“Furl the sails, for fuck’s sake! Didn’t you bastards hear me the first time!?”
Matsuda is screaming Matsumoto’s orders at the top up his lungs, eyes relentlessly held above him on the people crawling on the slippery spars as they fight to save the sails from the merciless wind. But the first mate’s eyes are blinking rapidly, the heavy drops of water blowing into his eyes and mouth, making it difficult for him to see.
Equally difficult is it for the riggers to hear him above the roar from the wind, the blasting of the crashing waves below.
Jun is by the wheel, squinting into the darkness beyond the ship, the waters thrashing and fighting against Remarkable.
He has tried this before, they all have, but that does not make a storm less dangerous.
If they do not manage to get the sails furled and tied up properly, they risk them getting ripped to pieces, and becoming useless. And no sails mean no speed, no movement. Which means they will get stuck on sea, still far from Singapore. Stuck at sea means death, the rations only able to last so long. An immobile pirate ship is a sitting duck for anyone who would want a piece of their hold, of their weapons, their manpower.
Jun knows a few who would like a piece of him too.
Storms are always risky, but they are a natural occurrence and they happen frequently, especially in this area of the Asian Pacific,
“Matsuda! Get Ueda to make sure Aiba-san has secured the cannons!” The captain bellows, before moving his booted leg to regain balance as he fights with the wheel.
The waters are strong, very strong, though Jun refuses to back down. That would mean the end.
Remarkable is not a heavy, strong ship, not build to fight mother nature like some of the heavier navy ships. She is light and small, almost fragile-looking compared to ships such as The Daylight. Despite of this, Jun’s ship has survived longer than any of those Naval ships she managed to destroy or outrun.
And despite his fear, Jun would not change his ship for any other. They are one in cases such as this. Jun puts trust in his ship, in himself, he believes they can fight it. And should Remarkable go down, so will he.
The rain is icy on his skin, obscuring his view, but Jun just needs to keep the ship from tumbling over, just needs to keep them all above water. They can get back up, back on course when the skies clear again,
“Lay your back into it, Yamada-san! I can see you stalling. There is no time for that!” Jun yells now that Shota is not present to do the yelling for him.
The riggers have the most dangerous job on the ship, and it becomes even more life-threatening for them during a storm such as this. Despite of it, their roles are essential for Jun, for the whole crew, though everyone knows the risk which comes along with the position.
Jun’s eyes shoot towards the bluish grey sky, squinting to make out the slim masts reaching towards the rain like flowers yearning for water, sighing while they bend to the wind, and he thinks of Satoshi who is somewhere up there, struggling along with his comrades.
Though, contrary to the others, the small sharpshooter is most likely not the least bit scared. During the day, the lithe man can be seen balancing on the ropes, crawling from one mast to the other, making sure everything is in order. And when he tires of that, he will be resting in his crow’s nest, from where he can also keep an eye on everything, from where he can take aim and kill as easily and gracefully as he dances behind the billowing sails.
He is one of Jun’s greatest assets. And his best friend.
But despite his talent, despite the faith Jun has in his abilities, the captain will always worry for his friend in a situation such as this.
The deck shakes, and the ship heels strongly to the right, so sudden that Jun has to reach out and make a desperate grab for the seachair, eyes widening when he witnesses the wheel instantly turning, the second Jun lets go. He stumbles, hair soaked in rain- and seawater both, bangs getting into his eyes as he half-crawls, half-jumps to the wheel again, grabbing for it, gasping against the strong pull which temporarily takes his breath away.
But he manages to struggle to his feet again, pushing himself up, so the muscles of both his arms and legs can help in turning them back on course. And slowly, the captain succeeds in stabilizing the ship again, now just having to follow the movements of the ship against each wave, when Remarkable yaws again and again, one time steeper than the other.
Matsuda resumes his yelling on the deck below, and Jun can see that the sails are finally tightly bound and secured, which has him breathe a sigh of relief. At least those will be safe for now.
Now it only comes down to his perseverance. Whether he can retain his strength through the night.
And of course, whether all of the mates and riggers and cabin boys can become burdocks on deck, persisting through the night.
Said crew members are all bustling below him, running and crawling, falling over and tumbling amongst one another while the timbers squeal, the ship unstable and restless.
He watches from his post as a huge wave comes crashing over deck, silent and deadly, leaving the men screaming, screaming for their friends, for their lives as the water takes a couple of them, holds them in its firm grasp, capturing, abducting, before it leaves again, the wood of the deck wet and dangerous but devoid of two of the crew’s mates.
While he follows the happening taking place, an unannounced shadow to Jun’s left sneaks up on him. It causes him to startle when he notices, so much that he almost loses his recaptured hold on the wheel. But just in time, he catches himself and grabs the strong handles even firmer, scolding himself for being caught off guard. Despite the darkness around him, the yells and roars of the sea in his ears, he should remain standing firm and aware.
Squinting, staring into the darkness, Jun finally makes out the figure and recognizes whom it is approaching him. There is no pirate on this ship who has such a decent stature, such a lean back, nor so stoic a walk,
“Sakurai-san, you should be below deck.” Jun tells him, voice fighting the wind.
But the navy captain does not react, he merely steps right up next to Jun, managing to surprise and confuse him after all,
“Let me take over for a while, Captain,”
Jun cannot quite interpret the tone in his voice, if there is any, and he wonders whether this is how Sakurai would speak to his quartermaster, his crew of higher station; voice solid, not quite a command, nor a request. Why would he want to help Jun?
Sakurai watches patiently, raising an arm to shield his eyes from the cruel rain, while Jun’s eyes narrow, scrutinizing, considering.
How can Jun be sure that Sakurai is not just planning to steer them all to their deaths? He cannot.
Despite of that, he nods, turning his body slightly so the officer can step up beside him, take over without Jun letting go of the wheel too early.
In spite of the risk, Jun knows the advantage of someone else taking over the wheel for a while.
When he moves closer, Sakurai’s arm lightly brushes Jun’s, the heat from his body a strong contrast to the icy wind, the cold which has crept into Jun’s core without him noticing. Not until now.
As soon as Sakurai has both hands on the handles, feet planted solidly beneath him, he nods to Jun, silently reassuring him.
But it is not his strong, brown eyes which give Jun the courage to step back and leave the ship to him – it is his belief that Sho will do his utmost to keep his friends alive. There is no way he will risk pulling those two to their deaths along with himself and all of Jun’s pirate crew.
Jun is exhausted to the bone, he realises, now that the adrenaline is fading from his body, his tense shoulders relaxing, but he does not want to leave deck, does not want to leave Sakurai’s side. He does not – obviously – have faith in Sho. Actually, he does not trust the man at all. Though, he secretly wants to.
Sakurai still hates him, Jun knows that, and Jun does not blame him for it.
On the contrary, Jun understands the man. Had Jun been in his position, he would have felt the same, though he probably would have been far more aggressive about it, throwing a tantrum, trying to knock the teeth from the skull of the person who had taken it all away from him.
Sakurai’s calm is to be admired. Envied even.
Though Jun does wonder how long Sho will be able to maintain it.
Behind Sakurai’s collected, deep-brown eyes, Jun is still unable to read anything.
Looking at the man who is currently steadily standing behind the wheel of Jun’s precious ship, stubbornly still wearing his navy blue slacks, the white shirt with the gold-threaded cuffs, Jun discovers that the officer is still a complete mystery to him. Though Jun suspects he now knows how to make Sakurai’s cheeks redden. Which pleases him.
The reason why Jun actually wants to be able to put his trust in this man, is that Jun knows how much potential Sakurai has, how capable and skilled the navy captain is. Sakurai has a strong and feared reputation amongst pirates, everyone knows him and his Daylight. How much of an impression would it not make if he joined Jun’s crew? They would be unstoppable.
With Jun at the wheel and Sho at his side, navigating their course, cunningly outwitting everyone, thinking of various scenarios at once, there would be no ship on these seas which would be able to withstand the force of their combined wits. With Sakurai’s brain and Jun’s resolve, they could open doors that Jun so far has only dreamed of, reaching places he cannot go to alone.
Jun realises he has been staring at Sakurai for far too long for it to be normal, when the man removes his gaze from the horizon, to look back at Jun, his wet hair clinging to the sides of his wet face, his lips red from the cold.
The ship is tossed forcefully to one side and Jun stumbles, catches himself too late and has to put one knee to the ground, cursing for that display of lack of elegance. Normally, he would be the last person standing.
This time, it is Sho, with the support of the wooden wheel preventing him from falling over.
Jun sees how the officer regains his posture and spins the wheel suddenly, powerfully, and the ship tilts again. The deck shakes when a wave crashes against the hull, pushing them hard to starboard, and above them, the masts whine unhappily.
Automatically, Jun looks up, while listening to the screams of various riggers, now no longer where they belong amongst the robes, but down below, caught in the cruel waves.
Sakurai curses and spins the wheel again.
And Jun realises Sakurai is fighting the waves, avoiding the hardest, biggest ones so they will not flood the deck and take even more defenceless men with them, down, down into the darkness. Sakurai is slowly morphing with Remarkable, the two getting acquainted, learning how to work together while Sakurai grows to control the wheel with every passing minute.
Jun finds himself slightly in awe. And a little bit annoyed at how this outsider controls his baby so well.
“Are you alright?”
Surprise must mark Jun’s features as Sakurai catches him completely off guard.
The navy captain is looking at him, something akin to concern flashing over his eyes fast, briefly, fading when Jun nods, teeth clenched in embarrassment when he unsteadily gets back on his feet.
Sakurai probably does not hear Jun’s answer as he barely whispers, stunned into silence.
Jun cannot look at him.
Why did Sakurai ask? Why did he care? Maybe it was just a reflex, a captain’s instinct. Something Jun wants to just ignore and forget ever happened.
But the words echo in Jun’s ears for a long time.
Long into the night while he continues to stand by Sakurai’s side as they fight the storm.
Matsumoto ends up losing 15 men to the sea.
The storm does not relinquish its power over water and men before early morning, when the clouds in the west take on the colour of icy grey, the sun fighting to break through the thick blanket the rain and storm clouds has kept tucked over the sky for hours.
When Remarkable slowly calms down, her rudder ceasing to fight against Sho, he allows himself to breathe a sigh of relief, feeling all the muscles in his body untighten and relax.
Sho is drained, utterly and completely. He desperately wants to sleep. Sleep and then maybe have a long, hot bath to heat up his body again, take away the ache in every single one of his limps.
But there is someone who deserves a break even more than he does. Someone who has remained standing longer than Sho suspects he himself could have lasted.
The captain’s back is leaning against the seachair, arms dropped to his sides a long time ago when he finally let sleep overpower him, after reluctantly taking Sho’s advice to at least sit down for a bit. Now his head is tilted awkwardly to one side, lips parted as he breathes steadily in and out, deep in sleep.
Sho finds himself reluctant to remove his gaze from the pirate’s slumped form.
He fought so hard during the course of the night.
Before Sho decided that it was riskier to let the captain continue to hold onto the wheel than to have Sho take over, as someone not familiar with the ship, Matsumoto stood here alone, for hours, never complaining, never asking to be relieved or helped. Sho cannot quite decide whether Matsumoto is insanely strong or insanely stupid. He definitely has a lot of stamina.
Sho wonders why no one was by Matsumoto’s side up here when Sho came.
Matsuda was busy on deck, communicating Matsumoto’s orders to the various positions on deck, but what about Ueda? A mate? A boatswain? Anyone?
Why was he up here alone?
Back on Daylight, Sho would never have left anyone by themselves with the wheel in a storm.
No matter the danger, no matter how busy everyone is stumbling over one another during such a dangerous event, Sho would never accept someone solitarily handling the wheel. One man cannot fight a storm alone. No matter how acquainted he is with his ship, no matter his experience.
You just do not leave one man with such a responsibility.
Sho’s eyes run over Matsumoto’s face, the usually hard lines of his features relaxed in his slumber, and he looks so young to Sho, way younger than when he is running from point A to point B, yelling at his crew for being lazy, younger than when he looks up at Sho from his captain’s chair, papers strewn all over his desk and he sends Sho a haughty smirk.
There are scars from acne left on Matsumoto’s pale cheeks, but the charm of the dots of beauty marks scattered over his skin equals out this imperfection, only making him more alluring. His sharp features are almost hard on the eyes of the observer, but like this, Sho notices an innocence about the pirate, something he most likely only shows to the fewest of men.
Feeling like he is imposing on something he is not supposed to see, Sho forces himself to look away, to turn his gaze towards the deck below, follow the crew with his eyes as they gather themselves again, getting ready for the big clean up.
But Sho is well aware that he does not see what happens in his line of vision – his sense of sight spotted with dots of black; above and below full, slightly parted lips.
The smaller man is speaking in a hushed voice, crouched behind a crate on Aiba’s gun deck, to hide from the all-seeing eyes for just a minute, just a brief moment, in order to share with Sho what he knows.
The light is dim, and they are hiding in one of the furthest corners, their voices obscured amongst the yells from Aiba, who is either scolding his helpers down here for not doing a proper job on the artillery or jumping up and down in enthusiasm about something.
Sho scrunches up his nose to the mixed smell of sweat and gun smoke.
“So, as I see it, and probably how you see it too; our only chance of escape is in Singapore. Those savage pirates will be drunk and visiting the whorehouses far into the night while some of them make repairs on the ship. In the dark of the night, it will be a lot easier for us to sneak away. The captain is not stupid though, so it is very likely that he will put one or two men on the job of guarding you, because you are still untrustworthy-”
Sho makes an unsatisfied noise in the back of his throat,
“-But as I assume you will have regained your strength by then anyway, you should be able to take on a couple of pirates. Am I right?”
There is a light challenge in Nino’s voice. Both he and Sho knows that Nino is no big fighter. Sho’s friend is sly and can easily slither out of most dangerous situations, but confronted directly with a big, muscly pirate, Sho holds a better chance at getting them out of that sort of trouble.
“Sounds like the basis for a plan,” Sho agrees.
Regaining his strength is definitely one of the first things on his to-do-list, and he reckons he is not far from reaching it. He has been on the ship for a couple of weeks now, fed up with plenty of rice.
Really, does Matsumoto not see the risk of treating Sho so well?
“Have you spoken with Masaki?”
Nino nods, “I think you should have a talk with him as well. You are the strategist after all. You will know how to make the best use of the utilities Aiba-shi can gather without the pirates noticing. We probably won’t need much. It would not surprise me, should our captain send a hell of a lot of pirates after us in Singapore when he hears about our escape. All of Singapore will be against us. Thus,” the man pauses for emphasis, “We need to be out of Singapore, before the captain finds out.”
Sho already suspected it, but Ninomiya confirms the reputation Matsumoto has amongst pirates.
The man is not only famous and feared by the Japanese Navy, but by the pirates hunting on the same waters as he. Apparently, no one in Singapore does not know the handsome Matsumoto Jun – as Nino so accurately described him. Like Sho, Matsumoto has an almost spotless reputation, close to unbeatable.
But not only is Matsumoto famous and feared, he is also very admired, well-liked.
Sho would not put it past the pirate captain to be able to charm his way to anything.
Somehow, with that information, Sho is not as embarrassed about being beat by this particular pirate. He would never voice out such a thing, though of course.
“I agree. If Singapore is anything at all like what we have heard from rumours, then the place itself is insanely dangerous for navy men like us. If anyone finds out that Matsumoto-san has a group of officers on his ship, I reckon we will come to need those pirate guards he puts on us.” Sho says, bringing up the topic which is on his mind every night, occupying his mind until he falls asleep.
“Hmm, you have point there. Maybe,” Ninomiya scratches his chin, “Maybe J would opt for guarding us, not as a preamble against our escape, but in order to protect us from the pirates in Singapore. It would honestly not surprise me.”
Suddenly, Sho’s focus has shifted – he cannot help it – hearing the kind of ridiculous nickname Ninomiya has given Captain Matsumoto. Sho knows Nino is great at inventing nicknames, but for him to actually feel so close to the captain, so relaxed in his company, in his crew’s company, that Nino would give him a nickname?
A strange, unwanted anxiety starts worming its way into Sho’s belly before he forces it to go away.
Nino is known for giving everyone nicknames, even the people he is not particularly fond of.
Despite of this, Sho wants to ask how much Nino likes the place here, whether he feels at home and comfortable. With the glances Sho often throws at his friend while on deck, when he is unable to speak to him because of the watcher behind him, Sho almost always finds Nino with a smile on his face, grinning at someone for some joke they made, or teasing one of the cabin boys.
Sho knows the navy life was never really something Nino was passionate about, but even so…
At the sound of footsteps against the dark floorboards behind them, Sho startles slightly, rising as fast as he can and turning, more so out of instinct, to face the approaching man.
The first mate appears still only a few feet behind them, hands in the pockets of his black pants, and his eyes are as cold and unreadable as ever.
Sho instantly starts considering how much the pirate could have heard, whether he will tell Matsumoto, and what will happen after that. If Matsuda knows about Sho planning to flee in Singapore, that plan is useless. And since the captain has only given Sho time until they reach that pirate port, to come to a decision, there will be no second chances of escaping after that. Not without betraying the crew of course. Which is always a possibility, Sho realises. It is not like Sho will be bound by a contract, should he agree to join the crew,
“You never smile much, do you Shota-pon? You know, it does strengthen your cheek muscles. If you have any that is. I say the world is so much brighter when you smile.”
It does not surprise Sho that Nino is so utterly unfazed by Matsuda’s intimidating aura. Since Sho’s friend is not someone to be intimidated by anything. Only a few times did teenage-Sho and his temper manage to startle Nino.
But even so, Sho has a nagging feeling that it really would be better for Nino to keep his mouth shut this time, to not provoke the first mate. Because, despite Ninomiya so fast becoming second mate, Matsuda is still his superior; Matsumoto’s direct right-hand man.
“Aww, and your mouth is filthy too.”
Matsuda narrows his eyes, and it is clear that Ninomiya’s words annoy him.
Sho can feel the cracking in the air, and in the darkness of the hold, there is no saying what Matsuda could do to Nino, covering it up later, because there was only Sho as witness, and who would ever believe his statements?
To think that Nino actually managed to get a verbal reaction from the man, albeit small, is quite a feat.
Sho suspects a big part of why the first mate is so intimidating is due to the fact that he so rarely talks. It makes it even more difficult for Sho to understand him, to figure out where he stands and what he thinks.
“Nino…-” Sho starts, but does not make it very far in his admonishment.
Ninomiya grins, “I was just joking, of course Shota-kun, you know I respect you a lot. So please don’t look so mad.”
The tall man growls, first real display of his dissatisfaction.
Sho takes a deep breath, bracing himself as he feels the critical moment pass over the next few seconds, the spark flaring and dying when Matsuda tilts his chin towards Sho, attention removed from Ninomiya. For the time being at least,
“What are you doing here?”
Ninomiya’s distraction should have given Sho plenty of time to brace himself for this kind of inevitable question. Being seen in the company of his shrewd friend below deck, and alone is very suspicious. That being said, Sho knows there is nothing Matsuda can do if Sho does not provide him with anything he can use against Sho.
“You do not allow me many chances to talk with my old friend up on deck, Matsuda-san,” Sho starts, folding his arms across his chest, “I do not think you can blame me for escaping to the hold. Especially because my other, old mate is seeing to your cannons here.”
And he did not warn us of your presence… Not much of a guard dog.
Matsuda shows no signs which could display his thoughts when Sho finishes, but his mouth is set in a hard line, and Sho knows there is nothing he can actually say to this,
“I want you up on deck again, do not go sneaking around down here. It is suspicious.”
When he turns to head back up, it is an indication for Sho and Nino to follow.
Sho glances briefly at his friend, noticing his smirk. And Sho rolls his eyes at him.
Maybe Nino’s risky teasing of Shota was not only for his own personal pleasure before, but a means to help both of them out of a situation which could have turned dire.
Always the more perceptive and aware one, that Ninomiya. Sometimes, Sho wonders where they would have ended up without him.
Back on deck, Ninomiya does not hesitate to suddenly fly past the two others, towards the gathering of shroud on the railing of the ship, where a small, round-faced man has just set his feet on the planks of the deck,
“Oh-chan! Finally decided to join us mortals on solid ground? – As solid as a piece of wood in the middle of the sea is of course.”
Sho watches while refusing to let his displeasure show on his face as Ninomiya moves right into the man’s suntanned face and grabs both of his cheeks, pinching them,
“You still alive right? And in one piece? I see you are as brown as ever, old man, you would beat us all in a game of hiding-in-the-mud.”
Ignoring Matsuda, Sho steps past him to walk up to Nino and the man Sho has not seen before.
One would almost think the man arrived on his first day today, if his skin and the fact that Sho has not seen him before is any indication. But Sho remembers his first day on the pirate deck, filthy from the cells and angry at Matsumoto and his authority which managed to convince Nino to join the crew of pirates. Sho had been scared and feeling lost, right up until he found Nino screaming at someone amongst the spars and ropes above, someone Sho could not see. If Sho is not mistaken, this is the very man Nino was scolding at that time.
Apparently, this time around, Nino’s issue is the colour of the man’s skin and not the fact that he is playing tightrope-walker 30 metres above deck,
“Ah, Sho-chan, this is Oh-chan, he is J’s scout.”
So many nicknames in one sentence and Sho is close to smiling at Nino’s casual presentation.
Sho bows to the small man, about a head shorter than Sho, “And Oh-chan is short for?”
“Ohno Satoshi,” the man states, his brown eyes sleepy as these seem to have stopped working, temporarily stuck on Sho’s face. This pirate looks like someone who could fall asleep standing upright.
The officer is just about to feel uncomfortable when Ohno continues: “You do have a cute nose.”
Where Sho is dumbstruck, mouth slightly open as he has no idea how to answer to that, what Ohno means, Nino barks out one of his signature laughs, hiding his face in the crook of his elbow beside Ohno, all too late to prevent the sound from escaping.
Sho raises an eyebrow, unimpressed, but Ohno makes no indication of elaborating.
Instead, he turns to Nino, silently watching him until Nino calms down,
“Do you know when it is time to eat?”
This guy might as well have plopped down from the sky, head-first if his state of mind is anything to go by. Not only is he sleepy, but very absent-minded too.
He reminds Sho of Aiba. In a less enthusiastic and hyper form.
“J is busy with his papers and numbers right now, Oh-chan, but I am sure the cook can find you an apple or something, ok? Let’s go see him.”
Ninomiya hooks his arm around Ohno’s shoulders and drags him along with him after throwing Sho a quick salute,
“Do you think he has any bread?” Ohno inquires softly as they leave.
It would not be surprising if Nino has got the cook wrapped around his little finger too – knowing Nino, the man will probably sneak down in the kitchens at night demanding food. He used to do so a lot in the past, his eating and sleeping habits totally messed up.
Sho feels a pleasant warmth welling up inside him, he cannot prevent the smile, and this time, he does not try to. If he ignores where he is – and it is somehow easier today – he can be happy for Nino. One cannot deny that Sho’s friend looks to be in his element; he enjoys life here.
With the pleasure Sho feels at the sight, there appears a bitter taste on his tongue too, but there is no time to dwell on it, because someone is coming towards him now, from the quarterdeck and the officer’s quarters.
There is no mistaking the broad shoulders, the sway of his hips, and the way the Captain holds himself, and somehow, Sho feels the need to straighten up, before the younger man comes to a stop in front of him.
“Good evening, Sakurai-san. Shota-san,” Matsumoto gives Sho a small, brief smile, nodding to the man standing behind him.
Still ever reluctant to acknowledge Matsuda’s presence too much, Sho lets him walk away, listening to his footsteps when he turns around to leave Sho in his captain’s presence.
Matsumoto turns his attention fully back to Sho, arms now behind his back, and before he even starts, Sho knows this man wants something from him. It is evident in the slight pulling at his lips, the grin spreading fast, the spark in his brown eyes.
“I have been thinking that it is about time you pay me back for all those meals, I have provided for you. Don’t you think that is fair, Sakurai-san?”
Sho cannot quite pin-point what it is he sees flashing in Matsumoto’s eyes. Challenge? Teasing?
But Sho does agree, he has been on Matsumoto’s ship for three weeks now, doing nothing but bathing and eating and shuffling around with a dog on his heels; he is bored. He certainly would not mind being able to do something on a ship again, so he mirrors Matsumoto’s smile with one of his own,
“I do. What do you have in mind, captain?”
The pirate’s smirk broadens,
“Well, my masts need to be oiled.”
Ok, not funny. Not at all funny.
Sho wants to scream and crawl down, to have someone be there in his stead. He wants to die. Anything.
Anything is better than this!
“Aww, stop looking so pitiful Sho-chan, you are only suspended 28 metres up in the air, with only a rope as your lifeline. Piece of cake!”
“Nino! I will kill you!”
Sho can hear his laugh even from here, and he wonders whether that imp is turning up the volume just for Sho to hear how much he is enjoying Sho’s distress.
Though Ohno is beside him, figuratively holding Sho’s hand, he is doing nothing to stop the ones below from making fun of Sho, turning the experience even worse than it already is.
Had it not been for Sho’s pride and will not to appear weak – he is failing – he would have screamed at the top of his lungs. Then Ninomiya and that damn Matsumoto would be certain that they are going to get hell in the future.
The rope around his lower abdomen is uncomfortable, too tight and not at all secure enough – Sho has nothing for his feet to rest on, and it scares him shitless. The mast before him is slimmer than the one on Daylight, and Sho can clearly see, now that he is up close, that the shining white paint of Remarkable needs a new coating. He is somehow relieved that the sun is not shining. It would mean the white colour blinding his eyes, and Sho does not need that additional discomfort. But still, why did it absolutely have to be Sho who got the job? Why not one of the riggers?!
Dangling beside him is the small lookout, a relaxed expression on his face. For him, this is a piece of cake, since his job is usually a lot more risky.
Honestly, Sho thinks he looks bored.
But he is patient as he hands Sho the broad brush, holding the bucket of white paint between his slim fingers. There are already drips of paint on his skin, a bold contrast to the brown of his sunburn.
Sho swallows a huge lump in his throat while he tries to control his movements mid-air. With nothing to help him, he is slowly turning around his own axis, trying his best to hang still, and failing. His lips are pursed in concentration, when he manages to make the first stroke of the brush. And cause himself to turn right again, away from the mast and his job.
“Ahh! Come on, help me here!” he moans in frustration, kicking in the air like a baby and trying his best to ignore the uncomfortable tickling in his stomach.
“You can do it! You just need to get used to the ropes!”
At the sound of Matsumoto’s voice, Sho looks down, and instantly regrets it.
His stomach drops, and there is a violent surge in his chest, causing him to gasp, feeling as if there is no air in his lungs.
“Nononono… Not good..” mumbling on repeat to himself, desperately trying to calm down, he catches Matsumoto’s eyes.
Even from here, Sho can see the huge grin on his face, how it lights up his eyes and lightens his features. It is as if he is looking at an entirely different person, far from his usual brisk pirate exterior.
Sho stops mumbling, stops gasping as he just stares at Matsumoto, noticing how he clearly enjoys Sho’s distress and discomfort. What a sadist really, Sho thinks, though looking at the pirate strangely calms him down. Is this how Matsumoto looks, when he is not the captain of Remarkable?
Ohno suddenly pokes Sho in the ribs, and he squeals like a rabbit.
Beneath him, Ninomiya breaks out in another laugh, and Sho briefly witnesses Matsumoto joining him. Though he regrettably cannot hear Matsumoto’s laugh, he can see the man bent over, resting his hands on his thighs.
At least someone is having fun, Sho thinks bitterly, returning to his fight against the ropes and the mast, armed with his white brush, a sour look carved on his face.
It is thrilling, for Jun to witness the barriers coming down around the navy captain. Had he known it was a job such as this which would have the man lose his composure, Jun would have sent him up in the masts a long time ago. But no one told him Sakurai had a fear of heights, and thus, it was a lucky coincidence those masts needed new oil, and that today was the perfect day to do it.
Though Sakurai is smaller up there, face difficult to make out against the bright sky, Jun can feel his displeasure, his anxiety and fright, and Jun has no qualms admitting that he likes seeing the man troubled like this. It is cute. And with the way he complains and makes a fuss like a child, Jun realises that the man also has humour; something he has yet to share with Jun. The fact that he has an amusing side to him pleases Jun to a great extent.
Jun wants to see more of this, wants to explore what kind of person Sakurai is, beneath his professionalism and golden cuffs. There is more to the man, a depth which has resulted in the choices he has made in the past, in the choices he is to make in the future.
Along with the wish to convince the man to join Remarkable’s crew, Jun finds himself with a desire to share his own experiences with Sakurai as well, to explain how a pirate comes to, and to show Sakurai who Jun is, underneath the coat and the guns and the captain’s exterior.
“He is not working very fast, now is he?” Ninomiya comments from beside Jun, “But I guess amusement like this is rare on a pirate ship, so maybe that weighs out his worth as a painter.”
“We can have lots of fun on a pirate ship, you just have not participated in story nights, yet.” Jun does not look elsewhere when he answers Nino, smiling faintly when Sakurai once more flaps like a chicken when the rope sways.
“Where the crew share stories of past raids or funny childhood stories. Almost as much fun as game night.”
Nino’s eyes suddenly widen, Jun can see it from the corner of his eye, which eventually makes him throw Nino a glance. Briefly.
Oh? Jun should have guessed that Ninomiya was into games with the way he likes to bully people and make use of that shrewd brain of his.
Maybe it is time for Jun to include Ninomiya in some of these social events. When he does not sneak off with Sakurai, the man is actually turning out to be a really good pirate. Which is partly why Jun made him second mate so fast.
Also partly to keep an eye on him and keep him busy.
“You know J… That is an awful lot of gawking you are doing there.”
“And your smile is creepy too.”
Finally, Jun turns around to glare at Ninomiya, who upon seeing his face quickly hides his grin in his elbow, seriously pissing Jun off.
“What the hell do you mean?”
His question only makes the smaller man snort again, and Jun has to take a deep breath and wait for him to act like an adult before asking him again.
But Ninomiya does not indulge him without sounding smug. The bastard,
“I was just thinking that you are wearing an incredibly big smile for a pirate captain,”
Jun raises an eyebrow,
“- A pirate captain who is keeping an eye on his – supposedly – worst enemy.”
“He is not my worst enemy Nino.” Jun sighs, leaning his weight on one leg.
At least, Jun does not want him to be.
“Clearly not,” Nino grins again, causing Jun to narrow his eyes dangerously.
There is only so much teasing he will accept from a subordinate.
“Maybe you should use other methods of convincing him to join the crew,”
“- I don’t think it would be difficult. Since I have seen how he sometimes looks at you.”
Jun’s cheeks are burning. He tries to ignore it, but it is clearly not working with the way Ninomiya’s eyes sparkle is mischief.
The pirate cannot help it when he looks upwards again, at Sakurai’s backside, the man seemingly having the brush under control for now, and he wonders whether he would be able to break the navy captain. Insecurities tell him he cannot. Want tells him he can.
But since Jun is not sure himself what it is he wants, he withdraws for now.
“Shut up Nino, you know better than I that Sakurai despises everything about me.”
He does not need to be here anymore. There are pirates to keep an eye on, orders to be given and navigation charts to be made, so Jun leaves.
Aware of the set of eyes boring into his back, he does not notice the additional set from above, longing glance following him.
Follow the link for part 4