sparklepox: (peter panhan)
[personal profile] sparklepox
Title: All At Sea
Pairing: Lu Han/Jongdae
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: historically accurate unsafe sex, explicit discussion of consent, brief violence, minor non-EXO character death, mentions of slavery and other mostly-hypothetical pirate nastiness
Word count: 42,376
Summary: Jongdae and his crew are captured by pirates, but neither the fearsome Exotic Pearl nor the mysterious pirate Lu Han are what he expects them to be.
Notes: For [community profile] chenpionships round 2. Many thanks to Lonio for very helpful betaing and Gwynn for handholding, and to [profile] lolistar73 for the prompt.

The clang of cannon fire makes Jongdae's ears ring, and the boat shakes as two shots hit home. The smell of smoke is thick in the air and Jongdae knows from the way the boat is already listing that they're in trouble. It was foolish to think that they could take on even a small pirate ship when they're nothing but a minimally armed merchant ship, but he'd hoped that if they showed they weren't going to just roll over and take it, the pirates would decide to go look for easier prey. It's clear now that that's not the case.

"We can't take much more of this!" Junmyeon yells.

Jongdae looks over at his first mate through the smoke and sees his face grim, his hand tight on his revolver. "But if we surrender to them..." He doesn't need to finish. Surrender is likely to mean ending up slaves as best, dead at worst. If even a fraction of the rumors they've heard about the Exotic Pearl are true, they may be lucky to end up dead.

"It's surrender or death," Junmyeon says, meeting his eyes steadily, and Jongdae knows what he has to do. He might be willing to go down with his ship, but he would never ask that of his crew. He has to do what he can to keep them safe. They're not likely to be safe with the pirates, but as long as they're alive, there's still hope. "Get as much of the crew as possible into the boats," he orders. "I'll raise the flag."

"Yes, sir," is all Junmyeon says before doing as he's told.

It's hard for Jongdae to accept what's happening even as he raises the white flag of surrender. This is his ship, his crew, his livelihood and his life. Even if the pirates miraculously let them live and go free, he's nothing without his ship. There's nothing but a drab boarding house room and a few old friends who don't understand his love of the sea waiting for him back home.

But he's the captain and it's his duty to protect his crew at all costs, even that of his pride. Slowly, painfully, he pulls the flag up. He can see Jongin steadfastly sticking to his place at the wheel, and Baekhyun is probably still up in the crow's nest if he hasn't been thrown out, but with luck, most of the crew will have escaped and they'll find their way to safety somehow. For Jongdae, however, this is it.

"Lay down your weapons and prepare to be boarded!" a voice booms over from the other ship.

Jongdae's no more heavily armed than his ship, a gun on his hip and a knife that's only meant for food tucked into his belt. He walks over to where the other ship's crew will be able to see him and deliberately sets both items down on the deck. Jongin comes over to join him and Jongdae frowns. Jongin is young and green and it shouldn't end like this for him.

"Captain?" Jongin asks, visibly pushing his fear back. Jongdae nods to him and he tosses away his own knife.

Seconds later, the other ship's crew comes swarming onto the deck. There probably aren't that many of them, but it seems like it with how fast they move. Two come over to Jongin and Jongdae, one tall and intimidating, covered in metal, not just weapons but spiky earrings and necklaces and bracelets, the other close to Jongin's size and almost cute, with his hair flopping in his face, but well-armed. "Are you the captain?" asks the metallic one, his voice low and gruff.

Jongdae stands up straight, even though he's still shorter than both of the pirates, and says, "Yes, I am," with all the authority he can muster. "Are you?"

The only answer the pirate gives is a look that says acknowledging Jongdae's question is beneath him, which he supposes is an answer in itself. "Good." He pushes on Jongdae's shoulder and he falls to his knees, biting back a cry of pain. His arms are pulled behind him and his wrists tightly bound with rope. Next to him, Jongin is being tied up similarly by the cute pirate. "Stay here and don't try anything funny," the captain orders before moving off.

The cute pirate stays with them. He has his own gun, and he picks up Jongdae's revolver too, turning it over in his hand. "Not bad." He cocks it and points one gun at each of them. "What's your name, captain?" he asks conversationally, like his fellow pirates aren't rounding up anyone unfortunate enough to still be on the ship with plans to do who knows what to them.

"Kim Jongdae." Jongdae keeps his voice firm and steady, not wanting to give any pirate the satisfaction of thinking he's afraid. (He is afraid, but they don't need to know that.)

"Never heard of you." The pirate laughs at his own joke, and he looks much less cute with his jaw gaping open. "I'm Lu Han. You should remember that."

"What is your captain going to do to us?" Jongin bursts out, no longer able to hide his fear.

That seems to amuse Lu Han too. "I couldn't say. He might sell you into slavery, or maybe eat you for dinner tonight."

"He wouldn't." Jongin doesn't seem entirely convinced of his own words, especially when Lu Han's smile widens.

"Probably not," Lu Han agrees. "He'd have to fatten you up first." He laughs again at that. "Or he might decide to have some fun with you." He uses the barrel of Jongdae's own gun to tip his chin upward. "You look like you'd clean up nice."

The thought turns Jongdae's stomach. Better him than any of the others, but he doesn't want to find out what that captain would consider "fun." They're spared from going further down that road when several more pirates turn up with the remnants of Jongdae's crew. It takes three of them to drag Chanyeol over, and he doesn't settle down until Jongdae snaps, "Enough. We surrendered." Then Chanyeol goes limp, his expression changing to his kicked puppy face. Jongdae usually laughs at him for that expression, but today it makes him feel guiltier than he already does.

Baekhyun comes next, bleeding from a cut on his forehead but otherwise unharmed. Kyungsoo is limping as a pirate drags him along, cheerfully unfazed by Kyungsoo's murderous expression. There's even a dimple showing on his cheek. Last comes Junmyeon, whose face is tight with pain even though Jongdae can't pinpoint where he's injured.

"Is that it?" Jongdae asks. He's not sure if he's asking Junmyeon or the pirates.

"We didn't find any bodies, and we have better things to do than chase after your boats," says one of the pirates who brought Chanyeol over. He's small, smaller than Jongdae and maybe even than Junmyeon, but he's wearing a sleeveless shirt that shows his muscular arms, and he'd have to be strong to hold onto Chanyeol when he's half his size. "The captain and the first mate are enough of a prize for us. Besides, there's another ship nearby and we've had enough fighting for one day."

That's a huge relief to hear, though Jongdae tries not to let it show. He doesn't think anybody died in the attack, and another ship in the area means the rest of his crew will be safe, not captured by other pirates or left to drift on the open ocean until they starve to death.

The captain comes back soon after, along with another pirate who's almost as tall as him, and says, "Looks like that's everyone. Donghae says the ship should be salvageable, so he and the others will start patching her up and rendezvous with us as usual."

So they're going to keep his ship. Jongdae doesn't know what's worse, having his beloved ship became a pirate vessel or having her sink to the bottom of the ocean. Maybe they'll sell her, so at least she might end up in the hands of someone more honest.

"Good," says the short one. "Then let's get out of here."

Jongdae barely has a chance to look around the pirate ship before they're dragged below decks and thrown into a cell. It's too short for Jongdae to stand upright, and it's cramped with six of them in there, but that's the least of Jongdae's worries. He's pretty sure Lu Han was joking earlier, both about the captain eating them and about him having his way with them, but you never know with pirates, and there are any number of other things they might do.

Once the door is locked, all but three pirates leave the room: the captain, the short one and Lu Han. Jongdae looks around at his crew in the dim light of the lamp outside the cell and sees the fear on their faces. "What are you going to do with us?" he asks.

The three pirates exchange a look that he can't read. "I wonder," the captain says. "Maybe we should—"

"You should really introduce yourselves," Lu Han cuts in. "Since we're going to be spending some time together."

Jongdae couldn't care less about formalities like that at the moment, but he's in no position to argue. He introduces himself again, and then his crew, who look similarly uninterested in getting to know their captors. Lu Han gives his name for the benefit of the four who weren't there earlier, and the short one introduces himself as Minseok. Last is the captain, who just says, "Tao."

"Great, now we know each other. Can you tell me what your plans are?" Jongdae is usually unfailingly polite with strangers, but he's worried and it's wearing his patience thin.

Another unreadable glance passes between the pirates, and then Tao says, "That depends on how much we like you. You'll have to wait and see."

The "so stop asking" is strongly implied, so Jongdae keeps his mouth shut. Tao's piercings are gleaming menacingly in the lamplight and he definitely doesn't look like someone it would be a good idea to make angry. He's relieved when Tao nods at the other two before stomping up the ladder and out onto the deck. Minseok and Lu Han exchange one more look before Minseok nods and follows Tao outside.

That leaves them with only Lu Han on guard. He's still holding the two guns from before, and he sits comfortably against the wall opposite the cell, his legs bent in front of him and the guns resting on his knees. He smiles at Jongdae, who doesn't smile back, turning to face his crew instead. "Are you okay?" he asks. "Injuries?"

The cut on Baekhyun's face is no longer bleeding, but the blood has dripped down over his eye and cheek. He scratches it absently and some of it flakes off. "I'm okay. Nothing serious."

Jongin shakes his head, as does Chanyeol. "I just twisted my ankle," Kyungsoo tells him in a low voice, though the room is small enough that Lu Han can probably still hear. "I can't run now, but it'll be fine in a few days."

Jongdae looks at Junmyeon last, and his face is still pinched like before. "I think my arm's broken," he says, almost apologetic. Jongdae flinches at that. A broken arm can heal on its own, but if it's not set by a doctor, it'll never be the same again. They have neither a doctor nor any medical supplies, and it seems unlikely that pirates will care about treating their prisoners' injuries, if they even have a doctor on the ship.

"Are you sure?" he asks, grasping at straws, but Junmyeon's expression gives him his answer. It must hurt, having his wrists tied behind his back when his arm is broken. Jongdae frowns and glances back at Lu Han, who's absently tapping his knees with the guns like he didn't hear them talking.

"Don't worry about me," Junmyeon tells him when he turns back. "I'll manage."

"We do have a doctor." Lu Han's voice startles Jongdae, who turns to look at him again with narrowed eyes.

"And do you let him treat prisoners?" he asks.

"On occasion," Lu Han says lightly, like they're talking about something completely unimportant.

Jongdae wants to hit him for being so cheerful while his crew members are injured and facing an uncertain fate. "And what would it take to convince your captain to make this one of those occasions?"

Lu Han's eyes are twinkling with amusement, which only makes Jongdae angrier, but he tries to keep his cool. He won't earn any favors by insulting the only pirate who's shown any interest in speaking to them so far. "I'm very good at convincing the captain," Lu Han says, "so if you can find a way to convince me..."

There's no implication, as far as Jongdae can tell, in his words, but he remembers Lu Han saying he'd clean up nice. Jongdae's never had another man touch him, never even considered the possibility, but there's not much he wouldn't do for his crew, especially his loyal, hardworking first mate and longtime friend. He swallows hard, keeping his back to his crew so he doesn't have to see their expressions as he says, in a tone brimming with suggestion, "Maybe there's something I could do to convince you..."

Lu Han's eyes go momentarily wide and Jongdae wonders if he hasn't misread the situation entirely, but then his expression slowly twists into a suggestive smirk. "Such a brave captain, willing to sacrifice for his crew." He sets down one of the guns and gets up so he's on his knees in front of Jongdae, the bars of the cell between them. "Would you really do it?"

"Wait a second!" Junmyeon protests, but Jongdae ignores him.

"Yes. Anything. Just please help him." His cheeks are burning with the shame of offering himself like this, but he stares right back at Lu Han.

The moment seems to stretch out forever, Jongdae staring defiantly at Lu Han, who looks back with an amused smile on his face. Then Lu Han reaches between the bars with his free hand and pulls on Jongdae's shirt until his face is pressed against the bars of the cell. Then he bends down and presses a single lingering kiss to Jongdae's lips. He pulls back just a tiny bit and grins at Jongdae from up close before releasing him and scooting back. "I'll be back," he says, then disappears up the ladder.

For a few seconds, Jongdae just stares after him in shock, still right up against the bars. He can't believe what he offered to do, and he can't believe that Lu Han took him up on it, and he can't understand why his lips are still tingling when it was only the briefest of kisses.

He doesn't snap out of it until Junmyeon's voice cuts through his thoughts. "What were you thinking? You can't trust a pirate. And you can't..." When Jongdae turns around, Junmyeon's cheeks are red too, but he thinks it's more from anger than embarrassment. "You can't offer something like that for me."

"I'm your captain and I can do whatever I want." Jongdae hardly ever pulls rank on Junmyeon, but he doesn't want to discuss this. Junmyeon's frustration is clear on his face, but he doesn't argue further. He won't make a scene in front of the others. "I don't know what they're planning, but if there's a way out of this for us, you can bet I'll take it. Understood?"

He looks around at the others, who all look uncomfortable. "Yes," Chanyeol answers after a long silence, "and so will we."

"Now hold on—" Jongdae starts to protest, but he's interrupted by Baekhyun.

"You never know. Maybe you're not Lu Han's type and then where will we be?" He winks at Jongdae, but it looks disturbing with the dried blood around his eye.

"I'll take care of this," Jongdae says firmly, no room for argument. He's always been friendly with his crew, maybe too friendly for them to take him entirely seriously, but about this, he has to put his foot down. He's responsible for them being captured and he'll take responsibility for getting them out, whatever it takes.

He can tell they're not convinced, but nobody objects. "Let's hope it doesn't come to that," Junmyeon says shortly. He's visibly pale even in the dim light, a thin sheen of sweat over his skin. He must be in a lot of pain, which only makes Jongdae more determined to get help for him and find a way to keep all of them safe.

Lu Han returns soon after with Minseok and the tall pirate who was with Tao earlier. "This is Sehun," he says, gesturing at the man, but nothing changes in Sehun's blank expression, like he didn't even hear. "We're going to take your first mate out and bring him to our doctor, but if you try anything when we open the door, that's it. No more favors. Got it?"

"Understood." Jongdae moves away from the bars as Minseok comes forward and opens the lock with a key from his belt. Sehun comes into the cell and pulls Junmyeon to his feet by his uninjured arm while the other two wait outside.

"We'll bring him back to you later," Minseok tells them as Sehun leads Junmyeon up the ladder and he locks the cell door, and then all three of them leave, Lu Han turning to wave before he closes the door to the deck.

"I don't trust them," Jongin says the second the door is closed. "They're pirates. They don't help people."

"It's not that simple." Jongin looks at Kyungsoo in confusion, so he elaborates, "They help if it's to their benefit. It may not even really be about the captain's offer." He glances very briefly at Jongdae, but his expression says nothing about what he thinks of that offer. "If they're planning to sell us to slavers, they'll get more money if we're healthy." Jongin flinches at that, but Kyungsoo doesn't say anything more. He's not one for false comfort.

"You're right," Jongdae agrees. "Both of you are right. I don't trust them, but it seems they want to keep us alive and healthy for now. Let's take advantage of that as much as we can while we look for a way out." He doesn't know if there will be a way out for them, but he has to keep that hope alive so that all of them can keep going.

For a long time, the door stays closed, and when it opens again, it's only Lu Han. He's holding a cup and a pitcher, and he walks over to the cell with it. "I brought water. Who wants it?"

"How are we supposed to drink while tied up?" Baekhyun asks.

Lu Han cocks his head like he hadn't thought of that. Jongdae wonders at his intelligence. Then he shrugs and fills the cup, holding it up in front of the bars. "Come and get it."

It seems like an effort to humiliate them, but they need water. Chanyeol licks his lips unconsciously, and Jongin stares at the cup. "Go ahead," Jongdae tells them. "Remember what we talked about before?" He half expects Lu Han to ask about that, but he just stands there holding the cup until Chanyeol comes up to the bars. It's awkward and at least half the water spills down Chanyeol's front, but at least he gets some in him.

Kyungsoo goes next, then Baekhyun, and Jongin gestures for Jongdae to go before him, but he says, "Go ahead."

Finally, it's Jongdae's turn, but Lu Han pulls the cup just out of reach. "I don't know," he teases. "I might need a little extra convincing to give you water."

Jongdae doesn't like being toyed with, but he doesn't want to give Lu Han the satisfaction of knowing he's getting to him, and he feels even thirstier after watching the others drink. "I'm very good at being convincing," he shoots back with lightness he hopes isn't obviously forced.

Lu Han grins, pleased with that response. He leans in close, and Jongdae would like to hit him, but instead he purses his lips and lets Lu Han kiss him again. It lasts a little longer this time, but the bars prevent it from being more than the barest hint of contact. Still, Lu Han seems satisfied when he pulls away, filling the cup again and offering it to Jongdae. The water is warm, but it feels good going down Jongdae's parched throat and he greedily drinks down as much as he can.

"What do you say?" Lu Han asks when he's done.

It takes Jongdae a moment to realize what he's asking for. "Thank you," he says, as politely as he can manage under the circumstances. The other four repeat his words with varying degrees of conviction.

"You're welcome!" Lu Han smiles at them before turning on his heel and heading back up the ladder, leaving them alone again.

"What's with him?" Baekhyun asks. "I always thought pirates would be scary, but he's just weird."

"I'd be careful of him," Kyungsoo says. "The ones who smile are the ones you really need to watch out for." Baekhyun looks at him with uncertain fear in his eyes, and Kyungsoo stares back until he looks away.

Jongdae cracks a smile at that, even under the circumstances. Some things never change. "I don't know what his deal is, but if he really is a little softer, maybe he can help us. I doubt that captain will be doing us any favors." He pictures Tao's grim face and his ears full of piercings. Now that's what he expects a pirate to look like, not pretty and a little goofy like Lu Han. Still, he won't let his guard down. Kyungsoo is right; evil can hide behind smiles too.

Jongdae estimates it's been another two hours, though it's hard to judge the passage of time down here in the dark, before the door opens again. Sehun comes in first, followed by Junmyeon and then Minseok, the two pirates helping him down the ladder. They've untied his wrists, but his injured arm is in a sling, and the other is held in place by a rope around his waist.

"Yixing says it's a clean break and should heal without a problem but to call him if the pain gets worse," Minseok tells them as he unlocks the cell. Jongdae assumes Yixing is the doctor. "We gave him a drink for the pain, so don't expect much from him for a few hours." Sure enough, Junmyeon wobbles as he sits down, his eyes shiny and his face flushed.

"Thank you," Jongdae says, more sincerely this time.

Minseok gives him a cool look, stepping back and locking the door again. "Don't thank me. It was the captain's call."

"Then thank him for me, please," Jongdae amends.

"I will." Minseok and Sehun's eyes meet and Sehun's lips twitch, almost smiling before he returns to his previous blank expression.

Jongdae doesn't understand, but he doesn't want to push his luck by asking. Instead, he turns his back on them to look at Junmyeon. "How are you feeling?"

"That was the worst rum I've had in a long time, but it worked," Junmyeon mumbles. He's leaning heavily on Chanyeol, his eyes half closed.

Baekhyun laughs. "And I haven't seen you this drunk in a long time." This is good, Jongdae thinks, that they haven't lost their senses of humor.

Junmyeon falls asleep within fifteen minutes, and Jongin, perpetually tired, also leans against the wall and closes his eyes. "I guess it's too much to ask for them to give us dinner, huh?" Chanyeol's voice is soft so as not to wake Junmyeon.

"I would imagine so," Jongdae agrees. "We're better off getting some rest while we can."

Chanyeol nods and closes his eyes too, and Kyungsoo scoots over to lean on the wall in an effort to find a comfortable position. Baekhyun considers for a moment before lying down with his head pillowed on Jongin's legs. (Jongin doesn't so much as stir in his sleep.) Jongdae looks around at them and smiles a little, sadly, before turning to face the door, not moving from his spot at the front of the cell. In spite of his advice, he doesn't think he'll get much sleep tonight.

It's difficult being alone with his thoughts now. He's been focused on the immediate issues like Junmyeon's injury, but their situation is more dire than he wants to acknowledge. The pirates don't seem to want to kill them outright, but that could easily change if they run low on supplies or simply don't want to deal with them anymore. If they are left alive, they're likely to either find themselves pressed into service on this ship or sold to slavers, a fate many say is worse than death.

With six of them, escape may be possible. The pirate crew is split between their ship and Jongdae's, so if there are few enough of them left, there's a chance Jongdae and the others could overpower them and take control. On the other hand, Junmyeon and Kyungsoo are injured and they're all tied up and locked away, and there must be more people on the ship than the five they've met so far.

They might be able to escape in a boat without being caught, but they'd still have to get out of this cell and untied, and they could well be consigning themselves to a slow death at sea if they can't find land or a law-abiding ship to take them in. The odds seem very much stacked against them escaping successfully.

Jongdae thinks of Lu Han then. His help could make all the difference, but how can they get it? It would probably take more than letting him have his way with Jongdae to convince him to help them get free. As strange as he is, he does seem reasonably shrewd. But maybe while letting him take what he wants, Jongdae can win him over, gain his trust and his sympathy. He doesn't like the idea of seducing his way to freedom, but he can't ignore the possibility when it may be the best option, or even the only plausible one.

He tries to imagine what it would be like. He's never had trouble getting women into his bed with a combination of charm and good looks, but Lu Han is not a woman, even if his face is almost as pretty as a woman's. He's a man and a pirate and there's no telling whether he'd fall to Jongdae's charms, or what he'd expect if he did. Would being in Lu Han's bed also be a fate worse than death? Who knows what perversion is hiding behind that pretty face and cute smile?

Jongdae's startled out of his thoughts by the creak of the door opening. Kyungsoo stirs behind him but goes right back to sleep, accustomed to the noises of a working ship, and none of the others even react. The lamplight has dimmed and Jongdae squints into the darkness until the shadowy figure steps off the ladder and turns around, revealing himself to be Lu Han.

"Still awake?" he asks, voice soft enough not to wake the others.

"It's hard to sleep when you're thinking about being killed or sold into slavery." Biting sarcasm is probably not a good way to start if Jongdae is planning to seduce Lu Han, but he can't hold it back. Besides, it only makes Lu Han smile.

"Is that what you think is going to happen?"

"Isn't it? You are pirates, after all." Jongdae suspects Lu Han is toying with him again, but it's hard to read him when he smiles like that so often.

"Yes, we are." Lu Han sits down in front of him, just out of reach. "But there are pirates and then there are pirates, you know?"

Jongdae doesn't, really. There are pirates and then there's the rest of them, legal merchants and naval officers and the like, law-abiding citizens. "This is the Exotic Pearl, isn't it? You have a fearsome reputation, even in comparison to other pirates."

"Hmm, yes, I suppose we do. Then maybe you should be scared." Lu Han seems amused again. Jongdae is getting very fed up with these pirates acting like they're all in on a joke he doesn't understand.

He swallows down his frustration and forces himself to speak calmly. "What would it take to get you to help us? I mean it when I say I would do anything to let my crew go free."

Lu Han eyes him thoughtfully, expression turned serious. "And what do you think I want from you?"

"You tell me." Jongdae looks steadily back at him as Lu Han moves close enough to reach between the bars, his fingers grazing Jongdae's cheekbone and drifting down his jaw. He forces himself not to flinch away even though Lu Han is the enemy and his instincts say he's in danger. Lu Han seems to appreciate that, smiling faintly as his fingers brush over Jongdae's lips.

Jongdae holds his breath, but then suddenly Lu Han laughs, loud enough to wake the others, and Jongdae jumps back. Chanyeol and Baekhyun are on their feet almost immediately, Jongin following a moment later while Kyungsoo struggles to stand on his injured leg. Only Junmyeon sleeps through it, knocked out by the alcohol. "Relax," Lu Han tells them, holding up his hands and grinning as he backs into the opposite wall. "I wasn't doing anything to your captain that he didn't want me to do."

That's not exactly true, but the truth isn't much better, so Jongdae doesn't argue, only glares at Lu Han, who continues to smile disarmingly. "I'd say we should go continue this somewhere more private, but Minseok has the keys, and I don't know what your crew would do to me if I tried to take you out of there."

"We'll talk another time," Jongdae says shortly, ignoring the displeased reaction from the others.

Lu Han nods. "I'll come back in the morning. Get some sleep. Who knows what tomorrow holds for you?"

None of them move until the door closes behind Lu Han. Only then does Kyungsoo say, "Captain, I really think you should be careful with him."

"Your concern is appreciated but unnecessary," Jongdae retorts in his best polite but commanding captain voice. Kyungsoo takes the hint and shuts up, as do the others, but Jongdae still feels their judgment. "You heard him. We don't know what'll happen tomorrow, so let's get some rest."

They all settle down again, some with more reluctance than others. Jongdae expects it to be harder to sleep now, but it's been a very long day, and once the other four have gone back to sleep, he drifts off to the sound of their steady breathing.

* * *

Jongdae wakes with a start to the dimpled pirate smiling at him from just outside the bars. "I guess you were tired," he says, flashing Jongdae a smile that he can't help finding cute. "I'm here to check on your first mate. I'd appreciate if none of you try to hurt me." This must be the doctor, then; Yixing, was it?

Minseok is standing against the far wall and he comes forward to unlock the door. Yixing enters the cell while Minseok stays where he is, planting his feet to stand guard.

Junmyeon is awake now, and the alcohol must have worn off, but the pain no longer shows on his face. "How are you feeling?" Yixing asks casually, like he's talking to a friend.

"Fine, thank you," Junmyeon replies, polite even to pirates.

"That's good." Yixing turns back to Minseok. "Is it necessary to keep them tied up? It's not healthy, and they don't seem dangerous." He smiles at them, showing his dimples again. "We should get that cleaned up," he adds, gesturing at Baekhyun's face. "Some food would be good too."

"I'll ask the captain. Let's go." If Jongdae is reading Minseok's tone and expression right, he's trying very hard not to roll his eyes. It's not what he'd expect of a pirate, but very little of what he's seen since the attack that brought them here has been what he'd expect of pirates. It makes it more frightening in a way, feeling like he's waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Yixing and Minseok leave, locking the door of their cell. Once they're gone, Baekhyun says, "That was strange. Shouldn't pirates be more, you know...?" He scrunches up his face and forms his hands into claws that look more like a monster than anything to do with pirates. "Even doctors."

"He was very nice to me before," Junmyeon comments. "So polite. I was surprised."

"None of the ones we've met seem very scary, except that captain." Jongin shudders at the mere mention of him, and Jongdae also feels a chill go down his spine at the thought of Tao.

"The others could just be hiding it better, but even if they aren't, a sadistic captain with an obedient crew behind him can do a lot of damage." Kyungsoo doesn't show fear as readily as Jongin, but Jongdae knows him well enough to see that he's worried. They all are.

They lapse into silence for a few more minutes until Minseok returns with Lu Han, who smiles and says, "We've decided to untie you as long as you're in your cell. In exchange, I'm going to borrow your captain for a while." His tone isn't suggestive, but Jongdae's mind goes there anyway, recalling the feeling of Lu Han's fingers on his lips the night before.

"We can stay tied up, thank you," Junmyeon snaps.

"Don't be like that," Lu Han says, laughing. "He was the one who offered. Besides, I just want to talk." Then he smirks and amends, "Mostly."

"It's fine," Jongdae says before anyone else can object. "I'll go." He decides to push his luck a little and adds, "Your doctor mentioned food."

Lu Han considers him, and for a moment Jongdae is afraid he'll get angry, but then he just smiles. "You drive a hard bargain, captain, but very well. I'll see what I can do. Now time to go."

"Untie them first," Jongdae demands. "So I know your word is good."

"Greedy, aren't you?" Lu Han says, but he's still smiling, so it seems it's okay. "What do you say, Minseok?" He turns to the other pirate, who shrugs. "All right, then."

Minseok unlocks the door again, and guards the entrance while Lu Han unties the others' bonds one by one. Jongdae watches quietly, feeling nervous but not sure what it is he's worried about. What's the danger here, that the pirates have something up their sleeves or that one of his crew members will decide to do something heroically stupid? He tries to tell them with his eyes to behave themselves. Even if they can subdue these two pirates, it won't get them far, unarmed and injured.

He breathes a sigh of relief when the other five are untied without incident, but then he remembers what's in store for him and the relief dies. Lu Han stands up after he finishes untying a displeased-looking Junmyeon and says, "Sorry, captain, but you'll have to stay tied up as long as you're outside. We'll give your hands a break when I bring you back later." He grabs Jongdae's arm to pull him to his feet, not roughly, but quickly enough that Jongdae stumbles.

He doesn't look behind him as Lu Han leads him out, not wanting to see how his crew members are looking at him. He'll deal with whatever they have for him, be it concern or judgment, when he gets back.

Lu Han and Minseok have to help him up the ladder since his hands are still bound, but once he's up on deck, he can stand on his own. In spite of his worries, it feels good to breathe the fresh air again, to feel the sea breeze on his face. "Don't keep him out too long," Minseok tells Lu Han, patting him on the shoulder before walking off.

"This way," Lu Han says cheerfully, no longer dragging Jongdae but instead guiding him with a hand on his back. It's strangely gentle, and Jongdae doesn't know what to make of it. Lu Han leads him to a room, closing the door behind them. The room is small but well-appointed, with a bed and a writing table covered in maps.

"You have your own room?" Jongdae asks, surprised. A captain would, and perhaps a mate (he thinks Minseok is the first mate, but no one's said so officially), but surely even pirates don't live in such luxury that they all have rooms to themselves. It's not such a big ship.

"These are the captain's quarters," Lu Han explains, sitting down on the bed. "I like to spend time here."

"Does your captain like that?" Jongdae asks, trying to reconcile the way Lu Han's making himself at home here with Tao's intimidating presence.

"He doesn't mind." Lu Han seems amused again, at a joke that's lost on Jongdae. "Have a seat."

Jongdae's not about to share a bed with Lu Han, even if they're only sitting, so he takes the chair by the table, dragging it around with his feet so it faces Lu Han. "You said you wanted to talk."

"I did," Lu Han confirms.

Jongdae waits for more, but Lu Han only sits there looking at him with a faint smile on his face. Jongdae suspects he's being played with again and he doesn't want to give in, but after a few minutes of silence, he finally bursts out, "Well?"

Sure enough, Lu Han grins. "Tell me about yourself, Captain Kim Jongdae."

"I'm hardly a captain anymore, now that you've taken my ship from me." He's startled by the bitterness in his voice as he let's himself acknowledge the situation for the first time. He's been trying to put on a brave face for his crew, but he knows that even if they manage to escape, which is unlikely enough, there's a good chance he'll never have his own ship again.

"Your crew still looks to you as their captain." Lu Han's not smiling anymore, his expression thoughtful.

"Force of habit."

"Or respect," Lu Han counters. He's right, Jongdae knows, but it's surprising to hear that from Lu Han. Maybe there's more to him than that cheerful front.

"And look where their respect for me has gotten them." Most of his crew is likely safe, but the five who are left are some of his closest friends, and he hates to think what fate awaits them.

"Oh, well, you never know. You might be able to turn things around." This time his words do imply more, and the smirk he follows it up with confirms that.

"What do you want from me?" Jongdae snaps, fed up. "I don't like to be toyed with. Either take what you want and help us or put me back with my men and stop wasting my time."

Lu Han's smile doesn't waver. "Who says this isn't what I want? Some pleasant conversation."

"Pleasant," Jongdae scoffs, and Lu Han's smile turns wry.

"I guess we might have to work on the pleasant part. But you know, we come across all kinds of people out here on the high seas. A lot of them aren't nearly as nice to look at or talk to as you."

"You call this nice?" Jongdae asks skeptically.

Lu Han laughs. "This is nothing. The first mate of the last ship we captured cursed at me nonstop, in so many creative ways. To be fair, his captain did die in the battle, but that wasn't our fault. Some idiot on his own crew didn't know how to handle a pistol and shot him by accident."

"You think that's funny, do you?" To tell the truth, it's the kind of story many members of Jongdae's crew would laugh at, but not him.

"Serves him right for not training his crew better," Lu Han mutters, seeming a little put out at Jongdae's scolding. "Anyway, the point is, you're not bad at all. You're almost willing to make conversation, and you even let me kiss you twice already." He laughs again. "Would you prefer that to me trying to talk to you? I wouldn't object."

Jongdae's eyes are drawn to Lu Han's lips, and he briefly thinks that he might actually prefer that. He doesn't know what to do with that thought, so instead he says, "I'm starting to think you're just playing with me when you really have no intention of helping us."

"I got your men untied, didn't I?" Lu Han points out. "And there'll be food for you later. Even a pirate can be a man of his word. I hope you will be too."

Jongdae swallows down the flutter of nerves thinking about that causes. "I am," he says firmly.

"Glad to hear it." Lu Han hops off the bed and stands in front of Jongdae. "How much would your first mate hate me if I kissed you again?" he muses.

Jongdae swallows hard again, but he's not so sure it's nerves he's feeling. "He doesn't have to know."

Lu Han's lips quirk into a surprised little smile. "And how much would you hate me?"

I don't hate you, Jongdae thinks, but that's not right. Lu Han's a pirate, part of the crew that took his ship from him. He may seem harmless, with his childish face and twinkling eyes, but Jongdae shouldn't let that fool him. He pushes aside those thoughts. "As I said, I'm a man of my word."

Lu Han's smile widens a little. "That's good. Stand up, would you?"

Jongdae does, but slowly, reluctantly. Once he does, Lu Han is right in front of him. He's taller than Jongdae, but not by enough to avoid his lips being dangerously close to Jongdae's own. Jongdae looks at him defiantly, but Lu Han just keeps smiling. He moves in slowly and Jongdae holds his breath, but then Lu Han's lips touch his forehead instead.

"What are you doing?" he blurts out. The tension is too obvious in his voice, so he tries to make himself relax.

That gets a chuckle from Lu Han. "Do you want a real kiss that badly?" His voice has gone low and soft and it makes something that he's sure isn't nerves flutter in Jongdae's stomach.

"I just want to get it over with," he grumbles.

"Well, if you insist..." Lu Han puts his hand under Jongdae's chin to tilt his face up and then kisses him full on the mouth. With no bars between them, Lu Han's lips press firmly into his and linger there briefly. Lu Han's smile when he pulls away is soft, but then he says, "I hope that's not how you usually kiss, or if it is, I hope you pay the ladies in port good money to put up with you."

"What makes you think I need to pay?" he snaps. It's a stupid thing to focus on, but he's not thinking straight right now.

"Or do you have a lady of your own back home? You're not wearing a ring."

It's none of his business, but Jongdae still finds himself saying, "No. There's no one." Then he quickly adds, "And no, that's not how I kiss when I want to kiss someone."

"Ouch." Lu Han mimes a stab to the chest. "If you're going to offer yourself to me, you could at least pretend not to find me repulsive."

"I don't—" Jongdae starts, then catches himself. He doesn't want to admit it, but it's true, at least, that he doesn't find Lu Han repulsive. As a person, maybe, as a pirate, definitely, but his face is pretty enough that Jongdae can see how some might find it appealing, and his lips were soft when they kissed. The circumstances are complicated, but the kiss itself isn't such an imposition.

Lu Han looks annoyingly smug. "Let's try that again, shall we? I'm sure you can handle it." He leans in slowly, and this time it's Jongdae who closes the last bit of distance between them, tired of waiting. Lu Han's lips move, just a little, against his, but no more. He pulls back after a few seconds and lets out a quiet breath. "That's better."

Jongdae braces himself for something more, or for another annoying comment, but Lu Han just turns around and goes back to sit on the bed. "If you're going to object to 'captain,' then I'll just have to call you by your name," he says, like he's given this some thought. "So tell me, Jongdae, how long have you been at sea?"

There doesn't seem to be any harm in a question like that, and Jongdae is tired of being contrary when it's not really his nature, so he answers, "Since I was a boy. My father was a sailor and I followed in his footsteps. What about you?" He has to admit he's curious. He's heard the stories of sailors on merchant and passenger ships, and of men in the navy, but never of a pirate.

"Me? I was born on a pirate ship." Jongdae has no reason not to believe him, but he continues only a moment later, "Or was I kidnapped, plucked from my bed by pirates? I can never remember." He's grinning like he's pleased with his cleverness.

"Suit yourself, if you don't want to tell me the truth." Lu Han has been a man of his word so far, but it was foolish to think that a pirate would be honest with him about anything else.

"Sorry, I have to keep some mystery." Lu Han winks at him, which looks silly more than cool.

Lu Han takes him back to the cell soon after, following him inside after Minseok unlocks the door and untying the rope around his wrists. It hurts to move his hands again after so long, but Jongdae tries not to show it. "There, see?" Lu Han says as he steps away with the rope in his hand. "I'm a man of my word too." He gestures toward the back of the cell and Jongdae realizes there's food there, as promised.

"Thank you," Jongdae replies, polite but stiff.

There's a flash of something on Lu Han's face that Jongdae thinks might be uncertainty, but it's gone before he can be sure, replaced by his usual smile. "See you later," he says, then turns on his heel and doesn't look back.

Once the pirates are gone, Junmyeon asks, "Are you...? That is, did he...?"

"I'm fine," Jongdae says gruffly. "We talked, like he said." And a little more than that, but Junmyeon doesn't need to know. There's no use getting worked up over two brief, chaste kisses.

Junmyeon probably knows he's lying, even if it's only by omission, but he doesn't push. "Did he say anything important? Where they're taking us?"

"I wasn't able to get anything out of him this time." Jongdae's embarrassed to realize he hardly tried, too busy trying to figure out Lu Han himself and worrying about what he might want from Jongdae.

"Do what you can," Junmyeon tells him. "We may be able to find a way out of this without his help."

"I will," Jongdae promises, and tries to believe that Junmyeon's right. The less they need from Lu Han, the better.

The rest of the day passes without interruption from the pirates, though they can sometimes hear their voices from outside. They eat the food left for them (ship's biscuits and slightly moldy cheese, but it's something), and Chanyeol and Baekhyun talk to fill the silence, but in time even they get bored. Eventually, Jongin dozes off, and the others join him one by one until only Jongdae and Kyungsoo are left awake.

That's when the door opens again and Lu Han comes down the ladder. He's holding the keys himself this time, and he's accompanied by Sehun. "Oh, good, you're still awake," he whispers. "I wanted you to keep me company for a little while."

"Again?" Jongdae asks, keeping his voice low.

"Are you sick of me already?" Lu Han smiles in spite of his words, like he's sure Jongdae's answer is no. "I get bored on watch, but if you join me then I won't be lonely."

"Do I have a choice?" To tell the truth, Jongdae doesn't mind. It's not that he wants to spend time with Lu Han, but it'll be good to go out on deck again. He's not used to being cooped up inside like this. He feels a little guilty leaving his crew behind, but there's nothing he can do about that now. Maybe he'll be able to bargain for a chance to walk around the way he did for food and medical treatment.

"I'd like it if you said yes, but no, not really." Lu Han is already unlocking the door, handing the keys to Sehun before coming inside. He has a rope in his hands, and he says, "Sorry, I'm going to have to tie you up, just in case. You understand."

He kneels in front of Jongdae, who reluctantly offers his hands. "You don't have to stare at me like that," Lu Han says as he wraps the rope around Jongdae's wrists, and Jongdae is confused until he realizes he's talking to Kyungsoo behind him. "I'm not going to hurt him."

"You'd better not," Kyungsoo says in the flat, dead voice he uses to scare the cabin boys.

Lu Han's smile barely falters in response, but he stage whispers to Jongdae, "He's a little scary."

"He is, isn't he?" Jongdae responds without thinking, like he's talking to Baekhyun instead of one of their pirate captors. Lu Han seems pleased with that, smiling wider. He finishes tying the rope with one more tug and then stands up before pulling Jongdae to his feet. This rope is too long, trailing along the floor, and Lu Han picks up the other end and leads Jongdae out of the cell.

Jongdae can climb the ladder alone with his hands tied in front, though he's quietly grateful for Sehun climbing behind him in case he loses his grip. Lu Han is still holding the end of the rope, but he keeps it slack, not interfering with Jongdae's movements. Only when they're both standing on deck does he tug Jongdae forward with some force. "This way."

They make their way over to the wheel, where a pirate Jongdae doesn't recognize is standing. "Thanks for waiting, Amber," Lu Han says. Jongdae does a doubletake at the name, and when the pirate turns around, he realizes that although she's wearing men's clothes, she's a woman.

"Yes, a woman on a ship," she says, rolling her eyes at his expression. "The horror, I know. Get over it."

"I—I'm sorry, I didn't..." Jongdae tries, startled, but then Amber laughs.

"I'm just teasing." To Lu Han, "Are you ready, sir?" Jongdae's a little surprised, to hear Lu Han addressed like that, but maybe this Amber is more polite to her fellow pirates than most of them are.

"Just a minute." Lu Han drops to the ground, still holding the rope, and loops it around the base of the wheel. It's short enough that Jongdae has to sit down on the deck to keep from getting tangled with the spokes. Lu Han knots it securely before getting to his feet again. "All right," he tells Amber, stepping forward to take the wheel.

She moves out of his way and nods to Lu Han and then to Jongdae. "Goodnight. Don't have too much fun out here."

Once they're alone, Jongdae asks, "Is this necessary? I won't run."

"I didn't think you would, but I have to be careful. Who knows what you might do to me while I'm distracted?" There's not much light out here, but Jongdae can see that he is distracted, looking out ahead, over the open water. He looks more serious than usual, but then he ruins it by adding, "And it's kind of fun, don't you think?"

"No, I don't think it's fun having you tie me up like a dog. Do you think I'm your pet?"

Lu Han laughs. "Not a pet, but I just might like to keep you."

Jongdae doesn't know what to say to that, so he keeps his mouth shut. It's frustrating, feeling like this is all a game to Lu Han when it's deadly serious to Jongdae. Not only that, but it feels like a game where he doesn't know the rules, where he's always on the losing side.

Lu Han doesn't seem put off by his silence. "I know some people who like standing watch. They think it's peaceful, gives them time to think. But for me, I don't like having too much time to think. I don't mind being quiet with company sometimes, but alone, it's different."

Jongdae is caught off guard again by Lu Han's thoughtful words and quiet voice. It's hard to reconcile this serious side with the joker who says it's fun to tie him up, the quick shift enough to give him whiplash. He doesn't know how to react, but Lu Han seems to want conversation, so he says, "I learned not to put Chanyeol and Baekhyun on watch together because they talk and laugh so loud no one can sleep. I don't mind the quiet, though. It's relaxing, the dark and the sea and the rocking of the ship."

"I guess it is," Lu Han agrees. He falls silent again after that, and Jongdae waits and thinks about what to say. He wonders what kind of question, if any, out of the many he wants to ask, he'll get a truthful answer to. He's intrigued, against his better judgment, by Lu Han and by this ship of pirates who aren't doing much at all to live up to their terrifying reputation.

It's Lu Han who breaks the silence again, asking, "Is there anyone waiting for you back home? No wife, you said, but perhaps a worried mother and father?"

"There's no one. A few friends, maybe." Jongdae's father didn't even live to see him board his first ship, and it's been nearly a year since his mother went to join her husband. He's grateful, at least, that they're not alive to worry about him now. "Do you?"

He doesn't really expect a truthful answer, and he's not disappointed. "Ten children. All illegitimate, of course, but fond of their father. Their ten different mothers are rather fond of me too." Lu Han doesn't quite manage to keep the humor out of his voice this time, or maybe he isn't trying.

"All those children and yet you're awfully interested in kissing me." The joke comes out before Jongdae can think better of it. He's getting too comfortable with Lu Han tonight, letting his guard down.

"Maybe you're just that pretty, or maybe I just like a little bit of everything." Lu Han's tone is flippant, but Jongdae can't tell anymore if he's joking. "You didn't seem so put off by kissing me either."

That pushes Jongdae back out of his comfort zone. It's true, if he's honest with himself, but he's not prepared to think about what that means. "You are just that pretty," he responds too late, the humor forced.

Lu Han chuckles quietly, not like his loud laughter the night before. Jongdae thinks that laugh might be as much of a lie as Lu Han's ten illegitimate children. "I suppose I'll have to be happy with that," he says before lapsing into silence again.

When it becomes clear that Lu Han isn't going to continue that line of conversation, Jongdae ventures a question. "Do you think the captain could be convinced to let my crew members out of the cell, even for a short time? If it's okay for me to come out here with you, surely they could be allowed to walk around for a few minutes a day."

"How do I know you're not just trying to escape?" Lu Han asks, the teasing lilt back in his voice.

"Where would we go? And if you bring them out one at a time, I can assure you none of them would abandon the rest of us."

"They're very loyal, your crew," Lu Han comments.

"You said so yourself, that they still think of me as their captain even though I've failed them. They hold just as much loyalty to each other." Jongdae doesn't know what he's done to deserve this crew, these friends, but he wants to be worthy of it and help them as much as he can now.

"And you to them, I see." Lu Han looks down at him briefly, considering, before turning his gaze back to the water. "I think the captain would allow that, as long as you continue to behave yourselves. We don't want you getting sick."

"So you can fetch as much money for us as possible from the slavers?" Jongdae asks.

His question is met with silence. Jongdae wishes he could see Lu Han's face so he could try to read something, anything in it, but he can't from this position. In the end, Lu Han only says, "A pirate, like anyone, has his own reasons for doing things. It's best not to question them when they line up with what you want."

Jongdae is frustrated again at knowing nothing, understanding nothing, but Lu Han's right. There's no use questioning this and making Lu Han rethink asking the captain for him. "I understand," he says, though really he doesn't, and leaves it at that.

This time, Jongdae doesn't try to ask anything more, and Lu Han stays quiet, so they sit and stand in silence, listening to the sound of the water, until Minseok and another pirate Jongdae hasn't seen before come on deck for the second watch. Minseok stops and looks at Lu Han for a moment before he says, "Get some rest," gentle, the way Junmyeon might say it to Jongdae when his worries are weighing on him. Once again, Jongdae thinks that he doesn't understand these pirates at all.

* * *

Jongdae and his crew are left alone for a while the next morning, listening to the muted sounds from up on deck. It's still hardly enjoyable being locked up, but it's better now that they've been fed and had their hands untied and their injuries treated. It doesn't change the fact that they're prisoners, and their fate is still uncertain, but they're more comfortable physically and at least a little bit less afraid, knowing that the pirates have some inclination to take decent care of them.

Lu Han comes by later in the day, trailed by a somewhat disgruntled-looking Minseok. Lu Han is all smiles, making Jongdae wonder if he imagined his serious, thoughtful mood the night before. Maybe he just wanted to believe that there was more to Lu Han than stupid jokes and teasing flirting, enough to see something that wasn't there.

"The captain has decided to allow each of you in turn some time to move around on deck, with supervision," Lu Han declares, giving Jongdae a significant look that the others can't miss. He's probably doing it on purpose, to see their reactions, and sure enough, Junmyeon presses his lips together into his silently disapproving face while the other four look at Jongdae with varying degrees of curiosity and worry on their faces. He stares stubbornly back at them. All he did was ask for this favor and he has no reason to be ashamed of that.

"If you try to escape or hurt any our crew, understand that we'll have to punish you and that will be the end of any privileges. It'll be best for everyone if you don't put us in that position." Lu Han's warning is cheerfully delivered, but there's a dangerous gleam in his eyes that makes Jongdae not want to find out if he means it. Then it's gone and Lu Han gestures for Minseok to unlock the door. "So, who wants to go first?"

Everyone turns to Jongdae automatically, still looking to him to make decisions. "Chanyeol, you go," he says after a moment's consideration. Chanyeol is the biggest of them, and although he hasn't complained, Jongdae is sure he's been suffering cooped up in here.

Lu Han comes into the cell and ties Chanyeol up like he did to Jongdae the night before, with his hands in front of him and a long tail hanging loose. "Come on, time for your walk," he says when he's done. "Be a good puppy now." Jongdae catches Minseok rolling his eyes in a fondly exasperated kind of way behind Lu Han's back. It's strange to see from a pirate, somehow, reminding Jongdae of Kyungsoo or Junmyeon's reactions to Chanyeol and Baekhyun at their silliest.

Lu Han leads Chanyeol outside and Minseok locks the cell door before following them out. "I take it this was your request," Junmyeon says to Jongdae. It's not really a question.

"I just mentioned it to Lu Han yesterday. He must have talked to the captain." Jongdae doesn't know what to make of that. As Lu Han said, everyone has their own reasons for doing things, but it's hard for him to guess at Lu Han's. What does he hope to gain from giving Jongdae what he asked for?

Junmyeon hesitates the way he does when he's trying to figure out a tactful way to say something. "I'm glad you were able to manage this for us, but be careful, please. Don't forget, they took our ship and would have killed us if we hadn't surrendered. You can't trust them."

He's right, of course. No matter how harmless Lu Han seems, or Minseok or Yixing or any of the others, they can't be trusted. It'll only end badly if Jongdae forgets that. He can use Lu Han to help his crew, make deals to get what they need, but he has to remember that it's only that. He's never going to be friends with one of the pirates who attacked his ship and captured him.

"I know that," he says quickly, realizing he's gotten lost in his thoughts while the others are waiting for his answer. "I haven't forgotten."

Lu Han and Minseok bring Chanyeol back, and Jongdae is about to tell Jongin to go next when Lu Han points at Junmyeon. "I want him." Off the strange looks that gets him, he amends, "Not like that, geez. Just to walk with."

Junmyeon's reluctance is written all over his face, but he lets Lu Han tie the rope around the wrist on his good arm. It's not a very effective restraint, but Junmyeon's broken arm is still in its sling, and while Jongdae knows he's strong, he looks tiny enough next to Lu Han that it's hard to imagine him doing much damage,.

"What happened?" Baekhyun asks Chanyeol once they leave. "Did they say anything? Did you see a way to escape?"

"Slow down," Chanyeol tells him, smiling tolerantly. "It's a typical ship. There are boats, if we can get to them and get away, but we won't have any supplies, and without knowing where we are, our chances of getting picked up or finding land are slim.

Baekhyun is seasoned enough not to have gotten his hopes up, but Jongin looks disappointed. "Did you talk to them?" Kyungsoo asks.

"Only Lu Han walked with me," Chanyeol says, "and he just talked about the weather and the ship. He kept interrupting when I tried to ask questions. Was he like that with you, captain?"

Jongdae thinks back to his conversations with Lu Han. He asked a lot of questions, but getting answers to them was another story. "He said a lot, but there wasn't much substance to it." Chanyeol nods in response, a considering look on his face.

"I wonder if we're not better off trying to talk to Minseok," Kyungsoo muses. "He seems like he should have more influence."

"He also seems a lot less interested in talking to us," Jongdae points out.

"How you underestimate me." Baekhyun grins, and Kyungsoo rolls his eyes exactly how Minseok did before. Maybe that's why Kyungsoo thinks they should target him, because they're similar.

"You're welcome to try," Jongdae says. "We can use all the allies we can get here." He's not sure he can call Lu Han an ally, but there's no question that he has helped them out so far, whatever his motivation.

Junmyeon returns more quickly than Chanyeol, and Lu Han doesn't object when Jongdae suggests that Jongin go next. "What did he want with you?" Chanyeol asks Junmyeon after they're gone.

Junmyeon frowns thoughtfully. "I don't know. He just kind of looked at me while we walked like he was trying to figure something out, and then he said, 'You're very protective of your captain, aren't you?' but he cut me off when I tried to answer."

"Maybe he wanted to make sure you and Jongdae don't have a thing going that he'd be getting in the middle of," Baekhyun teases. He knows perfectly well Junmyeon has a fiancée back home (and guilt twists in Jongdae's stomach at the thought that Junmyeon may well never make it home to marry her now).

"I can't figure him out," Junmyeon says, not rising to the bait of Baekhyun's teasing. "I don't know if he's playing with us or if he's just weird and not very smart."

"Maybe some combination of that." Jongdae's spent more time with Lu Han, but he hasn't been able to figure him out yet either.

"I wonder." Junmyeon's thoughtful expression is now turned on Jongdae, who hopes Junmyeon can't read him too much better than he can Lu Han. "But I still think we can't trust him. Even if he's just a harmless idiot, he's the enemy."

When Jongin comes back, Jongdae is startled to see that it's with Tao instead of Lu Han. The captain looks less intimidating than he did the day they were captured, with only a pistol and one sheathed knife on his belt, but the studs in his ears and the spikes on his bracelets glint in the lamplight and his expression is as imperious as before. Jongin seems relieved to get away from him, hurrying to the back of the cell once he's untied.

"Do you...?" Jongdae asks uncertainly when Tao stands at the door, waiting. "That is, are you going to take another one of us up?"

"Yes. Who's next?" His tone effectively communicates 'I'm busy and important, so don't waste my time.'

"Baekhyun." Jongdae gestures for him to go, and Baekhyun shoots him a betrayed look but does as he's told. Tao ties Baekhyun's wrists quickly and silently and then pulls him out of the cell. Baekhyun shoots one last pitiful look over his shoulder before following him out.

"How did you end up with him?" Chanyeol asks the second the door closes. "Where did Lu Han go?"

"We were about to come back down when the captain came over and told Lu Han, 'Yixing needs you,'" Jongin explains, eyes wide. "And Lu Han just shrugged and handed him the rope like it was nothing."

Jongdae struggles to picture that, seemingly harmless Lu Han passing prisoner walking duties to scary-looking captain Tao without a care. He can see the others are having the same problem. They are on the same side, of course, but while that's not Jongdae's style, there are many captains out there who terrify their crews, and probably an especially large number of them on pirate ships. Tao looks like that kind of captain.

"Poor Baekhyun," Chanyeol says, half joking and half worried. Jongdae doubts Baekhyun is in any particular danger right now, but it's not likely to be a pleasant walk.

Sure enough, Baekhyun looks a little shaken when he comes back, even though he tries to laugh it off. Tao eyes Kyungsoo, who shakes his head. "I'll pass. Bad ankle." It's true, but Jongdae thinks he looks a little relieved to have that excuse.

"And you?" Jongdae's surprised to see the captain's gaze turn to him. He hadn't thought of himself being included in the deal to walk around on deck, since he already had his turn to get out with Lu Han. Still, even though Taos's scary, he shouldn't miss the opportunity to talk to him. There's always a chance he could convince Tao to release them, or at least learn something that could help them.

"Please." Jongdae offers his hands to Tao, who ties his wrists carelessly but not with intentional roughness, as far as he can tell.

When he's done, Tao gets to his feet, holding the end of the rope but not pulling. "Let's go." Jongdae obediently stands up and follows him to the ladder and outside.

Jongdae's not sure how to talk to Tao once they're out on deck. He doesn't look particularly angry, but neither does he look at all friendly or interested in conversation. "Thank you," he tries, "for letting us have some time outside, and for walking with us. I'm sure you have other things to do."

Tao gives a tiny shrug, like he can't even be bothered to fully move his shoulders. "It's fine."

"I hope Baekhyun didn't talk your ear off," Jongdae continues.

"A little. It didn't take much to shut him up." For a second, Jongdae thinks he catches a twinkle of amusement in Tao's eyes, but then his face is impassive again, making Jongdae wonder if he imagined it.

"You'll have to teach me your tricks. I can never make him stop." He tries to keep his tone friendly, conversational, like he's not scared of Tao, but not disrespectful either.

Tao turns to look Jongdae up and down. "I don't think you have it in you." Again, Jongdae thinks he catches the faintest flicker of amusement in Tao's expression, but it's gone too quickly for him to be sure.

"No, I suppose I don't." Jongdae is nothing like Tao. Even if he looks less intimidating when he's not dressed for battle, he's still covered in spiky metal jewelry. He's significantly taller than Jongdae, and the shirt he's wearing today shows off strong arms and part of a tattoo on his chest. Jongdae's image of a pirate captain is more an older man, weathered by many years at sea, but he can't imagine anyone would question Tao's authority.

They walk in silence for a few minutes and Jongdae looks around the ship. It's bigger than his, but not by much, and there aren't many people on deck. He spots Minseok at the wheel, and two people he can't recognize from here up in the sails.

He's pulled out of his thoughts when Tao suddenly says, "Lu Han is very interested in you."

Jongdae doesn't know what to make of the comment. Tao doesn’t sound disapproving, exactly, but he's serious. "I don't know what I've done to make him interested in me," Jongdae replies uncertainly. Besides let him kiss me, he thinks, hoping he isn't blushing at the memory of that.

Tao stops walking abruptly, yanking on the rope so that Jongdae has to stop too. "Be careful with him. I won't forgive you if you hurt him." This time, the threat is clear, but Jongdae is still confused. He wouldn't think someone like Tao would be so protective of Lu Han, or of anyone. What has Lu Han done to make his pokerfaced captain care about him? Or is it only that Tao won't tolerate harm coming to any of his crew?

Tao is still glaring at him, so Jongdae hurriedly says, "I won't." It's true, mostly. He's willing to use Lu Han to get what he needs, but he doesn't want to hurt him if he can help it. If Tao is talking about more than just physical injury, Jongdae doesn't really think he could hurt Lu Han. If he has such sensitive feelings, he's done a good job hiding them.

That seems to satisfy Tao, who gives the rope another tug as he starts walking again. He doesn't say anything more as they pace across the deck for another minute or two, and when they go back down the cell, Jongdae is no closer to making sense of him.

Jongdae is half expecting Lu Han to come by again that night, but there's no sign of him, and eventually he falls asleep. He's startled awake by a hand on his shoulder, and he jumps a mile when he sees it's Lu Han. "Shh," Lu Han whispers, putting a finger to his lips, and Jongdae holds his breath. Baekhyun rolls over in his sleep, but no one wakes up.

"What are you doing here?" Jongdae whispers back, disoriented from sleep and Lu Han being too close to him.

"I have second watch tonight," Lu Han explains. "I thought you could keep me company." That explains why Lu Han didn't come by before. He's holding a rope, so Jongdae answers by offering his hands. Lu Han smiles and Jongdae thinks he looks a little surprised. Did he really think Jongdae would refuse him?

It's not until they're out of the cell that Jongdae realizes Lu Han is alone this time, the keys hanging from his belt. He locks the door and puts them back there, within reach of Jongdae's hands. Is this a test? It's hard to believe that Lu Han trusts him enough already to be so careless.

Jongdae considers the possibilities. He could probably grab the keys, but he wouldn't get far with them unless he could also disable Lu Han. In a fair fight, he might have a chance, but with his hands tied, it'll be harder. Lu Han is bigger than him, and in spite of his delicate face, he's solidly built. The odds are not in Jongdae's favor, and if he tries and fails, he'll have ruined any chance of getting Lu Han to help them escape, probably losing all the concessions they've gained in the process.

As tempting as it is to try anyway, he knows it's a bad idea. Lu Han pulls him toward the ladder, and soon they're up on deck. There's at least one other pirate there, at the wheel, making Jongdae's odds even worse. He's still tempted as Lu Han leads him to the other end of the ship, but he hasn't made up his mind by the time Lu Han ties him to the railing and the chance is lost.

If Lu Han is testing him, he doesn't show it as he stands next to Jongdae, his hands on the railing. He doesn't say anything for long enough that Jongdae closes his eyes, feeling the faint spray and smelling the salt breeze and trying to forget, just for a moment, the mess he's in. He takes a deep breath, in and out, relaxing.

He's anticipating an interruption, but none comes. When he opens his eyes, Lu Han is watching him. The sky is clear and the moon is bright tonight, nearly full, and it's enough for Jongdae to make out the curiosity in Lu Han's eyes, his small smile. "What were you thinking about?" Lu Han asks him.

"Nothing. Just taking everything in."

"Hm." Lu Han's smile widens a little, but he doesn't say anything more.

It's strangely comfortable, standing here in silence, both of them looking out over the water. There's still a lot Jongdae doesn't know about Lu Han, a lot he can't figure out, but even if Lu Han likes to play with him, Jongdae is pretty sure he won't hurt him. As much as he reminds himself of the warnings from his concerned crew and the simple fact that Lu Han is a pirate and Jongdae his prisoner, he feels safe right now, alone with him.

Get a grip, he tells himself. He has you tied to the damn ship. There's nothing safe about this.

"Did you have a nice talk with Tao?" Lu Han asks, cutting into his thoughts. "The sleepy one, what's his name again?"

"Jongin," Jongdae supplies.

"Yes, him. He looked terrified when I had to hand him over."

"I can imagine," Jongdae says dryly. "But I was prepared, and I'm not so easily scared."

"The brave captain!" Lu Han declares. He's teasing, but not cruelly.

"He told me to be careful with you," Jongdae adds, looking at Lu Han to gauge his reaction. "That I'd better not hurt you."

Lu Han looks a little surprised at that, but largely amused. "And why does he think I'm in danger of being hurt by you?"

"I don't know. He said you were very interested in me."

The flicker of surprise that passes over Lu Han's face is stronger this time. "Am I?"

"You tell me," Jongdae shoots back, hoping it's not obvious how much he wants a truthful answer.

"I guess I do find you interesting," Lu Han muses. That could mean a lot of things, and Jongdae doesn't want to guess at what, so he stays silent. "And what about you?" Lu Han asks after a moment. "Do you find me interesting?"

His eyes are doing that twinkling thing again and Jongdae can't help rolling his eyes. He knows that his answer is yes, though, even if he won't give Lu Han the satisfaction of hearing it. "I might find you more interesting if you told me the truth instead of talking about your bastard children in every port."

Lu Han laughs out loud at that. "It could be the truth," he protests. Jongdae gives him the most skeptical look he can manage. "Fine, you got me." Lu Han's laughter fades out and he adds, a little more quietly, "I'm really not that interesting, and the most interesting parts, you wouldn't want to hear."

His voice drops so low at the end that Jongdae has to strain to make out the words. He turns to look at Lu Han's expression, but he's facing away. Before Jongdae can think too hard about what that means, Lu Han laughs again, loudly. "Or would you?" he adds, smirking at Jongdae.

"No, thank you." It's a lie, because the more he hears, the more curious he gets about what Lu Han's really like underneath the jokes, but Lu Han doesn't need to know that. Besides, it's better if he doesn't get to know Lu Han more than he needs to enlist his help. They're not friends or anything more, and they can't and shouldn't ever be either.

* * *

Sehun and Minseok come by the next day to give them some food and water and take them out on deck. Jongdae tries to make conversation with Sehun, but he gets only monosyllabic answers and unreadable facial expressions in response, nothing useful. Sehun doesn't seem particularly threatening, aside from being twice Jongdae's size, but it doesn't seem like he'll be any help either.

That night as they settle down to sleep, Kyungsoo asks, "Do you think Lu Han is going to come for you again?" Surprise shows on Baekhyun, Chanyeol and Jongin's faces, but not on Junmyeon's. Jongdae is a little surprised too; he hadn't realized that anyone had noticed his absence the night before.

"Maybe," Jongdae says, reluctant to talk about this. "He seems to want company when he's bored on watch, but I don't know when that'll be." Nobody says anything to that, but he can tell they want to, and it's probably nothing he wants to hear. "We've only made simple conversation, but if he keeps it up, maybe I'll be able to get something out of him eventually."

He thinks guiltily about his plan to seduce Lu Han, which is progressing even less than his attempts to get information. They were far from land when they were captured, but without knowing the pirates' destination, it's hard to say how much time they have left. If he keeps putting it off, it might be too late for Lu Han's help to do them any good.

Junmyeon frowns at him, his 'this is for your own good' look. "I won't tell you what to do, and you wouldn't listen to me if I tried, but remember what he is and what you're doing. Don't let your guard down."

"I remember," Jongdae says gruffly.

"I can see how you might get distracted," Baekhyun puts in. "That face, and not a bad body either." It sounds like a joke, but knowing Baekhyun, he's partly serious.

"If you think he's so hot, why don't you try to seduce him?" Chanyeol says, unable to resist an opportunity for teasing.

"He doesn't like me nearly as much as he likes Jongdae," Baekhyun replies without missing a beat. "Right, captain?"

"'Captain' he calls me as he makes fun of me," Jongdae grumbles, giving Baekhyun a playful shove. Truthfully, he's glad for the distraction, and for his crew being in good spirits in spite of everything.

Suddenly, Lu Han's familiar voice calls, "Am I interrupting something?" and Jongdae realizes that the door above is open.

"Save me from the captain's wrath!" Baekhyun yells, not caring in his teasing mode who he's joking with.

"Your captain or mine?" Lu Han asks, chuckling as he makes his way down the ladder.

"Mine." Baekhyun points at Jongdae in case there's any doubt who he means. "I don't know if you'd be much help against yours.

That gets one of those enigmatic smiles from Lu Han. "Maybe not." He turns a more neutral smile on Jongdae and asks, "What do you say, should I take you up for watch and spare your sailor your wrath?"

"He doesn't deserve it, but all right," Jongdae says. Chanyeol and Jongin are smiling, but Kyungsoo's face is impassive. Junmyeon looks disapproving yet again, but he doesn't say anything as Lu Han unlocks the cell.

Lu Han's alone again, and all six of them are awake this time, but he doesn't look worried as he kneels down to tie Jongdae's wrists. Don't do anything stupid, Jongdae tries to communicate with his eyes over Lu Han's shoulder. Maybe the stupid thing is to not take this chance, but he doesn't want to risk it.

No one else moves, but Jongdae doesn't breathe easy until they're out of the cell with the door locked behind them. "Goodnight," Lu Han calls over his shoulder. "I hope you appreciate what I'm doing for you."

"You shouldn't encourage Baekhyun," Jongdae tells him once they're outside. "He'll just keep getting sillier. He loves the attention."

"I like silly." Lu Han leads him to the wheel. It's Minseok there this time, and he nods a greeting to Lu Han, and then, after a moment's consideration, to Jongdae. Lu Han bends down to tie Jongdae to the wheel again. It seems like the rope is a little longer this time, but he still has to sit down, staying on the deck when Lu Han gets to his feet.

"Goodnight," Lu Han tells Minseok as he takes the wheel. It's no surprise that he means it more than when he told the prisoners, but there's sincere affection in it, something Jongdae hasn't heard from Lu Han before. It's comforting, in a way, to know that Lu Han can be sincere, but it's still hard to accept that in many ways, these pirates aren't so different from him and his crew.

"Goodnight," Minseok echoes before going on his way.

"Is Minseok the first mate?" Jongdae asks after he's gone, half out of curiosity and half just to see if Lu Han will actually give him a straight answer for once.

"That's right. He could be the captain, but he didn't meet the height requirement."

"What are you talking about?" Jongdae asks. He laughs a little, but he's not entirely sure it's a joke. What does he know about how pirates do things?

"Would you surrender to someone so tiny and cute?" Lu Han asks, deadpan. "I wouldn't." Then, after a beat, "Don't tell Minseok I said he was tiny and cute."

"He doesn't like it?" Jongdae smiles, thinking of the teasing that goes on in his own crew and how Kyungsoo hates it.

"He doesn't really mind, but I make sure to call him tiny and cute as much as possible just in case."

Jongdae bursts out laughing at that. "You're very strange."

"I get that a lot," Lu Han says, a little wryly.

There's silence after that. Jongdae's smile fades as he remembers Junmyeon's earlier warning. What's he doing laughing with Lu Han when he and his crew are still in danger? He can't keep stalling.

He steels himself and says, in a casually flirty tone, "You seemed so interested in kissing me before, but you didn't try anything at all yesterday or today?"

He's sitting close enough to Lu Han's feet that he feels more than sees him tense. Is he uncomfortable or just surprised that Jongdae's bringing it up? When he speaks, his tone gives nothing away, blithe and teasing. "I didn't know you wanted me to kiss you so badly."

Jongdae's first impulse is to deny it, but that would defeat the purpose. Instead, he says, "I don't exactly have a lot of opportunities to kiss people these days."

Lu Han chuckles softly at that. "No? Your first mate seems awfully fond of you."

It's not the first time he's mentioned Junmyeon when talking about kissing. Jongdae wonders if he really thinks there's something there. "I can assure you he's not interested."

"No?" Lu Han's question betrays only casual interest.

"He's engaged," Jongdae tells him.

"Oh." There's something Jongdae can't figure out in that one word. Guilt? If that's it, he should push his advantage.

"They were planning to get married after this voyage or the next, once Junmyeon had enough money saved up. She probably has no idea that he's not coming back..." He doesn't have to fake the sadness and guilt in his voice, thinking about that.

"The sea is dangerous. Any sailor's wife should know that," Lu Han says gruffly. "There are a great many ways to lose a husband or fiancé to the sea."

"There are, but some can't be helped and some can." There it is, laid out plain. Will Lu Han take the bait?"

Lu Han is silent and Jongdae's wondering if he's going to ignore the comment when he finally says, "You never know what the future will bring."

Jongdae frowns, trying to make sense of that. Is he still talking about Junmyeon's fiancée or about whether there'll be help for them in the future? Or is he just teasing, being purposely vague? It doesn't sound like a joke.

Before Jongdae can decide how to respond, Lu Han says, "How did we go from kissing to such a serious subject? I brought you out here to entertain me, not to be all depressing."

Jongdae is frustrated, feeling the chance slip through his fingertips, but there's not much he can do about it now. If he's not good entertainment, Lu Han may stop wanting to spend time with him. Reluctantly, he puts aside his frustration and accepts Lu Han's change of subject. "It's not my fault you wanted to talk about kissing instead of actually doing it."

That gets a laugh from Lu Han. "You really must be getting desperate. But I am on watch, you know, and steering the ship. I can't very well do that while kissing you."

"Are we in dangerous waters?" Jongdae asks. The weather is good, so there's no threat there.

"No, but you never know what will happen. Besides, you're way down there and I'm way up here."

"You could untie me. From the wheel, that is. I won't run."

"Hm." Lu Han pauses, considering. "But I can't untie you while holding the wheel, can I? And you know, the captain wouldn't be happy with me if I let kissing distract me from my duty." He laughs at that, and Jongdae wonders what's so funny about an angry Tao. Lu Han seems to get away with a lot with him, but surely there must be limits. "But maybe later, if you haven't changed your mind."

"I won't." Jongdae swallows hard, thinking about it. Is it going to be like the other times, barely even worthy of being called a kiss, or will it go farther this time? Will he mind if it does?

The rest of the watch seems to drag on forever, but finally Amber comes to take the wheel from Lu Han. She looks down at Jongdae then back up at Lu Han, who laughs at her raised eyebrow. "Goodnight, sir. Have fun with your pet."

"Good boy," Lu Han says, patting Jongdae on the head when he kneels to untie him. Jongdae rolls his eyes, and Lu Han laughs again. "Okay, no dog jokes with you."

Lu Han leads him not back to the cell but instead through another door. "The galley," he explains. "Be careful of rats."

"How romantic," Jongdae drawls.

There's a window, but it only lets a little light in, so Lu Han lights a lamp on the wall. The galley is cluttered but reasonably clean, and while Lu Han's probably telling the truth about the rats, Jongdae can't see any at the moment. He quickly forgets about them anyway when Lu Han approaches, backing him into the wall. They're not quite touching, but there's very little space between them, and Jongdae can't move any further back.

For a long moment they stay like that, Jongdae's breathing shallow. He's not scared, exactly, but he feels cornered and it's making his heart pound. That's what he tells himself, anyway, because it's easier than acknowledging the other reasons why being so close to Lu Han might make his heart beat so fast.

"I'd be more convinced that you actually want to kiss me if you looked less terrified," Lu Han murmurs.

Distracted by his low voice, it takes Jongdae a second to register what he said. "I'm not scared," he protests. "But like this..." Lu Han's standing too close for Jongdae to lift his bound wrists; when he tries, his hands press against Lu Han's thigh and he immediately pulls back.

"Sorry." It comes out in the same low murmur. "I can't untie you yet, but I won't hurt you." The 'yet' seems like a good sign. Jongdae files it away for later reference, trying to focus on that instead of the way his heart is racing even more.

Slowly, Lu Han's hands come up to cup his cheeks with surprising gentleness. There's plenty of time for Jongdae to duck away if he wants to, but he knows what he needs to do, and he has to admit to himself, at least, that he wants to find out what it's like to kiss Lu Han in earnest.

When Lu Han's hands settle, Jongdae lifts his head and presses their lips together. Their last kiss was barely more than that, but this time Jongdae pushes it farther, parting his lips and feeling Lu Han do the same. It escalates little by little, Jongdae closing his eyes and letting instinct guide him. His instincts don't care who he's kissing, only that it feels good, and Jongdae tries to forget everything else for now.

Lu Han's hands slide into his hair as the kiss deepens, tongues coming out to taste each other. Maybe it really has been too long since Jongdae kissed anyone because this is going farther than he anticipated and he doesn't want to stop. Lu Han's hands are warm, his whole body is warm even though there's still a little distance between them, and Jongdae wishes his hands were free so he could cling to Lu Han as his knees go weak.

A gasp escapes Lu Han when Jongdae sucks on his lower lip, but then suddenly he pulls away, taking a full step back and dropping his hands to his sides. He's breathless and his face is flushed, his lips red and wet and swollen. Jongdae is scared now, not of Lu Han but of how much he likes what he's seeing.

He struggles to regain his equilibrium, and his voice is mostly steady when he asks, "What's wrong?" It's too serious, so he adds, half mocking and half flirty, "Too much for you?"

Lu Han's brow is furrowed, and Jongdae reads confusion and uncertainty on his face. "You..." Jongdae waits for him to finish, but then his expression abruptly smoothes out. "I see you were telling the truth that you know how to kiss. Does that mean you do want to kiss me after all?" He's back to his usual self, his words teasing and empty.

Jongdae doesn't know what to think about Lu Han's reaction or his own. It's clear from the kiss that Lu Han wasn't kidding about being interested in him like that, but then why would he stop when he's getting what he wants? And why does Jongdae feel disappointed? He can't let himself get carried away like this.

When he doesn't respond, Lu Han punches him on the shoulder, playfully, the way Jongin likes to do. (He thinks Jongin punches harder, in fact.) "Don't be like that. If you're good, I'll let you kiss me again another time, but it's late and we should be getting to sleep. Let me take you back."

Jongdae still doesn't understand what made Lu Han stop, but it doesn't look like he's going to get his answer now. He doesn't resist as Lu Han picks up the rope, putting out the lamp before he pulls Jongdae out the door.

It's quiet when Lu Han brings Jongdae back to the cell and quiet as he leaves with only a bland "Goodnight," but once he's gone, Jongdae is startled by a noise behind him, and he turns to see Junmyeon sitting up. "You were awake?" Jongdae whispers.

"I woke up when you came in." The room is only dimly lit, but Jongdae still looks away on reflex, afraid Junmyeon will be able to read everything that happened on his face. That probably gives away more than his expression would, but it's too late to take it back. "How did it go tonight?" Junmyeon asks neutrally.

That's a question Jongdae can't answer, even if he tells Junmyeon everything. He didn't learn anything new, and he can't say if telling Lu Han about Junmyeon's engagement made any difference. As for the kissing, he still has no idea what Lu Han's reaction meant. He didn't shut Jongdae down completely, giving him that vague promise of future kissing, but neither did he accept Jongdae's advances as easily as he had until then. It feels like something significant happened, but he doesn't know if it's good or bad.

"I don't understand him," he tells Junmyeon. "He acts so silly and I can see there's more to him than that, but he never shows enough for me to make sense of it."

"Are you sure it's real? Maybe it's all just an act." It's a valid point, even if Jongdae doesn't want to believe that it's true.

"Maybe it is," Jongdae concedes, "but unless we can get off this ship and to safety on our own or find someone else to help us, he's all we've got. And..." He stops, not wanting to say too much to Junmyeon.

"And?" Of course he's not going to be able to get away with that, not with his first mate and friend.

"I don't think it's an act. I just don't." He leaves it at that, but Junmyeon can probably already see that he's in over his head.

He expects another lecture, but all Junmyeon says is, "I hope for all our sakes that you're right."

* * *

Lu Han doesn't come to walk with them during the day, but he wakes Jongdae up in the middle of the night to join him for his watch. Jongdae doesn't know what to expect, and he spends the whole time waiting nervously for Lu Han to talk about their kiss only to have him make meaningless small talk in between long bouts of silence. Jongdae is tempted to raise the subject himself, but he can't bring himself to do it, so in the end, he goes back to the cell without any more idea of where he stands with Lu Han.

The same thing happens the next night and the next, and finally on the fourth night, as Lu Han leads him back to the cell after another night of empty conversation, Jongdae bursts out, "Are we not going to talk about it?"

Lu Han stops walking abruptly. "You mean the kissing thing?" He turns around slowly, like he's not sure he wants to. It's cloudy tonight, coloring the sky with an ominous glow, and Jongdae can barely make out Lu Han's expression. He doubts it would tell him much anyway.

"Yes, the kissing thing and the part where you decided you didn't want to kiss me after all."

"Like I told you, it was late," Lu Han hedges. It doesn't sound like he really expects Jongdae to believe him, which is good because he doesn't.

"You told me that after you suddenly stopped in the middle of what I thought—" He hesitates, but Lu Han must have some idea at this point that Jongdae enjoyed kissing him. "What I thought was a pretty good kiss. Was I wrong?" He tries to turn it into a joke, since that seems to be the easiest way to get Lu Han talking. "Am I a terrible kisser and everyone has been lying to me until now?"

Lu Han smiles at that, but it's small, distracted. "I didn't..." He looks down at his hands, still holding the end of the rope tied to Jongdae's wrists. It's strange to see him like this, almost shy. "I was just surprised, you know, that you went for it like that. You made it pretty clear until then that you were kissing me very reluctantly."

"Then shouldn't you be happy that I didn't make you work for it that time?" Jongdae still feels like he's missing something here.

Lu Han lifts his head again and looks Jongdae right in the eye, but only for a second before he turns away. "It was funny, at the beginning, kissing you and seeing how you'd react. It's fun to mess around when it's just little things. But...I can imagine what you think of pirates, but I don't like to kiss people who don't want to kiss me. I would never force anyone, not...not for real."

That explains Lu Han's reaction, but it only raises more questions. Was it all a game, then, in the beginning? Would he have helped them the way he did even if Jongdae had refused to kiss him? Now that Jongdae thinks about it, he didn't demand anything in return for convincing Tao to let his crew out on deck. He didn't even mention kissing again until Jongdae asked him. But does that mean that he wasn't really interested or only that he didn't want to force Jongdae into it?

That, at least, he has an answer to, because whatever Lu Han's motivation may have been at first, he kissed Jongdae back enthusiastically. Maybe they've both gotten caught up in this more than they intended to. Jongdae thinks back on his conversation with Junmyeon the other night; if Lu Han is faking all of this, he's a far better actor than Jongdae gives him credit for.

"I think..." Lu Han starts again, after the silence stretches out for a while. "It didn't seem like you minded kissing me, but I could be wrong, so let me be clear: if you want to continue, we can. If you don't, I don't need you giving me what you think I want." He's not smiling, not trying to pass it off as a joke. Jongdae almost feels like he should pinch himself in case he's dreaming.

He tries to find the right way to respond. He doesn't want to lie, not when Lu Han is finally being honest with him, but it's a complicated situation. He took the kiss to that point because he did enjoy kissing Lu Han. In spite of his initial reluctance to kiss a man and a pirate, he didn't have to pretend to like it. But at the same time, it's not like kissing a girlfriend, or even like a passing fling while in port. There's a motive behind him kissing Lu Han, and the fact that he didn't mind doing it doesn't change that.

Lu Han must know that, or at least suspect, if he thinks Jongdae is only trying to give him what he wants, but Jongdae doesn't want it out there in the open. He wants to win Lu Han over emotionally, as a friend if nothing else, and he's not likely to accomplish that by flat-out admitting that he's using him. Besides, is it really as simple as that anymore? Was it ever?

"I'm not so good at pretending," is what he finally says. "You should know that from when you tried to kiss me before."

"But then..." Lu Han frowns, still unsure. "What changed?

It's a question Jongdae would like an answer to himself. He wants to get away from this serious, strained atmosphere, so he pastes a smile on his face and says, "I guess you're a good enough kisser to change my mind. Haven't you ever won anyone over before?"

He can see the emotions warring right there on Lu Han's face, and it's strange since he's usually so hard for Jongdae to read. For a second, it looks like he's going to press the issue, but then he smiles, a little hesitantly, but it looks real. "I am pretty hard to resist, huh?"

Jongdae hopes his relief isn't too obvious as he genuinely smiles back. "Don't get too full of yourself now. Like I said, I haven't gotten much action lately."

Lu Han laughs out loud at that. "You sure know how to flatter a guy. Then, "Let's get some sleep. We can...follow up on this tomorrow."

Jongdae lets Lu Han lead him back to the cell and tries not to think about the thrill of anticipation he feels knowing what awaits him tomorrow.

* * *

The days fall into a sort of routine from then on. Jongdae spends most of his time still in the cell with his crew, trying to keep them from going stir crazy, but he gets to walk with various pirates once a day, and Lu Han always comes to fetch him for his watch at night. Sometimes after that or sometimes during the day if Lu Han has nothing to do, they'll go into the galley or the captain's quarters or wherever they can find some privacy.

There are times when Jongdae's mind screams at him, "What are you doing? What are you thinking?" but mostly he learns to tune it out. All he knows it that he likes Lu Han's company in spite of the many reasons not to, and he likes kissing Lu Han. He's no closer to finding a way out for him and his crew, but he manages to win small victories like more time on deck and better food. He's not much closer to figuring out Lu Han either, but he feels like he might get there someday.

The reaction from the others is mixed. Jongdae doesn't talk much about his time with Lu Han, but it must be obvious when he comes back with swollen lips and a dazed expression both what they've been up to and that Jongdae enjoyed it. Baekhyun and Chanyeol tease him, while Jongin seems to find it embarrassing more than anything else. Junmyeon rarely comments anymore, but he looks worried, and Kyungsoo only fixes him with this cool look that says he can see right through Jongdae so there's no point in pretending.

As for the other pirates, he sees how they look at him when he's with Lu Han. Some of them seem amused, others wary, others a little judgmental, but at least no one's threatened him since Tao. There's probably no point, since none of them are as scary as the captain.

For just over two weeks after their capture, by Jongdae's reckoning, the weather is good, the wind carrying them steadily toward wherever they're going, but then there's a storm. Jongdae spends interminable hours in the cell as the ship is buffeted by the rough seas. His crew, seasoned sailors though they are, turn a little green at the wild rocking of the ship, and Junmyeon sets his jaw as he holds his injured arm.

For Jongdae, the worst part isn't being thrown around but sitting here useless when the pirates are probably fighting to keep the ship afloat and undamaged. He's used to being the captain of the ship he's on, responsible for its safety, not useless baggage sitting and waiting the storm out. This isn't his ship, but the fate of him and his crew is tied to it now and he doesn't like not being able to do anything to keep them safe.

At last, the sound of the wind and rain dies away and the movements of the ship calm down, and they breathe easy again. A good hour or two passes before the door opens and Lu Han comes down the ladder. "Everyone okay in here?" he asks brightly. He's wearing dry clothes, but he looks ragged, his hair a mess and his face pale with weariness.

Jongdae looks at Junmyeon, who nods. "We're okay," he says.

"Good. We've got to get some rest, but we'll let you stretch your legs in the morning." The tiniest hint of hesitation passes over Lu Han's face before he steps forward and unlocks the cell door.

"What are you doing?" Jongdae asks.

Now Lu Han flashes him a big grin, hesitation gone. "You're coming with me." There's no use arguing with that, and Jongdae doesn't want to anyway. He feels bad that he's the only one who can, but it'll be good to get out, and it seems like it's been a long time since he last saw Lu Han even though it probably hasn't been.

Up on deck, Jongdae can see the setting sun turning the remaining clouds a fiery red. The ship seems to have made it through the storm okay, the sails unfurled again and drying in the breeze. "It must have been rough up here," he comments.

Lu Han surveys the ship. Sehun is at the wheel, and a few others are still bustling around on deck. "Nothing we couldn't handle." He takes Jongdae to the captain's quarters, closing the door behind them and letting go of the rope. He never bothers to tie Jongdae down in here.

"I thought you all needed rest," Jongdae points out. "Isn't the captain going to want his quarters?"

"Tao's going to want to eat before anything else, and he agreed to take first watch. We've got time." Lu Han leans against the bed, and Jongdae moves in front of him.

"And don't you need rest?" he asks.

Lu Han smiles, slow and smug. "I can rest later." He doesn't give Jongdae a chance to say anything more, leaning forward and kissing him. This has become familiar by now, Lu Han's lips on his, his mouth hot and wet, his hands on Jongdae's hips pulling him closer until Jongdae's hands are trapped between them. He's asked Lu Han to untie him a few times, but Lu Han only ever smirks and says, "Maybe if you're good."

Since he can't hold onto Lu Han like he wants to, Jongdae settles for kissing him breathless. Lu Han is never unenthusiastic, but he kisses particularly hard today, wrapping his arms around Jongdae to hold him as close as he can. Jongdae would like to ask him why, but that would require him to stop kissing, and he both doesn't want to and doesn't think Lu Han will let him.

By the time they finally break apart, they're both gasping for breath. "Nothing like a glimpse of your own mortality to make you really want to kiss someone, huh?" Lu Han's voice is rough; Jongdae thinks he likes the sound of it like this.

"Is that what this is about? You're very clingy tonight."

Lu Han laughs, but he lets go of Jongdae, hands dropping to his sides. "You just don't know how clingy I usually am." It's true. He and Lu Han have spent a good amount of time together in the past two weeks, but usually alone. He's only seen Lu Han interact with the other pirates briefly, so he doesn't have much idea of how he acts with people who aren't Jongdae.

They lapse into silence as they catch their breaths, and Jongdae looks at Lu Han up close and gets lost in his thoughts. He expected, somehow, that things would move quickly between them, that once Lu Han clarified that Jongdae was interested, he'd be eager to have his way with him. They're not innocent children, or at least Jongdae isn't, and Lu Han kisses like someone with experience. They don't need to be shy.

Admittedly, anything beyond kissing will be new territory for Jongdae, and that's a little scary, but not as scary as the fact that it's territory he's interested in exploring with Lu Han. He doesn't know what that means, but considering that he's still a captive of pirates, not knowing if slavery or death or some other horrible fate he hasn't imagined awaits him at their destination, his attraction to Lu Han is the least of his problems. He's not going to dwell on it.

But Lu Han has made no attempt to do more than kiss him and put his hands on innocent spots like Jongdae's hips, on top of his clothing, nor has he so much as joked about doing more. He did say he wouldn't force anyone, but now that Jongdae has made his interest clear, surely there's no need for him to hold back so much.

He's pulled out of his thoughts when Lu Han pokes him in the nose, then laughs like a little kid. When Jongdae gives him an incredulous look, his smile turns a little sheepish. "Just making sure you were still in there."

"Where else would I be?" Jongdae stands on his toes so he can kiss Lu Han on the nose, which makes him laugh again. Jongdae can't help being charmed by that laugh, real and artless. That's too complicated, so he kisses Lu Han on the mouth and drowns his thoughts in the feeling of Lu Han's mouth open under his and his body hard against Jongdae's.

After a while, Lu Han moves back onto the bed, and the next thing Jongdae knows, he's being lifted off the floor and deposited right in Lu Han's lap. He lets out a yelp of protest at being manhandled like that and Lu Han laughs into his mouth as they continue kissing with barely a hesitation. They're not quite as close together now, but Jongdae is on his knees half sitting on Lu Han's legs, feeling the hard, muscular thighs his loose pants don't show.

This feels like more, feels like they're going somewhere new, even if they're still only kissing. Jongdae's bound hands are just touching Lu Han's stomach, where only his shirt lies between Jongdae's fingers and skin. He only hesitates for a moment before taking the fabric in his hands and pulling up until Lu Han's shirt comes free from his pants. Jongdae feels him tense, but he doesn't pull away as Jongdae's fingers slip beneath his shirt to press against bare skin.

It's awkward with his wrists still bound, but he can run his fingertips along Lu Han's stomach, feeling hard muscle and heated skin. Lu Han's had his hands on Jongdae's face and in his hair, but Jongdae, always tied up, has barely touched him back. It's a heady feeling, Lu Han's breath hitching just from Jongdae's hands on him. "I could touch you more if you'd untie me," Jongdae murmurs.

Lu Han's lips press against the corner of Jongdae's mouth as he laughs low in his throat. "Maybe next time." That's an improvement, though Jongdae's not sure he really means it.

"At least take your shirt off," Jongdae demands, feeling bold. For a moment, Lu Han doesn't move and Jongdae wonders if he's gone too far, but then Lu Han leans back and tugs his shirt over his head without hesitation. It's the most Jongdae's seen of him, and he takes in the wiry muscle of his arms and torso, the smattering of small scars marring his skin and the one bigger one, a thin line starting just below his ribcage and extending diagonally around his side. "Got a good story for that?" Jongdae asks.

Lu Han glances down briefly and then back up at him, his expression neutral. "Another time." Jongdae's not going to object. His hands may not be much use now, but he can trail his mouth down Lu Han's neck, tasting salt on his skin and feeling it against his lips when Lu Han's breath catches. He doesn't know where this is going, but he's happy to make his way further down and feel the shiver that runs through Lu Han at the scrape of Jongdae's teeth on his shoulder.

It's nice to have a little control as he sets about sucking a mark over Lu Han's collarbone. Lu Han lets him do it, tipping his head back, but his hands sneak up Jongdae's back and start tugging at his shirt. He's wearing a jacket over it, and there's no way his shirt can come off anyway with his hands still tied, but Lu Han untucks it from his pants and slips his hands underneath.

For a while, he just stays like that, palms warm against Jongdae's skin, but then he moves his hands around Jongdae's sides, pulling up his shirt as he goes. He laughs quietly when he gets to Jongdae's stomach, and Jongdae finally gives in to the distraction and lifts his head. "What?"

"I didn't know you were hiding that kind of muscle under your stuffy merchant captain's jacket." Lu Han grins at him and Jongdae rolls his eyes.

"First of all, there is nothing stuffy about my jacket, and second, I'm not the kind of captain who sits around getting fat while his crew does all the work."

"Me neither," Lu Han says.

Jongdae laughs. "I guess that's why you've got some muscles on you too." He presses his fists into Lu Han's stomach, and his grin widens until Jongdae decides to kiss it off his face.

Lu Han smiles again when they break apart, but softer. Jongdae smiles back automatically and doesn't let himself think about that means. Lu Han ruins it anyway a moment later when he yawns, his mouth opening unnaturally wide. "I think you might need that rest after all," Jongdae tells him.

"I might," Lu Han ruefully agrees.

Jongdae climbs off of Lu Han and gets to his feet. They're both more rumpled than they usually end up, Lu Han's shirt abandoned on the bed and Jongdae's hanging loose. Lu Han picks up his shirt and pulls it on but doesn't bother to tuck it in, and Jongdae is pleased to see the mark he left just peeking out where the collar hangs open. He tries to fix his own shirt, but his hands won't move in the right way, and finally he grudgingly asks Lu Han, "A little help?"

It doesn't occur to him until Lu Han steps forward just what this is going to involve. If it were anyone else, he'd laugh and not mind, but Lu Han sticking his hands down Jongdae's pants is another story. It's too late to take it back without making things more embarrassing (and he doesn't want to go back to the cell where his crew is waiting looking like this), so he just keeps his eyes focused in the vicinity of Lu Han's chest as Lu Han carefully tucks his shirt in.

He starts over one hip and goes around the back, not pushing his hand lower than it needs to go. Looking down, Jongdae can't see his expression, but when he gets to the front, he laughs a little. "This isn't how I imagined things would go the first time I got my hands in your pants."

"Just do it," Jongdae grumbles, annoyed with Lu Han for dragging it out and with himself for being embarrassed.

"Okay, okay." Lu Han does, quick and perfunctory and with little to no inappropriate touching, but Jongdae's cheeks still flush as he catches himself imagining how things will go when Lu Han does mean to touch him.

"Thank you," he mutters, pulling away immediately. Lu Han doesn't tease any further, just picks up the rope and heads out. Neither of them says anything more, just a brief goodnight after Lu Han unties him, but the heat of Lu Han's hands lingers on Jongdae's skin for hours, and the thought of feeling them all over lingers in his mind until he falls asleep.

* * *

Jongdae is left to sleep through the night after that, but the next day, Lu Han comes to take them out on deck. Jongdae goes last, as usual, and normally he doesn't mind, but today he feels antsy. He's not sure if he's anticipating his time with Lu Han or wanting to get it over with so he can stop wondering what will happen.

When it's his turn at last, Lu Han kneels in front of him as usual, but then he hesitates before tying him up. "What?" Jongdae asks when he doesn't say anything.

"Maybe you should take your jacket off. It's getting warm outside." If he's trying to be subtle, it doesn't work. Junmyeon's jacket is off because of his arm, but Kyungsoo is wearing his, and in any case, it's not that warm. Even Lu Han is wearing an unbuttoned vest over his shirt.

"Maybe you should take it all off," Baekhyun chimes in. Jongdae glares at him and Lu Han looks a little embarrassed, like he actually thought he was being sneaky. Jongdae reluctantly finds it cute.

"Maybe you should mind your own business," Jongdae retorts as he unbuttons his jacket. If Lu Han's already given away what he's planning for after their walk, there's no point in trying to hide it.

Baekhyun whistles when Jongdae takes his jacket off (and Kyungsoo hits him for it), but nobody says anything else until they're leaving when Chanyeol calls after them, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do!"

Up on deck, Lu Han flashes Jongdae a sheepish smile. "I guess that was a little obvious, huh?"

"A little," Jongdae agrees.

"Sorry. But it's not like they don't know?" It's half a question, and he looks at Jongdae out of the corner of his eyes to see his reaction.

"I haven't told them anything. Sometimes I'll say what we talk about, but not...anything else. But I'm sure they know." He's annoyed to feel his cheeks heating up. He has nothing to be ashamed of. It's not like he hasn't told the others (and heard from most of them) about doing a lot more than he's done with Lu Han.

"They're still not happy about you spending time with me?"

Jongdae shrugs. "Junmyeon's given up warning me about you. Kyungsoo too. Baekhyun and Chanyeol think it's funny and Jongin doesn't want to talk about anyone's sex life. Not even his own."

Lu Han laughs at that. "We've hardly done anything so scandalous."

"No, I guess not." Jongdae smiles, but he's not really joking when he adds, "But because it's with you, everything becomes more scandalous."

"Because I'm your evil pirate captor or just because I'm a man?" Lu Han leers at him, comically exaggerated, but Jongdae thinks he sees something more serious underneath it.

"Both, probably."

"And what about you?" Lu Han asks teasingly. "Are you ashamed of yourself for succumbing to my roguish pirate charms?"

Jongdae laughs because it's funny and because it's easier than admitting that it's true. He has fallen for Lu Han's dubious charms, and there's a part of him that's ashamed and a larger part that just doesn't care anymore. He knows that this can't and arguably shouldn't last, but for now, he can't help losing himself in it. Maybe it's because it can't last that it's been so easy to excuse it.

He doesn't say any of that, only grins at Lu Han and drawls, "I don't know. Are you ashamed of yourself for succumbing to my roguish non-pirate charms?"

"I don't know about roguish..." Lu Han says dryly, but he doesn't laugh. "I might be a little charmed, though. Don't tell anyone."

Jongdae's surprised enough that he stops walking, because even if it sounds like a joke, he doesn't think it is. Lu Han stops when the rope is stretched taut between them. He turns around, and when he sees Jongdae's expression, his eyes go wide for a second. "I'm not... That is, I wasn't... Don't get carried away." He frowns, almost pouty, like he knows he's not fooling anyone.

That's cute too, but Jongdae focuses on Lu Han's words. He's right, that Jongdae shouldn't get carried away. "It's okay," he answers, careful to keep things light. "I already know how charming I am."

For one long moment, Lu Han's expression stays serious, but then he laughs loudly enough to draw the attention of the others on deck (though they look away quickly, probably used to him). "I guess you are," he agrees. He tugs on the rope and they start moving again, finishing the walk in companionable silence.

When they're done, Lu Han takes him to the captain's quarters again. "Does the captain know what you're getting up to in here?" Jongdae asks.

Lu Han grins at him. "The captain supports my sex life."

Jongdae thinks of the cold look Tao sent his way as they passed him on deck earlier. "Are you sure about that?"

"Positive. I know the captain a lot better than you do." Lu Han's lips are twitching like he's trying not to laugh. Jongdae doesn't get it.

"If you say so." He's got better things to do than try to figure that out. As soon as Lu Han lets go of the rope, Jongdae backs him into the bed. He sits down, legs apart so Jongdae can move between them. "Not going to fall asleep on me this time?" What he really means is, 'Are you going to stop me?'

Lu Han has a tendency to stare, and up close, it's intense. He holds Jongdae's gaze as he says, "No," voice low.

"Good." Jongdae leans forward then and kisses Lu Han. It's hard to balance like this, so he puts his hands up, but all he can do is press his fists against Lu Han's chest. It's annoying, but Lu Han's lips on his are an effective distraction.

After a while, Lu Han scoots back on the bed and murmurs, "Come here," before pulling Jongdae up between his legs. He pulls too hard and Jongdae falls into him, and Lu Han laughs as he wraps his arms around Jongdae to steady him.

"Careful," Jongdae grumbles, but he doesn't protest when Lu Han presses a kiss to his jaw and then his mouth. They kiss like that, with Lu Han's arms still wrapped around Jongdae's back, and it's nice, unhurried. As much as Jongdae wants to know where things will go today, he doesn't mind staying like this for now.

Lu Han starts it this time, loosening his hold on Jongdae and letting his hands drift down to rest on top of his belt. It's loose enough that he can easily pull Jongdae's shirt free, the back first and then the front. He takes his time, like he's waiting for Jongdae to object or resist, but that's not going to happen.

When Jongdae's shirt is hanging loose, Lu Han slides his hands slowly up the front. He touched Jongdae's stomach yesterday, but today, with Jongdae's jacket gone, he can continue up to his chest. It's innocent enough until Lu Han's thumb finds his nipple and very deliberately drags across it.

Jongdae pulls away, startled, and Lu Han goes still with his hands up Jongdae's shirt. "Is that...?"

"It's okay," Jongdae quickly assures him. It was unexpected, but not bad.

"Good." Lu Han smirks and gives the same nipple a flick, making Jongdae squirm.

"No fair when I can't touch you." It comes out whiny, childish, and Jongdae should probably be more embarrassed by that than he is.

"Don't you like me touching you?" Like so many things seem to be with Lu Han, it sounds like a joke, but there's a serious question buried underneath. Jongdae is getting better at seeing that.

"I don't mind," he tosses back, matching Lu Han's teasing tone. "But you could touch me better too if you untie me. My shirt won't come off like this."

He can see the temptation flicker over Lu Han's face, but then he smirks. "Maybe I like it like this." He pulls his hands out from under Jongdae's shirt and undoes the bottom button. "Maybe I want to get your hands tangled in your shirt so you can't touch me at all, get you all frustrated."

He slowly but surely works his way up the buttons on Jongdae's shirt as he speaks until finally he reaches the last one at Jongdae's throat. Jongdae's breath catches even before Lu Han bends down to taste his newly-exposed skin. He doesn't like being restrained, but he does like Lu Han's mouth on his neck, his shoulder.

"I don't like being frustrated," he tells Lu Han belatedly. There's not much feeling to the words, and Lu Han doesn't seem to be listening anyway, busy kissing his way down to Jongdae's chest. He flicks a nipple with his tongue this time, then puts his mouth over it and sucks, and Jongdae gasps at the touch.

It is frustrating, not being able to move freely. His arms are in the way, so Lu Han stops, considers, and then moves back all the way onto the bed. When Jongdae starts to follow him, Lu Han says, "Wait, like this," and pushes him gently to the side, nodding when Jongdae lies down on his back. He feels a little uncomfortable like this, vulnerable, and even more so when Lu Han guides his arms up over his head. Lu Han's sitting next to him and he looks down with a soft smile. "Not too frustrating?"

"Are you just going to look at me? Because in that case, yes."

That gets a chuckle from Lu Han. "No, not just looking." He lies down next to Jongdae to put his mouth on him again, this time unobstructed. It feels good, in spite of Jongdae's discomfort, and Lu Han's hands are warm where they rest on his sides.

Eventually, Lu Han moves up to Jongdae's mouth again, lying half on top of him in the process. That does nothing to help Jongdae feel less vulnerable, but it makes it easier not to think about it. His body is stirring, wanting more, wanting Lu Han, and the warning voice in the back of his head (which sounds a lot like Junmyeon) is getting more and more faint.

One of Lu Han's hands is on his cheek, and the other moves down his side in fits and starts until it just touches his pants. Before Jongdae knows what he's doing, he breathes out, "Lu Han, touch me."

Lu Han goes very still and then slowly lifts his head, just enough to look at Jongdae. He looks...surprised? Wondrous, almost, and Jongdae doesn't know what to make of that. "What?"

"I don't think you've ever called me by my name before," he explains with a crooked little smile. "Do you really want me to touch you?"

Jongdae swallows hard, eyes still locked with Lu Han's. There are a million conflicting thoughts swirling around in his head, but when it comes down to it, he knows his answer. "Yes." It comes out a whisper, but firm.

For a moment, Lu Han doesn't move, and Jongdae almost expects him to laugh, to tell him it was all a game and leave him there tied up and half out of his clothes on the captain's bed. What if he was wrong all along about what Lu Han is and now he's going to pay for it?

But in the end, Lu Han only smiles his usual teasing smile and says, "Well, if you insist..." Slowly, whether out of care or just to tease, he unbuckles Jongdae's belt and opens his pants.

This much is nothing Jongdae hasn't experienced before, but he doesn't think he's been this nervous since the first time. As much as he's gotten comfortable with Lu Han, he still doesn't trust him, nor does he have much reason to. All he knows of Lu Han is what he's been willing to show, and that's not much. They're little more than strangers.

And while he's slept with women he knew less than he knows Lu Han, he's in a vulnerable position here, hands tied and Lu Han leaning over him. He could get away easily enough, could probably even hurt Lu Han if he wanted to, but Lu Han could do a lot more to him. He's bigger, besides, and likely a better fighter than Jongdae.

He does want this. He's half hard, and feeling Lu Han's hand resting low on his stomach is making his breath quicken with anticipation, but his heart isn't racing just because he's turned on. He's not sure he wants it like this.

Everything seems frozen and Jongdae holds his breath, not knowing himself what he'll do. Then Lu Han's hand moves and Jongdae blurts out, "Stop!"

He's relieved when Lu Han stops immediately, though there was no reason to think he wouldn't. He pulls his hand away and frowns. "What's wrong?"

Jongdae sits up, bring his hands down and scooting away from Lu Han. He has to admit he finds it cute the way Lu Han's face falls into a pout, even under these circumstances. He looks away, embarrassed and a little guilty. "Nothing."

"You changed your mind?" Lu Han asks. "Not interested after all?"

"Not yet. Not..." Not like this, maybe, but Lu Han doesn't seem likely to untie him anytime soon. "Not yet."

Lu Han moves closer again, and for a second, Jongdae panics, but then he only tugs Jongdae's shirt closed and starts to do up the buttons as slowly as he undid them, his hands gentle. He doesn't say anything, just works his way up to the top. When he gets there, Jongdae instinctively moves forward to give him a brief kiss, to show that he's not uninterested. Lu Han looks up, eyelashes fluttering, and smiles like he understands.

"Should I?" He gestures down, and it takes Jongdae a second to realize that he's asking about Jongdae's pants, not anything else. It's a little weird now, but Jongdae's hands are still useless for this, so he has to say yes. "Your shirt?" Lu Han asks, but Jongdae shakes his head.

"It's fine." Lu Han doesn't argue, just does up Jongdae's pants and belt, leaving his shirt out. The others will give him a hard time for it when he gets back, but at the moment, that seems better than Lu Han sticking his hands down Jongdae's pants.

When he's done, Lu Han gets to his feet, taking Jongdae's arm to help him up. "I'll see you tonight?" He looks to Jongdae for confirmation and Jongdae nods without having to think about it. He's kind of mixed up right now, but he's okay seeing more of Lu Han. It's nice, too, when Lu Han's face breaks into a wide smile. "Good. Second watch."

He sees how the others look at him when he comes back all rumpled, his shirt untucked and his hair probably a mess, but they keep their mouths shut as Lu Han opens the cell door and unties him, and all the way up until the door closes behind Lu Han. The second it clicks shut, five pairs of eyes (even Jongin this time) turn on him. "Did you do it?" Chanyeol demands.

"Do what?" Jongdae's voice is gruff, because even if he knew it was coming, he doesn't want to deal with these questions.

"'Do what?' he asks, like some innocent virgin," Baekhyun teases. "Don't play dumb with us, Kim Jongdae."

"No, we did not have sex, and it wouldn't be any of your business if we had." He's not helping the situation by being defensive, but he's not about to try to explain why he almost let Lu Han touch him, or why he didn't in the end. He's not sure he can explain, and he's afraid to find out how the others would react. Even Baekhyun and Chanyeol, for all their teasing, will probably be shocked if things really do go that far.

He can see that even typically shameless Baekhyun is taken aback by his reaction. Jongdae usually lets him get away with a lot more than this. "Okay, got it."

"But you know, if you did—" Chanyeol starts.

"It would still be none of your business," Jongdae cuts him off. Chanyeol's probably trying to be nice, but he doesn't want that either right now.

"Okay." It's clear Chanyeol wants to push, but he won't. Jongin has turned away, but Junmyeon and Kyungsoo are still looking at him with eyes that see too much, so Jongdae turns his back, fixing his shirt himself now that his hands are free.

Nobody bothers him after that, but as they settle down to sleep for the night, Junmyeon moves next to him. Jongin always falls asleep immediately, and Chanyeol and Baekhyun soon start with their snoring and weird puppy noises, respectively. Kyungsoo might still be awake, but that can't be helped.

"I don't need another lecture," Jongdae says quietly.

"And I won't give you one." The light is dim down here, but Jongdae's eyes have adjusted enough to make out the little frown on Junmyeon's face. "You've always been able to tell me anything. I don't want you to think you can't now. Even if I don't like what you're doing, if you want to talk about it, you can talk to me."

Jongdae smiles at that, in spite of everything. Junmyeon is his friend and second in command and Jongdae has relied on him for a long time now. It's comforting that he still can, even in these extreme circumstances. He puts a hand on Junmyeon's shoulder and gets a smile in return.

"I'm sorry I've been so...I don't know." Jongdae rubs his hands over his face. "I don't know what I'm doing," he confesses. "It was only ever supposed to be about getting him to help us go free, but somehow it got complicated." He sighs. "I should hate him. I shouldn't want him anywhere near me, let alone... But it's easy to forget when we're together. He's not what I thought at all."

"No?" Junmyeon asks, carefully neutral.

Jongdae shakes his head. "He could just take what he wants. If he wanted to, I couldn't stop him. But he told me straight out that he's not like that, and he's been patient with me, like he really..." He hesitates, because that's too much to tell even Junmyeon. "I know what he is. I know what he and the other pirates have done to us, and what they might do, but even knowing that..."

"You've heard the rumors just like I have," Junmyeon points out. He's trying to be understanding, but there's still rebuke in his tone.

"I have. I can't say if they're true or not, but there's something going on here beyond what we know. I'm sure of it."

Junmyeon is silent for a long time, so long Jongdae wonders if the conversation is over, but finally he says, "I think you're right. I just wish we could figure out what it is and what it means for us. I wish I knew how much danger we were in."

"I'll have to see if I can get anything more out of Lu Han," Jongdae says. "And we can try with the others too, when we get time alone with them."

"Yeah." Junmyeon sighs and leans against Jongdae's side. He's quiet again for a moment, but then he says, "To tell you the truth, I've been thinking for a while that I hope you'll meet someone. You're a great guy and you deserve to have someone special, but it's been so long since you were serious about anyone. But this, with Lu Han...there's no way it ends well, even if he is a good guy underneath, and even if by some miracle they're going to let us go unharmed. Do what makes you happy for now, but don't forget that. You'll just get hurt."

He's right. It's silly to get so caught up in all of this when even the best case scenario ends in them separating sooner rather than later. But Junmyeon's also right that it's been a while since Jongdae had anything more than passing flings, and against all logic and reason, Lu Han makes his heart beat with the excitement of a budding new relationship. He knows it'll all come to nothing, but he can't let it go until he has to.

"Let's get some sleep," Junmyeon says eventually. "You'll probably get woken up later, right?" Jongdae nods. "It's almost like you're on this ship's crew, standing watch every night."

"Doesn't it? I don't remember signing up for this."

Junmyeon laughs, quietly enough that Jongdae feels it more than hears it. "And Jongdae?"


"I'm always on your side. I don't care if you fall for a man or a woman or a pirate or a...whatever. That's not what this is about. It doesn't matter to me."

Jongdae smiles to himself as he wraps an arm around Junmyeon's back. "I never doubted it."

Jongdae wakes up disoriented to Lu Han's face a little too close to his and his hand on Jongdae's arm. He yawns, and Lu Han asks, "Are you going to fall asleep on me tonight?"

"I'll be fine once I'm outside." Jongdae reluctantly sits up, still slumping as he holds his hands out for Lu Han to tie up. It's strange to realize how much he's gotten used to this, letting Lu Han wrap the rope around his wrists without even thinking about it. Lu Han has gotten used to it too, barely glancing down as he knots the rope securely but not too tightly.

There's a cool breeze outside, enough to make Jongdae regret leaving his jacket behind. Sehun is at the wheel, a blanket draped over his shoulders, and Lu Han laughs when he sees it. "What's this?"

"Minseok was worried about me being cold," Sehun explains, gesturing to the other end of the ship where the first mate presumably is. "He insisted." It's hard to imagine that when Minseok is, as Lu Han put it, tiny and cute, and Sehun is decidedly not, but it's a sweet gesture. Jongdae thinks so, anyway, but if Sehun does, it doesn't show on his face.

"Good," Lu Han says cheerfully. "Wouldn't want you getting sick." Sehun doesn't quite roll his eyes, but he manages to convey his grudging acceptance of Lu Han's worry despite his expression barely changing.

Lu Han kneels to tie Jongdae to the wheel, and he's about to stand up when Sehun drops the blanket on his head. "Wouldn't want you getting sick either." It sounds almost like he's breaking off mid-sentence, like there's more he wanted to say, but Jongdae can't figure out what or why.

He forgets about it anyway as Lu Han laughs, slightly muffled, and pulls the blanket off. "I think Jongdae needs it more than I do." He wraps the blanket around Jongdae's shoulders, patting them once with both hands when he's done before standing up.

"If you say so." Sehun hands off the wheel and steps back. "Goodnight." Again, it sounds like something's missing, but Jongdae hasn't heard Sehun talk enough until now to know, given how uncommunicative he is when he walks with them.

"Goodnight, Sehun," Lu Han says, and then they're left alone.

"You could keep the blanket," Jongdae tells him, though to tell the truth, he's grateful for it. "It's probably colder up there."

"I'm okay." It's quiet for a while after that, but that too, Jongdae is used to by now. He listens to the water breaking against the ship's hull, the faint whisper of the wind. Those are comforting, familiar sounds, even on this still unfamiliar ship. He doesn't realize he's on the verge of dozing off until Lu Han's voice startles him out of it. "Jongdae?"

He starts and Lu Han glances down. "Were you sleeping?" It's somewhere in between accusing and amused.

"No, but if you'd waited much longer, I might have been," Jongdae admits. "It's not very interesting down here."

Lu Han laughs softly at that. "Sorry. I was just thinking about...earlier."

Jongdae probably should've known that was coming, but Lu Han's avoided serious conversations enough that he wasn't sure it would happen tonight. "What about it?"

Lu Han is quiet, and when he speaks, it sounds like he's weighing his words carefully. "Are you afraid of me?"

That Jongdae isn't expecting, and he doesn't know what to think of it or how to answer. He should be afraid of Lu Han, shouldn't he? Their first introduction was Lu Han pointing guns at him after the pirates nearly destroyed his ship, and while none of the pirates have bothered to point weapons at them since that day, Jongdae and his crew are still very much at their mercy. If Lu Han wants to hurt him or have his way with him, Jongdae will be hard pressed to stop him.

He doesn't think Lu Han would do that, but he's still not entirely sure. Maybe it's right to say that he's scared. "I barely know you," he hedges, not wanting to admit that. "We've talked, but so little of it means anything. And don't forget I spend all of my time with you tied up."

Lu Han lets out a dry little laugh. "You have a point about being tied up, but I tell you more than you realize." He pauses, considering. "What do you want to know? I'm not that interesting."

"You wouldn't even tell me when you first went to sea. I don't know how you became a pirate, and I know there's something you're all hiding."

He's not surprised by Lu Han's silence after that, but he is surprised by how he sounds when he does respond, serious and almost sad. "And what if I don't want to talk about that?"

"Then tell me why. You can't just keep telling me lies and half truths and dancing around anything serious and expect me to trust you when I have every reason not to."

There's silence again, and Jongdae tries not to feel too frustrated. It's not worth it, when he should know better than to expect anything from Lu Han. Finally, Lu Han says, soft enough that Jongdae has to listen closely, "I understand. I...I'll try."

The seconds tick by, and when it becomes clear that Lu Han isn't likely to follow through right away, Jongdae asks, "I don't suppose you'll tell me where we're going? Or how far we are from there?"

"No, and maybe." Lu Han laughs shortly. "If the winds are favorable, we should be two to three weeks. If they're not, or if we run into any trouble, there's no telling how long it'll take."

Jongdae tries to think about what there is within a month or two journey from the last known position of his own ship, but the options are endless. For all he knows, they're not even going to one of the ports he's familiar with but instead some pirate hideout. Unless Lu Han is willing to give him more information, he'll just have to wait and see where they end up and fervently hope that it won't be at a slave auction.

He knows Lu Han won't give him a straight answer about that, so instead he asks, "You're not in a hurry?"

"Not really. The crew we left on your ship would've spent some time patching her up, so we'll only end up waiting for them if we rush. Besides, I'm happier at sea."

That's only a small piece of information about Lu Han, but it's something, and it makes Jongdae smile because he can relate. "Me too. There are some things to be said for land, but I'd hate to spend all my time there." He thinks again of his uncertain future. It becomes harder and harder to believe that the pirates intend to sell them to the slavers, with the way they're treating them, but even if they set them free, Jongdae has lost his ship and there's the very real possibility he won't be able to make his way to sea again.

Lu Han doesn't reply, and Jongdae finds himself too tired to be frustrated anymore. He can only hope that Lu Han is listening and thinking about what he said, and that if there's a decision about what to do with the prisoners to be made, he'll be sympathetic and speak for them.

* * *

Jongdae sleeps late the next morning, waking to the hushed chatter of his crew. "Too much fun last night?" Baekhyun asks when he notices.

"Tons." The sarcasm is heavy, but for once in his life, Baekhyun lets it go.

It's Amber who comes by to take them on deck. Jongdae hopes they might be able to get something out of her, since she seems talkative, but as he finds out when it's his turn, she's even more adept than Lu Han at talking a lot without saying much of anything. Her company is pleasant, but he doesn't get any information or indication of support from her.

Lu Han is nowhere to be seen, but when they're done walking, Amber leads him to the captain's quarters where Lu Han and Minseok are standing by the table with a map spread out before them. "Are we interrupting?" she asks.

Lu Han opens his mouth, then closes it and looks at Minseok, who sounds a little annoyed when he says, "It's fine. We're just about done here." He rolls up the map, which Jongdae suspects is to keep him from seeing it. To Lu Han, he says, "Come find me when you're done here," then leaves the room, Amber trailing behind him.

"Have a nice walk?" Lu Han asks. He plops down into the chair in front of the table, so Jongdae takes a seat on the bed, trying not to think about what they were doing here a day ago and what might happen today.

"Not bad. Better company than usual." Lu Han laughs and punches the air in Jongdae's direction, nowhere near close enough to actually hit him, and Jongdae lets a smile break through. "What were you doing in here?"

"Just discussing the best course to take," Lu Han says vaguely.

"The captain isn't involved in that?"

Something passes over Lu Han's expression, not that enigmatic smile or the hint of laughter that Jongdae is used to seeing, but uncertainty. "We can handle it."

"I see." Irritation at the secrecy sneaks into Jongdae's words, and Lu Han must notice it. He looks down, biting his lip, and Jongdae waits to see if anything will come of it.

Eventually, Lu Han looks up and meets Jongdae's eyes, unsmiling. "You said you wanted to know how I ended up here." He pauses, hesitating, but then he sets his jaw stubbornly before continuing, "The truth is I was rescued. I was traveling with my parents on another ship and a storm hit and it went down fast. I thought I was done for, but the Exotic Pearl was nearby and the pirates managed to pull me and three others out of the water, even though they were fighting not to sink themselves. We didn't know who had rescued us, but once we found out they were pirates, we were terrified, thinking it would've been better to drown.

"Only instead of killing us or sending us to the slavers, the pirates took us to the next port and said we were free to go, just like that. The other three left there, but I didn't know what to do. My parents and everything we owned had gone down with that ship, so there was nothing left for me to go home to. The captain asked if I wanted to stay on as a cabin boy, and it seemed as good a choice as any, so I said yes."

His expression is serious the whole time, his voice even, giving Jongdae no reason to doubt his words. Still, it's a lot to take in, when Lu Han's revealed so little about himself and his fellow pirates until now. "Surely it would be better to be left with nothing on shore than to be on a ship full of pirates," Jongdae says, trying to imagine himself as a cabin boy on this ship instead of the one he started on, with its good-natured captain and crew. "An innocent young boy..."

Lu Han laughs, which is a bit of a relief when he's been so uncharacteristically serious. "I wasn't that young and innocent. Besides, the crew treated me well. Most of them weren't so bad, and the old captain kept the worse ones in line. You may not believe it, but he was a good man. Better, probably, than a lot of people who aren't pirates."

It is hard to believe, when Jongdae's always thought of pirates as the bad guys, but after what he's seen of Lu Han, maybe it shouldn't be. "Then where did this ship's reputation come from?" he asks. "I can't believe it's all rumors."

Now the smile falls off Lu Han's face again. "A few years ago, the captain got sick and died suddenly. The first mate should have taken his place, but he fell overboard under suspicious circumstances only a day later. In the end, a member of the crew became the new captain, and he wasn't such a good man." Lu Han's expression is neutral now, but he presses his lips together when he stops speaking.

"So he's the one responsible for the terrible things you're said to have done?" The pieces are starting to come together in a way that makes sense, but Jongdae still doesn't know what it means for him.

Lu Han looks down at his hands. "A lot of that is still rumors and exaggeration. We've encouraged them, because it's a lot easier to take a ship without bloodshed if they're too afraid to fight you. But he did do a lot of bad things. We all did bad things with him in command." He sounds guilty and uncomfortable enough that Jongdae feels bad for pushing him to tell the story, but this is important.

"Then what happened to him?"

"Mutiny," Lu Han says simply. "He had a few supporters, but most of the crew hadn't signed on for his kind of piracy. We finally decided enough was enough and got rid of him."

"You killed your captain?" Jongdae asks, horrified. Perhaps it was deserved, if the captain was really the man Lu Han says he was, but it's still a shock.

Lu Han quickly shakes his head. "There was a fight. That scar you asked about, that's where I got it, but nobody died. When it was done, some people wanted to kill the captain outright, but that would've made us no better than him. Instead, we put him and a few others on a boat with some supplies and sent them away. I don't know if they survived or not. I can't say I'd mourn them if they didn't."

Jongdae is quiet, trying to process everything that's been dumped on him. It's possible, of course, that Lu Han is lying to him, trying to win his sympathy and give him hope only to snatch it away again, but this is the most serious Jongdae has ever seen him, and it does explain why the Exotic Pearl has such a fearsome reputation when they've treated Jongdae and his crew well enough, for prisoners. He can't help believing it.

"You may have noticed that we have a small crew for a ship this size," Lu Han continues, "even taking into account those we left on your ship. After the mutiny, many either decided that they'd had enough of this life or left to try their luck on other ships. We're still trying to get our numbers back to what they were before while being careful the sort of people we bring on. We wouldn't want to repeat the same experience."

Jongdae nods. "But your captain now..." Tao hasn't given him any particular reason to think he's dangerous, but neither has he done anything to change Jongdae's first impression of him. He seems more threatening than Lu Han or the other pirates Jongdae has interacted with more.

Now Lu Han flashes that smile, the one that makes Jongdae feel like he's missing a joke, but it looks a little sad this time. "A lot of us wanted Minseok to be the captain because he's been around for a while and we all respect him, but he wasn't interested. He's a good first mate, though, responsible enough to keep even the captain in line."

"Does the captain need keeping in line?" Jongdae asks warily.

That gets another smile, even harder to read. "Not like that. He just gets a little lost sometimes."

"Lost?" Jongdae doesn't know what to make of that.

"He gets carried away. He's lucky to have good people around him, supporting him." This is far more than Jongdae has gotten out of Lu Han until now, more than he ever thought he would, but there's something that he's not saying, and Jongdae still has so many questions.

"Then why did you attack us? You nearly sank my ship, and you would've killed my crew if we didn't surrender."

Lu Han makes a face, incongruously sheepish given the serious matters they're discussing. "Pirates have to eat too, and merchant ships full of cargo are good money. We try to keep the bloodshed to a minimum, but no one's going to pay us to sit around being nice guys. But did you really think it was luck that most of your crew got away?"

Even after everything, Jongdae didn't see that coming. "You let them escape?"

"I'd appreciate if you don't spread that around," Lu Han tells him with a little smile. "We have a reputation to uphold."

"But then..." It's all too much to take in at once. He doesn't know where to start with all his questions. "What about us? What are you going to do with us?"

He thinks that maybe, finally, he'll have his answer to that question, but suddenly Lu Han shuts down. "I'm sorry, but I can't tell you that."

"What do you mean you can't tell me?" Jongdae snaps.

"There's been some discussion, but it's not decided yet. As I said, we have a reputation to uphold." He does sound genuinely sorry, but that's not enough. It's no consolation if the pirates sell him and his crew to slavers for the sake of their reputation instead of out of pure evil. Before Jongdae can tell him just that, Lu Han adds, "But it won't be what you're thinking. I promise you that."

"Can you make that promise?" It's important to know that Lu Han is on their side, but will it be enough? How much power does he really have?

Lu Han doesn't hesitate. "I won't let the slavers get their hands on you. You can believe that." He's so sure, determination in his eyes and the set of his jaw, nothing like the teasing Lu Han Jongdae is used to dealing with.

Their eyes meet and everything seems to freeze for a moment, to narrow down to Lu Han's eyes burning into his. Then Jongdae says, "I believe you. Don't make me regret it."

Back in the cell, Jongdae relays everything Lu Han told him to his crew. They're as shocked as him; more so, even, because Jongdae's interaction with Lu Han had already convinced him that they're not all bad, and they haven't had that. "You think he's telling the truth?" Junmyeon asks, skeptical.

"If you'd seen him, you would too," Jongdae insists. "He's told me plenty of lies, but always joking around. This was serious. And if you think about it, it explains a lot of what we've seen here."

"So, what, they just want to steal our cargo and our ship but not kill us or sell us into slavery? How nice of them." Kyungsoo's delivery is deadpan, and Jongdae knows him well enough to tell that he's not joking.

"I'm not saying they're not still pirates or that we have no reason to hate them, but they're not what we thought, or what we've heard. If we can get out of this with our lives and our freedom without having to escape, that's a lot better than we expected."

"That's true," Baekhyun concedes, "but he said they haven't decided what to do with us. Just because they're not going to take us to the slavers doesn't mean they won't do something else bad. He didn't promise they won't kill us, did he?"

"No, but..." He has a point, Jongdae has to admit. He can't believe Lu Han would promise him freedom so emphatically if death was the alternative, but there are other unpleasant fates they could be facing.

"If they're discussing it, that means we have time to convince them," Chanyeol puts in. "We just have to take advantage of our time with the other pirates to get them on our side too."

"Planning to seduce them too?" Baekhyun asks dryly.

"Our captain is so charming he didn't have to seduce Lu Han to win him over," Chanyeol replies without missing a beat. Only after he finishes does he catch himself and turn to Jongdae. "Right? That's not why he told you, is it?"

The rest of the teasing didn't get to Jongdae, but that makes his cheeks flush. "No, it's not," he says gruffly. At the same time, Lu Han did tell him the truth right after Jongdae said, if not in so many words, that he couldn't trust him enough to sleep with him. Now that he's finally opened up, is that going to change? Jongdae doesn't know himself yet.

"Chanyeol's right," Junmyeon cuts in, stopping that line of conversation. "We need to take advantage of the time we have left to win over as many of the pirates as we can. "

"All right, I'm ready." Baekhyun bats his eyelashes and Kyungsoo and Jongdae both hit him.

"Do you really think they'll let us go?" Jongin asks, speaking up for the first time. "Like you said, they are still pirates."

"I don't know," Jongdae admits, "but there's hope. More than we had before. And if they don't, we'll do what we have to do."

Lu Han takes him out for first watch that night. Jongdae is wary, not knowing what will happen, but the answer turns out to be nothing. Lu Han barely touches him and talks about nothing, and Jongdae lets him prattle on meaninglessly. They've had enough serious talk for one day.

The next day, the wind that's been carrying them steadily onward dies. The air is hot and heavy, making it unpleasantly stuffy below deck. Jongdae rolls up his shirt sleeves and tries not to move more than he has to. Baekhyun whines about the heat, but eventually runs out of energy even for that and stops talking.

When Minseok comes down the ladder later, he's shirtless and sweating. "We're rationing water more carefully in case we're stuck for a while, so don't waste it," he explains as he places a jug in the cell.

No one is particularly happy about walking around in this weather, but they still take their turns anyway. When Jongdae goes up, he finds that it's not much better on deck, not even a whisper of a breeze to cool him down. Half the pirates have their shirts off, and there's not a vest or jacket in sight. Jongdae spots Lu Han checking some ropes, his shirt unlaced so it hangs open halfway down his chest, and is tempted to stare, but he tears his eyes away.

"Nice weather we're having," Jongdae comments. Minseok hasn't proven talkative in the time Jongdae's spent with him, but given yesterday's conversation, Jongdae thinks he should try harder.

"I hate the heat," Minseok grunts. "And the not moving."

"Are you in that much of a hurry?" Jongdae asks.

Minseok looks at him as if to say, "I know what you're doing," but he still answers, "Not so much, but I don't want to sit here for days. You never know how long it'll last when you're becalmed."

"That's true."

Jongdae's thinking about where to go with this conversation when Minseok suddenly says, "Lu Han said he told you all about the old captain."

Minseok is walking ahead of him and Jongdae can't read anything into his tone to tell what he thinks of that. "He did."

"I was surprised. He doesn't like to talk about that."

"I got that impression." Jongdae hesitates for just a second before deciding to push his advantage while Minseok is actually talking. "He said a lot of people wanted to make you captain."

Minseok scoffs. "Lu Han wanted to make me captain. Maybe a few others. I guess he counts himself as a lot."

Jongdae smiles; that sounds like Lu Han, all right. "But you didn't want it."

Minseok shrugs, turning around as they reach the railing. "I know my strengths. I'm not really captain material. And who wants all that responsibility?"

Jongdae smiles again, but it's bittersweet. "I liked it."

He's walking alongside Minseok now, and he catches the guilt that flickers over his face. He waits to see how Minseok will respond, but he doesn't acknowledge Jongdae's comment. Instead, he stops walking and says, "You must see by now that Lu Han's not just playing around with you, so you'd better not be playing around with him."

"I'm not," Jongdae assures him truthfully. It was never a game for him, and it hasn't been about using Lu Han for a while already.

Minseok is more subtle than Tao was. He doesn't explicitly threaten him, only says, "We're all very fond of Lu Han," and gives him a look that strongly implies that they won't take it well if Lu Han gets hurt.

Jongdae opens his mouth and then freezes because what he was about to say was "So am I." Minseok is still looking at him, and his expression doesn't change, but Jongdae can't help feeling like he knows. He closes his mouth again, swallows, and then says quietly, "I understand."

Focused on Minseok, Jongdae almost jumps out of his skin a few seconds later when he suddenly hears Lu Han's voice behind him. "What are you being so serious about over here?" Jongdae spins around as much as the rope Minseok's holding will let him, and Lu Han laughs at his expression. "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you."

"Here." Minseok tosses the rope to Lu Han. "He's all yours. I'm going to go glare at the slackers." He looks across the ship to where Sehun and Tao are sitting against the hull and talking. Tao laughs at something, and Jongdae is shocked to hear it. The perpetually gruff captain laughing?

He's distracted from that quickly as Lu Han tugs on the rope to get his attention. Up close, it's even harder not to stare at the exposed skin of his chest, reddened by the sun and shining with sweat. "Come on," Lu Han says, with a smirk that says he notices Jongdae's attention. "It's my turn to slack." He leads Jongdae to the captain's quarters and closes the door behind them.

It's good to be out of the sun, but it's stuffy in here too. Lu Han tugs off his shirt and the bandana that was covering his head. He runs his fingers through his flattened hair, but that only makes it stick out wildly. Jongdae wants to reach out and smooth it down, or maybe mess it up even worse, but the rope foils him as usual. He reaches up anyway, awkwardly pushing Lu Han's bangs down with the back of his hand.

When he puts his hands down again, Lu Han is looking at him, surprised and thoughtful. "Is it even worth bugging you to untie me?" Jongdae asks dryly.

Lu Han cocks his head, thinking, and then to Jongdae's immense surprise, he starts to loosen the knot around Jongdae's wrists. "Only in here," he says quietly, not quite meeting Jongdae's eyes. "Wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong idea."

The wrong idea about what, exactly, Jongdae wonders, but he's preoccupied by the thought of finally having his hands untied around Lu Han, of being able to touch him freely. Then he's preoccupied by the thought of when the hell his priorities shifted so much that he's thinking about touching Lu Han instead of trying to find a way to escape. Then again, with everything he's learned, escape no longer seems to be the right move, so perhaps it's not so wrong.

The knot comes undone and Lu Han untwists the rope from Jongdae's wrists and drapes it over the chair behind him. Jongdae shakes his hands out a little, but then he just stands there, at a loss for what to do. He wants to touch Lu Han, who's standing there all shirtless and inviting, but after not being able to for so long, he doesn't know where to start.

"Did you want me to untie you just so you could keep staring at me?" Lu Han asks. He looks and sounds a little embarrassed, the cuteness of it clashing with his distractingly bare and shiny torso.

"Maybe." Instead of touching Lu Han, Jongdae starts to unbutton his own shirt from the top down, seeing how Lu Han's eyes follow his hands. He doesn't know where this is going, but it's nice, feeling in control of it. He takes his time until he finally reaches the bottom and takes his shirt off completely. Lu Han's gaze is hungry now, and he wets his lips but waits for Jongdae to make the first move.

He does, at last, by sliding his hands into Lu Han's hair like he wanted to and kissing him. Lu Han's arms immediately wrap around his back, and suddenly they're pressed together, bare skin to bare skin. It's too hot for this, but Jongdae doesn't care, caught up in the feeling of Lu Han's body against his, his tongue in Jongdae's mouth.

Jongdae's also the one who moves them, backing into the bed, but Lu Han falls into him, and next thing he knows, he's lying half on the bed with Lu Han on top of him. Lu Han laughs and rolls so that they're fully on the bed with Jongdae on top and their legs tangled.

Jongdae lifts his head and sees the question in Lu Han's eyes—are we doing this?—and he hesitates for only a moment before he answers by going back to kissing Lu Han. What "this" is going to be, he doesn't know, but he knows he wants it. He wanted it already before, but now that Lu Han has let down some of his walls, now that Jongdae is, however temporarily, free, he's sure about it.

He lets his hands drift, caught up in the novelty of being able to touch Lu Han however he wants. His muscles are firm under Jongdae's hands, his skin roughened by life at sea but softer as Jongdae's hands get down to his waist. Jongdae shifts to the side so he can dip his fingers just barely into Lu Han's pants in front, feeling Lu Han tense with anticipation.

"Are you sure it's okay to do this here?" Jongdae asks to give himself time to work up the courage for more.

"Hm?" Lu Han blinks in confusion for a few seconds. "Oh, sure, it's fine. The captain won't mind." He laughs, but it sounds strained.

"If he does, I'm hiding behind you," Jongdae warns.

"Got it." Lu Han's mind is clearly not on their conversation, even though Jongdae's barely touching him. "Has anyone ever told you you're a tease?"

"Only sometimes." Jongdae lifts his hand and instead trails his fingers lightly down over the front of Lu Han's pants, feeling him hard through the worn fabric. Lu Han's breath hitches and Jongdae's heartbeat picks up. "Do you want me to touch you?" he murmurs against Lu Han's chin.

"Of course."

Jongdae chuckles at Lu Han's eagerness. "Then take off your pants." Lu Han sits up immediately to do that and Jongdae waits, watching, as he gets naked in record time. Then he sits up too, kneeling between Lu Han's legs. This is unfamiliar, but it's not like he doesn't know what to do with the parts Lu Han has. He moves in closer and loosely circles Lu Han's erection with his hand, giving him an experimental stroke. Lu Han's hips jerk into the touch and Jongdae finds himself smiling.

He takes it slow, watching Lu Han's reaction and seeing what he likes. Lu Han's eyes linger in the vicinity of Jongdae's shoulder like he's too shy to look right at him, but he murmurs the occasional encouragement, "yes" and "more" and "please," voice getting rougher as Jongdae picks up the pace. "Closer," he whines after a while, reaching out, and Jongdae lets Lu Han pull him into his lap, straddling his legs, and kiss him. His hands clench in the back of Jongdae's pants, pulling them uncomfortably tight against Jongdae's own erection, and a moan escapes him.

Lu Han breaks the kiss then, and looks at him with wide eyes like he's shocked that Jongdae's getting off on this too. "Should I...? I mean, can I...?" His expression betrays his eagerness, not surprising since Jongdae's hand is still on him.

Jongdae takes a deep breath and then nods. Lu Han makes quick work of his pants, just pushing them out of the way enough to pull Jongdae's cock out. Jongdae gasps at the touch, realizing how turned on he is, and Lu Han smirks as he gives him a full stroke.

Everything seems to happen very quickly after that. Lu Han gets a hand around both of them and strokes messily, setting a much faster pace than Jongdae did. Jongdae drops his mouth to Lu Han's neck, kissing at first and then muffling his moans as he gets closer. Lu Han's not so loud, but Jongdae can hear his soft gasps and moans, almost in his ear.

Lu Han loses his grip as he gets close, too desperate, so Jongdae pushes his hand away and strokes him the last little bit until he comes with a soft cry, his body shuddering against Jongdae's. Then he wraps an arm around Jongdae's waist to pull him even closer, and Jongdae bites back a curse when Lu Han starts touching him again.

It's nothing particularly elegant, but it feels good, and it doesn't take much more for Jongdae to lose it, burying his face in the crook of Lu Han's neck as he comes over his hand, his body buzzing with overheated pleasure.

Lu Han drops his hand right after, but he keeps his other arm around Jongdae, holding him close as they catch their breaths. As Jongdae comes back to earth, he thinks that he should feel strange or uncomfortable, but for now, at least, he doesn't. All the fear and uncertainty he felt the other day has faded away and he feels content to be sitting here, his head resting on Lu Han's shoulder.

The moment is broken when somebody yells outside. Lu Han can't make out the words, but then he hears Minseok snap, "Be careful!"

Lu Han chuckles at the sound. "We haven't even been stuck a day and already this is starting."

"They could probably use some stress relief like this."

That makes Lu Han laugh louder, his shoulder shaking under Jongdae's cheek. "I'll suggest it. Are you volunteering?"

"No, only for you," Jongdae replies without thinking.

Lu Han doesn't laugh at that, only murmurs, "Good." Then, "We should move, I guess. See what's happening."

They get up slowly, and Lu Han grabs his discarded bandana to clean them up before they pull their clothes back on. Only when he's dressed again does Jongdae look at Lu Han, who's watching him with a tiny smile on his face and a faraway look in his eyes. "What?" he asks, somehow embarrassed now even though he wasn't before.

"Nothing." Lu Han shakes his head and his expression goes back to normal. "We this again?" He's trying to be casual, but the hope in his voice is too easy to read.

"I'll think about it," Jongdae teases, but he's probably easy to read too this time.

Lu Han picks up the rope, and it's something of a rude awakening, reminding Jongdae that this freedom was only temporary. The smile falls off his face, and he looks down as he offers his wrists to Lu Han. "I'm sorry," Lu Han says quietly. Jongdae just shrugs, unable to sort his feelings out enough to know how to respond.

When Lu Han's done, he lifts Jongdae's hands and presses a kiss to his fingers. Jongdae looks up in surprise and Lu Han smiles, expression soft, before he lets go, only holding the dangling end of the rope. In spite of himself, Jongdae smiles too. It's a messy situation, and as Junmyeon reminded him, there's no way there's a happy ending in store for them, but he can't help feeling happy now, and he might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

* * *

They spend a full ten days becalmed, trying to tow the ship with their boats a few times, but mostly dead in the water. The pirates work to fix up the ship, patch up their clothes, anything else that falls by the wayside when they have more to do, but there's still too much downtime and they're all bored out of their minds and impatient to get moving again. There are a few fights as a result, but nothing serious.

The advantage for Jongdae and his crew is that many of the pirates are bored enough to talk to them more. Not all the conversation is interesting or useful, but Junmyeon comes back from spending time on deck one day and eagerly tells them, "I got Sehun talking today, and he said that he originally came on this ship as a prisoner, back when the old captain was in charge."

"The nasty one?" Baekhyun asks. "Then how the hell is he alive?"

"That's what I asked too. He didn't want to talk about it, but I assume the rest of the crew on his ship didn't fare so well. He got lucky because the Exotic Pearl had recently lost her cabin boy to a sickness and some of the pirates convinced the captain to take him on as a replacement."

"And he agreed to that?" It's hard for Jongdae to imagine going from an ordinary sailor to a pirate, especially under that kind of leadership.

Junmyeon shrugs. "What choice did he have? He said it was difficult under that captain, but a lot of the current crew tried to protect him. They've always treated him well, and that's why he stuck around even when a lot of people left after the mutiny."

"Strange," Chanyeol says, and Jongdae nods in agreement. He's always assumed, without giving it much thought, that people would choose to become pirates because they like to fight and don't want to follow the law, but for Sehun, and Lu Han too, it seems more like a matter of chance. How easily could a twist of fate have put a younger Jongdae in the same position? He wonders how many of the other pirates have similar stories.

The rest of his crew gets to know the other pirates better, but Jongdae has less opportunity because Lu Han monopolizes most of his time. They spend the days in a sort of honeymoon period, retreating to the captain's quarters or any secluded corner they can find to kiss and touch, or sometimes just to talk. Now that the first time has passed, it's like a wall between them has been broken, and Jongdae doesn't hold himself back from enjoying Lu Han's company.

Lu Han will still only untie him when they're alone in the captain's quarters. (Jongdae suggests the galley too, but they never do more than kiss there, "because Minseok will kill me.") It grates sometimes, reminds Jongdae harshly that in spite of everything, he's still a prisoner, but other times, he doesn't mind so much. It's easy to forget his bound wrists when Lu Han is on his knees in front of him, Jongdae's fingers in his hair as Lu Han sucks him off slowly and thoroughly.

He doesn't say anything to his crew, and after the last time, they don't ask, but he suspects they know. He's sure the pirates know, considering that they get caught in inappropriate positions several times. Sehun turns very red but stares for a little longer than necessary before turning away, Amber laughs and says, "Ugh, my eyes," and Minseok rolls his eyes and grumbles, "Can't you keep it to the captain's quarters, Lu Han?" Lu Han finds all their reactions hilarious, and Jongdae can't help laughing too.

After ten days of that, they get a faint breeze, prompting a cheer from the weary pirates on deck. By afternoon, the breeze turns into a steady wind, pushing them toward their destination. Jongdae wonders if everything will change now that they're on their way again, if the feeling of truce between not just him and Lu Han but all the pirates and prisoners will go away. They've been able to ignore the question of what the future holds for a short time, but probably not for much longer.

He's a little wary when he goes out on deck that day, but Yixing has been nice to them since the beginning, and Lu Han drops what he's doing to pull Jongdae away after he finishes walking. They go to the captain's quarters and it's no different than before, except that the uncertainty about their fate lurks in the back of Jongdae's mind even as he falls apart under Lu Han's hands.

* * *

For three days, they travel uneventfully onward. Then, when Jongdae is out on deck walking with a pokerfaced Tao, a voice rings down from above, "Sail ahoy! Coming fast!"

Suddenly, everyone in hearing range is on full alert. "Can you see her colors?" Minseok calls back from where he's standing at the wheel.

"She's not flying any!" Jongdae thinks it's Amber on lookout, but he's not sure.

Tao's stopped walking near the wheel, frowning. Lu Han and Sehun have come over too. It's not a good sign if a ship is keeping her identity secret. Jongdae waits, tense. If this ship goes down, he and his crew will die along with the pirates, and if they get captured by different pirates, they could be in for much worse treatment than they've had until now. This is not something for him to be happy about.

The silence is broken by the loud boom of a cannon blast. The ball misses the ship, but not by much, and that definitively answers the question of whether this is an attack. "What should we do, Captain?" Minseok asks, turning around with one hand on the wheel.

Jongdae looks at Tao, but then he realizes something very strange. Minseok isn't looking at Tao but at Lu Han. Tao is looking at him too, and Lu Han is suddenly standing tall and determined. "We can't outrun them," he says shortly. "We'll have to fight."

"But we don't have enough men to fire the cannons," Minseok points out. Another blast rings out, and this time the cannonball scores a hit, just barely, splintering the railing near the other end of the ship.

Lu Han looks over at Jongdae, apologetic and pleading at the same time. Even though Jongdae's still reeling, trying to understand, he knows what that look is about, and he doesn't hesitate. "I can help. We all can."

For one long moment, their eyes lock, but there's no time now. Lu Han turns to Tao. "Let the prisoners out." To Jongdae, he asks, "Do they know how to handle a cannon?"

"Junmyeon and Baekhyun do," Jongdae tells him. "And so do I."

"Good. Tao, send those two below and the others up here. Minseok, get the cannons ready. Jongdae can help you. Sehun, take the wheel and see what you can do to avoid their fire."

Tao drops the rope he was still holding and runs off. Minseok hands the wheel to Sehun and hurriedly unties Jongdae, and they run below deck to the cannons. There are only three, but firing a single cannon is a job for three or four men, so they'll need all the help they can get. "We don't have a lot of ammunition," Minseok tells him as he readies cannonballs and gunpowder, "so let's make it count."

Junmyeon and Baekhyun join them after a minute, wide eyed and unsure about fighting until Jongdae says, "It looks like they're pirates." Then they nod and get to work loading the cannons. Junmyeon can only do so much with one arm still useless, but he's better than nothing. Tao follows them in, and Yixing shows up soon after, steel in his eyes that Jongdae hasn't seen before.

The truth is that Jongdae's fighting experience is very limited, but there's no one else to protect them, so it'll have to be enough. The six of them work quickly to load the cannons, and when Sehun turns the ship to bring them to bear, they fire. "That's a hit!" someone yells up above.

They fire three rounds and score a few hits, but the other ship pays them back in kind. Smoke is thick in the air, but Jongdae catches sight of Minseok's grim expression. "Is this something that happens a lot, getting attacked by other pirates?" Jongdae asks as they wait for their next chance to fire.

"No, it's not." Jongdae can see that he's worried.

They fire once more, and they're just getting ready to load another round when Chanyeol's voice suddenly booms out, "We're being boarded!"

"What do we do?" Tao asks Minseok. Jongdae is surprised to see him looking very young and scared. Is this what he's really like? Has Jongdae so badly misjudged him all along?

He doesn't have time to dwell on that. "Let's go up," Minseok orders. "We've done all we can down here."

"Wait!" Junmyeon calls as they start to move. "We're unarmed."

Minseok looks down at his belt and hesitates for only a moment before pulling out a knife and offering it, handle first, to Junmyeon. Tao gives Baekhyun a dangerous-looking sword (which Jongdae isn't too sure he knows how to use) and then hands Jongdae a small knife and a revolver. He realizes with a start that its his own gun, taken from him when his ship was captured. Tao meets his eyes, and there's apology in them too. "Go on."

Jongdae takes the gun without a word and then they run up onto the deck. The enemy's fire has done some damage, and there are a lot of them on the ship already. Jongdae hurries to join the fray, but he nearly runs into Amber when she stops short in front of him, staring at one of the men. "It's him," she says, shocked and scared.

"Who?" Jongdae asks, lost.

"The old captain." Then, before Jongdae can ask anything else, she yells, "Captain, look out!"

Lu Han whirls around just in time to avoid a swing of the man's sword. "They made you captain?" Jongdae hears him sneer.

He misses Lu Han's response because the battle is raging all around and he has to defend himself against another attacker. It doesn't matter that he's not part of this ship's crew; he's fighting for his life now. Jongdae's not at his best after spending so much time locked in a cell, and he's hardly the most experienced fighter anyway, but he manages to keep his opponent at bay somehow.

He spots Chanyeol, who makes up for his clumsiness by being strong and intimidatingly large, and Jongin, who for all his innocence is probably the best fighter they've got. Kyungsoo and Baekhyun are fighting back to back, Kyungsoo wielding two knives and a murderous expression on his face. He can't see Junmyeon, but Jongdae trusts that he can take care of himself.

The pirates are holding their own too. Minseok is impressive, fending off two opponents twice his size. Tao seems to have acquired more weapons to replace the ones he gave away, and in spite of his earlier fear, he's doing a lot of damage. Even kindhearted doctor Yixing is fighting hard, dodging blows with remarkable speed.

Jongdae fires his revolver at his opponent's knee and the man goes down hard with a cry of pain that makes Jongdae flinch. He knows this is necessary, but he's only a merchant, not used to hurting anyone. "Coward!" the man yells, but Jongdae still turns away.

It's hard to say who's winning. There's blood on the deck and on people's clothes, and Jongdae can see someone lying on the deck, unmoving, but he can't tell who it is. He can hear the clang of metal on metal, the occasional burst of gunfire, and yelling all around. It's hard to focus on anything, but then he sees Lu Han again.

He's still facing off with the same man as before, the old captain. There's a bloody rip in Lu Han's shirt and he seems to be favoring one leg, but the other man is injured too, a cut on his cheek and his left arm hanging limply at his side, his sword abandoned on the ground. He still has a gun, though, and Lu Han only has a knife, so it doesn't look good.

As Jongdae watches, the man lifts his gun, but he doesn't shoot Lu Han. Too fast for Lu Han to realize what he's doing and dodge, the man hits him on the head with his gun, hard. Lu Han stumbles and blood blooms on his temple. He drops his knife, and Jongdae thinks with dawning horror that this is it for him. In a daze, he doesn't realize he's raised his own revolver until a shot rings out and the old captain crumples to the ground.

For a moment, it seems like everything is frozen, all eyes on the two pirate captains and Jongdae with his gun. Lu Han looks over at Jongdae and his eyes go wide, but then he wobbles and falls to the deck. Several voices scream, "Captain!" and one "Lu Han!" and Yixing ducks under his opponent's arm to run over to him. Jongdae does too, his gun clattering to the deck as he goes down on his knees next to Lu Han.

He's expecting the worst, but Lu Han's eyes are open, if unfocused. "I'm fine," he insists as Yixing checks his pulse. "Just dizzy. Did we win?"

It seems like they did, the fight going out of most of the enemy pirates with their captain down. Minseok comes over to check on him and nods. "He's gone." Of course he is, when Jongdae's shot hit him in the base of the skull. He stares at the wound in disbelief, trying to wrap his head around the fact that he killed someone.

Minseok gets to his feet and looks around. "Surrender and we'll let you live. It's more than you would have done for us." Their opponents look to one of their own, perhaps the mate, and when he drops his gun, they all follow suit. It's over.

Minseok approaches the mate, Tao coming to back him up with his more intimidating stature, but Jongdae stops paying attention because Yixing asks, "Can you help me get him to the captain's quarters?"

The captain's quarters. Lu Han's quarters. What an idiot he is for not realizing why Lu Han always seemed so amused when Jongdae asked if the captain was okay with them being there. Of course it wasn't a problem when the real captain was right there with him.

"Jongdae?" Yixing's gentle voice snaps him out of his thoughts.

"Yes, sorry." They pull Lu Han up between them, and he leans heavily on Jongdae's shoulders as they walk to the captain's quarters and lay him on the bed. There's blood running down his cheek and his face is pale, but at least he's conscious. With a blow like that, it could've been worse.

Yixing sits on the bed next to Lu Han and gently touches his forehead. Lu Han hisses in pain when he presses against the injured spot. "Can you tell me your name?" Yixing asks.

"Lu Han." He sounds annoyed. "I'm telling you I'm fine."

"Do you know where you are?"

"On my ship, the Exotic Pearl, with my crew and some prisoners and some former crew members who apparently really don't like us."

Yixing continues to smile patiently through Lu Han's grumbling. He tests Lu Han's vision and asks him a few more questions before concluding, "I think you're okay, but head injuries are tricky, so it's best if we keep an eye on you through the night and make sure nothing changes." He looks at Jongdae, who takes a second to register what he's asking.

"I can stay," he says. He's angry with Lu Han, or he will be once the shock of everything that's happened passes, but he's worried about him too, enough to stay by his side tonight.

"Thank you," Yixing says. To Lu Han, he adds, "I'll be back to check on you after I patch up everyone out there."

"Go on." Lu Han waves him away. Yixing goes and they're left alone, and suddenly the atmosphere feels heavy. Jongdae is standing near the bed, but Lu Han isn't looking at him. "I'm sorry," he says after a while, guilt written all over his face and lacing his words. "For lying to you."

Jongdae answers him with silence. He doesn't know what to say or even feel yet.

"I didn't mean for it to last so long," Lu Han continues. "Tao's better at scaring people than I am, so we pretend sometimes, when we want to get people to surrender, and there didn't seem to be any reason to tell you the truth right after. And then by the time the time we got closer, I didn't know how to tell you. I didn't want you to hate me for lying to you for all that time."

"So you kept on lying to me and letting me look like an idiot?"

Lu Han flinches. "I'm sorry. That's all I can say. I'm sorry for a lot of things."

Jongdae looks down, trying to figure out what to say. His hands are streaked with soot, probably from the cannons, but it still reminds him that he shot and killed a man today. He shot a man who would have shot Lu Han otherwise, and thinking about that, how much does it really matter that Lu Han lied to him about being the captain?

The silence stretches out until Lu Han finally says, "You and your men really helped us today. I doubt we would've been able to defeat them without you. And saved my life."

"I've never shot anyone before." It's beside the point, but Jongdae needs to say it to someone. He looks up at Lu Han, who frowns.

"Then I'm sorry for that too."

It's too much, the sadness on Lu Han's face. Jongdae climbs onto the bed and pulls Lu Han's head into his lap, brushing the hair back from his face and smoothing a hand down his non-bloody cheek. "Don't be sorry. Not for that. You can be sorry for lying to me, but..." He laughs, weak but genuine. "I'll get over it. You told me the truth about the things that matter."

Lu Han smiles, relieved. "And as for saving your life..." Jongdae starts, but Lu Han doesn't let him finish.

"You'll go free. Of course. All of you." His smile turns a little sheepish. "We would've let you go anyway. I meant what I said about not letting the slavers have you."

"And my ship?" Jongdae asks. He's hopeful, but there's a strange feeling in his stomach as he thinks about sailing away, about going back to his old life like nothing happened.

Lu Han grimaces. "I'll see what I can do."

They lapse into silence for a little while before there's a knock on the door. "Come in," Lu Han calls. Jongdae notices he flinches a little when he raises his voice.

The door opens and Minseok comes in, followed, more surprisingly, by Junmyeon. Jongdae is relieved to see that his first mate is soot streaked but otherwise uninjured. Both men take in the position Jongdae and Lu Han are in, but they don't comment. "We've locked up the survivors," Minseok reports. "There were two casualties on their side and none on ours, but there are a few serious injuries Yixing is working on now."

"What about their ship?" Lu Han struggles to sit up, but Jongdae pushes him back down, and he sees Minseok smile briefly.

"We don't have enough people to bring her in, and she's not in good shape anyway. We're bringing over any valuables and useful supplies and then I think we should scuttle her."

Lu Han nods. "Do it. And our ship?"

"We'll make it to port with some patching, but she's going to need some work done when we get there."

"I was afraid of that." Lu Han frowns. "Well, we'll figure something out."

Minseok looks over at Junmyeon before continuing, "Since the brig is currently occupied by people who deserve it a lot more, our former prisoners are out on deck. I trust that's not a problem."

Lu Han laughs, then winces. "No problem. After this, you can let them roam freely. See about finding them a place to sleep tonight."

"Is everyone all right?" Jongdae asks.

"Chanyeol took a bullet to the leg, but Yixing patched him up," Junmyeon answers. "Nothing else worth worrying about."

Jongdae breathes a sigh of relief. "Good."

"And you?" Junmyeon asks. Jongdae knows what the question is about, not his physical condition but what happened during the battle. Junmyeon knows him too well.

"I'm fine." He's not, honestly, entirely sure that he is, but he smiles at Junmyeon anyway. He will be fine, in time. It sounds like the world is better off with the former captain gone, and his death means that Lu Han is alive. That doesn't erase the guilt, but it helps.

Junmyeon looks understandably skeptical, but he nods. "We'll talk later," is all he says.

"Get some rest," Minseok adds. "Yixing will come by later, but call us if there's a problem."

"I'm fine," Lu Han grumbles childishly, and Minseok flashes him a reluctant sort of smile before heading out the door, Junmyeon following behind him. When they're gone, Lu Han mutters, "First mates. So fussy."

"It's nice that your crew worries about you," Jongdae chides, though in truth he's thought the same about Junmyeon many times before.

Lu Han smiles faintly and doesn't argue. Instead, he says, "You don't have to stay. I'm sure someone else can come keep an eye on me if Yixing insists."

"I don't mind, and I'm sure your crew has other things to do." Jongdae feels strange calling them Lu Han's crew, and thinking that these are Lu Han's quarters on Lu Han's ship. Everything has been turned upside down today and it's going to take a while for it to sink in. "And maybe I worry about you too."

Lu Han smiles wider at that, a surprised sort of smile that he quickly twists into something more neutral. "Then what do you want to do with all these hours we have to kill?"

It sounds a little flirty, which makes Jongdae laugh. "No strenuous activity for you today. Let's just get cleaned up a little." There's a basin of water and a towel in the corner, and Jongdae gets up to get it, telling Lu Han, "Don't even think about it," when he tries to sit up. He wets a corner of the towel and wipes the blood off Lu Han's face. He looks better like that, though he's still pale, clearly not as okay as he's trying to pretend he is.

"I can take care of myself," Lu Han mutters, but he doesn't stop Jongdae from pulling off his shirt to clean the cut on his chest. It's not too deep, but it probably hurts.

"You've almost got matching scars on either side," Jongdae jokes, eyeing the scar under Lu Han's ribs.

Lu Han smiles at that, but it's grim. "Plenty to remember him by." Then he shakes his head. "Sorry, I'm getting weird. Must be the head wound."

Jongdae doubts that, but he lets it go. "Is your leg hurt too? I saw you limping earlier."

"It's just bruised. Sorry to disappoint you if you wanted an excuse to take off my pants too."

Jongdae rolls his eyes tolerantly. "I'll live."

When Jongdae starts to get up to put the towel back, Lu Han says, "Wait. You too." He reaches for the towel, and Jongdae wets another corner before handing it to Lu Han, who tugs on Jongdae's arm to get him to lie down. "Since you won't even let me sit up," he grumbles as he rolls onto his side.

They're close together like this, the bed not made for two. Jongdae can practically count Lu Han's eyelashes as he carefully wipes Jongdae's face clean, and he catches himself thinking that Lu Han is really beautiful. The towel comes away black with soot, making Jongdae wonder what he looked like before, but Lu Han doesn't comment. When he's satisfied, he puts the towel aside and leans in to kiss Jongdae briefly.

"Hey, I said—" Jongdae starts, but Lu Han cuts him off.

"Kissing like that isn't strenuous. And I think after the day we've had, we both deserve some kissing."

Jongdae laughs, but he has to agree. "I guess a little is okay." He presses another kiss to Lu Han's mouth and feels him smile into it. "Has anyone ever told you that you're way too pretty to be a pirate?" Up close, he could swear Lu Han's eyes are sparkling.

"Many times," Lu Han says wryly. "I hate it."

"Sorry." Jongdae doesn't really mean it, but he gives Lu Han another kiss to make up for it.

"And now you know why it's better for people to think Tao's the captain. He looks way tougher than he is, and I'm the opposite."

Lu Han would happily continue with the kissing, but Jongdae insists that he needs to take it easy. "I'm not allowed to kiss or move or even sleep," Lu Han whines. "What am I supposed to do?"

"You could talk?" Jongdae suggests.

"I don't want to talk. You tell me something instead."

So Jongdae does. He tells Lu Han silly stories about his childhood, and when Lu Han asks questions, more serious stories too. He tells him about his first meeting with Junmyeon, when the normally well-mannered man got drunk enough to start a bar fight. He tells him about how he got his own ship, and about his crew, the members that are here and the ones that escaped too.

And eventually Lu Han starts to talk too, chiming in with fun stories about his fellow pirates, and then some that aren't so fun. He tells Jongdae about the old captain and life on the Exotic Pearl with him in charge, not in much detail, but enough to make it clear that the world is better off without him.

Yixing comes by late that night, looking exhausted but smiling anyway, to check on Lu Han, but once he's satisfied that Lu Han's brain is still working fine and his other injuries aren't serious, he leaves them alone, and their conversation continues.

They finally stop in the early hours of the morning, and Lu Han whispers, "Thank you" as he pillows his head on Jongdae's chest. Jongdae doesn't ask for what, only puts an arm around Lu Han and listens as his breathing evens out and he falls asleep. Jongdae has a lot on his mind, but it's been a long day and night, and soon he falls asleep too.

* * *

Jongdae wakes up to the sound of the door opening. Lu Han doesn't so much as stir, and Jongdae takes a moment to check that he's still breathing before he looks up to see Minseok in the door. "Sorry," he whispers.

Jongdae sits up, untangling himself from Lu Han, who got clingier while sleeping. Maybe he should feel embarrassed about that, but there's no judgment in Minseok's expression. (Maybe Lu Han is clingy like this with anyone.) "Morning." Jongdae frowns and rubs his eyes. "Is it still morning?"

"Almost noon. I guess you were up late."

Jongdae nods. "Did we miss anything? Is everyone okay?"

"Yixing had a busy night, but everyone pulled through in the end. Kyungsoo helped him out." Jongdae's ship didn't have a proper doctor, but Kyungsoo often dealt with small injuries, less because he was qualified than because he wasn't squeamish. Jongdae wonders how he coped with more serious injuries, and feels momentarily guilty for neglecting his crew. "And how about you?" Minseok asks. "You're both okay?"

"I wasn't hurt, and Lu Han's fine. Yixing checked him out last night, and I didn't notice anything wrong after that."

"That's good." Minseok hesitates for a moment before continuing, "I want to thank you for looking after Lu Han, and for yesterday too. Of course you had some interest in not letting the ship go down, but you didn't have to help us. We're grateful to you."

He sounds so sincere, if a little awkward, so nice, and Jongdae bursts out, "I don't understand!" Minseok looks startled, and Lu Han stirs at the noise but doesn't wake up.

"What do you mean?" Minseok asks.

"You've treated us well enough, for prisoners. You treat each other well from what I've seen and you seem like decent people, but you're pirates. You stole our ship and took us prisoner and no matter how nice you are, it doesn't change that."

Minseok's expression doesn't change as Jongdae talks, no sign of guilt or anger or anything else. When he finishes, Minseok says wryly, "You don't seem to be letting that get in the way of your thing with Lu Han.

"That's why I don't understand," Jongdae mutters. It's true of all the pirates he's interacted with, but with Lu Han most of all, its hard to reconcile his feelings and what he's seen since being captured with the cold, hard facts of how he ended up here.

Minseok considers briefly. "You're right. We are pirates, and that's not going to change. Don't expect it to." He's not being harsh. His words aren't quite apologetic, but soft.

"I don't." It would be different if Lu Han wasn't a pirate, but it is what it is. He's not trying to make an honest man out of Lu Han. He doesn't think he could if he tried.

This time, Minseok is silent for longer, but finally, he says, "You've got good reason to hate us. No one could blame you if you did. But life isn't black and white and you don't get any prizes for dying poor and alone with your morals intact. We're just trying to get by like everyone else, and we have our own rules and our own ethics. That's why we got rid of the old captain, because there are still lines we won't cross."

He has a point, as difficult as it is for Jongdae, who has always played by the rules to accept. There are non-pirates who lie and cheat and steal and even kill. Pirates by definition break the law, but it doesn't mean they'll break every law. It's simpler to think that pirates are bad and non-pirates are good, but life isn't simple. He's seen enough to know that.

"I know Lu Han ended up on this ship by chance, and Sehun too. What about you?"

Jongdae can't say he's really surprised when Minseok just flashes him a crooked little smile and answers, "I needed a job. I took this one."

The conversation stops there because Lu Han wakes up, rubbing his eyes as he asks groggily, "What's going on?"

Minseok's smile widens, turning fond. "We were just talking. How are you feeling?"

Lu Han yawns before he answers, "My head hurts, but I've had worse hangovers. You guys can stop fussing over me."

"Okay, got it, no more being nice. Get up and get to work!" Minseok cheerfully orders, and he and Jongdae both laugh when Lu Han splutters in protest. Then he adds, more seriously, "It would be good for you to show your face. Reassure everyone you're alive and check on the injured."

Lu Han nods, turning serious too. "I'll be out soon."

Minseok takes the hint and leaves, and Lu Han gets to his feet. He wobbles a little when he stands up, but that seems to be more his inured leg than his head. Jongdae gets up too, frowning at his soot-stained clothes. "You can borrow something if you want," Lu Han tells him as he digs in the trunk at the foot of the bed. "My shirts should fit you, at least." He pulls out a shirt and offers it to Jongdae, who takes it.

"What were you and Minseok talking about?" Lu Han asks as he continues to hunt for clothes.

"Nothing much. He thanked me for yesterday." Jongdae tugs off his shirt and replaces it with Lu Han's. It's a little loose, but it'll do for now. "And I asked him how he became a pirate, but he wouldn't tell me."

"Really?" Lu Han gets up again, and Jongdae automatically reaches out a hand to steady him when he wavers.

"He said that he needed a job and he picked this."

Lu Han scoffs at that. "You could say that. His father's business was on the verge of going under and Minseok was desperate to help. None of the proper merchant ships had a place for him, so he ended up with us."

"Do you all have sob stories like that?" Jongdae grumbles.

Lu Han laughs into the fabric of his shirt as he pulls it over his head. "It's hardly a sob story. His family wasn't happy at first, but they've gotten used to it. His father's business is back on track and Minseok helps them when they need it and goes to visit sometimes. I even met his family once."

It's sounds so ordinary, Jongdae thinks, like Junmyeon dragging Jongdae to dinner with his parents and his brother's family whenever they're in port, and Chanyeol carefully setting aside money for his family whenever they get paid. What were you thinking, he chides himself, that every pirate was a friendless orphan?

"Don't think about it so hard," Lu Han tells him. He's changed into clean pants and is tucking his shirt in. "We've got all kinds of different stories, just like you and your crew do." Finished getting dressed, he reaches for Jongdae's hands and pulls him closer. "Let's just be happy we're alive today, okay?" He leans in to kiss Jongdae, smiling softly.

Jongdae still has a lot on his mind, but he lets himself be distracted by Lu Han's lips and his warm hands holding both of his. For now, that they're alive and safe is all that really matters.

They go to check on the injured together. Chanyeol's leg is wrapped up in white bandages, but he's being his usual noisily cheerful self. Sehun, in the next bed with his shoulder swathed in bandages, looks vaguely disgruntled, either because of his injury or because of Chanyeol. Lu Han pokes him in the shoulder and says, "Stop making that face." Sehun responds my screwing up his expression into a very strange disgusted face before smiling normally when Lu Han laughs.

There are a few more patients, some that Jongdae recognizes and some he doesn't. One of the unfamiliar ones has his eyes closed and he's pale, with blood staining the bandages on his stomach. There's a rope around one wrist holding him to the bed, making it clear that he's one of their attackers. Lu Han stops next to his bed and frowns. His expression is hard to read, but Jongdae thinks he's sad.

"He hasn't woken up," Yixing says, coming up behind them. "I did what I could for him, but I can't be sure he'll make it."

Lu Han looks at the man for a moment longer before turning away. "I'm sure you did your best. Whatever happens, he brought it on himself."

Jongdae can't help being curious, but he keeps his mouth shut. He can guess, anyway, that while Lu Han and his crew won't mourn the captain's death, their feelings about some of their former crewmates who followed him may be more ambivalent.

Out on deck, they go their separate ways. Jongdae finds Junmyeon, Jongin and Kyungsoo sitting together, Kyungsoo asleep on Junmyeon's shoulder. "He was up all night helping Yixing," Junmyeon explains in a whisper as Jongdae sits down with them. "I tried to make him go lie down, but he insisted he wasn't tired.

That makes Jongdae smile. It sounds like Kyungsoo, all right. "Where's Baekhyun?" he asks. Jongin gestures behind them, and Jongdae realizes with a start that it's Baekhyun at the wheel now. "They let him do that?"

"They're even more shorthanded now, with injuries and Yixing being busy. Baekhyun pestered Minseok until he gave in and let him take a turn at the wheel." Junmyeon pulls a wry face. "Things sure have changed since yesterday."

It's a definite understatement. Yesterday, they were coming up on deck one a time, escorted and tied up. Today, four of them are sitting together, untied and unaccompanied, while a fifth steers the ship. There's not even anyone supervising Baekhyun at the moment, only Tao adjusting the sails nearby and Lu Han focused on talking to Amber. It's almost like this has become their ship overnight, though if it were really his ship, Jongdae wouldn't be sitting here doing nothing.

Since it's not, he sits and watches the activity on deck. Lu Han goes below deck again, and Amber moves out of his line of sight. Tao is still struggling with the sails, and after a few more minutes of watching, Jongdae gets fed up and stands up. "Captain?" Jongin asks.

"I'm going to go help," he says. "Why don't you come too?" Jongin has been fidgeting, never one to sit still for long if he's awake.

They leave Junmyeon and the still-sleeping Kyungsoo and cross the ship. Baekhyun nods a greeting, but Tao looks confused. "What do you want?"

"Let us help." Tao doesn't seem particularly threatening now, but Jongdae smiles disarmingly, just in case.

"I don't know if that's a good idea..." Jongdae wants to laugh because he can see Tao needs their help, but he doesn't want to say yes, or isn't sure that he should.

"Stop being stupid and let them help," Baekhyun chimes in, teasing like he's already completely comfortable with Tao. Knowing Baekhyun, he probably is.

Tao gives Baekhyun a glare that makes it even harder for Jongdae not to laugh, but he grudgingly agrees. He seems to enjoy ordering them around, and Jongdae doesn't really mind, happy to be doing something useful after a month of idleness.

They spend the better part of the day helping clean and patch up the ship, Kyungsoo and Junmyeon joining in later. She's still seaworthy, but the battle did a good deal of damage, on top of the more minor damage from when they took Jongdae's ship. (That's strange to think about, so he tries not to.)

In the evening, they sit down with the pirates for dinner like it's nothing. Surprisingly, it's comfortable, probably because Baekhyun and Chanyeol can talk to anyone, any time, and they don't seem to mind that the people they're talking to had them locked up until very recently. Amber readily joins in on their chatter, and soon after, Tao does too. In no time at all, he's sniping back as Baekhyun makes fun of him, and suddenly he doesn't seem threatening at all.

"Are they always like this?" Lu Han asks, leaning over. To the surprise of absolutely no one, he demanded Jongdae sit next to him.

"Worse, sometimes," Jongdae says dryly. It's nice, though, to hear the familiar chatter and see his crew members smiling.

Jongdae stands watch officially for the first time that night, after Minseok apologetically admits that with some of their number injured, they don't have enough people for watch plus a guard on the prisoners.

"Minseok says we can be on the same watch but not in the same place or 'no one will notice the ship sinking,'" Lu Han tells him, doing a terrible imitation of Minseok for the last part, and Jongdae laughs.

"We've been separated for most of the day. I think you can survive it a little longer." Lu Han pouts at him, and Jongdae is torn between finding it adorable and wondering if Lu Han has truly gotten so attached to him. Is it only because with Jongdae no longer locked up he can keep him around more or has something changed between them? Jongdae's inclined to think it's the second, and he doesn't know how he feels about that.

They take first watch, Lu Han guarding the prisoners while Jongdae takes the wheel. How different it is to be standing here with his hands on the wood and the wind in his face instead of sitting on the deck at Lu Han's feet. It's almost like being back on his own ship, but he can't quite forget that this isn't it.

It's strange, this in between state where they seem free but aren't entirely, where they're acting like part of the pirate ship's crew even though they're not. Everything is strange, from this thing Jongdae has fallen into with Lu Han to him and his crew befriending the very same people who took their ship and kept them locked up. For now, they're all just going along with it, but what will happen when they reach port and they can't ignore the question of the future anymore?

The time passes quickly, with those kinds of thoughts interspersed with more peaceful ones, until Amber comes onto the deck to relieve him. Tao has already gone down to the brig, and Lu Han comes through the door and bounds over to the wheel. If his leg is still bothering him, it doesn't show.

"So much energy for the middle of the night," Amber drawls, shaking her head when Lu Han beams at her. To Jongdae, she adds, "There's a place for you to sleep, but if you'd rather spend the night with the captain..."

Jongdae half expects Lu Han to answer for him, but he doesn't, just puts a hand low on Jongdae's back, possessive but not demanding. "We'll figure something out," Jongdae says, a little sheepish.

Amber grins but refrains from commenting. "Goodnight, then." And to Lu Han, "Goodnight, sir."

Lu Han steers Jongdae away, hand still on his back. Up close, Jongdae can see that he's still limping slightly, but not enough to slow him down much. He stops outside the door to his quarters and turns to Jongdae, not quite meeting his eyes. "If you want to go sleep with the others..."

"I'm sure your bed is more comfortable," Jongdae says lightly. It doesn't have to be a big deal when he already shared Lu Han's bed the night before, but tonight, it feels more charged.

Lu Han smiles, the honest kind that lights up his face and makes his eyes sparkle even in the dark. He drops his hand from Jongdae's back as he opens the door and they both step inside. The lamplight flickers as Lu Han takes off his shirt and washes his face, and Jongdae doesn't realize he's staring until Lu Han looks over at him, blinking water out of his eyes. "What?"

"Nothing." Jongdae turns away and focuses on getting himself ready for bed and not on the line of Lu Han's shoulders or or how he looked with water running over his absurdly pretty face.

When he turns around again, Lu Han is sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting. He's smiling a little, but it's visibly uncertain. "You're supposed to be taking it easy, remember?" Jongdae tells him even as he takes a step toward the bed.

"I took it easy all day." Lu Han's not grumbling like he did the night before, his voice soft, his expression hard to read. "My head is fine and unless you're expecting something acrobatic, the rest of me will be fine too."

Jongdae takes another step forward, and the room is small enough that that puts him right in front of Lu Han. "Maybe I am?"

"What?" Lu Han's clearly distracted, his gaze settling somewhere in the vicinity of Jongdae's lips.

"Expecting something acrobatic," Jongdae murmurs as he leans closer.

Lu Han's eyes snap up to Jongdae's, his face twisting into an endearingly weird expression of surprise. Jongdae smiles as he closes the distance between them and kisses Lu Han softly. He doesn't know how it'll go tonight, because there's no question that things have shifted between them, but he wants to find out.

Lu Han's arms wrap around Jongdae's waist to pull him close and he kisses back without hesitation. This has become familiar over the past month and especially the last two weeks, the way Lu Han's body feels pressed against his, the way he kisses like he can't get enough, the way he holds onto Jongdae that's a mix of protective and needy. They're still getting to know each other's bodies, but Lu Han knows where to press his tongue to make Jongdae gasp into their kiss, and Jongdae knows that the scrape of teeth on Lu Han's neck will make him shiver with pleasure.

They tumble onto the bed eventually, shedding the rest of their clothing. Jongdae catches a glimpse of the nasty bruise on Lu Han's knee, but he doesn't have a chance to dwell on it before Lu Han's pulling him in for another kiss. Their legs tangle and Jongdae rocks his hips into Lu Han's, enjoying the moan that gets from him. Lu Han, for all his usual chattiness, is surprisingly quiet in bed. That may be good, considering the lack of privacy on a ship like this, but Jongdae enjoys the challenge of pulling more noise out of him.

A good way to do that is to drag things out, so he kisses his way slowly down Lu Han's neck and then his chest before sucking on a nipple. Lu Han draws in a sharp breath and his hand moves to the back of Jongdae's head, sliding into his hair. When Jongdae moves to the other side, Lu Han gasps out, "Jongdae?" It sounds like a question, or maybe a plea, and Jongdae lifts his head to see what it's about.

Lu Han is flushed and his eyes are shining. "Let me—" His voice wavers and he breaks off and swallows hard. "Let me up."

Jongdae is taken aback by the unexpected reaction. Confused, he sits up and watches as Lu Han rolls off the bed. He's hard, obviously enjoying this, so what's going on? Lu Han goes to the trunk by his bed and reaches in, almost immediately finding what he's looking for. When he turns around, Jongdae sees he's holding a small bottle in his hand.

"What's that?" he asks as Lu Han sits back down on the bed. Lu Han looks flustered by the question and Jongdae starts to laugh, but something makes it die in his throat. Lu Han's gaze is hot on him and he thinks he has an idea where this is going, because while they've done a lot together, there are lines they haven't crossed yet.

"I thought maybe..." Lu Han starts. "That is, only if you want to, but I really...I mean, we could try..." He barely gives Jongdae a few seconds to process that and respond before rushing on, "Nevermind, we don't—"

"Stop." Lu Han looks startled, even though Jongdae's voice is soft, so Jongdae puts a hand on his arm. "Just stop talking and let me catch up."

Lu Han smiles sheepishly and some of the awkwardness dissipates. "Sorry."

Jongdae holds out his other hand and Lu Han looks confused for a few seconds before he gets it and hands the bottle over. Jongdae opens it and pours a little of the contents onto his fingers. The liquid feels slick against his skin, confirming his suspicions. When he looks up, Lu Han is staring at his hand. It's almost comical, but this time Jongdae doesn't laugh at all.

"I don't know what to do," he admits. It's embarrassing, but it's nothing Lu Han doesn't already know.

"It's okay." Lu Han is still staring at Jongdae's fingers, which he's been absently rubbing together, and now he licks his lips. "Do you want to?"

Even after everything, this feels like a big thing, but Jongdae finds it's an easy question to answer. "Yes." Lu Han looks up at him and Jongdae flashes him a smile. "But, um, how do we...?" His descriptive hand gesture gets a short burst of laughter from Lu Han.

"Well..." Lu Han looks at Jongdae's hand again and then down at his leg. He gives his knee an experimental poke and winces.

"Are you sure you're—?" Jongdae starts to ask, but breaks off when Lu Han takes the bottle out of his hand and moves back on the bed.

"I'll be fine like this," Lu Han assures him. Jongdae doesn't argue, watching silently as Lu Han slicks up his fingers and then spreads his legs, his knees bent. He's not looking at Jongdae anymore, and it's hard to tell if he's embarrassed or just focused on what he's doing. He moves his hand between his legs, and Jongdae's mouth goes dry as he presses a finger into his body.

It's Jongdae's turn to stare as Lu Han starts to move his finger in and out. He's quiet, biting his lip, and the way his breath hitches, Jongdae can't tell if it feels good or bad. He doesn't stop, in any case, his finger going farther and farther in each time. When it's pressed in deep, he pulls his hand out. He's about to pour more of the liquid onto his fingers when he looks up and meets Jongdae's eyes and freezes.

There's a beat of silence, two, and then Jongdae says, "Let me?" Lu Han wordlessly hands the bottle back over, and Jongdae is glad to see him smile, breaking the strange atmosphere. "Lie down," Jongdae tells him.

Lu Han lies down readily, and Jongdae takes a moment to appreciate how he looks spread out on the bed like that, long lines and hard muscle. It only lasts a moment because Lu Han whines, "Hurry up."

"Okay, okay." Jongdae moves in closer and coats his fingers. He can't help smirking as he holds them up so that Lu Han can see; Lu Han deserves a little teasing, after everything. Lu Han's expression wavers between fascination and impatience, but lucky for him, Jongdae's turned on enough that he doesn't want to drag this out either.

He's not sure exactly what he's doing, but it seems straightforward enough. Lu Han's quiet when he pushes one finger in, but two make his breath come harsher. Jongdae runs a comforting hand up his thigh, and then a not-so-comforting hand up the length of his erection, enjoying the way it makes Lu Han arch up off the bed.

"If you...move your fingers around..." Lu Han grunts out. Jongdae tries, but he doesn't know what Lu Han means until he finds the right angle and Lu Han's body jerks again. That's intriguing, so he jabs his fingers at the same spot a few times. Lu Han moans, then bites out a few choice words when Jongdae doesn't stop.

"Shouldn't have let you top," Lu Han grumbles, but the way his body is still shaking under Jongdae's touch belies his words.

Jongdae makes it to three fingers, marveling at the way Lu Han's body takes them in, before Lu Han tells him, "Enough." His voice is rough and he looks a mess already and Jongdae's a little shocked by how much he wants him, seeing him like this.

Jongdae pulls his hand away, and Lu Han's not so far gone that he can't tease, "You know how this part works, right?" as Jongdae gets up on his knees.

"I might do it wrong..." He manages to keep a straight face just long enough to see a flicker of doubt cross Lu Han's face, then laughs. Lu Han glares at him, but it's quickly forgotten as Jongdae settles between his legs. The atmosphere feels serious again, heavy, but Lu Han's eyes are soft when they catch Jongdae's, so it's okay.

He's careful when he pushes in against the resistance of Lu Han's muscles, waiting a moment before he starts to move. Lu Han doesn't say anything more, but his reactions make it clear Jongdae's doing something right. He's less restrained like this than Jongdae's seen him before, moaning heavily and gasping for breath. He pushes his hair back from his face with one hand, and though the expression on his face isn't exactly flattering, eyes screwed shut, mouth hanging open, Jongdae is captivated anyway.

He wasn't sure what to expect, but it feels good, Lu Han's body tight and hot around him, letting him in deep as he thrusts steadily. After a while, Lu Han starts to touch himself in an uneven rhythm and his muscles clench around Jongdae enough that he cries out. "Hurry," Lu Han moans, almost begs, eyes open and pleading. Jongdae doesn't need to be told twice, jerking his hips faster, chasing his own release.

Lu Han touches himself faster too, and pushes against Jongdae, voice rising until he comes with an incoherent cry, writhing around on the bed. That's more than enough to pull Jongdae over the edge with him, and he thrusts in a last few desperate times as pleasure dances along every nerve.

Then it's over and he pulls away, letting Lu Han's legs gently down. His eyes are closed again, and even though he's a mess, flushed and sweaty with his hair sticking out in all directions, Jongdae thinks he's beautiful. That's okay, really, because objectively speaking, he is good looking, but the surge of affection Jongdae feels as he looks down at Lu Han is harder to accept. Has he fallen so far already, despite the many complications? It's not going to end well if he has.

Jongdae stays still for long enough that Lu Han opens his eyes and frowns up at him. "What?"

Jongdae quickly shakes his head, not ready to share what he's thinking. "Nothing." He has to climb over Lu Han's legs to get off the bed, wetting a towel from the basin of water by the window and bringing it over to clean Lu Han up. It reminds him unpleasantly of the day before, especially when his eyes land on the cut on Lu Han's chest, but he pushes that aside and focuses on Lu Han smiling at him, all soft in his sleepy, post-coital state.

When he's done, he lies down on his side next to Lu Han, leaning up for a kiss that's also soft, slow and comfortable. That does nothing to help Jongdae's affectionate feelings, but he's too tired to care anymore. He curls up against Lu Han's side and tells himself that he'll worry about it tomorrow, or the next day, or when they finally make it to port. He can't help thinking, as he starts to drift off, that worrying won't make any difference because he might already be too far gone to stop it.

* * *

Jongdae is woken by a knock at the door again, but this time Lu Han wakes up too. "Always somebody wanting something," he grumbles as he sits up. "What?" he calls to whoever's outside.

"Is it safe to come in?" It's Tao, his voice higher now that he's not trying to seems scary, and mocking.

"No!" Lu Han yells back.

"Fine! Yixing wants to talk you! But put on clothes first!"

"What does he think of me?" Lu Han mutters, laughing quietly. "I'll be there soon! Go away!"

Even though Jongdae knows now that Tao's a lot more harmless than he looks (outside of a fight), it's strange to hear him and Lu Han bantering so easily. "You're like bickering brothers," he comments, and Lu Han smiles.

"Tao's a brat. But a very loyal, loving brat." He sighs. "I guess we should get up."

They get up and dress, Lu Han wrapping a bandana over his messy hair without bothering to fix it. He's ready first, and he waits for Jongdae, smiling and dropping a kiss on his lips before heading for the door. It's a sweet gesture, so domestic Jongdae doesn't know how to feel about it, but he shrugs it off.

Lu Han goes to see Yixing and Jongdae finds some of the others having a quick breakfast. He gets some looks as he joins them, and he finds out why soon enough when Baekhyun turns to him. He's not smiling, but his eyes are twinkling with mischief. "You should probably know that even if this ship is bigger than ours, sound carries well."

Jongdae learned the hard way that if he shows any sign of embarrassment, Baekhyun will just run with it, so he smiles calmly back and says, "I hope you enjoyed the show."

Baekhyun bursts out laughing, as do several others, and he pats Jongdae on the shoulder as he sits down. Jongdae would never admit it, but he's grateful to Baekhyun for keeping things from being awkward.

A week passes, and then half of another one, in much the same fashion. They're in a strange sort of limbo as long as they're at sea where Jongdae and his crew work with the pirates when there are things to be done and relax with them when there aren't, sharing a table and sleeping quarters (though not, as far as Jongdae knows, the way he's sharing with Lu Han). It feels like they're free, but when it comes to what will happen to them on land, they're still at the pirates' mercy.

They don't see the new prisoners, who aren't allowed out on deck, and guarding them is the one task they're never given. The only reminder that they're still there is pirates disappearing through the door that leads to the cell to stand guard. Jongdae hasn't asked what's going to happen to them, but he suspects they won't be let go so easily.

Jongdae's still unsure about what he has going with Lu Han, but he doesn't fight it. Their time is limited and he can never quite forget that, but Lu Han makes him smile and makes him feel good, so he's decided to enjoy that while it lasts. It's been too long since he had something like this.

And then one day Lu Han announces that they should be about two days out from port. Some of the pirates cheer, but Jongdae doesn't feel happy. He feels a lot of things, all of them too complicated to put into words. Arriving on land means freedom, but what does freedom mean at this point? It's hard to see everything going back to the way it was. Surely the pirates won't give back everything they took, and even if they did, Jongdae's not sure he could go back to his old life like nothing has changed.

He sees similar worry on the faces of all his men, so he knows he has to say something. They've let the pirates equivocate long enough. Lu Han is looking at him like he expects the question anyway, so Jongdae steels himself and asks, "And what's going to happen to us when we get to port?"

"You'll go free, as I said before." Lu Han's voice is quiet, impossible to read.

"And our ship?" Jongdae presses. "Our cargo?"

Now Lu Han frowns. "Our ship took a lot of damage in that last fight. Without any goods to sell to get her fixed up, we're going to be in trouble."

"Then take some of our cargo," Jongdae suggests. "We only need to be able to make it home. But our ship."

Lu Han flashes a pleading look at Minseok, who looks pointedly back for a few seconds before he sighs and gives in. "You have to understand the position we're in," Minseok says, more firmly than Lu Han but also looking uncomfortable. "Maintaining the reputation that we do isn't just for fun. It protects us by keeping the less scrupulous kind of pirates away and by scaring ships into surrendering without a fight. If word gets out that we're so harmless we let a whole batch of prisoners go with their ship and most of their cargo, we're finished."

"Even though we saved your asses?" Baekhyun asks. "Anyone should understand that kind of debt."

"And then comes the question of how you were in any position to help us if you were all locked up, or why we needed your help in the first place," Lu Han points out, eyes on the ground. "I'm sorry, but it's too big a risk."

They're at an impasse. Jongdae doesn't like what he's hearing, but it makes an unfortunate amount of sense. It's more than just selfish pride that has the pirates worrying about their reputation. Lu Han may want to give Jongdae what he's asking for, but as the captain, has to think about keeping his crew safe, and about putting money in their hands and food in their bellies.

But so does Jongdae, and without their ship, he and his crew will be stuck wherever they land. They might be able to find their way home eventually, but they'll have lost their livelihood. Will they be able to find work on other ships? Will anyone want Jongdae after he's been captain of his own ship? He can't bear the thought of being stuck on land indefinitely. There's nothing for him back home, and he's not happy there. He'd feel like even more of a prisoner than he does here.

That makes him think of something, something that's crazy and perhaps stupid but also makes a certain kind of sense. "What if..." he starts, the idea slowly coming together in his mind. "What if you didn't let everyone go?"

"What do you mean?" Lu Han asks, confused.

"You can spin it how you like, but what if it was sort of...a trade? One person staying behind while the others go free with everything."

Not everyone gets it right away, but Junmyeon does. Of course he does; he knows Jongdae too well. "No!" he snaps. "No way."

Lu Han's eyes go wide as he also realizes what Jongdae is suggesting. "You'd stay here? While the rest of your crew went free?" Someone gasps behind Jongdae—Jongin, he thinks—but he ignores it and nods.

"Now hang on." Junmyeon grabs Jongdae's arm and drags him bodily away from the others, out of hearing range. "You're serious about this?" he hisses. "You're willing to become a pirate?"

Jongdae can't look him in the eye, whether because he feels bad for suggesting it or because he's afraid Junmyeon will talk him out of it, he doesn't know. "If it means the rest of you can go home..."

He's not surprised when Junmyeon won't let him get away with that. "Don't be an idiot. We'll find another way. We don't need the ship if it means losing you."

Guilt twists in Jongdae's stomach, though he can't say exactly what it's over. He's trying to help, but maybe he's being selfish too. "That ship is all I've got," he says quietly. "I can't be stuck on land. I don't have any family left. I don't have...anyone."

There's a long silence, and when Jongdae ventures a look at Junmyeon, his gaze is fixed on him, piercing. "Is that what this is about? You like him that much?" He's not judging, only disbelieving.

"I..." Jongdae frowns, trying to sort his thoughts out. He can admit that he's been sad at the thought of leaving Lu Han behind, but staying for him is another story. His reasons are more complicated than that, but Lu Han is a big part of it, isn't he? Jongdae wouldn't even think of staying if not for him. "I don't know," he admits. "But...yes. I think maybe I do. Like him. And I know what they did to us, I know it's all messed up, but I just...I can't help it. I really like him."

He watches the expression on Junmyeon's face slowly turn from shock to understanding to a sad kind of acceptance. Finally, he says, "I always thought we'd sail together for years, until we got too old for the sea."

Jongdae shakes his head. "I wouldn't have let you. You'll make too good a captain to be stuck as my first mate forever. You might even be a better captain than me."

Junmyeon shakes his head but doesn't argue, and Jongdae can see that he's happy about the compliment. "I thought you'd be the best man at my wedding, at least."

That's harder, because Jongdae may have nothing and no one waiting for him on land, but he does have his friends here, his crew who won't be that anymore if he stays with the pirates. Junmyeon is the best friend he has and they've been through a lot together. It won't be easy to say goodbye to him. Still, this doesn't have to be the end for them. "Even pirates must be able to get shore leave, right?" he asks with a tentative smile.

He's relieved when, after a moment, Junmyeon smiles back. "They must, especially if they're sleeping with the captain."

Jongdae laughs and gives him a playful shove. "I'm still your captain for a little longer. Show some respect."

Junmyeon is grinning, and it makes Jongdae feel like somehow, this will turn out okay. They go back to the others, and the pirates stop whispering among themselves.

There are a million questions in Lu Han's eyes when he looks at Jongdae, but all he asks is, "You're really prepared to do this? To become part of our crew? A pirate? You've only seen a small part of what that means."

It's scary, hearing it put so bluntly, but Jongdae is nothing if not determined, once he decides something. "I am. What do you say?"

Lu Han shares one more glance with Minseok, who just shrugs, before he says, "You have until we set sail to change your mind, but if you're sure, then all right. It's a deal."

The words sound so final, even though they're not yet, and Jongdae swallows down his fear. Just because it's scary doesn't mean it's a bad decision.

The pirates go about their business, but Jongdae's crew sticks around him. "Captain, are you sure about this?" Jongin asks. He's wearing his kicked puppy look, which makes Jongdae feel bad, so he forces a smile onto his face.

"You guys all worry about me too much," he says lightly. "I'll be fine. Nobody's forcing me to do this."

"I never thought you of all people would become a pirate," Chanyeol says uncertainly, like even he's not sure if it's a joke or not. "Kyungsoo, maybe, since he's scary. Or Baekhyun."

"Hey!" Baekhyun protests. "Though I would make a very dashing pirate, I'm sure. If not quite as dashing as Jongdae's pirate boyfriend."

Jongdae laughs and hits him on the shoulder. "That's right, you wouldn't." Then, more soberly, "It's not like I have to stay forever. I'm not selling my soul to them for all eternity. But for now, I'll be okay. You don't have to worry. Hey, I might even be a good influence on them."

A heavy silence follows. but then Kyungsoo, who's been looking at Jongdae measuringly this whole time, smiles and says, "Just don't forgot about us while you're out having pirate adventures."

"Never. I know you'd hunt me down if I did." Jongdae slings an arm around Kyungsoo's shoulders and everyone laughs, even Kyungsoo, even Jongin. Jongdae looks around at their smiling faces and thinks again, with a little more certainty this time, that this is going to be okay.

He doesn't get a chance to talk to Lu Han alone until that night. Lu Han sits down on his bed, still fully dressed, and looks at Jongdae seriously but doesn't say anything, waiting for him to start the conversation.

"If you were looking forward to getting rid of me, sorry." Jongdae says it like a joke, but it's not really. It's clear that Lu Han likes him, but they were both expecting this thing they've got going to end when they reached their destination. It's different now that that limit is gone, now that it has potential to be more than just a fling.

Lu Han doesn't smile. He still doesn't speak either, for long enough that Jongdae's thinking of how to break the awkward silence when suddenly he blurts out, "I don't want you to hate me."

"What?" Jongdae asks.

"I stole your ship. I took you prisoner and lied to you and messed with your head. I had you fight and killed someone for me. And now you're becoming a pirate and I don't want you to hate me for ruining your life." It comes out all in a rush. Jongdae suspects Lu Han has been thinking about it all day.

He walks over and sits next to Lu Han, giving himself some time to think about how to respond. "First of all, I volunteered to fight, and nobody pressed the trigger on that gun but me. And if you were listening earlier, you'll remember that me staying on this ship was my idea, not yours."

"Yes, but would never have suggested it if we hadn't forced your hand."

"Maybe not, but..." Jongdae stops to sort out his thoughts. "I remember you told me you became a pirate because there was nothing left for you on land and the captain was a good man. For me's been a while since I had anything worth going back to on land, and I think this ship's captain is a pretty decent guy."

That gets a little smile from Lu Han, so Jongdae continues, "And this, us...against my better judgment, I've gotten very attached to you. I do have reasons to, I can't seem to hate you at all. So if you don't mind me sticking around..."

"I don't," Lu Han says quickly.

It's what Jongdae thought, but it's good to hear all the same. "Then I'd like to stay. I don't know if it'll be forever, but I'd like to give it a try. I think I can get the hang of this pirate thing."

Lu Han smiles a little more at that. The tension is gone from his shoulders, but he still asks, "Is your crew mad at me?"

"They're getting used to the idea." Jongdae leans into him without thinking about it and Lu Han puts an arm around his shoulders. "But Junmyeon might be mad if I don't come to his wedding."

Lu Han chuckles "I'll see what I can do. Maybe I can be your date."

Jongdae grins, imagining that. Junmyeon's fiancée is a good woman. She probably wouldn't mind. "Maybe you can."

Lu Han turns to him, and Jongdae leans up to give him a kiss, as if to seal the deal. Jongdae thinks to himself that as strange as this whole situation is, as unexpected and uncertain, he feels comfortable being here with Lu Han. More than that, he feels happy.

* * *

Jongdae doesn't recognize the port they come into. "Top secret," Lu Han explains. "Pirates only."

"So it's okay for me to know about it now?" Jongdae asks.

Lu Han smiles, that surprised but happy one Jongdae always likes getting out of him. "I guess it is."

They find the remainder of the pirate crew already in town. Lu Han greets the one who seems to be in charge as Donghae, giving him a thump on the back. "Sorry we're late."

"We may have a buyer for the ship already," Donghae says, but Lu Han quickly stops him.

"We're not selling her after all." Off the other pirate's surprised look, he adds, "It's a long story. Come back to the ship and we'll explain."

Later, Jongdae accompanies his men (not anymore, but he can't stop thinking of them as that) to their ship. Seeing her again, Jongdae can't help feeling a pang of doubt. This is his ship that he worked so hard to get and has so many fond memories of. Can he really let her go so easily? It hurts to think about, but he trusts Junmyeon to take good care of her, and that eases the blow somewhat.

They spend a week in port having repairs done on both ships and finding some trustworthy men to help get Junmyeon and the others home without most of their crew. They spin a story of Jongdae being held behind and turning pirate (or, if you ask Baekhyun, whose story gets more over the top every time he tells it, nobly sacrificing himself to save his crew), and no one questions it too much when the story of the Exotic Pearl defeating their vengeful former captain is much more interesting.

The other prisoners disappear without Jongdae seeing them go, and when he asks what happened to them, Lu Han only says, "It's better for you not to know." It's a shock to see Lu Han with his eyes so hard, but remembering the battle and the stories he's heard, Jongdae can't feel too much sympathy for those pirates who not only sided with the old captain but came back to kill their former comrades. They made their choice.

All too soon, they're ready to set sail, and Jongdae has to face the reality of his decision. He has dinner the night before on his old ship with his old crew, and in spite of the parting hanging over their heads, the atmosphere is light and filled with laughter. Jongdae is happy about that. It's better to spend the time they have left together like this.

When it's time for Jongdae to say goodbye, he can see that Junmyeon, who's always been a big softie underneath his sternness, looks like he might cry, and Jongin too, so he makes it quick. "It's been an honor to sail with all of you. And who knows? Maybe we'll do it again someday. I'm sure we'll meet again, sooner or later."

"I hope you feel bad leaving us with Junmyeon as captain," Baekhyun tells him. He likes tearful goodbyes even less than Jongdae does. "He's not going to be nearly as easygoing as you."

They all laugh, Junmyeon included. "I'm glad you appreciate me," Jongdae says.

There are hugs all around, and Jongin stares at the ground and tries to pretend he isn't crying, but Junmyeon keeps it together. Finally, sad but determined, Jongdae leaves alone.

It's late by the time he gets back to the Exotic Pearl, but he finds Lu Han waiting for him. "Keeping watch," he says, but he's not really because he takes Jongdae right to his quarters.

Jongdae isn't crying, but his eyes are burning and he tries to blink the feeling away. It's not that he regrets his decision, but he regrets that it means leaving his friends. He's known it was coming, but it's harder now that it feels real.

"Are you okay?" Lu Han asks gently.

Jongdae considers. "Not really," he admits. "But I will be, so for now, distract me." He pushes Lu Han toward the bed, and he goes willingly, his lips curling into a smirk.

"I can do that."

The next morning, they're up early to leave with the tide. Jongdae starts to dress like he always does, but Lu Han laughs and stops him. "Enough with the stuffy merchant captain look." He pulls Jongdae's jacket out of his hand and tosses it aside, then unbuttons the top two buttons of his shirt and, upon reflection, a third. He stands back to admire his handiwork before pulling a bright red cloth from his trunk and tying it over Jongdae's hair.

It feels strange, but Lu Han looks pleased with himself. "There. Now you look the part." He leans in for a kiss, which starts to get heated before Jongdae reluctantly pushes him away. "We have things to do, remember?"

The deck is already bustling with activity, more people than Jongdae is used to seeing around now that the whole crew is assembled. He's still getting to know the pirates who didn't sail with them before, but they've all accepted him readily, to Jongdae's surprise.

"We're used to picking up strays," Lu Han explained with a grin when Jongdae commented on it. "And it doesn't hurt to have the captain vouching for you."

Jongdae joins in the preparations, until soon enough, they're ready to go. Lu Han finds his way back to his side and asks, "You ready?"

He's not, really, but he probably never will be. Sometimes you just have to do things no matter how unready you are and hope for the best. "As I'll ever be," he answers dryly.

Lu Han smiles before he orders, "Weigh anchor!"

Jongdae stays standing next to Lu Han as they sail out of the harbor, looking forward to the sea so he doesn't think about what he's leaving behind in the port. It's not easy to turn his back on his friends and the life he's led until now, but it's not as if he as nothing here.

"Good to have you with us!" someone says, clapping him on the back just a little too hard. Jongdae looks up to see Tao, wearing a big, warm smile that makes him look not scary at all. Jongdae smiles back, and Tao looks awfully happy about it.

On his other side, Lu Han is still looking out toward the open ocean, but he reaches blindly for Jongdae's hand and gives it a squeeze. "It'll be good," he says firmly. "You being here. I mean, I don't know, you never know, but...we'll make it good." Then, a little more quietly, "I'm glad you're here."

Jongdae squeezes back in answer, and turns his eyes to the water again, feeling the sea breeze on his face. He's feeling a lot of things right now, a complicated mess of emotions, but above it all, he's excited to be back at sea, and to find out what's ahead of him. Only time will tell how this works out for him, but he's not alone, and circumstances are what you make of them. Like Lu Han says, he'll make it good.

(Feel free to comment here or back on LJ. :) )

Date: 2014-09-23 07:14 am (UTC)
charliebnim: (Default)
From: [personal profile] charliebnim

Date: 2014-09-23 08:10 pm (UTC)
charliebnim: (Default)
From: [personal profile] charliebnim
Hello //waves excitedly// !!!! i'm so glad you wrote this! i liked luhan a lot here! tbh i thought he had a reason to choose Chen's ship first !!!

Thank you so much for always writing such good things ! they make my heart beat faster !!! <3


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