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Siren's Song

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Chapter 1

Sing Me A Shanty Boy-o

 

     “What are the chances of this actually working?”

     Ochako grimaces, shifting the piece of hardtack she’s been chewing on for the last few minutes from her cheek to her back teeth. “Don’t think it matters Tsu.”

     “Humor me.” Her first mate replies, and where any other captain might have taken that as insubordination, Ochako recognizes it as genuine interest.

     “It’s the Nest or nothing Tsu,” Ochako huffs back, side-eyeing her first mate from across the table, “and I told you, you don’t have to come. I know it’s…”

     “Suicide?” Her first mate offers helpfully as she reaches out and plucks a glass of whiskey off a passing tray.

     “A long shot.” Ochako grumbles back.

     The green haired girl shrugs back at her, allowing the topic to slide free as she transitions to the next. “So, this seabard. What makes him special? We already have Jirou and Denki.”

     Ochako holds one finger up, gesturing to the far section of the bar instead of answering. A stage had been set up, a step and a half higher than the rest of the tables, and on it assorted bards played for the crowd. Most bars were set up in a like fashion, if only because people that came to hear a bard play, usually did so while drinking and eating.

     Ochako had gotten word that this particular seabard was playing here tonight, and if the mop of green hair and the dual-cases on one of the performers' backs was any indication, that tip had been right.

     “I like his hair.” Tsuyu Asui mutters, leaning across the table to get a better look at the man.

     “If he plays half as good as they say he does, you’ll like more than just his hair.”

     Still…

     Ochako glances around the bar before pursing her lips and adjusting her shirt and placing her palms on the grips of her pistols. She isn't the only ship captain to get word of this bard’s performance today. The bar is packed, some standing, some leaning against the wall to listen- but all of them were present and watching the same quarry.

     There are other bards playing in the slots before the green-haired man, and Ochako listens to them with passing interest. Jirou is better on vocals than all of them. Denki plays better half-drunk with only two fingers.

     She is waiting for the man with two instruments.

     And when he finally ascends the stage, she expects a roar of cheers or a rumble of noise and stomping feet- as is the custom when a well-known seabard starts to perform. She does not expect a rush of silence. The bar hushes, a quick flurry of whispers the only warning before calm sweeps the room.

     To the point that Ochako can hear Tsuyu finishing off her stolen glass of whiskey.

     Girl drinks like a fish…

     Ochako can hear the clips of the bard’s guitar case being snapped open, and the idle plucking of the strings. The bard mounts the stool, settling onto it carefully as he tunes his instrument.

     She expects him to speak.

     She expects him to say anything at all to introduce himself, or ready the crowd for whatever tune or shanty he feels compelled to play.

     Instead she is treated to continued silence as he adjusts two of the strings of his guitar. And then he starts, fingers brushing the chords so softly she can’t even hear it.

     At first, she doesn’t realize that he’s actually playing, his fingers so gentle across the strings. But she sees his left-hand shuffling across the strings, pressing them as he shifts from chord to chord.

     The music builds, swelling like the rising tide as it washes over the patrons. She doesn’t hear it so much as feel it either, a rush of tranquility in the chords that build in the room. And then the music is all around her, resonating around the room and filling her with a sense of lostness.

     The music isn’t cheery or bright. It’s slow and mournful. With pitched highs and gentle lows, like an ocean current. The green-haired man doesn’t pause in his playing as he transitions, his fingers moving across the strings- tuning chords and sweeping through the notes as easily as breathing.

     And still his lips remain still. Which is… odd for a seabard. In order to truly command and control a ship, a voice is needed to direct and adjust where music cannot- especially in a storm or a battle. Ochako frowns, musing over that fact as she stares him down.

     She startles and jerks slightly when he looks at her, seemingly picking her out from across the room. Then he turns back to the instrument in his hands, allowing the momentum of the song to build.

     His voice still does not join the melody that’s filled the bar, and for some reason Ochako finds that both pleasing and upsetting.

     The melody is enough, skillfully crafted and it resonates around the bar. She has no doubt that with this alone he could control a ship easily.

     But it makes her long for the voice, some part of her twisting as she craves to hear the voice that would accompany the melody. What sort of words would this musician add to a song that sings such a sweet sorrow?

     The music builds, his guitar singing a tune that reminds her of lost sailors and tragic wrecks. The notes roll in like a whirlpool, dragging her back through memories of white-water and rolling seas. Each individual note feels like a spray of saltwater or rain in a storm.

     Somewhere in the bar someone starts crying.

     They are not the last, and Ochako notes that even some of the more seasoned-looking privateers around her have wet eyes or hands wiping away tears. She glances back at Tsu, and notices the girl is staring down at her whiskey glass watery-eyed and glum.

     They’d lost three crew members in the last month. Two in a fight, one to a storm. Nothing that wasn’t expected in the profession, but all the same it weighed on their hearts.

     The music swells again, and the weight on Ochako’s chest lifts as the notes turn from somber and lonely to uplifting and light. Like the break of a storm at a sunrise or a ship rolling over a tidal wave- it pulls at her stomach and makes her lurch forward in her seat.

     “We need him.” Ochako decides aloud, and the music seems to congratulate her on that decision as the guitar thrums in agreement. It sounds like he’s all his own band, the chords of the guitar accented by the soft whistles of a flute or the hum of a deeper bass. All the same, it rolls through her, and as the song closes out- leaving her with the thought of fresh sunrises and the idea of her friends at her back- she stands to approach the stage.

     The bar erupts into cheers, wolf whistles and shouts. Coin is thrown from pockets across the bar- as far as the length of the establishment- and clatters onto the stage. It’s chaos- but the opposite type she expected from privateers and weather-weary sailors. Purses of assorted state of fullness are chucked onto the stage- and the musician lets out a silent yelp and ducks as more than one of them thud onto the stage beside him.

     “Another!” Someone shouts- and it’s the first call for an encore of the evening.

     “One more!”

     “Give us a happy one next!”

     “Aye! You pulled a tear from me just now! Let’s have you give us a smile too!”

     The calls for an encore are shrugged off with a soundless laugh by the man, and a casual dismissive wave as the man gathers several of the purses. He leaves most of it on the stage, and instead shares a look with the bartender as he tucks a few of the purses into his guitar case before putting the instrument away.

     “Drinks on our favorite musician!” The barkeep yells above the crowd, and it only inspires more cheers and boisterous activity as ale and beer are poured in equal measure and passed out.

     “Cover the back.” Ochako commands her first mate, pushing through the crowd to the stage.

     He always plays once, collects a portion of his earnings, and leaves. He never stays, he never remains, he never loiters around to play another set or song, he just disappears out the back and into the night.

     Not this time.

     She needs him.

     Without a sea bard of his caliber- at least in playing- she has no hope of making it through the Nest.

     Not alive at least.

     She catches an elbow to the side as she shoves her way through the crowd, and more than once her feet get stepped on as she makes her way through. Someone spills a drink on her, and she nearly rips the cutlass free from her belt and uses it, but she has a goal. Normally these offenses are ones she’d answer with a blade, a bullet, or in the minimum, a boot and a fist, but she has better things to do than beat the daylights out of a sailor that’s already half-drunk.

     She pushes through the last throng of patrons and bursts out into the space by the stage. It’s littered with coins- gold, silver, coppers, but there is no musician waiting for her. She rushes past the stage, throwing two of the next-in-line performers out of the way as she barrels out the back door.

     “Late to the party captain.” Tsuyu greets her with a nod, keeping her pistol level at the green haired man she has cornered against the wall.

     “Get a name out of our play-and-run seabard?” Ochako asks.

     “Nope, not even a peep.”

     Ochako huffs, pursing her lips and grabbing the man’s shoulder. She spins him around and is immediately greeted by emerald eyes and a tentative smile.

     “What’s your name?” She demands.

     Silence, and the man shrugs his shoulders empathically.

     Ochako Uraraka is not amused by his antics- regardless of how interesting it is to note that she is a hair taller than he is in her boots, and that his freckles are currently accented by his flushed cheeks.

     “Name.” She demands again.

     In response he shakes his head, gesturing with his hands. She hesitates, exchanging a look with Tsuyu before taking a step back. “What are you…?” She starts as he pulls the smaller instrument case from his back, unfastening a pocket.

     “Slowly.” Ochako reminds him, and he looks at her with a singular raised eyebrow before pulling out a… a… paper?

     A journal.

     He flips it open to the first page and hands it over.

     An introduction is already written in the pages, and Ochako purses her lips and reads it aloud. “My name is Izuku. Unfortunately, I am mute, and therefore must communicate with this notebook… if you are looking to hire me… explain your case and I will direct you to a-” Ochako frowns looking up at the man.

     “You’re mute?”

     “Hell of a way to find that out.” Tsuyu mutters, and Ochako hears the hammer of her first mate’s pistol being released and the weapon holstered. “I thought he was giving me trouble.”

     The mute bard gives them both an amused look, and a flash of a smile as he holds out his hands. He gestures to the notebook, and Ochako hands it over.

     He flips through it, then hands it back over, a new page reading, ‘You are looking to hire me?’ written across the page.

     Ochako can only guess why the letters are written so large, but at the same time she can only guess how many people he has run into and had this problem with.

     “Yes. I’m looking for a seabard that will get me through the Nest.” Ochako explains. “Can you get me there?”

     Izuku frowns, green eyes calculating as he stares at her. She doesn’t look away, and he flips three pages back and points to a word in the middle of a sentence.

     Why

     “Family.”

     He makes a ‘continue’ gesture, snapping the journal closed and tucking it under her arm. He leans back against the wall, emerald eyes focused on her.

     He’s sizing her up, and Ochako knows it. His eyes flick over her weapons, the cutlass at her side, the two pistols on her hips, matched by the three Tsuyu is wearing. He frowns and cocks an eyebrow at the whip on the first mate's hip, but doesn’t move to flip through his journal or to gesture.

     “Family.” Ochako repeats, and his gaze returns to her.

     Hard. Unyielding.

     He gestures to his mouth, moving his lips silently, then he pats his chest, and mimics walking away.

     You talk or I walk.

     “Why’s it matter the reason? I’ll pay you for your services- if you’re half as good as they say you are- then you’ve made it through the Nest on more than one occasion.” Ochako grits back, crossing her arms over her chest.

     Then again.

If the rumors were half-as-true as they were supposed to be, then this man was also supposed to have the voice of an angel.

     She supposes some people don’t live up to the legends they inspire.

     He holds a hand over his heart, tapping it twice before flicking his hand dismissively at the purse on his hip. Ochako frowns, and he repeats the gesture.

     Heart… Money… She frowns and looks at Tsu, who is working through the expression with a confused face.

     “You care more about the cause than the payment?” Tsuyu suggests.

     He snaps his fingers and points at her. Yes.

     “If you want the reason, then you’ll find it when we board my ship.” Ochako growls.

     It’s not that she doesn’t want to say it, or that it's embarrassing. But she knows that if the wrong ear hears it, then she will end up with people hunting down the thing she most wants to protect.

     Izuku pulls the journal out again, and instead of pulling out a quill or another utensil, he presents a piece of charcoal from a pocket.

     Worth protecting? He writes on a blank page.

     “With my life.” Ochako replies without hesitation.

     He looks to her first mate.

     “I follow my captain.” Tsuyu affirms, and when Izuku quirks an eyebrow just a hair higher- challenging that- “I’ll die for my captain if that’s what she calls for. And what she’s protecting… they mean something to me too.”

     Izuku clicks his tongue- the first sound he’s made from his mouth since their introduction, and snaps the notebook closed. He picks up his instruments again, shifting them in his arms before sweeping his hand out and across towards the exit.

     Lead the way. He seems to say, shrugging both instrument cases onto his shoulder.

     Ochako purses her lips, staring at the conundrum before her.

     She would have to test him. A mute seabard?

     Preposterous.

     But the chance that this would work… that she could get the medicine to save her parents? That was worth taking a chance on a myth- no matter how it looked on the outside.

     Besides… Ochako follows behind him as Tsu leads the way out. This mute man had played so well that it brought tears to grown men’s eyes. And a seabard was two things- a voice and an instrument. Even without a voice… This man chose to carry two instruments.

     Twice the maintenance.

     Twice the weight, even though the second case was smaller- something smaller than a guitar or a lute- but not a flute or pipe… What was it? A violin?

     He chooses to carry two instruments…

     Maybe there is truth to the myth about this man being the only seabard to play his way through the Nest. It was a chance she had to take.

     For her parents.

     She just hoped her luck is better with this than it was with cards.