Zuikaku thought she should come to the pier at night more often, trouble sleeping or not. The zephyr sweeping over her face, carrying the faint smell of salt from the ocean, and the light haze—all of them were pleasantly soothing, though apparently not potent enough to induce sleepiness in her. But then again, after thinking about it, she didn’t want to go to sleep just yet and would take her time. There’s no work tomorrow after all.
“…Oh. What a surprise, to see you here.”
A familiar voice broke the calm as the Commander appeared seemingly out of nowhere. While it did give her a slight start, she showed no reaction other than a humble nod.
Zuikaku noticed that instead of sleepwear, the Commander was wearing casual clothes—a kimono-like jacket over a shirt and the most worn-out, most patched-up pair of trousers she had ever seen. In particular, the jacket was overbearingly loud and it was pretty much guaranteed anyone could find him in the dark if they needed to. In contrast, what she wore was decidedly plain, and she couldn’t help but feel a little underdressed.
She also noticed the Commander brought along a plastic bag from the convenience store in town, but its details have faded, indicating it was used.
“Little birdies shouldn’t be up and about at this hour. Leave that to us Showa-born guys,” the Commander let out a chuckle at his own joke as he took a seat beside the carrier. The words immediately reminded her of Mikasa—calling someone a Showa-born fool is how her senior would rebuke anyone who managed the rare feat of angering her.
“Geez, don’t treat me like a child,” she protested, but as always, the Commander did not take her defiance seriously and responded with a protracted laugh.
“Okay, I will stop,” he said after his laughter subsided, clearly insincere. “I’m going to treat you like an old lady from now on then.”
“No, I don’t want that either! Treat me as an adult!”
“Alright, alright, I will, I promise,” the Commander held up a finger to stop Zuikaku from talking further. While he found her amusing when she’s all flustered and jumpy, he was not the type to be heartless and milk them for all their worth. “Anyway, let’s talk about something else. What brings you here?”
“…I can’t sleep,” the carrier replied in a hushed, wavering voice, the kind all self-conscious person would seemingly use. "You...?"
“Late night outing. An old man like me doesn’t sleep much, so here I am.”
“You are…only 34, Commander.”
“Yes, that’s old. Recently I’m starting to get grey hair, see?” The Commander pointed at his scalp; Zuikaku had to squint just to see that he indeed had one.
“…I suppose, as long as you don’t pluck it, Commander, there’s nothing to worry about,” she said, repeating a beauty tip she happened to read some time ago. It was something she hardly needs, but she thought the Commander would appreciate it.
“Ah, yes. Guess I’ll just let it be for the time being. Anyway, I brought snacks, so help yourself,” the Commander said as he rummaged through the bag and took out a can of milk coffee.
As she watched him consuming the drink and again took notice of his choice of attire, Zuikaku cannot help but think the Commander perhaps did look like an old man after all. All he needs to do to complete the image is to whip out a smoke and probably make some dumb wordplay.
He did neither and offered her the limited edition, takoyaki-flavored Jagariko he claimed were only sold in Osaka instead. She took one just to be polite but ended up having more after finding out she liked them more than she thought.
“Anyway,” the Commander said out of the blue, “you said you had trouble sleeping. Something troubling you?”
“…No, it’s just one of those nights where you seemed to be unable to, you know?”
“Is that so? I’m glad,” the Commander sighed in relief. “Well, I’m not saying you are lying or anything right now, but if I may offer a piece of advice, don’t keep your troubles to yourself as most adults would do. If you are worried, you can talk to someone you trust. Like Shoukaku, maybe.”
Zuikaku uttered a muted laugh. Such old man-like advice was pretty touching, she had to admit.
“If you have troubles, Commander, would you allow me to lend an ear, then?” the carrier asked; seeing the Commander looking caught off-guard filled her with a certain feeling of triumph, even though he recovered from it very quickly.
“…If you are okay with that, Zuikaku, I will take you up on your offer. Not to sound unappreciative, though, but I’m curious; why did you suddenly ask that?”
“Oh, you see,” Zuikaku began, ignoring the blush creeping up her face, “because I know you would do the same for me.”