Cowritten with dragonofeternal as a Secret Santa gift for our friend Steph (skwinky). The whole thing was written in about 24 hours (which is...a lot of writing for such a short time, let me tell you) but I do consider it one of my best pieces so far. It's got pirates and adventure and magic bullshit, plus boys making bad life choices with their feelings. Enjoy!
There's a knock at his cabin door late into the evening, but Hakuryuu barely glances up. It's not Judal; he can see the man dozing on their bed from where he's sitting, and Judal doesn't knock anyway. Hakuryuu aches from practicing magic earlier, and with Judal already asleep, his body yearns to join him in the bed. If it's not urgent enough that there's screaming, it can wait until morning.
After a beat, the knocking starts up again, and Judal makes a displeased noise in his sleep. Hakuryuu slowly moves to get up from his seat, his joints aching as he does. Next time, he'll be less stubborn about accepting Judal's offered power. He doesn't like being this drained; the fingers in his magical prosthetic are stiff and slow to respond, and it leaves Hakuryuu feeling vulnerable. He slides open the slat in the door to glare at the person outside.
"What is it?" Hakuryuu demands. "It had better be-"
"Stowaway, Captain!" The man on the other side replies. "We found him skulking around the crew's quarters. He asked for you by name. He says he's a rela-"
Hakuryuu slams the slat shut and undoes the locks to throw the door open. "He says he's related to me?" The man at the door nods. "Then I'll throw him overboard myself." Hakuryuu strides past him and down to the crew's quarters. There, an assemblage of pirates in pajamas (which is remarkably like pirates in their underwear) huddle around a loathsomely familiar face. Hakuryuu stops a few feet away to glare at Kouen like he's an insect. "How did you find me?"
Kouen glowers back at him, that same damn face he always gives. "I heard rumors that you'd fallen in with some pirates. I never thought you'd be leading them."
"You know what I'm going to do to you, don't you?" Hakuryuu curses himself again for not taking Judal's offered help. Getting to show off his new skills to kill Kouen would have been so satisfying.
"Please, Hakuryuu, wait." Kouen sounds less like a man pleading for his life and more like he's scolding a child. It makes Hakuryuu's blood boil. "I came to tell you something very important that no one else can hear."
"Well, that's unfortunate, because I have no interest in listening." Hakuryuu gestures to a pair of the most dressed pirates. "Take him above deck. We're throwing him overboard."
"Hakuryuu, wait!" But he is already turning his back. "I know where Hakuren and Hakuyuu are!"
8 Months Earlier
Judal is perched on his window ledge, licking the remains of an exotic, colorful fruit from his fingers. The warm sunlight plays over his dark hair in an unfairly enticing manner, a warm breeze blowing in off the ocean to bat at his bangs. "You should let me help you."
Hakuryuu barely glances up. "Go away, Judal."
"Come on, I wanna help you! Don't be so rude!" Hakuryuu sees Judal lick the last of the mess from a finger and lean further into the room. "You really need it, too, so don't be so quick to send me off."
"You're being rude, showing up uninvited and then insulting me." Hakuryuu goes back to reading his book, or attempting to at the very least.
Judal, instead, invites himself into the room and keeps talking. "You can't fight your bitch mother on your own; she's too fucking strong. So you'll need help, and I'm offering."
Hakuryuu very pointedly keeps his eyes on the pages of his book. It's bad enough to have lost to his mother and have to continue living in her house. "You work for her," he responds flatly. He already knows how much he messed up; the last thing he needs is Judal's mocking reminder. He has half a mind to remove his static prosthetic and chuck it at Judal's head. It's not like it's good for much else.
"Yeah, yeah, not like I fucking want to! But she's got my magic limited with her own brand of blocking shit and I want out." He paces the room, and Hakuryuu hears the rattling clinks of Judal's jewelry as he gestures wildly. "I need someone else to help me out, and you hate her too."
Hakuryuu finally looks up from his book to pay closer attention, and Judal flashes him a grin that's too wide for comfort. The air crackles with power and the room seems too small to contain it.
"Besides. I always thought you had more potential than those Al Tharmen morons gave you credit for."
He gives Judal an appraising look. "Is that so?"
"Of course. Jeez, it's like you don't trust me!" And with that, the air in the room settles back to normal, and Judal flops backwards onto Hakuryuu's bed.
"I don't. Now, if you'd like me to seriously consider your offer, give me some time alone to think."
Judal sits back up and stretches. "Fine, fine, I'll leave you be. Even if I did just get here," he grumbles.
And just like that he's gone- disappeared back out the window and into the breeze, leaving only a sticky smear on the windowsill to remember him by.
It's weeks before Hakuryuu comes to a decision about Judal. Despite their many disagreements and Judal's capricious mood swings, Hakuryuu can't say no to the power he's offering. It's the most strategic next step if he wants to move forward from his failures and continue the fight against his mother.
Judal, however, is late to their meeting. With his earlier insistence, Hakuryuu had expected Judal to take this seriously. His lack of appearance is annoying, but unsurprising in the end. Still, the quiet portside cafe is a nice enough place that he's willing to wait for a little while.
After nearly half an hour, Hakuryuu gets up to leave. He doesn't have the time or patience to wait around for Judal all day, especially since now he'll need to rework his plans again.
"Hey! Where are you going?" Judal appears to fall out of the sky, but lands almost gracefully next to Hakuryuu.
"I was going home. You're late." Hakuryuu keeps walking and carefully avoids looking back. Judal, however, falls into step next to him.
"Eh, am I? Whatever, I'm here now. Let's get this started."
Hakuryuu sighs. "I'm considering changing my mind. I doubt your sincerity with how little respect you're-"
Judal cuts him off. "I do take it seriously! Calm down."
"I am calm. I just think that you're making it hard to trust you." Hakuryuu stops and turns to look at him. "You have to realize that I have doubts about working with you."
"Well obviously." Judal cocks his hip to one side, a hand resting on it. "You'd be stupid not to. But once you free me from Gyokuen's grip, I'll be free to do what so ever I please." Judal flashes him a dangerously sharp smile and extends his hand. "And since you're my friend and we both hate that bitch, I want to help you kill her. Sound fair and reasonable?"
Hakuryuu runs a frustrated hand through his hair. "And how exactly do I go about freeing you? You haven't really made that clear."
Judal fiddles with his necklace, snapping it on and off, and makes some weird humming noises. Then he throws out his arms and jingles his bracelets. "Can't say specifically, but you get it, right?"
Hakuryuu looks down at Judal's arms and then back up at him. "Judal, I have no idea what you were trying to do. Stop playing charades and just explain it to me."
Judal opens his mouth, looking irritated, but all that comes out is a muted squawk, like someone grabbed him by the throat and choked the words out of him. He makes a noise of frustration, pulling at his hair. "I can't say what I know, because I'm not supposed to know, or ask, or even think about getting free." He snaps his necklace on and off again and jingles his bracelets like some nervous ritual. "Get it?"
Hakuryuu stares at Judal, slowly piecing his gestures together. "I think so." He glances around the square, scanning for familiar faces. "We should go somewhere more private. I don't want anyone knowing that this is happening."
"The second you free me, the clock is gonna be on. I'm pretty damn powerful without their magical suppressors." But Judal follows him anyway, down winding side alleys and up stairs that lead to a secluded garden patio. Their secret place. Judal scoffs a little. "So sentimental."
Hakuryuu sits at the base of the ancient peach tree, now far too grown to bear fruit, and looks expectantly at Judal. Judal gives a full body shrug and follows to sit across from him, offering Hakuryuu his arms. Hakuryuu studies the bangles- all solid gold and each wide enough to slip over Judal's wrist without being unlatched.
"So why haven't you just taken them off yourself if that's what's keeping you bound?" he asks, eyeing them warily.
Apparently that's an indirect enough question to actually get a response. "So is it all of them? Or just one?"
Judal shrugs. "I honestly don't know. She always takes them all off if she really needs that much firepower."
"And why not trick some servant into removing them?"
"Well one, she only lets the priests serve me, and they all know better. And two," Judal gets the dangerous, devilish smile that always worries Hakuryuu, "it can only be opened by her blood. Unless the person taking them off has her blood, they won't come off."
"Will I be enough?" Hakuryuu regards them warily.
"We'll find out."
Hakuryuu hesitantly touches the gold, as though mere contact will burn. He knows it won't, objectively- he's brushed arms with Judal in passing, had contact outside of just talking. He knows he can touch his jewlery. That's how he knows that it's powerful. He'd never have suspected a thing. He takes a deep breath and slips the first one off Judal's left arm. Nothing happens, other than that the gold clatters down onto the overgrown flagstones. And so he keeps going, sliding each off until he removes the last on on Judal's left arm, and the smell of the sea knocks him on his face with a sound that makes him taste colors. The flash fades back as quickly as it came- a wave drawn back to sea by the ebb and flow of everything. Judal slips the last bracelet off his right arm with a laugh, and Hakuryuu half-sits back up.
It's still Judal there, the friend he's grown up with his entire life. They were children together, and he remembers teaching Judal to make flower crowns and climb trees. Yet it's also not Judal, it's some thing that has his face and his laugh and some cruel mockery of humanity pasted upon it like an ill-fitted suit, or, perhaps, a collar that it has now outgrown to the point of snapping. Judal catches his eye, and a smile all made of teeth fills his face. The pit of Hakuryuu's stomach drops.
"What the hell is that look for, huh? Impressed with how amazing I am now that I've been freed?" And with that the Judal-thing (no, this is Judal, definitely his Judal) flexes its arms as though he's some muscled hero instead of a scrawny man who has only just moved past boyhood. Hakuryuu feels a relieved, hysterical laugh bubble up. "Hey! Don't go laughing at me!" Judal hops up, leaning over Hakuryuu while suspended in the air.
"I just- I'm sorry. I-" Hakuryuu lets out a few more laughs and forces a smile onto his face. "You're still Judal."
"Of course I fucking am!" Judal looks affronted. "Who the hell else would I be?"
Hakuryuu doesn't mention the moment of primal terror when he tasted Judal's unleashed magic, doesn't say that he had a moment where he scarcely recognized Judal. "You're right. You're too obnoxious to be anyone else." That earns him a punch in the shoulder. "Ow! So now what?"
Judal shrugs. "We kill your fucking bitch mom?"
Hakuryuu feels a genuine little smirk tug at his mouth. "Yeah." He offers Judal his hand so he can pull him back up, and Judal's eyes light up. Judal grabs his hand, and then things happen very quickly.
First, his palm sears with a white-hot pain so sharp it feels cold. Then the smell of the sea fills his nostrils again, and Judal says something he can't make out as he grinds their palms together. The cold fire extends out from his palm, and Hakuryuu realizes that the magic is spidering out into black lines and designs he doesn't recognize. Judal makes good though, and pulls Hakuryuu back to his feet so that he stumbles a little, reeling as their hands part.
Hakuryuu stares at the dark lines crossing his wrist and the pitch black eye in the center of his palm. It stares unblinkingly back at him. "What's this, Judal?" He feels calm, because being afraid or angry won't do any damn good.
Judal sends him a grin, all teeth, and then throws an arm around his shoulders. "Mine now, see? Since we promised to work together and all."
There's a dragon curling through some of the swirling lines on his wrist, and Hakuryuu groans. Judal laughs in his ear before shoving one of his hands directly in Hakuryuu's face.
"We match though, so no harm, huh?" Hakuryuu grabs Judal's wrist, pulling it away so he can actually inspect the hand, and compares it with his own. It's a perfect mirror, and now that they're together he can see how they match up. The lines spiral out from where their palms touch. He traces a finger over the eye on Judal's palm and he can feel the magic resonate just under the skin.
"A warning would have been nice," he finally says and releases Judal's hand. Hakuryuu feels him shift, remove his arm from across Hakuryuu's shoulders, and chuckle as he skips ahead.
"Sure, I'll keep that in mind." Judal pauses to stretch and look back. "Come on, let's get moving. I want off this stupid land."
"I have to arrange some affairs first. We're not going anywhere yet; I hadn't expected you to want to get started so quickly. I still haven't found a place on a ship for us."
"What? No, no that's no good! You need your own, not 'some place' on some shit head's dinky garbage ship!"
Hakuryuu shrugs and starts walking, passing Judal as he does. He'll have to organize things more quickly now that Judal is free; his mother won't be pleased.
"We seem to be blacklisted from most ships," Hakuryuu snaps in frustration as he returns unsuccessfully from yet another chat with a captain. "I'm fairly sure my mother is trying to keep me from leaving."
Judal bounces on his heels. "So? I'm sure you'll figure it out."
"No, I'm not sure I can figure it out. This plan relies on us getting away from Al Tharman so we can work on magic without being under their watch." Hakuryuu stalks back up the pier, away from his failures. Judal hops along behind. "If I can't get us a ship, then I can't get us out of town. And if I can't get us out of town-"
"So find us a less reputable ship." Judal interrupts. "You keep trying to get in with their business partners and idiots they've paid off." He happily bites into a peach and nearly sprays Hakuryuu with it when he tries to talk around it. "You know. Get off the grid. Be free."
Hakuryuu doesn't even bother to question where the peach came from. Did he pay for it? With Judal, it's best not to ask. "What is that supposed to mean? We are trying to get free."
Judal just shrugs. His arms look bare without their usual assortment of bracelets and bangles, and Hakuryuu is still getting used to seeing the harsh black lines of the contract against Judal's pale skin. His own marks are strange too, if he's being completely honest, but it also isn't the first time his body has gotten surprising permanent changes. He runs a hand through his bangs and breathes in deeply. He'll have to figure this out; staying trapped in town near his mother is not an option.
Judal remains annoyingly unhelpful as their search continues. Hakuryuu nearly gives up hope when he finally has a breakthrough: a small merchant ship offers to take them on for a disgustingly expensive amount of money. At any other point, Hakuryuu would avoid the obvious rip off, but they've run out of other options.
Of course, since they're crammed into tiny quarters, Judal starts complaining almost immediately.
"Really, this is the best they've got? We should be pampered for how much this cost!" Judal snoops about the room from corner to corner to look for flaws.
Hakuryuu tries to tune out the incessant whining as he carefully puts away the few things he packed. Judal has a problem with everything, from the size of the space to the smell, all the way to how the wood of the ship has patterns that bother him. However, Hakuryuu catches the end of a sentence that snaps him to attention.
"-even for fuckin pirates you'd think they'd have something better than this for us."
"Pirates? Judal, this is a merchant ship," he corrects.
Judal laughs. "I'm sure that's what they told you. But you're smart enough to know better."
Hakuryuu meets his gaze and there's a teasing challenge in Judal's eyes. Pirates? Of course. Who else would defy Al Tharman and allow them onto a ship? He feels silly having missed it before.
"It doesn't matter. We don't have to stay with them." He's glad that ships travel slow enough to not make him feel stupid for unpacking.
"Don't want to be an outlaw?" Judal has finally stopped picking at everything in their space and stretches out on one of the hammocks.
"It's not productive. We're trying to avoid notice, and being on a ship full of criminals will just attract more attention." Hakuryuu pauses as a thought comes to him. "Though, if we could blend in, we'd be no more noticeable than anyone else."
Judal leans out of the hammock in such a way that it should deposit him on the floor; instead, he looks the picture of relaxation and grins widely. "Now you're talking! See, that sounds fun. But," Judal jabs his thumb at the wall, "I don't like this ship. So we gotta find a better one for you to be captain of."
"I am not going to be a pirate captain," he answers firmly. Judal's grin somehow widens before he rolls back into the hammock.
"Whatever you say, Hakuryuu."
The first port they reach isn't one from any map that Hakuryuu has seen. It's hidden from the ocean, concealed by a curved bay. But it's obviously known enough to be bustling.
Judal is hovering just above the ground as they walk the main street, and Hakuryuu eventually grabs his hand to pull him back down to Earth.
"You're going to cause a scene. Not everyone knows about magic." Hakuryuu glances around them, but no one seems to have noticed. Thank god.
Judal whines. "I know, but people do here. Can't you feel it?"
Hakuryuu stops to pay closer attention to the magic in the air, and he realizes that he can feel it. It thrums in his ears, and the eye on his palm seems to pulse.
"What did you do to me now?" he asks slowly. He's never felt magic like this before.
"Nothing new. I just made you more aware of it." Judal goes back to floating, eyeing up some of the vendors lining the street.
Hakuryuu follows him and watches him paw through some jewelry, but mostly he focuses on the magic he can now feel in the air. It makes him question what he else he can do now, and his gaze lingers on his useless prosthetic arm. Maybe if he can weave magic into it, and it can do something more than look nice.
Later that evening, crammed into the tiny back room of an inn, Hakuryuu experiments with his prosthetic. He wants another functioning arm, not a dead weight dressed in fancy silk gloves to hide the wooden joints. Wood is good though, as his own natural life magic works well with most things plant based. Perhaps with the boost of power from Judal, he could make it more than what it currently is...
Judal glances up from his small but slowly growing new collection of jewelry. "What are you up to?"
"I'm working on my prosthetic," he answers.
"Ah, so that's what you're using my magic for! Lemme see." He crawls off the bed to grab for Hakuryuu's prosthetic.
"Hands off, Judal. I'm busy." He swats at him and tries to get back to work. Judal whines pitifully and stares longingly at the arm. "I'm serious. It's holding me back, but I think I can turn it into something more functional."
"Fine! Don't include me! I'll just sit here and waste away from boredom."
Hakuryuu ignores Judal's dramatics and goes back to work. He's so carefully focused and wrapped up in it that hours go by without his notice, and it's long past sunset when he's finally finished. Judal summoned a small floating light at some point, and it's now drifting around Hakuryuu's bed.
However, he has success- magic flowing through his prosthetic arm, from his own remaining flesh in the upper arm and down into the hand. The fingers respond and move as smoothly as the ones on his right hand; it's finally useful again.
Judal fell asleep a few hours back, so Hakuryuu has no one to show for now. No matter, though. He's sure Judal will appreciate it in the morning.
"I like that one." Judal gestures widely at a ship in the port, and it's accompanied by the quiet jangling of a few bracelets. He's slowly acquiring a new collection of jewelry, this one free of curses. The ship he points to is, of course, one of the nicest in the bay.
"Yes, I'm sure you do. But it's not a responsible goal. I'm thinking we should aim for something smaller that's less likely to be noticed." Hakuryuu keeps walking without giving it a second look.
"You're so boring, Hakuryuu. Aim for excitement!"
"We're not supposed to aim for excitement. There is a plan, Judal, and I'd like to stick to it. And it involves staying under the radar for the time being." Hakuryuu scans for something smaller, perhaps without such gaudy flags….
Judal flops back to lounge in the air. "Whatever. I want that ship. I'm not staying in shitty cramped quarters again."
Hakuryuu avoids reminding him that ships generally involve small quarters, unless you're on a luxury passenger ship. When he begins making his rounds, however, he does inquire about spaces on the ship Judal likes best. It's smart to keep all options open and accounted for, even if they're not likely to be chosen.
After a day of searching, he has a decently thorough list of ships, their pros and cons listed neatly on a sheet of paper.
"I hate to admit that you might have good ideas sometimes," Hakuryuu says once they've returned to their lodgings for the night.
Judal sidles up next to him and looks at the list of ship options Hakuryuu found. "Are we going on the one I want?"
"Perhaps. It pays its crew well, better than any of the others I spoke to, and I happened to find a few members of the crew to discuss the size of the living arrangements. They are probably acceptable to your spoiled tastes."
Judal wraps an arm around Hakuryuu's waist to pull him close. There's a now familiar thrum of magic when their skin touches, and Hakuryuu doesn't bother to shove him off.
"So, yes, we will probably join the ship you liked." Judal laughs joyfully until Hakuryuu interrupts his celebration. "However, you're going to have to work. They're not keen on lazy passengers."
He makes a very displeased face. "I don't want to."
"Do you want to stay in this port town forever?" Hakuryuu doesn't bother masking his annoyance.
"I can't, I'm going to wither away on land." He falls dramatically backwards on the bed they're sitting on and drags Hakuryuu down with him. He ends up with his face pressed against Judal's neck, and he smells like sweets drenched in seawater.
"You're - you will not wither away," he chides, shifting to a more comfortable position. "You can learn to work."
Judal whines some more. "Fine, fine, I'll put up with it for you. But I want a reward." He drapes his arms around Hakuryuu.
"What kind of reward?"
Judal breathes wetly on his ear. "I dunno. Not sure yet."
Hakuryuu swats at him. "You're being gross."
"Nope!" He embraces Hakuryuu tighter. "I'm beautiful. And yours."
Hakuryuu sighs. "Yes, you are. And also gross. Now let me up, and I'll consider your reward."
Judal clambers up and offers Hakuryuu a hand, but Hakuryuu ignores it and pushes himself up from the bed on his own.
"I'm not stupid enough to fall for that twice."
Judal regards the tattoo on his hand and shrugs. "I was just being nice this time. Helpful. A model member of society, even."
"Of course you were." Hakuryuu jabs a finger at him, and gives him a teasing look. "Just try to be helpful on the ship, you shiftless layabout."
"Ow, ow, owwwww!" Judal whines as Hakuryuu digs the heel of his palm along his shoulder blade. "That hurts!"
"I'm just trying to ease out this knot, Judal," Hakuryuu snips as he works Judal's back over. "Just a few days of work and you're already complaining? I'd have thought you'd be tougher than that."
Judal turns his nose up as best he can while lying on his stomach with Hakuryuu sitting on his back. "I'm not meant for this sort of labor. I'm a delicate flower only meant for killing people or doing magic. Not this whole tarring lines, carrying things around, getting hot and sweaty day-in and day-out thing."
Hakuryuu sighs and rolls his eyes as he moves to massage the other side. "I told you you'd have to work for it, and you said you would."
"Yeah, yeah!" Judal squawks in pain as Hakuryuu attacks another knot in his shoulders. "I'm a wuss, I get it! Let's talk about something else, huh?"
"All right…" Hakuryuu thinks for a minute as he shifts his hands to work Judal over with slightly more delicacy. "What do you know about my mother's plans?"
Judal whines loudly, throwing his chin down on pillow. "Wow, way to give me a hard subject to talk about! I thought we could talk about something light, like how the walls here aren't full of splinters, or how good your ass looks in those breeches?"
Hakuryuu's cheeks flush, and he's glad that Judal has petulantly buried his head in the pillow. "Because those aren't very useful things to talk about. And stop flattering me."
"Mean every word of it," Judal insists. "Your ass is-"
"My mother's plan's, Judal."
Judal huffs again. "Fiiiine! If you insist so much." He goes quiet, and for a moment Hakuryuu's afraid he won't answer. But then he speaks again. "She uses a lot of proxies. It's hard to tell sometimes what are her actual plans are, and what's just a smokescreen."
"Hence why I'm asking you." None of this is new information. "What sort of-"
"I'm getting there!" Judal insists. "Sheesh, give me a minute. So like I was saying, she uses all these proxies to keep tabs on her various shit around the globe. But her favorite, like absolute favorite thing she's working on right now is definitely the stuff she's doing with…."
Hakuryuu waits for Judal to continue from his dramatic pause. But the continuation never comes. He leans over him, trying to look at his face. "Well? What is her main focus?"
Judal blinks stupidly at him and puts a hand to his head. "Whose main focus?"
"I- My mother's!" Hakuryuu snaps.
"Why the hell would we be talking about that crusty old bitch?" Judal asks, looking genuinely confused. His pupils are dilated, and he can't seem to focus his eyes.
"Because…" Hakuryuu says slowly. "Because I wanted to know what she's planning."
"Fuck if I know, Hakuryuu!" Judal laughs. "Come snuggle with me!"
Hakuryuu has a million bitter questions, a million demands about why Judal isn't answering him, about what happened, but something in Judal's unfocused haze doesn't settle right. "Sure, Judal, let me just finish working your shoulder over. I don't want you to make it worse."
Judal practically purrs. "You're too good to me."
Hakuryuu should have expected the mutiny.
Wind threatens to tear the ship to pieces and rain pelts against the deck, and he can hear Judal's cackling laughter all around him. The rest of the crew is running around, attempting to survive the storm.
"That's enough, Judal."
Judal materializes out of the rain, looking pleased with himself. He's utterly beautiful in the most terrifying way, his hair whipping about in the wind and his eyes gleaming with zealous fervor. "Impressive, right?"
"I thought you were going to stop surprising me." The storm calms with Judal at his side, and Hakuryuu belatedly realizes that it must be because he's the eye of the storm. Of course.
"No, I promised to warn you about any more magical contracts with kick ass tattoos. This," and he gestures at the storm raging around them, "is just an extension of that. I'm helping you out here."
Hakuryuu stares at him incredulously. "With what? You're putting my life at risk with this, and-"
"Nope! I'm putting you in charge." Judal catches sight of the captain and waves at him before bounding over. Hakuryuu follows with every intention of complaining and stopping him, but Judal is already making demands. "I like your ship. But you're a boring loser, and Hakuryuu here is my favorite." Judal jerks his thumb at Hakuryuu to illustrate his point. "So hand it over, or I'll have the storm tear you and it to pieces."
In spite of his crude speech, Judal looks decidedly less human and more like the mad, magical being that he truly is. The captain looks between the two of them before reaching for his sword. Before Judal notices, Hakuryuu has tight vines wrapped around the captain's arm, pinning it against his side. They both see the shift in the man's gaze when he realizes he's outmatched, though, his posture all resigned defeat. It's a look Hakuryuu knows well, and it's a look he never wants to see on himself again.
Judal crows gleefully when he realizes this means they've won, and he vanishes into the rain once more. The wind dies down, the waves stop crashing against the sides, and the rain slows to a light drizzle. Through the slow-forming gaps in the clouds, the moon bathes them in light.
Hakuryuu is moving the last of their possessions into the captain's quarters when Judal finally reappears from mist and breeze behind him. "Here I thought you didn't want to be captain, but you helped me anyway." He drifts in front of Hakuryuu.
Hakuryuu shrugs as he sets down the last trunk of their things behind the captain's desk. "I didn't want it, but I wasn't going to argue with you in front of a common enemy."
Judal gives him a bright, honest smile. "So we really are a team now."
Hakuryuu sits in the desk's soft, padded chair and relaxes into the cushions. If nothing else, the comfortable living space is nice. "Of course. We're working together and we're friends, aren't we?"
"Mmm. Friends again, are we?" Judal lands on the desk and sits facing Hakuryuu, eyes gleaming with excitement. "I like it. You going to reward me for all my hard work?"
"I said I'd consider it, but you never told me what you wanted." There's something else in Judal's stare, a challenge in his bright eyes, and Hakuryuu is beginning to get what it is. Judal leans in slightly, enough to brace his arms on Hakuryuu's shoulders, and his smile is now more of a predatory grin.
"I think it's a bit of a reward for you too, at this point," Judal says, and Hakuryuu closes the distance between them for a kiss.
Being a pirate captain is both easier and more challenging than Hakuryuu expected. For the most part, the crew reports to the Quartermaster, and she's beloved enough that Hakuryuu doesn't need to interfere. He's also sure she could snap him in half, and he has every intention of staying on her good side. He mostly has to decide on their destinations and lead any fights that they have.
Somehow, though, he has to take a stand against Gyokuen again, and he's hoping he'll be able to use the crew for that. He'll just have to convert them to his side in time.
Judal, however, has been incredibly unhelpful throughout the whole process. He hovers around obnoxiously when Hakuryuu is busy, and yet vanishes into the breeze when Hakuryuu actually needs him.
Today, Judal is trying to drag him away from paperwork. "Come on, I want to work on magic with you," he whines.
Hakuryuu sighs and keeps shifting through his papers. "I'll have you know that I'm very busy. You insisted on starting a mutiny to put me in charge, and so this is what happens."
"It can't be that hard!" Judal shifts to lean over one shoulder and look at the stack of papers, but settles on nipping at Hakuryuu's ear instead. Hakuryuu sucks in his breath and attempts to ignore Judal's soft breath on his earlobe and the gentle tug from his teeth; this is his other distraction.
Hakuryuu swats at Judal. "It is. Please don't distract me."
Surprisingly, Judal backs off. "Fine, but only because I have something else I want to do."
"Oh?" Hakuryuu goes back to organizing and internally curses the last captain. He had a very inefficient system for tracking goods and supplies.
"Yes!" Judal sounds far too excited for Hakuryuu to feel comfortable. "Like I just said, we're going to work on magic!"
"What do we need to work on? You're already talented and well practiced-"
"Not me. You! I gave you the power to use me and you've done one thing." Judal pouts and looks put out. "I like your arm, but you can do so much more."
Hakuryuu looks at the mess in front of him and then at Judal, hovering above the desk and fiddling with some of his jewelry. "I have a responsibility to-"
Judal cuts him off again. "To me and our plans. You're mine, Hakuryuu, and I don't want to see you waste away behind this desk."
"You wanted this." Hakuryuu tries to point out, but Judal cuts him off yet again.
"Nah, not this bull shit. It's magic time! Fuck your papers."
Hakuryuu spies the destructive gleam in Judal's eyes and puts his hands up. "Alright, we can work on magic some today. Don't take your anger out on my papers."
Judal grins, all frustration gone with Hakuryuu's agreement. "Come on then. To the deck!"
Sometimes, Hakuryuu forgets how powerful Judal is. Now, it's painfully clear how outmatched he is. Judal counters everything Hakuryuu throws at him, flies out of reach of his plants and turns to mist when captured by vines.
He's perched on the crow's nest now, cackling down at Hakuryuu.
"Alright, Judal, you've proven your point," Hakuryuu concedes. He's exhausted from chasing Judal all over the deck in an attempt to fight him, and he wants to quit before he embarrasses himself in front of the crew.
"Already? See! This is why you have to learn how to wreck more havoc." Judal leaps down to land in front of Hakuryuu.
"You know, there's something to be said for careful planning, instead of pure, senseless destruction."
Judal waves a hand before grabbing Hakuryuu's own. He taps on the dark eye in the middle of Hakuryuu's palm, and Hakuryuu feels the magic resonate deep within him. "It's in there, somewhere, you just gotta figure out how to get to it."
Hakuryuu stares deep into the eye, considering Judal's words. When he looks up, Judal has vanished above again, hovering on the rigging. Magic within him, huh? Hakuryuu clenches his fist tightly and pulls to feel that deep, resonant magic again. He'll have to think on it some more, but perhaps he can come up with something that Judal will find satisfactory with a little more thought.
Being tied to a chair does nothing to stop Kouen's damnable glowering. Hakuryuu eyes him across his desk, and Kouen meets his gaze with confidence. "Well? Explain."
"Hakuyuu and Hakuren did not die in the fire." Kouen looks out the porthole. "They survived. Barely. They swam out to sea, but Gyokuen caught them. Rather than kill them she imprisoned them in a watery tomb and cursed them to never walk on land again." Hakuryuu stands from his desk and walks past Kouen. "I have spent the last- What are you doing?"
"I didn't spare you so you could tell me fairy tales," Hakuryuu spits. "If all you have to say is foolish nonsense, then I have nothing to say to you."
"It's true!" Kouen barks back, trying to rise from the chair he's tied too and instead just making it slam loudly against the ground. "She imprisoned them with magic, with that- Judal! The man you took with you when you left! He's the key to setting them free!"
Hakuryuu freezes, looking back at Kouen. Kouen is twisted to look at Hakuryuu, too. There's a look in his eye that says he knows even more than he's said so far. "How did you know Judal was here?"
"All of Al Tharman is in a secret tizzy trying to find where he ended up." Kouen smirks. "But no one ever thinks to do the simple thing of looking into his friends. I knew if I found you, I would find him."
Hakuryuu hates every word that drops out of Kouen's mouth. He hates hearing Judal's name. He hates hearing Kouen call them friends. He hates how right that damn bastard is. Hakuryuu clenches his fists. "Fine." He points at Kouen with his left hand, and relishes the look on Kouen's face when he finally realizes the wood moves. "Why should I believe your story about my brothers?"
"Because I mourned them too." Kouen's voice is tight, and Hakuryuu's not really sure what to make of that. "Your mother kept them alive and in pain. But we can free them. Together."
"Then why didn't you ever do anything?!" Hakuryuu finally feels his temper snap. "Why did you stand by? Why did you follow along with her every word like a loyal dog?" Hakuryuu storms closer, but Kouen doesn't flinch. No, there's a different look in his eyes. "Admit it. You profited from what she did to my brothers, so you stood and watched it happen!"
"That rage doesn't suit you." Kouen's voice quavers the tiniest fraction. "But without it, you look so much like Hakuyuu."
The two men stare at each other, boiling rage and quavering remembrance. There is silence, and tension, and power, and no one wants to make the first move. And so, it is made for them by the breeze.
Judal materializes behind Kouen, floating and only half-substantial, and plays with his hair. "I seem to recall Gyokuen maybe having me do something like that, now that you mention it." Kouen jumps and tries in vain to twist to see him. Judal stays comfortably out of his view.
"Judal..." Hakuryuu says in a warning tone. "If you knew something like that why didn't you tell me?"
Judal contorts in the air, reclining as though he's on some lounging chair. "Didn't remember. You know how my memory is." He grins at Hakuryuu. "And I don't know anything about reversing it. Or where they are. But I'm pretty sure I did that."
Kouen locks eyes with Hakuryuu again. "I know where they are. I can figure out how to get them loose, too. You just have to trust me."
Hakuryuu grits his teeth. Everything is quiet again, save for the creak of the wood as waves paw at the ship. Judal meets Hakuryuu's eyes with raised eyebrows, waiting for his order. His hands are poised to steal the very breath from Kouen's throat, or perhaps to skewer him through like a roasted piece of meat. Hakuryuu swallows. "Fine. But you follow my orders."
Kouen nods and looks more relieved than Hakuryuu has ever seen. "Of course."
"If we set our course west, we should be there within the fortnight," Kouen explains as he pores over maps with Hakuryuu the following day. "We'll have to sail through this passage here, which may be a bit narrow-"
Hakuryuu waves a hand. "It might be a problem for Imperial naval vessels or merchant ships, but a pirate schooner like this can easily slip through there."
Kouen's brow sours. "I see." He points at the next part of the map. "From there we'll need to head in a more south-westernly direction for a few days… Once we arrive, Judal will reverse the spell. I will make sure everything is in place, and then your brothers will be freed."
"That's all fine and dandy," Judal interrupts, "but just how am I reversing this spell, bucko?"
Kouen glowers at the interruption. "You just do it."
"Look, man, I barely remember even casting the damn thing. Do you know how hard spells are to reverse? Especially old-ass shit like this." Judal meets Kouen's glower with a dangerous look of his own. "I can't just wave a magic wand and says abra-ka-fucking-dabra and expect everything to be peaches and cream."
Kouen grits his teeth. "Well, if it doesn't come back to you once we have arrived, then I will direct y-"
"What the hell do you know about magic?" Judal crosses his arms to defend against Kouen's endless wave of bullshit. "How are you gonna explain a spell to me if I can't figure it out?"
"I just will!" Kouen bellows back. One hand grips his sword, but a thin vine wraps around both before he can draw it to make his threat anymore real. Hakuryuu glares at him like he's an insect.
"You keep your filthy sword in its scabbard." He jabs the spot on the map Kouen swears his brothers will be found. "And explain to Judal what he's doing."
Kouen releases the hilt of his sword slowly. "As I said before, she has the two of them imprisoned underwater, in some sort of magical loop. We'll need to get in, and then remove them from whatever loop she has them imprisoned in." He gestures broadly. "I've already puzzled out most of that. I just need Judal to get us in."
Judal and Hakuryuu exchange a look. "Sounds fair enough."
Hakuryuu catches Kouen staring into his notebook with a dark look, and he glances sidelong at Judal. Judal glances back, eyebrows raised. It's becoming a familiar exchange for the two of them.
"He never lets me look at those notes," Hakuryuu says, subtly pointing to the notebook.
"Maybe it's full of his dirty fantasies, and that's his boner face," Judal jokes back. Hakuryuu shoots him a look. "Mmm. Or you think he's hiding something?"
It's everything Hakuryuu can do to not roll his eyes. "Of course he's hiding something. People always are. Especially people like him."
Judal shrugs and nods with a noise that indicates he has no strong feelings on Hakuryuu's judgement of character. "Shall I liberate those secrets then?" He grins. "After all, what good's a secret if you never share?"
"Be subtle about it is all I ask." Hakuryuu turns his back and waves a hand. "I'll leave you to that." Judal, however, has already vanished into mist and breeze, and doesn't respond.
He returns to Hakuryuu's side that night, after everyone but the graveyard crew have gone to bed. He drops the notebook onto Hakuryuu's bed like a pet cat presenting a dead canary. "As requested."
Hakuryuu grins and gestures for Judal to lean in so he can give him a light kiss on the lips. "Good boy."
Judal is all teeth at the compliment, and nestles himself in Hakuryuu's lap for their snooping. The notebook, it appears, is at least a good seventy percent diary, but the final entries, full of notes handwritten on other papers and pinned into the book, are all about Hakuyuu, Hakuren, and Gyokuen's curse. Judal's eyes darken as he runs over copied incantations.
"This is some heavy shit." He traces a sigil, and it glimmers under his touch with a sickly light that makes Judal recoil. "Fucking blood-magic sacrifice heavy shit."
"He's going to take their place," Hakuryuu murmurs. He's not quite sure what he's feeling as he stares at Kouen's detailed notes. None can leave unless a vessel bearing the blood of Ren takes the its place. It turns his stomach in a way he wouldn't have expected, as though he's reading a suicide note for a death that hasn't happened yet but is already set in stone.
"Humans," Judal spits, obviously just as horrified. It's a thing Hakuryuu's noticed lately: Judal pretending to be more inhuman as a way of divorcing from his emotions and fears. "He's a damn idiot. No wonder he wouldn't tell us what freeing your brothers entailed."
Hakuryuu shuts the book with shaky hands. "Put… put this back where you found it." He drapes an arm over his eyes. "I… I need to think."
Judal nods, rising off Hakuryuu and taking the book with him. Just as he's almost to the door, he pauses and glances back. "Hey, Hakuryuu?"
Hakuryuu lifts his arm to gaze at Judal in reply.
"Don't think for a second about taking their place down there either. You're easily worth twice Kouen, and dying for others is stupid anyway. So just don't go getting all fake heroic." Judal clenches his fist and Hakuryuu's own mark twitches. "You've still got a deal with me."
"Of course." Hakuryuu lets his arm fall back over his eyes as he reevaluates his entire plan of action.
Hakuryuu stares down into the abyss of the sea, and it seems to almost stare back with its eerie mirror of reality. Below he sees a sky made of infinite ocean, where schools of fish replace soaring birds, and clouds are simply a vision on loan. The fortnight seemed to have flown by, and Hakuryuu had found Kouen to be an unfortunately helpful and pleasant presence on his ship. Kouen knows ships, and he knows what a crew needs to work well.
"I hadn't expected it to look so… enchanting." Hakuryuu says slowly. Kouen glances sidelong at him, then follows his gaze downward. The water looks glimmering and warm. "And this is the place?"
Kouen nods, gripping his rolled maps a little tighter. "Yes."
Judal leans between the two of them. "I dunno about it being The Place, but I've definitely been here before!" He laughs and looks between the two. "Shall we go for a dip?"
"We don't have time for that," Kouen and Hakuryuu reply in unison.
Hakuryuu glares at Kouen for daring to have the same thought. The trip is mending their bridges, but they're far from perfect. "We can enjoy ourselves once my brothers are free."
Judal rolls his eyes and melts against the railing. "Fiiiiiiine." He slithers forward over the rail, legs flailing a little, and drops into the water. Hakuryuu would chastise him, but with the way he stays below the water for so long, possibly even as part of the ocean itself, suggests that Judal is up to something. Kouen and Hakuryuu wait, patiently, until Judal resurfaces. His hair is slicked to his head, and he pushes back his bangs to see them more clearly. "Definitely the place. The water here is stupid with magic."
Kouen smirks. "I knew my charts were right."
Hakuryuu grumbles and rolls his eyes. "Well, Judal, are you going to get us in?"
"Well, I can't take you underwater if you're just gonna stand there on the deck!" Judal feigns frustration at Hakuryuu's grumbling. "Ready to take a swim now?"
Hakuryuu and Kouen look at each other again. It makes sense. Kouen strips off his outer coats and any sensitive items- maps, blunderbuss, etc- but he keeps his sword. Hakuryuu does much the same, but quicker, and he leaps overboard to join Judal in what he hopes is a graceful manner. Kouen falls into the water like a carver's knife- heavy and precise. Judal cackles at how ridiculous they both look while soaked.
"Well?" Hakuryuu looks at Judal expectantly.
Judal grins and takes their hands. The sun is harsh in their ears as the world inverts and their lungs start to burn. Hakuryuu feels his hair floating loose around him, and when he peeks his eyes open he finds himself standing on the underside of the waves. Judal grins next to him, seemingly just as home here as he is anywhere else they go. Kouen looks decidedly less comfortable, but his face is the same mask of pissy determination he seems to always wear. Hakuryuu's starting to wonder if he has any other expressions in his repertoire.
The ringing of the sun abates and leaves them all wrapped in the numbing shhhhh of the ocean that forces them to hear their own heartbeats echo. The burning doesn't stop in Hakuryuu's lungs. It feels like fire, the fire that nearly killed him, hot and heavy and filling his lungs with smoke. Except it isn't smoke now: it's water, impossibly dense and strangely hot. The underwater paradise they had seen from above is no more, and instead a strange and twisted landscape with no relation to reality greets them. Currents form labyrinths that spiral outward from where they stand, innumerable possible paths to take.
"This way-" Kouen gestures behind them, under the ship whose keel is now a mountain that reaches far higher (deeper?) than the real thing's would. Even though his words are mumbled by the water, everyone can still basically hear.
Judal shakes his head and points instead outwards, into the ocean's desolate vastness. "It's coming back to me now." Kouen turns to follow his hand, but Hakuryuu watches Judal instead. His eyes are half-lidded, but his pupils are blown and trembling. Hakuryuu reaches over and squeezes Judal's arm for support, and that prompts Judal to go on. "She… she had me do something here. Change the ocean for her." He breathes deeply and says- something. It sounds like a wave crashing in a storm, and vastness before them cracks open like a matryoshka doll. Enchantments within enchantments. "She flipped the world and buried them down here so they could drown every day until the end of time and beyond, hidden so that even the hounds of doomsday couldn't drag their sorry corpses off to die for real." Hakuryuu winces at the thought, at the words, at Judal's flippancy. He knows the tone is a way for Judal to get over his own horror, however, so he doesn't chastise him.
The crack in the world is a dark grotto. Kouen strides along the underside of the ocean's crest with the surefootedness of a true sea captain. "Well then in that case, let's go." Judal shrugs and breezes free of Hakuryuu's grip to follow Kouen.
Hakuryuu grips his pocket to make sure his backup plan is still in place and then nods, bringing up the rear this time. "Let's."
The walls leer over the three like watchful guards, and the air is even hotter in their lungs. Luminescent shells dot the path, and Judal flits ahead of Kouen so he can pick a path around them. When the way parts, Judal pauses briefly, wracking his brain for the right way to go.
"We don't have all day," Kouen snips.
"Quite the contrary," Judal drawls. "We've got all the time in the world! I won't let you two numbskulls drown, and it's not like Hakuren and Hakuyuu are going anywhere." He considers the paths again, and goes against the shells' direction.
Hakuryuu swears he can hear something great and massive breathing down the other path. Kouen keeps any further comments to himself until they reach the dead end where the path opens into an unpleasantly plain cavern.
There is no further magic that they can see, no dark tricks to ensnare anyone who comes this far. No, it's painfully clear that this room is meant only for suffering and perhaps for Gyokuen to come and taunt her sons. Hakuyuu sits on the far right of the room, staring at the wall with blank eyes. Hakuryuu's not sure he's even breathing. On the other side, Hakuren lays on his back, staring up with the look of a man who has lost everything. Neither says a word when they enter.
Hakuryuu's throat feels tight, but this time it has nothing to do with the burning pressure of the water in his lungs. It's just as Kouen said: his brothers are alive.
Kouen murmurs Hakuyuu's name in the most choked manner Hakuryuu could imagine. He turns to look at Kouen, but if he's crying, Hakuryuu can't tell through the water. "Judal," Kouen orders. "Lift the barrier holding them in place and-"
"'Scuse you, but Hakuryuu's the captain," Judal interrupts. "She doesn't have any barrier holding them anyway. It's brain shit." He grins widely. "And beyond that, we know about your little secret martyr act."
Kouen freezes, looking utterly confused for a moment before he glares daggers at Judal. "You snake. I knew I couldn't trust you around my things!" He reaches for his sword. "You went through my journal, didn't you? You-"
He's still talking as Hakuryuu walks away from the two of them to stare down at his brother. Hakuyuu is younger than he remembers, as though this hidden space were frozen in time. It may very well be. Either way, Hakuyuu no longer looks like the grown-up Hakuryuu never thought he could be- he just looks like a person. The empty look in his eyes makes Hakuryuu's heart hurt. He pulls a small stoppered vial from his pocket and puts it next to Hakuyuu.
"I release you," Hakuryuu whispers to his brother, then turns to walk across the room.
"-Ought to kill you where you stand-"
"I'd loooove to see you try, you suicidal maniac!" Judal thumbs his nose at Kouen and sticks out his tongue. "There's one thing I can't stand and it's self-righteous-"
"-cut you in half and hoist you up by-"
Hakuryuu crouches next to Hakuren and places his other stoppered bottle down. Hakuren is less eerie to stare at in some ways; he was idealized, but he was always the more approachable one. It was Hakuren who got broken arms catching Hakuryuu when he fell from trees, Hakuren who sang silly songs to lull him to sleep at night. It's not the idea that Hakuren that is like him that feels wrong when he stares at the near lifeless figure gasping for breath, it's that all the vibrance that made him Hakuren is gone from his eyes.
"I release you," Hakuryuu whispers to Hakuren as well before turning around. "It's done, Judal," he announces, grim and final.
"Eh, really?" Judal completely disengages from the enraged Kouen. "That was quick!"
"I see little need for ceremony when we all know what has to be done." Hakuryuu sounds final and brutal.
Panic filters into Kouen's eyes. "No." In an instant, Kouen's sword is running Judal through. "No, dammit, I thought you were fond of him, you monster! You can't trade Hakuryuu for them! Take-"
Judal's laughter drowns Kouen out- He is the oxygen in the water they breathe, the very water around the, the sword passes harmlessly through Judal as it would anything else. He rematerializes by Hakuryuu's side so that he can play with his hair.
"I left a vessel of the Ren blood," Hakuryuu says with a little smirk, "but I'm not staying down here. And neither are you."
Judal takes Hakuryuu's good arm and kisses a tiny slash on his wrist. "Two vessels, filled with Ren blood. That's all I need." Hakuryuu grins as well, curling his fingers against Judal's face. "Why ever would I trade Hakuryuu for something so petty? Now, if you don't mind, watch how a real mage makes magic."
Consciousness swims slowly around for Hakuyuu, dipping in and out. He's been drowning for so long that air feels coarse against his lungs. Does he deserve to be saved? Ren is gone, lost because of his own folly, and-
Kouen's scowl is a terrifying thing to awaken to.
Hakuyuu starts and launches a coughing fit in which he finds himself removing a good gallon of seawater from his lungs. He blinks, slow and stupid, as he realizes a voice he knows is laughing.
"Yuu! You're finally up!"
Hakuyuu turns to see Hakuren in the hammock next to him, propped up as best they can manage. In between the two of them sits Hakuryuu, years and years older than Hakuyuu remembers him. Hakuryuu leans in, worried, and takes Hakuyuu's hand.
Hakuyuu coughs. "How?" He remembers a seemingly endless eternity of darkness and cold, of his lungs liquefying into jelly, and still he wouldn't die.
"Gyokuen had imprisoned the two of you under the sea. But Hakuryuu puzzled out how to free you two without anyone having to die," Kouen announces. "Though it isn't a perfect fix."
Judal yawns and stretches, drawing the attention of the room to where he has sprawled himself like a cat. "Yeah, those vessels will probably only tide the curse for so long. And if you go on land, you're gonna break it. The magic'll eat up that blood we left behind and then it'll go searching for errant Rens to gobble up too!" He grins. "But as long as you're at sea, I should be able to provide enough of a smokescreen to keep you safe and keep our little get out of the brig trick functional."
"Gyokuen-" Hakuyuu starts.
Hakuryuu waves a hand. "I know. We all know." He looks bitter and pained. "Our mother is… she's still out there. Preying on this world, and all the innocent things in it. We've all…" He looks at everyone assembled- his long lost brothers, his stupid cousin, Judal, in all his wild glory. "We've all been trampled by her. But no more. We'll stop her. Together. Even if it costs us our-"
"Boooring!" Judal interrupts. "I hate bullshit heroic speeches that end on a downer, Hakuryuu. You should know that!" He waves a hand and gives Hakuryuu a gently teasing smile. "Do something less predictable. After all, didn't we just go through all that hell just so no one had to die? Pick a better ending for your stupid speech."
Hakuryuu rolls his eyes and sighs. "Fine." He gives everyone his strongest face. "We've all been hurt by her, but no more. We're going to stop her, and we're going to do it together." The look of courage he fakes is slowly growing more real, with a smile that isn't a pure smile of his youth, but feels a lot more whole than the ones he's had in the past. "We sail. And we will kill Gyokuen." He holds out his hand. "Because it's a family matter, and it matters that she dies by our hand."
Hakuyuu looks at Hakuren, and Kouen looks to Hakuyuu, and of all them, it's Judal who wraps a hand around Hakuryuu's. "That's much better." He grins wildly. "To death and family! A pirate's life for me!"