12. Men (part 2)

          Captain Levi, now there was another man for her to think about. He had rescued her from captivity on her own father's ship with no hidden motives or angles other than just doing good, and he had also shown compassion to a young child who reminded her a bit of herself. He was clever and wily, and the way he governed his men was more than admirable. He was a perfect gentleman, in spite of being a pirate, always seeming to put others first. Of course that didn't mean he was a perfect person; she recalled how peculiar he had acted as they traveled up the mountain. He was grumpy and moody, yet when she tripped out of the boat and toppled over him, he didn't even moan in pain, though she was sure that hitting his head on the hard rock must have hurt miserably.

          When she finally returned to the treasure cave, she had stood there at the entrance beside Prince Tarin, scanning through the chaos, hoping against hope that Captain Levi was safe or at least unharmed. Her heart had soared once she'd spotted his person, but then plummeted again when she also saw The Black and White Assassin confronting him. In the confusion, the captain had somehow turned himself around and was smiling up at her like a child on Christmas despite the dangerous snake ready to strike him from behind. She’d screamed his name in warning as the valiant Prince Tarin rushed passed her to his aid, and all she could do was stand and watch in cold sweat as Levi and Kosu battled it out using all of their wits and strengths; she had felt so powerless, unable to help ─  useless.

          After the prince's sloppy, yet still romantically heart-pounding farewell, came Levi's daring embrace. First, it was his golden yellow eye, filled with joy and excitement and something else; she had tried not to notice it at first by filling her mind with thoughts of another man, but she was not able to keep up that battle. He’d placed his hand and claw atop her shoulders. She was ensnared in his gaze and his grasp, yet oddly enough, she didn't really want to escape. Next, it was the way he swooped in, instantly closing the distance between their faces. Even though there were two air masks between them, she could count every stitch of his eyepatch and see that his good eye was red and puffy with tear trails down the side. Had he been crying? As curious as she was, she’d dared not ask the question. Struggling through an explanation of her short adventure without stuttering excessively had been extremely draining, but she’d finally made it through. Then the next thing she knew, she was wrapped in his arms and squeezed up against his chest in a giant bear hug. His strong arms had surrounded her body, and Hataru had thought her heart would burst open because it was pounding so hard! Even if she’d had wanted to, there was no way she could have competed with his physical strength to escape his clasp, but, that was just it; again, she was caught up by the captain, yet had no will to run from his presence. What was happening to her? The words he had whispered in her ear were full of mystery and left her hanging, yet they made her heart pound all the more. Finally the snare was opened and she was set free, her heart was relieved from its racing, and everything seemed to go back to normal. But has it, really? Hataru asked herself. Or has everything changed completely?

          Groggily still stroking the air mask, Hataru’s eyelashes fluttered like the wings of a butterfly that had just emerged from its cocoon and she gave in to the sleep, which had been nagging at her for hours.

The End

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