They were stopping on a small and unassuming port for some small things. Hisui had bounded through the boat excitedly, chattering away about what he wanted to do. Fox was going to take him to the market. Dom and Wood both wanted to take him to the forest. There were a few other outings Hisui had planned, he loved going and visiting all the different places. And the more the men could keep an eye on him better.
Jean was so lost in thought that he didn’t notice his shirt getting caught on a nail until the telltale rip could be heard.
“Shit!” Jean cursed, earning him a disapproving look from Wood. There were technically no rules about cursing or have adult-themed conversations, but it was generally agreed that when Hisui was around, you didn’t do those things.
Hisui looked up. “Oh, your shirt’s ripped?” Hisui hopped off from the crate he was sitting on and examined the small tear in Jean’s sleeve.
“Yeah, it’s no big deal, though. Just a small tear. It’ll be fine.”
Hisui sighed and clicked his tongue, sounding a bit too motherly for Jean’s tastes. “If you don’t patch it up now, it’ll just get worse and soon your entire sleeve will just come off.”
Jean laughed and stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Maybe I should tear off the other one too.” Hisui took ahold of his hand and began tugging on the sleeve. “And then I’ll look like a tough guy and show off all my magnificent muscles.” Though his arms were wimpier than Wood’s. “I’ll just have to make sure I don’t stand next to Wood when I wear this shirt,” Jean muttered to himself.
“There, all done.” Hisui let go of Jean’s hand and stared up at him. “What were you saying about Wood?”
Jean rubbed Hisui’s head. “Just that if I want to tear off the other sleeve, then I can’t stand next to Wood, otherwise, my arms would look like twigs. Girls don’t like twig arms. Ask Angie.”
Hisui cocked his head to one side, a telltale sign that he hadn’t understood the innuendos Jean had been tossing. “Why would you tear off your sleeve when I fixed it?”
“What do you mean fixed it?” It was then that Jean noticed that in Hisui’s hands were a needle and thread with a small sewing kit sitting next to him. Jean looked down at the tear only to discover that there was no more tear.
“Holy shit!” Jean said, examining the sleeve. Wood cleared his throat obviously. But Jean was too caught up in the sleeve to care. “Where’d you learn to sew like this kid?”
“I do it all the time on this ship. Everything is so holy, I feel like every new batch of laundry has at least one shirt or blanket that needs to be repaired.” Hisui carefully packed away the kit and stood up. Jean glanced back down at his arm, seeing a small, neat row of stitches that almost matched the color of his shirt.
“Well, thanks. You’re really something special.” He pet Hisui’s head again.
Hisui beamed at the phrase. Jean knew that the kid loved praise, especially when it was about his skills and not his look. Fox called Hisui over, leaving Jean to continue examining the stitches that looked as though they were professionally done.
Ever since that day, Jean has enjoyed looking for other little stitches that decorated the clothes and blankets of the ship. Some were more well done than others. But all were done with the same amount of care that had sewn up his shirt.
Fox liked hanging out with Hisui, he felt like the boy’s energy was a nice contrast to his own chill nature. And Hisui didn’t seem to think he was scary like most kids. He just saw Fox as one of the guys and even enjoyed playing with his hair, helping him stick it up into a Mohawk, and suggesting weird colors to dye it.
“Now, Hisui, stay close to me. The market can get busy this time of day,” Fox said, making sure to grab onto Hisui’s shirt and keeping him from going too far ahead. The kid was slippery and it only took a moment to lose him in the crowd.
Hisui nodded. “We just need to get some wood, right?”
“Yeah, the beams in the hold are getting a little worn and it’s better to replace them now while we still have money then wait until the ship’s caving in on itself.”
“Let’s go over to that one then.” Hisui pointed at a stall with several shapes, sizes, and types of wood.
“Sure, looks promising.” Fox led the kid over and then began looking at the stronger beams. There were a few prospects. But before Fox could make a sale, he heard Hisui speak to the shop keeper.
“This looks interesting.” Fox looked up to see Hisui turning over a particularly nice piece of wood in his hands. But just from the look, Fox could already tell it was going to be way out of their budget. He stood up, ready to break Hisui’s little, excited heart when the pudgy shopkeeper plodded over to him. Fox scowled and pushed his way to Hisui, wrapping a protective arm around his shoulders. He hated shopkeepers. They were so slimy and always looked like they wanted to eat customers. And this one was looking at Hisui like a very hungry shark would look at a weak fish.
“That one caught your eye, did it, boy? You’ve got good taste!” He laughed his two chins jiggling. Fox scowled.
“Well, yes but—“ Fox started to say.
“Could you help us? We need some new beams for our ship.” Hisui smiled timidly at the man, looking way too innocent for his own good.
There was a glint in the shopkeeper’s eye that made Fox want to toss Hisui over his shoulder and run. They could always get wood at the next port.
“Great!” Hisui squatted down again, leaving the safety of Fox’s arm. “Is this one good for ships? I can’t really tell.”
The shopkeeper struggled to squat down as well, though he tried not to show it. “This one is great. Strong and sturdy, and it’s been treated so water won’t rot it away.”
“That sounds perfect! Come on, Fox, let’s go.”
Fox was taken aback by this sudden shift in Hisui’s priorities. Maybe he was feeling uncomfortable and wanted to leave.
“Wait, why are you leaving?” the shopkeeper raced in front of them to stop them from leaving. Fox clenched his fist, ready to break some bones if need be.
“Well, the other shop at the end of the market is selling the exact same piece of wood. I thought he was lying to us so I came down here to check it out. Since you both said the same thing, I figure we should go buy that other piece of wood.” Hisui said with an innocent smile.
Fox was wracking his brains. When had they visited another shop? Where was it? What was Hisui talking about?
“So why would you walk all the way back there when you’re already here?” The shopkeeper started sweating profusely.
Hisui cocked his head to the side. “It’s much cheaper over there. We don’t really have a lot of money. But thank you so much for your help!” Hisui grabbed Fox’s hand and began walking away.
“Wait!” the shopkeeper cried. “I’ll mark it down, ten percent.”
Hisui chewed his lip. “That’s still too expensive. I’m sorry for wasting your time.”
Fox was so confused as to what was going one.
Hisui shook his head. “I really don’t want to be a bother.”
“Fifty percent and I’ll deliver it for free.”
Hisui lit up, smiling broadly. “Now that’s more like it. We’ll take it.” He nudged Fox who handed the man over the money. What had just happened? Why had it just happened? And where was this other wood seller Hisui had been talking to earlier?
The man handed Fox back his change, wait, change? Fox looked down to see that not only had Hisui gotten them the super nice wood, he had got the price so low that Fox got back change.
“Thank you so much. You’ve been a great help.” Hisui smiled at the man and led Fox away towards a fruit stand.
“What just happened?”
“Well, the nicer the wood the less we have to replace it, right?”
“Yeah, but how did you get the price so low? And who is this other wood seller you were talking to earlier?”
Hisui shrugged. “I wasn’t talking to anyone. Now come on, I want to get this guy’s fruit before he closes up.” Hisui pulled Fox over to another stand and started haggling once again.
The rest of the trip, Fox stood there, amazed at this skill Hisui had. Had he been born with this, or did he learn this? And what other things could this kid do?
III. Identifying edible plants
Dom was surprised when Hisui and Fox returned. Fox looked as though he was high as a kite and questioning everything while also looking very confused. Hisui was skipping along chattering excitedly about something or other. Dom walked up to the pair.
“Hisui, I’m going to the forest now if you want to come?” Dom asked, still looked at Fox. Fox didn’t seem to understand what was going on and sat down on a crate, looking as though he was trying to piece together the meaning of life.
Hisui nodded and picked up a basket. “You just want to get some medicinal herbs and stuff, right?”
Dom put a hand on Hisui’s neck and led him off the ship. “That’s right. Now, I’ll teach you all of the plants you need to know so that we can stock up. Don’t be too worried if you have a hard time identifying any of them. It takes a lot of practice to get it right.” Dom turned around to see Hisui’s basket filled to the brim with plants.
“Oh, sorry,” Hisui smiled sheepishly at Dom who walked towards him. They had barely gotten into the jungle and Hisui had already filled the damn thing up.
Dom laughed nervously. “Now, Hisui, I know there are a lot of cool plants here but we need to make sure that they are all medicinal, otherwise there’s no use taking them onto the ship.”
Hisui dumped the basket onto the ground. “These are all medicinal. This one’s for headaches, this one helps heal foot fungus and this one’s great for bringing down fevers.” Hisui put a small yellow flower into Dom’s hand. He had never even seen some of these plants before.
“Are you sure? These could all be dangerous, we need to be careful when dealing with plants.” As much as Dom didn’t want to pressure Hisui, he also didn’t want anyone to wind up dead because of a bad plant.
“I’m sure. This jungle is exactly like the one I grew up with. This plant’s called Cinchona.” Hisui held up a strip of bark proudly.
“You know about medicinal plants?” Dom asked cautiously.
“Yeah. We didn’t really have a doctor so most of the time if you had a disease, you had to know which plants to treat it.”
Dom put the plants back in the basket. Tonight, he was going to go to the library and identify each and every one of these plants. But Hisui seemed so sure that he had made the right identifications and Dom couldn’t help but smile and pat his head.
“Well, then you should come on more of these outings with me. I could use another helper.”
Hisui beamed and picked up the basket. “I used to love collecting the plants. That’s how I made a living back before I met you guys.” And with that, Dom led them back to the ship, glad that he didn’t have to hike through the jungle for hours.
Hisui and Dom weren’t even gone an hour before they came back, James noted. And Hisui went down to the kitchen almost immediately after setting the plants out to dry. James didn’t really care that Hisui was down in the kitchen a lot, it gave him less to do. But he did feel guilty when the kid worked so hard to cook dinner for the crew and James had only chopped a few potatoes. Besides, the kid looked exhausted from walking around all day with Fox and Dom. Though there was a rather sweaty and fat man that came by dragging some very high-quality wood that Fox had purchased earlier. When asked how he got it, Fox just got that confused, dazed look again and went back to mumbling to himself. Wood said he would repair the beams tomorrow, leaving James with nothing to do. So he went down to the kitchen.
James expected to see Hisui sitting at the stove stirring a pot of soup, maybe chopping an onion or two. What he did not expect to find was a room filled to the brim with cans.
“Cans?” James asked. Hisui looked up and beamed at him, wiping the sweat from his brow and bounding up to him.
“Isn’t this great? With the money Fox had left over, I was able to buy all these fruits and vegetables, and even some meat.” Hisui gestured to the room around him. He looked so proud of what he had done that James hated breaking that innocent demeanor.
“Kid, we can’t keep all of this stuff.”
Hisui’s smile faltered and James wanted to take back what he had said. “Why not?” Hisui looked around at the cans, chewing on his lower lip.
“Because it’ll go bad before we get a chance to eat all of it.” James put a comforting hand on Hisui’s shoulder.
Hisui turned to look at him, the smile back on his face. “Oh, you thought I was just going to keep them out. I’m canning and pickling it all. It’ll last years once it’s sealed.” Hisui walked back to the pot and carefully removed the cans that were floating around. He placed them next to a stack of about fifty cans, all filled with different types of food.
“Pickling and canning?” James asked uncertainly, picking up one and seeing it was stuffed with cucumbers.
Hisui nodded. “It’s really easy once you get the hang of it. Do you want to try?” James looked at the pile of food that had yet to be stuffed in a can and sighed.
“I suppose so that you’re not doing this all night,”
Hisui smiled and picked up some beef. “Take some of that solution over there and pour it over the meat. Fill it up to the top of the can and then screw on the lid.” Hisui instructed, turning back to put a new batch of cans in the pot. James nodded and repeated the process over and over until there was hardly anything left. The room remained sweltering and he constantly looked over at Hisui to make sure the kid wasn’t about to pass out from heat exhaustion. But Hisui just kept on pickling, occasionally taking a break to wipe the sweat off or lick his lips. The kid was like a machine, not stopping until every single piece of food had been properly preserved.
Finally, after hours of pickling and canning, the last piece of food was stuffed in a jar. James wanted to collapse until he realized that the kitchen was filled to the brim with jars, this time, all filled with food.
“We should put these somewhere,” James said, looking around and dreading the next part. There should be some room in the hold that was free. Otherwise, they could just keep it in the sleeping quarters and just make everyone keep a few cans with their stuff.
“Hisui?” James said, upon realizing that the kid hadn’t responded. He turned around to see Hisui slumped against a wall of cans, sleeping soundly. James sighed and scooped him up. “I’ll wake you when it’s time for dinner,” he said softly, carrying the kid to his bed. It looked as though Hisui was more talented than any of them previously thought. And more hardworking as well.
V. Climbing Fruit Trees
Wood could tell that Hisui had slept like the dead the night before. It wasn’t just because he shared a sleeping space with the kid and noticed how Hisui had gone to bed before the sun even went down. No, he could tell because Hisui had dragged Wood out of bed before the sun even came up, chattering about how Wood promised to take him on a hike today and that Wood had also promised James that he was going to repair the beams today and how he should walk before repairing the beams.
Wood just yawned, nodded, and let Hisui lead the way through the trees. He still managed to keep ahold of Hisui’s shirt, though, ensuring that the kid would not run off and get lost.
“And Dom says that we managed to completely restock the medicine with the plants I got yesterday, isn’t that great?” Hisui chattered away.
“That’s great Hisui.” Wood yawned, trying to remember why he had promised Hisui to take him on a walk at all. But Hisui was a good kid, and he deserved a little love at least once in his life. He reminded Wood of his siblings and his heart panged with the thought that he would probably never see them again. He felt a little guilty, giving his time away to someone who wasn’t even related to him. Except, when Hisui turned and smiled at him, Wood couldn’t help but feel like he was finally doing something right with his life. He deserved happiness just as much as anyone else and dammit, Hisui made him happy.
“Oh! Mangoes!” Hisui slipped out of Wood’s grasp and before Wood could even comprehend what Hisui was doing, the kid was already scaling the tree like a little monkey.
“Hisui!” Wood cried, panicked that Hisui would fall and hurt himself.
Hisui swung himself up onto another branch and began picking off some mangoes. “What? I’m getting enough for everyone.” Hisui managed to drop the mangoes onto the soft ground below.
“You’re going to fall and hurt yourself,” Wood said, trying not to sound too panicked about the whole thing.
Hisui swung down before Wood realized and landed softly. “No, I won’t. I’ve climbed higher before.” He gathered up the mangoes and stuffed them into his bag. “Besides, the ones at the market are expensive.”
Wood sighed and closed his eyes and sighed. “I know you think you can but it’s better if you keep both feet firmly on the ground.”
“Oh, so you don’t want coconuts?”
Wood’s eyes shot open and he realized that Hisui was no longer standing beside him. He swiveled his head, searching for the kid when he finally found him at the top of a coconut tree. “How did you even get up there?” He was feeling dizzy just looking at the tree. And it was swaying slightly in the wind as well. Hisui dropped the coconuts he had cut off.
“Do you want me to teach you how to climb?” Hisui asked.
“No, I want you to stay places where you’re not going to hurt yourself.” Wood crossed his arms and immediately uncrossed them. If Hisui lost his grip, he needed to be able to catch him. Though this proved an unnecessary worry as Hisui slid down with easy, hopping off at the last few feet.
“Can I go climb a banana tree?” he asked timidly.
Wood scowled before relenting. He couldn’t say no when Hisui looked like a puppy. “Fine, but only the trees I approve of!” Wood said as Hisui scampered off into the jungle. There appeared to be no tree Hisui couldn’t climb as he went up and down, collecting fruit and nuts wherever he climbed. They walked back to the ship, loaded down with enough fruits and nuts to last a month. James saw the fruits and started crying about cans while Fox just asked if Hisui conned someone else. All and all, it was a strange day, to say the least.
VI. Making Rope
James and Wood were down in the hold repairing the beams. Jean seemed to have a new obsession with examining people’s clothes, and Dom was going through the plants Hisui brought back muttering something about Hisui and his apparent genius in identifying plants. Yassen was very confused by it all. At least Fox no longer looked like he had just discovered a huge lie.
Yassen looked down at the beach to see Hisui surrounded by dried twigs, vigorously removing the bark from each of them.
“What is he doing?” Yassen muttered to himself. Well, Hisui was using a knife and he should probably have some adult supervision to make sure he didn’t hurt himself. So Yassen pushed off the railing and went to the beach. It was better than being stuck in this crazy fest.
“Hey, kiddo, what’s up?” Yassen sat next to Hisui who had begun to peel the bits of fiber from the plant.
“Nothing. Ikuta’s going to take me out to lunch so I’m just waiting for him to get back. What are you doing?” Hisui put the pieces of fiber in a large pile.
“Nothing much. I just saw you down here and wanted to know what you were doing. You shouldn’t be dulling the knives like that.”
“James said I could use this one. And besides, don’t we need more rope?” Hisui turned to look at Yassen with those impossibly big eyes. Yassen didn’t know if Hisui knew he held the crew in the palm of his hand or if he really was that innocent. Nevertheless, that look of innocence always made Yassen melt inside and want to do nothing more than spoil this kid beyond belief. He knew the sentiment was shared with the entire crew. Even Jean doted on Hisui to the point of it almost being too much.
“Yes, we do need rope, but how is this going to help?” Yassen gestured to the pile.
“I’m making it.”
“Yeah. I found all of this dried hemp and thought that even if I couldn’t make all the rope we needed, I could still make some.”
Yassen picked up some of the fibers and rolled it in between his fingers. “And you can make rope out of this?”
Hisui nodded. “Yeah, it’s pretty strong as well. Do you want to help?”
Yassen shrugged. “I don’t really have anything else to do.”
Yassen should have said no. Make rope was a very intense process and he felt like his shoulders were going to be sore for days from all the rolling and wood stripping that he had to do. Hisui, much to his displeasure, didn’t even seem to be bothered by it. Sure he was sweating, but he had this intense look of concentration on his face that made Yassen rethink everything he ever thought about Hisui.
“Wow, we made a lot of rope,” Yassen observed and the last piece was tied off. He pulled on one of the pieces and was surprised that it didn’t break apart in his hands.
“Yeah, let's get this up to the ship so it doesn’t wash away.” Hisui gathered the rope in his arms and began walking away. Yassen picked it up as well and stared at the kid. Hisui was full of surprises. It made Yassen feel guilty that the crew hadn’t tried harder to get to know him and all he could do. He felt like they all thought Hisui was kind of useless, able to only get into trouble. But Yassen guiltily remembered that before the cage, Hisui had been on his own. And he had survived up until this point. There had to be something the kid was good at, otherwise, the world would have gotten rid of him a long time ago.
Ikuta was surprised to see Yassen and Hisui walking up to the ship with arms full of rope. Yassen looked exhausted but Hisui just beamed and waved at him as if nothing was wrong. Though his face did look red from exhaustion and there were bits of fiber sticking out of his hair.
“Hey, kid, ready to go?” Ikuta asked, putting an arm around Hisui’s shoulders and looking questioningly at Yassen. Yassen just shook his head and deposited the rope in a pile.
“Yeah, where are we going? Is it good?” Hisui asked, dropping the rope as well.
“I would say it’s pretty decent. They have some good meat which is good if you want to grow more.” To emphasize his point, Ikuta rested an elbow on Hisui’s head.
Hisui squawked and pushed the arm off. “I’m not that short. Besides, I’m still growing.”
Ikuta couldn’t help but laugh.
Hisui gritted his teeth. “You watch, one day I’m going to be taller than you!” Hisui attempted to stand up straight to close the distance between him and Ikuta.
Ikuta held up his hands and laughed. “Alright, alright. I get it. But I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Hisui glared at him again. He seemed to be having a lot of fun at this port, even if the crew was acting strangely. First, Jean started closely examining everyone’s clothes and blankets. It got to the point where he started looking at people’s shirts while they were sleeping, leading to a very startled Ross and a chase that lasted almost an hour.
Then Fox had come back from his trip to the market with wood that was way outside of their price range looking as though he had discovered there was a huge conspiracy going on and he had just found out. Dom also disappeared yesterday evening with a basket of plants and didn’t return until this morning looking exhausted. Ikuta kept finding cans everywhere, Wood had splinters in his hands, and now Yassen was carrying what looked to be several feet of rope back to the ship. Ikuta didn’t like being kept in the dark, especially when it came to his crew. So tonight he was going to sit them all down and have a serious talk about keeping secrets. But for now, he was just content to spend some time with Hisui.
Hisui kept looking around, trying to see everything at once. He held such a curious outlook that it made Ikuta feel refreshed and younger. It made him feel as though all the problems in the world couldn’t touch him as long as Hisui was standing next to him.
He reached out and ran his fingers through the wig. Hisui fell into step beside him, automatically leaning into the touch, and closer to Ikuta.
“Calm down, we have plenty of time to see everything,” Ikuta smiled at him.
Hisui pouted and turned his nose up. “What if I miss something that I’ll never get to see again?"
Ikuta hummed. “I suppose you’re right. Just don’t get too distracted.” He continued stroking Hisui’s hair, leading them towards the restaurant. He was feeling hungry and he bet Hisui was feeling it as well.
The restaurant was pretty full so they ended up sitting next to two men talking away in another language. Ikuta had heard it before but he couldn’t quite place it. Even if he could, it wouldn’t have mattered. He didn’t speak it.
They sat down and ordered. Hisui had gone uncharacteristically quiet almost as soon as they sat down.
“What’s wrong?” Ikuta asked, patting Hisui’s hand.
Hisui shrugged and turned away. “Nothing. I’m just really hungry.” He offered Ikuta a weak smile. Ikuta didn’t know what could possibly happen that would make Hisui so upset. He didn’t want to pry in such a public place, though. This could hopefully wait until they got home.
Except it couldn't because the longer they sat in the restaurant the more Hisui started looking like he was about to cry. Ikuta could not figure out what would have caused it. He was fine up until they had sat down. Ikuta really didn’t want to pressure Hisui into talking, but he also didn’t want to force him to stay somewhere uncomfortable. Their food came and Hisui began stabbing at the pasta like it had insulted his mother. His hands were shaking and he seemed to be getting angrier by the second.
Ikuta decided that he had had enough. Something was clearly bothering Hisui and they needed to go before something bad happened. Ikuta would just leave the money and go.
The two men burst out laughing and before Ikuta could comprehend what was going on, Hisui had whirled around and smashed the plate of pasta right into the face of the man sitting next to him. Ikuta’s words died in his throat as Hisui stood up, shaking the table in the process.
“Before you insult someone you don’t even know like a coward, make sure you’re speaking a language they can’t understand!” Hisui said. He ran out of the store so fast, Ikuta could have sworn he was just a blur.
“Hey, Hisui, wait.” Ikuta threw down some money on the table and chased after him, leaving the two stunned men behind.
It didn’t take long to find Hisui, he was sitting under the awning of the restaurant, curled up and shaking with tears. Ikuta squatted next to him.
“Hey, kid, what was that about?” Ikuta asked, trying to keep calm. He couldn’t remember a time he had seen Hisui so upset, not even when he was talking about his capture and cage. Hisui grabbed onto Ikuta’s shirt and buried his face in his chest, continuing to sob. Ikuta patted his back.
“They were saying terrible things about you and…and I tried not to listen, but I couldn’t.” Hisui sobbed, curling against Ikuta even more. Ikuta sat dumbfounded at this revelation.
“You understood them?”
Hisui nodded, his sobs beginning to die down. Ikuta rubbed his back, trying to calm him down more. Luckily, no one had chased them out of the restaurant. But Ikuta didn’t want to stay here much longer; they were already attracting a lot of attention.
“Hisui, you don’t need to defend me.”
“But you didn’t even know what they were saying. How could you defend yourself if they weren’t even saying it in a way you could understand.” Hisui had calmed down enough that Ikuta felt like he could walk hi back to the ship now.
“Well, I suppose that’s true. You were right, they were cowards. Was that the only other language you can speak?” Ikuta asked.
Hisui shook his head. “I can speak two more fluently and four semi-fluently.”
Ikuta smiled and stroked Hisui’s head. “You’re pretty amazing, do you know that?”
Hisui hummed and leaned into Ikuta’s side.
“Let’s get you home, you’ve had a long day.”