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The Space Between Bonds

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"Do you really believe that you're going to find treasure hidden on your own ship?"

Chiaki's vice, although quiet, still seemed to echo through the empty hall. She and Marika wandered the deepest hulls of the Bentenmaru, and all around them was simply steel. It did not appear familiar to Marika, but nor was it entirely unfamiliar either.

Thus she glanced over her shoulder at Chiaki and smiled. "You never know! Gruier told me that there might be lots of secrets hidden on the Bentenmaru that can only be unlocked by the captain's ring!"

"That seems rather dubious at best."

"Well, it's worth a shot! Plus it's nice to have a reason to explore the ship that isn't cleaning up after the yacht club's mess."

"And you don't think it irresponsible of the captain to allow someone from another pirate crew to see the inner workings of the ship?"

"Nah, Misa-san said it was fine. And besides, you already saw a lot of the ship when we rescued Jenny-sempai. It really was nice having you on my crew, you know."

Chiaki said nothing more in response, and her face grew red as her frown deepened.

Marika bit her lip and said nothing more either. Chiaki was always frowning lately, Marika had noticed. Was she only embarrassing and annoying Chiaki by saying such silly things? Did Chiaki dislike her? No, that couldn't be it. Chiaki had never refused when Marika wanted to spend time with her, and sometimes Marika felt as if Chiaki was staring into her very being. Chiaki was often watching her, and Marika could not understand why.

Yet she liked it as her heart began to race, as it usually did lately in Chiaki's presence.

For a while they simply walked in silence as Marika occasionally glanced at Chiaki out of the corner of her eye. With a deep breath she laid her hand on the wall, and still the captain's ring on her finger did not react.

She could almost laugh. The only treasure she had managed to find thanks to this ring had been that secret recipe, and Ririka had been so proud of her. Was there really any treasure left in this ship that could compare to that?

Running her fingers over the ring, she couldn't help but smile. Gruier still hadn't told her why and when she had received this ring from her father, and Ririka had told her little else about it. Ririka never really did talk about him much, and Marika had seen little of her lately. It was a little lonely in a way, but she still had her crew and her classmates, especially Chiaki.

Maybe she should've asked Ririka outright if there was any more treasure on the Bentenmaru, but part of the fun of treasure hunting was the exploration, after all.

"Marika, you're humming to yourself," Chiaki said, her stern voice jolting Marika out of her thoughts. "Do you even know where we're going?"

"Mostly," Marika replied with a laugh. "And if we get lost, Misa-san and the others know how to find me."

Chiaki sighed. "Reckless as ever, I see…" she muttered.

"We're pirates, after all!" Marika seized Chiaki's hand. "We're supposed to hunt for treasure and stuff like that! We're free to sail the stars, so who knows what we'll find?"

Chiaki lowered her face, and she was blushing again. "You certainly have a romantic view of pirates. And it hasn't even been that long since the whole incident with the Grand Cross and Quartz Christie…"

"Well, then I'm just a romantic at heart!" Marika leaned in close to Chiaki. "Now, let's find us some treasure!"

Chiaki's eyes widened as she stammered, "Y-Yes, if that is what you want."

With renewed determination Marika's fingers tightened around Chiaki's, and her other hand slid across the wall, and the steel was cold yet smooth against her palm. This ship, the Bentenmaru, was the legacy of her family, and she wanted to discover all of its secrets. She was the captain, after all, and since she had chosen this path, she would be sure to make all those secrets her own.

And when Chiaki's fingers curled around hers, her heart only beat faster.

Eventually her captain's ring glowed, as if reacting to something, and as the wall parted, Marika nearly fell over, barely managing to brace herself in time and avoid pulling Chiaki down with her.

Chiaki yanked on Marika's arm to help steady her on her feet. "Well now, it seems you have found something," she said to Marika, her voice as calm as ever. "I should know better than to doubt your intuition.

"Yeah…" Marika breathed as she gazed upon the revealed hidden room before her. It was small and filled with dusty books, and with some hesitation she stepped inside and picked up a book at random. It wasn't particularly thick, but it was still oddly heavy in her hands.

"It certainly looks like a lot of information," Chiaki mused as she came up beside Marika, and she eyed the book in Marika's hand. "About the Bentenmaru, perhaps?"

"Kind of, I think." Marika carefully glanced through the pages. "Looks like genealogy records, actually. Look, Ririka-san and my father are listed here, but not me. Wow, the Bentenmaru really is old…"

"That is no surprise." Chiaki adjusted her glasses. "Letters of Marque are only passed down through bloodlines, and they were only issued during the War of Independence."

"There's even information about past crewmembers in here," Marika went on. "I never knew we had such records…"

"Surely you know the history of your own family's ship."

Marika let out a faint giggle. "Well, the basics, at least. I mean, I haven't really pried into any of the crewmembers' past, and Ririka-san doesn't talk about my father that much. I didn't even know his name until I met Misa-san and Kane-san!"

Brief surprise flashed upon Chiaki's face. "Haven't you thought of asking your crew about him?"

"Sometimes, but I don't really know what I'd ask them." Marika laughed again. "And besides, I don't want them to think I'm trying to imitate him. I want to be my own pirate captain, and not like someone else. I mean, you're not much like your father either!"

Chiaki lowered her face, and she was silent for a tense moment. "He says I'm more like my mother."

"Oh." Marika chewed her lip, unsure of what else to say. She still knew so little of Chiaki's family or background, and just like with her crew she didn't want to pry. But of course, she knew so little of her own family either, and a legacy of space piracy was something she had never imagined. Ririka had never refused to answer any of her questions, but she had also encouraged Marika to find her own answers.

Even so, as Marika searched through the piles of books, there was much she had to learn as a captain. Historical records, genealogy records, even information about the Bentenmaru itself - it was almost overwhelming. Yet she found little information about the Empire, and she doubted she would find anything about the Parabellum or that Ironbeard pirate. They were outsiders, like Quartz Christie, beyond the scope of the Tau Ceti system, but someday Marika wished to expand further into space, even beyond the Empire itself. But even in her own little sphere there were still mysteries she had to uncover first.

Eventually she spoke again, breaking the silence. "It's strange, isn't it? Misa-san is known as 'Bloody Misa' and Ririka-san 'Blaster Ririka,' but I don't know much about how they got those names, and what about the rest of my crew? When did they join the Bentenmaru? What did they think of my parents?"

Chiaki set down the book she was holding. "If they remained on the Bentenmaru, they must've respected your parents very much. That much should be obvious, at least."

"Yeah, you're right!" Marika tried to smile. "I may not know much about their pasts, but I know how reliable and skilled they are, and as the captain there's no one I trust more!"

"Yes, you are a very trustworthy captain." Yet Chiaki's gaze was dark, and she muttered, "Even if you can be rather dense."

Marika frowned, and her fingers tensed. "What do you mean by that?"

Chiaki let out a heavy sigh, and she was silent a while before answering. "As a captain, there is no greater treasure than the information you have here. You should examine all of it carefully."

"Well, it isn't quite the treasure I expected." Marika rubbed her eyes, barely suppressing a yawn. "But my eyes hurt from all that text, so let's rest for tonight, okay?"

"That is probably wise," Chiaki replied, and her hand lingered on a book a moment longer.

They quickly straightened the stacks of books, and once they had left the room, Marika made sure to lock it once more, and she put a mark on the wall so that she would remember where it was. Her hand lingered a little longer on the wall, and she briefly wondered if any of the others of her crew knew about this treasure.

As they headed back to the captain's quarters, silence fell over them, and while Marika wanted to speak, she had no idea what to say. Chiaki seemed to be avoiding her gaze again, and while she frowned, there was still a persistent blush upon her cheeks.

Marika bit her lip. She tried to reach for Chiaki's hand, but then thought better of it. Why were they together so often? Chiaki had even chosen to stay at Hakuoh Academy indefinitely, and Marika had been delighted, but Chiaki had never given her a straightforward reason as to why she had chosen to stay. Not that Marika minded, of course; she did enjoy being with Chiaki, and Chiaki was serious and dependable, so Marika could trust her. After all, Chiaki was the first friend she had made as a space pirates, and she couldn't have gotten this far without Chiaki guiding her.

But was that the only reason? Why had Chiaki stayed? Why did she always seem to be watching Marika?

This time it was Marika's turn to sigh. Chiaki truly was an enigma, but maybe she didn't have to be.

Soon they reached the captain's quarters, and Marika opened the door for Chiaki. Hakuoh Academy was on holiday, so Marika was spending nights on the Bentenmaru, and she had invited Chiaki to stay with her, and still she was surprised that Chiaki had not refused.

Marika glanced at Chiaki's sleeping bag beside her bed, and she closed the door behind her. She inhaled a deep breath, and she forced out, "Chiaki-chan, how do you feel about me?"

Chiaki's eyes went wide. "W-What are you talking about?"

"I want to know how you feel about me!" Marika exclaimed, throwing her arms wide. "I trust you, so I want to understand you!"

"T-Then that should be enough!" Chiaki's face was bright red, and still she avoided Marika's gaze. "You are honest, and that is admirable for a captain…"

"And I want you to be honest too." Marika stepped closer to Chiaki and cupped her face. "So let me show you how I feel about you." And thus she pressed her lips against Chiaki's.

Maybe she was oblivious. Maybe she was too trusting. Maybe she was dense, as Chiaki had said. But Chiaki had also called her honest, so she would be honest with her own feelings for Chiaki.

When they broke the kiss, a faint smile came upon Chiaki's face. "You really are too reckless."

"And you can be way too serious." Marika laughed, and she hoped that Chiaki could not hear her heartbeat. "But that's why I can trust you!"

"Now you have to take responsibility for your actions." A light smirk seemed to slip from Chiaki's lips. "I will not allow you to forget those words."

"At least I made the first move." Marika put her hand on her hip. "But I'm grateful, really."

Chiaki's expression softened, and she touched her glasses. "I should not have expected anything less from you, Marika Kato."

Marika clasped Chiaki's hand between hers. "So as celebration of our newfound understanding, let's share my bed for tonight!"

Chiaki's blush deepened, but then she simply smiled and pulled Marika closer for another kiss.