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Romance Dusk

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Captain Sayo Hikawa was going to die for the sake of a no good, long damned, waste of breath and bread pirate. She knew it from the moment her legs sprung her body across the deck between the blade and the breast it aimed to strike. From the moment she was close enough to see the venomous green tint on the edge—same color as the algae growing along the side of the ship—she knew: Sayo was going to die for Moca Aoba.

Chisato was right. Sayo was a noble fool to her core.

 


“Chisato, you have to help her!”

“Moca Aoba get OUT of my way.”

“But Sayo’s—!”

“You forced me to play your doctor so leave me to do my job!”

It was a simple cut across her chest—too shallow to even need stitches but it burned like the cavity was ripped open and hellfire stuffed inside. Sayo was only vaguely aware that she had been dragged from the deck below to the infirmary she refused to visit before. Unable to cooperate as she was dumped on the bed and blonde hair filled her vision.

“But she took that cut for me!”

“Then respect Captain Hikawa’s idiocy and wait in the corner!”

For all her years of training to hide her emotions, Chisato still recoiled at the sight as she ripped open Sayo’s shirt. Sayo would find it amusing if she weren’t focused on trying not to bite off her tongue and trying to remember what the hell persuaded her that Moca was worth dying for.

“Sayo, please hold on.”

Somewhere in the hurricane of searing pain ripping Sayo’s insides to splinters a rope was lowered. It was just enough to cling to, just enough to keep her rocking on that strange little ship on the ocean’s waves.

Then there was a hand covering hers. How Sayo wished she had the strength to hold it back. Despite the struggle, Sayo tried to focus on the warmth at her side, at the face hovering beside hers.

“Miss… Tsugumi…” She forced her lips into a smile, tried to see with unfocused eyes. Was Tsugumi crying? Why? “Your friend… is safe…”

The last thing she sees before she blacks out from fever are the tears spilling out of those deep brown eyes.

 


Earlier

“Surrender Marine scum!”

It was not the first time a pirate waved her cutlass at Captain Sayo Hikawa of the World Government Marines and it certainly would not be the last. It was, however, the first time Sayo had boarded a pirate ship and been immediately coated in a queer and viscous sticky substance that emanated the unmistakable scent of yeast as strongly as if she had broken into a bakery instead of jumped on a ship.

And the first time she’d taken a punch to the face as swiftly as she landed on the deck. Getting knocked on her rear was the least of the insults to come.

The cutlass wielder—a young woman either at the end of her teens or the beginning of her twenties with raven dark hair cut by a streak of red on the side—smirked and threatened again. “Surrender or I’ll have Moca turn your brain into bread.”

“Oh ho~” Another pirate—just barely taller than the first with lazy eyes, silver hair and mounds of dough (??) around her fists—giggled looping a sticky hand around the first’s shoulder. “Ran talks a biiig game when threatening with Moca’s powers~.” The dough dripped from her hand on “Ran’s” shoulder. No, the dough was her hand elongating into horrible gooey strings.

Devil fruit. Sayo was cursed to know it’s effect well. Though the particulars of… that one seems more nauseating than the transformations her superiors underwent.

Ran scowled and shoved the other pirate away, wiping off the terrible oozing remnants off her shoulder as she did. They splatted against the deck sticking and shaking as if deciding to plant in place.

A third pirate—blood red hair down her back with fists any pugilist would envy—swooped in with a raucous grin. “Better listen! Moca here ate the little shit fruit!”

“Please Tomo-chin the proper nomenclature would be the Shit Shit Fruit.”

“Stop undermining my authority!”

“What authority?” The redhead ruffled Ran’s hair so roughly she nearly collapsed. “You ain’t the captain.”

Ran fumed and pushed her cutlass dangerously close to Sayo’s face. “NEVERTHELESS. Moca ate the Dough Dough fruit, you’re stuck so…” She swirled the tip of her sword in the air, each rotation uncomfortably closer to Sayo’s nose. “…suck it.” Truly a fearsome threat.

“Are you done bantering amongst yourselves?” Sayo sighed with an unflinching face. Her eyes flicked to her sword lying within arm’s reach—if only her arms could reach.“I admit you’ve caught me off guard but in a moment my men will begin to board this ship and all of you will pay for your crimes.”

Moca pulled a piece of dough from behind her ear and squished it between her fingers. “You mean that crew?” She flicked the dough off into the distance where Sayo’s ship was quickly retreating.

“K-KIRIGAYA!” Sayo shouted with anger so hot the dough was probably baking around her. This was what she got for trusting Lieutenant Imai’s recommendation: a first mate who ran at the first sign of trouble and a crew that preferred her to their captain. If Sayo squinted she could almost make out the blonde on the bow of her ship waving goodbye and mouthing “Sorry~” with a little wink.

Sayo burst up from the deck in an explosion of anger, sacrificing the massive white captain’s coat she’d worked so hard to earn to the expanding yeast. She charged for her sword, swept it up from the ground and pivoted to face her captors woman to woman. If she was destined to die here at least it would be on her feet!

The sword drooped as if it were made of putty. Or rather dough. Sayo stared in disbelief as her sword sagged in the middle and stretched down with a gooey strand of corrosive dough connecting and overtaking the two halves.

“What the hell are you made of?” Lieutenant Imai always handled the cooking back in their recruit days but Sayo was still certain that was not how bread dough was supposed to work.

“You gotta feed your starter~.” Moca gigled. “That’s how you keep the good bread coming.”

Sayo tossed her sword aside with a wet splat. She rolled up her sleeves and raised her fists. “Fine! I will fight with my fists.”

“You’re up Tomoe.” Ran stepped to the side so the grinning redhead could move forward, cracking her knuckles as loud cannon blasts.

They faced each other in basic boxing stances, each waiting for the other to strike.

CRACK!

Or so Sayo thought until she took a left hook to the jaw and landed back on the ground in another growing dough pile. She didn’t even see Tomoe’s punch.

Sayo thrashed in her doughy prison—more embarrassed than angry. Bits of dough flew everywhere, on her face, the deck, her captors but still more grew around her limbs with awful sticky discomfort. “Just kill me if you’re going to! I have suffered enough indignities!”

Tomoe looked back to Ran. “…Oh shit, do we gotta kill her?”

Ran’s sword wavered. “Uh. I guess so. I should probably… do that…”

Sayo bent her head down and exposed as much of her neck as she could given her mobility limitations. She wouldn’t beg for it to be quick or that she might have a few more minutes on the wretched planet. Perhaps her next life would be less miserable than this one. This really was the best possible ending for someone as unfortunate as Sayo Hikawa.

“Woah~ Woah~.” That sing-song voice would haunt Sayo’s nightmares if she thought she would ever dream again. “Tsugu will be reeeal mad if you go chopping heads off on deck!”

“…True.” The shiiing of a sword being sheathed filled Sayo’s ears. “I guess we can put her in the hold?”

The hold? No. Sayo would rather die than get locked away in some cell and left to rot. She snarled with one last burst of energy. “JUST KILL ME! DAMN IT!”

WHAM!

The top of her head throbbed with the sudden sharp pain of someone’s elbow cracking her temple. Sayo’s vision swarmed and then went black.

 


Moca Aoba: Wanted for Grand Larceny, Piracy, Wanton Destruction of Property and Criminal Mischief. Bounty: 50,000,000

Tomoe Udagawa: Wanted for Piracy and Assault with Two Deadly Weapons. Bounty: 20,000,000

Captain Ran Mitake: Wanted for Grand Larceny, Piracy, Kidnapping and a Generally Awful Attitude. Bounty: 60,000,000

The Sunset Pirates. Sayo knew when she saw their flag—a black skull on a red background with a lighting bolt through the left eye—she was duty bound to take them in, even if no one agreed with her call. That was the job of a Marine captain, to make the controversial calls and lead their crew whether they liked it or not.

Even when it landed Sayo in the creaking bowels of The Afterglow with an ache in her head and her pride shattered in pieces around her.

Sayo repeated the pirates’ names, crimes and bounties to herself like a mantra. She’d memorized every bounty in the East Blue, as any half decent Marine would. She found it comforting. At least it was something to focus on until she could escape her bindings.

As soon as she was free from captivity.

Sayo opened her eyes—squinting to adjust to low lantern light—and raised her hands. Her completely, utter free and unencumbered hands. She turned them over, marveling at how completely unbound they were and how easily she could move. Sayo sat up. Her feet were equally free. In fact, other than the pounding in her head, Sayo was no worse for wear and seemingly free to move as she pleased.

Ah! It had to be because they’d locked her in a prison cell. Sayo looked around for the bars holding her in place and instead found crates and barrels and various coils of rope of many lengths. She was in storage.

The audacity! Did they think her so weak she couldn’t escape? True her sword was missing, consumed in whole no doubt by that awful goop, but she was an officer of the Marines! There was much she could do with her hands alone!

Sayo glared at the small wooden staircase—at least that seemed latched closed—and formulated a plan. As soon as one of her captors came down she’d overpower them, take whatever weapon they had and one by one lock the whole crew down here then sail the whole ship right to Vice Admiral Minato!

She’d been caught off guard and been horribly outnumbered before but this time—

Creeeaak.

Sayo tried to scramble to her feet but rising even lightly sent her vision spinning. What in the ocean had they been feeding that giant to make her so big and muscular? Sayo held her breath as someone began to descend the stairs.

“Oh thank goodness you’re awake!” Descending the stairs was a girl, close in age to the trio Sayo fought earlier, with hands full of blankets and a pillow as if she were about to make up the guest bedroom.

She was a very plain sort of girl, dressed as though she had come from the kitchens. Brown hair tied back in a small ponytail with a red bandana, large brown eyes and attractive if not particularly remarkable features, excepting her pure smile so bright and warming it shone through the dim light. She reminded Sayo of the girls back on her home island. The ordinary girls who got married and grew up to run taverns with an army of children around their feet. The sort who deserved to be as beloved as they were. Sayo never expected to see such a person on a pirate ship.

Sayo again struggled to stand as the girl shuffled across the room.

“Please don’t move!” She set the blankets on a crate and brushed her skirts flat before kneeling down in front of Sayo. “Tomoe’s so violent,” She sighed mournfully, reaching towards but not touching Sayo’s temple. She reached into her apron pockets and pulled out a palm sized tin. “May I put some on you? It will help with the pain.”

Sayo’s gaze flicked suspiciously from the girl’s bright face to the pale cream in the tin and pressed her back against the nearest crate.

“I promise it’s just medicine.” She dabbed a bit on her thumb and rubbed it against her arm. “See? It’s from our doctor. She would come check you out herself but she won’t come down here. Too many things that crawl like to hide here she says.” The girl panicked, “Not that there’s anything dangerous down here! She just hates spiders!”

Sayo slowly nodded her head. This girl didn’t seem like much of a pirate. She was probably someone picked up along the way—perhaps even kidnapped and in need of rescue. The thought almost made Sayo smile. She could handle a rescue, Sayo always fought better when there was someone to protect. “Alright, Miss…?”

“Tsugumi Hazawa!” Tsugumi dabbed more of the ointment on her fingertips and then delicately took Sayo’s head into her hands. Softly, she rubbed small circles into the bruise on Sayo’s temple. The ointment was instantly cooling on her skin. The pain began to even out from a sharp throb to a dull and manageable ache. “I’m the cook.” She moved her hand down to Sayo’s jaw and rubbed more ointment into Sayo’s skin there.

It was very relaxing. Despite her intentions to stay alert and focused, it had been so long since Sayo had felt another person’s touch and she couldn’t help but let her eyes drift close and enjoy the light tickle of Tsugumi’s fingertips on her cheek.

“Oh! That’s right!” She laughed—a very pleasant sound. “I’m the captain too.”

Sayo’s eyes shot open. “Pardon?”

Tsugumi screwed on the lid of the tin and tucked it back in her apron. “I’m the captain of the Sunset Pirates.” She bowed slightly, palms against the floor. “Please allow me to take care of you.”

“I…” It was hard to find words with such an innocent looking person declaring herself a pirate captain and subsequently prostrating herself to an officer of the Marines. “I thought Ran Mitake was your captain.”

Tsugumi rose back onto her knees. “Ran was for a little while but then she asked me to take over. We’re not really a traditional crew.” She chuckled a little nervously. “You’re my very first prisoner, so I’m not really sure what to do. But I brought you some blankets.”

Sayo watched Tsugumi stand up and turn her back to the captain. It would be embarrassingly easy to overpower this girl. She could just loop her arm around her neck and march her up the stairs and use Tsugumi as a hostage until the others gave her a lifeboat and supplies. But the idea soured in Sayo’s mouth. The thought of hurting—or even just threatening to hurt—someone so kindly ordinary was unbearable, pirate captain or not.

Tsugumi turned around with the blankets and handed them to Sayo, “You might be my captive but you’re still my guest. If there’s anything I can get you just let me know.” When Sayo didn’t respond she smiled and added, “I’ll bring you some dinner soon.”

Still, duty pinched the back of Sayo’s neck. She had a duty to the oaths she’d sworn, to the commander she served under, to the ocean itself to rid it of pirates, no matter how nice they may seem. If she were free like this… then her sense of duty would eat her alive until she did something about it.

“Miss Tsugumi!” Sayo called out as Tsugumi began to climb the stairs. “You’ve never had a prisoner before?”

Tsugumi nodded, “That’s right.”

“It is customary to tie up a prisoner so they cannot escape.” Sayo raised her arms and crossed her wrists in front of her. “Please capture me.”

“Are you sure?” Tsugumi crossed back through the storage room, gathering a sturdy looking rope from the ground. “There isn’t anywhere for you to escape to.”

“I am sure.” She held her hands out to Tsugumi. “Please.”

For a moment Sayo wondered if it was a useless request. Tsugumi didn’t seem the sort with an intimate knowledge of knots but as she took Sayo’s hands and began to wind the rope around them it quickly became clear that Tsugumi was no stranger to tying knots.

Sayo tested her bindings with a strong tug and relaxed as she found it sturdy. “Thank you Miss Tsugumi.”

Tsugumi smiled, “I’m not sure why, but if it makes you happy I’m glad to do it.” She headed up the stairs and out of sight.

Sayo’s head was strangely empty. She waited for her brain to yell at her to find a way to escape or something to use to call for help but instead a little calm and lazy voice in her head just shrugged and said, “Oh well, we’re captured. What can ya do?”

What could she do? Not much. She had some blankets, a pillow, the calming rock of a ship at sea. So Captain Sayo Hikawa took the first nap of her adult life.

 


The little natural light that snuck between the boat’s planks was gone by the time Sayo woke up. She lay there on the little nest she’d formed from cotton and feathers and watched the pool of lamplight swing over and away from her over and over again as the ship bobbed through the water. How long had it been since Sayo woke up without a list of things she had to do beating on her brain?

She sat up and rolled her stiff shoulders. It wasn’t the perfect sleeping situation but it wouldn’t even rank in the top ten worst places she’d slept before.

Light footsteps tiptoed down the stairs. Sayo smiled as Tsugumi approached again with a bowl stacked with rice and meat. She smiled in return and came to kneel in front of Sayo. “Good evening! I brought you some dinner.”

Tsugumi reached for Sayo’s wrists. Sayo pulled back at once.

Sayo winced at Tsugumi’s confusion. “Miss Tsugumi, please do not untie my hands.”

“Why not?” Her head tilted. “You can’t eat like this.”

“If you untie me, I’ll be duty bound to attack you and try to take over this ship.”

Tsugumi flinched back. Shame burned at Sayo’s cheeks, even if it was true it hurt to admit.

“Please, even if I have to eat like a dog, it’s better than hurting someone who’s been so kind to me.” Sayo nudged the bowl towards herself, prepared to demonstrate to this practical stranger that she would willingly debase herself over this.

Tsugumi pulled the bowl back. “I won’t let you. I thought you were a bit scary at first but I see now that you’re just stubborn.”

“Miss Tsugumi…”

“If you won’t use your hands I’ll have to feed you myself.”

“Pardon?”

Suddenly, a spoonful of rice and meat was thrust into Sayo’s face. “Open up.”

Sayo sputtered. “M-Miss Tsugu—”

Tsugumi forced the spoon in on the second syllable. Sayo gagged around it, flailing her conjoined hands into the ground as she tried to force out the metal intrusion. Instead she got a taste of the meal it carried.

Tender beef… perfectly seasoned rice and onions… this wasn’t the sort of food Sayo was used to eating at sea. Or on land for that matter. On instinct she bit after the spoon as Tsugumi pulled it away from her mouth.

Once again, Sayo’s cheeks grew red around the oddest pirate captain she’d ever met.

“Would you like more?” Tsugumi asked sweetly.

Sayo had no choice but to nod. Every bite hand delivered to her mouth made her want to cry. Why was it that the first person to treat her sweetly since she’d sailed away from her friends was a pirate? Why was someone like this a pirate?

“How did someone like you become a pirate?” Sayo asked between bites. “You don’t seem the sort of outcast that usually does.” Unlike your friends, she resisted adding.

Tsugumi considered the question as she spooned out more food for Sayo. “We have a dream to chase. It’s the kind of thing we can only do as people who are free to go where they want and do as they please.” She held out the spoon. “As pirates.”

Sayo took it into her mouth, savoring how all the flavors blended together into one magical bite. “Would you tell me your dream?”

“The Everfield. Somewhere on the Grand Line is a field where every flower blooms. Ran’s dad used to tell us stories about it.”

Ah, that sort of dream. Pirates chasing a fairytale. There was beauty in that, even if there was no meaning. Though Sayo kept her thoughts to herself as she enjoyed the food given to her so mercifully.

Tsugumi made excellent company, chatting pleasantly about her crew (there were only six of them and there’d only been five for a very long time), their adventures (how such a small crew could get into so much trouble baffled the mind) and the family she’d left behind. Sayo had guessed right, Tsugumi’s family did run a tavern back on their home island and from the longing look in Tsugumi’s eyes it seemed she still missed it. Any other day Sayo’s mind would have jumped to figure out how to use this information against her host and weasel her way free but right now.

Right now Sayo only had to enjoy the company.

They talked long past the final bite. Tsugumi somehow managed to get Sayo to speak about herself without even realizing the conversation had turned towards her. She told Tsugumi of her home, of her stern father and mother, of how quickly she’d joined the Marines and the companions she’d left behind when she went to sea with her ship. It was so easy to talk to Tsugumi but still there were things Sayo couldn’t force herself to talk about. She didn’t mention the promises she’d made, the sister who’d left her behind, all the people she’d failed.

That didn’t make for nice conversation anyway. When the opportunity came Sayo steered the conversation back to her companion who in turn turned it to her companions. It was hard to imagine the brutes who’d so handily defeated her that very morning were the same ones easily defeated by supposed ghosts “haunting” an abandoned village and who circumnavigated a continent just to find the perfect sunset. A pity they were pirates.

Sayo found the sound of Tsugumi’s voice so pleasant to listen to that she sunk into a deep sleep with a smile across her face.

For days Sayo’s world consisted of thumbing through old books and captain’s logs brought down by Tsugumi and the conversations they’d have as she fed Sayo her meals. Sayo stretched her legs when she could, her arms as much as possible with her wrists bound together but primarily lazed around. It was almost a vacation. It was a vacation. The first Sayo had ever had. As long as she had that rope around her wrists there was no reason it had to end.

But the storm came all the same.

Some ships just weren’t meant to ride out storms. Too small, too undermanned, too unlucky to do anything but jump from wave to wave at the mercy of the sea and sky. The Afterglow seemed to be all three at once. It was the third night of her captivity—or maybe the fourth—when the thunder started to boom overhead and all the contents of the cargo not tied down began to slide from one side to the other with every wave that pounded the side. That, unfortunately, included Sayo.

It was a miserable game trying to dodge the massive crates of something or other and barrels of this or that as they rolled across the belly of the ship. After three brutal rolls—each one bringing Sayo closer to getting flattened—Sayo finally clawed her way behind a secured crate and braced as best she could with bound hands.

Still, it was an annoyance not a danger. She didn’t have it in her heart to be afraid. Fear was for lives worth losing and Sayo had long given hers up to Vice Admiral Minato. That she was still alive was almost an inconvenience, dead Sayo could become a martyr in the eternal war of law versus chaos. And yet she clung to life like she clung to the crate as the ship listed to the right and three barrels zoomed past her hiding spot. Yet, somewhere in the back of her mind she could hear Lieutenant Imai whining that Sayo ought to cherish her life—the woman had no sense of duty.

But neither did Sayo if she was going to spend her time locked up in a pirate ship. Despite her best efforts, Sayo survived to feel the ship steading underneath her feet as they passed through the worst of the storm.

BOOM!

Thunder crashed above, ringing through Sayo’s body. But between the crash and the echo Sayo swore she heard a scurrying sound to her left—much too large for a rat. She recalled the things that crawled that kept the doctor out of the hold. But if something truly dangerous lurked in the hull, surely it would have made itself known already.

Sayo pressed against the side of the crate for support and eased around it, carefully creeping between the newly arranged maze of crates and searching for that elusive sound.

BOOM—“Eek!”

A short feminine scream accompanied the next clap, Sayo’s ears twitched and pointed her towards the very back of the hull right where the wooden ribs of the ship met. Sayo stilled as she approached, a figure blurred into view huddled on the floor—trembling with her knees to her chest as close as she could draw them.

“Miss Tsugumi,” Sayo called out as if to an old friend.

Tsugumi remained oblivious, lost in a world of her own fear and anticipation.

Carefully, Sayo stepped forward, crouching low as the ceiling dipped past her head with shuffling crab steps and bound hands outstretched to try—likely in vain—to catch herself if she lost balance. She approached with another gentle call, “Miss Tsugumi.”

The cook and captain’s ears twitched at the sound and she began to turn her head just as—

BOOM!

Tsugumi leapt forward at the crash. Her body collided with Sayo’s. Sayo, unable to catch her, fell back against the wall. They collapsed onto the ground, all the air rushing out of Sayo.

Sayo groaned.

“Sayo!” The fall knocked some sense back into Tsugumi. She shifted on Sayo’s lap, hands groping around the back of Sayo’s head and looking for any accidental injury. Sayo’s hands were pinned between their bodies. She tried to maneuver her head out of reach but Tsugumi’s hands found her and burrowed into her hair with deft precision. She checked every inch of Sayo’s head for abnormality. Meanwhile, all of Sayo’s strength went into making sure she didn’t reveal just how nice the sensation was.

“Phew,” Tsugumi sighed with a smile. “You’re alright.”

BOOM!

But Tsugumi wasn’t. She went rigid at the next clap of thunder, her eyes so wide and open Sayo was worried they’d pop. She clung to Sayo’s shoulder like a line in a storm. Her hands dug into the flimsy cotton shirt covering Sayo in a scramble to find security where there was none.

Sayo’s heart reached out for the poor pirate captain with a desperate fear of thunder. Every bit of her wanted to assure Tsugumi she was safe with Sayo—even though the last she checked Sayo had no power over the weather. Sayo pushed against Tsugumi’s sternum with her conjoined hands until Tsugumi relented enough to allow Sayo to lift her hands away and over her head. Then she brought them back down around Tsugumi’s back.

“It is alright Miss Tsugumi. I am here with you. I will keep you safe.” It wasn’t much of an embrace, Sayo couldn’t guess how comforting she could actually be. She wasn’t particularly adept with this. When was the last time she held someone? Promised to protect them? Probably her sister when they were both still small, before the devil fruit made it impossible for someone like Sayo to protect someone like Hina.

Tsugumi whimpered but the tenseness began to ease from her body. Her breathing slowed as Sayo pressed the heels of her hands into the small of Tsugumi’s back—the best she could do for comfort in such an inconvenient pose.

“I’m sorry,” Tsugumi whispered. “I know it’s pathetic to be afraid—.”

“Shh, nonsense.” Sayo rocked back and forth in time to the calming waves. “No sailor with any sense isn’t afraid of thunder and all she brings.” Sayo didn’t mention that she was a sailor with no sense.

“They don’t all run away…”

“Better to run away than be in the way.”

Tsugumi laughed. “You’re very nice Sayo.”

Flashes of storms long faded passed through Sayo’s memory. Sayo refusing to leave the deck, yelling orders through the rain, and kicking every man who cowered from her ship at the next port. “My crew would not agree with you.”

“I’m sure that’s not true!”

“They abandoned me to your mercy.” Sayo sighed, her breath rustling Tsugumi’s hair. “I do not blame them.”

Tsugumi thought over her answer before replying. “It’s hard to be a captain. Even for a crew as small as mine. Sometimes I…” Tsugumi relaxed her head on Sayo’s collarbone. Their sudden intimacy felt natural in a way too lovely for Sayo to want to unpack. “…when Ran was in charge we were a bit of a disaster but she could keep us safe. There’s nothing I can do but keep everyone fed.”

Boom!

The thunder was much further away now. Tsugumi’s body tensed and her head turned in towards Sayo’s collarbone, warm breath tickling Sayo’s skin. Sayo turned her head to the side so the lamplight wouldn’t reveal how red her face was growing. “Miss Tsugumi, you seem like a better captain than I ever was.” She’d had a lot of time to think and all the suspicions Sayo had about herself felt truer than ever. “Not every good soldier makes a good captain. I think I lack the necessary caution to captain a crew. Perhaps I would have abandoned myself too.”

“I can’t imagine you mutinying. You’re so serious.”

“You’re right. You’re very perceptive. Another great skill for a captain.”

“Cuddling with a prisoner probably isn’t though…”

Right. That’s what this was wasn’t it? Sayo had become so comfortable with her little nest and their conversations that she’d forgotten why she asked to be tied up in the first place. Sayo bit back an apology, she was the prisoner in this scenario. “I do not mind.”

Tsugumi lifted her head enough to look Sayo in the eyes. “Will you let me untie you now?” Her hand caressed Sayo’s cheek as she bit her lower lip.For all Sayo’s inexperience, she understood that the rapid beating of her heart wasn’t secondhand fear.

“For the storm?” Sayo dared to deflect.

“For the storm.”

It was tempting. If only so she could hold Tsugumi properly. But… “No, I cannot risk it.”

“You really are serious.” Tsugumi’s head fell back to Sayo’s chest. “But I like that.” Tsugumi’s head rose and fell with Sayo’s breathing. “Can I tell you something?”

“Of course.”

“I lied about our dream. Not completely, we do want to find the Everfield but… really we just want to be together. No adults telling us we’ll have to part ways, no engagements to men we don’t love, no responsibilities to anyone but each other. But having a goal we work towards… it makes it easier to wake up each day.” There was such strength in her voice as she spoke of her companions.

Yukina held her hand out to Sayo and gazed down with those wonderful cold eyes Sayo had come to rely on. Sayo. I will rise to the top of the Marines as my father couldn’t. You are the only one skilled enough to join me.”

The memory struck Sayo like a blow. She’d once found such strength in Yukina’s convictions. Now…

“I think that’s a beautiful dream,” Sayo murmured into Tsugumi’s hair. What was it like to have a dream of one’s own? Sayo had only ever followed someone else’s.

Boom.

The thunder was so far past them that Tsugumi was already asleep in her arms.