“Wouldn’t have taken you for a guy who likes to be high up.”
Zisteau tore his gaze from the horizon and saw Kurt standing tall next to him outside the crow’s nest, gripping on to the rim of the nest. Zisteau couldn’t help but appreciate the man’s sense of balance because wow, Zisteau couldn’t stay upright on the yard for more than a few seconds without needing to scramble into the crow’s nest.
He shrugged, “I usually take over lookout duty for Baj when he gets tired.”
Kurt nodded, “Ah, IIIII see. You just…” He waved his free arm around, “You seem like a guy who likes two feet on solid ground.”
Zisteau shook his head, smiling, “Nah, I’m good anywhere. I’d even like to give flying a try if, ya know, it was possible.”
Kurt looked up to the sky, which today was thankfully clear, “Yeah, that’d be awesome.”
"Ya… now, you on the other hand, you seem ridiculously at home all the way up here."
Kurt tilted his head and flashed a smile, "Really?”
Zisteau chuckled, "Yeah. I would have pegged you for the awkward, flailing type, like Beef. He has the worst sense of balance I've ever seen on a guy! Like, he takes one hand off the rope and he's flying all over the place!"
Kurt started to snicker, a sound Zisteau really wanted to hear more of. "Really!?"
"Really. And it's not just balance. He can't handle any height! Once, we were docked at Tortuga and he went to check on the sails off the starboard side. He didn't even make it 3 feet up, and he freaking fell into the water!"
"Was he okay?" Kurt asked, trying to sound concerned, but his smile giving him away.
Zisteau unconsciously smiled in return, "Yeah, only his ego was bruised. For weeks, whenever someone fell, we said they 'did a Vintage Beef'."
That earned a snort out of Kurt, which only made Zisteau smile even wider. The feeling in his heart aside, Kurt's laugh was one of the best of the crew and it was a shame that his time on The Emerald seemed to have shut it away.
"So," Zisteau continued, "Back to my original point, how did you get so good at balancing?"
And just like that, the bright smile on Kurt's face faltered, and then fell away.
"Well I, uh. I had to be up here a lot, being the navigator and all, but..." Kurt looked down, whether at his feet or the deck, Z couldn't tell, "but sometimes, being high up here was better than down there."
...Nice going Z.
An uneasy silence fell between them, Kurt still looking down and Zisteau at a loss for words. But besides, what could he say in response to that? Kurt had still not told a soul what The Emerald was like and if he told anyone anything from his past; it was some small, trivial part or rather vague like what he had just said. It was one of the reasons why Zisteau acted so differently with Kurt than someone like Etho or Pause, because he didn't know how to act, what set him off, what topics were off limits. He hated being this in-the-dark, especially with someone like Kurt.
Just when Zisteau had thought he had come up with something to say, Kurt blurted out, "Has Vechs ever climbed up here?"
Zisteau blinked, replaying the question in his head to make sure he heard him right. "I... Don't think so?"
"Oh, I just,” he ducked his head, “he seemed the type to..."
"Climb on things?” Kurt nodded sheepishly. “That's more with people. He likes to rest on people's shoulders-well, my shoulders at least. He doesn't seem to like anyone else."
"... he seems to like me ok."
Yeah... you seem like the exception to a lot of things here.
He was just about to say something when a black shape caught his eye. He swiftly turned around toward the side Kurt was on. It was still pretty far off, just short of a league, but it was obvious the ship was coming toward them.
He reached down for the telescope that was per innately kept in the crow’s nest and extended it. Looking through it, he pointed it straight at the other ship's mast and grimaced at what he saw. The flag was the color of Caribbean waters with a brown, 3-D cube in the middle.
He glanced at Kurt, who, without a telescope, was looking puzzled. Wordlessly, he handed him the device before bending over the edge of the crowd nest and shouting:
"HIS MAJESTY'S NAVY'S SHIP! PORT SIDE!"
Crew members immediately crowded to that side, with Captain Guude at the front with his own telescope. He only looked through it for a few moments before shutting it and turning to the crew.
"Git ready people!" he yelled, "That’s Commodore SethBling's ship out there! There’s no doubt he will want a fight and it’s going to be a messy one!"
When no one moved, the captain straightened himself and then yelled, with all his might. "GIT TO YOUR POSITIONS YA SEA DAWGS!"
Zisteau couldn't help the chuckle as he saw everyone scatter. Beef, Mhykol, and Pause he saw running toward the "armory" (aka, whatever room they had chucked the weapons into when not in use). The cabin boy, MC, he saw scurry over to the captain, arms full of what were no doubt the two steel, polished swords with shimmery blue handles that the captain took such pride in. He caught a glimpse of Pakratt and Etho before they disappeared below deck and he couldn't help his widening grin. Those two were cannon enthusiasts on the best of days, pyromaniacs at the worst. Commodore Seth might have the most technologically advanced ship on the seven seas, but Etho and Pakratt together knew how to blow it out of the water.
More men that Zisteau couldn’t make out were rushing about. He himself was about to make his way to his station when he heard someone clear their throat.
Turning around to face Kurt, it only took him a moment to see his error of immediately wanting to jump into the action.
“Oh yeah, you, you don’t have a station.” Kurt nodded his head. “C’mon, come with me.”
He pushed himself out of the crow’s nest and on to the yard arm. Getting as close as he could to the crow’s nest, he felt around with his foot until he found the small metal lever hidden to those who didn’t know about it. He reached up and grabbed the line of rope attached to a pulley with a large metal hook at the end. Giving it a good tug to make sure it wasn’t going to snap on him, he held on firmly.
He looked at Kurt, who was looking thoroughly confused at what Zisteau was doing. Head titled to the right, brows furrowed, eyes flicking over Zisteau’s body, he looked adorable trying to make sense of Zisteau’s strange position.
Pushing those thoughts aside, he couldn’t help the smile on his face as he said, “Race ya!”, and flicked the lever with the toe of his boot. There was a click of the release and Zisteau shot down towards the deck, hands firmly on the hook. He looked up and saw Kurt’s shocked face. He laughed loudly, making a semi-smooth landing on top of some loose ropes and deserted weapons.
“How did you do that?!” Kurt shouted down.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t have one of those?” Zisteau teased. He could see the small laugh that came out of Kurt as he began his descent down the mast via the rigging.
It didn’t take too long for Kurt to climb down. When he did, he immediately started walking toward where everyone else was. Zisteau grabbed on to his white shirt by the sleeve and pulled him the other way.
“Where are ya goin’ that you’re in so much of a hurry to get to?” he teased again, leading Kurt to the opposite side.
“Oh I, uh, I just assumed that you would have a position by all the action,” Kurt said sheepishly.
“Most of the time I do,” he said, when they had reached the other side, “but today I’m feeling like doing something different.”
“Yeah,” Zisteau said, stopping by the railing, “I was with the rest of the crew the last two pillagings. I want to try something new this time.”
“Captain Guude’s not gonna like this, huh?” Kurt asked.
Zisteau shrugged his shoulders as he reached for two of the ropes that were secured to the rail. He handed one over to Kurt, who took it, albeit with caution.
“What are we doing?” he asked, looking up, up, up to where the rope was attached to the main mast.
“Something Guude wouldn’t want us doing,” Zisteau said, cracking a smile.
“Aaaaaaand why are you dragging me into this?”
Shrugging his shoulders, he tugged on the line once. “Why not?”
There was a bit of silence where the two could hear bits and pieces of the bickering that was happening between the two opposing captains a few yards in front of them.
Zisteau spoke up finally, “You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. I just…”
“No, no, no!” Kurt cut in quickly, “I just- What are we going to do exactly?”
That made Zisteau smile. He pointed to the crew in front of them. “Any moment now, we are going to stop those two from wasting time and start this fight!”
“… yeah, but how?”
Zisteau gave another tug on the rope, “With this of course!”
Kurt looked from the rope, to Zisteau, then back at the rope. “You mean… we’re going to swing in?”
Zisteau gave a laugh, “Yep!”
“We are going to swing over the heads of our crew, then let go and fly over the gap between the ships, then over the other crew and start the fight?”
“Well now you’re just making me seem mad,” Zisteau said, trying to keep a straight face, but failing miserably.
Kurt looked up at his rope and gave three tugs, muttering something that Zisteau couldn’t hear.
“If it makes me seem less mad,” Zisteau said, “Guude and company won’t be far behind.”
Kurt let out a huff of air before backing up even more, so he was flush to the railing.
“I must be crazy to be doing this,” he muttered just loud enough for Zisteau to hear him.
He laughed and did the same, “There’s a reason it’s called The Mindcrack. So on the count of three, run as fast as you can, then jump at the last possible second, got it?”
Kurt gave a short nod, grabbing on to the rope higher up.
Zisteau grabbed on to the rough rope, the fibers cutting into his palm.
He positioned his feet, one behind the other.
Zisteau broke into a full sprint across the deck, ignoring the stares he was no doubt getting (and the middle finger Guude was no doubt pulling) and jumped just before he was going to run into everyone. He briefly heard the sound of grappling hooks being tossed and pulling the two ships closer so the fight could begin.
The rope pulled taut in his hands and he let go, letting out a cry, “Ah rhi di di di di, rhi di di da!”
He heard Kurt yell out… something as well. His mind wasn’t on that, it was on not landing on someone’s sword as he tucked himself in to (hopefully) minimize damage to his body when he landed.
Thankfully it worked as he sloppily rolled onto the deck of the Navy’s ship and was able to pull himself up before he was surrounded by two sailors. They had their swords out already, but Zisteau was quicker, dodging two of their swings before pulling his pistol out and shooting both of them in quick succession, blood splattering on to people who were fighting near him.
Dimly he realized that the fight had moved completely onto Seth’s ship. The floorboards rumbled beneath him, the effect of Pakratt's explosive work, no doubt.
He looked around briefly to make sure that, yes, Kurt was handling himself just fine.
No sooner did he glance over did one of Seth's sailors pop up by him. He thanked his quick reflexes as he drew his sword up and out to block the sailor's downswing. It didn’t take long, however, for the sailor to get a few hits on him. They exchanged a few blows before Zisteau was pushing the lifeless body out of his way and almost immediately getting thrown into a fight with someone else on the stairs.
From then on it was a constant dance of fighting, both the other people on the ship and his emotions.
Don’t think about the look in their eyes with that final blow. Don’t linger watching their skin grow pale and cold. Don’t think about the lives they had, how they could’ve had kids, a wife, a family. Don’t listen to the moans and screams of agony around you. These people would hurt you and your friends if you didn’t fight. FIGHT.
All of his focus was placed on the person in front of him; on blocking, dodging, and returning blows. Only once was his concentration broken, when a bullet that he thought was for him whizzed inches behind his head. He turned around just in time to see the body of one of Seth’s sailors drop down dead.
He scanned around quickly. No one fighting around him had their guns out. He looked father into the crowd of people fighting and cause a glimpse of Kurt holstering his pistol whilst fighting off someone with his sword near the stern of the ship.
Could he have- His thought was interrupted by a sailor lunging at him from the stairs and just like that, he was back in the zone.
The overall fight seemed to go on for ages. Neither side seemed like they were going to run out of men (maybe explosives. Those had been making the deck rumble since that start). Zisteau’s concentration was slipping and he was starting to feel all the cuts, scratches, and bruises he had managed to get while fighting. All he wanted was for Seth to surrender his ship so he could just flop on his hammock and sleep.
He looked around to see if he could find Guude and, sure enough, he was fighting Seth at the bow, just a couple of feet from where Z was fighting. He knew better than to join in on that fight (Guude had his moments where he liked to be dramatic), so he somehow managed to keep half his focus on watching Guude’s fight and half of it on keeping up with his own fight.
Guude and Seth were pretty evenly matched, with Guude having a slight advantage. Where Seth had all his training from the Navy, the Mindcrack captain had picked up fighting techniques from wherever they sailed. And as Zisteau watched more, the more he realized the fight between the two captains resembled more of a dance than anything. They mirrored each other’s foot work, their swords clashing together, singing along with the beat of their feet, Seth’s blood red cap and Guude’s green coat swishing around the two of them.
If only they would get to the end of the dance.
Almost immediately after that thought, Zisteau caught a glimpse of someone dressed in the Navy uniform sneak up on the two captains, who by now had stopped circling each other with Seth’s back to the sea and Guude’s to the ship.
That can’t be good.
Zisteau made quick work of his opponent, a quick slash at the wrist and elbow incapacitating him. He then turned to the man, who was too far away from Z to run up and may-lay him. He pulled out his pistol and aimed in one smooth motion.
“This is what you get for attempting to take the life of my captain,” Z muttered to himself as he pulled the trigger.
Zisteau looked at his gun for a moment, dumbstruck, then checked the ammo.
He patted the pockets of his trousers, seeing if had stored any.
“Fuck!” he said quietly, dropping the now useless gun.
He stood frozen for a moment. The guy was almost within reach of Guude, a couple more steps and he’d be in prime position to slice Guude’s throat. Z was too far to run up and stab him. Everyone else on the ship was fighting on the lower deck.
In a last ditch effort to save his captain, Zisteau shouted, “GUUUUUUUUUDE!!! BEHIND YOU!” in hopes that Guude could do something with one guy at his front and another behind him.
Guude quickly turned around and was able to block the sailor’s knife… but Zisteau could see how Guude’s back tensed up not moments later, no doubt because Seth had pressed a gun or sword against it.
All Zisteau could do was stand, still frozen in place.
This is all my fault.
Suddenly, from behind Zisteau, there were three loud BANGs and the sailor crumpled to the ground, lifeless.
Zisteau turned around and saw Kurt, his white shirt and blue vest blood stained with multiple tears, tensed up and holding a still smoking gun in his hands.
They stood staring at each other, in both disbelief and relief, until they heard Commodore Seth yell out, in a clear voice, “I surrender.”
All the tension visibly drained out of Kurt’s body and he lowered the gun as the crew of the Mindcrack cheered. He wavered and Zisteau finally was able to move his legs as Kurt’s knees buckled. He quickly secured his arm around Kurt’s waist, stopping him from dropping.
“You okay?” Kurt asked, slightly breathless.
Zisteau huffed out a laugh, “Shouldn’t I be asking the swooning maiden that?”
Kurt pouted, muttering something along the lines of ‘m no maiden.
“But seriously, you okay?” Zisteau asked, “Can you walk?”
Kurt nodded, “Yep, j-just… out of practice. Forgot how these things feel like.”
“And how exhausted you feel after?”
“Good thing we at the Mindcrack have the perfect solution to that,” Zisteau said, turning the two of them down the stairs.
“And what would that be?”
“Liquor. Lots, and lots of liquor.”
Kurt laughed at that, “Sounds perfect.”
Later that evening, after Commodore Seth’s ship had been left out at sea, riddled full of holes thanks to Etho and Pak’s explosives and all of the wounds had been tended to care of Zisteau and Jsano, Zisteau found Kurt in his, or rather their room, petting Vechs, who was in Kurt’s lap. Kurt hadn’t noticed he had entered, so he took the opportunity to just look.
Kurt had taken off his dirty vest and shirt and hadn’t bothered to put anything back on, leaving Zisteau with one of the best views of Kurt’s naked torso since that first day. The scars on his back were just barely visible and most that would have been easily seen where covered with white bandages.
When Zisteau started to feel a bit guilty about his staring, he cleared his throat. Kurt’s head shot up, “Oh, hey Zisteau, what’s up?”
Zisteau held up the bottle of scotch and gave a small smile, “I wasn’t kidding about the liquor.”
“Oh, right. Put it… there I guess?” Kurt replied, gesturing to the table.
“Well,” Zisteau glanced at the door, “It’s tradition that we all get drunk on deck… the whole crew.”
“Oh… well, sure I guess…”
“You don’t have to come if you don’t want to, I can stay down here… with you.”
“No, no, no I- I’d hate to get in the way of tradition,” Kurt said, with what looked like a forced smile.
“Seriously, you don’t have to if you feel uncomfortable.” That was the last thing he wished on Kurt.
“No no, I’m serious,” he said, pushing Vechs off and getting up. Vechs let out a small hiss as Kurt reached for the dirty, bloody shirt he wore during the fight.
“Wait,” Zisteau said, going around the table to the cabinets. He blindly reached for a clean shirt and threw a red button down at Kurt, who grabbed it. “You don’t have to wear that.”
“I really don’t mind-”
“No, the thing is… after raiding ships and whatever, we drink to forget.”
Kurt was silent for a moment. “Oh,” he said, finally getting it.
“Yeah. So wearing something with blood on it-”
“-would not be the best idea. Got it.”
Kurt put down the bloodied shirt and started putting on the red shirt.
“Sooooo,” Zisteau started, hopping to diffuse the tension in the room, “When we swung on the ship, I could have sworn you yelled something, but I have no idea what you yelled.”
“Oh, that.” Kurt blushed and ducked his head for a moment. “I said, um, allons-y.”
“Allons-y? What the damn hell does that mean?”
Kurt giggled a bit, “It’s, um, it’s French for ‘let’s go’. It, um, seemed appropriate.”
“Yeah… but I thought you said you grew up in London?”
“… yeah I did.”
“So how on Earth did you learn French?”
Kurt shrugged, now fully dressed, “The Emerald went places.”
Zisteau could only nod and reply with “Huh.”
“So… you ready?” Kurt asked.
“If you are.”
“I am indeed.”
The two climbed up the stairs together, where the rest of the crew was already deep into their cups, taking up every inch of the deck and in various states of dress.
For the rest of the night, the crew of the Mindcrack stayed on deck, drinking to forget the lives they took that day, drinking in remembrance of the souls of their own who were lost. And if the captain, who had been cold to Kurt before was now smiling more easily at him and if Zisteau glanced one too many times at the ship’s navigator, well, no one would remember it.
Because this was a night made to forget.