Meh, I felt that this chapter wasn't as good as the other two, at least not in terms of humor. *feels bad* The scene switches to the Navy this chapter, so we won't get to see wacky pirate humor this time round...but they'll be back!
Oh and I apologise in advance for some OOCness in some of the characters, I think. Oh well. Hope you guys won't be too disappointed.
The Lieutenant was on a hunt. The target: a certain Ensign who didn't appear at their agreed meeting place during lunchtime.
Lesser seamen got out of the Lieutenant's way hastily, recognising the determined look in those fiery eyes, carefully keeping their eyes at a respectful level and saluting as the Lieutenant brushed past with barely an acknowledgment. It was too urgent a mission to be slowing down for insignificant people.
There were only a few places the errant Ensign could have been. The warship was only so big after all. The Lieutenant bumped right into someone, who bounced almost right off after the direct collision. A newbie, it seemed. Well, the Lieutenant wasn't quite as hard-hearted as first impressions went. Besides, the rookie was a cute little girl. Who could resist cute little girls? A lazy smirk formed on luscious lips as the Lieutenant extended a hand to help the startled young girl up, taking a look at the name sewn in on the sleeve: KAMEI ERI.
"Ss-sorry, Lieutenant..." Eri blushed as she was finally upright again. "I'll be more careful next time." She tried inching away, but the Lieutenant hadn't let go of her hand just yet, so she couldn't move much further anyway.
The Lieutenant grinned at the shyness of the rookie, and was about to say something when someone else piped up first.
"Flirting again?" The voice was dry, ironic, and familiar. The Lieutenant half turned around, frowning down at the shorter woman who had just come up behind her. Who not only had a military rank up on her, but was also First Mate to her Second.
"I was not flirting, I was being nice." She huffed indignantly.
A raised eyebrow. "Really? Then why are you still holding on to her hand?" A triumphiant look.
The taller lieutenant dropped the hand she was holding and tried to glare at her counterpart, but failing miserably. The shorter woman reached up and patted the younger girl's cheek.
"There there Gocchin, we all know how boring it can be out at sea with no entertainment. I understand perfectly." Abe Natsumi, First Mate of the warship Defiance, smiled sunnily at the spluttering Goto Maki, who was struggling to find a good rebuttal but coming up empty.
Nacchi 1, Gocchin 0
Behind the two of them, Eri was backing away and unconsciously pushing herself into a small space between the cannons, trying her darndest best to become invisible and hopefully unnoticed by the two ranking officers of the ship. Being shy by nature, and this being her first major voyage, she was naturally nervous in the face of authority. Not that the two officers in front of her were acting particularly officer-like at the moment, with Maki halfway between glaring and pouting, and Natsumi smiling beatifically, as if the lights in her eyes came from the sunlight shining through the back of her head.
"Looking for Yuuki again then?" Nacchi decided to ease up on her junior for once, since she was in a good mood today and decided to give the poor girl a break. Maki scowled. "Damn boy disappeared when I turned around to talk to someone else."
The older woman giggled. "That's only because you keep watching him like a hawk. He's a big boy already, you should give him a bit of time on his own. Can't keep coddling him forever." The tone was playfully disapproving, but carried underlying notes of concerned wisdom. Maki muttered mutinously under her breath.
Changing tack, the shorter officer continued. "Anyway, the Captain wants to see us." She paused. "Well, actually, she didn't say so specifically, but I think she could use the support now." Maki eyed her questioningly, prompting an elaboration. "Our 'guest' is with her now." The taller girl went "oh" and nodded in understanding.
The two changed direction and walked off towards the captain's cabin, completely forgetting about Eri, who by now had managed to lodge herself in the space between two large cannons and was finding it strangely comforting. As the footsteps faded in the distance, she decided to get out, standing up and pushing herself out. Or at least, she tried to.
With one leg folded awkwardly under her, the positioning of her body left her very little leverage to hoist herself out of her hidey hole. Eri felt the first, faint trill of panic run through her as she struggled to get out. What if she remained wedged here forever? The thought frightened her, and she redoubled her efforts, but to no avail. She would have screamed for help, but was too embarrassed to let others see her stuck like this. Torn between panic and indecision, Eri felt faint and passed out.
On the upper deck, Maki was scratching the back of her head as she headed with Natsumi towards the Captain's cabin. I think I'm forgetting something...
Inside the Captain's cabin, a discussion was taking place. At least it looked
like a discussion on the surface. In truth, it was just a cover for a verbal catfight. Not that the participants would ever admit to that, of course.
"I wonder if the restrictions on my movement will be lifted." Let me move around you bitch.
"I regret to inform you that those restrictions are in place for your own safety." No way in hell.
"Do you know who I am?" I can get your ass fired.
"Regardless of who you are, we are out at sea on a ship, and I am the captain. According to marine laws, the captain's word is final." This is my turf, I call the shots here. Take it or leave it.
The tension between the two was escalating when a sharp rap on the door interrupted their staring contest.
"Enter." The seated captain said coldly, her eyes never leaving her guest's.
The First and Second Mates of the ship entered cautiously, sensing upon arrival the explosive animosity that positively reeked in the air. Maki thought that if she lit a match in the cabin, the whole room would explode, so tense was the atmosphere. Natsumi remained characteristically cool and optimistic, still having a positive expression on her face despite the definite tension that permeated the enclosed area.
The door swung shut with a sense of finality, leaving the four alone in the room.
"Was there something?" The captain finally let her eyes settle back on her friends and shipmates, with considerably less intensity in the gaze. After all, the three of them had sailed together several times before, and were on fairly good terms. Maki smiled goofily back at her childhood friend, the two having gone through naval academy together, prompting an answering smile from the formerly frowning face.
Natsumi took the opportunity to step in. "Well captain, it's been almost 4 days since we've left harbor, and the lady hasn't been allowed out of the room much. Why not let her get a bit of fresh air?" It was a calculated move. Natsumi was older than their youthful captain, and had more experience. Furthermore, she had been instructed by the Admiral himself to keep an eye on his still relatively inexperienced daughter. That was a known fact amongst them.
The captain frowned, obviously not liking the idea. To soften the impact, the sunny First Mate added. "Well, of course she'll be under supervision to keep her safe. Maybe one of the friendlier crew to escort our ladyship here?"
"Well, if you put it that way..." Maki didn't like the wrinkles that were currently working their way into a permanent residence on her best friend's face. Oh, to hell with it.
Throwing all military decorum aside, she strode right up to the stern-looking captain...and tickled her.
The transformation was as instantaneous as it was startling. The stern presence broke down into a laughing fit of uncontrollable giggles, and the captain looked to be no more than a young girl barely out of her 20s, rather than the serious captain old beyond her years.
"Gocchin....ahahahha...stop it...ahaha...stop...!" There were tears at the corner of her eyes. The other two women in the room exchanged startled glances, but both had hints of a smile dancing at the edges of their lips. Natsumi bit back the urge to laugh. At least they were in private...well mostly. Otherwise she would have been appalled by their childish behaviour.
Maki stepped back smugly after halting her impromptu assault. It was a good thing she was such good friends with the captain, otherwise she would never have gotten away with such a stunt. And besides, seeing her break down in laughter was so much better than having a permanent scowl set in on that face. Almost good enough to withstand whatever payback the other would surely devise.
"I'll get you for this Gocchin." Maki smirked again.
"I would love to see you try, Aya."
Captain Matsuura Aya, eldest daughter of the Admiral Matsuura Kenji, youngest captain of a warship in the Royal Navy. Some wondered if her position was artificially bestowed due to the influence of her father's exalted position in the naval corps, but that could not be further from the truth. Only a few of the inner circle knew how hard Aya had worked to live up to her family's proud legacy, being the eldest daughter of the Matsuura family, a journey made tougher by the fact that she was a girl. The heavy weight of her family name, as well as the fact that there were no males to carry on the legacy, had ignited within her an overwhelming responsibility to uphold the family's traditions. Every man in the Matsuura family was a sailor to the bone, and in every generation before her, the men had served the Royal Navy well and proudly, often reaching high ranks and earning the favor of the throne.
Her father had always mourned that he had no sons to continue this proud legacy, and even as a young child, Aya had felt the disappointment radiate keenly from her father. She had initially been upset that she had not been born a boy, the better to carry on the family name and tradition, but decided not to let it get her down. In fact, she resolved to enter the naval corps herself, to prove to her father that she was worth something despite being a girl. On her 13th birthday, she had run away, cut her hair short and entered the naval academy under disguise. She would prove to her father that she could work her way up the ranks on her own, without banking on her family name or any other help to succeed.
Of course, she wasn't quite alone in that venture. Maki had been close friends with her since they were children, the older girl being a member of a minor noble house, but the two had hit it off immediately at a party when they got into trouble together for the first time, and not for the last time from then onwards. It wasn't an easy task for Maki to slip out of home, but with the somewhat reluctant help of her younger brother Yuuki, the two had managed to get away and enter naval training together.
It had taken a long time, a lot of trouble, and even more crazy adventures with Maki along the way, but they had earned their sea legs and gained recognition. Admiral Matsuura had been very surprised when the top student of the graduating class had come up to him to receive the award, the toothy grin and defiant expression all too familiar to his eyes. Aya had regained her true identity that day, her surprised father too shocked (and very proud of course) by the whole turn of events to object to anything.
That was several years ago, and Aya had worked hard to prove herself every inch of way, never backing down or showing weakness in front of the other men. It helped that Maki was also always beside her, also working hard, and they proved themselved in battle again and again, to the point that even the Admiral could not help but admit that his daughter did indeed cut a fine figure not only as a sailor, but as a true warrior of the sea, as befitting the legacy her ancestors had left behind.
Still, now her reputation was hanging by a thread in front of the sole stranger in that room. She didn't get to where she was by being a weak, giggly girl, and she didn't want her "guest" to underestimate her. After all, what did a lady of a noble family know of her exploits at sea?
Wait, scratch that, a renegade
noble lady. The circumstances of which said lady had found her way onto the warship were...questionable, to say the least. Aya couldn't help but smirk a bit when she remembered that morning, 4 days ago...-Flashback-
The rapid thuds of running feet against cobblestones, the sound of the waves lapping against the wharf, the raised voices in pursuit of a lone lady, clad all in white.
The Goto siblings were standing at the rail, aboard the warship Defiance, even as other men were busily preparing for their imminent departure. The outcry raised caught their attention, and they stared curiously at the running figures.
The ship was ready to depart, the great vessel easing slowly off the wharf. The running woman appeared to be heading in their direction. The Goto siblings were soon joined by Natsumi, and the three stared disbelievingly at the ruckus on the wharf. What was going on?
The pursuers were catching up to the woman, and she was running out of wharf to run. Even as the three onboard the warship looked on, the woman gathered up her skirts jumped off the wharf, an impressive leap indeed.....and caught onto the mooring rope of the Defiance.
The wind caught the raised sails of the warship, and they moved out of the harbor, the lady still clinging desperately to the rope, even as they gawked on down at her. Natsumi was the first to recover from her amazement, and was first to start tugging up on the rope, the other two joining in to help haul the ragged woman up onboard the ship.
Maki was helping her up, watching her dust off her clothes. Natsumi stared at the young woman, feeling a faint hint of recognition, as if she had seen her somewhere.
"Wait...Ishikawa?" The First Mate gasped. The younger woman froze.
Maki eyed the lady next to her. "Aren't you supposed to be somewhere else? ...like a church, maybe?" For indeed, Ishikawa Rika was clad in full bridal dress, though a bit torn and dirty by now after all her exertions.
"I have my reasons." Her face was set in an expression of resolute determination. Natsumi and Maki exchanged a look. Yuuki cleared his throat.
"Well, we should take her to the captain, right?" He suggested tentatively. The two officers looked at each other, then shrugged.
"Might as well."
Aya stared at the ragged-looking Ishikawa Rika before her, a imperturbable expression on her face. "You ran away from your wedding?"
Rika looked defiant. "So? Are you going to send me back then?"
Aya said nothing for a moment. Then she looked up. "The groom...Tachibana, was it?" Rika nodded, her eyes wary.
"Oh alright then. Welcome aboard."
The others in the room all gaped at the sudden change in demeanour. Rika blinked. "Why are you helping me?" She asked uncertainly. "You don't even know me."
Aya shrugged, leaning back in her seat. "I might not know you, but I know your groom." She waved a dismissive hand. "You're better off without him."
And now here they were, their opinions clashing. Aya was keeping Rika inside for her own good, really. After all, she was on board a warship with many men, and some of them wouldn't hesitate to be a bit more...forward with her person. Rika didn't have the protection of rank and reputation as Gocchin and Nacchi had, nor the extra combat training that all the female crew had been personally given by Aya herself. Even if Rika had the Ishikawa name as a matter of social backing, it wouldn't matter at all on board ship. After all, different rules applied at sea. Aya could forbid them to her heart's content, but she couldn't ensure that every single one would abide to her decision. The more honorable soldiers would obey her, but the common sailor? Aya really rather not risk the safety of her guest, but she had trouble articulating her thoughts in a direct way, probably something she inherited from her father.
Ishikawa stood there, arms folded and head held high. A proud woman, this one was. A spirited one too. Running away from her own wedding! Aya had to give her props for that. She respected strength of character, and this woman in front of her had plenty of it.
Taking a deep breath, Aya made her decision. "Fine, I'll allow you more freedom of movement. But
, you must have someone I put with you at all times. That's the condition you must accept if I am to grant you this favor." The young captain steepled her fingers together in front of her, resting her chin on them as she looked straight at Rika.
Their locked gazes was fairly supercharged, and no one moved during the exchange. Suddenly, Rika smiled. "I accept."
"Good." Aya paused, looking thoughtfully at the ceiling for a moment. "So...who do we put with her? Gocchin? Nacchi? Opinion?"
Her officers looked at each other. "We have work..." Maki started slowly. "So we can't be with her at all times."
Natsumi snapped her fingers. "Hmmm someone...someone...got it! The rookie!" Maki stared blankly at her at first, then her eyes lit up. "OH. That one. Yeah, she's a nice one. Can she handle it though?"
Aya raised an eyebrow. "Mind telling me who you've got in mind?"
Natsumi looked at Maki. Maki shrugged. "Yeah I saw her name...Kame-something..."
"Turtle?" Nacchi and Aya blinked simultaneously. Rika just looked like she was about to laugh.
Maki was massaging her temples. "Um no...wait...what was it...OH YEAH!" She snapped her fingers. "Kamei...Eri, I think." She nodded decisively. "Yeah, Kamei Eri. Cute girl, shy though."
"Kamei Eri...oh yes, the newbie. First long-haul voyage, I think." Aya mentally recalled the personnel list. She had made the point of going through the whole thing before setting off and memorising every detail. Maki used to laugh at her for being overkill with her obsession with details. But it did have its advantages.
"I remember working with her. She needs a bit more confidence, but she's competent. Good then, we'll place her on bodyguard duty, give her a bit of a boost." Aya nodded decisively. She then turned to Rika.
"I trust you will behave yourself, don't disrupt the normal workings of the ship and don't get into trouble. Try staying away from the men if you can, I don't want them to be distracted, and let's not give them a reason to be tempted. It's for your own safety." Aya smiled, looking far older than her relatively young age. The young captain then shot a sidelong glance at Maki, who was not-so-discreetly checking out their guest. "On second thoughts, stay away from some of the women too." Aya added laconically, giving a pointed look at the distracted Second Mate. Nacchi snickered, and Rika just smiled.
"Of course, I appreciate your concerns and I will certainly be discreet. Thank you Captain." Rika was about to curtsey, but the borrowed clothes (shirt and breeches) didn't seem to fit well with the move, so she settled for nodding politely instead.
"I'm glad. Gocchin..." Aya glanced at her friend, who still wasn't paying attention, and changed her mind. "Nacchi, can you escort Lady Ishikawa back to her room please? And bring me this Kamei Eri so I can brief her on what to do. Dismissed." Natsumi saluted and left with Rika in tow.
Aya sighed as she turned to look at Maki, who seemed kinda lost in her own fantasy land somewhere far beyond this world.
"Oy Gocchin." No response.
"Yoohoo~" A bit of drool trickled down from one side of those full lips.
Aya rolled her eyes. "Plan B then." She stood up...and stomped on the older girl's foot.
"Ouch ouch ouch ouch!!!" Maki reacted instantly, clutching one foot and hopping around in pain.
"Now that I've gotten your attention.......no." Aya's voice was firm.
"No what?" Maki asked, rubbing her aching foot.
"You know what I mean. Control yourself girl, we've only been out 4 days! Sheesh, I can't imagine how you're going to survive the voyage." The young woman paced around behind her desk, her hands clasped behind her back.
"I can always get you drunk again if I get desperate..." Maki muttered under her breath. Unfortunately for her, Aya heard it...and blushed, albeit faintly.
"NO WAY. Not again. Never again. Go bother Nacchi or something." Aya blew out a long breath to steady herself.
"And who says I haven't?" Maki said, half-jokingly, winking at a shocked Aya.
"Goto, you didn't!"
"You can go ask her yourself."
"Oh no no no. I don't want to know." Aya was on the verge of wanting to thud her head against the wall of her cabin repeatedly. "Out." She pointed at the door.
Maki pouted. "Awww I thought I was your best friend!"
The Second Mate didn't need another hint and left, but not before bowing mockingly at the fuming Aya. The young captain sighed. Why couldn't she have more normal friends?
Meanwhile, near the cannons...
Niigaki Risa was whistling to herself as she went to fetch something she had accidentally left belowdecks earlier. Finding the object in question, she was about to leave when she saw a splotch of color stuck between two cannons. Curious, she walked closer to it and saw a familiar person seemingly sleeping in the small space between the cannons.
"Kamei?" Risa blurted out. She wasn't expecting to see the girl she shared the crew's quarters with. Eri woke with a start, blinking blearily. "Whaa...Niigaki?" The rookie almost burst out in tears of relief. "Please help me! I'm stuck!"
Risa formed an 'o' with her mouth in surprise, but seeing the genuine distress on the other girl's face, she chuckled and decided to lend a hand. A moment or two later, Eri was free, and thanking Risa profusely. Risa grinned.
"Come on, we're going to be late for the meal." Risa extended a hand to Eri, who after a moment of hesitance, took it.
"You can call me Risa, or Gaki-san, if you want." Eri blinked. "Brat?"
Risa smiled sheepishly. "I got stuck with that in the academy. But I don't mind now." She assured Eri.
"I think...I'll just call you Risa." Eri said shyly. Risa grinned. "And I'll just call you Eri, ok?" Eri nodded, a small smile on her face. Risa then suddenly pumped her fist in the air.
"We gotta run, or there won't be any food left! Come on Eri, let's go!"
Eri smiled to herself as she was half-dragged along by Risa. This was turning out to be a better day than expected after all.
If only she knew what assignment was waiting for her later...
Hmm I hope Maki wasn't too out of character. Eh, whatever, I kinda just wrote the dialogue on the spur of a moment. Completely spontaneous. Haha.
And oh right, I'm planning to start another thread to write the side stories of "All Aboard!". Stories that I can't quite fit into the main body of this fic itself, so I'll put them in a different thread to avoid confusion. They will mostly be snippets pre-story, like background info on some of the characters, some funny moments that I couldn't quite place in the fic proper, and stuff like that. I hope you guys will like it.