Pirate oil paint does not so easily get off, Sho comes to discover. After bathing for an hour, scrubbing so hard that he has red blotches on certain sensitive parts of his body, he has to give up, relinquishing the fact that he just has to accept white spots on random places for a while. Hopefully, the salt will take it eventually.
With his decency, Sho refuses to wear his blue navy pants again though, before the messy smudges are gone, and thus, he gives in and borrows a pair of tight-fitting black pants from the pirates. Curtesy of Nino, who stepped in just as Sho was towelling himself off,
“I convinced the captain to let you borrow these. He said they might fit you,”
Sho is starting to learn what ‘fit’ means to the stylish pirate, when he has to wiggle his way into the garment, his ass quite a tight fit.
Only because he has no other choice, does Sho not waddle into the study of Matsumoto in his underwear and demand another pair.
Also maybe because he wants to see the look on Matsumoto’s face when Sho actually does not complain and pretends to be ignorant about the cut of the pants. Would that please the pirate?
Sho is nothing if not persistently calm.
After working in the masts for four hours, Ohno thanks Sho quietly with a nod of his head and offers him to share some rum with him and Nino in the evening.
It gives Sho the chance of a break away from Matsuda, since Ohno has enough of Matsumoto’s trust to be allowed to keep an eye on him. And thus Sho agrees.
On his way to the other end of the crew’s quarters, Sho finds himself looking forward to sharing something with the others on the ship, to celebrate a day of hard work. Despite his aching muscles, he feels cleansed somehow, evolved and changed. Up until now, despite not being locked in a cell, Sho has felt like a prisoner all the same.
But today it was different.
Despite the shape of the job, Sho finally felt freer when Matsumoto asked him to work for him.
Though Sho does not like the pirate, does not like what he stands for and what he did to Sho and his crew, Sho found himself willing to help Matsumoto.
And not until this quiet moment to himself, does he realise the meaning of that willingness.
Sho spends an hour or two with the two others, tasting and cringing at the rum Ohno offers him, once and for all realising what Aiba meant when he said to stay away from the stuff.
It is strong and bitter and cheap, so much that Sho misses the sake he would usually drink back at Daylight.
But for Nino, his taste in alcohol is seemingly the same as his taste in food: Is it poisonous? No? Good, then he will devour it. To Sho’s friend, food is more of a means to survive than for him to enjoy himself.
As Sho does not partake in the drinking, he quickly leaves as soon as Nino’s words start to get slurry and Ohno’s eyelids grow heavy. For the sake of not wasting his time carrying the two of them to their beds, Sho quietly slithers out, making his way up on deck as fast as he can.
Should he run into Matsuda or Matsumoto, he is bound to be sent back to his quarters. And he wants to take a look at the stars and enjoy the night air for just a little bit, just a minute.
The air is still and completely quiet when he makes it up above, most of the pirates sleeping or playing cards below deck, making Sho the only person here. It is dark, safe for the oil lanterns hanging like still fireflies beside the door to the quarters.
Like a shadow brushing past, Sho moves away towards the dark middle of the deck. A single lamp is dangling by a mast, but it does little to obscure or outshine the light from the stars above which makes this miniscule light pale in comparison, a small, copied fire. There are no clouds, and the sky is illuminated by thousands of winking stars, dotting a wall of black in random patterns, in clusters forming the Milky Way above Sho’s head.
He inhales deeply, tasting the salt and the water on his tongue, now that there are no smells of sweat and paint in his nostrils to smudge its purity. Sho takes a few steps forward, albeit very slowly, dwelling in this completely silent moment he has, all to himself. Like this, Sho can easily imagine being the only person in the world. Alone with his thoughts at sea, with no troubles weighing on his mind.
It is so blissfully calm.
He makes his way towards the railing, the sea below him stretching wide into the black eternity, hiding the horizon by reflecting what is above. And before Sho’s eyes, it seems as though the white ship is slowly floating through the stars themselves, the perfect picture ruined only by small, unimportant ripples in the waters around the hull.
Sho finds himself drawn to this picture, breathless when he leans over the railing, the timber beneath his fingertips the only thing preventing him from falling, swallowed head first into the ocean of starlight.
There are no sounds, nothing but the view and Remarkable, which in the black of the night is but a shadow at sea, her light obscured.
Sho does not startle, when a whisper of a voice breaks the calming quiet, a shade of movement in the corner of his eye,
“Nothing compares, does it?”
The rhetorical question is quite like the one he asked Sho a couple of days ago.
This time, Sho finds it easy to answer,
“I will forever yearn for this view.”
His answer seems to surprise Matsumoto. Or maybe just the fact that he is answering has the man move a little closer, a small step, his eyes now on Sho, who continues to look at the invisible horizon.
“Whether I am right before it or not, I yearn for it.”
Sho does not ask himself why he is telling Matsumoto this. Maybe it is the solemn mood which makes his tongue lighter somehow, or maybe Matsumoto has come to have a calming presence on him, one which also affected him in his fright amongst the masts today. Or maybe it is Sho’s sleepy mind and his sore muscles which make the difference.
But it does not matter.
If Sho is to flee from this ship anyway, it does not matter whether he shares a part of his mind with his captor, lets him know that despite it all, Matsumoto has let him have more than any other pirate probably would by letting him enjoy the stars.
“I never quite took you for a dreamer, Sakurai-san.”
Sho snickers, smiles to himself and shoots Matsumoto a brief glance, feeling a warmth starting to take root in his chest,
“I do come across as more of an actor, don’t I?”
That has Matsumoto smiling softly, before he turns to follow Sho’s gaze across the water, “I always dream before I act,” the pirate starts, and as his eyes swallow up the view, his voice drops in sound, as if he is suddenly elsewhere, “Everything I do, I do because I want to. What I have here, this ship, my crew, is something I have yearned for, still yearn to have. At sea, there are no rules to make my life worth less. Nothing preventing me from being happy.”
The brown of Matsumoto’s eyes vanishes in the stars, and his irises are illuminated, swallowing up and mirroring the sky above.
Sho’s eyes are now impossible to tear away from this other view,
“I have always wanted freedom. Freedom from the ropes that used to bind me to a post, a duty as someone who could never become more than third mate,” Matsumoto pauses and takes a breath, and Sho has to lean towards him, move closer by a few steps to hear how he continues. In the silence, Matsumoto’s voice becomes quieter, “Though I was better, though I helped with the coordinates, they never let me be more than an errand boy!”
His rising voice makes Sho startle, and he recoils. Only to witness how Matsumoto is biting his lips, eyes hard and hurtful.
The stars and the quiet are not only doing things to Sho, it is making Matsumoto spill things too. Things, Sho somehow suspects have not been shared for a long time.
“Just because of my status, of my parent’s stations, I could never be more. People would always look down on me! Always using me for a payment of pain,” Matsumoto looks young again, when he sinks down to rest his elbows and arms on the railing, gaze so very far away, “And I found strength from nowhere to break away from all that. Maybe I was a coward to flee. But I do not want to be bound to a system which only hurts people like me: That majority of people of lower status.” Suddenly, Matsumoto turns to look Sho straight in the eye, “Just for the rich to be richer, mightier, freer to do whatever they want. Such a world is not just.”
First, Sho thinks the anger he sees in Matsumoto’s dark eyes is aimed at him, because is he not that minority of rich people? Does his family not have so much money they do not know what to do with it? Does his family not abuse those of lower station?
But then he realises that Matsumoto is not angry at Sho, as if he is the one doing these things, no, Matsumoto is furious at the system, and he tries to share that anger, convey it to Sho. To show Sho exactly what it is his family, his society is doing to Sho. As if to clarify exactly what kind of world Sho has been living in, all these years.
To show the contrast of Sho’s world, against Matsumoto’s – the one he offers here, on this ship.
A world he offers just because he wants to. Not because someone is telling him, forcing him, to hire Sho to his crew, to have Sho sail with them and help them against Sho’s will.
Had Matsumoto been bound to any rules, he would have killed Sho before his crew plundered Daylight. Hell, Matsumoto would have his sharpshooter end Sho, just like he ended Shibayama. He would have blown Daylight to pieces, sent Sho’s remains back to his family at a ransom.
And yes, Sho still hates Matsumoto and his pirates for destroying Sho’s colleagues, his friends, his ship, his dream. But Sho is slowly starting to question that dream. The reality of it.
Matsumoto grew up in the low part of society, most likely fighting his way up, into the navy, only to become the underdog.
The pain in the man’s eyes shows that life has not been easy. He was not some thief from the streets, some criminal who could not follow the rules, who fought just to fight, who bit the hand the fed him. No, Matsumoto Jun was someone who truly tried to live in the society they have all established in Japan.
But Sho knows, he has learned that status will always get in the way of things, status will always define who you are and what you can do. Your family’s status, the status of your ancestors, there is little you can do to change your destiny in a world such as that, a world affected and defined by violence and a twisted balance of power. Whether you are rich or poor, your future is decided as soon as you are born.
Matsumoto sighs deeply, the tension vanishing from his shoulders, and when he smiles, Sho thinks he has just learned a lot about this man who grew to become a feared pirate captain by power of will,
“But who am I to tell you all this, Sakurai-san? You do not strike me as someone who would let such a society brainwash you. I am sure you already know all this,”
The image before Sho is enough to take his breath away.
Matsumoto is resting his head on the railing, eyes shining along with the stars as he aims them at Sho, those beauty marks of his in patterns as stunning as the constellations above, his whole being vibrating with happiness and peace from obtaining bliss, with no ropes to bind him or hold him down. Not anymore.
This being, Sho observes, is not cruel, not towards others, he would never force his will and his dreams over the head of another, he would choose to only share and offer the pleasure he has found. He would never force Sho to do anything.
Sho feels his fingers twitch, yearning to touch the face of the lovely, lovely creature which has Sho forgetting the view of their surroundings, only seeing him. Despite the allure of the sky, of the water and the stars, it all fades in comparison to this person who has found himself, and who is offering Sho the same.
Sho’s walls are crumbling, his resolve uncertain. The ground on which he has built his beliefs, his dreams, his opinions is unstable, making him question everything he has fought for, stood for. Was any of it real?
But then Matsumoto’s smile grows and he straightens up again, moving into Sho’s space so unexpectedly that Sho is momentarily stunned, eyes growing wide.
“People do not change from one day to the other. It takes time to understand the world. Especially if you have been living inside a cage, with no means to look beyond your walls,” Matsumoto raises his hand to caress Sho’s face, only with the tips of his ringed fingers, but he is so warm, “You have time, Sho. To break away from the role forced upon you. If you want to. Here, no one compels you to do anything.” His touch moves from eyebrow to jaw before he steps back, his quiet smile completely unreadable.
Then he turns away, leaving Sho to burn after his touch, to grasp that faithful railing to try and regain his foothold on the spinning ground beneath him.
And Sho is alone, his beliefs and his dreams stripped away, exposing him.
Now, he only yearns to feel that touch again, for it to steady him, as he is now robbed of his vision, moving blindly.
Sho finds he no longer knows what he wants, whether anything he ever did was for himself. Whether he truly dreamt of that reputation, that glory he would get with Daylight.
Was any of it even his dream? Or was it his father’s? That of his society?
And would it even have meant anything? For him? For his family?
Suddenly, it all seems pointless to Sho, a revelation knocking the air from his lungs, rendering him breathless.
“If we keep steering towards the pass here,” he points to a spot on his maps, circles a patch of dark blue paint, “We should reach Singapore in about two weeks. Give or take a few days. Remarkable will handle the rest of this journey no problem.”
Shota hums beside him and straightens up, nodding in agreement.
Jun shares his plans with his first mate not because the man would be able to add anything – he has no experience in navigating – but to let him know Jun’s course of action. If Shota knows what Jun wants, how he wants it done, he can – without necessarily asking Jun – carry out orders to the crew in order to obtain whatever wish Jun has, and in the best way possible.
The two of them has been working like this for two years, and with the knowledge of each other’s personalities and ways of doing things, they form quite a capable team.
Also, Jun is probably the only one who can handle the constantly angry-looking first mate. He is the only one who knows how shy Shota actually is.
“And what are your plans for the navy captain?” Shota asks then.
There is spite in his words, Jun can hear it, no matter how much Shota tries to disguise the scorn. It is there, in his eyes.
Jun sighs, “You know what my plans are, Shota-san. If he wants to, I will have him join our crew. I need a navigator. I cannot do this myself.”
“You handle it just fine.”
“Yes, fine. Not great,” Jun shoots the man a stern look, “Finding someone to work for us with a brain even half as good as Sakurai’s is close to impossible. You know that as well as I.”
“But he works for the government.”
“Worked. We are not certain he does so anymore.”
Jun is not sure whether this is just his biased wishful thinking. Before his talk with the officer last night, he honestly had little hope of getting anywhere in changing the man’s way of seeing things. To Jun, Sakurai is the most stubborn person he has ever met. Stubborn and bull-headed.
But what he saw in Sakurai’s eyes was no lie. So far, Jun has had a hard time reading the man, but what he saw then was uncertainty and doubt, insecurity, Jun never thought he would ever witness in Sakurai’s strong gaze.
And that gave Jun hope of being able to change him.
It will take a while, definitely, because a man like Sho is not so easily swayed in his beliefs. Not with his history, his background.
Jun wonders whether there will be enough time.
The fact that Ninomiya and Aiba have so easily fallen into their roles here, enjoying what they do, is helping a lot though, since they indirectly show Sakurai how much previous navy officers can come to like being on Remarkable, despite what the pirates did to their previous ship.
- Or, at least Jun wants to believe that what he sees in their smiling faces is reality, and not some farce they are pulling on him and his crew, led by Sakurai behind the curtain.
Here, they are bound to a set of rules, they can understand and accept.
On Remarkable, everyone gets a share of the haul, everyone is playing a part and getting almost an equal wage. No matter their station, their past, their future.
Their posts are not decided by law or by prejudice. Jun chooses the job he gives them based on their abilities, their strengths. You earn as much as you work for. And no one is unfairly treated.
Not even a captive.
Jun hopes, preys, that Sho will come to see this.
He glances at the heavy, silver ring on his middle finger, twirls it slightly as he remembers the tickle in his fingertips when he touched Sho’s cheek. It was a bold move, and half-way through, Jun had realised how grave the outcome could have been. If Sho had stepped away, refused it.
But he did not.
And it left Jun off balance, confused. Though somehow bolder. Maybe he should try something even more daring next time.
There is a swift knock on the door.
As if on cue, the subject of his thoughts enter his quarters.
His hair is a lot messier than when Jun first saw him, salt and wind tousling his black locks, having them wave a little stiffly around the sides of his face. And it pleases Jun to see how his cheeks have filled out a bit, in reaction to all the food Jun has offered him. Seems he has dutifully accepted it. There is also a warmer glow to his face, and Jun doubts Sho has himself realised it – how much healthier he looks on Remarkable. Is he happier here, perhaps?
The thought makes Jun’s a flutter set off in Jun’s chest.
But that tinge of hope is short-lived, when Jun notices the steel in Sho’s eyes, flinty as they zero right in on Jun.
“Matsumoto-san.” He greets curtly, gaze flickering quickly to Shota, with no other form of acknowledgment, “We need to talk.”
Jun really cannot help but raise an eyebrow.
He dares to make demands of the captain?
Must be due to Sho’s own past of being top dog. He has yet to learn how to address a superior. Or he just does not want to.
Despite of this, Jun nods to Shota, meets his eyes and silently asks him to leave.
Sakurai has not removed his stare from Jun, when the Jun looks back at him. His hands are balled to fists at his sides, his mouth set in a thin line.
Jun’s heart starts beating rapidly.
And when Sho steps closer to his desk, as soon as Shota closes the door behind him, Jun starts to sense that something has gone terribly wrong, his eyes inevitably flickering to Sakurai’s palms landing on his table-top, slowly, ominously.
Despite the wood as a barrier between them, Jun feels truly intimidated by the man for the first time, finally witnessing real, hot anger emanating from Sakurai in heavy waves.
Sakurai’s voice is a low growl when he finally speaks again,
“Ohno-san is the sharpshooter.”
Perhaps, during these two months with Sakurai on his ship, despite what Jun just thought, he has not learned anything about the man at all. Is he still so far from knowing him, that Sakurai can make Jun this anxious?
Jun blinks. Momentarily stunned.
“Why didn’t you kill me?”
Jun actually finds that he cannot answer, “I don’t-”
“Why didn’t you kill me, Matsumoto?!”
There is pain in his voice, frustration behind those angry words, and maybe that is why Jun feels such a big lump in his throat, such an obscurity, rendering him unable to answer Sho.
It is not strange, that this man in front of Jun is so utterly confused. Jun has not made it very easy for him. Not at all.
“Why…” Sho’s voice breaks, and that hardness in his eyes softens, “Why did you kill Shibayama, and not me? Why did you keep me alive, when you could have so easily…” he takes a deep breath, fighting to collect himself, “You told Ohno-san to keep me alive.”
“I wanted to see you for myself.” That is the easy answer. “I wanted to see what this famous Sakurai Sho looked like. Whether he was as young and obstinate as people said he was.”
Jun’s answer does not take the confusion away from Sho’s eyes, does not make his shoulders less tense and his breathing less laboured.
The answer to why Matsumoto has kept Sho alive after their first meeting, is of an entirely different level of difficulty, an explanation which is close to impossible for Jun to give. Since he still does not know it himself. He has not reached that answer, and thus cannot give it to Sho.
So he hopes that the officer is too caught up in the first problem, in his sorrow of losing an important friend that he will not ask this other question yet.
Hopefully, Jun will then know the answer later, when he comes to ask.
Jun continues with a shrug which is way more nonchalant than he feels, “And I guess he did live up to his reputation. You sure are hard to handle. Talking to me this rudely, despite me being your captain.”
“You are not my captain.”
The words sting more than Jun lets Sho know.
“Really, Sakurai, how long must we keep fighting like this?”
Some of the stiffness goes out of Sho’s angled shoulders, and he falls back on his heels, removing his hands from Jun’s heavy table, only for him to clench them again, tensely, anxiously. Perhaps taken aback by the exhaustion in Jun’s voice.
Sho looks like someone who is lost, a child fighting desperately to protect himself from being hurt,
“It was cruel of you to keep me alive. A captain goes down with his ship. Anything else is disgraceful.” His voice is ice.
Jun’s nostrils flare. Did Sho not listen to a word he said last night?
“Disgraceful! What is your definition of honour, huh Sakurai?” Jun’s own anger spikes, and he stands up so fast that the chair behind him falls over with a loud bang.
He scowls across the desk, straight into Sho’s eyes with the same ire as is mirrored in Sho’s almost black eyes,
“Are you a failure if you do not follow your father’s rules, huh?! Are you a disgrace if you do not bring back treasures to those bastards hungering for more power, more gold? Those bastards who are the real thieves, the real criminals, stealing everything that people own, for their own pleasure. Do you want to be like them? Do you? To exploit the people who are too weak to fight back? To surround yourself with men who are as fucking vain as you apparently want to be!” Jun’s voice has risen to a yell, urged on by a momentum, “If so, be my guest! But do it from the bottom of the sea, will you. I do not want a worthless government scum on my ship. You make me sick.”
For a few seconds, the navy captain does not move. He seems frozen in place, stunned at the force of Jun’s words.
The pirate is breathing fast, feeling the sting of angry tears in the corners of his eyes, refusing to let them fall. He will not show this man weakness. This man he tried so persistently to liberate from the brainwashing his country has done to him. Jun cannot forgive him for refusing to break his own chains.
He trusted Sho’s better judgement.
But he was clearly wrong to give this man so much, to show him Jun’s own world, share his beliefs.
For the second time, Jun feels the cold bitterness of choosing the wrong person to trust so blindly.
Then, Sho’s mouth curls into a snarl, making him look like a predator, close to tearing the source of his fury apart, “Damn you, Matsumoto-!”
Jun braces himself by moving away from his deck, taking one step back and creating space for a fight.
The door opens.
“Hey, um guys.”
Recognizing the voice instantly, Jun curses silently.
If that imp is daring to break up their fight, Jun cannot promise he will not break the man’s neck when he attempts to do so.
Only very briefly does Jun let his focus flicker to the small man at the door, witnessing Sho turning around very fast to take in the one guilty of disturbing them.
“Not now, Nino.” Sho says, and it is clear that he is leaving no room for objection or further inquiries.
Jun briefly wonders whether Sho is so angry that he could tear Ninomiya apart too, should he come between them.
“Yes now. Guys, save your fight for later. We have a navy ship on our heels.”
There had been no time for Jun to keep an eye on Sakurai during the stressful hours of outrunning the dark navy ship coming at them at too high a speed. And thus no way for him to know what Sakurai was up to during it all, whether he was planning to sabotage Jun in some way, mess with the sails or the crew.
Surprisingly, nothing had seemingly happened, and Remarkable had gotten out of the pinch unharmed and in one piece.
Satoshi had informed Jun of the ship’s name: Endeavour, and along with that name, Jun had known he was up against the experienced Captain Nagase, known for having sunk hundreds of pirate ships during his 15 years as captain of his ship.
There was no way Jun would have allowed that guy to come even remotely closer to his Remarkable. So he had asked the crew to furl the sails, turn the ship around and towards the Gulf of Thailand, with plans of losing Nagase along the way. And he succeeded, throwing the bigger navy ship off balance by turning so sharply to starboard, gaining speed faster than Endeavour, and afterwards throwing her off in the narrower waters. All accomplished with a damaged hull from their encounter with The Daylight.
That small detour has cost Jun some time, and an extra couple of days to Singapore.
The captain is now once more bent over his maps, a brush in his hand and his compass in the other. He has not greeted Sakurai on deck for a few days, staying mostly in his quarters and letting Shota carry out most of his orders.
Jun hates when his plans do not work out, when he is delayed.
Every extra day on sea before reaching Singapore, brings him and his crew in danger. More and more pirates will come to know about the sinking of Daylight, of her treasures which are most likely on board Remarkable now (they are) and only the stupid ones will hesitate to try and catch Remarkable before she reaches Singapore.
And Jun does not like it. This haul is his, and he will not hand it over to anyone else.
Despite the delay and the extra days it gives Sakurai to consider his options, Jun is worried. The captain was mostly by the wheel during the run from Nagase, and thus he did not know what Sakurai did during that time. Whether he was helping a station, whether he was below deck, planning a coup with Ninomiya and Aiba.
Jun absolutely does not know where he has the man right now. Not after the heated fight in his quarters, not after Sakurai reacted so negatively to Jun laying out his thoughts, his deepest desires and opinions to him.
Jun feels as if he needed to play with open cards, and so he did. Now, Jun is constantly worrying that he overdid it. And the risk of it leading to losing a possible navigator is one thing, but the extent of Jun’s anxiety reaches beyond that.
To a point Jun is not sure he wants to explore. There is no way he can go there.
The desperate wish to have Sho on board is most likely no longer only due to the advantage his abilities could bring.
Jun sighs deeply and ruffles his hair in frustration, not caring that he messes up the styling he did just a few hours ago. Who cares about looks when there is this person on his ship who keeps on invading his thoughts, with no way for Jun to solve the issue? When he does not know how to.
Seriously, he needs to get laid. The whores at the port of Singapore are too far away.
Sho cannot blame Ohno for anything. Not with the way he has inevitably come to like the quiet, airheaded sharpshooter.
Matsumoto was the one to keep his true identity a secret, Matsumoto was the one to give out the order to Ohno, Matsumoto was the one who chose his subordinate’s course of action.
And thus, Sho cannot understand why it makes him so angry to be around Ohno. Why it annoys him and makes him snap at the man, who has no reason to be snapped at, since he is only doing his job by helping Sho oil the ship, tie the ropes, repair the holes in their fishing nets.
Ohno chooses to be by Sho’s side when he is doing these small odd jobs, without voicing any kind of annoyance at being down on deck when he could relax in his crow’s nest. He does not say it, but he is doing it for Sho to be free of Matsuda – Nino told Sho as much in a quiet whisper over lunch, making sure Ohno did not hear.
Of course, having Ohno look after Sho also enables the first mate to carry out all the orders the captain is too lazy to handle himself.
After the near-clash with the navy warship, Matsumoto has been holed up in his quarters for two days, only coming out at night to gaze at the stars – which has Sho tiptoeing back to his quarters when he happens to want a breath of fresh air and finds the captain there.
Sho knows he is being a coward for avoiding Matsumoto. But he does not want a fight like the one they had last time.
Since, not only did it hurt Sho, hearing Matsumoto tell him the things he did, accuse him for being on the governments’ side, but it Matsumoto hurt too. Sho saw it in his eyes.
And that painful expression haunts Sho at night, forces him to get out of bed to stare at the sky and the sea for a few hours. Sho does not feel more peaceful afterwards, but sometimes, he feels exhausted enough before dawn to get back and get a few hours of troubled sleep.
Sho does not know why it affects him so much, why it keeps bugging him that he made Matsumoto look like that. The usually stoic Matsumoto Jun wearing such a sad expression, full of hurt and something else. Like he could not quite comprehend that Sho was actually saying such things to him.
Sho hates himself for feeling so guilty.
But why would he not be confused and guilty for being saved while the rest of his crew was blown to bits by Matsumoto and his pirates? Why was it so wrong for Sho to question Matsumoto’s agenda?
Why did his beautiful face turn to look so dark when Sho demanded answers?
Is Sho the one who is in the wrong?
Of course Sho is dizzy, when his initial image of pirates, his initial idea of Matsumoto’s reason for keeping him alive is clashing with what Matsumoto tells him, shows him, explains to him. The two does not fit together, and Sho is trying and failing at coming up with the right answer to what reality is.
Is Matsumoto lying? Does he have other plans? Would that night, when he seemed to be shining under the stars be part of a farce too? Would he go that far?
Sho’s father would say yes. His education and his society would say yes.
But what about the world Matsumoto tells Sho is also out there? A world of freedom and no bounds. Would that world tell Sho that what Matsumoto is showing him has been the truth from the very beginning?
Suddenly, Sho roars and harshly shoves the fishing net he was working on, down at his feet,
“This is just impossible!”
From beside him, Ohno does not even blink at Sho’s outburst. Maybe he is used to it by now.
“No it is not.”
Turning his head sharply at the man sitting on a crate beside Sho, Sho snarls,
“I do not care anymore.”
Sho has always relied on his instincts and his wits to tell him the best course of action. It has always been the books and the theory and the knowledge which has guided him in his decisions, his way of living.
And when none of that is helping him, he does not know what to do. What to rely on.
There is no way he can voice out his concerns to Ohno, no way he could tell Aiba – none of them would understand. One would be ignorant and blink stupidly, the other would be over-positive about it and grin like a madman. And there is absolutely no way Sho would tell Nino.
Because Nino would know what is wrong. And Nino would give Sho answers Sho would not like.
So what options does that leave Sho with?
His confusion left him helping the pirates fleeing from the navy ship. He betrayed those on whose side he is supposed to be on.
When Matsumoto roared his orders to furl the sails, secure and tie the ropes, prepare the cannons, Sho was amongst the crew, carrying cannonballs to Aiba, only to get soot on his arms and his face. And he did not stop to consider what he was doing. He did not ask himself what was morally right. He only felt the thrill of the run, the will to win.
And when they were safe, when they were sure the navy ship had given up on the pursuit, Sho had breathed a sigh of relief, had looked towards Matsumoto at the wheel to see the man’s relieved grin.
And where does that leave Sho now? In which camp?
The city of Singapore is an island of prosperity in South East Asia, its location ideal for the trades taking place in the port at the Singapore Strait, which is growing by the year, expanding and attracting more and more people; merchants and tailors, smiths and farmers, all looking to buy and sell their wares.
The location and the people inhabiting the island makes the surrounding waters the most dangerous for navy ships. Because the traders here are not only Singaporeans. Most people are pirates, selling their stolen goods to the highest bidder, trading their silver for repairs and whores and silks.
The port is famous for hiding pirates in its deep waters, and should anyone try to penetrate and rid the city of the criminals, it will turn into a fortress, everyone working together to destroy the government ships that get too close.
No one is interested in the government meddling with their business.
No vessels but pirate ships can sail these waters.
Jun gazes out his window, takes in the dark, brooding city, defined by theft and opium and prostitution, and he feels the adrenaline rising in him. As soon as they anchor, he will make his way through the many stalls on the docks, looking for a buyer of his goods, looking for the one who will pay him the most.
While he does that, Shota will walk along the line of docked ships, searching for a proper carpender to make repairs on Remarkable. Someone reliable.
Over the years, Jun and his first mate have come to know a few shipwrights, the truly skilled ones. And they may not be as cheap as some are, but Jun will not compromise when it concerns his ship.
If they are lucky enough to find Oguri Shun in Singapore, Jun can expect Remarkable to be ready to depart again in less than two weeks, probably in better shape than she has been for a long time.
And during those two weeks, Jun and his crew will have a much deserved break, getting so drunk on alcohol and women that they will not be too sad to depart from it when they leave again.
Jun has no control over how his crew spends their wages, how they spend their share of the loot from Sakurai’s ship, and from experience, he knows that most of them will waste it away in those two weeks.
On the other hand, the captain himself will only spend a small portion, locking the rest away in his hidden box, saving it for a time of need. For the present, Jun has no plans for the storage he has saved up over the years, but at some point he is sure an opportunity will show itself, and he will be glad he saved up the money.
Besides, the only thing Jun will waste money on here are new garments and a bit of expensive sake. The women he can get for free.
Well-known footsteps by his open door announces Shota’s presence.
“Captain, the ship will be ready to dock in less than five minutes. Ohno-san tells me your favourite spot by the fruitstall is free.”
Jun turns away from the growing city in front of him, smiling at his first mate,
“Perfect. Tell the crew to be ready to tie up the ship and lower the anchor. As soon as the ship is secured, you and I will go on our necessary errands. I want the rest of the crew to stay here until then. No one is to leave and waste the money before it is earned. Got it?”
Shota bows his head obediently, and Jun can see the suppressed smile in his eyes. He looks forward to having land beneath his feet again too, “Whom do you want in command then captain? We need someone to keep an eye on the crew while the two of us are gone.”
Yesterday night, Jun came up with the answer to this issue. For once, he did not consult the stars – he was afraid to come upon more complications, should he leave his quarters – , but stayed in his cabin in the flickering light of his candles, pondering upon two problems at once. With no stars and no full lips to distract him, he had come up with a solution to both at the same time.
It is a risky choice he has made, but the test is inevitable at this point. Now in Singapore, the time is up, and Jun will come to know what will happen to that one last navy officer on board.
Jun takes a deep breath and walks a couple of steps closer to Shota, “Now, promise to hear me out before you interrupt me, ok? I want the three navies to keep an eye on the crew.”
“WHAT! Matsumoto-kun, are you crazy?!”
“Please, hear me out.” Jun pleads, eyes fixed on Shota’s incredulous expression and clasps a hand down on his shoulder, “I need to figure out if I can trust these men. And this is the last chance, I have got. The only solution. Look, if they try anything funny, don’t you think Ueda-san and the others would not hesitate to knock them out? If the crew stays on the ship, as ordered, there is no risk of Sakurai and his friends stealing Remarkable. And if I give them the order of keeping the rest of the crew on deck, don’t you think it’ll keep them too busy to try and flee? We would know instantly if such a thing happened anyway.”
In Singapore, almost everyone knows how Remarkable looks, everyone knows Jun and everyone knows Shota. Should they witness Remarkable leaving port suspiciously early or happen to see three unknown men leaving the ship, word would surely spread and in a matter of minutes that word would reach either Jun or Shota.
Jun is not afraid of the risk of leaving Sho to this. Additionally, he cannot imagine Ninomiya wanting to leave what he has found here. It seems he and Satoshi have ended up being rather close. Which also makes Jun reluctant to see Nino go, on Satoshi’s behalf.
The small man does not easily make friends – with his quiet and secretive exterior, he is hard to get to know. For Ninomiya to so easily break through his shell, Jun is grateful to him.
“Matsumoto-kun…” the first mate furrows his brows and shifts on his feet, “This is risky.”
But Jun just nods, “It is.”
“But you are sure of this.”
With that, Shota slumps and sighs. There is nothing he can do to change Jun’s mind anyway,
“You know, sometimes, I do not get this will of yours to do outrageous things. Always pushing it.”
When Jun knows he has won and has convinced his friend, he cannot help the self-satisfied smirk, “You know me. No challenges will just have me end up being bored.”
Surprisingly Shota’s eyebrow shoots up then, making Jun wonder what he said that has Shota gaining such a grin on his face for a few seconds. Only when the man is sufficiently smug about something or feels particularly cruel, does he smile like that.
“You are right. The more challenging, the better.”
“Hey, what does that creepy grin of yours mean? What are you thinking? Oi! Shota!”
But Shota has already stepped away from Jun again, walking towards the door, not in the least looking like he is going to indulge Jun in anything,
“The crew is waiting, Captain. We better get ready to invade Singapore. I am sure Kiko-chan is waiting for you.”
Jun can only scoff and roll his eyes.
Follow the link for part 5