Chapter 1: The Oblivious One
It started out with a scarf.
It was tied into his hair to hold it back from where he was forging. It held it all back more securely than the hair ties Mia keeps torturing him with.
The scarf was a familiar red, the same scarf that was usually tied on Erik's right arm on the outside of his coat. But now it was tied into a low ponytail while intertwining in a short braid to keep it from falling out at all. Held it up all day and it was just as easy to pull apart.
Much more better than the little hair ties. Almost every single one of them were lost in the molten, hot steel of the forge. It was also harder to not to take care of the scarf when Erik was the one to give it to him.
“It's just decoration anyways, it looks better on you.”
Eleven can still feel the gentle combing of the fingers as Erik did his hair. A talent gained from doing his sister's hair for years before, a far cry from Mia's manhandling.
It was also a heart skipping moment where his feelings came back in full force. A sudden thing where it took Eleven sideways because he thought he was finally over them.
When the party split, when he said his goodbyes, the one he shared with Erik felt a little more permanent than the rest. They never said a proper goodbye, but they also never promised to meet again. The distance that the pirate kept was deceptive, nobody was the wiser on how dark Erik's past exactly was except for Eleven. Without anything to tie him down anymore, Eleven let him go knowing that Erik wouldn't betray the trust that they had by falling too far into crime.
Maybe it was because that he himself experienced the corruption from the highest authority that his own views in good and bad were skewed. That Erik's petty thieving was just an entertainment value that he lets him get away with. It never occurred to Eleven to not keep quiet about Erik's criminal status or try to deter him from it. The man saved his life while the king betrayed the trust that was invested by his mother.
Eleven owes Erik in more ways than one so everything just fell into place. Just let things happen, just let everyone do their own thing really. Nobody was ever restricted from doing what they wanted once they reached into a town or village.
And somehow that was all Erik needed to call him partner.
It's embarrassing now looking back that Eleven used to be one of the people that swooned at the sight of Erik. He never did it so blatantly but he knows he's stared longer than normal when he could get away with it. He's been fish bowled in his little village for the entirety of his life before getting slammed into the dungeons, so nobody can blame him for falling for Erik's roguish charms and exotic looks.
He didn't know if it was good or bad luck that his world saving adventures didn't let him linger too long on his feelings. Too many things happening all at once, back to back without any real time to take a break from it all. The most reprieve they've gotten was probably when they were at sea. Weeks that stretched to reach to new places they haven't been before.
So yes, he liked being at sea, if only because it was the only time they weren't rushing about. The sense of stability and peace, however short, was something he learn to love quickly.
The slow rocking of the ship coupled happily with his sleeping habits too.
“El! I can't believe you're still asleep!”
Eleven jerked awake in his hammock as everything in his room rattled at the force Mia slammed open the door. The first thing that came into vision were the chucks of iron scraps and papers on the floor. A small project set aside to see if he could create something without a recipe.
His eyes swept over to where Mia stood and she huffed at him. Stomped over before giving a tug on his hammock for a small swing.
“I don't know how you can make sleeping on one of these things look so comfortable.” Mia pushed this time. “It's not fair that you can make your own pillows.”
“It's because it was uncomfortable that I made my own pillows.” Eleven yawned before looking out the port hole. “Is it that late already?”
“We're docked at Gondolia, remember?” Mia's frustration was prominent. “Everyone's already out and running around in town and you're just here lounging!”
“I don't need to go out, I've got everything I need.” Eleven buried his face back into his pillows. “Not like we're going to sail back out in the next hour.”
This time Mia pulled the edge of the hammock straight down. The immediate tumbling of everything on it was on the floor in the next blink and Eleven yelped at the pain in his elbow and side banging against the wood below. Tears pricked at the sharp, electric pain that made his nerves cry from his elbow to his fingertips.
Squinting open his eyes, he saw heads peek out from his doorway. His fall attracting the very few that was left on the ship at the commotion.
“Mia.” Eleven groaned. “Why?”
“You're making yourself into some kind of hermit crab.” She crossed her arms. “And I want to go shopping. You need to get out, I need a mule.”
“'Mule.'” Eleven echoed pitifully. “You mean cache. I should've never brought up that story.”
“Oh please, I'll actually be spending gold too.” Mia prodded him with her foot. “Thanks for the idea though, now get up and get ready! You got ten minutes!”
She left like she came in, a whirlwind of energy that vibrated at the thought of scouring the market stalls for anything good. There was also snickering at his door as Eleven stayed on the floor to gather his wits a moment longer.
He didn't mind any of it though, he liked the simplicity that his life has become.
“There's never anything interesting these days.” Mia complained. “So boring!”
Eleven sighed. “What exactly are you looking for?”
They've went up and down the length of Gondolia multiple times now. Mia has been searching for something, but Eleven couldn't tell exactly what. She stopped and peered through multiple different things, trinkets and other knickknacks that didn't relate to each other.
At first he thought she was just spying out what to steal, seeing her defeated and sulkily eating cake made him rethink that.
“Erik's birthday!” Mia growled shoving another forkful of cake into her mouth. “It's coming up soon!”
Mia looked at him in surprise. “He hasn't told you?”
“He's never mentioned it.” Eleven bit his lip. “We never really celebrated that kind of stuff out on the road.”
And now he feels awful, that Erik was his best friend and he didn't even know when his birthday was. Years went by and it never occurred to Eleven to ask even when a birthday did come around and well wishes were given.
“That does sound like him.” Mia grumbled. “He probably didn't want talk about it. We actually don't know when our birthdays really are. We just picked a date.”
Guilt weighed even heavier.
“That makes it even worse that I haven't ever thought to ask.” Eleven was now sinking into his seat. “What kind of a friend am I?”
Mia looked at him strangely before scoffing. “What do you mean? Almost every other week is his birthday since you came onto the ship. You made more of his favourite coats, and in different colours too! I went into his room the other day and found those Black Dragon hide sheathes for his daggers!”
“He asked!” Eleven defended feeling a little embarrassed. “And his old ones were falling apart, how could I not? I'd do the same for everyone!”
“With Black Dragon hide?”
“I- I- He-” This time Eleven knows his cheeks were full on red. “He's the captain, my best friend, so what if I give him special treatment?” He looked at her pointedly. “I give you special treatment!”
“But not like every other week Erik though.” A creeping smirk was on her lips. “But I guess that's only natural.”
The knowing look in her eyes made Eleven pray that she wasn't as perceptive as she makes herself seem to be. But the nosiness she has didn't make him too hopeful. Mia was definitely Erik's sister in that regard, being able to know almost instantly if there was something on his mind.
But unlike Erik, she was far less kinder about it. Eleven imagines that this is what it felt like to have that deviousness fully turned on him. To be fully taken advantage even when Eleven knows that it's not half as bad as what the rest of the crew has to deal with.
And it wasn't as if Erik was nice either, he proved himself mean-spirited plenty of times. It showed enough with Veronica, he certainly didn't warm up to Jade or Rab after a while due to the stunt they pulled when they first met in Octagonia.
And when he didn't have to act like he was just a thief, he dragged Eleven off to whatever underground society that existed just so he can show off a little bit of the world that he lived in. It was just knowing and wanting to explore a little bit more of it that got Eleven into trouble in Puerto Valor in the first place.
But regardless of unfortunate encounters, he enjoyed himself. He liked that the unfortunate life of a criminal that he was forced to bear at the time had some benefit. He liked that Erdrea seemed a little bit bigger even if it was on the other side of the law.
He never participated in whatever hustling that Erik did, but it felt good to know that Erik trusted him to watch his back. The thrill was something similar when he first pulled his pranks and graffitied the walls of Cobblestone when he was younger. Only they'll won't be easily forgiven like everyone was wholly willing to do with him.
Eleven liked that though, the daring feeling even if it wasn't him doing the talking. The scuffles that they managed to walk away from fueled that excitement. To be able to laugh off the experience and watch Erik's eyes glimmer in satisfaction at the weight of gold he managed to get from the more valuable items he's sold off.
Mia sighed. “As much as it's fun to tease you, it still doesn't solve the present issue.”
Eleven mulled before an idea popped in his head. “How about other cities? Like Gallopolis? I'm sure there's definitely stuff there that don't make it here. I know merchants have a tough time hauling large shipments through the desert even though it's only a few days away.”
“And how exactly are we going to do that?” Mia crossed her arms. “We leave in a few days. And I never really been to any of the more inland cities.”
“With Zoom, of course!” Eleven smiled widely. “And I can take you around, no one will notice we're gone if we only take a few hours.” A thought suddenly crossed his mind. “You probably only want to take a couple to be honest. It's hot and Erik didn't do too well because of the heat.”
“Whoa there.” Mia held her hand up. “Slow down. What's Zoom?”
Eleven blinked before laughing sheepishly. “It's a spell that lets me travel all around Erdrea. I used it plenty of times with others, so you'll be fine.”
“Wait a minute.” Mia narrowed her eyes. “You mean to tell me you have a spell that lets you travel the world instantly and you want to laze about in bed?!” Eleven shrunk under her glare. “I can't believe you, you lazy bastard!”
“Mia, please.” Eleven nervously looked at the people looking at them. “People are staring.”
“I don't care!” She raged. “Another thing Erik kept from me, got any other surprises before I beat the shit out of him?!”
“I- I don't know?” Eleven shrunk even more. “Maybe?”
“You're lucky I blame Erik more than you.” Mia growled. “It's not fair that he keeps those kinds of things to himself!”
“It's not look he's asked me.” Eleven tried. “And I haven't needed to use it for a while now.”
“That's because you're too busy lounging like a cat!” Mia took another bite of her cake. “Fine. Whatever. We're going to Gallopolis tomorrow, but I sure as hell don't want to go back empty-handed.” Mia narrowed her eyes staring at him. “For all the jewelry you make you don't wear much of it.”
“What?” Eleven blinked, unsure where this is going. “I mean, I guess? I wear necklaces and bracelets, nothing too loose though.”
“Never thought about getting your ears pierced though?”
“I did once?” Eleven looked up in thought. “Erik did it but I healed it over with a spell when I got hurt. I decided to wait until there was more time for me to let it heal naturally but I guess I forgot.”
Mia gave a pleased grin. “Let's go get your ears pierced then. Oh, better yet, let's go shopping for earrings, that'll definitely open up options for Erik.”
“'Open up options'?” Eleven tilted his head. “Does he want more earrings? I can make him some but he seems attached to his gold ones.”
“Sure. That.” Mia shook her head. “I wonder about you sometimes. But gold earrings, that's a start. You can match with him since you can't seem to stop thinking about him.”
Eleven sputtered and barely squawked out denials as she dragged him out of his chair and into the streets. His heart hammered at the renewed rush of feelings that he didn't think would sprout like it did. That the utter delight to having matching anything with Erik made his ears go red. The anticipation that followed immediately made Eleven dread at what that meant.
He was going to suffer another few days internally swooning like an idiot.
Eleven will never claim that he knew everything about Erik. Best friend aside, he's learned that it was better to let the past be until it was voluntarily spoken up by the person themselves. It was a fact that Eleven learned unintentionally when he wanted to keep his own past under a lock and key.
It was nothing compared to Erik's story, but Eleven understood that there were things that were meant to be untouched. Silence may not be the best way to heal, but it was the way they wanted to heal. Let their problems stay unique to the universal ways of letting them get better.
They never talked about the nightmares that kept them up on some nights, the best that they knew was a silent shoulder to lean on. An offer that they both learned to take when those nights get a little too long.
So with their tendency to live in the present and keep the past away, it didn't really surprise Eleven that Erik had a hidden talent or two. The man still held on to his habits and kept his life quiet like a well worn secret. Truer than any other thief and emulated the dragon side of his jolly roger well in squandering and hoarding them closely. Instinct to keep the past where it was.
But it was still nice to learn a piece of it. A pleasant surprise that Mia shared in her excitement.
“I didn't know Erik could play the harmonica.”
“Nothing too fancy but he played this little beat up thing before- you know.” Mia waved off the memory. “I'm pretty sure he lost it.”
Apparently Gallopolis had a music shop. It sold a large variety of instruments that they make of their own. Despite all the sand and heat, the dryness of the desert was ideal in handling the wood in most instruments. It was easier to control humidity or so they say.
It shouldn't have been a surprise since the circus was in town. They were their biggest buyers and customers, constantly going in for any maintenance, repairs, and replacements. Their specialty, again unsurprisingly, were flutes and other wind instruments. Seeing the various flutes out on display put a sense of nostalgia in Eleven.
The craftsmanship on the grand pianos, violin, and guitars were also something to be admired. Inspiration for his own creations.
“I found it!” Mia gave a victorious shout. “El, look! It's almost perfect!”
Eleven walked over to where Mia was pointing at and saw a shine of gold and silver before recognizing the harmonica. The wooden innards was complemented nicely by the silver frame and golden accents. A careful vine-like design that was indented and gold-leafed in at the edge of the frame distracted the eyes well. They prevented them from looking at the pegs that held everything in place. Golden pegs that were flushed with the surface and actually added to the design.
Why something like this was hidden away and not in display boggled Eleven. Harmonicas are hardly a delicate instrument that people wouldn't think to handle with care. He's seen the few and none of them had the design that this one had.
Solid but elegant.
“It's beautiful.” Eleven eyed the gold and silver. “And the materials are good quality too.”
“Of course they are!” Mia huffed. “I'm not cheap, I sure as hell won't spend cheap!”
But ripping people off and stealing wasn't a discount itself, Eleven wryly thought. Not that Erik didn't do the same. It amazed Eleven sometimes in how similar the siblings were to where he just started treating her as a smaller, more brattier version of Erik. He was actually pulled aside by Johnson to stop spoiling her so much.
It was too late for that, and she was an adult now, by Cobblestone standards anyways. Eleven already gave her daggers to use fully, and she was plenty responsible despite being a brat. He finds it a little ridiculous that she needs an escort, but then Bench said it was to make sure that she was the one that didn't stab somebody.
Which was fair, but still a little over the top. Especially when everyone on the ship was pro-stabbing.
“I'm going to ring this up.” Mia then frowned. “Do you think they can do more engravings on this thing?”
“I don't see why not.” Eleven eyed the instrument. “It might cost more though. I'd do it, but I don't have experience with something like that.”
“Shame, but like hell I'd let you touch it.” She stuck her tongue out. “It's my present, go get your own.”
A sigh escaped Eleven and ignored the tingling sound of the shop's bell that signal another customer entering. Mia's antics makes him wonder what was the end goal to what all she doing right now. She wasn't subtle in the slightest and it makes him anxious at when she'll corner him.
There wasn't any doubt that she wouldn't, not after yesterday's failed shopping trip.
There was a loud gasp from behind them, Eleven didn't even get the chance to turn around fully before he got the wind knocked out of him. His whole body jerked in panic and even more so when he was picked up and spun around.
“Oh, darling! You're here! I almost didn't recognize you because of the hair!” Hearing Sylvando's voice didn't calm Eleven's raging heart when he was set back down. “Everyone has been worried about you!”
“S-sylv.” Eleven felt a nervous shake go through his hand as he clenched at his chest. “You scared me.”
“You?” Sylvando put a hand to his hip and pointed accusingly. “You scared us! What was running around in your little mind of yours disappearing like that? The only thing that kept our princess from going out in a manhunt was your mother reassuring us that you were okay.”
There wasn't much Eleven can say, he hadn't thought about meeting any of his old friends. Dashed those thoughts after the disaster he had left in Heliodor with heavy shoulders. A part of him was quite thankful that he's hadn't had any confrontations with them while he was away and that in itself made him feel even more guilty.
So he just froze there, unable to say what and why under Sylvando's awaiting gaze.
“Hey now, wait a minute, you showy bastard! You can't just accuse El out of the blue like that!” Mia snapped in between them and bared her teeth. “I don't know who you think you are pointing your finger like that, but I hope you're not too attached after I cut it off!”
Sylvando shrieked at the near miss of Mia's dagger. He clutched his hand close to his chest and just stared wide-eyed gaping.
“'Dear'?” Mia raised her hackles along with her offended pitch. “Who the hell do you think you are calling me 'dear'?” She spat. “My big brother stabbed bigger men for lesser reasons and you think that's okay?!”
She was honest to Yggdrasil going to stab Sylvando. She was going to shank him in a music store.
Eleven felt absolutely loved but still surged forward to grab her wrist and put her behind him as fast as he could.
“Mia, please.” Eleven struggled against her. “He's one of our friends, Sylvando, remember?”
“Hell no!” Mia raged even more. “But I will remember him being rude and all too touchy for anyone's liking! Let me at him!”
Eleven jerked at the force Mia tried to jump out of his arms but still held on. “Sylv, please apologize! Mia, he didn't mean it like that!”
“Like fuck he didn't!” She hissed. “Literally minding our own damn business and he has the fucking nerve to mosey in like he we weren't having a proper fucking conversation. And what the hell kind of right does he have looking at you like he's your mom? Fuck off, you two-bit, laughing stock!”
This was probably the first time that she's been angered so badly. The mortified shock on Sylvando's face, whether from the dressing down or the profanity, or most likely both, said it all at how effective her words got to him. Eleven could only bow his head and wish that he had a free hand to rub his face with. If only to relieve the absurdity he was feeling.
But he would take the absurdity over the impression of a locked up deer he was doing earlier. He was thankful to Mia for that at least.
“Sylv...” Eleven desperately pleaded with his eyes.
The jester bit his lip before relenting. “Oh, fine, I was pretty rude, wasn't I?” He sighed. “I'm sorry, Eleven, I'm sorry, Mia. I let my head get the better of me. Let me treat you both to make it up?”
“No way!” Mia stuck out her tongue and held Eleven's arm tight. “You're not going to seduce El here when we're here for my brother.”
“What?” Mia scoffed at Eleven's scandalized look. “This was your idea and you're still moaning about not knowing what to get him.”
“Do you have to say it like that?” Eleven sighed before looking up at Sylvando. “Sorry, but she's right, we can't stay for long or else Erik will get suspicious.”
Disappointment flitted on Sylvando's face but he moved on to a curious and almost something sly. “For Erik, huh? You've been traveling with our elusive rogue then?”
“Well, duh.” Mai jumped in once more. “Can you imagine El traveling alone? He's literally one, doe-eyed smile away from taming a Chihuawyrm to give to Erik.” Mia lit up at her own words and turned up to Eleven. “You should do that.”
“What does that even mean?” Eleven groaned into his hands. “Why are you like this?”
“Oh dear.” Sylvando gave a little giggle. “I see that they're both the same since they were traveling with us.”
“To hell and back, of course they were.” Mia scowled. “All their stories and the only thing that they got going for them is that they're good at making money together.”
“They are really good at doing that aren't they.” Sylvando said with a suspicious tint. “They always said it was because they go off treasure hunting on their own time.”
“It's true!” Mia huffed. “After the first time they went of scavenging, they crowded themselves over the stupid forge. Erik helped eyed which gems were the best while El here just made shit.” She crossed her arms. “I made sure I was never left behind again after that. I don't care how much you both want to secretly snog, you're not leaving me out of jewel hunting!”
“Mia!” Eleven flushed. “We're not like that!”
“I know!” Mia growled. “I don't know what's so hard about getting together when all those stupid floozies can shamelessly hang off of Erik's arm. I don't understand how you're not shamelessly hanging off of his arms.”
Eleven's jaw dropped at how blatant Mia just dropped that. Especially in front of Sylvando of all people. Every word she's said made him flush red deeper and deeper until those fluttering feelings were almost too overwhelming. The longing feeling of wanting to hang off of Erik's arms made it even worse. That he wanted to keep the well sought after bachelor of a pirate captain to himself.
And Yggdrasil's guiding light, Erik wasn't even interested in being in a relationship. He's made that clear multiple times and he highly doubts he wants one with his best friend. All his jealousy at the floozies, as Mia calls them, were unfounded. His own ridiculous mind working itself up because he couldn't get over his own feelings.
“Come on, Mia. We need to hurry up before it gets too late.” Eleven desperately changed the subject.
“Tch!” Mia huffed. “Fine, whatever. But seriously, stop wading in the shallows and get rid of the stupid floozies.”
“I- I have no idea what you're talking about!”
Mia was already walking away not listening leaving him was Sylvando. The quirk in his eye brow and the upturned corner of his lips was all Eleven needed to figure out the fastest way to runaway. The jester was probably the next worst person to figure out his unrequited feelings.
“So, Erik, huh?”
“Sylv, please.” Eleven bit his lip. “There's absolutely nothing going on.”
“Darling, please, everyone knows you've both been dancing after each other the moment we all laid eyes on you both.” Sylvando chuckled. “I honestly thought you two were already a couple with the way Erik was so protective of you when you both first came here.” He eyed Eleven up and down. “You certainly look like you've been in his company for a while. I absolutely love the hair.”
The reminder of the scarf still so delicately weaved into his hair had him a little more shy. Honestly much better than the utter embarrassment that Mia managed to unearth. Much easier to hide that flush when he was calming down from the previous ones.
“It's nothing much really, this is better for just traveling than gearing up for monsters.” Eleven shifted his eyes downward. “Just old-fashioned exploring.”
Which was what Eleven was just doing seeing as he didn't actively involve himself in the raids and other shady dealings that are happening at the auction houses right now.
“Darling, the only thing that turtleneck is good for is keeping you warm and showing off your form.” Sylvando smiled slyly. “There's no shame in admitting that you're trying to attract his attention. Especially with that familiar looking scarf and that utility belt of yours. Or are they still Erik's.”
“I made them!” Eleven bristled and felt the indignation weigh on him. “They're mine and I like them. And it's not like Erik even carry around his tools much anymore.”
Sylvando put his hands up in surrender. “I'm only teasing, honey. But you really have changed a lot in the past couple of years. But I suppose it's nothing that our princess has to worry about.”
A twinge coiled tightly in Eleven but held strong against it. “There's nothing to worry about in the first place, it's not like I go looking for trouble.” He said knowing it sounded a little petulant. “I've actually stayed out of trouble for a long while now.”
There was a moment that Sylvando took to truly look up and down Eleven again. Give a critical eye to truly take in the changes that Eleven has embraced.
“You do know that Dundrasil is being rebuilt right now?” Sylvando said deliberately and Eleven turned away. “Rab especially wants you to get involved, with you being her prince and all.”
“I'm not a prince.” The words came out just like before. “I'm no king either.”
“I got it!” Mia stormed into their space again with a victorious grin. “The old man tried to snipe up the price but I got it down real good!”
Another save by ever whirlwind that was Mia and Eleven gave her his full attention. “Please tell me you didn't threaten him.”
Mia scoffed. “Oh, please, I just needed to drop that we knew the two-bit act here and was real quick in leveling out the prices.” She gave Sylvando the side eye. “I bet a lot of these instruments aren't up to quality.”
Sylvando gasped. “The maestro here would never cheat out his customers! Everything I've bought and came in here with was loved and well cared for!”
“Hpmh! You'd be surprised, glitter-bang.” Mia was completely unapologetic. “Now come on, El, we got to get back before Erik starts getting suspicious. I don't need him snooping through the ship and find this particular prize. And you still got to find your own too!” She turned to Sylvando. “Well, nice seeing you, glitter-bang!”
In terms of speed, Mia could easily reach Erik's level of agility in a couple of years if he lets her catch up. She was already naturally faster than Eleven, nimbler too and even more so when she easily ducked and jerked his arms and out of the store with sheer momentum alone.
And the moment they stepped into the sand and blazing hot sun, it only took a single, secondless glance to realize what Mia has done.
He only heard the tingling of the store bell once more before hearing the tail end of Sylvando's shouts. The weightless feeling of Zoom already sending them up high and away from the desert lands. In the distance, he could see a billowing cloud of sand near the Celestial Sands. They were leaving at a rather good time to avoid that.
But to leave Sylvando as he did, the same way he fled Heliodor, made him feel like he had rocks tied to his feet.
He felt pathetic and is pathetic in every sense of the word.
“So, a prince, huh?”
“A long, lost prince to a fallen kingdom that's being rebuilt is settling his time by being a pirate.”
Eleven squirmed under Mia's scrutinizing gaze. “S-so what?”
She narrowed her eyes. “If I didn't know you as well as I did, I would've chained you down and watered you until you confessed whatever secrets you keep keeping to yourself.” She huffed with crossed arms. “If Erik didn't like you as much as he did, I would've doubled down on how fast I could tear into you.”
It's always a wonder why Erik and the rest of the crew needed to keep a mindful eye on Mia. She was still loud and scrappy as she was when Eleven first met her, but now there was a dangerous edge to it. Something more purposeful and sharper intent, like a well aimed dart.
It's all fun and games when playing with a board but it's another when you strike the player's ire.
“I never was a prince.” Eleven quietly said. “Maybe when I was born but I'm not made for that life. I'm barely hero material as it is.”
The death grip he had on his pillows were most definitely snapping the feathers inside them. If the hammock wasn't so finicky to work with, he'd be hiding under the covers as well.
But he supposes that it could only help in preserving what little dignity he has in front of Mia.
“I should've stabbed the circus act.” Mia finally broke the silence. “I should've stabbed you in order to stab him.”
“I mean it.” She snapped. “He accosted you and started babbling on like some soap box opera. And don't make excuses for him, even he admitted he was being rude!” She glowered at him. “Friend or not, it's common courtesy to ask about the weather first before slinging a body like a rag doll like he did with you. Ugh, I really wish you didn't stopped me.”
“He's only worried.” Eleven sighed. “And I can only imagine how he'll react with the way we left. I'll probably cause more trouble for you guys because of this.”
“No.” Mia bared her teeth. “No. You are not going to mope and you are definitely not going to leave this fucking ship.” She drew out her dagger and approached Eleven with a restrained intent. “I watched my brother mope about and I couldn't figure out why until you came along. I certainly won't let you put your head into your ass when I know for a fact that your lawless marriage is only nonexistent because you both can't get over yourselves.”
“We're not like that!” Eleven cried out. “I don't-”
Mia rushed forward and it felt oddly to feel the blade he created be brandished against him. The edge felt paper thin against his neck, colder than ice in the heated room where the forge still emitted some kind of heat now that he's been using it on a daily basis. The sense of danger was there, but it felt muted.
His danger senses were skewed and always felt muted. Unless someone else was in trouble, he didn't feel fear when looking at claws, blades, or magic that were against him. But Eleven felt that the moment of being stunned from being knocked into the wall behind him was the reason his danger senses were muted this time around.
“Lie to me.” Mia snarled. “I dare you.”
Eleven doesn't understand how Mia can reduce him to a state of cowering. But then, she was Erik's little sister who looked and even acted a little too much like him. Sea-blue eyes that were too keen for their own good, wild in the sense of freedom. Both were unbound to the rules of society, Erik even more so because he was the one to show Eleven how easy it was to bend the rules.
And what a world to be in, that all rules were easily manipulated. That rules were just suggestions to keep order amongst the good folk as Erik would say.
He wanted to prove to Erik he wasn't just part of the 'good folk', that he was his own person just as Erik was his own.
That's probably how his infatuation started before it turned into something he couldn't get rid of.
“Why does it matter so much if I like him or not?”
Mia gave a triumphant smirk. “Why wouldn't it?” She got up and dusted herself off. “He may be the captain of this ship, but it's my job to make sure no funny business goes on when he's busy. And the thing between you and Erik is so hilarious that it hurts to watch.”
Her footsteps were loud against the wooden floorboards. Boots falling louder to command attention, this was the first time Mia was channeling the authority that Erik held on a daily basis.
It was almost scary, when Eleven thinks about it, that she simply lets the crew coddle her. Took full advantage of it if only to keep the dogs barking in anxiety. Knew that Erik was simply handing her the leash instead of it being the other way around.
“And as funny as it is to watch you two trip over nothing, I still got to make sure there's no foul play.” She looked over her shoulders to him. “I'm the one that has to make sure the barnacles are separated from the clams. And I have to make sure the clams are making the pearls.
“There are literally worse people that Erik can get with.” Mia put her hands to her hips. “I rather you than some downtown worker that wants to get lucky. The fact that you're so loyal to give up the cushiest life anyone can get for Erik is all I care about.” She then sharply turned around and looked down on him. “But I swear I will gut you like a fish if you leave this ship because of a good conscience. We're pirates, don't insult us!”
He wanted to say that he didn't want to cause them trouble. He wanted to say that they were the last people on Erdrea that he wanted to cause trouble for.
But then, that was his good conscience talking and Mia didn't want to hear it.
Eleven straightened himself from where he was sitting. “I don't- I don't understand how my feelings matter in that.”
“Oh for the love of-!” Mia tightly gripped her dagger in frustration. “It's like you're asking me to stab you! This is me. Giving. You. Permission. Permission to jump and fuck him!”
Eleven squawked out loud and there was no way that nobody within a three room radius didn't hear her say that. He heard various thuds and clattering objects all around from hitting the floor through the walls.
“Mia!” Eleven covered his face with both his hands.
“What?! I mean it!” She growled. “Ride his dick, plow him into the ground! Hell, go kidnap a priest and tie the knot!”
“Dear Yggdrasil, have mercy on me.” Eleven whimpered. “He doesn't even like me that way!”
There were more clatters and thuds from the other rooms but Eleven chose to ignore that in favour of getting the blush on his face under control. Imagines flitted like gnats that he couldn't swat away.
He never noticed the blank look of disbelief on Mia. He also didn't notice how her grip tightened around her dagger even further as her wrists twitched with temptation.
What she did do was drag his sorry form up by his collar with fury lining her eyes.
“You have until his birthday to shove your tongue down his throat.” Mia spat. “If not, you'd better prepare a treasure so spectacular that he shoves his down yours.
“And I swear, Yggdrasil won't save you if you decide to leave this ship. I'll be the next world ending apocalypse if you stiff him like that.”
He swore her eyes flashed green and it drove that fear into him more.
It was only exemplified by the squeak that came out of his mouth in response to her words. The frantic nodding he did didn't help either.
“Good boy.” Mia unceremoniously dropped him. “I expect to be impressed.”
She walked out without another word knowing full well that Eleven had no choice but to deliver. That everything was going to be just fine if he did followed through with his feelings. That it was almost expected for him to just kiss him.
There was no way that doing those things would be okay.
Those thoughts got Eleven fumbling over his feet and immediately swung to Mia's alternative suggestion. A desperate attempt that was spawned from the ultimatum and the stress of the day.
He has various treasures. They might not compel Erik to kiss him like Mia said, but they were still treasures that were held in high regard within the various kingdoms that held them.
To be fair though, he would've completely forgotten about it if Queen Marina didn't ask about them. All the treasures that he and his party scoured for and obtained in their journey, still sat hidden away in his little bag.
The Mermaid Queen was more amused when he became flustered and tried to pull them out to give back. But she was more than willing to let him keep it as it belong to him more than it did to her and her people. That the path to Yggdrasil should stay with the Luminary.
Although he feels guilty about not giving back the rest of the treasures to the kingdoms that still stand, they were also not asking for them back. And quite frankly?
He was a pirate now. And he didn't want to give anything back.
Chapter 2: The Hopeless One
Erik's been trying and discovers that he was just wasn't trying enough.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“You're an idiot.” Mia huffed. “He's an idiot. You both suit each other.”
“Mia, what are you doing?”
Erik watched his sister give him a beady, judging look before scoffing. “I'm trying to figure out how in all of Erdrea you both haven't been falling all over each other. Me and the whole crew have been wondering how you both aren't already shagging.” She narrowed her eyes. “You aren't, right?”
“No!” Erik pinched the bridge of his nose. “If It were that easy, I'm make sure you don't win the stupid betting pool.”
“So you do know about that.” Mia's voice became flat. “And you're not sweeping El off his feet because...?”
“I do have class, you know.” Erik returned her tone of voice. “Piracy doesn't equal whatever the rest of them are doing.”
“So you're playing as some noble and trying to charm El the proper way.” Mia barked out a laugh. “You could give him some daisies and he'd be instantly falling at your feet. He's a country hick, they don't need fanciness, thank Yggdrasil for that.” She rolled her eyes. “If anything, he's better at playing prince charming with how he's showering you with gifts and such.”
“He's been making shit for me and the rest of the old party ever since I gave him that forge.” He crossed his arms. “Stop making it look like I'm some gold digger.”
“Aren't we all?” Mia simply flipped her braid over her shoulder. “But I suppose El's aiming to be something more meaningful.” She smirked before raising a curious eyebrow. “But seriously, what are you waiting for?”
It wasn't hard to think all of the times that Erik and Eleven shared intimate moments. Many of them were innocent enough, easily brushed off like when one or the other would wake up too close to each other. Their preference for each other was a natural thing as they gathered more members of their party. Everyone barged into their journey that it was only natural that they would gravitate to each other.
But there lied the problem, that their closeness, their status of best friends, made it very obscured on how Erik could get Eleven's attention.
Erik just gave a frustrated sigh in the end. “Come back to me later on that, I'm still playing nice and trying to figure out how to get over the brick wall that El is.”
Mia snorted. “You have until your stupid birthday, after that, I'm telling El your pansy feelings and then we'll have to change the bets on how long it'll take to get you guys to shag.” She smirked. “If that's a problem too, then I'll be taking drastic measures.”
“What the actual fuck, Mia.” Erik groaned and massaged his temples. “Why are you getting involved with my sex life now? You hate hearing anything about it!”
Mia flicked some invisible dirt from underneath her nails before narrowing her eyes. Erik narrowed his own back knowing that he's stepped on his sister's toes again. She always gets like this if she thinks he was holding back on her.
Not that she was wrong.
“Why.” Her voice took command of the conversation. “Why wasn't I told your prince charming was really a prince?”
Sharp eyes matched each other, both holding the turbulent seas that could snap into storms at any moment. A pair of wolves staring each other down from their respective territories.
“That.” Erik suppressed the growl that threatened to come out. “That is none of your business.”
“Oh, don't be like that.” Mia scoffed again breaking the tension. “Prince charming is a wet paper bag when it comes to us, crumbled when I asked him. I would appreciate it if surprises like that stop popping up though.”
“How the hell did it come up in the first place?” He felt his fingers twitch and his shoulders tense even more. “He hates talking about it.”
“Who do you think I am?” Mia just gave a wolfish smirk. “I'm not you, yeah, but I'm also your sister. He likes me.”
Erik felt himself relax more as he rolled his eyes. He sure as hell knows that she wasn't above pulling her knife on Eleven, but Eleven also could defend himself from his hellion of a sister. She may have gotten better, but she's not that good yet. There's no way Mia was threatening enough for someone like Eleven to loosen his tongue.
“Sometimes, I regret that you're too much like me.”
“What? Ew!” Mia stuck out her tongue. “You're the walking gay disaster! The both of you!”
“Hey, watch it.” Erik threw a gold coin at her. “You're more invested in my sex life than I am.”
“W-wha?” Mia immediately went red-faced and screeched. “Y-you bastard! No I'm not!”
Erik settled combing his fingers through his blue spikes as the conversation passed. His nerves still tingled at the bit of information that Mia wasn't telling him. Something akin to foul play, an omitted fact from a story but not something that would hurt his own.
Mia, as much as Erik hates to admit it, was a little too capable in interrogating men to tears. Ferreting out secrets and determining who's safe was her main job. And she was also very good at keeping trouble in the dark. Good at keeping it to where it would never get the chance to see the light.
It took a while to get used to her brand of work, a string of internal denials before accepting that she was growing into her own. Even now when he looks at her, a woman with a mean streak as far as the open ocean, he still could hardly believe that she grew as well as she did.
Because in the back of his mind, Mia was still stuck in her teenage self with that cursed necklace.
She was now his shadow now, despite Erik giving her the freedom to cut away, she still chooses to stay. Purposely let their blood run thick after everything was said and done. When he came back older and different, when she was able to get a proper look of him, Mia stuck to her usual grace and adapted.
Nightmares may still plague him but he couldn't deny what's in front of him. Time stilled for her as the world changed, but her ever calculating, greedy mind was fast at jumping at opportunities. The only thing he could say was that he was glad that he was able to grow into herself even if it wasn't the life that he wanted for her.
He could never take that choice away from her again.
“Don't bully, El.” Erik cut through Mia's insults that she was still sending his way. “That's my job.”
She scrunched up her nose. “Until you say something about your pansy feelings, there ain't no way I'm not going to be nosy. Glitter bang literally told me your pansy ass was tripping over yourself because of El's pretty face.”
“'Glitter bang'?” Erik narrowed his eyes and his mind flitted through all the people he knew. “Who the hell- wait, you've met Sylv?” His eyes narrowed. “When the hell did you meet Sylv?”
“Ha!” She busted a gut. “You thought of him as 'glitter bang' too!”
Sometimes it hurts that she was too much like him.
“I'm serious, Mia. Where and when did you meet Sylv?”
“I ain't telling!” She gave an impish smirk. “I will say that I owe the walking circus show a punch to the face.”
“He called me 'dear'!” Mia growled. “Who the hell does he think he is calling me 'dear'?!”
Erik couldn't help but stare before bursting out laughing himself. “No, yeah, we're definitely related.”
He ruffled her hair as more insults were spat his way for the offending action. Even if this wasn't the life he wanted for her, seeing her happy and rambunctious was good enough for him.
The life of crime and blood was only for a select few, but they all made due for this life.
And with this life, he's going to live it to the fullest now that there was the one thing he wanted most within his grasp again.
“Heavens above, I'll turn this whole ship into a trap if you don't stop reminding me.”
Erik looked on bemused. “See? Invested.”
Mia shrieked before pouncing with her knife out.
Charming Eleven was easy. It wasn't hard to get that pretty blush onto his face and it was certainly not hard to get him stammering with a flirt or two. He also made it too easy for Erik to get close for him to run his hand through his long hair.
He takes full advantage of it too. Twine the strands of copper and bronze between his fingers, feel the silky slide as they fall seamlessly back into place unruffled. It was mesmerizing in a way as before he only had his thoughts in wonder. Now, he could take his time as Eleven simply lets him.
Those encounters were always when Eleven was working though. When Erik couldn't bare to watch the long locks teeter too close to the flames and hot steel. When his neck was bare on rare days he would ditch his turtleneck, the sweat would line and trail down it. Eyes focused and uncaring for the potential casualty, it fell to the pirate captain himself to ensure that Eleven's hair was secured and dignified like the rest treasures he collects.
And even now, as Eleven keeps his attention on his work table with small chains and jewels in his hands, Erik wonders if he was only humouring him.
“Mia has you working like a dog, hasn't she?”
Eleven shrugged. “I wouldn't say that, it's certainly more interesting than fixing up blades all the time.”
“But wouldn't you want to wear the stuff you make?” Erik traced his thumb down Eleven's clothed neck. “You should make yourself more clothes, make yourself more normal shirts and blouses. You need to stop wearing these stupid turtlenecks.”
“I like wearing them.” Eleven shot an amused glance towards the pirate captain. “And I do have normal shirts, thank you very much.”
“You never wear them.” Erik chuckled. “How you haven't gotten heat stroke yet is beyond me too.”
“Something about my fire magic.” Eleven shrugged. “That I'd be more resistant to the heat or something.” He looked up at Erik questioningly. “You know this.”
Of course he knew, there was very little of Eleven that he didn't know. The man holds his heart on his sleeves and wasn't afraid to show it, but it was only to a select few.
And further down, Eleven lets Erik prod his mind further. Lets him guess his thoughts with a pin point accuracy to where it makes him wonder even more. But then, Eleven himself was empathetic enough to read Erik's own cues.
Their friends said it often enough, that they could read each other's minds. He knows it isn't true when Eleven looks at him with the same doe-eyed smile as he was doing now.
“Sure, but I can still complain.” Erik said easily. “It gets hot in here, I get hot looking at you.”
Eleven flushed and scowled. “Really?”
“I'm serious.” Erik grinned. “You really need to ditch the turtlenecks.”
“I like them, I like them now like I like them every other time you keep bringing this up.”
“And I'll keep bringing it up until you don't.”
As much as it was easy to charm Eleven, to put the pretty, pink dusting on his cheeks, it was just as equally hard to get a good read on what exactly was properly affecting him. That with all their bantering and hair tugging, it was hard to know what was getting under that poker face of his. Too many mixed signals that get in the way of knowing.
His possessive displays have been straightforward enough. He actually thinks nothing would get through Eleven without him actually declaring his intentions and shoving his tongue down his throat.
“You know, with you hunching over all the time now, your back and neck must be killing you.” Erik said offhandedly. “You can set yourself up for more days off seeing as the only thing you do nowadays is pile more work on yourself.”
“I could say the same for you, captain.” Eleven huffed. “I always see you running around when you're out of your quarters. If not then, Johnson is always saying that you worry too much.”
But he wasn't deterred. Easily finished tying off the hair he was taking his time with, this time with a blue scarf that was coloured similarly to his hair. An easy claim to let the crew and even outsiders know Erik's intentions.
Mia still laughs at him at how cliche he was.
“It's not that I worry too much, more that I don't get to see you enough.”
“You visit me almost everyday.”
Eleven looked up again and that pretty dusting was back, something nervous lined his voice that only made Erik smile.
“It's not like before though, when we're always back to back.” Erik let his hands feel down Eleven's biceps. “I miss that.”
“O-oh.” Eleven turned away. “It's not- It's not like you're not already dragging me out when we hit land. Do our usual like before.”
“I suppose.” Erik simply continue his hands down Eleven's arms until they reached the other's hands. “But I miss going out with you.”
Leaned in behind Eleven while grasping the very still hands that were tediously busy before, Erik smirked at how easy it was to rile him up. Easier now that he's discovered that apparently him being forward wasn't forward enough.
And isn't that a lovely surprise?
“Just because things are different now doesn't mean I miss my partner.”
His words were innocent enough, tone empty of his earlier flirting because he really did miss his partner.
“T-then just ask then.” Eleven stuttered through his own frozen form. “It's- It's not like I'll s-say no.”
Maybe there was hope for Erik's pursuit after all. He just needed to step up his game.
“Okay then.” He smirked. “Follow me down underground at our next anchor point, I'm getting you out and about from your room.”
“I'm expecting to walk out with gold and more, El. Don't disappoint me.”
Erik pulled away letting Eleven be bewildered at the change of pace of the conversation. Let the other simmer on what just happen because Erik now needed to plan accordingly to what he's discovered. Hold himself back now because he wouldn’t be able to now if he didn't stop.
The coming weeks were going to be fun.
He's forgotten how much of a blast it was to take Eleven gambling. The looks on everyone's face has him in a perpetual state of glee.
“Is this the reason El was thrown in the dungeons with you?”
Erik smirked at Johnson. “Nah, everything he does is legal, but he is blessed in a way.” His eyes went back to Eleven happily putting down his bets. “But it wouldn't surprise me if he did get thrown in jail for it.”
“Captain, he's pulled off a win with just a pair!”
“That's not our problem.” Erik snickered. “Just make sure to keep a close eye on the other players, will you?”
Poker was Eleven's favourite game, the sweet country bumpkin came from a village that absolutely dominated in the card game. When they were helping Cobblestone get back on its feet, Erik remembers being lurched sideways and up when the villagers wanted to celebrate the reconstruction. Finally pulling a reason why Eleven was so good in smiling through his losses and substantial wins.
Erik will admit that he likes the smooth skills Eleven has in gambling. A doe-like innocence before he sheds his skin for something more dangerous.
The look on Mia's face was priceless.
“Captain, your pearl there probably convinced the pit boss in rigging the game for him.” Johnson looked distressed. “There's just no way!”
“Trust me, when you've met El's people, this is tame.”
“'El's people' as in there's more like him?!”
Bright sunny grins and hard working? It wasn't the picture that Johnson and the rest of the crew was probably picturing but it's not like Erik wasn't going to fuel that misunderstanding. He nodded with a raised eyebrow knowing that this can only make the misunderstanding even more hilarious.
And he knows that Eleven knows about how the crew thinks of him. Erik's long passed in falling for the innocent act, he wasn't going to correct anyone if Eleven wasn't.
But it still made him laugh that his crew built this imagine of Eleven as some kind of unwitting guy who ended up with a criminal tag on accident. Made a quiet living with his head down until Erik saved him.
They weren't wrong, but they were also wrong.
Just that the Luminary, Hero of Erdrea, was mistaken as some kind of self made fraudster because of some bad luck on his part.
Which also wasn't technically wrong.
“Captain, how is your pearl so...” Johnson struggled to find his words. “How is it that you were able to snatch him up first? He could've struck out alone too.”
Erik gave a grim smile at that. “Wouldn't be able to tell you that. After our adventure together on the main lands, you'd think anyone would be up to snuff on surviving alone. Even given the chance to start clean even.” He glanced at the sunny smile Eleven gave at all the agitated players around him. “Well, maybe not clean seeing as the world is kind of after his head.”
“What did he do?”
Erik blinked realizing what he said before shrugging him off. “Let's just say he wore his stupid hood and cloak for a reason.”
“And he's not needing it now?”
The glimmering lights hit Eleven's long locks just right to where they almost sparkled gold. Held up in a rapidly familiar braid by Erik's decorative scarf with Mia's handy work by the looks of it. What did sparkled gold were the earrings that Eleven was finally able to put in with Mia's insistence. His sister keeps insisting that he owes her one when she dragged Eleven to get his ears pierced, because then Erik can really break through Eleven's thick head.
Eleven's ears healed nicely and Erik couldn't help but feel a sense of possessiveness wash over him when the earrings were nearly identical to Erik's own.
And following the hair down, Eleven still wore his turtlenecks that hid and outlined everything of his body. He still wore that glove that hid his mark, Eleven long admitted it being stylized from Erik's own favourite pair. Only this time, Erik's own mark was stitched proudly onto the back where the world can see.
“El's different looking now, but it's not a bad different.” Erik eyed at the devious gleam that the sunny grin couldn't hide. “One of us and mine especially.”
With that in mind, he stalked up to the poker table. No one dared to stop him, not even the bouncers that stood guard nearby. They all simply stared, forms tensed at his sudden movement but he ignored them all. Nobody here was stupid enough to get in his way when he wasn't there to pick a fight.
It also helps that everybody can clearly see his intended target.
The shifting air also alerted Eleven before looking up to Erik.
“Oh, captain!” Eleven beamed at him and Erik internally sighed at the loss of his name. “Are you here to play?”
Erik eyed the cold ale by Eleven's side and wondered how many drinks it took for it to put the rosy tint across his face. The still devious gleam in his eyes told Erik that he'd also be running his pockets before graciously giving them back the next morning. As if they still have the same shared funds from their adventuring days.
They sort of did, only this time Erik was in charge of the money.
“Nah, just wanted a close up of you and your stacks.” Erik slid onto the bench and into Eleven's space. “Maybe even make you lose something.”
His arm easily encircled Eleven's waist, Erik appreciating the solid feel of muscle. He pressed his side flush against Eleven's before eyeing the other players in a flash of a warning. The stiffening forms made the pirate captain grin, teeth shown off like a shark's.
“Er- err, captain!” Eleven stuttered and Erik took it in with all the delight. “What are you doing?”
“Not like anyone's complaining.” Erik smirked up. “And I just said I wanted to see you lose.”
“I do lose, captain, I just know when my luck goes bad.” Eleven nervously shifted and rearranged his cards before taking a drink. “You know this.”
“Yeah I do, that's why all the shitty luck you have is compensated by the unbelievable finds even when we don't go searching.” He twirled the braid between his fingers. “That doesn't mean anything when you're playing cards though, I just want to see you lose.”
“You should buy-in, captain.” Eleven held a deceitful light tone. “Maybe I'll lose then.”
“Nah, just don't get too distracted, eh?”
It was almost too easy to get Eleven stuttering and out of focus now. But there was that passive-aggressiveness that's challenging Erik in response to his advances. It made the pirate captain excited knowing that Eleven was an equal that can deliver so easily.
And the tone just now made him wonder how that would sound like in a different context. The innocent act was seen through and the predator that Eleven truly was made the surrounding people even more wary.
His crew already knew, but the rest of the underworld didn't. And as much Erik knew Eleven could protect himself, he didn't need boastful idiots thinking they could take Eleven on and possibly destroy the building. He actually liked this place for being as subtle as it was.
And the patrons here knew when and who to try their luck.
“A wolf in sheep's clothing, huh?”
Erik didn't bother hiding the satisfied, shark grin. Just because the Eleven was hiding from the light of the world didn't mean its shadows shouldn't know who he belonged to. That Eleven was his, that Erik was more than willing to stake his claim at that moment to tell them all on who exactly they have to go through if they want trouble.
He likes to think that the only reason why his infamy was a slow spread was because he wasn't an idiot and showed off his power. Kept to a down low in gathering his resources and carefully aiming on who he's targeting. But the little that did get out was enough.
He still eyed the rest of the players as Eleven shifted again to compensate for Erik's weight.
But although it was easy to stake his claim, he wishes it was just as easy to get Eleven's oblivious head to notice his advances faster.
Taking a glance back at Eleven, the rosy blush was reaching down passed and into the turtleneck. A careful blank countenance that Eleven's long mastered before they met was on. Something that Erik only saw when they faced something particularly troublesome. An expression that was expected to see in a poker game instead of his sunny smiles.
“Say, El.” Erik deliberately leaned closed to his ear. “You haven't gotten the chance to visit my quarters yet, have you?” He made sure his words were quiet and face just as indifferent. “Want to change that?”
The purring tone with the combination of words made Eleven jerk. His cards flew revealing his hands.
The round hasn't officially started but all the players had their cards. The dealer looked at Eleven who glared at Erik before pushing all his chips in.
A daring move that Erik couldn't help wickedly grin at. A jump in appreciation all around by him and everyone watching because of how everything played out. A risky play where lesser men would demand a new deal of cards.
In too many stuns of awe as the remaining cards were dealt and revealed, Eleven still won that hand with a flush of hearts.
That Yggdrasil damned luck was showing but he'll also take it as permission to take her favourite leaf.
Not that he was asking anyways.
The chase is really starting now but who will crack first?
Chapter 3: The Surprise
How they got together.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It was like watching a dog chase a bird. The bird would hang out and let the dog wear it like a decoration wherever he went. Bother and groom the bird whenever available, but when he gets too much, the bird will peck and fly away.
“El?” Phillips looked down and felt a little disturb in seeing their blank-faced smithy. “What are you doing up in the crow's nest?”
“I'm hiding from the captain.” El said easily enough. “He's been... clingy lately and I really need to finish my projects.”
That made the shipwright wince, it wasn't something that any of the crew would like to hear when they were rooting for their captain. It was actually a sight to see their captain skirt chasing, finally see him go after the finer pleasures the human body can give.
A much more pleasant chase than him chasing and hunting down Cyclops, dragons, and other giant monsters.
“I'm sure the captain means well, he wouldn't mess with your projects while you're working either.” Philips climbed over the wooden rails. “He didn't seem he's been messing with them before.”
The captain was too conscious with El, the whole ship was very conscious with El's work. Nobody dared to mess with El's work, not after someone messed with his tools. The overall experience was made worse when he lashed out on accident.
The birdy was territorial. It shouldn't have been a surprise really, but El was too nice for his own good. But that mean bone was hidden away under an endless amount of patience that could only be worked around by surprising him.
Or having the people in his territory threatened.
“He doesn't, it's just...” El looked down and fiddled with his hands. “It's not something I want him to see. It's-” El looked up and gave Philips an evaluating look. “It's for his birthday.”
“Really?!” The shipwright clasped his hand over his mouth at how loud he was. “Really?” He crouched in with a lowered voice with excitement lacing his tone. “What you making him?”
“I- I'm-” El blinked frazzled at Philips' change in demeanor. “Sorry, it's a secret but-” He eyed Philips contemplating a thought. “Do you think you can get the others to help distract him? At least for the next week?”
“The captain's birthday is next week!” Philips nearly yelled again. “I'll have to recruit Johnson and maybe tell Snap to get scurvy again.”
“What? No!” El's face turned horrified. “No! I just got him to eat an orange everyday!”
“Oh, he'll be fine!” Philips jumped up determined. “It's for the captain after all!”
“The captain dragged the three of you through the mud after Snap got scurvy the last time!” El scowled. “Then he made me shove oranges down on all of y'all's throat until it stuck!”
El's accent came through a little heavy and Philiphs put his head down in shame. An instinctual thing now that he and his fellow shipwrights developed when El scolds them. Just from that one incident after being beat down, El's scoldings seemed infinitely more terrifying.
It was a mothering that they all submitted to because El was still the nicest person in all of the underworld. The others jeer and make fun of them for it but-
It was only a matter of time before the rest of the crew falls under it.
El sighed and rubbed his temples. “Please don't cause trouble, just- just keep him busy? I don't need him coming into my room complaining about what you did.” He looked up with a slight regretful expression. “Please don't give him a reason to.”
Philips lit up. “Don't worry about it, El! We'll make sure the captain gets the best surprise! I'm sure we can bribe the cook too!”
“Nothing serious, swear!” Philips said shaking his head. “Just a small dose of something to get him sleepy!”
“That's not even better!” El balked. “Just- just set something on fire, or w-wait, no! I take that back!”
“Nope!” Philips was already climbing down the ropes. “I'm getting Johnson and Kipper!”
“K-kipper?” El's distress was heard even as Philips was halfway down the ropes. “There's no way Johnson would let Kipper anywhere near fire!”
“Not without good reason!”
“What could possibly a good enough reason for that?!”
The captain's love life for one. Philips knows that Johnson would be the first one to push on the captain's relationships or lack there of. It wasn't much of an issue when he was so invested in finding a cure, but after Mia was freed, it was routine to hear Johnson to bring it up.
To at least relieve that stress than chasing and hunting Cyclops, dragons, and other giant monsters.
It wasn't too hard to distract the captain, fire most certainly did help but it was the effort from mostly Johnson that the captain was kept busy. Little tedious stuff that Johnson was able to manipulate whether it be setting the ship's course a little off on the maps or fiddle with the numbers in the books.
Any sort of foul play, even if it was honest mistakes in adding and subtracting wrong, it will get the captain's nose hounding.
Days easily went by with him auditing the books. That moment of peace surprised even El to where it actually made him concern. It took quite a bit of assurance to get El to stop worrying as much or else the captain might go back bothering El again.
Although, Johnson does feel bad for unnecessarily making the captain pull the multiple all nighters that he did. The past few days had him combing through his hair as much as he was combing through the books.
The silence rung louder than the captain flipping through the pages of the current month's reports. Eyes narrowed carefully skimming through the inked pages of where foul play could happen.
Johnson jumped when the captain slammed shut the book he was currently handling before turning his eyes to him.
“Am I being tricked?” He swiveled on his chair to fully face Johnson. “I'm being tricked, aren't I?”
Johnson took a second to think about it before shrugging. “It's for your birthday.”
“Oh- For the love of-!” The captain gave a frustrated sigh before smacking his hand on the books. “A waste of my time, Johnson!”
“For good reason, captain. It's a surprise for a reason.”
The captain gave a frightening glare, something that Johnson knows that nothing won't come of it. He's known the captain too long, their past too intermingled to where it still brings shame to him.
That he couldn't soften the blows and averted his eyes to keep his head.
That if he stepped up and used his strength, maybe there would've been less blood on his hands.
So he stands ever loyal, guilt driving it at the beginning but after years of standing senior to the entire crew, he's hardened his fears into something else. First being a dedication before actually turning into an undying servant. The rest of them that escaped along with them were similar too, but Johnson likes to think he was better.
After all, he was the first-mate. The captain came up to him and wanted him to be his right hand. Entrusted him with the crew when he was away.
The captain himself works too hard for them, too practical and efficient to splurge.
“The whole ship is out of its mind.” The captain deadpanned. “It's not even my real birthday, just threw a dart at a calendar and called it good.” He raked his hand through his hair. “And what makes this year any different?”
“Well, your pearl for one.” Johnson gave a raised eyebrow. “It's not everyday we see you struggle with attracting a pretty face.”
“I ain't struggling.” The captain looked even more ferocious. “And that ain't nobody's business but mine.”
“Of course, but once you and your pearl settle down, it will be our business to keep you both happy.” Johnson said as a matter of fact. “It's none too hard to keep El happy, but you're the one that's tough to sell to.”
“That still doesn't explain why everyone's losing their minds over my birthday. Or the stupid tricks.” The captain eyed Johnson suspiciously. “Did the bets change or something?”
“Nothing like that, the pot's too big for it to change like that.” He then gave a considering thought. “Your pearl's the one that wanted to distract you.”
“El? But why would he- Wait, no, I actually do know.” Erik slouched and tossed his feet up on the desk. “He's probably freaked out at the fact that I never told him about it.”
Johnson blinked at that. “You never told him?”
“Of course not!” He groaned. “There was no time for that while traveling on the mainland. And you've seen how El is with making shit. How do you think he was while he was still learning and finding all sorts of recipes through our journey? Half my stuff came from him!”
As exasperated as he sounded, he also had a fond smile on him. Something that Johnson hasn't seen until after he came back with his sister.
It was a startling transformation, from the scrawny kid to the cold steel that he still has, that warmth was all but lost. Not until he's gotten back his little sister at the very least.
And he had, only he still long for something back at the mainland. Eyes always drifting, always favoured going to certain areas.
He kept tight-lipped about it all though, not even Mia was able to wrangle those stories out of him. Not the ones he held close anyways.
“Your pearl is something if he's got you scrambling like you are.” Johnson smiled. “I can only imagine what he was like with what he's shown us so far.”
“He's outrageous even now. Used spells to help make his stuff, it aggravated the shit out of one of the spellcasters we were traveling with.” The captain smirked. “He can make the biggest explosions and set a whole forest of fire in one spell but he still prefers setting his own sword on fire in battle”
“It's a shame that he doesn't like battling.”
“He only got good because he had to, spent way too long being pressured with no other options given to him.” The captain leaned further back into his chair. “Too much of a free bird to be told what to do now, or unless he wants to do them. With how many times he's wandered off, I'm actually surprised he didn't wander off permanently.”
So lost in his memories, it wasn't the first time that the captain wouldn't stop talking about El ever since he stole his hood and cloak. That there was someone so in sync with the captain that it was more of a surprise that they weren't secret lovers.
Admiration was something immediate that Johnson picked up from the captain. Fondness was an instant second before he realized just as fast that the cold steel was easily melted with El around.
Love was a fleeting thing, too fleeting with who they are.
But the captain had an equal, a fierce thing that wouldn't hold him back and mostly too gentle and too carefree that would never stand in his way.
He wanted to secure that for the captain.
“Free bird seems right.” Johnson mused. “Though, I think you left before he could fly back to you. He'd probably would've joined up sooner.”
“Heh, that's a nice thought.” The captain looked up with a wry smile. “But I think it's better this way.”
It wasn't hard to wonder why El asked Bench specifically to help with this kind of thing. He was adept in his craft and it was actually really nice of El to actually talk to one of them before messing with the ship's interior.
Let alone the inside of the captain's quarters.
But despite the initial worrying that left Bench a little anxious, El's request for his help wasn't a difficult one. It was just a simple thing that El could've done himself, courtesy being the main reason why El approached him at all.
And the fact that between him and the other two shipwrights, he can keep his mouth shut.
Apparently, El can still pull surprises that can even put Bench in a state of awe as well.
“Is something the matter?” Philips bumped shoulders with him. “It's not like you to be in a daze.”
“...You know about Heliodor's famous Red Orb, right?”
“Hmm? Who doesn't?” Philips slid a drink in front of him. “Though there's some wild rumours about it though, that a thief stole it. They say they got it back but no one's seen it in years since then. Says that it's under tight security but it makes you wonder if they really got it back.”
Bench wanted to scream.
“Really. Do they know who it was?”
“Nah, the thief apparently had a hood up. The rumours also say that the thief escaped the dungeons too, I say that they're trying to save face.” Philips laughed. “You know the rumours as well as I do, that nobody escapes those dungeons.”
Those rumours about the thief, Bench couldn't help but wonder if that's the reason why El was in hiding. But then, it didn't really make sense on why he would steal the orb. Or gather the full set.
Was he coerced to? And when did he do it?
Maybe during the time when Erdwin's Lantern fell and that monster was born from it. It was certainly a good time for all thieves to run about. Only they all focused on stockpiling to survive. A loaf of bread was more valuable than the gold that it was worth.
But the whole set was being given away, each orb from both standing and fallen kingdoms. Each orb so famous that even the Silver Orb was a coveted treasure after is was lost decades ago.
Seeing an added sixth orb with the same radiance as the rest nearly made Bench faint.
“Bench? Bench!” Philips shook a Bench's shoulders. “You're really worrying me here, do you need to go back to the ship?”
“No.” Bench sighed. “I'm just- no, I think I just need to drink more. My day's been a little ridiculous.”
“Which included the Red Orb because...?”
“I didn't realized it was missing in the first place until.... recently. I just wanted to know since you're good with the rumour mills.”
“Ha! You got that right!” Philips grinned wildly. “But enough of that, it's the captain's birthday! And besides, the real treasure you should be looking out for is the pot! I can feel my pockets running deep tonight!”
And even though he didn't sound sure of the boasting, Bench really does believe that this might actually be Philips' night.
They were back at Lonalulu like Johnson wanted, already long preplanned even with the protest from the captain. There were no surprise parties within the crew but they can sure as hell drag the captain to celebrate them. Or at least Johnson can.
This time El came sliding in with his usual sunny smiles with Mia not too far behind him. His appearance was a little ruffled but Bench could blame that on the atmosphere along with the alcohol. But that dark splatter on his cheek was little out of place. Maybe it was sword oil?
“Geez, can you sound any more excited?” Mia rolled her eyes before smirking. “Though we definitely had enough excitement for tonight.”
“Mia.” El chided. “Nothing happened.”
The cackle Mia gave didn't convince any of them.
“So, what's up, El?” Philips rounded on continuing the conversation. “Got kicked back again?”
El frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Yeah, he did.” Mia huffed. “I swear, we should've just anchored at the Zwaarsdrust region and just partied there. If Lonalulu didn't know how to party, I would've robbed them all a long time ago.”
“What? Erik already did with your help apparently.”
El looked up and sighed and it was them Bench squinted at the true colour of whatever splatter that was on El's cheek. The low lights at the bars didn't help but he's been in the business long enough to know what exactly that was.
“Is that- is that blood?”
It swirled another set of questions on what kind of man El was.
“It sure is!” Mia roared in laughter as if she was holding it in while El furiously wiped his cheek. “Tossed some poor sod into the sea after punching him in the face. I was going to stab him and just let him rot in some bushes but this guy made sure the whole body was gone.”
“I didn't kill him!” El protested. “And I threw him in the shallows, not like he'll drown.”
“But you've definitely made him bleed.” Mia cackled. “Broke his nose all bloody and it won't be long before the local predators come out. Both land and sea.”
“That...” El bit his lip. “That's not my problem.”
“But why?” Philips gaped. “What was the reason?”
“What else?” Mia sneered. “He was going to crash the party with some friends. El here just made a fine example with him.”
“Why do you have to say it like that?” El squirmed. “And I still doubt he'll die with his friends around.”
“The same friends that turned tail?” Mia scoffed. “I would hold my breath on that.”
It was still a struggle to connect this sunny El to a tag of a criminal. It took actual effort to remember the fact that El did have a greater fighting prowess than nearly all the crew. The the lucky few including Snap was able to bear witness to that.
Then there was Bench's internal dilemma about the fact that El was in possession of all of the orbs including the ones that were lost and one that was never been seen.
Then there was the fact that El did someone in just moments before arriving to their table.
“Anyways-” El's voice became stressed. “I actually wanted to ask you something, Bench.”
“What is it?”
“Since you helped me with my present to the captain, I was wondering if you wanted to come to the reveal.”
“Wait, what?!” Philips looked at Bench betrayed. “You know what El's been working on and you didn't tell me?!”
“It's a recent thing and El will kill me if I said anything.”
“I'll be there.” Bench continued. “I'm assuming Mia and Johnson will be there?”
“Damn right I am!” Mia sent a pointed look towards El. “Remember our deal?”
“I-” El silently whimpered. “Why are you like this?”
“It's for your own good.”
Bench had no idea that they were talking about, but he feels like he has to agree with Mia.
Mia couldn't believe what she's seeing, she was the one to set the deal but she didn't think El would actually pull through.
But then, her past boasting about stealing the Red Orb was coming back with five others. A passing daydream to make life a little brighter.
Erik was one lucky bastard.
The orbs were fashioned on a metal, hexagon frame hanging from the ceiling. Sat neatly at each point of the frame in their circular slots, snug to where it won't fall at during turbulent waves or a storm, but easily taken out if needed. They lit up the room in a soft, glimmering glow of colours by the latent light from the Rainbough. The cast off branch was stuck hanging on a short chain from the center acting as the flame in a lantern.
And if Mia squints hard enough, she could see little symbols on the metal underneath the orbs that she could see. Heliodor's twin-headed eagle under the Red Orb, a clam shell under the Green Orb, the Snifleheim's crest with the Blue Orb. It's no wonder El needed Erik distracted for days if this is what he was working on.
“You turned all of the kingdoms' treasures into a fancy chandelier.” The captain whispered in awe. “You made the Rainbough into a light fixture.”
Even with his back turned to her, Mia could feel the slow forming grin. Something that Mia long knew from growing up with Erik, when he's got something too good to share.
“You don't have much light in here.” El said a little embarrassed. “And with this much paper and wood, you're going to burn the whole room down if a candle gets knocked down.”
Erik whirled around and there was a dark gleam that glimmered in the colours of the orbs. An intent that was poorly hidden even with the wide mouth grin directed to El. It made the taller man looked down and shift his feet, stood his ground regardless even as Erik practically stalked up.
She couldn't believe that it really was going to happen. That El actually followed through with her demands because he was still too shy to kiss Erik on his own. That he's giving up these precious treasures to seduce Erik with.
“You turned Erdrea's greatest treasures into a chandelier.” Erik reiterated. “For me.”
“I-” El flushed at his words. “It's not like they were doing anything else than just sitting in my bag.”
There were so many questions that Mia has. Like why were they in El's bag in the first place?
“I'm not giving them back.”
“I'm giving them to you, aren't I?”
It was just unbelievable that all of that is just being handed over. As a birthday present.
“No matter who comes knocking, I ain't giving up any treasure on this ship, El.”
“I already figured that, captain.” El smiled wryly. “Proved that to me quickly after we met.”
Every word that they trade, Erik didn't stop until the distance between them was almost too close. It made Mia wonder how El could get all bashful-like when he finds being inches away from kissing Erik normal. When he was all too comfortable in having Erik's hands on his waist.
Even more baffling that El leaned into the hand that traveled through his hair.
Too intimate to not be lovers.
“I'm never going to give you up, El.”
The distance was snapped closed, lips met parted, another victory for the Wolf.
Mia could only watch on with disgust at how sappy this turned out to be.
“Come on now.” Johnson whispered as he nudged both her and Bench. “Let's leave them to it.”
“I still can't believe I help put that in.” Bench muttered.
“I can't believe El and Erik are still holding back on me.” Mia growled. “Did you see his face? He wasn't surprised at all! I bet he knew El had those orbs!”
“I honestly wouldn't be surprised.” Bench looked tired now before dragging his feet to the exit. “Maybe he really did steal them. And it was just for this too.” He gave a loud audible sigh. “I just can't figure him out.”
Johnson and Mia exchanged concerned glances. “What's gotten into him?”
She didn't get an answer to that when a loud thud and a suggestive gasp was heard.
They both departed swiftly.
This is it! How they got together! Now onto how they got married-