"Another air group attacking from the west!" came the call over the radio from the crow's nest.
"Copy! Shift AA batteries one and two to counter, I'm getting more fighters in the air!" Hornet promised, closing her eyes and making sure she remembered each component of a Hellcat's engine as her ship and crew threw flak and machine gun fire skyward.
"Maru, we can't launch in these conditions!"
"You can't, but I can; so give me some cover will you?!" she demanded of her deck crews.
"Ma'am, guns five, seven and twelve are almost out of ammunition!"
"Understood, quartermaster. I've already got more produced in the depots, get it where it needs to go. And don't call me ma'am again, I'm not old!" she insisted with a laugh.
"Incoming bombers twelve high!" The radios crackled again as more than fifteen hundred men and one kansen got their first real test as a fighting unit.
"I have them, keep the fire up! Gunners, I have a visual on Ark Royal through her smokescreen. Load up. I'm adjusting the firing solution now!"
"We can do that ourselves, Hornet. Just give us the coordinates and focus on your Hellcats!"
"Aww, you guys are so sweet. Here you go! Let's show Lexington and Saratoga that they aren't the only carriers who can use 203mm batteries! I made them just for you!"
"Hard copy, boss. We've got her dialed in. Oh shit, strafing run! Incoming sharks!"
"Hold position and open fire! I have you!" Hornet promised, taking a knee and placing a fist against the floor of her bridge. A massive shield encompassed her hull that was more than up to the task of deflecting machine gun fire from Ark Royal's P-40s. A salvo of heavy rounds thundered from her deck batteries, newly arranged in the same manner as those of the Lexington class carriers.
"Maru, direct hit! Now's the time!" one of her gunnery sergeants reported, noting the strikes against Ark's shield that threw up smoke and debris that would temporarily distract attention from their bombers.
"Hold tight boys! I'm going to send it!" Hornet shouted happily as two squads of B-25s initiated a bombing run from on high, screened by lower flying Hellcats. Her deck batteries continued to fire as well, and several seconds later the call of surrender came over the radio. After five grueling days and nights learning how to operate their new ship, they'd defeated Ark Royal in single ship combat. Commander Thorson, Fleet Admiral Nimitz, Enterprise, and the other most important actors in the Union Pacific fleet were waiting for her back on the docks.
"Took you long enough," Enterprise said quietly as the sisters embraced briefly. The ribbing was all in good fun.
"Yeah I know, had to whip a lot of those lads into shape but we did it," Hornet replied proudly. Enterprise had, perhaps unsurprisingly, dismantled Ark Royal with absolute precision the second day after she'd been granted her rigging. She had done so with help from a handful of her most experienced pilots and mechanics, but was otherwise unassisted. Hornet had insisted on bringing at least half of her entire crew along for the ride, but eventually arrived at the same point. "So what happens now, Commander?"
"Captain Stevens' convoy just radioed; they're about an hour away. We resupply and then we get ready to leave. Akashi finished the retrofit of your kitchens?"
"Yes sir! And I made sure they know not to go tinkering with anything if they don't want to get bonked by one of my planes. Thanks again for accommodating us."
"Consider it a little experiment," Thorson replied with a smile. "Fleet Admiral?"
Nimitz nodded curtly and began informing them all of the next steps that would be taken by each fleet and the Union as a whole in the Pacific. "The vast majority of Enterprise's crew will be transferred to the old Hornet which will continue to be commanded by Captain Mitscher. Hornet, we are still short crew. How many can you spare?"
"I can have a list ready in a couple of hours, sir. I hate to lose any of them but I understand," she replied, a hit of sadness in her voice.
"Very good. Enterprise, the few individuals you wish to accompany you will also be assigned to the new Hornet. I am in agreement with Commander Thorson that a true comparison between you and your sister, crewed and uncrewed, is needed."
"Yes sir. I'm confident in my ability to operate my vessel alone. My pilots and mechanics have been of great help in getting me to the point where I can launch aircraft on my own, but I suppose I don't need them if push comes to shove," the silver-haired carrier explained.
"I understand. This should prove a decent compromise. Commander Thorson, I understand that your fleet composition is unorthodox and I wish I had more escorts to spare, but I do not. Northampton is the best we can do."
"She already approached me about acquiring rigging and learning to fight like Houston, sir. We would be happy to have her," Thorson replied thankfully.
"And we will be happy to have more experienced hands for other ships," Nimitz replied. "I don't think we need to stand on ceremony any longer. Commander, your orders are simple. Track Akagi and Kaga down and neutralize them. If the other carriers interfere, take them out as well. The quicker we finish them, the quicker we can transfer much needed firepower to the Atlantic. The news out of London seems to worsen by the day."
"I understand, sir. We'll get it done," Thorson promised, fashioning a sharp salute that Hornet and Enterprise quickly copied. They were his ships, after all.
"Very good. And one last thing, Commander."
Nimitz looked around the bustling base with a slight smile, thinking that victory was perhaps on the horizon. "Following this evening's meal please instruct your staff to arrange the space for a formal event. Assuming the manifest was not lost in transit, the women of your fleet have earned themselves a bit of hardware."
"Hammu-chan, Hammu-chan, over here!" Shigure called, summoning the Union destroyer to the Sakura table that night at dinner. She'd received her own ship and rigging in the week following Midway thanks to ample supplies of wisdom cubes and a dire need for escort ships in Thorson's unbalanced fleet, but remained withdrawn and dour following the loss of Sims and then Yorktown. A seat for her was quickly cleared between Yamashiro and Yukikaze, the former enveloping her in a fluffy, warm hug when she sat down.
"S-stop with this! I don't need you treating me like a child!" she protested. Yamashiro only giggled, her tail snaking happily behind her as she rubbed Hammann's ears and pushed the little destroyer deeper into her cleavage.
"Shhh, it's ok little cat. Yama-mama will take care of you as long as you need."
Thorson couldn't recall ever seeing a kansen blush redder or pout harder than Hammann, but she ate with the Sakura at every meal and never lashed out at them beyond her words, even after she acquired her rigging. He allowed it to play out without intervening, as the Union kansen seemed willing to as well. He could not replace a lost sister or mentor.
That evening was a mixture of fond reunions and farewells. Brooklyn had gotten to spend some time with Captain Stevens that afternoon, and Thorson had decided to leave her in charge of the base in his absence during the operation. Yuugure, Hatsuharu, and Michishio would be staying behind to man the kitchens, along with Naka, Cassin, and Ooshio who would be in charge of maintaining the facilities of the base and caring for the kiddies, along with Shiranui. Almost everyone else had been assigned to the attacking fleet, meaning that along with many sailors saying their goodbyes that night, Downes was also in that position. The Union destroyer was making the most of it, dining with her friends around her and Ooshio in her lap. California, Cleveland, Portland, and the other bubbly Union kansen found the arrangement utterly adorable, and the black-furred neko shrine maiden found herself veritably showered with attention and petting throughout the night. Only Downes was allowed to leave the occasional kiss on her cheek, however.
As the meal concluded, Akashi and her bulins promptly arranged for Admiral Nimitz's request, occasionally removing a sailor from his seat bodily as they cleared tables and redid the hall for a large briefing. Other than the Sakura, all rose and saluted the Fleet Admiral and the rest of Union brass as they filed in, accompanied by several aides. Nimitz got down to brass tacks immediately. "As many of you are already aware, a follow-on operation to the defensive action at Midway will be commencing imminently, with Commander Thorson's fleet as the spearhead. The Enterprise, Hornet designation CV-12, and the Northampton are officially transferred to his command. All crew assigned to the Enterprise and Northampton are to remain after this meeting to receive your new assignments. Those hulls are to be crewed solo going forward. The crew of the Hornet will also remain, as a minority of you will be needed elsewhere. And since I'm sure you're all wondering why the Fleet Admiral is dealing with such mundane affairs, we'll get to the meat and potatoes of this evening. Though I must say I've rarely had meat or potatoes as well prepared as I have recently. I'll miss your cooking," Nimitz stated, tipping his cap at Shiratsuyu and the other kitchen staff who were caught positively flat footed as dozens of sailors whistled and hooted their own approval. The Fleet Admiral held up his hands for quiet and continued.
"Upon consultation, I've been informed that there are no military honors that can be given for exemplary conduct in the kitchen, so maybe that's something we can address when we find ourselves at peace again," he chuckled quietly before adopting the tone for which he was known throughout the Union navy. "But we are at war, and were it not for the actions of a handful of individuals we would not be enjoying this relative luxury in the middle of the Pacific today. The shipgirl initiative, which I am designating the kansen initiative effective immediately, has been considered something between a curiosity and side project for more than a decade. We are here to correct that perception."
Hushed conversation rippled through the many hundreds of sailors in attendance as Thorson's kansen glanced at one another, suspicion and curiosity mixed together in their expressions. One of the Fleet Admiral's aides stepped forward bearing a nondescript case which, when opened, revealed a couple dozen of identical yellow citation ribbons with a thin blue bar at the top and a red bar at the bottom. Thorson wasn't sure he'd ever seen that particular award before, but knew that Brooklyn likely had something to do with it. He stood and saluted as Nimitz addressed him personally. "Yes sir."
"Commander Thorson, after reviewing your after action reports and similar testimonies from Task Forces 16 and 17, I put in a call to Washington. I doubt many people have managed to surprise a man like the Commander in Chief, but I'd wager the tale I spun for him managed. You and your fleet have been awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, and I'll be damned if I send you off to strike at the enemy's heart without the distinction you've richly earned."
"Thank you, sir," Thorson said stiffly, whipped into shape by the sudden gravity of the moment. Setting an example for his kansen, most of whom had no idea what to do in such a situation, the Commander approached Nimitz to receive the ribbon. When he returned, he tapped Penny on the shoulder and nodded towards the Admiral. "You earned it. Go take what's yours."
The battleship held his gaze for a few seconds as she furiously debated with herself. No number of tokens would change the past, but she had served and bled for Thorson, for her sister, and for herself. That alone seemed enough to swallow her pride and be recognized. With confident steps she walked up to Nimitz and saluted, remaining silently at attention as the decoration was pinned to her uniform. Yuudachi, by contrast, refused to be silent and cheered loudly for her Penny-san, eliciting the faintest of confident smiles from the kansen as she turned to face the room and walk back to her seat. That expression turned to pride as her younger sister went next, and approval as Nimitz motioned politely for Arizona to remain standing after receiving her unit citation. Thorson and the rest of his fleet watched closely as a second aide to the Fleet Admiral presented a second case, this one much smaller, which when opened revealed three purple heart medals. The Admiral took one up and pinned it respectfully to Arizona's uniform himself before extending his hand to her, speaking over Yukikaze's rapid, questioning 'nanodas'. "You look right as rain now, but I read the reports of your injury at Pearl Harbor. Let's hope the next medal is a different color, shall we?"
"Thank you, sir," Arizona whispered before hustling back to rejoin her sister as quickly as she could without running, flush with both happiness and embarrassment. Thorson met her eyes and nodded approvingly as the rest of his fleet was recognized. Cassin was also awarded a purple heart given the damage she'd suffered at Midway. Tennessee earned a Navy Cross for 'gallantry in combat' in addition to her unit citation. The tanned, almost perpetually grumpy battleship scoffed at the notion, but allowed the gleaming cross to be placed on her uniform where Thorson was absolutely sure it would remain for many years. Arizona was called back to receive a second Navy Cross, which Thorson considered richly deserved given that her abilities saw them through to the end of the Midway engagement. The award caused a bit of a skirmish between Yuudachi and Yukikaze over whose adopted onee-san was better, but it was quickly squashed by Choukai, who reminded them of the gravity of the situation with the hilt of her blade.
As the ceremony continued, Thorson clapped politely for each of his ships, especially when Brooklyn was recognized with a new citation dubbed the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, which Nimitz explained was meant to recognize her exemplary contributions to the kansen initiative both on and off the battlefield. South Dakota also received additional merits, though the Union staff in question didn't have any idea where to pin her Navy Distinguished Service Medal without committing a misdemeanor. There wasn't much material to work with. In the end, she accepted it in her hands, bowed silently, and then affixed the medal to one of her thick braids of hair. The humor of that situation was followed by true celebration as Ark Royal, despite not being an official member of Thorson's fleet or even the Union navy, was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, a motion that had several of his kansen whistling and clapping. Unlike South Dakota, Ark Royal's uniform was practically made to display honors and awards, and the little ones all gathered around to examine her new hardware the moment she sat down. The ceremony concluded with the latest addition to Thorson's fleet, Hornet, being awarded the final Purple Heart that Nimitz had requested. And while she did not receive a unit citation, she was recognized for something more.
"I call upon Captain Marc Mitscher to present this final honor in the absence of Commander in Chief of the Union armed forces, Franklin Delano Roosevelt," Nimitz said, projecting so that even those in the far back could hear him over the ceiling fans. The aging but still spry veteran stepped forward, doing his best to keep from breaking out into a broad smile as the Fleet Admiral continued. Even Thorson's fleet remained utterly silent as the gravity of Nimitz's introduction settled over them while Hornet herself stood there with a nervous look on her face and silently wishing she could borrow her sister's uniform. "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at great risk to her life far above and beyond the call of duty, for sacrificing her own life to save those of her ship and her crew, and for having the gall to return from the dead in spite of God himself; in the name of the United States Congress I officially bestow upon Hornet the Congressional Medal of Honor."
Decorum, though called for given the situation, was immediately dispensed with as Hornet's crew, who formed the vast majority of the humans in attendance and who'd just been told they were about to participate in the largest Union offensive of the war up to that point, went absolutely bananas. Their kansen ate it up of course, accepting the honor graciously from her captain before pinning it to her left breast on the hem of her bikini top. Whistles, cat calls, and hoots galore greeted her and she blew them all a kiss with a wink before whipping out her rigging and threatening them with miniaturized aircraft if they didn't let Nimitz finish. Message received, they returned to their seats and the Fleet Admiral spoke again. "Thank you, Hornet. Commander Thorson, the floor is yours if you have any announcements for your fleet?"
"Nothing major, sir. Just a reminder for anyone involved in the ongoing security around the Sakura prisoners; ensure that everyone has a chance to visit the Sakura dormitory this evening. You all deserve it. We will hold our strategy briefing there as well. Any kansen on sortie should consider their attendance mandatory. I'll see you all then. For now, enjoy your hardware. It was well earned."
"What do you think?" Downes demanded of Indianapolis. "That sounded to me like the Commander just said party in the onsen."
"Kansen only," Tennessee agreed. "Let's go, short stuff. Bring your girlfriend."
"Hey, keep your mitts off her," Downes shot back playfully as Tennessee stood and adjusted her cap, taking a moment to appreciate the Navy Cross that hung from her uniform. Ares was enjoying it as well, chirping happily from her shoulder. Tennessee resolved to earn more kill tattoos and another medal by the time the Pacific campaign was ended.
"No need to get your panties in a bunch, Downes. Just saying I approve is all."
"Coolant?" Akashi offered, having found herself a bright red kimono with fluffy white trim to use while serving drinks at the onsen. Thorson's fleet was all gathered on the wooden patio that overlooked the main pool where Yukikaze's sisters were splashing about under Shiranui's watchful eye. A few of the girls were still in their uniforms, having only arrived for the meeting, but many wore swimwear or towels alone, lounging or sitting comfortably as Thorson entered the fenced off area himself. West Virginia laughed and Maryland put her fingers between her lips to whistle at him, as he was wearing only a towel around his waist and his Commander's cap. That laughter quickly spread through the entire fleet, including Hornet and Choukai, who still didn't have a bead on the base's various antics. Enterprise frowned at the display but held her tongue. Her new fleet might as well have been foreign territory. He stood before them importantly before bending over himself and chortling, unable to keep a straight face.
"Everyone good?" he asked casually, earning nods and assents from the assembled kansen. Akashi had already provided a map of the Pacific for him on the back wall of the pavilion, so the Commander began immediately. "Choukai, I know you don't know many of us well yet, but I'd encourage you to do so over the coming days. The rest of you should know that Choukai has given us the exact location of the enemy's stronghold, the Sanctuary, where the main Sakura fleets have almost certainly retreated to. This intel confirms older reports from Fusou and Shiranui, which seems to indicate that despite the involvement of the Sirens the base is still that, a fixed position." Thorson paused to allow the implications to sink in. His veterans were looking at one another knowingly, recalling the triumphant early days of their Java campaign. "Fixed positions can be bombarded. With the Colorado sisters, Hornet, and Enterprise recently added to our ranks, our ability to do so is unprecedented. So as I said, please get to know Choukai. There's a good chance she'll be escorting at least one of you into position when the times comes. I'd also like to unofficially welcome Northampton to the fleet. Northampton, it's a pleasure to have you. I assume there will be no issues if I assign you and your sister to Hornet's battlegroup?"
"No sir!" the dark-skinned cruiser replied happily, learning she'd be at her sister's side going forward while Hornet seemed both taken aback and excited.
"I get a battle group?" she wondered.
"Indeed. The fleet will be rearranged to an extent for this operation. For starters, we have three carriers this time around instead of just the one. Additionally, one of those carriers will need to be defended with consideration given to her human crew. Indianapolis, I want you with Hornet as well."
"Sure thing," the pint sized cruiser agreed.
"And before you get upset with me, Portland, the battlegroups won't be operating separately, at least not outside of visual range if I can help it. I want you and Cleveland with Enterprise. That leaves Choukai and Minneapolis. Both of you will be with Ark Royal. Minnie, you have my full confidence. Choukai, you will be escorting a Royal carrier, not a Union one," Thorson emphasized. The Sakura placed her coolant on the nearest kotatsu and bowed her head low to the floor.
"I understand. She will have my sword. All I ask is for mercy for my sisters," the cruiser replied. Thorson crossed his hands over his chest, frowning as he did so.
"I was hoping to keep this discussion light but yes, Choukai, the same mercy shown to you will be shown to any who surrender or are captured after being eliminated as a threat. That's all I can promise."
"I understand. I apologize for clouding what is clearly meant to be a more upbeat occasion," she replied. Thorson wanted to explain to her that not only was her disposition understandable, but that seeing her body in naught but a white towel was plenty upbeat. He held his tongue both on account of his other ships and the fact that he was getting far too comfortable in his own 'domain'. Instead he tilted his head her way to acknowledge her before moving on.
"Pennsylvania, Arizona, Tennessee, and California will make up the rest of Hornet's group along with Downes, Yukikaze, Yuudachi, and Hammann. I assume there are no complaints there?" Thorson said, earning smirks and smiles from the battleships and happy cheers from the destroyer duo who were pleased to be assigned side by side again, though Shigure looked a tad put out.
"I'd say your assumption is correct, sir. The small ones seem quite chipper. Looking forward to it," Hornet said hopefully. Her capital escorts were tough and seasoned, but they seemed willing to give her a chance.
"Who are you calling small?" Yuudachi demanded, puffing out her chest momentarily before Pennsylvania reached over and began rubbing her quite forcefully between the ears.
"She was talking about your height, not your chest you one track dog."
"But Penny-san!" Yuudachi protested meekly as Shigure and Yukikaze enjoyed a laugh at their friend's expense.
"No buts. The Commander isn't finished. Sorry about my dog, Andrew."
Thorson threw his head back and laughed, hardly one to stand on ceremony given the setting and his own state of dress. "Alright I get it. Let's wrap up then so everyone can enjoy their final night here before we sortie. Ark, you're with the Colorado sisters. That means Laffey, Javelin, and Zed are coming along too. That leaves Fusou, Yamashiro, and South Dakota for Enterprise. Shigure will be with you as well, along with Asashio, Arashio, and Kasumi. I look forward to seeing what you three sisters can do when working closely together."
"Thank you for the vote of confidence Shikikan," Asashio replied for her sisters. "We will work hard to end this conflict with minimal bloodshed so we can return to our shrine."
"Yes, I think that's a worthy goal for all of us, and something to think on in the baths. Anyone have questions?" Thorson asked, opening the floor. When no one spoke up he nodded and gestured to the steaming pools of water behind them. "Then you're all dismissed. We depart at sunrise. Be ready."
At his word the crowd dispersed quickly, with many of his kansen disrobing and heading for the baths. Some like Yamashiro did it obviously for his enjoyment, whereas others like Colorado did so because they were proud of their bodies and didn't particularly care what Thorson thought of them. Out back, on the far side of the pools beyond the dividing waterfall was where those who wished for a bit more privacy retreated, including Ooshio and Downes. The Union destroyer carried her girlfriend most of the way, using the water to aid her before submerging herself up to her shoulders and settling the Sakura maiden in her lap. "Sorry if I've been too possessive. It feels like we only just got back and now I have to leave you again."
Instead of saying anything, Ooshio undid her towel and laid it over the lip of the stone wall that separated them from the forests below. They were not truly alone, but nudity wasn't uncommon in the onsen, not to mention that other than flushes of the cheek which could be attributed to the warm water, neither of them had to worry about outward displays of arousal as Downes sunk her fingers gently into the pliant flesh of Ooshio's hips and behind. "Easy luv, but I'm happy ye've been the way ye have. I'm too shy, but I missed ye somethin' fierce when you were gone. All yer friends are so strong too."
"It's ok Ooshio, if Belle likes you then it's safe to say they all do or will," Downes assured her before leaving a wet kiss on her collarbone and shrugging off her own towel. "Here, this seems unfair."
"Oh dear," Ooshio whispered as Downes' milky skin and scars were exposed to her, lit faintly by the moon. "Now I really don't want ye to be goin'."
"I know, but I have to. You know that," Downes explained affectionately. Ooshio rested against her more fully, squishing her ample chest against Downes' flatter one as they kissed.
"And that's why I'm afraid," Ooshio whispered.
"We beat them at Midway and we'll beat them again," Downes insisted as Ooshio ran an exploratory finger over her piercings. Given their location, they could only have been done for her benefit, or perhaps the Commander's himself. Downes looked up at her hesitantly. "You like them?"
"Are all the Union gals this naughty?" Ooshio squeaked, shifting Downes' demeanor to predatory in an instant.
"Aah Downes not- not now. I wanna say goodbye proper," she insisted. Downes relented from kissing along the tops of her breasts and looked her in the eye.
"I'm coming back," she insisted.
Ooshio closed her eyes and rested her forehead against her woman's. "I'll pray every day for ye and the rest, but it's dangerous Downes, real dangerous."
"So am I."
"Sweetie, if you know something we don't you need to tell Commander Thorson," the Union destroyer insisted. Ooshio shook her head.
"Fusou-san, Choukai-san, and Yamashiro-san will all know far more than a gal like me. I'm sure he knows what yer sailin' towards. That doesn't mean I like it."
Downes listened to the pleasant droning of the waterfalls and the distant conversation of the majority of the fleet back in the main pools. "We've got more reason to come back than any navy I can think of, me most of all. That'll have to be good enough. All your sisters are here, right?"
"Yeah, we're all here," Ooshio confirmed.
"Good, then I won't hold anything back out there."
"Ye could be fightin' Sirens!" the plush shrine maiden gasped, tears forming in her eyes. Downes reached up and kissed them away, laughing as Ooshio's eyelashes fluttered against her lips.
"Then I'll come home with a Siren trophy for you. I'm just sorry you'll be sitting here worried the whole time. But I'm glad you won't be there," Downes insisted, resting a hand on her upper thigh. Ooshio placed hers atop it and laced their fingers together. "We'll be sailing a long time, and for the first couple days we'll be in Union seas. I can afford a late night tonight, so let's make the most of it." Downes reached up with her other hand and undid Ooshio's braids, nodding approvingly as the long, silken, black hair fanned out past her shoulders like a veil.
"Sometimes I wish the cubes could make us inta men," Ooshio remarked wistfully. "Yer so sweet an' so strong an' so beautiful."
"Geez, Ooshio. You're going to go and make me blush for real!" Downes chuckled quietly. Ooshio took her head in her hands.
"I mean it, Downes. I wish… I wish we could have what some o' the others have with Shikikan. I sometimes wish we could be havin' babies, like the little things Ark is always carin' for. They're so sweet, ain't they?"
"I… yeah, they are," Downes replied quietly, struck dumb at the suggestion but recovering quickly as she remembered it was just that, a dream. For two lovers about to be separated by war again, it wasn't such a bad dream either. "I guess that would be kinda nice, knowing even if the worst happens I'd leave you something of mine, ours? Damn, here I am thinking I'm the one talking smooth and you're the one getting me all hot and bothered."
"I'm plenty hot an' plenty bothered, Downes."
Several yards away, Houston tapped Fredrick and Northampton on the shoulder, pointed, and led them back around towards the rest of the fleet. "They were here first. I think they deserve a bit of privacy. So cute!"
"That's… certainly one way of putting it," Northampton replied, casting one last glance behind her and catching an eyeful of Ooshio's ample backside. "I can give you two some space if-"
"That won't be necessary, Miss Northampton," Fredrick insisted quickly. Houston nodded in agreement, her green eyes sparkling.
"Indeed! When we're ready to spend some time together we'll just head back to my room!"
"What? Did you think I called him my boyfriend just for show?"
"Commander, if you wanted to have sex with me we didn't have to wait. I could have just come to your room!" Arizona whispered as he sat next to her in the finally empty onsen. When he stared back at her like a virgin, she blushed furiously and buried her face in her hands. "I'm so sorry, that was meant to be a joke! I guess I'm not really that kind of woman, am I?"
"No, and I'm truly thankful for that. Can you imagine if Yukikaze or Yuudachi decided they wanted to add sex to their list of troublemaking activities?" He asked, taking her hand as they smiled at one another, comfortable despite a lack of clothing or any other coverings over their bodies.
"Commander, you know I don't demand much of anything but I'm going to have to put my foot down just this once. Don't have sex with my cat!" Arizona insisted. Thorson's smile grew and he massaged his forehead and temple with his free hand.
"Tell you what, I'll turn Yukikaze down if she ever gets that notion into her head if you agree to be the flagship for this operation," he proposed. The sweeter, shyer of the Pennsylvania class sisters lowered her head and looked bashfully at him.
"You… you really want me to-"
"I really want you," Thorson corrected with a bit of a smirk, far too charmed by her innocence and far too aware that he might not come home to forgo as much lovemaking as he could squeeze in without compromising his fleet's operations. Unbidden, Arizona reached across him and pulled her body over his, resting against his chest, bracing herself against his shoulders, and lowering her hips until they were intertwined. Thorson reached up and caressed her cheek, doing his best not to take her like an animal. "You feel incredible, but I did actually have my reasons!" he murmured.
"I'll hear them now," she whispered back, laying her head against his shoulder so that he could speak directly against the shell of her ear. His hands guided her hips in a slow roll as he did his best to keep his thoughts ordered. "So other than my body?" she breathed.
"And you," he corrected, nipping at her ear. "You're in Hornet's escort group and I want to be close to her. A human crew is a novelty and we're going up against the enemy on home turf. At a minimum I would be failing in my direct orders if I didn't oversee and report on that experiment."
"Ah, that's the spot," Arizona gasped lightly, pressing into his shoulders with her fingertips. "Sorry, keep going?"
"Mmm, love you. Second, Penny, Fusou, and Yamashiro have all been flagship. I trust the four of you implicitly, and I don't think it would be right to leave you out, especially on this kind of mission" Thorson said. He found her next question unsurprising.
"Oh? Complicated or complicated?" she wondered. When Thorson didn't reply for several seconds she hummed in understanding. "I see, so even she's got a heart in there somewhere? That's nice to know, really. Anything else?"
"Yeah… revenge," he admitted. Arizona stilled for a moment before resuming the gentle rocking of her hips, sending ripples shimmering across the water as her long hair pooled around the small of her back.
"Andrew, it's alright. You and Penny found me, brought me back. Many others never even got that chance."
"But I didn't watch them die, not in my arms!" he hissed, holding her tightly around the waist. "This is different. I watched the life leave your eyes, Ari."
"I…" she tried, unable to adequately reply. Her voice fled as he leaned back so he could capture her lips with his.
"Underneath the fleet and the Commander's insignia I'm just a man. You and your sister know that better than most, I'd wager. I want the ones responsible for Pearl Harbor destroyed. And I want you at my side when we do it," Thorson declared firmly. "So yeah, I have a few reasons."
"Then I'd be happy to serve you as your flagship, Andrew. For now though, can we leave the war aside?" she pleaded, earning his hands on her hips and derriere in agreement. For a few hours they were able to do just that.