A festive atmosphere filled the town near the base that evening. Even though the place was usually quiet, when it comes to celebrating something, the townspeople would go all-out, setting up stalls, preparing fireworks, putting decorations in just every corner, the whole nine yards.
Zuikaku was sure she would find the festival sights enjoyable…if she wasn’t occupied with searching for everyone else.
Earlier that day, Takao, the most senior shipgirl at the base, had everyone gathered for a briefing. Since they were all given a day-off, all of them decided to go to the festival together, save for Aoba, who volunteered for the town journal—she already went ahead with the Commander and his staff who departed to assist with festival preparations.
Zuikaku thought it was ridiculous for her ever-serious senior to treat going to the festival like they were heading to a battle. The destroyers, maybe, do need to be told this and that, but not a grown-up like her. She ended not paying attention too much to it.
Now that she found herself separated from the others, in that part of town she’s unfamiliar with, Zuikaku felt (somewhat) guilty for allowing herself that kind of conceit. The only consolation she had is that festival-goers crowded the place and that they were busy with themselves—the last thing she wants is some stranger asking if she got lost.
Knowing that trying to retrace her steps or keep on walking will just make her problems worse, Zuikaku figured she should just stay there for a while and hope that someone she knows—or even barely knows; she’s not about to be picky now—would pass by within her sight.
She got what she hoped soon after, although not quite what she had expected when she heard the Commander calling behind her back.
“What are you doing here, alone? Where are the others?”
Zuikaku quickly turned around to face the Commander as soon as she heard his voice, nearly falling in the process, which she blamed on the yukata supplied by Atago being somewhat ill-fitting.
That was less embarrassing than having to admit she got lost, however. Despite this, she spilled everything; lying to save face was something she never liked.
“Oh, Commander. Um. Well, you see, I kind of got separated from them, and I’m…uh…kind of got lost, so I’m waiting here to see if anyone I know would come by…”
“I see. Good thing I ran into you then.”
When she told him her story, Zuikaku had expected the Commander to rib her about it, like he often did. But his reply, an utterly ordinary one in every sense, ended up baffling her instead of relieving.
Speaking of relief, she noticed the Commander did look relieved.
“Anyway,” the Commander continued, “I have someone I need to meet. Wait here and don’t go anywhere. I won’t be long.”
“Understood,” Zuikaku responded; it didn’t come out as firm as she had intended, for some reason. The Commander didn’t seem to notice and nodded.
“Good. See you,” he said and turned around to leave. Zuikaku watched as his back grew further and further away. Even when he had walked only a few steps, he already seemed so distant.
Before she could think of anything, her legs already acted on their own—running after the Commander.
You might not be as lucky the second time, got that? Don’t do that again. The words were still fresh in Zuikaku’s mind. While he didn’t really mind her tagging along, the Commander still gave her quite the reprimand which she took in stride. She disobeyed him and risk herself getting lost in the crowd again, after all.
The person the Commander mentioned happened to be the mayor, whom Zuikaku never met before; from the familiarity they showed to each other, she was fairly certain the two were longtime friends.
And probably because of that, their conversation took longer than Zuikaku would’ve liked; worse, she couldn’t help feeling like an out-of-place stage prop as the two talked. Fortunately, the Commander—probably, she would say—remembered she exists and ended the conversation.
“Something bothering you?” The Commander inquired as the two attempted to find their way out of the swarming crowd. While he knew the timing wasn’t the best, Zuikaku had been wearing that gloomy expression for too long. When she heard the question, though, she looked surprised, as if she didn’t realize it.
“It shows on your face, you know.”
With haste, Zuikaku tried to change her expression, but she soon realized the futility of the act and ended up sighing.
“Sorry. It’s just that I…feel foolish. To get lost like that...I…should’ve listened to Takao-senpai. Also…I’m being a bother to you…”
“I let you in on a little secret,” the Commander said, voice slightly raised, as he narrowly avoided getting stepped on. “Years ago, when I was a rookie officer somewhere, something like this happened. Only it involved my Commanding Officer and me…So, just like today, we are helping the townspeople preparing for the festival. And I…kinda got carried away by the festivities and probably got myself a bit drunk, so I had a hard time finding my way back, until I ran into my CO, who had been looking for me all over the place. I didn’t get yelled at, nevertheless, I got a week’s worth of galley duty. I guess the bottom line is, we’ve been on the same boat. Don’t sweat it.”
Zuikaku could not prevent the laugh from happening, but she managed to keep it restrained, helped by the chattering around them. She realized now the reason behind the Commander’s apparent lack of reaction to her blunder earlier and that gratitude is in order.
“Thank you, Commander.”
“No problem. Well…hey, before we look for the others, want to check the stalls?”
It sounded too much like an invitation to a date. Zuikaku knew she probably should’ve refused. But she could not bring herself to. Right after that, she realized she didn’t want to, either.
The next day, Aoba showed the Commander and Zuikaku the photos she had taken from last night’s events. Among them are pictures of the two having fun (according to her) that she took in secret. They were promptly confiscated.
While Zuikaku chewed the reporter out—whatever impact it may have significantly diminished by her stammering and heavy blush—the Commander leaned back on his chair as he looked over the photos once more.
He smiled as he did.