synopsis; what is a soul? or – part two of the odyssey, a pirate!jjk cinematic universe
pairing; mahito x reader, pirate!sukuna x reader
contains; lots of violence, attempted murder and frequent mentions of death, foul language, blood (coughed up by reader)
word count; 7.4k
it begins, as all things do, with a dream.
loneliness, in an endlesss landscape of white. snow, you think, or perhaps mountains of dust. it settles on your shoes, listens quietly with the wisdom of one who never stops seeing. a soft wind whispers through you, tells secrets to the pines ominously towering above you. you know you are entirely alone, but you cannot shake the feeling that something is watching you.
you’ve never been in a place like this. this is not snow: it is ashes.
the revelation does not startle you as it should; instead, you find yourself in a state of peace, the kind of stillness that follows natural disasters and grief. you wonder if you had cried already and simply do not remember. this place has meaning to you, but you do not know what it is. it must have been familiar, once, before it became these woods, this ash, this long-forgotten memory.
home, the wind whispers, but you do not know what that word is.
you take a step forward. the ground is soft beneath you. you’re supposed to be going somewhere, to meet someone, but it’s hard to recall what. it’s dark, too; and while there’s nothing in the sky, the ground emanates a dim silver glow and lights your way.
hell, the wind whispers again, or was it home?
you are terrified. this feeling washes over you in a cold wave, seeps into your bones like a fast-acting poison. there is something watching you; you know this now, it is a fact. but the problem is that you do not know which direction to run. there is something behind you, in front of you, absorbing your scent and waiting for your weaknesses.
behind a tree there is a pair of eyes. one blue, one grey, they study your movements with knifelike precision. they are familiar to you, as if you have encountered them in a dream before. it’s a person, you realize intuitively, a thing – and you know if it touches you with its spider-like hands, you will die.
what is a soul? they are asking you.
you turn to run, but everything is molasses. your limbs defy you, there’s water in your mouth. just as the something approaches you, the smell of sulphur invades your senses. the ashes turn to water. you drown.
lunchtime, midday. it’s a clear, cloudless day. you throw up over the side of the ship. the water churns beneath you – grey and blue and omnipresent, it reminds you of your reoccurring nightmare. at first, the dream had only plagued you once a week, but now you witness the ashes in the woods and the all-seeing eyes almost every time you rest.
perhaps you are getting closer to something, the clairvoyant prostitute would have told you had you still been at home in your little port with the one-eyed pirate and his friends.
closer to what? you ask her memory. but you know she would never reveal the future to you.
“if you’re not going to keep it down, i don’t see why i should bother feeding you.” sukuna’s baritone reaches your ears as you wipe your mouth and shudder at the aftertaste. “it’s been long enough. you really are just weak, huh?”
perhaps he is merely playing with you, but you have no defenses. the sea does not agree with you, or the atmosphere, or something. you often cannot keep down what you swallow; you cannot do the ship’s necessary heavy labor without feeling your bones collapse; you cannot sleep because there is no silence. you are useless here. you are doing nothing but wasting resources and waiting for ryomen sukuna to kill you like the rest.
which he hasn’t, and that fascinates you. you have done nothing but get yourself into trouble like a child with fire, and sukuna has not once punished you in retribution. your ignorance once led you into the arms of a powerful siren, and sukuna only swept you away, soundlessly, and never mentioned the incident again. each time you fuck up, he saves you, allows you a second chance: every single time, as if there is something innately precious about your being.
(you suspect he is waiting to learn something essential about you in the way that you are waiting to learn something essential about him.)
who is ryomen sukuna? it is a question that begs an answer.
you have certainly tried to answer it, yes: you have tried to answer that question from the moment he extended his hands, from the moment you boarded captain sukuna’s malevolent shrine. and for all your time on deck, you have nothing to show for it. sukuna barely speaks to you outside of his mundane commands. he has not once expected you to fight or to participate in a raid. sometimes, he forgets your presence for days on end, only to command that you follow him for hours, silent, like a lovesick puppy.
and yet you feel his eyes are always watching.
“where are we going?” you ask him like a proper printer’s apprentice. he never tells you, but you enjoy the routine of asking it anyway. sometimes sukuna has destinations; you have been to strange islands, burned strange cities, encountered strange beings. sometimes it is just his pleasure that guides the way.
“wherever i decide,” he tells you. this is the response when he does not want you to know.
you are silent, then. you observe him – massive build, shirtless as always, decorated in his strange tattoos that you know better than to ask about. his four arms stretch towards the sun; he expands, taking up the whole of your universe. he is what the stories say, and so much more. so, so much more.
“an island?” you try. “a port?” you have not met true land as of late; perhaps it is time to refuel. sukuna’s crew is hungry, you know, and tired of eating dried meat and of having only their fists for company.
but sukuna only raises an eyebrow in your general direction and continues to stretch, closing his eyes to savor the sensation. you swear he is flexing his muscles on purpose, to show off – but with him, it is hard to tell. you are always on your toes.
from this very spot you have watched him sink ships, take treasure, throw maidens into the sea. but you have also seen him spare sailors, only to change his mind and maroon them later with one gun and a pineapple. there is no pattern to ryomen sukuna’s whims, and you are suspect that on some level you are just another one of his spur-of-the-moment decisions. the world is his shrine, and you are nothing but his personal experiment.
but outside of this, of these suspicions, of these visions, you know nothing more of what he is. of where he comes from. of what he wants from life. of what he wants with you.
you look out towards the horizon. there’s nothing in sight but the rolling waves and a clear blue sky on a warm summer day. at first, the view had nauseated you, launching you into a thousand and one existential crises that could only be solved by tiring yourself out. now, while the view does not comfort you, it grounds you. it reminds you that every second you spend here is precious, that you no longer live by your whims or the printing master’s but by someone else’s entirely.
someone yells, asks for whiskey; it’s time to change shifts. you think you’re due to the galley, but you never remember, always waiting until someone tells you where to go.
“i had a dream,” you admit suddenly, turning to warn him, but he is gone.
for all those clear blue skies, it storms that night. the malevolent shrine rocks her cargo like a mother aggressively rocking a baby to sleep. back and forth, you grip your hammock with an iron first to keep from rolling out and onto the floor. your dinner curdles in your stomach, and you whisper an apology in advance to the pirates sleeping soundly nearby.
you decide to close your eyes, to feign rest before your next shift begins: but you feel it.
what is a soul?
you freeze; you blink. and the cold sweat breaks out on your skin, your brain begins to panic. you must be asleep, you must be, because to be awake at this moment would mean that there is no escape from it. you can feel the something in the air, and you know without having to move your head that if you scanned the room you would see grey and blue eyes staring deep into the depths of your being. you know that something is on this ship, in this room, just as well as you know your own name.
you’re frozen in your hammock – to move? to act ignorant? but you hear the sound of a sailor being murdered and you realize there is no good answer to your dilemma.
“pity,” a voice floats through the room. it’s strange, playful, childlike. it falls like mist, like wind, on your ears. “they didn’t even have a soul.”
you know this voice, but you have never heard it out loud before. stay clear of the hands. you realize too late that you are already sitting up, slowly, wearily, looking for the culprit while your nightmarish terror sluggishly catches up with you. the oil lamps sway with the rocking of the boat; disoriented, you feel for substance, you look for something that will ground you, tell you where and how you are.
through the shadows and the candlelight you see it across the room, hunched over the body of the sailor it must have killed. almost like a phantom, almost like a dream: but yet you know if you touched it you would feel substance beneath your fingertips. silver and grey and shadow-like, it commands that side of the room almost as well as your captain sukuna could.
you attempt to quiet your breathing, to dull that thing to your presence. but it’s like you’re a beacon for disaster just by being alive, because whatever is across the room is staring right at you.
the light sways; you strain against the dull gold of the room. it’s looking at you, you look at it, because it knows you now and you have no choice but to observe in your morbid fascination. it is a story unknown to you, a figure with no past and no expectations beyond what you have dreamed without understanding why. and you look, you must look, because it is a narrative and you are the listener.
“what is a soul?” it says again – masculine, you think, if that’s a proper adjective to be applying. you realize it – he – is speaking to you, that he is lighting his own candle from the dead sailor’s belongings and creeping his way across the room, through the still-sleeping bodies and empty hammocks and chests of precious belongings. he is at ease, calm, as if he has been here forever and you are only noticing him for the first time.
how do the others not see him? perhaps you are dreaming after all, but you know intuitively that the scene before you is worse than any dream.
he’s waiting for an answer. you choke.
“are you always so quiet?” he’s like a child, you realize: the aura of a playful, curious thing, not unlike yourself. a child who wishes for a partner, a listener, a friend. his tone is not angry, but thoughtful.
“i…” you falter. bile rises in your throat. why do i attract oddities wherever i go? “i guess i don’t understand the question.”
he’s coming closer. you swing your legs out of the hammock, sitting up now; your weeks at sea have taught you that it is a terrible humiliation to die lying down in one’s bed. you have seen too much already to be found defenseless and cold in your hammock tomorrow morning. so you stand, legs shaking against the nausea, the fear, the tossing and turning of the boat. there is no ground, no center. the world spins; you falter. you try.
he laughs, and your blood runs cold. it’s like a knife dancing along the curve of your neck, dangerous and pleasurable.
“what is a soul?” he says it like the answer should be obvious, like it is a trick question, like it is a joke.
“i don’t know,” you respond. you wonder how much you should enlighten him. “your spirit, i guess?”
he is close enough to you now – just a few paces away – that you can really see him. his grey and blue eyes, feral; his long arms, his menacing fingers. long, silver hair that cascades around his bony shoulders and glimmers in the dim light like silk. you might have called him a prince, once, were it not for the stitches that laced their way across his cheeks, his forehead, the visible places on his arms: as if he had been sewn from a thousand body parts, as if nothing was his own.
“and what is a spirit, then?” he is grinning, but his smile says something different than yours or sukuna’s or anyone else you know. he is reading your mind, he knows you, somehow, already. and you cannot tell if this comforts you, that he understands your nature, or if you wish he could not see you at all.
you falter. you have never been particularly religious or philosophical; church and gods and the afterlife meant very little in a port town where your lifespan was determined by the knives in your pockets and the abundance of luck on your shoulders. you do not remember the last time you prayed to something. perhaps it was before your parents had left you for a new world. perhaps it was when you lounged in the bed of your first lover. you do not know what it is like to be looked after by something invisible and greater than you. you do not know if there is a place you go when you die.
“i don’t know.” and you don’t.
he seems disappointed, and a part of you genuinely regrets being unable to fulfill his conversational fantasy. he does not move closer to you, nor does he move away; he simply studies you with that playful, childish gaze, with a hunger you cannot name. he twitches, shifts on his feet, the antics of one who can never stop moving. he waits for the answers you wish you could give. you wonder if he is genuine.
“do humans have hearts?”
“like the body part?” you try, hoping. you do not know him. there is no particular story you can name at this moment that would help you. you cannot read him, and he does not want to be deciphered.
he seems to find your confusion endearing, because his smile shifts from danger to joy. but a horrid joy, a joy that flirts with the edges of madness and threatens unreason. he giggles sweetly, high and flighty like a baby bird. he flexes his fingers. “you do not have a heart,” he tells you, politely, and there is no room to disagree.
he pauses for dramatic effect, then continues, “humans have souls, but not hearts. i can see it.”
there is no tangible point to his discussion, and so you say nothing, because you are unsure of what he wants to hear.
“when you touch the soul, you can transform the body,” he muses, laughs; he harbors the kind of excitement that children carry on their birthdays. “better souls make better mutations, yeah?” he wiggles his fingers again, poised to play a piano that does not exist. he glances at you again, a brightness in his eyes, expecting you to understand this time.
“i don’t follow.”
he sighs, stepping forward. he’s close now: he smells like ice and ashes and snow. he smells like you should have met him before, like the kind of familiarity that strikes you in the strangest of places, the oddest of times. he could have been a friend, once, under different circumstances.
“the soul is a piece of the body.” he reaches eagerly towards your chest, stopping centimeters away from your rumpled nightshirt. “with the right hands, it can be shifted into something else. something that is…not you, not even human. it becomes something that i control instead.”
“so the soul is a body part?” you clarify.
a pause. “i guess, but that doesn’t sound very mysterious, does it?” he appears deep in thought, as if this were a dress rehearsal for a real encounter. as if you have noted a flaw in the script and he needs to change his lines. as if he has never done this – talked to and then killed someone – before. he opens his mouth as if to say something else but snaps it shut again. you flutter: he is a child.
you watch him. he watches you. he’s pretty, almost, in a tragic sort of way, in the way children who are fated to tragedy always are.
there’s a shuffle on the stairs, the wood groaning as someone descends into the room.
you realize too late that you forgot to be terrified of his hands. one bony hand presses against your breastbone, ice cold through your shirt. it hurts, almost, like freezing to death. like something very small and precious inside you is twisting. and yet, with him, you no longer recognize the line between terror and joy.
“you have a good soul to work with,” he applauds you, a glimmer in his eye. “i think i’ll come back for it.”
it is an overcast morning, heavy and thick and still with humidity and anticipation. there is no wind today, which means that there will be fistfights, and that someone will probably die. the ship does not work when there is no wind, and you have found through trial and error that this crew is not an idle one.
distant thunder rumbles, promising rain, but it is impossible to tell where or when it will occur. you push back the humid hair sticking to your face and look out on the grey waves, ominous and uncaring. something feels off. something has felt off.
your chest hurts like you have been gravely injured there. you woke up at dawn, coughing up blood and dizzy and unsure, but you could not quite remember what had been real. you remember him, his eyes and his presence and his smile. but it is hard to recall what else, other than the sensation of ice and a deadly chill. you do not remember him leaving, or your returning to bed; the corpse of the dead pirate had been carelessly removed by the time you were awake.
but, you console yourself, running a hand briefly across your breastbone, he did not take it, did he? no, you’re the same. the same, and no other.
fuck. a coughing fit: you keel over, cough blood onto your hands. it looks foreign on your fingertips. he may not have taken your soul, but by the look of your blood, he has altered it all the same.
“what’s wrong with you?”
you groan inwardly; it’s jogo, sukuna’s second in command. a massive bitch, for lack of your better words. like sukuna, he toes the line between mankind and monster. with his one, massive eye, he reminds you of the tales of cyclopses you used to swallow as a child. he is burning hot, too: you can feel it even from here, a heat that radiates from him in waves, like a burning star.
it’s not that you dislike jogo. but his strength unnerves you. he has an aura that is too strong for his body, like rocks and molten lava and substances as old as the creation of the world. he is old; he transcends your feeble understanding of time and mortality. you know that much.
(you also know that the only thing between you and his murderous intent is sukuna’s blessing.)
you wipe the blood on your dark pants and stand up, pretending that your ribcage isn’t currently collapsing in on itself. “nothing,” you manage. “just been feeling off. must be the weather, i think. i always feel strange when it’s like this.” you take a deep breath for clarity.
jogo nods, but you are well aware that you have not convinced him. he furrows his eyebrow, and you know he wishes he could throw you overboard or burn you alive and be done with it. a nuisance, you had heard him fervently argue with sukuna on your arrival that first night. and a fucking human.
but sukuna had kept you. perhaps out of spite and malice and for his own personal amusement, but you would accept it if it meant you lived to see another day.
“well,” jogo says with feigned kindness. “you’re scrubbing the deck today, so i suggest you get to it.”
“but it’s going to rain anyway.” the complaint hits the air before you can contain it.
you swear on your life that the air around you gets hotter, that you’re about to burn in the fires of hell.
“and nothing,” you mumble, bitter. “i’ll get to it right away.”
the heat recedes. jogo offers you one last petty glare before passing by, strutting off to threaten lives and to consider ways to burn you alive while at sea. you watch him go; you wonder who he is.
a childhood song hovers on the tip of your tongue, lost to the void as it begins to drizzle. you feel the mist hit your shirt; you slow your mopping, standing back as you contemplate whether to finish the job. the sky darkens by the minute; night arrives early with lightning on its wings. the wind picks up, but cruelly, heartlessly: the makings of a real storm.
there’s a commotion somewhere, perhaps up near the captain’s quarters, but you ignore it in lieu of halfheartedly sweeping the deck in case jogo is watching. thick droplets stain your shirt, fall into your hair. heavy and humid, the temperature drops drastically as the wind picks up speed, so brisk and heavy in your ears it drowns out nearly anything else.
someone yells, angry, all-consuming. you drop the mop; thunder rattles your organs.
he is watching you.
“did you take my soul?” you ask. with your question, the rain quickly progresses to an aggressive downpour. you are unsteady, the ship sways dangerously beneath your feet. the something is perched on the railing: one push and he would be a prisoner to the rolling waves.
he laughs, giddy at the attention. “no, but i wanted to. i touched it though, it was nice. i think i'll come back for it.”
you can see him even better now, despite the rain and the wind and the dark skies: he is like a silver doll, a ghost you would have sworn was crafted by moonlight. he is, even now, almost beautiful in a way that makes you want to cry. smooth, like a newborn, but you think deep down you find him even more terrifying than your captain sukuna. because he is nothing; he is unknown; he is madness. he is hatred personified.
you cough again: a droplet of blood rolls down your chin.
“mahito,” he tells you suddenly. “my name is mahito.” it is a name you have never heard in your life. it blossoms in your forehead.
“mahito,” you repeat, recording this name to memory, a story to tell yourself at night, a story to tell if you ever make it home. a name for vengeance, a name for storms.
his intense eyes never pause in one place for very long; he drinks in the sight of the ship, the emptiness, the sway, the rain and the thunder and you. his nervous movements, like a baby bird perceiving its environment for the first time, put you on edge. he is searching.
“i want something.” a rumble of thunder, and the ship rocks so violently you fear being thrown overboard. everything turns sideways. the ground becomes the sky; the sky becomes water. you hold your breath, freezing, until you’re steady.
“and what’s that?” you cannot help but indulge him, even now. especially now.
“him,” mahito says, gleeful. you know who he means. “i want his soul.” he licks his lips, savoring the thought of the taste with a grin larger than the galaxy. you know he has never felt anything more pleasurable in his life.
a commotion: a yell. the voices of sailors are closer now. you nearly trip over your own feet with the force of the wind; a wave rolls steeply over the side of the ship, and there is saltwater burning in your eyes. there are bodies moving around you, bodies who understand the sea and the ship and are moving to act against it. bodies who know the natural world better than you. you think someone is calling your name. you think you are falling overboard.
you blink and mahito is gone, only a shadow and a glimpse. instead, something is gripping your arm, something is pulling you back, something brutal is dragging you like a ragdoll away from the threatening waves and somewhere towards safety.
“are you brainless, brat?” sukuna hisses; his hand will certainly leave a bruise. already his sharp nails poke holes in your wet shirt. “do you want to die?”
you do not respond. instead, you cough; you cough so forcefully that you must be rejecting your lungs. your free hand flies up to your mouth; there’s more blood this time, and yet it does not faze you anymore. your soul. you taste iron in your mouth, and you can feel it, hot and foreign and strange on your tongue. you wipe your hand again and pretend nothing is wrong.
but nothing goes unnoticed with your captain, ryomen sukuna. he pauses mid-stride, does not act but watches as you cough forward your soul again.
“what’s wrong with you?” it’s a command, not a question, one that comes not from love but from self-interest. you can’t die unless it’s from me, his tone asserts. you agree.
you swallow. him. i want his soul. you tap your chest with your free hand, breathe deep, struggle for language. “there’s someone else here.”
sukuna understands you. you can see it in his body language, in the way he stiffens slightly, in the way his rage curdles around him like smoke and fire and sulphur. his attention looks beyond you, studies the storm threatening to sink his ship, at the mountainous waves pouring over the deck, as if he is truly seeing it for the first time all over again.
“fuck.” he says finally. “fuck.” a strong emotion you have not heard from him yet.
a wave crashes, unwelcome, over your feet; sukuna makes a sudden beeline towards the captain’s quarters. you shiver: you have never been here, to this room, to his private space. perhaps one time you would have been honored by this gesture. but his distaste radiates from him in waves, drowning you, and you feel like you have disappointed him again somehow without meaning to. it shatters your insides against your will.
he bursts into the captain’s quarters like hell.
“jogo,” sukuna says, a threat, not a greeting. the man in question looks up from his desk, lets his pipe hang from his mouth like a vice. “we’ve got an intruder.”
“an intruder?” jogo looks at you, amused.
sukuna sighs. “a curse, you brainless bastard.”
jogo swears under his breath. “should’ve known,” he mutters. “this storm didn’t seem right. it’s not natural.”
“no, it’s not.” so they agree; they communicate across the room with their smoldering gazes, wordless profanities of how-did-this-happen and what-the-fuck. they’ve forgotten you, you think, in the heat of this silent discussion, until sukuna’s red eyes find you at his side again. his arm constricts tighter around your bicep; you shrink under the intensity. not since your first encounter has he been this close, this all-encompassing.
“you’ve seen something.”
you nod, because lying to sukuna has never once occurred to you.
“well? speak up, brat.” he’s going to burn you alive with that look. he is, you realize, truly annoyed.
a deep, uneven breath, for composure. “i don’t really know what he is, honest. he just said he wants your soul.”
“my soul.” sukuna’s broad shoulders tense: displeasure, discontent at a poor joke that has landed flat.
you nod. “he said his name is mahito? maybe you know him?”
jogo coughs on his pipe smoke. sukuna does not say anything, but he does not let go of your arm, either. he deliberates; he thinks; he radiates. you look between the them, two beings who transcend your understanding of humanity, and you wait for them to pass judgement. you feel utterly small.
“a curse wants my soul,” sukuna says finally, calmly, almost in jest. “that’s new.”
jogo finally exhales his smoke into the room; it smells like lava, like burning rocks and melting skin. “what would you like to do about it, captain?”
“get rid of him, what else?” sukuna responds as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “i’d like to get him the fuck out of here. can’t sail if it keeps raining, can we?”
you do not follow – you would like to ask, curse? who wants your soul? these are concepts you have not fully encountered, ideas that still sit strange and unwelcome on your tongue. as a child, some of the pirates would tell you stories of inhuman things, spirits and phantoms and ghosts, born from hatred and fury. but those were nightmares only, stories with happy endings as long as you remained in your bed through the night. and so you forgot them.
so you stay silent, subordinate, waiting for further instruction, because you fear the question as much as the answer.
silent as you can, of course, because you feel another coughing fit come on, and you cover your mouth with your free hand to hide the residue.
“your little friend.” sukuna’s red gaze is on you again. “what else?”
“what about him?”
“you’re coughing blood.” you wish there was an ounce of concern in his tone, something that cared if you lived or died, but it is nothing more than an observation.
“he touched me.”
sukuna laughs; jogo smirks. sukuna lessens the grip on your arm and runs a single sensual finger across your sleeve, across the handprint-shaped bruise you know is forming there, across the holes he poked with his nails. another mark from the captain. his demeanor changes, he is more relaxed, more uncaring, less concerned. “oh?”
you realize his jest too late, and your cheeks flush at the image he holds. “my soul.” you clarify. “he touched my soul and did something to it.” another cough, for emphasis.
“i did,” mahito says sweetly. “but it’s not as nice as this one.”
your blood freezes. he’s in the room, he is behind you, and like always, in every dream, you cannot run, the world is still. there is something behind you, in front of you, absorbing your scent and waiting for your weaknesses. you turn, twisting your body from sukuna’s hard gaze.
and you see them, two curious eyes: grey, blue, harsh and terrifying and playfully cruel in the candlelight of the captain’s quarters, staring into your soul, picking you apart piece by piece like the eagle to prometheus. mahito’s hands, reaching towards sukuna’s back, confidently, like he will pierce the skin and find the heart that beats inside. his smile is so familiar to you. you look at him, he looks at you, like two sides of the same coin.
you cough. sukuna has sidestepped the advance before you can blink, before you can tell him. and so mahito’s hands reach for empty air; and so mahito comes away with nothing. he looks to the empty space, to you – searching for an answer. he is a child who has never heard the word no.
and then, in the next instant, sukuna kicks the curse called mahito to the ground.
“you dare touch my soul?”
it’s the air closing on on you – a dark presence that chokes you, mind and body – the smell of sulphur, hell, death, malevolence. sukuna’s presence has grown; and you are aware, for the first time in a few hours, that sukuna brings death wherever he goes. that he does not fear you, or mahito, or hades, or anyone. that it is his world, and you are simply being given the privilege to exist within it. that he does not fear, has never feared, the safety of his soul: that he is only displeased that someone has had the audacity to try and take it.
you think mahito knows this, too. because from the ground he looks like a child, like a silvery, ghostly child who has just learned what it means to be punished.
but he looks, too, like he has seen god. like pain is baptism.
“it’s beautiful,” mahito says. “your soul is the most beautiful of them all.”
jogo scoffs. “like you’ll get your fucking hands on it.” he turns to sukuna. “look at him. he’s a brainless curse that might as well have been born yesterday.”
there is the foundation of an amused smirk on sukuna’s lips, a patronizing look you know too well. “it’s always the young.” he taps mahito with foot – mahito, who still kneels with his lovesick curiosity in the face of suffering itself.
you stand between them, mediator of confusion, an outcast between three kings who transcend reality and understand something you don’t. the fire, the sulphur, the rain: three kings who bear no gifts, who remain poised in stillness, silence, tension. and finally, you sigh out loud. “i don’t understand.”
“this is a curse,” sukuna states drily, like this has all been a schoolboy’s lesson that you should have picked up on by now. even with his life metaphorically in the balance, his disinterest manifests in waves. he kicks mahito again, who complies. “they’re born from negative emotions – aren’t you, you little fuck?”
mahito nods eagerly, a puppy pleased to obey its master. “i am the souls of sailors wishing to avenge their death.” he says it proudly.
sukuna ignores him. “and, this one can steal souls too, apparently. truly annoying.” but he refuses to let mahito explain himself, to let mahito explain to you the inner-workings of the soul-eating business, although you can tell that he desperately wishes to speak and to impress.
it is silent for a beat. you are all waiting for something to happen, for something to break. the room moves on its axis; thunder shatters your eardrums and returns you to reality. it is like the ship itself has exited time and entered a strange place where nothing will happen until mahito says so. like you are all in mahito’s universe, in the palm of his hands, at his whim. and this, this turn of the universe – that is what sukuna does not allow.
do not touch the hands.
“you want my soul,” sukuna says, contemplating. “i think i will let you try.”
“captain –” jogo starts, but he is hushed quickly with a glare.
“if you can beat me,” sukuna drawls, “you can take my soul, and your little storm can even sink the ship, if you’d like.”
mahito’s eyes glimmer, the same mischievous glimmer of the children you knew back home. he will accept the challenge. already he is bringing himself to his feet, already he is preparing his moves, his attack, his ballet of blood and sinew. he believes he will win this fight – you know the look in his eye.
mahito is a prince, but sukuna is the king.
you know in your heart mahito will lose before the fight has begun. and yet this does not stop the anticipation building in your gut at the way sukuna dusts off his four fists, at the way he is suddenly larger than life and just as muscular. at the way his presence dictates the world. at the way mahito’s spindly grace rises to meet it without question.
(even jogo, you think, sleepy jogo with his pipe, has been caught up in the adrenaline, in the sensuous heat of a challenge.)
“let’s take this outside,” sukuna suggests with a lazy grin that sends hot coals into your belly. he opens the door, lets mahito step out into the rain like a gentleman. you and jogo follow behind, unwilling spectators to a fight of envy and pride. jogo takes a long drag on his pipe, sighs at the rain. you follow the fighters down to the deck: loyal spectator.
the fight is swift but beautiful. sukuna holds the precision and ease of one who creates the world; mahito maintains the swiftness of a newborn who brushes with freedom. where sukuna is controlled, mahito is open. where mahito is water, sukuna is air. in another life, they would have been perfect partners. if mahito were older, he could have claimed victory. but mahito is a child, and with every stroke he learns that he is too young to take on this world just yet.
mahito is elegance; you watch him dance through the ambitious rainstorm, throwing punches with a ballerina’s skill. and yet, with each thrust, he meets open air: sukuna knows what mahito will do before it happens. he dodges every blow with such laziness it drives mahito mad, and he tries again – again – to land the hit that will seal the soul. and each time, he fails. sukuna grins; sukuna jumps away; sukuna hits back and back again and again.
“is that all?” sukuna asks, spreading his four arms open wide. “you wanted my soul. try.”
mahito prances across the deck of the ship. sukuna remains still, arms open, a god in the eye of the storm. from your place on the deck, swimming in the rain, you hold your breath, you tremble at the sight. there is something about sukuna’s presence, his aura, that stirs something deep within you. something sacred and primal and personal: something profound. you think, in this moment, that you understand why some call him a deity.
and yet for all that performative stillness, mahito still cannot win. he puts his body into his attack, throws himself with vigor toward’s sukuna’s stagnant soul. but it is over so quickly, so pitifully, that you are almost disappointed you could not witness a more exciting fight. this time, sukuna does not move: sukuna envelops mahito in his four arms, crushes him to his chest like a mother with child.
across the deck floats the snap of bones breaking, loud and crude, and mahito cries out with the piercing shriek of a dying animal. sukuna steps forward, holds mahito’s dangling body over the edge of the ship with only two of his four arms. the other two hold back mahito’s arms to render his soul-sucking hands useless.
the fight is over; jogo sighs from somewhere behind you, retreats back to the captain’s quarters. show over, already. and yet.
and so mahito hangs over the side of the ship like a doll, but you detect no fear in his eyes. there is, to your chagrin, a certain curiosity, a certain thrill and excitement and love. he loses with grace, you must admit. he treats his loss like a lesson, he retreats back inwards, calculating, measuring, raises his metaphorical white flag in a truce despite the fact he has no truce to offer.
one day mahito will be back for more.
sukuna tightens his vice grip; mahito struggles to breathe.
“you,” mahito gasps to you, his final words. “i have a message for you. you’re looking for someone, aren’t you?”
“what?” shaky, unsure, you wipe the rain from your eyes and wonder if he knows from touching your soul that you’ve been dreaming the sensation. you wonder what he knows that he did not have the chance to tell you before. you wonder if, even now, he’s lying.
“i know,” mahito says. “i saw it in your soul. he’s coming for you too.” he looks at sukuna, then, looks at him with the confidence of someone who is not about to be thrown into the sea. “‘the old man of the sea wants retribution.’ that’s what he said to tell you.” if his bones were not broken, he would laugh. he shudders instead.
sukuna ignores him, tightens his grip in retaliation. you can sense the annoyance radiating from him in crashing waves. you are silent, because you know what mahito means and you do not want to come to terms with it.
the rain fills the gap.
sukuna grows tired of the tension, tired of the way mahito’s attention is not on him, tired of the lack of suffering. he sighs: another day’s murder, he shrugs the interaction from his shoulders.
“know your place, fool. the next time you come near my ship, i will rip your limbs apart,” he announces darkly. and so he lets go – and mahito falls into the sea, a child awaiting his divine retribution.
so mahito disappears into the blue; the rain suddenly slows to a drizzle, a mist. the ship ceases to rock, and the wind is kind on your ears again. immediately, it is like waking up from a bad dream. the uneasiness gone, all that remains is the groggy sensation of waking after a long, deep, discomforting sleep. mahito’s curse is lifted – life resumes. your knees threaten to buckle beneath you.
“let’s get a move on,” sukuna says, brushing his hands, as if he did not just send a curse into the ocean. “we’re running behind schedule.”
like a play, sailors emerge, begin the preparations to sail properly again. it is as if the entire episode has not happened; as if encountering a malicious curse were nothing but an everyday occurence to the malevolent shrine’s inhabitants.
and yet you do not feel like this story has ended. you feel like you have only touched the surface of something very deep and dark and cursed. you know, intrinsically, that mahito did not die, and that you will see him again one day, in the same way you would know him in any dream, any lifetime. two sides of the same coin.
you watch your captain step away, stretch his arms, look back and lazily remember you as you cough into the uneasy silence. and then – pause – he approaches you, finally.
“jogo will make you something,” sukuna tells you. “to fix the curse on you. if that shit didn’t do anything else, you should be fine. you’re a useless sailor if you have a broken soul, you know.” heat pools in your gut: you understand that sukuna does not care about you, and yet, you feel warm, comforted, seen. you know it is futile to dream – but his words create one regardless.
“thank you,” you say, hoping that will be enough. it will never be enough.
and even as sukuna steps closer, even as he presses an overwhelming hand to your shoulder in what must be his own sign of comfort, you feel like there is something missing to this story. your soul will be fixed. mahito will regenerate, he will terrorize another ship, take the soul of someone less protected and less lucky than you, and then one day he will return and try again. and sukuna will cure you, save you, like he always does, and then he will ignore you again, keep you trapped beneath his impartial gaze.
and yet. you realize you want more from him. you want more from this, you want a reason to exist on the malevolent shrine beyond your childish curiosity and your talent for trouble and your insatiable desire to find yourself in the middle of the narrative.
you pause, recollecting.
the old man of the sea wants retribution. you know him. you know.
186 notes · View notes