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The Keys to Reality

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“Jeremy! Don't touch that!”

“Michael? Guys? What are you doing here?”

There was a loud crash, then the sound of rushing wind.

People screaming.

“Jenna!”

“Christine! Don't go after her!”

More screams, and people crying.

“Jeremy, run!”

“Michael! NO!”

The sensation of being pulled down into a swirling vortex.

Darkness.

 

 


Jeremy woke up with a groan. His head was throbbing and he didn't know exactly where he was. The hammock he was lying in swayed slightly with the movement of the room. It was quite relaxing, if a little unnerving.


“What a strange dream…” Jeremy murmured aloud, shaking his head. He looked around the room again, noting the sway and the table full of maps. Wait maps? Oh yes, the maps!
Jeremy sprung out of his hammock and scooped up a number of the maps and tools from the desk, bringing them up, outside and onto the deck of his ship.


Quickly, he used his tools to identify where he was (about half way to his final destination, and maybe 16 miles too far to the east) and placed a marker on the map. After stowing them back away in his cabin, Jeremy went and weighed anchor, setting a course for the island.


He had to find the Fallen Angel! That ship, and more specifically her captain, had stolen Jeremy’s beloved Christine! Merely days before they were supposed to be wed, no less! Jeremy, being the devoted husband he would be (actually, just a good friend for now, but he was told they would fall in love eventually) of course Jeremy was the one to go after his betrothed.


His time at sea had been a lonely one so far. True, he had very little to learn, being a travelling merchant’s son did help him gather some useful skills. However, no one was willing to travel with him, too afraid of the crew of the Fallen Angel. They had a fearsome reputation, having never been caught and anyone they take never returning, and their captain, Blood Coat, had a bounty on his head for one hundred thousand crowns.


Jeremy didn't care. He just needed to rescue Christine.

 

Of course, Blood Coat had a reason to be feared. He was one of the most notorious pirates active, known for his kidnapping and ransom. There were very few people who knew what he looked like, most never being seen again after being taken by his greedy hands. Jeremy shivered. Christine would not be one of those people. She was too kind and too sweet to suffer like that. So he would have to get her back, no questions asked.

 

Checking his compass, Jeremy adjusted his course a little. Christine was his best friend, he had to save her no matter how scared he was. Even if he didn’t know exactly who he was up against (except that he wore a blood red coat) or if he was a little lacking in the muscles and fighting departments or if the crew of the ship he was pursuing was known to never keep prisoners alive unless it was to ransom them... okay, Jeremy was actually terrified. Why did he ever think this was a good idea? He would have been better off leaving Christine for dead like everyone else. But then, she was his best friend, his only friend really. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he didn’t at least try.

 

Being so enamored in his own mental prep-talk, he didn’t notice that his small ship was being tailed until it was too late. He was only aware of the other ship when he heard the sound of metal against wood. Whipping his head around, he saw that plenty of hooks were pulling his ship close to the towering vessel. He could feel his pale skin go ghostly white as he read, in neat paint, the name Fallen Angel on the side of the ship.


Before he could react, he saw someone’s form swing on rope, landing on his deck with a roll to his feet and a flourish of a sword to his neck. The manic look in the shorter male’s eyes matched the fiery streak in his hair. “Boo.”

 

Jeremy didn’t move, didn’t fight back, didn’t even dare to breath for a second. Then, as if being possessed by some higher, more skilled force, he grabbed the man’s arm and yanked him forwards, trapping the sword in the ship’s wheel. Obviously, the man wasn’t expecting him to actually do anything, and was caught off guard, giving Jeremy a chance to quickly unsheathe his own sword and get into a shaky stance. He was ready... sort of. ‘For Christine.’

 

He could see genuine shock on this pirate's face. It lingered for a second or two as Jeremy prepared himself before he managed to untrap his sword as Jeremy readied himself. There was something in his eyes that Jeremy did not like, a smirk on his lips. "Oh, so you do have some skill in those skinny arms of yours? Alright then, give me your best shot."


As he finished, he lunged forward at Jeremy. In the background, Jeremy could faintly register more voices, as well as the sound of wood being shifted before a loud 'thunk' as he realized they put a board between the ship so he could be overtaken.

 

Jeremy swiftly (and clumsily) swatted the blade out of the way. This was not part of the plan. He was supposed to sneak in and sneak out. Not be caught in an all out battle! Still, the did his best to parry every attack, not having enough time to actually fight back but also managing to avoid being hurt so far.

 

Being so caught up in parrying, he didn't realize he was being backed up. He stopped when he felt his back pressed against something- correction, someone, as arms grabbed him. They hooked under his arms, lifting him up and having him drop his sword onto the deck of his little boat.


The tip of the blade he had been parrying gently prodded at his chest, only enough to leave a small hole in the fabric. "You have some bad perception, tall ass." The man looked over at the others who he realized boarded him ship, which was an array of women and a man, and the man was currently holding him still. "Loot his vessel, girls. Jake, tie him up and get him ready to meet with Blood Coat. He's not very happy with with you."

 

Jeremy struggled, to no avail. The man holding him was very strong and Jeremy didn’t get an inch of leeway as he was brought to the other ship. Drawing every ounce of courage he had, Jeremy glared at the short man, trying desperately to ignore the fact that he was about to be face to face with one of the most dangerous pirates around!


“Where is Christine?” he spat, feeling rather proud of himself for not stuttering or even shaking too much. The two men laughed as Jeremy was tied up, leaving him helplessly kneeling on the deck in front of the cabin door. Nausea crept up his throat but he did his best to squash it. There was still a chance, he could still help Christine. He just... had to help himself first.

 

The agony of waiting was slowly killing him, especially as he saw the three girls who had been on his ship hauling over all of his goods from his ship.


After what felt like an eternity of waiting, the cabin door swung open. Jeremy was sure he was going to meet his doom here, so the details of Blood Coat were going to remain lost to all others. He did, indeed, wear a coat as red as blood to start. He had tanned skin and black hair, partially slicked back but a curly, wavy mess otherwise that was somewhat tamed with a red bandana and his captain’s hat. He wore a slightly puffy white shirt and black pants that hung loosely above his white leather boots. His framed face (literally, he had glasses) held brown eyes that, if not for the circumstances, would win him over.


Jeremy, however, was trying his best to keep himself calm and collected as he was stared down with a look that made his stomach drop off the edge of the ship. "So, you've been trying to track my ship, you scum? You think a bag of bones like you could do something? You must have a screw loose up there, because anyone with half a brain knows not to come after the Fallen Angel."

 

Jeremy met his stare with his own, furious eyes. He would not cower, he would not show fear. Despite the fact that internally, he was sure his insides turned to liquid (though not only from fear, strangely), Jeremy remained proud. He was the son of James Heere. He would not break under pressure. That’s what he told himself anyway.


“You have my fiancée. I’m here to make sure she gets home safely.” There was a barely there tremor in his voice, but Jeremy tried to ignore it. He was here get his best friend back, he wasn’t going to let anything stop him as long as he had an ounce of fight left in him. “So where is she? Christine Canigula. Is she safe? Alive? Because if not, I can promise you you’ll receive hell from me and my family.”

 

As Jeremy spoke, he could see Blood Coat's face harden before he took out his sword, placing it right against his Adam's apple and drawing a drop of blood. The temperature in the air felt like it dropped a little before the pirate captain spoke.


"You are not to worry about her. The only thing that you should be concerned or not is if we decide to ransom you off or have balls chained around your ankles and let you sink to the bottom of the sea. We do not take kindly to those who try to force us to do anything, do you understand?"

 

Jeremy held back a gulp and tried his best to stare Blood Coat down, even as he started shivering from fear. He couldn’t maintain his calm facade for much longer though, suddenly understanding why the man was feared at every port. He opened his mouth to respond when a shrill, familiar, cry of, “Stop!” echoed around everyone.


From a trap door, Christine popped out, looking healthy and comfortably dressed in clothes similar to the pirates who had captured him. She ran over to Blood Coat and smacked his arm (the one not holding the sword), looking as furious as she had ever managed. “Bad Michael, don’t hurt him!” In an instant, she was kneeling next to Jeremy, grabbing his face and looking him over. “Are you alright, Jeremy? They didn’t hurt you, did they? You stupid boy, you weren’t supposed to follow me!”

 

Jeremy sighed in relief, sagging slightly against her. “Chrissy! You’re okay!”

 

“Wh- Christine, we told you to stay below deck! We were keeping you from returning to your arranged marriage!” the man with the red streak nearly screeched as Blood Coat stared at Christine, his intimidating look gone.


“Christine, you never told us that Jeremy and the man you were being forced to marry were one and the same. I could have sliced his throat open.”

 

“Yeah, well I didn’t expect this idiot to try to follow me,” she scowled over at the pirates before turning back to Jeremy. His head was almost spinning from the quick change which overcame Blood Coat. In an instant he had gone from fearsome pirate to normal guy, friendly even.


“Chrissy, I don’t understand, what’s going on?” Jeremy found his breathing evened out a little as he looked over his best friend. She looked better than she had ever since the marriage was announced five weeks ago. Chrissy lightly smacked him around the head and messed up his hair. It was a familiar, comforting gesture.


“I couldn’t marry you, Jeremy. I couldn’t do that to either of us, not when you’re like a brother to me. So I ran away. Mi- I mean Blood Coat picked me up from the docks and took me in after seeing how happy being out here made me.” She pressed a quick kiss to his forehead. Jeremy sighed, allowing himself to forget that he was tied up on one of the most feared ships ever. A small, exasperated smile spread onto his face.


“You could have just told me, Chrissy. You know I didn’t want it either, we could have figured something out. But you’re okay now, right? Happy?” he asked softly, just indulging in the feeling Chrissy being here again.

 

Christine nodded to that, giving Jeremy a big smile. “I’m happier than I could have ever been, being forced to do whatever task because we were going to be married. No offense, Jeremy, but being a household lady or helping out merchant duties is just not my thing.”


She looked out over the sea, over the side of the boat, and smiled. “I can be free out here to do what I want! M- Blood Coat and his crew took me in and helped me become part of their family. I help where I can and can entertain everyone with my theatrics! It’s just amazing, and I can go around and see the world to boot!” As she spoke and rambled happily, her eyes lit up like how Jeremy remembered when she was having, quoting the girl herself, ‘mad, gigantic feelings.’

 

“You’re looking like your old self again. And if they’re treating you right, that’s enough for me.” Jeremy grinned at her before looking up at Blood Coat, feeling so much calmer. If Christine was happy and safe, Jeremy didn’t care about much else. Hell, he wouldn’t even care if they left him on a deserted island at this point, at least he wouldn’t have to take over the family business. “I won’t tell anyone she’s still here. I’ll say I never found you and no one will be any wiser. Thank you for helping her.” he said clearly, sincerity coloring his tone.

 

When he looked at Blood Coat, he could see a few emotions running across his face before he spoke up. “You’re alright with her staying and never seeing her again? Won’t you miss your best friend?” There seemed to be something else he was thinking about, but he didn’t pipe up about it (at least, not yet).

 

Jeremy shot Christine a small smile. “Of course I’ll miss her. She’s one of, if not the most, important people in my life. But I want her happy above all else and if she gets that out here, with you, then that’s enough for me.” He looked back up at the pirate, his gaze open and honest.

 

Blood Coat seemed to hum in thought for a minute. “The most important person in your life... That makes sense, as you came after one of the more dangerous ships in the seas just to get her back. If you’re going to lose the most important person to you, what are you going back to?”

 

“Not much, admittedly.” He sighed, the familiar tiredness flooding through him. He did not want to be a merchant, even if he was decently good at it. “True, my father is wealthy and I live in comfort, but it seems I’m destined for a life of boredom. He’s a merchant, and I doubt he’s even noticed I’ve been gone. The wedding was cancelled when Christine disappeared so he would likely be just fussing over his wears, as usual. That’s the life I’m in for, ending up like him...” It wasn’t often someone actually asked Jeremy on what he actually had, everyone saw wealth and assumed that was it. So when he was asked, he couldn’t help but say it all.

Because of that, he was even more surprised when the sword Blood Coat had swung at him. Oh, maybe he was going to put him out of his misery instead of living such a life?


Nope. The ropes tied around him dropped, and he saw Blood Coat sheath his sword as he reached a hand out to him. “Well, how about you ditch that? I hear there is a pirate crew that is willing to take people out of terrible life situations and let them join the family.”

 

Jeremy blinked, trying to get his bearings. Blood Coat was offering him a place on the crew? Just like that? Surely, it was too good to be true... but then the same happened with Christine. Slowly, he reached out and took Blood Coat’s hand, a small, shocked smile on his face. “Really? Because I think I would love that.”

 

Blood Coat’s hand gripped his tight as he yanked him up to his feat, catching Jeremy as he stumbled onto his feet by wrapping an arm around his shoulder. “Great! Honestly, I would rather not have to do another ransom gig right now, and you seemed too cute to kill.” Wait, what?

 

“Cheers for our newest member of the crew: Jeremy!” Before he could process what was happening, everyone on the ship was cheering, the intimidating aura and coldness the ship held being replaced in an instant. It was honestly a bit jarring, though invigorating as well.

 

Jeremy shot Christine a helpless glance, but she was cheering along with the rest of the crew, giggling a little as well. Jeremy couldn’t help but grin, his head spinning with the abruptness of it all but a strange warmth bubbling in his chest, sort of like happiness but somehow more.

 

After the warm welcome, Blood Coat, though he was told to call him ‘Michael’ when they weren’t around other pirates, let him be shown around by the first man he met. “Rich here will show you around and help you meet everyone. I have to finish charting some things and make sure we get to port safely to restock ourselves for a journey we have going on.” With a hardy few pats to his back, Blo- Michael left, shooting the pair a near-blinding grin before disappearing into his quarters.


Now alone, as everyone else hurried to continue their previous duties, Rich turned around and gave Jeremy a wide grin. “Good to have you on board, tall ass!” ... Did he always have a lisp? “Sorry about before, but orders are orders and you also impressed me for a second. I couldn’t just go easy on you, you know?” He gave him what Jeremy knew Rich thought was a light, friendly punch, but it actually hurt.

 

Jeremy chuckled awkwardly, rubbing his arm. “It’s... fine. You guys have a reputation to uphold, right? I get it, it is... was pretty much the same for me.” He looked over to his ship, seeing the other man rolling a barrel onto it and setting a charge. “Is... he going to blow up my old ship?”

 

Rich looked over, and seemingly was unable to keep himself from letting out a brief burst of laughter. "Mhmm. Can't let anyone know you're with us now, they gotta think you're just gone. Y'know, become one of those missing people that was 'never seen again.'" He used air quotes at the end of his sentence as the other man seemed to be finishing up. "You're doing great, Jake!" He got a thumbs-up back at that.

Jeremy blinked then grinned widely. “Awesome.” He looked around, noticing how every person in the crew seemed to be pretty happy, very content at the very least. It was unusual, every other ship everyone always seemed to be downcast. Maybe it had something to do with Michael? He seemed to be really nice, not at all like the stern, commanding captains on his father’s ships. Jeremy turned back to Rich. “So... where are we headed now? And what can I do to help?”

 

Looking back at him, Rich hummed as he walked, seemingly expecting for Jeremy to trail along after him (which... he did do). "We're heading first to port to restock, but we're heading to an island after that to follow this lead Michael's gotten. We're trying to stop someone else from getting something that should never fall into the wrong hands, and we're either gonna hide it all once we've found it or destroy it," Rich explained as they walked by someone steering the ship, who just waved after Rich practically yelled for her attention.


"Oh, and that's Chloe. She's in charge of all of our loot and money, but when she isn't, she's switching off with Jake over on your ship to steer us around. Jake's also our weapons master. He loves things that explode and go 'boom.'" As if to prove his point, Rich made an exploding hand motion and mimicked the sound.

 

Jeremy giggled, nodding. “I can understand that.” He paused, thinking over what he had been told. “I might be able to help Chloe with the loot, I’ve got a pretty good eye for good craftsmanship,” he mused happily.

 

"You can talk to her about that later, right now we-"


"Watch out, backs to the boat!" Quickly, Jeremy was turned around, and prompted to cover his ears. He could see Chloe groan for a moment as Jake swung back over to the ship, landing with his ears covered just as the sound of a muffled explosion went off, heat warming his back up. "Whoo!"


"Nice one, Jakey," Rich said after uncovering his ears before high-fiving Jake. Looking back, Jeremy could see the remains of his boat, and his previous life, burning and sinking into the sea as they were steered back on-course.

 

Jeremy’s eyes went wide and a sort of manic giggle escaped his lips. “I really do never have to go back, do I?” Jeremy whispered, giddily, looking at the remains of his ship. He was free. He never needed to go back to boring lectures and counting cash and sorting stock. He could actually do something useful and he could spend time with Christine anytime he wanted and he got to spend time on the sea, which was his favorite part of being a travelling merchant.

 

He felt a hand pat his shoulder, and he looked up to see Jake, looking at him with a relaxed grin that contrasted the wild, excited look in his eyes. "Nope. Have fun touring, 'm gonna go take care of some weaponry stuff." Jake shot some finger guns to the pair before heading somewhere below deck.


"You're probably gonna have some kind of energetic high, but make sure to get it out before we make it to the market," Rich told him before leading him below deck, heading towards the kitchen area.

 

“Okay!” Jeremy chirped, his mood skyrocketing. He felt giddy, but also a little detached. Like he was dreaming. Still, he followed after Rich, a sort of spring in his step. Even if this was a dream, he was going to enjoy it. “So, how many people are on the ship?”

Rich seemed to think about it for a second before answering, "With you now on-board? Eight. We aren't a big ship and aren't a huge crew compared to others, but that's because Michael just takes us in and do what we need to help others. You got me, I'm the first mate, and then you already know Jake, Chloe, and Michael. Christine told you what she does too... All that's left is Brooke and Jenna."


As they walked into the kitchen, one of the girls who helped loot his ship popped up from where she was hidden behind some counters. "Someone call for me?" she asked, short strands of blond hair sticking out from her bandanna-wrapped head.


"Yup. Showing the new guy 'round," Rich told her before the girl hurried over, though made sure her bandanna was still tight around her head.


She stuck her hand out to Jeremy then, a warm smile on her face. "It's nice to meet you without having to tie you up! I'm Brooke, I do the cooking and healing around here."

 

Jeremy took her hand instantly, a bright grin on his face. Something was just... likable about Brooke, he couldn’t explain it. She sort of radiated sunshine, kinda like Christine did. “Nice to meet you! I’d really love to learn a bit about healing, it’s a fascinating subject. Also, I really like your bandanna.”

 

What he said seemed to really make her happy, as she bounced on the balls of her feet for a few moments. "I'll definitely teach you, and thanks! It's one of my favorites, Christine actually got it for me last week when we were restocking." She took her focus off of Jeremy for a moment before yelling, "Rich, get away from the stew! It's not done yet!"


Looking back, Jeremy saw Rich back off, grumbling as he crossed his arms. "Hey, you need a taste-tester sometimes, don't'cha?"


"Yeah, and when I do, I'll ask for one."

 

Jeremy chuckled at Rich’s pout. “Looks good, Brooke! I’m looking forward to eating it!” He really was. Jeremy hadn’t had a proper meal in two weeks, his ship wasn’t equipped for cooking really and he didn’t know how to cook anyway. Maybe Brooke could teach him a little of that too. Jeremy followed the still grumbling Rich out of the kitchen with a cheery wave goodbye to Brooke.

 

"OK, so the last person's Jenna. She's probably cooped up in the crow's nest or something," Rich said, waving to Christine as they passed her doing some reading in her hammock. "Also, we're passing by where we all sorta sleep. Michael initially wanted us all to have rooms but that was a bit ridiculous, and it's nice and homey this way I guess."

 

Jeremy looked around the crew’s quarters, shocked at how nice they were. They were well lit by windows and the multiple oil lamps hung on the struts (turned off at the moment). Small chests for personal belongings (as well as a few spare off to one side) were stacked next to each hammock, making it feel really cozy. Jeremy loved it instantly. “This is way nicer than any crew quarters I’ve ever been in. It’s so... cozy! Like it feels just like a normal room!” He grinned before looking at Rich properly.

 

“Wait, he wanted everyone to have rooms? But he’s the captain! He’s the only one who gets a room normally!” Jeremy paused for a second, taking it all in with a massive grin. “I really think I’m gonna like it here. Michael seems like the most fair captain I’ve ever seen and everyone is so nice.”

 

"Well, Michael's basically taken everyone in. He just wants the best for us," Rich said, though he was smiling despite his nonchalant tone. "We'll get you your own little area later, but for now, we find Jenna."


They made their way above-deck then, and Rich put his fingers in his mouth before letting out a near ear-splitting whistle. "Jenna, introduce yourself to tall-ass!"

 

Jeremy rubbed his ear a little, worried he had lost a little hearing from how loud that sound was. Yet another thing to learn. He watched as a slightly chubby girl, with her hair in a purple ribbon, slid smoothly down the ladder, gracefully stepping away from it and turning to Jeremy. Deciding that he might as well be the polite one this time, he stuck out his hand.


“Hi, it’s nice to meet you.” Years of forced meeting with his father meant that Jeremy had a sort of confidence when it came to introductions at least. And he was feeling a little more of the nervous energy burn off, although that excitement Rich had mentioned was still bubbling close to the surface.

 

"Hey, nice to meet you, glad you're sticking around," she said as she took Jeremy's hand and shook it, having a tight and strong grip before letting go. "So, what can you do? Michael's currently charting stuff out for our excursion, so we need to know where to place you and how you can help us." As she spoke, she was seemingly eyeing him up, which made sense if she wanted to know where he went. Still, it didn't make him feel any better to be looked at in such a scrutinizing way.

 

He resisted the urge to squirm, another benefit from merchant training, and stood a little straighter. “Well I was training to be a merchant, so I can work with people for the most part as well as get better deals, if that is any use to you guys. I’m fluent in three? Yeah, three languages and I’m decent with forgery in all of them. Plus I already have the basics for sailing and I have memorized about five of the most popular trading routes, so I can tell you when it would be most dangerous to pass around those locations.” He wasn’t really sure what she wanted, but his answer seemed to satisfy her mostly.

 

"OK, we'll see how you are at the market when we get there. Are there any on-board skills you'd be good at? We already have a sailing crew with Chloe, Jake, and I, as well as Rich when he's not busy helping Michael." Her arms rested on her hips as she seemed to wait, all while Rich seemed to go off somewhere while she was interrogating him.

 

Jeremy shrugged helplessly. “I don’t really know? Like I’ll help out anyway I can, I’m a quick study, but I can’t say I was really allowed to help while we were travelling at sea. Wasn’t proper for me to or some such nonsense. My dad was kinda strict about all that.” He chuckled nervously. “He didn’t even know I knew how to sail at all. I had to learn in secret from some of the boys on-board whenever he was asleep.”

 

Jenna seemed to narrow her eyes as she looked him over once more before waving a hand. "We'll start teaching you basics and see where you fit best, we're doing that with Christine too. Do you have any kind of survival skills? From what I saw from the lookout, your swordsmanship is abysmal, but isn't hopeless."

 

“I’m not much of a fighter, but I am pretty decent with potions. I can make all sorts of things like mini bombs and smoke screens and stuff like that. I can also usually figure out what things are made of given enough time. And while I can’t cook, I can identify a good number of plants which are edible or just useful in general. There was still a lot for me to learn with that, but I could find something useful in most environments by this point.” Jeremy was proud of his potion skills, it was the one thing he actually liked about his old studies. He could whip of a batch of most basic potions in a matter of hours at this point, as well as some of the more rare, complex ones. While he wasn’t the best at using them right for things like healing, he knew how to make them.

 

The other nodded as she took this in, and it seemed like she wanted to say more when an arm wrapped around Jeremy's shoulder, bringing him close and scaring the hell out of him. "Jenna, stop interrogating him, he's not a hostage or anything."


"We need to know what he can bring to the table, Michael," the girl said as she crossed her arms over her chest, a brow raised.


"Yeah yeah, but we need to just relax a bit right now and still celebrate our newest crew member! We're having a nice meal and then resupplying our ship, and then we're going to relax with Jeremy here." Michael squeezed Jeremy around the shoulder before looking down at him, a warm yet playful smirk resting on his lips. "Isn't that right?"

 

Jeremy nodded eagerly, trying to calm his racing heart. “Y-Yeah!” He grinned, gratitude apparent in his every movement. “This ship is really awesome, Michael. And everyone here is so cool!”

 

Jeremy had felt drawn to Michael ever since he had invited him to join the crew, he just relaxed Jeremy somehow. It was like, the moment he stopped being Blood Coat, Jeremy wanted to be near him. Maybe it was just the genuine kindness and joy he radiated. Still, the cynical part of him (trained into him by his parents since birth) was sure that this was all a ruse and everyone would rip the rug out from under him any moment.

 

"Well, I'd hope so. I wouldn't want you stuck with some shitty group of people that you end up hating as your family." Standing up then, Michael quickly ruffled his hair before quickly whistling (it wasn't as sharp and harsh as Rich's) before waving down Chloe and Jake. "Anchor down soon, we're gonna eat and then travel the last twenty minutes to the docks! Brooke's making stew!"


"Hell yeah!" Jake called as he hurried to set anchors while Chloe made sure they were in a good spot to stop, hidden from view of other ships with the nearby land masses that provided cover naturally.

 

Once the ship was properly settled, he felt Michael's arm around his shoulder again, tugging him down to the stairs. "C'mon, Brooke's a phenomenal cook!"

 

 



After they ate their meal, happily conversing and allowing Jeremy to know them further (Brooke definitely had a thing for Christine, Michael had been doing this for a few years now, and everyone on board except for Jenna were rescued and brought 'into the family'). It wasn't much longer after he helped Brooke clean up everything that Rich snuck in and popped up behind Jeremy, teasing in how he startled him. "Come on, tall-ass, time to see if you're all bark and no bite! Show us your market skills with our food and getting yourself some new clothes."

 

Jeremy looked down at himself with a sigh. He did stand out a little, these were a little too nice for his new life. Thinking for a second, Jeremy nodded. “Get me a list,” was all he said.


At the market, Jeremy was armed with a bag full of coins and a decent sized list of supplies. There were a lot of islands in the area that they were travelling to, but Michael apparently liked to be prepared. While Jenna went over to talk to someone about organizing the water barrels, Jeremy quickly purchased himself a new outfit (at three quarters the price he would have normally paid for it). It was simple, just a soft pair of pants, a comfortable striped shirt (it was really soft!) and a warm, blue jacket.


Once he had gotten himself changed (so as not to stand out as someone from money) Jeremy went over to the first stall they needed for food. He knew the crew were all watching him, but he also didn’t feel nervous. As much as he hated his job before, he was good at it.


For a while, everything went well. Jeremy managed to haggle prices down a good chunk each time, and had no problem securing everything he had been asked to get. It wasn’t until he went to go and buy Brooke a new pot that he encountered a problem. “Excuse me? But that’s way too much, especially for a pot like this.” He kept his temper, he had probably misheard the merchant. “A pot like this is worth about twice as much, son. I’d recommend you take the deal.”

 

Okay, that was it. Jeremy’s eyes narrowed and he poked the bottom of the pot. “It’s a fake, the mark on here is not from the next village over as you claim. It’s the mark of one Darius Smith, a man known for lining his pots with toxins before selling them. Now, I’m sure you don’t want to get into trouble, sir, so I suggest you lower the price to something a little more reasonable, or else I’ll be forced to report you. You can let me go and tell the guards that you’re intentionally selling poisoned goods. Now, you sniveling ass monkey, what’s it going to be?” The man sputtered and Jeremy threw a few more insults his way, not restricting his tongue like he usually would. He grew up on the sea, he’s heard his fair share of creative swears. He even used the one Christine shot over to him, enjoying the familiar rush from lashing someone verbally.


A few minutes later, he practically skipped back over to the group, holding the pot and feeling very proud of himself.

 

Everyone seemed to have some different form of a shocked reaction at this except for Christine... and Michael, who just looked extremely impressed. Christine took the pot from him, looking it over as she exclaimed and chattered happily on about Jeremy's outstanding bartering skills, as well as his bullshitting.


Michael just let out a low whistle, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his pants (everyone was dressed like normal civilians, otherwise they would be recognized in a second, especially Michael with his signature coat). "Wow, I'm impressed. You're our new shopper, sorry about that. Never have I seen such amazing shopper skills."


Jenna just nodded, and seemed to be adding this to her mental list of details about Jeremy.

 

“Awesome! Man though, that merchant was an asshole. Charging so much for a bog standard pot like this.” He nudged Chrissy playfully. “He ate up the Darius Smith story though, didn’t he? Man, I thought for sure he’d call me out on it.” Jeremy chuckled to himself.

 

Brooke looked confused. “So wait, is this pot poisoned or not?”

 

Jeremy genuinely laughed at that, a loud, wheezing chuckled that was quite infectious. “No, it’s not! Darius Smith doesn’t exist, it’s just my go-to name when I’m bullshitting someone. He was charging twice the price for pots from the mainland. No way was I letting him get off easily with that! The pot’s fine, I promise.”

 

Chloe just was stuttering in confusion for a moment at Jeremy while Rich's jaw practically dropped. "Well, we definitely needed a barterer on the crew, so I'm glad we got you," Michael said, smiling down at Jeremy before he held some of the bags of stuff they got for some of their supplies. "Now, let's go back and get to know Jeremy a bit more before bed, and we head out to the first stop of our journey in the morning."

Chapter Text

It had been a week since Jeremy had joined the crew, and honestly he couldn’t be happier. While he didn’t have any specific jobs usually, he helped out everyone and was learning as he went. Everyone had seemed to accepted him as part of the crew after the market situation (as he called it in his head).


The island they were anchored off the side of looked nice enough. It was lush and green and untouched by human hands. Jeremy couldn’t place why he felt both drawn to it and utterly repulsed at the same time. “So what are we here for again? I know it’s suppose to help us stop some bad guy but I don’t understand exactly how.”

 

"Basically, there are these pieces of a map and compass scattered everywhere, they're very hard to locate and get," Jenna started to explain as she and Jeremy were waiting for the others to get ready (well, Michael, Rich, and Christine, as there needed to be some people to stay back with the ship). "They lead you to The Keys to Reality, which is rumored to be able to let you alter and bend reality to your will, or something along those lines. The person who is after it is someone we all know is bad news. He's not really known to the public, he keeps himself well-hidden, so only crews and those always on the seas know of him, merchants and sailors excluded. He and Michael... sort of have a bad history together."

 

“The Keys to Reality...?” That sounded familiar. A sort of pain behind Jeremy’s eyes flared up and for a split second he thought he saw a glass ball with three golden bands inside it, cupped in his hands. The thought faded as quickly as it appeared, and Jeremy brushed it off on too many stories from Rich.


“Okay, so can I be part of the landing party? If nothing else, I’m good to send in to check for traps.” Jeremy giggled to Michael, helping load some small provisions into the dingy. He knew he didn’t do massive amounts on the ship and really wanted to prove that he was worth his keep.

 

Michael looked up at him then, teasingly narrowing his eyes as he sized him up. "Hm... Well, I know that you've been getting better with your swordsmanship too, so don't knock yourself down on that. Sure, just be careful."


Rich let out a small 'woo' as he ran out from below deck, Christine in tow. "Tall-ass has his first excursion! Let's see how well he can do and if he can keep impressing Michael." As he teased Jeremy, he gave him a cheeky grin before hopping down into the dingy.

 

Jeremy flushed and playfully shoved Rich as he climbed in behind them. Once Michael was in, Jake and Chloe lowered them down into the water and they set off. Rich insisted that he, and only he, row them to the island. Jeremy’s as grateful, it wasn’t far, and he developed a new sense of respect for Rich’s stubbornness.


They arrived on the beach and, once the boat was pulled up out of the water, they set off into the forest, apparently following a trail that Michael knew about and could actually see. Jeremy saw nothing, but he had quickly learnt to trust Michael’s judgement.

 

"Alright, so what I've gathered about this place is that there are supposed to be mermaids in the cave. Who knows if they're mischievous or not, so try to avoid them at all costs," Michael informed the crew as they walked, making sure to lead them through the thicker foliage of the island. "Jenna, what part of the compass is hidden here?"

 

“The case. It’s the biggest piece I think so that should make it a little easier.” Jenna nodded, looking calm and thoughtful. Jeremy on the other hand, suddenly felt a strong pull towards a small path off the side of their own. He put his hand up, calling for a stop.

 

“Do... do you guys feel that? Hear that?” he asked quietly, focusing hard to try and identify the feeling.

 

Everyone else in the group looked curiously at him then. "No?" Christine asked, reaching over and grabbing his hand for a moment. "It's probably just nerves, I was full of 'em on my first excursion. C'mon."

 

Jeremy shook his head, trying to clear the feeling out from it. “It’s probably nothing. Let’s keep going.” As they walked, Jeremy would constantly find his attention drifting, no matter how hard he tried to focus. And this wasn’t from fear or nerves, this was something different, something more pleasant.


Eventually, they came to the mouth of a large cave. Jeremy felt the strange feeling here even stronger, even though the others still seemed oblivious to it. “Okay, am I seriously the only one getting weird vibes from this place?”

 

"I mean yeah, it has to be if it's keeping one of these compass pieces. They're all supposed to be well protected and hard to find to begin with. Hell, Michael's been figuring this shit out for months to find where each location is with all the possible information to find," Rich said, though quickly added after getting a look from Jenna, "But Jenna helped out a lot too!"

 

Jeremy barely heard him, suddenly feeling a strong pull to go into the cave. “Yeah that’s... great.” He stumbled forwards, taking a step into the mouth of it, not really aware of his movements. He needed to figure this out, the weird feeling and why did he think he could hear singing?

 

Everyone seemed to notice this, especially with the faint sounds coming from further within the cavern. "Hey, be careful," Michael warned as they walked in, though Christine hurried a few steps ahead to keep a hand on Jeremy's arm, of course being the first to notice how off he seemed.


"Jeremy? What's wrong?"

 

“Can’t you guys hear that? It sounds... amazing...” Jeremy slowly kept walking forward, eyed going a little glassy as he focused on listening, not so much on really seeing. He could almost make out the voice this way, a woman was singing. And she was calling to him specifically, she knew his name and everything! She wanted to hold him, keep him safe and loved. That sounded really, really nice.

 

He could faintly hear everyone else calling to him, but Christine's shaking of his arm seemed to fade slowly as she seemed to hone in on the singing too. "Oh wow, that... that is amazing," she said, almost gasping it out as she walked forward in stride with him.

 

Jeremy felt a little pride in the fact that he had led Chrissy to the nice voices. Now he was closer, he could make out several ladies singing all with beautiful voices. Only one was singing to him, though. The cave opened up to a massive, tall cavern with a blue, glowing lake at the bottom of it. Stairs spiralled down the walls, making the walk easier.


The pretty sounding ladies were sitting in the water and Jeremy let himself just walk to them, relax enough that he didn’t have to think. She wanted to love him, to hold him. How could he not want to go to her?

 

 

 

Michael, on the other hand, was watching as Rich and Jenna seemed to hone in on these ladies as well. "Guys? Guys-" He heard what Jeremy was talking about now: the singing. One of the ladies sitting in the water was singing right to him, and he just stared and blinked a few times, the sound seemingly soothing at first before his head ached. "What the-"


The realization hit him as soon as the headache started, as the music of female sirens didn't work on an extremely gay man. Their hideous forms were evident as they were guiding his friends down into the water. "Of fucking course it's sirens, god damnit." Hurrying to get in front of Jeremy, the one closest to descending the stairs, he shook his shoulders as he tried to remember how to break the spell of sirens. "Jeremy, listen to me, not the singing-"

 

Jeremy softly bumped into him and pouted up at him with bleary eyes. “Bu’ she wan’s to c’ddle, Michael. Why can’t I have c’ddles? No one ever c’ddles me...” His words were slurred and for a second it looked like Jeremy might actually pay enough attention to Michael to snap out of it. Then his lips spread into a dopey grin and he leant against Michael, trying to get past but not having the brain power to figure out how at the moment.

 

Of course, as a gay captain who was secretly fond of Jeremy, he felt his cheeks flare up at this. "Jere- We can cuddle, but later, you need to snap out of this!" He even tried snapping his fingers in front of Jeremy's face a few times, his free hand checking in his pockets for something, anything to stuff his ears as his friends got closer to walking past him and down the stairs.

 

Jeremy apparently only heard a small chunk of what was said, because he sighed happily and wrapped his arms around Michael loosely. “M’kay. We can c’ddle ‘nstead.” He nuzzled softly against Michael’s shoulder, apparently satisfied. Well that solved one problem at least. Now how to deal with the others? He couldn’t just dump Jeremy or he’d be back to stage one!

 

Michael groaned as he went and shifted, picking Jeremy up and adjusting him to be piggybacking him. "Jeremy, I need you to wrap your legs tight around my waist and neck, OK? I need both of my hands free."

 

Jeremy did as he was told, sighing happily again. Geez, how touch starved was this boy that something as simple as a piggyback was enough contact to keep him away from a siren’s spell? He’d need to address that later, for now though he had a crew to save.

 

Michael grabbed the rope length from over Rich’s arm and quickly began rounding them up. Firstly Chrissy, because she was the next closest to the stairs. She came back without a fuss as he bound her hands together and tied them to a stalagmite. One down, two to go. And Jeremy still seemed to be very content, nuzzling against Michael’s shoulder again with a small, sleepy giggle.

 

Rich was a bit harder, as he actually had some strength to fight back, though he was able to coerce him into stumbling back enough for him to trip. He tied him up around a stalagmite as well, and quickly did the same with Jenna on the opposite side (though she struggled enough to give him some bruises he'll feel later).


Glancing back, Michael saw Jeremy still holding himself close and tight to him, which made him both flustered and saddened. His attention was quickly drawn away, however, when he heard the growls from the sirens in the water. Looking over, he saw their hideous true forms all staring at him, anger in their beady eyes as they started to move close to land. "Hey, sorry that I wouldn't let you eat my friends. God, I have such terrible morals," he almost grumbled out as he got his sword out. "Jeremy, hold on tight and no matter what, don't let go, OK?"

 

Jeremy nodded with a sleepily mumbled, “M’kay.” Great. So, with Jeremy secure Michael started down the steps. The sirens watched him carefully, anger and hunger present in their every twitch. They were super pissed that Michael had stolen their food. Peering into the water, Michael noticed something he didn’t see before: the bottom of the pool was lined with skulls. ‘Yeah, need to get rid of these things ASAP.

 

"Hey, you fishes hungry?" Michael teasingly waved his leg out, knowing one of them would be stupid and pissed enough to take the bait.

 

Sure enough, the one that had been singing to him before took it. They lunged forward, but didn't have enough time to react to Michael's leg pulling away, the blade of his sword taking its place as it swung down, cutting through the neck of the creature before the blood began to murk with the blood of the siren. "Sorry, me and my friends are not food. Maybe you guys'll like my blade better than this one, hm?"

 

One of the sirens looked at the still-bleeding corpse of her sister before grabbing her and swimming away down the tunnel at the other end of the pool. Judging by the marks on the rock around the pool, it led to the ocean. Hopefully that would be the last he saw of her.


Two more sirens stared at him, obviously more intelligent than their sister. One of them started to scream, causing pain to spike in his ears. Jeremy’s grip tightened on him as he lost his balance and tripped into the pool. The sirens were on him in an instant, biting and pulling at him with their clawed hands, but the pain plus the shock of the water seemed to wake Jeremy up.

 

He released Michael and started treading water, trying to get his bearings. When he saw the sirens, apparently in their true form, he gasped and pulled out his own sword. He slashed at one of the sirens, pulling her attention away from Michael. “Leave him alone!”

 

The siren Jeremy attacked hissed at him, letting go of Michael to let her sister grab. He was being held tightly now as the siren was trying to bite him hard enough and frequent enough to have him lose strength and consciousness due to blood loss and the saltwater irritating his wounds. Despite this, Michael still managed to keep a decent enough grip on his sword to turn it in his hand and stab backwards, managing to get the siren in the gut.

 

Said stabbed siren let out another ear-piercing scream as she dug her nails one last time into Michael before letting go, limp as her body fell into the water. The siren's sister seemed to debate before grabbing her sister as well and swimming off, both making the water murkier with their shared blood loss.

 

Jeremy swam over to him and instantly pulled him back ashore. Seeing how heavily Michael was bleeding made his skin go even more pale. He looked really pretty in the blue glow, all soft edges and gentle lines. Michael knew that the blood loss was affecting his head a little, possibly also the siren blood and venom which undoubtedly had gotten into his wounds, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Jeremy was fussing over him, ripping off his shirt (a plain white one, similar in style to Michael’s) and wrapping it tightly over the bite wound.

 

“That should hold you until we can get back to the ship... the scratches aren’t too deep luckily, but I’m worried about that bite…,” Jeremy mused softly to himself.

 

Michael just hummed in response as he couldn’t help but shut his eyes, feeling too at-ease to really worry about it. “It’s fine, I feel great,” he tried to tell him, leaning his head back against the nice, cool rock of the shoreline they were on. “It’s so nice here, I just wanna relax here and maybe nap a bit...”

 

Two arms wrapped around him, pulling Michael to a sitting position. He opened his eyes dazedly. Jeremy looked really worried and was shaking his head. “No, Michael. You can’t, not here. Er... how about we head back to the ship, yeah? Then you can sleep in your cozy bed.”

 

Jeremy did make a very good point, and with the way he was holding Michael, he wasn’t sure he could deny Jeremy anything that sounded so sweet. He nodded, and Jeremy smiled in relief.
“Great, now, I’m going to help you stand up and we’re going to climb these stairs. After that all you gotta do is let Jenna carry you, m’kay?” Jeremy really had a plan here, didn’t he? He was being smarty again, which always made him proud. Jeremy was awesome. Even as Jeremy pulled him to his feet with a groan from both of them, Jeremy didn’t stop being awesome.

 

Michael did his best to walk up the stairs with Jeremy, though he felt heavy and too relaxed to move too well. Jeremy helped him though, even if he was groaning. God, just how awesome could Jeremy get?

 

"Jeremy, what happened? Why are we tied up and- oh god, Michael, what happened to you?" Looking up, Michael saw Christine and the others all tied up for some reason.

 

"I stopped you guys from getting eaten by sirens, but then I fell into the water with Jeremy 'cause he wouldn't let go and he was riding on my back. They bit me instead of you guys, but I feel great!" As he spoke on autopilot, not really conscious or aware of what he was saying, his legs seemed to give out from under him, though that was fine because then he could nap, right?

 

Jeremy, who had not been expecting that, was pulled down with him. For a split second,Jeremy was lying on top of Michael. Then Jeremy was up, on his knees and forcing Michael to lean against the wall of the cavern. “Don’t nap yet, Michael. Hold on for your bed, remember?” Michael pouted but didn’t argue. He was right that Michael had said he’d wait for bed. Maybe Jeremy will stick around for that.

 

Jeremy was gone for a moment, quickly undoing everyone, before he was back by Michael’s side. “C’mon, Michael. Just a couple more minutes until you can sleep. Just stay up a little bit longer...”

 

"Mm... fine," he said, though sighed as he was helped up by Jeremy and Jenna.

 

"There aren't supposed to be any more threats here, but don't forget what to do just in case," Rich told Christine, who nodded and took her sword out. Michael just squinted at them, though smiled because Rich was being so good and helping Christine out. "You guys get him back quick, that siren venom'll only make him conk out sooner the longer you wait. Brooke needs to get the wounds looked at quick and all bandaged up so he doesn't bleed out."

 

"Of course, you two be careful," Jenna said before picking Michael up, which he couldn't help but smile about. Jenna was so strong and helpful! She was really comfy too, though, and it was hard for him not to fall asleep with how relaxed he felt as she walked out with him and Jeremy. He tried really hard to keep his eyes open, because he did promise he'd wait until he was in bed to sleep... It was getting really hard to keep his eyes open, though.

 

Jeremy poked his cheek, grinning softly at him. “Don’t sleep yet, Michael. Bed, remember?” Jeremy’s eyes darted around before landing on something. He reached down and came back into view with... a leaf? Jeremy put it in front of Michael’s face. “Here, chew this. It should help keep you awake for a bit longer.” Michael opened his mouth obediently and started chewing on the leaf. It tasted really nice, sort of sweet, and Michael could feel a little fog clearing away from his mind.

 

“What was that, Jeremy?” Jenna asked curiously.

 

Jeremy chuckled. “It’s called a slush plant. They grow everywhere and are brilliant to keep the brain going. I used to use them when pulling an all-nighter. The flower would have been better but they only bloom in winter, so the leaf is a good substitute. The nectar lasts longer. Either way, It should give us another 10 minutes before he’d need another dose, but we should be by the ship by then, right”

 

"Hopefully, as long as nothing else distracts us," Jenna told Jeremy as she adjusted her hold of Michael a little. Michael just hummed as he leaned against her, watching Jeremy since he was walking in front with a smile. He really knew so much about plants; he himself had no idea about that! Jeremy really was super smart. So awesome.

 

They did seem to go a bit slower, Michael grumbling a little bit as he felt the urge to sleep getting stronger and he was sure that it had been more than a few minutes. Was it so hard to ask for sleep, especially when he felt so relaxed and at ease, not to mention tired?

 

Jeremy smiled down at Michael, before going off to look for another slush plant. Jenna was getting tired and Jeremy couldn’t carry Michael so progress was slower than he would have liked. Grabbing a fistful of leaves from another slush plant, Jeremy’s head bolted up at the sound of a low rumble.

 

A wild cat of some kind (was that a leopard?) was crouching in front of Jenna and Michael. It must have smelt Michael’s blood. Jeremy had seconds before it pounced on Jenna, who couldn’t defend herself. Quick, Jeremy, think!

 

Jeremy scooped up a rock and tossed it at the leopard. It turned its attention onto him instantly, growing and hissing. Jeremy took a step backwards, then another. Then he pounced at the leopard, screaming and brandishing his sword. It took a deep cut along its side and apparently decided that this meal was too much work because it slunk off. Jeremy was left panting as he gave the half awake Michael more leaves to chew on.


“Let’s get going, I know I’m starting to fade a little too. My side hurts a little.”

 

Jenna glanced, looking and seeing a slash in his side, presumably from the siren before nodding. "Yeah, of course. Thanks for that, by the way," she told him before hurrying as best she could to get to the dingy.

 

Once they were there, Jeremy got in first, then Michael, who she let lie down in the little boat across one of the seats with his head in Jeremy's lap, before she got in. Michael just hummed, seemingly comfortable and relaxed despite the wound that was bleeding through the shirt that wrapped his wounds. "Mm, can't I nap here? It's close enough to my bed," Michael asked, looking up at Jeremy with a sleepy haze still evident in his eyes as Jenna started rowing them back to the Fallen Angel.

 

“Not just yet, Michael. Five more minutes. That’s all. Otherwise, we won’t be able to get you into bed! Not without waking you and I’m sure you want a good, long nap, right? Besides you won’t be able to get comfy properly! This can’t be too soft after all,” Jeremy argued gently, smiling down at him. Jeremy reached around and muttered a quiet apology before pressing on one of Michael’s scratches. Michael hissed in pain, but some of the sleepiness faded from his limbs.

 

Rubbing near the scratch Jeremy pressed into, Michael let out a whine as he looked back up at Jeremy. "I mean, the boat isn't, but you're comfy," he told him, the filter gone with how relaxed and calm the venom made him. "Plus, the boat's movin' a lot like how the ship sways so it's pretty close..."

 

Jeremy flushed a bright red but smiled thoughtfully. “Okay then, I’ll make you a deal. You wait until we get to your bed, then we can cuddle. Then you get cozy bed and comfy Jeremy.” If possible, Jeremy’s blush got stronger.

 

Seemingly unaware of this, Michael just smiled up at him and nodded, which essentially had him nuzzling against Jeremy's thigh. "OK, that's good. Cozy and comfy..." From where she was rowing in the boat, Jenna looked at Jeremy, a curious brow raised as they were approaching the boat.

 

Jeremy shrugged helplessly at Jenna’s look. “I don’t know! I’m trying alright?” As soon as they were by the ship, Jeremy did the special whistle that Rich used grab to Jenna on the first day. Jake’s face appeared over the side of the ship and Chloe wasn’t face behind. “Get us up there! Michael’s lost a lot of blood and got bitten by a siren and I don’t know how much longer we can keep him awake!” Chloe sprinted off and Jake dropped the ropes so Jenna could attach them. Within seconds, they were back up on the boat (Jake was very strong) and Brooke was holding a potion to Michael’s lips with an encouragement to drink.

 

He would be okay, now that he was back on the ship. Jeremy swayed a little, his own wound finally catching up with him as well as the exhaustion and adrenaline crash. He totally forgot about his own promise as he passed out, falling backwards onto the dingy.

 

 

 

When he felt himself waking up, he was swaying to-and-fro in what he recognized was his hammock. Looking around, he saw that Christine was now patiently sitting by him in a chair, reading a book. She quickly noticed him looking through, and practically leaped out of the chair, the book almost falling to the ground as she started fretting over him. "Oh my gosh, you're finally awake! We were worried, especially after all of the siren business. Michael's still asleep, but Brooke quickly patched you up once she was done quickly working on him, and she's with him right now as she's trying to stitch up some of the gashes he got. You only had one though, and you were thankfully unconscious during it so you didn't feel the pain-"

 

“Chrissy, my head kinda hurts. Chill out a bit.” Jeremy sighed, sitting up as best he could. His side still stung and his head ached a little at the back but he felt fine for the most part. Still, that wasn’t the most pressing issues in his mind right then.

 

Slowly, and despite Chrissy’s multiple warnings not to, Jeremy climbed out of his hammock and started towards the cabin. “Where are you even going?” she asked, sounding annoyed but resigned. Jeremy smiled and shook his head.

 

“I told him I’d be there with him. So I’m going over,” he explained, a certain level of protectiveness in his tone. Then again, everyone felt that way, everyone loved Michael.

 

Christine seemed to frown at that before sighing. "Alright, but you better be careful, you're still recovering," she warned him as she walked with him out of the room and up to the deck. "Michael might not be feeling so hot right now though, I think Brooke's stitching him up. She had to wait until she disinfected it and cleared out all of the siren blood, which was not fun."

 

As if on cue, a pained noise could be heard coming from the captain's quarters as Jake was leaving the room. He stopped when he saw the two though as the door shut behind him, the worried look he had replaced with a more carefree one. "Hey, good to see you up Jeremy. I'd say to wait a minute before going in, Brooke needs to concentrate right now. She even kicked me out, and I've been her dutiful assistant!"

 

Jeremy nodded and leaned against the wall, his limbs still a little tired. “I’m glad he’s going to be alright, it was a fight to get him back here..” Jeremy paused, sighing. “I can’t believe I passed out. My injuries weren’t anywhere near as bad as Michael’s, and I didn’t go through nearly as much, I don’t think.” He grumbled, his voice a mixture of playful complaining and genuine shame. “To be fair, though, I don’t remember much...” He shot a glance over to Christine. “Do you? ‘Cause for the most part, the only thing I really remember is a voice promising me... something before I woke up hitting the water with Michael.” ‘It promised you affection and love, and you almost fell for it! How pathetic is that? Can’t even get being entranced by a siren right,’ he admonished mentally.

 

His internal reprimands didn’t go unnoticed by either Christine and Jake. “You know it’s not exactly easy to throw off a siren song, right? Like only someone with no attraction to women at all can, and even then it’s only if there isn’t something they desperately want.” Jake quirked an eyebrow. Of course the only time he’d be properly perceptive was to sort of tell Jeremy off. He flushed lightly under the scrutiny.


Christine nodded as well. “Plus you went through a lot to get back here. Jenna told me about the leopard, that was really brave and smart. Your body just isn’t used to the fear and pain levels of everyone else’s yet. And mine isn’t either.” Jeremy flushed a deeper red at her compliment.

 

“Yeah, you did well. Hell, I think we’re all proud of you,” Jake told him, and Christine nodded along with him. “I think even Jenna was impressed, especially with helping Michael stay awake. None of us would’ve been able to do that, so you’re a lifesaver.”


Jeremy felt his cheeks warm up even further at Jake’s additional compliments. He went to argue, though he wasn’t too sure on what his argument would’ve even been, but the door opening cut him off.


Brooke stood in the doorway, wiping off a little blood from her fingers with a cloth. She gave a weary smile to the three before speaking. “He’s all patched up now. I gave him a relaxant that should help him sleep, but he’ll be up for a bit longer if anyone wants to check on him.” Her gaze shifted over to Jeremy, who she quickly checked out before humming. “You should be better after some rest. Your wounds were a bit deep, but I disinfected them. I can remove the stitching by tomorrow evening, I believe. I’d suggest resting, but I think I remember Jenna telling us that you promised Michael that you’d rest with him tonight.”


There was no teasing or malice in her tone, maybe because she was exhausted from working. Brooke only smiled as she gently nudged Jeremy’s shoulder before heading off. “I need to check on how Chloe and Jenna are doing with dinner though, so excuse me.”

 

Jeremy, face still flaming red from the praise, properly stood. He knocked and half stumbled into Michael’s room. He was sitting up on the bed, shirt off and covered in bandages, and he shot Jeremy a bright but tired grin as he walked in. Jeremy felt worry bubble in his gut, but Michael was alive and aware, so he felt a little better. “Hey, Michael. How are you feeling?” he asked gently, a soft smile on his lips. He walked over to the bed, doing his best to stop himself tripping with how weak his legs felt.

 

“I’m exhausted, honestly, and I don’t feel like shit because Brooke gave me the good shit.” Michael, with his glasses resting on top of his head, rubbed at his eyes as he let out a soft groan. “Being awake when you’re getting stitches is awful though, wouldn’t recommend it.” As he said that, he picked his glasses up off his head and reached over to place them on his bedside table, hissing as he did so. Well, Brooke did just give him the relaxant, so it made sense.

 

Jeremy perched lightly on the bed, another pulse of worry rushing through him. “I’m glad I was passed out for mine, then.” His tone was light, but then shifted to something softer. “Anything I can do to help before you head off to sleep?” Jeremy didn’t know why he didn’t just say he wanted to sleep here too, to look after Michael, but something made him almost nervous. Which was stupid, he was straight, he shouldn’t be nervous about wanting to look after his friend. Besides, the idea of suggesting that sort of affection made him squirm as well.

 

Michael looked over at him then, seeming as if he was honestly thinking it over. “I... I feel like we talked about something when you and Jenna were taking me back. It’s sort of a relaxed haze though, which makes sense with siren venom- make them so calm and at ease that you don’t feel or care about them eating you.” The Captain shuddered for a moment at the thought before refocusing himself back up at Jeremy. “Did we make a promise or something?”

 

Jeremy flushed bright red again, very clearly remembering what he had told Michael. “I- er... well you kept trying to go to sleep, so I made you promise to wait until you were in bed, right? But then on the dingy you were leaning on me and said I was comfy, so I said that I’d nap with you when we got back on the ship to help make you wait? It was just a stupid suggestion but it seemed to be enough to get you actually stay awake and I’m not exactly opposed to the idea because I’m worried anyway. And- er.... yeah...” he trailed off from his mumbled explosion, feeling supremely awkward.

 

When he looked up to watch Michael, preparing for him to tell him to leave, he was met with softened features that seemed to be thinking. After a few moments of what must’ve been internal debate, he patted next to him before slowly sliding himself down to lie in bed, hissing through shut teeth as he did so. “Well, I waited,” Michael said through gritted teeth, letting out a groan as he managed to lie down in bed. “I’m a man of my word, and I wouldn’t mind someone watching out for me. Those sirens did a number on me, god, and I remember thinking you were comfortable anyway, and you seemed comfortable when you were piggybacking with me so it’s a win-win.”

 

Jeremy seemed to be in a state of perpetual blushing, but something about the way Michael said that so casually that it just relaxed him somehow. He felt a lot of the awkwardness melt away and he smiled. “If... if you’re sure...” Slowly, Jeremy slid himself under the covers, his own wound stinging painfully as he did. He bit back a hiss of discomfort and settled down next to Michael. Luckily, their wounds were mainly on opposite sides, so Jeremy was able to lie next to Michael without worrying about hurting him. He didn’t reach out yet, but he lay down close by, feeling relaxed. Then something else registered. “Wait, you carried me? When?”

 

Michael looked over at him then, lying flat on his back before he let out a sigh. “Right, you probably don’t remember anything until you hit the water. Well, I tried stopping you first since you were the closest to the sirens, but all you wanted was some affection and cuddling. I was really worried about you, still am a bit if that’s all it took for you to be under their song, but then you agreed to stop as long as you could be close. I had you piggyback as I tried to fight them, but then we fell into the water and you know the rest.” As he spoke, he moved his hands along with what he was saying, and it oddly seemed to make sense as he looked up at the ceiling of the cabin.

Jeremy looked away. “I do sort of remember that. I remember what they were telling me and then it was like the pull wasn’t enough because I felt warm and safe. Like I was getting what they were promising at that moment.” Jeremy’s mouth ran off without his consent, but it was out there now. No taking it back. For some reason, that sort of made him happy. He noticed Michael looking a little worried still, so he continued. “I guess I’m a little touch starved? It wasn’t appropriate for my parents to really show me affection what with their status or something, so I only really got any from Christine, and when we were travelling, which was most of the time...”

 

He let that hover in the air for a moment. Then Jeremy felt a warm arm around him and try to pull him closer. Jeremy moved with it, if only to stop Michael from hurting himself more.

 

“Well, it’s a good thing you’re with us now. I’m a very affectionate and tactile person, so this works out for the both of us,” Michael told him matter-of-factly, resting his head against Jeremy, on the edge of his shoulder as the arm around Jeremy’s side stayed. “Hope that it helps and we can keep you from being touch-starved.”

 

As always, the friendly contact sort of buzzed under his skin. It wasn’t unpleasant in the slightest, though, more like he was hyper aware of the touch and with so many points of contact, it was a little much. Slowly, the feeling became less overwhelming and Jeremy found himself relaxing into it, really enjoying the warmth it inspired in his chest. His head started to fuzz up both from the contact and exhaustion. “Thank you, Michael,” he murmured sleepily, half nuzzling against him.

 

He could hear Michael yawn as the covers shifted, being pulled over the pair, presumably by Michael with his free arm. “‘Course, it’s the least I could do for what you did. Now let’s sleep, you’re gonna need it for when Brooke removes your stitches tomorrow.” There was a slight teasing tone in his voice, mixed in with the sleepiness that was presenting itself.

 

Jeremy hummed happily. “M’kay.” He has barely registered what Michael had said, too comfortable and warm to want to stay awake. “G’night Michael…,” he mumbled, asleep before he even heard the reply.

Chapter Text

After the island escapade, they set course for the next island, which Michael told everyone would take near a month to get to. Over that time, Jeremy seemed to get closer to everyone and take up the resident position that everyone affectionately (or teasingly) called “ship’s cat.” Hey, he lounged around a lot and took cat naps, and became fickle in what he did or didn’t want to do, though was always determined to get what he wanted when he wanted it (it was usually snuggling with Michael, though Brooke took that place if he had work that needed to be done).

 

Everything seemed to be coming together quite nicely, and Michael couldn’t help but admire his family’s ease with one another.


The ease stuck around as they docked for a few hours. “Alright, good luck with the shopping, Jeremy and Chloe. I’m heading to the port’s pub to see if I can get some gossip or any news about him.” Even if Jeremy still didn’t know the name of him, he understood the general premise that it was the guy they didn’t want getting their hands on the Keys to Reality, so he nodded along with Chloe. “Good luck, and get us good deals.”

 

Jeremy seemed to redden up at that, which Michael couldn’t help but find endearing as the two went off. Michael just smiled as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his simple civilian clothes before making his way over to the port’s pub.

 

When he walked in, the smell of good food and drinks mixed with the conversations of either sailors or locals. Normally, it would be a bit overwhelming, but he woke up in a good mood today. He was easily able to sit down at the counter and order himself something to nibble on as he sipped some cider, just trying to make sure he stayed calm and collected before trying to reach for some good gossip.

 

A gentle tap on his shoulder brought him out of his mental prep. Turning, he saw a woman with long, ginger hair and intelligent, blue eyes standing behind him, a small, curious smile on her face. “Sorry to intrude, but I couldn’t help but noticed I’ve never seen you around this port before. Are you a traveler?” She had a heavy accent, but Michael was terrible at placing them. At a guess, he’d say French, but it was only a rough guess. It didn’t seem to be quite French, something was a little off.

 

“Oh, yeah, I am. I’m just traveling a bit and needed to stop for a few hours for some food and good company. I’m Michael, it’s nice to meet you...” He knew it was safe to give his name, as no one knew him as anything other than Blood Coat besides his crew and mothers.

 

She grasped his hand firmly, meeting his gaze. “Madeline. Madeline Blanc. It is a pleasure to meet you, monsieur.” Michael instantly noted the familiar pattern of calluses on her hand; she worked on a ship too. “Forgive me if it is overstepping my boundaries, monsieur, but you have the air of confidence that only a captain can manage. Would it be agreeable with you if I could buy you a drink? Captain to captain? I’m sure you have many enjoyable stories you could tell.” Her voice was friendly, yet not flirty. It was pretty obvious that she wasn’t interested in him for anything other than his stories at least.

 

He just nodded, sure he could do just that. Maybe he could get some interesting stories too. This wasn’t unfamiliar to him, after all, as he had done this a multitude of times with other captains that, if they knew who he truly was, wouldn’t give him the time of day, much less be able to think anything good about him. “Sure do. It’s the least I could do for a nice drink, Miss Blanc.”

 

Madeline giggled a little and sat down next to him, waving over the barkeep. “Another cider for my friend, please sir!” she called, and within seconds Michael found himself with another drink in front of him. Sipping at it, he noted it tasted a little sweeter than he had expected, but it wasn’t unpleasant in the slightest. If anything, it made it taste even better. He greedily took a gulp before turning back to Madeline. “So, Michael-“ She pronounced his name funny thanks to her accent. “Tell me about one of your adventures, and I shall tell you one of mine.”

 

Michael rested his head in his hand, elbow on the bar top as he seemed to think one over that would be safe to tell. “Well, I have to tell you about this one with this lunatic pirate captain who had this ethereal monster that kept ticking-“

 

 

Three drinks later, Michael couldn’t help but laugh as Madeline finished telling a story. All of the drinks he had were sweeter than the next, but he knew he needed to cap himself off from anymore because his sweet tooth would be the death of him. “Wait, you sure you aren’t messing with me, Miss Blanc?”

 

“Of course not! Those giant squid had what was coming to them, and their calamari was delicious.” They both broke out laughing, but Michael could tell that Madel- no, Miss Blanc was waiting for something. When he asked about it, she waved him off. “Oh it’s nothing. I was just wondering if you would accompany me, at least back to my ship. I need to set sail soon but I would love to spend more time talking with you.”

 

He didn’t see anything wrong with that in his mind, as long as he came back to meet with the others, right? Plus, when she mentioned it, Michael really did want to spend more time chatting with her too. “Yeah, that sounds great. It’s been a pleasure being able to talk with you. You honestly have such interesting stories, Miss Blanc.”

 

“Thank you, Michael.” She grinned, her voice genuine. Michael grinned right back at her, never feeling so relaxed around someone who wasn’t his crew or his mothers.

 

 


Jeremy walked into the pub, ready to grab Michael. He had managed to get all the supplies, no problem, and the rest of the crew were ready to set off as soon as they had their captain. When he reached the pub, however, he was met with an unsettling sight. Michael was chatting happily with a very beautiful woman, which wouldn’t be an issue normally. But he seemed off somehow, like he was moving through honey. And his expression was slack and dazed. Jeremy ducked down behind a stack of barrels, watching and listening in. As Michael stood, the moment was too fluid. He usually moved with high energy and purpose, this seemed almost sleepy and like he was waiting for something.

 

“I shouldn’t take up too much of your time, Michael, come along,” the mysterious girl said, and Jeremy watched as Michael just nodded along, his eyes seeming to flicker with a flash of neon green before he followed her along, right up and out of the bar with purpose.

 

“Of course, Miss Blanc.” Obviously, all of the alarms went off in his head, especially with how... off his voice sounded. The only way he could describe it was ‘blindly obedient,’ which made his skin crawl as he made his way to quietly follow along behind the pair, being as discrete and unnoticeable as possible.

 

The two ahead of him continued chattering in a friendly manner, but Jeremy could hear less and less of Michael and more and more of this ‘Miss Blanc.’ He knew he should alert the crew somehow, or do something but he didn’t know how. He could barely fight and if he left Michael he might lose him permanently. So for now, he followed, and prayed that someone would find him. They weren’t too far from the docks, so there was still a chance.

 

As Jeremy fiddled with his fingers as they stayed stuffed in his cardigan, he couldn’t help but feel his stomach churn at what ‘Miss Blanc’ was saying. “Michael, I can say that I surely would miss you. You’re such great company to have around.” There was sadness, but Jeremy could detect that it was all bullshit. Michael, unfortunately, seemed unable to do so, his face falling a little at her words. “Plus, you seem like you’d be a great help.”

 

The pair stopped near the docks, and Jeremy was quick to hide himself before he was noticed. The area was empty for the moment besides the three, so it took all he had not to scream when he heard Miss Blanc command, “You need to come with me, Blood Coat, because I couldn’t stand not having you around. Plus, I have someone who really wants to meet with you again who misses you.”

 

“Yes, Miss Blanc,” was the only response she got, and Jeremy felt his heart drop into his stomach as his voice seemed to become less like Michael and more monotone, as if he wasn’t really present.

 

“Good boy,” he heard the other say, watching as she patted his cheek mockingly. “Oh, maybe that will be your new title. Yes, you seem to love following me around like a stupid, lost puppy.” Any kindness this girl held in the pub was gone as she laughed, snapping her fingers as she continued her walk, Michael obediently close by her heels as Jeremy saw the neon green from before haze over the brown of his eyes.

 

Jeremy’s gut twisted in both fear and revulsion. She knew Michael was Blood Coat. And she had him under some sort of spell. And Jeremy was basically helpless... except at that moment a hand covered his mouth, muffling his scream. “I don’t know why you’re hiding, Jerry, but you’re going to tell me why and why you look so sick to your stomach,” Chloe hissed and Jeremy felt himself relax. They stood a chance at getting Michael back now. Quickly, and still following the pair, Jeremy caught Chloe up to speed. Her eyes narrowed in recognition when she heard Miss Blanc’s name and actually saw her face.

 

“Oh, I remember her. I knew her before Michael took me on board. She’s a sword-for-hire, and she tends to go along with whatever scum pays her the best. She also is horrible at pretending she’s French, ugh. If she has Michael, then this isn’t good...”

 

A realization seemed to dawn on her before cursing. “Oh, I know exactly who she’s working for. She’s been hired by the guy we’re trying to stop, Squip, who is the guy that Michael hates the most, and vice versa.”

 

Jeremy fought a shiver of fear at the name. He didn’t know why, but it made him feel sick and almost felt like he was being struck by phantom lighting. He ignored it as soon as the sensation passed.

 

Jeremy pointed at one of the ships, which Miss Blanc and Michael were still walking towards. “That’s her ship, the French Lilly. I heard her mention it. By the looks of the build and the sails, it’s actually a lot slower than the Fallen Angel. Are we better off trying to take her ship or what? We can’t let her take Michael to Squip.”

 

Jeremy felt anger and determination well up inside him, to levels he didn’t know he possessed. He just knew that she was humiliating and insulting Michael, with her horrible nickname and her dirty tricks, and that Michael could not be let anywhere near Squip, no matter the cost.

 

“Even if I don’t want to leave him alone with her, it’s better if we go back to the Fallen Angel and follow her out of the port. We don’t have to worry then about ruining our civilian reputations or fear being discovered.” Chloe grabbed onto his hand, reluctantly tugging him along as he watched Madeline lead him to her ship, the gang plank lowering for them to walk up and onto the vessel.

 

 

 

Less than an hour later, the the Fallen Angel was in pursuit of the French Lily, with Rich at the helm, barking orders. The speed of their ship was easily out matching Madeline’s and it would only take minutes before they were close enough to use the harpoons to grab her.

 

Rich turned to Chrissy and Jeremy, who had been helping Jake get the weapons ready. “I want you two to stay in Michael’s cabin, this is going to be dangerous and I can’t risk you two getting hurt, not when you can still barely fight.”

 

Chrissy opened her mouth to protest, but Jeremy took her arm and dragged her away. “I’m pissed too, but if we’re up there then we’ll distract everyone else. We can’t fight well enough for this battle,” he murmured, pulling her inside and locking the door. They both peered out the window.

 

Once they were in there, Rich seemed to relax a bit before barking out more orders. Everyone else in the crew got into their positions, harpooning themselves to the French Lilly once they were close enough. They seemed ready to go to the other ship, but it seemed like the enemy crew was ready for them, swinging over onto the deck of the Fallen Angel as soon as the harpoons made contact with the other ship’s side.

 

Regardless, Rich kept his cool as he brought out his sword. “Make them back off and get over to the French Lilly!” he ordered as everyone began to fight, though he tried to keep himself from tensing as more and more of the enemy boarded their vessel.

 

It seemed like Madeline had an infinite number of men and women under her command, they just didn’t stop coming. Within seconds, there were five people per crew member. Still, Rich fought back as hard as he could. These people had taken someone who he thought of as a brother, and he wasn’t about to back down now!

 

Everyone fought back and made surprising progress against the overwhelming numbers. At some point, Chrissy had escaped the cabin and joined the fray, eyes wild and letting out a scream like a banshee. She had taken down a good ten enemies before she was subdued. And subdued they all were. Eventually, despite the solid effort and passion put into it, the crew of the Fallen Angel was beaten.

 

Tied up on the deck of their ship, everyone except Jeremy was stuck with a sword pointed at their necks. Luckily the curly-haired boy didn’t leave the room at all, he was safe for now. A board was placed between their ship and the French Lilly. Madeline Blanc strutted across it, with Michael following obediently behind.

 

Rich glared at the woman, but felt his stomach drop for a moment when he saw that there was a rope around Michael’s neck. It wasn’t tight enough to do any harm, at least not yet, but it was wrapped around a few times, as if trying to mimic the look of a dog collar.

 

“I knew that you lot would follow me if I took your little puppy with me. It makes it a lot easier than having to track you down. It’s like ducklings following their mother, it’s sickeningly adorable.” An obnoxious laugh left her lips, and Rich could hear Chloe practically growling to his right.

 

Rich didn’t say a word, merely glared at her. He wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of getting a response out of him. Chrissy, on the other hand, didn’t care about about satisfaction. “Let Michael go! He doesn’t deserve this sort of treatment!” She always was true to her own beliefs at least.

 

Madeline just laughed. “Why would I do that? He’s here because he wants to be, no? Isn’t that right, mon petit chien?”

 

Michael’s posture didn’t change, his face didn’t change and his eyes remained that horrible, neon green. “Yes, Miss Blanc. I’m here because I want to be.” Even his voice seemed blank, monotone. It was barely even Michael’s voice at this point.

 

“You ugly bitch, I swear that, once I’m out of these ropes, I’m going to-“ Chloe was quickly cut off by having herself gagged, a thick bandana wrapped around her face and keeping her words muffled.

 

Madeline looked down at her before she pretended to gag. “Ugh, of course you ended up on this ship. The only good thing about it is the vessel itself and my new little pet here. Unfortunately, I can only enjoy him for a little while before he joins Squip, so I’m enjoying his company while I can. Won’t it be sad when you go?”

 

“Yes, Miss Blanc. I am going to be sad when I go.”

 

“You evil, slime-covered witch!” Rich couldn’t keep his temper any longer. “You took away his fucking free will. He’s not a pet, he’s not a plaything! And he’s a hundred times better than you can ever hope to be! Don’t fucking touch him again!”

 

Madeline smirked and cocked an eyebrow. “Someone has spirit, don’t they? Mon petit chien? Do be a dear and get the ball and chain? Attach it to their ankles, I don’t want them to have any risk of escaping.” With a murmur of, “Yes Miss Blanc,” Michael did just that. No hesitation, no response. He looked Rich right in the eye and still had no reaction. Rich could have sworn those haunting green eyes looked sad, though.

 

Finally, Michael finished and took his place back next to Madeline. “Good boy! Now, how about we give our little friends a show, non? Kiss my hand.” she offered. Michael bowed at the waist and pressed a gentle kiss to the back of her hand. Rich’s heart broke a little. “Now smack the short boy. Not too hard, though, I want him to still be conscious.” Michael walked over and smacked Rich’s cheek. It stung but wasn’t enough to break the skin. Rich’s heart cracked a little more. “Good, now how about you get on your knees and beg like the little doggie you are?” Michael dropped, hands up to mimic paws, as he whimpered and whined. Rich’s heart shattered. “Enough! I think that is enough proof that your precious Blood Coat is mine now.”

 

Michael nodded, obediently getting up and turning to go to his cabin. For a moment, Rich panicked, but kept his mouth shut. Jeremy was smart, he wouldn’t get caught, right?

 

He just watched as Michael fluidly walked over to his room, quickly coming back out with his signature coat. Madeline held her arms out as Michael efficiently put his coat onto her, smoothing out any creases before falling back into place beside her. He only held up the dangling rope for Madeline to reclaim, which she did with glee.

 

“Until we get to Squip and hand you over, you listen to whoever bears the Blood Coat, Alright?”

 

“Yes, Miss Blanc.”

 

“Mm, no, call me Blood Coat. You don’t deserve that title anymore, as you’re just mon petit chien until Squip has you.”

 

Rich felt like he dropped down into the darkest depths of the ocean as Michael just replied with, “Yes, Blood Coat.”

 

The grin Madeline wore was near maniacal as she clapped her hands together. “Perfect! Now, how about we deal with our little friends. Start with him-“ She pointed right at Rich with a manicured finger. “-and send him overboard.”

 

“Yes, Blood Coat.” Over he walked, bending down and forcing Rich up. Any hint of sadness that has been in Michael’s eyes before were gone, completely hollow as he shoved him in the direction of the plank.

 

A knocking from the trap door leading down to the brig startled everyone. ‘Jeremy, what are you doing?’ Rich’s panic instantly shifted from himself to his friend. Jeremy would have been fine if he didn’t do anything!

 

“Hello? Is someone there? Did mon père send you to rescue me?”

 

That was Jeremy’s voice, muffled by the door, but it sounded wrong. He had a very thick (and much more realistic) French accent. “Find out who that is,” Madeline ordered Michael, who instantly left rich and opened the trap door.

 

Jeremy’s curly head popped out, but he looked a little worse for wear. His cheek had a massive, but newly formed, bruise on it and there was a lightly bleeding cut above his eyebrow. His lip looked split. He seemed to be dressed in his old clothes again, but they were torn and dirty. When he looked up at Michael, it was with fear, but when he spotted Madeline, his fear melted to relief. “Oh mon Deiu, have you come to rescue me? I have been so scared! Surely my father, the king, will reward you handsomely!” he wailed, climbing out of the trap door. His hands were bound tightly in rough rope. He instantly staggered weakly over to Madeline, babbling away in rapid French, relief lining his tone.

 

Confusion overtook Rich for a second before he understood, though managed to hide this as he just stared with the rest of the Fallen Angel’s crew. Madeline let her confusion linger before she was able to hide it, harboring a confident smile as she went over to him, meeting him halfway as she quickly cut the rope. “Oh, of course! We ensured the thorough capture of this vessel and control of the crew and captain to get you back, first and foremost.” She cupped his cheek, hissing through her teeth as she examined his injuries. “I am so sorry, bien Monsuier, for what this terrible lot has done to you. You no longer need to fear. Please, let me have you tended to after the former Blood Coat deals with his miserable lot.”

 

Madeline nodded over to Michael, who just went back over to Rich, grabbing him again and leading him closer to the edge of the ship.

 

“Non, please wait! My father will have them hanged for their crimes. Please, he has placed a generous bounty on every single head on this ship. And surely a radiant beauty such as yourself deserves such a handsome reward, non? But I can’t provide it in full without them alive and well.” Jeremy was thinking quickly, and it seemed to work. Greed flashed in Madeline’s eyes and she held up her hand.

 

“Wait, have them thrown into the brig instead. We must ensure that the Prince gets home safely after all, and that we claim our full reward.” There was a cheer from the crew and Michael started leading everyone else to the trap door Jeremy came out of. While no one was looking at him, Jeremy flashed Rich a quick wink before his face fell back to a relieved smile.

 

 


Jeremy swayed, then stumbled against Madeline, who grabbed him gently. “Merci ma belle fleur. I am afraid I am weak, and so thirsty.” He sent her a pitiful pout, making his eyes seem as innocent as possible.

 

Madeline instantly fell for it, wrapping an arm around his shoulder before gently leading him to the cabin. “Oh, you must be after the barbaric treatment you were given, Cher Prince. Come into my quarters and I will assure you a drink.” She looked over her shoulder, whistling before Michael turned, finishing his duties and staring in Wait. “Come, mon petit chien, we must serve and care for our guest.”

 

“Yes, Blood Coat.” Michael followed in line after as they entered Michael’s cabin.

 

Madeline had him settle in one of the plush chairs in the room before snapping her fingers. “Get some of the tea I brought from my ship. None of the filth currently in this kitchen will do.” Michael just nodded, leaving for but a few moments before coming back with a box and setting it down on his desk, seemingly uncaring for any of the materials there. Madeline came to his side, whispering something into his ear before he nodded and began mindlessly yet methodically making two cups of tea with her set.

 

Jeremy kept his focus on Madeline, keeping up the charm. “Merci, ma belle fleur. You truly are an angel sent by the gods. I have been so alone, so scared, for weeks. They caught me trying to escape at the last port, which is how I got this.” Jeremy gestured to the bruise on his cheek. Madeline looked on in sympathy. Michael placed the tray, with two identical cups of tea on it, in front of both Jeremy and Madeline, on the table.

 

Jeremy’s face lit up and watched as Madeline put two sugars into her own tea. Then, he stood and walked over to Madeline’s side, kneeling and pressing a kiss to her hand. “Truly, I have been blessed.” While she was distracted by her own bashful giggling, Jeremy spun the table top so his cup was in front of Madeline (something Michael had proudly shown him two weeks earlier). He went back to his own chair and took a sip from his (formerly Madeline’s) cup.

 

“So, ma chère, do you speak French? Your accent is so different yet so enchanting.”

 

Madeline just smiled as she took her own cup, taking a tentative sip with a hum. “Oh yes, I was raised all over, but I am actually French by blood. My parents did their best to help me preserve my birth culture,” she explained before taking another sip of her tea, fiddling now with the end of the rope around Michael’s neck. “After all, one must be proud of their roots, no?”

 

“Of course!” Jeremy cried dramatically. “And of course such a radiant and brave woman could only be French. I’m proud to call you a part of my nation, chère.” Madeline giggled again, taking another sip from her cup. Jeremy did the same. “Please, ma fleur, tell me more about yourself.” Jeremy asked, eyeing her sweetly.

 

The next few minutes were filled with Madeline’s bragging, and Jeremy had to fight off the urge to be sick at her constantly playing with Michael’s ‘collar.’

 

“I mean, you have to be someone in order to take down Blood Coat and his crew, wouldn’t you say?” Madeline asked before taking the second to last sip of her tea before tugging on Michael’s ‘leash.’ “Right, mon petit chien?”

 

“Yes, Blood Coat.”

 

Madeline looked back over at Jeremy then, a slight haze starting to overtake her eyes, much like the one Michael had when he first saw the two in the pub. “Look at how the evil have fallen, my good Prince! He will do whatever I say, and he will do it without complaint! Watch.”

 

Shifting in her seat, she held her hand out to Michael before he took it and kissed it. “Now sit, boy.” Down like a dog Michael sat, his hands even placed down in front of him. “Lie down.” She let go of his ‘leash’ as he lied down. “Now, roll over.” He followed the motion she showed before sitting back like a dog again. “See, so obedient!” As if to degrade him further, she scratched under his chin before picking the ‘leash’ back up and sitting back. “Those evil need to pay for their deeds, and I am quite fine being the one to have them do so.”

 

Jeremy nodded sympathetically. “Of course, ma chére. Evil people most certainly need to be punished. I couldn’t agree more. Now please, ma fleur, finish your tea.” He had to test and subtle command should be enough.

 

She downed the rest of her cup in one gulp.

 

“Good, I’m so glad you’re enjoying yourself. I personally find my self utterly captured by your company. I would so love to spend more time with you, perhaps something a bit more... personal? You really deserve to have the very best, I would pamper you until you cannot remember how to walk, ma chére.” He layered on the praise, wanting to see her reaction.

 

She melted, her face both smug and satisfied. “That sounds most agreeable, dear Prince.” She giggled. Her eyes had lost a little more focus. Jeremy grinned, his first real expression since Michael had been taken.

 

“Of course, for that to happen, ma belle fleur, you would need to do as I said. After all, it is my intention to make you feel good, so I’d only ever ask nice things of you, things you’d enjoy.”

 

He stood, making his way around to Madeline, tilting her chin to look up at him. Her eyes were turning green. She sighed and nodded. “Of course, dear Prince.”

 

“Well done, my dear. So well behaved. Now, stand up and give me the coat, put it on me.”

 

Madeline just nodded as she took off Michael's coat, putting it on him and making sure any wrinkles and such were smoothed out. "There you go, dear Prince," she mused out, still loosely holding onto the rope as Michael stood obediently still, though his focus seemed to shift as Jeremy put the jacket on from her to him.

 

“Good.” Jeremy dropped the accent now, pulling himself to his full height. “Now, ma fleur, you will release your pet from his collar and put it on yourself.” She was too far gone to argue. Jeremy’s smirk when she looked up at him might have had the smallest hint of malice in it. “You know, I agree with you. Evil people need to be punished. Now drop to your knees like the bitch you are.” Jeremy kept his tone light and sweet. She dropped in an instant.

 

Jeremy walked to the door and poked just his head out, his expression back to the frightened prince. “Um, excusez-moi? The captain has asked me to tell you to go back to the other ship. She and her pet are going to be spending some quality time with myself, and she wishes to not be disturbed.”

 

The first mate, who had been standing near the door, looked surprised, then nodded. “Parfait. Merci, monsieur!” Jeremy ducked back into the room, his light expression falling.

 

“Michael, I wear the Blood Coat, you will listen to me, understand? And same for you, Madeline. You obey the Blood Coat.”

 

Both of them nodded, in sync as they said, "Yes, Blood Coat," from where they were, almost side-by-side as they both stared, Madeline's eyes now the same vivid green like Michael's.

 

“Good. Now, we wait.” For a few minutes, Jeremy sat down back on the plush seat, instructing Michael to sit on the other one while he had Madeline beg like a dog for more tea. It was a rush, admittedly, forcing his will onto her after all the evil she caused. He hurt his family, was ready to kill them. She got no mercy from him in the slightest.

 

Once he was sure the ship was clear, Jeremy told both Michael and Madeline to follow him. He opened the secret trap door down to the crew quarters, bringing them both with him. Madeline was made to crawl as soon as she was able. Jeremy’s stayed firm, enjoying the humiliation he was bringing her.

 

His friends were locked up in the brig, with the keys hooked on the wall. “Michael, can you please go and unlock everyone? You’re the only one with the key to the chains on their ankles,” Jeremy asked softly. Six pairs of eyes snapped up to him and his little group.

 

"Yes, Blood Coat," Michael said in response, voice still monotone as he grabbed the keys on the wall. He walked into the brig once the door was unlocked, going in and unlocking everyone's chains around their legs before standing back up.

 

"Jeremy, wh- how?" Chloe asked, rubbing her ankles before standing up and seeing Madeline, who seemed even conflicted herself at how she was. "Did you do the same thing that happened to Michael to her?"

 

“She deserves it.” Jeremy scowled, shooting her a poisonous glare. It turned to a icy smile after a moment. “Of course she likes it, don’t you, ma fleur?” He patted her head condescendingly.

 

“Yes, Blood Coat. I like this,” she stated, monotone. Jeremy could feel the horrified stares, but he ignored them. There were more pressing issues to deal with.

 

“Rich, is there a way to unhook the chains on the French Lily quietly?” he asked, motioning for Michael to come back over to him. He wandered back, still as unnaturally fluid.

 

"Yeah, though it isn't the most visually subtle way. You'd have to keep them distracted," Rich said, glancing up to the ceiling in thought.

 

The mad glint in Jeremy’s eye was enough to send everyone to a near panic. “How long do you need?”

 

 


Jeremy walked Madeline (who was upright again) back to her ship, still wearing the Blood Coat, his sword resting gently against her throat. As soon as the crew spotted her, they froze, silence reigning.

 

“It would seem the dear captain has fallen ill. For now, I’ll be taking charge of this ship. And if you want to get paid and not see her head severed from her shoulders, I’d recommend you listen carefully.” Jeremy walked her to the bow of the ship, his tone light and conversational. He spun round to face the crew, Madeline still as a statue next to him. He pointed to the nearest crew member.

 

“I want you to get all the papers and anything valuable from the captain’s quarters. I want it in a bag and ready to go in the next five minutes, do I make myself clear?” The man nodded and scurried off. Perfect, that would be enough time. Now he just had to keep talking. “Now, ma fleur, why don’t you tell everyone here exactly what you plan on doing once I let you go?” He used his free hand to lightly tap her cheek.

 

She started talking, explaining how she would just go to bed, then set a course for the other side of the world.

 

“You messed with my family, chère. You don’t get away with it. Now kneel.”

 

She dropped. The crowd gasped. “Good. Now, pass me the potion.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a phial of bright green liquid and handed it to Jeremy. He stuck it in his pocket. The man came back with the papers.

 

As Jeremy walked, taking the bag, Madeline crawled along side him, eyes still the blank green stare, sword still pressed against her throat. Finally, he made it back to the other side of the ship, where the boarding plank rested. “And now, mon ami, I bid you adieu.” Jeremy scooped up the rope tied to the back of the ship, kicked the plank away and swung back to the Fallen Angel just as she started to pull away.

 

He watched as Madeline just stood up then, her whole crew gawking as she walked out of sight, presumably to her bed to do as she was told. Chloe was quickly whipping them away from Madeline's vessel as fast as possible, and Christine hurried over to check up on Jeremy once he was safely back on board. "Are you alright, Jeremy?" she asked, eyes worried and filled with a kind of concern that was new and foreign to him.

 

“I’m fine, Christine.” He waved her off, still too focused on the issues at hand to think about himself right then. He’d had his fun, now he had to help Michael. “I’ll talk to you in a bit, I’m going to see if I can help Michael.” He patted her arm gently with a small smile, before walking over to where Michael was peacefully standing. “C’mon, Michael. Let’s go to your cabin. I’ve got notes to look over and theories to test.” He started towards the cabin, knowing that he wore the Blood Coat and that Michael would follow.

 

"Yes, Blood Coat," was the only response he got as he followed along after Jeremy, eventually walking into his own cabin. As Jeremy got the papers and phial out of his bag, Michael just stood stock still by the door again once it was shut, waiting.

 

Jeremy sighed, feeling a slight headache coming. It was fun ordering around someone evil like Madeline. Michael was his friend and didn’t deserve this in the slightest. “Please sit down for now, on one of the chairs. Make yourself comfortable.” Jeremy put the bag on the table and started digging through it. He ignored the cooling teapot still present.

 

As he was digging through, he just heard Michael's footsteps get closer until he sat down in the chair. The fact that Michael wasn't talking, just sitting silently because he couldn't unless responding to an order, sent a chill to run up his spine. This wasn't how things were supposed to be, especially not for Michael.

 

Jeremy shook his head, trying to ignore the oppressive silence. Instead he lost himself in the papers which, as he suspected, detailed how the potion worked. Dew berries, while ripe, were a good cure for insomnia. Underripe ones increased suggestibility, and that’s what caused the bright green colour and sweet flavor. There were all kinds of herbs put in to make it more effective, but the underripe Dew berry was the main ingredient.

 

Looking over every single paper over the next hour or so, Jeremy finally found what he was looking for. Apparently Madeline hadn’t read every single one, and she had not been the one to make the potion in the first place. That honor rested solely on Squip. It turns out Michael would have broken free a few seconds before Jeremy interfered anyway.

 

Standing, Jeremy went over to Michael’s desk and pulled out the gun that Michael hated using. “Michael. Stand up please.” He did. “And come over here.”

 

When Michael was standing next to him, Jeremy handed him the gun, moved Michael’s arm up and positioned the gun next to Jeremy’s own head. “Shoot me.”

 

There was a pause, then Michael threw the gun aside, stumbling backwards with a yelp.

 

"Wh- I- what the fuck?!" Michael ended up stumbling back over his feet, falling onto his own ass as he seemed unable to really focus. "You don't just- holy fuck." The green was gone in Michael's eyes, but he was obviously shaken, whether it be from what Jeremy just told him to do or the fact he suddenly regained control over himself. Regardless of what it was, Michael's breathing had picked up, his body shaking as he reached a hand up to his throat, ghosting over where Madeline's 'collar' had been, and where Jeremy could now see there were rope burns littering.

 

Jeremy was kneeling by his side in an instant, not touching him. While this was the first panic attack he had seen from the outside, he had experienced enough to know that being touched is not good without permission.

 

“Hey, it’s okay, Michael. You’re okay. No one is hurt, no one is upset, you’re okay.” Jeremy kept his voice soft and gentle, trying to coax Michael’s attention onto him. He slipped off the coat and held it out for Michael. “Here, you can have this back. Just please, try to breathe with me. In... and out... and in... and out... you’re okay now, you’re safe.”

 

It took some time, but Michael's breathing began to calm down. Tears were streaking down his face as the hand not ghosting (still) over his throat rubbed harshly over his face. "Oh my god..." Exhaustion was obvious from his body language alone. "I..."

 

Michael seemed to have trouble articulating his thoughts as he leaned to his side, letting his head rest against Jeremy's shoulder.

 

Using his free arm, Jeremy rested Michael’s coat over his shoulders, then wrapped his own arm around them, careful to avoid Michael’s neck. “Hey, it’s okay, Michael. You’re okay. It’s over now and you’re safe. And so is everyone else. I promise.”

 

He seemed to nod, nuzzling his head against the other's shoulder, before he seemed to freeze. "Oh god, everyone else. I..." His hands reached his face, pushing up his glasses as he rubbed his face again. "Fuck, I almost... Holy shit." Michael sounded like he was going to break again as he muttered out apologies on repeat under his breath to his crew.

 

“You didn’t, you couldn’t, Michael. That’s one of the biggest flaws of the potion: it can’t force you to seriously hurt or kill anyone you care about. Your brain can’t handle it and shoves it out. That’s how I knew that it would work, how I knew you wouldn’t hurt me. But I swear, you wouldn’t have killed anyone. You would have snapped out of it the moment you got close the edge of the ship.”

 

That seemed to reassure Michael a bit, his apologies ceasing soon after he was told this. "I... Good," was all he said, voice dripping with exhaustion of many kinds as he leaned with almost all of his weight against Jeremy. "I couldn't do anything but watch, it was terrifying. I just watched and listened, no matter what, and it was like my brain went blank. It... it was terrifying, Jere."

 

Jeremy hummed soothingly. “I know, I know. But it’s over now. I will make sure no one ever does that to you again, I promise. You’re safe. And I’m sorry I had to take control like I did, but I couldn’t leave you for Squip or Madeline. Can you forgive me for it?” Jeremy shifted Michael so he was in Jeremy’s lap, cradled against his chest. He slowly rocked in time with the ship. “You know I’d never hurt you, right?”

As he did that, Jeremy saw Michael beginning to relax as his head rested against his chest, right next to his heart. "You saved my life, Jeremy, you're fine. I know you'd never hurt me either," Michael said, his voice slightly breathless, and he couldn't tell if it was in awe or because of how tired he was (or maybe both). "Thank you, Jeremy."

 

Jeremy kept his breathing slow and even, his heart not picking up like it usually would with such close contact. “Of course, Michael. Now, would you like to get into bed or stay here for longer? You sound tired and I don’t blame you after all that. And I’ll stay if you want, I’ll just have to let everyone know you’re alright.” Options would be important right now. Make Michael choose rather than be told. It would help, right?

 

It seemed to take him a little longer to make up his mind than normal, probably a side effect that would wear off soon. "I... Bed, please," he told him, voice softer and not as boisterous as it normally was. "And please stay." His voice was vulnerable too.

 

Jeremy nodded and slowly helped Michael stand up. He let Michael lean heavily on him as he guided him to the bed and helped slip his boots off. Once Michael was all tucked in, Jeremy pushed his hair back and shot him a sweet smile, causing the bruise on his face to twinge painfully.

 

“I’m just going to go let everyone know you’re going to be sleeping, then I’ll be back. I should only be a few minutes, I promise.” Michael nodded and Jeremy slipped out, pulling the curtains shut as he went past. Now that Michael was alright, he felt a number of things crash down on him. Physical things anyway. He felt the pain from his own injuries that he caused to make the act convincing, he felt the exhaustion from the actual acting and he felt the rope burn on his hand and wrists from where he tied himself up and swung back to the ship. He’d need Brooke to take a look over him later. For now, it was alert the crew, then sleep.

 

Jeremy stumbled back on deck, where everyone was milling around nervously. “He’s back to himself. I got him out of it.” Jeremy felt a little disconnected at that moment, and he was sure his exhaustion was showing through.

"That's good, but how are you feeling?" Brooke asked, instantly coming over and finally checking over his self-inflicted injuries. "You have to be exhausted. Let me check you over and patch you up, Jeremy." Her voice was soft and soothing, as if she could tell he wasn't truly there at the moment.

 

Jeremy shook his head, half stumbling back into Michael’s cabin. He pulled off his boots as he walked and slipped off his shirt, it was too dirty to go into Michael’s nice bed. He slipped under the covers next to Michael, who was still barely awake. “Hey, I’m back. You want to cuddle? Or would you prefer for me to just stay near?”

 

Michael seemed to think again, taking longer than even before since he was so close to sleep. "Mm... cuddle, please."

 

Jeremy snuggled close, letting Michael lean on his chest again, near his heart. He sighed happily, finally feeling calm wash over him, replacing the manic, but focused energy that had been coursing through him ever since he had seen Madeline. His body ached and his brain hurt a little, but it was all okay. His family was safe.

Chapter Text

The next couple of days passed quietly. Michael was left shaken from the encounter and Jeremy was reluctant to leave his side for more than a few minutes at a time. He was getting better. It did seem like sometimes Michael was defaulting to Jeremy’s choices to start with, but Jeremy just offered choices to counter it. He refused to tell Michael what to do.

 

It wasn’t until the third day, when Jeremy was taking a break to stretch his legs by the bow of the ship, when Rich approached him. He didn’t look happy, in fact, he looked downright furious if you knew what to look for. “Hey, Rich. Everything alright?”

 

"I should be asking you that," Rich said, arms crossed over his chest as anger seemed to linger in his gaze. Before Jeremy could ask what he meant, Rich continued. "You seemed to go all... crazy for a bit with power after you get the upper-hand on Madeline, and then pull all of that crazy shit you did. It was... Seriously, what the fuck was all of that? I'm still in the temporary position as captain, so I need to know if you're a threat or not to us."

 

Jeremy raised his hands in a calming gesture, eyes wide with shock. Rich thought he was a threat? Like, Jeremy wouldn’t hurt a fly, and all he did was bruise Madeline’s ego a bit, he didn’t actually hurt her. “No, Rich, never. I would never hurt you guys, I swear!” Jeremy was honestly a bit hurt that Rich could even consider that a possibility. “I was just pissed at her for everything she had done, she had tried to kill you guys using Michael. That’s the only reason I was like that!”

 

Rich seemed to continue to size him up before letting the tension in his shoulders melt away. "I needed to be sure, Jere, you... It was like you were almost a different person, it was frightening."

 

Jeremy tried to calm his breathing, which was spiking high with how worried he was because Rich thought he was a threat. “It... it was kinda freaky for me too. Like, I was just so angry that she thought that she could do that. That she could hurt you and humiliate Michael like she did. I just... sort of lost myself to it and didn’t try to stop it. I’ll make sure I don’t do it again.” Jeremy took a couple of deep breaths, his heart rate still erratic.

 

He saw Rich’s hand slowly reach over and eventually pat his shoulder. "OK, good. I just needed to be sure, y'know? I'm not normally in-charge, it's not really my deal. I'm more of the wingman, y'know?"

 

Jeremy repressed the urge to flinch at the touch, still a little caught up in his thoughts. He looked over to Rich with big, slightly confused eyes before nodding slowly. “I get it. But I would never hurt anyone here, ever. Like, I’d rather die than do that, you’re my family. And if I ever do, feel free to shoot me.” He chuckled, but it might have come out a little hysterical.

 

Rich laughed along with him, though seemed to try to reassure Jeremy with a smile. Before Rich could say something else, though, there was a sharp whistle from the lookout. "Look alive and get ready, I see 'Perfection Attained' heading our way, and fast.”

 

The shorter boy cursed as he thought for a second before looking at Jeremy. "You need to see if Michael's in fighting condition. If he isn't, make sure he stays hidden. We know Squip wants him, and we aren't going to let him," was what he ordered before running off to get everyone else ready.

 

Jeremy sprinted over to the cabin as he shook off his earlier state, zooming in without even knocking. He instantly started strapping on his sword, as well at the bottles full of smoke potions, which were left on the coffee table (he had been teaching Michael how to make them). “Michael, how are you feeling? Because we got a son of a bitch right up our asses and I need to know if you’re up to facing Squip.” He didn’t even look up as he worked on getting ready.

 

Michael, who had been working at his desk on some map-marking, instantly shot up as he followed in Jeremy's footsteps. "I'm always ready to kick some Squip ass," he practically growled out as he strapped his sword on before pulling on his trademark coat.

 

Jeremy tossed Michael his hat from the stand, barely even looking. He knew Michael would catch it, no problem. Jeremy finally got himself all strapped up with all his small potion bottles and he actually looked at Michael for the first time since he had come in.

 

Physically, Michael seemed all better, his rope burns had healed and his eyes no longer had the small flecks of green in them. Mentally was another matter, but even then it wasn’t too bad. He had been recovering well.

 

“Good, because I have some few choice words that I want to say to him after he hired her.” Jeremy grinned icily. He wouldn’t lose himself to the anger this time, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to be passive either. “Ready?” he asked as soon as Michael was all dressed.

 

"Ready as I'll ever be," Michael reassured him before opening the door, walking out with Jeremy just in time to see everyone on board before harpoons dug into the ship.

 

"We just got that fixed, it's not cheap!" Chloe cried out from where she manned the ship, irritation seeping through her voice right before battle broke out.

 

Jeremy threw a smoke bomb onto the enemy ship, blinding them for a moment. Then he pulled out his sword and got into the battle stance. He was ready this time. And so was everyone else.

 

As he swung onto the other ship with some of his fellow crew, he felt that burst of adrenaline start to pump through him. He slashed and swiped at Squip's crew, deflecting attacks and slashes. While he wasn't the best and got a few scrapes, it was nothing compared to what he was giving them. Jeremy reminded himself that he'd have to thank Michael for the lessons after this.

 

From his peripheral vision, he saw Jenna dealing with some of Squip's crew on the bow of the ship while Michael was close by, disarming one crew member before rendering him unconscious before he spun around, whistling sharply. "Squip! Where the hell are you? Face me, you damn coward, instead of sicking your underlings to do your dirty work!"

 

Jeremy fought his way over to Michael, seeing how so many of the crew members were trying to get to him. Finally, he made it over. “Having fun?” he crowed as he knocked out a man who had been trying to sneak up on Michael.

 

“Never better!” Michael called back, shoving a woman into a a group of three, where they all fell down.

 

From the chaos, a figure approached. He was tall, even taller than Michael or Jake, and thin. His skin was pale and his black hair styled to perfection. He seemed totally unaffected by the battle around him. “Ah, at last. Nice of you to finally join the battle, Squip!” Michael was grinning a little maniacally. Jeremy felt a shiver of fear pass through him upon seeing Squip even as recognition spiked in his brain.

 

“Samuel? Samuel Peterson? You’re Squip?!” he gaped, sword moving on autopilot to disarm another crew member.

 

“Wait, you know him?!” Michael shot Jeremy a confused, disbelieving look as he parried a number of strikes thrown at him.

 

“Know him? He’s the asshole who my mom ran off with three years ago! Never met him face to face, but he’s technically my stepfather! Now I have even more reason to hate him!” Jeremy growled, tossing another flash bang over to the incoming crowd of people.

 

"Honestly, is there a reason not to hate him at this point?" Michael asked rhetorically before tripping one crew member, having him roll into a few others. "Think you can handle these other guys while I handle the head honcho? I know you have more reason to hate him now, but it's a captain versus captain kinda deal."

 

Jeremy just nodded before knocking back one of the crew members that he knocked down earlier. "You go get him, I got these losers."

 

He was shot one of Michael's adorable lopsided grins before said Michael parried a man to his side, stepping in stride with him before making his way to the back of the boat, where Squip stood proud and tall above everyone else.

 

 

 

Once he finally made it, making sure to come out unscathed, Michael pointed his sword over at the man with a fearsome look. "So, I heard you were looking for me? I missed kicking your perfect ass, you should've just come straight for me first if you wanted to get whooped so bad."

 

Squip shrugged, unconcerned. “I had thought Madeline was more than capable. Obviously I was wrong. It seems your own little pet merchant has quite the nasty bite to go along with his bark. Or is that hiss? Since he’s your cat, isn’t he?” Squip mused as he pulled out his sword. Glancing back at Jeremy, Michael saw him scowl and stab a woman through her calf, downing her. It wasn’t even close to fatal.

 

Michael focused back onto Squip, narrowing his eyes as he moved closer, waiting to find his opening. "None of that will matter to you after you get sorely beaten, just like last time and the time before that. This time, though, I'm not going to let you off so easy."

 

Squip laughed. “You’re so confident, Blood Coat.” He said the name in a mocking tone. “Besides he matters a lot to me. He’s family.” Squip threw a light attack, his strike so fast and smooth Michael barely had a chance to respond. “Well, it seems like you’ve improved anyway. Have you been a Good Boy and practiced your fighting?” The way he said that made Michael’s heart stutter. He knew. That meant he had found Madeline, and she told him everything. Still, he acted like it was nothing. He couldn’t let Squip get under his skin.

 

Michael just threw a smirk that filled most he met with dread as he struck Squip back, managing to tear his clothes and draw some blood before he drew back. "Yes, because he's a part of my family now, and I would never let scum like you close to him on my life." Even if the hairs on the back of his neck were raised as he fought, which were thankfully hidden by his coat's collar, he had to act like he wasn't bothered whatsoever. No, when he was Blood Coat, he couldn't show fear, and he wasn't going to start letting his act slip up now.

 

Their blades became a whirlwind dance, both skilled enough to keep up the strikes and keep pace with the other. Over the years, Michael had been getting very good at reading Squip’s movements, and he accounted for them accordingly. Eventually, Squip pulled back, panting lightly. Michael was the only one who could reduce him to that, who could even draw blood. He felt a rush of pride. Michael took a second to catch his breath.

 

“You know what? This is way too much work for such a simple task. I know a better way than this pointless dance.” He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out what looked like a perfume bottle. Michael felt a rush of confusion, even as he stood ready.

 

Suddenly, a blue blur passed by, knocking the bottle away from Squip, shattering it on deck. “Sorry Peterson! How about you don’t use that on my Captain and fight him like a real man? Controlling someone using a potion is seriously outdated!” Jeremy called almost gleefully as he launched himself at another enemy, halfway down the stairs. “Blood Coat, avoid the green smoke!”

 

Michael had to almost control himself from just grinning wildly at Jeremy. Instead, he willed himself to use this moment of surprise that overcame Squip and rushed him instead, using this moment of surprise to cut him again. This time, he had a little bit of a manic look (mostly for show) as he flicked his sword quickly to the side, splattering Squip's blood onto his deck. "Wow, so frightened that you can't even fight me as per usual? You're that scared of me, huh?" he taunted, moving forward as he forced Squip back, closer and closer to the rear of the ship as he practically slashed the sleeves off of his now less-than-pristine jacket.

 

“Scared? No. Impatient? Yes. It seems everyone I’ve sent to get you has been incompetent fools.” Squip scowled, returning to his usual patterns. He looked a bit more worn out than usual, which Michael counted as a victory. He kept on the attack, not giving Squip a chance to recover. The pristine white shirt and black jacket were in ribbons, and soaked in blood.

 

"I think that might just say something about you," Michael practically laughed out as he took one more stab (hah, literally) at him, watching as he stumbled back, hitting the back railing of his ship. He held his sword to his throat, aware of where Squip's hands were in case he tried to pull a similar stunt to earlier. "Now, I'm getting a bit bored of this. How about you finally call it quits, hm?"

 

“How about you be a good boy and go fetch your kitty cat? He seems to be in a bit of trouble!” Squip spat back, eyes narrowed. Even just the smallest glance back confirmed that it was true. Jeremy was being pinned by about three men while a woman with an axe (who even carried axes anymore?) approached. Everyone else was too busy fighting off the rest of the crew to be able to get there in time. Even from this distance, Michael could see that Jeremy’s eyes were murderous.

 

Michael cursed under his breath before slashing Squip in the chest once more for good measure, making sure he wasn't able to move for a bit. "You stay here, I'm dealing with you in a minute."

 

With great speed, Michael leaped over the railing and rolled to his feet, startling the four handling Jeremy. Using this to his advantage, he disarmed the woman before slicing her and kicking her to the side. He slashed out some of the Achilles tendons of the men, stabbing the last one through his shoulder before kicking him down as well.

 

Reaching down, he quickly helped Jeremy up. "You good?"

 

“Thanks.” Jeremy nodded seriously before pointing with his sword up to Squip. “Check it, he’s trying to get away!” Sure enough, Squip was using the railing of the ship to pull himself away from the battle, trying to get back onto his cabin most likely. “You deal with him, I’m gonna go help Chrissy!” Jeremy sprinted off, whacking someone over the head and knocking them out with the flat of his blade.

 

Michael nodded, quickly making his way past any of the unconscious or hurt crew members that lied on the deck of the ship before he blocked Squip's path, kicking him back down against the floor, prone. "I told you to stay. Guess I must've gotten you good one too many times and you can't remember simple instructions," he nearly spat out as he placed the sword to his throat.

 

Squip laid back, grinning. He kept his eyes focused on Michael and arched an eyebrow. “One week,” he said eventually.

 

Narrowing his eyes down at Squip, he pressed the tip of his sword right against the skin of his neck, a red dot appearing under the tip of his blade. "You know that everyone hates your vague, cryptic shit."

 

Squip actually laughed at that, still laying back. He didn’t make any attempt to move. “It takes one week for it to clear out of your system entirely. So if it do this-“ He suddenly flicked his wrists, tossing a handful of green powder right into Michael’s eyes, laughing as he inhaled it too. A familiar and scary warmth started to buzz in his brain. “If I do that, it’ll reactive it. You’ll be mine yet, Blood Coat,” Squip finished, slowly hobbling to his feet.

 

“Yeah, I don’t think so, asshole,” came the reply from somewhere behind Michael. He was still partially blinded by the powder, and the buzz was making it hard to focus. Vaguely, he saw Jeremy kick Squip’s knee, causing him to collapse with a screech. Then Jeremy turned back to Michael, pulling out a red phial from his belt. “Here, drink this. It should clear everything up for you.” He handed it over.

 

While the buzz was slowly creeping into his mind, Michael managed to nod and take the phial, quickly gulping down it's contents. "Thanks," he got out, handing the now-empty phial back, though leaned back against the railing for a moment as he tried to recompose himself, out of Squip's range. He had to rest a hand against his chest as he calmed himself down, panic having started to build up as that that thoughtless feeling returned to him.

 

Jeremy, meanwhile, was standing over Squip, an odd expression on his face. He looked almost... excited. “I wonder how you would like it? How you would like to have no choice or free will, hmm?” Jeremy pressed his foot down hard on Squip’s arm, and Michael was certain he saw it pop out of place. Squip screamed out in pain. “The only reason I won’t do it is because my Captain gets to decide your fate, not me. Just know that I wouldn’t hesitate.”

 

The scream was definitely enough to bring him back to reality. Michael reached over, grabbing onto Jeremy's arm and gently tugging him. "No, we aren't going to do that. Never would I want you to do that to others," he told him, pulling a reluctant Jeremy away from Squip. "We're going to leave him here instead, give him time to think about what he's done as he's adrift with his crew that he should care more about."

 

Looking back and seeing how his crew basically slaughtered Squip's men, women, and otherwise defining people, he let out a sharp whistle. "I need rope to tie this scum up, and need some people to slash the sails up! We're heading out after and continuing on!"

 

Jeremy blinked harshly and shook his head a little, and his expression fell back into something more like him. He shrugged, glaring down at Squip a little but not moving against him again. “Sorry, Captain. Got a little carried away there. I think being around him isn’t good for me.” He darted off, grabbing some rope tied to the rigging before bringing it back over. He offered it to Michael, watching Squip carefully even as the man was whimpering from his dislocated arm.

 

"Yeah, he's not a good influence, even to pirate standards," he joked as he reached down, tying Squip up to the banister tight. "I hope you're comfortable here and enjoy your stay. Be sure to think long and hard about why you're a piece of shit." Michael condescendingly patted the top of the other's head, purposefully messing his hair up further before waving and walking down the stairs with Jeremy.

 

Jeremy turned as they descended the stairs, shooting Squip a rude gesture as he vanished from his line of sight. Chrissy, Brooke and Jenna were all slashing the sails of the ship, including the spares, and Rich, Jake and Chloe were looting the ship. Turns out Squip liked to travel in style.

 

Everyone found something they liked in the pile of loot, including a new potions kit for Jeremy. He lit up when Michael handed it to him.

 

“C’mon. Let’s get away from these pieces of shit and her captain. ‘Perfection Attained’ indeed.” The scorn was nearly palpable as everyone started unhooking the ships.

 

 

 

After the chaos of the past few days, everyone was ready to get some progress done in their mission to stop said chaos. Thankfully, they arrived at the next island that had the next compass piece a few days ahead of schedule.

 

This time, Jake, Chloe, and Chistine were coming with Michael and Jeremy as they were getting ready to head out. "This place is a temple of sorts, so there are lots of traps. We need to remain vigilant and stay on-guard. Relaxing and not staying aware could get us hurt or worse," Michael explained as he stepped into the dingy. At least they weren't dealing with people anymore.

 

Jeremy relaxed and looked up hopefully. “So... no chance of sirens?” he joked, although he was a little curious. Now that he wasn’t so touch starved (or at all really), what would they promise him now?

 

"Nope, no one living will be there besides us," Michael assured him as Rich and Jenna helped lower the five into the water. Jeremy and Jake started to row them to shore then, the temple Michael was referring to coming into view as they got closer and closer.

 

It looked old, all covered in moss and half buried in the trees and colorful plants which grew out of it. Still, Jeremy could make out the detailed carvings etched into the worn stone, even from the bay. After docking the boat, Jeremy hopped out and looked up at the temple closely.

 

“It’s covered in slip moss and harlequin roses. I might actually collect some samples once we’re done. The roses are near impossible to find! They’re most commonly used in love potions but I prefer them in rapid regeneration potions to give it a little kick.” Jeremy always babbled either potion facts or just random facts when he was nervous. He did want some samples though before they left, that much was true.

 

"You made sure to bring things to collect samples, right?" Christine asked him as they got out of their dingy before making their way up the nature-covered trail that was visible under some uncovered slivers.

 

Jeremy scoffed playfully and shoved her. “It’s like you don’t even know me anymore, Chrissy. Of course I have the supplies. I’m pretty sure we can even grow them on the ship, they’re actually really hardy plants, they just are hard to find because everyone over harvested them about forty years ago before love potions were banned.” Jeremy hopped from one stone to the next in the path, making a game out of it. He couldn’t shake the feeling like something bad would happen again. He just wanted things to go well.

 

Christine hopped along with him, leading the back of the group as Michael and the other two walked. "Oh, are you possibly thinking about making a small love potion?" she teased, obviously not meaning it as she hopped past him, giving him a cheeky grin.

 

“Pffft, no.” Jeremy cackled a little. “Who would I even use it on, anyway? ‘Cause I’m sure as hell not using it on you, former fiancée,” he teased right back, falling into the easy banter of being with his best friend. He knew the three up ahead were listening but he couldn’t find it in himself to care. He didn’t get much time like this, and if that temple was as creepy as it felt to him, he was going to damn well enjoy it while it lasted.

 

"I mean, I'd hope not," Christine said around a laugh before looking back at Jeremy with a grin. "You have to have someone in mind though, right?" She stuck her tongue out at him, reminding Jeremy a lot of how she'd tease him when they were younger and carefree, no adult responsibilities ragging them down.

 

Jeremy’s cheeks lit up a little. There was maybe someone who he might be interested in, but he wasn’t entirely sure. He’d have to do a little soul searching before he could even think of admitting it.

 

“Shove it, Chrissy, you’re just asking because you do have someone you wanna charm. I’ve seen the looks, you can’t hide it from me!” Jeremy made a particularly large hop and ended up windmilling his arms a little before getting his balance. There was a small round of chuckles from everyone but he ignored them. He made another one, windmilling a little again. Christine shoved him lightly and he prompt fell on his ass, giggling but also playfully glaring up at her. “Hey! No fair!”

 

“All is fair in love and war, Jeremy,” she teased out, sticking her tongue out again as she ran ahead, laughing as she had a skip in her step. “And you still haven’t told me who you like yet! I won’t tell until you tell!”

 

Jeremy hopped up and chased after her. “This is it you little gremlin!” Jeremy launched himself at her, tickling her sides. She squirmed and laughed and Jeremy eventually took pity on her. “Don’t mess with someone with longer arms than you,” he teased, stepping back and messing up her hair a little. Jeremy saw Michael watching him, grinning, and he flushed a little as a comfortable silence fell over the group.

 

Christine seemed to understand something from that, a slightly mischievous look in her eyes, but said nothing as she walked along by Jeremy’s side then.

 

With all of their playful fighting, they didn’t notice that they were now approaching the temple. Michael looked it over with a hum before gesturing to some of the roses lying off of the side. “I’d say it’s better to be safe than sorry. Take your pick, and then we’ll head in.”

 

Jeremy nodded and quickly took some cuttings of both the roses and the moss, enough to grow some of his own. Once he had put it all into his pack, he turned back to Michael and the group with a grin. “I’m ready! Let’s go.”

 

Everyone smiled then before they walked up the steps, being careful and vigilant as they walked. “There could even be traps out here,” Michael warned, and quickly stopped Jake from stepping on a raised stone. “See, like that.”

 

Jeremy looked around, peering through the gloom of the small corridor. “Do we have a torch we can light?” he asked, pushing Christine to the side to avoid another raised stone. Jake nodded and grabbed a torch from the side of his pack, lighting it and taking the lead.

 

It was all going well for a while, everyone avoided the traps and no one got hurt, until Jake stepped on a raised stone, partially obscured by leaves. Michael pulled him back just as the spiked wall flipped out from the side of the hallway, missing Jake by inches.

 

“Oh shit, thanks,” Jake sighed out before continuing to lead the way, being even more careful as they trekked forward.

 

Finally the hallway opened up to a large room. In the center of the room was a large, deep pit. It was too dark to see down and too large to jump across. ‘This seems... familiar...’ Jeremy thought to himself, but he couldn’t place why. All he could recall was a whip crack and a hat.

 

“We need to get something attached to that bar up there!” Jeremy noted, pointing to the stone bar half way across. “Then we can swing over.”

 

Everyone quickly checked over their supplies until Chloe dug out a durable rope. “I’ve had it for a while, if we toss it back and over a couple of time to have it looped around, we should be able to swing over, one by one.”

 

Jake, being the tallest of the group, did exactly that. Jeremy insisted on swinging across first.

 

“I’m the least likely to set off any traps, since I’m the lightest on my feet.” No one could argue with that. So Jake strapped the torch onto Jeremy’s back and he swung across, no problems. There weren’t any traps so far, and looking at the ground, there were no triggers either.

 

Once he was sure the area was clear, Jeremy swung the rope back for Jake to grab and give to Christine next. Everyone then began swinging across, Jeremy helping them to land. Christine went, then Chloe, and Jake after a quick bickering session before Michael made it across. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to easily get your rope back-“

 

“It’s fine, I have more like it back on board.”

 

Nobody questioned it, since they knew that it wasn’t part of the ship. Chloe has her ways after all.

 

The next room had a large, checkerboard tile pattern on the floor and the walls were covered in holes. There weren’t any obvious traps in here, no tripwires or raised stones, but everyone knew it was dangerous. “I’m going to guess arrows or darts or spikes come out of those holes, so we need to be careful. The tiles probably trigger it,” Michael deduced. Jeremy nodded, squinting at the tiles.

 

“There’s going to be some sort of pattern to it. Check the walls, see if we can find any clues.”

 

Everyone nodded, looking before daring to move onto the patterned tiles. Michael seemed to squint, squatting down to inspect the tiles closer before letting out a small noise of triumph. "OK, so there is a slight off-color to some of the tiles, mainly the black tiles so it's hard to see from a distance. Try to avoid stepping on any of the black tiles if possible."

 

Once again, Jeremy went first, managing to make it across without too much trouble. “Watch out for the tiles under the leaf litter, I can’t see which ones are bad or not!” he called across the room. One by one, they stepped onto the tiles, slowly making their way across. Jake and Chloe made it next, leaving Christine and Michael left just near the far edge. They were almost out.

 

Christine had a misstep. It was tiny, but her foot pressed down against a discolored black tile. Michael tackled her to the ground just before the noise of the arrow being shot was heard. They both landed on the other side, barley avoiding the volley of arrows suddenly coating the room.

 

One caught Michael in his side. It was lucky he hadn’t landed on it when he crashed down.

 

The three who already made it across rushed over, kneeling down as Christine sat up, helping Michael to do so in the process. "Oh my god, Michael!"

 

"You're alright, Christine?" he somehow managed to ask, not even worried about himself as he tried looking her over. Even as he hissed while moving around, he didn't worry about himself.

 

"You dumbass, how many times do we have to tell you to not get hurt in our place?" Chloe asked as she forced him to stop moving, moving closer to examine where he got injured. "If you don't stop moving, it could lodge itself further inside of you!"

 

“I’m fine. Brooke can patch me up when we get back, as always.” He waved them off, even as they started digging through their bags.

 

Jeremy felt a little sick, looking at the wound. It was deep but it looked like the arrow had missed anything vital. “You’re damn lucky it didn’t kill you, another inch over and it would have pierced your stomach.” Jeremy scowled, the heat in his voice overcome by the worry.

 

Looking closer, he noticed something worrying. There was a fine, green paste around the entry wound. Jeremy stood and picked up another arrow nearby. More of the green paste. He did a quick analysis of it, a little panic setting in.

 

“They’ve been coated in some sort of toxin. A paralytic from what I can tell, we have maybe twenty minutes before he won’t be able to move at all.” Jeremy threw aside the arrow and knelt back down, digging out some of the moss from his bag. Jake had snapped off part of the arrow, and was pulling out the bandages while Chloe was grabbing some anesthetic. Apparently this was a common occurrence. Jeremy pressed some of the moss around the wound, drawing out a pained hiss from Michael. “This should help slow it down a little. Slip moss is great for keeping wounds clean and infection free. And it usually slows down toxins and poisoned wounds.”

 

"Even if it hurts like a bitch, thanks Jere," he hissed out through shut teeth as he shut his eyes. Christine kept him up and steady as Chloe got the anesthetic ready, carefully dabbing where she needed to before Jake wrapped the wound.

 

Christine seemed closer to Jeremy in terms of reactions, as she kept profusely apologizing as Jake was finishing wrapping the wound. "Christine, he does this all the time," Chloe reassured her before flicking Michael in the forehead, who pouted through the numbing pain at her. "It's the real reason his name's Blood Coat. He keeps getting hurt protecting his family, and getting himself all bloody. Jenna just spread that it was enemy blood that kept getting onto him."

 

Jeremy sighed in exasperation, panic calming a little. If this was normal, there was no reason to freak out right that second, but he would be telling Michael just how stupid and brave he was later. “Of course it is. You seem to have a talent for this, my friend.” Jeremy chuckled, helping Michael to his feet, letting him lean on his shoulder. “You’re not making it back the way we came, so we’d better keep going. There is a breeze coming from up ahead so there must be a way out.”

 

"Yeah, the compass face should be up ahead," Michael muttered out as he tried to walk with the group, though everyone slowed their pace down half a step so they wouldn't straggle behind. "I'm hoping there's a clue to the next compass piece's location, because I don't have any other leads right now."

 

“Hey, you got us this far, Captain. I trust you’ll get us the rest of the way.” Jeremy grinned, focusing on keeping Michael moving slow. If he moved too fast right now, the arrow could get lodged deeper, not to mention the toxin would act faster.

 

Eventually, they made it to a large circular room. At one end, there was a large, round cave where the breeze seemed to be coming from. Multiple large stone orbs decorated the top of the room, and in the center, there stood a golden pedestal which held the next piece and a roll of very old parchment.

 

Jeremy had a very bad feeling about this all, certain that something was going to happen. “Jake, can you carry Michael please? I feel like we’re going to need to move fast for some reason...” Jake picked up Michael, putting him piggyback style and moving his messenger bag to the side. After getting a quick nod from the rest of the team, Jeremy slowly stepped up to the pedestal, so far not triggering any traps.

 

From where the group stood nearby, Michael resting against Jake, the man holding their captain could hear him start to mutter something. He had been getting a bit tired from everything, so it didn't surprise anyone too much. "What is it?" Jake asked as he looked over his shoulder at Michael, who had his head resting against his back on that side.

 

"It's weighted," Michael muttered out, "You need to put something that weighs the same in its place..."

 

Jeremy nodded, stepping away for a minute. “Chrissy, you have a small bag on you right?” She nodded and handed it to him. Jeremy walked back up to the pedestal, eyeing the face carefully. “This face seems to be made of pure porcelain, with an enamel coating and solid gold details. That’s some thick parchment too... For something this size, that should mean...” Jeremy knelt down and started scooping up the sand from the ground, filling the bag a little. He tossed it from hand to hand, testing the weight.

 

“Get near the cave, if I get this wrong we don’t know what could happen.” Jeremy nodded, eyeing the face carefully. When everyone was in position, Jeremy quick swapped the bag for the face and parchment in one smooth move. Nothing happened.

 

After a moment, Jeremy believed he got it right because the weight of the two was identical in his hands. Then, the next moment, when he heard a 'click' from above, he realized where he went wrong: the distribution of the weight wasn't the same as the two objects, spread a bit apart on the pedestal.

 

The pedestal sunk down as noise started to erupt, and Jeremy booked it down the stairs as dust started to fall from the ceiling. "Run!"

 

Everyone started sprinting through the cave, even as a loud BOOM shook the ground and a deep, threatening rumbled started up behind them. Jeremy glanced over his shoulder and saw an enormous bolder, one of the great stone orbs in the other room most likely, rolling full pelt towards them.

 

He screamed and urged everyone on to go faster. The bolder was gaining on him, he could almost feel the air shifting around it. Then up ahead the cave narrowed down, just becoming big enough for one person at a time. Jake dove through with Michael first, followed closely by Chloe and Christine. Jeremy barely managed to throw himself through the narrow entrance as the bolder smashed into the rock behind him with a loud THUD.

 

Panting, he picked himself up. “Damn weight distribution... okay, well bring on the cannibals...,” he muttered to himself, not entirely sure where the thought came from but also not disagreeing with it entirely.

 

"I'd rather that not happen," Chloe said as she brushed herself off of the excess dirt from tumbling out. "We don't need to add on more when we have to take Captain Dumbass here back to the ship."

 

"Hey, I'm not a dumbass," Michael argued as Jake stood back up, pointing an accusatory finger at her. "Don't be rude to your captain."

 

"I will once you stop with the self-sacrificing bullshit."

 

“I will have you keelhauled,” Michael grumbled, making everyone giggle at the empty threat.

 

“Sure you will, Captain. But let’s get you back to the ship first, Brooke needs to take a look over you and I don’t know how much longer you’ll be moving for.“ Jeremy playfully ruffled Michael’s hair who smacked his hand away weakly, scowling as he did.

 

The trek back was uneventful, and Jeremy took the chance to gather some more slip moss while they were there. If Michael getting hurt was a common occurrence then he wanted to keep a ready supply of the stuff.

 

Since they had to go slower to not agitate Michael's arrow injury, they got back to the ship a bit later than they would have liked. Michael was just not moving if he could, though could still somewhat move. He thanked Jake as he helped him get settled down into the dingy, everyone else following along before Chloe and Jake started to row back this time, allowing for Jeremy to help Michael if he needed it.

 

Jeremy chuckled as Michael’s head was resting in his lap again. “Well, this seems familiar. At least you’re not bleeding out too badly this time.”

 

Michael shot Jeremy a weak glare. “Sure, tease the guy who saved you ass that time, I see how it is.”

 

Jeremy let out a hearty laugh, careful to not jostle Michael. He brushed Michael’s hair off his face gently. “Well at least you’re not trying to get me to sleep with you this time, Captain. You were so needy,” he teased, totally ignoring anyone else. They were talking among themselves anyway.

 

Finally the dingy made it back to the ship and they were quickly brought on board. Rich and Jake carried the still conscious (thank god) Michael to his cabin and Chloe ran off to get Brooke. Chrissy and Jeremy were left standing together on deck, finally able to relax a little.

 

"I get why you didn't want to tell me who you liked now," Christine started as she walked down with Jeremy to their sleeping quarters, speaking with faux innocence.

 

Jeremy, of course, looked down at his childhood friend with confusion. "Chrissy, I honestly have no idea what you are referring to."

 

Turning around suddenly, stopping and standing still, she prodded her chubbier fingers against his chest, forcing Jeremy to stop in the middle of the hall. "You know exactly what I'm talking about. You and Mi- sorry, Captain, are a bit close, even with how tactile he can be, wouldn't you say?" Her voice was sing-songy as she gave the taller of the two a knowing look.

 

Jeremy arched an eyebrow and shot her a confused pout. “I mean, yeah. He’s been making sure I’m not so weird with physical contact, you know how bad I used to get. What’s that got to do with anything?”

 

Christine seemed to get annoyed with that answer, letting out a loud groan and waving her arms in apparent exasperation. "No, you idiot! Ugh. I've known you for ages, and yet you still are the same oblivious dolt that is my best friend."

 

Jeremy grinned nervously. This was not going to end well for him, was it? “What do you expect, Chrissy? For me to have magically changed in the past, what, two months? I just don’t get what you’re on about.” Just play along a little, maybe she’ll leave some pride intact.

 

"No, oh my god. OK, you buffoon, you clearly like Michael, but in more than a way of admiration and respect! Like, I bet you would've been happy getting an arranged marriage with him."

 

Jeremy blushed so hard he thought his face might combust. “What?” he squeaked out, trying to wrap his head around the accusation. “But I like women, not men! And I’m not interested in Michael like that! Why would you even suggest that?!”

 

"You need to just stop arguing with the facts and think about it. I've seen you look at guys the way you look at girls, Jeremy, including Michael. He can't hear you, it's alright," Christine reassured as they walked into their quarters, and she sat down in her hammock.

 

“I- er... what even gave you that idea? When have I ever look at a guy like that? And why would it matter if he could hear me? I’m not into him.” Jeremy tried his best to deny it, but he knew Chrissy would figure a way to ‘prove’ it anyway. He sat down in his hammock with a heavy sigh. “I just don’t understand, Chrissy.”

 

"Just look at me, Jeremy, and listen to the sage, wise advice I'm about to give you." Of course, he had to look, and he watched as she sat up, staring right into him and his soul before swinging in the hammock, back and forth.

 

"You swing both ways."

 

Jeremy flopped backwards with a groan. “Ugh, Christine!” he grumbled, shooting her a glare. “You have no proof, I’ve never checked out guys like that, as far as I know.”

 

"That is because you are in so much denial, you're practically drowning in the river," she told him before hopping out and plopping next to him in his hammock, making it sway ever so slightly. "Just think about it and soul search, and by soul search I mean help to realize you like guys and girls."

 

“Ugh, fine! I’ll think about it if you stop!” he cried, throwing his arms up in exasperation. He fell silent for a minute, thinking it over. He came up blank. “Give me some examples of when I’ve done it, because I can’t think of any. I never even noticed, if I was even doing it at all,” he grumbled.

 

"When we were thirteen, you were checking out the guys when they were coming back from their sword training," she started, counting off on her fingers. "A few years back, you told me how you wouldn't mind living with a man for the rest of your life if they ended up being the better option than whatever girl, and you've checked out Michael more times than I can count when he's practiced his swordsmanship above deck."

 

“I-“ Shit, Jeremy had stared, hadn’t he? “I-“ And he did say that, didn’t he? Sure, he had meant as a friend, but maybe... “Maybe?” And Michael was a great sword fighter, every move he performed was swift and graceful. Jeremy could watch him practice for hours and never get bored... “Shit, I’m totally bi, aren’t I?”

 

Christine got off of the hammock before starting to swing him in it. "Yup, glad you're finally getting it! Praise be, because Jeremy Heere isn't being too dense to get it for once!"

 

Jeremy grumbled, hiding his face. “Why were you so desperate for me to figure this out now? Why is it so important that I’m bisexual?” His cheeks were flaming.

 

"Because it's obvious that you like Michael! I think you two would honestly be cute together," she almost sang out before settling back into her own hammock. "You did tell him earlier that you were glad he wasn't trying to sleep with him and that he was so needy. You're sort of digging your own grave at this point."

 

Jeremy faced away from Christine, curling up on himself. “N-no I don’t. I can’t, Chrissy. I just admire him, I can’t afford to like him. I’m nowhere near good enough. If I like him, I’m setting myself up for heartbreak because I’m never going to be good enough for him.”

 

"You seriously can't see that Mi- well, you're oblivious, so of course you wouldn't." From across the room, Chrissy sighed. "We all know Michael is very much gay, but he isn't gay for just anyone. He is very much gay for you, Jeremy, I assure you. I'm not just saying this as your friend, as I only tell you the honest truth."

 

“I...” Did he want to believe it? Yes, now that actually admitted that he liked men as well. If there was ever a man that Jeremy would like, it would be Michael. He was kind, brave, charming, handsome... ‘Focus, Jeremy.’ Right, but could he believe that Michael actually liked him too? “Maybe…,” he finally admitted. Christine wouldn’t lie to him, not about this.

 

He could see her smile from across the room before she grabbed her blanket and pulled it over herself. "Well, now I feel accomplished and a bit better." There seemed to be some guilt lingering in her voice before she got comfortable in her hammock. "I'm gonna sleep today off, and you better not deny any of this tomorrow.”

 

“Okay, Chrissy, I won’t...” The realizations he had were too profound. He needed to think about it. He also really wanted to check on Michael, he was worried, but he wasn’t sure if he should. Not after realizing his feelings.

 

As if she could hear what he was thinking, she called out, "Don't you dare get cold feet about talking to or checking up on Michael either, he'll want to see you."

 

Jeremy sighed, chucking wetly. “God, you know me so well. I do want to check on him. And I was nervous. Can I just forget for now? Please? Just so I can face him for now, so I can process later.”

 

He heard Chrissy groan before she shifted to curl up under her blanket. "Whatever helps you to see him, I guess." There wasn't any malice in her voice or tone though, he could hear her smile.

 

Jeremy sighed again, climbing out of his hammock and setting off towards Michael’s cabin. The walk was quiet, save for the slight roar of the waves. It was peaceful, as close to true peace that he could imagine. He lightly knocked on the door.

 

Jake opened the door, smiling up at Jeremy. "Hey, you here to check up on him? He's got the arrow out, and Brooke didn't have to disinfect because of the moss, so she just finished sewing him back up a few minutes ago since it was a smaller arrow head."

 

Jeremy smiled softly. “When do I not check on him?” he asked, shooting a grin up at Jake. He knew he should be nervous around Michael now, but he didn’t feel any of it. This was Michael. His friend. His captain. How could Jeremy ever feel uncomfortable around him?

 

Jeremy wandered in, grinning at Michael, who looked not too worse for wear. “How you doing, Captain? Still got some movement left in you or are you down for the count?” He playfully patted Michael’s cheek. Michael swatted his hand away with a faux scowl.

 

"I'm barely able to move, you little shit," Michael huffed out, a teasing tone evident in his voice as his hand dropped back down. "It took a lot of effort to do that, so I hope you appreciated that." His head turned so he could face Jeremy better as well. "I think I'm now all moved-out, so I really hope you appreciate this."

 

Jeremy chuckled. “‘Course I do. Now, you want some help getting comfy? Or are you all set to spend a day or two here, because that’s my estimate for the toxin.” He messed up Michael’s hair, getting a dark glare in return. Where, go back a few weeks, it would have set Jeremy’s insides freezing with fright, now it just made him giggle. “Don’t think you can pull off scary with me anymore, Michael. I know you’re secret now. You’re the biggest softy on the sea,” he cooed teasingly. “You have a habit of taking in strays if they’re sweet enough to you.”

 

Michael scoffed as Jeremy went back to fix his hair. "I know, why do you think I gave you the glare?" He let out a sigh as he shut his eyes then. "I don't just take in 'strays,' you're butchering what I do. I help people out who I think are good people and deserve the helping hand. I know you're a good person too and will help me out in return by helping me to get comfortable, especially since I can no longer move and used the last of my energy to look at you." When he opened his eyes and looked back up at Jeremy, he seemed to be begging him with his eyes.

 

Jeremy chuckled and started re-positioning Michael in a way he knew would be comfortable; he had spent enough time in here, either waking him up or even occasionally napping, to know how Michael liked to sleep. “I know what you do, Michael. I know it’s important and I’m proud to be part of your crew and grateful that you trusted me enough to let me help. That was one of my first thoughts when you let me join: ‘I’m glad I can actually do something useful and important now,’” Jeremy said seriously, a small smile on his lips. “Better? You need anything else?” he asked once he was done rearranging Michael’s limbs.

 

After what he said, Michael seemed to be at a loss for words. Even if his face couldn't turn to the side, his eyes glanced away from Jeremy, and he swore he could see color on his captain's cheeks. "I... I'm glad to hear that, Jeremy, really." He seemed to think for a moment before letting out a small laugh. "I was going to ask something, but you called me out earlier for it when we were coming back to the ship, I guess?"

 

Jeremy cocked his head, thinking for a second. When Michael’s request actually registered, he paused, taking in his own feelings. His cheeks colored a little, but he didn’t feel any different. Just because he knew about his feelings didn’t mean things had to be weird.

 

He toed off his boots before sliding under the covers and instantly snuggling close, just how Michael would pull him anyway. “I was just teasing, Captain. You’re bed’s too comfy to say no. Plus, you’re really warm.” Jeremy lightly nuzzled his shoulder. “Should I put your arm around me, or are you good?”

 

Even if Michael couldn't move, he seemed to relax once Jeremy was lying down with him. "It would be better if you could move my arm, please, though I hope you won't mind my arm partially trapping you here overnight."

 

Jeremy did as requested, loving the familiar warmth in his chest he got from being held. The fact it was Michael just made it even stronger and nicer. “If I minded, I wouldn’t have climbed in,” he happily hummed. Jeremy closed his eyes, resting his head partially on Michael’s chest, as usual. “If you need anything, just let me know, yeah? Shout at me until I wake up or something.”

 

"I will, don't worry," Michael told him. "Goodnight, Jeremy, and thank you for helping today. You were great..." If he hadn't been so close, he wouldn't have been able to hear Michael say, though he probably didn't mean to have Jeremy hear it with how softly he said it, "You're always great, though."

 

Jeremy sighed happily, feeling his cheeks light up from the praise. “Goodnight Michael. Sleep well.” He pretended to not have heard the extra part Michael had added. Even if Christine was right, he wasn’t going to force the issue. If Michael liked him, he’d let him know if he were ready for something. Still, as Jeremy drifted off one thought rang clear in his head: ‘Chrissy is never going to let me live this down.’

Chapter Text

The next day, Michael learned how much he hated being unable to move. He was a being that wasn't supposed to be still, even in sleep (Jeremy had told him he moved a bit in his sleep typically), so this was hell for him. All of the excess energy building up in him was getting to be a bit overwhelming, and he was glad that the rest of his crew could sense that as Jeremy worked with Brooke to make him an antidote.

 

He was staring up at the ceiling, letting out a tense sigh when heard the door open. In walked Jeremy, handsome and adorable somehow simultaneously, with a smile he fell for since the first time he saw it. "Hey Captain, I got your antidote. It's super disgusting, so we mixed it into the tea. Hopefully it won't be as bad."

 

"Thank you, especially since you're sort of going to be helping me drink it. I don't want to gag or spit it up on you or myself." 'Smooth, Mell, so smooth.'

 

Jeremy chuckled. “My thoughts exactly. Though I’m not against forcing it down either, your extra energy is practically vibrating the ship.” Jeremy placed the cup of tea on his bedside cabinet and moved Michael to a sitting position. “I’m glad I’m less of a twig now, I doubt I would have been able to move you around like this when I first came aboard. I could barely sail my own ship in calm weather!” he joked, his touch lingering for half a second longer than strictly necessary.

 

Michael found his cheeks warming at that half second before he laughed along with Jeremy's joke. "Yeah, you sort of have to bulk yourself up when you're working on a ship with a reliable crew." 'And I totally haven't been noticing that on my own, no way.'

 

Jeremy looked down at himself, then shot another grin at Michael. “Eh, I’m still kinda twiggy. And not nearly as strong as you or Jake yet, but I’m getting there.” Jeremy picked up the cup. “Okay, so if I’m right, this should give you your movement back in about ten minutes. And it should totally speed up the healing on your side too, I mixed in some regeneration potion into it.”

 

'God, he's really fucking smart. I'm sure Brooke appreciates his help. I know I do... Shut up, brain, seriously.' "Thanks, Jeremy, I honestly can't wait to move around again. I feel like I'm going to implode if I can't run around or do something."

 

“Yeah I noticed.” Jeremy grinned, putting his hand under Michael’s chin and tilting his head back slightly. “Open up. And try not to gag too much.”

 

Once the antidote went down his throat, Michael almost gagged on it. Thankfully, the tea it was mixed with kept him from actually doing so, but just barely. After he finished it off and Jeremy tilted his head back to it's normal position, he coughed a few times before sticking his tongue out. "That. Was. Disgusting!"

 

“Told you. Who do you think tested it?” Jeremy looked a little green but he still shot Michael a small smile. Michael was a little shocked, and it obviously showed. Jeremy shook his head a little, rolling his eyes. “What, you really think I’m going to feed you a new and potentially dangerous potion without knowing how it affects the body? I knew it wouldn’t kill me, but I wasn’t about to let you be the first test subject, just in case there were some side effects. We can’t afford for you to be out of commission for any longer than necessary, Captain.”

 

He couldn't help but feel his cheeks warm a bit more at that, especially with the fondness that he could hear Jeremy use when calling him 'Captain.' Michael gave him a small smile back then, humming. "If I could, I'd rest my head on your shoulder right now. You're sweet. You need to care for your safety a bit more, but you're still sweet."

 

Jeremy laughed a little. “Sap. Here, I’ll help.” He slid onto the bed, outside of the covers and pulled Michael over until he was resting his head on Jeremy’s shoulder. Jeremy’s cheeks looked a little warm, but they always did when someone praised him. “There, happy now? You’re stuck here with me for the next ten minutes while the antidote takes effect; I hope you’re comfortable because I’m not moving you back. And if you’re wondering, my job for today is literally get you up and moving again, so I’m not shirking any responsibilities.” He looked over at Michael from the corner of his eye, arching an eyebrow teasingly.

 

"I'm guessing Rich assigned that to you since I'm still technically out-of-commission. I'm glad, though, I like the others taking care of me, but I like spending my time with you." How Michael managed to get that out without his cheeks warming up even further was a surprise, but he was glad he got it out. "Plus, you're pretty comfortable, even if you're still a little bony, so I'm not gonna complain whatsoever."

 

“You’d better not, you’re the one constantly pulling into bed for cuddles. Not that I’m complaining either, I quite enjoy it.” Jeremy’s cheeks did get a little warmer, and though his tone was teasing, his eyes were soft.

 

They fell into a comfortable silence, and Michael felt his neck start to crick from the slightly awkward position. Jeremy obviously picked up on it, because Michael was quickly shifted so he was leaning back against Jeremy’s thin (but notably more firm) chest, with Jeremy’s arms around him. “Hey look, I’m finally holding you rather than the other way around.”

 

If Michael wasn't still paralyzed right now, he was sure he would melt in Jeremy's hold. "Yeah, it looks like it. Maybe we should switch it up sometimes..." He was being honest. Through some of their cuddling sessions that they've had since Jeremy joined, he found that he loved to hold Jeremy close. Michael had only really been held by his mothers, and he was always the one to hold others, so he didn't realize how nice it was to be held until now, especially by Jeremy. "... I really like being held by you, somewhat stick-like arms aside."

 

Jeremy pouted down at him. “You’re so mean to me! And after I put my breakfast on the line for you!” His tone went from a goofy wail to something softer, more honest. “...I really like holding you,” he murmured and Michael could almost feel the heat radiating off Jeremy’s cheeks, not to mention how his heart rate increased a little.

 

“Hey, try wiggling your fingers, it should be starting to take effect.”

 

Unable to help but smile at Jeremy, Michael looked down to his hand that rested on the bed and tried doing just that. It took a few seconds, but he saw and felt his fingers finally begin to move. "Yes, I can finally move something besides my big mouth!"

 

Jeremy reached down with one hand and picked up Michael’s. Then, he slowly started sort of massaging it, causing his fingers to bend a little every now and again. “This should help the nerves reconnect faster, so I’ll work on your other hand in a minute. Just keep trying to move small things. Like wiggle your toes or something.” Jeremy’s voice was calm and almost businesslike, as if he wasn’t wrapped around Michael while sitting in his bed.

 

Michael had to do everything in his power to not melt into a flustered mess, so he just focused on wiggling his toes like Jeremy suggested. "Alright, t-thanks Jeremy," he muttered out, looking across the room as he tried to not freak out too badly at the tender and intimate moment they were having.

 

Silence fell again, as Jeremy kept rubbing Michael’s hand gently. It was comfortable, warm. Michael actually really liked it. Then Jeremy chuckled a little, shaking his head.

 

“What’s so funny?” Michael managed to twist his head a little (barely anything but still!) to look up at Jeremy.

 

“Oh it’s nothing. I was just marveling at the fact that in the entire ocean, you didn’t manage to get a single straight crew member. Like, how did you even manage that?” Jeremy said it so casually, as if it were an everyday fact, but Michael knew that the whole crew believed Jeremy to be straight (or at least hadn’t been told otherwise, belief of it was debatable). The only other person who might know otherwise was Chrissy, and she had been Jeremy’s best friend for years.

 

"Wait, so..." The gears in Michael's brain quickly turned before his whole face exploded in warmth. "You're not straight, though not gay because you fell for the siren's song... Are you pansexual, bisexual?..." His whole brain was on alert, metaphorical bells ringing in his head as he realized that Jeremy was coming out to him right now.

 

“I’m saying bi for now, but it’s still up for debate. I just realized that I had been eyeing up guys as much as I would girls for years, is all... Okay, so maybe Chrissy helped me a little, but so what? I got there in the end.“ Jeremy dropped his current hand (which already had movement up to the wrist) and picked up Michael’s other hand, still seeming as relaxed as ever. There wasn’t an ounce on nerves in his posture or voice at all, he was totally at ease.

 

Michael, meanwhile, was glad he couldn't move much of his body, otherwise Jeremy would feel him tense up at this. "Well, I guess birds of a feather stick together," he said before laughing and becoming a flustered mess, knowing he wouldn't really be able to speak up much while he realized he possibly had a chance with the cute guy he liked.

 

Jeremy laughed a little too, still focused on the task at hand (no pun intended). “Yeah, I guess. Still, it makes things interesting when it comes to ports. Considering I’m leaning more toward guys anyway, it means I don’t have to feel bad about rebuffing any girls who try to flirt with me anymore. Pretty sure they were only doing it because they smelt the money on me anyway. According to Chloe, I still have that sort of look about me, even when I’m halfway up the rigging.” Jeremy seemed totally oblivious to Michael’s state and just continued to chatter happily.

 

"Y-yeah, that's good," Michael got out as he tried not to feel his heart race too much. He didn't want to get his hopes up too much, especially if he was just misreading Jeremy's possible signs. He didn't want to make the situation uncomfortable if he didn't like him like that... "I'm sure that you'll get rid of that look eventually t-though."

 

Jeremy picked up on his small stutter. His hand stilled and he tilted Michael’s head up to meet his concerned frown. “Hey, you okay there Captain? Nothing’s hurting, right?”

 

Michael managed to shake his head just a little, though it was the most he could do at the moment. "Nothin's hurting, don't worry," he answered, avoiding the first question all together because his heart was beating fast, he felt a mix of hope and doubt sprouting in his heart, and he didn't know what to do if he was misreading the situation.

 

Jeremy grinned brightly, but he didn’t move to take Michael’s hand again. Instead, he put both hands on Michael’s shoulders. “I’m pretty sure your neck should have enough motion to hold your head up now,” he mused as he slowly pushed Michael forward. Not only did his head stay up, he could actually hold his back up too. He couldn’t move it himself yet, but he was getting there. He wasn’t about to complain about the loss of contact though, even if he wanted to.

 

“Great! Now just stay there.” Jeremy shuffled so he was sitting directly behind Michael, his legs on either side of him. Then he started rubbing his hands up and down Michael’s arms and massaging his shoulders a little. His hands, which had once been so delicate and soft, now were covered in new yet familiar callouses, yet still seemed to hold the same elegance. Strong fingers pushed the muscles of his arms and back into motion, every touch deliberate and sure. Jeremy might not have been the best at massaging, but he certainly was doing a damn fine job at it.

 

Michael had to keep himself from making any pleased noise that sounded inappropriate as Jeremy worked. He didn’t know how much longer he could handle this without freaking out, so he used the fact that Jeremy couldn’t see his face to gnaw on his lower lip.

 

A few more minutes of these gentle touches and Jeremy removed his hands. “Okay Michael. Now, try lifting your left arm,” Jeremy instructed. He did, and found that, while slow, he actually managed it. “Perfect. You can relax that one. Now the other.” Again, it was slow going but he managed to lift it. “Excellent! Looks like it’s almost all the way through your system!”

 

"I think I'm still bed-ridden for a good part of the day, but I'm definitely almost able to move everything. Thanks," Michael said, honesty and sincerity in his tone as he looked back at Jeremy, smiling warmly up at him.

 

Jeremy grinned back, his smile almost blinding with its warmth and sincerity. “Well I’ll be sticking with you for as long as you need me, Captain! So if you want something you just have to let me know.” Jeremy looked at the lump where Michael’s legs were for a moment, lost in thought. “I think we can try getting you to actually walk around a little in maybe an hour. You’ll only be able to manage small bursts for now, but it’s something. You’re not gonna be able to get any sword work done for three days though, that’s Doctor Brooke and Potion Master Jeremy’s orders. You still need to let the wound on you side heal, and even with the regeneration potion it’ll take a while,” Jeremy fussed a little, sighing.

 

"I mean, I'd rather have it be me going through this than one of you guys," Michael told him, looking down to the lump his legs were under in the blanket. "I just can't stand the sight, let alone the thought of any of you guys getting hurt. I'd take another paralysis-poison-tipped arrow for Christine any day, and for anyone else here as well."

 

“You know we all feel the same about you, right?” Jeremy asked softly, wrapping his arms around Michael and resting his head on Michael’s shoulder. “We all hate seeing you hurt too, s’why we all work so hard to make sure you get better every time. You’re our friend, our family, as much as our captain.”

 

"I do appreciate that," Michael said before resting his head against Jeremy's. "Also, I know I'm the captain here, but I think that you're honestly the only one who calls me that."

 

“Yeah... well...” Jeremy’s cheeks were burning, but he didn’t try to move away or escape or even offer explanation. “Do you mind it if I do?” he mumbled eventually.

 

"If I minded, I would've told you that already. I think it's sweet." 'Also really cute in a weird way, but I'm weird too so...'

 

Jeremy sighed, relaxing what little tension was in him. “Started out as a sign of respect I guess, because I was raised that you keep using titles even if no one else is using them. But it sort of just... stuck, as we became friends. I don’t know, it’s stupid. But I like it,” he confessed quietly.

 

His heart skipped a beat or two at that, but Michael just smiled and resisted the urge to kiss Jeremy's cheek. "It's not stupid. I like it a lot, really. But, since you keep calling me by my title, can I call you yours?"

 

“I don’t have a title s’far as I know, left that all behind when I joined up with you. But sure, knock yourself out.”

 

"Yes you do, we gave you one, remember?" At Jeremy's look of confusion, Michael couldn't help but grin mischievously. "Your our ship's cat, Jeremy, first and foremost."

 

Jeremy scowled at Michael, eyes narrowed in mock anger. He hid his face against the back of Michael’s shoulder. “M’not a cat,” he grumbled, squeezing his arms around Michael a little.

 

Well, that wasn’t a denial to use the title, was it?

 

"Really? Well, you're sure acting like one, kitty," he teased, just wanting to see how Jeremy would react when he said it.

 

Jeremy groaned something unintelligible into Michael’s shoulder before he looked up and, glaring slightly, hissed at Michael. He then flopped backwards, landing lightly against the pillows, throwing his arms up dramatically. “I’d better get all the head-pats,” he grumbled, eyes twinkling with poorly concealed playfulness.

 

Michael couldn't help but burst out laughing at that, and he was able to raise a hand up to cover his mouth as he snorted. "Holy shit Jeremy, holy fuck."

 

Jeremy seemed unable to contain his own laughter and joined in after a moment, wheezing and cackling alongside Michael’s snorts. “You- you are the only one- hehe-who I’m letting get away with that, I hope you know,” Jeremy managed to spout between his giggled. “Anyone else is getting a hiss and nothing else. And I expect affection! Lots of it!”

 

"As the resident cat," Michael started after he managed to calm down his laughter once his belly began to ache, "You will get all of the affection." Well, maybe it wasn't just because he was the 'resident cat,' but that would be his excuse.

 

Jeremy crossed his arms, trying his best to look high and mighty but failing thanks to his rosy cheeks and remaining giggles. “Good. I’d better.” He sat up and rested his head back on Michael’s shoulder. “I’m demanding some now, in fact.”

 

Looking down at Jeremy, Michael couldn't hide the fondness in his eyes as he moved his hand slowly through Jeremy's hair, humming as he went. "There." As he watched Jeremy shut his eyes, still giggling occasionally, Michael couldn't help but feel the adoration and attraction for the other grow. Even if he had to wait to progress their relationship in that manner, he was fine, because he'd rather have Jeremy as a friend and member of his crew than not have him at all.

 

 

 

“Oi! Kitty cat! Make sure you pick me up some more butter sweets while you’re out there!” Rich yelled down at Jeremy from his place up on the rigging. He was holding a rope so as to be able to ‘stand’ almost horizontally on the rope structure. Jeremy scowled up at him, swiping at the bottom of it and making Rich yelp as his platform suddenly shook.

 

Everyone else had taken up the nickname within hours of Michael starting it three days ago, meaning that Jeremy was still having to react harshly whenever anyone else used it. He swiped at the rigging again. “Whatever you say, shortie!”

 

Michael walked by Jeremy, patting his head before heading down the gangplank. "C'mon, Jeremy! We gotta get going," he told him. "This port has amazing fresh street food that I want to show you, so stop swatting at him like he's a mouse."

 

“He’s SMALL ENOUGH TO BE ONE!” Jeremy hit the rigging one last time before following after Michael. The familiar cackling laughs of Rich echoed behind him and Jeremy couldn’t help but scowl.

 

"See, you giving him the time of day and showing your irritation only makes this worse for you." Michael patted his shoulder reassuringly before running a little ahead, grinning back at Jeremy as he walked backwards while somehow not managing to walk into anything or anyone. "Now c'mon! I wanna show you the food and have you try it!"

 

Jeremy grinned right back, any sour mood Rich caused instantly vanishing under Michael’s enthusiasm. “How are you even managing that?” he asked, jogging up and grabbing Michael’s hand, letting himself he dragged along.

 

"I'm just that great," Michael joked as he stuck his tongue out at Jeremy. "That and I've been doing this for a long time."

 

“Dork.” Jeremy chuckled. “So! Tell me about this street food! If it can even stand up to Brooke’s cooking it’s gotta be pretty damn amazing.” Seeing Michael out here, so relaxed and happy made Jeremy smile. It was rare to see him so carefree and Jeremy was going to enjoy his friend’s good mood.

 

He watched as Michael's eyes lit up before he started going on a long but endearing tangent about the food, waving his hands around and somehow not managing to bump into anyone with his backwards walking or waving hands.

 

Jeremy chuckled, listening happily as he allowed himself to he lead through the streets and into an open market. The hustle and bustle of it, combined with the number of delicious scents in the air, helped Jeremy feel right at home. He grew up on the sea, but markets were his playground.

 

Michael only managed to stop his tangent, which had somehow ended up talking about the large Shetland Sheepdog his mothers used to have and how they now owned a lovely Bernese Mountain Dog named Snookums, once they arrived at the food stall. His eyes seemed to light up as he looked at the food before ordering two portions of something called halo-halo.

 

He was quickly given two cups of the aforementioned treat before Jeremy was given his cup. "It's really good, it's just shaved ice and evaporated milk with a lot of sweet fruit and other sweet stuff. It's way better than just plain ol’ ice cream," Michael explained before he took a spoonful and sighed around said spoonful.

 

Jeremy’s eyes widened in delight as he took the cup from Michael. It had been ages since he had gotten to try new foods from far off lands, and he had missed the experience. Taking a spoonful himself, Jeremy found it sweet and fruity without being overly heavy in flavor.

 

“This is really good!” Jeremy grinned, taking another mouthful. “Way better than ice cream!” Jeremy started devouring his cup, humming happily with every bite.

 

Eventually, he finished it off, eyes shining happily. Jeremy wanted to show Michael one of his favorite dishes, but he wasn’t sure if any of the stalls would have it. It was from a set of islands a bit further east, so it was possible... A quick sniff to the air confirmed his suspicions. Grabbing Michael, he ordered one portion of the fried rice from a stall right near the center of the circular market space.

 

“This is usually a leftovers dish, where they use anything left over from the week. So it has vegetables and meat and rice, but it’s one of my favorites from when I used to travel with my father. This one has ginger tofu pieces. And the fried egg strips on top just make it amazing.” Jeremy handed Michael a spoon, taking a mouthful himself. He groaned happily at the taste, a thousand happy memories rushing back of him exploring while his father worked.

 

Michael let out a soft 'ooo' before taking the spoonful and eating it. He seemed to enjoy it as much as Jeremy as he let out a content sigh before walking away with Jeremy from the stall, away from the crowds so they could savor the flavors in relative peace. "I don't care if it's a leftovers dish, it's fucking amazing and I want Brooke to have the recipe for this!"

 

“It’s really easy!” Jeremy chattering happily about his memories of sneaking in the back of food stalls when he was little and watching them cook up the fresh food. He didn’t know how to cook, but he knew some recipes well enough. They ended up near a notice board, which was covered in papers.

 

Jeremy had just started his anecdote about when he was chased out of a pancake stall for trying to drink the maple syrup when something caught his eye. Slowly, he passed the box of food over to Michael, his voice dying in his throat. He grabbed the paper from the board, eyes transfixed.

 

It was him. No name given, no affiliation, and the portrait was a little off, but that was one hundred percent him. On a wanted poster. With an impressive bounty of one thousand crowns.

 

Michael looked over his shoulder then, eating some of the food before letting out a low, lingering whistle. "Wow, your first poster! That's a great starting bounty too," he told him before Jeremy heard Michael stuff his face more with food.

 

Jeremy didn’t say anything for a minute, still trying to process. He sort of forgot that he was a pirate now. Sure, he had been in battles and done some things of slightly questionable moral character, but the fact that he was an outlaw was suddenly hitting him all at once. It didn’t matter how much good Michael and the crew did, they were still technically illegal.

 

He realized Michael was staring at him, and he cleared his throat awkwardly, shoving the paper into his pocket. “Sorry, it’s just sort of hitting me that we’re pirates and not just adventurers, y’know? Like, my father is more than likely to see this. And though he was a little neglectful, he wasn’t a bad man. He’s going to wonder where he went ‘wrong’ because he won’t know all the good we do. It’s just a bit of a shock, is all.” He shot Michael a slightly shaky grin.

 

At seeing his expression, Michael seemed to give him a small smile back before giving Jeremy back the food. "Yeah, I get that I guess," he said, voice a touch softer before stuffing his hands into his pants pockets. "I mean, we aren't really legal or looked at positively in any regard..." His gaze looked away then as Jeremy saw Michael look out to the streets, an unreadable expression partially hidden by his glasses.

 

Jeremy gazed out too, lost in thought. “I’m still glad I joined,” Jeremy said eventually. “Because even if every single one of those people out there hated my guts, I’ve got more of a family than I even thought possible. And I’ll know what we do, even if they don’t. Even if my father never knows, I’ll still know and that’s enough.” His voice was quiet but sure. He meant every word. The shock was wearing off a little, being replaced by the familiar warmth. Yes, he was a little scared, but he wasn’t about to give this up just because of that.

 

He saw Michael glance over in his peripheral vision, that unreadable expression still there before he felt a sudden poke on his side. "So... You'd rather stay with us, even if everyone else hates you? Even if I'm considered to be so terrible and hated by everyone and can't tell them that they're not completely right in everything they think of me?"

 

“Yes.” There was no hesitation. “Because I know you, and I know our crew.” Jeremy turned a little to half look at Michael, shooting him a small smile. “Given the choice, I’d pick you every time. I’d pick my family every time.”

 

He saw Michael staring at him for a moment before his unreadable look shifted to that of a warm smile. "Sooo... does that mean I'm your favorite pewson?" the other asked before resting his head onto Jeremy's shoulders, looking up at him with a goofy grin.

 

Jeremy giggled, his face flushing. The moment was broken but he was still feeling sentimental. “Yup, but only if you promise we’re never not gonna be a team.” Jeremy bumped his hip lightly against Michael with a wide grin of his own.

 

"Mm... alright, but only if you're alright with me doing this." Before Jeremy could ask what 'this' was, he felt the container of food be swiped from his hands before Michael laughed, quickly hopping up to sit on the edge of a nearby roof of one of the one-story buildings before eating the food. He made sure to stick his tongue out at him before doing so.

 

“Hey!” Jeremy squawked in shock, trying to process the shift in mood. He burst out laughing before climbing up himself, though a lot less fluidly than Michael did. He looked around, before perching next to Michael happily. He made no move to take the food. “Y’know, I bet we could run along these rooftops without any trouble. They’re really sturdy.” He swung his legs a little, humming happily.

 

Though it wasn’t quite so emotional, he felt happy still. Jeremy felt the same peace wash over him, sitting up here on a rooftop with Michael, that he only ever did while alone with the sea. He felt content and at peace with himself.

 

Michael hummed from beside him around a mouthful of food. "Well," he said after swallowing and putting down the now-empty container, "We definitely could, but I don't think the people living in the houses we run over would be too pleased, nor would the business owners." As he spoke, Michael leaned back, resting against the roof before Jeremy saw him shut his eyes.

 

“Very true, Michael, very true.” Jeremy nodded, leaning back as well. Jeremy decided he ought to share his feelings a little, just how at peace he felt at that moment. He opened his mouth to speak when a small, accented voice interrupted him.

 

“Hey! You up there! You’re him aren’t you? My friend needs your help!” Jeremy sat back up, gazing down at a small boy, maybe eight years old who was staring right back up at him.

 

Michael seemed to jolt up at that, looking right down at the random child yelling up at them. Some kind of recognition flashed in Michael's eyes before he grabbed the food container in one hand and hopping down, landing on his feet. "I am, and what's up with your friend? Where do I need to go to help?" he asked, no hesitation.

 

Jeremy followed him down, confused but trusting Michael.

 

“It’s my friend, Teddy. He’s been taken to the next island over. His mom and dad move around a lot so it’s not strange, they used to live on the mainland, but they’ve been hurting him and I want him safe. I can’t protect him from here, but you can get him away, right?”

 

"Can you give me any information about him that I could use to track him? I'll get him out of there and somewhere safe," Michael promised, his joyful and cheery disposition that he had before now serious as he squatted down in front of the kid, now at eye-level with the boy.

 

“His name is Theodore Sanders, he has light blonde hair and green eyes. His mom and dad own a shipping company. He’s living on the island just south of here and he’s not allowed outside without his big brother, Damien, looking after him.” The boy recited carefully, as though he had practiced it a lot. “You can get him somewhere safe, right? I don’t have a mom or a dad who can pay you, but I’ll do anything. I just want Teddy away from them and his big brother.” The boy sounded on the verge of tears, and Jeremy quickly pulled out a hanky (he kept one on him out of habit) and passed it to the boy.

 

Internally, Jeremy was jittery. This was exactly the thing that Michael had told him they did, he was excited. But he also knew the Sanders, they were horrible people and Jeremy hated being forced to spend time with Damien growing up. They worked closely with his dad’s company. Which meant they would recognise him if he got close.

 

"You don't need to worry about paying me anything," Michael reassured the kid before patting his head. "Thank you for telling me. I'll be sure to let you know what happens after we get him." He quickly wiped away the tears before reaching into his pocket. He seemed to search around for a few seconds before pulling out a few gold coins and dropping it into the child's hands. "Here, get yourself some halo-halo and don't worry. I promise you that my crew and I will make sure he's safe and sound." By this point, his soft and comforting side was out as he gave the kid a warm smile before standing.

 

The boy looked up at Michael with big, watery eyes. “Thank you,” he whispered before darting off and vanishing in the crowds.

 

Jeremy turned towards Michael, his face serious. “I know the family the kid was talking about. They’re a real rotten bunch and Damien is the worst of the lot. We need to get Teddy out as soon as possible.”

 

Michael just nodded in agreement before heading back to the docks. "Well, it's a good thing this wasn't a needed stop. We can come back later after we've gotten Teddy safe and sound with my moms to actually restock and tell that kid that his friend is safe."

 

Jeremy followed, a sense of urgency filling him. He fell into step on Michael’s right. “Good. The Sanders are very predictable with their housing. They always have the same layout build wherever they go. Which means it should be easier to get him via the house rather than waiting until he’s outside.” The docks were already in view.

 

Again, Michael nodded before he hurried up the gangplank, where Christine looked over from where she was talking with Jake. "Hey, what-"

 

"We're heading to the next island over, we have business to attend to." Everyone seemed to instantly understand that was in earshot, getting to their stations and readying to leave the port.

 

Within minutes, they were out of the port. Jeremy hovered near Michael, offering information for what he knew of the Sanders and the weaknesses of their house. Michael had slipped the Blood Coat on.

 

“They love getting a view of the sea, though I think it’s so they can look out over their ships or something. It means that they’re really close to the shoreline. The far side has an entrance for staff which is less heavily guarded and left entirely unguarded at night. And Teddy’s room is likely to the the one facing the west, I remember Damien telling everyone that his brother liked to watch the sunset, as though it was a bad thing. Stupid sexist pig,” Jeremy added under his breath. He really hated Damien Sanders.

 

Michael just nodded as he was watching them sail closer to the next island over, which thankfully wasn't too long of a trip. "We can easily sneak in, get Teddy, and then get out. It'll be done quick and then we can sail to where my moms are, they have their own hidden home with a little dock for their own ship and for us whenever we come by."

 

Jeremy nodded. “Damien will come after us. Anything that can be considered an affront to his family’s reputation, he sees to personally. And he’ll know it’s us. Anyone randomly disappears in the middle of the night, especially women and children, everyone knows it’s Blood Coat.”

 

"Well I'll be more than happy to deal with him. He'll just be another ransom, and we can give a good amount of the money to Teddy, some to my moms for hosting him, and keep the rest," Michael explained as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his coat.

 

“He’ll have a crew. He’s stupid enough and rich enough to be able to hire them. So we’ll need to be careful about how we deal with them if we don’t want them knowing about how you look. Most of them will likely be kids he’s bullied or hired to work for him and they’re too scared or too poor to turn him down. He had his own little army growing up, of kids in those situations.”

 

Jeremy watched as Michael looked out at the sea, humming for a few moments. "Well, you know this kid better than I do. What ideas do you have in terms of dealing with this little shit?"

 

Jeremy grinned icily. It’s not like he had come up with dozens of plans to take Damien down, of course not. He was always a good school boy who did his work and never talked, even after getting a beating.

 

“We beat him at his own game. He’s used to being the most intimidating person in the room, he’s literally a wall of meat, and he got the brains of one too. If we can call him out, to maybe... that island there.” Jeremy pointed to a small island on the map. It was barely a few hours from their current position. “If we can get him there, intimidation would be our best weapon. Let him know I’m part of this, that I’m the one who got Teddy out, not you guys because I decided it was wrong, he’ll come alone. He’ll do anything to have a chance to beat on me again, especially if I insult his family reputation. We leave him a note explaining and he’ll come alone and then it’s just intimidate him and tie him up. He’ll fight for maybe a minute but he’ll give up eventually.” Jeremy grinned up at Michael again. “He’s stupid enough to believe that no one else can ever one-up him. Never have, so they obviously never will. And that hadn’t changed last I saw of him the week before I left and never came back.”

 

After thinking over his plan for a moment, Michael nodded before whistling. Christine came over, and he repeated Jeremy's plan for her to deliver to everyone else. She nodded and left, but not before shooting Jeremy a grin and a wink.

 

"Good plan, honestly. If I didn't know any better, I'd say you had ideas about how to deal with this Damien kid for ages." Michael leaned over the railing, arms crossed as he stared out across the sea.

 

“Who, me? If I didn’t know any better I’d say you were calling me a mischief maker there, Captain.” Jeremy chuckled, then he sighed heavily. “But yeah, we went to school together when I wasn’t travelling with my father. His parents worked closely with my father’s company so I saw a lot of him. And he used to take every opportunity to ‘exert his dominance’ or whatever. Being the twinky noodle I was, the most I could do was plot uselessly against him.” Jeremy walked over to Michael and looked out over the slowly darkening horizon. He felt the tension in the air, ready to snap as soon as Michael said the word. Like the calm before the storm.

 

Michael was silent for a good minute or so after Jeremy explained. It seemed like an odd place to let a conversation end, and Jeremy was about to add to what he said until Michael was glancing over his shoulder at Jeremy, a look of worry now evident. "Look, I know we're pirates and this is quite useful stuff to help Teddy out, but I don't want you to keep thinking thoughts like that if you can help it." He stood straight up then, turning to look fully at Jeremy, all attention on him. "I know revenge and stuff seems like it's the right choice and all that, but it isn't. I know it's ironic, coming from the fearful Blood Coat and all, but please promise me that you won't keep thinking up stuff like this."

 

Jeremy drooped against the railing, head flopping towards his chest. “I’ll try, but I can’t promise anything just yet. My entire life had been controlled right up until the moment I set off to find Christine. Plotting was literally my only way of dealing with the stress of everything. Changing that isn’t going to happen overnight, or even over a few months.” He sighed, standing and facing Michael properly. “I’m sorry. I promise to try, but that’s all I can guarantee for now.”

 

He couldn't help but feel a chill as Michael looked him over. Before, he wondered how he could be scared of him, but such raw moments where Michael looked and felt so powerful reminded him of that. He wasn't even doing anything besides bearing his coat and staring at him, right into his soul, like he was judging him.

 

It was like a spell was cast over him until Michael nodded. Jeremy didn't realize until then that he had been holding his breath. "That's all I can ask of for now. Ask anyone for help to learn how to deal with it, you aren't alone here."

 

With that, Michael turned and walked down the stairs, calling for some of the crew to come up for a more detailed briefing, Jeremy included.

 

As Jeremy hopped down the stairs, he shook off the odd feeling. Michael was powerful, yes, but also kind and Jeremy knew he only wanted what was best for him. Michael only fought if he had to. And what Jeremy had explained was a battle in itself. A mental one, perhaps, but a battle all the same. So Michael was Blood Coat for it, staring into his soul, and Jeremy’s mental demons had every reason to fear him.

 

 

 

The breeze on the beach was crisp and cool, and the pale dawn light glinted off of Damien’s simple, one man ship. As expected, he came alone, and Jeremy felt a swell of pride. He stood tall as he stared down the wall of meat slowly stalking towards him from the waterline. His expression was a casual smirk, so unlike his old face, and he rested his hand on his sword hilt.

 

“Damien, I’m glad to see you honored my request.” Jeremy pulled out his old voice, formal and refined, one he hadn’t used in months and one he knew only Chrissy had heard from the crew. Damien scowled.

 

“Where is my little brother, you little sissy fucker. You told me you’d have him here,” he hissed. Jeremy’s smirk widened.

 

“I assure you, he is, but he’s with a friend of mine while we talk. I’m sure you’d love to meet him, actually.” Jeremy took a step forward, then focused on the figures now approaching Damien from behind. He gave a small bow, grinning. “Captain Blood Coat. At your leisure, sir.” Damien paled and spun around, frozen by the sight before him.

 

He was suddenly facing Blood Coat, who had Jake to his left and Rich to his right, both with swords brandished. While his face remained casual, the captain held a terrifying aura that even had Jeremy shudder, though Damien was thankfully no longer able to see Jeremy, so his act was still safe.

 

Michael's gaze shifted from where he was examining his pocket watch down to Damien, which he snapped shut so suddenly that Damien couldn't help but jump a little. "Ah, so you're the lad I've been hearing so much about." His voice held none of the sweetness or kindness Jeremy knew, but held a darker undertone that even seemed to unsettle Rich and Jake, who had been with him for so long. Jeremy didn't blame them though, for who could honestly get used to this? "It's good to finally put a face to a name, wouldn't you say?"

 

Damien sunk to his knees in fright, his entire body trembling. “Wh-whatever he t-told you was a lie. I swear. He’s been j-jealous of me our wh-whole lives,” Damien stuttered out, raising his hands in surrender. Jeremy tutted from behind, drawing his own sword. He felt more than heard Chloe and Jenna come up behind him.

 

“Really, Damien, I thought better of you than that. I simply told the good captain here all about our brilliant adventures as children, and how you had so many willing volunteers for whatever plans you came up with,” Jeremy scoffed lightly, his tone sickly sweet as he kept on his old voice. He suddenly felt the small flask in his pocket very heavy. Knowing what was in there, knowing he could use it, suddenly it felt too real. He shook of the thought.

 

Michael, from where he stood, put away his pocket watch before examining his nails, as if unbothered by Damien's existence itself. "You know, Damien, I really do not like liars. As a pirate captain, I only like honesty." He tutted a few times, seemingly uncaring of Damien's plights. "Now, I am at least a fair man. If you apologize for your dishonesty, I may be a bit... nicer to you. Wouldn't that be grand?"

 

Damien nodded so fast Jeremy thought his head would fall off. “Yes, sir. That would be.” He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry for my dishonesty, sir,” he said, loud and clear. Michael finally turned to look at him, eyes flashing dangerously.

 

“Now that was a lie. Mr. Heere!” Michael’s tone was commanding and Jeremy would have been helpless but to respond, even if he didn’t want to.

 

“Yes, sir?” Jeremy sounded eager as he stepped forwards, making it very clear who held the power.

 

“Restrain Damien, and ensure he has no hidden weapons.”

 

“Yes, sir, Captain Blood Coat.” Jeremy instantly started tying Damien’s wrists together behind his back, patting him down, pulling out a knife from his sleeve and a dagger from his boot.

 

As he took out the weapons Damien had, Michael just hummed, a deeper tone than he had been using to speak previously. "Oh, I see. You were hiding stuff from me?" He shook his head as he picked up the weapons, inspecting them over as he walked closer to where the sand and water met. "You see, this is just another form of dishonesty, Damien. When people are not up front with me and truthful, I get quite angry." Jeremy watched as Michael twisted the dagger around in his hand before he flicked his wrist, tossing it and the knife into the ocean.

 

"I said that I would be nicer if you were honest, but you seemed to not understand such basic ideas. I think we might need to teach him a lesson to help him understand, wouldn't you say, Mr. Heere?"

 

“Yes sir!” Jeremy agreed instantly. Damien’s eyes narrowed as he turned his head to look at Jeremy, still keeping eye on Michael.

 

“Why the fuck are you with him? How did such a wimpy cocksucker end up working for the strongest pirate in history?” he hissed. Jeremy smiled brightly at him, making his eyes go a little dazed. Time to add to the Blood Coat legend.

 

“He caught me following him, when I went looking for Christine. I was nice and he chose me, said I could help him, that I could be useful...” Jeremy said almost dreamily. The idea that Blood Coat could turn even the most well behaved members of the upper class into obedient crew members should add to his reputation nicely, as they discussed. It certainly adds a layer of mysticism. “He told me to follow him, so I did. I’ve been so lucky,” Jeremy finished, nodding and looking back up to Michael. “What should we do to him, sir?”

 

Michael walked back over then, squatting down in front of Damien as he forced his head to look at him. Something deadly danced in his eyes as he said, with a hardness in his voice that Jeremy knew would even scare Squip, "I did not say you could look away from me, did I?"

 

"N-no sir," Damien managed to get out before Michael patted his cheek, a bit harshly.

 

"Hm, how much would your parents pay for your safe return? Would they even pay for it? With such a dishonest, inconsiderate streak, I don't think they would? Do you think so, Mr. Heere? I certainly wouldn't want him to stick around or be associated with me."

 

Jeremy pretended to think about it for a moment, already knowing the answer. “I believe they might, sir. He is a dishonest man but they would pay a lot for his safe return. Forty-thousand crowns at least. But if you think it better to not have him associated with you, I can always remove him from the situation sir.” Jeremy sheathed his sword and pulled out a knife, pulling Damien’s head back by his platinum blond hair, and pressing the sharp edge to his throat. He looked up at Michael with an expression of admiration and blind obedience, waiting for his instructions. Damien was whimpering in fear.

 

A soft, almost bored hum passed Michael's lips as he looked back to Damien. "Do you think your parents would pay for your safe return?"

 

"Y-yes, they'll pay whatever you want!" Damien reassured, though quickly stopped talking when he felt blood trickle down his throat from where his Adam's Apple bounced against the edge.

 

"Hm..." Michael pretended to think it over before letting go of Damien and standing, seemingly inconvenienced as he held his hand that had held Damien’s face out and had Rich quickly wipe it down. "Alright, I think we may have some room for you to stay in until your parents give us the random of at least fifty-thousand crowns. I may consider letting you off scott-free if you behave while you're being held. I really hope this nice chat as helped to improve your listening skills, because not everyone is as kind as I am."

 

With that, Michael snapped his fingers, and Damien was knocked unconscious.

 

Jeremy blinked, then giggled a little, feeling some level of hysteria overtake him. “Okay, now I understand why I was afraid of you Michael. You’ve certainly got the intimidation part of being Blood Coat down.” He sheathed his knife back into his boot, grinning up at Michael, who had dropped the act as soon as they were sure Damien was actually knocked out.

 

At that, Michael gave Jeremy a sheepish smile as Jake walked past to heave Damien up and over his shoulder. "Well, I hope I don't really scare you."

 

"Man, you're scary as fuck, I think I'm gonna have nightmares tonight," Jake half teased as he patted Michael's shoulder before starting the trek back to the ship that was hidden nearby.

 

Michael reached down a hand and helped Jeremy to his feet. The contact helped ground him a little. “Let’s just say I don’t think I’d last very long against you when you were fully into it like that. I’d probably pass out if I’m honest.” He chuckled. “Think he bought my part of it? Or was I laying it on too thick?” Jeremy questioned as they started their own path back to the ship.

 

"You were perfect," Michael reassured him as they walked back to the ship, hand-in-hand while the others were ahead of them, chatting and laughing now that the overpowering atmosphere created before was dismissed. "I like the mystical tones we're adding to my lore now." As he said that, Michael seemed to be unable to keep himself from laughing a little. "Oh god, imagine if I was exactly how the rumors say I am."

 

Jeremy shivered, then turned his head to look at Michael with that same expression from before earlier. “You’d rule the seas, Captain Blood Coat.” He cracked and started laughing a little as well. “But seriously, no one would stand a chance against you even if we’re just going by abilities before all this. You’re literally a ghost story, told after midnight in younger class’ dorm rooms.”

 

Michael just grinned proudly at that, hands resting on his hips as he radiated faux confidence (well, partially faux). "Well, it's good to hear that I have such a loving group of followers that believe in my tales. It'll help me sleep better at night!"

 

Jeremy wrapped himself around the nearest arm. “Of course, Captain, I believe it all,” Jeremy murmured through his giggles, turning adoring eyes up to Michael. “After all, I didn’t actually lie, did I? Not one falsehood in my explanation. It was just... implied that I might have had a spell put on me rather than me just deciding to join you.” Jeremy giggled a little again.

 

He watched Michael roll his eyes before he looked down at him with a fond look in his eyes. "I mean, depending on your interpretation, but I decided to interpret it to where you weren't lying."

 

“I mean, if you wanted to you could even justify the magic side of things. As soon as you stopped threatening to kill me or ransom me off, I was utterly charmed by you. I couldn’t have resisted if I wanted to.” Jeremy fluttered his eyes a little, trying to make him seem innocent. It wasn’t working. He squeezed Michael’s arm and nuzzling against his shoulder a little with a happy sigh. “Well we should only have a couple of days before we get the money and we get out of here. Then we can get Teddy to a safe place, once we can get him to somewhere safer without being followed.”

 

Michael just hummed then before patting Jeremy's head with his free hand. "Well, while we wait for the money, you can hang with Christine and my moms and meet the dog. It'll be really nice," Jeremy was reassured before he felt his captain rest his head atop his own.

 

Jeremy sighed happily, half melting against Michael. “I like the sound of that.” The ship came into view, with a second dingy on the shore so Jeremy and Michael could make it across. Jenna and Chloe has nicked Damien’s dingy. “I don’t wanna row yet, can we just stay here for a bit?” Jeremy complained lightly, not pulling away at all. If anything, he pulled closer.

 

At his complaining, Michael looked back down at him then before turning to face the view of the ocean with the reflection of the moon on the sea. "Hm... Yeah, I'm sure we can for a little bit. You'll have to apologize to my mothers for us coming back later, I know that Rich will likely mention that we caused us to come back later than expected."

 

Jeremy sighed dramatically and pouted. “Fine! Let’s go now. But only because I don’t want to keep your mothers waiting.” He reluctantly untangled himself from Michael and hopped into the dingy. Once Michael was in as well he began rowing. He was actually glad for the exercise, it was one of the main reasons he had bulked up so quickly. He shot Michael as small grin.“So, tell me about your mothers. What are they like? Because I know a whole lot about who you are now, not so much about who you were and where you came from.”

 

After shooting Jeremy a small smile back, Michael looked out towards the ship and sighed happily. “Well, they adopted me when I was a kid, I think six or seven maybe? I wasn’t too happy of a kid until after they picked me up, honestly. They’re both loving women, and they helped to teach me all the morals I got and kept me from dying as a touch-starved little shit in an orphanage. I’m sure if you asked them, they’d love to tell you about my embarrassing stories and exactly how they came to get me.”

 

“I’ll make sure to ask then.” Jeremy stuck his tongue out playfully, still rowing. “They sound pretty cool, if I’m honest. My mom wasn’t exactly good at being a mom, if my reaction to the sirens was any proof, and Christine has two dads, so it’ll be nice to see what moms are supposed to be like.” His smile turned a little wistful.

 

“Well, just to warn you: they’re going to adopt you unofficially like they did with everyone else in the crew, so be prepared,” Michael told him before rubbing his eyes and yawning. “It’ll take a few hours to get there, so it’ll be morning. You should rest up until we get there.”

 

“Awesome.” Jeremy grinned before he whistled up to get him and Michael pulled aboard. “And sleep sounds like a really good plan right now, though I don’t know if I could actually manage it with how buzzed I’m am... I might use some Red... help me sleep better,” he mused to himself as he connected the ropes Jake dropped down to the dingy.

 

Michael helped him to make sure they were secure before giving Jake a thumbs up. “I have some of that in my cabin if you need some. I may be tired, but my brain’s buzzing, especially since I’m still trying to figure out and decipher the clue to get to the next piece,” he almost grumbled out as they were lifted back into the ship.

 

“We’ll get there, you’re super smart so I know you can figure it out! And I’ll help as much as I can!” Jeremy chirped, but it was lacking his usual energy. He was really tired. “I think I might take you up on your offer though. I’m not sure if I can sleep properly even though I’m exhausted.” Jeremy’s grumbling was interrupted halfway through with a yawn as he climbed over the edge of the dingy. When they both made it back onto the ship, Jeremy followed Michael towards his cabin.

 

Before they went in, Michael said goodnight to everyone present. Once in the cabin, though, Michael took his coat off and hung it on a hook on the wall, his hat beside it before looking through some drawers. “It should be... here.” Out came a bottle that was halfway filled with a vivid red drink, which Michael popped open and offered to Jeremy. “Here.”

 

“Thanks.” Jeremy took a mouthful and handed it back to Michael. Instantly he felt the headache, which had been threatening for a day or two, clear up. “Huh, that’s pretty cool,” he mused, feeling his brain start to fog a little already. He shot Michael a tired grin even as he started to sway a little from exhaustion and the red combined. “Well, g’night Captain...”

 

Michael couldn’t help but laugh for some reason before he took Jeremy’s hand. “No way are you stumbling back. It’s fast-acting, you’re staying here, c’mon.” He was then lead to the bed, and Michael helped to tuck him in a bit. “I’ll be in in a minute, though you might be asleep by then,” Michael almost laughed out before going to get changed.

 

Jeremy nuzzled into the pillows happily. He really liked being in Michael’s bed, it was super comfy and it make him feel like he was being hugged by Michael even if he wasn’t there. By the time Michael climbed into the bed, Jeremy was barely conscious. He weakly tried to wiggle close to the new warmth under the covers, not really getting anywhere.

 

Jeremy could hear a faint, sleep-filled laugh before arms wrapped around him, pulling him close to the source. “Have a good nap, Jere,” Michael muttered out once Jeremy was resting close to him.

 

Jeremy didn’t even have time to reply beyond a happy sigh. He was out like a light, happily curled up next to his captain.

Chapter Text

Even if it was only a brief nap, Michael felt positively rejuvenated by the time he was awoken. Blinking his eyes open because of the incessant poking to his shoulder, Michael squinted to see the culprit of who woke him from his nap as best as he could without his glasses.

 

“Good morning, hope I wasn’t disturbing some intimate time with our kitty cat.” Oh, of course it had to be Rich.

 

“Rich, just shut up,” Michael said around a yawn before reaching over and grabbing his glasses. He quickly slipped them on before looking up at Rich, now able to see his shit-eating grin. “Are we almost there?”

 

“Yup, should be a few more minutes, so I’d figure I’d wake you two lovebirds up.” Rich seemed to expect the pillow launched at his face as he cackled and blocked it with an arm.

 

“Shut the hell up, or I’ll send you overboard,” Michael threatened with no real bite before gently shaking Jeremy. “Hey Jere, we’re almost there, wake up.”

 

Jeremy grumbled a little, nuzzling against Michael’s chest lightly, before turning his sleepy eyes up. He looked a little bleary, but the small smile was enough to tell Michael that he was feeling at least a little better. “Morning, Michael.” He didn’t seem to register that Rich was still in the room.

 

“Good morning.” Michael patted his crazy bed head before sitting up, taking Jeremy along with him. “We’re gonna be at my moms’ place in a few minutes, so we gotta get ready.”

 

Jeremy sighed as he was moved to sitting up, but he didn’t try to extract himself just yet. “M’kay... just give me a sec... think the Red’s still in my system...” He leant against Michael a little more.

 

Michael’s face grew a little redder at that, and he shot Rich a glare as he seemed to be enjoying all of this with a mischievous glimmer in his eyes. “Hey, my moms won’t like it if we don’t get out right when we get here,” he tried as he gently poked at Jeremy’s side.

 

Jeremy’s arm flailed a bit out toward the offending hand. “M’up, m’up. Don’t tickle me...” Finally he lifted his head and pouted up at Michael. That was when he realised Rich was also in the room. Jeremy sat up a little more on his own, still keeping contact almost possessively. He glared at Rich, who seemed to be even more amused now.

 

“I’m guessing shortie is the one who came to get us? Well we’re up now, you can go...” There was no heat to his words. Michael knew that despite how much the two bickered and fought, they were still really good friends. It was just more of a love/hate relationship than most.

 

Rich just seemed to snicker for a moment before waving him off. “For how long though, I have no idea. Don’t keep Michael stuck in here for long, kitty cat, because he’s gonna wanna barrel down and see his moms and dog when we get there.” He managed to duck out of the room, shutting the door and having Jeremy’s pillow hit the door itself rather than Rich.

 

“Asshole,” Jeremy grumbled, but there was a layer of fondness beneath it. He finally sat up fully, stretching his arms up above his head, eyes closed for a second. “Mmm, that was a really good nap. Thanks, Michael.” He happily groaned a little when Michael heard a small pop from his back.

 

Michael had to look away and rub at his cheeks for a minute before he could respond. “Yeah, of course. Rich is right though, I’m gonna go and hurry to see my moms and Snookums when we get there,” he told Jeremy before getting out of bed to quickly get changed into his more leisurely civilian clothes.

 

Jeremy grinned over to him before turning his back, bending to put on his boots. “Of course you are, I’d expect nothing less! I’m excited to meet them, but I’m kinda nervous if I’m honest; I get a little worked up around new people. So if I’m a bit quiet, don’t worry about me, it’s just me processing.” Slowly Jeremy stood up, checking his balance as always before moving to tie up his red sash a bit more neatly and try to tame his bed head in the small mirror.

 

From where he was pulling on his shirt over to the side if the cabin, Michael couldn’t help but glance over at Jeremy as he got ready. His heart sped up a bit as he fixed his hair, concentrating so hard that his eyebrows furrowed a little. He had to quickly look away to keep himself from melting at the sight, quickly tugging down his shirt and smoothing it out before tugging on his boots. “It’s fine, I get that. I used to be a shy kid who wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone, even my moms when they first adopted me.”

 

Jeremy glanced over his shoulder, an eyebrow raised. “You’re kidding, right? You were a shy kid?” He was grinning, but there was no malice in his tone, just curiosity and a sort of understanding. He didn’t seem to be winning against his hair if the annoyed groan as he looked into the mirror was any indicator.

 

“Oh yeah, I was so scared of people,” Michael told him as he finished tugging on his boots. Looking over, he couldn’t help but snicker at the sight before walking over. “I hid away when I first got here, and my moms had to spend hours finding me.” As he spoke, he quickly ran his fingers through Jeremy’s hair, fixing it in a matter of seconds before working to fix his own messy hair.

 

Jeremy looked at his hair in shock, before hip checking Michael, a small but bright grin on his face. “I mean, I can sort of relate. Whenever we would be staying somewhere new, I’d end up hiding under my bed for about an hour or two, and I’d only actually come out of I was allowed to hide behind my dad or something. Formal dinners were a nightmare because of it.” Jeremy reached up and smoothed down Michael’s hair easily, flipping it into its usual style in seconds with a small chuckle.

 

Michael examined his hair in the mirror before turning and thanking him. “Yeah, that doesn’t sound fun. At least you weren’t hidden away for six hours and were only found when you were trying to get into the pantry and snag some food before hiding away again.”

 

Jeremy looked concerned and he briefly fussed with the collar of Michael’s shirt, but he suspected it was because Jeremy wanted to give him a little contact. “Your life before must have really sucked, if you were that scared. I’m glad you ended up with good people in the end.” He offered a small, genuine smile. “And if you ever want to vent, I’ll always make time. I might not understand, growing up where I was supposed to be a spoiled rich kid, but I’ll do my best. I wanna help however I can.”

 

Michael hesitated for a moment before giving Jeremy a small smile in return. “I... yeah, I will if I need to. Thanks.” He truly meant that thanks, but didn’t plan on dumping his depressing backstory right on him. It would be a bit much, and he didn’t want to freak Jeremy out or anything.

 

Thankfully, Rich knocked obnoxiously loud and long on his door. “Hey, we’re about to dock! Hurry up, I can hear your dog barking up a storm!”

 

 

 

Michael lit up and practically sprinted out the door, leaving a very confused and very worried Jeremy in the cabin. He had seen the shadows in Michael’s eyes. There was a lot of pain there and a lot of suffering, even if a spark of hope somehow survived.

 

Jeremy felt a strange pain behind his eyes and he doubled over, clutching his head. “No matter how hard the world is, or how much it’s against you, you gotta keep loving, Jere. I know it’s hard, but if you can keep loving you can make it through anything!” That was Michael’s voice, but it was wrong somehow. Too young, almost a child still. Jeremy hadn’t known Michael back then. The pain faded and Jeremy staggered to his feet. What a strange vision. Better not tell anyone for now, it was probably just his mind playing tricks on him.

 

Jeremy wanderer up on deck, leaving the strange event in the past.

 

As he walked out, he felt his breath be snatched from him. There was a whole small island in front of him, and there was one large house that looked to be made by hand there with a small barn to the side. The greenery went far off until you could see where sea met land about a few miles back. There was plush foliage closer to the cozy cottage, though there was a nice beach next to the dock they were at.

 

“Yeah, it takes a while to get used to it,” Chloe said as she passed by him, walking down the gangplank. Jeremy followed her, his ears picking up the faint sound of snorting and barking intermingling as his eyes followed some of the crew on the dock. Further along, a little past where the beach met the large expanse of the downward descent of a front yard, Michael was barely visible under a pile of multicolored fluff that he recognized as Snookums, the big Bernese Mountain Dog.

 

Jeremy couldn’t help but grin at the sight. From what little he could see of Michael, he was grinning and laughing and radiating joy. It made Jeremy’s heart warm to see. He tore his eye away from the giggling, happy mess to properly take in the rest of the area.

 

It was so beautiful. Jeremy had traveled a lot and seen an amazing amount of wondrous landscapes, but something about this island captured his heart for some reason. He couldn’t place why but it radiated the same calm as him alone with the sea, or him with Michael. He felt safe.

 

“You must be Jeremy. It’s nice to finally meet you.” A warm voice piped up from behind him. Jeremy jumped, startled out of his thoughts and spun to face them. “I’m Kendra, one of Michael’s mothers.”

 

There stood two women, both definitely shorter than him, as well as a little chubbier. Kendra smiled from where she stood, curly hair in a long bob as she wore some more relaxed clothes, though there seemed to be some feathers lingering on her. “Sorry for the mess, I was just getting some eggs so I could make you guys some breakfast.” She seemed to radiate a similar, loving warmth that Michael often held as she reached a hand out, smiling wide.

 

“It’s no problem at all, Kendra. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Jeremy grinned and grasped her hand in firm but friendly grip, falling back onto his years of practice when meeting new people.

 

The other woman was practically bouncing in place, her short but wild dark hair and inquisitive brown eyes so reminiscent of Michael. Her extreme energy too. She reached out her hand, the slightly too big sleeves on her shirt pushed up to her elbow. “I’m Shanti, it’s nice to meet you.” She grinned; she had the same crooked smile too. Her voice was slightly accented, similarly to Jeremy’s actually, as she spoke. Jeremy grabbed her hand and shook it, not too surprised at the excitement radiating off of her.

 

“So, you gotta tell us all about yourself. Chrissy came here a week after she joined so we can focus all of our attention on getting to know you,” Kendra said, her warm smile still lingering as she took Jeremy by the arm, hooking then before dragging him off. “You can also help me figure out how you all like your eggs. I can make it but can’t stand the taste of just eggs.”

 

Shanti trailed after her wife, shooting a wry grin at Jeremy. “I’m sorry for her, she’s a bit excitable. And that’s coming from me!” When they got to the kitchen, Jeremy untangled himself from Kendra with Shanti’s help and sat down next to her at the table.

 

“Kendra, dear? I think you might have left the coop open!” Her eyes widened at Shanti’s exclamation and she rushed out of the room for a moment.

 

“I’m sorry about her. She can be a bit... intense and I could see you were getting a little overwhelmed. She means well, she just doesn’t understand how intense she can be when people grew up around the rich.” Shanti smiled over at Jeremy, radiating calm somehow despite her energy. Jeremy relaxed a little, glad for a chance to catch his breath. He shot her a small smile; she obviously understood very well.

 

Kendra ran back in after a minute, her hair now tied back into a small ponytail. “Sorry about that! I saw the ship and just sort of put the eggs down in the kitchen and rushed out.” Jeremy was shot an apologetic smile before she went over to where the stove was, all of the ingredients for a breakfast for ten ready. “Would you mind helping me at some point, Jeremy? Normally Michael helps me, but he’s favoring the dog over us, which is understandable but still a little rude.”

 

“I- I’ll help when and if I can. But I’m not much of a cook, I just make potions.” Jeremy grinned sort of apologetically. It was so strange being around these women, it was like they already knew him and had accepted him.

 

Shanti lightly patted his back. “Don’t worry, we’ll teach you. God knows I was a pain to teach. I think you’ll find that cooking isn’t so different than making potions.” Jeremy’s grin brightened.

 

“Alright then! Tell me how I can help!”

 

 

 

It didn’t take long for Jeremy to be swept into making eggs, toast, and sausages. He didn’t do the cooking, but he helped prep ingredients and even helped make some orange juice! Jeremy was honestly proud of himself, and by the time Kendra was cooking some of the eggs, he was at ease.

 

“Sooo,” Kendra started, gently bumping Jeremy’s hips with her own, “Everyone always asks, so tell us what you want to know about Michael when he was little.”

 

Jeremy nodded, his smile sort of shy. “I mean, yeah. I would like to hear about Michael and how he grew up. How long has he been so... intense? Like he gets super focused on something and won’t give up until he’s got it. Any fun stories about that?” He chuckled, shrugging. He hadn’t actually planned on asking anything, so he didn’t have any questions planned.

 

Shanti giggled from across the kitchen were she was setting the very large table. “He’s always been like that to a point, but it got really notable since he was about nine. I’m pretty sure he got that from Kendra.”

 

Kendra just shrugged before plating some eggs and cracking some more into the pan. “Hey, it’s a good trait!” Playful pout aside, the lady cooking just nodded. “He is always very determined once his mind is set on something. When he was ten, he was so determined to make us breakfast in bed. It didn’t go well the first time, but he was so determined to make it go right and not mess up the food that he spent a week until he got it right for us.”

 

Jeremy burst out laughing, nearly dropping the orange half he was juicing. “That’s adorable! And it does sound about right, he can be so stubborn. I doubt any of us can convince him of anything when he’s set his mind.” Jeremy shook his head, still grinning. Michael had proven that a number of times over the past few months he’d known him. “It’s endearing but exhausting sometimes.”

 

"Oh, you definitely cannot set him astray once he’s decided something. Once his true personality started to shine through, we grew to love him even more than I thought we could. He's very endearing but also very exhausting." Jeremy watched Shanti look through the window as Kendra spoke, watching as Michael was running around and playing with the large dog while the crew was lounging around on various spots in the yard (well, except for Rich and Jenna, who were currently guarding Damien) and Christine sat and talked with Teddy near the beach. "You seriously don't have anything you're curious about though? You seem like someone who loves to learn new things."

 

Jeremy smiled softly, shaking his head. “I certainly like learning new things, but...” He might as well, the knowing looks Shanti had been shooting him told him enough. “I sort of want to learn about him from him, if that makes sense. I wanna see what he’s willing for me to see, then learn the rest.” His cheeks flamed a little and he couldn’t look away from his orange. Shanti wandered over and messed up his hair affectionately.

 

“Figured as much.” She smiled.

 

Kendra smiled from where she stood before looking back down at the eggs. "You're sweet, Jeremy. There probably is something we should let you know though, especially with what you guys are doing. We sort of let the rest of the crew know when we first met each of them, it's not something Michael likes to remember or talk about but doesn't get upset when we tell people he cares for..."

 

Jeremy’s expression turned serious. “It’s about from before you adopted him, right?” His voice was soft, cautious. “I’ll gladly listen if it’ll help me look out for him, no matter how hard it might be to hear. Anything to help him.”

 

It seemed to take Kendra a minute before she spoke, eyes trained on the food. “He was sort of dropped off here by Jenna’s family. They had to wait until he was asleep to even get him away from Jenna, he was practically attached to her by the hip, even if he only knew her for what, two days?”

 

Jeremy nodded slowly. Jenna was exceedingly attached to Michael, and vice versa.

 

“Yeah, she found him in the market and he just latched onto her after she bought him some halo-halo. Even after he came to us, she’d be around every few weeks. You won’t find them apart for very long, even now,” Shanti added, her expression somber as she went back to setting the table.

 

Jeremy’s eyes widened. The only market in the area which sold halo-halo was the one he and Michael had been at yesterday. Knowing how important it was to Michael somehow made their quiet moment even more important to him. He kept listening.

 

“It took us a while to even get him to talk to us. He just hid as soon as he woke up, because he wasn’t there in the bed we had him in when we woke up. We searched for hours, and started to think he tried swimming away until we found him searching in our pantry for something to eat. He sort of just stared at us before dashing off with whatever he managed to grab,” Kendra continued, her cheerful expression now hardened. “We both sort of vowed then to make sure he had the best life.

 

“He finally talked to us after a week or so, and stopped hiding out by that point. He...” Kendra just stopped, voice becoming soft and gentle in a saddened manner. “He just asked us if we were going to ‘take him back’ and if we were going to punish him for being out of line and hiding for the past week.” Her tone sounded absolutely heart broken before she shook her head and kept focusing on the food. “Of course we told him he wasn’t in any trouble, that he was living with us now. We tried to ask him what his name was, and he was confused. Shanti and I ended up figuring out he didn’t have one, not as far as any of us knew, and he told us he was just called ‘boy.’ We helped him pick out a name a week later when we got a book of names from the nearby market an hour away by boat.”

 

Jeremy was horrified. “He... didn’t even have a name?” he whispered. Who could have even had been so cruel? Who could have denied him something so simple as a name? Jeremy felt that familiar anger twisting in his gut, someone had hurt his family. Even if it was from before he knew Michael, the idea still sparked a rage. He took a deep breath, cooling the flames curling in his stomach. Now was not the time, this was all in the past. Michael was safe now. That was what mattered.

 

“I... I like the... the name he chose. And I’m glad he got away from whoever treated him so cruelly,” Jeremy murmured eventually.

 

Kendra hummed in what seemed to be agreement before she finished the eggs and turning off the stove top. "We... Well, when he was twelve, he finally told us more about when he was younger. He had been on the seas for his whole life, since he was born I believe, and his parents never cared enough to give him a real name. He was more just an extra set of hands as soon as he could be." She paused for a minute, glancing over at Shanti, who gave her a little nod. "His parents traded their freedom from the ship's crew in exchange for Michael sort of taking their place when he was three. The captain of the ship agreed, and he was there, surviving the treatment he can't even tell us about now. I don't blame him, I wouldn't want to revisit that kind of hardship."

 

Jeremy shook his head, leaning against the counter. “He’s too good for that life. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure he never goes back,” he swore under his breath.

 

Jeremy thought back to their encounter with Madeline, how scared Michael had been afterwards. It was scary enough for someone to lose choice, but knowing what he knew now made it a thousand times worse. Michael had been born into a life where he had none. He had to work for his choices. And Madeline had tried to take that away from him. If he never saw Madeline again, it would be too soon. She had better never come anywhere near Michael again, or what Jeremy had done last time would seem kind.

 

“Is... is there anything I need to be careful for? To make sure I don’t bring back anything he doesn’t want to experience?” Jeremy asked aloud, turning to Kendra. He was fighting back tears but he refused to let them fall. Michael wasn’t defined by his past, and Jeremy wouldn’t let it define Michael now. Michael was Michael. That was all that mattered.

 

She seemed to gnaw on her lower lip as she made the plates with the now-done eggs. "We wanted to especially tell you this because you're going to be running into the captain that Michael was forced to stay with. He's tried to bring him back in his ship, saying he's still a part of his crew and that when he ran away, he committed mutiny. That bastard's title is Squip."

 

Jeremy’s entire body tensed up. He wasn’t sure if he was even breathing. Anger coursed through him. He should have killed Squip when he had the chance. Or at least given him a taste of his own medicine.

 

“Don’t call him that,” Jeremy half growled, his hands balling into fists. “He doesn’t deserve the respect of using his chosen title.” Jeremy took a deep breath, holding himself a little straighter. “His name is Samuel. Quinton. Ulysses. Ignatius. Peterson.“ Each name was half spat. “And he doesn’t get an ounce of respect. No titles, no nothing. He doesn’t deserve it. He hates his name, so that’s what we use.”

 

He could see both of Michael's moms look at each other for a moment before Kendra wordlessly nodded.

 

Shanti finished setting the table then, going over to Jeremy and gently resting her hand on his forearm. "Alright. We won't speak of him anymore either, we just wanted to let you know. Everyone else on his ship knows as well, and Michael knows we end up telling everyone since he really can't himself without freaking out. How about you take your time to calm down and then get everyone outside out? We can have one of them bring Jenna and Rich their food so they won't miss it."

 

Jeremy almost flinched at the gentle contact. He sighed, trying to let some of his anger go. It didn’t work. “I’m sorry for snapping,” he murmured, shooting Shanti an apologetic glance.

 

“It’s fine, honey. We had the same reaction when we first found out.” Shanti didn’t press any more contact, but she shot him a small smile.

 

“I’ll be back soon, I’m just going to calm down. Feel free to start without me, yeah?” It was a fight to keep his voice light, but he managed it well enough. After getting a nod from both women, he took his leave. He paused by the door. “Don’t call him Squip, it only gives him more power and more respect. Call him by his name. Takes away everything he’s built for himself.” And with that, Jeremy slipped outside.

 

He instantly went for the shoreline, one further away from where the ship and his friends were. He needed time to calm down, to think, and him being near the ocean alone would help. He perched on an old stump overlooking the water.

 

For a time he just let his feelings flow, let his anger and sadness run their course, then let the overwhelming numbness settle in. Finally he could think. It was a familiar state, that moment when he couldn’t feel anything more, he knew it was his best plotting time. Sure, he had promised Michael he would try not to let this become a thing, but Jeremy wasn’t sure he could stop it even if he wanted to. And he didn’t want to. He wanted Squip- no, Samuel, to pay.

 

Slowly, he reached into his pocket pulled out the small flask. Flipping the lid, the sickly sweetness of under-ripe Dew berries filled his nostrils. Samuel had made this recipe. Jeremy was keeping some on his person at all times in case of emergency, but what if he actually didn’t? What if he refined it, made it better, so he could use it on Samuel and give him a taste of his own medicine? Take away his choice, let him feel how it is to be helpless.

 

It would mean he would need test subjects, but there were always horrible people no matter where you went. All Jeremy would have to do would be to locate them and just... try his new concoction on them. He was good enough at potions to be able to work something out. And then, when it was ready, he could use it on Samuel and let him taste what real fear was.

 

Samuel was evil in its truest form. He needed to be stopped. And since Michael himself wouldn’t do it, Jeremy decided that he would.

 

Distantly, he heard the sound of laughter as Michael was likely tackled under Snookums again. Jeremy smiled softly, feeling better and calm once again. For Michael, he’d do anything.

 

 

 

It took a few days, but there was finally a ransom sent out and a meeting agreement. Michael went with Jeremy, Jenna, Rich, and Chloe to the meeting location a few islands away, though agreed to stay in the ship as to not give his identity out to more people. So inside the captain's cabin he stayed as they were there, sitting and working hard on trying to figure out more of the clue. Despite how hard he was trying to crack the language, he couldn't make heads nor tails of it.

 

With a groan, Michael decided to visit Damien one more time to give him a proper warning since they had a little more time until the meeting, and they were already hidden away in a nearby bay. He pulled on his coat and placed his hat on before heading below deck, all the way to the brig, putting his Blood Coat persona back on.

 

Damien was sitting stiffly in his cell as always. When Michael came in, he cowered back a little, curling in on himself.

 

“Captain Blood Coat, sir,” he mumbled respectfully, eyes averted.

 

Even if Michael was inwardly confused by the respect he was given, as Damien hadn't shown any truly up until apparently now, he didn't let it show. "Oh, so you finally show some respect, huh? Good, I guess we did something right when holding you here."

 

“I... I’m beginning to understand, sir. I’m sorry for being so disrespectful. You’ve been very kind in letting me live so I can return home.” His voice was quiet, thoughtful, and Damien still wouldn’t meet Michael’s eyes. It was as though he was compelled not to, like he couldn’t bring himself to look at Michael properly.

 

That, of course, set off little alarms in his head, because something made Damien's attitude change drastically. Regardless, he'd ask the others about it at a later point. "Yes, but I'll be happy to finally be rid of you once we make it to the meeting location. I hope you carry this change into your life and stop being such scum. Not everyone will be as forgiving as I have been."

 

“Thank you, sir,” he mumbled. There was a gentle knock trapdoor connected to the deck.

 

“Come in!” Michael called and slowly, Jeremy climbed in. His movements were a little too fluid, but it was all to keep up the ruse that Jeremy was under a spell still.

 

“Captain Blood Coat? It’s almost time to move the prisoner. If I may, sir, unless there is more you wish to say to him.” Jeremy’s eyes were filled with adoration and his tone was slightly blank, mostly just respectful. He finally turned to look at his old schoolmate, watching him carefully, waiting for orders. Michael couldn’t help but feel like there was more to it than that. Maybe it was because Damien was leaving them today?

 

He would be sure to ask him more about it later, but for now... "Of course, get him out of here. We'll need the brig scrubbed clean more than once after he's done." With a careless wave of his hand, seeming bored, Michael left to head back up to his cabin to think this strange scene over.

 

As he left, Jeremy slipped into the cell with chains and a rope, and he could have sworn he heard hushed whispers.

 

Michael waited until he knew Jeremy and Rich went onto the beach with Damien before stepping out, watching as an imposing figure over where the ransom was to be conducted. This was typically how their ransoms went, with Michael having his gun he hated using by his side only to fire warning shots in case something seemed to be going wrong.

 

As he watched this ransom go down, he seemed to think that nothing was going wrong for them. Jeremy seemed to be acting as he should, and Rich was leading the deal well, but something just seemed... off to him about it. He couldn't place his finger on it, but he just had a bad feeling gnawing at him about something.

 

The hand over went smoothly, even if the Sanders seemed scared of Jeremy’s presence and obvious devotion. The only thing that Michael noted was that Damien didn’t move unless he had to. Like he didn’t twitch, he didn’t fiddle with his bindings, he stood perfectly still unless he was actually moving somewhere. It unsettled him slightly.

 

When Jeremy and Rich made it back on board, once the Sanders’ ship was out of sight, Jeremy instantly had taken the money down to the hold to start counting it up. Rich followed Michael back to his cabin, concern radiating in his every step.

 

“I’m worried about Jeremy,” Rich blurted the moment they were alone. “He was acting weird the whole time we were doing the deal.”

 

Michael nodded to that as the ship began its trip back to his moms' island. "I had a feeling something was happening that was off. How was he acting weird during the deal though, at least besides the act he had to keep up?"

 

“He was- I don’t know- twitchy almost? Like he kept fiddling with his hands. And he just kept staring at the Sanders kid. Like he was waiting for him to explode or grow another head or something.” Rich shivered slightly. “I’m just worried, y’know? Like, I wouldn’t put it past him to have slipped something into that asshole’s food just to get back at him. Jeremy can be mean.”

 

As he listened, Michael frowned before fiddling with the work-in-progress of the compass he always kept on-hand. "I..." He let out a sigh before looking down at the compass. "I'll talk to him when I see him, Rich. Thank you for letting me know."

 

Rich sighed as he left the room. “I know I act mean to him, but I’ve really grown fond of him. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help, yeah?”

 

Michael took a moment to consider this. Jeremy had been acting strange all day, not bad just... off. Like he was waiting on something. But then, he also seemed satisfied too, like he did after figuring out how to properly make a particularly challenging potion.

 

A gentle knock snapped Michael from his thoughts. “Captain, you in there? Rich said you wanted to see me?”

 

Looking over to the door, Michael called back, "Yup, come in," before sitting down at his desk again, kicking his boots off for now.

 

Jeremy slipped in, grinning a little as usual. He seemed to be in a really good mood. “Hey, Captain, what’s up? I got the gold counted if that’s what you’re worried about, it’s all there.” Jeremy perched himself on the arm of one of the plush seats, arching an eyebrow in Michael’s direction.

 

"No, it's not that," Michael reassured, waving a hand at that before pushing his glasses up and rubbing his eyes. "I just wanted to ask you something and then ask for help when we got back to my moms' place. You seemed a little different today with Damien, and I wanted to ask why."

 

Jeremy frowned lightly, thinking. “Well I mean, I was a bit nervous I guess. It was my first ransom deal and the first time I was interacting with people from my old life now that I’m a pirate. It was kinda nerve wracking. I... didn’t think I seemed that off. Sorry if I worried you.” He chuckled sort of sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck.

 

"It's alright, I just... You know you can talk to me if something's wrong or bothering you, right?"

 

“‘Course, Captain! I trust you more than anyone!” Jeremy grinned, bright and honest.

 

Michael looked over him for a good few seconds before sighing and nodding, running a hand through his hair. He believed him, he seemed to be so honest and truthful, but something still felt off. Since he couldn't place what, he'd leave it alone... for now. "OK, well I also need you to help me with this clue when we're back. I swear, I'm going to lose hair over this."

 

Jeremy hopped up and wandered over. “What seems to be the problem?” He peered over Michael’s shoulder, looking at the clue. “Oh awesome, that looks really similar to Ancient Runic Patileese! Like yeah, there are some differences, but it looks really similar! You never you never told me you could read it! I would have shown you some of my own translations that I’ve been working on.” Jeremy grinned, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet in excitement.

 

At that, Michael looked up at him, sure his face was almost deadpanned, before he said, "I cannot read shit, that's why I've been getting headaches. You're telling me that you can read an apparent ancient runic language?" Well, it made sense with Jeremy's upbringing... Honestly, he felt a bit stupid for not asking sooner, but also a little flustered that Jeremy thought he could read complicated shit like this, especially since he didn't know how to properly read until he was almost nine.

 

“I mean yeah...” Jeremy’s cheeks lit up in a strong blush, “I wasn’t the best at it, but I was pretty decent and I guess I sort of just assumed you knew it because you’re really smart! I guess it just didn’t register that It’s not normal to know this shit,” Jeremy grumbled, shrugging.

 

He got up from his desk, reaching over and cupping Jeremy's cheeks before telling him, in a soft and sweet voice, "Jeremy, you're a lifesaver."

 

Jeremy almost nuzzled into Michael’s hand, eyes slipping shut, before he seemed to come back to himself. He stood up properly, a hand coming up to keep one of Michael’s hands in place. When he spoke, it was almost into Michael’s palm. “I can probably translate it for you, it seems close enough. And I can teach you, if you like. In case we get another one like this and I’m out of action or whatever.” He didn’t really look at Michael, almost embarrassed but not upset. It was a good kind of embarrassed apparently.

 

Michael could feel his own cheeks warming up at that before he cleared his throat and nodded. "Yeah, you're going to have to bear with me though. I'm not the most book smart, as I was only able to start reading books when I was ten."

 

Jeremy almost acted like he hadn’t heard or didn’t register the comment as being weird. If it wasn’t for the way his eyes darted sadly to the side, Michael could even believe that Jeremy didn’t know. “No, that’s fine. I’ve been told I’m a pretty good teacher! Besides, s’not like we’re on a super tight time limit, I’m not going anywhere.” Jeremy grinned, nuzzling against Michael’s hand a little before letting it go at last. “I’m good to start whenever you are!” he chirped.

 

His chest constricted a little. Michael knew his moms had told Jeremy about his past, hell, he asked them to do it for him whenever he brought a new crew member along because it was hard for him to tell. Everyone said at least something about it after they had been told within the next day span. How come Jeremy wasn't saying anything after four days?

 

"Well, how about when we're back on the island? If I'm going to get a headache, I want it to be there at least so I can just use Snookums as a pillow while I suffer."

 

Jeremy chuckled and messed up Michael’s hair, before slipping into Michael’s seat. “I can probably get this all translated before we get back. I’ll even work on creating a key for it. You’re welcome to watch or to just chat, I don’t mind, just let me work on this. I haven’t had a chance to really translate anything in recent months, and I actually really enjoy it.” Jeremy had already pulled out some parchment and a quill from somewhere on the desk, and had started drawing up a neat table.

 

"Hey, that's my seat," Michael grumbled out then before pulling up one of the plush chairs and settling down next to him, watching him work the whole way back as his chin rested in his palm. He was almost entranced by how Jeremy scrawled along the parchment, his penmanship so uniquely him.

 

He was so lulled into a serene state that it took Jeremy snapping his fingers in front of his face to bring him back to. Quickly, he blinked a few times before sitting further up, having not realized he had been comfortably slouching. "Whuh?"

 

“You okay there, Captain? You seem a little out of it.” Jeremy chuckled. A gentle hand started running through Michael’s hair, almost stroking but too sweet to be condescending. “You looked totally captured by something.

 

“Anyway, I finished the translations. Turns out it was a mixture of Patileese with some Anchora thrown in. Luckily, I remembered enough of that from my lessons to be able to figure out how they mixed them.” Jeremy handed Michael on of the parchment sheets for him to look over. It had a riddle written on it. Jeremy didn’t stop playing with his hair.

 

Trying his best to ignore Jeremy's hand in his hair, Michael picked up the sheets and read them over. "Hm... Well, we can sit out and struggle thinking about the solution to this in the front yard," he mused out before standing up, as Jenna was calling that they arrived back.

 

As he walked out with Jeremy, who seemed to only stop messing with his hair because they were walking, he thought over the riddle, muttering it out loud to himself. "He is the man who did what no one else could, who charmed a siren and had it under his allure. He used their charm to get what he wanted, though died and siren kind mourned their loss..."

 

“It rhymed in the original language, I’m sure.” Jeremy has a sort of skip to his step. He seemed to be in extremely high spirits as he plonked himself on the grass in the front yard. “So, wanna start the lessons now? Or later? ‘Cause I’m good with whatever, I’ve got everything I need right here.” He waved the small stack of papers rolled up an bound in string.

 

Michael sat down beside him, but before he could speak, a barreling bundle of fluff knocked into him, causing him to fall back. He couldn't help but laugh as his attention was fully focused on the dog above him, staring down at him before practically drowning him in kisses. "S-snookums!" he laughed out when he could, trying to reach up and pat her head so she'd stop. "D-down girl, down!"

 

Jeremy was laughing very unhelpfully from his position, not trying to interfere in the slightest. He was laughing so hard that his wheezing cackle even had a few snorts in it. Michael had never heard him laugh so freely before.

 

"Traitor, unwilling to help me!" Despite that, he couldn't help but feel his heart race a little more at his laugh.

 

Eventually, though, Michael managed to get Snookums to lie down behind him. He rested his head against her like a pillow, nuzzling close before looking over at Jeremy with playfully narrowed eyes.

 

Jeremy took a few breaths to try and calm his laughter. “That was too bloody adorable. I couldn’t have helped if I wanted to, oh my god!” He sighed, breathing heavily.

 

"You totally could have, you jerk," Michael teasingly said before shutting his eyes and sighing. "Like I said, you're a traitor."

 

Jeremy poked his cheek. “If seeing you happy makes me a traitor, then I’ll be a traitor. Won’t even complain.” He kept poking Michael’s cheek, a shit eating grin on his face.

 

He opened his eyes and glanced over, pouting a little as he saw the grin he had on. "You're literally smothering me in sweetness more than the dog did in kisses a few minutes ago."

 

Jeremy bent down and looked Michael right in the eye, getting really close to his face. “I regret nothing,” he whispered before pulling back, his free laughter starting up once more.

 

Michael couldn't help but smile, and he was sure he was staring at Jeremy like he was hanging the moon and the stars that now littered the night sky. He tried to keep his thoughts on just this moment, but that nagging anxiety in the back of his mind kept coming around. When was Jeremy going to ask? When was he going to say something? Waiting was just eating away at him.

 

Jeremy must have spotted his mood drop once he stopped laughing because he instantly switched from joking to concerned. “You okay there, Captain? You look a little freaked about something.”

 

Gnawing at his lower lip, Michael finally built up the courage to ask, "Why haven't you asked me about it yet? Everyone else at least says something after my moms tell them, but you haven't said anything?" Did he secretly freak him out? Was he acting different earlier because of what he knew now? Did his former relationship with Squip disgust Jeremy? W-

 

“It doesn’t define you,” Jeremy stated firmly. “It’s something that helped shape you but it’s not who you are, Michael. I’m not going to run off or freak out because that son of a bitch was beyond a son of a bitch. In fact, I’m proud that you became someone so kind and good in spite of everything you went through. Do I have questions? Yeah, loads. Am I going to ask them, ever? Probably not. Why? Because I know you’ll tell me the answers to them if and when you’re ready. This doesn’t change how I see you, except to see you as a braver, better person than I initially thought. But it’s like I said, I’ll choose you every time, so you don’t need to worry about freaking me out and scaring me off.”

 

Michael didn't even realize he was crying until he felt Jeremy's hand gently wipe a tear away. Michael muttered something under his breath as he reached up to wipe the rest away, though Snookums shifted from underneath him to gently lick his face a few times before resting her head down on his shoulder. "God, Jere, you're gonna be the death of me, I swear..."

 

“Probably, knowing my luck.” Jeremy chuckled, his eyes soft and his smile softer. He reached up and continued to stroke Michael’s hair, almost on automatic. “You okay?” he asked quietly.

 

A soft sigh passed his lips as he leaned into the touch before raising a hand to scratch behind his dog's ears. "I... Well, of course I'm not, I'm basically racing around the world to get this stuff for something that can change and alter reality so the abusive shitbag who still thinks I'm a part of his crew doesn't get it and fuck over the world. I don't think I'll ever really be OK, y'know?"

 

“I think you will be,” Jeremy murmured. “It’ll take time, but I think sometime after when this is all over, you’ll be okay. He’s not forever, Captain. He’ll get old, or he’ll get caught or killed in a battle. But one day, he’ll be gone. And you’ll have the pieces to the Keys of Reality in your safe so no one can even try to reforge them.” The way Jeremy said it all, with such conviction, Michael could almost believe it. “But if you believe nothing else I’ve said, believe this: I will not let him make you part of his crew again. If he takes you, I will come and get you back. If he hurts you, I’ll patch you up. But I won’t ever leave you for him to take again. That’s a promise, a proper promise.”

 

"Oh, you will now?" Michael asked, trying to be teasing but just couldn't ruin the moment. His tone was soft, sincere, intimate. "You'll save me and heal me and stay by my side?" For some reason, he couldn't stop the gentle words, so intimate and close to him as he looked up up into Jeremy's eyes, sure he saw the stars and moon reflected in them.

 

Jeremy met his gaze with warmth and sincerity. He was smiling softly. “Always, I swear it. You’ll never have to worry about being alone again because I’ll always stand by you.”

 

"I wouldn't want it any other way."

 

 

 

Hours later, when everyone else was asleep, Jeremy was writing furiously in his journal. He was sitting in Michael’s old room at his desk, with the man in question sleeping in his old bed (he had insisted Jeremy join him after such a tender moment outside). Snookums dozed peacefully on her bed at the foot of the human bed.

 

Jeremy had a lot to note down. The increase of the harlequin rose nectar really made a massive difference when it came to behavior. Damien had been a lot more submissive but overall he had behaved a lot more humanly than the original serum would allow. Also, by adding a dash of honey, it seemed to cancel down the time from days to mere hours. Which was perfect for while Jeremy was still in testing.

 

It was a good thing Damien had green eyes anyway.

 

Jeremy made sure to note every single twitch Damien had made which was out of place (very few) as well as his own personal experience on the delivery side. It was admittedly a rush, sending someone under. He had felt a touch of it when he got Madeline, but this time, with no distractions, Jeremy had been able to enjoy every second of it. Still, he’d need to make sure to perform this away from the ship and make sure to calm his euphoria. He couldn’t have anyone finding out about this until it was ready. Rich had almost caught on straight away.

 

Snookums stirred with a small, deep grumble, and lifted her head to stare accusingly at Jeremy. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, girl. I’m doing this for him after all.” He met her look with a slightly mad grin. “We both just want to protect him. I’ve just got a more practical way.”

Chapter Text

After getting Teddy to a safe home with his part of the ransom money and letting his friend know that he was safe and sound, everyone decided they needed a break (read: Michael needed a break). They stayed at the Mell estate and relaxed, and Jeremy found he quite liked this brief interlude away from the chaos they'd experienced so far. Plus, it allowed ample time for him to come up with more ideas for his new version of the serum.

 

He was currently lounging with Jenna and Christine on the beach, talking idly but mostly listening to the other two girls chat. Before he could bring up a point, he heard the sound of barking coming closer before he saw Michael rushing onto the beach with Snookums, looking proud.

 

"I figured it out! Finally, after so much research! The Siren Whisperer, Freddie Mercury, who I found after reading so many books! I know where his burial is, and we can go get the compass needle!"

 

“Wait, Freddie Mercury as in captain of ‘Queen?’” Jeremy asked excitedly. “I loved hearing stories about him!”

 

Michael nodded as he waved his hands in the air, all while Snookums kept hopping around him and barking, and it looked as if she was trying to tap his hand with her snout. "Yeah! His stories about the sirens he seduced were apparently taken out of so many books about him since he seduced the rare male sirens! Stupid homophobia, but I finally found one version where his tales weren't redacted! I even managed to find where the general area his burial is supposed to be!"

 

“Let me guess, an island about one-hundred-and-twenty miles southwest of here?” Jenna asked, her expression unreadable. Michael deflated quite a bit.

 

“Yeah...how did you know?”

 

“Because Dustin Kropp supposedly found it two months ago.” She sounded sad and worried. Jeremy wasn’t sure he understood why that was such a big deal until he remembered that Dustin Kropp was one of the next most infamous pirates after Blood Coat.

 

The excited and boisterous mood Michael carried completely deflated, and the boy just stared at her with disbelieving eyes before flopping down onto the beach, his aggravated groans and whines mostly muffled. Snookums cocked her head at this before sniffing his wild hair, though Michael's noises didn't stop.

 

Jeremy wandered over and sat down next to him, stroking his hair as he knew calmed him a bit. “We can still get it, Michael. We’re pirates, we can just steal it back. You’re Blood Coat for god’s sake. If anyone can pull this off, it’s you.”

 

He heard muffled sounds from Michael, presumably from him talking, but none of it could be heard, as his voice was obscured by the sand.

 

"I think what he means to say is that he knows all of us. He knows us by sight, voice, everything, disguises or not. Hell, he even knows all about Chrissy since we ran into him two weeks after we picked her up," Jenna elaborated, resting her cheek in her hand as she watched Michael wallow in his misery and Snookums nudging him playfully with her nose. "There's no way we're safely getting that piece."

 

Jeremy huffed, thinking for a moment. There had to be a way... there just had to be... wait, that’s it!

 

“He doesn’t know me,” he started slowly before gaining energy, “And he sure as hell won’t know Lucy! Chrissy, come on! We gotta get ready! I think one of Shanti’s dresses will work!” Jeremy sprung from his spot next to Michael and grabbed Chrissy’s hand. He started dragging her to the house.

 

“Oh excellent! I hadn’t sorted out Lucy in years!” Christine cried happily.

 

He heard a confused, "Who the fuck is Lucy? What the hell are you talking about? Jeremy?" as he rushed up and into the Mell's estate, along with some barking.

 

“Just get everyone to meet me back here in an hour! I’ll explain then!” he called back.

 

 

 

An hour later, Jeremy was all set. He shot a grin at Chrissy, who matched it. “Is everyone out there? I don’t want to have to do this twice.” She nodded. “Perfect. Go introduce Lucy. This is gonna be good.”

 

Christine nodded, and left the room to do so. Jeremy could hear everyone asking what was going on, along with, "Can you please tell us who the fuck Lucy is?" from Rich, along with a, "Yeah!" of agreement from Brooke.

 

"Don't worry, you guys will find out shortly. She hasn't been around here recently, taking a bit of a hiatus from the public scene. I've known her for years, but don't get to see her much, so I'm really glad you're all here to meet Lucy!"

 

Slowly, almost shyly, Jeremy stepped out of the back room. He was dressed in an elegant, high necked, yellow dress, complete with corset and padding to give him a more feminine shape. His hair was artfully styled into elaborate, more elegant curls and his face was contoured to the point where it was unrecognisable. Red lipstick and soft eyeshadow completed the look. Down below, he wore shoes that have the impression of heels without actually having any, which accounted for his tallness.

 

“Hello,” he simpered, his voice up in an unrecognizable falsetto. “I’m very glad to meet you all.”

 

Everyone else seemed to stare intensely at him, and Jeremy got the collective feeling that they were confused from how this apparently new person got here as well as why she was here.

 

Jenna, who he knew was attracted to girls exclusively, just flushed and waved up at him while seeming to be unable to look right at him. "Uh, hi..." The rest of the crew said their own versions of a 'hi' while Michael just sat there, Snookums resting in his lap, as he raised a curious brow.

 

"Um, hello Lucy," he said before glancing at Christine. "No offense to you or your friend but, uh... Jeremy said he'd be here too? What happened, where is he?"

 

Jeremy felt a small curl of guilt in his stomach. He had not intended for Jenna, or any of them, to find him attractive. Still, he wasn’t about to break character just yet.

 

“He’s just preparing something to show you. Although, he did say he would be out very soon.” His falsetto held perfectly. Thank god for his voice not dropping too deeply, he never thought he’d he so happy to be squeaky.

 

After a moment more of confusion, Jeremy lost it. He broke out laughing and apologizing in his normal voice.

 

As soon as he broke character, everyone collectively sort of lost it, especially Jenna and Michael, but each for their own reasons. Jenna looked down at her lap, blushing furiously and out of a mix of embarrassment and nervousness while Michael just buried his face into Snookums' fur and seemed to just groan again. "Holy shit, what the hell man?" Jake asked while Rich was slapping Chloe's arm in shock, though she (obviously) seemed to not appreciate it.

 

“I’m sorry, but I had to see if I could still pull her off.” Jeremy finally managed to calm his giggles a little. “You see, Chrissy used to have to take etiquette lessons, right?”

 

“They were boring as hell!” she piped up from where she had planted herself on the ground next to Michael.

 

“Yeah, so I would get dressed up like this and sneak in, since I look a lot my my real cousin Lucy. She didn’t take the lessons because she had a private tutor, so I took her place so Chrissy wouldn’t be dying of loneliness and boredom. It was my one act of rebellion I could actually pull off in my old life.”

 

"Wait, this was the rebellious side of you showing?" Chloe asked, unable to help but grin at this idea.

 

Chrissy just nodded before clapping her hands once. "Eeyup! He was honestly the best out of everyone at the etiquette stuff, and he figured it would be useful, and it is now for a disguise! He can sneak and get the needle for the compass off of Dustin!"

 

Jake just whistled then before clapping along with Rich. "Wow, Jeremy, you do you. Fuck gender norms."

 

Jeremy curtsied, because he was in a dress and being a lady right now. “Thanks, though I think it was partly an excuse so I could check out guys without feeling guilty. I wouldn’t admit I was bi back then.” And that was the first time he had admitted it to everyone. He let his eyes flit briefly over Chrissy and Michael, the only ones who knew.

 

Everyone seemed to pause for a brief second, Chrissy grinning and giving Jeremy a big thumbs-up while Michael lifted his head to give Jeremy a reassuring smile before everyone clapped for him. "Hell yes Jeremy, do the bisexuals proud!" Rich cheered, purposefully going over-the-top along with Brooke.

 

Once again, Jeremy curtsied, his face flushing happily under the make up. “Anyway, now that we’ve established that I’m unrecognizable as Lucy, I’m going to get back to my normal clothes. I want to get this corset off.” He huffed, fanning himself for emphasis.

 

Michael rolled his eyes, though stopped after Christine spoke up. "That's a two-person job. Hey Michael, do you wanna help him?" His eyes widened at that, and he just stared incredulously at her as she smiled innocently up at him. "I could tell you how, or Jeremy could."

 

Jeremy shot her a weak glare but he really couldn’t do much (and sort of didn’t want to) when Michael sighed and stood up. Jeremy let him into the back room, which was actually Michael’s bedroom.

 

“Okay, can you get the laces on the back of the dress? Just loosen them off until I can slip it off,” Jeremy instructed, leaning on his hands against the desk. “So apparently I make a convincing girl. Think it’ll be enough to fool Dustin?”

 

He felt the back begin to loosen up slowly as he assumed Michael worked on undoing the dress. "Yeah, you'll definitely be able to fool him," Michael reassured him, voice soft as if he was thinking about something and wasn't fully paying attention.

 

Jeremy sighed lightly as he felt the dress loosen a little, then a lot. His breathing was still restricted by the corset but not as much anymore. “Brilliant. So my plan is that I go in and find out if he still has the needle. Like, I chat him up or something. Ugh. Not looking forward to that, but oh well.”

 

He heard Michael hum in agreement behind him before asking, with slight hesitation and confusion. "Uh... How far under is the corset? I just realized I don't know shit about this stuff."

 

“It’s under the underdress. So another layer under this. And to get the underdress, I’ll need to take off all the petticoats, but that should only take a minute.” Jeremy slipped off the dress to reveal a plain white dress with multiple skirts layered on top of each other. Jeremy turned to face Michael so they could chat while he pulled off layer after layer. “So yeah, if Dustin has the needle, find out where.” Another layer. “Then, I either go to where it is and steal it or, if it’s on him, I knock him out using some red in his drink.” He was down to the underdress. “Unlace this one please?”

 

Michael seemed to be glancing away as more came off, but quickly nodded and hurried back around Jeremy so he could undo those laces. "Y-yeah, that's a good plan Jeremy."

 

Jeremy was left in lacy under trousers and a short shirt under the corset. “Thanks. Okay, so now you carefully undo the latches, then unlace it. This one has latches on the sides and front, but the laces are on the back. And I can’t reach them because of how it makes me hold myself. That’s why it’s a two person job,” Jeremy grumbled.

 

"Ah, I see," he heard Michael mutter out before he heard him working, though he seemed to keep cursing under his breath as he worked. It took longer than the previous two times, but Michael finally undid the lace after undoing the latches.

 

Jeremy let out a happy groan as soon as the laces were undone. He took a deep breath and smiled up at Michael, glad for the makeup suddenly because he just realized he was very close to Michael right now and he was in his underwear. His face would be bright red. “T-thanks...”

 

Michael just quickly nodded, and Jeremy was able to see that he was flush in the cheeks. Before he could comment, though, Snookums made her way into the room, nudging it open with her nose before running and ramming into Michael, making him fall backwards with a yelp. "Jes- Snookums!"

 

Jeremy giggled, turning to find the washcloth. Since Michael was still in the room, he wasn’t taking off the rest of his clothes, so he could do the makeup instead. He knew there was no point in trying to help with Snookums, she was too big and too strong and too set against Jeremy for some reason. She didn’t hate him but she didn’t trust him either. Which was a shame because Jeremy really loved her.

 

By the time his makeup was removed, Snookums seemed to calm down somewhat in showering Michael with affection. She huffed and hopped up onto the edge of his bed, to which Michael got up and sat down beside her, flopping down and burying his face into her fur. "God, you're a love machine."

 

Jeremy pouted at Michael. “So I go to all this work and I barely get any praise? You’re abandoning the ship’s cat after all! I should have known better than to trust a dog person!” Jeremy wailed dramatically, flopping backward onto the bed nearer the pillows.

 

"I told you that you looked convincing!" Michael wailed back before nuzzling into the dog's fur. "And I'm not abandoning you. I never get to see Snookums, so I'm enjoying my time with her. This is the longest I've been back in a while, and we're gonna be leaving soon to go after Dustin..."

 

Jeremy shot him a soft grin. “I know, Captain, I know. I’m only teasing. Don’t worry, I’ve got a feeling we’ll be back here again soon enough. I’m not sure why, it’s just a gut feeling.” Jeremy shook his head lightly, staring up at the ceiling. He wasn’t sure why, but he did feel like that would be the case. Like just he would be seeing this place again soon.

 

"... Yeah, but I'm gonna miss her until then, she's like my comfort animal," Michael muttered out as he nuzzled against her fur again, sounding a bit saddened. "She's helped me through a lot and I always get sad when we leave, she looks so sad..."

 

“Mhm.” That was one hurt Jeremy couldn’t help with, missing people (and she did count as a person thank you very much). “She very clearly adores you,” he hummed happily. They could enjoy this while Michael was still here with Snookums, even if she didn’t like Jeremy that much.

 

"Yeah, I picked her out of a litter when she was a puppy. I was eighteen and she was a newborn pup. We bonded for a few years until I left at twenty-one. Even after doing this for three years, it never gets easier to leave her..." Jeremy looked over and saw how fondly Michael was looking at his dog, who was looking as fondly back up at him.

 

Jeremy didn’t really have much he could say to that, although he did find it adorable that eighteen year old Michael called his dog Snookums, so he just lied back and watch the scene in front of him play out. Michael was relaxed and happy and at ease from being around Snookums. If she didn’t have a habit of tumbling Michael over randomly, he’d almost suggest they bring her along.

 

Eventually, things moved on. “Okay you two, out! I need to finish getting dressed! I’m still in my underwear! ”

 

Michael had left the room rather quickly after that. And when Jeremy had left the room, a few minutes later, he shuffled over to the uncomfortable looking Jenna. “So you know, Lucy is a real person, and she and I look almost identical when I’m all dolled up. She’s a year older than me, so maybe I could introduce you two one day. After all, she’s a proud and out lesbian too,” he had murmured. Jenna had never looked more relieved (over something not life or death) or more excited than she had right then.

 

“I... thanks,” Jenna told him, though seemed to refuse looking him in the eye for the time being. She quickly left after he told her that though, saying she had some things she needed to do before they left the next day.

 

Jeremy felt another curl of guilt in his gut, but let her go. Instead he went off to find Michael, who was sitting in the yard with Snookums. “Hey! Check it, I’m back to normal again!” He grinned brightly, plopping down in the grass. “I forgot that corsets hurt at first. It’s been ages since I did that,” he chuckled.

 

“I mean, I would think so,” Michael responded as he looked over at Jeremy. He was scratching the dog behind her ears again, and she seemed to be adoring it. She did look over at him though when he sat down, especially since he was so close to Michael, and seemed to give him a look. “Hey, Snookums, leave Jere alone.”

 

“Why won’t you love me, Snookums?” Jeremy pouted. He really was a bit upset that she didn’t seem to like him, he adored her and really wanted to snuggle her. Jeremy tried scooting away a little, and she relaxed a bit and went back to enjoying Michael’s attention. “I guess she just doesn’t approve of me or something,” he sighed.

 

“I guess, though I don’t know why.” Michael tugged the dog closer, arms wrapped around her as the dog practically flopped against him. “Why are you being so mean to Jeremy, huh? You just jealous of him, or are you just being rude?” Michael placed a multitude of kisses across the dog’s face before flopping back with her on the ground, still holding her close.

 

“Maybe it’s because everyone calls me a cat?” Jeremy jokingly suggested. He actually had a sort of idea why in all honesty; her standoffish behaviour started after he had ‘practiced’ with Damien. But he couldn’t exactly tell Michael that.

 

“Nah, she doesn’t care about that kinda stuff. She will literally love any creature... except you for some reason.” Michael just sighed, his fingers running through Snookums’ fur as she looked back at Jeremy, giving him the same look from earlier.

 

Jeremy sighed, flopping backwards. “Maybe next time we’re here I can win her over.”

 

“I sure hope so,” Michael mumbled out as he shut his eyes, just holding his dog close as they enjoyed the moment.

 

Snookums just continued to stare while they lied there, as if she knew all of what Jeremy had done and planned to do. While she was an adorable love muffin, she could be scary when she wanted to be. When they say owners and their dogs are a lot alike, they’re not wrong.

 

 

 

Jeremy let Chrissy and Michael fuss over him a little before he went in. It had only taken a week to track down Dustin (Jenna was a little scary with what she could find out) and they had finally pinned him to this bar. It was a little seedy for a woman of class like Lucy, but Jeremy had already planned for that. ‘Lucy’ had an interest in pirates.

 

“So remember, you need to play a little coy if you don’t want to end up on his ship later,” Chrissy reminded him, touching up his lipstick.

 

“And just be careful, the compass needle isn’t worth your life, you hear?” Michael looked a little uncomfortable as he fussed, but Jeremy suspected it was because Jeremy made such a convincing girl. Michael knew he wasn’t but his eyes were telling him he was and it caused confusion.

 

“I know, don’t worry. I think I deserve a little credit, guys, I’ll be fine!” he grumbled, swatting their hands away and shooting them a wink before slipping into the bar, his entire demeanour switching to Lucy.

 

He saw Dustin sitting in the corner, nursing a pint of ale. Dustin spotted him instantly and they made eye contact. Jeremy looked away shyly, and took a small step in his direction, looking hesitant. Dustin stood and approached him.

 

Well, if Jeremy hadn’t realized he liked guys before, Dustin would have undoubtedly awakened his sexuality. He was practically oozing charm and charisma while having a smile that could knock anyone off of their feet. His hair was a messy black, though it somehow looked purposeful and styled, and had blue eyes that you could and wanted to get lost. He had freckles littered across his tanned skin with sharp and refined cheekbones that could cut someone, oof.

 

“Why hello.” Wait, when had Dustin crossed the bar and already made it over? He watched him bow and take his hand, placing a gentle kiss to the back of it with a smile. “What is such a refined and stunning lady as yourself doing in such a rugged and brutish place like this?”

 

Jeremy giggled, and it wasn’t entirely faked. Okay, fawning over this guy wouldn’t be so hard after all. “I... I heard there was a charming pirate captain in need of some company from one of my servants. I was hoping he might regale me with some tales of his adventures.” Jeremy fluttered his eyes, making a show of shyly looking him over.

 

Dustin stood up then, a look of interest and concern mixed into his lovely eyes. “Well, I would love to, but this isn’t a place for someone as sweet as you. I don’t want you to be tainted by such foul company,” he said, sounding genuine in his words. “Why don’t we find a nicer place to stay and chat at the very least, and let me buy you something on the way there?”

 

Jeremy giggled again, a faint blush showing through his makeup. “Of course, good sir. There is a tea room a little further in to town which I often frequent during my excursions. I am afraid I can’t go much further though, my father doesn’t know I am out.” Jeremy took the arm Dustin proffered and started directing him towards the tea house as planned. “Do I, perchance, get to know the name of my captain for this adventure? You have nothing to fear from me, I shan’t turn you in, regardless of the rewards. I only ask for stories of the life I can never lead.”

 

“Oh, you’re so kind. I will do my best to entertain you, my dear, for it is the least I can do for you gracing me with your beauty and charm. My name is Dustin,” he told him, walking where he was lead. Jeremy knew that Christine and Michael were trailing along at some distance in case something went wrong, so he didn’t worry too much for it he was lead astray. “If I may ask, what is the name of the elegant beauty I have been blessed with meeting this fine evening?”

 

“Lucy Nightingale. The pleasure is all mine, Dustin.” Jeremy flushed a little darker when Dustin took his free hand and pressed another sweet kiss to the back of it. He was glad for his white gloves, which covered how rough his hands were.

 

He swore he almost swooned at the charmingly sweet smile Dustin flashed him as he pulled his lips back, continuing to walk along. “As I said before, you must let me buy you something. I need to thank you for allowing me to accompany you to this tea room to tell you my tales.”

 

Jeremy thought it over, eyeing a flower market stall. “Perhaps a rose? I could add it to my pressed flowers and my father would be none the wiser.”

 

Dustin’s smile was almost overwhelmingly blinding as he nodded, walking over to the stall. He was quick to purchase a rose, during which Jeremy could see where the needle was: around his neck in a bottle, though it was tucked back under his shirt before he handed the rose to Jeremy. It was a solitary deep, dark red rose. “For you, my lady.”

 

Jeremy averted his eyes shyly as he took the rose. It was thorn-less, and he held it close to his chest, cheeks flushing. “Thank you, Dustin. It’s beautiful.” Once again, he took Dustin’s proffered arm and let himself be lead towards the tea room.

 

Once inside, they were seated and Jeremy quickly caught the attention of the serving girl. “May we have the tea set with the orange roses?” he asked sweetly, making sure to look at Dustin for a moment as he did. He looked exceedingly pleased. Jeremy turned back to him. “So tell me, Dustin, are you truly a captain or simply my captain for tonight?” He shot him a flirtatious smile.

 

"I could be both, truth be told," Dustin replied, not missing a beat as he hummed softly. Jeremy could feel Dustin gently nudge Jeremy's foot with his own then. "Tell me, though, what kind of tale would you like to hear? I want to enrapture you however you wish."

 

“Surely someone as bold as yourself has found and captured a number of riches? Tell me about the most exciting hunt you’ve been on, something with adventure and a history.” Jeremy shifted so he was slightly closer to Dustin, not enough to lean on but a bit closer than might be proper.

 

From there on, Jeremy heard Dustin weave a tale about his latest excursion, one where he faced off against the male sirens that guarded Mercury's burial. He gave such vivid detail that Jeremy almost lost himself a few times, almost forgetting what he was here to do. By the time he finished, though, the tea seemed to have arrived, and Dustin poured Jeremy a nice cup full of the stuff. "It was hard to resist, but they even seemed to fall for me a little. It was quite flattering as well as surprising."

 

“Understandable. You are by far the most charming man I’ve had the pleasure to spend time with, Dustin.” Not a total lie. He took a dainty sip from his cup, looking at Dustin with soft eyes. “Are male sirens truly more powerful than the females? I’ve heard they offer you the one thing you desire most in the world...” Jeremy mused, setting down his cup. Just a few more minutes before he could properly start.

 

"They do, but they instill a more ferocious and desperate need than female sirens do. While the female sirens lull you into a serene state, the males pump you full of desperation and an intense desire that you cannot help but want." Dustin took a sip of his tea then as he hummed. "They're quite powerful and frightening if you get caught off-guard. It's almost a guaranteed death trap. Well, unless they find you too charming to eat, perhaps, but that's few and far between."

 

Jeremy arched his eyebrow and, under the table, he flipped open the phial of sleeping potion, clear and tasteless. It was a pain to make. “Perhaps it’s not simply by charm alone, my good sir. Perhaps it’s by birth. After all...” Jeremy leaned in close, so Dustin couldn’t see his cup even if he opened his eyes. “I have found myself utterly captured by you.” Jeremy slipped the potion into Dustin’s tea silently before moving back. Dustin’s eyes fluttered open, looking slightly darker and hungrier than before.

 

"I could say the same for you, dear Lucy," Dustin practically purred out as he shot Jeremy a look that, if he wasn't sure for his feelings for Michael, would have him wrapped around his finger. He lifted the tea cup up and sipped for a moment before placing it back down.

 

Jeremy giggled, a small blush on his cheeks visible even through the makeup. He actually had to look away to regain his compute just a little; Dustin really was a charmer. Jeremy focused on his cup, lifting it delicately to his lips. Without looking up, he murmured something only loud enough for Dustin to hear.

 

“Perhaps, once we have finished our time here, I might be convinced to follow you further, my sweet captain. Follow your sweet siren call all the way onto your ship and out of the harbour.”

 

"Only if you want, my dear. I do not wish you tempt you and take you unless it is what you truly desire," Dustin said in return, voice smooth as he gave a near intoxicating smile to Jeremy. He took another sip of his tea as he smiled so at Jeremy.

 

Jeremy’s insides practically turned to goo and for the smallest moment, he wished this was true. He wished to be Lucy and to be wooed so sweetly by such a charming and charismatic man. Then his feelings for Michael resurfaced, and he was grateful he was not. His insides still didn’t reform.

 

“Let us finish here quickly then, my dear. My father will return soon and I wish to be miles away before then. My only request is that we finish this tea so we do not arouse suspicion from the staff.” Jeremy took a slightly longer sip.

 

Dustin hummed in understanding before taking the few sips he had left of his tea. Jeremy knew he didn't have much tea to begin with, but knew the potion would still take effect soon. "Of course. As charming as you are wise. I do not understand how I got so lucky to be able to encounter you in this vast world."

 

“Truly I am the lucky one, my sweet captain.” Jeremy downed the rest of his tea and, with help from Dustin, stood and exited the tea house. The moment they were outside, he grabbed Dustin’s hand and pulled him down a side street, which was empty.

 

He turned and pressed a hand to Dustin’s chest, pushing him back until his back was against a building. The potion would work any second now and Jeremy knew he had to distract Dustin because if he realized he was getting woozy, he would call for help. Mentally, he shot an apology to Michael and to himself. As attractive as Dustin was, he wasn’t what Jeremy wanted. Still, at least it wasn’t his first, Chrissy had that honor.

 

“Kiss me,” he murmured, looking up at Dustin through his eyelashes.

 

Dustin seemed utterly enchanted by this more intimate moment he had created. He just cupped Jeremy's cheeks then, and Jeremy felt him tenderly, gently rubbing the skin there before capturing his lips in what was the most pleasant, intoxicating kiss he'd ever had the pleasure of having. Granted, he hadn't had many before this, but wow.

 

The kiss seemed to last for an eternity, but he knew it wasn't, he counted the time passing in his head, even if it was quite hard. Dustin pulled back then, only to rest his head on Jeremy's shoulder. It seemed like he was going to continue their little kissing escapade until his hold on Jeremy weakened, until Jeremy was the only thing keeping him standing. The soft snore he heard, one that was somehow endearing and attractive, confirmed that the potion was in full effect.

 

Jeremy let him down gently, slipping the needle off over his head. He stepped back, shaking and almost dry heaving. Now that he had what he needed, Jeremy actually allowed himself to realise one glaringly obvious thing: Dustin had doused himself in a love potion.

 

Jeremy had recognized it from the moment he met the man, but he had forced himself to ignore it, even to affect him a little to sell the rouse better. Indirect love potions only worked if the recipient let them after all. And most didn’t know to resist.

 

Jeremy stumbled back and leaned against the far wall, gasping for breath as he forced his head to clear properly. It was true, Dustin was ridiculously attractive and had the charm to match, but the love potion simply made him irresistible.

 

“Can you guys come and help me or are you just gonna leave me to shake of this love potion myself?” Jeremy rasped eventually.

 

He felt a gentle hand resting on his back, another on his arm. They were careful and deliberate to let him know that they were going to touch before contact was actually made. "Hey, it's alright, you're OK," he heard Michael mutter out, speaking softly to him as the hand on his back, the one he recognized as Michael's hand, rubbed soothing circles into his back. The hand that was on his arm gently squeezed, shifting down to hold and grasp his hand, the one he realized now was Christine's more petite hand.

 

“He- he’s doused in the stuff. I recognized it but I didn’t try to fight it because I wanted to be believable. I don’t want him, I really don’t want him. Please believe me,” Jeremy sobbed even as his eyes stayed dry. He had to tell them, he had to tell Michael, who probably hated him now, that it wasn’t real. But then, Michael was right there, helping him as much as Chrissy was. He couldn’t hate Jeremy it he was helping like this.

 

The gentle hand on his back put a little more pressure into the gentle movement before he felt himself moved against Michael. He heard Christine moving and doing something, but he wasn't calm enough to recognize exactly what. "It's OK Jeremy, it really is. You're alright now," Michael murmured out, "You can cry if you need to, it's OK. We believe you."

 

Jeremy leaned against Michael’s chest, surroundings himself in the familiar scent and feeling. He felt his mind clear and his breathing calm with every shuddering inhale.

 

“I feel gross. Don’t care if it was because of a potion, I enjoyed that and now I feel gross,” Jeremy mumbled. “Don’t wanna kiss him ever again. Or get near him. Can we go back home to the ship now, Captain? I can walk. Promise.”

 

He felt Michael look down at him before Michael muttered, "Are you sure? If you need me to help support you in any way, I'm here for you."

 

“Gimme your arm. Like how he was walking me earlier. Then it won’t look suspicious. I’m still a rich girl right now so you can’t carry me or people will see. If you’re leading me then I am with you on purpose. I just wanna go home now we got the needle.” Jeremy‘s voice was a little stronger, but it was still kinda slurred. He had forgotten just how potent love potions could be. He pushed himself a little away from Michael’s chest, feeling some more clarity returning to his mind. He wanted go back to being Jeremy again, he wanted to put away Lucy for a while again. His corset was hurting.

 

"Of course. We'll help you relax when we're back and you're dressed comfortably," Michael reassured him, and he felt Michael help him readjust his hold so Michael could lead him back to the ship. He vaguely knew Christine was nearby, but he wasn't too sure of anything besides the grounding hold he had on Michael until he knew they were back on the ship, and he heard Christine wish for him to feel better in an apologetic tone before the door to Michael's cabin shut.

 

Jeremy instantly slipped off the gloves and leaned on Michael’s desk. “Undo them please?” he asked, feeling a lot more present being surrounded by the familiar sights of Michael’s cabin. “Ugh, love potions fucking suck. He’s such a desperate fuckboy, even if he is handsome. Not touching him with a ten foot pole unless it’s to stab him.” Jeremy needed to complain now that he actually had his brain back a little.

 

"Yeah, he's a serious douche," he heard from Michael as he felt the laces slowly loosen. "We've dealt with him too many times, and I hate every time we have to encounter him and deal with him." Jeremy could hear the irritation towards Dustin in Michael's voice as he finished undoing the first dress, it slowly dropping to the ground before Michael helped him get undressed further. "We actually saved Jake from him, so that's the only good thing about him, and that's just by association technically."

 

As the petticoats fell away, Jeremy nodded to himself. “Yup, stabbing him. With a spear so I don’t have to get close to him. Ugh.” Jeremy groaned. “I might actually be sick. I was enjoying the attention. A part of me actually wanted it to be real. Makes me gag honestly. I mean, yeah he was charming but not that charming. He was probably just looking for a quick fuck, and would dump ‘Lucy’ as soon as he was done.”

 

He heard Michael hum for a second, though it wasn't pleasant in the slightest. "I... I don't know. He seemed to actually like 'Lucy' a lot." Michael sounded sure in that fact as he started to undo the underdress and its lace.

 

Jeremy shot Michael a glance over his shoulder. “You sound pretty sure about that... Okay, what happened?” Jeremy had learned to read Michael pretty well. The look Michael had in his eye made Jeremy certain that he was thinking back to something bad that had happen.

 

He saw Michael glance away, gnawing on his lower lip. "Well... We ran into him when I was fresh and new to the scene. It was just Jenna, Rich, Brooke, and I at the time, and apparently he tried to seduce everyone before trying with me. No one had thought of me in that way before, and he was so sweet and kind, but the love potion he used didn't help." Michael looked down at the lace he was undoing, gently unknotting it before helping to tug down the underdress.

 

"I realized too late the undertones you picked out straight away, and he snagged me onto the boat. Said Squ- Samuel would give him a large sum for me. Jake was there though, and he was sort of doing whatever Dustin wanted and was under the allure of the potion that he uses like a cologne. I guess I helped snap him out of it when he'd come to me to give me food and eventually talked. We sort of helped each other escape, but not before I ruined some of Dustin’s charm with an ugly slash on his arm."

 

Michael's gaze still refused to look at Jeremy as he was doing the hooks on his corset. "Everyone sort of agreed not to tell you about that until after because they knew you'd react differently to the mission. I wanted to at least warn you, but... Sorry."

 

Jeremy felt the familiar curl of anger in his gut, but he brushed it aside. “I get it. I don’t like it but I get it.” He sighed. “I wouldn’t have been able to flirt if I knew. I would have been too angry... but you deserve to be flirted with, I hope you realize. Just because he had ulterior motives doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to be courted properly.” Jeremy had noted the subtle tones in Michael’s words. Dustin wasn’t just the first, he had been the only. Focusing on something else, Michael specifically stopped the horrible feeling of cold anger.

 

He could see Michael’s cheeks flare up then before the last of the clasps were undone, to which he moved back behind Jeremy. “I... I guess? Thanks...” There was something in Michael’s voice that he couldn’t recognize, even if he could pick out that something was off in it.

 

Jeremy was feeling a burst of confidence. Maybe it was the remnants of the love potion. Maybe it was the accomplishment of having a mission actually work. Or maybe it was just the fact it was Michael, who cared for him, who had given him a family, who sounded almost unsure. No matter the reason, the moment the corset was off, Jeremy spun around to face Michael.

 

He brought his hand up to lightly cup Michael’s cheek, the other hand lightly grasping his forearm. He looked straight into Michael’s eyes, his own gaze intense and sure.

 

“You deserve the best, Captain. You deserve to be courted and loved and cared for as much as anyone else. Maybe even more. Don’t sell yourself short, as I know you have a habit of doing. There is no ‘guess’ about it. That’s what you deserve.” His words were barely above a murmur, but they were certain.

 

He saw Michael’s face warm up then, the warmth his cheeks radiated able to be felt against his fingers. “I...” Michael was stunned, apparently unable to speak thanks to Jeremy’s words and gentle yet intense actions. “Th... thanks,” he managed to get out, his voice squeaking and cracking.

 

Jeremy shot him a soft but unbelievably warm smile. Gently, he gave Michael’s arm a quick squeeze before detaching himself. “I’ll be back in a minute. I’m just going to take my makeup off and get into some normal clothes. Once I’m back, can we cuddle? I’m still a little shaken from the whole love potion thing.” Jeremy was down the hatch to the crews quarters before Michael could reply.

 

 

 

When Jeremy was gone, Michael felt thought return to him. He covered his face with his hands, letting out a muffled scream before flopping back into his bed. Jeremy had just made him so flustered and adored and loved. He made him feel so many happy emotions, and he didn’t know what to do with all of them. “God, I wish I could just tell you how I feel,” he muttered out to the empty space.

 

The next couple of minutes seemed to take an eternity, but Michael was grateful for the chance calm his racing mind and heart. Eventually, Jeremy popped his head back in though the main door. He looked like himself again, even down to the wildness of his much longer, curly hair. “Heya, I’m back. And I’m comfy again!”

 

Jeremy slipped into the room, hovering by the door for a moment with a slightly blush on his cheeks. Then he half bounced over to the bed, grinning happily. “Guess what. We did it! We have three out of the five pieces!”

 

“Yeah, I know. We only need one more piece left and then the map,” Michael told him, his face no longer buried in his hands as he smiled up at Jeremy. “We couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks, Jeremy.”

 

Jeremy beamed and practically squirmed with pride. He had just hopped up onto the bed when a loud, urgent knock sounded at the door. “Michael! We’re being followed! The Beautiful Nightmare is coming at us fast! We’re heading further out but we’re not going to be able to outrun her!” Rich sounded a little panicked, even more so than he had when Squi-Samuel had attacked. Probably because he knew how hard this would be on Jake.

 

“That potion should have knocked him out for another three hours at least. Someone must have found him!” Jeremy exclaimed, obviously figuring that it was Dustin’s ship.

 

Michael groaned in frustration and anger at this before getting up and out of bed. “We’ll kick his sorry ass and then keep going.” Thankful that he didn’t undo his gear yet, Michael turned to Jeremy and said, “Gear up, we’ll be outside,” before hurrying outside to face Dustin and the Beautiful Nightmare.

 

Moments later, Jeremy had his sash of potion bottles and his sword and knife all on his person and his face was set in a determined scowl. After a quick nod to Michael, he scrambled up the rigging to get a better view on the situation.

 

They had minutes before they were caught. Luckily, Dustin didn’t seem to want to sink their vessel, so the cannons stayed silent from him. He was probably after ‘Lucy.’

 

“Yup, knew he actually liked Lucy,” Michael muttered out before getting ready and going over to Rich. “Is Jake hidden away, and are you able to see if Dustin’s awake and on the deck or not?”

 

Rich nodded to the first question. “He’s awake and pissed.” To the second. “Is it better to just turn and face them? We’re too slow to outrun them since we just restocked yesterday, and I think Chloe will be pissed if we need to replace the back panels again. So like, drop anchor and fight our way out?”

 

“Good, and that’s honestly the best way. I’m ready to kick some ass too, especially after being away from this for a month,” Michael told him before whistling and calling for Brooke and Christine to do just what they just spoke of.

 

Within seconds, the Fallen Angel had stopped. The Beautiful Nightmare pulled alongside her and stopped as well, dropping a few gangplanks to connect the ships. Dustin strode across first, face red with anger but an intelligent twinkle in his eyes.

 

“Where is Lucy? I know you have her, Blood Coat, I heard you before I passed out. So where is she?”

 

A loud cackle echoed from above. Jeremy half hung himself off the riggings, grinning down at Dustin. “I’m sorry my dear, but there is only one captain in my life. You’re going out have to look somewhere else for your entertainment!” he called down in Lucy’s voice. A range of emotions crossed Dustin’s face, before he settled on smug.

 

“Seems the little bird is actually more of a kitten. No matter, he’d still make a beautiful partner and member of my crew, especially once I’ve gotten some of this in him.” Dustin gestured to a flask filled with a metallic, rainbow liquid inside, which rested in his breast pocket. Even Michael recognized it as a powerful love potion.

 

Michael couldn’t help but bark out a laugh at that before he unsheathed his sword. “You think you can come aboard my ship and make such bold claims without consequence? Your skull is a lot thicker than I thought, Kropp, and I’ll be happy to teach you the manners you so obviously lack.”

 

Dustin unsheathed his own sword as his crew started across the gangplanks, a mad smile on his face. “You used to sing a different tune, my sweet. Maybe I should get you both? Since, I must say, you both seem wonderfully devoted to each other already. Who would have guessed it? Blood Coat falling for Squip’s son?” The sound of shattering glass tinkled out next to Dustin and a column of hot, green flame burst out from it. It vanished in seconds, not catching the deck alight but obviously singeing the edges of Dustin’s blue coat.

 

“I’m not his son, asshole. My mum might have married him but I sure as hell ain’t claiming family with him!” Jeremy scowled from his vantage point.

 

As Dustin was distracted by Jeremy’s outburst and the potion, Michael lunged forward, stabbing at him and pushing him further back to his own ship. “You wish. The only way you could ever get anyone to come with you is through unnatural terms. I think that says a lot about you, wouldn’t it? Pretty sad, in all honesty.”

 

“And yet you were so willing, so desperate. That says more about you than me,” Dustin cooed, easily parrying the attacks Michael sent his way. That was alright, he was holding his back for now. Suddenly, Dustin switched into a more ferocious, aggressive style. He managed to push Michael back a bit, back towards the boards.

 

“Yes, keyword being were. You haven’t changed though while I have,” Michael insisted, letting Dustin start to wear himself out before working to push the other captain back when he hit a brief stint. “You still haven’t moved on from me, and you’re sticking to my crew and I as a desperate fuckboy for years. Learn to move on, why don’t you?”

 

It seemed like Dustin had been waiting for his taunt because suddenly Michael was hit full force with the sweet smell of the love potion. He had barely even registered that it was missing, and now it had started up again, it was sort of making his head spin, not to mention the rest of the ships. Both crews seemed to be a little distracted all of a sudden, almost unable to keep fighting from the strength of it.

 

Michael couldn't help but take a step back at the sudden impact it had on him. He couldn't help but pull his bandanna down and over his mouth then as he tried to filter out the strong smell. "Still playing unfairly, huh? I know pirates are supposed to be underhanded, but you have no real talent besides knowing how to toss love potions around."

 

There was a small thunk which echoed out behind him. Sparing a glance, Michael saw Jeremy collapsed messily on the ground, likely after falling off the rigging, with a dazed look in his eye. Shit. Since he had just escaped the influence of the position merely an hour ago, it meant he was especially susceptible. Michael needed to wrap this up NOW if he wanted to make sure Jeremy remained love potion free. “Looks like the little kitten is on his way over already. It’s not too late to change your mind, Blood Coat. I’ll even keep you two together, you made too cute a set to separate for any sort of money that Squip might offer,” Dustin crowed.

 

Michael narrowed his eyes at Dustin's snarkiness, trying to keep himself strong against the love potion that was seeping through the fabric. "Fuck you, Dustin Kropp. Join the sirens you belong with." He was sure he surprised Dustin with that comment, so he was quick to jump on that opportunity. He quickly moved, pushing Dustin back with the butt of his sword, and kicking him off of the other pirate's ship that they were now on.

 

Dustin screeched as he fell, but apparently he was willing to risk it all. In the split second he had, Dustin threw the bottle of rainbow liquid right into Michael’s face, where it shattered and drenched him. Luckily the glass was designed to not hurt whoever it hit, but it was still concerning.

 

A fog overcame Michael’s mind, but instead of being scary or numbing, this one felt freeing. Like he could finally focus on what was important. Him. Michael sort of fell to his knees, his eyes slipping out of focus as he realized the truth. He was all that really mattered. And Michael loving him was all he had to do.

 

“Perfect. Now get me out of here, Blood Coat! Get me back on the ship!” Dustin called from the water.

 

Michael managed to get to his feet, going up and across the gangplank, seeming as if he was going to use a rope to get him down. He went right past the ropes, though, and knelt down beside Jeremy. "Are you OK, Jeremy?" he asked, all of the love and feelings he felt flowing out because Jeremy was all that mattered, he realized that thanks to the potion.

 

Of course, he didn't listen to Dustin because he wasn't thinking about him. No, he was thinking about Jeremy, worried about him the entire time, and why wouldn't he? He was the only person who mattered.

 

Jeremy slowly sat up with Michael’s help, blinking away the remains of the daze from his eyes. “I’m okay, Captain. Just a little bruised.” He smiled up at Michael, and he felt his heart clench happily. Jeremy’s nickname for him made him feel so special and loved. In an instant, Jeremy’s happy expression turned to worry. “Oh, Captain. He got you, didn’t he?” The moment felt quiet as Jeremy lightly cupped Michael’s cheek, even as the battle raged around them. Michael just nodded, a little overwhelmed by the sweet gesture to explain that yes, Michael was hit by the potion but it simply removed anything stopping him from expressing his true feelings.

 

With a sigh and a rueful smile, Jeremy looked up at Michael pleadingly. “Can you get this battle finished and won for me then, love? Please? We can’t spend time together if there’s fighting going on.” His tone seemed... off. But if winning the battle would make Jeremy happy then Michael had to do it!

 

He just quickly nodded, though not before quickly removing his coat and wrapping it around Jeremy. If he wasn't feeling his best, even if he was just a little bruised and his tone was off, he wanted to make sure he was snug and secure. "You stay safe and to the side, I'll have this won for you in no time," he promised. Unable to contain himself now, and not wanting to, he pressed a gentle kiss to Jeremy's forehead, where he saw a forming bruise, before getting up with a newfound determination.

 

Michael was quick to help his crew, defeating the crew of the Beautiful Nightmare, and seemingly stuck with the habit of kicking the crew off the side of the ship and into the waters below. After all, the crew had to be loyal and follow their captain no matter where he went, right?

 

"Next time you see me, tell me how much luck you had with your fellow sirens this time," Michael called down, tossing Dustin's hat that had fallen down into the ocean as the anchor was pulled up before they left, letting Dustin's gangplanks fall into the ocean below as they went.


Once the yelling and cries of Dustin and his crew were basically a whisper, Michael grinned and rushed over to Jeremy, because the battle was won and Jeremy would be happy!

 

Jeremy was not happy right then. In fact, he seemed to be both scared and angry. A mammoth of a man had cornered Jeremy and was menacingly approaching him, sword drawn. How he had escaped Michael’s sweep, he didn’t know, but Jeremy was in trouble.

 

“You’re who the captain wants, aren’t you...Wait, aren’t you the ship’s cat?” the man asked as Michael slowly started his approach. He needed to be careful if he wanted Jeremy safe. Turns out he didn’t need to be so concerned.

 

Jeremy’s eyes darkened and an angry scowl turn down his lips. Slipping the red coat on properly, he drew his sword and quickly, yet efficiently, disarmed the man. Then he proceeded to gracefully kick the shit out of the man, cutting him up (only surface wounds, nothing threatening) and bruising him to hell with a few well timed kicks. Finally, he shoved the man overboard with on almighty smack with the side of his blade. “Well I’m not a fucking tabby, if that’s what you’re asking!” He shouted down after the now screaming man. “Enjoy your salt water scrub! And send a big ‘Fuck You’ to Dustin for me!”

 

Michael couldn't help but stare as he stood there, watching in awe at what Jeremy did. Once he finished shouting, though, he rushed right over, hands all over his face and arms to check him over. "Oh, are you alright? You were amazing, holy hell, but you didn't get hurt, right? You only have the injuries from when you tumbled before? Jeremy, though, you were just... wow." He couldn't help but tumble out what he knew was the truth as he mother-henned over him, pressing a gentle kiss over each bruise and mark he saw. "You're just... You're so spectacular."

 

Jeremy obviously hadn’t been expecting it (why not though, Michael wasn’t sure since he deserved each and every one) because he let out a surprised squeak, eyes widening slightly. With some prompting, Michael slowed his kisses. “I’m... I’m okay, Michael. C’mon. Let’s get Brooke to patch us both up. Then, I need your help with a very important potion, only you can help me.” Jeremy’s smile was bright, but there seemed to be a deep level of sadness behind it.

 

At that, Michael just grinned and nodded, though didn't understand why Jeremy seemed to be sad. He had won, beat Dustin's crew for him! What was he doing wrong? He couldn't help but frown a little too before an idea popped into his head.

 

"Alright, c'mon," he said before picking Jeremy up in his arms, bridal-style, and shooting a smile full of all the love and adoration he had. At the surprised look and squeak Jeremy gave him, Michael couldn't help but just grin like a goof before leaning down and pressing a multitude of kisses to his face. God, he loved doing that because Jeremy deserved all of the love. "Let's go, cutie!"

 

Jeremy clung to him, eyes wide, but he didn’t try to stop Michael. In fact, he seemed to melt a little under the affection. Brooke was already getting her tools out, and she shot Jeremy a sympathetic look as she started tending to his wounds, which Michael didn’t really understand but it didn’t matter. Jeremy seemed to be happy in his arms.

 

After they were both done being patched up (despite Michael’s protests that he was fine), Michael carried Jeremy to his cabin. Instantly, Jeremy opened up the potions kit he kept up there and started mixing things together. Occasionally, he would ask Michael to do something, and he would get a rush from any praise given for completing it. Eventually, Jeremy finished whatever he was making.

 

“This should take a few minutes to work and it works slowly, so once you’ve drunk this, we can go cuddle, yeah?” He offered the silky, brown liquid to Michael who downed it in one go. It tasted like chocolate. As soon as he had drunk every last drop, he scooped Jeremy up and sat him lightly on the bed. Carefully, he removed Jeremy’s sash, boots and sword and placed them off to the side, as well as slipping the coat off his shoulders. Once Jeremy was all tucked up, Michael quickly stripped himself of anything he didn’t need and climbed in, wrapping himself around Jeremy, spooning him.

 

Jeremy relaxed against him, but there was a sort of cloud hovering over him right now. Maybe some affection would help?

 

Michael decided he would go slow and tender, especially if he had just gotten patched up. He placed a soft kiss to his cheek before nuzzling close to his neck, his eyes shutting as he got comfortable there between placing gentle kisses to his skin occasionally. "Jeremy, you're so smart," he muttered out, running one of the hands wrapped around him gently up and down his side, tracing random patterns there as he tried to make sure he was relaxed and comfortable, and that he knew how deserving of love he was. Even as he felt himself become sleepy, the few thoughts he could think were all about adoring and loving Jeremy. "So smart, so pretty, so lovely... I'm so glad I met you, I..." He yawned, unable to stop it before nuzzling right into the crook of Jeremy's neck.

 

"I'm so glad you're in my life, Jeremy... I..." His chest was almost bursting, wanting him to say how he felt to Jeremy, but the clouded, sleepy feeling he had took over, leaving him to fall asleep as he kept Jeremy close.

 

 

 

When he woke up later, Michael felt clearer, like he wasn't just hyper-focused on Jeremy... Jeremy... Oh fuck.

 

Eyes wide and his mind now fully awake, the captain looked down to see Jeremy pulled close to him, the other seemingly fast asleep. He felt embarrassment and shame wash over him, because he told Jeremy how he felt and was coddling him with all of his love and overstepped so many, too many boundaries. God, the potion made him blind to Jeremy's saddened look and why he was obviously upset: he was sad that his friend was obsessed with him because of Kropp's potion and didn't feel the same way. He was just being a good friend and helping him, but he took it too far.

 

Ever so carefully, Michael removed himself from Jeremy without waking him, getting slowly out of bed and not even risking jostling something in case the noise woke Jeremy up. Instead, he walked outside and onto the desk, sitting near the railing and letting his feet dangle as he watched the night sky reflect the moon onto the ocean's waters, trying to dispel the negativity building up in his mind and stomach, making him dizzy and nauseous at the same time.

 

Jeremy was next to him not even a minute later, not looking at him, his expression unreadable. The silence was deafening and awkward.

 

“I’m sorry,” he murmured eventually, the words so quiet they were almost lost to the gentle whispers of the sea. He sounded... sad. Not disgusted or upset. Just sad and so, so tired.

 

The guilt in Michael's stomach only worsened, and he had to shut his eyes in order to keep himself from getting sick. "No, I'm sorry. I... I forced that onto you and made you uncomfortable. I..." He had no idea what to say to apologize for forcing these feelings Jeremy clearly didn't return onto him. He had to wrap his arms around his stomach then to keep the nausea from getting worse, guilt eating away at him.

 

“It wasn’t you, Michael,” Jeremy sighed. “It was the potion making you think and feel things that weren’t true. You didn’t force yourself on me, I promise.” Jeremy leaned back, his expression still unreadable as he stared up at the stars. “I’m sorry for not stopping you. If I’d have asked, you would have not even laid a finger on me. But I didn’t and now you feel guilty for something you couldn’t control. So I’m sorry I let it go on as I did.”

 

Somehow, that hurt worse than he could've thought. He didn't even think he had feelings for him in the first place? Michael had to do his best and somehow managed to keep himself from tearing up and crying right then and there. "I... Don't apologize, really. None of us expected that and we reacted on our feet. Just... thank you, Jeremy, for helping me..." At that point, he held onto himself tighter, feeling so many things but he just didn't want to feel anything right now.

 

Gentle hands gently tugged at Michael’s arms, making them loosen slightly. “Please stop beating yourself up for this. I’m not mad. I’m not upset. Hell, I’m grateful that you’re not hating me for this.” The hands stopped tugging and Jeremy was actually looking at him for a second, before looking down to his lap. “I’m sorry for... for using you like that. For letting you actually do it. For not being strong enough to say no.” Jeremy sounded like he was going to cry.

 

Even if Jeremy didn't feel the same way, even if he thought Michael didn't even have feelings for him to begin with, Michael wasn't going to let Jeremy suffer because of this. "You didn't use me, Jeremy, it's alright. I could never hate you Jeremy, I..." He wanted to say what he was going to say when he was potioned so badly, but it wasn't right, not when Jeremy didn't feel the same way. "I care so much about you, Jeremy." He wrapped his arms carefully around Jeremy, leaving any room for him to get out of the hug if he wanted to.

 

Jeremy instantly clung to him tightly, not giving Michael a way out. It was probably a good thing really, or else he would have pulled away sooner rather than later.

 

“You’re my favorite person, Michael, that’s not going to change because of some stupid potion. You- you mean so much to me and I care about you so much too.” Jeremy nuzzled against him gently. “This... this doesn’t mean we have to stop cuddling and stuff, right? Because you didn’t really have a choice and I’d never want you to be uncomfortable, but I really do like it. Being near you like this means a lot to me. But please be honest, do you want to stop?”

 

His response was instant as he shook his head, resting his head on top of Jeremy's. "No, I don't want to. It... it means a lot to me too, you have no idea." Well, at least he didn't hate him, right? "You're my favorite person too..."

 

So tired from the events of that night, Michael let out a sigh of exhaustion (and he was tired in more ways than one) before asking, "Can we... go back to bed? Please?" He didn't mean to sound so desperate at the end, but he couldn't take back what was said, especially since he did mean it.

 

“Please.” Jeremy sounded relieved and almost as desperate. He didn’t move to let go just yet, probably waiting for Michael’s grip to loosen.

 

Even if he didn’t want to, Michael unlatched himself from Jeremy, getting up before reaching down to help Jeremy get up. He couldn’t help but smile, even if he still hurt on the inside, as Jeremy grabbed his hand and helped him up.

 

Michael walked back in with Jeremy to his cabin, rubbing at his eyes like he was just tired instead of trying to keep himself from crying. He quickly got into bed with Jeremy, hesitant at first with cuddling, though Jeremy dove right in and was nestled against his chest. At this, Michael’s heart soared before crashing, but just held him close regardless as he closed his eyes.

 

He was on the edge of sleep when Jeremy spoke up. “Hey Michael? Was... was it you or the potion when you... when you said I was spectacular?” Jeremy sounded so hesitant and small but somehow hopeful. Like he wanted it to be true.

 

Michael felt his chest tighten ever so slightly, even if he was close to sleep. "That was me," he promised, "I meant that wholeheartedly, I swear."

Chapter Text

Over the past few months, things were... quiet. They had no clues to go off of after getting the needle, though Dustin probably had them somewhere and they just couldn't get it. It was irritating, but they were still searching high-and-low for clues.

 

As the next few months went on, they had their few ransoms, though there was something else going on, Michael could tell. Whenever they'd go to a port, Jeremy would just... vanish for an hour or two at a time after completing his duties. No one had any idea where he went, he never told anyone, but he just... vanished, then came back like nothing was wrong. The past few weeks, though, he came back and looked more and more tired each time.

 

Saying Michael was concerned would be the understatement of the century. Jeremy never said anything about it though, even if he asked, so all Michael could do was trust him... He'd tell him if something was wrong or going on, right?

 

When they arrived at their next port, hopping along to find any clue about where the last piece of the compass was, everyone was quite exhausted. They had finished a big ransom that had almost been more trouble than it was worth, and they all agreed on one thing: they needed to drink, even if it was only a little.

 

They were halfway to the bar when Jeremy suddenly stiffened, as though shocked. “Umm... you guys go ahead, I just realized I left something on the ship. I’ll catch up with you in a few minutes?” He sounded hesitant, like he was internally debating something.

 

Most of the others, although worried still, didn't want to press the matter further. They were so exhausted, they just agreed and nodded while Christine and Michael stopped, worried as they looked back at him. "I can come with you if you want," Michael suggested, giving him a soft, reassuring smile.

 

Jeremy shook his head, smiling equally as softly. “It’s fine, I’ll be alright on my own for a few minutes. Just grab us a table, I’ll be with you guys in just a sec, promise!” With that, Jeremy turned tail and ran back to the ship. And Michael could see he was actually heading to the ship, too, not just vanishing off into nowhere again.

 

That in itself reassured Michael a little. Turning to look at Christine, who gave a shrug with a small smile, Michael went and followed everyone else to head into the bar.

 

The air was light, cheerful, as Michael took a deep drink of his cider. Everyone was already regaining their energy from the last job, and Michael could feel his crew recharging him. The sound of the bar door opening made him grin. That had to be Jeremy, finally catching up. He turned, only to find that it wasn’t Jeremy at all. It was none other than a smirking Madeline Blanc.

 

“Bonsoir, Michael. Everyone. Did you miss me?”

 

Michael tensed at that, instinctively reaching down for his weapons before realizing that they were in their civilian clothes and were practically defenseless. Still, it didn't mean he and his crew weren't ready to fight with fisticuffs. "I quote from a friend when I say that never seeing you again would be too soon."

 

Madeline pouted. “How rude, you wound me monsieur!” she cried dramatically, before smirking once more. “Bind them.” Suddenly every other patron in the bar was standing. They were all hers? Apparently so, since they all began advancing.

 

Everyone collectively tensed, knowing they were likely not going to get out of this, but they could at least try, right?

 

 

 

Well, they did try, but it didn't end well for them.

 

They managed to hold out surprisingly well, knocking out a good few attackers before each and every crew member present was tied up and forced to their knees in front Madeline. “Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” she cooed, patting Michael’s head condescendingly. “Now, I only see seven of you here. Where is the little ‘Prince’, Jeremy Heere? His father has put out quite the reward for his safe return, though I may be more partial to... keep him for myself? I could use another pet since my last one became so disobedient.” She scowled as she said Jeremy’s name and she glared down at Michael at the pet comment.

 

Michael just glared up at her then, ready to headbutt her once the grip his captor had on him lessened even slightly. "Hmm, I don't think you'll ever find him, he wouldn't dare be around faux scum like you."

 

Madeline grinned, apparently liking his reaction as she stepped back. “I’ll find him eventually. He can’t help himself when his crew is in danger.”

 

“You’re right about that, petite souris. I can’t seem to stay away.” Everyone’s head snapped to the door, where Jeremy was very casually leaning. Michael felt his heart clench because he knew just by looking at Jeremy that sometime was wrong.

 

First and foremost, he was wearing a long, royal blue coat, made in a similar style to Michael’s Blood Coat, just a little less fancy. His sword was strapped to his side, ready to be drawn at any second. He was neat and put together, and his entire being seemed to radiate confidence. His eyes, however, were ice cold, holding none of the familiar warmth or joy they normally would. And Michael swore they looked a little strange. Almost green.

 

In that moment, Michael finally understood why his crew, who trusted him with their lives, could be scared of him when he put on the Blood Coat persona. Because in that moment, he was scared of Jeremy.

 

Michael, after taking a moment to recollect himself, managed to finally speak. "Jeremy?" he asked, doing his best to keep the slight hint of fear out of his voice. His demeanor alone made him a bit scared, but his eyes, and how they were so different…

 

Jeremy’s icy gaze warmed a little when he glanced over to Michael, but it was as harsh as ever when focusing on Madeline. She seemed to recognise something in his eyes, because she was very obviously trying to stop herself from cowering.

 

“Now, petite souris. I’ll give you two options. Either you let my family go now, or I make you do it. I know personally, I’m hoping for the latter, but if you want to make it out of this without any losses, I’d highly suggest you take the former.” Jeremy looked almost bored, but there was the faintest hint of excitement in his tone.

 

Somehow, Madeline managed to laugh in spite of all of this. "You seriously think I'm going to do that? You've gone mad on the seas, kitty." She grabbed Michael's hair- which OK, ow!- before adding, "I've already got most of you, so what's one more?"

 

Jeremy tutted sadly, although Michael could spot the anger in his eyes the moment he was grabbed. “I had thought you would have at least a little self preservation, petite souris. Mice shouldn’t antagonize the kitty cat with a collective bounty of over thirty thousand crowns.” Jeremy didn’t draw his sword. Instead, all he did was raise his arm. “Oh well, I suppose you brought this on yourself.” He snapped his fingers and chaos broke loose.

 

Dozens of people were suddenly pouring in through the now broken windows, every single one of them attacking one of Madeline’s crew and every single one had haunting, glowing green eyes. Jeremy stood tall, commanding the chaos without needing to move a muscle.

 

In the midst of the chaos, Michael was sure to get a good headbutt in against Madeline and her guts, and he couldn't help but grin a little despite the frightening situation. He managed to get back-to-back with Chloe, who had grabbed one of the knives dropped by one of Madeline's crew, and they cut each other free while managing to avoid the fighting.

 

Eventually, the whole crew was untied and joined in, ending with Madeline and her goons all defeated and tied up now. Michael couldn't help but feel a bit nauseous though, as the people who were helping them still had those glowing green eyes. If he didn't have to keep up somewhat of a persona right now, he would rush off and be unable to keep any of his drinks from earlier down.

 

Jeremy had barely shifted from his place by the door. “Are you all alright? No lasting damage, right?” he asked, nowhere near as much warmth or concern in his tone as normal.

 

He almost flinched at the stark difference in his tone, but managed to keep himself calm and composed. "I'm fine, no lasting damage."

 

Jeremy smiled, but it seemed detached. “Good. Head back to the ship and get ready to set sail, I’ll finish up here and join you in a couple of minutes.”

 

He just nodded, even if everyone else seemed hesitant to leave. Michael made sure to usher them all out, and when they were far enough away, he spoke up. "You guys head back, I'm gonna watch over Jeremy." Before anyone could say anything, he left, sneaking back over to watch and listen to whatever was about to unfold without Jeremy thinking they were watching.

 

Apparently the moment his friends were gone, so too was any warmth that Jeremy possessed in this state. He pushed away from the door and let out a small whistle. “Oh Philip? Can you please come untie your captain? I want make sure she gets her training done properly.” A young man, maybe about twenty-two, stepped out from the back room. He would have been very handsome if it weren’t for the glowing green eyes.

 

He dutifully undid the ropes and went to stand next to Jeremy, face blank as ever. Madeline looked ready to cry. “What, can’t handle your first mate and boyfriend listening to someone else, little mouse?” Jeremy drew his sword and used its flat edge to tilt her chin up enough so that she was looking him in the eyes. “He’s so well behaved though, I don’t know why you don’t just rent him out. Maybe then he’d actually get something useful done rather than wasting it with you.” Jeremy reached up and gently stroked the man’s, Philip’s, cheek with the back of his hand. It was almost like he was petting an animal.

 

Michael had to control himself from vomiting at this horrible sight. This was too much, too much like Squip, too unlike Jeremy, too... horrible. He had to swallow and keep his stomach somewhat calm as he watched this horrendous scene play out.

 

"I thought you were supposed t-to be a little goody two-shoes! Why the hell are you doing this? You sent the rest of the crew away so you could play this cruel game without being judged, huh? So they don't know what you're really like? Y-you're sick!" Her fake accent- Michael had his theories, but never once saw Madeline go without it- dropped then. "Do you think anyone else in the crew you're in would like you anymore if they saw this?!"

 

“Naturally. And they can think what they like of me, so long as they’re safe from wicked people like you.” He removed the sword from her throat. “I’ve long accepted that I can’t be counted a good person anymore, but I only ever let my darkness out for the evil, hurtful people who take pleasure in hurting people just because they can. I only help to... expose those with the same darkness instead of turning it on innocents.” Jeremy’s grin was as sharp as a knife. “Now, since we have that cleared up, I have one order for you to start with. Kneel.”

 

She let out a pained, slightly hysterical laugh at that. "You're even crazier than I thought if you think I'm going to kneel for you."

 

“I was hoping you’d say that.” Jeremy turned his sword so it was against Philip’s throat. Madeline let out a pained whine. Philip didn’t flinch. “You really think I’d have a bounty of thirty thousand crowns spread out over twenty three islands if I wasn’t willing to get my hands a little dirty? I’ll give you one more chance. Kneel.”

 

Michael had to cover his mouth at this point, almost feeling tears beginning to fall down his cheeks. Even if Jeremy was like this though, he knew he wouldn't kill, but this was all just too much. "Michael would never love you if he saw this," she spat out before reluctantly kneeling, glaring daggers right at Jeremy.

 

“And I wouldn’t deserve it if he did. Moving on.” Jeremy removed the sword from Philip’s throat before he started casually circling Madeline. “You see how easy it is to behave, Miss Blanc? I don’t even have to enchant you to get your obedience, I just need to know where. To. Press.” He patted her on the head with each word. “Now this is your final warning. Follow us again, come anywhere near my family again, and I swear. Even if I’m not there with them. Even if you can’t see me. You will find a knife to your throat one morning and I’ll ensure you fall into a nice, deep sleep like Philip over there. You’ll behave so nicely for the rest of your life,” Jeremy hissed, grabbing her cheeks roughly. “If you hurt them again, you will never wake up as yourself again. Do I make myself clear?”

 

Her eyes just narrowed at him before she managed to spit in his face, a disgusted grimace on her face as she seemed to prepare for whatever her spitefulness would earn her. "Burn in hell, you piece of shit controlling fuck."

 

Jeremy wiped his face, dipping himself into a low bow with his arms spread. “As you wish, milady. Though, I did only learn this from you.” He reached into the pocket of his coat and blew some green dust onto Madeline’s face. After a moment, it fell blank and her eyes flicked green. “I said, do I make myself clear?”

 

“Crystal clear,” she murmured.

 

“Good. Now everyone, it’s as I discussed with you all. Time to go and turn yourselves in, admitting to each and every crime you’ve committed. I shall take my leave now.” Jeremy walked out the front door, stepping to the side to let the neat line of controlled pirates and bound prisoners file towards the nearest guardhouse. Jeremy didn’t move, apparently lost in thought.

 

Michael had to lean himself against the wall he was peering around from at that point, pressing his back hard against the brick there to keep himself from falling to his knees. Instead of that, he slid down until he landed on his ass, though he didn't care about that. His hands were shaking too much and his mind too wild and panicked for him to even properly think after all of that. Jeremy, he just…

 

*
He didn't realize he was full-out bawling at this point, on the verge of a break down, though definitely was having a panic attack. Michael didn't realize that he finally couldn't stomach any of this anymore until he saw a mess on the ground beside himself, further into the alley. Despite seeing it, his mind didn't seen to really register it as he fell back into his own panic attack, his breathing becoming more labored and his eyes fogging up with tears.

 

 

 

Jeremy had yet to move from his place in front of the bar. He was waiting. Waiting for the guilt and the self loathing that usually came after he did anything with the serum. It just wasn’t coming. He didn’t feel bad, he felt the same as he did a few moments ago. He didn’t feel terrible. He didn’t feel like he should throw himself into the sea and just end it. Nothing. Just the same numbness that came from using the Dew Berry serum. The only thing he felt was confusion.

 

He was confused on why the guilt that plagued him over the past few weeks didn't come. After trying to figure out why it wasn't appearing and coming up with a blank, he just did the only thing he could do: shrug it off and remind himself why he was doing this: he was keeping his family safe, his crew and Michael, his captain…

 

His captain, who he could faintly hear? Jeremy blinked in confusion at that. Didn't he and the rest of the crew go back to the ship to wait for him?

 

He followed the sounds, and he found Michael leaning against a the back wall of the bar. He was right by a window and so would have seen and heard the whole thing. The puddle of sick indicated he didn’t like it. And the fact he was sobbing and whimpering meant he still didn’t like it.

 

Jeremy knew this was his fault. That he was the cause. That did make him feel a little guilty, but nothing like it would normally. Why wouldn’t it snap back? He couldn’t help Michael if he was like this, if Michael would even let him help.

 

He knelt down a small distance away and decided it was best to at least try something. Michael could hurt himself if he stayed like this.

 

“Michael?” he asked softly, none of the malice or ice in his voice, but not a massive amount of warmth either. It was as much as he could manage.

 

“It’s me,” Jeremy murmured, still not moving. He knew that if he could be feeling, he would feel like he didn’t deserve to even be close to Michael, so he kept still.

 

Michael seemed unable to really think on what to do, his breathing still panicked and somewhat labored as one hand fervently ran through his hair, eventually tugging a little. "I... You..." He seemed hesitant in his freaked out state, reaching a hand frantically out to him.

 

Instantly, Jeremy scooted close enough to let Michael take his hand. “I did. I am. I’m sorry. Please stop hurting yourself though, Michael. You didn’t do anything wrong. I did.” Jeremy’s voice was still mostly neutral, but he was starting to feel a small... something in his chest. It was too faint to tell at the moment, but it was a start.

 

His captain just heaved for a second before crying more, resting his forehead on his knees as he held Jeremy's hand tight, very tight, as if he didn't even realize how tightly he was holding. He seemed to want to try to speak, but he couldn't, and his hand stayed in his hair as he continued on his path to what Jeremy could recognize as a meltdown.

 

Jeremy ignored the pain sparking in his hand, too caught up in trying to break out emotionally. “Please stop. Please. Just breathe. Please just breath,” Jeremy begged softly. The horror was starting to burn a little brighter in Jeremy’s chest; it was all starting to come back, slowly.

 

Michael seemed to be trying, but that didn't mean he was succeeding. He seemingly kept trying to catch his breath, to breathe normally, but he couldn't figure out how and just whimpered and whined occasionally. The hand holding onto Jeremy's own gripped tighter, and the hand in his hair kept tugging, despite it making his whimpering and whining worse.

 

Jeremy kept trying, following memories that he knew but had no attachment to. “Follow my breathing. Listen for it and breathe with me.” Jeremy started making every gasp in and out long and loud. Hopefully Michael could follow that.

 

After what seemed like an eternity, Michael seemed to have somewhat regular breathing, but he was still whimpering and whining, tugging his hair and keeping his near-death grip on Jeremy's hand.

 

“Please stop hurting yourself Michael. Please, you don’t deserve to hurt... it’s my fault. Hurt me instead, but please stop hurting yourself.” It was the most he could manage at the moment but it was something. Jeremy had to try something.

 

Michael just shook his head at that, letting out a small, panicked noise at his suggestion. He lifted his head up and off of his knees to do that, finally looking Jeremy in the eyes with his own bloodshot, slightly hazy eyes.

 

A feeling similar to relief washed through him, but it was still muted. Jeremy still couldn’t feel yet. It had been a good few minutes, it should have worn off by now. He ignored that thought, too focused on Michael. “Hey Michael,” he murmured, almost-shame tinging his voice.

 

His captain looked at him, his glasses starting to fog up too from all of his crying, before he reached over and ended up pulling Jeremy into a too-tight hug. Michael's head rested on his shoulder as he whimpered and whined, his hand looser in his hair and not currently tugging as the rest of his fingers dug into the fabric of his blue coat.

 

Slowly, Jeremy wrapped his arms around Michael, not caring about his one pain, only worried for his.
*

 

After what seemed like ages, though Jeremy knew it was only a couple of minutes, Michael seemed to finally calm down enough. The hand in his hair was weakly around Jeremy's waist as his captain just occasionally sniffled, but quiet otherwise. His body wasn't trembling anymore, just heavy with exhaustion.

 

“I’m sorry, Michael.” Jeremy knew he had to apologize, even if logically he couldn’t see why. He was doing this to help Michael, not to hurt him. Still, the almost-shame was pulsing through him, telling him to apologize. “I did bad. I’m sorry.”

 

He felt Michael slowly shift from where he was leaning against Jeremy to sit up, even if he needed a hand on Jeremy's shoulder to keep himself steady. "I..." Even if he was so exhausted, he managed to look at him with worry before his other hand gently cupped his cheek. "Do you... you know why you're apologizing? Are you sorry?" Michael grumbled after speaking, his throat clearly in pain after all that crying, but he still spoke through the pain for Jeremy.

 

Jeremy wouldn’t lie. He shook his head. “I’m not right now. But I will be. I always am after. I just don’t know why it won’t fade this time. I know what I did was wrong but right now I can’t feel the regret or horror of it, those come later. But they just won’t come.”

 

Michael seemed to frown at that before gently, slowly rubbing his thumb against Jeremy's cheek. "You..." He gnawed on his lower lip then, seemingly trying to think, though grimaced after a few moments. "Try to think on something, someone who makes you feel a lot. Focus on trying to feel that feeling," he tried, though coughed after saying so much so shortly after so much crying.

 

Jeremy did as instructed, focusing on the feelings he normally got around Michael. The joy and love he felt. It happened like the snapping of a rope. One moment Jeremy felt nothing, the next the felt everything. His eyes felt strange as he felt them fill with tears and he tried to bolt, held only in place by Michael’s grip on him. Feeling the horror and guilt and shame crash through him all at once had Jeremy struggle weakly against Michael’s grip, trying to get away. He didn’t deserve this kindness. Hell, he didn’t deserve to live after all the wrong he’s been doing the past few months and especially after what he just pulled.

 

Despite what Jeremy felt and believed, though, Michael still held him. Jeremy watched as Michael leaned forward again, resting his head back onto his shoulder. “There y’are...” Again, Michael coughed, but he buried his face into the crook of Jeremy’s neck after as he weakly held onto his cheek and his waist.

 

Jeremy stopped trying to escape and started sobbing, clinging to Michael loosely. “Please make it stop. Make me stop it, Michael. I can’t and it hurts. I just wanna end it, please. Oh god, make it stop.” Jeremy begged and sobbed, not even really sure of the words he was saying. This was his worse drop yet, and they got pretty bad a good chunk of the time.

 

He could faintly register Michael reassuring him and telling him he’d help, but Michael ended up stopping, his voice all gone after talking when it was so strained already. Despite that, Michael kept holding onto him, even when Jeremy could register that he was so exhausted by how much he was leaning against him (almost his entire body weight at this point).

 

Jeremy eventually calmed down enough to think a little, past his own emotions. “I wanna stop it, but I can’t, Michael. I’ve been trying and I can’t. I... I think I’m sick. Up in my head. Because I know it’s wrong but I can’t stop.” He took a shuddering breath, trying to figure out how long they had been there for. He assumed it had been almost half an hour. “We... we only have about an hour before they’ll come back. It only lasts a few hours. We need to head back.” Jeremy’s voice cracked at the thought of having to face his crew members after this, but he couldn’t let Madeline get Michael or any of the others.

 

Jeremy felt Michael nod, which ended up equating to him rubbing his face against his shoulder, before trying to get up. It was obviously a strain on him though, but even as he sat up, he gave Jeremy the most exhausted yet reassuring look that he could. Jeremy could tell that, even if this scared him, he was going to help Jeremy out.

 

Jeremy couldn’t understand why but now wasn’t the time to consider that. He had to get Michael to safety. Slowly, he helped Michael stand, able to take almost all of his weight. He was glad the docks weren’t too far away. It only took about ten minutes before Jeremy had gotten them back onto the Fallen Angel. He was met by a cacophony of questions but his only focus was getting Michael into bed. He needed the rest.

 

Everyone followed him into the cabin. He laid down Michael on the bed and ignored his weak attempts to grab him. He needed to do this. He walked over to Michael’s desk and pulled out the gun. He handed it to Rich, who looked down at it in confusion.

 

“You think I’m a threat. You have every reason to be scared after what you just saw me do. I will never hurt anyone here on purpose, and I want to explain and get better, but I made you a promise. If you think I’m really a threat, shoot me.” He grabbed Rich’s arm and pulled it so the gun was to his forehead.

 

Jeremy could hear Michael’s weak cries from his bed, but ultimately ignored it to stare at Rich. He seemed to be taken aback and startled by this, eyes wide as he stared at him. The others who were piled into the room were staring as well, though Jenna was sitting on the edge of Michael’s bed, and he could see her trying to keep him lying back in bed.

 

“I...” Rich stared Jeremy dead in the eyes for a few moments, and it looked as if he was searching before cursing and lowering the gun. “You want to change, I can see that much, so you aren’t a threat, Jeremy.”

 

Jeremy’s legs gave out underneath him and he crumpled to the floor. Tears of relief and pain bubbled up and he didn’t try to control them. Instead he looked up at Rich. “Thank you. Even though a part of me wanted you to shoot, to let it be over, thank you. I’ll get better. I promise.” Jeremy let the blue coat slip off his shoulders and land heavily on the floor as he slowly stumbled to his feet, ignoring the horrified look Rich gave him. He stumbled over to Michael’s bed.

 

He seemed speechless as well, though he didn’t put the gun back, seemingly worried.

 

Jenna watched Jeremy as he came over, her eyes careful, but ended up getting up and helping Jeremy over. Michael, although exhausted, managed to give him the faint remnants of a smile, seemingly relieved to see him there now. Chloe was over by the bedside now though, and carefully removed his glasses and put them down as Jeremy was helped to settle into Michael’s bed with him.

 

Jeremy didn’t relax once he was in the bed. “We need to get out of the port. Madeline will be after us in less than an hour. We need to move if we’re going to get away from her.” Jeremy’s voice was weak but certain. He had run enough tests to know his time limit for someone like Madeline. Chloe hesitated, but nodded and left the room to do the final preparations. Jake followed a moment later, shooting Jeremy a worried frown.

 

Jeremy didn’t move to cuddle with Michael like he usually would. He didn’t deserve it. He wouldn’t even touch Michael unless Michael started it first. He blearily looked in his direction.

 

Michael, who looked so utterly wiped, reached a hand over to him. He looked seconds away from passing out, but he still tried to hold on so he could reassure Jeremy about all of this, that they could still interact as they did before, even after their own respective freak outs.

 

Jeremy half launched himself into Michael’s embrace, whimpering in both pain and relief. Michael didn’t hate him at the very least. He could work with this. He could get better. He felt his own consciousness slip, utterly exhausted after everything. He didn’t try to fight it.

Chapter Text

After such an exhausting night, Michael just wanted to stay in bed all day. Unfortunately, he couldn’t. Jeremy still needed to explain to everyone what exactly happened last night, and he still needed to know what happened when he left them before the bar. So, even if he was ready to sleep and try to mentally and physically recover still from last night, he found himself on the deck of his ship with his crew with sandwiches, courtesy of Brooke.

 

Chloe had the ship hidden away near a small island so they could all sit and try to relax while Jeremy explained himself. Michael could even tell he was antsy, and he kept wanting to just run and not tell, some side effect from this addiction. Jake managed to keep him down however, and just tried to reassure Jeremy as they all got settled to eat and listen.

 

Michael was leaning back against the wall of his cabin, doing his best to stay awake as Jeremy was preparing himself to start his explanation.

 

Jeremy hadn’t even taken a bite. He was slumped over, leaning against his arms. His eyes were slightly wild, and they kept glancing towards the edge of the ship. Michael suspected it was only Jake’s gentle hand on his back that stopped Jeremy from throwing himself off.

 

“This started a long time ago,” he eventually started. “Back with the first encounter with Madeline. I used the serum on her just so I could rescue everyone, but then I got this sort of... buzz in my brain. I felt good, like I was finally in control, which I had never felt before. I think it sort of... boosted my anger and that’s why I was behaving so weirdly. So I kept a phial. I never used it, but it was like I couldn’t let it go. I wanted to throw it out but I couldn’t...” Jeremy trailed off, his voice hoarse and strained. This was obviously taking a heavy toll on him.

 

“It’s definitely an addiction, I can see how the Dew Berries could do that,” Chloe muttered out, sympathy somewhat lingering in her voice. “You had good intentions I think, you never wanted us hurt, so it justified it in your mind that this was alright, even if you knew it wasn’t. It’s hard to go cold turkey after that kind of stuff, but you’re taking the first steps by admitting.” Everyone else just sort of stared at her for a minute before she looked off to the side. “What? I can be insightful and shit, this is just something I’m familiar with! ‘M not gonna be rude about something so serious.”

 

Jeremy shot her a weak but grateful smile, his eyes looked a little less panicked. His breathing was still a little shuddery but he didn’t look like he might pass out any second. “I didn’t even actually do anything with it until Damien. A part of me wanted to but I resisted. But then I found out about Samuel and I just got so... angry and it sort of overwhelmed my rational thinking. So I started modifying the serum, changing it. Because I had planned to use it on him so he could see what it was like to not have any control but also so he would know exactly what was happening. But I knew I needed... I needed to test it, so I slipped some into Damien’s food. Convinced him it was a side effect of being on the Fallen Angel for so long.” Jeremy had a sort of sickly pallor as he relived the feelings slightly. His eyes were unfocused but horrified.

 

It was obvious that everyone else was unsettled by this, though Michael was glad his suspicions that something happened were confirmed. He watched as Jake gently rubbed his back, reassuring him and comforting him. Even if this was a very serious moment, Michael was glad his crew was so good to one another, and he had to struggle a little to keep his eyes open so he could keep listening.

 

“After that, I’d make changes and go and test them out. I’d find someone horrible, mostly abusers and stuff, and I’d get them with it. Make them do something humiliating then turn themselves in, confessing their crimes. That’s where I’ve been disappearing to... At first it felt justified, like it was fair because I was only doing it to bad people, but a few weeks ago by brain just sort of... clicked. And I realized how bad it was. But I couldn’t make myself stop. I threw out my stocks of the stuff, I’d wake up to find I made more. I tried to stay back, I’d find myself in town making someone basically dance like a puppet on a string. It was like I was the one being controlled. I hated it, but every time I tried to tell you guys it would hurt and I would feel sick. I just... couldn’t. So I just sort of let it happen, just glad I wasn’t actually hurting anyone. I’ve been... spiraling for a while now.”

 

Jeremy nearly started to hyperventilate, but it eventually cut off, going deep and sad. He sounded broken.

 

Jake continued to rub his back then as Michael watched his crew figure out how exactly to help their friend. Eventually, Rich spoke up. “I don’t get exactly what you’re going through, but that isn’t going to stop us from helping you. You’re addicted, and that makes sense with the Dew Berry. You have to use it sparingly, even when it’s ripe, because it can be addictive.” Michael saw Rich look over at Jeremy, smiling reassuringly. “We’re going to do what we can to help you now. We’ll make sure you get help however we can, and it’ll be hard and it’ll hurt, but we’ll help you kick this, yeah?”

 

Please,” Jeremy practically sobbed, collapsing in a heap in on himself. “I hate it, I hate that I have no control anymore. I hate that I act almost like him when I’m using it. That it makes me feel like we could almost be family because why else would I be like this?” He took a deep, shuddering breath before adding something, so quietly that it was almost impossible to hear. “I hate me and that I let myself fall so badly.”

 

“Hey, Jeremy, just because you’re technically ‘related’ to him doesn’t mean shit,” Rich said as he let out a sigh. “He... I never told you, but he basically took me in after a long time, when he married my mom for a small amount of time, but I’m nothing like him either. Just because we have someone shitty like that related to us by law doesn’t mean shit, alright? You’re still Jeremy Heere, you’re not related to Samuel at all, you aren’t a piece of shit like he is. You’re just you going through a rough patch, and we’re all here to help you out.”

 

Even if he couldn’t voice it, Michael was honestly proud of his first mate.

 

“I... thank you,” Jeremy whispered, but it was clear he didn’t believe everything in what Rich said. “I want to be better. I just don’t know how to stop.” Everyone sort of reached over, putting a gentle, reassuring hand on him somewhere.

 

“We’ll get you through this, Jere. And then we can kick Samuel’s ass for even creating the serum in the first place.” Brooke nodded, smiling softly.

 

“Oh, really now? How rude. And not even using my title? Just barbaric.”

 

Michael saw everyone tense along with him as he looked over to his side, eyes wide as he was suddenly more awake. There sat Sq-Samuel in his full glory, dressed and confident, his telltale smirk on his face as he seemed to sit oh-so casually right next to him. Had he been so out of it and everyone so distracted by Jeremy that they didn’t even notice him come on board?

 

Jeremy, despite his state only seconds ago, was on his feet in an instant, scowling at Samuel even before anyone else could react. He already had the knife from his boot drawn. “You were kinda fucking my mom for a while. I think we’re a little bit past formalities like titles, Samuel,” he hissed, a proper, hot anger radiating off of him, nothing like the ice from yesterday.

 

As the last words left Jeremy’s mouth, before anyone could really react, Michael felt an oh-too familiar arm loop around his neck, bringing him close to its owner while the cool metal of a blade rested against his throat. “I thought you were a person of manners though? If you’re not going to call me my title, you could at least respect my position. After all, you seem to do so quite often with your own captain, yes?”

 

Jeremy’s scowl deepened. “Yeah, well respect is earned. He earned mine, you haven’t. But if you’ll take the knife away from his throat, I’ll call you whatever you want. Scream it to the sirens even, if that’s what it takes.” Jeremy bent down and sheathed his knife again, his eyes never leaving Samuel’s form. He stood and raised his hands in surrender.

 

Everyone else followed suit, and Michael could practically hear his heartbeat ringing in his ears as he felt himself forced to stand along with Samuel. “I don’t think that’s enough anymore, Jeremy. I want you and everyone else to stand back, and you are going to let me leave with him.” As he spoke, Michael could see some of the crew of Perfection Attained making it onto the deck of their ship, seemingly having climbed up the side of the ship.

 

Jeremy glanced around, but focused back on Samuel within seconds. “You guarantee his safety? That he won’t be harmed?” Jeremy’s eyes were cold, calculating, but he was still radiating boiling anger.

 

“I have no reason to not. I want him alive. He won’t be harmed if you follow my instructions.” Michael could practically hear the self satisfied smirk in Samuel’s voice. Jeremy took a few steps back.

 

“So long as he’s kept alive, I’ll behave, Captain Squip.” Jeremy looked over at Michael, his eyes pleading and soft. “Remember my promise, alright? It’ll be okay.”

 

Michael wanted to respond, but the hold on his neck and the knife pressed against his skin kept him from even nodding. He tried to express his understanding in his eyes as Samuel’s crew walked over to them then. “You’re also going to allow my crew to tie you up so you all don’t get any funny ideas about following.”

 

It didn’t take long, especially since the crew complied so Michael wouldn’t get hurt, and they were all forced down below into the brig. Once Samuel’s crew came up and nodded to their captain, he felt himself forced to move. “Move, boy.” He felt his gut churn at that, but Michael had no choice but to go, especially since he was too exhausted from last night to put up much of a fight.

 

Jeremy kept his eyes locked with Michael’s all the way up until he vanished from sight, covered by the stern of the ship as Michael was forced across the plank. “Now, boy, we have some catching up to do. So it’s down to your old room, the brig, remember?” Michael couldn’t do much else but weakly struggle as he was thrown on to a chair in the cell. Strong hands held him down as he was tied up.

 

“Now, before we get started. Tell me where your pieces for the compass are or I’ll sink the Fallen Angel right now.” The blade was back by Michael’s throat.

 

Michael narrowed his eyes as he looked Samuel dead in the eyes. “I... I have it, in my coat pocket. We’ve been reassembling it as we’ve gotten a piece. Right in my breast pocket.”

 

Samuel reached and grabbed the compass from Michael. His eyes lit up greedily. “Well done, boy. Those badly behaved children will live to see another day. Now, tell me. Who are you and who am I?” Samuel asked, slipping the compass into his own, black coat.

 

He felt his gut churn again at the ‘name’ before he just continued to bitterly glare at Samuel. “You’re a piece of shit named Samuel and I’m Michael, Captain Blood Coat of the Fallen Angel,” he also spat out at him, doing his best to sound fierce when his throat was still sore.

 

The blade was gone and a harsh slap jerked Michael’s head to the side. “Wrong. You are boy and I am your master, Squip. You have nothing. You are nothing. You simply belong to me. Again. Who are you and who am I?” Samuel asked again, his tone calm a ever.

 

Michael just glared at Samuel still as he continued to berate him. “I don’t need to repeat myself, unless you just love the sound of my voice. I mean, who would want to hear you drawl on and on?”

 

Another slap. “You will answer the question, boy.”

 

Once again, Michael responded with sass. This cycle continued on for god knows how long, before Squ-Samuel stood up straight again. “I have duties to attend to. Since you’re so badly behaved, you’ll be staying here. Don’t worry, boy. We’ll train you to behave for my son soon enough. He’ll be so pleased with you by then end of this.” With that, he left the room. He turned off the lamp on his way out, plunging the brig into near darkness.

 

Once Samuel was gone, Michael slumped back against the chair, his exhaustion overtaking him from this whole situation. He was glad for the darkness, for he could almost not tell where he actually was if he didn’t focus on his surroundings and instead let himself zone out.

 

He worried for his crew, though he knew they would be fine. How long did it take for them to get free? Were they trying to track him currently? Were they alright? Sq-Samuel’s crew didn’t do anything besides tie them up, right?

 

As these worries washed over him, he just looked over to where he knew the door to the brig was and spat out, “I have a fucking name, you shit, and it’s Michael.

 

 

 

The next time Squ-Samuel came back to the brig, Michael was asleep. The harsh slap woke him up.

 

“Hello again, boy.” Michael stayed silent. “I said hello.” Another smack. “You will respond when spoken to, boy. Say ‘hello Squip’ or ‘hello sir’.”

 

Michael just narrowed his eyes up at Squ-Samuel as he narrowed his eyes back at him. He purposefully took a long time to respond. “Hello...” Seeing the almost satisfied smile appear then drop just made him feel almost giddy as he uttered, “Samuel.”

 

Surprisingly, no smack this time. Instead, a gentle hand patted his head. “Better. That was much better, boy. But we still need to work on your manners a little. I’m Squip. Not Samuel.” Strangely, Sq-Samuel’s tone was as gentle as his touch. He crouched down in front of Michael again. “Now tell me. Who am I? And who are you?” His voice was still soft but carried strength too.

 

Michael tried to pull his head further back from Sq-Samuel then, not wanting to be any closer to this horrendous man than he had to be. “You’re Samuel, and I’m Michael, Captain Blood Coat, Captain of the Fallen Angel... and you’re also a huge asshole.”

 

Another smack. “Incorrect. You have no name. Your parents didn’t care to give you one. Anything else anyone calls you is simply an imitation. You are boy, nothing more. ‘Michael’ doesn’t exist. ‘Blood Coat’ doesn’t exist.” He stood tall, looking down at Michael with harsh eyes. “And you call me Squip or sir or master. You are not family like Jeremy is. Or even Richard. You are simply the boy who I didn’t let starve to death.”

 

Michael let out a weak bark of laughter at that. “You’re only family to them by law. You are not his real family and never will be. His family, for Jeremy and Rich, is the crew of the Fallen Angel. You have no respect in my eyes, Samuel.”

 

“If he’s not family, then why is the way he defaulted with his addiction so similar to me?” Samuel asked quietly. “Even with his righteous anger, he could have become a protector, yet he turned cold. I think you’re in denial, boy, about how similar Jeremy and I am. I think you just don’t want to admit that you think of us both as family. That you love us both as family, even if it is differently.”

 

He felt his chest ache at the similarity implications, but he tried to push through that thought. “Everyone reacts to addictions differently, just because you two act similar when he’s in that different head-space doesn’t mean shit, Samuel.”

 

“Are you so sure? His behaviors were on point despite supposedly only having met me once. Down to the tone of his voice, isn’t that right? You saw his eyes. They went the exact same shade as mine. The eyes are the window to the soul, boy, and his reflected mine.”

 

“It’s because of the unripened Dew berries,” Michael countered, still leaning back as Squi-Samuel’s argument continued and he stayed towering above him, his lower tone of voice making his skin crawl.

 

“I thought you were more intelligent than that, boy. Dew berries turn the eyes a bright green, his were blue green. Tell me, don’t you find it even slightly interesting that his mother came searching for me? That she, a noble woman, left her husband, one of the richest merchants in the world, to find a man who no one had ever heard of? Or that Jeremy looks so little like his ‘father’. He doesn’t remember his very early years, you know. But he remembers growing up on the sea. And I know you remember another child on the ship.” The implications were clear.

 

Michael continued to glare as he even tried to remember if there had been another child on the ship. Of course, he was too young to remember most things, and he tried to block out those memories... Tapping back into them to check probably wasn’t a good idea, and what if Squip- no, Samuel was lying just to mess with him? “No, there wasn’t any other child on the ship when I was there, I was the only one.”

 

“So the name ‘Noah’ doesn’t ring any bells? He was always glued to my side, though he didn’t have much of choice, the crew was a little more rowdy back then, but I’m sure if you think, you can remember. He used to love giving you orders. He’s the one I gave your stuffed bear to, the one you stole.” Samuel’s tone was almost fond, the fondest Michael had ever heard it.

 

Even to check if he was right or not, Michael refused to let any of his old memories resurface as he glared at the captain of this vessel. “You’re just trying to mess with my head, there wasn’t anyone named ‘Noah’ on the ship. You were the only one ordering me around, and you just tossed the stuffed bear.”

 

“I can see I’m not getting anywhere with you, boy. Not yet. Don’t worry, I’ll help you remember where you fit in. And if we ever see Noah again, I’ll make sure to remind him too.” He straightened, looking down at Michael. “I’ll bring you some water soon. Don’t worry. You’d be able to taste if there is any Dew berries in it, neither of us have managed to tone down the sickly sweet flavor.”

 

“Fuck. You. Squip,” he spat out, though realized a second later what he called him. Michael did his best to hide his own shock at that, but didn’t let his glare that he held falter.

 

There was a gentle hand in his hair once more, and the poisonous smile on Squip’s face made Michael’s stomach churn. “Good boy,” was all Squip said before leaving Michael alone in the darkness.

 

 

 

The next time he saw Squip, he woke him up from more sleep. His wrists were almost numb, his arms sore, and his legs were asleep. He blinked and realized his glasses were gone this time, as the world around him, which only held darkness, the brig, and Squip, was blurry and fuzzy. Instinctively, he narrowed his eyes at the blob he knew was Squip.

 

“Good morning, boy.” Squip didn’t sound quite as smug as earlier, but he did sound pleased. Michael couldn’t make out quite what he was seeing, only that Squip holding something sort of... poofy.

 

“My name is Michael,” he bitterly reminded Squip as he tried to figure out what the hell he was holding.

 

Michael doesn’t exist. It was a poor substitute for the thing you never had. You never had a name, boy, and we do not get to choose our own. The most was can choose is our titles.” Squip wandered closer, his tone still sounding a little too pleased. “If you behave nicely this time, I have a blanket you can use for your shoulders. But that all depends on you. Now, let’s see if you’ve learned your place yet. Who are you? And who am I?”

 

He continued to glare up at the man, still craning his head away from Squip before answering. “I am Michael, and you are Squip.”

 

The hand in his hair was back and it was so gentle that for half a second, Michael couldn’t help but lean into it. Then he remembered that it was Squip’s hand and he recoiled, but the damage was done. Squip chuckled. “Good boy, you’re already improving. Keep this up and you’ll get the blanket. And if you’re really good, you can even have your glasses!”

 

“Why did you take my glasses?” Michael asked, tone biting as he made sure to make his anger obvious, especially after letting himself relax around Squip. “And I’m not ‘good boy,’ I’m Michael!”

 

Squip chuckled again. “Only well behaved children get to see properly, boy. And you’re right, you’re not ‘good boy’, you are just ‘boy.’ Whether on not you’re good is entirely up to you.” Squip sighed and bent down to be just inside Michael’s focus range. “Now, please stop lying to yourself, boy, it’s not healthy. Michael is a lie. One even Noah doesn’t believe.”

 

Michael kept himself craned away from Squip as he got so close, not really wanting to see him well, if at all. “It isn’t, and there isn’t a Noah! I don’t know who the hell you’re talking about!”

 

“Noah Jeremiah Heere. That’s his full name. He might go by Jeremy now, but as a small child he went by his true name.” Squip backed got closer. “Notice, Christine never showed you the wedding invites, did she? You know she had them but you never saw.” It was true, she had kept one copy of the invite and never showed anyone on the ship. Only Jeremy, who cringed a little whenever he saw it.

 

“It’s her own private thing she can choose whether to share or not. No one was going to pry either of them for it,” he tried to justify.

 

Squip ignored his protests, instead stepping back and standing up. “Noah doesn’t believe in Michael either. Notice, he rarely calls you by that name. He calls you captain, which is the title you chose. Now why would he do that if he actually respected the name? He knows who you truly are.”

 

Michael frowned at that, shaking his head, though his neck ached at the action. “He calls me that out of respect and it’s a nickname, but he still calls me Michael too!”

 

“You’re lying to yourself again, boy.” Squip sounded disappointed. “If you don’t start behaving I might have to withhold the blanket from you. The fact is, Captain is a lie because you don’t have anything, Michael is just the bigger lie. Noah knows that. That’s why Captain happens more than Michael.” He was walking around Michael now, but Michael couldn’t tell his expression due to lack of eyesight. “Now, once more. Who are you?” he asked from behind.

 

Michael could feel himself tensing up at the inability to read the situation, that Squip was right behind him, spinning these lies... or truths... He frowned as he spoke again, this time with some hesitation and reluctance. “I’m... I’m Michael, and I’m Captain.”

 

“You are boy,” Squip corrected. “Again. Who are you?”

 

“I’m... I’m Michael,” was the only thing he said in response, looking down at his lap.

 

“Liar. Michael doesn’t exist. You are boy. Again. Who. Are. You?”

 

“I...” He stared hard, down into his lap, as he felt a pain flare up around his neck from how it was aching. “I’m...”

 

“Boy,” Squip finished firmly, leaving no room for argument. “You are boy.”

 

"I'm... I'm boy," he muttered out, unsure and in pain from his stiff, aching neck as well as everything else, but that was what was striking him the most at the moment.

 

“That’s right, you are boy,” Squip murmured gently, hand reaching around and guiding his head up. The pain lessened. Gentle touches in his hair soothed him further. “Good. You’re being such a good boy.” For a moment, the hands left, but then a warm weight wrapped around his shoulders, feeling almost like a hug. The hands came back, gentle and sweet. “You are my boy.”

 

He couldn't help but feel relief wash through him at the lessening pain, at the gentle touches, at the warmth and praise he was getting. It wouldn't be bad if he leaned into Squip's touch if it helped lessen his pain... right? "I... I'm..."

 

“You’re my boy. And you will be perfect for me. And for Noah, when he joins us. It will be just like before. You’ll be my boy.” It was hard to even identify the voice as Squip now, the tone too tender, the words sounding too soft to the point where their meanings were lost.

 

At the words, Michael (no, he wasn't Michael, he was 'boy') just nodded along to what he was saying, the words and sounds all so soothing and nice to him. "I'm... your boy..."

 

“Good boy,” Squip murmured, his hands moving gently, soothing any aches in his neck. After a while (time was hard to tell down here) they moved away entirely. The soft, warm sensation shifted and suddenly his neck was supported from behind, while still feeling like he was being hugged. “I’ll be back soon. Now you remember your place, boy, I’ll be back to remind you how to follow your role. For now though, you can rest. You’ve done so good. Goodnight, boy.” Squip waited by the door, a blurry shape surrounded by a dark color of the door.

 

Looking up at the blurry form of Squip waiting by the door, Mich-Boy watched him wait. What was he supposed to say? Oh, right. "Goodnight, Squip." After saying that, he rested his head to the side since his neck no longer ached, resting his cheek against the warm (and... fuzzy?) sensation that rested across his shoulders, making him let out a soft sigh of contentment.

 

He slept comfortably for the first time since being here.

 

 

 

“Hello boy,” Squip greeted him, his voice curt and harsh. That meant Boy would have to be extra good today if he wanted any praise.

 

"Hello sir," Boy greeted as he looked over at him, his figure still blurry since he hadn't been good enough yet to get his glasses.

 

“Today we’re going to go over what Noah means to you now, understand? He’ll be joining us in a few days and I want to make sure you know how you’re supposed to treat him.” Squip didn’t even look at him as he walked around the room.

 

Boy's eyes just followed Squip as he walked, trying his best to follow him from his compromised position. "I understand, Squip," Mi- Boy said.

 

“Good boy.” Squip nodded before passing out of view. “Now, you know Noah as Jeremy. That is his own lie, he is Noah. But you will treat him with the same respect you treat me, understand? He’ll be the next most absolute authority.”

 

He took a few seconds to get that processed in his head, trying to wrap his head around the concept before he nodded. "I... Jeremy is Noah... I understand, Squip."

 

“And how do you treat Noah?” Squip asked, running his fingers through the now limp hair on Boy’s head.

 

"I... I do what he tells me to do," Mich- Boy said, though wasn't entirely sure on what else he had to do.

 

“That’s right. Now when he gives you an order I want you to-“ There was boom, then a crash and the room shook. Squip stumbled away from him, leaving his sentence unfinished. He stood, and Boy could tell he was upset by the tone of his voice. “I’ll be back in a moment. We may be getting some new people to join you here.” Squip left the room, moving quickly.

 

He watched as his now-blurry form left, blinking before resting his head back down onto his shoulder to wait. Squip told him that he'd be right back, so all he had to do was wait, so he did just that.

 

After some time, a sound which was not the sound of Squip echoed around Boy’s room. He turned his attention to the wall where it seemed to be coming from.

 

“Well I’m sorry, Jake. Maybe I should have brought Rich instead. At least he wouldn’t be getting stuck every few feet!” a voice cried quietly from behind the wall. It was familiar, very familiar.

 

“Hey, it’s not my fault I’m the biggest out of us! We don’t know if he’ll even be able to walk, so you kinda do need me, Jere,” another familiar voice responded, equally as quiet.

 

Suddenly, a part of the wall flipped open and two figures spilled clumsily out. “Well at least we know Samuel’s on deck,” the shorter, whiter of the two complained.

 

Watching the two blurry shapes, Boy wondered for a moment if these were the new people Squip had been mentioning. He just blinked and tried to squint to see if he could better identify these two new voices. And who was this Samuel, and Je- Wait…

 

"Noah?"

 

The shorter of the two froze and slowly turned to face Boy. “How do you know that name?” he asked through gritted teeth before gasping, happiness bleeding into his voice. “Oh, Michael! It’s you! We’ve all been so worried!” Instantly, Noah was by his side, tugging at the ropes around him. “God, what has he done to you?” Noah muttered, barley within his range of visual focus. The other figure seemed frozen where it was by the wall.

 

Boy turned to face Noah as best as he could, despite the fact he called him what his old... what was Michael to him? It didn't matter though, because Noah was here, even if he didn't know exactly what he needed to do. He could figure it out as he went, right? "I'm glad to see you," he told Noah as he undid the ropes, moving his upper body around so he could better face the other.

 

“I’m glad to see you too, Michael.” Noah grinned up at him, then he froze. Blue eyes darted around his face, taking in every detail. “Michael... how are you feeling?” he asked hesitantly. The other figure was moving slowly closer, almost like he was afraid.

 

At that, Boy just cocked his head to the side, a bit confused at the question. "I'm not Michael, Noah, you don't have to keep the lie up for me."

 

Noah pulled his hand back as though burnt, covering his mouth. The other figure tripped and fell over his own feet, landing heavily on the floor. After a moment, he saw Noah reach out to one side and grab something. Reaching up, something was slipped onto his face and suddenly Boy’s vision snapped into focus.

 

Noah pushed up and wrapped his arms around Boy, pulling him into a hug. Since his torso was freed, and so were his wrists, Boy was free to move into it.

 

“It’s not a lie, you are Michael,” Noah murmured.

 

Oh, he was testing him! Yes, like how Squip had been testing him. He was doing good too, because he was getting hugged! Boy wrapped his arms around Noah then, leaning into it since he couldn't move his legs right now, as they were numb from disuse... at least, that's what he could guess.

 

"No, I don't have a name," Boy reminded him, "You were just nice and let me think I did for a bit, I think. I'm just 'boy.'"

 

Noah tensed against him but didn’t pull back. The other boy, Jake from what he could make out in the gloom, looked like he was crying. “Okay,” Noah murmured eventually. He let go and pulled back to face Boy properly. “Okay. We can talk about everything later.” Jake seemed horrified by Noah’s response. “So, I need to know. What can you do? Can you listen to anyone other than- than- than Squip? And do you think you can walk?” Noah asked as he wiped at his face, scrubbing away tears harshly.

 

Boy hesitated for a moment before reaching up and wiping away any tears. "I listen to you and Squip, he has the most absolute authority but you're next. I treat both of you with the same respect," he recited before looking down at his legs. "I haven't walked since I first sat down, but I'll walk if you want or need me to."

 

Noah took a shaky breath, eyes closed. When he opened them, they were blazing and bright, determined. “I’ve got special instructions from Squip, okay? It’s a test for you, to see how well you can listen. To prove that you’ve earned your glasses. You have to ignore everyone else, Squip included, except for me and Jake. Until I say so, we’re the only people who you focus on, no matter how loudly they yell, okay? And you need to listen to only us. Squip needs to make sure you can obey during battle.”

 

At the instructions, Boy just nodded. After all, following orders was what he needed to be the best at. "I understand, Noah. I will prove to Squip that I can obey during battle," he told him, looking over at Jake and giving him a smile, and once he saw it was shakily returned, looked back to Noah with the same smile.

 

Noah returned the smile too, but his eyes were very sad. “G-good Boy. And...Please... don’t call me Noah. It might be my name, but I don’t want to hear it... for now, call me by my title: Kitty. Okay?” Noah started lightly massaging Boy’s legs, as he undid the rope. He wasn’t looking up at his face anymore so Boy couldn’t see his expression.

 

The feeling returning to his legs as the ropes were undone helped to relax him a bit. If he was doing that, then he was being really good by listening to Noah- no, he said to call him by his title. He needed to prove he deserved his glasses and this treatment! "I'm so sorry, I didn't know," Boy quickly apologized, "I'm sorry, Kitty."

 

Noa-Kitty’s smile was a bit less strained. “It’s okay, you didn’t know. Now you do.” Kitty stood up and turned to Jake. “You’re going to be getting him out of here. Get him back very to the Fallen Angel for his... training exercise. I’ll do my best to clear the way for you.” Jake started to protest but Kitty cut him off. “Dammit Jake, either you do it or I’ll powder you and make you do it! You want to leave him like this? Stuck to a fucking chair?” Jake shook his head. “Then take him across.”

 

Kitty turned his attention back to him. “Boy, you are going to stick close to Jake. Do as he says so he can keep you safe. Once you’re across to the other ship, you are going to go to the captain’s quarters and lie down on the bed. Wait for me there, understand?” Kitty sounded a little different. Sort of angry, but not at Boy. Maybe it was just because he was actually being commanding instead of sweet now.

 

Boy just nodded then, his smile going away as he noticed the situation becoming more serious at the very least. If he needed to really work now, and all of his treatment was done, he was ready. He needed to prove he deserved it and his glasses, to Squip and his son. "Yes, Kitty, I understand," he told the other with as much seriousness as he could muster.

 

“Good.” Kitty nodded. “Now stand up.” With some assistance, Boy managed to stand on shaky legs. Kitty gave him a quick hug before cupping his face. “Stay safe, stick close to Jake. I’ll see you back on the ship.” Jake took Kitty’s place and kitty ran out of the room, drawing his sword.

 

Boy almost allowed himself to raise his hands and rest them on top of Kitty's hands, but he was gone before he could attempt to do that. He watched him go before looking over at Jake, giving him a small smile. "Thanks for helping me, Jake, and thanks for dealing with that huge sort of phase I had before, I guess?" As he held onto Jake with the arm offered to him, he couldn't help but let out a small laugh at the situation. "But yeah, thanks. Just tell me what I need to do."

 

 

 

Jeremy had already started clearing a path by the time Jake and Michael for when stumbled up on deck. Several of Squip’s crew lay unconscious at his feet and a good portion of them were otherwise engaged with the crew of the Fallen Angel.

 

He let out a sharp whistle and waved Chrissy over from where she was gleefully shredding the sails. They were almost entirely in ribbons already. “The path is mostly clear but I need you to keep it that way. Michael and Jake will be up any second and I’ve go to make sure that Samuel stays away. Do not try to engage them, not even to talk.” Chrissy nodded and they split up. Jeremy found himself on a clear part of the deck, the battle raging around him.

 

As he turned to continue down the route he planned for Jake and Michael, he was met with a sight that had his vision narrow, all the way down to tunnel vision, to focus solely on the source of all of his anger: Samuel.

 

He stood there, seemingly bored, though the anger in his eyes gave the rest of his facade away. His sword was drawn, and he seemed to be staring right into Jeremy, possibly even through him, as Jeremy swore his hearing also tuned in to only him. "Oh, why hello, Noah. You came a bit earlier than I expected. Did you enjoying seeing our boy? He's been working very hard to get ready for you."

 

“Don’t fucking call me that,” Jeremy hissed. He refused. He left that name behind years ago after all the pain it caused him. Samuel laughed, obviously pleased to have struck a nerve.

 

“But why? It’s your name, after all. Our boy already knows the truth, Noah.” The name seemed to echo around him, as though a hundred voices were whispering it into his near silent world.

 

“It’s not my name. It’s not my fucking name,” he growled, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes.

 

Jeremy knew he shouldn’t be getting so worked up over a name, but everything was hitting breaking point. His addiction, Michael’s capture and subsequent brainwashing over the course of a week, and now his old fucking name being thrown around. “Stop it, stop it!” Jeremy screamed, shaking his head violently, trying to weaken the voices in his head.

 

He was suddenly very aware that Samuel was close, and had a bottle in his hand. Acting out of instincts Michael had trained into him, Jeremy swung his sword up, sending the bottle spinning through the air and catching Samuel’s sword mid-arch.

 

“Fucking try me, bitch.” Jeremy kicked Samuel in the gut, sending him stumbling backwards.

 

At that, he heard Samuel 'tsk' a few times before he swung again at him. "You really need to learn to accept who you really are, Noah," Samuel continued, even as he was being pushed away from the path. It still wasn't completely cleared, but Jake would be able to handle this, right?

 

"I know who I am, Samuel, but I think you still need to learn!"

 

"Oh no, you do. It's not hard, after all. Our boy was able to do it after a week, and he's a bit tougher to teach than you. Give me three days tops, and you'll be fine in no time."

 

“Yeah, not gonna happen. And he’s not ours, he’s mine. I’m bringing my Captain back.” Jeremy kept him moving, pushing Samuel from port to starboard, keeping him away from Jake’s path. Thanks to Michael’s careful training, Jeremy was beyond just being a competent sword fighter, he was brilliant. And he was just about keeping up with Samuel, only earning himself a few small scratches, giving a few in return.

 

As he was fighting, he let his eyes take over Samuel’s body. He was too paranoid and too proud to not have it on him at all times. So where... there! Left pocket. Carefully, Jeremy planned his attack, then he struck. He slipped under Samuel’s guard and grabbed the compass, stuffing it into the pocket of his blue coat in one fluid motion. Thank you Chloe, for teaching him how to pickpocket. He kept the fight going.

 

Irritation seeped into his expression then. "Oh, why you-" Another slash made him step back, and Jeremy watched Samuel grit his teeth before he looked past Jeremy. "Oh, god dammit.”

 

Before Jeremy could stop him, Samuel parried one of his slashes, carrying his momentum to go with his swing before he moved through his men with ease.

 

As he turned around to pursue Samuel, he saw exactly where he was heading: to Jake and Michael. They got through the path he had readied for them, but Jake was now holding off three of Samuel's crew members with the sword he brought, keeping Michael behind him as he clung onto the railing of the side of the ship. Samuel was slowly closing in on them, grabbing the bottle Jeremy had him drop as he went by it.

 

Shit. Jeremy had seconds. What to do, how to fix this. There was no way he could make it across the sea of people. Looking around, he realized maybe he didn’t have to. Jeremy launched himself over to the net of barrels. Empty water barrels in a net ready to be traded off. He had one shot.

 

Samuel was in position, yelling some obscenities at Michael as he tried desperately to ignore it. Jeremy let out a shrill whistle, as loud as Rich’s ones. Samuel turned, midway through raising the bottle. “Oi, asshole! My name is Jeremy!” he yelled, cutting the rope which held the net off to one side. It swung, with Jeremy clinging on for dear life, only for him to plant a massive, double foot kick onto Samuel’s chest, pushing him off the edge of the boat and into the water with an almighty splash! As soon as Jeremy landed, he took over Jake’s triple battle. “Just go! Get him out of here!”

 

Jake didn't hesitate, quickly thanking Jeremy. Jeremy could see Jake helping Michael back up, having his arm over his shoulder and practically carrying all of his weight as he hurried over to where Brooke dropped over the gangplank. Chloe seemed to take over guarding Jake and Michael going across, blocking the gangplank from the crew of the Perfection Attained with her swordsmanship and fluid, crafty techniques.

 

With almost everyone else across, Jeremy called out to Rich. “Shortie! Boom time!” Rich nodded and grabbed one of the many piles of fuses Jake had laid. Jeremy did the same, pulling out a match and dropping in into the mess of wires. As soon as they were sparking, both Jeremy and Rich grabbed ropes (which Jenna had set up during the battle) and swung back over to the Fallen Angel, just as she pulled to the edge of their reach. Rich landed expertly as always, and he grabbed Jeremy before he fell off.

 

“Get us out of here, Chloe!” With a quick salute, Chloe pulled away and had gotten them a decent distance before Jeremy heard the telltale BOOM from Jake’s explosives, set in the hidden passageway. It wasn’t enough to sink her, but Perfection Attained would not be following them any time soon.

 

Jeremy sighed heavily. “Great. Chloe, get us some distance. I want to be miles away by the time I’m done. I’m gonna go get Michael out of his own head. Please don’t come in until I call you guys.”

 

He could see that mostly everyone didn't seem to like that except for Jake. "Jeremy, we can help him out," Christine insisted as Brooke nodded along.

 

"We're his crew too," Rich insisted, but Jake was ultimately the one to shut them down.

 

"You guys didn't see what he was like. Jenna, do you remember what he was like when you found him?" Jenna, with slight fear on her face, nodded. "Imagine that but a hundred times worse. I could barely stand to be in there, and the way he was talking to me and Jeremy... He remembered everything but was back in the old mindset he had to have had as a kid. If I ever see that bitch of a captain who did this to our captain again, it'll be too soon and I'll still be too riled up."

 

Everyone seemed shocked for a second before Rich reluctantly said, "OK, fine. Jeremy, let us know if you need anything. Knock on the door once for food, twice for water, and three for anything else."

 

Jeremy nodded and moved to go inside, but Jenna’ hand on his arm stopped him. “What makes you think you know how to fix him?” she asked seriously, her gaze piercing. Jeremy sighed heavily, looking up at her dully.

 

“I know the paths he used to get to him, so I know the way back.”

 

“And how would you know that?” Jenna sounded sort of mad. Chrissy tried to stop her, but she wouldn’t be swayed, wouldn’t back down.

 

“I know how Samuel broke him, Jenna, because I know how I’d do it.” She let him go, her eyes horrified. Jeremy slipped inside. “Heya. You did so well, I’m glad to see you made it here in one piece.”

 

Michael, who seemed to be looking off in thought, instantly looked to him with a wide smile. It seemed like the compliment is what made his smile so wide. "Of course, I did as you told me to do. Did I prove myself?" he asked, not seeming to shift from lying down on the bed.

 

“Of course you did, you can keep the glasses,” Jeremy murmured, sitting on the end of the bed. “C’mon. Sit up with me, we have some things to talk about. Get comfy though, okay?”

 

The other just nodded then, seemingly proud as he sat up and looked over at Jeremy then. "What do we need to talk about?"

 

“Firstly I need to establish something. Since Squip is not here, everything I say comes from the highest authority, right? You’ll have to listen, because he cannot override it if he’s not here. Is that true or false?” Jeremy felt exhaustion start to settle into his limbs. He wanted to sleep, but he had to at least start the recovery process.

 

At that, he watched as Michael just nodded. "Yes sir, that's true," his captain said, watching him curiously. "You should know that already though, right?"

 

“I do, I just want to be sure.” Jeremy sighed. “We’re going to play a game, okay? I will ask you a question. You tell me what you think the answer is. I will tell you if your answer is true or false. Do you understand?”

 

Michael nodded again as he shifted so he was fully facing Jeremy where he sat. "I understand, sir."

 

“True.” Jeremy shifted himself, so he faced Michael full on. “That is how it will work. And you have to believe what I say, because I am in charge.

 

“First question: who did this room belong to?”

 

With the first question, Michael seemed to think about it for a moment before looking around at the room. "This was my room before, but you're in charge... So it's your room!"

 

“False. This room is still yours.” Jeremy arched an eyebrow. “Next question. Who is the captain of this ship?” He really hoped this would work.

 

Michael seemed to think about that as well after deflating a little at getting his first question wrong. "Uh... I'm not a captain, so... Is it you or Rich?"

 

“False. You’re the captain still, even if you don’t yet believe it. Rich is first mate and I’m just the ship’s cat.” Jeremy took a breath, he was getting a feel for what Samuel had done now. “Next. Does everyone on this ship care for you deeply?”

 

He seemed to deflate even more before looking down into his lap, fiddling with his fingers for a moment before forcing himself to stop. "I'm just the boy Squip was kind enough to not let starve, everyone just deals with me."

 

“False. You are the captain of this ship and you saved each and every one of us multiple times. We all love you so much for your bravery and kindness.” Jeremy grabbed his hands lightly. “You’re allowed to fidget.” He released them. “Next. People usually have names, right?”

 

Michael seemed to relax a little at Jeremy's words before he resumed fiddling with his fingers. "Yes, most people have names."

 

“True. It is the case that people cannot change their names or pick one themselves?” This one should deal with two problems.

 

"Yes it is," Michael agreed, tugging on his fingers in a seemingly nervous manner.

 

“False. I changed my name from Noah to Jeremy. We choose who we are. What was the real name of the captain of this ship?”

 

"I..." A long pause. "The captain of this ship doesn't have a name, he... I'm just 'boy.'"

 

“False. His name is Michael Oliver Mell. Does Michael Mell have a title?”

 

"He... I... He's... I'm the captain?"

 

“True. And does the captain take orders from anyone else? Especially on his own ship?”

 

Something in Michael's eyes changed as he shifted from looking down at his lap to looking at Jeremy dead in the eyes while exhaustion seemed to take him over. "... No, he doesn't. He makes the orders. He especially doesn't listen to Samuel."

 

Jeremy smiled softly. “True.” As soon as the words were out his mouth, Michael’s eyes rolled back into his head and he fell backwards onto the bed. With shaking hands, Jeremy removed Michael’s glasses and put them on the side table. Then he stood.

 

Three knocks to the door. Rich opened it. Jeremy felt himself sway, his body and mind exhausted from the last week and from waking Michael back to himself.

 

“He’s back,” was all Jeremy managed to get out before he lost consciousness, collapsing in on himself.

Chapter Text

Waking up right now was more refreshing than anytime he had in the past week, even if he felt emotionally and physically in turmoil. Slowly blinking open his eyes, Michael took in his surroundings: he was lying in bed, no longer stuck and tied in a chair, and he wasn't restrained either. It was warm, with sunlight streaming in through his window, which was a stark contrast from the cold, dark brig he had been confined to. There wasn't any Samuel either, waking him up and leaving him alone when he was done working to manipulate him, but instead Jeremy lying in bed with him.

 

Michael couldn't help but smile as he stared at Jeremy, and even if his body was screaming as he did so, he reached over and gently nudged him. "Hey... Hey, Jeremy," he muttered out, voice soft from sleep and his own volition.

 

Jeremy stirred lightly, and looked up at Michael, blinking away the soft call of sleep. A soft smile appeared on his face and he opened his mouth to say something. Then he paused, an odd look in his eyes, and closed his mouth, looking away almost ashamedly. Gently, he rested his head on Michael’s chest, position so his mouth was hidden. He kept looking up at Michael with soft but almost broken eyes.

 

Michael couldn't help but worry at that, but didn't pull him away. Instead, he held him closer, arms around him as he looked down at him. "What's wrong? Jeremy, what is it?" he asked, trying not to get himself too worked up (though it was hard to with his emotional disarray at the moment).

 

Jeremy thought for a second, then he raised his hand and made one of the gestures they used while out. It was a nice, easy way to communicate and was especially useful when they needed to be silent. The signal Jeremy made was ‘danger.’ He curled up again.

 

He couldn't help but tense at that before holding Jeremy closer. "Danger? What do you mean?"

 

He raised his hand in the signal again before pointing to himself.

 

At that, Michael frowned before running a hand through Jeremy's hair. "Jeremy, you aren't dangerous. Hell, you just saved my life and snapped me out of that toxic mindset. You probably went through hell too."

 

Jeremy nodded but still didn’t speak. He looked away for from Michael’s but didn’t try to escape the touches or his arms.

 

"You aren't dangerous," he echoed before holding him closer. Michael, at that moment, wished he knew how to be able to get that into Jeremy's head and get it to stick.

 

Jeremy didn’t say a word when the others came to check on them. He barely even showed any interest in anything, not even reaching for breakfast until it was put in front of him. He wouldn’t respond to any question asked by anyone, and stopped even replying to Michael after about an hour of being awake. It was like he was pulling further and further inside himself.

 

Michael felt his heart drop at this, and he did his best to try to keep Jeremy engaged and paying attention to something. After a few hours of trying this, around lunch time, Jenna and Chloe came into his room to seemingly try to help. "Hey Michael, hi Jeremy. Michael, we're gonna try to help you walk around a bit, and we brought some lunch," Chloe said as she held up a plate of sandwiches before placing it down on the side table. "Before we do that, we're gonna just rub your muscles out a bit to get some more blood flowing through them."

 

Jeremy reacted a little to this, scooting so Michael’s legs would be easier to get to, but he didn’t look at anyone apart from a brief glance over to Michael.

 

A small smile was shot Jeremy's way by Michael when he glanced over before Chloe came over and started to massage his legs. He knew it definitely was working because it hurt at first, a curse or two spilling past his lips as he hit his hand against the bed. "Sorry, sorry, it's gonna hurt for a while," Chloe explained, her tone apologetic as she kept going. "I'll be doing this for a little bit so you don't just have your legs give out before you even try to stand."

 

"I-I get it," Michael hissed out between his closed teeth before gripping tightly onto the bedding underneath him.

 

Jeremy, still not looking at anybody, laced his fingers with Michael’s. He didn’t make a sound or even change facial expression from his slightly sad stare, but he was there, just a little.

 

Michael gladly took his hand then, squeezing whenever the pain was particularly bad. It felt like forever, but was apparently only fifteen minutes after both of his legs, lower and part of his thighs, were finished. He let out a sigh of relief once it was done, and Chloe helped him to move, sit up, and then stand with her help. "We're just going to walk a few steps, stop, and then rinse and repeat over to the table with the sandwiches, OK? I'll pick them up and then we'll walk back over. If you can't do it, let me know and we'll go right back to the bed."

 

"Alright." He tried his best to make it all the way across the room, but could only walk less than seven steps away, a break included, before he hissed and squeezed Chloe's arm. She just gently patted the top of his hand, let them stand for a minute, before walking back with him. She helped settle him down, a pained hiss passing his lips again.

 

"After we eat and take a break, we're just going to slowly move your legs out. I think I was too ambitious with walking straight away."

 

Jeremy stood and grabbed the plate of sandwiches, putting them next to Michael before curling in on himself, knees to his chest, eyes staring blankly straight ahead. It was sad to see him looking so lost, but Michael didn’t know how to help. He didn’t move to take a sandwich for himself.

 

Chloe helped Michael to sit up, and once he was sat up, Michael reached over and grabbed a sandwich, one he knew was made for Jeremy, before handing it over to him. It was the least he could do, right? To make sure he ate?

 

Jeremy let his gaze flicked to the food for a second before returning to his fixed point. Still, he grabbed the sandwich and ate, almost as though he were starving. Why hadn’t he just grabbed one for himself if he were so hungry?

 

With worry, Michael gently reached over and rested a hand onto the other's shoulder. "If you're hungry, I want you to tell me. Tap the back of my hand once if you are, and twice if you're thirsty, and even three times if you have to go to the bathroom or something, OK?"

 

Jeremy froze, then nodded slowly, his eyes closing. He leaned into Michael’s gentle touch. Then his shoulders hitched. Then again. And again. It took a moment for anyone to realise that he was actually crying, going so far to even mute his sobs. The tears that fell were small and only escaped out from his closed eyes.

 

His heart nearly shattered at this. Carefully, Michael wrapped his arms around Jeremy before holding him close, resting his head against the top of Jeremy's curls as he comforted him. "You're alright, Jeremy, you're OK. We're all alright and safe here, and that includes you. We're here for you, I'm here for you."

 

Jeremy shook his head, apparently only doing it gently because of Michael’s contact. He reached out a hand blindly eyes still closed as he sobbed. Michael instantly took it, and Jeremy brought it close to his chest. He started tracing out letters onto the palm. N-O-T, then a long pause, S-A-F-E. ‘Not safe’ is what he had said. He still wouldn’t look up at anyone.

 

"I will keep telling you this until I somehow gain Charmspeak and convince you because you're so stubborn: You aren't dangerous, Jeremy." Michael had the hand that was still around Jeremy rub along his lower back, gently tracing circles and other shapes in there.

 

Jeremy wrote more. ‘Say things bad things happen safer this way.' He added another word: ‘Orders’ (as if to correct himself).

 

He frowned at that, though quickly glanced at Jenna and Chloe, mouthing to them, 'I'll explain later.' "Well, you don't order any of us around. If you even consider yesterday in that category, you did that to save my sorry ass. I will seriously sound like a broken record, but here it is again: You. Aren't. Dangerous."

 

‘Before’ was the next word, followed closely by ‘addict’ and ‘too risky.’ ‘Will not risk you.’ These silent conversations were hard to understand at times, but Jeremy seemed to be getting the point across.

 

"That's why we're here to help you, Jeremy. We need you to be able to communicate with us, though, so we can help you." He gently squeezed Jeremy around the waist. "Will you at least let us help you?"

 

Jeremy paused for a good minute before he sort of nodded. ‘Maybe.’ ‘Do not deserve it.’ ‘Will try.’

 

"Even if you think you don't deserve it, we know you do. Thank you though." Michael looked up then to ask for something to help Jeremy communicate easier, but was met with Jenna holding out a quill and an ink well while Chloe had a fresh scroll of parchment paper. He couldn't help but smile and thank them too before gently nudging Jeremy. "If we gave you something to write with and on, would you use it for longer phrases and things you want others besides me to know? Please?"

 

Jeremy’s eyes flickered to the objects, still not bringing himself to look at anybody’s face. Hesitantly, he nodded and gingerly took them, placing them in easy reach on the other bedside table. Then he paused, and grabbed them back, quickly scribbling out a message. “Sorry I’m such a mess. Michael is the one who suffered, not me. Look after him first.” He showed it to Jenna, eyes fixated somewhere to the left of her head.

 

Jenna read it over quickly before frowning, and Chloe read it over her shoulder. "Jeremy, you don't have to apologize for how you're feeling. He suffered, yes, but you did too. You were going nuts with worry and anger the past week, and that's not to mention what you've been suffering through with your addiction. We're helping Michael, but we're also going to help you too."

 

Jeremy nodded slowly, putting the parchment and quill on the side again. Gently, he wrote out two words on Michael’s palm: ‘Big’ and ‘Mess’. There was the tiniest of twitches to Jeremy’s mouth, even if he didn’t look away or really keep the expression for long.

 

Michael couldn't help but smile a little at that before chuckling. "I'd say we're both a big mess, Jere. We both have a lot of issues we need to work out."

 

Jeremy nodded and pressed himself a little closer to Michael.

 

 

 

The trend of Jeremy continuing to write on paper and palm continued for the next few days as Michael recovered, slowly but surely. By this point, he was (mostly) mentally alright and was able to walk around for the most part. Sometimes he'd need to hold onto the railing or nearby wall, but he was loads better.

 

Jeremy, on the other hand…

 

Michael worried still, hoping he could try to help bring him out of this negative dip somehow. He currently was walking with him as Chloe steered the ship, staying to his right as they were sort of walking the perimeter. As they walked, Michael switched his gaze between the vast expanse of sea and Jeremy, his eyes switching from thought and worry every time he switched his gaze.

 

Jeremy only looked really peaceful when we was on the deck, by the ocean. His eyes were totally focused out on the waves, and he seemed to relax a little. He reached out and grabbed Michael’s hand. ‘Where.’

 

Looking over at Jeremy, he raised a brow at the question. "Where what? You gotta give me more context than that, Jere," he said around a soft chuckle.

 

Jeremy actually looked up at him for a second, almost pouting. ‘Going,’ he elaborated before tucking himself closer to Michael, almost like he was scared.

 

Michael couldn't help but give him a soft smile, using his now-free arm to wrap around Jeremy and hold him a bit closer. "We're going to a port, I don't remember exactly where from what Jenna and Chloe told me, but we should be getting there in a few days, I think." He gently squeezed Jeremy's side then. "You can stay with me while we're there, and everyone else can do the shopping. You can even judge them with me to see how they did compared to what you normally do, yeah?" he teasingly suggested.

 

Jeremy snorted, a small snicker escaping him as he buried closer into the hug. It was the first noise he had made (while conscious, whimpering in his sleep didn’t count) in days, and the fact that he stiffened, skin paling, meant that it had not been intentional. Any relaxed feelings he had were being lost to the fear now spreading through him, as though that small sound would be enough hurt everyone else around him as much as an ‘order.’ He was shakily writing out an apology against Michael’s chest because that’s where his hands had moved to when he went to hug him.

 

Michael couldn’t help but frown as he held Jeremy closer with his free arm. “Jeremy, snorting isn’t enough to give an ‘order,’ you’re fine, I promise you that. I promise that it didn’t convey anything like that,” he tried to reassure him. “I just wanted to joke with you and help you relax, so I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

 

A moment pause as he calmed himself. ‘Not your fault you are right.’ Jeremy finally wrote, ‘Sorry.’ Jeremy pressed closer, but it was more for reassurance than trying to hide. ‘Thank you.’ Jeremy relaxed, actually sighing a little. Voluntarily making a sound.

 

Michael took a moment to look down at Jeremy and smile. He was getting a little better over the course of the past few days. It was better than regressing or making no progress. “No need to apologize, Jere, but thank you,” Michael told him before rubbing patterns for a few more seconds. “You alright to keep walking?”

 

As he asked that, he looked up and saw Rich approaching, his hands behind his back. “Oh, hey Rich. What’s up?”

 

“Oh, nothing Mikey. Just have a present for you!” Rich pulled out a black cane with elaborate gold detailing and presented it to Michael. “Here! Now you can be a proper old man!” he teased. Michael splattered indignantly, and Jeremy actually snickered before actually shooting Rich a glare. He walked over, grabbed the cane and smacked Rich on the butt with it.

 

Michael’s eyes widened at the display, shocked (Rich was too, but he probably didn’t show it as he went along with the act, yelping and pouting before rubbing his rump). This was the first display Jeremy really showed of himself without restraint, acting more like himself without getting upset over it. It took a few seconds for the shock to wear off before Michael burst out laughing, having to use both arms to now keep himself steady and standing.

 

Jeremy blinked, almost confused by his own actions. Then he started giggling, still not looking at anyone directly, but looking in both Michael and Rich’s general direction. His giggled turned into full out laughter when Rich started complaining at him.

 

“I’m out here trying to be the best first mate, and this is the thanks I get? I’m obviously under appreciated here, geez,” Rich whined out, though was obviously grinning if his tone of voice was any clue.

 

“Holy shit Rich, please, my sides can’t handle this right now,” Michael almost begged as he held tighter onto the railing.

 

“You two are just abusing my lo- HEY!” Rich yelped, and Jeremy’s laughter doubled. Glancing up, Michael saw how Rich was rubbing his rump again, playfully glaring over at Jeremy. Jeremy calmed himself a little, and seemed to take a second to steel his nerves. Then he reached over and playfully messed up Rich’s hair, and grabbed his hand. This was the first time Jeremy had initiated contact with someone other than Michael, too. He stated tracing out letters on Rich’s hand, and Rich’s smile softened. “You’re welcome, Jere. Even if you did beat me up!” His tone was dramatic but warm.

 

Michael couldn’t help but feel his chest warm at the sight as he decomposed himself, his own laughter dying down as he steadied himself. “He was defending my honor, Richard!” he teased before making a grabby hand towards Jeremy and the cane he held. “I really would love that cane though, it’s really cool and the gold will match well with the red I got. I’m going to look so badass.”

 

Jeremy grinned and closed the few steps between them, offering the cane. He opened his mouth, moved his lips, but nothing came out. He tried again, but it wouldn’t come. He frowned a little and deflated a little, but it was clear he was trying. Michael could even make out the word he was trying to say. “Captain.” After a second, he smiled again, even if it was a little smaller.

 

Michael felt his heart swell, and he couldn’t help but bring Jeremy into an embrace, using both of his arms and steadying himself on his feet so he could do so. He ignored Rich’s playful whistling before he took the cane and steadied himself so he wouldn’t stumble or fall. “Jeremy.”

 

Jeremy took a deep breath, then glanced up, meeting Michael’s eyes for a split second. Then he yanked himself away, collapsing against the railing, breathing hard. Michael felt worry bubble up, but then Jeremy tried to grab his hand, purposefully looking away from everyone. ‘Bit much.’ He spelled, ‘Sorry I am ok.’

 

“Don’t apologize, just let me know what’s happening in your head so we don’t overwhelm you, alright?” Michael requested, voice soft as Rich still looked at Jeremy with worry.

 

‘Not you.’ Jeremy calmed his breathing a little, eyes looking less panicked. ‘Me.’ He stopped the subtle shivering, which Michael had barely noticed. ‘Still scared of my head.’ A pause. ‘Not safe yet but not.’ He raised his hand on the for danger.

 

Michael just nodded in understanding before rubbing his back reassuringly. “Well, any improvement is good improvement,” he reassured. “Still, let any of us know if you’re overwhelmed or feel off, alright?”

 

Jeremy nodded, then paused. He raised his free hand and mimicked pinching something. Then he pointed to his temple, rubbing it softly. ‘Feel little sick too,’ he spelled. So... small headache and stomach ache? ‘Little bright out here.’ That... didn’t sound good at all. They didn’t seem to be massive concerns for Jeremy but he wasn’t exactly the best judge right now considering he was scared of himself.

 

“Let’s go inside then and lie down for a bit, yeah? You might be a bit fatigued and need to rest. Rich, could you get us some water and something light to eat please?”

 

“I got you,” Rich said before walking off with a mock salute. Even if his wording was a bit weird, Michael didn’t question it for now as he walked with Jeremy back into his cabin.

 

 

 

A few days later and Jeremy was able to make prolonged eye contact and initiate contact with everyone on the crew. He was also finally doing things besides staying glued to Michael’s side, though he was staying close.

 

Right now, he was working on distilling the essence from one of his harlequin roses for a potion when he suddenly grabbed his head, doubling over and gasping in pain. Michael was by his side in an instant.

 

Michael helped him to sit down without the possibility of harming himself accidentally before rubbing circles along his back. He had been relying on his cane to help him walk, also just finding it to be pretty cool, but forgot about it as he rushed to Jeremy. “Hey, it’s alright. Just take deep breaths, I’m right here.”

 

Jeremy’s eyes were wet with tears. After a moment, he grabbed Michael’s hand and wrote a single word, using the shorthand they had agreed on. ‘Hurt.’ Jeremy whimpered pathetically, closing his eyes and leaning against Michael.

 

Michael just held him close then, frowning as he continued rubbing against his back. “Let’s get you to lie down in bed, yeah?” With both of them recovering, Michael had been insistent that he lie in his bed too. He did that with anyone when ill or hurt (even if he himself was that person nine out of ten times).

 

Jeremy nodded weakly and let himself be guided to the bed, barely even opening his eyes. Once he had been situated, he reached blindly for Michael’s hand again. ‘Too bright’ was what he wrote first. ‘Head hurt’ was next and finally ‘I need,’ but he didn’t finish, didn’t explain what he needed.

 

He frowned even more at that, sitting down next to Jeremy and running his fingers through his hair with the hand not needed to write against. “What d’you need, Jere?”

 

Jeremy thought, then shook his head. ‘Not know’ was his reply. After a minute more eyes fluttered open, still wet from his tears but looking clear from pain. ‘Stopped.’ He looked confused.

 

Michael’s frown widened at that before he let out a small sigh. “Do you have any idea what could’ve caused that?” There was an inkling of an idea in the back of his mind, and it was part of the reason why he wanted Jeremy to stay with him when they were at the ports.

 

Jeremy shook his head, frowning a little. ‘Feel sick but not sick.’ He sighed heavily. His pupils were blown wider and he seemed a little out of it, but he was still mostly present. It was likely a reaction to the sudden headache.

 

At this, Michael tried not to show too much more concern, at least not presently. “Let's just lie down for a bit, alright?”

 

Jeremy shook his head, his eyes looking a little dazed. ‘Go,’ he wrote, ‘need to go.’

 

“Where you need to go it to sleep,” Michael told him, his worried bubbling now as his suspicions were being confirmed. “You just doubled over in pain, you aren’t going anywhere.”

 

Jeremy looked at him blearily. ‘Sleep.’ Michael nodded. ‘Okay sleep then go.’ Jeremy stopped fighting to get up.

Relief washed over Michael once he stopped, his hand in his hair continuing to move through his curly locks. “Yeah, we’re going to sleep,” he reaffirmed as the tucked the two of them in bed then, knowing whatever Jeremy was working on before wouldn’t be compromised by a break.

 

Jeremy didn’t get any better when they woke up. He remained dazed and confused, desperate to leave. It seemed the only thing that was keeping him in the cabin was Michael’s instructions. ‘Trust Captain to look after me,’ he had told Michael, but he wasn’t sure how much longer that would last.

 

He needed to talk to Brooke, hopefully set up some sleeping potion that wasn’t Dew berry based. When Michael realised this, Jeremy was clinging to him, eyes unfocused, sitting on his lap in one of the plush seats. It was going to be a challenge to extract himself.

 

“Jeremy, I need to get up for a second and talk to Brooke. You need to stay here, but I’ll only be a few minutes at most,” Michael promised, trying to see if Jeremy would be able to respond. Of course, he’d have Rich watching over him when he left, but he needed Jeremy to let him get up first.

 

Jeremy shook his head violently, clinging tighter. ‘Not leave me please I hurt when you gone.’ Jeremy’s hand was shaky, the letters almost indistinguishable.

 

He couldn’t help but frown at that, something he realized he started doing more frequently since Jeremy wasn’t feeling well, before trying to come up with an idea. “Do you think you could walk with me? I really need to go see Brooke, it’s important.”

 

Jeremy nodded and weakly scrambled to his feet. He kept a point of contact with Michael the whole time. “Michael... stay....” he whispered, his voice rough and croaky and his eyes hadn’t focused in the slightest, but they were actual spoken words.

 

He felt his heart almost skip a beat at hearing him actually say something, but quickly nodded as he stood, grabbing the cane as his other hand held tightly onto Jeremy’s hand. “I’m not leaving you,” he reassured him, squeezing his hand before leaving his cabin with Jeremy, calling for Brooke as he exited.

 

Brooke was over in an instant, and upon seeing Jeremy instantly started fussing over him. “My god, Michael, what happened? He’s bordering on feverish. Has he been drinking anything at all? He seems really dehydrated!” Jeremy let her poke and prod him as much as she liked, eyes vaguely focused on Michael even as he was tugging slightly towards the gang plank leading to town. They were docked for a few days, resupplying and performing general repairs (the rescue mission had left a good bit of damage).

 

“I’ve been getting him to drink as much as I can,” Michael explained, “I think he’s needs, uh, something like what I use at night but without the sweetness.” He told her this as Jeremy gently tugged at him, looking to where he wanted to go before shaking his head. “No, we’re staying here for now, Jeremy. We need to recover and rest more after what happened.”

 

Jeremy started writing on Michael’s free hand again, seemingly not aware that he was also speaking aloud. “Go... Michael... need... to… go…” he whispered hoarsely, eyes finally properly focusing on something (it was Michael’s hand).

 

“We need to sleep and go to the cabin, Jeremy,” Michael insisted. “We both need to eat and drink and wash up then rest. We haven’t done that yet, we can’t even think of going until we’ve done all of those things.”

 

Jeremy kept writing on his hand and speaking. “Okay... captain... then... we... go.”

 

“Michael! We have a problem! Samuel’s been sighted on an island nearby and we’re not fully repaired yet!” Jenna called over, running up the gangplank.

 

Michael looked over to Jenna then, grimacing at the immediate issue. “Of course he has. How far away is he in terms of sailing time? We need to repair for as long as possible before we head off to try to keep a safe distance.”

 

“A week tops, but he’s pretty heavy on the damage too. We can afford maybe two more days here before it’ll get risky.” Jenna shot a look at Jeremy, who remained blissfully ignorant to this whole conversation thankfully, too focused with writing out... compliments(?) onto Michael’s hand. “How long do you think he’s going to be like that? We need every person in as best shape as possible.”

 

“We go in two days then.” At her comment, he looked down at Jeremy before his focus returned to Jenna. “I don’t know Jenna. He’s fighting off his addiction right now, we can’t let him relapse so I’m trying to help keep him distracted. He’s probably going to get worse before he gets better, but we aren’t going to push him, understand?”

 

Jenna sighed heavily. “I won’t push him,” she grumbled, looking ready to do exactly that. “I stand by my earlier statement, we need everyone as fit as possible. Which means you need rest too, Michael.”

 

“I will, but I’m going to do the things I told Jeremy we’d do beforehand. He is to stay with me, so I’m going to care for myself and him.” Michael looked over to Brooke then, who still was looking Jeremy over with worry. “Could you please work on a sleeping serum? I’ll give it to him with some tea or something after we eat and wash up.”

 

Brooke nodded and scurried off to go and find the ingredients for the serum. “Jenna! Can you grab the soup from downstairs? I already had set out a serving for them both!” Jenna gave a lazy salute.

 

“You two go and get comfy, I’ll get you the soup.” She ushered them back into the cabin, dutifully ignoring the slightly awed mumblings of Jeremy as he slipped further into his own feverish head.

 

"Thanks," Michael said before taking Jeremy along, leading him into the cabin and having him sit down with him in a chair right beside him at the small table there. "Hey, what're you thinking, Jere?"

 

Jeremy kept writing on Michael’s hand, even as his voice got stronger. “Really... pretty... beautiful... even”. It was unclear what he was talking about, or what he was focusing on, but he did briefly glance up at Michael’s face with more clarity than he had possessed since waking up from their nap.

 

He couldn't help but entertain him a little, smiling a little as he cocked his head to the side. "What is, Jere?"

 

Jeremy didn’t respond either verbally or written at first. Instead, he reached up and clumsily cupped Michael’s cheek. “This.”

 

Michael felt his face flare up with warmth at that, his stomach churning in a pleasant yet uncomfortable manner. "R-really?" It was probably the fever talking, but he couldn't help but feel a little giddy.

 

Jeremy nodded seriously. “Most pretty.” He had stopped writing, instead cupping Michael’s other cheek and lightly rubbing his thumbs over his cheekbones. He sighed happily.

 

Even if he believed this to all be feverish talk, Michael couldn't help but melt a little too. "I... No, not me. You're feverish and aren't able to think properly."

 

“Nope!” Jeremy sang, swinging his legs a little. “Michael is most pretty! So so pretty! Always want to say it but ‘m too scared.” He was grinning happily, if a little loopy.

 

Michael couldn't help but glance away, even as Jeremy still held his cheeks. "Well thank you," he muttered, wanting so badly to add on that Jeremy was prettier than him, but almost bit his tongue in an effort to stop himself.

 

“For what?” Jeremy asked, genuinely confused. Michael opened his mouth to reply, but there was a gentle knock and Jenna came in. Jeremy released Michael to clap happily. “Jenna! You’ve got smoky things!”

 

His response got a faint chuckle out of Michael. "No, it's just soup, Jeremy." His eyes flickered over to Jenna, and he smiled. "Thanks, Jenna. For the soup and listening."

 

“I just want what’s best for everyone, Michael.” She smiled, focused on making sure Jeremy didn’t burn himself on the soup. “It’s... good to hear him talking again,” she murmured.

 

Jeremy looked surprised. “So I’m not just thinking? Wow, that’s so cool!”

 

"Nope, you're not just thinking," Michael reassured him before eating some of his soup.

 

Jeremy smiled at Jenna, who held the bowl for him to make sure he didn’t burn himself. “Thank you Jenna! You’re always super smart! Like Michael, he’s super smart too, but he doesn’t like to admit it. I wish I could be smart like him,” he babbled happily between slightly clumsy spoonfuls.

 

The excessive praise didn't help with Michael's warming cheeks from earlier, and he couldn't help but glance away as he continued eating. "Oh, really now? But you're smart too, Jeremy," Jenna said with an obvious smile in her tone.

 

Jeremy hummed in disagreement. “Maybe, but it’s a different sort of smarts. It’s like... book smarts. Michael has real smarts. He can figure out just about anything and he always knows how to help! He’s helped me a lot, Jenna. I’m really lucky.” Though his voice was still croaky and hoarse, his tone was earnest. It seemed like he had totally forgotten that Michael was there despite still holding his hand. When he wasn’t taking a mouthful of soup (always by Jenna’s prompting), he was gesturing wildly with his spoon, trying to explain his thoughts properly.

 

At all of this praise, Michael felt his face warm to an exceedingly ridiculous temperature. Jenna just shot him an earnest smile between reminding Jeremy to have some more soup.

 

As this went on and Michael finished his soup, he moved the now-empty bowl to his bedside table. He continued to listen to Jeremy talk and talk, shutting his eyes as he waited for the two to finish so he could finish getting ready for a nap, because he knew Jeremy needed it as much as he did.

 

“Jenna, do you think that Michael likes having me around normally?” Jeremy sounded a little worried. “Because I know I help sometimes, but I’m worried I might be too snuggly with him and make him uncomfortable... It’s like... I need to just be close to him always because it makes me happy. But I’m worried he doesn’t like it and he’s just being nice, because I’m nothing special, I’m just a big fish bone. I can’t be nice to cuddle.” His voice seemed to be cutting in and out in strength, or was that something else happening?

 

"Jeremy, he's not just doing it to be nice. He likes doing it too and he thinks you're really special," he heard Jenna say, though the next few things were almost inaudible until he suddenly heard her again. "-'t worry about it, really Jeremy, I promise you it'll be alright." Wait, what had she said? Michael tried to open his eyes, but barely succeeded, finding them too heavy.

 

“We’re gonna g-“ Jenna faded out, then back in. “-nd you’ll feel better.”

 

Jeremy sort to squeaked. “But Michael said we need to sleep fi-“ then he cut out. Michael couldn’t move, couldn’t speak to demand answers.

 

"-derstand, it'll help everyone ou-" Jenna faded in and out, and if Michael wasn't feeling himself be forcefully put under, he'd try to process exactly what she was saying, he'd probably be mad, and he'd probably do anything, but he felt sleep take him over then.

 

 

 

Jeremy blinked up at Jenna with big, confused eyes. “So... I do the bad thing again and it’ll help Michael?” he asked innocently. He was fiddling with his hands a little, looking nervous.

 

Even if she felt guilty for giving Michael the sleeping serum instead, Jenna knew they needed Jeremy at his best condition, and this certainly wasn't it. She would apologize later, along with Brooke and everyone else who agreed to do this and help. She couldn't let Michael get caught by Samuel again, and Jeremy was their best defense in case he did come by again.

 

"Yeah, it will," Jenna reassured him, trying not to let the guilt get in the way, instead opting to push it into the back of her mind. "We'll let him sleep and we'll come back after, OK? You just need to stick with me and not leave me, alright? We're sticking together no matter what."

 

Jeremy nodded, looking more focused and serious than he had in the past half hour Jenna had been in there. “Okay then. I gotta get the stuff then.” He stood, wobbling a little at first, and tottered out the door. Jenna followed him as headed down to the crew quarters.

 

Jeremy grabbed a big bag and pulled out his blue coat, a metal flask and a little silk bag. Once the coat was on, he popped the lid of the flask and took a sniff. Another level of clarity slid in behind his eye. He turned to Jenna, a slight coldness in his expression. “Okay, we need to go to the bar. I don’t care if we’re doing this for Michael, we’re doing it my way, it’s the only way I can live with myself.” His voice was rough, but he sounded sure and sort of commanding.

 

Jenna felt a little uncomfortable, though didn't show it, as she watched him smell some of the unripe Dew serum and nodded. "Yeah, I understand Jeremy. Just stick by me," she reminded him as she tentatively held out her arm, knowing Jeremy was still a bit unsteady on his feet.

 

Jeremy looked at it cooly but he took her offered support. “We need a table at the nearest bar, the one closest to the docks. And take a scarf, we can’t have people seeing your face,” he instructed.

 

She just nodded, walking with him over to her area and taking a scarf. Jenna was sure to wrap it around the bottom of her face, making it poof up enough to obscure most of her features.

 

They left the ship in silence, and with every step Jeremy took, he seemed to gain strength. By the time they reached the bar, Jeremy was radiating a cool sort of confidence, no longer needing Jenna’s support. He slipped into a table, ordering himself a weak cider for now. His eyes scanned every patron carefully, but never lingering long enough to call attention to himself.

 

Jenna ordered herself a weak brew, though was watching Jeremy as he worked, honestly curious as to how he did what he did and how quickly he recovered.

 

It only took a few minutes. Jeremy’s eyes focused on a man who seemed to be yelling at one of the barmaids. Jenna couldn’t make out what he was saying over the bustle of the crowds, but it was obvious she was terrified. And none of the other bar staff were interfering, looking scared too.

 

Jeremy stood suddenly, grabbing Jenna by the arm and dragging her out the back. He made her crouch down behind a pile of boxes and barrels, hidden in the shadows cast from the lamps.

 

“You are to wait here and not interfere, no matter how much you dislike it, understand?” Jeremy half hissed, no malice in his voice but the promise of consequences of she disagreed. He sounded nothing like himself.

 

Jenna wanted to remind him of the promise they had made, that they were supposed to stick together, but the inheritness of how this was so unlike Jeremy had her nod. Even if she was going to go watch, she still just nodded for now.

 

Jeremy nodded, his eyes seeming to shimmer to a horrible blue green. He pulled a white scarf out form his pocket and tied it around his face, leaving only his eyes and hair visible. He then grabbed the silk bag and dipped his finger in, getting the substance inside on his fingers. He pushed himself against the back wall of the building, leaning so the door would cover him if it opened. It was a little disturbing seeing how fluidly and methodically he worked.

 

Jenna was surprised when the man Jeremy had eyed up opened the door and wandered out, grumbling to himself. Jeremy came up behind him, grinning cockily.

 

“Hey there stranger. Have a moment to spare?” he called, pushing off from the wall. The man spun, surprised.

 

“What do you want, fancy pants?” he slurred, obviously drunk. Jeremy said nothing. He simply snapped his fingers under the man’s nose. A small puff of green wafted off and the man breathed it in.

 

“Well you see, I couldn’t help but notice that you were being awfully rude to the ladies and gentlemen in there. And you see, it my job to make sure people like you know how bad it is... my wings take me everywhere.” Jeremy looked like a cat who had cornered a mouse. The man’s eye widened and he fell to his knees even as his eyes started to flicker green.

 

“Archangel,” he gasped in fear.

 

Jenna couldn’t help but gasp herself, though it was thankfully concealed by her scarf. Throughout her searching and nosing around, she had heard about this individual. There wasn’t much out there about them except for the fast that they were involved with the sudden rise of arrests, and Jenna didn’t know anything about them besides that... Well, until now, that is.

 

Jeremy started circling the man. “Stay on your knees, filth. You don’t move from there until I say. You don’t do anything until I say and you don’t listen to anyone else except me. Now, answer me this, do you understand?” The man nodded, looking terrified. “I said-” Jeremy pushed the man to the ground, pressing his boot to his chest. “-do you understand? Answer me!”

 

The man, still somewhat drunk while under Jeremy’s influence, just managed to get out, “Y-yes,” despite the obvious weight and pressure being pushed against his chest.

 

In that moment, Jenna realized how badly she messed up. She shouldn’t have let Jeremy relapse. Even if she thought she was in the right, she wasn’t. Her gut churned as she watched, fingers itching to go and intervene, to take Jeremy back to the ship, but she had no idea what would happen if she interrupted. There hasn’t ever been any tales of anyone interrupting Archangel.

 

Jeremy released the pressure. “Back on your knees.” The man scrambled to obey, his eyes still only flickering green. “Good. Now, do you know why I chose you tonight? It’s because I saw you with the barmaid, I saw how she was hiding her wrists after you left the back, how none of the other staff would interfere, too scared to do anything against you. So tell me, what did you do to them?” Jeremy’s voice was sickly sweet, and he kept circling, his sword drawn.

 

“I have beaten the girl before, when she refused my advances. I am friends with the owner, and I have gotten others fired for interfering with my business. I have made advances on every woman in the bar, and I have done the same with the sisters of the men. I beat them if they refuse, but I never take it any further than that.” The man’s mouth was very clearly moving without his permission, if his confused expression was anything to go by.

 

“Well done, you have confessed for the Angel. Now for your punishment.” Jeremy pulled out his flask and held it out for the man. “Take one mouthful of this, and then stand to attention.”

 

The man grabbed the flask, doing as Jeremy asked and taking a big swing before standing as he was told to. Jenna just watched with wide eyes, covering her mouth even more as all of this happened.

 

Jeremy started circling again once he took the flask back. “Now, you are about to feel very afraid. You are going to be so scared that you can’t function, because you are about to be put into the place of that woman you were yelling at. Your eyes see what I tell you, your ears hear what I describe, but your mind hears my words and my words only. There is a man, bigger than you, stronger than you, trying to coerce you into doing what he wants. He’s grabbing your wrists now.” The man, whose eyes had turned green fully, looked up in wide eyed fear at the invisible assailant. “You cannot move from your spot and he’s shouting.” The man started quivering. “You cannot shout, or yell. And now I want you to remember exactly what you did to the woman and the man you see is doing the same to you.”

 

The man collapsed to the ground, whimpering and covering himself as best he could. This continued for a good few minutes, with Jeremy throwing in the odd kick in for extra emphasis. Finally, the man stopped shivering, lying still with a blank stare.

 

“Stand up.” The man did. “Now beg for your life, tell me why I should spare you and not smite you down.” The man dropped to his knees, babbling about his job in the farms and his family. About his wife and kids. Jeremy kept the sword pointed at him the whole time. “Enough!” The man fell silent. “You will kiss my boot and thank me for your life. Then go and confess to your crimes to the nearest guard house. Tell them Archangel sent you.” The man crawled forwards and pressed a kiss to Jeremy’s boot, murmured his thanks, and ran off.

 

“You can come out now, Jenna.” Jeremy’s tone was nicer than he used for the man but still nothing like it normally was.

 

Still in shock, Jenna came out from her hiding spot. She needed to take a few extra seconds to recompose herself and calm her breathing, and she stuffed her hands into her pockets to hide her trembling digits. After hearing and seeing all of that, she didn’t know really what to say or do, and had a hard time looking at him. How could she so easily do that after the control and power he exuded, after what he did to that man? Was he terrible? Yes. Did that mean Jeremy had a right to do all of this? No, and she knew he only felt so because of his addiction and the metaphorical muse that had control over him.

 

“You’re scared,” Jeremy observed casually. “Good. I’d be worried if you weren’t, it’s not a nice thing, what I just did. Now let’s get back. I can only hold this mindset for a few minutes and I’ll almost certainly have a panic attack after this, as usual. Since you all know already, and apparently planned this to some degree, I’d rather have it on the ship than in an alleyway like I used to. But my addiction should be satisfied for now. It’s not the berries themselves, it’s the power it gives me. I think there’s a direct positive feedback for controlling someone while you yourself are slightly affected.” Jeremy’s voice was curt and factual, as though he was talking about someone else. In a way, he was from what Jenna could piece together. He wasn’t in control when he was like this.

 

Jeremy sheathed his sword and pulled off his scarf. He looked... neutral but tired.

 

Jenna, knowing all of this, just reached over and took Jeremy’s hand, even if he were to protest. She quickly lead him back to the ship, and as they walked, she quickly muttered out apologies for enabling him. “I shouldn’t have let you relapse just because of a logical standpoint and because of worry. I won’t let anyone have this happen to you again.”

 

Jeremy followed her and didn’t protest to her taking his hand. “I can’t feel properly right now, it’s cut off, but thank you. I’ll make sure to thank you properly when I’m more myself.”

 

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to face you for a while when you’re more yourself though...”

 

“Yeah, well, me either. I’d say it’s the normal reaction. Can you understand why I’m normally so desperate to stop though? Because everything you felt during that, I’ve been feeling for months. Every time. It doesn’t get easier,” Jeremy confessed, but was speaking as though he were discussing houseplants or the weather. He wasn’t kidding when he said he couldn’t feel.

 

“I understand completely. I never was against you stopping, but I’m sorry for making you go through this just for more protection for Michael. He’s my best friend and captain, but I can’t put people I care about through stuff like this just to help him,” she elaborated, feeling her chest heaving before she calmed herself down. “I just... I understand if you don’t forgive me for a while or if ever, Jeremy.”

 

“I agreed, though. It doesn’t matter how naive my mindset or feelings were, I knew it was wrong but I agreed because I believed it would help Michael. I trust you had your reasons for convincing me of that, because you have the same goal. You’re not solely to blame Jenna. I might be... upset with you for the first few minutes, but forgiveness has already been given.” The ship was in sight. There was a subtle tremor to Jeremy’s hands and a slightly stutter in his gait.

 

Jenna just nodded as she tugged Jeremy along. “I don’t agree with that, I should earn it back, but I won’t argue with you. I manipulated you, that isn’t easily forgivable.” She hurried up the gangplank of the ship, and she could hear Chloe asking around about why Michael was fast asleep and couldn’t be roused and where Jeremy and Jenna were.

 

Jeremy made it on deck and halfway over to Chloe when he suddenly froze. Jenna could see how his posture stiffened and how his breathing had grown harsh. For a moment, he was caught in this froze piece of panic before he rushed forwards to the railing and lost what little of the soup he had eaten. He collapsed after that, curling in on himself, knees to his chest, eyes staring at a fixed point on deck while everyone else stared at him. His eyes were wide even as tears started falling.

 

Jenna watched, before she could rush over, that Chloe broke across the ship to kneel down beside him, saying some things she couldn’t hear. She remembered that Chloe, although it hadn’t been with the Berries, had suffered her own addiction before Michael picked her up. Chloe was definitely the best to help right now, and that was showing with how she was already helping Jeremy.

 

Jenna took a hesitant step towards the two, listening to Jeremy’s pained mutterings. “I should have said no. I should have. Why didn’t I say no? Why did I ever agree? That’s not me that’s not me I promise please believe me it’s not me!”

 

“We all believe you Jeremy,” Chloe reassured him in an unusually soft voice. “You meant to do good, you meant to help, and now we are going to help you. That wasn’t you, we all know this.”

 

“Why did I agree, Chloe? I don’t understand, I want to stop! I don’t want to do that anymore! So why did I think it would be okay even though I knew it was wrong?” Jeremy whimpered weakly, eyes still fixated on the point somewhere on the floor. Blindly, he reached out his hand in Chloe’s general direction.

 

Jenna watched as Chloe instantly latched onto his hand as she soothed him. “You thought you were doing good and helping. You had good intentions, you always do Jeremy, even if we don’t do the best things.”

 

Jeremy nodded rapidly. “I did, I promise. I wanted to help. Jenna said it would help Michael, even if he didn’t like it. I just- I just... did bad...” Jeremy’s voice trailed off, disappearing into a small whimper. He squeezed desperately at Chloe’s hand, not pulling her closer yet but maybe grounding himself a bit.

 

“You were trying to help Michael, it’s OK,” she reassured him, though Jenna was shot a nasty glare that Jenna knew Jeremy couldn’t see before facing him again. “And you’re sorry for what you did and are going to try better and let us help you, right?”

 

Jeremy nodded rapidly again, but didn’t say a word. Instead he leaned over, not looking at Chloe, and traced out letters on the hand he was holding. His hand was shaking but Jenna could make them out from where she was. ‘Please I promise.’

 

"We'll help you get better," Chloe promised, holding him close and rubbing his back before looking back at everyone else, finally paying them any attention. "Hey! Do we have something strong to help him out of this state? We can't let him stay in this head-space. Something like smelling salts!"

 

No one seemed to have any clues, not even Brooke, but it seemed like even when he was lost in his own head, Jeremy still wanted to be helpful. ‘Salts by roses.’ “Rich, Jeremy says there are salts by his roses. Go and get them, now!” Chloe hissed, before turning back to Jeremy and murmuring gentle encouragements into his hair.

 

Jenna watched as Rich quickly ran into the cabin, and more guilt washed over her as she saw Michael there, still in the same position as she left him. The first mate quickly ran out with the salts, handing them over to Chloe before stepping back.

 

Chloe uncorked the bottle and waved it under Jeremy’s nose. For a moment, nothing happened, then he suddenly threw himself backwards, coughing. “What the hell? I forgot how strongly those smelled!” His eyes still held some panic and his posture was anything but relaxed, but he was present and talking again.

 

After a moment of coughing and clearing his lungs, Jeremy snatched the bottle from Chloe and stumbled over to the cabin, swaying as though he were dizzy. The door was left open and Jenna could see how Jeremy perched on the bed and waved the bottle under Michael’s nose for a second. The captain shot upright, coughing. Before he had a chance to do anything, Jeremy had corked the bottle and had all but crawled over to where Chloe was, curling up in her tender embrace. He looked ashamed and scared.

 

 

 

He knew he looked scared and ashamed because he was. Curled up in Chloe's hold, Jeremy watched as Michael finished his coughing fit, eyes wide and full of confusion before his eyes swept across the situation through the open door. He saw Michael's eyes lock onto him for a moment, then Jenna, and his eyes hardened as he got out of bed, holding onto his cane that was nearby and standing up. "Jenna, did you disobey my direct orders? Did you do what I think you did?"

 

Jenna's face was wrought with guilt, and she couldn't even seem to speak. She seemed like she wanted to, but the anger that was forming from Michael, something rarely seen, seemed to be shutting her up.

 

Jeremy curled up tighter, certain his eyes were wider than ever before. Michael was never angry. He didn’t yell or go icy cold. He would talk. He would listen. His anger was reserved for his enemies. Did that mean Michael would hate him now? Hate Jenna? Jeremy knew the thought was ridiculous, but the edges of panic were still lingering, so his thoughts were still a bit too unrefined. He watched and waited for his turn, once Michael had finished with Jenna.

 

He walked out of his cabin, shutting the door behind himself, but before going to Jenna, went over to Jeremy with a sudden softness, the one he knew and loved. "I'm not going to touch you right now, I don't want to overwhelm you. Just know I'm not mad at you, none of this is your fault," Michael reassured him, tone tender and loving before he turned back around to face his crew, his anger returning.

 

Jeremy blinked up at him, confused. This was his fault, he was the one who agreed. But Michael didn’t blame him? Conflicted tears started welling up in Jeremy’s eyes even as he watched Michael.

 

“How dare you. How fucking dare you do this to him. You should all be ashamed as fuck. Jeremy was in a vulnerable position, suffering from withdrawal symptoms and you go over and tell him, what, that it was okay to just relapse? I don’t care about your reasoning, he doesn’t deserve that. He doesn’t deserve the pain of that, no one does. I gave a direct order to not push him, to let it makes its way out of his system, and you purposefully disobeyed that. Now, whose idea was it?” Michael didn’t shout but somehow, this calm mask hiding the raging insides was worse.

 

Jenna stepped forward then, her guilt still evident on her features. Jeremy watched as Michael seemed to think about this for a moment before stepping forward. "Jenna, I told you specifically not to do anything." She just nodded, eventually looking up to properly face Michael.

 

"I did, and I regret it, especially after what I saw and see that Jeremy goes through," she said, seeming to get her voice back. "I'll do whatever you tell me to do."

 

Michael was quiet again, looking at her for a few moments as he seemed to be thinking. "You work with Jeremy to figure out the best apology, and then you talk with me and I'll tell you how to make it a better one." He looked over at everyone else then. "You all should be ashamed, honestly. I expected better from you all." The anger and disappointment could be heard in his tone as he spoke, and everyone seemed to take notice as they looked away, all ashamed that they participated in this.

 

Jeremy found a little of his courage. He didn’t want his friends to be on the receiving end of all of this. They were just trying to help, just like Jeremy. “Michael? Don’t be angry with them, please. M’not worth it. They just wanted to help. S’my fault for going along with it.” Jeremy's voice was quiet and shaky but he still managed. No matter how scared he was of this other side of Michael, he refused to let his friends suffer with it alone. He was just as much at fault here as the others in his mind. He was the one who agreed in the first place.

 

He saw Michael deflate a bit at this, and Michael just let out an irritated sigh as he faced away from Jeremy. "Jeremy, you are worth it. Stop blaming yourself for things that aren't your fault. You blame yourself for so many things, taking the blame for others and trying to redirect it towards yourself. It's just not true."

 

“This one is, though,” Jeremy whispered, eyes losing a little focus as he stared back down at the deck. “I knew what I was doing. I knew it was bad and I said yes anyway.” He wasn’t lost in his own head, but he wasn’t exactly fully there either. The number of mental swings he had had that day were starting to take their toll, but it wasn’t anything a little rest couldn’t fix, right?

 

"Jeremy, I convinced you to when you weren't in the right mind state. None of this is your fault," Jenna said, glancing over at him before looking away. "Don't try to take the blame for what we did wrong, what I did wrong."

 

Jeremy was struggling with this. He thought he was aware enough but everyone was saying he wasn’t? But his friends just wanted to help... just like he did when he first started using the formula. It was possible to have good intentions but still do bad things. Still, the thought felt conflicted and Jeremy felt unsure. So he just snuggled closer to Chloe, who had started gently and affectionately playing with his hair. He kept his eyes on the scene in front of him

 

Michael, after all of this, let out a heavy sigh. "I'm just... I cannot handle any of you right now, excluding Chloe and Jeremy. I can't look at you all." He turned around to look over at Jeremy and Chloe then, but hissed and held on tighter to his cane, dropping a little as he rested a hand against his calf. "God damnit," he hissed out, not noticing the compass falling out of his pocket from how he dropped suddenly, and it skidded across the desk to Chloe and Jeremy as Brooke and Jake hurried over to Michael's side to help him.

 

Jeremy had pulled himself from Chloe’s arms when Michael’s leg spasmed, but his focus was quickly shifted. The compass lay innocently in front of him. The case wasn’t much to look at, even if the insides were beautiful and right then, but Jeremy felt the strongest impulse to open it.

 

He had seen the compass a thousand times before. But there was just... something about it right then, with the gentle moonlight pouring down onto it that Jeremy couldn’t resist. Everything seemed to fade away, he could only hear his own heartbeat, strong and steady in his ears, only see the compass. With a shaky hand, he reached out and grabbed it.

 

Holding it felt right.

 

He popped the lid.

 

The moment the needle was illuminated by the moonlight, a soft, golden glow spilled from the inside. Jeremy watched, transfixed as the needle twisted away from north to point... south by southwest. And the longer he stared, the less he could hear and the more he understood. Twenty miles. And there were... words. Words in a strange language that he had never heard before but somehow he knew it was the same language as the runes. He couldn’t translate them but the words sounded urgent.

 

As quickly as it had started, Jeremy felt the urge to shut the compass, so he did. The light stopped and slowly the rest of the world eased back into focus.

 

When the light faded away, he saw everybody staring back at him in awe. Everyone was quiet, and it took Jeremy a good few seconds to realize that the light wasn't visible only to him, but at least everyone else on board as well.

 

"What the fuck?" Rich muttered out in surprise as Chloe gently held onto Jeremy again.

 

Jeremy blinked owlishly.

 

He looked up at Michael, who looked both awed and confused.

 

“South by southwest. Twenty miles,” he said, focusing as best he could on the feelings and words. “I... don’t think that’s everything, but it’s the start of the path...”

 

Michael just nodded, and Jeremy saw him glance behind him to Chloe, who he felt nod as well. "Thank you, Jeremy," Michael muttered out, almost hissing it as Brooke and Jake seemed to remember what they originally had been doing. They slowly helped him up, each supporting him, before helping him move into the cabin.

 

Jeremy didn’t let go of the compass as he climbed to his feet. He wanted to rest now, he felt so exhausted after everything that had happened, but he wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to go back into the cabin with Michael hurting. He shot a desperate, pleading look to Chloe.

 

Chloe looked back at him then, and gave him a reassuring smile. "He'll want you there with him," she reassured him before walking with him into the captain's quarters.

 

When they entered, they saw Michael being laid down in bed, slowly, especially careful with Michael's legs. He hissed through his teeth in pain as they handled his leg that spasmed previously, though Brooke and Jake were both apologizing as he settled in.

 

As soon as he saw this, Jeremy raced over to his potions kit, ignoring Chloe’s protests to take it slow. He had been working on something to help, with advice from Brooke, before he got that... weird headache. Okay, thinking about it maybe he wasn’t in the the best state of mind earlier. Everything was kinda fuzzy except for a few key moments.

 

He let out a small, victorious hum when he found the bottle and he quickly dripped in the few of harlequin rose extract he had been organizing. The bottle glowed a soft, cool blue for a moment before turning a gentle pink.

 

“Brooke, do you have that compress and the bandages from earlier?” he asked, turning back to the group. She pulled everything Jeremy asked for out of her apron pocket, not making eyes contact. Jeremy sprinkled the relaxant over the compress filled with herbs and quickly pressed it against Michael’s sore leg. He ignored the gasp of pain as best he could. “If Brooke and I did this right, this should help.”

 

After a few more seconds of tension, he felt relaxation ever so slowly trickle in as Michael's tension lessened ever so slightly. His body relaxed over the next few minutes, his tightly shut eyes opening as Michael looked up at Jeremy, a look of relief evident. "Thanks... You should lie down though, please."

 

Jeremy slowly nodded, putting the potion on the bedside cabinet and slipping off his coat (the compass stowed safely in the pocket). He toed off his boots and finally climbed into bed, bidding goodnight to everyone as they left.

 

He was silent for a moment, but he could tell Michael wasn’t asleep just yet. “Hey Michael?” He sighed. “I’m kinda scared of my own head again.” Michael had told him to let him know when he was having problems or feeling off. Well, he was feeling off now. He had slipped back into is so easily that it was scary.

 

"I don't blame you after going through a relapse," Michael muttered out, sounding exhausted as he looked over at Jeremy. His eyes behind his glasses were filled with worry as he reached over, gently brushing some stray hairs from his face. "We'll help you to not be scared anymore though. I swear we'll help you."

Chapter Text

Things got better after Jeremy’s relapse. True, he would eventually have to face his withdrawals but for now, they had a heading and they had a clue. That clue being Jeremy.

 

For some reason, the compass only worked for Jeremy. No one else could get it glowing or hear the voices of the ancient language. So every night, he would get their heading.

 

The days were filled with Jeremy slaving away over his documents about the ancient, runic language. Having heard the words, the sounds stuck in his mind, he was actually able to add a syntax to his notes, learn to actually speak it. Of course, he taught Michael as well, who had spent another week or so still recovering. Even now, three weeks later, he still needed the cane occasionally.

 

 



Jeremy had finally done it, he had figured out the final part of the clue. He scooped up the papers and ran outside to Michael, who was by Chloe at the wheel. “I did it! I know what’s on the next island!” he cried breathlessly.

 

Looking over at Jeremy, Michael's smile he had widened. "Wait, you know? Great! What is it?" he asked, pride in his voice towards Jeremy as Chloe raised a curious brow while continuing on-course for where they were currently sailing to.

 

“There’s a group of people, a cult, who live on the island. They guard the piece, the compass’s glass. We need to get the piece from them, but they’ll kill anyone who even gets close.” Jeremy pointed out his translations on a random piece of parchment. He sighed. “That’s not even the worst of it though. The island is protected by storms on every side, and surrounded by sirens. Male sirens.”

 

Both Chloe and Michael grimaced at that. "Well, at least Jenna's protected from them," Chloe added. "We can at least try to keep ourselves from hearing them with some wax we have under with our supplies, they're good at blocking sound out. The storms will be shit though, and a cult? How are we supposed to deal with them?"

 

“I’ve thought of that. The cult is really interesting actually, it sees to predate almost every modern religion as well as a good few-“ Chloe cut Jeremy off.

 

“Ramble later, nerd. Idea now.” Jeremy flushed and nodded.

 

“They worship two gods, who represent the sun and the moon. I don’t have names or descriptions yet, but if we can imitate those gods, even for a few minutes, we can get past them. From what I figured out, they live on the north side of the island, but have a few old temples to the south. We can go in, get the info and plan from there.” Jeremy wasn’t sure he had ever felt so proud.

 

Michael nodded in agreement to that. "Sounds good, honestly. You got this all figured out on your own Jeremy, that's amazing," Michael told him, a huge grin on his face before he wrapped his arm around his shoulder.

 

Jeremy’s blush darkened and he couldn’t help but puff up a little proudly. Though he had long accepted that his feelings for Michael weren’t going anywhere it didn’t make these sort of situations any easier. “I-er... well I learned from the best.” Jeremy bumped his hip against Michael’s playfully.

 

At that, Michael just snickered before patting his shoulder. "Aw, you're so modest, Jere," he almost cooed out before letting go and taking his cane. "How long should it take for us to get to where the sirens are, since you know where they're at?"

 

“Two days. I don’t know the direction, but I’m almost certain it’s gonna be in two days. The storms are just at the edge of their territory, so when we see them, that’s when we’ll need the wax.” Jeremy flipped through his notes. “Oh yeah, one other thing. The cult speak the runic language. So how much of it do you remember?” He slipped into the guttural language for the last question, directing it at Michael.

 

"I remember everything you taught me, Jeremy. I may not be book smart like you, but I can pick things up quick," was the response he got back, a smirk on his face while Chloe looked between the two with wide, confused eyes.

 

“I know that.” Jeremy grinned, reaching up and ruffling Michael’s hair playfully. “I keep saying that you’re smart. I just like hearing proof of my awesomeness.” Jeremy tried to make himself look a little more important, but ended up giggling instead.

 

"As much as I love you two, I hate being left out of the loop," Chloe interrupted with a pout, to which Michael couldn't help but laugh.

 

"Sorry, this nerd is testing me and boosting his own ego," Michael said, sticking his tongue out at Jeremy all the while.

 

“I’ve been teaching this dork the language from the clues. And you put that tongue away mister! Only cats get to ‘blep!’” Jeremy stuck out his own tongue.

 

At that, Michael gasped around his tongue before sticking his tongue out further. Chloe just sighed and shook her head at the two, muttering something under her breath that the two were too distracted to overhear.

 

Jeremy turned to face Michael properly, made his face look as cute as possible (big eyes and everything) and stuck out his tongue again, making the blep sound. With his long curly hair half tied back in the same style Chrissy usually did (it was almost to his shoulders!), it almost looked like he had kitty ears.

 

Michael faltered then, looking away and rubbing his face as he coughed a few times. "Fine, fine, y'win- for now."

 

Jeremy cheered and poked Michael’s cheek. “You don’t out-kitty-cat the ship’s cat, captain,” he teased. He had really come to love the title, especially after the Dustin fight where Jeremy had half mauled that massive pirate. Next time they were in port, Jenna had spread that the Fallen Angel didn’t just have a ship’s cat, but a ship’s tiger.

 

"I guess I don't, but it doesn't mean I can't blep in peace," Michael said with a pout before turning the pout to Jeremy.

 

Jeremy sighed dramatically. This conversation felt really familiar for some reason, so he didn’t even realize what he was saying until after the words left his lips. “Fine. But that means I get to mlem when we’re having halo-halo.” He blinked and the nostalgic feeling faded. Huh, weird.

 

Michael seemed to be confused after a moment, blinking as he furrowed his brows. "What the hell does mlem mean?" he asked, looking at Jeremy then with an odd look.

 

Jeremy sort of just let his brain run ahead, because he had no idea himself. “Y’know, mlem.” He demonstrated, his tongue darting out quickly, naturally making the noise. “I don’t know, just sort of came to me.” Jeremy shrugged.

 

Both Chloe and Michael seemed confused yet intrigued by this before Michael just shrugged it off. "I mean, it makes as much sense as that 'blep' thing, whatever the hell it was," Chloe muttered. "I think you two might be losin' it a little, so get some sleep."

 

Jeremy reached into his pocket. “Lemme just get the heading first.” He opened the compass and was filled with the same knowledge as before. Looking at the needle, he saw that their current heading was perfect. He shut the lid and the glow faded. “We’re on the right course. I think it’s just straight from here now since I didn’t get a distance this time.”

 

"Good to know, now head to bed, you two," Chloe chided, gently waving the two away as Michael rolled his eyes and walked down the stairs to head to his cabin with Jeremy. As Michael rolled his eyes though, Jeremy noticed a warm tint on his cheeks as Michael hurried down the steps.

 

Jeremy had been staying in Michael’s cabin since his relapse, the captain unwilling to leave him alone for too long. Jeremy wasn’t complaining. As they both slipped into the cabin, Jeremy took the comfortable silence between them as a chance to think over what was to come: male sirens. He had heard about them most from Dustin, who said it was way more intense than the female sirens. It made Jeremy a little curious if he were honest.

 

"Jeremy?" Michael's voice pulled him out of his thoughts as he looked over to the voice's owner. He was sitting on the edge of his bed, carefully removing his shoes and putting them to the side before starting to change into his night clothes. "What's on your mind?"

 

“Oh, just the sirens. I was kinda remembering last time we faced them and how it felt, as well as what I know about the male sirens.” Jeremy waved him off, feeling a little stupid now. It was just an errant thought.

 

The other seemed thoughtful at that point as he tugged on his shirt. "Mm... I was going to ask you and everyone else if you could tie me to the mast when we were close, if I'm going to be honest."

 

Jeremy’s head snapped up at that and he fixed Michael with an incredulous stare. “Why on earth would you do that?! Male sirens are much more dangerous than female sirens! Like ten times more dangerous! You could get hurt Michael, or even killed! Like, do you even know how powerful they are?”

 

Michael's gaze remained strong as he was looking out his window. "I have an idea. Plus, everyone else will be watching and I don't think I'll be able to escape being tied around the mast." He was quiet for a moment before adding, "I never got to see what I truly desire, and this way, I can get to know safely."

 

Jeremy sighed heavily. He already knew his answer from the moment Michael had suggested listening. “Fine, I can understand that, but I’m doing it too.” He sounded resigned but firm.

 

At that, Michael's gaze moved from the window to Jeremy, confusion written in his expression. "But you already listened to the female siren's song."

 

Jeremy chuckled. “Yeah, but a lot has changed since then. I was super touch-starved and didn’t really have any strong bonds with anyone besides Chrissy. I was basically a walking twig. Now I’m anything but touch-starved, you made sure of that, and I have a stronger family than I could have ever dreamed of. So my deepest desire has changed. Besides, do I really seem like that same fish bone of a kid?”

 

It was true that emotionally Jeremy had grown a lot, but he had also grown physically. He had just about doubled in muscle mass (not so hard when you have almost nothing), giving him a strong but wiry build. His hair was lighter than it had ever been from hours spent every day in the sun, making his hair a lovely deep red compared to its old red-brown. Not to mention that it was so much longer. His freckles stood out proudly against his slight tan and the scars stood out white, and his eyes were more full of life than anyone who knew him could have believed possible. So even physically, Jeremy barely resembled himself. And he couldn’t help but like that fact.

 

Michael seemed to look him over then, a chuckle passing his lips as he lied back in bed, making grabby hands towards Jeremy. "Mm, no, but I wouldn't have even called you a 'fish bone of a kid' even back then. You weren't a pirate then, but you're definitely one now, and hopefully you're proud that you're a good kinda pirate." Jeremy was sure he was mistaken, but he swore he saw a hint of adoration in his captain's gaze.

 

He blushed a little, but his grin held strong. “Nothing has made me prouder or happier than being part of your crew, Captain. It’s the best type of pirate crew out there, lead by one of the best people I know.”

 

His grabby hands only continued, even becoming more fervent at that. "Aww, c'mere. I need to ask you something."

 

Jeremy finished setting aside his things and hopped into bed, instantly cuddling close to Michael. “What’s up, Captain?” He turned his fond gaze up to Michael.

 

Michael leaned down, shifting them so his head could rest on Jeremy's shoulder and let him look up at him. "So... am I your favowite pewson?" he asked. The question sent a huge wave of sudden nostalgia for something he couldn't recall through him. He didn't feel this when at the market with Michael months ago, but why did he feel like this now?

 

Jeremy burst out laughing, playfully shoving Michael off of him. “Yeah, we’re never not gonna be a team.” Jeremy then proceeded to pull Michael to his chest, cuddling him instead. “Now I’ve got you!” Jeremy chuckled at Michael’s weak struggles and numerous noises of protest, but he didn’t once try to escape.

 

"Ugh, no fair, you've bulked up since you've been here and I haven't," Michael said around a playful pout before he just nestled closer to Jeremy. "Unfair advantage.”

 

“You still have like, twice my muscle mass,” Jeremy pointed out as he positioned himself so Michael could lie on him comfortably. He tightened his arms a little. He waited until Michael was settled. “So are we doing the siren thing?”

 

"I mean yeah, but we're gonna have to share being strung up on the mast somehow," Michael pointed out as he glanced up at Jeremy from where he was comfortable. "If you're up for it, I'm still gonna do it."

 

“I sure as hell ain’t standing around while you do something stupidly dangerous alone, Captain. I haven’t forgotten the teapot plant incident. I told you it was easier to harvest with two people but nooo, you had to be the big brave captain and almost lose your sight!” Jeremy playfully pinched Michael’s side.

 

"Hey... I thought when you said it was easier that you meant it would just require more effort, not that I could almost lose my eyesight," Michael justified with a pout, swatting at Jeremy's hand. "You just didn't explain that well enough."

 

“Ugh, when do I ever. I was worried! That should have been enough warning!” Jeremy’s voice was starting to fade, tiredness hitting him now that he was so comfortable. He really liked holding Michael.

 

"Mm, maybe for an intellectual like you," he heard his captain mutter out before yawning, eyes shutting while he still wore his glasses.

 

Jeremy clumsily reached up, being extra careful to not startle or hurt Michael, and he slipped the glasses off of his face. He quickly placed them onto the bedside table. “G’night Captain...”

 

"G'night, Jeremy," he heard from Michael, barely above a whisper, before he heard the telltale signs that warned of Michael's snoring approaching.

 

 

 

“I said it before and I’ll say it again: you two are insane,” Rich told both Jeremy and Michael when they were about an hour from the swirling storm clouds. He was holding the rope, really to tie them both to the mast.

 

“Yeah, well you wouldn’t be follow me if I were normal, would you Rich?” Michael teased, shooting him a charming grin. It was more to cover his nerves than anything. Michael was excited, yes, but he was also supremely nervous for he coming event.

 

If the sirens were anything near as powerful as Jeremy though, this would be intense. A hand with long, elegant fingers slotted into his own.

 

“You alright, captain? It’s not too late to back out...” Jeremy murmured to him over the rush over the water.

 

Jeremy’s presence helped to ease him. He took a deep breath before turning to Jeremy and smiling, though he gave him a soft, nervous one. “I know, but I don’t want to, even if my nerves are telling me otherwise. Plus, I just realized that we’re probably gonna have cramps and rope burns from this, y’know? Lots of fun, heh...”

 

“Actually, I thought about that. You know the cuffs we use for the kids who are our ‘prisoners’?” Rich put air quotes around the words. “Well, since they’re soft, I figured it should help a little with the pains on your wrists.” Rich reached into his pocket, pulling out two sets of rope-covered, wide-cloth cuffs. “Now c’mon you two idiots. Michael stand with your back to the mast, wrap your arms around it, wrists facing the mast. Jeremy, I’ll be stringing you up by your hands and tying your feet down.”

 

Michael couldn’t help but smile at Rich, hoping he was showing how grateful he was through it instead of his nerves. “Always prepared, huh. Thanks Rich, now get me tied to the mast,” he said while wiggling his brows in a playful, though completely joking manner.

 

“Sure thing, kink lord.” Rich playfully shoved him against the mast and began restraining him. As always, Rich was quick and efficient with his knots, leaving no room to wiggle out of but also very little way for him to hurt himself. The cuffs were a little loose, but only just enough to not cut off circulation when he pulled. The knots on them held strong when he tested them.

 

“You’re such a good friend, Rich, thanks for tying me up,” he joked while rolling his eyes.

 

Rich just gave him a mock salute before turning to Jeremy. “Alright, your turn, kitty cat. Still don’t know why you guys are crazy enough to do this, but who am I to judge.”

 

Michael could see Jeremy blush out of the corner of his eye, but he remained quiet as Rich stated strapping him up.

 

“I told you, I missed out last time, and I’m honestly curious to know what would tempt me enough for me to want to throw myself into the ocean,” Michael explained. Jeremy sort of nodded.

 

“Yeah, and I’ve changed enough that what tempted me before wouldn’t tempt me now.” He added, groaning as he stood up on his toes to relax the slight strain in his arms. “Why do you have to do it like this, Rich?” he grumbled. Rich laughed.

 

“Because you don’t have enough body weight to yank yourself down, and you’re so skinny that you’d just escape if we did it any other way.” Jeremy hissed angrily at him, struggling a little but unable to get free.

 

“Jeremy, you’re just going to prove his point,” Michael said with a laugh, only able to see part of this but was able to hear him move. “Just let the man do his work of tying us down.” He knew all of the innuendos he was giving, though meant none of them like that. He more-so just wanted to hear if Jeremy would freak out at it.

 

“Yeah, let me do my job for you two!”

 

Jeremy spluttered, obviously picking up on the innuendos, but he stopped struggling. Rich cackled but got back to tying him up. Eventually, he stood back and surveyed them with a satisfied nod. “This should do you guys well. And I’ll be up here, waxed up, if something goes wrong.”

 

Michael nodded to Rich then. “Thanks, bud. Please keep us from breaking free and diving head-first to our deaths,” he half-joked. “You alright back there, Jere?”

 

There was a moment of silence. “Yeah. I’m okay. My hands are stuck for sure.” Another pause. “How far at the clouds? Because they’re about an hour’s worth of travel thick. I wanna know how long we’re actually gonna be stuck here.”

 

“I hope we aren’t stuck here for long, but hopefully we’ll at least be comfortably stuck.” Michael looked over to the clouds, since he was mostly facing towards them and Jeremy away with their odd positioning. “Uh, well, they’re visible along the horizon for sure. I’d say we’ll be in it shortly.”

 

For a while, they chatted, Jeremy teaching Rich some of the language. He didn’t pick up on it as quickly as Michael but he was slowly getting the hang of it.

 

They were about ten minutes away from the clouds when Jeremy’s steady stream of chatter trailed off.

 

“Rich, go tell everyone they need to put the wax in. The song is reaching out here.” Jeremy’s tone was certain but strained, like it was taking him a great effort to speak properly. Michael couldn’t hear anything yet.

 

Rich just nodded and quickly went, and Michael could faintly hear him calling for everyone to do as Jeremy instructed. Michael tried to strain his hearing to hear the song, though frowned when he couldn’t hear a thing. How was it that Jeremy could already hear it? “You alright over there, Jeremy?”

 

Jeremy was breathing a little heavily. “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just really hard to focus past the voices. Can’t you hear them?” He panted, and Michael could hear him struggling a little. “It’s so much more intense, holy fuck!”

 

He worried at hearing how badly Jeremy was getting worked up so quickly. “No, I can’t, not yet,” he told Jeremy, worry building in his gut now.

 

For a second, Jeremy struggled, panting. “K-keep talking. It’s easier to focus while you’re talking. I don’t wanna fall under yet.”

 

“Oh, uh, alright...” Michael was quick on his feet to think on what to talk about and started going on one of his many tangents about things that interested him. This time, it was about Snookums, as she always helped to ease him when freaked out.

 

He went into detail about what he knew of her breed and some of the new things he wanted to do when they next saw her. “I want her to be able to relax next time she sees you too, I know she’ll love you once she gives you an actual chance.”

 

“I’d really like that. I hope she likes me one day.” Jeremy was still panting slightly from the effort, but he had stopped struggling for a moment.

 

They were just entering the storm, Rich back on deck, when Michael heard it. The deep booms of bass voices, the smooth baritones, the gentle tenors. He couldn’t hear the words but he could just about make out the voices.

 

“I-I don’t think I’m gonna be able to fight it off much longer, Captain... see you on the other side.” There was a smirk evident in Jeremy’s voice, which slightly blocked out the voices for a moment.

 

“I’ll see you once we’ve made it through,” Michael told him back, smiling for a brief time before the voices started to be more than just sounds. He couldn’t help but feel himself drawn in to trying to listen to them, especially since Jeremy was no longer talking and keeping them somewhat at bay. In his peripheral vision, he could still see Rich watching them, concern in his eyes, before he felt himself drawn to look out towards the water, feeling himself begin to hyper-focus there.

 

He couldn’t see anything in there, but he knew there was someone just under its rough surface. He could hear them, hear him. He felt a tug in his gut. Michael could finally hear the words: Jeremy was under there. They were saying Jeremy was waiting for him, calling for him. Jeremy needed him, wanted him, which didn’t make sense because Jeremy was just next to him, right? But the nice voices wouldn’t lie. He tugged lightly on his bonds, eyes not leaving the water. Jeremy needed him. He had to get to Jeremy. He needed Jeremy.

 

Michael, when he felt himself unable to move, started to panic a little. Why was he being held back? He needed to get Jeremy, to go and meet with him, he was out there and calling for him! He felt himself become more desperate in his tugging, trying so hard to move away from the mast. It was keeping him from getting to Jeremy, who was waiting and calling and who needed him.

 

The voices kept crying out for him, sounding upset and distressed. It only fueled him to tug harder, crying back to him and the nice voices layering over one another about how Jeremy needed him now. He felt himself begin to pant with how much and how hard he was struggling, panic setting in as he felt his struggling become more and more aggressive. How couldn’t he be, though? Jeremy needed him, and he needed Jeremy right this instant.

 

Time lost meaning, all that mattered was that Jeremy was out there, needing him, almost begging for him. He could hear him now, screaming and begging and calling for him; it wasn’t just the voices telling him, Jeremy himself was calling to him too!

 

After a time, long enough that Michael’s muscles ached from how hard he was pulling and struggling, there was a loud scream and suddenly Michael was lost in wide, desperate blue eyes. There was a tightness around his waist, but he didn’t care. Jeremy was there, pupils blown wide, panting heavily, right by his face. He didn’t seem to be able to reach down, but it didn’t matter. He was there and beautiful.

 

Michael couldn’t help but stare, unable to care how desperate he seemed with how he stared so deeply. He didn’t care if he was panting as hard as Jeremy, he didn’t care about anything but him.

 

Jeremy captured him utterly, and he couldn’t help but feel his heart, which was beating like crazy, was about to burst. The desperation he felt almost ended because Jeremy was right here. He was here, he was safe, and the voices that kept calling for him to come get Jeremy just fueled his need more. Michael did need him, but he couldn’t reach up for him. Jeremy was so close but just out of reach, and he couldn’t help but call out, between his panting and whining, “Jere.”

 

Michael.” His voice was hoarse, needy and desperate. He sounded so gorgeous right then, and the way he was looking at Michael made him feel like Jeremy wanted him just as much.

 

Jeremy leaned forwards, squirming against something, tugging to get closer. The tightness around his waist grew tighter, and suddenly, Jeremy’s forehead, damp with sweat and ocean spray, rested against his. “Michael, please,” he whimpered, eyes so bright and so blue blocking out almost everything. Jeremy shifted again, and Michael felt something on his hand loosen.

 

As soon as he tugged on his hand, he felt that there was some give. Near instantly, he worked to get his hand free, and it only took a few rough attempts for him to be able to tug it free.

 

Once it was out, his hand started, grabbing onto Jeremy’s gorgeous locks and his head, digging his fingers in before he was able to close the small distance they had.

 

He kept Jeremy close and in the kiss as he felt the neediness he had settle for a moment before growing even stronger. Michael couldn’t help but let it overtake him as he shut his eyes, savoring in this need to just be with Jeremy, letting their lips slot and move, even if they slipped up a few times with how much they were both putting into it, with how much they wanted from one another.

 

Unfortunately, he had to pull Jeremy away for a moment, whimpering himself as he needed to catch his breath. His glasses were getting in the way, so he swung his head to the side, not caring where they went as he focused back on the only person that mattered. “More,” was all he got out before bringing them together again, his need coming back as strong as before.

 

Jeremy gave just as much, kissing him, being with him, loving him, that it would have made Michael’s head spin if he could think of anything other that Jeremy Jeremy jeremyjeremyjeremy. They clashed together more times than he could count, each more needy, more desperate than before.

 

When Jeremy threw his head back to breathe, Michael didn’t stop his assault, instead kissing his way roughly up Jeremy’s neck and along his jaw, loving the desperate gasps and whimpers that proved that Jeremy was his. Jeremy was there and he was his and nothing else mattered but being as close as possible.

 

Yes!” Jeremy almost moaned against his lips, bringing them together in another searing kiss. “Michael. Captain. More!”

 

Time seemed to slip away completely as Michael just continued to love Jeremy, the only thing on his mind being Jeremy. Even as time slipped, he felt a little bit of the desperation go. Regardless, he kept holding on tight to Jeremy as he continued to kiss him, love him, need him. Just staying like this would be enough, with Jeremy so close and both of them loving each other. The pressure around his waist, his hand curled into Jeremy’s curls, Jeremy right there, all he could see...

 

He had to pull back for a minute, catching his own breath as he kept Jeremy near his face. He refused to let go, even as the intense, guttural demand faded. “Jeremy...”

 

Jeremy kissed him, soft and slow and satisfied, lingering for a moment before pulling back. “Michael…” he echoed back, eyes brimming with love. Michael felt his other hand come loose, despite not pulling anymore, and he instantly wrapped it around Jeremy’s lower back, holding him closer. Jeremy sighed happily, his arms dropping down to wrap carefully around Michael’s neck, one tucked just inside his collar, the other reaching up to play with his hair.

 

Michael couldn’t help but smile and melt under all of this, leaning his head down against Jeremy’s shoulder then as he held the other so lovingly close. This gentle, quiet moment, with no noise besides their breathing made him feel at peace. He found his desire, what he needed and wanted, finally seeing him: Jeremy.

 

He could feel Jeremy’s light breaths near his ear. “Michael…” Jeremy whispered, so quietly that he barely heard it, so reverently that it sounded like he was praying. “Michael, I-“ And suddenly, just like that, he was gone.

 

The warmth that was Jeremy was pulled out of his arms, kicking and screaming. “You’ll thank me for this later, tall ass.” A voice which wasn’t Jeremy spoke up. Michael fought to grab Jeremy back, unwilling to let Jeremy go. There was a quiet thunk before Jeremy could be heard screaming for Michael. “Oh no you don’t! You stay over there!”

 

The sound of a bottle uncorking and suddenly Jeremy was coughing and spluttering. A second later, a sharp, unpleasant smell overpowered Michael’s senses, and he couldn’t help but cough, the feeling of cotton vanishing from his mind.

 

As he coughed, Michael felt himself being grounded, through a haze overcame what transpired after he finished talking about his dog. “Ugh...” He leaned his head back against the mast, hissing as he felt his head ache somewhat. Slowly, he felt himself coming back to reality, though he kept his eyes shut since trying to focus while the world was blurry made his head ache. Also, why was the world blurry? Where the hell were his glasses?

 

“How you feeling, Michael?” Rich asked slowly. Michael, opening his eyes for a split second, could just about make out Rich’s blurry shape walking towards him. “Here, you might find these useful.” His glasses were slipped onto his face, and Michael noticed a few things at once. Firstly, his hands were free, hanging limply at his sides. Secondly, Jeremy was totally free of his ropes, sitting on the deck looked dazed and more than a little flushed. Thirdly, Michael realized that he felt... happy; like he had been given something wonderful. He couldn’t figure out the reason behind the feeling. His lips felt almost tingly.

 

He raised a hand over his mouth then, feeling his lips as he tried to figure out why he felt so good. After coming back with nothing, he looked over to Rich. “I feel... good. I don’t know why, but I do.” Michael ghosted his fingers over his lips for a little longer before pulling back and rubbing his face out. “What happened?”

 

Rich sighed heavily. “Of fucking course you don’t remember,” he muttered under his breath before meeting Michael’s gaze. “I’ll tell you later, just know you seemed to really enjoy yourself.” Rich undid the ropes around Michael’s legs and chest. “Head below deck and grab Brooke. I think you might have strained something after all that,” Rich suggested, wandering over to Jeremy.

 

He leaned down to whisper something to him. Jeremy’s eyes went wide and his hand shot up to cover the side of this throat, his blush growing darker. Without another word, Jeremy bolted into the cabin, face redder than Michael’s coat.

 

Confusion just washed over Michael’s face as he watched, waiting until Jeremy was in the cabin before going to find and get Brooke.

 

As he walked down, he realized that him not remembering made sense. After all, no one who went with him and encountered the sirens remembered anything. They all at least remembered their desires though, and he felt his stomach churn (oddly, not in a bad way...) as he tried to recall. He eventually gave up and walked into the kitchen. “Brooke, Rich says I need you and that I might have sprained something?”

 

Brooke didn’t respond. ‘Ah, she’s still got the wax in,’ he remembered, tapping her lightly on the shoulder. Brooke jumped but the moment she saw Michael she pulled the wax out of her ears with a bright grin. “Mikey! How was it?”

 

“Rich told me to get you to check me over?” he half asked, still feeling a little dazed. Brooke nodded and instantly got him to sit on the table.

 

“Looks like you’ve strained the muscles in your arms with your tugging, and you have somehow managed to get a light bruise around your waist. Other than that? You seem fine.” She nodded to herself as she finished off the check up.

 

There was a sound at the door, and Jeremy walked in still looking kinda out of it. His hair was a mess, like someone had been grabbing it, and was it just his imagination or did his lips seem swollen?

 

“Hey Brooke, Rich sent me down.” Jeremy waved, eye closed as he rubbed his face lightly. He froze when he saw Michael, face rising in a massive blush. “I- er... how are you doing, Captain?” he asked, sounding a little nervous. For some reason, hearing Jeremy use his normal nickname sent a rush through Michael, even more noticeable than normal.

 

Unsure about his feelings and why Jeremy seemed off and nervous, Michael just brushed it aside. Maybe he remembered what his desire was, or this was some side effect from the male sirens? “I’m feeling a little out of it still, but good otherwise. Apparently I strained my muscles in my arms, probably from the sirens and whatever my desire is, and I have bruising in my waist. What about you?” He couldn’t help but wonder what exactly happened to Jeremy, especially with how messy and freaked he looked. “What happened?”

 

Jeremy shifted nervously. “I’m pretty sure I’ve pulled some of the muscles in my legs. I managed to get them free or something? And my shoulders hurt a lot from where I was pulling, but I’m otherwise okay...” Jeremy trailed off, rubbing a little at his neck absentmindedly. “I...don’t really remember much. I just remember telling Rich to go and plug everyone else up early. After that it gets a little fuzzy. I just remember how intense it was, how badly I wanted to go after... something,” he finished lamely. It was clear he knew more than he was saying.

 

Michael nodded as he listened, unable to help himself from feeling like he was missing a huge chunk of context. Of course, he knew he was, but didn’t know how to go about approaching it. He watched as Brooke walked over to Jeremy, gently looking him over, and decided to ask. “Do you know what your new desire was? Was it worth the strain and pain we’re gonna suffer?” Michael asked, giving a smile as he tried to lighten this anxious, nervous mood that was settling in.

 

“Yeah.” Jeremy’s voice cracked a little. “I know and it was definitely worth it. It’s just... personal. How about you?”

 

Michael couldn’t help but internally deflate at the fact Jeremy wasn’t telling him. Hopefully he’d tell him later... right? “I don’t remember,” he admitted, looking down at his lap with a frown. “It’s all a mystical kinda haze over it all, starting after we talked about Snookums and you wishing she’d like you too.”

 

“I said that? I don’t even remember.” Jeremy wandered over, perching next to Michael on the table. He seemed to pick up on Michael’s disappointment. “I... I’ll tell you eventually. It’s just a lot to process right now.” He shot Michael a small, shy smile.

 

Michael looked over at Jeremy then, unable to help giving a small, weak smile back before nodding. What happened that made it a lot for him, Jeremy, the super smart one, and made him need a lot of time to think about it? Michael just brought his knees to his chest, ignoring his arms screaming at him when he wrapped them around his legs. He glanced off to the side, sighing. “I wish I remembered what they were offering me...”

 

“It’ll come back to you eventually. If it works anything like female sirens, the amnesia should wear off after a few weeks tops.” Jeremy grinned. Then he blinked and flushed, averting his gaze. He started rubbing his neck again, looking a bit bashful. “It’ll just hit you in waves every now and again, even if it’s inconvenient.”

 

Michael watched him curiously, though didn’t question him. He was going through that right now probably.

 

Before he could say anything though, he had Brooke fretting over him, trying to make sure he and Jeremy didn’t strain themselves any further. “You two need to lie down after rubbing yourselves with something to help your muscles.”

 

Jeremy’s blush darkened, but he nodded. “I’ve got more of the relaxant up in the cabin. We can use that...” Jeremy looked a little less awkward. In fact, he looked almost excited, if somewhat flustered.

 

Together, after being chased off by Brooke, they started back up to the cabin. “I’m not gonna be able to put it on myself, it’s my back and shoulders mostly and I can’t reach my back.” He shrugged. “Help me out, Captain?” There was a layer of... something in his tone. Maybe a sort of satisfaction? Either way, despite his flaming cheeks, Jeremy sounded happy.

 

Michael couldn’t help but have his cheeks flare up, and it felt like it was for more than his usual fluster that he learned to tame. “Yeah, of course. If I’m gonna get there, you need to rub my arms. They’re gonna be even more sore if I have to rub the relaxant in,” he said somewhat playfully, smiling before gently nudging his shoulder.

 

Jeremy poked his cheek playfully. “Of course I’ll help you, Captain. I already told you you’re my favowite pewson.” He pouted at Michael, looking upset that Michael had ‘forgotten’ that fact, even if his eyes twinkled with mirth.

 

“I didn’t say that I didn’t think that, don’t put words into my mouth,” Michael said around a playful pout of his own as he climbed up onto the deck. He couldn’t help but let out a sigh as the cool winds brushed over him before crossing to his cabin.

 

Jeremy followed behind him, closing the door once they were inside. He grabbed the relaxant from his small collection of potions that were building up in there (Jeremy had kinda moved in, to a point) and slipped off his shirt.

 

“Okay, so if you do my back and shoulders first, I’ll do your arms and then we can sleep?” Jeremy suggested. Michael couldn’t help but let his eyes linger for the smallest of moments. Jeremy had filled out a decent amount in the time he’d been on the ship, bulking up nicely. His skin had that slight tan and was covered in freckles which only stood out brighter with the amount of sun they were getting. There were a few points that had scared, like the wound on his side from their last encounter with sirens, as well as a good few cuts from sword fights he had gotten into. The subtleties of his old life were still visible, like his long, artists fingers and his impeccable posture, but for the most part he was totally a pirate these days.

 

He only snapped out of it when Jeremy called his name again. “You alright, Captain?” Jeremy asked, and Michael just gave him a soft, reassuring smile.

 

“Yeah, sorry, still a little dazed I guess from the siren thing. That sounds like a plan, you get settled and l’ll get started. Just so you know, I’m going to get you so relaxed, so I hope you do the same for me,” he said in a sing-song voice before taking the relaxant carefully from him. He felt his skin tingle for the few moments their fingers touched, and he felt his stomach knot in an oddly pleasant way as he quickly took the container and opened it.

 

Michael poured a little of the relaxant onto his hands and placed the bottle down, Jeremy shivered under his touch and Michael was sure it wasn’t just from the cold potion. After a moment, Jeremy sighed happily, almost melting as the relaxant kicked in quickly. Michael’s stomach twisted more, and he felt an almost swooping sensation is his gut, which he knew was love. It was weird, this feeling hadn’t been present since he first fell for Jeremy.

 

He tried to ignore it and move past it, focusing instead on just helping Jeremy feel better. He rubbed the relaxant into his skin, massaging as he went and trying to bite stare at his back for too long before glancing away. “How’re you feeling?” Michael asked, trying to shift his focus from ogling a little.

 

Jeremy sighed happily again, shooing Michael a lazy, relaxed grin from over his shoulder. “So much better. I didn’t realise how sore I was until it was gone.” Jeremy scooped up the bottle and popped the lid. “Your turn, Captain! Get that shirt off and turn around.” As it has had been thus far, hearing Jeremy say either his name or his nickname had Michael’s heart clench happily.

 

He just mentally shook it off before he went and took off his own shirt, sitting down on his bed then. “You better get me to be as relaxed as you apparently are, or I’m not gonna be happy.”

 

Jeremy settled properly behind him, getting the relaxant onto his hands. He then started massaging not only Michael’s arms, but also his back and shoulders. Those long fingers moved deftly and with just the right of pressure to release all the knocks and kinks in his body. The muscle relaxant turned from the feeding from sore to blissful.

 

By the time they were done, Michael felt like he was even more blissed out than what Jeremy must have been from his massage.

 

“OK, I think you did better than I did,” Michael told him, humming softly before looking over his shoulder at Jeremy with a warm yet tired smile. “We should probably only nap, we’ll have to be up shortly to head out onto the island. And thanks, Jere.”

 

Jeremy kicked off his boots. “Glad I could help.” He dove under the covers, looking up at Michael with an innocent pout. “Come join me! The bed isn’t as warm without you!” he whined dramatically.

 

Michael toed off his boots as he couldn’t help but laugh at Jeremy’s antics. “That makes sense, bodies produce heat and more bodies in a small space make more body heat,” he informed him, purposefully sitting there with an innocent smile.

 

Jeremy’s pout only grew. “I feel all relaxed and sleepy and happy and I wanna share it with you, Michael! Please, come here so we can cuddle!” Jeremy made grabby hands in Michael’s direction, eyes big and sweet.

 

He felt his heart melt then before he let out an exaggerated sigh. “Alright, I guess,” Michael muttered before crawling under the sheets with Jeremy then, smiling innocently at the other once he was under them.

 

Jeremy instantly clung to him tightly, nuzzling happily against his neck. “Thank you for letting me share, Captain!” Jeremy giggled.

 

His heart beat faster then, and he just hoped Jeremy couldn’t feel it. “Of course, Jere,” Michael hummed out, running his hand along Jeremy’s back as he took off his glasses with his other hand, putting them on the side table.

 

Jeremy seemed to relax further under his touch, even if he did sort of shiver a little. He was sighing happily, sending bursts of air fanning against Michael’s neck, raising goosebumps. As Jeremy started to nod off, he seemed to nuzzle himself even closer, subconsciously wrapping himself around entirely and sort of tangling their legs together. Seconds after that, with Jeremy’s lips almost pressing against his neck and his breath skittering across his collarbone, Jeremy finally fell asleep.

 

They had cuddled before, quite a lot in fact, but something about this felt different. Intimate. Normally there was some level of separation between them, a sort of ‘platonic distance,’ when they would share the bed (that one time with the love potion was the exception). Now though, it was like Jeremy was totally ignoring it, almost reveling in breaking it down entirely. It was almost like he wanted it gone while in this sleepy state.

 

The thought made Michael’s insides simultaneously melt and sing happily.

 

As he felt himself start to fall asleep as well, he has a sort of revelation in his mind, one that helped him sleep a little easier: he remembered his desire, and it was the boy so close to him. He couldn’t help but smile as he shut his eyes, the tingling sensation he had when he first woke from the spell returning. It took him a few seconds to realize, but he figured out what the tingling was: the sensation you could feel after kissing.

 

He felt a little more at ease, his entire being giddy as he fell asleep with Jeremy, a small hope burning inside of him.

Chapter Text

Jeremy was glad they had used the relaxant before going for their nap. There was the slightest twinge in his arms and shoulders which he knew would have been ten times worse if he had left them. When he stepped out of the cabin, stretching out his muscles lightly; he felt beautifully refreshed. The sunlight was strong and warm and the storms barely affected the ocean this close to the island, so the water was calm.

 

Rich came over to him then, walking to where he was standing by the railing of the deck. “Hey kitty cat, how are you feeling? Better than before?”

 

Jeremy playfully swatted at him, repressing a chuckle as Rich danced out of the way. The usual greeting. “Yeah, feeling loads better now, thanks Shortie.” Another stretch, pulling his arms up. “So how traumatic was it for you to see us trying to hurl ourselves into the ocean? If we were acting anything close to how intense it felt, I can’t imagine it was easy to watch.”

 

At that question, Rich seemed to glance away as he muttered something under his breath. Before Jeremy could ask what he was saying, Rich spoke up at a normal volume. “Uh, well it certainly wasn’t fun to watch, though you guys uh... definitely ended up enjoying it, I’ll say that much.”

 

“We did?” Jeremy mused for a moment, before blushing deeply. “Wait, so that wasn’t just a side effect? We actually... kissed?” Jeremy whispered that last word.

 

True, he had his suspicions and he had the hickeys to prove that something happened, but he thought it might have just been a side effect of the more intense song. While he didn’t remember it perfectly, there was a vague sensation and some flashes of something. Like Michael staring at him, desperate and intense. He shivered a little at the thought, his blush darkening.

 

Rich seemed to let out a heavy sigh at that before reaching over and gently patting his shoulder. “Oh, you two did way more than just simple kissing. It was horrifying to watch as someone who wasn’t apart of it and into it, but it was nice to finally see you two do something with the romantic tension you got going on.”

 

Jeremy felt like he might either pass out or spontaneously combust. He and Michael had kissed. More than that, if what Rich was implying was correct, they made out! And he couldn’t even remember it! “Fuck!” Jeremy nervously ran his hand through his hair.

 

This could only mean that Michael liked him, right? Unless Michael thought he was someone else while under the spell. “Jere.” A memory of Michael’s voice echoed through his brain, sounding hoarse and needy and desperate. Fuck, that meant Michael did like him. That he was Michael’s greatest desire.

 

“He doesn’t remember. How am I supposed to tell him? What if he doesn’t realize it at the moment?” Jeremy babbled quietly to himself, his nerves running wild.

 

“Hey, Jeremy, listen to me,” Rich said, and Jeremy willed himself to stay calm long enough to look and listen. The other held a somewhat serious expression as he rested his hand and looked up at Jeremy. “You two, after we were out of the siren song range, were still under the spell but got really gentle and intimate. I let you guys free of your binding for the most part so you could, you two deserved it. You almost confessed, but I stopped you.”

 

He looked away, as if collecting his thoughts, before continuing. “He might not remember all of this right away, but he will. You just need to let him remember like you are, yeah? I stopped you from confessing because I wanted you two to do it and talk when you both were present. It may seem nerve-wracking, but you know what Michael’s desire was and you know your own. He will be happy with you, no matter how you tell him. I’m here for both of you.”

 

Jeremy relaxed upon hearing Rich’s words. No one knew Michael as well as Rich did, and if thought he should have a chance to properly pursue Michael, should actually try it, then Rich obviously believed that Jeremy was enough. That maybe Jeremy was good enough for someone as amazing as Michael.

 

He took a deep breath, steadying himself. “Thanks, Rich. I... I needed to hear that.” He shot Rich a warm smile. No matter how much they annoyed and teased each other, Jeremy knew Rich cared and wouldn’t steer him wrong.

 

“Yeah, well, I doubt Michael would want the kitty cat freaking himself out before our next excursion.” Rich tried to detach himself a little from being nice, but Jeremy didn’t let him. He quickly scooped a lightly struggling Rich into a hug.

 

“Thanks Shortie,” he teased, letting him go. Jeremy smiled, the expression a little wistful. “I think once I’m better, when I’m past my addiction, I’ll tell him. Tell him how I feel. I... I don’t feel like I’m worthy until I deal with this.”

 

“Yeah yeah, go make yourself into a better person because he makes you wanna be one. It’s true love, blah blah. The niceness and loving mood is starting to suffocate me, and you aren’t helping, so I’m going to go. We should be on the island shortly, so go wake up Sleeping Dumbass.”

 

“I’ll be sure to give you the same pep talk when you go confess to a certain tall someone,” Jeremy teased, affectionate ruffling Rich’s hair before he could slip away. “You do realise he’s just as smitten, right?”

 

“I don’t need love advice from someone who took this long to realize he needed to kiss and make up with his certain someone,” Rich huffed out as he backed up. “I’m waiting until this hellish mission is over with.”

 

“Oh I realized it a long time ago, like after the second compass piece, I just didn’t believe I was enough. Thanks for being so sweet and telling me that I am!” Jeremy sang as he slipped back into the cabin, leaving Rich spluttering out a denial of any such niceness.

 

Jeremy quietly made his way over to the bed and sat down on the edge. He looked at Michael, allowed himself to really look for once. His hair was as wild as ever, especially after sleeping, and Jeremy knew from experience that it was very soft. His features were striking, easily able to shift from sweet to commanding, but always handsome. His strong jaw, high cheekbones, height and strength gave him an imposing sort of dominance in any situation, but he rarely used it. His body, partially exposed thanks to his missing shirt and messy blankets, was covered in scars and marks from putting himself in harm's way. As much a Jeremy hated the fact that he would get hurt at all, he saw these as proof of how big his heart was.

 

Gently, Jeremy leant down and ran his fingers through Michael’s hair. “Time to get up, Captain,” he murmured sweetly, feeling rather affectionate after realizing their mutual feelings.

 

He felt Michael shift underneath his touch, grumbling softly as he leaned into it. “Mm...” Jeremy watched as Michael reached out, patting around until he found the edge of the blanket. Once he had a loose grip on it, he tugged it up and nuzzled himself closer to his pillows.

 

Jeremy felt his heart thump almost painfully at how adorable the action was. Knowing what he did, he felt the strongest urge to just pepper Michael’s face with sweet kisses, and it was so difficult to resist. The only thing that held him back was that he needed to be better to properly deserve it.

 

He kept running his fingers through Michael’s hair and felt himself give in just a little. He leant down, hovering so his lips were just a little away from Michael’s ear, his breath fanning lightly over Michael’s neck. “C’mon, Captain. We need to get moving,” he whispered. It was as close a kiss as he would allow himself until Michael knew properly.

 

Michael seemed to wake up quickly with Jeremy’s breath brushing against his neck. His eyes opened and he looked down, and Jeremy saw the other’s cheeks flare up as he cleared his throat. “I-I’m up, just give me a second to get ready,” Michael muttered out, his eyes glancing away now, seemingly waiting for Jeremy to move before he got up and ready.

 

Jeremy shot Michael a soft smile, and slowly detached himself. “I’ll see you on deck, Captain. Don’t be too long or I’ll have to come and get you again,” he teased, standing up.

 

“I- uh- um yeah, I’ll be quick,” Michael promised as he sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Y-you don’t have to worry.”

 

Jeremy grinned, his own cheeks flushing a little with pride. He had gotten that reaction with something so small. This was going to be fun.

 

As he left the room, his hips naturally swayed a little when he felt Michael’s gaze on him. He felt proud and happy and wanted. It was a little bit of a rush if he were honest. Michael liked him for him, not for what Jeremy could give him. That was more than Jeremy could have ever hoped for.

 

He perched himself against the railing, looking out over the water, just enjoying the feeling of the warm breeze and the sun on his skin. He felt truly at peace for the first time in his life.

 

He could hear some of the others coming out as the island got closer and closer. When he thought he’d need to go in and get Michael out too, he heard the cabin door open and saw Michael come out, ready to go as he was settling his hat on top of his head.

 

Michael talked to some of the crew before making his way over to Jeremy, standing beside him and glancing over at him with a soft and fond smile. “Hey, feeling better?”

 

Jeremy returned the smile with one of his own, his expression just as sweet. “Yeah, loads better. How about you?” Jeremy flipped so instead of facing the ocean he was facing the deck of the ship, his head turned to look directly at Michael.

 

“Yeah, for sure. The relaxant and the nap did wonders,” Michael told him before he reached over and poked Jeremy in the cheek. “What’s got you so happy though, huh?”

 

Jeremy chuckled, flushing a little. “Happy thoughts?” he suggested playfully before shaking his head. “Just realizing some stuff I was worried about for a while isn’t as bad as I first thought. In fact, it should be all sorted out in a couple of months. It’s... peaceful, knowing that I wasn’t wrong for feeling these things.”

 

He watched as Michael curiously raised his brows. He seemed to wait a few seconds for Jeremy to elaborate, but when he got nothing, Michael just gave him a smile and gently patted his shoulder. “Well that’s good. If you need any help with sorting out anything, just let me know, yeah?”

 

Jeremy grinned again, shooting Michael a cheeky wink. “Don’t worry, you’ll be the first to know.” He couldn’t help it. The urge to confess, in this sweet, peaceful moment was almost too strong to resist. So dropping a little hint wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened, plus it might make things a little easier later, if he flirted just a little.

 

He saw Michael seem to get a little worked up at that before coughing and nodding, quickly averting his eyes to the sea and island. “Well, we should get a group together and head to the island. We’ll scout around first and see what we can gather before we try to infiltrate the cult.”

 

Another rush of pride, making Michael flustered felt good, especially considering how calm he was usually. “Sounds good to me, Captain. There should be a beach we can land on the southernmost point of the island, and a couple of old temples around there too. I’d recommend we don’t bring the ship much closer than it is though, we don’t know if the cult will have lookouts.”

 

“That’s what I was thinking,” Michael added as he stretched his arms above his head then. “I’m gonna go get everyone who’ll be coming with us, and then we’ll depart and head down once we’ve anchored.”

 

Since he was kinda of letting himself indulge a little, Jeremy let his eyes roam appreciatively over Michael as he stretched. His grin was cheeky when Michael caught him, “And I’ll start prepping the dingy. Make sure you grab either Rich or Jake for sure, neither of us are in a good state to row.” Jeremy pushed off the railing.

 

“Yeah, of course,” Michael muttered out as he quickly went to grab some others to go with them, his cheeks nearing the shade of red that his bandanna held.

 

Chloe wandered over to Jeremy, arching an eyebrow. “When did you get so confident? And flirty?” she asked, disbelief coloring her tone.


“Don’t know what you’re talking about, Chloe.” Jeremy”s grin was a little devious. “I’m simply showing the captain my appreciation,” he said as he started gathering the things he’d need for the trip.

 

“Mhmm, and I’m a straight woman,” Chloe said in return before rolling her eyes. “Be careful not to flirt too much, Michael will get too overwhelmed,” she warned him, patting his back. She let it linger for a moment before glancing out to the island. “If you end up having to go with Chrissy, will you be alright?”

 

Jeremy chuckled at her first comment, shrugging, before his face fell a little. He sighed heavily. “I’ll deal. I can be a mature adult and deal with her until we get back, then I can be childish and ignore her some more...” he looked up at Chloe, a little guilty. “Is it petty for me holding that whole thing against her a little? I mean, she’s my best friend and she agreed to let me relapse knowing how much I hated it. Everyone else I can almost understand, since they’re loyal to Michael first and foremost, but Chrissy always would put me, put us, first.”

 

Chloe looked at Jeremy then, seemingly thinking it over before looking back at the sea. “I don’t know her as well as you do, I never had someone who was so close to me. You’d have to talk to her to get that kinda understanding of why she did it. I’d say you’re justified, but I can be pretty petty too, so maybe I’m not the best person to ask about that. Hell, I refused to talk to anyone but you and Michael a few days after all of that, and Jenna for a week, remember?”

 

Jeremy sighed again, sticking the bag he had been packing into the dingy. “I... I just miss her. But I also haven’t gotten past it. I don’t know if I can talk to her, y’know? Like she played a part in directly hurting me, even if she didn’t mean to.”

 

“Again, you should at least talk it out with her. I know she hurt you pretty badly, but it’s better to talk it all out instead of letting those feelings fester and worsen, you know?” He saw Chloe look at her with soft eyes. “Just think about it, you know? I know Christine would be happy to talk it out with you and try to figure out how to heal this, even if you two won’t be the same again.”

 

The thought made his stomach churn, but he nodded. “After... after we’ve got this piece. I’ll try. I don’t want this to be over me forever, but I can’t afford to be distracted right now...”

 

“You’re a smart kid, Jeremy. You and Christine will work this out, I know it.” He felt her pat his shoulder once more. “Don’t let yourself be distracted by Michael either, though,” she teased before leaving him to finish packing the dingy up.

 

“I’ve been dealing with that for long enough to manage it, Chloe!” he called after her. Jeremy went back to the cabin and grabbed his notebook, as well as charcoal pencil so he could record what he found, and stuffed them into his messenger bag of potions. When he got back outside, he found the team waiting for him. Rich, Jenna, Michael and... Christine. Great.

 

“Everyone all set now?” Jeremy asked, trying to keep his voice light and purposefully not looking in Christine’s direction. He needed a minute to deal with this before he could be a mature adult.

 

“Yup, just waiting for you, kitty cat,” Rich teased as they walked over to and got in the dingy then, Jake on standby to help lower the little boat down.

 

Christine seemed to be glancing over at Jeremy, but she didn’t say anything since he wasn’t looking at her. She just got on the boat, seemingly hiding behind Jenna once they got settled.

 

“Well I have my notebook and some potions in here, so I’m all set. Let’s get going!” Jeremy tapped his bag and climbed into the dingy, sighing a little before briefly looking over at Christine. This was going to be and awkward trip, but he could deal. He had to deal with people much more unpleasant than Christine, and be friendly with people who had been a lot crueler. He wasn’t about to let his own issues make this a bad excursion for everyone else. He just... had to focus on other things for now.

 

Jake quickly helped them settle into the water before Rich and Jenna started rowing to the island. As they went, everyone was talking among themselves, Christine talking with Jenna while Rich talked with Michael and Jeremy.

 

“I can’t wait to find out more about this ideology! Like I found out small segments but I really want to know more. It’s been totally uninfluenced by outside factors for about two hundred years! Can you imagine what we could learn about how the world was like back then just from that fact alone?” Jeremy couldn’t help but rambled excitedly while Rich and Jenna rowed them towards the beach Jeremy had identified earlier. From this distance, it was a beautiful white paradise, untouched by anything in its gorgeous expanse.

 

“Yeah, buuut they could be completely batshit or something. Plus, they’re a fucking cult,” Rich pointed out before getting whapped in the shoulder by Michael. “Hey, I’m trying to make a valid point here.”

 

“Well I mean you’re right, but still. Them being a cult does complicate things a little. Especially since they don’t take well to outsiders normally. That’s why we’re going to need as much information as possible before we go in. Then we can actually figure out how to get in,” Jeremy contemplated, enjoying the challenge while it was still a distant future. For now, he didn’t need anyone’s trust for the mission, he could just think. He wasn’t responsible for anyone’s life just yet. That would come later.

 

“Yeah, I guess. Still, glad I probably won’t be dealing with them,” Rich added as he continued rowing, all while Michael rolled his eyes.

 

“Are you admitting you’re scared, Richard? I’m shocked! Horrified! You’re supposed to be the infallible first mate! The ship’s cat is less scared than you!” Jeremy cried dramatically. Jenna and Christine giggled a little, but Jeremy wouldn’t look over at them right now.

 

“I never said that, don’t put words into my mouth. I just can’t force myself to pretend to believe in something I don’t and act in some weird cult way,” Rich cleared up, to which Michael nodded and agreed with.

 

Jeremy nodded, shrugging. “It’s really sucky, take it from someone who knows. I know I’ll likely have to go in, either as a translator or as an actual useful person, but pretending to believe something I don’t? Easy, just uncomfortable.”

 

Michael and Christine both seemed to understand what he meant, though Jenna and Rich both didn’t. “You know? What do you mean by that? Your dad was a merchant,” Jenna pointed out, who was now back on mostly good terms with Jeremy and Michael.

 

Jeremy blinked. Did they not know? “My dad was born in a slum in Patil, he worked his way to the top, from literally nothing. And he raised me to not buy into the whole ‘rich person’ ideology, even if I had to act like it. It did mean I was picked on a lot, because of his background, but that’s whatever. In the past now.” He shook his head, chucking a little. “Most rich people may as well be a cult of their own. I’m just glad dad didn’t let me become an ass like Damien or them lot.”

 

Understanding seemed to wash over Rich and Jenna then as they nodded. “Well, you’re right about that. Guess I just never thought of it that way,” Rich said with a shrug before the dingy made it to shore.

 

Jeremy grinned, and pulled out his notebook. He looked over the runes and the notes. “The first temple should be about three miles north by northeast from here, if my translations are correct. Though I don’t know what the whole thing about it being the product of the moon’s tears is about.” He pointed in the direction before snapping the book shut and putting it away. “We’re gonna need to go through the jungle.”

 

"Well, I guess we'll find out," Michael said as he got out, followed by the rest of the crew. "Let's get going, and be careful. We don't know if anyone's out here or if there are any other creatures."

 

They ended up making their way through the trees though a small path that Jenna found. Jeremy ended up at the back of the group with Christine, who looked about as awkward as Jeremy felt.

 

She was fiddling with the end of her shirt, glancing over at Jeremy from time to time. A few times, she opened her mouth to speak before seemingly deciding against it, looking away once she shut her mouth.

 

Eventually, Jeremy sighed. “What is it, Christine?” His tone was slightly aggravated. She seemed to flinch at the use of her proper name and not her nickname.

 

"I... After this, could we talk?" she asked, voice softer than normal as she looked ahead of them. "If you're alright with it, of course. I totally get it if you don't wanna."

 

Jeremy’s sigh was a little softer this time. “...Yeah…,” he said eventually, slouching a little. “You just... you know you really hurt me, right? I’ve forgiven you, but I haven’t been able to move past it yet.” He shot her a very small, weak grin, thinking back to his conversation with Chloe. “Talking might help a bit.”

 

Christine finally looked back at him, giving him a weak smile as well. "I... I know, I haven't been able to move past it or forgive myself. Thanks..."

 

Hearing that, Jeremy relaxed a little. Of course she would be beating herself up about this. Christine hated hurting anyone, let alone someone who was basically family. He felt a small amount of guilt curl in his stomach. He should have sorted this out sooner, rather than let it fester for weeks.

 

He affectionately bumped her shoulder, although the substantial height different made it awkward, as always. “I think that’s enough for me to start moving past it myself, Chrissy,” he murmured, eyes softening a bit.

 

He could see a faint glint of hope in her eyes then as she gave him a bit more of a smile before she nodded. "I still need to make it up to you, even if it takes a long time," she muttered out in return before looking back ahead, a little bit of a pep in her step.

 

“We can work on th-” He was about to say more when he smelt it. His eyes widened and he bolted upright, posture stiffening instantly. “Moon’s tears...” Suddenly that phrase made a whole lot more sense. “There’s a lake up ahead. Right where the temple should be...” Jeremy felt like he might choke. As much as he love the ocean, the smell of lakes and rivers put him on edge for reasons he did not want to think about right now. He didn’t want a panic attack.

 

Christine stopped with him then, gently resting a hand onto his bicep. "Jeremy, do you want to wait back while the others go in? It's alright, none of us would judge you."

 

“I’m the only one who can read the runes reliably. Michael hasn’t learnt enough. I- I can do this. It’s just a little water...” Jeremy kept his gaze straight ahead, not able to really relax. He could do this, he’d be fine. This was a totally different situation than before.

 

"We can go back and you can teach Michael more, don't push yourself," Christine urged, still not letting go of his bicep.

 

Jeremy shook his head. “We won’t have enough supplies to last long enough for him to learn it all and to infiltrate the cult. I’ll be okay, just... stay close, yeah? If I do fall back into a freak out, I’ll be fine after. I’ve always been able to deal with everything after it happens. We need to do this.”

 

"I will, don't worry," she reassured him before Rich called to them from further ahead, the three having now stopped as they looked back at the pair.

 

“Th-there’s a lake up ahead. I have some... bad memories linked to fresh water, but I’m fine. Let’s just get this over with.” Jeremy waved them off, fighting back voice cracks and his stammer. His attempts were only half successful. He lightly grasped Chrissy’s hand on his arm, issues be damned. She knew how to help him best.

 

He saw Jenna and Rich look at each other with worry while Michael looked still at him and Christine. His worry was blatant, and he seemed to hesitate going forward until he saw Chrissy's insistence on continuing on. "Alright, we'll make this as quick as we can," Michael said before they all continued moving forward.

 

The trees opened up to a beach, which lead to a massive lake. There were a few areas which showed that it had once been part of a civilization, some broken down huts and a few rotten boats, but nothing more concrete than the large stone temple, covered in ornate carving of the sun, the moon and dragons. Jeremy felt a burst of excitement, but then his stomach dropped. The temple was in the middle of the lake, on an island.

 

He gripped Chrissy’s hand tighter but kept his gaze forward and determined, despite the fear steadily mounting.

 

"We could go back and get some scents to help you," Chrissy suggested, "And a blindfold or something so you don't see it either."

 

“It’s the smell. Blindfolding will make it worse, remember? That’s what he did.” Jeremy kept his eyes fixated on the water even as he started digging through his bag. He froze when he felt his fingers brush against cool metal. “When did I put that in...” he whispered, horrified. Then he raised his voice. “Michael, can you please take the metal flask out of my bag and keep it away from me? And see if you can see the bottle filled with a lavender liquid labelled ‘for nerves’?” He needed that flask out of his reach as soon as possible.

 

Michael came right over then, nodding as he reached in and took the flask out, putting it into his coat pocket before looking around for the bottle Jeremy asked for. It took a minute, but he finally got it out and handed it over to Jeremy. "Here."

 

Jeremy grabbed the bottle almost desperately, uncorking it and taking a swig. The flavor was slightly sweet and very calming and Jeremy felt it start to take effect almost immediately. He managed to drag his eyes from the water and look over to Michael. “This should properly kick in in a couple of minutes. Let’s look for a way to get across in the meantime?” He was still shaking slightly, but it was slowly down a little.

 

Michael, even if the worry was still obvious, just nodded. "Don't push yourself too much though," he reminded him, patting his shoulder before they all began searching.

 

*
It took a few minutes, but Jenna ended up finding a boat that seemed to be covered in a cloth. It was the only one still in-tact and that seemed sturdy after years of disuse. She reached over to take the cloth off, but quickly jumped back when a large centipede dashed across the surface of the fabric. "Oh god," she hissed out, practically jumping back at the sight.

 

Jeremy stumbled backwards in fear. The smell and the boat and the bugs were too much. He could feel them on him again. The million tiny little legs skittering all over his body, digging into his skin. The scarf covering his mouth and nose, thank god, so they couldn’t climb in and eat his brain like Damien had said. Jeremy shut his eyes tight, not wanting to see anymore. They were everywhere, all over him, and he couldn’t move couldn’t escape. The ropes on his wrists and ankles burnt as he struggled but he couldn’t move an inch. He could barely breathe, barely think, he just wanted to go home.

He felt someone's hand on him, gently squeezing his hand despite the burning and the crawling he swore he felt. They were careful with him as the person spoke. "Jeremy, hey, you're not there right now. You're with your friends, not with him." The voice, he could faintly recognize it as Chrissy.

 

Jeremy flinched away, too consumed by the feelings. “Please let me go,” he begged in a small voice, not daring to open his eyes. He was certain it was muffled by the scarf. “Make it stop. Please!”

 

The hand let him go quickly. "There's nothing on you, nothing crawling over you, I promise you that," her voice said again, tone urging. "Nothing's happening to you, you're alright, I promise."

 

“They are. They- they- they’re gonna eat me!” he whimpered, struggling against the sensations.

 

"Nothing's going to eat you, he was lying to you, and he's gone," she reassured him in a soft voice now. "I promise that you're alright, Jeremy."

 

Jeremy shook his head violently. His neck hurt but he didn’t care, he just needed to get away. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry for saying you were wrong! Please make it stop! Let me go!” They couldn’t hear him or just didn’t care. Probably the latter.

 

"No one's doing anything to you, you aren't in the boat with them, and you aren't tied up. You're safe, you're alright, Jeremy, please."

 

He froze. Maybe if he stayed still they would let him go. Maybe if he behaved nicely they would take all the creepy crawly bugs off him so they couldn’t eat him. He tried his best to quiet his whimpers, they wouldn’t like them.

 

There was a pause as he quieted his whimpers until he heard her speak again. "Noah," she said, hesitance in her voice, "It's alright, I promise you that. Please, listen to me, it's Chrissy."

 

“C-Chrissy? Please help! They’re all over me! Get them off! Please!” he sobbed, struggling a little again.

 

"Can I touch you and help you?" she asked him then, her voice careful and soothing.

 

He nodded quickly. “Help me please! Get them off!”

 

"I'll help you, but I need you to please open your eyes," she said as her hands rested around his wrists, gentle.

 

Her touch seemed so much more real somehow than the insects. She wanted him to open his eyes? But then they could crawl in! He didn’t have the blindfold anymore! And how was she touching his wrists? They were tied, right? Still, he trusted Chrissy more than anyone.

 

Slowly, he nodded, and hesitantly opened his eye. He was not greeted by the lake down by the school. Instead, he saw lush greenery and bright blue skies and no signs of the boat. People, too blurry through his tears for him to make out but not scary for some reason, hovered nearby, and Chrissy was right next to him. Instantly, he sat up and curled against her. The feelings of insects faded, and the ropes felt like they fell away. He couldn’t calm his sobs.

 

He felt her arms encircle around him then, rubbing patterns into his back as she gently comforted him. Jeremy had no idea how long they were like that for, with his continued sobbing and her continued comfort. All he knew was that he felt safe, and he remembered he wasn't Noah, not the little boy in the boat, covered in bugs and 'recreating' Noah's ark, but he was Jeremy.
*

 

Jeremy took a shuddery breath. “I-,“ he started. “‘m not Noah anymore. ‘M Jeremy. That was long time ago, right?” he asked, trying to ground himself a bit more. He knew the truth, he just needed the reassurance.

 

"You aren't Noah anymore, you are Jeremy, and that was a long time ago," she echoed back to him, giving him a reassuring yet watery smile.

 

Another breath, a bit more controlled this time. He was safe. Chrissy had him and he was safe. “S’rry f’r bein’ a big baby...” he mumbled, hiding in her shoulder. He just needed a minute to settle himself, then he could continue with... whatever it was he was supposed to be doing. It was a little fuzzy at the moment, but he knew the thoughts would resolve themselves once he had calmed down. They always did.

 

"You weren't a big baby," she reassured him, her head resting now on top of his. "You've never been a big baby."

 

“Promise?” he murmured, half begged. “‘Cause I just thought I was six years old again. That’s pretty babyish.” Joking meant he was starting to come back to himself fully.

 

"Mm, I'd say you were babyish when you were a year old, you were more being kiddish if anything," she joked back. "Honestly, though, you've never been a big baby, that's a promise."

 

“M’kay.” He nuzzled against her. “Thank you Chrissy. Is- who else is here again? It’s all blurry still,” he asked quietly, not wanting to offend anyone. When he got lost in his own head like he did, he always forgot reality for a while. Establishing more connections helped.

 

She whispered to him, "It's Jenna, Rich, and Michael. They've been waiting patiently, you don't need to apologize like you did with me, OK? They just want to know if you're alright or not."

 

Jenna, Rich and Michael. Pirates. Family. Okay, that helped. After a moment, he pulled away from Chrissy, enough that he could speak properly. His eyes were clearer now, and he could see them all watching him with worry. “‘ll be alright ‘n a minute. Jus’ need to catch my breath...” he trailed off. “Where did I put the potion, again? Should help.” He blearily looked around.

 

He saw a figure he recognized as Michael come over then, holding out the lavender bottle to him with a soft and reassuring smile. "Take all the time you need, Jere," he was told.

 

Jeremy took the bottle with one hand, then reached out and snagged Michael’s hand with the other, weakly tugging at him. “Please stay close,” he asked quietly, prompting a small chuckle from Chrissy.

 

He saw the smile Michael held widen before he saw the other nod, settling down to sit next to him and Chrissy. "Always."

 

Jeremy leant against his two favorite people and just let himself breathe. He could smell the ocean, twisted as part of Michael’s scent, and the floral perfume Chrissy wore (she had bought more of it last time they were in port) helped to overpower the smell of the lake. He let himself relax, eyes closing as he steadied himself. A hand reached up, stroking through his hair. Jeremy melted, his brain finally catching up.

 

 

 

From where he sat beside Jeremy, running his fingers through his hair, he couldn't help but worry about him. Christine mouthed to him some things that helped clear this up a little more: Damien and other kids had done this to Jeremy when they were kids, tied him up and done that horrible thing with the bugs, and it scarred him and made him no longer go by his first name. It made sense, and he just wished there was something more he could do to help him from going into further panic attacks. Since he couldn't now, though, he just helped him to calm down, twisting some of Jeremy's curls in between his fingers as he, Chrissy, and the rest of the crew waited.

 

After a while, Jeremy slowly sat up, blinking heavily. His breathing was calm and he looked relaxed, despite the tear tracks still on his cheeks. He leant over and pressed a quick, affectionate kiss on Chrissy’s forehead. “Thank you again, Chrissy,” he murmured. Then he turned to Michael and shot him a weak, but genuine grin. “I’m feeling better now. If you check the boat for any more bugs, I should be okay to go across.”

 

"Rich and I dealt with that, it's all clean and cleared out now. They got evicted and we're settling in," Michael joked as he shifted his hand down, wrapping his arm around his shoulder and gently squeezing. "Ready to move in for a little bit?"

 

Jeremy nodded. “Let’s go.” As he shakily stood, he chuckled a little weakly. “Can’t say I’ll be a permanent resident though, the Fallen Angel is a much nicer home.” Jeremy was a little wobbly but it was obvious he was gaining strength back by the minute. He took another swing of the potion, and his body relaxed a little.

 

"That's why I said 'for a little bit,' Jeremy," Michael pointed out as he and Christine both helped him stand a bit more properly. "Then we'll sell it back after and get a profit from it. Boom. Amazing business strategies. That's why I'm the captain."

 

"I thought it was because-"

 

"Richard, we are not getting into this right now."

 

Jeremy chuckled again, shaking his head. “Shortie, don’t antagonize him or he’ll go all ‘Blood Coat’ on you.” Jeremy kept his hand on Michael’s arm to steady himself, shooting him a cheeky grin. He still looked a little shaky, but a lot more present and happier now.

 

Michael couldn't help but feel a bit warmer at Jeremy's more upbeat attitude and presence. He just reached over, resting a hand on top of Jeremy's, before adding, "Yeah, I'll do it if I have to. Don't test me."

 

Rich raised his hands in mock surrender at that point. "OK, OK, I got it. Can we please get moving though? I wanna get this done as quickly as possible."

 

“Same here, I don’t want to overdo this potion. It’ll keep me calm for about two hours before I’ll need another dose, but it may well end up knocking me out.” Jeremy shoved the bottle back into the bag. Michael shot him a concerned glance but motioned for Jenna and Rich to get the boat in the water. They all climbed in (Jeremy held on a little tighter but not worriedly so) and started rowing over to the temple.

 

Thankfully, it only took them a few good minutes of consistent, fast paddling to get to the island. Michael held onto Jeremy the entire time, patting his head reassuringly and helping him out first from the boat. "Alright, are there any traps or anything in here, or is it just a good ol' temple?"

 

“This would have been a main place of worship, so I don’t think there’ll be any traps. From what I’ve gathered, people would come here at dawn and at sunset to say thanks for the changing of the celestial bodies.” Jeremy nodded, nose scrunching a little while he tried to recall everything. “I’ll just need a few decent carvings to get what we need. They’ll probably be further in, like by the alter or something.”

 

“Alright, sounds good,” Michael told him, gently squeezing his hand before they all started to walk further in.

 

Since the only light in the temple seemed to be coming from the outdoors, with the front entrance and some open ceiling further in, the place felt eerie. Honestly, duh, this is a cult’s place of worship, why wouldn’t it be creepy?

 

Jeremy pulled out his notebook and pencil, instantly scribbling away the layout of the temple so far. He kept his elbow linked over Michael’s arm, only glancing up to look at a specific corner every now and again. “Judging by the layout of the main foyer, I’d hazard guess that the main altar is in that direction.” He pointed towards the back wall, where a large, stone double door stood barred closed. There seemed to be a strange lock on it.

 

Moving closer to the locked door, Michael tried to think on this. There was a claw indenture, and for some reason, this seemed familiar. “Hm...” taking a few steps back with Jeremy then, he looked around until he saw a red dragon statue. “Well, at least these have some decent taste. Dragons are pretty awesome...”

 

Jeremy was looking up at the statue in awe. He raced over to kneeling down by the plaque at the bottom of it. “Shul...” he said, turning back to Michael. “His name is Shul. It means sun.” Jeremy's eyes widened and he sprinted behind Michael. Turning, he saw a great white dragon. “This on is called Loc, which means sky. But I think he’s supposed to be the moon!” Jeremy was babbling happily as he wrote in his notebook. “I think these are a representation of the gods! But only one face of them, since this says it’s the ‘bestial form of Loc’.”

 

“Well, they’re cool gods if they’re represented as dragons,” Michael mused, glancing over to see Rich trying to pry the door open unsuccessfully.

 

“Yeah, looks like it.” Jeremy turned and shot him a bright grin. “These statues have never been seen by outsiders before. We’re the first ever to see them, isn’t that amazing?” Something seemed to catch Jeremy’s eye, because he turned back and started climbing up onto the pedestal the white dragon was on.

 

“It’s cool, but it won’t be so cool if you possibly break it or get hurt,” Michael almost exclaimed as he rushed over to the statue. “Don’t just start climbing on things! I know we’re pirates and it’s sorta expected on ships, but this isn’t a ship or a tree or something!”

 

Jeremy peaked out from under the belly of the dragon. “I found something. It looks important! Besides, the dragons are carved into the same rock as these pedestals. Their base is solid.” Jeremy wiggled a little, reaching his arm out for Michael’s help.

 

“Hey, you don’t know, it could be super old and crumble or something,” he muttered out before reaching over and grabbing Jeremy’s arm and helping to carefully tug him out.

 

Jeremy slid free and, with Michael’s help, landed lightly on his feet. “I found this brass and marble claw. It looks like it was well-cared for and looked after so I figured it was important.” Jeremy held up the item in question. It did look well kept, still shiny and new despite how overgrown the rest of the temple was.

 

Michael looked it over, then glanced at the locked door Rich was still trying to get open. “Alright, call me crazy, but try using it as a key with the door.”

 

Jeremy frowned at the claw but shrugged. “Worth a shot.” He carried it over to Rich and slotted it into the lock. The two then grabbed the little leg attached to the claw and turned it. The door swung open.

 

Inside it was dark, but Michael could just about make out massive carvings of men maybe twenty feet tall on the back wall. Along the sides, more carvings of the sun, the moon and the stars, as well as more of those dragons, there was an alter underneath the main carvings, covered in old offerings and surrounded by a curved wall covered in runes. “Rich, do you have a torch?” Jeremy asked, sounding a little awestruck.

 

Michael just saw Rich nod as he took it out of his pack, quickly lighting it before handing it over to Jeremy. He himself was quick to stand by Jeremy’s side, and he took it from him with a small smile. “You need your hands free to write and sketch.”

 

Jeremy nodded with a grin and pulled out his notebook and pencil once more. Slowly, he lead Michael and the group deeper into the room, making brief notes about everything he was seeing. “According to this, they had mapped the movement of the stars very accurately. Apparently the stars’ movement was caused by the great dragon Loc moving through the sky every night, which is why he’s called sky instead of moon.” Jeremy gestured to a small section of runes by the carving of the planets.

 

He led them to the back wall. “These are their human forms... they’d take them to walk among humans and see how the world was behaving. There’s something here that’s kinda hard to make out... just gimme a minute,” Jeremy trailed off, writing furiously.

 

“Hey, Michael. Don’t you think they kinda look like you and Jeremy?” Chrissy asked suddenly, looking up at the carving of the two men.

 

Michael looked over at where she was pointing then, eyes widening as he saw the uncanny similarities. Granted, they looked a bit off due to the old temple itself, but the features, body types, and even the hair and minute features looked close to them. “They do... Well, I guess this is one way we can sneak into the cult.”

 

Jeremy apparently didn’t hear this exchange, too immersed in his translation. He turned to back to everyone, eye still glued to his notebook. “Okay, so Shul is the god of the sun. He represents warriors and strength, but also of life and family. He was known to be very wrathful, and was just generally very intimidating. Loc, on the other hand, was the god of the moon and the god of the mind and madness. He represented scholars and protection. According to the runes, he would cause madness in the warriors who became too cocky with his moon dust, and would occasionally swallow Shul in his dragon form to punish him should he become too powerful. I’m guessing that’s how they explain eclipses.” Jeremy looked up from his book, only to find everyone staring between him and the carving. “What? What’s everyone looking at?” Michael couldn’t help but chuckle at his confusion.

 

Instead of say anything, Michael used his free hand to turn Jeremy's head to face the carving of the human forms of Shul and Loc. "Do these two look familiar to you?"

 

Jeremy’s eyes went wide and his jaw dropped. “That- that’s you!” Apparently Jeremy didn’t notice the other one. “And me! How is that possible?” Jeremy was spluttering and babbling out half formed words, obviously trying to figure it out but failing miserably.

 

"I'm not too sure, but it'll definitely help us get into that cult quickly and be accepted," Michael pointed out as he patted Jeremy's cheek.

 

Jeremy spluttered a little more before sighing. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He looked back down at his notebook. “There’s a few other things I got from that wall though. Apparently there are tests for the gods, when they walk in human form. Loc needs to prove his powers over insanity by driving someone crazy. Shul has the easier job of just fighting one of the leaders off via sword fight. And they both will have this special, spiral marking on their neck, just under their ear. I haven’t found how you get it, but it’s not just a tattoo. It’s like a little, black scar or something.” Jeremy showed Michael a picture of the mark. It looked familiar.

 

Michael looked over the picture, trying to remember where he had seen that before. Jenna looked over it too for a moment before answering, "Oh, I remember hearing about that. It's supposed to happen after you've heard the song of both the male and female siren, it's a natural magical reaction..." She quickly got into Michael's face then, and he called out to her to stop before she hummed in confirmation. "Yup, you got one. Jeremy probably has one too. Good thing you two listened to both of them."

 

"Wait, wouldn't that mean-"

 

"Yup, I got one too, Rich. See." She pushed back her hair to show the mark in the same place. "It's supposedly the songs mixing with the siren magic of the two different types. You two will definitely be able to go and blend in."

 

Looking over at Jeremy, Michael noticed that he couldn’t see the mark. “Why doesn’t Jeremy have one then?” he asked. Jeremy flushed bright red.

 

“I- er. Well. I’m wearing a little makeup?” he said, reaching into his bag and pulling out a cloth. When he wiped the area, surely enough there was the siren mark appeared. So did the edge of what looked to be a light bruise just on the junction of his jaw and his neck.

 

When he saw the marks, Michael couldn't help but shudder as the sensation of his lips against skin came back to him. He quickly ignored it for now before patting Jeremy on the shoulder. "Well, we'll be fine then," he said, moving on so that Jeremy wasn't embarrassed by the mark. "Do you think you need more information from here?"

 

Jeremy nodded and wandered over to the other wall, the one with the carving of the dragons. “If we’re gonna be impersonating these guys, we need as much info as we can get.” He started making notes, looking thoughtful and very uncomfortable.

 

The uncomfortable bit made Michael himself uncomfortable, and saw everyone else felt uneasy. "Uh, what are you getting about these two dudes?"

 

Jeremy shook his head. “It’s not so much what I am finding, but what I’m going to have to do. Thanks to the climate of the area, as well as the soil composition from what I can tell, most of the herbs and plants I could use to make an ‘insanity powder’ are already found here. And according to this, they’ve found them all, trying to replicate the moon dust. There is only one thing we have which can be used, simply because the area isn’t mountainous enough to grow them...” Jeremy trailed off, sighing heavily. It took a moment, but Michael figured out what he was talking about, as well as why it made him so uncomfortable.

 

Michael took one of his hands then, intertwining their fingers before gently squeezing his hand. "Hey, you'll only have to use it this one time and then you're cut off. We'll be able to take a break for you to get through the withdrawal, we can even stay with my moms. They'll be more than happy to help."

 

Jeremy relaxed a little, nodding. “I’d like that. It’ll take about a month and a half to get back, which will be more than enough for the withdrawal to start. I just... I’ll make sure I stay myself this time. I don’t need to separate myself because this is important and I’m doing it for someone else, not for me.” Jeremy snapped his book shut with a huff. “Let’s go home. You and I have a lot to review of we’re actually going to pull this off.”

 

"Yup, I'm going to have to become this hardass of a 'person.' Hopefully my Blood Coat persona practice will come in handy."

Chapter Text

Jeremy’s insides churned with nerves. This was going to be dangerous and risky and was totally stupid. They planned to enter the new village of the cult, which was set on the cliff face at the north side of the island, win the trust of the people there and escape with the piece without being detected. It was shitty solution, but it was the best they had.

 

“You ready?” Michael murmured, as they hovered just inside the tree line of the forest. Jeremy glanced over to him, taking a moment to appreciate just how much like an old god Michael looked right then.

 

He was in a pair of loose, red trousers, the sash covered in a couple of fire flowers, with only his sword tied to his side. His chest, arms and face were covered in red and gold runes, artfully drawn on in body paint by Brooke. Jeremy was in a similar outfit, his pants were black and he had moon lilies on his sash instead. He was also missing the sword, instead the bag of Dew Berry powder hung at his side. His runes were blue and black.

 

“As I’ll ever be. Remember, play up the aggressiveness. I’ll do my best to... act insane.” Jeremy shrugged helplessly.

 

Michael just smiled at him, giving him a thumbs-up. "Just think of it like the theatrics that Christine has you join in on the ship sometimes, you'll do great." With that, he turned his head around, and Jeremy saw Michael's face transform from his genuinely sweet exterior to a more hardened one, a harsher expression that reminded him of a fiercer, more deadly Blood Coat (how was that even possible?).

 

Apparently it was very possible, because even as Jeremy had grown used to Blood Coat to some degree, this new expression made him want to run for the hills. Michael was a really good actor. Maybe he could convince him to help out with Chrissy’s theatrics.

 

Sighing, Jeremy straightened his back, letting his mind slip into the character he created. He wasn’t Jeremy right now, he was Loc. He twitched a little, eyes going a little too wide as a slightly too large grin spread over his lips. Then he jerked his head in the direction of the village. Show time.

 

The two walked into the village then, keeping their personas up. As they went in, they saw that the village seemed relatively normal, with everyone wearing simple and plain clothing, so the two definitely stuck out like sore thumbs.

 

Of course, that was the point, and some people gasped and started muttering in the runic language at the sight of the apparent human versions of their religious gods. The village folk were starting to grow uneasy and panicked. From his peripheral vision, Jeremy could see some guards watching over them, seemingly getting ready to go if they posed a threat.

 

"Mortals, we have come to observe your worldly ways since our last visit. We must see the current leaders and talk with them to see if you all are still worth our time."

 

Jeremy wanted to drop his act, wanted to flee out of fear because this plan was so stupid but apparently it was working. Many of the people were dropping to their knees in awe, some even bowing with their forehead on the floor. Jeremy kept his posture, cackling a little as he lightly touched Michael’s arm. “It seems we have some loyal subjects here, dear Shul. Perhaps we have found the children of our people.”

 

Michael huffed as he looked around at the people, as some weren't bowing and the guards were starting to come over. "Unfortunately, it only seems to be some, my Loc," he hissed out as he reached for his sword. Even if it seemed like 'Shul' was determined, Jeremy knew Michael was silently asking if this was a good idea or not and to tell him to stop if it wasn't.

 

Jeremy placed his hand over Michael’s, stopping him from drawing his sword. “We shall not punish those who are ignorant, my light. Not yet. Let us first talk with their leaders and prove to them that we are indeed who we claim to be. Then we can smite the disbelievers.” His tone was still a little insane, but he tried to make it sound wise at the same time. Loc was supposed to be mad from the amount of knowledge he held in his head, so Jeremy had to do both.

 

He watched Michael portray annoyance as he withdrew his hand from his sword. "Only as you so wish, my moonlight," he said in return before turning to look back to the people of the cult. Most of the villagers had bowed in awe at this point, but the guards that had seen them were now fast approaching.

 

"How are we to know you two truly are our Loc and Shul? You may look like them, but appearances can be deceiving," one guard said, sword raised.

 

At that, Jeremy saw anger fill Michael's expression. "You dare question our authenticity, puny mortal, and judge us? You better hold your tongue, or you and all you love will pay dearly for your transgression!" While Jeremy knew how intimidating and powerful Michael seemed to others, Jeremy himself knew that Michael was having trouble, especially since these people had not done any wrong, unlike the people they normally faced when in his Blood Coat facade. If they did not seem to be good, sane people, then maybe this would be easier on him.

 

The guards seemed to not like that response, as the six present now surrounded the two of them, all of their swords drawn towards them.

 

Jeremy put his hand on Michael’s bicep, holding him back. “Calm yourself, dear one, or I shall have to truly intervene with your anger again. These mortals are wise for not trusting what they do not understand, and shall be rewarded appropriately.” Jeremy reached into his bag, ignoring the rush of excitement running through him. “Duck down and hold your breath for as long as you can.” Jeremy hissed to Michael in Common.

 

"Got it," Michael told him in Common, and right before Jeremy went to execute his plan, Michael ducked down.

 

Jeremy pulled out a handful of powder and spun in a neat circle, blowing the powder outwards and into the faces of every guard. It was very clearly a practiced motion, and Jeremy had used it a few times. The haze of green cleared and Jeremy lightly tapped on Michael‘s shoulder to have him stand up. “Now, mortals, revel in the blessing of Loc! Let your minds become as full as the gods’ even as your mortal bodies cannot contain it!” he cried dramatically.

 

Slowly but surely the guards all began cackling, eyes wide. Some dropped to the ground, while others began running around wildly. They had all dropped their swords and would almost melt in awe whenever they looked in Jeremy’s direction. He was glad to have mixed in that hint of love potion for this. Worship needed a little bit of love after all.

 

As Jeremy noticed the guards doing this and saw any remaining villagers bow down deeply, he noticed Michael had stayed crouched. Kneeling down beside him, trying to play this off like he was soothing 'Shul' and his building wrath from the guards, he noticed that Michael was- oh fuck. Michael's eyes, which were staring down at the ground, were fully green. He was waiting for an order, and he knew he couldn't just brush this off, as he made this a purposefully potent batch, long enough to last twelve hours at least.

 

Jeremy felt panic bubble in his chest. He had- fuck. He had gotten Michael with the Dew berry formula. The exact thing that he swore never to do. Still, he couldn’t risk the mission; this was their only shot.

 

“Michael, I need you to listen to me very carefully, okay? You are going to be Shul for the time being. You will be Shul and I am Loc. You will act like him, and listen to only me when it comes to orders, do you understand? Be the god they think you are,” Jeremy hissed urgently. If nothing else, this would help Michael stay in character.

 

Have you calmed your rage, my light? Enough to let this village stand?” Jeremy asked loudly, glaring at the people who were watching.

 

Michael stood up then, a new ferocity to him that did make him seem otherworldly. That anger he had before seemed to fade, but instead of anything seeming fake to Jeremy (as only he would know he was acting), it seemed real. If Michael didn’t think he was Loc, he would be cowering with the rest of the villagers. “For now. If these petulant mortals step out of line again, though...” His gaze shifted over to Jeremy though, and he seemed to soften for a moment. Jeremy recognized it from when Michael had been splashed with the love potion. It did make sense though, Shul was madly in love with Loc. “I would bring this village to the ground, but only if you allowed it, my moonlight.

 

Hush now, dear one. Let me arrange to talk to the elders of these people. We have blessed them enough that they now know true divinity,” Jeremy soothed, pressing a gentle hand over Michael’s heart and looking up at him. He couldn’t respond with as much affection as he wanted, since Loc was cold and manipulative, but he could still show a little. Loc loved Shul as much as he could love anyone, in theory. (He also made a note to be grateful for making the body paint irremovable without a certain potion, otherwise he would have likely sweat it all off in his earlier panic.)

 

He watched as adoration encompassed his features, one of his own hands now resting on top of Jeremy's. "Before you speak to them, may I have some affection?" Yes, something Shul would ask from Loc. Typically, he only did it when he knew he'd get it, whether it be from him keeping his violent rage at bay for him, or if he was victorious in battle. Thinking about this, Jeremy couldn't help but feel a tinge of sorrow for Shul, for he thought Loc loved him as much as he loved Loc.

 

Jeremy let his slightly haughty expression drop for the briefest of moments, letting a small, genuine smile break through. He leaned up and pressed a sweet, lingering kiss on Michael’s cheek, and from the reaction he got, it certainly affected him. Michael gasped and half melted against Jeremy. He felt another twist in his gut. Despite his failings, Shul loved Loc so much, and Loc abused that regularly.

 

Now, dear one, we must speak to the elders,” Jeremy instructed, turning to the next round of guards who were approaching slowly, swords away and heads bowed. Jeremy went back to the mad and haughty glare. “You will take us to your elders and leaders, mortals, lest you suffer the same fate as your brethren.

 

These guards seemed to be a bit wiser than their fallen companions, nodding before leading the pair further into the village. As they walked, Michael kept a protective arm around Jeremy, glaring at the other villagers if they did not instantly fall to their knees at the sight of them.

 

Jeremy couldn’t help but feel glad that he was Loc. As Shul, Michael would protect him even more fiercely, and it meant that Jeremy was never going to be on the receiving end of ‘Shul’s’ glare.

 

They came to a large wooden building after a while, covered in the same ornate carvings as the temple. Jeremy looked them over appreciatively, and he could do that without worrying about drawing suspicion. Loc represented tradesmen too. They were lead through the door and left standing before the elders of the village. They all seemed suspicious.

 

Who are you, and how do you come to impersonate the gods?” one young man asked. He was seated at the center of the table and seemed to very easily adapt to what was before him.

 

Jeremy could practically feel the rage radiating off of Michael at the person's question. "You dare to ask us such a thing, so insinuate that we are impersonating? I know that you may not have seen us in your lifetime until now, but the audacity you dare have? You impudent mortal-"

 

Jeremy held up his hand, effectively cutting Michael off. “Calm yourself, my light. They simply are trying to protect their family.” Jeremy explained and that calmed Michael down a little. Shul was the god of family too. Jeremy looked over to the table of the leaders. “We are here to evaluate whether or not your people deserve to live, mortal. Send forth your best fighter on the council, check our marks, and feel the strength of Shul.”

 

Jeremy leant up to hiss into Michael’s ear. “Do not kill whoever your fight or seriously harm them. Just disarm them and position yourself for the finishing blow without completing it. We can be kind gods to those who are loyal.”

 

Michael just nodded, even if there was reluctance. Another good thing about being Loc: Shul listened to Loc, no matter what, because of the overwhelming love he had for him. It made times like this a little easier.

 

Jeremy watched as the council in front of them seemed to talk this over before sending over a strong, younger woman. She was armed with a sword, one much better than the guards possessed. He just stood back as Michael removed his arm from around him, walking forward with his own sword now drawn.

 

It seemed to take no time at all for Michael to disarm the girl, kicking her down to the ground, and positioning himself above her, pausing right before his sword pierced into her chest. Even if Jeremy knew that Michael would not seriously harm or kill the girl, it still frightened him (although he didn't show it), and watched as Michael then stepped back, allowing the bruised girl to quickly collect herself. He noted that Michael had not once been hit or grazed.

 

Jeremy walked over as Michael sheathed his sword. Jeremy decided that this would be worthy of a ‘reward’, so he pressed a number of kisses along Michael’s cheekbone. “Perfect as always, my light,” he cooed sweetly. He knew that to everyone other than Michael, it would sound fake, but that was the point. He hated this role.

 

Jeremy turned back to the council, feeling Michael wrap an arm around his waist. “Mortal, come and check our marks. We have the Devine symbols on our forms.” Jeremy indicated for the woman who was just fighting to approach them. Michael growled threateningly at her but said nothing.

 

The woman quickly stood then, bowing deeply before going to check Jeremy first. He felt her calloused fingers shift his hair and run along where the mark was, as if testing to see if it was painted. She was quick to retreat before going to Michael. He seemed reluctant, but a glance from Jeremy had him bend his head down a little so she could do the same check.

 

Once done, she backed up a few steps, bowing again, before turning towards the council. "They do indeed have the symbols, and they are not faked. These are truly Shul and Loc." The council seemed shocked for a moment, but waited no time before they all were standing by the girl, turning towards the pair and bowing as the villagers had done. The guards lining the room did the same as well. "We are so sorry for our impudence and brashness, our Lords."

 

As you should be,” Jeremy scoffed. “Stand for your lords, and pay homage to us,’” he ordered. The young man stepped forward from the group, head bowed.

 

Please, my lords, let us have a feast in your names? We wish to honor you in every way possible.” Jeremy would be lying if he said he didn’t enjoy the change in tone. After approving the villager’s plan, Jeremy and Michael were escorted to the small, wooden temple. The room dedicated to the gods was opened and Jeremy and Michael went inside until the party.

 

“How are you doing? Tell me or show me,” Jeremy asked, letting his act drop for a moment, it was exhausting. He wasn’t sure how well Michael could communicate right now, so he offered both ways.

 

Michael just took a knee in front of Jeremy, taking his hand and gently kissing the back of it. "I am doing well, my Loc. The fact that these peasants now understand who we are is pleasing, as they will now respect us, respect you, and honor us, as we should be honored. You did magnificently, moonlight."

 

Jeremy shivered at the reverence in his tone. Right. Michael truly believed he was Shul and that Jeremy was Loc. Well if he was going to be Loc, he was changing the legends a little; he was a god, he could do what he wanted.

 

“You did beautifully, my sweet,” Jeremy cooed, kneeling down and pressing number of kisses to Michael’s cheek and forehead. “Come and lay with me until the feast?” Jeremy nodded towards the fresh, soft bed with a small smile. He would be damned if he let Michael feel anything but loved. True, the real Loc didn’t properly love Shul, but this one did and he would show it, even if only in private.

 

The amount of surprise that appeared on his face mixed with a childlike awe almost broke his heart. "Of course, my heart, as you wish." Michael stood then, taking Jeremy's hands oh-so carefully as he gently tugged him to his feet. He lead Jeremy over to the bed, pulling the sheets neatly to the side so Jeremy could get in.

 

As he climbed in, Jeremy sent another thanks to his own forethought to have made the body paint as he did. It didn’t smudge in the slightest as Jeremy slipped into the bed and looked up at Michael expectantly. Jeremy hated how unsure he looked, as though he was expecting this to all be taken away from him any second. “My Shul, my love, please join me. Hold me close, my dear,” Jeremy murmured, looking up at him softly.

 

That surprise only grew, and Michael's eagerness quickly took over as he got under the covers with him, bringing him close to him. He couldn't help but feel the excitement radiating off of Michael as he held Jeremy against his chest, fingers carding through his hair, hesitant at first before becoming more sure. "My dearest, may I ask what has brought all of this?" he asked, and the confident and arrogant tone that Michael held as Shul was gone, replaced with a softer, more fragile and exposed tone.

 

Jeremy sighed at the feeling of fingers in his hair, even as his heart broke with how lost Michael sounded. It didn’t matter that this was all pretend, no one deserved this kind of treatment.

 

“I have come to realize, in my infinite wisdom, that you truly are my most special and that I love you as much as existence itself. However, the mortals may see that as a weakness, for I am supposed to be cold and limited, and I cannot show it whilst among them,” Jeremy murmured, half confessing his own feelings in the process. “Please, while we are alone, let me feel loved and allow me to do the same for you. We have a few hours to spare.” Jeremy wouldn’t leave Michael feeling so abused anymore, even if it was just a disguise. He didn’t care. Michael deserved to feel wanted and desired as much as anyone, especially if he thought that the object of his affections was so cold all the time.

 

He could almost feel Michael's gasp at that, and when he looked up at Michael, he saw his eyes wide as awe encompassed his features. "Y... you..." A moment passed as Michael recomposed himself, gently squeezing Jeremy around the waist. "Thank you, my object of affection. Please, let me know what it is you want, I will give it all to you while we have these moments alone," he almost cried out, which made sense, even if it broke Jeremy's heart. Shul never truly got to show any love to Loc, and he never got anything more than a peck on the cheek if he did a good deed, but Loc deemed those to be far and few.

 

“However you wish to show me, I will gladly accept, my heart,” Jeremy murmured, pressing a few gentle kisses across Michael’s collarbone. “Is there anything I can do to make you feel the same?”

 

At that, he seemed a bit overwhelmed. "I... Whatever you think is best," he settled with before asking, "Is there anything specific you wish for, though? I do not want to upset you."

 

Jeremy trailed a few more gentle kisses up along Michael’s neck, humming slightly. “Kiss me as I have kissed you, then. But if you follow your heart, I know I shall enjoy whatever it is you do. I will not be upset, my love.” Jeremy found himself getting a little caught up in the head space himself, finding it hard to distinguish himself from this version of Loc he had created. He pressed another kiss to the Siren mark, earning a small gasp and whine from Michael.

 

"I-I will do so then, my love," Michael muttered out, shifting to press a multitude of kisses to his face, neck, and his Siren mark as well. His hands stayed still against his back, trembling a little in place, as if that fear of going too far and upsetting Jeremy- no, Loc, was still there. "Please, if you do not enjoy something, let me know."

 

Jeremy felt himself melt under the affection. “Mm, keep going, please…,” he hummed happily, pressing lazy kisses to wherever he could reach. Michael seemed to grow in confidence after that, his trembling slowing to a stop. Jeremy reached up to play with his hair, sighing and gasping every so often. “You are making me feel so beautiful, my Shul.” The words slipped out easily, automatically, as Jeremy lost himself into the role further.

 

"It is because you are beautiful, my Loc," Michael muttered out, pressing a long, lazy kiss to his collarbone before pulling back and resting his head there, seemingly a little overwhelmed with all of this affection. "This... I dreamt that this would happen someday, though never was sure if it would come true."

 

Jeremy smiled down at him, nuzzling his hair. “Well wait and wonder no longer, my sweet. I am here now and I desire you too. Please forgive me for not realising sooner how much you truly mean to me. You are my most special, my greatest desire, and I love you.” Jeremy let his own truth slip through, not caring enough to distinguish between the two realities anymore. He was Loc and Loc was him, for now. They both loved Michael and Shul desperately.

 

"Thank you," he heard Michael mutter out, sounding so broken yet complete at the same time.

 

They just lied there in silence for a bit longer, Jeremy eventually feeling something small yet wet drop onto his chest- a tear. Looking closer at Michael then, he saw the boy tearing up ever so slightly. The other met his gaze then, giving him an apologetic smile of sorts. "I am sorry, my dearest, I am just... I am happy, happier than I think I have ever been. I did not know that I could feel like this, so thank you."

 

Jeremy cupped his face gently. “Cry if you need, my love. Just know that no matter how I may act while we walk among mortals, know that this right here, this feeling right now, is how I truly feel in all my forms,” Jeremy murmured as he brushed away his tears with his thumbs, meaning every word. He loved Michael, no matter how he may act otherwise. He wished Michael, the real Michael, were here listening to these words. Jeremy couldn’t help himself, too in love and too caught up in the moment to even consider that it might be crossing a boundary. He leaned down and kissed Michael softly on the lips.

 

 

 

After that soft kiss, which Michael returned, seemingly eagerly, the two settled with one another to relax in the bed. They were at ease with one another, Michael seemingly adoring this all as he fiddled absentmindedly with Jeremy's fingers while he rested against his chest.

 

A knock disrupted the serene moment, causing the two to look over towards the door. "May we come in, my Lords? We are your chosen maidens to help dress you for the feast in your honors."

 

Jeremy took a moment to untangle himself from Michael. “Remember, my love. This is reality. Not what I show them.” Jeremy pressed another kiss to Michael’s lips and climbed out from under the covers. “Yes, mortals, you may enter.” Jeremy easily (scarily so) slipped back into the old persona of Loc, his expression turning proud with the edge of insanity. He sat up straight, perched on the edge of the bed, waiting.

 

By the time the doors opened and the maidens looked up from their long, deep bow, Jeremy saw Michael already standing by the edge of the bed, no trace of what they had done before or spoke of present. His hardened, aggravated exterior was proudly present. It almost made Jeremy shudder, but he couldn't. If he broke character even once, they were screwed.

 

"We have worked hard to try to make suitable clothing options for you two, using the measurements we had before. Please, may we show them and see if they are able to be approved?"

 

Jeremy brought back the feeling of being immersed in his role from earlier, making keeping calm easier. He waved a hand, almost in a bored fashion. “Very well. You are permitted to dress us should we approve.” The two women instantly unveiled the clothes they were carrying.

 

They were two long coats, open at the front, with beautiful detailing. One, which Jeremy assumed was for Michael considering it was red, was covered in golden embroidered suns, and hemmed with flames. Rubies and pieces of amber were dotted around artfully. Jeremy’s coat was a rich, deep blue, like the night sky. It had silver stars all over it, mimicking the night, and waves along the hem. Pearls and quartz studded each and every star. The women also held two sashes of complimenting colours to keep them closed. Jeremy knew that even without the gemstones, the coats would be worth a fortune just for their fine craftsmanship.

 

These are acceptable.” Jeremy stood. “You are permitted to approach and dress us.” Jeremy raised his arms, remembering how to stand when being dressed very well. He saw Michael copy him perfectly.

 

Each maiden took their respective coat, ever so carefully dressing each of them. Jeremy noticed how careful his maiden was, as if she would be punished or damaged if she was too quick or made too much contact with him. They left their chests greatly exposed, and Jeremy knew it was to show off the divinity the marks carried.

 

As soon as they were done, both maidens quickly backed away, bowing as they complimented each. Michael looked over himself in the mirror that stood tall on one of the walls before humming. "These are acceptable articles."

 

"Thank you so much, Lord Shul, thank you."

 

Jeremy looked himself over, appreciating the finery of everything. Something felt missing though. “You have done an acceptable job with these garments. Now go and find a single, fresh fire flower and a single moon lily for Lord Shul and myself,” Jeremy ordered, and the two maidens backed out of the room, closing the doors behind them. Jeremy instantly wrapped himself around Michael, pressing a kiss to his neck. “You look beautiful, my love. Every inch the god that you are.”

 

Michael seemed taken aback by the sudden shift as soon as the doors were shut, but he quickly shifted back to the previous mood and tone they held. "You are so breathtaking, my dear. I cannot believe I am so blessed to be acknowledged, much less loved by someone as astonishing as you."

 

Jeremy flushed a little under the praise, looking away a little shyly. ‘Blood moon rising,’ he thought to himself with a small grin. “Truly it is I who am blessed to have someone so strong and beautiful to be so devoted.”

 

"I could go on for eons about your beauty alone, my adoration," Michael mused out before pressing a gentle kiss to Jeremy's forehead, humming as he did so. "I wish I could, but we must go soon to partake in the feast."

 

Jeremy melted under the affection. “I know, my treasure. I cannot wait until we can leave these mortals and simply be together again. After the feast, we must find our scared object and take it with us without them realizing. The Sky Glass. The mortals have held it for too long. Then, we can finally leave,” Jeremy murmured against Michael’s neck, pressing a few more kisses there.

 

He felt Michael hum under his lips then. "We shall easily do that, and then we can depart and be together again, alone with one another, and truly appreciate each other," he mused out before pressing a kiss to the top of Jeremy's curls.

 

A gentle knock on the door made Jeremy sigh. He shot Michael a sad look as he extracted himself, composing his face into something more appropriate. “Enter,” he called as soon as both he and Michael were ready. The two women from before each held the requested flowers.

 

You have done well, mortals. Now, tuck them into the sash. How long until the feast is ready?” Jeremy asked, allowed his handmaiden to approach him.

 

It is ready any moment, my Lord. We were asked to escort you ourselves, should it please you,” she simpered, and Jeremy forced himself to not roll his eyes. He knew that tone. Someone wanted to win favor with someone important.

 

For now, he ignored it. “Very well, if Lord Shul is ready, you may lead us there.” Jeremy looked over to Michael, who nodded.

 

The two maidens bowed then before turning and leading the pair out to where the feast was to be held. As they walked, Michael continued to exude that near-deadly aura, making everyone bow as soon as they were within eyesight.

 

Jeremy on the other hand, found his nerves became more useful. He was twitchy, eyes a little too wide to me sane and his smile a little too broad to be calming. The only one unaffected was Michael. Anyone who met his gaze shrunk away, and Jeremy wasn’t too shy about using the powder on anyone who stared, giving them his ‘blessing.’ By the time they got to the feast, which was held right by the cliff, about five people were raving back around the village. People looked upon the insane ones with a sort of awe, as if they were jealous.

 

The feast was grand, as promised, with delicious, mouth-watering dishes set out amongst a large table. There were two large thrones by the table, upon a small case of stairs, to have them held high above everyone else as they were fed by those who were deemed worthy enough. There seemed to be villagers lined up as well, all seeming to bear some kind of offerings for their gods as Michael and Jeremy approached. They were eventually settling in their thrones, one white and one red, each adorned and created beautifully with intricate and breathtaking designs.

 

The leader of the council stood in front of the thrones, on the floor, facing the rest of the tables and people watching. His voice was loud and earnest, like that of a preacher. “On this day, we are blessed with the presence of our most glorious gods, Lord Shul and Lord Loc. We honor them with our food and the best finery we can supply and now we feast in their honor. As they eat, we shall present our offerings to them, in a show of worship, in hopes that we may please them and earn their favor once again.” The man turned to face the thrones, head bowed respectfully. “We eat a your discretion, my lords.” Jeremy waved a hand dismissively, passing it over to Michael, who had the better voice for announcing things. He could be loud when he wanted to be.

 

"You all may partake in the feast, but the best must be saved for us. If we get anything less than that, I cannot guarantee either of our favors, but instead our wrath and volatile displeasure," Michael announced- no, commanded, his voice echoing and booming, and the rest of those in attendance just nodded, sending praise and thanks to the two before those chosen to serve the pair started to get their food and drinks.

 

Jeremy ate slowly, relishing in how well cooked and flavorful everything was. He only really showed this by saying it was adequate or fair, but in reality he wanted to heap praise upon the cooks.

 

One by one, the people in the line made with way to the foot of the stairs, offering them gold and jewelry and gemstones. Some offered ancient, magic scrolls and others still offered more of the beautiful clothing. It wasn’t until a woman came up with two children, both maybe about twelve years old, that Jeremy really felt uncomfortable.

 

My lords, I offer you my children, who will serve you willingly and fully to the best of their abilities.” The two children nodded eagerly, smiling brightly. Jeremy almost choked on his food, which gave Michael a chance to respond.

 

"Are they worthy of serving us though?" he asked, which horrified Jeremy until he remembered that this was what Shul and Loc would think is normal, especially looking back at their history. "We cannot have weak, unpliable mortals to be taken in to serve us. We only accept the best."

 

Jeremy had to think quickly. “No, my heart, they are not worthy. They are not yet grown so we cannot take them yet. When we next return perhaps, but not now.” Jeremy pretended to think things over for a moment. “Still, the mortal woman has shown great devotion in her offering. Perhaps we should give her a blessing of our own? You may use my essence to bestow it, my light.” He held out the bag of Dew Berry Powder to him.

 

Michael seemed to contemplate this for a moment before nodding, as if he was thinking of what blessing to give the woman. "You have been courageous to give us your children, so I embellish and strengthen that for you." With a flick of his wrist after dipping his fingers into the pouch, the green dust hit the woman as she stepped forward.

 

Her eyes lit up green, and she eagerly ran off, practically abandoning her children as she ran towards a nearby man, embracing him passionately. She then proceeded to drag him back to the village, the man more than happy to oblige, before Michael nodded. "Mortal children, return to the feast." The two kids nodded, eyes sparkling before returning to eat with the others present.

 

Jeremy felt a bucket load of guilt as he watched Michael use the powder. No doubt he would hate Jeremy for that later. Still, the children were safe and the mother wouldn’t be killed by ‘Shul’s’ wrath for her offering being unacceptable.

 

We shall not accept servants this night. Tonight is a celebration of family and unity in your worship of us. We shall not separate the families who are loyal enough to offer themselves.” Jeremy managed to find strength enough in his voice to boom as loudly as Michael had. Where it came from, he didn’t know, maybe it was a side effect of partly believing one is a god, but he did it. That should protect any other children. A couple of people left the line, children in tow.

 

The relief and guilt that built up inside of him at seeing that was immense, but he was quickly distracted by more food and offerings, as well as some good drinks.

 

The festivities closed down once Michael and Jeremy decided they were satisfied with the food, bellies contently full and pleased with the offerings they received. They were escorted back to their temple, maidens and sires taking their offerings and trailing behind them as they went. All of the people in attendance bowed deeply as they passed, allowing for the two to walk back in relative silence, save for the jangling of gems and jewelry and other items making noise as they brushed against each other.

 

Once back to their room, their offerings were all placed to one side for them to decide upon their final destination for later. “Leave us now, we wish to talk,” Jeremy instructed once everything was brought in. Every servant left, leaving the two alone once again.

 

Jeremy then wrapped himself around Michael, half collapsing into his arms. “Oh my love, that was exhausting. Mortals are such work to deal with.”

 

Michael just held him close, pressing a gentle kiss to the spot where the Siren mark resided, which had him almost melt in Michael's hold. "They most certainly are, my adoration. We did have a plentiful feast though, and I feel well fed. Shall we get ready to sleep, my moonlight? After such exhausting work, it would be wise to rest."

 

“As much as I desire that, my love, we still have more work to do. We must retrieve our relic.” Jeremy reached up and cupped Michael’s cheek, rubbing their noses together sweetly. “If you will still have me after, I would very much like to lie with you once again.”

 

He heard Michael chuckle, watching as he was looked at with adoration. "I would rather give up all else just to lie with you, my sweet."

 

Jeremy almost called off everything right then, a part of him so desperate for that. But he realized that it could still be a possibility once he was better. The thought steeled him. “Then let us be quick, my love. Before we go, help me pick out some of our offerings to take with us. We can hold maybe a single bag without it being too much of a burden, particularly with your strength. I should like some reminders of our time here and my realization that you are my most precious. We cannot take it all, but surely some.” In reality, Jeremy wanted to spoil his friends a little, but he wasn’t about to tell Michael that. Not with the state he was still in. The small phial of the cure for the powder was sill sewn inside the sash on his pants. He was glad for it, as he didn’t know if he’d last right up until the Dew berry powder wore off and Michael came back to himself.

 

Michael nodded then, pressing a chaste kiss to the corner of his lips, letting it linger before pulling back. "We will take the best that there is, and then be on our way to attain our relic. Do you have any preferences of items from what we have received, my dearest, my being?"

 

“The scrolls and the jewelry,” Jeremy murmured. “Is there anything that you desire from there?” Jeremy’s head felt heavy for some reason. Maybe he had been a little exposed to the powder in his excessive (but needed) usage. He was struggling to differentiate himself from Loc anymore, not with how everyone called him that and treated him, particularly his Shul-Michael! He is Michael. Jeremy wasn’t sure if there was any difference between him and Loc at this point. Luckily they both had the same goal now, so there was no confusion.

 

Michael knelt down by the pile, his bag that he brought with them when they entered the village open and now being filled. “Some of the jewels that captivated me, as I also desired the scrolls. If we, by chance, are able to fit more in, what would you desire, my everything?”

 

Jeremy knelt down next to Sh-Michael and wrapped his arms around him, pressing gentle kisses to his neck and Siren Mark. “Hmmm, some of the finery I think, my sunlight. I can imagine some would fit you well and I would so like to see that,” he whispered between kisses. His eyes fell shut as Michael got to work, not slowing despite Jeremy’s affection.

 

Time seemed to vanish as Michael worked to get the bag filled while he showed his love to him. He only opened his eyes when he felt a tap on his hands, looking to see his Shu-Michael smiling fondly up at him. “I am all done, my love, and I was able to grab the nicest finery for myself as well as you. If I am to embellish myself for you, I would love to see you do the same, my Loc.” A kiss was pressed to his nose. “Now come, we must go and find where our relic is, then we may indulge ourselves with each other for another millennia.”

 

Everything seemed to click into place, and the heaviness from his head vanished. He was Loc, and this was his Shul. They needed to get their relic back and make it to the far beach to get home. Loc had a potion to help with the transition back home.

 

“Mm, and it shall be a true indulgence for once, my eternity, for now I finally know to lavish you in love.” He pressed another kiss to his neck and stood, holding out a hand for Shul to take. “Come, my sweet, the relic is kept downstairs in the cave below the temple.”

 

He felt Shul take his hand, and he helped the other to his feet before another kiss was placed to his nose. “I trust you to lead me, my love. I will miss getting to adore you so until we are back with only each other, out of the mortal’s sight.” The hand that his beloved held had a gentle kiss pressed against it, and Shul just smiled as he slung the bag over his shoulder, careful of the fine detail and craft of the jacket he still wore.

 

Loc smiled and, after a quick kiss to his lover’s lips, lead them both downstairs. They encountered no mortal along they way until the entered the cave. Two guards were posted on either side if a large, circular door.

 

Let us through, mortals. We wish to gaze upon the Sky Glass after millennia of being separated,” Loc ordered. The guards looked hesitant.

 

We’re sorry, Lord Loc, we are not permitted to allow anyone into the chamber without being escorted or feel the pain of death!” Loc scowled and felt his own rage grow. How dare this mortal think he could defy a god. Quickly, he reached into his pouch and splashed both guards with the powder.

 

Now, what to do with you for denying me? An eternity of insanity? Perhaps being turned into an animal in your mind alone! Oh, maybe you should kill your loved ones and watch helplessly as they bleed out!” These were the standard punishments for those who disobeyed him.

 

No, those are all too good for them. It is not their fault of denying us, it is their elders and leaders. They were being loyal to them, even if meant defying us. Perhaps they should partake in a break, they had to have been working hard for so long,” Shul suggested, and Loc seemed to understand that he wanted this to be quick and easy, as to not garner any further attention. “Or perhaps they could retrieve the Sky Glass for us and then take their break, my blessing.

 

Loc smiled at Shul, knowing he could show a little affection while the two mortals were under his thrall. He lightly cupped Shul’s cheek. “If it is by your blessing, so be it.” He released his love and turned back to the guards, face hard once more. “You will bring us the Sky Glass, then go on a break. If anyone asks, you may tell them of our magnificence and mercy,” Loc scowled. The two guards scrambled to their feet, disappearing and reappearing within seconds. They handed Loc the Sky Glass before heading back up the stairs.

 

“Now that we have this, my love, we must make our way back to the southern beach where we arrived. We can leave the mortals from there and it can be just the two of us again.” Loc pressed a quick kiss to Shul’s lips, trailing a few along his jaw to his Devine marking. “It will be just us through the cover of night. And since I am not in the Sky, there is little chance of us being spotted.”

 

“Yes, the darkness of the night will aid us greatly,” Shul almost hummed out before pressing his own kiss to Loc’s Devine mark. “I cannot wait for it to just be you and I, embracing and adoring one another.” A few more kisses were pressed across Loc’s face before Shul took his free hand, gently tugging him along to the stairwell so they could depart under the darkness of the night while the mortals slept.

 

No one stopped them as they left the village, or as they traversed the jungle. Loc barely let his gaze leave Shul’s face, too enamored with his beauty. How was it only now, after an eternity together, that he realized that Shul was the most beautiful creature in existence? And that somehow such a being came to love him?

 

Eventually, they reached the beach. Loc tried to remember what he had to do next to send them home, but he felt drained after being without affection for so many hours. “My love, I am in need of you. I need to feel your love once more so I may remember the ritual to send us home.”

 

Within a moment, Loc felt the Sky Glass be placed down and he heard the bag be carefully dropped before he was held close in Shul’s grasp. “I am eager to give it to you, my everything,” the other god muttered out before a multitude of kisses graced his skin. It trailed from his exposed collarbone to his neck, up to his mark and then to his cheeks. Eventually, their lips locked together, and he felt one of Shul’s hands cradle his cheek as the other ran through his hair, as if caressing each lock oh-so lovingly.

 

Loc melted into the affectionate touches instantly, returning them as best he could while so dazed. He was truly blessed that Shul loved him so deeply and passionately. As they kissed, mouths moving together so sweetly, Loc remembered what he needed to do. He indulged for a moment longer.

 

When Shul pulled back for a moment, Loc placed a finger on his lips, which was instantly kissed at. He giggled a little.

 

“I now know what we need, my love. I ask that you drink a special brew with me.” Loc reached down to the sash holding his trousers. He carelessly ripped the special pocket open and pulled out a phial of red liquid. He uncorked it, taking a sip before handing it to Shul, who downed the rest. It obviously affected Shul first, because Loc couldn’t feel a thing just yet.

 

Shul seemed to blink a few times at that, the green of his eyes fading away to a lovely brown that almost made Loc swoon. He watched as his Shul looked around, confusion seemingly taking him over for a minute before he gasped, taking a few steps back before he collapsed onto his knees as he took gasping breaths. “I... I’m... oh my god, holy fuck, nonononono.” He seemed to be induced into a panic, eyes wide as he started to cling to himself, a hand picking at his pants as the other ran through his hair, eventually grasping a good bunch and tugging as he started to whimper and whine.

 

Instantly, Loc was on his knees, watching with wide, scared eyes. “Please my love, what did I-“ He felt his own mind stir and suddenly he was aware of himself again. Loc-no, Jeremy was the cause of Michael’s panic since he had been in control for almost a full eight hours! Jeremy had sworn he would never control him, not even for a moment!

 

Jeremy threw himself backwards. “Oh god, oh my god, I’m so sorry Michael! I’m so fucking sorry!” Jeremy curled up, away from Michael. He couldn’t be close to him, not now not ever! He had controlled him, ordered him around! Jeremy was no better than Squip or Madeline. He didn’t deserve Michael. He had been right all along. He was dangerous.

 

Jeremy wasn’t sure how long he remained there, curled up and sobbing and begging for forgiveness until his voice cut out. He knew he never deserved it. He had taken advantage of Michael’s state, kissed him and had Michael kiss him back, for his own pleasure. He was worse than Dustin. The thought made him feel sick, but he fought to keep the food down.

 

He could vaguely hear Michael’s whining and whimpering, and when he looked up, he saw Michael, desperate and wrecked, reaching with the hand that had been picking at his pants out for him. Through all of his distressed sounds, Michael seemed to manage to get out, “Jer’my, please, ‘need you.”

 

Anything for Michael. Anything. Even if Jeremy didn’t deserve the dirt off Michael’s boot, he would do anything for him. Slowly, he crawled over, taking Michael’s hand even as he was shaking, hyperventilating, and panicking himself. He didn’t scoot closer unless Michael asked.

 

He felt Michael’s tight grip on his hand before he was tugged closer, although the attempts were feeble, as he hiccuped and continued tugging at his own hair. “Please Jere.”

 

Jeremy couldn’t say no, even if it made his own sobs harder. He wrapped himself around Michael, cradling him as softly and sweetly as possible in his arms as his entire being shook with self loathing. This was his fault. He did this. He hurt Michael like this. “‘M so sorry, Michael,” he wheezed, his voice barely present through his panic.

 

It took some time, but Jeremy finally felt Michael calm down in his hold. His trembling ceased and his breathing calmed down, the hand in his hair let go. Michael pulled his head up, looking directly at Jeremy with exhausted, worried eyes. “Jeremy... you... you had a tough situation, I don’t blame you for what y’did, I’m not mad at you. That whole place... it was overwhelming, all of those insane cultists and how they treated us...”

 

Jeremy shook his head, hiding his face as his eyes slammed shut. Now that Michael was calm, he threw himself back again. “Sorry sorry sorry sorry.” He kept chanting through his whimpers and sobs. It would never be enough. “Took advantage of you. Forced you. S’not okay! Just leave me here. Let them find me. Don’t deserve to come with you.” Jeremy wasn’t even sure if his words were possible to understand at this point, he was sobbing so hard. He curled in on himself, making himself as small as possible. He couldn’t be let near Michael again!

 

Despite never wanting to allow himself near Michael again, he felt his warm arms encircle him. He didn’t deserve it, he didn’t deserve him! “You didn’t do any of that to me, Jeremy. Even if I was under that state, I don’t think I would’ve done anything I didn’t want to,” Michael admitted as he rubbed circles into his back. “I refuse to leave without you.”

 

“I- could- make- you- leave- me,” he hiccuped out, just wanting to be left and for it all to be over. The words, the idea, made him feel sicker.

 

“You could, but I know you wouldn’t,” Michael argued, voice soft and tender.

 

Jeremy shook his head almost violently. “No. Wouldn’t. Never again.” He whimpered, unable to stop himself from curling up closer to Michael slightly. He was so warm and felt so safe.

 

“Exactly. That’s how I know you’re not a bad person, not a dangerous person,” he heard Michael mutter out. “And that’s why I’m not leaving you here.”

 

Michael thought he wasn’t bad. Michael thought he wasn’t dangerous. He believed everything else Michael had ever told him. Why not this? Michael believed in him. He had to prove Michael right. Jeremy took a deep, shaky breath, calming himself a little.

 

After a little bit more of that, he felt Michael’s hand gently caress his cheek. “Are you feeling any better, Jere?” Michael asked then, so sweet and caring.

 

Jeremy nodded weakly. “‘M so sorry, Michael. Took advantage of you because Shul wanted Loc and I couldn’t just keep being so horrible to you, not when I care so much about you. Not when I heard you before. Took it for far...” Jeremy mumbled, but didn’t try to pull away. Hearing Michael during the siren song made treating him in the same way Loc did Shul near impossible. He loved Michael too much for that.

 

“You didn’t take advantage of me, I assure you of that,” Michael told him again, voice soft and reassuring before resting their foreheads together. “I wouldn’t have done anything I don’t want to.” He seemed to pause in thought for a moment before looking over past his shoulder. “We should continue this talk when we’re back onto the boat and safe. I’m sure the villagers will be trying to find us soon if they aren’t already.”

 

Jeremy wanted to insist he be left still, but if Michael wouldn’t go without him, he would go simply to protect him. He nodded. “The flag we need to wave is hidden over there, along with the potion that’ll make it glow through Jenna’s spyglass.” Jeremy tried to get up, to move away from Michael to help but found he couldn’t. His limbs were weaker than they had ever felt after an attack. He could barely move, let alone stand. He sort of just ended up twitching and squirming slightly from his efforts.

 

Michael saw this and just nodded, and Jeremy watched as he struggled as he got up, going over to where they hid the potion and flag. After grabbing them, Michael came back over and practically collapsed beside Jeremy, but made sure he sat up as he let out a sigh. “OK, I got it...”

 

Jeremy huffed out a small, weak laugh. “We don’t seem too god-like anymore.” Jeremy struggled to sit himself up, but managed it after a moment. “Pour the potion onto the flag and stick the pole into the ground next to us. Jenna should see it and come to get us within about ten minutes.”

 

Michael nodded before following Jeremy’s instructions. Once he was done, Michael let out a heavy sigh before resting himself somewhat against Jeremy. “Thanks... I wouldn’t have been able to remember where that was and what to do on my own...”

 

Jeremy leaned against Michael, happy with the fact that it was his Michael and not Shul. “Are you... still getting flashes of being Shul? Like certain thought patterns?” he asked quietly after a moment. “Because I am for Loc and I was only really stuck as him for about an hour or two...”

 

“Yeah, definitely,” Michael muttered out, “But I know it’ll go away soon. Plus, some of the ones I’m getting... they’re not too bad, the more not-aggressive kinda ones.” As he said this, Michael’s head rested against Jeremy’s shoulder, and when Jeremy glanced down, he could see his eyes shutting.

 

It took a second, but Jeremy managed to shift so his arm was wrapped weakly around Michael. “‘M getting both. Like how Loc is supposed to be and how I made him. Couldn’t stand having to be so cruel to you. Even Shul doesn’t deserves that treatment,” Jeremy muttered, feeling a great deal of annoyance to the god he was portraying that day.

 

“Well, I like your version of him a lot better,” Michael muttered out, and Jeremy felt his jacket be fiddled with as he glanced down and saw Michael messing carefully with the hem of it. “I... it made Shul so happy, almost overwhelmingly so. He really adored Loc...”

 

“I felt it. Like it was almost tangible with how much he loved Loc. And... I just... I didn’t have it in me to abuse that. It was so pure and almost innocent. I couldn’t manipulate that.” Jeremy took a breath. Even if he wasn’t going to confess, Michael deserved to know a little. He could deal with the implications and fallout later. “And I couldn’t stand for you to feel anything other than loved. Even if Shul wasn’t you exactly, it was still your face and voice. I couldn’t hurt you like that. I care too much, want you to be happy. I just couldn’t stand to abuse you like that.”

 

Michael was quiet for a few moments, seemingly thinking this all over, before he spoke up again. “I... I appreciate that, Jeremy. If the positions had been switched, I would have felt the exact same way. Thank you, really...” He felt Michael nuzzle against his shoulder then, an arm coming up and holding onto the one the hands Jeremy originally used to hold him.

 

Jeremy’s head felt fuzzy from the affection and from the panic which had finally drained (mostly) away. So he didn’t see anything wrong when he bent down and pressed a couple of gentle kisses to Michael’s hairline, lightly brushing his forehead. He had been doing so much more for most of the day anyway. He didn’t even care when one trailed a lot closer to his cheek, somehow seeming so much more than the others. He was tired and Michael was here and he had been allowed to love Michael the whole day. He didn’t want to stop now.

 

Michael didn’t say anything against it, instead humming along encouragingly to his actions. He felt his hand gently squeezed by Michael as a soft, content sigh passed his captain’s lips. “I...” A pause. “I’ll tell you when you’re better, even if I want to tell you now. Just know that this is alright with me if it’s alright with you.”

 

Jeremy sighed happily and pressed another kiss to his cheek. “It’s more than alright with me. I have some stuff I wanna tell you when I’m better too... wanna actually feel that I’m good enough to tell you. But I promised you I’d tell you,” Jeremy mumbled against his skin. Another lazy kiss.

 

“Yes, I remember. I think you’re good enough now to, but I will respect your wishes,” Michael told him before a sigh passed his lips. “This... this is nice.” As Michael spoke, Jeremy could see the dingy in the distance, settled in the water, coming closer to the shore of the beach.

 

“It really is...” Jeremy hummed happily and pressed one more kiss to Michael’s cheek, a little closer to his lips, before he sat up. He raised an arm, waving down the dingy. “Over here guys!” he called out, his voice cracking from the strain. The dingy pulled up to shore and Jake and Rich both hopped out, running over to Jeremy and Michael.

 

“Are you guys alright?” Jake asked as he and Rich carefully helped the two to stand, leading them slowly over to the boat. On the way, Rich grabbed the flag and potion bottle.

 

“Yeah, just exhausted,” Michael muttered out as he unconsciously leaned a bit against Rich. “Very exhausted...”

 

“Well, when we get back, you two are resting up.”

 

“Understood, stand-in captain Richard.”

 

“Can you plug us up when we get there? I want to get away from this island as soon as possible. I don’t like it here,” Jeremy mumbled, barely able to support his own weight. Jake grabbed the Sky Glass and the bag of treasures and half carried Jeremy over to the dingy, where he instantly leaned against Michael, who had already been seated, feeling himself start to almost doze.

 

“Got it,” Rich said, and he watched as Rich and Jake got in before starting to row back to the boat. “Is there anything we need to know about what happened before you two pass out on us?”

 

“We were actually the gods for a bit. Believed it ‘n everything. S’my fault, wasn’t careful enough with the powder.” Jeremy giggled a little. “We were assholes.”

 

Jake groaned from behind them. “You two are already assholes enough, I can’t imagine how bad you were if you two considered each other assholes,” he joked. As he finished, Jeremy heard Michael snore softly beside him. He looked and saw that, as his head rested on Jeremy’s shoulder, he was fast asleep already.

 

Jeremy couldn’t help the soft smile that appeared at seeing Michael relaxed at last. He vaguely heard Rich say something, probably a smart ass comment, but he didn’t even bother to try to listen. Jeremy rested his head against Michael’s. He was asleep by his next breath.

Chapter Text

About a month after the whole adventure on the island, Michael and the crew of the Fallen Angel were close to getting to the Mell Estate. They knew Jeremy was going to need a safe place that wasn't the ship to recover and that the two women would be alright with them staying there. Until then, they all stayed on the ship except for restocking their supplies, and everyone tried to be cheerful, despite what they knew was fast approaching.

 

No one really questioned himself or Jeremy for the few kisses they would see them share, it would mainly be done quickly in private. He only got curious gazes from Jenna and Rich, but everyone else were obviously trying to remain 'unaware.' For once, he was thankful for his crew not speaking up about what he was doing. They knew that they needed time before they could admit to one another, even if they knew how the other felt (though it remained unspoken).

 

They were a few days away from getting to the Mell Estate, and Michael had been walking around the ship, talking to everyone. He needed to take a breath of fresh air between charting what Jeremy had been figuring out the previous week for where the map to the Keys to Reality were located, plus he wanted to check in on everyone.

 

When he was talking to Brooke on the ship's deck, he was confused by her statement. "How long has Jeremy been trailing behind you for?" He looked around then, eyes locking in on Jeremy, who was standing close by, but originally out-of-sight.

 

"Jeremy? What do you need? Is everything alright?"

 

Jeremy looked a little confused by the question but he nodded nonetheless. “Yeah, everything’s fine. Just wanna, I dunno, stay close? I’m getting a little... nervous about what’s coming up.” He sounded mostly alright, save for the slightly clumsy tongue. Not quite lisping, not mumbling, but a tiny mixture of the two. His eyes looked a little unfocused on his surroundings, only really focusing on Michael. Jeremy just seemed... clingy and dazed.

 

Worry coursed through him, and he reached over and intertwined his fingers with Jeremy's. "I understand, going through your withdrawal won't be fun, but we'll all be here for you through it." He could see Brooke glancing with worry over at Jeremy as well.

 

Jeremy sighed happily upon the contact, stepping closer and tucking himself into the crook of Michael’s neck. “That’s better,” he mumbled, eyes fluttering shut.

 

As he did that, Michael mouthed to Brooke, 'It's starting, warn everyone,' before watching her go. He gently reached up, combing his fingers through his hair. "How's your head feelin', Jere?"

 

“Little sore. So is my stomach. And outside is a little bright. But m’okay now you’re here.” Jeremy sighed happily, nuzzling a little closer. “You’re warm.”

 

"I can understand that, Jere," Michael muttered out before starting to walk back with Jeremy to his cabin. "How about we lie down for a bit, yeah?"

 

“You wanna lie down? M’kay, let's lie down...” Jeremy’s speech was obviously getting more slurred. He wrapped his arms around Michael, making walking a little difficult but they managed to get back to the cabin in one piece. Jeremy seemed to come to a dilemma. “I don’ wanna sleep in my boots, but I gotta let go to take ‘em off…,” he mumbled to himself, staring down at his feet. It seemed like this was the hardest puzzle he had ever faced, and possibly was. Michael didn’t know how functional Jeremy’s brain was right then.

 

"I'll help you," Michael assured him, sitting down with him on his bed before reaching down and helping him remove his boots. He took his own boots off as well, along with his coat and hat, putting them along his bedside table. "There we go."

 

Jeremy hummed happily, pressing a gentle kiss to Michael’s neck. “Thank you, Captain. You always know how to help... You wanna lie down now?” he asked softly, his words almost blurry from the volume and the slight slur.

 

“Yeah, that sounds good,” he murmured before pulling back the covers, bringing Jeremy down to lie with him. He was sure to make him comfortable before covering them with the sheets, kissing his temple. “That good?”

 

Jeremy hummed contentedly. “Mmmm, you’re comfy Michael. Super comfy. And it’s not so bright in here so my head doesn’t hurt anymore. That’s why you wanted to come to bed, right? You always look after me so well.” He rambled a little, obviously only half aware of his own words. Still, nothing new from what he was saying, only compliments Jeremy had told him before.

 

“Yup, I always have to make sure I take care of everyone, especially you,” he reassured him, weaving his fingers through his hair as he glanced out the window. Jeremy’s withdrawal came on sooner than they though... Hopefully they’d made it to his moms’ estate before it got really bad.

 

 

 

They were about a day out when Jeremy’s intense desire to leave hit. Jeremy had been standing by him, as usual, holding onto Michael’s sleeve when Jeremy’s legs suddenly gave out beneath him. Luckily, he landed soft on his butt, blinking confusedly before turning his slightly vacant gaze up to Michael.

 

“M’head hurts.” Tears started welling in his eyes, and he leant against Michael’s leg pathetically. “M’head really hurts. Can we go to port now? I wanna go to port so I can make it stop hurting,” he whimpered, clutching his head with his free hand. He didn’t let go of Michael’s sleeve.

 

Michael felt his heart ache at that, though he muttered to himself that they only had a day to go. Ever so carefully, he knelt down beside Jeremy and had him rest his head against his chest. “We’re going to be at my moms’ island soon, we have to stop there for a while. You can relax there and feel better, and Snookums will be there to lie with you and help you too.”

 

Jeremy nuzzled against Michael’s chest, hiding his face. “Snookums don’t like me though,” he mumbled into Michael’s shirt. “She don’t like me and I really want her to but she doesn’t.” There was a moment’s silence, then Jeremy’s hand dropped from his head and he slowly turned his face up to Michael. “I gotta get back to port. Then it won’t start hurting again. You know where my stuff is, right? I just gotta get back and do it and then my head won’t hurt.” He seemed to be a little proud of his realization.

 

Michael’s chest continued to ache as he gently guided Jeremy’s head back down to his chest. “We aren’t going to a port, we’re almost at my mom’s estate. When we’re there, we’ll reintroduce you and Snookums. I think you two just got off on the wrong foot.”

 

“Really?” Jeremy sounded really hopeful and he fisted Michael’s shirt gently. “I really hope she likes me. She’s so big and fluffy and she means a lot to you. I love her so much.” Jeremy mused quietly. There was a moment pause. “Are you sure we can’t go to port? Because I won’t do it to anyone nice, or anyone I love. And I love your family and I love the crew and there’d be no one else I can do it on to make the hurting not come back.” Jeremy’s voice was sad, and he rubbed his cheek against Michael’s chest, sort of like a cat.

 

“We can’t go to a port, Jere. If you do it again, the pain will only come back again later on. If you don’t and let the pain happen for a little bit, it’ll go away forever,” Michael tried to explain as he fiddled with locks of his hair. “Plus, if we went to a port, you wouldn’t get to see my moms or Snookums for a while longer. We’re going to see them tomorrow.”

 

“It’ll get worse? Oh, I don’t want it to keep coming back...” Jeremy asked innocently. “I... okay Michael. I’ll try to be brave. Can you just stay close? S’easier to deal with when you’re close. Doesn’t hurt so much.” Jeremy sighed, and he leant into the gentle touches. “I like your moms. They’re really nice. They feel like how moms are supposed to be.”

 

“I’ll stay close,” Michael promised, pressing a kiss to his forehead. “They’re very nice. I love them a lot, and I know they love you a lot. They’ll definitely help you when you’re not feeling good.”

 

“They love me too? Wow. I’m really lucky. So many people love me now.” Jeremy sounded like he might be starting to nod off.

 

“Yup, because you deserve love and to be loved,” Michael told him as he kissed his forehead once more.

 

Jeremy shook his head sleepily. “Don’t. Done lots of bad stuffs. I was really mean and bad. Need to be better first. I ‘member now. I wanna stop because then I deserve it, maybe. Then I’m allowed to be loved ‘cause I can be good. I love a lot, just don’t deserve it back yet...”

 

“You do deserve it though, Jeremy. Just because you did bad before doesn’t mean you don’t deserve love now. You’re working on being good, so you deserve love.”

 

“M’kay, Captain. I believe you. You always tell the truth...’nd look after me...” Jeremy yawned, his breathing slowing down as he started drift off. “If I... deserve it... then I gotta... tell you... I...” Jeremy let out a soft snore before he could finish his sentence.

 

At that, Michael couldn’t help but sigh. It was like some cliched moment in a book, though he knew what he was going to say. “I know you wouldn’t be happy telling me until you’re yourself again,” Michael muttered out before gently kissing him, lips locking for a brief second, before he pulled back and shut his eyes.

 

 

 

Jeremy only got worse. The fever started up and burnt through him, removing him from reality even further. He was either in a consistent pain (he had to be strapped down so he didn’t hurt himself) or he was so far into his head that he didn’t register anything around him. Unfortunately, his head seemed to be a pretty scary place at the moment, even if he seemed happy.

 

The day after arriving at his moms’ estate was one of the less lucid days. He had been giggling and singing to himself and chattering nonsense. Nothing Michael did seemed to get through to him. It would have been alright, if there wasn’t the underlying sound of fear in Jeremy’s rambling.

 

Michael sat right on the edge of his bed with Jeremy, carding his fingers through the other’s hair as he tried to soothe him. He was so focused on Jeremy that he didn’t notice that Snookums entered the room. He saw her jump up onto the foot of the bed, and he cried out, “Snookums, be careful.”

 

The dog just huffed softly before settling down beside Jeremy, flopping her head down next to him and staring curiously up at him.

 

Jeremy’s rambling (about how ocean foam should be blue, not white) stuttered to a halt. He turned his gaze downwards, eyes half focusing on Snookums. He blinked, and cocked his head curiously. Slowly, he reached a hand out, not quite touching her but sort of just hovering by her nose, his face filled with a childlike awe.

 

She reached up then, rubbing her nose against his hand before she let out a soft ‘boof.’ Michael couldn’t help but smile fondly at that, seeing her finally caring for Jeremy and accepting him.

 

Jeremy giggled, without the slight hysteria which clung to it usually, and reached out properly. “You’re so fluffy...” he murmured, awestruck, stroking Snookums as best as he could reach without really sitting up. He was left physically weak from the fever and was stuck lying down for most of the time, save for meals. He reached both hands down towards her and just about managed to stroke her ears. “Come here, fluffy.” He pouted, sounding more relaxed than he had in days.

 

She managed to move over as close as she could without lying on Jeremy, and Michael couldn’t help but smile so fondly down as she did that. Snookums ended up resting her head down on the edge of his chest then as well.

 

Jeremy’s hands instantly buried themselves in her fur, their touch still gentle. He relaxed even more even as he began cooing over her. “You’re so pretty and fluffy and nice. Can you stay here with me for a while? You’re so lovely.” The slight weight on his chest seemed to ground him a little, his rambling making more sense for once.

 

Snookums just huffed as she nuzzled closer to his chest. “I think she’s going to stay for a while, don’t worry about it,” Michael reassured him as he watched the two fondly.

 

Jeremy blinked slowly and his still feverishly bright eyes dragged themselves from Snookums, even as he kept stroking her. He focused on Michael, as though just realizing he was actually there. “You think so? Because I really like having her here. She’s snuggly.” Jeremy emphasized his point by scrubbing at her ears gently for a second before returning to their soft stroking. Snookum’s tail thumped softly on the bed, obviously enjoying the attention.

 

“I think so, but does that mean she’s even more snuggly that I am?” Michael asked, teasing as he watched the two snuggle and cuddle together. Snookums softly let out a ‘boof’ again before licking his hair a few times and then resting her head against his chest again.

 

Jeremy giggled softly as she licked him, reaching over to boop her nose playfully. Then, he reached up with his other hand and booped Michael’s nose, giggling again. “I don’t think she’s more snuggly than you, Captain. But she is fluffier. And... I feel like her being here is really important to me... but I can’t figure out why. My brain is all blurry. I just know I love her.” Jeremy looked back to Snookums and cooed softly at her, stroking her gently.

 

“You’ve always wanted her to love you like you love her, because I care about her so much. I also care a lot about you so I wanted her to love you so much too.” Michael gently ran his fingers through Jeremy’s hair as Snookums seemed to smack her lips together before she shut her eyes.

 

Jeremy hummed happily as he leant into the touch. He kept petting Snookums, even as his movements slowed a little. “M’glad that she likes me now then.” Jeremy yawned. “She makes me happy. S’not the same you make me happy, but it’s close for the amount.” Jeremy settled against the pillows, shooting Michael a small, sleepy smile.

 

“I’m glad to hear that,” Michael honestly admitted before lying down on the free space left on his bed. “She makes me happy, but you definitely make me happy as well. A different kind of happy as well.”

 

Jeremy’s eyes closed, but he blindly reached out and tried to take Michael’s hand. Michael took it and couldn’t help but smile when Jeremy pressed a small kiss to the back of it. Jeremy sighed happily and seemed to drift off to sleep, one hand intertwined with Michael’s, the other buried in Snookums’ fur. He seemed more relaxed and more at peace than he had since the withdrawal had started.

 

 

 

Of course, not every day was good like this. Other days, he would scream and struggle, to the point where he had to be tied up in bed. It was painful to be in the house those days, as his screams and begging echoed throughout the abode.

 

Despite that, Michael stayed by his side, trying his best to soothe Jeremy and to keep his desire to go and use his powder at bay. He couldn’t do much through his screams, but he tried to calm him between his fits when his throat was sore and needed to recover before he could continue.

 

Jeremy kept tugging at his bindings and Michael knew his muscles would be sore later from all of this. Michael was very glad for the softer cuffs and so he wouldn’t be suffering from rope burn when he finally got out the other side. His screams were painful to hear.

 

“Please! It hurts! Just let me use some! I’ll even do it on myself just please! Let me out!” Michael could barely stand to be in the same room, just from how heartbreaking the scene was, but someone had to watch him. So he plugged up his ears and tried his best to ignore how much it made his heart hurt.

 

He tried to keep himself from focusing too badly on Jeremy’s screams, so he was looking right to the door when it suddenly opened. Michael was surprised when he saw Snookums come in, making her way over to the bed. “Snookums, don’t-“

 

Too late, she already hopped up onto the bed, lying across Jeremy’s torso and stomach. Her head rested on his collarbone area then as she huffed softly.

 

The sudden weight obviously startled Jeremy, because his struggles stopped and his voice cut out. He was left tense, wide eyed and panting as he tried to process. Jeremy continued to sob, tears streaming down his face, but instead of going back to screaming, he just started whimpering. He didn’t try to struggle again yet.

 

She just let out a soft noise before licking his cheek, letting her head flop back down and patting at his chest with her paws, as if she was trying to calm him. Well, it made sense, as she helped him calm down from his own panic attacks when he lived here.

 

Slowly but surely, Jeremy’s breathing evened out a little and his tears slowed to a stop. He didn’t relax just yet, but his eyes did slip shut as Snookums guided him away from his desperation just enough.

 

Michael let out a relieved sigh at that before scratching behind Snookums’ ear. “Good job, girl. You did really good...” The dog just let out a soft ‘boof’ before licking Jeremy’s chin a few times.

 

Jeremy still didn’t relax, even as all other traces of his desperation and pain trickled out of him slowly.

 

“Hurts, girl,” he muttered eventually, his voice hoarse. “It hurts so much. I wanna and I don’t. But you’re such a good girl for looking after me. Hurts less with you, girl. Good girl.” Snookums let out a soft ‘boof’ in response, and licked his cheeks, obviously trying to clean them up. Jeremy’s laugh was weak, strained and scratchy, but it was genuine. “Thank you.” It seemed like talking normally took loads of effort, but also seemed to ground him a little.

 

“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” Michael muttered out, unsure if he would actually end up hearing him, but he wanted to say it regardless. Snookums just looked over at him then, letting out a small huff as she watched him from where she rested.

 

Jeremy didn’t reply, instead he kept mumbling praises to Snookums. After a long time, at least a full hour, Jeremy seemed to totally relax. His face was still tight from the pain he was in. Once his body relaxed, Jeremy opened his eyes, and they darted around the room before landing in Michael. “Can you get me some water, please?” he rasped out before looking back over to Snookums. She really was making a massive difference. Jeremy didn’t calm down at all usually, during these freak outs.

 

Michael just nodded and got up. “I’ll be right back with some water,” he muttered out, and he felt his chest lighten at how calm Jeremy was compared to before. He was quick to get water, coming back in under two minutes. “I got your water, Jeremy.”

 

Jeremy still seemed relaxed, but somehow ready to bolt at the same time. His eyes flicked back to Michael, and the pain was clear in their hazy blue depths. “Can I have a small drink? Can’t move.”

 

“Of course.” He was careful to help adjust Jeremy while letting Snookums still lie down on top of him. Michael helped him to slowly drink some of the water before putting the glass down on the side. Once down, he helped him move to lie back down, Snookums carefully re-positioned herself and licked his chin a few more times.

 

“Thank you...” he murmured. Silence fell and Michael wasn’t quite sure what to do. “Can you sit with me? Touch my hair. Keep me here and not trying to leave. Just distract me. Please.” Jeremy’s voice was weak, strained, but there.

 

“Yeah, of course I can,” Michael promised as he sat down on the free space, though moved his fingers through his hair. “Is there anything else you need me to do?”

 

“Talk to me. Distract me with a story of something you’ve done. Stop me from thinking about this.”

 

“Alright, well, let me tell you about some of the crazy stories I’ve had with Snookums.”

 

 

 

Jeremy’s grasp on reality seemed to be slipping further and further from him. Merely days after discovering how helpful Snookums was on Jeremy’s bad days, Jeremy stopped responding unless he was physically touched. He also stopped talking aloud as much.

 

Which is why, when Michael went in to check on Jeremy, he was surprised to find him chattering away to Snookums, who rarely left his side at this point.

 

“It’s just... he’s so amazing, y’know? And I can’t believe he actually likes me back. Maybe loves me! He’s amazing and I’m just me, but he still wants me. Do you know how special that makes me feel?” Jeremy giggled. Snookums licked his chin affectionately.

 

Michael was a bit surprised at this, walking in and sitting down at his place on the edge of his bed. “Uh... hey Jeremy,” he muttered out, trying to see if he could end up bringing his attention back to reality.

 

Jeremy apparently didn’t hear him. “I really love him.” Jeremy’s voice was soft, earnest. “He’s so amazing I don’t know how I couldn’t. I’ve loved him for so long...” Jeremy started scratching behind Snookums’ ears, lost in thought. “He’s like... the ocean. Loving Michael is like loving the ocean. Because it’s beautiful and amazing and you never know what you’ll find next... but it can also be wild and unpredictable. No one can control the ocean, only the ocean itself. And no one can control Michael, not really. He’s wild and free and... amazing like the ocean. So long as I know him, I’ll never be bored and I’ll never have to be scared. Because no matter how many storms the ocean goes through, it always calms, always settles back to being sweet and beautiful. Just like Michael.” Jeremy looked back at Snookums. “You understand what I mean?” he asked her seriously. She let out a little ‘boof’ of confirmation, before sort of grumbling and settling down again.

 

Michael just felt his face flush a deep red as he listened to Jeremy as he completely ignored his existence. He stayed where he sat as he watched Jeremy, eyes wide. The fact that he compared him to the ocean, something that he loved the most out of all things. He raved about it whenever he could, so the fact that he was comparing him to it

 

“I knew you would!” Jeremy seemed very pleased at Snookums’ reaction. “And it’s like, even when I thought he didn’t like me back in that way, loving him is freeing? Like the same freedom of being on a ship going anywhere. Because he’s just that amazing. I was worried after the whole thing with Dustin that he didn’t like me. He seemed so upset about the potion that I thought for sure he didn’t return my feelings. And I decided that even as friends, I was so lucky to have him in my life. I could keep loving him from a distance.”

 

Jeremy took a deep breath, smiling softly. “And then when I found about my siren song, it just made sense. And he found his and it was amazing. I remember it all now, you know, although it took a while to all come back to me. Never felt so loved as I did then. M’just glad the hickeys faded so I didn’t have to use up all the makeup stocks. Didn’t want anyone else questioning them. And now, when I’m all better, I’m gonna tell him everything! We’ve been kissing a little sometimes but I wanna tell him that he is what I heard in the siren song and that I love him so much. I wanna know that I am good enough for him by beating this. That I can be strong too.”

 

Jeremy grinned down at Snookums, who turned her head and sneezed a couple of times. “Hey! That’s not very nice! I’m only pouring my heart out to you about your dad,” Jeremy grumbled, giving her an affectionate scratch behind her ears as she settled again.

 

Michael felt his heart almost explode right then and there, at his heartfelt confession to his dog, and he didn’t even notice he was sitting inches away from him. His cheeks warmed as he just fiddled with the end of his sleeves as he watched Snookums glanced over at Michael, huffing once before shutting her eyes.

 

It seemed like Jeremy’s confession took all of his energy, because he was lightly snoring mere moments later after murmuring a ‘goodnight’ to Snookums. There was a soft smile on his lips as he slept, his hands still buried in Snookums fur.

 

With his face buried into his hands, Michael just muttered out, “God, I am so fucked, Snookums,” which was replied with a soft ‘boof’ from said dog.

 

 


The day after Jeremy’s confession, he wouldn’t wake up. He was still alive, still breathing, but he wouldn’t respond to anything besides a vague twitch, maybe the movement of an arm. His fever, which had been getting worse and worse over the past couple of weeks, had spiked dangerously high. Jeremy’s breaths were light, pained pants with the occasional whimper mixed in. Sometimes, his eyes would twitch and almost open, and his hand might search for Michael’s or for Snookums.

 

Snookums didn’t leave him at all. She kept her head on his chest, and the moment his breathing changed, even if it was to cough, she would be up and grabbing the nearest human.

 

Nearly every single time, that person was Michael. He refused to leave Jeremy’s side, only if his moms or someone from the crew forced him to leave, which they rarely managed to do. He wished he could do something to help Jeremy, just being unable to do anything made his gut churn and tears form.

 

Keeping Jeremy hydrated was the biggest and most pressing issue. Luckily, there were moments where he would be closer to consciousness, where he could recognise water in his mouth. Michael would hold him close, sit him up, and gently dribble water into his parted lips from the small cup he kept nearby. Jeremy would weakly swallow. It was always a relief when he did.

 

Keeping his fever down was possible, just difficult. Brooke mixed up a number of things to help, which were mixed with the water for ease of administration. They kept him alive, but he was still in a dangerous state.

 

Michael stayed right by Jeremy, holding his hand in his own as he rubbed his thumb over his knuckles ever so gently. He muttered words to Jeremy about how he was going to be alright, and he sort of dazed out until he felt a hand on his shoulder. Flinching, he looked up and saw his mothers both there, looking at him with worry. “Mom? Mama?”

 

“Hey there, sweetheart. How’re you doing?” Mama murmured, perching herself on the bed next to him. Mom took the chair where he would usually sit.

 

“I’m... I’m fine,” he reassured her before looking back at Jeremy. “But I wish that Jeremy was better already...”

 

Mom scooter the chair closer and grabbed his free hand. “He’ll make it through this, love. These things take time, but he’ll be alright.”

 

“I know, he will, but I can’t bear to see him suffer like this,” Michael said, his voice cracking before he rested his head against Jeremy’s hand, a soft sob passing his lips.

 

Mama’s arm wrapped around Michael, pulling him gently into her warm embrace without making him let go. She offered her shoulder for him to cry on.

 

“I understand, sweetheart. I know. But Jeremy is strong, he’ll be back to you as soon as possible. The boy is too stubborn to wait around to wake up. And when he does, you’ll be right here with him, ready to help him out the other side.”

 

He just hiccuped a few times before he calmed himself down. “I... He is, but I wish he was better now. After everything that happened to him, he doesn’t deserve this, Mama!”

 

“You’re right, he doesn’t. But sometimes bad things happen to good people, and the most we can do is weather the storm...” Mama murmured.

 

From her space in the chair, Mom sighed. “You know, the whole reason your mama left the mainland was because she was really sick. She was dying and no one knew how to help her. Came to a lonely island, all by herself, so she could die without all the pressure and the fanfare that her family wanted.” Mom had never told this story before, she had only ever said that the sea had brought them together. “She was delirious with her fever by the time she landed here. She was lucky that I was around rather than out getting supplies for the winter. She was very lucky, the herb she needed grew only on a few small islands, and this was one of those islands. But it took her a long time to recover. The whole winter. And she was unconscious for most of it. And I knew that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, so I couldn’t let her die. We chatted while she was awake and I stayed with her until she awoke fully healed. And she stayed with me, apparently having fallen just as deeply as I did.” Mom shot Mama a small, lovesick grin.

 

“What Jeremy is dealing with isn’t anywhere near as bad as what I had. If I can pull through, as sickly as I was to begin with, he can too, in a hell of a lot less time. And he’ll be stronger because of it. I promise.” Mama pressed a small kiss to Michael’s forehead.

 

As he listened to this story, taking it all in as he stared down at Jeremy’s form, he couldn’t help but let out a soft sigh before pressing another kiss to the back of his hand. “I... thank you.” His voice was soft and frail, and he couldn’t help but smile ever so softly.

 

“It’ll be okay, sweetheart.” Another kiss to his forehead, and mom squeezed his hand. Then, there was the smallest of twitches from Jeremy’s hand. More so than he had ever done over these past three days. It was a definite, if extremely weak, squeeze. His face nor his breathing changed at all.

 

Michael couldn’t help but grin a little more at that, and he pressed one more small kiss there. “You’ll be alright, Jeremy... I promised.”

 

 

 

Two days later, a full five days since Jeremy had fallen into the worse of his fever, he opened his eyes. It started out as a weak groan. Then the slightest of stretches of his arms, both too shaky to really move properly. Then, with no little effort, Jeremy’s eyes fluttered open.

 

Michael was there when he opened his eyes again. He was starting to nod off, as he hadn’t slept in a decent while since he refused to sleep in case Jeremy needed him. His eyes shot open and he sat straight up, and he was gasping for a moment in disbelief. “J... Jeremy?...”

 

For a split second, Jeremy’s face turned down into a confused frown. Then he smiled weakly. “Hey Michael.” His voice was rough and crackly, but it was undoubtedly his voice.

 

Michael started to tear up then before taking his hand, intertwining their fingers ever so gently before kissing the back of his hand. “Oh thank god you’re awake, you’re finally awake...”

 

“M’awake.” Jeremy squeezed his hand, the action so gentle that it was almost unnoticeable. “M’awake. All of me is awake, I think.” Jeremy groaned a little, eyes roaming the room slowly before landing on Michael again. “Where are we?”

 

After all of the pain and suffering he went through, it made sense that he wasn’t in-touch with reality. “We’re in my room at my moms’ estate,” he reminded him as he rubbed circles into the back of his hand.

 

“Mmmm.” Jeremy hummed, eyes flicking around again. “Thought it looked familiar. Parts of me recognized it, I think.” Jeremy still looked confused, but like he was trying to suppress it. Even through Michael’s extreme joy, he could pick up on it. He knew Jeremy’s expressions too well.

 

He sighed softly, worry making his chest ache. “Jeremy, what do you remember?”

 

“Remember everything, I think. It’s a bit fuzzy after I was following you around and you were talking to Brooke, but pretty sure I got everything.” Jeremy blinked owlishly and upon seeing Michael’s unconvinced expression, he nodded to himself. “All of me remembers it all. Just...” He trailed off, averting his eye almost ashamedly. “Just don’t remember which is me. There’s too many...” he almost whispered.

 

“There are too many what? I need to know what you mean so I can help you,” Michael told him, voice gentle and reassuring as he squeezed his hand.

 

Jeremy sighed, the sound coming out more of a wheeze. “Jeremy, Noah, Lucy, Archangel and Loc. They’re all me but I don’t know what goes with which. And they’re all just... here. I don’t know which I am supposed to be...” He sounded ashamed of that fact.

 

Even if his heart broke at all of this, he reached over, cupping one of his cheeks with his free hand before resting their foreheads together. “We’ll help you figure it out, I’ll help you figure it out.”

 

Jeremy nodded slowly, cheek flushing and he tried to sit. “The pieces are all here, just need to know where they need to go.”

 

"Yeah, I can definitely help you do that," Michael reassured as he helped Jeremy to sit up, Snookums carefully moving herself to just rest across his lap then.

 

Jeremy moved his hands, one to lightly bury itself in Snookums fur and the other to weakly wrap around Michael’s shoulders. It seemed to be as much for comfort as it was for support. “You’re the only one who can help me, I think. You’re the only- the only constant across all of me.” Jeremy looked away, cheeks flushing again. “You’re the only thing I’m certain of.” Jeremy leant over and pressed a soft, if somewhat clumsy, kiss to Michael’s jaw. Just a small brush of his lips, but turned him into a red, stuttering mess. His eyes shut tightly. “I’ve... I’ve kissed.... I’ve kissed you a- a bit or a lot. Which ones?” Jeremy questioned softly.

 

Michael felt his cheeks warm up a bit, though he had one hand hold onto the one across his shoulders. “Loc and Jeremy,” answered simply as he looked over at Jeremy then, squeezing his hand softly.

 

“And I’m supposed to be Jeremy?” he asked, though it sounded close to a statement.

 

“Yes, you are,” Michael confirmed. “You pretended to be Loc when we were dealing with the cultists, but accidentally believed it for an hour or two.”

 

“That’s right...” He got a slightly far off look in his eyes. “I sort of hit myself with the Dew Berry powder a little, so I believed it. And you believed you were Shul, but you’re actually Michael. But that means Loc isn’t a part of me, he’s pretend. So anything that Loc would think isn’t supposed to be a real part of me.” He nodded, eyes refocusing, and shot a small, questioning smile at Michael.

 

Michael gave him a small nod of confirmation before pressing a soft kiss to his cheek. “Exactly right. Anything relating to Loc’s thinking isn’t a part of you,” he confirmed and echoed back.

 

“You might need to tell me if a thought is something Loc would think.” Jeremy sighed. “Also Lucy, because I’m a boy. I can’t be Lucy because she’s a girl. But Lucy liked someone else too, even if it wasn’t real. I don’t like those memories.” Jeremy frowned. “He did something to Lucy, right?”

 

He sat there, thinking for a few moments on how to describe this to him. “She’s also someone else you pretended to be. You ‘became’ her when you would go with Christine to her etiquette classes when you were younger, and she’s based off of your actual cousin.”

 

Jeremy nodded, brows furrowed thoughtfully. “That makes sense. The only two I remember actually being is Noah and Archangel. I did... something and people would call me Archangel. But I remember you calling me Noah.” He looked back up at Michael, confusion evident in his expression and what little body language he could managed in his weakened state. “I know Chrissy would call me Noah sometimes, when I was little. But if I’m Jeremy why do I remember you calling me Noah? Does that mean he’s really me too?”

 

Michael took a deep breath at that before he squeezed Jeremy’s hand one last time. “I only called you that because I had sorta been put into this bad head-space and in that, I was told to call you Noah. You stopped going by Noah when you were a kid, and everyone’s called you Jeremy since. He used to be you, but he hasn’t been for a long time.”

 

Jeremy nodded again. “So he’s who I was, not who I am. You were just sorta... confused. Kinda like I am now.” Jeremy frowned, as if suddenly remembering something. “What about Archangel? Because I can’t really remember how I was him at all, but he feels real. I can’t even remember anything about him except that he was super calm but also super angry...”

 

“I only ever saw him once, but he did not so good things under the guise of doing good. Sort of confusing, but...” Michael sighed for a moment. “He was this persona you gave yourself when you were using the Dew berry powder, when you were addicted to it, which we’ve been trying to break. You hated to be him.”

 

“Oh…” was Jeremy’s only response for a good minute or so. “That would explain why I don’t like the feeling of him at all. I know where he is in everything, because his memories are hard to find.” Jeremy’s head perked up, eyes going wide. “Wait a minute. I don’t feel anything there. I don’t want to use the powder. I don’t think I need it either! It’s just a thing which I don’t like, not anything special anymore.”

 

Michael couldn’t help but grin at that, cupping his cheeks then as he beamed. “That’s really how you feel now? Jeremy, that’s amazing! We have to celebrate!” Even if he knew this was how this all would end, hearing this made it so real and he couldn’t help but be so excited.

 

Jeremy smiled back at him but shook his head gently. His soft chuckle was cut off by a small cough. “Michael, I can barely move by myself. And you look like you haven’t slept in a week. We’re not in the best positions to celebrate.” Jeremy leant over and pressed another small kiss to Michael’s jaw. “Later. I just wanna sleep for now.”

 

“Mm... Fine, we’ll celebrate after we wake up,” Michael told him, squishing Jeremy’s cheeks in his hands with a goofy grin. “Deal?”

 

“If I can move more, it’s a deal.” Jeremy’s lips were a little pouty from Michael squishing his cheeks, but his eyes were bright.

 

Carefully, Michael laid Jeremy down, and Snookums instantly took her old position on his chest with a happy ‘boof’. Her tail was thumping happily against the bed as she leant up and licked his chin happily. Jeremy finally seemed to realize she was there. “Wait. Snookums didn’t like me before. But she likes me now? How long has she been here with me?” Jeremy blinked, pulling Michael down into the bed with him (his attempts were weak, but it was obvious what he was trying to achieve).

 

Michael lied down beside him then, pulling the covers over the now three of them as best as he could. “She’s been here since almost the start, I think she didn’t like the addiction stuff. Now she’s all good and she’s only really left you to eat or go out, sorta like me.”

 

Jeremy hummed happily. “Thank you, but now that I’m a bit better, you gotta take care of yourself too.” Jeremy’s tone, though quiet, didn’t leave room for argument. As he squirmed a little, as best he could, Jeremy’s smile only grew in strength. “You’re both so warm.”

 

For a good couple of minutes, Jeremy was silent, and Michael could have sworn he was asleep. Then, a quiet whisper broke through his steady breathing. “I don’t think I’ve told you before, Michael, but I love you. All of me does, every part loves you.”

 

Michael looked down at him, eyes full of adoration and warmth before he told him, which made him feel so free, “I love every part of you, Jeremy, so much. All of me loves all of you.” He spoke soft with a hint of adoration, his arms around him before he pressed a lingering kiss to the temple closest to him. “I love you so much, it hurts, but in a good way, and I’m so glad I can finally tell you...”

 

“You’re what the sirens offered me. And I remember. We kissed. A lot. Both of us got a little free and we kissed. Was intense.” Jeremy seemed to be struggling to string his thoughts together, but he seemed determined to say this. “Don’t know if you remember properly yet, but I promised myself I would tell you.”

 

Michael, who didn’t properly remember yet, felt his cheeks warm up greatly at that. The sensations he did remember made a lot more sense though. He relayed that to Jeremy before pressing a gentle kiss to his cheek. “I know you’re what the sirens offered me, and I’d be happy to, once we’re all better, try to remember what we did, even if you have to show me in a new way.”

 

Jeremy actually laughed properly at that, it was quiet and croaky but it was that same wheezing cackle that Michael loved. “Smooth, Captain. That was really damn smooth.” Jeremy turned his head and pressed a kiss where he could reach, which happened to be the siren mark. “I’ll have to take you up on that, once we’re better,” he giggled, his face red with laughter and his bright blush.

 

“Good,” was all Michael said as he almost melted, smiling with such adoration at Jeremy before resting his head down on his pillows. As soon as he did, he felt his exhaustion catch up to him. A yawn escaped him. “Please do...”

 

Jeremy nuzzled against him as best he could, a soft, sleepy grin on his face. “G’night, Michael. Love you,” he sighed.

 

He felt his heart skip a beat before he muttered out, “Love you too, so much.”

Chapter Text

After three weeks of being on the island, with almost a week into Jeremy’s recovery without being sick, Jenna was starting to get a little antsy. She would see Jeremy try to walk on his own sometimes, but he couldn’t walkat all on his own. At one point during the past week, she had to catch him before he fell on his face. He’d only end up trying when Michael was passed out (he barely slept while Jeremy was sick, so he was recovering).

 

Which is why she freaked out when she saw Jeremy outside, though she couldn’t help but also be confused as to why he was dressed as Lucy as well. She got up from where she was reading in the large Mell living room and hurried outside, watching as Jeremy walked up the hill to the front. “Jeremy! How the hell- you need to be asleep and in bed!” She rushed down the grassy landscape before locking arms with him. “And how the hell did you get all dressed up on your own? God, you need to be in bed and not strain yourself.”

 

Jeremy turned face her in surprise. Jenna was a little confused when he flushed bright red, but he didn’t protest as she stared carefully leading him back to the house. “S-Sorry…,” he murmured, his voice quiet and slightly croaky. Jenna was a little surprised when she noticed his eyes starting to twinkle with amusement.

 

“I know you want to start walking around right away, but you can’t on your own. You need to start using Michael’s cane and have someone with you,” Jenna reprimanded him in a caring tone before leading him into the house, opening the door and helping him in. “You’re gonna scare everyone.”

 

“I’m very sorry. I’ll be more careful next time.” Jeremy looked a little abashed but was obviously repressing a smirk. His eyes hadn’t lost that twinkle of amusement and he was looking at Jenna sort of weirdly. If she didn’t know that Jeremy was head over heels for Michael (seriously, who didn’t know it?), she would have said he was checking her out.

 

“You better, now let’s just have you sit for now,” she muttered out, having Jeremy sit in the comfortable love-seat. “Seriously, what got into you? And how did you even get out there? And all dressed on your own?”

 

Jeremy opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by some giggling from inside Michael’s room. There was a small shuffling noise and the door swung open. Out popped Snookums, closely followed by Michael, who was partially carrying... Jeremy. He was laughing at something Michael had said, but froze as soon as he locked eyes with his doppelgänger, all traces of humor slipping from his face.

 

Jenna stared between the two, confusion rampant on her face. Michael seemed to be in the same boat, stopping when he walked as soon as he saw the two. "Wh... Wait, what?" Jenna asked, absolutely dumbfounded.

 

Michael, somehow, seemed to get a better grasp on the situation as he, after a few seconds of silence, let out a small 'oh!'

 

The Jeremy in the love-seat stood, his (her?) amusement finally truly displayed. “So! Seems like the addict made it through after all. Shame, I was kinda hoping to finally get to claim your bedroom at the summer house, Lord Heere.”

 

The Jeremy with Michael sighed dramatically. “Wow, I thought you outgrew your bitchiness years ago, Lady Heere. You know I lost that title when I threw my lot in with the dreaded Blood Coat. And here I thought that you were actually here because you cared. My mistake.” For a moment, he remained dead serious, then they both broke out laughing. He pushed away from Michael and took a few shaky steps over to the other. They embraced tenderly, still giggling a little. “I missed you, Lucy.”

 

“You too, you little twerp. Can’t believe you used my name again.”

 

Jenna felt herself reel back at this, needing to remember what Jeremy told him from the first time he dressed as Lucy to remember that she was, the real Lucy, his cousin.

 

"Yeah, he did it to try to seduce Captain Kropp and succeeded," Michael informed Lucy before walking over, standing by Jeremy's side and helping him to stand once the two finished their embrace. "So beware, I guess." Snookums 'boof'ed softly from where she stood beside Michael, looking curiously up at the lady present.

 

Lucy waved him off, leaning down to lightly pat Snookums on the head. “Eh, I can take him. He’s the one with the love potion cologne, right? Kendra warned me about him ages ago, just after you guys faced him.” She turned to shoot a flirty smirk at Jenna. “Besides, how could he ever seduce me when there are such radiant beauties present? Now that I know Jeremy has been travelling with such wonderful company, I doubt I could ever see anyone in such a light again.” Lucy took Jenna’s hand and bowed, pressing a gentle kiss to the back of it before looking up at her, eyes bright and curious for her reaction.

 

Jenna felt her brain almost shut down at this, and if she was fully present, she would be ashamed at the stuttering mess she became at Lucy's obvious flirting. "I-uh-um-uh..."

 

"Oh shit, I think you broke Jenna. Congrats!"

 

Lucy giggled and stood, but didn’t release Jenna’s hand. “I couldn’t help myself.” She shrugged with a cheeky grin. Jeremy smacked Lucy’s shoulder lightly.

 

“I don’t care how pretty she is, can you not break my friends for like five minutes? I know it’s been ages since you’ve had a girlfriend but geez, can you control your lesbian urges for once?” It was obvious that this was not the first time they had this conversation, if the large, almost identical grins they both sported were any indication.

 

Lucy shrugged again. “Not when someone so gorgeous is around, no.”

 

Jenna came back to enough to squeeze her hand and stand herself. "Well, I-I'm glad to finally get to meet this beauty that Jeremy's imitated. He could never compare to the real deal."

 

Lucy’s attention was instantly back on Jenna. She seemed pleasantly surprised that Jenna was returning her advances. “You flatter me, my lady pirate.” She bowed again. “Lady Lucinda Heere, at your service. I would be honored if you would call me Lucy.” Jeremy’s eye roll was almost audible, but he said nothing this time around, instead just smiling at his cousin fondly.

 

Jenna felt butterflies flutter around before she bowed in return. "Jenna Rolan, at your service, though you can call me whatever you'd like." In the background, she could faintly hear Michael pretend to gag.

 

Lucy had a pleased blush on her cheeks, obviously not used to anyone responding to her flirtations. “If... if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, might you join us Miss Jenna? I would like to catch up with my cousin, but I very much enjoy your company as well.” She seemed nervous. Jeremy shot her a thumbs up, which Jenna caught from the corner of her eye.

 

"It would be my honor," Jenna replied back, seeing that she herself wasn't the only one getting flustered by the flirtatious attitude they held towards one another. "I'd love to hear more about you."

 

Lucy guided her over to the couch, which was a little more proper, while Jeremy and Michael took the love-seat. Jeremy happily perched in Michael’s lap and quickly kissed his cheek before turning back to the girls, totally ignoring the dopey grin the action caused. “So, Lucy, what are you doing here?”

 

“Kendra and Shanti called me as soon as you got sick. You know how you left them my details? Well, they figured you getting a bit of familial support would be good, and since I’m the most rebellious after you, I was the obvious choice.” She shrugged, not letting go of Jenna’s hand. “I’m not about to turn in Blood Coat after he got poor Teddy out from the Sanders place and put Damien in his place at last.”

 

"Aww, thank you, I appreciate that," Michael hummed out as Jenna watched him rest his head onto Jeremy's shoulder, the dopey grin still in-place. "If you ever want to visit him, I can give you his location, but just keep it a secret."

 

“Naturally.” Lucy nodded, looking back at Jeremy. “But so you know, your dad is out looking for you, along with an army of bounty hunters. Just know that if they find you, it won’t be from me.” Jeremy looked more than a little stunned.

 

"Well, they can try all they like, but they won't get him," Jenna reassured both Jeremy and Lucy. "After all, if someone ends up in Blood Coat's crew, they never leave, and if they go missing, they stay that way."

 

“Yeah, I heard all about the ‘spell’ that Jeremy is supposedly under, keeping him a part of the crew. The only spell I’m seeing is Cupid’s arrow right up his tushy,” Lucy teased. Jeremy didn’t deny it, instead just arched an eyebrow at his cousin, tilted Michael’s head, and kissed him firmly on the mouth.

 

“I mean, I never lied to Damien about what I said. I just sort of... hammed it up. Plus you’re seeing us in early stages. I’m allowed to be affectionate,” he grumbled playfully at her condescending hum.

 

“If it took you this long to get together, I feel sorry for poor Jenna for having to put up with your lovesick antics.”

 

"Oh, you have no idea. Hell, when they both wanted to listen to the male sirens we had to pass by, and they hadn't somehow admitted their feelings to each other yet, they ended up breaking through the bonds o-"

 

"Alright Jenna, I don't think we need the play-by-play you got from Rich," Michael muttered out from where he sat before half-burying his face into Jeremy's neck.

 

Jenna just shrugged before glancing at Lucy with a sly smile. "Oh, and did you know part of the reason why Michael calls himself Blood Coat is because of his horrible blush-"

 

"Stop spreading untrue slander about me that I do not approve of, Jenna!"

 

Lucy laughed. It sounded so much like Jeremy’s but somehow so much nicer, or maybe Jenna was just bias. Lucy looked really pretty when she laughed.

 

“Um, Captain? She didn’t get a play by play, she saw, remember? She was steering the ship,” Jeremy stage whispered, poking Michael’s cheek playfully.

 

"Jeremy, I'm still tired and need to catch up on losing almost two weeks worth of sleep, you're lucky I'm conscious right now," Michael muttered back. "Honestly, I think I might pass out here."

 

Jeremy sighed, a worried frown appearing. “You serious? Because I’m all for more cuddles, my legs were getting tired anyway.” He huffed. “You stupid captain, you should have known I would have been fine for the first week anyway. I had Snookums looking out for me. When am I ever going to convince you to look after yourself.” His exasperated tone was fond, even as he fussed. Snookums chuffed in agreement.

 

"When he's on his deathbed, and possibly not even then," Jenna joked, which earned her a certain bird from Michael that she rolled her eyes at. "Seriously though, go back to bed with Jeremy, he can catch up with Lucy later. I wanna get to know her a little better myself, if I'm going to be honest." She winked at Lucy then, feeling confidence come over her.

 

Michael just stuck his tongue back over at her then. "You go enjoy your gay time with her then, I'll enjoy mine with Jeremy when I'm not passed out."

 

Lucy flushed but was grinning happily as she bid them both goodnight. Once they were safely back in their room, she turned to Jenna looking nervous but hopeful.

 

“This may seem a little abrupt, but would you permit me to court you properly when you’re ashore? I won’t ask that you leave your crew, or your current life, and it would remain secret for now so as to keep your identity and face safe from the public, but I have to ask. I’ve been enchanted by both your beauty and your wit. I want to get to know you a bit better first, but I have to know if I have a chance.” Her words came out a little rushed, she was very clearly nervous and a little overwhelmed. She looked even more like Jeremy in those few seconds, and the sight made Jenna melt with fondness.

 

Jenna reached a hand up, cupping one of Lucy's cheeks before pressing a tender kiss to her uncupped cheek. "You definitely have a chance, Lucy. I want to get to know you more as well, and you can make your choice before we set off to continue our journey, but I promise you that you have a guarantee of me agreeing after you do me the honors of letting me get to know you more."

 

Lucy‘s eyes fluttered shut as she gently rested her hand against Jenna’s. She leaned into the touch, relaxing. “I- thank you,” she murmured. When her eyes opened, Jenna noticed she looked a little dazed, but overwhelmingly happy.

 

"No, thank you," Jenna playfully corrected, a soft smile on her lips before she pressed a kiss to Lucy's cheek once more.

 

 

 

It was a full week and a half longer before Jeremy was up and walking all by himself again. He had lost a lot of muscle mass while sick, as well as not getting enough nutrients, so his body had a lot of work to do just to get him back to a basic state of working. He still needed to pinch Michael’s cane from time to time.

 

Currently, he was using it while he walked around the island with Brooke (and Snookums), collecting herbs and supplies for when they would leave in another week. He could see Jenna and Lucy over by the beach, chatting happily, obviously falling for each other. He loved seeing his family happy, and he hoped he could set up another person from his family and make her happy some time in the near future. His present weighed heavily in his pocket. He listened as Brooke chattered happily about what she had just collected.

 

"-this will help out with so many things, it can used in such a versatile way," Brooke said with a skip in her step, carefully wrapping up some of the herbs she just picked before putting it into her medicine ingredients pack she had. "I'm so happy that Michael's moms decided to grow a huge patch of a variety of herbs just for us to come pick and use. They're such lovely ladies."

 

“They really are,” Jeremy agreed happily, and Snookums sneezed in agreement. “Speaking of lovely ladies, I know for a fact that you’ve had your eye on one Miss Christine Canigula for well over a year.” He shot her a smug smirk, waiting to see her response.

 

"It's that obvious, huh?" Brooke asked as she went to pick something else. "I've been fond of her since she first came, but I didn't want to move too fast, and I wanted to get to know her really well before I even thought about making a move."

 

“I’d say you’ve known her for long enough that you can safely make a move, Brookie. What’s holding you back?” Jeremy was genuinely confused. Brooke and Chrissy would make an adorable couple, and they had a strong enough friendship that it would last.

 

"I don't know, I guess it's nerves," Brooke admitted, chuckling weakly as she looked down at what she was picking.

 

Jeremy grinned, and started digging into his pocket. “Well I happen to know on good authority that she’s interested in you as well, and has been for a while. I’ve held off on my meddling this long, but since I have finally gotten myself sorted, I feel like I can offer some advice.” He pulled out a small golden pendant. It was barely the size of a gold coin and was set with emeralds and amethysts, Christine’s favorite stones. It was one of the offerings he had pocketed from the cultists, specifically for this purpose. “This is for you to give to her.”

 

Brooke's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates at the item that she took, staring at before looking between him and said item. "I... Jeremy, you didn't have to..."

 

“It’s no big deal. You make her happy, that’s what matters to me. So consider this a blessing of sorts from what little family she has left.” It was true. The moment it was known that Christine had joined up with Blood Coat, she was disowned by her fathers and abandoned by any title she may have inherited. Jeremy was all she had left of her old life, even if she couldn’t be happier to be away from it.

 

He watched as Brooke seemed to be overwhelmed for a moment before practically leaping up and bringing him into a careful hug. "Thanks, Jerry..."

 

Jeremy chuckled, wrapping his free arm around her. “Of course, Brookie. I can’t think of anyone better to be with her.”

 

The moment was tender and peaceful... until Snookums let out a happy bark and jumped on the two, knocking them both to the floor. Jeremy, though winded, started laughing in earnest, burying his hands into her think fur as she lay on top of him. “I think Snookums is happy for you too.” Two more voices joined in the laughter. Jeremy peered up and saw Chrissy and Michael giggling as they walked over. “Hey guys! Come to join the dog pile?”

 

He heard a small almost-squeak from Brooke when she saw who was coming over, though it seemingly went unnoticed as Christine rushed over. "Oh, yes-"

 

"Chrissy, no, Jeremy's still recovering. Snookums shouldn't even have knocked him over."

 

Jeremy waved him off, opening his arms. “I’m fine! Didn’t even hurt, I promise. Both of you, come cuddle me!” Jeremy demanded playfully, eyes closed as he lay back. Snookums didn’t move, apparently happy squashing Jeremy’s torso and Brooke’s legs.

 

"Geez, you're demanding, and I'm not until you're nicer about it," Michael teased, though he felt Christine plop down, even if she was mostly across Brooke.

 

"You're super greedy, Jeremy," Christine said in a sing-songy voice, sticking her tongue out at him. "I'll stick with Brooke, but you can have my legs over yours."

 

“I’ll take it, Chrissy.” Jeremy grinned, glad that she had taken the bait. He shot his best puppy eyes up at Michael. “Please join me, sweetheart? Can I have cuddles, please?” He pouted and made grabby hands in his boyfriend’s direction.

 

He watched as Michael rolled his eyes before eventually sitting beside him. "You're going to have to do better than that, especially since you're smothered by so many people already."

 

Jeremy leaned his head against Michael’s leg, looking up at him with big, sad eyes. “But you’re my favowite pewson, Captain. I just wanna snuggle you is all. Pwease?” There was a playful cry of indignation from Chrissy, but he swatted her lightly. “Oh shush you. We both know I’m not your favorite anymore either.” He stuck his tongue out at her before turning his sad look up at Michael again.

 

"Geez, I don't know, that was pretty rude, how you just were to Chrissy and all."

 

"Oh the humanity, I don't know how I'll ever recover," she practically wept out before burying her face into Brooke's shoulder. Her face exploded with color at that before she wrapped her arms around her and playfully pouted back at Jeremy.

 

"Yeah, Jerry, how could you do that to her? So inhumane!"

 

“Blast it all, I’ve been caught!” he cried dramatically, throwing his arms into the air. “And I can’t even blame an addiction this time!” He let them flop limply, gazing emptily at the clear sky. “How shall I even become a good person when I am so cruel to you all? Just go, leave me in my own cruel misery. I do not deserve your love!” he wailed. He was struggling to keep his face looking pathetic, the edge of giggles starting. A few weeks ago, those words might have had a sliver of truth in then, but now, after many, many talks with Michael and the others, he could finally make fun of those thoughts that once lingered.

 

"I don't know, maybe leave me and Brookie be? She's the only one who can comfort me in my time of need," Chrissy almost wailed out.

 

Jeremy grinned, but then forced his broken expression on again. “For you, dear sister of mine, anything. I hope that our dear Brooke can comfort you for all the wrongs I have done.” Jeremy poked Snookums. She huffed but didn’t move, her tail wagging playfully. “Michael, help!” Jeremy whined, flailing a little. “She won’t let me go!”

 

Michael rolled his eyes then before standing up, walking a bit away, and whistling for Snookums. "C'mere girl, I'll give you a treat!"

 

She lifted her head, looking torn for a moment, before jumping up and bouncing happily over to Michael. Jeremy grabbed the cane and scrambled to his feet. “So first I can’t get her to like me at all, now she can’t get enough of me. What has my life come to?” Jeremy complained, before grinning. “Can’t say I’m not enjoying the attention, though.” He turned to look back at the girls, shooting them both a wink. Neither realized that the other had seen it, and they both grinned. “I’ll catch you ladies later. Have fun!” He started hobbling over to Michael and Snookums.

 

He saw Brooke and Christine sitting up, as well as Brooke beginning to talk, before he focused on Michael and Snookums.

 

Michael was squatting down by her, giving her something to eat before petting her. "You're a good girl. Thank you for watching over Jere while I slept." He got a nuzzle against his hand as a response after she ate her treat before he stood up again.

 

“She really is a good girl,” Jeremy cooed, patting her head as soon as he was in reach. He leaned close to Michael. “I gave Brooke the necklace. I think she’s gonna go for it,” he whispered, grabbing Michael’s arm and trying to tug him away from the girls a little. He wasn’t very successful thanks to his wobbly legs.

 

He rolled his eyes at Jeremy's attempts before walking along with him, whistling for Snookums to follow. "Good. They're been very subtle with their hints towards one another, and they deserve each other. Also, don't be trying to tug me along. You're still recovering and I'm a sleep-deprived mess, it won't end well for either of us."

 

“Maybe I’m trying to tug you to the couch for some cuddles, what then? You gonna resist me?” Jeremy pouted.

 

"No, but I don't want you to hurt yourself while trying to get me there," Michael countered before pressing a kiss to Jeremy's cheek.

 

“Fine.” Jeremy sighed dramatically, before tucking himself closer to Michael as they walked. He pressed a kiss to Michael’s jaw. “You’re looking healthier now, Captain. M’glad you’re recovering so well,” he murmured, his tone switching from fun to sincere.

 

"I could say the same to you, Jeremy," Michael muttered out, ducking for a moment and pressing a lingering kiss underneath his chin. "And I will, actually. You're looking a lot healthier, and I'm glad you're recovering so well."

 

Snookums ‘boof’ed in agreement, her tail wagging happily. Jeremy opened his mouth to reply, but he was cut off by a loud squeal. He turned back and saw Chrissy launching herself at Brooke happily, knocking them both to the ground. Loud, happy laughter echoed over to Jeremy and he smiled. “Brooke did it, by the sounds of things.”

 

Michael nodded before turning back around, almost shouting as he exclaimed, "I'm so happy for you two!" Jeremy gently swatted at his arm then, gasping for a moment in a playful manner as Michael shot him a soft, 'innocent' smile. "What? I am."

 

“I am too, just let them have their moment. We can congratulate them and give them as many ‘I told you so’s as we like later.” Jeremy lightly kissed Michael’s lips, lingering only long enough that Michael started to get into it. “C’mon. I wanna snuggle you as soon as possible.”

 

When he pulled away, Michael had on a big pout. "Mm, fine, but I'm probably going to fall asleep after a few minutes. I'm getting tired already."

 

Jeremy nodded, feeling his own exhaustion peak as well. “Me too. Let’s go cuddle in bed until we fall asleep. I have no doubt those two will be squealing all about it at dinner.”

 

"Oh yeah, no doubt. Well, you'll hear it, I might not if I'm still asleep," Michael said, kissing Jeremy's cheek quickly. "If I am, fill me in."

 

 

 

Jeremy pressed Michael against this the wall of his bedroom, pushing one of his wrists down. “You only had one hand free, and you had that in my hair.” Jeremy was half panting, remembering how intense the feelings were. He was glad he had recovered enough to stand alone now, and that his arms weren’t as weak anymore. He pressed as closely to Michael as he could, eyes blown and bright.

 

Michael seemed to have something flickering in his eyes for a moment, and he assumed it was Michael remembering some more of that event as his cheeks became warmer. He was panting along with Jeremy as he nodded, his hand quickly shifting and carding through his hair, fingers tangling in his curls, just like how Jeremy remembered. "R-right."

 

Jeremy hummed, taking a deep breath to ground himself and not get lost in the feelings. He leant up, lips just brushing against Michael’s. “Then you pulled me close, and you poured all that want into your kiss. And-“ Jeremy gasped lightly as the hand in his hair tightened a little. “Michael, please,” he almost whimpered. He was captured by the same intense look in Michael’s eyes.

 

Michael, after capturing his gaze, pulled him down while tugging him down by his hair, lips locking near instantly. He moved in that same rhythm as during the song, moving in-sync as he pushed all of that want, his desire, into the kiss. It sent jolts of content and almost mind-numbing good feelings through Jeremy as Michael kept going, only pulling back after what felt like eons to catch his breath. "Jere," he almost begged, looking at Jeremy with his partially fogged-up glasses.

 

Jeremy reached up and pulled off his glasses, setting them down on the table nearby. Then he arched his neck. “When we broke apart, you kissed whatever you could reach until I had caught my breath,” Jeremy panted, knees feeling weak. He wrapped his arms around Michael, not caring as much for a perfect replication anymore. He just needed more. It was like he was caught up in the spell again, as though the memories were enough to enchant him and Michael. He was loving it.

 

He just saw Michael quickly nod before he felt a plethora of warm, feverish kisses placed along his collarbone, all the way up to the underside of his jaw until it reached his siren mark behind his ear. The kisses varied in length and intensity, messy or neat, but they all carried the same amount of love and passion as Michael's hand dug into his hair.

 

After a moment, Michael almost whimpered against his skin as he pulled back for a second. "Please, I know we're replicatin' it, but I wanna use both hands t'hold you."

 

Please.” Jeremy leant down and started giving Michael the same treatment, kissing along his collarbone, up his neck and up to his siren mark. Every gasp and whimper only fueled the intensity, along with the intrinsic knowledge that he was making Michael feel that good.

 

He felt himself let go of Michael's wrist, and eventually felt Michael's hand move lower, resting against his lower back as Michael craned his neck like Jeremy had earlier to give more room. "Jeremy, please," Michael practically whined out, and Jeremy could practically feel Michael melt under all of his love that he was giving him.

 

Jeremy kept going, kept pouring all his passion and feelings into each brush of his lips. He kept loving every inch of Michael that he could reach, his hands trailing softly up and down his sides, running just under his shirt.

 

Something soft hitting his back broke the spell.

 

“Can you assholes stop making out for five minutes to just listen to me?! Seriously, why is it always me?” Rich cried shrilly from the door, holding another pillow, ready to throw. Jeremy froze, then reluctantly detached himself from Michael’s neck.

 

“What do you want, Rich?” Jeremy huffed, frustrated that he had been interrupted.

 

He felt Michael freeze for a second before burying his face into the crook of Jeremy's neck, grumbling something he couldn't make out against his skin as Rich let out a huff of irritation in return. "I've been trying to tell you that we're ready to head out! You two can get back into the 'mood' or whatever when you're back in the cabin or whatever, dear lord."

 

“Fine! We’ll be there in a sec!” Jeremy grumbled, watching as Rich stalked off. “I’ll be sure to return the favor when him and Jake end up together.”

 

"Yeah," was all Michael muttered out against his skin until he added, "I feel bad that he is the only one that keeps walking into this or has to watch it..."

 

Jeremy deflated a little, some of his annoyance draining from him. “Yeah, I can kinda understand it I guess.” Jeremy grabbed Michael’s glasses and handed them to him. A devious smirk spread across his lips. “Let’s get going, we’ve already said goodbye to everyone. And we can just lock the cabin door to make sure he doesn’t interrupt this time.” Jeremy grinned, pressing a lingering kiss to Michael’s siren mark.

 

He felt Michael lean into the kiss, and once he pulled away, Michael's face was lit up. "This time, I'd rather us not stand. I don't want your legs to get sore or ache from standing for too long," he told him, gently patting the side of his thighs after putting on his glasses.

 

Jeremy’s smirk widened. “That works even better, because I did technically have my legs wrapped around your waist the whole time.”

 

"Oh hush, I don't even care about recreating it now, I just wanna do it," Michael muttered out, grabbing one of his hands before leaving with Jeremy, though Jeremy saw that Michael made sure to grab his cane on the way out.

 

“Then let’s find out exactly what we can do.”

 

 

 

“Don’t forget my butter sweets! You always forget those!” Rich complained as Jeremy wandered towards the gang plank of the ship, his purse heavy with gold coins.

 

After a month of being back on the sea, Jeremy was glad to be finally getting some solid ground. His balance was still a little off. “Shut up, Richard. I’ll get your fucking sweets!” he grumbled, hopping down the plank and grabbing Michael’s waiting hand.

 

"We could say they were out of them," Michael suggested, obviously joking as he interlocked his fingers with Jeremy's and started to lead them into the marketplace.

 

“So few people in this area sell them. If he listened to me and didn’t eat them over a couple of days, he’d be fine,” Jeremy huffed, before relaxing thanks to Michael’s contact. After a minute he pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek. “Isn’t this technically our first date?” he asked sweetly.

 

"If you want it to be, but I'd want our first date to be more romantic than doing chores and restocking the ship," Michael told him as he gently swung their interlocked hands between each other.

 

Jeremy giggled. “I don’t know, spending time with you at any time seems pretty romantic to me.” He pressed another kiss to Michael’s cheek. “How about when we’re done we head over to the bakery, pick ourselves up some cake. I’ve been saving my wages after all.”

 

"What wages?" Michael teased as he tugged Jeremy along. "But sure, though if there's something better than I cake, you bet your pale ass I'm picking it up instead."

 

“You love this pale ass.” Jeremy bumped his shoulder.

 

Michael bumped his shoulder back. "Somehow, yes."

 

Jeremy opened his mouth to deliver a teasing retort, but any words he was going to say died immediately. There, standing in the marketplace by his stall, was his dad. Jeremy froze, suddenly terrified.

 

Michael stopped along with Jeremy, looking at him with confusion. "Hey, what is it?"

 

Jeremy started to pull Michael away, urgency in his every step. “We have to go. Now.” He could explain when they were back at the ship, maybe at the next island over. They had enough supplies for that. He was certain of it.

 

Even if he didn't understand what was going on, Michael nodded and started to walk away with Jeremy, quickly turning themselves around so their back was to where the marketplace was.

 

He was too slow. “Jeremy? Wait, Jeremy stop! Stop him!” his dad yelled behind him.

 

“Run!” Jeremy half screamed, breaking out into a sprint. “We can’t let them see the ship! Follow me!” He darted into a side alley, pulling Michael along with him.

 

Michael let himself be pulled, and continued to run down the side alley with Jeremy. Jeremy led them down many paths, and Michael just asked, "How do you know that guy?"

 

“That’s my dad. And the men with him were bounty hunters.” Another turn. He pulled Michael behind some crates, coving his mouth until the sound of the thundering footsteps passed them. “Okay, we’ve lost them for now. We only have a couple of minutes.”

 

"Do you think we could get back to the ship without them seeing us or it?" Michael asked, voice low as a precaution.

 

Jeremy shook his head. “My biggest issue with them seeing the ship is that they’ll see the whole crew. They already know I’m part of your crew now, but they’ll get all of your faces...” Jeremy huffed, then a plan came to him. “You know the horn we got when we last raided Dustin’s ship?

 

"A few weeks ago, right, when we freed those two girls? What about it?"

 

“I want you to head back to the ship. Get her going slowly, blow the horn when you do, and have a rope out the side closest to land. I’ll lead those guys away and meet you at the edge of the docks. Make sure everyone covers their faces.”

 

Michael looked him over with worry then before nodding, squeezing his hand. "Alright, be careful." With a quick peck to his cheek, Michael dashed off.

 

Jeremy took a deep breath as he watched Michael sprint off. He was really lucky: the most these men would do would be to bring him back to his dad. He didn’t need to worry about being hurt.

 

After a couple of minutes, he dashed out from his cover, quickly scaling to the low rooftops and running along them. They were low and flat, with doors leading to them, so his footsteps wouldn’t be too out of place. He needed to find those men.

 

When he looked around, he was able to see that the men were recuperating, talking together as if they were making a plan, standing close by to the marketplace.

 

Silently, Jeremy approached them, sticking to the rooftops. He’s have the advantage up here, even if they managed to follow him. He was used to heights thanks to his shifts in the crows nest.

 

When he got close, he saw his dad had joined the men, whispering with them. “Hey! Up here!” he called, waving his arms and pulling a face.

 

The hired men and his dad all turned around, facing Jeremy. His dad's eyes widened again at the sight of him as he called out, "Jeremy!"

 

“Hey dad! Sorry, can’t stick around and chat, I’ve got stuff to do! Say hello to the Canigulas for me! And the Sanders!” He cackled, shoving his hands into his pocket and starting to turn away.

 

"Jeremy, wait! After him!"

 

He heard the tell-tale sounds of a plenitude of footsteps rushing after him, following him where he went.

 

Jeremy cackled as he started hopping gracefully from rooftop to rooftop, moving fast enough that they wouldn’t catch him but slow enough that he didn’t lose them. Thinking about it, back when he first left, this would have been about his maximum sprint. Thank god for exercise.

 

They continued to follow him on his wild goose chase that he put them through the alleyways and parts of the port town. "Jeremy, please, just wait," he heard his dad beg, looking at him with eyes full of worry and care. As he finished speaking, the sound of a horn could be heard.

 

“No way! I’m not going back to that stuffy life!” Jeremy cried, diverting his path to the docks. Within a couple of minutes, he was right by the edge of the docks, where the water met the land, having gotten a good lead on the men and his dad. The Fallen Angel wasn’t close enough yet. He had maybe two minutes more.

 

"Son, it's dangerous for you out there, with Blood Coat. I know he put a spell on you, but you're strong enough to break through his," his dad called out as he and the hired men moved closer. "Just come back, please. I already lost your mother, and when you went missing, I thought you had died... I was trying to recruit someone, anyone to come look for you with me, and when I finally got these men, I saw your wanted posters. I can't lose you, not after losing your mother too."

 

Jeremy pulled the knife out of his boot (he never left the ship without it) and pointed it at the nearest man. The bounty hunters stopped.

 

He was conflicted. He knew his dad was being honest, he knew every tick and tell of his face, but he also knew he couldn’t go back. He hated the life he ran from, and he loved being part of the crew. He let out a heavy sigh, but didn’t put away his knife.

 

“There is no spell, dad. I made that up to keep people from turning on you. I just- I can’t go back. I hated what I was doing. I hated being a merchant and I hated not having a choice in anything. Out here? Out here I’m free to be whatever I wanna be. I’m sorry I worried you, but I refuse to go back with you.” Just a minute more.

 

His dad looked desperate at this point, like he was about to go to tears. "Son... I know I wasn't the best father, I'm so sorry, but I can't lose you too... I'll change how we operate, whatever you want, I don't care about my reputation or my business or anything I've built up if it means getting you back, but please, I can't lose you too..."

 

Jeremy felt himself choke a little too. He was tempted, so tempted, but he also knew exactly the choice he was going to make. He had said it to Michael, all that time ago. ‘I’ll always choose you.’

 

“I’m... sorry dad. But I can’t go back. This- this won’t be the last you see of me. I promise. Just know I have another family out here, and someone I love, even more than I thought I could love anyone. Just know I’m happy, and that I’ll see you again. You won’t lose me, not forever. I promise.” With that, Jeremy tucked the knife into his boot and launched himself off the side of the docks. If he had mistimed it, or misjudged this distance, he was screwed. Luckily, he was pretty good at math.

 

His fist grasped the rope and he landed with a thump on the side of the ship, his feet against the wood. “I will see you again, dad! I promise! I love you!” he called as the ship pulled away, waving his free arm.

 

Jeremy watched as his dad got as close to the edge of the docks as possible as he was pulled up the side of the ship. When he got up there, Michael was waiting, his face mostly wrapped with his red bandanna. "Sorry it took us a little bit, you alright?" he asked, and from what Jeremy could see of his expression, he had at least heard some of what happened.

 

Jeremy nodded, resting his forehead against Michael’s for a moment before pulling away and running to the stern of the ship. Michael followed closely, and hovered just by his shoulder as he leant forwards and waved at the slowly shrinking figure of his dad.

 

“It’s okay dad! I was never supposed to be a merchant, anyway! I’m supposed to be a pirate!” Jeremy laughed, wiping away tears.

 

It took a second or two, and Jeremy thought he hadn't heard him for a second, but he saw his dad give him a salute, even as his form shrunk away. Even if wasn't much to anyone else, it spoke volumes to Jeremy.

 

Jeremy stood there, watched as his dad vanished into the horizon. As soon as he got on-board, they had opened the sails fully, meaning it was only seconds before his dad became indistinguishable from the land itself. Only them did Jeremy turn and bury himself in Michael’s embrace, sobbing lightly.

 

“He does care, Michael. He does. I didn’t realize...”

 

He felt Michael rub circles into his back then, though he didn't say anything in response. Michael just seemed to let Jeremy let his feelings out, which he really appreciated. All he needed was his reassuring embrace right now.

 

Eventually, Jeremy sighed and pulled away a little. “Sorry. I just... never realized he even cared if I was there or not. He really wanted me back,” he said, scrubbing at his cheeks and clearing his throat slightly.

 

At that, Michael seemed to think for a moment before rubbing away any stray tears. "You know, if you did want to go back, you could. We're not keeping you hostage here or anything."

 

Jeremy shook his head lightly, reaching up to cup Michael’s cheeks, pulling the bandanna down. “No. It’s like I told you all those months ago at the marketplace, the one where we got halo-halo and you stole all the fried rice. I’ll always choose you. There is no other choice to be made.”

 

Michael's cheeks were warm under his hands. "I mean, there is another choice, but you're just too stubborn to acknowledge that."

 

“Nope, nothing else. Only you. Only ever you.” Jeremy pressed a quick kiss to his lips, smiling softly.

 

"Mm, I'd say that's unrealistic, but alright," Michael said around his lopsided grin before pulling him close and peppering his face in kisses.

 

Jeremy giggled and tucked himself close to Michael. His heart hurt a little from the conflicted feelings with his father, but in the end he knew he made the right choice. He had his family right here, and he could go and see his dad whenever he wanted to. He was happy out here, on the Fallen Angel. This, right here, was home.

Chapter Text

The next week of traveling went by rather smoothly. They were able to chart a course to the final island, though they had no clue about anything around it. All they knew was that it would take a bit of time to get there and that Jeremy could get the directions to it from the compass. It wasn’t bad though, especially with another new couple on the ship besides Jeremy and Michael. Michael would find Jenna sometimes writing letters, her smile lovestruck, between when he’d see Chrissy and Brooke fawning over one another. It made his heart soar to see so many new bonds making his crew happy.

 

Unfortunately, nothing could ever just be continually good for them. No, something always had to sweep in and ruin things.

 

Michael was in his cabin, working on trying to figure out what this fifth island could be between his naps to regain his lost two weeks of sleep (he knew it would take a months worth of sleep to regain what he lost for those two weeks) when he heard it. There were voices that didn’t belong to his crew and the sound of boards and whooping and terribly fake French accents.

 

Madeline,” Michael almost hissed out as he quickly grabbed his sword and put on his hat and coat, barely managing to get out of his cabin. When he did, he had to avoid someone going to slam his door open, and he quickly rolled out of the way. He kicked the person before they could force his door open, causing their momentum they had built up to help slide across the deck.

 

The man, who he recognized as Madeline’s first mate Philip, knocked a couple of people over as he slammed into the side of the ship. When had they arrived? How had no one noticed? He saw Jeremy and the rest of the crew already locked in combat, holding everyone else off beautifully.

 

Then he saw it.

 

Approaching fast from the port side.

 

The Perfection Attained.

 

Michael cursed under his breath, figuring that Samuel hired Madeline again to make this all happen. With everyone who was already fighting his crew, there was no way they’d be able to handle both crews together. They’d easily be overwhelmed and captured, left to the whims of Samuel.

 

Jeremy had apparently taken it upon himself to deal with Madeline, unaware of the impending danger. He was wearing his Archangel coat again and was cackling madly. “You’ll have to do better than that, little mouse! At this rate I won’t even break a sweat!” Sparing a glance over to them, Michael saw that Jeremy was indeed playing with her. He was deflecting her every attack easily but was not attacking himself. He was tiring her out.

 

Taking this in mind, as well as the fact that no one else noticed the incoming ship, Michael made a split-second decision. He combated anyone who attempted to fight them, firing them out as he made his way to the side of the ship Madeline’s ship hadn’t boarded, where he knew Samuel would board them from.

 

By the time he made it over, the loud ‘thunk’ of the boards startled most of his crew. Their sudden shock gave Madeline’s crew a slight advantage, and he apologized quickly before dashing across the gangplank. He heard some of his crew call out to him, but he ignored them as two more boards were set across to connect the ships as he made it across.

 

“Set off!” Michael cried out to his crew as he made it across.

 

“Like hell we will!” Rich screamed as both he and Jenna detached from their current battles and started fighting their way to him. Jeremy looked over, knocking Madeline over and giving himself a split second. He locked eyes with Michael, and even across the massive distance his worry and desperation were clear.

 

Michael tried to give him as reassuring of a look as possible before he went and kicked out the board he just came across, watching as it went further out and eventually fell between the ships, falling into the sea below. “This is the captain’s orders, I will not repeat myself! Set off!” Michael yelled back, using the moment of surprise that washed over Samuel’s crew at what he was doing to his advantage.

 

 

 

Jeremy scowled at Michael’s recklessness but turned his head to the crew, who were still fighting. “You heard the captain! Let’s get moving!” he shouted as he knocked Madeline over once more, leaving her hanging half over the railing, and ran up to take the wheel.

 

“You aren’t seriously going along with this, are you?!” Chloe shouted back to him as she kicked some dude square in the chest, causing him to collapse. As she shouted, Jeremy could see Michael push off the second of three boards while Samuel’s crew seemed to be coming back to their senses.

 

“The Captain has given an order, Valentine! You disobey and it’s mutiny! Now get your asses in gear and get this ship moving!” Jeremy roared, pulling out the strength of in his voice he had only ever used once, as Loc. If he had to scare the crew into following orders, so be it. A few of Madeline’s crew tried to stop him but they were quickly dispatched and dropped over the stern of the ship, landing with a loud splash as they hit the water.

 

He could see the hesitance in every crew member before they ended up following along, kicking members of Madeline’s crew off of the ship or trying to keep them at bay. Only Jenna and Rich were able to truly break free from fighting, hurrying and making their way to help actually move the ship.

 

Across the planks, Jeremy could see Michael hurry to get the last plank down, and he could hear the last splash from that side of the Fallen Angel.

 

The Fallen Angel quickly began to pull away from both the Perfection Attained and the French Lily, dropping any boards and crew members attempting to cross down into the water. He ran to grab the wheel, turning his head to scowl at Michael as he did. “You’d better fucking be alive when we come to get you, asshole!”

 

“I can’t abandon my crew like that!” Michael called out from Perfection Attained as it too started to pull away, heading in a completely opposite direction from the Fallen Angel. He saw as Michael was quickly swallowed up by the crew, but he could faintly hear the clashing of swords, so he knew he was fine for now.

 

They had another problem though: even if they were pulling away from the French Lily, he saw crew members in the sea pulling themselves up by hanging ropes, and the vessel, with all the crew members being rescued from the sea, was following them.

 

Jeremy grimaced, looking over the situation. “Valentine! Get up and and get us out! I need to get back into it,” he ordered.

 

Chloe looked surprised, but nodded and made her way up to him. “I take it you have a plan?” she asked over the cacophony of the battle.

 

Jeremy nodded and pulled his knife out of his boot. Quickly he started severing the rope hanging off the stern of the ship, dropping the two men climbing up it back into the water with a scream. “Cut the ropes! Then dump these shivering picaroons back into the ocean!”

 

“You’re acting like you’re the first mate, should I be threatened?” Rich joked as he kicked out of the men off the side of the ship before following in Jeremy’s lead, along with most of the crew.

 

“So long as you don’t try to mutiny.” Jeremy smirked, cutting off another rope. “This cat is loyal to his captain. And don’t think for a second that I’m giving up my title!” Another person overboard. A sword blocked from crashing down on Chrissy’s head.

 

“I wouldn’t want that title, so keep it!” Rich called out, and he saw him kick another person overboard before cutting another rope.

 

As Jeremy went to cut another rope, he saw Madeline finally recovered, her sword ready and swinging towards him.

 

Quickly, he brought up his knife to block the blow, feeling his wrist take the majority of the impact. He let out a cry as pain spasmed through it, even as the blow was stopped in its tracks. Not good. It was jarred, possibly sprained. He was lucky it was his right hand and he was left-handed.

 

He jumped back, refusing to let her know how badly he was injured.

 

“Well, little mouse. It seems you tried to bite back while I was unaware and you still didn’t manage to get a scratch on me,” he teased, getting into position. “You don’t stand a chance, even if I kept one hand behind my back.” Jeremy tucked his right hand away, sticking it against his back, under his sash to keep it in place. He was very lucky. Madeline wasn’t the strongest sword fighter, she mostly relied on superior numbers and dirty tricks. Luckily, she had a dwindling crew available, and Jeremy’s time as Archangel had taught him some tricks of his own. “En Guard, little mouse.”

 

“Oh, you cocky little shit,” Madeline hissed out, her accent slightly lost as she quickly tried to take him out. At his point, her form and technique sloppy as she still seemed to be somewhat out of it, which definitely was in Jeremy’s favor.

 

Jeremy cackled, noting with some satisfaction that the enemy numbers were diminishing fast. “Your technique is sloppy, Maddy. You really need to tighten up on the parries,” he taunted as he managed to land a nice, shallow blow onto her side. He didn’t want to actually hurt her, just keep her out of commission for a while.

 

He could hear her suck air through her teeth as she stumbled back a few paces, holding onto her side as she glared at him. “Maybe I’m not trying to beat you.”

 

Jeremy laughed again, but it quickly died off as he realized the obvious. He didn’t slow his blows. “You’re not. You’re just a distraction...”

 

“Obviously. Don’t you think I would be trying if I wasn’t? That we would’ve engaged your captain as soon as he came out instead of wait for him to notice Perfection Attained? That I would let you best me, and that I wouldn’t be using more tricks?”

 

“Then let me do this!” Jeremy scowled and quickly disarmed her. With a kick to her chest, he sent her tumbling overboard. “Enjoy the salt in your wound!” Jeremy turned back to the crew, who were all dispatching the last of Madeline’s crew. “Chloe, turn us around! We need to get after Samuel!”

 

“I have no idea where they went, Jerry,” Chloe called from the helm. “His ship isn’t in any line of sight either! It’s like they just vanished!”

 

Jeremy let out a scream of frustration, punching the mast without thinking. Pain spiked up his arm as his wrist took more of a beating. He hissed from the pain, angry tears starting to form.

 

Dammit.

 

They had lost Samuel. Which meant they had lost Michael. They could be heading anywhere in the world this time around, the last time Jeremy knew where to go was because Samuel had been heading back to where Jeremy’s mom was rumored to be. There was no chance he’d do that again.

 

Jeremy collapsed to his knees. He had failed. He wouldn’t be able to help Michael now. That was the only thing he cared about in that moment, rescuing Michael. He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.

 

“Look, this is super cliche and all, but if it’s super cliche with how we can’t find him right now, but we can find him again in some super cliche way,” Rich said from behind him, and it was obvious he was trying to hide his own anguish. “We can’t just sit here and wait. We look, search, and find Michael like you promised we’d do. After all, we all need to collectively whoop him in a verbal sense after being so reckless.”

 

Jeremy almost laughed. “You think I don’t know how cliché this all is? We may as well be in a book or something. Fact is though, it’s our reality. Samuel could be going anywhere in the world, and until we get a lead, there is nothing we can do. That could take months and I don’t know if I can pull him out again if he gets that deep.”

 

He sighed, standing. “You’re the first mate, Rich. Which means you’re the captain until further notice.” Jeremy could feel himself shutting down. He just needed a moment where he didn’t have to think about what to do, just a moment to catch his breath. He shoved his hands into his pockets, fiddling with the compass which remained carefully tucked inside, looking over at Rich with very little life in his eyes. “What are your orders, sir?”

 

“My orders are for you to first try not to be such a pessimist. After that, use your compass so we know where we’re facing and tell Chloe. Even if it’s also weirdly magical, it’s still a damn compass.” He patted his back carefully before he hurried off, trying to get everyone else on-track to find where they were and where Samuel could possibly be going this time.

 

Jeremy scowled. “It’s not called being a pessimist, it’s being a realist,” he grumbled under his breath, starting over to the helm. When he was halfway up the stairs, he pulled out the compass but felt his heart stop. He could feel it pulsing in the sunlight, like a heartbeat. Energy seemed to be pouring off of it, pooling though Jeremy’s core. He froze mid-stride, unable to take his eyes off of it, even if it looked the same as always.

 

He could see the compass needle pointing in one direction, definitely not north, and it shook as it was pointing, like it was fighting the magnetic pull of the planet itself to show this direction. In that odd language it always seemed to speak in, he could hear something whispering to him, informing him, before the compass went back to pointing north, and the feeling he gained before was gone.

 

When he came back to reality, no longer entranced by the compass, he felt manicured hands on his shoulder. “Jeremy, hey!” Brooke called out, at eye level with him as Jake and Jenna stood behind her. “Are you with us now?”

 

Jeremy felt dazed, like he had just woken up. “I know where he is,” he murmured, not realizing he was whispering in the odd language again. His eyes were wide and he felt his energy return, the same passion and determination to rescue Michael sparking inside him. “I know where they’re going!” He whooped, half sprinting up the stairs.

 

He didn’t notice the three looking between each other before following him, but he did notice Chloe, as she was steering the ship, looking at Jeremy with worry. “Sorry, I don’t speak whatever language you and Michael know, what are you saying?”

 

Jeremy blinked, confused for a second before he shook his head, grinning. “I know where they’re heading. There’s a small, mountainous island about two hours away from here, in-” He looked around, then pointed. “-that direction. They’re going to be sitting in the bay for the rest of the day hoping we get led on a wild goose chase by Madeline.”

 

“Not that I’m complaining that you somehow know, but I thought that compass pointed you only in directions for its pieces, the map, and eventually the Keys,” Chloe pointed out as she slowly turned the ship in the direction Jeremy pointed in.

 

Jeremy was almost bouncing on the spot. “I don’t think it is anymore. Now that it’s complete in itself, it shows you the way to what you want most. Right now, the only thing I want is Michael back safely. So it’s showing me the way.” He grabbed the wheel, forcing Chloe to straighten. “Straight ahead from here.”

 

“I told you some cliche crap would save us from this cliche situation,” Rich muttered out as he walked up before dismissing everyone but Chloe and Jeremy from the helm. “You help guide Chloe, but also get your hand patched up, or your wrist. I don’t know which you almost busted, but we don’t want you going in and getting even more bruised up or even getting that thing sprained or broken.”

 

“Shut the fuck up, Richard. Your tsundere attitude is the most cliché thing here, this is more deus ex machina.” Jeremy blinked, unsure as to where that actually came from, before shaking it off and moving on. “Keep this heading, Chloe. I’ll be back in a few minutes to guide you.” Jeremy almost jumped down the stairs. “Brooke! I need some relaxant and some cream for my wrist.” She popped her head out from below deck. Jeremy grinned wildly. “We’re getting our Captain back.”

 

 

 

Michael had no idea how long he had been fighting for at this point, but he was definitely getting worn out. He had taken down a lot of people, and was trying to keep going as the crew members just kept coming. He had a few cuts and bruises, as well as at least a sprained wrist and something else that was probably worse, but the adrenaline still in his system wasn’t letting him figure it out.

 

He slashed another man, kicking him in the gut to tumble into an oncoming woman, though tried to ignore how most of the crew just seemed to be watching him fight with amusement.

 

He had just knocked out a man who had decided to go shirtless for some reason, earning a few appreciative whistles from the crowd, when suddenly a corridor opened among the people. Samuel stood proudly at the end, sword drawn. Suddenly all the fighters stopped approaching.

 

“Oh, so you finally decide to show up? Gee, such a nice host,” Michael muttered out, his adrenaline fading now that he wasn’t constantly fighting off Samuel’s men.

 

“Apologies, Boy, I had work to complete and it seems like you were having so much fun with your future crewmates.” Samuel’s tone was sickly sweet but his gaze as cold. He started slowly walking towards Michael, sword swinging elegantly as he walked.

 

“You already know who I actually am, stop with all of this bullshit,” Michael practically hissed out as he held his sword up, trying not to let his exhaustion hit him too hard so he could try to best Samuel.

 

“Exactly. You’re the boy who I so kindly let live. Perhaps that was a mistake.” Samuel scowled, swiftly disarming with ease and slamming the hilt of his sword into Michael’s chest, knocking him to the ground. Because of the exhaustion making his limbs heavy, Michael was barely able to resist.

 

Michael cursed him as he fell onto his back, feeling himself lose his breath and having it knocked out of him. “You... piece of shit...,” he weakly gasped out as he tried to lift his head to look at Samuel.

 

Samuel pinned him with his boot on his chest, pointing his sword at Michael’s neck. His grin was condescending and infuriating. “How very rude. Don’t worry, we’ll train some manners into you yet.” Samuel waved his hand to a random crew member. “Bind him and take him to my cabin, as we discussed. Make sure he’s stuck to that chair nice and tight.”

 

“Oh, I get... an upgrade?... Sweet,” he got out between his pants, not even struggling as he was heaved up and over one woman’s shoulder and carried off into Samuel’s cabin.

 

He was dumped into a hard, metal chair and bound with his arms to separate chair legs and his legs to the other. It was heavy enough that he couldn’t rock it even. Samuel followed him in, still with that infuriating smirk, and watched him get tied down.

 

“Now tell me Boy, where is the compass? I know it’s complete now, we just need the map. So where is it?”

 

“What compass?... I have... many compasses... Do you want a paper one?... A gyro compass?... Magnetic?” He just gave a shit-eating look up at Samuel then.

 

The sword was instantly back at Michael’s throat, but Samuel’s smirk didn’t shift. “You know the one I mean. You so kindly gave it to me last time you stayed, and I want it back. The compass which leads to the Keys to Reality. Tell me where you’re keeping it.”

 

“I have no idea... I don’t hold it anymore...” Michael narrowed his eyes up at Samuel then as he felt the cold metal close to his throat.

 

“Liar. You’re the only one who can read it, of course you keep it on you. Now tell me where it is before I have one of my crew members strip search you.” The sword pressed ever so slightly against his throat, just along the side. Just enough to sting.

 

“If you really don’t... believe me, then check,” Michael said with as much stability as he could before spitting in his face again.

 

Samuel pulled back his sword, as though to swing at Michael, then somewhat reluctantly lowered it. “It would seem that you’ve gotten even more spirited than last time. No matter. We have all the time in the world to remind you of your place. I will get that compass, and you will give it to me willingly.” Samuel smacked him across the face, and Michael could feel the welt forming on his cheekbone as well as the small trickle of blood from the split skin there.

 

“Yeah, like it’s my decision on if you... get the compass or not,” Michael said around a growl before trying to lean back as best as possible in the chair.

 

After wiping his face off, Samuel reached over and grabbed Michael’s hair, hard. “You don’t move away from your punishments, boy. You accept them because you know they’re your own fault.” Another harsh slap, this one causing the hand is his hair to tug painfully. Samuel was smart enough to keep his face out of spitting range this time around.

 

"That's impossible... I know it's not my fault," Michael said in rebuttal, even if he was hissing through his teeth. "And stop calling me 'boy,' Samuel."

 

“I’ll maybe consider calling you something else, if you call me Squip.” He gave one last tug to Michael’s hair before letting go and wandering over to his desk, just out of Michael’s view. “Do you know why I ordered for you to be brought here, boy?” he asked, his tone light and conversational.

 

"Let me guess, you want to try to break me again? To do a better job than last time, Samuel?" he asked, no longer panting as he still sat back as best he could, purposefully defying Samuel.

 

Samuel chuckled, and the sound of something metallic could be heard from where he stood. “Something like that. You see, I was much too sweet with you last time, that’s why it didn’t stick. I need to break you in a much more... permanent way. And since we have so much time, I can have fun doing it.” He walked back into view with what looked to be a surgeon's scalpel. “We can start small for now, and build our way up.”

 

"Oh, you want to pretend to play surgeon with me? How fun! I think you're supposed to have me on a table though, not a chair. You aren't off to a good start," Michael pointed out in a teasing tone, hiding his own nerves behind his sassy facade.

 

“Don’t worry, boy, I have a steady hand. And I have so many other things to try out as well. Ever heard of thumb screws? They’re a medieval torture instrument but I have to say I’ve become quite partial to the lasting pain they cause.” Samuel stepped closer, running the scalpel over the arm of Michael’s coat. It cut through like a hot knife through butter, but he carefully avoided touching skin. He paused. “Are you going to cooperate?”

 

"I don't know, why should I? You don't want me to get too badly hurt, you apparently want and need me," Michael said, calling his partial bluff. "Wouldn't you rather have me in better physical condition for what you need me to do?"

 

“We’ll have months to make sure you recover enough to do what I need you for. I’m in no rush. I’ve spent years waiting for my revenge, another few months won’t hurt.” Samuel ran the scalpel along Michael’s arm, cutting it cleanly in about a three inch long incision. The wound burned, in a way much more intense than should have been for such a clean cut. “You like it? It’s a mixture of Male siren venom and a potion of my own concoction. The venom makes everything you’ll feel even stronger.”

 

Hissing through shut teeth, Michael just continued to glare as his hands clung tightly to the parts of the chair he could grasp onto to. "You say that like my crew isn't going to come and find me, which we both know is preposterous. I thought y'were a smart man, Samuel."

 

“How will they find you, pray tell?” Another cut, this time on the other arm. “We’re miles away from where we were and Madeline, while incompetent for the most part, does make a decent distraction for your dear Noah. We could be anywhere in the world.” Another cut. They were bleeding, but not enough to suggest that Samuel had cut anything vital.

 

"You obviously don't know Jeremy and my crew well enough then," he managed to get out as he gripped tighter onto the chair, and he felt like if this kept going, he'd damage the chair with how tightly he was gripping. "They'll find a way to find us."

 

“Such strong belief in them all! Then again, that could be the venom kicking in. It effects emotions as well as physical sensations.” Another cut, and this time, Samuel poured a little liquid on it from a flask he pulled from his pocket. It hissed and fizzled where it touched his blood and it stung even worse than the scalpel did.

 

Michael let out a string of curses at the sudden pain that overtook him. It took him a few minutes, but when he calmed down enough, he glared up at Samuel again. "You act like I... can't take a bit of pain... How is this going to break me again?"

 

Samuel’s grin was downright predatory. “Oh this isn’t to break you, boy. This is simply for my own enjoyment.” A few more drops on each of his wounds, including the one on his cheek and in his split lip. He ended up swallowing some of the (just a couple of drops) from that one. It tasted worse than it felt.

 

He spit in the general direction of the floor in front of him, trying to get the taste out of his mouth. "Ugh, it's honestly... a mystery as to why y'can't hold anyone down..."

 

Samuel laughed and continued on. Michael wasn’t sure how long he had been there, being tortured by Samuel. His thoughts were blurry and he was noticing that he was starting to lose his register of pain. “I think that’s enough for now, wouldn’t you agree, boy?” Samuel asked.

 

Suddenly, before Michael could even process what was being said, the whole ship shook with a loud BOOM.

 

Michael hissed as he felt his chair wobble, irritating the multitude of precise slices still soaking in the concoction Samuel had made as the bonds he had rubbed against some of them. He couldn't help but make a connection after his chair finished settling, looking up at the ship's captain with a weak grin. "Told ya... they'd come... f'me..."

 

Samuel scowled, looking towards the door to the cabin with his brow furrowed. “That shouldn’t be possible, there was no way for them to know unless...” Samuel trailed off as another BOOM shook the room. “You’re not the compass user. He is,” Samuel concluded, ignoring the sounds of a battle suddenly starting up. “I was certain if was you, but then again, it makes sense for it to be him. How else would I have been able to establish such influence? He’s the protagonist, you’re just the hero of this story...”

 

None of this made any sense, though it made less sense with the blood loss and intense pain he felt, so he just furrowed his eyes over at Samuel then after hissing from more irritable rubbing against his wounds. "Uh... what? Are you on something?"

 

Samuel ignored his question, eyes trained on the door. The sounds of the battle outside raged on, even if Michael was only barely able to pick them out; everything was feeling sort of fuzzy now. Just as Samuel turned back to Michael, finally taking his eyes off the door, it slammed open and light streamed in. A figure stood silhouetted against the light.

 

Michael's eyes focused in on the figure as he stood there, grinning somewhat madly as he suddenly was in the cabin, his sword pressed against Samuel's clavicle, tracing along his skin until it rested against his Adam's apple. He saw how the longer curly locked framed the face of someone he felt should be familiar, but the blood loss and fuzziness in his head blocked out exactly who this amazing man was. His blue coat billowed as it settled, blood smeared somewhat across his features that contrasted how strong and confidently this being was, holding Samuel at such a perfect sword-point. "You have my Captain. I'd suggest you surrender now, Sammy, or your ship is going to Davy Jones’ locker."

 

Michael tried to narrow his eyes to figure out who this being he was absolutely stunned by was, and it just hit him, almost knocking the air out of him as the realization hit him: an angel came from the heavens to save him. No one else could look so otherworldly and take his breath away so.

 

Samuel took a moment to assess the situation before his scowl fell from his face and he sighed heavily. He dropped the scalpel and raised his hands in surrender. “Very well. I concede defeat with this battle.”

 

The Angel grinned and led him outside, where Michael could just about make out him being grabbed by another figure, not too gently. In an instant, the Angel was by his side, kneeling next to him and undoing the ropes. His hands were being undone as the Angel spoke. “I told you I’d come for you, Captain. Sorry it took so long.” A quick, gentle kiss was pressed to his lips, somehow not aggravating his split lip.

 

He felt his face absolutely warm up. He was just saved by this angelic being, this literal angel, and then he was kissed by the angel? Had any man, let alone human, ever been kissed by a literal angel before? Not that he knew or heard of. Holy shit.

 

The Angel laughed, cupping Michael’s undamaged cheek lightly. “You’re delirious, love. Sweet, but delirious. I’ve kissed you before and I’ll kiss you as many times as I’m allowed in the future. That’s a promise, Michael.” Another quick kiss, and the Angel suddenly had the ropes around his chest undone. “Let me get your legs, then we can get you home, yeah?”

 

"Wait, I've kissed an angel before? I've kissed you before, and I can kiss you a lot more? Holy shit, I'm the luckiest person," he gasped out in awe, feeling his lips tingling in a good way from the kiss.

 

The Angel giggled. “No, that’s me because I have you.” He kept working on the ropes. “As worrying as this is, I’m enjoying this much more than last time I came to rescue you…,” the Angel mumbled under his breath. Finally, the ropes on his legs were undone and he was being looked over carefully. “You’ve lost a lot of blood, plus whatever this residue is on your skin. I’m going to carry you, okay? It might hurt a little, but I’m just going to get you home.”

 

"As long as I get to be carried by you, I don't care."

 

Very carefully, the Angel scooped him into a bridal carry. The position stung like crazy, but the flurry of gentle kisses on his cheek helped to calm him down. Slowly, the Angel carried him outside. And, as though feeling his gaze on the his lips, the Angel smiled pressed another kiss to Michael’s mouth. “You can kiss me too, if you want. Whatever helps to keep you present with me right now.”

 

Still in awe of this whole situation, Michael pressed a few hesitant kisses to the Angel's cheek, as if he wasn't sure if he could actually kiss him, even if he had been given permission to. "I just... how did I get lucky enough to be blessed by an angel liking me? What did I do in a past life?"

 

The Angel hummed happily, leaning into the kisses before giggling again. “I don’t know about past life, but I do know about your current life. You’re brave and strong and loyal, but you’re also sweet and kind and compassionate and funny. You’re my best friend as much as my boyfriend, Michael, and I couldn’t be prouder to be able to say that.” More kisses on Michael’s cheek. He could barely feel the pain right now, too focused on the warm, happy feelings flowing through him.

 

After that huge dump given to him, he could only get one thing truly out of that. "Wait, I'm best friends with you, and I'm dating you? Holy shit!"

 

The Angel giggled, nuzzling Michael’s cheek affectionately. “Cutie,” he cooed, pressing a small kiss to Michael’s siren mark. Vaguely, Michael head the sounds of someone walking over a plank, and then other voices.

 

“Jeremy, let me take him.” The Angel looked up, shaking his head.

 

“I’ll be fine until we get to the cabin, Jake.”

 

“But your wrist-!”

 

“Will hold until then. Just open the door for us, please.” Michael felt him pulled closer to the Angel, being held protectively against his chest.

 

He heard the voice sigh in defeat. "Alright, fine, but don't blame me if it's almost broken," it said, fading away as another spoke up in its place.

 

"Do you have any idea exactly what Samuel did to him? I can tell he cut him up, but not exactly what he used to irritate those wounds so much or anything else."

 

The Angel shook his head, his dark auburn hair bouncing slightly. “I don’t know. I did manage to swipe the flask of the stuff from Samuel though, so you can check it out. Right pocket.” They paused for a moment, before the Angel carried Michael inside.

 

Very gently, Michael was set on his bed, sitting up. “I’m just going to take your shirt and coat off, okay Michael? Brooke will need to look you over and clean your wounds.” He pressed a couple of kisses to Michael’s temple, but didn’t move other than that.

 

Michael kept his gaze on the Angel the entire time, humming softly at the kisses before nodding. "Alright, as long as you think it's good t'do that, lovely angel from the heavens."

 

"Wow, he's either lying it on really thick or he's really out of it from the blood loss."

 

The Angel chuckled as he started very carefully peeling Michael’s coat off. “Considering everything and how sincere he sounds? I’d say both. I might have been a little upset that he didn’t recognise me if it wasn’t for how lovely he’s being now.” The Angel kept kissing him lightly as he worked, keeping Michael distracted from the pain. Once the coat was off and put to one side, the Angel basically ripped the shirt off, careful to not irritate Michael’s arms.

 

"I'll see if Chloe can patch up his coat once she swaps out with Jake," the voice said, and Michael was almost tempted to look over at the voice, but the Angel was so close and kept kissing him. He didn't even care that the air hitting his wounds irritated it, causing him to hiss into one of the soft kisses placed to his lips.

 

The Angel flinched in sympathy, and he scooted behind Michael, legs either side of him and arms wrapped lightly around his stomach. His back was totally flush with the Angel’s chest. The Angel rested his head on Michael’s shoulder, leaning so they were almost cheek to (undamaged) cheek. “I’m going to hold you like this while Brooke starts to clean you up, okay? Or would you rather I sit in a different position?”

 

"Y'sit however you want, I'm just so glad that you're here and holding me," Michael muttered out, feeling his cheeks warm up (certainly the Angel felt that, right?) before he shut his eyes.

 

The Angel hummed lightly and moved his face away to press a number of kisses along Michael’s cheek. He lingered over the siren mark, but didn’t stop there. He kept kissing him, his hands lightly trailing over Michael’s sides in a soothing gesture (too firmly to tickle), so Michael barely noticed when someone lightly took his arm and it started to sting, badly. Okay, that got his attention.

 

He hissed and whined as it started stinging bad, but ended up crying out in pain as it progressively got worse. "Shit, holy hell, fuck that hurts!" Michael wanted to move away from where he was being held, but he was too tired and the Angel was still sitting there, keeping a firm hold on him. "God dammit- shit, sorry, was that offensive to yo- fuck!"

 

The Angel shushed him gently, still holding him so sweetly. “It’s okay, love. It’s okay. Curse as much as you need, I’m gonna stay here and I’m not moving until you’re all better.” More kisses, more soft touches. “And even then, I’m sticking around.”

 

He wanted to say something, but more pain splintered through him. Michael didn't realize that tears were falling down his cheeks until his split skin practically screamed at the salt in his tears irritating it further. It didn't help when he felt a gentle hand grab his cheek, lulling him into the idea that it was going to be fine, before he felt his cheek and lip burst with an explosion of pain. He couldn't even properly cry out, another hand gently dabbing at his lip and preventing him from doing so.

 

The Angel stayed close as promised, not moving away at all, just adjusting his grip on Michael’s body. Eventually, the pain stopped for the most part. A lingering sting still echoed all over him.

 

“Okay, Jeremy. He’s all bandaged up. Your turn,” a voice said. The Angel shook his head.

 

“M’fine, Brooke. M’fine.”

 

"No you're not, you have your own wrist injury and are cut and bruised to hell too. I know you don't want to let Michael go, but you have to so you can recover," the voice chided the Angel, and Michael wanted to argue against it, but he was too tired to, too exhausted.

 

A few tears hit Michael’s shoulder and the arms around him tightened ever so slightly. “I... okay. Just please be quick.” The Angel focused on Michael again. “I’ll be done in just a second, I promise. I’m not going anywhere.” Slowly, the Angel detached himself from Michael’s back, lying him down gently. The Angel stayed right next to him, grasping his hand instead.

 

Michael gripped his hand as best he could, interlocking their fingers slowly, albeit loosely from how tired he was. "OK..."

 

"You're lucky your injuries aren't too bad," he heard the other voice mutter out somewhat softly, as if it was talking to itself more than the Angel.

 

“I know, I got lucky. But Michael’s taught me well, right? Did you see how much butt I kicked out there today?” The Angel chuckled wetly, squeezing Michael’s hand.

 

“Yes I did,” the voice retorted, sounding both proud and exasperated. “You need to take better care of yourself though, Jeremy. We don’t need two people throwing themselves onto their swords to protect us.”

 

There was a general silence, a seemingly comfortable one, and Michael almost fell asleep as he waited for the Angel to be done. It wasn't until he got a gentle squeeze to his hand that he opened his eyes (when had he shut them?) to see that the Angel was done and to hear the door of the room shut.

 

Slowly, the Angel lowered himself into the bed, wrapping around Michael and pulling Michael’s head onto his chest, slipping the covers up on both of them. “Still have no idea who I am, Michael? Or do you recognize my face?” The Angel chuckled, sounding a lot happier now that he was wrapped up with Michael.

 

"Duh, 'course I know who y'are," he muttered out before yawning, nuzzling his head against the other's chest. "You're my angel best friend and boyfriend."

 

The Angel chuckled. “Something like that. I’m Jeremy. I’m your Jeremy and I’m so glad you’re alright, Michael.”

 

"Alright, Angel Jeremy," he said in return as he felt sleep start to overtake him. "G'night..."

 

“G’night Captain…,” was the last thing he heard before he finally slipped into sleep.

Chapter Text

Michael felt himself begin to stir, his mind clearer after resting and recovering some from after what Samuel did to him. He still felt sore, and his wrist still ached, but he felt comfortable as he was nestled against someone...

 

Looking up, Michael couldn’t help but smile as he saw Jeremy there, awake and running his fingers through his (probably gross) locks of hair. “Hey,” he muttered out before yawning, “You’re always super comfy to cuddle against, y’know?”

 

“Hey.” Jeremy’s smile was soft, but there was a slightly mischievous glimmer in his eyes. “Looks like someone’s feeling better. Finally recognizing me, or is your head still in the clouds?”

 

Michael was confused for a minute at his question, but just nodded (which was essentially just him rubbing his face against Jeremy’s chest). “Of course I do, Jere. Why, what did I do?”

 

Jeremy giggled and booped Michael’s nose. “You were delirious and was convinced I was an angel. You didn’t even remember that you knew me, let alone are dating me. It was cute, you got so excited when I told you you’re my boyfriend!” The fingers massaging his head didn’t slow, the touch soothing on the small sting he was just noticing up there.

 

He couldn’t help but lean into the touch, humming softly as he looked up at his boyfriend. “I mean why wouldn’t I be excited being told you’re my boyfriend? It makes me so happy to know, even now,” he told him honestly. “And I don’t know if you are an angel, but you do look pretty angelic.”

 

Jeremy arched an eyebrow, even as he flushed bright red from the compliment. “You were freaking out from small kisses, love. I’m talking bright red, stuttering mess. And you couldn’t even take your eyes off of me. It was cute.”

 

“I can barely take my eyes off of you now,” Michael pointed out as he gave a goofy grin up to him, pressing his face against his chest enough to make his cheek smoosh. “This all sounds pretty in-character for me, honestly, especially when we were in our ‘honeymoon phase.’”

 

Jeremy snorted. “What do you mean ‘were?’ Still there as far as I can tell.” He shot Michael a lovestruck grin.

 

He opened his mouth to continue when a soft knock interrupted him and the door swung open. Brooke was carrying a tray of two steaming bowls of stew. “Ah, you’re both up. Perfect! Finally having a chance to talk to your ‘Angel from the Heavens’ Mikey?” She chuckled, placing the tray on the bedside table.

 

Michael rolled his eyes before wrapping an arm around Jeremy, pulling himself closer to his boyfriend as he poured playfully at Brooke. “Yes I am, it’s amazing. Did you know his name is Jeremy, and that he only looks angelic? It shocked me too, I know.”

 

Jeremy gasped in mock offence. “How dare you, Michael? I am an absolute angel!” He poked Michael’s forehead, carefully avoiding a bruise there. Brooke giggled at the display.

 

“Okay you lovebirds, I need to check you over before you can eat. Jeremy, I want to check those bruises on your ribs and the cuts on your left side, not to mention your wrist. Michael, your arms and your wrist are my main concern. Both of you sit up, and Jeremy, get your shirt off.” Brooke went into full doctor mode, humor lingering but overshadowed by her seriousness.

 

Michael just nodded then, slowly sitting up with Jeremy. “I don’t know if you knew, but the stuff Samuel used in my cuts on my arms was an irritant he just made. It had some concoction he made mixed with male siren venom to enhance the pain, but it also enhanced my feelings,” Michael explained as he watched Jeremy sit up and remove his shirt. He couldn’t help but feel his cheeks warm up at the sight, as he always did lately because he could and was welcomed to think so kindly about Jeremy as his boyfriend (boyfriend!). “He used a lot, even on my split lip and cheek, so I think the effects still might be lingering in terms of being emotionally heightened.”

 

“That’s what I figured. Jeremy snagged his bottle of it when we were tying him up. He did really well leading the attack, once he got out of his funk.” Brooke started undoing the bandages around his right arm, looking over the multitude of neat cuts all over it. “I’ve got something to help with that, I think. So you can take some if you like.”

 

Jeremy shrugged, looking unbothered by her comment. “Chloe taught me well, I don’t think he even noticed I took it this time around. Besides, I only did a small amount of the work. Rich and Jake were the main forerunners for the attack.”

 

“Yeah, but Jeremy, you’re the one who got Samuel to surrender. No one has ever really managed that, except maybe Michael, and that was only after beating him to a pulp.”

 

Michael listened to all of this as Brooke started checking his arm over, frowning as he tried to think everything that happened over. “He had said something before you came in, Jere. It still doesn’t make sense thinking about it...” He saw the questioning looks he was given, and he sighed. “He said that you were the protagonist of ‘this story’ and that I was ‘just the hero,’ which makes no sense, right?”

 

“Well you’re my hero,” Jeremy teased before frowning thoughtfully. “It doesn’t make sense at all, though. I mean, I get it about the hero protagonist thing I guess? The protagonist doesn’t have to be a hero in a story, they don’t even have to be a good guy, but almost every story has a hero. But this isn’t a story, it’s reality. The world isn’t so black and white... what was he saying, right before that?”

 

“He thought I was the compass bearer, but then said it was actually you. I think he’s referring to the compass we’ve been making,” he mumbled out. “Something about how he thought I was the only one who could read it...” Worry overcame him then, and it was way more intense than he’d like as he gnawed on his lower lip in thought, though hissed because through his worry, he forgot about his split lip.

 

“Careful,” Jeremy admonished gently, moving back a little so Brooke could start checking his ribs. “Well we know I’m the only one who can read the compass. Maybe it’s a unique skill? Or part of a prophecy or something. That would explain his ‘story’ comment too.” Jeremy peered down at Brooke, hissing as she poked at his ribs lightly. “Ow, that hurts, Brookie.” He pouted. “Anyway, do you know what Chloe did with the papers and maps we got off Samuel’s ship? Maybe there are some clues in there.”

 

“I have no clue, Jerry, I’ve been busy with other things. I think she might have put them away somewhere safe though, but we can check later,” Brooke piped up from where she was working.

 

Michael thought to himself before looking down at Brooke and Jeremy. “I... I don’t want Samuel to get you though, especially if he thinks you’re some important part in something. Your safety is a big priority until we actually get the Keys, so I don’t know if you should go with us on the next mission...”

 

Jeremy snorted and shook his head. “Like hell you’re leaving me behind, I’m the only one who can read the runes properly. Besides, I’m safest when I’m with you, you’re the only one who can match Samuel in one to one combat for any length of time.” Jeremy grumbled, shooting Michael a pleading look, pouting slightly. “I feel like I need to be involved with it. The compass was basically insisting.”

 

“But what if something happens to me? What if I can’t help, or I get too badly hurt? I... I know what he can do, I’ve experienced it. Hell, he was going to do something to permanently mess with my head, I don’t want to know what he’d do to you if he got you and I couldn’t save you, Jeremy.”

 

“He only got that over you last time because of your childhood, I don’t have that connection to him,” Jeremy reminded gently. “The only way he could get one over me is if he forced Dew berry juice in me, and even then, we have the cure and I could never be made to hurt anyone I care about. You’d get me eventually. I know that no matter what, you and the crew would always come to save me.” The trust and love in Jeremy’s tone was almost overwhelming, it was so honest and pure. He had absolute faith in Michael.

 

Michael was almost overwhelmed by if, but he still had some bad gut feeling about the whole thing. “I... I don’t want to take that risk. Samuel could cook something up, I don’t want you to get taken by him or have him do anything to you, even if we’d save you.”

 

Jeremy nuzzled against Michael as Brooke moved away, burying his face into Michael’s hair. “I could say the same about you. Losing you this time almost broke me, Michael. If it wasn’t for the compass, we wouldn’t have found you at all, not for months. I wouldn’t have been able pull you out again if he had you that long. I just... if I’m away from you he could take you again, he could break you. I don’t think I could deal with that...” Jeremy wrapped his arms around Michael, his voice quiet, honest.

 

Michael felt his chest ache, and he watched as Brooke tried not to show her concern for the two too much as she quietly packed her small amount of medical things up. “I...” He had a bad feeling that wouldn’t go away, he couldn’t explain it, but he didn’t want to upset Jeremy any further right now. They’d talk about this again, completely in private, before the next island’s excursion. “I think we should take a break from this and eat, yeah?” he suggested, trying to keep his flaring worry at bay. “Brooke did make us an amazing stew.”

 

“Fuck yeah,” Jeremy murmured, detaching himself from Michael only enough to grab the bowl and start eating. He didn’t move very far at all.

 

“Thanks Brooke,” Michael muttered out, taking his own bowl with a faint smile directed towards her.

 

“Of course, just be careful,” she told them, giving a weary smile of her own towards the couple before leaving.

 

 

 

“Teach me how to read the runes,” Michael demanded a few hours later, when Jeremy was flicking through Samuel’s papers. He looked up, confused, but didn’t disagree.

 

“Umm, sure. I’ll be slow going since you don’t have a history with runes, but I guess I can teach you if you like. Lemme just finish reading through these papers first.” Jeremy shrugged, not all that bothered by the request.

 

“Is there anything you can relate it to so I can learn it quicker?” Michael asked him as he settled down in one of the chairs beside him in the cabin, and the question didn’t help with his confusion.

 

“Not unless you know ancient Patileese or have studied Draconic,” Jeremy said simply, before rummaging around the mess on the desk. He hummed happily as he pull out one of his old notebooks, the one where he had left all his notes on the language. He handed it to Michael. “Here, read through this. It’s everything I wrote about the language for the third clue. Still might take you a couple of months though.” With that, Jeremy turned back to his work, immersing himself back into the legend of the Keys to Reality.

 

He heard a small huff from Michael at that, but heard the sounds of him getting more comfortable in the arm chair and pages being flipped as Michael presumably started reading through. Huh…

 

Jeremy shook off his confusion at Michael’s mood and instead focused on the notes. Apparently, the Keys would only respond to someone who was in tune with that reality, whatever that meant. There was usually only one person per generation who could use them, and they would be identified by the compass.

 

However, this rule wasn’t the case in ‘other realities.’ Which was stupid. This was the only reality. But according to the legend, only someone with pure intentions and a strong wish could activate the Keys to start with, and the only the chosen person in each generation could use them.

 

Jeremy huffed, feeling a slight headache coming on. This information felt so familiar somehow. Like he had heard it before. The feeling pounded unpleasantly in his brain.

 

"Hey, you alright?" he heard from beside him, and he glanced over to see worry in Michael's gaze as he reached a hand over, taking his and gently squeezing his hand.

 

“Ugh, yeah. Just getting a headache or something. My brain doesn’t like this information, I feel like I already know it even if I’d never heard about the Keys before joining your crew,” he grumbled, eyes falling shut. He rubbed his temple with his free hand.

 

A frown appeared on Michael's features before he felt the hand shift to reach over and rub his back. "Maybe you should take a break?"

 

Jeremy shot him a weak smile. “A break sounds like a great idea. Head outside with me?”

 

"Yeah, of course." He watched as Michael got out of the extremely odd position he got into before he put down the notebook. Jeremy was gently tugged to his feet then before he started to walk with Michael out of the cabin and into the fresh sea air.

 

The sea breeze instantly relaxed him, beginning to chase away his headache immediately. He turned to Michael. “So, how goes the study? And what’s got you so suddenly interested, you didn’t care this much before.”

 

"It isn't going as bad as you made it out to be," Michael hummed out as he looked out to the sea, the breeze letting his hair gently shift since he had no hat or bandanna on. "Isn't it better to have more than one person know a language too?"

 

Jeremy rolled his eyes, grinning a little. “Michael, it’s a dead language. And it took me a good few hours to decipher even with seven years of experience with ancient Patileese. If you really wanted to learn a language, I could have taught you current Patileese. Now tell me the truth.” He knew all of Michael’s tells by now. He wasn’t giving the whole story.

 

“Well, I sorta am,” Michael justified with a small huff. “What if you’re not able to read it for some reason? It’s better if more than one person can read it...”

 

Jeremy frowned a little, a bad feeling bubbling up in his gut. “Okay... but why wouldn’t I be able to read it? I literally became fluent and it’s not like I stay behind on excursions anyway. Someone’s got to look out for you ass, after all.” Jeremy tried to joke, but it fell a little flat.

 

Michael seemed hesitant, not looking at Jeremy as he fiddled with the hem of his coat sleeve. “Jeremy, we never know what could happen during one of these excursions or even between them. What if something happens and you aren’t able to go? It’s never good to only have one person know something. Why do you think at least three people know how to man the ship, almost everyone knows most skills, we have more than one chef, more than one healer?”

 

Jeremy sighed. “Yeah, I guess,” he admitted, shrugging. He knew Michael wouldn’t give in and just give him a straight answer, no matter what he tried, so it was better to just let the issue go for now. He still didn’t like the connotations he was picking up from this, but he prayed it was just his cynical brain telling him lies. “Still I don’t think we’re going to need it for much longer. After all, we only need the map and then it’s over to the Keys! It’s almost done!”

 

“It’s still better to be prepared while we do need it,” Michael insisted before he turned and looked back at Jeremy, giving him a soft smile of reassurance.

 

Jeremy returned it, pulling Michael close. They were both still a little shaky from the events yesterday, so it was as much about support as comfort. He reached up and wrapped his arms around Michael’s neck. “That sort of thinking is why you’re the captain, you’re always full of great ideas and plans.” He pressed a soft, lingering kiss on Michael’s lips, softly playing with the hair on the back of his head. Jeremy just wanted to sort of forget his paranoia for a moment.

 

He felt Michael melt into the kiss and his touches, feeling his arms wrap around the small of his back and pull him close. After a few more moments, Michael pulled back and rested his forehead against Jeremy's, smiling with adoration down at him. "I just try to think ahead," he explained before brushing their noses together, his goofy lopsided grin present.

 

Jeremy grinned back, a little dazed. He never would get used to kissing Michael. In a way, it felt like he had been waiting his entire life just to have the chance, so every time was new and special.

 

“Have I told you recently that I love you? Because I absolutely adore you.” Jeremy nuzzled Michael’s nose and pressed another kiss to his lips.

 

"You have, but I adore hearing it," Michael told him before Jeremy felt him gently squeeze him. "I love every little thing about you." A kiss was placed between his eyes. "Your captivating eyes." Another against his hair. "Your curly, unruly hair that I love to untangle." Another across his cheek. "Your freckles that remind me of stars littered across the night sky." His forehead. "Your amazingly genius brain." Michael pulled back then, looking like he was drunk on the love he felt for Jeremy. "I could go on for eternity if you'd let me."

 

Jeremy was practically a puddle of goo from how tender Michael was being with him. He started kissing his way along Michael’s jaw, trailing them down his neck. “Only if you let me tell you everything I love about you.” Jeremy pressed a kiss just to the skin above Michael’s collarbone, his hand resting over Michael’s heart. He sighed happily, feeling the steady thrum of Michael’s pulse. “This is one of my favorite feelings. Let’s me know you’re safe. That you’re mine.” He nuzzled against Michael’s skin.

 

"Feeling you here in my arms, close to me, is one of my favorite feelings too. I know you're here and that you're mine too," Michael almost muttered out before Jeremy felt kisses pressed fondly against the top of his head.

 

“S’how it’s supposed to be, I think. From the moment I met you, I felt like I already knew you, and from the moment I admitted my feelings, no one would ever compare. M’always gonna be yours.” Jeremy tucked himself into the crook of Michael’s neck, pressing lazy kisses there.

 

"God, this is so cheesy but I love it so much, love you so much," Michael said around a laugh, which Jeremy could feel with where he was and how he was held.

 

Jeremy giggled along with him. “It really is, but it suits us. Stupid and cheesy feels right. Just like how much I love you,” he cooed, pressing another, firmer kiss to Michael’s neck. It was cheesy and ridiculous, but it felt as natural as breathing.

 

"Geez, if we're gonna keep doing this, we should probably go back to my cabin," Michael muttered out, "Before Rich or someone else calls us out for being so lovey-dovey on the deck."

 

“It’s a bit of a balancing game, keeping them satisfied sometimes. Luckily, it’s easier having a partner to watch the other’s back.” Jeremy giggled. He made a kissy face up at Michael as he dragged him carefully towards the cabin.

 

"It's definitely a lot easier with you by my side," Michael cooed out, making a playful kissy face back down at him as he let himself be dragged back into the captain's quarters.

 

 

 

Jeremy snapped the compass shut. “So, I don’t know exactly what to expect out there, the compass isn’t being specific, but we’re about a day out. From what I can tell we’ll need to find a library or something.” He turned to Michael, leaning against the railing casually. He was rather proud of how good he had gotten at reading the compass during the daytime now. He could almost always feel its energy pulsing these days, ready to be tapped in to.

 

"Well that's good," Michael said, looking out into the vast expanse of water surrounding them. He seemed to be thinking something over though, his tone somewhat distracted.

 

“What you thinking there, love?” Jeremy kept his tone light even as he felt himself grow concerned. The bad feeling from the other day started settling in his stomach again. He didn’t like what this might lead to.

 

"I..." Michael looked over at Jeremy then, something unreadable in his eyes. "How would you feel if you didn't come this time on the excursion?"

 

Jeremy frowned. “I would be pretty upset about that. I need to be there.” It was true. Despite how vague the compass was being about the actual challenge they’d face, it was very clear about that Jeremy had to be there. That the door wouldn’t open without him, whatever that meant.

 

"Well, not if you told us what we'd be facing," Michael said, looking away from him now as he looked back over the wide expanse they saw.

 

Jeremy shook his head, sighing. “It’s not that simple, Michael. The compass isn’t telling me enough right now so I couldn’t tell you anyway. I just need to be there, trust me.” The feeling in his gut increased in intensity. It looked like it wasn’t paranoia after all.

 

Hesitation was evident in Michael's expression before he spoke again. "I trust you, I really do, I just..." He let out a sigh before sticking his hands into his pockets. "Samuel's going to be following us, he's going to run into us, and what if it's during this excursion? I wouldn't be able to handle you getting hurt or captured, especially if it was something I could have prevented."

 

“Yeah, well, I’m safer with you than anywhere else. You’re the only person who can actually beat him one to one, and he’s more likely to attack the ship first. Going with you would be the safer option,” Jeremy tried to calmly reason, but he could see that this idea had been brewing for some time. Michael had already made his choice, Jeremy just hoped he could sway it before things got messy. He didn’t want to lose his temper, even as he felt it try to flare up a little. He didn’t want to hurt Michael like that.

 

"Not if we don't even know what we're facing right now, Jeremy." Michael looked conflicted during this entire conversation, and he looked even more so as he looked back over at Jeremy. "He's going to go after you, and neither of us are in the best shape. I don't know what he could do, but it'll be something that'll make me regret bringing you. I'd rather you stay safe above all else."

 

Okay, he could see the logic in that statement, but he also knew his feelings were much the same. “And how do you think I feel, Michael? He’s taken you twice and both times I barely got you back. The best thing is for us to stick together and work as a team. We can cover each other and then no one needs to worry.” Jeremy felt his stomach twist a little, as though part of that was a lie, but he could also feel the compass urging him on. He had to be there if they wanted to get the Keys at all.

 

"But he isn't going to take me this time. He kept wanting me because he thought I could wield the compass. He's going after you next, and I know what he's capable of. I don't want him to take you and do who knows what to you to get you to listen to him," Michael said, his voice sounding pained as he spoke.

 

“Don’t do this, Michael. Please.” Jeremy was vaguely aware that some of the crew were watching, but he couldn’t tear his eyes from Michael. The compass was pulsing, hot and angry, in his pocket. He grabbed it desperately, trying to calm the feelings bubbling up inside himself.

 

"I'm doing this to protect you, Jeremy. As captain, I can't let any of my crew get hurt, and if this is how I'm going to keep you safe, it's how I'm going to do it."

 

Fury was pulsing through him, cold and familiar. Jeremy had told Michael he needed to be there, there was no two ways about it. Michael was being selfish, putting Jeremy above the mission. If Jeremy didn’t go for this, Samuel would find a way to get there first and then he’s have a bargaining chip. Still, he took a breath and tried to calm himself.

 

“If we’re talking roles, you realize you’re talking to the ship’s cat, right? Since when do they do what they’re told?” Joke, defuse tensions, just don’t explode.

 

Exasperation was obvious in Michael's expression now, but not an irritated or angry one. No, it was sad and somber. "Jeremy, you're not a cat, you're an actual human being. You're still a member of my crew as well. If I have to, I will order you to stay here if you're not going to listen to me normally."

 

“You’re going to pull rank on me?” Jeremy asked incredulously. Michael never pulled rank.

 

"Yes, because you aren't listening for once," Michael told him, even if he looked pained to do so. "Are you going to have to make me resort to that, Jeremy?"

 

“I’m not listening for a damn good reason, Michael, because you’re not listening. You can’t get the map without me, you need me there.” Jeremy scowled, feeling his temper start to get away from him, no matter how hard he tried to reign it in.

 

"At this point, I'd rather not get the map and just keep you away from Samuel," Michael admitted, hands stuffed deeply into his pockets. "We have the compass, and if you're the only way he can get the map, we keep you away from him. Until we see that we can't get the map without you though, me and some of the crew will try to get it ourselves. Hell, if I see Samuel, I'll make sure to take him down this time, then the problem is solved. It doesn't change the fact that you're not going."

 

“I’m not the only way, but I’m the most convenient. There are about four people in the world who can get the map, I’m just the nearest one. There are ways to track them down, and I can guarantee he’s already got them pinpointed. I used his notes to figure that out.” Jeremy crossed his arms, eyes narrowed.

 

"Jeremy, I just..." He watched as Michael pinched the bridge of his nose tightly, a heavy sigh escaping him. "You're really going to make me have to do this, aren't you."

 

“Just don’t do it. No one is forcing you to, you’re just being stubborn.”

 

The offense and hurt on Michael's face was evident at that. "I would be stubborn if I cast aside the safety of my crew, I'm-" Michael groaned as he pushed his glasses up and rubbed his face. "I don't want to do this Jeremy, but you're making me."

 

“There’s a reason we have to do this, we need to get the Keys so we can destroy it. And then, we never need to worry about him again.” Jeremy squeezed the compass in his pocket, unable tell the difference between his own raging pulse and the energy from compass. His head felt almost foggy with anger. He had to go on this mission. He had to get the Keys. There was no other choice.

 

"I'd rather not lose you to him, Jeremy! I just- I'm ordering you to stay, you are not to leave this ship until after me and whoever comes with me to find the map return, and even then." Michael held a firm tone in his voice that this was not up for debate, even if his eyes were sad and showed hurt.

 

Jeremy felt the dams burst. No controlling it anymore, his temper let loose, ice flooding through his veins.

 

He straightened, snapping to attention. He gave a quick salute, his eyes turning cold. “Yessir, Captain!” The name held none of the usual fondness it usually did. It was simply a title. He pulled out he compass, shoving it into Michael’s hands. “You’ll be wanting this, sir! Permission to return to my quarters, sir?” Jeremy asked, imitating the crew from his father’s ships. He knew the tone and mannerisms perfectly.

 

Without waiting for an answer, he turned and stalked below deck, heading down to his hammock. He hadn’t slept down there in months. The moment he turned, though, he felt a good portion of his anger drain out of him, but the damage was done. He left Michael standing there helplessly, guilt rolling through him but pride carrying him forwards. He vanished from sight.

 

 

 

Michael clutched tightly onto the compass as he saw Jeremy vanish below deck. He knew that basically the entire crew was there, save for Jake who was stuck at the helm, but they were close enough for even him to hear and see this all.

 

Someone's hand rested against his shoulder, but he quickly shook their hand off before turning and heading for his cabin. "I'm going to work on charting, we're still on-course, nothing's changed." He ignored everyone watching him as he entered his quarters, shutting the door behind himself before settling in the chair at his desk, curling up within himself as he felt pressure building up in his chest.

 

"I did the right thing," he muttered to himself, clutching onto the compass tighter since it was resting heavily in his hand. "I did."

 

He had a point,’ a small, snide voice whispered in his ear. ‘Jeremy just wanted to get the Keys so he could protect them from Samuel. Just like you.’ Michael knew he was alone, that the voice had to be his own logic. Feelings of guilt and shame pulsed through him, emanating from his chest.

 

He clutched the compass tighter then, removing his glasses with his free hand and placing it on the desktop in front of him before raking a hand through his hair. "The crew comes first, always, no matter what," he tried to reason with what he assumed was his own logic.

 

Even above the safety of the whole of reality? Who knows what Samuel would do if he got hold of the Keys. Jeremy was trying to protect you, to protect them, to make sure you never had to live through that world,’ it whispered back, and the shame only grew.

 

"I..." He curled up further within himself then, trying to make the shame and pressure in his chest lessen. "He can't get the Keys, not while we have the compass. Even if he finds another person who can use it, he's not ever going to get it."

 

But how do you know? For all you know, the map works without the compass. No one has found the Keys before after all...

 

"Why else would he be so insistent on finding the compass wielder and having the compass along with the map?"

 

It’s like Jeremy said, there are four people who can use the compass. The compass leads to the map which leads to the Keys. But it is likely that the compass wielders can also use the Keys themselves,’ it pointed out. Michael couldn’t help but concede the point there. Jeremy had said as much a few weeks ago.

 

Michael tried to come up with some rebuttal, but he was too tired from the pains in his chest to really argue further. He conceded, resting his head against his hand that held the compass. "I... I don't want him to possibly be taken and hurt," he almost whimpered out, tears starting to form in the corners of his vision.

 

Then keep him with you, keep him close. Then you can keep an eye on him. It’s all he wants anyway.

 

"But what if I fail? What if I don't keep him safe or I end up putting him in danger?"

 

More than you already have? Your last reckless scheme put him in more danger than ever. Because you left him alone. Keep him close and you’ll both be fine.

 

He felt like a knife was stabbed into his chest by this point, but those last words were twisting it. He let out a shaking sigh then as he felt tears falling down his face, some dropping onto his hand. "I... OK..."

 

Go tell him. Apologize now,’ the voice instructed.

 

He just nodded, raising a hand to quickly wipe away the tears before composing himself. Reaching over to grab his glasses, Michael kept the compass in hand as he slid them on before getting up and hurrying down to the sleeping quarters below.

 

Jeremy was curled up pathetically in his hammock, knees to his chest, eyes staring blankly at the wall. Michael cleared his throat lightly, and Jeremy turned his head, jumping when he saw it was Michael. He reached out his hand, only to draw it back, shame clear on his tear stained features. “Michael, I- I’m sorry.”

 

"Jeremy, you have nothing to be sorry for," Michael cleared up as he fiddled with the compass a little, though kept his eyes on the other. "I'm the one who should be sorry. You are just trying to be reasonable and keep the mission going to keep Samuel from causing damage not just to us, but even all of reality. You were right when you said I was being selfish. I shouldn't have left you alone last time Samuel came around, and I won't make that mistake again. Forget about my orders from earlier, alright? I shouldn't have used my authority like that."

 

Jeremy hesitated. “I... thank you. But you weren’t wrong, it is dangerous out there for me. I was too forceful, and I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. You were right, Michael. I’m so sorry. I was so horrible to you.” He started sobbing a little, tears slowly dripping down his face again.

 

Michael didn't even need his logic to tell him what to do, as he hurried over, squatting by Jeremy's hammock so he was eye-level with him. His free hand gently reached over, wiping away the tears before they could drip down his chin or continue down his neck. "It's dangerous if we don't stick together. I was being stubborn and not listening, you do not need to apologize for what you did."

 

 

 

Jeremy leaned into the gentle touch, the feeling grounding him. It took a moment, but he finally quietened his swirling thoughts enough to stop crying, focusing on the feeling of Michael being close.

 

When all the tears had cleared from his eyes and he could finally see clearly again, he couldn’t help by frown. Slowly, he reached out, cupping Michael’s cheek. “Michael... your eyes...” They looked the same beautiful brown as always, but it was like a golden fire was being reflected in their warm depths. Jeremy could see the flames dance just behind his eyes, reflecting and making his eyes almost glow. Something was wrong.

 

Confusion danced across Michael's expression then, as he obviously wasn't expecting him to say something like that. "My eyes? What about them?" He seemed to think for a second before giving a reassuring smile. "Oh, uh, I just cried a little earlier, so that's why they might be red-rimmed. I'm fine though, don't worry. I'm more worried about you."

 

Jeremy shook his head. “That’s not it, there’s something else...” He felt his worry override everything else, forgetting his own feelings for a moment. Michael needed him, even if he didn’t realise it.

 

A change in eye color was indicative of an outside influence controlling the person, or at the very least guiding them. That was why the Dew berries turned people’s eyes green, and why they had tinted Jeremy’s turquoise. Nothing else could affect the eyes so drastically besides a direct potion or spell designed to. The eyes, after all, are the window to the soul.

 

That meant Michael was being influenced, which explained his swift change of heart.

 

“Michael, have you had anything to eat or drink? Or heard any voices or anything in the past twenty minutes?” Jeremy asked, feeling suddenly very scared.

 

"No, I've just been thinking to myself and debating a bit about all of this," Michael explained, frowning for a moment. "I'm not the concern here though, Jere-"

 

“No, you are, this is important,” Jeremy said firmly, bringing his other hand up and holding Michael’s face steady. He was still mindful of the barely there hints of his wounds there. “I need to know, when you were debating, how did it feel? Like you or like something else? Was the voice yours or was it someone else’s?”

 

Michael looked confused again as he brought the hand he had against Jeremy's cheek after wiping his tears down. "I don't know? Like I was arguing with my own logic until I realized it was right, and that you were right too?"

 

“Michael, what you were telling me was logical. I was being impulsive. You were in the right to want to keep me safe. Something else is up.” Jeremy huffed. There was no doubt that Michael was being influenced, but why? And by what? “Was there anything different that you were doing while you were thinking it over, anything you were holding or writing with?”

 

"Uh..." He seemed to think over it before looking down to his hands. "I mean... I've just been holding onto the compass, but nothing else," Michael explained, holding it up in his now-open hand towards Jeremy. "It's not like it did anything though."

 

Jeremy’s eyes widened. He was fiddling with the compass as well when he got so angry. He already knew it was somewhat sentient, the way it spoke to him and directed him was proof of that. Maybe...?

 

Jeremy took the compass, watching as the flames dancing in Michael’s eyes slowly burnt out. He blinked in confusion, frowning a little.

 

“How do you feel, Michael?”

 

Michael frowned as he was seemingly thinking. "I... off I guess? I agree with the change I made, with what you said before and the fact that I was wrong before, but I don't know why... I guess I'm confused."

 

“Michael... I think-“ Suddenly, Jeremy was overwhelmed, like he couldn’t think. It was just like when he opened the compass, but more intense somehow, even though it was still firmly closed. Golden light consumed his vision, and he couldn’t see Michael anymore. The only reason he knew he was still there was the gentle pressure on his cheeks as Michael reached up to cup his face (or so he would assume once he could think again).

 

"You think what? Jeremy?" he heard Michael ask, calling out to him, worry evident in his tone.

 

Jeremy felt his body move without his consent, if he even could consent. Nothing existed in this golden expanse, least of all him. “The Keys to Reality must be found,” Jeremy heard himself say in the ancient language, if he had a voice. “You reunited all my pieces, you must continue with your quest. And this one must be the one to retrieve it.

 

He heard Michael faintly gasp beyond the expanse he found himself in. "Wait, but you're just... I know you've been helping Jeremy find your pieces, but you can actually communicate?"

 

I see everything, and I give him his heart’s desire. He reformed me, he can read me. I show him the way to what he asks for as he shall find the Keys and set us all free.” Jeremy would have thought this sounded odd if he could formulate thoughts. He would also find it odd that he was suddenly standing, likely towering over Michael right now. “You shall not keep him behind. You shall not stop the Keys being found, Michael Mell. Try to again and the consequences will be dire.

 

There was a brief silence before Michael spoke up again. "What are you?" If Jeremy were more present, he would have picked up on the surprise and hint of alarm in his voice.

 

I am Desire and Want. I am the Selfish Thoughts in his head made real so he cannot ignore them. I am his True Self, Michael Mell, and you cannot stop this. You cannot stop Me no more than you can stop Him.”

 

"As soon as this is all over with, I am making sure you are destroyed for good, along with the Keys."

 

Jeremy felt himself laugh, but if he had the mental capacity he would note that it sounded nothing like his laugh. It would, however, echo back to a time before time, somehow, of memories which were just out of reach. The laugh was too perfect, too controlled. Jeremy would note that it wasn’t the first time he had heard that laugh.

 

Once He has the Keys, you have no power over Him. He will know the Truth and he shall decide your fate. And so long as I am around, and you keep defying Me, he shall leave you to rot, just like he did before. Leave you sobbing like he did on Halloween.”

 

Jeremy felt something tugging at his hands, but they were locked, controlled by whatever he was now.

 

"No way in hell are you his ‘true self.’ I don't know what the hell you're referencing, whatever this 'Halloween' is, but you are not going to stay around once we're done with you. I don't give a shit about if I'm defying you or not," he heard Michael say, and if he was able to think on what he heard, he would be able to hear the spite and acidity in his tone.

 

Eventually, he felt his fingers tugged open, though it seemed to be a laborious task for whatever was trying to pry them open.

 

You will see, Michael Mell. You will see one day that Jeremy is a selfish creature, who does not care for others as you believe. I know this because I am Him. And when you see the Truth, you shall weep. I have seen this happen, You crying as Jeremy denies You again and again. The events have already been set in motion.” His grip loosened more, forced open by whatever was working on it. If he could think, he might have cheered them on.

 

"No, you're just some stupid magical compass that wants to be used and preserved. Well, bad news for you, you piece of shit: you're being destroyed as soon as we're done with you! You know nothing about Jeremy, and if you think you do, you're broken beyond hope of repair. He cares for all of his loved ones and isn't as selfish as you're making him out to be. Now do me a favor and stop using my boyfriend to spread your false propaganda about him!"

 

Suddenly, everything came back to Jeremy as whatever he was holding was gone. As everything came flooding back as the light engulfing him vanished, he saw Michael wrap up the compass in a bandanna before practically chucking it into a small chest. "Piece of shit compass."

 

As Jeremy fell back into his hammock, he was left gasping, as though he couldn’t take a deep enough breath. He remembered everything that had just happened, but he didn’t understand. Tears pricked at his vision, making his already dim vision even blurrier.

 

As his vision blurred even further, he saw someone, Michael, now in his line of sight. "Jeremy? Are you alright?" he asked softly, a hand coming over and ever so gently pressing against his cheek.

 

Jeremy leaned into the hand and whined slightly, still barely able to breathe. Had he breathed at all during that? Had he even existed? It didn’t feel like it. Black spots started dancing in his limited vision.

 

"Just close your eyes for now, try to take a nap. Is it alright if I pick you up and bring you back to the cabin?" he heard Michael ask, voice still soft with a hint of worry now present.

 

Jeremy nodded, shutting his eyes and finding is panic started ebbing away. When he felt himself pulled to Michael’s chest, could hear his heartbeat, strong and steady, and could feel his breathing, slow and calm, he found his own body slowed. Inhales went from gasps to sobs to actual breaths and his mind cleared a little further. He weakly wrapped his arms around Michael, trying to desperately pull himself closer and ground himself further.

 

He could feel Michael hold him closer then as he was picked up, cradled close to Michael in his arms before he started walking with Jeremy back upstairs. With each step, each beat of his heart, each passing second, Jeremy felt himself begin to relax and calm down more and more.

 

“Michael, what was that? What did it do to me?” he whimpered into Michael’s chest, feeling some clarity return to his thoughts.

 

"I think it was talking through you," Michael concluded as he felt them stop, but only for a few seconds as Michael opened the door to the cabin. "I don't know what it is, but as soon as we're done with it, we're destroying it. There was a good reason for all of it's pieces being dismantled and strewn out around the world."

 

“I don’t wanna touch it again, that was scary,” Jeremy whispered. “It was like I was there but also not. I didn’t exist, but I could hear you and feel you touching me. I... I think it’s evil, even if it did help me find you...” He burrowed deeper into the folds of Michael’s shirt.

 

"We'll just use it from the chest or while it's wrapped up. I think only direct contact with that thing makes it affect you." He felt a kiss pressed to the top of his head before they seemed to move, and Jeremy could see from where he was burrowed into that they were in Michael's bed now.

 

“I think it was affecting me earlier, and I think it did something to you, Michael. I’m sorry. And I’m sorry for getting so mad earlier, you were right. It is dangerous out there for me.” Jeremy felt more than saw Michael slowly remove his boots and untie his sash.

 

"I'm fine, Jere, really. I'm just not going to leave you, yeah? Just like you wanted," Michael reassured him as Jeremy heard his boots drop to the floor before he heard another pair follow suit. "It's dangerous, but it won't be once the Keys are destroyed."

 

“We’ll destroy them and then we’ll destroy that stupid compass too. I don’t want to ever have that happen again. I don’t care what it shows me, it’s too dangerous. And scary.” Jeremy nodded, letting himself be pulled down onto Michael’s chest. The steady heartbeat kept him calm.

 

The fingers that moved through his hair now helped him stay calm as well. "If we don't need it after we get the map, let's destroy it once we get back, yeah?"

 

“For sure. I wanna smash it so it can’t talk ever again. It’s an asshole.” Jeremy grumbled, then paused and giggled a little. “Hey Michael, it’s a compass.”

 

He felt the fingers in his hair still for a moment before Michael began to laugh, the one where he ended up snorting that Jeremy loved so much. "Holy shit Jeremy, oh my god."

 

Jeremy couldn’t contain his own laughter at that point, all the bad feelings from the past hour being squashed as his own wheezing cackle joined Michael’s. He felt present and real and totally himself again. Even as the laughter died off and Jeremy started to slip into sleep, Michael’s fingers in his hair again, he felt content once more. They would be alright.

Chapter Text

Jeremy watched in anticipation as the high sides of the mountain came to an end. They were finally at the town where the map was hidden, locked somewhere in a library. He didn’t know much else, refusing to handle the compass for too long after the incident yesterday.

 

Jeremy’s eyes were wide, his grin hopeful, but it quickly fell as they passed the cliff side. There was no town here; there was only a massive lagoon on a slightly tropical island. Nothing here at all!

 

He looked down. The lagoon looked deep, and for a second he thought he saw brickwork under the water, but they passed it too quickly to find out.

 

“I don’t understand! It’s supposed to be here!” He groaned, flopping half over the railing in a sulk.

 

"Maybe we should try to dock and get some people to take a closer look," Brooke suggested from where she stood by Jeremy, as Michael was talking with Rich and Chloe somewhere else on deck.

 

“It’s supposed to be here. It was a fishing village, I’m certain of it. Totally self sustained too from what I saw. How can an entire village just vanish without a trace?” Jeremy let out a string of curses in Patileese, ignoring the scandalized look on Chloe’s face. He had kinda forgotten that she spoke it too.

 

From where he was, he could barely hear the giggling from the side of the ship, the crashing of waves almost overpowering it. His eyes locked onto a figure that was nearby as their vessel was beginning to settle, head popping up from the water's slowly calming surface. "Oh, did you not hear about how it sank?" the figure asked in what Jeremy realized was Patileese. "I would figure it would be more common knowledge by now. It's been what, decades, centuries?"

 

Jeremy blinked, but didn’t question her presence. Maybe she was from the newer village and had come out for a swim. He leaned over the railing slightly, trying to maintain eye contact. “Hello miss. We didn’t know it sank, most people haven’t ventured to this part of the world very much. They say it’s much too wild. Do you live around here, Miss?” He would be polite if nothing else. His father had raised a gentlemen after all.

 

He heard her bubbling laughter fill the air as she moved back a little from the ship. "I live in the lagoon where the fishing village used to be from whenever ago," she informed, her hand waving back as if it wasn't useful information. As she did, however, Jeremy could barely make out a hint of something reflecting off of the skin on the back of her hand. "It's been nice to have no one come near here for however long. Why are you here?"

 

She lived in the lagoon? That meant she could only be some sort of water person, either a siren, a mermaid, a nymph or something similar. Judging by the fact she lived in salt water and Jeremy felt no pull to her whatsoever, Jeremy guessed mermaid.

 

We’re looking for something that was supposed to be in the village. A library. It contained something very important and we can’t let it fall into the wrong hands,” he explained, trying to keep his tone light. “How deep down did everything sink?

 

The mermaid looked him over, though he couldn't read her expression well enough from this far away. "Why don't you go and try to find out?" she suggested around a laugh before diving into the sea water and vanishing from sight, presumably returning to the lagoon.

 

Jeremy sighed and turned back to the crew. Chloe seemed to be the only one who noticed the mermaid, as she watched on curiously. “We’re in the right place, but it seems that the whole village sunk decades ago, maybe even centuries. I don’t know how deep down it is, either,” he explained. Michael wandered over, looking both confused and surprised.

 

"Well how about some of us go down and check it out ourselves? I know that, even though we all can swim, Brooke, Rich, Chloe, you, and I are the best swimmers," Michael suggested, to which the others nodded. Chloe still looked over the edge of the boat curiously, as if she was trying to find the mermaid again.

 

Jeremy nodded as well, but was feeling a little on edge. “That sounds like a plan, but we have to be careful. There are mermaids around, and while the one I just spoke to was nice enough, they might not all be so friendly. She actually... encouraged us to go look.“ Jeremy looked out to the golden beach surrounding the deep lagoon. He was getting a sort of odd feeling in his gut again but it was not because of the water or the mermaids. No, this was something else. Like there was a storm brewing just off-shore.

 

“Of course, but I don’t think any mermaids will give us trouble,” Michael reassured before they started to get the dingy ready to go.

 

Jeremy instantly plastered himself to Michael’s side as soon as he had grabbed his bag. It held his potions, his notebook, and the small box the compass was now contained in. “I... I want to stay close today. Is that okay?” Jeremy asked him quietly, still feeling a little awkward after yesterday.

 

“Of course, I feel better when you’re by my side,” Michael told him, giving him a soft smile before helping Jeremy into the dingy, climbing in after since everyone else was getting in as well.

 

Jeremy smiled back and leaned over as soon as Michael was in the dingy, pressing their sides together. “I think we should land on the beach over there. Then we can leave our stuff and our clothes without needing to worry about them. We can dig holes or something.” He pointed at the beach, near an area full of large rocks.

 

“That’s a good plan,” Michael agreed before, with Rich and Jake’s help, starting to lower the dingy into the ocean. Once they were settled into the water, Michael and Rich started to row them to shore, near to where Jeremy suggested.

 

The ride over was tense. Everyone knew about the argument as well as Michael’s later ‘change of heart’ and Jeremy knew that the entirety of the crew was not happy with him, even if it wasn’t exactly his fault. He had tried to convince Michael otherwise later that day that he was better off on the ship, at least until the recon mission was done with, but Michael was being just as stubborn as he had been before and insisted.

 

Jeremy felt so guilty for what he had indirectly caused, and it was obvious the rest of the crew were a little more cautious of him now. He just wanted to reset yesterday and never have the stupid argument in the first place.

 

Unfortunately, life didn’t work like that, and he couldn’t help but shrink as he saw the brief glances from Rich, Brooke, and Chloe that showed the caution and the looks to Michael that held worry and concern. It made sense. He was their captain who had saved them from their horrible lives before, he had been around longer, of course they would worry about this sudden character change in him. He would have to explain the compass with Michael after this was over, once things cooled off more.

 

Jeremy couldn’t help but feel even worse. He had wanted to go on this trip, but not like this. He never wanted to force Michael, even if it had been the compass’ fault. He averted his eyes from his friends, instead looking out into the water and trying to see what he could spot. It was hazy, but he could certainly see what looked like a church spire maybe twenty feet below the surface.

 

He could faintly see similar structures, but he didn’t dare look deeper until they could find a way to safely dive so deep.

 

They arrived on shore a few minutes later, the conversations of everyone but him coming to a halt once they parked in the sand. Getting out, everyone pulled the small boat further into the shore before Chloe sighed. “Hopefully that mermaid will actually help us and not mess with us.”

 

“Hopefully. I’m glad she spoke Patileese though. I guess that means this village spoke Patileese too? Or else she wouldn’t know any human languages,” Jeremy mused, wandering over to the rocks. He chose a large one and started digging a little underneath it.

 

Chloe came over to him and helped him to dig as well. “Makes sense. In this area, it’s the spoken language,” she mused out as she sped up the digging process.

 

Eventually, they got the hole large enough. Jeremy stood and wandered a few steps backs and started stripping down to his boxers. He pulled out a couple of cloth bags and passed them out. “You guys can stick your clothes in these so they don’t get all sandy and horrible.” He attempted a smile, but Rich very obviously looked away as he took the bag. Jeremy sighed and started stuffing his clothes into his own bag.

 

Chloe was the only one besides Michael to thank him for the bags, though Brooke looked conflicted when she didn’t thank him. Everyone else got down to their underwear then, stuffing their clothes into the cloth bags and closing them up before putting them into the large hole.

 

Jeremy felt his heart sink but he understood their reactions. He had apparently ‘controlled’ their captain, someone they respected. He hated that they thought so little of him, but hopefully he and Michael could clear it up after all this was over. Sighing, he dumped his messenger bag into the hole too and started covering it up. When he stood, he started stretching.

 

“Ready?” he asked after a moment more.

 

Only Michael and Chloe really acknowledged him before they started moving inland, to the lagoon. As they walked, they were careful to only step on the softer ground since they were more or less barefoot.

 

Jeremy shot Chloe a small, grateful smile. She and Chrissy seemed to be the only members of the crew who hadn’t turned on him after yesterday.

 

Wading into the water, Jeremy repressed a surprised gasp. “That water is so warm! Even warmer than normal.” Chloe nodded, looking just as surprised.

 

Brooke and Rich both frowned at that before Michael asked, “Do you have any idea why?” He was still close to Jeremy, less than two feet’s distance between them as they started walking to hip level in the water.

 

Jeremy felt a shiver go through him and could have sworn he saw a flash of gold. Frowning, he felt his mouth moving without his consent again.“The... the village specialized in... magic? They would trade it with the mermaids as well as any trade ships who came through... and... it was a spell going wrong that sank it. But the lagoon is enchanted to stay warm...” Jeremy stuttered out, finding the knowledge pouring into his head. He stumbled as the feeling cut off, his knees almost going out from under him. Chloe and Michael both caught him.

 

He felt the concern radiating off of the pair then, but before either could ask what happened, a familiar laugh returned.

 

Oh, so you actually decided to take my advice. Wonderful!” Looking ahead, the mermaid was lounging in the lagoon water, belly up as her hair spread against the water’s surface. “I have to say, I was hoping you’d come. It’s been awful boring around here for the past few decades.

 

Panting slightly, Jeremy tried to stand, finding he needed to still lean on Michael a little. “I’m glad to have such helpful advice, Miss, and I’m glad we ran into you. Anything you think we should know before we continue onward?” Jeremy asked, with Chloe translating for everyone else.

 

He watched as the mermaid peered curiously over at Chloe, tail flicking in a way that reminded him of Snookums when she saw something new that interested her. “Well, you probably won’t be able to get whatever you’re looking for. It’s too deep for you humans to swim down there for long without a high risk of death.

 

Do you know know of any way we can get deep enough safely?” Jeremy turned and quickly glanced over to everyone else. “Depth is something we haven’t conquered through potions yet, so I’m not much use there. The human body can only take so much, especially without the right training.” Rich asked something and Jeremy translated. “And is there any way we can get hold of it, if there is?

 

The mermaid watched the group closely for a good minute before answering, “There is but I do not know I can trust you all with it... Humans are hard to trust, especially now from stories I’ve heard.

 

Chloe piped up at this point, and Jeremy took over translating for everyone else. “Is there anything we can offer you as a sign of trust? We mean you no harm.” Jeremy noted something was off in her tone, but he couldn’t place what. He put a gentle hand on her arm, silently asking if she was okay. She didn’t respond, too transfixed by the mermaid.

 

The mermaid seemed to think for a moment before focusing on Chloe herself. “One of you stays with me until you are leaving, and then I will let the human go to rejoin you all.

 

And if we do, you’ll give us something to let us dive safely?” Chloe asked, and the mermaid nodded. “I’ll stay, you grant my friends your gift,” she announced before anyone could argue.

 

Jeremy’s eyes widened in surprise. This was very out of character for Chloe. He could have sworn that for a moment, her eyes seemed to shimmer slightly, like sunlight on water. “Chloe, are you sure?” Jeremy asked slowly. Chloe nodded.

 

The mermaid hummed in thought for a minute, though it seemed to be just for show. “I think that is an acceptable deal.

 

Slowly, almost as though in a trance, Chloe started to walk deeper into the water. She started swimming straight into the mermaid’s waiting arms. Jeremy shot Michael a helpless glance, he felt nervous about this deal for some reason. Michael just shrugged. Did no one else see how her eyes were different? That she was being enchanted? If it didn’t put Chloe at risk, he would have shouted for the deal to be stopped right then, but he couldn’t risk Chloe’s safety.

 

As soon as the mermaid had hold of Chloe, she started cooing over their friend, stroking her hair. Chloe melted into the affection, her eye shimmering properly now as she carefully treaded water.

 

As if he was finally able to properly notice his worry, Michael muttered out, just enough for Jeremy to hear, “I can tell that the mermaid’s taken by her. She’s not going to do anything but be fond of her and care for her.”

 

“Even so, she’s been enchanted. Can’t you see her eyes?” Jeremy hissed quietly, eyes never leaving Chloe’s form.

 

“I mean, I could see it once she got into the water a little, I guess,” Michael muttered back in an equally quiet tone.

 

“She was enchanting Chloe from the get go. She suggested the deal when Chloe was already partly under from what I saw.” Jeremy shook his head, knowing that this conversation wouldn’t help anyone. He looked at the mermaid, raising his voice back to a normal level. “If our show of faith is proof enough, Miss, please give us our aid, as promised.

 

The mermaid seemed to only remember that it wasn’t only her and Chloe when Jeremy spoke back in her native tongue. She hummed for a moment before reaching into the water, the surface seeming to shimmer around where her hand was submerged, before pulling out four gross bundles that seemed to resemble slimy bunches of green rat tails. “I have for you four Gillyweeds. It will allow you to, once you have eaten it, to breathe underwater. You will gain gills and webbing to allow yourselves to swim underwater. It only lasts for an hour though, so use your time wisely because I will not give you more.

 

Jeremy hesitantly swam forwards and took the Gillyweed from the mermaid. “Thank you kindly, Miss. When we go to leave, how shall we let you know so we may come and collect our friend?” he asked as he swam backwards, Gillyweed in hand. He didn’t turn his back on the mermaid.

 

I will be able to tell when you exit the water and when the Gillyweed will wear off thanks to the enchanted waters nearby. Once all of you are out and I sense you are leaving, I will bring her to you all.” As the mermaid spoke, she ran her fingers through Chloe’s hair, cooing softly at her, truly smitten by their friend.

 

Jeremy translated for his friends, then nodded. “Thank you again, Miss.” The mermaid nodded, pressed a long, lingering kiss to Chloe’s lips, then vanished from sight, taking Chloe with her. Jeremy stood back in the waist deep water, shivering despite the warmth.

 

He felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to face Michael. “I know there are mischievous mermaids, but that one, I think, was an honest one who was just taken by Chloe. She’ll be fine. If I didn’t think so, I would’ve intervened.”

 

Jeremy shook his head lightly. “I don’t doubt her intentions, I just don’t like anything that alters people’s minds anymore. They make my skin crawl ever since I broke my addiction,” he confessed quietly, reaching up and squeezing Michael’s hand. “No one should have that sort of power over another. People have free will for a reason.”

 

Michael just nodded in agreement. “I understand, but there’s nothing we can do for now. Let’s just eat... that thing and then go get that map.”

 

Jeremy shot him a weak grin and nodded. He turned to the rest of the crew, holding out the Gillyweed and praying that it would actually work. “This is Gillyweed. It’ll let us breathe underwater for one hour, so we’ll need to work fast. We swallow it, then dive so our gills and webbing can form properly, okay?” He held out the bundles for everyone to take. Brooke and Rich eyed them distastefully, but they each took one.

 

Michael took one as well, and it was evident by not just his, but Brooke and Rich's expressions that this thing was gross to the touch. "Ugh," Brooke whispered out, fully disgusted, before being the first to pinch her nose and quickly swallow it. The guys all followed suit, thankfully before she cursed the gross taste and slimy texture before they all hurried into the water.

 

Jeremy floated there, treading water for a good minute without any change. He was certain something had gone wrong or that the mermaid had tricked them when Brooke suddenly started clutching at her throat and sinking below the surface. One by one, they all went down and then Jeremy felt it. A burning in his lungs, a sting on the side of his neck, and the feeling of being smothered by a pillow. He couldn’t help but sink as he flailed and grasped at his throat desperate.

 

Then, he took a breath. But it wasn’t through his nose or mouth, it was from his neck. Reaching up, he could feel thin slits along either side of his neck, and suddenly the water seemed brighter, clearer than before. Thin, but strong, webbing formed between his fingers and his feet flattened out to become fins. Jeremy couldn’t help it, he shot himself out of the water with surprising speed, managing a graceful flip as he breached, before landing back in the water and grinning at his friends. They all had the same changes too.

 

When he looked over, he saw Rich looking around. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out except for a string of bubbles. That seemed to irritate him for a moment before he pointed to somewhere further out of the lagoon, closer to the edge of the small coral reef. When Jeremy looked, he saw exactly what Rich was trying to tell them about: there was a structure that, although old and in a different style than most places, was obviously the library by it's basic architecture. It was large, grand, and would take a lot of time to search through.

 

Jeremy nodded and made the signal for ‘let’s go,’ glancing at Michael questioningly. Michael nodded and the group set off in a shot, with Michael leading the way. Jeremy and Rich followed closely behind and Brooke brought up the rear, watching for any danger. There didn’t seem to be any yet. Jeremy was in awe at how beautiful everything looked underwater. If he didn’t already love the ocean, this would have sealed the deal.

 

The doors to the library were gone, the front entrance-way slightly damaged otherwise, but the group decided not to question it for now, even if it made Jeremy's stomach churn a little. In they went, and to any book lovers, this was their hell to see all of the remains from centuries of water damage to these books. Only some covers remained, all hanging in different levels in the water depending on their buoyancy. Other items like chairs and tables and shelves were in different states of disrepair, some remains hauntingly floating in the water while others sunk to the bottom of the library's floors.

 

Everything had an eerie blue glow, making it seem as though they had stepped into another world entirely.

 

As Jeremy started looking around, he felt a flash pain in his forehead. His eyes slammed shut and he saw in front of him a large, stone door with a single hand-print in the center. The image glowed gold.

 

When he finally opened his eyes, merely seconds later, he had sunk a little in the water. He blinked, feeling fine now. Damn compass, even if that was useful.

 

He saw Michael stop by him, worry and concern evident in his eyes as he got a hold on his surroundings again.

 

Jeremy needed a way to tell him what he had just seen. He grabbed Michael’s hand and traced out two words: stone door. The action felt familiar, though not necessarily in a good way. He looked up to Michael to see if he understood.

 

Michael just nodded in understanding then before, with his free hand, pointing up, indicating the upper levels, and then down, indicating the basement.

 

Jeremy shrugged and shook his head, he didn’t know. He pointed to Michael, then over to Rich. Then to himself and Brooke. He swam off to tell her what he had found. Once he was close enough, he hesitantly gestured for her hand, not willing to push the friendship anymore that it was because he happened to grab her hand when she didn’t want him to.

 

Brooke looked him over for a second before holding her hand out to him. In the corners of his vision, he saw Michael already tracing against Rich's hand.

 

He wrote out the message and dropped her hand, looking away for a moment. This was hard, having everyone mad at him for something he didn’t (or didn’t mean to) do. He glanced up at her, silently asking if she understood the message.

 

When he looked back at Brooke, she just nodded before waving Rich and Michael over. The two swam over, and Brooke held up two fingers as she pointed up before gesturing again with two more fingers and pointing down. She seemed to think for a moment, pointing to her and Rich before pointing up and then to Jeremy and Michael before pointing down.

 

Jeremy looked over at Michael and smiled. Before anyone could swim away, he grabbed their attention. Tapped his wrists, then held up his hand three times. They had already been down here for fifteen minutes. Then he did the signal for cautious. Everyone nodded and Brooke and Rich swam away. Jeremy swam over to Michael and nudged his shoulder.

 

Michael just smiled and nudged his shoulder back before he began swimming towards the stairs that lead towards the basement. It took a little bit to find, as it seemed to be more hidden away, but it didn't eat up too much time thankfully as they started swimming down the stairs, avoiding any debris from the former library.

 

Downstairs looked old, older than the remains of the building above. He and Michael carefully weaved through the maze of corridors, and he counted the seconds to ensure that they didn’t run out of time.

 

After another fifteen minutes of searching, hitting dead ends and caved in corridors, they found it. The door from Jeremy’s vision. He pointed at it excitedly, then effectively gasped in horror when he looked at Michael. Slowly but surely, his feet fins were shrinking. Michael seemed blissfully unaware, instead he was beaming at Jeremy proudly.

 

Jeremy grabbed Michael’s wrist and started dragging him back to the exit, pointing at his feet desperately. Panic was clear in his face.

 

Michael looked down as Jeremy started dragging him off, his eyes going wide at the sight. He was quick to follow Jeremy out and through the corridors, getting through a lot quicker than earlier. Still, time wasn't on their side as the fins were shrinking and the webbing was starting to vanish.

 

Even with Michael’s slower pace, he and Jeremy still manage to make to make it out of the basement, out of the library and halfway to the surface before the gills closed over. Michael started clutching at his neck, his swimming stopping entirely as he flailed and sank.

 

Jeremy panicked. With the equivalent of a gasp, he dove after Michael’s sinking form and wrapped his arms around his waist. Then he pressed his lips to Michael’s, letting a stream of bubbles enter his mouth. Jeremy shot through the water like a bullet from a gun, dragging Michael with him. He breached and forced Michael above water, his own arms wrapped around his waist, keeping him afloat while keeping himself underwater.

 

He could faintly hear Michael gasping from where he was, coughing a few times as well from the sea water he unintentionally swallowed. It took a few moments, but he saw Michael look around before tapping on Jeremy's arm, pointing over to some of the rocks that were protruding from the water that he could get to so he could properly recover before swimming back to the beach.

 

Jeremy nodded and carefully swam Michael over to the rocks. Hovering just under the water, he tapped his wrist and then pointed back down. He pointed to Michael and then over to the shoreline, cocking his head in question. Could Michael make it back safely?

 

Michael just gave him a thumbs-up before tapping on Jeremy's hands. Once he was let go, Michael heaved himself on top of the rock closest to him, and Jeremy could see him catching his breath after coughing up some more sea water, but he seemed fine regardless.

 

Jeremy reached up, resting his hand lightly on Michael’s ankle before diving back down. He entered the library again but swam upwards, going to quickly look for Brooke and Rich. They needed to know what happened as well as possibly help him get the map.

 

When he found them, the two were searching high and low for any possible secret entrances. Brooke was the first to notice Jeremy, concern instantly taking over as she swam to him, head cocked to the side as she took Jeremy's hand and traced out 'Michael?'

 

Jeremy pointed up and wrote back: ‘wore off safe’ before letting her go and making the signal for follow. He swam back a little, pointing down.

 

He saw her quickly go to Rich, getting his attention and getting him to follow. As they followed, Brooke seemed to trace what Jeremy told her into the palm of his hand, though Rich frowned once he got told this information.

 

Knowing Rich and how he thought of Jeremy right then, he likely thought Jeremy did something. Jeremy stopped his shoulders from falling at the implication. Still, they both followed Jeremy as they made their way downstairs. Jeremy lead them through the basement, ignoring the suspicious glares from Rich, and finally, he made his way to the door. With a little, dramatic flair, he spread his arms and gestured at it, then turned his head and sent them a confused frown.

 

The two swam over to the door, examining it over before Brooke seemed to come up with an idea. She waved Jeremy over, pointing to him and then gesturing for him to place his hand into the 'lock' there.

 

Jeremy pressed his hand against it without hesitation, wanting to prove that he trusted Brooke. For a second, nothing happened. Then a loud crack echoed around them, and they could actually hear it despite being underwater. The door split down the center, each half pulling away.

 

In the center of the room stood a single pedestal as well as a map. It looked old, but for some reason wasn’t affected by the water. Jeremy swam over to it and picked it up. It was made of some slippery, smooth substance, which had a subtle sheen to it. Regardless, he recognized the map from the notes they stole from Samuel. He turned around, grinning to Brooke and Rich, rolling up they map and holding it triumphantly in the air- er, water above his head.

 

Brooke clapped from where she was while Rich looked relieved, glancing above before looking back at Jeremy and mimicking the action of taking out a pocket watch and checking the time, looking back to Jeremy when he was done.

 

Jeremy thought about it, then held up both his hands. Ten minutes. Just enough time to make it back to shore. He darted out of the room, motioning for the others to follow. He lead them back through the maze and out of the library.

 

Shore was within sight when Jeremy felt it starting to wear off. He pointed up and kept everyone swimming near the surface.

 

Everyone surfaced by the time the Gillyweed wore off. Brooke gasped as she surfaced, Rich running a hand through his hair before saying, "OK, let's head back to shore. God, I didn't realize how much I missed talking until I couldn't do it anymore."

 

“Rich, we’re right by the shallows. You can stand if you want and talk to your heart’s content.” Jeremy chuckled, pulling himself to his feet. He looked up, away from his friends and to the shore. He froze the moment he saw the scene in front of him. Michael stood on the beach, fully dressed, being held with a knife against his throat by none other than Captain Madeline herself.

Chapter Text

“Why don’t you wave to your friends and boyfriend and say 'hi,' my good boy?" Madeline practically hissed into Michael's ear, the blade flush against his throat. He felt his heart beat so fast that he was scared it was about to climb up his throat in an attempt to escape, and it would push his throat against the blade and he'd be dead. Regardless of that, he just glared at the woman over his shoulder, though he was restrained by her other arm with a surprisingly strong grip compared to the last time he fought with her.

 

His silence seemed to irritate Madeline, as she pushed the edge of the blade closer, drawing a small line of blood. "I said to say. Hi." Michael couldn't help but tense as he felt the blood mix with some of the salt water that lingered on his skin, hissing when some of the water from above his neck dripped into his fresh wound, irritating it slightly. "I thought you had manners, mon petit chien. I guess I need to reteach them to you."

 

“You will do no such thing, Madeline.” Jeremy stepped forwards, managing to look surprisingly intimidating while just in his underwear while dripping wet. “What do you want from us for his safe release?”

 

Madeline seemed to pretend to think this over as she tapped her pointer finger against the knife's handle, tapping the knife against Michael's neck. "Hm... Well, I want the compass, some loot from your ship, but most importantly-" Her eyes focused right on Jeremy, even if he was yards away in the shallows, and Michael could see them darken. "-I want you, ship cat."

 

"No, you are not listening to her, that is an order," Michael commanded, feeling his heart almost skip a beat. This was because he left Jeremy's side, but it wasn't like he could control this! He tried to do his best to stay strong, to not show weakness as Madeline pressed the blade further against his throat, drawing a little more blood.

 

"Be quiet, mon petit chien. The adults are talking."

 

“Done. Though I can’t give the loot, our treasurer is otherwise occupied and we don’t have access. I can offer the map instead though,” Jeremy said, eyes ice cold and focused only on Madeline. “May I at least get dressed before I swap out with him? I’d rather not catch a cold.” He gestured to himself almost comically, as though he wasn’t about to give himself over to one of his greatest enemies.

 

Michael's eyes widened at Jeremy. Was he seriously going to do this? "Jeremy, I just told you not to listen to her, I gave you a direct order as your captain!" he cried out, ignoring how the knife was pressing against his throat so tightly, threatening to slice more skin open.

 

Jeremy finally tore his gaze from Madeline and focused on Michael. Even at this distance, Michael could see love and a cold sort of resolve in his wintery eyes. There was no other choice for him in his mind, just like when Michael decided on something. “Then consider me a mutineer,” he said, as calmly as anything. “I am not letting her take you.”

 

Panic built up in him, and he looked back to Rich and Brooke before ordering, "Stop him! Do something to keep him from listening to her!"

 

It wasn't really like they could do much to one another, drenched and only in their underwear, but Brooke and Rich both stepped forward, each grabbing one of Jeremy's arms. "Jeremy, please-"

 

In a smooth motion, Jeremy threw them off of him, causing them both to land in the water with a small splash. Damn it, Michael should never had taught him to fight so well. Jeremy then darted forward and scooped up Michael’s sword which he had lost in the initial scuffle. He pointed it directly at Rich, who was already starting on him again, fear and concern in his eyes. “Don’t think I won’t do it, Richard. Don’t test me on this one.” Jeremy spoke with an eerie sort of calm, almost as though he were detached from the situation. “I’d recommend you call your crew off me, Captain. I’d rather not have to stop them myself.”

 

Michael couldn't help the tears forming in the corners of his vision at seeing this. It was like he was Archangel again minus his addiction with the seriousness he held, the skill and detachment to the situation. "Jeremy, please, don't do this," Michael almost begged, not caring if he was showing weakness in front of Madeline right now.

 

Jeremy ignored him. “Madeline, do I have permission to get dressed? I can retrieve the compass at the same time.”

 

"You do, ship cat," Madeline told him, and Michael felt his tears fall down his cheeks at this point.

 

"Jeremy, just listen to me, god damnit! Don't do this!"

 

Once again, Jeremy ignored him, instead edging over to the rock with their belongings. He vanished behind it for only a moment, talking the entire time he was there. “I shan’t be long, I just would rather I don’t have to walk around almost nude. I know I’m not so skinny as I once was, but I’m hardly the paragon of fitness either.” Just an incessant ramble until he stepped back out again. He held the compass, unprotected, in his hand and the map in the other. “Before I go, may I at least say goodbye? I will go with you, no struggle, if you allow me a proper goodbye and leave him unharmed. Bind his hands if you must, but he is to be let go unharmed and I’m allowed a proper goodbye.”

 

Madeline seemed to think this over for a moment as Michael was trying to figure out if Jeremy had some sort of plan, or if he was just going along with what Madeline came up with. "Alright," she mused out, and Michael felt her quickly let go and tie his hands behind his back before he could do a thing, the knife no longer pressed against his jugular.

 

Michael glared back at Madeline as she let him go, though the rope still had some length that she held onto before pushing him forward a foot or so to Jeremy. He looked up at him then, trying to find something in his eyes to let him know that Jeremy knew what he was doing. "Jeremy, don't listen to her, for fuck's sake."

 

Jeremy walked over to him, smiling softly and tears in his eyes, finally showing some emotion. Tucking the map and compass into his pockets, he leant forward and cupped Michael’s cheeks softly. “Michael, I love you so much, you know that right?”

 

He couldn't help but lean into his hands, tears falling down his cheeks as he looked down at Jeremy. "I do, but please don't listen to her. Don't go with her, Jeremy," he almost whispered.

 

Jeremy pressed a sweet, lingering kiss to his lips. “I know you’ll come and find me. Just don’t give up, yeah?” he whispered against his lips, pressing kiss after kiss there, holding him so gently. Jeremy’s eyes were wet but he wasn’t crying yet. He used his thumbs to wipe away Michael’s tears.

 

Michael wanted to reach out and hold him so badly, to keep him from going, but now he realized how Jeremy must have felt every time he had been taken. He tried to calm the twisting pain in his stomach as he nodded, sniffling as he did so. "I won't, I promise I won't."

 

Jeremy press one final kiss to his lips. Then, in the odd, ancient language, he whispered something. “Page forty-two of the notes we stole, and the end of my most recent notebook. It’s in the trunk. That’s where I’ll be.” And with that, he stepped away, pulled out the map and compass and walked over to Madeline, arms raised in surrender. “Release his ropes, Madeline. You’ll get no fight from me.” Jeremy sounded in control and resigned again, nothing like the tender tones he was using with Michael.

 

Looking back over his shoulder, watching as Jeremy went, he saw something flicker in her eyes as she shrugged and dropped the rope. "Alright, I have left him unharmed," she said clearly once Jeremy was by her side before, in the blink of an eye, putting him into the same position Michael had been in. "It doesn't mean that he'll leave him unharmed."

 

From behind a nearby rock, Samuel smoothly stepped out. Before anyone had a chance to react, he kicked Michael’s knee from the side, leaving it at an awkward angle. Michael screamed in pain as he fell down into the sand, unable to clearly see through the pain. Vaguely he heard Jeremy screaming, fighting a bit. “This wasn’t part of the deal, Madeline!”

 

“Nope, but as my prisoner I’m free to do with you what I want. And I want to get paid.” She chuckled.

 

Michael forced himself to focus through the overwhelming pain, rolling over and dragging his eyes over to where Samuel was grabbing the still struggling Jeremy. “Let me go you asshole!”

 

"Not when we're so close, Noah," Michael managed to hear Samuel say through the faint screams of Brooke and Rich about their concern for him instead of Jeremy. As he watched and struggled to try to lean up more despite the pain flaring through him at every twitch of his injured leg, he saw Jeremy being carried away, though his struggling and screaming seemed to unnaturally stop. Through the pain, he could feel the bad feeling practically explode in his gut.

 

"J-Jer'my!" he managed to get out past his cries and whimpers of pain, not caring how weak or hoarse his voice was.

 

After a moment, Samuel placed Jeremy down and let him walk alone. Jeremy followed him, his movements unnaturally smooth, his posture too perfect. Michael knew that movement, even through the haze of pain, he’d know it anywhere. He lived it.

 

Jeremy was hit with Dew berries.

 

In an instant, Brooke and Rich were by Michael’s side, undoing his ropes, totally ignoring Madeline or the steadily retreating figures of Jeremy and Samuel. “Goddamn traitor. Should have known better than to trust him after the whole Archangel thing. Especially after yesterday.” Rich was cursing under his breath, every other sentence being some insult directed at Jeremy.

 

"N-no," he tried to get out, but he was gently shushed by Brooke.

 

"You need to stop moving and let us help you, alright? Just try to stay still, I'm sorry but it'll hurt. Rich, I'm gonna grab our-" Her voice cut out, and he refused to look over and take his eyes off of Jeremy until he heard anger he rarely had ever heard from Brooke before.

 

"Are you seriously going to rob us of all of our stuff after getting what you wanted? Are you that much of a greedy witch?" Brooke asked, and Michael managed to shift his gaze over enough to see her grab the sword Jeremy dropped, pointing it at Madeline as she slung Rich, Chloe, and Brooke's bags of their clothes and items, as well as Jeremy's bag, over her shoulder. "You are not getting away with our shit, you pompous bitch."

 

“Awww, is the little chef angry? What are you going to do, tiny chef? Throw an onion at me?” Madeline teased, drawing her own sword as she dropped the bags.

 

“Ugh, that is it!” In an instant, Brooke laid into her, moving with more speed and power than Michael knew possible from the short girl. Madeline tried to block her attacks, but it was useless. Within seconds, Madeline was left bruised and bleeding on the sand and Brooke was retrieving everyone’s affects, Jeremy’s included. No one had ever seen her fight like that. She could have easily challenged Michael with that level of skill.

 

"You are done messing with my family, you fake French bitch," Brooke hissed out from shut teeth, and Michael would have been impressed if the pain wasn't clouding his mind at this point. As his vision blurred, he could make out her shouldering their bags. "Rich, you're gonna have to do the rowing back, I need to make sure Michael stays awake on the way back to the ship."

 

“How do we get Chloe back? Jeremy was the only one who spoke Patileese,” Rich reminded her as he scooped Michael into his arms. “Sorry, Michael,” he murmured when Michael hissed in pain.

 

“Jake speaks a little. He can translate enough until Chloe gets back.” Brooke and Rich talked over the top of Michael, even as he tried to focus on where Jeremy and Samuel had vanished to.

 

The sound of splashing water caught Michael's attention, shifting his focus again as he looked to see the mermaid in the water with Chloe. Chloe herself looked wonderful, her hair done nicely, even if it was soaked, though her eyes seemed to not be like how Jeremy mentioned. She seemed more aware, though confused, as she walked up onto the turf.

 

"I... I am.... much sorry for loss," the mermaid managed to get out, and he could hear the sorrow in her broken Common before she said something in her native language to Chloe and then vanished back into the water.

 

Chloe instantly ran over to Michael and grabbed his hand, looking him over with worry. “Michael are you okay? Where’s Jeremy? Why was Adina so upset?” She looked up at Rich from her half crouched position. “What happened?!”

 

“Jeremy is a piece of shit traitor who gave Samuel the map and the compass,” Rich hissed venomously, even as they started to walk towards the boat again. Chloe looked surprised, but unconvinced. Michael knew that besides Chrissy, Chloe was the only person who trusted Jeremy wholeheartedly. They had bonded too much over their own addictions and shared too many personal secrets for that not to exist. She turned her gaze back on Michael, her eyes almost pleading for Rich to be wrong.

 

Michael tried to speak, but all that came out were pained winces or cries as Rich tried to tread carefully. Rich did apologize, though the answer he had wasn’t helping. “I said to be careful Rich, god damnit!”

 

“Not self,” was all Michael could manage to get out before he cried as his leg was jostled as Rich tried to carefully set him in the dingy.

 

Richard!”

 

“I’m fucking trying here! I’m sorry Michael, you’ll be back on the Fallen Angel shortly, you’ll be fine.”

 

Chloe seemed to understand as she settled herself next to Michael’s head. She looked up at Brooke. “It looks like his knee is dislocated. It’s a common street injury and I saw it loads growing up. Even if he passes out, he’ll be okay, but it might never be quite the same.” Back down to Michael. “He got hit with Dew berries, didn’t he?” she asked softly, quiet enough that the others didn’t hear her over the sound of the dingy being dragged to the water. She ran her fingers soothingly through Michael’s hair.

 

Michael leaned into her touch, whimpering but managing a nod. As soon as he was done though, Brooke was by Michael again, double checking his injury without causing any more pain to flare up just yet. “You’re right, but Samuel definitely got him bad from what I can tell. I’m glad we have that cane still.”

 

“For sure,” Chloe agreed, still focusing on Michael. “I know it’s hard to focus right now, Michael, but I have to know. He told you something, didn’t he? Where to find him or where to start looking or something, right? Jeremy wouldn’t just jump into that sort of situation without a plan, we know this,” she murmured, the soft rock of the dingy and the splash of oars meaning only Michael heard. “You don’t need to speak, just tell me if he had a plan. Please tell me he did,” she begged softly.

 

Michael manages to nod once more, even if it felt like his head was spinning and turning and moving every which way. He tried to verbally respond to, but the combination of the pain and motion made him feel nauseous, so he quickly shut his mouth and started breathing through his nose. “Chloe, help to keep him calm, not to have him almost get sick please,” Brooke almost begged, worry lacing her tone as she tried to see if there was anything she could do to help Michael while in the tiny boat.

 

Chloe shushed him, her fingers running through his hair still. “It’s okay, Michael. We can talk soon, just let’s get your leg all fixed up first, okay? Then we can start planning. But you won’t be any use to him like this, so focus on me and nothing else. I’m going to help you get him back, and I know Chrissy will too, no matter what everyone else says.” Chloe’s gentle rambling helped to distract him from his pain in a way. He had someone who still believed in Jeremy. That meant he could still get Jeremy back. They had the cure after all. Michael held onto that thought firmly as the dingy reached the ship and was hoisted aboard.

 

He felt multiple people moving him out of the small boat, as well as multiple gasps that didn’t help with his headache. Almost everyone seemed to start talking before Brooke told them to stop, and then there was silence besides Chloe’s reassurance, the sea, and the sound of boots and wet feet against the deck of the ship as he was moved.

 

As he was carefully picked up in someone’s arms once on the ship, by who he couldn’t tell, he couldn’t help but whimper out to Jeremy, who he needed to get back. He reached out blindly in his pained state, needing someone, some comfort, something.

 

Something was shoved into his arms, pressed near his face. Jeremy’s coat. He didn’t take it with him when he went with Madeline. It still smelled like him, like sea breezes and fresh lemons. “Here you go. It’s the closest we can get to him for now,” Chloe murmured to him.

 

“Why does he still want anything to do with that traitor?” Rich grumbled, only for a loud smack to echo around the ship, causing everyone to freeze and fall silent.

 

“You know Jeremy wouldn’t have gone with Samuel like that willingly, Richard. Back the fuck down and let Michael take some comfort from his boyfriend,” Chrissy hissed, her voice darker than anything Michael had ever heard from her, pretend or not.

 

Michael felt his chest ache too for his crew split so heavily. Even if no one else really voiced their opposition, Michael knew the rest of the crew besides he, Chloe, and Chrissy felt how he did, but they didn’t dare to voice it.

 

“Please, d’nt fight,” Michael managed out as he held onto Jeremy’s coat, trying to calm himself down, especially with the divide forming between his crew, his family. “It’s what he wants...”

 

Chloe took up being the voice of reason once again. “Michael is right. Samuel wants us fighting. Now I don’t believe that Jeremy would ever choose to join Samuel willingly, have you seen his reactions whenever Michael’s been taken? How he almost killed Samuel after he tried breaking Michael? But it doesn’t matter what we think as individuals. We all swore to listen to the captain when we joined this crew, and for now the captain is telling us to put our differences aside and get moving. We need to get him into a state where he can give orders, and Richard you are much too emotional at the moment. If it’s alright with Michael, I’ll be acting captain until he’s in a state to give orders again.” She looked over to Michael, arching an eyebrow as if to ask ‘was that okay?’

 

Despite the stark silence in the air, the shock it held, Michael just nodded. He knew she was more than qualified right now, but couldn’t think on how because the pain in his leg flared up again. He hissed through his teeth as he held on tighter to Jeremy’s coat, trying to calm himself at least somewhat.

 

Chloe relaxed a little. “Okay, good.” She turned back to the crew. “Brooke, Chrissy. You two are going to look after Michael, get him healed enough to at least speak. Jake, you put Michael in bed then get on helm. Jenna, I want the Perfection Attained found. Then we follow, at least until Michael is in a state to give us more information. Rich, you’re to go over weapons and artillery until Jake comes to relieve you. I know you’re mad about all of this, so it’ll give you some time to work it out until you can think straight. Are there any questions?” Chloe had never sounded so commanding, even if she was still only dressed in her underwear and was still sopping wet. Silence reigned as no one dared argue with her. “Good. Then get moving. I’m going to go and get dressed.” And with that, she grabbed her bag of clothes and strode downstairs to the crew’s quarters.

 

Once she was gone, or at least Michael assumed so, he heard scattered talk that was quickly silenced by Chrissy. “You heard our temp captain. Get moving!” No one dared to argue with her apparently, probably since she stood up to Rich and defended Jeremy.

 

Michael felt himself begin to move, Jake, he now realized, carefully carrying him back into his room and settling him down on his bed.

 

Getting settled, he heard apologies spill past Jake’s lips as he was set down and as he hissed in pain. He quickly left though, Chrissy being the only one there for now, as Brooke needed to change and get all of the proper tools and such to help.

 

Michael managed to lift his head and turn it to face her. “Thanks...”

 

Chrissy smiled at him, obviously knowing that he wasn’t just talking about helping Chloe right then. “Whatever I can do to help, Michael. Jeremy’s my best friend too, remember?” She pressed a gentle kiss to Michael’s forehead.

 

Brooke returned a few moment later.

 

“Okay, Michael. We’re going to need to pop your knee back into alignment. It’ll hurt like a bitch for a moment while I do it, but you should find that the pain will lessen a lot once I have.” She pressed a roll of cloth between his lips. “You might want to bite down on this.” She braced her hands on his thigh and his knee and with one swift movement, pushed it back into place with a sharp CRACK.

 

The sudden jolt of pain that shook Michael to his core and seemingly refused to leave had him scream bloody murder. Thankfully, the cloth in his mouth muffled most of it, and it helpfully provided something for him to bite down on as he screamed in agony.

 

By the time the blinding pain faded, he only knew he was awake and present because he felt someone using a cloth to wipe away the beads of sweat drenching his forehead now. His core was shaken and he was barely aware of most anything.

 

“It’s okay, Michael. It’s over now. You can rest. Brooke is mixing up some pain killers right now to help you sleep.” Chrissy’s voice was soft, soothing, a gentle echo through the blur.

 

He turned in the direction of her voice, but even with his glasses on (he could feel the faint pressure of them on his face, that’s how he knew), he couldn’t really see her. Instead of verbally responding, he tried and hoped he nodded as he just only now realized he was crying and begging for the pain to stop, crying out for Jeremy.

 

His tears were dried as soon as they fell, and Chrissy’s gentle murmured of reassurance helped a lot. For a moment, she paused, thinking aloud. “Female sirens can affect gay men if their desires are strong enough, right?” she mumbled to herself, before she started humming. The tune was haunting, picking at his memories of many, many months ago. The first piece of the compass, the sirens whispering into his mind but him desiring nothing strongly enough for them to affect him. Jeremy clinging to him, then saving his life.

 

Chrissy somehow had learnt their song and was singing is softly to him. Though her voice wasn’t magical, the song was, and it gently wrapped around his mind, soothing him ever so slightly. It made him feel like Jeremy was close, and the smell of sea breeze and fresh lemons only helped to reinforce that feeling. The pain began to fade further.

 

He felt things clear up a little more, but as they cleared, exhaustion began overtaking him. Unfortunately the pain was enough to keep him awake. Despite that, he let the song soothe him still, holding Jeremy’s coat closer, pretending like he was sitting in the room, doing some translations or gazing out the window. It made things more bearable.

 

Brooke gently nudged his arm, her ears covered by her bandanna. “Drink this, it’ll help you sleep,” she whispered above the song, just loud enough for his brain to register it. She held out a phial of red liquid, but it smelt different from his usual sleeping potion.

 

Michael reached up then, letting Brooke’s hands guide his as to lead the phial to his mouth. He quickly drank it, almost like a shot, and coughed for a few moments after before Brooke carefully pulled back her hands.

 

Instantly, the world began to swim and Michael felt very cut off from his own body. He felt his glasses removed from his face and the covers pulled up on to him, but he barely cared. He couldn’t move or talk or even ask if this was normal, and for a second he hovered in this mess of reality. Then, everything tipped sideways and he blacked out, not feeling a single drop of pain.

 

 

 

The next time he was awake, it took Michael a good minute to remember that Jeremy wasn’t there despite the lingering smell from his coat. He finally opened his eyes when he remembered that fact, unhappy in the fact that he was proven right. He let out a hoarse sigh then, the sound ragged and shaky from earlier before he looked around to see if anyone was in his cabin with him.

 

Chrissy was curled up on one of his plush chairs by the coffee table. She seemed to be dozing, but was slowly waking up from Michael’s small sound. Stretching, she smiled over at him. “Hey, Michael. How you feeling?”

 

He took a few seconds to think about it before bluntly stating, “Shitty. I don’t think I have the vocabulary or intellect to properly describe how shitty I feel, so I’ll just say that.”

 

She nodded sympathetically and wandered over, carefully perching on his bedside. Though his legs were covered by his blankets, he could feel that there was some bandages or something wrapped around his knee to stop it from being hurt if slightly jostled for some reason.

 

“It’s gonna hurt badly for a good few days, but it’ll start to clear up after then. It’ll be weaker but you should still be able to climb the rigging eventually,” she explained, looking him over carefully. “Can I get you anything? Anything at all?”

 

Michael looked up at her then, remembering quickly what Jeremy told him. “My glasses, Samuel’s notes that you guys stole, and Jeremy’s translation notebook.”

 

Chrissy thought, then nodded. She scooped up the papers from Michael’s desk, carefully dumping them into his lap. She then ran over to the pile of bags and pulled out the box where the compass was. Jeremy’s notebook was there instead. When she passed it over, Michael instantly got to work.

 

Page forty-two (Jeremy had numbered them all, and this one joking had ‘secret of everything?’ scrawled into the corner) was a piece of a larger map, but was pretty recognisable. At a guess, that area of islands would take about two months to sail to from where they were approximately. Flipping through Jeremy’s notebook, he found a small, single note of coordinates with no reference or map or anything. Except when compared to on the small map, then they lead directly to the square of the map with a single, lone island on it. How he had managed to get this information so quickly, Michael would never know, but he at least knew that in his gut, this was right. That was the island where the Keys to Reality were.

 

Michael quickly wrote this information down on one of the blank pages he could find, scrambling for some writing utensil to translate it into Common before pointing to it. "This is where they're going to be. It... it's going to take two months to get there, but we'll find Jeremy there. Hopefully..." He looked down to his lap then, right where he saw Jeremy's handwriting. "Jeremy will be there and if he isn't fully present, I'll be sure to bring him back. Get this to whoever is currently sailing so we can head there right away."

 

Chrissy watched him work with wide eyes, but by the time he gave an order, she was rushing to obey. She scrambled outside, leaving Michael there with the promise of her quick return.

 

After she left, Michael looked out the window of his cabin, eyebrows furrowed. "I promised I'd get you Jeremy, and I'm not going to break that."

 

A gentle knock sounded at the door, and Chloe let herself in, smiling softly but sadly at Michael. “You figured out his clue already, huh? Well now we have a chance to catch up to them, it might not be the full two months before we get him back.” She wandered over and perched on his bed. “I won’t lie, a lot of the crew are torn. They don’t understand that he got hit, they just know that Rich and Brooke saw him calmly walk away with Samuel. And they think he was influencing you. They’re seeing facts where there are none because they’re scared.” She sighed heavily, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Want me to send them in so you can clear it up? Or do you need more time to heal up first?”

 

After listening to Chloe, he shook his head. “No, send them in. They need to know as soon as possible. I don’t want my crew to be split, especially over something Samuel wants them to believe.” He looked up at Chloe then, giving her a smile. “Thank you, by the way.”

 

She scooped up his hand and gave it a quick squeeze. Her smile was small but genuine and sad. “I’m just looking out for my family.” She stood and left. A few minutes later, every member of the crew save Chloe was slowly filing into Michael’s cabin. Everyone, except Chrissy, looked either guilty or frustrated. Chrissy looked more determined than he had ever seen her.

 

“You wanted to see us, Michael?” Rich asked, his voice surprisingly soft when compared to his deep frown.

 

“I wanted to explain some things to you guys so we don’t have any misunderstandings,” Michael told them, wincing at the slight irritation of his sore throat. “I know what you saw, Brooke and Rich, and that you all are still suspicious after yesterday. We just didn’t have a chance to explain everything.

 

“Jeremy thinks his compass affected him and me. He said it made him angrier and snap, and thinks it changed my mind about yesterday. I know it talked through him though, claiming it knew what he truly wanted and speaking some nonsense about knowing what’s best for him and that it wouldn’t stop him from getting the Keys and achieving its goals. It’s a fucking asshole magical compass, which is why it’s been in a small chest.

 

“On the beach too, even if I was in pain, I saw the change in Jeremy. He... he walked like how I did when Madeline got me full of the unripe Dew berry serum. Samuel used it on Jeremy, he wouldn’t willingly go with Samuel, you all know that.”

 

After that huge explanation, he felt himself to be tired. He leaned back against his cushioned headboard and pillows, looking at his crew then and seeing them processing all of this. “I don’t want conflict in the crew, it’s what Samuel wants. We’re a family, we stand strong together. Please...”

 

Rich deflated and looked away. Everyone else looked varying degrees of guilty. Chrissy stood tall and took charge. “Each of us were taken out of a bad situation, and given a family. A home. Jeremy is no different, the only thing different is that he didn’t have his lowest point alone like we did. He loved each and every one of us. And he was terrified that you might hate him after everything that happened. He only started his addiction because he thought he was protecting Michael and us. Are you telling me that’s someone who would join Samuel willingly?”

 

After a brief bit of silence, Brooke out of everyone spoke up. “I had a hard time believing it, but I just... I didn’t know any of that. I just wanted to keep our Captain safe, especially after everything he’s done for all of us. I didn’t want to distrust Jeremy, I just didn’t have all the facts. When I see him, I need to apologize, but I need to apologize to you all too, you included Chrissy. I’m sorry for doubting you and your loyalties, even if it wasn’t for long.”

 

Chrissy smiled at her girlfriend. “You can apologize to him by getting him back.” She pulled Brooke down and pressed a small kiss to her cheek. Jenna and Jake both murmured something of a similar nature, apologizing and promising to help get Jeremy back. The only one who was silent was Rich, and when Michael looked over to him, he saw that Rich had hot, angry tears streaming down his face.

 

“M’sorry,” he mumbled after a second. “God, you’d think after so many years away from him, he’s stop having so much influence over my head.” He laughed wetly, scrubbing at his cheeks. “Let’s get that cat back!”

 

Michael couldn’t help but give a reassuring smile towards Rich. “It doesn’t matter now, we’re all on the right track.” He just let out a heavy sigh as he lied back down in bed, the air in the room back to a more comfortable feeling, as Chrissy and Brooke helped him. Michael thanked the couple before he looked back to his crew.

 

“We’re getting Jeremy back and ending Samuel!”

 

 

 

Several miles away, Jeremy- no, his name was Noah. Jeremy was a lie. Noah sat in the captain’s cabin of the Perfection Attained sipping too sweet tea.

 

“I’m very sorry for acting out, Squip. I didn’t realize I had been under his influence for so long,” he murmured, bright green eyes downcast. “I don’t know how I never picked up on the love potion...”

 

“It’s alright Noah, it was so strong that he was able to warp your mind,” Squip told him, tone sympathetic yet understanding. “I’m just glad we were finally able to get to you before it started to permanently affect you.” Squip was standing while Noah sat, a nonthreatening and reassuring presence after all of the horrors he realized from their short session talking.

 

Noah turned his eyes up, looking up at his stepfather worriedly. “But what if it has and it starts to affect me again? What if I start to listen to him again? I don’t want to lose myself anymore, I want to be me! He just wanted to use me to get the Keys, I don’t want to be used like that!” Noah felt himself blinking away tears, which of course had to be from fear and not from the ache in his chest. Another sip of tea and the tears and pain dissipated somewhat.

 

He felt a hand cup his cheek, and he looked up to see Squip looking at him with a comforting gaze. “I will help you to remember if you start to slip. I won’t let you fall for him and his lies again. I will not let you be used again. Do you trust me, Noah?”

 

“Yes, I do.” Noah nodded, even as he felt a part of himself screaming no. He whimpered and leant into the hand on his cheek. “Squip, please. It’s hurting again,” he whined, feeling those bad feelings from when Blood Coat was controlling him surface again. It kept happening, and he hated that he had no control over it. He’d need to ask for his own flask of the love potion cure later, if they didn’t stop.

 

He felt Squip’s thumb gently rub against his cheek then, gently shushing him. “I’ll see if I can work on something to help with that, but I’ll use what I can now to help.” Noah watched as, with his free hand, he took out a phial before pouring it into the tea cup. “Drink some more tea, it’ll help.”

 

Noah greedily downed the rest of his drink, feeling the bad sensations flush themselves away. He didn’t need to feel them, Squip had promised him. He was safe from that horrible pirate Blood Coat and his terrible crew. A blissful fog defended over his mind as he let himself disconnect for a moment, and he heard Squip start to whisper (were those instructions?) into his ear.

 

“You are Noah, my step-son, and Blood Coat, Michael, whatever he calls himself, is the most vile person. You hate him, and when the time comes, if need be, you will get revenge on what he’s done to you. No hesitation. He and his crew are to be hated and spit upon.” As he spoke, Noah felt a feeling of bliss forming at the base of his neck and spreading out, to his shoulders, any tension melting away.

 

Noah sighed and nodded sleepily. “Yes, Squip. I hate them all, even Chrissy. And I want revenge on Blood Coat.” He knew he was just speaking slowly, slightly slurred, because of the love potion cure. It did the same thing to him last night. But he knew it was all true, because Squip told him so. Squip wouldn’t lie to him, and he was grateful that he didn’t hold everything Noah did to him against him. That he understood that it was Blood Coat and not Noah in control the whole time.

 

“Yes, and even if there are lingering feelings from the potion, I’ll help you. I won’t let Blood Coat ruin you any further,” Squip reassured him before he felt a gentle squeeze on his shoulder. “I would never lead you astray, I know what’s best for you always.”

 

“Yes Squip. You know what’s best...” Noah nodded again, relaxing. “I can trust you because we’re family, right? And I love you because we’re family. Just like you told me last night...” His words were clearing up a little, but his eyes were burning. Like he wanted to cry. But that was stupid, he was happy, right? Squip was here and he got Noah away from Micha- Blood Coat. He rescued Noah. And Noah knew that no matter what, he could trust him.

 

“Yes, exactly. You’re starting to get it, you’re breaking through. You’ll be yourself in no time, Noah,” Squip almost cooed out. “You’re doing so well.”

 

Maybe he felt like he wanted to cry out of joy? Yes, that must be it. After all, Squip saved him and was helping him. He trusted his step-father no matter what. He knew where he was now.

 

Noah knew this was home.

Chapter Text

The two months leading up to arriving at the island were agonizing. Michael had to recover with help from the crew, and he could walk around while mostly relying on his cane. He could walk for a few minutes without it, or engage in combat for a short span of time, but Samuel’s kick had definitely done permanent damage.

 

Chloe served as a good temporary captain, helping lead as Michael recovered and even now. Rich didn’t even seem bothered by it, taking over Jake’s duties as Jake took over Chloe’s.

 

They were less than a day away when, while Michael was on the deck, trying to ease his nerves with the smells of the sea, he saw it: Perfection Attained in the distance. The vessel was close to the beach, and it seemed to have been there for some time, not as if it had just arrived like they had. Michael clutched tighter onto the head of his cane before craning his head back. “We are boarding that ship and taking it down, once and for all! Capture every crew member on board and put them in the brig!”

 

A cheer echoed from behind him and everyone started working double time. Rich basically bounced up to Michael where he stood at the bow. “Are we really gonna sink it?” he asked hopefully, fiddling with a bottle of gunpowder.

 

Michael looked over at him, grinning a little madly (who couldn’t be a little mad after everything they’d been through?). “If we’re getting rid of Samuel, his ship has to go too. Get as much ready as you can to sink it.”

 

Rich’s eyes were almost feverishly bright. “Yes captain,” he cackled, running off below deck.

 

Michael was preparing himself for a fight, this wouldn’t be easy if the crew was left on there. But as they approached, he noticed that where there would be ten or fifteen crew milling about (it was a decently big ship) there were three. Samuel had left his ship mostly unguarded.

 

Processing this, he cursed under his breath. “Samuel’s gone, but it changes nothing.” He turned to Jenna, who he gave the spyglass back to. “We take them quickly, loot the place, then burn and sink it.”

 

“They must already be on the island. We need to be quick.” Jenna nodded before running off to inform the rest of the crew of their orders.

 

Chloe quickly walked over to Michael before he had a chance to go finish preparing. “Just a second, Michael, I need to show you something. Twist the top of your cane away from the bottom.” Curiously, Michael did as he was told, leaning against the railing. The golden top of his cane came away from the body, along with a short, fencing sword attached to it. “I had that done while we were in port last, so you’ll never be stuck without a weapon. I know foil isn’t your favorite but I thought it was better than nothing.” She grinned, obviously proud of herself.

 

Michael felt himself choke up a little before he reattached the top into the cane and reach over, bringing Chloe into a warm embrace. “Thank you so much, Chloe.” He meant every word, giving her a squeeze before pulling back and smiling up at her. “I’m probably going to, once we get to the island, go ahead to stop Samuel and save Jeremy. I trust you’ll lead the crew.”

 

“Of course I will. They’ll have the whole crew of the Perfection Attained in the brig by the time you get out with him. You focus on getting our cat back, Michael.” She grinned, moving over to man the harpoons. With a swift shot, the first of the cables was launched into the other ship, quickly followed by three more, all being reeled in. “Here we go!”

 

The three left on the deck of Perfection Attained seemed to steel themselves for this... until they saw who was going to be facing them. Even if they might have been good choices to leave to watch the ship, the ship was quickly boarded and, within a few minutes, those on the vessel were defeated, tied, and being lead into the Fallen Angel. "I'd say that was almost sad," Michael told Rich as Jake and Jenna walked across the plank, back on the ship and taking their prisoners down to the brig.

 

“They had given up the moment they saw who they were facing, Blood Coat. You think they’re gonna mess with you, with us, after all the shit we’ve given them?” Rich cackled, slamming the door to the captain’s quarters open. There wasn’t much there, save for a few articles of clothing, a notebook, a tea set, and what looked to be the shattered pieces of the compass.

 

Michael walked in then, frowning at the shattered compass for a moment. He was relieved that piece of shit was destroyed, but what had happened in here exactly? He looked around, feeling the tea set carefully. The pot was still warm.

 

He peered inside one of the cups, seeing it absolutely stained green. Nausea overtook him as he quickly took the lid off the pot, horror washing over him when he saw the pure neon green color that the inside was stained with, along with a sloshing liquid, too sweet, that took up half the space of the container. "Fuck..."

 

“Michael? What’s wr-“ Rich cut himself off as he noticed the cups. “Oh god, how much was in there?” He sounded like he might be sick. Once Rich knew all the facts, he had actually become very protective over Jeremy again. He looked ready to smash the pot.

 

"I think it's pure concentrate, Jeremy must not have been able to tell the difference after some point," Michael said, almost gagging and having to take a step back, the sickly sweet smell not helping. "It wouldn't have stained the tea set like that otherwise... Berry juice concentrated stains, like blueberries on your fingers."

 

“God, what has he been through?” Rich asked quietly, putting the lid back on the pot and slipping the tea cozy over it, blocking the smell somewhat. “He must basically be a puppet at this point, which means we’re gonna have to force the cure into him.” Rich scowled and wandered over to the notebook. “Michael look! This is Jeremy’s handwriting! But I can’t read the runes...” He looked up helplessly at Michael, offering him the book.

 

Michael had to sit down as he took the book, feeling gross for sitting on Samuel's bed, but he needed to sit down after that. He ignored how perfectly the bed was made as he opened the book, flipping to what seemed to be the latest entry and reading it out loud.

 

"'We're finally closing in on the island where the Keys are. Step-father has been telling us that we're almost done having to worry, and that we'll be able to truly be happy soon! He is so amazing, after all he's done for me since he got me back. I'm so glad he's letting me follow in his steps and treating me like nothing has changed. 'Noah, you are doing so well' and 'Noah, I'm so proud of you.' I hope I can keep making him proud today.'"

 

There was one more sentence, but he was practically curling up within himself where he sat, having to breathe in and out through his nose not to get sick at it: 'I would do anything to repay my loving step-father for saving me.'

 

The notebook was snatched out of Michael’s grip, and swiftly tucked into Rich’s pocket. “It’s not him, Michael. It’s Samuel and the Dew berries. He doesn’t believe any of that really. He loves you and he loves the crew and he hates Samuel.” He was scowling, looking a little pale himself. “We just need to get him back as soon as possible. That’s all.” He took a deep breath. “Let’s keep looking, there might be something else in here we haven’t found yet.”

 

At Rich's words, Michael quickly nodded, recomposing himself enough to stand and keep looking around.

 

It didn't take long to find Jeremy's shirt that he had worn the day he was taken, discarded in the trash. He quickly snatched it up, scandalized almost.

 

“Is... that his?” Rich asked slowly when he saw the shirt, picking up the sash Jeremy always wore from the ground. There was something in his eyes, a sort of broken worry that had taken root. Michael felt it too; what state would Jeremy even be in when they found him?

 

Michael just nodded and, after one last glance-around, stood up straight and walked out. "We don't need anything else. We're sinking this ship now."

 

Rich nodded. “Jake’s been setting the charges. All that’s left to do is to light the oil trail in the brig.” He took the shirt from Michael slowly and gave him a box of matches from the desk. “I’ll clear everyone else out, give me five minutes. Then you can do the honors.”

 

He gladly took the box of matches then, looking over at Rich then. "Do you want to help me burn this down and light it with me?"

 

Rich paused, then shook his head. “I just want to see her sink. You’ve been the one fighting everything the longest, you do the honors.” He grinned a little madly. “Besides, I still need to set the charges in here before you light.”

 

Michael just nodded. "Let me know somehow when I'm good," was all he said before he walked down the stairs to go below deck to the brig.

 

There was a few minutes of footsteps thundering over his head for a minute, and Michael took a moment to think. The last time he was in the brig, he had been in such a bad headspace. He thought he was just ‘boy’ and was worth nothing. Then Jeremy had come and saved him, pulled him back to himself. Time to return the favor.

 

There was a moment of silence, than three consecutive thumps above his head. “Let’s sink this ship once and for all!” came the muffled rooster cry of Rich.

 

Michael nodded, even if Rich couldn't see it, as he took out a match. He looked around the brig, seeing marks he remembered making as a child, that were made because of him, or ones that were more recent.

 

He didn't want to look at it anymore.

 

So he swiped the match and tossed the lit thing into the oil trail before walking up the stairs, feeling the heat licking at his back before going above deck. His eyes met Rich, who was still there, and pointed back towards the Fallen Angel with his cane.

 

It was time to leave this behind them and save Jeremy.

 

 

 

Within minutes of pulling back the Fallen Angel, the Perfection Attained explode in a brilliant fireball, sending debris raining from the sky. What little that was left swiftly sunk to the bottom of the bay. Everyone cheered, a loud and purely joyful sound. Then Chloe stepped up.

 

“Okay crew! Here’s the plan. We’re all going to be going in, and we’re going to clear a path for Michael to go through. He’s going to try to get the cure into Jeremy and take Samuel down once and for all. We take everyone prisoner, tie them up, then join Michael if he’s not already out. Michael, do you have the cure?” He nodded. “Good. Is everyone else clear?” A round of cheers arose again.

 

The ship landed next to the cliff face and the gang plank was dropped.

 

Everyone except for Michael and Jenna, who was keeping watch on the ship and of their prisoners, charged then, cheering and shouting as they all tumbled out.

 

Michael knew they'd signal for him when it was clear, but he stayed at the ready as he leaned against the railing with Jenna, watching them rush the crew of Perfection Attained, easily starting to beat them.

 

“You ready for this, Mikey?” she asked gently. She knew how big this event was for him, she had been there with him from the beginning.

 

He looked over to Jenna then, feeling a big lump forming in his throat. Michael simply nodded. "I can't wait to move on from this part of my life and be able to move on with all of you."

 

Jenna nodded, and pressed a quick kiss to his forehead. “Then go get the last of us.” She grinned as the horn sounded. The battle still raged but there was a clear path for him.

 

Michael nodded once again, grinning back at her despite all of his buzzing nerves. He quickly moved forward, his cane with him, as he hurried through the cleared patch before it shut, heading right into the cave where the Keys to Reality were.

 

Ahead of him, only a few feet, was Jeremy and Samuel. Jeremy looked... well he looked normal for the most part. True, he was dressed a little differently, in a white, ruffled formal shirt and black dress pants with a new sword strapped to his side, but other than that nothing seemed all that different. He was grinning and gesturing wildly as he chattered to Samuel.

 

“That puzzle was so hard, I’m so glad you helped me with it!” He grinned, looking up at Samuel with a look similar to how he would look at Michael’s moms. Samuel reached over and ruffled his hair affectionately.

 

“You did most of it, son. I’m so proud and we’re almost there!” Even at this distance, Michael could pick out how Jeremy’s now green eyes seemed to glow even brighter at that.

 

He felt his stomach churn again at this horrific sight. None of this was normal, no matter now 'normal' Jeremy acted. Michael had to do his best from even hissing at the sight in front of him. His grip on his cane tightened, and for now, he continued to sneak behind them, hiding himself as best as he could as he tried to figure out how to get Jeremy to drink the antidote.

 

After a minute, Jeremy froze, then started bouncing on the spot, pointing into the large, circular cave illuminated by strange torches. “Squip! Look! There it is!” Standing in the middle of a small round staircase, stood a pedestal holding a single glass orb. He couldn’t pick out any details from this distance, but he could feel the power radiating off of it. It felt familiar somehow.

 

“Okay, son, you know what to do. Just like we discussed.” Samuel motioned for Jeremy to ascend the stairs while he himself perched against a wall, looking much too satisfied with himself.

 

Even if he wasn't as close as he'd like, Michael knew he had to (and did) act. Stepping out from where he was, a few feet behind the pair, sword drawn. "You aren't taking another step closer to the Keys, Samuel, and neither is Jeremy."

 

Jeremy froze at the bottom of the stairs, slowly turning to face Michael. His features, normally so kind and sweet, were drawn into a poisonous glare that was solely focused on Michael. His green eyes were narrowed dangerously.

 

“You will address him as Squip, Blood Coat. And my name is Noah, not Jeremy,” he hissed, not an ounce of kindness in him. “I should have known you would try to reclaim your prize. Well I have news for you, you’re not getting me or the Keys!”

 

Jeremy’s tone almost made Michael stumble, but he held strong, his anger towards the situation keeping him going as he pointed his sword towards Jeremy. "I am not letting 'Noah' continue to stick around when it's supposed to be Jeremy in there. I am here to stop Samuel and get the last of my family back from his grimey clutches."

 

Jeremy is the lie you made up for me after you kidnapped me! He doesn’t exist! Never has!” Jeremy screamed, before recomposing himself. “Tell me, how long did you plan on keeping me drugged up? Keeping me your loyal little kitty cat before you got bored, hmm?” He sneered, looking too much like Samuel. “I was never your family, Blood Coat. And I never will be. I know where I belong, and it’s with Squip. He’s my family.”

 

"Samuel has been the one drugging you! I never did anything, he's been spiking what you've been drinking with Dew berry concentrate." Michael felt the phial of the antidote he had burning a hole into his pants. "He's been the one feeding you lies for months, and I'm sorry I haven't been able to save you sooner, Jeremy. You have to listen to me and not that piece of shit who is grinning like a predator!"

 

“Why should I believe you? I ha-!” Jeremy cut himself off, scowling down at Michael. Tears started gathering in his eyes. He tried again. “I ha- goddamnit, why am I crying? Why can’t I say it? It’s true!” He scrubbed at his cheeks but didn’t back down, even as he gagged a little on the words.

 

"Because of the shit you've been fed! He's been lying to you, manipulating you." He held out the phial then, open in his hand for Jeremy to take. "Prove to me you hate me then if you think it's true. Drink this and then say it to me to my face." His other hand had his sword, held to Samuel to stop him from intervening.

 

Strangely, Samuel didn’t move to stop him, didn’t even try to say anything. Jeremy glared down at Michael before striding forwards and snatching the phial. At this distance, Michael could see that Jeremy’s eyes weren’t solid green. There was a small flicker between green and blue, as though he were fighting back.

 

Jeremy uncorked the phial and took a sniff. “Well it’s not a love potion... that’s a first with you. I really believed that I loved you.” Those words were strangely stressed, and his eyes seemed more blue as he said them. Blue and sad. Tears continued to stream down his face as he looked over the potion.

 

The odd stressing made his chest constrict, and he kept the sword held to Samuel, even if he didn't do anything. "I don't know shit about love potions except how they feel from when Dustin used them on me, Jeremy, you know this." He kept his gaze steady on Jeremy. "If you're still really sure that you don't love me like I love you, drink it and tell me."

 

Jeremy froze, eyes wide. “You can’t do shit with potions. You’ve always been shit at them and you’d ask me to teach you constantly even if you never got the hang of it...” he whispered, sounding shocked and scared. He looked up at Michael, confusion dancing in his eyes. He drank the potion, no more hesitation, before collapsing to his knees, coughing.

 

Michael ended up kneeling close to him, but not by his side, to give him some distance. He had no idea how Jeremy'd react to the sudden whiplash of being free after two months. "Jeremy, are you alright?" Michael noticed Samuel didn't move, but that grin he hated, that sent chills down his spine, showed itself.

 

Jeremy looked up, eyes flickering before finally settling. On green. He scowled and stood, drawing his sword. “My name is Noah!” He got into a careful stance. “En Garde, Blood Coat.”

 

Samuel hadn't used just the concentrate of the Dew berries. He made something new. Something to completely brainwash Jeremy, not just control him. His behavior had been evidence enough, but he just wanted to believe.

 

Michael, with a large lump in his throat, stood and made sure his legs were steady. He didn't want to fight Jeremy. He didn't want to do this. He would defend himself and try to disarm Jeremy, but he couldn't do this. He would try to stop Jeremy, to bring him back to, but he wasn't going to harm Jeremy to do that.

 

His sword was still drawn, and he held his own stance then. "Alright, Jeremy, En Garde."

 

“Stop calling me that!” Jeremy screamed as he lunged at Michael. Except it wasn’t his usually graceful movement; it was sloppy and very easy to block. He seemed as confused as Michael.

 

"I refuse to not call you by your real name," Michael insisted as he just parried Jeremy's lunge, facing him again. He knew that he didn't have the energy to fight for too long as well, his knee would scream in pain and he'd be useless. He had to figure out something and do it quick, but what?

 

Jeremy’s every move was sloppy and slow, as though he was fighting against every one even as his face displayed utter hatred. He had started crying again at some point, holding back sobs as he struck again and again.

 

Michael just continued to parry and evade, even as he felt Samuel's gaze hyper-focus on their fighting, even as he felt his knee start to get irritated. "Jeremy, I know you're still in there, despite whatever Samuel's done to you. Please, I just need to see you, I just want you back." He didn't care how broken his voice sounded. Michael just wanted Jeremy back, even as his leg began to wobble ever so slightly.

 

Jeremy’s eyes flickered blue again and he pulled back for a second. “M-Michael...” He moved to almost dropped his sword, then his eyes turned green and he scowled again. “I am Noah!”

 

He lunged forwards, plunging his sword perfectly in Michael’s side, twisting his sword in the wound. His snarl was deadly.

 

The pain Michael felt... well, he knew no one else alive could have felt something like this, because anyone who experienced pain like this, emotionally and physically, were no longer on this planet. Was he about to join them?

 

Despite that, Michael looked at Jeremy, his legs begging to give out as his sword dropped, clattering as it hit the cave's floor. One hand brushed against the wound, the hilt of the sword, and he could feel the blood that he was losing spill out. His breathing became more pained, as he was sure Jeremy hit him past his ribs and the sword hitting something. Maybe he had pierced a lung? It would explain why his breathing was so raspy and ragged so quickly, especially when he twisted his sword.

 

Still, even as this all hit him, he kept all of his energy in standing as he tried to stare at Jeremy because even if this was using the Dew berry serum in another way, there was still one rule that would always break it that he was banking on: hurting someone you care about.

 

Jeremy looked down at where his sword went into Michael. Then back up at Michael’s face. His eyes flickered, then faded back to blue. “M-Michael? Oh god...!” He gasped, turning pale as his expression dropped to horror. He let go of the sword with one hand, shakily reaching out.

 

A weak, shaky smile couldn't help but blossom on Michael's face as he reached his hand up, cupping Jeremy's cheek with his trembling, bloody hand. It didn't matter, anyway, nothing else mattered because he was back.

 

"There you are," he almost wheezed out, feeling tears building up, contrasting the frail voice that held such joy.

 

And then he collapsed.

 

 

 

“No!” Jeremy screamed, dropping to his knees, pressing his hands around the wound to try and slow the bleeding. He didn’t dare pull the sword out. “Michael? Michael?! Oh god, I’m sorry! Please, no!” he sobbed, one hand reaching into cup Michael’s face. “Please be okay. I’m so sorry. I love you!”

 

Michael leaned into Jeremy's touch, most of the weight of his head resting in his hand that now smeared his own blood on his face. "'M so glad t'see you're OK... You're back..." His breathing was heavy, labored, and weak despite all of that. Those brown eyes Jeremy loved were growing vacant, even if his gaze was solely focused on him. "I'm so happy." He coughed, hard and painful, and Jeremy saw the blood trickling down his chin.

 

“I’m back. I’m back. So don’t leave me,” Jeremy sobbed, carefully trying to wipe up the blood running down his chin but only succeeding in smearing it around. Vaguely, Jeremy heard Samuel laughing nearby, but he was too focused on Michael right then. “I didn’t mean it, Captain. I don’t hate you, I love you. Don’t leave me, please.”

 

"I-I know y'don't," Michael muttered out, still leaning heavily into Jeremy's touch. "I love you so much. I'm so happy that you're back..." A ragged laugh echoed in the air for only a few moments, a ghost of Michael’s normal laugh. Only pain was evident in his laugh before coughing quickly replacing it, almost entirely wheezing before Michael's breathing began to mimic that sound. "Y'know how much I love you, right?"

 

Jeremy almost laughed. “How could I not? You came to get me and stuck by me even when I wasn’t me. You- you know how much I love you too, right?” Jeremy couldn’t even see anymore, his tears were flowing too fast. “Just don’t leave me. Not now.”

 

He felt Michael’s breathing becoming fainter and weaker as time passed. “I know, Jer’my, I do... an’ I-I can’t control that...” A pause. Jeremy was scared he’d stop feeling his weak breath against his bloodied palm. “C-Chloe’s gonna be cap’n, yeah? Help her, an’ say sorry to the crew, t’my moms for me... To Snookums too. I didn’t mean t’break any... promises, y’know?”

 

Jeremy took a deep breath, and his eyes narrowed in focus. “No, I won’t. Because you are not dying. I love you so much, and I’m sorry. You’ll forgive me for this one day, I’m sure. This is my fault. I’m going to fix it.” Jeremy stood, ignoring Michael’s weak protests, ignoring Samuel’s confused sound, ignoring the crew who had just run in, and he stared toward the Keys to Reality.

 

Behind him, he could hear various screams and cries from the crew as they must have taken in this sight. Their footsteps stopped, but he could hear some calling for him while others were crying for Michael, don’t go Michael, focus on my voice.

 

As he made it back onto the steps, he felt Samuel’s hand on his arm, keeping him in place. His other hand was reaching into his pristine black coat, grabbing something small. “Oh no you don’t-“

 

Jeremy punched him straight in the nose and felt a satisfying crack as Squip stumbled back. “That’s for calling me Noah,” he hissed, taking the last few steps up to the Keys. He didn’t hesitate, he grabbed the small orb and felt it pulse with power. It recognized him. And suddenly, he recognized it.

 

Turning, he looked out at everyone. He instinctively knew his eyes were glowing and his voice, if he spoke, would be layered with magic. He was the Keys now. The orb fizzled away, absorbed into his palms.

 

He heard a scream from Samuel, one of anger pulsing through his voice. Gasps could be heard from everyone, and Jeremy saw everyone but Rich looking up at him, his eyes locked onto Michael. Michael wasn’t looking either, his head in Rich’s lap, and he couldn’t tell if he was alive or not.

 

“Jeremy...” he heard Chrissy gasp from where she was kneeling beside Michael, staring right up at him with wide eyes. Everyone else was quiet, it was all quiet, even Michael’s wheezing breathing was quiet.

 

Jeremy didn’t respond, his eyes fixed on Michael. He raised a hand and focused. The sword melted away into golden smoke. Then his blood fizzled out of existence and his wound closed, leaving smooth skin in its wake. Michael took a great, heaving breath. Then another, and another and eventually, they evened out and he started breathing normally. “He will not die. Not today,” Jeremy murmured, even though it sounded like a booming shout. “And he will not be in anymore pain.”

 

Everyone in the crew was in awe, though Samuel was just irate. “You were supposed to listen to me and I was going to be back to normal! After all of the work I did to manipulate things in my favor, you somehow still won! The power of being the protagonist cannot be that strong!”

 

Jeremy turned his hard gaze on Samuel- no, SQUIP. “Don’t you realize, SQUIP? This is my world. It always has been. And in my stories, the good guys always win. You were in my head long enough, you should know that, even if you are human now.” Jeremy turned his outstretched palm to the SQUIP who was advancing on him. Slowly, he started closing his hand into a fist, keeping his other hand raised and open. “I think it’s time for you.” The SQUIP froze in place, it’s expression turning from anger to fear. It’s form began crumpling in on itself, like paper being crushed into a ball. It was screaming, but Jeremy didn’t care. “To.” Smaller and smaller, and it’s colors were being bleached into a plain grey. “Go.” Jeremy’s fist closed fully and the SQUIP was reverted back to its true form: a grey, oblong pill. It shot into Jeremy’s open hand. He crushed it, and when he reopened his fist, all that was left was a puff of golden smoke.

 

“That’s for hurting my Player One,” Jeremy scowled, his voice still deep and powerful.

 

The room was deathly quiet except for Michael’s breathing after he finished removing the SQUIP from reality itself. When Jeremy turned back towards his friends, they were all staring at him with a mix of awe, confusion, and wonder (except for Rich and Michael still). Christine, out of everyone, took a step forward towards him then, her hand slightly outstretched. “Jeremy?...”

 

Jeremy smiled at her and he opened his mouth to speak, but the cave started shaking. Jeremy looked up, narrowly avoiding a large rock landing on him. “Dammit, did I have to make it so dramatic?” he grumbled before turning back to his friends. “We can talk later.” And with a flash of gold, the crew suddenly found themselves standing (or sitting and lying in Rich and Michael’s case) on the deck of the Fallen Angel, watching as the cave collapsed in on itself. Jeremy was nowhere in sight.

Chapter Text

As he started to wake up, Michael felt himself rocking and swaying ever so subtly, and he realized he was back on the Fallen Angel. He also realized he didn’t feel like he was about to die and that his side, his lung, and his knee felt better than new. His ears picked up panic, everyone on the crew too freaked about something that even Chloe wasn’t calm.

 

Michael finally opened his eyes, only to be met with a golden light as everyone started to panic and worry verbally about Jeremy, where is he, did he make it out, is he alive?

 

His vision cleared, and they were all somewhere he recognized, but his confusion rose. He was in the marketplace, the one he met Jenna at and the one he took Jeremy to and bonded with him at. When he looked around, he was near the outskirts of it, lying with his head in Rich’s lap. Everyone was now staring at him, hushed despite their obvious confusion and panic they held on their faces. “Michael?” Rich asked, voice soft and trembling.

 

He looked up at him then before sitting up himself, and he felt Rich’s hand carefully resting on his arm. Although grateful, he ignored it for the more pressing question on his mind: “Where’s Jeremy?”

 

Everyone present looked between one another, despair subtly etched into their features before Chrissy faced him, as if ready to deliver grim news. “Michael, he...”

 

Panic set in. He didn’t know exactly what happened, but he was smart and quick enough to pick up on simple cues. His heart raced, he felt himself begin to tremble, and he couldn’t calm his breathing as one thought rung out in his head: ‘I failed Jeremy.’

 

Michael started to curl in on himself as he realized that Jeremy was gone. After everything his did, even after almost dying (or maybe he did? It was a bit of a blur) Jeremy was still gone. It was almost enough to break him.

 

Vaguely, Michael heard a number of gasps, but he barely noticed them. A familiar pair of pants were suddenly kneeling in front of him. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay, Michael. You’re okay. Can I touch you? Would that be alright?” he murmured. But that wasn’t possible. Jeremy was gone.

 

He just curled up further on himself, hiccuping and sobbing (when did he start doing that?) still. “Y-y’re dead, gone, I failed you.” Maybe he should care about absolutely losing it in front of his crew, about suddenly snapping, but he couldn’t find himself to care. His guilt was making him see this, for failing to save Jeremy. Maybe if he gained some sanity or something close to it after this, he’d apologize.

 

The apparition which appeared to be Jeremy sucked in a harsh breath. “Dammit, should have done this better,” he mumbled before murmuring in that gentle voice again. “It’s really me, Michael, I promise. I’m alive and you’re alive and we’re all safe. Everyone is safe.” There was a pause, like he was thinking something over. “I’m going to take your hand, okay? It’s just me, taking your hand...” There was a warm, familiar touch on Michael’s hand as it was picked up. He tried to pull away but was unsuccessful. The hand was brought to Jeremy’s chest, where he could feel the strong, steady heartbeat under his touch. “I’m alive and I’m really here. My heart is still beating, see?”

 

Disbelief rung in his head as he watched this, stared at Jeremy’s chest, where his hand was being held and where he felt his heart beating. Was he really going that crazy, or...

 

“A-are you... I...” Confusion still rung out in his mind, none of this made sense, especially with this ethereal glow Jeremy possessed, but he just took a deep breath as more tears streamed down his face.

 

He didn’t care how broken he sounded as he asked, “Jeremy? You’re really here?”

 

He nodded, smiling even as tears started running down his face. “Yeah, I’m here. I promise it’s me. We’re both alive. We’re both here.” Slowly, Jeremy pulled Michael’s hand from his chest and pressed a gentle kiss to his knuckles. He felt warm and real and alive. “I knew you’d save me, Captain.”

 

With his chest swelling, Michael practically leaped forward as he wrapped himself around Jeremy, even if he still had the remnants of a starting panic attack built up. He didn’t care because somehow, Jeremy was here, Jeremy was alive, and even if he was weirdly glowing, Jeremy. Was. OK.

 

Through all of this, Michael tried to get out words, wanting to say something to Jeremy. He didn’t want to get out a bumbling mess, but that seemed to be happening regardless. Mentally, he berated himself, but he still kept going as he tried to say something coherent.

 

Jeremy wrapped himself around Michael the moment he was grabbed, pulling Michael into his lap and just holding him tight. “It’s okay, it’s okay. Just breath for now, Michael. I’ve got you. We’re both alive. We’re both okay...” Jeremy reached up, running his fingers through Michael’s hair, just gently soothing him.

 

It took a moment for Michael to realize that Jeremy was also sobbing, his chest heaving and his tears wetting Michael’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Michael. I- you- I’m so sorry.”

 

Michael just held onto him tighter, practically wrapping his arms as best as he could around Jeremy. He regained enough control of his speech to get out, “You’re you again and alive, don’t be sorry for anything.”

 

“But I killed you. You were dead and it was all my fault. I’d say say that’s something to be sorry for.” That last sentence came out almost as a laugh. “God, I love you. I love you so damn much and I’m so happy you’re okay now, Captain.” Jeremy held him tighter, calming down a little. He pressed a couple of gentle kisses to Michael’s temple before returning to holding him tightly.

 

“I’m alright now somehow, that’s what matters.” He didn’t dare voice any of his more chaotic thoughts now, they were more than likely a result of his suppressed panic attack that would surely break out again at some random, inconvenient time. For now, he just gladly melted into Jeremy’s hold, head resting on his boyfriend’s shoulder. “And you’re alright too... That’s what matters...”

 

“I’m alright. I’d even say I’m better than alright, honestly. I didn’t get this much of a rush from it before, but then, that was just the set up. Now I’m basically using admin commands. Makes sense it would be totally different.” Jeremy giggled, nuzzling against Michael’s shoulder.

 

At that, confusion overtook Michael’s mind as he pulled his head back, looking down at Jeremy with furrowed brows. “I... what?” Was he so out of it that he misheard what Jeremy said all together? From glancing around, seeing his crew having calmed down, they seemed just as confused as well. “Jeremy, are you feeling alright?”

 

Jeremy’s eyes widened and he smacked his forehead lightly. “Ugh, I forgot. You guys are still in pirate mode. Well I guess I need to explain sometime...” He flushed a little, slowly moving to get up, arching his eyebrow at Michael as if to ask if it was okay.

 

Michael still stared at him with confusion, but now a huge amount of worry. What had happened when he almost (or apparently did for a minute) die? He held onto Jeremy’s hand, getting up with him as he went. “Jeremy, maybe you should lie down. The effects of what Samuel did to you might still be affecting you in some weird way.”

 

Jeremy giggled and shook his head. “I’m fine, I promise. Check it.” Jeremy hopped and just sort of... stayed there. He was hovering about a foot off the ground. “I just finally understand what’s going on and how this all works now.” Jeremy shifted so he as at eye level with Michael... while hanging half upside down. He was still grinning brightly and giggling a little.

 

Michael couldn’t believe what was happening. He tried glancing around to see if he was the only one freaked out, but everyone seemed to have some level of understanding. He just took a hesitant step back as he stared at Jeremy. He just stared for a minute before realizing what this had to be.

 

“Oh, I get it.” Jeremy’s face seemed to light up at that. “This is a dream or something, or just some hallucination! No, probably just a realistic dream.” He just nodded to himself. “Yup. Probably some pain-induced one. It’s the only way this makes sense.”

 

Jeremy blinked, righting himself in the air and landing back on deck. “It’s not a dream, Michael...” Jeremy started slowly. “It’s the Keys. I got them. Well, I say I got them. I kinda am them right now, but it’s temporary. Just until I’ve finished up everything. But SQUIP- I mean, Samuel is gone. I poofed him from existence. And I healed you, brought you back. Notice, your leg’s all better, isn’t it? I gave you a full body reset on any lasting damage, well except for the scars because I know you’re proud of them.” Jeremy was rambling a little, but it was proof enough that this was at least a version of Jeremy, if not the real thing.

 

Jeremy’s way of speaking though, his tone and some of his words, it was foreign and new and confusing. He tried to wrap his head around this as he looked back at everyone. “How are you all not confused? Why aren’t any of you reacting to this? How come I’m the only one panicking and so confused by this?!”

 

Chrissy looked a little uncomfortable with Jeremy’s mannerisms but she shrugged. “We saw what he did to you and to Samuel. He took the Keys and basically looked really scary and glowy for a moment, then we ended up back on the ship, and then we ended up here.”

 

Jeremy nodded eagerly. “Everyone else saw it happen, well I don’t really know about Rich, he was a bit more focused on you, but everyone else did. It was awesome.” He grinned, eyes pleading for Michael to understand. “I’m still me, I’m just... sort of borrowing the powers right now to finish some stuff off.”

 

“It doesn’t explain why you’re saying such... such weird stuff that doesn’t make sense,” Michael got out, still so confused as he tried to wrap his head around it. He didn’t know why that was such an important detail. Maybe because Jeremy, even if he was still him, seemed to be so slightly off. It was like if you shifted everything in a room you knew so well an inch over. It reminded him of those odd moments where someone would say something weird and not know why a second later, even if those were few and far in between. But Jeremy didn’t apologize for it or seem to not know why he said it a minute later. It just made his head hurt. “And what ‘stuff’ do you have to finish off?”

 

Jeremy looked a little confused. “But this is how I always talk...” He blinked and smacked his forehead. “But not in this world. Goddammit, why did I have to make everything so archaic?! Why did I have to use pirates? Because I’m a dumb-ass nerd, that’s why,” he grumbled, sitting cross legged in the air, arms crossed and pouting. He shot Michael a quick glance. “I swear, you’re gonna tease me so hard when you understand properly. Ugh, how do I even start explaining this?”

 

Even if everyone understood what happened, Michael could feel their nervous energy rivaling the powerful aura Jeremy currently radiated. He squirmed where he stood before closing the space between him and Jeremy. His hand gently rested on Jeremy’s shoulder as he looked at him with such worry. “I... Maybe the Keys are affecting your mind, Jeremy. You still didn’t answer my second question though: what ‘stuff’ do you have to finish?” Michael had no idea what Jeremy was rambling on about, and he just wanted to help him, but he had no idea how.

 

Jeremy shook his head. “I’m fine, it’s just that I’m a total dumb-ass who can’t figure out how to explain the mess he made. Just... give me a minute? I promise I’ll be right back, I just can’t explain this without everyone here.” He looked over at Michael, a small, shy smile on his face before looked up at the clear sky. “God, I’m lucky only a few people were caught in the initial blast. This would have been a lot more awkward otherwise.”

 

Michael held on a little tighter then, but he wasn’t entirely sure why. “I...” This was all so weird, and nothing made sense to him anymore. Was this what the Keys to Reality did? “Just... be careful?”

 

Jeremy pressed a quick kiss to his forehead and smiled. “Always.” And with that, he vanished in a small puff of gold smoke. For a second, he was just gone. Then, with another puff of gold smoke somewhere over by the crew, both Dustin and Madeline appears, looking dazed and confused and bound from their necks to their knees in glowing, golden chains.

 

Then, a few feet over, Mr. Heere appeared. He looked just as confused but without the chains. Finally, Shanti and Kendra also appeared, along with a very excitable Snookums who instantly launched herself at Michael.

 

Jeremy popped back into existence a little way over from where he was. “Okay, I’m pretty sure that’s everyone from home. Well, except the SQUIP but it’s an asshole. I’m so glad I destroyed that rip off tic-tac for good.”

 

If Michael hadn’t been knocked down by his dog, he would’ve had a lot of questions unloaded onto Jeremy for those loaded statements. Instead, he tried to calm Snookums down as he patted her face, eventually getting her to stop and just sit in his lap as Mr. Heere spoke up instead. “Son? What is going on? Please tell me that you are going to explain yourself and every nonsensical thing that’s happening.”

 

Jeremy grinned, flushing bright red. “I’ll explain everything now, Dad. It’s just... you all probably won’t believe what I’m about to tell you but I promise, everything is true.” He took a deep breath. “This world, this whole reality, only came into existence a little over a year ago. The same day Michael captured my ship. Before that, we all lived in a different realty. Now, everything here is real it’s just new and different from that reality. And it’s mostly been shaped by my subconscious.” Jeremy rubbed the back of his head, obviously trying to figure out how to continue with the impossible statements.

 

“Uh, Jeremy, we all love you, but that is not true,” Jake said from behind Michael. “We all have our memories of this world, and not from this other reality you’re referring to. There is no way we existed somewhere else before the day you joined the crew, that all of this-“ He gestured to practically everything. “-only came into existence that day that we got you. It makes no sense!”

 

“That’s the brilliance of it all! The Keys are designed to create a world to escape to, so you never have to worry about your old memories or pains. You guys weren’t even supposed to be there, you came to stop me leaving.” Jeremy sighed. He looked really guilty for a moment, then determined. “The day you found me, you all woke up from a dream, yeah? It was strange and disjointed, but has all of us screaming and the sound and sensation of being pulled into a windy vortex. And no matter how hard you try to forget it, it keeps resurfacing, right? Stuck with you for some odd reason.”

 

“I’m not the only one who had that dream?” Brooke asked then, confusion ringing out in her tone. Everyone seemed to have that same level of confusion, and Michael couldn’t help but get a bit nervous at it. Snookums seemed to pick up on that though, resting her head on his shoulder and helping calm him down.

 

“Wait, you guys had a similar dream to mine? I thought it was some weird crazy fever dream or something from lingering nerves,” Chrissy muttered out.

 

“That was all of us being pulled over to this reality,” Jeremy clarified. “I had gone to the museum and picked up the Keys to Realty, chasing an old legend. My... depression was really bad, and I wanted a way out without dying. I had just picked up the Keys when you guys came in. I’ll be honest, I’m a little fuzzy on the details, I just remember that the resulting shockwave reached out and grabbed some other people I cared about.” Jeremy shrugged, trying to look nonchalant but failing miserably. “I... well, the Keys pulled out details from my head about certain things. Like Shanti and Kendra adopting Michael when he was about six. But the SQUIP decided to be an ass and influenced the world before it had finished creating itself or it removed the SQUIP from my head.”

 

“Ok, that is where you’re losing me,” Rich said, pointing at him. “You’re saying Samuel’s title weirdly and saying these odd things about him. None of what you’re saying truly makes sense. Are you sure the Keys, besides giving you these abilities akin to otherworldly, are not messing with your mind? And why would these two-“ He pointed with disgust and hatred to Dustin and Madeline, who glared back with the same amount of those feelings. “-be pulled in too if what you’re saying is even a fraction of the truth?”

 

Jeremy shrugged. “They were in the museum too. Making out in the Ancient Egypt section if I remember. They were just close enough to be dragged in.” He floated over and flicked Dustin’s forehead, scowling. “You were as much of an asshole back then.”

 

Jeremy scooted back to where he was before deflating and ending up sitting on the ground, looking ashamed. “In the other world, ‘Samuel’ isn’t even a person. It’s a SQUIP, a computer.” He blinked, before amending. “It was like this tiny pill which you swallow. It travels into your brain and tells you what to do. About a year and a half ago, I took one in an effort to be cool and to win over Christine, and I caused a lot of damage in the process. Rich, you’re the one who told me about it, and you had one yourself. Ummm...” Jeremy paused, then nodded. “If I said Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor to you, does that bring back anything?” he asked hopefully, watching Rich carefully.

 

Rich gasped, going ridged for a moment before relaxing and sighing. “Goddammit, Tall-Ass, you really are a mess, aren’t you?” he asked fondly. “Yeah, it does.”

 

Jeremy relaxed a little. “Okay, so that’s a start. One down, what, eleven to go?” Snookums ‘boof’ed. “Sorry, twelve.”

 

Michael wrapped his arms a bit more around his dog, still so confused about everything that was happening. He tried to stay silent and take everything in. He was to the point of being almost overwhelmed, and Michael feared that, if he spoke, he’d lose it. Snookums seemed to realize that too, giving him a few licks on the cheek before flopping her head back down onto his shoulder.

 

“You’re seriously insinuating that I would be alright with making out with him?” Madeline asked, apparently horrified by the thought as she glared daggers at Dustin. “I know I’m bad, but even I have standards.”

 

“Not back there, you don’t,” Jeremy singsonged, obviously enjoying her disgust. “Either way, I think I know how to help you each remember.” Jeremy hopped up, and wandered to stand in front of his dad. “Dad, you’re wearing pants.” Mr. Heere stiffened, then looked down at his legs with a chuckle.

 

“Apparently I am. And I never stopped wearing them here?”

 

Jeremy cackled. “Nope!” He moved over to Michael’s moms.

 

“Are you two les-beans?” he asked, and they both giggled after a moment.

 

“Don’t ever change, Jeremy,” Kendra giggled while Shanti just affectionately ruffled his hair.

 

Michael just continued to watch with confusion, holding on tighter to his dog as Jeremy seemed to be going by each person, helping them to ‘remember.’ He went by Dustin and Madeline too, using odd phrasing as well that seemed to help them ‘remember.’ Everyone started to talk oddly too, and he just didn’t know what to say or do. What kind of a captain was he that this oddness made him utterly useless?

 

Eventually, Jeremy crouched down next to Michael. “Hey, I know it’s weird, but I promise it’ll all make sense soon. Even in the other world, you’re my best friend, Michael.” Jeremy smiled at him softly. “Trust me?”

 

From over Snookums’ fluffy mass, he couldn’t help but let out a sigh before nodding, which was essentially him nuzzling his face against her furry neck. She didn’t seem to mind that at all, her tail thumping against the deck happily. “I trust you, Jeremy. Always.”

 

Jeremy grinned, and held out his hand. A... thing popped into existence and landed lightly on his palm. It looked soft and fluffy and orange and Snookums got very excited when she spotted it. So excited that she basically pounced on it, stealing it from Jeremy’s hands and carrying it over so she could sit next to Michael. The thing squeaked when she chewed it.

 

Jeremy conjured up two more things, but these were glowy and golden. He tossed one into the air and Michael caught it easily, almost on reflex. His fingers settled onto the buttons naturally. “Apocalypse of the Damned! Level Nine!” Jeremy crowed happily, holding his own weird thing.

 

As soon as Jeremy said that, everything came back to him. It was overwhelming for a split second, remembering it all: New Jersey, the Philippines, Middleborough, his life growing up with Jeremy, being a social outcast, the SQUIPcident. Hell, he remembered getting Snookums after (he still chose her name, but when high) to help him with his blossoming issues as his service dog.

 

It felt like an eternity remembering all of that, but it was less than a second. He grinned at Jeremy, holding the magical constructs that mimicked his Xbox controller as he shouted, in unison with his best friend of thirteen years, “The Cafetorium!”

 

Michael practically dropped the controller as he reached over, pulling his best friend into his arms and tight against him before giving him a rightfully earned noogie. “You complete ass! Holy shit, your fuckin’ nerdy obsession with pirates when we were eight was even more deeply ingrained into your brain than I feared.”

 

Jeremy was cackling happily as he flailed, trying (and failing, as usual) to escape Michael’s grasp. “Ah! Michael, goddammit! Let go! I get it! I’m a nerd! Gah!” He sounded happier than Michael had heard him in over a year (in the other world, their home, it was almost par for the course here).

 

“No way! You need to realize how nerdy you really are!” Michael tugged him closer, pulling them down to lie back against the ship’s deck. “So much of my ship life is full of references, including fighting fucking Captain Hook and Ursula, we basically Indiana Jones’d one island, the runic language is the nerd Skyrim language you fangasm over and had me learn too, and even made my famous coat like my hoodie! God, you’re such a fucking nerd.” He ignored the squeaks and laughs from everyone (not including Madeline and Dustin) as he teased the ever loving shit out of Jeremy.

 

Jeremy stopped trying to escape when he was pulled down, instead settling onto his back, seemingly very content in Michael’s arms. “I couldn’t help it, Mikey! It was created subconsciously, which means I had no actual control over any of it!” he whined, pouting up at Michael before bursting out laughing again. “But I do need to say this: you guys shaped most of your backstories. So Captain Hook And Ursula is all on you, Captain,” Jeremy teased right back.

 

Michael quickly recovered with, “I’m a Disney geek at heart, why do you think I got an Oswald patch? I blame you for that too though, making me movie marathon it one week during summer break because I admitted I’d never seen them.” He held him closer then before looking back over Jeremy. “Well... what’s going to happen now? You still have admin controls but...”

 

Jeremy sighed, sitting up and pulling Michael up too. “That’s why I needed everyone back here to explain. Basically, it’s just like we all vanished from the old world. We’ve been missing for... I’d say a week. I need to know if any of you want to go back, or if you want to stay here. And if you want to remember any of this. I didn’t mean to bring any of you along, even if I’m glad I did.” Jeremy shot Michael a very fond, almost adoring look. “So I wanted to give you all a choice now.” He nodded, looking sheepish.

 

Everyone seemed to think about it as Snookums continued squeaking her toy, playfully growling as her head shook a few times while playing.

 

Mr. Heere was the first to step forward. “I want to stay, son, but I don’t know if I could remember. I was already so much older than you back home that my head’s starting to ache with, what, forty or so years worth of memories here conflicting with the forty or so years worth here. I want to stay though.”

 

Jeremy nodded and stood up. “Okay, Dad. I’ll put you right back where I picked you up from; it’ll be like this conversation never happened.” Jeremy smiled, and sniffled a little. “I’ll come visit soon, yeah? I promised you it wouldn’t be forever, so I’ll be back soon. I love you, Dad.” Jeremy grabbed Mr Heere’s hand and they both poofed out of existence, with Jeremy popping back a second later, scrubbing at his cheeks but with a big grin on his lips.

 

Kendra stood forward with Shanti then, a smile on her lips. “Now, we aren’t as old as your father, we did adopt Michael when we were young, but we sort of have the same issue. I think it’s an adult thing.” She and Shanti did squat down by Michael though, both giving him a big hug.

 

“Don’t think this means we don’t love you in both here and home. We just don’t want to go crazy or something,” Shanti told him, to which he laughed and hugged them back.

 

“I get it, don’t worry. I love you both so much.” There was a squeak right in Michael’s ear, and he hissed and turned to face Snookums, who stood right by him, big tail wagging. “I love you too, Snookums, but I think I’d feel a bit better if you stayed for a while longer.” The dog didn’t seem to argue as she sat back down beside Michael.

 

Once they were done with their goodbyes, Jeremy reached out his hands. “I’ll take you two home. And... thank you both. For everything here and back there. You’re as much my family as my dad is.” Shanti and Kendra both pressed a quick kiss to either side of Jeremy’s head, leaving him giggling, before they took his hands. As before, they all vanished and Jeremy reappeared a second later.

 

During all of this, everyone else seemed to be talking among themselves (except Dustin and Madeline, who talked with each other). When Jeremy returned, Rich stepped forward before slugging him in the shoulder. “Alright Tall-Ass, if you think we were leaving you, because let’s face it, you need all the help you can get, then you’re an even bigger dumb-ass than I thought.”

 

“Rich! We didn’t tell you to say it like that!” Brooke whined before gently shoving him, to which he held his hands up in mock surrender.

 

“Hey, why’d you trust me then to tell him?”

 

Jeremy’s eyes widened in surprise. “You- you all want to stay? For real? But what about your families, your homes?!” Jeremy really couldn’t seem to grasp that they wanted to stay with him, which sort of made sense. His depression was apparently back and Michael knew that it partly resulted in even lower self esteem than he already had. He had been trying to work on that with Jeremy the day before he went after the Keys.

 

“Well, that’s a bit tricky for some of us to give up, others not so much,” Jake said, using Rich’s head like an arm rest. “It’s easier for Rich and I to stay.”

 

“Honestly, I just like it better here. Jerry, I had a mermaid adore me! She wanted to follow me, and Michael made me first mate.” Chloe stuck her tongue out at Rich then. “I think we all have our own reasons for staying, but just know we all are basically unanimous with our choice.”

 

Jeremy started to tear up, and scrubbed at his cheeks with his sleeve. “I... thank you. It means a lot.” Jeremy took a deep breath and looked over at them. “I’m only going to be half remembering once I let go of the Keys. Like the memories will be there, but they’re old. So they’re not so overwhelming, because to be honest? Right now I can’t even remember how to tie a knot, let alone sail a ship.” He chuckled wetly. “I can sort out the same things for you guys, if you like. So you’ll remember but it’ll be less prominent.”

 

“I think that’ll be good, because it’s a bit overwhelming right now,” Christine admitted with a laugh.

 

Jenna looked over at the two still chained before gently tapping Dustin in the side with her foot. “I think these two feel the same, but they don’t wanna talk really.”

 

Jeremy nodded. “I’ll sort it out at the end, then.” He wandered over to Dustin and Madeline and hoisted then into the air, each only using one fist. “Now, I don’t like either of you, not here and not back in the other world. But, I will respect your decisions regardless. You’re still people, even if you have been horrible.” Right then, with Jeremy so casually wielding his ‘admin powers’, was a stark reminder of how dangerous he could be. Even in the other world, he had a temper, and in this world where there was magic, he was even more dangerous. Luckily he wouldn’t be keeping these powers for long.

 

“Are you going to drop us back to where you took us from or what?” Madeline asked then, as if trying to tempt him with the sneer she had.

 

“Now you all see why I hate Madeline so much?”

 

“We know Chlo, trust me,” Brooke reassured her.

 

Jeremy glared at her. “I could just leave you back in the other world, no memory of this, if you like? Now both of you, make your choice now or I’m dumping your asses into the ocean then sending you back. Are you staying here, and are you keeping your memories?”

 

Dustin rolled his eyes, presumably at Jeremy and Madeline, before answering. “We both wanna stay and keep our memories, OK? Jesus, Maddie, you don’t know how to handle a situation where you’re lucky if you even have any say.”

 

Jeremy didn’t vanish along with them this time, instead he just poofed them and dusted his hands off causally. “Glad one of those assholes had a little bit of brains,” he scowled, before looking over at Michael and smiling softly. “What about you, Mikey? You sticking around here?”

 

Michael just rolled his eyes before reaching up for Jeremy’s hand. “You think I could live in a world without you? You’re truly a dumbass if you think that, especially since I’m finally together with you.”

 

Jeremy flushed but grabbed Michael’s hand and let himself be pulled close. Then, quite suddenly his eyes widened and he pulled away. “I just remembered! Snookums! Come here, girl!” Snookums instantly stood and jumped on Jeremy, happily knocking him over and licking his face. Jeremy giggled and booped her nose. “There you go, sweetie. That should make being a doggo on a ship a bit easier.” Jeremy knocked on the deck and she climbed off of him. As he climbed to his feet and wandered back over to Michael, her slobber seemed to just vanish entirely from Jeremy’s face. “There’s now a dog bed in the cabin and a self cleaning toilet tray in the brig. And she knows all about them now.” Jeremy slotted himself back into Michael’s arms happily. “A service dog shouldn’t be away from her owner, after all.”

 

Michael just grinned as he held Jeremy close, peppering his face in kisses. “God, you may be one of the biggest bisexual messes, but you can be on top of your shit when you wanna be.” He pressed one big, wet kiss to his cheek before pulling back with a shit-eating grin.

 

Jeremy was bright red, and looked a little stunned before he practically melted against Michael. “You know, it’s weird. I never thought I’d ever get this, but in this world I’ve been making out with you for months now.” He giggled, grabbing the collar of Michael’s shirt and pulling him down into a passionate, loving kiss.

 

As their lips moved together, Michael felt his old memories fading. They didn’t vanish entirely but they weren’t at the forefront of his mind anymore. Jeremy relaxed further against him, his hands moving to wrap around him. One hand tangled into Michael’s hair, the other around his waist, holding him close. Eventually, Jeremy pulled away, his eyes dazed and his expression blissful.

 

Michael smiled down at him, sure he had a similarly blissed-out look before pressing a gentle kiss to his lips once more. “God, I love you so much Jere. Also, one question: why did your brain change your first and middle name around in this world? Were you that much of a nerd that you wanted to have a seaworthy name?” As he asked, he rested his forehead against Jeremy’s, smiling all the while.

 

Jeremy flushed again, pouting and looking away. “I think it was the SQUIP, actually. It messed with a lot of things and I think it did that so it would have something to one up me with.” Jeremy sighed. “I’m sorry I let it mess with your backstory. And Rich’s.”

 

“Hey, it’s cool,” Rich said from where he was. “It was probably pissed at me too, so I get it. Uh, do you want all of us to go below deck or something so we don’t ruin the moment or...?”

 

Jeremy slowly turned to face Rich, his eyes narrowed. “What the fuck, Richard?” he deadpanned. For a moment, he kept the expression before he burst out laughing. “Finally I can reference things and realize I’m referencing them!”

 

After a moment, Jeremy calmed down, keeping himself in Michael’s arms. He held out his hand, palm up. “Time to wrap the last things up.” The Keys of Reality appeared floating above his palm, and Jeremy’s glow faded.

 

Michael watched as they went before looking down at Jeremy. "So it's done? You can't shape the world anymore?"

 

Jeremy paused, then grabbed floating orb once more. He poofed out of Michael’s arms, before reappearing about a foot away. He was clutching something red in one fist and the Keys in the other. With one swift motion, he threw the Keys into the air, where it split in two and landed lightly on the deck of the ship. “Now it’s done. And the Keys are broken, they ran out of energy after this last thing. Now, I have a present for you.” He grinned and held out his hand with the red thing in it.

 

Michael's eyes widened at the sight of it, and he quickly scooped it up into his arms before pressing his face into the familiar fabric, taking in the whiff of slushies, weed, and the laundry detergent his moms would use to try to get the smells out. "Oh my god, my hoodie... Jeremy..."

 

Jeremy rubbed the back of his head, grinning sheepishly. “I mean... that’s not all I just did. But yeah, I thought you might like something from home?”

 

Looking up from where he buried his face, he reached over before pulling Jeremy close. "I mean, you're something from home I couldn't live without, but this is a close second." A wet kiss was placed on Jeremy's cheek before Michael asked, "And what to you mean that that's not all you just did?"

 

Jeremy melted against Michael, grinning over at his friends. “Just a few little changes. Like the fact that slush plants can now be harvested, so we kinda have slushies. Also frozen yogurt is a thing, so Pinkberry is too.” Brooke squealed. “Pizza too, so S’barro might be a thing too.” Jake squealed. “Y’know. Nothing major, just comfort stuff.” He giggled then blushed, burying his face into Michael’s shirt.

 

Michael just stared down at him, unable to even think of joking with how much pure, unadulterated love and adoration he felt for Jeremy overwhelmed him before he held him almost impossibly closer, pressing a multitude of kisses to his face. "There better be weed here too, Heere, or you're dead to me." OK, maybe he was able to joke a little.

 

“There’s always been weed, dude.” Jeremy grumbled, playfully squinting at Michael. “You think I’d make a world where I can’t get stoned?” Jeremy shoved him away, running over to the rigging and hanging off of it. “In fact, I’d say there’s some on the next island over. So why don’t we restock and get going! I’m pretty sure I saw a sweet pipe last time we were here.” He cackled from his place halfway up the ropes.

 

At all of this, Michael couldn't help but roll his eyes while watching his boyfriend dangle. "Alright, just try not to fall off! Alright guys, let’s get going!"

 

 

 

That night, Michael was lying down in his bed with Jeremy, wearing his hoodie (which seemed to perpetually smell it's normal scent, not that he was complaining) as his arms were wrapped around his boyfriend's middle. He could faintly hear his dog snoring from her bed in the room as he looked at Jeremy as best he could from where he buried his face into the crook of his neck. Michael placed a feather-soft kiss to the crook of his neck before speaking. "So..."

 

“So what?” Jeremy hummed, pressing a kiss to Michael’s forehead. “What’s on your mind, Captain?” Jeremy still used the nickname, teasingly but still with the same amount of affection and adoration.

 

Some thoughts had been running through his head since the events of today calmed down (hell, a lot had happened, he needed time to process it all). One stuck out to him, and it made his stomach almost churn. "You..." His voice was soft, frail, and he remembered how much he hated to be so vulnerable. He took in a deep breath, letting it all out after holding it in. "You liked me before all of this? Like... Ugh, I don't know how to explain it," Michael lied, burying his face back into the crook of Jeremy's neck.

 

He was scared, scared that Jeremy's feelings weren't all real. It was something he was scared of before this world, that if he ever told Jeremy how he felt, that he might tell him he liked him back out of pity. It didn't seem to be the case here, Jeremy wouldn't ever do that, but he couldn't help but have his insecurities on the forefront of his mind after almost dying (or actually dying, he still wasn't sure on that). He just squeezed his arms around Jeremy's middle, whining softly as he did so.

 

Jeremy’s arms tightened around him, but his breathing hitched a little. “Yeah. I did. A lot,” he murmured eventually, voice thick. “I realized it actually the day before all of this went down . It was a case of, ‘Oh god I’m in love with my best friend, I’ve been in love with him for ages, he’ll never feel the same’, y’know? So I ran,” Jeremy confessed quietly. Michael could tell there was something else, a reason or something, that Jeremy wouldn’t say. It hovered in the air above them heavily.

 

"... Why did you just run? Why didn't you come talk to me?" He was such a hypocrite, honestly, because he felt the same way but never spoke up about it. Granted, he was scared of being abandoned again, of saying the wrong thing and losing Jeremy forever this time, but…

 

It took a moment before Jeremy responded. “I was scared,” he whispered eventually. “I had done so much shit to you in the past, I didn’t think I deserved a chance. And a big part of that survived through here, I didn’t think I deserved someone so amazing, that’s why it took me so long to confess even without all that backlog.” Jeremy seemed to be struggling, but he forged through. “There’s also... you remember all the shit the compass made me say about myself? That was how I saw myself, especially after the thing with the SQUIP. I didn’t want to be that, but it’s what I was scared I was. I didn’t think I even could be loved, not with how bad I was...” he trailed off with a sigh, turning his head so it faced away from Michael. He didn’t let go, but his grip loosened a little, as if giving Michael the option to get away if he wanted.

 

Michael just clung on tighter there as he pressed a slow plethora of kisses to Jeremy's neck. "Jeremy, even through that, after all of that, I still love you. I don't think I knew I loved you until after I lost you. The feelings were festering, I think, but I didn't want to say anything and lose you, so I just stayed quiet. I just... I didn't want to lose you, especially when you're going through so much. It wouldn't have been fair for me to push my feelings onto you when you were recovering, when I was recovering, you know?" He buried his face as close to Jeremy as he could, squeezing his middle once more. "I couldn't lose you, not again, not for good..."

 

“I almost lost you for good today, and it would have been my fault and my fault alone. Because if I never got scared, you wouldn’t have been here, you would have been probably getting stoned in your basement while we both played Mario Kart or something...” Jeremy tightened his grip again, burying his face into Michael’s hair. “M’so sorry Mikey. Love you s’much.”

 

Michael's grip stayed tight as he kept holding him close, a soft sigh passing his lips. "You don't need to apologize. We're fine now, aren't we?" Shifting, he pressed a gentle kiss to the tip of Jeremy's nose, smiling as he did so. "I love you too, you dork. So damn much. Plus, you god-modded and saved my gay ass, so I'd say we're fine."

 

Jeremy snorted a little, opening his eyes and smiling. “We’re lucky I’m such a nerd then, I guess. Because I made sure to keep the escape key and the admin powers only available to the ‘chosen protagonist’ or whatever. SQUIP couldn’t use them, and even if it had gotten my mind controlled ass to use it, it would have stripped away all its control over me.” Jeremy shuddered, going a little pale. “It was horrible. I don’t know how you could still like me after I did that to you for even a day, making you think you were someone else. It’s... not pleasant.”

 

"You weren't in control, Jere." Michael pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek then before patting his cheek with his sleeve, his hand sliding back further into the material to make it flop. "I'm going to make up for those two lost months, you hear me, you dweeb? I will! I promise on my own gay ass and love for slushies- shit, we need to make those soon, remembering them is making me crave one."

 

Jeremy giggled a little. “There’ll be some slush plants on the next island along with the weed. They grow close together.” He shook his head, pressing himself closer to Michael. “I am gonna need to deal with those two months eventually though. Bottling them up will only make them worse. My old life taught me that one.”

 

Michael hummed softly at that, looking at Jeremy and keeping him focused on him as his hand slowly moved closer... "Well, we will definitely do that. You can open up whenever to me," he mused out before sticking his cold hand under Jeremy's shirt, pressing down in the center of his back. He loved Jeremy, but he knew they didn't need to talk about this now. Maybe after they got high and drank some slush, but not now. Even if Jeremy whacked him for being a shitlord and shoved him a little before relaxing again, he didn't care as long as Jeremy got better. It didn't need to be instant, that was impossible, and it definitely didn't need to happen now.

 

Jeremy curled up again, almost purring in satisfaction. “I love you, Michael.” He started pressing a good few kisses along Michael’s jaw, trailing them over to his lips. He pressed a sweet, lingering kiss there, eyes fluttering shut as he just seemed to enjoy the situation. “Still can’t get over the fact that I can do this. Even before I remembered, every time I kissed you felt like the first time.” He hummed happily.

 

"Trust me, I can't believe it either. Do you know how many times my high mind thought it was a good idea to just go and kiss you unannounced? And how many dreams I had about us together?" Michael pressed a quick flurry of kisses to Jeremy's lips before sighing happily. "I know I'm, what, twenty-four, maybe twenty-five in this world now, but I still feel like a giddy teen every time I kiss you, hold you, lie with you."

 

Jeremy blinked, then giggled. “Shit, you’re actually older than me now. Like properly older than me and not just a couple of months. Well-“ Jeremy kissed him again, hard. “-guess we need to make up for the years we missed. We were only eighteen when we left after all. We were giddy teens.” He sighed, curling himself as closely to Michael as possible, tangling their legs together. “I wanna grow old with you. Like properly. Even if we’re pirates for the rest of our lives, I wanna get to do that with you.”

 

"Geez, we missed out on a few years," Michael muttered out before running his hand along Jeremy's back now that he wasn't as sensitive to his cold hands. "I thought we already agreed to that when we were, what, nine? You made me promise that I'd live with you in a house. Granted, this-" With his other hand, he gestured around the cabin. "-isn't really a house, but I think it'll still fulfill the 'Heere Together For Life and Ever and Forever' deal you made me take back then?"

 

Jeremy snorted, having to hold back giggles. “I’m surprised you remember that, dude. We were tiny!” He calmed down, smiling softly at Michael. “But yeah, I think it does. It was more about having a home together, and this is more like home than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. This is home, and our family is just downstairs.” Snookums snuffled in her sleep and Jeremy giggled softly. “And just over there too. Sorry girl, I thought you knew you were already included.”

 

"Don't you dare forget Snookums, she's our child," Michael insisted, holding one free arm out and pretending to wave over his dog, even if she was still asleep. "My child, come here!"

 

“Michael, shush, or we’ll both get more kisses than we can handle!” Jeremy whisper shouted, lightly smacking Michael’s hand back. Snookums proceeded to roll over onto her back in her sleep, her big paws waving in the air and her tongue lolling out her mouth. Both the boys giggled. “I love our big fluffy child. I’m pretty sure she saved my life a few months ago with the whole addiction thing. Her lying on top of me was enough to keep me awake enough to drink. God, this has been a wild ride. Much more interesting than our old lives, I’d say.”

 

"Hey, are you saying that dealing with a possible apocalypse and then going back to getting stoned in my basement wasn't interesting? After all of the weekends you slept over, after all of the hits you took from me, after all of the bags of Funyuns and Lays you ate, you're saying it wasn't interesting? I'm so upset, my tone cannot accurately portray it," Michael said as he tried to keep himself from laughing.

 

Jeremy arched an eyebrow at him. “Babe, we literally went through an Indiana Jones temple, you battled sirens, have had many sword fights, which you are very good at by the way, and we literally saved both realities. I might go back for the Funyuns though, they were definitely the best part of the other world...” Jeremy pretended to contemplate his life choices, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

 

"Uh, wrong. Retro soda is a lot better than Funyuns, as well as music and video games. Oh fuck, I'm gonna miss Marley and t