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Shoot 'Em Dead, Kid

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 chapter i: just fall down from the sky why don't you


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He's yawning, in the middle of waking up from a very nice afternoon nap when he hears familiar voices shouting, "Get her onboard! Get her onboard!"

From where he is nestled, Ace instantly rises up with a jolt and runs towards the starboard deck. Several of his fellow crewmates are already there, forming a crowd. The commander of the First Division is looking over the railings with eyebrows furrowed as some of the men try to come down and rescue whoever-she-is.

Ace saddles behind him, all bleary eyes and the heavy thump of footsteps. "Yo, Marco. What's up?"

Marco gives him a sidelong glance. "A girl, yoi. Found her just floating down the waters."

A castaway floating in the middle of the sea along the Grand Line? And a girl, on top of that? Ace already pitied whoever it was.

Eventually they rescue the girl and manage to haul her onto the ship. As they try to set her down on the floor as gently as possible, Ace takes time to look at the unconscious girl.

She's pretty.

Vibrant blue hair and pale-cream skin despite the marks of sunburn all over her face. A damp yellow-and-green hoodie with a weird fish design and jeans.

All-in-all, an ordinary-looking girl about his age, more or less.

And she's also not breathing.

"Hey, she's not breathing." Someone voices out his thoughts and Thatch suddenly appears beside him. "We can't just let a cutie like her die."

"Poor girl," Ace mutters sympathetically.

"Oi." Marco glances around, addressing the rest of the crew. "Call one of the nurses and have her check her vitals." And then he proceeds to pump her chest, trying to resuscitate her in some way. When she's still not stirring, he shouts, "Does anyone here know how to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?"

Someone steps forward to try doing exactly that, but then the girl suddenly coughs, water dribbling out of her mouth as she opens her eyes, the oddest shade of bright pink he's ever seen.

She tries to sit up straight, coughing out more seawater.

"Hey, hey, relax. Don't move yet."

The girl whips her head up and frantically looks around. She opens her mouth, once, twice, struggling to speak for a moment without coughing her lungs out.

"What…where am I? Who are you people?" She croaks out. The words are spoken in a rush, with an accent that sounds altogether unfamiliar.

By then the nurses arrive and everyone is now looking at the girl. As usual, it's Marco who speaks up.

"You're with the Whitebeard Pirates, yoi. We rescued you from drowning in the middle of nowhere."

Blue Hair Girl squints at him like she's heard him wrong. "Uh…pirates? What do you mean?"

"We're the Whitebeard Pirates," Thatch says like it explains everything. "You're inside the ship of Whitebeard's crew. I'm Thatch, by the way. And that one's Marco."

She's staring at them like Thatch had said instead that they came from another world. "I, uh, first of all, thank you all so very much for saving me. But that part about pirates…what exactly does that mean? Some sort of code, perhaps?"

Now it's their turn to stare at her like she's grown another head.

"What the hell are you talking about, yoi?"

A beat of silence.

And then she groans out loud, hands all over her face and plopping back to the floorboards, body completely drained of any strength. "Oh no…" Blue-Hair Girl mumbles, screwing her eyes shut. "This is all just a bad dream…that stupid…stupid, idiot, Yusuke!"

"Whoever Yusuke is, he's going to pay later," Marco tries to console her. "But first you need a change of clothes, and have the nurses check up on you."

She's quiet for several seconds. In the back of his head, Ace wonders what the hell she's even doing out in the sea all by herself. But the Grand Line was full of crazy shit and even stranger people, so it shouldn't really be a surprise to him. Maybe the ship vessel she boarded on got destroyed by raiding pirates.

Everything within the sea was dangerous, after all.

Still, he can't help but feel the slightest pity for her, with her wet clothes and clammy face.

"Where exactly are we?" She asks quietly, voice trembling, looking utterly terrified of hearing the answer.

"In one of the seas just along the Grand Line, yoi."

She blinks. And then faints.

"Oi! Medic!"


...


Ace doesn't stick too long to check up on the weird girl as she's being towed towards the infirmary. He has places to go, things to see, stuff to do. The title of the Second Division Commander isn't just an empty one, after all.

They're making way for a small island to have some minor repairs done on the ship, as well as to do some restocking in the kitchen because they were going to starve and die if they didn't. It meant that Thatch was off to the markets and they were going to get food, and Ace spends the rest of the time thinking of inconsequential things and sometimes about Luffy, about Dadan and the village. Some days he even thinks of the shitty old gramps and re-evaluates his intricate escape plan because getting caught by that old fart was not fun at all and proved extremely harmful to his health (life). He did not want to experience that shit again.

The rest of the day is a blur.

It's dinner time when he sees her again.

Dinner was one of his (obviously) favorite times of the day. Food always tasted more delicious after a long hard day of manual work (aka kicking enemy ass) and finishing other responsibilities that were needed to be finished. The food also had more variety in it and were usually served in larger quantities, thanks to Fourth Division commander Thatch and the rest of the cooks.

Ace plops down next to Marco and immediately snags off a chicken leg the size of his arm, and then takes a huge bite, bone and all. Marco gives him bemused look while gulping down a mug of beer.

It's times like this that he's thankful to be a Whitebeard pirate.

"Hey, slow down, yoi. You'll choke on your food."

"Don' worry, I won't," he manages to say in-between bites. Marco makes a face. "Anyway, how's girlie doing?"

"Girlie?"

"Y'know, blue hair girl?"

"Ah. Her. She's doing fine now. Just woke up hours ago, and-", Marco suddenly stops and lazily nudges his head towards something behind Ace. Ace turns around and sure enough, there's Blue Hair Girl sitting on a table at the far left corner of the dining hall, slowly eating all by herself. She's wearing new and dry clothes, an obviously borrowed white shirt that almost droops off her shoulder.

"Oh." Ace turns back towards Marco. "She looks lonely."

"Of course she would, yoi. I talked to her in the infirmary after she just woke up, to check on her. Asked her a couple of questions, and she said that she doesn't know where her other companions are."

"Do you think she's a spy?"

It wasn't a thought that was unheard of. The World Government would sometimes send out some of their spies to infiltrate the Moby Dick and give updates on Whitebeard and his crew. There were cases where these so-called spies were caught, according to some of the men who were one of the oldest crew members. Aside from trying to monitor the ship's daily activities, there were very, very rare cases wherein one of these spies would (unsuccessfully) try an assassination attempt via methods such as posing to be nurses and injecting poison through the bloodstream, or coating medicine with the stuff.

Now, Ace wasn't totally innocent in the assassination-thing (he did try to kill Whitebeard a hundred times or so, he wasn't known as a stubborn hothead for nothing), but at least he was more upfront about it (not to mention, being sneaky was not one of his better traits). Granted, it wasn't as though they could try stabbing Whitebeard in his sleep. They would be thrown off the ship before the fact even registered in their brains.

(Ace knew. He tried it before once. Only once. Okay, maybe more than once).

Still. Just the thought of someone pretending to be one of Whitebeard's loyal sons sent his blood boiling faster than someone making fun of his purposely misspelled tattoo.

Bunch of assholes, those filthy Marines, Ace thinks with anger, stabbing the meat on his plate with more force than usual.

"-Thought of that too. But I doubt it, yoi. She looks genuinely distressed, and she doesn't seem like the type who can keep secrets well."

"You sure about that? That's what all spies want you to think."

"My intuition tells me so. Most of the time my intuition's correct."

"What did Pops say about her?"

"I haven't told him yet. But you know what he's gonna say. He'll invite her to be one of his children, one of us. You know our Pops."

"Yeah…"

"She's strange, though. When she woke up, I tried asking her what island in the Grand Line she last stayed at, so we can drop her off there in case someone comes looking for her. She just gave me this blank face, yoi. I tried asking her again but she didn't want to answer. Looks like she's still in shock."

Ace shakes his head. "Traumatized, more likely. Maybe some bastards hijacked the ship she was in and she was forced overboard."

"Maybe. By the way, you have any idea where Japan is?"

"Ja-what?"

"Japan, yoi. She kept saying she came from an island called Japan. Dunno where the hell's that located. There's no place called Japan in the Grand Line."

"Never heard of it. Maybe she's from the North Blue?"

"Maybe. I asked her a couple more questions. Believe it or not, she doesn't even know what a log pose is, yoi."

He hums in thought and takes a sip of his drink. "It could be her first time sailing out in the sea."

"Also, she has no idea who Pops is."

Ace immediately spits out his drink, startling the other crew members around him. He gives a sheepish look and rubs the back of his neck, trying to look as apologetic as possible. They wave him off and go back to their own separate convos. Ace turns back to Marco with wide eyes.

"Seriously? What kind of bumpkin doesn't know who Whitebeard is?"

"Idiot, keep your voice down."

Sure enough, someone manages to overhear their conversation, because the next thing he knows, an arm is slung over his shoulders and a familiar face enters his line of vision. "Hey, what are you guys mumbling about to yourselves only?" Thatch asks with a grin as he settles beside Ace with their fellow commanders in tow, Twelfth Division Commander Haruta and Third Division Commander Jozu, who also take a seat beside Marco.

"You two look like a bunch of old ladies trying to gossip about bad stuff. What's this about?"

Marco gives a snort. "It's nothing like that, yoi. Just talking about the possible new addition to the crew."

"Oh, you mean the blue-haired chick over there? Too bad she's too young for me."

Haruta chokes on his food. "Gross. I don't want to think about the implications of that sentence."

Thatch laughs. "I was just kidding. Besides, I have my own wife and child waiting for me at home."

"Really? I didn't know that. What are their names?"

"I was kidding about that too."

"Why you-"

"Okay, that's enough," Marco says, looking like he's trying not to laugh. "Thatch, quit picking on poor Haruta here." He turns to Haruta, who looks seconds away from unsheathing the saber on his side. "Haruta, don't believe everything that Thatch says. Jozu…actually, you're good, yoi. Just continue eating over there."

Ace shakes his head while smiling. His crewmates-his family-were all so odd at times.

"Anyway, if you're so curious about her, why don't you ask her yourself, yoi?"

Before Ace can reply back, Thatch clears his throat and turns his eyes towards Ace with his raised eyebrows and shit-eating grin, and Ace dreads whatever obnoxious shit that's going to come out of his mouth.

"Oh ho ho, what's this…Ace, do you have a crush on the new girl?"

Now it's Ace's turn to become pissed. Embarrassed-pissed. "It's not that! I just find her interesting. That's all."

And because Thatch is an asshole who just can't shut up and accept the truth, he goes, "Oh, so he does admit it. He's interested."

"That's not what I meant-"

"She is a pretty one," Haruta mumbles. When they all pause to silently look at him, he furrows his brows and points at Ace. "He's the one who has a crush on her, not me!" The little shit.

"-I told you, it's not like that-"

"What's this about Ace having the hots for a girl?" A new voice says, and Sixteenth Division Commander Izo suddenly plops down beside him. "Ace, I'm hurt; why didn't you say anything? I thought we were friends! Betrayer!" The man-geisha dramatically throws a hand over his heart and both Marco and Thatch stop trying to hold back their laughter. Ace tries his best to glare at them as angrily as he can but can't help the horrifying heat that climbs up to his cheeks.

Ace hates, hates, hates it whenever he feels the beginnings of a blush creep up to his face. It's bad enough that it makes him look like a human tomato; it also spreads to his neck, making it even more obvious, like the way it is at that very moment.

So he does the first thing that his instinct tells him to do. He stands up from his seat and slams his palms on the table, effectively stopping the loud guffaws around him. And shit, he was still blushing from embarrassment.

"Fine. Whatever. Think whatever you want to think."

Marco must've seen something in his face, because his expression turns serious. "Hey, yoi. Ace, you know we like teasing you. It's just good-natured fun."

"Yeah," Thatch says, still grinning. "It's nothing serious. Don't look so glum."

After a few moments of silence, Ace calms down. He sighs.

"I know that. I'm just going to…go to bed or something." He then slides out of the table and trudges towards the doors.

"Oi! Ace!"

But then he sees blue in the corner of his eye, and he decides to do one last thing. Maybe just to prove something, maybe to improve his people-talking skills, he's not sure, but he comes over to Blue Hair Girl's table and stands in front of her.

From his peripheral vision, he can see Thatch's expression of surprise (serves him right) and look that's almost…proud? The hell?

Blue Hair blinks at him. "Uh…hi," she slowly says, and Ace realizes that he's been staring at her in silence for the past few seconds. He clears his throat and bows down in his customary way of showing respect to people he's just met.

"Good evening. My name is Portgas D. Ace, a member of the Whitebeard Pirates. It's nice to meet you."

Blue Hair blinks some more. And then a bright smile crosses her otherwise distraught face, startling him a bit.

"Finally, a guy with some manners! I'm Botan. A pleasure to be your acquaintance as well," she says in that weird accent again. She pats the spot beside her. "Come on, sit. Don't be shy."

He sits on the bench adjacent to her instead. She beams at him-she really does look prettier if she smiles-and gestures to him. "Portgas, right?"

"Just call me Ace."

"Okay, Ace it is. Anyways, thank you for trying to talk to me. Most of the people here seem to avoid me like I have the plague or like I smell weird-which I'm sure I don't-and it makes me feel terribly lonely. The only one that really talked to me is that Marco guy. Are all of you pirates like these?"

He's a little taken aback with how cheerful and forward she seems; from what Marco had said, he was expecting her to be a little more confused and troubled. Maybe she was just a nice person in general or maybe she was just trying to cope with her situation as best as she can, so Ace does his best to act as politely as he can.

"No. We're a friendly and rowdy bunch, although it's not that obvious at first glance, being pirates and all. It's probably because it's rare to have a new female on the ship, that's why some are acting so wary towards you. Don't worry. Tomorrow they're gonna warm up to you, like they did to me."

"But I saw some other girls inside the ship. The nurses who examined me earlier were women."

"There are some women inside the ship, of course. Most of them are nurses from the medical team."

Blue Hair-Botan-hums in thought. "They're pirates too, right? Do they fight?"

Ace is fully aware that he's getting pulled into her pace, but he just shrugs and decides to indulge her random questions. "Pops-I mean Whitebeard-doesn't want them to fight, so from what I know…no."

"Huh. Isn't that somewhat sexist? Some of the greatest fighters I know are women."

He's not really sure how to respond to that, so he just asks her another question. "How 'bout you? Have you warmed up to this place?"

Botan rests her cheek on her hand. "To tell you the truth…not really. I mean, I haven't even been here for an entire day. Everything's a mess."

"Can't you contact your companions through a den den mushi?"

"What on Earth is a den den mushi? Never mind that. Actually, I'm not even sure where my companions are, or if they're even in this world. But I'm here, alive and breathing, so there's a high chance that they ended up being transported here as well. Does this place even have a Spirit World? It's all so very confusing…" she starts to ramble, and Ace thinks Spirit World?

Marco was right. She was strange.

"What kind of name for a place is Spirit World?"

Botan stops mumbling to herself like she had forgotten that Ace had no idea what she talking about and instantly goes pale. She opens her mouth, closes it, and then opens it again, with nervous laughter coming out of her. "Oh, Spirit World? Hahaha…it's nothing, really. Just an old nickname of a place." And then she laughs again, in that weird, panicky oh-god-what-did-I-just-say-dear-god-please-forget-what-I-just-said way.

Wow. He never thought he'd see the day when he'd meet someone who was almost as bad of a liar as Luffy.

"Okay…then. Anyway, what was that about your companions? You don't where they are right now, you said?"

Botan suddenly turns her eyes downcast, and her voice considerably drops. "Yes. At this moment, we're all separated, far away from each other. I have no clue where all of them are."

Ace feels the familiar surge of pity for her again. Bad enough that she's alone; she has no idea where her other fellow crewmates are?

"Don't you have any family living on an island? Friends?"

"The people with me…before all of this. The ones who were separated from me. They are my family and friends. I have no one else to call that."

The raw honesty in her voice seriously makes his heart constrict (family was Luffy and Sabo and Dadan and Dogra and-and even that shitty old man Garp; family was Pops and all his sons, family was his dead mother, family was-) and he clears his throat before speaking.

"Don't worry. We'll help you find them back. I promise."

Botan stares at him for a few seconds, pink irises gleaming, before she gives him a small smile.

Ace starts to feel funny. There's a familiar warmth resting on his cheeks, but this time, he feels an unfamiliar one on the pit of his stomach.

Feeling warm wasn't an entirely new concept to him-he was a Fire Logia for crying out loud-but this one…this was different.

He smiles back.

And then frowns.

Oh god, did he just prove Thatch's stupid idea of him having some sort of-of infatuation? Crush?

"You remind me of my friend. Let's talk again tomorrow, Ace!" Botan playfully exclaims, and fuck, he feels that surge of annoying heat again. She points behind him. "It seems like your friends are calling for your attention. You wouldn't want them to feel hurt now, would you?"

Ace refrains from commenting on that and bows again for the last time. "Goodbye, Botan. It was nice conversing with you."

"Same. Gosh, I wish Yusuke was as much of a gentleman as you are. Goodnight, Ace."

"Goodnight."

When he comes back to his fellow commanders, all of them wearing poorly-concealed grins, he knows the red on his face still hasn't faded.

As usual, Thatch is the first to speak. The endearing ass.

"Our Ace is all grown up! Don't worry, I have all the experience you'll need. I'll help you out with any of your girl problems, so feel free to ask me anything!"

More laughter.

They were all crazy, and he was already starting to regret whatever it is he got into, but he knew he wouldn't have it any other way.


...


It was an understatement to say that Portgas D. Ace couldn't care less about romance crap, or any of that lovey-dovey stuff.

Falling in love was really not on top of his to-do list. Why would he, when there were more important goals, grander and larger than life (I'll surpass even the Pirate King (sorry Luffy) be better than my bastard of a father), more important than swapping spit (ugh).The pure, unaltered love he felt was only directed towards his adopted family, Luffy, Sabo, his fellow Whitebeard brothers, his dead mother, and he's sure it isn't related at all to that kind of certain affection. Sure, there were various women who had shown interest in him during his travels with the Spade Pirates, some who found him handsome, some who wanted the thrill of having a pirate as a lover, but he had never shown any interest back. He was flattered, yes, but most times he just felt uncomfortable, not knowing what to do. Not wanting to do anything. Wait, scratch that.

He just didn't give a shit.

So what was he doing here, standing outside Pop's private quarters while waiting for her and Pops to finish their one-to-one serious talk?

Botan had insisted on talking with Whitebeard in private, and even Marco, the second-in-command and usually always beside Whitebeard, was ushered out. He didn't look all that resentful though (it wasn't as if Whitebeard was in any harm) and had laughed out loud instead about the look on Botan's face when she saw just about how huge Whitebeard was. "Her jaw dropped on the floor and her eyes grew as large as saucers, yoi," Marco had chuckled.

He can practically hear Haruta and Thatch snickering somewhere, he just knows it, and resists the urge to put the imprint of a fire fist inside someone's ass.

The door blows open, startling him out of his thoughts. Botan's standing in front of him with a contemplative frown on her face. She's wearing her weird hoodie, the one with the fish design.

"Uh, hey," he awkwardly greets.

Botan's eyes light up. "Oh, hi! Good morning, Mr. Portgas!"

He greets her back and tries to fight the blush that's starting to rise up his face, saying all the while it's Ace, not Portgas, and she apologizes with a laugh. They step down from the upper quarterdeck and onto the lower deck, a comfortable silence slowly settling between them and nothing but the sounds of waves crashing as she rests her forearms against the railings of the ship. Botan glances out towards the horizon, quietly staring at the distant waves from the ocean. Ace forces himself to stare at the view, not at the strands of blue blowing in the wind.

"So…I'm guessing Pops asked you to be one of his daughters?"

"Yes," Botan says, twiddling her fingers together as a crease forms between her brows. "I declined."

"Oh," Ace says, feeling both surprised and faintly disappointed. "Can I ask why?"

Botan gives a shrug of her shoulders and sighs. "I don't really belong here," she starts, "and I still have to find my other friends."

"We can help you find them. And I understand that you're still adjusting here. It's okay to admit that. You do belong."

She shakes her head. "Oh, believe me when I say I don't belong here, in more ways than one. Finding my friends isn't going to be an easy task, trust me. They only pop out when you least expect it. When they're together they can raise hell by their own. Being separated really doesn't change that characteristic of theirs. One particular friend of mine is quite fond of finding trouble and enemies alike wherever he goes. Sorry, my mouth is running itself again."

"Don't worry. I know a thing or two about people like that. Literally everything you just said exactly describes my baby brother. His name is Luffy, by the way."

"Wow, you have a younger brother? I should've known that you're a responsible older brother. You really seem like the type."

He's feeling pleased upon hearing that and mumbles a quick thank you. Silence returns, this time a lot less comfortable, and he scrambles to think of something else to talk about. Talking about an entirely different topic would seem too random, and he sure as hell isn't going to say something awkward like the weather sure is nice, huh?-so he blurts out the first thing that comes to mind.

"Who're your friends, anyway? Can you tell me about them?"

Instantly, she smiles. "I'd be delighted to! The ones who were with me before I lost them, their names are Yusuke, Hiei, Kuwabara, and Kurama!"

He frowns. "What, all boys?"

"Bingo! Yes, they're all perfectly healthy males. And utterly reckless, unfortunately. They're a lot to handle sometimes, especially Yusuke, that unruly jerk, and every single case with them drives me nuts like you wouldn't believe, but they're actually pretty reliable when you need them the most. Kuwabara usually doesn't think first before running headfirst into trouble, but he's a really swell guy-well, most of the time, if I do so say myself. Kurama's one of the calmest people out there, he's a real team player, but don't ever get on his bad side. Yusuke's a snarky jerk but can really surprise you when you least expect it, and Hiei's…well, he's Hiei. Evil and short and scary all at the same. I really, really hope trouble hasn't found them first." Her eyes go wide, and she reaches for something under her pockets. "Ah, before I forget! I brought this with me before you guys found me in the sea…"

A portrait is shoved in front of his face, its edges wet with water and almost torn, but the entire picture still completely intact and undamaged. There's Botan on the center, with her hair done in a high ponytail, doing a peace sign and wearing an expression of happiness. Beside her is a young man about his age, wearing a shit-eating grin while mimicking a finger gun in front of the camera. There was also a redhead and a guy with an orange-colored hairdo, and another guy shorter than the rest. They're all smiles; except for Mr. Shortie, who's sporting a deep scowl.

"What's this for?"

"Those are my friends!"

"Oh." A pause. "They look friendly."

"It's bad to lie, Ace."

"Hey, I'm serious." His eyes linger on the guy beside her, with his smug grin and hair slicked back, standing a bit too close and-"Who's this guy?"

"That's the Yusuke I keep talking about! Urameshi Yusuke, that's his full name."

Something like jealousy swirls inside him, but he manages to swallow it down. "Yusuke…he your boyfriend or something?"

Botan's silent for almost five seconds until she bursts out laughing. "Boyfriend? You mean, as in lover, or like, a friend who's a boy? Because it's certainly the latter, not the former. Heaven forbid me and him-gah! I don't even want to imagine it; he belongs to Keiko, anyway…"

Ace doesn't even bother to hide the sigh of relief that escapes his mouth. "Oh. That's good-I mean, okay. I'd like to meet them all someday."

"I didn't just want to show you their faces. Can you promise me one thing, though?"

"What?"

"If you see one of them, especially Yusuke, tell them that Botan's searching for them. Don't ever let them out of your sight, not until you find a way to contact me and to inform me that you've found them. Please."

Ace nods. "I'll give you my word as Portgas D. Ace."

"And I'll take it and consider it true."

His throat bobs. "You can still accept Pop's offer. It's safer and wiser if you'll stick around with us." With me goes unsaid. "No one's stupid enough to mess with us. We're the strongest in the seas."

"What a strange world this is. Pirates and marines and powers…I wonder if Lord Koenma knows about this…" There's amusement in her voice and she's doing her thing again of talking to herself like no one else can hear. It's sort of cute in a weird, unassuming way, kinda like Luffy whenever he does stupid things he's unaware of, and shit, what is Ace even doing? He's not supposed to be acting or thinking this way. It's so unlike him that it's weird.

Fortunately, Botan doesn't notice any internal battle going on in him and rocks the balls of her feet with the swaying of the ship. "You know, I've always wanted to ask this: why do you all call Mr. Whitebeard as Pops?"

Ah, the million-beli question. Suddenly he's getting flashbacks of him and Marco and one starless night, which seemed so long ago.

He simply says, "He gave us a home and called us his sons, and we've known nothing else since then," because it's the truth.

Botan hums under her breath. "He seems rather imposing, doesn't he? Sometimes the largest people have the biggest of hearts, in the metaphorical sense."

"I'd have paid for your reaction when you saw the old man for the first time."

She shrugs. "One of the higher-ups from where I worked at before is at least three times larger than him. And no, I'm not pulling your leg."

"A Giant?"

"In a sense, yes."

"Hey, that's kind of awesome."

"Not as cool as having powers like yours."

"You mean this?" He wills his hand to turn into flames, bright flickers flying in the air. "I ate the Mera-Mera no Mi."

"What's that?"

"It's a devil fruit that grants the user the ability to use fire. Well, obviously, you can tell from the name itself and this-" he raises his right hand-completely bathed in flames-for emphasis. Botan slowly nods her head.

"What's a Devil Fruit?"

Oh, for the love of-

It's both fascinating and horrifying how much she seems to know next to nothing, and maybe he's not wrong in thinking that she had lived under a rock her entire life.

They continue to talk for a few more hours. He's halfway through explaining about the nature of devil fruits and the nuances of having one and he's getting onto the next topic of why Marines are Such Pieces of Shit, but then perfect timing strikes and look, there's Thatch. With Marco. Freaking great.

"Hello, lovebirds!" The cook-who's-going-to-have-his-butt-badly-burned-later loudly says, fixing Ace with a quick grin before turning his attentions to Botan. "What do we have here?"

"We were just talking," Ace says with gritted teeth. "Before you decided to rudely interrupt us."

"Oh, I didn't know you were having a lover's conversation." He emphasizes the word "lover", much to Ace's horror. "I deeply apologize for the transgression. Do carry on."

"Shut up, yoi."

Botan laughs. "You're funny. I like you. Thatch, right?"

"At your service, pretty madam."

"Thatch. Nice name. Anyway, it's nothing like that."

Ace almost chokes from embarrassment or heartbreak or a combination of the two and both Marco and Thatch give him looks of sympathy.

Marco clears his throat. "Pops called you, yoi. Says he wants to discuss further about "the other world" thing, whatever that means."

Botan yelps and hurriedly runs off, but not before turning back around and saying, "Bye, Ace! Bye, Thatch, Marco!" And then she runs off again.

Thatch whistles. "Odd chick, but you two fit for some reason. I can't put my finger on it-"

"Thaaaaatch."

"She basically shot him down, yoi. Take pity on him!"

"Marco, you asshole!"

"Ouch, you didn't have to say it like that, man. Kid's already punched in the heart."

"Truth hurts, kid."

"Both of you, just shut up, please."

Thatch chuckles and pats Ace's back. "Tell you what. In the next weeks, I'll help you in your romantic endeavors, for free."

"Like hell. I'll get embarrassed again."

"Of course, y'know, the first thing you should do is…"

It's another hour before Ace gets to escape with his innocence and dignity intact.

Well, most of it.


...


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Every time she looks out towards the wide horizon, all she sees is blue. Blue and blue for miles on end. She ends up always staring at the vastness of the sea. Sometimes it takes her breath away, sometimes it just makes her want to tear her hair out.

The sea is a foreign place for her. She's more comfortable flying up in the air, up in the clouds, up in the heavens, with heights unreachable to no human but gods and spirits. She's missed the feeling of weaving the sky with her wooden oar, the sense of being as light as a floating feather whenever she does her designated job as a ferry girl of the dead.

Her new world is so odd. Books and talks about pirates, the World Government, The Four Emperors, Devil Fruits, the Grand Line, the Four Seas, the New World, Raftel, the title of Pirate King…it's all so very confusing, and grand, and odd. Humans were fascinating creatures, she supposed. Even when she spent years living with Yusuke and his ragtag group of friends, the fact had never failed to strike her so. Humans were so unique in their defiance of the very nature of life and even after many years of guiding the dead, it still made her wonder how beings with such short mortal lifespans could seem larger-than-life itself.

She had often believed in the existence of other dimensions because the world was an abstract concept, a thing ever-changing in the face of time and space, controlled only by the heavenly powers above, some faceless and some with faces, gods of power and existence. But still. Nothing could have prepared her for this.

Botan blames Yusuke. If only the idiot had listened to her and chose not to touch the ancient relic. But no, he just had to be his usual reckless self and look where the five of them are right now. In a world where fruits give humans power and men fought it out as pirates and marines, for justice, for fame and glory, like some kind of fantasy adventure film. She should have expected this; really, she should have.

Sigh.

But its pure luck that she ended up in one of the strongest pirate ships found in her new world. And the ship's inhabitants didn't seem like the pirates she knew at all; proof enough was that freckled young man named Ace, who always takes the time to ask her if she was doing fine. And they even gave her her own private cabin! Definitely good guys.

She's heard that they were going to port and that means docking their ship on an island somewhere three days away at the least; that also means that she has plenty of time to decide if ever she'll choose to remain in an island and start her journey from there or stay with these so-called Whitebeard Pirates and hope to find Team Urameshi during her travels. Decisions, decisions. (Although the latter seems like a more likely choice in comparison.)

Rash decisions breed unwise actions, Kurama would've said.

In all honesty, she's not really sure what she should do. She's more or less a sitting duck, and it's getting frustrating. She tries to use her spirit awareness in order to pinpoint where Yusuke and the others are located, but it just leaves her dizzy. The air itself is different. There's no way of knowing if a Spirit World still exists, so she can't try to access her spirit form. She's stuck as a human, which isn't really a good thing.

Still, there are times when she gets reminded of her duty as the Grim Reaper.

Lately, she's been feeling that sharp, pinpricking sensation on the back of her neck, goosebumps waking on her flesh, a faint ringing in her ears, and that's when she knows that someone is bound to die. A sad truth, but it's life's reality.

Death comes to all.

She just hopes it doesn't catch up to Yusuke and the others first.

.

I'll find you, Yusuke. I'll find you all. Just wait.


...


Four days later, Thatch dies.

Killed by one of Whitebeard's sons. Blackbeard.

He promised. He was the best cook in the ship and always gave shitty love advices and promised that he'd help me for free, he is-was-my friend, one of my closest, and now-now he's dead.

Grief comes first, and then the anger.

Anger so bright it leaves him blind, makes him leave with nothing but a Log Pose, his Striker, and the promise of vengeance.

.

.

.

Death comes to all.


A few days before that, someone wakes up in the middle of a forest.

The sun is blaring hot and the ground even more so, and the wide shade provided by the trees doesn't really do shit for him.

The pounding in his head is so painful that it makes him want to hurl and kill a few demons or so. Or maybe just eat a bowl of ramen and some takoyaki. Yeah.

Raizen's great-grandson opens his eyes and thinks, well, shit.

Botan's gonna reprimand his ass off. Screw that.

Keiko is going to kill him.

He doesn't know which one is worse, and he doesn't want to find out, but he's not going to sit still either.

Yusuke Urameshi sits up and stretches his arms.


Somewhere, four other people awake, unaware of the adventures that lay ahead.


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...


Second chapter:  one lost fox (thrown in a pitful of snakes). Yes, all about our favorite demon fox.