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Endgame: All Blue in Seven Courses

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The minute she stepped through the door, Sanji knew she was trouble with a capital T, R, O, U, B, L, and E. Her pink hair hung down around a rosy, heart-shaped face, the large eyes accentuated by her anti-brow piercing under the right one. The hair directed the blond man's gaze to the top of deliciously firm ass cheeks, which peeked over the waistband of a ridiculously skimpy pair of suspender shorts. The shorts left little to the imagination, revealing a pair of strawberries-and-cream-dipped legs that went on for a country mile, clearly fit to rival Robin's own. Her slender feet were covered by multi-colored knee-high socks, then encased in a pair of supple, black, calf-high boots that accentuated her narrow ankles. Under the fur coat she wore, it was obvious that her white T-shirt was desperately clutching an unrestrained bosom that made Nami look flat-chested. Sanji was pretty sure that shirt would fail if she sneezed and dear God, he planned to be there when it happened. A jade green cowboy hat completed her outfit, matching her green eyes.

'Dear Father in Heaven, thank you for looking after this poor, frustrated son of the sea!'

"Yo, aho-cook? Oi! What the fuck is- oh. Ah dammit, we ain't getting any more food anytime soon, Chopper."

Sanji negligently kicked Zoro in the right ear. He had to remember to boot the first mate's ass out of the VIP section soon if he planned to get lucky tonight.

"No cock-blocking, marimo. I haven't seen an unattached female since we met Kaya's bridesmaids at Usopp's wedding last year and all the goddesses on our ship are married or close enough. Shitty ass All Blue's got every kinda fish alive, but it ain't got nearly enough women. For my balls' sake, I'm charming this pink peach or chopping the boys off."

He stood up, stubbing out his cigarette in a Baratie-shaped ashtray. Sanji's former place of employment had nothing on the swanky barge that Franky had built for him; the number one restaurant ship in the Grand Line, catering to just about anything living. The Eros Cuisine was not as large as the Baratie, giving a more intimate atmosphere, complete with glittering crystal chandeliers that cast sparkling beams of light over the tables. Despite the blatant romanticism and elegant trimmings, the establishment never turned a hungry person away, no matter what species, gender, profession, or attire.

'Thank you, Nami-swan, for bribing the world government restaurant commission!'

Sanji popped three after-dinner mints and was about to go in for the kill when Zoro yanked him back by the shoulder.

"You have three seconds to explain before I kill you anyway, algae-head."

"Just can it, blue balls. Ain't that Smokey's first mate coming in with her?"

Sanji peered through the halo of lust surrounding the pink woman and found the owlish swordswoman in her wake.

"Not bad, if you like the shy-but-violently-passionate type." Sanji did a double-take over his shoulder at the slightly (only slightly dammit!) taller man's face. He grinned evilly.

"Is she why you wouldn't escort Nami-san to that retired marines function last week so she could rob the guests blind? Oh ho ho ho ho!" Sanji leered at the Pirate King's first mate, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

"Stop with the Brook impressions already; just cause your lecher-in-arms is back at Reverse Mountain with Laboon doesn't mean we all miss him. I didn't go cause the first mate never touches the captain's woman, particularly when the numbskull would probably kill me by tying me into a pretzel and swallowing me whole. Secondly, I ain't going nowhere with that blood-sucking orange witch, cause it means I'm stuck bailing her ass out or owing her another five mil. Thirdly, me and Tashigi have a long-outstanding duel to see whose worthy of...worthy of...fuck..."

Sanji took his shoe out of Zoro's throat and turned back to the women to see what they had done to shut up the annoying seaweed faster than a crushed voice box. He wolf-whistled as the pink goddess completely ignoring the maitre d' and stalked to a table, inadvertently revealing a stunning profile of her oversized bosom along with Tashigi's attire. The marine had somehow obtained a form-fitting black satin dress with a plunging neckline, the fabric skimming over a tight, muscular frame and ending at her ankles due to a pair of black, patent leather stiletto sandals. Her bolero jacket defined her slim shoulders and further served to highlight her bosom and hips, which were surprisingly ample despite the hardships of marine life. Turning back to Zoro, Sanji realized the man was thinking deeply, given the scowl of concentration on his face.

"I know the pink one. She was one of the supernovas in town, way back when we last passed through Shabondy. Jewelry Bonney. I heard she eats like Luffy. Bitch got ketchup on my favorite shirt."

The blond man mentally noted the information as he mule kicked the other man, happy to put a name to the gloriously pouty face. Whatever cuisine or food she desired it, he'd feed it to her until the sun came up.

"Jewelry huh? Do you think the two of them could be..." Sanji's right eye became a torrid red heart and Zoro could practically see the man's imagination at work, placing the two women in all sorts of smutty positions. He blinked and bopped the other man over the head with a sheathed Kitetsu.

"Now how the hell am I suppose to know that, huh? Do I even remotely look like the resident ship's whore? Oh no, wait, of course I don't, because that's you!"

Sanji simply puckered his lips and left a sloppy kiss on Zoro's cheek. He studiously ignored the man's green face.

"I told you, I was too drunk out my skull to remember and I really didn't care other than Nami-swan and Robin-chwan being happy. Besides, you were actually pleasant for a whole week, for once. Have you considered, you know, actually having sex on a regular basis?"

Zoro's eyes darkened and a subsonic growl radiated throughout the room. Sanji patted him on the jaw before turning on his heels, adjusting his tie.

"Don't even think of coming after me," Sanji warned under his breath, his eyes switching between the women as they sat at their self-appointed table. The chef's eyes nearly dropped out of his head when Bonney's raised one leg onto the table, exposing a flash of pink before the other leg crossed at the ankle.

Zoro was torn; the only fucking thing he'd come for was two barrels of sake and some grub, since Nami had thrown him and Chopper off the Thousand Sunny declaring, 'Couples' Night.' A good fight with the ero-cook would have been a nice bonus. But now, here was the ultimate chance to throw a wrench into Sanji's plans for relief and the thought of the chef neutered was tantalizing. He glanced through the windows in the VIP section's large double doors and any objections died in his chest when Tashigi (who was most definitely not Kuina, not with that body), slid into her seat, the dress falling away to reveal not one, but two thigh-high splits on either side. And to make it worse for a sword-dueling addict such as himself, she was still wearing her sword-belt, Shigure hanging low on her left hip. The green-haired man's tongue stuck to his suddenly dry palate.

'She can't be wearing panties in that get-up!' both men thought, oblivious to the sound of liquid dripping. Sake and what looked like red wine slowly mixed on the hardwood floors in an unsavory puddle. Chopper rolled his eyes to the heavens and pushed both men out into the dining hall.

"You humans and your over-complicated courtship rituals. Hurry up and get laid so I don't have to treat as many patients tonight. And clean your noses!"

As the men grabbed napkins to scrub their faces, Chopper was infinitely glad that reindeer only went into rut once a year. Dealing with sexual desires all year long would have sapped him of his very important brain cells.

'Let's not even discuss pre-menstrual syndrome in a 200-pound female with antlers...'

[~~~]

"Bonsoir, mes cheries," Sanji crooned, hip-checking the maitre d' back to the reservation desk. "As the 45th couple to enter Eros Cuisine, you are entitled to complimentary meals tonight and personal service from the owner and executive chef, moi. Please feel free to order anything your beautiful hearts may desire, on or off the menu."

"Oh, but...no, you see...we aren't a couple!" Tashigi babbled, flustered by the smooth, cosmopolitan nature of the blond dandy in front of her. Zoro, who was lurking behind the aho-cook, felt his blood go on a slow boil as the blush rose on the swordswoman's face. Her navy hair, pulled up in a high ponytail with the bangs free, just made the blush more visible and as the image of pink and blue-black hair intermingled in his head, he swore that he'd stab the fucking cook in the foot before the night was out.

'Cause dammit, this is his fault! His lechery is rubbing off on me!'

"See Tashi, told you we'd look great together," Bonney drawled, snapping a wad of chewing gum loudly before hawking it into the gold spittoon in the corner of the smoking section. She eyed the debonair man as he deigned to take her hand.

"Are ya right in the head? Do ya know who I am?" she growled, miffed that the pansy chef was apparently much stronger than he looked. Despite her resistance, she was not able to free herself.

"My sources tell me that you are the legendary supernova, 'Big Eater' Jewelry Bonney. Enchanted to be of service tonight," he replied graciously, as he went down on one knee and brushed a kiss over her captured hand. Jewelry swore as a blush climbed up her chest. His breath had been warm, no, scorching hot on her hand, and the heat had cascaded right down to her core. It'd been years since any man had had such a strong effect on her; a long time ago, back in Shabondy. As the chef rose and finally released her hand, her eyes drifted upwards and she burst out in more colorful language as she caught a glimpse of green hair.

"Roronoa!" she spluttered as she lunged for his throat. Here was the last man to get a rise out of her, if murderous rage could be reasonably compared to all-consuming passion.

The pink woman yelped as she caught the chef's shoulder in her stomach. The slender blond was much stronger than she'd guessed, holding her struggling form with ease. At her side, Tashigi pushed her glasses up and began to reach for her sword desperately, but Zoro was already on her, one hand swallowing both of her own, preventing the marine from drawing. Bonney snarled as Zoro's free hand reached for one of the three swords on his hip, then activated her devil fruit ability. Sanji snapped out an imprecation as he almost lost his attacker, even as his left foot shot out to clash with Wadou's sheath. Zoro growled as he tried to avoid the shrieking, biting eight year-old girl who was valiantly attempting to scratch his eyes out.

The few customers in the restaurant decided it was a perfect time to settle their bills and yes, blast it all, the waiters could keep the change.

[~~~]

Chopper sighed as he heard the unmistakable sound of customers fleeing. That was the third time for the month. He grumbled loudly as he popped a Rumble Ball and burst through the double doors of the VIP section in Heavy Point form. Two minutes later, the restaurant was empty, the main doors were closed, and three tables were broken under Sanji and Zoro, who were strategically thrown 40 feet away from the massive reindeer-man holding two struggling women under either arm. The majority of waiters and chefs were watching from the kitchen doors; as on the Baratie, most of the employees had questionable pasts that typically involved strong affinities for violent confrontations.

Bonney realized that neither her elbows nor her feet were having any effect on the gorilla holding her. It was also quite skilled at holding down struggling children, apparently. She decided to try another route, letting her skin wrinkle and her hair thin.

"How can you treat an old woman this way, ya big ape?" she croaked, her features now ancient and tired.

"Stop manhandling me just because you're strong! I'll slice you in half!" Tashigi added loudly, still struggling to pull out her weapon.

Pity that they hadn't expected the gorilla to pitch them both to the opposite end of the dining area. Chopper reverted back to Brain Point form and snorted indignantly.

"I'm a fucking reindeer, not an ape. What the hell, are you humans blind or something? And for the record, my mother, who is 144 next year, throws scalpels that are ten times more dangerous than that sword. As for you two!" Here he whirled on his hind-legs to berate his crewmates. "I send you two out here to score with women so you can stop terrorizing those of us, namely me, stuck on board the Mini Merry. And what the fuck do you do?"

Sanji and Zoro winced and looked away guiltily. Chopper cursing meant Chopper infuriated, which often meant sutures and bone resets with no anesthesia. Or sake. Or even a consciousness-robbing blow to the back of the head.

"You frigging well rip up the place fighting instead of treating the women nicely and having a good time, that's what! Dammit, are you listening to me? Who even started this ruckus?"

Three fingers pointed at Zoro, who could only glare at his accusers and suck his teeth.

Chopper sighed in exasperation and marched up to his green-haired big brother. Now that the man was partially sitting up, Chopper was easily able to grab his head in his fore-hooves. Staring the man dead in his eyes, the reindeer took out two more Rumble Balls from his hip pouch. He waved them threatening in one hoof as he spoke very slowly and loudly.

"If either - and I mean either - of you two come back to the ship tonight, I swear on Hiluluk's flag that I will pop these two Rumble Balls into my mouth. Remember, Nami and Luffy are having 'Couples' Night' tonight and the Mini Merry is the last place I can go for a night of complete, restorative sleep, uninterrupted by noisy, sex-crazed humans. Please believe that I am already at the end of my tether and I have to deal with that arrogant fuck-hole Law, in person, two nights from now. Remember what Nami promised to do to us if we ruined her wedding?"

Zoro, apparently mesmerized by the Rumble Balls in the doctor's hand, nodded as his eyes widened in terror. Sanji crossed his legs and tried not to whimper.

"Right now, I'm ready to do that to you first and provided that I somehow remember to let you live, or in the event that Franky dunks me before I can finish you off, I'll reattach them for Nami's benefit. We clear on this?"

The men nodded their heads dutifully. The women watched in awe as the doctor, not even four and a half feet tall including antlers, moved back to the VIP room to enjoy the remainder of his meal. The restaurant staff scurried back into the kitchen as he passed, the flower and candle centerpieces on the remaining tables wilting and flickering out under the black cloud over his sweet, furry head.

Sanji pulled two cigarettes out of the top pocket of his aquamarine tuxedo, passed one to Zoro, and lit both with his left leg. Both took a long pull off of the cigarette before exhaling. Zoro took another puff, then passed it back to Sanji, who managed to burn both of them halfway before speaking.

"Why do we keep forgetting how shitty that emergency food supply's mood is when he's finished with surgery?"

Zoro shrugged and manfully suppressed a shudder. He negligently brushed splinters off his open, blue, cotton shirt (with pineapples, the coolest fruit ever) and righted his customary haramaki over black cargo pants. He tapped one booted foot while responding.

"I think we forget that Chopper's five years older and the world's best doctor cause he still listens to Usopp's stories. Plus, he usually has a bitching hoof cramp from holding the tools. We have got to get Kaya to take over some of his duties."

"Wait, that's Tony Tony Chopper? The pirate doc said to be able to cure damn near anything? The one that's been feuding with Law for the past few years?" Bonney asked, her stare following the infuriated mammal. "He's fucking well supposed to be small and cute and like sweet things!"

"He has the lowest bounty out of all the Straw-hats!" Tashigi exclaimed. "He's deemed to be the crew's pet more than the doctor!"

Zoro and Sanji looked at each other and began howling with laughter. Sanji leaned back on the remains of a table and threw his stubs into the same spittoon Bonney had used earlier.

"That 'pet' grows over 30 feet tall and virtually unstoppable when he pops too many Rumbles," he muttered bitterly as he stood up amid the wreckage. The blond threw a kick into Zoro's ribs, encouraging the swordsman to smack him in the back of the head with a sheathed sword as he rolled his larger framer upwards. Sanji sighed, ran a hand through the shaggy golden hair on the right side of his head, and turned to smile at his last customers for the night.

"Let's try this again, mellorines. I'm Sanji, owner and executive-"

"Devil-leg Sanji! Straw-hat's head of black ops!" Tashigi yelped, her hands covering her open mouth. "Few have ever seen you and lived. It took two years to even get a photo for your wanted poster! You and Roronoa are supposed to be Monkey D. Luffy's strongest enforcers!"

"Argh! You frigging Straw-hats are all over the bloody Line! You idjuts almost got my crew scooped up in Shabondy with your stupid antics on those Tenryuubito! I can't believe your bastard captain became the Pirate King!"

Zoro snickered, clapping his hands on the chef's sagging shoulders. He could afford to offer some sympathy to the blond, as it seemed that the cook's mission for sex was now a distant dream in the face of another set of Straw-hat haters. Sanji shrugged him off and pinned the first mate with a glare. The green-haired monster could only shrug in response.

"Hey, not my fault that your own reputation can freeze you out, curly-swirly. So when will you be going back to Kamabakka for altering?"

Tashigi raised her glasses and peered into Sanji's narrow face. Replacing her glasses, she pointed one finger at the blond man.

"Okama."

Bonney nodded sagaciously, her hand on her jaw.

"With that girly face, he absolutely has to be. Should have seen it earlier, what with the eyebrow and the bangs..."

Said eyebrow picked up a violent tic as the Straw-hat chef turned a murderous, bloodshot eye on the Pirate King's smirking first mate. After a few seconds, the eye rolled up to the heavens, then closed as Sanji brought his head down.

"See, this is why I pray for patience and not strength, or else I would've already committed nakama-cide," Sanji mumbled, pinching the bridge of his nose between two yellow-tipped fingers. He delivered a swift strike to the green swordsman's shin and thoroughly neglected the other man as he hopped around in pain.

"My dear goddesses, I can thoroughly assure you that I am far from an okama. Rather, I am merely a slave of your combined beauties, sworn by the power of love to serve you both in any and every capacity tonight. In particular, it would be my delight to provide you ladies with a sumptuous repast, completely free of charge, as an apology for my crewmate's past boorishness."

Sanji bowed low to the two women, a gentle smile on his lips. They cocked their heads to one side. Zoro slapped his face and muttered incoherently about aho-cooks in general.

"Haa? Yer willing ta let me stay and eat for free? Lemme ask ya again, chef-boy, are ya right in the head?" Bonney queried once more as Sanji came back up. She usually had to threaten her way into a restaurant; not once had she been invited to eat, for free no less. She leaned over and used one finger to poke his chest, sneering slightly as two blushing roses bloomed in his cheeks.

"Ya better not blame me if ya ain't got enough food to open tomorrow," she cooed, grinning as blood flowed from his nose. Her body and the way she flaunted it always got men's attentions, usually leaving them speechless. What she did not expect was for him to clasp her hand in both of his and kneel before her.

"Mellorine, I swear on my life that you will never leave my establishment hungry, or I will seal these doors for failing such a delicate vision of ecstasy. I would never call myself a chef if I could not sate the appetite of a heavenly nymph such as yourself."

Bonney felt the unusual heat of his body as it flowed through her hand and could only stare in shock at his open, earnest face. Not one food dispensing business in all the seas had ever wanted to feed her till she was full, but this deceptively fragile man was staking his livelihood on his ability to satisfy her appetite. She could tell that blood was rushing to her face and now she was the one suffering a nosebleed. Sanji stood up and replaced her jade hat on one side of her cascade of pink locks with great flourish. Zoro smirked as the two women wavered; he should have known that the chef would go above and beyond the bounds of flattery when his nuts were on the line. He just wished the raven-haired woman with the sword would stop flushing like a schoolgirl under the aho-cook's banal drivel.

'Wait a minute, is that fucking target practice shit-cook challenging me?' the green-haired man fumed as Sanji winked nastily at him. 'Oh I'll show him, damn prince of Idiotvania.'

Zoro turned to the sword-carrying female and bowed towards her. He ignored the gourmet chef's murmur about rustiness as he stared Tashigi in the eye, taking great effort to maintain a neutral expression even as her blush deepened. He worked his face into a faint, non-menacing smile, which grew a little as the dark-haired woman's stance relaxed a notch.

"Excuse me for my intrusion earlier. It would be a great honor to have you join us for dinner. We mean no harm and as such, I would invite you to do my peace knots."

Releasing his swords from his belt, he smoothly lowered himself into seiza and offered all three meitou and three lengths of twine to the marine. She blinked uncertainly, but accepted each sword with reverence, her fingers moving with surety as she wrapped the twine around the swords' hilts, making them as secure as she could against one of the strongest men in the world. As Zoro stood to replace his weapons, she stumbled back on her tall heels, then over-corrected, causing her nose to slam into his solid chest. She held her breath as Roronoa's strong fingers wrapped around her shoulders, resisting him momentarily as he tried to push her back upright. Her face was flaring red, making her look more like a tomato that a human.

"Geez, I'm so clumsy. Sorry." she muttered, unaware of the mental chaos the motion of her smooth lips on his bare skin caused. She eventually let him help her up, but kept her eyes downcast as she rearranged her dress.

'Way to impress the opponent, Tashi.'

"S'right," Zoro responded in a low mumble. He was ashamed; to his ears, he sounded like a bumbling, oversexed brat. Who else fell victim to such powerful waves of raw lust from a brief, accidental touch, question mark cooks excluded? Tashigi, however, thought that he was barely restraining his anger or worse, disgust; looking down on her as a pale copy of a great woman. Recovering swiftly, she threw her head back in defensive anger and glowered at the green man.

"You're still not worthy of these swords, Roronoa. I will take them from you!"

The pirate swordsman regarded her, his eyes cool and calculating. Rolling his shoulders, he folded his arms across his broad chest and nodded once, sharply.

"After dinner, we'll duel."

Before Tashigi could object, Bonney grabbed her hand and began dragging the woman to the VIP section, where Sanji stood holding the door.

"Enough chit-chat you two, foreplay's over. Cook, put yer money where yer mouth is and feed us! And don't bother with the menu, just bring two of everything."

Zoro grasped his swords, a strange feeling washing over him. The swords were trembling in their sheaths as the swordsman tried to put a name to the emotion. It was on the tip of his tongue and it made him think of the crew's gunner - ah, that was it, apprehension. Zoro knew he wasn't necessarily the best at not getting into trouble, but whenever certain people were concerned, his nerves seemed to become acute to foreboding doom. He wondered if this was how the sniper felt as he gave Sanji The Look. The Look conveyed the swordsman's rabid distrust of people to its fullest and was every bit as accurate as Usopp's If-We-Land-On-This-Island-We'll-Get-FUBAR-itis.

"These women are beyond suspicious and they're gonna bring us a world of trouble," The Look stated earnestly, as its owner sauntered into the restaurant's private dining section.

Sanji could only shrug as he let the door go and followed his crewmate inside.

"I still think it'll be worth it, marimo."

Nevertheless, the restauranteur felt a bit better when he drop-kicked an eavesdropping sous-chef back into the kitchen, successfully motivating his staff to wake their asses up.

"You shitty numb cunts, what the hell do I pay you for?" Sanji snarled as he strode through the kitchen doors. "Two Luffy specials, one Zoro bonanza, half a Swordsman's Deluxe with salad, on the double!"

[~~~]

Bonney was soon tearing through a small trolley full of soft, fresh dinner rolls and rich pots of thick, creamy butter. In the corner of the room closest to the kitchen, the pink piratess was able to rock her chair back against the wall, her foot against the table edge. Tashigi settled in next to her on the woman's left. She silently sipped her water while Bonney indulged her stomach, her mind replaying the recent brawl.

"Why didn't you use your devil fruit power on them, Bonney?"

Choking on food, Bonney harshly swallowed down the two rolls she had been chewing and chase it all with water. Using a fist to pound her chest, the female supernova found herself struggling to answer the question.

"Well, see, that sword freak, he's...I know ya ain't stupid, Tashi. Anyone worth a bottle of piss on this fucking hellhole of an ocean can sense that Demon God Roronoa Zoro is bad news; underlined, bold font, all caps, BAD NEWS. He could probably kill us with a table knife at 3 months-old or 300 years-old. And that fucking curlicue chef he's playing pals with, Devil-leg...ah...Devil-leg..."

"Devil-leg Sanji?" Tashigi added helpfully, trying to will away a blush at the thought of Roronoa as she had first met him, compared to the man he was now. Sipping a small cup of green tea that one brave waiter had just brought out for her, her mind was barely focused on Bonney as she stared at the world's best swordsman napping next to the reindeer doctor, two tables away. She tried not to giggle as the doctor maliciously wiggled a large, brilliantly colored feather under the snoring man's nose.

'He's grown his hair out,' she mused, noting the change from short, practical spikes to hair just long enough to slick back into a short ponytail. 'I wonder if that was planned, or if he just forgot to cut it.' She adjusted her glasses as she scanned the man slowly; looking for weaknesses, of course. No, utterly not gazing at the muscles bunching under his bronzed skin, stretching and contracting smoothly over each other, like sharks gathering for a feeding frenzy. And certainly not ogling the way his shirt embraced broad shoulders, while allowing a large, milky smooth scar - rumored to be a gift from his first duel with Mihawk - to play hide and seek with her attentive eyes.

She had been pulled to him by Wadou Ichimonyi; dragged behind him by Justice; thrown into violent chaos as he unwittingly revealed a past that she'd never known, and now Fate had thrown her back into his clutches, stripped of almost everything. It wasn't fair, why did she get the short end of the stick? She was the one who had taken on the flag of righteousness, using her great sword against criminals all over the world. He'd gone around using his famous swords for money and carnage.

'And women, most likely,' she pondered ruefully. She bypassed the streaks of jealousy in her musings, trying to convince herself that they were the remnants of a different person. The dark woman sighed and tried to pull her mind away from her pre-destined foe, not noticing the heated countenance that passed over Zoro's face as she stopped staring at him. Fortunately for her, the female pirate that she had been forced into cahoots with hadn't actually spoken since the pause in conversation began.

"Sanji, huh," Bonney whispered, a contemplative look on her face. Her reactions to that man were strange; she felt like a young mare trying to catch the eyes of a roving stallion for the first time. Maybe because he was treating her like a princess, which a former crew full of frightened men could testify that she most certainly was not. He was the first man, other than Roronoa, who hadn't looked down on her or her devil fruit ability, all muscle, bluster, and testosterone. And, in complete defiance of the fact that she was the bane of any restaurant on the Line, Devil-leg Sanji had bowed to her, trying to get her to stay instead of begging her to leave. It was the most confusing thing she'd ever experienced, leaving her with the annoying sensation of being a top spinning off-kilter. It was just like the time she'd been stuck on that runaway horse; she could only hold on and pray that the ride wouldn't hurt her as much as it thrilled her.

'Can't even remember the name of that damned animal.'

She glared at Sanji through the large window in the wall that was her ringside view of the kitchen. The slim man ruled the room like she ruled her ship, biting off impressive cascades of swearing while liberally applying his steel-capped dress shoes to anyone who wasn't keeping up. So far, he'd easily dodged six attempted knife attacks, two thrown cleavers, 15 bad tomatoes and a chef with a large pot of demiglace sauce. He emphatically left boot prints in half his staff, sensitively tasted and seasoned every single dish in the making, deftly plated 16 enormous trays, all while suavely smoking another cigarette. As he loaded the vast food trolley, also known as the Luffy Meal Express, Bonney wondered if some Queen of Transvestites hadn't purposefully switched their genders at birth. The thought died when he locked eyes with her.

'Nope, that look is way too male. Though milky-face would look good in drag if he shaved a bit...'

His flaxen hair was much longer than in his old wanted poster, now hanging past the nape of his neck, with a fuller goatee. His right eye, the only one visible through his overgrown bangs, seared her skin like a raging fire, the sky blue color surrounding an inner circle of dark blue, similar to the colors at the heart of a flame. The eye suddenly transformed into a brilliant pink heart that reflected her likeness, causing Bonney to shake her head. People just did not look at her like that. Lascivious leers, sure, her idea of a comfortable outfit drew them all the time, but not such complete adoration. Suitably disturbed by his rapturous gaze, Bonney wrenched her attention away from him and back to Tashigi's question. She tried to think up a convincing lie; she actually had no idea why she'd spared the Straw-hat spy commander, but her lower abdomen said it had to do with the smell of dough, tomato sauce, and the smoky overtones of tobacco and grilled fish.

"Devil-leg Sanji is at least as strong as Roronoa, and probably a lot sneakier in a fight. For a good, honorable, ex-marine like you, he'd be a whale of trouble to battle even as a three year-old, far less an eighty year-old. Ya'd probably end up helping him escape, knowing you and yer stupid ideals. Finally, the reindeer? I figured if both of them were afraid of him, I'd better not risk pissing him off."

Tashigi nodded slowly, ready to concede to the other woman's wisdom as she watched the restauranteur pass a large food package to the doctor, who waved halfheartedly while leaving through the main dining area. The sword-wielding woman was a keen duelist and a seasoned warrior on open battlefields, but she was still trapped by military conventions and morals. She had yet to learn the mental flexibility that kept pirates paranoid and alive. She did wonder, however, why she was the one that Bonney thought should fight Devil-leg.

[~~~]

With only four people left, the staff had already begun the cleaning process for the night, turning off the lights save for those for the kitchen and the VIP section, where Sanji was currently providing Zoro (now awake) with his third barrel of sake for the evening. There seemed to be some confrontation of wills, because the men were giving each other looks that could flatten Little Oars, Jr., jaws locked and grim. At last, Zoro snorted and stood up. Pulling the untapped barrel of sake over his shoulder, he strode over to the women, dragging his chair behind him.

"You shitty piece of kelp, don't scratch my floors!" Sanji yelled, slamming the trolley into the swordsman's back.

"Sorry, he used his last bit of floor wax to lube the broomstick shoved up his ass," Zoro droned, ducking the flying roundhouse that almost removed his head. He blocked another leg strike with the back of Shuusui and groaned internally as Tashigi's dark brown eyes filled with wonder.

'How the hell can she take Kuina's features and make them look so damn soft and deadly, like a sword wrapped in doeskin...'

A savage heel to the shoulder broke his reverie and he remembered to keep speaking. "Dartboard's lazy and wants me to sit with you so he only has one table to clean after the staff's gone home. D'ya mind?"

"Seriously, you should have let Sungdai run you through, fucking witless moss ball. Mademoiselles, I apologize for this green lout's intrusion. I'll be happy to forcefully remove him from the premises..."

"No, wait!" Tashigi started, her eyes still on Shuusui. "I...uhm...it's not a problem for me if you sit here. I'm not...I'm not a marine anymore - hell, I currently have a bounty on my head - so anyway, I won't be trying to arrest you in the middle of dinner, if that's what you're worried about..."

Here she darted her eyes up to Zoro, meaning only to glance at his reaction to the news that she wasn't a marine anymore. She immediately regretted that impulse to sneak a peek, because she was trapped by his dark eyes, black upon black, with a flickering in the middle that made her sink deeper and deeper.

'Stare into the abyss and it will stare back at you...'

Jewelry suddenly shot up, pointing an accusatory finger at Sanji, who had been busy arranging multiple dishes on the table in front of her. He had given up on drawing Tashigi's attention away from the lichen-head, leaving a small plate of salad and a platter of onigiri between them.

"Now I know who ya remind me of, dartboard! Satyr! That damn horse almost killed me running away from the farm!"

The others were too shocked by the outburst to say much, even as beads of perspiration ran down the back of their necks. Sanji finally managed to croak out, "Eh?"

Jewelry sat back, looking pleased with herself as she threw another roll in her mouth.

"See, one of the first horses I ever broke in was this buff-colored colt, a strange mix between a Curly and a French Trotter." Here she was interrupted as Sanji dropped a heel on Zoro's head as the green-haired oaf sniggered. The blow essentially seated Zoro opposite Tashigi, where the algae-head proceeded to doze lightly.

"So this colt, he's a beaut to work with, takes me no time at all to train, works as calm as you please. So after about two years, I go and declare him ready to work, feelin' mighty right proud of myself. Well one of pappy's men tries to get up on the varmint and he gets thrown for trying. Another one tries it and almost gets kicked in the head. I end up get the tanning of my life from my pappy and he gives the horse to some other man to train. All this time, the crazy colt is busting his way outta pens just to find me and he injured damn near four-fifths of the cowboys with his wicked kicks."

Jewelry hadn't realized it, but she had a wistful smile on her face as she reminisced. Sanji stopped dead in his tracks, for once forgetting about food as the piratess' cheeks flushed and her smile became broader.

'Shit!' Sanji thought as he puffed out a stream of nicotine hearts, his canines crushing the filter of his cigarette as he fought the urge to kiss her. 'This woman could be dangerous to my bachelorhood.'

"It took two years before those idjuts on the farm finally figured out that the colt just plain hated anything male; couldn't barely tolerate even the best of them. I laughed my fool ass off when pappy brought the horse back to me and cussed it out, telling me that it was 'a godforsaken satyr' like them horny goat-beasts outta the old stories. Seems he always let the mares on the farm beat him in races, or get to the water trough first, or eat all the best hay, lovesick fool. Since my pappy hated it so much, I named that horse Satyr and he was the best one I'd ever owned. Damn fool idjut got himself shot going hog wild in a brawl. Bullet went through his left eye, then lights out."

Bonney sniffled lightly and silence descended on the table. The kitchen staff decided that this moment was too personal to spy on and made a quiet exit than became rather hasty when their boss' glare shifted onto them. As the employees fled the scene, Zoro roused himself from his semi-slumbering state and pointed a finger accusingly at Sanji.

"Ah, that poor horse, he got reincarnated as you and Eyelashes at the same time!"

Sanji brought one of his largest steel trays down on the man, dents be damned. Bonney couldn't smother her guffaw as the welt came up on Roronoa's head. Seeing the green idiot in pain made her feel good. Hell, the moment Chef Devil-leg had laid out the numerous platters on the table, the intoxicating aroma of perfectly prepared food steaming up at her, her whole mood had improved. Now if only the quantity and taste matched the scent.

"Oi, pussy chef, is this all the grub? This barely counts as a first course!"

Sanji blinked, fluttering golden lashes against fair skin. Damnation, he was beginning to entice her other appetites when she hadn't even satisfied the main one. Bonney trained her eyes on the chef's body as he bent over to light the candle centerpiece on the table; she was well-known for her perception (when she wasn't starving) and she was definitely looking at a fine specimen of humankind, male or female.

"Ah, mellorine, forgive my ineptitude. These petite morsels are solely hors d'oeuvre. I would not wish to dull your fine appetite so early in the meal. Voila!"

Bonney's eyes glistened with joy as Sanji uncovered platter after platter of bite-sized pizzas.

"My sources inform me that you are quite the fan of pizza, fougasse, foccacia, and the like. I altered the Eros Cuisine's menu to accommodate your extraordinary tastes. These light, foccacia-based appetizers are delicately topped with the finest onions, olives, peppers, and spinach, which all blend harmoniously to awaken your digestive system. Along with the marinara and olive-oil dipping sauce, I am confident that you will thoroughly enjoy..."

Hand trembling, Bonney ignored the blond's spiel and popped one of the doughy delights in to her mouth. She chewed thoughtfully, her tongue working over the flavors that exploded in her mouth before she swallowed.

"...paired with this excellent red wine, from the valley of...mmmph!"

Sanji stumbled as a mass of hot pink gluttony jumped into his arms and stuck her tongue down his gaping mouth. Before he knew what had happened, he was covered in red lipstick smears and feeling faintly violated. Sanji's mind shrieked with joy before he fainted dead away, his eye reflecting nothing but hearts and kisses.

[~~~]

Zoro felt the sweat beading down the side of his face as he observed the interaction between Bonney and Sanji. He closed his eyes wearily as the ero-cook fell and turned his attention back to his sake and the not-Kuina.

"So, Tashi..."

"It's Tashigi," she mumbled, turning her attention to the salad that the unconscious chef had placed before her. She always became a bit nauseous watching Bonney put away ridiculous amounts of food and right now she could not afford to show more weakness in front of her enemy.

"I thought she said Tashi...?"

"That doesn't mean you can call me that, you arrogant bastard!" she barked, slashing at him with her dinner knife. She banged her knees sharply under the table's rim and bit the inside of her cheek before slipping on one heel and banging the back of her head on the chair behind her. She cursed in sotto voce as she thought she heard the demon sniggering. Didn't he know how annoying he was?

'You knew all that stuff from before was just empty flattery. Ignore him, Tashigi. He'll leave if you ignore him.' she thought, giving herself a mental pat on the back for her patience.

"Are you always this clumsy?"

Tashigi sighed, closed her eyes, and pointedly ignored the question as she ate a forkful of greens.

"Ok, how about this; why aren't you a marine anymore?"

Tashigi made it a point to complement the chef on his choice of leafy vegetables; it was amazing that the unconscious pirate cook had guessed that argula was one of her favorite vegetables.

"Whatever. What are you doing with that gussied up pig over there?"

Tashigi's eyebrows twitched, but she concentrated on the pleasurable taste of the vinegarette that coated her next mouthful of salad. Zoro popped one eye open to watch as she ate, slowly licking his own lips as the salad dressing coated her lush mouth. He repressed a moan as her tongue ran over her ruby lips, capturing the dressing's flavor and the full attention of his fourth sword.

"Fuck a duck, what're you doing this far out on the Line?" he asked, more to himself than to her.

Her hand shook as she ate more of the salad. It really was quite refreshing to the taste buds after months of hardtack.

"So, are you and Smokey still sleeping together? Eh?"

Zoro looked around, distinctly hearing the sound of a kettle whistling, which was suspicious because the aho-cook was never one to leave anything on the stove once he was done cooking. His nerves suddenly screeched warnings at him and he narrowly avoided a salad fork trying to impale his left hand.

"What the hell?" he yelled, rocking back from the table.

"His name, you green barbarian, is Vice-Admiral Smoker and I've never slept with him! Unlike you base scum, we marines don't go around having sex with everything on two legs! In fact, Vice-Admiral Smoker has been like a father to me since I was...and you...you...damn Straw-hats took that from me!"

Tashigi dropped her fork and fell back in her chair, eyes filled with tears. She covered her face with her hands as she tried to breathe deeply and calm herself. This was not the time to breakdown, but since the Vice-Admiral had used his haze to save her from the prying eyes of Mariejois, she'd been running from marines, hounded like a criminal, when the only thing she had done wrong was survive Vegapunk's cloning experiments. Now she was helping Bonney who was looking for a new crew, all while trying to figure out who or what she really was. They'd had no intentions of going near the Straw-hats, only sailing into All Blue because they were following the advice of the Kuja pirates. She wondered if Boa Hancock had known that Straw-hat crew members were here and choked out a curse on the Pirate Empress for sending her right into the arms of the one man she never wanted to see again.

She did not anticipate Roronoa's rough, calloused hands covering hers and pulling them gently away from her face. She was still crying when he awkwardly pushed up her glasses and handed her a napkin.

"Hey...look...if this is about Dr. Vegapunk's plant, I...I'm sorry, but we only did what we had to there," the swordsman began tentatively, before sitting back down. Dealing with weepy women was Sanji's forte, not his, but the bastard was still dazed on the floor, only now sitting up. Bonney just gave him a glare over her pile of food, a look that said, 'I ain't saving yer ass this time.' Tashigi snuffled loudly into the napkin. This whole situation annoyed Zoro even more, causing him to run both trembling hands through his green locks.

"It wasn't like I had a fucking picnic doing it either, ok? What the hell, I buried the original Kuina when I was ten, how the fuck do you think it feels to see a pumped-up clone of her running at you with three swords? The cocksucker didn't even age her, just left her as a preteen wielding half the known meitou in East Blue! Shit, I'm the one that killed her! I had to make her dead all over again!"

Zoro was heaving, replaying that horrible battle once more; the sickening sight of the Kuina-clone's blood running down Wadou; the too-young grin of malice as Kitetsu was taken from him; the metallic, whispery laughter of the sword as it tasted his flesh for the first time. These memories were some of the reasons why he drank, if only to blur them around the edges, so he proceeded to broach his keg with Shuusui's hilt and pour the liquor straight down his throat.

"So are you planning to kill me...the first prototype?"

Zoro choked, spraying sake over Sanji. Coughing loudly, he lowered his keg and looked back at the dark-haired woman hunched over the table, hands now gripping her knees. She raised her head defiantly and he followed her gaze down the length of the black blade. Grunting, he sheathed the sword, which drew her attention back up to his face. Her chocolate eyes blindly scoured his stoic expression for the truth, while he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before answering the question.

"Straw-hat rule #7: It's never a crime to exist. Didn't you hear about Enies Lobby?"

Tashigi's blurry eyes widened a little and she felt a few more tears track down her cheek. Her lips curled upwards slowly and then she was drinking in a rare scene that even her poor vision could not mistake. The world's best swordsman, the strongest man alive, the terrifying first mate of the Pirate King, Demon God Roronoa Zoro was blushing. It was faint and instead of making him look cute, it actually made him look like he was having an apoplectic fit, but he was indeed blushing. She felt relieved giggles bubble up in her chest as she reached over to wipe a line of alcohol off of his chin. He turned redder and then her laughter exploded out of her in gales at the very moment that Sanji hit the stunned swordsman in the jaw with a flying kick.

"You shitty moss ball, how dare you make a woman cry!" Sanji roared, goaded on by feminine laughter. Bonney cheered loudly for the soaking wet chef, who turned back to her with his thumbs up and a blindingly bright grin.

"Now how bout that main course, hun? Can't ya see us gals starving over here?" she whooped, the last of the appetizers in her left hand, a bottle of red wine in her right. Tashigi raised her glass of water and downed half of it to sooth her parched throat.

"Roronoa?" Tashigi asked lightly, watching the grumbling green man as peeled himself off the wall. Waving off her concern, he slid a hand in his pocket and whistled as he walked toward his crewmate. Smirking, Zoro slapped the blond man on the shoulder and whispered in his ear before returning to his seat.

"Usopp's Spell: Ten teething tarantulas tiptoeing on tables."

Bonney blinked as a yellow and blue ball curling itself in her arms, one large eye peering around frantically. She clumsily held him up bridal style as he scoured the room for - was he mumbling about spiders? Grunting, she surreptitiously groped his ass and patted his back as the blond's hysteria faded.

"Ehyup, we definitely got hit by the okama-bat," she muttered to herself. After placing the chef on his feet, she was immediately rewarded with another heated kiss on the back of her hand and numerous flattering comments on her strength and bravery. That ended abrupt as Zoro made another comment and then Sanji broke down in a torrent of swearing that literally caused paint to peel off of the restaurant's walls, leaving the women amazed at his verbosity and talent. The swordsman, for his part, simply stuck a finger in his ear, flicking dried wax at his blond nemesis as the man retreated to the kitchen to retrieve the main course. Zoro ignored his rival's shrieks and ravings while he got comfortable again, choosing instead to take a long swig from his keg. As he paused to wipe his mouth, Tashigi pushed her glasses back down, then reached out and timidly placed a hand on his arm.

"If it's not a problem, Roronoa, I would really like...love to know more about Kuina."

[~~~]

Somehow, the four of them spent the next two hours eating and drinking, talking and laughing like old friends. After turning off the rest of the lights in the restaurant, Sanji finally brought out desserts and tea for everyone, and was sitting back in his chair as Zoro related how Kuina used to bludgeon him with her bokken. The tale did so much to explain the green-haired man's thickheaded, mulish temperament. It was a strange and fearful thing to see his nakama in a talkative mood, but it probably helped that the conversation's partner was just as maniacal about swords and dueling.

'Me, I prefer the challenge of feeding people well,' the blond gourmet mused, watching with hooded eyes as Bonney - or Jewel, as he had been ordered to call her - polished off another of his famous fruit tarts. The juice from the tart was smeared all over her lips, replacing the scarlet lipstick with a more natural shine and color. The cigarette's embers were reflected in his eye as the pink-haired woman sat back in her chair with a contented sigh. Her stomach bulged over her shorts and Sanji was forced to swallow thickly as a carnal thought scurried through his head.

'Wonder if that's how she'd look if she were pregnant for me...Shit!'

Sanji was forced to pull out his tuxedo handkerchief and act as if he had a sneezing fit; his nose was almost gushing blood. It was worse than the first time he'd read Marine Goddesses of the Grand Line: Love Hina edition. When Bonney started caress the mounding belly, feet splayed wide on the table, his face paled rapidly.

'Gonna die of blood loss at this rate! Hang on, Mr. Prince!'

Fortunately, Zoro recognized the chef's perilous condition and eventually decided that it'd be more trouble that it was worth to explain the blond's death to the rest of the crew. Sighing, the green-haired man sat back, puffed out his chest, and proceeded to scratch his balls.

Yep, that sent the blood back to the right places. Sanji wasn't sure if he should thank the other man or flambage him to death. Grousing miserably about a sudden stomachache, the chef settled for kicking out Zoro's chair. He nonchalantly removed his tuxedo jacket and loosened his tie as his savior cracked his head on the floor. Damn, that would leave a stain on his waistcoat.

Bonney, for her part, was almost too dazed to notice anything around her. For the first time in a long, long time, she wasn't just full, oh no. She was utterly stuffed from head to toe, completely unable to force in another crumb.

'And Straw-hat Luffy eats at least 2 more of these specials? Fuck, he's a monster!'

She shuddered euphorically as the exquisite feast refueled her, her nerves twitching eagerly as her energy returned. She and Tashigi had been on the run for a while now and she hadn't realized how low her own reserves had been before she stepped into Eros Cuisine. She glanced at Tashigi, who was wobbling in the chair next to her; the ex-marine had barely slept in the past few weeks, and her condition would soon be taking a toll on her, no matter how well Bonney controlled it.

"We should get going," Bonney declared shortly, clambering to her feet. Tashigi wavered as she rose, putting a hand on Bonney's shoulder to steady herself.

"No, not yet Bonney. Zoro, we have a duel to attend to."

"Tashigi..." he began, his body burning with the sound of his name from her unwitting lips. He tried to swallow, his throat choked with desire that swiftly turned into horror as Tashigi fainted, falling into the table and pulling Bonney down with her.

[~~~]

In a flash, he and Sanji were on their feet, scooping the women up in strong arms and broad chests. Sanji was busy dealing with a spitting pink hellcat while Zoro waited impatiently for the accident-prone female to regain consciousness.

"Good God, I think that prick of a scientist purposefully encoded a clumsy gene in me." Tashigi wondered aloud as she buried her scarlet face into Zoro's chest. The swordsman bit the inside of his cheek and counted to ten very slowly. How could the woman be so completely unaware of the havoc she wreaked when her soft, dark hair slithered against his collarbone? Her breath was ghosting across his jugular like a knife, slicing through his usual restraint with disturbing ease. She groaned as she massaged her temples, pushing the glasses high up on her head.

"Guess I give Kuina a bad name," the raven-haired temptress continued drolly. "At least I wasn't on top a flight of stairs this time - whoa, are you ok, Roronoa?"

"Yeah, just peachy," he grumbled, securing his grip under her legs. He'd almost dropped her when he thought of her clumsiness and a flight of stairs, his mind screaming at the possibilities of never meeting her again.

"Tell us where you berthed, Jewel-chan. The least we can do is carry you out," Sanji offered gallantly, even as Bonney tried to heave herself out of his grasp.

"Leave me alone, chef-boy! Goddamn Life Return hasn't set in yet, just let me waddle my way back out!" she snapped, trying hard to avoid the heat building in her belly as she caught glimpses of his pale skin under a white shirt. When had that happened? It didn't matter; she was in a vulnerable position with a man overpowering her. Her body went into complete revolt.

"Just relax and let your meal digest naturally," the blond insisted, staggering slightly under her flailing limbs. He was suddenly forced to drop her as he felt himself shrink rapidly.

"What happened?" he squeaked, trying to peer out from a mass of oversized clothing. As his head popped out of his shirt, Bonney blinked from her spot on the floor where she'd landed.

'What a cutie pie~!'

Blond hair surrounded a cherubic face, the skin snowy around apple-red cheeks. A large blue eye blinked up at her, turning into a large heart as it met her face.

"Jewel-chan, you're so beautiful from this angle!"

"Uhm, oops. Sorry, hun, let me fix that."

Sanji was suddenly back to normal, give or take a few months, but his quick return to normalcy caused his clothes to suffer. The waistcoat slid off and the shirt came out from the pants, which were now pooling around his feet, along with his boxers...

Zoro was never so envious of someone's poor eyesight as he was in that one moment. He so wished that he was as blind as Tashigi, because then he would not be suffering such mental trauma. Bonney smirked mischievously as the chef swiftly pulled his trousers up; now that was a sight worth paying for, even more so than the food. As Sanji re-buckled his belt, she decided to have mercy on the man, stepping towards him to fix the remainder of his bangs over his still-concealed left eye.

"I won't be carried, but I will ride. Gimme a piggy-back out to the end of that pier you got out back?"

"Mellorine! It pleases me to no end to be of service!" the blond crowed as he turned and knelt before her. She easily threw her leg over him, a smooth, practiced move that showed years of riding experience, then wrapped one arm around his neck.

"Gee up!" she cried jokingly, not expecting the man to listen to the commands. Suddenly, she felt the wind in her hair as Sanji dashed through his kitchen and out of the staff exit, into the cool night air. Bonney grabbed her hat with her free hand and whooped gleefully as they took off down the pier.

"Try not to get lost, slow ass kelp-head!" the cook shouted, laughing at the swordsman who was left choking in a cloud of dust.

"Go fuck yourself!" Zoro roared at the receding figures, pulling Tashigi imperceptibly closer as the wind swept past them. He sucked his teeth loudly as the aho-cook disappeared from view, leaving him alone with his opponent and future star of his wet dreams.

'Right, next time I'm going with Brook to see Laboon. Wait, then I'll be asking her to see her panties. Great, everyone's bad habits are rubbing off on me.'

He began walking in the general direction that Sanji had sped off in, feet clomping loudly on the creaking wood. Tashigi, still woozy, had been startled by his movements, and now had her hands wrapped around his neck for extra support. He sighed and wondered if he'd somehow broken his divine luck.

"Sorry, if I'm a burden to you right now."

Zoro grunted noncommittally. She wasn't the problem in the least.

"Give me a few days and you'll get your duel. I'll whip your ass too."

Zoro really wished that she would stop talking. Her lips were soft as sin and his resolve was crumbling. He began to curse the moment he'd met her in Loguetown, wishing that they'd never met in the sword shop, or better yet, that they could have stayed in town longer. He shook his head, earrings rippling musically as he tried to clear his thoughts before speaking.

"Shush. You need to rest before you think about dueling."

Tashigi raised her head to glare at the swordsman. It spoke volumes, even in the faint starlight of the nigh-moonless night. Sighing heavily, Zoro smirked as her blurry, doe-brown eyes glowered at him, ruby lips pressing into a thin line as one eyebrow lifted into the air.

"Yeah, I, the great Roronoa, am advocating rest. Even I have limits. Come by again and I'm sure curlicue and the others will be happy to tell you how much I sleep."

Frustration and dizziness warred in her head, so she cut her disbelieving comments short, choosing instead to sink into Zoro's warmth. He was thankful for that; he couldn't believe that he'd just invited her to visit again.

"Why couldn't we just have stayed in that sword shop in Loguetown? Then we would have been together longer. You were so cool when you challenged Kitestu..." she thought, unaware that she was speaking aloud. The hands crossed behind the back of his neck squeezed him lightly as a finger trailed down the edge of his left ear. Zoro heard the blood as it began pounding through his veins and all his meditation was suddenly for naught.

"Roro-" Tashigi started as she steadied herself on her feet. Her shoulders were now supported by the rough wood of a small ship. One of the swordsman's arms was still under her back, while the other hand was gripping her glasses, keeping them safe at his side. Their swords clash against each other once, then Shigure's hilt caught and mingled easily with Shuusui, Wadou, and Kitetsu. Zoro's face was close enough for her to see him clearly; he was wearing the same expression that she had seen fleeting over his face when he had beaten her the first time in Loguetown.

"What are you doing, Zoro?" she asked in a faint whisper. Her heart was racing. She licked her lips in apprehension...exhilaration...anticipation, as his eyes drew her into their scorching black flame.

Zoro groaned loudly as her pink tongue swept over her lips. What little restraint he had dissolved when she called his name in that husky whisper. He was lost again, but this time he could admit it.

"I'm doing what I bloody well should have done five years ago."

His dry, warm lips were on hers, smothering any sounds as his embrace crushed her body against his. He tasted of rice and sake and sharp metal, his scent the tang of steel and oil and powder. His teeth nipped her bottom lip and she hissed, the pain both sharp and sweet, like the bite of a blade. Her mouth opened slightly as he nipped again and then she was drowning in his flavor as she slid her tongue over his. Zoro grunted as he shifted his footing slightly to press himself against her fully; he forced himself to pull away, barely able to keep a grip on his desires, but what he needed to say was more important.

"Thank you for choosing the swords. Your advice helped me keep my crew alive for most of our journey."

Tashigi's eyes darkened, now resembling good, thick coffee. She was panting as she moistened her swollen lips with her tongue, her breath an invigorating zephyr of green tea and crisp leaves. Her lips quirked upwards at his gratitude, her quick fingers snapping the band around his ponytail and sinking into his thick locks. Her skin flushed as her rival brushed against her; small hands filled with determination as she dragged his lips down to her.

"No, you stayed alive because I'm the only one who can defeat you," she whispered, the strong words and hot puffs sending him right around the bend as he claimed her mouth with long-repressed passion.

'Bonney can wait. This time everything can wait.'

[~~~]

"I think ya done outrun them Injuns, hun," Bonney whispered in Sanji's ear. She tried not to laugh at the shiver that went down his spine, causing his muscular back to throb against her pleasantly. It was a downright pity that her ship was already so near; she felt like she could ride him forever.

"Are you sure, Jewel-chwan? I'd carry you anywhere you like!" he begged pitifully, his eye rolling up in the socket as he felt her smooth body slide down his back. He reluctantly released his grip on the back of her legs, taking one last chance to caress the soft skin under her buttocks.

She whacked him on the head with her hat, but his grin was decidedly unapologetic as he turned around. His boyishness was infectious and Bonney couldn't help but laugh with him. She felt slightly giddy; even though the faint sliver of the new moon in the sky, it felt as if the night was light up with a million candles when he focused his attentions on her. When she chivalrously offered him her elbow, Bonney felt like a real classy lady.

"If I'd met ya first, I probably woulda had a better impression about you Straw-hats," she mused aloud, as he linked his arm with hers. "Sorry I spent so much time tryin' ta getcha killed."

"Perfectly fine, dear lady," Sanji declared graciously as he waved off her apology. "I'm trying to kill half the crew myself on a good day."

They walked in companionable silence until she bumped him with her hip, indicating her ship. It was decked opposite the Mini Merry; a small caravel not unlike the original Going Merry. The figurehead was similar to Going Merry's ram, but Sanji figured that it looked more like a glasses-wearing goat. Bonney patted it lovingly.

"She's an old girl, but she takes care of us out here. Sometimes I swear she sails herself."

"Oh I don't doubt it," Sanji muttered as he put his hands in his pocket, his cigarette now a faint glow in the water below. It never ceased to amaze him how much the Going Merry's sacrifice could still affect him, even five years later. Bonney looked him over as he remained engrossed in far-flung memories, somewhat surprised that he had not made a snide comment about womanish vapors. Her pappy had looked down on any of her observations as 'foolish female frippery' at best; he'd once wanted her committed as a lunatic. This fine, fair man next to her would have made her old man bristle in outrage. Cooking, dressing fashionably, and fawning over women were not manly traits back home.

"Let me check your ship for roguish knaves, Jewel-chan. I could never forgive myself if some desperado crawled out of your room to assault you."

His voice took her out of her brooding and she watched as her (not yet, but she'd make it soon) blond prince charming was up on the ship in one hop. Bonney shook her head and began climbing the rope ladder that hung off the side of the ship. By the time she was at the top, his alabaster hand was outstretched, waiting to help her up.

"All clear and in order, fair maiden," he reported, his voice gravelly as he pulled her up. She stepped on deck and pretended to brush her clothes off rather than focus on his sapphire gaze. She could feel his eye sweep lovingly over her body, now back to normal after her glorious stuffing.

"Are all ma undies there?" she asked mildly, a knowing smirk on her face. She coughed, then tried to keep her expression impassive as Sanji shuffled his feet.

"Sanji," she growled and put her hands akimbo, one booted foot tapping out a promise of pain on the deck.

"I swear, I didn't take any!" he promised effusively, going down on his knees. He really did like look at her from this angle, didn't he? "I just peeked at the ones in the top three drawers!"

"You mean the pink, frilly thongs?"

Sanji's face exploded in a flood of blood. He could barely speak and Bonney figured she should stop teasing him before he had a stroke or spontaneously combusted. She grabbed his ears and, using them as convenient handles, pulled his mouth up for her easy access.

'Good God Almighty!' was her last coherent thought as Sanji wrapped both arms around her thighs and stood, effectively sweeping her off her feet. With her head above his, she was in complete control of the kiss, and she deepened it as she savored his smoky sweet taste. She was very interested in not breathing again until she heard a bump on the ship's starboard side.

"What was that?"

Sanji gasped, his breathing ragged as he tried to remember why he even needed air. He would have to pour an entire bottle of rum out for Davy Jones tomorrow, because Jewel-chan could kiss. Keeping Bonney up with one arm under her sweet behind, he leaned over to see who or what had interfered with the first action he'd seen in seven months, diligently trying not to burn up with homicidal rage at being torn away from fruity lips and a dewy mouth. His eye widened for a bit, then he straightened up with a smirk on his face, anger dissipating rapidly.

"Nothing, just the marimo and Tashigi."

"Shit, that green-haired demon has bad timing. Why aren't they coming up?"

"They're a little too busy, Jewel," he replied, idly playing with one smooth pink lock, curling it around his deft fingers.

Bonney frowned. She had been interrupted by those two sword-freaks and she was not in the mood to offer them any quarter. Her body had been throbbing like a drum, every stroke of his tongue making her heart thump heavily beneath her ample chest. She was seriously considering the benefits of pitching Tashigi overboard as fit punishment for interrupting, but the woman could swim like a fish. Bonney settled for throwing the remainder of the ex-marine's granny panties into the drink later in the morning.

"Busy doing what?" she barked, thumping the chef's shoulder with one hand. "Dammit, I was trying to kiss you silly just now-"

His free hand snaked its way into her hair, singeing her scalp with its heat. She moaned helplessly as his lips kissed up her throat, before he brought her mouth back down to his.

"Then why don't we get back to that, hn? I'm pretty sure I don't need my intelligence anyway."

Oh yes, this chef was definitely a cornucopia where all her hungers were concerned.

[~~~]


Chapter Text

Chopper stretched out on the Mini Merry's back seat as the early morning sun warmed his small frame. He had had a terrific night's sleep without Zoro's rumbling snores and Sanji's sleep-cursing to wake him. He sat up and yawned, realizing after a moment that the ship that had docked in the opposite berth had already left.

'Pity. I think the guys would've loved to see a ship resembling Going Merry,' he thought, as he scratched his back on the Mini Merry's figurehead. He sighed in relief as the annoying itch subsided, then shook himself out and marched down the pier to the restaurant.

"Those two imbeciles had better not be fighting already," he groused aloud, his ears straining for the sound of swords clashing, his nose sniffing the air for the smell of blood. "I have another surgery this afternoon..."

When he opened the restaurant's back door, he took stock, then closed the door. The reindeer carefully counted to 50, then opened the door again.

"Hey Zoro, cut the onions in half for me."

"The whole bag?"

"Actually, two bags. Second one should be in the cupboard to the top-right of you."

Zoro opened the cupboard by his left foot, and pulled the savory root vegetables out of their dark storage space.

"Sanji, are they supposed to look like this?"

"Yep, they're sweet oni-"

Chopper closed the door again. He made a 180 degree turn on his back leg and trotted to the end of the long pier. Stuffing himself into the life preserver tied to the end of the dock, he carefully lowered his head in the water. After five minutes of almost drowning, the furry doctor brought his head back up, furiously gasping for air. Once he could breath without too much pain, having successfully confirmed that he was indeed a Human-Human devil fruit user named Tony Tony Chopper, the reindeer stood up. He shook himself out, turned back around, and marched himself back to the restaurant.

Sanji and Zoro looked behind them as the staff door flew open. Chopper's form stood in the doorway, but they couldn't see much of him as the light was shining the wrong way. Thus, they couldn't tell that their doctor had large, wobbling, teary eyes full of sheer panic covering half his face.

"Wussup, Chop the Doc?" Zoro asked genially, as the reindeer timidly stepped into the kitchen.

"Heya, Chop, I got some alfalfa sprouts in an omelet for you over there," Sanji added nonchalantly, pausing his vegetable decimation just long enough to point out the warm breakfast plate.

The doctor sidled to the seat, not feeling sure of his environment even as he began to shovel the delicious food into his mouth. He was a reindeer - caribou to some people - and he'd been the runt of the herd. He was all too familiar with the aura of predators on his tail, and right now, he felt like he'd walked right into a wolf den. Unfortunately, he couldn't figure out just what was making him so uneasy.

"Ready for the next bag?" Zoro asked idly, as if he did not have eight hours of training to get to before lunch.

"Yep, go for it." Sanji replied, as if he actually required anyone's assistance in his kitchen.

Chopper suddenly determined the cause of his discomfort.

"By Santa Claus, you're talking to each other!" the small doctor sputtered, egg flying from his mouth. It took the small zoan all of his wits to covered his gaping mouth with his hooves. When Sanji came over, he was already flinching, waiting for the steel-tip to his antlered dome. Food did not fly from your mouth in Sanji's kitchen, particularly if you liked eating with teeth.

"Hey, don't choke. Here's another one, carrots this time."

Another omelet materialized in front of the reindeer. Blinking, the reindeer man looked up at the gourmet chef, who gave him a broad smile over a stainless steel frying pan. His poor animal nerves fraying, he slowly turned his head to observe Zoro, who was now returning to the table with his own plate of onigiri and tamagoyaki.

"Yeah, eat up," Zoro added, then he too smiled broadly at his little brother and faithful worshiper.

Chopper ran screaming back to the Mini Merry.

[~~~]

Usopp swore to God above and Davy Jones below that he would put a Hellfire Star right down the fucking throat of the person on the other end of the den-den mushi.

"Usopp, answer it."

"Unph unna."

"Hun, it could be for me."

"Unph unna!"

Kaya giggled, half-pleased, half-exasperated with the dark man spooning behind her. Turning in his arms, she kissed the tip of his nose, then nibbled on it while humming.

"You do that and then expect me to get the phone?" Usopp muttered, his mouth no longer muffled by swathes of sweet-smelling blonde hair. One drowsy eye cracked open to give her a chocolate-coated, lust-filled glare. "Woman, you keep that up and I'll throw salt on the damn thing."

"Nuh-uh. I'm gonna answer it myself," she whispered huskily, straddling her husband's torso as she reached out for the device. The sheets slid off of her slim body with her motions, and she was forced to bite back a moan as other parts of her sniper woke up. Usopp began to curse vilely as he scrambled up in the bed, reaching frantically to cover the den-den mushi's eyes.

'Damn voyeuristic bastard keeps trying to transmit Kaya's visual. Wait a minute...is this bitch biting me?'

"Chopper, calm down, what is...Yes, Usopp's very much here...Wait, just hold on Chopper. Hun?" Usopp frowned as he shook his hand, glowering at the snail-borne device. He was really going to have to work on his portable telephonic invention, if only to keep random pseudo-pods from lusting after his wife. He grudgingly brought the receiver to his ear, keeping his wife right where she was with the other hand, thank you very much.

"Chopper, whoever you're calling about better be dying," Usopp warned menacingly. As far as he was concerned, he and Kaya were still trying to go on their honeymoon, and it would seriously take a divine act to get him anywhere near the Thousand Sunny for the next two weeks. Maybe three. Ok, at least till tomorrow morning.

"Slow down, Chopper, I can't understand a thing."

Listening to Chopper's ranting, Usopp was beginning to think that he and Kaya would never get enough time away from his crew. The curly-headed sniper scratched his hair, pinched the bridge of his nose, then bit his bottom lip in disbelief as his wife did something to completely destroy any semblance of thought. He closed his eyes in a vain attempt to focus more on the reindeer's panic-stricken voice, and less on his wife's rhythmically jiggling chest.

'Oh I'll make time!'

"Repeat that Chopper."

Usopp listened as carefully as he could, then made a decision.

"What you have described is statistically, scientifically, and spiritually impossible. What you do is you take the Mini Merry for a nice ride to some nearby island, then come back next week. If you're still worried, call Franky."

Without waiting for a response from the frantic doctor, Usopp pulled a pouch from under the mattress, grabbed a small marble, and rammed it down the den-den mushi's throat. He smirked evilly as the snail ended the call by keeling over, fire spurting from its mouth.

"What was...ah! Oh my... Ah, Usopp! What was that all about?" Kaya asked breathlessly, her hands positioned on a tanned, sturdy chest as Usopp pulled the blankets back over them.

"Kaya darling, at this point, I couldn't bloody well care," he replied smugly as he cocooned their bodies in white silk.

[~~~]

Nami flailed her hand around wildly until she managed to connect a fist with the den-den mushi. She wrapped the cord around her forearm, eventually bringing the receiver to her ear.

"Mmmh, za? Hmmnh? Huzzat?"

Nami could hear the sounds of Luffy eating away, and not much else. Dammit, he'd started already and she hadn't even opened her eyes yet. At this rate, she probably never would again.

"Chopper?" she began again after clearing her throat. "Whuzzit now?"

She raised herself up on one elbow, frowning slightly. She turned herself away from the annoyingly bright sunlight, her eyes still tightly closed.

"Ok, I swear you have a bad connection, Chopper. Repeat the last sentence to me again."

Luffy languidly raised his head from his meal. Juice was coating his mouth and running down his chin, but none of it escaped his sweeping tongue.

"Ok, that's pretty serious, but I still can't send Luffy out there for another...hour or two at the very least."

Luffy grinned brightly, and resumed his breakfast with a hearty cry of Itadakimasu.

"What's Luffy doing? He's...he's busy. Really, really, really busy. He's eati-"

"Damn Nami, how many of those tangerines do you have here? Good thing my tongue's made out of rubber, or it'd be sprained by now."

Nami gurgled wordlessly as the receiver dropped from her hands. It didn't matter anyways - since Luffy had started talking, all she'd heard on the other line was dead air.

"Man, Nami, it sounds like those guys are in big trouble." Luffy mentioned casually as he split a fresh tangerine with his teeth.

"Nmph!"

Silence. The only sounds were the breeze, Nami's ragged breathing, and Luffy's munching.

"You really should eat something too, Nami. Want me to go get us breakfast?"

Nami grabbed her captain by the ear, pulled it as far as she could, then let it snap back into place.

"Luffy, if you do anything other than eat right now, I will kill you."

The Straw-hat grinned and laughed loud enough to scare the seagulls off the Thousand Sunny crow's nest. He was happy - eating and Nami were two of his favorite things to do.

[~~~]

Chopper felt fat tears well up at the corners of his eyes while he listened to Robin's tone dial phone recorder. Yes, he was 20 years-old, but he really didn't want to know what she could do to Franky with 6 arms, five quarts of baby oil, and a lube can.

'I have to handle this myself? Those assholes!'

The reindeer slowly calmed himself, thinking of peaceful things like snow, sakura petals, sake, lichen, moss, Zoro meditating, Zoro training, Zoro laughing, the marine base/island that disappeared the last time Zoro smiled like that...

'I'm doomed!'

Clutching the Mini Merry's edge, Chopper stopped himself from just fleeing in the general direction of the Thousand Sunny, Luffy's 'breakfast' be damned. Sanji and Zoro were his nakama - two of the six big brothers that took care of him and helped make him strong. He had to figure out what was wrong with them, and then cure it. It was his job as their doctor. Pulling out a flask of Drum Island whiskey that his mother had sent him, he drained half of it in one go, capped it, then cocked his hat down on his antlers. He replaced the tired den-den mushi and pulled up his pants.

'Stones down, man up. Let's do this.'

Then the furry doctor heard the first cries for help.

[~~~]

The sound of his chef's knife coming down on the bamboo board should have eased his tensions, but it didn't.

"Oh fine job, duckweed scalp. Now he's onto us."

Chop chop chop chop chop!

"Shut to hell up, dartboard. The ships sank didn't they? He didn't even wake up!"

Chop chop ch-chop chop chop!

"Rather spectacularly too. Did you really have to cut all of them into three?"

Chop chop chop chop chop!

"You wanted smaller Jenga pieces, flame on?"

Ch-chop chop chop ch-ch-chop chop!

"Shitty ass marimo, just two would have been fine!"

Chop chop chop chop chop!

"Fucking ass dartboard, they interrupted me. I don't remember you going easy on them, will o' wisp. Those pyrotechnics were large enough to get Ace hounding your ass."

Chop chop chop chop chopchopch-chopchopchopchopch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-chop!

"Suck my dick, kelpie. I was head deep in the biggest set of boobs on the whole damn Line when those shitty motherfucking marines...argh!"

Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-chop!

Zoro grunted and resumed his breakfast, steadfastly ignoring the huffy chef and his incinerated cutting board. Sanji snarled at his finely diced - and now charred - red peppers, scraping them into a separate container. He set his hot knife down in the sink, where it boiled away the washing water as Sanji rinsed his hands. The blond's right leg started twitching, and he thought it wise to hunt for a rubber band in a nearby drawer; like hell was he going to scorch his hair again, just from throwing a foot in the green giant's head. Glancing at the living mound of over-muscled seaweed eating at the preparation table, he noticed four eyes glaring at him while the main two were closed. They receded after he returned their glowering in spades.

'At least he's as strung out as I am."

Sanji reached for the cigarette and lighter in his back pocket, smoothing the black pants over his butt to keep the lines in place. Zoro rolled his eyes and muttered something inconsequential about women and fashion and skirts and - when had he launched that foot out? Judging from the scorched footprint eating into the swordsman's white shirt, despite the fact that he'd deflected the leg with the ever bloodthirsty Kitestu, this fight would not end well. At all.

"If you two are going to demolish something, go find another marine base or a deserted island like last time."

Chopper leaned against the doorframe in Heavy Point form, a number of long, wet ropes slung over his shoulder and trailing down to the water. He did not look amused in the least, but the wry smile reassured his crewmates that they might get patched up should they decide to start bickering again.

Might being the operative word.

Sanji lowered his leg and lit the cigarette that had been dangling in his mouth -

She'd laid claim to his mouth like she thought someone would try to jump it if she even let him breathe and her hands on his face were delightfully calloused instead of smooth and soft but that strength was lush and intoxicating and maybe he wouldn't have to hold anything back and he could just let all his power flow like smoke from his mouth -

"Shitty emergency food supply. Haven't I taught you fuckers how to knock yet, or are you picking up marimo's bad habits?"

Zoro sheathed the not-so-hungry blade and scratched his head. He'd forgotten about his hair -

She'd ripped it off and her fingers were in his hair with nails digging in too hard and he was so damn glad because that meant that this was real and she was real and she was not Kuina which was heady and wonderful because Kuina meant regret and sadness and death but Tashigi meant life and desire and dreams -

"Tch. Fucking curlicue was the one who started it."

Chopper threw up a hoof to stop them both before they could get back to brawling.

"Right now, I could care less; just tell me how many marines were in the three ships you two sank this morning."

Zoro blinked, and started adding in his head. Sanji pulled out his abacus and reading glasses from another drawer. After some rapid calculations and muttered consultations between themselves, the first mate answered.

"About 192."

Chopper rubbed his forehead with one furry hand, trying to will away the throbbing headache that he could feel forming. Sighing loudly in exasperation, he turned his head to glare over his shoulder at the nine lifeboats full of injured marines he'd pulled up. His strongest friends blinked as the breeze strengthened, bringing the cries of pain to their ears. Oops.

"Are there about 200 of you back there?" the reindeer yelled. There was definitely a large vein throbbing in his left temple now - it stood out in strong relief against his fur.

"...104...88 of...the fittest made a...break for the base...doc, I ain't gonna make it..."

"Stop your damn whining!" Chopper barked, then ignored the wailing to address Sanji.

"I'm using your dining room to patch them up and ship'em out by lunch time. Most of them can't take any solid food - no thanks whatsoever to you two - so you need to make me some soup."

"Now hold on, Chopper," the pirate chef started, stomping over to poke Chopper in the chest. "I shut the place down to cook for the wedding. What the fuck, you know how much carnage there'll be if there's no meat for that shitty rubber idiot tomorrow!"

"Besides, they're marines. Can't you just ship them back to whatever base they came from? Let their doctors will take care of them." the green-haired loafer added.

Chopper sighed, and Zoro blinked as a Heavy Gong sent the blond gourmet flying into a wall. He was too late to stop the other fist as he was backhanded in another wall.

"Listen to me. I'm not the strongest or best of us, but I'm just as dedicated as you fools. I'm a doctor - I'm not gonna sit by and let these weaklings be maimed for life just because some idiot sent them here. I take my job just as seriously as you two take yours."

The reindeer grunted as the two men looked suitably chagrined. Sanji got up and brushed the splinters off his baby blue shirt and tie, then stomped off muttering about blood on his tablecloths. Zoro got up a little slower and sauntered up to Chopper with his hand out. The doctor raised an eyebrow quizzically. His green-haired idol sighed and grabbed the ropes towing the lifeboats. Using the other hand, he patted the furry man on the chest.

"Go get prepared, Chopper. We wouldn't want to hold you up any longer."

Chopper beamed, and was soon scurrying through the kitchen door in Brain Point form.

"Sanji, do you have any more carrots?"

"Yeah, yeah. Relax. I'll make a good vegetable soup for the shit-heads, Chopper."

[~~~]

As Chopper worked and enlisted Zoro to fetch the wounded, water, and medical supplies, the small reindeer tried to talk to the typically taciturn tyrant. He figured that this brouhaha was somehow connected to the two women who had come in late last night.

'If it were a man, they could've just knocked him out, but I bet 10 to 1 that Sanji wouldn't let Zoro take them on.'

"What's got you two so grouchy?" Chopper began, then winced internally at his directness. Well whatever, they'd get over it. Besides, animals never bothered to lie. "Did you decide to drive the women off to the south pole for being too nice or something?"

Zoro placed another injured marine on a table and sneered at the doctor. Throwing down a large supply of bandages made from shredded, old tablecloths, the green-haired man chose to ignore the question in favor of showing up Sanji while bringing out two large cauldrons of potage crecy. A marine with a broken arm tugged Chopper's pants as he made faces at the swordsman's back.

"He was with a woman."

Chopper blinked, but the marine managed to haul himself up enough to slap his other hand over the reindeer's mouth before he could squeak. The doctor restrained his natural urges to leave teeth imprints in the offensive appendage, and let the marine whisper in his ear.

"He was with the dark woman. She's got a decent bounty - 60 million beri I hear. They say she's a marine turncoat."

The marine wheezed and fell back on the table, releasing the doctor. Chopper continued his rounds, his mind pondering the information he just received. While standing by another table full of first-degree burn victims, another whisper made its meandering way to him.

"Devil-leg was with Bonney...I didn't even know she'd escaped."

Chopper spread ointment on the men, then made his way to another table.

"I heard they were test subjects for Vegapunk and Hogback."

"A lot of women went into those labs and didn't come back."

"The idiot who sent us to follow them should be shot. Whatever those experiments were, they made those women too strong."

"They put a pig demon in the pink one, that's why she eats more than ten people."

"I heard she cursed the blade when they took her for the first time, so now it only craves marine blood."

"It's so bad even the Straw-hats have pity on us. They didn't even try to keep them hidden."

Chopper took in all the susurrations as he tended to the marines, his head spinning from the volume of information being whispered. Finally done with treatment, he made sure that every marine got a bowl of soup and a little tot of wine - Sanji would only spare the white wine he had in the cellar. The reindeer grabbed Sanji's hand as the chef tried to give him a bowl of the delicate carrot soup.

"You and Zoro, now."

After making sure that the men posed no threat to themselves (because they certainly weren't a threat to them), Zoro sauntered to the kitchen after the his crewmates. Sanji was about to start the clean up process, while Chopper paced around the preparation table.

"So what's up now? I'm way behind on my training, especially since Nami won't let me do any tomorrow."

"And I need to feed a thousand, so prepping now would be good."

Chopper looked up at them with watery eyes. He sniffed once, then ran to Zoro's legs, bawling his oversized heart out.

"It's horrible! All those marines keep saying that those women you were with last night were test subjects for those sh...sh...shitty fucking fake doctors Vegapunk and Hogback! And they've been on the run for a long long long time! And they should have been dead b..but the marines think the Kuja pirates saved them, but no one is gonna challenge Hancock over it! And they're sailing in a little ship just like Going Merry, and I saw it! And I...I...I shouldn't have thrown them around in the dining room and I'm so sorry!"

Zoro didn't even have the strength to console the babbling reindeer. Sanji's hands were shaking as he made to light a new smoke.

"How could we not have seen them in that lab? We went everywhere in that place! What if they've been poisoned, or broken, or had parts taken out of them? I want to help them, but they're already gone!"

"And that's a good thing."

Chopper raised his head from the swordsman's black pants, his muzzle covered in snot and tears. He looked at the blond man incredulously.

"How the hell can that be a good thing?"

Zoro sat down in a nearby chair and leaned back, one arm over the seat. He looked out the kitchen porthole to the back pier as the chef continued.

"We were with them, but they left. The most we did was sink our weekly quota of marine battleships. If they'd stayed here, they would be dead tomorrow."

Sanji moved towards Chopper, his eyes fey and steely. He crouched before the doctor, turning his head to the kitchen door to release a stream of tobacco vapors before speaking.

"Remember: Retired Vice-Admiral Garp, Vice-Admiral Smoker, Coby, Helmeppo, those fuckers Fullbody and Jango, Commodore Hina, and probably Admiral Aokiji will all be here tomorrow. We didn't even know about Bonney and Tashigi before this, so it's too late for Nami to renegotiate the truce to include them. If they've been on the run so long, they wouldn't have a chance against those marines. And before you say that we could protect them- " Sanji stopped the reindeer from speaking with one yellow-stained hand. "Before we could even protect them, I'm pretty sure that the routes into and out All Blue will be covered. Their ship isn't even coated, so they wouldn't be able to escape underwater. Those guys would've scoop them up in a heartbeat if they hadn't left last night."

Chopper whimpered. His heart was too large, his need to care for anyone injured in any way too great for the moment. He lowered his head as Zoro not-so-gently scrubbed the back of his head and Sanji tickled his furry stomach. The reindeer snorted in disgust.

"Don't worry. Those women are strong. They'll probably try to come back after the wedding, so you can check on them whenever they return," Zoro reassured the doctor.

Chopper sniffled loudly and wiped a hoof along his muzzle. He swatted the men away and made to go back in the dining room. He stopped momentarily in the door.

"I heard there's a barren island 20 miles south from here."

Sanji tried to pretend that he wasn't listening. Zoro decided to close his eyes as if he were sleeping.

"A couple of sea kings told me it's too small for a log post, but it should be big enough for a fight."

Silence reigned.

"There even a few coconut trees, so you shouldn't get too thirsty," Chopper added, as he left the kitchen to fully enter the main dining area. Popping a Rumble Ball, Chopper started his transformation as he stalked towards the treated marines.

"Now, if you pansy-assed seaboys are well enough to gossip," he began, antlers growing to ridiculous proportions. "Get back to base!"

By the time he'd chased the last sailor into the life boats, the kitchen was empty, and Mini Merry could no longer be seen at the end of the pier.

[~~~]

"Ha. Ha. Ha."

Tashigi continued to swing her bokken, her arms settling into the rhythm of the exercise. Her mind began to distance itself from the trappings of her body as the wooden sword became an extension of her body.

'It's really nice being on a ship with another woman and no men. I can leave myself unclothed and unbound in this lovely breeze. Though, when they're loose like this, they disturb my swing. Guess I really need a new bra-.'

"H-ha. Ha. Ha." Tashigi's rhythm stumbled as she remembered where she had been just mere hours before -

His arm was crushing her against his chest, and the feel of his muscles gliding underneath the scarred skin made her shudder from her head down to her toes, the tingling sensation of sliding her softness against all his rigid planes making her -

The ex-marine shook her head, and resumed her workout. She could not dwell on that.

"Ha. Ha. Ha."

' I can barely compete with swordsmen as is, and I haven't increased my strength at all. Why am I a woman in love with the sword? At this rate, I'll never be able to defeat Roronoa and show him that I am just as good as Kuina. As is- '

Zoro's mouth sank to the crook of her neck, lips now rubbed soft from such delicious friction, smooth and warm as he licks that sweet spot. She's gasping his name and he whispers against her, "Your smell is so different from hers..."

Tashigi's strikes increased in speed. Her calm facade was marred by a slight frown as she forced her mind off of her green-haired lov- nemesis.

'I wonder how Bonney move around with those...things on her chest? That has to be uncomfortable. But then again, if she has to make herself an eight year-old, having a bra on would be silly.'

"Ever considered usin' yer sword like a woman, and not a man?"

"Ha~a?" Tashigi cried, her swign going awry and almost pulling her face-first into the solid wood deck.

Bonney strolled out of the galley into the afternoon sun, scarfing down a large block of cheese. Her bosom heaved with every bite; Tashigi couldn't watch them, afraid that she'd become seasick from the motion. The strawberry blonde continue obliviously.

"Ya work out like all the rest of the sword freaks I know, but yer the first woman sword-lover I've ever that keeps trying to move like a man after her first bleed."

Tashigi scrunched up her nose in disgust. Didn't she have any nicer way of referring to her period?

"Listen sweetie, take it from me. Unless ya stop fighting yer body and learn how to use the darn thing, yer gonna get taken down all the time. It'd take something mighty scary to get the strength in yer body up, so find another way."

Tashigi slid her gaze along the length of the bokken. She had never thought of sword fighting as something personal before until she'd met Roronoa's unique Santouryuu style. Then she'd been at a complete loss; was it because she was a female that he had not taken her seriously? After learning about Kuina from his own lips, she was furious with herself; he'd told her progenitor that strength didn't matter, it was the skill that would show who was better. How was she any better that a crappy clone if she thought the same thing?

'Have I just been using my skill incorrectly all these years? That can't be! What a waste of time that would be!'

Before the swordswoman could brood anymore, Bonney slapped her around the back of her head.

"Ow!"

"Then stop moping. I won't have that kinda shit in my crew. You helped me break outta that fucking lab cause you needed my ability, now it's time you pay back! I ain't no Kuja pirate - I like dicks on my ships, thank ya kindly - but I won't take any pissants, not man or woman. If we're gonna run from the marines fer the rest of our lives, ya need to find yer own way to fight."

[~~~]

The sky's hues were fading, from blue to gold to orange and purple, as the Mini Merry drifted in the ocean. To the untrained eye, it would appear to be nothing more than a lost boat; perhaps washed away from a nearby harbor, or lost by children playing near some shore. A closer inspection would show a thin trail of smoke wafting upwards, as well as a jumbled mass of legs and hands trailing in the ocean. An even closer look would reveal the carcasses of three overly-ambitious sharks tied to the back of the boat; one with a severely crumpled nose, one with a large wound that ran completely down the middle, and one that apparently had its nose banged in as it was being eviscerated. Obviously, flight instead of fight would have been the better choice.

Sanji let out another puff of smoke, and made sure to drop his arm on Zoro's head as he let it flop back down. The green-haired swordsman barely made a sound, but he pointedly socked the cook in the ribs with his elbow, making him cough up something bloody.

"Shitty ass ball of seaweed."

The silence continued for a while, as the tiny boat continued its aimless voyage. Zoro watched as the night sky slowly crept into power, and thought of her hair.

"Tashigi nearly stabbed the shit out of me, you know."

Sanji let the nicotine settle in his lungs for a bit, then let it flow from his mouth like a small storm cloud. He'd noticed the idiot had been favoring a wound on his right side; tanto, maybe a wakazashi.

"You called her Kuina didn't you?"

Zoro grunted. From all the years fighting with and against the taciturn algae colony made human, the blond man knew that was agreement of sorts.

"I was comparing them again."

A long, weary sigh punctured the evening's peaceful atmosphere.

"Yeah, I'm an idiot."

"Interesting. I didn't actually have to say it for once."

Zoro felt the water on his hand, cool and soothing as it rippled around his fingers. He was pretty sure three of them were broken again.

"Why'd Bonney toss your ass off the ship?"

The silence returned. Sanji absently scratched his hairy thigh just above his knee. The pants were tightly rolled up high on his legs, and were probably stopping him from bleeding too much.

"You're gonna have to tell me. I have as much knowledge about women as I do about navigation."

"You green louse; are you trying to say Nami-san and Robin-chan aren't women?"

"One's a money-sucking, alcohol-metabolizing witch, the other is a morbid, goth genius. Both of them are manipulative evil made manifest. With breasts."

"Didn't we fuck each other in front of those same sets of evil brea- Nami-san and Robin-chan?"

There was a pause for a heartbeat.

"Do you mean to tell me that you still haven't realized that they positioned us to look like we had sex when we both passed out in there? The only thing we got was laid out cold on the dining hall floor."

The nicotine curled around their heads, accompanying the sound of teeth being sucked.

"Tch. It was fun while it lasted. If you knew, why were you all nice to me?"

"Blackmail. Fucking Usopp took photos and threatened to send them in to the Grand Line Times if I got in a fight with you for those seven days. I think we destroyed one of his inventions two days before that incident."

"And here I thought the shitty long-nose was supposed to be looking out for me. Kaya will forgive me if I break his beak right?"

Zoro snorted indifferently.

"She can fix it, can't she?"

Sanji grunted. Years of badgering and fighting allowed Zoro to translate the gruff sound as a certainty that Usopp would be breathing through his mouth the next time the chef saw the sniper. The companionable silence stretched for long, slow minutes, as the blond finished his cigarette and flicked the embers overboard.

"You know you're fucked in the head, right?"

"'S that so?"

"You keep saying Nami-san and Robin-chan, none of that other idolizing cuteness shit."

Sanji curled upwards, pressing on Zoro's diaphragm to assist himself in sitting on the back seat. He look back towards the crumbling island as the mean green demon hacked up a lung.

"She said she was protecting us as thanks for feeding them."

Zoro finally felt like he could breathe again, so he kicked Sanji in the back as he sat up, and crawled onto the Mini Merry's front seat.

"Protect us from what? Her appetite? An eating contest between her and Luffy? Certainly not the marines."

The blond shrugged but his expression of nonchalance was like an entire conversation to the green-haired man. He sighed and closed his eyes, feeling the ever-present pull of sleep on his system.

"You can't expect to have her trust you fully in a few hours. You know what most ships make female crew members do. You know that those two fucking sadists were working on sick shit that not even Law could think up."

"I'm not like that."

"I know that and the nakama know that, but she doesn't know that. You can't just protect every female out there. Give her some time. If she actually doesn't find that question mark on your face offensive, she'll come to you."

"This advice coming from you? You've been hunting for Tashigi every chance you get since you defeated Mihawk. You've made a little dream-world where she's the same Kuina that you were sworn to, instead of a separate person named Tashigi, who probably has a different dream!"

Sanji rocked his head back, banging it on his crewmate's thick skull. The move made him a little dizzy, given the amount of blood that he'd lost already, so it was natural that he leave it there, and let his eyes sink close. In any case, Zoro hadn't even noticed the impact. The blond was surprised to open his eyes and see that night had completely fallen, the ocean around them all deep blue. A thin fingernail of a moon was reflected in the relatively still waters.

"She wants to gather the meitou. Keep them safe and out of the hands of bad guys."

The lighter's click was loud in the night, but Zoro realized that Sanji was still resting his blond head against his own green-clad skull. He was being told to continue.

"She told me that in a ratty old sword shop way back in Loguetown. She helped me buy- no, she chose Kitetsu and Yubashiri for me. I wanted to tell her about Yubashiri and give her the duel she deserved that time."

Sanji offered the swordsman a cigarette by way of his elbow to the earrings in his left ear. The green man took the proffered smoke and light after the ringing in his ears stopped.

"We are incredibly, stupidly, in love at first sight with those women, aren't we? You're actually smoking another cigarette in less than a year."

"And you've forgotten to cook for the wedding."

They leaned against each other and enjoyed the tobacco as it filled the evening sky. Far away, a dark cloud glided swiftly.

"Luffy and Nami-san are going to kill us."

"Yep."

[~~~]

"Ah!"

Tashigi was forced to dodge left as Bonney came at her again. The pink woman was swinging for the fences, putting her full strength into the fight.

"Come on, Tashi!" she roared, as she whirled a leg around to strike the ex-marine in the back. Tashigi was able to block it with her wooden sword, but she had to duck right as an overhead leg strike came sailing out of nowhere. Too late. Her move put her left arm squarely between Bonney's long legs, and suddenly Tashigi was in a world of hurt. She tapped the deck frantically.

"Che. Ya have no idea what yer body is s'posed to do, do ya?" Bonney panted, releasing Tashigi from the arm bar. The piratess stretched out on the warm wood and watched the sky-

His eyes, when he's laughing and sinking his face in her-

She closed her eyes, and banged her head against the decking until the feelings of blue heat on her skin passed. Now if only she could take his taste out of her mouth-

He was oh so hot, sweet and smoky and satisfying, like barbequed meat after a long day on the farm-

She banged her head on the decking again. She'd never had a man stay on her mind like this. She was one to scratch her itches and then forget about them, but he was a big, big thorn in her side.

'They should've called him Three-Leg Sanji,' she thought, snorting wryly at her own joke. She only wished they'd been able to get that far before Tashigi spied the marine ships. She'd seen the wild look in his eye after she tossed him off the ship; like a campfire about to flare up. She almost felt sorry for the marines, but if he knew what that lab had been working on, she was sure he'd do something foolish that would get his fine ass killed. She and Tashigi would have to resolve this themselves, then come back.

"I can't stop thinking about him either."

Bonney opened her eyes and turned her head towards Tashigi, who was now sitting up on the deck with her legs crossed, cradling her left arm. Her face wasn't visible, but she knew the dark swordswoman was looking back at Eros Cuisine. Looking around, Bonney registered that night was fast encroaching. The ex-rancher's daughter turned her head back up to the faint bits of blue still in the sky.

"I haven't stopped thinking about him in 5 years, especially - no, maybe because of the lab."

Bonney sighed and rolled straight up to her feet. Sliding off her suspenders and stripping off her shirt, she went to the side of the ship and threw a large, open barrel into the water. The barrel was attached to the ship by a thick skein of rope, so the pink-haired woman was able to haul it back up when as soon as she deemed it full enough. She hefted the nigh-full barrel up and over her head - this was effectively the women's showering system.

"Did you tell him?"

"Are ya nuts? Did I land a fist in yer head too hard? 'Course I didn't tell him. That shit is not what a man wants to hear, especially right after he's met ya."

Bonney, dripping wet, turned around and shook out her hair like a horse drying its mane. It was still tossed over one wet shoulder when she glared at her companion, her rosy skin showing bright red patches where the cold water had hit her the hardest.

"Please tell me ya didn't tell Roronoa."

Tashigi huffed as she moved to join Bonney. She really wished they had a working shower.

"No, I didn't, though I doubt that he'd care. He's in love with the original, not the copy."

Bonney looked the other woman in the eye, green to brown, as she hauled up another barrel of seawater for the aching woman. The ex-marine was, quite frankly, morose; a frustrated bundle of virgin sexual tension and romantic fantasies. Bonney curled her lips in a salacious smile as she tipped the water over the younger woman.

"You know, you'd probably feel better if you'd just take care of yourself."

Tashigi gasped as the cold water hit her flushed skin and sluiced down her back. Strands of her blue-black hair stuck to her jaw as the force of the water sent the dark mass down her neck and over her shoulders. Bonney followed a drop of water as it hung off the woman's ear. She wondered if Sanji's skin would make the water sizzle.

"I wouldn't even know where to start. That wasn't exactly a part of marine training."

"You people are sad, ya know that? Who cares if yer a frigging clone, if ya'd just fuck him silly, ya'd already be three up on her. Besides, yer already doing something she sure as hell didn't."

"Bonney, don't bother saying it again!" Tashigi yelled, her hands two tight balls of fury.

"You're already living and yer- "

But Bonney's statement was cut off as the Grand Line cyclone made its typically unpredictable appearance.

[~~~]

Zoro secured the shopping boat to the dock as Sanji carried the shark carcasses to the fish scaling area at the back of the restaurant. The chef knew he was in deep shit, waiting till night to prepare for the massive wedding reception the next day; not for the first time did he wish that he could use Gear Second. The blond man, who was busy calling himself nine different types of a moron, slowed as he saw the light on in the restaurant's kitchen. He stood and cocked an ear, catching the distinct sound of someone singing badly, to the cheers of others.

"What the hell is all the commotion? Didn't Chopper clear this place out earlier?" Zoro asked grumpily as his boots clumped noisily on the dock behind Sanji. The blond could only shrug, and open the kitchen's back door.

"Glaze the ducks, you yellow-bellied tongue-tied- "

"I'll glaze yer ass is what'll do, ya fuckin- !"

"Who de rass lef' de damn rice ta bu'n pun de- !"

"Suck ma dick, I'mma headin' up dis station!"

"What in hell are you shitty ass peons doing here?" Sanji bellowed, his face resembling a pomegranate. Outside, even Zoro stepped back; the blond prince was prissy as all fuck about his restaurant, and even worse about the kitchen. The din quieted down immediately, leaving the sound of pots boiling, liquids bubbling, and ovens steaming. A small figure fought its way through the mass of white-clad bodies.

"Well, I figured you wouldn't want fur in the food, especially after I've been cutting people up. Besides, you should at least thank me for saving your sorry asses, you two."

Copper emerged from the middle of the kitchen, nurse his right hoof. He still had on a lab coat and one of the scopes that Usopp had fashioned specifically for the reindeer.

"Ten minutes after you guys left, I called these guys up. Fortunately they hadn't sailed too far, so they made it back in the afternoon and got to work. Thanks for leaving the menu out, by the way," the reindeer continued with a smug smile. Sanji didn't know whether to hug the beast or kick him in the head till the other antler broke. He looked over his sheepishly grinning staff, and could only smirk.

"Is this how I taught you shit-heads to cook? Since when do you take an eye off the food?" the blond owner barked, clapped his hands together sharply. "The ingredients for the cake better be at room temperature by the time I finish washing up. And you shitty ass ambulatory amalgamation of algae, don't sleep at the preparation table! Make yourself useful and haul up the liquor from the hold. And Chopper!"

The reindeer cocked a tired eyebrow up. Really, what did Sanji have to bitch about now?

"There's ice cream in the big freezer. Strawberry and vanilla."

The doctor squeaked in delight and raced to the floating restaurant's cold room. Zoro smirked and smacked the blond in the back of the head, receiving a boot in the side of his knee for his efforts. The entire staff knew that sending Zoro for liquor was the equivalent of three barrels of sake going missing, and a lot of snoring.

"Ahoy, boss, there're two bottles of rum missing from the cupboards."

"Never mind those, I used them this morning."

[~~~]

Tashigi coughed up seawater as she surveyed the wreckage of their ship. She tried to ignore the wracking pain in her groin and abdomen as she frantically tried to find the devil fruit using woman.

"Bonney!" she screamed into the night sky, but the wind from the tail-end of the cyclone ripped her words away. The muscle spasms in her abdomen were increasing sharply.

"Bonney! Where are you? Bonney!"

The ex-marine screamed until her voice cracked, and then screamed some more as the pains began again. Her last conscious thought was to use the belt in her pants to secure herself to the bit of flotsam that she'd manage to hang onto. The pains were proof enough that Bonney was no where close enough to save. Her devil fruit ability was wearing off of the former marine, and the experiment was bearing fruit again.

"Bonney!" Tashigi screeched brokenly, her sobs lost in the cruel Line.

[~~~]


Chapter Text

The sun was riding high in the sky when a subsonic drone rolled through the waters of All Blue, slowly rising in pitch until it was distinguishable to human ears as whale song, the volume of the music loud enough to shake boulders and cause undersea tremors a mile away.

"Bu-oh!"

A cloven hoof shakily stretched upwards, waving in the air like a broken antenna before coming down on a tabletop. A hellish groan issued forth from the floor, and another hoof joined the first on the table.

"Bu-oh!"

"Someone make the fucking bells stop," came a pained whimper, as Chopper pulled himself upright with the table's generous help. "Or at least hit me with a battleship and put me out of my misery."

"Bu-oh! Bu-oh-bu-oh-bu-oh!"

Chopper's anguished cries and the horrific crescendo outside brought life to the sea of limbs and clothing that lay haphazardly on the floor of Eros Cuisine's main dining room. There appeared to be hundreds of male pirates in the room, all in various states of alcohol processing. In the middle of the pile, directly behind Chopper, something green-covered burbled and raised its head, revealing a drooling Zoro. The swordsman's motions caused a fist to smash into the back of a blond head; a foot to violently bend a long nose; another foot to connect to a latex-clad posterior; and the other fist to smack into someone else's face, only to bounce off and hit a mass of sweaty black hair.

"Sweet heavens, can't you even kill me properly, you God-forsaken ball of kelp?" Sanji croaked miserably as he got to his knees by way of kicking Zoro in the ribs. He clutched his head tightly between his hands as a wave of dehydrated misery mercilessly washed over him. "Holy shit, what the hell did Kohza call that piss again?"

"Bu-oh! Bu-oh!"

"Merashishishi- oh shit, shit, shit," Ace began, before slamming his head onto the wood floor repeatedly to ease his headache. Really, couldn't he have eaten a damn devil fruit that took away hangovers along with his ability to swim? "Well-fermented agave juice, is what King Cobra called it. Kohza and Vivi called it tequila."

"Right, add that those two above me and Zoro on the banned-liquor-procurers list," Usopp panted through his mouth, his nose in desperate need of emergency resuscitation due to two bridge-crushing kicks and the moisture-less block that once represented his sinuses. "Not even Ninjin's concoctions have had such a bad effect."

"More importantly bros, I'm all outta cola. I ain't even moving from here until I get another three bottles," Franky groaned, his fingers twitching erratically. His cyan pompadour was drooping into his eyes, and overall the cyborg looked pathetic. Fortunately for all of them, he wasn't as pathetic as Luffy, who was currently extending his head towards the men's room, his neck turning a sickly shade of pea green.

"Bu-oh!"

"Ith da room s'ppoth'd ta spin?" Zoro asked idly, now flopping like a dying fish onto his back. "'N ith Bon-chan here? Cuz I thee two 'f all yer, 'n yer all piwouettin'."

The crew, sans the porcelain-worshiping captain, the immobile cyborg, and one bony musician, stared at the demonic first mate incredulously. Zoro just giggled and blushed as he groggily rolled into a sitting position. He saw a muddy pair of black combat boots in front of him, and followed them up a matching pair of tanned, muscular legs; rough, black cargo pants, and toned abs. Craning his neck higher still, the swordsman was barely able to make out a heavy 6 a.m. shadow on a rugged chin.

"Bu-oh-oh!"

"Did the magnificent Demon God Roronoa just giggle like a schoolgirl?" Ace asked, wincing as he heard the hellish singing again. He decided that standing was way too ambitious for the time being, and crouched down in front of the swordsman. "I thought you said he couldn't get drunk?"

Zoro giggled again, and leaned forward in an attempt to stand. He over-balanced and landed in Ace's stomach, forcing the fiery devil fruit user to fall back on his ass, a green head in his lap and his signature orange hat dangling around his neck. The swordsman giggled again and raised his face out of the infamous pirate's crotch. He smiled and clumsily petted Ace's hair.

"Yer pwetty hawt efen ef yer haiwy, cutie. Nawt hawt lik her cuz she hash mow breash- bwe- boobiesh. Yer hair'th dark enuf tho, sho's yuz wanna hook up- zzzzzz."

Luffy's head snapped back into place as Ace none too gently extricated himself from the dozing moss man. The adopted brothers stared at Zoro like a rare species of cootie as every other Straw-hat backed away from the swordsman slowly. Usopp thoughtfully dragged Franky away from the unfolding crime scene, the cyborg clutching the younger man's brown ankles desperately.

"Marimo, are you...could you possibly be...drunk?" Sanji screamed. Actually, he whispered it, but at this point that was just as loud as a scream to the soon-to-be sober chef.

"A flirtatious drunk at that. He is going to be so pissed when he wakes up," the sniper noted out loud. "Think of that monster with a hangover."

Chopper reeled as he suddenly had a vivid premonition of a mushroom cloud the size of Skypeia, and almost as high. He winced, then grabbed Sanji by the collar.

"C'mon Sanji, we've got to get hangover remedies and food into these goons."

"Bu-oh-oh!"

"Not so loud, shitty ass doctor!"

"Bu-oh!"

"I'm gonna be sick..."

"See bros, this is one reason why we weren't ever s'posed to have a bachelor party again."

"Bu-oh-oh!"

"Oho, a new hawty? But yer sho flat!"

"Zoro, get off of your captain!"

"Bu-oh-oh! Bu-oh! Bu-oh!"

"Yohohohoho, are we all up and ready for festivities? Laboon, let's sing!"

Brook entered the restaurant's front door with a flourish, and went straight into a rendition of Black Handkerchief of Happiness, accompanied by the 250-ton whale wallowing near the front pier.

"Bu-oh-oh! Bu-oh! Bu-oh!"

"For the love of Davy Jones, Laboon, shut the hell up!"

[~~~]

Inside the relative sanctuary of the kitchen, Sanji mechanically began the Straw-hat after-party ritual, heating up his largest grill and a number of frying pans. He gazed into the crew's personal refrigerator with one bloodshot eye, and resignedly emptied the appliance of four enormous crates of eggs, enough milk to moisturize the wailing whale outside, a round of cheese almost as large as the Thousand Sunny's paddle wheels, and 20-pigs' worth of bacon.

"We need the broccoli, garlic, red peppers and oats as well. And lots of ice and sugar," Chopper intoned from the prep table as Sanji set up an enormous mortar and pestle in front of the reindeer.

"No broccoli. What about artichokes?"

"Yeah, whatever."

"Ignorant animal, it's not whatever, it's Brussels sprouts."

"'K, we've got those...eh?"

Trafalgar Law dragged himself through the back door, using his nodachi as a walking stick. His furred hat was pulled very low on his forehead, providing a meager shield from the sun's glare. He collapsed next to his rival physician, his head firmly planted into the wood of the preparation table.

"Brussels sprouts," he continued in a muffled voice, "have in more cysteine, which is what us humans need to speed up alcohol metabolism. Idiot reindeer such as yourself shouldn't be drinking at all."

"Fuck off, Law, not great to see you. I take it Bepo hasn't finished hibernating yet?"

"With all due respect, that's your fault, Dr. Chopper, a mistake that I would happily carve into your memory if I weren't seeing four of you. By the way, your mother sent you greetings"

Chopper made an obscene gesture in response, standing up on the table to get to work on the drinking remedy, now featuring artichokes and Brussels sprouts. The pestle's pounding did nothing to improve the drunkards' aching heads, but Law put up with it, too sick to move far less complain. He was only sorry that, once again, he hadn't had a chance to identify the mysterious powder the reindeer physician was adding to the mortar; Law was certain that was the true remedy, not the vegetables. Sanji, far more used to this scenario after many nights out with Zoro, slapped rashers of bacon on the grill and began melting butter for the eggs.

"Dare I ask how the hell you ended up on the back pier, Law?" Sanji questioned the immobile Doctor of Death, blue veins sticking out of the thin, pale skin at his temples. "I distinctly remember you coming through the front last night. I think."

Law shrugged, and jerked a thumb over his head to point in the general direction of the open doorway.

"Ask the red-head vomiting off the edge. It's bound to be his fault."

Outside, the sounds of someone in a wretched state reached the chef's ears over the frying salted pork, the reindeer's pounding, and the sizzling pans. That could never be a good sign. When the pans started levitating towards the staff door of their own accord, Sanji was livid.

"I thought I warned that wank-off away from my kitchen before," the blond chef growled as he slammed his pans back on the cooking range and lit his first smoke for the morning. "Ugh, I am in no shape to deal with this shit."

"Well get in shape, cook, cause you've got the whole groom's party about to swear off of liquor for life, particularly because Roronoa is hitting on half of them."

Benn Beckmann stumbled in from the VIP section and wavered through the kitchen with Shanks on his back, making a beeline for the open back door.

"I'm throwing this greenhorn out with the other one. Maybe these idiots can learn how not to drink together. Gimme three of those eggs, one of those nauseating remedies, and a rasher of bacon when I get back in here."

"Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for- hrrk! Benn, I dun feel well..."

"Oh, shut up and make sure you wait till I get outside!"

[~~~]

It turned out not to be hundreds of pirates, amazingly enough, but a mere twelve men that had rampaged through the restaurant during the wee hours of the morning. The most rambunctious fellows were Pirate King Monkey D. Luffy and his crew, namely Roronoa Zoro, Sogeking Usopp, Devil-leg Sanji, Tony Tony Chopper, Cyborg Franky, and the late-arriving Dead-Bones Brook. Their revelry was ably assisted by the four yonkous: Portgas D. Ace, Eustass Kidd, Trafalgar Law, and the soon-to-be retired Shanks, accompanied by his first mate, Benn Beckmann. Chopper had a hard time cajoling them to the table for food as he doled out his concoction, but his hangover medicine was well-known for its effectiveness around law-avoiding circles. Within twenty minutes, all of the Straw-hat men were gathered around the table, with Luffy and Ace dragging Zoro in despite the swordsman's half-hearted pawing.

"How long does Dr. Chopper give you guys?" Law murmured as he sidled up behind Sanji, eying the food eagerly.

"None of your goddamn business," Sanji responded coolly, sliding eggs and bacon onto two plates. "Take the damn food and make your shitty magneto boyfriend eat something."

Law sneered as he turned away, earning him a kick to the hip that he barely blocked with his sword. He winced as he hobbled away, knowing that a lovely bruise would still show up on his skin in a few minutes; not like that had ever stopped his mouth from running before.

"If he's my boyfriend, Roronoa's your husband. At least he can take alcohol. Goddamn red-heads keep drinking when they know they can't hold their liquor; stupid, whiny idiots just need to learn tea-totaling and stop ruining my wardrobe."

"Amen to that," Beckmann added bitterly as he passed the younger pirate on his way to the table, a wet overcoat slung suspiciously over his arm. It had a distinctly sour odor attached to it; apparently, Shanks didn't make it far enough for his first mate's liking. The red-heads in question stumbled in just before the back door closed, their hair contrasting horribly as they lurched toward the preparation table.

"Just shut the fuck up, Law, before I keel-haul you with your own damn ship. Ow, fuck me, where's the hangover shit? I need another one," Kidd snarled, his flame-like hair spiking in all directions

"I'm too old for this, Benn! I'm dying! Dying!" Shanks whimpered, his sweaty crimson hair falling into his eyes.

Sanji's throbbing headache canceled out most of their grumbling. He absentmindedly took the mush that Chopper offered him, not even wincing as he slurped it down. Real men never hesitated, after all, even if their lives were on the line.

[~~~]

Bonney cracked her eyes open, wincing as her head let her know, without a doubt, that she was still alive. She squeezed her eyes closed, and tried to bring her body up. Slowly, her elbows were able to come up and brace against the-

'Ground, dirt, earth, sand?'

-and she attempted to rise, but something was weighing her back and legs down. Every time she tried, there was pain, so much pain in her lower back, but nothing to tell her if her legs were moving, or even if they were still attached.

'Shit! Fucking hell! Tashi, you better be in better condition than I am.'

Using her devil fruit ability, Bonney thought of her body some paltry hours earlier and reverted her cells to usefulness. As feeling came back to her legs, she pulled herself free of the wreckage that looked a lot like the main mast and sail. She tore off a long strip of the canvas and made a rudimentary poncho, ignoring the salty dampness in favor of some meager form of protection. Looking around, she appeared to be on a very small island, complete with one coconut tree and...a villa? The strawberry blonde looked up at the sky, noting the brilliant blue color and fluffy white clouds, but the lighting was...off. Too unnatural, sort of like the fluorescent lighting in the-

Screaming, twisting, damnation, seastone, extraction, laughing thrashing crying cursing bleedingnonononotthisway!

Bonney slapped herself hard. This memory was of no importance now. What she had to do was find Tashigi and a ship. The pink piratess started up the gentle slope towards the villa, noting the flotsam and jetsam strewn over the ground. On her left, in the middle of the sky and somehow floating on top of the water, she spotted a large pair of double doors. No amount of blinking, head-shaking, or slapping would cause the doors to disappear.

'Where the hell am I?'

She decided to forgo the doors for the moment; finding the former marine ensign was far more important. Tashigi's bleeding would not stop, not even for the so-called doctors in that lab, so Bonney's ability to reverse the age of the cells was necessary to stop the clone from slowly hemorrhaging to death.

"Tashigi! Bitch, answer me and stop playing dead! Tashigi!"

[~~~]

"Sanji-kun! Is my irresponsible husband still here?"

Nami strode - well, waddled really - into the restaurant's front door, Robin and Kaya in tow. Robin was consoling Kaya while holding the door open with a spare arm; the young blonde woman was turning red in the face due to her enthusiastic objections.

"Nami-san, you're supposed to take it easy, for the twins' sake!"

"Isn't she adorable, Ane-san? She's still calling me Nami-san!"

"Fu, fu, fu. Adorable as she might be, I do agree that the aftermath of an unauthorized bachelor party isn't exactly where you should be. Oh, is that you dear?"

Somehow, the women had successfully managed to weave their way through the chaotic remains of the festivities, until Franky's large arm feebly clutched on to Robin's ever so short skirt. An arm grew out of the floor to tip him over, while a screech from the kitchen let the females know that Usopp had the dubious pleasure of seeing an arm appear on the fridge door in front of him.

"Luffy! Kaya says I can't walk any more!" Nami yelled at the top of her voice. "Let's see now...3, 2, 1"

A pair of rubbery hands stretched out of the kitchen doors that lead to the main dining room, scooped up the orange-haired woman in their powerful, albeit shaky grip, and rebounded to their owner. Kaya covered her her eyes with her hands and prayed while Robin's arms formed a cola chain to resuscitate her significantly metallic significant other. With no one to comfort her, Kaya reverted almost immediately to Doctorine mode, sending a handful of scalpels through the galley's swing doors before marching through them herself.

"G'morning, honey," Usopp greeted her sunnily, despite the squint in his eyes that always betrayed his drinking. The sniper was standing next to Luffy's chair, removing the scalpels that outlined his captain's rubber head. Nami was safely ensconced on her soon-to-be husband's lap, looking thoroughly amused as wisps of black hair fluttered around her. "You're really getting good at that fan throw, sweetums."

"Don't butter me up, dammit! You're a sniper, of course I'm getting better after practicing with you. It's these two," Kaya paused as she pointedly used one index finger to incriminate the Pirate King and Queen, an intimidating passel of scalpels in the other hand currently resting akimbo, "that need to start flattering me before I put them both on bed rest with stab wounds!"

Luffy laughed at Kaya, utterly ignoring the demented nurse and her raving. Chopper patted the blonde woman's hand in consolation as he handed the Straw-hat captain and gunner another helping of the hangover chaser.

"Shishishi, morning Kaya! That was a great throw, I almost got one in my nose! Good thing Hat was chilling out on my back. How're the babies doing today?"

Kaya harrumphed and put her scalpels back in the left pocket of her signature sweater, allowing her husband to wrap her up in his wiry arms. Not even she was immune to that rubbery smile. As she fixed Usopp's crooked yellow bandanna, she responded to the captain.

"The twins are fine today, although a bit overactive. Gee, I wonder why?"

Kaya was about to launch into Nami with another tirade on how pregnant women needed to take care of themselves when a strange giggle assaulted her ears. She glanced around the table and noticed Zoro staring at her through half-lidded bedroom eyes. He giggled. She blinked

"Zoro-kun? Are you giggling?"

"Shanji, dis bwofel ish gweat! Now da galsh wif bweash arwe comin' out!"

The women blinked, while Sanji resisted the urge to go and throttle the drunk man for revealing anything about their mutual idea of fun and relaxing shore leaves. Usopp took the opportunity to slip a Hellfire Star into the swordsman's portion of the anti-hangover blend, internally complaining to Sogeking about the high levels of lechery in the general populace today.

"Mr. Swordsman appears to be drunk," Robin volunteered out loud as she and a highly revived Franky strolled into the galley, thereby stating the painfully obvious. The cyborg grunted in affirmation as he transform into a centaur so that Robin could have a seat, given the crowd around the table. Kidd blinked rapidly, an excited leer spreading across his face before his head allowed him to know that such facial motions increased the aching in his skull. He tempered his appearance into its usual scowl before speaking.

"Have we got a marine base we can ship him off to when he starts sobering up? Killer and I will babysit."

"No, Killer'll go rape half of the marines, Roronoa'll kill the other half, you'll rape both of them, and then you three will bathe in the marines' blood while it's still warm," Law muttered around a mouthful of eggs. Nami managed not to throw up at the graphic description, and Chopper made it a point to kick the pirate doctor's chair in retaliation as he removed the over-sized mortar.

"Yohohoho, you lads are quite jovial today, as expected!"

Brook entered the kitchen from the main dining area, dapper as always in his black suit. He looked none the worse for wear after spending many days traveling via giant whale, however the whale in question, Laboon, did have the distinct advantage of being able to eat seastone. Usopp and Sanji had, through nefarious means no doubt, obtained a gargantuan amount of the devil fruit-canceling ore, and fed it to the whale over many weeks. The result was one sea-monster repelling whale that could act as a ship or a submarine, provided that the passenger didn't have a problem with persistent whale breath. Laboon, having safely transported his dear father to his destination, was now busy depopulating All Blue to feed his massive hunger. Sanji was thankful that he'd already paid his staff and closed the restaurant for three months after the wedding; fish populations might actually recover by then.

"Ah, why would young Swordsman-san be giggling?"

"Shend dat one back, Shanji, she'z too bony."

"Skeleton Joke! Well played, Swordsman-san!"

"He's drunk," the assembled leaders of piracy replied, causing Brook to take a 45 degree lean against the nearby wall in shock, much to Luffy's amusement. Sanji slammed four plates of food down on the table in front of him, sliding one to Chopper as the reindeer made his way back to his seat near Zoro, another to the skeleton, who was now squeezing in between Law and Kidd, and one more to Shanks. Despite being stale drunk, he twirled over to Robin-chwan, Nami-swan, and Kaya-swan to offer each of the women some of the scrumptious breakfast. Usopp maneuvered two chairs in place for himself and Kaya, leaving just enough room for Sanji to slip in.

"Yosh! Let the pre-wedding pirate summit meeting begin!" Nami cheered loudly, to the groans of those who were still suffering. Zoro just giggled lightly, his head resting on the table as he fell asleep.

[~~~]

Tashigi woke up to the sound of waves crashing, the water throwing her higher up on the coast before sucking her back out to sea. Her eyes were bleary, and she was in no shape to find her glasses to improve her vision. The cramp in her abdomen filled her with thick, throbbing pain, but she could not spare the energy to roll into a ball and clutch her stomach. Any efforts to speak would have been in vain, her lips cracked by the sun, and her throat long ago caked shut by salt. As the constriction in her pelvis eased, she weakly rolled off of the wooden jetsam that had saved her, using all of her strength to pull herself further up the grainy beach.

'Dammit Bonney, where are you?'

The only answer she received was the crashing of waves below her. They were persistent in their pursuit of her flesh; cold, cruel, and red-tinged. It felt like hours had passed before she was finally clear of the tide's reach. The former marine prayed that the stickiness between her legs was drying salt water, and not blood again.

Bearing pain, pain, why me? Mother clone, mothering, motherless, miscarriage of life and justice

Tashigi panted harshly as her vision swam. She was pretty sure that it was blood in her pants. Her hand landed on something sharp, and she instinctively released it, causing her to collapse flat on her face. Rolling over, Tashigi brought her injured hand right in front of her nose, trying to figure out what she'd pressed on. A shard of glass was stuck in her palm at an odd angle; not a deep wound, just an added annoyance. After she plucked out the glass,which was as thick as the bottom of a cola bottle, the ex-ensign used her other hand to search for any more shards. She didn't particularly feel like adding 'pincushion' to 'clumsy' and 'blind' in her self-description. What her hand came up with was the plain frame for a pair of spectacles. Her spectacles.

'Of course. It isn't enough that I don't have Shigure on me.'

She really wanted to laugh, but only a queer scratching sound came out. Her thoughts turning to her meitou, she gained a new determination. If nothing else, she could use her sword as a crutch. Rising to her knees, Tashigi sat back and surveyed the wreckage. Clothes were strewn all over, including her favorite denim jacket, the one that matched the jeans she was currently wearing. Crawling gingerly to retrieve the jacket, she felt another cramp coming on.

'Shit, not now.'

The former marine barely got the jacket over her shoulders before she was hit by the full force of the cramp and a sudden wave of nausea, much of which she didn't feel as she passed out once more.

[~~~]

Back on the Thousand Sunny after a riotous breakfast that turned into brunch, Nami sat in the women's quarters facing a gilded, full-length mirror that she and Robin had salvaged from a thrift shop in Water 7. There was a distant look in her cinnamon eyes as the dark archaeologist styled her hair. The older woman was uncharacteristically clothed in a short, classically white sheath, accompanied by her favorite purple fishnet hosiery. Kaya was conservatively dressed in a knee-length, sleeveless, white, summer shift, covered by her normal lemon sweater with the left-hand pocket as she laid out Nami's wedding raiment on the bed.

"Well, I think that went better than we expected," Nami stated with a smug look on her face, completely unfazed by the fact that she was clad only in red undergarments, garters, and stockings as Robin finished pinning her hair up. Her lush, orange tresses were piled high on her head, exposing her long, ivory neck as the young woman looked down on her growing mound. There was a loving look reflected in the eyes of the normally manipulative female, making her look like a saint, rather than the greedy witch she was reputed to be.

"We've got the succession and back up plans sorted out, so those bastards shouldn't catch any of us quite as flat-footed as before."

"Fu, fu, fu. Subverting rising and high-ranking marine officers wasn't enough for you?" Robin asked mildly, already knowing the answer as Nami snorted indignantly.

"That's Luffy's job. My job is to make sure they never catch us pirates so vulnerable again. I wouldn't be able to take it if Luffy ever returned looking like-"

The notorious navigator's breath hitched, and Robin gently dabbed away stray tears before they could ruin her makeup. The War of Marineford, or Whitebeard's Folly, as it became known to residents of the Grand Line, was still fresh and painful in the minds of pirates the world over. If the Straw-hats had not reunited when they did, even they would have succumbed to the festering hatred that was the end-result of the full-scale barrage on the World Government's navy. There were still moments when Robin would be blindsided by the thought of how everything could have changed in an instant. Ace and Luffy could have died, or worse, been forever crazed beyond hope by the loss of the other. Family and crew bonds were thoroughly shattered by maliciously sown distrust. Many pirate crews were crushed or disbanded following that battle, futility and self-loathing forever etched in hearts and minds.

As is, the Pirate King's crew had to put Zoro, Sanji, and Usopp under suicide watch for what seemed like weeks. The swordsman attempted seppuku four times, always leaving a note on his perceived failure to aid his captain. For days after the nigh-successful fourth attempt, he was not even allowed to feed himself, far less touch his eminent swords outside of a battle. Usopp, for many days at a time, could not distinguish himself from Sogeking, leading to near-fatal chemical explosions and accidental falls from the Thousand Sunny's masts when his personality would violently and unpredictably shift between the two. Sanji forgot to eat most days, smoking pack after pack of cigarettes and deeply staining his fingertips ochre with the nicotine, yet trying his best to feed Luffy everything in the fridge. He almost burned out his eyesight by reading intelligence reports from the remaining pirate crews late into the night, high off of starvation, tobacco, and copious amount of coffee.

Distressed and battling feelings of uselessness, Nami and Chopper had taken the brunt of caring for them all, taking it on themselves to keep the broken men fed and safe, overly taxing themselves to ignore the pain. None of them would listen to the older nakama, who took to hiding the fiasco from Luffy until he was strong enough to move around the empty men's quarters without assistance. Not to say that Robin, Franky, and Brook had not been affected; the three of them took to bloody late night and early morning raids on marine ships made infamous by their cruelty and horrified survivors.

The crew only started to recover when Luffy got off his sick bed and beat all of the men to a bloody pulp, followed swiftly by kissing Nami until she couldn't stand, then confining everyone to their respective quarters. He commanded his men to shape to fuck up or get to hell off his ship, and no, there was no logic to wading thigh-deep in marine blood to make him feel better. Showing more common sense than anyone would have expected, he turned to Ivankov to treat them, not moving one inch towards Raftel until he was certain every one of his nakama was really back, mentally and physically. He commandeered Robin's writing skills to send a note to the Doctorine on Drum Island, requesting a recommendation for a temporary, piracy-compatible doctor, which led to a very pissed-off Kaya coming on board to act as their medic and unofficial shrink. Apparently she was related to Kureha on her mother's side, therefore an appropriate heir for medical diagnosis, the secret of youth, scalpel throwing, belly button rings, and caring for stubborn patients, among other things.

"You two really are the perfect chess pieces. King and Queen in every way, determined to defend the kingdom to the last through wit or brute force or both. Good Lord, we'll all go completely bonkers having to deal with a prince and princess just like their parents," Kaya grumbled loudly as she gently smoothed down the persimmon-colored silk under her hands. The empire waist, cap-sleeved affair enveloped Nami's larger figure well, and highlighted her glowing face. At the bride's request, it was indecently short, like all her other skirts, and only had four layers of tulle petticoats; the buns in her oven meant that she generated enough heat without the assistance of confining clothes.

The young doctorine's comment broke the gloom in the room, much like her husband's stories tended to divert people's attentions due to their sheer incredulity. Nami laughed out loud, and stood up with Robin's ever-handy assistance, rocking only slightly as she stepped over to the bed. Kaya, a woman who had never been fussy about her supposed material worth, carefully held the gown like an experienced handmaiden so that Robin's extra feet and arms could maneuver the bride into the dress without wrinkling the material. As the extra appendages disappeared and the fabric settled on Nami, Kaya applied a light layer of make-up, murmuring with appreciation as she made Nami's eyes, cheeks, and lips stand out. There was a hard, insistent pounding on the door that irritated the orange siren enough to start her bellowing in her legendary voice.

"Wait a goddamn minute, you impatient bastard, there's a bride dressing in here!"

[~~~]

After a round of bathing and shaving chaos that would have made Goro close down the Ukkari Hot Springs, the Straw-hat men were finally dressing in their hand-tailored suits. Sanji knew he and Brook looked dapper, but without a doubt, the rest of the crew looked like mobsters as they cursed and fought with their cravats and waistcoats. Zoro's now-sober snarling was particularly foul, the imprecations so vile that neither Kohza nor the tailor would be visiting anytime soon unless they were suicidal. The chef ignored the clothing battles in favor of dressing the groom, who didn't even have the decency to look nervous about the upcoming nuptials. He had the strongest urge to strangle Luffy with the orange cravat he was tying around the captain's rubbery neck.

"I thought you said that it would take a brave man to marry Nami? Where did those nerves disappear to?" Sanji groused, wishing once more for a cigarette. Robin's calm explanation of the dangers of secondhand smoke to the baby were quite enough; he didn't see why Kaya felt it was necessary to order the crew to tie him to the infirmary's new inversion table and frisk him for smokes. So what if Zoro found seven packs on him? They were merely insurance, damn that green stool-pigeon! The blond man turned his attentions back to Luffy, who was giving him an uncharacteristically gentle smile.

"Sorry, Sanji, guess I just couldn't share her with everyone else anymore."

Sanji cuffed the younger man in the ear as the skeletal musician came over to help Luffy into a black tailcoat.

"Stop apologizing, you shitty rubber-brained idiot! I told, we all knew what was going to happen before your puny mind could come to terms with it. Besides," Sanji grumbled, a slight blush rising on his face, "you're the only guy good enough for her."

Luffy blinked as Sanji crammed the battered and treasured straw-hat back onto a nest of messy black hair. He cocked his head to one side with a questioning air.

"How long ago did you guys know?"

"Luffy, it was painfully obvious after Arlong Park," Usopp joined in, his curly hair disheveled after a prolonged bout with his waistcoat. "You two were worse than me and Kaya."

Franky stepped into the pants that Nami had none too gently insisted that he wear for the nuptials while answering.

"Honestly, Rubber-bro, it was sad to watch you guys hook up after me and sweetums."

"Yeah but you two are old as hell; if you'd taken much longer those Speedos would have finished killing your swimmers," Zoro barked in annoyance, while pulling up his haramaki and sword belt. "Seriously, Luffy, you two practically screamed 'Hopelessly in Love' after Skypeia."

"It was so obvious even I could tell. You climbed a mountain, on a winter island, with your bare hands, to deliver her to a doctor. Plus, you keep giving her Hat to hold on to," Chopper stated, trying to put on his tailcoat without ripping the shoulders. "Luffy, you're a great captain, but you're slow on your own feelings."

Luffy graced his fellow pirates with a dignified raspberry, pulling down one elastic eyelid and wriggling the fingers on the hand stuck in his ear. Sanji yanked the tongue out like he was stretching a batch of pasta dough, while Zoro put the captain in a headlock and noogied him roughly, much to the cheers of the other crewmates.

"Yohohohoho! Now if we can find some pretty lasses to take on our swordsman and our chef, Chopper and I might be able to get some rest!" Brook exclaimed joyfully, having finally wrestled Luffy into his jacket. Chopper's face took on a Zoro-worthy smirk as he whispered loudly in the skeleton's ear.

"They met two ladies the other night that were totally interested in them!"

Sanji spat mouthwash out on the mirror of the men's half-bathroom, and Zoro nearly strangled himself with his cravat.

"Oi, Chopper, shut your shitty mouth!" Sanji groused, wiping his chin with one of the towels flung randomly around the bunks. Chopper and Brook dodged and laughed uproariously as a kick flew at their rib cages, the cook advancing on them menacingly.

"I don't kiss and tell, you little fuck, and if I catch you, you sure as hell won't be able to either!"

"Zoro, save me!" Chopper squealed, shrinking as he tried to duck out of Sanji's reach. The swordsman, suffering from his first ever hangover, was beyond apathetic.

"You made your bed, blabbermouth, now lie in it."

Usopp scoffed at them all, waving one hand as he smoothly pulled on his own coat.

"Brook means that he'll have more time to go haunting Vice-Admiral Tsuru. Why she hasn't just shot you yet, I'll never understand."

"Tsuru-chan, Tsuru-chan, Tsuru-chan!" Sanji and Chopper sang in unison; arms around each other's shoulders as if the cook hadn't been in the process of killing the reindeer. Franky and Luffy rolled around the floor with laughter. The skeleton pointedly stuck his shikomizue between the two charlatans, trimming Sanji's bangs, Chopper's sideburns, and the sniper's tangled ends all in one deft motion. Before Usopp could start squawking, Zoro's hangover interrupted in the form of sustained growling.

"Shut up, you frigging idiots! Don't you hear that?"

Everyone kept quiet. Over the Thousand Sunny's creaking and the rolling ocean, a sound drifted through the porthole of the men's quarters.

"Bwahahahahahahahaha! I see the accursed ship of that prodigal grandson of mine! That ugly-ass barge of his cook too!"

Luffy paled and hid behind Chopper's back while Zoro and Usopp held down Sanji as he started frothing and flailing. Franky slapped his hand over his eyes, already calculating the damages he'd be forced to repair after this shindig. Brook adjusted his top hat on his afro, twirled his cane, and did a quick jig.

"Ohohoho, it would appear that our guests have arrived."

There was a frantic pounding as Ace liberally applied his boot to the door.

"Luffy! Nami's almost ready, so let's get going! You are not making me deal with that old bastard alone!"

[~~~]

"Bwahahahahahahahaha! I see the accursed ship of that prodigal grandson of mine! That ugly-ass barge of his cook too!"

"Garp-sama, please stop leaning so far over the edge!" Lieutenant Coby wailed, he and Ensign Helmeppo barely able to pull the elderly man back.

"Aokiji, did we really have to bring this idiot along?" Smoker grumbled around his cigars, bareback as always.

"Our dear Fleet Admiral doesn't trust you any more, Smoker. We're all here to make sure you actually go where you're supposed to." Aokiji responded in a placating tone, not bothering to budge from the chair he had set up on the main deck.

"Hina is still shocked that you all are on my ship! Hina's ship!"

The Black Cage Commodore stepped down from the aft-deck, Fullbody and Jango prancing in front of her.

"Yes! By order of the Chief Petty Officer-"

"And the Petty Officer!"

"-go get your own ship! Come, Jango, let's give them the Dance of Farewell!"

Smoker snorted and ignored the rhythmic gyrations of Hina's pet idiots, redirecting his attention to the admiral on board.

"Why the hell did those windbags agree to only one ship entering All Blue? Straw-hat Luffy's too dumb to do it, but his navigator and head spy are bound to double-cross us. What if half of the pirates of the New World are out there waiting for us?"

Before Aokiji could respond, Hina answered the smoky devil fruit user while making herself comfortable on the chair prepared by her officers.

"Hina says Smoker-san should learn to shut up and take orders. Hina does not like all this complaining! Smoker-san should hurry up and find Ensign Tashigi!"

Smoker sat back and puffed up a storm, obviously considering the merits of strangling the woman in front of a senior officer, while Coby and Helmeppo looked on with envy as Fullbody and Jango massaged Hina's feet and shoulders. Monkey D. Garp was not a pleasure to work on, all sinew and tough, old, smelly muscles. Helmeppo still had nightmares of the time Garp ordered them to perform a gluteal massage.

"Smoker, you know Nami can only keep the truce because she can very obviously plead the belly. The Straw-hats are the most disgustingly honorable pirates out there, once she's out of commission. Your only problem is that you think we'll stop you from asking the King of Piracy to keep an eye out for your precious daughter," Aokiji stated mildly through a yawn. "Don't worry. We'll be conveniently unable to hear or see anything."

Removing his favorite eye-mask and standing up to stretch, Aokiji walked past the lower ranking officers to survey the sea from the bow of the ship. Smoker sat upright, a deep frown on his face even as he feigned ignorance. Hina watched sadly as the vice-admiral closed himself off. From many nights spent drinking with her sometimes-friend, she knew the bareback man was wrestling with great guilt.

He had been the one to insist that Tashigi go to Mariejois when she was summoned by high command, only to learn that her disappearance was not due to a training mission for future officer candidacy, but unauthorized human experimentation. Even though he helped his protégé to escape eventually, he was still trying to redeem himself for failing to protect his ward. His general disobedience of orders from high command was being tolerated for the moment, but he could not escape punishment for long.

"We all understood that something rotten was going on when the Straw-hats destroyed Vegapunk's lair," the admiral spoke again, his voice faint, but still audible over the wind and the waves, "But I'm skeptical that we've gotten to the bottom of all of this, not with those people in charge. We won't figure anything out unless we find Tashigi or Jewelry Bonney, and learn what they were subjected to before-"

"Wreck off to starboard!" Garp bellowed, Coby and Helmeppo barely holding on to the retired vice-admiral's belt. "No survivors spotted yet."

The other marine officers strolled over to the battleship's starboard edge, Hina taking a telescope from the hands of Fullbody and Jango. She peered out to the mass of debris that vaguely resembled a caravel, sweeping the telescope over the waters in an attempt to find any clues as to what happened. Her scanning suddenly stopped, and she gasped loudly.

"Smoker-san! Hina thinks you must see this!"

Smoker snatched the telescope from the lone woman, and set it against his eye. His cigars dropped out of his mouth with shock. Dangling by a belt hooked onto a jagged piece of the ruined deck was a white and green sheath, a four-petal tsuba barely visible. A green cowboy hat floated nearby. The telescope slipped from nerveless fingers.

"Fuck," Smoker croaked, not realizing that tears were forming in his eyes. Hina took charge as Aokiji froze a path to the wreckage.

"Stop the ship immediately! Coby, Helmeppo, Fullbody, Jango; retrieve that sword and hat!"

[~~~]

On board the Thousand Sunny, Ace joined the other yonkous on the grassy lawn, walking around the edges to make sure that he didn't char the center of the field. Eustass and Shanks looked much better, and Law was as mouthy as always, much to Beckmann's disappointment.

"They're finishing up with their monkey suits," Ace commented briefly, feeling another narcoleptic fit coming over him as his muscles suddenly slackened. "What's taking those marines so-"

Law caught the first Pirate King's son before he could hit the deck, cursing under the man's dead-weight.

"I concur, what's taking so long? I suppose it's too much to hope that they've sprung a leak."

Kidd attracted a telescope from his pocket and looked out towards direction that the marine battleship should have come from. He sucked his teeth as he observed two faint ship-like shapes rolling next to each other. One of the shapes was very small, and looked pitifully incomplete.

"Che. Looks like a wreck. Probably found a survivor."

"I say start without them. Marines are never around when you need them anyway," Shanks muttered around a blade of grass, looking younger than Luffy as he leaned against the ship's railing with one foot up. "It's bad enough that we have to sail to the edge of All Blue for their convenience; now they don't even have the decency to show up on time?"

"This is Garp we're talking about; we should be lucky that he figured out sunset from sunrise," Benn snorted derisively. It wasn't that Garp did not command respect from pirates worldwide; it was just the fact that he was narcoleptic, prone to massive acts of stupidity or recklessness, and had a tendency to blurt out secrets at the strangest time. In other words, he was so much like Luffy that it was hard to expect anything different just because he was a former marine.

"Gramps doesn't mess up times too badly nowadays," Ace mumbled through a large yawn before Law dropped him like a hot potato. "Ow, fuck, why isn't grass softer? At any rate, we're probably less than an hour away, so it isn't that much of a set back."

"That's just 'cause you don't wanna see Gramps," Luffy grumbled loudly as he jumped onto his brother's broad back. "You'll make me deal with him when I've got better things to do!"

The Straw-hat men stepped out in their procured finery, black cutaway suits with white waistcoats and cravats save for the groom, who wore an orange cravat and waistcoat. Usopp, Zoro, and Sanji had somehow managed to wrestle their hair back into tidy ponytails thanks to excessive application of Franky's hair gel. Chopper and the cyborg restrained themselves to gelling their sideburns and no more, while Luffy and Brook resorted to the tried and true method of shaking the bathwater out and hoping for the best.

"Luffy! You look fine, boy! Someone will make a respectable lad out of you yet!" Shanks crowed with pride, slapping the rubbery captain on his back, almost causing the stretchy young man to slide off of his older brother's shoulders.

"Sure as hell won't be you though," Beckmann muttered, winking at the dark sniper as the younger man stifled a chuckle.

"Snazzy," Kidd panted, tongue hanging out as if he were a dog in the sun. "Roronoa, you sure I can't tap that?"

"I'll tap my tsuba once before I rip you inside out is what you mean," Zoro ground out, not even taking note of the yonkous as he made a beeline for his napping spot under the mast.

"Aw, still saving it for Sanji-chan?" the red-headed basketcase continued, his eyes following the swordsman. The blond chef in question snapped loudly in response while he searched the lawn for a spare smoke he might have dropped just before the strip-search.

"You dick, I've told you to lay the fuck off of that nickname shit before I scallopine you. I thought you had orders to get laid, you ass-raping trysexual?"

"Trysexual?" Chopper inquired naively. The Doctor of Death grinned maliciously.

"What? A pirate doctor that doesn't know this old nautical term? You lack the basics, Dr. Chopper. It means that Kidd's the type to have sex with anyone or anything if he's been out to sea too long. Don't leave him around your sons, daughters, or livestock," Law quipped smartly, grandly flipping Kidd the bird in response to one black lacquered thumbnail running harshly across an abnormally pale neck. Chopper squeaked and hid behind Usopp, who hid behind Brook, who hid behind Franky, who delivered a stern lecture on manliness to all three, even while he complained about his pants chafing.

Sanji was no longer interested in Kidd as he sat on the lawn next to Zoro, growing more agitated by each tobacco-less minute until the swordsman negligently pulling a cigarette from his haramaki.

"Oi, dartboard, take it."

"Huh? Marimo why does your shitty ass have one of me-"

"Just smoke already, and hurry up before that witch comes out! You're twitching like a fiend."

Sanji sighed and used Diable Jambe to light the rescued cigarette. He drew the nicotine in and both of the men relaxed as they watched the others milling around, laughing, and insulting each other.

"How's that hangover coming on?"

"Chopper's stuff is working, but it tastes like sweaty dojo socks. With vegetables and hot sauce. I'm not even sure my tongue is still attached to my jaw. And for the record, I thought you were all women. Wo-men."

"Right, I'll keep in mind that you have beer goggles as thick as mud on the bottom of a river. Anyhow, shit-head marimo, now you know how I feel after you drag me out carousing. Welcome to the realm of humanity, you damn demon."

"Oi, you never rode Nami's ass about her drinking and lack of hangovers before!"

Where there were two young men about to flare into a bout of fisticuffs now stood one dejected man, and one puzzled crewmate. The dejected man sighed, and flung himself back onto the lawn. The crewmate eyed him warily, then resumed his own seat.

"You're not really over her are you?"

Sanji snorted in response. Duh. That was obvious.

"Thought you said it was just worship?"

"It is. It was. It's just...I'm kinda empty now. It's like giving away my sister."

Zoro looked at the blond, his eyes goggling.

"I'm sorry, you engage in crew-wide orgies with your sister?"

Sanji kicked the swordsman in the head lightly, meaning that Zoro only had a minor case of whiplash as a result.

"You know what I fucking well mean, shitty incestuous moss ball."

Zoro punched Sanji in the back, almost causing the chef to lose his nicotine fix. Yes, he knew what the cook meant; Nami had been very important to all of the East Blue boys. The battle with Arlong had been their worst prior to entering the Line, and the joy their victory had brought to her had made them all euphoric. She, Luffy, Zoro, Sanji, and Usopp had been very confused teenagers with too much strength, hormones, baggage, and bonds to lose their respective virginities to anyone other than each other, but they could see the inevitable after Arabasta, and Skypeia was a wrenching change to the situation. Yes, Zoro knew exactly how the cook was feeling, which was why he was generous enough to allow the man to get in a few more puffs before speaking again.

"So you reconsidering the whole love at first sight thing with Bonney?"

A shrug. Zoro read it as a definite maybe, which was surprising; Sanji fell in love at least once a month. Every time, it involved the Straw-hat chef giving a woman material goods, sexual satisfaction, or physical labor, until she flitted off to another man that wouldn't take her shit. The blond's only reprieve was the up-front nature of 'working' ladies, who usually walked around with a price list.

"She's kinda different. She's direct. Strong as fuck all. Didn't want anything but food. It's kinda refreshing but strange."

Zoro snorted in response. Duh. That was obvious.

"Yeah, I know, I'm a wishy washy shit-head."

"Once I don't have to tell you, target practice."

"Forgive me, oh romantic, single-celled organism."

"Romantic? Who you think you calling romantic, fucking curly-fried fool?"

Sanji eyed Zoro as if he were a moldy lettuce leaf that had decided to grow legs.

"You have been chasing after one woman for more than three years. Three. Years. Just to show her a sword she would like? Kelp ass, it doesn't get sappier than that."

"Three words. Usopp and Kaya."

"Touche."

"Suck a long one, both of you."

Usopp flopped next to Sanji, a long-neck of something non-alcoholic in his hand. Franky offered two other drinks from his expanded fridge.

"What are we talking 'bout here, bros? Some girlies got you interested?"

"None of your business, shitty hunk of scrap metal. You've got Robin, stop rubbing it in."

Franky rolled his eyes and swatted Sanji's foot off of his face. He shoved the drinks into the younger men's empty hands and crouched in front of them.

"Whatever, bros, just stop getting your panties in a bunch. Where the hell is Nami-sis, I thought she was almost ready?"

The other men chugged the cold drinks back and sighed as they cooled down their parched throats. Usopp stopped long enough to speak.

"This is Nami we're talking about. Her idea of almost-ready gives us at least another half-hour."

Zoro finished his drink, belched loudly, and pitched the bottle far over the railing.

"The den-den mushis are all set up, right? You know Water 7 and Arabasta want to tune in on this."

"A-okay," Usopp and Franky responded in unison, thumbs proudly pointing up at the screens bolted above their heads. Usopp elaborated as he used a small slingshot to send his empty bottle over the edge of the ship, "We've got those babies set up on the wall by the kitchen, and the disgusting creatures are all synced up for live broadcast."

Sanji threw his empty bottle up in the air and shot it overboard with a quick snap of his leg.

"Thought you like bugs and spiders and all those other creepy-crawlies? What makes den-den mushis disgusting compared to those?"

"Those damn snails are more lecherous than you, and have a disturbing desire to share everything they see or hear," Usopp snorted loudly. "Creepy-crawlies? Don't disrespect my warriors like that. Lemme tell you about this huge-ass spider crab I found at the bottom of the ocean in..."

Sanji ground out the remains of his cigarette and turned his attention to eavesdropping on other conversations. Zoro eased his head to the grass and settled down for a quick nap. Franky patted the sniper on his back as he threatened to shoot off various important bits of his crewmates.

[~~~]

"So what're you and Benn gonna do after I find the last one?"

Shanks grinned cheerily at the groom-to-be, who was still perched on top of his older brother.

"Back to Fuschia first! Makino says we have to come by 'cuz we're a two-for-one special. Sometimes I really don't understand that woman."

Luffy cocked his head back and laughed with Shanks, while Ace gave Benn a knowing glance that the older man completely ignored.

"Dear God, that bitch must be pimping," Kidd intoned, his eyes gleaming. "Is she even legal?"

"'Course she is!" Luffy cheerfully answered as he used his brother's back to flip over onto the rail in front of the yonkous. "She runs a bar, and she's-" Luffy paused to make a quick tally using his fingers,"30 years old at least!"

"Beckmann, she's young enough to be your daughter! Shanks, teach me how to corrupt young women that early," Law chuckled, as the first mate turned an interesting shade of pink before stalking over to the mast, gruffly snapping about young, know-it-all up-starts.

"See, it all starts with the upbringing and desensitization to violence. Now take Ace and Luffy here," Shanks began as Law and Kidd listened intently. Beckmann threw his hands in the air and stomped as he approached the pack of men around the mast.

"Roronoa, please tell me you have another smoke. Those idiots over there are wearing me thin."

Sanji's amused ears switched focus as Zoro rummaged around in his haramaki for another cigarette. A rolling drone announced that Laboon had joined the nautical procession behind the towed barge, an observation that was confirmed by a large spout of saltwater.

"Young Chopper, does Laboon look a bit off to you?" Brook began in a slightly worried tone. The distinguished skeleton was very in tune with the whale's well-being, even without any formal training. Chopper squinted and looked out to the large black bulk swimming behind the Eros Cuisine.

"He doesn't look like he's in any real discomfort, but he does seem to be shaking his head a bit. I can check him after the reception if he doesn't get any worse."

"Ohohoho, that would please me very much. The two of us have gotten very old, but he still has a few good decades left in him with your excellent care."

"Asswipe. Your compliments don't make me feel good! " Chopper somehow managed to noodle-dance in Heavy Point form for a few moments, much to Brook's entertainment. Eventually the reindeer man brought himself under control and turned to other topics.

"Anyway, have you guys had any luck getting back to West Blue? The seastone doesn't seem to be enough to keep the Calm Belt monsters away, and it's not like another ship is going to enter the Line with a female Island Whale tagging along."

"We are still working on that. I've convinced Tsuru-cha - Vice-Admiral Tsuru - and Nami to think about it; between those two very intelligent ladies, I am certain that they will figure something out."

"Hopefully soon. I'm hoping that Laboon doesn't end up like me. It's not like I can find any companionship with a compatible female."

Chopper sighed and leaned over the railing, his large hands crossed on the wood. Brook whipped out a very clean and suspiciously feminine handkerchief to dab his teary eye sockets.

"There is someone special for everyone, young Chopper, believe me. Unlike your reindeer brethren, you have the lifespan of a man to search for that someone."

Chopper gave the skeleton behind him a wan smile, then returned his gaze to Laboon. Honestly, the whale had a better chance of finding himself a compatible pod than a blue-nosed reindeer man had of finding a human female who had conveniently eaten the Reindeer Reindeer devil fruit. Everyone knew it, but most had the graces not to harp on it. Besides, the Straw-hat doctor had made a decision long ago to be content with what he had - loyal, loving, law-skirting nakama. His musings were broken by the entrance of the bridal party.

[~~~]

Nami came out of the women's quarters, Robin and Kaya flanking her shoulders. Her bright red dress and the lack of material caused every man on board to stop breathing for a moment. A long strand of orange hair caressed the left side of her face as she gave the stunned men a full view of her beauty, her lips plump and glistening, her cheeks rosy and glowing, her shape voluptuous in her breast-enhancing gown. At her appearance, Brook whipped out his violin, and began to play the traditional wedding march while he and Chopper joined the other men in the middle of the lawn. Carefully negotiating her way down the stairs in time to the musical accompaniment, Nami gave tantalizing glimpses of her garters, the other women trailing behind her like fallen angels tailing a she-devil.

"Fer fuck's sake, why do Straw-hat and his goons always have the best luck?" Kidd cursed as Nami swayed past him, giving him one lascivious wink as his brightly spotted pants tightened.

"Bitch. How the hell is Luffy supposed to handle her, pregnant or otherwise?" Law added, his eyes burning with lust underneath his furry chapeau as she smirked at him. Neither of them noticed as Luffy sprang from his perch on the railing, but they did notice when he used their heads as stepping stones. The Pirate King bounced off of the sex-starved yonkous and onto the lawn in front of Nami, landing just as Kidd and Law collided into each other face-first. Ace watched as the sex kitten suddenly gave a smile that made her seem like a innocent lamb, amazed at his brother's charms as a light blush dusted the face of the orange-haired woman.

"Wow, Nami, you look even prettier than ever!"

"Luffy! You actually got everything on the right way."

The couple gave each other goofy smiles as the groom's men cleared the spot under the mast, allowing Brook to finish the march with a flourish before Shanks and Beckmann took their places. The men lined up behind the groom with Zoro next to Luffy. Robin stood next to Nami, with Kaya right behind her. Her large bouquet of white lilies strategically covered her expanding waistline, not that anyone on board gave a damn; every island on the Grand Line knew well and good who the father was, and most people were surprised it hadn't happened sooner. Luffy dismissed it as one of Nami's moments of decorum. The urge to be a good woman would hit the Pirate Queen in the strangest ways, sometimes.

"Now all we need is for Gramps to get here." Luffy huffed, tapping his foot impatiently. "Where is he? I have a honeymoon to go on!"

"Oi, you brats of grandsons. We've got a situation here."

The Thousand Sunny's den-den mushi system blared into life, almost scaring Usopp and Chopper half to death. Garp's voice came over the system, along with visual feed back from the monitors set up just above Shanks' head. The retired Vice-Admiral was picking his nose as usual.

"We've got a wreck here, and it looks like it may have been carrying a mar-"

Aokiji gently wrestled the den-den mushi from Garp's grasp, and continued speaking.

"We need to investigate it. We'll watch the wedding from the ship and join you guys for the reception."

"Hurray!" Ace and Luffy cheered, going into a miniature jig. While they danced, Aokiji passed the den-den mushi to Coby, who came on the line with Helmeppo behind him.

"Luffy! I hope you have a wonderful marriage to Miss Nami! We'll take a short vacation so you can enjoy the babies, but then I'm taking you down!"

"Woohoo! Marine-free honeymoons are the best!" Luffy cheered, even while Helmeppo made a face at Zoro, who smirked and blew a kiss at him. Fullbody and Jango suddenly crowded the pink-haired marine lieutenant and his ensign.

"Devil-leg Sanji! Don't think I'm slacking off during this truce! I'll get you in the stocks yet!"

"You smarmy sniper! You thought you could look down on Jango? I'll get my hands on you and your pretty little rich miss once this truce is over, just you wait!"

Sanji and Usopp began a long, drawn-out routine to illustrate just how and when the petty officers could kiss their asses, while Kaya sniffed primly and ignored the screen. The young naval officers were choked out by huge billows of smoke as Smoker came on the line. He looked more haggard than anyone could remember, as if he had faced some horrible crisis over the past five years.

"Flame Fist Ace! I'll have a rematch with you yet, only this time, we'll get your head!"

"You and what army, Smoker? Or did you need to remodel Marineford again, sweetheart?"

"Shut your trap! I'll make you and Hancock and Luffy take responsibility for those damages someday soon, mark my words. Luffy!"

The Pirate King stuck his tongue out at Smoker, fingers stretching out his mouth to inhuman proportions.

"Stop that, you brat. I'm going to borrow your swordsman after this reception. I've got a sword that I need him to talk to."

Zoro perked up, his eyes gaining an unholy light. It was a sword, after all.

"Blergh! Whatever, Smokey! Shanks, let's start!"

"Shanks, you old whoremonger? Who the hell said I'd let you marry my grandson!" Garp bellowed, his hand strangling the den-den mushi. "It's your fault he's a no-good Pirate King instead of a respectable marine, who I'd be able to marry off into a decent house-"

"Garp, you old windbag, since when have you cared about marrying anyone? Tell you what, you come by Makino's in the next few months, and we'll toss back a few to the old times, hmm? Alright folks, let's get down to business."

Everyone on board the Thousand Sunny was too preoccupied with the imminent nuptials to notice Commodore Hina in the background of the marines' screen, carrying a long, white and green object below deck.

[~~~]


Chapter Text

"Oi. Oi!"

"Shit, someone go tell Mama to prep for a working girl in trouble."

"Li'l girlie, who did you in? Fuck it, she isn't stirring! Let's get her to the club quick!"

Tashigi heard the voices loudly in her aching head but try as she might, she couldn't respond to her rescuers. Her thoughts and answers were lost in a deep black fog, even as the gravelly voices exclaimed loudly at the blood seeping from her pants.

'Bet that's something they don't see everyday,' the former marine thought wryly. A part of her was appalled by the bitter, twisted sense of dark humor that she was developing, but quite frankly, life hadn't exactly shown her a lot of fluffy fun images.

The rescuers started moving, and the pain that flared through her body managed to force a hiss from her throat; it sounded more like dead air from a dried bladder than the breath of the living. It was still too quiet for her saviors' ears to catch, particularly when compared to the noisy procession they made as they carried her from the beach to wherever they were going. She bounced on the crude stretcher that felt a lot like a large man's sea coat -

'I wonder how Vice-Admiral Smoker is doing? I hope he isn't aggravating his cough by walking around without a shirt in this sea breeze - '

Odd that she should think about her father-figure when she was the one who had more to worry about. The pain flared and ebbed in sync with the jostling, and the swordswoman lost her sense of time, and possibly her consciousness, again.

[~~~]

She was in a red-painted room.

At least it seemed to be paint.

Her eyes were covered in a deep crimson haze that bordered on black despite her recent awakening. Her body felt...actually, it didn't feel anything. She was just a speck of life floating in a nighttime sky filled with blood.

Below her, she could see the laboratory again. A part of her began to wriggle and panic, but it was ruthlessly squashed by her battle sensibilities - the side of her that sang fiercely in the clash of steel and flesh and bone, craving well-justified destruction so, so much.

When did she learn about this side? Arabasta? Loguetown? She could no longer remember. She could, however, see her body below her. A well of bitter bile gushed forth from her stomach to lodge in her throat.

Her body was swaying back and forth to an unheard rhythm, her now-long hair covering her face almost entirely, except for two bright red eyes and a carmine-tinted mouth. Strewn around her were myriad shades of red, from coral to vermillion to rust; the colors were thick, coarse, still running and pooling at her feet. She held Shigure firmly in her right hand, even though every muscle she possessed seemed to shake and roil. Her smile was more like a grimace; horrified yet petrifying, tinged with madness and pain.

In front of her was a wavering pillar of pink and white, smeared with scarlet. In front of this towering pillar was a lamenting sea of the decrepit and the neonate, confusion etched on their altered features. Sickening pops broke through the room as the figure in front of her replaced dislocated joints methodically, but she was too entranced by the -

"Thank ya kindly, sistren, ya saved me from another round with the Doktor. What's yer name?"

She swept her head up - too fast, spinning, freewheeling - and looked at the milky carnation that was suddenly looming over her. Why was she on her knees? Why did her insides twist and hurt so much?

"Shit, they almost got lucky with you. No time now for you to go through..."

[~~~]

Bonney woke with a start. The unnatural fluorescent lighting greeted her once again, the false sky heaving ever so slightly. The remains of a light snack (by her standards) were strewn in front of the lawn chair where she had intended to take a short rest. The creaking in her back told her good and well that she had been out for much longer than anything considered a nap.

'No time to complain, no pain, no gain,' she thought sourly, her mother's words echoing in her head. The strawberry blonde rocked herself out of the seat with mild discomfort, brusquely yanked her scruffy hair back with one hand, and scanned the small isle once again.

'Not even a fish, far less a boat.'

She had long figured out that she was the only one in the place. She hadn't seen hide nor hair of Tashigi or her sword, which meant that the woman was not here; she would not consider the possibility of the swordswoman being dead. That was impossible, much like the prospect of a devil fruit-user swimming to the floating door across the water from her.

"Well, this is a big ol' pile of horseshit," Bonney stated emphatically, stomping hard on the ground for good measure. "How the fuck am I supposed to get off this turd of an island?"

Fully flummoxed, Bonney regarded the few waterlogged planks that had been thrown up on the shore with her. They were barely floating, but she could probably make a serviceable raft with them if she-

A sudden pitch and roll almost threw the piratess off the island. The deafening sound of crashing water rumbled nearby, and Bonney barely had the presence of mind to throw herself into the villa and hold her breath when enormous walls of water started flooding the area. However, where Bonney only expected to hear the thunderous crash of thousands of tons of water, she also felt an increase in the pitching, as if she were on a round-bottom ship. She didn't dare to raise her head and confirm her growing suspicions; her stomach was also yawing and heaving in a way that was most unpleasant and very unfamiliar since her first few days on a horse.

The villa continued to pitch and roll for long moments, making the castaway more nauseous and less calm. Her ears were beginning to feel stopped up, and breathing was becoming difficult. At some point, pain had begun radiating from the sides of her head, adding to her discomfort immensely before all sound became distinctly muted, the barest whisper to her mind as she clung to the floorboards.

[~~~]

"Gentlemen, we have got to stop waking up like this," Law groaned, the grainy wood of the table muffling his voice.

Sanji and Zoro hung their heads over an entire mortar full of Chopper's special brew, laced with nectarine nectar to improve the taste. They were sprawled over two chairs in the general vicinity of the preparation table along with unpleasantly nigh-sober versions of Chopper, Shanks, Kidd, Law, and Beckmann. The miserable criminals watched dispassionately as the restaurant full of alcohol-poisoned guests lined up for hangover cures doled out by Hatchan and Keimi. Neither of the fishy folk looked much better than the guests, but the fishman had six arms and Keimi was fast, so they were drafted into "Straw-hat party resuscitation" duty.

Sanji belched sourly and prayed that the remedy would kick in fast enough for him to eat his breakfast. Zoro looked particularly displeased; this was the second time in as many days that he had experienced this hangover phenomenon, and he was seriously considering an extended period of liquor abstinence.

"Your liver should be back to normal in about three months, if you lay off the alcohol," a Heavy Point Chopper confirmed grimly, pulling a bandage tightly around the deceptively small wound on Zoro's right side. "You should be thankful that whoever stabbed you only nicked it, and had the good graces to take care of their weaponry. If it were Kidd, you'd probably have died of tetanus by now."

On the other side of the table, a three-tine fork stood up on its handle in front of a crop of sweaty sanguine locks, then the two outer tines bent backward to give the universal expression of malevolent wit and tomfuckery. Chopper responded in kind before returning to his normal form and going back to his seat to drain his mug.

"Seriously, can anyone even remember the ceremony?" Shanks asked from his spot under the table. "Did I do a good job or what?"

"Well, you started off reasonably well," Beckmann affirmed after sipping his portion of the healing brew.

[~~~]

Shanks, Ace, Kidd, and Law went to all four points on the ship, each holding a bottle of rum that Sanji graciously provided them from Zoro's private liquor collection. Shanks lead the libations by smashing the neck of the liquor bottle on the ship's railing and pouring the amber nectar into the water, followed by Luffy and the other yonkous.

"Here's to Davy Jones and all the pirates carousing with him," Shanks muttered solemnly from the stern of the ship.

'New King and Queen in your place, Roger, doing what you both wanted to do so badly. Ah, looks like Buggy and me are the only ones who got to grow old gracefully. I'll be joining you, but not too soon.'

"To Davy Jones and all the pirates carousing with him," Ace intoned from the ship's bow, his eyes wet, but not leaking as he glanced in the direction of Marineford.

'Pops, I hope you've got enough alcohol down there to keep your blood warm. Your sons are doing fine, kicking up storms all over the place. Luffy's still alive, amazingly, so toss a few blessings his way, huh? One for him, one for his wife and babies, and one for his crazy crew too.'

Law and Kidd emptied their bottles out silently, then all four regrouped around the mast; Shanks in front of Luffy and Nami, with the other three behind him. After clearing his throat with a swig of white rum from his hip flask, the eldest yonkou continued the ceremony.

"You scurvy seadogs and dearly beloved," Shanks began enthusiastically. "We are gathered here today because this young rascal has knocked up this charming flower of womanhood and she, in turn, has knocked enough sense into him to get him to marry her."

Nami glared bullets at Shanks, and he noted her twitching fists with dread caution. Clearing his throat a bit nervously, he continued.

[~~~]

"I dunno, that beginning has a sorta nice ring to it," Shanks mused while crawling back onto his seat.

"Yeah, that's exactly what my sister didn't say."

Ace propped himself up against the doorway, his pants half undone. The other pirates tried very hard not to notice the numerous love bites and scratches on his body, but it was pretty much impossible when Boa Hancock slid behind him and goosed his ass.

"Don't forget," she giggled slyly in his ear before strutting to the front of the line, her snake giving Luffy's older brother a fangy grin before following its mistress. Ace blushed hard, the red turning his face into a heated stop sign. He chuckled obscenely to himself for a few seconds while numerous items were thrown through his head.

"God-dammit, she's too good for you D. boys!" Sanji screeched while throwing another wooden mug. "What the hell does she see in you louts?"

Zoro strained to hold the ero-cook down as smoke began to curl from places other than the blond's mouth and cigarette.

"Oh hush," Ace continued blithely, incinerating the mug as it passed through his head. He pulled up a chair next to Zoro and began filching pancakes, eggs, bacon, sea king ham, and toast from the centrally located platters.

"Let me tell you addled cows how the rest of the ceremony went," he mumbled around his over-laden fork.

[~~~]

"Since we're all pirates here and don't stand on a lot of ceremony, I'll get down to business. If there's anyone crazy enough to stop these two from marrying, speak now and risk holding your teeth forever."

Beckmann leaned over to whisper in Shanks' ear as the red-headed yonkou and Luffy looked around belligerently, haki beginning to waft along the wooden planks. After a bit of blinking and a whispered cry of "Really?" Shanks turned back to the gathering.

"Oh, and forever hold your peace, too," he added nonchalantly, patting Luffy on the shoulder to get the Pirate King to lay off the glaring.

[~~~]

"At which point, I made my grand entrance," Hancock added in a miffed tone, exposing the greater part of her cleavage as she leaned over Ace's back. Her unusually long tongue snagged a piece of egg and a dollop of syrup from the corner of Ace's mouth before she flipped herself into his lap.

"I thought I ought to give you this - you're much more considerate than Luffykins, but you are a D. man. I wouldn't want you to get sidetracked."

Something black and lacy disappeared into Ace's pocket faster than food down Luffy's throat. Hancock was exceedingly smug as she got off of a very uncomfortable young man.

"Stay for breakfast this time, won't you, Boa-chwan?" Sanji whined, somehow battling through his nausea, fatigue, hunger, and hangover to fawn over the Kuja Empress.

"Sorry, Sanji, you and Zoro will have to make do without me from now on. I'm sure Ace will tell you the details," Hancock replied sweetly before kissing all of the men noted. Zoro harrumphed, Sanji nearly launched himself into the stratosphere before falling back in his seat, and Ace took a break from eating to thoroughly return the kiss and flip the cook the bird.

"Oh, Kidd, Sadi-chan was looking for you for some reason," Hancock threw over her shoulder as she and her snake left the building through the main doors of the kitchen. "She said you need to hurry up and find her or else she'd talk to mmm~ Killer-chan."

The man in question blanched and dived under the table, while wicked, feminine laughter rebounded throughout the kitchen.

"I take it you still haven't told him?" Law asked mildly, moving just enough to peek under the table.

"Just shut up!" Kidd barked over Zoro's contemptuous snorts. Sanji sighed theatrically and handed the supernova his plate before answering the unspoken questions of the other men.

"We met in her in a dungeon club where she's the head dominatrix, we had a tryst with her but the imbecile under your feet had repeat performances. Killer is her current, exceedingly jealous boyfriend and he doesn't know about the other times, just the first one with the four of us," the chef elaborated quickly before sitting down again and spearing some food for himself.

"Killer knows but we don't talk about it," Kidd grumbled before stuffing toast in his mouth. "He follows his captain but he loves the crazy bitch; he's struggling enough without her yanking his chain."

"Who haven't you guys slept with on the Line?" Shanks asked wondrously. "And I thought Benn and I were studs!"

"We are, but we're old studs, about to be put out to pasture," Beckmann noted sourly, stabbing a pancake with unusual vigor.

"Oi, watch it! Some of us have morals and a sense of duty." the swordsman started, glaring sharply at his blond crewmate. "Besides, we never met Makino, Nojiko was off-limits, Vivi was hung up on that Kohza dude, Usopp and Franky snagged Kaya and Robin from the get-go, and some of us managed not to get attacked by that Doctorine mountain hag!" Zoro snapped, mildly annoyed that he could probably count on one hand the number of times he had sex in a year, unlike the ero-cook.

"Oi, watch yourself!" Law and Sanji snarled as a steel-plated shoe and a nodachi lashed out at the swordsman, almost knocking him from his chair despite his deft block with Shuusui's sheath. "She's damn good at what she does!"

"That old bat is still at it?" Shanks and Beckmann asked simultaneously, the red-haired pirate having to scrape his jaw back off the floor.

"Can you guys please stop talking about my mother's sex life? Please?" Chopper wailed, audibly disturbed by the turn of the conversation.

"The only thing I ever got from those orange and Oharan witches was a Thunderbolt Tempo and a Dos Fleur Nutcracker, unless you're going to tell me that is their way of fucking with people," Kidd added tawdrily as he regained his seat. He perked up as he considered his own words.

"Is that their way of fucking? All the sparks and squeezing and shit?" he asked hopefully.

"Hell no," Sanji and Zoro remarked, shaking their heads briefly before chugging more of Chopper's hangover remedy. The reindeer covered his ears with his hooves.

"Now my sisters! Beckmann, hurry up and tell us what happened when Hancock arrived!"

"Well after the Snake Empress dropped in..." Beckmann continued, munching a strip of bacon idly. Ace blinked rapidly for a few seconds before dropping face-first into his breakfast. Zoro obligingly rolled the yonkou's head out of his food while listening.

[~~~]

"Who the hell is trying to drop a Nami on my Luffykins?" came a high-pitched screech from half a mile away.

"You just had to invite that bitch, didn't you? I told you it was too dangerous for her to be out and about!" Nami growled, her eyes closed, orange brows twitching spasmodically. Her fist was gripping the bouquet so tightly that her knuckles were white, and her Climatact was starting to slip out into the open.

"Nuh-uh!" Luffy shook his head wildly as he crossed his lanky arms into a protective 'X' in front of his body. "I swear! I haven't been near Kuja for the past eight months! We just went to visit the babies after Usopp's wedding!"

Most of the assembled Straw-hats began to sweat a little nervously. While it was a known fact that Boa Hancock and her sisters had contracted a number of certain pirates to help increase their declining population, nobody knew exactly who the fathers were, and everyone involved intended to keep it that way until the girls (for some medical reason only known to Kureha, none of the Kuja on the island had given birth to a boy) were old enough to ask about it. It was all according to tradition, and it was currently the only way to keep the civilization safe from the World Government's eyes at the moment; Boa had already paid a dear enough price for betraying her position as a Shichibukai, and the protection of the Pirate Council would not be enough to stop the Tenryuubito forever.

"I invited her, Nami. Come on, she's near enough, and I thought Rosette would like to see one of her uncles get married," Ace stated cheekily as Hancock passed the yonkou of Spades a black-haired, well-swaddled baby girl before gracefully stepping onto the Thousand Sunny.

"And Mama Nyon wanted to come too," Franky swiftly added, his eyes watering profusely as he went over to help Elder Nyon, Sandersonia, and Marigold onto his prized ship. "I couldn't leave her and my sisters outta this!"

Most of the groom's men were too busy cooing at Boa's toddler daughter to care about the repercussions anymore - Rosette was as beautiful as her mother, and even more skilled at reducing males to little more than spineless jelly. Even Kidd was playing peek-a-boo with her, although he was also threatening to dismember the sniggering Law if he so much as breathed a word to anyone outside of the Council. Nami threw up a hand in disgust as Rosette wobbled over and patted her aunt's swelling belly, briefly wondering why she could never resist certain children. Robin and Kaya rubbed her back to comfort her as the remaining Kuja royalty boarded the ship.

"As much as you annoy me, I wouldn't have missed this for anything. We won't be here long anyhow," Hancock stated snootily, noting Nami's increasingly red face as she bent over to kiss the bride and groom on both cheeks. "I have to lead the World Government on another wild goose chase. Did you get my early wedding gift? I sent it along with two reliable looking delivery girls."

The Straw-hats blinked blankly. Hancock, along with her sisters, rolled her eyes.

"Come now, Zoro-kun, a swordswoman sails out here and you don't notice? For that matter, any woman sailed into these waters and you didn't notice, Sanji-kun?"

The blond man and his green-haired companion blinked and turned into beetroots as they remembered their special guests. Fortunately, Hancock had already turned back to Nami before she could see Chopper transform into Heavy Point and start pounding on the Disaster Duo.

"I sent two lovely, strong-headed ladies out here to keep the rowdies under their thumbs until you got back. Sandersonia and Marigold tested them personally."

"Oh yeah, these girls were strong alright, but they knew how to play; just the way Sanji likes them. They also had good heads on their shoulders," Sandersonia interjected, her tongue lolling out mischievously. "Even Marigold found them to be delightful."

"Hn. They were good sports, and quite skilled. It's not like I'm going to send just anyone to Zoro."

Before the cook or the swordsman could get a word in edge-wise - not that they had much to say with Chopper actively throttling them - an impossibly loud falsetto carried across the open waters.

"Straw-chan! Don't you dare start without me! That is not the Okama Way!"

[~~~]

"I still can't believe that you heathens were going to say the vows without me!" Bentham wailed from the doorway of the kitchen, his mascara well on the way to running over his rumpled dark suit and his silky black hair sexily mussed. His outrageous entrance broke Zoro out of his reverie; now he remembered why he'd been drinking so hard with Sanji at the reception. They'd helped the Pirate Empress' gifts to flee the area instead of keeping the women close at hand. What a fuck up. What was worse, the Kuja leader refused to elaborate on the women's situation as escapees from a clandestine lab. Some crap about it being "A task for females only, not two bumbling morons." Luffy's first mate was exceedingly glad when Sanji's chair scraped the floor loudly, muting the chef's sigh as he got up with a creak in his knees. Almost immediately, the sound of two shoes colliding noisily jumped across the room.

"You were late, you damned whiny bitch!" the blond chef snapped, lighting a new cigarette with one leg high in the air, countering Bentham's flying kick. "Nakama or not, Nami said sunset! Sunset!"

"It's not my fault that the club needed longer than I expected to get ready! Besides, I wasn't the last one to come!" the flagrant okama wailed, pausing briefly to wink lasciviously at the semi-conscious Kidd. Lord love a duck, but Bentham did so like a bad boy in smeared makeup. Even better when the bad boy forgot who had smeared the makeup. The air whistled over the okama's head, pulling him back to the fight.

"Keimi and Hatchan weren't there either!"

[~~~]

Bentham had finally climbed on to the ship from his small boat and was now ensconced with the other groom's men, looking only mildly out of place with his mascara and blush as he stood next to Sanji. Somehow, he'd managed to spin little Rosette around for fifteen minutes as they engaged in a boisterous episode of "Stop joooking around!" yet he was able to manifest a dignified air, with nary a stitch out of place, a mere five minutes later. Ah, the skill of the Okama Way indeed.

Perhaps that was why Kidd was staring so hard at his ass.

"If we don't have any more interruptions," Beckmann began, gathering everyone's attention only to have the statement shoved back down his throat as the challenging note of a sea king's roar broke the surroundings.

"Oh for the love of- What the hell is it now?" Nami screamed, two steps away from ripping the bouquet in half.

"Looks like a giant chicken of the sea," Garp's voice crackled over the den-den mushi. "He's off to our right - let Coby and Helmeppo handle this."

"Aye aye, sir!" the marine ensign and his subordinate replied, ready to jump off of the ship and straight over the snapping beak of the creature in question. Before they could move, there was a rapid flash of steely light, and the sea chicken's head was airborne. Some six seconds later, after realizing that its head was no longer connected to the rest of its body, the chicken of the sea wisely decided to expire with a loud gurgle and a geyser of blood. From the open, flying maw came three shadows, one of which had a distinctly fishy tail.

"Luffy-chin! Sanji-chin! Help!" Keimi cried as she, Pappug, and Hatchan rapidly descended towards the Thousand Sunny.

"Rubber Net," Luffy responded idly, stretching his interlaced hands over his head. The fish-folk descended onto the net, bounced, and landed safely on the deck.

"Yay! Oh Nami-chin, you look glorious in that dress! I told you the design would work!" the mermaid princess gushed as she brushed herself off. Dressed in a very complimentary white lace shift, it was obvious that Hatchi had done good for himself.

It probably helped that Keimi had threatened to turn Octopako into a Pirate King appetizer if she ever touched the six-armed fishman again. She really was quite a vicious little gourami mermaid - Sanji blamed Zoro and Hatchi for their nasty swordsman influences.

[~~~]

"It's not Hacchin or Zoro-chin's fault at all! That Octopako is so selfish and mean and...ooo~!"

"Blood pressure, Keimi," Hatchan gasped as he and the mermaid came over with their mugs and the enormous mortar. Sanij slid a plate to an open seat before piling the other plate full of syrup-dripping, butter-coated pancakes - Keimi had quite the sweet tooth.

"Thanks, Sanji-chin! So after we dropped in, the ceremony went really well!"

[~~~]

Nami glared bullets at Hatchi, who she'd chosen to take out her wrath on. His lumpy head served as a warning to everyone else, who promptly shut up and retook their positions. Usopp and Sanji hauled the fishman back with the rest of the groom's men.

"Who's missing?" the orange-haired hellcat growled, her eyes pupil-less, blood-shot, white, and exceedingly scary.

[~~~]

A number of pirates suddenly decided that it would be better to skip the ceremony and join in on the reception.

"That Nami is way too scary to marry! Who the hell knows what he's thinking?" Buggy snapped as he watched the den-den mushi monitor with his first mate. His new ship was the flashiest vessel in the ocean, with enough lights to blind the sun.

"Utterly agreed. She makes Impel Down look like a vacation resort sometimes," Galdino responded, sipping his tea as he made an anchor of wax to halt the ship.

[~~~]

Back in position and well fortified by another few (seven) swigs from his flask, Shanks continued the ceremony.

"Monkey D. Luffy, do you take Nami to be your wife; to love, comfort, honor, and keep her? To have and to hold-"

"I think he's done that part admirably enough," Law commented snidely to Kidd, who didn't bother to stifle his laughter.

"-through broadsides and raids, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until Davy Jones takes either of you to the bottom of the sea?"

"Course I do." Luffy responded, his grin unbelievably broad. Sanji sniffled loudly, causing Zoro to roll his eyes and whip out his large, black bandanna from his haramaki. Franky was already blubbering into Usopp's shoulder while Chopper and Brook held each other up.

"Nami, do you take Monkey D. Luffy to be your husband; to love, comfort, honor, and keep him? To have and to hold, through broadsides and raids, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer-"

Kaya and Robin patted the bride's shoulders gently as the young woman blanched at the sound of the word 'poorer.'

"-until Davy Jones takes either of you to the bottom of the sea?"

"I do," Nami answered proudly with her chin tilted defiantly. Usopp covered his ears as Sanji and Franky began to wail.

"Can we exchange the tokens, please? Before I drown here?" Zoro groused, his suit getting sprayed by tears.

Luffy untied his straw-hat, carefully taking it from around his neck and placing it gently on Nami's head. He fumbled and blushed as he tied the string snugly under her chin.

"Uhm, well," the Pirate King stuttered, unusually bashful, "you've always taken care of my most important treasures, and, uhm, you are now my most important treasure, even more important than Hat. So I want to give this to you for forever and ever and ever."

Nami looked at Luffy and gave a gorgeous smile, her cinnamon eyes twinkling beneath Hat's wide brim. She had never looked more radiant in her life.

Zoro harrumphed loudly behind Luffy, and jabbed an elbow in his captain's back. The younger man turned around, puzzled, until his first mate slapped him up-side the head and forced an object into his rubbery palms. Luffy rubbed the back of his head and laughed sheepishly.

"Oh yeah, I also got you this!"

The platinum ring was wide in a valiant attempt to secure the enormous, pumpkin-colored, round-cut diamond ensconced in a thick setting in the center of the band, which was lined with smaller ruby fragments. Nami hauled a loupe from the middle of her bouquet and snatched the ring up, holding it in the sunlight as she examined it.

"This diamond alone has got to be about a 6-carat stone...good clarity, even color. Oh, Luffy!"

Luffy looked a bit goofy as Nami plastered a large, wet kiss on the side of his face before slipping the ring on her left hand. The ring had definitely been worth the trouble that the Pirate King and the rest of his crew had gone to create it. He was still in a daze when Nami snapped her fingers and Robin placed a book in her hand.

"Luffy, as a token of my everlasting love and devotion to you, I have canceled your debt to me, in full. Also, I'll never hold you in debt again."

The groom's men had a sudden case of weak knees. Even the yonkous looked a bit sallow. More than half the inhabitants on the Line were in debt to Nami thanks to her Mikan Treasury and Lending institution, so for someone to escape - well, that hadn't been done since forever. Even Usopp was still slightly in debt to the orange-haired tycoon, seeing as how they refused to live off of Kaya's money and left the entire sum to Ninjin, Piman, and Tamanegi. That said a lot, considering the sniper was the designer of the underworld's secret currency, the kingsmark, established by Nami shortly after Luffy's reign began, and acknowledged by ne'er-do-wells everywhere as being on parity with the official beri.

Absolutely not the perfect time for Bentham's mini den-den mushi to start ringing loudly - or for Ace to snore from his temporary resting place on Beckmann's shoulder. The okama winced as Nami's eyes turned red, and hurried to one side of the ship. After a round of screeching, silence, quiet decision-making, silence, screeching, and a loud disconnection, the nightclub owner slinked back in to place. The bride let out a long stream of hot air that singed a few eyebrows and woke up Ace.

"As I was saying, you're debt-free and you'll stay that way. Also, I - ah, well, I - uhm- Imadeyouthis."

Half of the wedding guests were still trying to figure out what she said when Keimi pulled a large straw hat from her bag. It was slightly lopsided, missing more than a few strands, distinctly frizzy around the edges, and decorated with a gilded red ribbon around its crown. Nami took the hat from the mermaid and then put it on Luffy's lowered head, tying a rough-knit hemp cord under his chin as she spoke.

"Keimi taught me some weaving and, uhm, I made this myself. I'll make you a hat whenever you need it, no matter what."

Zoro and Usopp held Sanji back as he threatened to dismember Luffy if the captain ever got so much as a pinprick in Nami-swan's handmade gift. The rubber man heard none of the rant, his eyes scouring Nami's face with a heated look of something primal in his large, dark eyes.

Meanwhile, Hancock, with her head so far back that her hair was about to sweep the floor, sniffed loudly and stuck her stiletto heel in the back of Nami's calf.

"Ouch! You snake-eyed floo- oh, right! I also got a ring for you."

The ring was actually four thick gold bands in one, with a large, thick, curved sheet of gold-plated steel over the top. The metal plate covered Luffy's knuckles entirely and the Straw-hat jolly roger was ornately etched in the middle, studded with two large, black agate stones for the eye sockets and a ruby-filled hat band. Luffy's eyes were glistening with stars so bright that the bridesmaids were squinting. Usopp and Chopper were blinding everyone else.

"Well, it's more of a knuckle duster than it is a ring, but it'll help you hit even harder and leave our mark for everyone to see!" Nami explained as she took the groom's hand and slipped the jewelry on. What she did not explain was how the knuckle duster would also protect his hand. Luffy's fingers had been sliced, squashed, broken, and fractured so many times during the past five years that Chopper was not sure that the captain would have nerve endings in his hands within the next five years. Armor was completely impracticable given Luffy's style of melee combat, and telling him that hand protection was for his own good would only be scoffed at.

What she and Luffy did not know was the massive effort that went into both rings; Usopp and Chopper hammering out the design and ergonomics, Brook and Robin racking their brains for gemstone lore, Hancock, Bentham, and Sanji using dubious means of persuasion in order to acquire the materials, and Franky and Zoro forging and polishing both pieces of jewelry over many nights under strange conditions that made the rings beyond super.

"Monkey D. Luffy and Nami, by the powers I earned as the captain of the Red-Haired Pirates, I now pronounce you husband and wife," Shanks loudly proclaimed as Beckmann snorted at the the thought of the two remaining Red-Haired Pirates actually needing leadership. Shanks gently stepped back on his first mate's toes while pushing the bride and groom together. "Now hurry up and kiss so Zoro and I can get some good grog."

Nami held on to the tattered hat with one hand as leaned in an pressed her lips lightly on her husband's mouth. Luffy blinked, and lolled his head to one side in confusion before speaking.

"That's not a kiss, Nami."

"I know that, Luffy, but it's just a gesture for everyone watching."

"But I don't like it. I like how we usually kiss. Like this."

At which point Luffy proceeded to haul his pregnant wife up into his lean, corded arms with unusual grace and soundly swallow her mouth. Nami's screeches were dissolved in a moment, and betting in Shabondy Archipelago switched from the number of interruptions during the ceremony to the odds of the couple actually leaving the deck before consummating the marriage.

"That was so beautiful! To see Rubber-bro and girlie marry with such a don! Ah, it'd make a ton of people cry!" Franky blubbered through an ocean of tears. As Robin patiently consoled her cyborg, no one was stupid enough to ask why she hadn't married Franky yet.

"I wonder if Vivi-san was watching it in Arabasta? Vivi-swan! My heart still flies to you over these thousands of miles!" Sanji danced in front of the visual den-den mushis, Zoro rolling his eyes behind him.

[~~~]

In Arabasta, the royal palace dissolved in a flood of tears and snot centered around a large monitor attached to a den-den mushi.

"That was so beautiful!" Vivi exclaimed, the only dry-eyed person in the room. She hugged Kohza tightly, nuzzling his broad back as he surreptitiously wiped his eyes in the crook of his elbow.

"I'm just glad he's hitched. Maybe now he'll have something better to do than send me death threats," the former rebel leader grumbled.

"Devil-leg and Roronoa are still unattached," King Cobra reminded him while discreetly smearing snot on the hem of his cape. Pell and Chaka were too busy drying their eyes on Pell's turban.

"They'll meet good women soon, fret not, Kohza," Terracota replied as she consoled her wailing husband on one shoulder. "People who can cook and fight like that are bound to find women who can appreciate them. The death threats will stop. Eventually."

[~~~]

"How can she come out in something so indecent! Where's the veil? The train? The 18 ankle-length petticoats?" Paulie wailed, his hands over his eyes as Nami bounced up and down on the screen. Lulu and Tilestone pushed the rope master's head out of the way to get a better look at what the bride was not wearing.

"Nice indecency!" the shipwrights crowed in delight.

"Good God, she could choke a yagara with that thing!" Zambai cried out loud, adjusting his scope to lessen the diamond's on-screen brilliance while trying to see the bride's lingerie.

"His ring would kill Sodom and Gomorrah, waina!" Mozu chanted behind him.

"Both would choke them dead, deader than fish on the dock, waina!" Kiwi intoned from her place next to her sister. Both women were professionally dressed in black, business-like skirt suits, complete with black sheer stockings. Mozu and Kiwi had abandoned their square hairstyles after Franky left Water 7, opting instead for neat, square buns.

"Nma, I'm not sure about them, but it definitely would end the life of a normal yagara. At least they wouldn't die strangled by their own snot like Baka-nky," Iceburg commented mildly, rubbing Tyrannosaurus fondly. "Now girlies, back to work! Aren't you supposed to be my secretaries, nma?"

[~~~]

"At which point the whole shebang devolved into the most outrageous wedding reception ever," Usopp commented from the doorway, his overalls hanging open to reveal numerous thin red lines over his chest.

"Not quite, Long-nose bro - don't forget the send-off for the honeymoon," Franky added, striding in behind the sniper as he pulled on his shirt.

The two inventors staggered into the kitchen looking thoroughly worked over - they'd sweat most of the alcohol out of their system since waking early in the morning through a combination of work and the sort of fun that half of the council was sorely missing out on. Their muscles stood out sharply as they panted in the large galley, Usopp's head deep in Sanji's personal fridge as he tossed two six-packs of cola to the super carpenter.

"How're those living quarters going?" Sanji inquired as he slid two plates to his crew mates. The kitchen was now as crowded as the dining area, with eleven men and one mermaid crowded around the preparation table. Sanji figured he'd have to kick everyone off his ship soon; he needed to clean and then drag his marimo pack mule out with him and Bentham to restock and find the basics for the new rooms. Franky, already on his second bottle of cola, grunted and gave Sanji the thumbs up while Usopp piled both plates with food and elaborated on the cyborg's behalf.

"We've got the crew's quarters set up, and we've partitioned the space for your quarters. The bunks are strung up, the bathrooms are installed, the pump's set up - we just need to finish connecting your room to the kitchen, which is why we're back down here.

"Wait, where the hell have you and Roronoa been sleeping if you don't have quarters on this barge?" Law asked, mildly curious as he finally found the strength to raise his head from the table. "The Thousand Sunny only met us late last night."

Sanji snorted, "I have been sleeping on the Mini Merry with Chopper whenever we got kicked off the ship, while the shitty marimo has been doing what he usually does - sleeping anywhere, especially on top of my sake barrels."

"Want me sleep on top your mother instead?" Zoro drawled, his eyebrow twitching ever so faintly.

"I always figured you were into necrophilia. You're a bonehead anyway," Sanji replied without skipping a beat. The cook rose and grabbed one of his large trays, then started stacking the wares. Given his generally relaxed demeanor, only the swordsman would have been prepared for the vicious onslaught that the blond launched once the wares were on the tray. Usopp leaned back in his chair, cocked his feet up on the table, and began taking bets from the others as the first fight of the day got underway.

"And here we go again," Chopper sighed as he moved the tray full of wares to the main sinks. "Sanji, avoid his liver! Zoro, don't use the hilt like that, you've got broken fingers and you know it!"

Kidd and Law were loudly out-bidding each other, with Ace snoring in his seat, his plate now empty. Franky and Usopp were goading the combatants, raising the noise levels exponentially. The remaining guests, feeling more alive now than when they first awoke, were plastering themselves to the windows and door of the kitchen, cheering loudly at each pass. Bentham barely heard his baby den-den mushi buzz over the cacophony.

"Bentham speaking!"

The okama spy listened to the snail carefully, quickly realized that he couldn't hear a thing, and proceeded to pacify the hordes.

"Shut to fuck up!" he roared, bringing all action to a screeching, blinking halt.

"Thank you. What's up, my dear laddies?" Bentham continued sweetly, flipping his hair over one shoulder to free his ear. He did not miss the way that Kidd was watching him, and not-so-innocently flicked his tongue over his lips before tuning back in to his caller.

"That working girl we brought in last night ain't doing so good, Mama!" the gruff caller stated plainly. "She's still bleeding down there, and she ain't got much color. She has the ague and if she weren't moaning and gibbering in her sleep, we wouldn't be sure if to call a doc or an undertaker."

Chopper and Law visibly perked up, listening carefully to the caller's description of the situation. Sanji and Zoro dropped their guards and returned to their seats, the okama's conversation far more interesting than beating the shit out of each other. The other guests returned to the breakfast buffet table that the restauranteur had set up much earlier that day.

"Women's problems, no doubt. I'm an okama queen but Iva's not here to re-equip me. Reindeer-chan, can you come back with me and take a look?"

Just as Chopper was about to answer, Brook flew threw the kitchen's back window and landed in a crumpled heap in front of the preparation table. Barely stopping to make sure all of his bones were in the right order, the skeleton grabbed the reindeer and began shaking him frantically.

"Doctor-san, this is bad! Laboon keeps diving and shaking his head! He has blood trickling from his mouth! Save him, Doctor-san!"

"Can't...see...swirling...stomach...!"

"Oi, Brook, calm down. Laboon isn't going to keel over that quickly," Zoro mumbled around a ball of onigiri. "Curlicue, you still going into town?"

Sanji tapped his pack of smokes thoughtfully before answering, "Yeah I am. I take Law and Ben-chan, you take Chopper and Brook?"

"Sounds 'bout right. Chopper, how long do you need to get ready?"

The reindeer snorted and shook his head to clear it.

"I'm always ready, considering I have to tend to you two freaks. My bag is in the Mini Merry. Let's grab it and get going."

Franky belched and stretched, then hopped out of his seat.

"Cook-bro, you need this access to be anything special, or is a ladder and a hole good enough?"

Sanji waved his hand dismissively as he buttoned his white ruffled shirt up and tucked it back into his pants. Zoro already had his boots laced and the tuxedo shirt over his shoulders.

"Right then, by the time you guys get back, you'll have complete bedrooms, just in case that girlie needs 24-hour care. C'mon, Nose-bro, I'm feeling extra speedy this week."

"Keimi, clear the place out for me," the blond cook ordered while throwing a bunch of keys to Usopp. "Long nose, clean up for me, will you? You know the deal – fine, two platters of pike and Kaya's favorite desserts. Lock up for me before you and Franky go."

"Say, Portgas, you never did tell me how you survived Marineford," Kidd noted absentmindedly. Ace mumbled a response, but it was swallowed in a mouthful of scrambled eggs. Charged with their duties, the other men split up, effectively dispatching the Straw-hat wedding and reception to the annals of history.

[~~~]

"Roronoa, Devil-leg, wait up."

Sanji had just tossed Chopper's medical bag to the reindeer when the raspy voice halted Bentham, Law, and himself from stepping into the Mini Merry. A large figure stood up from a stooping position near the kitchen's back door; the cook and the swordsman bristled as recognition set in.

"Smoker," Zoro addressed the vice-admiral curtly without turning around. "We've got shit to do; don't waste our time more than you must."

The seastone jutte came to a halt before it could crush Zoro's shoulder, held away by an unsheathed sword.

"Damned cocky brats. Stop showing off your balls and speak properly in front of an officer!"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. What's this sword you want me to talk to?"

The vice admiral looked vaguely uncomfortable as he rolled his cigars in his mouth before glaring pointedly at the other pirates. Law smirked, tipped his hat with the middle finger of his left hand, and joined Bentham on the Mini Merry. Brook and Chopper tipped their hats more respectfully, then slid into the Straw-hat submarine.

Satisfied that there were fewer prying ears, Smoker grunted nonchalantly and withdrew two parcels from his standard issue marine coat; one long and slender, the other short and squat. He tossed one to either man and leaned against the outside wall of the kitchen.

"Actually, I got a request for you too, Devil-leg. Unwrap them."

The swordsman and cook glanced at each other with a raised eyebrow, then tore off the cloth covering the items. It was so silent that Laboon's spouting could be heard from many miles away.

Sanji help up the green cowboy hat while Zoro unsheathed the green and white sword.

"And?" the cook asked, one eyebrow raised quizzically. "What's so special about this poor example of fashion?"

Smoker smiled slightly. The Straw-hat cook and swordsman did not seem to recognize either item – he felt a bit better knowing that Tashigi had not been associating with other pirates. Exhaling a long stream of tobacco smoke, the marine officer rolled off Hina's well-concocted spiel.

"That hat belongs to the only female supernova to enter the New World with you guys - Jewelry Bonney. She became a Shichibukai and was working on an assignment with my ensign, Tashigi - that's her sword. The idiots in marine research have lost track of them, but we just recovered these items from a wreck on the way here. Devil-leg, I want you to find out what you can about this hat. Roronoa - my ensign wouldn't ditch her sword this way. I need you to read it and find out what happened.

Zoro replaced the sword in its sheath and cocked an eye towards the marine.

"Did you clear this with Nami, or are you trying to sneak it past her?"

Smoker rolled his cigars again, puffing silently as he met the swordsman's gaze. The green-haired man sighed and scratched the back of his head.

"This is fucking annoying, did you know that? Do you know how much this will cost me when she finds out?"

"Can't help it if you're a broke cocksucker, now can we, weed-head?" Sanji chipped in with malice. "What's it worth to you, Smoker?"

The vice-admiral shifted his stance uneasily.

"Don't dick around with us, Smoker - we've got people on the line here," Zoro snapped. The older man frowned and growled out figures that made the men whistle lowly.

"That'll clear a quarter of your debts, Zoro, plus I'll let you keep the sword. Sanji, you'd be able to repair the Baratie fully."

The pirates took a look at each other, then turned back to Smoker. Zoro shrugged, and disclosed what he already knew.

"It's already talking to me. Soggy as hell, I can tell you that she wasn't holding on to this when they parted ways - more likely than not it was stolen beforehand. There's a very faint possibility that it may have been lost. No blood on it, so it hasn't been used for a while - there's only one main set of impressions on the hilt, so no one else has touched it since it was taken. Wanna add anything, aho-cook?"

"I'll need a week," Sanji replied thoughtfully while waving the hat under his nose. "I'll send a message when I get hot. Oh, and by the way, keep your damn money, smokestack. We'll tell you our terms when we learn more."

Smoker fumed quietly as the blond and green-haired pirates went their respective ways. He really hated waiting, but no-one had better bloodhounds than the Pirate King. The vice-admiral snorted and went back through the restaurant to rejoin his marine comrades.

[~~~]

Zoro sat in the back of the submarine with the new sword over his lap, silent as they began the ride out to Laboon. Chopper, somewhat cognizant of his big brother's inner turmoil, occupied Brook in a lengthy, detailed conversation regarding Laboon's symptoms. Meanwhile, the swordsman was grudgingly thanking Usopp, never so glad for lessons on untruths before today. He thought that the whole world could see the way his heart dropped into his feet when he unwrapped the sword.

'Fuck. This is a load of shit,' the green-haired man thought to himself as he watched fish swim past the submarine's window. 'A fucking shipwreck? We let them go and the first thing they do is go get themselves blown out of the water? What the hell sort of shitty luck do those women have? What were they running from so hard? Or running to? Tashi ain't the type to leave this sword, even if she was dying. What happened?'

The Pirate King's first mate straightened up in his seat as the thoughts circled in his head. None of this pondering would do him any good - he was never one to bother about speculations when he could just ask questions.

"Chopper, Brook. I'm going under for a bit," Zoro announced with a yawn, stretching his arms and cracking his back while his crew mates nodded in response. Chopper pulled out his small flask of Drum Island whiskey and handed it over to his big brother, who placed it on the seat next to his own.

Willing away his worries, the swordsman cleansed his mind, his eyes sinking closed as his consciousness systematically caved in on itself. He was in the void. He was the void. In that abyss, the swordsman was nothing more than a speck of ebony in a black sea during a cloudy, moonless night.

The swords' voices came to him as he laid floating in the darkness. Kitetsu was a hungry, petulant, foul gnashing that contrasted starkly with Wadou's calm, collected, straightforward air. Shuusui was silent and deep, only a faint tinge of good-natured rebellion present. Behind the familiar sword-songs was a high-pitch tone that sounded - for want of a better word - lost.

The swordsman further opened himself to the music of the blades, inviting the lost voice to come closer. He extended himself as if he were thread on a spool, and Shigure, that lost voice, clutched onto the line hard. The images and sounds rolled into the swordsman faster than he could process them. He teetered dangerously close to mental over-stimulation, but he wouldn't wrench himself free until the sword had finished speaking.

Chopper almost jumped out of the submarine, salt water be damned, when Zoro's eyes flew open, the whites almost fully visible. A thick line of drool was trickling out of his open mouth as he moaned quietly. The reindeer doctor kept an apprehensive gaze on the green-haired medium as he muttered under his breath, watching carefully for the signs that showed when the man was walking too close to the edge. Just as Chopper was convinced the man would make a misstep and fry his brain, Zoro's breathing evened out, and his eyes closed. After a few minutes, the swordsman shuddered, then opened them again.

"Bad?" Chopper whispered as his companion opened the flask with shaking hands. He gave the swordsman time to take a healthy swallow before pulling it away gently.

"Intense, yeah. Not a crazy bastard like Kitestu, but still pretty wild," Zoro countered, taking deep breaths. "Someone's got to teach her how to calm her blade."

"Did it show you anything useful?" the reindeer asked timidly as Brook maneuvered the submarine before Laboon's gaping maw.

"Give me a few days. My recall is too jumbled right now," the swordsman responded before loudly clearing his throat. "For now, let's deal with Laboon."

"Ohohoho, we're coming up now!" Brook interjected, waving and pointing at a strange object peeking from the whale's lower gum. "Look at that, Chopper!"

The doctor patted Zoro's hands then returned to the front of the submarine. Squinting, he made out the faint outline of a small ship's figurehead.

"Zoro, can you make out what that is?" Chopper turned and asked the swordsman, who was leaning forward to get a closer look. His perpetual frown deepened.

"It looks like...a figurehead in the shape of a goat."

[~~~]

"38 bottles of beer on the wall, 38 bottles of beer!"

"Mr. Bentham," Law began slowly, "If you do not stop singing that dreadful song, I shall be forced to eviscerate you."

"Stop whining, shitty doc, we're almost there," Sanji drawled, his stance relaxed as he finished his cigarette. It was the first time that the man had spoken since they headed out earlier.

"You're one to talk, Mr. Devil-leg," Law replied coolly, "Given that you are the one who has already kicked him into the water three times since we left. I'm sure our trip would go a hell of a lot faster if you would stop trying to drown him."

The unusual reticence had been accompanied by a very foul temper, even by the cook's low standards. Sanji puffed out again, sending cannonballs of smoke into the sky as he ignored Law for the moment.

'The hat is still wet - fits with the whole wreck story. By the feel of it, it wasn't completely waterlogged when they pulled it out - there's still a dry spot on the top of the crown. It isn't just wet with salt water - I can taste straight rainwater higher up. From where the marines stopped, the ship was either steered or blown way off-course. Most likely conclusion - storm hit them and wrecked the ship.'

"37 bottles of beer on the wall, 37 bottles of beer!"

Sanji twitched, but kept his leg down even as Law started growling under his breath.

'What are the chances of a devil fruit-user getting out of a wreck like that? That shit's like...negative 12 on a scale of one to ten. If only I'd been able to see the scene! Then I'd be able to tell how close Tashigi-san was to saving Jewel-chan. Fuck a duck, the only thing we've gotten out of this so far is putting Smoker under our heel for a bit. Goddamnit!'

"36 bottles of beer on the wall, 36 bottles of beer!"

Sanji's foot shot out of its own accord, almost launching his okama crew mate out of the boat; Law quickly snagged Bentham by the back of his shirt using his sword, the long-haired spy laughing his head off as if nothing had happened.

"Make that four times, Devil-leg. Why are you allowed to chastise him while I must sit with my hands tied?" Law groused as he flicked Bentham back into the boat, where he landed perfectly in his seat with a lithe flip.

"Things're different between us as crew mates, shitface. See, what you didn't know is that that particular little ditty is one of Marimo's favorites. Ben-chan, on the other hand, knows that quite well, which means the shitty little fucker is just trying to annoy me!"

"Language, Sanji-chan!" Bentham trilled, ducking and blocking the violent kicks that threatened to overturn the small vessel. "Oh look, I see the harbor master! Duane-lovey, halloooo! Oh it is nice to reach land."

"Thank God for small mercies," Law grumbled as Sanji used a small rope to bring the boat closer to the stone pier. "Let's get this over with, Okama-chan."

The skittish devil fruit-users quickly disembarked, leaving Sanji to secure the Mini Merry. After much swearing - Sanji hand never been a fan of knots - the cook joined the other man and the okama, then the group set off for Bentham's nightclub, The Swan Dive. After slinking through alleyways that would confuse a lesser person and lead Zoro to the South Pole, Bentham led them to a large establishment of dubious nature - it more resembled a gutted warehouse than a congregation place.

"Goddamn, they haven't condemned this place yet?" Sanji marveled, watching a strip of metal siding sagging wearily.

"This place is an outbreak waiting to happen," Law snorted, tentatively prodding at a hole in the wall with his greatsword until a rat angrily squealed at him.

"Ah, but my dear doctor, I always believe in bringing beauty from the inside out!" Bentham chided them cheerfully as he lead them through a dark corridor lined with doors. "Behold! Paradise awaits!"

With flair and pirouettes, the okama opened the door at the end of the corridor, sliding it with enough force to split the frame. From the gaping opening came the bruising rhythms of Apoo's latest Tone Dial recording, the bass thumping through Sanji's body like an externalized heartbeat. Lining the walls of the building were every type of male, female, and unknown character of the underground, laughing, drinking, dealing, dancing, and enjoying carnal pleasures with or without discretion. Law noticed Sanji tidying his collar and hair before lighting a cigarette, but he didn't have time to comment on the prissy behaviors of piratical chefs; the whole building had started screeching.

"Big Mama brought Sanji-kun! Ee~!"

Hordes of women and men with gender issues descended on the two Straw-hats like a plague of locusts, and Law barely had time to step aside or be crushed underfoot.

"Back, you vermin!" Bentham bellowed, his foot windmilling wildly. "Make way for us or I'll invent new body parts for you! No, he's not here for reconstruction appointments! My dear lad, he'd break his leg trying if he ever deigned to beautify your horrid mug! Move it, out of the way - did you just touch my hair? Oh hell no!"

Sanji, for his part, had sauntered behind Bentham while plucking two fresh-faced, sweet-smelling women out of the crowd. After a not so subtle check that the right equipment was under the cellar, he snapped his finger and wiggled it suggestively. Law felt the hungry leer of three men ease off of his back.

"You guys might not want to do that - Law here has a fucked up idea of manners, and I can't guarantee that any of you'd make it out alive if you try to dress him up. However, treat him nice and he might be willing to exchange some important bits between you butches and bitches."

"Oh thanks ever so much for advertising my services," Law deadpanned, earning a shit-eating grin from the cook as one of the nubile lasses lit a fresh smoke for the blond. "Okama-chan, where the hell is the injured girl? I'm too sober for this level of Hell so early in the day."

"Big Mama! Thank God you're here!"

A very large man wearing expensive fishnets, a leather panty, a football jersey, and a lovely pair of stiletto heels skidded to a halt in front of Bentham. He panted loudly, forcing Bentham to drop a heel on his back to push his head between his knees.

"Breathe, Duran, Duran breathe! I assume you put her in my room?"

"Yes, Big Mama, but hurry! She's gotten paler and she's not stopped bleeding out."

Law switched into medical mode swiftly, and drilled Duran on the symptoms as they followed him through an inconspicuous door and down a narrow hallway to Bentham's private quarters. Sanji took a measured sweep of the large, gaudy, lilac-tinted room - seriously, an overhead mirror? - before focusing on the injured, raven-haired woman unintentionally despoiling the okama's cygnet-gray sheets.

The cigarette fell from his mouth and landed on Bentham's white shag carpeting, where it burned a small hole through the floor as it remained forgotten.

[~~~]


Chapter Text

The pile of cigarette stubs in the Baratie ashtray had grown exponentially since the previous day. Three candles illuminated the grim faces of Usopp, Sanji, Zoro, Chopper, and Law as they played poker while waiting for Kaya to finish performing her duties. Law and Chopper were particularly tight-lipped, even though Chopper was forced to stitch up a number of slashes on the Doctor of Death and Law was made to set Chopper's fractured left forearm.

When Sanji and Zoro returned bearing the unconscious patients and the doctors, Usopp had taken one look at the Disaster Duo's faces and made the executive decision to call Kaya away from the Thousand Sunny's spa-like bathtub, despite many vicious threats against his snozzer. Kureha's apprentice had needed less time to assess the situation and chase the men downstairs after securing seastone restraints.

"I fold."

Sanji tossed his hand into the middle of the table and the sniper sighed. Usopp and Sanji, as two of the best liars on the ship, often cleaned everyone's pockets, provided that Nami wasn't playing. For the cook to toss it in so early was bad. It meant that he had murder or women on his mind, and given the peeks of the left eye that the gunner had picked up in the past few hours, it was both.

"Yeah, I'm out."

Zoro, a man who could read deception like a map and had the meanest poker face ever, threw in a perfectly lovely hand; Usopp cringed. Zoro never followed Sanji's lead, which was what usually made him easy pickings. Right now, the swordsman wasn't even trying, too busy petting the new sword in his lap.

Law and Chopper nonchalantly scrapped their own hands. Despite the pile of kingsmarks in front of him, Usopp could not enjoy such a shabby victory. He swore loudly and slapped his hand - an absolutely crappy one, he might add - down on the small hill of notes. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, and when he opened them, Sogeking was in control.

"Okay. One of you talk. Usopp-kun is about to throw a massive tantrum and start firing at will. I am certain that you two, Sanji-kun and Zoro-kun, would like to avoid more shots lodged in the wood of this ship."

The silence dragged on. Sogeking twitched and absentmindedly drew Yasopp's pistols from Usopp's waistband.

Chopper eyed the sniper king warily, then sighed and prodded Zoro. The swordsman nodded slowly and grunted with effort. The green-haired man stopped slouching and hunched himself over the table, even as Sanji passed his pack of smokes around again, his mouth decorated with two burning cancer sticks.

"Tashigi - you guys should have guessed, if you didn't know it right off the bat - she's one of Kuina's clones. First one made, actually. Seems Vegapunk used her because her family has a...what the hell could you call it? Affinity? Yeah, the family has an affinity for the sword. Like how I hear the swords in my head, they can actually be possessed by the swords - meeting of souls kinda. It can lead to great control over your weapon, or the weapon can take over or...whatever. There're like seven million little things that can get fucked up beyond all recognition, so you have to be crazy skilled like my master or have compulsion over them, like I do, or like Tashi - Tashigi's sword loves her. She makes swords fall in love with her as much as she loves them."

Law passed a hand over his own greatsword, then over three sets of stitches. He nodded half-heartedly, as if Zoro's words perfectly explained how a half-dead woman could spring on him with a wakizashi and almost bypass his guard to permanently disfigure him. Sogeking blandly regarded the world's greatest swordsman, then looked askance at the reindeer doctor. Chopper shrugged and nodded before passing Usopp's tankard to the swordsman. Zoro looked at the ale swimming in the half-full mug longingly, but shook his head.

"If I start, I might not stop tonight," the green-haired man added wryly, and Sanji snorted mirthlessly as he dropped one foot on the table and leaned back in his chair, his head craned over the wooden back. The cook seemed to have found something amazingly captivating etched into the ceiling of the VIP room as his brother-in-arms continued.

"So yeah, the sword's soul can jump into the wielder sometimes, just like you've heard about swords gaining a soul. Takes a special sword though, and Shigure sure as hell is special. It was made for a boy, but he died as his mother tried to give birth to him. The husband was a fuckhole, and stabbed her to death with the same sword, 'cause she dared not to give him an heir or some shit. The sword was really good quality iron that the woman had found one day as a child in her home - it knew her, she knew it. You can guess the rest."

Here Zoro paused and stuck a thumb in Law's general direction. The other sword-wielder flipped the green-haired medium off.

"Yes, the sword is indeed possessed of a soul, if that's what you want to call it, but it was sleeping until recently, or else I would more resemble one of Mr. Devil-leg's hamburgers than a human. It was forcibly woken up by some incident, isn't that right Mr. Roronoa?"

The master swordsman's hand wandered around the tankard, but he managed not to sling it back. He gripped the wooden mug tightly enough to cause it to creak, but he eased off before cracks could form.

"She was sent to Marineford. She seems to have thought it was for promotion or something so but...well, it seems that we didn't bury Vegapunk's work deep enough -"

"Or more likely that fucker knew about it from the beginning," the blond cook interjected without moving. The smoke had settled in a cloud over his form, making him appear like a strange, headless creature from the underworld.

Neither Sogeking nor Usopp thought that far from the truth, judging from the red glare winking from deep within the smoke cloud. There was only one person who was ever referred to as that fucker and still living.

"Akainu was sponsoring something foul," Chopper confirmed, his young voice sounding much more tired than it should. "He was sponsoring Hogback's research, if anything that asshole studied could be considered anything other than torture. His handiwork is all over the...patients."

Usopp and Sogeking nodded, fully aware of the indecencies that the former master surgeon indulged in. At this point, Zoro no longer paused at gripping the tankard - he straight out crushed it. As the dark stout gushed over the swordsman's fist, Sanji kicked himself away from the table with a flip, landing nimbly on one foot only to twist and immediately stomp into the kitchen. Everyone had already guessed the direction of the conversation, and it was a wise move to keep the blond martial artist out of it for the moment.

"That motherfucker sent Tashigi into a marine breeding program, along with a bunch of other female marines and pirates. They were trying to breed super officers based on the best or worst women known on the Line. Seems like they went through their stock like I do towels, harvesting eggs and implanting babies. They were using...whaddya call it again?"

"DNA," Law mumbled, tapping his hilt thoughtfully against his chin. "They harvested DNA willingly, unwillingly, or unknowingly from marines and pirates across the five seas, and combined them in the eggs of these women, then re-implanted the embryos in their wombs. A generally unpleasant process when you discount the use of anaesthesia."

"Tashigi and Bonney were in neighboring cells," Zoro continued bleakly. "They never really talked, but as far as I understand, they were a few of the more lucid women. Seems they found Bonney useful for harvesting because her devil fruit powers allowed her to age or regress to before or after any point of injury. Tashigi has a high pain tolerance, so they were going to use her as a...as a breed mare. She was four months pregnant when she started having bad cramps. Seems that Hogback was going to terminate the pregnancy and her, but they fucked up."

"Jewel-chan got loose. Bit her way through her seastone rope strand by strand for ages," Sanji interjected as he returned bearing a platter of drinking snacks and pitchers of ale. "She got to the armory, somehow remembered Tashigi-san's rambling about her sword and pulled it out, along with other stuff. She then proceeded to tear the lab a new one until she got to the operating room."

Law thoughtfully munched a handful of edamame as he refilled his own tankard and nodded sagaciously. Usopp was now back in full control of himself, and he replaced his pistols.

"So in short," the sniper summarized, "Bonney gave the sword to Tashigi, who was in the middle of a miscarriage and death, and it woke up because it was a similar circumstance to the origin of the soul within."

Zoro nodded as he wiped his sticky hand off on the tablecloth.

"I'm not sure how much of Hogback is left, since he was the one right in front of her. The sword knows the list of victims, though I'm not too sure Tashi does. It was...let's leave it at messy."

Chopper and Usopp winced, while Law smirked and stroked the slash under his eye.

"Miss Bonney was able to use her devil fruit power to reverse Miss Tashigi's age just enough to avoid the miscarriage, but they couldn't be apart for more than a certain distance, and Miss Bonney couldn't fall unconscious. Both happened when their ship got hit by a storm near the edge of here," The Dark Doctor concluded. "Thus, Miss Tashigi should now be going through her miscarriage, and the myriad injuries that both of them have sustained are being treated upstairs by the only person that can safely approach them."

Usopp scrubbed his hands over his face, and wondered again why he let his wife anywhere near medicine. Too often she was in more precarious situations than he had ever faced, short of Raftel.

"So my wife is upstairs with a possessed woman and a devil fruit user capable of chewing her way out of seastone. Do I start firing now, or do I give you time to run?"

"Neither, hun. I'm fine."

Kaya strolled out of the kitchen still stripping her medical mask, already having removed her surgical gloves and apron. Her hair betrayed her state of exhaustion, even if her gait was straight and sure. The only thing that Usopp would ever thank Jango for doing would be helping his wife develop nerves of steel, something that he appreciated every time Kaya kissed his nose after a stressful procedure. The sniper could care less that the blonde woman still had streaks of blood on her in random places - he immediately hefted her into his lap and buried his nose in her sweaty, stringy locks.

"It was easier than I expected once I got the seastone shackles on Bonney - she is truly busted up, by the way. Anyhow, once Bonney's powers were negated, I was able to help Tashigi through the rest of the still-birth via C-section - she's anemic, so I need to give her iron supplements along with castor oil. Bonney's got a herniated disc and pinched a nerve in her back - not as bad as you thought before she almost broke your arm, Chopper. Both of them are going to be too sore to walk and need help using the bathroom, so I'll stay here with them."

Usopp squeezed his wife a little closer - there was no question that he was going to stay with her. She tilted her head to flash him a quick, tired smile, then continued.

"Broken jaw is pinned, a few fractures and dislocations reset, abrasions and gashes bandaged and stitched, one bad burn, ruptured eardrums, dehydration - look, too much to go through now. Let's leave it at they'll heal. Slowly. Right now, they'll need a lot of care and attention, and I'll have to give it to them."

Chopper sighed and Law snorted.

"Kaya, can't you dismiss your older brother a little better?" Chopper grumbled. "You're basically telling me and Law to go back to Kureha and stay out of your way, aren't you? Why not chase away Zoro and Sanji as well?"

The blonde woman shrugged and gave a mysterious smile while responding.

"They're strong enough to help me move the women, plus Sanji can cook better than I can, and Zoro can stop them if they go ballistic."

"Not like I'll let them hurt you," Usopp reminded her gently. His wife laid her head against his shoulder in acknowledgment.

"Besides, you two are already injured," the sniper reminded them bluntly. "Chopper, you haven't seen your mother in ages, either. And Law, shouldn't Bepo be waking up soon?"

"Fine, fine, fine! I get the hint!" Chopper sniffled. "You're saddling me on this monster's submarine until next year at this rate!"

"Dear Davy Jones, I hope not!" Law groaned as he rose from the chair stiffly. "No time like the present to rejoin my crew. Reindeer, you coming or do you plan to out-swim me to Drum Island?"

"Oh go talk a long walk off a short pier!" Chopper snarled as the two doctors packed up to leave.

"Actually, your mother and I tried that one-"

"Stop it! Stop it! I do not want to know!"

[~~~]

Kaya had placed the two recuperating women in Sanji and Zoro's room, while she and the other men bunked down in the future crew's quarters. The blond restauranteur and the swordsman were still downstairs helping Chopper and Law ready a small boat so that the two physicians could rendezvous with the rest of the Heart Pirates. Their absence really meant that Sanji was about to flex the power of his information network.

For a woman-loving, ditzy, blond eyebrow freak, the chef had an absurdly extensive and convoluted mesh of informants, contacts, and favors to call in at will, not including Gil from Don Krieg's pirates, Kamabakka's resident okamas, and the sundry chefs, cooks, hostesses, escorts, waiters, and scrub boys spread throughout the world. In the secretive underworld of restaurants, inns, and brothels, his name was like a skeleton key for buried, long-forgotten, disjointed pieces of knowledge. Along with Zoro's reputation among bounty hunters, bodyguards, mercenaries, and martial artists of all sorts, the blond chef was often the pulse of news on the Line. The power of information was not something that Sanji used at the drop of a hat, and he was so secretive that many people had become unknowing messengers and allies of the Straw-hats.

"Ok, so why are Zoro and Sanji really here?" Usopp asked once he found a suitable hammock to flop into. The sniper cradled his wife as she flopped onto him, despite having the air smacked out of his lungs by her fall.

"Simple. Hancock and her sisters sent those women to All Blue. That means that they wanted to protect them or they wanted them to escape. Who could protect women more ardently than Sanji? And who can protect Sanji from himself better than Zoro? If it's a matter of escape, well that's what we are here for. You are the most slippery pirate on the ocean."

Usopp conceded Kaya's points as she snuggled into him, both of them feeling much more refreshed after a quick shower in the new crew bathroom. Somehow, though, his wife's explanation was not enough to describe the situation.

"Something's different about Sanji and Zoro though. The way that they're taking all of this is ... well it's like someone told them that this was happening to Nami or Robin or something."

Kaya smirked into her husband's chest. He always underestimated himself, but he really was quite good at reading his crew and their moods.

"Something is brewing between those four. I'm not sure what, but it will be at least as important as us or Franky and Robin, or even Nami and Luffy."

The blonde doctor-in-training yawned loudly, and felt her husband caress her still-damp locks.

"Something's brewing all right, but don't forget that they're called the Disaster Duo for a reason."

Kaya knew that she had a stinging retort for her husband somewhere in her head, but with his strong, slender fingers in her hair, she really could not stay awake long enough to utter it.

Later, when the shock and fatigue had worn off, she would tell him about Tashigi's stillborn with the sea green hair and they would formulate their escape.

[~~~]

Sanji and Zoro watched as Law and Chopper rowed the boat out to sea, equipped with their life vests, seat belts, and persistent quarreling.

"I told you they would be a world of trouble," Zoro murmured, tapping Shigure against his left shoulder, his lips pursed in thought. He scratched the back of his head in frustration, then angrily ripped out the leather thong tying back his hair.

"And I told you, they're worth it," Sanji reiterated calmly, his cigarettes burning down to the filters. His blond hair rested on his shoulders, a slicked-back, golden plumage. "Do you doubt that?"

The swordsman raked his hand through his hair then yanked his earrings fitfully while responding, exhaustion and rage lacing his voice.

"I don't doubt it. Not when it comes to Tashi- Tashigi. But you know I hate doing nothing. I want something to rend."

The blond chef pitched the cigarette stubs overboard without looking. He slid his hands into his pockets, and finally stopped regarding the horizon in favor of holding the swordsman's gaze.

"Are you sure the sword is right when it says that Hogback is still alive?"

Zoro shrugged and nodded.

"Swords can't be bothered to lie, not even when they want to disembowel you or drink your blood, and they're usually too objective to deny a fact. Hogback was still alive when they freed a bunch of other women and escaped. But like I said, I dunno how much of him is left."

Sanji shrugged and made the rare gesture of clapping his crew mate on the back.

"If he's alive, I'll find him - you know that. Until then, our job is to help Kaya get these women in better shape than they ever were before."

'Revenge is a dish best served cold, after all,'Sanji's blue and red eyes plainly stated to Zoro's almost totally black pair.

The green-haired human of the Monster Trio silently shook off his comrade's hand and turned to go inside as if all the demons of Hell were on his heels instead of the blond chef with the bi-colored eyes. Their souls were too close to the surface - histories and emotions that neither man had dared to remark on were lying raw and open. Sanji closed his eyes and ran a calloused hand through his bangs, dragging them back over the left side of his face as his long legs caught up to Zoro.

"Oi, marimo, wait up! You need to help me clean up the poker table! Who the hell told you that you could wipe your shitty ass beer into my tablecloth?"

"Oh suck it, curlicue, you don't even wash them that often! Shit, what the hell was that kick for?"

For now, normal was close enough.

[~~~]

"Good morning!"

Tashigi winced as the bright sunlight suddenly streamed onto her face. Oh God, could she hurt any more? It felt like every muscle in her body was inflamed and she had a body-wide case of pins and needles. The rich smell of food hit her hungry stomach and bounced right off of her throbbing lower abdomen - looked like her body planned to put eating on the back burner. She loosed an unearthly moan and attempted to roll over, only to be gently restrained.

"No, no, no, Tashigi-swan! You don't want to do that."

Tashigi-swan. Only one person had ever called her that, and the first time had only been a few nights ago.

"Devil-leg Sanji?" she mumbled, her jaw partially paralyzed by swathes of bandages.

"Ah!" the blond chef swooned in front of her bleary eyes. "Such a vision of moonlit beauty still remembers me!"

"Oi, can it, eyebrow freak. They're supposed to be recuperating, not regurgitating."

"That vegetable hair can only belong to the craziest mother-fucking sword-swinger on the whole damn Line. Why're ya here? Where're we? Speak up and stop whispering!"

Sanji and Zoro exchanged a look between them that Bonney could not interpret. She hated it when men resorted to whispering like a bunch of old women. If she wasn't handcuffed to the damn bunk and if her legs didn't feel so damn weak and if she wasn't practically swaddled from head to toe in bandages, she would march right over there and sock them both, no matter how fine the cook's ass might be!

"Good morning, ladies!"

Zoro moved aside from the doorway as Kaya, followed by Usopp, came nimbly up the rope ladder and into the living quarter, stethoscope around her neck and medical bag slung over one shoulder. She loudly greeted everyone once more, making Tashigi wince even as Bonney silently thanked the blonde woman for actually speaking at a volume that normal people could understa-

"Sorry, Jewelry Bonney is it? Well you seem to have ruptured your eardrums when Laboon - you were inside of him, he's the Straw-hat pet whale - anyway, he took a dive to shake you out! We will try to talk really loudly for you, but we might have to resort to sign language, especially for you, Tashigi, because you really shouldn't try to talk with that jaw!"

Bonney looked mildly contrite as she gathered that she was the strange one out of the lot. Sanji, standing in the center of the room with a colossal, covered silver tray on his fingertips, gave her a wry smile with a cheeky wink that made her feel marginally better.

"I take it you ladies already know Zoro and Sanji! Sanji owns the leaky bucket that you are floating on right now! This is my husband, Usopp, who will be our pilot whenever we actually decide to move." Kaya yelled at the top of her lungs, her calming smile not leaving her face. "If you have any questions or need us for anything, just holler or ring the bell hanging above your beds."

Bonney and Tashigi immediately located the small hand bells and simultaneously began clanging them rapidly, the strawberry blonde piratess shaking her own instrument over-zealously due to her lack of hearing, brute strength, and the fact that she had to shake it with her teeth.

"Alright already, we get the point!" Zoro yelled, grinding his teeth as he and the others covered their ears. Sanji was glad that he'd thought to bring along a small table to place the tray on, or else he'd still be deaf in his right ear. Usopp's nose was still vibrating like a tuning fork when Kaya began answering questions.

"How long have we been here?" Bonney began, mercifully ending her bell's jangling.

"About four days," Kaya replied pleasantly, as if someone being unconscious for half a week was completely normal. "You've been in and out of wakefulness, but it may take a while before you remember anything that happened - we had to use a very heavy sedative for your pain."

Tashigi started to open her mouth, then shut it with a frown. Zoro pushed off of the bedroom's door and strode over to bedside while digging into his haramaki. He idly withdrew a battered pair of glasses and a small slate with a piece of chalk attached to a string.

"Here," he muttered, pressing the items into her small hands. "Kaya's fierce about her patients' recovery, so you better not talk unless you want her to sew your mouth shut."

"Now, now, Zoro, flattery won't get you anywhere," Kaya cooed as she put the stethoscope to her ears. "Keep asking questions, ladies, I'll let these gentlemen answer them while I give you a quick once over."

While Tashigi scribbled on her new blackboard, Bonney asked another question at full blast.

"Where did you find us?"

Zoro yawned while answering, earning a royal round of cursing from Sanji and Usopp, both of whom ranted about the spread of germs and contamination of a sick room due to the swordsman exhaling a great deal of morning breath over the gigantic tray.

"Chopper, Brook, and I found you in Laboon's belly. Looks like you were lucky and floated out to the old doc's ship without getting caught in the digestive acid. You were inside the villa so I guess you finally figured out that the island was actually a ship. Unfortunately, Laboon started diving 'cause the figurehead of your old ship was stuck in his teeth. The pressure outside still affected your eardrums enough to rupture them, but Kaya says they were infected anyhow, so it may have only been a matter of time."

"Tashigi-san had it much luckier - she got washed up on the shore of a nearby island. "Big Mama" Bentham's guys found you and brought you to safety. Then, they called us," Sanji added as he glared at Zoro and removed the cover to the tray. Two bowls were nestled next to an enormous cauldron of clear, hot chicken broth that set Bonney's stomach to growling immediately.

Tashigi tapped her slate furiously before Bonney could ask any more questions or drown on her own saliva.

Have you found a katana with a four-petal tsuba and a green-and-white sheath?

Zoro smiled fondly, a phenomenon that was hard for anyone not familiar with the ex-bounty hunter to recognize, but very apparent to Usopp and Sanji. He pointed to a spot underneath Tashigi.

"Don't worry, Shigure's safe. She's under your bunk in a footlocker, along with your wakizashi. I'll let you see it later."

Bonney's stomach gurgled uproariously.

"Uhm, I think we need to feed them now, hun," Usopp ventured timidly, shocked by the volume of the pink-haired patient's stomach. He hadn't heard anything like that since Luffy last came out of intensive medical care.

"Well, they appear to be healthy enough to eat. That's enough questions for now ladies, we'll answer more after you take another nap. Zoro, Sanji, feed these fine patients while Usopp and I go concoct a lighter painkiller," Kaya stated cheerfully as she finished listening to the mysterious sounds of Tashigi's abdomen and Bonney's lungs. She packed up her stethoscope as she turned her back on the convalescents and practically skipped over to her husband.

"I'm not hungr-!"

"Sistren, I feed mysel-!"

Kaya calmly slipped a scalpel between each of her knuckles before launching herself into Bonney's bunk, weapons poised above the woman's eyes. Her other hand flew towards Tashigi, releasing a fan of blades that made Zoro curse viperously as he was forced to lean back almost double to avoid the young Doctorine's weapons. Sanji yelped as he kicked the silver tray into the air and out of the mad woman's way, only to catch the soup and utensils without spilling a drop - after skidding on his face to retrieve them. Bonney's and Tashigi's eyes were closely imitating saucers as Kaya forcefully captured their full and complete attention.

"Listen, bitch. I just spent a number of hours putting you two back together - the next time you even think of moving yourself is when I tell you, got it? Even if you are about to shit bricks in your pants, you will call for one of us to help you to the bathroom. We can get more linen - I can't find more body parts that easily."

The blonde-haired harridan jumped back momentarily, only to pounce on the ex-marine.

"As for you? Bitch, you eat when I say eat, you swallow when I say swallow, and generally act as if I'm your pimp, 'cause I will pop you if you talk again, then I will shove a hose down your throat and staple your mouth closed. You hoes clear on that?"

The only person in the room not nodding was Usopp - he was too busy chuckling into his hand as he noted the new rips in the seams of his nakamas' pants and the blank, terror-stricken look in the female patients' eyes. No-one was ever prepared to meet the Doctorine.

Sogeking smirked, and wondered if he could injure himself enough to get the same treatment tonight.

[~~~]

"Is she always like that?" Bonney asked Sanji between bowls of soup. The chef had gently but firmly held the woman down to drinking the broth spoonful by painstaking spoonful - he didn't even blink when Bonney threw up all over him, her body quivering as it tried to fight off the dregs of the sedative and devour the nutrients in the broth at the same time. Eventually Bonney's Life Return ability set in, and she was better able to take in the liquid food.

"Sorry, Jewel-chan. When it comes to treating patients, Kaya-san occasionally takes after her aunt," Sanji affirmed as he tipped another spoonful down the strawberry blonde's throat. He shifted on the chair that Usopp had brought up for him, trying in vain to restore the blood supply to his right butt cheek. "She usually has much better bedside manners, but I don't think she got much rest while taking care of you both."

Tashigi waved off Zoro, who was half-asleep in his own chair while holding up a bowl of soup equipped with a wooden straw. She scratched on her slate, now strung around her neck thanks to a strand of green yarn unraveled from her rival's haramaki.

Who took us to the bathroom?

"Kaya did something to you that involved a really thin tube and a bag - I don't really want to go into details," Zoro mumbled while placing Tashigi's bowl on the folding table. The raven-haired woman regarded him a bit owlishly - the swordsman was surprisingly squeamish despite his own legendary battle lust.

"At any rate, she thinks your bladder control should be back to normal, but expect a few issues, especially if you cough or-"

ACHOO!

Bonney blinked and looked under her sheet, still sniffling.

"Sneeze," Zoro continued with a sigh. "I'll go get Kaya to help you."

As he walked past Sanji, whose right eye had already begun to physically shift into a heart, Bonney and Tashigi were filled with sudden trepidation. Was the swordsman really so inept a caretaker as to leave the hapless woman chaser in a room with incapacitated human females?

Zoro walked back into the room before the cook could start noodle-dancing, hefted the blond over one shoulder, then propelled him across the room and down the access hatch face first.

"We'll go get Kaya. Sorry 'bout that, forgot about the lecher for a sec."

With a sharp nod as a salute, the swordsman jumped down, right into a Flambage roundhouse kick. The piratess and the ex-marine sighed in relief and promptly disregarded the sounds of crashing, tumbling, and swearing that flared up from the kitchen below.

"So, how ya feeling, Tashi?" Bonney inquired while trying to wriggle away from the wet spot as best as she could while wearing seastone restraints.

Like absolute shit. That needs to pee.

"I get ya, sistren."

Bonney laid back on her pillow and closed her eyes. Sleep was sneaking up on her. She wondered if the soup had been spiked, then dismissed that possibility - the blond chef (prince) would never risk altering the taste and texture of his food by adding medicine. Her thoughts became very vague, and she was snoring lightly when she heard Tashigi scratching on her slate again.

I lost the baby.

Bonney nodded awkwardly. She knew that that would happen from the moment she woke up inside that whale alone. Despite Tashigi's best efforts, the fruit of all the lab's experiments had been lost. Now they would never know if Hogback had actually found a way to counteract one of the devil fruit's curses, or if the son of two sword-masters would be able to depose Roronoa Zoro. They no longer needed to find a place of safety for the babe and Tashigi - all of that had been lost, lost to the Grand Line. And yet, despite Tashigi's quiet, muffled tears...

"Ya know," Bonney began, a lump in her throat choking up her words, "It's really weird - I'm chained to a bunk with seastone handcuffs, we can't eat solid food, we're practically paralyzed from the waist down, the baby is gone, the marines are hunting us down, we're the prisoners of the Straw-hats for all intents and purposes, and...I've never felt safer. Ever."

The silence dragged on. Each woman remained locked in her own thoughts until sleep reclaimed them.

[~~~]

Sanji and Zoro read the mangled note again.

Sanji, Zoro,

We have to go and harvest more of Kaya's medicinal herbs - we used them up to make the medicines on the table.

We have to go now - if we don't, we'll miss the short harvesting period for a number of rare plants on Heracles' island and - look, we'll try to get back as soon as possible, but it might take us a few weeks.

Usopp

P.S. Within a week, make sure Tashigi walks around the ship twice a day at least.

P.P.S. As soon as Bonney's back pain is manageable without medication, make her walk around the ship twice a day.

P.P.P.S. Keep them safe or I will kill you - slowly.

Love,

Kaya

"Well fuck," Sanji uttered softly as he and Zoro gaped first at the letter, then at each other.

"They abandoned us to their job and snuck out to continue their honeymoon? What the fuck?" Zoro growled, smacking the letter out of Sanji's grasp with the back of his left hand. "They can't have gone far, let's go after-"

The two men felt their hackles rise as they watched the paper float out of the kitchen's porthole. The sheet wafted in the air before landing on the deck just outside the kitchen.

Whereupon it promptly exploded.

"Usopp's booby traps. Great. Lovely. Splendid. Not!" Sanji snapped as ash blew past the restauranteur, his hands covering his head and his right leg raised defensively.

"We've been well and truly played, haven't we?" Zoro grumbled, brushing small pieces of paper and dust off of his clothes. "I should've known something was up when Usopp was whistling."

"You moronic mass of moss, he's always whistling. I should've known something was up when Kaya smiled at me," Sanji groused, lighting a fresh cigarette. "What're we gonna do now?"

A loud sneeze echoed down the access hatch, followed by a groan of pain and annoyance.

"You get the sheets and towels, I get the clothes and soap. This is going to be a long week," Zoro sighed, turning to open the door that led outside rather than head back upstairs to Sanji's new linen closet. The chef negligently grabbed the swordsman by the collar of his banana-printed pink and yellow shirt, briefly wondered how the swordsman could ever have so much difficulty matching basic colors, and bodily hauled his crew mate upstairs. Five seconds after their feet touched the landing of the living quarters, both men heard the rapid fire sound of poisoned needles hitting the wood of the door downstairs.

"Fuck Usopp. I am going to throw out every ounce of pike in the cold room," Sanji ground out around his cigarette. "And I promise to throw him in it - I wouldn't want his corpse to stink up the place."

[~~~]

Usopp sneezed loudly. He sniffled and adjusted his hand on the tiller of his small sloop, Merrily Along.

"Hun, are you sure this is a good idea? You shouldn't just go around playing matchmaker at the drop of a hat. Are they even psychologically ready to handle anything, far less those two?"

Kaya stretched out on her beach towel spread out across the deck and sipped her pina colada.

"We aren't really going far, at least, not at first. We're just going to observe them from a distance for a few days."

Usopp snorted, unconvinced.

"Please tell me how that is any better?"

"Well," Kaya began, "Close quarters and absolute dependence may convince those women to actually tell Sanji and Zoro the truth. They were both pregnant - I guess they were running out of breeders and started using the supply line women, so to speak. Tashigi - it's just a hunch, but still... And Bonney seems to have performed a self-abortion - there are some street girls that know the right weeds to use, unfortunately, but it leaves telltale signs because it's so harsh. Anyway, she must have aged herself to force the healing, but all of that has been reversed now."

"And this means what again?" Usopp asked, his confusion obvious in his tone.

"It means that they're weak - too weak to do what they need to do, mentally or physically. They need to spend some time getting stronger, and you can't help but get stronger around those two. I think that's why Hancock wanted those four to meet - she has a tendency to lead people on to their fate. I also think she sent them because we all know that Zoro and Sanji need to discover something much dearer to their hearts to protect, or else they've only got Death to look forward to. Your crew already paid enough of your lifespan to Death after Marineford, no need to beg the...entity...to take the rest. I think those women are in a similar position."

"Occasionally you could just use lists or bullet points you know," Usopp grumbled as they yawed over a wave. "So basically you think they can save each other from a short life plagued by obscurity, bitterness, and a lack of meaningful love aside from nakamaship?"

Kaya snorted indignantly at her husband and stretched out on the deck again, pointedly ignoring his pout.

"It's a good thing to do, hun, but I'm just going to sit back here and worry anyway," Usopp replied, locking the tiller into place.

Now all he needed was an easel and his supplies to capture his wife's beauty for posterity - he had no doubt that Sanji and Zoro were going to kill him, so he might as well leave portraits for his unborn progeny to enjoy.

[~~~]

And so the days passed.

The two care-givers came to an agreement with the two patients that amounted to 'mule and board.' The men worked in shifts to carry the women to and from the bathroom as needed, change bed linen and dressings, prepare suitable food, and ply the patients with sustenance and supplied medication as prescribed by Kaya. The women promised not to strike them in the gonads, and only opened their mouths to eat or drink as ordered, ask for assistance to the bathroom, or call Zoro to chase Sanji out of the bedroom. For everyone's safety, Bonney wore the handcuff on one wrist to stop the women from using her devil fruit powers to heal and escape. No points for guessing who negotiated the terms of engagement. Or who held on to the key for Bonney's handcuff. Nevertheless, the first week moved along quite uneventfully until a Jaya South bird arrived with a message in its beak.

"Yo, Franco!" Zoro called excitedly as the bird sailed through the window to perch on his shoulder. "Wassup?"

The swordsman threw one of his morning onigiri into the air and the chef took the letter from the intelligent bird while Franco's beak gaped open for his pickled-plum rice treat. The bird had grown rather attached to the Straw-hat Pirates after Skypeia, particularly the perpetually lost first mate. After following them to Raftel, the bird often made the long flight to the Thousand Sunny from Jaya, not resting for more than a night until it found Zoro.

"Hnn, looks like he found Usopp before you, marimo," Sanji muttered around an unlit cigarette, the letter already opened and examined by his nimble fingers and eye. "It's from Kaya, of course - I think we're safe to walk around the deck now."

"What gives you that idea, dartboard?" Zoro asked absently, busy stroking Franco's feathers into place as he and bird repositioned themselves to face south. Sanji turned the note around so that the swordsman could see it as well.


What the fuck are you imbeciles doing? Walk them around the deck already before they clot up and die of embolisms! Twice a day, no, three times a day since you asses have waited so long! Can't a woman relax?

Zoro and Franco grunted in affirmation.

"If I didn't know better, I'd think those two were spying on us, but they couldn't possible be so suicidal," the blond chef mumbled, already sucking in nicotine as his match flared around the end of the cigarette. Franco began whistling and tried to turn his head away from the cook, only to have it snap back to the south. The two pirates ignored his angry squawking.

"I guess Usopp was kind enough to set a defuse timer on his traps this time."

"Well, whatever, we'll deal with them later. I guess the fact that Franco made it through the window without becoming dinner was proof enough. Which one do you want to assist?"

Sanji moodily glanced at the swordsman out of the corner of his eye. The over-muscled killjoy was actually giving him a choice? That could only mean...

"I'll walk Tashigi then," the restauranteur stated with a sinister grin on his lips. The swordsman, without blinking, promptly dropped a boot on Sanji's foot, while the South Bird dropped a beak on the blond's head.

"Walk me where?"

The men looked up to see Tashigi peering down at them.

"Ah, my midnight raven of beauty!"

"...Aren't you supposed to be in bed?"

The ex-marine waved off Zoro's deepening scowl and Sanji's heart-shaped eye.

'He's worried I'll bleed on him but if I keep still much longer, I'll go bananas.'

"Where are we walking to?" the raven-haired sword-mistress asked again.

"Under the direct command of your beautiful physician-"

"Ya mean the one who ditched ya to actually spend time with her husband?" Bonney cried out groggily from the captain's quarters.

"- yes, her. Anyway, it behooves me to escort you gently around my vessel for a morning constitutional-"

"What this ass means," Zoro interjected firmly, his fingers wrapped tightly around Sanji's neck as if it were the string to a balloon, namely the chef's blue face, "Is that we have orders from the young Doctorine to walk you guys around the ship twice a day. She says it'll stop you guys from forming clots. So when you've finished your...uh...toilet..."

"The word is toilette, ya big lummox!" Bonney none-too-gently supplied.

"...Yeah, that - when you're done, we'll all take a walk together around this leaky bucke- fuck it, quit biting me!"

"Ok!" Tashigi piped up, unable to keep the enthusiasm of leaving the confining chamber out of her voice. "I'll be down soon!"

"Oi! Tashi! What about me? Ya salt-sucking marine bitch, help me out of bed at least! When I get my hands on you-!"

Franco began shaking his head as he settled on the back of a chair to watch Sanji and Zoro throw down again. This was going to be a long day, and the sniper hadn't paid him nearly enough in fish to deal with this.

[~~~]

And so the weeks passed.

Tashigi and Bonney - albeit with much grumbling, quarreling, and cursing from the latter piratess - went walking around the ship three times a day. Within a week, the men were freed from the chore of taking the women to the bathroom. Three weeks later saw the women confidently taking showers and sitz bathes in the captain's bath, leaving Zoro and Sanji to spend hours manning the pump and the stove when the women unwittingly used up all of the solar-heated water - at least they said they didn't mean to. By the end of six weeks, Zoro and Sanji had a loud audience in the kitchen with them at every meal, cheering and jeering them through their frequent tussles.

At some point during the last week, Franco, who'd taken to sleeping on Tashigi's head when Zoro was busy attempting to make Sanji-sized carvings in the ship's hull, suddenly perked up and flew out of the window. Zoro looked a bit forlorn for the rest of the week, so late that Saturday morning, Tashigi proceeded to drag the swordsman from the table and yank him behind her up the ladder to the living quarters.

"I shouldn't be letting you do this much climbing," Zoro groused as he tried to place his eyes everywhere but on Tashigi's behind. "Kaya said walking, not rigging clambering."

"Be quiet, Zoro. I'm trying to do something nice for you - don't make me regret it already," Tashigi quipped, sticking her tongue out cheekily as she peered down at Zoro from the landing. The large man harrumphed gruffly as he tried to cover the flush of blood that rose in his face when his name rang out in her voice.

"Well, hurry it up. I've got a three o'clock ass-kicking scheduled with that question-mark panty-chaser while you all walk around the ship."

Tashigi looked up and up and up as the swordsman pulled himself onto the landing, his green eyebrows and black eyes glowering down at her. Her heart made a strange somersault in her chest, but she ignored it in favor of slapping the Pirate King's right-hand man upside the head.

"Hurry up and show me Shigure already! It's been a month already, and I miss her!"

Zoro's glare deepened, but he gave his affirmative grunt and lead the way into the captain's quarters. After much wriggling and swearing, the green-haired sword-reader managed to get the footlocker from under Tashigi's bunk and unlocked it. He stood up, covered in sawdust and dust bunnies, and scratched his head momentarily.

"You better sit down for this. Shigure was really upset when she saw the state you were in - she might reach out more than she means to. Let me sing to her a bit."

Tashigi adjusted the cracked glasses on her face and blinked owlishly at Zoro.

"Uhm, dare I ask what the hell you're talking about?"

The swordsman contemplated explaining everything to the ex-marine, and settled for rolling his eyes instead.

"Just watch, okay? I'm doing something to make sure you don't go into a coma, or else Kaya will eat my liver raw."

Tashigi grudgingly acquiesced to his demands and her own curiosity. What was her miserable green-haired warden doing now?

Once he was sure that Tashigi was comfortable on the bunk, Zoro dropped onto the floor below her in a dignified lotus position. He opened the foot locker and pulled the sword out of the lead-lined chest. The ex-marine briefly imagined that she heard the tantalizing whine of metal on metal.

Zoro sat with the sword across his lap, both hands covering the hilt as his eyes drifted halfway close. For a few seconds, Tashigi was convinced that he had fallen asleep on her, however, as she watched him closely she realized that an almost subsonic crooning was coming from his (warm) lips. The deep sound traveled through her body, making her nerves vibrate in time with his droning. She had no idea how long she sat there watching his lips and listening to his quiet chanting, her body humming along unconsciously.

"Ok, she's calmer now."

The swordsman's voice was harsh and hot in Tashigi's ear, making something inside of her break. She woke up with a start as the leather sheath was placed in her hands. The ex-marine's fingers curled familiarly over the sword, and she hugged the blade close to her face.

"Oh Shigure! I missed you so much! Were you ok? Did you get wet? Just wait, I'll take you out for some air and polish you up right now."

Zoro stood to one side and watched as his raven-haired temptress unknowingly worked her magic on the blade and himself. Her lips whispered along the leather as she cried with the sword, and he could feel their satiny fullness kissing up his back. He cleared his throat grumpily as he stomped all over his feelings.

"Can we hurry this up? I don't see how you're doing anything nice for me yet."

The owl became a hawk as she glared at the swordsman. He pretended that the butterflies in his stomach were a bout of gas.

"Fine, you oaf. I was going to polish my sword with you, let you see and touch the blade, but if you prefer to go downstairs and mope over the loss of your parrot-"

"Oi, Franco is a South Bird, not some crappy, stupid parrot!"

"-Whatever. Do you want to polish swords together or not?"

Zoro had a minor flashback to a most interesting introduction to puberty, but his inner Ashura form promptly cut the cords to his brain before he could get a clearer picture. With a shrug, the swordsman decided to go with the flow as he went to his footlocker in the crew's quarters.

"Which do you prefer? Linseed or flaxseed liniment?"

"What? No nugui?"

"Since when did marine pay cover the cost of nugui?"

"I'm not putting your crud on my blade!"

"Oi, my mix is better than nugui!"

Zoro's eyes flashed like lightning as he glared up at Tashigi, but there was no anger in him. It had been so long since he had a decent argument with anyone related to sword care. Despite the large number of pirates and marines that wielded the weapons, very few actually cared about the swords themselves, using the basic care taught to the masses. To see the passion in this woman as they argued about the simple steps that soothed a blade's spirit and calmed the mind of its master; to experience the combat of words and minds through the haze of her deep brown windows; to hear the blades resonating with each other, creating a rapturous symphony of steel and strength-

He couldn't ignore the lurch in his chest as Tashigi stuck her tongue out at him, childishly yet strongly parrying his words. She was not Kuina, nor was she better or worse than the girl idol of his childhood. She was someone completely new and wholly more enchanting.

She grinned and passed one of the polishing stones to him. Oh God, how the hell was he going to stay away from her now?

[~~~]

"Really? So much noise over polishing a piece of metal?"

Bonney, seated at the preparation table, looked upstairs skeptically as Zoro and Tashigi yelled at each other. Sanji briefly followed her glance, but totally ignored the commotion in favor of watching the strawberry blonde's loose patient gown slip down her shoulder. Over the past few weeks, his fascination with Bonney's bosom had waned and he found himself much more interested in mundane parts of her body, like the curve of her collarbone. He shook his head to break his reverie, and turned back to the sink in front of him.

"He's a blade-maniac and she's possessed by - er, obsessed with - meitou," Sanji groused while wiping a small trail of blood from his nose with his kitchen towel. He wiped his wickedly sharp chef's knife on his apron, flipped it into the air and caught the handle, directing the force of the utensil's descent precisely behind the gills of the unfortunate marlin that he had caught that morning. The head went sailing past Bonney, who didn't even blink.

"Shitty ass fish, thinks it can nick my knife and get away with it? Oh, what were we talking about again?"

The chef looked up just in time to see Bonney suck a droplet of the marlin's blood off of her thumb. Something died in his brain. His libido assured him that it wasn't important.

"Nmh, too hungry to remember, Princey. Maybe some sashimi would help?"

A platter, neatly lined with paper-thin slices of one quarter of the marlin, materialized in front of the piratess with a large side of wasabi, shoyu soy sauce, and lemon slices. Bonney squealed with delight - thereby killing off more of Sanji's remaining brain cells dedicated to common sense - and popped three slices into her mouth with a generous coating of shoyu.

"Oh, right," she mumbled through the mouthful, "I was asking ya why'd ya start smoking if yer so crazy about cooking? Won't that shit kill all yer taste buds or something?"

Sanji sighed. He got this lecture from random culinary artists and diners at least twice a day. If it were anyone else, he would have changed the topic or drop-kicked them out of his kitchen, but since it was Jewel-chan, he just stuck out his tongue.

"Shee dis?" he garbled with his tongue hanging out of his wide open mouth, "Cuh cosher 'n ake a ook."

Bonney popped another four slices in her mouth and peered at the fleshy pink appendage. She frowned in concentration.

"Hun, ain't that too many dots on yer tongue?"

Sanji closed his mouth with a quick swipe over his dry lips, then smirked at his inquisitor before returning to the sink.

"Observant. I have more than twice the normal number of taste buds and a pretty sensitive olfactory organ - Chopper confirmed that fact when he last hauled me in for a check-up. If I didn't smoke, the scent and taste of most foods would overwhelm me."

"What about kissing then? With that many taste buds, I bet you could prepare a girl's most perfect meal!" Bonney joked, mocking the chef behind his lithe back with a sashimi slice hanging out of her mouth. Sanji snorted and turned to reply, only to be knocked out of his mind.

The kiss robbed him of air in a swift flash of action that promptly short-fused his mind. He couldn't even respond to the smooth sensation of her lips smearing soy sauce and tingling wasabi over his own pair, nor the taste of her warm, wet mouth, so sweet and tantalizing that his toes were beginning to curl.

When she pulled away as suddenly as she'd begun, looking for all the world as if she'd never stopped eating, Sanji lost a handful of sashimi in sheer amazement, his mouth delightfully reddened and bruised. The slices dropped into a mix of condiments before slipping off of Bonney's plate and heading for the floor. He never even noticed as she nonchalantly caught the sashimi and devoured it.

"- wild raspberries - grilled pork - glaze - Jewel-chwan!"

Sanji shook his head hard, displacing the lurid scenes that the kiss had lodged in his head. The pink piratess grinned at him mischievously.

"What does that gibberish even mean?"

"What?" Sanji countered, still lost. Bonney grinned wider and popped another piece of fresh marlin in her mouth.

"So? How does kissing affect those taste buds of yours?"

'How does...? What you should be asking is how you affect me!' the chef thought to himself, still wallowing in his own world of shock.

"Kissing - kissing you - makes me think of wild raspberries boiled down and caramelized, slathered over fatty pork tenderloin with salt and cayenne pepper, then grilled on an open fire until the fat and raspberry juices run together in a thick glaze over the meat."

Bonney rubbed her legs together and made a note that Sanji could make a perfectly normal menu description sound like a dancing girl's show headline.

"No wonder you're called the best chef on the ocean. You're going to have to make that for me sometime soon."

"But of course!" Sanji sang out, already going into flat-out mellorine mode. "To serve you is my joy and pleasure!"

"Calm down, Princey," the pink-haired object of the cook's affection snickered as she licked her fingers clean. "Jeez, the way you act, ya'd think that ya'd never gotten laid. I've never met a man like ya, hun."

"Enchante, my dear. I'd like to think you'll never meet a man like me again, either." Sanji parried with a broad grin and a quick bow before returning to the marlin. A part of his spirit was feeling very, very good. It was rare for any female to stay in the kitchen with him when he was cooking - Nami really preferred the outdoors, and Robin said all the scents and steam were bad for her books. Other women had been somehow intimidated by his culinary skills, acting as if he expected them to be able to plate up foie gras without his many years of knowledge. Still others had wanted him to wait on them hand and foot while ignoring his patrons, something he would not do for anyone outside of his nakama. Actually, he'd never felt this comfortable with a woman in his domain before - snacking on his food without any hang-ups, rewarding him with kisses that knocked his socks off, talking about him, instead of her-

"But why are ya so nice to women? And how'd ya get the name Mr. Prince?"

Bonney heard the slightest hitch in Sanji's chopping as he split the marlin's bones for his giant stock pot.

"I had a really strict upbringing," the chef began, his back still facing Bonney. "I got courtesy to women drilled into me from an early age. Lots of people found my chivalry outrageous for the area where I grew up, so they called me Mr. Prince, or Prince Sanji."

The piratess could hear the whispers of another story underneath the brief description, but she didn't bother pushing it - not only was Sanji nice enough to keep her fully fed on a daily basis, but he hadn't tried to negotiate a way into her pants yet, even though he almost got in them a few weeks before. As she watched his lean body efficiently prepare the fish, wrap the steaks for storage, set the bones in the stock pot, and clean the kitchen, her mind got stuck on one fact. He was treating her like a real lady - something she hadn't experienced in ages. Not since -

She remembered him, his laugh as they ran away over her father's fields. She remembered the loud crack of thunder, and his fading eye as he laid dying in the clover -

Sanji was left in utter confusion as Bonney suddenly fled the table and headed up to the living quarters as fast as lightning. Within a few minutes, Zoro and his swords were thrown down the access hatch with a loud squawk and a resounding thud.

"What the hell? What did you do, curlicue?" Zoro bellowed at the shell-shocked chef from his landing place on the kitchen's floor. The blond glanced at him with a frown.

"For once, marimo, I can honestly say that I'm not sure."

[~~~]

"Bonney, pull yourself together."

"I'm trying, dammit! Ya know I hate cryin' more than anything!"

Bonney was lying on Tashigi's lap, her face streaked with tears, buried under her own pink tresses. The sword-mistress was completely perplexed by the woman's behavior; Bonney was normally rough and ready for anything. She rubbed Bonney's strong back and ran her fingers through the long, pink hair awkwardly - no-one had ever soothed her when she was crying.

"Uhm- Uh- There, there? It'll get better?"

Bonney glared up at Tashigi, who smiled sheepishly before grimacing at the length of mucous dripping from the piratess' nose.

"Sorry, I'm not too good at the comforting thing. No mother, adopted father was a marine captain, all of that y'know?"

Bonney shrugged and sniffled loudly, then used the hem of her gown to wipe her face clean. She returned the other woman's grimace when she took a look at what she wiped off.

"You know what we need?" Tashigi suggested loudly, putting aside her sword to jump off of the bunk.

"Food?"

The raven-haired woman glared at Bonney, who shrugged carelessly.

"No, exercise. We need to start back training!"

Bonney rolled her eyes as Tashigi started calculating training schedules that weren't humanly possible, even if the sun were to stop.

"Oi, Tashi, can it already. Exercise may make you feel better, but I still feel like shit for some reason."

Concern crept into Tashigi's demeanour even as she eyed Bonney skeptically.

"Maybe something that that weird masked girl gave you in that salad?"

A snort of derision. Tashigi frowned.

"Hey, you never know! I still think I should have cut them up, then you wouldn't have lost your-"

"Tashigi, yer the one who tried to warn me away from those weeds in the middle of a miscarriage. It ain't the damn salad - at least I'm pretty sure it ain't. Nah, it's just- I think it's the men that's getting to me. I'm not used to all this nice treatment - food, clothes, and care usually come with a price for me: ass, stash, or cash. I ain't got no narcs that they can't get from their own doc, and we're as broke as the china in the shop that the bull went through. That leaves ass."

Tashigi felt a shiver snake across her shoulders and down her back.

"Are you saying that we prostitute ourselves-!"

"Just until we get stronger and can find the others ourselves, that's all! Come on, it's not like I told ya to suck Absalom's dick or something. Zoro and Sanji ain't that bad - girls back in the dens would've killed for customers like them, even give'em free passes."

To say that Tashigi looked reluctant would be to grossly understate her expression. Bonney threw her hands up in exasperation.

"We haven't even heard about the other volunteers that we ran with! Not one word from mask-girl, goth-freak, muscle-head, none of them! These two ain't nowhere near as evil as the lab people, and those guys were marine-sanctioned!"

[~~~]

'Volunteers? They knew what they were getting into?' Sanji puzzled himself with that thought. As soon as he could pull his ear from the ceiling, he would have to follow up on that lead.

"God-dammit, you curdled brow, wash your feet!" Zoro grumbled below the chef, trying to avoid the scent of the toes digging into his shoulders.

"Shaddup, you moronic moss ball," Sanji snapped in a whisper as he tiptoed higher. "I'm trying to hear them!"

[~~~]

"I've had five blasted well years to figure out that the Straw-hats weren't evil, that not all marines are good, and that Justice isn't always fair, or swift, or even sane! I got that far too well at Marineford!"

Bonney fell silent. Marineford had been her downfall. That war robbed Bonney of her first crew through self-sacrifice - it was either her or them, and she actually did care for them. Tashigi had lost her innocence and her first love - the marines held little for her after she watched a pirate yonkou save a young marine's life from Akainu.

A noise from outside the door startled both women. Sanji and Zoro's bickering voices grew louder.

"Look, one problem has been solved for both of us, one way or another," Tashigi finished in a low voice. "The slate is clean again. Once we're fine, we can slip away from these two-"

Thumps echoed through the floor. An imprint that looked remarkably like Sanji was beginning to form in the decking.

"-but we need to get stronger before we can do anything," the ex-marine finished, suddenly tired as old failures struck at her. As she unconsciously held her head in her hands, defending herself from imaginary attacks, Bonney gave her a knowing glance.

"Just keep it together, keep sweet, and keep them gullible until we figure out where the others are." Bonney sniffled loudly, using her hands to scrub her face clean. It was the same rule that they had lived by during the last bad months in the lab. The piratess stood up just in time to avoid the destruction of the bunk as the owner of the Eros Cuisine launched the Straw-hats' first mate through the floor and jumped through the wreckage to wreak more havoc, only to be met with a downward Dragon Twister. She peeked at Tashigi from the corner of her eyes and flashed a bittersweet smile as the two men fell back through the floor to the kitchen.

"Besides, it ain't like we're pretending that much anyway."

[~~~]


Chapter Text

And so another three months passed.

Floating near to Kamabakka Island in his ship, a carrack named Okama My Way, "Big Mama" Bentham adjusted his white bustier and looked up at the mirror on his ceiling. He ignored the ominous creaking from the glass above as it developed a large crack.

"Divine, darling, simply divine."

The most notorious and outrageous okama in the New World was busy rummaging through his travel chest, trying to find something lilac to wear over his lingerie, when a rustle from the direction of his porthole caught his attention.

"Franco, lovey, what are you doing here? Flying back to Jaya already?"

Franco cawed loudly, dropping a sealed message container in the okama's hand before fluttering onto his shoulder to preen. His stoop daintily broke the metal seals and slipped the miniature note out - it was a blank scrap of parchment, no longer than his little finger and tightly scrolled. Bentham pouted, then went to the open porthole to lower a small cup on a long string down into the ocean.

"I really wish that Sanji-chan and Uso-chan would use a different method. Just because they didn't eat one shouldn't mean the rest of us have to suffer!"

Grumbling under his falsetto, Bentham pulled up the small cup and gingerly placed it on the nearby vanity. He carefully dipped the note into the water, then used an old eyebrow tweezer to remove it and spread it open as dark blue writing appeared. The okama princess scanned the paper quickly, then dropped the message back into the cup. As the parchment dissolved, he stroked the feathers under Franco's large beak, deep in thought.

"Looks like I'll be on the job this time, Franco lovey."

[~~~]

"Big Mama!" Elizabeth squealed, sounding much the same as when he...she...it first cornered Sanji. "You're gorgeous, but where are you going?"

Bentham - no, Benniko - stepped out in her full finery, Franco perched on her shoulder and visibly disdainful of the crew. The bird compared Benniko's lilac, ruffled balloon skirt, white lace bustier and flawless makeup to the other transgender crew members' attire and winced. It was as if the okamas on the ship could offend the bird's fashion sense where Zoro failed to - that alone spoke volumes that Benniko chose to ignore at this time.

"Alright, ladies and laddies, don't get your undergarments in a twist. I'm going underground for a while - I've got 10 vials of Ivankov-darling's wonderful shots on me in case I need to pass a more thorough identity test. You know protocol; tell the other darlings what to expect.

"Yes si- ma'am!" Elizabeth saluted her...his...its captain sharply. "But don't forget about the Shabondy issue!"

Benniko frowned. She'd overlooked that indeed. If the slavers and whoremongers saw her ship within 5 days' sailing of the archipelago, she'd blow her other cover. She needed another ride into Shabondy - someone who commanded respect without being considered a complete pawn of the Pirate King. Someone strong enough and crazy enough to make her other target wary, yet incautious of the real threat. Someone with flaming red hair...

"Elizabeth," the captain stated with an enigmatic purr in her voice, "Locate the whereabouts of Sadi-chan and set up a meeting. Let her know that I need to have a ~ mmm ~ private chat with Captain Kidd."

[~~~]

"Mush!"

"As Santa is my witness, Law, I am going to kill you if you keep that up."

Law tried to laugh quietly and failed miserably. Chopper swore under his breath, straining in his traces to heave Kureha's sleigh up the narrow guide wire through Drum Island's nightly blizzard. His current load - one Death Surgeon and his still sleepy first mate, Bepo - weighed a lot more than his mother.

Wait, was that a whip cracking? Tony Tony Chopper's teeth clicked together harshly as he ground something to dust.

Bepo snoozed docilely in the sleigh as an Engraving Hoof rocked the vehicle, Law's deep, dark chuckle growing louder as Chopper blew his proverbial top. Law couldn't help it - the little reindeer pirate doctor was too much fun to tease!

The two physicians balanced on the thin cable, geniuses with two completely contrasting personalities and tenuous threads connecting them at best. Chopper was always the healer, rarely the killer, a herbivore with a very narrow (but vicious) mean streak at best. Trafalgar Law was a carnivore, a large cat with murderous claws covered in soft manners and precise etiquette, more eager to learn via autopsy than consorting with the patient. Their styles, their ways of life were too different - a battle between them had been long-delayed and ultimately inevitable.

Trust Fate to intervene.

"Dr. Chopper, would you happen to know the identity of the creature staring at us right now?" Law asked coolly, otherwise oblivious to the large, marshmallow-like mass that floated up to their level. At 500 feet above the village, that was pretty impressive.

Chopper slowly turned his head, readying himself for a sneak attack. The sight of a giant ghost waving at him threatened to knock his hat and antlers off.

"Perona's ghost? What the hell is she doing here?"

The ghost obliged and answered Chopper's question with a long, drawn-out, one-word request.

"Help!"

[~~~]

"Uhm, sir. I hate to interrupt, but you do know that this is the fourth time that you have saved a life, right?"

"Bepo, please be quiet and stop reminding me. And, as a matter of point, this is the sixth time."

"Geh! Aye, sir!"

Trafalgar Law returned his full attention to the corpse-pale skin of Perona, her pink hair strewn across the bright snow like a path of cherry blossoms. The white bear stood to one side holding on to a misshapen, oddly stitched doll and a frilly, magenta-hued, 'Little Devil' umbrella, his large, furry head bowed in depression. Chopper would have consoled him (despite his captain, he actually liked the bear), but he was too busy trying to revive the cyan-haired, mask-wearing woman that, apparently, was with the gothic lolita. Woman. Whatever.

"Work with me now, please. Your airways are clear, so come on heart, move!" Chopper, in Heavy Point form, yelled loudly while manually palpitating the woman's chest, pumping hard enough to have the slender ribs creaking loudly.

Law opted to forego the loud pep talk that the patients most likely could not hear. He leaned over and whispered in Perona's ear.

"Pardon me, Miss, but if my next attempts at reviving you fail, I'm going to have to slit you open from your gullet to your groin and massage your heart directly."

"Law!" Chopper snapped, his sensitive ears hearing the Dark Doctor's threat.

"What? If I massage her chest much longer, it would be inappropriate; she would think me a lecher!" Law defended himself, clucking his tongue in mild disapproval. Chopper rolled his eyes without breaking his harsh, fast rhythm.

"W-would you make...my stitches look...pretty?"

Trafalgar Law was suddenly engulfed in a pair of large, dark eyes, limpid pools of cold, pain, and fear. He sucked in his breath and held it in awe - a female that could find the beauty in operations? One that wouldn't mind begin slitted and stitched back up? His luck had never been that good.

He fell harder than a Lead-Lead Devil Fruit user in a vat of salt water.

"I've got her friend up!" Chopper bellowed, scooping the broken female into his arms and flush against his silky winter coat as he settled into the sleigh. "Let's get them to the Doctorine!"

"Bepo!" Law called over the howling wind of the blizzard, carefully lifting the goth-girl out of the snow and cradling her in his lap as he returned to his seat, "Get this sleigh back on the wire and up to the castle, if you please!"

"Aye, captain!"

"Na...mi..." croaked the masked-girl in a near-silent sigh before burying her face deeply into Chopper's fur. She shivered and clutched to him like a small child, but her eyes weren't open and she was unaware of her surroundings. The reindeer doctor could feel bruises and wounds all over her body, leading him to grind his teeth at another of the world's injustices, even as he marveled at the lingering scent of tangerines.

[~~~]

By this time, Tashigi and Bonney had healed physically - they were able to walk, jump, skip, and run without any hitches or accidents hampering them. Bonney's strength was slowly climbing back to its peak power, and Tashigi was able to wield Shigure again. Their recovery was smooth and it looked like they would soon be back in top form. They were even wearing their favorite outfits again - denim ensembles and Shigure for the ex-marine and suspender shorts with multicolored socks and ever-present green hat for the female pirate captain. However, something was definitely affecting them mentally.

Oh sure, they'd been grumpy when they understood how weak they had been, but in the past three weeks, things had worsened dramatically. Bonney, of all people, would break into sudden bouts of weeping, usually when she was left alone with Sanji for more than fifteen minutes. Tashigi would flip between general friendliness with everyone else and acute hatred of the swordsman. The men were often left bruised, battered, and aching - just tonight, Tashigi had thrown Zoro into a wall while Bonney's sudden crying sent Sanji into a panic in front of his banana flambe, singeing the hair at the back of his head.

To make matters even worse, the men hadn't even gotten close to Bentham's place for any 'relaxation' while tending to their guests. Sure, the women were healthy and all they were waiting on was Kaya's confirmation of their non-patient status, but Straw-hat pirates had a thing about leaving strangers alone on their ships.

Namely that they didn't leave strangers alone on their ships.

Thus, two horny, frustrated men were stuck on a ship with two temperamental, recuperating women. Shabondy bookmakers were running a 50,904 (and growing) to 1 bet that it would end well for all parties concerned.

"Okay," Zoro growled out while holding an ice pack to his head, his bunk in the crew's quarters rocking slowly as he sat on it, "Explain to me again why we don't just end all the subterfuge."

"Dear God, the foliage has been reading! Quick, kill it before it becomes literate!" Sanji snapped while craning his neck to one side, running his scissors over the brown, burnt, tresses. He sat on his current bunk on an old, ratty towel, a decrepit-looking apron draped around his neck.

"What part of your lineage haven't I cussed out yet?"

"You were on to Great-Aunt Frigga. Anyway, we aren't telling them anything because I'm still tying up loose ends: keeping that vice-admiral on a wild goose chase while we find out why they would volunteer for the lab and lie to ol' Smokestack."

"Smoker."

"Whatever. I already sent out the main man for the job. We need to keep them here and divert all news about Hogback until we understand what's going on."

"We could just ask them, you know?"

"I hate to force a woman to lie-"

"Not the women, you question mark, the swords!"

Sanji frowned. Marimo had been holding out on him? The swordsman waved his hand and snorted in dismissal, easing the cook's features. It wasn't on purpose; the green-haired man just didn't think in terms of black ops or subversion. The idea had genuinely just come to him.

"I think she had another sword that she found while on the Line. Shigure knows of it, but Tashigi never mastered dual-sword style, so she hadn't talked to it as much."

"Did you know that it is really freaky to hear about your conversations with a bunch of over-sized cutlery? Anyway, do you have a hunch about where we could find this mystical kitchen knife?"

"...And then you wonder why Kitetsu bites you so often? My hunch would be that the sword is with Smoker. The next problem is finding out how close we are to Smoker."

The cook hummed a little tune as he evened up the right side of his hair. Zoro was greatly amused to note that the left side hung significantly lower. The crinkly-brow's hair was more uneven than a pair of nuts.

"I already sent Franco to find h- Holy shit!"

The wakizashi shivered in the wooden wall behind Sanji after leaving a precise, and quite likely permanent, part in his hair. The ice pack had been sliced open, soaking Zoro in freezing cold water. Tashigi stood shadowed in the doorway of the captain's quarters, glaring at the swordsman for all her worth before slamming the door and stomping back to her bunk.

"All right then, fuck this," Zoro intoned lowly as he shook himself dry. Sanji groaned and dropped his head back onto his bunk as he heard Bonney sniffling again.

"Tashigi!" the swordsman roared, knocking on the door with the hilts of his swords. "Get your ass on deck! We're ending this now!"

Zoro put his ear to the door, only to hear the long, annoying sound of someone sucking their teeth radiating through wood. He frowned and ground his teeth together as he seethed. His hand dropped to the swords' hilts.

"No, you shitty ass, over-muscled marimo, not the-"

There wasn't even a creak as the door disintegrated into a cloud of toothpicks. Zoro sheathed Shuusui and marched right over to Tashigi, who faced him with Shigure in both hands.

"On deck. Now."

Tashigi flipped her head to adjust her glasses. Her glower never faltered.

"Alright, let's do it the hard way."

He utterly ignored the meitou in her hand as he made a step towards her, then vanished.

'God, don't you know how much I hate it when he does that?' Sanji silently groused as he was left with the after image of a shark's tail. 'It's too fucking realistic!'

Tashigi screamed as Zoro was suddenly behind her, picking her up by her belt with one hand. He tucked her under his armpit, flush against his damp, naked torso, and lumbered back out of the room, the ex-marine kicking, screaming, and slashing the whole way.

"We may as well join them, Jewel-chan," Sanji offered sheepishly, holding out his hand to her. The piratess regarded his fingers with an odd gaze that he couldn't read, then sighed loudly as she stood up on her own.

"After you, mellorine."

[~~~]

Sanji set up a table and chair for Bonney in the main dining room before excusing himself to prepare a light snack for her. Tashigi seethed as Zoro plopped her onto the deck just in front of the main doors of the restaurant and turned his fucking back on her while walking to the other end. Sure, the amazingly lifelike tattoo of a giant, green shark with all three rows of teeth on display was practically swimming as he walked, but dammit all, she was not so unimportant and weak that he could ignore her like that!

'What the hell?' she thought to herself, grinding her teeth together, 'does he really think so little of me?'

Shifting Shigure in her hands, she got up on the balls of her bare feet and began a low charge.

Zoro stopped, yawned, scratched the back of his head and his ass, then completely dodged her assault. The gall! He hadn't even bothered to move - just a quick twist of his waist and Shigure slipped completely past him, Tashigi stumbling along for the ride.

"Oi," Zoro asked calmly, not even mildly perturbed about the angry, sword-swinging woman glaring over her shoulder at him, "What's your beef, wench?"

Oh...hell...no. He did not just wench her!

"Stop that!" Tashigi screamed, fury coating her face in angry red blotches. "Stop...stop belittling me!"

She really couldn't understand why he was so surprised - he was acting like most any other male, totally ignoring her skills. She growled and slashed at him - she was grimly satisfied when he staggered back in shock. She pressed her attack.

"What the hell? When did I belittle you?"

Slash, parry, thrust, spin, parry.

"You're always looking down on me!"

"What the fuck? When the hell have I done that, woman?"

Parry, parry, slash, spin, slash, thrust.

"Just now! You called me a...a wench!"

"Isn't that just another word for woman? What the hell are you if you ain't female?"

Spin, slash, spin, thrust, parry, roll, thrust, slash.

Sanji, wearing his blue working apron, returned with a pile of pizzas on one tray and two bottles of clear liquor, which he presented to Bonney with a flourish. She barely smiled, but didn't wave him off when he silently asked to sit with her. She picked at her food as Sanji lit a cigarette and took a few puffs; she could feel the questions vibrating in the air between them, but he didn't try to pry. The whole situation made her talk in spite of her mood.

"Hasn't any woman ever told ya that yer too nice?"

Sanji chuckled around his smoke and shrugged nonchalantly in response. Bonney frowned and dropped the slice of pizza she'd been nibbling on.

"I'm bein' serious! Yer waiting hand and foot on me like I'm some princess 'r somethin' else that I sure ain't! Yer too damned nice and that's gonna get ya hurt!"

The blond cook chuckled again and Bonney cursed her luck that she was sitting to his left; she couldn't see his eyes or face from her position due to his overly long bangs. Sanji grabbed one of the bottles, pulled a corkscrew from his apron pocket and began working on the cork.

"It has been my experience, cherie, that the women who say that have never had a man treat them properly."

The cork left the bottle with a satisfying, low pop. Sanji drew two shot glasses from his other apron pocket and poured a clear glassful for Bonney's enjoyment, despite her pout.

"Men don't treat women properly. Not unless it gets them in some hot pussy or money. That's why ya don't get anywhere when yer so nice - it's suspicious."

She watched him carefully, but the chef didn't even bat an eyelid. His merry smile winked at her through golden hair as he poured himself a glass of the same liquor.

"Touche. However, a real man will treat a woman properly even without any hot pussy. Just look out there."

Bonney looked up just as Shigure clattered onto the deck.

Zoro had Tashigi's hands in one of his ("Again!" her mind screamed vexatiously), his fingers relaxing as the sword fell to the wooden floor below. With her forward momentum and inherent clumsiness sans sword, Tashigi was immediately in danger of slamming face first into the deck, except Zoro had grabbed her around the waist and brought her up short. To anyone who had not been present for the beginning of the squabble, they would have looked like dancers.

Or lovers.

Bonney sucked in her breath, certain that Zoro would press his advantage now and drag Tashigi away to ravish her. His light whispering and the way he was gazing at the ex-marine's lips as if hypnotized were not good signs as far as the pink piratess was concerned. The look on Tashigi's face - like a deer caught in the path of a runaway carriage - did not bode any better. Bonney's chair scraped on the wooden floor as she leapt up to stop...well, something.

The chef's warm, powerful hand covered only one of hers, yet effectively halted her motion.

With a sharp intake of air, Zoro pulled Tashigi upright and stalked towards the table. He grabbed the other bottle of ouzo from Sanji's outstretched hands, yanked the cork out with his teeth and guzzled a quarter of the bottle without pausing. His perpetual scowl returned as he caught sight of Bonney, half-standing.

"Oh, cut the bullshit. It's not like you weren't going to try to seduce us anyway."

It was Bonney's turn to be shell-shocked, a look echoed on Tashigi's face as Zoro looked over his shoulder at her wistfully before snorting in dismissal and stalking off, bottle still in hand. He staggered once as the liquor took effect, but he kept on going.

"What did he tell ya?" Bonney barked at Tashigi, ready to shake her companion's head off if necessary. "Do ya have to sleep with him later? I'll give ya tips from the dens-"

The ex-marine shook her head furiously, but her face was still puzzled.

"No, he didn't. He told me...he told me if I want to get better, if I want to get stronger than anyone else in the world, I just have to learn to...trust him. Then he just...left."

Sanji smirked and took a sip of the licorice-flavored cocktail. He got up, nodded once to the stupified women, then walked back to his kitchen, whistling jauntily. He turned back to them with his hands in his apron pockets, mischief crinkling his one visible eye.

"The same offer is extended to you, Jewel-chan. Learn to trust me and you'll become strong enough to challenge Luffy himself."

With a cockeyed salute, the chef disappeared through the swinging galley doors. Bonney and Tashigi looked at each other for a long while before both of them shrugged and sat down with the rest of the liquor.

[~~~]

Kidd gave Killer a wary look as they rocked and rolled down to the captain's quarters.

"Sadi-chan has a new girl who asked specifically for me?"

"Yes, Captain," Killer stoically answered. One would have been hard-pressed to tell that this was the sixth time the first mate had answered the question.

"And you're sure this isn't a trick of some sort?"

"Yes, Captain. I searched her myself."

"Everywhere?"

Killer was not one to discount his captain's paranoia - he'd been proven wrong before.

"Yes, sir, everywhere. I even made it a point to have her flash-roasted to burn off any possible poisons, then I had her hosed down to wash off the rest."

Having finally reached his quarters, Kidd paused outside the door, his hand resting lightly on the doorknob. He turned and looked his first mate (best friend) in the eye.

"This isn't an attempt at revenge, is it?"

Killer made an indelicate sound in his mask - something between a growl and someone coughing up a wad of phlegm. Kidd gave the man a genuine smirk of appreciation.

"So, how did she take the rough welcome?"

Killer shifted his stance awkwardly. Kidd swore he could see the mask blushing.

"A fellow masochist? Killer, baby, you and Sadi-chan are too good to me."

The curly maned blond rolled his eyes and gave a self-deprecating smirk that his captain heard rather than saw. He shooed Kidd's pale hand off of the handle and opened the door with little fanfare.

"Madame Benniko, this is Captain Kidd. Attempt to harm him and I'll carve you into so much fish food. Will you need anything else, Captain?"

Kidd waved him off, totally indifferent to the closing of the door as his eyes were captivated by the stunning beauty before him.

She was tall, almost as tall as he was even in her brown ballet flats, with a long, straight neck, broad shoulders and an absolutely tiny waist, all highly defined by her over-sized, lace-up bra and girdle that also managed to push her bosom up enticingly. Lilac ink peeked from beneath the lingerie, hinting at a massive tattoo on her back. Her hips flared sweetly below her torso, accentuated by the lilac skirt that puffed out from her waist to the middle of her thighs. Black, silky hair slid down her back like an inky waterfall, shimmering in the room's scanty candlelight. Kidd held his breath and found himself praying for a glimpse of her panties as she lifted her leg back, back, back into a beautiful arabesque. With nigh-preternatural grace, she pivoted on one foot, spinning twice before facing the South Blue yonkou, Eustass "Captain" Kidd.

"Oh my, lovey," Benniko murmured appreciatively. "You're just as yummy as I expected. Not many men can pull off a fur coat and not much else like you do."

Kidd's smirk was absolutely lecherous. Somewhere in the four seas, choir boys and milkmaids were thanking God for deliverance from an unseen threat on their innocence.

"So," the captain drawled as he walked past the ballerina, shedding his coat on the ground right at her feet before flopping onto his bunk. He kicked off his boots while folding his arms under his neck. "What brings eye candy like you to my quarters...all alone at that?"

Benniko tugged at the bow on her bustier in a most indecent manner and gave the reclining pirate an utterly depraved wink. Kidd groaned quietly - he did so love a cock tease.

"I need you to give me a ride somewhere in the general direction of the Shabondy Archipelago. I was supposed to meet the rest of my dancing troupe three nights ago but certain...ah, circumstances...made me late and the ship we had booked passage on left without me."

"Circumstances?" Kidd interrupted, his eyes glazing over at the sight of a thin strip of blushed skin between the bustier and the skirt's waistband. "Please, do enlighten me."

Benniko flushed, embarrassment, humiliation, and something ever so slightly naughty playing over her face.

"I got rather carried away with someone and absolutely lost track of the time. Anyway-"

"Oh no, no, no, no, no, Miss Benniko. We need details."

A dark, arched eyebrow shot up on her face.

"'We,' Captain Kidd?"

Kidd leered as he ran his hand over his pants and said no more. She caught his hint and her face resembled a tomato.

"I...caught up with an old boyfriend of mine and...and we thought we should give it another test run."

Kidd chuckled, the sort of sound that would give nightmares a dose of bad dreams.

"Go on."

Benniko pouted shyly and continued.

"Anyway, I'm the headline act for the show and I'd really, really, really like to get paid. Could you help me?"

The captain made a great show of pondering the request as his eyes raked over her form. Benniko wiggled under his gaze.

"What's in it for me, Ben-chan? Or does Luffy still call you Bon-chan?"

Oh. Crap.

"Dammit," Benniko hissed under her breath. "What gave me away, Kidd-chan?"

The crimson-haired pirate laughed loudly (and a tad maniacally).

"You were very convincing, but that saucy wink of yours is unique to only one pervert - you. So, what's my payment for this trip?"

Benniko grumbled and stamped one foot impatiently.

"Well, since I took a shot of Ivankov's hormones, the whole idea was to seduce you in return, but I suppose that's out..."

"And why on earth would you think that?" Kidd asked amusedly, sitting up in the bunk and swinging his feet to the floor in one smooth motion. He stalked closer to Benniko, just barely able to hover over her head. He casually gripped a long swath of the midnight tresses in each hand and dragged the female version of Luffy's spy closer to his bare chest and very evident desire.

"I'd like to propose an equitable trade over the next few weeks - a ride for a ride, so to speak."

Benniko took in Kidd's sharp grin, his scent of rust and blood, and the large hands twisting in her hair in a rather possessive manner.

"Oh my!" she gulped as the room became several degrees warmer. "What about when the hormones wear off? You'll regret it!"

Kidd's grin spread even wider. The buckle on the large brown belt that adorned the skirt suddenly popped off and slid to the ground with a loud clatter. Benniko looked at Kidd with a mixture of amusement, lust, and trepidation.

"Oh my."

[~~~]

By the time Sanji finished cleaning up the galley for the night, Bonney and Tashigi were as tipsy as toadstools.

"Sthanji!" Bonney cried, leaning back dangerously far in the chair. "Come'n join uth!"

Tashigi snorted loudly and belatedly covered her mouth with her hand. She muffled her brief spate of giggles before slinging back one last shot of the ouzo and slamming the glass on the table.

"I'mma find me Zoro somewhere, yeah?" Tashigi declared loudly to no-one in particular - Sanji was too busy trying to catch Bonney as her chair teetered on its back legs. "He's gotta listen to me sometime, yeah?"

"Sthe said 'yeah' again!" Bonney sniggered as she collapsed back into Sanji's outstretched arms. She sighed quite loudly as her back hit the chef's warm chest, barreling both of them over on the floor. The ex-marine snorted loudly again before a gust of giggles broke from her chest.

"Sanji, you know where Zoro is, yeah?"

The chef, covered in drunken, sweaty, pink piratess, spluttered out a reply through a mass of testosterone, adrenaline, and strawberry blonde hair.

"Mellorine! He should be in the hold - through the kitchen, there's a trap door."

"Thanks; he and I need to talk, yeah?"

Bonney burst out laughing once more. Apparently Sanji's attempts to detangle himself had struck her funny bone. Shrugging, Tashigi pulled herself out of her chair and, with the grace of an acrobat on a tight wire, carefully made her way to the galley.

And if the ex-marine leaned a little to each side as she walked - well, who noticed, yeah?

[~~~]

After many weeks of tears, Sanji was overjoyed to see her broad, cheerful smile again. He hadn't realized how much it pained him to see her so inconsolably dejected and resigned. Oh sure, it would have pained him to see any woman like that, but her cries pierced him even through the fog of cooking. They rent his heart to shreds as the unnatural sobs left her throat, so much so that he would have given her his hands on a platter, roasted to perfection, if he thought that would have helped.

He'd never thought of giving any other non-nakama woman his hands.

The realization had left him stunned for a few days before he absorbed the shocking difference between what he had felt for the navigator and other women five years ago and what was blossoming now with this female supernova.

He supposed he should have realized what was happening when he missed having her in his kitchen - she had become as integral to his surroundings as his stove. For the first time ever, he began to dread his own domain as the conversations with Bonney grew too short and stilted.

This was nothing like what he had felt before.

Nevertheless, he had no time to dwell on the knot of emotions that gnawed on his heartstrings; now he had his hands full dealing with an inebriated Bonney. When she wasn't laughing at the strangest things, she was pawing him in all the wrong places. When she wasn't leaving warm kisses on the back of his neck, almost causing him to set the whole ship ablaze while trying to out his lanterns, she was rubbing the muscles in his back and shoulders with needy caresses and greedy gropes.

He bit off a groan and almost half his cigarette when she goosed his ass again. Sanji spat out the spluttering stick of tobacco, barely remembering to grind it out under his heel as he threw the towel in, literally and mentally.

"Time for bed, Jewel-chan," Sanji stated clearly with a sharp clap of his hands. "Being the gentleman that I am, it would please me to no end to carry you to your boudoir."

Kneeling down with his back facing the drunken woman, he glanced over his shoulder and felt the blood gushing from his nostrils when a smooth leg rose up and over his head, wavered, then lowered over his left hip. He quickly blotted his nose with his apron and applied considerable pressure to it to stop the flow. As Bonney threw her other leg over him then took her sweet time wriggling down his back until she was comfortable, Sanji had to remember to ease his grip on his nasal appendage before he inadvertently broke it.

"All mounted up!" she declared with a chortle. The throaty laugh made the Pirate King's chef seriously consider whether he wanted to add "Ravishment of Judgment-Impaired Women" to his list of crimes against the World Government. He gnawed his bottom lip as he finally convinced himself that it was more bother than it was worth, then rolled upwards.

'Dear God, when is she going to wear brassieres?' the chef prayed earnestly as his libido reared its ugly head at the feel of soft, unarmored globes pressing into his back.

Bonney wriggled again and the chef's libido gave his common sense a roundhouse kick.

"Jewel-chan," the blond restauranteur whined, his voice hitting a peculiar note as her cotton-clad heel nudged his crotch. "For fuck's sake, keep still!"

The chef was dearly regretting his decision to carry the former ranch girl on his back. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time - a gentlemanly way of getting Bonney into her bunk without losing any years off his already short lifespan or getting an over-strengthened knee in the testes. However, he hadn't even made it halfway through the kitchen yet and the front of his apron was awash with blood from his nose.

"Aw, Sthanji, lighten up! Yer tho - goody goody!" Bonney giggled as her hands looped around his neck to massage his chest under his apron. And shirt. And cotton vest.

"Hunny, we were all prepared to go all out thanking y'all for yer hothpitality," she crooned in one ear, sweet smelling licorice clouding the blond man's senses.

'I can make it,' Sanji thought to himself, fending off his devilishly overactive libido with every mental barb he had in his arsenal. 'She's just tipsy. She'll have regrets. She'll cry. She wouldn't even remember it in the morning if you spread her legs and took your time savoring her before you both reach heav- Stop! Sit! Stay, damn it all to Hell!'

"I wath the top dominatrix in my den...did it all without whipth or- or chainth or nipple rings too," Bonney continued, idly weaving her hands through her bearer's flaxen locks.

Sanji never figured out how he got both of them up the ladder without breaking his neck. He was too lightheaded from blood loss by then to remember much of anything.

Staggering under his own iron will, Sanji carefully made his way to Bonney's bunk. He heaved, sweat dripping from his forehead as he somehow managed not to molest the sweet, springy ass cupped in his hands, but instead turned Bonney's dead weight so that she was in front of him. His eyes lingered on her flushed face - her vibrant eyes were half-closed and shimmering and oh God, he didn't think he had ever wanted to kiss a woman so much or so little in his life because dammit, he knew that if he kissed her now, she wouldn't remember it.

He'd realized since their last kiss that he didn't want her to ever forget about him.

He was already incapable of forgetting about her.

"Easy does it, Jewel-chan. I'm just gonna lay you down in bed, and when you wake up, you can forget that this ever happened." he murmured to her, his own eyes softening to match her hazy gaze. She gave him a sad, sweet smile as she brushed his bangs gently, and his heart didn't just skip a beat - it threatened to flat-line before coming back with a rhythm hard and strong enough to break his sternum open.

It would be said, for the record, that the blond pirate had been caught unawares.

With a wicked wink, Bonney suddenly swung her legs around his torso, crossing them neatly at her ankles while she wrapped her arms around his neck. She smirked at his surprised face, then crushed his ribs in a tight leg crunch, all while leaning backward over the bunk. Sanji's pained gasp for air was cut short as he landed on top of the pink-haired woman and the bunk with a solid thump.

"Hogeeh!"

Despite his own injuries (mainly to his pride) Sanji started to scramble off of Bonney with all due haste, but he couldn't escape from her clutches and the peculiar twang in her voice.

"Thtop!" she cried, her face buried in his shoulder. She had never let his neck go as he fell on top of her. "Pleathe, jutht...jutht thtop fer a bit."

Tentatively, gently, Sanji relaxed into the warm, albeit too tight embrace. As the strange twang continued, he felt moisture spreading on his shirt and smelled the tang of tears.

"Don't move. I ain't cried 'bout dith in ageth 'n' I dun' wantcha sthee..." she hiccuped loudly. "Jutht...pleathe...thtay."

Sanji nodded slowly as he wrapped his arms around her as best as he could, stroking her hair as she wept into his shirt. He never shifted in discomfort or stopped caressing her, even as Bonney went on to talk about a mother who left her, a horse that died trying to rescue her, and a father who hated her so much that he sold his own flesh and blood to the brothels. He didn't let her see the red eye glimmering under his bangs as she spoke about her first time and every time afterwards; about how she conquered her world and her customers by the time she was a teenager; about how she earned her name and appetites and first crew, and about how she lost them all. And when she bawled in his arms after whispering the truth about the lab - how she was made to choose between herself and her crew and how she never regretted her choice to save her first friends, no matter what horrible experiments she went through, no matter the bitter loss of her child from the genes of a renowned swordsman after sharp, sudden pains, Sanji still didn't move.

Slowly she uncurled her face, eyes and cheeks swollen from the crying. She regarded him warily, waiting for him to say or do anything, but he still did not move. With tender hands, she ran the the tips of her fingers over his stubble and along his temples, before sweeping back the bangs covering the left side of his face. Bound by his promise to stay, he made no move to stop her.

The ruin of his left eye, with its hemorrhaged iris and scarred skin, opened slowly. Bonney did not gasp, or scream, or yelp and throw him off of her - instead, she gently brought her mouth to kiss the raw, glistening, hairless skin. Sanji felt his vision waver as tears sprung to the surface unexpectedly. She was a glimmer of pink in his blurry eyes when she finally pulled back.

"I really want to trust ya, Sanji," she declared softly, still rubbing one hand along the bottom of his burned eye. "Please forgive me fer comparing ya to any other man I ever knew. Yer definitely different."

An old, gnarled part of his soul broke away. He pulled her closer and held her that way for the remainder of the night. When the sun rose on them both, his only motion before she awoke was to kiss her lightly, chastely, with great restraint, on the temple. Forever afterwards, Bonney would swear that the spot never grew cold, especially when she wanted to cry.

[~~~]

Zoro was happily ensconced in his favorite corner of the lightless hold, wrapped in an old swath of canvas and warmed by the ouzo - he'd even managed to leave a fifth of it back, just so Chopper wouldn't nag him as much.

He just wished that his heart would stop carping at him.

He frowned and hunched down lower. How the hell did Sanji put up with this pain every time a woman strung him along like such an imbecile? When Tashigi had thought that he, of all people, had been ridiculing her, he felt like he'd been sucker-punched. What, had he really been that unemotional? It felt like his feelings were written all over his ugly mug - he thought a damned sea cucumber could see what he thought about her.

He groaned and tried to roll into a new position that allowed him to bang his head on the hull without coming out of his makeshift blanket.

He'd rather fight Enel and Mr. 1 together than go through her disdainful anger again. He hadn't wanted to admit it, but he'd been furious when she'd ignored him to laugh at Sanji's jokes. He'd been ready to cut the whole ship up when she stopped coming to him to polish swords. He'd damned near shouted for joy when she actually bothered to talk to him, even if it was to yell or scream or throw things at his head. He'd been...he'd been an absolute wreck.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid emotions," he grunted, banging his head on the wall for good measure. "It was bad enough worrying about the whole damned crew, but this is ridicul-"

"Zoro~? You're down here, yeah? Whoops, almost missed a step..."

Even today, the world's greatest swordsman still would not be able to tell you how he got out of the blanket and underneath the hold's staircase so swiftly - he lost the entire motion in a startled blink. When he saw her - well, made out her general outline in the scant lights in the kitchen, he glowered balefully.

"Don't bother coming down here if all you want is a fight. I can smell the liquor on you - you're drunk as all hell. Just get yourself upstairs and go sleep it off."

Tashigi pouted and puffed out her cheeks, then held out her arms. The long rope which allowed a person to close the trapdoor while in the hold dangled in one petite hand. Zoro batted his eyelids uncomprehendingly.

"Carry me, yeah?" she asked in a snippy tone. "Can't see worth a damn down here. What, ya want me break my neck, yeah?"

Zoro rolled his eyes at her turn of phrase and smirked at her stubborn refusal to leave before lifting her off the steps. When her arms wrapped around his chest, she released the rope and the hatch cover slammed down,cutting off almost all light.

It was dark and slightly chill. For a moment, Zoro just stood there and held her, his senses swimming as he realized that yes, this licorice-scented bundle of muscles and nerves and dangerous curves that he had inexplicable started to care for too deeply was hugging him tightly as well.

"I'm sorry, yeah?" she whispered in the dark, her voice a sibilant balm to his frayed nerves.

"Yeah," he murmured in response, taking the opportunity to nuzzle her hair. He began walking back to his cozy corner, trying to prolong this rare opportunity to touch her without being decapitated. He didn't stumble or waver in the darkness, but walked a straight and narrow path to his makeshift den - a familiarity gained from the curlicue cook making him porter all the goods to and from the room. He reluctantly went to seat her on a barrel of pickled onions when she shook her head vehemently.

"Just...just hold me for a while, yeah?"

He sighed loudly, because close contact with her svelte frame and smooth skin were definitely working their insidious magic on him. Despite the likelihoods of revealing his extended period of celibacy, he never let her go as he slumped to the ground with the ship's hull to his back. He covered them both in his canvas blanket while she shifted on his lap, never releasing her hold around his back. He brought his knees up to cradle her better, also managing to hide his own growing discomfort at her efforts to make herself comfortable. They stayed this way for some time as the silence descended on them comfortably. Zoro's eyes slid closed with a light moan as warm, callused fingertips held his mouth closed with delicate pressure.

"I'm...not afraid of darkness like most women, yeah?" Tashigi started hesitantly, her wavering voice unwittingly winding his oft-hidden sexuality tight as a coiled spring. One of her hands wandered over his face with feather light caresses as the other hand kept him from speaking.

"In the dark, where my eyes are useless, I can completely trust my other senses - they never fail me. I can trust them completely."

Here, with her hand under his jaw, she paused to kiss the corner of his lips. Zoro drew in a harsh, desperate breath in an attempt to control himself.

"I want to trust you like I trust the dark, yeah?"

And then he broke.

Even in the gloom they did not fumble as their lips pressed against each other - lightly at first because dear God or whatever divine being it was that he was supposed to believe in, he did not want to scare her away with the wave of longing that had drowned him since he first met her. Her lips were soft and bitter with silent tears that he lapped away with the tip of his tongue before pressing his lips to her hard, bruising them in a fit of uncontrollable desire before he could rein himself in. He was speechlessly pleased to feel her lean into him when he finally pulled away.

Yes, the desire, the electricity was still there between them, but he knew by her trembling body and liquor-rich breath that what she needed most of all at this moment was his strength. He shielded her with his massive arms and finally spoke.

"Why do you need to be strong? Tell me everything. I won't speak until you're finished."

Tashigi, the ex-marine with the navy hair and warm, chocolate gaze, begin to tell her story - the confusion of having no memories before the age of thirteen; the overwhelming lust for the sword and mastery over it; the development of her strange belief that she could hear the souls of the swords; the birth of her dream to rescue the meitou; the frustration of her declining eyesight and lesser strength as compared to her male colleagues in the World Government's navy, hampering her goals.

She relayed stories of her gradual rise under her father figure, followed by the tragedy of her downfall after her last 'promotion', where she was forced to choose between her own destruction or the ruin of Smoker and all those under his command. She wept and cursed as she remembered the lab and the experiments and finally mourned the loss of her baby, derived from the DNA of a red-headed savateur, howling in impotent rage as she lashed out at the wall of flesh in front of her until she could no longer lift her arms.

But she would never apologize for her choice - between herself and her father, the only option had been as clear as daylight to her. She had no regrets.

Meanwhile, her clever fingers never stilled as they found and mapped old wounds and scars all over his body. Her hands smoothed over ridges and valleys filled with light scar tissue as she memorized the proof of Zoro's claim as the world's greatest swordsman, lingering long over the bisecting slash from Mihawk that could be traced above the ever-present green haramaki.

"Is it because you've never given up? Is it because you don't feel pain? Is it because you have your convictions?" she murmured against his collarbone, her voice shaky and small. "Why? Why are you so much stronger than me? What can I do, as a female, to make my dreams come true? Or am I just doomed to be a baby-bearer and housemaid because I'm a wom-"

Zoro never said a word in response, but merely tightened his hold around her and laid his chin on her hair, effectively silencing the self-defeating thoughts. He rocked her and sang snatches of the few songs he knew as she fell asleep, somehow awakening some secret part of his psyche that remembered a time when he was not so sure of himself; far from confident to the point of arrogance. They stayed that way, in the comforting darkness of the hold, until well after morning had broken. His warmth and strength suffused her so thoroughly that she would feel and smell phantom puffs of his breath whenever she was sad and doubtful.

When Sanji finally opened the trapdoor well into the late hours of the morning, he looked like a broken man. Sunlight streamed weakly behind the cook, bringing Zoro's baggy eyes into sharp relief as the swordsman drew his hand back from the hatch.

Without speaking, they both knew that the women's situation had now become very, very personal.

"Only one way to find out," Zoro stated plainly, exhaustion and anguish lacing his voice. He passed a sack of flour up to his crew mate. "Remember, he likes okonomiyaki."

"Oh joy," Sanji intoned ruefully as he took the proffered sack. "Death comes for dinner."

[~~~]

"They're stable," Chopper sighed aloud as he carried another basin of water out of the castle's bathroom. "Looks like we managed to prevent frostbite from setting in."

Law hummed in response. He was stretched out on one of Kureha's sofas, his usual bed when he wasn't 'entertaining' the Doctorine. Kureha was still away in another village, tending to an outbreak of measles.

Chopper came back with the empty basin and dropped it with a loud clatter; the reindeer was tired. He and Law had been defrosting the chilled women all night, carefully searching for frostbite, trenchfoot, and chilbains. So far, Perona was only suffering from a minor case of trenchfoot; the other woman had been very cold as well, but luckily nothing else afflicted her. The more surprising thing was what he had seen of her body - and what he'd smelled. Slumping down in a chair opposite to the couch, Chopper inhaled deeply and remembered the tangerine fragrance with a painful undertone, a scent that confused him; tangerines meant the safety of Nami's grove. The wounding undertone was one he had only inhaled a few times before the herd chased him away. He frowned as he pondered other mysterious symptoms before finally giving up and consulting the lazing physician.

"Law, have you ever seen a human female present with multiple nipples?" the smaller doctor asked brusquely, his mind still in diagnosis mode. "Combine that with hardened upper and lower extremities with limited flexibility and no hair and large-scale bruising on the torso - aside from that expected from manual external heart compressions."

"Multiple nipples? Kinky, but no, I've never heard of that. The other symptoms would match up to scleroderma, except for the bruisin- well,maybe even that. Would also hint to extreme sensitivity to cold - particularly under stress," Law replied absently, staring up at the rafters in the ceiling. The dark man was puzzling over his own set of symptoms. "The goth-girl - Miss Perona, you say? - she's presenting symptoms of spontaneous birth. Tender breasts that are leaking colostrum, tender abdomen, trauma to the vulva and second-degree tear in the perineum. I've already sent Bepo out to look for the infant's corpse."

Chopper nodded wearily in agreement.

"Same with her friend - well, maybe not the tear - anyway, she definitely gave birth recently. I can only hope we find the children alive-"

"Can the search, boys," grumbled a heavily muffled voice. The door of the castle's large infirmary broke open forcefully and rebounded off of the cold stone wall behind it. Kureha put her foot down and guzzled from her bottle of plum wine before stamping into the room. Bepo was behind her, being dragged in by the back of his uniform.

"Get warm, you overactive rug," Kureha muttered as she quite literally threw Law's first mate in front of the fireplace before slumping into the chair behind her desk.

"Ngeh! Captain, can't you make her stop?" the bear asked plaintively from his prone position on the chilly stone floor.

"Bear with the lady," Law answered with a smug grin. Chopper and Kureha rolled their eyes at the pathetic attempt at humor before the Doctorine continued her explanation.

"Those girls were my patients. I delivered the babies about a week ago, but they had their cords wrapped around their throats."

Chopper bowed his head in defeat. Law turned his shadowed gaze to his current sugar mama.

"Both stillborn?" the Heart captain asked with clinical detachment.

"One may have had a chance to make it if I'd been there a day earlier, but the Zoan never could have made it to viability without extra help all the way. Where'd ya find the patients?"

Before Chopper could respond, Law rolled up off the couch and into seated position with a deep furrow of concentration across his brow. His eyes never left the centenarian woman across the room.

"With all due respect, Doctorine, a live-birth Zoan never happens - Zoans are only created by the curses of Devil Fruits."

"Technically speaking, pipsqueak, that's true, but I wrote a thesis about that theory," Kureha continued loftily. "Just because I'm bending you over a bed every few hours doesn't mean you get to leach all my knowledge. I'm sure you two are smart enough to figure it out. Were they out near Dalton's place?"

Chopper felt the fur on his hackles rise up in a wave as Law's intense stare remained, unblinking, the predatory man puzzling over the Doctorine's reply. The younger doctor chose to answer his mother instead of work out the dangerous thoughts churning in his head.

Or deal with the fact that she was practically raping Law on a daily basis.

"Big Horn? Yes, we'd just finish grocery shopping when Perona's ghost found us."

"Impressive. They got pretty far considering their anemia," Kureha pondered. "They need iron pills at the very least, some willow bark for the bruising..."

The marauding thoughts that had swirled around the reindeer medical practitioner's head screeched to a sudden halt. In his normal form, he popped out of his chair and scampered out of the door, heading straight for the patients' room. He distantly heard Law's pounding lope behind him as he ripped the door open and almost off of its hinges.

His eyes landed on the young, masked, blue-haired woman and he scurried from the door over to her bed. Her nude frame was covered by a thick, woolen blanket lined with Lapin fur, which Chopper summarily ripped off.

The patient was of average height with curiously black fingers and toes that bent with difficulty. On her chest were a rather normal-looking (and quite perky) pair of pink nipples, but four more adorned her upper abdomen - barely more than bumps, but definitely there. While her fingers and toes were smooth, hard and hairless, she herself had more than a sprinkling of body hair all over - long and silky and as sky blue as his nose. The light furry covering did nothing to hide the curious bruising around her midsection; it looked as if huge, many-fingered hands had wrapped around her waist before pinning her to a wall.

Chopper sprinted around the patient and noted the large, long bruise swelling on her back. He amended his belief; she had to have been slammed into a tree. He hesitantly began taking off the large,dangling black mask away - a curious affair that was more like a large sock draped over a coat rack with eye holes cut out. The reindeer wavered.

"With all due respect - scant as it may be," The Doctor of Death excused himself as he suddenly took the mask out of Chopper's fore-hooves and ripped the ensemble away to reveal-

A petite rack of still-hardening antlers and a short, royal blue muzzle.

"Hrm," Law rubbed his chin as he pondered the possibilities out loud. "Interesting odds, aren't they? How many people would have thought that there really was a Reindeer-Reindeer Devil Fruit?"

Chopper's jaws worked noiselessly before he closed them with a nerveless clatter. His eyes, which had gone very, very large at the sight of the antlers, suddenly narrowed into thin slits. They were growing redder under the lids, and his breath snorted from his flared nostrils.

"Law, with me," Chopper finally ground out, swirling on one hoof to stalk downstairs. "Bring Bepo and the sleigh."

Law followed the seething reindeer at a slower pace, more out of curiosity than any compelling note of command (although the compelling note was a little scary). His left hand slipped into his pocket while the sword balanced precariously on his right shoulder, resting on the heel of his other palm.

"Manners, please, Dr. Chopper. You know how poorly I respond to instruction. May I ask what you are planning to do at this moment?"

They were at the front door, the wind howling like a lost banshee outside of the thick, protective wood. Chopper the doctor lowered his hat over his eyes and turned to glare sinisterly at the pirate captain behind him.

This was the mean Chopper, the Reindeer Monster, the one who had finally and emphatically earned a bounty worthy of his blood-thirsty crew. The reindeer grinned sardonically.

"An' it please thee, Captain Law, I would see fit to supply your generous crew with certain supplies ere we sail back to the New World."

Law's eyebrow rose up in silent appreciation and amazement at the choice of formal language, but he knew better than to fall for such flowery (if appropriate) terms.

"An' it please thee, Doctor Chopper, what, pray tell, wilt thou grace my crew with?"

"My good sir, have ye no knowledge of the medicinal wonders of Drum Island's venison?" the Pirate King's physician asked slyly before opening the door and stepping out into the wailing snow storm.

[~~~]

"Your leg's lookin' supa ship-shape, Coby-bro," Franky crowed loudly as the marine lieutenant leaned on his first mate (best friend, never can tell), Helmeppo Morgan. "Even the extra padding doesn't add a ton of weight or nothin'. You'll be back to kicking Luffy's ass in no time."

"Other way round, I think," Helmeppo quipped as his hand slipped around Coby's shoulder to draw the smaller man higher up while looking around for a place where his commanding officer could stretch out. Coby was always like this when his leg was being readjusted - slow, morose, pained, unaware.

Betrayed.

Helmeppo shook it out of his head quickly. He couldn't dwell on the old wound, or his own anger would come up, high and fast and unpredictable and so utterly like his father's that someone would invariably lose a body part before the young ensign could calm dow-

A sharp crack snapped through the salty breeze of the ocean just beyond Water 7. Helmeppo's eyes focused suddenly as pain lanced through his cheek.

"Enough!" the strawberry-blond marine muttered acidly to his sunshine-haired first mate, uncaring of Franky's side-long glance at the hand that had just slapped a stubbly, reddened jawline. "Don't dwell, remember Helm-kun?"

The blond ensign panted lightly, struggling to remember where and when he was (between Jaya and Water 7, 5 years after the war, no Akainu around). He sighed loudly and shook his head again. This time when he raised his head, only a sort of faint annoyance was visible.

"Franky-san, have you got a lawn chair or something? Dammit, you'd think you'd know by now that the Lieutenant needs one every-"

A long patio chaise walked out onto the deck on slender, shapely, femininely un-Franky legs. It stopped behind Coby and kicked Helmeppo's shin until he grudgingly helped his commanding officer stretch out on its surface. The legs lowered the seat to the ground, then vanished.

"Thanks, hunny!" Franky roared out loud, only to be graced with a flurry of petals stroking past his lips as a delicately shaped ear disintegrated. The cyborg closed his eyes and reveled in the light, fresh scent before smiling ruefully.

"How's Miss Nico doing?" Coby inquired lightly, trying unsuccessfully to hide the way his hands gripped at the stump of his right leg. The phantom pangs were obviously at work again, but Helmeppo did nothing but bite his own lip as the pink-haired man hissed in quiet frustration, digging short nails into bloody half-moons on the uncompromising flesh.

Franky could sympathize. Even today, there were still occasions where he'd wake up with the odd feeling of being a slightly gangly teenager who'd just been crushed by a train. How his baby-making equipment ever survived the trauma, he'd never know. And then that Dos Fleur recruitment tactic? It was a damn miracle that Robin was in the condition she was now!

"She's feeling excellent this week. Not too much morning sickness now, but we're still following Nurse-sis' orders and keeping her on bed rest for the next month or so, whenever Long nose-bro comes back." the cyborg responded while scratching the bottom of his left foot with a wrench. Damn, now he really was having phantom pangs of his own - one of the few drawbacks of creating prosthetics, the cyan-haired man pondered wryly.

"Will that take you out of miscarriage dange-" Helmeppo began, only to be cut off by Coby's headlock. Leg or no leg, Coby's Soru was still too damn fast! His vision was already swimming when he heard the Pirate King's shipwright chuckle.

"It's fine, Coby-bro, no worries. Yeah, if Robin can make it another month or so, we start moving out of miscarriage trouble."

Helmeppo glared at Coby, who sheepishly grinned before letting him go and flopping back on the chair, unusually exhausted. Helmeppo immediately went back into mother-hen mode as he used his own jacket to wipe the cold sweat off of the younger man's face. The blond suddenly seemed to realize what he was doing and froze, glancing worriedly back at the shipwright-cum-prosthetics maker.

'Dammit, I gotta stop doing this! This is the sort of shit that gets us too much heat back in Mariejois!'

"You bros got anything planned for your vacation so far, or you just planning to fraternize with enemy pirates the whole time?" Franky tossed over his shoulder, his massive back already turned on anything that the marines could possibly get up to while he made minor adjustments to Coby's leg straps on his portable workshop table. Helmeppo sighed in relief before answering.

"We're supposed to take a trip back home to East Blue, visit Luffy and Nami for a while, then chill out on an abandoned island somewhere that Smoker or Aokiji can't find us," the blond kukri knife-wielder grumbled warily, now standing to wring out his jacket.

Coby briefly opened his eyes only to be struck with a mass of broad shoulders and lean torso and bullet wounds and scars - he shuddered as a result, but dismissed his concerns for the ways that Helmeppo chose to protect him in battle, even though he was the better fighter of the two. He turned his gaze to the sea to disguise his worries, absently scouting the horizon until something in particular caught his eye.

"Helm-kun, eyeglass," the lieutenant called sharply, slipping naturally into the leadership role. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Helmeppo wondered if he would ever get to boss the pink-haired shrimp around before he rolled his eyes in despair and handed over the telescope.

Bobbing on the ocean was a small puff of steam. At first it looked like a very innocent cloud, but many others of the same size soon followed. Then, cresting over a wave, a small paddle-ship - paddle raft, really - became visible. It was piloted by a rather small speck-

Franky grunted over Coby, eyes narrowed against the glare of the sun.

"That's my student, Chimney. She's addicted to steam engines - still, her craft's ridin' real low today."

The paddle raft made its way inexorably towards Franky's personal cutter, The Don. Eventually all of the men on board were capable of hearing the young voice on the breeze.

".. ...nky-nii! Get .. . ..dic! I ... .. a dr... v...!"

"Shit, I've told that child forty-eleven times to carry a den den mushi on her," the cyborg growled, but he'd apparently gotten the jist of the message as he stripped off his shirt and threw it over the off-duty marines' head. "Helmeppo, I hope your first aid is up to snuff!"

And then, as nimble as a walrus on ice, Franky went over the side into the water. When he came up for air, he was halfway to his pupil's craft. It only took a few strong stokes to bring him to the edge of the tiny paddle boat. Coby watched as the ship bobbed in place for a few moments while an animated discussion took place. Then, Franky slipped to the back of the raft and began to push the float swiftly to the waiting ship. Chimney, for some reason, began to jump up and down.

"Please, take these."

Helmeppo all but jumped out of his skin and into Coby's lap as a voice spoke to them through the cabin wall.

"Please, Marine-san, give Franky these towels to dry off the young woman, and have her brought down to me after she has been revived. I'll take care of her."

Robin's laden hands and mouth showed through the wooden wall, a secretive smirk gracing her sensual lips. Coby gave Helmeppo a hard pinch to get the heavier man off of his aching lap, glaring pointedly at his ensign, who finally got a clue and stumped off to take the towels from the disembodied arms.

"We'll make sure to do so, Miss Nico," Coby replied properly, "But shouldn't you be resting? We can take care of the - woman, I guess - and let you take your bed rest properly."

Robin's mouth gave a little smile as the hands disappeared in a flurry of petals.

"That's quite alright, Marine-san - it's the least I can do for a former colleague."

Before Helmeppo or Coby could ask another question, Robin's extra body parts had vanished. They heard the telltale scrape of wood against the side of the ship and they turned to watch a teenaged girl with obscenely thick, mint-green, upstanding pigtails and a tight, sleeveless, striped dress jump on board.

"Yo, Marine-nii!" she called loudly before turning back to Franky, who was lifting in a small child. This was not the first time that Coby and Helmeppo had been favored (or cursed) with Chimney's company, but this was the first time she had brought a friend over when she dropped in on her adopted parents. She'd certainly shot up since her grandmother retired to Merman Island.

"Wait a minute," Coby started out loud as he dropped his glasses over his nose. His eyes scanned the young figure of Chimney's friend incessantly as his photographic memory went to work. "That's that escapee we got a bulletin on just before we left base. The one that escaped from Miss Hina."

The wheels in Helmeppo's head didn't turn quite as fast as Coby's, but his best friend gave him ample time to stare at the women's baby-like face. The light of understanding was suddenly in his first mate's periwinkle eyes.

"You mean she's Miss Goldenweek?" Helmeppo gawked, sputtering almost as much as the unconscious female that Franky was gently trying to pump dry of salt water.

[~~~]


Chapter Text

Sanji set out the last platter on the dining room table, then stepped back and wiped his brow. By his rough estimation, the women still needed another three hours to sleep off the alcohol in their systems; that should give him and the marimo plenty of time to sort things out.

Zoro placed the plum wine and three small ceramic cups on the table before huffing irritably. His hair was streaming back over his scalp, dripping water onto his bronze shoulders. His chest, arms and legs gleamed pinkly under his usual tan, evidence that he had scrubbed himself quite vigorously - Sanji would bet that even the scalp under all that kelp was an angry pink. The Pirate King's first mate was only clothed in his fundoshi and was also conspicuously swordless.

"I don't know why your green hide bothers. You'll still need to bathe afterwards," Sanji groused vacantly, fiddling with a number of polished bamboo chopsticks.

Zoro did not respond as he set himself up in one of the chairs. Sanji didn't care. He himself was only clad in his boxers, his skin an angry red in many places - all evidence that he had cleansed himself at least as harshly as Zoro had. The blond cook even left his eye exposed, knowing that it might be needed if things went...wrong. He took a seat opposite his crewmate. Both drew their legs up in lotus position and closed their eyes.

"Let's get this over with," Zoro growled out, his first words in over an hour. He arranged his hands in his lap, palms up, and began to chant, Sanji's own voice winding a sharp counterpoint to the swordsman's deep, hypnotic rumble. Slowly their heads began to droop, wilting onto their chests. Their heart rates slowed significantly and then stopped altogether.

Upstairs, Bonney's soft snores and Tashigi's whistling breaths hitched, disturbed by some unknown force. Now-familiar hands - callus-filled and rough, strong yet tender - brushed their foreheads and hair in the gentlest of touches, calming them immediately. A whisper of wind wafted through the cabins until it ended downstairs, in the kitchen. The breeze circled the table three times, just barely ruffling the hair on the napes of the Pirate King's enforcers. The bright afternoon sun dimmed significantly as an immense shadow covered its warmth.

"Foo~ood! Ah, so good! And liquor! Waa~ah, what a sweet burn! My thanks and compliments to the chef and sommelier!"

"Not bad, eggplant. I don't even need sauce."

"Ah, an excellent vintage, young man."

Zoro and Sanji opened their eyes and raised their heads. At the head of the table, already ploughing through the food that Sanji had prepared, sat the Straw-hats oldest nemesis and savior, Death, also known as the mummified remains of Captain Yorki, formerly of the Rhumba Pirates. Flanking him, sitting next to their proteges, were Zeff Redleg, former captain of the Chef Pirates and founder of the Baratie restaurant, and "Hawk-eyes" Mihawk, former Shichibukai and world's greatest swordsman.

"Shit geezer," Sanji huffed with a tinge of a smirk. His eyes were suspiciously bright, both red and blue.

"Mihawk-sensei," Zoro intoned, nodding his head reverently at his former teacher and mentor, his dark eyes lowered.

"Aw, they've learned manners! Go on you guys, you talk while I inhale."

Shuddering, Sanji began the seance. He detailed what he and Zoro had learned from Bonney and Tashigi as the ghosts dined, only pausing for minor additions and corrections from the marimo. Once the curly-browed chef had finished, the spectral guests sat back speculatively.

"I suppose I should start," Mihawk began, "Having...occasionally...worked with the World Government. Yes, before I left the Shichibukai I do remember some discussion on a project that would lead to the development of superior marine forces. I never learned any details as I was deemed rather unnecessary for the project after they took some samples from me."

Here Mihawk paused to sip from his cup of plum wine. His bleak eyes flashed with speculation and disquieting thoughts. None sought to disturb his recollections.

"Venus. That name means something to this project - whether it was the code name, or the target, or just a supervisor, I cannot say. I can tell you, for certain, that Doflamingo was deeply involved."

At the name, Zoro growled and Sanji ground his teeth, passionately desperate for a cigarette. Of all the lowlifes to have to deal with, Donquixote Doflamingo was probably the lowest - even that man, Akainu, was a preferable and more honorable opponent. Barely. Ordinary civilians had an image of Doflamingo as a highly-reputable ally of the World Government and the marines. Criminals knew him as the Demon Puppetmaster, a title that had absolutely nothing to do with his actions against pirates and everything to do with his networks of dens and drugholes, whore houses, auction houses, slavers and raiders. Many of those underhanded persons captured by Doflamingo would prefer to die by their collars or by chewing off their own tongues rather than become his toy - destined to be broken into a million pieces before gaining the reprieve of death. Luffy had issued the most impressive bounty known to the world for his head. No single pirate since Blackbeard had been more hated than Doflamingo.

"Huh. That's pretty weird. The bastard did something to me too, while I was dying. I think he was talking about my blood - not that it was hard to find some to collect. The marines didn't exactly leave a lot of it inside of me."

Zoro glanced at Sanji as Zeff scratched his rough red beard, more out of habit than any actual itchiness. The muscles in the blond chef's jaws twitched three times before rolling slowly. The swordsman was impressed; the left eye remained steadily red, not deepening to the maroon of aroused rage. That would be troublesome right now.

"So is it distinctly possible that this - marine experiment - could have given you two some bratlings you didn't know about?" the green-haired swordsman asked, bringing Sanji's head back around to the reason for the seance.

Zeff and Mihawk turned their own eyes expectantly to Death, who glared in response.

"Oh, come on! Do you really mean to make me stop eating and answer?" Death grumbled around a mouthful of okonomiyaki. The Grim Reaper had already devoured a quarter of the food that had been set out; Luffy and Ace would have been duly impressed. With a long sigh, the entity paused and swallowed noisily, chasing his last bite with a shot of plum wine.

"The kids ain't from either of you two old men. The - doctors? Nurses? Whatever, some sorta medical type people. Anyway, they told the girls those things so that they would not be believed if they escaped - hell, they told one girl that she was having my kid and Brook's, which is downright impossible. It's a good ruse - everyone knows you guys are dead, so how could they ever have had a kid from us? At any rate, us geezers weren't compatible," Death muttered, already spearing another serving of dinner. He paused again, his eyes suddenly very liquid and...human. He sighed, put his chopsticks down, then turned his gaze fully on the younger men at the table. He could feel the unspoken question hanging in the air.

'If Bonney and Tashigi weren't pregnant for Zeff and Mihawk, then who...?'

Death really hated his job some decades - this was quickly turning into another bad one. He wasn't entirely sure how he was supposed to phrase his response - it was already hard enough to take such young ones from their mothers, never having known a kiss or a hug or even a spanking.

And then, the Agreement of Lessening came to mind. Captain Yorki grimaced, but he figured that this might be the safest way to divulge the news - he didn't want dinner flying around the kitchen instead of swimming in his insatiable Hunger.

"By the way, boys, congratulations are in order. Your curse has been lifted."

As the blood drained out of Zoro and Sanji's faces, Captain Yorki realized that he still hadn't found a good way to tell a father that he had lost his unborn child. Internally he felt the Entity try to console him, but he didn't need it - he'd told far too many mothers and wives and daughters that their sons and husbands and fathers would not be returning from the battlefield. He'd survived even when he and Brook had received the same news, having lost their loved one to the Marines despite all their efforts.

But - some times - it was better to pull into the Absolute that forever hovered behind him.

"Oh? You didn't feel it?" Death pushed on with little grace, already shoveling as much of the remaining meal into his mouth as possible. The twitching in each living pirate's limbs were far too pronounced to guarantee the sanctity of the seance for much longer.

"You guys must be really dense not to feel the curse lifting, especially since you two offered the same thing. Especially you, Zoro - didn't anything strange happen to you in the past few days?"

"Curse?" Zeff gruffly chuffed. "What curse is this old rattle-bones talkin' 'bout, Eggplant?"

Mihawk merely turned to Zoro, his sharp eyes glinting like newly polished blades. The swordsman swallowed thickly and shook his head. The chef ground his teeth until Zeff's patience wore out and he kicked his former sous-chef in the back.

"Oi, Eggplant, spill it! What curse is this old mummified windbag talking about?" Zeff growled out, annoyed as his leg went through the blond man with only a fleeting, chill shudder of contact. The chef grimaced before speaking.

"When we...when we rescued Luffy and Ace...after Marineford. We had to agree to...to lessen ourselves in order to get our captain back. The...the damned idiot gave himself to Death for his brother, so we had to give something equal in strength," Sanji stuttered, his throat working noiselessly for a moment. "We...we were never going to..."

"We weren't going to make it past next year," Zoro gruffly soldiered on, pushing in where the cook failed. "That...was going to be our last year alive. We - this curly-browed ero-prince and I - we agreed to shorten our lifespan by sixty years each or..."

"Or lose your first-born child," Mihawk concluded, his eyes flashing dangerously at Death, who was too busy staring straight ahead. The former Shichibukai, even as a ghost, carried an aura of negligent malice and ill foreboding. "And he would agree to this, knowing full well that he could barter with Fate for a glimpse into your future."

"Oh, Sanji," Zeff groaned, his head in hands as he let his protege's name slip out unconsciously. He didn't know whether to comfort the suffering young man or kick the shit out of him for attempting to throw his life away again.

"Why the hell did you bother bargaining with this trickster? I know you've always been a suicidal ass, but seriously, even you know better than-"

"What the fuck did you want us to do?" Sanji hissed bitterly, his hands shivering as he struggled to maintain his composure. "We had to get our captain out of the Crossroads and that food-hogging bastard over there-"

"Oi, I ain't a bastard!" Death countered absently, his mind obviously elsewhere.

"This bastard," the Pirate King's cook continued, "Originally wanted thirty from each of us. We offered him sixty from the two of us to save Nami, and we've already promised to take on our parents' roles when we die. Brook sold himself back into servitude as a damned Shepherd and Franky sold three-quarters of the knowledge he gained from Vegapunk just to save Robin. Sogeking... And Usopp promised his eyesight and his right hand or blood of his blood - you know what happened there. Chopper sacrificed a number of medicines that could have saved half the fucking world and his own nature - he's...he's sometimes more monster than reindeer now. He's not just a herbivore any more, that's for sure. Our deal was in place provided we didn't have kids for five years and we were doing just fine until-"

"Sanji, you might want to shut up now," Death muttered urgently, actually pausing his chopsticks in mid-stride.

"No, you shut to fuck up!" the chef continued, his left eye flickering wildly, the red bleeding deeper and deeper maroon as the vision in that eye improved. Zoro's countenance was frozen in a deep snarl of hatred, Mihawk having already slipped into his body to wage war on the swordsman's infamously powerful spirit. Zeff was starting to dissipate in order to slip into Sanji and do the same, but his adopted son was already wise to him. With his eye now a horribly dark maroon, Sanji speared his teacher to his seat with fear. The Eros Cuisine's owner barreled on.

"We were doing fine! We always went for the barren girls! We used condoms! We offered Chopper's Anti-Regret every morning afterwards. We were too damned good at making sure you wouldn't get your way so you fucking well used the women we love - would have wanted the most - and got that shitty doctor to knock them up so you could fucking well-"

"Sanji Blackleg, prince of the Second Circle, be silent!" Death commanded with a bellow, his unearthly voice flattening all present with the cold, dank stench of the charnel-house, the knacker-yard, the cemetery, and watery under-sea graves.

Unfortunately, it was too late. A choked sob from the living quarters drew every man's attention to where Bonney and Tashigi knelt above the hatch, eyes staring far too widely. Death sighed tiredly and tried to resist the urge to impale himself on his own Grim Reaper scythe.

'Where the hell is Brook when I need him?'

[~~~]

"You...you're real," Tashigi murmured as she rose from her crouch, having just jumped down from the living quarters and landing a bit unsteadily due to her alcohol-laden system. Zoro's body strained towards the bed-headed bleuette, but he reined in the impulse to rush to her side, maintaining the death-sensing stance with great difficulty.

"Sanji...is that guy really here?" Bonney muttered darkly before dropping down herself, landing with cat-like grace despite the amount of liquor she'd consumed earlier - a sure sign that her Life Return skills were working quite well that day. Sanji could feel his shoulders tense, drawing tight and hard like a bow string, but he too managed not to cave in to his desire to aid the strawberry blonde.

The two women approached the table with sure-footed yet cautious steps, looking more than a little wild-eyed and nervous. Bonney's trembling arm rose up - possibly in a subconscious move to touch Sanji's left eye - even as Tashigi neared Zoro, her hand outstretched to brush back a few wisps of jade-green strands,

"Don't touch them, ladies."

Both hands stopped in mid-air. Tashigi looked up questioningly while Bonney's glare of unleashed anger tried to pin the entity's features down. Death drew his head further into his abysmal cloak and hood.

"They are in a special state right now - hovering between Life and Death. If you touch them, they might sink entirely into my grasp. Ah, that would make this my lucky day~!"

An absolute knife of a grin flashed in the nigh-tangible darkness at the head of the preparation table. Even Bonney had to acknowledge the frisson of terror that slithered and skated down her backbone.

"Is it true?" Tashigi piped up, carefully selecting a seat near the moss-haired swordsman. "Is it all true?"

"More importantly, why the hell can we see you?" Bonney interjected, choosing to remain standing near the blond chef.

"You're stale-drunk. You have no idea how much easier that makes it to appear before your conscious mind," Death patiently explained, dabbing his mouth with the napkin Sanji had placed at each seating arrangement. "And yes, everything I have stated is the truth. I can't actually lie - cover up the truth, sure, but I can't fabricate stories out of thin air - not like that pointy-nosed sniper can, that's for certain."

Bonney's legs began to quiver. She decided that Tashigi'd probably had the right of it, and pulled out a seat to heavily drop her frame into.

"So ya mean..." Bonney began, her voice disgustingly weak and laced with grief. "So ya mean that I...we were carrying Zoro's kids?"

Tashigi frowned in confusion, shaking her head vehemently.

"Don't you mean we were both carrying Sanji's kids?"

Death inspected the women, trying to gauge their ability to process the truth. He grumbled under his breath and sighed internally as he looked deeply into each of their eyes - both jade and coffee irises were strong and unwavering in their desire to know the truth.

"Actually, they lied to you girls about that as well. When they told you, Bonney, that you were both impregnated with the genes of a swordsman, that was just you. Likewise, when they told you, Tashigi, that you were both pregnant for a savateur, that was just you. They wrapped the truth under many layers of falsehoods in order to protect the program."

Zoro looked across at Bonney, whose face resembled the pancaked surprise often displayed by carriage road-kill. His vision grew blurry thinking of what his first-born could have been like - all the possibilities swam in his head as he stared at the shell-shocked eyes of the unwilling mother of his child. Mihawk, still possessing his former rival, began to sink deeper into the swordman's rage, searching for the trigger he knew laid underneath.

"Steady," Mihawk whispered to the being raging in front of him, straining against the mental bonds. "No need to be so hasty. There is more behind this."

"Oh God," Tashigi whimpered before covering her mouth with both hands. Sanji winced as the brown eyes filled with tears that never fell; watery and shivering orbs of the disillusioned. He was torn - as much as he loved Bonney, he wanted to hug this darker woman who'd lost the same child as he had. Zeff used this momentary flinch to slip into the chef and dive deep for the button that set off most of Sanji's strongest emotions.

"Easy there, big boy," Zeff crooned as he came upon the spirit leashed within. "Let's just wait a minute and see what happens.

"Would you like to see them"

All four of the living at the table turned to Captain Yorki, who had just slipped his hood off of his dry-straw hair. His eyes, usually empty and clear like shards of ice, were now murky. Before anyone could make a decision either way, the mummy snapped his dessicated fingers and two small shadows grew from the floor behind him.

"You can't touch them," Yorki hastened to explain as Tashigi all but bolted from her seat. "They're just figments of what could have been but...well, at least...now you know. It's more than Brook and I ever got."

Dilated eyes drank in the shaded features of the two sleeping babes hovering behind Death. They roved unceasingly over the perfect little fingers and toes, the slender, fragile limbs, the tiny, pudgy bellies, and oh by the glory of the Pirate King, their rounded, lightly fuzzed heads, eyes closed in endless sleep with little digits slipping in between pale lips. Bonney could not help but cry out as the images began to waver - Tashigi was too overcome by her recent grief.

"Naw, damn ya, not yet! Jist a li'l bit mor-!"

"I'm sorry. I cannot pause their journey any longer," Yorki replied sadly, shaking his head regretfully. The shadows deepened until they were once more fully black, then seeped down into the infinite cape of He Who Took All. Yorki slowly, slowly, slowly drew his heavy cloak back over his dried, ruined mortal husk, once more taking up the mantle of his eternal task.

"Truly, I am sorry. I had no idea what was going to happen - I can swear on Fate's scissors and thread and loom that I did not go to her beforehand. Besides, she tends to like keeping me in the dark until the last possible moment - she has this thing for trying to surprise me. At any rate, it is drawing too close to night for you to safely continue this seance - Sogeking isn't here to guide you back, now is he?"

Reluctantly, Zoro shook his head although his eyes were now burning with a flicker of horrendous determination. Sanji's eyes were swirling and incandescent, the maroon still strong in his left eye, the right burning blue-white like a lightning-struck tar field. Mihawk and Zeff were forced out of the other men's bodies forcefully as the Pirate King's enforcers regained their internal fortitude, overwhelming anything else. Death swiftly offered each ghost his hand, drawing them into the safety of his cloak as Sanji became wreathed in flames and Zoro in an impenetrable gloom.

"We will kill him and damn him to pits of hell!"

Tashigi's small fist pounded the table once following her sibilant cry of anguished rage. Everyone except Bonney watched with horrified amazement as a crack ran the length of the table.

"Uhm, by him, would you happen to be referring to-" Death began hesitantly, only to have Bonney forcefully interrupt him, her accent heavy and deadly like molten lead.

"Doflamingo's ass is ours! Ya kin deal wif' him after we tear him apart."

"But-" Sanji began, having trouble getting human words out of his throat. He turned helplessly to Zoro, who could only growl, his jaws locked in the same conundrum.

"But nothing!" Tashigi yelled, taking one hand and flinging the remainders of the dinner off of the table in one vicious sweep.

"He made us suffer! He forced everything on us for some twisted plan from the World Government! I've had enough! I've given them everything now, including my baby! It is more than enough."

Bonney came in without missing a beat as the sword mistress' rage momentarily consumed her with short-breathed panting.

"At first we were jist gonna save th' rest of th' gals what got stuck in that hellhole wif' us, but that isn't enough. He took so much from us - from you two. Ya worked so hard ta do things yer way - ta not sacrifice some innocent just ta get out of yer promises - and he took that from ya - from all of us! We claim him as our prey!"

"Witnessed!" Death roared suddenly, raising his hands over his head. "Your claim has been witnessed and accepted!"

"Are you fucking with me?" Zoro all but howled in stereo, three heads growling at Death balefully. "Doflamingo will slaughter them! Up to now, no-one's even figured out how Doflamingo does what he does!"

"Then that will be your job, kiddo," Zeff barked loudly, snapping the swordsman from his wrath. "Train them so they can kick that whoreson cocksucker's ass!"

"But...but what about our revenge, you shitty geezer?" Sanji yelled, visibly fuming. "He killed you guys, in case you fucking forgot while hanging out in Purgatory!"

"And your revenge has been trumped by Death himself," Mihawk coolly retorted. "Tow-head, you have been replaced - do the right thing by these brave women and prepare them for the last task you were going to undertake."

"Besides," Death intoned with a certain air of dark amusement, "That man is still a viable target, now isn't he?"

With that, Death stepped back and vanished, taking the ghosts with him. Sanji and Zoro snapped their heads back, their souls being rudely shoved back into their bodies at the entity's abrupt departure.

"Fuck!" Sanji cried, his hands coming up to grip his head as he began to bang it against the table in frustration, the back of his throat gorged on the taste of hellfire and brimstone

"Fuck," Zoro repeated in a hollow moan, his face a tight grimace of pain as his hands pounded his own chill flesh, vomiting on the taste of ambrosia and nectar in his mouth.

[~~~]

"Why d'ya hafta go?"

The slurred voice still retained a trace of its normal aggressiveness and insanity, but it came out more like a spoiled child's whine. The voice was muffled by another mouth momentarily.

"You're more fun that you know, darling, but I can't stick around anymore. I have an assignment that will take me away for a long time."

The pouting child-man frowned as he watched a beautiful swan expose its long, white neck. The tattoo on his companion's back was too lifelike to ever be mistaken.

"You're a pirate, ain't ya? Jump ship to my crew."

The swan turned its head back, both amused and exasperated.

"I'll never abandon them. Besides, you think the bloodhounds would let me live? Us meeting was just a good coincidence - two ships sailing to the same port from different directions."

The large man on the bed winced as candlelight brightened the small cabin. His red hair flamed brightly.

"Stop with all the metaphorical, flowery shit. I want you. I get what I want."

The swan was covered by a crisp white shirt and long, black hair. Eustass Kidd got out of the bunk and towered over his partner of the past few weeks, reeking of alcohol, blood, and lust. His aura would make normal people run screaming, but his partner was much, much stronger in body and mind than regular cretins.

His partner had no idea how intoxicating that resistance was.

"One more night."

"You said that three nights ago, Kidd-chan."

"You'll drown if you go out now."

"I'm far too resourceful for that. Haven't you asked Sadi-chan?"

"I need you."

A foot slammed through the wall next to Eustass' head, making his ear tingle maddeningly as a rivulet of blood started to flow from the tip.

"The people who need me are my nakama! My nakama asked me to do something, so I'm doing it. End of story, lovey!"

Eustass didn't even blink. He used his magnetic abilities to pull his partner closer - he loved the broad buckle on that brown leather belt. His eyes never left his partner's own as he pulled everything into the light.

The bitch was crying.

No one would ever have guessed from the calm voice, but a river of tears were coating the face that normally marred Kidd's pillows with mascara and blush. The crimson-headed man known as 'Captain' crumpled his annoying companion in his embrace.

"Will you come back?" Eustass asked in a growl, his face furrowed.

"Darling, you really need to stop avoiding Sadi-chan and just talk to her instead of asking me silly questions."

His companion pulled out of the crushing embrace with ease and stroked Eustass' pale cheek; too tender a motion for an easy fling. The grin was broad and brittle; far too false under glossy lips.

"Stop joking around. We found each other willing and able, now the dance is over. Time to switch partners again. Don't wait, lovey."

Eustass closed his eyes in denial as his companion walked backwards through his cabin door. When he opened them again, all he could see was a long, receding shadow on the floor.

[~~~]

"You better be sure about this."

Bentham almost dropped the lifeboat into the water as the rope slipped through his suddenly nerveless fingers. Killer caught the trailing line in the pulley nearest to him.

"Killer-chan! You nearly scared me to death! What are you doing up now? Isn't it ol' Split-face's turn for watch?"

The stately, blond supernova stepped fully out of the shadows, leaning over the ship to gaze at the pounding waters below. The sea was heavy with foam, the waves churning deeply under the surface.

He turned his faceless mask to observe the chatty okama with the heavy, pancake makeup. Bentham was still talking in a low whisper, filling the air between them with white noise. Killer briefly wondered if the okama really thought the makeup hid emotions better than a plate of steel

"Kidd's well-being keeps me up at night."

The okama's stream of background sound faltered briefly, but did not stop. Killer had to give the...guy...credit - he was a tough nut to crack when he wanted to be difficult. The blond, however, persevered with his point.

"When the 'Captain' is happy, I get to sleep. When he isn't-"

An almighty crash sounded deep within the ship, causing it to shudder and heave. The Kidd Pirates' first mate groaned - he already knew that the ship's carpenter would have to re-attach their captain's bunk again. Provided, of course, it didn't end up out the side of the ship like the last time Kidd threw a tantrum.

Bentham's hands paused on the pulley. His mouth opened and shut a few times, but the words seemed to be lodged in his throat. His heart was squeezing his chest tightly, too tightly for him to breathe far less speak.

'Too soon,' his mind whispered. 'Wait...wait...Trust not so soon, little one. Don't forget that time...'

Killer took in the pause; the hunched shoulders, the rigid back, and the pained expression on the okama's face. He nodded sharply as he took the rope from the other man's hands and finished letting down the boat. The 'Massacre Man' made his point as he worked.

"The only reason why I'm letting you leave this ship alive is because I can't hurt you any more than you're already hurting yourself. Though I am sorely tempted to try right now."

The Pirate King's spy listened to the masked man's footsteps as they padded further into the ship.

"If I come back, Killer-chan," the okama began to whisper under his breath. Killer paused his soft footfalls and craned an ear to listen. Bentham shook his head and dashed away the tears before they could run down his cheek, then leapt up on to the railing just in front of the spot where the dual knife-wielder had appeared.

"Tell Eustass that he can not stay in these waters but... But if he can meet me right here in about three months' time, then I'll be anyone he wants me to be - Nami, Robin, Zoro, Sanji, Law, anyone - for up to three months. I guarantee, Killer-chan, he'll have had more than his fill of me by then...and...and then he'll be back to normal."

"But Bentham, what about- ?"

Before Killer could finish turning around - before he could even finish his question - the master of disguise had tipped himself over the edge of the ship. The splash as Bentham landed in the boat was minimal; numerous years of ballet training had made the large man astonishingly light on his feet. Killer listened for the sound of oars slipping edge-first into waves until the quiet, even strokes of Bentham's rowing faded into the night.

Scowling, the Kidd Pirates' first mate went to seek out the shipwright before Kidd could think to dismantle the ship nail by nail. He also had a bad feeling that the Straw-hats would be descending on them sometime soon, wanting to discuss a lovelorn nakama. Given that Straw-hats tended to hold their 'discussions' with martial arts and weapons, he'd have to talk to the sleepy carpenter about additional ship defenses as well.

And oh yes - his girlfriend was going to kill him for fucking up this man-to-okama conversation. Painlessly if she was really angry.

[~~~]

Bentham was fine. Just fine. He did not have time to sit in a boat and row and cry and wish for things that would not happen and remember things that were not allowed to happen...

"Luffy," he whispered in a voice much deeper and rougher than how he normally spoke. Downright gruff, tinged with something desperate and pained. His black hair was being whipped around his face by the night-breeze - he was glad that he had chosen trousers and his cape tonight, instead of one of his skirts.

"Zoro. Nami. Usopp. Sanji. Chopper. Robin. Franky. Brook. Hancock. Bentham."

The Straw-hat Pirates. His family. The only ones that he knew truly loved him.

Bentham's voice grew less ragged and more sane as he recited the names again. By the third recitation, he was giggling slightly, remembering antics and pranks and hair-raising, death-defying adventures. He was feeling...he was feeling fine. Yes. Just fine, so there was no more time to joke around!

The okama shut down everything below his waist and on the left side of his chest, a task that was rather easy to complete given the injuries that Magellan had inflicted- No, that topic was not good for consideration either. With a firmer handle on his mind, Bentham instead chose to focus on the information that Sanji had provided him via a late-night delivery by Franco - data from both piratical and marine sources.

The devil fruit user pulled a number of slender, metallic cylinders from his clothing and shoes and even one particularly uncomfortable location. He popped the cap of that cylinder to pull out a large, waterproof roll of oiled hide, which he then spread over the unoccupied second bench in the boat. He didn't worry to keep it down - it was far too thick and heavy for anything short of a squall to whip away. From the bottom of the container, he shook out the end of a tallow candle and a few matches. Using the sole of his ballet slippers, he struck the match and lit the candle, pouring some of the freshly melted wax onto the hide to secure the rest of the meager stick.

Next, he undid a cylinder and poured out a multitude of alligator clips. He clipped a large number of them around the hide's edges before opening the remaining cylinders - sheaths of paper and parchment spilled onto the covered bench. Bentham swiftly pinned the documents under the positioned clips, keeping the information safe from the erratic breeze for now.

Smoker and Zoro may have thought that Sanji had just sent the Vice-Admiral - and by extension, Commodore Hina, who had strict orders to 'escort' Smoker anywhere - on wild-goose chases, but there were reasons behind the black ops master's thinking. The Vice-Admiral and Commodore were actually visiting Akainu's hot spots and hang outs - everywhere that the Admiral was known to frequent. They were relatively few, but all were heavily protected by marine forces - there was no way that anyone below an Ensign could sail into those waters. For the Pirate King or any of his squad to visit would be...messy, for want of a better word.

The pirate information had come later, compliments of the Straw-hats' varied network of friends and the Council's mired tentacles at large. This data was far less neatly presented, generally looking as if Sanji had pulled a number of all-nighters to compile it (for which Chopper would no doubt rake him over the coals), but the end result was a very detailed account of every place that Doflamingo had been for the past five years.

Bentham scanned the data - piles of receipts, photos, handwritten details - his eyes flitting almost frantically over everything. He took in the faces in particular, scanning them for anything that could possibly...

And then it was there. A clue. Bentham's eyes locked onto one picture in particular, then he frantically searched through the other documents for corroborating evidence. When he was satisfied with what he had, the okama's breathing finally rolled back down to normal. A deep, cleansing calm settled over him as he set the information in one of the cylinders and made it secure. He negligently detached the candle and used it to burn the pile of papers - when nothing remained but ash, he swept everything overboard with the billowing air from one of his kicks. He washed off the oiled hide, rolled it up and replaced it in its metal container, which he then tied to the cylinder containing the evidence.

"Now how best to get this to...ah! That's it!" the spy exclaimed to himself, before leaning as far over as he dared and beating a peculiar rhythm on the boat's side, just above the waterline. Within a few minutes, the cylinders had disappeared, as sure to get to Sanji as if he'd dialed the man on a den-den mushi. Bentham's grin was more than a bit malicious as he watched the message disappear, already rolling up his sleeves and pants legs to give himself a double dose of Ivankov's hormones.

"Slip it in, baby, make me feel it burn," he chanted quietly, channeling the song from a darker place - somewhere that rarely saw oceans, or even the sky. "This is the way you make the drugs ride in my hide...oh we're gonna get you now, bitch. Zero-chan'd probably fuck me on his hook for this chance..."

[~~~]

Two weeks after the disastrously enlightening seance, Bonney was putting Sanji to bed at the crack of dawn again. The blond had been on his den-den mushi so long that the poor thing was starting to look like him - curly eyebrow and all - which just was not right considering that it should have looked like his last caller.

"He does this," was all Zoro would say as he pulled his weights up from anchoring the barge - they usually trailed along behind the vessel, given the ridiculous amounts that the swordsman trained with. The swordsman had been obsessively pumping weight, breaking only to sleep. Sanji would bring out something edible in a bowl and Zoro would use his dexterous tongue to slurp, gulp, or cram the nutrition into his mouth in one swift go, barely breaking his reps in the process.

"If he stops cooking, I'll call in the big guns."

"Ha?" Bonney answered with her hands akimbo, unusually naive. "Big guns? Whatcha talkin' 'bout, Steely?"

Zoro didn't answer, already used to Bonney's new nickname for him. He merely stared like a dead fish at Bonney's own 'weight rack' as he finished off set one hundred and forty-seven of his triceps curls. It took the pink-haired piratess a moment to get his meaning - the man had the sex drive of his mossy namesake when compared to his culinary comrade - but when she did, her response was immediate.

Tashigi tried very hard not to shoot a cannon at him when his green head came spluttering up for air some three hundred meters away. Bonney merely dusted her hands off in satisfaction, then returned to the breakfast the cook had made for her before collapsing in the kitchen.

"You know you deserved that," the navy-coiffed woman nonchalantly remarked when Zoro finally pulled himself back onto the ship. He merely grunted and flipped onto his back, panting from the combination of exercise, near drowning experiences, and swimming with over ten tons in weights tied to his waist. Tashigi shifted Shigure's sheathe away from the growing puddle of saltwater on the deck, then returned to powdering the sword while cooing at it.

"Sorry."

The ex-marine ensign looked up, clearly surprised that the wet pirate was talking. Zoro had been even more withdrawn and prone to speechlessness since the seance - the fact that he'd even said anything to Bonney had been shocking enough. And on top of that, an apology? From quite possibly the most self-confident (arrogant) man in the New World - even when taking Smoker into account?

He loosed the chains for his weights and attached them back to the ship's windlass before moving to stand over her. After a while with his shadow dripping over her, she sighed and stood up.

"Can't you just explain yourself like a normal human?" she quipped in exasperation as she shook the excess powder off of her meitou and resheathed it. She quickly wrapped her sword belt back on her hips, then squared her shoulders and turned to look at the swordsman.

His hands were crossed over his massive (and of course, naked) chest. His jaws were tight with some form of emotion, but she had already learned that anything she wanted to know would be in his eyes. And in those black eyes that could be wildly expressive or as blank as slate, she saw...guilt. A deep well of guilt, as if he had long thought that his existence was more of a burden to others than a blessing, a guilt that seemed endless enough to fuel the sun.

She didn't need this. She didn't want to know that this man - her supposedly future trainer and eventual rival - had those sorts of emotions. She didn't want to feel even more than she already did for him, so she did what came naturally for her now.

"Fuck! What the hell?"

She slapped him around the head. Hard. While he clutched his ringing left ear, she stepped up to him, her own arms folding under her chest as she glowered bleakly at his rugged face.

"We were screwed anyhow - figuratively and almost literally. The fact that it was you guys...well it's just a fact. It's not like you did it yourself. Hell, you didn't even know what was going on. Tell me, what could you have done to change anything?"

The swordsman stood there, impassive but for his eyes. They seemed to be saying that what he could or could not have done didn't matter - he still felt in some way responsible for her lot. Her loss. Her new load.

Tashigi hesitated. Normally she would leave him to work this out on his own, then let him come in and grunt his way to the shower as per usual. However it was now abundantly clear that this guilt was the driving force behind both his and Sanji's actions. Stabbing him in the gut with one of her index fingers, she decided to trust him with her own thoughts on the whole matter.

"I swear by Shigure that if you take advantage of this in any way, I will make you a eunuch," she hissed like an angry cat before wrapping her arms around his thick, muscle-bound torso. She leaned her head against his chest and just stood there, inhaling the scent of his sweat and salty water, until he finally - dare she say timidly? - wrapped his arms around her shoulders. She sighed and the tension began to flow out of her back - she hadn't even realized how stiffly she'd been standing while waiting for him to respond.

She hadn't even realized that she'd been waiting for him to push her away.

She shuddered as his thumb lazily circled the vertebra between her shoulder blades - the stress and tension began oozing out of her in a slimy stream of nausea. The hilts of his blades once more mingled with her lone blade, bumping each other in an almost ritualistic manner as their owners' hips came together. Tashigi hardly realized that she'd begun to speak.

"I...I'm...I'm so confused. And angry - I don't think I can even describe how angry I am! But I'm...I'm scared, because this is burning in my chest. I've never felt this crazy mix of emotions before, not even when I was hunting you! It feels like I'm swimming in this big pool of...of quicksand and it keeps sucking at me! I want to kill Doflamingo like...I've never hated someone so...I think if someone told me I had to sell my soul to get revenge..."

The strong hands around her suddenly tightened into something far fiercer than a friendly hug. Tashigi gasped as the air is crushed from her lungs.

"Never do that," Zoro rasped, his chin coming down to rest on her head. "Tashigi is strong enough to do anything without any unholy help. Trust me on that. I can feel it."

Swallowing thickly - Tashigi couldn't understand why hearing her name slide off of his tongue made the whole atmosphere change - she could only nod. His hands had begun massaging her shoulders as he finally spoke again.

"I'm going to get Sanji to start training you tomorro-"

Her head shot up, neatly head-butting him under his chin. While the swordsman tried to figure out if he still had a tongue left, the dark woman in his arms had begun to curse him.

"What the hell? Why is Sanji going to train me? You think I'm too weak to work with you, is that it? Holy Hell, you've got to be kidding me... You're ditching me on your girl-crazy friend because you hate female sword- mmph!"

'Shit, this is an effective way to shut her up,' Zoro thought as he pressed his lips harder against hers, his tongue slipping between her gnashing teeth to dominate the exchange completely. He gave a muffled groan as he felt her respond quickly, their teeth clicking as they fought to pour their fears and wounds into each other. Her tongue was tangling with his and so damn hot with the taste of steel on it-

"Arrrgh!" the swordsman roared as he finally ripped himself away, panting mightily. Somehow she had wrapped herself all over him - her legs were around his waist, with both of his hands cupped on her toned, denim-covered ass, her hands twisting in his jade locks which had been freed by her clever fingers yet again. Her lips were berry red and swollen; her breathing was short and sharp. Zoro sighed and leaned against her forehead, chuckling.

"This...is exactly why," the green-haired man gasped as she tried to descend from his embrace. Unconsciously, he rolled himself against her - he growled when she cried out sharply.

"I will probably have rape added to my list of crimes against government and nature if I attempt to train you," the Pirate King's first mate whispered huskily as he moved to kiss behind her ear. Her sharp, steely fragrance was mellowed by wisps of green tea and airy powder - the scent was heady enough to make him momentarily dizzy.

"Can't rape the willing," the ex-marine puffed out in a little laugh, her head thrown back and her eyes closed. "But yes, you've definitely made your point. Care to let me down now?"

Zoro shifted against her once more. Tashigi moaned loudly.

"Hell no," he replied with a feral grin. "Convince me."

The sound ricocheted across the ocean as loud and clear as the chiming of a bell, making Sanji's snoring hitch and scaring away a passing Chicken of the Sea.

[~~~]

Bonney tried not to laugh when Zoro came in with Tashigi's hand-print plastered across his jaw. The swordsman could only smirk and shrug before helping himself to the rapidly disappearing breakfast platter.

"So what were the crimes against nature?" the strawberry-blonde piratess asked, her grin as sharp and crooked as a kukri knife as she inhaled a stack of pancakes. Zoro snorted and pointed at his grassy locks. Her eyebrows rose up skeptically.

"Apparently there's a country out there that believes I stole their national treasure to use as a wig. It's a capital offense too."

Bonney almost choked on her food with the way she was howling and crying with laughter.

"Oh shit," she finally gasped as the rest of the syrup-laden flapjacks finally went down her throat. "Oh Lord, I hope our kid wasn't gonna end up with that hai-!"

Bonney's laughter quickly trailed off and died as she choked on a sob, leaving the kitchen enveloped in silence. The waves and gulls and wind continued to move and create sounds, but there was a vacuum of grief in the main workroom of the floating restaurant.

Zoro dropped the plate and fork he had just taken out - they crashed loudly against each other as they took the short journey from his hand to the tabletop. He pushed his shaking hands into his eye sockets and sat there, shoulders hunched and defeated, as Bonney blurted out some excuse - he may have heard something about a shower - and then dashed upstairs.

Outside, Tashigi turned to face the sea, then leaned against the kitchen door for support. Its wooden surface still wasn't enough; she found herself sitting on the deck, curled up in a ball, the tears dripping over her knees. Upstairs, Sanji pointedly turned his back to the access hatch just before Bonney could dash past, an unlit cigarette dangling from his teeth.

[~~~]

Bonney didn't come out until every drop of hot water was gone and her crying had stopped. The urge was completely irrational - she'd never wanted kids, never wanted that burden, hadn't wanted to become their burden - yet the loss of this nameless child still made her heart keen. The whole response was completely ridiculous, but she just couldn't help herself - opportunities had been opened to her that she'd never thought of before.

"Even so, I can't get ta them yet," she told herself harshly, slicking her wet hair back with fierce pressure. "I gotta get Doflamingo's ass first."

"So you're really going after him?"

Bonney tensed as she heard his voice filter through the bathroom door. Looking around for an excuse - any excuse - to delay this conversation, she realized that she'd forgotten to bring in a towel.

"Wait a minute! I ain't got a towel in here, can ya get me-"

She hid behind the shower curtain and snarled silently as the knob on the door twisted and the traitorous wooden portal opened, followed by a wispy trail of smoke. A long-fingered hand held out a thick, freshly washed white towel. She tried not to stomp over and snatch it, grumbling under her breath. The absorbent cotton wicked away the leftover moisture very quickly - too quickly.

"I need one for ma hai-"

His nicotine-stained hand reappeared with a smaller towel. Bonney stuck her tongue out at the door as she definitely snatched this one out of his grasp. She was momentarily annoyed to find herself smiling along with his scratchy, tired, smoke-filled chuckle while she shook her hair out and wrapped it up high. As she finished, she looked up and realized that she was completely reflected in the mirror.

The mirror that was easy to see from the doorway.

His leg quickly deflected her punch through the door - right through the spot where his head had just been resting. His twinkling blue eye was now leering at the shadowed view up her legs and under the towel.

"Enjoyin' the view, aintcha?" she growled as she tried to free her arm without completely ruining the door.

"Gotta take what I can get before Zoro starts training you," he smirked as he brought himself back upright as slowly as possible. Despite his best efforts, blood was trickling from his left nostril by the time he was back on his feet.

"Eh? Steely? Why's he training me?" Bonney asked as she finally plucked her hand out of the hole. "Ah shit! Stupid splinters..."

Carefully, Sanji took hold of the injured right hand. While his internal heat and strong digits massaged her palm, he tenderly grazed her knuckles with his lips - the dry, slightly chapped texture sent gooseflesh crawling over her arms. With extreme caution, he worked out the splinters - some in the fleshy side of her hand, near her thumb, and a few from the back of her hand. One particularly tricky shard took time to wriggle out of the skin between her index and middle finger. As soon as it was out, the blond chef raised the bleeding spot to his mouth and let his tongue snake out to lave it.

And again.

He raised his incandescent blue and red eyes up to look at her from under his fringe of golden bangs. His tongue held a tiny spot of red at its tip. He swallowed deeply, then opened his mouth and let his burning, fiery, so-devilishly-clever-it-should-be-forked tongue snake out to lave the skin again.

Bonney wasn't sure what got them to stop. She knew that she'd practically thrown herself at him and he'd caught her before they went down in a tangle of limbs and heat but she still didn't understand why Zoro had thought it a fucking good time to cock - or in this case, cunt - block. The swordsman was holding Sanji back with both arms locked under the chef's pair, his golden hands pressing against the back of the paler restauranteur's long neck. Using his scant height difference, the swordsman heaved the flailing cook off his feet to reduce the chances of the blond throwing him with his superior leg strength.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Shit, ero-cook, hold it it!"

"Merde! Putain, casse-toi! Je vais- I'm fine, salop-Marimo! Ease to fuck up! I'm fine!"

"Bonney!" Zoro grunted, utterly ignoring the ranting, scathingly hot man still barely in his grip. "Get dressed as fast as possible and get downstairs. I gotta get this one calmed down. Let's get this shit into the open once and for all."

The strawberry blonde didn't say a word. Her eyes were utterly captivated by Sanji's incinerating glare - he seemed to be trying to set her towel on fire with his thoughts alone. There was a constant snarl in his throat that roughened every word out of his mouth, and he was not speaking in the common tongue.

"Move, woman!" Zoro roared as Sanji's right leg managed to wrap around his hip - the swordsman already knew that he was in serious danger of taking a fall. Bonney scrambled on all fours until she hit the doorway of the captain's quarters, eyes still trapped by the tow-head chef's pair. She somehow managed to stand with the help of the doorway, then wrenched her gaze away to grab some clothes from the nearby bunk - she wasn't even sure if the garments were hers or Tashigi's. With one last look, she fled down the hatch, Sanji's anguished howl following her.

"Fils d'salope, fou le camp!"

Zoro felt himself over-balancing and corrected quickly, only to have the left foot kick back into his hip. For the second time in a mere hour, the swordsman took a blow to the head as it connected with the floor - three, if you counted the recoil of Sanji's head into the green-haired man's nose.

"Not my head's frigging lucky day," the swordsman grumbled as he felt Sanji's struggling lessen. "Done yet, you dumb fuck?"

"Shit! Anyone tell you your head's fucking well made out of a rock?" the cook replied, breath wheezing through his gritted teeth. "Yeah I'm done. Lemme out."

Zoro quickly obliged, all but throwing the blond onto the floor as he rolled away and up to his feet. Sanji spat blood out of his mouth and levered himself upward after three quick push-ups. His bangs fell over his left eye naturally.

"You know this is why you need to sleep, dickless," Zoro grumbled morosely as he gave the cook the once over. "Especially with the restaurant opening soon. Now we gotta go explain even more shit to our new 'students!' And the stocking ships are coming in tomorrow, so we'll all be hauling shit all day long. Motherfucker, don't stress your body so much - we only just lost the curse! "

Sanji rolled his eyes, a half-smirk on his face as he pretended to consider the green-haired man's scolding.

"Yes, mama bear, oh wise, green and woolly."

And then Sanji was trying to laugh through his second blow to the head for the day - although it might have been better described as a brutal blunt force attack with a club, given that it was caused by Zoro's fist to his jaw.

[~~~]

Sanji's loud swearing in a weird language brought Tashigi falling into the kitchen. She tripped on the edge of the doorway and fell over a chair as she tried to enter the room in a hurry - the last time Zoro and Sanji had gotten into a fight, her bunk was wrecked, leaving her to share a bunk and a half with Bonney.

"Shhh!" Bonney shushed rather loudly as Tashigi muffled a groan and tried to get up without breaking her neck. "Get yer ass over here!"

"Oh for the love of- What now?" Tashigi grumbled as she crawled over to the other woman - that seemed the safest way to get from one point to the next without accidentally killing herself.

"Can ya understand what they're sayin'?" Bonney asked in her no-so-quiet whisper as she dragged on one of her least favorite t-shirts - a grey one that covered her stomach. She was crouched beneath the access hatch, her black shorts pulled on but unbuttoned, the suspenders sagging as her sides.

"Only barely," Tashigi replied, trying her best to help the pink-coiffed woman get dressed - really, a face full of nipples and breast meat did nothing for her appetite. The ex-marine was definitely not eating dinner if chicken was on the menu.

"Aw crap, they're done! Git ta the table!" Bonney drawled as she stood up to button her pants in a hurry before bowling the other woman over in her mad dash to the table. Before Tashigi could even get up, Sanji was downstairs.

"Tashigi-swan~! What on earth happened to you?" the blond exclaimed as he began a mild noodle dance over the fallen woman.

"Uhm...I tripped?" the ex-marine supplied unhelpfully as she took Sanji's outstretched hands and somehow made it to her feet without killing them both. She squashed her hip's protest over Shigure's indurate hilt as she limped over to the table with the blond's help.

"Slowpoke," Bonney whispered as the navy-haired woman eased herself down into the chair next to the piratess. Tashigi was distracted as she glanced at Zoro, who had just jumped through the hatch. She hadn't actually heard anything that Bonney'd said as she observed the deep scowl on the swordmaster's tanned face, so she decided to play it safe with her answer.

"Your mother!"

When everyone just stopped and stared at her, open-mouthed amazement over their face, she could only sigh and sink her face into her hands as she realized that she'd essentially cursed at Bonney.

"Oh fuck, this has been a shitty ass year," she managed to wail before surrendering herself to a spate of hysterical giggling.

"Damn, bitch, you're actually pretty good at cussin'," Bonney snorted out before dissolving into loud guffaws. "Bet Sanji'll make you a pro by the time yer done trainin'!"

"Oi, ero-cook, don't be giving her your filthy mouth!" Zoro stated with wide-eyed alarm. "You'll be fucking well corrupting her with your shitty ass language!"

"Oi, go fuck yourself, kelp-shit, you cuss like a pirate!" Sanji retorted angrily, his latest cigarette halfway to his mouth.

"When the fuck do I curse?"

"You just did, you barf-haired jackass!"

Bonney and Tashigi glanced at each other meaningfully, then dissolved into further gales of laughter. Slowly, Zoro snorted and Sanji chuckled and then all four were howling with mirth for a good fifteen minutes.

"Ah, fuck it," Sanji wheezed as he flopped into a chair and lit his smoke. "Don't we ever get a goddamn break from the drama and intrigue and need to kick someone's ass to high heaven?"

"Comes with the job of being a notorious pirate, so stop whining like a little bitch," Bonney snorted loudly, her head hanging over the back of her chair.

"Jobs come with frigging vacations, don't they?" Zoro grumbled as he popped open the hatch for the hold. "Who wants some nutmeg rum?"

"At 11 in the morning?" Tashigi gasped, raising her head from the table. "Are you shitting me?"

Sanji shrugged as he released a long trail of smoke.

"It's night time somewhere, Tashigi-san. Oi, Marimo! Bring up that box of nougats for these fine ladies as well."

"Dammit, curly-brow, come find your shit yourself."

"I said nougat, not shit, you grass stain!"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," came the muffled reply as a large barrel and a smaller crate began voyaging through the hatch. "Suck my dick. Oi, who wants candy?"

"If that wasn't the cry of a pedophile, I've never been in law enforcement," Tashigi snickered wickedly as she snagged the crate out of mid-air and broke it open on the table.

[~~~]

"My teeth are going to fall out," Bonney groaned as she crunched on another piece of nougat. "They're just going to give up and pop out."

"And you'll still eat like a beached whale," Tashigi muttered absently, picking a almond piece from the back of her jaw with a long toothpick.

Sanji looked over at the now empty crate of nutty candies and could not disagree with either women's assessments. He - and surprisingly enough, Zoro - had switched from cigarettes to cigars, a scent that seemed to put them both at ease. The swordsman was already nodding off after drinking a quarter of the barrel of spiced rum by himself.

"So tell me," Bonney began as she put her feet up on the table - deciding to plunge right in to the thick of matters while everyone was relaxed and open. "What have you two come up with to help us take down Donquixote? I get that Sanji can't train me and Steely can't train Tashi - fer obvious reasons-"

Here Zoro smirked wickedly at the ex-marine while Sanji gave a noodly bow of appreciation for Jewel-chwan's feminine form. Both women rolled their eyes as Bonney continued.

"-Fer obvious reason, like I said, but what can ya teach us that we don't already know?"

"Patience, for one," Zoro huffed, stubbing out his cigar in Sanji's ever-present Baratie ashtray. "But really, we won't be so much training you as you'll be training yourself - with our assistance. We want you to develop your style and moves and attacks and defences, so who knows what kind of crazy stuff you'll come up with starting tomorrow."

Tashigi all but jumped in the air with joy at the thought of training again. Bonney sighed and banged her head on the table once with a loud groan.

"Well if you can't tell me that, how about telling me what was wrong with you upstairs, Princey?" the piratess snapped as she irritably tried to work some of the sticky candy from between her teeth. "You get bit by a rabid ghost or somethin'?"

Sanji sighed and stood up to give his strawberry blonde temptress a deep bow.

"I wish to apologize, Jewel-chan, for my churlish behaviour. When I get rather tired, I have a tendency to...well let's say that I revert to a baser nature. It's harder to control when I'm around a woman I...I..."

The cook paused, suddenly at a loss for words - he had been a millisecond away from telling her that he loved her!

'That's what you always do wrong! How about we try it a different way this time.'

"When I am around a woman that I find highly desirable, my baser nature can be overwhelming - especially when I am physically weakened. Again, I apologiz- one word out of you, marimo and all you'll get for dinner is cold sole of shoe soup!"

Zoro's snort of disdain distracted Sanji from the two women - he missed Bonney's hastily disguised anger and disappointment, but he picked up on some of her discontent. His mind whirled as the silence turned sour in the air around them.

"We should do something for the babies."

Sanji blinked. Had he said that out loud? That hadn't sounded like his voice - oh, wait.

"Bonney, I think we should do something for the baby. Dart-board, Tashigi, I dunno if you guys wanna help us or do your own thing or..."

"We should do the full burial at sea," Sanji jumped in without thinking. "The sailing, the final watch, Taps -"

"After we get the one responsible," Tashigi stated with fierce determination biting through each word. "We can give them a proper burial after we make the one responsible pay for their crimes against them."

"That's right, Tashi," Bonney finally responded with a feral grin. "There's hope for savin' ya yet - you're aleady thinkin' 'n' talkin' like a pirate."

The ex-marine merely shrugged and held up her glass of rum as she led her new compatriots in suffering through a silent toast to revenge.

[~~~]