Why are you acting like this? the princess chided herself. Not five hours ago he saved you from becoming a pancake princess on the deck of his ship, and you didn’t even properly thank him! Still, the way he looked at her ─ like a crestfallen puppy being scolded for making a mess on the floor ─ sent a flurry of butterflies fluttering through her stomach, and that made her a bit uncomfortable. Hesitantly, he reached out with his humanoid prosthetic to touch her shoulder, but she reflexively flinched away.
Remorse flooded his face, “I─ I’m sorry.”
“No, no. I don’t know why I did that. You don’t─”
“You do know that I would never do anything to hurt you, right? Not on purpose. I had no control over the Kresreb’s actions; it wasn’t me. You understand that, right?”
“It’s just… I don’t know what I’d do if you got hurt because I couldn’t protect you. That─ that’s why I decided that we ought to take you back home to Trellisania.”
“I know. Antenor already told me.”
Levi went on talking, like he was reciting a speech he’d re-written about a dozen times, “You’ve been put in danger far too much, and your personal body guards or whatever ─ you do have those, right? Maybe if you’re back at home with them, Kosu won’t try to go after you anymore.”
Hataru’s eyes grew wide in realization, “Oh, no…” She clunked herself in the forehead, but Levi continued rambling.
“They’ll be able to keep you safe for sure.”
“There’s just one problem…”
“You should probably double or even tripple them when you get back, just in case, you know?”
“We need to turn around…”
“And you might consider taking some self-defence classes─”
Levi winced at her formality, “What, what? Sorry… ”
“I only just remembered it now, but, you see… ” Hataru started twiddling her fingers through her hair as she told the captain about her traveling companion being kidnapped by the assassin. “Forget about taking me home,” she finished, “we should be chasing after Kosu and rescuing Gilda!”
“No!” Levi’s fist slammed against the banister, “I mean… no, that would mean putting you in danger again, and I will not do that. I’ll take you to Novallar, and then… I’ll go find your friend myself.”
“No but’s. Not this time. I’m taking you home.” His voice was as solid as rock, his will as immovable as a mountain. Hataru regarded him as if wondering how far her mule-headedness could take her up that mountain, but she saw no easy passage or footholds ─ except for one.
The captain wasn’t jealous of you, but over you, an unidentified voice whispered in her ear. He is enamoured with you. Keep pushing, and he’ll do whatever you ask. The princess gulped. It would be easy; she had flirted with enough men before, subtly bending them to her will as she sought to raise funds for her orphanage campaign. Hataru had always justified her actions by telling herself that she wasn’t like the femme fatales who used their charm for personal gain. She was merely using a method of persuasion common to the women in her circle of stature for the benefit of others; it was only a performance, no different than her dance recital fundraisers. That was the thing about flirting at the social gatherings of the wealthy ─ everything was a facade, nothing was genuine ─ but this wasn’t a rich duke’s masquerade. This was a pirate ship where everything was real and nothing was pretend. Levi had always been transparent with her, never putting on a mask. Why should she put one on now?