Siren of the Sea

By ShayP

Chapter 10: Reflection

Hi guys! I'm back with another update. Sorry for the long wait, as usual, and thank you for all the great reviews I really appreciate it! Also, thanks to littlefirebird, SoS's new beta, for taking this monstrous chapter on and doing a great job at beta'ing!

In other news, it's SoS's third birthday! Wow. Three years of this story. Thanks to all of you for reading and keeping me going for three years now! Hope you guys are in the mood for some piratey goodness. Yo ho yo ho etc.

Please enjoy.

It seems that it is madder never to abandon one's self than often to be infatuated;

better to be wounded, a captive and a slave,

than always to walk in armor

When Natsuki awoke she was once again tangled within the cozy sheets of Shizuru's bed. Shizuru was, of course, nowhere to be found. Natsuki didn't care. She had been spending most of her nights in Shizuru's bed and Shizuru was almost never around when she woke up.

She couldn't remember most of last night, other than being incredibly tired. She knew she had, unfortunately, snuggled into Shizuru, but just how far that went she wasn't sure. She recalled mumbling things to her capta—the captain, but what exactly she had said was a mystery.

She hoped it hadn't been anything embarrassing.

Sliding out of bed, Natsuki stretched like a feline and then padded over to the washbasin, set for her as usual by Shizuru's desk.

After freshening up, brushing her hair, and chewing on a mint leaf, Natsuki got dressed. She went with the usual pair of drawers. The pants were always tight, but that was mostly because pirates were always doing things that could kill them if they were unlucky enough to get their clothing caught on something.

Natsuki didn't mind. She thought she looked good. She tucked the pants into her hunting boots and didn't bother fully buttoning the top. It was a feminine blouse, lavender in color and a bit frilly by the cuffs. It wasn't the best looking outfit, but it was way better than wearing a skirt, if only because she didn't want to draw too much attention to herself and she knew wearing a skirt would invite the wrong kind of trouble.

That is, if anyone was stupid enough to try and lure the captain's toy.

A low growl vibrated in her throat and she shook it off. She was no one's toy.

Tying her hair up into a ponytail, Natsuki rolled up her sleeves and winked at herself in the mirror before trudging over to where she kept her weapons, in the corner nearest Shizuru's desk, and attached her scabbard and her dagger to her belt. The dagger hung by its silver chain by her hip, and on the other side hung the rapier that formerly belonged to Prince Takeda Masashi.

She glanced at herself in the mirror again. She had lost some weight, she noted, since she left her hometown in Artai. In some ways she looked leaner, her body was toned and her skin had darkened a little bit. Tanning from too much sun exposure? She was on the deck a lot after all.

I look like a pirate, she mused, eyeing herself again. A dashing pirate, she added, grinning at her reflection like a fool. She wasn't conceited, but she did have to admit that one of the perks of being a captive on a pirate ship was that she wasn't forced into wearing those annoying, suffocating frilly dresses Takeda had forced her in.

Natsuki sighed. Thinking of Takeda always made her head hurt and her stomach drop so far down she was sure it hit the bottom of the sea. She had let Tomoe kill him. She would never forget that. She couldn't.

And that was indirect, she thought. How must Shizuru feel, Natsuki wondered, with having killed so many people? Directly. Innocent people begging for their lives, groveling on their knees, offering to give Shizuru everything and anything they could get for her, anything she wanted.

Yet Shizuru walked around like she didn't remember each and every face of those she had stolen the lives of.

How closed off must one become in order to pull off something like that?

"I wonder…" Natsuki murmured to her reflection, staring into her own viridian eyes and seeing in them just how much she had changed, both physically and otherwise. Do you truly not remember them, Shizuru? Or do you hide from them, pretend they don't exist? Do you block their faces from your thoughts? Is that how you do it?

Natsuki headed out of the captain's cabin and into the bright sunlight and salty sea breeze. She thought she might ask the woman herself.

It didn't take long to find Shizuru. She was having her breakfast on the main deck as usual, her table set up with a bottle of red wine beside a half-filled goblet. She was standing, however, her left hand resting upon the white tablecloth and her right reaching for her goblet. She was facing the other direction and so did not notice Natsuki's approach.

Natsuki slowed her walk, looking Shizuru up and down. The pirate queen had opted for tan pants, tight as usual, with her knee-high black boots and what appeared to be a crimson top. Natsuki didn't need to see the front to know that it was dangerously unbuttoned, likely revealing a generous view of Shizuru's cleavage. There was not a doubt in Natsuki's mind that, if Shizuru were to turn around she'd be wearing dangly earrings—the violet ones—a long necklace that hung between aforementioned cleavage, and a smirk on those red lips.

Not that Natsuki took the time to notice these things, of course.

It was then that Natsuki noticed there were more pirates. Most were ones she recognized: Haruka, Yukino, Nao, Chie, Midori, and of course Tomoe. But there were others that she had seen around but still didn't know the names of. There was also Gray, standing beside Tomoe with those steel silver eyes and burning red hair.

Gray was the first to notice Natsuki, her eyes snapping so quickly to Natsuki's green that the girl gave an involuntary jump. A ghost of a smile appeared on Gray's lips before she turned her attention back to Shizuru who, Natsuki soon realized, was in the middle of a toast.

She slinked closer, trying to get within earshot but was only able to make out the last of Shizuru's speech.

"To the sky and the sea," Shizuru declared loudly, her right hand lifting her goblet high in the air as her eyes swept left to right, eyeing her pirates as they too lifted their glasses. "May they forever meet at the horizon."

"To the sky and sea!" The pirates all cheered, before chugging down their wine and then wiping their mouths with their sleeves.

Except for Shizuru, of course. The thought of Shizuru doing anything so barbaric almost caused Natsuki to laugh out loud. Then she remembered that Shizuru truly could do barbaric things and any rising mirth quickly evaporated.

"Shizuru," Natsuki greeted.

Shizuru glanced at Natsuki from over her shoulder, watching the other's approach with a steady gaze. "Natsuki," she purred. "So the pretty little bird has woken."

Natsuki stopped just beside the pirate queen, peering briefly over at the other pirates before returning her bright gaze to Shizuru. "Yeah, I have." She opened her mouth to say something, but closed it and once again peered over at the pirates staring at her and Shizuru.

Shizuru, taking the hint, cleared her throat and turned to them. They all seemed to perk up when they realized they were about to be addressed. "Thank you for accompanying me during breakfast this morning," she told them, "but there is much to be done if we are to reach Romulus within two weeks. Get to work."

And like Moses split the Red Sea, Shizuru split her pirates and they all scrambled off to get their jobs done and attend to their usual posts.

"Working on morale I see," Natsuki teased, tilting her head a bit to the side and smirking up at an amused looking Shizuru.

"I suppose," Shizuru hummed, unable to take her eyes off of the young woman in front of her. She turned to fully face Natsuki and asked, "Were you not about to say something?"

To her surprise, a light pink spread across Natsuki's cheeks and the girl averted her gaze—but only for a second. She was once again peering directly into Shizuru's eyes when she asked, "How are you feeling?" She didn't hesitate to place the back of her hand upon Shizuru's forehead, smiling slightly when she felt no fever.

"I feel fine," Shizuru said, taking a quick step back so that Natsuki's hand fell to her side. "I am much better," she insisted, offering Natsuki a rueful and unconvincing smile.

The two women stood staring uneasily at each other. Shizuru looked somewhat awkward, as if she were forcing herself to make eye contact. Natsuki, on the other hand, simply looked confused, with her brow furrowed and her hands feeling so useless that she hooked her thumbs into her belt and then tapped the planks below with the tip of her boot.

"Your fever is gone," Natsuki said slowly, feeling as though she were tiptoeing around Shizuru for some odd reason. "But it may come back so I should check on you later."

"Check on me?" Shizuru let out a laugh void of any humor, as if she were mocking Natsuki's concern. It sent chills up and down Natsuki's spine and she didn't like it.

Kuga took a discreet step back. "You may be walking around but you aren't fully recovered." She folded her arms over her chest and glared into crimson eyes. "You may have your crew fooled into thinking you're as healthy as ever but I know it's an effort for you to even stay standing for as long as you have."

That much was true, Shizuru admitted to herself. She kept a stern expression on her face with the hope of convincing Natsuki that she didn't need any more looking after.

To prove her point, Natsuki gave Shizuru a shove. The pirate's body offered up no resistance and Shizuru found herself plopping rather ungracefully into her chair, Natsuki standing before her with a cocky 'See?' expression on her face.

Shizuru didn't look very amused but she was grateful to be sitting and didn't make to get up. "I suppose I am a bit tired," she lamely admitted.

Natsuki rolled her eyes. "Can't you ever just admit to being vulnerable for once?" She whispered, resting her hand on the back of Shizuru's chair and looking down into the older woman's eyes. "What's the harm in admitting you aren't feeling well? At least…" Natsuki averted Shizuru's gaze then, "at least admitting it to me."

Shizuru's eyes widened a fraction when Natsuki's gaze returned to hers again, though now they were filled with an untold sadness that Shizuru didn't understand. "What do you mean?" She inquired.

"What I mean is, I already know you're weakened, ill even. So why not tell me those things? Why not let me know how you're feeling? Why don't you just sit when you need to sit?"

Shizuru swallowed hard. "Because I always feel this way," she admitted, tilting her head up to stare at the sky. It was much easier to face than Natsuki, whose eyes were so intently focused on her that Shizuru could feel them. "When I am around you I always feel vulnerable and I… don't hate it. Because usually I am so safe and in control but with you I feel…" Shizuru trailed off, her eyes closing briefly. It wasn't often she couldn't articulate her thoughts and it was, frankly, embarrassing. Years ago her tutor would've struck her on the knuckles for taking so long to finish a sentence.

When Shizuru never finished Natsuki let out a slow sigh and, much to her own horror, reached out and placed her hand on Shizuru's cheek. The other woman jerked upright at the touch, causing Natsuki to quickly retract her hand and turn a very bright shade of red.

Shizuru stared at her with such a calm demeanor it was unnerving. Her eyes, like the rest of her, now seemed carved from stone, hard and cold. But there was a terror in them, swirling and spiraling within her. Natsuki wondered… had she caused that?

Shizuru quickly stood up, forcing Natsuki to take another few quick steps back lest she want to invade Shizuru's personal space any more.

"I must go," Shizuru said sharply as she turned and began walking towards her cabin.

"I… uh… okay…" Natsuki stared after her fleeing pirate, feeling stupid and embarrassed. It was her touch that had caused Shizuru to have such a knee-jerk response to run. Why did I even do that? Natsuki cursed herself. Touch her like that? I hadn't meant to but I… Natsuki let out a groan, ran her hand through her dark locks, and then took off to find Duran.

"What is up with you?" Tomoe asked, watching as Shizuru paced back and forth in her cabin.

Shizuru paused the second Tomoe spoke and turned to watch her old friend. "I am so..." Shizuru shook her head in frustration as the words she felt in her heart fought to leave her mouth.

Tomoe, who had been sitting upon Shizuru's bed, slid off and walked over to the pirate queen, gently placing both her hands on Shizuru's shoulders and trying to will Shizuru to meet her eyes. When Shizuru finally did, Tomoe spoke.

"You're acting insane," Tomoe told her. "Calm down. Are you feverish? Should I get Natsu—?"

"No," Shizuru snapped, before stumbling towards her bed and collapsing onto it. She lied down on her stomach and let out a long groan as a wave of nausea hit her. "Do not…" she breathed, "get Na-Natsuki…"

Shizuru knew she had to keep Natsuki around, or else something could happen to the girl. Shizuru's crew was unhappy, that was for sure. But Shizuru didn't want to be around Natsuki. It was a constant torment, being around something she so badly wanted and didn't dare touch. She breaks everything she touches, harms things with her uncontrollable urge to possess. She was just as much a danger to Natsuki as her mutinous pirates were.

Likewise, Natsuki surely would destroy her. Not physically, but her inner Siren always felt threatened when the girl was around.

Why must I always desire that which seeks to end me?

Tomoe stalked to her captain's bedside, a look of concern marring her face. "Should I check just how close we are to the next port?" Shizuru had looked fine just moments ago—returned to her former glory as the Siren, giving her pirates inspirational speeches and mesmerizing them all with her eyes and voice—and yet here she was now, weakened and lying exhausted on her bed.

"We are… approaching the Black Islands, yes?"

"We are in your domain, yes. Any of these islands would be more than happy to shelter you and there is bound to be a healer that can cure you." Tomoe chewed her lip nervously. She didn't know whether she should be blaming Natsuki for this or not. After all, Shizuru had seemed perfectly fine until Natsuki had arrived… but then again, Shizuru could've just been faking it for her crew and Natsuki's arrival could've been coincidental.

But Tomoe still didn't like Natsuki very much. Most blamed Natsuki for Shizuru's current condition. Hell, even Natsuki blamed herself, often looking guilty when Shizuru would need to pause and rest for a few moments before continuing.

Good, Tomoe thought, let her feel guilty for what she's done to my captain. If Shizuru dies I won't hesitate to finish what I started.

"Give the order to dock… any port should be fine so long as they fly the black flag," Shizuru said, still unmoving from her bed.

Tomoe gave a slight bow. "It will be done, Captain Viola," she said as she promptly turned and exited, leaving Shizuru alone to fend off her thoughts.

Natsuki ambled about near the helm, bored out of her mind and finding Chie and Midori unusually quiet. They both seemed to have something on their mind. Chie would often look out towards the sea and let out a long sigh and Midori would blankly stare ahead, occasionally taking a sip from her bottle of rum but not looking as though she enjoyed it nearly as much as she used to.

"This has been really exciting," Natsuki muttered.

"We're all trapped on a ship and most jobs that need to be done are done early in the morning," Midori explained with a yawn. "There isn't much to do on a ship." She paused and then added, "Although I feel as though you've seen more crazy adventures in one month than we've seen in an entire year."

"Perks of being the Captain's plaything," Chie muttered, much to the other two girls' surprise. Chie had been mostly sulky all day, staring wistfully across the sea and not making jokes as often as she used to.

Natsuki sighed and fed Duran another scrap of meat from a pouch. He let out a sharp cry and then peered at Natsuki with a beady little eye. "Sometimes I feel bad about Duran," she admitted.

Chie looked over and blinked. "Oh yeah?" She rolled her map into a tube and tucked it under her arm before leaning against the back of the boat and eyeing Natsuki with curiosity. "Why do you say that?"

Natsuki shrugged as she peered at her bird. He had certainly gotten bigger and was more than capable of hunting himself, not to mention feeding himself. But Natsuki insisted on feeding him. She felt more useful that way.

"I'm keeping him trapped on this boring ship," Natsuki replied, frowning a bit at the bird. She felt a bit selfish sometimes, keeping him here when he was more than capable of taking care of himself, flying solo.

Chie chuckled and exchanged amused glances with Midori. "Didn't he fall out of the sky in the middle of the ocean? I think he's lucky he found you."

Natsuki chuckled. "I guess you're right."

Just then, Tomoe climbed up the steps to the upper deck and paused briefly to stare at Natsuki, Chie, and Midori. She turned to Midori. "The order has been given to dock."

"Which island?" Chie asked from behind Midori. She gestured all around. "We're in the middle of The Belt."

Natsuki looked around. The Belt was much different than the vast, empty ocean she was used to. Instead of there just being stretches of ocean in every direction for as far as the eye can see, she could make out islands in all different directions, some were closer than others and some were hidden in the distance behind a thick layer of sea fog. It was almost like navigating through a graveyard of islands, as none of the islands seemed particularly lively nor were any close enough for her to make out any signs of life.

"Captain Viola says any island is fine, as long as it flies the black flag," Tomoe explained, making a gesture as if she were waving an imaginary flag. "I looked at the map myself, there are three Black Islands in the nearest region."

Chie pulled out a spyglass from her coat pocket and opened it up, turning it towards the distance. "Hmmm," she hummed, "I can make out the closest island up ahead." She tucked the spyglass away and then unfurled her map, pushing her spectacles up her nose she murmured, "I suppose we could make it here—" her finger fell upon an island shaded black, "—by nightfall if we keep the current speed and the weather doesn't change on us."

"It won't," Natsuki said, smiling when everyone turned to look at her with confused expressions on their faces.

Oh right, Natsuki could sense changes in the weather. What a freak.

"Excellent," Tomoe said, spinning on her heel and headed down towards the main deck once more. "I will inform the captain at once."

"Oh, I'll do it," Natsuki said quickly, taking a step forward.

Tomoe paused and shot Natsuki a glare over her shoulder. "No, I think I can handle such a simple task, Kuga."

Natsuki tried to keep the disappointment from her face but knew she failed when the corner of Tomoe's lips twitched into a smirk. "Ah… okay then," she muttered lamely.

Tomoe let out a sharp laugh, like a hyena, and then strolled off towards Shizuru's cabin.

Natsuki pouted a bit after her, and when she turned around she saw both Midori and Chie grinning at her. She frowned. "What?"

Midori snickered and then cleared her throat before fluttering her eyelashes, clasping her hands together, and then saying in a high-pitched voice, "Oh Tomoe, let me go talk to Shizuru! Please please please…"

And then Chie chimed in, suddenly straightening and glaring at Midori in her best impression of Tomoe, "I can handle it, Kuga, thanks."

And that's when Midori dramatically lifted her hand to her forehead, as if she were about to faint. "Oh heavens, I am so sad!"

Natsuki shot dagger eyes at the two clowns. "Shut up," she snapped. She then focused her unhappy glare on Midori, "And I do not sound like that!"

Midori smirked. "Uh-huh."

Natsuki flung her arms up. "I don't need Tomoe's permission to see Shizuru," she growled, stomping down to the main deck. "I was told to stick by Shizuru anyway," she added, disappearing around a corner.

Chie and Midori exchanged looks and then burst out laughing.

Without fail, that strange feeling she had been feeling every so often since yesterday… that sense that she was standing on the pulse of a storm filled her again. It caused her to sway a bit on her feet, vibrating through her body, and then being absorbed by the wind around her. What in the hell was that, anyway?

Natsuki had practically forgotten she had a falcon on her shoulder. Duran didn't seem disturbed at all, which is how she knew that whatever she was feeling… whatever this strange 'sense' was… it wasn't the usual one. It wasn't a regular storm, because she knew animals could sense such things as well. Duran certainly did not feel whatever it was Natsuki had just felt, had been feeling frequently. It wasn't a… it wasn't a storm she was sensing. So then what was it?

She suddenly felt stupid then. Why was she even there? Shizuru had bolted earlier that day the second Natsuki got too close and Natsuki knew that if Shizuru wanted to see her she would call for her. So here she was, in front of Shizuru's door. What did she expect?

But then again, Shizuru had said last night that she needed to keep Natsuki nearby, due to threats or murderous pirates or something along those lines. This almost getting killed thing was getting old real fast.

Natsuki sighed. She needed to check on Shizuru whether Shizuru wanted to see her or not.

Someone cleared their throat to Natsuki's right, causing the girl to jump a bit in surprise.

Irina peered at her uneasily. "Uh, are you going to go in or what?"

Natsuki's cheeks flushed pink. She had completely forgotten Irina was there, despite the fact that the guard was always there. "Y-Yes, I was just about to. Er, thanks." She paused and then held Duran out to Irina. "Mind watching him for me for a bit?"

"Sure thing, Kuga," Irina said, placing Natsuki's falconer's glove over her hand and accepting the bored looking bird.

"Great, thanks." With that, Natsuki quickly entered the room, not even bothering to knock first.

She instantly wished she had bothered the second she entered. There was something incredibly unpleasant about seeing someone who had tried to kill you a week ago making out with the other someone that had saved you from being killed.

Tomoe looked up when Natsuki entered and, much to Natsuki's disgust, wiped the saliva from her mouth with the back of her hand.

Ew gross, Natsuki must've made a face because Tomoe smirked.

"Haven't heard of knocking, have you, Kuga?"

Natsuki ignored her and glanced at Shizuru, who, to her surprise, appeared to be sleeping. She stared. Then blinked. Then stared some more. Finally Natsuki turned an accusing glare on Tomoe, "Can't get her to kiss you while she's awake, huh?"

Tomoe's nostrils flared as her eyes filled with rage. "You're one to talk."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Natsuki barked, fists clenching at her sides.

Tomoe opened her mouth to explain exactly what it was she meant but Shizuru let out a groan and this instantly brought both Tomoe and Natsuki's attention to the captain.

"How long as she been out?" Natsuki asked, stalking to Shizuru's bedside and sitting upon the edge of the bed. She placed the back of her hand on Shizuru's head and let out a relieved sigh. "She's just tired…"

"And why is that?" Tomoe asked, meeting Natsuki's confused glance with an accusing look.

Natsuki considered ignoring the quartermaster but couldn't help it. With a slight smirk on her lips and a cocky glint in her eyes, Natsuki replied, "What are you insinuating?"

If glares could kill Natsuki would be dead on the floor, bleeding from a severe wound to the head. "Well I wouldn't know how well the captain sleeps, now would I? I'm not the one sleeping in her room every night." Tomoe set her unsettling gray gaze on Natsuki, her tone bitter and her lips pursed into a thin line.

Natsuki rolled her eyes. "Nothing happens," she said with a shrug. "Which you know, so don't get mad at me just because she offers me her bed."

Tomoe did know that nothing was going on. Shizuru walked around like a ball wound tight with usable energy, practically crackling with it. Her libido was, as Tomoe knew well, legendary and the fact that Shizuru would pace back and forth, look distant, and often ogle Natsuki from the opposite side of the deck meant that she wasn't getting any.

Even more interesting was that Natsuki's behavior didn't change much at all. If Shizuru was growing sexually frustrated and Natsuki didn't seem to be effected by it, it meant that Shizuru wasn't trying to release her frustrations. She had stopped trying to sleep with Natsuki.

It was all rather odd, Tomoe thought. Shizuru rarely gave up on her conquests.

"Natsuki." It was Shizuru who spoke this time, drawing the other pairs of eyes in the room to her.

"Shizuru," Natsuki greeted, leaning in closer in order to better hear the captain. "How are you feeling?" She brushed some hair from Shizuru's eyes and then gently stroked her cheek. It was not a romantic gesture, but seemed very technical. The brushing aside of the hair was for Shizuru's benefit and the stroke of the cheek was clearly because she was testing for another fever. Clearly.

Shizuru stared steadily into green pools. Had she fallen asleep? Why was Natsuki in her room? She didn't remember calling for her…

"I am tired," Shizuru admitted after a moment. Her tone was quiet and she still seemed to have sleep in her eyes. She could take her eyes off of Natsuki. There was something very… endearing about the rebellious prisoner acting concerned. Was it just an act?

Shizuru recalled the other night when Natsuki had very obviously tried to lead Shizuru on and then would flutter her lashes and ask in her husky voice, Will you take me home, Shizuru? And Shizuru had wanted to say Yes, yes, by the gods I will do whatever it is you ask of me!

But she had tested Natsuki, had leaned in to kiss her… and had felt Natsuki's automatic reaction, which was to flee. An act. She had been acting to try and get Shizuru to take her home. A tactic well played, but not good enough and rather unfair in Shizuru's opinion.

I would much prefer your honesty when you tell me you despise me than fake gestures of affection. Does she think her kindness will make me more likely to take her home?

"You should rest," Natsuki said, gently pushing Shizuru back down onto the bed. "You shouldn't even be walking around as much as you have been, you're slowly ruining any progress you've made."

"Guilty," Shizuru replied with a smug smile.

"As always," Natsuki quipped, eyes dipping temporarily to stare at Shizuru's lips before quickly returning to the woman's wine-red eyes.

If Shizuru noticed, she didn't say anything. Instead she turned to Tomoe—who straightened upon those eyes being cast on her—and said, "Tomoe, did you do as I asked?"

The quartermaster gave a curt nod. "I did, Captain."

"And?" Shizuru drawled, sounding bored.

The corner of Tomoe's lips twitched and she said in the calmest voice she could muster, "We will hit land by nightfall."

"Which is when?"

"Within a few hours, I would think," Tomoe replied. "You haven't been sleeping long."

Shizuru, ignoring Natsuki's silent but obvious disapproval, sat up and rested her back against the wooden headboard. "Very well. You are dismissed."

Tomoe fidgeted awkwardly, reminding Natsuki of a nervous hummingbird. "Yes, Captain," she finally said, before turning and stalking out of the room, her gray eyes always set straight ahead.

When the door closed behind the quartermaster, Natsuki turned to look at Shizuru.

Captain Viola was already watching her, like a hungry feline watches a bird in a cage. Natsuki felt a stirring within her. It was rather similar to being unsure whether to stand her ground and fight or to take flight and flee as fast as her wings could take her.

Before Natsuki could come to a decision the Siren already ensnared her.

"Would you like to tell me why you are in my quarters?" Shizuru inquired, her voice as soft as ever. Cardinal eyes locked with emeralds, making it impossible for Natsuki to look away, even if she had wanted to.

"I…" Natsuki couldn't even remember why she had felt so determined to head down there in the first place. She decided to change the subject. "Did you know Tomoe likes to kiss you while you sleep?"

This seemed to get an interesting reaction out of the captain. Her eyes widened only a fraction but Natsuki had noticed it. She was getting better at noticing even the slightest changes in Shizuru's facial expressions, as they usually could tell so much about what was actually going on inside. Shizuru's lips also parted in a sort of small gasp, but she never gasped and she promptly closed her mouth yet again. The final but equally as interesting reaction was the slight twitch of her fingers atop the bed sheets. Natsuki didn't know what that meant, but speculated that it was the result of Shizuru quickly stopping her hand before it could do what her brain told it to do, which was automatically feel her own lips as if she could see for herself whether they had recently been kissed or not.

"Oh," the pirate uttered. "No, I suppose I… did not know that." She looked confused now, her eyes looking at Natsuki but seeing something else.

"Snap out of it," Natsuki growled, snapping her fingers and letting out a chuckle when Shizuru seemed startled. "Sorry," she said when she received a somber glower. She decided to get back to business. "I'm serious, you know. You're getting worse because you refuse to stay in bed."

"I am quite capable of taking care of myself," Shizuru cut her off, lifting her chin and looking proud. "And as for Tomoe kissing me as I slept… I suppose a secret kiss is better than none."

Natsuki's eyes narrowed. "I disagree. About both things."

The other woman seemed amused by this, a small smile appearing on her lips and her eyes glowing with a familiar warmth Natsuki hadn't seen in a while. "Of course you do. You would not be Natsuki if you didn't disagree with me at every turn."

Natsuki wasn't sure whether to laugh at that or frown. Instead she said, "We have a few hours to kill before landfall… do you need me to do anything?"

Brow furrowed and a distant look appeared within those eyes again. "I have an… odd request."

"What is it?" Natsuki asked, leaning closer.

Shizuru offered the younger an embarrassed smile. Her cheeks tinted pink and she asked, "Could you retrieve my hand mirror for me? The one lying on the desk, the one with the handle."

It took the captive a few moments to gather herself. Seeing the captain blush was… well… rare. Really rare. She wanted to enjoy it for as long as it lasted. It gave the Siren a very human characteristic.

Finally she lifted from beside Shizuru and headed toward the desk. She found the mirror lying on top of a pile of books. It was one of those elegant mirrors, heavy because it was made out of some metal, but crafted so well that the back of it and its handle was engraved with beautiful designs that made Natsuki wonder who had the patience to create such a thing.

Leave it to Shizuru to own the most beautiful mirror Natsuki had ever seen. She supposed beautiful people needed equally beautiful things to stare at themselves within.

She turned it this way and that, wondering if the handle really was made of gold and if some of the design was truly made of pearl. It sure was heavy enough. Who could even hold this thing up for long? It wasn't very large but it was big enough to see one's face in. It seemed to be the kind of thing a princess would own.

The desk itself also had a large mirror hanging on the wall above it and was often the one that Natsuki would find Shizuru blankly staring into; so mesmerized by her own reflection that she hardly ever heard Natsuki come in.

"You don't need this, Shizuru," Natsuki said as turned her gaze away from the mirror in her hand and over her shoulder towards the captain. "You look fine."

And then she received this… look that she couldn't decipher. Shizuru almost looked apologetic, but then she also appeared to pity Natsuki, as if she were stupid.

"Thank you," Shizuru said, "But I'd like to see it anyway."

Natsuki blinked. Shizuru was acting… odd. The younger girl had a sneaking suspicion that if she refused to bring the mirror over, Shizuru would grow angry. To avoid that, she brought it over, sitting beside Shizuru yet again and passing the mirror off to the other woman. "Here."

Shizuru brought the mirror to her face and stared, her eyelids lowering only slightly and her eyes already beginning to gain that lost look they often got before Natsuki would tear her attention away from the large mirror behind the desk.

For a while Natsuki was content to watch. She too enjoyed staring at Shizuru in the mirror. It was like there were two of them, and they both seemed confused at the others appearance, while simultaneously like they were looking for something and occasionally… occasionally they would look disappointed.

After a minute of silence dragged by, Natsuki said, "Are you done?"

Shizuru jumped a bit, startled. She turned an incredulous look at Natsuki. "Are you always so rude? If you do not wish to be here then leave. I have no use for you right now."

Natsuki's expression hardened and she held out her hand. "Give me the mirror."



"You do not understand," Shizuru growled, once again holding the mirror up and staring directly into it, though this time she was glaring at her reflection. "You can see yourself when you look in a mirror, Natsuki, you can see you. I can't see me. I see… someone. But she isn't me. And I can't find me. I'm never able to find me. I…" Using all her strength, Shizuru flung the mirror into the wall to her left. "I see you… I see you so clearly and…" her face was buried in her hands, "And I want to know if you can…" She lowered her hands and turned to face a stunned Natsuki, "Can you see me Natsuki? Sometimes… sometimes I think you can and I… it scares me and I do not know what to do. No one has seen me in so long."

Natsuki didn't say anything for a moment, just held Shizuru's gaze and fought the urge to smooth her hair back and cup her cheeks and tell her just how clearly she saw her. But she couldn't. She wasn't sure. Who did she see? Did she see Shizuru as Shizuru was meant to be seen?

Finally, the captive said, "You broke a mirror. That's, what, seven years bad luck?"

Shizuru blinked, stared, and then smiled. That smile turned into a grin and the two women both grinned at each other like fools before they started sniggering and then finally laughing so hard their lungs hurt.

Somehow, during the laughing fit, Shizuru had ended up completely turned around, with her head by the end of the bed and her feet where her pillows were. She was lying on her back, arms and legs sprawled out and eyes staring straight up at the ceiling with a pleased smile on her face.

Natsuki was in a similar position, though she was curled into a ball and lying on her side, facing Shizuru and watching the woman through mirth-filled eyes as they both tried to catch their breath. Neither could remember a time they had laughed so hard, nor could they even recall what had been so funny in the first place.

Shizuru turned her head and smiled fondly at the young woman lying next to her. She felt like a young child again, giggling and staying up late with Nao, walking the corridors of her palace and making wailing noises, feeling victorious when rumors of ghosts started spreading.

Natsuki returned the smile. "Found you, Shizuru," she said, her smile disappearing.

The atmosphere changed, but it wasn't an unpleasant one. The smile slid off Shizuru's face as well but the woman continued staring into those green depths.

You can see me, can't you, my captive? Even when I cannot see myself, you can see me.

"Cardair…" The word slipped past Shizuru's defenses and escaped her lips.

"Cardair," Natsuki repeated. She nodded for Shizuru to continue.

"I lived… in a palace," Shizuru said slowly. "Nao was the daughter of my mother's head maid. Nao was my servant girl."

Natsuki listened, her expression unchanging and her soothing gaze unwavering.

"My father is the High King Hector, my mother is the High Queen Una, and my younger brother is Prince Jiro."

"Fujino," Natsuki said, remembering how she had read the last name on the letter she had found lying unfinished on Shizuru's desk a few weeks ago. "You are… a part of the royal family of Cardair. The Fujino family."

Shizuru gave a slow nod. "I… I am…" Shizuru squeezed her eyes shut and found a soothing feeling in the darkness, but no strength to continue.

That is, until she felt warm, gentle hands encircle her own. A sensation, a reassuring warmth moved up her arms and caused her to open her eyes once more, finding them drawn instantly to the pure green ones across from her.

Natsuki appeared calm and unshaken by hearing such news. She was utterly unreadable, which was quite odd for the girl who usually had her every emotion displayed clearly on her sleeve. Shizuru couldn't read Natsuki, didn't know how she felt or reacted to this news, but in a way that made her feel more comfortable to continue. No judgment here, no shock, no anger, no pity. Natsuki was just… listening. It was all she needed to do.

"I am a… princess," Shizuru finally said, the word 'princess' being said as if it were something dirty. Shizuru laughed and tugged her hands away from the warmth of Natsuki's, instead choosing to curl into a ball and avoid the eyes she had just moments ago found such comfort in. "I am no princess," she growled instead. "I am a murderer." There was silence before Shizuru's gaze turned into a glare. "You do not believe me, do you? This beast before you, this demon with such bloodlust… I am the farthest thing from royalty, from anything considered 'regal." Shizuru let out a laugh void of any humor.

Natsuki seemed to think for a minute, her brow furrowing slightly and her lower lip being lightly chewed on. Finally she said, "I believe you."

Shizuru, who had been staring blankly up at her ceiling, turned her head to the side and peered at the girl lying next to her. "You… you do?" She didn't mean to sound so surprised but she truly did not believe Natsuki would believe her so easily. Or really, she didn't know why anyone would believe her just like that. She was, after all, a bloodthirsty pirate, the exact opposite of the princess she used to be.

Natsuki sat up and shrugged. "It's the way you walk, like you own the Earth, the ocean. And the way you talk, as if you're some high and mighty demigod and everyone else your loyal worshippers." She tilted her head when Shizuru frowned at her. "And you're one of the most intelligent and charismatic women I have ever met in my life. If that's not the result of a royal upbringing I don't know what is." She then stretched her arms and leaned back on her elbows, watching the stunned Shizuru with a steady gaze. "You can lead people, inspire them, make them… make them hang on your every word and love you so much they would die for you at the drop of a hat. What about that is more pirate than princess?"

"That is…" Shizuru pouted a bit as she articulated her thoughts. "Not… well… a captain has to display a certain amount of leadership if she wants to be taken seriously…" she trailed off. The way she walks? The way she talks? My, Natsuki was rather… observant, wasn't she?

"Yeah but not every captain is blessed with such a natural ability like you. That's something only a noble would have… those born to lead others." She paused then and added, "Though I guess some proof wouldn't hurt. You have any family heirlooms?"

Shizuru chuckled, not insulted in the least. It would be surprising if Natsuki had accepted such a confession without any proof. "That dagger I gifted to you the other night? That was a gift for my fiancé… I too was going to marry a nobleman of Zipang."

Natsuki's eyes widened. "You were going to get married?"

Shizuru explained how, like Natsuki, she had been young and was sent overseas to marry a Zipang prince. Cardair and Zipang were trying to smooth relations, ease tension. Originally Shizuru had never had to worry about being married off to a prince but with the birth of her younger brother… she was no longer the only heir to the throne and, if a boy child was available, he was preferable over a future queen. Cardair was still old-fashioned in these ways.

"And your ship was attacked," Natsuki said, remembering bits and pieces from stories Chie and Midori had told her.

Shizuru nodded. "The Siren, her name was Anh… Anh Lu…"

"I've heard about her," the younger girl admitted. Her expression darkened as she remembered what she had been told, how Anh had all but brainwashed Shizuru, had in a way taken advantage of the young princess and corrupted her.

A sculpted brow arched at the expression on Kuga's face. "I see. My pirates have loose tongues, do they not?"


Shizuru sighed and felt her soul feel content. All she had to do was stare into Natsuki's eyes and it was as if none of her awful past even happened. "You have beautiful eyes," Shizuru murmured, her eyelids lowering just enough to give her that smoky, sultry look that made Natsuki's throat seize up.

For fear of sounding like a toad, Natsuki didn't reply immediately. When she felt her heart rate return to normal and could no longer take the Siren's smug smirk she muttered a mere, "Thanks," and then asked, "So tell me about Anh."

The sound of pirates walking by the Captain's Quarters was the only sound to fill the silence. When the sound of heavy boots on wooden planks died off Shizuru's eyes narrowed at the young girl. "Why are you so curious?"

"I want to know why…" Natsuki swallowed and continued, "I want to know why you are the way you are. Sirens don't just happen."

"We are forged," Shizuru agreed. "Anh took me in, made me her protégé. She taught me all kinds of things. Not everything I know I would consider the results of a 'royal education' as you had called it. I learned to read maps from her, I learned all about running a ship, how boats worked, ways to interact with the crew, how to raise morale and how to split the money. I learned how to never show weakness, how to never show mercy, how to kill in cold blood."

"This Anh sounds positively charming," Natsuki deadpanned, smiling weakly when Shizuru laughed.

They shifted their positions on the bed, with Shizuru now leaning her back against the headboard and Natsuki sitting in the same position next to her. The bed smelled like the ocean. Like lavender. Like Shizuru.

What is wrong with me? Natsuki idly wondered, tracing Shizuru's profile with her eyes and thinking the woman was far too beautiful to be such a monster. Is that what she saw in the mirror? Some grotesque, hideous beast? Sirens were half-bird, with long talons, razor-sharp claws, and large wings that blocked out the sun.

But Shizuru looked like… like a princess. A princess with a deep dark secret, sure, but a princess nonetheless.

"I always thought you were too young to be the only Siren. The Siren stories have been around for years," Natsuki said.

Shizuru nodded sagely, closing her eyes briefly and remembering those firsts few years on board the Kiyohime. "You are correct. If I had been the original Siren I would have had to have been ten years old when I first started piracy."

Natsuki giggled at the thought of a ten-year-old Shizuru, huffing and puffing and shouting orders at her crew. Shizuru opened her eyes and turned her head slightly to peer into Natsuki's eyes. She then smiled, and Natsuki instantly stopped giggling, feeling instead an urge to lean forward and—

It was a heartbreaking smile. So tragic. So beautiful. Natsuki could feel her insides melting at the sight of it.

What is going on?! Why is my body reacting so… weirdly?

Shizuru didn't seem to notice any difference. Instead she continued, "Anh too was young when she first became the Siren. She was 19 and had already been the Siren for seven years already by the time we met. She was 26 by then."

"Who was her captain then?" Natsuki asked, intrigued.

"I do not know," Shizuru replied with an uncharacteristic shrug. "She never told me, but would instead act distant and cold if I pried." Shizuru peered across the cabin to where her vanity mirror was set up right above her desk. "I believe Anh had been a pirate for years though, before setting off on her own and building her reputation as the Siren."

Natsuki followed her gaze and frowned when she realized what Shizuru was looking at. "So," she said, successfully drawing Shizuru's gaze away from the mirror, "What happens next?"

"Nao and I were forced to work on board the ship for three years. It doesn't seem like a large amount of time in the grand scheme of things but when you're 17 and 15 those years drag by and each year feels like its own separate eternity." She paused, looked up towards the ceiling and added, "Though we got quite used to it. The daily ritual, the routine… it was all we knew for three straight years and eventually we ended up liking it, totally forgetting what life had been like back home." She brought her gaze back down and sighed, staring at her lap.

"You liked it?" Natsuki repeated, sounding dubious.

Shizuru met her gaze and smiled, yet again causing Natsuki to fear that her heart might stop beating. "It is hard to explain. It was all we knew after a while… it was all we had."

"You both were so young." Especially Nao. Nao had only been 15.

Shizuru nodded. "We grew up too fast. Nao especially. I will never forgive myself for that. I should have taken better care of her."

It was touching, Natsuki thought, just how much Shizuru and Nao had been through together. It explained why they were so close, why Nao, despite liking Natsuki, would clearly never betray her captain. They were childhood best friends and had gone through hell and back together. It's no wonder Nao could say and do so many things to Shizuru that no other pirate on board would even dare to attempt.

"That wasn't your fault," Natsuki gently reminded her, "It was Anh's."

"Still," Shizuru said, her brow furrowing slightly as if she were angry with herself, "Anh favored me. I'm sure, if I had asked, she would have let Nao go back home. But I was selfish, afraid. I did not want to be alone on that ship. I could not do it alone." Shizuru stopped when she felt Natsuki's fingers lace with her own. She looked at their locked hands with confusion etched in her features and then turned to stare at Natsuki, who gave her a warm smile and an encouraging nod.

"You can't say things like that, Shizuru. How could you have known? You didn't want to risk it. From what it sounds like, Anh could have easily killed Nao just to prove a point to you. You didn't ask because you didn't want to risk it backfiring and harming Nao." Natsuki gave her hand a squeeze. "And I haven't known Nao as long as you, but I'm willing to bet money Nao would've refused to leave you alone on that ship anyway."

Strange, how words from someone she hadn't known long already soothed her soul, made her forgive herself when for so many years the very thought of being forgiven seemed laughable.

"After three years, Nao and I had moved up the pirate hierarchy. We had been on the ship longer than many of the crewmembers as most of the old ones that had been onboard when we were first captured had long since been killed in raids. We had more experience than a lot of the newcomers too, and Anh enjoyed our company. She considered us friends, and we… we were. The three of us. Friends."

It sounded, honestly, like some sort of sick twisted relationship where you end up feeling close to the person that kidnapped you. But Natsuki didn't say that.

Shizuru laughed. "Nao was actually very popular amongst the crew. She would tell jokes, give everyone sass… and when she fully matured she was so beautiful and fearless. I was so jealous. I wanted the crew to like me too."

"But Anh didn't want the crew to like you in the same way they liked Nao. She wanted the crew to respect you the way they respected her," Natsuki said, tilting her head slightly when Shizuru gave a slow nod.

"Natsuki," the girl looked up, "Do you remember Kanzaki?"

Natsuki's blood froze in her veins. How could she forget him? He had promised to take Natsuki home if she promised to lead him to Shizuru, if she promised to… to kill…

"Natsuki?" Shizuru asked, her tone filled with concern. "Are you alright?"

"I—uh—yeah," she stammered, quickly trying to reassure Shizuru of this with a sheepish grin. "Sorry I just… remembered you selling me to him."

Rouge eyes widened a fraction before quickly returning to normal, mask in place. "I regret that such a thing had to happen."

Natsuki rolled her eyes and took her hand away from Shizuru's so that she could fold her arms over her chest. She harrumphed and averted her gaze from Shizuru's. "Yeah, whatever."

The corner of Shizuru's lips twitched only slightly, and then so did her fingers, the ones that had been interwoven with Natsuki's own just moments ago. Her hand suddenly felt cold then, empty.

"He killed Anh," Shizuru whispered, looking away before Natsuki could see her shiver.

"What?" Natsuki felt as though she already knew that, but had ignored it because she didn't quite understand Shizuru's history, or who Anh even was.

"He used to be a well-known pirate, Kanzaki the Kraken."

Natsuki tried to muffle her laugh but couldn't, and burst into giggles. When Shizuru set her narrowed eyes on the captive, Natsuki merely shrugged and said, "You gotta admit, that is kind of a funny nickname."

The pirate queen didn't look very amused, but there was something swirling in those dark depths, and Natsuki wasn't too sure she wanted to find out what exactly it was. "So uh," she started, "You were saying?"

The Siren turned away again, feeling even more tired than before. "I was 20, Nao was 18, and Anh was 28 when we decided to team up with him. He was just 22 at the time, but Anh saw he had talent, as he had already made quite the name for himself. Everyone in the Black Islands had heard of him. They even started calling him the King of Pirates, which Anh didn't like at all."

"Because she was the Queen of Pirates? Like you are now."

Shizuru nodded. "There was a large galleon protected by an even larger Zipang warship. Anh and Reito both wanted it, and so they agreed to help each other out. At the time Anh had two other ships in her fleet, and Reito too had two smaller ships under his command."

"Why don't you?"

"I keep things simple. Smaller crew, medium-sized ship, easier targets, means higher chance of survival and more money to be spread between fewer parties."


Shizuru smirked. "Tomoe says I am not as ambitious."

"Tomoe is a twat."

Shizuru giggled into her hand and then continued. "It turns out Kanzaki had betrayed Anh." She paused then, her brow furrowing as if she were working something out in her head. Natsuki could practically see the cogs turning. "Well… I never was sure," Shizuru said instead, "if Kanzaki betrayed us. It certainly seemed like it. His other two ships remained unscathed while Anh lost two of hers, not to mention he cowered and hid while Anh's crew did most of the fighting. Anh… was found dead that day. I am certain Kanzaki did it. I was even more certain when I learned he had signed up with the royal family of Zipang as a privateer."

"A privateer. Legal pirates authorized by the government. In his case, a privateer working under the authority of Queen Masashi."

Shizuru smirked. Natsuki was learning. "Correct."

Natsuki beamed. "Pirates are still just pirates."

"True but the true pirating community looks down on privateers. After all, if they wanted backup they could have an entire nations navy on their side. The trade off is that they can't attack any ships belonging to the country that they serve. Kanzaki couldn't attack Zipang merchant vessels after that, which is a poor tradeoff considering Zipang ships have the most loot."

Natsuki nodded in understanding. "Like the ship we're going after now, the one in Romulus."

"Yes." Shizuru smiled at Natsuki's quick understanding and then continued. "I became the Siren at age 20. Anh crowned me per se by giving me this," she tugged at the purple ribbon that was always tied around her wrist, "but the crew had a vote afterwards anyway and I won that as well. Reito had retreated by then."

"You were young."

"Sirens are supposed to be young," Shizuru countered.

And beautiful? Natsuki wondered. Was Anh as beautiful as you? Or did she pick you because she knew your beauty would overcome hers?

The other girl nodded at the ribbon. "What is it?" She remembered noticing it before, and being so curious that she had almost reached out and touched it before Shizuru had caught her hand.

"It's just a lace ribbon," Shizuru said, giving it another pluck. "I never take it off. It… it means a lot to me. It was the last thing Anh gave me before she died, before she apologized, and before she changed my name from Shizuru Fujino to Shizuru Viola."

"What's so special about it, aside from that?" Natsuki pried. What was so special about purple ribbon? There had to be something else about it.

Shizuru met her gaze. "There are words written on the inside in gold lettering."

"What do the words say?"

"I can't tell you," Shizuru said with an apologetic smile. "I myself wasn't even allowed to know until Anh passed it to me as she lay dying. Only Sirens may see it. We all share a common fate, a common bond, and the words… they express that."

Natsuki fought to keep the pout from her face. Curiosity killed the cat, she thought. "Hard to believe that was all four years ago."

Shizuru nodded, returning her gaze to the mirror across the room again. "Yes… much has changed since then."

"So does the crew know you're a princess?"

"I'm no longer a princess," Shizuru pointed out. "And no they do not. I fear they would treat me differently… one of our main targets are wealthy families."

"If you and Nao grew up in the same place, why do you have such a thick accent? Nao doesn't have one."

"I grew up in a palace inside one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We all have this accent. Nao's mother lived outside the city walls, and so her accent is less noticeable. Only those from my city speak like this."

Natsuki pondered this for a moment. "Do you ever… wish you could go back home?"

Shizuru seemed to freeze and she averted her gaze from Natsuki's searching one. "I…"

"Don't lie," Natsuki added softly, knowing Shizuru was about to.

Shizuru shot her a glare. "I have no desire to return."

Crap, that backfired. "Why not?" Natsuki asked. "You wouldn't have to attack ships for money, you'd already be rich. And you could see your family again… Shizuru they think you're dead. The whole world thinks you're dead!"

"Exactly. And that is where I shall remain."



Natsuki shifted, sitting up from her previous position and turning so was in front of Shizuru, facing the woman and able to look her straight in the eyes. "Why do you want you… the real you, to stay dead?" Shizuru turned her head away, but Natsuki reached forward, cupping the Siren's cheeks and forcing her to face her. "Tell me, Shizuru. You have the option to return home years ago and didn't. What's keeping you here in pirate limbo?"

Shizuru shook her head. "You do not understand. You cannot possibly understand."

"Of course not," Natsuki agreed. "Because you won't explain it to me!"

A knock on the cabin door served as a distraction. "Come in," Shizuru called, her pirate queen voice in full effect.

In stepped Tomoe. She glanced only briefly at Natsuki, held back a scowl that threatened to form on her face when she realized the two were sitting awfully close to each other on Shizuru's bed, and then relayed her message, "We have docked. There is already a welcoming party of villagers awaiting you."

Shizuru frowned. "They do know I'm not truly their queen, correct?"

Tomoe shrugged. "They seem really excited to see you. Will you be staying at an inn or will you be staying on the Kiyohime?"

"She's staying at an inn," Natsuki said before Shizuru could answer. She ignored the captain looking at her from the corner of her eye. "She'll need the room and it'll be easier to get into town from there." She finally looked over her shoulder at Shizuru. "You know I'm right."

"Yes, but my crew will be sleeping here," Shizuru countered, "So I should stay where they are."

"They'll understand," Natsuki huffed as she stood up, turning around and bending down to help Shizuru up.

Shizuru accepted the help, but only because she didn't have much of a choice. "Tomoe," she addressed her quartermaster, who instantly straightened. "Have the inn rented out. I want Chie, Midori, and Mai in one room, Nao and you in your own rooms, and Natsuki in her own room… preferably the one next to mine."

"What about Haruka?" Natsuki asked. The gunner was usually involved in that list of crew members, the closest and most loyal Shizuru had.

"She will watch my ship for me. Most of the crew fear Haruka. She can keep order while I am out."

Tomoe nodded hastily, before smirking and asking, "Why don't we get rid of my room and I can share yours?"

Shizuru shook her head, an apologetic smile on her face. "Not tonight, dearest Tomoe. I would prefer the company of Aoi."

Both Natsuki and Tomoe stared at the captain with wide eyes.

"What?" Natsuki asked. "Why are you so obsessed with forcing Aoi into hanging out with you?"

"She has learned to enjoy it. I cannot say she would still consider it a forced thing as she seems eager to share my company," came Shizuru's nonchalant reply. "Now gather your things and let us go."

It soon became apparent that Tomoe was not exaggerating. The docks on this particular Black Island—Shizuru never bothered learning its name—were large enough to dock the Kiyohime, and when Shizuru and her handpicked crew walked down the ramp they found, just as Tomoe had said, a welcoming party.

Villagers, pirates… a whole crowd had formed where the ramp led from the main deck of Shizuru's ship to the docks below. They waited impatiently, shifting from foot to foot and knocking each other over for looks at Shizuru, for looks of the Siren.

"Siren!" Someone yelled.

"The Queen!" yelled another.

Shizuru would be lying if she said she wasn't surprised by this reaction. It wasn't like pirates to openly admire or worship other pirates. They were competition, simple as that. Then again, this crowd looked like it was mostly nation-less Black islanders, simple villagers who knew there was money to be made on such an island, who had heard of her exploits and knew she came with coin to spend.

Who was running this island anyway? Surely it was another pirate… perhaps a retired one who claimed this island as their own and set up a small port. That happened often and was frequently the reason Black Island became populated by pirates and runaways escaping the prisons of their home countries. Shizuru made a mental note to find out later. Whoever the pirate was that ran this island, they would surely know that the Siren had arrived and, if they were smart, would feel threatened by her presence. Shizuru had to let it be known she meant no harm and was only temporarily visiting.

Shizuru glanced to her side and saw Natsuki. The girl's emeralds had widened and she looked towards the crowd with obvious unease. She stuck close to Shizuru's side, maybe too close, and kept her right hand firmly planted on the handle of the dagger sheathed at her side.

Shizuru idly wondered if the caution was because Natsuki was afraid for herself or if she were afraid for Shizuru. But why would she be protecting me? Shizuru wondered, almost laughing at how ridiculous that sounded. If anything, that dagger should be pointed in her direction, Natsuki holding the blade to Shizuru's neck and threatening her life.

The murder of Aoi's uncle quickly came to mind. Natsuki had shot first and thought later. Surely she regretted that decision, killing an innocent man so that a bloodthirsty murderer should live.

Natsuki, what have I done?

Then again, she had also made Natsuki kill Reito, and she had done it, or so the girl claimed.

The walk to the inn was short but felt longer due to Shizuru's failing health. She needed to rest often, but played it off as stopping to enjoy the scenery, or pausing briefly to flirt with one of the villagers that trailed behind her like a hungry dog. She knew Natsuki and Tomoe saw right through her act, because Tomoe would scowl at the girls Shizuru was flirting with, as if to say 'She's not really interested in the likes of YOU'. Whereas Natsuki would glance often in her direction, gently pressing her arm against Shizuru's side in a silent gesture of 'You can grab onto me if you need to'.

Shizuru felt a tug on her left arm. It was Aoi. The girl clutched to Shizuru's arm as her wide blue eyes darting from face to face. The faces of the villagers of the Black Island were covered with dirt, and Aoi's face was clean, her skin creamy and white. Surely she felt out of place?

Shizuru lifted her arm and wrapped it around Aoi's shoulders, offering the frightened girl a soothing smile and leading her into the inn, her small group of pirates following after her. It was late, and so the crowd of villagers eventually dispersed and went back to their own homes. It's not like they could follow the queen into her quarters.

Shizuru, Natsuki, Aoi, Tomoe, Nao, Chie, Midori, and Irina all stopped inside what was the tavern area of the inn. The first floor was roomy, with a burning fire set up in a fireplace, wooden benches and tables, and a bar. Behind the bar was a woman, short and old with gray hair, a wrinkled face, and a crooked back.

The inn itself was… quaint. It was wooden and appeared to have three floors, rather tall for a building on such a small island. Shizuru idly wondered if the inn had a lot of customers.

"I am—" Shizuru began to announce, before the old woman interjected.

"I know who you are, Siren of the Sea."

"You would be wise not to interrupt your queen again," Tomoe snarled, leaning over the wooden bar and glaring straight into the woman's watery eyes.

Natsuki was about to step forward and grab Tomoe back, but Shizuru did it sooner.

"Come, Tomoe," Shizuru purred, gently pulling Tomoe from the bar. "Let's not be hostile to our host."

The old woman didn't seem perturbed. Natsuki would've thought she was blind had she not set her eyes so suddenly and so fiercely on Natsuki that the young girl took a step back in surprise. For an old woman, she had some scary eyes.

Midori stepped forward. "So we need four rooms." She wiggled her finger around in a circle. "So make that happen, please." She flashed the old woman a bright smile.

The old woman offered a small, almost mischievous smile. It was hard not to like Midori. "All the rooms are unavailable," she said, her voice raspy.

Natsuki found herself exchanging looks of discreet disbelief with Shizuru.

"How is that possible?" Nao argued. The redhead then shot Tomoe a glare. "I thought you were supposed to take care of this?"

Tomoe glared back. "It slipped my mind, I was too busy making sure the ship could run smoothly without us for a night."

The two women looked as if they would kill each other.

Shizuru, calm as ever, cleared her throat and asked, "May I know why your inn is suddenly full? It was reported to me that you had four vacancies on the third floor, or else I would not have even bothered making this trek."

Natsuki eyed Shizuru warily. Shizuru had been on her feet too long already. How much of her leaning on the bar was her trying to look intimidating and how much of it was the fact that she needed to lean on something for support?

The old woman's lips pursed into a thin line. "This is my inn. I can turn away those I deem unfit or consider being potential problems. I don't need the pirate queen staying at my inn."

Ah, now Shizuru understood.

A wickedly beautiful smile formed on the Siren's red lips. "Is that so…" she murmured, her eyelids lowering slightly and her body straightening, no longer leaning on the bar for support. She calmly unsheathed her cutlass and, in one fluid motion, had the sharp tip at the throat of the old woman.

"You will give my crew shelter or I will give my blade shelter… in your neck," she explained. It was strange, hearing such words said from such a lovely mouth, said with such a kind and gentle tone.

The old woman's eyes widened and her hands trembled on the bar in front of her. She didn't dare move. "I will not," she managed to say, much to the pirates' surprise. The old woman held her chin high and peered at Shizuru with a challenge.

"Shizuru!" Natsuki yelled. "She is an old woman." She didn't dare pull Shizuru's arm down at that moment. She knew the woman was more Siren than Shizuru right now. A wrong move would end in bloodshed. Whose blood, Natsuki didn't want to know.

"Yes and my old friend Death has requested that I extend to her an early invitation to join him down below," Shizuru replied easily, not taking her piercing eyes off of the old woman's. When she realized the old woman wasn't going to budge, she glanced at Nao and said, "Bring me your torch, Nao."

The redhead did as she was told, handing the torch to Shizuru and stepping back again to watch.

Shizuru, now holding a torch in her left hand and her sword in her right, looked as though she were ready to burn and pillage the whole town. The old woman watched the torch, the flames reflecting in her watery eyes.

"It seems there is no use to an inn that cannot provide shelter," Shizuru said. "I suggest you leave now, lest you want to burn down with your inn," she told the old woman.

"No!" The old woman said, now moving away from the tip of the blade and raising her trembling hands. "Please… the inn is all I have…"

"The inn is also flammable," Shizuru reminded her. "'Tis made of wood, correct?"

"Shizuru," Natsuki growled, grabbing the sleeve of Shizuru's shirt. "Stop it. You can't light the inn on fire."

Shizuru's wine red gaze slid to the side and met with Natsuki's emeralds. "But I can, Natsuki. I have a torch." She waved it around, as if to make her point. She arched a slender brow. "See?"

The innkeeper's wrinkled hands dipped into a drawer and pulled out four tiny keys. She held out her trembling hand to Shizuru. "Four rooms. Top floor." She let out a shaky sigh. "I will not handle murder or debauchery of any kind in my rooms."

Shizuru handed the torch back to Nao, and gestured to Tomoe to take the keys. She then offered the old woman a smirk and a wink. "No promises."

The old woman huffed in response and started rubbing an empty mug with a dirty rag, clearly too afraid to make eye contact with Shizuru again lest the wrathful pirate queen have a change of mood.

Natsuki sighed, moved forward, and gently grabbed Shizuru's arm. The woman shook her off, shot her a glare, and stalked towards the stairs, leaving her crew to scramble behind her like mindless fools.

Natsuki glared after the Siren and watched as the rest of the crew disappeared up the stairs after her. She sighed, ran a hand through her hair, and glanced at the old woman, who was now watching her curiously with those creepy eyes.

"How could you lie with a creature like that?" The innkeeper asked Natsuki, making a face of disgust. "She is a darkness that will suffocate your light, girl."

Natsuki shook her head. "It is the light that makes the dark go away."

"It is the light that foolishly believes the dark is ever fully gone. It is the light that creates even darker shadows," the old woman countered, before turning back to her menial task of cleaning a mug that Natsuki knew would never be clean.

But then, light could not exist without dark and vice-versa.

The girl paused, looked towards the stairs, looked back at the old woman, added, "And I'm not lying with her," before striding towards the stairs and disappearing as she reached the other floor.

The old woman snickered and began to sing an old sea song, "And yet the sky yearns to merge with the sea, the light to blend with the dark…"

"You do need to see a doctor," Aoi agreed, her voice filled with concern and her features etched with worry as she watched her captain writhe on the queen-sized bed.

It was just her and the captain. Chie, Midori, and Nao had disappeared in one room, Tomoe in another, and Irina was standing guard outside. Aoi had no idea where Natsuki had gone and she didn't much care. That girl had killed her uncle in cold blood and Aoi would never forget it.

Shizuru's face was pallid and a bead of sweat rolled down the curve of her forehead. She moved her body as if she were in pain, but then wouldn't move for so long Aoi would panic and think her dead.

"Should I get someone?" Aoi asked, more to herself than to Shizuru. Her voice sounded squeakier than she would have liked. She knelt beside Shizuru on the bed and rested her hand over Shizuru's forehead. It was burning hot. "Shizuru…"

"Natsuki," Shizuru whispered, her eyes opening but unseeing. She stared blankly up at the ceiling, her eyes barely open, her lips slightly parted. "Natsuki," she said again, almost pleadingly.

Aoi's eyes widened. "You want me to get Natsuki?"

"Release me," Shizuru said quietly, her eyes closing again. "Release…" she trailed off into silence.

"Viola?" Aoi gave the Siren a shake. "Viola!"

The door opened, and in stepped Irina and Natsuki.

Aoi instantly went quiet. Seeing Natsuki always left her wordless. She couldn't stand the sight of her, and it made it worse that she was beautiful. It wasn't that Aoi was jealous or intimidated by such beauty but it was that a creature so awful and heartless could take on such a lovely form. She wasn't like Shizuru, who Aoi found was a striking beauty, with enticing features and an all-encompassing aura of sex. It fit her. It was dangerous and dark and mysterious. Natsuki's beauty was of a gentler form, but no less divine or stunning. She felt, however, that it was unfair. Why should Natsuki be so beautiful when she was so ugly on the inside?

"Get out," Natsuki demanded as she stepped into the room. She looked menacing, Aoi thought. Scary. As fierce and as brazen as the first day they met.

Aoi's eyes narrowed at Natsuki. "No, you get out." She had no idea how she had managed to say that without faltering.

This seemed to stun the pirate, who blinked once, twice, then looked to her side and gave Irina a puzzled look. The guard shrugged in response, causing Natsuki to set her green eyes upon Aoi's blue once again.

"I will not ask you again." The woman placed a threatening hand on the pommel of the sword hanging at her hip.

"I'm not leaving unless Shizuru wants me to leave," Aoi said, folding her arms across her chest. "And if I remember correctly, she didn't want you in here."

This too got a reaction out of the sable-haired pirate. Natsuki again looked dumbfounded, before her expression changed yet again. This time her eyes narrowed, her green eyes flashed with a warning, and her jaw tightened. Aoi glanced down and saw a fist form, and then noticed Natsuki's hand tightening on the hilt of her sword.

"What, are you going to kill me then? Just like you killed my uncle?" Aoi spat, being filled with a sense of victory and satisfaction when she saw Natsuki's shrink back a little at her words. It was strange, actually. She didn't expect a blood thirsty murderer to express remorse, regret, but those words had struck Natsuki a hard blow and she looked positively child-like.

But only for a few moments.

Irina stood silent beside Natsuki, occasionally searching Natsuki's face for any sign or signal to clue her into what to do next. Aoi wondered when Natsuki had outranked Shizuru's own guard. Had she always had power over other members of the crew? Aoi thought she had started off as a prisoner not too long ago…

Those striking emeralds were pulled away from Aoi's blue so quickly it was almost startling, as if something were being torn away from her. Such mesmerizing eyes! Aoi hated to admit it.

What were they looking at? No, gazing.

Aoi followed Natsuki's gaze and saw Shizuru lying at the other end, her eyes now open and settled firmly on Natsuki's own. Aoi looked between the two, watched them as they watched each other, felt a stirring in her chest at the intensity that flowed between them. It was almost as if the moon and tide were in the same room, in mortal form. Tug and pull. Aoi's head began to spin.

What a dizzying experience! Aoi almost toppled over. Surely she would have scraped her knees or bumped her head had Chie not caught her mid-fall. When had Chie even walked in? Aoi was usually so aware of that woman's presence…

"Gotcha," Chie murmured as she helped Aoi up. She dusted Aoi's shoulders and then rested her hands on them, offering the brunette a shy smile. "Wanna come with me?"

Those inviting eyes, that warm smile, that overwhelming charm Aoi had grown used to all those nights in the dark brig, all alone until Chie had come down to speak with her.

Aoi nodded absentmindedly, and Chie ushered her out of the room without a second thought. Irina stepped out after them and, with a curt nod to Natsuki, closed the door behind her. It was now the wounded captain and the rising captive.

Okay that was weird, Natsuki thought. Aoi throws a fit when I tell her to leave but goes all docile when Chie tells her to do the same thing? How was Chie so goddamn suave? Or maybe it's because Chie isn't the one that killed her uncle. It was a depressing thought. Depressing, but true.

Natsuki stalked to Shizuru's bedside and knelt to the floor, her hands grasping Shizuru's tightly. "Shizuru," she said, smiling when the captain turned her head to meet her eyes.

"Natsuki," Shizuru greeted. "I am quite tired."

"I know," Natsuki said, struggling a bit to get Shizuru under the covers but eventually being successful.

Satisfied that Shizuru was now comfortable under her sheets, Natsuki sat on the edge of the bed and watched Shizuru's peaceful face. Was she sleeping?

"I'm not sleeping," Shizuru answered, as if she could read minds. Her eye opened a tiny bit, revealing a slit of ruby red. "It is a good thing you did not let me burn this place down," she uttered, sounding worn out. "These beds are to my liking."

Kuga rolled her eyes but couldn't help but smile. "I'm glad," she said softly, hesitating before gingerly pressing her hand to Shizuru's forehead. Natsuki's face contorted into one of worry. "It's also a good thing we stopped off on this island. You have another fever. It's been a while since you've gotten one…"

Shizuru reached her hand up, wrapped it around Natsuki's, held it briefly, and then shoved the other girl's hand away. She was glad to have her eyes closed as she didn't want to see whatever expression would, for however quickly, flicker across Natsuki's face.

"Leave me, Natsuki," The Siren commanded.

Natsuki scowled. "I won't. You can die in the middle of the night."

"So you want to be here to be the first to witness such a thing?"

"I want to make sure you don't," Natsuki growled. "And I… I don't know why. Maybe because I need you to get me home. Yeah, that's why. You can't die or I don't go home."

Shizuru let out a sound. Almost an 'ah-hah,' but weaker. "That is… what I thought," she uttered. "Well then I will try my best not to die in the middle of the night."

"You're the Princess of Cardair," Natsuki said, lowering her voice so no one would overhear if they were by the door. "You can't die on some random Black Island."

"You are… not going to let this go, are you?"

"Let it go?"

"Forget that I am a Princess? Was a princess? I am the pirate queen now. I am no princess. The sea is my home, not Cardair."

"Go back," Natsuki urged her, her gaze too intense for Shizuru and forcing the woman to look away for fear she'd immediately give in to Natsuki's demands. "Go back," Natsuki said again. "You'll find yourself, find what you're looking for. It's your destiny, Shizuru."

"And what do you know of destiny? Your destiny is to marry the Prince of Zipang and become one of the most powerful women in the world. Are you rushing off to marry him? I do not think so."

The girl gritted her teeth and averted her gaze. "That's different."

"How so?"

"That's not my destiny."

"Then what is your destiny?"

"You tell me," Natsuki said, leaning forward, eyelids lowering slightly. "You're the one keeping the tarot card in your front pocket." She whispered this last part, making it that more effective.

Shizuru's eyes widened and her hand instantly lifted to rest over the pocket over her heart. "How do you know about that?"

"Well when all you do is pull it out and stare at it…" Natsuki muttered. "Someone is bound to notice." Her eyes flickered to Shizuru's pocket, where she knew the card was hiding. "Which one is it?"

Shizuru's eyes narrowed. "What do you know of cards?"

"That they're trickery, mostly," the captive replied, shrugging.

Kuga leaned back, and as she did this Shizuru caught the pleasant scent of wind and sky. She took a moment to inhale deeply and then murmured, "I see…"

"Don't tell me you believe tarot cards actually tell the future," Natsuki said, a slight, amused smile on her pink lips. She eyed Shizuru as if she were a young, foolish child.

Shizuru's eyes narrowed and she used the rest of her strength to roll onto her side, turning her back on the other young woman. "I would be more inclined to agree with you if you did not possess the ability to tell the future yourself."

Natsuki blinked and stared after the captain. "What do you mean?" Last she checked she couldn't tell the future.

"You can read the weather," Shizuru replied easily, forcing her eyes to close shut as a tremor moved its way through her body. She fought to keep herself from visibly trembling but knew she had failed when Natsuki's warm hand gently rested on her side. "Is that not a form of fortune-telling?" A pirate's fortune often relied on the weather.

"Are you cold?" Natsuki asked, her tone soft and caressing. "I can ask the innkeeper for more blankets—"

"I am quite alright," Shizuru cut her off. "Where is Aoi?"

Natsuki sat back and frowned, removing her hand from Shizuru's side and swallowing hard. "With Chie and the others," she said, her tone and face neutral, emotionless.

It was strange thinking of Natsuki as 'emotionless' as the girl was usually very bad at keeping her emotions hidden. She was no mask wearer that was for sure. Shizuru doubted a mask would even be able to stay attached to the girls face.

"Bring her to me," Shizuru demanded. "And get out of my room."

Natsuki hated this feeling, like Shizuru was slowly but surely sticking a sword into her, the tip of the blade piercing her skin and entering her body. It was her words, her coldness, her attitude. I hate this woman, Natsuki growled in her head. "Fine," Natsuki snapped, abruptly standing up. "If you die tonight, I hope she at least keeps you warm in your final hours."

Shizuru huffed and seemed to curl into more of a cocoon. "If I could only be so lucky to die in the arms of such a lovely creature."

A pain in her palms is the only thing that made Natsuki realize that her fingers had curled into tight fists, causing her own nails to dig into her skin. She instantly opened her fists, spun on her heel, and stalked towards the exit. She couldn't wait to get out of there, out of that horrible woman's presence. Didn't she know what she did to people? The power she had over the? How could she be so cruel?

What is she doing that is so cruel? A voice asked Natsuki. She is lying, weak, hurt, in bed. She is dying. She is like this because of you. This voice was whispered from her heart and tried to reach Natsuki's mind. Why does she make you so angry? You are stronger than her now. You could kill her, blame is on her illness, and no one would know.

What was Shizuru doing that Natsuki found so offensive? Was it that she kept asking for Aoi? Was it that she preferred Aoi's company over—

No don't be… don't be ridiculous, Natsuki's mind raged.


Natsuki froze, her hand on the handle. She looked over her shoulder at the lump under the covers. "What is it?"

"I will not die tonight."

"How do you know?"

"Because you saved me." It would be a waste if she made it all that way just to die.

Natsuki stared, her hand still unmoving on the door handle. "Because I had to."

"You never told me how you—"

And before she could ask that infuriating question again, Natsuki left. She could not help but feel a bit sad though. Shizuru often asked her how she administered the antidote with a wicked lovely smile on her lips, a glimmer in her wine-red eyes, a playful aura. When she asked it now she sounded exhausted, dead. Natsuki couldn't take it.

That night Natsuki lay in her room. It wasn't as big as Shizuru's but it didn't need to be, it was just her. Luckily she didn't have to share a room with anyone. She supposed she had Shizuru to thank for that.

How is she? Natsuki wondered. Natsuki worried. It bothered her greatly that she wanted nothing more than to go over and check on Shizuru's health. Shizuru didn't often have feverish moments like that anymore, but when she did get them they were bad. They were frightening.

But Aoi was in there now. With Shizuru. Natsuki didn't know much about Aoi, but she hoped the young girl could handle a fever at the very least. Natsuki shifted and turned, not finding a comfortable position.

Every time she closed her eyes she saw those lips. Those eyes. That smile.

Stop! Natsuki let out a frustrated growl. What the hell?

She stared up at the ceiling. Counted the old, wooden rafters, and then closed her eyes again.

This time she saw Shizuru on Aoi. The captain had that smile on her face, the one that made Natsuki forget what she was saying, often rendering her silent. Shizuru leans down, capturing Aoi's lips. The younger girl wraps her arms around Shizuru's neck, pulls her closer, moans. Shizuru's hands wander. One is cupping Aoi's soft cheek, the other is trailing across her breasts, down her side, sliding over her hip, resting on her thigh, moving closer and closer until finally—

Natsuki shot up in bed. It took her a few seconds to realize she had fallen asleep. She furiously wiped at her eyes, not understanding why there were tears there. Not sad tears, angry tears. What was she so angry about? What had her dream been about?

She couldn't even remember now.

The next day Shizuru was in better shape. She seemingly bonded with Aoi or something, because Aoi couldn't stop smiling with her and they would share secret smiles and knowing looks.

Frankly, it made Natsuki sick. She wasn't entirely sure why. It certainly wasn't jealousy or anything juvenile like that. Perhaps it was the age difference that disturbed her? Or maybe it was the fact that Aoi was so obviously manipulated by the horrible woman that had captured her and made her a prisoner on a big stupid ship in the middle of the big stupid ocean.

Wait… Natsuki thought, a frown forming on her lips as her eyes flickered back and forth between the two. Why do I feel like a huge hypocrite right now?

The crew—namely Irina, Nao, Chie, Midori, and Tomoe—were all sitting and eating at a wooden table in the inn's tavern. Shizuru and Aoi were eating too, but at the opposite end of the table, like a king and queen.

Before Natsuki could look away, Shizuru's crimson eyes had slid to the side, meeting her green so fiercely and suddenly that Natsuki's hand, which had just been about to shovel food into her mouth, instantly dropped back to the table and landed with an embarrassingly loud thud.

Nao and Midori stopped their conversation to glance at Natsuki.

"What the hell, Kuga?" Nao barked, before following Natsuki's locked stare to the other end of the table, where she was not surprised to find Shizuru's unsettling red. The vixen rolled her eyes. "Figures."

Midori snickered and, leaning her chin on her first, glanced sideways at the spectacled navigator. Chie too appeared struck by something. Midori didn't have to look to know she was staring at Aoi. The helmswoman let out a sigh, patted Chie on the back, and playfully whispered, "Might wanna pick your jaw up off the floor, doll."

Chie shot the woman a glare and then opted for staring sadly at her food instead.

Midori sighed at the sad navigator. Chie was usually so cheerful and fun. Ever since Aoi showed up on the ship Chie hasn't been the same. Midori missed her friend, and absolutely hated sexual attraction. It was beginning to get on her very last nerve. It made her friends completely not-fun.

Shizuru speaking pulled Midori from her thoughts.

"You should smile more, Miss Kuga," Shizuru said, her soft voice floating over from the other end of the table. "Your frown isn't befitting of you."

Midori inwardly cringed and turned to see a stunned Natsuki. Irina frowned and averted her gaze, Chie was too busy sulking to have even heard Shizuru, and Nao looked conflicted. Surprisingly, Midori felt fury erupt within her. What was Shizuru's problem anyway? One second she's trying as hard as she could, using all of her Siren mojo to get in Natsuki's pants, the next she's telling her she's unattractive when she's grumpy?

Midori couldn't help but exclaim, "I respectfully disagree, my highly esteemed captain." Midori turned to Natsuki in order to avoid seeing the sure fury she would certainly see, not on Shizuru's face, but boiling behind her eyes. "I think Natsuki looks gorgeous." Midori winked at Natsuki and snaked an arm around the girl's waist, drawing her close and causing the surprised young woman to blush.

A peek in Shizuru's direction told Midori she had been successful. The pirate queen was no longer sitting close to Aoi but now had turned her body so that she was facing the opposite end of the table, namely where Natsuki and Midori were sitting. She had also placed her hands on top of the table, folded neatly in a way that to most would mean nothing but to Midori, who had known Shizuru for a very long time, meant she was trying to keep her emotions from manifesting themselves physically.

"I see…" Shizuru purred, her dark eyes flashing dangerously as they settled on Midori.

The helmswoman felt her blood freeze in her veins, could almost see the murder Shizuru was committing in her mind.

"Geez, Midori," Natsuki cutely mumbled, pushing Midori away and breaking the awkward eye contact, "Let me eat my breakfast." She turned to her food and began eating again; completely oblivious to the death glare Shizuru was giving Midori.

Midori simply offered the captain the goofiest smile she could muster before returning to her own breakfast. What is Shizuru up to? She idly wondered.

After they had eaten, they all gathered just outside the inn and formed a semi-circle in front of Shizuru, awaiting orders.

"Irina, go fetch us all horses to ride into town with. You will stand guard here while we gather supplies."

Irina nodded and headed towards the nearby stables.

Shizuru's eyes flickered from face to face, lingering longer on Natsuki's, before landing on Aoi. "Aoi, you will go with Chie and Midori to the leader of this Black Island and request we stay one more night."

Chie's eyes lit up and she couldn't help but beam in Aoi's direction. The younger girl suddenly appeared very shy, but looked just as happy as the navigator. Midori glanced over at the two of them and rolled her eyes before taking a swig of rum.

Shizuru then turned to address Nao. "You are in charge of supplies. Anything the ship needs—"

"Yeah yeah," Nao interrupted. "I'm the boatswain, remember? I know what the ship needs."

An amused smile appeared on Shizuru's face and she gently threw the redhead a satchel, which the girl caught out of the air. She smirked when she heard the jingle of gold doubloons inside.

"I will handle medical supplies and food," Shizuru said, before turning to Tomoe and Natsuki. "And you two will come with me."

Tomoe nodded.

Natsuki folded her arms over her chest and frowned. "No way. I'm going with Nao."

Shizuru's eyes narrowed. "Nao does not need your help."

Natsuki's arms unfolded and her eyes widened a fraction. She then gave Shizuru a suspicious look. "And you do?"

"Are you coming or not?" Shizuru growled, signaling to Tomoe to follow her. She turned and began walking towards the white stallion Irina had lined up for her. "There is no need to be so difficult all the time…" She grumbled, mostly to herself.

Tomoe scrambled after the captain, offering to help Shizuru onto the horse when Shizuru looked too afraid to attempt. It was, after all, rather difficult to do when you were ill.

Natsuki stubbornly looked on, frowning slightly when she saw Shizuru refuse Tomoe's help. Just accept her help, Shizuru, Natsuki angrily thought, her frown deepening further when Shizuru looked as though she might actually try to get on the horse without any help.

"Shizuru," Natsuki called after the captain as she approached, who turned around with an arched brow, as if to say yes? Natsuki sighed and gently moved Shizuru to the side before jumping on the horse.

"You have your own horse," Shizuru said, watching curiously as Natsuki adjusted herself on the stallion, looking magnificent and beautiful. Shizuru gestured to the black one Irina had brought over moments ago.

"I wanted this one," Natsuki said simply with a carefree shrug. She flicked her dark hair over her shoulder and peered down at the captain with a bored look. The nerve of this girl!

The side of Shizuru's mouth twitched slightly and she pointed to the black horse. "You finally get your own horse and now you do not want it?" She remembered forcing a disgruntled Natsuki to share a horse with her a few times. Natsuki always asked for her own horse. Shizuru had told her she wasn't worth spending the money on for her own horse. She was a captive, after all.

To Shizuru's surprise, Natsuki reached down a hand. "Here," the girl said, her palm open and inviting. "We can share this one, if you care so much."

Shizuru's eyes widened and it took her a moment to realize Natsuki was going to help her onto her own horse, without making it obvious that Shizuru would have trouble getting on without any help.

Shizuru took Natsuki's hand and was grateful for the strong tug upwards, which was much more powerful than what a normal tug would have been like had Shizuru been healthy and capable.

Shizuru felt weird riding in front of Natsuki rather than behind her. She wouldn't complain though. She reveled in the feeling of Natsuki's warm body behind hers, the girl's soft breathing on her neck, her arms resting on Shizuru's sides as they held the reins in their firm grasp. Shizuru didn't mean to but couldn't help leaning back into the other woman.

Tomoe rode up on a gray horse and said, "Are we going to do this or what?"

Natsuki nodded to her and pressed her heels into the horse's sides. "Yeah, let's go."

The trip into town was a short one. It was so short Shizuru wondered why she even made Irina get horses for them. Then again, the town seemed rather large for a Black Island town. Perhaps it would be easier to get around this way?

Still. The ride was too short regardless. Natsuki was comfortable and Shizuru didn't feel like she wanted to get off the horse just yet. She enjoyed being able to relax back into someone else who would support her. Tomoe was riding ahead of them and Shizuru hadn't felt the need to keep up the appearance of strength. Instead she weakly leaned into Natsuki, and felt her vocal chords freeze when a firm arm slid around her waist and held her tighter, like a safety belt.

No no no no, Shizuru thought, though she took no action to break free.

Natsuki held tightly onto the captain. "Shizuru," she whispered, her hot breath on the back of Shizuru's neck and sending shivers up and down the older woman's spine. "Can you walk?"

If you are so near, Natsuki… no, I cannot walk.

"I will be fine," Shizuru said, sitting forward, away from Natsuki. She glanced at Natsuki from over her shoulder, giving the other girl an impatient, Get off of my horse and help me down glare.

Natsuki glared back, rolled her eyes, and then slid off the stallion with ease. She then helped Shizuru down, offering the woman support by holding her on the hips and making her descent as graceful as possible.

"Thank you," Shizuru murmured, averting her eyes from Natsuki's, much to the other's puzzlement.

"Don't mention it," Natsuki said, walking towards the doctor's house, which was clearly marked by a sign out front.

Shizuru watched her disappear into the house and then looked to see Tomoe. Tomoe got off her horse too, shooed off some curious villagers, and stopped at her side. "You ready?"

Shizuru frowned. "No." She was certainly not ready to hear what that doctor was going to say. The possibilities made her head swim and her footing unsteady.

Tomoe smirked. "Too bad. Come on." And with that she grabbed the swaying woman's arm and dragged the nervous pirate into the house.

The doctor was an older woman. Not old, but older than Shizuru. If Natsuki had to guess, she'd say 30. The doctor was pretty in a strange way though, with short and curly blonde hair ending just below her ear lobes, eyes gray like sea foam, and dimples. Her mouth, maybe, was too wide. It made her smiles somewhat unnerving.

But she was smiling, so that was good. I hope.

Natsuki leaned on the wall, her eyes looking around the drab room. It was clearly a business-only room. She didn't bother decorating it. All there was in the room were medical supplies and equipment and an uncomfortable looking bed for the patients to lie on. The rest of the house, Natsuki suspected, was decorated in a cozy, cutesy manner. She'd bet money on it. This doctor looked like the homely type.

Shizuru was sitting on the bed, looking miserable and unhappy while the doctor poked and prodded her. For a second those red eyes met with emeralds, before quickly looking away again. Natsuki's expression darkened and she instead looked at Tomoe, who was sitting nearby on a chair pulled up as close to Shizuru as possible without getting in the doctors way.

"Well, Captain Viola, you're not going to die," the doctor said, offering one of her strange smiles.

"For now," came Shizuru's bored response. "There's always tomorrow." She shot another glance at Natsuki, as if to say, Especially if you're around.

Natsuki couldn't help but smirk in response.

Tomoe let out a big sigh of relief, her hands on her knees as she leaned forward to grin at Shizuru. "See? I told you you had nothing to worry about. You'll be back to pillaging and killing in no time."

"Joy," Natsuki deadpanned from her wall, arms still folded and aloofness in tact.

"No one asked you," Tomoe snapped from Shizuru's side. "Isn't there a storm somewhere you should be talking to?"

Natsuki rolled her eyes. "Isn't there a pirate queen you should be kissing while she sleeps—oh wait…"

Tomoe rose from her chair, hands forming fists at her sides and a menacing look in her eyes.

"Enough," Shizuru demanded. She turned her fierce eyes on Tomoe. "Sit. Down."

Tomoe instantly nodded and sat. She avoided Natsuki's victorious grin, lest she snap and shoot the girl from across the room. Shizuru wouldn't like that. She'd get over it EVENTUALLY though… maybe.

Natsuki instantly lost the superior smile when Shizuru's angry gaze landed on her. She swallowed and instantly straightened.

"And you," Shizuru snarled, "Keep your snark to yourself for once." It would've been intimidating if Shizuru didn't look like she was exhausted from being annoyed.

Natsuki laughed a bit and then coughed into her fist to hide her blatant mirth. "Yeah, sorry." She pretended to lock her lips with an imaginary key. "Snark is now locked down in the brig." Maybe I'll make my snark clear the water from the bilge later, she mentally added.

Shizuru's displeased face was almost too funny and Natsuki's lips formed a mischievous smirk yet again.

"I'm going to pretend you did not say that." Turning to the doctor, Shizuru asked, "What is next, doctor…" she trailed off, realizing she had never gotten the doctor's name.

"Call me Brigid," she said simply. "And I am not a doctor," she added. "I'm a healer. I wasn't professionally trained in a major nation like Zipang or Cardair but I know my herbs and medicines, especially when it comes to the Black Islands which is…" she gingerly touched the healed entry wound where the dart had first entered Shizuru's arm, "where I'm guessing you got struck with a poisonous dart? Run into some savages, hm?"

Shizuru blinked and then frowned. "Yes, well… it seemed like a good idea at the time."

"We got a lot of gold out of it, at least," Natsuki added with a shrug, before freezing and realizing she sounded like a pirate. What has happened to me? I don't care about gold!

No one else seemed to see anything wrong with this. Tomoe even nodded in agreement, as if to say, Yeah she's got a point.

"You should be dead," Brigid said, her face grave as she peered into Shizuru's eyes.

"I agree," Shizuru murmured under her breath.

The healer continued. "You wouldn't believe how many explorers come in here panicking that they've been attacked on some island. They drop dead at my feet when I tell them I can't help them."

The pirates in the room all felt their blood freeze.

"You… cannot help me?" Shizuru asked, surprised she could speak at all.

Brigid, much to everyone's surprise, laughed. "Heavens no! You don't need much help, just need to detoxify to get the last of the poison out. It'll speed up the healing process. You've already been administered the antidote which no one usually has, since the flowers it's made from are only found on that island." And after getting shot with a poisonous dart, you usually leave that island as fast as possible.

Everyone let out a sigh of relief.

"Speaking of," Brigid tilted her head ever so slightly, "how did you get the antidote?"

Shizuru's eyes flickered over to Natsuki. "It's apparently a secret."

Brigid followed her gaze to where Natsuki stood, looking as aloof as ever. "She found the flowers and made a cure?"

Natsuki shrugged. "It was no big deal." Oh, you know, running through a forest from cannibals with a paralyzed pirate queen on your back, while frantically searching for stupid blue flowers. All in a day's work.

Shizuru smirked at her, as if she could read Natsuki's mind. She remembered how frantically Natsuki worked to save her, how desperate she was to bring Shizuru to safety. Why?

Natsuki couldn't help but mirror her expression.

Tomoe cleared her throat, disliking the shared, smirks between the two. She felt as though they were leaving her out of some inside joke.

"So," Brigid said, standing up. "We should work out a payment. I don't treat patients who can't pay in one way or another."

"I have all the gold you could ever desire," Shizuru said, her tone that of a bored person, as if she's said that phrase one too many times. "And I have a sex slave if you want one," Shizuru added lightly, nodding in Natsuki's direction.

Natsuki gasped in horror, causing everyone else in the room to start laughing hysterically.

"Just kidding," Shizuru chirped, when Natsuki shot her a furious glare. Shizuru gave Natsuki a sultry look that said, Come now, I was merely joking. She watched Natsuki behind thick lashes, a tiny smile forming on her lips.

Natsuki huffed and pouted ever so slightly. She resisted all her body's natural inclinations and stayed right where she was. Which was on the wall opposite Shizuru. Damn those hypnotic eyes!

Brigid laughed lightly and then fixed her gray gaze on Shizuru, another of her too-wide smiles forming on her too-wide lips. "You."

Shizuru watched her curiously. "Me?"

"I've heard… stories…" Brigid flushed pink then, but didn't break eye contact with Shizuru. This was a business transaction. "I will cure you if you give me your body."

Both Tomoe and Natsuki exchanged horrified glances when Shizuru didn't immediately reject her request. It scared Natsuki that that was one of the most touching moments she had ever had with Tomoe, one of mutual terror.

Shizuru tilted her head slightly, seemingly examining Brigid before her. "My body," she repeated. A small pause before, "For how long?"

"Shizuru," Natsuki began, stepping away from the wall and towards Shizuru.

Shizuru glanced at her. "This doesn't concern you, Natsuki. Wait outside if you must."

Natsuki was stunned into silence, but her mind was raging.

Tomoe decided to try. "Shizuru, are you really—?"

"You too, Tomoe. Leave now if you are going to disrupt my conversation." She then looked between he two of them. "If I didn't know any better, I would think that you two wanted me to stay ill."

Natsuki glared at Shizuru. "Just threaten her. Threaten her like you threatened the innkeeper to get what you want."

"And risk her poisoning me further or outright killing me?" Shizuru questioned, lifting a slender brow.

"Then I would kill her myself," Tomoe growled, her glare fixing itself on the silent blonde doctor sitting across from Shizuru.

Shizuru shook her head. "It is not worth the risks. We are strangers here. A retired pirate runs the village. By the size of this village, I would guess a very successful, deadly pirate. I could not guarantee you would survive if you ended up killing what appears to be the villages only healer."

Brigid kneeled down and placed a comforting hand on Shizuru's knee. "You are correct. I am the only healer on this island and Chief, the retired pirate that governs us, is one of my patients." She then paused and said, "Considering you will enjoy this payment too, I can't say this is a bad deal…"

Shizuru peered at her. "You do not know what I would enjoy."

Brigid nodded. "Apologies, Siren. You can turn down my offer if you so wish. Without my treatment you should survive. Healing will just take a few more months."

Shizuru turned to Natsuki and Tomoe. "Leave us."

Natsuki stepped forward, her eyes narrowed and anger rolling off of her in waves. "Shizuru you don't have to do this."

"Do what?" Shizuru asked as she stood up and straightened. She began taking off her long coat. She threw it to the other end of the bed. "I do not do anything I do not wish to, Natsuki."

It took all of Natsuki's power not to let out the sharp, dubious laugh she felt bubbling from her chest. "That," she said, "is the biggest lie you've made today. All you do are things you don't want to do, no matter what you try to tell yourself!"

Tomoe glanced sideways at Natsuki, both somewhat shocked she would speak to Shizuru in that way and impressed at her audacity. The quartermaster's eyes shifted to the captain, who was so stoic and silent that the urge to run away, arms flailing, was almost unbearable.

Lips pursed into a thin line, eyes narrowed to slits, wine-red flashing with danger, and a posture as solid as stone. Shizuru was not as pleased with Natsuki's gall as Tomoe was. Those eyes slid to Tomoe. "Dearest Tomoe."

"Yes, Captain Viola?" Tomoe instantly straightened when she was addressed.

"Escort Miss Kuga out of the vicinity. I will meet you both outside at a later time."

"Shizuru!" Natsuki yelled, her face flushing red with her anger. She took another step towards Shizuru but froze when she heard the clicking as the hammer of Tomoe's pistol was pulled back. Natsuki turned and found herself looking down the barrel of Tomoe's gun.

Shizuru didn't like this, didn't like that she had to tell Tomoe to aim a gun at Natsuki, didn't like taking the very slight risk that Tomoe would misfire and accidentally kill the girl. But she needed them out. She did things her way. They had no control over her. They couldn't tell her what to do.

"If you want to continue destroying yourself, fine," Natsuki snapped.

Viola watched as Natsuki spun on her boot heel and stormed out of the healer's house. Tomoe holstered her gun, looked back over her shoulder at Shizuru, and then followed the captive out.

Shizuru silently watched the door then turned to Brigid. "Where were we?"

"Kuga, slow down!" Tomoe yelled as she jogged to catch up with the quickly fleeing captive. She caught up and grabbed the other girl's forearm, effectively causing her to stop. "Stop for a second!"

Natsuki spun around and stared at Tomoe. "Or what, you'll shoot me?"

Tomoe rolled her eyes. "As if. You know Shizuru wouldn't let me."

"She let you aim at me so who really cares if she wouldn't actually let you shoot me or not?" Natsuki let out a sound like a frustrated animal and then ran her hands through her dark hair before turning up to stare at the sky. "Why does she do this to herself?"

"It's just sex," Tomoe said with a frown, though she wasn't happy with it either. "Shizuru does what she wants and enjoys it. And she had a point. She needs Brigid and Brigid doesn't need her."

Sex was, and often is, a form of currency, but that was usually in the case of the poor requesting a favor from the rich.

"She didn't even bother trying to negotiate a price."

"Brigid is the only healer around for miles," Tomoe pointed out. "She has plenty of gold. There's only one Shizuru Viola, only one Siren. If I were her, I'd ask for the same thing too. That's a once in a lifetime opportunity." A pause. "Well, for Brigid."

"Still," Natsuki muttered now feeling as though the adrenaline in her system was dissipating, only leaving her feeling as though the world was a burden on her shoulders. "There were other options. She could've… she could've tried something else."

Tomoe shrugged. "That's who the Siren is, Natsuki. That's what she does. A Siren is a sexual—"

Natsuki brought her gaze down and met Tomoe's. The ferocity Tomoe saw lurking behind the green instantly shut her up and she had to fight every fiber in her being to not take a step back.

That may be who the Siren is but…

"That is Shizuru in there, not the Siren. And no matter what Shizuru tells herself, she is not a beast. She does not like what the Siren supposedly likes. She is not who everyone wants her to be, envisions her as in their heads. She doesn't have to keep pretending." Natsuki stopped for fear her voice would gave away just how much this affected her.

And why did it affect her so much? Shizuru was a grown woman. She could do what she wanted. She could run her life in any way she saw fit, who was Natsuki to tell her what to do? Shizuru could make her own decisions, do whatever she desired, whatever she wanted.

But that's just it, wasn't it? This isn't what she wanted so why did she pretend it was?

Why do I even care? Natsuki averted her gaze from Tomoe's and pretend to find the villagers interesting. Why should I care what Shizuru does? She probably WANTS to sleep with Brigid. Tomoe is right. This is what she does… she was doing it long before she met me so why would she stop now? Who cares?

The sound of a feral beast reverberated through her chest and caused a few nearby villagers to lift their heads and peer over at the girl making strange sounds.

"I care!" She snapped, mostly to herself though to everyone in the surrounding area it looked as if she had just yelled at a vegetable cart.

The vegetable vendor instantly picked up his cart and rolled it farther down the street, occasionally looking fearfully over his shoulder at the psychotic woman that, for some reason he didn't understand, cared deeply for his vegetables.

Tomoe gave Kuga a blank, not amused stare. "What?"

Natsuki looked over her shoulder at the quartermaster. "What?"

"Never mind. Will you just relax? Shizuru will be out soon and she'll be healthy. Isn't that what's important?"

"I…" Natsuki sighed and exchanged a surprisingly tender moment with Tomoe, who gave her a searching look and seemed to find something familiar in her eyes. Natsuki looked away before Tomoe could identify what was so familiar. "I guess so." I just wish she didn't torture herself. Shizuru likes sex but not if it isn't her idea. At least, that's what Natsuki thought.

"Let's go for a walk," Tomoe said, gesturing for Natsuki to follow her. "They'll… be a while."

Natsuki was eager to go along with the quartermaster. She threw her hands up in the air. "Gross. Whatever, let's go."

Shizuru stood up and buttoned her shirt, not saying anything as she then reached for her frock coat. It was a deep, crimson red, with gold trimming. She had had it specially made to fit her feminine form. She stared at herself in the long mirror standing near the exit. She looked tired, but healthy. Whatever Brigid had given her, a mixture of some sort, had worked quickly. She hadn't felt so good in weeks.

She reached a hand out, her long fingernails tapping against the cool surface of the mirror. Her palms were sweaty, leaving a handprint when she retracted her palm. But it was her eyes that she couldn't tear away, couldn't rip from the ones that stared back at her, deep into her very being, pouring darkness.


Who was that woman?

Beautiful but frightening, graceful but fierce, safe but treacherous?

Brigid walked into the room. It was the same room as before, where she had examined Shizuru just an hour or so earlier. She spotted the pirate queen examining herself in the mirror at the end of the room.

"Ah, so you found the exit."

"Your house isn't very large," Shizuru said after a moment, turning away from her reflection and offering Brigid a small smile. "I had no trouble finding my way around."

The blonde hadn't bothered getting dressed. Shizuru suspected she was too exhausted to see any more patients that day. That, or she was hoping to convince Shizuru to stay longer.

"That's good," Brigid said, leaning against the wall and watching Shizuru intently, like a hawk watches a mouse. Her eyes trailed down Shizuru's body and then up. "Thank you for that," she added. "I had fun."

Shizuru let out a humming noise. "I would be insulted if you hadn't." She turned back to her reflection and ran her fingers through her long hair, making it look less obvious what she had just been doing moments ago. She let out a sigh and then gave up. Maybe she could blame it on the wind.

The blonde seemed to give up on round two. "How are you feeling?" Brigid grabbed an over-sized shirt that looked more like a blanket, and pulled it over her head. She padded over to the captain and felt her forehead. "You don't have a fever."

"I feel fine," Shizuru replied, gently removing Brigid's hand from her forehead. For a split second she remembered Natsuki doing the same thing earlier, and how she had reacted so differently.

As if sensing Shizuru's flashback, Brigid gave her a searching look. "Are you sure you're alright?"

"I have not felt this good in weeks," Shizuru said, instantly burying Natsuki's expression from her mind. She was being honest. It felt as though she were back to normal. She hadn't felt like this since before getting poisoned. She offered Brigid a warm smile. "I am truly grateful. Thank you."

"Any time, Captain Viola." A pause. "Do you… would you happen to need a healer on your ship?"

Shizuru did, Youko wasn't trained with medicine and Natsuki's talents were very limited,but she thought it a bad idea. Brigid was safe on this Black Island anyway, it seemed, so why bring more people into danger? "I am afraid I do not, but if I ever do you will be the first I call," Shizuru lied.

Brigid nodded and walked Shizuru to the exit. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I hope to see you again."

Shizuru laughed and opened the door. "What a strange woman you are, hoping I get struck with another poisoned dart…" And with that, she left.

Tomoe lifted her head at the sound of the door opening and closing. She straightened when the glorious Captain Viola stalked towards her. "Viola," Tomoe greeted, looking the other woman up and down. "Either that is sex-hair or it's windy in that healer's house."

Shizuru sighed and ran her hands through it once again. "I suppose I can buy a hat while I am in town…" She looked around suddenly, spinning in a slow circle once before settling her gaze on Tomoe. "Where is Natsuki?"

Tomoe shrugged. "She ditched. We went for a walk and then she left on her own without another word." The quartermaster seemed hurt that Natsuki would just leave her without even saying bye. It was kind of cute.

It amazed Shizuru how… civil Tomoe and Natsuki had become. They still glared at each other on occasion, still fought, but there seemed to be some kind of understanding, a strange bond that Shizuru did not understand and likely never would. She knew that she personally would never be able to forget it if Tomoe had been about to whip her to death. Then again, Natsuki was an enigma. A very, very forgiving enigma.

"Do you know where she went?" Shizuru asked, once again scanning the surrounding area for any sign of the infuriating captive. All she saw were busy cobblestone streets, villagers moving from here to there, and lots of chickens pecking at the ground. This was a very nice village for a Black Island. Whoever this 'Chief' was, they had been a very successful pirate to have created such a bustling economy.

"Beats me," Tomoe said, giving a careless shrug.

"I might," Shizuru murmured.

Tomoe rolled her eyes. "Who cares? She'll be back at the inn eventually. It's not like there's much to do here."

"What if she runs off?" Shizuru growled, grabbing Tomoe's shoulder and squeezing. "She could escape."

Tomoe, to Shizuru's surprise, only laughed and peeled the captain's hand off of her shoulder. "If you're still worried Natsuki would run away…" Tomoe chuckled a bit. "Never mind."

The captain glared at the quartermaster. "What do you mean?"

Tomoe sighed, turned, and began walking towards the shops. "Let's go pick up some supplies before it gets dark."

What would she be running away from?

Nao blinked as her eyes watered the second she stepped into the bright sun. She came out of a store holding a bag full of tools and cloth to repair any rips in the Kiyohime's sails. Unfortunately, the satchel Shizuru had thrown her earlier now only jingled the sad tune of few coins.

Hoisting the sack over her shoulder, Nao glanced around. All she saw were unrecognizable villagers.

Let's see… Nao thought. Shizuru is with Tomoe and Natsuki, Chie and Midori and Aoi are on a diplomatic meeting to the chief of this village, and Irina is back at the inn.

It was kind of peaceful, not being surrounded by anyone she knew. The village was surprisingly big enough for Nao to fit right in. She'd be surprised if the villagers all knew each other. For a second she pretended she was back at Cardair, running errands for her mother.

She briefly closed her eyes and felt the stones beneath her feet, heard the chattering of nearby villagers, smelled the scent of freshly baked bread, tasted the fresh, sea air. For a second she almost felt like she was home, a feeling she didn't often allow herself to indulge in for she knew it was a far away dream that would never come true.

"Nao," Natsuki greeted as she approached.

The memory faded instantly and the redhead's eyes snapped open, instantly turning a glare on the intruder. "Kuga," she said. She looked the striker up and down. "What are you doing without Shizuru and Tomoe?"

The girl shrugged. "I needed some alone time."

An amused smirk formed on Nao's face. "So you decided to talk to me? That's not very alone."

Natsuki waved her off. "You know what I mean." She flicked her hair over her shoulder and turned to look at the villagers as they went about their mundane existences. "I've been feeling… weird…"

"What do you mean?" Nao asked, intrigued. She felt the sack on her shoulder get heavy and said, "Let's walk to the horses."

The two began walking together. Natsuki didn't answer Nao right away, instead appearing thoughtful and confused, her brow furrowing ever so slightly as she stared at the cobblestones beneath her feet.

"Every so often I feel this… pulse move through me…" Natsuki began to explain, knowing that she sounded crazy. "I can't explain it. It happens with more frequency now. It feels like a storm but it's… different."

Nao mulled over this for a bit. A part of her wanted to make some smart-aleck comment about Natsuki's weird weather-psychic abilities but instead she asked, "When does it happen?"

A shrug. "I dunno. I guess…" she paused, her eyes widening slightly, then shook her head. "Never mind."

Nao looked at her, her expression full of concern. "What do you mean 'never mind'?"

Natsuki suddenly seemed… different. She shook her head. "Nothing. Just forget I even mentioned it." She stalked away from Nao and waited, impatiently, by Shizuru's white stallion. She looked up at Nao, who was still watching her, and said, "What?"

"Why are you freaking out all of a sudden?" Nao snapped, turning only to hoist the sack onto the back of her brown horse. She then turned around again. "When do you feel the strange pulse-thing you were just talking about?" Once she had asked that question, Natsuki had acted strange. Had she realized something? And why did that realization scare her so much?

Natsuki frowned. "Drop it."

"Fine." Nao threw her hands up and let out an annoyed grunt. "Next time you come to me for help I'll be sure to not."

Natsuki seemed too deep in thought now to respond, and so Nao mounted her horse and road off down the road without another word.

"So you're still feeling better now?" Tomoe asked Shizuru as they headed towards their horses. They could make out a figure already standing near Shizuru's white horse, and weren't surprised that it was Kuga. "We've been out all day."

Shizuru nodded. "I feel cured," she replied. "Normally around now I wouldn't be able to walk but I feel the same as I did after first being treated."

The closer they got to Natsuki the clearer her features became. She looked spooked, that was for sure. Now closer, she looked tired. Shizuru hadn't realized Natsuki would be waiting for her, having completely forgotten they had had to share a horse. It was dark out now, Shizuru and Tomoe had been doing lots of shopping, but mostly talking.

Tomoe was carrying two large bags, as was Shizuru. Tomoe held the food supplies and Shizuru held the medicines.

"I'm still surprised you waited so long to get treatment," Tomoe muttered.

"In my experience I have learned there are only three cures for everything: sweat, tears, and the sea."

"Salty," Tomoe deadpanned.

"And wet," Shizuru added. "But… this recent experience has led me to believe that perhaps medicine is also helpful."

Tomoe chuckled. "What a revolutionary discovery."

Shizuru's eyes lit up with a familiar amusement and she offered Tomoe a ghost of a smirk. "Indeed."

The two pirates came to a stop in front of Natsuki. The girl lifted her eyes and stared into Shizuru's own.

"What is wrong?" Shizuru asked, her tone soft and finally more like Shizuru rather than the Siren. She stepped closer and reached out a tentative hand… before retracting it just before she could feel the other girl's soft cheek.

"I…" Natsuki began. She seemed to mull over her words for a few more moments before saying, "Nothing. I'll tell you about it later." The girl gave Shizuru a look over. "You look… better."

Shizuru offered a triumphant smile. "Yes, I feel better."

"How was…" Natsuki's face contorted with some emotion Shizuru couldn't identify. "How was Brigid?" Perhaps it was disgust?

"Fine," was all Shizuru said, blunt as ever. She strode passed Natsuki and attached her bag of supplies to the horse. She mounted her white horse with an ease that hadn't been there that morning. After getting settled, she peered down at a wide-eyed Natsuki and asked, "Are you coming?" She reached down a hand, which Natsuki stared at before grasping tightly.

Shizuru let out a slow exhale. Whenever they touched it was as though a weight was being lifted off of her very soul, like all her sins were evaporating, if only temporarily. It just felt right.

Natsuki was helped up and sighed when she realized she and Shizuru had switched places again. "Why do you get to sit behind me?" Natsuki asked, clearly displeased with the tables having been turned back around so soon. "I don't like having pirates at my back."

Shizuru ran her fingers through Kuga's dark hair, moving it to over her shoulder and exposing the back of her neck. She resisted the urge to kiss the area, and instead leaned forward and simply exhaled, her lips mere centimeters from the skin on Natsuki's neck.

Natsuki felt a hotness on the back of her neck and felt shivers go up and down her spine. She even let out a small sound, or at least Shizuru was certain she heard something.

"What was that?" Shizuru asked, pressing her heels into the horse's sides and wrapping her arm protectively around the girl sitting in front of her, holding the reins in her free hand.

Natsuki said nothing, but Shizuru could practically feel the girl's silent seething. Shizuru smirked. "Perhaps Natsuki enjoys my company," she mused lightly, as if wondering to herself and accidentally speaking her thoughts out loud.

"Perhaps," Natsuki muttered as her body involuntarily tensed at feeling Shizuru's arm encircle her waist. "You should focus on getting us back to the inn." A pause. "In silence."

Shizuru chuckled and let out a humming sound. "As you wish, my captive."

Unfortunately, Shizuru took her words to heart and did not say another word. She didn't say another word to Natsuki, specifically. She didn't even spare her a glance. Instead she waved to her crew as they approached the inn. After arriving, she had Irina return the rented horses, helped Nao, Midori, and Chie pile up the supplies, and had Tomoe go spend the night on the Kiyohime just to make sure the rest of the crew wasn't becoming too restless.

As the day dragged on and the sun began to set, Shizuru sent back Nao, Midori, and Chie to prepare the ship for continuing its journey tomorrow.

That left Irina, Natsuki, and Aoi.

"Why not just spend the night on the ship if we're just going to leave tomorrow?" Natsuki suggested, desperately waiting to be bathed in those wine-red eyes for the first time in too long.

Shizuru instead stared at the sunset, the orange, pink, and purple hues making her face glow, her eyes flash. Her light brown hair was loose and wavy, cascading down her shoulders and moving in the sea breeze. She looked very serene then, calm and collected, thoughtful and… pure. Natsuki could not pry her eyes away from the image.

Finally, the captain said, "I quite like this inn." She looked over her shoulder, finally setting her gaze on Natsuki.

Natsuki stared at Shizuru still, barely hearing her. How could a human being be this beautiful? It was almost unearthly, as if she were specially crafted. Natsuki found it somewhat unnerving.

Then she remembered she had to speak. "W-Well why can't I return to the ship, then?" Natsuki asked, mentally cursing at herself for stammering. She never stammered. "You have Irina to guard you and…" her green gaze lingered on Aoi. "Aoi to… warm you."

"Yes but I already paid for your room for an extra night by mistake, so why not enjoy it?"

Lie. Obviously a lie, Shizuru hardly made mistakes and even if she had 'mistakenly' paid for an extra night, she could easily threaten the innkeeper into giving the money back. But then what was the truth? Natsuki wondered. She decided to stick around and maybe she'd find out. She eyed Shizuru and frowned slightly. "Fine."


Natsuki tossed and turn in her bed that night. She was in the same room as before, the one right next to Shizuru's. Aoi was in Shizuru's room, or so Natsuki figured. Not that she cared.

Natsuki hadn't heard from the other girls since Shizuru sent them back to the ship, and Irina was out in the hallway as usual, guarding the rooms. Natsuki idly wondered if the girl ever slept, and decided that that is probably why she disappeared during the daytime, when Shizuru was up and about and able to guard herself.

She hated being alone. If she was alone for too long she'd think too much and if she thought too much then—



You belong to me…

Natsuki rolled over and let out a frustrated groan into her pillow. Why couldn't she spend the night with Shizuru? She hated to admit it but she could feel her body craving that warmth, that heat. She wanted to be wrapped in it, wanted it to lull her into sleep.

She couldn't understand why sleeping in Shizuru's bed made her feel so safe and protected when Shizuru herself was so dangerous. She accepted that she probably never would.

Natsuki tried to shove Shizuru from her head but she was already there, leaning in the doorway of the front of her mind, wine-red eyes staring into Natsuki's secrets, full lips twisted into a wicked smirk as she took her first step into the vast expanse of Natsuki's psyche, drawing her sword and driving it straight into Natsuki's core and causing the girl to sit upright in bed.

This was ridiculous.

Natsuki settled back down and, giving up on forcing the Siren from her mind, decided to think of other things in the hopes of burying the creature instead.

Her mind fogged and she finally drifted into sleep.

Shizuru hovered above Natsuki, eyelids slightly lowered, lips parted, one hand on Natsuki's cheek and the other slowly making it's way down the girl's bare side, light touches feeling like fire.

The Siren lowered her body, moving her lips to Natsuki's ear and letting her hot breath roll across her skin, sending shivers up and down Natsuki's body. The older woman's thumb gently traced Natsuki's lips, her other hand rested on the girl's thigh.

"Shizuru…" Natsuki said, though her voice sounded strange, foreign. "Shizuru," she repeated, just to make sure. Again, her voice was strange. She didn't sound like herself. That wasn't her voice. She was about to panic but Shizuru moved closer yet again, causing her words to die in her throat.

"Hush," Shizuru whispered into her ear, before licking the lobe and then lightly biting it. Natsuki let out an involuntary moan and shuddered under the hot body of the captain.

Natsuki opened her mouth to say something but the captain's lips moved to hers, effectively silencing the girl yet again. Natsuki felt her body tense in anticipation, her breath hitching.

And Shizuru did. She kissed Natsuki long and hard, as if she had been dying to do such a thing. And maybe she had been.

The ability to move slowly came back and Natsuki's arms wrapped themselves around Shizuru's neck, pulling the older woman closer.

To Natsuki's surprise and disappointment, Shizuru pulled away. She peered in silence at Natsuki, her cheeks a rosy red and her breathing a bit labored. She then moved her hand, the one that had been on Natsuki's thigh, to between the girl's legs, her lips forming another devilish smirk.

"Shizuru—" Natsuki started, panicked.

"Come now, Aoi," Shizuru said, her features turning to stone and her fingers painfully digging into the skin on Natsuki's legs, "What is it that you want?"

"Aoi?" Natsuki repeated the name, dumbfounded. "I'm Natsuki." But she didn't sound like Natsuki. Now she recognized the voice coming from her mouth. It was Aoi's voice. Dread filled her.

"Nonsense," Shizuru replied, leaning back farther to give her a look of uncertainty. "Why would I be with Natsuki right now when I want to be with you?" She asked, her tone soft and her gaze gentle. She gently brushed hair—light brown hair—from what Natsuki knew was no longer her face, but Aoi's.

Natsuki started to move, absolutely horrified, but Shizuru shoved her back down, her eyes full of concern. "Are you feeling alright, Aoi?"

"I'm not—!"

Natsuki shot up right in bed, panting heavily. What the hell? Okay, that was a weird dream. A nightmare, even.

Natsuki felt her heart beating rapidly in her chest and she hated how pissed off and terrified she still felt, like resurfaced emotions fading fast the longer she was awake. After a few moments she only vaguely recalled her dream. What had it been about? Shizuru and Aoi?

Gross, Natsuki thought, deciding that sleeping wasn't going to happen. She sat up and swung her feet over the edge of the bed, her feet lightly touching the cold wooden boards below her. Did I really dream about… Shizuru and Aoi… together?

The thought was disturbing. Frankly, if she was going to have sex dreams she would prefer that she were at least involved in having the sex. Instead she now felt like some creepy voyeur, like she had witnessed something she wasn't supposed to see.

Stupid mind. Stupid nightmares. Stupid, irrational feelings.

Shizuru's face flashed through her mind and Natsuki almost shook as she tried with all her might to keep herself from physically reacting to the strong emotions that woman's beauty did to her. It was embarrassing… and so wrong.

You hate her you hate her you hate her.

Shizuru had harmed her. She had harmed her multiple times. She wasn't a good person. She was a cold-blooded murderer and just because she was having… some kind of transition didn't mean she could be forgiven for all of the things she had done in the past.

Confident in her reestablished resolve, Natsuki gave a curt nod and stood up. She stretched her arms and legs and walked to the window. Peering down below into the darkness she saw empty streets, a lamppost with a dying flame, and two horses tied to a post. She wondered what time it was.

Maybe Shizuru couldn't sleep either?


Natsuki quickly put on the outfit she had worn before, not having another. She washed her face in the hopes of waking her up further, and then armed herself. Takeda's sword—her sword, was sheathed at her hip. Her dagger she hooked to her belt with its chain. The bow was left behind, she didn't plan on doing any hunting right now. She just needed to clear her head, take a walk, forget about… forget about Shizuru.

Natsuki left her room and blinked when she saw Irina was still awake, staring blankly ahead. "Irina," she greeted.

The guard looked startled and instantly straightened when Natsuki approached. She offered the young woman a tilt of her tricorn hat. "Morning, Natsuki."

"Is it?" She wondered.

"Early morning, but still morning," Irina replied, smiling slightly. She certainly looked tired. And bored.

Honestly, Natsuki had always assumed Irina fell asleep while on guard duty but apparently Shizuru had a better, more alert guard than Natsuki had imagined.

"I can't sleep," Natsuki explained when Irina gave her a searching look. She gestured to the staircase that led back down to the main tavern area of the inn, and the exit. "I'm going for a quick walk. I'll be back in a bit." She began walking towards the other end of the hallway, where the stairs were.

"If you see Captain Viola," Irina called after her. "Tell her just because she feels better doesn't mean she should push her luck. She has a busy day tomorrow and should rest up."

Natsuki froze in her tracks and glanced over her shoulder at the captain's guard. "Shizuru's not in her room?" She asked, trying not to sound too intrigued.

Irina shook her head. "She left a little over an hour ago and told me not to follow her." Instantly seeing the expression on Natsuki's face, Irina quickly added, "I'm sure she's safe though. She's the Siren, she can take care of herself."

Natsuki was yet again amazed at how little Shizuru's crew truly knew her. Yes she was the Siren and she could take care of herself, but she shouldn't have to. Not all the time. Everyone needs someone else to care of them once in a while. At least, that's what Natsuki thought.

"I'll bring her back," Natsuki said, turning on her heel and bounding down the stairs.

Irina watched her go, sighed, and went back to sleeping with her eyes open.

The night on this Black Island was unlike any night Natsuki had ever come across. The second she was out of the lampposts dim glow she felt more alone than she had ever felt before. The only comparable feeling was being locked in the Kiyohime's brig, but at least then she would occasionally have Nao to play poker with.

Out here was different. The absolute silence, the complete and utter lack of any sound, even from the usual night-roaming animals, made this night feel unnatural. The moon was high in the sky and the stars were her only source of light as she made her way towards the small port. Perhaps Shizuru had returned to the Kiyohime like Natsuki had suggested earlier. If that were the case, Natsuki would let her stay there.

She walked for a few minutes, not remembering the trip from the port to the inn having been this long the day before. She couldn't help but walk fast, feeling like thousands of eyes were watching her from the silent blackness surrounding her. Relief filled her as she saw a familiar hill, and she knew just over it would be where the Kiyohime was docked. She hurried.

It was strange to her how at home the sight of that ship made her feel. It sickened her, even, and she knew the sight should elicit fear and dread but it did not and she wished it did. Maybe it just wasn't worth it to feel things she knew were useless. What good did fear give her? Caution? Disgust? Nothing negative she should be feeling would be helpful in any way to begin with, so maybe it wasn't so bad that she was trying to make the best of her situation, trying to feel at home in her prison. Maybe her lack of negative emotions towards the Kiyohime made her captivity bearable.

The ship was magnificent, she had to admit that much. She paused atop the grassy knoll, hands on her hips, and took in the tall masts, the beautiful woodwork, the crimson flag flying atop the lookout, the way it bobbed lightly from side to side in the waves. She could almost feel it, the way it felt under her feet. She suddenly realized, with some horror, that she almost missed what Shizuru referred to as 'sea legs.'

When she got her fill of admiring the large wooden ship, she stretched and let out a yawn. Maybe she was finally getting tired. But that wasn't good, since she had yet to find Shizuru.

And just as she finished the thought, a familiar sound filled her ears and then her mind. Like a hound picks up a scent, her head instantly lowered and her gaze homed in on the figure of a naked woman standing in the ocean.


Was she really naked? Why?

Natsuki hesitated, took a deep breath, and then—filled with determination—marched down the hill towards the woman bathing moonlight, the water lapping gently at her hips and her hair cascading down her back in waves. Kuga swallowed hard, coming to a stop just before the beach. She took a step forward, her boot sinking into the soft sand. She paused, her eyes unable to leave the figure of the woman before her.

It appeared as though Shizuru hadn't heard or noticed Natsuki's approach. Considering her focused stare across the ocean, the sounds of the sea, and her singing, Natsuki wasn't surprised. She was content to stare. She didn't often get to without Shizuru noticing and then smirking in that infuriating way of hers. With the woman distracted, Natsuki could look all she wanted.

Burning green eyes trailed up and down Shizuru's body, noticing with some relief and some disappointment that Shizuru was, in fact, wearing some clothing. She wore what appeared to be a band of tight cloth around her breasts, revealing her midriff and her bare sides. If she were wearing anything to cover her bottom, Natsuki wasn't sure. Shizuru was up to her hips in dark ocean, her hands gently resting atop the surface of the water, the tips of her fingers just barely reaching into the depths. Had Natsuki been of a simpler folk she might have mistaken the woman for a sea goddess.

Once again Natsuki felt that strange feeling move through her. It was a pulse, a throb of pure energy that left her breathless. It wasn't a storm; she knew that now.

She took another step forward, paused briefly, and then said, "You know if your crew saw you now they'd think you had completely lost it."

The singing stopped, and Natsuki almost felt a horrible loss within her, as if her body ached to hear that sound again. She was truly a Siren, Natsuki realized.

Shizuru didn't immediately respond, but eventually turned her head to peer at Natsuki from over her bare shoulder. Her lips formed a small smirk. "Would you look at that," she purred. "The little bird has been lured by a pretty song."

Natsuki began to unbutton her top, all the while giving the now wide-eyed Shizuru a displeased frown. "You're really going to make me come in there, huh?"

Shizuru turned around to face Natsuki, revealing in even more perfect detail just how divinely designed she truly was. Natsuki had to slow down her process, being unable to focus on undressing and Shizuru's beauty at the same time. The moon directly behind Shizuru didn't help, making her appear almost as if the moon itself were sending her down to the ocean in a beam of its glow.

Natsuki tugged off her shirt and threw it to the sand, noticing for the first time a pile of Shizuru's clothes lying in the sand nearby. She idly recalled a time when Shizuru would ask her to change, and Natsuki would shyly comply, but only after forcing Shizuru to turn around and not look, or something similar.

Now she was stripping in the middle of nowhere like it was nothing. Shameless. She realized for the first time just how much she had changed in such a short amount of time.

Shizuru's eyes flashed with some type of emotion, but it rose and fell like the tide. "Your wings aren't meant to get wet," she said when Natsuki took a step closer, her feet sinking into the wet sand. "You are of the sky, not the sea." Still, she didn't seem to object too much to Natsuki's quick strip down.

Natsuki rolled her eyes. "I don't have wings, Shizuru." She stepped into the water and had to grit her teeth and force herself not to shiver. They were in the Black Islands, which so far seemed to have very tropical climates, but the water was definitely cooler at night. "You're not of the sea either, you can't even swim."

Shizuru let out a chuckle. "What are you doing here?"

"Fetching you for Irina," Natsuki explained as she waded out towards Shizuru, stopping just before the slightly taller woman and staring up into those wine-red eyes. "What are you doing here?"

Shizuru's shoulders rolled in an uncharacteristic and slow shrug. "Singing. There are many people in these waters thanks to me. It's the least I can do."

"You can return to Cardair, make a better life for your people, do some good things to balance out the bad things. I was asking around town today for some news on Cardair. They say the king is—"

"I am not going back, Natsuki. I am no longer their princess. A Siren can't command a kingdom."

"You do a pretty good job of commanding a pirate ship," Natsuki countered. "What makes you think a kingdom will be any different? Your crew is made up of all kinds of different people, from all races, places, and backgrounds and you can unify them and bring them together. That's what Cardair needs right now, a capable leader, not a King and Queen too ill to get anything done or their spoiled, teenaged son who hasn't had any leadership experience outside of what his tutors probably taught him."

"Jiro?" Shizuru asked, her voice almost a whisper. "What do you know of him?" She placed her hands on Natsuki's shoulders and lowered her face to stare into Natsuki's eyes. "What else did they say?"

Natsuki swallowed hard. The proximity of their faces, the intensity of Shizuru's gaze, the unbearably freezing water and the enticing heat of the pirate queen. Frankly, she had no idea how she managed to stay standing. "He has potential but has a lot to learn before he's ready to rule the Old Kingdom. They say he needs guidance and the people would not be pleased if he were to take over for your father and mother."

"And how… how are they? My parents?"

"Sick and getting worse. That's all I know." Natsuki tentatively reached out a hand towards Shizuru's face but the woman took a step back, away from Natsuki and deeper into the water.

"I see," she said, her face becoming neutral once more. She paused, the silence dragging on for too long before she finally said, "I will not return there. I would be no better than my younger brother as a replacement. I have not… I have not been tutored in years and I would not know the first thing about—"

She was talking out loud, rambling out her rationalizations. That meant she would consider returning, right? Natsuki would just have to be convincing.

Kuga interrupted.

"But you're smart and capable and could relearn things!" Natsuki continued, taking a step closer to once again close the gap between them. Shizuru was watching her, eyes watching her with doubt but also something else. Something good. "You're the perfect temporary stand-in queen, Shizuru. At least until your parents get better and Prince Jiro is old enough to—"

"No, Natsuki," Shizuru growled. "I suppose you think if I give up piracy you can return to Artai? Your quiet life in your fishing town of Aries?" Whatever progress Natsuki thought she had been making was ripped to shreds with those words and the look of anger in Shizuru's eyes, the kind that said, We will no longer speak of this.

"This isn't about me, Shizuru." And she meant it. Natsuki wasn't quite finished, but she'll let it drop for now. She could see Shizuru would hear nothing more of it.

Shizuru was quick to change the topic. She gave Natsuki a searching look. "How did you find me?"

"Aside from your singing?" Natsuki asked, a ghost of a smile on her lips as she tried very hard not to look Shizuru's body up and down again. She didn't try hard enough, and she felt her heart fall through her stomach at the sight of water droplets clinging to Shizuru's skin, reflecting the moonlight, dripping down her body.

"What are you looking at?" Shizuru asked, arching a slender brow and taking a step closer, the water gently lapping at her hips as she did so.

"You," Natsuki answered honestly. She felt her cheeks burn up, especially when Shizuru's eyes widened and her lips parted slightly, a rare and quick display of the surprise Shizuru felt. "You… look like a sea nymph. Or something." She had wanted to say sea goddess but thought that Shizuru's head didn't need to get any bigger than it already was.

"A siren?" Shizuru offered.

"No," Natsuki shook her head. Natsuki was silent for a moment, her green eyes narrowing at Shizuru as if she were trying to focus more. She opened her mouth. "There's something I need to—"

Shizuru cut her off by turning away, her head tilted up so she could look up at the moon. "Do you hate me, Natsuki?"

The other girl was caught off guard by the question, and felt offended by how casually it was asked, as if it didn't matter what Natsuki's answer was. "A little bit," Natsuki admitted.

"Good," Shizuru murmured, lowering her gaze to the cracked reflection of the moon on the dark water. "But that's not nearly enough."

"Why do you want me to hate you, Shizuru?" Natsuki stepped closer and reached out a hand for Shizuru's bare shoulder but froze midway and let her arm fall to her side. She didn't think she could handle that, the skin-on-skin contact. By the way her body was reacting to just seeing Shizuru half naked she was afraid she might pass out if they actually, god forbid, had physical contact.

It didn't escape her how often she found herself reaching out for the other woman though, before either giving up or worse—having Shizuru avoid her touch.

"Do you see the reflection of the moon, Natsuki?" Shizuru glanced over her shoulder at Natsuki. She looked tired, but no less beautiful.

Natsuki moved to stand beside her and looked down. The reflection of the moon was broken, cracked by the ever-moving sea. "Yes."

"You don't understand when I stare at myself for so long in the mirror. That's because you don't see what I see," Shizuru explained quietly. She lowered her hand and laid it palm facedown on the surface of the water. "This is what I see. Shattered, broken, imperfect…an illusion. Behind everything I am a monster."

There was a brief silence, in which Shizuru closed her eyes and took in the sounds of the ocean and Natsuki's soft breathing beside her. When had Natsuki gotten so close that she could hear the girl's breathing?

And then Shizuru felt a hand wrap around her own. Her eyes instantly opened and she immediately tried to pull away, shooting a glare at Natsuki and about to growl at her when she saw the look on her captive's face. Shizuru's mouth closed. Her eyes widened. And she felt her heart stop and then speed up.

Natsuki was staring at her, a calm, soothing look in her eyes with a tinge of amusement, as if she thought Shizuru were being silly. On her lips was a small smile. It was somewhat condescending, somewhat mocking.

Or maybe Shizuru was reading the smile wrong. Maybe it was something else.

"But that's the thing, Shizuru," Natsuki said. "Even if that's what you see," she looked towards the moon and Shizuru found herself following Natsuki's gaze. "That's what you really are, that's what everyone else sees. You don't need a mirror, Shizuru. You don't need to stare into that thing all day." She returned her gaze to Shizuru's. "You want to know what you look like? You want to know who you are? Then look at me. Let me be your mirror. Let me show you what I see."

You may act like the ocean, Shizuru, but you aren't the ocean. You aren't the moon. Your image isn't distorted, cracked on the surface of the sea. Your light isn't shattered and splintered. You aren't seeing your true self, who you really are. Let me make you whole. Let me reflect your colors, Shizuru.

And the bird flew into Shizuru's chest, entered her heart, and when it opened its wings it tore her insides apart.

Shizuru's throat seemed to close off and she had a hard time forming a coherent sentence. Words made no sense anymore unless they came from Natsuki's lips. It was as if she were in a world of chaos and only Natsuki could turn the blur into a crisp clear image.

Finally she could only let out one word. A name. "Natsuki."

The girl in question tilted her head slightly to the side. She wasn't finished. "You know all this time, for the last few days, I've been so confused. A few times a day I would get this feeling. It's strange… I… feel you like I feel storms. In my…" Natsuki's brow furrowed as she tried to make Shizuru understand, "in my bloodstream."

Natsuki thought that Shizuru felt very much like a strong wind, a gust, a tornado that threatened to blow her away. And in comparison? Natsuki felt like a light breeze, gently caressing the captain's face and moving through her lengthy tresses, spreading the scent of sandalwood across the sea. Natsuki was content in their strange harmony, their fitting contrast.

Shizuru stared at her, her ruby eyes seeming to glow in the darkness. She managed to steal her hand back from Natsuki's but now they were facing each other, their bodies so close. "You… feel me like you feel storms?"

Natsuki let out a nervous chuckle. "It's weird I know. I didn't realize it until today, really. It happens right before I'm about to see you."

"Why?" The pirate queen was absolutely baffled, she had never heard such a thing before. This conversation, this moment with Natsuki, was making her forget all about how cold she had been, how afraid of the water she stood in really made her.

Natsuki seemed to think it over, her eyes looking upwards, towards the night sky. Finally she brought her gaze back down again and met Shizuru's. "You're like a hurricane… you're violent and destructive but there's even this gracefulness… this strange beauty in your violence. And on the inside… well, I've only ever been in the center of a hurricane once, but it was… it was like the world was standing still in that one spot, and everything surrounding is moving too fast but you can't feel it because it's so closed off."

Shizuru listened in silence. That last part sounded rather similar to a thought she had had just a few moments ago. Natsuki, perhaps, was the center of her hurricane. Gods help me, I will kiss her. Take away this desire I beg of you!

Natsuki took a bold step forward and froze when Shizuru instinctively took a step backwards. The girl paused, peered into Shizuru's eyes, and then said, "You've changed a lot since I first met you, Shizuru."

"I've not changed at all," Shizuru defended, trying to sound like the Siren but thinking she sounded very much like a princess. "I am the same person I've always been, my captive. Now are we quite finished here?" Shizuru narrowed her eyes at Natsuki, tried to look as stony-faced as possible.

But Natsuki just smiled at her, as if she thought it was funny. "Not this again," she said, rolling her eyes. "Must you always act like this when we head somewhere you don't want to go?" She paused, and then corrected herself. "Or I should said… where you do want to go but pretend that you don't."

Shizuru glared at her. "Get back to the inn, Miss Kuga." Now she sounded more demanding. All she had to do was apparently channel her old self.

"Miss Kuga? Come on, Shizuru." Natsuki stepped forward, finding the courage to gently grip Shizuru's upper arm. "Don't do this. Don't disappear. You want me to see you, Shizuru? Then don't pull this crap. Don't pretend anymore."

Shizuru's arm shivered under Natsuki's grip. Why did she have to speak so softly? Who knew she even had it in her? Normally Natsuki was so grumpy or apathetic. Now she just seemed… sweet.

"I'm not pretending," Shizuru growled as she ripped her arm away from Natsuki and turned to walk back to shore. "Never forget who I am, Natsuki. I am not your friend. I am your captain, your captor."

Natsuki watched Shizuru walk through the water, back towards the shore. Shizuru didn't get very far. A strange burning in Natsuki's bones shook her body into movement and before she knew what she was doing, she was running through the water to Shizuru, who she grabbed around the arm, turned around, and kissed forcefully on the lips.

Shizuru's eyes widened as she felt Natsuki's lips crash on her own. Before Shizuru could even register what was happening, it was over. Natsuki pulled back and stared at her through half-lidded eyes.

"That was a foolish thing you did just then…" Shizuru breathed, her heart hammering in her chest, her eyes staring deeply into Natsuki's green depths.

"I know," Natsuki whispered, leaning in and wrapping her lips around Shizuru's once again. She brought her hands to the Siren's waist and pulled the other body closer. The skin-on-skin contact did turn her body into mush and she had no idea how she managed to stay standing but she did.

Shizuru didn't waste any time in wondering what was going on. This time she gave into her body instead of her mind. She instantly moved her hands to Natsuki's cheeks, pulling the younger girl's face closer. She felt her soul lighten, as if a burden was being lifted off of it.

Natsuki felt as though she were kissing raw power. A hurricane indeed. Everything about this woman was alluring—her scent, her voice, her eyes, her taste. Natsuki hadn't felt like this in a very long time, and though the last time she had felt like this had been with Toru, the dead woman's face didn't enter her mind once.

The kiss broke again, but their foreheads pressed together instead.

"Don't… don't ever do that again," Shizuru managed to snarl, her breathing a bit labored. Then, weakly, she added, "You know not what you ask for." Her eyelids fluttered closed as she knew she wouldn't have long to enjoy this moment, would have to say later that she didn't enjoy it at all.

"Maybe not, but I'm still asking for it." Natsuki could hardly believe the embarrassing things she was saying. What had happened to her?

Shizuru laughed and felt tears prick her eyes. She was glad it was dark, because she didn't want Natsuki to see such a horrifying thing. Especially not now—notat a moment like this.

The Siren pulled Natsuki's face to hers again and the two women kissed, this time slow and less hungry than the previous. Shizuru controlled these, planting soft kisses to Natsuki's lips one after the other until deepening it, pouring her passion into one long, slow kiss.

Natsuki knew this wasn't part of the plan. In fact this wasn't what she had intended to do at all tonight when she set off to find Shizuru. But she knew she had been fooling herself. She felt bad about feeling such things for the woman that had all but made her life a living hell for the past month or so, and maybe this was some twisted issue brought about by Shizuru being her captor and holding the key to Natsuki's life or death.

But Natsuki did know that, plan or not, this is what she wanted now. Right now. She couldn't remember ever having wanted something, someone, so badly before. Maybe she was Shizuru's captive, but she couldn't help it. Shizuru had captivated Natsuki's body, yes, but Natsuki hadn't had any say in the matter when the Siren captivated her mind as well. The thought would normally make her queasy, but she was too distracted to worry about it.

Shizuru suddenly broke their kiss and took a few steps away from Natsuki, her brow furrowed and her stance rigid as she stared at a stunned Natsuki. What she said next had Natsuki staring wide-eyed in silent awe.

"Please, Natsuki, release me. Stop making me… feel this way. I am vulnerable. I am weak. I cannot protect you when I… when I want to… protect…" Shizuru had to remember how to breathe. She couldn't articulate the message her heart was screaming at her, the words bubbling up in her chest that she couldn't, for some reason, say. "You… must stop. You, this is your doing, you have… completely ruined me, you have ruined me, Natsuki. I cannot be around you anymore or I will… harm…"

"Shizuru, stop," Natsuki demanded, feeling overwhelmed. "You're asking me to release you?" Last time she checked, she was still the captive here. "Am I not the prisoner?" She stepped closer, her body already missing the warmth of the other woman's body and all too quickly feeling the chill of the ocean surrounding them.

"I am the prisoner," Shizuru growled, taking a vicious step forward and causing Natsuki to take a defensive step backward. "You are my captive but you captivate me. You are the one holding me, with your eyes, the one making me speechless with your words, the one forcing me to my knees, begging for just a taste of your being. I am hungry, Natsuki."

You are tyrannical in your unknowing rule, Natsuki.

To say she was surprised was an understatement. Natsuki had known Shizuru had wanted her body, and hell, Natsuki was okay with that if it meant she got to be with the other woman. But… this sounded a lot like Shizuru actually… had feelings for her. And if that were true…

Oh, man.

Natsuki didn't say anything at first. It seemed to Shizuru that the other girl was content to just stand there in her half-naked glory and just watch Shizuru with those beautiful eyes. Shizuru had never felt so out of control, so… free.

But hadn't an old woman predicted a lack of control? Chaos? Is that what this was?

Finally, Natsuki moved. She walked right up to Shizuru, grabbed the woman's shoulders, and pulled her into another fierce kiss.

"Natsuki," Shizuru tried to say in between kisses. "You do not… understand…" The girl pulled Shizuru's lower lip into her mouth and sucked. Shizuru let out a half growl-half moan and wrapped her arms around her captive, hoping to bring her closer. It wasn't close enough. She had ached so long for this, fought it for so long.

Natsuki began planting butterfly kisses to Shizuru's jaw, moving slowly down her jaw and saying one word in between each kiss. "What. Don't. I. Under. Stand?"

Shizuru moved her head to give Natsuki easier access to her neck. She bit her lip as the feeling of Natsuki's lips moving down her neck made her knees feel weak. A heat formed in her chest and moved down, lower and lower. "Natsuki," she whimpered. Damn it she wanted more. But she couldn't. No, she shouldn't.

With great effort, Shizuru managed to pull herself away from Natsuki. The other seemed perplexed. She tilted her head, a small frown forming on her lips. "What's wrong?" She asked.

Shizuru leaned forward, licked Natsuki's earlobe, breathed hot air into it, and then nibbled on the tip before pulling back and smirking at the color that had appeared on Natsuki's face, made apparent by the moonlight. "Come back with me to the Kiyohime?"

"What about your room at the inn? Irina and… and Aoi?"

Shizuru rolled her shoulders in a shrug, interlaced her fingers with Natsuki's, and began to lead the girl from the water towards the shore. "Irina will know where we are. A captain never strays too far from her ship."

By the time they made it to Shizuru's room, both of them were shivering from the cold of the sea that had seeped into their bones.

"I'm surprised we didn't freeze to death," Natsuki muttered, pulling on dry clothes from Shizuru's wardrobe.

"With the way you were clinging to me? You were more likely to get eaten by a shark than freeze to death," Shizuru teased, lying on the bed and watching Natsuki with her usual predatory gleam in her eyes.

"I wasn't clinging to you," Natsuki growled from over her shoulder, narrowing her eyes at the infuriating woman lying on the bed behind her. Shizuru wiggled her pointed her finger to Natsuki in a come hither gesture.

Natsuki obeyed, walking over to the bed and arching a brow in the queen's direction.

Shizuru spread her fingers out. "Imagine what I can do with all of these."

Natsuki's eyes widened and she coughed a bit, her cheeks flushing pink. "I, well…"

"Come here."

Natsuki obeyed yet again, sliding into bed next to Shizuru. She instantly found herself on her back, Shizuru hovering over her. "I see you got your strength back," she murmured, leaning her head up when Shizuru's head descended as to place her lips to Natsuki's.

"Mmmm," she purred. "Seems that way." Shizuru kissed Natsuki again, slow and sensual. Natsuki moaned into her mouth. "Natsuki," Shizuru whispered down to the entranced girl.

"Yeah?" Natsuki asked, lazily staring up at Shizuru through half-lidded eyes. Her hands were slowly moving up and down the woman's sides. The skin was so soft, the muscles underneath so taut.

Shizuru stared into Natsuki's eyes, a suddenly serious demeanor taking her over, forcing Natsuki to pay attention. "You belong to me."

Normally, Natsuki would object to being claimed by anyone. She was too tired now, and a lot had happened. And, well, maybe she was Shizuru's. But was Shizuru hers? Natsuki's mind replayed all the moments she had had to witness between Shizuru and Aoi, and decided she didn't want to ask. She already knew the answer. The answer was 'no.' The Siren didn't belong to anyone but herself and her ship.

Natsuki's expression darkened and Shizuru thought the girl was about to object but, surprisingly, she never did. Instead she let out an almost regretful, even sad, "I know."

"So?" Nao asked, watching Shizuru pour over the large map in the map room. She was leaning with her back against the door, her arms folded across her chest and a mischievous smirk playing on her lips.

When Irina had returned to the ship with Aoi that morning with the news of Shizuru and Natsuki never returning to the inn Nao had of course checked the captain's cabin. Sure enough, there was Shizuru. And Natsuki. Together. Cuddled. Nao had blinked, slooowly closed the door, and made a mental note to badger the truth out of Shizuru when the captain had woken.

Shizuru's gaze only lifted for a mere second before returning to the map. "So what?"

The redhead frowned at her. "Did you and Kuga…?"

"No," Shizuru said with a sigh. Her finger moved from the Port of Romulus to a random spot on the ocean, which is where Nao figured the ship must be. They were very close now. "We... fell asleep."

Nao burst out laughing, holding her gut as if to keep her insides from falling out. "Oh man!" She howled. "Come on, tell me. Did she fall asleep just as you were about to—?"

Shizuru shot her a glare that shut her up real fast. "I don't even remember to be honest," she admitted with a slight furrowing of her brow. "One second we're both… busy and then the next I wake up on my back with Natsuki dozing on top of me."

Nao snorted and leaned over the table some more, clearly more interested in Shizuru's story than the map. This was too good. "So Kuga finally gave in, huh? Well she lasted longer than most, gotta give her that." A pause. "So are you bored yet or…?"

Shizuru rolled her eyes and ignored Nao.

"I know what you're thinking," Nao said. "It's what you always think after one of your little toys finally falls for you. Shizuru, face it. You only desire the things you can't have. It's the curse of the Siren."

Shizuru absentmindedly placed a hand over the pocket over her heart. The tarot card suddenly felt heavy in her front pocket.

"There is no curse," Shizuru said, waving Nao off though she knew the redhead would linger longer. She was like a mosquito when things interested her. "I am not bored. I desired Natsuki. I saw her, wanted her like I had never wanted something so badly in my life, and so I took her. Desire, Nao. Desire directs most of my actions, as I'm sure you've come to realize. I desire that which will end up destroying me."

"You think she'll destroy you?" Isn't that a bit dramatic? She's, what, 5'3"? Nao thought.

"Hasn't she?" Shizuru countered, finally looking up from the map to stare mercilessly into Nao's eyes.

The unwavering gaze of the Siren made Nao nervous, her fight or flight instinct kicking in. "I think she fixed you," Nao said seriously, a slight smile on her lips as she stepped forward and leaned her butt on the edge of the table. "Maybe you're not as efficient as the Siren anymore but you're human again. And I missed you, Shizuru."

Shizuru straightened, her eyes widening a fraction. Nao being emotional was strange. Her lips curved into a smirk and her red eyes swirled with amusement. "Getting sentimental on me, Nao?"

The redhead huffed and twisted her mouth. "Yeah, right. Coming from you? The way you've been going on and on about Kuga would make Shakespeare nauseous."

Shizuru arched a brow and gave Nao a dubious look. "I have not."

"I have your entire speech memorized."

"What speech?"

Nao stood up, faced Shizuru, cleared her throat, and recited in her thickest Cardair accent, "She's beautiful, I know this. Her eyes, her hair, her skin, her body… I crave such carnal pleasures. But most of all… what drives me mad with insatiable longing and hunger… it is her aura, her… her very soul that I desire above all. Who she is, her fierce and free self, is so utterly divine and I find myself… wanting to drown in her… in the very core of her essence, her spirit." Nao then let out a dreamy sigh and stared off into the imaginary sunset.

Shizuru peered at Nao with a very displeased look on her face. "Are you quite finished?"

"I could go on. You repeat yourself quite a lot these days."

Shizuru cringed. "I don't really sound like that…" A pause. "Do I?"

"Well, of course not. When you say it, it sounds romantic and not at all disgustingly sappy. I'm not the Siren, so it just sounds horribly cheesy when I repeat it."

The pirate queen let out a sigh of relief.

"So where is my poker partner anyway?"

"Still sleeping," Shizuru replied, trying very hard to keep the smile from forming on her face every time she thought of the peacefully dozing Natsuki.

"Did you guys work out any kind of… understanding?" Nao ventured, wondering if Shizuru, for the first time in her life, had made a commitment to one of her toys.

"We are what we are."

"Which is…?"

Shizuru ignored her, suddenly focused once again on the map in front of her.

"I didn't think so," Nao muttered, turning and leaving the map room, her day officially ruined. This wasn't going to end well. Then again, it never did with Shizuru.

Nao ran into Natsuki on her way out. The two women froze, stared at each other, and then one broke into a grin and the other blushed and began to stammer some excuses.

"Don't even, Kuga," Nao said, grinning like a Cheshire cat. "I know all about it. I'm Shizuru's best friend, remember?"

Natsuki closed her mouth and frowned. Finally she said, "Pirates have been congratulating me all day and I've only been awake for thirty minutes."

"News travels fast," Nao said with a shrug as she passed Natsuki, their shoulders lightly bumping. "It's a small ship and there's not a lot going on most days. The most interesting thing is our captain's sex life, which we're all far too invested in."

Most of the pirates lived vicariously though Shizuru, it was true.

"Nothing even happened—!" She began.

"Like I said," Nao said, smirking at the bright red Natsuki from over her shoulder. "I know all about it." And with that, she walked away.

A disgruntled Natsuki pouted after the redhead as she sauntered away and then, with a deep breath, entered the map room.

Sure enough, Shizuru was bent over the sprawled map, her finger moving from place to place. Natsuki padded over to the captain and leaned over her shoulder. "What are you looking at?"

Startled, Shizuru jumped and then settled when she saw it was only Natsuki. "I didn't even notice you come in," Shizuru said, smiling warmly.

Natsuki nodded. "I could tell." Her gaze flickered over to the map again. "You busy?"

Shizuru pouted. "You could say that. I'm just trying to determine whether we're still on schedule or not, or if we'll have to speed up now that we've lost a few days. I was planning on getting there early anyway but, according to Chie, it looks like we'll arrive just as the ship is leaving port."

"Is that good or bad?"

"Both. Good because we may catch it farther away from coast, which would be safer for us but bad because there's a chance we may miss it if anything else deters our path. Risky." Shizuru was very intensely focused on this.

Natsuki hated how content she was just staring at Shizuru's profile, her slightly furrowed brow, her focused eyes.

"Well, try not to get hit by any more poison darts and maybe you won't have to make any more emergency stops," Natsuki teased, smirking when Shizuru turned and frowned at her.

"You never did tell me how you administered the antidote…" Shizuru mused, for what was maybe the hundredth time that month. She straightened a bit and peered at Natsuki from behind thick lashes with half-lidded eyes.

Natsuki never stood a chance.

"Like this," Natsuki said, closing the gap between her and Shizuru and planting a firm kiss on the other woman's mouth.

It was over too soon, and Shizuru found herself following Natsuki's retreating lips with her own, not wanting the kiss to end already. But Natsuki was too quick, and Shizuru retreated as well, a slight pout on her face.

"You are a rather cruel girl, aren't you?" Shizuru observed, her eyes trailing up and down the other woman's body, drinking in the view.

Natsuki smirked. "Are you calling me a tease?"

Shizuru chuckled, grabbed Natsuki's ass, lifted her onto the table, and moved so that she was standing between Natsuki's legs. "That is exactly what I am calling you," Shizuru purred, her lips gently grazing across Natsuki's.

Natsuki wrapped her arms around Shizuru's neck, closed her eyes, and growled in frustration when Shizuru's lips would press against her own and then quickly move just out of reach. Eventually Natsuki opened her eyes to mere slits, just to glare at the pirate queen.

Shizuru had both her hands on Natsuki's thighs, giving them a small squeeze before leaning in and lightly kissing Natsuki on the lips. She didn't remember a time she had ever been so gentle before with someone. Not that I ONLY want to be gentle, she thought, lasciviously looking Natsuki up and down again.

"Don't look at me like that," Natsuki muttered, averting her gaze to the floor.

"Like what?" Shizuru asked, gently using a finger to make Natsuki face her again. The tip of her nose lightly touched Natsuki's.

"Like you want to eat me," Natsuki said. "It's freaking me out."

Shizuru's lips twisted into a wicked lovely smile and she said, "Guilty."

Natsuki chuckled. "As always." There was a moment of silence between the two, before Natsuki said, "Shizuru… what are we?"

"We are what we are, Natsuki," Shizuru replied, her hands on Natsuki's thighs coming to a halt and her expression darkening.

"What does that mean?"

Shizuru gently kissed Natsuki once more and then took a step back before walking around the side of the table and heading towards the door. "It means that you shouldn't expect anything from a Siren. We are just an illusion, after all."

Natsuki watched Shizuru disappear behind the door from over her shoulder, a knot forming in her stomach.

The rest of the week went by in a very unsatisfying fashion. Shizuru hardly spoke to Natsuki after that. Natsuki would try, of course, but Shizuru would act dismissive, uninterested, and eventually just began to ignore Natsuki completely.

"Shizuru," Natsuki had said for the fifth time, trying to gain the other woman's attention.

"Natsuki, I am busy…" Shizuru had replied, not even bothering to look up from whatever she was reading over. The papers were scattered across the table in the map room, lying atop the map itself. There were no chairs in the map room, so as usual, Shizuru was bent over the papers.

"You've been busy for 3 days?" Natsuki had asked, sounding exhausted. This felt like the 50th conversation she had had with Shizuru that went like this, Shizuru barely responding until Natsuki just gave up and left.

"I'm always busy."

Natsuki eventually gave up. She didn't want Shizuru to know how much it hurt her. It hurt even worse when she'd walk on the main deck and overhear conversations from the crew.

"I hear Viola got sick of her."

"Already? How long did that last, two days? Is that a new record?"


"Did she really think she was special? Stupid girl."

"Just another toy falling for the Siren."

"It's kind of sad, really. If I haven't seen it a hundred times already I might feel bad for this one. She put up a good fight for a while there."

"I thought it was pretty obvious she wanted that Aoi girl more."

I'm so stupid, Natsuki thought, mentally kicking herself. I knew she only wanted to use me. Why am I surprised? Natsuki avoided any of her friends. She couldn't deal with the humiliation. To her own embarrassment, she started spending more time down in the brig, sitting in silence on a crate while Aoi glared at her in silence.

The only time Shizuru would give any attention to Natsuki was when they went to bed together, and even that wasn't much. They'd talk briefly, and Shizuru would turn over and go to sleep on her side, leaving Natsuki cold and sexually frustrated on her side.

How the tables had turned!

It was as if the closer and closer they got to Romulus the more and more distant Shizuru began to act. By the second week, Shizuru had gone back to asking for Aoi's company.

What's worse is when she asked Natsuki for the red lace she had tied around her wrist, so that she may tie it around Aoi's wrist instead.

"Are you serious?" Natsuki had asked, trying to mask just how upset it actually made her. She played it off as if she just thought the entire thing was ridiculous. "You want this stupid thing back?" Natsuki plucked the red string that Shizuru had tied around her wrist so long ago.

Shizuru, face carved from stone, gave a curt nod. "Yes." She held out a hand. "Give it to me."

Natsuki stared into Shizuru's eyes, searching for any of the warmth she had seen in them just a week ago, that night in the ocean. She saw none. "Okay," she said, defeated. She tried to untie it but with just one hand it was a difficult task, and she let out a frustrated growl.

"Here," Shizuru said gently, moving forward and grasping her wrist. "Allow me." She untied the red lace effortlessly and placed it in her pocket. She gave Natsuki a brief smile, turned, and began walking away.

"Shizuru, wait," Natsuki yelled after her.

Shizuru turned around. "Yes?"

"Why are you… why are you doing this?" She had to ask. She had to know. It was driving her nuts, her own mind making up all these stories and excuses. Was Shizuru really bored of her or was there something else?

Shizuru gave her a weak smile. "Doing what, my captive?"

Natsuki swallowed hard. "Acting like what happened a week ago never happened," she growled. She didn't need this crap. She didn't even care enough to fight anymore. She tried. She tried to show Shizuru, tried to show her she wasn't a monster, some siren. The woman was stubborn, fickle, too confused.

Shizuru stared at her, her face a blank slate, giving nothing away. The mask was firmly in place yet again. "Because it never did," she finally said, before turning and walking towards the map room.

As the days went by, Nao, Chie, and Midori watched with sinking hearts how Natsuki would seek out Shizuru's attention only to be shot down time and time again. Eventually the girl stopped trying, and would disappear for hours on end. It only took Nao two days to realize Natsuki had taken to the brig of her own free will. She barely spent any time with Duran anymore.

"Natsuki, what are you doing down here?" Nao asked as she came down the steps. She saw Natsuki sitting on a crate, her face buried in her hands and her dark hair hanging around her like a shimmery curtain.

A quick glance in the actual cell itself showed that Aoi wasn't in right now, which meant she was either with Chie or with Shizuru.

Natsuki lifted her head to glance at Nao and then she returned to her initial position. "Just sitting. It's loud up there and it's easy to nap down here. Nice and dark."

"And depressing. And smelly," Nao added, standing across from Natsuki and leaning her back on the cell bars. "Look I know—"

"Don't," Natsuki cut her off. She looked up and glared. "I was warned. I should've listened. Shizuru doesn't care about anyone but herself. She just manipulates them into sleeping with her and then she moves on to something more interesting."

Nao frowned and lowered her lantern to the damp floor beneath them. "You slept with her?"

"No but I… I admitted I have feelings for her. That's all she wanted, the satisfaction of knowing she managed to get someone she had tortured to have feelings for her. And then she got bored. Game over. She won."

"She's not like that anymore, Natsuki. You changed her."

"Doesn't look like it," Natsuki spat, burying her face yet again. "Just go away."

Nao frowned. "I'd tell you if she was up to something but… when Shizuru does things like this she normally doesn't tell anyone what she's really thinking. We'll all find out eventually. There's no talking to her about this. I've tried. So have Chie and Midori."

"Don't bother," Natsuki said, giving Nao a dismissive wave. "You know as well as everyone else on this ship that I'm not the first and I won't be the last." The Siren has an insatiable hunger and it takes more than one to sate it.

The redhead let out a deep sigh. "I'm sorry, Natsuki. Truly. Out of all of them you deserved this the least." You got the farthest and fell the hardest, Nao thought.

Nao was furious about this. She had warned Shizuru. She had specifically told her not to hurt Natsuki, that Natsuki was different, that she wasn't to be used and thrown away like some broken doll.

Natsuki let out a humorless laugh. "I just want to go home. I can't bare to be on this ship any longer." She lifted her head to meet Nao's eyes. "Nao, I need your help, please. You need to get me off this ship."

"Romulus is a Zipang port…" Nao said. "You know the Zipang navy is looking for—"

"Let them take me," Natsuki said, throwing her arms up in defeat. "I'll go with them. Anywhere but here will be better."

"You really like her, huh?"

Natsuki frowned. "I do." In fact Natsuki had never felt such a pain like this before. It felt worse than being whipped, she would know. It was like this constant sharp pain in her chest every time she thought of Shizuru, every time the woman ignored her, every time the woman was spotted with Aoi, who was now sporting the red string wrapped around her wrist.

"I'll find out what she's up to," Nao promised as she turned and headed up the stairs.

It was a few days later when Nao finally got an audience with Shizuru. The woman turned into a regular recluse, spending most of her time in her cabin, in the map room, with Haruka discussing the plan, and then with Aoi.

"Do you ever feel like your skin is burning?" Shizuru asked Nao as she rubbed at her own arms and stared across the ocean made red by the setting sun. They were on the main deck, right across from the door to Shizuru's cabin, standing by the railings side-by-side.

"Yeah, when you have me out here in the blistering sun doing slave-work."

"You are the boatswain," Shizuru said, smiling at her before returning her gaze to the view.

"Shizuru, what are you doing?" Nao asked, her tone suddenly serious, which was rare indeed.

"What do you—?"

"You know what I mean."

Shizuru ignored her, her eyes staring straight ahead. "Guarding what is mine." She looked to Nao and said, "I don't need Natsuki to tell you a storm is coming. Even I can feel this one. I must take precautions."

Nao frowned at her. "You think something is going to go wrong at Romulus?"

"I just have a very bad feeling about that galleon, yes."

"We've sailed this far—" Nao began.

"Yes," came a third voice. "We've sailed this far and to turn back now, after the crew hasn't seen action in so long, could lead to a mutiny, Captain." Shizuru didn't turn, she knew who the voice belonged to.

Nao looked and rolled her eyes. "Gray," she greeted. "I could've gone without seeing you today. Or ever." Nao and Shizuru both preferred it when Gray tried to stay hidden.

The woman's red curls bounced as she tilted her head back and let out a fake laugh. "Oh, Nao. You're always so delightful."

"Uh-huh." Nao looked the other woman up and down with a look of disgust.

Shizuru glanced at Gray from over her shoulder. "Did you need something, Gray?"

"I was wondering about the status of your toy."

Shizuru smirked. "Which one?"


The smirk was gone. "She's off-limits."

"Still?" Gray purred, her finger tapping her chin. "How strange. Especially considering you're not sleeping with her so why can't the rest of us have a go?"

Shizuru spun around and took a menacing step towards the ever-calm pirate. "I would be very careful right now if I were you," she snarled, her eyes swirling with danger and warning that would make most anyone take a step back in fear. Her hand reached for the hilt of her sword before she realized that she couldn't afford to attack or threaten one of her own pirates right now, not until she's given her pirates the galleon's riches.

"I was in charge of punishing her, Captain," Gray said with a carefree shrug. She didn't back down or shrink but instead seemed relaxed as ever. "Now that you've grown bored of her I don't see the harm in allowing me to… finish my punishment."

"No," Shizuru said. "She saved my life. Just because I do not wish to sleep with her does not mean I am bored of her. She's become a valuable member of the crew. If you forget that again, we'll see who it is that needs to be punished."

"Of course, my Captain." Seeing she had successfully pissed off the Captain, Gray smiled, gave a small bow, and headed for the galley.

"So…" Nao began, looking curiously at Shizuru. "You still—?"

"Quiet," Shizuru growled. "Leave me." She returned her now angry gaze to the horizon, where the sky met sea.

Nao nodded once and left.

It was the final week when Natsuki was kicked out of Shizuru's bed for good, not that Natsuki particularly minded by that point. She had been expecting it ever since Shizuru took the red lace, the symbol of her promised protection, and placed it on Aoi's wrist instead.

"You won't be sleeping here tonight," Shizuru had told her, eyeing her from the bed. "In fact you will not be sleeping in here tomorrow night either, or the next night."

Natsuki shrugged, she wasn't too surprised with the way things had been going the last two weeks. "Whatever." She grabbed what little she had and headed for the door. She paused, her hand on the doorknob, and turned to look at Shizuru. "Shizuru," she said. The pirate queen nodded at her to continue. "Would you… if you let the galleon from Romulus go… will you let me go with it?"

Shizuru didn't say anything for a bit, her expression unchanging. Finally she shifted on the bed so that she was sitting up against the headboard. "I will consider it if you promise to take your infuriating pet bird with you."

Natsuki swallowed the rock that had formed in her throat. This was the first time Shizuru had really seemed to mean that she would consider it! On the one hand that was great news and on the other… Shizuru was truly ready to get rid of her, seemed almost eager to do so.

And it was the first time in a month that she had referred to Duran as Natsuki's 'pet bird' rather than his name.

Natsuki nodded. "Yeah I'll take Duran with me. I'd have to be heartless to leave him with a bunch of crazy pirates."

Shizuru nodded. "Are you quite done?" She waved her hand, as if to shoo Natsuki out.

Natsuki glared at her. "How does it feel?"

"How does what feel?" Shizuru asked, almost sounding bored as she spread out on her bed as if she meant to relish in the feel of having it all to herself once again.

"To finally be as cruel as you were the first day we met?" Natsuki snapped before turning and stalking out of the captain's quarters. That was actually not true at all, she later reflected. Shizuru may be acting as though she didn't want to have anything to do with Natsuki, but she wasn't branding her, forcing her into anything she didn't want to do. She was just… extremely distant.

They did not speak the rest of that week, did not even look at each other.

Soon they were nearing their destination: The Zipang Port of Romulus.

The night before the raid was a quiet one. Everyone kept to themselves. Even Nao, Midori, and Chie seemed to go their separate ways, as if everyone needed time alone to reflect before facing one of the hardest raids they have ever planned. They had never taken a galleon before, certainly not a Zipang galleon so close to Zipang itself. It was risky. There was a good chance they would not make it. The stakes were high, but Shizuru was a strong leader and they knew she would lead them through it as she had done with past battles.

The only one who seemed ecstatic about the upcoming events was Haruka, the gunner, who paced back and forth all day full of electricity. She would talk on and on about battle and war and how she was getting the cannons ready in case they actually needed to use them this time. She had a real good feeling about this upcoming battle. Yukino had followed her around all morning, making sure everyone's weapons were in order before they headed below deck by sunset to check the cannons for the hundredth time.

Everyone else hoped they wouldn't need to be used. A sunken ship was not a good ship.

The sea breeze was surprisingly calming. Natsuki headed towards the upper deck, wondering if Chie and Midori were still there or if they had already gone to bed by now. The stinging in her chest slowly started to ebb away and as she passed by two lanterns hanging off the main cabin she lifted them both and walked up to the upper deck, both hands carrying a lantern. Midori and Chie were nowhere to be seen. Perfect.

She could hear Reito's voice in her head.

"I will give you a few weeks to get close to her. If you try and attack her now, Viola will surely stop you. Give it time… I want to strike… I want US to strike her when she least expects it. Just before she hits the Zipang port I would like for you to place not one, but two lanterns on the back of her ship. I will respond by placing a lantern on the front of mine… this is when I will catch up during the night, and attack her ship early morning. She will be dead by then, if you've done your job without dying, and my crew will take over her ship. This will also take place near my country of Zipang, so I can always get reinforcements." Natsuki remembered his lips forming a cruel smile. "Yes, her crew will be leaderless… confused, terrified of the Kraken. It will be all too easy with the Siren out of the way."

Natsuki took a deep breath before placing the two lit lanterns on the back of the ship. She wasn't expecting to see Reito's lantern in response and sure enough, no signal came. She knew they had lost him, there was no way he managed to follow Shizuru's ship through those storms and then manage to stay hidden during their brief stops on the Black Islands. But she was angry at Shizuru, and even if no one saw the lanterns, it still felt damn good placing them there, almost like she were getting back at Shizuru for her recent cruelty.

Again she remembered that night in Reito's camp, when Shizuru had sent her to kill him.

"She told me if I killed you she would take me back home," Natsuki had said. "Do you think she would've taken me home?"

"No, darling," Reito had replied, gliding forward and reaching behind her. "She lied to you to get what she wants, it's what she does." His hands had found the crimson lace that held up Natsuki's ponytail and tugged it free. Dark ebony hair fell like a curtain. "Ah. I'm going to take you home. All you have to do is follow the plan and you'll be home safe and sound. Viola would've never taken you home." Natsuki could see him holding up that lace, the same red lace Shizuru had taken from her a week ago to give to Aoi instead. "This ribbon protects you from others," Reito had told her. "Because you are hers. She would not give you up. Understood?"

But hadn't she? Reito had been right. He had been right the entire time. Shizuru didn't care about Natsuki, she just took what she wanted. She wasn't going to take Natsuki home. She was too prideful to release Natsuki, even if she didn't want her anymore.

But I can take matters into my own hands. I can escape fate, Shizuru, you're wrong.

Natsuki sighed as she stared at the two lanterns she had brought over. Why had she done that? Not that she thought Reito was still following them, she was certain he had lost the Kiyohime. But she had placed the lanterns anyway. She shook her head. What a stupid thing to have done. What had she been thinking? There was a chance he was still out there, somewhere, even if he didn't respond to her signal, what if he had seen it?

Natsuki shoved the two lanterns overboard and watched them sink to the depths below.

Tomorrow was a big day and Natsuki was the only one still awake on board the ship. She turned and went to go find a spot to sleep on the main deck.

But had she waited just a few moments longer she would've seen the distant flickering of a light on the horizon. Someone had seen her signal. Someone had responded. Someone was coming.

It was the day of the planned attack. Chie had excitedly burst into Shizuru's room, found her and Aoi sleeping in the bed, and had to clear her throat to wake them both up. When they finally awoke, Chie stared intently into Shizuru's eyes so as not to be tempted to look at Aoi. That would hurt too much.

"We're hovering just outside of the bay," Chie explained, pointing out their position on the mini map she normally carried rolled up under her arm. "We'll wait here for the ship to appear and then we'll slide up alongside it and climb aboard, yadda yadda you know the drill."

"I would hope so since it's my plan," Shizuru said, smirking. She slid two slender legs over the side of the bed and stretched. "Aoi, dear, would you mind changing out of your dress today and wearing something more… practical?"

Chie watched as a cutely confused expression came over Aoi's face. "Excuse me?"

"She wants you to dress like a pirate," Chie explained, looking away instantly when Aoi's blue gaze tried to meet with her grayish brown one.

"Why?" Aoi asked, frowning slightly.

"Don't ask questions," Shizuru said, smirking. She rose from the bed and went to go change herself. "Today is a big day. Best everyone be prepared."

Natsuki didn't get why she was the only one in a dress. In fact, the only thing she had on her that was a little bit pirate was the dagger Shizuru had gifted to her, but that was hidden under her dress. Frankly, she was even surprised Shizuru hadn't asked for that back too.

Not that she would've given it up without a fight. It was a pretty dagger and Shizuru had given it to her. Fine, take the red ribbon. But the dagger? Nope. Natsuki had that for keeps.

"So," she said, tugging at her dress, which was long, poofy, midnight blue, and highly impractical. "What's the plan?"

"The plan," Shizuru began as she addressed all the pirates gathering around her, "is not the usual plan. The galleon is supposed to be guarded by a Zipang naval ship so we will remain here until it passes by. It will be leading the way for the galleon. With today's fog it will sail right by us. Remember, this is a galleon full of more gold than any of you could possibly imagine. It won't stop to pick up poor, defenseless women. It's far too important for that and will be suspicious of anything."

"So then why am I in a dress?!" Natsuki barked, fists at her side and she fumed.

"Because it looks good on you, Kuga," Midori teased, elbowing her disgruntled friend.

It actually did look good on her, even if Natsuki hated it. The upper half looked like a corset, its neckline was rather… generous. And tight. It made Natsuki's breasts—which tended to be on the smaller side—look ample.

Shizuru gave Natsuki displeased look that said 'Don't interrupt me again'. She cleared her throat and continued. "Thankfully a blanket of the most unnaturally thick fog has fallen over our ship and we remain hidden as long as the Kiyohime remains in place here. The bay is not very large, we will notice when a large ship sails by. We take chase, silently move alongside it until we can connect our ships, and then climb aboard. Take no prisoners, subdue anyone you find, and kill anyone that fights back. Take as much as you possibly can. I will give further direction when the ship is completely in our grasps. Any questions?"

There was only one hand raised.

Shizuru frowned. "Stop complaining about the dress, Natsuki."


Nao elbowed her in the ribs again and Natsuki yelped. Nao gave her a shut up look and Natsuki begrudgingly complied with the redhead's wishes. For now.

Haruka, who had been standing silently beside Shizuru, took a step forward and addressed the pirates. "Like Captain Viola said, today's raid is a whole other beast than what we usually target. This thing has guns. Major guns. The crew on board will be armed and trained in combat. The galleon itself will—"

Another hand shot up.

Haruka glared at Midori. "What?"

"Can we give this galleon a name? Why do we know everything about it except its name?"

"Yeah," Chie chimed in," I'm sick of referring to it as 'the galleon.' There are plenty of galleons! This is a specific one."

Shizuru and Haruka exchanged glances. Neither of them knew the name of the ship.

"How about you name it then," Shizuru offered, sounding bored and looking incredibly impatient. There were important matters to discuss!

Midori broke out a wide grin. "Thought you'd never ask! I hereby declare that the galleon will henceforth be known as BEAST because it's a beast of a ship!"

All the pirates, save for Natsuki, Nao, Tomoe, Haruka, and Shizuru cheered.

Shizuru's eyebrow twitched and Haruka stared blankly at Midori.

"Fine then," Shizuru relented, realizing that this conversation was wasting precious time. "Beast will be unlike anything we've ever raided before. I don't expect all of us to make it out alive. This will be legendary. No pirate has ever tried such a large-scale raid. You are all making history."

Haruka nodded beside her. Tomoe, who was standing on Shizuru's other side, scanned the crowd with a bored expression on her face and her arms folded across her chest. Gray was off to the side and met Tomoe's eyes briefly before they both looked at Shizuru.

Natsuki glanced over at Aoi, who was also standing beside Shizuru. The young girl looked confused, but years older. She didn't look as innocent or as doe-eyed as she had when she was first taken prisoner. Natsuki also noticed that Aoi wasn't wearing a dress for the first time since being captured, much to Natsuki's annoyance. It made no sense. Why was Natsuki dressed like a noblewoman and why was Aoi dressed like a pirate? It's like they switched places.

Besides, Natsuki thought, does Aoi even know how to use that sword sheathed at her hip? Natsuki thought it unlikely.

The Kiyohime gently rocked back and forth in the sea. It was impossible to see anything, for an almost eerie fog had settled all around the ship, covering it like a blanket. The crew almost felt like lost spirits walking amongst a ghost ship. It was even difficult to see from one side of the ship to the other. The ship had been turned around, away from the harbor, so that when the galleon sailed past they could instantly take chase behind it.

On one side of the ship, the side that everyone had their backs to, there was nothing but fog. If there hadn't been such fog, then they would just see a stretch of ocean. On the other side, the side where Shizuru was standing atop the railing and holding tightly onto a rope ladder, leaning over the water as if she could see ahead into the fog was where the ships would pass the Kiyohime.

Natsuki didn't like Shizuru doing that, leaning over the edge of the boat, standing on the edge like some reckless child too excited to not realize how dangerous of a position they were in. Luckily, Shizuru jumped down from the railing and whispered something to Tomoe, who nodded in response.

They all stayed silent as they waited for the Zipang battleship to pass. It was an escort ship, yes, but it was rather small compared to the galleon that drifted slowly behind it. Luckily for the pirates, galleons were slow, especially when it came to making turns. There would be no escape for the galleon and by the time it passed the Kiyohime, the Zipang naval ship guarding it would be much too far ahead to make it back in time to prevent the pirates from effortlessly boarding the massive ship. By the time the Zipang ship did make it back, the pirates would have already taken over Beast by then. Ideally, anyway.

They couldn't see anything through the fog save the shadow of the ship as it glided past. It was a fast ship, faster than 'Beast' the galleon but not as fast as Shizuru's smaller Kiyohime. All the pirates held their breath, as if that would somehow make their ship invisible. They hoped the navy men on board were probably busy still getting the ship into gear and wouldn't notice any suspicious ship-shaped shadow in the fog. The Zipang ship sailed so close to the Kiyohime they could hear it glide through the water, hear the calm water ripped apart by its hull.

There were encased in a cloud it seemed, as the ship didn't seem to notice the Kiyohime.

Eventually, the naval ship disappeared.

Then the waiting began again. The galleon would be soon following after the naval ship. All the pirates moved from foot to foot, full of nervous energy they didn't know what to do with. They were so ready to board Beast and battle their way to riches and glory. They would all look to Shizuru for any sign, any signal, but the pirate queen stared straight ahead, into the fog, her brow slightly furrowed as if seeing something that didn't make sense.

But she never said anything, so no one asked.

Natsuki had removed herself from much of the crowd as she didn't really fit in with them in her dress. She was leaning against the railing, opposite where Shizuru was standing. A sea of battle-ready pirates separated them. Kuga's viridian eyes were focused on the captain, narrowed and filled with anger similar to that of a child whose privileges had been taken away. Shizuru had confiscated Natsuki's sword, the hunting bow, and had left her in a dress with the measly dagger. There would be no action for her! Then again she wasn't a pirate she was a captive. The fact that Shizuru hadn't thrown her in the brig yet to really complete her reverse transformation back into the cruel and evil Siren was shocking.

Natsuki also noted how Shizuru had barely said anything to her all morning.

"Here it comes…" Shizuru whispered under her breath, her fingers nervously tracing the engraving on the hilt of her cutlass. She could see the massive shadow of the galleon looming closer and closer. In fact it was so close, Shizuru wondered if it would even be a challenge to catch up to it and board it. The second it passes them Shizuru would give the command and the Kiyohime would pursue it, launch a surprise attack from the fog, and take it. They would never see it coming. Shizuru was suddenly very grateful for the fog, it hid them well from the Zipang naval ship and the target.

Tomoe, who was battle-ready and stationed at Shizuru's side as usual, heard Shizuru's words and repeated them loudly to the crew, who all straightened and put their own hands on their swords. All their eyes were on Shizuru, their brilliant captain. Tomoe felt a great sense of pride then, Shizuru was an amazing leader and it was an honor to be her quartermaster.

A group of pirates hovered near a pile of wooden ladders, ropes with hooks, and gangplanks. The second the Kiyohime managed to stop the galleon these pirates would spring into action, quickly creating modes of crossing ships for the pirates to easily pile onto the galleon. The faster the pirates could get on board the faster they would get the upper hand.

"She's wearing red," Gray whispered to Natsuki. She had sidled up beside the grumpy girl when she had been too focused on Shizuru like every other pirate.

Startled, Natsuki almost jumped. But then she saw who it was and rolled her eyes. "So what? Shizuru wears red a lot." Shizuru looked good in red. In fact Natsuki doubted there was a color Shizuru didn't look good in.

The captain was wearing the specially tailored crimson frock coat again. It fit her well and she looked dashing. There were many things one could say about Shizuru, but no one could say the woman didn't know what looked good on her.

"Do you know why she wears that coat into battle?" Gray asked, a slow, malicious smile forming on her red lips.

"Because she likes to look her best when stabbing people?" Natsuki offered, frowning.

Gray arched a brow in her direction and then let out a fake laugh before saying, "No, it is because if she is wounded she doesn't want her crew to know."

"What?" Natsuki pushed off the wall and straightened, now feeling a sense of urgency in her chest. A sense of urgency to do what, she wasn't yet sure. She gave Gray a look that told her to explain.

Gray was happy to oblige. "If she was wearing something else, one of her white shirts perhaps, the blood from a wound would be obvious. If pirates see their captain is bleeding they can lose hope, even retreat," she explained. "But if she's stabbed the blood will match her coat color. The crew won't know if she's been wounded and won't lose morale."

Natsuki swallowed and averted her gaze from the silver eyes of Gray. She could still feel them on her, no matter how hard she tried to ignore it. "She'll be fine," Natsuki muttered, more to herself than to Gray. "She's Captain Viola, the Siren of the sea."

"Just because Sirens seem invincible doesn't mean they don't bleed like the rest of us, Kuga," Gray said, before turning and disappearing into the crowd of pirates.

Natsuki now watched Shizuru's intense expression with one of her own. Shizuru wouldn't get hurt… right? Natsuki didn't have much time to dwell on this thought.

Suddenly, the Kiyohime lurched and shook, causing almost all of the pirates to fall onto the planks below. It almost felt as though something had rammed into the side of the ship, causing the other side to dip and even causing one of Shizuru's pirates to fall overboard.

Natsuki too had been knocked to the ground. It was her side that had been hit, which was the side where there had been nothing but fog. Shizuru's side was where they were expecting Beast to pass by any minute, so what had hit them?

Natsuki looked up and saw that Shizuru was the only one still standing—barely. The Siren quickly recovered however, straightening and staring wide-eyed at something behind Natsuki. Natsuki turned and felt her expression mirror Shizuru's. She scurried to her feet, as did the surrounding pirates, and they all stared in awe at what they saw.

Out of the fog had sailed another ship, a ship that had slammed right into the side of the Kiyohime. So hard, in fact, that the Kiyohime was badly damaged and the front part of the mystery ship was on top of the Kiyohime's main deck, just a few feet from where all of Shizuru's pirates had gathered. This made it rather easy to get onto the Kiyohime, as the tip of their ship now served as a bridge.

It was a larger ship, not a galleon, but not a Zipang navy ship either. The flag flying above it was the image of two swords crossed under a silver skull. It was a pirate ship, but the unimaginative flag didn't belong to any pirate Shizuru recognized.

What the hell was going on?

Finally remembering that she was in charge, Shizuru stalked forward, looked to where Natsuki was, and then looked to Tomoe. "Return the bird to her cage," she demanded.

Natsuki instantly straightened when she heard that. "No way!" But Tomoe gestured to two other pirates, who forcefully grabbed Natsuki by the arms and dragged her towards the brig. "Shizuru!" She cried out, her eyes memorizing the way Shizuru looked at her, the way Shizuru seemed to be saying goodbye.

Shizuru's ruby red eyes watched until Natsuki was gone. Then there was silence as her pirates all stood at her back, ready to charge into war with the other pirates. They stood side by side, their weapons drawn, all watching where the bow of the enemy ship had rammed into their own ship.

What a sloppy tactic, Shizuru mused, drawing her own sword and getting ready for the ensuing battle. But effective.

This entire situation threw her for a loop. Surely the galleon was getting away now, taking all that loot with it. Whoever this pirate was, they were going to pay dearly.

"I wasn't expecting other pirates," Tomoe whispered from her side. Shizuru glanced over at her quartermaster and saw the woman's tightened jaw, the narrowed gray eyes, the thirsty blade.

"Because who else but the Siren would take on a Zipang Navy-guarded galleon?" Shizuru whispered back. She hadn't expected any competition from any other pirates. No other pirates were confident enough to pull of such a heist.

She needed to focus, gather her courage, and fight as if she had been expecting this the entire time. Sirens were adaptable.

The only sound was the sound of wood on wood creaking, the Kiyohime's version of crying out in pain as the other ship leaned on it, causing its own deck to be crooked under the weight. That would be expensive to repair.

The silence was unnerving. Who rammed their ship into another ship and didn't immediately attack? So far, she hadn't seen anyone on the other side, just fog. The longer the silence dragged on the more nervous she became, though she wouldn't let her crew know that. She began to wonder if her ship had been rammed by a ghost ship. That is, until it began.

She heard it. The sounds of heavy boots all stampeding over wooden planks. Eventually Zipang naval officers—both men and women—charged over the bow of the enemy ship and poured onto the main deck of the Kiyohime, where Shizuru's pirates were waiting.

A battle didn't begin right away, much to Shizuru's surprise. Instead the Zipang soldiers gathered on either side of the 'bridge.' They had their own weapons drawn, their eyes darting back and forth between the faces of the pirates behind Shizuru.

How odd, Shizuru thought, noting that though they wore Zipang naval uniforms, their weapons were not standard nor were the ship they had just come off of a Zipang naval vessel. How suspicious.

"And where," Shizuru asked them, not moving at all in case one decided to strike, "Does your leader hide?" Shizuru's pirates chuckled from behind her.

The soldiers all turned their attention to Shizuru, who remained unwavering even under all those heavy gazes. They said nothing.

Natsuki had been thrown into her old cell in the brig. She had a feeling this would happen. Not quite like that, of course, but she knew with the way her and Shizuru's relationship seemed to be going in reverse, it was only a matter of time before she was back in the brig.

Why the hell was she the only one down here? She could fight! She could help! What if Shizuru needed her?

She instantly got up and grabbed at the bars, giving them a shake she knew was useless.

"Get back here!" She yelled after the pirates that had dragged her down there thanks to Shizuru's command. They ignored her, of course. Most pirates did. As Shizuru had started to ignore her, she seemed to lose more and more pull with the pirates. They were no longer afraid to mess with her, knowing full well that Shizuru wouldn't care enough to stop them. Even Irina didn't take orders from her anymore. All special treatment was now non-existent.

The door at the top of the stairs opened, illuminating the brig for only a split second, before the room was shrouded in darkness once more.

The captive gave up with a harrumph and fell back onto the dirty planks below. What was going on up there? Was Shizuru alright? What had that been? Natsuki had seen the other ship and how it had rammed into the Kiyohime but had been pulled away shortly after that.

And then it struck her. The lanterns. She had lit two lanterns last night in her anger, having not expected Reito to have still been trailing them.

Did Reito see them? Was that his ship that had rammed into the Kiyohime?

And if so… did Natsuki just doom Shizuru?


Shizuru looked up to see a tall woman begin descending from the tip of the enemy ship. She walked like she was the most important person in the world, like she had unwavering confidence in her and her crew's ability to defeat Shizuru. Held out to the side in her delicate looking hand was a rapier, much like the one Natsuki's father had made for Takeda. She was wearing knee-high black boots, a white swordsman's blouse, and a black vest. Atop her head was a black and worn-looking tricorn hat.

Behind this woman was a true military man. Out of all of them he was the only one that appeared to be a true man of the Zipang navy. It was in his posture, his government-issued musket and saber. He stayed silent but smiling, his dark brown eyes shimmering behind his even darker hair.

As much as she wanted to, Shizuru couldn't deny that it was the woman that caught her attention the most. The woman was gorgeous. She had thick hair the most unusual shade of blonde, giving it a silver appearance. It was tied up in a ponytail that ended at her lower back, meaning she had a lot of hair. With her hair pulled back it revealed her flawless face. The skin on her cheeks was white and smooth like porcelain, but with a healthy glow of red. Her nose was straight and the tip turned slightly up at the end. The woman's lips were full, pink, with one corner curved upwards slightly. And her eyes… her eyes were large and a smoldering amber shade, like Shizuru's eyes but with more yellow than red. There was something about her that was very… graceful. She reminded Shizuru of a swan. Her beauty was a strange one, but no one could say she was anything but lovely.

The woman came to a stop at the bottom of the bridge, finally standing opposite Shizuru on the Kiyohime. She tilted her head slightly, her amber eyes trailing up and down Shizuru's body, sizing her up and not seeming impressed.

Finally the other woman's lips twitched into a devilish smirk. "You're a tricky woman to find, Siren," she said, her voice was eerie, in that she managed to sound wicked, powerful, and charming all at the same time. It was like silk. Blood-soaked silk.

Shizuru said nothing at first, her eyes narrowing and her grip tightening on the hilt of her cutlass. She didn't look around to see where her key crewmembers were. She knew if she looked away it would show weakness. Finally she said, "I wasn't aware you were looking for me. Surely there must have been a better way for us to meet than… this," she gestured to where the other woman's ship had rammed into the Kiyohime. The other woman's eyes swam with amusement and Shizuru asked, "The Phantom, I presume?"

The Phantom took a step closer to Shizuru, smile now wiped completely from her beautiful face. "You presume correctly. I am the Phantom, and you have something that belongs to me." There was no trace of amusement in her eyes now, only the promise of a swift death to whoever defied her.

Shizuru's red lips curved into a lethal smile and she lowered her head slightly, a certain darkness seeming to now roll off of her in waves. She chuckled; a deep, rich sound that clearly unsettled the Phantom. "I can assure you that everything on this ship is mine." She brought her blade up and pointed the tip in the Phantom's direction. "You can try taking what is mine from me, but you will fail," she explained this calmly, as if she were simply telling a friend that the weather was nice.

"We'll see about that," the Phantom snarled as she charged forward, letting out a battle cry that her crew soon echoed as they charged into battle right beside her.

Lodge me at your back, oh shelter me, appear to me in your mirror, suddenly, upon the solitary, nocturnal pane, sprouting from the dark behind you.

Chapter Song:

Jungle by Emma Louise

I feel slightly bad for ending it there. But not really.

The Phantom! Dun dun dunnn.

FINALLY, amirite? Anyway. Hope you all enjoyed this update. I know a lot happened but I hope it wasn't too overwhelming or anything. I know I always say this but I am SO EXCITED to write the next chapter.

As usual, any questions, comments, or concerns? Drop me a review, a PM, or feel free to say 'Hi!' on my Formspring (link in my profile).

Hope everyone has had a fantastic summer so far!

Monster will be updated next for those of you waiting on that.