My hands very pointedly do not shake as I pour myself a mug of coffee and stalk over to where Gin, Vinci, and Jack are waiting. "What the hell is worth waking me up so early about?" I snarl.
"It's ten o'clock."
"I stand by my point."
"Dahahaha...sorry, Gin, our first mate is a bit grumpy without his coffee."
I'm more grumpy about the still-aching brand the bastard responsible for me being a monster had put on me, but I hold my tongue and drink my coffee.
"To answer your question, Gin wants to fight you."
I nearly choke on my coffee. At least I don't give Vinci the satisfaction of a spit-take. Instead, I cough heavily for nearly a minute, practically bending double as my windpipe objects to the presence of near-boiling coffee.
"F-fight? Grk...why the hell do you want to fight me?" I snarl at Gin, who regards me flatly. "I do something to piss you off?"
"No," Gin says, still staring with admittedly creepy eyes.
He sighs. "I served one weak captain, and he failed on the line. Found a stronger captain, but his crew and ship weren't strong enough. I'd like to make sure that doesn't happen if I join your crew."
Deep breaths, Kaneki.
"Fine. You want to see how tough I am, whatever. How're we going to do this?"
"I'll call up the crew," Jack rumbles. "You want to take our mettle, Devil Man, but you'll also have to prove yourself to them. Even the greenhorns."
I nod. "Reminds me. How long're we going to wait?"
"Going to take a week to make sure everything's proper and shipshape, and they'll be trained up," Jack answers. He eyes Gin. "It'll help bring you up to proper fighting shape, too," he says neutrally.
Gin bristles. "I'm fine."
"Lack of muscle mass and your facial features suggest otherwise," Vinci says cheerily. "I recommend a high-nutrient diet. You still aren't fully recovered."
"Once you join my crew, yes, yes you will," Vinci rebuts with a grin.
Well, Lauren reflected, the two of them had something in common- they both looked like shit.
She'd managed to push her way to the front of the crowd via the judicious application of some elbows and being thinner than most of the pirates, giving her a good view of the impromptu ring that'd been set up for Kaneki and Gin's fight.
Kaneki looked frustrated and tired, in a black turtleneck and khaki pants, the bags under his eyes very prominent. Gin, on the other hand, looked as skeletal as ever. Most people would figure that meant both of them were easy marks. But she'd seen Kaneki spar...and while she had no idea what Gin was capable of, he acted confident enough, carrying his cannonball-tipped tonfas with ease.
This was going to be...interesting.
The two of them eyed each other from their sides of the ring. Kaneki held himself loosely- which he could afford to, given his regeneration- while Gin was tense, one of his tonfas slowly twitching back and forth as he waited.
"Well? Get on with it!" Vinci yelled.
Gin cocked one arm back, tonfa starting to spin, blurring into motion.
Kaneki didn't move.
Gin launched himself forward, swinging his tonfa.
Kaneki raised an arm, muscles tensing in a way Lauren recognized as him using Iron Body.
Gin's tonfa slammed into that iron-hard defense- and Kaneki's arm broke like a dry twig as the cannonball kept going, smashing into the first mate's jaw. Kaneki went flying back as Gin's other tonfa slammed into his ribs with bone-breaking force, knocking him to the ground.
Lauren winced. Regeneration or not, that had to hurt.
"Shit, did I…?" she heard Gin mutter.
A ripple of laughter ran through the crew, and the half-starved man looked up. "What's so funny?"
Kaneki sat up, grabbed his broken arm, and shoved it into a proper position with a crack, before grinning. Even from where Lauren was standing she could see his eyes turn black and red as the man stood up. "You're tougher than I thought," the ghoul said.
Was it her eyes playing tricks, or did his teeth look like fangs?
"So're you," Gin allowed, tonfa starting to spin again as he took a wary step back.
"Was gonna go slow, see how much you could take...but don't particularly feel like taking that sort of beating. One tail, two tail, three tail, four." The four blood-colored tails twitched lazily in the air as Kaneki crouched. "Devil or ghoul, let's see which is stronger," he growled.
"Fine by me," Gin said, starting to smile.
"Multiple Scaled Hammers!"
Gin didn't say a word, just swinging his tonfas to meet the striking tails. The impact sent the skeletal man sliding back, and sent sparks flying from the hafts of his weapons, but didn't seem to faze him. With a grunt, he pushed the tails away.
At which point Kaneki Shaved forwards and kicked him in the balls.
Gin went white, but remained standing. So Kaneki hit him again, which did the trick.
Lauren wasn't a guy, but she winced anyway.
Gin fingered his new clothes thoughtfully. Kreig and Morgan hadn't cared enough to institute any kind of uniform, allowing people to wear whatever they liked. These guys...their symbol was everywhere, even tattooed on their flesh in the case of the bosun. And now he was part of that.
He wasn't particularly sad to see his old jacket go. It'd been near to falling apart, anyway. And this new one…
Someone had noticed the serpents on his old jacket, and embroidered a similar set into the sleeves of his new uniform, the bright scarlet snakes coiling upwards from the wrists to sit their heads at his shoulders. The jacket itself was lined with fur that he couldn't identify- whatever it was, it was pure white and very, very comfortable. It poked past the cuffs and the edges of the attached hood. The headband they'd given him was the only thing with the Nightmare symbol, a patch bearing it grinning proudly right in the middle.
"So, what do you think?" the Nightmare tailor asked.
Gin nodded. "I like it."
"Good. Go and talk to the bosun, he said he wanted to see you."
Yeah, that figured. The captain might've been more than willing to bring him on, but the bosun...well, the big man seemed more of a realist than his commander. Another strange thing. Krieg would never have tolerated someone else having a more commanding position in his crew- anyone who looked to be angling for any kind of power over the men had been...dealt with. Often by Gin himself. Vinci, on the other hand, didn't seem to particularly care, so long as his own orders were followed without question. And they would be, he could tell.
The bosun's cabin door was open, and the mutton-chopped man nodded as soon as Gin appeared in his doorway. "Come in, and shut the door behind you."
Gin did so.
Rubeus Jack regarded him. "I managed to snag a News Coo subscription before we headed for the Line," he said. "Caught up on some back issues. You're worth a great deal, for an East Blue native. And you've done some fairly horrific things."
Gin tensed, and Jack waved a hand.
"We have a cannibal for a first mate, we're not going to judge you. Just trying to figure out why. Captain won't care, and like as not Kaneki won't either...but I need to know how reliable you are, Devil-Man."
Gin grit his teeth. "I've done what I've been ordered to. Krieg...I respected his strength, and so I followed his orders. No matter what. But I'm not some sick bastard who murders for fun. You give me an order, I'll follow it the best I can."
Jack nodded slowly. "Well, then…" He rose, and extended a massive hand. "Welcome to the Nightmare Pirates, Devil-Man. I think you'll fit right in."