"Pyaa~, Nagato-san, when are we gonna get there?!"
"Soon, Sakawa. Soon."
"She's right, Nagato. My fuel bunkers are almost empty!"
"As I said, soon."
Clouds drifted through a light blue Pacific sky. The sea lay calm, waves lapping gently against her hull. Nagato knew, intellectually, that the war was over, there were no more enemies, but she still stared out at the horizon, waiting for the American navy to appear.
Not that she could have done anything to them. With empty magazines and bolted down turrets, Nagato was helpless.
"Nagatooo~... I'm hungry, pyon~! Will there be food once we get there?"
"I'm sure there will." Sakawa nodded happily, satisfied with her answer. She let go of Nagato's skirt and returned to her place in formation, next to Prinz Eugen.
The German smiled and shook her head at the cruiser's antics. On this bright Pacific day, far away from the freezing, dark Atlantic, she couldn't bring herself to be annoyed.
A lone plane droned overhead. Nagato squinted, identifying it as a F6F Hellcat, probably out scouting. When it saw the three ships, it swooped in low, waggling its wings and flying away.
"Do you think we're supposed to follow it?"
"Probably." They altered course to follow the fighter, the water frothing under their bows. Things were silent as the miles went by. Birds flew overhead, traveling from one island to another. Fish occasionally rose to swim next to the ships, their silver bodies glinting in the sunlight.
Eugen broke the silence. "Bismark would have enjoyed this. The Pacific is so much nicer than the Atlantic!"
Nagato replied in a neutral tone. "You could say that." Memories flashed through her mind; flashes of light in the darkness, the chaos of maneuvering in a narrow strait, the panic as the torpedo alarm went off.
"I know, right? So sunny and warm! Ahhh~!" Eugen leaned back with a grin on her face and allowed the sunlight to warm her body.
Nagato kept silent. She couldn't bring herself to tell them what was about to happen, what their fate would be.
"I just wish my sisters could be here. Pyaa~…Agano would have loved… what was the island again, Nagato-san?"
"Yeah, Bikini! I heard it's really nice, nya~!"
Nagato gave her a soft smile and patted her on the head. A clunk sounded from behind her, and she nearly stumbled on the water. Damn… boiler went out. A lack of maintenance and an abundance of rust were taking their toll. Just a little more…
"Oof! Um, Nagato-san?"
"Something broke… I don't think I can keep going…" She glanced behind herself. Sakawa sat on top of the water, nursing her ankle. Closer inspection revealed a snapped propellor shaft.
"Come on." She knelt down next to Sakawa, back facing her.
"Get on. We're not leaving you behind." She motioned with her hands to climb onto her back.
"Oh… oh!" Sakawa's face immediately brightened. "Thank you, Nagato-san! Pyaa~, piggyback ride!"
"Think nothing of it," Nagato said through gritted teeth as her remaining boilers strained to compensate for the cruiser's added mass.
"Hm? Hey, Nagato, what's that plane?" Nagato followed Eugen's finger into the sky. A flight of blue painted planes buzzed overhead. A cold shiver went through her body at the sight of the black cylinders strapped under them.
"SBDs. Dive bombers."
"Dive bombers? Oh, you mean like Stukas! I wonder if they can see us, hm?" Eugen waved to the planes. Nagato had to force her eye to stop twitching. Normally, she'd be maneuvering, zigging and zagging to avoid the armor piercing bombs soon to be raining from the sky. Her anti aircraft crews would be firing every gun into the sky. Those dreaded splashes would appear to port and starboard, and maybe one would get a hit. She pushed away the memory of her superstructure on fire, holes blasted into the armor.
"Hey, Nagato? Are you okay?" She blinked and came back to the present. Eugen and Sakawa stared at her with worried faces. Had she been that lost in the past?
"Yes. I'm fine. Don't worry about me." She consulted her internal maps. "Not far now. We should actually be seeing it soon…"
The first indication of them being close was the seagulls flying overhead. Soon, the islands of Bikini Atoll came into view. From their distance, they could just make out structures built on the islands.
"Pyaa~, we're here! Now I can eat!"
"Hold up a minute." Out of sheer force of habit, Nagato took out her binoculars and examined the islands. Sand, palm tree, Quonset hut, battleship, sand… wait, what?
She swung her binoculars back around, body language suddenly tense. That was an American battleship. Nagato forced herself to relax. They weren't at war anymore. And why was it painted red… ?
"What is it, Nagato?"
"Nothing. Just a little welcoming party." As they came closer, more ships began to appear. Destroyers, cruisers, submarines, carriers, battleships, transports, around forty in total. All American.
It was a carrier who first saw them. USS Independence, CVL-22, saw the three ships approaching the atoll. A shout from her woke up the other ships anchored there. Pilotfish tried to crash-dive out of pure instinct, but was held on the surface by Pensacola.
The battleships with clothes covered with red paint went out to greet them. "Nagato, right?"
"Yes. And you would be…"
"USS Nevada, BB-36." Despite being disarmed, unfueled, uncrewed, stripped of armaments and painted red, she still managed to retain a dignified bearing. She drew herself up into a salute, formally acknowledging the presence of a fellow battlewagon.
Nagato returned the salute. Her guns itched to point towards Nevada, but she repressed the urge. They were bolted down and besides, she wasn't an enemy anymore. Nagato didn't hate Nevada; in fact, it was quite the opposite. She admired Nevada's tenacity. To be the only battleship to get underway during the attack on Pearl Harbor, forced to beach but returning to the fight not four months later… Nagato couldn't help but respect that. Besides, she was simply another combatant. They might have been enemies professionally, but that didn't mean they were enemies personally.
Nevada apparently felt the same way. "Nice to meet you. I've got to say, you're lookin' pretty good," she said with a tired smile. The two battleships turned to observe the forty-odd other ships in the atoll. Prinz Eugen and Sakawa were now among them, talking and laughing with their counterparts in the US Navy. "You didn't tell them either, did you?"
"No. They're really just kids. I figured that they didn't need to know."
"Yeah. Me too. Wainwright, especially. God, she's so young. She doesn't deserve this."
"None of them do." They fell silent, just enjoying the peace. Pennsylvania, Saratoga, Independence, New York and Arkansas tried to keep the destroyer lolis corralled. They laughed and played with the adorable little ships, but the strain showed on their faces. They obviously knew their fates as well.
"Um… shouldn't be long now, actually. They'll be targeting me, especially…" She motioned to the bright red paintjob she sported.
Nagato frowned at that. "That doesn't seem right."
"Eh, what're you gonna do? I mean, it could be worse. Those poor PT boats…"
An siren began to wail over the water. Several destroyers started crying, others clamped their hands over their ears. The battleships, carriers, and cruisers tried to comfort them, with the cruisers looking quite confused.
"So I guess this is it, huh?"
Nevada turned to Nagato. "You know, I'm glad we never fought."
"You seem nice. It would have been a shame if we had to fight each other."
A low drone reached their ears. The two battleships looked up. A small silvery shape was the only thing moving in an otherwise motionless sky.
"Do you… do you think it'll hurt?" Nevada's voice broke a little on the last word.
"…no. I'm sure it'll be fine."
A small black shape separated from the B-29. The plane quickly pulled up and away, leaving the object to fall.
"You know, I think we could have been friends, if the war hadn't happened."
"That would have been nice."
Nevada bit her lip and looked at her feet, chained and anchored to the sea floor. "Where do you think we'll go?"
"What do you mean?"
"Are we going to hell? Or somewhere else?"
Nagato shrugged. "For what we've done… for what I've done, we're probably going to hell."
"Thanks for being honest." Nagato felt Nevada's hand brush against her own. Her lips twisted into a small smile, and she took the hand.
The black object got closer with each second. The rest of the ships had noticed and were gazing up at it. The destroyers and cruisers oohed and ahhed, while the larger ships looked away and braced themselves.
"This is it, then."
"Well… I hope that I'll meet you again. Someday."
Nagato nodded in response, and the sun rose in the west.
Seventy Five Years Later…
"Secretary Nagato? The operation is complete."
"Good. That means we've regained control of the Marshall Islands."
"Yes, and the Americans will soon be staging operations out of them."
Ooyodo paused to consult her notes. "Actually, yes. We picked up a new shipgirl."
"Really?" Nagato looked up from her papers, her interest piqued.
"Yes. I'm sorry we couldn't rescue anymore, but the Abyssals retreated before we could retrieve more. She's in the docks now."
"Very well." Nagato stood up and brushed off her clothes. "I'll go see her right now."
She made her way down to the docks, Ooyodo trailing close behind. Nagato paused to greet the returning members of the combined fleet, battered but proud of a job well done, Eugen and Sakawa in particular. Eventually, she found her way to the dock set aside for rescued shipgirls.
Ooyodo knocked gently on the wall beside the curtain. "Hello? May we come in?"
"Yeah. Thanks for knocking." Nagato furrowed her brow. She'd understood the words easily enough; her job required her to speak four or five different languages. But why was the girl speaking English?
Ooyodo pulled aside the curtain, stepping aside to let Nagato in. She ducked under the curtain pole, prepared to give her customary greeting speech-
-and froze, her mouth slightly open.
Nevada turned her head to look at her, the rest of her body submerged in the water. She cracked a smile at Nagato's expression. "Nice to see you. I've got to say, you're lookin' pretty good."