoongi broke jeongguk’s trust when he stood by and let the rest of their crew mutiny him. for those four years, jeongguk has learned to think of yoongi as nothing but an enemy, someone he can never work with again, someone he can never trust again.

but last night, the both of them seemed to come to a revelation about what working together again means. and how they have to do it—and how they have to trust each other, despite the ways in which they have hurt and been hurt. yoongi is well aware that it isn’t easy for jeongguk, and he doesn’t expect that everything will be smooth sailing from here on out. but this is the first step: just asking for jeongguk’s trust. asking for jeongguk to believe that they can be the team they once were.

there’s a prolonged pause, one in which jeongguk just stares at him, reasoning with himself and his own feelings, his own thoughts. and if he decides not to trust yoongi, he has every right. and yet, yoongi wants to hope. he wants to hope that their conversation last night means something, that they can learn to co-exist. and maybe—maybe they can learn to do more than that, too. to be more.

finally, jeongguk sighs, tapping his foot against the table. “i’ll admit, it’s kind of a brilliant plan,” he laughs. “risky and potentially a waste of our time, but it’s smart. i’ll give you that.”

yoongi can’t hold back the pleased grin. “didn’t think you’d ever say those words to me again, did you?”

“alright, don’t push it, hero,” scowls jeongguk, dropping his feet from the desk and standing up. “i’m only saying that because it’s the only working idea we have. don’t get overly comfortable with me just because i decided you’re not the devil incarnate anymore. you’re still a piece of shit until further notice.”

despite the fact that the words themselves are far from loving, yoongi grins at the warmth in them, the teasing. and if jeongguk can tease him, that has to be a good sign. right? 

“hey,” says yoongi before he can stop himself, and it’s probably a bad idea, but—“you’re the one who kissed me back.”

jeongguk makes a noise akin to choking, eye widening as he stares at yoongi. and it’s not like they decided never to mention that again, but, well. it suddenly feels like he’s just broken a sacred rule of accidentally kissing his ex-boyfriend after the two of them almost died together.

yoongi clears his throat. “i mean…” he begins. “we should hammer out the logistics for this plan. and run it by the rest of the crew. then we can send out our messengers to spread the rumours, sail to our island, and set up camp.”

jeongguk is still staring at him. then, clearing his own throat, he nods, drumming his knuckles on top of yoongi’s desk. “right,” he says. “sounds like a solid plan.” he kind of just stands there for a long second, like he’s unsure of how to proceed, and then he takes a step toward the door. he stops, turns back around, stares at yoongi. opens his mouth. closes it.

“yes?” asks yoongi, hoping to put the both of them out of their misery.

“can’t believe i’m gonna say this,” says jeongguk hurriedly. “but good work, commander. it’s half of a pleasure working with you.”

yoongi grins, dropping his head in hopes that jeongguk won’t see just how endeared he looks, the pink of his cheeks. coming from someone who genuinely hated him just two days ago, he’ll take it. he’ll take whatever he can get from jeongguk.

“well,” says yoongi, taking his first steps onto the rocky shores of the island. “home sweet home.”

there’s a distinct lack of excitement from the crew members that have already landed on the island and are busy putting together a place to start a fire once night falls. the sound of splashing footsteps alerts yoongi to the fact that he’s not alone, and then there’s a haggard sigh.

“you couldn’t have chosen a nicer-looking one?” asks jeongguk. yoongi frowns, surveying the island they’ve chosen to lure taehyung to. it might not be a paradise, but there are rocks and trees and surely some wildlife to kill in order to eat, plus the seamen who had done the scouting confirmed there are no inhabitants on the island and there should be nothing much else to fear.

“we’re not on a holiday, jeongguk,” says yoongi. “we’re here to catch a slippery bastard.” the island is a two days’ sail from the village they found jimin in, far enough into the sea of japan that they won’t face much traffic but close enough that taehyung will be able to find them given the coordinates and directions that their messengers have been sent with.

still—jeongguk sighs again. “i’ll just stay on my ship, then.” he turns to get back onto the boat and row back to the mourning star where it’s anchored further into the sea, but yoongi reaches out and catches his arm to stop him. although he’s sure it was done in jest, jeongguk still groans, stumbling back to yoongi’s side. “he’s not going to show up today. i’m tired. let me nap.”

“i mean, it’s your choice,” begins yoongi. “you can go back to your nice pirate ship with your nice bed and leave me to run the place… you know, as i should.”

“wait, what?” asks jeongguk, pulling his arm out of yoongi’s grip. “i’m not leaving you in charge.”

“it’s fine, jeongguk-ah, really,” says yoongi, making his way onto shore. “you go take your nap! i can take care of the crews.”

yoongi,” complains jeongguk, and yoongi grins as he hears jeongguk marching after him. “you’re not in charge!”

“alright, everyone, good work! we’re gonna need people on look-out duties at all times—”

“fuck you, i’m the captain!”

“oh, now you don’t want to nap?”

despite knowing why they’re stationed on the island until further notice, yoongi can’t help feeling as though it is a bit like a holiday. a holiday with a bunch of pirates, most of whom he doesn’t know, and a ship full of the military, most of him he still doesn’t quite trust despite his position of authority over them. it doesn’t help that the two crews don’t exactly get along, but there’s not much yoongi can do about that; this isn’t a workshop where they’ll all hold hands and sing songs around the fire. the military generally keep away from the pirates, choosing to spend their time on their ship rather than be in any close vicinity with the pirates.

yoongi, on the other hand—

“you know, i used to be really good at liar’s dice,” says yoongi as he sidles up next to a group of pirates currently playing the game on a flat rock on the shore. they pause, looking up at him with both curiosity and a bit of disgust.

“what?” one of them asks. he can’t be much older than a teenager, still baby fat on his cheeks despite his position as pirate.

“liar’s dice,” says yoongi, nodding toward the dice on the rock. “i used to be good at it. if you ever wanted another person to join.”

the pirate glances down at his friends, then to yoongi. “why would we play with you?” he asks. “just because you’re dressed like us and carry a sword doesn’t mean you are one of us.” he turns away from yoongi, the others returning to their game as yoongi remains oddly stunned by the rejection. and he should have expected it, of course—he’s a commander in the navy, imprisoned jeongguk and forced him to take part in this mission. he’s responsible for all of them being on this journey and he didn’t consider the fact that they might resent him for it.

before he can turn away, though, there’s a presence at his side.

“commander min giving you a hard time?” asks jeongguk. when that young pirate looks up at jeongguk, there’s a distinctly different expression on his face—one of respect, of awe. not for the first time, yoongi is reminded that he and jeongguk are worlds apart now.

“i was just telling them how good i was at liar’s dice,” says yoongi, bristling. “i’m sure you remember.”

“i remember constantly kicking your ass,” says jeongguk. the other pirates let out surprised snickers.

yoongi scoffs. “i think you’ve lost some of your memories with all of that alcohol you’ve drunk.”

“oh, is that so? i suppose we’ve just have to play, then. a tournament.” jeongguk’s eyes brighten. “we’ll see who’s the real liar then.” yoongi, both because of his pride, and because of pure boredom, doesn’t have a reason to argue with that.

because, in truth, there’s not a lot to do on an island in the middle of nowhere as they wait for kim taehyung to show up. yoongi tries to busy himself with commander duties and other administrative things, but it’s all a waiting game and there are a lot of hours in the day to fill. most of the crews spend their time playing games, exploring the island, trying to catch fish to eat, and gambling. and drinking, as pirates are wont to do.

yoongi does work as best as he can, trying to think of ways to track down any of the other pirates, but after only a few days, it gets difficult to do so, particularly when jeongguk doesn’t seem keen on helping him out. he’s taken to gambling and drinking with the other pirates, playing the part of a friendly captain who has given his crew some time to enjoy themselves before they might end up dead in the middle of a battle against the cry of hades.

and despite the barriers that they have broken, yoongi sees now more than ever that he’s not part of that world anymore. he gave it up, gave up his right to partake in those activities the way he could have years ago. he watches jeongguk laughing with his crew, telling ghost stories around a fire, and wishes more than anything to be part of it. because that young pirate was right—yoongi isn’t one of them, not anymore. he can wear the clothes and wield the weapons, but he’s a commander now, a civilized man. they’ll never seen him as anything else, no matter that he spent thirty years of his life as a pirate, right from the moment he came into the world.

still, he tries. knowing that he and jeongguk are on the path to—friendship, maybe, if they can put in the effort—yoongi makes a point to engage him as much as possible. he asks for jeongguk’s advice on plans, wants to hear his opinion on simple matters to do with the crew. he jokes with jeongguk as best as he can, although that most often turns into jeongguk teasing him to the point of yoongi getting annoyed, anyway.

it’s never worse than after jeongguk goes to visit jimin, whom they keep locked in a cell on the military ship. it’s probably not the most humane thing to do, but yoongi can’t risk jimin trying to slaughter all of them and sail off. and as much as the other pirates might fear him, something tells yoongi that they’d be on his side in the whole matter anyway. pirates might care about themselves, but they’re still pirates—and when it comes to the military, even worst of enemies can come together.

yoongi himself refuses to talk to jimin, mostly for his own sanity. he doesn’t like that jeongguk visits him like they’re still the best of friends, but he knows that he can’t dictate what jeongguk does, even if they’re not fighting constantly anymore.

and anyway—not everything is always sunshine and rainbows with them, either.

the morning they’re meant to have a proper meeting with the leadership on each ship to discuss various things—a week after they first landed on the island—yoongi wakes up late. unlike jeongguk, he always found it easy to sleep well through the night, even through loud noises or, in at least one instance, battles and emergencies. which is why he told minsoo to wake him up on time for the meeting, well aware that he could sleep through their agreed time and miss the whole meeting.

he blinks up at the ceiling of his captain’s cabin, sleep-addled mind trying to decide what’s so strange about all of this. he rolls over, groaning as his back cracks, and sees a note that has been left on the covers next to him in hauntingly familiar handwriting. (funny, he thinks after a moment—it was jeongguk who taught him to read and write in the first place, for the most part.)

told minsoo i’d wake you, but looks like i forgot… oops! hope everyone else doesn’t think you’re a bad commander for missing the meeting you scheduled in the first place.

yoongi stares at it, and then glances out the window. and then looks back at the note again. and then swears very loudly, already scrambling to get out of bed.

he doesn’t have time to pull on his uniform—either of them, really, and yoongi finds himself running out onto the deck and vaulting over the side of the ship in nothing but a pair of admittedly tight underpants that go all the way to the ankle. but his pride over his state of disarray is nothing compared to his pride over missing this fucking meeting, and yoongi is angry enough that he feels no shame as he swims to shore and then gets up onto the rocks, huffing and puffing from exertion as he spots the group of men and women sitting near the edge of the trees, gathered for their meeting.

yoongi stomps his way onto the shore, ignoring the fucking wolf-whistles he gets from a few of the others sitting on the shore. now he’s shirtless and soaking wet, hair dripping into his face, and already tight pants absolutely suctioned to his legs. he’s well aware it’s not leaving much to the imagination, but yoongi doesn’t particularly care about that right now.

besides, it’s nothing that jeongguk hasn’t already seen, and he’s the only one yoongi is focused on at the moment. the scars and tattoos that litter the top half of yoongi’s body might as well be a map that jeongguk has long since memorized. of course, the, “oh, christ,” from minsoo when yoongi gets close enough for the group to notice him does send a flicker of panic through him, but yoongi just slicks his wet hair back and stops across the circle from jeongguk, hands on his hips as he glares.

jeongguk isn’t paying attention. “and i think that would be best for both of the crews,” he’s saying, peering down at a piece of paper he must have written his own agenda for the meeting on. of course he would do this—purposely not wake yoongi so that he would miss the meeting and jeongguk could play ultimate captain, just to spite yoongi.

the worst part is that the two of them loved playing practical jokes on each other back on the hangman’s daughter—and on everyone else, since they were a dynamic duo no one could hope to come up against and win. now yoongi knows why everyone was so fucking pissed off whenever they pulled some stupid shit.

“next order of business,” says jeongguk, still oblivious. “lieutenant?” when minsoo doesn’t respond, too busy staring at yoongi, who is still staring at jeongguk, he finally lifts his head. his confused gaze rests on minsoo first, and then he finally sees yoongi.

it’s strange, how it happens. yoongi doesn’t know what jeongguk expected, how he thought all of this would play out once yoongi did wake up and realize what happened, but jeongguk’s expression is a little… starstruck. his eyes very obviously rake up yoongi’s body from his bare ankles to his bare torso to his bare face, his angry face. his adam’s apple bobs as he swallows. for a second, yoongi thinks that jeongguk might be checking him out.

and then jeongguk bursts into laughter.

yoongi stands there and glares at him as jeongguk falls backwards with the force of it, holding his own stomach as his howling laughter fills the shore. everyone else is just awkwardly staring at yoongi’s half-naked (mostly naked, really) body, unsure what to say or how to react. not that there is anything to say. yoongi is angry enough to shoot anyone who tries to comment.

instead, they wait for jeongguk to stop laughing, or at least calm down enough to push himself into a sitting position again, wiping at his eyes as he says, “holy god, min, put your dick away.”

yoongi almost growls. “this is extremely unprofessional behaviour.”

“you’re telling me?” laughs jeongguk. “you’re the one who showed up half an hour late to our meeting in nothing but your skivvies, commander. i don’t know if this is how you do things in the military, but we pirates have a strict code of ethics concerning these things.”

he does growl this time when he stalks across the circle, dripping water all over everything as he grabs at jeongguk’s arm and hauls him up and then gives him a shove away from the group and toward the trees.

“what the fuck are you doing?” asks jeongguk, but even that is half-hearted since he hasn’t stopped giggling.

“what the fuck am i doing?” says yoongi, shoving jeongguk again. “this isn’t funny.”

“it’s pretty funny.”

“i will put you back in your cell, jeongguk.”

and here is where yoongi realizes just where things have changed. when yoongi first arrested him, they argued and bickered and yoongi threatened jeongguk more times than he could count. and jeongguk listened, because he was keenly aware of yoongi’s authority over him. jeongguk is still his prisoner. but now, after the first steps of their journey, after they came to an agreement on who they are and how they want to act around each other—jeongguk just grins, wide and shit-eating.

“no, you won’t,” says jeongguk. “i find it hard to take you seriously when you’re practically naked and dripping water all over my feet.”

“you—urgh.” yoongi balls his hands into fists, turning away from jeongguk as his annoyance spikes. but even then, it’s a different kind of annoyance from the annoyance of a week ago. it’s a different kind from when jeongguk hated him and did things to spite yoongi. he’s still trying to spite yoongi, but this incidence has a distinct teasing tone to it.

and there’s that sparkle in jeongguk’s eye, the one that lets yoongi know he’s not doing it with any malice. this is just how they used to act around each other. and yoongi doesn’t know if that’s better or worse.

“for what it’s worth, i haven’t said anything in the meeting that wasn’t already on your agenda,” says jeongguk, but it sounds like he’s still amused. “i stole the papers from your desk. i wouldn’t purposely fuck everything up like that.”

“wouldn’t you?” mutters yoongi.

jeongguk claps a hand on his shoulder. “cheer up, commander,” he says. “nothing like a morning swim to wake you up. now if you’ll excuse me, i have a meeting to return to.” when he walks past yoongi and glances back at him, he still has that same grin on his face, that same mirth in his eyes—but there’s something more. yoongi realizes he’s checking to make sure that yoongi isn’t genuinely angry at him, that this won’t have serious repercussions.

that’s different, too. jeongguk, in his own subtle way, is testing the waters, toeing the line to see how far yoongi will get him go. he’s—trying. he’s trying to be friends with yoongi the only way he knows is safe: by doing what they’ve been doing and letting yoongi in on the joke. he doesn’t know how to bring back what they had, and maybe it’s not right to try that anyway, so they start like this, working backwards.

and despite the fact that yoongi does want to be truly angry with jeongguk, he can’t be. the longer it goes on, the more he realizes the humour of the situation anyway. and in reality, the practical joke isn’t going to ruin anything other than maybe yoongi’s reputation among everyone. but he’s not sure he had much of a good one to begin with.

finally, yoongi rolls his eyes. “i’m going to get you back for this, i hope you know,” he says, giving jeongguk a more playful shove back towards the circle. “i’ll drink your rum.”

“you wouldn’t.

“i would. i know where you hide it.”

the second before jeongguk turns away, yoongi sees the pleased little grin on his lips. but then he remembers they’re not alone here, that there are six other people watching them and waiting for them to continue the meeting. yoongi coughs awkwardly when he meets minsoo’s eyes, standing on the outer edge of the circle as jeongguk returns to his spot.

“well?” he asks. “are you going to make room for me?” he’s already here, so he might as well jump right into it. he sits down beside jeongguk, taking the paper that jeongguk offers to him. and it feels a bit like a concession, but mostly like an apology, however small. feels like this means more than it should.

it takes yoongi almost two weeks to realize this is how they’re becoming friends again. it’s not by sitting down and having meaningful conversations, not by talking about what happened between them and working through it or relearning each other’s hearts like they might have at first. they already know too much about each other, have too much history. instead, it’s a subtle shift of intention and meaning. they continue to argue, but now it’s done without any malice, bickering that more often than not turns into teasing and laughter and yoongi coming away from it with a stupid grin on his face and not understanding why.

it’s in the awkward moments, too, when yoongi realizes there are habits that they haven’t broken out of, even after four years. if they happen to share a meal, yoongi still gives jeongguk the foods he doesn’t like but knows jeongguk does, absently dropping food on jeongguk’s plate without breaking conversation with someone else, even when they stare at him oddly for his actions. sometimes he catches jeongguk reaching out to touch his tattoos when they’re sitting next to each other, a habit of jeongguk’s that yoongi always loved—wanting to touch, to trace the ink of his tattoos.

but of course, these things aren’t allowed. the moment either of them realizes what’s happening, there’s an awkward moment where they stall, mind trying to catch up with their bodies. they make eye contact, understanding passing between them as well as the silent realization that they can’t be doing this, no matter how ingrained it is within them. no matter how much they might want to—and does yoongi want to? does he want jeongguk to touch him like that, to grin at him when yoongi remembers something he used to love or hate? when they make an inside joke they haven’t forgotten after four years and no one else gets, and yoongi feels that awkward uncertainty rising up inside of him again?

in truth, he doesn’t allow himself to consider it. he’s afraid of the answer he’ll come to.

it’s almost surreal as the days pass. one week turns to two and there is no ship on the horizon, not even a different pirate ship passing other than the few that don’t even come close enough to the island to realize there are people there. their messengers come back with promising news of whispering about mermaids in the right ears, but each time the sun sets and taehyung still hasn’t shown up, yoongi begins to doubt that he will. two weeks isn’t a long time, not when they don’t have a faster mode of travel than sailing and taehyung could be anywhere at the moment, but he wants this to work. he wants to be right. mostly, he wants to catch taehyung so they can catch their third prate and then their fourth and their fifth and then yoongi can finally be done with this. and then yoongi can finally go back to his life.

maybe it’s this frustration that leaves him on edge more often, keeping to himself on his ship and not joining in on the drinking and gambling or even conversation with the others. maybe it’s this impatience with the slow, agonizing passage of time that has him more irritable than usual, even with jeongguk.

maybe it’s this that makes him suspicious about jeongguk’s regular conversations with park jimin.

in reality, he knows just talking to jimin can’t do much damage. unless jeongguk has been conspiring with jimin on a way to get both of them off of this island and away from yoongi—which, now that he thinks about it, might actually be what he’s doing—there’s no reason to be suspicious. jimin and jeongguk were good friends for years, even after jimin left their crew and yoongi broke jeongguk’s heart. he doesn’t want to believe that jeongguk is conspiring with jimin, especially because yoongi and jeongguk have come to an understanding of how this works: despite yoongi’s instructions to bring the five pirates back to the king to be executed, he’s also been given the go-ahead to kill the pirates himself should he need to resort to it.

and yoongi doesn’t want to. he doesn’t want that blood on his hands. but yoongi has done worse things, has broken graver promises to himself. and despite how he might feel for jeongguk—well. no one else on his crew feels the same. should jeongguk step out of line, there’s an entire military crew prepared to kill him for it.

still. still. yoongi is irritated and tired of staring at the horizon and waiting for kim taehyung to arrive. so the next time one of his men has a meal to bring jimin in his cell, yoongi offers to take it instead.

the underbelly of his ship is no more welcoming than the last time he visited jimin, but it might be worse now that he’s alone. he relieves the guard of her duty, stopping outside of the cell and peering in at jimin, who is trying to whittle down a piece of driftwood with a pocketknife. yoongi doesn’t bother asking where he got either of those things, choosing to believe jeongguk has considered the dangers of putting a weapon, however small and dull, in the hands of their prisoner.

yoongi puts the plate of food on the floor, sliding it through the small slat in the bars for this very purpose. jimin doesn’t look up, still as elusive as ever. yoongi imagines he has a great time with jeongguk, though. and he thinks—maybe it’s not just the fact that yoongi is the one who arrested jimin, who forced jeongguk to take part in this. jimin and jeongguk were the ones who remained friends throughout the past four years. from what yoongi has gathered, jimin knows more detail about jeongguk’s life and feelings toward yoongi during those four years than yoongi could hope to.

he can’t blame jimin for not wanting to talk to him.

he stands there, leaning against the bars, part of him wanting to see how long it’ll take for jimin to acknowledge him and part of him not even sure what to say to begin with. it takes almost a full minute, but then jimin, without looking up from his woodwork, says, “you know, most people just leave the food and go. you don’t have to worry about me trying to starve myself, min.”

“what difference does it make to me if you starve?”

“you need me, don’t you?” now, jimin glances upward, mirth in his eyes as he regards yoongi. “you can’t possibly hope to fight the cry of hades with this godawful crew you have.”

yoongi bristles. “so he told you.”

“don’t worry, we’re not conspiring to escape,” sighs jimin. “granted, i’ve tried to convince him to break me out so we can sail the mourning star into the sunset, but… i dunno what it is about you, min. that man has unfailing loyalty towards you.”

something about the words don’t sit right with him. yoongi wouldn’t have called jeongguk loyal to him, wouldn’t have said it was anything like loyalty that was keeping jeongguk from setting jimin free. “he’ll die if he helps you,” says yoongi. “i think that’s about the only reason he’s loyal to me.”

jimin barks out a laugh, finally putting down his wood and knife, instead leaning over to grab the plate of food and slide it toward himself. “you used to be cleverer,” he says. “or perhaps i’m remembering wrong. it has been a while since we were friends.”

yoongi breathes in deeply, and then lets it out. he’s not sure what he’s looking for in this conversation, but he feels as though he might be here for a while so he takes a seat on the floor, back to the bars. of course, that’s dangerous; jimin could stab him with that pretty dagger of his. but yoongi is willing to take his chances.

“oh, by all means,” says jimin. “take a seat, stay awhile. lovely to catch up with you, commander.”

“what else do you talk about?” asks yoongi. “with jeongguk.”

“nothing that concerns you. i’d be more worried about what you talk about with him.”

“what does that mean?”

jimin chuckles. when he speaks next, it’s through a mouth full of food. “i don’t blame him for it, you know. helping you capture me. he feels terribly about it, considering the fact that he and i are friends and have been since that kid was nothing but a teenager. but he’s explained everything to me, so i get it. it’s you i hold in contempt.”

“i don’t think that means what you think it does.”

“he’s a good kid, jeongguk,” says jimin, ignoring him. “he always was. he’s just been hurt. by you, mostly, even if you’ve apologized and have your reasons.” yoongi grinds his teeth together. he doesn’t need jimin knowing the intimate details of his and jeongguk’s conversations. but then again, if jeongguk has been telling someone about it, maybe that means something more. “it was a dick move to just appear out of nowhere after four years and arrest him and force him to do your bidding, min. as far as he’s concerned, you said good riddance when he walked that plank and then gave up piracy entirely so you could spite him.”

“that’s not what happened,” argued yoongi. “he doesn’t know what happened.”

“that’s the fucking problem.” this, through a mouth full of food again. when yoongi looks over his shoulder, jimin is pointing his chopsticks at him. yoongi narrows his eyes, insulted. “he doesn’t know what happened. and i’m not about to play fucking matchmaker or whatever with you two, but if you must know, he does a lot of… moping. angry moping. if either of you really want to figure your shit out, you have to talk to each other. just tell him the truth.”

getting relationship advice from his own prisoner is a terrible fucking idea. but he has to admit that jimin has a point. so he and jeongguk have spoken about the mutiny, have agreed to put their past behind them—but the truth is that neither of them really fully understand their past. they only know their own side of it, and the more he considers it, the more yoongi realizes how angry jeongguk must be at him just showing up and arresting him. perhaps he’s worse at this than he thought.

yoongi huffs, turning back around. “the truth is complicated.”

the truth shall set you free,” says jimin, voice lilting and mocking. “but seriously, if i have to hear him complain about what an asshole you are and how much he doesn’t want to think of you as an asshole anymore, i’ll stab myself.

something stirs inside of him. “he doesn’t want to think of me as an asshole?”

“well, fuck, obviously not. you are an asshole as far as i’m concerned, but then again, i haven’t loved you for a third of my life.”

he’s gotten what he came for—an answer to a question he didn’t even know he had. he never thought it would come from jimin, but the other pirate has a good point. it’s clear that yoongi and jeongguk don’t yet know how to voice their own concerns and desires to each other, instead masking it all with teasing and jokes because that’s easier. but yoongi doesn’t want to spend the rest of this journey joking with jeongguk in an attempt to cover up the feelings they’re trying to hide, the real things they want to say.

standing, yoongi wipes himself off and then says, “you’re also shit at math. we were together for like, five years. five isn’t a third of twenty-eight.”

jimin slides the plate across the floor and through the hole in the bars again. “yeah, but nine is.”

yoongi’s grin falls. but before he can ask for clarification, jimin has picked up his driftwood and knife again, sighing as he begins to whittle at it. “tell the cook to add more spices next time,” he says, a clear dismissal. “surely you military idiots are used to eating well, so you might as well treat the rest of us.”

he finds jeongguk on the shores of the island, bare feet dug into the rocks that turn to gritty sand, and a bottle of alcohol at his side. the sun is setting now, lighting up the sky with streaks of purple and orange, and somehow—somehow that feels right that they should have this conversation in this in between time again just like first was on the cusp of sunrise. behind him, toward the trees, a group of pirates have started a fire and are laughing, talking, playing games. it’s been almost three weeks of this—waiting and watching. they’re running out of ways to fill their time and yoongi feels as though they’ll be forced into action soon, deciding whether they want to move on from this plan and concede that it failed.

they have ideas on how to work with the other pirates, but jeongguk still thinks they have a good shot of finding information about kim namjoon from taehyung, so unless they want to sail into a fucking tsunami in the form of kim seokjin and jung hoseok, this might be the only thread they have.

but now isn’t the time to talk about that, or about anything to do with their time here. yoongi has a singular agenda here as he comes to a rest to the side of jeongguk, regarding him silently. just this morning, he and jeongguk sparred as a way of training and jeongguk laughed at him the whole time, making fun of his form even though they both knew there was nothing wrong with it. but that time is gone.

“mind if i—” yoongi, gesturing to the empty space beside jeongguk. when jeongguk looks up at him, he’s grinning just slightly and shakes his head. they’re far enough away from everyone else that they won’t be overheard, but yoongi still worries that jeongguk only wanted privacy.

yet he thinks of their years together, how they always seemed to exist as one. where one was, the other could always be found.

what has yoongi done to them?

he settles himself on the ground beside jeongguk, watching the water and the setting sun and their ships looming on the sea. they used to be able to do this—sit in silence together, merely existing together so comfortably. they could always make each other quiet.

jeongguk holds out the bottle between them. “want some?”

“no, i’m okay,” says yoongi, and jeongguk tilts his head as if to say your loss before he takes a long swig of it for himself.

yoongi needs a clear head for this.

“i spoke to jimin,” he says once the silence has stretched on long enough. he laughs, making a divet in the sand with his foot. “he really doesn’t like me.”

jeongguk snorts. “i can’t blame him. i’ve told him some pretty fucked up shit about you in the past four years.”

“yeah, i think i deserve that.”

he hears jeongguk drink from the bottle again, keeping his eyes on the water. “i’ve been thinking about it,” says jeongguk. “about what you said, about… what happened. it was still a shitty thing to do and you still should have done better, but i guess when i keep myself from being angry and think about it logically, you did the best you could considering what you were given.” it’s so surprising to hear from jeongguk that yoongi almost thinks he’s dreaming this. “you were in a tough situation. i mean, they would have killed you if you argued with them or tried to stop them, and if you would have tried to come after me right away, we both probably would have died.”

“i did try to find you, you know,” says yoongi. “i’m ashamed to admit i waited for… months. until i felt safe leaving the crew, but i did. i did look for you.” when he finally looks at jeongguk, jeongguk is already looking at him, expression troubled.

“really?”

“yeah,” sighs yoongi. “i knew that if i wanted to find you and help you if you were still on the island, i needed my own ship and supplies and everything. so i left the hangman’s daughter the next time we made port off the southern coast of japan. i found a ship, put together a small crew with what money i could give them, and took off. i had asked the crew where they left you, but i think they suspected what i wanted to do because they gave me the wrong information.” he rubs at the back of his neck, feeling exposed as he admits it. even though he hopes the truth might begin to repair what has been broken between them, he and jeongguk have been pretending to be nothing but impenetrable forces around each other for long enough that it’s uncomfortable being vulnerable again.

when jeongguk doesn’t reply, yoongi continues. “i didn’t… know for sure where we’d left you. but i searched and i searched, even after i knew that it would be useless because you would either be gone or dead. but i had to find you. i didn’t know what i would do if that was just… it.”

“i got off the island after like, two weeks, hyung,” says jeongguk. “there was a surprising amount of traffic around it and i convinced a ship to take me with them.”

yoongi almost laughs. “god,” he says. “i looked for you for months.

“did you ever find the island?”

“yeah. there was no way to know for sure that it was the island, because i didn’t get a great look at it the first time, but it just… felt right. and you obviously weren’t there.”

“you could have found me another way,” says jeongguk. “if you assumed i’d gotten off the island, you could have asked around. korea isn’t that big.”

“well, that’s what i—” yoongi hums. swallows tightly, eyes watching the ships again and catching on his military vessel. the truth. “obviously what happened affected you the most and i was in the wrong for it, but something about it just… made me forget why i liked being a pirate in the first place. once i knew for certain that you weren’t on the island, i felt like i didn’t have a purpose in what i did anymore. i was born a pirate, raised a pirate—long before we ever met, but without you, it just felt… pointless.”

wordlessly, jeongguk offers him the alcohol again. this time, yoongi takes it. “i tried, you know,” he says. “joined a few crews, sailed a bit, pillaged and plundered. but it wasn’t the same.”

“so you… decided to give it up entirely?” asks jeongguk. “you decided to capture pirates instead?”

“i wasn’t planning on this happening,” says yoongi. “but it’s sailing. i love the sea whether or not i’m a pirate, and i get to be out here anyway. i wasn’t given much of a choice in the matter, either way—it was go after pirates or nothing.”

he takes another swig from the bottle and hands it back to jeongguk. it’s not nearly enough to take the edge off, but he does feel better with a bit of alcohol in him. finally, jeongguk snorts again. “that’s really not how i thought it went.”

“how did you think it went?”

“i dunno,” says jeongguk. “i was just so angry at you for so long that i didn’t consider you might be heartbroken, too. which, now that i think about it, is silly, but… i guess i thought you had been a part of the mutiny to begin with. i assumed you would stay with the hangman’s daughter and just do what we always did, just without me. i purposely avoided the hangman’s daughter anyway, so it’s not like i would have known.” he shrugs. “then you show up as a commander and i didn’t know what to think. maybe that you’d had some bad experiences and turned away from piracy.”

“or that i had it out for you?”

when jeongguk glances at him, yoongi swears he’s blushing. “like i said, i was angry at you,” he protests. “it made sense in my head. you fucked me over and then that wasn’t enough, so when you learned that i hadn’t died on that island, you decided to join the military so you could get rid of me once and for all.”

“i didn’t want to arrest you, jeongguk,” says yoongi. “they gave me a list. it’s my job to do this and honestly, i don’t like it. but it’s a job. and the alternative is…” he sighs. “worse.”

jeongguk drinks. yoongi picks at the sand. then—“i know what you mean.” jeongguk’s voice is almost far away. “about feeling like there was no point in piracy anymore. i lost my family, the person i loved and wanted to spend the rest of my life with. it just wasn’t the same anymore. and i was upset and angry and hurt, and somehow, that made me hate being a pirate. the reason i ran away from my parents and became a pirate in the first place was because i wanted somewhere to belong. and i’d thought of that somewhere as the hangman’s daughter and—and you for so long that when i no longer had those things, i didn’t know what to do anymore.”

yoongi wants to reach out, wants to touch him. he would have, four years ago. but there are some lines he’s not sure he’s allowed to cross anymore. “the only difference is that i refused to give it up,” continues jeongguk. “i got the mourning star, tried to give myself a purpose outside of you and who i was with you. but no matter what i did, it never felt the same. getting revenge on our old crew was fun for a while, but it felt wrong for the most part. and all of this feels wrong, too.” he laughs. “but weirdly, i’ve been enjoying it more than i’ve enjoyed the past four years.”

“i’m sorry for what i’ve done to you,” says yoongi. “i apologized for the mutiny thing, but i also have to apologize for arresting you and making you do this. and you can say that if i was really sorry, i’d let you go, but i don’t have a choice.” he wants jeongguk to understand that as much as he can. jeongguk may be his prisoner, but yoongi is a prisoner too, in a way. his heart at war with his mind, with his duty. he doesn’t want jeongguk to be his prisoner, not like this, but the moment he steps out of line, there’s a whole crew of the military willing to kill him for it.

he’s not sure if that makes a difference to jeongguk. but he hopes it does.

“so basically,” says yoongi. “i fucked up and you misunderstood and we both could have done better. and now that we’ve gotten all of that out, maybe we can be friends.”

jeongguk is grinning at him. “i’m still going to hold this over your head, i hope you know,” he says. “but i can admit it’s been nice not to argue all of the time. i missed—” he shakes his head, pursing his lips like he’s trying to stop himself from smiling. “i missed just existing with you, hyung.”

“you mean you missed being a little shit to me and me not threatening to kill you for it.”

and jeongguk laughs—properly, loudly. yoongi’s heart feels like the sea: endless. “you used to threaten to kill me all the time,” he says. “but at least i knew you never meant it. i meant i like talking to you and working with you. turns out it feels a lot better than being pissed off at you.”

“so you’re just doing this so you can feel better about yourself?” asks yoongi.

jeongguk kicks him in the shin. “stop ruining my tender moment! i’m trying to tell you something, jackass.”

“so you can put salt water in my food but i’m not allowed to tease you about being selfish?”

“yeah, that’s how it works. you’re the one who left me to die on an island.”

“we’ve been over this, jeongguk-ah, i didn’t want to.”

“maybe we should all leave you on this island to die.”

yoongi groans, giving jeongguk a gentle shove sideways, and jeongguk shoves him back, laughing. laughing, like he used to. yoongi used to make him laugh. and it’s still not the same, and it won’t be, not for a long time, he’s sure. but this is just one more step.

he giggles along with jeongguk, finally flopping onto his back. he feels breathless, weightless. it’s been three weeks of waiting, but they haven’t been stagnant. no, it’s been three weeks of re-learning how to exist with each other, how to tease, how to talk. it feels good when jeongguk joins him and they stare up at the darkening sky together, the laughter of their crews echoing beyond them.

“what if he doesn’t come?” yoongi asks. “what if my plan is actually just a huge waste of time and money and we don’t even catch taehyung?”

he can almost hear jeongguk’s grin. “he’ll come,” he says. it’s faint, but yoongi feels a touch on his hand, sparks lighting in his gut. “i trust you.”

yoongi closes his eyes, the invisible thread of contentment tugging his lips up into a pleased grin. for this and this alone—their three weeks on this island have not gone to waste.

he turns his hand up palm up, spreading his fingers in a silent invitation, and his heart sings in his chest, skipping every other beat as he waits, as he feels jeongguk’s fingers find their place between his, and he thinks maybe maybe maybe and—

“captain!”

jeongguk jerks upright, spraying yoongi with the sand that clung to the back of his shirt. yoongi goes with him, having no time for disappointment to settle within him when he sees one of jeongguk’s pirates running across the shore toward them. “captain, there’s been a ship spotted! it’s headed this way!”

jeongguk’s head snaps toward him, eyes wide. in them, the silent question yoongi is also asking: is it him? finally, is it him? and what if it’s not?

yoongi gives his answer by getting to his feet and holding out his hand for jeongguk to take. “let’s do it,” he says. “let’s catch this fucker.”

they’ve had this planned out for weeks, since one of the first days after landing on the island. each member of the two crews have their own part of the plan and yoongi can’t help feeling nervous as he watches the pirates and seamen hurrying to get into position and ready themselves. every piece of information they have about taehyung has told them that he sails alone so they shouldn’t have to worry about facing a whole crew like with jimin, but they’re not risking anything—not like time. jeongguk and yoongi narrowly made it out alive last time, so they’ve overprepared for every possibility with taehyung.

thankfully, the ship will be landing on the side of the island that the mourning star and yoongi’s ship aren’t anchored on, giving them an element of surprise. yoongi oversees some of his own men bringing jimin out of his cell for almost the first time in three weeks, waiting until they’ve sailed onto shore to join their prisoner.

“something tells me this isn’t supervised recreation time,” scowls jimin as yoongi takes him by the elbow, helping to walk him around the island to where he’ll be hidden.

“your boyfriend is coming,” says yoongi. “or, we think. might be a false alarm.”

jimin struggles against his grip, even though his hands are tied together and his knife has hopefully been confiscated. “he’ll kill all of you,” growls jimin. “especially if he knows you’ve taken me prisoner.”

yoongi pulls them both to a halt, pulling his pistol from his waistband and pressing the barrel into jimin’s stomach. “if you so much as a make a noise, i’ll shoot you,” he whispers. “if you try to give him some sign, i’ll shoot you. if you fuck this up for me, i will fucking shoot you. understand?”

he’s not sure whether or not to be worried that jimin doesn’t look afraid. “i’m gonna fucking die anyway, aren’t i?” asks jimin. “what difference does it make if it’s here or later?”

“you’re gonna make your beloved taehyung watch as you slowly bleed out on this island? you’d do that to him?”

“he’s seen worse.”

“you underestimate what pirates will do for the people they love.”

jimin’s nostrils flare in anger, but yoongi just shoves him back toward the men who are in charge of detaining him. “keep him hidden,” he tells them. “and you have my permission to shoot him in the leg if he tries anything.” with that, yoongi turns and hurries toward where jeongguk is giving instructions to a group of his own crew. everyone will be hidden in the trees, and it’s thankfully getting dark enough that they won’t have to worry much about being seen. jeongguk and yoongi will be hiding closer to the action, behind one of the larger rocks at the edge of the shore that can fit the both of them behind it.

the real stars in this, though, are the three who volunteered to act as the mermaid dealers. yoongi impressed upon them just how dangerous it would be, since they can’t have weapons with them—risky, of course, but having weapons might make taehyung suspicious or nervous. it’s up to them to keep taehyung talking long enough to disarm him, to allow jeongguk and yoongi to arrest him. but they were all eager to do it. yoongi has to trust them.

altogether, it takes an hour for the ship to come to a coasting stop off of the shore, and by then, the only thing visible is the three dealers and a massive chest they dragged off of yoongi’s ship, which is supposedly holding their mermaid. yoongi watches from behind his hiding spot as a tender is let down from the ship and a man climbs down into it.

“is it him?” he hisses to jeongguk. “i can’t tell from here.”

“it’s definitely him,” replies jeongguk. “no one else would get off of their damn ship for a tiny island in the middle of nowhere.”

as the boat rows closer and closer, yoongi begins to see that it is taehyung. he’s never seen the other pirate in person, but has seen remarkable drawings of him; not only is taehyung known for his crimes as a pirate and for his interests now, but also for his beauty. yoongi has heard plenty of people talk wistfully about v. he thinks that the v might stand for vanity, at this point.

all is silent on the island for the first time in three weeks. yoongi peers across the stretch of sand toward where jimin is hidden, making sure he can’t see any movement that would suggest the pirate has gotten free. then he glances toward the treeline, where he can’t see any movement, either. if he looks closely enough, he can make out shapes, but there’s nothing to suggest the trees are filled with two crews worth of pirates and seamen waiting to take taehyung home with them—and not in the way people normally want to take taehyung home with them.

it’s hard to breathe for how nervous he is. and maybe jeongguk can tell—can sense how tense yoongi is, how rigid his posture is, the fact that he’s not breathing properly, because, as the boat comes to a stop at the shore and kim taehyung steps out, jeongguk leans over and whispers, “honestly, i still think you should have dressed up as a mermaid and hidden in the chest for this.”

yoongi glares at him. “i’ll fucking kill you,” he whispers back. something about jeongguk’s responding grin is too relaxed, too easy. is it because he cares less about this? he’ll die if they don’t catch all of the pirates, but he’s always been confident in his own abilities. and as long as he sails with yoongi to find the pirates, he doesn’t have to worry about being captured by anyone else, and they’re doing all of this on the military’s money.

or—maybe one of them has to have a level head in all of this. it’s jeongguk’s turn.

when yoongi turns his attention back to the matter at hand, taehyung has joined the three dealers by their chest. he’s taller than yoongi might have expected, dark hair pulled back into half of a ponytail and a bandana wrapped around his forehead. he’s not dressed like a pirate, exactly—but he’s not exactly a pirate anymore, either. he stands with confidence, hand on the sword at his side, but it’s a casual stance. he’s not defensive yet.

yoongi can just make out the words spoken from where he hides, the wind threatening to carry them back into the sea.

“kim taehyung,” says taehyung, bowing his head. “i’ve been told you have a mermaid.”

“mr. kim, what a pleasure,” says one of the dealers. “my name is chung hyejin, and these are my colleagues, kang haneul and kim jaehee. we’re proud to deal with mystical creatures that are very difficult to find and are very sought after. you’re looking for a mermaid?”

“i’ve been searching for years,” says taehyung. “met plenty of dealers such as yourselves. not many have been honourable.”

“no?” asks chung. “how so?”

yoongi turns a nervous eye around the shore again as taehyung begins talking about dealers who have tried to cheat him, tried to make him pay impossible amounts for what has turned out to be nothing much. as chung keeps him talking, sympathizing with him and hoping to gain his trust, yoongi eyes taehyung’s ship. it doesn’t look like anyone else is onboard, and at the least, no one else came on shore, so if there was anyone on it, it would be too late to help taehyung by the time they were able to him.

he watches jimin again, narrowing his eyes. he still doesn’t trust jimin, but so far, he hasn’t said anything, so that might be a good sign.

“well, i assure you,” chung is saying when yoongi tunes back in. “we do want a hefty sum for our mermaid, but not because we want to cheat you. mermaids are merely very rare in our part of the world and there are many such as yourself who would love to own one. i hope you can understand that.”

“of course,” says taehyung. “i’ve sold a few creatures myself, so i understand it from both ideas.” he tilts his head. “would you mind if i take a look at your mermaid before i make a decision?”

yoongi tenses. there’s nothing in that fucking chest. but they anticipated that he would want to see it—of course. he waits for chung to say what she’s meant to next, holding his breath as she says, “of course, mr. kim. but i must ask that you put your weapons away. they frighten the creature and you must understand our safety concerns… we don’t want anything happening to our mermaid.”

it’s a reasonable request, yoongi is sure of it. but he sees the way taehyung hesitates anyway, head turning toward the rock that jimin is hidden behind for just a moment. yoongi’s hand closes on the handle of his own sword, prepared to run out and stop this, but jeongguk touches his elbow, holding him back with a meaningful glance.

taehyung does as he’s asked, anyway. he lets his sword fall to the sand a few feet from him and tosses a pistol along with it, offering his empty hands to the dealers to show that he’s complying. yoongi breathes a short sigh of relief, knowing all the dealers have to do is distract taehyung with opening the chest before one of them knocks him off balance and jeongguk and yoongi can race to detain him.

but taehyung waits, holding his hands behind his back as he says, “where did you say you found this mermaid?”

“north,” says kang. “we weren’t looking for it, merely sailing here and there to see what we could find. i couldn’t tell you the exact location…”

“north, hm?” asks taehyung. “i’ve been north many times searching for a mermaid. i’m surprised i didn’t find it myself.” the laugh he gives is so fake that it hurts to listen to and yoongi tenses again, glancing at jeongguk.

jeongguk is already looking at him with dread tinged in his furrowed brows. “he doesn’t believe them,” he whispers, and yoongi reaches for his sword again.

“would you like to take a look, mr. kim?” asks chung, but there’s a slight waver in her voice. “i’m sure you’ll be very satisfied with what we have to offer you.”

taehyung nods, taking a step toward the chest, and kim reaches down to unlatch it, and yoongi thinks this might actually work, and then—

taehyung, it’s a trap!” jimin’s voice rings out in the otherwise silent night, and jeongguk lets out a loud shit as taehyung immediately draws another gun from some hidden place, cocks it, and shoots kang in the chest.

all hell breaks loose.

yoongi bursts out from behind the rock, drawing his own sword as jeongguk does the same, heading for taehyung and the other two faux dealers, who don’t have goddamn weapons and are busy scrambling for the ones that taehyung threw away, trying to knock the pirate down. crew members pour out of the trees, something terrifying to look at as half of them head for taehyung and, yoongi notes, half of them head for the single figure that takes off from jimin’s hiding place.

he doesn’t even wonder what jimin did to the men holding him captive, just shouting, “park jimin, stop!” as he changes courses and runs for him instead. he trusts that jeongguk can handle taehyung even as another gunshot rings out and he’s not sure who fired it, but yoongi skirts around two pirates before he reaches jimin, who has already been tackled by someone else.

that someone, though, is quickly stabbed in the side by jimin. that fucking knife.

“park!” yoongi barks, reaching him and kicking the knife out of his hand before reaching down and grabbing him, hauling him upward and beginning to drag him toward the commotion near the water’s edge. jimin thrashes in his grip, yelling at him, and yoongi grabs his pistol again, keeping a firm grip on jimin as he gets to the group surrounding taehyung.

by the time he gets there, he sees that taehyung has managed to kill a few more of their crew—chung, for one, and another of yoongi’s men are unmoving on the ground, blood already staining their clothes. but jeongguk has managed to detain him, holding taehyung’s arms behind his back as another few pirates point their swords at his throat.

“let me go!” taehyung shouts, struggling against jeongguk. “what the fuck is this ambush? don’t you understand the pirate code?

“taehyung—” jimin begins, and yoongi knees him in the side to make him shut up. yoongi raises his pistol, cocking it and pressing it against the side of jimin’s head as he makes eye contact with taehyung across the circle that has formed.

“stop resisting,” says yoongi. “you are under arrest for piracy, kim taehyung. if you don’t go willingly, i’ll shoot jimin in the head.”

fuck you,” spits jimin, heaving as he tries to break his arms out of yoongi’s grip. “don’t listen to him, taehyung. get out of here.”

but taehyung has already stopped struggling, staring hard at where yoongi’s gun presses into jimin’s head. somehow, yoongi feels smug about it—and it’s a terrible thing what he’s doing, probably, but he’d been right after all: he knew taehyung would stop resisting the moment they brought jimin into the picture. he knew taehyung would do what he wanted the moment they threatened jimin’s life.

he knows not the true nature of jimin and taehyung’s relationship, couldn’t guarantee that they might love each other enough to sacrifice themselves for the other. but yoongi was willing to take that risk, to get what he wants. taehyung won’t let them hurt jimin, at least not like this. so if the choice is letting himself become a prisoner and letting jimin die—well. it’s not much of a choice at all, is it?

“don’t hurt him,” taehyung seethes. “look, i’m cooperating. i’ll let you arrest me. just don’t hurt him.”

taehyung,” jimin begins.

yoongi feels triumph once more, lowering his gun as he leans in to jimin and whispers, “told you so.”

then he shoves jimin back toward the nearest crew members. “take him back to the ship,” he says. “then begin packing up this island. we got what we came for.” it’s a dismissal everyone is glad to hear, clearing out from the action as yoongi turns to face jeongguk and taehyung. for now, he doesn’t look down at the handful of dead bodies littering the beach. he’s not proud that they lost any of their numbers, but it’s a small price to pay for the prize of having kim taehyung in their possession, just one more pirate toward freedom. two down, three to go.

taehyung doesn’t look pleased, as expected. “i really wanted that fucking mermaid,” he says.

“mermaids don’t exist, dumbass,” says yoongi. “and you killed my men. you’re not in a position to ask for things.”

“i’m not even a pirate anymore.”

“once a pirate, always a pirate,” says jeongguk, and then he winks at yoongi. apparently this is their newest inside joke.

yoongi suppresses a grin. “i’m on orders from the king to arrest you, kim,” says yoongi. “you’ll be executed when we return to the mainland. but first, you’re going to help us find some other pieces of shit such as yourself.”

“here’s my advice: look in the mirror.”

“i can see why jimin likes you,” says yoongi. “speaking of which—the two of you will not be placed in the same cell, so don’t even think about requesting it. if you try to conspire with him to escape, i’ll drown both of you.”

“why do you like threatening people so much?” asks taehyung. “you are a very violent person considering you’re working for the king.”

yoongi just makes eye contact with jeongguk, cocking an eyebrow as though to say, once again, once a pirate, always a pirate. and he hates how strangely giddy he is about this. although this capture didn’t go quite to plan, leaving them with a loss of manpower, he feels invigorated. he feels like he always does after winning a battle or pillaging a town. it’s how he felt when they captured jimin, right before—

well. that won’t be happening this time. but maybe something better is happening: jeongguk is looking at him like they’re a team. they did this together, this night having gone better than the one with jimin. he doesn’t know what to make of the grin jeongguk is giving him, even though they should be upset that some of their crew died. or feeling guilty about arresting taehyung in the first place, who has been minding his business for the past few years.

but whatever it is, yoongi’s triumphant mood doesn’t leave even when they bring taehyung back to the ships, when they clean up the island and bury their dead. they can finally get off of this damn island and find their next pirate. but yoongi already knows they’re leaving in a different place than when they arrived. he still feels jeongguk’s fingers on his hand, yearning, reaching. he almost fears what might happen as they hunt down their next pirate.

but first—a celebration.

with jimin and taehyung safely locked away, the last of their supplies hauled onto the ships, and a plan to interrogate both of their prisoners on kim namjoon come the morning, yoongi and jeongguk sit on the railing of the mourning star, considering their island with a bottle of rum between them. in some ways, it feels like a continuation of hours ago, but so much has occurred since then that it might just be a different night.

“well done, commander min,” says jeongguk after taking a swig of the alcohol and handing the bottle over.

“well done, captain jeon,” nods yoongi, raising the bottle in a toast before he drinks from it. it burns all the way down his throat, warming his stomach when it lands there. everything is warm. the night is chilly, but he can feel the heat from jeongguk’s body, from the alcohol, the high of succeeding just one more time.

“they’re probably going to try to escape, aren’t they?”

yoongi snorts. “most definitely.”

“pirates. can’t take ‘em anywhere.”

“well, we are going to execute them, so it kind of makes sense.”

jeongguk takes the bottle from yoongi, swinging his legs and hitting his heels against the side of the ship. “would you have done that?” he asks. “if we were them and someone else was capturing us? would you have stopped struggling if it meant keeping me safe?”

yoongi grins down at his hands. he’s known that answer for years; see, he’d known that taehyung would give in because it’s the exact same thing yoongi did when the hangman’s daughter wanted to mutiny jeongguk. at first, yoongi resisted, argued, wanted to fight them—but then they threatened to just kill jeongguk instead. and although the alternative, leaving him on that island, was a horrible, unthinkable thing to allow, it was better than indirectly allowing the death of the one person he loved most in the world.

he doesn’t say that, though. he just looks up at jeongguk, at the vulnerable, open look on his face, and says, “yeah. i think i’d still do it now.”

jeongguk looks away, but yoongi still sees the grin he wears before he does. jeongguk drinks again, silently holding out the bottle, and yoongi takes it once more. “so—kim namjoon next?”

“safest option, i think,” says yoongi. “we’re going to need all the help we can get with the captain and bones, plus it’s like you said—taehyung probably has some idea of where namjoon might be. we can ask him tomorrow.”

“i hate to admit it, but this is kind of fun being on the other end of it. getting captured sucks, but it’s a bit like a game when you’re the one capturing people.” a game with fatal consequences, sure. but yoongi wants to let him enjoy this while they both can.

they return to their silence, handing the bottle back and forth as the wind gently rustles the trees on the island, sends the water against the side of the ship. finally, it doesn’t feel so awkward sitting in silence with jeongguk; they used to be able to exist like this for hours at a time, merely enjoying each other’s company. for three weeks, they’ve tried to fill the silences with questions or teasing, like they needed to get everything out and try their hardest to make things work, to show that they were trying to be friends.

but—they don’t need to do that anymore. yoongi fears they might have overshot the friend thing, anyway. they were never very good at doing things in order.

finally, it’s jeongguk who speaks. “do you think taehyung has a kraken?” he asks.

it surprises a laugh out of yoongi. “what?”

“a kraken,” jeongguk repeats. “you know, big tentacle thing. it would really come in handy against the cry of hades.”

“jeongguk, the kraken isn’t real. and even if it were, it’s definitely not hanging around asia. isn’t it from like, northern europe?”

“first of all, i don’t like your tone,” says jeongguk, but he’s giggling, flushed—maybe it’s the alcohol. but yoongi would find him beautiful either way. “second of all, it’s kim taehyung. he says he’s been everywhere looking for mythical sea creatures. i bet if someone controls the kraken, it’s him.”

“someone needs to control you.

“i’m gonna ask him.”

“do not ask him about the kraken, jeongguk, christ—” but he’s laughing, and they’re both laughing, and it feels good. and whatever comes next, he thinks, at least they had this. at least, even for one night, yoongi felt as though jeongguk was right when they spoke to jimin three weeks ago: the sea has a funny way of mending broken things.

Chapter Text

jeongguk and yoongi are arguing—having a lively discussion—when they’re interrupted by minsoo rapping her knuckles against the door of yoongi’s office.

“i’m just saying,” jeongguk adds when yoongi calls out to let minsoo enter. “we can’t keep relying on our prisoners to give us vital information. what do they gain at all from telling us the truth?”

“i’ll threaten them,” says yoongi, and jeongguk groans. yoongi always liked threatening violence when he was a pirate and he seems to follow the same principles as a commander—threaten bodily harm to get information out of someone. the only problem is that taehyung and jimin have absolutely nothing to lose from refusing to comply with yoongi’s wishes; they’re already on their way to death by execution, so what difference does it make if they refuse to cooperate and are therefore left to drown in the middle of the ocean? at least this way, they can hold onto their dignity and pride for a little longer.

“it was by chance that we managed to get things right with taehyung,” jeongguk continues, but yoongi isn’t paying attention; he’s reading a scroll that minsoo handed to him when she entered, leaving just as swiftly as she came. “they’re not going to tell us where kim namjoon is, if they happen to know.”

“japan,” says yoongi.

“what?”

he holds up the scroll. “kim namjoon is in japan. this is a letter from the king—or someone working for the king. they’ve been trying to give us a helping hand behind the scenes, i suppose.”

jeongguk bristles. “what, they don’t trust us to do this ourselves?”

“we’re working for the king,” says yoongi. “i don’t think you can blame him for wanting to have a little input. although something tells me this message is more of a kick in the ass to make us work faster.”

“i told you spending three weeks on an island in the middle of nowhere was a bad idea.”

“yeah, but it was worth it.”

jeongguk thinks of those endless days on the island, doing everything he could to annoy yoongi just to have his attention for a little longer, and has to shift uncomfortably, reaching over to snatch the scroll from yoongi so he can read it himself. sure enough, the king has had people working on finding the location of the five pirates; the letter must have been sent days ago, because it gives an approximate location for taehyung even though he’s already been captured. but it does give a location for namjoon, a city halfway up the western coast of japan.

“i guess that solves the problem of having to talk to jimin and taehyung,” he says. “and i wasn’t lying when i told jimin we were going to japan. do you think we can stop along the way so i can follow up on those leads i had about our old crew?”

when he looks up, yoongi’s stare is deadpan. “this isn’t your personal victory lap, jeongguk-ah,” he says. “we’re going to japan for kim namjoon and kim namjoon only.

“but there’s treasure, hyung.”

“you have treasure right here.”

jeongguk frowns. “where?”

yoongi points to himself. jeongguk just stares at him for a prolonged moment, watching the way yoongi’s initial confidence in making such a joke begins to wane the longer jeongguk goes without commenting. good. he wants yoongi to feel flustered over his own damn joke instead of jeongguk feeling that way.

finally, jeongguk wordlessly gets up and leaves, but not before calling over his shoulder, “you need to re-evaluate what you bring to this relationship!”

it takes them nearly four days to sail to their new destination, days that are filled with anticipation for what’s to come. jeongguk feels good about what they’re doing, although no less guilty than when they captured jimin—he just feels confident, sure of himself. sure of yoongi. he’s still a prisoner, but the past few days and conversations with yoongi have left him feeling at peace with it, knowing that it’s not exactly yoongi’s choice to be doing this and he does feel badly about everything that transpired between them. and ever since he decided to try letting some of his past hurt and anger go, he has been feeling better, so. maybe he doesn’t have to be so fucking bitter about everything anymore.

at the very least, they don’t spend the whole four days arguing with each other. in fact, jeongguk is coming to enjoy all of this. capturing pirates might not be what he imagined himself doing at this point in this life, but there’s something thrilling about it; they’re taking risks and putting themselves in danger, but it pays off to finally have their prize in the end. now, rather than sailing the sea of japan and fighting pirates to gain treasure in the form of gold or jewels, they’re doing it to gain treasure in the form of notorious pirates. somehow, that just makes the reward taste even better.

beyond being friends with yoongi, jeongguk continues his visits to the underbelly of yoongi’s ship when he can to visit jimin and now, by extension, taehyung, the latter of whom is less friendly than the former despite jeongguk’s explanation that he’s being forced into this. either way, he’s breaking the pirate code.

“where are going, again?” asks jimin on the second day after jeongguk has brought him breakfast. “it would be nice if you could let us up on the deck once in a while. it’s so lonely down here.”

“western coast of japan,” says jeongguk, chewing on a piece of bread before regarding taehyung in the cell opposite jimin. “and you’re not allowed out because yoongi-hyung thinks you’ll kill everyone and escape.”

“he’s not wrong,” says jimin. “why are we going to japan?”

“kim namjoon.”

taehyung seems to gain some interest from that, finally turning his attention to jeongguk. “kim namjoon?” he asks.

jeongguk hums, taking another bite of his bread before holding out the remaining half between the bars, waiting for taehyung to take it. he regards it for a brief moment before he does accept it, making jeongguk grin. it’s not difficult to connect with another pirate when they can all see yoongi and the rest of the military as their enemy, despite the fact that jeongguk isn’t the one in a cell. “we got promising information from the king about where he is, so we’re tracking him down.”

“and how do you plan on catching kim namjoon?” asks taehyung. “he might be the smartest pirate i’ve ever met.”

he wasn’t planning on using this conversation as a way to gain intel on namjoon, but he knows an opportunity when he sees one. “not sure yet,” admits jeongguk. “but we know how he works—impersonating royalty or whoever he wants, really, so he can steal his treasure. my best bet is setting up a trap to lure him in, a bit like what we did with you.”

taehyung’s eyes immediately darken, but it’s jimin who says, “are you sure you can waste another three weeks trying to lure kim into your trap? you’re wasting precious time and resources just hanging around.”

jeongguk looks over his shoulder at jimin. “since when are you the helpful one? don’t you want us to waste our resources and then have the whole thing called off so you can escape?”

“it’s boring being stuck in this cell for this long, jeongguk-ah,” sighs jimin. “the quicker you capture your pirates, the quicker we go back to korea and then we can escape. i mean, unless you capture all of us, you die, too, right?”

strangely, jeongguk hadn’t considered it. he’s known from the beginning that if they fail at this, it’ll be jeongguk’s neck in that noose when they return to the king, but he didn’t consider that the king might get impatient and call off the whole thing, in which case—it’ll still be jeongguk’s neck in that noose.

for the first time in days, jeongguk is reminded that despite how they might pretend, he and yoongi aren’t on equal footing. they might be working together, partners now rather than yoongi merely making all of the decisions, but if they fail this, yoongi will be reprimanded and given another task. and jeongguk will die.

“i’m just looking out for you, gguk,” says jimin, patting his head through the bars. “i might be upset with you because of your part in capturing me and taehyung, but i know you’re still on our side. and if there’s a chance of one of us surviving, i’ll work for it.”

“thanks,” jeongguk mumbles, shaken by the new revelation. they can’t keep waiting around for their pirates to come to them. he had thought, perhaps, that they could keep doing this forever, that if they put off finding the last pirate, then he could keep sailing around with yoongi. because he’s enjoying that, at least. but suddenly, he realizes that’s not the case. of course there will be a time limit on this. and it’s like what yoongi said: the letter from the king is a reminder of the ticking clock, a reminder that they work for him. with each passing day, they draw closer to jeongguk’s execution rather than his freedom.

they have to do better.

“how are things with yoongi, by the way?” asks jimin.

jeongguk is already halfway across the ship, heading for the stairs to take him away from the cells—both because he has to talk to yoongi about their plans for capturing namjoon and because he really isn’t interested in jimin prying into his love life again.

“has he confessed his undying love for you yet?” jimin calls.

“i have no idea what you’re talking about!” jeongguk calls back, and it’s only jimin’s laugher that echoes after him as he leaves the prisoners behind.

the city is bustling when they arrive and jeongguk curses the size of it; there must be thousands of people living on the coast, milling about the streets, going through their day completely unaware that kim namjoon is hiding in their midst. it’ll be impossible to search for him on foot, but since the letter from the king gave no further information about where namjoon is within the city, they’ll have to figure out how to find him on their own.

they enter the city five-strong—jeongguk, yoongi, minsoo, jeongguk’s first mate, and a member of yoongi’s crew who can speak fluent japanese in order to translate if needed. they wear common clothes, as minsoo had the foresight that it might cause problems for the korean military to be seen wandering around a japanese city looking for a pirate. jeongguk isn’t familiar with how laws work between the two kingdoms—if it’ll be a problem to arrest someone on japanese soil, even if that someone is wanted by the korean government.

only one way to find out, though. and jeongguk isn’t afraid to draw his sword here if it means getting what they came for.

“there has to be something he wants here if he’s decided to come here,” jeongguk is saying as the five of them move through the city, although jeongguk doesn’t know what they’re searching for—perhaps just trying to get a feel for the place, trying to decide who to ask about pirates. they move through a market, yoongi getting distracted by fruits and vegetables for sale.

“hyung,” says jeongguk.

“i’m listening,” says yoongi.

“we know that kim only goes big; he doesn’t try to steal small treasures or trinkets. he does risky things. so what does this city have that he would want to steal?”

yoongi picks up a piece of fruit from a stand, turning it over in his hand. “i think we’ll need to talk to the local government about that,” he says. “they’ll know what’s valuable here, and in all honesty, they might know if kim is here. if our king knows that namjoon is here, there’s a good chance someone here does, too.”

jeongguk looks down at his own ratty clothing. he’s only without his sword, setting him apart from a pirate, but he doesn’t look like someone fit to speak with any local authority. “i don’t suppose we can just waltz up to them and demand an audience with whoever runs this city.”

“why not?” asks yoongi. he looks fine, going for a more formal look than what he’s been wearing for the past few weeks as a pirate. it’s not jeongguk’s fault that he doesn’t actually own any clothing that isn’t stained with a bit of blood. “look, we might as well go and ask. we might run into namjoon on the way there.”

“how are you so optimistic about this?” jeongguk asks as they keep walking, skirting around others enjoying the market.

“how are you not? just a few days ago, you were joking and laughing about all of this and now you’re panicking.” it’s the truth—since his conversation with jimin and taehyung, jeongguk has been feeling off about all of this. he knows he’s being impatient, but he can’t help it when he’s been reminded of his own mortality. “look, jeongguk-ah, we’re not going to catch namjoon today. we waited three weeks to get taehyung, so we can wait two days for kim namjoon.”

“but i want—hyung,” jeongguk reaches for him when yoongi keeps walking, catching yoongi’s hand and tugging him to a stop. it works—touching him always works, making yoongi turn to jeongguk with wider eyes, their hands clasped between them. jeongguk dwells not on what it means to be vulnerable now, after spending so long refusing to be seen as weak by anyone, especially yoongi. “i’m just worried.”

yoongi holds his gaze for a prolonged second like’s searching for something. and then he glances both ways, nods toward minsoo and the other two members of their party, and pulls jeongguk away from the crowd of the market. it’s not far, merely into an alcove at the end of the market where there are less people, less noise.

he pushes jeongguk against the wall, forcing him back and forcing him to stay, and then puts his hands on either side of jeongguk’s face. it’s the closest they’ve been since—well. since they accidentally kissed after fighting jimin. but this doesn’t feel intimate in an uncomfortable way. it just feels like yoongi is trying to keep him grounded, focusing his attention on yoongi and yoongi alone.

this what yoongi does. what he’s always done for jeongguk. he makes jeongguk quiet, helps him still the roar of thoughts and emotions inside of him until jeongguk can get them out properly. although jeongguk hasn’t been acting out, hasn’t been fighting with yoongi to show his irritation, yoongi must have noticed it nonetheless—in the small things, in the small ways.

he’s been paying attention.

“what are you worried about?” yoongi asks quietly. he’s standing so close that jeongguk can see each little crease in the scars that criss-cross over his face, the flecks of dirt he’s failed to scrub off of his forehead.

jeongguk swallows tightly. weeks ago, he wouldn’t have imagined admitting it. but despite the truth, jeongguk finally feels like they’re on the same side. and he’s tired of holding back, of not letting yoongi in. “i don’t want to die,” he whispers.

“you’re not going to die. why do you think you are?”

“that’s the deal, hyung. if we don’t find them, i die.”

yoongi swallows, his adam’s apple bobbing. his brows furrow just slightly, eyes flitting over jeongguk’s face as he rubs his thumbs lightly where he’s holding jeongguk’s temples. around them, there is movement and noise, people speaking in a language he doesn’t understand, lives being lived. but right now, right here, it’s just—yoongi. not even spitfire, not even commander min. just yoongi.

“we’re going to find them, gguk-ah,” says yoongi earnestly. “we found jimin and taehyung, so we’ll find the other three. is that what you’re worried about?”

“he said—” jeongguk shudders in a breath, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back against the stone wall behind him. “jimin-hyung said that if we waste all of our time and resources waiting for the pirates to come to us, then the king might call this off. which means we won’t have found them and i die anyway.”

“i’m sorry, but what the fuck does park jimin know about any of this?”

jeongguk opens his eyes again, surprised by the force in yoongi’s words. “i don’t—”

“don’t listen to him,” says yoongi. “you might be friends, but he’s our prisoner. of course he’s going to try to scare you or turn you against me. he’s desperate. but he doesn’t know anything, jeongguk.”

“but isn’t he right?”

yoongi licks his lips. “honestly? i don’t know. maybe. maybe the king will get tired of waiting, but we made a deal and he has to honour it. we’re going to find them. and the king might be the fucking king, but if he doesn’t understand that these things take time and energy and resources, then i’ll—i’ll kick him in the balls.”

despite himself, jeongguk snorts with amusement. “you really do like threatening bodily harm, don’t you?”

“what can i say? i spent most of my life as the violent one on pirate ships. old habits die hard.”

“i still can’t help being impatient.”

“i know.” yoongi’s forehead pinches as he frowns, rubbing his thumbs over jeongguk’s cheekbones. and jeongguk hates that he does feel better with yoongi’s hands on him, his body giving in so easily. but maybe it never really learned how to resist yoongi, anyway. “but—” yoongi shakes his head, eyes watching his. in them, jeongguk sees fear and regret. “i won’t let you die, jeongguk. i’ll do whatever i can to keep you safe, especially from the military. you—you mean more to me than i know how to say. i won’t let anything happen to you.”

is it surprising that jeongguk believes him? that for the first time in all of this, it feels like it’s the two of them against the world, including the king? that’s how he always wanted it to be. that’s how it was for years, the two of them hand in hand and watching the world burn before them, just the way they wanted it.

and god, jeongguk loves him. part of him doesn’t want to, knowing it shouldn’t be this easy to fall back into routine and habit, to realize how his heart beats for this man before him. but jeongguk has spent so long denying himself and he doesn’t want to anymore. it’s perhaps the worst circumstance for the two of them to come back together, but there has to be a silver lining. and maybe once all of this is over, once they catch the rest of the pirates—because they will—then he and yoongi can finally have their second chance. maybe the world will be kind enough for that.

“i won’t let you die either,” jeongguk whispers. “i think—i’m glad we’re doing this. as fucked up as that is, i like being with you. and i forgot how much i did. and i don’t want to pretend that i don’t lo—” he stops, sucking in a breath. the truth is, he doesn’t know how yoongi feels about him, if he still feels the same. they’ve been teasing and joking for weeks, but does that amount to anything?

and still—yoongi’s eyes flicker down to his lips for a second and jeongguk’s heart jumps into his throat.

then—“wait,” whispers yoongi, his head turning sideways as he seems to listen to something just outside of the alcove. jeongguk focuses on yoongi’s profile, heart beating too loudly, wanting nothing more than to lean forward and kiss the scar beside yoongi’s ear, the one that jeongguk remembers giving him so clearly.

“did you hear that?” asks yoongi, looking back at him.

jeongguk physically recoils, feeling like he’s been caught doing something he shouldn’t. “hear what?”

“someone is talking about kim namjoon.”

brows furrowed, jeongguk lets yoongi pull him away from the wall and toward the conversation he’s listening to, and they stumble to a stop next to a group of people who are listening to a man making an announcement on top of a wooden crate at the end of the alley. jeongguk can’t make much out, but he can understand the words kim namjoon out of the man’s mouth. he’s holding a scroll, reading off of it, and the crowd around jeongguk and yoongi immediately begins murmuring to each other as the man continues speaking.

craning his neck, jeongguk tries to find their own crew in the crowd—especially the woman who can actually speak japanese.

“what the fuck is he saying?” asks jeongguk. “why are they making an announcement about namjoon?”

“commander!” when jeongguk turns his head toward the sound, he finds minsoo sticking her arm above the crowd and rapidly waving for the two of them to join. jeongguk and yoongi pick their way through the crowd, skirting around people who are still listening to the announcement and discussing with each other, breathless by the time they reach the familiar faces.

jeongguk has a bad feeling about this.

“what’s going on?” yoongi demands, turning to their translator. “why are they talking about kim namjoon?”

“he’s making an announcement,” she says, face filled with dread, “that kim namjoon has been arrested by the local authorities.”

jeongguk’s head snaps back to the man still making the announcement, likely repeating himself a few times, and the crowd around him, alive and thriving with the news of the arrest. namjoon is here—but someone has already beat them to him.

“and…” the translator continues. “he’s going to be publicly executed tomorrow at noon.”

“oh, fuck,” says yoongi, and then immediately turns around and begins walking back the way they came, back to their ships. jeongguk throws a questioning glance to the other three before he takes off after yoongi, the other man still cursing under his breath.

“hyung—hyung,” says jeongguk, catching up with yoongi and reaching out for his sleeve. this time, though, yoongi doesn’t stop walking, just shoulders his way through the crowd and forces jeongguk to keep up. “what’s wrong?”

“they’re going to execute him, jeongguk!” snaps yoongi.

“so?” asks jeongguk. “isn’t that good? isn’t that what we want? they’re just doing our job for us so we can go find the last two pirates.”

“no, jeongguk, this isn’t good. this is very not good.”

“but why? we’re just going to execute him anyway and now we don’t have to worry about it! let’s just go.

because,” growls yoongi, beginning down a long set of stone stairs that will take them out to the beach where their boats are waiting for them. he seems shaken, angry and panicked. “we need him. we need to arrest him, not some fucking law enforcement from a different country.”

“i really don’t see what the problem is,” says jeongguk, hurrying after him. “he’s dead either way.”

no, jeongguk, he’s not just dead.” yoongi rounds on him at the bottom of the stairs, face filled with anger now, and jeongguk takes a step back, surprised. his own reaction upon hearing the news of namjoon’s imminent execution had been relief, but yoongi is upset. “the king has clearly stated the rules for this mission for me and nowhere does it say we can allow someone else to execute one of the pirates.”

“maybe he just didn’t anticipate this happening.”

“the pirates can be dead and struck from the list in plenty of ways, but not executed by someone else. we can lose them in battle or they can dead by the time we get to them, but we cannot, under any circumstance, allow another country’s government to kill our pirates.

yoongi makes a noise between a growl and a groan as he takes off again and jeongguk glances backwards to make sure the other three are following them before he hurries to catch up once more. “what does it matter, though?” he asks. “kim has clearly been stealing from japanese people as well, so don’t they have just as much of a right to arrest him as we do?”

“he belongs to the king! the king wants him, wants the fucking—satisfaction of owning him, of being the one to bring namjoon to his doom. it’s the same with all of the other pirates. he will not allow someone else to have the bragging rights.

“that’s a stupid reason.”

“it doesn’t matter if it’s stupid, jeongguk,” says yoongi as they finally reach the shore, spotting their boats bobbing up and down in the waves near the dock they landed on. “it’s the rule, and i didn’t make the rule. i only know what i have been told, and what i have been told forbids this from happening.”

jeongguk doesn’t understand. he doesn’t understand why yoongi is so adamant about this, doesn’t understand why the king has set the rules that he has. he doesn’t understand how namjoon dying at the hands of another government is any different from him dying in the middle of battle, which is apparently perfectly fine, but yoongi seems to get it. and jeongguk knows that he won’t be able to convince yoongi otherwise.

they made their promises to each other just minutes ago. and maybe what jeongguk said was that he wouldn’t let yoongi die, but along with it was: i won’t let anything go wrong. i will stay by your side, will stick with you until the end.

i trust you.

if yoongi won’t let namjoon go, then jeongguk only has one choice.

“what are we going to do, then?” asks jeongguk as he rushes to yoongi’s side on the dock, working to untie their boat and bring it close enough to step into. “how do we stop them from executing him?”

“i don’t know yet,” huffs yoongi. “either we find out where he’s being held and break him out, or… we have to do it the proper way.”

“what does that even mean?”

rope in hand, yoongi finally straightens up and looks at him. “we go to them as members of the korean military and make them hand him over. no fighting, no scheming. just logic.”

jeongguk swallows tightly. he’s always been better at using a sword than his mouth.

back on the military ship, yoongi leads him straight into his cabins, to his bedroom—and it’s oddly intimate to see the innermost parts of yoongi’s life. to jeongguk’s surprise, the room is quite empty, no signs that yoongi has made his home here. but he doesn’t have time to dwell on it as yoongi begins rifling through his own clothing before he finds what he’s looking for and shoves a pile of material at jeongguk.

stumbling back, jeongguk lets yoongi move about the room as he instead inspects what he’s been given and finds it to be a uniform.

a military uniform.

“you can’t be serious,” says jeongguk, disbelief colouring the words as he watches yoongi gather his own uniform, already pulling off the shirt he’s wearing. “hyung.

“what, you thought we were going to go talk to the local authorities dressed as pirates?” asks yoongi.

“i’m not pretending to be part of the military.”

“then you’re not coming with me.”

yoongi.

“take your goddamn clothes off, jeongguk.” coming from a man who is currently shirtless, the statement is loaded. but yoongi appears to be too fired up and desperate about all of this to notice or, at least, to comment on it. jeongguk swallows tightly, clutching at the uniform. gingerly, yoongi adds, “it’s not like i haven’t seen you naked before.”

“oh my god,” groans jeongguk, turning around the moment he sees yoongi hook his thumbs into the waistband of his pants. his own cheeks burn brightly, even though yoongi does have a point. but that was four years ago. rather than comment on it—or give into the slight temptation to turn around and look at yoongi’s half-naked body, he gets to work on changing into the ridiculous uniform. he’s not happy about it at all, but maybe it’s a bit of pay back for making yoongi pretend to be a pirate when they were capturing jimin.

the only difference is that yoongi was a pirate. and jeongguk fucking hates the military.

“it’s not that difficult to pretend to be in the military,” yoongi tells him as jeongguk struggles to get the uniform on. it’s too many tight articles of clothing going in places he didn’t even know he had. “just keep your back straight and address people formally and when we talk about kim namjoon, do it with a look that clearly says you despite pirates. you don’t even have to say anything. you can just stand there and look intimidating.”

“do i normally look intimidating?”

“you’re a pirate, jeongguk, of course you do.”

“well, i’m not now—jesus christ, why are there so many layers to this?” he grunts as he finally pulls on the last outer garment—red, the colour the rest of the military onboard this ship wears. just seeing it on himself makes his skin crawl, but yoongi is right: they can’t expect to be taken seriously unless they look, speak, and act the part.

with a sigh, jeongguk turns around and then pulls his long hair back to mimic the style yoongi was wearing when he arrested jeongguk. “i feel stupid,” he says, but when yoongi stops to look at him, it’s like his entire body locks up for a few seconds. his eyes widen as he takes in jeongguk, moving from his lower half up his torso and then his face. he looks… panicked.

“hello?” asks jeongguk.

yoongi finally blinks. “uh,” he says.

jeongguk rolls his eyes, dropping his hand and letting his bangs flop back into his eyes. “whatever,” he says. “what are we going to tell these people to make them hand over kim?”

this, finally, seems to snap yoongi out of whatever moment he was stuck in. he shakes his head, turning back to what he was doing—finding appropriate weapons. “i’m going to tell them the truth,” he says. “to an extent, at least.” he grabs a pistol, tucking it into his waistband and then regards his sword before grabbing that, too. “i’ll tell them that we have a warrant out for namjoon’s arrest and because he’s a korean citizen, legally we’re the only ones who are allowed to execute him. and if they don’t comply, we’ll stall the execution until we can get an order from the king for them to hand him over.”

yoongi brushes past jeongguk on his way out of the room, and jeongguk follows him with an, “is that actually true?”

“fuck if i know,” says yoongi, “but i’m a commander. some local officer isn’t going to question me if i sound like i know what i’m talking about. plus, we’ll have manpower and you with your… muscles.”

“and if they don’t hand him over?”

yoongi pauses in the doorway the deck, looking back at jeongguk. although he said earlier that they would find all of the pirates and that he would make sure nothing happened to jeongguk, it wasn’t easy to believe in it wholeheartedly in the heat of jeongguk’s panic. but now, with the way yoongi is looking at him, jeongguk believes it. believes that they will get namjoon, because they have no other choice. believes that yoongi will protect him from the king, because somehow, it’s this moment that makes jeongguk understand—yoongi believes in him. yoongi wants him here, wants to do this together. jeongguk isn’t the only one feeling… things.

“then you put your muscles to good use,” says yoongi. “we grab kim and run like hell.”

jeongguk grins. he can do that.

“stop it,” yoongi hisses at jeongguk after he keeps tugging awkwardly at the collar of his outer garments, but jeongguk just throws him a glare. he can’t help feeling stuffy in the uniform; he’s used to wearing loose clothing, garments that give him a lot of freedom to move and fight. he feels restricted in the military uniform, and it’s not just because of the material—it’s the idea of it. jeongguk would rather die than be caught pretending to be part of the military, but he trusts that no one here knows who he is and won’t start rumours about it.

here is the local government’s meeting grounds, a patch of land in the middle of the city housing a swath of buildings and gardens. upon presenting themselves to the guards at the front gate and requesting an audience with whoever is in charge, offering their credentials as men of the korean king, they were led through the grounds to the largest building of all, where they now stand in the middle of a hall and wait for their chance to speak.

jeongguk has spent so much of his life trying not to be inside these kinds of buildings, because doing so while being a pirate can only mean he’s been caught and is being forced to accept punishment for his crimes of piracy. even in his uniform, even knowing that the local authorities have no reason to suspect he isn’t who he is pretending to be, jeongguk can’t help being anxious, which is why he can’t stop fidgeting. he counts the exits for the third time in as many minutes.

“remember,” says yoongi, leaning over to him. “let me and minsoo do the talking. there’s nothing to be worried about.” jeongguk glances over to the rest of their company, the group that originally came ashore earlier in the day. it shouldn’t be a problem. the ceilings are so high, the room so wide with only the five of them standing in the middle and waiting. it would be so easy for someone to sneak up on them.

thankfully, that doesn’t happen. what does happen is two men finally emerge from one of the doorways to the front of the hall, making their way toward them. without even knowing who they are, some instinctual part of jeongguk tells him to run, but yoongi throws him a meaningful glance and jeongguk stays rooted to the spot, swallowing down every pirate part of him telling him to get out or at least draw his sword. he’s not the one on trial here.

when one of the men speaks, their translator takes a moment and then begins translating to the group: “he says good afternoon. his name is tanaka gorou and he—this is his city. he runs it.” jeongguk doesn’t like the way he says it, the wording of it. but maybe he’s right. when the man gestures to the other stranger, the translator says, “this is the head of the local military, maki sora. they would… like to welcome us to their city, and ask that we make this quick, as they are very busy preparing for a big day tomorrow.”

jeongguk can feel yoongi stiffen beside them, knowing their big day revolves around executing namjoon. but yoongi bows away when he says, “it’s an honour to be in your great city and to be speaking to you directly. my name is min yoongi, and i am a commander in the naval military of the kingdom of korea.” he introduces the rest of their group, almost stumbling over jeongguk’s name before he gives a false one. still, jeongguk feels the eyes of tanaka and maki on him, feels them linger for longer than the others. jeongguk swallows tightly before bowing, reminding himself that they don’t know him. there’s no reason for them to suspect who he really is.

“what is it that you require of us?” tanaka asks through the translator.

“you are in possession of something we want,” says yoongi. “something that is rightfully ours. the pirate kim namjoon.”

maki laughs out loud. “kim namjoon,” he says before the translator has even finished with the rest of the sentence. that name is universal. “we arrested him for impersonating a government official and trying to make off with half of the money in our treasury. i think you’ll find he is ours and ours alone.”

“he is a korean citizen,” argues yoongi. “i understand how his crimes have affected you and the claim you believe you have over him for that, but he’s wanted within korea for much worse. i have been given orders from the king himself to arrest kim namjoon and bring him back to korea with us. i cannot let you execute him tomorrow.”

jeongguk worries, for a moment, that the two of them will just laugh and cast the lot of them out. but they seem to consider the words, muttering to each other before turning back to the five of them. “what does your king plan on doing with kim?” asks maki.

“he’ll be executed,” says yoongi.

“what difference does it make, then, if you do it or we do it?” jeongguk almost laughs, since that’s the exact argument he had with yoongi earlier. but he doesn’t think yoongi can just believe in two strangers to trust him the way jeongguk has, not knowing the stakes that both yoongi and jeongguk have placed on this arrest.

“i can see how you might think it makes no difference,” says yoongi, and when jeongguk looks at him, he looks frustrated. maybe this isn’t going as well as he thought it would. “but kim does not belong to you. he may have committed a crime in your kingdom, but i ask that you would do us the honour of releasing him to us. you won’t have to use your resources or time or energy to execute him. the king has specifically tasked us with finding him and we can give you written words from him ordering us to find him. we can wait here until he’s given us permission to take him from you—”

tanaka interrupts yoongi with an outburst in japanese, the translator trying to keep up with the arguments and anger until it’s a swell of noise, both languages echoing off of the pillars and high ceilings, and jeongguk can tell they’re losing this, can tell tanaka and maki won’t hand over namjoon so easily when they want the satisfaction of killing him.

so jeongguk shouts, “listen!” he’s louder than everyone else in the room, the word effective in silencing the others, and jeongguk feels hot when every eye is on him. yoongi’s are panicked, probably trying to tell him to stop talking because he promised to let yoongi do the talking, but his logic isn’t working.

jeongguk takes a breath, holding eye contact with tanaka and then maki in turn before he looks to their translator. “tell them—i know it would be so goddamn satisfying to execute kim,” he says. “i get it. this man has hurt you and your government and your people with his actions and he has no remorse for it because he’s a pirate. that’s what pirates do.” he licks his lips, waiting for the translator to finish before continuing

“you don’t want us to take that satisfaction from you,” he says. “but consider that by executing kim tomorrow, you take away that same satisfaction from our king. our king, who has been dealing with kim terrorizing korea for much, much longer than he has been in this town. our king, who has struggled and agonized over finding kim and finally ending what he does—not just for us, but for you, too. and might i remind you that he is a king? what the fuck do you think he’d do if he found out two unimportant men from an unimportant city on the coast of japan decided to kill the crown jewel in his quest to rid korea of its most notorious pirates?”

the hall falls into silence once he finishes speaking and the translator finishes shortly after him. he keeps his eyes trained on the pair of men before them, refusing to back down even with the strong words—and he knows he just threatened them indirectly. and he knows that yoongi is staring at him with both dread and surprise.

he has no idea if it’ll work. in truth: he imagines kim namjoon is far from the pirate the king would be most pleased to execute. in truth: these aren’t unimportant men and this isn’t an unimportant city. coming to a foreign country and insulting anyone in the name of his own king is asking for trouble, but it’s the way that jeongguk has always gotten business done. and if yoongi’s nice attempts at using sound logic haven’t worked, then perhaps this will.

they were halfway to having to use their back-up plan, anyway.

when the silence stretches on too long, yoongi begins to say, “i apologize on behalf of—” but tanaka just puts his hand up to silence yoongi. his eyes are still on jeongguk, but now there’s a funny little grin on his face.

when he speaks, jeongguk’s attention turns to the translator, any lag in the communication already too long now knowing what he’s put on the line. “he says… he likes you,” says the translator, surprising everyone, but most especially jeongguk. “he likes your attitude and how determined you are to follow your king’s wishes. you make a good military man.”

jeongguk almost throws up.

“he’s agreeing to hand kim over,” she continues. “but he would like to talk about what we can do for him in return, as we’re robbing him of the satisfaction of killing kim, like you said, and of a grand public spectacle that would have raised morale against all pirates.” jeongguk sighs in relief at the words, glad that they’re not going to try and kill him, too, for his words. surely they have something these men would want—gold, a favour, other pirates to execute. jeongguk isn’t keen on sacrificing one of his crew members, but if it’s in exchange for kim namjoon, it has to be worth it.

with a wave of his hand, maki sends several of the guards to fetch namjoon, and jeongguk lets yoongi take over again as they discuss the terms of the trade. he tunes that out, trying to work through the idea that someone thinks he makes a good military man. he’ll believe it’s because he’s good at acting. he’ll pretend yoongi has just rubbed off on him, even if he struggled to form his syllables like yoongi does as a commander, even if he knows he’s not embodying the uniform as well as he should.

when he looks at yoongi, it’s like—he’s seeing a stranger again. yoongi is so good at this. they’ve come so far over the past few weeks, but somehow, they’re still in completely different worlds. somehow, they’re still oceans apart.

before all of this, jeongguk would have felt comforted by that fact. now, he hates it more than anything.

movement and noise from one of the doorways draws jeongguk’s attention, and when he turns, he has to suck in a breath when he realizes what is happening. walking through the door, flanked by two guards holding his bound arms, is a tall, slender man with dark hair to his shoulders, wearing dirty and dark clothing. his neck, up to his chin, is covered in ink, and his eyes are almost amused when they sweep over the group. despite being the only man who isn’t free in this room, he seems to own them all.

kim namjoon, pirate. the third piece of jeongguk’s freedom.

it’s not the first time jeongguk has seen namjoon—far from it. although he’d never call them friends, he’s worked with namjoon on various occasions, particularly in the last four years. once jeongguk decided that his plan of action was to exact revenge on each member of the hangman’s daughter that mutinied him, he knew he would need help in some instances. he made a deal with namjoon, once, for the other pirate to infiltrate a pirate’s family, get close to them, and then leave them decimated when he stole every last one of their family heirlooms before throwing them into the sea.

instead, namjoon burned down the house with the family inside.

somehow, it isn’t until this very moment that jeongguk considers what that might mean for this operation: their shared past, however brief it was. upon hearing what namjoon had done, jeongguk refused to uphold his end of the deal and instead disappeared. but they’d still met. they’d still seen each other’s faces. and any man who doesn’t honour a deal isn’t a man that a pirate will forget anytime soon.

“shit,” jeongguk hisses, turning his face away as the guards bring namjoon into the room. yoongi turns an alarmed look to him, muttering, “what’s wrong?” but jeongguk doesn’t have time to warn him before tanaka and maki are happily introducing namjoon to them, wanting to finalize the last of the deal.

jeongguk keeps his face turned away, pretending to study something on the floor, because they’re this close—if they can just make the deal, get namjoon into their possession, then he won’t have to worry about namjoon knowing who he is. but he should have known—kim namjoon is too clever for that. kim namjoon is too clever for anything.

“i don’t suppose i can have a say in this?” namjoon asks, speaking korean to the five strangers. “it must come to this, hm? being passed from one cell to another, spared my life only long enough to be brought back to my home and killed there instead.”

“king’s orders, kim,” says yoongi. “surely you understand. it’s nothing personal.”

jeongguk closes his eyes, cursing the very idea. then namjoon says, “i’d like to know exactly who my new keepers will be. the king’s military, is it?”

minsoo begins to say something, but namjoon cuts her off, says, “no, not you. just that one.” without looking, jeongguk knows that namjoon is talking to him. he has no choice but to lift his head, steeling his expression as he makes eye contact with namjoon and holds his gaze. he sees the moment recognition flickers in namjoon’s eyes, the moment his expression melts into something… smug.

in that instant when namjoon looks at him and jeongguk looks back, he knows exactly what namjoon is going to do. because it’s the same fucking thing he would do, were he in that position. it’s the pirate thing to do.

“run,” says jeongguk lowly, turning to yoongi the moment he sees namjoon turn to maki. “hyung, we have to run.

“what?” asks yoongi, and then namjoon says something in japanese to maki and tanaka. jeongguk understands very little of the language, but he does understand just one of the words, a word that he has heard in japanese and korean and chinese and just about every language he’s ever come in contact with. the word that damns him, damns them all the moment it slips from namjoon’s mouth.

pirate.

there’s a brief moment after namjoon speaks where nothing happens, where jeongguk just stares at the japanese men and waits for whatever is to come. for that moment, it’s as though everything might just be fine. and then tanaka shouts something and the hall explodes in movement and noise. jeongguk doesn’t even bother to see if the guards have drawn their swords, instead shouting, “back-up plan!” and running.

“fuck!” he hears yoongi shout as a gunshot rings out in the hall, and jeongguk draws his own pistol before cocking it and turning over his shoulder, firing it at a guard who is dangerously close to him. “jeongguk, go!” he’s the one they must be after, or maybe both he and yoongi; either way, he can’t waste time trying to defend himself when he needs to run away.

but—namjoon.

“hyung!” jeongguk calls, turning around and trying to make out any particular person out in the flurry of activity at the front of the hall. he has to turn away as another guard lunges at him with a sword, and jeongguk throws up his own sword in time to block the attack. finally, he spots yoongi fighting with another guard. “what about kim?”

“leave him!” yoongi calls. “i’ve ordered minsoo to grab him! just get back to the ship!”

despite wanting nothing more than to be the one with his hands on namjoon, making sure they do capture him and don’t let this opportunity slip by, he has to trust. there are suddenly more guards pouring into the room, heading for him and if he and yoongi don’t run now, they’ll be killed before they can even think about taking namjoon for themselves. still, he catches sight of minsoo running through the crowd toward namjoon and has to trust her, has to trust that this will work. then he finally growls, kicking the guard he’s fighting in the chest before turning and running out of the building.

he almost immediately collides with a pair of guards who must have heard the commotion and ran to help, but he just shoulders his way through them before heading across the grounds to the front gates. footsteps and shouts echo behind him but he can’t look back, knowing he’s too outnumbered to try and take a stand. the only thing he can do is run and hope that the guards aren’t as fast as him. and maybe if he wasn’t wearing this fucking uniform

“gguk-ah!” he hears behind him, glancing backwards to see yoongi bursting out of the pair of guards as well, a swarm of men hot on his heels. “don’t kill anyone!”

“thanks for the advice!” jeongguk shouts back, facing front again as he keeps running. he spots a group of guards closing it on him from the right and a pair on the left, plus the guards at the front gate and—he knows he won’t make it. there’s no way he can fight through all of them, especially now that every guard in this damn city will soon be aware that there are pirates in their midst. for now, he has to trust that minsoo and the others will have gotten namjoon and can bring him back to the ship. instead, he scans the grounds for any chance he can make it out without having to face the guards.

when he spots his exit, he grins, changing courses slightly as he turns back to yoongi and calls, “follow me!”

“what the fuck are you doing?” yoongi calls back, cut off by the clank of metal as a guard must finally catch up to him. jeongguk’s heartrate spikes with panic, but he forces himself not to turn around, trusting that yoongi can handle himself. trusting that, as they once did, the two of them can make it out of this alive.

jeongguk heads for the pair of guards who are running at him with their swords raised high, breathing hard as he lifts his own sword and brings it down hard on one of their blades as he passes, swiftly kicking the other man in the knees as he goes down. as soon as he has an exit he keeps running, checking that the group of guards from the other side of the garden won’t catch up yet. he’s almost to the wall that separates the government grounds from the rest of the city and jeongguk takes a running start at one of the trees that has been planted next to the wall.

running up the slanted trunk, he sheathes his sword and grabs one of the branches to swing himself higher onto the trunk, getting high enough that when he glances down, he almost gets dizzy. but this branch, even as it gets skinnier and skinnier at the end, is long enough that it reaches just to the beginning of the wall. jeongguk takes a deep breath, the roar of the guards getting louder as they reach him, and the tree shakes and jeongguk—doesn’t have time, just runs out onto the branch and leaps the moment that it begins to crack beneath his weight.

he flies through the air, arms pinwheeling as he tries to reach the end of the wall, and he misjudged it, of course he did. he’s not going to make it, he’s going to fall onto the grass and be killed by a thousand japanese guards and—he reaches out for the end of the wall, his hand just barely catching on the edge of it. the force of his body’s downward movement almost causes his hand to slip but he grips on tightly, swinging his other hand to hold onto the edge of the wall in an attempt to haul himself up.

before he can, there’s a loud cracking noise behind him and then a thud as two feet land on the wall next to his hand. jeongguk almost panics, convinced a guard has followed him to make sure he doesn’t make it out into the city, but when he looks up, he sees yoongi crouching on the wall, already reaching for jeongguk.

“why the fuck would you make me climb a tree?” yoongi grumbles, but jeongguk has never been happier to see him as he lets yoongi grab his arm and haul him onto the wall. looking back down at the guards they’ve left behind, jeongguk sees they don’t have time to celebrate; although he and yoongi couldn’t make it out of the gate, the guards certainly can. and all of them are headed that way to ensure that the pair of them don’t make it any further into the city.

jeongguk turns to yoongi, adrenaline already filling him up from top to toe. “are we really going to run for our lives from a bunch of angry japanese guards?” he asks.

“we’ve done worse,” says yoongi, and grins at him. and despite being in danger once more, jeongguk can’t help but grin. yoongi holds his out his hand, and when jeongguk takes it, they leap off of the wall together to take off into the city.

their footsteps thunder against the ground as they head into the first street they can find, skirting past civilians that shout at the sudden movement and at the yelling from the guards as they pursue the pair. jeongguk glances back in time to see the street behind them filled with guards, cursing as he says, “i’m trusting you know how to get back to the ship because i don’t have a fucking clue where we are!”

“must i do everything?” yoongi asks, but there’s amusement in his voice as he jumps over a crate in the middle if the street, leading jeongguk into a back alley. they hurry down it, twisting and turning down more and more streets in a pattern that jeongguk hopes will throw off their pursuers and will lead them back to the sea. he can only hope that the others managed to grab namjoon and are already back on the ship, unfurling their sails and preparing to get the fuck away from the city before their captains end up dead in the water.

turning down another back alley, jeongguk gasps. “i see the water,” he says, but then—the end of the alley is suddenly blocked by a large guard who shouts upon turning to see yoongi and jeongguk running toward them. cursing, jeongguk stumbles to a halt, turning to run back the other way, but he finds that end of the alley is blocked by another guard. they’re trapped.

“what was that you said about not killing anyone?” asks jeongguk as he draws his sword, pointing it at one of the guards that is slowly advancing.

beside him, yoongi breathes hard, drawing his own sword. “doesn’t count if it’s self-defence,” he says.

“good to know.” they stand back to back in the alley, weapons pointed in the opposite direction, and it’s so unfair; jeongguk can see the sea behind the guard, only a few streets away. their freedom is so close. he’s not going to die in japan after a botched attempt to capture kim namjoon. and he certainly won’t die dressed as a fucking member of the military.

“you take that one, i’ll take this one,” says yoongi briefly. “then we keep running.”

jeongguk nods. and then he shouts, taking off for the guard blocking his way. at the last second, he takes a moment to actually look at the alley; it appears the alley is behind a fish market where the vendors keep some of their supplies, and the moment jeongguk sees a crate filled with fish heads, he takes his chance.

rather than heading directly for the guard, he runs for the crate, picking up one of the fish heads and throwing it hard at the guard’s head. the man is caught off guard by jeongguk’s choice, ducking out of the way at the last second, but it gives jeongguk an opportunity to grab another fish head and throw that at him, too. the man yells something in japanese, probably along the lines of fight me like a man, coward! and jeongguk waits for the guard to get close enough for him to grasp the top of the crate and swing it wildly at the guard’s head.

it works—surprisingly or not. the crate explodes against the man’s head, wood and fish heads splattering the sides of the alley, and jeongguk takes the opportunity to use his sword to disarm the man. the guard stumbles sideways and jeongguk pushes him hard against the wall nearest to them, head smacking roughly against it. when he falls, it’s as deadweight.

jeongguk only has a second to revel in the victory before there are pounding footsteps behind him and he turns, throwing his sword up to block whatever attack is coming next—but the sword his collides with is attached to yoongi, eyes wide as they stare at each other.

“sorry!” shouts jeongguk, but yoongi has already grabbed his arm and is pulling him through the alley toward the sea, hopping over the spill of fish heads jeongguk left behind in the wake of his attack. he can still hear shouting from further streets, the guards hoping to find them, but the two of them slow down at the mouth of every alley, peeking out in the street to make sure they won’t be spotted before they head into the next one.

finally, they reach the same stairs they walked down hours ago when they were exiting the city for the first time, hurrying down and onto the shore. one of their boats is already gone—which means minsoo and the others must have captured namjoon and brought him back to their ships. sure enough, jeongguk can already see movement around the bend of the shore where they anchored their ships, a sure sign that they’re preparing to leave and can sail the moment jeongguk and yoongi get onboard.

then, from behind them: “jeon jeongguk!

jeongguk almost stumbles over his own two feet as he hears his name, turning over his shoulder to see maki standing on top of the stairs as a handful of guards run past him in pursuit of jeongguk and yoongi. namjoon must have told them his name—and it’s dangerous, because now he’ll be wanted by this government. no doubt his name will spread like wildfire through japan, never allowing him to speak his own name in this kingdom unless he wants to be executed the same way he’ll be executed in korea should he step out of line again.

but such is the life of a pirate.

“jeongguk, c’mon!” yoongi shouts, and jeongguk turns back to him to see yoongi is halfway to the docks already, hurrying to their boat. jeongguk curses, taking off after him. by the time he gets there, yoongi has already untied their boat and begun rowing it out to sea, and jeongguk takes a running leap off of the dock, landing in it with a bang.

standing up again, he turns back to the shore. “give me your pistol,” he says, holding out his hand for yoongi to place the gun in. he cocks it, holding it out in warning as yoongi begins rowing them away and the guards come to a running halt at the end of the dock. but none of them pull their own guns on him or jump into the water in an attempt to stop them, and jeongguk is left standing on the boat, chest heaving as the guards become smaller and smaller.

finally, when jeongguk is convinced they’re safe, he lets out a long sigh and collapses into the boat. he’s shaking from adrenaline and fear and wants nothing more than to be done with all of this. “oh god,” he whines, leaning forward until he can rest his forehead against the seat in front of him. “fucking christ. i thought we were going to die.”

“i didn’t,” says yoongi. jeongguk looks up at him to see that he’s just as sweaty as jeongguk, probably exhausted, blood smeared on his hands again. but he’s grinning. of course he’s grinning. “you always get this crazy look on your face when people try to cage you in. it’s the look of someone who will never let himself be a prisoner again.”

if he’s not mistaken, yoongi sounds a little… in awe of that idea. but jeongguk doesn’t have time to dwell on it before yoongi is shoving a paddle at him, goofy grin on his face when he says, “let’s go claim our treasure.”

both ships are already out of the harbour by the time yoongi and jeongguk reach them, the crew on the military vessel tossing down a rope ladder to allow the two of them to climb up. they do so triumphantly, certain of their success, and though jeongguk is tired, he wants to be there when yoongi gives namjoon the grand speech about being arrested. except—

“where is he?” yoongi asks gleefully, already heading for the stairs belowdecks.

“commander,” minsoo begins, trying to catch his arm.

“i can’t believe all of this actually worked. can you believe it?”

commander.

that’s when jeongguk notices there is something very wrong about the picture yoongi’s crew makes. most of the crew is huddled on the deck, giving the two of them a wide berth as they stare in a mix of fear and dread, and among them are… jimin and taehyung. they’re being detained by two seamen each despite not struggling, but both of them look so righteously smug that somehow, jeongguk already knows exactly what they’ve done.

“what are they doing out of their cells?” jeongguk asks, pointing at the two pirates. when he looks to the nearest seaman, he practically cowers under jeongguk’s gaze. “what the fuck are they doing out of their cells?”

“captain, if you would allow me—”

“where is namjoon?” jeongguk asks. the deck has gone ghostly silent. he turns his attention to minsoo next, who doesn’t cower but does lower her gaze to somewhere around jeongguk’s collarbone. “i said, where the fuck is kim namjoon?

“we didn’t mean to,” begins minsoo. “you see, kim and park—by the time we got on the ship with namjoon, they’d already gotten out—”

“gotten out?” snaps yoongi, turning to stare at jimin and taehyung. “you mean someone let them out.”

oh, please,” jimin says, voice two octaves higher than his usual speaking voice and trembling with fear. “please, officer, you don’t understand. it hurts so badly, i think i need to see the doctor.”

“shut up,” yoongi barks at him. “i don’t know what you’ve done, but if you open your mouth again—”

“you’ll drown me, will you?” laughs jimin. “you sure seem to do a lot of threatening, min, but there’s been little action to back up your words. i’m not afraid of you.”

“get them back in their cells,” yoongi commands, and then turns on minsoo. “you, my office, now.” jimin laughs the whole way as he and taehyung are shoved back toward the stairs and jeongguk stalks after yoongi and minsoo as they make their way to yoongi’s cabins. it’s obvious, of course, that namjoon isn’t on board, and jeongguk resists the urge to throw something or someone into the sea as he slams the door to yoongi’s office so hard it almost splinters the wood.

“commander,” minsoo begins. “you need to underst—”

“i don’t need to understand anything,” says yoongi. his anger is palpable, and if jeongguk weren’t just as angry, he’d probably be a little turned on. “talk. don’t give me any goddamn excuse. where the hell is kim namjoon?”

taking a breath, minsoo begins her explanation—of how she and the two others in the group managed to grab namjoon amid the blur and chaos of jeongguk being exposed as a pirate. how, as yoongi and jeongguk were running out of the door and causing the guards to chase after them, the other three ran the other way, bringing namjoon with them. they were followed by tanaka and other guards, realizing what they meant to do, and their translator was caught up in it, shot in the chest before minsoo could take down those following them. they managed to get to the shore without trouble after that, bringing namjoon to the ships around the time that yoongi and jeongguk got over the wall.

when they got to the ship, however, it was pure chaos. jimin had convinced some of the crew that he was dying of something and needed to see the ship’s doctor, but when the man opened the cell, jimin knocked him out and stole his keys to open taehyung’s cell as well. together, the two of them killed the guards stationed outside of their cells and attempted to take over the rest of the crew. it was terrible timing, in the end—when they hauled namjoon onto the ship, it was straight into a crew in panic as jimin and taehyung tried to push them overboard.

minsoo did what she could, but it was clear from the moment she stepped onboard that she couldn’t begin to control the situation. it was three of the most notorious pirates in the kingdom against a ship full of panicked seamen with admittedly little experience dealing with any pirates, let alone kim taehyung, park jimin, and kim namjoon.

jimin and taehyung untied namjoon, threatening to kill more of the crew if they tried to stop them. and then they told namjoon to jump overboard, giving him the escape he so desperately needed. once he was gone, the two of them dropped their stolen weapons, allowing themselves to be detained once more rather than go after namjoon as well.

when she finally stops talking, jeongguk just stares at yoongi’s dark, muddled expression for a long, long time as silence settles on them. they lost kim namjoon. they went through all the fucking trouble of sailing to japan, reasoning with the local authorities, nearly dying as they ran for their lives, and they still lost namjoon.

then, after a full minute of silence, jeongguk grabs the nearest object—a large metal candle holder sitting in a small alcove next to the door—and throws it against the wall. it makes an entirely unsatisfying sound as it smashes against the wall and falls to the ground, rolling a few inches before coming to a rest.

“i am…” begins yoongi, taking a deep breath. “upset, to say the least. i expected more of you. i expected more of this crew.”

“commander,” says minsoo.

“no,” he says. “no, i don’t want to hear another word out of your mouth. i want to know where kim fucking namjoon is. i want to know how quickly it will take for us to get to him. and i want to know what it’s going to take for this crew to do their goddamn jobs! jeongguk and i have been risking our lives constantly for this mission and this bunch of dimwitted fools can’t even keep two empty-handed prisoners in their own cells for two fucking hours.”

(jeongguk retracts his earlier statement. he can definitely be angry and turned on at the same time.)

“we came here for kim namjoon,” says yoongi. “and we are not leaving without him.”

“we have to talk to them,” says jeongguk suddenly. “jimin and taehyung. not to punish them. we have to know where namjoon went.” he turns on his heel, wrenching the door open again before departing across the deck. the crew left there immediately goes quiet at the sound of his heavy footfalls, and that is satisfying. he leaves the speaking up to yoongi, though, as he heads belowdecks, hearing yoongi hot on his heels as they approach the cells jimin and taehyung have been returned to.

“ah, here they are!” laughs jimin.

“looking for something, jeon?” asks taehyung.

“shut the fuck up,” snaps jeongguk, drawing his pistol and shoving it between the bars of taehyung’s cell, pointing it at taehyung’s head. “where did he go?”

“woah,” says taehyung, holding his hands up. “what makes you think we know that?”

where did he go?” jeongguk demands again, cocking the pistol.

“fuck, jeongguk, calm down,” says jimin.

by then, yoongi has arrived, and jeongguk feels a sick sort of satisfaction when he hears yoongi cocking his own pistol as he points it at jimin. “don’t you dare tell him to calm down,” seethes yoongi. “i will make good on all of those threats if you don’t tell us what we want to know. you’re walking a thin line, park, pulling that stunt and helping kim escape.”

“i thought we should get points for not trying to escape along with him,” says jimin. “isn’t that honourable?”

“you know nothing of honour,” says yoongi.

“you want to talk to me about honour, spitfire? after all of the shit you’ve pulled wi—” a gunshot rings out in the cell and jeongguk turns with a panicked, “hyung!

but jimin is still standing, albeit cowering with his hands over his head. there’s a hole in the wall behind jimin, though, only a foot to the right of where he stands. “you’re lucky i didn’t put that in your head,” says yoongi. “i will ask you one more time. where did he go?”

namjoon could be anywhere by now. he could be back in the city, the city that they’re currently sailing away from—but the more likely option is that he’s gotten back onto his own ship and is sailing somewhere new, somewhere he thinks yoongi and jeongguk won’t find him.

or somewhere he thinks they won’t follow.

it’s taehyung who answers. “where do you think?” there’s just a hint of amusement in his eyes when his gaze meets jeongguk’s. “where is the only place on these waters safe from people like you?”

jeongguk knows, immediately. but the very thought of it fills him with so much anxiety that his brain stops working, just for a second. just long enough for his entire body to go rigid with it, with the thought of what they have to do to find namjoon. so his gaze remains on taehyung, who takes a step forward and then another and another, until he’s as close to jeongguk as he can get, until he can press his own forehead against the barrel of jeongguk’s gun.

“are you up for a little adventure, jeon jeongguk?” he whispers. “just how far would you go to gain your own freedom? just how much fear can that body of yours take?”

“no,” says jeongguk, stepping away from the bars and lowering his gun. “no.

“oh, yes,” grins taehyung, baring all of his teeth. “your pirate is going to shipwreck island.”

in yoongi’s office—and jeongguk doesn’t really remember getting there, doesn’t remember turning and fleeing from taehyung, but here he is anyway—he paces, combing a hand through his hair as yoongi leans against his desk, watching him.

“jeongguk,” he says. “i don’t understand what the problem is.”

“it’s shipwreck island, hyung,” says jeongguk, finally stopping to face him. “have you been a commander for so long that you’ve forgotten what that means?”

“so it’s an island made out of shipwrecks,” says yoongi, “a city by and for pirates, where laws don’t exist, barely even the pirate code. it’s not like we haven’t been dealing with pirates this entire time.”

“it’s more than that,” jeongguk returns to his pacing. “he’ll be protected there. they spot your ship and we’re dead. you utter the word arrest on that island and we’re dead. it’ll be impossible. shipwreck island is his impenetrable armor.”

“we can think of a plan to get him on our ship, then,” says yoongi. “like jimin but we actually do it right.

“no, there has to be something more. he knows that i’m looking for him now. he knows what scares me most.” jeongguk swallows tightly, scrubbing both hands over his face. “i have so many enemies on that island, hyung. you know, the—the pirate kings meet there. one pirate chosen as the leader of each continent, meeting to discuss threats and issues and the pirate code. last year, they tried to kill me.”

“what?”

“someone told a few of those kings what i was doing. the revenge thing, and they invited me to shipwreck island under the pretense of… i dunno. i dunno. but then it was an ambush—telling me i wasn’t honouring the code by going after my own crew like that, as it that crew hadn’t mutinied me to begin with. i got out, sure, but i show my face on that island and it’s all over. we can’t do it.”

the realization hits him suddenly, making him drop his hands as he looks at yoongi, desperate. “i’m going to die,” he says. “i’m going to die either way. we go to shipwreck island in pursuit of namjoon and i die. or we don’t find namjoon and i die anyway. oh, god.” he drops down into a crouch, pressing the heels of his palms into his eyes, trying to tamp down the panic that swells within him, and—he feels a presence next to him, feels the hands on his head, feels himself tipping over into yoongi’s chest.

“what did i say, jeongguk?” asks yoongi. “what did i tell you this morning?”

“you can’t protect me from the brethren court, yoongi.”

“fuck you,” says yoongi even as he holds jeongguk’s shoulders against him, lets jeongguk rest against him in a moment of weakness. “i can do whatever i want. and i am going to find kim namjoon so that we can complete the task that we have been given. so that you don’t have to die.”

“i just told you—”

“since when does the starling of korea let a few enemy pirates stop him from doing anything?” yoongi pulls jeongguk away from him, forcing them to look each other in the eye. he didn’t know what he was expecting—comfort or softness. but yoongi is looking at him with harsh eyes, with an anger that still burns within him. and maybe that’s better. “since when have you ever let anything stop you from doing what you want, from getting what you want?”

“hyung.”

“jeongguk, you are the pirate who became first mate of the hangman’s daughter at nineteen after you’d only been a pirate for five years. you became captain at twenty-four, which is practically unheard of.” he takes jeongguk’s face into his hands, holding him tightly. “you were left to die on an island and instead, you got off of it within weeks and then made it your mission to never let another person ever make you feel that way again. you captured your own friend to gain your freedom. you just outran dozens of trained guards and don’t even have a nick on you. and you’re telling me that you’re just going to give up because some big, scary pirates want to kill you?”

jeongguk feels out of breath.

“i know it’s been hard,” says yoongi. “i know you lost what made you love being a pirate in the first place. but those pirates on shipwreck island want you to be scared. kim namjoon is fleeing from you, is running scared to the one place in this entire goddamn world he thinks he stands a chance of evading you. are you going to let him be right? are you going to let him get away with being a coward?”

“no,” mumbles jeongguk.

no,” says yoongi. “this is what they want, jeongguk. they want you to be so scared for your life that you won’t even think about going to shipwreck island. but you are not some cabin boy who lets the threat of death stop him from living.” yoongi jabs his finger into jeongguk’s chest. “you are jeon jeongguk, captain of the mourning star. you are the starling of korea. and you are going to sail to shipwreck island, walk right into the heart of it, and bring back kim namjoon. you are not going to let them win.”

oh, jeongguk thinks. oh, no. yoongi does love him. and it’s not the right time to say it at all, but jeongguk wants to tell him—wants to tell him that this is as much about being with yoongi as it is about his freedom, that he can feel that flame of hope and determination within him again. that right now, sitting on the floor of yoongi’s office as yoongi tells him everything he needs to believe about himself, jeongguk doesn’t feel lonely anymore.

what he does say, after swallowing down those wrong words, is, “i’m not going to let them win. i am going to be free. i am going to claw kim namjoon out of shipwreck island and i’m going to do it laughing.”

yoongi grins at him, all teeth. “welcome back,” he says. “i’ll go tell the crew to set sail for shipwreck island.”

jeongguk lets his legs dangle over the side of the ship, watching the black water tossing and turning behind them. the sky has the barest hint of sunrise on it, and in it, jeongguk can see the mourning star following behind. he trusts his first mate to keep things running smoothly as he stays with the military, but his own ship being kept in proper shape is the last of his worries now.

he’s meant to be sleeping. meant to be resting for whenever they land on shipwreck island. but it’ll be a while before they get there; the island is set at least a week’s worth of travel to the south of korea, well into the east china sea. he has time to prepare, to come to terms with the fact that he’ll be walking into a den of lions.

but jeongguk can’t sleep. he feels his anxiety like a nest of poisonous insects in his stomach, fluttering and stinging over and over. they can pretend all they want, but jeongguk is so sure that they won’t make it off of shipwreck island alive, and even if they do, it won’t be with kim namjoon—and then jeongguk will die anyway. yoongi can make him all of the promises he wants, but jeongguk knows, somewhere deep within him, that this will be his last voyage as captain jeon jeongguk, starling.

perhaps he’s been through worse. but it was easier then, wasn’t it? easier to accept, easier to believe that he could make it through. because he wasn’t alone. and here, he may be surrounded by two crews forced to help him in any endeavour to capture kim namjoon, but they don’t know him. they don’t care.

it was easier because he had yoongi back then. and yoongi always made everything easier to swallow. perhaps jeongguk could only be so fearless because yoongi saw him that way.

and then—he knows what he wants. what he needs. he turns over his shoulder, watching the door that will lead him where his heart so desperately wants him to go. it’s not a great idea. it’s not even a good one. but jeongguk is tired of not letting himself want what he knows he wants.

the door creaks dangerously when jeongguk opens it, faced with the familiar sight of yoongi’s office. to the right is another door—the door he knows leads to yoongi’s bedroom, and it’s the middle of the night, but it’s harder to have convictions at this time. everything seems right. and jeongguk can’t stop himself from just wanting a little comfort the way he used to have. for four years, he’s been alone and tired and sad. for four years, he’s wanted someone to take his hand at the hardest parts, tell him just what yoongi told him hours ago. and he doesn’t need it, of course; he’s formidable, a fortress. he’s jeon fucking jeongguk.

but he wants it. and that’s enough to have him crossing the office, breathing hard when he pauses outside of the door and presses his hand to it, hesitating. inside, he hears movement. maybe yoongi isn’t asleep.

jeongguk tries the doorknob and finds it unlocked, pushing the door open enough to be able to peer inside. it’s dark, but enough light is coming through the windows to show jeongguk what he needs to see: yoongi sitting on the edge of his bed, facing away from jeongguk, hunched over. he looks… small. looks tired and worn, merely from the way his shoulders sag. shirtless, jeongguk can see the familiar scars on his back, but ones he hasn’t seen, too—a few tattoos he hasn’t seen. something about that makes him want to cry.

instead, he asks, “hyung?”

yoongi doesn’t seem startled to hear jeongguk’s voice, instead looking over his shoulder and catching jeongguk’s gaze. in that moment, jeongguk understands everything he needs to: they are breaking the rules. they’re not supposed to do this, not here and now. not ever. just as yoongi gave up piracy, the both of them gave up each other. they gave up the right to come to each other in the middle of the night for comfort. they gave up the right to want each other at all, especially now that they’re on opposite sides of an endless battle.

they came into this enemies of a sort, hating each other, angry with each other. and when they get out of it, if they get out of it—jeongguk will go back to his ship and his crew. yoongi will go back to his. and they will still be diametrically opposed.

see? this is not allowed.

see? this has never been allowed.

and yet—“gguk?” yoongi asks.

they used to do this: finding each other in the middle of the night, hoping for more. wanting for more. and they could always look at each other and know what the other needed. they were always better with actions than words, though no words needed to be said. and it terrifies jeongguk that yoongi looks at him now and then seems to put away his own warring thoughts and emotions in favour of sliding fully onto the bed, holding out his hand, and saying, “c’mere.”

what would jeongguk say, anyway? yoongi knows it all. knows his fears, his apprehensions. he is infinitely attuned to the ways of jeongguk’s heart. how could that ever be something he could easily forget?

jeongguk goes, kneeling at the side of the bed and keeping a good foot between them. yoongi lets his hand fall between them, palm up, and jeongguk stares at it. “i can’t sleep,” he whispers eventually.

“neither can i,” says yoongi. “i keep thinking about shipwreck island and what it means and how the fuck we’re going to—”

“i don’t want to talk about that,” jeongguk cuts him off. “i don’t—i don’t want to talk.” he raises his eyes, meeting yoongi’s questioning ones. they’ve been doing a lot of talking these days—apologizing and explaining and making jokes, trying to claw back whatever semblance of friendship and partnership they once had. but jeongguk doesn’t want to talk to yoongi anymore. talking just reminds him of what they lost and how far they’ve fallen from who they once were. talking reminds him that there’s something to apologize for, something to explain.

but if it can just be—his body with yoongi’s body, he can pretend. he can be so good at pretending.

in those days and months and years of being together, jeongguk always felt safest with yoongi at his side. always felt strongest. he’s been in danger of crumbling for four years, and now he’s in danger of crumbling again, and he knows, as he has always known, how to make it stop.

“i just want to pretend,” says jeongguk quietly. “just for one night, hyung. i want it to be like it was. i want us to be who we were. i want to pretend nothing changed.”

(see? this is not allowed.)

“okay,” says yoongi.

they watch each other for some time, as jeongguk finally allows himself to let go of everything that has kept him from loving yoongi for four years. for weeks, his excuses have been rice-paper thin. but there’s pride somewhere in there, and regret. and the irredeemable belief that not hating yoongi means admitting that he’s done nothing but hurt himself for four years by letting that wound fester and rot within his heart.

jeongguk is tired of that, too. and finally, he sheds it. sheds the skin of a bitter and angry man who has been grasping at his own hatred for weeks as protection against an onslaught of feelings he’s not yet ready to accept. he’s known, since the beginning of this, that there was something more hiding beneath his anger. but he wanted to hold onto that anger anyway, even after he stopped being angry—because stepping out of it is terrifying and new. it was so easy to lose his trust in yoongi and so hard to let himself trust again.

but it was always going to come to this: jeongguk losing a battle against himself, against his own heart, and remembering that as terrifying as it might be to let himself love yoongi again, this is the only place that has ever felt like home.

they move like they’ve never forgotten how to, until jeongguk finds himself between yoongi’s sheets with yoongi wrapped halfway around him, his back to yoongi’s chest, yoongi’s arm hooked over his stomach. he closes his eyes, letting out a sigh he feels he’s been holding since he stepped off the hangman’s daughter four years ago. yoongi presses his forehead to the back of jeongguk’s neck, his warm breath ghosting down jeongguk’s spine.

suddenly, entirely unsurprisingly, jeongguk feels safe. for the first time in four years, he feels at home. and he doesn’t hate himself for it. he just lets it be.

now, he doesn’t allow himself to sleep. he wants to bask in the warmth of yoongi’s body, wants to feel safe for as long as he can. wants to pretend for as long as he can, because he knows in the morning, the spell will be broken. and if things are to be as they were—

“jeongguk,” yoongi says eventually, his breath making jeongguk shiver. “are you asleep?”

suddenly, jeongguk knows what will happen if he replies. if he turns over in yoongi’s arms, if he lets himself pretend a little too hard, the way he wants to. he knows that if he does anything now, they’ll fall back in love. they’ll do it all again, try again, maybe do better this time—if jeongguk turns around, yoongi will kiss him. will touch him the way jeongguk has yearned to be touched by him for so long—and when jeongguk dies, it’ll hurt that much more.

and he wants it. he wants it. he has spent so long pretending that loving yoongi and being loved by yoongi in return isn’t the thing he’s always been best at.

but he can’t pretend to be two things at once.

he keeps his eyes closed, his breathing even. he wants, but he’s gotten so good at not letting himself have what he wants, at least for now. and curious, curious—yoongi’s arm tightens around him, hand splayed over jeongguk’s side. he brushes his lips over the back of jeongguk’s neck, the touch so electric that jeongguk almost reveals himself by gasping.

then yoongi whispers, “m’sorry.” a trembling breath against jeongguk’s skin as he hears yoongi sniff through tears. “m’sorry, i’m sorry. fuck, i’m so sorry. i didn’t want this to happen. i never wanted any of this to happen.” yoongi kisses the back of his neck, his skin burning against jeongguk’s. and jeongguk doesn’t dare wonder what he’s apologizing for, what this is. he merely holds his breath, merely presses himself back against yoongi a little more as though doing so in his sleep.

he falls asleep to the warmth of yoongi pressed to his back, the feeling of yoongi’s heartbeat through his shirt, and the belief, finally, that yoongi might be right about shipwreck island, and even if he isn’t, at least jeongguk let himself be loved in the meantime.

he wakes to—

commander!” an aggressive pounding at the door has jeongguk’s eyes snapping open, body immediately moving with the noises and shouting. he can hear feet thundering on the deck outside of the door. for a moment, he forgets where he is until he turns over and sees yoongi beside him, already hurrying to get out of bed and grabbing the first shirt he can find.

“commander!’

“yeah!” yoongi calls gruffly, glancing at jeongguk for only a moment. immediately, embarrassment floods through jeongguk. he hadn’t meant to fall asleep here.

“you have to get out here!” the voice calls. “hurry.

yoongi is halfway to the door before he turns to look at jeongguk again. “come on,” he says, and jeongguk remembers, then, that he’s probably meant to be involved in whatever emergency is going on outside of the door. maybe jimin and taehyung got out of their cells again, and the very thought has him hurrying off of the bed, following yoongi out of the door.

the deck is in chaos, and jeongguk shivers at the chill in the air as minsoo and several others approach the two of them immediately. “commander, captain,” says minsoo. “there’s something you have to see.” she leads them portside, handing yoongi a spyglass. gazing out at the horizon, the sun now halfway into the sky, jeongguk can’t make out much, but yoongi hands over the spyglass when he seems to spot what everyone is panicking about.

through the spyglass, jeongguk sees… a ship. he tries to make out the flag, but he doesn’t need to—because beside him, yoongi is asking, “who is that?”

“sir,” says minsoo, fear in her voice. “it’s the cry of hades.” jeongguk’s breath catches in his throat. the cry of hades—kim seokjin’s ship. his crew. his crew, which contains jung hoseok. two of the pirates they’re meant to capture. two of the most ruthless pirates in history, part of the most ruthless crew in history. to face them is to face certain death. jeongguk can’t think of a single crew who has come out of a battle with the cry of hades still intact.

“it’s the cry of hades, commander,” minsoo repeats. “and they’re headed right for us.”

Chapter Text

“it’s the cry of hades. and they’re headed right for us.”

the panic that immediately descends upon the ship is palpable, hanging thick in the air at the frenzied shouts from the crew and scrambling of men who have no real heading yet. yoongi stares out at the horizon, frozen with his own form of fear. the cry of hades is just there, coming for them, hoping to claim another ship as its victim. he remembers so clearly the fear he once had for the cry of hades as a pirate, how each of his captains would routinely steer their ship away from rumours of the cry.

for a while, when he stands there, he expects someone else to tell him what to do, to give him a task in either running from the ship or standing their ground. but then yoongi remembers… he’s the captain. everyone else is waiting for his command on what to do.

but yoongi doesn’t know what to do. the chances of them making it out alive after a fight with the cry of hades are slim to none. but then he turns his head and looks at jeongguk, remembering he’s not entirely alone in this. but jeongguk looks just as fearful and uncertain as him. beyond him, still trailing behind his ship, is the mourning star—a ship full of pirates who have all the more reason to fear the cry of hades.

how could it be that just minutes ago, yoongi woke with jeongguk still in his arms? and why does this feel like four years ago, somehow, with the both of them being ripped away from each other in such an untimely fashion? back then, yoongi stood by and let it happen. but everyone else’s lives are on the line now. it’s up to he and jeongguk to figure out how to fix this.

briefly, he feels jeongguk reach out and take his hand, squeezing it silently. it’s all the courage yoongi needs.

turning around, he shouts, “everyone, shut up!” to his surprise, it works: the crew falls into abrupt silence, ceasing movement as they turn to stare at yoongi. “yes, the cry of hades has been spotted and they appear to be sailing toward us. but if you fucking panic, we’re not going to get anything done. they won’t be upon us for a while, so… just calm down for a second. captain jeon and i will figure out what to do.” he can’t panic if everyone else is panicking. when he glances at jeongguk again, it’s with a nod toward his office. as they make their way across the deck, yoongi grabs minsoo, their master gunner, and their head navigator for the conversation. he’s going to need as much input as possible.

once the door is closed behind them, yoongi lets the calm façade fall. “fuck, what do we do?” he asks, turning to the small group that has gathered. “we can’t fight them. we’ll all die.”

“i don’t think we can just turn around and run away, commander,” says minsoo. “if they are heading for us, they’ve clearly spotted us.”

“they’re far away, though,” says yoongi. “surely we have time to turn this damn ship around and flee. right?” he turns to their navigator, who opens her mouth before seeming to think better of it and just sighing. “right?

“yes, we could turn around,” she says. “but the cry of hades is an abnormally fast ship. they might catch up anyway, and then we won’t have had time to prepare for a battle.”

“i don’t want a battle!” snaps yoongi. “the three of you might not understand the gravity of the situation, but the cry of hades is the most feared ship on the seas. they don’t care about treasure or glory. they just want to kill people. they’ve taken down almost every other notorious pirate in recent years just for the fun of it.” he doesn’t know how to make them see. and surely the military dealing with pirates has been briefed on just who to fear. but only he and jeongguk truly understand it, have had that fear burned into them night after night on the sea.

for thirty years, every time a ship was spotted on the horizon, yoongi’s greatest fear was that the ship would have a flag showing red skull and crossbones: the flag of the cry of hades. long before kim seokjin ever became captain, the cry of hades ruled the sea in terror—captain after captain, crew after crew serving to build up its reputation with the singular goal to kill. to destroy. for years, yoongi would wake from nightmares of being strapped down to a plank of wood and experimented on in increasingly vile ways by jung hoseok.

anyone who hasn’t spent any time as a pirate can’t know that. but jeongguk does—and now yoongi turns to him. but jeongguk is staring out of the window at where the mourning star is sailing behind them.

“she has a point,” says jeongguk finally, glancing at yoongi. “we can’t run away, hyung.”

“why not?” asks yoongi. “i don’t want to die at the hands of the cry of hades. we’re going to shipwreck island to find kim namjoon.”

“and who are we meant to find after kim namjoon?” asks jeongguk. “who are the last two pirates on your list, commander?”

yoongi swallows tightly. “don’t.”

“we always knew it was going to come to this,” says jeongguk, turning to face him fully. and he looks—as frightened as yoongi feels. but there’s something more, as there always is with jeongguk: that determined spirit that earned him the name starling in the first place. “when are we ever going to find them again? what even was your plan to capture them in the first place? we were never going to get them alone and lure them onto our ship like jimin, or trick them like taehyung. no one else is going to do the work for us, like namjoon. we were only ever going to have to fight them, hyung.”

“jeongguk, you can’t possibly think we’ll make it out alive.”

“no,” says jeongguk. “i really don’t think we will. but we don’t have a choice. minsoo is right—they’ve spotted us. and you know as well as i do that once they have their target, they don’t stop until they get what they want. we can turn around and run away, but they’ll just follow us until they can back us into a corner and kill us. we get to land, they’ll kill us there. we get caught in a storm, they’ll kill us there. at least if we stay and fight, we can put together some half-assed plan and prepare ourselves.”

the truth is that some part of yoongi knew it was always going to come to this, too. when he was given the list of pirates he was meant to capture, he had blanched upon reading kim seokjin’s and jung hoseok’s names. he had put it out of his mind as soon as possible, choosing to focus on the pirates he hoped would be less likely to kill him and his men, but he always knew it was going to come down to a fight. he always knew the only hope he had of capturing seokjin and hoseok was by brute force.

and does it matter in the end, anyway? they might die trying to win this battle, but jeongguk is right: the cry of hades won’t rest until they’ve sent both of these ships to the bottom of the sea now that they’ve been spotted. they have little hope of winning, but they’re the military. they’re pirates. the last thing they can do is run away with their tails between their legs.

besides—the cry of hades has been terrorizing korean waters for too long. maybe it’s time someone tried to put up a real fight.

“maybe we can bait them,” says their gunner. “we have two ships and they can only go after one at a time. if we can sacrifice one of the ships, the rest of us could escape.”

“and i suppose you’re going to suggest sacrificing my ship, hm?” asks jeongguk.

“well, you are only pirates—”

“stop,” says yoongi. “we’re not sacrificing anyone. we do have two ships and they only have one… so that might give us an advantage.”

jeongguk cocks an eyebrow at him. “two ships against one,” he says. “if we plan this right, we might actually have a shot at doing some real damage to them.”

“we’d have two objectives,” says yoongi, narrowing his eyes. “we need to survive. but if we, by some miracle, do manage to survive, this is our only shot at somehow capturing kim and jung, like you said, jeongguk-ah. if we can somehow detain them, we take down part of the risk, anyway.”

“aren’t they…” minsoo begins, pausing as she searches for the right word.

jeongguk supplies: “batshit crazy? yeah. but honestly, what do we have to lose? if we have to stay and fight, we might as well go big.”

yoongi is no more confident in their ability to win this battle. but they do need a plan, and they need a good one. they need strategies they can pass onto the rest of the crew and to the mourning star as well. they need to figure out how to grab kim seokjin and jung hoseok and get the fuck away from the cry of hades in order to save at least one ship, at least one crew. yoongi doesn’t want anyone else dying at his hands. and while he’s still terrified and panicking, he’s always been good at putting that energy into something useful. he used to be a master gunner, too, the one his captains would look to in order to supply a strategic plan in battles.

this is what he does.

he moves to his desk, shoving the papers and supplies to one side and leaving him with empty space. from there, he grabs the first three small objects he can find, placing them in the middle of the desk in front of him to represent the three ships. yoongi stares at them. “alright,” he says with a nod. “we’re going to fight the cry of hades.” he looks up, catching jeongguk’s eye—and he sees the beginnings of a grin on jeongguk’s face, the sort he always got watching yoongi work. “give me your best ideas to get the fuck out of this alive.”

“commander!” yoongi looks over to the man offering him the spyglass again. “i estimate we’ll make contact in less than half an hour.” he peers through the spyglass for himself, trying to steady his breathing as he sees just how close the cry of hades has gotten. for his own satisfaction—or to fulfil the worst nightmare of his childhood—he spots the flag flying proudly above the ship: red skull and crossbones, dripping with the blood of each crew that they have sent to the bottom of the sea. it’s a suicide mission trying to fight them, but he has to stick with their plans now. to make matters worse—or perhaps as some fitting omen—the sky has begun to darken, storm clouds gathering on the horizon. it seems the cry of hades is bringing a storm with them.

handing the spyglass back to the seaman, he nods in thanks and then turns to survey his crew. he and jeongguk, along with a few others, managed to cobble together a plan that might give them half of a chance at surviving. they’re staking their entire livelihood on having two ships to the one of the cry of hades and each person has been given their own role in the fight. yoongi feels mildly guilty leading them all like lambs to the slaughter, but jeongguk is right: they would have died anyway. this way, they can at least go with some dignity.

to his right, he sees the mourning star sailing along beside them now. after deciding on their plan of action, they slowed down to allow jeongguk’s crew to catch up and then relayed the plan to them as well. and yoongi knows everyone on that ship understands the gravity of the situation, likely resenting yoongi for his choice to stay and fight. but they’ll follow jeongguk blindly, and jeongguk is putting his faith in yoongi. he won’t let any of these people down.

knowing the cry of hades will be upon them soon, yoongi crosses the deck and looks for jeongguk on the other ship. upon spotting him, yoongi calls out, catching his attention and waving him over.

“we need to talk to jimin and taehyung,” yoongi calls.

jeongguk looks almost pained as he regards his own crew. “you have to do it yourself,” he calls back.

“are you fucking kidding me? they hate me so much more than you! they won’t listen.”

“you’re the captain, hyung!” he doesn’t give yoongi any other encouragement before turning and melting back into the action of his crew. yoongi stares after him, at a loss for how to do any of this.

they need jimin and taehyung on their side in all of this. despite being prisoners, they’re still two of the most skilled pirates and fighters on either of these ships and to waste that manpower would be a grave mistake. but yoongi is keenly aware of what might happen if he lets the two of them out of their cells and gives them weapons, particularly when a pirate ship is in the mix. they could easily turn on their captors and kill them, aiding the cry of hades from the inside out.

despite knowing since they started planning that they need jimin and taehyung on their side, yoongi is no closer to figuring out how to convince them to fight. god knows threats won’t work, since they’ll be facing death anyway. he’d been hoping that jeongguk would be able to convince them, since they clearly see jeongguk as being on their side. it’s yoongi the both of them resent more.

but he has no choice—the cry of hades is closing in. with a sigh, yoongi turns and hurries belowdecks, mind rapidly turning as he tries to reason his way through it.

for first time since either of them were captured, it seems they’re actually happy to see yoongi. “what the hell is going on?” asks taehyung when yoongi appears in the light, the guards outside of the cells having disappeared long ago. he’s pressed against the bars, hands wrapped around them as he stares at yoongi. across from him, jimin is more casual where he leans against the bars of his own cell. “there’s been so much noise and panic. are we under attack?”

“not yet,” says yoongi. “but we will be soon.”

“fucking hell,” groans taehyung at the same time that jimin says, “fuck yeah. finally getting what’s coming to you, huh, commander?”

“it’s the cry of hades,” yoongi deadpans, just to see the smirk slide off of jimin’s face.

“holy god,” says jimin. “really?”

“we spotted them about an hour ago,” says yoongi, “and they’ve been heading for us ever since. best estimates say we’ll be fighting them in half an hour.”

“you’re fighting them?” asks taehyung. “are you mad?”

“we don’t have much of a choice. and as i’m sure jimin here as told you, kim seokjin and jung hoseok happen to be two of the pirates i have to capture. it’s my one shot at actually finishing this impossible task.”

“good luck with that,” says taehyung. “we’re all going to die. the cry of hades is—”

“i know about the cry of hades, kim,” snaps yoongi. “which…” he sighs. “which is why i know that i can’t do it alone. we need the two of you to help us.”

there’s a brief moment of silence in which the pair seem to take in what yoongi has said. and then jimin bursts into laughter. “you can’t be serious!” he crows, doubling over with the force of his laugher. “us—us, help you? against the cry of hades? after you captured us and have threatened us a thousand times? that’s hilarious, min.”

“look, if you don’t want to help us, i’ll just leave you in these cells,” says yoongi. “and if the cry of hades blows this ship to pieces, you’ll drown with it. and i know i can’t control you. if i let you out, you can easily just kill us and help them and escape, but i really doubt the cry of hades would see you as allies in the midst of battle, so they’d probably kill you anyway.”

jimin straightens up again, laughter petering off as he watches yoongi. “yeah,” he says. “let us out, min. give us weapons so we can finally kill you.”

“i said i’ll leave you—”

“i’ll do it.” yoongi’s eyes snap to taehyung, who is still holding onto the bars. but now he’s looking at yoongi in a new way, with a new determination. with rage concealed behind his dark eyes. “i’ll help you.”

yoongi stares. “really?”

“the cry of hades may be the most feared crew in korea,” he says, “and it may be a death wish to go against them, but i happen to have an extremely terrible and personal vendetta against jung hoseok.” his eyes skirt from yoongi to jimin, just for a second, and then they’re back. “i will consent to helping your crew fight the cry of hades and i’ll give you my word not to betray you and escape. you might not believe or trust me, and you would have good reason not to. but i’m not doing this for you. i just really want to see that motherfucker suffer.”

in all honesty, yoongi thinks taehyung is joking. but there’s no punchline—it’s just taehyung offering himself. and he knows it’s risky to trust those words, knowing that taehyung was once and will forever be a pirate. but they have no real chance of surviving without taehyung on their side—and where taehyung goes, yoongi knows jimin will follow.

“i would threaten to kill you if you betray me, but i’m not sure it would do much good at this point,” says yoongi. “but i will accept your help, kim taehyung.”

taehyung tilts his head. “like i said, i want to take down the cry of hades for my own personal reasons. i can’t guarantee what i’ll do after we defeat them, but i’ll help you. trust me if you want.”

yoongi turns his attention to jimin. “and you?”

“fuck off,” spits jimin, but he’s watching taehyung anyway. watching him in a way that hurts, because he so clearly doesn’t want taehyung to give himself over. doesn’t want to think about fighting on the side of the ones who captured them in the first place—doesn’t want to think about fighting in a battle they probably won’t win. that look is so intimate that yoongi feels as though he’s watching something he shouldn’t be.

but then jimin says, quietly, more sincere than anything he’s spoken to yoongi in weeks: “i’ll do it, too.”

“you might die,” says yoongi.

“oh fuck, hyung, we were going to die anyway. i’d rather go down trying to kill kim fucking seokjin instead.”

“you’re not killing them,” says yoongi quickly. “you can kill the rest of his crew, but we need both kim seokjin and jung hoseok alive.”

jimin’s eyes are sharp once more when he looks at yoongi. “can i at least cut off his arm?”

“i guess.”

“i really can’t believe i’m going to help you,” sighs jimin. “the things i do for taehyung. someone has to protect him.”

“i don’t need protection, jiminie,” says taehyung. “haven’t you always wanted to fight by my side?”

yoongi turns and leaves rather than listen to the rest of their conversation, feeling as though he’s intruding once again. here they are, two lovers heading into battle together, keenly aware that they’re facing death but knowing it’s better to go down together. jimin agreed to go because of taehyung, of course. because of love.

against his will, yoongi thinks of jeongguk. of second chances and last chances, of love and loss and heartbreak. he thinks of how he knows they will likely die in battle and what a shame it will be to have loved and lost jeongguk twice in just four years. and he knows, then, without a shadow of a doubt that he does love jeongguk—that perhaps he hasn’t stopped even for a moment in those four years, and he’s never gone into battle without saying it. without making sure jeongguk knows, because he has to know. because yoongi used to wake up from nightmares about being tortured by jung hoseok, but when he met jeongguk, he began waking up from nightmares about jeongguk being tortured instead—being hurt, being killed.

yoongi fears for his own life, but he fears for jeongguk’s more. fears losing him, fears not being able to do enough to save him. and now he hurries to the main deck of his ship, absently instructing two of his men to release jimin and taehyung when it’s time, and even as his crew bustles around him, preparing for the inevitable—even as the cry of hades draws nearer and nearer, yoongi only moves toward the mourning star. he’s hit with intense gusts of wind as soon as he surfaces, the storm nearly upon them now. the sky is a muddled navy, the first sprinkling of rain splashing against yoongi’s face as he heads across his ship.

he hits the railing of his own ship, leaning against it as he searches for jeongguk on the other side. if he were here—god, if they were only on the same ship. if only yoongi could say all of these things stirring up within him, admit these feelings that have been welling up within him since they came back into each other’s lives.

and it’s so unfair for all of it to end here: to have come so far but not far enough. they’ve wasted so much time being angry and upset with each other. if yoongi would have been smarter, he could have had four more years with jeon jeongguk. and now, suddenly, he has no time at all—no time left to want, no time left to love. oh, what he would have done with that time. what he could still do, if only they make it out of this alive.

but—they might not. he’s so sure they won’t. and now, burning through him, is everything he has ever felt and will ever feel for jeon jeongguk. this love, this fear. the only consolation, perhaps, is that, in some way, he’ll get to spend his last moments by jeongguk’s side. and it won’t happen the way he thought it would, the way he wanted it to—but he’ll take what he can get. he’ll always take whatever jeongguk will give him.

“commander!” there’s a cry from behind hm, but yoongi keeps his eyes trained on the mourning star, still searching. “commander, they’re close!”

yoongi’s heart hammers in his chest, knowing he can’t waste more time trying to say something he’s never had the words for. he turns his eyes toward where the cry of hades is approaching; he can see it so clearly even without the spyglass now, that looming ship, that blood-red flag. this is no time to be afraid.

“turn us!” he calls to their helmsman. “get us into position!”

he casts another glance at the mourning star before hurrying to take the stairs up to the helm of the ship, hand grasping at the sword at his side as he regards the cry of hades. they have their plans. they have everything they need right here, which is all they have. he sees jimin and taehyung on the deck, weapons already in their hands. when their ship, along with the mourning star, is turned to face the cry of hades head on, the ships now sailing toward each other at full speed, yoongi knows there is no time to panic or second-guess their choices. either they live or they die. but right now, yoongi is all pirate—spitfire, the man he once was and always will be. and he’s determined to captain the first ship to make it away from the cry of hades alive.

from the mourning star, he hears a familiar voice shouting. when he looks over, jeongguk is on the helm of his own ship, and yoongi feels a swell of regret so strong that it nearly knocks him off of his feet. this isn’t what he wanted for them. this is never what he wanted for them. but the longer he looks, the more he realizes that this is love, too—trusting and hoping. knowing that if they do make it out of this alive, he might just have a chance to right all of those wrongs.

“commander,” says minsoo at his side. “commander, your orders.”

yoongi turns his eyes to the ship sailing toward them, too late to turn and try to get out of what they’re being lured into. “steady!” he calls, unsheathing his sword and holding it above his head. they have one shot to get this initial attack right and cause maximum damage from the beginning. “steady!

from here, he can begin to make out the pirates on the cry of hades. one man stands at the helm, obnoxious captain’s hat on his head. beside him stands another man, no doubt the two that they must capture. the crews have been given express instruction not to kill either kim or jung, but he knows it would be nearly impossible to do so anyway. the rest of the crew is fair game.

“commander,” says minsoo, a waver of nervousness in her voice.

yoongi knows the cry of hades is nearly upon them, the nose of each ship crossing paths. he looks at jeongguk again, who finally turns his head and looks back at him. across the water, space for a ship to fit between them, their eyes meet. he wonders if jeongguk is thinking of it, too—all they used to say before battles like this, whispering their love between them one last time lest it was the very last.

at the last second, yoongi lowers his arm, holding his hand out toward jeongguk.

he sees jeongguk grin. sees him mouth something that looks a lot like i know.

and then—

the sky opens in a torrential downpour as yoongi yells out, “fire!”

his call is echoed by jeongguk on the mourning star, and a loud cry goes up from both ships as the boom of cannons immediately fills the air. yoongi watches as both ships begin their assault on the cry of hades, cannons firing on both sides in an attempt to cause as much damage as possible before the pirates even clash. but even as he sees wood begin to fly, puffs of smoke rising through the rain and wind, yoongi knows that the cry of hades hadn’t headed into this unprepared. yoongi’s ship is rocked dangerously as the cry of hades begins firing their own cannons, blasting through the side of his ship in retaliation.

yoongi slicks his wet hair back, squinting through the rain as he tries to get a good look at the crew on the cry of hades. their plan to attack the ship on both sides with cannons is meant to give them an advantage they won’t have elsewhere; maybe the cannons can take out a certain number of pirates, giving both jeongguk’s and yoongi’s crews a better shot at winning this. although they’ll outnumber the cry of hades two to one, that won’t make a difference considering that crew is known for their skill in fighting. these cannons have to do their job.

but when all three ships coming to a stop, the cry of hades stuck between its opponents, yoongi knows it won’t be enough to help them win. over the blast of the cannons, moving slower now as the men belowdecks try desperately to reload, yoongi hears a rallying cry from the pirates aboard the cry of hades and yoongi lifts his sword again, bringing it down with a, “to arms!”

he takes off toward the stairs that lead down to the deck as he sees through the rain that the crew of the cry of hades is beginning to move ships. gangplanks are put down from one to the other, other pirates swinging from ship to ship on ropes. he sees some of his own crew, as well as members from jeongguk’s crew, doing the same, taking the opportunity to fight their enemies hand to hand. yoongi knows what his goal is—but when there are pirates on his ship, he can deal with them first.

yoongi jumps into the action, bringing his sword down on the nearest pirate. the wind whips around them, rain drowning them all as the action finally hits. all around him is the clank of metal against metal and the sound of gunshots, but yoongi has to trust in his crew. has to believe that he hasn’t just led them into a storm they won’t make it out of.

he fights with one opponent, grunting with exertion as he slashes his sword this way and that, parrying and blocking as he tries to get a hit in. already he knows that this crew is the toughest he’s dealt with in years—maybe his whole life. even he, a man who has thirty years of experience as a pirate and was the master gunner for a handful of crews over his lifetime, can’t defeat a simple crew member so easily. he bares his teeth, forcing the pirate back step after step and narrowly missing getting a sword to the throat, and then finally has his opponent against the railing of the ship. he lets his sword drop, ducking under the next swipe, and then swipes at the man’s legs with his foot. when the pirate teeters off balance, yoongi stands back up and gives him a hard shove over the railing, already turning away before he hears the satisfying splash of the pirate hitting the water.

yoongi barely has time to catch his breath before there’s another pirate on him and he throws his sword up at the last second to block the attack. this time, he doesn’t hesitate in pulling out his gun, shooting the pirate in the chest rather than let the battle drag on. as the pirate goes down, he’s greeted with the sight of taehyung battling another pirate just behind them, and yoongi doesn’t hesitate in rushing forward, bringing his sword down on their opponent’s arm and slicing clean through it. the woman howls, but when her sword clatters to the ground, taehyung drives his own through her chest.

turning to yoongi, taehyung says, “trust me now?”

“never,” says yoongi, but there’s a bit of a grin on his lips. despite knowing that if he glances around the ship, he’ll see as many, if not more, of his own crew than the cry of hades dead on the deck, he feels strangely triumphant about all of it. this is what he’s always loved doing—fighting. it might be what he loved most about being a pirate. it’s why he wanted to become a gunner in the first place, why it was such an honour to be given the position of master gunner on the hangman’s daughter: this is what he loves to do. this is what he’s best at.

when he’s fighting, he gets an adrenaline rush he’s never found anywhere else. it’s the danger of it, the risk. he could die here, of course, but that just means he has to be better than whomever he’s fighting. has to be quicker, smarter. and yoongi knows he is. even against the cry of hades, he knows he’s better. and with jimin and taehyung on his side, he’s suddenly so sure they can win this.

“yoongi—” taehyung says suddenly, eyes beyond yoongi’s shoulder, and yoongi turns in time to block the downward arc of a sword in his direction. he struggles against the force, stumbling back when the pirate gives him a kick in the chest, but then the pirate is met with one of yoongi’s crew members coming to his aid. gaining his footing, yoongi turns to look at taehyung once more.

“don’t forget your duty,” he says, and taehyung nods in understanding before he turns and rushes toward a pirate on the end of the gangplank between both ships. yoongi takes the moment to survey the ship; he can’t see jimin, but assumes he’s doing his duty too. it’s a blur of rain and blood and activity, too many moving bodies and swords to make out just how many of the standing bodies belong to him and how many belong to kim seokjin.

he glances over at the cry of hades, but it looks mostly the same. and beyond it, the mourning star—everywhere yoongi looks, he sees pirates. dozens and dozens of bodies fighting and dying and desperately clawing for their lives. it’s chaos, but yoongi has always thrived in chaos.

wiping rain out of his eyes, yoongi turns and focuses on trying to stop pirates from getting onto his ship in the first place. spotting a pirate moving across one of the gangplanks, yoongi hops up onto the railing of the ship, trying not to slip on the wet wood as he rushes forward. he catches the pirate at the end of the gangplank, baring his teeth in a smirk as he slashes his sword out. it forces the pirate to stop and yoongi advances forward a step, their swords dancing together back and forth.

each step forward is a step further over the raging waters below them. but yoongi doesn’t look down, keeping his balance with one foot in front of the other as he darts his sword this way and that. the other pirate watches him with dark eyes as yoongi pulls his gun out again—and it’s not loaded, but he’s going to assume his opponent doesn’t know that. he cocks it, holding it out as the other pirate flinches—and it’s all yoongi needs to make a wild slash sideways with his sword, hoping to push the pirate off of the gangplank.

but they don’t go so willingly—the pirate dashes backwards instead, narrowly missing the arc of yoongi’s sword, and then it’s revealed that yoongi’s gun is useless at this point when he doesn’t shoot it. he sees the realization in his opponent’s eyes, a smirk worming onto their lips, and yoongi curses under his breath, already taking a step back before he thinks to glance over his shoulder.

there’s another pirate on the gangplank.

yoongi’s body freezes for a second as they make eye contact, the other pirate’s sword held out toward him. he’s trapped on a gangplank over the ocean, the wind already threatening to send him toppling. he turns sideways, looking between his two opponents as they both advance a step. the one he was originally fighting taps his sword to gain his attention.

“we got you now, pretty boy,” they laugh. “you think you can defeat us? the cry of hades?”

suddenly, he thinks of what he told jeongguk only last night—and could it have been only last night that they were only thinking of how to capture kim namjoon from shipwreck island? you are not going to let them win, he’d said. and perhaps then he’d meant those pirates that want to hurt jeongguk, the ones waiting for him to run and hide from the very idea of setting foot on shipwreck island again.

but it’s just about that. it’s about every pirate who has ever wanted to hurt the both of them, every opponent and enemy who thinks they can best jeongguk and yoongi. the cry of hades is like those pirates on shipwreck island, too; for too long they have terrorized the sea, claiming ownership over it as though the sea hasn’t always belonged to those who love it most. they’ve ruled with fear rather than respect, killing just to kill, hurting just to hurt. they laugh with every ship they send to the bottom of the sea. they think that hurting other pirates is a lifestyle, think that no one else can even come close to what they possess.

they expect every pirate to run and hide at the mere mention of their ship. they want people to be afraid, want them to sooner jump into the ocean and drown themselves than face the cry of hades. but yoongi is not just some foolish pirate. he’s never been just a foolish pirate. and this fight isn’t just about him—it’s about his freedom. it’s about jeongguk’s freedom. it’s about jeongguk.

it’s always been about jeongguk.

and yoongi is not going to let them win.

“who do you think you are?” one of the pirates taunts, causing the other to laugh.

yoongi growls. “i’m min fucking yoongi,” he says. “and i am going to enjoy killing you very, very much.” without a moment’s hesitation, he darts towards one of the pirates, slashing his sword out toward them and then just as quickly switches his sword to the other hand as he slashes at the pirate on his other side. he keeps his movements quick and light, darting back and forth between them as they try to get a good hit in. a few times he nearly drops into the water below them but manages to keep his balance and only sustains a nick or two for injuries.

he tries to force them onto one of the ships to no avail, ducking as one of the pirate slashes at his head and then slicing their knee with his own sword. but he can’t take the chance to knock them down completely as he turns and blocks an attack from his other opponent.

and when he’s just beginning to lose steam, knowing he can’t keep this up, and both pirates advance on him at once, swords held high, and he has to choose which one to block, who to fight, who to lose to—there’s a loud cry of, “yoongi-hyung!”

yoongi looks up at the last second to see park jimin practically flying through the air, hanging onto a rope and swinging between the two ships. he watches as jimin swings past them, roundhouse kicking one of yoongi’s opponents in the head and sending them sailing into the water below. when the splash swallows the pirate whole, yoongi turns to his second opponent to see the man already scrambling back the other way, apparently not interested in fighting yoongi on his own.

satisfied, yoongi looks over to see jimin let go of the rope and land on the cry of hades in a strangely graceful move. before he can give any thanks, though, jimin is pointing to something on the ship—and when yoongi follows it, he sees jung hoseok kneeling over someone on the stairs up to the helm of the ship. he’s got a knife in one hand and a maniacal smile on his face, and yoongi can only see half of the body he’s practically lying on top of—but the person’s legs are spasming with pain, fighting against hoseok as the pirate does… something. something that yoongi can only imagine is cruel.

he rushes forward, prepared to direct someone to stop whatever is happening there, because any member of his or jeongguk’s crews being at the mercy of jung hoseok is a sad affair. but when he steps onto the cry of hades and wipes more water out of his eyes, yoongi actually sees the person under jung hoseok.

it’s not just any pirate. it’s jeongguk.

the rage and panic that immediately fills yoongi almost knocks him over, his body moving before his mind catches up with him. he races across the ship toward jeongguk, barely registering the pirate that tries to get into his path. his arm seems to move of its own accord, swinging his sword so hard that it dislodges his opponent’s sword and sends it flying. yoongi stops only to grab the second sword before he’s running toward jeongguk and hoseok again.

when he gets close enough, he realizes jeongguk is screaming.

“you motherfucker!” yoongi yells, and he raises his sword to drive it straight into hoseok’s back before he remembers—he can’t. he needs hoseok alive. perhaps that’s why jeongguk ended up in this situation in the first place; jeongguk is playing to capture, but hoseok is paying to kill.

in lieu of doing what he really wants, then, yoongi merely throws himself at hoseok, wrapping his arms around the pirate’s neck and yanking him away from jeongguk. surprisingly it works—hoseok lets out a shout as yoongi throws himself backward with as much force as he can, tossing the extra sword at jeongguk’s feet.

“don’t fucking touch him,” yoongi growls at hoseok, but his eyes are focused on jeongguk—jeongguk, who is still lying on the stairs, shaking. his face is covered in blood mixed with rain water as the storm continues around them, and it takes a long second for yoongi to pinpoint the source of it: hoseok was in the midst of carving something into jeongguk’s cheek when yoongi grabbed him.

hoseok chuckles, something guttural even as jeongguk makes eye contact with yoongi, looking shaken. “what are you gonna do?” asks hoseok. “i don’t fear death. i am death.”

“you’re fucking crazy,” yoongi spits at him, but he doesn’t get a chance to say anything more before he’s reminded that hoseok still has a knife in his hand—by hoseok sending the knife through the air, stabbing yoongi in the thigh. yoongi cries out, immediately letting go of hoseok as the pirate darts out of his grasp, disappearing into the midst of battle on the cry of hades.

yoongi curses loudly, pulling the knife out of his leg before he rushes toward jeongguk, who has finally gotten off of the stairs and has grabbed the sword yoongi threw at him. “are you okay?” yoongi asks quickly.

“i know i’m not allowed to,” says jeongguk, shaking—but perhaps not with fear, “but i really want to kill that fucking bastard.” he wipes at some of the blood on his face with his back of his hand, although it doesn’t do much. yoongi is overcome with the urge to do something—something more. the emotions that filled him upon seeing jeongguk being tortured by jung hoseok are still swirling through him, but now isn’t the time for a goddamn love confession.

he’s reminded that they’re still in the middle of a battle when jeongguk suddenly swears, grabbing yoongi’s wrist and yanking him forward as jeongguk darts the other way, bringing his sword up to block the attack of a pirate behind yoongi, who would have sliced him open had jeongguk not done something about it. shaken back into reality, yoongi turns and plunges his sword into the thigh of the pirate as jeongguk keeps their sword occupied and once the opponent is taken care of, he turns back to jeongguk.

“go get him,” says yoongi. “he’s yours.” jeongguk nods, and then hesitates—his eyes flicker to yoongi’s lips, just for a second. and yoongi remembers what he wanted to do before the battle, when they were on separate ships with too much space between them. and they might never have another chance. but yoongi is choosing to believe that they will, so he pushes jeongguk away from him. “go,” he repeats. “you have to get him onto one of the other ships.”

this time, jeongguk does go. see, along with their plan of damaging the cry of hades with their cannons, the two of them delegated tasks. while they need to survive this battle to begin with, they also need to capture kim seokjin and jung hoseok, somehow. it’s up to jimin and taehyung to take out as many of the crew members of the cry of hades as possible, because no matter how skilled and ruthless seokjin and hoseok are, they don’t stand a chance if they don’t have a crew of equally as skilled and ruthless pirates to back them up. it’s up to jeongguk to capture hoseok, or at least get him off of the cry of hades.

and it’s up to yoongi to find kim seokjin. to make him break.

now that he’s on this godforsaken ship, yoongi turns and tries to find seokjin, knowing his own part in all of this. but instead, he sees—minsoo. his second-in-command, the woman who has kept him afloat and directed him and given advice for months now. it all seems to happen in slow motion: yoongi turns, catching sight of minsoo battling two pirates on her own in the middle of the ship. the rain slows to a bare drip drip drip in the sky as minsoo’s sword is caught up above her head, blocking one opponent, but yoongi sees the other one making their move.

no!” he yells, taking off toward her, but it’s too late: the sword plunges right through minsoo’s heart and comes out the other side, bloody tip breaking through the back of her uniform. yoongi chokes on his words, feet stumbling to a halt against his will as blood begins to bloom on the back of her uniform, and then the sword is pulled out of her chest, and she falls.

she doesn’t get back up.

yoongi stares at her unmoving body, the world slowing all around him. suddenly, there’s no noise. there’s no light. it’s just: this. somehow, yoongi forgot that minsoo was only human. somehow, he forgot that she could die, that she would. she has given so much for him, and here she is, dead at his feet.

and just like that, it’s as though the world shifts. when yoongi finally tears his eyes away from minsoo’s body, he realizes that the deck is littered with bodies—most of them belonging to either his or jeongguk’s crews. he stands in the middle of it all, somehow untouched, and realizes that the cry of hades is outnumbering them even now, and everywhere he looks, another of his men is being cut down, is desperately trying to save themselves. they’re on the defensive now, merely trying to keep their heads above water. they’re not winning at all.

yoongi looks sideways, to the mourning star. it’s the same scene: the ship is overrun with the pirates from the cry of hades, advancing and killing. doing what they do best. on his own ship, he sees too many unfamiliar faces.

suddenly, yoongi realizes… they’re losing. despite their best efforts and all of their advantages, they’re still losing. they’re dying. they aren’t going to make it out of this, not for a single second. they’re all going to fucking die on these ships and it will have been for nothing. he’d been so sure of himself, so hopeful for their future, and now he realizes it’s all useless. they aren’t going to defeat the cry of hades, not like this. never like this.

and then he looks up and sees, standing on the helm of the cry of hades with the wind whipping through his hair and a maniacal smile to match hoseok’s—kim seokjin.

and it’s not fear that fills yoongi, or anxiety. he’s spent so much of his life being afraid of kim seokjin. but seeing him now, yoongi forgets all about that. all he thinks is: he has a mission. his mission now is to get kim seokjin off of this damn ship and into a cell. and yoongi’s side is losing. he’s going to die. but he’s going to die trying his damned hardest to capture kim seokjin. and so there is nothing to fear, not anymore.

yoongi takes a deep breath. he forgets about minsoo, about jeongguk, about the rest of the crew. right now, this is between him and kim seokjin. and then he starts walking across the ship. he’s calm, somehow. calm and certain of what he must do, that he will do it. halfway there, seokjin finally looks at him. the smile on his face only widens as he tilts his head, pointing his sword toward yoongi now.

“you!” shouts seokjin. “who is the captain of this ridiculous attempt to defeat me?”

“i am,” says yoongi as he reaches the stairs, stepping over a dead body as he heads up them, getting onto the helm and turning to face seokjin.

“perfect,” says seokjin, licking over his canines. “it will be my great pleasure to kill you, captain. i hope you don’t mind your dead body being disembowelled for educational purposes.”

“that’s commander to you,” says yoongi. “and i don’t mind if you don’t mind being arrested and executed by the king of korea for your crimes against humanity.”

seokjin cocks an eyebrow. “take a look around, commander,” he says, gesturing to the rest of his ship. “you’re on the brink of defeat.”

“then i have nothing to lose, do i?” asks yoongi. for a moment, seokjin looks genuinely surprised. and then yoongi attacks.

he’d hoped that a surge of confidence might catch seokjin off guard, but it’s no surprise that it doesn’t—this is kim seokjin, after all. when he moves, it’s with ease, gracefully stepping back when yoongi lunges at him and stopping the downward arc of yoongi’s sword with his own. that infuriating smirk is back on his lips as he and yoongi battle back and forth with their swords, movement quick as the metal flashes from side to side, up high and then down low the next second. yoongi manages to force seokjin back a step or two only for seokjin to rebuff and force yoongi backward instead. it’s tireless, yoongi’s arm already aching with exhaustion and feeling waterlogged from the storm.

but he cannot let seokjin win.

“not bad, commander,” seokjin laughs after yoongi nearly gets a hit in, his sword barely grazing the sleeve of seokjin’s coat. “they didn’t give you your position for nothing, did they?”

“i used to be a pirate, you know,” counters yoongi, swinging hard over seokjin’s head; the other pirate throws his sword up to block it but yoongi keeps pushing until he forces seokjin’s inward. suddenly, their swords are an x between them and yoongi grabs onto seokjin’s wrist with his free hand, trying to force both of their swords toward him as he leans into seokjin’s face. “i used to be so afraid of you. used to have nightmares about ending up in battle with your crew.”

seokjin grits his teeth, trying to force both of their swords into yoongi’s throat instead. “is this living up to your expectations?”

“in my nightmares, i’d always wake up before the battle ended,” huffs yoongi. “it wasn’t loss or death that i feared, but having to fight in the first place. but i’m already fighting. and i guess i’ll just have to dream up a victory.”

“then shut the fuck up,” growls seokjin, “and get to dreaming.” and then he brings a knee up between them, colliding painfully with yoongi’s groin to force the draw.

yoongi goes down hard, gasping in pain, but doesn’t have time to recover when he sees seokjin lunge for him. yoongi rolls to the side as seokjin’s sword plunges into the deck of the ship where he was lying just moments ago, cursing when seokjin laughs at him. “i hope you enjoy this last dream of yours, commander!” calls seokjin, pulling his sword from the wood and stalking after yoongi as yoongi scrambles to his feet, running for the stairs down to the rest of the deck. “i’m sure you know dead men don’t dream.”

“isn’t it dead men tell no tales?” yoongi calls back, landing on the deck and turning in time for seokjin to jump down after him, already swinging his sword. now, yoongi remembers his aim; he can hold his own against seokjin, although it’s not easy. but he can’t keep seokjin on this ship. somehow, they have to get off of the cry of hades.

he keeps stepping backward steadily as their swords clank between them. yoongi tries to anticipate where seokjin will swing next, knowing that he has to protect his own life as well as protect seokjin’s in a way. he ducks under one swing, nearly tripping over a dead body on the deck and then glances sideways toward the mourning star. the battle is still raging all around him, rain pounding over them, and seokjin’s movements are so quick—too quick. yoongi can barely keep up, merely tilting his sword this way and that to block each attack.

then—someone bumps into yoongi, and yoongi ducks at the last second as a sword goes flying over his head. he grabs the pirate, shoving them toward seokjin in hopes of distracting him before he hops onto the railing of the ship. before long, though, seokjin has joined him again, shouting for yoongi to stop running away. they begin their elaborate dance once more, yoongi trying to knock seokjin’s sword from his hand, to no avail.

instead—yoongi takes a step backwards and almost slips on the railing. he curses, arms pinwheeling as he tries to keep his balance and not plunge into the frigid sea below. but seokjin takes the opportunity anyway, stalking forward and slamming his sword down on yoongi’s. in an attempt to keep from tipping over, yoongi is forced to let go of his sword, which tumbles down between the ships and is lost.

he stares down at where his only weapon disappears into the sea, and then looks back up to seokjin, who is grinning the same way hoseok was grinning when he was carving into jeongguk’s face. it’s not the face of a man who has gained triumph or victory, but the face of a man who is going to have a lot of fun with whatever comes next.

“maybe it is dead men tell no tales,” says seokjin almost thoughtfully. “i guess i’ll find out when you’re dead.”

yoongi breathes hard, desperately trying to think of a way out. and, miraculously, he sees it; swinging between the two ships, just behind seokjin, is a dead body attached to a rope. the pirate must have gotten caught somehow, the rope knotted around their wrist, and then ended up dead anyway and is now nothing but dead weight on the rope, serving as the momentum yoongi knows he needs. he licks his lips, wasting no time before he puts his new plan into action.

“if you wanna kill me, captain,” he says, “you’ll have to catch me first.” and then he takes off down the railing, seeming to surprise seokjin, who freezes. it’s all the time he needs; yoongi sidesteps onto the gangplank beside seokjin, using it as a boosting board before he leaps into the air and latches onto the body hanging from that rope. he almost laughs as the rope swings between the two ships and he sees seokjin’s bewildered face receding from him. once the rope has swung onto the mourning star, yoongi lets go, not bothering to watch if seokjin follows him—he will. yoongi is certain seokjin won’t be able to let him get away.

instead, he darts into the action on the mourning star, snatching a sword out of the hand of a dead pirate on the ship. by the time he turns back around, seokjin has already run across the gangplanks and, filled with a new adrenaline, yoongi engages in battle with him once more. he’s more aggressive this time, trying to get his own hits in and almost succeeding in knocking seokjin’s sword from his hand once or twice.

absently, he can hear taehyung yelling somewhere on the ship and only remembers then that there are other lives at stake here—that jeongguk is meant to be fighting hoseok. the reminder of jeongguk has yoongi fumbling in his movements, resisting the urge to look for him. jeongguk will be fine—he knows what he’s doing. he’s a good pirate, a good fighter. and now yoongi is forcing seokjin into a corner, nearly at the front of the ship, and he’s actually going to win this. yoongi is actually going to win this, and—

yoongi hears his name being called above the howling of the wind and pounding of the rain, the shouts of those from both sides. it sounds like jeongguk’s voice. and here, yoongi hesitates again, head half-turning toward the sound of his name. this time, seokjin doesn’t take his chances.

when yoongi turns back to his opponent, seokjin is already lunging forward with his sword straight out before him—pointed at yoongi’s heart. and yoongi doesn’t have time to block the attack, merely trying to twist out of the path of the blade. and yet he’s not quick enough, not nearly; seokjin’s sword pierces his left shoulder, hardly where he intended the blade to go, but yoongi gasps with pain anyway as it burns white hot through his shoulder, the sword pulled out just as quickly as it was plunged through him.

yoongi’s sword drops from his hand for the second time, gasping as he lifts a hand to cover his wound. he can feel hot blood on his hand, and he knows, of course—people die from these kinds of injuries all the time, especially in the middle of battle. as he stumbles back, he sees seokjin drop his own sword and then pull out a pistol from his coat.

yoongi can only continue to gasp in pain, pressing hard on the stab wound. it’s only then he remembers he’s been stabbed in the leg, too; it was as though pure adrenaline was keeping him from feeling his wounds, but now there’s nothing to hold back the stinging of pain. the desperation of realizing that—this is it. as kim seokjin cocks his pistol, this is it.

“this was fun while it lasted,” says seokjin, inspecting the gun before he holds it out toward yoongi’s chest. “but me and my crew have places to be. goodnight, commander.”

no—” yoongi gasps, and then he hears his name shouted again. this time, he knows it’s jeongguk, knows it’s real. he turns his head toward the cry of hades in time to see a cannon shoved against the railing of the ship, one that must have been there all along, and jeongguk behind it, eyes wide as he stares.

perhaps this is a dream after all. perhaps yoongi is already dead, the sword having gone through his heart after all. because there is no other way to explain jeongguk’s appearance, or the cannon, or the boom that nearly deafens him as jeongguk sets off the cannon and a massive iron ball goes smashing through the railing of his own ship. yoongi flinches, seeing only massive chunks of wood, along with the cannon ball, scattering between he and seokjin, and then one particularly large piece of wood sailing toward him. and then, when the wood connects—he sees nothing.

when yoongi comes to, it’s slowly. there’s a loud whining in his left ear, his vision swimming before him when he opens his eyes. it must have only been a few minutes—the rain is still pouring down upon them, his shoulder is still aching and blooming with pain, and he’s still aware of distant noise and movement. yoongi can’t make any of his limbs move, brain still wading through unconsciousness as he looks up and blinks through the water splashing in his eyes and realizes he is moving. there are arms hooked under his shoulders, dragging him across the deck, and when he makes a moaning noise, trying to focus on the face above his, he thinks—it’s jeongguk.

but it can’t be jeongguk. jeongguk was just on the cry of hades, was just sending a fucking cannon ball at seokjin to stop him from killing yoongi. but now here he is, dragging yoongi into a corner of the ship where he might hide. through the whine and roar of outside noise, he hears a loud, “hyung!” jeongguk’s face swims before his, looking down at him with an abundance of concern before he looks up again, glancing this way and that. yoongi wants to reach out for him, wants to tell him—tell him something. tell him what?

is yoongi dying?

jeongguk lets go of him all at once, leaving him lying on the ship and half-hidden behind the stairs leading up to the helm of the mourning star. here, there is but a semblance of safety from the rest of the battle—the battle that they are losing. the longer yoongi is awake, the more he remembers that: they’re losing, they’re going to lose, they’re dying.

they’re all dying.

he groans again, finding he finally has control of his limbs as he pushes himself up into a sitting position. when he looks out at the ship, it’s utter chaos. there are so many dead bodies on the deck, so many pirates that don’t look like his. there’s no way they can possibly make it out alive. yoongi himself is out of commission now, unless he can somehow swoop in to save the day. he doesn’t know where seokjin is anymore. he doesn’t know where hoseok is. he doesn’t know how he ever thought they could actually do this.

slowly, he grasps at the underside of the staircase and pulls himself up until he’s standing, heaving as he searches for a sword around him. because even if they’re going to lose this, even if they’ll all die—he won’t allow his crew to die without him.

finding a sword, he reaches down to grasp it, and that’s when he hears it—the familiar voices.

“jimin, no!” it’s taehyung. yoongi squints, turning his head upward as he follows the sound of taehyung yelling. it sounds like it’s standing on the helm of the mourning star, and when yoongi stumbles out to be able to see, he spots jimin standing on the cry of hades, blood running down the side of his face, warding off pirates with his gun.

“taehyung, you have to do it!” jimin calls. “it’s the only way.”

“no, it isn’t!” taehyung shouts back.

“we’re dying,” jimin says, pausing to block an attack by a pirate and send them diving into the sea over the side of the ship. “we have to stop this. if you don’t—if you don’t, we’ll all die. i can’t let that happen to you.”

“but if i do this, you’ll die,” says taehyung. yoongi tries calling out to him, but his voice won’t work, instead stumbling toward the stairs to try and join taehyung at the helm. “i won’t do that to you, jimin!”

“taehyung, listen to me!” jimin is practically screaming, trying to be heard over the howling of the wind. “i love you, god-fucking-dammit. i won’t let you die on this stupid ship. you promised me, remember? you promised that you would use it when you have to.”

yoongi groans as he pulls himself up step by step, trying to understand what taehyung and jimin are yelling at each other about. all he knows is that taehyung can stop this—maybe? he doesn’t want to. taehyung keeps yelling something about not wanting violence, not wanting so much death on his hands lest he drive himself insane with it. yoongi’s arm burns with pain, nearly tripping on the top stair as jimin yells, “call it, taehyung.”

“no, jimin, please, you’ll die—”

yoongi finally stumbles onto the helm, watching jimin on the other ship. and jimin’s eyes shift to his, face hardening as they look at each other. when jimin speaks next, he feels as though he’s speaking to yoongi instead of taehyung: “you underestimate what pirates will do for the people they love.” it’s what yoongi told jimin back on their little island when they were waiting for taehyung. when jimin doubted that taehyung would sacrifice himself for jimin. his eyes shift to taehyung. “it’s okay, taehyung. i know. i know. just let me do this. let me save you this time.”

yoongi reaches out, latching onto taehyung’s arm, but taehyung doesn’t even seem to notice him. turning his head, yoongi sees that they’ll need a miracle to win this. he sees seokjin again, wreaking havoc on the other side of the mourning star. he sees jeongguk running across the gangplanks onto the cry of hades again. he sees jimin watching taehyung, so much pleading and love on his face that it almost hurts to look at him.

taehyung reaches his hand out between them, and then his other hand latches onto yoongi’s. “please, hyung,” he whispers. “forgive me.” then he closes his eyes, tilting his head back toward the sky. yoongi watches him, not understanding, never understanding—and above the storm, jimin shouts something that sounds like i love you.

there’s a ripple under the surface of the sea.

just for a moment, the world stands still. the storm stops, noise ceases. yoongi hears a low rumble that seems to come from below the ships, sees the cry of hades shake dangerously. his eyes turn to taehyung, who might be crying, might just be covered in rain. there’s another low rumble.

and then a huge tentacle shoots out of the water next to the cry of hades.

yoongi just stares at it, the sight so completely out of the realm of normalcy that he doesn’t understand what’s happening at first. but the appearance of the tentacle has drawn the attention of every other person on the three ships as well, something foreboding about it as the tentacle stays there for a prolonged moment.

then, from somewhere on the cry of hades comes the panicked cry: “kraken!

the tentacle slams down onto the deck of the cry of hades, smashing through the railing as screams immediately fill the air, and yoongi can only watch as a half dozen other tentacles snake out of the water. they feast upon the cry of hades immediately, snatching pirates from the deck and sending them flailing into the water dozens of feet away. yoongi is frozen as he watches, the tentacles wreaking havoc on the ship.

one large tentacle snakes around the main mast of the ship and cracks it clean in half, the wood and sails falling to the deck below as men and women scramble to be free of it. but the gangplanks to the other ships are already falling into the sea and any pirate trying to jump from one ship to the next is immediately snatched up by the creature and thrown into the water below. pirates from the other two ships begin shooting at the tentacles that climb higher and higher, the creature snatching those pirates and flinging them into the water as well.

yoongi feels he’ll be sick as, finally, four tentacles begin rising out of the water. they climb higher and higher, becoming thirty feet thick at the base as their suckers seem to stare right into the eyes of those who will become the creature’s next victims. he thinks he can hear jimin yelling on the ship, and he realizes that taehyung is still holding his hand.

for just another moment, the world goes still when the tentacles stop their movement, merely waiting like four pillars on either side of the ship. when yoongi turns his eyes to those on the ship, he sees jimin. he’s the only one not staring up at the massive tentacles, instead watching yoongi and taehyung. he says taehyung’s name like a whisper between the ships. like a prayer.

and then the tentacles fall toward the cry of hades, smashing through the other masts, the railing, and finally the deck. the weight of the tentacles tears the ship in two, the ship already beginning to sink as the creature pulls the wreck down into the sea with it. the shouting becomes even more panicked as pirates tumble into the water, the tentacles circling the ship and dragging it down down down until the screams stop, until the ship has become entirely submerged, only the last remains of it floating on the surface of the water.

and then there is—nothing. no sign of the cry of hades, no sign of its victims other than bodies floating in the water between the other two ships. no sign of the kraken.

just—pure silence as everyone left alive stares at where the cry of hades once was.

yoongi’s heartbeat thunders in his ears, trying to understand what just happened. the cry of hades is… gone, the ship dragged to the bottom of the sea along with the creature. the creature that—taehyung called. the creature jimin told taehyung to call, sacrificing himself so that this battle might finally come to an end. the creature jeongguk jokingly told yoongi that taehyung had not so long ago.

jeongguk.

yoongi gasps in a breath, suddenly spurred into action when he remembers… just moments before the kraken appeared, he saw jeongguk get onto that ship. and now the ship is gone. he nearly chokes on his breath, but has no time to panic before he hears the first sound out of anyone in the aftermath: kim seokjin yelling, “my ship!

filled with anger, tired, in pain, yoongi knows this can finally end. he turns, ignoring the burn of tears at the very thought of jeongguk having been on the cry of hades, and stumbles back down the stairs. not a single person moves as yoongi drags his sword across the deck until he comes to seokjin at the other end of the ship and points his weapon at him. “call off your crew,” he heaves. “it’s over, kim. your ship is gone, along with half of your men. we’ve won.”

when seokjin stares at him for a long, hard moment, he must realize that yoongi is right. seokjin’s crew has nowhere to go now, nowhere to escape to. half of his crew must have been on that ship, and a good number of the rest are lying dead on these ships. yoongi is holding him at sword-point and there are enough of yoongi’s and jeongguk’s men left to make quick work of seokjin’s crew at this point.

seokjin lets his sword clatter to the deck below him. immediately, it’s followed by the clang of metal on wood as the rest of the seokjin’s crew follows suit, finally surrendering. finally—finally. they’ve won.

but at what cost? both decks are littered with yoongi’s and jeongguk’s crews. both of their ships have been damaged by cannons. and how many of their crews were on the cry of hades when it went down?

jimin was on that ship. jeongguk might have been, too. and they’ve won, but there is no cheer of celebration as yoongi turns back around and looks up to taehyung, who remains standing on the helm and staring down at the water where the cry of hades disappeared. it’s only thanks to him that they’ve won. but oh, he’s sacrificed so much for it.

yoongi lets his own sword fall to the deck, pain returning once more. it’s over, finally. just as the storm is beginning to let up, it’s over.

“someone,” he begins, taking a breath and trying to calm the racing of his heart. “someone detain him. detain all of them.” but it doesn’t seem like anyone is going to fight anymore. they’ve all given up—the cry of hades out of shock and disbelief, and the other crews out of fatigue. yoongi knows they have to begin picking up from this, counting their dead, but he doesn’t want to. because when he lets his gaze sweep over people still standing on the mourning star and then on his ship—he doesn’t see jeongguk among them. he sees hoseok on the other ship, sees seokjin on this, and taehyung. he sees familiar faces of his own crew and jeongguk’s, the people he has gotten to know since this mess started. but he doesn’t see jeongguk. and if he doesn’t see jeongguk among the living, then—

finally, there is movement. the crews begin assembling themselves, taking weapons from the survivors of the cry of hades and carting them below decks, where they’ll be imprisoned until yoongi can decide what to do with them. he watches as a few cabin boys begin picking up chunks of the ships that have been blown apart from the cannons and tossing them overboard. yoongi limps along the deck, steeling himself as he looks down at the bodies on the ship and feels both relief and dread when he finds a face he recognizes—but isn’t jeongguk’s. he stops to ask the familiar survivors if they need immediate medical attention, ignoring the fact that he does. his wounds have stopped bleeding, but they’ll get infected if he doesn’t do something about them.

ironically, they now have a very skilled surgeon in their possession.

but most of all, as he moves through the ship and checks on those left alive, he asks, “have you seen jeongguk?” and every time, unfailingly, the answer is—no.

when he’s talked to everyone onboard the mourning star, the survivors now beginning to dispose of bodies, yoongi moves to the railing, his eyes on his own ship. they seem to be doing the same; hoseok and the rest of the cry of hades crew members have been taken belowdecks, but the survivors are so few. and he isn’t there.

but jeongguk saved his life. jeongguk saw that seokjin was going to kill him and saved his life, pulled him out of the wreckage. and yoongi didn’t even get to tell him—none of these thoughts in his head, these feelings in his heart. he’s spent four years waiting for a chance to tell the truth and now it’s gone.

there’s just enough rain to mask the tears that well in his eyes and then spill over onto his cheeks. they mix with the rainwater, the blood, the mud. yoongi never wanted this to happen. he never meant for any of it—

“yoongi.” when he turns his head, taehyung is standing next to him, face ashen. and yoongi should thank him. should say something, because it’s only thanks to taehyung that they’re alive. but it’s also thanks to taehyung that jeongguk might be dead. that jimin is. jimin gave up his life to save the rest of them—to save taehyung. he begged taehyung to call the kraken just to finish this, knowing that he would be lost in the midst of it, but it was enough, wasn’t it? just to save taehyung. if the choice is between sacrificing himself and letting taehyung die—well. it’s not much of a choice at all, is it?

but yoongi just stares at him. and then taehyung points to the water, says, “there. jeongguk is there.”

when he looks, he sees—the water is littered with debris, remains of the cry of hades bobbing to the surface. a smattering of bodies, many of them having been dumped from the remaining ships. and among them is a man floating on his back, hair fanned out in the water. and yoongi would know him anywhere.

he used to wake up screaming from nightmares of this, too—seeing jeongguk dead in the water, his face among those they’re forced to bury or burn. covered in blood, stabbed through the heart, drowned trying to save his crew from destruction.

yoongi just stares at him as the waves carry jeongguk between the two ships like a rite of passage. and then, as he continues to watch—jeongguk’s eyes fly open, gasping in a breath as his body lurches in the water, and yoongi’s heart lurches with him. “oh my god,” breathes yoongi, already moving along the railing to follow jeongguk. “oh my god, he’s alive—he’s still alive!

jeongguk coughs, trying to tread water as he blinks up at the ships, and yoongi is already running, demanding that someone give him a rope, which he tosses over the ship toward jeongguk. “help me pull him in!” he shouts, several crew members coming to his aid as jeongguk latches onto the rope and begins coughing up water violently as he’s tugged toward the ship. and somehow, knowing he’s alive makes yoongi cry harder, the swell of emotions overtaking him as he throws down the ladder for jeongguk to latch onto once he’s close enough, and yoongi is shaking, grounded only by a sudden presence at his side, a hand holding into his shoulder.

when he turns, it’s taehyung. taehyung, who has hated him, who has every right to hate him. who has lost the person dearest to him in a needless battle even though they were both going to die anyway. taehyung looks at him, really looks at him, and says, “don’t waste it.”

by the time jeongguk climbs onto the ship, waterlogged and still gasping for breath, yoongi still hasn’t gotten a hold of his emotions. but he latches onto jeongguk, anyway, helping him over the railing and onto the deck, grasping at his shoulders as jeongguk stands and looks at him. and yoongi can’t breathe, not when he sees jeongguk’s face—his beautiful face with some symbol half-carved into one cheek and bloodshot eyes and blood running down his temple.

but he’s alive. he’s alive and he’s here and yoongi loves him and yoongi thought he was dead and yoongi was so goddamn afraid—afraid of losing him, losing him again, and of having to go on without him again. he tries to calm his breathing, his heart, eyes moving over jeongguk’s face in search of any signs that his injuries are worse than they may seem, but jeongguk just gives this little sigh, lips crooking down when he whispers, “hyung.

yoongi tugs him in, wrapping both arms around jeongguk as he holds him to his chest. he closes his eyes, pressing his face into the side of jeongguk’s head, trying to breathe through the threat of sobs. and it doesn’t work, not when jeongguk lifts his arms and wraps them around yoongi’s back, grip so tight that it hurts to breathe.

“hyung,” jeongguk whispers, voice cracking. “hyung, we did it.”

he almost says it. almost says it right then and there, his heart so full of everything that it wants to escape out of his mouth. but then jeongguk shifts, pulling back enough to look at yoongi properly. and his eyes are so bright, a hapless smile on his face at their victory. he asks, “we got them, right? seokjin and hoseok?”

“yeah,” says yoongi, letting his arms fall. “yeah, they’re in the cells.”

“i told you, hyung,” laughs jeongguk. “i told you the kraken was real. it was taehyung, right? he called it—i knew it. i was on that ship and i saw those tentacles and i had to get off so i just jumped and i think i got knocked out for a second, but it worked. oh my god, i bet jimin knew—” and yoongi’s breath hitches at the mention of jimin, because jeongguk doesn’t know, does he? “i have to give him shit about it, hyung. where is he, anyway?”

yoongi winces. jeongguk looks so goddamn happy. and yoongi can’t do that to him, not now—not when they’re meant to be triumphant about winning.

“yoongi-hyung,” repeats jeongguk, face beginning to fall. “where’s jimin?”

“jeongguk-ah,” yoongi begins, shaking his head, but—“jeongguk, he’s dead. he was the one who—who told taehyung to do it even though he was on that ship. he sacrificed himself.”

jeongguk lets out what sounds like half of a laugh, cut off at the last second as he stares at yoongi. he doesn’t believe him—not for those first few seconds, his eyes still dancing with light. but when yoongi doesn’t laugh at the joke, he realizes it’s not one. yoongi is telling the truth.

“no,” says jeongguk, shaking his head. “no, we were supposed to—i was gonna… i was gonna help him.”

“jeongguk—”

“he can’t be dead, hyung. don’t be funny.”

“i’m not, jeongguk. i saw it. i saw it take him.”

jeongguk sucks in a breath, opening his mouth like he’s going to argue and then closing it again. and yoongi sees the slow build of anger on his face, covering the disbelief. his brows furrow, a line creasing on his forehead, jaw set in fury. and yoongi is angry, too, but jimin was jeongguk’s friend. was one of his best friends, perhaps one of his only friends for the past four years.

and then yoongi made him track jimin down, trick him, arrest him. he made jeongguk put jimin in a cage. and now jimin is dead.

from behind yoongi, taehyung says, “it’s true, jeongguk. jimin is—” he sucks in a breath, his own voice wavering. “he’s gone.”

but jeongguk’s eyes don’t leave yoongi, lips forming a frown as he tries to keep himself from crying. his mouth says sadness, but his eyes—those are all rage. jeongguk’s hands clench and unclench at his sides, breathing deeply. and then he whispers, “this is all your fault.” 

yoongi’s heart sinks, taking a step toward him: “jeongguk—”

“no,” says jeongguk, taking a step back. “no, i don’t wanna fucking talk to you right now.” then he turns and begins stalking across the deck, standing crew members parting for him as they watch. but yoongi follows, calling his name as jeongguk leads him to his own cabins, wrenching the door to his office open so hard that it nearly falls off its hinges.

yoongi takes more care in closing it behind them, but it’s not going to do much to block out the noise when he says, “jeongguk, please,” and jeongguk immediately rounds on him, giving him a rough shove back toward the door as he starts yelling.

“no!” he shouts. “no, you fucking—this is all your fault! if it wasn’t for you, jimin wouldn’t be dead. if it wasn’t for you and your stupid list, none of this would have happened and half of my men wouldn’t be dead and i wouldn’t have almost drowned.”

“gguk—”

“everything was fine until you showed up again. then you had to come with your stupid uniform and badges and titles and ruin everything. take me away from my home and my plans and my life, which was going fine without you, by the way. you made me hurt my own best friend, made me trick and lie and kill other pirates i never wanted to kill.” he curls his hands into fists in front of him and for a moment, yoongi is afraid jeongguk is going to punch him.

but then he just turns around, making a frustrated noise as he instead grabs a small wooden box and throws it at the window. “you led us right into a fucking death trap!” he shouts. “it’s your fault that everyone out there is dead, that the cry of hades doesn’t exist anymore. it’s your fault that piracy is going to die even though you are a goddamn pirate, hyung. you keep betraying us again and again and all you do is hurt me and it’s your fault jimin is dead.”

yoongi watches him. quietly, he says, “jimin sacrificed himself.”

“he wouldn’t have had to if it wasn’t for you!” jeongguk snarls. “everything is your fucking fault, yoongi. you keep pretending like we’re on the same side in all of this, but if i tried running away, you’d kill me, wouldn’t you? and you’re probably happy that jimin is dead because now you don’t have to worry about him trying to help everyone else escape.”

and now yoongi is getting angry. “that’s not true—”

“i don’t fucking care anymore! i almost died and it’s your fault, yoongi.”

“you could have agreed not to help me in the first place! you chose this, jeongguk.”

“you arrested me! you wanted to execute me, so what? was i supposed to be fucking noble and accept my death rather than turn on my own kind?”

“why don’t you tell me since you’re apparently the only one who knows how to do the right thing around here!”

jeongguk makes a loud agh sound, stalking toward yoongi before stopping again, running a hand through his hair. “you don’t have a right to be angry at me,” he says. “you don’t have a right to say anything right now because it’s your fault and you’re so goddamn infuriating and i—i hate you!”

somehow, this hurts worst of all. yoongi gasps in a breath, where it hitches in his throat, and he stares at jeongguk. they’re both heaving, angry and upset, bleeding and dripping water all over the floor. and they did almost die. and maybe this is yoongi’s fault. but that doesn’t change the truth.

“too bad,” yoongi snaps, “because i love you.”

jeongguk snarls. “you think saying that right now will ma—wait, what?” he stops suddenly, eyes widening as he watches yoongi. confusion passes over his face, and yoongi knows it’s probably a terrible idea. but he thinks of seeing jeongguk in the water, thinks of seeing his eyes open again. thinks of all they’ve lost and gained, thinks of the fear.

most of all, he thinks of jimin making eye contact with him across ships, the moment before the kraken took his life. he thinks of sacrifice. he thinks of what pirates will do for the people they love. he thinks of taehyung’s voice in his ear, mourning, saying, don’t waste it.

and then he says, “i love you, jeongguk. and i know i shouldn’t. i know i don’t have a right to, not anymore. not after everything i’ve done to you. but i thought you were dead and the idea of losing you again without telling you was more than i could bear.”

he thinks jeongguk will yell at him again. will shove him. but jeongguk is just staring, barely even breathing. so yoongi keeps going. “jeongguk, i never stopped loving you. i have loved you for so long that my heart doesn’t know how not to. i hurt you and i tried to make myself give up hope and desire, but i couldn’t do it. and being with you again—it hurts every day not being able to say it or do anything about it. and when i saw you in the water, i… i wanted to die. i couldn’t do that again.”

yoongi sniffs, wiping at his nose. “and you can hate me all you want. you can be angry. and i understand that. i know that i’ve done nothing but fuck up again and again, but i can’t change the fact that i love you. that i’m in love with you. and i have been. and i will be even if you don’t want me to be anymore.”

jeongguk breathes hard as he watches yoongi. and maybe it’s not the right time to say it—but when will there ever be a right time? he’s learned today that the future is so uncertain. and the only thing he is certain of is his love for jeongguk.

when jeongguk doesn’t reply for seconds that threaten to turn into minutes, yoongi whispers, “please say something.”

“i’m so mad at you,” says jeongguk immediately, his eyes filling with tears. “i’m so mad at you. you hurt me and then you arrested me and made me come on this stupid mission with you and now one of my best friends is dead and i have god only knows what carved into my fucking face and now you stand there and tell me you love me. so i’m mad at you. and i’m mad at me because i don’t want to care, but i do. i don’t want that to make any of this better, but it does.

yoongi takes a step toward him, but jeongguk takes a step back, wiping at his wet eyes with the heel of his hand. “i can’t believe you, min yoongi,” he says. “i spent so many years trying to get over you and the moment you walked back into my life, i knew it was all useless. just—fuck you, hyung. i love you so much.”

“i’m…” begins yoongi. “confused.”

“about what?” snaps jeongguk. “obviously i love you, too, you goddamn idiot. i spent four years trying to make myself stop, but it’s just like you said—my heart doesn’t know how not to love you. and you’ve hurt me and betrayed me and dragged me into all of this, but part of just doesn’t care because at least i get to be close to you. and that’s better than whatever my life was like before this.”

“i’m sorry, jeongguk. about jimin and your—face and all of this.”

jeongguk sniffs, shaking his head as he turns his head away from yoongi and wipes at his nose. it isn’t quite how yoongi imagined it would go, if he thought he could work up the courage to admit the truth. and somehow, this makes sense. they’re not two people living simple lives, who can fall in love and spend their days hand in hand as they imagine a whole future for themselves.

they’re pirates, now on opposite sides of a great debate. they have loved and lost each other. they didn’t die today, but they could die tomorrow. and yoongi wishes so badly that they could have it easy, that they could just make a home for themselves on the land and live there and be together properly. but min yoongi was born on the sea, his home perpetually changing. all he’s going to have is this—and maybe that’s enough. if jeongguk will have him, it’ll be enough.

“i didn’t really mean what i said earlier,” mumbles jeongguk. “you didn’t ruin anything.”

“s’okay,” says yoongi.

“and i’m sorry about almost killing you with a cannon ball earlier,” adds jeongguk. “i just saw seokjin pointing a gun at you and i panicked and i didn’t… didn’t want you to die. couldn’t think about you dying without wanting to throw up, knowing i hadn’t even told you. knowing we didn’t really get a second chance.”

there are so many pieces to pick up. they’ve lost great numbers of their crews and both of their ships have sustained damage. this isn’t even over yet; they still have to sail to shipwreck island and capture kim namjoon. but right now, none of that matters.

yoongi takes another tentative step forward and jeongguk stays still this time, wiping at his eyes again. and now yoongi reaches for him like he’s wanted to for weeks, fingers curling into the wet sleeves of jeongguk’s coat to tug his hand away from his face. this close, he can see the jagged edges of the wound on jeongguk’s face, still slowly seeping blood onto his jaw. he can see the bruises on the rest of his face, signs of a battle well fought. and when jeongguk glances at him before looking away again, yoongi sees so much there, so much in those eyes he has loved for nine years.

“i’m still mad at you,” whispers jeongguk, but he lets yoongi move close until they’re almost pressed together, yoongi’s fingers delicately tracing the irritated skin around jeongguk’s wound.

“i know,” says yoongi. “can’t you be mad at me later? just love me now.”

jeongguk huffs out a laugh, finally turning to look at him fully. yoongi’s hand slides around to cradle the back of his head. and jeongguk says, “silly hyung. don’t you know i can do both? i’ve been doing both for four years.” and then he leans in, tilts his head downward, and kisses yoongi. 

this, too, is different from how he imagined it. the last time they kissed, it was all heat and teeth and something primal, something to peel back the masks they were both hiding beneath. they were filled with adrenaline from their first victory, needed some place to put it. but now comes a resignation of sorts. a sigh of, oh. finally. here we are.

this time, jeongguk’s mouth is soft and pliant against his, warm despite the rain and the battle. in the eye of the storm, yoongi curls his fingers into the hair at the back of jeongguk’s head, lifting himself onto his toes to press his lips more fully to jeongguk’s. it feels as though every cell in his body sighs with relief, feels right at home here against jeongguk’s body, as jeongguk lifts a hand to cup yoongi’s cheek.

this, finally, is where he belongs.

this, finally, is home.

he sighs into jeongguk’s mouth, parting his lips to let his tongue dance lazily across the seam of jeongguk’s lips. and jeongguk opens up for him, lets him in, allowing yoongi to taste the warmth of jeongguk’s mouth. as jeongguk’s tongue slides along his, he feels a spark low in his spine, just a hint of urgency filling him. it’s been four years—four years of wanting and wishing and waiting, and now finally, he has jeongguk back in his arms.

how can he waste even a single moment?

yoongi pushes just gently, taking a step between jeongguk’s legs until jeongguk gets the hint and begins walking backwards, letting yoongi lead them blindly. he can’t take his mouth off of jeongguk’s even for a second; how he missed it, how he craved it. he stops walking only when jeongguk nearly rams into the desk, jerking them abruptly, and jeongguk whines into his mouth out of pain.

“sorry,” whispers yoongi hotly, that urgency spreading now as he kisses jeongguk again—harder this time, hand moving from the back of his head to his neck, sliding down over his collarbones and chest.

jeongguk licks into his mouth, breathes out a, “hyung.

“yeah?” asks yoongi, fearful for what jeongguk might ask—because yoongi would give him anything now, wouldn’t even hesitate. outside of this room, there are pirates to lead and prisoners to interrogate. but god, jeongguk’s mouth against his is holy. jeongguk’s body beneath his hands is sacred. and yoongi hasn’t worshipped in so, so long.

with both hands in yoongi’s hair, tugging almost painfully, jeongguk tilts yoongi’s head back and kisses along his jaw, starting a line down his throat. yoongi bites back a groan, all too aware of their unintended audience. but his own hands wander, sliding down to the waistband of jeongguk’s pants and then ghosting just below, surprised to feel a bulge there.

yoongi must make a noise of surprise, too, because suddenly jeongguk’s eyes are on his again. he mutters, “shut up,” before kissing yoongi again, and yoongi can only laugh, “i didn’t say anything.”

“it’s been four years.”

“you haven’t pleasured yourself in four years?”

“that’s not—not what i meant,” groans jeongguk, but yoongi can’t help teasing him. because it has been four years. and he knows nothing will be as it was back then, but they don’t have to pretend anymore. and he feels himself growing harder merely knowing that jeongguk has ached for his touch the way yoongi has ached for jeongguk’s, palming at jeongguk’s cock through his pants as their lips connect again. jeongguk groans into his mouth, yoongi swallowing the sound so not to draw attention, but this—this feels familiar.

sneaking around together, kissing and touching each other in the darkest corners of the ship, trying to hide when they could from the rest of their crew. yoongi feels so young again, oddly giddy when jeongguk flips them around so yoongi’s ass is digging into the edge of the desk and jeongguk can shove a thigh between yoongi’s legs.

“hyung,” jeongguk whispers again, breathier than before, voice low. yoongi moves his hand a little harder, working jeongguk to full hardness under his touch. “hyung—love you. i love you.”

“fuck,” whispers yoongi, nipping at jeongguk’s bottom lip as he grinds down onto jeongguk’s thigh, his own cock hard now. it’s filthy and dirty and too quick, but it’s all the time they have and both of them are too desperate for much more. it’s been too long—and yoongi has thought about this too often, especially since jeongguk came back into his life. lying awake at night, touching himself to memories and desires and forbidden things.

this is still forbidden. maybe that’s why it feels so good.

jeongguk tugs at his hair again, almost breathing too heavily to kiss him, their mouths open against one another. and yoongi grinds down again, sparks shooting up his spine before he whispers, “fuck, jeongguk-ah, touch me.”

and jeongguk does; he wastes no time in undoing the ties on yoongi’s pants and then shoving his hand instead. his touch is cold against yoongi’s cock, but yoongi gasps anyway, throwing his head back as jeongguk begins stroking him. the angle is awkward, his grip too light, but it’s enough anyway—it’s enough because it’s jeongguk, because he’s waited so goddamn long for this.

jeongguk attaches his lips to yoongi’s throat again, hand moving over the head of his cock too lightly, but the way that yoongi likes to tease. he hasn’t forgotten this either. through the arousal that begins to cloud his mind, yoongi remembers to tighten his own grip on jeongguk’s cock through his pants, making jeongguk jerk into him, hissing as his teeth press into yoongi’s skin.

faster, faster; yoongi fumbles with the waistband of jeongguk’s pants, trying to do something more even as jeongguk rubs his palm over the head of yoongi’s cock and forces a choked moan out of him. it’s too loud. yoongi drops his head again, nudging jeongguk’s face toward his and kissing him again, needing something to distract him, something to keep him quiet. normally, jeongguk might tease him about it—but neither of them is in the right mind for it, too desperate to get off.

the ship rocks beneath them and yoongi is reminded once more where they are. he grinds his hips up into jeongguk’s hand, already teetering dangerously on the edge of an orgasm. it’s embarrassingly quick, but he pays no mind to it as jeongguk finally wraps his hand fully around yoongi’s length and begins stroking him in quick bursts, trying to push him over the edge.

yoongi’s own hand stills, palm pressed to jeongguk’s cock, and he has to squeeze his eyes shut, hips jerking to meet jeongguk’s movements. “ah—fuck,” he gasps, and jeongguk groans into his mouth, kissing at his bottom lip before, with one last stroke, yoongi finally comes undone.

he comes over jeongguk’s hand and his own waterlogged pants, coming down from it with gasping breaths as he finally opens his eyes. jeongguk is already looking at him with hazy eyes, and it’s this sight alone that solidifies just how in love yoongi truly is. he darts forward, pressing their lips together once more as he rouses himself, rubbing at jeongguk’s cock once more, before—

“captain?” there’s a loud knock at the door and yoongi swallows down a shriek of surprise, hands flying away from jeongguk as though he’s been burned. breathing hard, they stare at each other as though they both managed to forget that they weren’t alone. but that’s how it used to happen with them. distractions.

the knock sounds again. “captain, i’m so sorry, but we really need some guidance out here.” of course—the two ships are still merely floating in the sea, the cry of hades and the kraken long gone. they need to figure out how to tend to their wounded and dead—including their own injuries, which yoongi is only reminded of now that he thinks of the dull pain in his shoulder and thigh—and how to repair their ships before figuring out a plan on where to go from here.

they’ve captured seokjin and hoseok, but namjoon is still at large. shipwreck island is still theirs to conquer. they can’t stand here and touch each other all day, even if it’s what they want to do.

yoongi swallows tightly when jeongguk takes a small step away from him, feeling as though they’ve been caught doing something they shouldn’t be. and then jeongguk lets out a small giggle, hand flying to his mouth as though surprised by the sound.

“captain—”

“yeah!” calls jeongguk, voice cracking only once before he clears his throat. “sorry, we’re coming.”

yoongi snorts at that, keenly aware of his own situation. when he looks down, he’s a mess, but they don’t have time to finish what they started so he merely tucks himself back into his pants and ties the waistband up again. “sorry,” he says to jeongguk. “you didn’t get to—”

“it’s fine,” says jeongguk, but his cheeks are pink. the truth is, yoongi would give anything to be able to stay in this room rather than have to face their crews and reality. now that he and jeongguk have told the truth, falling back together, it’s like everything has shifted. this is still about the job he has to do, but he still can’t resist pushing off of the desk and grabbing the front of jeongguk’s shirt to tug him in for another kiss.

“i’ll take care of it later,” he promises. “if—i mean, if you want me to. if you’re not too mad at me.”

“i want you to,” says jeongguk firmly. that’s all yoongi needs to hear. the confirmation that they can be together again, at least for now. they’ll have to talk, probably, even if they’re not the best at that.

for now, yoongi just grins at him, leaning up for one last kiss. this one is softer than all the rest. “okay,” he whispers when he steps away, finally letting go of jeongguk. “see you out there, captain.”

“commander,” replies jeongguk, but there’s a pleased grin on his face.

and when he walks out of this room, he’ll still be greeted with death and destruction and two crews needing direction. they’ll still have to capture kim namjoon. but at the end of the day, it’s always going to be a little easier with jeongguk at his side.

for the first time, when he pulls open the door and walks out onto the deck, yoongi feels like he belongs there knowing jeongguk is right there with him—the way it’s supposed to be. the way it has been.

the way it will be.

Chapter Text

“what’s this one from?” jeongguk asks, softly running the pad of his finger over the raised edges of a puckered scar curling over yoongi’s left shoulder blade. he can feel goosebumps raising on yoongi’s bare skin where jeongguk touches him, mesmerized by the way yoongi’s body reacts to him—still reacts to him, even four years later.

they’re pressed together until jeongguk’s sheets, yoongi lying on his front and jeongguk tucked into his side, their legs tangled together and jeongguk studying the expanse of yoongi’s back. it’s a mess of scars and tattoos, only some that jeongguk is familiar with. a few days ago, when he’d first all of this, he’d felt a twinge of sadness knowing that he’d missed four years’ worth of scars and tattoos and stories. four years of yoongi’s life.

and it still makes him sad. but now there’s the weight of anticipation and excitement, too, to learn all of it. to relearn yoongi. they’ve wasted so much time being angry with each other, but now, finally, they have the opportunity to make up for it.

yoongi turns his head toward jeongguk, his face pressed into his folded arms. “hm?” he asks.

“this one,” repeats jeongguk, running his finger over the scar to trace its shape. “i haven’t seen it before.”

when yoongi speaks, his voice is low and gravely, still wrapped up in sleep and, dare jeongguk say it lest it makes his heart beat too quickly—comfort. home. “two years ago,” he says. “got into a bar fight with some idiot who was talking shit and it got nasty. stabbed me with a broken bottle when i was walking away.”

jeongguk frowns, trying to imagine it—the fight and yoongi’s angry, tired face. the blood running down his back, glass stuck into his skin as he tried to fix it. did he have someone to do it for him? or was he alone? and if jeongguk had been there—here, the sorrow threatens to overwhelm him, knowing only the beginning of what he’s missed, what he could have stopped or been there for—he forces himself to stop thinking of it. he’ll drive himself mad if he does. instead, he leans down, pressing a kiss over the scar as if he can retroactively take away some of yoongi’s pain.

yoongi hums, the sound vibrating through him. jeongguk kisses the scar again, just for good measure.

it’s only been a few days—since their battle with the cry of hades and since their dampened victory. after disposing of their dead, fixing what they could of their damaged ships, and regrouping, they set sail once more for shipwreck island, now with kim seokjin, jung hoseok, and a handful of their crew in tow. jeongguk still can’t believe their luck, although luck might not be the right word for it. they had a secret weapon all along, one that caused sacrifice and death and loss. but it also caused their victory.

jeongguk merely chooses not to think of jimin, at least not now. somehow, they’re still alive. and he and yoongi have finally admitted the truth. their relationship still feels like it has a time limit, knowing that once they capture kim namjoon, they’ll be forced to go their separate ways. or—maybe not. they haven’t spoken about it. for now, jeongguk wants to pretend that they do have all the time in the world, that they haven’t had to carve out a space for themselves in the midst of tragedy and opposing forces.

for now, here in his bed with min yoongi beside him, it’s so goddamn easy to pretend. outside of those doors is a crew doing their jobs to sail to shipwreck island, but that’s a thought for another time. he wants to soak up everything yoongi can give him—all of that love he’s had to survive without for four years—so that when they inevitably must part again, it might hurt less. they have four years to make up for now. they’ll arrive at shipwreck island within another three days. and for those three days, jeongguk will pretend that nothing else exists but this.

it took him so long to lower those walls he’d put up around his heart. and maybe he should still be upset with yoongi. maybe this still isn’t allowed. but he’s a pirate. he’s always been good at saying fuck the rules.

he dances his fingers over yoongi’s skin until he reaches another unfamiliar piece. “what’s this tattoo mean?” he asks, tracing the ink. it’s at the top of yoongi’s spine, black ink marred only slightly by a scar that cuts through it. it’s a bird—although tattoos of birds aren’t uncommon among pirates.

quietly, yoongi says, “it’s a starling.”

jeongguk tries not to suck in a breath, running his fingers over the edge of the tattoo. it needs no further explanation—starling, the bird for which jeongguk is named. it needs no further explanation, too, that yoongi got the tattoo only after he and jeongguk had parted. it makes jeongguk want to cry, but he chooses instead to be grateful for it—for yoongi’s unwavering love for him, his loyalty, his hope of finding jeongguk again for years after they’d fallen apart.

“now i feel kind of stupid,” says jeongguk. “i didn’t get your pirate name tattooed.”

yoongi snorts. “how would that even work? a mouth spitting fire?”

“that would be pretty cool, actually.” when yoongi rolls over a little to look at him properly, there’s a lazy grin on his lips. he looks at jeongguk the way he has been for weeks now, but now jeongguk is finally able to recognize that it’s this new sort of love. they can’t have what they had years ago, but maybe they shouldn’t have that. maybe this should be something new, something shaped and strengthened by their history and their pain.

for weeks, he’s wanted to kiss that grin whenever yoongi looks at him. and now he can—so he does. jeongguk leans in, giggling lightly before he presses his lips to yoongi’s. each time is still like the first time, a crackle of want shooting down his spine when yoongi kisses him back, shifting so he can lay a hand against jeongguk’s neck.

in truth, they shouldn’t be doing this—for more reasons than one. they can’t let anyone know or even suspect the truth of their relationship lest they have to face the consequences of it. and now that minsoo is dead, the member of yoongi’s crew who was closest to him and seemed to have a certain understanding of the two of them, jeongguk doesn’t trust anyone else with this secret. they should probably be out on the deck, directing their crew rather than wasting the early hours of the morning here.

and more practically—both of them are injured. between hoseok, whom they forced to cooperate under threat of death, and the remaining surgeon between jeongguk’s and yoongi’s crews, yoongi’s shoulder and thigh were tended to and patched up. he won’t die, as long as they take good care of the wounds. and jeongguk’s face has been bandaged, although there’s nothing they can do to stop it from scarring. yoongi told him he’ll look even more badass than usual, but jeongguk isn’t keen on having a half-finished masterpiece on his cheek for the rest of his life.

they’re not meant to disturb their healing wounds. but even the slight pain of pulling on the wound as he kisses yoongi is worth it. he’d fuck up his face wounds a thousand times to kiss yoongi just like this—soft and careful and slow, with all the time in the world, finally. within these walls, they can finally exist like this. as long as they’re here, the spell won’t be broken.

something makes yoongi grin into their kiss, and jeongguk can feel it, can feel the way his lips curl upward. he pulls away, running his thumb over yoongi’s bottom lip as he asks, “what?”

yoongi leans forward again, brushing their noses together. unbidden, jeongguk remembers he used to do that a lot, years ago. it makes heat pool in jeongguk’s stomach, all of these old habits falling back into place. they’ve grown and are older now, have new scars and tattoos and memories, have been hardened with pain—but in the end, some things just don’t change.

“just thinking,” says yoongi. “about you.”

jeongguk’s cheeks burn. “care to share?”

yoongi pulls away enough to look him in the eye, thumb rubbing along jeongguk’s jawline. oh, they’ve wasted so much time. jeongguk has lost four years of getting to do this—waste lazy mornings in bed with yoongi, kissing him in the soft light, memorizing every part of his face. and they still can’t have a normal life like other people might, but this is enough. all jeongguk has ever really wanted was a ship of his own and yoongi by his side. finally, for the first time, he does have that. he won’t let go of it so easily.

“you know i love you, right?” asks yoongi.

and jeongguk does know. he knows because yoongi tells him, because they’re finally here—but he knows in so many other ways. if he thinks about it, yoongi has been telling him since the very beginning. trying to protect him, taking care of him when yoongi himself has been paralyzed with fear. doing so much to keep jeongguk safe, even knowing jeongguk is still a prisoner. putting them on equal ground, finding him. searching for him. everywhere he looks, jeongguk sees it.

still—“tell me again,” he says, stealing another kiss.

yoongi grins at him, rolling them over until jeongguk is on his back and yoongi can lean over him, kissing his lips as he says, “i love you,” and then the corner of his mouth as he repeats, “i love you,” and then again and again—to his bandaged cheek, to his left eyelid and then his right, to his forehead, to his cupid’s bow, to his chin. jeongguk doesn’t think he could ever forget again.

when yoongi gets dangerously close to wandering too far from his lips, jeongguk curls his hand into yoongi’s hair and guides him back up. and as much as jeongguk wouldn’t mind getting a little filthier now, it’s probably not a good idea when they’re running on borrowed time to begin with. any moment now, one of jeongguk’s crew will knock on the door and demand assistance or guidance with something. they were already interrupted once and he isn’t keen on a repeat.

instead, yoongi kisses his mouth again, just one more kiss to make up for the past four years of being apart. there are so many more to go.

fitting himself against jeongguk’s side, yoongi wraps his arm around jeongguk’s stomach and nuzzles into his neck. he lets out a breathy sigh, one of pure contentment. “let’s stay here,” he murmurs. “just sail around forever.”

jeongguk laughs, curling his arm around yoongi’s head where it’s pillowing it and plays with yoongi’s hair. “i don’t think that’s possible, unfortunately. but… maybe after shipwreck island.” it’s dangerous territory to venture into, especially knowing the reality of their situation—yoongi is still a commander and jeongguk is still a pirate, even if they’re in love. “we can figure out a way to be together.”

yoongi kisses his neck. “yeah,” he says. “i’d like that.”

“we won’t even need a crew. it could just be the two of us.”

“what if someone attacked us?”

“we’re the only pirates to defeat the cry of hades,” says jeongguk. “everyone else should be running scared.”

yoongi hums, hand tracing patterns on jeongguk’s bare side as he continues to press small kisses into his neck. jeongguk assumes he won’t have to remind yoongi not to leave marks, at least on visible parts of his body. necks are off-limits, but thighs, for example, are fair game. extremely fair game.

“after all of this is over,” murmurs yoongi, “it can be just be the two of us. i promise.”

it seems—empty, somehow. the truth, which yoongi knows as well as jeongguk, is that they won’t just be able to sail off together and have what they want. they won’t be able to be together like this, not unless yoongi manages to make some sort of deal with the king. maybe he can just quit his job and not have the government watching his every move. maybe he can defect and run away, and he and jeongguk can be halfway across the world before anyone realizes.

whatever it is—jeongguk wants to pretend they can do it. wants to believe that promise, just for now. so he grins, turning his head to press a kiss to yoongi’s forehead. “still have to get kim namjoon for that, though,” he sighs. “i have no idea what to do about that.”

beyond the triumph of defeating the cry of hades and the joy of having yoongi once again, there still lies the imposing doom of sailing to shipwreck island to capture kim namjoon. the problem still remains: if jeongguk shows his face on the island, he’ll be captured and possibly killed. if anyone from the military shows their face, they’ll be immediately killed. if anyone finds out that yoongi and jeongguk defeated the cry of hades and have been capturing pirates along the way, their ships will be burned to the ground and then they’ll be killed.

but namjoon is the last piece of their puzzle. if they capture namjoon, jeongguk can finally go free. they could be together.

here, yoongi lets go of him, rolling away and sighing as he watches the ceiling for a brief minute. then he props himself up on his good arm, watching jeongguk intently. “we’ll figure something out,” he says. “we’ve gotten the other four, so we can get namjoon, too.”

“we already failed once.”

“jeon jeongguk,” says yoongi. “i would fail to capture kim namjoon one hundred times if it meant the one hundredth and first time was the one we succeed at to keep you safe. i would sail across the world and fight ten crews like the cry of hades to help you gain your freedom. i would do all of this as long as it takes to be with you.”

jeongguk blinks away wet eyes, lips curving upward against his will. “why did it have to be like this, hyung?” he asks.

yoongi reaches over and moves jeongguk’s hair away from his eyes. “i don’t know,” he says. “but i’m choosing to look on the bright side. and the bright side says we’re going to find kim namjoon.”

“it’s still impossible,” sighs jeongguk. “we can’t go onto shipwreck island without being caught and probably killed. but i don’t know how to be sneaky about it without risking everything falling apart.”

“namjoon went to shipwreck island because he knows it’s the only place he has a chance of evading us,” says yoongi. “it’s the only place he thinks he’s safe from you. so… he expects that if you do decide to take the risk of coming to shipwreck island, you’ll try to be sneaky and trick him or lure him out. he’ll expect you to go undercover.”

jeongguk groans. “it would just be so much easier if i could just show up and demand that they hand namjoon over. but we tried that once and it didn’t work.”

something in that sentence makes yoongi pause. he tilts his head at jeongguk, almost like a curious dog, and then says, “hold on… why can’t you do that? they think that you’re going to be so afraid of showing your face on shipwreck island and that you’ll avoid doing so at all costs. but we can’t do what they expect. what if we try to catch them off-guard instead? pull a power move and just show up without being sneaky, without being tricky. just walk onto shipwreck island guns blazing.”

“that’s a suicide mission, hyung,” says jeongguk, leaning up on his elbows. “they’ll capture me and then i’ll be useless as they try to kill me again.”

“exactly. they’ll be looking everywhere for you, waiting for you to turn up. they’ll be on edge thinking that every pirate on that island could be you. so why don’t you give them what they want? we already know what they’re going to do, so we can turn back the narrative. we can have our own plan, use their plan to our advantage.” yoongi’s eyes are bright in a way they always are when he’s coming up with plans like this, strategies. despite his confusion and apprehension, jeongguk has to resist the urge to lean over and kiss yoongi again. “if we do what they don’t expect, they won’t know how to control the situation,” says yoongi.

“i’ll never be able to find namjoon that way,” says jeongguk.

“who says you’re the one who has to find namjoon?”

jeongguk’s eyes narrow. “what are you talking about?”

“jeongguk, no one there will know that we defeated the cry of hades,” says yoongi, looking excited now. “they won’t know that kim seokjin and jung hoseok are ours.

he swallows tightly. they’d managed to get taehyung and jimin on their side, but the chances of convincing seokjin and hoseok to help them capture namjoon are slim. unless—“leave them to me,” says jeongguk, already nodding. “i bet i can convince them to help us.” he’s had a vague plan for weeks now, once that he’ll have to put into action now. it’s as good a time as any.

“good,” says yoongi. “you think that being sneaky is the only way we can do this, and i think that pulling a power move on them is the best idea.” the look in yoongi’s eyes is almost terrifying now, dangerous and devious and enough to make jeongguk’s insides stir with want. “why can’t we do both?”

it’s not the first time jeongguk has been to shipwreck island, but the sight of the city still leaves him breathless when it comes into view. a massive structure in the middle of the open sea, shipwreck island is aptly named; it’s built entirely out of shipwrecks, whether whole ships or mere pieces, the bottom of which stretches perhaps even to the bottom of the sea. from the outside, the island stretches hundreds of feet high, the ships taking up a good square mile of the sea and towering higher and higher in impossible feats, as though the hand of god was the one to stack them that way.

he knows that upon entering the island, there will be roads, of sorts, constructed from the decks of ships, and buildings housed in the bellies of other ships. the island has its own trading system, markets, places to gamble and drink. pirates come to spend time away from the rest of their world, where they are becoming increasingly hunted down and eradicated. here, on shipwreck island, no other system of laws exists. only what pirates believe and what pirates want—which can change as quickly as the sky from clear to stormy.

pirates come to be entertained, to settle bets, to kill and be killed without consequences. the island is run by pirate code, which can be flimsy at times anyway. no one will notice if a pirate goes missing on one end of the island among the throng of ships docked at the harbour, waiting to sail onward to pillage for another treasure.

but worst of all—here is where the brethren court of the pirate kings meet. long ago, when the pirate code was first put into place, it was done so by one pirate from each continent, a captain chosen to represent their people well. since then, the brethren court has met once a year, the captains meeting in order to discuss pressing issues. more often than not, there is only one or two of the pirate kings on the island at a time, staying to run things and listen to pirates who come for advice or facing trial.

jeongguk can remember that all too well. once a pirate has been labeled as a breaker of the pirate code by the kings, they can no longer show their face on the island in fear of immediately being killed for it. it’s been over a year since jeongguk was brought before the brethren court—and he knows that by now, his name and face will be in the back of everyone’s minds as he soon as he steps onto that island. but yoongi is right—he can’t sneak around. they expect him to either not show up or to do so in disguise.

so he’s not going to do either of those things.

he’s here for kim namjoon. if he gets kim namjoon, all of this will finally be over and he can go free. all that stands between jeongguk and his freedom now is an island of shipwrecks, a group of very powerful and dangerous pirates who want him dead, and one man who will stop at nothing to not be captured.

the odds of succeeding, much like with fighting the cry of hades, aren’t in his favour. but jeongguk has no other choice and now he has nothing more to lose. he and yoongi hatched a good plan, one that he has to trust the others will execute. this journey, if anything, has been about teaching jeongguk how to trust again. first yoongi, now the rest of their crews. and their own prisoners. if they betray him, he’ll probably die. but he had a good chance of dying anyway. and now, finally—he’s less afraid of it. now that he has yoongi back, he doesn’t want to die, but they’ve said what they needed to say.

at least he won’t die with regrets.

at night, shipwreck island looks even more foreboding. the cloud cover overhead keeps the moon from providing any light, meaning it’s only the torches on the island lighting the way. everything is orange, awash in fire and heat and something that looks a lot like what jeongguk imagines hell to be. but kim namjoon is a sneaky devil and the one way to find him is to follow him right into the pit of despair.

the ship slows to a stop as they get closer to the island, coasting into the harbour next to the other pirate ships anchored there. they can do so with the mourning star, but yoongi’s military vessel has been left further away so that it won’t be seen. from there is where seokjin, hoseok, and taehyung will take off from. jeongguk closes his eyes, taking a deep breath as he reminds himself to trust them. he said his piece to them yesterday, and if they don’t want to trust him, he understands. but they’re pirates—and pirates look out for their own.

when jeongguk opens his eyes again, he’s met with the looming sight of shipwreck island. he already knows where to go—one particular ship, entirely intact, sits in the middle of the city, serving as the chamber for the brethren court. that is where his enemies will be. that might even be where kim namjoon will be.

a presence at his side draws jeongguk attention and he turns to see yoongi standing beside him, dressed once more in his pirate clothing. finally, this almost feels like it once did. “okay?” asks yoongi.

“don’t really have a choice,” says jeongguk. “but yeah. yeah, i’ll be fine.”

“remember the plan,” yoongi reminds him. “in just a few hours, we’ll be far away from here. and it’ll be over.” the unspoken end to it, which jeongguk knows they’re both thinking of: and we can be together again. maybe it’s not the truth. but it’s a promise that he’ll hang onto anyway, because it’s what will motivate him most to get this right. even if it’s not true, what does it matter if it helps him? if it’s what forces him to take those risks, to get over the fear of what might happen?

everyone one this island wants him dead. but yoongi—yoongi wants him to live so badly that jeongguk can feel it radiating off of him, their arms brushing in lieu of being able to do what they truly want while in front of jeongguk’s crew. and jeongguk wants what yoongi wants.

pressing closer, under the cover of night, jeongguk hooks his pinkie around yoongi’s. he curls it into a silent promise, a reminder, everything that says i love you i love you i love you enough to come back alive. he thinks that yoongi knows. he thinks that yoongi has always known and all it took was voicing it for either of them to remember.

“captain,” says a voice from behind them—his navigator. jeongguk turns to look at him. “we’re anchored and in position. you’re free to go ashore.”

jeongguk takes a deep breath, and then turns to look at yoongi. and yoongi grins, just a little. means i know. jeongguk squeezes his finger again before he lets go, stepping back so he can flip up the collar of his coat. if these pirate kings want jeongguk, they’ll have jeongguk. if they want a show, they’ll have a goddamn show. jeongguk is here for kim fucking namjoon and he’s not leaving without him.

he climbs down from the ship, landing on the dock with a dull thud of his boots. there are no pirates on the docks, no one to haul him in, but jeongguk always did know how to draw attention to himself. he walks along the docks, the island seemingly silent and empty—and it’s just him. that’s how all of this started: just jeongguk. at the last second, he turns back to look at his ship, spotting yoongi standing at the railing and watching him.

now, jeongguk isn’t really alone. and he never really was, even during those four years. but it still feels better to see it. he knows, anyway, that yoongi will be following him, will be watching him. it’s up to yoongi, in a way, to make sure this doesn’t get out of hand. and this time, there’s no hesitation in jeongguk’s mind when he decides that he trusts yoongi.

yoongi gives him a salute before disappearing into the darkness, leaving jeongguk alone on the docks. jeongguk takes a deep breath, steadying his nerves, and then turns around, facing the city.

he pulls out his pistol, cocks it, and shoots a bullet into the sky. the resounding crack of the gun going off reverberates through his own ears and through the island, no doubt drawing the attention of anyone nearby. jeongguk smirks. “hey, dumbfucks!” he shouts. “take me to your leaders!”

the second time jeongguk is brought before the pirate kings is much like the first time—it’s the same abandoned ship that has been gutted and turned into a hall fit for the pirates who are chosen to rule on the pirate code; he stands in what used to be the underbelly of the ship, a chandelier of candles hanging over a long wooden table with an array of chairs (thrones) around it. the room is decorated with maps and pieces of paper detailing the pirate code in countless languages, pieces of artwork and statues and treasures that the kings have donated to shipwreck island in order to be allowed entrance in the first place.

so much is the same: the room, the low lighting. there are only three of the pirate kings present now, and none of them are the ones that tried to kill him last time. not that it matters; an enemy of one pirate king is the enemy of all of them. there’s still that foreboding feeling of being in the presence of royalty; jeongguk has never stood before the korean king, but it might feel something like this. still, he reminds himself that these kings are merely pirates like him. they may be older and more experienced and they may have ruling power, but that power was given to them completely arbitrarily.

jeongguk is the one who defeated the cry of hades. right now, he feels powerful enough to be a king himself.

and that, too, is the one thing that truly differs from the first time he stood before the brethren court: jeongguk isn’t afraid. he’s been worried for days, since taehyung first mentioned that namjoon ran to shipwreck island. he knows what these pirates would do to him given the chance, but standing here, he realizes he isn’t afraid of them. they expected him to be afraid, to sneak around, to run and cower at the first sign of trouble.

but yoongi is right—jeongguk isn’t some silly cabin boy who fears danger and pirates. he’s captain jeon jeongguk. he’s the starling. and he’s doing all of this on his own damn terms.

he has his plan. as long as he can stall for long enough here, he doesn’t have anything to worry about.

the pirates holding onto jeongguk let go of him as they march him up to the table, saying something to the three kings there in a language he doesn’t understand. it’s probably something like we found him yelling on the docks about wanting to speak to you and he’s fucking crazy, who actually does that?

either way, jeongguk grins at the three pirates.

“jeon jeongguk.” it’s li xuiying who speaks—the pirate king of asia currently. she’s chinese but speaks fluent korean, eliminating the need for a translator. jeongguk regards her carefully; she’s probably his mother’s age, a legendary pirate for her dealings with the chinese military. when he was younger, jeongguk idolized her. now she probably wants to kill him.

“captain li,” he says, bowing. “your highness.”

“what do you think you’re doing here?” she asks. the other two kings, neither of whom jeongguk recognizes, watch him with dark eyes. this might just be fun. “the last time you were on shipwreck island, you were sentenced to death and escaped by a hair. and now you’ve returned, willingly giving yourself up to the brethren court.” li leans forward in her chair, folding her hands together. “i’m beginning to think you’re a glutton for punishment.”

“well, see,” says jeongguk, beginning to wander around the room. he comes to a map of the pacific ocean hung on the wall, examining it with his hands clasped behind his back. “i happened to be in the area. and i do remember quite clearly what happened the last time i was here, but then i got the idea that maybe something can be done about that.” he begins a path around the perimeter of the ship, running his finger over the dusty top of a small treasure box mounted to the wall. inspecting the dust on his fingers, jeongguk rubs it anyway with a frown. “don’t you think something can be done about it?”

when he glances at li, along with the other two kings, he realizes something that sends a thrill up his spine: they’re not looking at him like he’s their prisoner, despite the fact that he was willingly captured and is outnumbered by the three kings in the room, along with the two guards stationed by the door. no, they’re looking at him with both bewilderment and just a hint of fear. yoongi was right about this power move—they don’t know what to expect with jeongguk anymore. they don’t know what he has in mind, why he’s acting the way he is. the kings might objectively hold more power than jeongguk, but jeongguk is the one in charge here.

“i’m a pirate, your royal highnesses,” he continues, moving around the room and examining the artifacts on the walls. “and i don’t exactly appreciate the attitude that our own brethren court holds toward me. you’re meant to be our rulers of a sort, but i feel very disrespected considering i’ve hardly done anything wrong.”

“you know what you’ve done, jeon,” argues li. “you were brought before the brethren court and tried for your actions. do you think trying to argue with us now will change anything?”

of course not—but that’s not what jeongguk says. because jeongguk isn’t actually here to try and change his fate. he doesn’t care about if the pirate kings want to kill him or not; as long as he stays away from shipwreck island, they have no real hold on him. he’s just here to kill time. and the more he talks, the more he argues, the more time he’s able to give to the pirates executing the second part of this plan.

all he has to do is keep fucking talking until yoongi shows up. and as it turns out, jeongguk is very good at bullshitting.

“think about it,” says jeongguk, turning to look at the kings again. “we have pirates on our seas who are breaking every part of the pirate code. pirates who kill other pirates merely for the fun of it, running down ships who are just trying to sail from one coast to another. and instead of going after them, you choose to target me? just for wanting a little revenge on the people who hurt me? i haven’t even killed any of them. i just steal a treasure chest here, set a ship on fire there. who fucking cares?”

one of the other kings speaks, a language jeongguk recognizes but knows not a single word of. li seems to understand it, though, because she hums before saying, “we have to start somewhere. believe me, we are aware that the danger those pirates pose to our world is. but we don’t compare crimes. anyone who breaks the pirate code must be punished.”

“then punish them too.”

“we’re working on it. the cry of hades isn’t an easy ship to battle.”

the mention of the cry of hades almost makes jeongguk grin; it certainly isn’t an easy ship to battle. but this just confirms that the pirate kings don’t know that they have been defeated. jeongguk tilts his head, coming to rest next to the table. “you wouldn’t kill kim seokjin anyway,” he says. “you know his father used to be a pirate king, don’t you?”

the kings shift uncomfortably. of course, jeongguk—along with any pirate with a brain—knows this is why the cry of hades hasn’t been stopped. because the cry of hades hasn’t just been run by any string of captains, but a string of captains within the kim family. they’ve always been protected from the brethren court because when they rose to power and terror, kim seokjin’s father was already a pirate king. and although the man has since died, his memory is enough to protect seokjin and his crew from the threat and wrath of the brethren court.

politics.

“this isn’t about kim seokjin,” says li. “this is about you, jeongguk. about the punishment you are due. and now that you’re here, having foolishly handed yourself over, we can dole it out.”

not yet. it hasn’t been nearly enough time. “but first,” says jeongguk, holding up his hand. “i did come here for more than just this. i believe someone i want is hiding here on shipwreck island.” he raises his eyebrows, leaning forward before whispering, “kim namjoon.

all three of the kings laugh. again, the name is universal—and they all know as well as jeongguk just as elusive namjoon is. even now, jeongguk feels a spike of anxiety remembering this is already his second attempt at capturing namjoon, as well as knowing that it’s not up to him to find namjoon at all.

it’s risky, of course, this plan of theirs. but somewhere out there on this island are kim seokjin, jung hoseok, and kim taehyung. armed with weapons and knowledge, set free with no other pirate or military officer to keep them in check—not even yoongi. somewhere out there right now, they’re looking for namjoon. and jeongguk knows all too well the threat they pose; if this goes wrong and they turn against him, all of them could sail off and leave him to die here. the past weeks of his life, nearly dying more than once, losing jimin would be all for nought. but he did make them such a big promise.

and there’s always the pirate code. pirates help each other—an eye for an eye. this is the only chance they have.

“what do you want kim namjoon for?” asks li. “if you kill him here, there will be consequences.”

“oh, i don’t want to kill him,” laughs jeongguk. he tries to see out of the window at the top of one of the walls, like he might be able to see yoongi out of it. “i just wanna talk. and i heard that he’s here, so i really thought i could just ask you where he is and you’d let me know and i’d be on my merry way.”

li barks out a laugh. “hilarious,” she says. “i tire of this.”

“let me tell you a story, captain,” says jeongguk, pulling out of the chairs around the table—one of the thrones belonging to another pirate king. when he sits in it, he sees the other three recoil, so offended by his action, but then jeongguk makes it worse by propping his feet up on the table, crossing his legs as he leans back. stall for time, stall for time, he has to keep stalling for time—“a story about captain kim namjoon.

and then he begins talking. he starts with how he first learned of kim namjoon, years ago when he was still on the hangman’s daughter. he talks about the mutiny, how his plans for revenge eventually led him to namjoon. he talks about their deal, how namjoon broke it, how jeongguk fled. he doesn’t mention trying to capture namjoon to help the korean military, but he just keeps going and going, completely nonchalant as he tries to fill as much time as possible.

shipwreck island isn’t big, but there are so many places for namjoon to hide. when jeongguk spoke to them, hoseok and seokjin admitted they would have a few ideas of where to find him—because the three of them are closer acquaintances than taehyung is with any of them. it won’t be hard, said seokjin, for him to trust us. even in that, there was something hard in his eyes: he didn’t want to do it. in that moment, jeongguk felt how he thought yoongi might have upon telling jeongguk he would have to trick jimin into being captured: that’s his friend. that’s his friend and he had to betray him.

but the promise jeongguk made was enough. and he knows that seokjin, hoseok, and taehyung will have little trouble getting what they want; they’re notorious for a reason, well-known particularly around here. he has to trust that they’ll be able to find namjoon and bring him back to the mourning star without trouble.

the problem is that he doesn’t know how long it takes. once the pirates are in possession of namjoon, yoongi is supposed to break him out of this, but there are so many things that could go wrong. all he knows is that he has to keep talking until yoongi shows up.

but after another ten and then fifteen minutes, jeongguk knows that the pirates are losing their patience. he’s just started on an argument about why the pirate code should be eradicated all together when li finally stands up, her chair scraping against the wood of the floor. “that’s enough,” she snaps at jeongguk. “i’m getting tired of your blabbering, jeon. you won’t have kim namjoon no matter what you say to us and you won’t be changing our minds about punishing you.”

jeongguk curses under his breath, rapidly trying to think of something to stall; out of the window, he sees nothing but darkness infiltrated by orange firelight, and he knows he can’t get out of here alone, can’t risk ruining the plan when they need namjoon first—

“jeon jeongguk, you are to be punished for breaking the pirate code,” says li, and the two guards who were by the door are suddenly flanking him, pulling him out of the chair and dragging him toward her.

“wait—” jeongguk begins.

“you betrayed your crew by seeking revenge on them for making a decision they were well within their right to make,” continues li, making her way to the side of the table and unsheathing her sword, and jeongguk’s heart claws into his throat, beating so wildly that he might pass out as he realizes what’s about to happen. “for your betrayal and lack of honour as a pirate, you will be punished with utmost severity.”

“no, wait,” shouts jeongguk, trying to struggle against the guards even as they force him onto his knees in front of li, holding his hands behind his back. he growls, trying to shove at least one of them off. “wait, please—”

“jeon jeongguk, you have been sentenced to death a—”

stop!” jeongguk shrieks, finally managing to knock one of the guards away from him, the woman careening into the nearest chair. although the other guard, immediately detains both of his arms, jeongguk still looks up at li with pure panic in his eyes. “stop, just—just listen for a second. you don’t have to kill me.”

“you broke the pirate code.”

“i’ll stop!” jeongguk heart hammers in his chest. he can’t die. he can’t die. “i’ll stop the revenge thing. i won’t even think about going after any of them anymore. i’ll—i’ll lay low for a while, i’ll be good. please, just—punish me another way. punish me as a warning and then let me go. please, i didn’t even hurt anyone.”

li watches him, movements halted. her sword is still pointed toward him, deathly sharp and waiting to bite into the supple flesh of his neck, to end all of this. and he knows that if li or any of the other kings found out the truth of what he’s doing, he’d be dead in an instant; if they’re willing to kill him for stealing some treasure as revenge, then he would have no hope for survival after willingly helping the military capture and execute five notorious pirates.

but they don’t know that. and now li puts his sword down, regarding him.

“please,” jeongguk adds. it’s humiliating to be begging for his life, but he’s so close—so close to all of this ending, to finally gaining his freedom. to being able to have yoongi again, if he tries hard enough. “please, i’m begging you. just punish me with something else.”

as she’s considering it, another pirate enters the room, walking to her side and whispering something in her ear. it makes li smirk—jeongguk’s stomach drops—but then she signals for the guards to let jeongguk stand again. he’s hauled to his feet, arms still held behind his back.

“fine,” she tells him. “just this once, i will listen to your pathetic begging and allow you to live. i’ll punish you severely instead and if you step a toe out of line again, i won’t be so kind.” although relief immediately fills him, it’s tinged with dread; jeongguk has burned so many bridges in the past few weeks. now, once all of this is over, he won’t be able to make a fuss about piracy where the korean military can catch him or he’ll die. he can’t breathe in the direction of shipwreck island or he’ll die. he can’t go to japan or he’ll die.

it might just be better if yoongi executes him, after all.

“not that it matters, anyway,” says li, clearly amused with whatever the other pirate told her. “you won’t get what you came for. it’s come to my attention that kim namjoon is indeed on this island, but he’s with a pair of pirates i doubt you’d ever try to reason with or fight.” jeongguk’s eyes widen. “he was spotted with kim seokjin and jung hoseok. so good luck with that, jeon.”

although li wants the news to be disappointing to him, it’s only relief that fills jeongguk once more. seokjin and hoseok have found namjoon, which is a good sign—it was one of the most difficult parts of this plan. now he just has to trust that they’ll bring him back to the mourning star rather than running the other way. and all jeongguk has to do is last through whatever punishment the pirate kings see fit for his behaviour.

li turns to the other kings, speaking lowly about what jeongguk assumes is his punishment. when they come to an agreement, li turns back to him and instructs the guards to strip him of his shirt. “flogging,” she says. “you’ll be flogged and let go.”

jeongguk’s stomach clenches with anxiety and dread. he’s never been flogged before; it’s not a punishment often used due to its cruel nature, but a captain still reserves the right to flog a member of their crew if the crime befits the punishment. and jeongguk has no choice now—not when it’s between this or death, not when the guards are ripping his shirt open and then dragging him over to where the ships original mast still stands in the center of the room. they push him against it, letting jeongguk hold onto it as he feels his exposed back shiver with goosebumps.

“ten,” says li behind him. he can hear the whip dragging against the ground, eyes squeezing shut as he prepares for it. “or until you pass out, if you can’t take that.”

jeongguk clenches his jaw, tensing as he holds onto the mast, preparing for it, knowing that he has to do this—to be let go, to gain his freedom. he’s already had his face carved up and he’s already lost a best friend. what is ten flogs to his back now, when he’s so close?

but then, just before the whip comes cracking down on his back, there’s a loud commotion by the door. jeongguk opens his eyes to see two guards struggling through it, dragging another man with them, who is shouting and trying to get out of their grasp.

it’s yoongi.

when yoongi spots him, he falls silent, staring at the scene—jeongguk held to the mast, a pirate king behind him with a whip. and of course, this was how their plan was meant to go: once namjoon was found, yoongi would somehow break jeongguk out. he would make a commotion, get captured, too, and then the both of them could run. but it wasn’t supposed to get to this point, where jeongguk is in the midst of punishment. they can’t possibly just run away now, not like this.

jeongguk still has to take his punishment. but now yoongi has to watch.

the guards speak rapidly to li, yoongi struggling weakly in their grip, but his eyes are trained on jeongguk. now, they’re filled with fear—fear and confusion and longing, and jeongguk feels tears prickling at the backs of his own eyes. neither of them says anything. but they already know what’s going to come next.

“what do you think you’re doing?” li finally snaps at yoongi. “causing such a commotion outside of our doors. i’m busy.

“i’ve…” begins yoongi, words failing him. but then he swallows, straightens his back, and just tells the truth: “i’ve come to get jeongguk.”

li barks out a laugh. “a little early for that, boy. he hasn’t been given his punishment yet. but you’re just in time for the show.”

“hyung,” says jeongguk quietly, pleading in his voice. he doesn’t want yoongi to see this, to see him like this—at the mercy of the pirate kings, withstanding a punishment that he rightly deserves. it’s not fair to force yoongi to watch, to see him in such pain, to know that he can’t stop it.

but perhaps what’s worse is that they’re both keenly aware that this could have been prevented. not that yoongi could have shown up earlier and gotten him out before li decided to flog him, but the situation entirely—jeongguk is only here because he wanted to get revenge on the pirates who mutinied him. and four years ago, if yoongi had just gotten off of that ship with him, that might not have happened. or they might have done it together, might have been smarter. might have been able to protect each other.

it’s not yoongi’s fault. jeongguk knows that he’s here because of what he did, the choices he made. but for days now, they’ve been trying to make up for the past four years of what they missed, what they could have had together. they could have had more than this.

“jeongguk, it’s okay,” says yoongi, voice so soft and broken that it nearly makes jeongguk cry.

“oh,” says li, like she’s realizing something. “oh. you’re min yoongi, aren’t you?”

“don’t touch him,” jeongguk snaps, fearing that li might want to punish yoongi for something, too; she might have heard that he defected and became a military man, in which case he’s not ruled by pirate code anymore but would likely be killed for setting foot on the island anyway.

but li doesn’t mention it. she doesn’t mention punishing yoongi at all. she just walks around jeongguk, stopping next to yoongi. “i’ve heard about the two of you,” she says, voice low and taunting. “such a sweet love story you had… and i assume you managed to find each other again, since the last i heard, you were one of those pirates who mutinied him and left him to die.”

“stop it,” says jeongguk, almost growling. “leave him alone, li.”

“this is such a wonderful development,” she laughs. “you came to rescue him, did you? your little boyfriend?” jeongguk jerks against the guards holding him, but yoongi is staring at the floor. “it really was good timing, min. i was about to flog jeongguk, but…” she holds the whip handle out to him. “you’re going to do it instead.”

jeongguk stops struggling, shocked into submission by the command. it’s unthinkable—yoongi being forced to deal out his punishment, yoongi with the one holding that whip. bringing it down upon jeongguk’s back again and again, hurting him. he feels himself trembling as he stares at where li holds out the whip to yoongi, and when yoongi finally looks up, their eyes meeting, there’s nothing but pain on yoongi’s face.

but they both know they can’t refuse. to refuse would mean yoongi might be punished, too.

and still—“please,” he whispers. “li, please.

“do you want more?” snaps li, looking at him as she continues to hold the whip out to yoongi. “you’ll shut up and take your punishment however i decide to give it to you, jeongguk. remember that i could just kill you instead. min, now.” she thrusts the whip into yoongi’s stomach, but yoongi just stares at jeongguk for another hard moment.

he trembles, sweating with fear. he knows yoongi would never want to hurt him, not like that. not after everything they’ve been through, after all they’ve said. but they have no choice. but he needs to know that jeongguk forgives him for it.

so he gives a small nod, letting yoongi know it’s alright. immediately, yoongi takes the handle of the whip, face stony when li leads him behind jeongguk to take his position. as he’s passing by, jeongguk sees the tears that have already welled in yoongi’s eyes, and jeongguk has to squeeze his own eyes shut to ward off his tears.

jeongguk grips the mast, tensing as he waits. and yoongi stands behind him, hand gripping the whip as he watches jeongguk’s bare back. there are scars there already, but these new ones will be the worst of all. and still—the sooner they get this over with, the sooner they can leave. the sooner jeongguk can be free.

almost inaudible, yoongi whispers, “i’m sorry.”

the first crack of the whip against jeongguk’s back is so surprising and painful that jeongguk cries out, lurching further into the mast. he holds it tighter, breathing through clenched teeth as the next hit comes. he groans through this one, trying to maintain his composure as yoongi rains the hits down one after another, hardly giving him time to react to the one before. but it’s for the best—the sooner it’s over, the better. that’s what he tells himself as he cries out with the next hit, pain searing over his back.

he can feel the blood beginning to drip down from the wounds, the hits from the whip hard enough to tear his skin open. he loses track of the number of them, knees almost buckling when yoongi whips him again, but the guards keep him upright. his own tears slip past his closed lids, the pain and agony of it so sharp.

another—then another. he can hear sniffling behind him, knows it’s yoongi hating himself for what he’s doing to jeongguk. and jeongguk wants him to know it’s okay, but he can’t think past the sting of pain as yoongi whips one last time and then li says, “enough.” the whip falls to the ground with a dull thud, jeongguk breathing hard through the sharp pains. his skin is on fire, warm with the blood and wounds marring it.

he can only imagine what his back looks like—ten crisp cuts along his shoulder blades, back, and spine, blood seeping from each of them. he knows what has to happen to make sure it doesn’t get infected, to clean the wounds. they’ll have to douse him in salt water, and the idea of that pain almost brings him to knees prematurely.

“let him go,” commands li and the guards do so. jeongguk sags the moment he’s released, but doesn’t fall all the way to the ground—because yoongi is there, catching him and pulling him upright, careful not to touch the fresh wounds on his back.

jeongguk struggles through the pain to stand up and look at li, a snarl on his face. “happy now?” he grits out.

“extremely,” says li. “you’ve borne your punishment well, jeon. you are free to go. but if you even bend the pirate code again or show your face on this island, you’ll be killed without a second thought. now get out of my sight before i change my mind.”

he wants to say something—wants to spit at her feet, wants to fight. he’s been humiliated and punished, but then yoongi is turning him and leading him out of the room, not giving him a chance. jeongguk is in too much pain to think of anything clever, anyway.

once they’re off of the ship, away from the kings, yoongi immediately turns to him, concern all over his face. “oh my god,” he says. “jeongguk, i’m so sorry. i didn’t—i can’t believe—”

“it’s fine, hyung,” says jeongguk, wincing as a slight breeze irritates the wounds further. no matter which way he moves, it pulls on the wounds, and he knows the only way to deal with this is to let it heal. “it’s not your fault.”

“i should have come earlier.”

“hyung.”

“i should—fuck, i should have known. i shouldn’t have let you go in there alone.”

hyung.” yoongi stops, looking at him. “it’s okay. i forgive you. this is just—what i had to do to win this.” and his back is still torn up, he’s still been flogged and humiliated. but it’s over. when yoongi still looks uncertain, jeongguk tugs him in by the collar of his coat and gives him a firm kiss. “i’ll be fine. we have a surgeon who can help me.”

“speaking of which,” says yoongi, finally letting it go. “they have him. they found namjoon.”

for the first time, a slight smile tugs at jeongguk’s lips. “we did it,” he says. “hyung, we really did it. we got all of them.”

yoongi kisses him again, a little harder. they don’t have time to celebrate now, not when they’re still on shipwreck island and not safely on their way back to korea, but jeongguk allows himself this one moment, this one thing. it fills him up, relief wanting to battle away the tension that he’s been holding in his body since he was first captured on jeju island.

“let’s get back to the ship,” says yoongi. “we still have to get away from here.”

jeongguk hisses again when yoongi grabs his hand and tugs him onward, the movement pulling at the muscles on his back. “fuck, sorry,” says yoongi, already hurrying to take his coat off. “i know it’s not going to stop hurting, but this can at least protect you somewhat.” he gently wraps the coat around jeongguk’s shoulders. the material only lightly touches his back, and that hurts, too, but it is better.

jeongguk offers yoongi a grin. “my hero,” he says, leaning over to kiss yoongi’s cheek.

“c’mon,” says yoongi, gentler this time when he takes jeongguk’s hand. “let’s go home.

home. jeongguk hasn’t had a stable home for fourteen years, since he ran away from his parents and became a cabin boy on the hangman’s daughter. he no longer remembers what it feels like to live any sort of stable life, to have a house to return to at the end of the day. for so long, he’s relied on his ship and his next pillage of treasure to provide for him—to buy him food at the next port, to give him direction on where to go next. the wide open sea has been his home for so long.

but now, suddenly, he thinks of the future—thinks of their possibilities. he could have anything. he could have a ship with yoongi, maybe, could have a home with yoongi. for four years, he’s wandered, lost and alone, so uncertain of where the future would lead. and he’s still just as uncertain, but now he has something: yoongi. and yoongi is still a commander, but surely, surely there can be more, now that they’re in love. now that they’re not afraid of what they can be together.

the hope of it all fills him as he and yoongi make their way through shipwreck island for the last time, fingers loosely tangled between them. being a pirate has never been easy, particularly in the battles and the act of losing the people closest to him. but it’s always been worth it. for the first time in so long, he finally sees some direction for his life, some hope of happiness in the future. he and yoongi will have to talk about it, of course. but when he looks at yoongi, there’s the smallest of grins on his lips, and jeongguk can’t help but believe they might be thinking the same thing.

once they get back to the mourning star, kim namjoon safely in their grasp, they can finally be together for the rest of their lives, the way they were always meant to be.

but then they round the last corner, the helm of a ship jutting out in the street in an attempt to guide them toward the gambling hall it now holds, and jeongguk sees the harbour where they anchored his ship.

it’s chaos. there are pirates running on the docks, scrambling this way and that—mainly running away from the docks, but there appears to be a fight going on as well: pirates with their swords drawn, guns firing bullets into the night. jeongguk comes to a halt, staring at the horrific sight before him.

because half of the ships in the harbour are on fire. anchored among them, despite having been a mile away the last time jeongguk checked, is yoongi’s military vessel. and next to it, recognizable to jeongguk even on fire, flames licking up its mast and over the delicate wood of its body—is the mourning star.

jeongguk’s ship is burning.

“what the fuck,” yoongi whispers. and jeongguk doesn’t entertain that question before he starts running, taking off toward the docks and the burning ships. he hears yoongi shouting behind him, footsteps thundering as he follows, but he ignores that—ignores when yoongi’s coat falls from his shoulders, ignores the stinging pains as his movement pulls at his wounds. all he can smell is the acrid smoke in the air, hear the shouts and clanging of swords and crackling of his ship going up in flames.

his ship. his beloved home, the one piece of his life that he’s actually proud of. he repurposed that ship with his own hands, made himself its captain. and now, when he skids onto the docks and stares up at the ship, he already knows he can’t save it. the mourning star is dying.

yoongi almost runs into him, grabbing onto his arm. “jeongguk, come on!” he shouts. “you’re going to get killed.” on cue, yoongi has to pull hm away from a stray sword flying in their direction. when jeongguk thinks to look around at the people fighting, he recognizes many of them—some of them are the remainder of his crew, along with yoongi’s. but most of them are the remainder of the cry of hades, the pirates they imprisoned on yoongi’s ship.

they must have escaped. and now they’ve set the entire harbour on fire, and both of their ships are going up in flames and he has no idea where seokjin and hoseok and taehyung have gone with namjoon, and jeongguk feels himself begin to hyperventilate as yoongi drags him down the docks, away from the fire and fighting, yelling things that jeongguk isn’t listening to.

they were so close. just a minute ago, he was fantasizing about the future and now it’s all literally burning to the ground, and—and—

“jeongguk-ah!” yoongi shouts, shaking him. “look!” he points toward a ship a little further away from the action, safely among ships that have yet to catch on fire. it’s moving, slowly being pushed away from the harbour, and when jeongguk focuses through the panic and fear, he sees that one of the men onboard is kim namjoon.

“not again!” jeongguk yells, immediately running for the ship. this time, yoongi doesn’t try to stop him, instead racing after him. by the time they get to the ship, the rope ladder over the side is just being pulled up but jeongguk leaps for it, grabbing onto the last rung and forcing it down again as he begins climbing. he trusts that yoongi is right behind him, but right now, this is about jeongguk. this is about jeongguk’s freedom, about the promise he made to this back-stabbing pirates.

he will not let them win.

jeongguk vaults over the side of the ship, drawing his sword as he comes face to face with the four prisoners he needs to secure his freedom. seokjin is already at the helm of the ship, preparing to steer them out of the harbour; hoseok and taehyung are busy unfurling the sails and tightening the rigging; and kim namjoon is stumbling away from him, already drawing his own sword.

but oh, jeongguk isn’t fucking afraid of him. he’s not afraid of any of them.

“what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” he snaps at them. yoongi climbs onto the ship behind him. they’re still outnumbered two to one, but jeongguk already knows he’s angry enough to take down at least one of these stupid fucking pirates without getting a scratch on him. he’s been flogged once today, after all.

and anyway—either he brings these pirates to the king or he dies. he has nothing to lose in a battle, not anymore.

“oh, for god’s sake,” seokjin groans from the helm. “whose job was it to make sure they didn’t find us?”

“are you kidding me?” asks jeongguk. “you can’t escape from us. not after—i made you a deal.

“you thought we were just going to help you capture namjoon and play nice by letting you bring us to the king?” laughs hoseok. “you’ve been spending too much time with that commander of yours, jeon. we’re pirates. of course we were going to escape.”

it occurs to jeongguk, suddenly, that he never tried to escape. that when all of this started, he could have bolted at the first chance rather than actually helping yoongi capture all of these pirates. when they found jimin, he could have just disappeared into the crowd in that little town and be done with it; then, it had only been he and yoongi in the town. he could have been long gone before yoongi was able to get back to his ship and send search parties for him.

why hadn’t he? why hadn’t he just prevented all of this? jimin would still be alive, he wouldn’t be wounded like this, his ship would still be intact. he wouldn’t be trying to convince a bunch of ruthless pirates to let him turn them into the king to be executed.

jeongguk feels a hand on his shoulder, grounding. of course. he didn’t do it because of yoongi. because even back then, in the midst of his anger and bitterness, some part of him was just relieved to have yoongi back at all, knowing that he’d do anything to stay with him a little longer—even put himself in danger, even hunt down his own kind. even look into the eyes of these pirates and beg for them to listen to him.

it’s too late now, anyway, isn’t it?

“you are still our prisoners,” says jeongguk evenly. “and your little escape plan didn’t work, because we found you anyway. so give it up.”

hoseok barks out a laugh, but it’s namjoon who says, “it’s four against two. i knew you were stupid enough to help the military, but i didn’t know you couldn’t do basic math.

jeongguk almost lunges at him, but yoongi holds him back. “go ahead and kill us,” he snarls at them. “we have nothing to lose anymore.”

namjoon tilts his head, drawing his own sword. “you want us to be executed, commander,” he says. “so neither do we.”

there’s a terse moment where jeongguk knows that this is the only way it can end. not again, he thinks—he won’t let them make off with namjoon again. he won’t lose all of them, won’t lose his only chance at freedom. and now that he has yoongi again, he can’t just run away and save himself. it’s always been bigger than that.

but the moment he leans forward to run at namjoon, taehyung shouts, “stop!”

everyone turns to stare at him. but taehyung is only watching jeongguk. “stop, c’mon, we—we can work together.”

together?” spits seokjin. “they want to kill us! they want us to willingly hand ourselves over to the king. are you fucking mental?”

jimin would have wanted them to. jeongguk knows that much, at least; he said so himself that it would be easier for all of them to sail back to korea and then they could escape. and jimin is dead, but taehyung is here, and taehyung has hated jeongguk since the beginning of this for what he’s done. but maybe they’re both thinking the same thing.

“remember our deal,” says jeongguk quietly. he can practically hear yoongi’s questioning behind him, confused about what jeongguk is talking about, but this isn’t about him. “remember what i promised you.”

“why should we trust you anyway?” asks seokjin. “you destroyed my fucking ship.”

“technically, that was taehyung,” says jeongguk. “and you’re siding with him, aren’t you?”

“he’s your prisoner, too.”

jeongguk takes a deep breath. and oh, he feels awful about it, about what he’s doing to say. but it’s the only way to get them on his side. “no,” he says. “remember who the real enemy is.” he swallows tightly. “i’m a prisoner, too.”

in the end, it’s the truth. no matter how jeongguk and yoongi have come together, no matter what jeongguk has forgiven yoongi for, in the end it’s always going to be this: yoongi imprisoned jeongguk first.

it’s this that gives the pirates pause.

“i am one of you,” says jeongguk, and it hurts him, but he takes a step away from yoongi, lowering his sword. “i am one of you. remember what i promised you. if you don’t hold up your end of this, i can’t hold up mine.”

he can tell they’re considering it. but it’s still four against two.

“he’s right,” says taehyung. three against three. “you know what he promised us.” jeongguk refuses to look back at yoongi, doesn’t want to see his confused expression. yoongi would be furious knowing that he’s double-crossing him, but jeongguk is still his goddamn prisoner. “i don’t want to fight them. i don’t want to die here on fucking shipwreck island. we—we need them.”

“you’re a traitor, kim taehyung,” says seokjin.

“i didn’t want to escape anyway. you’re just bullies.”

right now, taehyung has lost more than any of them. his ship, his freedom, his lover. when jeongguk looks at him, he thinks perhaps taehyung has just given up entirely and wouldn’t even mind being executed whether or not jeongguk holds up his end of the deal. but he’s still on his side, now.

“how do we know you’ll stick to your word if we stick to ours?” asks namjoon. “you betrayed me once before, jeongguk. remember?”

“you betrayed me first, kim,” jeongguk snaps. “i am a man of my word. i’m a pirate under the pirate code. i have sailed these seas for half of my life, have bled and killed for this. and you don’t have to trust me. but i’m asking you to, as a pirate.

threatening them won’t work. but this can. it will.

taehyung says, “c’mon. i trust him.”

the deal. the deal. the deal. jeongguk cannot let this happen again.

namjoon lowers his sword. “fine,” he says, but his eyes are sharp when they shift from jeongguk to yoongi. “i will choose to trust you this once. pirate’s honour.” it’s a chain reaction; jeongguk watches as hoseok and then seokjin give in as well, agreeing to play nice for now. jeongguk knows they’ll have to be careful as they sail back to korea because any of them could change their minds at any time. but for now—he sighs with relief.

he turns to yoongi to find the other man’s expression is hard, staring at him. but before jeongguk can say anything, there’s a commotion against the side of the ship and jeongguk watches as a man dressed in a military uniform heaves himself up from the rope ladder, panting heavily and splattered in blood when he lands on the deck.

it’s the lieutenant that originally captured jeongguk back on jeju island, one of yoongi’s crew members.

behind him, two more of yoongi’s crew haul themselves onboard, apparently having escaped from the carnage on the docks. there’s no point in trying to rescue anything or anyone; both ships will be burned down to nothing and the crew members who managed to get off will have been run down by the rest of the cry of hades.

but these three—they’re alive. and they have wild looks in their eyes when they survey the pirates, eyes landing on yoongi. “you’ve finally tried it, have you?” the lieutenant snaps at yoongi. “thought you could make off with them and leave us to die?”

“they’ve agreed to come back to korea with us,” jeongguk snaps before the man can go any further. he’s not interested in any more arguments today; he’s wounded and tired and just wants to take a fucking nap. “put the prisoners belowdecks and get us started back to korea.” the three newcomers seem like they want to argue with jeongguk, but when none of the other pirates make a move to kill anyone, they must realize that they managed to swoop in at the last moment when everything was already resolved.

taehyung begins across the deck. “we know the way,” he says, dropping his sword on the deck. when he walks past jeongguk, he pauses, giving him a nod before saying, “i’m only trusting you because jimin did.”

jeongguk almost grins. “i know.”

and then—finally—it’s over.

it’s really over.

he’s lost his beloved ship and his crew. he’s wounded and tired. but it’s finally over.

jeongguk lets out a sigh that he’s been holding since the very first day of all of this, immediately sinking down to his knees as the other three pirates make their way belowdecks and the lieutenant instructs the two seamen to get the ship sailing once more. yoongi is immediately at his side, asking him questions, holding his face, but jeongguk looks past him, over the railing to the mess they’re leaving behind: his ship, burning. his crew, dying.

but they’re moving toward his freedom, finally. the relief and emotion overwhelm him, knowing this is finally, finally it. he turns his eyes back to yoongi, focusing on him now as yoongi is asking about his wounds, and jeongguk just leans forward, planting his head on yoongi’s shoulder. he shuts his eyes, feeling tears well up behind them. it’s really, finally over. he can finally be free.

yoongi cradles his head carefully, dropping a kiss into his hair. “you’re okay,” he whispers. “we’re okay, jeongguk.”

he allows himself this one moment in the aftermath: this moment of peace. because he knows the next few days will still be hard; they have to sail back to korea, have to make sure their prisoners don’t try to escape in the meantime. they’ll have to face the king, even if it’s to let jeongguk go. but right now, it’s just he and yoongi and the feeling of reaching the finish line. they’re a little worse for wear, but they made it. they finally made it.

when jeongguk has had his fill of the moment, he lifts his head again, offering yoongi a weak grin. “we should wash my wounds,” he says, back to being practical. “and maybe ask hoseok to look at them to make sure they don’t get infected. there should hopefully be bandages somewhere on this ship.”

yoongi slides his hand over jeongguk’s cheek, and his eyes are so incredibly sad. it’s been so hard and they’ve lost so much and jeongguk is still going to have to heal. but maybe, bit by bit, they can heal together.

later, when yoongi and jeongguk are sharing a drink raided from somewhere belowdecks—because they fucking deserve a drink after everything they’ve been through today and over the past month and a half—yoongi finally asks what jeongguk has been waiting for. they’re leaning against the railing of the ship, watching the dark water moving around them, passing a bottle back and forth.

yoongi finally asks: “what did you promise them to make them stay?”

jeongguk had been thinking about it for weeks, since jimin told him that if there was a chance of anyone making it out of this, he wanted it to be jeongguk. the thing is, he might be a prisoner, but he’s still a pirate. and it’s unthinkable to lead any other pirate to their death via the military, no matter what has been threatened if jeongguk doesn’t cooperate. but he knew there had to be a way they could all win—including yoongi.

when jeongguk visited the pirates earlier in the day to convince them to find namjoon, they’d been sceptical. he couldn’t blame them, not when he was instrumental in each of their captures. but they had agreed to the deal, anyway.

he’d told them that if they cooperated, brought namjoon to them, let themselves be brought to the king, then jeongguk gets to go free. and then, before their executions, jeongguk will free them. he’ll help them escape at the eleventh hour, ensuring all of their freedom. it’s the only way it can work; if the four pirates escape now, jeongguk will die. but if jeongguk forces them into submission, he’ll leave them to die out of resentment.

the only way they can all live is if they all cooperate. they know that. jeongguk knows that. the only way that they can all live and this won’t be seen as yoongi’s fault is if they all sail back to korea together. he promised to free them if only they allow him to be free, too.

but he can’t tell yoongi that.

so jeongguk just takes the bottle from yoongi, downing a quarter of it. when he lowers the bottle, he’s grinning. “do you trust me, commander?”

“jeongguk.”

“i can’t tell you.” yoongi opens his mouth to protest, but jeongguk continues. “it won’t hurt you. it’s all on me. but if you trust me, then you trust me, yoongi-hyung. one last time.”

he knows yoongi wants to argue, but they’ve come so far in trusting each other now. and yoongi will find out eventually, anyway; he imagines the king will ask him to be in attendance for the executions, but when they try to retrieve the prisoners, they’ll find nothing but empty cells. already, the satisfaction of it burns within jeongguk.

besides, yoongi gives in. he shakes his head, but he’s grinning when he says, “you’re still so stubborn.” jeongguk laughs, eying the seaman at the helm of the ship who doesn’t appear to be looking at them, and then darts forward to kiss yoongi.

“you’re the one who loves me.”

“that i do.”

it’s easier to bask in the feeling of freedom now, even though he knows he’s still technically a prisoner. he still can’t help imagining what the future might hold now. “what are you gonna do when we get back to korea?” asks jeongguk, foot rubbing over yoongi’s boot. “what do you normally do in the military when you’re not hunting down pirates and falling in love?”

yoongi shoots him a warning look. “i’m not sure,” he admits. “i’d honestly like a long break from all of this. a proper vacation, but i don’t know if they’ll let me have one.”

“we can go somewhere,” says jeongguk tentatively; they still haven’t really spoken about the future of them, but jeongguk thinks it’s a given that they’ll try to stay together however they can. “even just for a little, until you can figure out what you’re doing.”

yoongi glances at the seaman at the helm again. “yeah,” he sighs, though it sounds pained. “that sounds really nice, gguk-ah.”

“honestly, i kind of want to back to that island we captured taehyung on. it was nice there.”

humming, yoongi says, “okay. let’s go back there.”

jeongguk grins, leaning in for another kiss; he’s just tipsy enough that he doesn’t care if someone sees them, although it could be more than damning for them. when it seems that jeongguk wants more, though, yoongi is quick to gently push him away and then glance toward the captain’s cabins instead. “c’mon,” he says. “if you’re gonna be touchy, we might as well get some privacy.”

“oh, touchy,” jeongguk wiggles his eyebrows, letting yoongi lead him toward their new quarters. “i wouldn’t mind you getting touchy with my—”

jeongguk.

he giggles again, but stops suddenly when a low voice across the ship calls out, “commander min.” leaning around yoongi, jeongguk sees the lieutenant. jeongguk never did learn his name, but he’s watching them with something hard in his eyes. “do you mind if i have a word with you?”

yoongi turns back to jeongguk, nudging him toward the door. “i’ll only be a minute,” he says.

“i’ll be waiting,” replies jeongguk, and then lowers his voice when he adds, “naked.

“jeongguk, i swear to christ—”

commander,” says the lieutenant. yoongi pushes jeongguk toward the door again, and jeongguk can’t help giggling as he watches yoongi join the lieutenant across the ship. it makes him giddy, imagining their future. for so long, a future with yoongi was all he wanted, and now that the possibility has finally returned, hope fills him from top to toe.

as he makes his way into the bedroom both of them have claimed, jeongguk can’t help thinking—finally. finally, they’re both going to get what they want.

jeongguk hisses, causing yoongi to pause what he’s doing. but they both know they have to get it over with, so after only a brief pause, yoongi continues pulling off the bandages on jeongguk’s back. it’s been a few days since they left shipwreck island—but anyone’s calculation, they should reach korea by tomorrow morning—and it’s been days of jeongguk trying to remember not to let anything touch his back. it’s been days of yoongi tending to the wounds with gentle hands and touches, changing the bandages and adding ointment they found on the ship.

still. jeongguk sits shirtless on the captain’s bed, hunched over as yoongi kneels behind him and carefully peels the bandages off, discarding them on the floor. the cool air soothes the wounds, but he’d rather not have them in the first place.

jeongguk tenses at the first touch against his skin, and yoongi mutters a, “sorry.”

“s’okay,” mumbles jeongguk. he tries not to make any noises as yoongi begins rubbing ointment over the healing cuts on his skin. “do they look okay?”

“they don’t look infected,” murmurs yoongi, fingers careful as they move over the edges of the wounds. the cuts are so jagged and horrifying, but they aren’t inflamed and jeongguk’s skin looks much better than it did days ago. “i think you’ll be fine.”

“they’ll still scar.”

yoongi pauses, but only for a few seconds before he continues spreading the ointment. “i think they’re kind of badass,” he says eventually. “you survived the cry of hades and the pirate kings, who wanted to kill you. this is what you have to show for it.”

“you don’t have to make me feel better, hyung. you can just say they’re ugly.”

“they’re not.” jeongguk sighs as yoongi finishes with the ointment, grabbing new bandages to put over the wounds. “nothing about you is ugly, jeongguk.”

“i’d be a lot prettier if i wasn’t a pirate,” says jeongguk. “i’d probably be a doctor by now or something. perfectly normal and healthy with no scars on me. maybe one or two from a bar fight i got into to protect an innocent person. but that’s it.”

yoongi secures the bandages by wrapping them around jeongguk’s chest as well, keeping them tight but not tight enough to hurt. “but if you weren’t a pirate, we wouldn’t have met,” muses yoongi. “and that would be a shame.”

if jeongguk wasn’t a pirate, none of this would have happened. he’d have such a normal, simple life. maybe he’d even be happy. but not having the bad parts of being a pirate would mean not having the good parts, too—most of which have always begun and ended with min yoongi.

jeongguk turns around on the bed, the barest hint of a grin showing as he looks at yoongi. “yes,” he nods. “it would have been a shame.”

this whole time, everything about their relationship has felt rushed. it’s been squeezed in between battles and trickery and almost dying. without really noticing, they fell back in love as naturally as they did the first time, and each moment they’ve spent together away from prying eyes has felt rushed and uncertain. but now, they have all the time in the world. there are no other plans to make, battles to fight. it’s just jeongguk and yoongi and the wide open sea and everything they didn’t get to say the first time.

jeongguk’s grin widens. “thank you,” he says. “for taking care of me.”

“i’m the one who did this to you,” says yoongi. “it’s only fair that i make it better, too.”

“no, i don’t mean—that. i’m thankful you’re tending to my wounds, but i’m thankful for everything else, too.” jeongguk flushes, dropping his eyes. “i know neither of us had a choice in all of this, but you could have been so cruel, hyung. and you weren’t. you’ve saved my life multiple times and trusted me and let me be angry when i needed to be angry. so thank you for that.”

yoongi takes his hand, running his fingers over jeongguk’s knuckles, the tattoos on his skin. “you’re the one who did more for me,” he says. “you… gave me a second chance. and forgave me after all this time when i didn’t think i’d ever get that. when all of this started, i was so afraid of what would happen but… it worked out in the end, didn’t it?”

when they meet eyes, yoongi’s still look shrouded in that same sadness. but he’s grinning, too, and jeongguk has never wanted anything more than this. “i love you,” he says, leaning forward to kiss the corner of yoongi’s mouth. “love you more than i love being a pirate and the sea and treasure combined.”

“that’s a lot.”

“i know.”

yoongi huffs out a laugh, turning his head so that jeongguk kisses him on the mouth. every time they kiss, it feels like the first time. it feels like the first breath of air after breaking the surface of the sea, like seeing land after spending weeks on the sea. it feels like coming home. jeongguk has been intimately familiar with yoongi since he has been nineteen years old, but now he’s relearning all of these pieces of yoongi that he managed to forget.

like how yoongi likes to touch, his hands running up jeongguk’s side until they rest on his neck, and then sliding to cradle the back of his head. like how yoongi’s mouth is always so soft and pliant beneath his, tongue seeking out the warmth of jeongguk’s as their lips part against one another. and like how yoongi always makes this noise, this hum in the back of his throat, like he’s finally found the one thing that makes him truly content.

what is he supposed to do with all of his want, jeongguk wonders? what is he supposed to do with any of this—how yoongi makes him feel like he can hold tthe entire ocean in the palm of his hands just to be closer together, how yoongi makes him feel soft and right in a world where he has done so much bad? jeongguk has killed, has betrayed his friends, has hurt innocent people. but here, with yoongi kissing him, jeongguk feels new again. feels like they can be new together.

at first, the kiss is unhurried. they finally have all the time they want, no one pressing in at the door, no one needing them. jeongguk closes his eyes and loses himself to yoongi’s touch, letting his own hands wander over yoongi’s clothed chest. for the first time in days, his wounds don’t ache—not when he has something so much better to focus on.

but there’s only so long that either of them can be patient. before long, jeongguk’s lips are a little more insistent, tongue curling around yoongi’s as it delves deeper, wants more. yoongi curls his fingers into the hair at jeongguk’s nape and tugs just a little, just enough to make jeongguk let out a surprised moan. yoongi chuckles into his mouth.

“shut up,” murmurs jeongguk, sucking yoongi’s bottom lip into his mouth and biting at it softly in retaliation.

“good to know you still like pain,” says yoongi. it makes jeongguk flush; while relearning each other on the outside took weeks and weeks of conversation and spending time together, their attempts at returning to a more intimate relationship are proving to be much easier. it’s the truth, anyway; their bodies haven’t forgotten each other. jeongguk’s still reacts the same, still wants the same. and his preferences haven’t exactly changed either.

“i’m in enough pain as it is already,” he protests, and yoongi pulls away to press a kiss to his nose instead. “be nice to me.”

“i am nice to you,” says yoongi, but he doesn’t tug again—he kisses jeongguk just as deeply, their breathing coming more heavily. and jeongguk is still impatient; he tugs at yoongi’s shirt, muttering off as yoongi gets the message immediately and pulls it off, discarding it on the floor.

jeongguk doesn’t get a chance to admire yoongi’s bare chest—although he’s done enough of it over the past few days—before yoongi reaches for him again, kissing him. the force of it almost topples him over backwards, but the moment he moves and his back presses lightly against the bed, he hisses, grabbing onto yoongi for support.

“sorry, sorry,” says yoongi quickly, eyes wide open when he tugs jeongguk back up.

“s’okay, we can just—” begins jeongguk, trying to push yoongi over so he’s on his back instead, but yoongi stops him.

“get on your stomach,” he says, cheeks flushed. jeongguk isn’t sure how that’s going to help them make out, but he doesn’t question it, instead turning over and lying down on his stomach like yoongi asked. he grabs one of the pillows for support, putting it under his head as he turns to look over his shoulder at yoongi with a curious gaze.

yoongi pushes jeongguk’s legs together before placing one knee on either side of them and sitting back on jeongguk’s knees, already beginning to trail his fingers over the bare skin of jeongguk’s shoulders. “still feel bad about this,” he murmurs.

“hyung—”

“no, just—just let me, okay?” there’s some pain in yoongi’s eyes, but jeongguk doesn’t push it. jeongguk has forgiven him for what happened on shipwreck island, but yoongi hasn’t forgiven himself. so it he needs this, jeongguk will give it to him. he lets his cheek rest on his arms folded over the pillow, closing his eyes as he feels yoongi’s hands ghost over the bandages covering his back. “i never want to hurt you, gguk-ah. you know that, right?” jeongguk nods. “god, you’re so beautiful. always have been. i’m sorry i did this to you.”

his fingers touch the bandages lightly, over the cuts and wounds. jeongguk takes a breath, but there’s no real pain, not with how gently yoongi touches him. and this, too, is how he knows that yoongi could never mean to hurt him—he treats jeongguk so gently, with so much care and love. even before they admitted the truth again, it was always there.

jeongguk shivers when he feels yoongi lean down and press a kiss to the back of his neck, and then begin trailing kisses in a line down his spine. each kiss is given with such reverence, such care. each is punctuated with a murmured, “i love you,” words that jeongguk will never tire of hearing. he tries to keep himself from squirming as yoongi kisses over his shoulder blades and then gets low enough to reach the bandages. but he doesn’t stop there—he kisses over the bandages too, lips pressing love where days ago his own hands had dealt such violence.

something about it makes jeongguk want to cry. they’re pirates who have done such terrible things to others, even to each other. but jeongguk knows such softness at the hands of min yoongi, who trails his fingers down jeongguk’s sides, who kisses each wound as though that alone can fix what he’s done. he’s dangerous to think so, but jeongguk can’t help wanting this for the rest of his life. he wants yoongi’s hands on him, his mouth on him. wants this kind of forever love.

when yoongi reaches the bottom of the bandages, his fingers pause on jeongguk’s waistband. and jeongguk’s breath hitches, yoongi’s voice husky when he asks, “is this okay?”

jeongguk is quick to nod, lifting his hips up so that yoongi can pull his pants off of him, discarding them so that jeongguk is entirely naked now. he shivers as the cool air touches him, and then when yoongi touches him, too. he runs his hands up jeongguk’s calves, his thighs, gently kneading them as he goes.

his mouth soon follows, leaving a line of gentle kisses up the back of jeongguk’s leg as he tries not to move. but his heartbeat has begun to speed up, letting out a breathy sigh when yoongi leaves an open-mouthed kiss at the juncture between his ass and thigh, hand sliding over the swell of his ass into his waist.

“so pretty,” yoongi murmurs, almost to himself. his hands knead at the flesh of jeongguk’s ass, leaving kisses over the globe of it, biting gently into the meat when jeongguk gives a shaky laugh.

“it’s like you’ve never seen my ass before,” jeongguk comments, but it’s mostly because he doesn’t want to admit how affected he is by those simple movements. he can almost feel heat pooling in his stomach, cock becoming interested in the aim of yoongi’s kisses, and he doesn’t want to seem too eager.

yoongi runs his hands up and down jeongguk’s thighs, thumbs always dipping dangerously close to where jeongguk is beginning to want them. “can’t i appreciate you?” he asks. “i have four years to make up for.”

“christ, we’ll be here for weeks.”

it’s a joke, but yoongi just says, “you wouldn’t like that?”

it’s the closest they’ve gotten to really talking about the future. and jeongguk shifts a little so he can look over his shoulder again, finally meeting yoongi’s eyes. they’re hungry—but filled with adoration, dipping down to kiss the dip of jeongguk’s waist as they maintain eye contact. “love you,” murmurs yoongi. “love everything about you. i’d do this forever if i could.”

jeongguk sighs, dropping his head again. he wiggles his ass a little, hearing yoongi’s huffed laugh as he swats lightly at his thigh. but yoongi goes back to kissing at jeongguk’s skin, sucking light marks into his ass like he’s claiming jeongguk. but there’s no one else jeongguk would rather be with.

the longer it goes on, the more jeongguk is affected; his cock begins to harden, trapped beneath him and the bed, and before he’s fully aware of it, he’s beginning to grind against the sheets. it’s not much, but yoongi still notices the movement, humming as he wraps both hands around jeongguk’s waist and encourages his movements.

fuck,” jeongguk sighs out as he ruts his hips into the bed a little harder, trying to get the right friction, but it’s not easy with the way he’s lying. without having to ask, though, yoongi gets it; he kneels up again, nudging jeongguk’s right leg away and then bending his knee so jeongguk’s legs are spread a little more, able to grind properly into the bed with the new traction.

but it also means that yoongi is able to slide his hand up the inside of jeongguk’s thigh, fingers just barely brushing against his rim when he gets there.

jeongguk lets out a stuttered gasp, but his hips cant downward, seeking the touch again.

“yeah?” asks yoongi, and jeongguk feels himself flush as yoongi’s fingers return.

“yeah.”

he can practically feel yoongi’s grin when he kisses the swell of jeongguk’s ass again, hands gently pulling apart his cheeks to reveal his entrance more fully. they haven’t gotten this far—not yet, not since four years ago. maybe that’s why it affects him more when yoongi begins to gently rub his finger over his rim, circling it with his thumb as jeongguk lets out quiet moans, still grinding into the bed.

“god,” yoongi whispers, his breath hot against jeongguk’s skin. and jeongguk squirms a little when that breath is suddenly over his rim, groaning when yoongi pushes the pad of his thumb against his hole. “missed you. i love you so much, jeongguk-ah, missed you like—like fuck.

“i know,” sighs jeongguk, grinding his hips harder into the bed before he tries to stick his ass out a little more, the anticipation making his head hurt. but he doesn’t have to wait long before he feels the warm heat of yoongi’s tongue licking over his rim, making a moan rumble out of him. his hands clench against the pillow, breathing hard as yoongi licks over him, using his spit to press the tip of his thumb inside at the same time.

suddenly, it’s all too much—yoongi swirling his tongue over his entrance, pushing his thumb inside and beginning to fuck his tongue in alongside it, the hardness of his own cock, the fact that somehow, it’s not enough at all. he’ll come too quickly if this continues, but he can’t stop moving his hips, rutting against the bed and then pushing them back against yoongi in turn.

“hyung,” he breathes out, groaning when yoongi slathers his spit over jeongguk’s entrance, pressing his thumb further inside. “hyung—!”

yoongi pulls away suddenly, hands sliding up jeongguk’s back as he leans up again, lips attaching to the back of jeongguk’s neck. “what do you want?” he breathes, his own hips brushing against jeongguk’s bare ass, and he feels yoongi’s own hard cock there, feels him begin to grind it softly against jeongguk’s body. “whatever you want, hyung will do it. just tell me, jeongguk-ah.”

what he wants to say is—stay with me forever, love me forever, be with me forever. what he wants is so much more than this. what he wants is for them to make up for the last four years. what he wants is for them to do so by spending the rest of their lives together—sailing the seas, exploring the world. he would give up piracy for yoongi, if that’s what it took. he would leave all of this behind just to be with yoongi.

what he wants is for all of this to be over, finally, and to not have back what they had four years ago, but to make something new. to make something better, built on the grounds of trust and understanding and forgiveness. what he wants is to have a happy ending, even if pirates are never given such things. maybe not a happy ending, then, but a happy middle. a happy beginning.

in lieu of being able to ask for all that, given what he has been given, he just lifts a hand behind him, finding yoongi’s head and curling fingers into his hair. he breathes, “want you—want you inside me.”

yoongi groans, hips rutting against jeongguk’s ass a little harder, and jeongguk tries to tilt his own up, wanting more. he’s never been a patient person, and this is so exception; he would move, would roll over, would strip yoongi himself, but he’s reminded of his own shortcomings because of his wounds. reminded that yoongi put him in this position, loved him so gently. maybe for once, he can just let yoongi do it. maybe for once, he can just let himself be loved the way he deserves.

still, he watches over his shoulder as yoongi quickly sheds the rest of his clothes and returns to the bed, his cock hard and leaking already. he makes quick work of preparing jeongguk, using his own spit in lieu of having anything else—and if either of them was less desperate, they could find something, but jeongguk doesn’t want to wait. he’d take the pain over the wait any day, still rutting against the bed as yoongi presses his fingers inside.

before long, yoongi is slicking up his cock, working his hand over it as he positions himself against jeongguk’s stretched entrance. and jeongguk is already trembling with it, breathing hard before yoongi pauses and leans over, kissing right behind his ear.

“hyung’s got you,” he whispers.

jeongguk almost sobs. his hand moves back, searching for yoongi’s, and yoongi takes it, threading their fingers together against jeongguk’s waist as he finally pushes in. it’s slow, agonizingly slow, but jeongguk hasn’t been stretched enough for anything more. he lets out a long moan as yoongi fills him, slowly, slowly, the slight pain going to his head. his hand cramps around yoongi’s fingers, trying to clench as yoongi finally bottoms out.

yoongi wastes no time in leaning over, kissing jeongguk’s neck as he begins to grind into him. jeongguk hitches his leg up higher on the bed, yoongi’s knee pressing along it, trying to match yoongi’s movements with his own hips.

slowly, yoongi begins drawing his hips back and fucking his cock back into jeongguk, each moment pure bliss as his cock drags against jeongguk’s walls. they moan in tandem, the heat and feeling almost too much, and yoongi bites at the back of jeongguk’s neck as jeongguk clenches around him, forcing him deeper with each thrust.

eventually, yoongi finds a quicker rhythm—deep strokes, so deep that jeongguk moans every time yoongi bottoms out and then pulls back again. he finds jeongguk’s other hand, clenched tightly in the bedsheets, and threads their fingers together, pushing back hands up next to jeongguk’s head. leaning over like this, jeongguk can feel yoongi’s entire body, feels engulfed by him. and he wishes he could kiss yoongi like this, but there’s something about the position that has arousal skittering up his spine with each thrust.

yoongi keeps kissing his neck, trailing his lips over jeongguk’s skin, murmuring his love there even when jeongguk can’t make out the words over the sound of his own breathing, the sound of the sheets rustling around them. he knows what yoongi is saying anyway—knows, somehow, everything yoongi could ever want to say to him. it’s been four years and somehow, they found each other. somehow, they came back to each other.

all it comes down to is: love. sacrifice. trusting each other again despite all of the pain.

jeongguk can only moan into the pillow beneath him, grip almost painful on yoongi’s hands as yoongi speeds up, beginning to snap his hips into jeongguk’s. the sound of their skin slapping together begins to fill the room, making jeongguk keen as he tries to push his hips back into yoongi’s. he wants it to bruise, suddenly, wants to have every physical reminder of yoongi being with him again.

“h-hyung,” he groans, turning his head a little more. he can feel himself drawing closer to an orgasm.

“shit,” yoongi breathes. “yeah?”

“feels—feels good.” he huffs. “love you.”

“fuck, i’m not gonna last—” yoongi laughs, pressing his forehead into jeongguk’s neck as his rhythm begins to falter. he slows down, keeping his strokes long and deep, and jeongguk keens when yoongi’s cock finally brushes against his prostate. his body locks up for a second before he tries to press his ass back into yoongi fully, wanting more, always wanting more.

“can you,” he begins, groaning. “can you kiss me?”

it’s not the ideal position, but he’s able to roll over just enough to keep him jostling yoongi’s cock out of him or let his back down the bed. yoongi, their hands still linked together, tugs on jeongguk’s chin, turning his head so that they can attach their lips again. both of them are breathing too hard to kiss properly, but jeongguk sighs into it. this, finally, feels the way he wants it to: yoongi filling him, yoongi kissing him. yoongi, yoongi, yoongi.

thrusting in a few more times, yoongi moans out a, “gonna come.” and jeongguk surges up a little more, kissing him harder as he grinds his hips back against yoongi. he’s been on the edge of coming for minutes already, but he wants this to last, wants it to last forever.

yoongi finally lets go of his hands, his own moving to jeongguk’s waist as he squeezes it, breaking away to focus on fucking jeongguk into the bed a little harder, hips canting desperately and quickly, and jeongguk gasps, trying to keep from shaking so hard when yoongi finally thrusts in one last time and comes with a loud groan.

jeongguk can feel it inside of him, thick and warm, and he presses his own forehead into the bed as yoongi grinds into him a little more as he comes down. before he can ask for anything, though, yoongi is sliding a hand between jeongguk’s body and the bed, finding jeongguk’s cock where it’s been pressed against the sheets this entire time.

he’s been so strung out this entire time that it doesn’t take much more than a few expert strokes for jeongguk to spill over yoongi’s hand, his own stomach, and the bed. he breathes hard, trying to calm the racing of his heartbeat as he sags fully into the bed, yoongi’s hand leaving him and then his cock sliding out. jeongguk sighs at the empty feeling that follows, but then he feels yoongi flop onto the bed next to him and jeongguk cracks open his eyes, seeing how spent and flushed yoongi looks.

jeongguk giggles.

yoongi rolls his head to look at him, eyebrows furrowed when he asks, “what?”

“i didn’t get to see it,” jeongguk sighs, sliding his hand between them and hooking it on yoongi’s arm to bring him closer, “but i just imagined you making that stupid face when you come.”

“oh my god,” groans yoongi. “for the last time, i don’t make a stupid face when i come.”

“yes, you do.”

“maybe i fixed it in the last four years.”

“i know you, min yoongi,” giggles jeongguk, gaining enough energy to slide over toward him, sticking to yoongi’s side as he presses a kiss to his cheek. “i know you still look stupid when you come. but that’s okay, because i love you.”

it makes yoongi laugh, too. and that’s enough. he turns his head so they can kiss properly, yoongi’s hand running through his hair and wiping his sweaty bang away from his forehead. “yeah, well, you always make weird sounds when you come,” he counters when they break out. “which is worse, if you ask me, because you can hide a stupid face but you can’t hide stupid sounds.”

“that’s so rude! you can’t come inside of me and then say that.”

“you started it.”

jeongguk giggles again, digging his hand into yoongi’s side to make him squirm. “can you go back to worshiping my ass with your mouth?” he asks. “that way, you can’t talk and make me mad at you.”

and this, finally, is what jeongguk has been missing for so long. it’s not only that losing yoongi the first time made him forget what he loved about being a pirate. it’s not that finding him again, fighting together, going on this impossible mission has changed absolutely everything in his life. it’s not that being so intimate with yoongi has opened his eyes to something more.

it’s just that, with yoongi, jeongguk always felt like it was good to be alive. even in the midst of pain and danger and uncertainty, yoongi made him happy to be alive. and losing yoongi, losing his crew, pushed him into a darkness that terrified him.

and it’s finally now, even after losing his ship and crew but gaining hope for a future filled with happiness and love, with yoongi laughing into his mouth as they bicker and tease each other the way they used to, that jeongguk feels it: this is something to stay for. he finally feels glad to be alive again.

they spend hours together there, laughing and talking and kissing endlessly, feeling as though time could simply stretch on forever and leave them here. maybe they’ll sail this sea forever and never get back to korea, where reality will once again crash down upon them. maybe they can stay like this forever, wrapped up in the same sheets with wandering mouths and hands, drawing orgasm after orgasm out of each other as time wanes on. maybe if neither of them brings it up, they’ll simply get to stay like this for the rest of their lives.

jeongguk knows, without a doubt, that that’s what he wants. he cares not for where they are or what their circumstances are, only that they’re together. as long as he gets to be with yoongi, he doesn’t care if he’s a pirate or not. those are such trivial things, now: his pride. he just wants to be with yoongi again, knowing what it feels like to lose him once. he won’t do it again.

hours later, jeongguk sits with his back propped against as many pillows as they could find to keep him irritating his wounds, yoongi grinding down into his lap. the tight heat around jeongguk’s cock drives him mad, leaves him unable to do more than moan into yoongi’s mouth where they kiss, his hands pressed into yoongi’s waist as yoongi rides him.

yoongi kisses him harder and harder. there’s something desperate about his movements, some urgency they didn’t have any of the other times, but jeongguk is too far gone to question it. doesn’t question yoongi sighing into his mouth, saying, “wish we could do this forever, gguk-ah. wish i could have you forever.”

jeongguk cants his hips upward, groaning as he sinks deeper into yoongi, who has a tight grip on the back of his head. “love you, jeongguk. love you so much. you know that? you know i love you, right?”

“yeah,” sighs jeongguk, their foreheads resting together as yoongi grinds down onto him. “love you too, hyung.”

“you forgive me?” he asks. “for everything?”

“hyung—”

“please, jeongguk.” and when jeongguk pulls back to look at him, there are tears shining in yoongi’s eyes. oh, he feels so terribly about what he’s done to jeongguk—leaving him four years ago, finding him again under the worst circumstances. hurting him again and again without meaning to.

jeongguk wraps his arms around yoongi’s waist, tugging him closer as he presses a kiss to each of yoongi’s closed eyes. “‘course,” he whispers, biting back a moan when yoongi grinds down again. he’s so close to coming, letting go entirely. “i love you, yoongi-hyung. i don’t care about any of that anymore.”

yoongi sniffs, hands moving to hold the sides of jeongguk’s face, to kiss his nose, the corner of his mouth, his cupid’s bow. “it was shit, but i’m glad this happened,” he whispers. “i’m glad we got to find each other again. i’m glad we got to be together. you’re—jeongguk-ah, you’re the best thing that’s happened to me. you make me wanna be better.

“hyung?” jeongguk asks, and he doesn’t get it, doesn’t get why there’s so much sadness in yoongi’s voice.

but yoongi just kisses him again, not offering any answers as he begins moving his hips again, bouncing lightly in jeongguk’s lap. and jeongguk chokes out a moan, head falling back at how good it feels to be inside yoongi, to have any of this again. he tries to bite back the noises as he’s drawn closer to the edge, and then yoongi clenches around him, whispers, “give it to me?” and jeongguk can’t hold out any longer—he comes with a long sigh, so hard that his vision almost whites out.

in the aftermath, breathing hard and trying to gain back his strength, even to gain his bearings, he’s only vaguely aware of yoongi getting off of him, jeongguk’s cock falling against his own stomach. he’s only vaguely aware of yoongi returning, sliding back into his lap, kissing him again, hard. jeongguk still has his eyes closed, disorientated for a minute as he tends to be after an orgasm, so he is only partially aware of yoongi taking his hand, lifting it next to his head. he’s only partially aware of the clanking of metal.

he is, however, fully aware of the sob that yoongi lets out when he leans his forehead against jeongguk’s, whispers, “i’m so sorry,” and then pushes himself away.

jeongguk opens his eyes, brows furrowed. “what?” he asks, trying to follow, but he can’t—he can’t because there’s something keeping his hand in place, and when he looks up, he realizes his wrist is chained to the metal bar running along the headboard of the bed by a pair of heavy metal handcuffs.

he tugs on the cuffs again, to no avail. when he turns back to yoongi, he’s just standing at the foot of the bed, tears on his cheeks. “hyung,” says jeongguk, brows furrowed. “what are you doing?”

“jeongguk, i’m so—so sorry,” cries yoongi.

“hyung, let me go,” jeongguk demands, still trying to pull. but no matter how hard he tries to yank his arm away from the bar, he’s only pulled back again and again. he might have thought this was some kinky fantasy if it weren’t for the look of utter devastation in yoongi’s eyes, and he knows: this is real. yoongi is chaining him to the bed for real.

“jeongguk, i told you i didn’t mean for any of this to happen—”

“what the fuck are you talking about? just let me go!”

“i can’t,” says yoongi, wiping at his wet eyes. “i can’t let you go, gguk-ah; i’m so sorry. i’m s-sorry. i didn’t want to do this, i told them—”

“who?”

“i thought maybe we could make it work, we could just run away, but they threatened to just kill you right here instead, and i couldn’t do that; i had to have one time—”

“yoongi-hyung,” jeongguk grunts as he tries once more to yank on the handcuffs. his wrist is beginning to scrape with it, red and chafing, but he still can’t get himself free. he’s still naked and now he’s chained to the bed and yoongi is crying, won’t stop apologizing for something jeongguk doesn’t understand. with some horror, jeongguk realizes that his come is beginning to run down yoongi’s bare thigh.

he stops struggling, finally realizing it’s useless.

“jeongguk, you have to—have to understand.”

“just stop!” snaps jeongguk, breathing hard. he feels his own heart breaking just seeing yoongi cry. it’s happened so few times when they’ve been together; they’ve almost died so many times, and yoongi never cried once. he’s seen yoongi take bullets and stab wounds to so many parts of his body, has seen him go through unimaginable physical pain, but none of that has made him cry.

but this—whatever yoongi is doing to jeongguk, is turning him into a sobbing mess, so utterly broken that he can’t seem to hold it in. he’s shaking at the end of the bed, wiping at his eyes although it’s no use when he hasn’t stopped crying.

“hyung—” begins jeongguk, swallowing tightly. “please just tell me what’s going on.”

yoongi takes a deep breath, steeling himself. when he looks at jeongguk again, he’s attempted to rid himself of the trembling and broken man he was just moments ago. “jeongguk, i’m not a commander,” he says evenly. “i’m not in the military at all. i never stopped being a pirate.”

“what?”

“i’ve been trying to find you for four years,” says yoongi. “trying to find a way to make all of this right, and i was… stealing some supplies when they arrested me. and they told me that if i didn’t help the military find some notorious pirates, they’d execute me.” slowly, jeongguk begins to put the pieces together. he begins to understand just what yoongi is telling him. “they gave me a list of… of six people. kim namjoon, kim seokjin, jung hoseok, park jimin, kim taehyung, and…”

“me,” deadpans jeongguk.

yoongi takes a trembling breath, another tear escaping his eye. “and you,” he says. “jeongguk, this whole time, you’ve not been the one with the deal. i have. when we go back to korea, i’ll hand all of you over and they’ll let me go. you were the last one i needed to capture.”

for a long time, jeongguk just sits there and stares at yoongi. for a long time, there’s not a single thought in his head, too crowded with the shock and disbelief of what is happening. this entire time, yoongi has been double-crossing him. this whole time, yoongi has been the prisoner under the military’s thumb, forced to do their dirty work—and in turn making jeongguk his own prisoner, lying in order to make this work. he couldn’t find the other pirates without jeongguk, so he concocted some elaborate rouse, pretending to be a commander to get what he wanted.

everything… has been a lie.

yoongi has been lying to him. yoongi is going to hand jeongguk over to the king, is going to sacrifice him for his own freedom. five minutes ago yoongi told jeongguk he loved him and now he is going to let jeongguk die.

just like that, everything he’s felt for yoongi for the past four years returns—like a wild beast breaking through its chains, the rage is back within a moment.

“you backstabbing piece of shit,” seethes jeongguk, already yanking at the handcuffs as though being more aggressive might help. yoongi recoils from him as jeongguk ignores everything else, scrambling onto his knees as he tries to yank the entire fucking bar off of the bed if that’s what it takes. “you fucking traitor! i trusted you—”

“jeongguk, i’m sorry!”

“sorry doesn’t change anything, yoongi! you lied to me—”

“jeongguk-ah, stop.

“you lied to me and cheated me and gave me all this hope for freedom, but the whole time you’ve been nothing but a snake, just a fucking animal with no regard for my feelings.”

“i’m sorry! i’m sorry, i thought i could change it; i thought i could save us—”

let me go!” jeongguk screams, throwing his entire weight against the handcuffs. the bar creaks—he thinks he might succeed—but he runs out of strength first, falling back against the pillows and ignoring the burst of pain from the wounds on his back. “yoongi, let me go.

“i can’t, jeongguk. i’m sorry,” says yoongi, and he’s crying again, looking caught between actually helping jeongguk or standing his ground. “i love you.”

“no, you don’t,” spits jeongguk, tears welling in his own eyes for the first time. “how can you say that when you’re going to let me be executed? after everything—after everything? after you said all those things? after you said we could be together?”

“i thought we could—”

“you knew. you knew this whole time you would have to sacrifice me to be free and you’re still choosing that. you’re a fucking coward, min yoongi.”

“jeongguk—”

he twists around so his back is to yoongi, planting his feet on the wall and pushing as hard as he can, trying to rip the handcuffs off of the bar.

“jeongguk, stop, you’re hurting yourself—”

fuck you!” shouts jeongguk, ignoring the tears that spill over his own eyes when he finally realizes this is it. this is it. this is how he’s going to die: betrayed by the man he loves most for the second time, after spending the last month and a half of his life betraying his own kind, after letting his best friend die. “let me go, let me go, let me go—

yoongi said he loved jeongguk. but he’s still going to let him die. and the worst part—the worst fucking part is that jeongguk does believe that yoongi loves him, even now. especially now.

but it’s not enough.

jeongguk stops struggling, flopping sideways against the wall as he lets himself cry. “let me go, yoongi,” he tries again, and he can hear yoongi on the other side of the room. “please just let me go. if you love me, you have to let me go.”

they could do it. they could let the other pirates out and overpower the few military officers onboard. but when jeongguk finally turns his head to look at yoongi, yoongi has already pulled on his clothes. he’s wiping at his tears as he fits his arm through the sleeve of his shirt, and jeongguk already knows.

yoongi takes a deep breath. he wipes at his tears one final time. and then he whispers, “no.”

“yoongi—” but he’s already turning and leaving, leaving jeongguk chained to this bed with only hours before they arrive in korea, where jeongguk will be hauled off of this ship and brought before the king, where he’ll be killed. everything he dreamed of is gone, suddenly, retreating with yoongi from this room.

“yoongicome back, please. please, yoongi—

it’s no use. the door closes behind yoongi, leaving jeongguk with nothing but his own devastation. jeongguk stares at it for a long time, waiting for yoongi to come back and free him.

but he doesn’t.

yoongi doesn’t come back.

and jeongguk is going to die.

Chapter Text

two months earlier, yoongi runs for his life from the military.

he’d been trying to steal supplies for another voyage from a storehouse housing ammunition and weapons. and he’d known that it would be risky to steal from this storehouse, considering it was property of the korean military, but they have the best quality ammunition. and yoongi has been running low for months, hoping not to sail into a battle that he won’t be able to win thanks to the lack of gun powder and cannon balls on his ship.

suddenly, though—there had been light, the door thrown open as soldiers caught him red-handed. now, he runs—and yoongi has gotten so very good at running. he can’t hope to fight a group of soldiers, no matter how small. he heads for his ship, docked in the harbour surrounded by countless other ships to help it blend in. his crew is waiting for him there, idle and lazy. this was merely supposed to be a stop on a leg of their journey. yoongi isn’t supposed to die here, not at the hands of mere soldiers after he’s spent thirty-two years of his life evading capture.

further, yoongi can’t die here because he hasn’t found jeongguk yet. for four years, he’s searched. for four years, he’s put aside real piracy—the pillaging and plundering, the stealing of treasure and killing of men—in order to make right the wrong that he has committed. it was a reckless mistake, one that he was forced into by his fellow pirates—but it doesn’t matter, because it still hurt jeongguk. it still tore them apart and although he doesn’t know just how jeongguk feels about it, he does know. he’s been in love with jeon jeongguk for nine years. of course he knows how jeongguk would feel about yoongi not getting himself killed trying to stop their crew from mutinying him.

for the first few months, he tried to find jeongguk on the island he was left on, but by then, jeongguk was long gone. and these waters they sail aren’t so big. there are only so many places jeongguk could be—but sailing takes so long and jeongguk is so very good at avoiding him. for four years, yoongi has used all of his time, energy, and resources hunting down rumours and tips of where jeongguk could be. but he’s always gotten there just too late. he’s always been just too unlucky. or he’s gotten caught up in battles, had to run from the military, been given false information.

once, oh once—yoongi was lucky. he followed a rumour that jeongguk was in northern japan, seeking revenge on their old crew. he’d sailed as quickly as he could, wanting this to be the one. he had so much to say to jeongguk, all of these apologies and feelings that have been trapped inside of him for years. when he got to the town jeongguk was rumoured to be anchored in, he saw a ship beginning to sail out of the harbour as yoongi’s ship was sailing into it. when he looked closely enough, he saw an unfamiliar man at the helm, broad and darkened, shouting commands at his crew.

and when their ships crossed paths, yoongi realized the captain wasn’t unfamiliar at all—it was jeongguk. jeongguk, who was no longer the boy he had once been, unsure how to lead a crew but determined to do it right. jeongguk, who was no longer so small and thin, who had yet to grow into the responsibility he had been given. this was a jeon jeongguk who was twenty-eight years old and had been captaining his own ship for four years now, who had scars that yoongi was unfamiliar with, who had been hurt so greatly that it had seemed to change his entire appearance from a teenager so mesmerized by piracy to a man disillusioned with bitterness.

this was a jeon jeongguk that yoongi no longer knew. no longer recognized, no longer felt he had any right searching for.

and still—in that moment, yoongi’s heart leapt. and he knew, even then, he would spend the rest of his life trying to find jeongguk and make amends. even if jeongguk no longer loved him by then. even if yoongi had wasted a good life sailing around and around these waters, trying to find his first and only love without the promise of a second chance—he’d do it.

now, he runs.

now, he does not escape.

the soldiers drag him before the king himself. yoongi has never seen the man, but he trembles with fear, anyway; the king can kill him without a second thought. and yoongi thinks that’s his only fate—although he hasn’t caused much trouble in recent years, he’s still a pirate and has been part of several notorious crews. there have been rumours of the military trying to crack down on pirates, anyway. and this is it. yoongi will die with so many regrets.

but the king doesn’t kill him. instead, he gives yoongi an ultimatum.

pirates are being executed, the king tells him. under a new piracy act, any person caught participating in acts of piracy, aiding pirates, or fraternizing with pirates will be immediately executed. and they’ve caught yoongi red-handed even without his past reputation. but oh, he doesn’t have to die—no, no, the king tells him. he can gain his freedom if only he helps the military track down and capture six of the most notorious pirates on korean waters.

when yoongi sees jeongguk’s name on that list, he snaps.

“no,” he says, shoving the list back toward the king. “i refuse. just execute me instead.”

“are you afraid, min yoongi?” the king asks. “these pirates could kill you. you’re wondering about your chances of actually capturing these men.”

“i’m not afraid,” says yoongi, gritting his teeth. he doubts the king has ever been refused anything. so yoongi is proud to be the first. “i won’t betray my own kind by helping you. you’re delusional if you think any pirate would agree to this. just kill me instead.”

the king tilts his head at yoongi. and there’s something so terrifying about the little grin he gives yoongi, something that says they both know who has the real power here. that yoongi never actually had a choice in any of this.

“it’s this one, isn’t it?” asks the king, tapping the paper where jeongguk’s name has been scrawled. “you won’t let him die.”

yoongi’s jaw clenches.

“oh, i know about you, min yoongi,” whispers the king. “i know so much about you. i will have these six pirates with or without your help. but if you don’t help, i suppose we’ll just have to make it a little more difficult for your little starling.

“don’t touch him—”

“what kind of torture do you think he’d enjoy least?” the king smirks. he’s smirking as he talks about torturing jeongguk, like all of this is just some game to him. “i’m thinking something that will make his death very slow and painful. and you’ll be forced to watch, of course. and we’ll make sure he knows this is all your fault.”

“it’ll be my fault anyway if i help you capture him!” growls yoongi. “he dies, anyway.”

“trust me, yoongi. killing him by hanging until death would be a mercy compared to what would happen should you refuse to help me.”

yoongi’s hands curl into fists. it’s unthinkable—helping the military find and capture jeongguk. he could care less about the other five, although some of their names struck fear into his heart upon reading them. they all pale into comparison to jeongguk. he can’t allow such harm to come to jeongguk, yet he knows without a doubt that the king is right: if yoongi refuses, they’ll find jeongguk anyway. and they’ll make it very, very painful for him. for both of them.

and still—some part of him finds hope in this. now, his life depends on finding jeongguk. and of course jeongguk will hate him for his part in this, but they’ll still be together. and maybe—just maybe, yoongi can finally make it right.

for a week, they keep yoongi in the palace and gather supplies for the endless voyage, having yoongi work with a crew from the military to make plans and gather information. immediately, yoongi realizes something dire: he hasn’t truly been a pirate for four years. he has next to no idea where to find any of these pirates, nor does he even have a crew since he refused to give up the location of his ship when he was first captured. there’s no possible way they can hope to fight and capture these pirates with one vessel of military personnel.

after that week with no real progress, the king threatens to torture yoongi if he can’t produce meaningful results. out of an entire crew of seamen, officers, and other military personnel, there’s but one lieutenant who seems empathetic—a young woman named minsoo, who finds him in the cell-like chambers he’s been given in the palace.

“i’m sorry for the way they treat you,” she tells him. “you may be a pirate and therefore the type of person we’ve all sworn to hate, but you’re still human. and if we’re all going to work together, we have to find some common ground.”

it’s the first meaningful thing any of them has said to him. but yoongi still laughs. “i don’t know enough about these pirates to be of any help,” he admits. “i don’t have a ship or a crew or knowledge. your king has chosen the wrong pirate to help him. he would have been better off captu—” yoongi stops, suddenly, but his mind finishes the thought anyway: he would have been better off capturing jeongguk.

jeongguk has been a true pirate for these past four years. he’s the one who has likely kept in touch with jimin, since yoongi certainly hasn’t. he’s the one who has a crew and a ship, who hasn’t lost touch with piracy the way yoongi has. jeongguk probably knows how to capture at least a few of the other pirates. jeongguk probably knows how to fight them best, how to trick them best.

yoongi gets an idea.

(and oh, it’s a terrible idea, isn’t it—to trick him. to lie to him. but the alternative is worse—because if he tells jeongguk the truth, he’ll never be forgiven. and making jeongguk his prisoner is terrible, but there is no right choice here. there is no good choice. at least this way, they can be equals in some way. they can work together. they can be together properly, even for a month or two. this way, yoongi won’t have to stick jeongguk in a cell. this way, maybe—in some roundabout way, he can make it right.

and this way, when the time comes, he can help the both of them escape.)

somehow, yoongi deludes himself into believing that they can have a happy ending. he plays his part well, sometimes too well, convincing even himself that he is truly a commander. and jeongguk falls for it, trusting him without even realizing it even though he’s so goddamn angry at yoongi. they fight and fight and fight and then slowly find equal footing. slowly make amends. slowly yoongi’s hopes for four years come true, even caged the way they are.

even before yoongi’s love is renewed—before he’s sure that jeongguk feels the same way once more—he’s so sure that they can make it out together. yoongi has had his plans for escape since the very beginning. even when the military under his fake command continually remind him that he is still their prisoner and that at the end of this, he will only be free if he hands the other pirates over, he’s so sure they can escape. he can never willingly allow jeongguk to die and certainly can’t have a hand in leading him like a lamb to slaughter, even if it gives him his own freedom.

because even if yoongi is given freedom in exchange for jeongguk’s life, it won’t matter. he’ll want to die anyway, knowing he let jeongguk die. knowing he indirectly killed jeongguk.

it’s only minsoo who continues to show empathy for him. she must know the truth of yoongi’s feelings, despite never truly voicing her suspicions. because it’s minsoo who, after yoongi is threatened by another lieutenant as a way to keep him in line, hands him a drink. sits with him on the helm of this ship that isn’t yoongi’s at all and talks to him about everything and nothing. in those moments, yoongi feels a little less alone.

and minsoo is still part of the military. yoongi is still her prisoner. but sometimes, yoongi feel a bit more like her friend.

“i know you think you can both survive this,” she tells him after they capture taehyung. “i know you’re already planning on how to escape with him. and you know, yoongi—part of me really wants you to do it. part of me really wants to see you two finally be happy. but they’ll never let you.” she nods toward some of the other seamen on the ship. “they’ll kill both of you before you even get a foot off of this ship.”

but maybe—jeongguk would die anyway. and yoongi would beg the king to kill him, too. so either they die trying to escape or they die as prisoners. at least this way, they might have a chance at succeeding.

it gives him an idea, anyway. maybe the key to their escape is minsoo. she’s been empathetic, even telling yoongi that she has a soft spot for jeongguk. if there is one other person on board who might help them make it out of this together and alive, it’s minsoo.

then—minsoo dies.

then—the entire military ship and crew goes up in flames anyway. for just a few minutes on the shores of shipwreck island, yoongi truly thinks they might be free. although jeongguk still thinks that they have to sail back to korea and hand over the other pirates because yoongi is part of the military, the truth is that without anyone to keep yoongi under the king’s thumb, they can just… go.

yoongi will never have to tell jeongguk the truth. he can just tell jeongguk that he loves him, that he wants to defect from the military so they can escape and be together. jeongguk never has to know what yoongi agreed to in the beginning of all of this as a way for them to maybe have a second chance together. they can just go.  

but even then, yoongi should have known he wouldn’t be so lucky.

the truth is that he never truly intended on handing jeongguk over to the king. he was always going to have an escape plan, even from the beginning. but when he turns around and sees three seamen climb onboard their newly stolen ship from shipwreck island, yoongi realizes things won’t be so easy. just like that, his hope is dashed once more—just as jeongguk’s hopes are renewed, still believing that with more military seamen on their side, they’ll finally win.

immediately, yoongi begins working on something new. see, it wouldn’t be so difficult to release namjoon, hoseok, seokjin, and taehyung—and the six of them against three military men wouldn’t be difficult. maybe he could even convince taehyung to bring back the kraken and do the dirty deed for them.

only hours later, yoongi is torn between wanting to do nothing but spend the next few days wrapped up in jeongguk and wanting to slave over a plan on how to escape—and he’s going to tell jeongguk, he decides. when they sneak off together, finally, he’s going to tell jeongguk that he wants to escape. they can hash out one more plan together, this one to let them be together again. he’s so sure it’ll work, but—

“commander min.” yoongi turns to see the lieutenant onboard with them, lee. he’s always been the harshest with yoongi, no doubt bitter that he’s had to pretend yoongi is his boss this entire time. “do you mind if i have a word with you?”

he doesn’t want to. he doesn’t want to hear anything lee has to say to him, but he has no choice. even now, yoongi is still a prisoner. so he turns to jeongguk and pushes him toward the door to their new cabins, says. “i’ll only be a minute.”

after jeongguk goes, yoongi turns to lee and drops the façade. “the fuck do you want?” he asks.

“you thought this would be your luck, huh?” asks lee, a sneer on his lips. “the military ship burned down along with her crew. you could just sail off with all of these pirates and finally get your escape. but i couldn’t let that happen. you are still a prisoner, min yoongi. and you still have a duty to perform.”

yoongi’s face hardens. “you can’t stop me, lee,” he says. “you’ve lost. just accept it. i refuse to hand jeongguk and the other pirates over to the king. if you think you stand a chance against—”

“all of you?” lee laughs. “nice try. see, min, i’ve mapped it all out. every possibility for how you could escape. and i’ve made sure you can’t try any of it.” yoongi clenches his hands into fists. “if you try to escape alone, we’d just keep sailing and leave you behind. if you and jeongguk try to escape together, it’s two against three. you can’t break the others out of their cells because there’s someone watching at all times, ready to kill you before you even get your hands on the keys—which, by the way, are hidden where you’ll never find them. you can’t tell kim to bring back his little squid friend because we’ll just kill him before he can.”

oh, yoongi thinks. lee has thought this through.

“don’t forget the king’s promise at the start of this all,” smirks lee. “if you try anything funny, min yoongi, we’ll torture jeon jeongguk very, very slowly and very, very painfully. we’ll tell him the truth and he’ll die a very slow and painful death thinking that it’s all your fault. executing him will be a mercy.”

yoongi swallows tightly. he didn’t have a true plan on how to deal with this, but now he knows that lee is always watching. he’s waiting for yoongi and jeongguk to try to escape so that he can just kill them instead. he’s closed off every possible avenue for yoongi to run, made sure that all of his plans would fail. no matter what he does, lee will be there.

suddenly, it’s impossible.

unless—“just kill me, then,” says yoongi. “just take me and not jeongguk. the king captured me first, remember? just exchange me for him. when we get to korea, hand me over to be executed and grant jeongguk his freedom instead.”

lee laughs, a harsh sound. “you’re hilarious, min,” he says. “the king doesn’t care about you nearly as much as he cares about jeon. you may be a pirate, but don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re anywhere near as notorious as jeon jeongguk. the truth is that the only one the king really wants is jeon.”

yoongi takes a breath. he’s out of options. and so he turns to the worst of them—begging. “please,” he says quietly. “please, lee. spare him. take me instead.”

“no."

lee—

“it has been the worst month and a half of my life having to pretend that you have any power and control over me,” says lee. “you’re nothing but a dirty pirate who deserves a painful death. but i take great joy in instead denying you the one thing you want most. so no. when we get to korea, you will hand over jeon jeongguk along with the other four pirates we’ve captured. it’s already bad enough that we lost the park boy. i’ll take jeongguk by force if you don’t. you are our prisoner, min. you made a choice at the beginning of this and you will stick to it.”

for two days, yoongi wars with himself. the truth is that he still thinks he and jeongguk can make a plan to escape—but no matter where he looks, lee is there, watching, reminding him of what he promised. after two days, yoongi realizes he has few options. he realizes he’s at a dead end.

and maybe—even if he goes through with it, there’s a way to come back from it. maybe they can still win. maybe the only way to win is to make lee think he’s won.

maybe yoongi has to give jeongguk up to get him back.

but that means—he has to tell the truth. he has to capture jeongguk once and for all. he has to let jeongguk know that yoongi has betrayed him again, has lied to him this entire time. he has to let jeongguk hate him again, even just for now. just for now. it’s what he tells himself when he makes his plan. it’s what he tells himself when he allows himself just one day of happiness, of pure bliss in remembering what it once was like to be with jeongguk—and what it could be like, if he hadn’t done all of this.

what it still can be like, if he somehow manages to come back from this.

it’s what he tells himself when he chains jeongguk to the bed, when he refuses to let jeongguk go even as jeongguk is screaming at him: just for now. yoongi can’t stop himself from crying, but he has to do this. he has to, because otherwise they’ll hurt jeongguk worse than this. they’ll drag him through something even worse than death.

as yoongi turns to leave, his heart breaking in two—because he’s leaving jeongguk as a prisoner again, betraying him again, hurting him again, and oh, yoongi never means to, but perhaps the universe isn’t kind enough to give them what they want and need and deserve—he can’t help thinking once more of those words he spoke to jimin. the ones jimin spoke to taehyung.

you underestimate what pirates will do for the people they love.

and what will yoongi do for jeongguk? this. this. he’ll let jeongguk hate him knowing it might just be the only way to save his life in the end. he’ll do this because it’s the only choice he has. somehow, he cannot let jeongguk die. somehow, he has to make this right—for the second time. see, the first time, he was too scared. the first time, he didn’t fight back in fear of what would happen to him.

but yoongi isn’t afraid of what will happen to him if he fights back this time. he’d rather die if jeongguk does, anyway. and so he will fight back. he’ll fight back how jeongguk fought back on shipwreck island—by not doing what lee expects. lee expects him to try and escape here and now, when it’s only three against two. but yoongi has a much bigger idea in mind.

when he closes the door behind him, barely drowning out jeongguk’s screaming, he sees lee across the deck, smirking again.

yoongi wipes at his wet eyes. “happy?” he asks.

“extremely,” says lee.

oh, what yoongi would give to smack that smirk right off of lee’s face. but just for now—he pretends. just for now, he sets his sights on the horizon, where the shores of korea will soon be in sight. he can bide his time. he can wait.

he’s waited four years for jeongguk. he can wait just a little longer.

by candlelight, the small room they’re housing yoongi in seems even smaller. it’s the exact same room he stayed in before all of this started, two months ago when he was first trying to figure out how to accomplish an impossible goal. and he’s done it—he’s done it. kim namjoon, jung hoseok, kim seokjin, kim taehyung, and jeon jeongguk are now in the king’s possession, locked away as they await their executions tomorrow morning. there should be a sixth, but considering jimin was a prisoner for over a month before he was killed in the midst of battle, the king has shown yoongi just a small mercy in not holding that absence over his head.

so—he’s done it. yoongi has succeeded. now he can go free. but he’s never felt emptier. he’s never felt like more a prisoner than right now, knowing that in less than twelve hours, he’ll watch as those five men are brought before the king and then publicly executed to the cheers, surely, of anyone watching. yoongi will watch as they wrap a noose around jeongguk’s neck and hang him. and it will be all his fault.

when he’d decided to go through with it after all, chaining jeongguk to that bed, he’d only done so because he believed that he could find another way to fix all of this. but time is running out and yoongi is no closer to freeing jeongguk than he was at the beginning of this. although he’s technically a free man, there are still two guards watching him at all times—because even now, the king doesn’t trust him.

and he can’t think anyway. he’s too busy drowning in the sorrow of what he’s done, what he’s been forced to do. and yet he takes all of the blame, anyway; how many opportunities did he have to let him and jeongguk escape? how many times could he have just told the truth or at least part of it so they could run? yet he’d been too blinded with the delight of being with jeongguk again, fighting by his side. he thought it might be fun to do all of it again before escaping and having to spend the rest of their lives on the run from the military.

despite the risk and dangers, there was safety in prolonging the lie. but in the end, all it did was make it seem like yoongi had been playing with jeongguk’s life, dangling false freedom in front of him and laughing about it. but the truth is that yoongi just wanted to love jeongguk in limbo for a little longer. he just wanted to pretend for a little longer.

and now here he is. tomorrow morning, jeongguk is going to die. and yoongi doesn’t know how to stop it.

nearing midnight, he can no longer sit in this room and tear himself apart. so he sneaks out of the window to keep from being followed by guards, finding his way down to the cells that house prisoners in the king’s palace. there are no guards on duty—but the king claims it’s impossible to get out of the cells from the inside anyway, so they’re not really needed. yoongi walks past cell after empty cell, searching for the ones holding what he wants. who he wants.

jeongguk is sleeping when yoongi finds him, curled into himself on the bare mat on the ground that he’s been given. the rest of the cell is bare, not much better than what they’ve been keeping their prisoners in on the ships. and just like that, yoongi is back to the beginning of all of this—when he first captured jeongguk and roped him into this, a metal cage between them. jeongguk is as angry at him as he was then, perhaps even more. it feels as though the last month and a half were for nothing—all they did was fall in love to be ruined again.

yoongi wraps his hands around the metal bars between them, watching the gentle rise and fall of jeongguk’s chest. tomorrow, he will breathe no more. and if yoongi could just rip these fucking bars apart—

“don’t even think about waking him.” yoongi startles, turning around to see taehyung in the cell across from jeongguk’s. he’s sitting against the wall, watching yoongi with both humor and disgust. this, at least, is familiar. “he won’t want to talk to you. and even if he did, he’d have some colourful things to say. he’s been trying to call down hell on you all day.”

“i wasn’t going to,” says yoongi, although he’d been thinking about it. “i just… wanted to see him.”

“you think you have a right to do that anymore?” the words, despite how deep they cut, aren’t said with any anger. taehyung has no stake in yoongi and jeongguk’s relationship; this entire time, he’s been nothing but a silent observer. he was always going to die, so yoongi hasn’t betrayed him. besides, yoongi isn’t sure taehyung cares anymore. he’s lost the thing that meant the most to him already—what does it matter if he dies?

yoongi swallows tightly, looking back to jeongguk’s sleeping form once more. “no,” he admits. “i really don’t. but i never meant for it to turn out like this.”

“you fucked up, min yoongi,” says taehyung. “you really fucked up.”

“oh,” comes another voice from further down the corridor, and when yoongi looks, he sees seokjin’s face peeking out from the bars of another cell. “are we talking about min fucking up?”

“this doesn’t concern you, kim,” says yoongi.

“does it concern me?” asks hoseok in the cell across from seokjin. “or namjoon? he’s here, too.”

“jesus, why are all of you awake?” asks yoongi, scowling. he’s not interested in being berated by all of the pirates he’s bringing to death.

hoseok snorts. “we’re all going to die in the morning,” he says. “personally, i don’t want to spend the last hours of this life sleeping. i mean, i would like to get out of here and chop your dick off, min, but i’ve already broken a finger trying, so i’ll settle for verbally shitting on you.”

they’re all terrible people. they’ve all killed and stolen and hurt innocent people. but yoongi is still one of them. he has no moral ground to stand on against any of these pirates—and the only reason he’s on this side of the bars is because the king decided he would be the easiest one to break. he’s only free because he loves jeongguk, because the king had such wonderful leverage against him to do his bidding.

yoongi sighs. and then he turns, sitting down on the ground with his back against the bars of jeongguk’s cell. he’s never felt more helpless in his entire life. but for the first time in all of this, when yoongi meets gazes with taehyung, the other pirate looks a little… sad. for him.

“what did it feel like?” yoongi asks. “watching jimin die.”

“how do we know he’s dead?” calls seokjin. “there was no body! as far as we know, he’s still floating around in the sea. or the mermaids have taken him in as their own. or there’s an underworld that we can go get him from.”

yoongi ignores him. so does taehyung.

“it wasn’t watching him die that was the worst of it,” says taehyung quietly. “it was knowing it was my fault. and he’d yell at me for saying that, but it was, wasn’t it? even if he chose to sacrifice himself. even if i can’t control the kraken other than calling upon it to wreck a ship if i choose. it was still my fault. and i have to live with that.”

“yeah,” says yoongi. “how do you live with it, though?”

“you know, it was jimin who told me to find the kraken in the first place,” says taehyung. there’s a ghost of a grin on his lips as he remembers. “before i gave up piracy, he knew how much i loved mystical sea creatures. and the kraken was always just a legend, but he told me i should find it. he told me that i didn’t always have to be a pirate, if that’s not what i really loved. and even if sailing around the world looking for creatures that might not even exist meant that we couldn’t really be together, then it was worth it.” his grin falters. “i never liked using the kraken for violence. i just wanted to… to study it, become friends with it. when you first captured us, jimin tried to convince me to call the kraken and help us escape. but i wouldn’t. part of me liked being prisoners, you know? because it was the closest i’d been to jimin for a long time.”

yoongi nods. it’s just how he felt about all of this with jeongguk, too; it was horrible to be prisoners, to be lying to jeongguk the whole time, to hunt down pirates. but at least he got to be with jeongguk. at least he got to exist with him, even for a little while.

“i don’t know how to help you, yoongi,” adds taehyung. “i don’t even know if i want to. but goddammit, that kid loves you. he’s angry because he loves you. because he wanted this to be right for you, finally. and it almost was.”

“i don’t want him to die,” whispers yoongi. “and i know i literally led him right here. i handed him over to the king to be executed. but i don’t know how to fix it.”

it’s hoseok who asks, “did jeongguk ever tell you what he promised us to make us help you on shipwreck island?”

in the midst of so much action over the last few days, yoongi realizes he’d forgotten all about it. but he still has an idea. “he promised to free you, right?”

“he had it all planned out,” says hoseok. “apparently he’d been planning it for weeks. he figured the only way we could all win, including you, was if you did what you had to do: hand us all over. then when jeongguk was free, he’d break us all out of our cells before the execution. then it wouldn’t be your fault that we escaped and you wouldn’t get in trouble with the king.”

yoongi swallows tightly.

in a cell further down, namjoon says, “he wanted to protect you. even though he was your prisoner, he just wanted to protect you.”

back then, jeongguk had had an opportunity to be free once and for all; he could have joined sides with the other pirates and sailed off, even with yoongi in tow. they could have killed the lieutenant and officers that climbed on board. but he didn’t want to risk the consequences for yoongi, even without knowing the truth.

god. he really has fucked up.

and yet—it gives him an idea. “how was he going to break you out?” asks yoongi.

“you’d have to ask him,” says hoseok. “he never told us that part, just promised he’d do it. pirate’s honour.” jeongguk had a plan for all of them to be free. and now, all because of yoongi, the five of them are going to die and yoongi will be forever ruined. he might as well die with them.

unless he goes through with jeongguk’s plan, anyway.

“i never wanted this to happen,” yoongi tells them. he doesn’t expect them to forgive him—he wouldn’t forgive him either, if he were in their position. but he still feels the need to say it, because he can’t tell a sleeping jeongguk. “they arrested me and threatened to torture jeongguk if i didn’t cooperate. and i always thought i could change it, that at least jeongguk and i could escape. but i don’t want any of you to die, either.” his brows furrow. “but… what if i help all of you escape and he doesn’t forgive me?”

taehyung’s eyes are so, so sad. it’s a bone deep kind of sadness, the kind of sadness that can only come with losing the person he loves most and knowing that someone else has a chance to make things right with the person they do love so they don’t have to go through the same goddamn pain.

“that’s not up to you,” says taehyung. “you hurt him once, right? and he was angry for so long. but he forgave you because you gave him time to heal. you gave him a chance to remember why he loved you in the first place. and maybe he won’t forgive you again. you don’t really deserve forgiveness, min yoongi. but the human heart… it mends. of course it mends.”

“if you’re only going to help him escape so that he’ll love you again, i think you’re looking at this all wrong,” says namjoon. “break him out because it’s the right thing to do, yoongi, not because you’re expecting something from him in return. that’s not love at all.”

“you can’t make him do something he doesn’t want to do,” says taehyung. “clearly, you’ve tried and it hasn’t worked before. you fucked up. but you can make it right. and maybe he’ll stay angry at you. maybe he won’t forgive you. but does that mean you still won’t make it right?”

“no,” says yoongi. “i know he deserves to live. you all do. me loving him just… it just makes the after part a little different.”

“what are you so afraid of?” seokjin suddenly asks. from here, yoongi can see his eyes shining in the low lighting of the torches against the walls. “you’ve almost died like, twelve times capturing all of us. you’re one of the only pirates to fight the cry of hades and survive. and win. why are you so afraid of figuring out how to open a few fucking prison cells?”

the truth is, yoongi doesn’t know. or maybe he does—maybe what taehyung has told him is terrifying: the idea that jeongguk might not forgive him. the idea that yoongi could have gone through all of this, almost died, been a prisoner, hurt jeongguk and tried to make it right again only for the two of them to go right back to how they were for four years.

but last time, he didn’t make it right. last time, he was too terrified, just as he is now, and it cost him dearly. yoongi can’t be that same man this time.

“you can’t change what you did, yoongi,” says taehyung. “you have to live with it. but you don’t have to let it be the end of everything.” he almost grins. “you know, i think you’ve been pretending to be a commander for too long. you’re still a pirate, min. and what would a pirate whose love is being threatened do?”

yoongi hands curl into fists.

you underestimate what pirates will do for the people they love.

in the dead of night, yoongi readies himself. because taehyung is right—he’s still a goddamn pirate. and why should he be so afraid of not succeeding? why should be so afraid of jeongguk not forgiving him when that doesn’t change what he needs to do? if jeongguk doesn’t forgive him, so be it. it took four years for yoongi to make it right the first time.

he’ll spend the rest of his life gaining jeongguk’s trust again, if that’s what it takes.

he waits until he can tell the guards stationed outside of his room are growing weary, one of them disappearing to relieve himself, and then he takes a page from jimin’s book—he lets out a low and painful groan, slinging open the door as he doubles over and clutches at his stomach. “please,” he gasps, reaching out for remaining guard, “it hurts—”

the guard startle as yoongi stumbles back into the room, but he takes a step inside. “what are you saying?”

“i think it’s something i ate,” says yoongi, clutching his stomach. “please, i need a doctor.” the guard looks entirely out of sorts, unsure what to do, and yoongi takes another step back, waiting for the right moment. the guard steps toward him, hands out, completely vulnerable—and then yoongi lunges.

he’s knocked the guard to the ground and stolen his sword in less than ten seconds. he binds and gags the man, shoving him into a corner of the room and threatening to kill him if he makes a single noise. apparently the guards chosen for night duty are the ones most likely to give into threats, because all the man does is whimper and nod his head.

yoongi waits for the other guard to return. when he does, it’s with confusion when he finds the first guard to be missing—but yoongi steps out from his room into the corridor with his stolen sword held out in front of him, holding a finger up his lips.

“we’re going to make this nice and easy,” he says. “if you make a noise, i’ll kill you. if you try to alert another guard to any of this, i’ll kill you. if you attack me, i’ll fucking kill you. got it?” when the man nods, less fearful than the first guard, yoongi feels a spark of how he felt playing at commander for a month of a half. he’s been so caught up in being upset and angry at himself for days that he did forget what it means to be a pirate. what it means to be brave in the face of fear, to take reckless risks not knowing what the outcome could be.

but yoongi is a pirate. he’s a damn good pirate. and he’s not going to let jeongguk die.

silently, yoongi brings the guard with him to where the prisoners are being held, the tip of his sword narrowly digging into the man’s back to keep him from stalling. with little more than another threat, the guard reveals to him who is holding the keys to the cells—another pair of guards stationed not far from the actual cells, meant to make sure nothing happens during the night.

when the guard approaches them with yoongi behind him, it must be obvious what’s happening. and anyway—the guard immediately rips himself out of yoongi’s grasp, running for the other guards with a, “he’s escaped!” before he can take another step, yoongi plunges his sword forward and right through the man’s back. the guard falls, dead, but it’s only the beginning.

yoongi growls, already widening his stance as he tightens his grip on the sword and prepares for a fight. what’s one more battle in this mission? one last fight to the death to make sure he gets what he wants? and while every other battle has been to capture pirates, this time, he’s finally doing what any pirate should when faced with this situation—he’s going to set all of those pirates free.

with a shout, yoongi charges. the two new guards have their swords out, but yoongi surprises them with the show of force and they both take a step back. yoongi uses it to his advantage, metal clanking against metal as he immediately begins swinging at them. he can see the keys to the cells hanging on a thread around the neck of one of the guards, so close to freedom. and yoongi is going to get that freedom if it’s the last thing he does.

his sword flashes back and forth between the two guards, advancing on them until he has them backed into a corner. one of the guards swipes at him, the tip of his sword snagging on yoongi’s arm and he hisses, darting backwards. the guard purses him, bolstered by his small victory and holds his sword high, intending to send it into a downward arc. but yoongi moves quicker, darting forward, bending at the waist, and turning sideways at the last second.

yoongi’s hip collides with the guard’s and the man goes sailing clean over yoongi’s body, shouting as he’s forced to twist awkwardly in the air. even before he lands with a satisfying thud, yoongi is up and advancing on the other guard, filled with new adrenaline and recklessness. there’s a wide smirk on his face as he swings his sword down upon the guard’s, using brute strength to force the sword downward toward the guard’s head.

the struggle lasts for only a few seconds before he hears the other guard advancing on him again and yoongi suddenly slides his sword away. the force with which the guard was trying to push it causes him to stumble forward and yoongi easily swipes his sword into the guard’s, causing it to go clattering to the ground. rather than merely ram his sword through the man, though, he grabs him by the front of his uniform and sends him flying toward the other guard who is running for yoongi.

the two of them collide awkwardly, and only then does yoongi go for the kill. with the two of them so close together, yoongi merely takes a running leap and then plunges his sword through both of them at once, right through their hearts. all at once, their movement ceases, slumping against each other as yoongi removes his sword and lets them fall to the ground.

breathing hard, he reaches down and fishes the necklace of keys from one of the guards. he tugs it from his neck, wasting no time in hurrying for the cells. by now, the commotion will have alerted other guards, likely, and he won’t have much time before he’s forced to fight again.

he reaches namjoon first, who is already at the bars, woken by the noise. but yoongi doesn’t have time to answer questions, fumbling with the keys until he inserts the right one and swings namjoon’s cell door open. then—hoseok’s, seokjin’s. all three of them merely stand in the corridor a long moment, and when yoongi gets to taehyung’s cell, he pauses to look up at them.

go,” he snaps at them. “before the other guards get here. i’m sorry for what i did to you, but you’re free now. just get the fuck out of here.”

his hands tremble on the keys as he opens taehyung’s cell. and taehyung doesn’t move, not at first, just standing in the middle. he says, “i kind of want to be executed, you know. i appreciate your choice, but i don’t see much of a point in this life anymore.”

“what if he’s right?” asks yoongi. his heart is beating too hard to think straight, panic and adrenaline filling him. he doesn’t have time to convince taehyung to run away. “there was no body.”

“yoongi—”

“what would jimin want for you, taehyung?” asks yoongi. “you said we have to live with our choices. for that, you have to live, period.

for the first time in days, yoongi sees something other than pain in taehyung’s eyes. and he gets it—gets wanting to die because he no longer has the person he loved most. but this can’t be it for him. and when taehyung does step out of the cell, he puts a hand on yoongi’s shoulder, just for a second. and then he says what he did days ago, after they watched the cry of hades go down and jeongguk take a breath on the sea: “don’t waste it.”

yoongi turns around.

jeongguk is standing against the bars of his cell, glaring daggers into yoongi’s skull. it feels so much like it did the first time—but this time, yoongi has the keys. this time, yoongi is going to do this properly. and just for right now, he forgets about the urgency, about the guards who are likely on their way now to kill them.

then yoongi rushes forward, unlocking jeongguk’s cell and swinging the door open. jeongguk doesn’t move.

“what the fuck are you doing?” he finally asks. despite being the first thing that jeongguk has said to him in days and despite how angry he sounds, yoongi missed him. yoongi always misses him.

“i’m helping you escape,” says yoongi. “and the rest of them, too. i can’t let any of you die. i can’t… jeongguk, i promised that i wouldn’t let you die.”

jeongguk’s eyes narrow. “you lied to me, yoongi,” he says. “why should i ever care about what you promised when all of it was just a lie? setting me free doesn’t change the fact that you lied to me and betrayed me in the first place.”

“i’m sorry, jeongguk. they threatened to torture you if i didn’t help them and i thought we could—” he pauses when he hears a loud commotion somewhere deeper in the prison. one of the others must have run into guards. “jeongguk, i thought we could escape. i thought i wouldn’t have to go through with this, but they threatened to kill me or torture you and i knew the only way it could work is if we escaped here—”

“why didn’t you just tell me, hyung?” beneath the anger in jeongguk’s eyes, yoongi sees a flicker of sorrow. “why didn’t you tell me from the start?”

“how could i? you hated me.”

“no, i didn’t.” jeongguk swallows. “hyung, i never hated you. but you hurt me. and you’ve hurt me again.”

more noises, closer now—“jeongguk, we have to go,” says yoongi, swinging the door wider and taking a step back. “please just go.” when jeongguk doesn’t move, yoongi sighs. “i know i’ve hurt you. i know i’ve hurt you again and again but i didn’t know how to stop this from happening. i was so scared when they threatened you and i—i love you. and i know i’ve fucked up and i keep fucking up. i know i can only gain your trust so many times before you give up on me.” he looks down the corridor, stomach clenching when he sees light flickering against it, knowing the guards will be upon them soon.

he turns back to jeongguk, desperate now. “i’m not just doing this because i love you,” he says. “i’m doing this because pirates look out for their own. this is the right thing to do. and if you don’t want to forgive me again, then that’s okay. i’ll still be happy just knowing that you’re safe even if it’s not with me.”

it’s the hardest thing he’s had to accept in deciding to help jeongguk escape. from now on, jeongguk isn’t his prisoner anymore. from now on, yoongi has no semblance of control over him, although what control he did have earlier was merely a façade at best. he can’t make jeongguk do anything, can’t threaten him.

jeongguk will be a free man, which means he can choose whether or not to run far, far away from yoongi and never look back. but jeongguk has always been stubborn and headstrong and yoongi has never had a hope of making him do anything he doesn’t want to do. and it’s not love if it’s not born out of free will, anyway.

it terrifies yoongi that jeongguk might not forgive him. but the others were right—he isn’t doing this so that jeongguk will love him and want to be with him again. he’s doing this because it’s the right thing to do, because yoongi was forced into something terrible by the king but fuck it all, he’s still a pirate. and pirates don’t let other pirates walk willingly into their executions.

but that’s okay. yoongi will be happy knowing that jeongguk is alive and safe somewhere, that he’s no longer being hurt so greatly by the military—or by yoongi for that matter. and if one day, jeongguk decides that he can forgive yoongi, then yoongi will be waiting. and he will wait as long as it takes. they’ve almost died on this voyage, have been to hell and back. and he knows, through it all, and jeongguk is worth waiting the rest of his life for.

finally, jeongguk takes a step out of the cell, although his face doesn’t soften. when he comes closer to yoongi, he hesitates, opening his mouth to say something—but a loud shout rings around the prison and yoongi turns to see a group of guards is at the other end, having spotted them.

there’s no time now.

yoongi grabs jeongguk’s wrist and begins running the other way, back the way he came. he stumbles to a stop when they get to the bodies of the three guards he killed to get here, stooping to grab two swords and holding one out to jeongguk.

“one last fight?” he asks. he wants this—needs it. this might be the last time the two of them are together like this, fighting side by side as they have been this entire time. this might be the last time he sees jeongguk at all, if that’s what jeongguk wants.

jeongguk takes the sword, a smirk beginning to grow on his lips. “let’s kill some military bastards, spitfire.”

yoongi revels in it. as they run back down the corridor, meeting their opponents with swords held high, he revels in all of it: the feeling of fighting with jeongguk at his side, knowing that together they’re unstoppable. together, they captured five of the most dangerous and notorious pirates in korean history. together, they defeated the cry of hades. together, they came back alive again and again, beat crews and guards who wanted them dead.

together. they did all of this together. they’ve always been best together.

when they cut through the group of guards and keep running, twisting down corridors of the palace until they find an exit, yoongi has never felt freer. and finally, he is free; finally, he no longer has to pretend to be a commander. he can do anything he wants, go anywhere he wants. and whether or not jeongguk is there with him is fine, because at least yoongi has this: one last perilous night, jeon jeongguk at his side, and the wide open sea before him.

they race to the docks, more guards pouring out of the palace after them and the three other pirates who will be well on their way by now. it’s perhaps the most daring thing a pirate has done to the king, and yoongi revels in that, too: finally sticking it to the king, giving him such hope before tearing it all away. it’s what yoongi should have done at the beginning, but better late than never.

yoongi spots the ships in the harbour as they stumble onto the docks. his ship is still there from months ago, kept by the military for when he would be set free once he completed his task. along with it is the ship they sailed in from shipwreck island. already, yoongi knows what they must do, but he pulls jeongguk to a stop between the two ships. behind them, somewhere in the city, are dozens of guards wanting to kill them. maybe even the king himself.

and yoongi knows the truth of all of this, how life will not be simple from here on out. but it never was. and that’s what made it good.

“i know you’re upset with me, and you have a right to be,” he says hurriedly. “but i want to be with you, jeongguk. if you don’t want that, it’s okay.”

“hyung,” says jeongguk.

“no, jeongguk, listen.” yoongi’s heart is beating too quickly, knowing he has to get this out before it’s too late. “they’re going to be looking for us. this won’t be like in japan. they’ll get on their boats and hunt us down. so we have to run for a while.” they could run together, but that would make it too easy for the king. wherever they go now, they have to go alone. “so a year from today, i’ll be at the place where it started again. where you told me you wanted us to be. and if you come, i’ll be there. and if you don’t—that’s okay, too. i meant what i said: i love you. and i did what i thought i had to for us to win this, but i’ll be happy just knowing you’re okay.”

he can hear them approaching now, shouting through the streets as though waking the entire city will give them an advantage. just one final time, he and jeongguk can do this—they can escape the clutches of death, even if it’s not quite together. and the idea of having to leave jeongguk again is almost too much to bear.

for four years, yoongi searched and tried to make things right. and he finally found jeongguk, finally had him, but it was so fleeting. they were in love again only for days, existing in this in between where pirates could be happy. it’s been so long and yoongi has been so lonely; all he wants is to ask jeongguk to come with him now, to start on this life that they promised each other.

a year is a long time. a year without jeongguk is a lifetime—this yoongi already knows. and anything could happen in a year. jeongguk could truly decide not meet yoongi, could decide this second betrayal was too much even if yoongi has laid out all of the pieces and given jeongguk the choice to believe what he wants. but they have to live first if they want to come back together.

as painful as it is, yoongi knows this is what they must do. to be together, they first must leave each other. for a year. just for a year. yoongi has waited longer. yoongi has waited once; he will wait again.

the shouts are closer now. “go, jeongguk,” says yoongi, pushing him toward his ship. “a year. if you can forgive me, i’ll be waiting in a year.”

“hyung—” jeongguk begins, and he reaches out, grabbing onto the front of yoongi’s shirt. when he tugs him back in, it’s not to hurt. not to hate.

he kisses yoongi hard, lips bruising against yoongi’s mouth. in it, he says, goodbye. in it, he says, we have been apart and we can be apart again. in it, he says, wait for me. i’ll wait for you.

and then, just as soon as it’s begun, it’s over. jeongguk lets go of him, offering no parting words as he steps away. but he doesn’t need words—because yoongi knows. oh, yoongi has always known. he knows that look of determination on jeongguk’s face, one that says he will no longer be a prisoner. and neither of them will waste this.

when yoongi runs for his own ship, climbing on board and taking just a moment to welcome himself back home, he gives himself no time to mourn. jeongguk is slipping between his fingers again, but this time, he has to believe that something will bring him back. he lets down the sails, pulls up the anchor, sets sail for a place unknown. and across the seas and oceans, there will be just a thread connecting he and jeongguk, unraveling the further apart they sail into the night. but one day, it will shrink and shrink.

one day, they’ll step onto the same ground once more. one day, yoongi will be sure that he hasn’t wasted any of this.

when they sail out of the harbour one final time, the military doing as yoongi was sure and trying to ready themselves for the inevitable and endless chase, yoongi looks over the side of his ship and finds jeongguk on his. and he feels—happy. he might be running for his life and running away from the one person he wants to hold closer than ever, but they did it. they found each other, found love, fought their way through thick and thin to be here once more.

if they could last through the past month and a half, and the four years before, yoongi knows nothing can stop them now.

yoongi has never been surer of their future. even when jeongguk’s ship disappears on the horizon, the last yoongi will see of him for a year, perhaps the rest of his life, yoongi is sure: the sea will bring them back together. it has a funny way of mending broken things.

epilogue

the island looks exactly how yoongi remembers it.

he anchors his ship away from the shore, rowing in on a small boat that he leaves on the sand once he makes it. there’s a small sigh on his lips when he climbs out of the boat and stands on the shore for the first time, surveying the line of trees and rocks along the shore. unbidden, the memories return to him: this stretch of sand is where he challenged jeongguk’s crew to a pirate’s dice tournament. and this spot against the trees is where yoongi had to stand, wet and mostly naked after jeongguk didn’t wake him up on time for a meeting.

this rock is where they hid behind while trying to capture taehyung. this divet in the sand is where their mermaid-less chest might have rested. this shore is where they sat and talked and became friends, little by little.

here is where yoongi fell back into love.

the place where it started again. where you told me you wanted us to be.

they spent nearly three weeks on this island the first time, so long ago when they had first come back together. when yoongi was forced into doing the unthinkable to the man he loved most. after, jeongguk told him how he wanted to come back. how this island, hidden away in the sea of japan, could be a paradise for them.

and now, a day to the year of their daring escape from the king, yoongi has returned.

he does a lap around the perimeter of the island, reliving each day of those three weeks—and the rest of that month of a half a year ago. for a year, yoongi has fled from the military. for a year, he has sailed the seas trying to keep himself alive. he’s inserted himself back into piracy the way he once did years ago, a fire renewed within him after such an intense month and a half with jeongguk.

of course, life is never so easy. word about what he did for the king ran rampant after who he assumes is seokjin and hoseok opened their mouths. word of what he did to the cry of hades accompanied it. in some ports, with some pirates, yoongi has learned he’s seen as a traitor and nothing more, ran out if pubs and harbours with threats and insults.

in others, he’s hailed as a hero, welcomed with open arms and demands to know the whole story of how he defeated the cry of hades once and for all. seokjin and hoseok are still out there, anyway, still a pair as they captain a new crew together. yoongi ran into namjoon once, the other pirate having turned away from his original tactics of impersonating important people. he was in the middle of preparing to take down the entire japanese city that captured him the first time and, when they locked eyes in a market in the south of japan, namjoon nodded his head in greeting.

that was enough.

this island, though, makes him think most of taehyung—of taehyung and jimin. he hasn’t heard much about taehyung in the past year, but he did hear a rumour about a pirate searching for a love lost a sea, a pirate searching for a creature that could bring back the dead. searching for mermaids known for stealing men who are drowning and giving them life once more.

a pirate wanting a second chance.

yoongi sighs as he returns to where he started, his ship looming on the water before him. it’s been almost a year since he made that promise to jeongguk that he would be here, that he would be waiting. and over the past year, yoongi has gone back and forth so much—not on the promise, but on his hopes for the outcome of it.

what he knows is that he loves jeongguk and jeongguk, at least for some time, loved him back. what he also knows is that yoongi has hurt him time and time again, although never truly willingly. he could have done better, he knows. he is the one at fault. but he wants to believe that jeongguk can forgive him as he did the first time. yoongi wanted to keep him safe, was blinded by fear of what the king would do to jeongguk. and he was still at fault for lying to him and capturing him the second time, but he did what he could to make it right.

it’s up to jeongguk if he wants to come to the island. if he wants something more. but after a year, yoongi feels safe enough from the military that they might get to be together. perhaps, after five long years, they will finally have some semblance of a happy beginning. a happy middle. perhaps, even, after years and years of sailing the seas together, they can even have a happy end.

yoongi waits on the island for a week.

he arrived early on purpose, doesn’t get his hopes up until the exact day to the year that he told jeongguk to meet him here. but the sun rises and sets with no sign of jeongguk, yoongi waiting on the shore for him to no avail. then the next day passes, and the next. by the fifth day after that year, yoongi has to admit that his waiting might be in vain.

and he knew this might happen. he gave jeongguk the choice because he knows it’s not love if he makes jeongguk come. and he always knew that jeongguk might not forgive him, might decide that he doesn’t want to be with yoongi after all. there’s no point in dwelling on it. perhaps they’ll see each other again somewhere else. perhaps, after years, they’ll run into each other on a port somewhere far from here and embrace again. they’ll laugh at how they were once in love and how they once killed for each other, how they once put all hope for the future in each other.

and still, when the sun begins to set, burning orange on the horizon, yoongi can’t help feeling empty. after a week, he has to let it go. he can’t stay here forever or he’ll die. and if jeongguk hasn’t come yet, he probably isn’t coming at all.

and then, just as he picks himself up from the sand and begins heading for the little boat that will bring him back to his ship—

he blinks at the horizon, at the burning orange of the sun. it might be a trick of the light, but yoongi swears he sees a ship sailing toward him.

yoongi stands on the shore and watches for an agonizing hour as the ship sails steadily closer. and it could be any ship, but he allows himself to hope. for this, yoongi allows himself to hope.

and when the ship gets close enough, yoongi realizes he recognizes it; it’s that ship they sailed back to korea in from shipwreck island, the one he watched disappear a year ago when he and jeongguk were fleeing from the military.

it’s jeongguk.

a wave of relief and anticipation rolls over yoongi as he watches the ship sail into the harbour next to yoongi’s. his heart beats double time, stomach twisted into knots of want and need. it’s been a year. a year and yoongi is still so impossibly in love with jeon jeongguk, this captain, this starling. this pirate who has walked through hell and is here, finally. he’s come.

he watches as jeongguk lets down a tender, climbing into it and beginning to row into the shore. but yoongi can’t wait that long. so he waits only until jeongguk is closerenough that they can hear each other over the gentle waves bringing jeongguk to shore. from here, he doesn’t look so different—a year older, a year wiser. now, he’ll have more scars and tattoos that yoongi doesn’t know. more stories and memories. but maybe he has the rest of his life to relearn everything about jeongguk.

when jeongguk is still fifty feet out from the shore, yoongi calls, “i thought you weren’t going to come!”

and jeongguk smiles, all teeth. “had to keep you on your toes, min,” he calls back. “i wanted to make sure you were serious. wanted to know how long you’d wait for me to forgive you.”

yoongi’s breath hitches. and jeongguk rows closer. a year—it’s been a year. and now finally, here they are. finally, it can be a happy beginning.

when he finally gets to shore, jeongguk climbs out of the boat, splashing the last few steps onto the sand. for a time, they stand just like that, feet apart, staring at each other. now, it’s been ten years since they first met. now, it has been ten years since they first fell in love. ten years of piracy and battles and losing each other again and again. they have spent as much time apart as they have together in those ten years—like the tide, perhaps, moving in and out in a steady cycle.

the sea brought them together. and it tore them apart. but finally—the sea has brought them together again. (it has a funny way of mending broken things.)

there are countless things yoongi wants to say. things he has thought of in their year apart. the most pressing is the question of whether or not jeongguk forgives him, whether or not he’s here for the same reason that yoongi is. but he doesn’t know where to begin. so he just stands and looks, drinking in everything he has missed for a year.

in the end, it’s jeongguk who speaks first. who, reaching out with a hand, begins, “hyung—”

“do you love me?” yoongi cuts him off, unable to hold it back. never able to hold it back.

instead of answering, jeongguk says, “i’m still mad at you, you know.”

yoongi grins. “i thought you could do both,” he says.

jeongguk grins back. and there it is—there’s that impossible way of existing that jeongguk encompasses so well—a boy and a man all at once, pirate and lover and so much more. this is it: the rest of yoongi’s life.

when jeongguk reaches for him, yoongi goes willingly. and when jeongguk kisses him again, finally, after a year—the wait was worth it. the wait is always worth it for jeon jeongguk, the one true treasure of yoongi’s heart.