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The Butcher Bird (One Piece SI)

Chapter Text

"As I walked by the dockside one evening so fair,
To view the salt water and take the sea air,
I heard an old fisherman singing a song,
Won't you take ma away boys me time is not long,
Wrap me up in me oil-skin and jumper,
No more on the docks I'll be seen,
Just tell me old shipmates, I'm taking a trip mates,
And I'll see you some day in Fiddler's Green."

The music helps. Keeps me focused on playing my guitar and singing along, rather than on the fact that we've found Gin, of all people. Keeps me focused away from what Crocus knows about me.

"Now Fiddler's Green is a place I heard tell,
Where the fishermen go (if they don't go to hell),
Where skies are all clear and the dolphins do play,
And the cold South Blue Islands are far, far away."

Jack's found a few leaks and other problems below the waterline from our passage, so we've run Ends Justified up on the beach to look him- yes, ships are usually female, but it doesn't seem to fit- over. A couple of the more architecturally-inclined of the crew are checking the seams, but the rest...well, a glad-to-be-alive celebration seems perfectly normal.

"Wrap me up in me oil-skin and jumper,
No more on the docks I'll be seen,
Just tell me old shipmates, I'm taking a trip mates,
And I'll see you some day in Fiddler's Green."

Vinci...well, he'd filled me in on what Crocus knew, before Gin had woken up. It's funny. I'd nearly forgotten the man existed...come to think of it, whatever happened to him in the story? He never reappeared after Krieg got his ass handed to him.

I'm just glad Crocus didn't press the issue, instead swimming out to where Laboon's been hanging around. Maybe my presence brings up some bad memories, or something.

"When you get on the docks and the long trip is through,
There's pubs and there's clubs and there's lassies there too.
When the girls are all pretty and the beer it is free,
And there's bottles of rum growing from every damn tree.

Wrap me up in me oil-skin and jumper,
No more on the docks I'll be seen,
Just tell me old shipmates, I'm taking a trip mates,
And I'll see you some day in Fiddler's Green."

I should be asking Crocus for details. Not just...wherever I came from, but his own voyages. The things he's seen. I hope Vinci's already done that. Don't see him among the crew…

"Now, I don't want a harp nor a halo, not me,
Just give me a breeze and a good rolling sea,
I'll play me old squeeze-box as we sail along,
With the wind in the rigging to sing me a song

Wrap me up in me oil-skin and jumper,
No more on the docks I'll be seen,
Just tell me old shipmates, I'm taking a trip mates,
And I'll see you some day in Fiddler's Green."

"Come on, Kaneki," one of the crew half-sobs. "Play something lighthearted!"

I smile and shrug, before nodding to the rest of the band and stepping aside. I've got questions to ask.

Even if I have a feeling I won't much like the answers.

"I used to belong to another crew," Gin explained. "Don Krieg's."

"Never heard of him," Vinci said. Gin chuckled.

"'Course not. He barely lasted minutes on the Line...and then when we fled back to the East Blue, he went up against some kid he really shouldn't have. I…" He looked down at his hands, and sighed. "Krieg wanted to take over this floating restaurant, and the chef there...first person to show me real kindness in a long, long time. I couldn't kill him...but couldn't go against him, either." He shrugged. "Krieg got knocked out, me and the surviving crew headed off in a boat...and minute he woke up, he threw me off. Literally. Swam my way to the nearest island, refused to die. Ended up in Loguetown after a while...signed up with a crew that looked strong, and well…" He shook his head, then looked at Vinci. "Thank you," he said quietly. "For saving my life. But...what's the deal with your first mate?"
Vinci shrugged. "Oh, nothing much. Just a obligate cannibal with enough self-hatred to power a small city provided you could build a dynamo to run off it."
Gin's stare almost shifted the bags under his eyes, before the near-skeletal man shut his eyes and took several deep breaths. "Okay."
"So, you going to join our crew?"
Gin sputtered.
"Give the man some time to mourn, captain," Kaneki's voice said from the door. Vinci glanced over. The ghoul seemed on edge, arms folded and fingers tapping rhythms on his elbows.

"You alright, Kaneki?"

The ghoul grimaced. "You mentioned that Crocus knew what I was...that Roger fought my kind. Trying to psych myself up to go talk to him about it."

Vinci looked at Gin and waggled his eyebrows in a way that meant 'see? Told you.'. "I'm pretty sure he won't stab you if you go up to that whale and try to talk to him," he said. "Go give it a shot. And if he does stab you…"

"Yeah, yeah, I can walk it off. Fine, then." He looked at Gin, and his eyes flicked to their altered state for a moment. "I mean it, captain. Let him come to terms before he chooses another crew."

The ghoul left.

Gin chuckled. "Melodramatic bastard, ain't he?"

"Oh, you have no idea," Vinci said with a grin. "I think it comes with the immortality."

"Obligate means...he has to eat people? Right?"
"Working on that, but for the moment, yes. It's not as though we're short of corpses."

"My crew…?"

"Dead is dead." Vinci raised his hands at Gin's expression. "Easy, dahahaha...we buried them. Couldn't fit them in our holds at this point, and we've got more than enough to keep him going for a long, long while. We're pirates, and the dead are shells...but even the dead can get some respect."

Gin narrowed his eyes. "Good," he finally said. "Didn't know them long, but they didn't deserve to be food." He stood. "What's the state of my ship?"

"Keel's snapped like a twig and a good chunk of the starboard side's missing. Aft end's gone, too."

Gin nodded. "Works for me. My cabin was on the port side."

"Going to collect your effects?"

"Something like that."

Crocus was old, but his Observation Haki was as sharp as ever. He knew that Kaneki was approaching long before the ghoul even reached Laboon, and so he sat himself up on one of the hatches he'd built into the immense whale and waited.
He didn't have to wait long as the ghoul launched himself out of the water and began to climb using his hands and feet. Odd. He'd expected him to use his tails, despite the risk of cutting Laboon.

Maybe that was why he wasn't, but personally Crocus doubted it. He'd seen, fought, and nearly been killed by the brat's kind before, and care for others outside their own kind was...rare. And those few times more like someone with a favorite pet than anything else.

He waited, and after several minutes, Kaneki pulled himself over the horizon of Laboon's body. The ghoul looked around, and then approached slowly.

Crocus sighed. "What do you want?"

"Answers. I...hell, old man, I didn't even know where I came from, and according to Vinci you fought and killed my entire race. Got no grudge against you for that, mind. Anyone stupid enough to piss off a D...yeah, not the smartest move."

He knew. "You know Roger's actual name," he said flatly. "How?"

The ghoul shrugged. "Make a trade? Answer for answer?"

Crocus kept silent for several seconds, watching the ghoul slowly tense as Crocus stared...and stared...and stared

The ghoul laughed. "I like your sense of humor, old man. Fine, then, I'll answer first. I know his name the same way I know that a boy in a straw hat on a ram-headed caravel painted that Jolly Roger on your compensating-for-something-sized whale. I read it."

Interesting. And needing a great deal of elaboration, but that would come. Crocus sighed. "If I answer yours, you'll tell me more?" he asked flatly.

"That's the plan."

"Fine. We were on the Grand Line when we ran into one of your kind. Bastard had razed an island to the ground, and while he could pass for human, just like you...well, most of his underlings were out of their minds. Was a nasty fight, and he ran for it. Roger...well, he wasn't exactly happy, and we tracked him down, found a laboratory where he was cloning more of your kind, and tore the place apart. Never did find out where he came from, anything like research notes burned with the labs...but the leader of that pack did mention a 'Father' of some kind. We never found any others, though."

Kaneki sighed. "Hell. Alright, that makes sense. Vinci did figure I was a shitty experiment of some kind…" He shrugged. "Fair's fair. But I doubt you're going to believe me when I explain."

"I sailed in the New World, boy. There is very little I will not believe. Tell me."

Kaneki told him.

Crocus listened. Then he began to laugh.