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On Top of the World

Chapter Text

It hurt. Pain pulsed through every vein like blood.

Everything hurt. Dizziness and the brightness made it impossible to see anything.

‘Where… am I?’

Slowly the vision cleared. There was a familiar blue beyond moving spots and filters of different green shades.

‘The… sky? Trees?’

Somewhere in a short distance a hissing sound was heard. Only after becoming aware of it once, the hissing continued, accompanied with the soft splash.

‘The sea…?’

The vision blurred again. It hurt too much.

‘Sun…’

Too sad to cry.

Too tired to move or fight the creeping unconsciousness.

There was nothing left but going to sleep, wondering if there would be a tomorrow, wishing the past could just be erased.

 


 

PIRATES!

Pirates are barbarians, all of them. Filthy, bloody murderers sailing the sea looking for their next prey. It’s said that once branded with the title of pirate, you lose your soul and become nothing but a starving beast. That’s why you’d never believe that the people aboard this white and pink ship covered with hearts, walking on their knees to make sure the deck was spotless, were indeed pirates.

They were all men with tattoos, bulky arms and legs who took a bath every second day and cleaned their face morning and night. Armed with cleaning rugs, brooms and mops rather than swords and pistols, they were polishing the wood of the ship as well as the metal of the cannons and cannonballs rather eagerly. The sails and flag were being washed in the boat house ashore.

A woman wearing a blue captain’s coat stepped up on the deck with purposely slow and heavy steps and every man stood stiff and straight, waiting for the end of the inspection of their work.

“What is this I see!” the woman roared and picked up a speck of dust that had most probably just blown in from the land where they had docked. “Who is responsible for the railing?!”

“AH! I’m so sorry, Alvida-sama! I’ll start over again! Please, just don’t…”

The woman turned and glared. “Don’t… what?”

“Not the iron bludgeon…!”

The man was sent flying over the railing and to the sea with a crushed skull. Some grieved for their friend and everyone wished they wouldn’t be next. They cowered in fear, holding their cleaning tools closer to them as if that would protect them. One man, responsible for the cannonballs, couldn’t help himself and started rubbing the metal ball furiously.

“Coby!” the woman called.

“Hai!”

The answer came from a young boy with round glasses, about half or less the size of the rest of the crewmen.

“Who is most beautiful on all the seas?”

“O… o-o-o-of course… it’s you… A-Alvida-sama.”

“That’s right.” The woman growled like a hound and turned her enormous body around to face her crew, speaking with a low voice. “I am beautiful. That is why the ship I travel with must be beautiful as well. Get off your lazy asses!!!”

“HAI! ALVIDA-SAMA!!!”

Well, at first look they didn’t seem like much for being pirates, but the captain, vain as she might be, was the most pirate-like person around, even when she made cleaning-freaks out of her men.

She turned to the little boy she liked to have around. “Tell me why you are alive, Coby.”

“B-b-b-be-because… I know h-h-how to na-navigate… Alvida-sama.”

“That’s right. But that’s also the only thing you are good for! Clean my shoes!”

The young boy hurried to take out a small box and a cleaning rug, too scared to do anything but obey. Because the pirate captain Alvida with the iron bludgeon was strong enough to keep a bunch of men, stronger than average, at bay and still have strength to spare.

 


 

The same afternoon the ship stood ready to sail, spotless to the point where it gleamed in the sunlight. The captain of the ship stood and admired it from the shore. Her men had all gone into the forest to gather food and water for their next journey. Coby too. Not that anybody cared about him much, but Alvida insisted they didn’t leave him behind.

He had walked farther than the rest; to make sure he wouldn’t get in the way and be beaten. Life as a pirate-slave wasn’t easy on his small body, and self-esteem he didn’t own any.

“Nobody is here, right…” Coby whispered and peeked out into a clearing from behind a tree. He couldn’t see anyone and sighed in relief.

Coming out from behind the tree the young boy intended to walk around a rather large hole in the ground to pass the clearing and hide behind the next tree. That is, until he noticed what was in the bottom of said hole and stood stiff.

A person lay down there. A person with long black hair, covered with blood and holding onto a katana with both hands. Coby just stood there trembling and gaping.

‘What… should… I do?’ he thought halfway into panic.

First he jumped in behind a bush to hide. That was the safest in case the person was to wake up and attack. But after a few minutes with silence, Coby dared to peek out from under the bush. He slowly crawled over to the hole.

“Ano…?” he called down, barely above a whisper.

The person stayed still.

“Are… are you okay?”

Still nothing. So this person wouldn’t wake up and attack. That’s why Coby dared to go down into the hole and take a closer look.

The wounds looked painful. The cloths were tattered, if you could call them cloths. Maybe it had been a kimono once, but there wasn’t much left of it.

“Are you… dead?”

When there was still no answer, Coby’s panic was a fact. Holding his head he ran around the whole clearing in a circle.

‘What should I do? What should I do? What should I do? What should I dooooo?’

A groan made him stop dead in his tracks. For about a minute Coby stood as still as a stone statue, hardly breathing.

“Some… one…”

Coby’s heart tried to escape his chest. He turned, hearing the impossibly loud cracking of his neck.

“Is there… somebody there?”

The voice was weak, and followed by a sound as if the person talking was being strangled.

Coby jumped away at first and then quickly crawled on his stomach to the edge of the hole. The person down there had a pained expression and was tugging at something that Coby couldn’t see, but was grasping the person’s throat.

Even with his cowardly nature, Coby was still a caring soul and therefore jumped down to the person to take a look and try to be of some help. But the stranger threw an arm out, ripping off the cloth from the left side, and laid still, breathing harshly.

It was a woman. Coby basically knew what a female body looked like, but had never seen one exposed. Because naturally, nobody exposes themselves to strangers… and God be blessed that Alvida-sama didn’t enjoy showing skin.

He should cover it again. If this woman happened to open her eyes he’d be a dead man. So Coby slowly, very, very, very carefully slowly reached out over the body trembling with a harsh breath to move the cloth back over the… breast.

Looking at his arm Coby noticed his skin had turned red. This wasn’t good. Not at all. Here he was in the middle of the forest with a half-naked woman and Alvida-sama would soon grow impatient and start looking for him.

“Who are you?”

Nobody had probably ever jumped so high or so far. The stranger girl couldn’t help but laugh, but started coughing almost immediately.

“Ah… are you alright?”

The girl took a deep breath and looked up at him. She had dark brown eyes with such a depth that Coby thought he would drown if he looked too deep into them.

“I’ll manage,” the girl croaked and smiled.

Coby felt like he was shot through his heart by an arrow.

“Where is this place?”

“This… Alvida-sama has a…” The mention of the enormous woman-pirate brought Coby back to his senses. “I’m sorry. This island is the base of the pirate captain Alvida with the iron bludgeon. I’m the chore boy, my name’s Coby.”

“Oh.” The girl giggled a little, but stopped when she started coughing again, still she smiled. “Well, not that it matters. I can’t really move right now.” Her face became thoughtful. “And I’m so huuungryyyy.”

At that Coby remembered what he was doing in the forest to begin with. He actually had gathered a little bit of fruit and he could get a bit of water from his secret base.

“Wait here a minute.”

 


 

Everyone was coming back, one after one. They brought aboard wild boars and birds that they had caught, vegetables and barrels of saké and water.

They were all coming back, except for one.

“Oi, you.”

“Yes captain?”

“Where is the pipsqueak?”

 


 

“My name’s Rayla, but my friends call me Ruffy. Thanks for feeding me.”

“Oh, no problem.”

The odd girl had managed to cover her chest and sit up as Coby went to bring some food and water. It was only some apples and grapes, but this girl ate them with pleasure.

“Excuse me, um, Rayla-san…”

“Ruffy.”

“Huh?”

“My friends call me Ruffy,” the girl said and fired another big smile, unknowingly shooting a second, third and fourth arrow through Coby’s poor heart.

“Ru… Ru… Ruffy-san.”

The girl smiled again, a different smile, one that was as bright as the sun and made Coby realize how sad she had looked before then.

“Ruffy-san… what are you doing here?”

“I don’t know. I was sent flying and woke up here.”

“Sent flying… from where?”

“I don’t know, but it was really scary. I don’t even know what sea this is.”

The boy’s thoughts ended half-finished as a single question pushed through his mind. “What sea are you from?”

The girl looked strangely at him. “East Blue?”

Coby sighed with relief and laughed at himself. For a second he had thought Ruffy-san had been sent flying from another ocean. How silly of him. His imagination was way too wild.

“Don’t worry,” he told the girl with a smile. “You’re still in East Blue.”

“Oh,” was all she answered and stuffed another apple into her mouth.

“But Ruffy-san, have you been in a fight. All those wounds.”

“Yeah, I’ve been fighting for some time. But I guess it’s over now.”

Coby looked at her. Even when Ruffy-san continued to eat, something sad had come over her… again.

He took in her appearance in more detail. Her body looked lean… no meagre. The bare arms looked scrawny even with the lines of muscle showing underneath the bloodied skin. The kimono-thing she wore had probably once been white, but was now more red, grey and dark brown. Thick jet-black hair flowed down the girl’s back all the way to her waist, and a worn straw hat rested on her back, hanging in a string around her neck.

There was something else there, around the neck; a thin chain with black beads about an inch apart. Underneath the string for the hat and the bead-necklace was a two inches broad scar. One that seemed to make a full circle around Ruffy-san’s throat.

Coby was about to ask about it when the sound of splintered wood reached them, followed by a black comet that passed over their heads. Good thing they sat in a hole.

Ruffy turned and followed the projectile with her eyes. Coby screamed.

“Where have you been, Coby?!”

Alvida easily caught her bludgeon as it returned to her like a boomerang. Her body towered over the two sitting inside the hole in the ground.

“What’s this I see? Coby? Have you hired a bounty hunter?”

The boy trembled badly and couldn’t form a single sound that even slightly resembled words. Ruffy stared openly.

“Very well then. Coby!”

That demanding tone of voice had been used against him for two years, so the response was automatic “Ha-hai?”

“I’ll ask you one last time. Who is most beautiful on all the seas?”

“Tha… that is… o-of course…” Coby stuttered, forcing the words off his reluctant tongue like so many times before, only this time he knew; saying those words wouldn’t save him. Had he ever been this scared in his life?

“Who’s this fat old lady?”

For a few seconds after those words, the world fell silent. The speaker was Ruffy, who sat on the ground with her finger pointing at Alvida. Everybody who heard stood gaping in shock, until Alvida’s growling voice broke the silence that is.

“Whaaat diiiiid yoooooouuuuuu saaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyy?”

Coby acted fast and grabbed Ruffy by the shoulders, shaking her. “Don’t say that! This woman is the world’s most…”

He stared into the surprised face of the stranger girl. Her eyes were big and had a warm colour, her face was nice and her body was, albeit lacking fat, better shaped than any woman Coby remembered having seen in his life. She didn’t wear any make-up and still her long, dark eye-lashes made her eyes seem bigger and her naturally medium pink lips stood out, even when slightly chapped. No freckles or blemishes anywhere on her skin save the cuts.

Yes, save the cuts, blood and dirt, Ruffy-san was everything that Alvida was not.

“The world’s most what? Eh? Coby!”

The boy took a deep breath. “FATTEST… UGLIEST SMELLY OLD HAAAAAG!!!”

Half of Alvida’s crewmembers fainted.

Ruffy laughed wholeheartedly.

Alvida exploded. “KONOU GAKIIIIII!!!”

Coby screamed and held his head, as if that could save him.

But something did save him. Ruffy grabbed his waist and jumped backwards, out of reach for the bludgeon Alvida swung at him. Throwing the boy in behind her, Ruffy stood prepared with the still sheathed katana.

Alvida raised an eyebrow. “Huh? You’re not that pirate hunter Lolonoa Zoro, are you?”

“Pirate…?”

 


 

“You are pirates?”

The six year old girl tilted her head to the side, curiously watching the man beside the bed she had just woken up in.

“Yes. But don’t worry, I’m not gonna hurt you.”

She tilted her head to the other side, taking in the straw hat over the man’s red hair, his dark eyes and kind face, the open shirt, the sash around his waist, the loose black pants and the sandals on his feet.

“Are you sure you’re a pirate?” she asked.

The man with the red hair laughed, along with the other three men in the room.

“Why do you doubt? I should know what I am,” the man said.

“But jii-chan says that pirates are evil and mean.”

The man laughed again and ruffled the girl’s black hair. “I’m just not mean to a little kid girl that was about to drown. What were you doing in the water anyway?”

“I played a prank on jii-chan and he threw me out the window and I landed in the water.”

For some reason, the room fell very silent.

“Okay. Where are you from? We can deliver you back to your island.”

“Really?”

“Really. Come on, let’s go up to deck and greet the others.”

“Are they pirates too?” the girl asked and let the man lift her into his arms.

“Yup. We are all pirates on this ship, except for you.”

“Can I be a pirate too?”

For the third time, the red-haired man started laughing. “I don’t think your parents would appreciate that.”

“I think mother was one before, but she quit.”

“Oh, that would make it easier for you then,” the man said. “My name is Shanks.”

“I’m Ruffy.”

They just made it to the deck when a man skidded to a halt right in front of them. “Captain! It’s Garp! He just took aim for us.”

“Oh, that’s not good. Sorry Ruffy-chan. I have to ask you to…”

“That’s my jii-chan!”

“What?!”

The men on deck looked from the little girl to the dog-headed marine ship. Ruffy got out of Shank’s grasp and ran over to the railing.

“Jii-chan! Jii-chan!” she called and waved.

Immediately the grand man stood on top of the figure head. “YOU BLOODY PIRATES!!! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING TO MY GRANDDAUGHTER?!”

“They saved me, jii-chan no baka!” the girl yelled back.

“BE QUIET! I’M GOING OVER THERE TO PICK YOU UP RIGHT NOW!!!”

“That’s some jii-chan you have there,” Shanks said, impressed.

“Violent jii-chan… hits me all the time,” the girl mumbled with a pout. “So I’ll be a pirate instead.”

“Oh? Isn’t he gonna be angry then?”

“But pirates run from marines, right. If I’m a pirate, I don’t have to go to jii-chan and be hit.”

Once again Shanks laughed, until Garp jumped onto his deck. The pirates all silenced and stiffened, glaring at the intruder.

“I didn’t invite you,” said the suddenly serious red-haired pirate dangerously.

“I don’t need an invitation from a pirate to fetch my granddaughter. I’m gonna make a great marine of her, so be prepared.”

“No. I’m gonna be a pirate,” the girl said bluntly.

 


 

“Well, it doesn’t matter who you are. I’m gonna crush you both here and now!!!”

Alvida swung her bludgeon down and heard a loud crash.

All the men of the pirate captain Alvida with the iron bludgeon suddenly felt smaller. Coby couldn’t believe what he saw, because surely it couldn’t be real.

The girl with the straw hat and katana still stood with her first up. All around her lay scatted chunks of iron, big and small.

Alvida stared at the handle of her beloved weapon. It was the only thing left of it.

“What? My iron bludgeon…?! How…? Who are you?”

The girl looked up at the other woman with a wide, challenging grin and eyes the colour of pure gold. “I’m Monkey D. Ruffy.” Her eyes flashed as her grin widened. “Pirate.”

Chapter Text

Pirate chore boy Coby and pirate rookie Ruffy

On a small uninhabited island in East Blue it was very quiet. Usually it was a calm island where the furry and feathery inhabitants only cared about their next meal or to not become one. But at the moment all animals were hiding in their holes and the birds in their nests.

Near the west beach of the island was a small clearing that once had been a good place for wild boars to find food. Now a shallow hole had taken up most of the space. But all around the hole lay the pieces of a weapon. Some of the pieces were just chumps of iron, others were partly shaped; a flat side, or a piece of a spike. Not that you’d pay much attention to that if you saw this scenery. You’d most certainly be focused on the people, the two women facing each other most of them.

“Pirate?” The bigger of the women spoke with disbelief. “Are you a pirate? Just you?”

“It’s just me right now,” the younger girl answered with a nod. “But a friend told me there are a lot of pirates in this era, so I’m gonna go out there and look for some good nakama.”

If you hadn’t seen what happened a while ago, you’d not believe that it was the girl many times smaller than the other woman who had the upper hand.

Behind that small girl sat a boy perhaps the same age or younger than her, wondering what was happening and what he was seeing. The girl he had found unconscious in the forest who had smiled with a hint of sadness seemed to be on fire. Not literally, but there was definitely something shining about her, like the strength she had just displayed. Alvida had brought her iron bludgeon down with all her might, Ruffy-san had met it with her bare fist and the bludgeon and shattered. The katana was still sheathed in her other hand.

Alvida looked between the handle of her dear weapon and the lean girl standing in front of her. “You… could you have eaten one of the rumoured devil fruits?”

“Hm? Yes. How’d you know?”

“So it’s true. I thought it was strange a scrawny kid like you managed to break my iron bludgeon. But if you’ve eaten a devil fruit it makes sense. Although I always thought they were only a myth.”

“It’s not strange. I’m just stronger than you, fatty.”

It was the third time in the same day, and in as many minutes, someone shamelessly told Alvida she was fat and once again she lost common sense at such a rude insult. She didn’t have her club anymore, so she pulled out her gun.

“I’m gonna…”

Coby caught the katana Ruffy threw at him as she jumped forward, grabbing Alvida’s hand.

“Being this fat,” the young girl said and brought her fist back, “has made you slow!”

The fist connected with Alvida’s face, sending her flying. Her crew ducked as she came at them and only heard how trees broke when their captain flew into them. They kept their heads down as the trees fell over with loud sounds of shattering wood.

Once everything fell silent again, Alvida was out cold and her crew stood face to face with the little girl who had defeated her.

“Besides, it’s not healthy,” the girl said to the fallen woman before turning to the men watching with their mouths agape. “Give me a small boat,” she ordered. “I’m getting out of here.”

“Ha-hai,” they answered hesitatingly.

“Make sure to pack it well for me. I need food, water and money. This instant.”

“Yes! Anything you want!” the men said and ran off to do as they had been ordered. What else could they do? This girl had the power of the devil!

“Oh, and Coby.”

“Hai?”

Ruffy smiled at him. “You’re coming with me, right?”

 


 

The island disappeared into the waves as Coby watched. He couldn’t believe it. Everything had happened so fast today. He had woken up as a pirate chore boy this morning, like every morning for the past two years, and now it was noon and he was free. Free! He wouldn’t wake up to curses and death-threats anymore. No more being kicked around and beaten down. Never more slaving his life away on his knees and lick the boots of a woman he most of all wanted to vomit over.

In the bow of the small boat they had gotten sat a girl named Rayla, Ruffy-san, almost finished with the food supply they had been given by the pirates Coby had been a slave to for two years. Pirates whose captain had been defeated with a single punch.

“Oi, Coby. Aren’t you hungry?” Ruffy asked and held up a red fruit.

“Uh… no. Not really.”

“You sure? Okay.”

Coby watched as the girl finished the food, crumpled the sacks together and stuffed them in between two crafts. Then she sat back and happily patted her swollen belly.

“Ah! That was some good food. I could have eaten a lot more.”

The boy didn’t say anything and just looked at his hands. For two whole years he had taken Alvida-sama and her crew anywhere they wanted so he knew these waters quite well, but had no idea where to go now. He couldn’t go home, mostly because it hadn’t been much of a home to begin with, and he was too old to go back to the orphanage now. He had to make a living of something, but sailing and doing chores was about the only things he was good at. So where would he go? Well, there was a place he wanted to go to, but… he couldn’t. It was just not possible. He still dreamt, in the deepest parts of his heart, a dream that lived with him for so long now it had become like an old friend. It was his escape in the dark of night and alley through the terror of death he had lived with every day.

But it was only a dream, and one he couldn’t chase. It was impossible for him.

Ruffy hummed a little tune, gaining Coby’s attention. The girl was leaning against the railing with her head back and straw hat resting on her belly. Even with the blood and dirt and that barely keeping it together kimono she wore, Ruffy-san looked the picture of calm contentment.

Coby realized something. He didn’t have a heading, but maybe Ruffy-san had.

“Ruffy-san? Are we going to your home island?”

“Hm? I don’t know. Are we?”

“Ruffy-san! Are you saying we’re just drifting? Didn’t you say you are a pirate? You should have set a course or something, right? By the way, why am I doing the steering? Why don’t you take the helm… because you can navigate, right?”

The girl stared at him. “Nope. Do I have to?”

Coby almost collapsed. “Of course you have to! If you just drift around in a boat you’ll die from one accident or another!”

“Is that so? The water is so calm here,” Ruffy said and stared into the water.

“It might be calm right now, but you never know when a storm might appear! Good thing I know these waters, so I’ll take you back to your home.”

But Coby didn’t get the chance, because Ruffy didn’t hear him or she ignored him. Either way, all of a sudden she took the kimono off her shoulders and sat on the railing, looking over her shoulder into the water and leaving her breasts on clear display.

Ruffy made some sounds, but none that registered in Coby’s mind. Only when the white chest was covered again he returned to reality, with force, because Ruffy took him by the collar of his shirt, hauled him over the railing and held him underwater.

“What was that for?” Coby coughed once Ruffy took him back into the boat.

“You stared. That’s really rude.”

“You’re the one who undressed.”

“But you seemed like a gentleman, so I figured you’d turn away.”

“I would have if you’d asked me to!”

“Really?”

Coby gave up. Confronting this girl was useless once she gave him that oblivious face.

“A-anyway. Where are we going?”

“I don’t know. Where are you taking me?”

The boy ignored the improper image that popped into his mind best he could. “Ruffy-san, don’t you want to go back to your island?”

“Not really. I haven’t been there in a long time, and it’s not like anybody is waiting for me. However,” she took her long tousled hair and examined it, “a bath would feel good right about now. We have money. So take me to the nearest island with a bathtub.”

“O… okay. There is a marine base there though. I always…”

Ruffy looked at him.

“Are you okay with that?” Coby asked her.

“With what?”

“That there is a marine base…”

“Doesn’t matter. If I can wash up and get some new cloths I’m happy. Besides, I became a pirate just a couple of hours ago, so it’s okay.”

“Oh, I see. A couple of hours…” The boy’s head jerked up. “WHAT!!! Ruffy-san, you mean you decided to be a pirate right then and there!?!?!”

“No. I just decided it was a good time to start as one.”

That was it. Coby couldn’t take it anymore. This girl would be the death of him with her ever cheerful… naivety!

“Then what are you gonna do as a pirate without a crew, Ruffy-san?”

“I’ll gather a strong crew. Ten man at least.” She looked out over the sea with an excited face. “I’m going to be the king of all pirates!”

In the middle of the sea, a young boy named Coby sat in a boat together with the world’s most reckless person, one with no sense of tact or danger.

“The king of pirates?! Are you crazy? That is the title of the one who has everything the world has to offer! You’re going after the world’s greatest treasure, the treasure that unites everything; the One Piece?!”

“Yup.”

’Yup’?! Is that all you have to say? You’re gonna die! Every pirate in the world is looking for that treasure!”

“Me too.”

“You’re a girl!”

“Yes?”

“You can’t! It’s impossible. Absolutely impossible. Utterly impossible! To stand on top of the world in this great pirate era isn’t possible. There’s no chance. You can’t do it! Completely impossible…”

Ruffy let the boy become familiar with her fist.

“Why’d you hit me?”

“Because you’re getting on my nerves.”

Coby rubbed his sore forehead where a bump was starting to form. Good thing Ruffy-san didn’t hit as hard as Alvida-sam… as Alvida.

“Besides, I don’t mind dying.”

“Huh?” Coby looked up to see Ruffy with a determined but pained spark in her eyes. She pulled her hat down to hide her eyes for a second, before she lifted her head again and looked to the horizon with the face of someone who had made up her mind.

“It doesn’t matter if the decision was hasty or something I wanted a long time ago. It’s my own decision; my goal,” she grabbed her katana and held it to her heart with a solemn expression “and my dream. Even though I promised I’d live on, if I die fighting for my dream, it’s okay.”

Once again Coby stood helpless. He had already lost counting on how many times he’d lost to this girl during the few hours they’d known each other. The fire in her eyes wasn’t something he could win against. She was too strong for him. Fearless of death because her dream was stronger… Her dream was stronger than any fear…

Coby tightly grabbed the fabric of his pants. “Do you think… I can too?”

“Hm?”

“Do you think…” he lifted his gaze to Ruffy’s “I can become a marine?”

The girl blinked at him. “A marine?”

“Yes! It’s been…!” Coby had jumped up, but the sudden movement made the boat rock so he sat back down. “It’s been my dream ever since I was a little kid! I always wanted to join the marines and catch bad guys and help innocent people!”

“Weren’t you a pirate chore boy until just now?”

Another loss. All Coby’s energy waned and he fell into depression. “Ruffy-san, you don’t have to be so blunt.”

The girl sat with her legs crossed, humming and swinging her knees up and down.

“It was a fateful day,” Coby told her. “I was going out fishing. But it turned out that the boat I boarded… was a pirate ship. Alvida-sa… Alvida only let me live this long because I know how to navigate and they had just lost their navigator to the marines.”

Ruffy laughed loudly. “Oh my. You’re both dumb and useless, and a coward to top it off. You’re the type I hate the most.”

Coby weakly laughed along, knowing that what Ruffy-san said probably was true.

“But we’re going there now?” Ruffy asked. “To that marine base?”

“Uh? Yes?”

“Good. If you grow a backbone till we get there, I’m sure you’ll be able to join them. The marines.”

If the girl was being snide or frank was impossible to tell, the way she was smiling.

“I get it,” Coby cried, his almost non-existent pride hurt.

 


 

It was about an hour later, after a long silence where Coby had gotten the time he needed to set the course and somewhat come to terms with his new situation, when Ruffy spoke up again, pointing forward from her place in the bow.

“I see an island. Is that where we’re going?”

“Already? We shouldn’t be there until another forty-five minutes/an hour.” Coby stood up, shaded his eyes with his hands and squinted. “Where?” he asked. All he could see was water and sky.

“Right up ahead,” Ruffy said and pointed again. “Let’s go. I’m getting hungry.”

“Hungry? An hour ago you ate a week’s supply of food. How can you be hungry already?”

“That wasn’t enough for me. I need a lot more!” Ruffy stretched her neck like a rooster and spied forward. “I think I see the marine base on the island too. So that’s our destination.”

She laughed in excitement, but Coby didn’t join her.

“This isn’t really a laughing matter, Ruffy-san. I heard a rumour.”

The girl turned to him and Coby used his gravest voice.

“The place where we’re headed, the marines there caught him. The famous pirate hunter; Lolonoa Zoro.”

“Zoro?”

“He hunts down pirates like a bloodthirsty beast. It’s said that he’s a demon in man disguise. A very dangerous man.”

“Says who?”

Coby blinked as his bubble of tension popped. “Eh? Everyone. Why?”

“Poor guy. Can’t be easy to make friends if everyone’s scared of him.”

Coby gaped, and then whined. “Ruffy-san! He’s feared is because he wants to be.”

Ruffy hummed, and then she smiled. “He might be a good guy.”

“He was caught because he isn’t!” Coby argued. He wouldn’t let Ruffy-san win this one and that’s final.

“Is he really strong?”

“Of course he is, didn’t you hear me? He is Lolonoa Zoro, the pirate hunter! He’s a fearsome swordsman who slits the throat of everyone!”

“But if he’s that strong, how could the marine catch him?”

Coby tried, but couldn’t find anything to answer that. “Why are you asking anyway?” he queried instead.

Ruffy grinned happily. “I was thinking of recruiting him to my crew.”

A little boat manned by a small boy named Coby was on the way to the marine base holding the most dangerous man in East Blue. In the same boat sat a smiling girl with no sense of danger What-So-Ever.

“Ruffy-san! I’ve tried to tell you he’s a monster! A demon! A pirate killer! The moment you say you’re a pirate you’re good as dead! Having him in the crew would be suicide! You can’t do it! It’s impossible! Absolutely imp…”

Coby was silenced and given another bump on his head twice the size of the first one.

“Why’d you hit me?”

“Because you’re getting on my nerves bad.”

Chapter Text

Ruffy’s inner struggle and Pirate hunter Lolonoa Zoro

It was a rather busy little town, with the marine base watching over it like a solemn guardian. A few fishermen sat in their little boats fixing their nets while their friends tried to sell the catch. The main street opened in front of the little fish market at the dock and Coby could see stalls selling vegetables and spices and people buying them.

Ruffy jumped ashore with a laugh and pumped a fist into the air. “We’re here. We actually reached the island. You’re amazing, Coby.”

“Of course. Navigation is the least you must know as a sailor. Ruffy-san, you won’t become a pirate by drifting around on the sea. You should get a navigator first of all.”

“Sounds good. Let’s go, I wanna bathe.”

Coby could understand that when he looked at the people of the town. They all stared at them, some less subtle than others. A bloodied, barely dressed girl with a katana in hand and him, they probably made some sight. For the first time ever Coby was thankful to Alvida for being such a clean freak… but only a microscopic little bit. At least he wasn’t dirty and disgusting like Ruffy-san must feel.

The girl walked up to a stall selling pears. “Hey, obaa-san. Where’s the inn?”

The merchant, and old, hunchbacked woman, wrung her thin, wrinkled hands. “Inn? The inn? Don’t you mean the hospital, dear? You’re so hurt.”

“No. I was just in a fight. This is not as bad as it looks, but I really need a bath. So where is the inn?”

The woman continued to wring her hands and whine about the blood on Ruffy’s body for a moment. Then she nodded up the street. “If you go that way and take the second turn to the left the inn should be around there.”

“I see. Thank you, obaa-san.”

“Are you sure you don’t need a doctor?”

“I’m sure. Thank you.”

Following in her tracks, Coby suddenly realized Ruffy was barefoot, and that her feet left footprints of fresh blood.

“Ruffy-san! Your feet!”

“They are okay, I can still walk on them,” she answered, not even stopping in her tracks. “Aren’t you going to the base?”

Coby fidgeted. “I… I don’t think I’m ready yet. And I’m worried about you.”

“Really?”

Maybe Coby had hoped Ruffy would be touched by his concern, but she obviously didn’t care either way. The boy sighed.

“Ruffy-san. You’re not still considering recruiting Zoro to your…”

Everyone within hearing range suddenly yelped loudly and jumped away, as far away from the two of them as they could.

Ruffy laughed at them, but Coby pulled her down and whispered; “This is the Zoro you want in your crew. Please reconsider.”

“I haven’t decided yet. I’ll go find him later to see if he’s a good guy or not,” she swatted his hands away and looked around. “Second turn to the left…”

The girl stopped in the mouth of the street and looked at the signs before walking up to a mother and child.

“Hey. Where’s the inn?”

“The inn? Shouldn’t you go visit the doctor first? What happened to you?”

“Just a fight, but I’d really like to find the inn here.”

The woman held her son a bit closer. “It’s just up ahead. The inn’s name is Kame and has a green door.”

“That’s good to know. Thank you.”

They continued on the new road and found the green door. Ruffy seemed to think only about washing up and walked straight in as if she owned the place.

“Excuse me. Where’s the bathtub.”

An old man sat behind the counter with his nose buried in a newspaper. At the intrusion he looked up, caught sight of the bloodied girl and screamed.

“Girl! Girl! Were you attacked? Is the Commodore attacking?! Are we under attack? HELP! WE’RE UNDER ATTACK!!!”

A beer mug flying through the air hit the old man in the head and knocked him out cold.

“Don’t scare the customers like that, you old fool!”

Coby, who had hid behind Ruffy when the man started screaming, turned to see a straight-backed old woman walking up to them. She still had a little red left in her otherwise white hair and her reddish brown eyes were strong. Yet they became gentle as they landed on Ruffy.

“Poor child. Look at you. I’m sure you want to bathe and properly clean up.”

“Thank you,” Ruffy smiled brightly and she followed the woman towards a staircase.

“I’m Masako, owner of this inn, and the idiot behind the counter is my husband Toya.”

“I’m Rayla. You can call me Ruffy.”

As the women went up the stairs, Coby was left alone and therefore walked up to the counter and the old man lying behind it.

“Ano, are you okay?”

“How could I marry such a violent woman?” the man whined.

Upstairs Ruffy helped Masako to prepare the bath. It was an old-fashion bathroom with a tub that looked more like a wooden barrel. Even so it was big enough to fit a large person without a problem. Ruffy was pretty small-sized, so the barrel was big for her.

“That should do it,” the woman said and dried her hands on the towel she had in the pocket of her apron. “Now undress. I’ll help you clean your back and take a look at those…”

Ruffy put the woman down outside the door, “I need some clean cloths too, please, obaa-san.” and closed it.

For a few seconds the woman stood there, too shocked over the treatment.

“You little brat! Is that how you thank an old woman for her kindness?”

“Oh, thank you for your kindness. Will I have to walk around the town in a towel to find cloths?”

The woman growled and held up a trembling fist, but after a while, Masako accepted that the little girl probably needed some privacy. Therefore Masako went to her room to try to find something her daughters might have left behind.

 


In the bathroom Ruffy was scrubbing her arms, legs and body free of the dried blood. Examining the wounds she found that some of them had healed already. Like usual. None of the new wounds had caused any scars. Only the old ones were still there, plain to see if you looked carefully enough.

She reached down to her back and scratched, clawed at the already marred skin, reached in from different angles until she knew she drew blood. She continued digging her nails into her flesh, tearing the skin open as much as possible. When the pain level got high enough Ruffy released a breath and sank back down into the water.

It stung. The hot water kept the new wounds open and Ruffy watched as the blood swirled around and coloured the water pink.

She got up and tied a white towel around her body. There was a washbowl by the wall and a white painted cabinet with a mirror hanging above it. Opening the lockers Ruffy found mirrors on the inside of them too, and on a shelf inside were a brush and a scissor. She took them both, closed the cabinet and stared at her reflection. She hadn’t minded her hair in weeks, so she started brushing it, taking her time to work out all the tousles until it hung smooth over her shoulders.

It was a pretty face that looked back at her from the mirror. Tanned complexion, dark eyes, long eyelashes and the raven black hair. The scar circling her neck didn’t look as bad as it sometimes felt. Even if she could consider herself lucky to have survived, she couldn’t help but wish the scar and the whole experience would just disappear.

Throwing the brush aside Ruffy picked up the scissors, grabbed her hair and with one snip cut it all off. Long black strands of hair fell to the floor. Ruffy already felt better, even with the burning sensation on her back and the twisting knife in her heart.

Working with the sharp tool Ruffy cut off the rest of the long strands of hair, shortening her hairdo until it mostly resembled a boy’s cut. It was uneven, but definitely felt better.

She took another look at her reflection. It looked so different without the long hair, but the face in the mirror could still be called pretty.

 


Search successful. Masako had given birth to three daughters, today twenty-six, thirty-four and forty years old, and all of them had left cloths behind during the years. Skirts and trousers of all lengths, blouses and shirts of many shapes and colours, and some lingerie. Masako had picked out a few of each article so that Ruffy-san could choose for herself.

“Ruffy-san,” she announced her presence and knocked on the bathroom door. “Ruffy-san, I found some cloths for you. Can I come in?”

Silence.

She knocked again. “Ruffy-san?”

Nothing but silence.

“I’m coming in!”

The scene was like something out of a horror show. The water in the bathtub was pink, the white washbowl and wall were splattered with blood. On the floor lay long strands of black hair. With her back against the tub sat the young girl holding her face with fresh blood on her hands and all over herself.

“Ru…!”

Masako stepped forward and immediately lifted her foot again. Under it she found the scissor she kept in the cabinet, its sharp tip dyed red.

“Ruffy-san?” Could this girl be suicidal? Masako quickly walked up to her and kneeled down.

“Ha!”

The old woman flinched away at Ruffy’s sudden outburst.

“Take that. Now I’m not pretty anymore.”

“Ruffy-san?”

The younger girl took her hands away and looked up. Blood was flowing freely from an open wound under her left eye. That eye couldn’t see properly.

She was in pain. There were tears in her eyes, along with something dark and painful.

Ruffy sneered. “A woman with a scarred face is ugly. The long hair he said he liked, I cut it off. This pretty face he said he loved, I ruined it. Now I have no value. Take that. Heh! Bloody idiot.”

She cried. She laughed. Ruffy cried bitter tears, her body shaking with sobs and laugher.

The inn owner couldn’t take it. She embraced the girl and held her close. “Don’t say anything. I don’t understand, but I don’t want to hear anymore either.”

Ruffy trembled and held herself.

“You’ve had it though, haven’t you, child,” Masako continued. “I can tell. But you’re safe now. I won’t let anything harm you in my house.”

 


Evening. When Ruffy didn’t come back down Coby had gone looking for her. Finding her with the owner inside the blood-splattered bathroom had scared him dangerously close to a heart-attack. Now he sat in the inn’s restaurant with a cup of black tea he forced himself to drink.

After some time, Masako came to make him company.

“Masako-san. How is Ruffy-san doing?”

The old woman sighed and sipped on her own cup of tea. “She’s sleeping right now, Coby-kun. No wonder. Poor child cried nonstop until she fell asleep. I had to stitch the wound in her face while she still cried and bandaged her back.”

Coby stared into his dark tea. He hadn’t noticed at all. Ruffy-san had seemed so strong, she had been burning, she had defeated Alvida like nothing. All the while suffering from some soul-deep wound.

For the umpteenth time that day Coby felt defeated.

“By the way,” Masako broke through his thoughts. “That sword Ruffy-san has. I put it in the room with her, but it was really a feeling to hold it. Is she a swordsman? A bounty hunter?”

Coby fidgeted. “I don’t really know. We only met today and she’s been helping me a lot.”

As if he could reveal Ruffy-san was a pirate… even when starting today.

 


The next morning Ruffy didn’t wake up. She lay curled up in a tight ball between the covers on the bed, so quiet Masako had to make sure she was still breathing. From the looks of it the young girl had been crying in her sleep too. Sighing tiredly Masako let Ruffy sleep.

But at noon the inn echoed by a loud, terrified scream. Masako and Coby both rushed to Ruffy’s room. Unfortunately they walked in only to see her topless and covered with sweat.

She greeted them both with a pillow and her fists and closed the door.

“Ruffy-san, are you all right?” Masako called through the door’s wood, knocking on it with hopes of being let inside. “We heard you scream, can I help you in any way?”

For a long while it was silent. Coby took the time and carefully fixed his glasses without taking his eyes off the door.

“A bath,” Ruffy’s voice suddenly sounded through the wood. “I-I need another bath.”

The inn owner sighed, mostly from relief. “Okay Ruffy-san. I’ll fix it immediately and tell my husband to make you some food.”

Coby watched the elderly woman leave, but stayed put himself. He was worried. Ruffy-san who had seemed so strong yesterday was suddenly a little scared girl who suffered from nightmares.

So even strong people had nightmares, huh?

When Masako came back after about fifteen minutes Coby still sat outside Ruffy’s door. The old woman sent the boy one tired look before she knocked on the door again.

“Ruffy-san. The bath is ready.”

“Go away! Don’t look at me, dammit!”

The two outside the door exchanged a look. Coby felt cold inside. Was it really Ruffy-san on the other side of the door?

Masako only sent a sad and troubled look at the door’s handle. “Okay, Ruffy-san. We’ll leave you alone. I left some cloths in the bathroom for you. Take anything you need.”

She motioned with her head to Coby they should leave.

It took two hours. For two whole hours Coby and Masako sat facing each other over a table without saying a word, both with deep frowns of concern in their foreheads.

After two hours Ruffy came down the stairs wearing a pair of blue knee-length shorts, a red tank top and the katana bound to a belt at her hip, straw hat on her head and a bright smile on her face. Like nothing had happened.

“Ah! I haven’t felt this good in a while. Breakfast?”

Coby and Masako both let out breaths of relief.

“It is noon, Ruffy-san,” the inn owner explained. “Almost time for lunch.”

“That’s okay. I can eat both breakfast and lunch.”

Though still not convinced the young girl was as fine as she probably wanted them to believe, Masako served the girl some reheated porridge, fruit, juice and bread for breakfast as her husband cooked the lunch in the kitchen.”

“How long are you planning on staying here, Ruffy-san?” Masako asked when the porridge was gone and the girl was chewing on the last orange.

“We’ll get going after eating. I wanna see if that demon is still around.”

Masako silenced and Coby held his breath, wishing she wouldn’t realize.

Toya came out with the lunch; a hot pie with minced meat and a light sauce.

“Demon,” Masako repeated slowly. “You’re not talking about that pirate hunter Lolonoa Zoro, are you?”

“Yup, that’s the one,” Ruffy happily answered and stuffed pie into her mouth. Realizing how hot it was she squeaked and reached for the can of water on the table, downing all of it.

Masako stood up. “Ruffy-san, why would you seek out such a dangerous man? You are a nice girl so you should stay away from people like him. Moreover; stay away from the marine base if you don’t want to be killed.”

“Why is that?” Coby asked, immediately alerted.

“None can do,” Ruffy said, blowing on the pie before putting it in her mouth this time. “Coby wants to join the marines, so I’ll take him there and find Zoro while I’m at it.”

Masako was speechless, shocked halfway to the point of being petrified. Her husband and staff was now hiding in the kitchen and watched like frightened bunnies. Ruffy finished the food and patted her stomach.

“Oh, that was good food. Thank you, Masako-baasan. We’ll be going now.”

“Wait!”

“Hm?”

The elderly woman stood trembling and gritted her teeth. “You’re not serious, are you? Are you really about to walk straight into the base?”

“Yup,” Ruffy said with a confident smile, continued to walk and was gone before Masako could find her voice again to give the young pair the real reason as to why they should stay away from the marine base.

Coby followed the girl and fell in beside her.

“Ruffy-san, this is strange. I understand the people here are worried about Zoro, but saying that going to the base will have us killed! It makes me really worried…”

“Maybe Masako-baasan dislikes the marines?” Ruffy suggested.

“Of course not. Normal citizens don’t dislike the marines.”

“They do,” Ruffy countered.

They entered the market road and headed for the base towering over the city.

Coby continued his pleading. “Ruffy-san, please don’t be reckless when we get there. I read on a sign at the port that the marine base here is run by a Commodore Morgan and…”

Just like yesterday, everybody within hearing range cried out and jumped away.

Ruffy couldn’t stop laughing. “This is such a funny town,” she managed to say after a while.

“I’m not laughing,” Coby mumbled grimly. “Now I’m really worried.”

“Grow a backbone.”

 


The marine base was a blue-green building with black tiger stripes. Ruffy thought of a pair of striped volcanoes when she saw it. The colouring was the same as marine battleships though.

“Looks pretty big up close, huh?” she said. “Get going, Coby. You wanted to join, right.”

“Yes,” Coby sobbed and dried his eyes. “I’m finally here. I can’t believe it.”

Ruffy looked at the brick wall surrounding the base as Coby dwelled in his tearful state, probably remembering his life and everything that had taken him to this place.

“It was only a short time. Make sure you become a great pirate…” Coby looked up, not finding the one he’d addressed beside him, but rather where she shouldn’t be. “Ruffy-san! What are you doing!?”

“I’m looking for the demon,” the girl answered from where she had climbed the wall to take a look.

“You won’t find him like that,” Coby sighed. “A captive like Zoro is surely kept in a prison cell or something.”

“No. There’s someone there. It could be the guy.”

“What?”

With a mix of curiosity and worry Coby followed Ruffy down the wall and climbed it beside her, with much less ease.

“Over there,” Ruffy said and pointed.

Coby almost swallowed his tongue. Tied to a pole was a man with his head covered by a black bandana and a haramaki around his abdomen. The ropes tied his arms and body tightly to the pole and his legs were uselessly spread out in front of him.

Ruffy caught Coby by the neck when he was about to fall down on his head.

“It’s him!” the boy whimpered. “A black bandana, a haramaki, such a dangerous aura. I’m sure. That’s the pirate hunter Lolonoa Zoro.”

“So that is him. Should be easy enough to get him out of that.”

“Ruffy-san, you’re crazy!”

A deep, raspy voice carried over to the duo. “Hey, you over there.”

Ruffy held onto Coby’s neck to ensure he wouldn’t fall when he tried to jump away from the wall.

“Will you come over here… and untie me? I’ve been here for nine days now. I’m getting exhausted.”

Ruffy tried to move higher up to get a better view and Coby desperately tried to pull her back down.

“I can pay you,” the man continued. “I’ll cut down some fugitive and give you the reward. I’m not lying. I keep my words.”

“Ruffy-san, no! Once you free him he’ll put the town in ruins and kill you.”

“He can’t kill me,” Ruffy said confidently. “I am strong too.”

The prisoner glared at them. “Well?”

Even if Coby had promised himself to not let Ruffy win this one, he now felt how he was losing again. Would he ever be able to win against this hopelessly reckless girl? What was wrong with her anyway?

A ladder landed on the wall on Coby’s other side. Surprised he turned to look and found a small girl climb it while clutching a small package to her chest. She earnestly hushed at them before she carefully checked the area on the other side of the wall. Only when she threw a rope over the wall to the other side and climbed down did Coby realize where she was going and panicked.

“O-o-o-oi! That’s dangerous! What are you doing? Come back! Ruffy-san, stop her! She’ll be killed!”

“We’ll all die eventually,” she answered and held Coby up as he almost fainted.

On the execution site the little girl opened her package. “Here,” she said happily to Zoro and held up her present. “I made onigiri for you. You must be hungry.”

Coby regained full consciousness. Ruffy wouldn’t help that girl, but she was a pirate. Coby wasn’t a marine or anything yet, but he couldn’t just leave the girl to her fate. Good thing Zoro was tied. Their voices carried over to Coby and Ruffy quite well too.

“You want to die, chibi? Get lost,” Zoro snarled tiredly.

“But you haven’t eaten for all this time. It’s my first time making onigiri, but I did my very best. Please eat.”

Coby was too engrossed with what he saw to notice Ruffy move her head to the side, as if she tried to hear something.

“Someone’s coming,” she mumbled to Coby.

“What?”

“I’m not hungry.” Zoro grunted at the child before him. “Go home.”

“But…”

“I said I don’t want it. Get going. Want me to kick you over the wall?”

“Lolonoa Zoro, don’t be a bully. I’ll tell daddy.”

Coby's head whipped around in search for the owner of the new voice. It came from the gate between the execution site and the base and three people were walking towards Zoro and the little girl. Coby sighed with relief as the people coming through it were marine soldiers, led by a young blond man in a purple suit.

“Thank goodness. Now the girl will be safe.”

“I’m not so sure,” Ruffy said.

Zoro made a face. “Tsk. Here comes daddy’s dumb boy.”

“Dumb?” the blond man in the purple suit stressed with a frown of displeasure. “Watch your tongue, Lolonoa. My daddy is Marine Commodore Morgan.” He caught sight of the onigiri and girl who tried to make herself as small as possible. “Hey girl, that looks tasty,” he said and took one.

“No!” the little girl protested.

The man took one bite, and immediately spat it out. “What the…? It’s sweet! You had sugar in them? You little idiot! Onigiri must be salty. Salty!”

Coby could see the little girl's mouth moving, but couldn't hear what she said.

“This crap isn't even edible!” The blond man yelled and threw the balls on the ground and stomped them into the dirt. “Take this, and this, and this!”

“No! Stop it! Stop!”

Coby watched with disbelieving horror. “That’s so mean. Aren’t those men marine soldiers? How can they do such a thing?”

On the field the little girl started sobbing over her ruined onigiri.

“There she goes. I hate little kids,” the blond man scoffed with annoyance. “Can’t you read yet, gaki? This sign here says that anyone who helps this prisoner will be charged with the same crime, signed Marine Commodore Morgan.”

The girl flinched visibly.

“Heh, even a kid like you know how dangerous my daddy is, right?” the blond man continued. “You’re lucky to be a kid. Had you been an adult you would have been killed.” He waved a hand at one of the soldiers at his flanks. “Toss her out.”

“Eh?”

The blond grabbed the soldier by his tie. “I told you to throw the brat out over the wall! Are you trying to disobey me?! I’ll tell daddy!”

“A… aye sir! Right away.”

Ruffy jumped down from the wall and backed away. Coby watched her with confusion and the scene on the other side of the wall with horror. The soldier actually threw the little girl over the wall! What kind of marine…?

Coby realized that Ruffy had been thinking ahead, because she stood ready to catch the girl.

“Ruffy-san, are you alright?”

As Coby ran up to them Ruffy put the younger girl down. She was too shaky to stand up.

“Th-thank you,” the girl said once she realized she had been saved.

Ruffy smiled down at her as Coby fussed to make sure the girl was really alright. The pirate girl glanced at the wall surrounding the marine base.

“You two go ahead.”

Coby looked up. “Huh? Ruffy-san? What are you going to do?”

“I’ll catch up with you. Just go ahead. Act like a gentleman and follow the girl home.”

It was two hints. The first was; go away. The second; if you do something to the girl I’ll beat you to a pulp. Coby obeyed because of that second hint.

“I’m not a pervert, Ruffy-san,” he mumbled miserably as he walked away with the quietly sobbing child.

Ruffy waited by the wall until she couldn’t hear voices on the other side anymore. Then she jumped over the wall and walked up to the tied man.

“You still here? If you stand there all day someone will tell his daddy.”

“Perhaps,” Ruffy answered and took a few steps closer. “I’m looking for people to be pirates with me.”

The tied man lifted an eyebrow, too tired to make a fuss about the information. “Pirate? You mean you’ve given up on life and become a crook? Idiot.”

“Yes,” Ruffy said with a shrug of her shoulders. “I want to be a pirate. It’s preferable.”

“Whatever. Are you gonna ask me to join you in exchange of freeing me?”

“I haven’t decided yet. People say you’re a bad guy, yet letting yourself be publicly humiliated… I wonder what you have to prove.”

Zoro snorted. “Mind your own business. So what if people say I’m evil. I refuse to become a bloody pirate. There’s something I want to do. I’ll survive without your or anyone’s help. That dumb son promised to let me go if I survived here for one month. So I will survive and fulfil my dream.”

The girl hummed and placed a hand on her hat. “Strange guy. I’d use all my energy trying to escape.”

“You and I are different. Go look for pirate aspirants elsewhere.”

“If you put it that way,” the girl said and turned to leave with a wave of her hand.

“Wait a minute,” the pirate hunter urgently called her back after her first step away.

“What? You want me to leave or not?”

Zoro hesitated for a second or two before his hunger overpowered his pride and he glanced to the ground. “Could you pick those up for me?”

The onigiri that little girl had made had almost been moulded into the dirt. Without a word Ruffy picked them up and cleaned them from the biggest stones best she could.

“Nine days you said?” she asked quietly.

“Yes?”

“Nothing. Here.”

Zoro ate straight from the girl’s hand, grimacing and choking, trying to not chew too hard and break a tooth.

“How was it?” Ruffy asked, half sincere, half mocking.

The man swallowed and coughed, feeling how a heavy lump settled in his stomach. “Can you tell that girl…?”

“Hm?”

“It was good. Thanks for the food.”

Ruffy smiled softly. “I will.” She reached out and wiped a drop of fresh blood off the man’s chin. “I really like the sound of your heart.”

It was with wonder Zoro watched the girl leave. She was a strange one he could tell. Seemingly harmless though.

“You like the sound of my heart? What was that all about? Oddball.”

A pirate? Zoro admitted he didn’t know anything about the marine Commodore other than what the dumb son bragged about, but Zoro was quite sure he’d kill that girl on the spot if he knew about it.

Zoro hoped she was smart enough to not go around telling people she was a pirate.

 


Coby was worried, and in his mind for a good reason. This far, since he met Ruffy-san yesterday she had been nothing but reckless. He was certain she enjoyed being crazy. What if she picked a fight with the marines here? Or actually set Zoro free? She’d die! Well, she had defeated Alvida, but this was different. Zoro aside, a pirate crew and a marine troop worked differently. The marine was a trained military force, alive to catch pirates and criminals. What could Ruffy possibly do against that? Lolonoa Zoro looked like he could just as easily wring her neck and rip her head off with one hand. Or worse…

“Stop worrying, Coby. A marine shouldn’t worry about a pirate.”

Coby immediately sprung up at the sound of the pirate girl’s voice. “Ruffy-san! You’re okay! You’re not hurt anywhere?”

“Not hurt. Where’s the girl?”

The child had been seated behind Coby and now stood so that Ruffy could see her. “Onee-chan.”

“There you are. Coby didn’t do anything to you, did he?”

“Eh? No?”

“Please, Ruffy-san. I’m not a pervert.”

She gave him a blank look.

“No I’m really not! I’ve just been unlucky with you!”

“Really? Well, whatever.” The girl with the straw hat sat cross-legged on a barrel. “Hey girl, Zoro wanted to say thank you for the onigiri.”

“Really?!”

“Yup. He ate every last bit.”

The little girl sighed with relief. “I’m so happy.”

Coby sat on a stone step with a lowered head, trying to comprehend the situation. Things weren't turning out quite as he had thought they would. He glanced up at Ruffy.

“That Zoro. Is he really as bad as they say?”

“He isn’t!” the little girl protested. “He hasn’t done anything wrong. It’s my fault he was caught.”

“Your fault?” Coby gaped but Ruffy just swung her knees up and down.

“Yes,” the little girl said unhappily. “It’s that Helmeppo, Commodore Morgan’s son.”

~*-*~

 His haughty laugher was heard over the screams of the townspeople.

“Move it! Move it! Make way for my cute pet!”

Rika had been playing boll with a friend when she heard the calls.

Helmeppo strutted down the road in the heels of his pet wolf. It growled and snapped after an old man who hurried inside a house and closed the door.

Rika turned around to tell her friend to run, and she did, but left the ball rolling. That ball was a present to Rika from her father, so she chased after it.

But the wolf liked balls too.

“Rika!”

The wolf jumped at her, mouth wide open, and she screamed.

A blade was drawn. Rika only saw the flash of silver out of the corner of her eye and heard the pained yelp of the wolf.

When she looked up the beast fell down dead with a cut wound in the side.

Helmeppo screamed. “Inugata!”

“You should’ve kept that pet in a leach,” a deep voice said.

Rika realized a man stood in front of her. He turned around and glanced down at her.

“You hurt?”

“Eh?”

“Do you hurt anywhere?”

“No. Thank you, onii-san.”

The man flashed her a smirk.

Her mother ran over to them in panic. “Rika, come on. Hurry up inside.”

~*-*~ 

 “I don’t know what happened after that, but the townspeople said Zoro no nii-chan didn’t resist when Helmeppo took him away.”

“I see…” Coby said slowly. He recalled the argument he had had with Ruffy-san on the way here.

“Poor guy. Can’t be easy to make friends if everyone is scared of him.”

“Ruffy-san, he’s feared because he wants to be.”

“He might be a good guy.”

“He was caught because he isn’t!”

Coby glanced at Ruffy, but she was looking in another direction.

“Seems like you were right, Ruffy-san.”

“Hm?”

She turned her attention to him, so Coby continued. “Sure, Zoro-san is scary, but hunting down fugitives isn’t a crime.”

“Commodore Morgan and his son are the bad guys,” the little girl muttered darkly. “No one can say a word because Morgan executes anyone who dares to talk back. Everybody is really afraid.”

“I bet,” Ruffy-san said distractedly, still looking up the street.

Before Coby could fully progress the question why Ruffy kept turning her head to look at the road a loud voice rang out.

“Heh, heh, heh! Bow your heads. If anyone dares to look up I’ll tell daddy.”

The commodore’s son. One piece of information clicked in Coby’s mind. Ruffy had noticed the commodore’s son’s approach long before he actually showed up. Twice.

“You want to end up like Zoro?” Helmeppo cackled. “I’ll execute him in three days. Look forward to that. It’ll be interesting.”

“Three days?” Ruffy immediately got down from the barrel and stood in Helmeppo’s way. “Hey, didn’t you promise him a month?”

“Huh? How rude. Who are you?” He looked her up and down once, finding nothing worth his interest, so he laughed. “That promise was just a joke. It takes a real fool to believe in something like that.”

Coby saw it coming, felt the fire, and threw himself after Ruffy, but she was faster. The fire within her roared to life and she sent Helmeppo flying from a blow to his face.

“Ruffy-san, stop it!” Coby caught her from behind. “Calm yourself. They are marines.”

“I don’t care. Rats are rats whatever you call them.”

Helmeppo sat up. He had a swollen red cheek, a bloody nose and a face of shock and disbelief.

“You… you hit me. You hit me! Not even my daddy has ever hit me before.”

Ruffy growled and people moved away, fast. As far away from the scene as they could come and still see what happened.

“I am Commodore Morgan’s son! I’m gonna tell daddy!!!”

“Eat crap! You can’t pull rank on me, you little rat.”

“Ruffy-san!”

Coby struggled to hold the girl back, but damn she was strong. Well, he knew that already but still!

“You’ll regret this!” Helmeppo cried. “I’ll tell daddy and he’ll kill you!”

“Do! Tell him to call in the whole bloody fleet and I’ll take him on alone!”

“Ruffy-san, please calm down!”

Helmeppo kept screaming as the soldiers took him away.

Ruffy stopped fighting Coby’s hold and snorted with contempt as she picked up her fallen straw hat. “That guy’s not even worth to hit again.”

“Amazing!” The little girl Rika ran up to them, smiling brightly. “Onee-chan, you’re so cool. He really deserved that.”

“Didn’t he. I should have put more power behind that punch.”

“I thought it was strange,” Coby mumbled. Alvida hadn’t gotten up after Ruffy-san’s punch, and Coby had a hard time believing that Helmeppo guy was any tougher than the fearsome pirate woman.

“Rika!! Come here,” a woman ran up to them and pulled the little girl with her. “Don’t talk to strangers. You’ll die if they think you’re friends with them.”

“But mom, they’re nice. Zoro no nii-chan too.”

“Don’t speak nonsense! You didn’t sneak into the execution site, did you?”

“N… no, I didn’t.”

“Hurry inside.”

Rika looked back over her shoulder with an unhappy face. Ruffy smiled and waved at her.

The situation suddenly dawned on Coby. “Oh no! The marines! We are in so much trouble! What will we do if the marines come after us?”

“Take the hardships as they come,” Ruffy said heartlessly. “I’m gonna go see Zoro.”

“What?! Why?”

“I just decided I’m gonna make him my nakama.”

The girl left Coby crying behind. “Ruffy-san, can’t you please consider my feelings? Just a little? Please?”

Chapter Text

Marine Commodore Axe-arm Morgan VS. Pirate Monkey D. Ruffy

The execution site was hot, unprotected from the sun. Ruffy jumped down from the wall and stood in front of the tied up bounty hunter, looking closely at his grim face.

“Sleeping, huh.”

She sat on her heels, wrapped her arms around her knees and put her head down. With a sigh she relaxed and listened.

Clashing bamboo swords. Frustration. The feeling of being weak.

“You’re weak as usual, Zoro.”

Hurt pride.

A promise.

Anguish.

Zoro awoke with a gasp. At first he couldn’t see properly, or remember where he was, but soon enough he realized his position and released a breath.

Below him sat that strange girl with a straw hat that had tried to recruit him earlier, apparently sleeping. Zoro blinked a few times.

“Oi! What are you doing here? You want to die?”

She opened an eye and glanced up at him. Zoro hadn’t noticed before, but her eyes had a rare golden-brown colour. That wound under the band aid must be recent too because the eye above it was a little redder than the other.

“You’re weak as usual, Zoro.”

His heart almost stopped.

The girl continued calmly. “I don’t know if you are, but those words echo in your heart.” She stood up and smiled brightly. “I’m Ruffy. Will you join my pirate crew if I untie you?”

“Haaa?” Talk about turning the pages. “Didn’t you hear me before? No means no. I’ve got my own dream. I won’t waste myself away as a criminal.”

“Tell me the difference. Everybody is afraid of you, so you have about the same reputation as a pirate.”

“So what? I don’t care what people say about me. I haven’t done anything I regret, and I won’t do anything regrettable after this either. So I refuse to be a pirate.”

“Ah, that must be good,” the girl said, smiling wistfully. “Living without regrets. That would be really nice.” The pain made way for stubbornness on her face and she decisively crossed her arms. “But I already decided you’re my nakama.”

“You can’t decide that!”

Zoro growled, then happened to glance down to the katana this girl had at her side. It looked like a good sword, but this girl didn’t have the eyes of a swordsman.

“Can you use that katana?” he asked.

“Not at all,” she replied happily.

“That’s nothing to be proud of!”

“But you can?” Ruffy tilted her head to the side. “I heard you use swords.”

“Un, if I’m not tied to anything.”

“You have swords?”

“I use katana, but that dumb son took them. Bastard. Those katana are more important than my life.”

That had the girl reacting. She actually jumped. “That’s horrible! Your treasure!”

Zoro watched as the girl sent a hot glare at the marine building. She snorted and crossed her arms over her chest again.

“Fine. I’ll go fetch your katana.”

“What?”

Ruffy grinned widely. “But if you want them back you have to join my crew,” she sang.

“That’s dirty you bloody black-mailer! Hey? Wait, where are you going?”

The girl halted and came back. “You’re right. I can’t just leave you here,” she said and took out the katana from her belt. The hilt was tied to the sheath, Zoro noticed. Strange. Even if the girl told the truth and she couldn’t use the katana, it shouldn’t be a reason to seal it like that.

Working with the binds for a while, Ruffy at last managed to untie the sword and release it. The blade flashed in the sunlight. It sang in Zoro’s ears. He had never seen such a beautiful blade.

Ruffy placed the sheath in front of Zoro’s feet, walked back a few steps and stuck the sword in the ground, edge away from the man at the pole.

“Yosh. Shodai, I leave Zoro in your care. Protect him from any outer harm, okay.”

The sword flashed.

“There. Now nothing will happen to you while I’m gone, Zoro. It’ll only take a minute.”

Said man was too stunned to answer. That strange girl had said she couldn’t use a sword and here she goes off ordering one she stuck in the ground to protect him?! Was she an idiot or just crazy? A sword alone can’t protect anything! If a sword could act without a wielder it would be dangerous for the sword users. To top it off…

“O… oi! Where do you think…?” But the girl was already gone. “Idiot! Does she intend to sneak into the base alone? Empty-handed? She really must be crazy.”

 


 

Ruffy ran one leap around the marine base and found no one. Not a single person. Not even a chore boy.

“How strange. If nobody is here, how am I supposed to find that dumb son and Zoro’s katana?”

She walked around a bit more, tilting her head from side to side and tried to hear a heart nearby, other than Zoro’s.

It took a minute before she heard them. From above.

“Up there?”

The building was quite high, but didn’t look very smooth. Now that she had finally found where they were she could tell there were a lot of people on the roof. Listening closer she also found a heart haughtier than that stupid son. But haughty didn’t mean strong.

“Yosh. I’m going up.”

She took off the sandals Masako had given her, prepared herself and then started running as fast as she could up the wall of the marine base. It wasn’t smooth at all. Ruffy’s hard nails easily caught all the little holes and carried her upwards. Up, up and up.

Some strange white rock came in her way at the roof top.

“Perfect,” Ruffy exclaimed and grabbed it, thinking the round end of the rock was solid enough to land on. But as soon as her feet landed heavily on the white stone it broke under her weight.

The girl screamed from surprise and fright. It was a long fall and she didn’t feel like climbing the wall again now that she was finally up. So she grabbed the edge of the stone… and continued to fall!

“No waaaayyy!”

Working fast Ruffy pulled herself up and ran along the white stone until she reached the floor of the roof. This didn’t break under her weight and she sighed with relief.

In front of her stood a large group of men, marine soldiers, gaping and pointing at her with shocked expressions. A man bigger than the others with a steel jaw was even in tears. What was funnier about him was his right arm. It was an axe!

Confused about the attention, Ruffy turned to take a better look at the white stone. It looked like a foot… and a leg…

“Oh. That was a statue. No wonder it broke…” she looked back at the still stunned men. “Ah… I’m sorry.”

The steel jaw/axe-arm man exploded. “Take her! Catch her! Bring her to me! She must die! I’m gonna kill her!”

“A-aye, sir!”

“Daddy! That’s her! She’s the one who hit me! I told you she was a bad guy!”

Ruffy had just started towards the door leading into the base when she heard that familiar voice and turned around. The stupid son stood right in front of her and she smiled at him.

“There you are. Good thing I found you. Come with me a sec.”

She pulled him along in the collar of his cloths as he screamed his head off, marine soldiers taking up the chase calling the boy’s name.

 


 

Coby ran though the town towards the marine base. He had intended to wait until Ruffy came back, but he had grown so nervous he just couldn’t wait anymore.

Something was definitely wrong with this marine base. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Marines were supposed to be good, strong people who only went after the bad guys and helped innocent citizens. Like the ones he had met as a kid.

~*-*~

Five-year old Coby stared, still in tears and yet amazed as white clad soldiers effectively fought the pirates that had held the city captive for the last week. They were led by a man with smoky white hair.

A soldier ran up to him.

“Boy, this is dangerous. Please hide.”

Coby hurried to obey and dived into nearest shelter; a bush, from where he could still see the battle.

He was scared. The gunshots meant that people were dying. His parents had been killed by gunshots.

A sudden explosion nearby set the bush he was hiding in on fire. Screaming he ran out, straight into the battlefield.

“Someone take that boy away!”

“I’ll do it!”

Coby was lifted into the air, screaming, and pressed into a man’s chest. Explosion followed explosion and all the little boy could do was cling onto the person carrying him.

At last, the sounds from the battle grew distant.

“There, there,” hushed the soldier and patted the boy’s head. “You’re a man, aren’t you? Don’t cry.”

“M-mama,” Coby cried. “Mama…”

The gentle arms stilled.

“They killed them,” the little boy continued. “They killed mama and papa.”

“I’m sorry,” the man said. “I’m sorry we couldn’t come earlier. Don’t worry. I’ll make sure you’re taken care of before I leave.”

~*-*~

Coby swallowed. Ever since then he had wanted to be a marine, one who was strong enough to fight pirates and gentle enough to help little children who had lost their parents.

The wall came into sight, but the gate was closed. Coby made a left turn and ran down the wall to the place where he and Ruffy-san had climbed over it earlier. But glancing over the edge he couldn’t see Ruffy-san anywhere, and Zoro-san was still tied to the pole, with a sword struck into the ground in front of him.

Now Coby was really worried. Ruffy-san had said she was going to see Zoro, but she wasn’t here, yet that sword looked like Ruffy-san’s so she must have been here. Something must have happened.

He jumped down from the wall and ran over the site towards the tied man, passing the katana in the ground.

“Another one? I get a lot of them today.”

“Where’s Ruffy-san?” Coby asked and tried to not be frightened of the bounty hunter’s expression.

“You mean that girl with the straw hat? Idiot went into the base.”

“What?! Into the base!?” At first Coby couldn’t believe it, but then realized it was just what Ruffy-san would do. “Ruffy-san, you’re too reckless.”

“You can say that again. Who is she anyway?”

Coby opened his mouth, but he didn’t know how to answer that question. Something he did know was that this; tying someone to a pole and beating them every day, was not a way to treat another human being. Zoro-san was honourable. More than honourable if he was willing to protect the innocent and let himself be punished for it.

“Oi. What are you doing? You’ll be killed if you help me,” Zoro growled when the younger boy started to work on the ropes that tied him to the pole.

“They have no right to treat you like this,” Coby said firmly. “This is wrong. I’m going to be a good and worthy marine. Just like Ruffy-san will be king of the pirates.”

“Ki… king of the pirates??? That girl?!”

For some reason, Coby couldn’t help but laugh a bit, oddly enough feeling quite calm. “I know right. I was shocked too, but she’s really serious. That’s just the way she is.”

The sound of the gunshot reached the two men at the same time as the bullet that hit Coby in the shoulder. He blacked out.

Zoro glared in the direction from where the bullet had come. These marines were really getting on his nerves. Letting mad dogs run wild in the town where they could hurt the children. Acting all high and mighty. They were not a hair better than pirates in Zoro’s book.

 


 

Ruffy ran through the corridors of the marine base, pulling the crying wuss of a Commodore’s son along. She was chased by a small group of soldiers with their guns lifted, but they didn’t dare to fire them. Who knew what would happen if they hurt Helmeppo-sama.

“Where are Zoro’s katana?” Ruffy asked her captive, voice even despite the fact she was running.

“I’ll tell. I’ll tell you. Just stop pulling meee,” the boy cried.

Ruffy dug her heel into the floor and stopped. “There, I’ve stopped. Now spill.”

At first the boy only gasped and whined, but a good punch to his head and the silent threat of another one convinced him to talk.

“Th-they are in my room. We-we already passed it long ‘go.”

“Say that earlier, you fool!” Ruffy hissed and hit Helmeppo again.

“Stop hitting meee.”

“You there!” The soldiers had caught up with them and positioned themselves in two lines with the guns ready. “Release Helmeppo-sama and raise your hands above your head.”

“Like hell,” the girl said and lifted the boy up in front of her.

“Eh?”

Ruffy started running again, holding the boy’s body like a human shield. “Just shoot if you dare.”

Helmeppo realised his position. “NOOOO!!! Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! I’ll die if you shoot! Aaaahhhh!”

 


 

“Aaaahhhh! I’ve been shot! Blood! I’m bleeding! I’m gonna diiiieee!” Coby cried.

Zoro let out a breath of relief. “You’re okay.” The little boy’s voice was too strong for him not to be. Zoro looked back over his shoulder. The soldiers weren’t on the roof anymore, which could only mean one thing. “Hurry up and leave. They’re coming down.”

“No, I can’t. I must free you first.”

‘Oh, for the love of…!’ Zoro thought, almost rolling his eyes. “Don’t worry about me. They’ll let me go after one month. Get go…!”

“They won’t release you! You’ll be executed in three days!”

“W-what? But that dumb son promised to release me if I survived for a month.”

Coby found his glasses and struggled to stand. “He never intended to keep that promise. That’s why Ruffy got so mad and hit him. He was making fun of your believing in that promise.”

In that moment Zoro felt how something inside of him froze, and something else warmed. It was too much information at once. “What… did you say?” he asked hesitatingly.

Coby panted hard. His shoulder hurt and he was at a loss of what else to do but believe in Ruffy. There was no other option. But she wouldn’t be able to fight the marines all alone. She needed help. But Coby couldn’t help, not in any way.

But Zoro could.

“The marines are already your enemy. Please, after I’ve untied you, you must help Ruffy-san.”

“Is he really strong?”

Coby gritted his teeth. Ruffy-san had asked that when Coby told her the rumours about the fearsome pirate hunter.

“He might be a good guy.”

“Ruffy-san was right. She was right about everything,” he mumbled as much to himself as to Zoro. “About you, about these marines. Sorry, I’m not asking you to become a pirate, but she saved my life. Ruffy-san is really strong, I know that. If you two join forces I know you can escape this island. So please, after I’ve freed you; take her and run quickly.”

“Hold it right there!”

Both Coby and Zoro’s hearts skipped a beat. Marine soldiers flooded the site and took their positions, standing in two lines with the guns ready to fire. Commodore Morgan was right behind them.

“You are an interesting lot. Did the two of you and that straw hat girl intend to start a coup against me?”

Zoro growled. ‘I can’t die here!’

“Lolonoa Zoro,” the commodore continued warily. “I’ve heard the rumours. You have become quite the name in this sea. But don’t fool yourself. In the face of my power, your strength is equalled to zero. Take aim!”

“You’re weak as usual, Zoro.”

‘I can’t die like this!!!’

 


 

The door was adorned with a pretty flower wreath around a sign saying; “My room”. The room itself was decorated in white, silver and yellow with cute pink curtains.

Ruffy almost had the urge to check if it really was a man she was still holding onto. He had definitely pointed out this room, but it had to be the most girlish one she had ever seen belong to a male.

“Where are the katana?” she asked, but realized her burden had passed out, so she dropped him.

Looking around she found an armour chest on the wall over some old-fashioned swords. Underneath it stood three katana, one white and two black.

“Three swords? Which one of them is Zoro’s?”

Ruffy spun around when she suddenly heard Coby and Zoro’s hearts call out. She ran over to the window to check. On the execution site she could see Zoro and Coby and a whole bunch of marine soldiers aiming their guns at them.

“I trust you, Shodai,” Ruffy said and ran back to the swords, taking all of them. They didn’t all fit into her belt, but there was a rope hanging from the roof, perfect for the purpose. So the girl tore it down, not hearing the loud ringing sound it caused.

“Don’t worry, Coby,” she mumbled. “I’m coming.”

 


 

“Fire!”

The guns went off.

Zoro and Coby both closed their eyes.

A sword sang.

Coby had fallen into a shaking heap on the ground and was keeping his hands up, waiting for the inevitable death that didn’t come. Zoro was staring at a line in the ground and followed it to the sword that crazy girl had left behind. It had sung. Zoro knew the sound of a sword when he heard it.

“Yosh. Shodai, I leave Zoro in your care. Protect him from any outer harm, okay.”

It did? This sword was really acting on its own? It was unheard of. Stupid! A sword shouldn’t be able to do that!

“What are you waiting for? Fire!”

The guns went off again. The sword sang and this time Zoro saw what happened. It was a flying cut. A cut that changed the direction of the bullets. Where in the world had that Ruffy girl gotten a hold of such a sword?

The strangeness continued when a whistle, like a bird’s, echoed through the air and Ruffy came flying from above. She landed softly between Zoro and the marines and smiled at the sword in the ground.

“Good job, Shodai. I knew I could trust you.”

Just like when this girl had ordered the sword to protect Zoro it flashed, like it could actually hear the words and answer to them.

Coby, realizing he was still alive, blinked rapidly, still shaking. “Sho… Shodai? Ruffy-san, what…?”

The girl picked up the sheath from the ground and smiled. “I asked Shodai to protect Zoro while I was gone. But I’m back now.”

She took the katana, sheathed it and retied the bounds before she put it in her belt.

“Who the hell are you?” Zoro demanded.

“I am Monkey D. Ruffy,” the girl said with a grin. “The one who will become the king of pirates.” Ignoring the impact her words had on the swordsman she freed the three katana she had tied to her back and held them up. “Here, I found your treasure. I couldn’t tell which one was yours, so I took them all.”

“They are all mine,” Zoro said and wiggled against his binds, hands itching to hold his treasures once again. “I fight using santouryuu. A technique using three swords.”

“Aha.”

Ruffy turned towards the fallen marine soldiers and grinned at them, clicking with her tongue twice. Zoro had been focused on the girl and only now realized that they weren’t being shot at anymore. Just what had this girl done?

“If you fight against these people, you’ll become an outlaw like me,” Ruffy stated calmly. “Or you will be executed here. What do you want?”

Damn. This girl really knew how to play her cards.

“You’re the devil’s offspring,” Zoro stated with a smirk, making the girl’s grin broader. “Whatever. If the option is to die, I rather live, even as a pirate.”

“Really? Yatta! You’ll really join me!”

“Yes I will! Stop dancing around and untie me!”

On the other side of the site Morgan was trembling with anger. When that weird whistle sounded his subordinates had all dropped to their knees.

“What are you doing, you fools?”

“That sound,” one of the men answered. “It pierced me and I couldn’t pull the trigger anymore.”

“The whistle?” Growling Morgan focused on the straw hat girl. “That girl. She can’t be an ordinary human. She must have eaten one of the rumoured devil fruits.”

“Devil…?”

“The secret treasure of the sea?”

“So… that sound came from the devil himself?”

Morgan glared at the girl with the straw hat. Skinny little bitch. “These fruits. Rumour has it they give the one who eats them inhuman power.”

“Co-Commodore! She is untying Lolonoa’s ropes!”

“Don’t let her! If you can’t shoot then use your swords. Cut them all to pieces!”

Coby jumped when he saw the soldiers getting up and taking out swords. “Ruffy-san hurry! The marines are coming!”

“This knot is hard,” the girl pouted.

“Use the sword, dammit!!!” Zoro yelled.

“Stop screaming. I told you I can’t.”

“Then use mine! We don’t have time to wait for you to…”

“Look! It loosened,” Ruffy said with triumph and held up the rope’s edge.

“Gimme my swords for hell’s sake!!!”

The marines aimed for Ruffy, but the sound of clashing metal and the sudden resistance had them all stop in their tracks before they hit their target. It was with dread they looked for the reason.

Lolonoa Zoro was free from the pole.

“Don’t you move, or I’ll slice you all up.”

The marines shivered from fright. The rumour of Zoro being a bloodthirsty hound wasn’t something he had made up for himself. His rough voice and predator eyes could make even the bravest of soldiers think twice.

Coby’s knees gave in under him. Death had come too close to him for his taste this time; twice in as many minutes.

Zoro locked his hard, dark-green eyes on Ruffy’s watching brown ones. “I’ll be a pirate with you, I promise you that. Opposing the marines today will make me a wanted man anyway. But I’ll tell you this right away; I fight only for my own sake and for my own ambitions. I’m going to be the world’s greatest swordsman! Admired or infamous doesn’t matter as long as my name echoes throughout the world! You’re the one who have recruited me. If you do one thing that stands in the way of my ambition, harakiri will be your only way to apologize.”

Ruffy smiled with a strong glow as of fire in her eyes. “Sounds good. The world’s greatest swordsman is the least you can ask of a nakama to the king of pirates.”

Zoro grinned back. “Well said.”

“What are you all standing there for?!” Morgan roared. “Execute them all this instant!”

“A-aye!”

The marines raised their swords to attack again. Zoro turned around to meet them and Ruffy started whistling.

Lolonoa Zoro watched with surprise as the marine soldiers backed away, fear evident in their eyes. He turned to see his new captain whistle through her teeth; a strange sort of whistle that sounded like it came from a bird; many short chirps in a row. In between she clapped with her teeth too. The soldiers backed farther and farther away until they at last dropped to the ground.

Ruffy smirked. “Thought so.” She looked over at Coby who still stood unaffected. She smiled brightly at him.

“What did you do?” Zoro asked.

“They have no fighting spirit. It’s useless to fight them.” Ruffy stated instead, as if it was obvious.

“Fighting spirit?”

Ruffy nodded and watched Commodore Morgan make his way over the site, past his subordinates.

“All of you,” he snarled, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Every last one of you. This is an order. Pick up your guns and shoot yourselves in the head! I don’t need weaklings in my base!”

The soldiers looked at each other. Morgan stood over them, glaring down the length of his nose. There was no mercy in his eyes. Only a cold, impenetrable wall of anger and hatred.

The marine soldiers picked up their guns and aimed for their own heads, all of them trembling and some even cried. They would do it, because if they didn’t do it themselves, Morgan would repay their cowardice with torture to the death. A bullet through the brain would at least be quick and painless.

Zoro growled and prepared to charge. “This base is sick!”

“Ruffy-san!?”

The girl was a fast runner Zoro noted. She closed the distance between her and the Commodore within seconds.

“I am your enemy!” she cried out heatedly. “Kill me if you can!!!”

Zoro relaxed. The marines lowered their weapons and looked up when the young girl’s fist connected with their Commodore’s axe arm with a loud bang.

“Ruffy-san! Crush this screwed up marine base!!!” Coby cheered angrily, pumping his fists into the air.

Morgan threw his coat off. “I will show you. A civil lowlife like you with no rank doesn’t even have the right to speak to me! I am Marine Commodore Axe-arm Morgan!”

“I am Rayla,” the girl answered and bowed her head slightly. “Yoroshiku.”

Morgan attacked. “Go to hell!” His axe arm swung out, and though Ruffy jumped over it, the cutting edge split an iron fence.

“Oh no,” Coby choked. “If Ruffy-san is hit by that…”

Morgan looked up. Ruffy, still in the air, greeted his face with her feet, making him stagger backwards.

The man growled. “You little rat.”

Ruffy charged again.

Morgan raised his axe. “Death penalty!”

Once again the girl dodged, crying out an “I don’t think so,” and landed a kick to the side of his face. This time Axe-arm Morgan was sent flying.

Zoro just watched. There was something strange in the way Ruffy moved, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. For such a skinny girl to kick around a man three times her size was pretty impressive though. But she couldn’t hit with her right fist anymore. Striking the axe had hurt her more than she let on, but Zoro could see the blood.

Growling to herself, completely ignoring the throbbing pain of her hand and that on her foot that would most likely become a bruise, Ruffy walked up to the fallen Commodore and grabbed his collar.

“Even if I always opposed the marines, at least I didn’t ruin someone else’s dream!”

She raised her fist…

“Hold it!”

…and brought it down full force, landing the punch on the Commodore’s iron jaw.

“I said hold it, you idiot! Didn’t you hear me? I have a hostage here!”

Coby glanced sideways. He had been a slave to a pirate crew for two years so he knew when a gun was aimed at him. But it didn’t feel quite as it had done in the past. The voice of the one holding the gun was shaking. That was probably why he didn’t collapse from fear he reasoned with himself later on.

Helmeppo was shaking from head to toe when the straw hat girl looked up at him. Zoro turned around and glared too.

“Don’t move, i-if you va-value this guy’s life,” the Commodore’s son squeaked. “If you mo-mo-move a single muscle I-I-I will shoot his head off.”

“Ruffy-san!” Coby called out. His voice was a little shaky, but not nearly as frightened as the one aiming a gun to his head. “I… I don’t want to be in your way. Even if… even if I die!”

Ruffy giggled. She didn’t need to listen to the heartbeats to know what was going on. “I know, Coby. Don’t worry.”

She stepped over the man she had just beaten down.

Helmeppo panicked. “I said don’t move! Don’t move! I’ll shoot. I really will! Stop! Stop right there!”

“Give it up, dumb son. Coby knows what he’s up against.”

Even before Coby’s warning Ruffy knew the Commodore was back on his feet. She hadn’t beaten him down all the way, but there was something she wanted to make sure of.

“I am Marine Commodore, Axe-arm Morgan!”

“Daddy! Kill her quickly!” Helmeppo cried.

Ruffy smirked and didn’t move. The gust of wind that hit her face was proof enough she didn’t have to.

The large man with an axe instead of a right arm slowly fell backwards and landed with a crash, cut down.

Ruffy glanced over her shoulder. “Nice one, Zoro.”

He smirked back at her. “My pleasure, captain.”

Happiness. That was the strongest of the emotions Ruffy felt rushing through her at that moment, right along with accomplishment. She had gained a nakama and had become captain. It felt like she was already halfway to her dream. There was only one thing left to do right at that moment.

Helmeppo stood there, face to face with a golden-eyed girl over a short distance. He hadn’t pulled the trigger. Behind the girl his father lay motionless on the ground with blood seeping out from a wound in his side. There also stood Lolonoa Zoro, the fearsome pirate hunter he had tied to a pole, spit at and taunted for nine days.

“It’s just you and me now,” said the girl with the straw hat and cracked her knuckles.

He dropped the gun, but his legs wouldn’t obey his silent screams to run.

Ruffy breathed in and gave a loud, sharp whistle, like an arrow. Helmeppo screamed, and then he fainted.

Chapter Text

Pirates Ruffy and Zoro bids goodbye to Coby

The day was sunny with a few clouds scattered around the sky, not any different from many other days that had been and was to come. At least not for most people in the East Blue. However, there was one island in this sea, the marine base and the commodore there had for many years ruled the island and its people with an iron grasp. Today that rule had ended by the hands of an upcoming pirate woman and a bounty hunter.

The marine soldiers still standing stared at their fallen Commodore with wide eyes and open mouths.

“Commodore Morgan…”

Zoro sheathed his swords. “Anyone else that wants to arrest us?” he asked.

The marines looked at each other, their eyes questioning what they had just seen.

Ruffy cracked her knuckles. “I can take you all out here and now if you want.”

Surprisingly enough, at those words the soldiers seemed to realize their commodore had really fallen.

“Horraaaay! We’re free!”

“Morgan is defeated! Long live marines!”

Zoro blinked. Ruffy had said the marines here didn’t have any fighting spirit, but this wasn’t quite the response he had expected.

“I see. Everyone was just afraid of Morgan,” Coby said, his voice full of relief.

“Hm,” Ruffy smiled. Then suddenly she spun around. “Zoro!”

Coby turned too only to see the swordsman heavily hit the ground.

“Zoro-san!?”

Ruffy and Coby ran up to check on him and for a second the marines stopped their celebration, that’s why everybody heard the loud growl from Zoro’s stomach.

“Oh,” Ruffy said, hitting her palm. “He hasn’t eaten anything for nine days. Of course he’s hungry.”

Coby sighed with relief. The marines too. The lieutenant took command. There was a lot of work to do now, even ignoring all the paperwork that had to be done afterwards. They carried Morgan away to the prison hold and Helmeppo, since he wasn’t officially a marine, was put under supervision to start pay off his debt to the marines and the people by working his ass off. Ruffy carried the half conscious Zoro on her back towards the town, followed by some of the soldiers.

“Don’t worry,” a solider reassured when he noticed Ruffy looking at them. “We just have to announce to the people that Morgan isn’t in command anymore.” He glanced at all three of them and noticed Coby’s wound. “But boy, your shoulder. Come with me, we’ll get you patched up.”

“Ah, but…” Coby hesitantly turned to his friend.

“We’ll go to town and see if we can find someplace to eat,” Ruffy told him. “We’ll be where you can hear a wild beast eating.”

 


 

The news spread like a wildfire, and the further down the main street Ruffy walked the more smiling and joyously crying people surrounded her.

“Ruffy-san!”

“Ah, Masako-baasan. I found Zoro.”

The old woman, her husband and staff all gaped.

“I… I see that. Ruffy-san, the marines say that Morgan was defeated! Did you…?”

“He was being an ass,” Ruffy huffed. “Where can we eat?”

“Eh? Eat?”

“We’re starving.”

To prove it, Ruffy's stomach growled loudly, shortly followed by an even louder groan from Zoro's empty insides.

Toya, Masako’s husband walked up to them. “The restaurant is down here…”

“Really? Thanks. I’m going.”

Ruffy followed the direction of the man’s finger first, then her nose and soon found the restaurant. Surprisingly enough it turned out to be where the little girl Rika lived. They hadn’t noticed earlier because they had been behind the building. Rika’s family apparently owned the restaurant.

“Onee-chan! Zoro no nii-chan!”

“Hi. Give us food. We’re really hungry.”

Rika’s mother stared at them. Of course she had already heard that Morgan and Helmeppo no longer ruled the town, and that their saviours were Lolonoa Zoro and a girl with a straw hat. These people. The straw hat girl put Zoro down on a chair and turned to the woman.

“Food?”

“Oh. Right away! Just a moment please. Rika, come and help me.”

 


 

After being patched up by a doctor, Coby ran into town to find his friends. Ruffy-san had told him to listen to a wild beast eating, and as he followed the pointing fingers of people he realized what she meant. The sounds of chewing and swallowing could be heard all the way out to the street from the restaurant.

He had to push himself past all the people crowded outside that wanted to take a look at the heroes.

“Ruffy-san. Zoro-san.”

“Oh, Coby. Here, this is really good.”

“Eh?” Coby glanced at the woman behind the counter. She smiled at him.

“Ruffy-san invited you. Please eat a lot.”

“Th-thank you.”

All three of them ate for almost an hour before Zoro finally leaned back and patted his belly.

“Aaahh, that was good. Definitely worth those nine days without food. I thought I was going to starve there.”

“How’d you think to last a month if only nine days had you collapsing?” Ruffy asked, honestly curious as she continued to shove fish into her mouth.

Zoro growled. “What about you? You’re half the size of me and you eat twice as much?”

“I’ve been starving for a long time too,” she defended herself and moved her plate away, just in case Zoro tried to take it. “This is only my second decent meal in years, you know.”

The swordsman gave her a blank look and decided he didn’t want to know what she meant.

The little girl Rika served them more food with stars still shining in her eyes. “Onee-chan, you are really amazing.”

“I am, right,” Ruffy grinned brightly. “And I’ll just get better. I’m going to be the king of pirates.” She turned and smiled at Zoro. “Right?”

“Sure. So where is the rest of your crew?”

“You.”

“Yes, and…?”

Ruffy looked at him. “You. Someone has to be the first crewmember. That’s you.”

“Aha…” Zoro said drily. “So where are we headed?”

The girl grinned widely, the fire in her eyes alight. “To the Grand Line of course.”

Coby choked on the juice he had just been drinking. “What?! Ruffy-san, even if you have no sense of planning ahead even you must realize that going to the Grand Line with only two people is equal to suicide!”

“We’re strong,” Ruffy assured, still smiling. “I’m sure we’ll make it.”

“That’s not it! Zoro-san, do you know how to navigate?”

“If you mean how to steer a boat, yes.”

Poor Coby almost crumbled. “Ruffy-saaaan! This isn’t a joke. Grand Line is also known as the Pirate Graveyard! It’s a battlefield! All the strongest pirates in the world are rampaging there. You just can’t go in there before you at least have a navigator.”

“Oh yeah,” Ruffy hit her palm. “The log pose I got from Sun broke. I need a new one. I can find a navigator at the same time.” With that statement she left both Coby and Zoro far behind in understanding. Not that she noticed as she continued. “But One Piece is somewhere in the Grand Line, so I have to go there to find it.”

Zoro sat back, smiling with approval. “Well, I guess that’s all there is to it.”

Coby angrily spun around. “Zoro-san, not you too! Don’t you have any sense of danger either? Going to the Grand Line like you are, you’ll die!”

“What are you screaming about? You’re not coming along, are you?” the swordsman asked.

“N… no, but I’m worried. About you. I can, right? I can worry about you all I want.”

“I guess…”

“Ruffy-san. I’ve only known you for about a day but… we are friends… right?”

The girl stared at him, but then she laughed heartedly. “A pirate chore-boy turned a marine is friends with pirates. What a hoax.”

Coby whined. “Ruffy-san. I know that. Can’t you please look past that?”

“We’re friends, Coby,” the girl assured. “Even if you are a pervert,” she added with a grin.

A killing blow. The boy felt how all energy left him and he sank down into a depressed heap in the corner. “I’m not a pervert, Ruffy-san. Please stop saying that.”

“Come on, Coby. I accept you just the way you are.”

It was probably meant as comfort, but it was a weak sort. Coby didn’t rise from his spot on the floor.

“I know, Ruffy-san.”

“Hm?”

“You’re reckless and hot-headed. Never thinking anything through you always dash straight forward, following only your own beliefs… I too. I will become a great marine. The best there is.”

“Good.”

He looked up, blinking with surprise. Ruffy had stood, put her hands behind her head and smiled down at him. For a second she looked away, like she heard something, but covered it up so nicely Coby forgot about it.

“And the strongest marines are at the headquarters in the Grand Line. So you’ll have to go there too. Let’s get going, Zoro.”

“Ruffy-san! I’m not…!”

He had intended to grab her shoulders. He really had. There was a lot more things about the Grand Line he thought Ruffy should know before she left. But Ruffy had her arms up behind her head and it wasn’t her shoulders Coby got a hold on.

“Coooobyyyy…”

‘I am so dead.’

Ruffy brought her connected hands down hard on Coby’s head. “Don’t you ever learn!?”

The young boy smashed face first into the floor. His glasses broke, and probably his nose too.

Ruffy set a foot down on Coby’s head to keep him down and crossed her arms protectively over her chest. “Time and again. I thought I had already warned you but obviously you can’t keep your hands to yourself, can you?”

“Oi, oi. That’s overdoing it.”

The look on Ruffy’s face and the cattish hiss sound she made told Zoro it was best not to touch her at all at that moment. The moment was however broken by the door opening and a calm voice talking. “Excuse me.”

The marines stood outside the door and one of them, wearing a green necktie, had entered. “I’m the marine lieutenant. Are you… pirates?” he asked.

“Yes, I just found a good nakama, so we’re a small pirate crew,” Ruffy said and lifted her foot from Coby’s head. He took a grateful breath before the girl stomped down on him again, hard.

“What are you doing to that boy?!”

“He made me angry,” Ruffy said. When she lifted her foot this time Coby tried to get away, but was kicked in the side so that he flew into the far wall. He spit blood.

Outside both civilians and marines gasped and screamed in shock.

“Stop it! Pirates, we are all grateful that you helped us get rid of Morgan. That’s why we won’t report this to headquarters. But you have to leave this town immediately!”

“We were just leaving anyway,” Ruffy said with a shrug of her shoulders. Turning around she picked up a bag of cloths and food Masako had come by and given her as a gift earlier. “Come on, Zoro. Let’s go.”

“Hai.”

People parted as the girl and pirate… no-longer hunter headed towards the docks. Behind Ruffy left a coughing, defeated Coby.

‘Again,’ he thought. ‘Ruffy-san knew the marines were on their way. She’s a pirate. If she hadn’t done this… I would…’

“Are you alright?”

Holding his side Coby angrily stood up and bowed to the officer. It was easier than to stand straight due to the pain.

“I… I want to join the marines! Please, I’ll do chores or anything, but I want to be a marine soldier.”

A long silence of surprise. Coby took deep breaths. He knew, this was his one and only chance. If he messed up now it would be the end and a waste of Ruffy-san’s effort to help him.

“Lieutenant, I disagree.”

Coby looked up. Another soldier had walked in and looked at him with suspicion.

“How so?” the lieutenant asked.

“I don't trust this boy. He could be a pirate spy seeing he was fighting alongside that girl against…”

Something inside Coby suddenly snapped. “That bloody girl is an idiot!!!” he screamed and waved his arms around, blood flowing freely from his nose. “If she’s gonna be the pirate king I’m gonna become Admiral and capture her! Whatever it takes I’m going to do it and put that fool behind bars!!!”

He tasted blood on his tongue and his side and nose hurt like hell, but Coby didn’t care. From the beginning to the end he had lost to Ruffy in every way.

“…More often than not marines are killed by pirates.”

“Huh?”

The lieutenant pulled his hat down over his eyes. “Don’t underestimate the dangers. I allow you to join.”

“Ha… aye sir!”

 


 

By the end of the main street Zoro observed that Ruffy seemed awfully pleased.

“You. Did you do that on purpose?”

“What?”

Zoro wasn’t fooled by her innocent smiles. “You told me earlier Coby was a pirate chore boy before. You knew the marines were coming, that’s why you made such a scene.”

The girl just laughed. Zoro smirked, admitting he was a little impressed.

“You’re quite the actor. Those marines must be sharp to see through that. Though Coby will have to take the chance himself.”

“Ah yes, but he’ll manage. Even if he’s wimpy he can be a man when he has to be.”

With a shake of his head, the swordsman figured he simply had to take this girl as she came, but made a mental note to never touch her breasts. Just in case.

“I’ve been hunting pirates for a long time now. Suddenly acting as one myself is actually quite funny a feeling.”

“Isn’t it. No ties and no boundaries. Are you regretting it?”

Zoro chuckled. “No. Even being hated doesn’t feel bad.”

“Good.”

Ruffy released her little boat after Zoro got in. She was about to join him when she heard a familiar heartbeat coming.

“Ruffy-san!” Coby skidded to a halt at the edge of the dock with blood still on his face from the nosebleed Ruffy had caused him. He saluted her. “Thank you! I will never forget you for as long as I live!”

Zoro chuckled at the sight. “A marine saluting a pirate? Now I’ve seen everything.”

“You haven’t seen anything yet, Zoro,” Ruffy replied and joined him in the boat. “See you again someday, Coby. Keep your hands to yourself!”

“I’ll throw you in prison one day!”

Both Zoro and Ruffy laughed at that.

“Men. Salute!”

“Eh?” Coby hadn’t realized the rest of the marines had joined him.

Ruffy smiled and waved with both arms, calling “Bye, bye!” until she was so small in the distance Coby couldn’t see her smile anymore. That’s when she stopped waving and the small boat slowly disappeared into the light of the setting sun. Coby watched it happen with mixed feelings. Monkey D. Rayla. He would never meet another girl… no, another person like her. Good thing. He’d probably not survive if he did.

“A great friend you have there, boy,” the lieutenant said softly.

“Yes,” Coby cried. “I don’t need enemies with friends like her.”

Afterwards he realized that probably would have been a good line to at least have a small victory over Ruffy.

“I’m definitely not going to let her walk all over me next time we meet.”

Chapter Text

The heart of Monkey D. Ruffy

They slept separately in the boat that night. Zoro hadn’t dared to suggest Ruffy slept next to him to stay warm. He knew he could keep his heat in, but didn’t know if the girl could too. Maybe it would have been different if Ruffy had been a man. Zoro probably wouldn’t care so much then.

Sighing in slight exasperation as he closed his eyes, Zoro was aware of Ruffy’s presence around the bow. He’d be a pirate with her just like he promised, and as far as his pride went he’d never break a promise. But the girl confused him. Her whistles, her strength, the katana. The katana most of all. How could a sword cut on its own accord?

Zoro fell asleep before he could think any further than that.


It was almost noon when he woke up. Ruffy was already awake, chewing on a lump of bread.

“Good morning, Zoro,” she chirped happily.

“Morning,” the swordsman yawned.

“I saved some food for you.”

“Thanks.”

Bread, some fruit and water. No rum. Too bad. He hadn’t gotten a proper drink in a while. They had only served beer and juice yesterday. He had to make sure he could take in some much needed rum in the next town.

“So, where is the Grand Line?” he asked as he helped himself.

“I don’t know. Where is it?”

Zoro glanced up from his bread. Ruffy sat on the bow and spied over the surface of the ocean.

“You can’t navigate?”

“Not at all.”

He sighed. The term “happy-go-lucky” fitted this girl frighteningly well. “How are we supposed to find the Grand Line if we don’t even know where it is? By drifting about?”

“Let’s just follow the wind. It’s impossible to go on forever without spotting an island. But we better find one quickly. The food is gone.”

That had Zoro choke on the water he was drinking. “What? I thought that old lady said the food should last a week.”

“It was so good I ate it all.”

Zoro looked at the one fruit he had yet to eat and the half cup of water. After this there was nothing left at all. Though he should probably be happy Ruffy had saved a little for him at least.

“Is there a fishing rod in this boat?” he asked while looking around himself.

“I couldn’t find one.”

“Damn. How are we supposed to survive?”

Ruffy giggled. “You lived nine days without food. Surely you can manage three or four days at sea.”

“I can.” It wasn’t really himself he worried about.

“I will live,” the girl continued as she gazed over the sea. “I will be the king of pirates. Definitely.”

“About that,” Zoro started.

“Hm?”

“You’re a girl, so don’t you mean you’ll be the queen of pirates?”

“Eh? What’s that?”

“Don’t ‘eh’ me, Ruffy. Men are kings and women are queens.”

Ruffy gave him a very blank look. “But the one who conquer the Grand Line and obtains the One Piece will become the king of pirates.”

“That…’s right,” Zoro realized. That’s what the legend said. Had nobody thought of a woman finding the One Piece? “Whatever.”

“What about you?” Ruffy asked. “The world’s greatest swordsman. There already is one you know.”

“Yes. I set out to the sea looking for him,” Zoro confessed. “But then I couldn’t find my way back home, so I started hunting down fugitives for living expenses. Pirates are what gives most money these days, hence the nickname Pirate Hunter I suppose.”

“Oh, so you’re lost,” Ruffy smiled.

“Don’t call me that! Where are you from anyway?”

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t even know if it’s a home anymore, or if it ever really was one. It’s been a long time, everyone might have forgotten about me. So you could as well say I’m just a homeless.”

Zoro’s eyes held a glint of suspiciousness in their scrutiny of the girl’s face. “Homeless huh?” What had she done? Run away from home? “And piracy is your answer? There are better ways to make a living you know.”

“Not for me there isn’t. I have no other choice.” Ruffy took out her katana from her belt. “I wanted to be a pirate since I was a child, and now it’s the only thing I can do. Good huh? Since there is no other option, I can follow my dream without regrets and nobody can say I could have led a different life.”

Zoro listened. Following was a bit hard, but he thought he understood the basics. Whatever this girl had gone through it had left her with piracy as the only way of living. Was she hiding from something?

He glanced at the one thing that he wanted to know the most about. “So what’s up with that katana?”

“Shodai?” Ruffy held the sword out and smiled at it. “Sun said it was her mother’s sword and that she didn’t want the marines to have her. She always said there are too few real swordsmen in the world.”

On that matter Zoro was bent to agree. “That’s not really what I asked for. How come it can act even without anyone using it? That shouldn’t be possible.”

Ruffy blinked stupidly. “Eh? What do you mean?”

“Just what I’m saying. A sword that acts on its own, I’ve never heard of anything like it. I get strange shivers just looking at it.”

“Don’t call her it!” Ruffy defended and held the katana closer to her body. “Shodai is a female and can be a real bitch.”

“That’s exactly what I mean. You talk like that katana is a person.”

“She’s a katana,” Ruffy said with a confused frown.

“It… she is more than that.”

“Of course she…” the girl paused and blinked before her eyes widened in understanding. “Ah, that’s right. Zoro can’t hear heartbeats!”

“Heartbeats?”

“Yup, you can’t hear them, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t ask such strange questions about Shodai.”

Zoro was about to counter again, but sighed instead. Trying to get Ruffy to make sense was most probably doomed to fail.

“Okay, so that katana is a girl with a heartbeat?”

“No. She’s a katana with a heartbeat. And really bitchy. Sun said that only she and her mother could ever use this Shodai Kitetsu, because she’s cursed. We have an agreement though. Sun handed Shodai down to me, so as long as I keep my promise Shodai will protect me.”

Now it was finally starting to make sense. A cursed sword. That explained a lot. The feeling Zoro got from the katana was because it was cursed!

“How’d you make an agreement with her?”

“The heartbeats. Some things like Shodai have a heartbeat that is stronger than most humans’…” she paused, but quickly her face brightened with excitement. “Can I listen to your heart?!”

“Huh?”

Ruffy spoke slower. “Can I listen to your heat, please?”

Zoro gave her a suspicious look, but she just lifted her eyebrows a little higher in question, still smiling.

“I don’t get you,” Zoro stated.

Ruffy giggled. “That’s why I want to listen to your heart. You can hear mine too. It’s a bond.”

“Okay?”

“So can I?”

He looked at her for a moment. Ruffy smiled hopefully at him, so much so that Zoro could easily imagine a pair of eager dog ears and a wagging tail on her.

“Do whatever you want.”

“Hooray!” Ruffy yelled and leaped into the air, landing heavily on the unsuspecting man so that the boat rocked dangerously in the water. She glued herself onto him with her arms around his chest and purred like a cat.

To say Zoro was startled would be an understatement. “O-oi? What’s the big idea? Do you have to…?”

“Yup, I have to,” Ruffy said happily and made herself comfortable, completely ignoring Zoro’s discomfort.

The man wiggled and half-heartedly tried to pry Ruffy off him, but it was like she had grown into him. At least she lay still, so after an awkward moment, Zoro sank down and tried to be comfortable too.

The weather was really nice. Sunshine and winds pushing them forwards made it a rather good day. The waves were very calm too, only splashing quietly against the wood of the boat making it rock like a cradle.

Ruffy giggled, increasing Zoro’s self-consciousness and discomfort.

“What’s so funny?”

“You’re such a great guy, Zoro,” the girl said.

“Huh?”

She looked up at him, her ear never leaving his chest. “You believe in the moral that the strong must protect those who are weaker. You like to help people. It makes you feel good even if people don’t always appreciate that help. Your conscience is always clean.” She sighed deeply and moved her arms up so that she held onto him like a child. “I like the sound of your heart.”

It looked like she fell asleep. Her breath was calm and even. So Zoro put her hat over her head to protect it from the sun.

Relaxing into the boat Zoro found that it didn’t feel that bad to have Ruffy lying on him. On the contrary it was comfortable and warm. She was soft and her body lay in an angle so that her shapes fitted against him.

Smiling to himself, Zoro decided he could use some more sleep too.


He fought her again, Kuina. Damn, how could this girl be so strong? And fast. She blocked him all the time even when he used his sneakiest attacks.

His wooden swords were ripped out of his hands and a hit to his forehead had him falling on his butt. Kuina stood over him with a victorious smirk, bamboo sword pointed at his chest.

“You’re weak as always, Zoro.”

The disappointment and frustration he felt every time he lost to that girl grew and grew.

Loss number 2.000.

He couldn’t take it anymore! That’s why he sneaked into the storehouse and took two swords that night. Real swords. This was going to be a live or die duel. His mind was set.

“Kuina. I challenge you on a duel with real swords!”

“Against you? Sure.”

But even with his mind set, even with all the determination he carried, he still lost, and Kuina let him live.

“Damn! Damn!! I can’t believe it!”

“Why are you upset, Zoro? I should be the one crying.”

“Eh?” Why did she look so slumped? Why didn’t she smirk at him like always?

“When girls grow up they become weaker than men. I’ll soon fall behind you. Don’t you always say that you’re going to be the world’s best swordsman?”

She started crying.

“You’re so lucky to be a boy, Zoro. I want to be the world’s best too. And now my breasts are developing. I wish I could have been born a boy…”

“What the hell are you saying?! You won! That’s unfair! My goal has always been to be as good as you!”

“Zoro…”

“What girl or boy? You’re gonna blame it on that if I win one day? As if all my efforts to beat you didn’t make a difference! So let’s make a promise. One day you or I will be the number one swordsman in the world. See who can make it first!”

Kuina dried her eyes. She smiled. “Stupid! Don’t say things like that when you’re so weak.”

She took his hand. “It’s a promise.”

But she died. The very next day Kuina fell down the stairs and died.

He had never felt so heartbroken. She had promised. Now there was nobody to compete with. No way to see if he ever got any closer to his goal. But she had wanted to be the best swordsman in the world too, and he could only think of one way to take her there. He asked sensei, Kuina’s father, for her katana.

“I will be strong in her stand. I will be so great even the heaven hear of my name!”

That’s the vow he made to her at her grave, crying.

“You’re such a good guy, Zoro.”

“Huh?”

He turned away from Kuina’s grave. Ruffy stood behind him, covered with blood and chained to hands and feet, even around her neck there was a ring of iron.

“You have a good ambition,” Ruffy said with a smile.

She was crying, her tears making lines in the blood on her face. A cold wind hit Zoro in the face and he noticed that Ruffy stood to her knees in a glowing red sea. The horizon was black and shadows floated around in the red water.

“Water?”

It didn’t smell of sea or water. He had smelt this scent many times. It was blood!

Ruffy fell to her knees. The red sea pulled back and revealed that the seabed was made out of sharp knives, and Ruffy stood there on her knees.

The tide came in. A wave of fire, blood and shadows.

Zoro ran forward. Ruffy was going to die if he didn’t pull her out of that.

He reached her, feeling the pain as the knives penetrated his feet, and pulled her up against him. How could it be so cold when there was fire everywhere? Soapy bubbles floated around. Looking at one Zoro found an image reflecting inside it.

“Don’t look.”

“What?”

Ruffy had grabbed his shirt and buried her face in his chest.

“I won’t look deeper into your heart, so please don’t look closer at mine.”

A force stronger than anything Zoro had ever felt tore them apart. Ruffy was sucked down into a deep abyss and a weight on his chest sent Zoro flying backwards.


“Gaaaaaaah!!!”

“Hm? Zoro?”

She was right in front of him, sleepy-eyed and clean. Her hair was short and her skin warm. No chains, no blood and no tears.

“You’re gonna break my arms, Zoro.”

“Oh, s-sorry.”

‘A nightmare. Damn. What the hell was that?’

He had a cold sweat and his heart was racing. But who wouldn’t be anxious after a dream like that?

Ruffy watched him quietly.

“What?” Zoro asked when he noticed.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a dream.”

“It wasn’t a dream.”

Zoro paled and stared at her. Ruffy fidgeted and looked away.

“I told you. I won’t look at your heart anymore, so don’t look any closer at me.”

“That was a sea of blood!”

She glared at him with a pout. “Yes. Mine and my friends’. Those who wanted me to live are all dead now.”

The man released a breath. Dead friends would always be a sensitive subject. “All right. I won’t ask any more.”

“Thanks,” Ruffy said as Zoro leaned his head back against the railing. “But you’re helping you know.”

“Huh?”

The girl smiled gently at him. “You’re helping, pulling me out of that sea, into another one that isn’t so bad.”

Zoro sighed. He couldn’t say he understood, but Ruffy didn’t seem like she was hurting, so he left it at that.

“Geez, I’m hungry,” he complained instead.

“Ah, you’re right. The food’s gone!”

“And whose fault is that!?”

Ruffy’s stomach growled loudly. “I’m hungryyy.”

“Stop whining. Geez, how old are you?”

“Seventeen.”

“That’s not…!” Zoro held up a trembling fist even as he realized that hitting the girl wouldn’t cure her of her single-mindedness. “I get it.”

The little boat was silent for a while as the duo inside stared at the sky. A shadow passed them.

“Oh, a bird,” Zoro identified the shadow’s caster.

“Wow, big…” Ruffy sat up straight. “Let’s eat the bird!”

“How?”

“Leave it to me.”

Even when that comment made Zoro nervous he didn’t have time enough to stop his captain from jumping high into the air. She landed on the bow so that the boat almost tipped forward, and with a happy whistle she shot into the air, pushing the bow the rest of the way down into the water. Luckily Zoro sat in the other end and weighted it back down.

“You idiot! Couldn’t you find a better way?”

Using the water barrel the swordsman started to get the water out of the boat and cursed his captain at the same time, until her heard her voice again.

“Ah?!”

That didn’t sound good. Dreading what he’d see Zoro looked up. The bird had caught Ruffy in its beak and was flying off with her.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!”

You stupid fool!!! What the hell are you doing!?!” Zoro roared, grabbed the oars and rowed like a madman to keep up. “Can’t you think before you act!?! Use the sword and cut the bird down for fuck’s sake!!!”

He rowed for life with his eyes on the bird. Hopefully that idiot girl wouldn’t get her head bitten off or something, not that it would make much of a difference, but still. Birds usually took their prey to their nest before killing them, right? That thought wasn’t very reassuring either. Zoro had to believe in Ruffy’s strength for now and just try to keep his eyes on that bird.

“Ooooiiii! You in the boat!”

“What?” Zoro lowered his gaze to the sea at the sound of voices.

“Stop the boat! Help us!”

Hands waved from the water right in front of him. “Castaways? At a time like this…! I don’t have time to stop! Jump aboard if you can.”

So he continued rowing and looked for the bird. It hadn’t changed course but it was farther away than before. The three castaways were heavy and slowed down the boat a bit, but that didn’t bother him. As long as he could keep that bird in sight he should be able to find both land and his captain soon enough.

But Lady Luck wasn’t really on his side on that matter. The three people he had picked up pulled out draggers.

“Stop this boat. We are pirates of Buggy the Clown’s crew.”

Zoro turned to the freeloaders with a glare.

It took them five seconds and a few good punches before they realised who he was, and by then the bird was gone and Ruffy with it. Nothing to do. He put the freeloaders on rowing duty so that he had his hands free to fight if needed.

“We are so sorry, sir. Who would have thought you are the infamous Pirate Hunter Zoro. Please forgive us!”

“I lost sight of my friend because of you,” Zoro growled. “Row straight and we should find her. I’m pretty sure she can handle herself. What were you doing in the water anyways?”

“It was that girl!”

“That evil girl.”

“She was cute too.”

The pirates told Zoro about a woman who had tricked them, taken their boat and treasure and sent them into a storm.

“She can predict weather? That's useful, she should join our crew,” the swordsman said to himself, smiling. They really did need someone who could point out in which direction they had to go to get somewhere. He didn't listen to the freeloaders until a certain name came up again.

“Buggy? Who is Buggy?”

“You never heard of Buggy the Clown?” the one pirate not busy with rowing asked back.

“Never heard of him,” Zoro replied indifferently.

“Well, he’s the captain of our pirate crew. A fearsome man who ate a Devil Fruit.”

Zoro lifted an eyebrow. “Devil Fruit? The secret treasure of the sea?”

“That’s right. He’s called Devil Buggy. The things he can do… it feels like you’re dreaming when you see it, and then we belong to his crew.”

‘Devil fruit, huh?’ Zoro thought and tried to recall what had happened yesterday. Ruffy’s whistles and her strange heart listening ability. Could it be the doing of a devil fruit? He had to ask her when he found her again.

Chapter Text

She is Nami, a thief who only steals from pirates

It had been just a tiny little mishap. The thief hadn’t thought anybody would stand outside that door when nobody had been there when she walked in. Good thing pirates are stupid and guys so easy to distract as long as a girl is willing to play foul. She had gotten away and taken the chart over the Grand Line along. Now she was being chased by three men with sabres. Not according to plan. She had to think fast and get rid of them. She wouldn’t let go of the chart. It was her ticket to greater riches and freedom. Nothing… nothing could stand in between her and her freedom now that she was so close!

A sudden explosion from above had the thief stumbling from surprise. Were the pirates so angry they were firing the cannon at her? But she had the chart! If they blew her up it would be gone with her. She threw a startled glance over her shoulder and had to stop at what she saw. The explosion hadn’t come from a house as she had initially thought, but rather from high above the roofs, and it looked like a person was falling out from a cloud of black smoke. But that couldn’t be…

Whatever was coming down landed with a crash, a scream the thief hadn’t fully registered being cut short, in between her and her pursuers, causing a small cloud of dust as well as total standstill for both the thief and the pirates.

A voice came from inside the cloud, groaning slightly. “Damn. Who shot that cannon ball at me? That’s dangerous!”

The thief’s eyes widened as the dust cleared. A skinny girl in a red tank top and a straw hat stood up from a small crater in the clobbered street and massaged her neck, looking at the sky.

“Well. At least I’m saved. What an interesting experience.”

Interesting indeed. The thief looked the girl over, eyes stopping at her hip. She had a katana. A great chance.

Clapping her hands together the thief smiled thankfully. “Boss, did you come to save me? Thank you! I’ll leave the rest to you!”

Before anyone could react the thief ran away as fast as she could, rounded a corner and made sure nobody followed. Only then she was hit by bad conscience.

“Damn, that was mean. I hope they didn’t kill her, that girl.”

After stuffing the chart into the safety of her bra she climbed up the wall of a house and over the roof to take a look, prepared to pay her condolences to the unexpected victim of both hers and the pirates’ cruelty.

The scene on the street below was not the one she had expected to see though. She couldn’t help but gawk. The pirates all lay scattered around on the ground, unconscious, and that skinny girl descended from the sky was patting dust off her hat, unharmed. She must really know how to use that sword.

“Amazing!” the thief cried with delight. “You are really good, aren’t you?”

The black-haired girl looked up from her hat and searched around her, scratching her head in confusion when she couldn’t see anybody.

“Up here,” the thief guided and the girl finally looked up with a dumb expression on her face. She had a band aid under her left eye but that was all harm visible on her. She couldn’t be very old either.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“I’m Nami, a thief who only steals treasures from pirates,” Nami smiled and jumped from the roof down to a balcony directly over other girl. “Hey, would you like to join me? I could really use your help.”

“No. Not interested in joining anyone,” the other girl said bluntly and walked off.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Nami called and jumped down to the street, falling in beside the other girl.

“I can’t wait. I must hurry back to my friend,” the straw hat girl answered with a slight frown of annoyance, before her stomach growled and she stopped dead in her tracks, hands over her belly. “Oh no. I’m so hungry. What should I do? I have no money either.”

Nami blinked and tilted her head. “I could treat you if you’d like.” She was surprised when the other girl jumped around with a hopeful face.

“You’d treat me? Really?!” she asked with drool dripping from the corner of her mouth, which was quickly wiped away.

Nami smiled back nervously, but she guessed she owed this strange girl at least this much, for using her like that. “Y-yes, really. Come on.”

“Yatta!”

Nami had already mapped the town in her mind before she went for the chart, to have an advantage when taking off, so she knew her way around. The girl in her wake started to whistle a happy little melody. Somehow, in an unexplainable way, the little tune made Nami’s heart feel a little lighter.

“Here,” the thief said and opened an unlocked door. “I’ll serve you something.”

“Yosh. I’m coming in.”

The house consisted of a short hallway where the girls removed their footwear, a kitchen and living room sharing a room, and connecting bath- and bed rooms. Nami went straight for the half of the first room that was kitchen and started slapping something together.

“What’s your name? You didn’t say.”

“Rayla,” the girl answered absent-mindedly.

“Rayla huh? That’s a rather unusual name,” Nami turned around and found the other girl in front of a mirror in the living room area, picking at the band aid on her face.

“Wow. It’s even uglier than I expected,” Rayla exclaimed.

Nami blinked. “Eh? Ugly?”

The straw hat girl turned to face her. Now that the band aid was gone the wound it had concealed poked for attention. That definitely looked like it would leave a scar.

“What happened?!” Nami cried worriedly as Rayla came to sit by the table. “Was it pirates?”

“What?”

The thief held up an angrily trembling first looking for someone to hit. “To harm a girl's face is an unforgivable crime!” she declared loudly with a growl to her voice. “That scar around your throat is terrible too! What kind of man would ever…?!”

“I did it.”

Nami silenced with her fist still up and looked to the other girl. “Come again?”

“I cut my face. Not very pretty right?”

A look of confusion mixed with concern crossed Nami’s face. “You… by yourself? Why? Your throat…?”

Rayla sat cross-legged on a chair. “I don't want to talk about the scars. This,” she touched the stitched wound under her eye, “I just didn't want to be pretty anymore. It's a pain. I cut my hair too,” she pulled a hand through the short, uneven hair, fisting her hand in it with a cold, almost hateful face, “and I feel a lot better.”

Nami felt a chill down her spine, but the other girl's growling stomach punctured the suddenly chilled atmosphere.

“Foooood,” she whined.

The thief shook her head clear from the strange feeling of dread. “Hai, hai. Wait just a moment.”

Bread, ham, vegetables, and fruit, water to drink. Simple and yet the dark-haired girl ate with relish. Nami sat down at the other end of the table to watch. She had grabbed a bite before she went to steal the map over the Grand Line from those pirates, because you never knew when you might see food again. The dark-haired girl didn't seem to mind having someone observe her while eating. Nami couldn't contain her curiosity.

“Where did you come from?” she asked.

“Hm?” Bright brown eyes looked up from the food.

“You fell from the sky,” Nami clarified. “What happened?”

“I was sailing with my crew, and a bird appeared and I tried to catch it, but it flew away with me.”

“Aha…” Tried to catch a bird big enough to fly away with you? “…so you lost your crew at sea? How many?”

“Just one.” Rayla tilted her head to the right and then to the left. “Are you friends with the people who live here?”

“Huh? No. I don’t come from this town. I’m a thief; I don’t even know whose house this is. Everybody is evacuated due to Buggy’s pirate fleet dwelling in the town.”

Once again the girl looked up from the food, this time with an incredulous look. “There’s someone bugging pirates? They must be brave.”

“No!” Nami cried and slapped her hand against the table so hard it hurt. Had she really been that indistinct? “The pirate captain is named Buggy. Listen. He’s an infamous pirate and known for his love of cannons. It’s said that he once wiped out an entire village because some child there had been joking about his nose. Besides, the rumours say he has some strange magical power.”

Rayla looked around with a slightly furrowed brow, as if she didn’t listen or didn’t care. “There really isn’t anyone in this town.”

“I told you a minute ago they have evacuated!”

Those innocently brown eyes blinked a few times. “Oh. So you’re breaking and entering while no one is around.” Rayla concluded with a smile that looked automatic because of the flash of comprehension in her eyes.

“Am not!” Nami protested, slamming her fist into the table this time. “Didn’t you hear me when I said I only steal from pirates!? Don’t compare me to some cheap robber.”

“You sure? A thief is still a thief though,” the straw hat girl stated with her head tilted to the side.

Nami looked into those wide, brown eyes. This girl was a bit dumb, but seemed nice enough, so maybe it wouldn’t hurt to tell her.

“My goal is to earn a hundred million beli, no matter what. Then I’m going to buy a certain village.”

“A village?” Rayla asked around a pear, drying her lip from juice before she swallowed. “That’s really a lot of money. How are you gonna manage that?”

“With this,” Nami said and pulled out the chart from her bra. “A map over the Grand Line!”

It didn’t have quite the desired effect. Rayla stared strangely at Nami’s face and chest.

“What?” the thief asked cautiously.

The straw hat girl glanced down and up Nami’s body. “Say… you are a real girl, right?”

The coin fell through, and Nami didn’t know if she was more angered or embarrassed. “I’m a real girl! Look here,” she leant forward and pulled at the neck of her t-shirt, “I have real boobs! I was only hiding this chart in my bra!”

“Oh… chart…?” Rayla blinked twice before her eyes widened. “Did you say Grand Line!?”

‘Finally.’ “I did. Once I’ve stolen the treasures from Buggy the clown I’m going to head for the Grand Line and steal the treasures from richer and richer pirates!” She sat on the table. “So what do you say? Why not be rich with me? I can really use someone as good with a sword as you, and you can have a great share of the loot.”

“Hm? I don’t want your money, and I can’t use a sword.”

Nami just looked at her, the victorious smile frozen on her face. “I beg your pardon?”

“I don’t want to join with anyone, I don’t want the money you earn, and I can’t use a sword,” Rayla revealed with a clear voice, as if she hadn’t before.

The thief glanced down towards the katana at this oddball’s hip with utter disbelief. “What is that then?”

“Hm? You mean Shodai? She’s a katana.”

Gaping like a goldfish, Nami suddenly sprung up from her position on the table. “Why would you have a katana if you can’t use it? How else did you defeat those pirates earlier?”

Rayla held up a warning finger. “She, not it,” she explained with a serious expression, but when she lowered her finger her face was back to normal. “I kicked down those guys. They almost damaged my hat and tried to cut off my head you know, it really pissed me off!”

The thief could hardly believe it. This skinny little girl who would probably lose to a monkey in a game of brains had beaten up three armed men without a weapon!? To top it off she sounded like it wasn’t even unusual for her to do such a thing. Nami’s great persuading plan had fallen flat too.

“By the way…” Rayla was staring at the chart still in Nami’s hand. “Do you know how to navigate?”

“If I know how to navigate? Humph, more than that. Who do you think I am?” Regaining her spirits Nami pumped her fist with the other hand on her upper arm. “I’m not just any cheap navigator. I’m great! And I love the sea.”

Rayla’s face lit up with excited delight. “Really? That’s great! We’re going to the Grand Line too!”

“For real!?”

“Of course! You can be the navigator of my pirate crew!”

Nami smiled, about to answer… Pirate… Pirate crew!? “NEVER! You were a pirate?”

Rayla blinked in surprise, not sure what just happened.

The thief waved her hands in denial. “No way. Forget we ever had this conversation. I will never team up with a pirate.”

“You’re already a criminal.”

“Am not.”

“Not?” The dark-haired girl tilted her head slightly to the side. “The police and marines hunts pirates and they hunt thieves. I can’t see a difference.”

“I’m different!” Nami screamed. “Pirates this and pirates that. This era is so stupid. Pirates are the worst there is in the whole world!!! I hate them! The only things I like are money and tangerines!”

“But I want you as my nakama,” Rayla deadpanned.

“Shut up! I said no and I mean it!”

Inside Nami was fuming. So this stupid girl was a pirate? That must be why she cut her face; to look more dangerous. The scar around her throat was most likely from her somehow by the skin of her teeth being saved from being hanged.

Voices outside alerted the thief, and in a flash she thought of a good plan. “On second thought. I might consider being your navigator, if you meet a certain condition.”

“The people outside are getting really nervous,” Rayla said instead of answering and walked up to the window.

“Don’t just stand in plain sight, you fool!” Nami hissed loudly and pulled the other girl back.

“What are they afraid of?”

“How should I know…? Wait. How can you tell they are nervous?”

“I can hear it. Since this town has a really homey sound the nervousness is easy to pick out.”

Nami blinked and stared. Homey sound? This girl must be crazier than… anyone Nami had ever met. “Whatever. Are you willing to meet my condition?”

“Hm? What condition?”

“Don’t you ever listen to what people say?! I told you I’d consider being your navigator if you meet my conditions.”

“Aha. Okay. What is it?”

Feeling slightly victorious and very relieved that the idiot was finally listening Nami placed a hand on the other girl’s shoulder. “I want use you to infiltrate Buggy's crew by handing you over to them as a present so I can steal their treasure…”

Rayla blinked at her a few times. Nami stood frozen. What… did she just say?

“Hand me over?”

“Yes…!? I mean… I will use you… Buggy is a fool so I can infiltrate… using you… I’ll give you to them as a gift and…!” ‘What’s wrong with me?!’

The straw hat girl glanced at the hand on her shoulder and swatted it away.

“I just want you to come with me to see Buggy the Clown!!!”

Having finally said it the right way Nami leaned against the table to catch her breath. ‘What the heck happened? Suddenly I couldn’t…’

“Sorry about that. I had totally forgotten about it.”

It?” Dread filled the thief’s chest and mind. “What is it?”

“For some reason people can’t lie when they touch me,” the pirate girl explained with an apologetic smile. “It was a long time since anybody tried to lie while touching me, so I had forgotten all about it. Sorry.”

“Can’t… lie…?”

“Yup. Not at all. The truth just slips out.”

“…Oh no…”

Ruffy blinked as the other girl lay groaning over the table. “What’s wrong? Is it bleeding time?”

“…No…!”

Ruffy stared at the thief in utter confusion. This girl was just plain strange. First she was kind enough to give her food, even from somebody else’s stores. She eagerly tried to persuade Ruffy to join her, but when asked the same question back she flat out refused before she changed her mind again but with a condition. Did she want to join Ruffy’s crew or not? No matter how Nami twisted and turned she couldn’t have it both ways.

Trying to think of a way to solve this problem Ruffy scratched her head and thought back at what the thief had said.

“The condition for you to join my crew is to go to Buggy with you?”

The other girl looked up with a strange face. “Yes?”

“Then let’s go.”

“What?!”

Ruffy, already heading for the door, turned around and gave her new friend an impatient look. “You’re the one who said we should go, so come on. I want to set sail towards the Grand Line soon.”

Baffled Nami took a good ten seconds to recover. “Right. Just a second. There is something I need to prepare first,” she said, all the while thinking; ‘Is this girl for real? So dumb! Whatever, this is my chance.’

“What’s that?” Rayla asked, eying the rope in Nami’s hand when she finally joined her.

“Just rope. Does it bother you?” Nami smiled innocently.

“Not really.”

She said that, and it was true, yet she hadn’t been able to avoid that initial wariness she felt towards the rope. But ropes can be used in many ways and for many things.

Nami led the way towards the restaurant where the pirates resided, and all the way there Rayla whistled, or perhaps chipped was more precise because she sounded just like a little bird.

The bright-haired girl pointed out their destination. “Over there. Buggy and his men have made their camp on the roof of that building.”

“Good. What are we going to do when we get there?” Rayla asked and walked on.

Smirking with mischief Nami slipped in behind the other girl. “You’ll see when we get there, pirate sister,” she explained before she skilfully had Rayla tied up around her body, wrists and ankles so that she couldn’t run away.

Rayla tensed up and wiggled a bit, but gave up rather fast and Nami took her katana.

“Hey, don’t touch Shodai! She’s not friendly.”

“Don’t be stupid, it’s just a sword. I’ll give it back to you later… maybe.”

So Nami happily dragged her “catch” along the ground towards the restaurant.

A short, dark-skinned man in a clown costume stood on guard in the entrance, and when he saw Nami he immediately pulled out his knives.

“Ah, no need, no need,” Nami assured with a calming wave of her hand. “I’ve come to return the map I stole earlier.”

“Huh???”

The thief gave her sweetest smile. “Can you take me to captain Buggy please?”

The short man was dumbfounded to say at least. His body turned and started moving before his head followed and he ran up the stairs, probably to report to the captain. Nami grabbed her captive around the shoulders and pulled her up the stairs.

“A small body and just as light. You’re almost underfed.”

“Not almost, I am underfed. But it’s gotten better. I was only skin and bones for a while.”

“Oh? So you were starving in a prison for a few days? Too bad you escaped your execution.”

Rayla flinched, but then she turned and gave Nami a weird look. “My execution?”

They were up the stairs. A lot of different clowns surrounded them, stepping aside to open a path towards a patched up miniature circus tent.

“That’s her! Captain, that’s the thief and the boss.”

Nami recognized the voices of the men that had pursued her earlier and smiled innocently at them. Rayla didn't make a sound when Nami pushed her forward so that she landed on her face by the feet of a man in the shadow of the tent.

Captain Buggy the clown had cold eyes over a large, round and blood red nose. A bright orange coat with furry edges hung over his shoulders, falling around an average sized frame. He seemed to be quite slim for a man though. Nami could without looking around see at least four men who looked a lot stronger than the clown. It was a little hard to see him properly when he lingered on his throne in the shadows though, and Nami could feel his hard gaze on her so she couldn’t waste more time on his appearance.

“I captured the thief for you, great captain Buggy the clown. I’m returning the chart too.”

A tall man in a scarf walked up to her and took the map, examining it with sharp, blue-green eyes. “It’s the real thing, captain.”

The clown captain chuckled. “You’re smart to return my map, little thief girl there, but why the sudden change of mind?”

Nami smiled her most innocent smile. “Boss and I had a serious disagreement. I can’t stand her anymore. Let me join your pirate crew.”

The clown in the shadows made a strange sound through his nose.

The other pirates backed away, unsure of the reaction such an announcement would cause, until their captain burst out in a loud laugh.

“’Can’t stand her anymore’?!” the clown laughed. “What a flashily amusing chick you are! I like you. Welcome into my crew!”

The thief smiled even brighter. ‘Success! Now I just have to steal everything and say goodbye to this town.’

Buggy turned to his crew and motioned at them with a wide, most dramatic gesture. “Men, bring out the monkey cage and put this little thief boss in it.”

A chorus of “Aye!” followed as the pirates turned to obey.

Nami watched as six men pulled a heavy stone cage over the floor from a different tent, and another man hauled Rayla up on his shoulder. But she obviously didn’t fancy the thought of being put in a cage, because as soon as she saw it she started to act up.

“Calm it, you bitch. I’ll drop you if… Aaaaahhh! Get her off! Get her off! My arm! She bit me! It hurts!”

The girl was really struggling. She had buried her teeth so deep into the pirate’s arm she was drawing blood. Nami watched with a prick of guilt in her heart. The marines/police had probably not been very nice to her in prison, so of course the girl wouldn’t like it when being put in behind bars again.

It took five men before they finally locked the cage with the girl inside, but her struggle didn’t stop. She tugged hard on the ropes and banged her head hard against the bars, crying “Let me out!” over and over again.

Outside the cage Nami glanced at the damage the straw hatted girl had caused. Two men were out cold for different reasons, the other three were bleeding, one even half an ear poorer. The thief couldn’t help the stray thought that Rayla must have some damn sharp teeth.

Buggy only chuckled in amusement, much in the same fashion as a rooster. “You put on a good show, thief-boss. I almost like you.” He turned around and faced the girl with the tangerine coloured hair. “Oi, what is your name?”

“It’s Nami.”

“Yosh! Everybody! Let’s welcome Nami into the crew! Let’s party hard and reload your energy for the next battle!”

“AYE!!!”

And as clowns do their party went, showing off their tricks to each other and dancing around. Ruffy watched from the other side of the bars with rising interest. She didn’t feel quite as bad as she had when she realized she’d be put in a little cage. Watching the clowns was actually fun. She could even laugh at some of them.

That mean girl was also having fun. Ruffy could hear the sound of her heartbeats almost touching haughtiness. She thought she had everything going her way, blending in with the celebrating pirates, laughing and drinking. It made Ruffy a little worried, especially when she could hear the clown captain’s heartbeats. There was something strange and yet familiar about it. She’d never met Buggy before, but she knew she’d heard his strange sort of heartbeat... somewhere.

After a while, the thief slipped away and walked up to the cage, sitting on her heels grinning mischievously at the girl inside it.

“How are ya, boss?”

“Not so bad. I can still see the sky. Give back Shodai. I want food,” Ruffy listed offhandedly.

“Heh. You don’t realize the situation you’re in. You’ll most likely be sold as a slave somewhere or something.”

“I don’t think so. They are pirates after all.”

“Exactly. Pirates do such things.”

Ruffy didn’t pick up, just swung her knees up and down. A thinking-habit of hers.

“Don’t worry,” the girl outside the bars continued with a more honest smile. “If my plan goes smoothly I’ll at least open the cage for you. After all, I don’t actually dislike you.”

Ruffy furrowed her eyebrows and tilted her head. This girl’s heartbeats were so sure, but the sounds of the pirates were very different. “Oi, do you know what you’re doing?”

“Of course I do. I’ve dealt with pirates before.”

Ruffy hummed, her expression slightly uneasy. “I guess I should be worried about me then.”

While surprised, Nami was still happy Rayla seemed to understand her situation, even if it was only a little. Even if the girl was a bloody pirate, she wasn't all evil.

Buggy walked up to them with a loud laugh. “You should be more careful when choosing partners, thief-boss there.”

Those words made the caged girl pout. “What are you talking about? I’m not her boss.”

“Yes, yes” Buggy nodded with genuine pity. “I understand you feel that way, after being betrayed by your own and all.”

Ruffy was surprised, and a little touched that the pirate captain actually had heart enough to send her a little bit of sympathy. She liked it. But those were all the feelings Buggy spent on his captive, and he once again grinned evilly into the cage.

“To lay as much as a finger on my things is a terrible crime, even if I get them back. I know what to do with you.”

“You’ll let me out?” Ruffy asked hopefully.

“That’s right, I’ll let you… Die hard! Of course not! Idiot!” The clown spun around. “Boys! Prepare a Buggy Ball Special!”

The pirates cheered loudly and Ruffy’s own heart jumped with the sudden height of excitement. Buggy’s men hastily fetched one of their cannons from the storage tent and that short dark-skinned man came walking with a dark red cannon ball with Buggy’s mark on it.

The cannon aimed at the town.

“The Buggy Ball Special is ready to fire, captain!”

“Watch the Buggy Ball’s power! FIRE!”

The explosion was nothing like from an ordinary cannon, not the result either. Ruffy couldn’t see very well, but there were no more rooftops where the cannon had aimed, and a lot of quiet “home hearts” had silenced. That cannon ball had ruined the houses completely all the way to the edge of the town. The edge of the roof in front of the cannon was gone too.

Buggy chuckled again, pumping his fist. “Flashy! One Buggy Ball Special is enough to blow an entire village away. With this power and the power from the devil fruit I will rule the Grand Line. Therefore, Nami.” The cannon was reloaded and turned around. “Blow your old boss to bits and pieces and prove your loyalty to me! This is a test, so show us all you want to rule the world with us!”

Ruffy sat there, tied up inside a monkey cage, as the cannon aimed at her loaded with the same power as before. The pirates were cheering for what they knew was about to happen. From that life-threatening position Ruffy watched the other woman with calm eyes. Nami paled when she was forced to return to reality; she was dealing with pirates. Pirates didn’t let anyone get away alive.

“Kill her… me…?” Nami turned to the clown, hoping she would be able to avert the attention from the girl in the cage. She had to think fast. She had to find the key so that Rayla could escape. “No, but captain Buggy… I don't have to… It… it's a party! That's right. Beer! Let's have more fun! Just ignore that idiot.”

Buggy looked down at her with sadistic amusement, his voice almost silky when he spoke. “This is my idea of fun, Nami. Kill her.”

“Eh?”

“Fire!” the pirates cheered.

“Die hard, thief-boss!”

“Kill her flashily, newcomer!”

Nami was stuck. She felt frozen, petrified. How could she have been so stupid? Why were all pirates like this; so willing to kill other people just because they could? Nami had only wanted the treasure, and using Rayla had seemed like such a good idea. How could it have backfired like this? How did she get out of it? If she didn’t kill Rayla then the pirates would, no doubt. But if she didn’t light the fuse then both of them would die.

Over the noise of the pirates cheering, a calm voice suddenly broke through Nami’s thoughts. “You’re shaking.”

The thief looked up. Inside the cage Rayla was gazing at her with such calmness and a challenging curve of a smile on her face.

“I thought so. You have no idea what you’re dealing with. Just look, this is what happens when you face pirates when not prepared.”

“Prepared?” Nami gritted her teeth as anger welled up inside her, momentarily pushing at the rising panic she felt. “Prepared to do what? Kill other people like it’s nothing? Is that what pirates are prepared for?”

“No.”

The pirates were getting impatient. “Oi, newcomer! Stop taking your time!” they yelled.

Ruffy grinned. “You’re not prepared to risk your life.”

Nami felt like her insides had just turned to ice. A lot of emotions were colliding inside her heart.

An impatient pirate suddenly snatched the matches from Nami’s hand, startling her.

“Stop wasting time, newcomer. Don’t you know how to blow the cannon?” he asked and lightened a match. “Look here. You light a match and put the flame against the fuse like this to light it,” the clown pirate showed how, actually trying to be helpful to the new girl. Being knocked out from a hard blow to the back of his head he wasn’t prepared for.

The crowd silenced.

“Nami!” Buggy roared. “What the hell are you doing? After I welcomed you as my comrade and all!”

Ruffy leaned forward to get a better look.

“Are you going to save me now?” she asked.

“Shut it!” Nami yelled back at her. “That was a reflex. I didn’t want to… I didn’t even for a second want to stoop as low as a pirate! Pirates killed the one I loved the most! I don’t want to be like them.”

“Oh, so that’s why…” Sparks caught Ruffy’s eye. “Aaaaahhhh! Fire in the hole! Put it out! Put it out!”

Ruffy started bouncing around inside the cage to make it move, tilt to the side, anything to get her out of the line of fire. She didn’t have time to notice what happened outside the cage. But she did hear Nami’s yelp of pain and looked up. She had put out the fuse with her bare hands, and up behind her four clowns armed with knives were coming down.

Ruffy banged her head against the bars. “Nami, watch out!”

The thief glanced over her shoulder, saw the blades and closed her eyes to her fate.

The most amazing thing with people lacking a sense of direction is that they always show up in the right place at the right time. The clown pirates never reached the thief girl. Something, or rather someone suddenly stood in their way.

“How many of you are charging one girl?”

“Zoro!” Had Ruffy ever been so happy to see someone before in her life? She didn’t know, and didn’t really care. Zoro was here and she was overjoyed to see him.

Nami opened her eyes. She wasn’t dead, wasn’t even in pain. There was a shadow over her though and she looked up. Behind her stood a man with a broad back and green hair glancing down at her over his shoulder.

“You hurt?”

She blinked. “What?”

“Are you hurt anywhere?” the man asked again.

“N… no. I’m fine.”

Ruffy smiled brightly. “Yokatta! How did you find me? Let me out of here.”

Zoro turned to the cage and gave her an incredulous gaze. “Ruffy, what are you doing? First a bird comes and takes you away, and when I finally find you, you’re in a cage? Dumbass.”

“Yes. It’s actually quite funny,” the girl laughed.

The swordsman sighed and shook his head. Taking another glance at the girl he had saved he noticed a certain detail.

“Oi. Why do you have the Kitetsu?”

“The Kitu… what?”

Putting his own katana back in his belt Zoro simply took the sword he knew was Ruffy’s straight from this girl’s belt, causing a sharp sound of offence.

“This isn't something you can just have,” the swordsman said and turned, about to pass a man dressing in bright cloths and sporting a red nose as big as an apple.

The dark chuckle of Buggy the clown rang in Zoro’s ears. “Pirate hunter Zoro. Did you come for my head?”

“No,” the swordfighter answered bluntly. “I don’t want your ugly head. I quit hunting pirates.”

“Too bad,” Buggy chuckled as he took out some knives hidden in his coat “because I want yours. If I kill you I’ll be famous.”

“Don’t try it, you’ll just die.”

Ruffy watched with wide eyes. That clown seemed very confident in defeating Zoro, who in turn was overconfident in his own ability. The clown pirates cheered for their captain.

Ruffy fidgeted. “Be careful, Zoro. That guy doesn’t have a normal heartbeat.”

Nami turned to her. “Normal heartbeat? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’ve heard it before, but I can’t remember what it means,” Ruffy whined helplessly.

Zoro and Buggy weren’t paying attention. The swordsman threw Ruffy’s katana towards her, but since she was still tied down she couldn’t do anything to get it. She struggled against the rope, glancing at Shodai before locking her eyes at the two men. Her heart jumped when they both charged… and Zoro sliced the pirate captain to bits.

Everything stilled.

“Wow, he just fell apart,” Ruffy said amazed and stared at the body parts. There was no blood. There were still… heartbeats… as from two hearts.

“There was no resistance to him at all,” Zoro commented, sheathed his katana and walked up to the cage holding his captain, examining it carefully.

The clown pirates, strangely enough, were laughing quietly.

Ruffy stared fixatedly at the body parts of the supposedly defeated clown, mumbling to herself. “Two, two… double…”

 “I’ll need a key for this. Not even I can slice iron.” There was no reply as Zoro’s captain just kept staring at Buggy’s body. “Ruffy?”

The pirates laughed harder. Something was strange. Zoro glanced suspiciously at them. “What the hell is wrong with you? Hand over the key to the cage.”

The pirates just kept laughing, but over the noise Zoro heard Ruffy's voice growing louder.

“Double… beat… Wait. A double heartbeat! Just like Aki! Zoro, he’s not dead! Two hearts means devil ability!”

“Wha…? Urg!”

It happened so suddenly, even though Ruffy had called out a warning. With surprise Zoro looked down at his hurting side where the tip of a blade stuck out. He turned to see who had stabbed him, only to get another unpleasant surprise. It was only a hand. A hand that floated around on its own!

“What the hell?!”

“Bara bara no mi.”

“Huh?”

Ruffy, Zoro and Nami all watched with horror as the body parts of Buggy the clown floated back into place and the pirate was once again a whole body.

“That’s the name of the devil fruit that I ate,” Buggy announced with a mad grin. “Bara bara no mi, the Chop Chop fruit, allowing me to come apart and come back together. No matter how much you cut me I will never die!”

Zoro growled at his own carelessness. So that was the trick. He had been told this guy had eaten a devil fruit. What a fool he had made of himself right in front of Ruffy. “Damn it!”

The clown tilted his head slightly, scrutinizing the damage he’d caused. “Seems like I didn’t manage to kill you, Lolonoa Zoro, but it’s a critical wound. You can’t fight in that condition. I won!”

Inside her cage Ruffy was trembling and gritting her teeth with anger. Shodai lay sealed outside the cage and couldn’t do a thing, Zoro had been cut down, Nami was scared and Ruffy herself sat inside a small cage!

“Attacking from behind is dirty! Bloody big nose!”

The immediate silence was tight and filled with choking sounds. The cheering clown pirates had almost swallowed their tongues. Ruffy happily realized she had stepped on a really sore toe, meaning one point to her advantage.

Buggy slowly turned his head, his face a picture of humiliated rage.

“Who did you call big nose!?” he screamed. His knife-armed hand loosened from his arm, going for the girl in the cage. The knife hit her face with such force she flew back into the bars behind her.

She only just heard Zoro’s panicking voice calling her name over her teeth grinding against metal until the knife gave away and shattered. Looking up Ruffy locked her eyes on the clown pirate captain.

“Don’t think I’ll let you off, Buggy,” she said and spat the blade out. “I’m gonna beat your sorry ass.”

“Heh?” The pirate captain chuckled, and laughed. “Beat my ass, you say? You’re hilarious! In case you didn’t notice, you’re confined in a cage! How are you going to beat me? All of you are going to die right here on the spot!”

Ruffy smirked. “I won’t die! Run, Zoro!”

“What?”

Nami protested, saying something like Zoro having come to save her. Ruffy didn’t listen too closely. She was sure Zoro could understand her.

I won’t die.

The swordsman smirked back. “Aye-aye captain.”

“You won’t get away, Lolonoa!”

Buggy attacked with his freely levitating hands and Zoro did his best to keep the knives away and hold his wound together at the same time. Cutting through the clown’s body he managed to gain a few seconds, enough time for him to reach the cannon aiming at Ruffy.

Not noticing what the swordsman was up to, Buggy only chuckled and turned around. “You think you can escape captain Buggy? …Huh? Hey! Stop that! What are you doing?”

Zoro had gotten in under the cannon and was pushing upwards. Nami backed away from it and Buggy hesitated. That cannon weighted almost a ton. It took three of his men to pull it forward on the wheels! Now it groaned in protest, but gave in and flipped over.

“Whaaaat?” Buggy flapped with his arms. Zoro’s strength aside, the power within the cannon now aiming for him was worse! “No! Wait a minute! That cannon still has a Buggy Ball Special in it!”

Zoro turned to the tangerine-haired girl who stood gawking like a fool. “Light it!” he ordered her sharply.

“What?”

“Light the fuse!”

“Wha…? Oh. Ha… hai!”

Ruffy laughed in excitement. Nami found the discarded matches from before and quickly lightened the short fuse. The pirates screamed and tried to run. Buggy’s flailing got worse.

“No! Wait! Stop! Stoooop!!!”

The cannon fired.

Chapter Text

The little dog guarding its treasure

Ruffy was not satisfied with her situation. Even though she had just managed to wiggle free from the rope tying her, Zoro was hurt quite badly and they had the best chance they would ever get to run away now but Ruffy was stuck inside a cage! She could still hear the heartbeats of the pirates, so she knew they weren’t dead, and as soon as the smoke cleared they would be stuck in the same situation as before, only with a lot angrier bunch of pirates against them. On the upside she had Shodai back with her. It felt better, even if the katana wasn’t too happy about the last hour. Hopefully Ruffy wouldn’t have to make it up to her.

Zoro was wounded, yes, hurting like hell, yes, angry, definitely, but that wouldn’t stop him. After having embarrassed himself the way he had he couldn’t afford to make it even worse a fiasco now or it would really cost them their lives. He was going to get away and take his captain along if it killed him.

Holding his bleeding side, Zoro moved away from the cannon over to the cage holding Ruffy. “This is our chance,” he said, and from the corner of his eye he caught sight of the still dumbfounded girl he’d saved earlier looking around indecisively. “Who are you?” he asked the girl.

She jerked and looked at him, blinking as she tried to regain full control of her thoughts. “Huh? Me? I… I’m a thief.”

Ruffy smiled at Zoro from inside the cage. “She’s our navigator,” she informed.

“Am not! If you have time to be carefree at a time like this, try thinking up a way to get out of that cage!”

“Oh, that’s right.” Ruffy tentatively grabbed the bars and pulled, but of course they wouldn’t bulge and it was locked securely from the outside with iron locks and she didn’t have anything on her to pick it with. “How do I get out?” she wondered out loud.

Zoro smirked. “Don’t bother. You just stay in the cage.”

“Huh?”

Both girls shivered as the swordsman took a hold on the cage and started tilting it backwards and put his leg under the bottom, muscles taut and veins standing out as he prepared to lift the little prison off the ground. A cage made of iron and stone with a person inside.

Nami’s chest felt tight and some uncontrolled part of her brain tried to calculate how much that cage weighted. Surely more than a ton.

Ruffy’s hands grabbed the bars tighter as she tensed, but her voice was soft, almost pleading. “Zoro… stop. You’ll bleed to death.”

“Let me bleed.”

“What are you doing?” Nami gasped with disbelief.

 “I do whatever I want. Don’t butt in.” Zoro groaned in pain and stress as he hoisted the cage up on his shoulder.

Nami’s eyes immediately drew to the wound in the swordsman’s side, watching the blood flow faster, almost sprouting due to the enormous strain it took to lift the cage. The sight both upset and amazed her greatly. This was a pirate, but he was hell-bent on trying to save Rayla.

But Ruffy couldn’t stand the sight. She reached out between the bars and used her hands to cover Zoro’s wound best she could to stop the bleeding.

The thief watched them leave with her heart still beating fast and hard. For the first time in her life a pirate had made a good impression on her.

 


 

They got away. Somehow they had managed to get away. After only a block Zoro had had to put the cage down and now pulled it along with his captain in it through the streets as far from the clown pirates as he could, but he was running low on blood despite Ruffy’s desperate tries to stop the bleeding. That other girl, their navigator Ruffy had said, hadn’t come with them though. Zoro half-heartedly hoped she was okay.

Ruffy, pissed for more reasons than one, was angrily shaking the bars, trying to find one, only one that was a little looser than the others. Zoro didn’t have much more strength to muster. He had to stop.

Groaning he tried to take at least one more step. “You think this is far enough, Ruffy?”

“They aren’t looking for us this way,” the girl hissed, still shaking bars.

Zoro took it as a sign it was okay to rest here, so he dropped the cage and collapsed. “Damn,” he cursed. “I don’t have enough blood. Can’t take another step. Ack!”

At the sound of Zoro’s gasp, Ruffy stopped her task and spun around to see what happened with her friend.

“What’s with this dog?” Zoro wondered out loud.

“Dog?” Ruffy lifted her gaze to where Zoro was looking. “Oh, it's a dog.”

A little dog was indeed seated beside the road. Now that Ruffy had free arms and legs she managed to (with great effort) roll the cage closer to the dog without Zoro’s help.

It was a grey little dog, with red lines and patches in the fur. Probably blood. Ruffy stared at it. It didn’t stare back. It just sat there with its tongue hanging out of its mouth.

“Is this really a dog?” Ruffy wondered aloud. “It’s not moving at all.”

“Whatever,” Zoro said as he found something he could rest against and keep an eye on his captain at the same time. “Let the dog be. How are we going to get you out of the cage?”

“None of them are loose enough,” Ruffy shared thoughtfully. “I could bend the bars if I put some back into it, but it chokes me and I don’t like that.”

Zoro huffed. “Saying strange things again. How am I supposed to interpret that?”

Instead of answering, Ruffy just pointed to her neck. Zoro thought she meant the scar, but didn’t have the energy to talk anymore. He could ask her to clarify later.

The girl in the cage tilted her head from side to side, staring at the animal in front of her. This dog was funny. Ruffy hadn’t seen a lot of dogs before, but compared to the ones she remembered, this one could be considered ugly. It had ruffled grey fur, a long face with small eyes, it even had short legs and not a very elegant shape of body. Ruffy reached out a hand to the dog’s nose. It didn’t move. Taking it as a sign it was okay to pat it, she reached out and patted its neck where it didn’t have any wounds. The dog glanced sideways at Ruffy’s arm, but that was all it did.

Its fur was thick and a bit rough.

“I like this dog,” Ruffy declared.

“Good for you. Now get out of the cage,” Zoro repeated himself, now too tired to even keep his eyes open. That is until he heard footsteps and a female voice that wasn’t Ruffy’s.

“What are you two doing? If you just lay around here they’ll find you in no time.”

The duo looked up. “Oh, navigator,” they said in union.

“Can you stop that!?” The girl sighed hopelessly. “I just came to repay my debt. After all, you saved my life back there.”

“Repay?”

Nami threw a little piece of metal on the ground before the cage.

Ruffy's face brightened considerably when she noticed what it was. “A key!” she exclaimed happily. “You stole the cage key!”

Nami sighed quietly. “Yes. It was very stupid of me. Because of that I couldn’t steal any of the treasure.”

Well, Ruffy was a lot happier with the key to the cage than some treasure and she smiled her sunniest smile at the thief. “Thank you! You’re the best! I was getting kind of worried for a moment there.”

“That’s a great reward for such a difficult escape,” Zoro agreed.

The pirate girl laughed happily, but just as she reached for the key, it disappeared as something grey with a black nose snatched it before her. She looked up with a blank face at the furry animal outside the cage and watched as the little grey dog swallowed the key whole.

It was silent for three seconds before Ruffy responded.

“BLOODY DOG! Baka, baka, baka! That’s not food! Cough it up! Spit it out! Poop it out! Stupid dog! Retch! Give it back! Let me out! Baka, baka, baka, baka!”

Even if Zoro already knew Ruffy was kind of energetic, her reaction now was quite impressive. The entire cage jumped as she shook the dog with all her might with her hands around its throat.

Both Zoro and Nami was about to try to separate the pair, but an old, demanding voice beat them to it.

“Hey you brats! Don’t bully Shushu!”

Ruffy heard, and she stopped fighting the dog and held it away from her, even while the dog kept on barking and kicking. “Shushu?”

Walking up to them was an old man wearing some sort of wooden armour with a spear in his hand.

Zoro had put a hand on his swords, not that he was in a state where he could use them, but it felt comforting.

“Who are you, old man?” he asked, hearing the weariness in his own voice.

“I am the chief of this town, Boodle is my name. Hm?” The elderly man looked down at the swordsman and noticed the blood, and immediately his voice became concerned and gentle. “Oh my, that doesn’t look very good, young’un. Have you been fighting Buggy and his gang? There is a doctor at the shelter outside of town, let’s get you there.”

Zoro weakly waved away the helping hand reaching for him. “No. I can’t leave this girl that far behind,” he said and nodded to the caged girl.

“Oh, I see. But she should be pretty safe in there for now. We should still get that wound of yours treated.” The chief turned to Ruffy. “Girl, are you harmed?”

“My pride is, ever since they put me in here,” Ruffy confessed with a knock on the stony roof of the cage. “Otherwise, nothing that serious.”

“That’s good.” The old man turned back to Zoro and grabbed his arm. “Come on then, young’un. You girl, can you help me?”

Nami made an affirmative sound and she and the chief took Zoro under the arms and half carried half pulled him into one of the houses.

The chief led the way into the bedroom and brought out a first aid kit from under the bed. “I can bandage the wound, but that will be the end of my knowledge. Our doctor is quite capable so I will fetch him for you.”

“No, I just have to sleep,” Zoro insisted.

“Oh, you young’uns of today. That girl in the cage, is she someone important to you?”

Zoro scoffed slightly, his eyelids feeling heavier by the second just from being on a bed. “I suppose. I’m stuck with her anyways. Coming to save her and this is how I end up. So troublesome. This far she’s just managed to get into trouble. As if I can leave her alone when she is like that.”

The old man hummed thoughtfully. The bright-haired girl helped supporting the swordsman’s body as Boodle bandaged the wound.

It was caused by a blade he could tell, one that had stabbed all the way through to the other side. This young’un was lucky the blade had missed the vitals, albeit barely. Boodle wished he was able to tell whether the wound needed sewing or not. Hopefully the extra pads would stop further bleeding.

“There,” the old man said when he was done. “This is all I can do for you, but I would really prefer it if you let the doctor take a look.”

“No. I’ll feel better once I’ve slept for a while.”

Knowing a stubborn teenager when he saw one, Boodle only shook his grey head. “Sleep tight then, young’un,” he said to the already sleeping figure and left the house with the bright-haired girl short on his heels.

They came back to where the cage and the dog still sat, but inside the cage the girl was making strangled noises.

Boodle immediately grew worried. “Oi, oi. Little girl, are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” the little one gasped and coughed. “I tried to bend the bars to get out of this cage, but I choked. My wounds aren’t completely healed yet so… How is Zoro?”

“The young’un is sleeping. My house is just next door, but he refuses to see a doctor.”

“He never liked doctors,” the girl said with a laugh. “I’m Ruffy, by the way.”

Nami frowned in confusion. “Ruffy? You told me your name is Rayla.”

“Oh yes, that’s my real name, but my friends call me Ruffy.”

Friends. Nami hoped the stab in her heart wasn’t visible on her face. Rayla’s inviting smile… it felt like she was getting pulled in by it, and it scared her almost out of her wits.

The dog was a good change of topic.

“This dog, what did you call it, chief?”

“Shushu. A little rascal if you ask me,” the old man answered easily.

“What’s she doing here?” Ruffy asked.

“Guarding the store.”

Both girls blinked. “Store?” they asked lifted their gazes to the sign above the door the chief entered, or tried to in Ruffy’s case. She couldn’t see very well from inside the cage with the stone roof she had.

“Hey, there was a store here,” Nami declared as she noticed it. “Pet food huh?”

Those words had Ruffy gawk at the other girl. “Pet food? There are stores that sell food only for pets?!”

Nami looked down into the caged girl’s baffled face with surprise. “Yes. There are a few of them out there.”

How Ruffy took in that information was hard to tell with the face she pulled. She could be either thoughtful or annoyed or both. “How lucky you are, dog,” she murmured to the animal. It yawned at her.

The chief came out of the store with a bowl of pet food in his hands and put it down in front of the dog.

“The storeowner was a good friend of mine,” the old man told the girls as he sat on the stairs to the entrance and took out a pipe from his pocket. “I'm feeding her in his place.”

“In his place?” Nami repeated with a tilted head.

The chief lightened his pipe and sucked on it, looking somewhat forlorn. “Yes. He passed away three months ago due to an illness. But he and Shushu ran this store for ten years. To them it’s full of memories. I too am quite attached to it.”

“Oh… could it be…” Nami went over the possibilities in her head. “Is the dog waiting for master to come back home?”

Boodle shrugged. “So they say, but I don’t think so.”

Nami blinked. “Huh? You don’t?”

The old man blew a smoke ring in the air and watched as it dispersed in the air. “Shushu is a smart dog. She probably knows her master is dead.”

Even though Nami found this subject quickly going down a path she hadn’t expected and really didn’t want it to, she still heard herself keep asking questions. “Then why?”

It was Ruffy who answered. “Because the store is a treasure for her.”

The pair outside the cage stared at the occupant inside it. Ruffy had her eyes closed and leaned against the bars, the smile on her face gentler than any Nami had seen on her before.

“I like it, the sound of this house,” she said and turned her eyes to the chief. “It resounds in the dog’s heart too. A lot of warm memories. He had a nice laugh, that old man.”

“Hm? Yes, he liked to laugh, and Shushu used to laugh along.” The old man glanced curiously at the girl inside the cage. “How did you know, girl? Have you been here before?”

“Nope, but I can hear heartbeats. This town is full of home hearts, but this store has the strongest heartbeat.”

“Is that so?” Boodle voiced and accepted the answer. “Well, I don’t know much about that sort of thing. But you are quite right. Maybe my friend’s heart lingers in this store. Animals are sensitive to that sort of supernatural stuff I have heard.” He breathed out smoke and glanced down at the little dog licking the bowl clean. “Look at her wounds. She must have fought the pirates only to protect the store.”

“Against the pirates?!” Nami exclaimed. “Isn’t that a bit too much? I mean… if the owner is dead…”

“Yes, that’s exactly why Shushu guards the store,” the old man cut her off gently. “It’s all she has left of her precious master, that’s why she protects it with her life.” He sighed heavily. “She’s such a little rascal. I’ve tried to evacuate her numerous times but she won’t move from this spot. If I didn’t come to feed her she’d starve to death.”

Ruffy’s ears perked at a new sound entering them. “It’s about time you two started running,” she said out of the blue.

Both Nami and Boodle gave her funny looks. “Huh? Why?”

A roar echoed between the houses.

“Because someone is coming,” the pirate girl answered matter-of-factly.

Nami wasn’t quite listening. “What’s with that roar?” she squeaked.

“It’s the beast-tamer Moji! Run for your life!” the chief screamed, turned his tail and fled.

Nami was too happy to follow his example. She and Boodle ran as fast as their legs could carry them and hid a few houses away. Ruffy, still confined in the cage without any way out glared at the dog in front of her. It had finished its lunch and placed the bowl on top of the stairs to the shop.

“Hey, somebody’s coming. Cough up the key and let me out, stupid dog.”

Chapter Text

Some things are just unforgiveable

Nami and chief Boodle peeked at the situation outside the pet food store with their hearts in their mouths. Ruffy didn’t seem worried about the fact a giant growling lion was peering hungrily into her cage. In fact she was making fun of the guy sitting on the lion’s back; “Beast-tamer Moji,” the chief called him.

Nami couldn't care less about the enemy's name at that moment, being more concerned about his facial expressions saying he was losing temper.

“Stop ticking him off!” Nami frantically whispered to Ruffy, though she most certainly couldn’t hear her. “Does she want to die? That foolish…!”

“What an idiot. She shouldn’t be so reckless,” Boodle agreed, shaking in his sandals.

They couldn’t really hear what Ruffy was saying, but the lion rider’s voice carried to them clearly; “Tell me where Lolonoa Zoro is.”

To which Ruffy loudly replied; “Eat crap. No chance.”

Nami thought she would die herself just hearing it.

The beast-tamer snickered before he jumped off the lion’s back. “Charge, Richie!” he shouted.

The response was immediate. With a roar the lion jumped the cage and tore it open within seconds.

“Impossible!” Nami protested. Even though the lion was so big it shouldn’t be able to tear open a cage with stone walls and iron bars! Stone and iron for crying out loud! It just shouldn’t be able to do it!

The chief squeaked. “Oh no! That girl will be eaten!”

Ignorant of the obvious danger Ruffy happily hopped out of the broken cage, and was hit in the side so that she flew into and through one of the houses with a loud crash.

“Tell me I didn’t just see that,” Nami pleaded to the old man at her side.

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” the chief whispered solemnly, his eyes locked on the new hole in one of the houses second floor.

Sighing quietly Boodle closed his eyes with a heart that felt cold and heavy. He was an old man, seventy already, and yet again he was forced to watch as a young person was killed before his eyes. That little girl had hardly even started living.

Boodle turned away from the sight outside the pet shop where the lion and Shushu were growling at each other. The chief’s old heart hurt even more when he heard the poor dog whine in pain. He could only hope Shushu wasn’t about to be eaten and that Moji and the lion would just pass everything by.

Why? Why had the pirates come to his town? Why was everyone he loved getting hurt? Why couldn’t he do anything?!

But he had to keep up hope. Surely God couldn’t be so cruel as to let a young girl die like that. “Let’s walk around the block,” he suggested. “If that girl by some miracle survived she must be badly injured.”

Nami couldn’t argue, although the barks and yelps from the dog cut into her heart, and she followed the old man through the backstreets. She could admit to herself she felt sorry about Rayla. Even if that girl was a pirate she hadn’t deserved to die. Not like that.

They rounded a corner and found pieces of wood and furniture spread around the ground. Nami bit her lip and didn't want to take a step closer to the debris. So Rayla had been thrown through the entire house. Who knew in what condition her body...?

“Found it!”

Nami and Boodle both almost swallowed their tongues at the outburst and the sight of the lean body of no other than Ruffy, seemingly perfectly fine, jumping up from behind an armchair holding up her straw hat.

Boodle found his voice first. "How can you still be alive, girl?" he yelled.

 “Why aren’t you dead?” Nami asked almost at the same time.

The girl gave them a hurt look. “Can’t I live?”

“Y… yes you can, but that’s beside the point here,” Nami said, trying to recompose herself. “You just got hit by a lion that tore open that iron cage and you flew through a whole house and you’re fine!? How come you’re not hurt?”

“I’m hurt. Look.” Ruffy lifted her tank top and showed that the side of her belly was bruising around shallow marks from the lion’s claws. “That lion hit quite hard. This is gonna make a bruise. Good thing I have Shodai. She covered me through the house.”

Nami felt like strangling the other girl. “For the hundredth time, that’s just a sword. Don’t be so damn strange.”

Ruffy flinched and her head whipped around, looking towards the house she had smashed through. Nami noticed the suddenly frightened look on the other girl’s face and a feeling of ill foreboding filled her.

Boodle stepped closer to them, eyes focused on Ruffy. “Hey, young girl. What is your purpose here? A little girl fighting Buggy and his gang, it’s the same as suicide. What are you fighting for?”

“I’m not the only one fighting,” the dark haired girl responded quietly. “That funny cap guy said he was looking for Zoro. Why is he attacking the dog’s heart?”

“The dog’s heart? Hey, wait.” Nami caught a strong hold of the other girl’s arm as she tried to run away. “I’m not done with you. First of all, I hope you’re not intending to attack… that… lion?”

Ruffy was staring back with a startled face and wide golden eyes. Last time Nami checked, those eyes had been brown.

“Can’t you hear it?” Ruffy asked urgently. “That dog is crying. Something is disappearing…”

“Disappearing? What are you talking about? What’s up with your eyes? Wait!”

Before Nami could ask any more questions Ruffy yanked her arm free and ran off.

“Stop! Where are you going?”

Ruffy ignored the calls and ran in between the houses until she arrived to a brightly lit scene. The pet food store was on fire, and in front of it the little grey dog sat, barking and wailing.

“While I’m at the hospital you look after the store, Shushu. Take care of yourself, Shushu.”

The old voice that had once belonged to the person Shushu loved the most was fading away, choked by the cracks of the fire. The last words the little dog had ever heard her master say pained her.

Shushu howled and barked, the blood from several wounds dying her coat more red than grey as she cried at the flames to stop eating her treasure.

Ruffy turned around and walked away, following the sound of the lion heart's high self-esteem. It hadn’t come far, and that furry hat guy was still with it.

The straw hat girl followed the sound of their hearts in silence, not even thinking clearly as she leisurely walked the streets before stopping right in the path of the lion with her arms crossed.

The lion stopped when it saw her, sniffing in the air, and growled in confusion. It's master's eyes widened.

“You?” The furry hat guy made an angry grimace, gritting his teeth. “Didn’t I just…? I killed you just a moment ago!”

Ruffy snorted. “You can’t kill me. Compared to some other people I’ve fought, you’re just a kitty cat.”

The furry hat guy chuckled, resembling his captain. “You’ve got luck, girl. But I think you hit your head. Before I kill you properly. Where is Lolonoa Zoro?”

“You don’t have to ask me again, I still won’t tell you.”

The pirate shrugged. “Have it your way then. Richie, bite her head off!”

What happened next is hard to describe. Moji could hardly believe his own eyes as he watched. Richie leaped for the skinny girl, ready to follow orders, but the human girl kicked up into Richie's chin so that the lion was airborne. The girl then jumped up over Richie's head, spun around to gain more power and hit again, hard enough to crush the animal's head down into the cobblestone street.

Moji gaped. It had happened so fast. That little girl moved so fast it was hard to follow her movements with the naked eye. Now his pet, his lion, his only true strength, was defeated.

“What…? What the hell are you?! Richie!”

The girl had her back turned to him in a kneeling position after landing and her voice was dark. “I’m just like your captain; a pirate with devil powers.”

“Captain?” Moji fought hard to comprehend. What had the girl just said? How could one be just like his captain…?! “Devil…?! You… you mean you ate the devil fruit, just like Captain Buggy?”

The girl slowly stood, eyes shadowed by the brim of her straw hat, not answering. Her profile was more intimidating than any words could ever be. It was like a fire was burning wildly, like a hungry beast. Moji should know. He had seen many beasts in his life, yet this scrawny little human girl was scarier than any wild animal.

Moji waved his arms in front of him hoping this girl knew about parlay. “Okay, I get it. Let’s take it easy. I’ll apologize for all that happened. Please forgive me!”

Ruffy bit her tongue. Sun’s voice from only months ago echoed in her mind.

“Listen to me, Ruffy. As long as he doesn’t sincerely apologize directly to you, you have no reason to forgive him.”

“You can’t apologize to me,” Ruffy stated lowly.

“Huh?”

“It’s too late now. Her heart is crying because you destroyed her treasure, and it won’t come back.” She glared at him with her wide golden eyes and a cold flame about her. “Even if you apologize, some things are just unforgivable.”

Moji screamed and tried to escape when his enemy took a run towards him, but she was a lot faster and a blow to the back of Moji’s head caused him to collide with the ground, almost making a crack on his skull.

“That’s less of a beating than you deserve,” Ruffy said to the unconscious pirate. “Weakling.”

She was just about to go back to the burning pet food store when she noticed something on the ground. A box with a dog face on that said “Pet food”. Picking it up and listening closely Ruffy could tell it was an item from the store and she smiled with relief.

“Don’t worry. You haven’t lost everything, dog.”

She eagerly stood up, and almost immediately fell back down with a gasp and clutched her chest tightly. The pain was so intense she felt faint.

“Damn. I didn’t think it’d be this bad. What a mean guy doing this to me.” Ruffy took a deep breath, feeling how the pain expanded and then eased a little. She continued the process until she could at least stand up. “It's alright, Sun. I won't die. Don't worry.”

A bit slower than she wanted, Ruffy walked back towards the dog and the store. Or at least what used to be a store. When she came back it was only a hissing heap of ashes and glowing charcoal.

“Well, well, what have we here?” Ruffy looked away from the pile of ash and burnt wood towards a pissed off navigator snarling at her. “So you’re still alive, miss pirate? I thought you had enough brains to be eaten by that lion.” Finishing that calmly spoken sentence Nami dashed forward, her eyes full of rage and her arms reached out to strangle the unmoving straw hatted girl. “I’ll kill you, pirate! Before you gather a crew and start ruining people’s lives I’ll kill you right here and now!”

“Hold it, young lady!” Boodle held the angered thief back.

“I don’t want to fight you,” Ruffy stated bluntly and walked by them both. Her response did nothing to ease Nami’s temper though. On the contrary actually.

“What did you say!?” Nami screamed, fighting Boodle’s desperate grasp. “Come back here and say that again if you dare! I’ll rip your tongue out you bloody pirate!”

Ruffy put down the pet food box in front of the dog, and collapsed, enveloping the animal with her body. The hat fell off Ruffy’s black head when she fell.

For a few seconds everything was quiet. Nami and Boodle had stilled, staring at the sight in front of the burnt down pet food store.

“I looked,” Ruffy started quietly, “but that's all I could find. Suppose the lion ate what it wanted and burnt the rest. Quite mean, huh?”

The dog said nothing. She only sat there and stared at the box, but Ruffy could hear it. Inside the little dog’s heart the pain slowly subsided. It would probably never vanish, but it could at least become bearable.

“You fought well,” the pirate girl said smiling. “I didn’t see you, but I think I know. You really are as awesome as your master said you are. And at least… something small like this will be easier to protect right? So don’t lose it.”

A heavy rock fell from the dog’s heart and she accepted the gift. She took it in her mouth, jumped over Ruffy’s waist and walked away, but before she turned a corner she stopped and turned back.

“Woof!”

Ruffy laughed and turned onto her back. “Sure. Good luck to you too!”

The dog seemed to smile as she barked back, took the box and disappeared from sight.

Ruffy sighed and relaxed. The pain in her chest had finally subsided to the dull throbbing she’d felt ever since she woke up beside Coby, but she still felt weak from the attack. She wondered if she would have to live with it from now on or if it would fade away. It would be good if it disappeared. Then she wouldn’t have to worry about it exploding inside her during a battle.

“Ruffy.”

Blinking her eyes open against the light Ruffy noticed Nami standing over her with a somewhat awkward smile and a hand lifted in apology.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

The dark-haired girl smiled back in understanding. “I don’t mind. The people who were mean to you were pirates, is all. No hard feelings.”

The thief returned the smile with her own, lopsided one. “Are you hurt?” she asked.

“Yeah. That stupid bear really tried to kill me. It will probably take some time before I’m completely fit. Hope it doesn’t take too long.”

“Bear? Don’t you mean lion? Oddball.”

The girls smiled at each other, before their bubble popped from the scream of a suddenly furious chief Boodle.

“I’VE HAD ENOOOOUUUUUUGHHHH!!!” he roared as he threw his fists and spear into the air. “I can’t just sit around any longer. Shushu and a little girl are fighting so bravely and here am I, the chief of this town, doing nothing as my town is trampled.”

Nami lifted her hands in what she hoped was a calming motion. “Ch… chief. Wait. Please calm down,” she tried to reason, but Boodle had reached his limit. He wouldn’t let the pirates destroy everything he held dear. Not again. Not as long as he was still breathing.

He turned burning eyes towards the young girl watching him from the ground. Her eyes were calm and strong at the same time. Boodle could tell she understood how he felt. “There are battles you just can’t back down from. What do you think, girl? Aren’t I right?”

“You’re every bit right, old man,” Ruffy smirked up at him from her position on the ground.

“Don’t encourage him, stupid!” Nami whined.

“It started forty years ago,” the old man told them with nostalgia mixing into his voice, “When we arrived there was nothing but barren wasteland here. We decided to start over and rebuild the town we had lost to pirates. Now look!” he cried out and held his arms out and tilting his head back as if he was showing off a great monument. “A whole town grew up from nothing! This place is built by us elders with our own hands! It took forty years for all of this to come to be! That’s why this town and its people are my treasure!!!”

“Chief!”

“I’m going to fight! I’ll pick up arms against Buggy the clown!!!”

An explosion caused the two standing to fall to the ground along with a large number houses. They should consider themselves lucky the blast had missed them with only a few yards as they stared at the destruction.

“Look. Even my house is a pile of debris now.”

“Your house?” Ruffy rolled over and at least managed to push herself into a half sitting position supported by her arms. “That’s where Zoro was sleeping!”

They looked at the smoke and dust rising from the destroyed houses.

“Did he die, that boy with the haramaki?” Boodle asked quietly, mostly to himself.

“Zoro!” Ruffy cried. “Zoro, can you hear me?!”

Boodle closed his eyes as Ruffy's pleading cries twisted the knife in his heart. Another one. Yet another young one had died and now this young girl was...

A groan was heard through the smokescreen and the chief opened his eyes wide. Could it be? The boy was alive? After having a house fall over him? Could such miracles actually happen?

There was a noise of wood and roof tiles moving, and as the three onlookers watched a shadow sat up and rubbed its head.

“I hear you, Ruffy. Damn, if this was your idea of a fun way to wake me up I’ll throw you into the sea.”

The girl pirate let out a breath and fell back down, lying in a rather uncomfortable looking heap. “That’s fine, as long as you’re alive.”

The swordsman groaned as he stood up and patted dust from his shirt, perfectly fine save the wound he’d suffered before the house fell over him.

Boodle decided he did believe in miracles. Still. If this boy hadn’t had this sort of luck, then a young girl would have lost her dear friend.

Because of Buggy the Clown!

Zoro yawned widely and looked around. The first thing he really noticed was Ruffy lying on the ground. “What happened to you?” he asked.

Ruffy just smiled up at him. “That’s a long story. Tell you later.”

“I won’t allow this to happen!!!”

Surprised by the outburst Zoro lifted his gaze to that geezer from before who was now boiling over with anger… and helplessness. The old man went on about pirates being cowardly bastards that had no right to destroy so forty years of hard work. Seemed like things had happened while he slept. Well, Zoro wasn’t about to complain. He didn’t really care what this old man was furious about or what he wanted to protect. The geezer wanted to fight Buggy, and Zoro wasn’t the type of man to let up on a fight. Casting one glance at Ruffy Zoro knew she felt the same.

The chief lifted his spear high in the air and cried; “Attack!!!” and tried to dash away, but Nami grabbed a hold on the old man’s armour and held him back.

“Please stop, chief. It’s suicide to attack them alone!”

“I know it is suicide.”

And so the old man ran off. Behind he left a stunned navigator and two smirking pirates.

“Seems like things are getting heated up,” Zoro said, unable to contain his amusement.

“Damn straight,” Ruffy giggled and managed to stand.

Angrily Nami spun around to face them. “How can you laugh at a time like this? The chief intend to die!”

“He won’t die,” Ruffy assured, patted dirt off her clothes and looked around for her hat. “I like that old geezer. There’s no way I’ll let him go down.” She found the hat and dusted it off.

Nami growled in frustration. Didn’t Rayla know she was a girl? It didn’t matter if she had that sword or if she was good at fighting, she couldn’t take down an entire pirate crew on her own. “What exactly do you think you can do? You’re injured too!”

“Not so badly it will affect a fight against that clown.” Ruffy deadpanned, placed the straw hat on her head and turned to the tangerine-haired girl, eyes burning almost challengingly. “Our destination is the Grand Line, and to go there we need the chart in Buggy’s possession.” She held out her hand. “Come on and join us, Nami. You want that chart and the treasure too, don’t you?”

The thief pouted a bit. She was being pulled in, she knew that. But for now she supposed she could follow the stream.

“I won’t become a pirate,” she assured with emphasis and slapped her palm against Ruffy’s, “so let’s say we’re working together against a common enemy.”

Ruffy smiled happily at her. “Perfect. Let’s go, Zoro.”

“Aye captain,” the swordsman agreed, still smirking and fell in behind Ruffy.

Nami gaped. “What? Why you? You’re hurt!”

“No. It’s all healed up.”

“Like hell it has!”

Zoro pointedly ignored Nami’s worry and tied his black bandana around his head, his lust for a fight clear to see on his face. “Sorry, but my name is suffering worse than my gut. Let’s get this party started.”

The thief gave in, knowing she was defeated. There was just no way to reason with pirates. “Good grief. You’re both mad.”

Ruffy whistled a low tune that sent strange vibes down Nami’s spine. She felt slightly weaker to her knees and yet boosted with energy.

“We’ll show those clowns who rules,” Ruffy grinned and cracked her knuckles.

Chapter Text

Battle! The Buggy pirates VS. The Straw Hat pirates

It was with a skip in her gait that Ruffy strolled through the streets towards the drinker bar where Buggy and his gang were hanging out. Zoro didn’t rush either, and it made Nami near hysterical.

“Hey. Shouldn’t we run? What if the chief is killed before we get there.”

“He’s in no danger of dying,” Ruffy said reassuringly and hummed a little tune, as if she wasn’t on her way to battle.

Nami couldn’t really name what she felt getting mixed with her anxiety, but it wasn’t something pleasant. “Just where does all that confidence come from? He’s an old man!”

“Old is the oldest” Ruffy sang, ticking off Nami even more. “He’s hanging in there quite well if you ask me.”

Zoro huffed. “That’s quite a useful ability you have, Ruffy.”

“It is sometimes.”

Nami quirked a suspicious eyebrow. “What ability?” she demanded to know.

They rounded a corner and in front of them the chief was floating a few inches above ground level, kicking with his legs. Ruffy quickened her pace to bring the old man back to earth.

Zoro turned to the thief girl to answer her question. “Ruffy told me she can hear heartbeats. I’m not sure what it means exactly, but that way she can tell who and where a person is.”

Nami was about to retort, saying how ridiculous that sounded, but Buggy’s voice echoed through the area. “So you came back here by your own will? This time I’ll make sure to kill you all!”

“Whatever,” Nami scoffed, deciding whatever Ruffy said about herself had nothing to do with the mission at hand, and she pointed at the swordsman. “You can fight all you want, but I’m going to collect the treasure.”

“Suit yourself,” Zoro shrugged, not caring either way.

“You little brats,” a hoarse voice sounded.

The trio looked down at the wheezing chief. His voice was hoarse and he was rubbing his bruising throat. Ruffy had positioned herself in front of the chief, but from the old man’s voice it wasn’t a popular move. The glare he gave her only further proved how he liked them being there at all.

He growled at them. “This is my fight. Outsiders should stay out.” He grabbed his spear from the ground and jumped to his feet, starting to walk by Ruffy, something she didn’t appreciate. “I’m the chief. I have to protect my own town!”

Without warning the pirate girl flung her arm out and sent the old man flying head first into a wall.

Nami gasped, watching with horror as the man fell into an awkward heap, unconscious. She turned furious eyes to Ruffy. “Wha… what did you do that for? He’s the chief! An old man!”

“An old man in my way,” the other girl answered lightly and cracked her knuckles.

“Good thinking,” Zoro said. “He’d die for sure if we’d let him fight. He’s safer like that.”

Nami found she really couldn’t argue with that, but still! “You didn’t have to be that reckless!”

Ruffy turned to her friends as she stepped closer to the bar. “You two stand back. I’m gonna try something.”

It was the look on her face that made Zoro grab the navigator and put a safe distance between them and his captain.

“What? What’s she gonna do?” Nami wanted to know, or not, she wasn’t sure.

Zoro just shook his head as he watched his captain’s back. “I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s something crazy.”

Ruffy inhaled as much as her lungs could expand and used all the air to scream; “BIG RED TOMATO NOOOOOOSSSSEEEE!!!”

Nami almost died. “You’re right! She’s crazy!”

It took Buggy a full ten seconds to regain enough of his senses to decide on an action and speak. “FIRE HARD!!! BUGGY BALL!!! BLOW THAT GIRL TO SMITHERIEES!!! DIE IN A FLASH!!!”

“I’m outta here!” Nami declared and turned on her heels as the cannon aimed at them and the fuse was lightened.

“Ruffy, watch out!” Zoro called and reached for his captain, feeling his heart jump into his mouth when he heard the boom of the cannon. They wouldn’t make it.

But the girl didn’t run. What she did do was a move unseen ever before in the East Blue; she rapidly spun around, caught the cannon ball flying and sent it straight back to its owner.

Buggy only had time to start screaming before the explosion cut him off. The whole building blew up.

Ruffy threw her arms in the air and cheered. “Yahoo! I always wanted to try that!”

Zoro sighed and rubbed his forehead in both relief and annoyance. “Warn me you can do things like that.”

Nami hadn’t gotten very far. Actually she had only taken a few steps before the cannon had fired and she turned to see what happened. Now her legs felt wobbly and gave in at Ruffy’s display of a strength her skinny little body definitely shouldn’t be able to host.

It was a little difficult to breathe with her heart pumping from the fright she just had, but Nami still managed to find the breath to yell. “Just what kind of monster are you?! What the hell was that?”

Ruffy turned around with a wide grin and stars in her eyes, giving her friends a thumb up. “Old bastard methods.”

“Old bastard? What does that mean?” Nami jumped back to her feet and grabbed Ruffy by the shoulders. “I thought it was strange you could fight with that lion and come back alive! Are you even human? A scrawny little girl like you throwing back a cannonball shot from a cannon! That’s just not normal.”

“I told you the old bastard taught me,” Ruffy explained.

“Make sense when you talk!”

“I don’t think she can,” Zoro said with a wave of his hand.

Nami gritted her teeth and was about to say something more, but the sound of a now familiar voice stopped her.

“You little maggots.”

They turned towards the rubble that once was a bar where the growling voice had come from. Now that the smoke was clearing they could see two people and the belly of a lion there.

Nami realized first what it was they saw. “His men? He used them as shields.”

The lion was lowered to reveal a slim man in a blue coat, blue- and white scarf and a funny haircut standing behind it.

“We’ve never been this humiliated before, captain.”

The other two people fell. Buggy stood there with his head lowered. “I’m so angry I can’t find a word to say.”

A third person stood from the debris, one with white hair and bear ears on top of his head. “Ouch. Damn, I must have fainted…” He looked up, rubbing his head and found his best friend unconscious in the hands of the crew’s strategist. “Hey, Cabaji! What are you doing to my Richie?!”

“This kitten?” the man holding up the lion asked nonchalantly. “I didn’t want my cloths to get dirty, so I used it as a shield.” He threw the lion away from him with disinterest. Moji crawled over to his beloved lion and worriedly fussed over it. Richie was still alive, but badly burnt and wounded.

Beast-tamer Moji glared angrily at his fellow. “Cabaji, you freaking…” He paused, because he saw something familiar beyond the slim man that his poor Richie’s body had covered from his view before. Standing a short distance away was a person he recognized. One he had returned to the base to warn his captain about, but his strength had failed him after struggling to carry Richie with him and he had collapsed before he could bring the news about the girl standing before them now.

“No! The straw hat! Not you! Captain Buggy, be careful. That girl has eaten a devil fruit too! She’s super strong!”

Nami turned back to the other girl. “Devil fruit?”

“Yup.”

“So you really have eaten a devil fruit,” Zoro said with a slight smirk, pleased he’d guessed right.

Buggy stared into the eyes of the girl across of him. The straw hat on her head and the straightforward look in her eyes made her resemble a certain bastard that made his blood boil even hotter.

“So she’s eaten a devil fruit. That would explain a few things,” the clown captain mused mostly to himself before his freely flying hand grabbed his first mate around the collar. “Moji,” he started calmly. “If you knew about that,” Buggy threw his nakama towards Ruffy with a roar, “WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY SO?!”

“I tried…!” Moji saw the straw hat girl standing in the course he was flying. “Get out of my way!” he cried at her.

“I’m already done with you,” the girl scoffed, flung her arm out again and sent the guy flying into another wall. He fell into a graceless heap, unconscious. Ruffy snorted at him. “Stay down or you’ll just die.”

Someone was yelling, and when Ruffy spun around, the slim man seated on a unicycle and swinging a sword was coming at her fast.

“I am the strategist, Cabaji the acrobat!” he introduced himself.

Ruffy jumped backwards, and then Zoro stood in front of her blocking the attack.

“Swordfights are my specialty,” was all he said.

The acrobat backed away slightly, smirking with self-confidence. “I’m honoured, Lolonoa Zoro. To think I’ll be the one to take you down.”

Ruffy frowned worriedly as she glanced at her friend’s side. Zoro had been too weak to move from the blood loss before, and now the wound Buggy had caused him had reopened.

“You sure about this, Zoro?” she asked cautiously.

“I’m sure. Get out of my way.”

The girl only nodded and backed away. Zoro was grateful. Women didn’t always understand what honour meant to a man.

“As expected of the great Lolonoa Zoro,” the clown smirked. “As a swordsman, I would have lost my respect for you if you took help from a girl.”

Zoro decided not to answer. Obviously this clown hadn’t met many women in his life or he wouldn’t have opened his ugly mouth.

The acrobat pulled his scarf down. “Have a taste of my Fire trick!”

He breathed fire! Zoro closed his eyes and staggered backwards, one arm up to protect his face. The next second all he could feel was a terrible pain in his side searing through his whole body. The surprise had him screaming before he realized what happened. That damn clown had kicked him!

“What’s this? I didn’t kick that hard, did I?”

That priggish voice. Zoro gritted his teeth as he tried to catch his breath enough to get up from the ground.

His enemy wouldn’t let him though. “My next performance is,” the acrobat stuck the tip of his sword into the dirt and waved his swords-arm around like a windmill. “Murder mist trick!”

“Not much of a performance,” Zoro scoffed. “You’re only pulling up dust.”

A sword cut through the cloud and Zoro had to use both his swords to block it, which was difficult enough in his half-lying position, and he had no chance of avoiding the foot he saw from the corner of his eye once again aiming for his side.

‘What the hell!!!’

It hurt. But even so; what was he doing?! Rolling around on the ground screaming like a loser. He had always known pirates played dirty.

‘Fine,’ Zoro thought angrily. ‘If he wants to play the game that way, go ahead.’

The clown charged again. “You’re mine! Lolonoa Zoro!”

He was right-handed, so Zoro dodged to his right and planted a good left hook in his opponent’s face that threw him right off his annoying unicycle.

“Stop yapping, you dork. Is hitting my wounds really that much fun?”

Turning his sword around in his hand, Zoro cut his side open worse than it was before. It hurt more than he had expected, and the loss of blood had already started to get to him, but he had to endure. If he didn’t, a life in shame was all that awaited him, and that was no future.

He glared at his enemy. “My sword will be the world’s greatest,” he stated firmly.

“What?” the acrobat voiced stupidly.

“Is this enough of a handicap for you?” Zoro went on and unsheathed Kuina’s katana. “I’ll prove that you and I aren’t playing in the same dimension.”

“Lolonoa Zoro. You are a fool,” the clown acrobat said with heartfelt pity, easily kicking up his unicycle and getting back up on it.

“Whatever,” Zoro snorted. “I won’t allow myself to lose even once against someone who calls himself a swordsman.” He bit down on the handle of his white katana.

The clown laughed. “Are you ambitious or just stubborn? I’ll give you points for having willpower though. Don’t worry; you couldn’t win against me before you cut yourself, but if it makes you feel better you can use that wound as an excuse to have lost against me.”

“Wrong.” Zoro stood with a snarl. “If I lose to someone like you with a petty wound like this, nothing will become of me.”

The acrobat growled. “Don’t get so cheeky bastard. Have a taste of my best performance.” He lifted his hands where he had gotten a few spin tops to spin on his palms. “One hundred cutting tops typhoon!” he cried and a storm of the spinning child toys came flying from his coat.

Zoro didn’t know if he should snap or cry. ‘Spin tops? Seriously?!’ And this guy actually dared calling himself a swordsman?! Just because you could hold and swing a sword it didn’t make you a swordsman! This guy wasn’t even using the sword half of the time!

With the speed the tops came at him by Zoro could easily cut them. It hardly even hurt when the cut halves hit his body save the wounded area.

“Wall climbing!”

Zoro blinked. “What?”

When the spin tops stopped coming Zoro’s opponent was not in front of him, but there was a strange shadow on the ground.

“Rising fireworks!”

Looking up Zoro found the acrobat high in the air and soon on his way down sword first.

“Cabaji. I’ll hold him, so finish him off!”

Buggy’s voice! Zoro turned and saw a hand without the rest of the body coming at him. Growling with dismay he still jumped out of the way for the falling sword hoping his luck was enough to save him.

He managed! The hand didn’t come and pull him back into the line of the blade and the unicycle guy hit the ground a few feet away. Hearing Buggy howling in pain Zoro looked up with surprise and saw Ruffy’s thin back in a slightly crouched position and digging her heel into the ground. Under her foot was Buggy’s hand.

“Don’t interfere with Zoro’s fight,” Ruffy’s dangerously level voice sounded.

Zoro couldn’t help but let his breath out, and send a silent thank you to his captain as he heard Buggy curse her loudly.

His opponent was looking down at his slumped form with disapproval. “You dodged it, Lolonoa,” he stated as if it was a crime.

“Enough,” Zoro voiced hoarsely. “I’m sick…”

“Sick?” The man on the unicycle laughed, completely dropping his guard. “You’re getting low on blood? Giving up at last? I understand you, Lolonoa. I’m impressed you can even stand up with a wound…”

Zoro kicked out and the unicycle rolled away without its rider, the clown landing on his butt. Zoro stood and glared down at his opponent with utter contempt. “I said I’m sick… of watching your dorky circus performances.”

The acrobat wasn’t laughing anymore. Without his dear unicycle his speed was cut down and with his opponent in between him and his wheel he couldn’t make a run for it either. His pride forbade. “Whatever! I can finish you off either way, with my real sword skill!”

Zoro crouched down deep and crossed his arms over his chest with his katana pointing upwards, waiting for his enemy. The acrobat just charged, holding his sabre to stab, looking clumsy when running on his own two feet and without much technique. Because this man was a clown pirate, not a real swordsman.

Zoro’s body moved forward so fast it was like his legs were made out of springs, his three katana crossing each other in a star shape. “Onigiri!”

The one who was cut was the acrobat.

Buggy cried out in surprise and anger. Ruffy cheered. Cabaji… he felt the cuts on his body, how deep they were, and watched his own blood dance like raindrops in front of his eyes. How could this be? How could he be defeated with only one attack? Even though it was the rumoured Pirate hunter Lolonoa Zoro, this shouldn’t have happened.

“We are… the Buggy pirates…” he gasped in shock, watching as the world darkened. “How…? Against some common thieves…?”

Zoro pulled his bandana off. He had called Ruffy an idiot more than once, but these clowns were way stupider than even her. Quite a feat actually. “We’re not some thieves,” he informed his already unconscious opponent. “We’re pirates.”

His legs gave away under him and the ground was hard and cold to land on. His head was spinning from the blood loss and he was quite hungry. Maybe cutting himself up had been stupid of him after all. Well, what’s done is done and his weary eyes caught sight of Ruffy’s proud face looking at him.

“Ru… Ruffy. I’m tired, so I’ll sleep for a moment,” he told her weakly.

The girl smiled at him. “Sleep tight, Zoro. I’ll take care of the rest.”

And Zoro fell into a deep sleep.

Ruffy turned towards the last man standing; Buggy the clown. He was giving her a rather scrutinizing glare.

“You are… pirates?” he asked doubtfully.

“That’s right,” the girl confirmed easily. “So we’re taking the chart of the Grand Line you have.”

Buggy made a sound in between a scoff and a laugh. “I see. Pirates huh? That explains why you’ve been such a bother. And you want to go to the Grand Line as well? What for? That’s not the kind of place you just go to, especially not nameless pirates like you. So what are you going to do in the Grand Line? Go sight-seeing?”

“I’m going to be the king of pirates,” Ruffy told him with a clear voice.

The clown gaped, and then laughed until he lay on the ground holding his stomach and with tears rolling down his cheeks. Ruffy thought the paint on the clown’s face must be water proof since it wasn’t ruined by the tears.

“You?!” Buggy cried in between laughs. “The king of pirates?! Buwahahahaha!!! That’s the most hilarious thing I’ve ever heard! A scrawny little girl like you as the pirate king?” He laughed a bit more before he dried his eyes, still chuckling as he got to his feet. “Don’t kid yourself, girl. Let me give you a piece of free advice; give up on such big dreams. You’ll just die.”

“Why don’t you try me then?” Ruffy shrugged, having waited patiently for Buggy to stop laughing. “If I win, it proves I’m as good a pirate as anyone and you’ll give me the chart.”

“Oh?” Buggy voiced, now interested. “So what will you do when you lose?”

“I lose when I die,” the girl declared with a slow smirk.

The clown chuckled. “You’re funny,” he told her. “No brain, but that conviction burning about you is a tad bit admirable. Though that stupid straw hat you have is annoying. Reminds me of that despicable redhead.”

Ruffy’s heart jumped. “Redhead?” she repeated. There was only one red-haired person the straw hat could remind anyone of. “Shanks?”

Buggy blinked in slight surprise. “Hm? You know him?”

“Do you know where he is now?”

“What’s this? You seem awfully interested.” Buggy smirked playfully, rubbing his chin in a feigned thoughtful manner. “Do I know where he is? Maybe I don’t.”

Ruffy gave him a strange look. “You don’t know whether you know where Shanks is or not? Are you really stupid?”

“Watch your little tongue, midget! What I’m saying is,” he made a move with his hands and eight knives appeared in them, hilts between his fingers, “I won’t answer that question. I’m not the kind of nice guy to hand over information just because you want it.”

“Oh,” Ruffy voiced as she understood, so she smirked excitedly and cracked her knuckles, getting into fighting position. “So I just have to beat you until you tell me.”

“Watch your tongue, I said.” Buggy kicked his heels into the ground and like stilettos blades came out from the tips of his shoes. He leered at the girl pirate. “You can throw back cannonballs, but that kind of strength doesn’t work against blades, correct?”

Not catching the mockery of the clown’s voice Ruffy nodded her head. “That’s right.”

“Good. Chop Chop Bug Saw!”

The clown came apart at the middle and sent his lower body spinning like a saw blade at high speed. Ruffy grabbed Shodai and jumped high into the air, pulling her legs up as close to her body as possible.

“In the air you’re nothing but an open target!” she heard Buggy yell.

Looking up she saw how knives came flying. Unable to dodge in mid-air, Ruffy swiftly took out Shodai from her belt and countered instead.

The knives harmlessly clattered to the ground, Buggy’s legs returned to him and Ruffy landed softly on her feet, unscratched and with Shodai still sheathed.

Buggy glared at the weapon. He hadn’t paid too much attention to it before since the sheath didn’t make an impression of high value. “A katana? You a swordsman?”

“Nope, not at all,” the pirate girl answered and picked up a loose cobblestone the size of her fist from the street. Though Buggy wanted to know what the girl was doing with a sword if she couldn’t use it, he realized she wouldn’t give him the time to ask when she threw the rock at him as hard as she could.

Ruffy didn’t rest. When Buggy’s eyes followed the course of the rock she ran after it with the sheathed Shodai ready. Unfortunately the clown wasn’t that easily fooled.

“Chop Chop Escape!”

Buggy’s head flew away and Shodai’s sheath cut only the air between head and body, and with the speed Ruffy had the lack of an impact had her stumble straight into the rubble of the former drinking bar.

Sitting up from the debris Ruffy fixed her hat and looked to the chuckling clown. “Damn, that was a surprise. Never fought with someone who picked himself apart before.”

“I’m one of a kind, girl,” Buggy proudly and happily informed her, playing with yet another knife in his hand.

The girl smirked and got into fighting position again. “My strength doesn’t protect me against blades, but your ability doesn’t protect you from fists. If I can get in a punch you’re done for.”

Buggy smirked back. “If you can manage to get a punch in you mean. Good luck.”

 The girl beamed. “Thanks!”

“Don’t take it as encouragement!!! Chop Chop Cannon!”

Taken by surprise and at the same time knowing this wasn’t a projectile she could dodge Ruffy dropped Shodai to catch the wrist of the knife-armed hand that came at her, the knives only inches away from her face.

“Release.”

It was instinct that saved her when she only just managed to move the arm sideways and tilt her head the other way to save her eyes when the hand parted from the wrist. But it was a close call. The knives cut through the skin of the side of her face and her ear.

Falling on her butt the straw hat fell off her head. Ruffy dropped the clown’s wrist and swiftly rolled over to get back up, reaching for Shodai first and then her hat.

She froze.

Buggy wasn’t late to notice the girl’s suddenly rigid form. “What happened now, Mugiwara?”

With blood slowly dripping down her face and neck the girl scrunched her nose up and sent a cold, golden-eyed glare at the clown. “Now you’ve done it,” she growled deeply.

“Done it?” Buggy tilted his head. The girl’s glare didn’t faze him as he continued to mock her. “Didn’t you like being cut in the face? Oh, of course, my bad. For a girl to be cut in the…”

“…hat.”

The clown paused, not sure he had heard that right. “… Pardon?”

Ruffy held up her straw hat, her eyes fixed on the torn brim of it. “You cut my hat,” she repeated stiffly. “This hat…!” She jumped back to her feet and yelled. “I got this hat from Sun! It’s not mine! I was going to find Shanks and give it back to him!”

Buggy scoffed. “So it is Shanks’ hat. No wonder it’s so familiar. He always wore it beside me back when we were pirate trainees. Used to be my comrade, that cheeky bastard.” He chuckled low in his throat and glanced behind the girl towards his hand hiding in the debris. “But if it’s that precious to you…”

Following the clown’s gaze to behind her, Ruffy quickly jumped sideways with the hat pressed to her chest, just barely avoiding the knife aiming for her back, but she stumbled on a piece of wood and flapped with her arms to regain her balance.

“Protect it better!” Buggy finished his sentence and watched his enemy’s shocked face with satisfaction when his hand returned to its owner, along with a pierced straw hat.

Ruffy heard the clown laughing from far away. Her eyes were fixed on the straw hat, her promise and the memory of Sun flashing through her head as fast and merciless as lightning.

~*-*~

“This straw hat belongs to Akagami no Shanks?”

“I think so. It looks the same as the one he had.”

Sun examined the hat she had been fanning herself with. “Hm? It’s not much of a hat really, and I don’t actually need it. I just found it floating on the sea, so I picked it up.”

Found it on the sea? Did that mean Shanks was hurt? Was he dead? No, that couldn’t be! But he had said that straw hat was really important to him, so why had it been floating around on the sea?

She looked up in time to see Sun smile and the straw hat landed on her own head.

“Hey, it looks good on you.”

She looked up into Sun’s beautiful face. “It does?

“Of course, so you keep it. Since you say you know him already, and I won’t go around making friends with just anyone, you can take that back to Shanks.”

“Really? I can?” If Sun said she had to return the hat, it meant Shanks was still alive right?

Sun laughed heartedly. “No, you have to. Keep holding on, stay alive until you find that man. Promise me that, okay, Ruffy.”

~*-*~

Buggy was still laughing. The straw hat was still pieced on the knives in his hand. Ruffy had promised Sun she would live, and as long as she had the straw hat she wouldn’t lose her way.  

Buggy was still laughing.

Ruffy cried a shrill battle cry and charged for the clown, eyes glowing almost like fire. “I promised Sun to return that hat! Stop laughing!!!”

“Chop Chop Escape!” Buggy called and his head flew straight up again. But the girl didn’t aim for the head. Instead her knee made hard connection with Buggy’s stomach, causing him to double over and gasp for air.

Ruffy stood over him, trembling with anger, looking at her treasure lying where it had dropped to the ground with the knives still in it. When had she last felt this sort of red-hot anger? She didn’t know. Most of the time anger was a cold feeling.

“You cut my hat,” she spat at Buggy. “You laugh at Sun, and to top it off you dare to say you were Shank’s comrade? Don’t fuck with me!!!”

Buggy rolled around and got up on his knees, holding his stomach, no longer laughing. Moji hadn’t exaggerated when he said this girl was strong. That kick had felt like something Richie the lion could deliver.

“I don’t know what sun you’re talking about,” he coughed, “but I can say whatever I want about that blasted redhead.”

Ruffy tackled him and straddled the clown’s waist, held him by his throat and pulled her arm back, ready to punch.

“Chop…!”

She relaxed her arm and used it like a whip, “Stop that!” she ordered angrily, slapping Buggy clear across the face before his head could fly away again. She got a better hold on the throat and made the clown look her in the eye. “You? Shank’s comrade? The two of you aren’t alike in the slightest. Shanks is a great man. Don’t compare yourself to him.”

The clown struggled to breathe. “Who cares? I’ll not forgive him for as long as I live!”

Ruffy jumped back when her opponent suddenly shattered beneath her, but he put himself back together just as fast, holding his sore throat as he stood up.

“That airhead is the only man on this earth I will never forgive. He made me eat a devil fruit that robbed me of the ability to swim. Most of the world’s treasures rest in the sea! How can I get to them if I can’t swim! As if that wasn’t enough the treasure map that I had found was lost because he distracted me. My great plan to sell the devil fruit and claim the treasures of the map to build my own ship and have my own crew was delayed by ten years! But I’ve gotten a hold of myself and decided. If I can’t get the treasures under the sea, I’ll just grab all the treasures on land with the help of this devil ability.” The clown’s body raised into the air, leaving the legs standing in front of Ruffy. “That’s why,” he continued, his eyes moving to something behind the girl, “anybody who touches my treasure, even the slightest little bug… will die hard!!!”

Buggy attacked, but his aim was not Ruffy. The girl pirate turned around looking for her enemy’s new target. It was Nami!

Ruffy had almost forgotten. When Zoro had fought Cabaji, the thief had excused herself to go look for the treasures. From the sack she carried it was obvious she had found them, and seeing how possessive Buggy was about his treasures it caused him to completely lose sight of his previous enemy.

He learnt the hard way that ignoring Monkey D. Ruffy was a bad idea. Letting her out of your sight and leaving your unprotected legs with her was even worse. As Nami turned and tried to run with the too heavy load, Ruffy used as much force as when she kicked Buggy in the stomach, only in the most sensitive place.

All of Buggy fell to the ground in pathetically trembling and moaning heaps. “You… you dare… my balls… balls…”

Ruffy turned to where the clown’s upper body lay, only an arm’s reach away from Nami’s feet. “You’re fighting me, Buggy” the girl pirate reminded. “Don’t change target before we’re done.”

Nami sighed with relief, grateful for the pirate girl’s fast thinking. The bag was really heavy this time and there was no way she would have managed to outrun Buggy, especially not since he didn’t need to run.

The thief took a better grip of the bag, fully intent on getting as far away as possible while Buggy was still squirming like a worm on the hook.

Ruffy didn’t agree to that idea though. “Oi, Nami. Drop that sack and get the hell away,” she called.

“Never!” the thief yelled right back, holding the bag even tighter.

Ruffy blinked. Nami’s heartbeats defied the idea of letting the gold go as much as her voice did, but that wasn’t what caught Ruffy’s attention. There was something there that wasn’t just the love of treasure, it sounded like a need for them, almost like a deep wish…

“Drop the treasure? No freaking way!” the thief shouted in absolute refusal. “Why would I leave my treasures behind?”

Buggy recovered faster after hearing that. “Y… your treasures…?”

“Damn straight!” Nami declared boldly. “I’m a thief who steals from pirates, and just now I’ve stolen this loot from you, which makes it all mine.”

Ruffy hit her palm. “I see. Yes, that does sound logical.”

“Like hell!” Buggy roared, though still with a squeak of pain in his voice as he started to get up. “That treasure is mine! It won’t become yours just because you steal it! Just what kind of idiot brought you up?”

The thief girl narrowed her eyes and scoffed. “A crook lecturing a crook in how to be a good girl? Don’t make me laugh!” Then, in a moment of mischief, she playfully smiled down at the man before her. “I haven’t sunken low enough to let a pirate bastard make remarks on what I do.”

Nami impishly stuck her tongue out. Buggy didn’t take that too well.

“I hope you’re prepared to die, Nami,” the clown growled through clenched teeth, as he took a deep breath. “Chop Chop Festival!!!”

Both girls jumped when Buggy’s body shattered into pieces. Ruffy got hit when the parts of the clown’s legs moved past her towards Nami.

“See if you can protect your friend now, Mugiwara!” Buggy howled.

It didn’t look too good Ruffy admitted. There seemed to be a reason Buggy had wished her good luck in getting a punch in on him. “Damn! Splitting into so many parts. How am I supposed to hit… this…?”

Buggy the clown still hadn’t learnt the lesson to not ignore Ruffy. The girl had sharp eyes. So while the clown pirate went to hunt down Nami for the treasure, the one he should be paying attention to found his weakness.

With a gleeful smirk Ruffy got a hold of one of Buggy’s feet, because they were the only parts of him that couldn’t fly.

Nami was running for dear life, holding onto the treasure with desperate strength as Buggy’s body parts kept hitting her, knives tried to stab her and his head was almost close enough for Nami to feel his breath on the back of her head. Why wasn’t Ruffy doing anything?! Buggy was going to kill her for sure if Ruffy didn’t find a way to protect her because Nami wasn’t letting go of the treasure, even if she died. But she couldn’t die! What could happen to everyone if she died?

“Give back my treasure!” Buggy roared, and from the corner of her eye Nami saw the flash of a knife that would surely hit her in the side.

‘Bellemére-san!’

Just like that, it was like Buggy dropped dead. The shattered body fell to the ground and didn’t move anymore. Nami looked around at the bloodless body parts with chocked disbelief.

“Didn’t you hear me, Buggy? Your opponent is still me,” Ruffy’s voice called from the other side of the wreck of the bar.

Oh, so this was Ruffy’s doing Nami thought with relief and feeling very stupid for her moment of belief in supernatural involvement. The thief looked up, and was honestly surprised to see Ruffy hold the clown’s naked foot to her throat.

“You… little… I know this feeling.” Buggy’s head lay on its side right behind Nami and it didn’t seem like he could move it at all, but he could still shout. “This feeling… You mean to tell me your strength doesn’t come from the devil fruit?!”

“I don’t know,” Ruffy responded with a shrug of her shoulders. “I am strong, but I don’t know if it’s because of the fruit or not.”

“Who the hell cares?!” Buggy howled as if he hadn’t asked anything in the first place. “Remove that from me! Lying like this is embarrassing! I can’t move!”

Nami was looking down at a severed head still talking. A severed head that was still talking. The thief’s stomach turned and turned until the top of her disgust-meter was reached and she kicked Buggy’s head away from her with a shrill scream. But she had kicked the head in Ruffy’s direction and the surprise made the pirate girl drop the foot. She caught the head, and the clown started to recover immediately.

“Unforgiveable,” he near whispered.

Ruffy thought about it, but instead released the head with a disgusted expression. She could hold Buggy’s foot to her throat but she would rather die before she did the same with his head. It wouldn’t win the battle for her anyway.

His head levitated in front of Ruffy’s face. “Don’t worry, Mugiwara. I’ll come and get you as soon as I’ve gotten my treasure back. It won’t be too long,” he said, and almost at the same time Nami shrieked.

The thief felt a pull on the sack of treasure, but couldn’t find anybody pulling it at first. That is, until she managed to twist the bag and catch sight of just what she was having a tug of war with. The most annoying thing about Buggy the clown was that he could do two things at the same time. While his head was with Ruffy, his feet had run off and his hands had gotten a hold of the sack Nami was carrying.

“What the hell!?” she protested. “Let go! This treasure is mine.”

“You let go!” Buggy screamed back at the thief, once again hitting her with his flying body parts and pulling at the sack with his hands.

Even though he should have learnt it the first time he’d done it, Buggy still didn’t get the hint. Ruffy ran faster than the clown’s head flew.

“Stop ignoring me!” she cried angrily and kicked the floating head with all her might.

Nami yelped and fell on her butt when the tug of war between her and Buggy was interrupted, or to be more precise, there was a forceful shove from the other end and the sack passed over Nami’s head as she fell back, accidentally releasing her hold. Turning around she found the material of the sack torn and Buggy’s unconscious head on top of the treasure.

Ruffy smirked. “That kick was from the old chief,” she informed the clown. Not that he could hear her, but still.

Nami sighed with relief. “Th… thank you.”

“Don’t mention it,” Ruffy grinned at her before she seemed to be hit by another thought. “Hm? Oh yeah, the chart. It should be here somewhere.”

The chart wasn’t the only thing that lay around Nami realized. “My treasure! It got scattered everywhere.” She moaned a little and glared at the dark-haired girl. “And you, dry the blood from your face, it hurts to look at it.”

The other girl stared blankly at her. “Why does it matter to you? I’m a pirate, remember.”

“Even so, you’re a girl,” Nami lectured. “Well, I am impressed you defeated Buggy and all, but you’re bleeding a lot. Here, use my tissue.”

Ruffy clumsily accepted the white thing forced on her. She muttered a bit, but at the same time she was a little happy, because Nami worried about her, so Ruffy used the tissue and dried her face as she looked for the chart. Her sharp eyes spotted it quite fast among the scattered body parts of Buggy’s hips.

“Found it! The chart over the Grand Line,” she called in victory.

“Good,” Nami voiced as she gathered half of the treasure in half of the torn sack, making a tight knot on it to make sure not to drop anything.

“Wait just a minute there,” a dog-like growl suddenly sounded.

The girls turned around to see Buggy’s head floating again, burning with anger.

“Darn. He’s still alive,” Ruffy complained and rolled up the chart, putting it into the safety of her bra.

Nami by all means didn’t want to be involved in a fight between those two monsters and looked around for an escape, or at least a safe place to hide, but found something better.

Buggy smirked, his eyes glowering with blood thirst. The face of pure madness. “I’m alive, Mugiwara, but you will die! All of you will die right here! Gather up, all parts!”

Ruffy grit her teeth, keeping her eyes on Buggy’s head as she ducked away from flying body parts. She was going to finish this the moment the clown came back… together…

Buggy stood with his mouth open, feeling very strange. “What…?” he squeaked, blinking repeatedly. He had called for his body to gather and pulled the strings that were his connection to every part. So why… didn’t it feel right?

Ruffy couldn’t help but giggle at the sight in front of her. Sure, Buggy had gotten his body parts back together, but he was missing a lot of body. Quite frankly he was only feet, hands and head.

“Are you looking for these, Buggy?” Nami’s voice sang out sweetly and Buggy’s head whipped around, only to find something he really didn’t want to see; tightly secured in a rope under the thief’s foot was Buggy’s missing body.

“Yikes! My parts!”

Ruffy couldn’t stand up straight. She was shaking with giggles, tears forming in her eyes and her face was reddening.

“Stop laughing you fool! This isn’t funny! Release my body parts, you little thief!” Buggy cried and waved with his hands, which only caused Ruffy to laugh harder.

“I said stop laughing you flashy idiot!” Buggy roared. “Nami! Untie my body parts at once! I’m gonna kill you!”

“You actually expect me to let go of my upper hand after hearing that declaration?” the thief queried with a lifted eyebrow.

Still giggling Ruffy used the sheathed Shodai to juggle the little Buggy up from the ground, like a baseball, and she swung the sword like a bat. “Cursed Power…”

“Wait! No fair!”

Shodai hit Buggy on the nose. “Home Run!”

 


 

Nami was done gathering all the treasure, this time divided in two sacks, and turned to look at the dark-haired girl. After the mirth had passed, Ruffy had sat on the ground with her torn up hat in her lap, staring sadly at it as memories flashed in her eyes. Nami couldn’t help but pity her a little bit.

“Is it really that important to you, that straw hat?” she asked.

“Yes.” Ruffy replied quietly, managing a smile as she sat the hat on her head. “But I can still wear it, and I got the map ad beat up Buggy too, so I guess that makes us even.”

She said so, but Nami could see in the way Ruffy kept her head down and wobbled when she stood that she was still very upset.

Pirates trampled and destroyed everything that was important to others. That was Nami’s unchanging view of pirates, but Ruffy had something that was dear to her too. Pirate or not, she wasn’t a bad person. She had even fought for a dog’s sake.

“I can mend it for you,” Nami said softly.

“Huh?” Ruffy turned to her and blinked. “Did you say something?”

“Nothing,” Nami denied and instead held up one of the two sacks of treasure. “Here, carry one of these will ya, they’re really heavy.” She couldn’t help but smile brightly in satisfaction at that statement. “That Buggy really had a good eye for treasure. This is worth at least ten million beli!”

There was a softness around her mouth when Ruffy smiled back at her and accepted the load. “Fine, I’ll help you carry that. But I’ll probably have to carry Zoro too.”

Nami blinked and shook her head. What was that just now? Ruffy’s smile, it had almost looked like she… knew something.

Shaking her head again Nami dismissed the feeling as an effect of the battle she had just witnessed. Buggy’s body splitting apart, the hands and head flying around as well as the body parts coming back together had been like seeing a dream while your eyes were still wide open. It was bound go cause her brain to short circuit at some places. Damn, she was going to have nightmares tonight.

Ruffy kneeled down beside her male friend and patted his head rather than shook him. “Oi, Zoro. Time to wake up. We’re leaving now.”

The swordsman groaned. “Is it over already?” He could have used another few hours of sleep before getting up.

“Yup,” Ruffy smiled widely. “I got the chart and… Oi, Nami. You our nakama now?”

The other girl sighed. “I told you a dozen times; I won’t become a pirate, but I can agree to work with you. With your strength I can gather the treasure from even stronger pirates than before.”

Ruffy grinned. “Good. See, Zoro. We got a navigator too.”

The man tried to fully understand what that meant but his head spun like a merry-go-round as he sat up. “Whatever, I don’t think I can walk yet,” he muttered, holding his head.

“Of course you can’t,” Nami scoffed. “If you could, I wouldn’t call any of you guys human.”

“Why not me?” Ruffy asked blinking.

“Guess three times! Because you’re so skinny and still so strong! There’s definitely something weird about you, and I’m not talking about eating a devil fruit.”

“Hey. I didn’t get to guess a single time.”

Nami slapped a hand over her eyes and counted to five. This girl. “Why do you have to be like that?” she moaned.

“I don’t know…” Ruffy hoisted Zoro up on her back to give him a piggy-back ride before she paused. “What do you mean?” she asked and stared at Nami.

Zoro struggled weakly against his position. “Isn’t there a better way to carry me?” he near whined where he hung over his captain’s shoulder.

Ruffy didn’t answer. She stared at something behind Nami’s back.

“Oi, you there,” a sharp voice rung out behind the thief, causing Nami to tense up.

“Townspeople,” Ruffy said, like a greeting.

“That’s right,” a young man in the front of the mob of people confirmed, his eyes flickering over the scene of destruction. “What happened here? Did the pirates fight among themselves? If you know anything, please tell us.”

“Oh, I see,” Nami sighed relieved and relaxed. “For a second I thought there were more pirates.” She turned to fully face the people to give them a proper explanation. At least that was her intention. She never got the chance though. Somebody had spotted the still unconscious chief.

“Chief!!!” a male voice cried and the townspeople turned to look for the old man. Seeing his beaten form they all ran to his side.

“How terrible!” a woman cried angrily.

“Who could have done something like this?”

“Is he even alive?” a worried voice choked out.

“It must have been the pirates!” a man spat.

Hearing that last bit, Ruffy being Ruffy took a step forward. “I’m sorry. I did that to him.”

A lot of angry faces turned and glared at the one who had admitted to crime. Nami almost swallowed her tongue.

“Why did you have to say that?!” she squeaked.

“But you saw I did it,” the dark-haired girl replied.

“Ye… yes I saw you, but the situation…”

The villagers had heard enough. This girl had beaten down their chief, their kind leader who bravely continued to march into the town just to give food to Shushu, the late pet food store owner’s little dog. They stood up clutching to brooms and farming tools they had probably grabbed to use for weapons.

“How dare you attack an old man!?”

“We won’t accept excuses!”

“What are you? Pirates?”

Nami stood stiff, searching for the right words to say.

Ruffy opened her mouth. “Yup, we’re pirates.”

A hush fell over the crowd at that blunt confession and Nami knew right then that she had never met anyone as stupidly honest as Ruffy. Zoro laughed hard, clutching his hurting side where the wound was still bleeding a little. Nami couldn’t see the humour of the situation.

“IDIOT!!!” she screamed at Ruffy.

“But we are,” Ruffy defended.

 “GET THEM!!!” the townspeople cried in union.

The two girls, one crying and one laughing, turned their tails and ran the other way with a mob of furious people picking up the chase. Zoro groaned slightly and tried to hold his side and Ruffy’s neck at the same time, but he shouldn’t complain he supposed. His captain was probably carrying him as carefully as she could. He wasn’t a small load after all, almost the double size of Ruffy.

“I hate you!” Nami cried out, mentally cursing the girl with the straw hat she had pitied only moments ago. “Why did you have to say that? They got so angry.”

Instead of answering Ruffy kept grinning. “Isn’t this a good place?”

“What was that?”

Ruffy had some trouble holding on to both Zoro and one sack of gold, but she still ran as fast as she could and smiled brightly. “They got so angry because they love their chief. No matter what we had said, they’d still be mad at us. Turn into that alleyway.”

The thief spied an opening between the houses and quickly dived into the narrow path. From the corner of her eye she saw something small and light grey, and thought she saw the other girl bend down to it.

“VOFF!”

“What? Shushu?!”

Nami dared a look over her shoulder. The townspeople had stopped, because in their way stood an angrily barking little dog. A very familiar angrily barking little dog.

“Shushu?”

“I really like that dog,” laughed Ruffy. “Thank you, dog!”

They kept running all the way to the sea, and when they finally reached the harbour safe and sound, Nami stopped to catch her breath. “We got away, thanks to Shushu,” she said and inhaled deeply, letting the air out in a long sigh. “Man, I don’t think we deserved that.”

“It doesn’t matter. We’re finished in this town anyway,” the dark-haired girl said lightly, still grinning. She had almost dropped Zoro during the run, so she let the sack of gold down to get a better grasp of him; holding one of his thick arms around her shoulders and her other arm around Zoro’s waist, half carrying and half dragging him along instead of the piggyback ride. He was quite heavy and Ruffy didn’t really like the feeling of blood being soaked up by her cloths. Zoro had bled so much.

“Yes… but still,” Nami mumbled to herself.

They walked up to their separate boats, and Ruffy gawked at the one Nami headed for. It was partly painted in bright colours and had a little cabin.

“Hey, is that your boat? Cool! You’re so lucky!”

“You think so?” Nami shrugged, not sharing the opinion but not complaining either. “I stole it from some dumb pirates earlier.”

“Dumb pirates, you say?”

Both girls looked up in surprise to hear the boat talk. It wasn’t the boat though. Three men, clown pirates from the looks if it, stood up from where they had hidden in Nami’s vessel, or their own more accurately since it was originally theirs. The men all glared at the thief girl with vindictive eyes and wide smirks. None of them seemed to have weapons though.

“We’ve been waiting for you, thief girl.”

“To think we would find our stolen boat in this port.”

“You didn’t forget about us, did you?”

Nami laughed nervously, still not fully recovered from seeing them. This was unexpected. After she robbed them of everything but the cloths they wore she had thought they had drowned, or that the marines had picked them up, or that some other ship had done so and dutifully handed them over to the marines. How could they have come all this way? Swimming?

“Friends of yours?” Ruffy asked.

“We sort of met before,” Nami shared uneasily.

“Not sort of! We have a long history together, thief girl,” one of the pirates said and walked up to Ruffy. “So you got some friends with you now? Good. Then we can take you all out and give you to captain Buggy as a gift.”

“He’s not there anymore,” Ruffy told them.

“Yeah right, you little liar,” the fattest of the pirates scoffed. “We’ve heard a lot of explosions from captain’s special cannon balls.”

The man in front of Ruffy shook his head like a parent before a troublesome child. “Don’t you know it’s bad to steal other people’s stuff? Hey you!” He patted the green head resting over the girl’s shoulder. “Don’t hang your head like a dead man when I’m talking to you.”

Zoro, irritated from lack of blood and fatigue and the fact nobody let him sleep in peace, growled and looked up. Ruffy had never seen grown men scream so girlishly before, or swim so fast, straight into the open ocean too. Nami was now seriously wondering if those pirates really had swum all the way here from where she left them.

“Zoro has a scary face,” Ruffy figured when the men were almost out of sight.

“No, I don’t,” Zoro denied sourly, his feelings a little hurt. Those guys hadn’t had to scream that loud. He hadn’t even wanted to scare them, just shut them up.

“Really? Well, it doesn’t matter.” The girl captain gently lifted her friend into her little boat before releasing it and kicking out from the dock. Nami followed Ruffy’s example and they both opened the sails.

“Hey, you’re flying Buggy’s mark,” Zoro pointed out.

“Yeah, it was their boat to begin with,” Nami explained with a shrug. “I’ll take it down as soon as I can.”

A voice suddenly echoed over the waters. “Hold it right there, you little brats!”

The three pirates turned back to the dock to see a man with white hair and a yellow shirt supporting himself on his knees as he seemed to be out of breath.

“The old chief,” Ruffy voiced with slight wonder when she recognized him.

Boodle stood there gasping for air, tired from running all the way down to the harbour. He was an old man; he shouldn’t press his body so hard he thought as he rested his body’s weight on his knees. But Buggy’s gang was gone and the people of the town were unharmed. His town and his life had been saved by the three children sailing away with the winds.

“Thank you!” he called after the small boats. “I will never forget you!”

The dark-haired pirate girl grinned. “Anytime. Take care of yourself!”

“Ah,” Zoro breathed in content and sank deeper down the railing. “It’s the second time we run out of a town and are thanked at the dock. Just what kind of pirates are we?”

Ruffy just laughed.

“All well that ends well,” Nami sighed, but didn’t feel that bad about being chased away now. After all, she had her reward. “The treasure was certainly worth it. Hey, Ruffy, give me the treasure,” she said holding her hand out for the sack of gold.

The other girl stared at her. “Treasure?”

“Yes, the sack I gave you earlier,” Nami reminded and waved her hand more impatiently. “I saw you were carrying it before, give it to me.”

Ruffy blinked blankly and looked around in her little boat. There was a rug lying there so she checked it, but it was just the sack that had held the food from Masako-baasan.

“Where. Is. The treasure?” Nami asked slowly.

She couldn’t find it in her boat. Ruffy scratched her head in thought before she remembered she had let go of the sack when she tried to get a better hold of Zoro. “I must have left it on the dock.”

The thief’s eyes bulged out of their sockets. “You did what?! That was my treasure! Five million beli!”

“But I was minding Zoro,” Ruffy pointed out with a whine.

Roaring like a lion the navigator reached over, grabbed the girl captain’s cloths and tried to haul her overboard. “Baka!!!”

“Stop! I can’t swim! Go back and get it if you want it so badly!” Ruffy cried, desperately clutching to the railing and fought back when Nami shoved her head into the water.

“Then I’d be killed! If you ever lose my treasure again I’ll feed you to the fishes!”

“I don’t wanna be fish-food!”

Nami let go, sat back and laughed. She couldn’t help it. Ruffy’s shout just now was too funny. Zoro laughed too. Ruffy shook her head, trying to have some sort of revenge by showering her laughing friends with little droplets of seawater. It didn’t work and with a glare of hurt pride Ruffy picked up her torn hat floating on the surface of the sea, walked to sit in the bow and resolutely sat the hat back on her head.

Chapter Text

Thief girl Nami and Pirate girl Ruffy

It was two hours since they had left the village and chief Boodle behind. The island had long since disappeared from sight so now only the sea broken by the occasional rock sticking up surrounded the two boats. Zoro had fallen asleep, Nami was comparing the chart of the Grand Line with the charts she had over East Blue in order to piece them together and try to plan out a route. Ruffy spied over the waters from the bow of her little boat, her black hair peeking out from the holes Buggy had made in her hat. Nami couldn’t help but glance at the hat once in a while.

She had been watching. Although she had planned to just grab the treasure and ditch Ruffy and Zoro she hadn’t been able to. They had saved her life, and Nami was not a pirate; she still had a conscience. So she had turned back and spied on the battle to make sure they were still alive. While most of it had been like she was dreaming, there was one thing that was very real; Ruffy had gotten hurt and angry.

“I promised Sun to return that hat! Stop laughing!!!”

Nami closed her eyes and turned away. Stop laughing. She wished she could say that to the face always lurking in the back of her head, laughing at her pain.

Once again Nami’s eyes strayed to Ruffy when the girl turned her head and spied another way, a small tuft of hair sticking out of one of the holes in the hat for the winds to play with. The face Ruffy had made when she stared at the damaged hat after the battle flashed by in Nami’s mind.

Conscience won her over at last and she sighed.

“Hey, Ruffy. Give me your hat.”

Brown, blinking eyes turned to her. “Hm? Why?”

“I have a sewing kit here,” Nami explained, showing the flowery bag to the other girl “so I can patch our hat up for you, as a thank you for saving me back there.”

Ruffy’s face immediately broke into a wide smile and her eyes sparkled. “You can do that? Really?”

“Yes really,” Nami confirmed and started picking up the things she needed.

The dark-haired girl happily jumped over into the other boat and sat on the railing. When Nami had prepared the needle she reached her hand out and the other girl obediently gave her the straw hat.

It was actually quite an old hat, and surprisingly well-kept for its age. It had been torn and mended before she could tell. Nami had to admit she was a little surprised that such an old hat was still intact. But mending the hat wasn’t as peaceful as it should be.

“Hey,” the navigator near growled, shivering as she felt a warm breath tickle her ear.

Ruffy looked up and hummed, sending yet another puff of air over the sewing girl’s skin.

Nami turned her head and glared at the tanned face a little too close beside hers. “Could you stop breathing down my neck?”

“You want me to hold my breath?” Ruffy asked.

“That’s not what I said,” the bright-haired girl sighed in exasperation. “Do you have to look over my shoulder? It’s really uncomfortable you know.”

Ruffy blinked, and then she moved to sit in front of her new nakama instead. Nami resisted the urge to slap a hand over her face. Well, the idiot wasn’t breathing down her neck anymore just like she wanted but… did this airhead really not understand the concept of personal space? There wasn’t much space in the boats though but that was beside the point. They had two boats!

“You got really angry when Buggy cut this hat,” Nami said to distract the annoyed feeling in her gut. “What’s so special about it?”

“Sun gave it to me,” Ruffy smiled.

“Yes, I heard you say something like that. Who is Sun?”

The girl pirate grinned, but a tweak in her eyebrow revealed it wasn’t as painless as she perhaps wanted it to seem. “Sun was my best friend. She saved my life and took care of me. Even though I am like this she helped me a lot of times… but she’s dead now.”

At that, Nami paused in her sewing. Ruffy’s voice had lowered and cracked slightly at the last words, as if she was talking more to herself. Suddenly Nami felt guilty for thinking the girl was irritating. Apparently she had her own demons to fight.

“Oh… I see. I’m sorry…” Nami cleared her throat louder than necessary in attempt of breaking the tension between her and Ruffy. The last thing she wanted was an unhappy atmosphere for painful memories to resurface. “So this hat was hers?”

Ruffy shook her head, smiling again and her eyes awake and present. “No. Sun said she found it floating on the sea and picked it up. I think it’s Shanks’ hat, so I promised Sun I’d live until I found him, so that I can give it back to him.”

Nami lifted an eyebrow. “What kind of promise is that? Live until you find him? Are you suicidal?”

“Hm? What does that mean?”

“I’m asking if you are so unhappy you’d want to kill yourself,” the navigator clarified.

“Oh. No, I’m not like that. But there are a lot of people out there who wants to kill me.”

The thief stopped moving. Ruffy’s face was still as straightforward as before and her eyes were alight, almost as if there was a fire in them burning silently.

“You don’t happen to have a bounty on your head already… right?” the bright-haired girl asked cautiously.

“I don’t know. Do I have a bounty?”

Nami released the breath she’d held in a sigh of utter relief. “Thank God. If you don’t know then that’s good. You’d most certainly know if you had a bounty because of all the marines and bounty hunters coming after your head.”

Ruffy swung her knees up and down. Nami started sewing again, taking her time to mend the holes in the straw hat and no longer minded her quiet companion. Ruffy’s innocent curiosity was actually cute in a way. Like she was a kitten.

“Here, all done,” Nami declared after she’d cut the thread and handed the hat back to its owner.

The other girl jumped right up in excited joy. “It’s fixed! Zoro!” she called as she leaped into the air again and landed on the swordsman’s stomach.

“OW! What the hell, Ruffy? Don’t jump on me!”

The younger girl took no notice of Zoro’s angered expression and instead shoved her hat into his face. “Look. Nami fixed my hat! She’s really clever.”

The man took the hat and sat it on his captain’s head, pulling it down over her eyes. “That’s so nice. Now go to sleep or something.”

“I can’t sleep, I’m too excited,” Ruffy said, pulling her hat back.

“Whatever. Play with Nami and leave me alone.”

Nami was rubbing her forehead and wondering how Ruffy could act like she was ten years old. Zoro must have put up with a lot until now. Did he have the patience of an angel or was he just as stupid?

Well, with Nami’s luck lately it was probably the latter. “How did I end up with these idiots?” she muttered to herself.

Ruffy turned away from the one-sided game she was playing with Zoro. “Hm? Did you say something, Nami?”

“Nothing. Leave Zoro alone and come here.”

The dark-haired girl willingly moved back into Nami’s boat and looked hopefully at her.

The thief smirked, a small ringing sound of a casher sounding in her head as she dug through her things. “I have a deck of cards. Want to play?”

“Play cards?” The pirate girl’s face lit up. “I never played before.”

Nami just smiled. “That’s fine, I’ll teach you. Let’s play poker. How much do you have?”

Ruffy blinked in confusion. “Have?”

“Money,” the thief clarified. “In poker you bet money and the winner takes it all.” She smiled widely when she said that. “So how much do you have?”

“Nothing.”

Nami gave the straw hat girl a blank stare. That too fast answer was a little too straightforward to be honest. On the other hand, this was Ruffy, and this far she hadn’t lied at all, not even when she was supposed to.

“You don’t have any money?” the thief asked slowly.

“Nope,” the other girl deadpanned. “I used it all to pay the fees for room and food in Masako-baasan’s inn. I ate all the food too.”

Nami hit her forehead in a quiet sign of frustration. There went her belief she could shave this girl clean. “I get it. Poker is out of question. Just how did you survive up until now?”

“I don’t want to talk about that.”

The bright-haired girl blinked. “Eh?” That hadn’t been the answer she expected. Actually she hadn’t expected an answer at all.

Ruffy had a strange expression in her eyes; a calm, straightforward look that didn’t conceal anything. “I don’t want to tell you how I’ve survived until now.”

For a few minutes the boats sailed in an awkward silence. Nami tried to busy herself with the air, water and sky, looking everywhere but at the other girl whose gaze didn’t leave her.

“Can I listen to your heart?”

Once again Nami turned to the other’s hopeful face. Of all the strange questions Ruffy had asked before, this had to be the one most out of place.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I want to listen to your heart, to get to know you better. You will hear mine too.”

The thief frowned. “Just what kind of idiot are you? Listen to my heart to get to know me? What does that mean? My heart sounds the same as every other heart out there. Thump-thump.”

Ruffy blinked. “That’s how a heart sounds to you?”

Nami slapped her forehead. “That’s how a heart sounds to everybody!”

“No,” the black-haired girl said plainly. “Your heart has a really odd sound. There’s something on the back of your shoulder that hurts you bad in different ways.”

The thief paled until she was almost ashen, her hand unconsciously moving up to her left shoulder, trying to hide what she always made sure her cloths already concealed. “What… what do you know about that?” she asked, trying to smile in denial and knowing she failed when her face muscles didn’t really obey.

Ruffy tilted her head to the side. “Nothing. It’s just what I can hear from your heart all the time,” she said before she leaned closer to Nami, her eyes closing to concentrate only on the sound from the thief’s heart. “There’s a lot of determination in there too. Some relief of sorts, like seeing the end of something dark, and you’re really afraid.” Her eyes opened and once again Ruffy smiled hopefully. “Will you let me listen properly?”

The look on Nami’s face was one of fury mixed with horror as she clutched her shoulder even harder. Still her voice was barely above a whisper when she spoke. “What… what is this? What do you know? You said you ate a devil fruit? Is that your power? Peeking into other people’s feelings?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Because of this,” Ruffy pointed to her throat, “I don’t think I can use my power at all, so it’s probably not related to that.”

Nami glared at what the other girl pointed at. “That scar? Are you stupid in the whole head? A scar doesn’t stop anything.”

The younger girl blinked. “Scar? I mean this.” She pulled at a band of tiny black beads that Nami hadn’t really noticed before since it wasn’t anything valuable like pearls.

“What’s that? Rocks?”

“I guess. It’s called sea stone,” Ruffy explained. “The marines use it to capture those with devil fruit abilities. With this on I become really weak.”

Nami gave a sharp laugh of scorn. “Right. So that necklace weakens you? Don’t take me for a fool! If you were so weak you’d never have been able to defeat Buggy the Clown!”

Ruffy pouted. “If you listened to my heart, you’d understand me better.”

“I don’t want that,” the thief girl declared loudly, almost yelling. “You’re not listening in on my heart and that’s my last word!”

“But…”

“NO!”

Nami glared with barred teeth. With a hurt face Ruffy returned to her own boat and sat in the bow, watching the waves. Nami didn’t feel bad. Not at all. She didn’t have to feel bad about hurting a bloody pirate. Not even a strange oddball who most probably couldn’t tell the difference between an apple and an orange. The silence didn’t bother her either. Absolutely not.

“Nami.”

“What?”

Ruffy was frowning slightly at her. “Block your feelings from me properly. Your denial is annoying.”

“What block…? I’m not in denial!”

“Liar.”

Nami snarled and shook from a swarm of feelings she suddenly had no control over. How dared she? How dared she treat her like… like… someone whose feelings she had a right to know about and then didn’t like it when she was pushed away from continuing to trample around. Going as far as accusing Nami for being in denial? Who did she think she was?!

“I’ve had it with you! Pirates are the worst! I hate you! I’m going to sleep.”

“Okay. Sleep tight,” Ruffy called after her, and Nami realized she was having a rather one-sided spat, which really didn’t help her mood.

“I don’t need your greeting! Shut the hell up!!” she screamed, dashed into the cabin of her boat and slammed the door closed.

Zoro growled and awoke again. “You’re noisy. What the hell are you doing?”

“Nami got angry at me,” Ruffy explained with a straight face.

The swordsman groaned as he stretched, his back cracking quietly. “I think I figured that out myself. What happened?”

“She’s defensive. Doesn’t want to trust me,” the girl captain said with a pout.

“That so?” Zoro yawned as he let his arms down before he looked at Ruffy. “You asked to listen to her heart?”

“Yup.”

The man sighed. “Give her some time. If we’re going to sail under the same flag she’ll have to trust you.”

Ruffy swung her knees as she thought about it, and smiled when she made up her mind. “Okay, Zoro. Thank you.”

The swordsman smiled back before he fell asleep again.

Ruffy stayed awake and watched the sea. Two boats sailing forward with an angry occupant in one of them. Ruffy smiled widely.

~*-*~

It was an unusual sight that met the shore of Windmill village. In fact it wasn’t just unusual. To be precise it had to be the first time ever anybody saw a marine battleship and a pirate ship sail quietly alongside each other.

“So that’s your home, Ruffy?” Shanks asked and surveyed the island and village Ruffy had pointed out. “Nice. Looks really peaceful.”

“It’s home,” the little girl said, standing on her tiptoes to look over the railing. “Look, there is Makino! Makinoooo! It’s meeee!”

A young girl with a cloth around her head waved back with both arms.

“Your sister?” Shanks asked.

“No way. Makino owns the bar and give me food when mama isn’t here.”

Garp sailed beside them, looking very displeased. “Now we’re here. Give me my granddaughter, redhead!” he yelled.

“Not a chance.” Shanks picked up the little girl, set her feet on the railing and held her tight as he rubbed his cheek against her head. “This is my girl now.”

“Pervert!!! Molesting a child is death penalty!”

“What’s molesting?” Ruffy asked.

“You’ll understand when you are a little bit older, Ruffy-chan,” Yasopp, a dirty-blond pirate said and patted her head under Shanks’s chin.

“You say that all the time, Yasopp-otou-chan.”

“Hey! I’m the dad around here,” Shanks protested.

“Get in line, captain,” Yasopp laughed.

“Really. Ruffy, are you sure you want that man as your dad?”

“Why not?”

“Dirty pirates!!! Stop selling my grandchild! I’ll follow the lot of you to the ends of the earth and throw you all in prison!”

The ships anchored and pirates and marines alike went to shore, pirates smirking and marines glaring and growling.

“Ru… Ruffy-chan…” Makino stepped forward when the little girl was released onto solid ground. “Did Garp-san throw you into the sea again?”

“Yeah. Tell him again I can’t swim, Makino.”

“Rayla!”

Ruffy turned her head towards the only person besides her jii-chan who called her by that name. “Mama.”

That’s your mother…? Rayla?”

The pirates hurriedly stepped back as Ruffy’s mother came up to them and kneeled in front of the little girl, making sure she was fine. “Rayla, were you saved by these pirates?”

“Yup. Shanks is cool and Yasopp is my new dad.”

“Oh, really?”

The woman looked up at the red-haired captain with piercing gold eyes.

“A red-haired pirate with a straw hat. You are Akagami no Shanks I understand. I have heard a lot about you.” She stood and bowed slightly. “It’s good to meet you under current circumstances. My name is Elena Cruz. Thank you for saving my daughter.”

For some reason Shanks looked very stiff. “No… no reason ma’am. Pleasure’s mine.”

“So…” Elena smiled sweetly and cracked her knuckles. “Which one of you has the nerve to call himself the father of my child?”

~*-*~

Ruffy awoke from her memories at the sudden sound of a strong heartbeat. She couldn’t see anything when looking around, and understood why by the second beat. It came from below.

“A sea king?”

Spying through the water the pirate girl could tell from the shadow that it was indeed a sea king that swam below them. A strong and very old one. She listened carefully. The heartbeat was even older than she thought. It was a long time ago since she last heard a heartbeat of this age and strength.

“Almost sounds like Aki, only a lot older.”

The sea king lifted its head and silently broke the surface. It resembled a crocodile with white scales among dark blue ones and its head alone was as big as tree marine battle ships. Its red eye noticed Ruffy and it glared.

Zoro frowned and twitched in his sleep, but that was all. The sea king never attacked as had been its initial intention. It didn’t need to eat now, the snack was way too small anyway, and instead it sunk back into the depth of the sea to never resurface.

“So there is a sea king graveyard, huh?” Ruffy mumbled to herself and turned to face the sky. “I believe you now, Aki. Sorry I ever doubted your story.”

Zoro’s forehead eased when the danger disappeared. There was no response at all from the boat floating beside them, so Ruffy supposed Nami was still sleeping too.

As the only one awake and alert, Ruffy figured she was on watch duty and therefore spied more eagerly towards the horizon. Ahead, a little bit off to the left of their course she could make out a bump in the sea. An island? Ruffy shadowed her eyes with her hand and leaned forward. Yup, it was definitely an island, and she remembered Coby. On their one short journey together Coby had spotted the island they headed to way after Ruffy had seen it. How come? She knew she had sharper eyes than anyone she had met, Sun had commented it too. Did that mean that even if Ruffy could see the island Zoro or Nami wouldn’t be able to spot it yet?

She turned her head back to the boats. Zoro was still snoring away and Nami’s boat was silent. Well, Nami would probably be in a better mood if she got lots of sleep, her anger earlier could be a cause of a bleeding period. Ruffy knew she was like that once every few months so she could understand, but it meant that she would have to wait for the navigator to wake up, and the captain wanted to include both her nakama in the thrill of spotting an island. If they could see it yet.

Ruffy shrugged her shoulders. Until her friends awoke she could entertain herself imagining what kind of island they would land on next. She couldn’t help but whistle a few happy tunes as they sailed forward to new adventures.

Chapter Text

The island of monsters and treasures

Sitting up from her bunk, Nami stretched into her body’s full length, feeling how all the tensions eased and she was able to fully relax. It was a good nap. She had calmed down properly from arguing with Ruffy, and in hindsight realized that maybe she shouldn’t have gotten so angry. The dark-haired girl had probably not actually meant any harm as Nami had interpreted it. Because she couldn’t possibly know anything about... well, anything.

“Good morning, navigator. Slept well?”

The red-blonde girl blinked and turned to see who spoke. Ruffy sat in the bow of her and Zoro's boat, smiling happily at Nami as if they really hadn't had that little spat before the thief went to sleep.

“Is it morning?” Nami asked as mostly an automatic replay caused by the slight confusion of her newly awoken mind as she looked to the sky.

“No. Afternoon.”

Zoro yawned and stretched, bones cracking a bit. “I’m hungry,” he voiced and turned around to the girl in the other boat. “Hey, don’t you have any food to share?”

Nami almost scoffed in disbelief. “Get real you guys. How can you have set out to the sea without food and water? You must both be just as insane.”

That’s what she said, yet at the same time she picked out a tangerine and a lump of bread from her supplies, tossing them at the lit up face of the swordsman.

“Perhaps,” was the only response he provided before happily burying his teeth in the bread.

“We’ll reach an island soon,” Ruffy announced with a chirp in her voice.

“Oh.” Nami’s interest perked and she stood, shaded her eyes with her hands and spied forward. She thought she could see something that could be an island, but wasn’t sure. The spyglass proved it was indeed an island, so she checked with her charts, storing away the observation that Ruffy must have pretty sharp eyes to spot that island.

“No, not that one,” she said. “It’s uninhabited so… Are you listening to me?!”

No she wasn’t. Ruffy had already gotten out the oars and was merrily rowing towards the island, now that all of them were finally awake. “Maybe we’ll find a new nakama there,” she spoke excitedly to Zoro.

“Finding food would be good enough,” the man said with an agreeing rumble from his far-from-satisfied stomach. “Nami is right on one point; we should start planning things better.”

Said navigator had no choice but to turn her boat and follow them. There was obviously no stopping Ruffy and who knew what kind of trouble those two could get themselves into if Nami didn't keep an eye on them? But damn that girl could row! Ruffy was already so far ahead they could hardly call out to each other.

“Wait for me! I don't have any oars!” Nami screamed as loud as she could.

“Okay! We'll wait here,” the other girl's voice carried over the waves.

The definition of “waiting” apparently only meant “stop rowing” to the straw hat girl. Ruffy’s boat still glided forward at a good pace, so it took Nami a few minutes to actually catch up.

“You want to hook the boats together? Then we won’t be separated,” Ruffy offered, but Nami shook her head.

“I’d rather not. Makes it harder to steer,” she informed as her keen eyes surveyed the waves. “The current here is pulling us south. Turn the sails and steer west in a straight line.”

“Yosh. Which way is west?”

If she had reached Nami would have given the other girl a good punch to the head. “Steer to the left of the island.”

“Oh, I see... Will that really work?”

“Yes it will. Trust the navigator.”

“But you don’t trust the captain.”

The thief felt a sudden pang of guilt… and a rush of anger, not only because of Ruffy. She made a face, and when she spoke her voice was soft; lacking the normal confidence. “It’s not like that. I mean that you should trust my skill as a navigator is all.”

“Aha. Okay.”

Ruffy stepped over Zoro’s form to the helm in the alt, releasing the sail in the progress, and turned her little boat. Nami skilfully sailed beside her, giving new orders now and then. At last they landed on the island.

“Here we are,” the straw hat girl cheered and jumped onto solid ground. “Nothing but trees,” she observed a second later.

Nami sighed and shook her head. “That’s what I tried to I tell you earlier. The island is uninhabited. How do you expect to find nakama here?”

“Maybe there are some houses deeper into the forest,” Ruffy thought aloud, and it brightened her face considerably. She spun around “Hey, Zoro. Come ashore. Hm? Oh, he's asleep.”

Nami caught Ruffy by the strap of her tank top before she could go over there and wake the swordsman. “Let him sleep. He is injured after all.”

“Oh. Okay,” the pirate girl easily agreed and once again turned on her heels, going ahead and calling over her shoulder. “Let's go, Nami.”

“Go where, if I might ask?”

“To the houses inside the forest,” Ruffy said smiling so widely Nami could almost see all of her pretty teeth.

The thief sighed and rubbed her forehead as she followed the strange girl. “For the tenth time; there are no houses in this forest. The island is still…”

The girls stopped dead in their tracks as a fox suddenly emerged from the shadows of the trees, passing them with the sound of clucking.

“What the…?” Nami could only blink owlishly after the animal. It surely looked a lot like a fox, but it had feathers instead of fur, a comb and bib and colourful feathered tail like a rooster.

“Hey Nami, check out this weird rabbit!” Ruffy called as she held up another animal for her friend.

Nami pressed the heels of her palms against her temples, eyes wide and trying to understand what exactly she had just seen, what was wiggling around in the black-haired girl’s hands and wonder if she had somehow gone insane without noticing. “I can agree about weird, but I’d call that a snake… with rabbit ears...”

Ruffy beamed with excitement. “Snake? A rabbit snake? It’s all furry.”

The animal now named rabbit snake wiggled and made a noise that most sounded like a whimper, so Ruffy sat on her heels and let it back down, watching it slither away and caught sight of the next creature.

“Is that a lion?” she asked and pointed to an animal purring some paces away.

“Isn’t that… a pig? A pig with a lion mane... purring?” By now Nami was almost certain she’d lost her mind somewhere.

Ruffy’s ears picked up an odd sound and she lifted her head. Just like any other forest this one was full of little sounds of animals and rustling leaves, but that’s not the only sounds Ruffy could hear.

Nami mostly unconsciously stepped closer to the other girl as she hugged herself, rubbing her arms to get rid of the imaginary cold she felt. “Something’s not right with this forest,” she stated fearfully.

“Don’t take another step.”

At the sound of the unfamiliar, half hissing, half growling voice, the thief almost jumped out of her skin. “Who’s there?!” she shrieked.

“Me? I’m The Guardian of the Forest.”

“Guardian?” Ruffy parroted slowly. She sat in a doggish position with her head lowered and stared intensely at something among the bushes. Nami stared at her, wondering what she was up to now, and it provided the perfect distraction from her anxiousness this Guardian of the Forest caused.

“That’s right. If you value your lives, leave this island immediately. Because you are pirates, are you not?”

“Yes,” the pirate girl drawled distractedly.

“I thought so.”

Nami was watching her fellow girl with increasing curiously. In a cat-like fashion Ruffy inched closer to the bushes, tilting her head from side to side all the while. The sight was so funny Nami couldn’t be worried about the Guardian of the Forest anymore.

‘Don’t take another step into the woods, or else you will face The Judgement of the Forest.’

Ruffy was now crawling on her stomach under the bushes’ lowest twigs. Then suddenly she sat straight up on her knees, taking with her an old chest growing a large green bush with a blinking face and a hand that pointed a pistol straight at Ruffy’s forehead.

The pirate girl turned and showed Nami. “Hey look. It’s Jack-in-the-box.”

“PUT ME DOWN YOU LITTLE RASCAL!!!”

Nami screamed when the gun went off. Jack-in-the-box screamed too, but that was because the girl holding his chest threw him away from her, avoiding the bullet and causing him to drop the pistol and land on his back.

“Hey! Help me up!”

The girls walked up to the screaming chest and took a proper look.

“Is this a human?” Nami asked as she took in the kicking feet at the chest’s bottom, hands sticking up keeping a tight grasp of the chest’s edges, eyes glaring under eyebrows so bushy they had grown together, and the mouth full of yellowing teeth screaming curses at them.

Ruffy giggled, eyes wide with fascination. “How funny. It’s a cactus. A walking Jack-in-the-box with a cactus.”

“Help me I said!” the... whatever it was, screamed louder than before.

“What a noisy fellow,” Nami mumbled, but the girls still helped the fallen… chest-man... into an upright position.

Ruffy went to pick up the pistol, but right when she touched it a strange sound filled the air. Like someone was playing a low tune on a saw.

“What’s that sound?” Nami asked tensely.

“I don’t know,” the man in the chest said. “I’ve never heard it before.”

“It’s Shodai,” Ruffy said with a strained voice. She stood with a firm grasp on her katana and backed away from the pistol still on the ground. “She says I don’t need anything but her to protect myself, so she won’t allow me to touch that thing.”

That tune sounded again, lower this time. The katana at Ruffy’s side visibly vibrated in her white-knuckled hands. It was the first time Nami, and Jack-in-the-box, saw anything like it.

“What’s that katana?” the man asked.

“Shodai Kitetsu,” the dark-haired pirate answered.

“Kitetsu? A demon cutter? I heard a rumour about them back when I was a pirate. They bring nothing but death to their welders.”

“Back when you were a pirate?” Nami asked.

The tune sounded again.

“Oi, Jack-ossan. Can’t you pick up your gun? Shodai won’t calm down.”

“Oh, right away.” The man in the box walked up to his weapon, used a toe to flip it up so that he could reach it with his hand and hid the pistol in his hair.

The sound from the sword silenced and Ruffy relaxed with a relieved sigh. She sat down crossed legged and spoke to the katana. “Damn, Shodai. I didn’t know you could be so jealous.”

Jack-in-the-box stared out of his hairy face with slight wonder. “Girl. How did you get your hands on such a sword? You a swords master?”

“No, I'm just an ordinary pirate looking for One Piece. I got Shodai from my friend. She said Shodai would help protect me from the marines.”

“She? A swordswoman? Man, I ever only heard of one great swordswoman. My captain spoke quite warily of her.”

The straw hat girl blinked. “Captain? You’re a pirate?”

Nami gave Ruffy’s head a hard pat. “Pick up information faster, you slowpoke. He said was a pirate just a minute ago.”

“Yes. My name is Gaimon,” Jack-in-the-box introduced himself, late but alas. “I’ve lived all alone on this island for the past twenty years.”

“Twenty years?!” Nami exclaimed. “You’ve been living here by yourself for that long?”

The man sighed and Ruffy was distracted by the way his beard ruffled as he breathed out. “Yes. Twenty years. That’s a long time I say.”

“But this is the first time I see a living Jack-in-the-box,” Ruffy said out of the blue, grinning with curiosity. “Can you spring your head up higher to scare people?”

“Yes, I… Are you making fun of me?! I’m stuck in this box and can’t get out! I’ve been stuck like this for twenty years! Can you even imagine how I feel?”

The straw hat girl’s eyes widened. “Are you an idiot?” she asked, and her face indicated it was actually a serious question.

The man in the box jumped up and down. “What did you say? Come over here and I’ll kill you!” And he meant it, but a moment later he figured how childish he was; getting so angry at a mare teenager who had hardly even started living yet. Gaimon had half a mind to tell the girl to come back in a fifty years and they could start talking about what those past twenty years had done to him, but he sighed instead and tried to start over. “Twenty years you know, stuck in this chest, that’s such a long time I doubt you understand. My hair and beard have become real bushes and my eyebrows have grown together. For all these years I haven’t even talked to another human face to face.”

“Want me to break the box for you?” Ruffy asked helpfully and cracked her knuckles.

The man’s eyes widened with horror. “Baka!!! Don’t you get it? I have been stuck in this chest for twenty years! I have grown into it! If you break the chest I’ll die!”

“But how did you end up here and like this?” Nami asked with a concerned frown gesturing to the man’s appearance.

He made a face and turned to the smarter girl. “Didn’t you say earlier you are pirates?” he asked back.

“Yes we are,” Ruffy confirmed and swung her knees up and down.

“You see, twenty years ago I was a pirate too,” a fond smile found its way to Gaimon’s face and a wistful look glittered in his eyes. “Wonderful, I say. Adventures and treasure hunts.  I’d risk my life to experience it again. But you’re looking for One Piece? Then your heading is the Grand Line?”

“Yup,” Ruffy nodded rather matter-of-factly.

The man in the box sighed. “I hope you know that the Grand Line is dangerous. Do you even know where it is?”

The girl captain pointedly turned her head and looked expectantly at Nami; her navigator, who almost slapped a hand over her face at the complete cluelessness of Ruffy’s.

“We have a chart, so I’ll get us there somehow. But you Ruffy. One thing. You know about the Red Line, right?”

“I do,” Gaimon spoke first. “It’s the enormous continent separating the seas in two.”

“Exactly,” Nami confirmed and held up the map she kept on her person at all times for safekeeping, pointing at the white, irregular line that crossed the map at its middle. “The Red Line circles the planet and the Grand Line crosses that continent from the city that is said to be in the middle.”

Ruffy eagerly lifted her hand like she was in is a school class. “I know about that. It’s Mariejoa, the holy city.”

Nami blinked. “The holy city? I never heard of that.”

“It goes something like this.” Ruffy glanced upwards in a thinking motion and started rocking from side to side while singing something that sounded a lot like a children’s song. “Up on the Red Line lies Mariejoa; the one to the world holy city. The Celestial Dragons…” she stopped rocking and scratched her chin, brow furrowed as the lyrics suddenly eluded her, “has a nest up there… hmhm… You better bow your head down to the ground.”

“What was that?” Nami and Gaimon asked.

“A song.”

Nami slapped her forehead in exasperation. “Yes, I heard that much. What was it about? Celestial dragons having a nest on the Red Line? I don’t get it.”

“You don’t have to. Once we’ve crossed the Grand Line and found One Piece we don’t have to care about those dragons.”

“Idiot,” Gaimon labelled the girl. “If the Grand Line was that easy to conquer it wouldn’t be called the Pirate Graveyard.”

“What do you mean?” Ruffy asked with a confused frown.

“It’s not a tale, girl. I know because I’ve seen pirates desperately running away from the route,” the man in the box said gravely, face dark as he remembered. “Terrible I say. They looked like walking corpses, like they had lost all spirit. I didn’t want to think about what they had experienced, but one look was enough for me to understand the horrors of the Grand Line. It is a place you rather stay away from.”

“Grand Line defeated them,” Ruffy stated shamelessly.

“Obviously,” the man in the box agreed with a sigh. “And about One Piece, no one knows what’s true anymore. Back when I was a pirate the rumours were already running over the top. One rumour adds to the next and in the end the only thing left is a myth. One Piece might only be a legend.”

“You think so?” the black-haired girl asked with a tilt of her head. “But Aki said that legends don’t sprout from nothing, so I’m sure we’ll find it.”

“I’d love to know where all that confidence comes from,” Nami sighed deeply, at the same time taking note that Ruffy had just mentioned a new name.

The man in the chest stared at them, almost as if waiting for something. The girls stared back questioningly, glancing at each other to see if she was any wiser. In the end Gaimon just blurted out; “Aren't you going to ask me why I've never tried to leave this island?”

“Hm? No, I wasn’t about to. Nami?”

The thief gave up. Ruffy was a blunt idiot through and through and that was that, but still. “Isn’t there a limit to being simpleminded?” she muttered. “Yes Gaimon-san, why haven’t you tried to leave?”

Gaimon recovered from the shock of Ruffy’s response. “Bitterness. I can’t get the image out of my mind,” he told them, and Nami could almost hear how much he had longed to share it with somebody.

“Oh. So that’s the bond you have to the middle of the island. I was wondering,” the dark-haired pirate smiled.

The other two stared at her, again. Ruffy was the queen of strange inputs in conversations.

“How did you know that?” Gaimon asked warily.

“I can hear it in your heartbeat. Somehow the bitterness you feel is connected to the top over there,” the girl said pointed.

Nami gaped. Gaimon too. Ruffy looked between them and wondered what was wrong.

The man blinked a few times before he found his voice again. “…yes. You’re right. Twenty years ago I came here along with my crew, following a map that told us about a treasure that should be buried here. We searched, for three weeks, but the only thing we found was this empty chest... the same one I’m now stuck in,” he added with a deep sigh and the shock from the dumb girl’s comment finally wore off and the bitterness returned to his voice. “Captain gave up. But there was one place he hadn’t searched in; the very top of the island. I climbed up that hill, and I couldn’t believe what I saw! I found the treasure! It’s right up there. But when I was about to call for my comrades I lost my hold of the stone, and when I came to I was stuck in this chest and my crew was gone. Now I can’t climb that hill because I’m stuck in a treasure chest!”

“Did nobody really come to this island for twenty years?” Ruffy asked with a furrowed brow.

“Oh, they have come. Loads of them. Pirates looking for the treasure.” Gaimon smiled joylessly and picked out his gun, which made the dark-haired girl pirate grab a tight hold of her katana. “But I’ve chased them all away with the judgement of the forest.”

“Put that gun away, please.”

“Oh, sorry.”

The man in the box put his weapon back into his hair and Ruffy relaxed. Giving her katana a glare she moved it backwards in the belt into a more comfortable position.

“Anyway,” Gaimon continued. “I can’t forget the treasure. But I’m stuck like this and can’t get to it! I’ve been guarding that treasure for twenty years! It’s mine!!!”

Ruffy nodded with decisive agreement. “Very true. The treasure is definitely yours.”

Nami pumped her fist. “Don’t worry, Gaimon-san! We’ll help you get the treasure!”

“Eh? Really?” The man's eyes brimmed with tears of gratitude. “You'd do that for me?”

Ruffy though gave her navigator a strange look. Up until now the older girl had had a definite ‘the treasure is mine’ sort of attitude. Moreover; she claimed to hate pirates more than anything and Jack-in-the-box was... or maybe he wasn’t anymore but he didn’t regret he’d ever been a pirate. That’s why the girl pirate felt most obligated to ask; “Nami, aren’t you a thief that steals from pirates?”

“Just what are you trying to suggest, Ruffy?! I do have morals too!” Nami yelled and then glowered at the girl she’d decided to tag along with, daring her to say anything.

But of course Ruffy was still Ruffy, and she wasn’t the type to make things difficult on herself, so her response was a simple; “Aha. Okay” and a wide grin.

The navigator had half a mind to drop a poisonous comment, but nothing satisfying came to mind and the silent sort of grew longer until it was really too late to say anything.

Grumbling to herself for missing her chance Nami turned to the island’s only human occupant. “So, Gaimon-san, please lead the way.”

The man sniffed. “You girls... you are such great people!”

Gaimon started to lead the way, but having only the length of his feet to walk with and therefore a limited stride he wasn’t the fastest person around. So Ruffy, being the impatient type of person, decided to carry him instead. At first he protested quite loudly, scaring a few odd birds to flight in the progress, but after easily passing a steep, rocky area that would normally take him hours to scale, the man in the box decided he had quite a nice seat on the dark-haired girl’s shoulder. It didn't take them long to reach the top of the island; a rock hill that was a few yards high and very steep.

“This is it,” Gaimon confirmed breathlessly. “I haven’t been here in a long time. A very long time…”

Ruffy let the chest with its permanent contents down from her shoulder and studied the high cliff. It didn’t look too hard to climb. “Ne, Jack-ossan. Why haven’t you asked anybody to help you earlier? You said people had come here before.”

“People have come,” Gaimon nodded and scowled up at her. “Pirates. As if I could trust them when they came for my treasure! Besides, the few times I showed my face they got scared and ran away.”

The dark-haired girl blinked as suddenly the man’s heartbeat sounded louder. Twenty years of frustration was almost enough for Ruffy to want to cover her ears.

“Damn! Damn! The treasure is so close! Damn!!!”

Gaimon, unaware of Ruffy’s special hearing, smiled widely up the cliff where he had once caught a glimpse of the treasure he had guarded since then. “Finally the moment is here! What a wonderful day!”

Nami put a hand on Ruffy’s shoulder, scaring her out of the sound of the man’s heart. “Okay. Get on with it.”

“Me?” the other girl blinked with disbelief.

“Yes, you! Do you think I can climb this hill?”

Ruffy was about to say that she did think Nami was very capable of scaling the cliff, and probably would have done it too if she could get her hands on the treasure, but Gaimon was practically shaking with excitement and wished her good luck.

Ruffy sighed, took off her sandals and gave them to Nami. “Hold these for me.”

“Sure…? Hey? Where are you going? The treasure is…”

“You’re in my way. Step aside.”

Knowing a dangerous look when they saw one, Nami and Gaimon cleared the road for the pirate girl that had put some distance between her and the rock.

‘Maybe Nami was right after all,’ Ruffy thought. ‘I’d be up and back before she gotten off the ground.’

“Here I come.”

Gaimon cheered when the girl ran all the way up the hill. Nami too had to admit she was... rather awed.

But standing at the edge of the rock hill Ruffy didn’t move. At least not at first. Nami grew anxious when the other girl suddenly started to look around herself.

“Oi, Ruffy? Is the treasure not there?”

Those dark eyes looked down and then the girl disappeared from sight.

“It couldn’t have disappeared…?” Nami mumbled to herself, glancing down at the man beside her. He looked so anxious.

“They are here!” Ruffy called from up above them. She stood there holding onto a treasure chest the same size as the one the man in the box was stuck in. “Five treasure chests.”

Gaimon’s face lit up, laugher escaping him in a fit of near ecstasy. “Great! Wonderful! Haha! Drop them down here quickly! All of them! Just don’t hit me! Finally! Finally!”

But the girl didn’t let go of the chest. Instead she sat down with her legs crossed and the chest on her lap.

“What are you waiting for?” Nami called. “Drop those chests down here now.”

“I don’t want to,” Ruffy called back.

Gaimon’s face fell. The straw hat girl... Well, it wasn’t like the thought had never grazed his mind but...

Nami didn’t look down. If she had she might have seen the man’s moment of pained acceptance. Instead she glared up at the pirate girl on top of a cliff where she couldn’t be reached, which only added more fuel to the absolutely infuriated fire. “You bloody pirate! Gaimon-san has guarded that treasure for twenty years! You can’t just keep them to yourself! Come down here right now!”

“No…” Gaimon said lowly, “she doesn’t have to,”

“Of course she has to! To hell with her! That treasure…”

The man in the chest tilted his head back all he could. Up there the girl with the straw hat sat eyeing him, knowing he understood what she was doing and waited for his reaction. Really, when had he last met a person of such kindness? “Mugiwara…” he called up to her, halting the other girl’s angry rant. “Thank you. That was really nice of you.”

Nami's jaw fell all the way to the ground, utterly dumbfounded. What was he saying? Why? ...Why was he crying?

“I suspected… the possibility… but tried so hard not to think about it,” the man in the box sobbed. “The chests… they are empty.”

Nami let out a strangled gasp. “What?”

“Yup. All empty,” Ruffy’s voice carried down to them more solemn than Nami had thought she was capable of.

“It happens often,” Gaimon cried. “It happens that when there is a map, the treasure is already gone when you get a hold of the chart.”

“No way,” the thief girl protested weakly. “So the treasure you’ve been guarding for twenty years… are only a bunch of empty boxes?” She glanced up at Ruffy, hardly able to believe it. How could the world be so harsh? Even if Gaimon had been a pirate before he didn’t deserve this. Twenty years all alone for nothing. Why? Nobody deserves such a fate.

For a moment, all that was heard was Gaimon sobbing. Ruffy listened from the top of the hill. She could hear the sadness, the disappointment, the shame… and the relief.

A smile bloomed on her face and she started laughing. “Keep your chin up, Jack-ossan. Now you know after only twenty years. If you hadn’t confided in us you could have waited for another twenty or thirty years and died without knowing anything at all.”

“Mugiwara…”

The girl above them stood gazing at whatever she could see far ahead of her. “Now you’ve won your life back, so why not aim high and go straight for One Piece! Come with me and live the pirate life again!”

Nami let her breath out, amazed to say at least. She had never heard anybody turn something utterly cruel into something to be glad about. It was true the treasure was gone, probably, and Gaimon had been alone for twenty years. But Ruffy’s point was just that; he wasn’t alone anymore.

“Thank you, Mugiwara,” the man in the box cried from soul deep relief and happiness. “Thank you. I'm so happy. This really is a good day.”

The thief smiled. She thought she understood Ruffy a little better now. The girl with the straw hat was stupid and never made much sense, but she was a good person.

After Ruffy jumped down, landing very lightly to the other two’s amazement, she put her sandals back on and carried Gaimon back down the island. They passed a few weird animals; a panda bat, an owl cat, an ostrich horse… Ruffy couldn’t help but stare at that one.

“Yes, the animals of this island are quite peculiar,” Gaimon agreed even though none of the girls had said a word.

“Is it edible?” the pirate girl asked drooling and pointed to the ostrich horse.

“Absolutely not!” the man yelled and Nami discreetly let out a breath of relief. She wouldn’t eat any of these weird animals even if she got... okay, she would eat if she got twenty million beli for it, but not for even one beli less.

“But we need food,” Ruffy argued. “We don’t have any food or water.”

“Don’t worry, Mugiwara. I have a lot of food in my camp,” the man in the box offered. “Turn right here. I said right! The other way… Watch out for those roots. Hey, why are you jumping? Don’t go up into the tree…! Put me down!!! I’ll take you to my camp walking on my own two feet!”

Ruffy pouted a bit, but did as he wanted.

“Geez, can’t even follow a simple direction,” he grunted and started walking.

“It would have been easier if yours and mine left and right was the same,” the girl said when Gaimon turned left instead of right.

“I'm more than twice your age you hatchling and I know this island as the back of my hand! My camp is this way!”

Not caring about their now grumbling guide Nami lightly pulled at the other girl’s cloths with a face of suspiciousness. “Which is your right hand?” she asked, and when Ruffy held up the right hand, even pointing at it, Nami sighed with relief. It wouldn’t have been easy to sail with someone who couldn’t tell right from left.

Gaimon stomped a little extra with his feet as a minuscule fanfare at the mouth of a cove made up of thick walls of braided birch branches. “Here we are. I only have fruit, but there’s plenty. You can have all you want.”

“Thanks! This looks really good!” Ruffy beamed, eyeing the collection of apples, pears, grapes and other more exotic fruits. However, baskets with fruit and berries were all she could find. “What about water?”

“Not here, but there’s a little pond a little bit that way.”

The girls returned to their little boats to fetch their water barrels. Zoro was still asleep, so Ruffy was extra careful not to wake him when she got in and out of the vessel.

The pond sported a merry waterfall that Ruffy wasn't late to put her head under with a joyous squeal. Not even Nami could help but laugh at the sight as she filled her barrel with only enough water to make sure she could carry it back to the boats. Ruffy filled hers to the brim and managed to balance it on her head with only one supportive hand.

“There!” Ruffy declared as they headed back. “Food and water. We’re ready to go.”

Gaimon walked behind the girls, feeling more content than he could remember he ever had. He was free. There was no treasure on the top of the island where he couldn't reach it. Now the sea stretched out in front of him with watery arms open wide and welcoming. Oh how he had missed the feeling; the feeling of freedom.

From the canopy of the trees he could feel eyes watching him. Most of them were cautious due to the two girls in his company. Gaimon had spent twenty years on this island; he knew it as the back of his hand, and he knew the creatures that lived here. Those creatures who now silently watched from the shadows. It was thanks to them he had managed to survive, it was thanks to them he had never gone insane...

“Mugiwara.”

“Hm?”

“I’m grateful for your invitation, but I will remain here on this island.”

She blinked, but didn't seem too surprised or disagreeable. If anything she seemed almost understanding. “…Are you sure? You’re really staying here?”

“Yes. Thank you so much for inviting me, but I want to stay the guardian of the forest.”

Nami tilted her head to the side, her eyes mirroring only concern. “Why? There’s nothing left for you to guard.”

“Oh, yes there is” the man chortled. “You saw the rare animals of this island.”

“We sure did,” the thief nodded with a sigh. “Rabbits and snakes and pigs and whatnot.” And she still wouldn’t want to eat any of them.

Gaimon smiled. “Actually, more people come here for the animals rather than the treasure. I have been here for twenty years; I have protected the treasure as well as those monsters. During these twenty years they have become my family. I don’t want to abandon them.”

Ruffy smiled widely. “Because Jack-ossan is a rare and precious sort of animal too.”

“Want to die!?” the man in the box snorted, but then he smiled again. “You know, Mugiwara. The treasure is gone, and I have never felt so free in my life! It’s a load off my mind. Thank you.”

The girl gave a lopsided smile. “I’m a bit sad you won’t come with me. You were funny, Jack-ossan.”

Gaimon laughed. “I’m sure you will find some really great nakama on the sea. Make sure to find One Piece, and then you can buy the whole world!”

Ruffy grinned, full of confidence. “Sure will. See you, Jack-ossan!”

Chapter Text

Nami’s heart touches by one that understands

Zoro still slept, so Ruffy just took her place in the bow of her little boat and watched the sun set. Nami, after properly waving goodbye to the man in the box they’d left on his island of monsters, took a good look at the other girl now that the shadows sharpened Ruffy’s shapes.

It was almost frightening to see how thin the girl really was. Of course Nami had noticed before, but with the deeper shadows Ruffy’s bones could be seen even under the layer of muscle she had. How could such a skinny girl be so strong? What was her secret?

There was that little detail about her eyes too. Nami was certain she hadn’t imagined Ruffy’s eyes turn golden at one point.

“Oi, Nami.”

The navigator jerked when Ruffy suddenly turned to her. “What? Yes?”

“Can I listen to your heart now?” the other girl asked hopefully.

Sighing Nami shook her head. “You never give up, do you?”

“Of course not. If I did I’d be long dead.”

She lifted an eyebrow in doubt. Ruffy smiled so hopefully the thief could imagine her with dog ears and a wagging tail, not somebody who had been anywhere near death. Still, she had, hadn’t she? After all, Ruffy had fought a lion, and she had defeated Buggy the Clown. None of the times had she turned and run, or even showed a moment of fear. Was that fearlessness really a product of obliviousness to death? It didn’t really feel so.

“Nami?”

Blinking out of her train of thought the thief realized she had been staring. And the second she took in the sight of those warm brown orbs she made up her mind. “No,” she said blandly.

Ruffy’s face fell and she pouted. “You’re so stubborn. It won’t hurt.”

The face the younger girl pulled made Nami smile without meaning to. Damn this girl wasn’t playing fair. “I meant; not today. Tomorrow. I'm a little tired now, and there is something I want to think about.” Standing and stretching her body to its full length, Nami felt how her muscles relaxed as she exhaled. She cast one last look at the setting sun before she turned to her cabin. “Good night now. Don't eat all the food.”

“Hai. Good night.”

Being left alone in a small boat with a man who just kept on snoring wasn’t the most exciting thing Ruffy could think of, but she wasn’t one to wake a friend when the sun fell. They might get really angry. So she settled to her watch duty.

The sea was really calm here. No matter how hard Ruffy listened she couldn’t hear the heartbeat of sea kings that had been near constantly present when she travelled with Sun. The one this morning must have been an exception, because it came here to die. Good for the sailors Ruffy supposed, because a sea king that size could easily swallow a marine battleship whole. Not that they did, they typically chewed the ships first. She recalled there being a sea king nesting right outside the shores of Fuusha village though. She wondered if it was still there. It was so long ago.

Ruffy sighed in content. The sun had gone down now and the moon and stars were gazing down at the world below. She found she wanted to sleep, she was actually really tired, but she was on duty so she couldn’t. But it was so peaceful here. Just a little while wouldn’t hurt…

“Don’t take it personal, but someone like you will only get in the way.”

Ruffy jerked, now wide awake. That’s right. She couldn’t sleep. She had nakama to protect. Sleeping was not an option.

 


 

The sun had just begun to rise when Zoro awoke, yawned and stretched. The wound in his side was healing nicely if he could say so himself. It hardly hurt at all anymore.

“Good morning, Zoro.”

From the bow of the boat Ruffy looked at him over her shoulder. The awakening day was a bit cool and cast soft shadows on the captain’s face and body.

Zoro yawned again. “How can you be up already? Are we near land yet?”

“You slept through the land we landed on yesterday,” Ruffy giggled. “We got some more food, in the barrel behind you.”

The man frowned absent-mindedly before the memories resurfaced. “Oh yeah. We did spot an island. What? We’ve already left it?”

“Yup. I wanted to wake you but Nami said you needed all the sleep you could get because you’re hurt.”

That actually sounded like something the thief girl would say, Zoro pondered. Funny how they had found a navigator who was almost the opposite of the captain. But he wasn’t about to complain as long as the thief didn’t bother him.

The swordsman looked around in both boats, remembering somewhere in his mind Ruffy hoping to find more crewmembers on the island they had supposedly landed on yesterday, and still only found his captain. “So you didn’t find another man.”

“I did find one, but he didn’t want to come along,” Ruffy began and followed with the whole story as Zoro helped himself with fruit and water. She told him everything about Gaimon and the island of strange animals. Not that much of it made sense to Zoro. A rabbit snake? A Jack-in-the-box with a cactus? An ostrich horse that looked really appetizing? All in all there was actually only one thing he really did understand;

“So you and Nami went out on a little adventure together? Is she willing to trust you yet?”

“I... don’t really know,” Ruffy drawled uncertainly and looked back over the ocean. “She said she’d let me listen to her heart today, so I hope she will.”

Zoro took a bite of another apple and chewed thoughtfully, watching his captain’s back. Ruffy’s skin, had it been that pale before? Maybe she was cold. She didn’t sleep close to him so…

“Oi, Ruffy. Are you cold?”

She looked back at him, blinking with a surprised expression. “It’s not so bad, I can manage. Why?”

Zoro scratched his cheek in a show of uncharacteristic bashfulness. “I thought… if you feel cold at night, you can sleep beside me or something.”

The girl blinked at him, working through the information, and grinned happily. “You really are a great guy, Zoro. Thank you.”

The swordsman lifted an eyebrow. That could be interpreted both ways. Well, Ruffy would probably do as she liked anyway. Now at least she knew she was welcome to share warmth with him.

Ruffy whistled a little tune. Zoro listened, relaxing to the sound of his captain’s voice when in between the whistles she would sing a line.

“…and you seek me out again in all the dreams I’m dreaming… Take my hand and sail with me, the endless sea…”

The door to the cabin of the other boat opened and a yawning navigator came out and stretched.

“Good morning, Nami,” Ruffy chirped with a bright smile.

“Morning you guys. Something happened tonight?”

“Nope. Nothing at all,” the dark-haired girl replied, immediately gaining Zoro’s attention. But Nami didn’t seem to notice.

“Good…” She sat down spying over the waters.

Ruffy continued to hopefully look at the other girl, as if she was waiting, but when the navigator didn’t say anything Ruffy decided to just ask instead. “Hey Nami. Can I eat now?”

“Huh? Why do you ask me?” Nami frowned confusedly.

“You said yesterday I couldn’t eat,” Ruffy reminded her, “but I can eat now, right?”

The thief sighed and tiredly rolled her eyes. “Sure. Help yourself.”

Nami hadn’t even finished talking before Zoro was covered by his captain’s body eagerly snatching fruit from the sacks. She was colder than he had thought. Grabbing her arm he could tell Ruffy was freezing.

“Zoro, your hands are really warm!” she exclaimed cheerfully.

“I’m not warm; you’re the one who’s cold.”

“I am?”

For an instant he was about to tell Ruffy she had to dress warmer, but as soon as he opened his mouth he realized he didn’t have the authority to tell her what to do and released her instead. But they should have a blanket somewhere, or Nami might have one. Zoro made a mental note to ask her about it tonight. After all, she was the only one sleeping inside a cabin. She should have some covers to spare. It wouldn’t look too good if their captain got sick.

“This is madness.”

Ruffy and Zoro both blinked and turned to the girl in the other boat.

The captain bit off a piece of a pear. “What is?”

“To go into the Grand Line like this, the way we are,” Nami clarified with a sweeping gesture at the boat and themselves.

Swallowing the bite in her mouth Ruffy looked at the half-eaten fruit in her hand, quietly considering what the navigator was saying. “You’re right,” she nodded after only a second and looked back to Nami. “The fruit we got from Jack-ossan won’t last long. We need meat.”

The thief girl face palmed. Here she had actually thought Ruffy would at last understand something she was told. ‘Yeah, keep dreaming,’ Nami thought to herself. “I wasn’t talking about just food,” she argued.

“No,” Zoro agreed, gaining Nami’s momentary gratefulness that he was actually using his head, before he continued; “We need rum too.”

The bright-haired girl almost blew up. “Is food and booze the only things you two can think of?!” She sat back with a restrained snort. Those two idiots would be the death of her, she was sure. “What I mean is that the Grand Line is the most dangerous place in the world. It’s packed with pirates looking for the One Piece, and I’m sure they have large ships.”

“They have, most of them,” Ruffy confirmed with a nod. “Only those really strong guys can sail alone.”

Nami, feeling just a little bit awed at Ruffy’s unexpected stretch of knowledge, nodded. “Exactly. You actually do know a few things about the world after all, Ruffy. We wouldn’t survive long in the Grand Line like this. We are too few and too poorly equipped. And besides we can barely move around on the space we have, much less fight.” She waved a hand over their two small boats to emphasis her point.

Ruffy only swung her knees. “So what do you suggest we do?”

“Make preparations, make up a plan,” Nami said confidently and rolled up some charts and pointed at one of them. “There is a village here, about half a day south of where we are. That’s a good place to start. If we’re lucky enough the people there can provide us with a bigger ship.”

“Sounds good,” Zoro said as the captain had her mouth full of fruit again.

“The islands aren’t that far apart here,” the dark-haired girl said as she stared off over the sea shading her eyes with a hand.

“No,” the navigator agreed. “We have a good tailwind and the sea is calm, we might even hit our destination earlier than planned.”

“Good. Then I can listen to your heart,” Ruffy sang.

The thief let down the charts she had been studying and sighed. “Are you persistent or what?”

“You should let her,” Zoro said.

“Give me a reason.”

“We won’t be able to trust you if you don’t.”

Just like yesterday, Nami’s defences went right up and she glared into Zoro’s calm greens.

Ruffy tilted her head both sides. “Don’t you want us to trust you, Nami?”

She found she couldn’t answer to that. Not straight away. It was really complicated to answer such a simple question when the head said one thing, the gut another and the heart had a third and forth opinion.

In the end she just held a hand out. “Come on and get it over with then.”

Zoro couldn’t help but watch closely as his captain, rather than jumping as she had him, carefully made her way into the other boat and, instead of tackling the other girl, pressed her down until they both lay down. The navigator protested, but she couldn’t fight the thinner girl off.

“You’ll get used to it,” Zoro said helpfully and stood. He had been lying down for too long and now took the chance to stretch his stiff body. From that position he could keep a closer eye on the girls.

Nami knew that the swordsman was watching her, but with Ruffy’s head using her breast as a pillow the thief was slightly uncertain as to why the man watched them, and secretly hoped he wasn’t thinking of joining.

“Logical,” Ruffy said.

“Eh?”

“Nami is logical,” the younger girl clarified. “Trusting only common sense… you take responsibility for people around you.” Ruffy smiled up at her. “You have a nice heart, Nami.”

In the other boat Zoro smiled too, his forehead relaxing. He shouldn’t have worried.

The thief blushed, feeling slightly warm inside. Maybe this wasn’t as bad as she had thought. Ruffy really didn’t mean any harm. She was just dense. She probably wasn’t even meant to be a pirate from the start.

What could have caused her to become one?

~*-*~

They were minding the tangerine fields, she, Nojiko and Bellemere-san. They were laughing together and Bellemere-san praised her for her hard work.

But suddenly the fields were filled with strange, looming beings. Pirates! They were everywhere and a cold laugher filled the air.

“Nojiko, Nami!”

She turned around. Bellemere-san stood there, beaten bloody with a pistol pointed to her forehead. She smiled.

“I love you.”

Bellemere-san died. She was shot. Bellemere-san!

Cold hands grabbed her from behind and carried her away. People around tried to get to her, but were killed.

“Don’t die! I’ll be fine! Please don’t die!”

A room filled with the light from the evening sun. There were some bookcases with a few books along the walls and right in front of her was a desk.

“Here you go,” a deep, uncaring voice said somewhere above her. “Your desk and pen, everything you need to draw charts for me.”

Walking through a village with people she loved, but the moment they saw the mark on her shoulder they turned away. All of those who had taken care of and looked after her for all her life, the people who had always smiled at her.

She walked along the beach and listened to the waves, feeling eyes watching her from the water. She had to be strong. She couldn’t cry. There was nobody to cry to, nobody to turn to. Everyone would die if she wasn’t strong.

“I see,” a voice said.

Turning to see who spoke Nami saw Ruffy walking beside her in the light from a red sea, covered with blood and with shackles around her ankles and wrists. There was a ring around her neck too.

“I understand,” Ruffy said.

“What do you think you understand?!” Nami cried.

Ruffy turned to her just as a cold wind swept over them, bringing in reddish soap bubbles and blowing Ruffy’s long, thick hair into her face, concealing her expression. Nami’s eyes widened as a shadow rose above the girl. A bubble blew into her face and popped.

~*-*~

There he was. Her hope. She dropped everything she held and ran towards him as fast as the chains would let her.

“Jii-chan!!!”

The old man spun around and paled. He lost his composure, but before she could reach him a stone cold hand grabbed her hair.

“This one again. What should I do with it, sir?”

“That one again? It has only been troublesome from the very start…”

“Jii-chan! Help me! I want to go home!”

“P… please!” He fell down on his hands and knees with his forehead against the floor. “My grandchild. That girl is my grandchild. Please spare her.”

“Your child? Impossible. Why would your child…”

“Jii-chan! Please! Take me home! I hate it here! I promise I be a good girl! I do anything! I’ll be a marine like you want! Just take me home, Jii-chan! Jii-chan!!!”

“So noisy. Take it away.”

The old man didn’t move. She was taken away again, watching her only hope slip between her fingers.

“JIIII-CHAAAAAAANNN!!!”

~*-*~

“Aaaaaaahhhh!!!”

Zoro, lying down and almost asleep again, jerked awake and sat up straight, hands already clutching his swords even before he could focus on the one who had screamed. Nami was white as a sheet, crying and desperately clutching onto a sleepy Ruffy.

“It’s okay, Nami,” the dark-haired girl said and sloppily patted the navigator’s hair. “Those aren’t your feelings.”

All Nami could do was nod, too shocked and distressed to completely comprehend what was going on. There was nobody pulling her away by the hair, nothing strangling her and no old man kneeling on a floor. She was safe and sound sitting in a small boat in the middle of the sea holding onto someone that felt safer than the wood of the boat.

“Zoro. Are we on the right course?”

Zoro?

“We haven’t made a turn for the few minutes you’ve been out, Ruffy. So no, we haven’t changed course.”

Ruffy?

Nami slowly made it back to reality. The body she held onto was Ruffy. She had asked to listen to Nami’s heart.

“What the hell… was that?”

“My feelings.”

Nami swallowed, tried to, the lump in her throat was still too hard. That insanely strong desperation. The last little flicker of hope dying as she reached for it. The world locking her away somewhere all alone. Was that really what Ruffy felt? Alone. Betrayed. Desperate to a point where Nami couldn’t even comprehend it.

She tried to swallow again. It must have been a dream. Nothing but a dream, because the kneeling old man had been the only clear image. Every other person around had been only shadows. The scenery hadn’t been very clear. Still the feelings were so real.

“Will you be okay, Nami?”

The bright-haired girl realized she was still clinging onto Ruffy for dear life, and pulled herself together best she could.

“I’m fine. It was only a very vivid dream.” With huge effort she grinned mischievously at the other girl. “Did you get worried?”

“Yes, because it wasn’t a dream.”

“Yes it was,” Nami said decisively. “What else could it have been? The expression of ‘sharing feelings’ isn’t about actually transmitting them.”

Ruffy turned her head around and made a slightly annoyed face to Zoro. “Common sense can really get in the way,” she remarked, making the swordsman chuckle.

Nami ignored them as Ruffy moved back into her own boat. The thief had to ignore them if she wanted to keep her calm. The memory of that kind of desperation was boiling under the surface, and it was all she could do to suppress it. How was she supposed to get any sleep tonight?

The charts were a good distraction. Checking with the sun Nami noticed they had drifted slightly off course. She managed to pinpoint their position on her chart and corrected their course, cursing Zoro’s lack of even basic knowledge in navigation (since he was the only one who had been awake while she was... dreaming) and fixed their new route on the chart.

“It will be another few hours before we reach the island,” she informed her companions.

“Hope we can eat some meat when we get there,” was Ruffy’s cheery reply.

‘It was definitely just a dream,’ Nami decided. Someone who sounded as chirp as Ruffy didn’t know first thing about desperation.

Chapter Text

Captain Usopp; the honourable liar

Because Ruffy was impatient she had pulled out the oars to row the last distance. Nami, slightly annoyed for yet again being almost left behind, followed her friends. But all of a sudden Ruffy stopped rowing and locked her gaze at a large rock. Nami followed her unblinking stare but couldn’t see anything there.

“What is it, Ruffy?” Zoro asked as he too tried to see anything about the rock that could have caught the girl’s attention.

“I don’t really know. A bunch of restless people I think,” the girl captain said slowly.

The swordsman lifted an eyebrow. He didn’t doubt Ruffy, but more often than not it was hard to understand what she said. And setting everything else aside they had begun to drift due to Ruffy not rowing.

“You want me to row instead?” he offered.

She looked back at him and blinked. An idea took form in her brain and she lit up. “We can row together,” she beamed and held out one oar to her friend.

That just made Zoro shake his head and smile, but he took the oar and they started rowing. Watching them from her own boat Nami laughed until she cried. Zoro was taking twice as deep and strong swings as Ruffy which made the little boat move around itself. In the end Zoro took a hold of Ruffy’s oar too, and the girl captain, not being the type to just let go of what she had in her hands, grabbed Zoro’s oar too. It was uneven and the two were growling and working against each other all the way, but at least they were moving forward. Nami’s stomach and face both hurt from laughing once the idiot duo finally landed on the shore.

The island was quiet and peaceful. The wind was gentle today and playfully rustled through the leaves of trees and bushes high above them. The three friends tied the sails and pulled their boats up on land.

“Is there really a village on this island, Nami?” Ruffy asked, looking around on the rocky shore and up the steep cliffs on both sides of a slope.

The other girl frowned over the edge of the map she was studying, thinking about how Ruffy hadn’t cared about Nami’s definite statement there wasn’t a village on the last island they landed on. “Yes, there is a village here,” she informed the girl pirate. “A little one, but a village.”

Zoro got off the boat and stretched so that his stiff joints clicked. “Feels good to stand on solid ground again.”

“Your own fault. You slept through the whole last island,” Ruffy laughed.

“Not my fault. I need lots of sleep when I’m injured.”

The captain just smiled. “Oh. So that’s why.”

Nami looked around while the other two went about, waiting for them to get going. The shore was surrounded by high cliffs and she could see trees growing high above them. If it wasn’t for the slope creating a path up onto the island itself it wouldn’t have been easy to land here. For all Nami knew, the slope might as well have been manmade. The walls were too flat for the path to be natural. It showed on the map as well, two of them in fact, but seeing it with your own eyes was something else.

She wanted to draw a new map over this island; one that better described the shores and slopes.

“Just a thought,” Zoro suddenly said, turned to a cliff and pointed to the top of it. “Who are they?”

The two girls looked up, screams of young children running away were heard and a boy, probably closer to Ruffy’s age, with black curling hair and a long nose, dressed in brown dungarees jumped out of the bushes at the top of the slope. He looked like a deer in the headlight for a second, staring at the pirates as he decided whether he should run or fight.

He took a bold stance with his feet apart and arms crossed. “My name is Usopp, the leader of this island’s great pirate fleet! I’m praised by everyone, and they call me Senshou, Captain Usopp oyabun!”

Zoro exchanged a glance with Nami, Ruffy curiously eying the boy above them before she led her small crew up the slope to the top of the hill.

“I warn you,” the long-nosed boy said, bravely trying not to look like the nervous tremor of his voice belonged to him. “I have a crew of… hey. What are you doing? Why are you so close?”

Ruffy had never fully understood the concept of personal space and comfort zones, so she walked straight up to the long-nosed boy and closely scrutinised his face with her brows furrowed.

She turned to Zoro. “Oi, Zoro. Have I seen this guy before?”

“Why are you asking me? How should I know?”

Ruffy turned back to the long-nosed boy with her arms crossed and sceptically stared at the boy, thinking hard. “Hmmm. I’ve definitely seen you before,” she muttered.

The boy stumbled backwards, a safe distance away from the obtrusive girl, before he retook his bold stance, hands on his hips. “O-of course you have! I’m the world-famous brave warrior of the sea, Captain Usopp! And I have eight million men waiting for my signal.”

Ruffy’s eyes widened to double size. “Eight million?!” She looked around with her hands behind her ears.

“He’s bluffing, Ruffy,” Nami sighed with a shake of her head.

Usopp flinched. “What? How could you know?”

“How?” the tangerine-haired girl asked with a lifted eyebrow and slight smirk. “You just confirmed I was right.”

The boy squirmed. “Oh no! She saw right through me! What a skilled tactician!”

Nami almost laughed. You didn’t have to be smart to see through such easy lies.

Ruffy, still with wide eyes and her hands behind her ears, looked to her friends. “They must be well hidden. I can only pick up about a hundred hearts.”

Zoro sighed and Nami (mentally adding that okay; you did need some sort of intelligence to do the trick of seeing through lies) hit Ruffy over the head. “It was a lie, stupid. Didn’t you even listen?”

“Huh? He lied? The one hundred and some too?” the dark-haired girl lined up her questions as she straightened her hat.

The long nosed boy cleared his throat, both for recomposing himself and getting attention. “Y-y-yes. Eight million was a lie, but I definitely have a large crew to back me up.”

Ruffy’s dark eyes looked straight into the boy’s, tilting her head, as if she only just noticed him, “Liar,” she stated, causing both Nami and Zoro to slap a hand over their eyes. How could Ruffy be so… contradicting? Zoro wondered if that was really the word for it but he couldn’t find a better one.

Ruffy didn’t notice her friends. She was busy listening to this new boy’s heartbeat. It was funny, because she was certain she had seen his face before but the heartbeat was unfamiliar. The heartbeats of… someone who…

The straw hat girl broke down laughing before she could stop herself. She couldn’t help it! The heartbeat was just too cute; so full of colourful heroic dreams.

The boy in question didn’t take Ruffy’s laugher well. He gritted his teeth and yelled loudly. “Don’t laugh at me! I’m a proud man! So proud they call me Usopp the proud, and not Usopp, that fraud.”

“Alright, alright,” Zoro interrupted putting one hand on his still giggling captain’s shoulder and made a calming gesture at the furious boy with the other. “First things first. Can you take us to the village, captain Usopp? We’re a bit hungry.”

Ruffy stopped laughing instantly and pumped her fists into the air. “Yeah! Food! I could eat a horse whole.”

“It’s ‘eat a whole horse’, dumbass,” Nami corrected.

“That too,” the girl grinned.

The long nosed boy was staring at them, shoulders up in a frightened pose from Zoro getting too close looked about ready to bolt, and probably would if curiosity didn’t keep him in place. “Are you… really part of Buggy the clown’s crew?” he asked carefully.

Ruffy, Zoro and Nami all stared at him, right down offended by the suggestion.

“Do we look like clowns to you?” Zoro asked with an annoyed frown, and Zoro frowning in annoyance is a very intimidating sight for a poor small-village boy.

“N-no, of course not. Bu-but my-my-my friend said you sailed under his flag…”

Nami slapped her forehead as her friends sent accusing looks her way. “I know,” she admitted. “I stole that ship from some of Buggy’s men and haven’t had the time to remove the mark yet.”

“You… You stole a ship from Buggy the clown?!” Usopp shrieked in a remarkable high pitch. “What if he comes after you to take revenge while you’re in my village?!”

“Won’t happen,” Ruffy assured matter-of-factly. Her stomach growled. “Can we eat now? Please?”

“Eh... food...” Usopp glanced at the three people in front of him. He had never been a cheap kind of person, and these people didn’t seem to have come to cause trouble. Besides; hungry people need to eat. “Okay. Please follow me. My village isn’t that far.”

The boy started walking, leading the pirate trio on a pathway through the forest and into a small village surrounded by fields of still green wheat and yellowing rape.

“Wow,” Ruffy said. “It feels like home.”

“Oh. So you come from a small village, Ruffy?” Nami asked.

“Yup,” the girl nodded, took a deep breath and stretched. “It was long ago. Hell makes you forget the world most of the time, so this is refreshing.”

The boy they followed froze mid-step. “Hell?” he asked hoarsely, trembling slightly. “What does that mean?”

Ruffy scratched her cheek in thought. Zoro and Nami watched with a mix of curiosity and caution.

“I don’t know. What does it mean?” the dark-haired girl asked, not really knowing what Usopp was asking for.

“Never mind,” said Usopp with a wave of his hand, figuring he probably didn’t want to know. He wasn’t blind to the number of scars covering the straw hat girl’s skin. And they had reached their destination anyway. “This is the village’s only tavern. I know the owner, so ask for anything you like.”

“Great!”

The four of them entered the tavern and came straight into the restaurant part. Placing their order; booze to Zoro, meat to Ruffy and fruit, bread and water from Nami to all of them, because her friends just couldn’t make a complete meal with what they ordered.

Usopp sat with them, fear forgotten in the light of the thought that these people probably had some stories to tell which he could use for his telltales. “May I ask? Why did you come to my village?”

“Well, we need more people,” Ruffy explained as she bit off a large piece of meat, “and a ship.”

Nami sent Zoro a look that said; “Incredible. She made sense.”

Zoro answered with a short laugh, knowing what she meant.

“You’re looking for comrades?” Usopp asked, now very interested. “Comrades and a ship? Oooh, that sounds like an adventure to me.” The boy leaned his elbows on the table. “Well, as you’ve seen this is a really small place. We couldn’t provide you with a ship, but I’m sure she can.”

“Who?” Nami asked, because Ruffy had her mouth full.

“There’s a crazy big mansion off the edge of the village, and the owner… Well, I say owner, but she’s just a little girl, sickly and bedridden she is, the poor thing.”

Nami frowned a little at the information. “Really? How comes a girl like that owns a mansion?”

Zoro raised his mug. “Obaa-san. Can you bring some more booze?”

“And meat!” Ruffy called.

Usopp glared at them. “Are you even listening to me?!”

“We’re listening,” Ruffy assured as the elderly lady serving them came out with more meat and another bottle of rum.

“I doubt it,” Usopp mumbled.

“Don’t mind them,” Nami said. “They’re always like this. Back to my question.”

“Hm? Oh yeah. I think it happened about a year ago. Both of that girl’s parents died in a sickness, leaving her with an enormous heritage, the mansion and some ten or fifteen servants.”

“That girl has no luck at all,” Ruffy commented.

“Right,” Usopp agreed with a sigh. “No matter how much money and luxury you have it doesn’t exempt you from grief.”

“That depends on how much heart she has,” the dark-haired pirate girl said and cleaned the bone from the last scrap of meat. “If she doesn’t have a heart to grief with, then the money is all she needs. But I don’t think that’s the case here.”

Usopp, who had been about ready to explode before Ruffy said those last few words, paused.

“How can you tell?” Zoro asked.

“Because this village is cosy and loving,” Ruffy explained, her smile almost fond as she glanced out of a window. “I haven’t heard anyone being upset or the like, so I suppose nobody is being hurt here. If that girl was cruel this place wouldn’t be so comfy.”

The swordsman smiled, Usopp didn’t really know what to say.

Nami made a troubled face. “No,” she said firmly.

“Huh?” Everybody turned to stare at her, the pirates wondering what she disagreed with this time.

“Let’s forget the idea to get a ship in this village,” the navigator clarified as she crossed her arms and closed her eyes. “We can find one somewhere else.”

Ruffy blinked in confusion, but then she smiled. “Okay Nami. We’ll buy supplies here, that’s good enough. We’re not in a hurry after all.”

Zoro wondered a bit what had made Ruffy agree so easily. As far as he was concerned Ruffy was the one most eager to move forward considering she wanted to move on to the Grand Line with only them and not a full scale crew. He couldn’t help but wish he knew just how keen his captain was to her surroundings.

“Wait a second here,” Usopp cut in. “You said you were looking for crewmembers too.”

“Yes. Do you know a good one?” Ruffy asked immediately.

With the manliest face he could manage, the long-nosed boy pointed to himself. “If you insist, I can be your captain.”

All three pirates bowed their heads down. “Thanks but no thanks.”

“Why was that so easy to decide?!”

The clock on the wall chimed softly and Usopp sprung up from his seat. “Ah! It’s time. Gotta go. Order anything you want and put it up on me, okay. See ya!”

The trio watched the boy promptly run out of the building like his underwear was on fire.

“What got into him?” Nami asked.

“I don’t know, but he went to cheer up the lady in the mansion,” Ruffy answered happily. “Put it up on me, he said. Obaa-san. Seconds, please.”

Laughing to themselves, Zoro and Nami followed Ruffy’s example and placed another order.

They had just poured up tea after finishing eating when the doors slammed open.

“Usopp’s pirate crew is ready for battle!”

Behind the desk the owner of the tavern glanced up before he returned to his paper. Nami turned to the entrance to see three little boys posing with wooden swords high above their heads.

“What is this?”

“Stiffened boys,” Ruffy said and sipped her tea.

The boys in question stared with paling faces at the girls, glancing around the room but not finding the one they were looking for. Their voices shook nervously when they spoke.

“Captain… Captain isn’t here.”

“Have they… could they already have killed him…?”

The boys ran up to the table and tried hard to look as tough as possible.

“Hey, pirates! What have you done to Captain Usopp?”

“Give back our Captain!”

Ruffy swallowed the last of her tea, put the cup down and sighed in content, patting her rounded belly. “Ah! That meat hit the spot right where I needed it.”

“M-meat?”

“Have they…?”

“Captain…?”

The boys hugged each other as the straw hatted pirate girl held her thin arms out in front of her, looking at her hands before she turned to the only man in the company.

“Hey Zoro, do you think I’ll get in better shape now.”

The swordsman smirked evilly. “No. Not from such meagre meat. But I heard…” he pointed to the trembling boys beside their table, “that baby fat is especially good for the shape.”

“Really?” Ruffy turned and looked at the children.

They fainted.

Zoro hadn’t laughed so hard in some time, neither had Nami. Ruffy laughed too, once she realized that Zoro had pulled a joke on her. The old serving lady came out and poured cold water over the children to wake them.

“What happened?”

“You were scared shirtless,” Ruffy answered them.

Looking up and seeing the pirate girl who had just been about to eat them, the boys jumped back screaming. “Onibabaaaaaaaaa!”

“Hey! I’m not gonna eat you,” the girl said with a hurt face.

“You’re looking for that Usopp kid, right?” Zoro cut in. The boys nodded a nervous yes. “He said it was time and ran out.”

“Time?”

The boys blinked before their faces suddenly brightened.

“Oh, that means he went to the mansion.”

Nami paused. “To cheer up the lady in the mansion?” she asked slowly, glancing at Ruffy.

“Yup,” a boy confirmed happily.

“How?” the thief pressed.

“He tells lies.”

Ruffy frowned. “He lies? Didn’t his mother teach him not to do such bad things?”

“No! Captain’s lies are great! I really like captain’s lies.”

“I like his nosiness.”

“I like his silly leadership.”

Zoro and Nami both wondered how such things could be admirable.

Ruffy tilted her head to left and right. “You don’t lie…” A thought seemed to hit her. “So the lady feels better now?”

 “Of course. Captain has gone to cheer up Kaya ojou-sama ever since her parents passed away. He’s great.”

It was as if the boys’ words opened a door to Ruffy, because she instantly stood. “Yosh. Let’s go ask her for a ship!”

“Ruffy! We said a minute ago we wouldn’t!” Nami protested.

“I changed my mind since ojou-sama feels better now,” the younger girl sang. “Where is the mansion?” she then asked the boys.

“This way.”

“Follow us.”

Zoro gently pushed Nami out of her seat to get out and mumbled in her ear as he passed. “Nothing to do about it. Stubborn is probably Ruffy’s second name.”

Nami shook her head and followed. Hopefully if she was there they would avoid a total disaster.

“My name is Ruffy,” the dark-haired pirate girl told the children.

“I’m Piiman.”

The boy, green pepper, had green cloths with a skull on his t-shirt, and a green hat that looked a bit like an apple, or a green pepper.

“I’m Ninjin.”

‘Carrot’ had freckles and an orange hat with the skull on and a tuft of hair sprouting out on top. His attire was made up of orange shorts and a dark green hoody.

“And I’m Tamanegi.”

The boy with specs, onion, also had a tuft on top of his head. A very little one. He wore a blue vest over his yellow t-shirt and brown shorts.

“Piiman, Ninjin and Tamanegi? Wow, you sound like you could make a really good soup.”

The boys jumped away while Nami and Zoro almost doubled over themselves in hysterical laugher.

“But they do,” Ruffy protested.

“You’re going to cook soup on us?” Piiman asked from where he sat in the middle of the bunch of trembling boys.

“Of course not. Human flesh is disgusting.”

Zoro stopped laughing as a disturbed feeling settled in his stomach. The way Ruffy said it sounded like she had actually eaten human meat.

He decided he didn’t want to know.

The three boys didn’t pick up on that particular notion. Instead they sighed with relief and continued up a small slope towards an iron gate flanked with high, green bushes.

“Here it is,” Piiman said.

“Hello. Good day,” Ruffy called.

Nobody on the inside answered, and nobody on the outside was prepared for Ruffy skilfully jumping over the fence with a cheerful; “pardon the intrusion”.

Nami rested her head on her hand. “There is no stopping that idiot, is there?”

“Probably not,” Zoro answered.

Ruffy worked on the lock of the gate from the inside. It clicked and opened.

“There’s laugher coming from around the corner, so I suppose Usopp and ojou-sama are there. Come on you guys.”

Following the unstoppable girl they rounded the corner, and sure enough, there sat Usopp leaning against a tree.

“Captaaaaaiin,” the boys called.

“That’s right. Cap…” Usopp spun around. “What? Why are you here?”

The three boys pointed to the girl with the straw hat. “We took this person here.”

A pale blonde, ivory skinned girl leaned out of a window. “Who are they?”

“You the ojou-sama?” Ruffy asked and walked up to the window. “I’m Ruffy. Yoroshiku.”

Usopp flung an arm around the girl’s shoulders. Zoro tensed, but luckily the long-nosed boy’s hand missed Ruffy’s breast. Good for him or he would be out cold with a black eye right now.

“Don’t worry, Kaya,” Usopp reassured. “Allow me to introduce Ruffy. She’s a pirate who came here this morning looking for crewmembers and a ship…”

“That’s right!” Ruffy shrugged off the confused Usopp’s hand. “Ojou-sama, I’d like to ask you a favour.”

“A favour? Of me?”

The dark-haired girl opened her smiling mouth, but then snapped it close and sharply turned to her right, the smile gone and replaced with a cautious frown.

 “Huh?” Kaya blinked in confusion at this straw hatted girl, until a familiar voice rang through the garden, making her cringe.

“What are you doing here!?”

A slim man wearing black and grey striped shoes and a black suit with golden designs walked up to them. Ruffy instantly didn’t like him, not the sound of his heart and not his smooth, dark looks either. It didn’t matter if his voice was silky even with the sharp edge of his temper or that his language suited someone in his position. His eyes and heart gave his cruelty away.

Usopp made a face turned away. “Damn. It’s the butler.”

“Kurahadol,” ojou-sama confirmed nervously.

“This is not good. We don’t like intruders here,” the slim man said, sounding polite and proper even when he frowned in visible distaste.

“Um, Kurahadol. These people are…” ojou-sama tried, but the man held up a hand.

“Enough. I can listen to your excuses later. So you people, now please leave. Or was there something you wanted?”

Zoro and Nami expected Ruffy to speak up, and were therefore surprised when she didn’t.

“Ruffy?”

Even though none of Zoro and Nami had known the dark-haired girl for very long, they could easily read her expression now. Ruffy’s golden eyes had locked on an enemy.

“Seems like you are only intruding,” the butler concluded and fixed his glasses with the heel of his hand. His eyes landed on the boy who had his back turned to in desperate hopes to become invisible, and smirked slightly. “Oh. Usopp-kun is it? I have heard a lot about you. The villagers speak of you all the time.”

The long-nosed boy flinched and turned around, putting on a smile for the world to see. “Th-thank you. You may call me Captain Usopp. Everybody does.”

Zoro lifted a hand, prepared to stop Ruffy in case she might attack the butler. Counting the wrinkles on her nose she definitely looked like she was about to.

“The guards have told me they have seen you sneak around here sometimes,” the butler continued smoothly. “Is there something you want?”

“Oh… that’s right. I saw a golden mole run in here and wanted to catch it.”

The butler chuckled and straightened his glasses. “I find it amazing how the lies just roll off your tongue. I also know about your father.”

Usopp flinched again, this time not only from the discomfort of being found somewhere he shouldn’t be at.

Zoro grabbed Ruffy’s shoulder as the girl tried to take a step forward.

The butler glared at Usopp. “You are nothing but a filthy pirate’s offspring. I understand you are capable of anything, but you are to leave ojou-sama alone.”

Zoro tightened his hold of his captain when she started pushing forward, but then she suddenly blinked and her bright gold eyes darkened a little.

“Usopp’s dad is a pirate?” Ruffy mumbled to herself.

Usopp was by now trembling, gritting his teeth with held back emotions. “Filthy, you say…?”

“Ojou-sama and you live in different worlds. Is it money you want? How much?”

The lady in the window reached a limit. “That’s enough, Kurahadol! Apologize at once!”

But the butler only spread his arms out in an innocent gesture, sounding calm and gentle as he glanced at his young charge. “Why should I apologize to a simple barbarian, ojou-sama? I have only spoken the truth.”

“Look who’s talking.”

It was hard to tell who was most surprised by Ruffy’s sudden remark. Everybody turned to stare at her.

The butler quickly recovered and composed himself. “Excuse me?”

“Calling Usopp a filthy pirate? Don’t make me laugh.” Ruffy scrunched her nose up so that she bared her teeth a little. “You’re the only cold-blooded barbarian I can see.”

Zoro, still holding the golden-eyed girl back, now by both her shoulders, hadn’t forgotten about Ruffy’s hearing ability, but he couldn’t help but wonder now. The butler looked and talked and even held himself as a servant should. But Ruffy hadn’t failed to pinpoint enemies before now. Either way it wasn’t good to start a brawl here.

For a long while the butler stared straight into the straw hat wearing girl’s eyes. He saw the sharpness in them, even though that shouldn’t be enough for her to manage to see through him. He should be wary of her, he knew, but it didn’t really matter if she had somehow managed to guess the truth. Between a stranger and a trusted person, it was obvious whose word would be believed.

He tilted his head thoughtfully to the side. “Brave talk. Are you pirates as well?”

“Yes we are.”

The butler couldn’t help but chuckle. “I see. A pirate siding up with a pirate’s son is just what to expect, even though I feel sad about the way you lie about me.”

Nami wanted to wave a denying hand and stat that Ruffy probably couldn’t lie to save her life, but there was nothing to win in sharing that piece of information.

“But Usopp-kun,” the butler continued with a sigh to his voice “I do sympathize with you. It can’t be easy to have a father leaving home and family for the sake of gold hunting and his own avariciousness.”

“Kurahadol!” Ojou-sama yelled again. Her butler was going too far. Way too far. Couldn’t he see Usopp-san was actually hurt by his words?

“Don’t dare badmouthing my father,” Usopp snarled.

“Why are you getting angry?” the butler asked sweetly, smiling and straightened his glasses for the umpteenth time. “Isn’t this the perfect time to tell a lie? That your father is actually a travelling merchant, or that he is not your real father or…”

“SHUT THE HELL UP!!!” Usopp hit fast and hard, sending the butler to the ground from the punch to his face.

Ruffy was the only one who didn’t even bat an eye, but she could hear triumph in the dark man’s heart. Usopp was doing exactly what the butler wanted him to. It made Ruffy clench her teeth.

The butler sat up with a hand to his cheek. “Just look. Violence and only violence. Like father like son I understand.”

“Shut it!” Usopp screamed. “I’m proud that my old man is a pirate! He’s a brave warrior of the sea, and I’m proud of him!!! Sure, I lie all day round, that’s true. But that I have pirate blood and am proud if it I will never deny! I’m the son of a pirate!!!”

Ruffy’s eyes momentarily faded back into their natural brown colour. “Usopp? So that’s why… No wonder…”

The butler chuckled once again, shaking his head as he stood. “Brave warrior, you say? You sure have a way of twisting the truth. If nothing else you’re only the proof that pirates are nothing but savages.”

Usopp growled. Not that the butler cared. Ruffy could hear in his heartbeat how much he enjoyed stomping down on Usopp’s pride and pull at his strings.

“You like lying, and resort to violence when enraged. Quite frankly I’m sure you keep pestering ojou-sama for the money…”

“Who the hell would?! I don’t know what…”

“I don’t need any more evidence!” the butler yelled. “That your father is a pirate is more than enough!”

Usopp grabbed the taller man by the collar and prepared to hit again. “I dare you to say another word!”

“Usopp-san, stop! No more violence!”

The long nosed boy hesitated. Everyone turned to look at the young girl in the window. Only Ruffy kept her eyes locked on the butler.

“Please,” the pale girl cried. “Don’t hit him. Kurahadol is not a bad person. He’s just… overprotective of me…”

“Of you?”

Once again everybody turned to Ruffy whose wide, bright golden eyes stared unwavering at the pale lady.

“You think this guy genuinely protects you? Then you’re in for a surprise, ojou-sama.”

“Pirate girl. You are good at insults,” the butler stated.

Ruffy shrugged her shoulders. “Nothing I’m proud of, but I learnt from the best of the best. Want to try me?”

“No.” The man said and slapped Usopp’s hand away from his collar. “I want you out of here this instant. Savages like you are not welcome here! Leave and never come back!”

“Sure,” Usopp growled. “You don’t have to tell me twice. I’d leave even if you didn’t ask me to. Don’t worry; I’ll never come back to this place.”

And so the boy ran off.

The three younger boys, Piiman, Ninjin and Tamanegi who had stayed in the background until now angrily stomped up to the slim butler.

“Damn you, bitter-butler! Captain isn’t like that at all!”

“That’s right, you baka!”

“Baka!”

“Ah!”

Zoro looked at Ruffy, who stood with her mouth open and eyes wide like she had just remembered something important.

“Bakaaaa!!!” she screamed and Zoro had to lift her off the ground to manage to hold her back. “How dare you insult Yasopp-otou-chan like that?! I’m gonna turn you in to the kitchen!”

Ojou-sama reacted. “Yasopp?”

Nami turned around. “Otou-chan?”

Kitchen?” Zoro sputtered.

“All of you, I will ask you one last time to leave peacefully!”

Ruffy growled and spit to the ground. It offended the butler enough for her to stop fighting Zoro’s grasp around her waist.

“Let’s go Zoro, Nami. We’re done here.”

The two nodded and started walking, none of them missing that their captain never broke eye-contact with the butler. He answered the look with the same kind of hostility, and some sort of hunger.

Zoro narrowed his eyes in doubt. ‘This guy. Could he really be a pirate?’

Chapter Text

Truth revealed to someone no one believes in

Zoro and Nami sat along a fence with Piiman and Ninjin, all four with their personal thoughts and the troubles they came along with.

The two boys were upset at the butler for being so mean to their captain, but they didn’t know what to do about it. Usopp usually came through by himself anyway.

Zoro was suspicious. The fact that Ruffy immediately saw that butler as an enemy didn’t make real sense. Yes, he was mean, but his language was that of a high-class person, not a pirate. To Zoro, that butler seemed to be just that; a butler defending the pride of the ojou-sama. That is, if he didn’t count the look that had been shared between Ruffy and that man.

Nami, sick of the silence and her own thoughts, spoke up. “Where is Ruffy?”

“Don’t ask me. She ran after ‘captain’,” Zoro grunted back without turning to her.

The young boys looked up from their shoes.

“I know where Captain is,” Ninjin said.

“Yup,” Piiman spoke up. “He’s by the shore. He always goes there when he want to be alone. Want us to show you?”

Zoro raised an eyebrow. ‘When he want to be alone?’ “No, it’s fine.”

Nami counted the boys. “Hey, aren’t you one short? Where’s your buddy?”

“You mean Tamanegi?” Piiman shrugged his shoulders. “He always runs off somewhere.”

“Yeah. And then he comes back screaming.”

As on cue, the third boy came running, screaming his head off.

“Look. Here he comes,” Piiman and Ninjin said unfazed.

“Run for your liiiiiiveeeees!!! The Backwards-man is coming!” The boy reached them and stopped for a second to catch his breath. “We’re in danger! A weirdo is coming walking backwards!”

“You’re lying,” his friends said in choir.

“No, it’s true! Look!”

 They all stared to where the little boy was pointing. Strange as it might sound, a man actually was walking up the road back first. When he was about to pass the people by the fence, he stopped.

“Hey you. Who called me a weirdo? I’m not weird at all.”

Nami quirked an eyebrow. That was something coming from a man walking backwards, wore heart-shaped red glasses and sported a beard that didn’t look like it was made out of hair. “You’re as weird as can be,” she deadpanned.

“You fool,” the man hissed. “I’m only a passing by hypnotist.”

‘Oh yeah? That sounds so innocent,’ the girl thought sarcastically, but the children thought differently.

“Hy… hypnotist?! So cool!”

“Can you show us?”

“Come on, show us!”

“What?” The man pulled his hat further down over his glasses. “Foolish boys. Why should I show my secret arts to some children I have never met before. Here, just stare into this ring.”

Zoro wondered about the ridiculous feel mixed with distrust he got. “Did you just twist around yourself?”

The hypnotist didn’t hear or he ignored Zoro’s voice. Either way he only made the ring sway from side to side.

“At ‘One, Two, Jango’ you will fall asleep. All right? One… Two… Jango.”

The tree boys fell backwards, fast asleep, and so did the hypnotist.

“But get real!” Zoro growled, but didn’t bother waking the four idiots.

“Unbelievable,” Nami huffed. “I can see Ruffy falling for something like that though.”

That reminded Zoro of something. “Hey, Nami.”

“Hm?”

“Can you tell me… what did you see inside Ruffy’s heart?”

The girl immediately turned her head away. “Don’t be stupid. Inside Ruffy’s heart? Such a thing isn’t even…”

“There was a red sea there,” Zoro interrupted, gazing off to the distance. “Ruffy was covered with blood and wore shackles and a ring around her neck.”

Nami clammed up. It was true that Ruffy had been wearing chains and shackles in that strange dream. But it shouldn’t be… possible.

“I saw…” she started hesitatingly, still thinking it was crazy, but the feels from the dream was still present and very real. “There was an old man there. Ruffy tried to reach out to him for help but… she never reached him, and he didn’t come to her…”

Zoro glanced up at the girl sitting on the wooden fence. She was pale and gripping the wood of the fence tightly.

“You woke up screaming,” the swordsman reminded her.

“You would too!” Nami retorted hotly. “It was so real. Betrayed. All alone. So desperate it felt like being on the verge of going insane. Just what… where was she when that happened?”

Zoro didn’t answer. Apparently Nami had seen something different from him, or she had been allowed to look a little deeper into Ruffy’s heart.

“But you’re helping you know. Pulling me out of that sea, into another one that isn’t so bad.”

That’s what she had said, Ruffy. Perhaps, the more people joined them, the more her heart would be released from all the pain she was feeling?

“I won’t look deeper into your heart, so please don’t look closer at mine.”

‘What am I supposed to do with you, Ruffy?’ Zoro asked quietly, sighing to himself.

“What is this?”

The duo looked up. They had been so deep in thought they hadn’t noticed someone approach them. Surprisingly enough it was the butler from the mansion!

“What are you doing here?” Zoro asked.

“I have no obligation to answer that question, pirate. Hey, you,” he lightly kicked the hypnotist’s arm. “Don’t sleep by the side of the road in the middle of the day.”

The hypnotist groaned, but awoke. The children kept snoring.

“Oh. Good morning…” the hypnotist started but was silenced by the glare of the butler.

“If you don't have any business here, then please leave.”

“Of course, sir. Pardon me.”

Nami and Zoro watched as the weirdo left the same way he came from, backwards, and the butler walked back to the village.

“Well, that was weird,” Nami mumbled and Zoro agreed with her.

 


 

Usopp was at the shore, sitting on top of a cliff watching the waves rolling over the surface of the sea. He was upset and hurt. Kaya had taken the butler’s side. Well, of course she had. That man had been Kaya’s guardian since before her parents had died and he took almost stupid measures to protect her. But his protectiveness wasn’t going to cure Kaya from her grief, Usopp knew that. That’s why he had sneaked into her garden all this time. Nobody deserved the sorrow Kaya was going through.

The boy clenched his hands into fists. That damn butler. He had enjoyed stepping all over Usopp’s pride, and in the after light of things Usopp understood that too. But what could he do? He wasn’t going back to the mansion. Even if he was a liar he wasn’t one to go back on his word.

His head was a mess, and Usopp glared at the sea as he waited for a ship to show up at the horizon. He had been waiting for it a long time, and every day he left this shore he felt just as disappointed, only to put up a brave front and try again the next morning. Acting as if everything was just fine and normal was better than brooding. Unlike Kaya he had no ties. He could still dream.

“Yo!”

A face turned upside down appeared right in front of his and Usopp’s heart leaped into his throat with a choked sound.

“I’ve been looking for you,” Ruffy said happily and tried to work out how to get down from the tree-branch she hung from. Scaring Usopp had been funnier than she had thought, and hopefully most of his bitter feelings were forgotten now.

Usopp didn’t appreciate the start as much though. “Dammit! Can’t you just call out like a normal person?”

“That’s no fun,” the girl said as she landed on her hands and rolled down in a sitting position. “Yasopp-otou-chan is your dad, right?”

“Huh?” Usopp gaped at the girl as she sat cross-legged beside him. “What? How did… why do you call him that?”

Ruffy giggled. “Because Yasopp-otou-chan adopted me when I was a kid.”

“What?! Really?”

“Yup. I thought I’d seen you somewhere before. You look just like him, Yasopp-otou-chan, but I didn’t realize until a moment ago.”

Usopp kept blinking owlishly and his mouth opened and closed repeatedly. This was news. Great news. The very first news he'd gotten about his father since he left. Ruffy knew his father! “Wha…? What happened? Where is he now?”

The girl scratched her cheek, and then turned to him with a slightly troubled expression. “Which question do you want answered first?”

The boy thought for a moment, trying to recall exactly what he'd just asked. “…Where is my dad now?”

“Oh. I don’t know where he is, but he’s probably still on Akagami no Shanks’ ship. They are really great pirates.”

“Re… really?” Usopp smiled happily. For some reason he felt incredibly relieved, not only because he’d just gotten a hint that his dad was actually still alive, the opposite being a thought he had strictly not let himself think. “I see. Akagami no… SHANKS?!?!? For real?”

Ruffy jumped from surprise. “You know who Shanks is?”

“Of course I do! He’s real famous! Is my dad really sailing with him?”

“I think so,” Ruffy answered, and her voice completely lacked the hint of uncertainty that phrase usually came with. Hell when she started talking her smile just kept growing and there was no way Usopp could avoid being swept up by the current. “Yasopp-otou-chan was the most amazing marksman I’ve ever seen, so I don’t think he’s dead or anything. Everybody on that ship was really cool. I like Ben-chan a whole lot, and I love Shanks.” The girl laughed. “Yasopp-otou-chan told me all kind of stories about you, and how much he wished to see you grow up, so when he asked about my father and heard I didn’t have one, he took me in. Shanks didn’t like that too much.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know, but when they met my mother, Yasopp-otou-chan was really fast to deny the fatherhood. Mother could be real scary you know.” Ruffy looked out over the ocean. “But Shanks folks are awesome. Yasopp-otou-chan is really awesome too.”

Usopp smiled brightly. “He is, right!” He stood up and looked to the horizon. “Definitely. To set sail without knowing if the sea has an end or not… I’m damn proud of my dad. But that stupid butler only taunts him. He’s tramping all over my pride!”

“Only because he doesn’t have any pride of his own,” Ruffy said darkly.

Usopp sat back down with a sour face. “He’s a bastard.”

The girl observed him. Usopp had the kind of heartbeat that was really easy to understand. He had indeed a lot of pride, almost too much in Ruffy’s opinion, but not that much self-esteem. Talking about his father had raised his gloomy spirit at least. But there was also a worried sound there.

“Are you really not going to see that girl anymore?”

The boy fidgeted uncomfortably. “I don’t know. Maybe… if that butler apologizes on his bare knees I might consider it.”

“That butler?” Ruffy asked and pointed down the cliff at two people walking along the shoreline.

“Yup, that butler,” Usopp confirmed, right before he it dawned on him exactly what he was seeing, and when it did he pressed himself to the ground and took Ruffy with him. “What is that butler doing here?!”

Usopp crawled over to the edge to eavesdrop, Ruffy following out of curiosity after rearranging her body from the doubled position Usopp had forced her into before. The wind was blowing from the sea, so the voices were carried nicely up to where they lay.

“Jango,” the butler said warningly. “I thought I told you not to attract attention, and here I find you sleeping by the road?”

“Oi, it’s cool. Nobody noticed me. I’m not the slightest bit weird.”

Ruffy was tilting her head from side to side. “What a weird guy he’s with, that butler. Sounds fishy.”

“I’ve never seen him before,” Usopp mumbled. “Who is that weirdo?”

“So…” the butler’s refined voice carried to them. “I hope the preparations are ready.”

“Of course,” the weirdo nodded confidently. “We can assassinate ojou-sama any time you like.”

Usopp’s heart skipped a beat. ‘A… assassinate?!’

“Don’t say ‘Assassinate’, Jango,” the butler said with distaste. “I don’t like the sound of it.”

“Oh right,” the weirdo chuckled and pulled his hat further down his forehead. “Accident, of course, Captain Kuro.”

“Captain Kuro? I abandoned that name three years ago, so do not call me by it. You are the Kuroneko pirate crew’s captain now.”

Usopp was having one cold shiver after another by every word the men below him spoke. He was so focused on the conversation he didn’t notice the fire burning in Ruffy.

“What are they talking about?” Ruffy asked lowly, sounding everything but happy.

“I’d like to know too,” Usopp whispered back. “I’ve heard about Captain Kuro, but I thought the marines caught and executed him three years ago.”

The weird guy with the blue hat and coat moved around himself and blissfully continued to talk. “Still… you really scared me back then.”

“Hm?” The butler had been about to leave, but now stopped to look at his fellow.

“You know,” he said, gesturing with his hands, “you gave me a real fright when you said you wanted to quit as a pirate, used one of your men as stand-in and let ‘Captain Kuro’ be officially executed. Then setting foot on this island and told us to come back in three years.” He sat down on a rock with a foot on his knee and hands in his pockets. “Your plans have never failed before, so I’m with you in this. But I hope you realize we’ll demand our share of the loot.”

“Of course,” the butler said smoothly. “If the plan succeeds, you’ll get your share.”

Ruffy snorted. “He’s lying.”

“Good,” the butler’s underling said with a satisfied sound to his voice. “Then you can leave the execution to us.”

By now Usopp was positively shivering all over.

“You can’t just ‘execute’ her as you like,” the butler interrupted impatiently. “Kaya ojou-sama has to lose her life in a ‘tragic accident’. That is very different. Have you even understood the plan?”

“Cool down, I’ve got it,” the man in blue waved a rather indifferent hand around. “On your signal we’ll charge into the village, fix the little lady and you’ll inherit all of her fortune.”

The man in the black suit sighed and shook his head. “Did your mother bother giving you a brain? How could a butler like me inherit from Kaya?”

“Hard worker gets the price,” the other stated.

“Hard worker gets nothing in this case, you fool,” the butler hissed and leaned closer to his comrade. “Listen, before you kill Kaya, you have to hypnotise her into writing a will saying; ‘I leave all of my wealth to my butler; Kurahadol’.”

Usopp eyes widened.

“Is it money you want? How much?”

‘That… butler!’

“Only by the will of ojou-sama I can claim her enormous fortune openly,” the false butler continued. “During these three years I have gained the villagers trust, and everybody knows how close I am to ojou-sama. Nobody will think such a will is suspicious.”

The other man sighed, obviously not that impressed by the devious plan. “Spending three years as a butler for that, huh. I would have just robbed them of it all.”

“Those are the words of a blood-thirsty pirate,” the butler said calmly. “I wouldn’t have won anything from that. Money, yes, but I’d still be an outlaw chased by the marines and the government. This way I’ll get the money without getting the marines on my case. I’ve become a pacifist.”

The man still seated on the rock threw his head back and laughed as if that was the funniest joke he’d heard this year. “Some pacifist! Murdering a whole rich man’s family for your own gain.”

“What do you mean murder?” the butler asked with a slightly affronted sound to his voice. “I had no hand in Kaya’s parents’ death. It wasn’t planned.”

“Whatever. Just give us the signal sometime soon,” the other man said impatiently. “We’ve been hiding in these waters for over a week now. The men are getting restless.”

On top of the cliff Usopp lay with his brain in the middle of a labyrinth full of dead ends.

‘What should I do? I’ve overheard something horrible!’

“So that’s how it is?” Ruffy’s voice sounded beside him.

“Don’t sound so calm!” Usopp whispered in frustration. “Didn’t you hear them? They are aiming for Kaya’s wealth. He’s been waiting for three years. That butler… he’s Captain Kuro in the flesh. He’s known for being brutal. A soulless killer!”

Then he realized something horrible. ‘I hit him in the face. I’m going to die.’

“And Kaya will be killed too,” Usopp’s train of thought continued out loud and held his head as his thoughts ran into one dead end after another. “The village will be attacked. This isn’t good. Not good at all. What should I do…?” he glanced at Ruffy, hoping she had some advice to share, only to see her scowl and start to move. “Hey? What are you doing? Oi, don’t stand up!”

“You over there! Like hell I’ll let you kill ojou-sama!” Ruffy yelled loud and clear.

In Usopp’s book of survival, this tactic was not included.

The men on the shoreline flinched and looked up. The butler’s eyes widened slightly, but then he smirked and purred. “Pirate girl.”

Usopp grabbed Ruffy by the arm and pulled. “Are you crazy?! Hide! They’ll kill you.”

“And Usopp-kun.”

“Yikes!”

The butler, captain Kuro glared. “Did you… hear anything?”

“Huh?” Usopp let go of Ruffy’s arm and did what he did best. “Hear? Hear what? No, of course not. We just got here… haven’t heard anything.”

“We heard it all,” Ruffy stated clearly and so very helpfully.

If it was possible, Usopp would have died right then and there. “Don’t tell them!”

“You said I was good at insults,” the girl continued, completely ignoring Usopp screaming in her ear. “Likewise, says I. I haven’t felt this offended in a long time.”

“Oh?” the bespectacled man voiced smoothly. “Do tell. What have I said to offend you so, my dear?”

“Most of what you said is a direct insult, to every criminal in the world!”

“Is that so? My bad.” The butler sighed theatrically. “Jango.”

“Leave it to me.” The other man took out something from his coat. “You two, look closely at this ring.”

“Ring?”

Usopp shrieked. “It’s a weapon! He’ll use it to kill us!”

“At ‘one, two, Jango’ you will fall asleep. One…”

Usopp didn’t listen. He got out of the line of fire and hid, calling for Ruffy to do the same.

“Two…”

Ruffy grew impatient. “Who’s got time for that?” With a high-pitch whistle she jumped from the cliff with her fist drawn back, ready to strike.

“Jango!”

The girl struck the ground, burying herself to the waist in the rocky ground.

On top of the cliff Usopp heard the crash and turned. “Ruffy?!” Not finding her where he’d left her the boy crawled over to the edge of the cliff and looked down. She was there. “Ruffy, are you okay?” She hadn’t... fallen, had she?

“Ops,” Jango said. The sound of stone breaking had awakened him straight away. “What force she must have come down with. She can’t be alive now.”

“You… you bastards! You killed her!” Usopp yelled at them, close to tears.

Jango looked up. “Wasn’t my intention. Should I kill him too, captain?”

Captain Kuro straightened his glasses and looked at the legs of the pirate girl with a saddened expression. “No need. He can fuss as much as he wants.” He raised his voice and looked at the young boy on top of the cliff. “Jango. Tomorrow morning. Attack the village at sunrise. Destroy some houses and kill Kaya at one point, but make sure it looks like an accident.”

Usopp stood up there, listening and facing yet another dead end in his head.

“Did you hear that, Usopp-kun?” the man below him asked kindly. “But what you hear and don’t hear doesn’t make a difference.”

“Damn… damn… Dammit!!!” Usopp turned on his heels and fled with a loud scream.

Jango turned to his former captain. “Are you sure about this?”

“Of course,” the man nodded confidently. “My plan is perfect. Go back to the ship and do as you’ve been told.”

“Fine. As you wish.”

Jango left. Kuro watched his retreating form until it disappeared around a rock. That’s when the wolf in sheep suit glanced at the part of the dead girl that struck up from the ground.

“Too bad, pirate girl. It was a very long time since anyone set my heart on fire. I had wanted to play with you a bit.”

Chapter Text

The liar of Syrup village

Usopp ran through the forest as fast as his legs could carry him. His mind was a mess, his heart was racing. There was only one thing he knew for sure.

‘Run. Everybody has to escape. Captain Kuro is here. He’s going to kill everyone.’

His vision blurred and he gritted his teeth to keep from crying.

“Yasopp-otou-chan adopted me.”

Usopp shut his eyes close tight and hated himself. Nobody had ever spoken as fondly and freely of his father as Ruffy. She being adopted by him automatically made Usopp and Ruffy brother and sister. She had made a stand to fight while Usopp hid like a coward. What kind of brother let a sister fight all alone?! Just look where it had taken them both.

‘They already killed Ruffy! We have to run! Everybody has to run now!’

“Dammit!”

He pushed his legs to run even faster, hurrying to the village to warn them. That is probably why he completely missed Piiman, Ninjin and Tamanegi with Ruffy’s friends by the fence just outside the village.

“That was Captain,” the three boys said.

Zoro blinked in the direction Usopp ran. “Huh? Wasn’t Ruffy with him?”

Nami jumped down from the fence. “He didn’t look too happy. Could he still be upset about what that butler said?”

“No, it can’t be that!” Ninjin protested.

“Something must have happed at the shore,” Piiman thought aloud.

“Captain looked really upset,” Tamanegi agreed.

‘The shore?’ Zoro’s left eyebrow tweaked for a second. He didn’t think Ruffy was the cause of Usopp’s behaviour, she wasn’t the kind to hurt others feelings, and the fact she wasn’t with the boy worried him a little. “Hey, kids. Where is that shore you spoke of?”

“Don’t you think this smells like adventure?” Ninjin said excitedly to his friends, totally ignoring Zoro and Nami.

“Definitely. The hypnotist went that way too,” Piiman nodded importantly. They had awoken just in time to see which way the weirdo had disappeared to.

“It’s a case for Usopp’s pirate crew,” Tamanegi exclaimed.

“Whatever. How do I get to the shore?” the swordsman asked again.

“This way!”

“Follow us!”

“We have to hurry!”

“What if we find some more suspicious people?”

“Or a monster!”

“Maybe someone has died!”

The children spoke loudly, hungry for adventure and excitement. Nami turned to Zoro, noticing the wrinkle in his forehead. “What do you think?” she asked quietly.

“Nothing,” the swordsman said simply, unheard by the children. “I know that going after Usopp for answers when he’s upset is a bad idea, so that leaves Ruffy. If we can find her.”

The three little boys lead Zoro and Nami to a cliff with a single tree growing near the edge, overlooking the ocean.

“This is where captain comes to mend his heart,” Ninjin said.

“I understand him,” Piiman nodded. “It sure is nice up here.”

Nami looked around. “Ruffy is not here,” she stated the obvious and walked to the edge of the cliff, noticing the grass was flattened where two bodies recently had laid on it. ”But it looks like she was here.”

“Usopp ran to the village, so where did Ruffy go?” Zoro asked and joined her. He happened to look down, and therefore managed to spy a patch of red beneath. Ruffy sat below them in front of a large crack in the ground. “I see her!”

The three children joined them by the edge.

“You’re right; it’s Mugiwara no onee-chan,” Tamanegi confirmed.

“There’s only one way down there,” Ninjin explained.

“This way. Follow us,” said Piiman eagerly and started jogging with his two friends short on his heels. Nami and Zoro easily kept up due to their longer legs.

They walked down a steep slope, turned left and found the girl they were looking for. Zoro immediately held out an arm and stopped them. “Something’s wrong.”

“Huh?”

“What do you mean Bushido no onii-san?”

“Zoro?”

Nami stared at her fellow with confusion and tried to see what caused his tense expression. Ruffy just sat there, back straight and cross-legged she looked like she was meditating with her head hanging forward, her straw hat upside down beside her. A breeze had the hat moving and Ruffy turned her head. That’s when Nami noticed it; Ruffy’s eyes were shadowed and her body rigid. Her face was alarmingly pale and her lips were pressed into a thin line. Not only that, but her knuckles were bleeding.

“What’s wrong with her,” Nami whispered.

The swordsman shook his head. “I don’t know, but you four stay here.”

Zoro carefully moved forward and the children hugged Nami’s legs.

“What’s he going to do?”

“What’s wrong with Mugiwara no onee-chan?”

“Don’t ask me,” Nami told the boys. “I only know that Ruffy’s really unpredictable.”

Zoro moved with caution. A short distance in front of him Ruffy sat in her own silence glancing at her precious hat like it was something foreign. The swordsman hadn’t seen her like this before. It was like her silence was screaming for something to break it, because she couldn’t do it by herself.

“Ruffy?”

She flinched. At first that was the only response Zoro thought he would get, but then Ruffy slowly lifted her head. She spotted his feet and followed the line of his body upwards until their eyes met.

Her eyes were so far away, like they were worlds apart.

“Zoro. Good morning.”

“Good morning???” Zoro almost laughed from sheer relief when his captain smiled at him. “Were you asleep?”

“I think so. I don’t remember getting stuck in the ground.” She peeked into the crack in the ground in front of her. She noticed the state of her knuckles and tried to hide them from view by burying her hands between her crossed legs.

Nami and the children walked up to them now that the danger seemed to have passed.

“Mugiwara no onee-chan. What happened?”

The girl looked at Piiman and tilted her head, trying to keep her hands hidden as they wanted to reach up and scratch at the itching spot on her head where she was convinced her thoughts were moving. But moving thoughts might be good Ruffy realized when she finally remembered what happened before the gap in her memory. “That’s right. The bitter-butter.”

“The what?” Both Zoro and Nami laughed from slight disbelief.

Ruffy stared at them for a moment. “That butler,” she corrected herself.

“Oh.”

Piiman stepped forward. “What about Kurahadol?” he asked urgently.

“Hmmm?” Ruffy’s eyebrows drew together as she thought hard to remember, forgetting her knuckles were bleeding as she used a hand to rub her chin. “He was with a really weird guy. His sound was all strange and full of rings.”

Zoro figured the girl was referring to her hearing heartbeats. Nami hadn’t picked up that piece of information just yet, so she and the children only understood the butler had been with a weird guy.

“Did they say something?” Nami asked.

“A lot of things,” Ruffy nodded her head with an expression saying she was thinking hard and still didn’t understand. “I didn’t really get it, but that butter is a Kuro pirate, and planned things with the weirdo.”

Nami lifted an eyebrow. “Things? Didn’t you hear what they said?”

“I did… mostly. They said… Ah! That’s right! They want ojou-sama’s money and so they planned to kill her and attack the village…?” She glanced upwards with a doubtful expression as if what she said sounded wrong.

The village boys reacted to something else.

“EH???”

“Kaya will be killed?!”

“The village is gonna be attacked?!”

“No, that’s not it,” Ruffy said and hit her palm.

The boys let out a breath of relief, until the girl continued.

“They’re going to attack the village first and then kill ojou-sama.”

Nami’s head fell into her palm. “That’s the same thing, you idiot.”

The children panicked and didn’t listen anymore, so Zoro took the opportunity to ask.

“So why are you down here sleeping?”

Ruffy tilted her head from side to side. “Last I remember I was standing on top of the cliff. That butter was a real jerk, you know. He insulted me a lot. But I don’t remember anything after looking at that weird guy’s ring.

A veil lifted for all who listened. A weird guy with a ring. It was the hypnotist!

Zoro shook his head. “Now I know why you were sleeping. That weirdo is a hypnotist and made you fall asleep.”

“Oh.”

“And we also know why Captain ran towards the village like a madman,” Nami said and the three little boys silenced and looked up at her. She made a sweeping move with her hand at them. “You heard. The village is going to be attacked, so you better run for it while you can.”

Three mouths fell open in realization.

“Oh yeah! We have to run too!”

“Yes, we have to grab the most important stuff and get away.”

“My piggybank… and snacks…”

“Hurry!!!”

The boys were off and left the three pirates where they were.

Zoro turned to Ruffy. “So? What do we do?”

“Hm?”

“Are we going to the village too?”

The girl smiled sheepishly. “Sorry. I don’t think I can walk.”

Nami blinked. “What? Are you hurt?”

“I don’t think so. My legs just feel all weak.”

Zoro rubbed his forehead. “So what? You want me to carry you?”

Ruffy laughed a little. “No thank you. I’ll just wait until I can move again. Maybe if I try hard enough…” She set a foot on the ground and pushed, but as soon as she had both feet on the ground she fell back down. “Ops, not yet. Wait a little.”

“Oi! Aren’t you coming?”

The pirates turned around to find that the three boys had come back.

“Why are you still here?” Piiman asked.

“We need your help to warn the villagers!” Tamanegi said and waved his arms around.

“That’s right. It will be easier if Mugiwara no onee-chan backs us up,” Ninjin agreed.

Ruffy blinked at them. “Back you up for what?”

“We have to warn the villagers!” the three boys yelled.

“You must help us, Mugiwara no onee-chan!”

“Oh. Okay. Wait just a minute.”

The dark-haired girl set her hands on the ground again and lifted herself up slightly. Zoro held a hand out for her to support herself on, but she didn’t take it. Not until she almost fell back down, and that wasn’t intended, but once with her wrist in a firm grasp Zoro roughly pulled the girl up to her feet.

“Mugiwara no onee-chan?”

Ruffy turned to the boys who stared at her with concern. “Ah, don’t worry. I’m just a little weak to my knees right now.” She pulled away from Zoro’s supportive hands and, albeit a little wobbly still, stood on her own feet. “I can’t run, but that’s fine right? The pirates won’t attack before sunrise tomorrow.”

“Oh… okay.”

The boys walked first, every now and then casting a glance at Ruffy to make sure she followed. Nami walked right beside the other girl, hiding well that she didn’t trust Ruffy’s strength or her sense of balance.

Zoro walked last, glaring at the dark-haired girl’s back. It was offending. He couldn’t tell if she had been like this all the time, but it was definitely clear now; Ruffy didn’t trust him. Not for support. But damn it, he was a man, and she a girl. If she was feeling weak she should depend on him. Zoro knew he would support her even if she didn’t ask for it. So why was she fighting all alone? Weren’t they nakama?

Nami glanced over her shoulder at the swordsman. She had noticed it too; Ruffy not accepting Zoro’s help. From the looks of things the man was displeased. Oh well. That didn’t really matter. Ruffy was of bigger concern. When Nami saw Ruffy like that, trying to stand and ignoring the offered hand, it was like Nami watched a reflection of herself. It was spooky. Even if Ruffy wasn’t exactly the kind of pirate who would go around and attack people like a savage, she was still a pirate. Damn pride.

The sun was coming down and coloured the sky in a warm red.

“It is captain,” Tamanegi suddenly exclaimed and pointed.

Sure enough, standing on the path stood the long nosed boy looking over his shoulder at the village.

“Oi! Captain!”

Nami frowned when she saw Usopp rub his eyes and quickly hide his left arm behind his back.

“Oh, it’s you. You…” his eyes widened and his mouth fell open. “You!!! Ruffy! You’re alive. How? You… you fell…!”

“I fell asleep,” the girl finished for him with her head tilted to the side. “But you were gone by the time I woke up.”

“Asleep?!”

“Never mind that,” Piiman said loudly and waved his arms for attention. “We have heard everything about the pirates. We have to hurry and warn everyone and run away!”

“We have to warn…?”

Ruffy tilted her head from side to side. Zoro thought she was probably listening to Usopp’s heartbeat. The boy did look hesitant, and there was the fact his left arm was bleeding.

Usopp threw his head back and laughed. It was forced, but good enough to fool his little friends. After all, Usopp was a great liar.

“What pirates? That was only a joke,” the liar boy laughed. “I was only a little pissed at the butler, so I made up a story where he was an evil pirate.”

“What? It was just a lie?”

Ninjin placed his hands behind his head and sighed with disappointment. “Aw man, and here I thought something big was going to happen.”

Tamanegi turned and glared at the dark-haired girl behind him. “And Mugiwara no onee-chan was in on the lie too.”

The boys walked straight past the one they labelled ‘Captain’.

“I don’t think that was very nice of you, captain,” Ninjin said lowly.

“Me neither,” Piiman agreed with a mumble.

Tamanegi at least turned around. “The butler was mean, but I didn’t think you’d make up lies to hurt other people.”

And so the children walked away, back to their safe homes and families, and didn’t look back. If they had, maybe they would have caught the look on Usopp’s face.

“Liar,” Ruffy accused lowly.

“Exactly,” Usopp muttered and walked past her and her two friends, heading back to the shore.

The pirates exchanged looks, even Ruffy easily connecting the dots. She shrugged her shoulders and followed the long-nosed boy, on a safe distance.

Nami noticed Ruffy didn’t seem to be wobbly anymore, and therefore fell in beside Zoro instead.

“I’m sure there is a logical explanation for her behaviour,” she whispered. It didn’t hurt to be nice once in a while after all. Plus, Ruffy’s refusal to accept a helping hand was vexing.

“It better be a good one,” the swordsman grumbled.

Nami looked the other way to hide the fact she was smirking. So Pirate hunter Lolonoa Zoro didn’t like being rejected, huh? She could have a good share of fun with him about that.

Because Zoro was still looking at Ruffy, he noticed her head turning slightly, and caught his eye. She smiled at him before turning away again. For some reason that irked him even more.

They arrived at the shore, went down the slope and found Usopp trying to bandage his arm. Anyone who has ever done this knows how hard it is to put on bandages with only one hand.

Nami sighed. “Here. Let me do that.”

The boy looked up, surprised to see them. “What are you...?” he started, but Nami already stood in front of him with her hand held out for the supplies to treat the wound. Usopp glanced at his sloppy attempt of bandaging his wound. He could admit Nami could most likely do a much better job, so he gave them to her without a word and not looking at Ruffy and Zoro standing a few strides away watching. Ruffy had already told them what had happened at the beach, and while Usopp was immensely relieved the girl was alive, half of him wanted to hit her for scaring him. At the same time he was kind of glad the three pirates seemed to believe the story. Usopp couldn’t deny, to himself least of all, that he was hurt, and scared.

Nami disinfected the wound and gently but firmly wrapped it up.

“That should do the trick,” she said and stood.

“Thank you,” the boy mumbled and glanced to the sea. The sun had disappeared from sight long ago, but a hint of light still lingered in the west. The crescent moon was red above them.

“So,” Zoro spoke up, “the villagers didn’t believe you.”

“Of course not,” Usopp answered darkly. “Everybody knows I’m a liar. Nobody would believe me. I was naïve to think they would.”

“That doesn’t change facts,” the swordsman said.

Usopp didn’t answer, and as the sky grew darker the moon shone brighter as the red colour faded into white.

“Pirates really are going to attack, aren’t they?” Nami asked softly.

“Oh yes. They’re coming. There’s no doubt about that,” Usopp confirmed. “But everyone thinks that I’m just lying and that they will wake up to just another peaceful day.” He sprung up. “That’s why I’ll stop the pirates right here on the shore and make this whole story into a lie! Everything I’ve said is a lie! If it isn’t, then I will just make it one!”

The three people in front of him gawked, taken aback.

Usopp sat back down and held up his bandaged arm. “Even if they shot at me today… and chase me with broomsticks and frying pans every day… I love this place. I grew up here. I want to protect it.” He put his head on his hands, crying over the hopelessness of the situation and the knowledge of just how weak he was. “I can’t just let everybody die… before they know what hit them.”

Zoro shook his head with awe. Nami smiled too. Ruffy broke down laughing.

Usopp positively exploded. “Are you laughing at me?! If you find this so damn funny then I’ll take you all down right here and now!”

“I like it,” Ruffy declared and lifted her head to face the furious Usopp. “I definitely like the sound of your heart. Yasopp-otou-chan would have burst with pride had he heard you just now.”

It was in that moment Usopp learnt that Ruffy had the gift to sooth people, no matter how angry they were. (Later on he’d realize she worked the other way just as well.)

“Alright, Usopp. We’ll give you a hand,” the pirate captain promised.

“But the treasures are mine,” Nami reminded.

“You…?” Usopp dried his tears and looked up properly. “You’re going to help me fight? Why?”

“Because you’re outnumbered by a lot,” Ruffy said matter-of-factly.

“And you look terrified,” Zoro stated.

“I look terrified?!” Usopp jumped again. “I’m not scared! So what if I’m outnumbered. I’m the brave warrior of the sea, Captain Usopp!”

Ruffy, Zoro and Nami looked down to the long-nosed boy’s legs. Usopp followed their gaze and realized just how visibly bad his knees were shaking.

“Ah, damn! Stop it! Stop shaking.” He hit his knees, even though he knew how useless it was. The boy growled. “What are you looking at!?” he screamed at the people watching him. “Of course I’m terrified! They’re captain Kuro and his whole bloody pirate crew and they want my head! So what!? I don’t need your pity! Go away!!!”

“Do I look like I’m laughing?” Zoro asked with a lifted eyebrow. “I want to help you out because I think you’re doing the right thing.”

Ruffy nodded. “Sympathy isn’t a reason for risking your life. Besides…” she cracked her knuckles and blindly glared at a spot in front of her, “I want to land a punch on that butter for what he said earlier.”

Usopp sniffed, tears of gratitude flowing rather freely. “You guys… you’re such good people. Thank you.”

“You don’t have time for crying,” Nami interrupted and patted the boy’s shoulder. “The pirates are coming tomorrow at sunrise. We must start planning our counterattack straight away.”

The young boy dried his tears and nodded with determination. “Come this way. They will attack from this shore. The cliffs goes really high all around the island, and from here, this slope is the only way to my village. If we can only hold this slope, the pirates won’t be able to attack the village.”

“I see. Sounds easy enough,” Ruffy said as she followed the boy up the slope.

“Easier said than done,” Usopp disagreed with a worried frown. “It all depends on how well we fight. What can you guys do?”

“Cut.”

“Punch.”

“Steal”

Usopp listened, and revealed the one ability he mastered; “Hide.”

The three pirates hit down on Usopp, Ruffy catching him in a head-lock. “You’re gonna fight too!”

“Yes! Yes! Of course I will try. But I’m still scared.”

Usopp blinked as Ruffy released him from the headlock. There it was again; him thinking to say one thing and something else altogether slipped out of his mouth. The same thing had happened when he introduced the pirates to Kaya. What was wrong with him?

“By the way,” Ruffy said as she looked around, “are you certain the pirates will attack from here?”

Usopp rubbed his throat, still a bit perplexed. “Of course. There is no other way. They can’t climb the cliffs.”

The dark-haired girl tilted her head from side to side a few times. “I don’t know about that. The pirates aren’t close by.”

Zoro frowned. Hadn’t Ruffy said something when they had arrived to the island this morning? Something about a bunch of restless people.

The swordsman made a mental note to ask his captain about it later.

“So how are we going to do this?” Nami asked Usopp and stomped her foot in the rocky ground to check the solidness.

“Give me a minute.”

It took five seconds flat.

“I know! Wait here. I’ll just go fetch something.”

Ruffy watched his back that quickly disappeared in the darkness. Once he was gone she looked out over the ocean again, tilting her head and trying to hear. She couldn’t help but doubt, but Usopp seemed so sure this slope was the one the attack would come from. Well, he did know his way around. But the pirates weren’t at this shore.

“Ruffy.”

“Hm?”

Zoro stood beside her, and he was still pissed. He had been upset ever since they left this shore with the soup boys only an hour ago and she couldn’t figure out why. Nami had tried to cheer him up, but that hadn’t been enough it seemed.

“What?”

“That’s my question, Ruffy.”

“It is?”

“Yes it is. There is something you haven’t told me.”

“Of course,” the girl nodded. “I haven’t told you a lot of things.”

Zoro almost strangled her. “That’s not what I mean. Why didn’t you accept my help earlier?”

Ruffy blinked at him. Her vision blurred and she had to rub her eyes. “When did you try to help me and from what?”

The man, though wondering about the glassy state of his captain’s eyes, frowned deeper. “I gave you a hand when you couldn’t stand up on your own, but you didn’t take it. Why?”

The dark-haired girl rubbed her eyes again, moving the hand up to rub her temple in thought.

“Oh.” Her face lit up. “So your hand was there to help me?”

That wasn’t an answer, but it hinted at something Zoro didn’t quite like. “Yes.”

Ruffy laughed sheepishly. “Sorry, Zoro. I didn’t know. Nobody has ever done that for me before so… my bad.”

Nami stood just a short distance away, pretending to give the two some private time, but now she turned around to stare at the girl with the straw hat.

“Has no one ever helped you?” she asked.

“A lot of people have helped me,” Ruffy said and rubbed her eyes again. “None of them are alive today. I’ve just always had to rise to my feet by myself. Most people have always tried to push me down.”

Nami and Zoro exchanged looks. Zoro was about to ask something else when Ruffy turned her head in that odd way of hers, her face sharp. “Usopp is back.”

The trio waited for a while, until they could hear heavy footsteps and a strained breath. Usopp came into view carrying a small barrel.

“Here,” he said proudly and put it down in front of them. “This is Captain Usopp’s genius master plan.” The boy paused for effect and opened the lid. “Oil.”

“Oil?” three voices parroted.

“That’s right,” Usopp said and stuck his long nose in the air. “Using this, victory is ours.”

“Are we going to throw it at them and set it on fire?” Ruffy asked curiously, but Usopp waved a finger at her and shook his head.

“So naïve, Ruffy-chan. Help me pour it over the slope.”

Starting on the middle, the little barrel didn’t last that long. Counting the breadth of the slope, they would need a lot more barrels before they had it covered.

“I’ll go fetch some more.”

“This will take all night,” Zoro stated as Usopp took the barrel to leave.

“As long as we’re done before daybreak, that’s fine,” Nami said.

“I will hurry,” Usopp promised. “Nobody runs as fast as me.”

Off he was, and Zoro instantly turned his attention back to Ruffy, who was rubbing her forehead now. Her skin was ghostly pale in the faint moonlight.

“Ruffy?”

“Hm?”

“Are you sleepy per chance?”

“Yes,” the girl admitted.

“Then go to sleep for a while. We’ll wake you up before dawn.”

“No.”

Zoro and Nami both blinked at the harshness of that reply.

“Ruffy?”

The girl turned away from Nami’s concerned look. “Sleeping is not an option.”

Once again Nami and Zoro exchanged looks. This girl they were following as their captain was full of surprises, and not all of them were pleasant. This was definitely one of the less pleasant ones. Thinking back, Zoro also realized that he had never seen Ruffy sleep. The time he had found her at his feet when he was tied to a pole she had appeared to be sleeping, but… Only now it dawned on Zoro that Ruffy had probably listened to his heartbeat back then. That’s how she had echoed the words Kuina had always said to him after winning.

After that time, had he seen Ruffy sleeping? When she listened to his and Nami’s heartbeat, was she sleeping? Every time Zoro woke up, he had been greeted by Ruffy’s happy “good morning, Zoro.”

“Ruffy. Just when did you get a night’s proper sleep last?”

“Usopp’s back again.”

“Don’t avoid the question… Damn.”

“That was fast…” Nami greeted the younger boy, until she realized exactly why it hadn’t taken so long this time.

Usopp poured the two mugs of oil he had carried with him and turned, determinedly holding up a blue mug with his name and yellow stars on it. “Yosh. Because I’m weak I can’t carry the barrel and then be fit enough to fight in the morning, this is my new ‘Usopp definite fast-running oil errand’.”

The three pirates stared at him.

“You’re not serious, right?” Nami asked with disbelief.

“I am,” Usopp said importantly with his nose still up in the air and making a serious face. “I’m weak and can’t run fast with a barrel.”

Zoro was about ready to cut the bragging boy to bits. Being worried about Ruffy didn’t help him in the least.

“Don’t give me that crap. I’ll go with you and help you carry.”

“A great idea.”

Zoro followed the long-nosed boy, reluctantly. He wasn’t done with Ruffy yet. Swearing mentally the swordsman knew he would have to wait until after they had left the island before he could ask anything again. But maybe Nami could get Ruffy talking. That little thief was good at talking. Hopefully Ruffy wouldn’t get on her nerves again.

With her hands in her pockets Ruffy watched the boys leave. She felt Nami’s stare and turned to look at her.

“Sleep,” Nami ordered. “If you’re not completely fit in the morning we’ll never win this battle.”

“I don’t remember what it is like to be completely fit.”

That hint again. The thief felt a mix of annoyance and concern, and she didn’t like it. She was getting too involved with these people. Ruffy was a reckless idiot and Zoro, despite his genuine big-brother sense of responsibility, was an idiot too. How would they ever make it without her? Nami wasn’t going to stay with them forever, and the longer she stayed with them the harder she feared it would be to leave them.

“Don’t worry about it, Nami,” Ruffy suddenly said. “Even though I am like this, that butter doesn’t have what it takes to defeat me.” She looked around the area. “Provided that this is the right slope.”

Nami felt dread well up in her throat. “Right slope?”

Ruffy scratched her ear. “The pirates aren’t around here. I can’t hear them.”

“Hear them?”

“Un. Their heartbeats. I can’t hear them.”

Nami couldn’t help but lift an eyebrow. “Can you tell me just how wide your hearing range is?”

“Yes I can.”

Nami waited… Oh right. Always ask Ruffy for straight answers, because she only answers the question asked. “How wide is your hearing range?”

“That depends on the strength of heart. Aki had the strongest heartbeat I’ve ever heard, and Sun’s was really strong too. I could hear them from quite far away. Almen… well… he was strong. His heart was strong, but really broken, so… the sound was weakened.”

The younger girl rubbed her eyes again, but Nami hadn’t missed the saddened expression she had made when naming that third person and wondered if this time the rubbing was a cover. It was almost like Ruffy was full of secrets. It didn’t sound quite right to Nami. Ruffy was happy-go-lucky and so stupidly honest that it seemed she couldn’t keep a secret if her life depended on it.

But she did keep secrets.

“I don’t want to tell you how I’ve survived until now.”

That’s how it was. Ruffy probably couldn’t lie at all, so instead of avoiding a question or not answer it at all, she faced it head on. Nami had to respect her for that.

The girls stayed quiet for a long time. Nami was first to grow tired of standing around and found herself a stone to sit on. Ruffy, still occasionally rubbing her eyes and yawning, sat down leaning against a rock, rested her head against the stone and closed her eyes. With a sigh of relief, Nami almost followed her example. But Ruffy’s sleep lasted for less than a minute. Her entire body jerked and she sat up straight, eyes wide open and flickering around until they landed on Nami.

“Ruffy?”

“I’m okay,” the girl said and rubbed her forehead as she stood up. “I can’t afford to sleep now.”

That was a strange thing to say. To Nami it sounded like the younger girl was afraid something or maybe someone would show up while she slept. Well, it was hard to think straight when you just woke up so… Could it be that Ruffy was afraid to fall asleep? Was that why she had acted so strange when they found her alone on the shore a few hours earlier?

Ruffy walked up the slope and stood with her feet apart and arms crossed, spying over the scene before her. Her eyes their normal brown colour. Her stance and expression was intimidating enough for the thief girl to give up her musings and sigh.

‘No. She’s just stubborn as hell.’

 


 

A muscle was ticking in Zoro’s temple to the point he feared it would soon become chronic. It wasn’t Usopp’s fault. At least it hadn’t started as his fault, but the longer it took the harder it was not to blame the long-nosed boy. With Zoro’s strength he could carry a rain barrel full of liquid. Problem, Usopp didn’t have that much oil in the little cottage that he lived in. So now they were breaking and entering every house quietly to borrow a little cooking oil.

“Oi, Usopp,” Zoro growled quietly. “We’ll need more than one mug from each place if you want to fill up the barrel.”

“I know that,” Usopp whined just above a whisper. “But I don’t like this. I’m no thief. The housewives are going to be furious in the morning if they find out somebody has been stealing from them during the night.”

“It’s not like we’re taking any money. Take it all from now on or we won’t be done before the pirates attack.”

Usopp was well aware of that, but… he really didn’t like the idea to steal. Of course he had stolen things before. Apples hanging from the trees in the gardens and some cookies cooling off in a window somewhere, but breaking and entering in the middle of the night… he could imagine better things to spend his time on.

But Zoro’s face said; do it or I kill you.

“Okay…” he whined.

Still, instead of taking a mug full, he left a mug full, to save himself from the bad conscience.

“They won’t have anything to fry eggs with in the morning otherwise,” he defended himself against the swordsman’s glare.

By the time the barrel was finally full and carefully closed it was way past midnight. Zoro carried the burden on his shoulder and followed the younger boy though the darkness back to where the girls waited. He hoped Nami had managed to get Ruffy so sleep a bit. The time it had taken Usopp to gather enough cooking oil should have been more than enough time to convince their stubborn captain. He hoped.

But upon arriving at the shore they were met by a wide awake Ruffy and a sleeping Nami.

“Good, you’re back,” was all the dark-haired girl said.

Zoro glared at her. Ruffy’s skin was paler than ever. She hadn’t slept a minute. What the hell was Nami doing? Ruffy hadn’t managed to fool her, had she?

Usopp didn’t notice anything. He asked for Zoro’s help to pour the oil over the slope and Ruffy went over to the sleeping Nami to wake her up.

“Okay. Perfect,” Usopp said as he inspected the oiled slope. “Now those bastards won’t be able to get up the slope.”

They had covered the ground with the cooking oil, making it glister all the way down to the base in the faint moonlight. The girls joined and were both amazed over the idea.

“This is the most effective way for us to battle,” Usopp explained with a finger on the tip of his nose. “We have to stop them no matter what.”

“But we have to be careful not to slip down ourselves, or else we’re screwed,” Nami pointed out. “It’d be like falling into a snake’s nest.”

“What a neat trick,” Ruffy giggled as she rested her hands on her knees to take a better look.

“Of course,” Usopp said and crossed his arms over his chest. “Tricks and shooting with pachinko is what I do best!”

The three pirates smiled.

The eastern horizon slowly brightened.

“The sun is coming up,” Zoro said. “They’ll be here soon.”

Chapter Text

Great battle on the slope

Jango had been the captain of the Kuroneko pirates for three years now. He had been Captain Kuro’s right hand man and first mate. He denied his own weirdness with innocence because he himself couldn’t see anything weird about his person. But he was captain for a reason. So when Jango’s men knocked on the door to his cabin, calling “Good morning” and were answered with an annoyed grumble, they backed away with an explicit apology.

“‘Good morning’,” Jango explained with a warning tone to his voice “is said when the sun rises. Look at the sky. The moon is still up.”

“Absolutely, captain. We’re sorry,” the men agreed eagerly, hoping their response would be good enough.

Thankfully Jango accepted the apology with a grunt and a nod of his head. Then he started walking backwards in a moonwalk until he stood right in front of the figure head. There he stopped and lifted the brim of his hat to look over all his men.

“Boys. Good morning.”

That was the signal. They would now start the end of the plan set three years ago.

The pirates cheered loudly. “Let’s go!!!”

 


 

On the eastern beach slope Usopp waited, ready for the pirates’ attack together with Ruffy, Nami and Zoro. Ruffy was apparently restless, not able to stand still as she shifted her weight from foot to foot. She scratched her right ear most of the time and kept looking around as if searching for something.

“They are late,” Zoro stated when Ruffy’s squirming got worse. “Could they have slept in?”

Usopp didn’t say anything. Ruffy’s obvious nervousness was rubbing off on him as he more and more frantically searched the horizon for the enemy ship with its skull and crossbones.

Nami turned her head, as she picked up a sound that wasn’t the splashing of waves against the shore or wind in the trees. She put a hand behind her ear to try and catch the sound better.  

“Am I imagining things or… Can any of you hear that?” she asked, almost hoping it was only her imagination playing a nervous prank on her.

“Hear what?” Zoro asked, straining his ears.

“There’s a noise...” The navigator spun her head around a little with a hand behind both ears as she attempted to pinpoint the direction from which the noise came. “Coming from the north direction,” she finished with a firm sound to her voice.

Usopp flinched. “From the north?!”

“So you got the slopes mixed up after all!?” Ruffy yelled. She had been worried about it but hadn’t doubted Usopp. The small, small part of her that felt annoyed over either her own choice not to doubt or Usopp’s mistake, or both, went most unnoticed under a sense of acute urgency filling up the rest of the girl pirate’s thoughts.

“What’s this about?” Zoro demanded to know.

“There’s another slope just like this one up north,” Usopp explained and held his head. “It looks just like this one but… damn! This was where they talked this noon so I thought... Why?! My great oil plan!”

Yup. The plan. Zoro would have loved to cut the boy to pieces right then and there if they hadn’t been in such a hurry. ”Which way?” he pressed heatedly.

“North. It takes three minutes if you run like…”

“Stop talking and get a move on!” Ruffy interrupted as she ran into the woods, heading towards the excited heartbeats she could hear in a distance. But out of sight from her friends, the pain she had suppressed ever since she woke up to find Coby standing over her unexpectedly exploded in her chest.

With a kick to the ground Ruffy managed to get away from the pathway and gracelessly fell into the bushes, holding her chest and gasping for air. She was about to faint. Darkness clouded the edges of her vision. It hurt so much. Had her heart burst?

“Ku… ma,” Ruffy wheezed.

 


 

Usopp ran as fast as he could, following Ruffy to the north beach.

“Damn, that girl can run,” he spoke to himself. “I can’t even see her anymore. Will she be able to hold the pirates off by herself?”

The screams grew louder as Usopp neared the slope. No time to lose. He put on his goggles, picked out his pachinko and balls and started shooting in the run. Caught by surprise the pirates stopped their advancing and Usopp stood as tall as he could on top of the slope, ignoring the fact he was out of breath.

“I am Captain Usopp! I’ve been waiting for you guys all along ready for battle. Retreat now if life is dear to you!”

Below him the pirates blinked stupidly at started mumbling among themselves.

‘Why…?’ Usopp thought as he noticed the lack of a certain someone. ‘Why am I here first?! Ruffy ran ahead, didn’t she? Help me…’

“You’re the one… who was listening in on us yesterday,” the weird guy with the heart-shaped glasses said. “What do you want?”

Using his most convincing pose, Usopp did what he did best. “I’m warning you! If you don’t retreat at once my one hundred million crewmen won’t show you any mercy.”

“One hundred million?!”

A crewman turned around. “Captain, he’s obviously lying!”

‘Damn. They saw through it already,’ Usopp thought. He had to come up with a new plan fast and his hands searched for something, anything, in his bag that could help him. Where was Ruffy!? If she’d chickened out it was definitely the worst possible timing!

“Hey captain! We found something,” a pirate called.

Jango swore to himself. When things started going wrong they rarely stopped. “What? How bad is it?”

“No, not bad. Those strange little boats over there,” the pirate pointed to two small boats anchored just a bit away from their own docked ship. “We found treasure! It’s at least four… no, five million beli!”

Jango gaped.

On top of the slope Usopp gaped. “F-five million? So much money…” he quickly picked his chin up and straightened, new plan formed in his brain. “That’s my treasure!” he yelled. “But you can have it.”

The pirates turned and stared at him, not sure of how to interpret their single opponent. This wasn’t really what the plan had been about, and Captain Kuro hadn’t said anything about anyone standing up against them in this raid.

“But in return you have to retreat,” Usopp continued, hoping against hope it would work.

“Humph,” Jango snorted. He wasn’t Kuro, but he was still a pirate and captain over the Kuroneko pirates and as such used to make quick decisions. Besides, he’d be an idiot to ignore a find of five million beli. “Fool. Of course we’ll take the treasure. But that’s no reason for us not to attack the village.”

Usopp made a grimace. He was out of lies to buy time with. ‘Hello! Ruffy! Zoro! Nami! Anytime please!’

“Look at this,” the pirate in the hat said and held up a ring Usopp thought he recognized but couldn’t place right away. “On One, Two, Jango, you’ll let us pass. One… Two…”

Usopp blinked as he looked at the ring. It was definitely familiar. ‘Isn’t that…?’ he thought as the memory cleared. ‘That’s the thing he used on Ruffy before…’

“Jan…”

Somebody came up running behind Usopp and yelled “LIKE HELL!!!” on the top of her lungs and smacked the long nosed boy in the back of his head at the same time.

“OW!” Usopp screamed and held his abused head. It wasn’t made of stone you know.

The one who had attacked Usopp ignored him and instead pointed an accusing finger at the pirates. “That treasure is mine and nobody else’s!” Nami yelled possessively. “You won’t get a single beli! Guard it well, because I’ll soon take it all back! With interest!” She turned her furious eyes to Usopp. “And what the hell do you think you’re doing giving away other people’s treasure?!”

“I have perfect hearing,” Usopp whined and rubbed the growing bump where Nami had hit him with all her might. “Next time you can just call without hitting me.”

“What are you talking about? I just saved you,” Nami scoffed.

“Huh?” The liar blinked owlishly. It was true he’d just wished for any of his friend pirates to appear, but for Nami to say she’d saved him? The Kuroneko pirates were still down there and didn’t look like they were about to leave anytime soon. “Saved me from what?”

Nami pointed at the man with the blue cloak and hat, who seemed to be standing aside as if letting someone through. “I forgot to tell you; don’t look at that guy’s ring. He’s a hypnotist.”

“Hypno…?”

“Yup,” the thief nodded without giving Usopp the breath to fully understand what that meant. She was busy searching the crowd and surroundings for a familiar straw hat. “So where’s Ruffy? Didn’t she run ahead?”

Usopp shrugged. “Not here. Maybe she chickened out…” he glanced carefully at Nami “or got lost…?”

“She got lost? Damn her, at a time like this.”

Usopp felt both relieved and frustrated. Relieved because his sister hadn’t pulled out at the last minute, and frustrated she had to go and get herself lost at a time like this.

Well, better make the best of the situation with the things you had at hand. The liar lifted his pachinko and pointed to the pirates. “Okay, you go beat those guys and I’ll cover you,” he told Nami of his good plan. Unfortunately she didn’t seem to agree about the “good” part. Instead she whipped around and gave him an incredulous look.

“What? Why me?! I’m not a monster like Ruffy!”

Usopp crossed his arms and pulled up his shoulders, smirking and almost laughing as the nerves finally caught up with him. “Heh! If you want a man to protect you, don’t look at me. Just check out my legs! They’re shaking so much I can hardly stand!”

“I’m a weak little girl, dammit!”

“Say that to the bump on my head.”

“I’m a weak little girl you stupid bump on Usopp’s head.”

“You took that literally?!”

 


 

While Nami and Usopp fought about who was the weakest, Zoro was swearing worse than a drunk sailor over the fact that an oiled slope stood in his way for a fight. Not that it was his fault though. When Ruffy had run off, Nami had somehow slipped on the oil and pulled Zoro down with her, but the bitch had used the swordsman as a spring board to get back up. If that wasn’t enough she hadn’t even stayed to give him a hand.

“Sorry. But I have to save my treasure! Get up the slope on your own! Good luck!”

That’s what she had said before she ran off, that fucking bastard.

“Good luck? My ass! I’m gonna kill that bloody thief!” Zoro promised as he tried running up the lope on all four, screaming in frustration. “Why can’t I get up this thing?!”

Once again sliding down the oil covered slope, Zoro stopped to catch his breath and think straight. Simply running or crawling up didn’t work. He’d tried it enough times to understand that much.

With a face somewhere between determined and childishly stubborn Zoro unsheathed his black katana. Well, he is a swordsman, and as such he thinks with his swords, or of the swords as a part of him. The way of the warrior was that drawing your sword to fight would always be the last way to handle a situation. According to Zoro who still made an effort to try to live up to that certain rule (with questionable successfulness) he had tried everything and now was the time to fucking draw his swords.

Roaring like a beast he used his dear blades as spikes and made it past the oiled slope, not stopping until he was all the way up.

“Ha! As if a poor little oiled slope is gonna hold me back,” the swordsman panted and dried the oil away from his blades on his shirt before sheathing them. “Now where the hell is that north shore?”

Zoro took off in a random direction straight into the shadows of the forest, slipping a little because of the oil stuck under his boots, and then stumbled over something that made a pained sound.

“Zo… Zoro…”

The swordsman had been about to take off again, but the sound of Ruffy’s voice gasping out his name effectively stopped him. On the ground lay his captain, pale as paper and clawing at her chest as if there was something really hurtful in there.

“Ruffy?!” the swordsman ran to Ruffy’s side and kneeled beside her. “What’s wrong?”

“Kuma…” she gasped. “He didn’t kill me.”

“What are you talking about?”

Zoro took the girl around the shoulders, intending to lift her into sitting position, but he stopped at the touch. It wasn’t because she was cold as death, more like the feeling that tingled across his skin. Ruffy was in so much pain Zoro could feel it like needles far up his arms.

The girl used what strength she had and grabbed Zoro’s shirt, pulling her face into his chest. Zoro kept his hold on her arms. The feeling was quite surreal and not in a pleasant way. Ruffy’s hurting heart was grabbing a hold of his, causing Zoro to momentarily feel the power of the agony too. It took a lot of willpower to not push Ruffy away. The only thing that kept Zoro from doing so was the memory of the red sea he had seen in Ruffy’s heart, and the words she had said afterwards.

“You’re helping you know. Pulling me out of that sea, into another one that isn’t so bad.”

The pain slowly subsided.

While Ruffy was at it she took a little warmth too it seemed. Her cold limbs warmed and softened while Zoro was left shivering.

“Ruffy?” he breathed, hoping she was alright now. They still had a battle to fight and Usopp and Nami were probably there fighting it right now. But Ruffy looked anything but ready to fight at the moment.

“We have to hurry,” she answered and stood up, supporting herself on her own knees. “Usopp and Nami are already fighting. Let’s go.”

Zoro sighed. “You stubborn little… girl,” he grumbled to himself and stood. He quickly realized he had to hurry to keep up with said girl, because once she started running she ran fast. Zoro couldn’t recall how much time Usopp had said it took to run to this north shore, but Ruffy probably ran the distance in half that time.

They suddenly collided with a lot of bodies and stopped at the top of a slope that looked just like the one they had spent the night covering with cooking oil. Only this one was full of pirates with black cat ears on their heads.

“Did we run into something?” Ruffy asked, not completely aware of her surroundings as her eyes continued to swim in and out of focus.

“Just some weaklings. Never mind them,” Zoro answered. Then he locked his eyes on a bright-headed girl he had unfinished business with. “Nami you bitch! How dare you kick me?!”

“You’re late,” the thief accused. “What took you so long?”

What?! Zoro almost sputtered at the off-handed response, not nearly the one he’d expected or wanted for that matter. “You’re the one who made me fall down and now you dare blame me!?”

“Why? It was better for only one than both of us sliding down,” the thief shrugged most indifferently, not exactly helping the situation.

“Then why didn’t you fall down yourself?!” Zoro screeched.

Ruffy was breathing deeply, using the sound of Zoro and Nami’s voices as anchors to consciousness, resting her weight on her knees. She managed to focus on Usopp sitting just below her with blood pouring down his face, and that was enough to bring her back completely.

“Usopp. You okay?”

“I… I’m fine,” the boy stuttered, breathless and still blinking with surprise. “I didn’t think…” he looked over his shoulder to the pirates he’d failed to stop and Ruffy and Zoro had just pushed back “you’re so strong…”

Ruffy huffed. “Of course I’m strong. I’m just a little tired right now.”

Below them the beaten pirates gathered around their captain. Said man held up his ring and his voice echoed around the area; “Look closely at this ring. At One, Two, Jango you will become strong. And your wounds will heal. You’ll become stronger and stronger.”

“What is that guy doing?” Ruffy asked, staring warily at the swinging object.

“Hypnotism,” Nami scoffed. “He’s trying to make them believe they are stronger. How stupid.”

Three seconds later Nami had to take back every word. After the command the fallen pirates all stood up and roared like crazy beasts.

“No way! They could hardly stand up a moment ago!” Nami shirked.

One of the pirates tested his strength by punching a cliff. It cracked all the way up to the top and a large piece fell off.

“A rock cliff with a punch?!” Zoro exclaimed. “Damn, what power!”

“One alone can crush cliffs and there’s a whole bunch of them!” Usopp cried, half of him wishing he was anywhere but here and the other half firmly pinning him in place because if those pirates got past the slope there was no stopping them from reaching the village and killing everyone.

 “They really are hypnotized!” Nami screamed, holding her head and eating her words. How could something as stupid as hypnotism work like this? It shouldn’t be possible. It was cheating! Now what? Would Zoro and Ruffy be alright on their own?

Scratch that, how would Ruffy do in this battle?

The Kuroneko captain smirked at his enemies above. What could four people do against his crew? Never mind two of them being worthless in combat. “Go!” he yelled his order. “Kill everything that stands in your way!”

The pirates cheered and charged up the slope.

Zoro turned to Nami. “Grab Usopp and get out of the way. Ruffy and I will handle things from here.”

He didn’t have to say that twice. Usopp hastily crawled past them and Nami helped him from there. Luckily it was a long, steep slope, so it took the pirates a bit of time to make the way up. Zoro bent his legs, hands on his swords and prepared for the fight.

“Let’s go, Ruffy.”

No answer.

Zoro turned to his captain, seeing a frown on her mouth and a flash of her teeth. “Ruffy?”

She couldn’t be…

The girl pumped her fists into the air and roared.

Yes, she was. “You got hypnotized too?!”

“Oh blast it. How can she be so stupid?” Nami groaned. Usopp only gaped.

The hypnotized girl pirate charged, leaving her shocked and frightened friends behind. Nami, Zoro and Usopp all thought the same thing when they saw a skinny little girl against an army of powerfully hypnotized pirates; ‘She’s gonna get herself killed!’ and still none of them could move.

But Ruffy moved. Suddenly there was a line of Ruffys covering the breadth of the slope, as if she had multiplied.

“Cursed power! Thousand strikes!”

From where he stood, Zoro couldn’t tell what his captain did, but her attack sent all the pirates flying backwards and stopped her own moving with her elbows touching behind her back. She was once again only one girl standing slightly crouched in the middle of the slope.

The poor pirates that had only come to raid a defenceless village watched the growling girl with tears in their eyes. This hadn’t been part of the plan at all. What should they do?

Ruffy charged again, roaring like a madwoman. The pirates ran back down the slope, screaming their heads off and hoping to be spared. But instead of stabbing the fleeing pirates’ backs, the girl ran through their crowd, past them all.

Jango stood in her way, and with his heart in his mouth he ducked, dodging the strike he thought was coming that was meant for him.

Strangely enough, nothing came for him. The pirate girl simply ran by him too. Jango turned around in wonder, quirking an eyebrow. His hypnotism worked so that while under hypnosis his every order was followed and he’d given the order to kill everything in the way. The straw hat girl had attacked his crew so she’d most likely obeyed under the order, but who was she...?

The girl reached the Kuroneko ship, and Jango almost swallowed his tongue at what he saw. “Holy shit!”

If Zoro had heard him, he would have agreed. Wholeheartedly. Because Ruffy, skinny little Ruffy, had a grip on the keel of the Kuroneko pirates’ ship, a galleon big enough to house a hundred men and still have room left, and was lifting it out of the water.

Nami cheered loudly, pumping her fists into the air with her eyes wide with a mix of fright and awe. Usopp had stopped breathing.

The wood of the boat groaned and cried. The Black Cat had serves as a pirate ship under the Kuroneko pirates for more than ten years and had lived a rough life with poor repairs, so her keel wasn’t strong enough to hold the weight of the ship. Groaning in pain the keel broke and Ruffy tore the entire bow and figure head off.

She wasn’t done. The order was to kill everything in her way, so Ruffy turned and locked her glare on her enemies; Jango with crew, and jumped high into the air with her burden.

By now Zoro’s chin was lying on the ground along with Usopp’s. Well, the long nosed boy had never tried to challenge anybody in brute strength, but he had never thought he’d feel weaker than a girl.

Zoro felt how the strength he had always been so proud of shrunk in significance. On the other hand, Ruffy was hypnotized to be many times stronger than normal, so maybe he shouldn’t feel that way. But still! That piece of wood weighted at least a ton or two or maybe even three, Zoro was sure, the galleon many more, and Ruffy had been lifting the ship too.

Just how strong was she?!

The pirates cried as the crazy girl above them moved the long neck of the figure head in preparation to swing it against the ground. Never mind the enormous weapon’s weight, the girl’s strength and gravity’s power would four-double the force, counting low.

“She’s going to kill us!!! Captain! Do something!”

Jango had been frozen and gawking this entire time, but at the numerous crewmen’s yell he woke up. “Do?! Me?! Do…? Ah!” Jango did the first thing that came to mind and quickly pulled out his ring. “At One, Two, Jango you'll fall asleep! One! Two! JANGO!”

It worked. But the wooden projectile was still coming down. The Kuroneko pirates hurried out of the way, a few not making it and got crushed.

The crash sent a slight tremble through the earth. Zoro felt it and realized how much his knees wanted to buckle under him. He inhaled deeply to calm his furiously pounding heart and even out his hitched breath. That had been like watching a dream. The fear of Ruffy getting crushed under the figure head hadn’t really helped either. Luckily she still had Shodai. The katana had pulled the airborne girl’s limb body to the side, so now Ruffy lay safely on the ground, seemingly fast asleep.

Jango felt as if his entire body had turned into jelly. That girl had lifted their ship, the Black Cat clear from the water! If this was the ten times doubled strength of that girl, how strong was she normally?

He quickly slapped himself back to present. “Damn! Forget about that chick. Whole plan’s screwed!” He got to his feet, knees shaking dangerously under him but he ignored it in favour of trying to think of what to do now. Fallen pirates lay sprawled all over the slope, bruised and very obviously defeated. “If captain Kuro sees this we might as well start digging our own graves.”

That’s when a voice was suddenly called from the ship, yelling about the lost figure head.

Zoro heard the voices too. “Seems like there’s something still on the ship,” he mused, mostly to himself.

The pirates started to chuckle.

 


 

Sunrise. Syrup village made the most beautiful idyllic image where it slowly opened up under the golden source of light. Drew drops glittered on the ground and birds started chirping one after another as the sunlight awoke them.

This wonderful morning, after a somewhat chilly night full of stars due to the absence of clouds, Kurahadol, Captain Kuro sat on needles on the flight of stairs outside the village’s mansion.

“They are late,” he snarled. Very late in fact. It wouldn’t be long before the village started wakening up and the plan would be ruined. The plan’s due was today. It could not be delayed with a single day. He’d already made all the preparations, the stone was already rolling. He’d already stripped himself of the mask he’d been wearing for three years and it could not be put back on. The attack had to take place this very morning. This very moment!

When the impatience and overwhelming silence got too much for him Kuro stood up. He had been so exited all night, waited only for the slaughter to begin, and now the signal for the attack, the sunrise, was almost peeking through the treetops. Another hour and it would be too late.

“Those idiots… They should know what happens when they mess with my plans, still they dare taking their sweet time.”

The man rose from his seat, grabbed the bag at the top of the stairs and headed out.

 


 

Tamanegi was a nervous character. He couldn’t sit still for very long and the times in his life when he had slept soundly through an entire night could be counted on his two hands and he’d still have fingers left. How he dealt with it? He took walks. When he was really young his parents had locked all doors and windows, leaving the boy to walk around in his own room and the living room where there weren’t as many things that could hurt him. Now that he was a little bit older his parents trusted him enough to not lock the doors. After all Tamanegi wasn’t sleepwalking and there were no strangers in the village. The only real danger around the village at all was probably the occasional badger in the forest. Tanamegi had seen badgers on his walks, that’s how the villagers knew there were badgers in the forest at all and how many there were since the boy’s nerves more often than not had him running and screaming his head off.

Tonight though Tamanegi had stayed in his room and on his bed. He had hardly slept at all. All night he had been tossing and turning, overwhelmed by a feeling of disappointment and anxiousness.

“Captain. How could you do such a thing?” the young boy mumbled into the empty air of his room.

The dark he had been staring at since he was tucked in was starting to give way for a grey light. Outside his window the sky was lightening from silky black dotted with twinkling stars into a gentle, somewhat greyish blue, telling on the sun’s slow arrival. That was it. Tamanegi couldn’t lie in his bed another minute. He put on his slippers and went to the door where he changed from slippers to sneakers and walked out into the morning, still in his white, onion decorated pyjamas.

The early morning was surprisingly cold, but it didn’t bother Tamanegi too much. He walked in a steadily fast pace to ensure his pulse got up a little and ensured his blood to move around faster and keep his little body warm enough. He walked around for a while, trying hard not to let his mind wander to the day before, until his sharp eyes noticed another person being out and about.

“This early in the morning?”

The boy, a member of Usopp’s pirate crew and therefore more attentive to things being different from usual than any other boy his age, ran from the pathway to hide behind a tree, because somebody other than him taking a walk at this hour was unheard of. He failed to notice his footsteps made faint prints in the dew on the grass.

The person walking down the road noticed the footprints but ignored them, continuing on his way with his jingling bag.

“It’s that butler from the mansion!” Tamanegi realized. “Where’s he going… this early?”

 


 

In the mansion it was quiet this early hour. The silence was only broken in one of the rooms; the young lady’s. She was tossing her head from side to side and whimpered in her sleep.

Without warning the girl’s eyes snapped open as Kaya awoke with a start, adrenaline giving her enough strength to sit up straight on her bed, frantically looking at her arm and checking her chest. Nothing.

Releasing a long, shaky breath of the deepest relief Kaya slumped against her knees. It had only been a dream.

“Usopp-san… what’s wrong with you?” the girl whispered into her folded arms.

The dream had been so vivid Kaya couldn’t move for a long time. She just sat in her bed trembling, rocking herself and remembering the horror of the dream.

Usopp-san had come with his kind face distorted into a cruel grimace. His eyes had been shadowed as he lifted a sword to cut her down.

“This is what you get for taunting my pirate blood!”

Kaya had cried at her friend to stop, but it had been as if he couldn’t hear her. Then, behind Usopp-san she had stood, that girl with the straw hat and golden eyes. She had smirked so evilly.

“I told you you’re in for a surprise, ojou-sama.”

Kaya shivered and coughed. It was that girl. She was a bad influence, just like Kurahadol had said.

“Usopp-kun and that girl seemed to be on the same wavelength. I would not find it surprising if that young liar teamed up with her.”

Kurahadol. He had been affected by her too. The way he had reacted to her it was obvious he was affected. Because the butler always had a gentle face, the sudden sharpness in his eyes when he looked at the girl felt out of place to Kaya. Moreover, that girl knew Usopp-san’s father. Even more so, she addressed him as if he was her father as well.

“Usopp-kun’s father is a pirate, ojou-sama,” Kurahadol had said matter-of-factly. “It is very likely he had more than one woman. Perhaps Usopp-kun and that girl are half siblings.”

It couldn’t be. Kaya didn’t want it to be that way. Why had that girl come here anyway? Everything had been perfect before she showed up. All about her, everything she did was bringing nothing but disaster. Could it be that girl’s fault Usopp had acted so strange yesterday? Could she have lied to Usopp-san to have him react the way he did; accusing Kurahadol for being a pirate?

Kaya closed her eyes tightly. In that moment she hated the girl with the golden eyes and wished hotly she had never even been born.

Unable to bare the feelings alone anymore, Kaya rose from her bed and put a coat over her thin shoulders. She needed to see Kurahadol. She had to vent the stress.

“Kurahadol,” she knocked on his door. “Kurahadol, are you there?”

No answer. Kaya looked at a clock on the wall. It was still so early, but Kurahadol was her butler and as such he was an early riser... right? Kaya wasn’t very sure about the man’s sleeping habits. She’d never seen him asleep after all. The butler was always the last one she saw in the evening and he was always there when she woke up. But not this morning. Had something happened?

The image of the girl with the golden eyes flashed before Kaya’s vision. She couldn’t have...?

Fearing she’d find the room empty Kaya opened the door wide.

The sight that met her almost had her heart stop. Blood. Everywhere there were marks as if a giant animal with sharp claws had gone on a rampage. It looked like something taken from Kaya’s worst nightmares. And that wasn’t even the scariest part. The worst about the scene was the body with a white afro lying on the floor.

It was Merry, her servant.

Screaming Kaya ran up to the motionless body. “Me… Merry! What happened? Merry! Wake up! Somebody help! Merry! Please don’t be dead!”

The man coughed and started moving.

“Merry!” Kaya yelled again, leaning down to look the man into the eyes.

Blue eyes focused on her, and despite the pain her was in the servant smiled slightly. “O… ojou-sama. Alive. Thank God.”

The young lady dried her nose and sniffed. “What do you mean? Of course I’m alive. What happened here?”

The servant made an effort to turn onto his back. “Kurahadol,” Merry wheezed with tears flowing from his bloodshot eyes. “It was Kurahadol… he did this to me.”

A cold knife stabbed Kaya’s heart. It couldn’t be true. Why? Why would Kurahadol, her butler, her most trusted servant do something like this?

Merry cried, from the pain of his wounds, from the pain of betrayal and the pain of knowing how powerless he was at that moment.

“It… can’t be true…” Kaya whispered.

“That man… he’s a pirate,” Merry continued, because he had to. What use was there in hiding the truth from the girl? The servant couldn’t even find it in him to wrap his words nicely. The truth was too ugly for that.

Kaya blinked. “What? But yesterday… Usopp-san…”

Merry closed his eyes, remembering. He had pulled out a gun. He had pulled the trigger. How lucky he had a bad aim or he might have killed that young lad. Killed him.

“Yes,” Merry whispered as a bitter feeling of guilt welled up in his throat. “Now that I think about it… he must have been the only one… who knew the truth. He must have tried to warn us. He tried to... but… none of us… believed him.”

Merry cried harder. It was a terrible taste in his mouth, to know he had pulled the trigger thinking he was protecting lady Kaya from a savage, only to leave said lady in the jaws of a wolf.

‘I’m so sorry, Usopp-kun.’

“We protected the bad guy,” Merry said, now more to scold himself than telling Kaya what had happened. “And we chased away the boy… that brave little boy, who was desperately trying to save us.”

Kaya was stunned, the knife having cut her heart in two. Usopp-san hadn’t lied. That golden-eyed girl hadn’t come to destroy anything.

“You think this guy genuinely protects you? Then you’re in for a surprise, ojou-sama.”

Her hand suddenly stung way worse than it had done the day before. She had slapped Usopp across the face. She had called him a bad guy and chased him away.

“What… have I done?”

The albino servant coughed blood again, rolling back onto his stomach. Kaya screamed.

“Merry! Somebody! Somebody please help! Merry is…!”

“It’s no use,” the man cut her off harshly, more so than he’d intended but it couldn’t be helped. The lady silenced and stared at him in shock. “It’s no use, ojou-sama,” the servant repeated with a gentler voice. “All the servants are on vacation starting yesterday.”

“What? But I haven’t…”

“Calm down.” Merry crawled forward on his arms, doing his best to think straight even though his head was spinning terribly due to blood loss. “Don’t panic. It hasn’t started yet. There might still be a chance.”

Having made it to the wall, Merry sat leaning against it. For his lady’s sake he had to stay strong. None of this was her fault, but she had to be strong right now, because now there was nobody here to protect her. It was a lot to ask with her wavering health, but what choice did he have? He could hardly move, let alone go and negotiate with a pirate who wanted nothing but ojou-sama’s riches.

The lady was very pale and shook badly, still in shock, but she listened.

“We have to think calmly and with reason,” Merry instructed as calmly as he could. “Kurahadol isn’t here, or he would have come to kill us when he heard ojou-sama scream. He must have gone to get his men. I don’t think we have much time.”

“I gladly accept presents. But not some small presents like this. I want everything in this house. I want the whole mansion.”

He took a deep breath. The memory of Kurahadol’s cruel face as he stomped on ojou-sama’s present invaded his mind and chilled him to the bone, but he had to stay focused. “Ojou-sama, listen to me. Kurahadol wants everything you have. If that’s it, then give it to him. Your life is much more worth than the money.”

Kaya nodded and dried her tears. Tried to. They just continued to fall. Her nose was running too and she sniffed. Merry observed her with a pained expression, not only caused by his wounds.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said, nodding his head slightly. “It is unfortunate, but right now, the only one who can stop Kurahadol… is you, ojou-sama.”

‘Because surely that man has a heart. He’s human. He’s lived with and protected ojou-sama for three years. There is no way he has not developed a protective devotion to her.’

That’s how Merry reasoned. Because it really was unfortunate. It wasn’t only Kaya who had been fooled by that gentle demeanour.

“Can you do it, ojou-sama?” Merry asked quietly. “Though… it’s not your responsibility…”

“I know,” Kaya said, swallowing. “I can’t just run. I’m going to talk to Kurahadol right away.”

‘Because I’m sure Usopp-san is fighting already. Maybe that girl is with him. I can’t lose to her!’

So Kaya left her poor servant where he sat, with his reassurance that he would make it, and left the room. She was about to move for the front door when a thought suddenly hit her. Pirates. The newspaper always wrote about pirates and how they never hesitated to kill, how whole villages, cities and even entire islands had been burnt to the ground and all the people killed. The people she was going to stand up against were pirates like the ones she read about in the paper, so she couldn’t just go out unarmed.

Walking back into the house, to a room she hadn’t been to since her parents died, Kaya found herself inside her father’s old office. It looked just like it had back when she was a child. The servants made sure to keep it clean and in order.

It was hard to walk into the office. The only thing that kept pushing Kaya forward was the thought of Usopp fighting alongside that girl with the straw hat and golden eyes.

Kaya found the pistol hidden in the top drawer.

 


 

Tamanegi was practically jumping on the spot. As soon as the butler had disappeared out of sight he had quietly gone to check on Usopp and found the elder was not in his house. It confirmed one of his suspicions, but not all of them. He ran back home to put some cloths on before he rounded up Piiman and Ninjin. The latter sat down leaning against a tree, more asleep than awake. Piiman however was wide awake and listening attentively to what Tamanegi told them.

“The butler went to the shore?” he asked after Tamanegi had summoned up what he’d seen this morning.

“Yes. I’m sure. Just a little bit ago, maybe fifteen minutes.”

Piiman made a thoughtful face and scowled at the sleeping comrade. “Oi Ninjin! Wake up!”

The boy’s head jerked up and he rubbed his eyes. “But it’s still sleeping time,” he whined sleepily. Just like Tamanegi, and Piiman too, Ninjin hadn’t slept well. He’d gone to bed with a knot in his stomach and hadn’t managed to fall asleep until well after midnight.

“You can’t be sleeping now! Something terrible is about to happen!” Tamanegi said earnestly, trying not to yell. “Actually, I think pirates are coming after all. Captain said it was a joke, but I think that was the lie.”

“I thought about that too,” Piiman nodded.

“Me too,” Ninjin said, now a little more awake. “Captain was acting kind of strange yesterday.”

None of them said it out loud, but each of them were actually immensely relieved Usopp hadn’t lied to hurt the butler, which meant he was still their caring, cowardly, dreaming and good captain.

Tamanegi felt his restless legs start to prickle again and squirmed in place. He turned towards the road to begin pacing, but stopped dead when he suddenly spotted somebody else out and about this morning.

The small boy waved at his friends without taking his eyes off the new appearance. “Hey. That’s…”

Piiman and Ninjin turned as well.

“It’s Kaya-san!” Piiman said surprised. She was definitely the last person they’d expected to see out today. Actually, this was the first time since her parents died she’d even been outside the gates as far as the boys knew.

“Kaya-san is out walking alone?” Ninjin queried.

“Something must have happened,” Tamanegi said with definition, and this time he ran straight for the person on the road. “Kaya-san!”

Startled the pale girl looked up to see them coming. “Eh? You boys?” she stared at them for a second before she managed to place them. “You are Usopp-san’s friends.”

“Why are you out this early, Kaya-san?” Piiman asked, straight to the point.

“Are you going to the shore?” Ninjin followed up.

“Do you think pirates are coming after all? Even though Captain said it was a lie,” Tamanegi waved his arms about. It was important Kaya-san answered, or even better; agreed. Then they would know they could pick up arms and go to battle and protect the village.

The pale girl however only bit her lip. She looked weary and her eyes were a little red.

“Yes, the pirates are coming,” she said quietly.

“What?! So it is true!”

“But I’m going to stop it. Don’t worry. Just go home and…”

“We can’t go home!” Piiman all but yelled with eyes wide with contradicting emotions he couldn’t really name yet. “The village is in danger! We have to fight them back.”

“No!”

The three boys backed, surprised by the force in the young noble girl’s voice.

“You can’t fight them. I’m the only one who can stop this. Please go home now. Your parents will worry if you’re suddenly gone…”

With that Kaya turned and left the three young members of Usopp’s pirate crew behind. But you can’t tell boys what to do. They’ll always do the exact opposite.

“Mom and dad will be worried,” Tamanegi nodded, only to acknowledge the fact.

“Let’s go home. We are going to fight real pirates. We need proper weapons,” Piiman told his friends.

“I’ll tell mom and dad we’re just taking a walk,” Ninjin agreed.

 


 

On the northern shore there were approximately three people left who could fight. Nami however wasn’t really up to it; she never fought unless she really had to. Usopp had done well before Ruffy and Zoro had finally decided to show up but he was now mostly disabled. Jango could still fight, but his part of the plan was to hypnotize the young lady of the village and then kill her so he hadn’t wanted to wear himself out before he got his hands on her.

Zoro hadn’t gotten a chance to fight yet, but unexpected voices coming from the deck of the broken ship and the defeated crew of pirates chuckling to themselves were all the hints the swordsman needed to know he would soon get his fight. He subtly tensed and relaxed every muscle in his body one after another, making sure they were soft and under his control, opened his senses and prepared for attack.

“Be ready. There are some people left on the ship,” the swordsman informed Nami and Usopp who sat on the sidelines behind him.

They had heard as much. They also heard the weird hypnotist say something about a trump card. Both of them were very unsure on whether they wanted to know what this trump card was or not.

The weirdo captain below lifted his arms and screamed; “Come here Nyaban brothers!” on the top of his lungs.

Two figures peeked over the ship’s railing. From there, around thirty meters above ground level, they jumped high only to land lightly on their feet in front of the captain.

“What the…?! What’s that?” Nami demanded, hiccupping in the middle of the sentence due to having swallowed a mouthful of cold air.

Usopp gasped too. “I can’t believe they jumped from that height. It’s like they’re cats.”

Zoro said nothing as he took in the two new foes. Both of them had long claws. One was slim with a hunchback, the other was pretty fat with something that must be a giant black birthmark on his face, a blanket as a cape, and was that a cat-bell around his neck?

Those heart-shaped glasses turned to glare at Zoro as the weirdo spoke loudly.

“Buchi, Siam. We have to pass this slope, but as you can see there is someone blocking the way. Take care of them.”

The “cats” glanced up at the swordsman, and cowered back in fear.

 “Take care of? We can’t do that! Right, Buchi?”

“Yeah! That guy look really strong and we’re only good for catching rats on the ship.”

Zoro, Nami and Usopp simultaneously blinked.

“What’s this supposed to be?” the long nosed boy mumbled to Nami. “Did I hear wrong when that weirdo called them trump card?”

“They look frightened,” Nami stated with slight disbelief.

“I don’t know…” Zoro answered slowly. He had a bad feeling in his gut about those two, but at the same time he was a man of iron hard moral and would never fight someone who didn’t want to fight, not only because it served no purpose.

The slim puss continued to shake his head and shrug his shoulders. Both cats seemed to say; “no, we can’t. Not us.”

In the end the captain roared out his order. “Siam! Go fight! Now!”

“What?! Why me?”

“I said; GO!”

The cat-man jumped clear from the kick that aimed for him and started up the slope. “Okay. I’ll try.” He clumsily started running towards Zoro with tears in his eyes. “P-prepare to diiie!” he wailed. “M-my claws are re-really shaaaarp!”

“What the heck?” Nami said. “What do they mean by sending such a person to the front line?”

“And just what am I supposed to do with this?” Zoro asked back, growling in frustration. He didn’t want this coward for an opponent. There was also the matter of Ruffy lying down there sleeping, and Zoro definitely didn’t like being worried about others during a battle.

Letting out a sound somewhere between a sigh and a groan Zoro decided he had to finish this fast. His best shot was probably to scare the other. “Hey you! Stop or I’ll cut you!”

A sharp eye met his. “If you can.”

‘Fuck!’

Zoro was saved by reflexes. He only just managed to parry the clawed hand aiming for his eyes, but the unexpected strength of the freak forced him to stagger backwards.

“I think you underestimated me,” the cat-man purred and jumped back. “I’m surprised you managed to block me even though you fell for my little act.”

The swordsman growled at himself and couldn’t help but send another glance at Ruffy. She was at the same spot and the pirates seemed to have forgotten about her for now. But why was he suddenly feeling… light?

“Zoro, your katana!”

At Nami’s voice Zoro’s hand flew to his side where his swords should have been. “Gone?!”

He looked up and immediately found his treasure. The freak had taken Kuina’s sword!

“You seem to have some skill,” the cat pirate purred approvingly. “But don’t make any mistakes. I am Siam, one of the Nyaban brothers. Missing something? I don’t know anything.”

If there is one thing in the world that Zoro doesn’t tolerate, it is other people touching his treasure without permission, and this freak had just gone and stolen them. “Give me my katana back,” he warned dangerously.

“Give you what back?” was the teasing response. “Isn’t that a katana you have already? Oh, right. Just a moment please.” The cat-man took the katana from its back, looking smugly at them for a moment. “This junk is in the way,” he said and threw them down the slope behind him.

Zoro saw red. Kuina’s white katana hit the ground with a clattering sound that echoed in his head. Without a second thought he charged. “Show some respect to other people’s katana!” he yelled and cut the cat human in the middle.

Without looking back Zoro went for his swords. If he had taken a moment to check the damage he had done on his opponent, maybe he could have avoided what happened next; strong hands gripped his forearms and a pressure on his back made Zoro lose his balance on the sloped floor and fall on his face.

“What the…?!” the swordsman hissed, glancing up behind him only to see the freak on top of him, completely fine and holding a firm grip on his arms, pulling them back and effectively pinned the swordsman to the floor.

“Too bad for you. I’m thin as a cat,” the misshapen man sang happily.

True. Not that Zoro could see much from his position, but this freak really was thin as a thread. It didn’t stop his grip from being as hard as iron.

‘Damn! I should have made sure he was dead!’ cursed his carelessness. He hadn’t had much opportunity to train lately. If he got out of this alive it would be the first thing he’d make sure to do. Train his mind and temper so that he’d never again be grabbed from behind.

The cat-freak on Zoro’s back lifted his head and called for his partner. “Your turn, Buchi!”

“Got it, Siam!”

The fat guy jumped and almost looked like he levitated for a second above Zoro’s head. He heard Nami scream at him to move. She hadn’t had to tell him. The sheer size of the cat aiming for his head was enough for Zoro to know he wouldn’t have a head left when the monster hit him. Adrenaline pumped through his system, he wiggled under the weight on his back and used all his strength from chest and down to roll out of the way at the last second.

The rock ground cracked!

‘You got to be kidding me! If that thing hits me all my bones will shatter!’ Zoro thought to himself as he got back to his feet, moving away from his opponents.

“Siam!” the fat cat accused.

“My bad, my bad,” the thin one apologized and licked his hand. “The toy was stronger than I thought.”

The cats regrouped and prepared to attack again. Both of them.

Zoro glanced at his two swords that lay behind the cats and cursed silently. This wasn’t going to be very easy. “I’m not too familiar with ittouryuu, must work on that,” he mumbled to himself and grabbed the handle with both hands, holding the katana in a defensive position.

The freaks charged and damn, they were fast. Holding against two sets of claws with only one sword was hard, and Zoro couldn’t back either. Nami and Usopp were behind him he knew, so he couldn’t back even one step.

Something glimmered in the edge of his vision.

‘What…? Fuck! Usopp..!’

Without thinking further, Zoro pushed forward, feeling how Usopp’s slingshot ball hit his shoulder blade. It hurt worse than he thought it would, and it gave the cat-freaks the opening they needed to claw his chest open.

The cats stood back to admire their work while Zoro rolled backwards but couldn’t get back to his feet right away. The scratches were pretty deep. Those claws were for real. The swordsman could feel his life liquid drip out of him and sent a glare at the cause of his wound. “Usopp, you idiot! Are you tired of living?!”

No more time to rest. The cats were over him again, and this time it was harder to block them. He couldn’t attack without risking his own throat. If he only had one more sword. Just one.

Nami suddenly dashed by.

‘What the hell’s she up to?!’

Zoro didn't even have time to see what she did or where she went, but he heard Usopp's warning call. Growling over reckless girls and his own weakness of not mastering ittouryu.

Then suddenly the cats froze. They just stood there, stiff and trembling, looking at something behind Zoro’s back. He risked a quick glance behind him and swore to himself. This was really bad timing.

“Sunrise was a long time ago.”

The mastermind spoke in a low voice; still his words could easily be heard over the sudden silence, broken only by the sound of hacking teeth.

“Here am I, wondering why you haven’t moved according to plan.”

His dark eyes scanned the slope, eyeing Zoro and his wound, the cat-guys in front of him, the weirdo farther down, the girl with a cut wound in her shoulder, the defeated pirate crew, the figurehead on the ground and the ship behind it. Everything could only be described as a total disaster.

“WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED HERE!!?”

Chapter Text

Ojou-sama and the Soup Boys join the battle

Ruffy was running into one wall after another in the darkness. She didn’t have much of a clue of what had happened or how she’d ended up here, but she did have a fair idea of where she was.

“Shodai! Shodai, what happened? Let me out!”

Forgive me. I can’t wake you, Sun’s child. You must wake up on your own.

“But I don’t know how to do that! How did I fall asleep? What about my friends? Shodai!” She ran head first into another stop. Frustrated she started beating her fists against it.

I’m sorry, Sun’s child. This is all I can do for you.

Ruffy shivered as something cold and familiar hit the other side of the stop she was pushing and she jumped back. She knew where she was. She’d fallen asleep, and now Shodai was keeping her inside a shell where the nightmares couldn’t reach her. But Ruffy knew she couldn’t stay here. She had to get out. No matter what reason she was sleeping for she had to wake up!

But where would she wake up?

Nightmares pressed against the shell, howling soundlessly, and the teenage girl moved to the centre of Shodai’s presence.

“What must I do to wake up?” she asked her guardian.

Have patience. Your friend will help you. Just wait a little longer.

 


 

It was very quiet on the battlefield. Not because the battle was over, there were just not very many left able to fight. It didn’t really matter how many were standing on each side though, because on top of the slope where the battle had been playing out stood a man with no intention to let anybody within his sight live for very much longer.

“Have you been kept busy with these kids?” Kurahadol, Captain Kuro said and sighed deeply. “The Kuroneko pirates have been reduced into a very sad state. Well! Jango!”

A man with a blue coat and hat and pink, heart-shaped glasses at the bottom of the slope flinched. He was shaking all over and had to swallow before his words could be carried up to his former captain.

“B-but you said… you said that brat couldn’t do anything. You said that!”

“Yes, I did indeed say that,” the other man nodded. “And he isn’t a problem. Anybody could have figured out he would try to stop us, but it seems I underestimated your incompetence, and I don’t want to hear excuses.”

The cat freaks Zoro had been fighting hissed in anger.

“Incompetent? Us?”

“Watch your tongue, captain Kuro.”

Zoro moved out of the way. If the enemy were going to fight within the ranks then let them. Less work for him. So he stood at the side-lines and watched the freaks attack their captain, only to have an unpleasant surprise; Captain Kuro toyed with them. Kuro moved so fast he couldn’t be seen with the naked eye, simply moving to be behind the freaks every time they turned around.

Zoro made a face. That man would have killed those freaks instantly if he had wanted. The reason he didn’t, Zoro could only come up with one guess. He’d been a pirate hunter for long enough to know pirates has a need to feel powerful. Captains knew they had power and the crew would move according to the captain’s orders. That’s what Kuro was doing right now; basking in the feeling being the one with power.

It wasn’t the first time Zoro felt alone about his ideal that the strong should stand up for the weak.

“What kind of weapon is that?” the swordsman asked out loud to distract himself from the pang of sadness.

Sword claws? Gloves with sword blades attached to each finger digit. The reason he straightened his glasses with the heel of his hand suddenly became obvious.

Zoro felt at his hip, knowing that if he had just had all his swords, or only one more, those freaks wouldn’t have been a problem for him either. It was troublesome to only have one and able to use it for defence only.

He wasn’t like Kuina.

“During these three years…” captain Kuro purred as he rested his weight over the freaks’ shoulders “I have become a little softer.” He pried the jaws of the thin cat open and punctured the skin of the neck on fat cat with his “thumbs”. A clear proof that his declaration of being soft was nothing but bullshit. “I’ll give you five minutes,” he continued. “If you can’t clean up this mess in five minutes… I will kill you all, one by one, with my own hands.”

Zoro held his katana firmer. That man sounded so indifferent about murdering his own crew and he was supposed to be the captain. He easily won the prize of the sickest captain ever in Zoro’s book.

Nervous laughter made it up the slope to Zoro’s ears and he glanced over his shoulder.

“Him!” the hypnotist cried out, pointing at Zoro. “If we can just kill him we can get past this slope!”

“That’s right,” the cats agreed. “He’s not dangerous. We’ll take him in five seconds!”

“Zoro! Catch!!!”

At the sound of his name the swordsman spun around to see Nami… what the heck did she think she was doing! “Oi Nami! Why are you kicking my katana!?” Kuina’s white sword and his own black one were flying through the air, and Zoro slightly regretted yelling at the navigator. The smirking navigator.

“How rude. What should you say when you receive something?”

“Right.” Zoro caught his precious katana, placing them back into his belt. Fully armed and balanced, now he could even (if he tried hard enough) forgive Nami her earlier bitchiness. “Thank you!”

The cats charged, but this time Zoro didn’t have to get into a defensive stance. On the contrary; he bent slightly backwards, swords crossed in an H shape, leaving his still bleeding chest wide open. Both cats’ eyes locked at the defenceless body and aimed their attacks towards the heart. However, this only made them sitting ducks to Zoro’s attack.

“Tora Gari!”

Both with one cut. Zoro satisfactory grinned to himself and pointed a bloodied sword towards the man on top of the slope.

“Don’t worry. You won’t have to wait five minutes. I’ll take you all down before that time.”

 


 

Ruffy had found the way out, but couldn’t reach it. Somewhere far above her she could hear voices. She had to concentrate on those. Shodai’s protection wouldn’t last forever and if the nightmares won it would be the end of it.

The shadows were creeping closer. Shodai’s shell was shrinking and the walls were growing thinner by the minute.

Ruffy was scared.

“Shodai. It wasn’t a dream, right? Sun really did save me. I’m not going to wake up… and realize everything was just a dream. Right? Shodai?”

A little longer, Shodai’s more and more distant voice called out. Your friend is coming to wake you. Just a little bit longer.

 


 

Nami knew a losing battle when she saw one and didn’t have time to be gentle. They’d been outnumbered to begin with and now both she and Usopp were unable to fight anymore and no matter how strong or skilled Zoro was this was too much for him alone to handle. The butler was here and the weirdo had just hypnotized the surviving fat cat into a level of strength Nami didn’t even want to try imagine. If this went on the fight would be done, over and lost before she had even started searching for the pirates’ treasure! The only way to win that Nami could see was for Ruffy to open her damn eyes and pick this fight back up!

Nami jumped for her life towards the heap of limbs that was the sleeping Ruffy and landed heavily on her stomach.

From above Zoro screamed in panic. “Nami, watch out! Get down!!!”

Everything happened so fast. Coming up behind the thief was a chakram, fast. Then Ruffy sprung up and her head was right in the course of the killing weapon.

“That hurt, you…!”

A sharp metallic sound was heard and the chakram appeared on both sides of Ruffy’s head, split in two. Nami couldn’t tell exactly what happened as the halves swished past her and embedded themselves in the rocks instead of the black-haired girl’s head and Nami stared into Ruffy’s widening eyes, seeing how the golden colour seeped from the shrinking pupil. A katana rolled over the dark-haired girl’s shoulder and landed with the handle in her hand.

Nami’s eyes glanced down at the sword. It was Ruffy’s. But how? She hadn’t drawn it. She couldn’t even have seen the chakram coming.

Kuro hadn’t seen what Ruffy had done when hypnotized so he stood unfazed, but Jango and the rest of the crew gulped as she slowly turned around.

Right then Nami’s knees gave in under her, and Ruffy’s head snapped back, blinking as if she’d just woken up from a trance.

“Nami? Nami! You’re bleeding.”

“I’m fine,” Nami clutched her shoulder where the hypnotist had cut her. It was a little deep, but nothing she’d die from. “I’ve done everything I can. You take care of the rest.” She looked up and smiled best she could at Ruffy’s stunned face. “Whatever happens, we can’t afford to lose this fight.”

“Nami…”

“For the sake of the treasure.”

The dark-haired girl blinked, then she gave a lopsided smile. “That’s more like you.”

Turning around Ruffy walked through the crowd of defeated pirates that quickly made way for her. Shodai was still resting on her shoulder, calling for blood.

“So you finally decided to join the fun,” Zoro greeted her.

Ruffy looked up and grinned at him before she noticed the presence of a certain annoying butler.

“Hey, the bitter-butter is here.”

“I thought you died, pirate girl,” Kuro said calmly. Then he sighed and took a look at his watch. “Never mind. Only three more minutes before I kill you all.”

“Three minutes…?” the defeated pirates mumbled to themselves with absolute dread.

Feeling like she’d missed something important that had to do with those three minutes the butler mentioned Ruffy looked to Zoro. “What?”

The pirate crew started crying about. Ruffy didn’t like the sound of it. They were scared shirtless, and not of her. The source of fear seemed to be the bitter-butter. What was going on? Come to think of it, Zoro was injured too. How long had she been out?

“No time to think!” the weirdo with the blue cloak suddenly yelled. “Buchi, you kill the haramaki. I’ll take care of this crazy bitch!”

Ruffy narrowed her eyes, before a shrill voice screamed something with a demanding tone. Ruffy couldn’t hear exactly what the voice said, but she could see the ojou-sama’s pale head just above the bend of the slope, behind the bitter-butter.

Usopp wasn’t far from the slightly breathless lady of the mansion, and he didn’t like the fact she was here. Not at all.

“Kaya?! What… what are you doing here!?”

Kuro simply straightened his round glasses, giving the girl a look as if this was a normal day in the mansion and not the middle of a battle. “Ojou-sama? This is a surprise. What gives me the honour of your presence?”

“Merry told me everything,” Kaya said, as if that explained it all. Maybe she had hoped to see regret in her… former butler’s face.

“Oh? So he survived? And here I thought I had killed him properly,” the bespectacled man said with polite indifference. But his eyes... A thick lump settled in Kaya’s throat. She couldn’t deny it; she was scared. The lazy coldness in Kurahadol’s eyes, she didn’t recognize it at all. This… was he really the same person?

“Kaya, you fool! Why did you show up here?!” Usopp cried out, blood still dripping down his face.

“I’m… I’m sorry, Usopp-san,” the young girl said quietly, trembling from head to toe. “Maybe… you can’t forgive me but… I just couldn’t believe that… Kurahadol was a… a pirate. And that girl…”

“Who cares now?!” the long nosed boy fretted, pulling his hair. “What are you doing here? I told you to run away! It’s your life they want!”

“So why are you fighting!?” the girl screamed.

Usopp flinched back. Kaya was teary-eyed and pale, sweating too, but had a very determined look in her eye. Something in her seemed to have changed. Usopp wasn’t sure if it was for good or bad.

“I was so mean to you, and still you risk your life… for me, and you mean I should just run away?” Kaya glanced towards her butler, actually looking for the girl with the golden eyes, but didn’t really want to find her. If she did, it would just mean that Usopp and that girl really were fighting this together.

“But I’m the brave warrior of the sea!” Usopp called out in meek protest.

Kaya decided to ignore him. She was going to end this. Usopp-san wouldn’t have to fight anymore or get more hurt. Most importantly; Kaya would be the one to protect Usopp-san instead of that other girl.

“Kurahadol, if you want my fortune you can have it. But leave this island immediately!” she demanded with as much authority as she could muster, inwardly wincing she couldn’t move into enough a proud stance to go with her demand.

The tall man used a familiar move; straightening his glasses with the heel of his hand. Kaya only now noticed the gloves he wore; furry gloves with a blade attached to each finger. What was that?

“You are mistaken, ojou-sama,” he said in the same calm, polite manner he always talked. “I do want the money, but not only that. My ultimate goal is to live peacefully.”

Down the slope Ruffy tried to sharpen her ears and listen, but it was a little hard to hear anything over Usopp’s loud heartbeats, the fright from the pirates around her and Shodai’s call for blood. Which reminded her.

“Shodai. How did you get out of the sheath?”

The katana silenced momentarily, enough for Ruffy to notice the binds Sun had used to seal the Kitetsu to ensure Ruffy’s safety.

“You cut the ties! You bitch! How am I supposed to keep you sheathed now!?”

The Kitetsu hummed innocently, not fooling her bearer for a second.

“Don’t act so smart. I’ll just use the ends to keep you bound.”

Even though the katana’s voice couldn’t properly reach Ruffy’s mind when the girl was awake, the word “damn” could almost be made out. That’s when the pirate girl suddenly heard that shrill voice screaming once again.

“Leave this village!”

Ruffy looked up. Ojou-sama had brought out a pistol. The pirate girl could faintly make out the sound of her heartbeats now that her heart was momentarily set. There was only one problem with the scene.

“She can’t pull the trigger,” Ruffy mumbled to Shodai, who hummed in agreement.

No matter how set her heart was, Kaya was no warrior, not cut out to battle and murder. Taking another person’s life would kill her too. But Ruffy didn’t have to say that. The bitter-butter was doing it perfectly well for her by spitting out all the bitter humiliation he had felt during the years in ojou-sama’s service right into her face.

“Shodai, I need your help,” the dark-haired girl mumbled.

The pistol dropped from ojou-sama’s hands, and a second later Usopp sprung up screaming from where he had been seated on the ground, his fist pulled back.

Kuro stayed unfazed. “Oh right. I haven’t paid you back for that punch you gave me.” The pirate easily swept Usopp away from him. “You really didn’t hold back, Usopp-kun.”

All attention was on captain Kuro, so when he suddenly was sent flying rather gracelessly people yelped from surprise, and some of fear. Kuro did not like being hit.

“Don’t you like punches?” Ruffy yelled as she stuck Shodai into the rocky ground. “Then I’ll send you another hundred for free.”

All around her the pirates were screaming in disbelief and fear. Even Zoro looked surprised.

“How’d you do that?” the swordsman asked.

Ruffy pulled Shodai up and a fist-sized chunk of rock was stuck on the tip. She let the flat side of the blade rest on her shoulder as she started up the hill to stand beside her nakama.

“This bitch is good at throwing, cuts and rocks alike,” she grinned at the man, tapping Shodai’s blade. Zoro just shook his head at her in bewilderment. Before…

“Attaaaaack!”

“Huh?”

Everybody looked up and saw three little people jumping out of the bushes and was over the fallen pirate in a second.

“Here comes Usopp’s pirate crew!”

“Die you butler!”

“Damn butler!”

“Hey, it’s the soup boys,” Ruffy stated calmly when the three boys started hitting bitter-butter in the face with a frying pan, a baseball bat and a small shovel. She was rather alone about taking the situation calmly though. Even Zoro tensed up, ojou-sama called out something about telling the boys not to come, and Usopp (along with everyone in the Kuroneko crew) choked on his spit in panic.

“Stop! What are you doing?! Quit it! You guys cut it out!!!”

The three boys stopped hitting the enemy’s head and turned to glare at Usopp.

“I knew it. Captain is fighting for us!”

“Why didn’t you tell us?! Are we insiders?”

“He means outsiders!” Tamanegi corrected.

“In our out, so what! Get out of here! Run!”

The tree boys lifted their weapons in stubborn defiance.

“No, Captain!”

“That’s right. We will fight too!”

“Usopp’s pirate crew never run away!”

Captain Kuro calmly rose from the ground and lifted a hand to straighten his ruined glasses, only to have the glass fall out of their frames. He did look a little displeased about it.

Ruffy watched carefully, ears sharp. That bitter-butter was troublesome. His pride was unhurt, but it sounded like his dignity had taken a bit of a beating. He passed the screaming children and kicked Usopp out of his way.

“That hurt,” he said calmly, glaring at the black-haired girl. “I’ve never seen someone send rocks flying like that.”

“I blame this bitch,” Ruffy stated and pointed to Shodai still resting on her shoulder with the rock on the tip.

The man smirked at her, before his face once again darkened. “Jango!”

“Ha-hai!”

”You take care of Kaya ojou-sama. Make sure she writes her will and then kill her. But this pirate girl,” he pointed to Ruffy “is mine.”

Ruffy shuddered. “I hate it when men try to claim me.”

“And those three ants,” Kuro continued. “They are annoying.”

Jango tipped his hat forwards. It felt slightly calming to take orders from his former captain again. Because even though Kuro possessed neither heart nor feelings, Jango knew for sure that as long as Kuro gave him orders he still had use of him and therefore would not kill him. “Got it.”

Zoro faced the man at the base of the slope and held out a katana behind Ruffy’s back. “Stop. We won’t let you get past us.”

The substitute captain growled at him and opened his mouth. “Buchi!”

‘Shit!’ Zoro had almost forgotten about the cat freak. It jumped, a big foot lifted to smash the ground.

“Move!” Zoro yelled and pushed Ruffy away from him before jumping out of the way himself.

If it’s possible for a slope to break, it did now. The force lifted shards of rocks into the air and the walls of the slope cracked and rocks fell all around them.

Zoro cursed. “Damn. That was a lot worse than before!”

He’d just managed to find footing when the freak charged for him, slamming his back into the loose rocks of the wall. All the training he had done since childhood paid off now. With one foot to the cat’s head and those claws caught by the katana, Zoro held his ground. Even though the cat was freakily powerful, it wasn’t strong enough to defeat Zoro. That had already been proved once. Apparently that hadn’t been enough for this pussy.

“Hey, freak. You already lost to me once. So… get out of my way!” He used his other leg to kick the freak away from him, and spotted the hypnotist as he strode up the slope.

“Damn, he got… where’s Ruffy?”

A rock flipped over and the pirate girl jumped out. “Geez. That was dangerous!”

As all this happened, Usopp had been on the ground and could only watch. He hadn’t even done much of anything. What had he actually done in this battle?

He’d been beaten, that’s what he’d accomplished. That’s all he’d done; getting beaten to the point he couldn’t even move. But Kaya was in danger! His friends were in danger! He had to protect them! But…

“Usopp’s pirate crew!”

“Huh?”

Everyone turned to Usopp bleeding on the ground, wondering what he was up to now. He couldn’t move much and was exhausted from being up all night, but to Zoro’s relief he hadn’t gotten stuck under a rock or anything.

“Yes, Captain… W-we’re not running away!” Ninjin stammered and grabbed his pan tighter.

“That’s right. We can’t just leave you when you’re hurt, Captain!”

“We’ll destroy your enemies!”

“Protect Kaya!!”

“Huh?”

Ruffy straightened her hat and stared at Usopp with wide eyes. Zoro watched too. Piiman, Ninjin and Tamanegi blinked in surprise, not expecting that.

Usopp took deep breaths to have more air to press the words out with. “Listen. I’m giving you the most important task; Take Kaya and get out of here safely. You can’t refuse! It’s Captain’s order!”

The boys hesitated only for the second it took them to remember that protecting the princess of a story always came first to the hero. “Y… Yes, Captain!” They ran up to the pale girl and pulled at her arms.

Ruffy smiled. She so wished Yasopp was here to see this. But if he had been here, these pirates would be all dead already. After all, as a pirate he was on a different level from them. Well, Ruffy was stronger than them too. The bitter-butter would never be able to beat her.

The hypnotist took out more of his annoying rings. “Idiots. Do you really think you can escape?”

“They can! Lead star!” Usopp cried out and shot a ball of lead into the weirdo’s spine, causing a satisfying cry of pain. “Heh! Serves you right.”

“Why you little…”

“Jango! Go after Kaya!” Kuro barked.

“Oh… Okay! I’m going.”

Usopp cursed. He could hardly move at all and could only hope he had managed to buy his little friends enough time to get away.

“It’s useless.”

The teenager flinched and looked up at the stoic man on top of the slope. He looked just as cool and calm as when he worked for Kaya as a butler. The only difference was the colder look in his eyes.

“I know Kaya’s condition perfectly well. She’ll never be able to outrun Jango.” He tilted his head a little to the side. “If you want to help her, be my guest. That is…” he straightened his glasses’ empty frames “if you can get by us.”

By “us” he meant himself and the growling cat freak. Usopp gritted his teeth.

“Damn. Damn it! Switched positions.”

“Usopp,” Ruffy called and held her katana in front of her. Her eyes were clear and coloured gold, her face smirking with determination. “Don’t worry. Leave it to us.”

Oh, right. They had two fighters on their team too. But that wasn’t enough. They needed one to go after that weirdo and keep him busy long enough for Kaya to get away!

An unnerving rumble echoed in the air accompanied by the sound of groaning and shattering wood.

“What’s that sound?” Usopp asked stiffly, not sure if he really wanted to know.

Kuro mockingly tilted his head. “Who knows, it’s probably just Jango going berserk in the forest. You can take a look for yourself, but I think it’s already too late.”

Zoro changed stance, from passive to offensive. “In other words; we’re in a hurry.”

“I do believe you have other things to worry about,” Kuro almost purred.

By now Usopp was about ready to hit his own head in. He was frustrated at his own weakness, over the throbbing pain in his head and the fact he was as good as immobile. But more than anything he felt disgusted.

“You fucking…!” he screamed at the man, the wolf in sheep clothing. “You lived with Kaya for three years! Don’t you have any feelings at all?!”

“None,” the former pirate captain answered easily, as if he was proud of the fact. “She was only a pawn in my plan.” He glanced towards Ruffy and smirked almost lovingly at her. “You were not involved in my plan, pirate girl, and still for you I have feelings. I’m happy to get to play with you.”

Ruffy shuddered and Zoro quickly stepped closer to her.

Usopp sprung up again, dashing forward with desperate strength. He had to save them. Kaya, Piiman, Ninjin and Tamanegi, they would all die if he didn’t do something fast! The cat freak charged for him, making Usopp’s heart jump another step up his throat.

Zoro growled in annoyance and stopped the freak with a sword to his throat from behind. “Lay off. We’re in a hurry!” Pulling the cat backwards Zoro slammed him into the ground, stepping him down with a foot to his chest the sharp edge of his sword tight against the cat’s throat. “You’ve messed around enough already. Stay down and you might survive.”

Usopp had made it up the slope to just below Kuro’s location. That’s where all his energy reserves ran dry and he fell forward, ending up with his butt sticking up in an embarrassing position.

“Damn. I can’t… move.”

Kuro had been about to cut the boy down, now he broke into wholehearted mocking laugher. “You are the joke of the world, Usopp-kun. But just lay there quietly. You wouldn’t stand a chance against Jango anyway.”

“So what!” Usopp yelled. “Even if I can’t do anything… I don’t care if I stand a chance or not. I want to protect them!” A sob escaped him. “I want to protect them… with everything I have!”

Ruffy listened, blinking when the distracted Zoro flew past her off his opponent and into the wall again. He could take it. That cat guy didn’t have enough heart or strength to defeat Zoro. So Ruffy concentrated hard on Usopp, watching his fingers move in a vain attempt to ball his fists.

“I am the captain of Usopp’s pirate crew’s. I’m a brave warrior of the sea! If you’re going to hurt the villagers… you’ll have to do it… over my dead body!!!”

Ruffy couldn’t help but smile. Usopp was really a pirate captain, and an admirable one at that. That’s why she was confused at first when hearing loud laugher behind her.

“Look at him shouting with his ass in the air!”

“He’s crying!”

“How pathetic!”

Infuriated, Ruffy lifted up a quite large chunk of rock and hurled it in the direction of the laughing pirates. They silenced when the rock shattered into pieces.

“I dare you to laugh at Usopp again,” Ruffy hissed and her golden eyes flashed. “Do and I will personally rip you apart one by one.”

Good thing those fools were smart enough to understand a serious threat. At the same time Zoro finished business with that black spotted cat man, or whatever kind of creature it actually was.

The swordsman hurried over to Usopp’s trembling form, his position making it easy for Zoro to lift Usopp up on his shoulder.

“Ruffy!” called down to his captain. “I’ll take Usopp and run after that hypnotist. Objections?”

“None. Hurry up. They are too far away for me to hear them.”

That didn’t say a lot. Zoro had no idea how far Ruffy’s hearing stretched, but he suspected the hypnotist had a good head start.

Kuro’s calm voice had an edge of anger. “Who gave you permission to pass through here?”

“I did!” Ruffy called and shot forward, attacking from the left side with her fist.

Kuro dodged quickly and watched as the swordsman and Usopp passed. He didn’t have much time before the girl swept around and aimed a knee at his side. Why didn’t she use the katana? He appeared behind her. She had a nice back, this girl. It curved in an elegant line, making it almost a sin to slash it, but he wanted to see her pained face.

Ruffy felt a jolt from Shodai and let the katana act. She changed into back-hand and the katana clashed with other blades behind the girl’s back. Spinning around, Ruffy found her opponent behind her and made a high-knee jump kick to his head, but he was too fast.

“Damn. I can’t keep up.”

She had to admit, she was tired and still hurting like hell. Usually her movements were swifter. But it didn’t matter. She wouldn’t lose this battle even if she died.

“I’d like to ask you something, pirate girl,” Kuro spoke and Ruffy calmly turned to him.

“My name is Rayla.”

“Oh. Rayla-san. Why are you fighting? You don’t belong to this village, so why get yourself involved?”

“Why?” Ruffy smirked at him. “Because I like this place. And because if I let Usopp die, Yasopp-otou-chan would be very disappointed in me.”

Kuro made a face. “’Otou-chan’, you say. Are you Usopp-kun’s sister?”

“Hm? I guess you could say that.” Ruffy smiled happily. “Yasopp-otou-chan adopted me. So yeah, Usopp is my brother.”

“Humph. So? You think that is reason enough to die?”

“It’s fine with me,” Ruffy said easily and got down into some sort of kneeling position with her sword-arm pressed tight to her back. Her eyes glowed of pure gold. “But I ain’t dying here.”

 


 

Piiman, Ninjin and Tamanegi were running for their lives, pulling Kaya along as the forest crumbled around them. They had thought they could get away simply by running and hiding, but the one coming after them wasn’t only a hypnotist. Whatever flying weapon he was using it cut down trees better than any saw or axe could do, quickly turning the forest into a trap where the four targets had to run faster to avoid being hit by the falling trees.

Kaya was doing her best to keep up with the younger boys, but it was getting hard. Her heart was beating furiously, her lungs felt like they would soon explode, she was sweating like a pig, trembling with fear and her legs felt like jelly. To add salt to the wound, that girl with the golden eyes was definitely fighting by Usopp-san’s side, and here she was, running like a dog because she couldn’t do anything against Kurahadol as she had believed. He was a pirate. Had been one since before he came to her village and her parents took him in. Her dear butler Kurahadol had really been an act.

Kurahadol, Usopp-san and that golden-eyed girl. Kaya was more than just heartbroken. At last she couldn’t take it anymore and her legs just gave up on her.

“Kaya-san!”

“So… sorry,” she gasped. “Run… run ahead… without me…”

“What are you saying, Kaya san!? Our mission is to protect you at all costs!”

Tamanegi bravely touched her face, and jerked his hand back as if he had been stung by a bee. “Oh no! She’s burning up!”

“What? Kaya-san, why didn’t you say?!”

Ninjin turned to his friends. “We must call a doctor!”

“Baka! We’re being chased here!”

They were being pretty loud, but didn’t pay that any mind. They were too worried and too high on adrenaline to notice.

Tamanegi held Kaya’s shoulders to make sure she didn’t collapse even more. “But we can’t run anymore,” he said nervously.

They heard the hypnotist yell from just a short distance. With a startled gasp they all stiffened and silenced, then the ground shook from another amount of trees falling. If this continued that guy really would clear all the forest!

“Thank you.”

The boys blinked at the sound of the pale girl’s quiet, gentle voice.

“Huh? Kaya-san?”

“You’re so brave,” the girl said, barely above a whisper, and looked gratefully at the boys. She was genuinely happy they were with her. “I’ll keep that spirit in my heart. Now you should run. At least you have a chance of escaping.”

Because it was her they wanted. If she gave herself up willingly, then maybe she could save everyone and Usopp-kun. If she died, then the pirates’ goal would be fulfilled and nobody else had to die. At least that’s how Kaya reasoned.

“If we leave Kaya-san here, we would be able to escape,” Piiman said, sounding a little defeated.

“We definitely would,” Tamanegi agreed, sounding even more down.

“Captain always says ‘If you find yourself losing, run as fast as you can’.”

Another few trees were cut down, making the ground tremble.

Piiman grabbed his bat tighter and grit his teeth together. “But Captain always lies.”

Tamanegi swallowed hard, but his face was set in a determined expression. “Captain was fighting, even though he was so wounded. Captain disregarded his own life to protect us.”

Ninjin nodded and lifted his (mother’s) frying pan. “We can’t let Kaya-san die.”

 “Yosh!” Tamanegi agreed and tightened his grip on his little shovel.

Piiman held up his baseball bat. “Let’s fight to the death!”

“You can’t!” Kaya yelled. “You are children! You have to…!”

“There you are.”

Jumping a mile, they all turned to the man dressed in a blue coat and hat. The hypnotist had found them!

Usopp’s pirate crew said the first thing that came to mind;

“Aaaaaaaahhhh!!!”

Chapter Text

Ruffy and Kaya VS. The Kuroneko pirates

Monkey D. Rayla sat in a practiced fighting position, curled up in purpose to gain more power for a counterattack whatever direction her opponent came from. Only Shodai’s weight in her hand felt odd, but in Ruffy’s greatly weakened state even she knew the katana would be necessary for her survival.

The opponent was a slim man dressed in a black suit with golden designs, a white shirt with a funny collar and loosened black tie. On his hands he wore furry gloves with a katana blade fastened on each finger, like claws. Once upon a time this man called himself Captain Kuro, the man without a noise, the man of a hundred plans and the captain of the Kuroneko pirates. Who he was today Ruffy couldn’t tell, and didn’t care either when he smirked lustfully and charged.

“Let me see you drenched in blood.”

“It will be your blood!” Ruffy snarled and sprung forward, aiming an elbow to the man’s middle, but he was too damn fast!

Kuro learnt why the girl had the katana to her back when his blades bounced off it with a sound clang. He had to back off again when she jumped backwards and swung her arm like a hammer. Never stopping her movement, Ruffy used the momentum to swing up a leg too, hoping to hook her foot to his neck, but she kept missing.

“So very slow. You are embarrassing yourself, Rayla-san. Someone like you will never defeat me.”

“Shut up,” Ruffy gasped. She couldn’t hide it anymore. Holding her chest she doubled over and coughed up blood. Annoyingly enough, her knees gave in and she fell down to her knees and hand, almost hitting her forehead against the ground. It hurt so damn much. She hadn’t been this tired when she fought Buggy a few… was it only days ago? Or a week? Ruffy couldn’t tell. Even when her mind was at its best function she always had a hard time counting days.

“You seem to have a bit of a problem all on your own, Rayla-san,” Kuro said, not fully recovered from the shock of the girl’s sudden breakdown. Not that he was about to complain. He liked her like that, shaking on the ground with sweat pearling on her face, the pained expression and the blood dripping from her mouth. “Blood suits you,” he purred.

“Give it a rest, I had a fight with somebody many times stronger than you,” Ruffy hissed, her voice hoarse. Then she looked up, smirking. For being in the sorry state she was, her eyes were unnervingly calm and mocking. “This is what he reduced me to. Imagine how little damage you can ever do to me.”

It was a challenge and a direct insult. Kuro picked up on them both and in pure anger he kicked the girl in the face, watching her roll down the slope until she was stopped by a rock lying there. At least that distasteful, unfitting hat came off her head.

But as he stared down at the fallen girl Kuro also heard his old crew start cheering for him.

“Go captain Kuro!”

“Kill that monster girl!”

“Hurray for captain Kuro!”

Captain Kuro. Those fools! They hadn’t understood a thing about his plan! “DON’T CALL ME BY THAT NAME!!!” the former Kuroneko captain yelled with his face distorted from rage.

Abruptly the cheers stopped. Ruffy was sitting up and wiping blood from her nose, staring suspiciously at the man at the top of the slope.

“You still don’t understand?” Kuro spoke. “The purpose of this plan, all those three years, it’s all to eliminate the name ‘Captain Kuro’ for good.”

Ruffy felt how her body chilled. That guy really thought he could…?

“I’m sick and tired,” Kuro continued. “So tired of making up plans for a bunch of idiots that doesn’t know about anything but violence and fighting. Sick of the dogs of the government and bounty hunters coming after my head. So unimaginably tired. That’s why three years ago I decided to officially let ‘Captain Kuro’ die.”

“That’s not possible,” Ruffy said tensely.

Kuro shrugged his shoulders with a bored look. “I am the man of a hundred plans, anything is possible for me. So do you understand, Rayla-san? I’ve spent three years on this plan. Three years I am not about to waste. My plan will never fail. Not even for you!”

He charged her, claws at the ready. Ruffy opened her mouth and hissed much in the same fashion as a cat and Shodai used both Ruffy’s hands to move and twine with the cat paw’s blades.

“It already has!” Ruffy yelled and Shodai twisted around, breaking the claws. “So you’re tired of your name? Scared of becoming an infamous name on the seas again?”

Kuro was too shocked to dodge the hard knee connecting with his temple.

“HOW DARE YOU CALL YOURSELF A PIRATE?!!!”

The man landed hard on the ground, the skin on his forehead chapping on impact and Shodai threw the broken blades into the wall of the slope, embedding them deep into the rock. Ruffy stood up, eyes almost glowing and the fire about her more intense than ever.

“Your plan failed the moment you started running from the sea and your name.”

For a moment everything was still and quiet. Kuro lay on the ground holding his head with the broken cat paw. His carefully water-combed hair was now in disorder, but that didn’t seem to bother him too much as he moved to stand up again with a deep wrinkle in his forehead and a sour frown on his mouth.

Ruffy could make out the voices of her opponent’s crew start to encourage their captain. To tell the truth she was a little confused about their antics. Sure, this was a battle and the pirate captain should definitely be encouraged, but the encouragement sounded empty to her. Like the pirates simply cheered on the one they had betted money on, not a trusted captain.

Kuro didn’t even enjoy the encouragement.

“Shut up, you useless trash,” he hissed in annoyance. “It will soon be your turn to die. You and Jango.”

Ruffy’s eyes widened. He didn’t just say that.

 


 

Kaya was holding her ground. With her eyes closed, her nose wrinkled and eyebrows knitted together from held back rage she pigheadedly refused to look at the hypnotist sitting in front of her.

“Open your eyes you little bitch!”

“Never,” she said, moving her head to the side, nose in the air, and heard the load snores of the three boys.

Kaya felt greatly relieved the pirate had only put them to sleep without hurting them, but that surely didn’t mean she would be cooperative. It was the farthest from her mind. Actually, she’d rather die than cooperate.

The pirate rewarded her with a growl of frustration.

“I will not let you hypnotize me,” she said just to spite him even more. “I won’t write any will. Not in a hundred years.”

“Then I’ll just rip out your eye-lids! How about that!?”

Kaya screamed and blindly swatted at the gloved hands clawing painfully at her stubbornly closed eyes.

“Get him!”

“Huh?” Kaya recognized the young voice as Piiman’s and the pirate’s hands left her face, but she still didn’t dare open her eyes.

“Pepper, pepper!”

Kaya frowned. She could smell the pepper powder in the air that tickled her nose and she heard the pirate start to sneeze and curse. His next sound was almost akin to that of a strangled animal. She dared a peek and found the pirate in an unworthy and trembling heap on the ground with the three boys standing over him in triumph.

“We just pretended to sleep!” Piiman said proudly.

“It’s stupid to fall for the same trick twice,” Tamanegi grinned.

“Thank you,” Kaya said and let out a breath.

“Time for plan B!” Ninjin ordered.

Plan B was “hide and attack the blind spots”. Piiman took Kaya’s hand and ran in behind a rock surrounded by bushes, Ninjin hid in another bushy area and Tamanegi agilely climbed a tree like he was a little monkey.

The pirate slowly stood up, hissing curses definitely not meant for children to hear and holding his abused manhood.

“I should have just killed those ants,” he gasped with a snarl. “Where’d you hide, little rats?”

Tamanegi held his breath and prepared to jump as soon as the pirate below him turned his back to. Now!

But it’s not that easy to attack a pirate since long used to be a target for death.

Jango caught the falling boy around the neck. “Don’t get so cocky, brats.”

“Tamanegi!”

Kaya gasped. She had to do something. She had to do something! Anything! There had to be something else she could do other than acting the pitiful damsel in distress. How had it turned out like this? Why had these pirates come to her village to begin with?

Jango effortlessly held the struggling child in an iron grasp, not even looking at him. “You played this pirate game a little too far, boys. Stupid of you to pick a fight with real pirates. Better luck in the next life!”

Tamanegi hit a tree hard, almost being knocked out. Ninjin and Piiman rushed out from their hideouts screaming bloody murder, forgetting about tactic and plans. But they were up against was a grown man fully intent on killing them slowly.

 


 

Somewhere else Usopp had been trying to guide Zoro through the forest, something he found was easier said than done. How could anybody be so worthless at following simple directions?! Even an easy “go right” Zoro somehow interpreted as “turn around”. Zoro was definitely lost and Usopp would be too soon if the swordsman ran another circle around himself. All the cut down trees weren’t helping in the least.

Then Zoro suddenly stopped. It was faint, but it sounded like children screaming.

“Did you hear that?”

“Of course I did!” Usopp hissed. “It was definitely them. Now we know where they are! That way! Run!”

“Hang on tight,” Zoro said and started running faster than before, miraculously enough in the right direction. Usopp thanked any higher might caring to listen that they at least gave Zoro a working pair of ears.

 


 

Ruffy stood frozen with Shodai protectively in front of her. The words that spilled from Kuro’s mouth were like poison. He had planned to kill his entire crew? Pirates were only people society threw out? And how was a wiped out pirate crew supposed to show anybody’s innocence? The ship couldn’t sail away, and if there was nobody alive people were bound to start looking for the murderer. Marines would show up sooner or later no matter how carefully this idiot captain tried to avoid and hide from the truth and his name.

 “A crew is nothing but the captain’s pawns to use as he pleases,” Kuro said. “They will follow my orders and die if necessary. No matter how big the obstacle, my plan must proceed.”

Ruffy stared straight into the taller man’s eyes. It was easier to hear his heartbeat that way without touching him. She had realized it before, but hadn’t thought they went as deep as they did; the puppet strings Kuro had on himself. He called his crewmates “pawns”. Ruffy had never thought there was a person who had to dance to his own beforehand decided rhythms. If his plan failed, Kuro had no idea of what to do, because there was no plan to follow then.

“That is a pirate’s fate!” the man once known as Captain Kuro growled. “Don’t think you know anything about it, little girl!!!”

Shodai dropped her tight guard, letting the tip of her blade rest on the ground and Ruffy smiled slightly, standing straight despite the throbbing pain in her chest. “I have met a few pirate captains, but you are the only one I pity.”

The man’s eyes widened at the insult and a vein was visible in his forehead and neck, until the girl continued.

“A pirate captain like you will never stand a chance against Usopp.”

“Huh?” Kuro’s fury haltered for a second. “Usopp-kun? I am inferior to that foolish kid running around playing a pirate game?”

“That’s right,” Ruffy answered simply.

Kuro threw his head back and laughed. “Well, are you funny or what. Do you think you’ve won because you broke one of my Cat Paws?” He stopped laughing and disappeared from sight, his voice echoing around the slope. “In what way could I ever be inferior to him?”

Ruffy simply reached out a hand in front of her. “In every way of dignity,” she stated.

“Say what?”

The girl jumped backwards and spun around with her arm still outstretched. “You know nothing about what a true pirate is!!!” The side of her fist hit Kuro’s ear like a hammer, sending him flying again.

Ruffy heard the crew gasp, but Kuro wasn’t down yet. This time he got up faster than before. Maybe he had gotten somewhat used to being hit by now. He had certainly been hit more times in two days than he had probably been in twenty years.

“You are indeed good at insults, Rayla-san,” the man said, trying not to growl. “So you mean I cannot compare to a kid in a childish game? That one hit me hard, my dear.” He stood and pulled his hair back into place. “Do you want to know what a true pirate is? Then I’ll show you how dangerous they are. How terrifying they become after facing Death and survived.”

The man hunched over and started rocking back and forth. That’s why he never saw Ruffy’s half annoyed, half humouring face. This guy was plain stupid in her book. She would have dropped a venomous comment if the hearts of Kuroneko’s crew hadn’t started to act up. They were afraid.

“Against a single person?”

“I-I’m sure.”

“It’s the Shakushi!”

“He’s really going to kill us!”

“NO! C-captain Kuro. I swear I won’t breathe a word about you being alive, so please spare my life!”

Ruffy looked at them with a feeling of dread in her stomach. They were begging for their lives, all of them, begging their captain not to do it. She didn’t like it. Butler had silenced his heart as well so Ruffy didn’t know what was really happening.

“What’s wrong? He’s just swaying…”

That’s when something strange happened. One beat of a heart before it silenced completely echoed through Ruffy’s head and her opponent was gone. Almost at the same time the hearts of the pirate crew skipped a few beats as everything seemed to hold its breath.

In the middle of the crowd of pirates two men were cut down, one of them losing half his head.

Ruffy’s eyes widened. Behind her claw marks appeared in the rock. Inside her head a voice spoke loud and clear, an echo from someone long gone.

“Being a captain has its advantages.”

“Captain Kuro! Please stop!” a man cried desperately.

“It’s no use!” another yelled in panic. “He’s running berserk with the stealth foot’s speed! He himself doesn’t know what haaahhh!”

“I beg you Captain Kuro!”

“Don’t beg! Get down! He won’t stop until he collapses from fatig-gah…!

“But as a captain I have a great responsibility, a promise to keep.”

Shodai repelled a cut to Ruffy’s collarbone. More cuts marked the rocks and then another few panicking men fell, one dying instantly and the others surviving only just.

“I have people following me, believing in my strength and my leadership.”

Ruffy bared her teeth, making a hissing sound when she spoke. “Where are you, butler?”

More cuts were repelled by Shodai, but not all. One was inflicted on the bruise in Ruffy’s side that Buggy’s lion had caused her a few days ago, but she barely felt it. The cuts on the rock just beside her foot she ignored.

“My men put down their lives on me and will fight to the death in my name.”

“Show yourself.”

Kuro’s crew, his nakama were dying like flies by the hands of their own captain while they screamed and begged him to stop, to spare them. They didn’t know which way to turn, or which way to run.

“So I, as their captain, am never allowed…”

 “What the hell are you doing?!”

“…to betray them.”

Ruffy stuck Shodai in the ground and threw her head back screaming. “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING TO YOUR NAKAMA?!?!?!”

Looking forward again, her eyes wider than ever, she could see him. Too fast for any other naked eye she could see him bounce around. She just had to wait for him.

 


 

The treasures of the Kuroneko crew summed up to a little more than half a million. Cheap. You’d think a pirate crew of this size would have a little more money Nami thought with disappointment as she carried today’s loot across the empty deck of the pirates’ ship. Buggy had at least had a good eye for treasure with value. The world should have more pirates like him, just to make her job a little more worth the effort.

Nami stood by the railing of The Black Cat, Kuroneko’s ship, beside the hole where the figure head once were and gasped with horror at the scene playing out below her. Blood was flying everywhere. The pirates were falling down, dying. Some of them had been cut to bits and more followed. They were begging for mercy, trying to run, throwing themselves on the ground only to be cut by invisible claws.

“What’s happening?”

In the middle of the slope stood Ruffy, infuriated and snarling with her katana stuck in the ground. Even from this distance Nami could see how wide the dark-haired girl’s eyes were. Did she think she could see better if she just opened her eyes wide enough?

Nami gasped when all of a sudden Ruffy was cut down, then, almost in the same blink of the eye, she twisted her body around. Nami couldn’t really tell what happened. The blood flying from Ruffy’s cuts hadn’t even hit the ground when the scene stopped moving.

“It’s the butler,” Nami gasped. What was going on? That man hadn’t been there a moment ago.

The dark-haired girl’s breath was heavy and blood seeped from the fresh cut wounds across her body. Still, she grinned victoriously.

“Gotcha.”

 


 

“Stop it!” Kaya screamed. “Stop! Please! Don’t hurt them anymore! I’ll write the will, just don’t hurt the boys anymore!”

The pirate turned to her with an indifferent look, as if she was stupid. He had his foot on Piiman’s head, the last one standing.

“No!” the beaten boy cried out pitifully. “After you write the will he’s going to kill you!”

She knew that. They didn’t have to remind her, but what else could she do? If she didn’t bend to their will Piiman, Ninjin and Tamanegi would all be killed and she couldn’t do a thing about it because she was so darn weak!

“Idiot,” the pirate said with a snort. “You can’t negotiate with me, ojou-san. Captain Kuro ordered me to kill everybody.” He kicked Piiman into a tree where he fell to the ground. Ninjin and Tamanegi were already there, too beaten to move anymore.

Kaya grit her teeth with anger and desperation when the pirate took out one of his rings. He was going to kill them. He was really going to kill them!

The young girl threw herself at the man, surprising him enough to rip the ring from his hand. The sharp edge cut into her fingers, drawing blood, and she got an idea. If she couldn’t negotiate then she had to play at his level. She jumped away and held the blade to her throat.

“If you don’t leave them alone, I’ll die by my own hand and never write any will!”

“No, no, no, wait! I’m dead meat if you don’t write the will.”

She sent the panicking pirate a glare to make sure he knew she was serious. “Let the boys go.”

The man made a calming gesture. “All right. I let the kids go. Not that they are in shape to walk, but alas.”

He walked over to the girl, taking out a pen and paper from his pocket and held out a hand for his weapon, but Kaya held up an elbow to keep his hand a way.

“Promise not to hurt them anymore.”

“Yes, yes. I promise. Despite how I look I am a man of my word. I won’t lay another finger on the boys. Now give me my chakram and start writing. Pick a stump as a desk. I’ve made quite a few for you.” The pirate chuckled at his own joke and took his ring. “Oh, and dry your fingers. It won’t look good if the will is smeared with blood.”

Kaya looked at her fingers, seeing the cuts the ring’s edge had made on them. It reminded her about how weak she was, seeing those thin, white fingers that couldn’t even for a second pull the trigger, couldn’t keep anything she held dear safe, couldn’t fight back.

She angrily pulled out a handkerchief, dried the blood and wrapped her fingers. Then she took the paper and pen and sat down beside a nearby stump.

Kaya had never been this angry with herself. Usopp-san was fighting so hard to protect her and the whole village and here she was, bending to the enemies bidding because it was the only thing she could do. She bit her bottom lip as tears burnt behind her eyes.

Putting the pen to the paper she started writing “This is my last will” and stopped.

“What’s wrong?” the pirate asked impatiently. “Hurry up and finish it. I haven’t got all day.”

“Wait,” Kaya said quietly. “There are certain rules on how to write a will that I must follow. Give me a second to remember them.”

“What rules are there?” the man asked and threw his arms up. “Just write that you give all of your inheritance to your butler and then sign it, end of story.”

Kaya swallowed. Maybe, just maybe she could outsmart these pirates and even Kurahadol. This man didn’t know the proper way of writing a will, but she did learn about it once. Now, if she could just play this game right, then she would win, even if she died.

“A date.”

“Huh?”

“I need to write a date. I don’t really know why, but I must definitely write a date.”

“Today’s date is fine,” the pirate said impatiently.

Kaya nodded and smiled slightly in triumph as she wrote the numbers on top of the paper. It was the date of her death day. Hadn’t Kurahadol said to make her death look like an accident? A will written the same day as this “accident” would definitely raise suspicions.

The girl smiled even brighter when she remembered the most important aspect of writing a will; she had no witnesses. At least two witnesses had to sign a will to make it legal. Without them, even if she did write a different date that wouldn’t raise suspicions, this will was completely useless.

“I’m done,” she said quietly after signing and putting her thumb stamp on it.

The pirate took the paper. “I leave all my inheritance to my butler Kurahadol,” he read out loud. “Okay, it looks good. This saved me the trouble to hypnotize you,” he said and put the paper in his coat, taking out his ring instead. “Now it’s time for you to die. You see, as long as you live, your will is nothing but a piece of scrap paper.”

Kaya kept from letting her relieved breath out. “You promised not to kill them,” she said to reassure herself. “You really will keep your word, right?”

“Of course, ojou-san. Trust me on that one.”

She sat there, sweating and trembling from fear of death, but smiling slightly in content. This was all she could do. The will’s date was suspicious and there were no witnesses. It really was nothing but a piece of scrap paper; worthless even if she was dead. Kurahadol wouldn’t get a single beli of her fortune. She had won.

“This is the end, hypnotist!”

Surprised Kaya’s eyes snapped open. A man with a black bandana around his head was running towards them. Who was he?

“Damn, he caught up.” The pirate grabbed Kaya around throat. “I’ll just have to finish you off quickly.”

“We won’t let that happen!!!”

So many things were happening at the same time Kaya had a hard time grasping everything. A man was running towards them and Piiman, Ninjin and Tamanegi were attacking the pirate from behind. She couldn’t see what they did for his coat, but it was painful for the pirate, judging from his moaning.

He spun around and kicked out. “You damn brats!” Then he turned back to Kaya, who didn’t know where to look, and grabbed her throat again. “You’re too late, Haramaki!”

…Did he just call her Haramaki?

“Am I?”

Oh, since it was the unknown man who answered it couldn’t have been Kaya the pirate referred to. Kaya was watching. She saw the approaching man cut off a branch and move out of the way with a wide smirk. Behind the branch, some distance away, was another person.

“Usopp-san?” What was he doing here?

In the next moment something hit the pirate’s face and exploded. Kaya screamed from fright and held her ears, closing her eyes shut tightly, afraid that if she opened them she’d see a headless corpse.

Piiman, Ninjin and Tamanegi cheered. That’s why Kaya dared a peek. The pirate was on the ground with his head where it should be, but unconscious. He was defeated.

Was it over now?

 


 

Ruffy took a step back to steady herself. Soon she would have to admit she was in trouble. Her vision wouldn’t stay clear for much longer. Lack of sleep, the pain inside that threatened to tear her apart, the fatigue of both her mind and body were all going to be the death of her if she couldn’t finish this persistent man fast. To make matters worse, her arm and shoulder had almost been dislocated when she caught him. She wouldn’t be able to use her left arm for either Shodai or landing a punch.

“You fool,” Kuro accused as he stood up. “You should have let me be. Now look,” he made a smooth motion at the men at the base of the slope, “because of you I couldn’t finish my attack. My poor men are in pain.”

She knew that. Ruffy didn’t have to look at them to know their condition. She had seen what this so called captain had done to them; reduced those who believed in him into something pathetically crying and begging for mercy, not knowing what to do or whom to turn to.

Kuro tilted his head slightly “You look like you have something to say.”

“I have,” Ruffy confirmed and lifted her hands into a fighting stance. “I will never be as bad a pirate captain as you are.”

“Will never?” Kuro smiled hungrily at her. “No, my dear, not will never. You can never. Because I will kill you right here.”

Ruffy recognized the stance the man stood in, and she wouldn’t have that. Not a second time. She jumped the man and locked her legs around Kuro’s waist, hooking her feet around his thighs and grabbed his arms just below the elbow.

“What? You…!”

“Try using your cat feet now.”

“Shit! Let me go!”

He tried to trash around to free his arms. The feet between his legs made it hard to move properly. Ruffy couldn’t stop the yelp of pain from her left arm, and Kuro wasn’t the type to miss such dead giveaways. The girl’s weakest point was her grasp on his right arm.

“Just try,” Ruffy said, holding on tighter. She might be in pain but she was stubborn too. “I already caught you. This is the end and your plan has failed.”

“What?!”

The girl smiled something between a grin and a grimace, until she suddenly heard hope in the heartbeats below. Why?

“Go Monster girl!”

“Give it to him!”

“Crush Captain Kuro!”

They were cheering for her? Ruffy grit her teeth, head-butted her opponent and leaned back as far as she could to scream.

“I DON’T NEED YOUR CHEERS! WHEN I’M DONE WITH THIS GUY I’LL START ON YOU!!!”

Her voice echoed between the rocks and effectively silenced everything she didn’t want to hear. After all, just because she saved them from their captain’s claws it didn’t make her the saviour of their lives. They weren’t her people.

For a second the sound of Kuro’s heartbeat over-voiced everything.

“My plan…”

Ruffy grit her teeth. “Cursed power…”

“MY PLAN WILL NEVER FAIL!!!”

“… Tolling Bell!!”

Kuro fell from a blow to his forehead that almost cracked his skull open.

 


 

A simple chess board made of wood and fading paint with roughly made pieces in the middle of a game. An old hand reached out and moved the white queen to E4.

“Checkmate.”

“Aw! This doesn’t work! How could I lose again?”

His grandfather smiled gently at him. “Because I had a plan, son. I judged your character and made up a plan. It’s most important to make up a plan of strategy and stick to it.”

“Really? A plan?”

“Yes. You always need a plan, and move your men according to it.”

“I see… a plan. Then… Jii-chan.”

“Yes?”

“I’m going to sail the seas. I won’t die as a simple servant like father! I will be free and only my own master!”

His grandfather smiled at him. “That sounds like a plan to me. Don’t fail.”

“I will never fail!”

Chapter Text

Aftermath and Usopp’s decision

A crew of defeated pirates, some heavily wounded and barely alive, one or two still somewhat unharmed but forever scarred with the horror of what had just happened, stared at the two people above them. One was a young girl with black hair, simple cloths and barefoot. She was standing up rather proudly with her back to them. The other person used to be the crew’s captain, commonly known as Captain Kuro, the man of a hundred plans. He lay there, just as defeated as his crew.

“She… she defeated him…” someone whispered.

“Captain Kuro is defeated,” another followed, doubt almost tangible in his voice.

“That girl… She did it!”

“Not even the marines with their battleships could defeat the man of a hundred plans, Captain Kuro!”

One brave pirate stood and yelled; “Who the hell are you?!”

The girl slowly turned to them, her eyes the colour of pure gold. “I am Monkey D. Ruffy,” she stated calmly. “This man tried to run away from the sea and his name, of course I wouldn’t lose to someone who has lost sight of his goal. A true pirate will never deny his name, and he can’t get rid of the mark the world put on him, not even when he dies.”

The pirates listened with awe. Some looked at each other and asked if they had ever heard of a pirate girl with the name Ruffy before.

“Remember my name well, for I will be King of the Pirates.” Ruffy called out, her voice strong and her eyes glowing. It was almost like she was on fire.

With her still functional right arm Ruffy grabbed her defeated enemy and threw him at his crew. “Take this with you and never come back!”

It could be called luck, or it was mostly due to Kuro’s own act of treachery. Instead of standing up to avenge their captain as was custom, the pirates fled. There was nothing left for them to win, not with that crazy lot against them. They had already lost a great deal of men too. Ruffy was glad. Only a little bit more. Now it was over and she only had to stand up for a little while longer.

The downside of adrenaline is that it drains the body of even spare energy. Ruffy cursed silently when her last grain of strength seeped out of her legs, making her fall… into a soft embrace.

“Otsukare-sama.”

Nami. She was okay.

The thief gently lay Ruffy down on her back and fetched her straw hat that lay some way up the slope. It was miraculously enough unharmed. Sitting beside the fallen pirate girl Nami watched how their enemies climbed their ship as fast as they could, not looking back. They were taking care of their dead and wounded, all of them were leaving. Only blood and broken rocks were left to tell the world a battle had taken place. The figure head was left behind too, of course. None of the pirates cared about taking it along when they fled.

Ruffy’s eyes were closed, but her face tense, so Nami knew she wasn’t asleep. The girl hadn’t looked this exhausted and beaten up when she fought Buggy. Nami hadn’t forgotten hers and Zoro’s suspicion that Ruffy didn’t sleep much. Hell, Nami herself was tired from being up all night.

“Why were you so angry?” she asked quietly.

“He’s wrong,” Ruffy answered with a hiss. “What ‘captain’? What ‘plan’? He’s just an idiot.” Using what strength she had left, Ruffy lifted her arms to cover her eyes. “Nakama aren’t supposed to be regarded that way. A captain should never do that.”

Nami sighed. “What are you talking about, stupid?” she said indifferently. “I’d say Kuro is a standard example of what a pirate is. Your beautified dream about them is just…”

“Shut up!”

The thief jumped at the sudden outburst and stared at the girl beside her. Ruffy was tense, arching her back like she was in pain, gritting her teeth and pressing her palms tight against her eyes.

“You just don’t get it. Once marked there’s no escape. You can’t get away.”

Nami watched with concern and confusion, even more afraid when the dark-haired girl trashed to the side and coughed up blood.

“Calm down. You got it pretty bad this time, you have to rest.”

“Can’t even move,” Ruffy mumbled sourly. “My body won’t move. So annoying.”

Annoying? The one getting annoyed was Nami. Why couldn’t Ruffy just listen to her? In the end Nami just slapped the straw hat over the other girl’s head with a harsh order to get some sleep or else!

Ruffy looked really surprised and stared at her navigator.

“What?” Nami hissed.

The dark-haired girl smiled, even giggled a little, infuriating the older girl further, until she spoke. “Okay Nami. I’ll try to rest. I’m really tired so… I’ll rest for a bit.”

But Ruffy didn’t close her eyes. They just glazed over and became unfocused. Nami noticed Ruffy’s eyes were back to brown. When had that happened? Why were they changing colour like that?

 


 

Usopp still didn’t have much strength, so Zoro helped him walk over to where the “soup boys” and ojou-sama were at. The lady was also too tired to walk it seemed. She glanced up at Zoro when he let Usopp down on a stump, but quickly looked away when he looked back at her. Zoro shrugged it off and left. He had his own friends to find.

“Everything that happened here,” Usopp started, gaining attention from the four surrounding him “can you keep it secret?”

Piiman, Ninjin and Tamanegi all gaped, as if Usopp had just told them Christmas was cancelled. A moment later they sprung up, waving their fists in outrage.

Secret!? Why do we have to keep it a secret?!”

“That’s right! We fought for the village!”

“Captain, you must clear up all the misunderstandings! Everyone will look at you differently and you’ll be a hero!”

“Usopp-san,” Kaya spoke up nervously. “You have to explain to everyone…”

“Explain what? There are no misunderstandings,” Usopp told them, a calm smile relaxing his face and giving him a strangely serene look despite the drying blood on his face. His friends silenced and Kaya blinked with surprise and Usopp continued. “They’ll just think I’m the same old liar as always. It’s over now so it’s no use saying anything about it. It would just frighten the villagers.”

This was a side of Usopp-san Kaya had never seen before. This honest and sincere man sitting before them, was he really the same silly liar they all knew and loved?

“This was a special case,” Usopp went on. “There shouldn’t be any more pirates that’d want to attack this secluded little village again. The villagers know that and lives in peace with that knowledge, so it’s best not to say anything about this. Everything was just a lie that I made up.”

The boys stared at their captain with their mouths agape. Kaya too. It was surprising how much Usopp-san cared about the village and its inhabitants. He had really thought about everything and everyone.

Usopp put his hands on his knees. “I won’t force you guys, but…”

“I’ll stay quiet!” Ninjin shouted. “It’s best for the village!”

“Me too!” Piiman followed with determination.

“Me three, until the day I die!” Tamanegi added.

Kaya stared at them, surprised at their ferocity. She knew they were Usopp-san’s best friends but not that they were so devoted to him and his decisions.

“What about you, Kaya?”

“Huh?”

Usopp’s eyes. Had they ever been this strong before? It was like something had changed in him, in a good way.

“Will it be hard?” Usopp asked her.

He looked so knowing and concerned at the same time. Kaya had to smile at him and shake her head. It wouldn’t be hard. Keeping all this a secret wouldn’t be hard. She could get used to live without Kurahadol, because she felt stronger now.

“No,” she answered. “So it’s really over now? Kurahadol… what happened to him?” Because she deserved to know that much, right?

“I’m pretty sure Ruffy took care of him.”

The calm Kaya felt instantly froze. “Eh? Ruffy?”

“Yeah, the girl you met yesterday. She’s really strong! I sure was surprised.”

“Eh? Mugiwara no onee-chan was fighting?” Ninjin exclaimed in shock. Was that girl really that strong?

“Yes she was,” Tamanegi reminded his friends. “Butler was going to fight her… Captain! You really think Mugiwara no onee-chan has defeated the butler?” He hadn’t forgotten how weak the girl had seemed the evening before.

“You wouldn’t have believed it even if you saw her,” Usopp nodded, mostly to himself as he recalled what he had seen before his little friends had appeared. “I can hardly believe it myself. This hypnotist hypnotised her and in a matter of seconds she…!”

“I don’t want to hear it!”

“Huh?”

All four boys turned to Kaya, who raked her brain in search for a good enough excuse for her outburst. Anything but the truth would suffice.

“I don’t… all I need to know is that there will be no more fighting,” she stated, silently hating herself for how lame she sounded. It wasn’t a direct lie though… mostly. “Besides, I need to go home now. Merry is most likely worried sick about me.”

That was all true. Kaya could admit, only to herself for now, that lying felt uncomfortable.

“Oh, yeah,” Usopp agreed with an understanding nod. “You should all go home now.”

“We? What about you, captain?” Piiman asked with confusion.

“Oh I’ll be with you in a bit. There’s just one more thing I must do.”

The way Usopp smiled. Kaya had a tiny little urge to wipe it off his face. She knew Usopp was going to talk to the girl with the golden eyes. He must find her attractive, because she was strong. Strong enough to fight against Kurahadol by Usopp’s side, when Kaya couldn’t even pull the trigger.

“Kaya-san, are you alright? Have your fever gone up again?”

The girl looked up into Ninjin’s worried face and realized her bitterness must have been visible on her face. Usopp looked worried too.

“Can you guys make sure she gets home safely?” he asked of his friends.

“Of course.”

The three boys surrounded Kaya and held out their helping hands. Kaya hesitatingly took them and stood. She felt weak to her knees, but it wasn’t the usual weakness she had felt since her parents died. Piiman, Ninjin and Tamanegi all helped her steady herself. Such eager little helpers.

“Usopp-san?”

“Hm?”

He had also stood to his feet, watching with a look of concern in his eyes.

“The girl with the golden eyes… and her people, what are they doing here?”

Usopp-san blinked. “Golden eyes? Who has golden eyes?”

“Eh?” Usopp-san hadn’t noticed? But those eyes were so intense and shone so brightly. How could he possibly not have noticed? “She had a straw hat on her head.”

“You mean Ruffy? She has brown eyes,” Usopp-san said with his head tilted. “They are pirates, I mean real pirates just like Kuro and his crew, but they are different. They just came here looking for a bigger ship, that’s all.”

‘A bigger ship?’ Kaya blinked several times. “I… see.”

A coin fell through. That girl was a pirate; of course Usopp-san would be attracted to her. But Usopp-san said she had brown eyes? Kaya was definitely sure she hadn’t been mistaken in the colour of that… straw hat wearing girl’s eyes.

A mystery.

Usopp watched as his little friends took care of Kaya, leading her back to the mansion by the outer edges of the village. He hoped their mothers wouldn’t be too hard on them for coming home in the state they were. And he hoped nobody would figure out he was the one who had been stealing cooking oil during the night.

Oh well, what is done is done. Usopp had to go back to the slope where the battle hopefully was over too. He hoped Zoro hadn’t gotten himself lost on the way back. Ruffy had promised to take care of things, and Usopp believed her. He had witnessed first-hand how monstrously strong that girl was.

His legs still slightly wobbly, Usopp made his way back through the forest, what was left of it. He was saddened that so many trees had been cut down. When he neared the slope he stopped briefly to listen for any sounds of battle still going on. If so he’d stay where he was and hide until everything was over. As it was, the area was very quiet. Usopp deemed it safe to take a closer look. He saw Zoro sit against the rocky wall with his katana resting against his shoulder. Good, if he was that relaxed then the battle really was over. Before breakfast!

“Thank you. It’s all thanks to you,” Usopp thanked his resting friends. “If you guys hadn’t been here I wouldn’t have been able to protect the village.”

Zoro smirked. “What bullshit. If you hadn’t acted I wouldn’t have done anything either.”

“Who cares,” Nami said, hugging her loot. “I got the treasure.”

Usopp looked to Ruffy who lay there on her back with the straw hat covering her face from his view. She was covered with cuts, deep and shallow.

“Oi, Ruffy. Are you alright?”

Nami was about to tell him the girl was asleep when Ruffy blinked and looked up. She didn’t have enough strength to lift an arm to remove the straw hat from her face, but she could still see through the holes between the straws.

“Usopp?” Her voice sounded exhausted. “You made it. Yokatta.”

“Yes, thanks to you, Ruffy. Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. I wouldn’t have done anything if you hadn’t risked your life.”

Her voice mirrored her fatigue, but it was almost the same thing Zoro had said. Usopp smiled with gratitude. He really did have great friends in these people.

The sea sparkled blue in the late morning sun. It was already seven o’clock. Normally this time of day Usopp would be running through the village screaming at the top of his lungs “The pirates are coming! Run for your lives!”. Every day at the end of the village he had stopped, turned around with a laugh and said it had all been a lie, which made the people pick up their broomsticks and chase him, and he’d end up hiding in some tree. It was a daily routine, and one he had had a lot of fun with.

But today there had really been pirates coming. Usopp felt a cold shiver at the thought that his everyday lie had suddenly become true, in a very ugly way. He had been lucky that Ruffy, Zoro and Nami had come by when they had. Piiman, Ninjin and Tamanegi had fought bravely too. He had to thank them properly later.

“Today, here and now, I have made a decision,” Usopp declared.

Nami and Zoro just glanced at him, but Ruffy for some reason started giggling weakly.

“That’s good,” was all she said.

 


 

The day went on rather quietly. Usopp invited his new friends to his place to treat their wounds. Ruffy still couldn’t move much, so Zoro carried her on one arm, pointedly ignoring his captain’s protests. Why should he care if she felt embarrassed being carried like a child sitting on his hip? Not his fault at all. It was Ruffy who was acting childish over it. She really didn’t weight much either. Zoro had to wonder how the girl could be so light when she could eat twice as much as him and more, and then he wasn’t a picky eater.

Once at Usopp’s house, boys and girls went into different rooms to be treated. Nami’s cut on her shoulder was easy enough, she could do it by herself. Wrapping up Ruffy’s wounds was easier said than done. Throughout Nami’s cleaning and disinfecting the wounds Ruffy sat with her naked back pressed tightly against the wall, and when Nami was about to wrap her chest Ruffy absolutely refused to move away from the wall. Nami tried everything but calling Zoro, only because Ruffy was topless. Nami did have at least that much sense of shame.

“Don’t be such a baby! Sit up straight so I can bandage you.”

“I don’t need that. They’ll heal without bandages.”

“Not before you get dirt in them! What if they get infected?”

“That’s never happened before.”

“Touch wood! It can get worse!”

“It won’t!

Nami’s patience was running thinner by the second. Talking didn’t do a thing, so she tried the only other method left; force. She tried hitting Ruffy hard over the head to use the surprise to throw her out on the floor. For some unknown reason that attempt failed. Nami tried pulling at Ruffy’s dark hair. Attempt failed when Nami ripped the hairs out (earning a hurt grimace from the hair’s owner). She tried to forcefully pull Ruffy away from the wall. Attempt failed because one; Ruffy was stronger (which she shouldn’t be considering how easy it was to count her ribs), and two; she put up a foot against Nami’s chest to keep the distance.

Winner; Ruffy.

Sore loser; Nami. “Why don’t you want to show me your back!?”

“You don’t want to show anyone what’s on your shoulder.”

Nami haltered. That was true. She had treated her own wound because she didn’t want Ruffy to see it. She really didn’t want anyone to see what was on the back of her shoulder, but that was beside the point. Nami was a hundred per cent sure Ruffy didn’t have anything like that to hide, else she wouldn’t be gathering an entire crew and head for the Grand Line. So what was she hiding so desperately?

“Fine, whatever. Get dressed and I’ll wait outside with Zoro.”

 


 

Usopp was just finishing bandaging Zoro’s torso when Nami came in.

“Hey, done all…” Usopp didn’t say more. Nami had a really pissed look on her face.

“Is Ruffy being awkward?” Zoro asked bluntly.

More than awkward,” Nami sighed with frustration and sat on a chair. She didn’t want to say more than that though Zoro’s look said he was waiting for her to continue. This time Ruffy had good timing. She walked right in with a hand on her belly, whining.

“I’m hungry. Can we go eat now?”

She had a different top on, still red, but with a lower running V-neck. She wore the same shorts they could tell, because of the droplets of blood on one side.

“Sure,” Zoro answered and put his cleaned shirt on. It was still a little moist and not all the blood had gone out of the material, but at least Nami had said she would fix the holes in it later. Usopp had offered to lend him a shirt, but hadn’t found anything remotely near the swordsman’s size. Usopp wasn’t a big boy after all.

“You guys go ahead and eat, there’s something I got to do,” Usopp said.

“Alright,” Ruffy grinned. “Can we put the tab on you again?”

“Sure. I’ll pass by the tavern later and pay for you. Just don’t eat too much, you hear me!”

“Loud and clear,” Ruffy affirmed with a too wide grin on her face.

They left the little house and went into the village. Usopp left his friends off at the tavern and the pirates entered.

Ruffy’s grin widened even more. “Obaa-san!” she sang. “Food please. Put it up on Usopp.”

Zoro smirked. If Usopp thought he could restrain them by asking them not to eat too much he was in for a surprise. They were pirates after all. Even Nami was leaving her bad mood behind and grinned as widely as her captain at the prospect of free food.

 


 

Oblivious of his pirate friends’ intentions, Usopp went around the village knocking on three doors and asking the women opening to pass a message to their sons.

“Can you please tell Piiman/Ninjin/Tamanegi to come to the base after lunch? I have something I want to speak to them about.”

“I see. Well, I suppose I will tell him,” the mothers all said.

“Thank you. Have a nice day without pirates attacking.”

After Usopp left their doors, Piiman, Ninjin and Tamanegi’s mothers all said the same thing; “Pff. Silly boy. There is no way pirates will ever come to this little village.”

 


 

It was only about twenty minutes later when the members of Usopp’s pirate crew showed up at their base; a cleared area Usopp used to practice aim with his slingshot on some old stacked logs and plot their next adventure. Today he sat on the logs with a smile on his face, feeling more at ease than ever before. His life would be rowdy from now on he knew, so he took this chance to appreciate the calm that surrounded this place.

“Captain Usopp. What did you want to talk to us about?”

The long nosed boy looked up and smiled proudly at them. “You guys fought bravely against those Kuroneko pirates today. It was a battle worthy of our name, and as the captain I am mighty proud of you all.”

The younger boys’ faces flushed and they beamed at the praise.

“It was nothing, Captain.”

“Yeah, we did nothing compared to you.”

“It’s a little embarrassing.”

“I’m dead serious,” Usopp said, keeping his voice calm and even. “You were all scared to death and still you worked hard and protected Kaya.”

He stood to his feet, feeling his bruises and strained muscles, but still put up a brave front. If he was going to fulfil his dream he would have to put up with a lot more than this. Ruffy and Zoro were more hurt than him and they hadn’t uttered a word of complaint, so why would he?

“Five years ago we formed the Usopp pirate crew, when you guys were only four years old,” Usopp recalled and looked to the sky. “This is the greatest and most magnificent battle in our history.”

Lowering his head, Usopp prepared to let the news out. It was time. After such a long time he was finally ready to take the first step.

“It’s a little sudden but… I have decided to set out to the sea to be a real pirate!”

The silence spoke lengths. The Usopp Pirate crew’s members were shocked. When they couldn’t find their voices, Usopp decided to kill the uncomfortable silence.

“I decided when I saw Ruffy and them. I’m leaving this village. There is only one reason,” he raised his voice and pumped his fist “the pirate flag is calling for me!”

“That’s…” Piiman sputtered. “That’s a lie, right Captain!? You’re just making things up!”

“It’s too hasty! Don’t you like this village?!”

“What’s going to happen to Usopp’s pirate crew?”

Usopp smiled at them and turned his head to glance at the sea. It was ever present, had always been his greatest source of support and comfort. Usopp had never denied he loved the sea. Even now, when he looked at the calm waves and smelt salt and seaweed, it felt encouraging in this painful moment.

“I’ve always been indecisive about it, staying in this village for the rest of my life. But then I met Ruffy, and the dream I’ve always had, I made up my mind about it. I must embrace the vast sea. That’s why I must leave this village!”

“Captain…”

Usopp fully turned around, his back facing his friends. For a second he thought of Ruffy, Zoro and Nami. They were a good team and good friends. Usopp had really good friends right here. The village was safe and calm. Truly it was a happy place. It just wasn’t the place Usopp wanted to stay at for the rest of his life. Not when the sea was right there calling for him.

“We’ve had fun together,” he said to his little friends. “I’m not gonna tell the villagers anything, so give them my regards, okay?”

“No…!”

“I don’t wanna!”

“Please stay here, Captain!”

Usopp turned back to them, trying hard to hold back his tears. His mind was set, but hearing his friends’ plea touched him. He would miss them, he knew. Damn, he’ll miss being chased around with broomsticks every morning.

“Do you guys remember? This place is where we first met. You guys just walked up to me, and we formed the Usopp pirate crew, remember?”

“I don’t want to hear about it!!!” Piiman yelled.

“We’ve been through a lot together since then,” Usopp continued, only it was getting slightly harder to say all the things he wanted to say. To say what he really wanted. “We had a lot of fun. We chased away Cerberus, caught dragons and escaped the fruit-alien.”

Yes, certainly. This village held many memories to all of them. This place where Usopp practiced his aim and tried out his secretly invented sling shot stars. Even now he had a lot of those different things in his bag, all made for simple entertainment. Still, the past battle had taught Usopp he could use them in real battle as well. He’d no longer be able to invent them for entertainment alone.

“This isn’t like you, Captain,” Ninjin accused angrily.

“You’re not serious. Right, Captain?” Tamanegi sobbed.

“It’s like… like…” Piiman couldn’t say the words. “Captain no baka!”

“Baka!”

Usopp was kind of ready to agree with them, but he had made up his mind, and Ruffy had said it was good. She had once been adopted by Yasopp, making her Usopp’s sister, and she was living her dream as a pirate. Usopp knew in a very secret place in his heart that his decision to set out to sea was partly, a very tiny part, because of envy. This is what he wanted more than anything else, so even if this was hard and painful, he’d still do it.

“What are your dreams?” he flung out his question at his friends.

The answers were immediate.

“I want to own a bar!” Ninjin cried out.

“To be a master carpenter!” Piiman shouted.

“To become a writer!” Tamanegi yelled. ‘So that I can write about all of our adventures,’ he didn’t say.

Usopp couldn’t hold back his tears any longer. He had known about the three boys’ dreams since before, but somehow, hearing them now touched him in a bittersweet way.

“So swear on this place that you will never forget to walk the path you choose!”

Ninjin cried.

Piiman tried to hold the tears back, failing miserably.

Tamanegi was trying to accept it, trying to take Usopp’s words to heart, but still it hurt so much the tears just wouldn’t stop.

Using all his willpower Usopp tried to keep his voice as steady as possibly. With all the feelings running wild it was hard.

“Hereby I declare… the Usopp pirate crew is…” he inhaled, because the last word was the one that hurt the most, “DISBANDED!!!”

There. He said it, and Usopp had never felt as torn between regret and relief.

 


 

Ruffy had been staring intently at the wall for a long while, absentmindedly putting food into her mouth from time to time. Nami and Zoro watched her with a mix of amusement and concern. None of them could figure out what was so interesting about the wall. Zoro couldn’t spot a single bug on it.

At long last Ruffy smiled and swallowed, only to choke. Zoro gave the girl a rough pat between the shoulder blades, only afterwards wondering if he was too rough against the thin body when Ruffy made a sound as if she was about to hurl and bent over with her fingers down her throat. It took only a worried second before the dark-haired girl pulled her fingers out and straightened with a breath of relief. In her hand she held a piece of fishbone.

“I got it out,” she said hoarsely.

Zoro let his breath out. “You shouldn’t let them get stuck in your throat, stupid.”

“Actually, you shouldn’t eat them at all,” Nami said with a sigh and held up the remains of her dinner. “When you eat fish, you normally leave the things that look like this.”

“Whatever.” Zoro sighed in content. “I’m stuffed. If you’re finished we should get going.”

“Yes, we’re done here,” Ruffy agreed with an excited smile, picking her teeth with the fishbone she’d just picked out of her throat. “Nami. Do you know some other place we can get a bigger ship?”

“I’ll be working on it as soon as we return to the boats,” Nami promised.

The door opened and Ruffy glanced up. Since she sat at the outer end of the table she had the best view of the door, and the new arrival had her straighten even more and smile brightly.

“Hey, ojou-sama,” Ruffy waved, still smiling.

“So this is where you are,” Kaya’s light voice greeted them.

Nami turned around in her seat and smiled as well. The little noblewoman was properly dressed in a shade of yellow and orange that suited her pretty well; not too dark and not too bright. “Is it all right for you to be up and about?” the navigator asked kindly.

“Yes,” the younger girl nodded. She still had a pale complexion, but it didn’t seem as sickly as before. “You see, my illness was mostly due to depression and shock over losing both my parents. Usopp-san has worked hard to cheer me up. Now I just can’t stay like that.” Kaya smiled brightly, showing them all she was really feeling better.

Zoro and Nami smiled back with sounds of relief and content.

Ruffy smiled too, but it quickly faded and instead she blinked from surprise. Even though ojou-sama smiled so convincingly, there was still a strangely pissed sound in her heartbeat.

“You are… Ruffy-san?” Kaya asked her. “I heard from Usopp-san and… huh? Your eyes really are brown.”

“Yes?” Ruffy said with another blink of her big eyes.

“When I saw you yesterday, when Kurahadol chased you out, I thought your eyes were the colour of gold.”

“Ah, yes,” Nami called for attention with a wave of her hand. “Ruffy’s eyes get like that when she’s angry.” ‘I think,’ she added silently.

“They do?” Ruffy asked wide-eyed.

“You didn’t know?”

“Not really. But now I know. Thanks Nami.”

Kaya glanced at the dark-haired girl with the straw hat. The two of them were as different as night and day she realized. So Usopp-san liked…

She shook her head. Now was not the time for those stupid thoughts.

“Well, I was looking for you. All of you have been of great help. Therefore, to thank you all, I have prepared a present for you. I hope you will accept it openheartedly.”

“Great,” Ruffy said and stood. “We were just done here, so let’s go.”

“Right,” Nami and Zoro followed.

“Please come with me,” Kaya said and lead the way through the village on the pathway that led to the shore, all the way stealing occasional glances at the two girls in her tow.

Kaia had noticed her before, but the girl with the bright tangerine hair hadn’t been standing out as much as Ruffy. There were still great differences between Ruffy, Kaya and…

“Excuse me. I don’t think I’ve caught your names yet,” the pale girl said apologetically.

“It’s okay. I’m Nami.”

“Lolonoa Zoro,” the swordsman spoke up.

“Huh? The pirate hunter?”

“Until he joined me,” Ruffy explained grinning.

Kaya hesitated, but the curiosity won her over. “H-how… Lolonoa-san, why would you become a pirate, if you were a bounty hunter…?”

“I never called myself a bounty hunter in the first place,” the man said with an annoyed scowl, unknowingly scaring Kaya slightly. She nodded and didn’t dare to ask again, although her question hadn’t really been answered.

But the irate, painful feeling in Kaya’s chest still wouldn’t go away. She couldn’t stop the uninvited thoughts from popping up. Thoughts like how she wished the present she gave these pirates as a token of her gratitude would take them far away and never come back. Or how she hoped Lolonoa-san and Ruffy-san were a couple, but even if they were there was still the other girl, Nami-san. Kaya was a mess and painfully aware of it.

“Nee, ojou-sama. Are you feeling sick?”

Kaya turned to Ruffy and was surprised when the outstretched hand flinched away like she had been burnt. She even took a step back.

“Sorry,” the dark-haired girl said with a look somewhere between surprise and alarm. “I just thought it sounded like you were in pain.”

“S-sounded like?”

“That’s a long story,” Zoro quickly stepped in with a hand on his captain’s shoulder. “To shorten it, Ruffy can hear how a person feels.”

Ruffy-san could tell how Kaya felt? She suddenly felt very exposed and ashamed of herself. If Ruffy-san could hear Kaya’s feelings, then it was no surprise the dark-haired girl flinched away from her.

“Are you angry?” Ruffy suddenly asked.

“No, of course not,” Kaya denied quickly. She thought fast to get out of the awkward situation. Luckily she had the perfect excuse. “Let’s not stay here. I’m really eager to see what you think of my present.”

That was not a lie. Kaya was genuinely curious to see how these people accepted her gift. She liked giving away presents, because then her money was put to some good use. As long as she kept from trying to pick up the conversion it would be fine. It wasn’t that far to the beach now anyway. The excitement of giving away a present also worked well to distract Kaya from her stupid jealousy.

Ruffy looked at the noblewoman’s back with confusion. Ojou-sama’s expressions and feelings didn’t quite match. For some reason she didn’t like Ruffy. The dark-haired girl had been around long enough to know when she was unwanted, unapproved or hated. Why the pale girl was working so hard to cover her dislike was beyond Ruffy. Everybody else she had met hadn’t had a problem showing how much they hated her.

Zoro stayed alert on his captain, just in case. It was obvious to him Ruffy wasn’t as fit as usual, because obviously she had been up all night and had a rough fight on an empty stomach. Still she kept up a brave front, walking steadily as if nothing was wrong, like the blood on her cloths, bandages on her arms and wounds the red top left uncovered didn’t even belong to her. Ruffy stubbornly refused to rely on Zoro. It still made him feel put out.

Nami tried to decide if she wanted to laugh at Zoro’s rejected-dog expression, worry about Ruffy or wonder about ojou-sama’s interest in aforementioned pirate. Worrying about the thick-headed girl was something Nami didn’t want to, but found herself doing anyway. That’s probably why she ignored Zoro to wonder about ojou-sama. It had to be, because Zoro’s face was really hilarious, it would be a shame not to laugh at it. But ojou-sama was acting strange. Nami still doubted Ruffy’s ability to peak into people’s feelings, but she had been eerily accurate this far, so either ojou-sama was putting up a stupidly brave front to prove she had gotten stronger, or she really was angry. Though as to why the younger girl would be angry Nami couldn’t understand. Judging from the safer distance Ruffy had put between her and the lady, Ruffy seemed sure ojou-sama was angry with her, which made even less sense. As far as Nami knew, Ruffy and ojou-sama hadn’t come in contact since their encounter yesterday, and Nami was quite certain Ruffy hadn’t said anything bad enough to cause long-lasting anger.

They arrived to the eastern shore, and immediately the pirates forgot all their negative thoughts at the moment, because waiting for them was a ship.

“Look at that,” Zoro breathed in awe.

“A caravel,” Nami exclaimed joyously.

Ruffy just gaped, chin hanging far down, hardly able to believe her eyes. But her eyes had never failed her, so Ruffy had to believe there really was a ship anchored at the beach.

“Welcome. I have waited for you,” said the man with a white afro that stood in front of the ship. “This is a bit of an old style model, but I was the one who designed it. A caravel with lateen sails and stern-centred control system. I named her the Going Merry.”

“Is this for us?!” Ruffy cried out and turned to Kaya. “Is this your gift? Really? A ship? You’re giving us a ship? Really?!”

Kaya smiled brightly. Ruffy was happy, really happy, and it made Kaya glad and relieved. “Yes. Please accept it.”

Ruffy just stood there shaking, temporarily indecisive of what to see first. In the end she just ran back and forth looking at the ship from alt to bow and back.

“This is amazing! She’s beautiful! A real ship! Zoro, Nami! We have a ship! The Going Merry! Now we can go to the Grand Line!”

“Yes, yes. We see that, Ruffy,” Zoro just said, though he was smiling rather widely too. This ship was just what he needed. More space for all of them and he could finally pick up the training he’d neglected the past month. It would be good to go back to his routines.

Nami was smiling too as she watched their captain and she leaned closer to the man and mumbled, “How much sugar did she put in her tea?” to him. Zoro could only shrug his shoulders in replay.

Kaya was laughing now. Ruffy seemed happier than a child on Christmas. This was a good idea. Kaya had been slightly doubtful about giving the pirates this ship that actually didn’t belong to her, but to her servant Merry. It was good that Merry had been more than happy to give his dear ship to the people who had helped protect the village.

Merry was laughing too. Somewhere inside he was sad to give the Going Merry away, but an even bigger part of him was happy to know that she would be sailing the world now. Indeed, Going Merry would loyally carry the pirates as far as she could.

“I can hardly believe you are the people who defeated the Kuroneko pirates. I thought you would be bigger, and male,” the servant laughed, not realizing how rude that comment was.

Ruffy didn’t hear him. She still hadn’t come down from her seemingly sugar-rush to cloud nine, so Merry turned to the other two.

“I’m sure you want to leave soon, so I’ll just briefly fill you in on how to operate it…”

And as Merry spoke to an attentive Nami Ruffy turned to Kaya, face flushed from excitement and the running she’d done.

“Is it true?! You are really giving this to us? In reality?”

“Yes,” Kaya assured with a bright smile. “She’s all yours.”

For some reason, those words sent Ruffy even higher. She jumped Kaya and, in a pure, uncontrolled rush of something akin to joyous ecstasy, grabbed her arms and kissed her right on the lips.

Zoro jerked in alarm.

Nami also saw it happen and lifted her hands as if she would be able to stop it.

Merry saw Nami’s gesture and horrified expression, so he turned around, only to scream with horror. But the one kissing ojou-sama was a woman! What do you do against a woman kissing your charge on the lips?! Why were they kissing?!?!

Luckily the kiss lasted only for a few seconds before Ruffy returned to her senses and quickly pulled back. She lifted a hand to her mouth.

“I… forgive me,” she said breathlessly.

Kaya, supported only by the hand Ruffy still held around her arm, couldn’t think. Her mind had gone completely blank. For a few seconds nothing moved and Ruffy’s plea hung in the air.

“You kissed me…” Kaya said slowly as realization kicked in.

“Uh… yes,” Ruffy admitted hesitantly, releasing the pale girl.

“O… ojou-sama…” Merry croaked, reaching out his arms to catch the pale girl should she faint. But to his surprise, everybody’s surprise actually, Kaya started giggling.

“Oh. So you kissed me. I see. It’s all right.”

Ruffy watched how the loudly laughing ojou-sama turned towards the sea and wondered where this huge boost of self-confidence came from. She turned to her friends for support, but they looked at her as if she was the cause of Kaya’s odd behaviour.

A noise distracted them and they all turned to the top of the slope, where something that looked like a huge green ball came rolling, with a screaming Usopp stuck to it.

“Usopp-san!” Kaya exclaimed alarmed as she too was distracted by the noise.

“What’s he doing?” Ruffy wondered aloud.

“Don’t know, but we better stop him or he’ll crash the ship,” Zoro sighed and walked forward. Ruffy joined him and they both lifted a leg. The ball easily stopped. It turned out to be a backpack, obviously Usopp’s since he had his arms in the straps which in turn explained why he was stuck to it.

“T… thanks,” he managed to say through Zoro’s boot and Ruffy’s sandal.

“Sure,” Ruffy smiled.

Usopp stayed supported by the monster duo’s feet as he freed his legs from where they had managed to get stuck on the backpack. Once he could support himself he pulled his huge package with some difficulty the last few meters towards a little boat that lay beside the pirates’ new one. It was his own little fisher boat. In his mind it would be good enough to start his adventure in. But there was no missing the vessel his little boat shared the shore with.

“Wow, what a cool ship,” the long-nosed boy exclaimed when he saw it.

“It’s ours,” Ruffy stated, smiling widely. “Ojou-sama gave it to us.”

Kaya was smiling widely too. Usopp was surprised to see her so happy, but he wasn’t about to complain. He loved seeing Kaya smile.

“Let’s go aboard!” Ruffy suddenly cried out and jumped onto the ship’s deck and started running around. Nami and Zoro followed aboard and looked around at a slower pace.

Ruffy showed up in the bow beside the figure head and leaned over the railing to look at the sheep-shaped head.

“Ruffy-san,” Kaya called from the shore. “Merry and I already prepared everything you need for a long voyage at sea.”

“Wow! That’s really neat of you!”

“Sweet,” Nami corrected. “It’s really sweet of you.”

“That too,” Ruffy laughed.

“And so, it’s time for me to set out to the vast sea to explore the world,” Usopp declared loudly, standing with his feet apart and hands on his hips in an expression of boldness and bravery. Kaya’s smile faltered a little.

“So you really are setting out to the sea, Usopp-san,” she said quietly.

“Yes. I have to get going before I have time to change my mind.” He waited for her to say something. When she didn’t he glanced at the girl he had become so attached to over the past year. “Please don’t try to stop me,” he added, hoping she would react.

“I won’t,” the pale girl said. Her smile brightened slightly. “Besides, I had a feeling you would do this.”

Usopp blinked. He felt a bit hurt that the girl he liked the most in this village didn’t seem the least bit sad that he was leaving. Damn, leaving Piiman, Ninjin and Tamanegi behind was a lot harder. Kaya’s lack of remorse about him leaving almost had Usopp change his mind on the spot.

From the Going Merry the three pirates watched and waited. Ruffy still had question marks flying around her head. Ojou-sama was a strange one indeed. The hesitant and quietly seething girl from before Ruffy kissed her seemed to be gone.

Nami too noticed the change, and a stray question kept appearing in her head, but she dismissed it every time. Zoro was the only one who couldn’t see the big difference.

“But…” Usopp started, “when I come back to this village, I’ll tell you real stories that sound more like lies than any of my old tall tales!”

“Good,” Kaya nodded. “I’m not worried anymore, so I’ll look forward to it.”

“Worried?”

Usopp quirked an eyebrow. What could Kaya possibly have been worried about, and what had happened to ease her?

“Yes.” Kaya leaned forward with a finger to her lips, as if she was telling a secret. “Because Ruffy-san kissed me.”

“Eeeehh?!?”

“That’s right. Ruffy-san kissed me!” Kaya laughed with her hands on her hips in more of a Usopp-like than ladylike pose. Poor Merry opened and closed his mouth with his hands up as if he was trying to keep something bad away. Lady Kaya had never acted this way before.

If Usopp had been a little hurt before, he was broken-hearted now. He knew for a fact that Kaya had never been kissed before, they had happened to talk about it once. Kaya’s first kiss had been stolen by…

On Going Merry’s deck Ruffy guiltily scratched her cheek. “Maybe that was a really bad thing to do,” she mumbled quietly.

Nami patted the dark-haired girl’s shoulder. “Ruffy. For once I think this isn’t entirely your fault.”

Usopp stood on the ground beside his huge package and stared miserably at his laughing crush. Then he turned his tearful gaze to Ruffy, silently accusing her for the turn of events.

“Um, why don’t you just come aboard so that we can set sail,” Ruffy said, smiling hesitantly.

“Huh? Aboard? Aboard what?”

“Are you slow or something,” Zoro sighed.

“We’re not leaving you behind,” Ruffy stated. “After all, you’re one of us already.”

For a moment Usopp just stood there, staring at the girl by the railing of a small ship. “One of us” echoed in his head. He had always thought he had to set to the ocean alone.

“I’m the captain!” Usopp the liar of Syrup village shouted and jumped aboard.

“Eat crap! I’m the only captain here!” Ruffy yelled back. She’d probably have done something to Usopp, like a noggie, but decided against it. They were probably even now.

“Bon voyage!” Kaya called from the shore and waved happily. Ruffy awkwardly waved back before she joined her crew.

“Ojou-sama, are you feeling all right? I mean… Mugiwara-san…”

“I’m fine, Merry,” Kaya chirped, still smiling widely. She couldn’t stop smiling. “Everything is fine.”

Merry let out a breath, not really convinced. “If you say so.”

“I was worried,” Kaya admitted. “Or perhaps, more accurately, I think I was conceited. Until Ruffy-san came here yesterday I always thought I was the only girl in Usopp-san’s life, so I depended on him. But staying that way would let Usopp-san down, so I will be strong, just like Ruffy-san.”

Merry blinked, surprised, but then he smiled. It seemed to him that his little girl had grown a little stronger in only a few minutes. “I see,” was all he said.

“Actually,” Kaya started, “in my jealousy, I believed Ruffy-san was here to take Usopp-san away from me.”

The servant’s eyes widened. Take Usopp-kun away? Wasn’t that exactly what had only just happened? “Ojou-sama…”

“No, no, Merry,” Kaya laughed. “Not like that. It’s fine that Usopp-san is with them, I’m not worried about it anymore. Because…” her smile, if possible, broadened and she put her hands on her hips again “Ruffy-san likes girls!”

 


 

On board of the Going Merry, Zoro had instantly sniffed out a barrel with beer and Nami had found mugs in the kitchen. The four pirates filled their mugs and Ruffy backed up a step to look at all her nakama.

“Yosh! For our new ship and a new nakama! Kampaiii!!!”

Four mugs met each other with happy cheers and the pirates dried their first mug of beer. Oddly enough to Ruffy Usopp had filled two mugs to begin with, but one alone was enough to make him tipsy.

“Usopp, are you sure you want to drink so much?” the captain asked solely out of care. She wanted him to last all night.

“Yes I want to!” the long nosed boy declared and sat down with his second mug and his back to Ruffy. “I want to drink and forget how heartbroken I am for the rest of my life.”

“You’re heartbroken?” Ruffy blinked. Of course she could hear some sort of disappointment in her new nakama’s heartbeat, but nothing sounded really broken. If she listened carefully though she could hear there was actually the sound of a crack.

“Yes I am heartbroken!” Usopp cried and emptied his second mug. Zoro and Nami were watching the other two with interest.

When Usopp put his mug down he held his ground for only a mare few seconds, before he jumped the unsuspecting Ruffy, crying and shaking her by the collar of the tank top.

“How could you?! Why did you kiss Kaya?! That was her first kiss! You’re a girl too! Why would you kiss another girl?!”

“Ah, that. Sorry. It was a spur of moment.”

Usopp glared at this girl his father had once taken in as his daughter, thus making her Usopp’s sister. But still…

“A spur of moment?” he repeated slowly, the growl in his voice demanding further explaining.

“Yup,” Ruffy nodded as she straightened her hat and tried to loosen Usopp’s grip of her cloths at the same time. “Nobody ever gave me a present like this before. I mean; a ship! How cool isn’t that. Ojou-sama is really generous.”

“And so you kissed her?” Usopp inquired with disbelief. “In return of the ship you kissed Kaya?”

“I don’t really know,” the dark-haired girl admitted and smiled sheepishly. “I just got so crazy, hyper happy to know I will be able to sail the sea on my very own ship. In the next second I find myself in a lip-lock.”

Nami quickly refilled Usopp’s mug and gave it to the newest member of the crew before he decided to strangle Ruffy dead.

“There, there, Usopp. For once the turn of events isn’t all because of this idiot, even if she’s still the catalyst of things.”

“What?” Ruffy gaped at her navigator. “Nami, you know why ojou-sama was like that?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Usopp’s crying voice answered instead of Nami. “I just can’t believe it. It’s not fair.”

“What?”

Nami sighed, figuring that doing it Ruffy’s straightforward way would probably be the easiest rather than waiting for the straw hat girl to figure it out on her own.

“It would seem that Kaya likes other girls.”

For three seconds Ruffy just stared blankly at her bright-haired friend before the meaning of those words hit in. She hit her palm. “That’s why her self-confidence grew so much. She thinks she can attract other girls too and not only boys.”

Zoro refilled his mug and sat beside the weeping Usopp, giving the boy’s back a light pat of sympathy.

Thus there was a huge misunderstanding that wouldn’t be cleared up until many years later.

Chapter Text

Usopp’s heart and a pirate flag

The island Usopp had been born and raised on was long gone. The now four pirates had celebrated their new ship and nakama until they fell asleep. Well, not really drinking themselves to sleep. Zoro and Nami had a high alcoholic resistance, and Ruffy seemed that way too, so for the most part they had been drinking and trying to cheer up the sad Usopp who was drunk as a duck after only his fourth mug of beer. So in the end the only one who had actually drunken himself to sleep was Usopp.

After the poor boy had fallen asleep Zoro had taken him under deck where he had found some hammocks earlier. Nami had searched the ship and found a few buckets at the bottom of the ship.

“In case he needs to throw up,” she had said and handed the bucket to Zoro. Thus the swordsman had been put on watch-drunk-Usopp duty. He could have found better things to do with his time. Like making sure Ruffy slept. Because when a happy “Good morning, Zoro” greeted him from Going Merry’s figure head the next day, he could tell the young captain hadn’t slept, not only from her face that was nearing a ghostly pale hue.

“Ruffy. Why are you out here?” he asked with a strained smile, hearing how well he covered up his great annoyance with a parent-to-child voice.

“I’m on watch duty,” the girl answered cheerfully.

“Oh?” Zoro continued with the same smile and voice. “So you and Nami have taken turns watching the ship while I watched Usopp sleep?”

Ruffy blinked at him. “Nee Zoro, are you alright? You look kind of funny.”

“Just answer the question, Ruffy,” the swordsman growled, losing his strained expression.

“Oh, that face is more like you, and no; after you tucked in Usopp, we pulled in the sails and anchored, and then Nami told me to wake her when it was time for her shift before she went to bed.”

“So, seeing you are alone out here, you didn’t get Nami for her watch?”

The dark-haired girl blinked at him and her eyebrows knitted together in a troubled expression. “About that, she never told me when that is.”

Zoro slapped a hand across his eyes. “Remind me we’ll have to tell you that from now on.”

“Okay.”

It took a lot from the swordsman not to strangle his captain right then and there. Seriously, how could she be so dense?! She didn’t react like a normal person at all, especially when her responses were so smooth. Really, resisting when you thought you’d have your way and letting up when a normal person would resist, or answering rhetoric questions.

Zoro realized it was going to take a lot out of him to get Ruffy to open up and tell him why she wouldn’t sleep. Yesterday she had quite flatly refused to answer why. But if she was afraid of sleeping at night, then maybe a morning nap?

“Ruffy, you didn’t sleep last night either. Why don’t you take a nap now?”

“No! I want to wait for Usopp to wake up. I wanna listen to his heart.”

“He won’t disappear. You have time to sleep,” Zoro argued.

“But if I sleep for a long time you might go for adventures without me.”

The swordsman felt how the muscles in his right eyebrow started twitching from annoyance. “We’re in the middle of the ocean, so the chance of us going on adventures is close to zero.”

“If it’s not zero there’s still a chance!”

“But for the love of…!!! Geez!”

Zoro gave up. Ruffy wasn’t going to take a nap when asked, that much was clear. The only thing left to do was wait her out, and Zoro wasn’t good at waiting. Not when he wanted a clear answer to if his captain trusted him or not. If it was a pride thing he could sort of accept it, but it had been pushed to the limit of ridiculous.

The door to the storeroom opened with a slam.

“Oi, Ruffy!” Nami called and stomped over to Zoro and Ruffy. “Why didn’t you wake me up for my shift?”

“You didn’t tell me when your shift should have started,” the captain answered with a pout, making Nami facepalm, much in the same fashion as Zoro had earlier.

“You are an idiot. Since there’s only two who could do watch duty, then your shift last through half the night.”

“Oh…” Ruffy blinked a few times. “How do I know when half the night has passed?”

Nami answered that with her fist. There’s a limit to how much ignorance is tolerated. Ruffy passed that limit way back.

The dark-haired girl sat up and rubbed the tender mark on her forehead. It was quite obvious that the crew members, minus Usopp, had noticed her reluctance to sleep, but she didn’t want to tell them the real reason behind that. She couldn’t lie about it, but she could give them truthful excuses. She really didn’t want to sleep through any adventure like Zoro had some days ago. But Usopp’s heartbeat still sounded like they were fast asleep and Ruffy couldn’t really wake him after what happened yesterday. She needed something to pass the time.

Zoro had seated by the railing with his hands behind his head and started snoring and Nami had disappeared into the kitchen. Ruffy glanced through the slightly ajar door and that was as close as she would go, which meant that Nami was out of reach and Zoro wanted to be alone.

Ruffy pouted with disappointment, but was quickly hit by a brilliant idea. She was the owner of a brand new ship; the Going Merry, and she hadn’t had the time to take a proper ship tour yet. So that’s exactly how Ruffy spent the next twenty minutes. Only twenty because Zoro found her and said Nami was calling them in for breakfast.

“Geez, Ruffy. Didn’t you hear me calling?” Nami complained when the two came out on deck.

“No, not at all,” the dark-haired girl answered truthfully and smiled.

The thief sighed, thinking that whatever Ruffy had found below deck it must have consumed all of her attention. Food was the only thing that Nami had noticed the young captain never ignored.

“Well, come in before the food gets cold.”

Zoro followed the navigator, but for some reason Ruffy stood rooted on the spot, staring at the door the swordsman was just about to walk through when he turned and stared at her.

“Aren’t you coming?”

“Can we eat outside?” she asked back.

“Huh? Why’d you want that?”

As if on cue, the hatch that lead to the men’s cabin opened and a pale, slightly green Usopp slowly crawled onto deck.

“So that Usopp won’t retch in the kitchen.”

Zoro glared. It was not the real reason as to why his captain wanted to eat outside, they both knew that, but it was also true that Usopp probably needed as much fresh air as food and water.

Nami, wondering why she was still alone at the table came back out. “Hey, what’s taking you?”

“Ruffy wants to eat outside, for Usopp’s sake,” Zoro explained, keeping Ruffy’s lie between himself and the captain.

Nami took in Usopp’s pathetic state and Ruffy standing above him, making sure he was covered with as much shadow her thin body could cast. The navigator had ‘visited’ older pirate ships in the past and had always been able to tell from the smell some pirates puked in the galley.

Yes, eating outside was probably for the best this morning.

“Zoro, help me take the food outside.”

Inwardly sighing with relief Ruffy looked down at the newest crew member. He seemed to have come to enough to realize he was partly lying in a shadow. Slowly he looked up and blinked watery eyes at her.

“Whaddye doin thea?” the long-nosed boy asked. Seemed like his tongue hadn’t really woken up yet.

“Giving you some shade,” Ruffy answered sweetly, talking quietly. “It’s hot in the sun, you’ll definitely puke if your body gets too hot, and I don’t want to clean up after you.”

“Hey, Ruffy. We’re eating in the alt,” Nami called out before she disappeared around the corner.

“Okay,” the captain called back and picked up Usopp over her shoulder with ease. His body was quite hot already.

“Ah, Ruffy! You’re cold!” Usopp exclaimed, the chill from Ruffy’s body distracting him from his hangover.

“I am?” She never noticed much, having long since learnt to ignore the pains of her body until she couldn’t anymore. She hadn’t reached that limit quite yet. “Well it was a bit chilly tonight.”

“What? You were up all night?” Usopp asked with disbelief.

“Yup.”

Even though Usopp still felt sick and dizzy he realized Ruffy’s body, even if she’d had an all-nighter, shouldn’t have gotten this cold. Her blood counts must be overall dangerously low. When she put him down in the shadow Usopp also noticed how Ruffy’s skin was almost transparently pale. She needed a good few hours’ sleep in the sun.

Since it was still fairly early there was a slight crisp of chill in the air. That, some food and a lot of water made Usopp feel better in minutes. An hour after breakfast he even deemed himself back to normal.

“I don’t believe you,” Nami stated noncommittally, flicking through the newspaper when Usopp told them he was sober.

“What? Why not?”

“Because that was your first time drunk,” Zoro said from where he rested against the railing, Ruffy sitting an arm’s reach away from him on it and nodded in confirmation.

Those words were like an arrow to Usopp’s pride. “How’d you know that?” Usopp asked with disbelief.

“You told us so,” Ruffy deadpanned, rubbing Usopp the wrong way. She already stood with one foot in Usopp’s black book, and working against him now didn’t help her out of it.

“Sorry Usopp, but please take it easy today. If not, you’re cleaning up after yourself,” Nami threatened. “And you’re forbidden inside until evening.”

Usopp crossed his arms, pissed and sour. “I’m not gonna get sick. Don’t treat me like a kid. I’m a brave warrior of the sea! And I…”

The ship rocked due to a playful side wind and a slightly stronger wave. It was sudden, but the sickness washed over Usopp and he ran for the railing opposite of Zoro and Ruffy.

The captain walked over the deck to the sick boy, sitting on the railing beside him, keeping her eyes at the horizon. Nami sighed and joined them leaning against the railing on Ruffy’s other side in a perhaps unconscious show of consideration.

“You know, Usopp,” the navigator said surprisingly gently. “Since this was your first time drunk you don’t know how hangovers work or how to deal with it, you should listen to us who’ve been drunk and hung-over numerous times in our lives. We ought to know what we’re talking about.”

“Hai. Sumimasen,” Usopp groaned pathetically.

“As long as you understand,” Nami said mercilessly and left, back to her ordinary attitude.

The captain watched her go back to her chair and newspaper. Turning her head around further to directly behind her Ruffy noticed Zoro had fallen asleep again. She wondered if the swordsman ever had nightmares. It didn’t seem so the way he always slept so soundly, snoring his life away.

Ruffy envied him.

“I’m sorry Ruffy,” Usopp moaned.

“Hm?” The captain turned the rest of the way around, spinning her whole body so that in less than one minute she had made an unintended full three sixty degrees turnaround.

“About yesterday,” the boy clarified, his gaze stubbornly locked on the waves below. “Even if you hadn’t kissed Kaya, all that would have happened was me setting sail without knowing she likes girls. I should thank you.”

“Hm? Why should you thank me?”

Usopp fidgeted, still refusing to look at the one who was now his captain. “In all of my dreams where I left the village for the sea and adventures, Kaya would be waiting for me. Then, when I imagined how it would be to return, Kaya was to welcome me back and we’d be together.”

Ruffy listened. Usopp’s mumbling made it hard to hear, so she had to lean in closer, but she liked what she heard. A feeling of nostalgia welled up inside her.

“It won’t be the way I’ve imagined,” Usopp continued, thankfully a little louder and lifting his head up a little. “Though I still feel stupid about it, at least now I know Kaya won’t be waiting for me the way I’ve dreamt. When… If I ever return, maybe she will have… have found…”

The black-haired girl by his side placed an understanding, friendly hand on his shoulder, making him look up at her with surprise. There was sadness in her eyes, even though she still smiled.

“I know, Usopp. Rejection hurts a whole lot.”

Usopp blinked. He hadn’t expected this from Ruffy. On the other hand, maybe he hadn’t actually thought about it. Looking again Usopp had to say his captain wasn’t ugly or anything. That scar on her face might be a bit of a shame, but it didn’t completely ruin her looks.

“So you’ve been in love too, huh?”

Ruffy’s smile broadened a little and looked to the horizon with eyes full of memories, good and bad alike. “His name was Almen,” she said quietly. “He told me to save my feelings for someone… someone else.” She laughed a little sheepishly. “Actually, I know he never liked me much at all, so I was surprised…”

Usopp waited, but it seemed Ruffy’s voice had stuck in her throat. Her head lowered and the brim of the hat hid her eyes. Even though the smile never left her face, she was so close to tears, and Usopp found he definitely didn’t like that.

“Ah, yeah, I understand, you don’t have to say any more. But at least you got to tell him.”

Another sheepish laugh and a hand lifting to scratch behind her ear, Ruffy looked almost apologetic. “I didn’t exactly tell him. I let him hear it.”

Now Usopp lifted a sceptic eyebrow. “You didn’t tell him but you let him hear it? Tell me the difference.”

The girl’s face instantly lit up. “So I can listen to your heart?”

Today’s update on Usopp’s mental state; lost. “Don’t suddenly change subject!”

“Huh? I didn’t change the subject anywhere.”

“Yes you did! What do you mean, ‘so I can listen to your heart’? I asked about the difference between telling someone and letting that someone hear what you want to tell them.”

“You did?”

The poor boy almost tore his hair out. He liked Ruffy better when she just listened because she didn’t make an ounce of sense when she spoke.

Usopp sighed and rested his hurting head in his hands. “I don’t get you.”

“You would get me if you’d let me listen to your heart,” Ruffy pointed out with a slight pout.

“And what does that mean?”

“A bond,” the straw-hat wearing girl answered with a grin. “You let me listen to your heart, and I’ll let you listen to mine. A bond of nakama.”

Nami glanced up from her paper. Some part of her wondered if the captain had explained herself properly only to Zoro, because right now Ruffy was talking like Usopp should know what she was saying already. In fact, the younger girl made even less sense now than she’d made when she asked Nami.

She shook her head with a sigh and returned to her newspaper.

Usopp, while still not grasping much about the listening to hearts thing, did understand that a bond of nakama was of outmost importance.

“Okay, so how do you do this? You have a stethoscope?”

 “Sit down and hold me against your chest,” Ruffy grinned, not noticing how suspicious that sounded.

“Okay…?” Usopp drawled out, giving the girl captain his best look of doubt. Though when Ruffy only lifted her eyebrows in an innocent “what?” way Usopp slowly eased himself down in a sitting position. Ruffy wasn’t late to put her ear against his chest, and Usopp tensed. It felt weird to hold a girl he had no such romantic feelings for to his chest. It felt more than weird as the girl made herself comfortable; half lying on him and holding him around his torso, glued onto his chest.

“Prideful.”

“Huh?” Usopp looked down into Ruffy’s dark eyes.

“You’re a prideful man. But you care a lot.” She closed her eyes. “You care a whole awful lot.”

The boy leaned back against the railing, sinking into himself a little. “’Course I do,” he mumbled and closed his eyes, looking back at his life. “Who’d I be if I didn’t care?”

~*-*~

“Dad left to be a pirate?”

His mother’s soft voice gently filled his ears and her warm hands stroked his head. “That’s right, my boy. I’m afraid he won’t come back, at least not for a long while. Pirates don’t like being tied to one place.”

“Why did daddy leave?”

His mother sighed deeply, but she still smiled. “He said the pirate flag beaconed to him, and he had to answer its call.”

His dad was a pirate. That made him the son of a pirate. Usopp had never been so excited before. He was the son of a real pirate! The brave, adventurous warriors of the sea his dad had always told him stories about. And one day his father would come back and take him along on the journey across the world. His mother too of course. He’d stand watch at the beach every morning, so he would be the first to see when his father’s ship appeared at the horizon.

“The pirates are coming!!!”

He ran screaming through the village towards his little house. His mother was pale. She couldn’t even rise from the bed anymore.

“The pirates are coming!!!”

Lying on that bed for days. Her hands weakly stroked over his hair and cheeks.

“The pirates are coming!!!”

The doctor was in the house. The doctor was in his house! His mother was so thin now. Her hands weren’t as soft as before. The horizon stayed the same each morning. He imagined the sails of a ship flying the skull and crossbones.

“The pirates are coming!!!”

“Don’t scream, boy,” the doctor scolded in a harsh whisper and held him back from reaching his mother’s bed.

“Dad’s ship is coming! Dad’s come to get us! He’ll take us with him to the sea when you get better, mom!”

She couldn’t move. His sweet mother only smiled and glanced at him.

“Don’t speak nonsense, Usopp.” Her voice was weak. “Your dad isn’t coming home. Still…” She just lay there. Her breath sounded painful, but she still tried to talk. “…I’m proud that I married him. I wish I could be there to see you… when you grow up… to be as brave as him.”

Wish she could be there? But she was there. She was right there in front of him on the bed.

“No. Don’t talk like you gonna die…”

The doctor. Why didn’t the doctor do anything? Maybe he didn’t have the right medicine?

“Have you heard about the legendary medicine? It can cure any illness!”

She smiled! Did she feel better now?

“My silly boy. You dream too much.” Her breath sounded strange when she breathed in. “Please listen now. If something happens to me…”

“I want to be silly!!!” he yelled. He had been crying for a long time, but now the tears came out faster. “I don’t want to hear you speak like you’re dying!”

His mother smiled sadly, he thought he could hear her say she was sorry, but then she closed her eyes and didn’t open them again.

“I’ll keep dreaming! I’m the son of a pirate!” he cried, smiling best he could at the still form of his mother. It was hard to tell that the face was hers; it looked so different when she weren’t inside the shell.

“The pirates are coming!!!”

His house was empty.

Every morning he rose before the sun and went to the beach. Sometimes it would rain, and it was cold in the winters, but for the most part the mornings were clear as the horizon brightened.

“I remember this place.”

He turned his head to the side and blinked.

“Ruffy?”

She was seated on a rock with her arms wrapped around legs pulled up against her chest. She was chained to the rock, her wistful eyes on the ocean.

“We used to go here all the time. The sea has such a calming effect, don’t you think?”

He looked back over the calm water. It did make him feel calmer. It made him dream. And then a ship turned up in the horizon.

She ran through the village down to the dock where her friends had just anchored.

“Shanks!”

A man with a straw hat over his bright red hair turned and smiled brightly, opening his arms to welcome her into them. “My girl!”

“Shanks, Shanks, I missed you so much!”

He laughed and ruffled her hair. “I’ve missed you a lot too.”

“That man is Akagami no Shanks?!”

Ruffy turned to him. They were still at the beach in the early sunrise and soapy bubbles were drifting in on the winds. Why was she chained? He tried to take a closer look, but a bubble floated past his nose and popped.

~*-*~

Her head hurt so much and her ears were ringing. Makino’s new serving girl really hadn’t held back and the serving tray had been really hard. It was cold out too and she was scared.

“Hush, hush, Ruffy-chan. Don’t cry, Yasopp is here, I won’t let anybody hit you anymore.”

Yasopp-otou-chan was so nice and his arms so strong and warm. She wished she could stop crying, because that hadn’t been the first time any of the villagers had hit her.

“Why would that girl hit you? I don’t get it. You just happened to stumble and pulled her skirt a bit. It didn’t even come down. Very mean. Here, let daddy take a look at your head.”

She didn’t want to let him. What if he didn’t like her anymore? She loved him. She didn’t want him to hate her.

“There, there, Ruffy-chan. I won’t hurt you now or ever. You were shocked too, right? It’s alright. Come now, show me where it hurts.”

Still sniffing, but she let him move her from his chest to sit further out on his lap where he turned her head to the side.

“Not so bad. It probably throbs a bit but there’s no blood. You’ll have a nice bruise in the morning though.”

He didn’t hate her. His face was still the same smiling one, and she cried from relief.

He rubbed his eyes free from tears. Waves hit the shoreline with a splash. Ruffy sat chained to a rock in front of him, smiling fondly at him.

“What was that?”

“My feelings,” she answered simply. “The memories within my heart. Memories brought up by this place.”

He looked around at all the bubbles, big and small. Then he noticed one in particular. One that was different from the others.

“Why is that bubble red?”

“Don’t go there,” Ruffy warned softly. “You won’t like it.”

A cold wind blew. It was growing darker. Shadows danced around them. The blood red bubble, as big as the rock Ruffy sat on, floated in behind the girl and popped with the sound of a gunshot.

~*-*~

Usopp awoke with a start. The sunlight immediately blinded him and he closed his eyes again, rubbing them free from the burning sensation. “What? What happened?” he asked groggily as he tried to look around again.

“Welcome back to the land of the living.”

The long nosed boy blinked a few times before he managed to focus on the one who spoke. “Oh, Nami.” He looked around. The sun was much higher in the sky than before. “How long was I out?”

“A couple of hours. I was just about to start with dinner.”

The black head that had rested on Usopp’s chest perked up. “Dinner?”

Ruffy looked sleepy and her hair stood out in every direction. Her straw hat had slipped off and now rested on her shoulder.

“It’ll be done soon enough, Ruffy. You’ll have to wait,” Nami told her before she disappeared into the kitchen.

Usopp felt Ruffy shiver slightly against him.

“Ruffy, are you still cold?”

“Hm?” She looked at him with half-lidded eyes, blinked a few times before she rubbed them. “What?”

She was half asleep. It made Usopp wonder if what he had just seen; believing he was a girl in Yasopp-otou-chan’s… Yasopp-otou-chan? No, in his own father’s arms on the way home, wasn’t just a fragment of his own imagination. A very strange dream. But his dad had clearly said “Ruffy-chan”.

“Ne, Ruffy. Was that one of your memories or…?”

The girl rubbed her eyes again. “It was. A place in between your heart and mine.”

“How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

Usopp was getting excited and pulled his sister away from him by her shoulders so he could look at her properly. “How did you get us there? You said you’d listen to my heart but that wasn’t anything like it.”

“It wasn’t?”

“No! I didn’t hear anything that sounded like a heartbeat.”

Ruffy stretched her thin body and Usopp noticed how her loose top became even looser from her chest down. It was almost frightening how skinny she really was.

“I think Nami said something before,” Ruffy said once she let her arms down and shook her head almost clear from the sleepiness. “What does a heartbeat sound like to you?”

Usopp blinked. “Thump-thump?”

“Yes! That’s how Nami said it sounds!” Ruffy said excitedly.

“But it doesn’t to you?”

“Nope. I’ve never heard a heart sound ‘thump-thump’.”

Usopp scratched his head. “Then… when you listen to my heart, what do you hear?”

“You.”

The boy looked at his captain expectantly but she didn’t say any more. She just sat there smiling obliviously.

“And?” Usopp pressed.

“And what?”

“How does it sound when you listen to my heart?”

“Oh…” Ruffy made a thoughtful expression glancing upwards. Then she closed her eyes and leaned closer to Usopp’s chest, brows furrowed in concentration. “Nervousness…” she started “excitement… a little confusion. Lots and lots of pride, but I can’t really tell about what.” She tilted her head the other way. “Some hurt feelings…”

“Yes, yes,” Usopp cut off. “But what does it sound like? You know, a sound effect.”

Ruffy blinked stupidly at him. “Sound effect?”

“Yeah. Can you mimic the sounds from my heart?”

“Of course not,” Ruffy scoffed. She was about to say something more, but Nami beat her to it.

“Dinnertime boys, Ruffy.”

The girl captain immediately jumped, fists pumped into the air. “Let’s eat outside!” she shouted excitedly.

“Again?” Nami said rising a sceptical eyebrow.

“Yup. Because the wind is nice.”

The navigator sighed. “Alright, whatever you say, captain.”

 


 

After dinner Nami took care of the dishes while Zoro went back to sleep and Ruffy and Usopp went under deck to play or explore. Nami didn’t really care. She was alone with a thought that was troubling her more than she wanted it to; Ruffy’s “subtle” refusal to eat in the kitchen.

Nami shook her head and placed the last plate on the rack. She didn’t want to worry about the captain of this ship. Nami wasn’t even an actual part of the crew, but she felt how she was getting too involved. Ruffy was just so… vulnerable. Sure, she had defeated both Buggy and Kuro without too serious injuries, but her foolish carelessness and easy trusting nature was sucking Nami in. Ruffy needed constant looking after so that she wouldn’t get into trouble or worse; trust somebody who’ll hurt her in ways Nami wouldn’t wish for her worst enemy. There was also the fact that Zoro was apparently born without an inner compass and that Ruffy seemed to go where the winds happened to take her. Nami hadn’t questioned Usopp yet. Or rather, she hadn’t thought about asking him about his navigation skills, because Nami knew she was better and could take them to the next island safely. It was about her own life too in that matter, so in fact she wouldn’t leave the navigation to anybody else as long as she was on the ship.

Nami sighed and sat down at the still unused kitchen table, safely secured into the floor.

It was such a nice ship. Old fashioned and a little rough and simple, but Nami loved it already. This ship would take them to the Grand Line. There wasn’t much left now. She had almost reached the end of the nightmare. Soon she had collected a hundred million beli and she would be free. Almost there. Maybe with Ruffy’s help this would be her last journey before she returned home. Even with the girl captain’s screw-up leaving five million beli behind, and the fact that Buggy was one of surprisingly few pirates who knew what valuables was worth. Nami had figured out quite early that most pirates just took everything that glistered. If she was to put pieces of polished, gem shaped glass in a treasure box, pirates would steal it. Nami sighed. Ruffy would certainly be one of those pirates. The gullible little idiot.

A roar of excitement outside broke through Nami’s thoughts.

“Nami!” Ruffy’s voice yelled. “Come out! We found paint and a black flag! We’re gonna paint our mark and finish Going Merry!”

“I’m coming,” the navigator answered. “But I’ll leave the painting to you, captain.”

“All right Nami!”

The tangerine-haired girl left the kitchen and closed the door behind her, hearing Ruffy laugh. She had a nice laugh, Ruffy. It made Nami’s constantly wary heart ease just a little.

She went into the storage room and took a stool, a deckchair and her maps and brought it all outside to where she worked the best while their mark was being painted.

With Usopp hanging over her shoulder Ruffy began to splash paint across the black material that would soon be their flag.

“What the heck, Ruffy?! Is that supposed to be our mark?” Usopp suddenly protested.

“Don’t distract me. I’m not done yet.”

Usopp left her and went straight over to Nami. “She can’t draw,” he told her. “Ruffy can’t draw at all. Wait until you see that creation. You’re gonna be surprised.”

“Okay,” Nami just said with a shrug of her shoulders. She didn’t really care.

Usopp continued over to the napping swordsman and tapped his shoulder.

“What?” Zoro slurred when he woke.

“Hey Zoro. Right now Ruffy’s working on our mark. You’ve gotta see this.”

“Huh?”

“No seriously. You have to see it.”

Zoro rubbed his eyes and sat up straight, yawning.

“Done!” Ruffy’s voice declared loudly and she eagerly turned to her crew to show them her pride on a black flag. “Our skull and crossbones!”

Nami and Zoro stared at the creation with wide eyes.

“That… is our mark?” the swordsman asked with disbelief.

“What do you think?” Ruffy asked excitedly. “Nice, isn’t it?”

Nice wasn’t the right word. Ruffy had said it was a skull and crossbones mark but there was no way anyone would have figured that out. There was just some white with some black dots and lines and then yellow with a red line through it like a finishing touch.

“The pirate flag is supposed to be a symbol of death and terror, but this…” Zoro decided it best to leave that sentence unfinished.

“I do feel terror, but for a different reason,” Nami said with her head tilted and resting in her hand and a look of dread mixed with disbelief.

“I told you so,” Usopp pointed out. “Now it’s my turn, Ruffy. I’ll show you how it’s done. Actually, you should have let me do it to begin with!”

“Do what?”

“Drawing the mark, you idiot! Hurry up now. We must wash out the colour before it dries so that we can start over.”

“Okay,” the girl captain agreed and let Usopp take the flag away, a little dejected. Her well thought out mark didn’t have quite the reaction she had hoped for. But alas, she had enjoyed painting and was sure Usopp knew how she wanted it.

But Ruffy didn’t have the patience needed to wait for Usopp to finish washing the flag, and so she went to the store room and picked out a blank black flag, more paint and another brush. Ojou-sama had been really thoughtful when she packed.

Nami sat in her deckchair and Zoro against the mast, for once not asleep, and Ruffy sat herself on the open deck as they waited for Usopp.

The newest crewmember came out with the now clean flag and looked at them all as they stared at him.

“What?” he asked.

“Do you really know what you’re doing?” Nami was first to ask. If Usopp couldn’t draw either then Nami wouldn’t stay on this ship for another second.

Usopp waved a finger at her with a confident smirk. “How very naïve you are. How could you not know about me; the genius painter? I have fifty years of experience painting on walls. In this world nobody can paint better than I,” he bragged and proudly stuck his nose in the air.

“Amazing! Fifty years!” Ruffy exclaimed.

“That means…” Zoro began, “you’re an old man?”

Usopp’s nose came back down as he gave the swordsman a surprised and slightly indignant look. Nami couldn’t resist.

“Maybe he’s got six or seven grandchildren already.”

“That’s even more amazing!” Ruffy cried out.

“Oi!”

Even though the crewmembers’ laugher admitted to the joke, Usopp didn’t find it that funny, but let it pass. He would show them his naturally innate and developed talent and leave them all stunned.

Ruffy held up the blank flag she’d brought out. “Here. Since the one you have is all wet, you can paint on this while I hang the other out to dry.”

“Where’d you find that?” Usopp asked surprised.

“Where we found the first one,” Ruffy answered as if it was obvious. “I brought out more paint too.”

The long-nosed boy swallowed a chunk of pride and changed his wet flag for Ruffy’s dry one. She was probably being thoughtful, but Usopp couldn’t help but feel like the girl captain pointed out a flaw in him. She who couldn’t even paint a pirate mark!

“Alright! This will only take a moment,” the youngest crewmember declared as he sat down with a brush in hand.

Ruffy tied the wet flag to dry in the rig before she went over to Nami and sat down beside her on the deck. Zoro preferred standing or else he knew he’d not be able to stay awake. Boats were just like cradles to him, their constant rocking cradling him to sleep in an instant. While he could sleep pretty much anywhere, boats were always going to be his favourite.

It took about ten minutes for Usopp to complete his task and he stood with a confident smirk.

“Now this is what a pirate flag should look like. Come and take a look at this masterpiece!” he called and everyone got closer.

Usopp turned and showed them what he had made; a long-nosed skull with one bone and a slingshot crossing.

Nami slapped her forehead, she should have known.

Ruffy didn’t like it either. She scowled. “Who told you to make your own mark?” and she and Zoro both hit the younger boy over the head. “One more time, and make my mark this time.”

“Okay, okay. Can’t you take a joke?” Usopp whined.

“That wasn’t a joke,” Zoro pointed out and the younger boy bowed his head to hide his ashamed blushing.

“I’ll wash that,” Nami sighed and took Usopp’s flag with her into the bathroom. ‘Why am I with these fools anyway?’ she asked herself rolling her eyes. Those were some real idiots she had ended up with. But at least Usopp seemed to know how to handle a brush. Except for it being his own mark, the work itself wasn’t half-bad. In all honesty it was actually quite good.

But that was nothing to dwell on. She quickly washed out the paint and returned to the deck where Usopp was once again painting, this time with the captain looming over him. Nami tied the clean flag on the rig for drying before she went over to take a look herself.

“Wow, that looks great,” she exclaimed with surprised delight. It was much simpler than Usopp’s own mark, but in difference to Ruffy’s you could see what it was; a skull and crossbones, wearing a straw hat. Of course. Since Ruffy treasured that old hat and since it somehow characterized her.

“Looks better at least,” Usopp nodded.

“Yup. That’s our mark,” Ruffy said with a pleased smile. She knew she could trust Usopp.

“So this is our mark from now on,” Zoro stated, he too smiling in appreciation.

“Great. Usopp, let’s paint it on the sail too!” the captain demanded loudly.

“Okay,” the long-nosed boy said and looked up. The sail was not a small job he realized instantly. First of all there was the troublesome fact that they were in the middle of the sea and the sail was moving.

“There seems to be a reef portside of us. We can anchor there,” Nami announced as she too realized the trouble of the work ahead.

‘God bless Nami,’ Usopp thought gratefully. Once they anchored they took down the sail and spent almost two hours painting the mark under both groans and laughs. Once the sail was finally up again, proudly showing the new mark, all of them admired their work.

Ruffy came down from the crow’s nest after securing their new pirate flag in the main mast, smiling from ear to ear. “Okay, she’s finished! The pirate ship Going Merry is complete and ready for action!”

She wanted to dance or at least jump around a little, but she was so tired she fell down, closely followed by the rest of the crew. That hadn’t been the easiest task on this journey. There were spots of white, black, red and yellow all over the deck too. Looking at each other now they also realized they were all as covered with paint as the sail. Ruffy started laughing. Usopp laughed along. Even Nami and Zoro were tired enough to let the laugher rub off on them.

“I’m first to the bath,” Usopp announced and started to rise.

“Only if you beat me to it!” Nami challenged and bolted.

“Hey! No fair!” Usopp yelled and dashed after her, catching the bathroom door only to hear the click of the lock. “Damn!”

Inside the bathroom Nami was still laughing. “Don’t worry, Usopp. I’ll be sure to make it quick.”

Chapter Text

Ruffy’s nightmares and Zoro’s loyalty

A wind swept over the deck and Nami, clean and warm after half an hour in the bath, deeply inhaled the fresh air. It was now early evening and the heat of the day lingered even in the wind. The newly painted mark on the sail smiled down at her and Nami couldn’t help but smile back. Usopp had done that great. Something even better; the calm evening was perfect for map studying. She hadn’t had so much time for her hobby lately, being busy stealing and looking for new targets, and then Ruffy had come along. Nami didn’t regret teaming up with the crazy girl. Now that they had a ship and anchored for the rest of the day she could calmly sit down and plan out the rest of the journey. There were a few places she wanted to go to.

On the figure head Ruffy turned around to see Nami studying the maps she had brought with her and the one she’d stolen from Buggy. At the top of the stairs to the bow Zoro was sleeping against the railing and Ruffy could hear Usopp’s heartbeat from the direction of the bathroom. The girl captain smiled proudly. It hadn’t been that many days since she started off on her journey and already she had three nakama. Three! That’s more than she had ever had before. As a kid they had been three, her included, but that didn’t really count. They had been family.

She looked ahead out over the vast sea to the horizon. The sight of the quiet ocean going on and on in all directions as far as Ruffy could see was the most calming she had seen in a long time. There were occasional clouds dotting the sky and throwing their shadows on the surface of the sea, colouring the clear water a darker shade of blue and deep green. Far off to Ruffy’s right she could see dark grey rain clouds and the shadow of rain falling from them and the rainbows the falling water created. She spotted a ship just outside the shadow of rain, but it didn’t seem to be either marine or pirate if the green she could just make out on the white flag was anything to go by. It wasn’t even heading their way.

Ruffy sighed quietly. She felt like she could sleep. At least for a little while. It was all so calm. She could feel how her eyes grew heavy. Nami was still awake. She could keep a look out. The wounds from Butter’s claws hadn’t healed yet and Ruffy’s body felt sorer than she let on. She was so tired…

~*-*~

Akagami no Shanks. She loved to hear his name. She loved to see him even more. He always took her in his arms, always laughed with her and could even occasionally place a kiss on her cheek. She loved the kisses, even if they were itchy because of his beard. Jii-chan’s beard was itchy too but much rougher than Shanks’, so she loved Shanks’ kisses a lot more.

Makino’s bar was Shanks’ favourite hang-out, so whenever he was ashore, that was where he could be found, and Ruffy was with him almost all the time. Yasopp-otou-chan, Ben-chan, Lucky and all the others took up a lot of her attention too as they told her the most amazing stories. Ben-chan didn’t tell her stories, but Ruffy loved his gentle touch and how he smelled. And he was definitely the kindest of them all. Shanks was evil sometimes and teased her, and Yasopp-otou-chan always told her she was too small to go on adventures with them. That’s why she went to Ben-chan; he always lifted her onto his lap and patted her head without saying a word. He let her cling to his cloths as she sulked over being laughed at by Shanks or any of the other pirates. A few times she even fell asleep against Ben-chan’s chest and would still be there when she awoke.

“Ben-chan,” she said one day when she had crawled up onto Ben-chan’s lap for comfort after Shanks teasing her about not being able to swim.

“Yes?”

“When I grow up, I’m going to marry you!”

The pirates slowly fell silent as the words reached them. Ruffy just kept looking at Ben hopefully. For some reason though Ben-chan started laughing so hard tears appeared in the corners of his eyes. The rest of the crew cheered and raised their glasses for Ben-chan and her. Shanks and Yasopp-otou-chan were the only ones who didn’t laugh.

“Ru-Ru-Ru-Ruffy-chan…” Yasopp-otou-chan sputtered, arms reached out as if he wanted to snatch the girl out of Ben’s arms. “Wha-wha-what are you saying?”

“I want to be Ben-chan’s wife.”

“What the…!” Shanks turned to Ruffy’s still chuckling love interest. “Ben! You tell her. You’re a pirate and she a little girl with her whole life ahead and shouldn’t spend it waiting for someone who never comes to get her.”

Ben placed a callused hand on the seven-year-old girl’s head and said; “That was such a straightforward proposal I’m seriously considering it.”

Yasopp gagged but Ruffy beamed. “Really!”

“Ben, think about her age!” Shanks protested.

“I’ll grow up really fast!” Ruffy promised, pumping her fists into the air.

Shanks gave up and returned to the bar to drink his good mood back. Ruffy was as stubborn as a donkey, yes, but young and impulsive. She’d find a new interest soon… he hoped. Yasopp was just about to say something to Ben when the door was kicked in. The dirty blond pirate just barely managed to dodge the flying door by jumping backwards.

“Excuse me.”

The voice came from a tall man walking through the now broken double doors. A gold chain around his neck and the not-that-fancy coat was typical marks of bandit leadership. After him came a bunch of men dressed cheaper in white shirts, tattered trousers and towels around their heads.

Ben placed a large hand over Ruffy’s shoulders and held her a little closer.

“Oh? So these are pirates? First time I see them,” the tall man drawled with a lazy sneer on his face. “They look pretty dumb to me,” he shamelessly announced as he walked up to Makino at the bar.

Ruffy clutched onto Ben’s shirt and tried to hide, but Ben-chan’s heartbeat was perfectly calm. As she listened around at the other heartbeats in the room she found the only worried heart she could hear was actually Makino’s. Ben-chan’s safe heartbeats were so soothing that the evil grins of the dirty men seemed less frightening than they probably intended to.

“We are bandits,” the leader calmly informed Makino loud enough for everyone to hear it. “But we’re not here to fight. We only want to buy some beer. Ten barrels.”

“I’m very sorry, but we’re out of both beer and rum,” Makino said as calmly as she could.

“That’s strange,” the tall man said with a glance over his shoulder at the crowded bar. “The pirates seem to be drinking something. Is it water?”

“No, it’s beer but… that’s all I had in store.”

“What?” Shanks exclaimed. “Sorry, sorry. Seems like we’ve drunk the place dry. My bad. And I just opened the last one too.”

Ruffy’s ears caught a mumble and glanced into the little crowd of bandits. Two of them were looking at her, whispering together. They started nudging their comrades and nodding at her. She pulled at Ben-chan’s cloths, trying to hide herself from the looks.

Ben had been keeping an eye at his captain, but when the girl on his lap seemed to grow nervous he glanced down at her, and then a crash and Makino’s startled gasp pulled Ruffy’s attention there. The bandit leader was bullying Shanks! Not only that, he was bragging about the bounty on his head.

Ruffy soured, and she grabbed the beaded necklace around her neck.

“Ruffy!”

The little girl jumped at Makino’s suddenly angry voice and the way she hit the bar table. Had she seen? How could she have known?

“But Makino…”

Now everyone in the bar was slowly turning their eyes on the seven-year-old in Ben’s lap.

The bandit leader raised an eyebrow as he absent-mindedly put his Wanted poster on the counter. “A girl? I’ve heard rumours about a monster in the shape of a little girl in this village. That’s the one?”

“Of course it isn’t!” Makino exclaimed hotly. “I don’t have any beer for you and I’m sorry for that. Please don’t bother my customers anymore and please leave now.”

The bandit leader stared down at the young woman standing up against him with a stubborn face. Ruffy liked Makino, even admired her at times. Now was definitely one of those times. The admiration didn’t fade when the bandits threw their heads back and laughed, because Makino stood her ground.

The leader sneered. “Brave little woman. I’d kidnap you if I was in the mood.” He sent another glance at Ruffy before shrugging his shoulders. “Well, if you don’t have any beer then we’ve no business here. I’ll see you later, sweetie,” he added to Makino before he motioned for his men to leave. Just as he was about to exit the bar he waved over his shoulder and sneered at the pirates. “So long losers and Monster girl.”

And then there was water.

~*-*~

Zoro jerked awake when a splash resounded through him. Nami looked up from her maps too.

“Where’s Ruffy?” Zoro asked tensely.

“She was on the figure head a moment ago… Don’t tell me she fell overboard!” Nami shrieked and ran over to the railing.

Zoro didn’t waste any time. He dove into the sea to look for his captain.

The water was chilly deeper down and it was getting dark, but Zoro’s sharp eyes could just make out the red of Ruffy’s shirt startlingly far below him. Zoro kicked water and reached down for his captain, but damn she sank as fast as a rock! The urge to stop the chase and fetch air didn’t help any either.

A rock sticking out saved the situation when Ruffy landed on it and Zoro just managed to catch up with her before she slid off and continued to sink.

She was unconscious. At least Zoro hoped she was. In the cold water he couldn’t feel if there was any warmth at all in the girl’s thin body, and he hoped it was the water that gave her the same colour as a corpse.

On Merry’s deck Nami waited impatiently, trying not to remember that the myth said the sea devoured those who had eaten a devil fruit.

Zoro resurfaced, gasping for air, and pulled Ruffy’s head out of the water too. Nami let out a breath of relief, shook her head free from silly thoughts about stupid myths and went to fetch the rope-ladder she had seen in the storeroom, meeting a fresh-out-of-the-bath Usopp on the way. They would be fine somehow. Ruffy was way too stubborn to die.

“Oi, Ruffy. What are you doing?” Zoro snapped at his captain hanging lifelessly over his shoulder. She didn’t respond, still unconscious, and still pale and cold as death.

The swordsman realized the occasional stories he’d heard about those who had eaten a devil fruit becoming dead weight in water was not only stories. Ruffy was heavier in water than on land.

A splash alerted Zoro to his surroundings and he spotted a rope-ladder hanging from Merry’s railing and Nami and Usopp on top of it.

“Thanks,” he told them.

“Sure,” Nami answered.

“What happened?” Usopp asked worriedly at the sight of Ruffy’s limp body.

“Not sure. Maybe she fell asleep?” Zoro suggested as he hoisted himself and his captain aboard. Placing her on the deck he was about to put his ear on Ruffy’s chest to listen for her heart, but Usopp was wailing so loudly that the girl was dead it was hard to hear any beating inside her chest. Still, it was there. He could feel it.

“She’s not dead, just unconscious,” the swordsman said calmly, cupping his captain’s cold cheek and pondering how to wake her.

Nami for her part had never been the gentle type or one to waste time on talking sense to people who lacked it. She simply lifted a foot and brought it down on Ruffy’s stomach full force.

The dark-haired girl came to life, coughing and spitting and buried her teeth in Zoro’s arm.

Zoro howled in pain, caught off guard. “Ruffy, what the hell!” Then he stiffened. Ruffy’s eyes were wide open, blazing gold and blind as she trashed around and clawed at his arm, burying her teeth deeper and deeper into the flesh. She wasn’t awake!

Nami got a hard kick in the side from the captain and Usopp jumped away frightened and not knowing what to do. Zoro didn’t have time to think. If Ruffy didn’t let go soon his arm would snap! He flipped her around and punched her in the chest as hard as he could. The girl’s jaws unlocked in a gasp as air was knocked out of her and Zoro tore his arm free from her teeth, catching Ruffy around the throat and slammed her head down onto the deck before she could attack again.

“Ruffy! What the fuck’s wrong with you?! RUFFY!”

Her whole body jerked once before she stiffened. The golden eyes blinked repeatedly, the pupil focusing slowly and the iris darkening to brown with every blink.

“Zo… Zoro?”

“Are you awake now?”

“Ha… hai…” Ruffy’s eyes caught the state of Zoro’s arm, blood running freely from the wound, and she brought a hand to her mouth. The metallic taste of blood was rolling down her throat, and when her fingers came off her lips the red liquid was there too. “Ah… I’m sorry. I think I fell asleep,” she said, trying to smile and hide her bloodied face behind her hand.

Zoro didn’t say anything, and he didn’t dare loosening his grip. Trying to distract herself Ruffy looked around and found Nami seated with her back pressed against the railing, looking much like a frightened bunny with her legs brought up against her chest. On Ruffy’s other side she found Usopp in pretty much the same state.

“Ah, U… Usopp. You’re… You’re out of the bath. Then it’s my turn!”

Zoro answered. “Sure, go ahead. It’s almost dark so the rest of us are turning in.”

“Okay,” the young captain nodded and the swordsman released his hold of her throat, letting her escape into the storeroom and the bathroom beyond it.

Zoro, Nami and Usopp watched her leave. Usopp, who had never been good with horror shows, fell to his knees. Ruffy smiling nervously with a face that looked like she’d just eaten raw meat was the most unsettling thing he’d ever seen.

“That scared me,” he breathed out. “Was that really Ruffy?”

“Don’t know. I’ve never seen her like that,” Zoro said.

Nami let out a breath, discreetly holding her side where she knew she’d be bruised in the morning, and looked at Zoro’s arm. “There’s a first aid kit in the kitchen. Come on you guys.”

 


 

Ruffy was hiding in the bathroom, shaking with feelings swaying between disgust and utter horror. She’d almost done it again. Again she’d lost control of herself and now Zoro was hurt. The taste of blood refused to disappear no matter how many times she rinsed her mouth. Furiously rubbing her face trying to wash away the feel of blood from it was in vain. It burnt even when she tried to cool it. She stood with her head in the sink letting cold water pour over her head in hopes of washing away anything at all. She wanted to hurl, but swallowed the bile, tears stinging behind her eyes, hot and ashamed.

“Shanks…”

 


 

After the wound was cleaned, disinfected and bandaged Zoro told Nami and Usopp to go to bed.

“I’ll take care of Ruffy,” was all the explanation he offered and the other two accepted it.

Killing the lights Zoro left the kitchen and walked out into the night. Stars twinkled innocently on the sky and the air kept a light hold on the warmth of the day. It would get cold soon. Yet there was no trace of Ruffy. Zoro couldn’t say he had fully memorized the way around the whole ship yet, but he knew the storeroom connected to the bathroom and what Nami had decided to be the girls’ quarters, so if Ruffy wasn’t yet on deck she was either still in the bathroom or with Nami.

The latter didn’t please the swordsman. Not that he didn’t trust Nami… in this case, but he had a score to settle with the captain and now was the perfect time.

He sat down leaned against the mast, glaring at the door to the storeroom. He’d wait until morning if he had to. Ruffy wouldn’t get away this time.

A door opened with a quiet squeak, but it wasn’t the door Zoro was looking at. He turned to look around the mast and saw his captain closing the door she’d just exited.

Ignoring the fact he’d been glaring at the wrong door Zoro stood and showed himself.

Ruffy's hair was still dripping wet, just like the shoulders of her tank top and she gave him a startled look

“Zoro? I… I thought you’d…”

“You’ve got a few things to explain to me,” the swordsman answered and crossed his arms.

At first Ruffy didn’t say anything. She lowered her gaze to the bandage on Zoro’s arm. His left arm.

“Is it bad?”

Zoro’s frown deepened. “Nothing serious.”

“I’m sorry,” the captain mumbled, not looking at her friend at all. Then she turned back and tried to smile. “Did Nami put you on watch? That’s why you’re out?”

“No. I told them both I’d take care of you.”

The girl flinched visibly and the startled look on her face told Zoro she interpreted him wrong. She actually thought he was going to hurt her?

Ruffy sharply turned and walked towards the rig. “Go to bed,” she told him and started climbing, all the way up to the crow’s nest where she disappeared from view.

Zoro heaved a deep sigh of frustration. This was not going to be easy. Of all the people he’d met in his life, Ruffy was definitely the most stubborn, and the most twisted. How could she be so open-hearted and so defensively secretive at the same time? But Zoro had made a promise and would cut his belly open before he broke it. Ruffy better not regret recruiting him when she had been so pushy on the matter in the first place.

His mind set Zoro climbed the rig after his captain.

She sat curled up in the crow’s nest, hugging herself with her head resting against her pulled up knees. Her shoulders shook and her nails were digging into the flesh of her arms.

“Ruffy.”

She looked up at him, her face a grimace of emotions she was biting down on. Her eyes flickered to Zoro’s left arm again before she looked away.

“What is wrong with you?” the swordsman demanded, leaning against the edge of the crow’s nest beside his captain. “All this time, ever since we met, you’ve been keeping me close and yet you’re out of reach for me. For how long do you expect me to accept that?”

Ruffy didn’t move, and she wouldn’t answer. Zoro could see it in the wide eyes she kept stubbornly locked on a blind spot and how her teeth penetrated the skin of her lip, drawing blood. She was really holding something back.

Zoro touched the bandaged wound on his arm. “I’m not angry you bit me, and I won’t be, as long as you just open up to me.”

“…off…”

“What was that?”

“I tore it off,” Ruffy croaked. Zoro was about to point out his arm was still where it belonged when the girl continued. “I bit off Shanks’s arm.”

“Shanks?”

Zoro had heard the name. Akagami no Shanks was a famous pirate adventurer, known for causing a ruckus wherever he went and leaving the marines tearing their hairs out in frustration. He was as slippery as an eel and laughed even marine admirals in the face.

“How and when did you bite off Shanks’s arm?” Zoro asked, more bewildered than anything.

Ruffy shrugged her trembling shoulders. “Long ‘go… think I was seven years old.”

The respect Zoro held for his captain suddenly went way up. Shanks wasn’t a pirate rookie. Ask almost anyone and they would have heard his name. Any pirate whose name so many people knew was not weak either. A seven-year-old girl had bitten his arm off?! Zoro had never heard that one before. Actually he didn’t even know Shanks was one-armed.

“How?”

The girl turned her head away again.

A stray cloud covered the moon, putting Ruffy in shadows so deep she almost disappeared, and somehow Zoro was reminded of the one thing he most wanted his captain to tell him. A question she’d avoided before using Usopp’s interruption as an excuse.

The swordsman eased himself down beside the girl, noticing how she tried to make herself smaller without edging away from him.

“I get it. You don’t want to spill, so I won’t ask any more about it.”

The flash of a pair of doubtful, dark eyes glanced at him.

“I won’t ask,” Zoro promised her, “in exchange of you answering something else.”

Ruffy fidgeted. She couldn’t understand why Zoro was being so pushy. There were a lot of things she didn’t want to tell him, tell anyone, because there was too much regret etched into those secrets. Too much pain.

Ruffy swallowed. “What do you want to know?”

She hadn’t looked at him when she spoke, but Zoro didn’t care at the moment. She would look at him.

“Why won’t you sleep?”

She did look at him, just like Zoro had expected. Compared to opening up about whatever her deal with Shanks was, the matter of her sleeplessness was harmless. At least that’s what Zoro believed. Yet Ruffy still lowered her gaze and worried on her abused bottom lip, as if that was one other secret she definitely didn’t want to share.

Zoro felt he should take pride in not going crazy at that moment.

“…you won’t ask about Shanks… if I tell you why I don’t want to sleep?”

“That’s right,” Zoro nodded, holding back the urge to growl.

Ruffy’s hands travelled up to her shoulders, her bottom lip trembled. “B-because… I’m scared.”

“Of what?”

“Waking up.”

The swordsman blinked. That wasn't really the first thing that came to mind when anyone was afraid of falling asleep. “Ruffy. Unless you die, when you fall asleep you'll wake up.”

“I know that.”

“Then what are you really afraid of?”

Once again the pirate girl swallowed, and this time Zoro could hear how big a lump she was forcing down. Her voice was fragile and thin when she spoke.

“I’m afraid of waking up… and realize I’ve been dreaming again.”

Zoro looked at his captain. He didn’t fully understand what she said, but he could see it was worse than it sounded. Ruffy was a pirate; she was ready to put her life on the line to reach her dream. But she was still a girl. Strong or not, a girl needs a man to lean on, and Zoro was right there beside her. So why was she still trying to fight alone?

“What are you dreaming of?”

The moon came back from behind the cloud, the brim of the straw hat shadowed its bearer’s eyes and the moon’s light reflected in the first tear falling down Ruffy’s face.

“I dream of freedom,” she whispered. “I dream of friends and adventure. A hundred times over I dream of having nakama I trust and who trust me.” The smile she smiled was strained and the tears kept flowing. “You’ve seen it Zoro, the state of my heart. All my friends are dead. That’s all I know for sure, so I dream about nakama who won’t die instead of me.”

Zoro reached out a hand and tried to dry some of the tears away, but Ruffy moved away from his touch.

“I don’t want to fall asleep,” she continued “because I love you, Zoro. I love you and Nami and Usopp too. Hell, I love this ship! I want to go on lots of adventures with you. But if I fall asleep, and this is a dream, I will wake up alone again.”

“You’re not alone, Ruffy.”

“I never am when I’m dreaming.”

Zoro sighed and decided to gather the girl in his lap. Not the easiest task he realized when Ruffy tried to push him away, but in her distressed state Zoro was the strongest and he soon had his captain pressed against his chest.

“Can you hear it, Ruffy?” he asked her. “Can you hear the beating of my heart?”

Ruffy sniffed and dried her eyes, moving her head until her ear found Zoro’s heart. “I hear it,” she sniffed. “It’s angry, and some sort of pride is hurt.”

“That’s my man’s pride,” he informed her. “We’re nakama, so I’ll be here for you when you need me, but you’re rejecting me every time you refuse to depend on me.”

She was crying harder now. Zoro reached up and covered Ruffy’s eyes with his hand so that she couldn’t see. Her efforts to remove the hand from her eyes were only half-hearted, and Zoro stayed firm.

“I know you’re not dreaming right now, Ruffy. I’m just as real as you are. So go to sleep. I’ll still be here when you wake up.”

The girl sobbed. “Promise?”

“Yes. I promise.”

They sat in silence for a while, Zoro watching the stars above while Ruffy’s tears slowly subsided. She could no longer fight the sleep she had avoided for so long.

“Zoro,” she said quietly.

“Hm?”

“My hat.”

“What about it?”

Ruffy sniffed, and Zoro felt a new wave of hot tears against his fingers. “I promised Sun I would live when she gave the hat to me. As long as I have the hat, I’ll know Sun wasn’t a dream. She was real.”

Zoro nodded. For the first time he understood what Ruffy said. “I can’t give you anything, Ruffy. I don’t have to. Just hold on to me, and you’ll know I’m here and alive.”

The girl smiled through her tears. “Zoro. If you’re a dream, you’re the best I’ve had.”

To that the swordsman answered by reaching up his free hand and ruffled the girl’s mess of hair. “Just go to sleep already.”

And she did.

~*-*~

They had come back, the bandits from before. Makino said to ignore them, not to mind them, but it was hard. They were laughing so loudly it hurt, their heartbeats full of self-conceitedness and a sound that made even Makino’s good food taste bad.

“Remember those pirates?”

“That redhead with a straw hat.”

“What a bunch of gutless guys. Didn’t dare say a word even when hit by a bottle.”

They laughed and laughed, like it was the only thing they could do. The food was starting to feel like sand and was hard to swallow.

Then the leader spoke up.

“When I see cowards like that it just makes me so mad. I should have just killed the lot of them…”

“Shut up!”

The bandits turned, looking down from their tall height.

“Don’t say bad things about Shanks! He’s no coward!”

“Ruffy! Stop!” Makino yelled.

“DON’T SAY BAD THINGS ABOUT SHANKS!”

Makino’s hands were strong, but not strong enough to hold back the will to hurt these bandits. But they were so much bigger. Their feet were so hard.

“What’s wrong with this little wench?”

“Isn’t this the monster girl?”

It hurt when a large hand took a handful of hair and pulled and pulled until there was a face there smelling of beer.

“Nothing special with this one,” the face of the bandit leader said.

“But boss, wasn’t there some noble in need of a slave in Goa?”

“Hm, you’re right. That’s good, maybe you’ll be of some use for me at least, monster girl.”

“Let go of me you big gorilla! Makino!”

But Makino was gone. Nobody was around.

“I said LET ME GO!”

“OW!”

The bad-tasting hand slacked, the ground returned and the wish to hurt the bandits was even stronger than before. But a foot was faster, kicking so hard the world almost went black. Almost. The strength and will to fight didn’t all fade away. A hiss and yet another failed attack.

“I changed my mind, monster girl. You’re not worth a rotten egg, so I’ll just kill you instead.”

An old familiar voice rang over the sounds of the bandits. “Release her!”

The old mayor. Why was he here? Why was he kneeling on the ground?

“I don’t know what she has done or said to you, but release her. I will even pay ransom, just let her go.”

More laugher, worse than before, drunk on a feeling of strength from the sight of the kneeling old man.

“What’s this? She’s important to you? Well, well, what does this girl have you want to save so badly, I wonder?”

The beads. The beads could not be removed. The mayor, Makino, jii-chan and mother all said to never remove the beads.

“Hm? Can this be it? Black pearls?”

A hand snatched the necklace away.

“Don’t touch those!” Makino’s voice screamed.

The world turned red.

Icy blue eyes glared and a heavy force pressed against his chest. Landing heavily on his back with a weight still on his body Zoro looked up. Ruffy lay limb across him, in chains, covered with blood and tears flowing from blind eyes.

“If you want to protect her, you can’t dive so deep into her heart.”

Zoro looked up. A woman in a white kimono stood to her thighs in blood and fire, looking at him with the same icy blue eyes that had pushed him out of that vision. Her hair was straight and black, falling around her delicate face, over her thin shoulders and disappeared into shadows. Actually, it looked like the woman was either fading into a shadow, or was made by one.

“What… do you mean? Who are you?”

“Sun wasn’t given enough time to fully heal Ruffy. Her heart is still shaking,” the woman said instead of answering.

Zoro shook his head, trying to ease the sudden dizziness he felt. “What are you talking about?” he demanded.

“There’s not enough time,” she said again and raised a delicate-looking hand, her white palm rough with calluses. “Calm Ruffy’s heart, so that she won’t be overpowered by our shadows.”

Snowflakes blew into Zoro’s face, and then once again that force pushed him backwards and away from the place, but it kept Ruffy.

~*-*~

Zoro jerked awake. The sky was still dark with the stars twinkling more brightly than they had done in the evening. Tensing his arms Zoro could feel the body that was still there and released the breath he’d been holding. Ruffy was still with him. She slept, albeit a little worriedly, and was clinging to Zoro’s shirt for dear life.

“Ruffy.”

She moaned and buried her face deeper into his chest.

“It’s okay, Ruffy. I’m still here, just like I promised.”

Another whimper answered him and Zoro leaned his head back, looking at the sky. Now he had a whole new bunch of questions regarding his captain.

“Who was that woman?”

“Sun wasn’t given enough time,” she had said. Zoro recognized the name. Ruffy mentioned her once in a while, but never anything specific, and before they fell asleep she had said the straw hat was a present from this Sun person.

The shadow woman he had met inside Ruffy’s heart was not Sun, so who had she been?

Suddenly Zoro felt Ruffy’s teeth in his chest and jolted, for a second thinking his captain was having another horror fit, but a quiet whistle stilled him. Ruffy’s body was relaxed and her jaws didn’t chew. The whistling sounds she made through her nose, like snores.

“You bite in your sleep? Geez, Ruffy.”

 


 

When Nami awoke that morning she felt irritable. It hadn’t been the best night’s sleep she’d had and she was angry with herself. Something was wrong with Ruffy and Nami hated the fact she was worried. She was falling deeper and deeper! It couldn’t continue. Nami had to leave this crew and soon, before it became too painful to be on her way again. To be alone again.

And still, even though resolved, when the navigator walked out into the early morning and was greeted by Zoro just coming down from the rig, carrying a deeply sleeping girl with a straw hat, she was flooded with relief. Ruffy’s sleeping problems were over, and this morning they could eat breakfast in the kitchen.

Usopp was also an early riser. Zoro had only just reached the deck when the long-nosed boy opened the hatch to the men’s cabin.

“Good morning,” he said quietly. “How’s Ruffy?”

“Fine,” Zoro answered blandly. “She hasn’t slept properly for a while, so she’ll probably sleep through breakfast.”

“Just put her to bed,” Nami suggested.

“Can’t. The little vampire is biting me and won’t let go.”

Usopp blushed scarlet, but Nami snickered.

“So, our little captain is sucking at your breast?”

“She is not sucking me anywhere, thank you very much,” Zoro growled in warning. Too bad Nami wasn’t so easily fazed. She had seen way scarier faces than Zoro’s. Truth to be told the swordsman was quite easy on the eyes compared to some faces Nami had seen in her life.

“Whatever you say,” she sang a bit too merrily. “Usopp, help me with the breakfast.”

Chapter Text

The bounty hunters Josack & Johnny

When Ruffy opened her eyes the first thing she saw was a close up view of a white shirt with stitches across the chest. She lay perfectly still, sharpening her ears. There was a heart beating inside the shirt. A steady, loyal and familiar heartbeat.

The soft splashing of waves. Wind filling a sail and playing over her body.

There were another two heartbeats. One of a prideful character without confidence. The other was a struggling but caring girl’s heart.

Usopp and Nami.

Ruffy looked up. Zoro was slightly paler under his chin than over the rest of his body. The chin was very well shaved too.

“Sleeping, huh.”

Another wind caressed her body. She felt heavy, like she had been sleeping for a very long time and now had to wait until her body was aware that she was awake and ready to start moving around again.

A shadow fell over her and she quickly closed her eyes. But Zoro was here. She dared crack open one eye to check.

“Ruffy? You awake?”

A familiar voice. It was hard to see against the light, but it was a nice and concerned voice.

“Usopp?”

“Geez, Ruffy. Finally. You’ve been sleeping for almost two days. I thought you’d never wake up.”

That awoke the pirate girl and she sat up straight. “Two days!?!?!”

“Ow!”

Zoro held his abused chin, glaring at the surprised face in front of him.

“Ah, sorry Zoro.”

“Geez. So you’re finally up. About time,” the swordsman growled and pulled the straw hat down over his captain’s eyes.

She pulled it back with both hands. “Have I really been sleeping for two days?” she demanded to know.

“Almost,” Usopp answered. “You slept all day yesterday, throughout the night and now it’s noon.”

Ruffy tried to count in her head. “How many meals have I missed? I’m hungry! Is it dinnertime?”

“I was just thinking about starting on the dinner,” Nami said as she walked over to the group by the railing. “And let me guess; you want to eat outside.”

“Yup. How’d you know, Nami?” Ruffy asked smiling obliviously.

“I know there’s no sense of reason inside that so-called head of yours, among other things. Usopp, help me.”

“Yosh.”

Ruffy stayed and watched Nami and Usopp disappear into the kitchen. Nami had been a little hard to recruit, but it sounded like she had started taking liking to Usopp. Ruffy smiled.

Zoro’s chest was warm and Ruffy still felt sluggish.

“I’m sorry, Ruffy,” the swordsman mumbled.

“Huh? Why?”

“When you fell asleep, I think I dove into your heart.” Zoro lifted a hand and touched the beads around his captain’s neck. “These keep you from going crazy.”

He had thought Ruffy would get angry and react violently. Well, she didn’t seem overly happy, but instead of beating him she simply removed herself from his chest and sat on her knees in front of him.

“What did you see?” she asked quietly without looking at him and making sure the brim of her hat hid most of her face.

“Bandits I think. Especially one with a scar around here,” Zoro pointed to his right temple. “He was a lot bigger than you, so I think you were just a child and you tried to fight him. That’s all.”

Ruffy’s head lifted a little, but not enough for Zoro to see more than her nose. “Really? That’s all?”

“Yes,” Zoro said honestly. “That’s all from that memory, because someone stopped me from seeing anything more after the beads were taken from you.”

Finally Ruffy looked up from under the brim of her hat, but instead of anger her face only looked surprised. “What?” she asked. “Somebody stopped you? I did?”

“No, not you. A woman with blue eyes. I’ve no idea who she was, but she talked to me.”

The young girl blinked once. Twice. Then recognition sparked in her brown orbs.

“She…? Was she beautiful, with long black hair and pale skin?”

Zoro shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, maybe. I can’t remember properly and half of her was… covered with shadows.”

Ruffy slumped, pulling her hat down so that Zoro couldn’t see her face anymore. “Aki,” she whispered. “Aki. She spoke to you? What did she say?”

“Very little,” the swordsman answered, wondering how much was safe to let Ruffy know. She did seem to know who the woman was, which was understandable since she was inside Ruffy’s heart. Still. “She asked me to calm your heart, so that you wouldn’t be overpowered by shadows.”

The girl didn’t look up. Her shoulders started to shake. Zoro thought she was crying and reached out a hand to put it on his captain’s shoulder.

“That sounds so much like Aki.”

Zoro blinked. That wasn’t a sob, it was s giggle. Ruffy was laughing!

“She’s still with me,” she said and raised her head, smiling brightly and relieved into Zoro’s face. “Aki is still with me!”

 


 

Tacos. Nami had been delighted when she found the bread and spices for it this morning. It was perfect for eating outside, simple to make and still so good. Usopp had since the day before proved to be good help in the kitchen too, something that made cooking a lot less boring. His lies were obvious, but he knew how to level his voice and make it sound like he himself believed all the crazy stuff he spoke about. Nami couldn’t help herself, she laughed, which only encouraged Usopp to keep telling his tall-tales.

In the end Nami’s sides were hurting from laughing so much, but at least they had all the ingredients ready and the bread had been heated. Usopp found a tray and managed to load almost all the bowls of vegetables onto it while Nami took the pot with minced meat.

“Let’s go feed the love-birds,” she giggled.

“Yeah. You think we should start preparing the wedding? Ruffy would look more girly in a pink dress, don’t you think?”

Nami almost dropped the pot when she doubled over from laugher.

“Is something funny?”

Usopp smiled brightly into Ruffy’s curious face. “Food is always fun, Ruffy-chan.”

“Really?”

The girl tried to take a closer look at the vegetables to see the fun about them, but Usopp walked past her. After him walked Nami, still shaking from giggles, and seeing Ruffy she smiled with a face red from all the laugher.

“Would you like a white or pink dress for the wedding?”

Ruffy blinked. “What wedding? Nami, are you going to marry?” she asked, completely lost on the joke.

Nami, since her hands were full, bumped heads with Ruffy instead of ruffling her hair and headed towards the bow, kicking the sleeping Zoro’s foot to alert him to dinnertime. Ruffy sat still, looking a lot like a living question mark as she stared after the snickering pair.

“Come on, Ruffy. We’ll start without you,” Usopp called and the captain threw her friends’ strange behaviour aside and hurried to the food.

After dinner Zoro, Nami and Usopp all leaned back with sighs of contentment. Nami thought she had made a lot and would have leftovers for tonight, but there wasn’t even a slice of onions left. Ruffy had cleaned every bowl.

The peaceful moment was however shattered by the sudden explosion of a cannon too close nearby. Usopp nearly wet himself from fright. Hell, Zoro wasn’t far from it. He spun around and spotted Ruffy beside their own mortar.

“What the hell are you doing all of a sudden!” the swordsman yelled.

“Trying out the cannon, now that I finally can,” Ruffy answered simply without turning around. “But it didn’t hit the mark,” she added with a whine.

Usopp eagerly walked up to her. He’d always wanted to try his shooting skills with a real cannon and here stood his dream just screaming at him to live it. “Here, my amateur sister, let me try it.”

“I aimed for that rock,” the captain said and pointed, willingly stepping aside to let Usopp show what he was good at.

“Yosh,” Usopp said with confidence, inside wondering how the hell he was supposed to hit a rock that far away. It didn’t look bigger than a thumb from where they stood. And his knowledge about cannons was limited too. How wide was the hitting range? How strong was the thing?

Usopp swallowed. He wanted to show Ruffy he was good at something, because when fighting for his village Ruffy hadn’t seen him fight, and still she had defended his pride. That didn’t mean she hadn’t unintentionally managed to hurt it by being so much stronger than Usopp.

“It’s quite far. With the current distance…” he lowered his voice to a whisper as he levelled the mortar higher, “maybe this would do?”

The cannon boomed, firing the ball with such destructive speed even Usopp’s sharp eyes had troubles following it.

The cliff shattered in the middle, the top of it falling off.

“Wow! You hit it in one shot!” Ruffy shouted with excitement.

“What?! I hit it?” Usopp cried out in surprise. Then he quickly composed himself. “I mean; of course I did. I’m the master of aiming. Well, what do you think? Changed your mind?”

“You’re great Usopp!” Ruffy praised and Usopp’s chest grew wider in response, until the girl continued; “You’ll be our sniper from now on!”

The liar sputtered. “What? What do you mean ‘sniper? Why not Captain?”

“Because I’m the captain!”

Zoro and Nami exchanged amused glances, Nami hiding her snickering behind a hand.

“Oh, well, I guess I can settle on that for the time being,” Usopp compromised. “But if you do a poor job or ever chicken out, I’m going to replace you as captain.”

Ruffy crossed her arms with a frown on her mouth as she thought it over, but it didn’t last long before her normal bright smile adorned her face. “Alright. Fine.”

The day wasn’t over yet though. A playful wind hit Ruffy’s back, knocked her hat off and took off with it.

“MY HAT!”

Zoro and Nami sharply turned to see what happened. Nami knew the hat was important to Ruffy, Zoro knew how important. The swordsman dashed after the hat in the heels of his desperately flailing captain. Nami followed them with a surprised Usopp close behind.

As they passed the galley towards the alt Zoro knew they wouldn’t make it, not without jumping overboard and the girl pirate was definitely ready to do so, but she couldn’t swim.

Zoro gave Ruffy’s rear a hard shove that had her flying after her dear hat with more speed. She caught it. Ruffy gave a short laugh of relief, before she realized there was no wood under her to land on; there was only water and she shrieked loudly, hugging the straw hat to her chest.

Zoro hadn’t stopped moving after shoving Ruffy away. Now he somehow lucked out, managing to catch Ruffy’s heel, but unfortunately lost his footing and was about to fall over the railing himself.

“Damn!”

Nami and Usopp caught up and grabbed a hold of the swordsman’s kicking legs, forcefully pushing them down. Zoro groaned in pain from the railing’s edge against his crotch and quickly straightened out his body, bringing Ruffy along by the foot.

The black-haired girl gasped and spluttered. The hat was in the safety of her arms, but her head had gotten dipped in the sea.

“Geez, what’s the deal with that hat?” Usopp asked with slight annoyance.

“I got it from Sun,” Ruffy said before sneezing. “I promised her I would live on until I found Shanks to give the hat back to him.”

Nami took out a handkerchief and started drying the girl’s face and snot away.

“Ow, Nami, don’t rub so hard.”

“You promised to live on?” Usopp repeated slowly.

“Yeah, a lot of people want me dead. That’s why,” Ruffy explained and shook her head, showering her friends with drops of seawater before she put the hat back on her head.

A slight prick of doubt settled in Usopp’s stomach. Maybe joining this girl hadn’t been such a good idea after all. Was it really safe to laze around like they were doing? What if they were attacked by terrible pirates?

The girl captain’s head turned sharply.

“Ruffy?”

“COME OUT YOU DAMN PIRATES! I’M GOING TO SLAUGHTER EVERY LAST ONE OF YOU!!!”

Usopp had thoughts like ‘I knew it’, but his captain hurried to her feet and ran around the galley. A man with shades and loose clothing was kicking around on the deck.

“Oi! Who do you think you are?!” Ruffy cried at the man in protest.

“Who I am is,” he charged for her with his sword high over his head “NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!!!”

The straw hat girl easily avoided the sweep of the broad katana, surprising herself a little. Sleeping had really helped her body’s fitness. The sensation of being strong made Ruffy want to dive headfirst into battle. But the opponent she had at hand didn’t sound like one she should go all out with.

The man snarled, distorting the kanji for Sea tattooed on his cheek. “We have taken the heads of countless infamous pirates. A no-name rookie pirate like you…” he gritted his teeth and charged again. “HOW DARE YOU TRY TO KILL MY PARTNER!?!”

Ruffy only just had the time to ask “What partner?” before she sidestepped the sword coming down and jumped over the strange man, grabbing his head with her fingers curling around the jawbone. “I don’t know who you are but… STOP WRECKING MY SHIP!!!” she roared as she used the power of speed and momentum and threw the man over her head and into the wall between deck and the storeroom

Her hat fell off and Ruffy quickly grabbed it before another wind tried to take it away. She heard the man mumble something before she saw Zoro calmly walk around the corner of the galley, taking a curious look at their intruder.

“Huh? Hey. Aren’t you... Johnny?”

Ruffy looked up. “Zoro, you know this guy?”

“Zoro?” The intruder, Johnny got back to his feet and saw the green-haired swordsman by the stairs. “Zoro-aniki! Is that really you?! You’re on a pirate ship? Why?!”

“You are Johnny.” Zoro glanced around. “Just you? Where’s Josack?”

“Well, yes. The thing is… jus now, Josack is… He’s sick.”

Nami and Usopp peeked around the corner.

“Josack is sick?” Zoro repeated bewildered. “Where is he?”

“On our boat. I’ll get him.” The man ran over to the railing where a hook clutched to the wood. As he jumped onto the small boat to bring his partner aboard the Going Merry Usopp walked over to Zoro.

“What’s going on? Who is that guy?”

Ruffy and Nami came closer as well.

“A bounty hunter,” the swordsman explained. “I met him and Josack a few years back.”

“When you were a bounty hunter too?” Nami asked just for clarification.

“I’ve never said I was a bounty hunter,” the older man sighed and scratched the back of his head. “But yes.” He walked over to the railing to see if his old friend needed help.

Josack, Ruffy noticed instantly, was in pain and afraid. Zoro helped Johnny carry the man aboard and placed him in the sun on deck.

“He’s really sick,” Zoro said quietly, seeing the man’s pale face, remembering what he used to be like.

“Yes,” Johnny sobbed. “He was just fine until a few days ago. Then he suddenly started to go pale and kept passing out and I don’t know why.”

Nami felt her eyebrow twitch in annoyance. This wasn’t real, right?

Johnny snivelled and tried to dry the tears flowing freely. “His teeth have begun falling out, and old wounds have reopened. I just don’t know what to do anymore!”

Ruffy’s eyebrows were furrowed together in confused thought. She thought she’d seen something like this before, but it hadn’t been something you died from… or was it? She couldn’t remember. She scratched her cheek, thinking hard.

“I’m at a loss,” Johnny continued “so I let him rest on that cliff but… suddenly a cannonball came flying!”

Usopp jerked as he realized whose fault this was and Ruffy was abruptly pulled from her thoughts. She hadn’t heard any heartbeats from the cliff! She locked startled eyes with Usopp and they both stood straight and bowed.

“We are very sorry.”

Johnny just slumped, not feeling better in the least. “It’s fine, what’s done is done.” He snivelled. “If all problems could be solved by only an apology we wouldn’t need the police force.”

Usopp felt how his blood ran cold. Because of him this poor, sick man would die!

Ruffy frowned in confusion. “You need a police force right now?”

Nami’s fist hammered down on the captain’s head. “That was an expression. Don’t make yourself stupider than you already are,” she growled.

Johnny silently thanked the bright-haired girl. He hadn’t known whether the question was a jibe, an attempt at cheering him up or a serious question. It had distracted him for a moment however. Maybe that had been the straw hat girl’s intention. It didn’t help though, as his partner lay before him breathing shallowly and clutching the bleeding wound on his stomach; a one-and-a-half-year-old unexpectedly reopened battle scar.

“Josack and Johnny,” he sniffed. “From time to time pirates have been shaking in their boots hearing our name. My partner. My aibou. We’ve been a team for so long and now…”

Zoro wished he had some words of comfort. He wasn’t tight friends with them but they were partners and almost like brothers. Watching Josack like this actually hurt.

But Nami had had enough. “You guys are even stupider than Ruffy!” she yelled at them.

Zoro jerked at her sharp voice and gave the woman a warning glare. “What’s that, Nami?”

Johnny picked up his sword. “Hey, lady. If you’re mocking my dying pal I won’t let you off.”

The navigator stood unfazed before them as she turned to the crew’s newest member and the captain. “Usopp, Ruffy. There’re limes in the kitchen. Squeeze the juice out and bring it here.”

“Roger!” they both called and turned, until Ruffy realized what Nami had said and stopped dead.

“Why the kitchen? If you just want the juice we can squash the limes out here.”

“I don’t care how you want to do it as long as you bring out those bloody limes!” Nami yelled.

The dark-haired girl brought her shoulders up and closed her eyes as if she thought Nami would hit her. Nami noticed it and her angry frown turned into one of concern. She had never seen Ruffy with such a frightened expression.

Zoro noticed it too.

“H-here are the limes!” Usopp yelled loudly as he came out with a small barrel full of the green and yellow fruits, unconsciously saving the situation.

Ruffy blinked. “Oh, great… Nami, why do we have to squash limes?”

The navigator sighed and pointed at the patient. “I’ll explain. Just squeeze the juice into his mouth.”

Ruffy and Usopp hurriedly sat on each side of Josack’s head and Ruffy made a hole in the fruit with her finger before she started squeezing the juice out of it into the sick man’s mouth. Usopp tried to copy her and was a little shocked to find he couldn’t. He covered up quickly by digging his thumb nails into the taut skin of the fruit and split it a bit.

“Nami,” Zoro voiced hesitatingly as he watched the process. “What’s the meaning of this?”

“He’s afflicted with scurvy,” the younger girl explained matter-of-factly. “If it’s not too late he should recover just fine in a few days.”

“Re… REALLY, ANEE-SAN?!” Johnny cried out, his tears of grief turning into tears of relief and happiness instead.

“Please don’t call me that,” Nami asked of him before she continued. “In the past, scurvy was like a death sentence for sailors, but it’s caused by of lack of Vitamin C. Back in the days it was impossible to effectively store fresh fruits and vegetables on the ships.”

Ruffy looked up with a bright, awed smile and eyes gleaming with admiration. “Wow Nami, you’re so smart. Just like a doctor.”

“I always knew you were a smart woman,” Usopp nodded confidently as if Nami had learnt everything from him.

“This is common knowledge dammit! Learn something before you all die from stupidity!” Nami yelled at them.

A hand suddenly slapped gently against Ruffy’s arm and she looked down. Without notice she had discarded the dry lime in the mouth she had squeezed juice into just a moment ago. Usopp, having not noticed this, had resumed squeezing juice into the man’s mouth and now he was choking. It is in times like these the gag reflex comes in handy. The man coughed up the fruit stuck in his throat and sat up, blinking at the people around him before…

“Refilled with nutrition and back in action!”

“You’re healthy, aibou!” Johnny cried joyously and the two danced around like fools.

“Like hell he’s recovered already!” Nami screamed. Geez, after being so close to death the man shouldn’t be up until earliest the next day, and definitely not running and dancing.

Then the duo stopped and faced the staring pirate crew, looking cool and intimidating, one dressed in blue and dark purple and the other wearing green and yellow.

“Sorry for the late introductions folks. I am Johnny.”

“And I’m Josack. We are bounty hunters. Yoroshiku.”

Nami noticed that, if the swords was any hint, Josack was left-handed and Johnny right handed. If that was the case, then they might actually be a team to watch out for, especially if they moved like one, attacking from two angles at the same time.

Going Merry’s captain fired a wide, bright smile. “I’m Monkey D. Ruffy. We are pirates.”

Josack nodded. “I don’t know how to thank you. I thought I was a goner for sure.”

Johnny chuckled. “Yeah well, colour me surprised. The Pirate Hunter Zoro has become a pirate himself. What happened?”

Zoro grinned and walked up to his friends. “I never expected to see you two here either. It’s good to see you again,” he said and reached out his hand.

The bounty hunters returned his smile and Johnny was first to grab the offered hand. Josack reached out to follow suit, but…

“Like I said,” Nami voiced with held back annoyance when Josack hit the deck, out cold. “You don’t recover from scurvy this fast. Just put him to bed already.”

 


 

When Zoro came back to deck after helping Johnny put his partner to bed, the rest of the crew all sat around in silence, probably thinking about what had just happened and what it meant.

Nami was the first to open her mouth, speaking soberly. “Well, let this be a lesson to the rest of you.”

Zoro nodded in agreement. “Illness is a danger other than storms and sea monsters we’ll have to face on long voyages at sea; you can’t fight it with brute strength.”

Usopp sat against the mast, looking at the clouds passing above them. “That Josack. He would have died if he hadn’t come across us.” He lowered his gaze to the people around him. “We need somebody who knows about food and see to that we stay healthy. We need a sea cook.”

Ruffy froze.

“I agree,” Nami said. “Without a cook to mind the food stores and cooking we won’t survive. Actually, cooking is the most important talent you need when out on the seas.”

“But you’re already doing that, Nami,” Ruffy pointed out.

“Not really. I know the basics about cooking, nothing more. My skill is nowhere near enough to help us. Besides, I can’t both navigate and mind the food. We do need a sea cook for that.”

The three pirates looked at their captain. She swallowed. Since Nami had done the cooking up to now Ruffy had thought she was clear on the matter. Obviously not.

She turned away from the eyes watching her. “Fine. We’ll look for a sea cook. One that can make sure we eat well and stay healthy.”

This was not the reaction any of the crewmembers had expected. Zoro hadn’t noticed his captain having any troubles with food or the people cooking it for her. Well, of course he’d noticed her reluctance to go near the kitchen, and that thing she had yelled at the butler in Usopp’s village; “I’m gonna turn you in to the kitchen!”

“Zoro-aniki.”

The pirates turned surprised eyes towards the bounty hunter who had just joined them without their notice.

“What is it, Johnny?” Zoro asked, since he was the one addressed.

“I heard what you just said. If you’re looking for good cooks, I know just the place. Can’t promise they’ll want to join you though.”

“Oh?” Nami and Usopp leaned forward, interest showing in their eyes.

“The place has rumours running wild around it and is famous for various reasons. One of those reasons is that it is actually a ship. A floating restaurant in the middle of the sea.”

“A sea restaurant?” Ruffy asked, tilting her head. That actually did sound cool and she couldn’t help the spark of curiosity she felt.

“That’s right,” Johnny nodded. “From here it should take about two or three days to reach it depending on the wind. But the place is close to the Grand Line, so you better be careful. Some really dangerous guys show up there.” The man leaned closer to Zoro, lowering his voice. “I heard even The Hawkeyed man has been there.”

Zoro’s whole body went rigid. He hadn’t heard the name in a long time and the jolt he felt was almost equal to the thrill of battle. The Hawkeyed man; the world’s greatest swordsman.

Johnny passed the former pirate hunter and smiled at the ship’s captain. “If you like, I can take you to the sea restaurant.”

“Alright!”

Chapter Text

Night before reaching the floating restaurant

Nami and Johnny somehow found each other. Out of him and Josack, Johnny majored in navigation, which made him perfect for planning and conversation to Nami. He also knew these waters quite well and pointed out a current they could hitch a momentary ride on that would probably save them at least half a day if they had a good enough tailwind. It was also fun to read maps with him Nami realized as she started to ask for the safest trip to the Grand Line.

“We never ventured that close to the entrance or the Calm Belt. The currents near the Red Line are too dangerous for such a small a ship as ours. However, I hear a lot of people stop by Logue Town here to buy supplies.”

“Logue Town,” Nami repeated slowly. “The town of the beginning and the end.”

“That’s right, another reason many pirates stop by the town. The execution spot of the pirate king Gold Roger himself.”

Nami smiled and stole a glance at Ruffy who was running around on Merry’s railing, whistling a happy little tune.

“Well, we’ll see,” Nami told Johnny. “I’m only the navigator. In the end, where we go is up to Captain.”

Johnny chuckled. “That’s why I and Josack travel alone. We don’t have to go where anybody else points.”

“Perhaps, but our dream is to go to the Grand Line,” Nami answered before she unrolled the map over Grand Line and asked for everything the man knew about the sea around the entrance to the Grand Line, wanting to confirm where facts stopped and rumours started.

Zoro and Usopp exited the galley after giving Josack another round of lime juice.

“Zoro!” Ruffy called and caught herself in the rig. “How is Josack?”

“He’s coming around,” the swordsman answered with a shrug.

“Great! Usopp!” The girl ran to the crew’s newest member and patted his shoulder as she passed him. “You’re it!”

“What?! Hey, no, you’re cheating!” the long-nosed boy yelled and ran after the giggling girl until he managed to tag her back. Ruffy was so damn fast though and Usopp felt the light slap of the captain’s hand on his head after only seconds of running.

Zoro fell asleep against the railing as the tag game continued and Usopp and Ruffy chased each other all around the ship until Josack walked out of the galley.

“Ah! Josack is fit!” Ruffy smiled brightly and stopped her pursuit of Usopp for a second.

“Un. Thanks to you folks. You’ve saved my life.”

Ruffy smiled back, leaped across the deck to where Usopp was hiding behind the mast, tagged him and turned to jump onto the railing, but Zoro sat there sleeping with his hands behind his head for support and Ruffy’s foot got caught in the hook of the swordsman’s arm.

Zoro jerked awake from the contact and Ruffy’s startled yelp, realizing she was about to fall overboard he reached up with the arm Ruffy’s foot had caught on and grabbed a hold of her thigh, using all his weight and what support the railing could offer to press her backwards. Usopp had thrown himself after his sister to pick up the chase, but now caught the hem of the girl’s shorts and pulled with all his might. All three of them tumbled into a heap.

“That was close,” Usopp sighed breathlessly, both from the sudden kick of adrenaline and the fact Ruffy had hit his stomach before she slid off to the side.

“What the hell were you doing?” Zoro scowled at the younger pair, only to be met by a disapproving frown from his captain. She lifted a hand and pointed down.

“Hands. Off.”

Zoro and Usopp blinked before they looked to their hands. Usopp’s had in the moment of relaxing slipped a little too far under the hem of Ruffy’s shorts, the back of his fingers “luckily” enough only brushing against the soft texture of Ruffy’s underwear. Zoro had his hand way too far up her thigh.

Nami snickered along with Josack and Johnny who started singing “sitting in a tree…” behind their hands as Usopp and Zoro’s hands quickly left their inappropriate places, Usopp’s accompanied by a startled shriek. Ruffy only detangled herself from her friends and stood.

She turned to the swordsman and smiled. “Sorry Zoro, I didn’t see you there. Thank you for catching me.”

Zoro sighed and leaned back against the railing. “Geez, what were you doing really?”

“Playing tag,” the captain replied with a sunny grin and removed her hat to straighten her ruffled hair.

That’s when Josack stopped singing and stared at the girl as she continued to explain how she had been aiming for the railing.

Johnny noticed the sudden silence from his friend and turned to him. “Aibou?”

Nami looked too, and she hoped the face Josack was making wasn’t as bad as she interpreted it as.

“You said your name was Ruffy-san?”

“Yes,” the girl responded to Josack’s question as she replaced the straw hat on her head.

Nami held her breath as Josack stepped forward, until…

“What kind of madman has gone loose on your hair?”

Usopp and Ruffy gave the bounty hunter a blank look, Nami breathed out in relief and Zoro smirked both from the comment and the memories it brought up.

Ruffy blinked several times, her brain nearly short circuiting. “There’s a madman loose in my hair?” She tentatively brought her hand up to the black tousles in search for whatever Josack saw there, hat hanging in its string around her neck.

“Well, I don’t know but whoever cut this must have been blind!” Josack berated her as he boldly shoved his rough fingers into the black hair, pulling it up between his index and long fingers to show just how unevenly cut it was. “Just look at this, completely ruined. I certainly hope you didn’t pay the bastard who cut this for you.”

Johnny waved a hand at his partner. “Aibou, have you forgotten what happened last time you took it upon yourself to fix a woman's hair?”

Zoro coughed in attempt to hide how amused he was. The girl captain was confused enough without him bursting out in hysterics.

Ruffy just kept blinking. “I… cut it myself,” she confessed uncertainly.

Josack looked at her for a second, then he grabbed her shoulders and pushed her backwards until she sat on the railing.

“Wait here,” the bounty hunter ordered and turned to Johnny. “Where’s our boat.”

“Tied to the alt. But Josack, you’re not really planning…”

The blue clad man’s voice died down as it went unnoticed anyway. Josack disappeared behind the galley completely deaf to his partner’s words.

“Oi,” Usopp voiced carefully to Johnny. “What’s he up to?”

The bounty hunter nervously pressed his index fingers together and glanced at the still dumbfounded girl captain. Zoro was shaking, holding back his laugher until he thought he was going to bust a gut.

Josack returned with his green coat under his arm and a tool belt around his waist. The coat was discarded on the deck and the man stood over Ruffy with a sparkling silver scissor and a comb.

“Take off your hat and turn your back to me.”

The girl obeyed at first, seemingly automatically, but once with her back against the man with the scissor she spun right back around.

“What are you gonna do?” she asked suspiciously, holding her hat to her chest.

“Fix your hair,” Josack deadpanned, snipping at the air with the scissor.

Ruffy just gave him a suspicious look, not too keen on willingly turning her back to anyone. But she could hear it in his heartbeat; the sound of a scissor snipping and hair falling, the happy voice of a young sister and a friend, scolding of an older and respected person. Happy memories.

Josack had no other intention but to cut her hair. That’s why Ruffy, albeit reluctantly, turned her back fully to the man with the red headband. He wasted no time. His fingers slipped over Ruffy’s skull from the neck to the top of her head, scissor snipping furiously. She didn’t dare fidgeting even when the sharp tool got closer to her face. She had cut her own face with a scissor not that long ago, but someone else might go for her eyes, and she really didn’t want to lose an eye. She needed her eyes to see new things! She had to keep a look-out at night and watch over her crew! She couldn’t do any of those things if her eyes were poked out of their sockets.

“There! All done.”

Ruffy froze, sitting perfectly still before the words fully registered in her mind. “Done?”

“Yup. Here, look. It’s much better than before.” Josack held a mirror in front of the girl’s rapidly blinking face.

Her hair was even shorter than before! Josack had left the hair around her face slightly longer but not long enough to fall into her eyes. Ruffy brought a hand up and touched the back of her head. When she had cut it herself strands of hair had still been tickling her neck, but now it was almost as short as Zoro’s hair.

“It’s gone…”

She gingerly tried to fist her hand in the hair, but there was not enough to grab a hold of. The memory of hands roughly pulling at her hair or gently stroking and smelling it was still strong. But there was no hair to pull her away in now.

Josack grinned proudly while Johnny nervously chewed on his nails, waiting for the girl to react.

Ruffy couldn’t help the giddy giggles escaping her. “My hair is gone.”

“Huh?” Josack blinked. “It… it’s not all gone, I just…” He couldn’t continue as the girl jumped him, hugging him with arms and legs, squeezing all air out of him.

“My hair is gone! Thank you so much!”

Ruffy’s crew and Johnny all stared with different levels of surprise and disbelief. Zoro had met Ruffy first but her hair had been short then. What was the deal with her hair anyway?

The swordsman haltered his train of thought, another image entering his mind. Ruffy’s hair. He had always seen her with that unevenly short-cut hair, but when he met her inside her heart, wasn’t her hair long? He wasn’t sure.

Johnny heaved a sigh of relief. Last time Josack had decided to cut a girl’s hair the girl had happened to be the chief’s daughter and been highly displeased at the offence of getting her hair cut without much of a warning and he and Josack had been chased out of the town. How lucky they were this girl wanted her hair short.

Then a thought suddenly hit him. “Ne, Ruffy-aniki, if you wanted your hair like that, why haven’t you gone to a salon yet?”

“Haven’t had the time,” the girl answered, still so giddy she was almost singing. “I cut it off in a spur of moment and cut my face too so that I wouldn’t be pretty anymore.” She couldn’t contain herself. Her chirping whistles filled the air and she was dancing around on springs for legs. It was hard to follow her movements and the straw hat was one being waved around in Ruffy’s hand and one pressed down over the newly cut hair.

“Well, she’s easy to please,” Nami mumbled, mostly to herself, but she still got agreeing noises from both Usopp and Zoro.

 


 

Evening. The sun was only touching the horizon and already it was coloured more orange and red than the white gold it had been fifteen minutes ago. The light grey clouds scattered in the sky were coloured in pink and light red with purple and indigo shadows and the ocean sparkled and reflected the colourful celestial celebration of the end of a day. It was a marvellous show and Ruffy’s crew enjoyed it as they finished dinner that evening, cooked by Josack and Usopp.

Nami was having an inner debate with herself. She didn’t know if Ruffy’s earlier reluctance to sleep was over now so that she really could set the captain on watch and expect her to go to bed after her shift had passed this time. On the other hand they had two more people who could do watch duty now and they were possibly more reliable than Zoro because damn that man could sleep. The ship could be attacked and wrecked around him and he’d probably wake up after everything had passed and ask what the heck had happened.

Nami smirked for herself. Who could ever be more suited to get Ruffy to sleep if not the master of sleep himself? Figures.

“Nami, are we gonna dock for the night soon?” Usopp broke through the navigator’s thoughts.

“Yes, we should,” she agreed.

“I can watch the ship tonight!” Ruffy eagerly volunteered, but Zoro’s heavy hand on her head pressed her down.

You are going to sleep,” he emphasised with finality.

“But I slept so much already! Two days!”

“One and a half,” Zoro corrected. “And if you don’t sleep at night, you’re sure to sleep through entire days again and miss out on adventure.”

Score. The horrified look on Ruffy’s face told everybody watching that missing adventure was equal to cancelling her favourite holiday.

“Nooo!” she screamed and flapped her arms up and down. “I’ll sleep! I’ll sleep! I’ll sleep all night! Don’t keep all the good adventures to yourself!”

“Deal.”

And Ruffy threw herself face down over Zoro’s lap, straw hat falling off her head.

Josack leaned closer to Nami, jabbing his thumb to Ruffy and whispered. “Is she always like that?”

“Yup,” the navigator muttered back before she too glanced at the thin body, face hidden by the arms stretched out over the girl’s head. “Ruffy, we’ll reach the restaurant tomorrow, so you should rest properly. We need to refill our stock as well.”

Zoro felt it, Usopp’s sharp eyes saw it; Ruffy flinched. Nami didn’t notice, but she did catch the oddity of the long silence.

“Ruffy?”

“Yes,” the girl’s muffled voice answered at length. “I should rest while I can.”

Zoro leaned back, one hand behind his head and the other absentmindedly patting Ruffy’s head. Her short hair was slightly rough, only soft in the neck area.

Usopp rose to his feet and quietly snuck away, to Nami mouthing “I’ll fetch a blanket” while discreetly pointing at the two. The navigator responded with an acknowledging blink of her eyes before she turned to Josack and Johnny.

“Johnny and Josack will take first guard, I’ll take over after you and Usopp can be last.”

“Huh? Why us?” Johnny protested.

“Yeah, we’re not your crewmates!” Josack agreed with his partner.

Nami smiled innocently. “No, but you’re on board our ship with all that means.” The innocence faded from the navigator’s face until she resembled a fox. “What will happen to you would anything happen to Merry?”

The bounty hunters stared at her with open mouths and imagination running wild flashing in their eyes.

“We’ll guard this ship with our lives!” they declared loudly under stiff salute.

“As long as you understand,” Nami thanked them.

Zoro smirked slightly. Nami was an evil, selfish woman he knew, had experienced it first-hand himself, but she had good sides too. As long as she could just keep her evilness directed at anyone but him Zoro could overlook a lot of it. Johnny and Josack probably needed the little kick to take action. They were good guys, but often cautious and not stronger than ordinary men. Hell, Ruffy could probably beat them both at the same time in arm-wrestling, with ease even.

Usopp came back with a blanket he gently placed over Ruffy’s form on Zoro’s lap, pulling it a little so it covered the swordsman’s legs as well. Zoro switched hands, placing his left hand behind his head so that his right could rest over Ruffy’s shoulders and keep the cover on her.

When Usopp was satisfied with covering up the two he turned to Nami, Josack and Johnny. “I’ll hit the sack then.”

“Me too,” Nami agreed as she stood, stretching and yawning. “You have watch duty from two o’clock.”

“Huh? Who? Me?”

The girl gave him a half-glare. “Yes, you. Ruffy need the sleep and Zoro’s watching her. You and I are the only ones besides those two who can do watch,” she said, pointing at the bounty hunters with her head.

“Then why can’t they do watch?” Usopp whined.

“We are,” the freeloaders retorted with slightly sour faces.

“Them first, me next and you last,” Nami explained, walking away. “Night boys and Ruffy.”

Zoro made a huffing sound in response, but Usopp wasn’t done.

“Wait… wait,” he squeaked, eyes wide, shaking and holding his chest. “I think I suffer from the can’t-do-watch-duty-disease.”

Josack and Johnny gasped. “What a terrible disease that must be! Is it contagious?”

Nami turned right back and let her fists do the talking for her. She planned to go right back to her room afterwards, but decided she could at least be a little nice and take Usopp back to the men’s cabin to get some proper rest. She pulled the little liar along by the straps of his dungarees, opened the hatch, threw the boy down and closed it.

Nami sighed and smiled a bit at her own kindness. But once she entered the ladies quarters the smile died on her face as realization struck her like lightning. She was taking care of them, and the horror of it was that she did it without thinking.

“Damn,” she groaned to herself and rubbed her forehead. Inside her chest that for a short moment had felt light, a cold fist squeezed her heart and she felt a wave of exhaustion and sadness wash over her. “I can’t go on like this.”

On deck Josack and Johnny had settled against the railing opposite of Zoro and Ruffy, watching eagerly since they’d noticed Zoro’s hand sneaking in under the blanket. At first Zoro ignored them, but Ruffy wasn’t going to fall asleep so easily he realized. Occasionally he could feel a tremor running over her skin through the material of her top.

Making up his mind Zoro sent a look towards his friends. “If you’re gonna watch the ship, the view is better from the crow’s nest.”

The duo grinned innocently at him. “We’re worried about Ruffy-aniki too, so we’re watching over you. Don’t mind us.”

Zoro’s face darkened as his gaze turned into a murderous glare. “Crow’s nest,” he ordered.

It had the desired effect. Josack and Johnny almost choked on their own saliva before they scurried away, not wanting to get on Zoro’s bad side.

The swordsman sighed and looked down at his captain draped over his legs.

“What is it this time, Ruffy?” he asked. “Are you still afraid of waking up?”

Rather than answering, the girl made a sound of affirmation, making Zoro smile a little. Ruffy seemed to be a little less difficult tonight.

“Why? Still don’t trust me?” he asked.

“It’s not that,” the girl said weakly. “I trust you more and more, but I’ve been dreaming for so long. I’ve woken up alone so many times… and it hurts.”

“You’re not going to wake up alone anymore, Ruffy,” Zoro assured. “I’m real. Nami and Usopp, Josack and Johnny are real too. You can hear them, can you not? Their heartbeats.”

The girl was quiet for a moment. “I hear them,” she whispered.

“They won’t stop beating even if you fall asleep,” the swordsman continued and stroked the back of his captain’s head down to her neck.

“That’s not what I’m afraid of,” Ruffy confessed, and the underlying tone of ill forebodings in her voice immediately caught Zoro’s attention. It was a tone that almost gave him cold shivers.

“What is it then?” he asked, cursing himself as he heard the edge in his own voice. He hoped Ruffy didn’t catch it.

Once again the girl was quiet for a long time. Zoro slowly moved his hand over her neck back to her shoulder blade and squeezed lightly, letting Ruffy know he was waiting for her to start talking.

“We’re going to a restaurant,” she said at long last with clear reluctance. “You say we need a cook.”

The swordsman frowned in confusion. What did that have to do with Ruffy’s sleeping problems? “You think we don’t?” he asked. “You heard Nami; without a cook to mind the food for us we might end up sick like Josack.”

Ruffy didn’t say anything, but the way she wiggled uncomfortably said she wasn’t too happy with the answer she’d gotten.

“What is it?” Zoro asked again. “You haven’t had problems with restaurants before.”

The girl stilled, and Zoro had to wonder if the pause was caused by reluctance or a search for words. Though it could as well be a mix of both.

“They have been different,” Ruffy mumbled at last. “The cooks of those places haven’t been only cooks.” She curled up slightly and buried her face deeper into the material of Zoro’s pants. “Cooks are… the worst sort of murderers.”

The swordsman frowned. His captain sure had a weird view on some things.

“Are you afraid anything will happen to us?” he questioned as calmly as he could and moved his hand over the girl’s head down to her neck once more. He noticed she relaxed slightly when he came to the neck area. “I’m not going to die so easily, Ruffy. I’m going to be the strongest swordsman in the world, and I’ll protect you and this crew for as long as I’m part of it.”

“She was stronger than you.”

His heart jumped. Oh, she didn’t just say that.

“Aki was a hundred times stronger than you,” Ruffy said again, without shame, hesitance or consideration of Zoro’s pride, and curled up even more. “She was strong enough to… she called it a pirate captain’s dying breath… she destroyed so much and killed a lot of them… but they still won… Aki was killed anyway… And I…”

It sounded like Ruffy was about to be sick. She had curled into a tight ball, her body beside Zoro’s legs and her face and fingers buried deeply in his thigh. The tremors going through her body were violent and her breath was uneven.

The sensation running through Zoro’s body from where Ruffy touched him was similar to when he found her collapsed before the battle on Usopp’s island. It was unpleasant and cold, tingling across his skin like ants trying to dig their way into his core. A feeling of sickness was coming over him.

The swordsman didn’t hesitate to pull the girl onto his lap and pressed her ear against his chest. Closing his eyes he concentrated on separating Ruffy’s feelings from his own and hoped his presence alone would be enough to calm his captain’s heart.

~*-*~

“Which one of you was it?”

Black shoes with steel toes, black and white checked pants and an apron. Everything splattered with blood. Only the knife gleaming in the centre of her vision was stainless. Even so it was the knife pointing between them that caused her breath to hitch and her heart to race.

“Which one of you was it who stole food from my kitchen?”

A sharp inhale, a hiccup almost, and there was that force again pulling him backwards. Once again Zoro landed heavily on his back, but this time it was Ruffy who stood over him with a furious expression.

“I asked you not to look any closer at my heart,” she hissed.

There was a storm raging around them. The red sea was in an uproar, the winds and shadows were cutting into Ruffy’s body and the fires were burning and freezing at the same time.

“So you really don’t trust me then,” Zoro said, voice even as he held his hurting chest.

Ruffy’s eyes widened. Zoro stood up in front of her, some part of his mind noticing just how long her hair was. He’d been here before, now he knew the feelings invading him weren’t his. Ruffy could let him take part of her feelings, and she could take part of his. All he had to do was to hold on to who he was, to what he felt, and get the girl swept up in it.

~*-*~

The scent of lavender from the side of the road filled the air as he walked towards the cemetery. Birds sang in the warm day and the winds whispered through the trees. Everything felt lazy and peaceful and he breathed it all in, filling his lungs to the brim with this atmosphere and committing it to memory.

It had been ten years now since Kuina died on this very day. Years he had spent solely on his training and refining his three-sword-style. Finally he felt he was ready, and what time was better to leave than on Kuina’s death day? She would have liked that; to leave right after the promise was made in order to see it through. Sure, there were a few years between the promise and this day, but Zoro felt those years were justified.

He told Kuina he was setting out to sea. His teacher gave him his blessing and then the sea opened before him. Somewhere beyond the horizon, somewhere far away in both time and distance, Kuina waited for him at the top of the world.

~*-*~

When Zoro awoke it was already morning, but he didn’t feel like he had slept. Fragments of dreams and nightmares fluttered across his memory and faded as he tried to remember anything.

Ruffy was still in his arms, somewhat clumsily sprawled over his lap. She looked up at him with dull, swollen red eyes, and only when he saw them did Zoro realize how wet his shirt felt.

“Bad Zoro,” Ruffy grumbled with a pout.

“In what way is it bad to care about you?”

The girl curled up further in his lap. “I don’t want you to know how weak I am.”

Considering Zoro had seen Ruffy in action, seen her beat up men far larger than her, seen her tear a figure head that probably weighted more than a ton right off the ship (under hypnosis but still), and the little fact it was the great impact her strength and righteousness had had on him that had gained Zoro’s respect, Ruffy complaining over a weakness was... well, Zoro had mixed feelings about it.

“That’s why you should rely on me,” he told her tiredly; hardly able to believe he actually had to tell a girl something so simple. “I’m still a man you know, and because you’re a girl you can depend on me when you’re scared.”

“I don’t wanna be scared,” Ruffy muttered stubbornly into the swordsman’s chest, probably attempting to hide her face even though Zoro wasn’t even looking at her.

“Me neither,” he answered her and fell asleep.

When Nami came to find them later, she found them both in a deep slumber, and because she thought Ruffy probably still needed the sleep let them be. She could wake them up when they arrived at their destination later today.

Chapter Text

The chefs of the sea restaurant Baratie

It was midday when an excited shout gained the attention of all the occupants of the Going Merry.

“I see it!” Johnny yelled from the bow. “Zoro no Aniki! Ruffy no Aniki! Usopp no Aniki! Nami no Aniki!”

The navigator grumbled a bit over being called “aniki”, a term of older brother, but when she saw their destination she forgot all about it.

Ruffy didn’t care what people called her and sprinted to the bow to be first to see their goal. She had woken up a little earlier due to an empty stomach she really didn’t want to ignore, but Zoro awoke only when he heard Johnny shouting his name.

It looked like a three story house built directly on the water. The figure head was that of a goldfish and the colour pallet followed suit. “Baratie” stood written proudly on the wall of the second floor. The wind carried the faint smell of food over to them, and Ruffy was reminded that this was a restaurant, most probably crowded with cooks.

The image forcing its way to the front of her mind made the girl want to throw up, but the rest of her crew flooded to the bow to join her so she quickly swallowed the bile.

“Well, what do you think folks?” Johnny asked and waved a hand at the ship before them. “This is the sea restaurant The Baratie!”

“Wow,” Nami voiced in awe.

“That’s so funky!” Usopp cried in excitement.

Zoro wasn’t that impressed. He was more interested in the way Ruffy’s body had stiffened. Even from behind she gave the impression of wanting to turn and run. Really, what was her problem? The only hint he had was that single glance of memory he had gotten last night; the faceless cook, cloths splattered with blood and pointing a flashing kitchen knife between Ruffy and someone who sat beside her.

Josack turned to say something to Zoro, but there, coming up behind the pirate ship was a rather... unwelcome sight.

“What are the marines doing here!?” he squeaked.

Johnny and the pirates immediately spun around. The marine ship steadily sailed up alongside them and the few marines manning it sent cautious looks at the top of Going Merry’s mast. The skull and crossbones grinned back at its natural enemies. Ruffy took notice of how small the marine ship was. Sure, Going Merry wasn’t a very big ship, but marine battle ships were usually a lot larger than this.

Usopp was about to point out to his unnervingly calm friends that this should be their cue to run the other way when a man in a suit walked up to the railing and studied the group of people on the smaller ship. He put a hand on the railing and the sun reflected on the metal across his scarred knuckles.

“That’s a pirate flag I haven’t seen before,” he stated loud and clear, before he held up his fist. “I am Lieutenant Ironfist Fullbody of the Marine Headquarters. Who’s your captain? Step up!”

Ruffy fearlessly stepped forward. “I’m the captain. My name is Ruffy.”

Usopp copied her and boldly stood beside his sister. “I am Captain Usopp.”

The marines watching glanced at each other. It was not the first time they had seen a female captain, but it was definitely the first time they’d seen such a small one. Fullbody didn’t care though he was convinced both teens were lying. Poorly equipped too; the sword at the girl’s side had such a battered sheath the sword itself was probably made more of rust than steel.

“We finished making the flag the day before yesterday, so of course you haven’t seen it before,” the girl continued in quite the straightforward manner that could be taken as either stating the obvious or mockery, or both.

“So come back the day before yesterday,” Johnny unexpectedly spoke up, and he was definitely mocking the marine lieutenant. Josack laughing along his partner was also mockery.

Seeing as the young girl was clearly no threat, Fullbody concentrated on the two men mocking him. “You two, haven’t I seen you before?” He thought for a moment. “Oh, yes. You frequent the marine offices. Josack and Johnny isn’t it? A couple of small time bounty hunters. So you finally got caught by pirates, or are you switching profession?”

The bounty hunters stood a little taller at the fact the marine knew about them. It definitely did something to their confidence.

“Hey Josack. I think this bro’s trying to mock us.”

Josack shook his head with a sigh. “You don’t just go around calling us small time. It won’t gain us a beli but I say we should teach this marine dude a lesson, Johnny.”

And so they drew their swords and flew over the railing with practiced ease yelling; “Eat this marine chicken!” and came flying back, beaten in two point fifty-eight seconds.

Ruffy stared down at them. “You’re really weak,” she stated, slightly disappointed. That hadn’t even been a fight. More like two fools running against a wall with the predictable result of bouncing back more damaged than the wall.

“Are not,” Johnny protested through a bloody nose. “The guy’s not too shabby himself.”

“We almost got him,” Josack agreed, looking no better than his partner.

Zoro frowned confusedly at them. “The hell have you two been doing?” he asked. It seemed they hadn’t trained on their fighting skills at all since last he met them.

Nami wasn’t paying attention. When the bounty hunters had come flying back a few papers had fallen from Josack’s coat. Wanted posters. One of them landed at her feet, the face on the photo grinning up at her, like a curse, like a cruel reminder.

“You can’t escape from me, Nami.”

A woman’s voice and the lieutenant’s chuckle came from the marine ship. “I’ll be with you in a moment, honey,” the marine officer called into the cabin of his ship before he turned back to the pirates with a confident smirk. “You’re lucky, you pirates. I’m on vacation right now. I just came here to eat with my girlfriend. Next time I won’t let you live.”

And so the lieutenant turned around, satisfied with his own show, until a shrill voice cried out in shock. “YOU’RE GOING TO EAT YOUR GIRLFRIEND!?”

The girlfriend in question was right in front of him at that moment, and oh the look she sent him as she took a step back.

Fullbody ran back to the railing. “NO you bunch of idiots. I’m here to eat WITH my girlfriend! Don’t make me come over there and kill you!”

The girl who had announced herself as the captain of the ridiculous little ship was being held back by the rest of her just as ridiculously small crew, and after hearing the lieutenant’s angry yell her face got a slightly green hue. Whatever she imagined it wasn’t a romantic dinner. The marines around struggled not to laugh and Fullbody made a mental note to punish them later.

“I have no time for foolish pirates with cannibalistic imagination,” he growled. “Get out of my sight if you know what’s good for you.”

Damn, that stupid girl had made him lose his cool and she wouldn’t get away with it. He put on a calming face for his lady who was still giving him a funny look, reassured her of his romantic intentions and led her to the small boat that was prepared to take them the last distance to the restaurant. That’s when he turned to another marine soldier nearby.

“Sink that ship,” he ordered coldly. Yeah, he had planned to give the order anyway, and the soldier didn’t bat an eye as he saluted and turned to follow the order.

On the Going Merry it was a bit of a chaos. Ruffy might have heard him wrong but she fully believed the marine was going to eat the lady they heard in his company and insisted they storm the marine ship to save the woman. Even Nami had been pulled from her inner turmoil to assist in holding the struggling Ruffy back. Not a painless job, the captain had almost kicked Usopp off her when the marine lieutenant came back to repeat himself; that he was here to eat with his girlfriend. It stilled Ruffy’s struggling, but instead she looked like she was about to throw up right then and there.

“That man is sick,” the girl stated, face green. “Hope the girlfriend is smart so that she’ll leave him real soon.”

Before Nami got to ask exactly what was going on in Ruffy’s stupid little head Usopp spotted the marine soldiers on the other ship organizing something that sent him straight into panic.

“Alert! Alert!” he cried out. “They’re pointing their cannon at us!”

Ruffy didn’t have good hearing, but she did hear what Usopp said and her eagle-sharp eyes easily spotted which cannon her brother pointed out. The arms holding her had loosened so she could easily break free and she shot forward just as the cannon fired, intending to do the same trick she had done with Buggy’s extra exploding cannon ball. Unfortunately she needed more practice. She didn’t have proper footing, causing her to lose balance and instead of the perfect spin she had thought it would be, she only changed the direction of the cannon ball.

Towards the restaurant.

It was a lousy hit so to say, missed the mast but the cannon ball had enough force to fly through the roof on the top right side of the floating restaurant. Usopp, Josack and Johnny didn’t know what frightened them the most in that moment; the fact that little, skinny Ruffy had caught a cannon ball or that she had sent said ball at the restaurant. The marines, the lieutenant included, wondered what the heck just happened.

Ruffy herself was definitely more concerned about the restaurant. She sat on her knees on the deck, her face paled so much Zoro thought she would faint.

They had sailed close enough now and Nami, though still quite shaken, ordered Usopp, Josack and Johnny to take in the sails and Zoro to drop the anchor. Nami herself stood behind Ruffy, almost like a guard. The captain’s shoulders had started to shake.

“You should go in and explain what happened,” the redhead suggested. “Apologize so that they won’t charge us.” Because if the people here did decide to charge them Nami knew she would grab every beli within reach, sail off and leave the rest of the crew to wash the dishes. While she wouldn’t hesitate to do just that, the sight of Ruffy’s small form in front of her struck a chord in her that made her hate her conscience.

Ruffy was silent, and even if she was trying to say something, men dressed in white shirts, aprons and the traditional cook hats had already started to come out looking for the one who had damaged their restaurant. The marines of course were helpful enough to point out the pirates and offer to help catch and lock them up. The cooks however said the owner wanted a talk to the culprit in person.

Zoro looked at his captain. He wasn’t even within reach and still he thought he could feel the girl’s fear, as if it radiated off her skin.

Then, as if making up her mind, Ruffy stood and handed herself over. The cooks took her away and the marine lieutenant who had been watching shrugged his shoulders indifferently, but still ordered his men to be ready for an arrest. There was always more room below deck to shove in another pirate.

As the marine HQ lieutenant walked into the dining area of the restaurant with his lady on his arm they were met by a tall, blond man, a bit poorly shaved but smartly dressed in a black suit who gentlemanly bowed to the both of them. Fullbody found the bow a bit too lax and not respectful enough, and he surely didn’t like the fact this waiter was taller than him. In order to mark his position he stood a little straighter and lifted his chin just a bit to give an impression of looking down on the blond. “I’m Marine Lieutenant Ironfist Fullbody. I had reserved a table for two,” he spoke importantly.

“Right this way,” the blond replied and went ahead, either ignoring the treatment or simply not noticing it. Fullbody didn’t like him.

The waiter showed them to a small table fit for two with a flower and candle at the centre. He took out a lighter and lightened the candle, then brought the lighter to his face to light a cigarette while he was at it. Then he held out the chair for the lady, flattering her to the point Fullbody grew impatient. Didn’t this lowlife know his place? Fullbody’s girlfriend was the daughter of a rich family and a fine breed. Nothing but the best was good enough for her, and the best in the area was nobody but Ironfist Fullbody.

As the waiter left and returned with their wine Fullbody searched for a flaw in the man’s manner, but there was nothing. Not a drop was spilt on the white table cloth and no stray drop dripped down the side of the bottle. The blond even stood straight and at the same time relaxed beside the table as he poured the wine with an almost content look on his face.

“I will serve your soup in a minute, oh flame of beauty that burns my eye,” the blond flirted with a smooth voice. Just the kind of voice Fullbody had practiced long and hard to perfect because it was what women loved the most; a silky voice to tell them how beautiful they were. From which piece of poetry was the waiter taking all the lines from though? Fullbody thought he’d already read all the most passionate poems (though he’d forgotten most of them because poetry was really not his cup of tea) but his flattery wasn’t quite up to par with the blond waiter.

Oh, well. There were other ways to impress a lady. The whisperers and people glancing over their shoulders at their table was one way. Fullbody was a well known marine in these waters after all.

“Everybody’s looking at you,” his girlfriend smiled, looking a tad bit shy to be with such a famous person.

Fullbody smirked slightly at the knowledge. He picked up his glass with dignity and handled it with a show of expertise, softly hitting it against his partner’s glass. “No, no,” he said smoothly. “It is you and your enchanting beauty they’re admiring.”

The compliment widened the woman’s smile just a tad and Fullbody, satisfied he’d brought her attention back to him, headed straight for another round to impress his lady and smelled the wine,.

“Oh, this fragrance. This is definitely the scent from North Mitqueo.” The restaurant’s buzz of noise quieted into a quiet murmur as all eyes, especially hers, were on him and Fullbody sucked it all up like a sponge as he sipped his clear, red wine. “Oh yes. A faint sourness and yet fitfully smooth. This is Itültsuburger Stein. Ain’t I right, waiter?” he asked the blond just coming up to their table, one plate on the tips of his fingers, the other balancing steadily on his head as he kept one hand in his pocket, somehow pulling off a both casual and professional look without missing a beat.

The waiter just smiled with the cigarette secured between his teeth. “You’re wrong as hell, honoured guest,” he replied with blunt amusement. “And I’ll inform you I am the vice head chef of this restaurant. All our waiters quit yesterday.” Then he proceeded to place the plates in front of them. “Your soup. Enjoy it while it’s warm,” he said and left.

Fullbody’s face was quickly reddening, because in front of him his girlfriend was looking down and covering her mouth, politely trying to hide her amusement, something people all around them weren’t as good at.

“Stop laughing, hey!” he heard someone choke off to his right.

“But didn’t you see his face?”

Oh yes. Fullbody definitely hated that blond show-off waiter.

His girlfriend quickly sobered up and looked at him with mirth still shining in her beautiful green eyes and an almost teasing smile on her red lips.

“Are you very knowledgeable?” she asked, earning a confused look. “About wine,” she clarified and held up her glass.

“Oh, well, I used to be before I enlisted as a marine soldier. Feels like a lot longer than it is. I must have lost my touch during all my years of service.”

She gave him an understanding look and Fullbody breathed out as she swallowed his story. At the same time he was fuming at the waiter. What the hell was wrong with this restaurant? He’d specifically asked for that wine when he made his reservation!

 


 

Meanwhile on the restaurant’s top floor the owner; an old eagle with sharp eyes, well-built albeit aging body and his long moustaches carefully braided, was impatiently yelling at the cooks standing around his room not knowing if they should take care of him or the destroyed room first. They wanted to make sure he was safe, but the old man was tougher than that.

“Go back to work this instant you shitty brats,” he growled loudly at his worried workers.

“But Owner Zeff, are you really alright? I mean your head…”

“I’m fine already! Don’t make me lose my temper.”

The men in front of him flinched at his tone and the old man picked up his high cook hat, putting it back over his thinning hair and stubbornly ignoring the blood flowing from a wound to his head and the stain it most likely made on the white of the hat.

“This is a restaurant! We are cooks! Our main purpose is to serve food to our guests!” He looked up, glared at his workers and growled dangerously. “Are you trying to ruin my business?”

“Definitely not,” the men responded with too little enthusiasm for the old man’s taste and he would have loved to kick some manners into them, but before he could the door to his room burst open and more of his workers came in pushing a young girl before them and onto her knees in front of the restaurant’s owner.

“Here’s the pirate that fired at us, Owner,” a man informed him soberly and stood back. None of the cooks of this restaurant was a stranger to pirates, they got enough of them on a weekly basis. Besides, the majority of the cooks didn’t have a clean record anyway.

The problem this time was that the culprit was a girl. It put the owner in an even fouler mood and the look on her face just made it worse. She was afraid. That didn’t mean she didn’t try to conceal it with a look of angered determination though. Stubborn kid, they really had no manners these days.

“Go back to work, shitty cooks,” the owner growled.

“But Owner Zeff…”

“I can handle a little bitch the size of a fly before I kick you lot to the end of the sea! Now get out!”

The cooks ducked, or tried to, under the aging man’s kicks before they managed to squeeze out of the door.

Owner Zeff sat back down on his bed and glared at the girl who sat on her knees in front of him. She hadn’t moved and her face hadn’t changed, or actually it had. She was staring at his right leg, the one he didn’t have anymore and had a stick of wood for replacement. It wasn’t the most practical substitute for his leg, but considering how often he had to change it due to his habit of kicking both his workers into place and unwelcome guests out the door it was more worth the money. The girl was staring at the wooden leg with widening eyes, a paling face and a slightly panicking expression. To someone as old as Zeff it was clear to see what she was thinking.

“Your leg is gone!” she croaked after some time.

“Not by your shitty shot, that’s for sure,” Zeff grumbled out. “What were you doing shooting at my restaurant huh? Trying to destroy my business?”

“I slipped. I was gonna return it to the marine ship,” the girl responded, and while it wasn’t the most explanative response it sounded both blunt and honest enough. It was really a pity it was a girl that sat before him, Zeff would have liked to give her a good beating, but considering her thin body she’d probably die if he did. Still, he wasn’t a soft-hearted man and not one to let anyone go without punishment.

“You have to pay for the damage you’ve done. One million beli,” he told her matter-of-factly, only to see her face darken, her mouth becoming a thin line as she glared hatefully at him.

“I don’t have that much money.”

“Then you’ll work off the debt,” Zeff went on unfazed by the look. “If you work in the kitchen for one year I’ll let you go.”

“No.”

“Huh?” Zeff glared at the girl’s refusal, expecting to scare her with the look of disbelieving rage alone, and he did scare her, but not the way he thought he would. Her face had paled and she looked nauseous but still determined although she sat there shaking uncontrollably. Even her lip was trembling and she sucked it in between her teeth the moment she noticed.

“I refuse to work in the kitchen,” she hissed acidly.

“Oh really?” Zeff scoffed. “Then how about I let you be a relief toy for my cooks? You like that option more?”

He expected her to refuse again, but to Zeff’s utter shock the girl’s eyes widened, the horror showing clearly on her face along with helplessness before she closed her eyes shut tightly and lowered her head, shoulders shaking and hands gripping the edges of her shorts so tightly her knuckles whitened. Zeff couldn’t believe what he saw. It had been a jab more than an actual threat but…

The girl looked up, looking equally sick and determined. “On one condition.”

No, that wasn’t the last straw. This girl just pulled them all out at the same time and Zeff leaped into the air like a rampaging lion roaring “You little idiot! Head Chef Drop Kick!” and landed heavily on the girl’s small body, his wooden leg nearly pushing through her. He regretted it instantly. But then the sound of groaning wood caught his attention and he regretted his move for a completely different reason.

 


 

In the restaurant Ironfist Fullbody had taken a few moments to plan his revenge against the one who had made him look like an idiot in front of his girlfriend. There was a classic complaint he’d read about in a lot of books. Unfortunately they were way out on the sea and no insects seemed to be crawling around anywhere. It didn’t matter though, Fullbody wasn’t a fully honest man at heart. Or maybe he’d been once upon a time but promotions, money, status and the respect that came with those three had gone to his head, like it had with many a man before him.

Ironfist Fullbody always caught and pocketed a fly or two just to throw shit at restaurants that didn’t fit his tastes, or had rude personnel.

“Waiter!”

The blond man had stepped aside to keep watch over the guests, but now he stepped up to Fullbody’s table with a slightly annoyed frown.

“I am no waiter, I told ya. Fair lady, relief for my eyes on this empty ocean,” he then addressed the marine’s company and ignored Fullbody completely. “Are you free oh rare beauty? I will treat you to a glass of wine, the very best.”

Fullbody’s girlfriend’s cheeks dusted a fitting shade of pink, but Fullbody had no intention of letting this flirty waiter keep either her attention or his job.

“There’s a fly in my soup!” the marine captain hissed tersely.

Desired effect accomplished. The waiter turned his attention to Fullbody who forcefully pointed at the black, struggling body of the fly he’d just thrown into his soup.

“What do you call this huh?”

The blond man leaned over the plate to take a look before, to Fullbody’s absolute surprise and chagrin, stood back up with a politely apologetic smile.

“I’m terribly sorry honoured guest, I’m afraid I don’t know. I am not very knowledgeable about insects.”

This man was going to die. Yup. Fullbody was going to make him beg for mercy and then kill him. He vowed on that as he heard the restaurant erupt in not so subtle laugher. Not even his girlfriend could stop from giggling!

Outraged at the shame Fullbody brought an Ironed fist into the wood of the table, shattering it.

The blond wasn’t smiling anymore. Well Fullbody couldn’t care less. This strop wouldn’t live to see the next day anyway.

“Who do you think I am?” he growled dangerously. The restaurant was now silent at least. Good. He’d show them all what happened when you made laughingstock of Ironfist Fullbody.

The tall blond was looking at the floor and the ruined food. “If you had taken out the fly, you could very well have eaten the soup” he said, voice slow and deep.

“What was that?!” Fullbody roared in disbelief. “Is this how you treat paying customers huh?! Your cheekiness will be your death you, arrogant cook!”

For some reason the blond wasn’t scared by the threat. If anything he looked even more annoyed. “Money can’t fill your stomach,” he informed his guest with a level voice.

Around them Fullbody’s girlfriend tried to stop him and the cooks littering the restaurant serving the other guest called for someone to stop Sanji.

It was over in seconds.

The winner was the cook Sanji.

Fullbody’s feet hung about two inches off the ground as the smoking cook held him painfully by his jawbone, threatening to dislocate it. He was bleeding from a chapped lip, temples, brow and his nose and collarbone felt like they were broken. This wasn’t nearly how the marine captain had planned to spend his vacation.

“Listen well,” the cook spoke calmly. “It’s tantamount to suicide to go against a chef of the sea. There will be no wasting food as long as I’m alive.”

Somewhere in his pain-clouded mind Fullbody managed one thought; “That’s his problem?”

 


 

Patty was a cook of the floating restaurant Baratie who took his job with pride. He was a bulky man with arms that were longer than his legs, a carefully trimmed goatee and shaved head. He was in good spirits today as he stood picking hairs from his nose in front of the mirror in the men’s restroom.

“The customer is… God!” he told his reflection as he picked out the last hair. Satisfied with how he looked Patty straightened his pants and apron and continued to tell the mirror his policy. “Service is love! Love is service! The basic of service is a friendly smile and our motto is more service. Yup, first and last in service is a kind and pleasant welcome.” He nodded at his reflection, seeing how it understood what he said and started his daily practice of a friendly smile and pleasant greetings.

“Welcome ugly head,” he practiced, happily noting how innocent a smile he managed today.

Next one was pleasant partings and he gave himself a thumb up. “Come back the day before yesterday!” Yup, that one felt good too.

He tried his best apologetic smile. “Pardon my rudeness, dumbass.”

Oh, today was a really good day and Patty smiled widely at himself and treated himself to a little daydreaming. “Ten thousand beli? Thank you for the tip!”

The door almost flew off its hinges when Patty stepped out, pumped to go back to work. “I’m in good shape today,” he sang to the empty hallway. “Our motto is; more service! The customer is God!”

Too bad the scene he walked in on in the restaurant quickly killed his god spirits.

“OUR HONOURED GUEST!” he cried out in fury mostly since it wasn’t that unusual a scene to see if truth had to be told. Fights in the restaurant between cooks and the customers happened with comfortable regularity. Patty’s only disagreement with said statement was that it was not the cooks, but rather a certain cook that kept picking fights with the customers. “You again, Sanji! What do you think you’re doing to our guest?! Isn’t that a marine officer?”

“Honoured guest, my ass,” the blond huffed and threw the bloodied man away from him with disgust. “What do you want, you shitty cook? Don’t call me by name so casually.”

“A shitty cook ain’t gonna call me a shitty cook,” Patty challenged right back. “A restaurant’s duty is to serve its customers. The customers are Gods. What are you up to injuring one of our honoured guests huh?”

“I don’t care if he’s a customer,” Sanji snorted. “He insulted the chef and wasted food. I’m teaching this guy a lesson.”

The man Sanji had beaten up groaned and glared at the blond.

“What the hell’s wrong with you? You can’t treat your customers like this! I’m going to report this place! I’ll call the entire fleet and sink…”

“So you’re going to sink us?” Sanji cut him off with an annoyed huff. “Then I have to kill you right now. How troublesome.”

Fullbody felt how his heart jumped up to his throat. Other cooks attracted by the ruckus quickly jumped the blond cook to hold him back, but Patty stood where he stood and let out a sigh. His good mood wasn’t completely ruined and watching Sanji being restrained was a lot more amusing than being the one restraining him. He’d done that enough times to appreciate his bones being unbroken.

Then the ceiling suddenly broke and two figures fell through it. Today seemed to be in full gear Patty thought, at least until he noticed just who had fallen through the ceiling and quickly took a step back.

Zeff groaned as he stood and peered at the hole above him, more pissed than hurt. “Just look! The ceiling in my restaurant is broken. Just look what you did, you damned girl!”

“That was you!”

Patty glanced at the writhing and coughing body of a person perhaps half the size of the owner. Who was this?

“Owner! Please stop Sanji!” one of the cooks restraining Sanji called desperately for the old man’s attention.

Zeff made a face of annoyance as he landed his sharp gaze on his troublesome apprentice. “You’re at it again, Sanji, huh?”

“Get out of my face, shitty geezer,” the blond spat at him.

“It’s just what it looks like, Owner,” Patty butted in uninvited. “And not only that, the customer this time is a marine lieutenant!”

Zeff didn’t care who was beaten up for what reason. “Are you trying to ruin my business you shitty brat?!” he yelled at Sanji, his peg leg flying up and hit the teenager square in the jaw, immobilizing him for the moment. In a normal restaurant this is where the owner turned to the customer and apologized. The owner of Baratie however happened to be Zeff, and he apologized to no one. Ironfist Fullbody didn’t even have time to open his mouth before the old man turned on him, peg leg first and kicked him too with the words; “You too get the hell out of my restaurant, you shitty marine!”

Fullbody landed a good way away from the owner, feeling like the kick had left a permanent imprint on his cheek.

‘What the hell!? Is this the owner?!’ he thought and tried to wipe the blood off his face to glare at the old man who had dared to kick him, only to find he was as good as forgotten by all three so called “cooks”. Instead they looked like they were about to start another fight, with each other this time. It was like they were pirates!

“LIEUTENANT FULLBODY! EMERGENCY!”

Fullbody who was still trying to get up from the floor looked up towards the entrance, his pride hurting from the position he was in, but the soldier who called for his attention didn’t look any better himself, and while Fullbody thought this with relief, the question of why his subordinate was in that state almost made his heart stop.

“I-I’m sorry sir!” the soldier gasped. “He escaped! Don Krieg’s man we captured! He escaped!”

“WHAT?!” Fullbody roared, adrenaline kicking in enough to at least help him up on his knees. “It took seven men to capture that guy and he was on the verge of death when we found him three days ago and haven’t fed him since!”

“Please for…”

A gunshot silenced the entire restaurant, and the marine soldier was dead before he hit the ground.

Ruffy, temporarily forgotten, stared curiously at the newcomer. The person was tall with short, dark hair, a blue striped bandana around the head, read pearl earrings in the left ear and an attire of grey and black cloths that hung loosely on the body.

Patty sighed. “Looks like a pirate customer,” he announced calmly.

“He better not start any trouble in my restaurant,” was the owner’s only comment.

The lean person walked slowly into the deadly silent restaurant, gun in a death grip, and Ruffy took notice of dark bags under watery eyes in a face that looked like it was made out of dry leather with the shape of the skull painfully obvious.

Zeff was no stranger to this face, neither was Sanji. This is what hunger looked like.

Arriving at an empty table, the guest let their creaking body down on a chair.

“Food. Anything goes,” was all they said with a rough, dry voice before looking around. “This is a restaurant, isn’t it?”

Seeing as Sanji had unexpectedly disappeared, Patty took it upon himself to take care of this ugly pirate customer and put on his best welcoming smile.

“Welcome ugly head!”

The rest of the restaurant guests choked. It would appear the cook had never heard of Don Krieg before, but they had. He was the most fearsome pirate of East Blue. The strongest man in the world. He had a fleet of fifty ships, each captained by the roughest pirates of this sea. That’s how he’d gotten the nickname “Pirate Admiral”.

“I’m just gonna say this once,” the pirate hissed weakly. “Bring me something to eat. I don’t care what, just give me food.”

“Pardon my rudeness but can you pay?” Patty asked with a rather rude pout on his face.

At first the pirate flinched, but then smiled shakily and lifted the gun so it pointed straight at the cook’s forehead. “Do you take lead?”

“We only accept cash,” Patty informed the person he no longer considered a guest, and before the pirate could react Patty brought his giant, connected fists down on him, breaking the chair in the process. He heard the owner’s displeased curse behind him but paid it no heed. He was a cook of the sea restaurant Baratie and took his job with pride. According to him it was beyond rude towards the other customers to let this pirate, or anyone in fact, get free food.

“If you cannot pay, you are no customer.”

Ruffy bit her lip, clenched her fists and held back when the restaurant was filled with cheers for the cook who had beaten the pirate. What were they cheering for? What was that cook so proud of? Where was the pride in hurting someone who could hardly even stand?!

A rumble from the pirate on the floor had Patty tilt his head in mockery. “Your stomach’s growling, little pirate.”

“No, I farted you fool. Shut up and give me food dammit!”

“If you’re not a paying customer then get the hell outta here!” Patty yelled and kicked the downed pirate in the stomach, and that was Ruffy’s breaking point.

It happened so fast. One moment the cook was standing up kicking a pirate, the next he was flying across the room and a small girl was heaving the pirate up on her shoulders and hurrying towards nearest exit; the back door. Her face was a mask of anger and her golden eyes glared hatefully over her shoulder.

“This is no way to treat a woman you monsters!” she shouted and slammed the door shut behind her.

Chapter Text

Ruffy becomes a waitress of the floating restaurant

Gin was barely more than conscious when she was gently let down on the wooden deck behind the restaurant’s main room. By this point she couldn’t feel anything beside the pain. She didn’t even know if she was grateful for the save or not. She’d already lost all her pride anyway, so what did she care if she had to be saved? Even if it felt kind of nice to be touched by gentle hands for a change.

She glanced up at a small back seated on the railing and facing the sea, probably in consideration, and a thought occurred to Gin.

“How…how did you know…?”

“Hm?” The girl on the railing turned around and looked down on her.

She was pretty, Gin decided. Very young and probably a little too lean, and there was a scar under her left eye, but otherwise she was a pretty girl. Nothing like Gin herself.

Gin had always been a rough girl with a hawk nose and sharp face. She had been told throughout her childhood and teens she was ugly or looked like a boy and was treated as such. Her first love had told her he didn’t do boys. The first time someone asked her out it turned out to be a bet and she’d later heard him tell his friends everything that was wrong with her body. Everything from her features to her too firm breasts and bottom. Then Don Krieg had attacked the village, and she had joined him as a pirate. And here, years after giving up everything feminine about herself, she is treated as a woman for the first time in her life.

“How did you know…I’m a woman?” Gin clarified.

The girl blinked at her. “You’re trying to hide it?”

If she had had the energy Gin would have facepalmed, but as it was she didn’t even have the breath to care. She just slumped even more. Most of all she just wanted to give up and die. It would be a relief if she could. The obliviousness felt like a gateway to freedom. Freedom from a world she’d worked so hard to stay in and that had kicked her down again and again, spit her in the face, laughed at her struggle and ultimately taken away the only joy she thought she would ever have.

“Your heart is crying.”

Gin let out a breathy laugh. “I know. Don’t expect you to understand. You’re too young to have children anyway.”

“You have children?”

The older woman curled in on herself, fisted her hands over her stomach and felt the hollow inside that wasn’t caused by hunger.

“No,” she whispered. “I lost my baby.”

Ruffy didn’t say anything else. Actually she hadn’t even heard what the older pirate had said, but her heart had screamed in agony and Ruffy didn’t want to listen to it. If it was that painful to talk about then Ruffy wouldn’t ask. It was none of her business anyway, and this woman didn’t own her anything either.

A door opened and Ruffy stiffened when a tall blond man in a black suit stepped out with a glass of water and a plate full of food. A cook? The man calmly walked up to them, ignored Ruffy’s glare and… put the food down in front of the beaten pirate.

“Eat,” was all he said as he eased his long body down beside Ruffy’s legs, lightening a cigarette. Ruffy had to take notice of his brow. It was very fine and curled at the end, making her think of a grape vine.

Gin stared at the food unsure. Had she died? Was this heaven? Was she dreaming? But the food smelled wonderful and she felt her mouth water.

“What is this?”

“It’s food,” the blond man said obviously. When the pirate still didn’t move to eat he sighed and leaned his head back, looking at the clouds. “The ocean can be such a cruel place; all that water that will kill you if you drink it. No food or fresh water, it’s an awful feeling. The knowledge you will starve to death, feeling the hollow in your body grow and grow, pulling you in. It’s painful, isn’t it?”

“I can’t pay…” the pirate weakly protested, even as they couldn’t tear their eyes from the plate of food and mouth watering so much it overflowed.

“Doesn’t matter. A hungry person is a customer to me whether they can pay or not.”

Still hesitating and still unable to look at anything else but the food, Gin felt like she stood at a crossroad. If she didn’t eat she would die, she knew that. But what if she ate? She would live then but for what?

“You should eat.”

Gin looked up at the other girl who had now turned around and looked down at her. It was impossible to read her eyes, but Gin got the impression she knew what Gin was thinking.

“If you eat you will live, and then you’ll know if it was worth it or not.”

Good point. It was a way to say; “just survive you fool”, but a good point. Gin almost wanted to laugh, and probably would under normal circumstances. But right now she was too hungry, too exhausted and too weak to go with the impulse and instead used the last of her strength to sit up, turn her back to the two at the railing and lift a spoonful of food to her mouth.

It was so good. Gin felt the food go down and land in her stomach that seemed surprised at first, but soon absorbed the food, brought out the energy and gave Gin the strength to lift the spoon again.

Life returned to her limbs. Warmth returned to her body and the hole inside her was slowly filled with each spoon of food she swallowed.

“It’s delicious.”

Tears streamed down her face.

“It’s delicious,” she repeated, a little louder.

“Isn’t it,” the man who had served her said proudly, and Gin’s tears flowed faster.

 


 

Back on the deck of the Going Merry Zoro, Nami and Usopp were getting a little restless, not to mention hungry. They hadn’t had dinner yet and the smells drifting out from the restaurant surely didn’t help to dampen any hunger for the pirates.

“Ruffy’s sure taking her sweet time,” Nami mumbled grouchily. She wasn’t just hungry, she felt starved, but then her period had started this morning so it was to expect, her bad mood too.

“They’re probably gonna force her to wash the dishes for a month or two,” Zoro sighed, slightly annoyed but not worried. Ruffy wouldn’t let herself be handed over to the marines he knew, and if they tried she would be back real soon, screaming so that all of East Blue could hear her.

“Let’s check on her!” Usopp suggested eagerly. “And grab a bite while we’re at it. We can put it up on Ruffy.”

Nami was on. Zoro wondered if this was some kind of payback on Usopp’s part. They had made him pay their food for two days straight in his village after all. Oh well, who was he to say no to food when it was offered?

 


 

“You’re a pirate?”

“Yup,” the straw hat wearing girl smiled widely at Gin who found it a little hard to believe. Not only was this girl small as a child and scrawny as a chicken, she didn’t even have the slightest hint of the hard edge or the cruelty in her eyes that Gin had come to relate with pirates in general.

“So you’re the one who shot a cannonball at us? Why’d you do that?” the blond man, who’d introduced himself as Sanji asked.

“That was an accident, I slipped,” Ruffy pouted.

“Oh yeah?” the blond muttered, wondering what she’d aimed for and how slipping could have changed the course of a cannonball if she hadn’t aimed for the restaurant in the first place, but he wasn’t curious enough to ask. “I’ll take your word for that then, but you better keep calm on this ship. The owner used to be a rather infamous pirate cook.”

The girl’s dark eyes lightened slightly. “That old man was a pirate?”

“Yeah, and this restaurant is like a treasure for that old geezer. The ones who come to work here are all hot-blooded pirate wannabes too. Which is good and well,” he sighed with a near happy smile and puffed on his cigarette. “We get pirates trying to raid us quite frequently. Having a strong staff is necessary if you know what I mean.”

“Are you a pirate?” the girl asked and leaned closer.

“No, I’m just a cook here. I’m never gonna be a pirate.”

Gin was watching the conversation, and she saw the change in the other girl’s eyes clear as day, but that didn’t mean she understood it. Something Sanji-san had just said scared the young girl almost out of her wits, and just as fast the fear was replaced by cold resentment.

Now she looked like a pirate.

But it was gone almost as fast as it appeared, but in place of the curiosity before was now a near blank mask showing only polite interest as Sanji-san went on talking, oblivious.

“We even get guests coming in only for the fights. Sadly the rowdy milieu here gets too much for the waiters. We had a whole bunch of them running out on us just yesterday.”

“Waiters?” Ruffy echoed. “Why would the old man want me in the kitchen or his bed if you need waiters?”

“Well, that…” The words sank in, and Sanji caught fire. “WHAAAAAAAT!?!? THAT OLD SHITHEAD WANTED YOU WHERE!?!?” The flames disappeared and the blond man fell down on one knee before the straw hat wearing girl, who had almost fallen off the railing when leaning away from the crazy cook, and grabbed her hand. “Young lady, fear not. I will protect you from the pervert with my life if need be! My fate is tied to this restaurant and I must work here, but for however long your stay will be, you are under my constant protection. You will not be harmed in any way. That I vow to you!”

That was some speech. Gin felt a little flabbergasted by it. Ruffy didn’t know how to take it at all. She looked equally shocked, horrified and nervous, but that last added emotion could be because she was slowly tipping backwards as she was losing her balance. Sanji noticed this only when the girl tugged at his hand and he gently pulled her back.

“You alright, Ruffy-san?” Gin asked carefully, but not because the girl had almost fallen overboard.

“Un,” the younger voiced and took her hand back from the cook. “What are you gonna do now?”

Gin shrugged. “I’m a member of Don Krieg’s pirate fleet, name’s Gin by the way. I’ll find my way back to my captain. But you’re a pirate too, what’s your crew’s goal?”

Ruffy grinned widely with a challenging glow in her brown eyes. “I’m gonna find One Piece and be the King of Pirates.”

A shiver ran through the older pirate woman’s body. “For that you need to go to the Grand Line,” she informed.

“Yup, as soon as I’ve found a pirate cook we’re heading for the Grand Line,” Ruffy nodded.

“Cook?” Gin parroted. “You’re looking for a cook? Your captain must be mad. How many are you?”

“I’m the captain, and we’ll be five people once I find a pirate cook.”

Gin huffed quietly. This girl, she was too young and naïve. Saying she’d go to the Grand Line with only five men as if it was just a game. A fun trip. No. They would die. Such a waste of life. Such a waste of innocence.

“Look, you helped me, so I’ll give you a piece of advice; Give it up and forget the Grand Line. Such wild, crazy dreams aren’t meant for people like you.”

Ruffy and Sanji blinked in surprise.

“You’re young girl, there’s no need to rush,” Gin went on. “The world is big too; the Grand Line is only a small part of it. There are a lot of other seas to be a pirate on.”

“So you say,” Ruffy drawled, trying to understand what she heard in this woman’s heartbeat. There was so much confusion there though plus the same withering pain she’d heard before. “What do you know about the Grand Line?” she asked instead.

“Nothing. I don’t know anything. That’s why it’s so terrifying,” Gin muttered and held her head as if it was about to explode. Fear was written all over her face and she sat shivering as if she was reliving her worst nightmares.

“Krieg’s men aren’t very tough huh?” Sanji scoffed lightly.

“Hm? Who is Krieg?” Ruffy asked the blond man.

Gin let them scoff. What did they know? They hadn’t seen anything. They hadn’t been there. Let them laugh and call her weak. Gin would greet them when they came back from that place. If they came back.

“Krieg’s said to be the strongest pirate of East Blue,” Sanji casually started to explain to Ruffy. “It’s said he’s got a fleet of some fifty ships and five thousand men at his command. People call him a monster.”

“That’s what they say about pirates,” Ruffy shrugged and looked at Gin who seemed to have calmed down a bit. “They call me a monster too, and I’m going to the Grand Line. That’s the only route to One Piece.”

“You’re just wasting your life,” Gin sighed and glanced out at the sea. “But fine, I’ve got no right to stop you.” It took a moment for her to realize exactly what she saw, but once she did she straightened. “Hey, that’s my boat.”

“Huh?” The cook and straw hat girl turned around. Sure enough, only a short distance away, adrift on the waves was a small boat.

“What’s your boat doing there, Gin?” Ruffy asked.

“The marines are gone. They took my boat too when they captured me. What could have happened?”

“You were a captive of that shitty marine guy huh? I think they left right after you walked in,” Sanji shrugged, honestly not caring. That shit-head had wasted food, not to mention the time and feelings Sanji had put into that soup.

“They were just a bunch of weaklings,” Gin huffed and removed her headband, coat and shoes. “I would have killed them and made toothpicks of their ship if I hadn’t been so weakened from hunger.”

And then Gin dived into the water, resurfacing just a moment later and swam over to the drifting boat as if she had been born in the water. Ruffy couldn’t help the little sting of envy in her chest. As a devil fruit user she would never be able to swim, even though she sometimes hotly wished she could. She had wished she could swim when she travelled with Sun. Then her friend wouldn’t have had to save her all the time, carry her dead weight through the water… and she wouldn’t have been captured.

Gin climbed aboard her boat and wrung out her tight fitting shirt best she could without taking it off. The habit of not revealing her gender was too strong for her to kick. Ruffy-san might have somehow seen through her, and now that she actually had some energy back she really began to wonder what had given her away to the other girl. It seemed Sanji-san hadn’t noticed, but then again Gin was no mind-reader, so perhaps the blond cook did know but was too polite to point it out. Whatever. Right now it didn’t matter. She had been given a chance to live again and wouldn’t waste it. It would be a waste of such good food.

Gin raised the sail, took the helm and steered back towards the floating restaurant. Ruffy had collected Gin’s shoes and cloths and now threw them back to their owner.

“Don’t get caught again,” Ruffy told the older woman.

The Krieg pirate smiled lopsidedly as she put her coat and headband back on. “Gotcha.” Then she turned to Sanji. “And thank you Sanji-san. You saved my life. I’m honest when I say that was the best meal I’ve ever had.” She gave the cook a wide, light-hearted grin. “Mind if I come again?”

“Sure. Anytime,” Sanji replied with a smile that managed to be both flattered and challenging at the same time.

Gin nodded and turned around to take the helm again. They were good people, those two. She was lucky, so very lucky to have met them here and now when she most needed them.

Then a sharp, raspy old voice cut through the air. “Errand-girl! So this is where you’ve been!?”

They all looked up to see the owner glaring down at them from the deck above.

“Gin. Go,” Sanji muttered so low it just barely reached the one they were meant for.

Usually Gin didn’t have it in her, but this time it was unavoidable; she felt guilty. “Forgive me, Sanji-san. You’ll be in trouble for giving me food…”

“Why would I be?” The blond surprised both women when he grabbed the plate, glass and spoon and threw it all overboard. He smiled innocently. “How can I get in trouble? There is no proof that I would have given you any food.”

Gin couldn’t believe it. How was it possible for men like Sanji-san to exist on the ocean? Men who knew kindness. She bowed down to that. Her forehead hitting the bottom of her boat in gratitude she couldn’t possible express in words.

Zeff watched with a frown on his mouth. It was a familiar sight by now; Sanji sending off someone he’d given food for free, and Zeff would say nothing about it. Hunger was a feeling that ate away on your sanity and one the old man was too familiar with for his own liking. It made him soft.

“Sanji! Errand-girl! Get your lazy bums to work!”

“Yeah, yeah, I hear you, shitty old man,” Sanji grumbled and walked back to the kitchen, but Ruffy stood still and glared challengingly at the owner.

Zeff might be an old man, but you wouldn’t find a weak bone in him. Seeing the girl’s infuriating defiance he jumped off the upper deck and landed heavily in front of the girl. She took half a step back but the look in her eyes didn’t change.

“Kitchen,” Zeff ordered her.

“Eat crap. You’re not making a too-salty stew of me.”

It was honestly the first time in at least thirty years Zeff was stunned. This girl seriously thought they would…?

“Ha! Don’t make me laugh. Someone like you wouldn’t even do for a shitty ass soup.”

The girl shivered and paled, but her glare intensified. Zeff realized then that no; this girl didn’t think he would make some sort of dish of her; she was fully convinced he would. What scared Zeff the most about that thought was that the look in her eyes clearly showed it was something she had witnessed. Right before her eyes she had seen another human being get cooked, and from her earlier comment Zeff knew she’d eaten it too. Most likely not willingly though.

“Very well. You don’t want to work in the kitchen, you’ll wait up on the customers. Deal?”

She swallowed a few times, making up her mind before she nodded stiffly.

“Good. Here’s an apron,” he took off his own and threw it over the girl’s head. “Take up orders, give them to the cooks and serve the customers. Sanji will help you. Now get to it.”

Ruffy had to wrap the straps of the apron twice around her body since she was a little less than half the size of the old cook. As she followed him into the restaurant she fixed her appearance and carefully took in Zeff’s instructions about the work, where to find the menus and pencils, where to leave the orders, how the tables were arranged and that dinner was served on the upper deck after the restaurant closed for the day.

Ruffy would not attend to that. She had her own ship with its own kitchen where Nami and Usopp cooked. She wouldn’t need to eat anything these people made.

She wouldn’t eat anything these cooks made.

Zeff left her and Ruffy fixed her hat again. She was as attractive as she could make herself, which wasn’t a lot considering the casual clothes, lack of make-up, too big apron and overall malnourished appearance, but it would have to do.

The first thing she saw when she entered the dining room were her nakama.

“Hi there, errand-girl,” Nami sang merrily.

Usopp had a wide smirk of glee on his face and snickered wickedly. “We heard. So you’re going to be stuck here for a year, captain?”

“Mind if we redraw the flag?” Zoro joked.

Snap.

All three snickering pirates froze. Whatever that sound was just now it felt as if something had been cut away from them. For a moment none of them could breathe.

Ruffy turned away from their table and headed for one where the customers apparently hadn’t been served yet.

“She didn’t… get angry, did she?” Usopp asked the others carefully. “We were only joking.”

“She’s… probably just hungry,” Nami suggested quietly. “And has PMS; it makes it really hard to take a joke.”

“So she’ll be fine if she just eats something?” Usopp asked hopefully and very quiet.

“Y-yeah. Of course.”

Zoro swallowed, unable to take his eyes off his captain who pointedly kept her back turned to their table. It was just his imagination, right? She hadn’t just severed their bonds, cut herself away from them and closed her heart. Over a joke? That couldn’t be it.

In any case Zoro couldn’t stomach another bite. Usopp shoved everything in his mouth, even the mushroom which he normally wouldn’t eat, without tasting anything. Nami struggled to eat. The food was good, at least it had been before Ruffy had come out and that look of betrayal had crossed her face.

“Oh glistering sea, painful love, how devious is your beautiful surface that burns my eye the way you reflect the sunlight. My most precious flower on this vast ocean, why is it that your eyes are dull and troubled?”

It took a moment for Nami to realize that the stupid piece of bad love poetry just now was actually directed to her, but with the rose that tickled her cheek and the blond kneeling beside her chair and looking straight at her it couldn’t be for anyone else.

“Pardon?”

The blond man in the black suit stood and bowed for her in a fluid movement, holding the rose to his heart. “My contemptible heart aches to see the furrow on your brow. Tell me how to ease your mind from whatever might weight down on it so much your slender shoulders tense. I am but your loyal servant.”

Both Zoro and Usopp were staring, the latter wondering which book the blond was reciting because surely he didn’t speak like that normally?

“Hey, is Ruffy really going to stay here for a year?”

One blue eye glanced at him and the man straightened. “Ruffy? Are you her friends?”

“She’s our captain,” Zoro informed the annoying guy.

The blond stared at him with something Zoro interpreted as disgust. “She? That young girl over there? Your captain? Are you stupid?”

“What was that, curly brow?” Because that was a feature of the blond even Zoro, who generally didn’t care what a person looked like, had to notice.

“I don’t believe you, shitty marimo. I can accept that she’s a pirate, but not from your crew. Such a pretty girl that obviously hasn’t had enough to eat next to someone as well-fed as you. What do you want from her, huh?”

“Are you picking a fight?” Zoro growled with his hands on his katana. This guy was just rubbing him the wrong way. Sure, he wasn’t a small boy and Ruffy looked the way she did but that wasn’t because she didn’t eat. She ate twice as much as him for crying out loud! Wherever her body stored all the food Zoro couldn’t understand though.

“Picking a fight with our customers again, Sanji? Haven’t you had enough for today?”

“Damn, the geezer.”

Zeff glared at the teens before him. “Put your swords away, brat. And Sanji, get back to work.”

The blond huffed and took a long drag on his cigarette and Zoro made an effort to relax. “How long must Ruffy work here?” he asked the old man.

“A year,” Zeff deadpanned. “You better not cause any more trouble for me.”

He left to regain order in the chaotic kitchen where the cooks had gotten stupidly excited about their new waitress. They hadn’t had a woman working for them before, and Zeff knew he would have his ass full trying to keep them off the young thing. Hopefully Sanji could make himself useful for once and protect her.

At the table Zoro let out a growl and sat back down.

“Well, that’s a bummer,” Usopp muttered.

“Let’s just go back to the ship,” Nami sighed and stood. “What do we owe you?” she asked the blond as she reached for her wallet. Sure, they had decided to put it up on Ruffy, but she didn’t feel like it anymore. It wasn’t funny like it was supposed to be. Ruffy wasn’t supposed to react the way she had.

“I couldn’t possibly demand payment for a meal that was unable to sate you, beautiful,” the blond dismissed.

Usopp glanced at their plates. There was food left over. That hadn’t happened since he joined the crew. He and Ruffy always licked the plates clean.

Sanji turned to Zoro and Usopp and held out his hand. “Pay up.”

“Are you for real!?” Usopp cried, happy for the distraction. “We’re not satisfied either!”

“I worked hard to make that food and you haven’t even finished. Eat up.”

“You wanna fight huh? Bring it on. Zoro, get him!”

“Get him yourself. And we were to put it up on Ruffy’s tab remember.”

Sanji straightened and glared at the green-eyed man down the length of his nose. “So you were going to make that poor girl pay your food like some mother. Haven’t you grown up?”

Zoro made a face but didn’t take the bait. He glanced over at Ruffy who passed over to where the kitchen was located, left an order and picked up one that had been waiting there. She looked nothing like the girl Zoro had gotten to know over the weeks; the Ruffy who was licking painful wounds, who stood up for herself and others against people both bigger and stronger than her, the one who was determined to become the king of pirates.

That blank-eyed girl who walked around serving the customers of this place Zoro didn’t know, and it was painful to watch.

Zoro dug out his wallet and slapped a few bills on the table and left with Usopp and Nami on his heels.

 


 

That night Ruffy still refused to talk. Zoro and Usopp chased her around the deck, Zoro to demand answers and Usopp initially because he wanted to know what was wrong as well but ended up getting angry at the game of tag and tried to outwit her instead.

In the end Ruffy disappeared. Well, not exactly. She’d run into the tiny room in the bow where the cannon stood, and in there she had managed to find a hiding place Zoro and Usopp couldn’t figure out. That’s when Zoro decided that okay, Ruffy could have this one, but he wasn’t going to give up. Not when she’d only just started to really open up to him.

He slept out on the deck that night. He thought he could feel Ruffy somewhere in the outer corners of his dreams, and he knew she was fighting, and fighting alone. Again. Despite Zoro’s assurance he would be there for her Ruffy was still fighting alone. Because of a joke?! Needless to say the swordsman was in a horrible mood the next day. Ruffy appeared and went straight for the room she was supposed to share with Nami but had yet to.

Nami looked up when the hatch opened and watched as the younger girl came in, not looking at her and not offering as much as a hello. Instead Ruffy went straight for the bag that held her cloths and picked out a pair of dark blue trousers and a white button up shirt. They didn’t really fit her very well. The trousers were too long and the shirt was made for someone with a bigger bosom. Ruffy didn’t let that stop her. She rolled up the trousers to just below her knees, rolled up the sleeves of the shirt and then also rolled up the collar; effectively hiding the shirt was too big for her and at the same time flashing a generous bit of skin. Nami did have bosoms and had never needed such a trick, but she couldn’t help but think it was pretty neat.

Ruffy fastened the collar with needles she picked out from Nami’s sewing kit on the table where the navigator was working on a ripped shirt, and then she left.

The day went on pretty much as the second half of the previous one. Nami, Zoro and Usopp came in to have breakfast, which was served to them by the blond guy from the day before as well, Ruffy ignored her crew, and when she had nothing to do she stood under the stairs leading up to the upper deck until someone called for her. However, every time she went to stand under those stairs she scared all three members of her crew as well as Sanji. Because when she stood there her face went completely blank, as if she was a doll.

The cooks however noticed nothing of this, and throughout the day they flirted shamelessly with her, offering one speciality after another. Zeff quickly had to put a stop to that though, not because he wanted to protect the girl from his workers, but because the girl put his workers in some deep shit when she served the specialities to the customers quoting what the cook in question had said to her. He would have loved to kick the girl too, but he suspected that would have absolutely no effect on her. He watched over her, watched the way she served the customers, watched people when they tried to feel the girl up, and Zeff got a sick feeling in his stomach when she let them, her eyes widening the only indication she didn’t want it.

She acted like a well-trained servant, one that knew she would be punished if she acted out.

For once in his life Zeff was grateful Sanji was around. He hated the brat and wished more than anything he would just pack up and leave, but he was still around, stubborn as a donkey for a reason Zeff hated him even more for. But now he was finally putting himself to good use and protected the girl rather furiously.

There was however a completely different problem that took both Zeff and Sanji as well as Ruffy’s crew three days to realize; Ruffy didn’t eat. That she didn’t sleep Zoro and Nami had already figured out, Usopp being ignorant because they hadn’t let him know about their captain’s troubles sleeping, but on the third day of Ruffy working in the restaurant Zoro had to notice the way Ruffy was thinning. He hadn’t noticed it before because the change had probably been rather subtle and he had been with her all the time, but Ruffy had actually started to fill up her skin. Now she was going backwards fast. Her skin that had started to tan nicely was paling again and her bone structure was starting to show.

“You need to eat,” Sanji whispered to the girl when she was back under the stairs, waiting for work. It was a slow day so both of them had time on their hands.

She said nothing.

“Name it; what do you want to eat and I’ll make it for you.”

No response.

“Why won’t you eat?”

Sanji was growing frustrated. He just couldn’t understand. Food was the source of life, a means to live and this was a restaurant; food was the one thing they did have. He knew how much it hurt not to have food, how much starvation tore at your sanity, so why did Ruffy refuse to eat? She couldn’t want to lose weight, she had hardly had any weight to lose when she arrived.

When the girl still refused to talk to him Sanji glanced up at a certain table. That green-haired buffalo was back again, having only ordered a beer and now sat glaring threateningly at the blond cook. Sanji knew the look by now, and while he wanted to make it that the marimo was out to hurt Ruffy, he knew that wasn’t it. Zoro was looking out for Ruffy.

Swallowing his pride Sanji stiffly walked over to the other man and stood beside him. “What kind of foods does she like to eat?” he asked him with a low voice.

“What?”

“Ruffy,” Sanji clarified. “She needs to eat. Give me something I can make for her.”

Zoro thought, but unfortunately he had never paid attention to what his captain liked to put on her plate. “As far as I know she eats anything. She’s never been picky as long as I’ve known her.”

“How long have you known her?” the cook asked, but his tone indicated it wasn’t out of curiosity, and so Zoro just shrugged.

Sanji didn’t move away though. He didn’t make it a secret he didn’t like Zoro, but he wasn’t so full of himself to think he knew more about Ruffy than the swordsman did, so he stood there for a minute, hoping the oaf would give him something.

“Why won’t she eat?” he asked at last.

Zoro glared at the blond. He didn’t like the guy, or trust him, but if the Casanova wasn’t seriously concerned about Ruffy he wouldn’t have asked Zoro for help either. However, he wasn’t about to betray his captain’s trust. She didn’t want anyone to know her weak points, and Zoro wouldn’t tell. But…

“You really wanna help?” he asked the cook.

“What do you mean? Just look at her! Screw the debt, she won’t last a week if she keeps refusing to eat. What the hell is she trying to accomplish?”

Zoro glanced over at his captain who was just serving a couple a few tables away. “She’s fighting something, that’s all I really know. What that something is I can only guess.”

Sanji gave him a look, glanced at the girl as she went back to her position under the stairs and made up his mind. The girl might be stubborn, but Sanji could do stubborn and he stalked over to the kitchen. There he spent an hour making a light, clear vegetable soup. He took great care in choosing the vegetables and spices to get just the right colour and aroma. Once he finished he waited for Ruffy to return to her dormant position before he poured the soup and went straight to her. It would probably have been better if he waited until the restaurant closed for the day, but Sanji was sort of desperate.

The cooks in the kitchen noticed where Sanji was headed with the soup and they crowded the window and door to see what happened, more than half of them hoping the girl would break the blond cook’s heart and throw it in his face. That would serve him right.

Zeff watched too, from the other side of the restaurant. It would seem the little brat’s patience had finally run out. About time.

Sanji stopped right in front of Ruffy and held the bowl of soup between them. “Please eat.”

The girl cast a glance over the restaurant and grabbed the bowl, but Sanji held on.

“It’s not for the customers. This is for you.”

Ruffy released the bowl and turned away.

“You’ll die if you don’t eat,” Sanji pressed and lifted the bowl a little so it was closer to the girl’s face.

Stubborn as ever she turned the other way, but she had to swallow as the scent of the soup made her mouth water, and then of course her stomach had to betray her and groan.

The wrinkle of worry on Sanji’s brow deepened. “You’re hungry. Why won’t you eat? Or is this your way of protest to get out of paying us back for that cannon shot? Don’t be stupid. That old geezer will never give in. You’ll die long before he grows soft. You must eat.”

Ruffy glanced at the soup. She was hungry and the soup did smell good.

She grabbed the bowl in both hands, and for a second Sanji thought he’d finally gotten through to her. But the bowl cracked and broke in two, spilling the soup over both of them.

For a moment everything was quiet. Sanji just stood there, staring disbelievingly at the girl’s lowered head.

“I will…” Ruffy hissed and glared up at the blond cook with vivid amber eyes “never eat anything a bloody cook has had his hands on.”

The halves of the bowl hit the floor and Ruffy slipped away, heading for the closet that kept the cleaning tools, her intention obvious. Sanji didn’t move at first, the words still ringing in his ears.

There was however one more person who had watched the ordeal, and Usopp had finally had enough.

“WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU‼!” he cried out furiously at the one who was supposed to be his captain. “I THOUGHT YOU WERE STRONGER THAN THIS‼! I THOUGHT YOU WERE A PIRATE‼! WHY ARE YOU ACTING LIKE A SLAVE AT THIS PLACE?! AREN’T YOU GOING TO BE THE KING OF PIRATES?!?!?!”

Ruffy stood frozen, but for once she was actually looking at Usopp.

And then the restaurant exploded in laugher.

“Ki… king of pirates?!” someone gasped in between laughs.

“That’s a girl! She probably can’t even take a swing and she wanna be a pirate!?”

The taunts continued to rain. Ruffy continued to stare. Usopp didn’t regret a single word. He had had it up to here with Ruffy’s act.

Zoro was sort of amazed as he watched the change in his captain’s eyes. He had to hand it to Usopp. The guy might be an incurable liar, but obviously he wasn’t afraid to hand out the unforgiving truth when it needed to get out there either. Some of the fire in Ruffy’s eyes was returning. For moment Zoro actually thought she would drop the broom and stalk out of the restaurant, cooks and dept be damned, but in the end she lowered her head, but at least not because she was giving up. Whatever she was fighting was still stronger than her, but at least Zoro could see she really was putting up a fight. A real fight. Now all Zoro could hope for was that she would realize her crew was there for her and turn to them, or at the very least to Zoro.

Usopp threw his hands up in the air and returned to Merry in a huff, cursing all the way.

Zeff was not joining the laughter. Actually he didn’t care what kind of dreams that Ruffy girl had. If she wanted to throw her life away for a dream, even one as impossible as that, Zeff was all for kicking her down that lane. She had a demon to fight off first though, or a full closet of them. The old cook wasn’t about to get involved in that fight, but it looked like Sanji had other plans.

Zeff grinned when his young apprentice kicked the other cooks out of the way and disappeared into the kitchen. Finally something worthwhile was happening.


 

Gin had finally arrived to the rocky island that was her crew’s rendezvous point. There she found the mother ship. Only the mother ship. That was all that was left of Don Krieg’s once proud fleet. She groaned in pain every time the waves tilted her in any direction, big holes gapped in her sides and the sails hung in tatters. The rudder had luckily made it out somewhat okay so steering her wasn’t that much of an issue, and it appeared the keel was undamaged as well.

Gin climbed aboard the ship and hurried to the captain’s chamber, barging in without knocking. “Don!”

Dull eyes stared at her. “Gin? You’re back?”

Her captain’s voice was barely more than a whisper, and it broke Gin’s heart to see him like this.

“I met a cook who gave me food. He saved my life. But I never would have thought… This is our mother ship. How could this have happened?”

“Come here, Gin,” Don Krieg demanded weakly.

Gin inched closer, unsure what Don wanted from her, but when she finally stood within reach Don grabbed her and pulled her close, burying his face in her stomach.

“Is the baby… alright?”

Gin flinched. “N… no. Forgive me. I had… a miscarriage… after I was captured.” The last part was a lie. She had had the miscarriage before that, but hadn’t dared to tell Don, who had had much more important things to think about anyway; like staying alive.

She thought Don would be angry. Under normal circumstances he definitely would get angry and most likely kill her. After all, that baby was Don’s, not hers. But right now Don was on the brink of starving to death, and after a long time he only sighed. “I see.”

She looked at the man who had taken her in, who had liked her and trained her and ultimately claimed her. This wasn’t that man.

“I’ll take you there,” she told him and fell to her knees where Don could look into her eyes. “I’ll take you to the restaurant, Baratie.”

Chapter Text

Battle against the past

Sanji was gone. He’d taken the Baratie shopping boat and left. Patti was enraged because the blond idiot had taken the shopping boat but not the shopping list, which meant he was wasting away the restaurant’s money on something decidedly selfish.

“I can’t believe that fucker! I knew he wanted to be the head chef, but I never thought he would act so arrogantly. Has he no shame?!”

The other cooks agreed. The only one who flatly didn’t care was Zeff who should have been the one most upset. Under different circumstances he probably would be too, but he was too old not to know what his apprentice was up to. That Ruffy girl had said something to Sanji earlier, and while Zeff didn’t know what he was certain Sanji was using whatever little brain capacity he had to figure out what hopefully was a solution to that foolish girl’s refusal to eat.

“What are you standing around for? Get back to work you shitty bunch of trash!” he yelled and kicked the ducking cooks in the direction of the kitchen.

“But Owner! What about Sanji?! He just took our shopping boat and it’s not even his turn to do the shopping!”

“So what? Is that a reason for slacking? Are you cooks or what? The customers are waiting!”

Carne, an unshaved cook, illegitimate son of a maid who’d only nursed him and then left him in the kitchen of the place she worked and where he’d gotten most of his cooking training, turned to Patty.

“What’s going on here? Sanji’s gone and Owner almost seems happy about it.”

“I’m happy too,” Patty growled. “Or I would be if I knew that bastard wouldn’t come back! Sanji is a troublemaker. I’m sure Owner would throw a party the day that flirt up and left, but he’s probably off planning how to become head chef.”

Carne nodded, fully believing his co-worker. He was a little confused though. It was afternoon, Sanji would be lucky if he reached the harbour where they usually shopped in time before the stores and stalls closed for the day. Just what was that stuck-up, smoking delinquent up to with their shopping boat?

 


 

The first sign that Ruffy really was putting up a fight against her inner demons was that soon after she had cleaned up the spilled soup… if you could call one and a half hour soon though was up for debate, but Zoro, Nami, Usopp and even Josack and Johnny who were still hanging around had watched and waited for almost a week, so yes, one and a half hours was soon after Usopp had exploded on Ruffy. She went back to Merry and changed back into her jean shorts, red tank top and straw sandals. The straw hat was the only thing she had never abandoned while working in the restaurant. Seeing her now, even though she wrapped the apron around her waspish waist, was refreshing. Now if they could only get her to eat, talk and sleep again the crew would be happy.

 That… wasn’t happening yet though. Still, when the restaurant closed for the day Ruffy hopped aboard the Going Merry and sat on the figurehead, facing away from the bigger ship and towards the horizon. Yes, Ruffy was fighting; or at least she had stopped hiding and avoiding her crew. Now she was open for approach.

Nami was the first to go. “So, what’s new, captain?”

At first Ruffy didn’t answer, and Nami was just about to go over there and hit the stupid girl’s head in, when Ruffy finally opened her mouth.

“I don’t know yet.”

Accomplishment no. 1! Ruffy was talking to them again.

“What do you mean? Are we staying or leaving?” Nami demanded.

The captain hadn’t torn her eyes from the horizon yet, but Nami could still see part of her face, enough to see how it twisted into some sort of grimace.

“Running away won’t change anything.”

Whatever that meant Nami didn’t know or care about. She wanted to leave this place far behind. Why they had even come here to begin with she had forgotten. And… she needed to leave soon! Dallying in this place made her skin crawl. If only she could just drop out of here and be on her way… why did she have to be so… attached to Ruffy?

Giving up trying to talk to the girl captain Nami returned to her room, never noticing that Ruffy was actually looking at her. She didn’t follow though. When the navigator slammed the door shut behind her Ruffy turned her gaze back to the horizon, looking for courage, for answers. Some sort of advice she could use. There had to be something…

Zoro eased his body down and leaned against the railing where he could see his captain from the corner of his eye. He noticed her glance at him shortly before looking at the ocean again.

“Sleep,” the swordsman ordered.

“Can’t. Not yet.”

“What’s keeping you?”

“…don’t know. Don’t have a name for it.”

Zoro sighed and leaned his head back, frustrated and tired, and then Usopp came stomping up to the bow and Ruffy was hit in the face by a rice ball. She caught both it and her hat before they fell off her and stared wide-eyed at the newest member of her crew.

“Eat!” Usopp ordered angrily. “I made these for us. You better eat it too or you are not the captain of this ship! Merry is supposed to sail to the end of the seas, not be anchored here like a tame duck!”

Wow, Usopp must be really upset, Zoro thought. It had however a much desired effect; Ruffy, albeit hesitantly, took a bite of the rice ball. Her stomach groaned loudly, crying for more, and she took another small bite.

Usopp sighed. “Well geez, you are more trouble than you’re worth, Ruffy. The rest of us have already eaten, so I’ll leave them here. Make sure you eat up. Night.”

“Night,” Zoro waved back, a wide grin on his face. He didn’t know what it was that Usopp had that was so special; where both Zoro and Nami had tried pretty much the same approach with zero success, here came the liar and walked over them all. He might not be strong or the best asset in battle, but he was with all certainty a great addition to the crew.

“You heard Captain Usopp,” the swordsman called Ruffy back from whatever train of thought she was on and pointed at the plate where another two rice balls waited to be consumed. “Eat up.”

And then, slowly, a wide grin bloomed on the girl’s face. There was pain there, but it was mostly overshadowed with a relief that brought tears to her eyes.

“Hey Zoro. Having friends is great!”

And she took another bite of the rice ball in her hand.

 


 

Night fell and Zoro fell asleep. So did Usopp and Nami and also Josack and Johnny, but Ruffy was still awake and staring at the horizon. The moon was new, so the night was really dark, too dark for even Ruffy’s sharp eyes to make out the boundary between ocean and sky. Sun had liked nights like these. She had said she liked to believe that on such dark nights, were the darkness connected the sky above with the sea below, she could leave the water and swim into the sky, join the stars and be warmed by the sun when it rose. Ruffy had liked the fantasy. She couldn’t swim like Sun, but she could sail. That had been her dream for a while; to sail through the dark night, with her dream as a guiding star, and sail into the sky…

With the dream as a guiding star…

Ruffy tilted her head back and stared as the sky. There were so many stars up there. One for every dream mankind had dreamt. Some shone brighter than others; the sign of great ambitions and strong belief. Others were small; little everyday dreams like meeting a special someone, capture a rare fish or beetle or to have the greatest birthday party. And even though those stars weren’t as bright and shiny as others, they were still there, twinkling and showing that it’s possible.

Sun… she had sung once…

Ruffy turned her head around and stared at the top of Merry’s mast where the skull and crossbones swayed slightly in the soft breeze of the night.

Zoro tiredly opened an eye, at first confused as to what had awoken him when he couldn’t feel anything threatening. Then he heard a soft sound and looked over to Merry’s head where Ruffy still sat. What was different was that her head was tilted back, hat hanging in its string around her neck. He saw her lips move and realized she was singing.

Still tired Zoro closed his eyes and listened. Ruffy’s voice was hesitant and slow, as if she was figuring something out.

“Brave the darkness and face the morning. You’re a dreamer; hear the world sing. Keep your dream as your guiding light. And let me hear your heartbeat… Your heartbeat…”

Opening an eye again Zoro looked more closely at his captain. He realized only now that she had turned around so that he could see her eyes. Even though the night was very dark, there were still a few dimmed lanterns out on the walls of the restaurant. It was sparse and only barely reached Ruffy, but it was enough for Zoro to make out the outlines of her body, and for some reason the light reflected in her eyes, giving the swordsman the impression of an animal.

“Keep your head high, the sky is open. I will guide you across the ocean with your dream as my guiding star. My heart will join your heart and… become one… with your heart…”

Ruffy’s singing came to a hesitant stop, and Zoro saw the reflected light in her eyes flash when her gaze shifted. Had her eyes always been like that?

She moved quickly; got up, jumped onto the deck and dropped her thin body down on Zoro’s lap, head resting on his chest. Zoro himself didn’t move at all. The press of Ruffy’s body against his was familiar by now, albeit lighter than he remembered of course since she’s somehow managed to lose a pound the past few days. She was cold though and it was slightly uncomfortable, and the way she roughly rubbed her face into his chest was just plain annoying. She settled after a moment with her arms trapped between their bodies, probably to warm them, and let out a long sigh.

“I still can’t sleep.”

“What’s keeping you?” the swordsman slurred, now more asleep than awake.

“I’m terrified.”

Sleepily Zoro moved a hand, intending to pull the straw hat down over his captain’s face, but the hat wasn’t on her head so the gesture became a slightly awkward rub over her hair instead. But Zoro was too drowsy to register it and when his hand dropped he was sound asleep.

Ruffy didn’t sleep that night either though. She’d hidden Shodai on the day they arrived; afraid it would be taken by either the marines or the cooks. But now Ruffy wanted nothing but to feel her weight against her hip. It was just that Sun’s words haunted her. Sun had given Shodai to Ruffy so that nobody else could get their hands on the untrustworthy katana, because there was no swordsman alive in the world that Shodai would accept. In a sense Sun was protecting the world from the bloodshed Shodai Kitetsu could cause by giving it to Ruffy.

The young girl sighed and glanced towards the top of the main mast again. Under her ear she felt and heard Zoro’s loyal heart. She had friends she wanted to protect. She had a dream she wanted to fight for. So what was keeping her from doing either?

Ruffy shivered. She knew very well what was holding her back. The chains on her heart were still so heavy. The doubt, the fear, the pain and worst of all; the memories. The last she had ever seen of Sun. The last time she ever saw Almen. Aki’s death.

Ruffy’s stomach constricted and she swallowed hard as she felt the bile coming up. Maybe she shouldn’t have eaten those rice balls after all.

Zoro grunted and shifted in his sleep, distracting Ruffy from her memories. That’s right; she had friends right here and she wasn’t dreaming. Zoro wasn’t a dream. Nami and Usopp who slept inside the ship were alive. Josack and Johnny who slept in their own boat were real as well.

A wind rocked Going Merry and the skull and crossbones at the top of her mast unfolded and stared down at its captain.

“Aren’t you going to be the king of pirates?”

Ruffy’s eyes hardened. Yes. She would go to the top of the world and become the king of pirates. That was her guiding light. She reached up and pulled her hat firmly over her head. Sun wasn’t with her physically, but she was still inside Ruffy’s heart. She was waiting there to meet her at the end of her journey. She and everyone else.

And once she got there Ruffy knew she would be free.

 


 

Fruit. That was Sanji’s answer. Fruit growing in the wild on three different islands the young cook had sailed to during the afternoon and night. But now he was facing yet another obstacle; how to give the fruit to Ruffy and make sure she ate it. He had figured out her problem; she has an issue against cooks. What that issue was Sanji couldn’t even fathom though. What could possibly have happened to that girl that was so horrible she rather starved to death than ate the food a cook had made for her? He’d thought of asking Zeff, but quickly decided against it. First off the old man had never helped him in any way other than kick his ass whenever he acted out, which he had done and still did a lot, and it had made him both strong and tough. His skill as a cook was something Sanji had had to work for with more than simple blood, sweat and tears. He loved to cook. It was his freedom. Tastes, smells, creativity and the time it took, Sanji lived for all of that. And that was the second reason he didn’t ask Zeff what he thought Ruffy’s issue was. Sanji wasn’t sure he actually wanted to know.

The blond cook stood on the lower deck of Baratie and stared carefully at the sheep-headed ship anchored to the restaurant’s side. It was such a small ship. On the other hand it was manned by only four people in total, so it was probably big enough. Still, compared to every other pirate ship Sanji had seen it was awfully small.

Sanji rubbed his head in frustration as he realized he was looking for distractions. What was he supposed to do?! He wanted to help Ruffy the only way he knew he could; give her food. He could only hope the fruit he’d picked for her would be appreciated enough that she would to talk to him, explain why she resented cooks to the point she refused to eat.

While the blond cook was fretting, a familiar person jumped off the little pirate ship and onto the Baratie. It was that boy again, the one with the long nose who had screamed at Ruffy yesterday. He looked a mix of tired and put off.

Sanji got an idea. “Hey, long nose,” he called out casually.

At first the boy flinched and lifted his arms, as if he thought Sanji was about to attack him. “What? What do you want? I paid for my food yesterday!”

The cook ignored him and held out the sack with fruits to him. “For Ruffy. Can you make sure she eats it?”

The boy looked positively flabbergasted. “What’s this?”

“Fruit.”

“Okay, I get that. Why are you giving it to me? You could just give it straight to her...”

“Ruffy told me yesterday she refuses to eat anything a cook has touched. This is only fresh fruit, and I still suspect she won’t accept it if I give it to her.”

The long nose made a face. “She’s just being stupid right now. She better snap out of it soon or she’s really not the captain of our ship.”

“So give this to her. I can’t figure out anything else that could possibly make her eat.”

Usopp accepted the bag, surprised by how heavy it was and stared after the retreating cook that had been nothing but a pain in the ass since they first set foot on this floating restaurant. This was actually the first civil talk Usopp had had with the tall man. He was right though; Ruffy needed to eat. And so the sharpshooter flung the bag over his shoulder and trudged back to Merry. He knew Ruffy was awake, had glanced at her where she rested on the sleeping Zoro’s chest, and found her looking back before Usopp turned his head away, still somewhat pissed at her and had decided to stay that way until she was back to her usual self.

Getting back aboard with the load was a bit tricky, but he was Captain Usopp, and nothing was impossible for the great Him. And once he finally pulled the sack over Merry’s railing he took a minute to catch his breath and decide on which approach would most benefit his cause.

Ruffy and Zoro were still in the bow, and Usopp made his way over to them with a sour expression. He was still pissed at his captain after all, but he dropped the sack in front of her and let the fruit out in the open. “Breakfast,” was the sharpshooter’s only comment as he sat on the other side of the hill of fruit, picking one out for himself.

“Where did you get all this?” Zoro asked bewildered. Ruffy was slowly sitting up, eyes locked on the food.

“There’s a garden at the bottom of the ocean right beneath us,” Usopp sated seriously. “I was going for my usual swim this morning and decided to dive to the bottom. There I saw this great bubble full of light and fruit trees. But it was guarded by a twenty… no A HUNDRED and twenty feet monster! It tried to attack me, but I poured out sugar in the water, and when the monster snapped after me the sugar caused him cavities. He cried so pathetically I just couldn’t leave him. His fins couldn’t even reach into his mouth because keeping all that fruit to himself had made him fat…”

Usopp continued to weave his tale. And though he was obviously lying Ruffy couldn’t help but like it. He was a great friend, that Usopp. But…

“You didn’t steal this… from the kitchen, right?” she asked, voice low and hoarse.

“Uh? No. Like I was just about to say; after I helped the monster with his cavities he let me pick as much fruit from his garden as I could carry.”

While it wasn’t exactly true, it wasn’t exactly a lie either. Ruffy believed him though. She could hear the heartbeats of the cooks moving inside the restaurant, and there was no way Usopp could have stolen this much and not been noticed. So she carefully, hesitantly picked out an orange.

Nothing happened.

Zoro leaned forward and plucked a pear from the stack for himself, burying his teeth in it and sucking up the juices.

Still nothing happened.

Ruffy kept her eyes on the restaurant as she split the orange in half.

Nothing. The sea reminded calm, the wind brisk and the restaurant quiet with its cooks moving about doing what cooks do in the morning. So Ruffy dared to eat the sweet-sour meat of the orange. She’d always liked oranges, because they had a strong taste. No other particular reason.

From the top deck of the Baratie Sanji let out a breath of relief, puffing out smoke as he was at it. From here he could see Ruffy and her friends as he took a smoke. Hopefully the girl’s eating disorder was over now. At least for the moment. He’d still like to understand what Ruffy’s issue with cooks was, so that he could help her get over it. She was such a small girl, even compared to Nami-san and that long-nosed boy.

Sanji glanced at the cloudy sky. The blanket of clouds above was yet a light greyish white, and the wind ruffled his hair. There was no promise of rain in sight, but the air was diffuse in the distance, so they most likely had a misty day ahead of them.

 


 

It was almost noon and the mist had started drifting in from the south. Nami shivered and rubbed her arm despite the warmth. In her other hand she held a bunch of wanted posters. Ruffy was in the restaurant working as usual, unfortunately. Nami had thought Zoro had finally managed to get through to the stubborn idiot when she peeked out last night and saw their captain snuggled up to Zoro in what was fast becoming a normal sight and Nami had really hoped that meant they would be leaving the next day.

Getting your hopes up around Ruffy was apparently not something Nami should do she realized though. It wasn’t even the first time. Usopp and Zoro had also gone to the restaurant to grab something and keep an eye on their captain. Nami had decided to stay behind today, her disappointment in not being able to leave yet and the ants that had started crawling under her skin during the week of standing still here making her grouchy, plus her period had started yesterday so she really didn’t feel up to dealing with Ruffy now.

The navigator looked down at the wanted posters in her hands again. Behind her Josack and Johnny was making a bit of a fuss and Nami didn’t even hear it. In her mind a voice was talking louder than everything else, and it battled with Ruffy and Nami’s conscience as well as her priorities.

“Nami no aniki. What’s up?”

The girl turned around and saw the two bounty hunters right behind her, startling her.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she tried weakly. The swordsmen looked over her shoulder.

“Oh, you’re looking at wanted posters. Those are big shots.”

“And that’s one you should stay away from,” Johnny advised and pointed at the poster Nami had been staring at. “He was calm for a while there, but I heard he’s been making a ruckus lately.”

Nami’s heart stopped.

Josack sighed. “Yeah, it’s too bad he’s so strong. Twenty million beli sure is tempting, but not enough to die for. I mean if it was just him we could probably take him, but there’s this entire crew of his kind too.”

This was not a time to dally around here. Nami couldn’t sit still for another second!

She had to leave now!

 


 

It was now noon. Ruffy looked better than she had done in the past week and she had finally started to defend herself from the customers hitting on her or trying to pinch her butt. It was like a breath of fresh air to Zoro to see some of her spunk back. Usopp also noticed the spike in his captain’s attitude and nodded in content every time he heard a pained yelp or angry yell from a denied man.

It was noon, and all of a sudden Ruffy stopped in the middle of the restaurant and stared at the doors.

“Ruffy-san? What happened?” Sanji asked as he tried to follow the girl’s gaze, but the mist was thick outside and he could hardly make out a thing. It was getting darker out there though. Like a shadow was… approaching…

People started to look out the windows, and slowly they could agree that it was the shadow of a ship that approached.

A big ship.

A ridiculously enormous ship.

The shadow grew and grew until the darkened wood of the vessel started to emerge from the mist.

“It’s…” a customer gasped, recognizing the part of the figure head that hovered several meters above them. And sticking out of the mist even further up was a skull and crossbones with hourglasses on both sides.

“Don Krieg…” another one croaked.

“It’s Krieg’s pirate fleet! What the hell are they doing here?!”

The cooks had not forgotten the member from Krieg’s crew, or who had beaten that member.

“This is your fault, Patty! Now they’re here! You’re gonna chase them out for us like you promised?”

Patty was holding his head in panic, shaking worse than anyone as Carne screeched at him. He had indeed promised to chase out anyone who dared to threaten this restaurant after Ruffy-san had kicked him and carried that starved guy out. It had been a promise sprung from wounded dignity. And now here was Krieg’s entire fleet!

“I don’t believe it! He’s got five thousand men! He wouldn’t come to revenge just one man, right? Why!”

Ruffy stood stock-still and seemed to be one of very few unfazed in the room. The others consisted of Zeff, Sanji and Zoro. The wind had picked up a while ago and was now sweeping the mist away, and with it gone the revelation of the enormous galleon caused… confusion.

“What happened? Why is the ship all beat up?”

“It’s… it’s just one ship. Where’s the rest?”

“Don Krieg’s fleet… this can’t be… what the hell happened?”

“Must have been a catastrophe.”

People couldn’t wrap their minds around the fact that a pirate with seventeen million beli on his head, commanded fifty crews and their captains, a fleet of five thousand men, could be aboard a ship so wrecked, flying sails so tattered it was a miracle she could sail at all.

“Could it be… astray?” someone asked. “An interior fight, you know, one of the captains could have attempted mutiny.”

The speculations went on but the tension never dropped. Ruffy still stood in the middle of it all, staring straight outside the doors, listening intently, until her view was obscured with the profile of a massive person with a smaller one under their arm.

The smaller person was Gin. Ruffy recognized her heartbeat as soon as she saw her. The older pirate woman wasn’t in any less emotional pain than she’d been when she left, but she was determined to a point Ruffy felt a little awed.

“Pardon me…” a hoarse and weakened voice spoke and everybody stiffened. “Can I have… food… and water? I can pay. I have money… as much as you want… just… food…”

Everybody stared as it slowly started to sink in. This man… this weakened, croaking and stumbling man, big as he might be, was Don Krieg. Nobody moved to give him anything though, as if they hadn’t heard his request. He was so weakened from huger though he fell forward, and Gin’s strength wasn’t enough to hold up his dead weight.

“Don!” she cried out at her passed out captain, before she turned to the people around them. “Please bring some food and water! He’s going to die!”

But as she looked around she could only see a pirate’s fate. Sanji-san was nowhere in sight like she had hoped. At least she knew he had enough compassion for the hungry. But beside him nobody would lift a finger to save a pirate.

Ruffy flinched when she heard the cooks start to laugh.

“This is great! Just perfect!” Patty laughed, his earlier fear gone now that he knew the feared pirate admiral was too weak to even walk.

“We have money!” Gin tried desperately. “We’re customers! We’ll pay!”

“Contact the marines!” Patty ordered his colleagues. “This is the chance to finally put Don Krieg behind bars. Don’t give him a single morsel of food or a drop of water.”

Agreeing voices was heard all over. Gin sat there listening to it all with a hand on her captain’s shoulder. She knew she could beat them all, threaten them to give them all the food on the ship, but this place was… she owned Sanji-san her life.

A chough from Don had Gin’s attention snap back to the large man as he with trembling limbs got up on his knees and hands with his forehead pressed hard against the floor.

“I won’t do anything,” he vowed with a hint of desperation. “Give me food… save me… and I’ll withdraw. You’ll never see me again *cough* just… please save me!”

Ruffy jerked back, not because she was repulsed by the plea, but because the sound of Gin’s heartbeat exploded with emotions raging from shame to shock to pain to humiliation to outrage. Those emotions were directed everywhere like needles, as if Gin had suddenly turned into a hedgehog.

Then Sanji walked past her with a bottle of water and a plate of food, and he kicked the high and mighty Patty out of his way.

“Here Gin. You feed him.”

Gin was stunned. She had thought Sanji-san wasn’t here. Krieg didn’t look like he cared who gave him food. He started eating with his hands even before Gin had placed the plate in front of him.

“SANJ! TAKE THE FOOD AWAY RIGHT NOW‼!” the other cooks roared and Ruffy stepped back further, fighting the fear that hit her like a tidal wave. These people were cooks. All they cared about was food. Lives didn’t matter to them.

Lives didn’t matter to a cook…

“This is a pirate captain’s last breath!”

Ruffy shook her head, fighting the memory, fought against the sickness, against the shadows. Her surroundings were already hazy as reality and her dreams started to overlap… and then a loud cry from a lot of people snapped her back to awareness. The large man had finished his food and was back on his feet. Beside him stood a shocked Gin and right before Ruffy’s feet laid Sanji with a pained expression and rubbed his collarbones.

“Don, what are you doing?!” Gin cried. “This isn’t what you promised! You… argh!”

The man grabbed his subordinate by the shoulder, dug his fingers into the flesh, felt the bones and a sick satisfaction when Gin moaned in pain along with the bones in her arm.

“Thanks for that great food. I almost feel like my normal self,” he said. His voice was still a little hoarse, but the power behind it had returned. “I like this place. I want it.”

Chapter Text

Zeff and Pirate Fleet Admiral Don Krieg

Gin burnt with conflicting emotions. Krieg had been so different towards her when he was on the brink of death. He’d acted as if he cared. He’d cried for their lost baby. He had been so defeated, and Gin had only thought of saving him. She had failed to save their baby, and she could still feel the hollow inside where she had felt the baby growing. But the baby was dead. Don Krieg was still alive, and Gin knew it was safer to bring her captain and what was left of the crew here than to some island where they would most likely eat anything in sight without a care if it was safe to eat or not. But now she felt like Krieg had betrayed her. He was back to the way he usually was; cold, demanding, dangerous like a child with a gun and drunk on the belief he was invincible. The illusion…

“My ship is a little broken, so I thought of getting a new one,” Don Krieg spoke in that calm, dangerous manner Gin hated the most. “Once you all have done what I ask I’ll let you leave this ship. Now, I have about a hundred subordinates left on my ship. They’re starving and wounded. So prepare a hundred orders of food and water to match the amount. Some have already starved to death, so make it quick.”

Nobody moved. Sanji started sitting up and wiped blood from the corner of his mouth.

“You actually think we’re gonna give any more food to you?” Carne challenged, furious for a lot of reasons. “You must think we’re idiots. As if we’re going to feed a hundred pirates knowing you’ll come to kill us as soon as you’ve eaten. Go to hell!”

“Excuse me? I don’t think you understood. I’m not placing an order, I’m giving you a direct one!” the massive man growled and resembled a mad dog. “Don’t dare talk back to me.”

Sanji rose to his feet and passed Ruffy who had backed almost all the way to the mast.

Patty turned to let his anger out on the blond man. “Hey, Sanji! This is what happens when… Hold it! Where do you think you’re you going?!”

“To the kitchen,” the addressed man stated calmly, as if it was obvious. “We have a hundred people waiting for food, so we’ll be busy for a while.”

Krieg decided he liked the blond. He liked people who obeyed without thought.

The cooks of Baratie were not so appreciative.

“ARE YOU MAD‼!”

Sanji stopped. All the cooks who had a gun hidden on their persons had pulled them out and was pointing them at the person who in their minds were gonna cause their deaths; Sanji rather than the pirate who still stood in the doorway with Gin massaging her aching shoulder by his feet.

“Are you Krieg’s dog huh?! We won’t let you even go near the kitchen. We’ve had enough with your insanity!”

Sanji didn’t seem too fazed by the guns though, instead he actually spread his arms out wide in welcome. “Shoot me then,” he challenged his colleagues. “If you wish to stop me from feeding the hungry, you’re welcome to finish me off. I know they’re pirate scum who aren’t worth saving. I know the risk. But we are cooks, and those who come hungry to us shall leave us with their bellies filled. Is that not what we’re here for?”

And that’s when Patty extracted his revenge and knocked Sanji down from behind.

“Hold that madman,” he ordered. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And Sanji, I know you feed the people I throw out in secret, and I’m not gonna argue with you whose right and wrong in those cases, but right now you’re staying down. I have a restaurant to protect, whether it is from a pirate or from you!”

He went over to the mast, Ruffy quickly sidestepping to avoid him, opened a hatch hidden at the bottom and picked out something wrapped in what seemed to be a tablecloth, talking all the way.

“We’re lucky there’s only Don Krieg against the lot of us, the other one is down. What can one man do alone? We get pirates trying to rob us or take over the restaurant all the time.” He looked over his shoulder and smirked widely. “I hope the food was good, Mister Krieg. How about some lead for dessert?!” He threw the tablecloth aside, revealing a hand-held cannon in the shape of a large shrimp. “Eat this! Indigestion Meatball!”

The projectile hit Krieg square on, and while Ruffy might be affected by the frightened heartbeats around her, she did have enough presence of mind to make out one heart that was scared for a different reason than the rest; Gin. Ruffy had already gathered Gin was afraid of Krieg. Now though, when she should be worried about either herself or her captain, despite how she felt about him, that’s not where her concern was aimed. She was scared for the cooks. Considering Krieg had just been hit by a cannon that most likely had never failed before if the big-headed cook’s overconfidence was anything to go by, the cooks were a rather strange thing to be worried about. Unless that man really was as strong as all the rumours had said and he could take a cannonball without going down. Well, maybe normally he could, but right now the impact had sent him through the entrance doors and into the railing beyond. Some railing to withstand the force of a most likely heavy man plus the moving weight of a cannonball. “Damn, I broke the doors. Owner’s gonna be pissed,” Patty said in a light tone with only a hint of bitterness underneath.

“It’s worth it,” another unshaved cook huffed. “Compared to losing the restaurant altogether it’s a cheap price to pay.”

“What about the crew?” Sanji asked carefully. He couldn’t say he cared a lot about Don Krieg who had been fed, but his crew hadn’t, and Sanji hadn’t changed his mind about giving them food.

“I don’t know. How about we set the ship on fire and have barbeque?” Patty joked.

“Sounds good, you worthless cook.”

Everybody, from Patty to Sanji to Gin froze. Well, Gin had expected this to happen, but to hear her captain’s voice using that tone would always chill her to the bone.

In the doorway stood Don Krieg, unharmed and pissed. All the cannon ball had done was to destroy the gold chain he’d kept around his neck and his shirt. Underneath he had hidden an armour that hadn’t even gotten a dent in it. Many would say the armour looked like gold. Ruffy’s eyes were sharper than that, and she could tell it most certainly wasn’t made by a soft metal like gold. Which metal it was though she couldn’t tell.

“Impossible!” Patty shrieked in denial and the other cooks agreed. When you’re shot you’re supposed to drop dead or at the very least be wounded, not stand up without a scratch!

Don Krieg smirked at them all. “The dessert was disgusting. What a horrible restaurant.”

Gathering their wits back together the cooks pointed their guns at the pirate and pulled out oversized knives and forks to attack.

“A shiny armour’s not gonna save you! Get him!”

Gin closed her eyes and covered her ears. Those cooks were running towards their death! Don Krieg was packed with weapons you couldn’t see if you didn’t know they were there to begin with. All he had to do was tense his muscles to pull the secret triggers. She heard her captain roar over the sound of ten guns, four of them double, fire.

“You filthy maggots!” Don shouted in fury as the cooks fell, two of them dead, most injured and only a handful got away grazed. Ruffy and Sanji were the only ones who appeared to have managed to avoid the bullets altogether. “How dare you defy me?! I am Don Krieg! I am the mightiest. I am the strongest! My arms of steel are stronger than anyone’s. My armour of wootz-steel is the strongest of all.” He pulled off a glove to show off the glittering white jewels that had a completely different purpose than showing off wealth. “My fist of diamond will crush anything that stands in my way. My entire body is the strongest weapon you’ll ever see! I’m the admiral over fifty ships. I’m the commander of five thousand men. I’ve walked away as the victor in every single battle I’ve been in.”

And that’s where Ruffy detected the first pure lie. This man might have made her a little nervous a while ago. Now that initial fright had turned into pity, and that was something she didn’t feel for many. Not even for Kuro who had been truly pitiful had Ruffy spared any pity.

Something moved in the corner of her eye and Ruffy turned her head to see the old owner exit the kitchen carrying a bag bigger than himself.

“Nobody defies me!” the pirate cried as if that would make a difference. “If I tell you to make food for my men you go ahead and do it! I am Don Krieg!”

Zeff walked up to the two intruding pirates and dropped the sack between them. “Here. This is enough food for a hundred men. Take it to your crew.”

The cooks of Baratie gawked at their boss. “O… Owner Zeff! What are you doing?!”

Krieg looked derailed. Apparently he’d expected to have to scream and threaten some more before he got his will, but that wasn’t the only reason.

“Ze… Zeff?”

“Sir, what’s the meaning of this?!” the cooks cried equally frustrated and confused. “Why would go give food to the pirates?! They’re gonna attack us once they’ve eaten!”

“Sure. If they feel up to it. All depends on how much fighting spirit they have left.”

“Owner?”

The old man turned back to the still stunned pirate in armour. “Isn’t that right, you pitiful fool, utterly defeated by the Grand Line.”

Ruffy perked up, along with almost everyone else who heard, but for a completely different reason than them. These cooks who would never have the guts to go anywhere near the Grand Line where Ruffy wanted to go the most, were even more frightened to hear the strongest man in East Blue couldn’t conquer it. Ruffy however saw a great opportunity. She knew she’d had to look for one, but hadn’t thought it would present itself like this.

“It is you!” Krieg suddenly yelled. “You’re Aka-ashi no Zeff!?”

Ruffy blinked. Why did that man know the old eagle’s name? And red leg? Wasn’t it rather rude to call attention to a one legged man’s legs like that?

Zeff stood passive, and Krieg narrowed his eyes. “So you’re still alive, huh? I remember the stories I heard about you. The peerless Aka-ashi no Zeff who was both cook and captain of his own pirate crew.”

“I’m alive and kicking as you can see,” Zeff confirmed what Krieg wanted to know. “That’s none of your business though. As you can see I’m only a cook nowadays.”

The armoured pirate smirked, and Ruffy found it too arrogant. She might not trust or like the old eagle, but she couldn’t deny she respected him. He wasn’t a good man exactly, but he was a pirate and Ruffy had found herself trusting that a lot more than she feared the old cook.

“Isn’t that a nice-sounding way to put it? But the way I see it you don’t have any other choice. Oh, I’ve heard the stories; Aka-ashi no Zeff who never used his hands in battle, whose kicks were so strong they could shatter rocks and leave imprints even on steel. It seems to me though one of your legs was the price for your survival and you can no longer wear the boots you dyed with your enemies’ blood. So how did you survive?” Krieg asked conversationally and rather out of the blue, still with the arrogant smirk in place. “The rumours say you died years ago during a shipwreck; and here you are, hiding like a coward from the government and the bounty on your head.”

A lot of the cooks were now staring at their boss with slack jaws, but Ruffy stared confusedly at Sanji, whose heart sounded like Krieg had just stabbed him. The only one who was really unfazed by the armoured pirate’s speech was Zeff himself. Actually Ruffy was certain the old eagle just heaved an internal tired sigh of annoyance.

“All I need to cook are these two hands,” Zeff said calmly. “So what’s the point you’re trying to make?”

Krieg’s smirk widened considerably. “Aka-ashi no Zeff, you once entered the Devil’s Den, the Grand Line, and you made it out alive! You braved those waters for an entire year, and as a pirate you must have kept a log during your journey; that’s my point. Hand that logbook over to me!”

Ruffy suddenly smiled. “Old man, you’ve been to the Grand Line too?”

Zeff glanced at her, for a second thrown by the way she phrased her question, but he figured it didn’t matter at the moment. “Sure,” he answered her question before he locked his old gaze at the too-arrogant-for-his-own-good pirate invading his restaurant. For the most part he just wanted to kick them out the door, but he was too old not to know what defeat did to a man who thought he was invincible. Zeff might have violent streaks left from his pirate life, but truth to be told he was majorly tired of fighting. Cooking was his life now. And sadly Sanji was a part of that life still. Damn stubborn idiot.

“I kept a log and I have it still,” he answered Krieg’s question, “but you will not lay your hands on it.”

“What?”

“That log is the life, companionship and pride of my former crew as we sailed the Grand Line together. It is too heavy for the likes of you.”

“Then I just have to take it by force,” Krieg said matter-of-factly. “It’s true I was overwhelmed by the Grand Line, but I am still Don Krieg, the mightiest! I had all the strength to make it through. I had enough ambition and manpower to do it. All I lacked was information. I simply didn’t know enough about that sea to conquer it. That’s why the logbook is mine, and so is this ship.”

Ruffy made a face. This guy was beyond saving. He seemed to think the world revolved around him and that he could shape it to his whims, just because he happened to be strong.

She almost wanted to give him a candy to calm down, but didn’t think he’d appreciate it.

“Like hell it is!” the other cooks roared. “We’ve got nowhere to go if we lose this place!”

“That’s right! All of us got chased away from other restaurants before we found a home here!”

“Owner Zeff is the only one who accepted us!”

This ship is ours‼!”

“Don’t defy me!” Don Krieg roared and the cooks flinched back in fear of more bullets, but none came. “Anyone can see you lot doesn’t stand a chance against me! I’ve already proved it to you. I am the strongest, and once I’ve obtained Zeff’s logbook I’ll rebuild my fleet, I’ll conquer the Grand Line, find One Piece and become the greatest pirate of the era!”

Somewhere in the chaos there were two people who hadn’t fled with the rest of the customers when Krieg was revived. They had watched the entire spectacle from their table with more or less calm, but when Don Krieg announced he was aiming to become the Pirate King they both felt an intense surge of something greatly satisfying.

The fire that was Monkey D. Ruffy roared to life.

The lean girl boldly stepped forward with a straight back and face set in determination.

“Hold it right there!” she spoke loudly and jabbed a finger at Krieg. “The one who will become the King of Pirates is me!”

Every single cook of the Baratie silenced. That challenge was too bizarre to comprehend, so much so that none of them could protest, pull her back or do anything really. Not even Sanji. Zeff was greatly surprised too, but unlike the rest of his employees he could feel the girl’s strength.

Gin, who still sat beside her captain, gaped. It was okay to sprout such nonsense to her or anyone, but Ruffy should have enough sense to realize that was not a declaration to make against Don Krieg!

The armoured pirate stared as much as everybody else. Stunned that a little bitch dared to stand before him. And just what had she just said? That she would become the King of…

“Excuse me, little girl, I don’t think I heard you correctly.”

“You heard me just fine,” the straw-hat wearing girl informed him.

“Don’t be absurd. You’re a girl.”

Ruffy scowled and spun around to glare at Zeff. “Why is that always the first thing people say? I should know I’m a girl perfectly well myself right?”

“That’s not the issue here, I believe,” Zeff told her with as straight a face as he could uphold, because really he just wanted to grin widely. Sure, he was tired of fighting himself, but he’d never grown tired of watching a good fight. He was also strangely pleased at seeing the attitude that he’d only glimpsed on the day of this girl’s arrival.

“This isn’t some sort of game, girl,” Krieg growled.

“I know that,” Ruffy told him over her shoulder.

“How the hell are we supposed to enter the Grand Line if even Don Krieg couldn’t make it?!”

Ruffy blinked. It wasn’t the pirate in front of her who said that. Then who? It sounded a lot like Usopp though.

“Would you calm down?”

And that was Zoro’s voice, no doubt. The young girl pirate looked around and sure enough found her crewmates by a table.

“Is there a fight in the making, Ruffy? Can we join?” Zoro asked with a wide but rather relaxed grin. Beside him sat Usopp in a much more edgy position with his feet up on the seat of the chair and a hard grip on the table to keep his balance.

“Zoro? Usopp? You still here?” Ruffy asked back. “Ah, no need. I can handle this guy.”

By this point Krieg didn’t know if he should kill this bitch now or just rough her up a little for being ignorant. Or laugh. That was an option too but he didn’t really feel like it. This little shrimp and her what? Two men? Was too pathetic to even laugh at. “That’s your crew?” he asked in disbelief. “Two men? That’s not worth to call a crew, girl!”

“I have one more!” she bragged, holding up a finger for emphasis.

“ONE!?” the large man cried, outraged. “DON’T JOKE WITH ME, YOU BITCH! I might have lacked information but I had five thousand men! Got it? Five thousand and we were decimated by that devilish sea in only seven days!”

Behind Ruffy the cooks’ and Usopp’s hearts were having troubles staying inside the chests they belonged to and beating normally. Only Zoro and the old man’s hearts stayed calm and Ruffy more or less latched onto those to not lose herself in the fear of the others. She wasn’t afraid herself. In truth she was fighting a giant question mark.

“Seven days?” she repeated just to make sure she heard the armoured pirate right. “Why didn’t you just gather information on the first island? It should be only two days sailing from the Twin Peak…” she turned questioning eyes to Zeff, “isn’t it?”

“I don’t know who told you that, but it took my crew three and a half days,” the old-timer shrugged. “Though if you managed to sail somewhat straight I suppose it would only take two days.”

“We never found an island,” Krieg growled as he tried to decide if these people were making fun of him or not.

“How couldn’t you?” Ruffy asked and was about to say something more before she closed her mouth and… looked incredibly annoyed. “You don’t have a log pose,” she stated with insight. “Damn, and here I thought I’d steal yours.”

Zeff kept his mouth shut, despite being quite surprised the young girl knew about the log pose; the Grand Line compass. Without it you were a lost case on that sea, and the errand girl appeared to know that too. Krieg however didn’t need that much information.

“Log pose?” Krieg repeated slowly, now very aware that this girl might actually have the upper hand despite her ridiculously small crew.

A plan started to form in his brain. The girl was obviously no threat to him; she would probably fall apart of he breathed on her. And he did have a more pressing matter on his hands.

He grabbed the sack of food in front of him. “I’ll let you know that ignorant, boasting kids like you are the type I despise the most. You keep that up and I’ll crush you when I return after feeding my crew. As for the rest of you; I am thankful to you for saving my life and that of my crew, so I’ll give you until I come back to get off the ship and I’ll let you leave alive. If you don’t, well my grace only reaches so far. The ones still here will be killed. The only things I need are this ship and Zeff’s logbook.”

And so Don Krieg turned on his heel and left.

Gin sat where she’d been dropped, and she felt perfectly awful.

“I’m sorry, Sanji-san. This isn’t what I…”

“Don’t fret, pup,” Zeff was quick to cut the pirate off. “The cooks here has only done what they believe is right.”

Patty jumped and stared at his boss in disbelief. “Owner, what are you saying? How could you of all people take Sanji’s side?!”

“That’s right! He’s the reason we’re in this mess now!” someone else accused.

“He just wants to see your restaurant destroyed, owner!”

“Well, Sanji! What’s your defence?! Is this your grand plan to become the head chef?!”

“SHUT UP YOU BUNCH OF PUSSIES!” Everybody flinched back at Zeff’s voice. He might not be a pirate captain anymore but he had yet to lose his edge. “Have any of you ever been on the verge of starving to death? Do you understand how slow and painful a death it is to be deprived of food and water on this vast seas?”

The sight of the empty ocean.

The sun that rose and fell without mercy.

The ocean was empty.

The island was empty.

Ruffy forcefully tried to cut herself away from the heartbeats that remembered hunger and hopelessness.

Zeff wasn’t done. “If you fools have time to cry over what’s already done, use the time to get out through the back.”

Ruffy walked up to the table where Zoro and Usopp still sat.

“Okay, come on Ruffy! If we don’t get out of here now…” Usopp started but was cut off by Zoro who was getting slightly annoyed by the younger’s nervous twitching.

“Give it a rest. They might be pirates, but they’re all wounded and probably dulled by their experiences in the Grand Line.”

“And I can’t leave anyway,” Ruffy finished. “If that guy wants to become the Pirate King I can’t ignore him.”

The men in white cook hats all glanced at each other and at the two unlucky men who hadn’t survived Don Krieg’s attack.

“No,” Carne was the first to say. “This is where I live and work. There’s nowhere else for me to go.”

“Me too,” Patty agreed and gripped his oversized fork tighter. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I gave up and left.”

“What are you doing?” Gin asked nervously. She’d never seen this happen before. When Don Krieg appeared even the bravest turned their tails and ran. Everyone knew fighting him was useless. Don Krieg was the strongest!

“What are you doing?!” she asked louder when it became apparent these idiots really intended to stay and fight Krieg. “You saw him! You saw how strong he is! You can’t fight him! You’ll just die!”

“Gin,” Sanji spoke up calmly from where he sat on a table and lit a cigarette. “I want you to understand something; giving food to the starving is what I do as a cook. But the people coming now have been fed, so don’t complain if I kill them all. Got it?” He gave the pirate a cold glare. “Anyone who tries to take over this restaurant I will kill personally, even if it’s you.”

Patty gave his colleague a look that said a lot about what he thought of Sanji’s attitude. “Geez, first you feed them and then you kill them. You’re a twisted one I say.”

“Shut your trap, shitty cook,” Sanji answered with a scoff.

Gin had however gotten the message; she was not welcome here, and it hurt a lot more than she thought it would. Of course, if you betray the one who showed you kindness the way she had done, she probably wouldn’t be very open towards her either. Maybe she had just confused a dream with reality.

“Hey Gin,” Ruffy suddenly called. “You said you didn’t know anything about the Grand Line, but you’ve been there.”

The woman started shaking. “It’s true, I’ve been there, but I don’t know anything. I can’t understand it, or say if it really happened or if I had some sort of nightmare. The seventh day… the entire fleet… fifty ships… he just appeared. We were taken out by one single man!”

It became very quiet.

“One… man…?”

“Impossible!”

“There has to be more to it!”

“All of them at once!” Gin cried out. “If that storm hadn’t whiskered us away that man would have destroyed the mother ship too. We’re all that’s left! I can still feel it; his gaze. That hawk like gaze that felt like it could kill.”

“Hawkeyed?” Zoro gasped as his heart finally took a leap for the first time today.

In the middle of the shocked mumbles stood Zeff. “It would seem you happened upon the Hawkeyed man,” he mused calmly.

“Who’s that?” Usopp asked.

“That’s the man I’m looking for,” Zoro said.

“He’s the one…”

The men looked at Ruffy who suddenly stood and walked over to the kneeling woman in the entrance.

“What happened, Gin?” she asked tersely and looked anything but happy. “Why would that man attack you?”

“Maybe they just disturbed his nap,” Zeff suggested with a careless shrug.

“Nap?!” Gin cried and jumped up and was about to say more when she caught sight of the look on Ruffy’s face. The eyes that Gin had thought were dark before were now a bright golden colour and almost glowed as Ruffy’s face darkened with all sorts of emotions, from deep grief to pure hatred.

“That man,” Ruffy growled. “He’s the one who captured Sun.”

Chapter Text

Ruffy, Zoro and the Greatest Swordsman

The restaurant was very quiet after Ruffy’s confession, everyone a little confused. Ruffy was staring out at the ocean, seeing how Sun got defeated and captured. Sun was strong, but she hadn’t had Shodai. Shodai would have been enough to protect her from that man, but she had given the katana to Ruffy, and the young girl couldn’t understand why. Why would Sun give up her strength to keep Ruffy safe?

“Ruffy, have you met the Hawkeyed man?”

“Not really,” she answered truthfully.

“But you…” Zoro directed his attention to Gin who now stood. “You saw him when you entered Grand Line?”

Gin only nodded, unsure what was going on.

“So that’s where he is then. Good,” the swordsman concluded with a satisfied smile. His goal was clear; to defeat The Hawkeyed man, the world’s greatest swords master, and take that title from him. Whatever Ruffy’s deal with the man was it had nothing to do with that goal or with Zoro. She’d saved his life and he'd teamed up with her because it didn't really matter in the end, but he wouldn't follow her further than his dream.

“What’s so good about that?!” Gin asked bewildered.

“That means it’s the Grand Line I’m going for, since there is where that man is.”

Sanji raised an eyebrow. “You’re an idiot,” he scoffed. “You want to butt heads with a man who sunk fifty ships? You’re just rushing to your death.”

“I’m the first to admit that,” Zoro shrugged. “But I decided to become the world’s greatest swordsman and I’m betting my life on that. So the only one who can call me an idiot is me.”

“I want to become the king pirates,” Ruffy stated, while she still stared out the broken doors. “That dream and the promise I made to Sun is my only attachment to life.”

Sanji puffed on his cigarette, muttering about helpless fools, but Zeff wore a wide grin he couldn’t suppress. It was a long time since he saw fools like these who knew what a pirate really was. Seeing these kids was like a breath of fresh air.

“What are you people dallying around for!?” Patty butted in with his loud voice and a giant fork at the ready. “Don’t you understand the situation?! We’re up against Don Krieg; the strongest pirate of East Blue! Leave the chit-chat to after we’ve gotten our asses out of the fire!”

Gin left then, back to her own crew. The cooks were preparing for battle against her captain.

They would die. All of them. Sanji-san and Ruffy-san and all of them. They stood no chance against Don Krieg, Gin knew that well. She knew how strong he was. She knew how brutal and merciless.

And Ruffy-san was fighting for a dream!

 


 

Don Krieg watched as his men ate like the starved animals they had become, letting his eyes stray from one face to another. He didn’t know a single name, which meant none had deserved that sort of attention from him.

Gin appeared and quietly walked to his side where she belonged. It was good to have her back. She was a valuable asset in battle, so he knew that besides himself and Pearl, there was also his most loyal bitch.

“It’s been too long now. Celebrate our victory with me later tonight, Gin,” he muttered to her.

She made a noise and Krieg took it as agreement. It’s not like she had a choice anyway.

“I… I’m alive?”

“Where are we?”

“We escaped the Pirate Graveyard!”

“We survived! We survived the nightmare!”

All around him his men were starting to celebrate as life returned to them. Here and there lay the dried corpses of the ones who hadn’t managed. The ones who were too weak to be on Don Krieg’s crew. In retrospect, perhaps losing the first round against the Grand Line was a blessing in disguise. Now Don knew these people were strong. The ones who had survived were the strongest.

“Perfect,” he spoke over the noise. “Now we can once again set course for Grand Line.”

Every man who heard deflated. The ones who hadn’t heard and were told by the men who did looked panicked.

“You… you can’t be serious, captain. We’re not going in there again!”

Don brought out a gun and fired with a pissed look. That was one man he’d wasted food on.

He looked around. All he saw were the faces of the defeated. Well, that wouldn’t do. “Anyone else who wants to speak their thoughts?” he asked them sweetly.

It took a few seconds of swallowing, but finally the crew of Don Krieg let out a war cry.

The captain walked out among his men. “Good. We’ll start with abandoning this broken ship and take over that restaurant. It holds enough food to feed us for some time. The enemies are only a bunch of measly cooks. Should be easy enough for you to get rid of.”

It did sound like an easy job, even to Gin. She had an odd feeling in her guts though. Call it woman’s intuition or instinct or whatever, something big was moving the waves around her, and they weren’t moving in Don’s favour.

Don’s crew however only knew one thing; disobey and die. Taking over that restaurant and killing everyone inside was a cheap price to pay for your own life.

Gin suddenly couldn’t breathe. It was only a second of absolute silence. The sound of a sword. And then the ship blew up under her feet.

Or no, it didn’t blow up, it shattered! Pieces of wood were flying everywhere. Gin grabbed onto a rope and held on for dear life. The ocean exploded beneath her, swallowed her for a moment before it released her, falling back into gravity’s hold. Gin spotted the ship through the water and swayed in that direction. It tilted dangerously and was slippery from the water, but the ship was battle scarred to begin with and Gin easily found little cracks and holes as she climbed up on a safer part of the deck. She looked around for her captain, but was quickly distracted by the state of the ship. Or rather, she saw the captain’s quarters quickly disappearing under the surface of the water.

It was true the ship hadn't exploded. It hadn't shattered by accident either. But the reason she could see the captain's quarters was because the ship had split in two. And the most frightening thing was that it looked like a giant carpenter had just taken a saw and sawed it apart, that's how clean the cut was.

She remembered that second before this happened. Where she felt like she’d been spotted and heard the sound of a sword being drawn.

The ship hadn’t shattered, it had been cut!

It was him!

 


 

On the Baratie Chaos was throwing a personal party. He was the only one who enjoyed himself though as the cooks rolled around, most of them clutching their reopening wounds and feeling the bullets still inside them. Zeff was yelling to raise the anchor or they would go down with Don Krieg’s galleon. Ruffy, Zoro and Usopp were tumbling around, stumbling over themselves to get out to where the Going Merry was attached to the restaurant. To their great horror though, when they finally made it out there was no sign of Merry.

“Zoro! Zoro no Aniki!”

The trio looked down and found Josack and Johnny fighting the waves and trying to hold onto the side of the bopping restaurant.

“Josack! Johnny! What happened? Where’s Merry? And Nami?” Usopp demanded frantically as he and Ruffy fitted their slim bodies through the railing to help the bounty hunters up. Zoro stood above them, prepared to catch the hands that reached for him as his old friends climbed onto the safety of the Baratie.

“W-well, you see. Nami no Aniki… she took off.”

“She what?” Zoro demanded sharply.

“We don’t know what happened either!” Josack defended himself and his partner. “Or rather, Nami no Aniki was staring at some wanted posters, and then she took our treasures and threw us off the ship.”

As if they didn’t have enough troubles to deal with! Zoro flew his fist into the wall in frustration, cursing that damn thieving girl who he had just started to trust! Was it really that easy for women to turn on the ones who trusted them?

“I see it!” Ruffy called from the railing. “Over there, it’s Going Merry.”

Usopp looked to where his captain pointed and nodded. “Yosh, it’s her alright,” he confirmed.

Ruffy quickly turned to the bounty hunters. “Where’s your boat?”

“We had it tied to the restaurant. It’s over there.”

“Good, prepare it to sail after Merry. Zoro…”

“Forget it,” the swordsman growled. “I’m not going after that bitch.”

“What about the ship!” Usopp protested. “That ship…”

“I can see Nami too,” Ruffy cut her subordinate off, positively shocking Usopp. He was proud of his sight and could brag about his aim without exaggerating… too much, but he could just barely make out the sail over the distance.

Zoro glared at his captain. He really didn’t want to follow this order, but unfortunately Ruffy had a look in her eyes that told him she still trusted Nami. And if she could indeed see the thief girl…

The swordsman let out an exasperated sigh and ran a hand through his hair. “Got it.”

“Zoro no Aniki! The boat’s ready!” Johnny called from where the bounty hunters had prepared their little boat.

“Right. Come on, Usopp,” the swordsman called tiredly. Usopp moved to follow the taller man but noticed a certain important someone wasn’t.

“Ruffy? Aren’t you coming?”

“I have to stay behind. Still got a debt to pay here,” the girl said distractedly as she stared towards the wrecked ship of Krieg’s.

Zoro turned to glance at his captain. There was a lot of noise going on but he hadn’t listened to them. Not until he heard the words “…cut the ship…”

“Zoro no Aniki?” Josack called uncertainly when he noticed the former bounty hunter was distracted.

In between the waves and wreckage there was a shadow.

Ruffy suddenly scrambled away in a hurry, but Zoro didn’t pay it too much heed, too preoccupied trying to make out what that shadow was, because it wasn’t another piece of floating debris. It looked a lot more like a low boat…

“It’s him!” he heard someone cry in panic.

“It’s the guy who destroyed our fleet! He chased us all the way here!”

Zoro just stared as the little boat leisurely came closer. It was so small it only really fitted one person. And that one person had a broad-brimmed hat with a red plume that covered his face. The person sat in that little black boat of his, sail folded, and looked as if he was asleep.

Until he lifted his head.

There was no mistaking it. It was the Hawk-Eyed man.

Zoro heart pounded as he felt the eyes of that man pass him. He wasted no time. This was his moment. Right before his eyes was…

A sharp tug on his leg stopped him and he looked down. Behind him, standing on all four, holding onto his leg and trying to stop him was Ruffy. The fear was clear to see on her face. What she wanted to say was clear too as she opened her mouth.

Zoro glared in warning, daring the girl to say anything.

Ruffy’s hand shook, but she slowly closed her mouth and her grip went lax. Zoro paid her no more mind as he pulled his leg out of the girl’s hand. His goal was right in front of him and nothing and no one was going to stop him.

Ruffy sat back and watched her friend leave. She’d made a promise after all; she wouldn’t stand in Zoro’s way. But she couldn’t shake the thought of what that man was doing here. Sun had said Hawkeye was a legal pirate, whatever that meant, and only the pirates whose strength the government recognized could become legal.

The girl turned and hid behind the railing best she could. She couldn’t let that man see her, not now when she was so weak.

Usopp, Josack and Johnny were also lingering, wanting to see what happened as Zoro challenged the world’s greatest swordsman to a duel.

The Hawk-Eyed man eyed his challenger with a twinge of pity, but otherwise disinterest. He was challenged by upstart swordsmen once in a while and that was the only thing he really knew about those challengers. When, where and how many he hadn’t bothered to take note of in this era where the glory-seeking pirates ruled the seas and the marine was hard pressed to keep up with the load of them and honed their skills. This kitten was just another to join the heap of defeated fools Hawkeye had scattered behind him.

“Fool,” he told the boy. “You pitiful fool.” Still he wasn’t one to turn down a challenge, and he had the time, even though this was probably the best way to waste that time. So he calmly walked onto the floating piece of wood that had once been a part of the deck of the ship he’d just cut.

Around them people recognized Zoro. He was famous as the “Pirate-Hunter” after all. Krieg was a little thrown by the discovery since he’d thought the guy was a pirate. If he did win this duel Krieg was going to add him to his crew. He would be a good addition on Krieg’s way to become the Pirate King.

Sanji was also surprised. Of course he’d heard about the Pirate-Hunter with the three sword style, but he’d honestly thought such a man would be more impressive than the oaf he’d come to know. And challenging someone who had cut a galleon in half? That was just stupid suicide. The marimo must have been born without a brain.

Zoro stood right in front of the man he’d dreamt of defeating since the day he first heard his name. Hawkeye was hardly as riled.

“If you had any sense as a swordsman it should be clear who is the greatest without the need for us to cross blades. Are you driven by courage or simply ignorance?”

“Ambition,” Zoro answered clearly without taking the bait, knowing he just passed the first test in keeping his cool when taunted. “And a promise I made to a friend,” he added and bit down on the hilt of Kuina’s white katana. “I actually didn’t think I’d meet you so soon.”

“A waste if you ask me,” Hawkeye told his challenger evenly and took off his hat and the cross necklace he wore.

“What?”

The necklace turned out to be a hidden blade. A very small one. “This is East Blue; the ocean considered the weakest of the four seas separated by the Grand Line and Red Line. I won’t go all out taking down a little rabbit like you.” The look the tall swordsman gave Zoro now said all about what he thought of the green-haired teenager’s skill. “I’m sorry this is the smallest blade on me at the moment.”

“I can tell you’re arrogant,” Zoro said and heard the growl in his own voice. Well, he didn’t care about keeping his temper down now as he crouched and charged. “Don’t regret that attitude on the other side!”

“Little frog croaking at the bottom of the well, it’s time you feel the great world,” Hawkeye said, standing completely still and unfazed by his oncoming challenger.

Zoro crossed his arms with his blades up. “Onigiri!”

He was blocked.

No, he was stopped so suddenly it hurt. Nobody… nobody had ever managed to block that attack before! It was Zoro’s trump card!

The young swordsman stared at the blade, small like a toy that the world’s greatest swordsman had used to block him with. The tip of the thing was all it took to stop Pirate-Hunter Zoro’s strongest attack.

‘It can’t be,’ Zoro thought as a feeling he’d not felt in a long time started to pump through his veins and he looked his goal in the face. ‘It can’t be so far away! The world can’t be so far away!’

Zoro shifted his weight backwards to get out of his frozen position and attacked again. His normal cool was gone and his attacks were influenced by desperation. His goal was right in front of him in the form of the world’s greatest swordsman and Kuina stood right behind that man. A man who was blocking Zoro’s every attack with a toy!

Hawkeye suddenly moved that toy blade of his and Zoro found himself flipped and landed hard on his back.

‘No. It isn’t possible. It can’t be real!’

Zoro rolled up and attacked again. He had trained all his life to be stronger than Kuina, to become the world’s greatest swordsman, to fulfil Kuina’s dream. Not for this! Not to be stopped here!

“You’re so lucky to be a boy, Zoro. I want to be the world’s best too.”

“So let’s make a promise. One day you or I will be the number one swordsman in the world. See who can make it first!”

He had to win. He had to!

“Stupid! Don’t say things like that when you’re so weak.”

‘No, I will win! I must!’

“Such a violent sword,” Hawkeye commented where he stood his ground, blocking three swords with only his small blade in a comfortably loose grip. He’d seen swordsmen like this before; men who got angry and frustrated when they realized the strength they were so proud of couldn’t match his. The realization of how weak you really are is painful in a lot of ways, mostly to the pride, but also to the confidence. But there was something more about this particular challenger. Something in his heart that hurt every time Hawkeye blocked him.

“What is your burden?” he asked curiously. “What are you seeking beyond the limits of your strength, you weak man?”

Zoro’s eyes widened. He hadn’t just said that. Not when Kuina stood right behind him in a place where Zoro could only sense her.

On the deck of the Baratie Josack and Johnny had had enough. They had been cheering their old friend on with all they had, and nobody called Zoro weak and got away with it!

“Take that back! Our Aniki isn’t weak” Josack roared, drew his sword and moved to jump into the ocean, swim over there and join the fight in order to protect his friend’s pride.

“We oughta teach you a lesson, you bastard!” Johnny yelled with the same thought as his partner to join the fight, sword drawn, but they were roughly yanked back by the back of their cloths.

“Don’t interfere,” Ruffy snarled and pressed her face against Johnny’s back. “This is Zoro’s fight. Just stay put and watch.”

Usopp stood beside the three of them and stared worriedly at his captain. It was clear that she was hiding, but Usopp couldn’t understand why. It was one thing to be afraid of someone who held the title of “world’s best”, heck Usopp had almost pissed his pants when he saw that guy, but Ruffy was acting really strange. She was watching the battle best she could through the railing while still hiding, as if that man would have any interest in her.

“He’s the one who captured Sun.”

Usopp looked back at the fight. The guy who handed Zoro his ass in a package right now, he couldn’t possibly have come for Ruffy, right? He really couldn’t have. Usopp sent a hundred prayers that his captain was not the target of that guy as Zoro once again hit the deck. Surely Ruffy was just scared.

Surely…

Zoro rolled away from his opponent to get into position. For some reason Ruffy had made her way into the front of the jumbled thoughts in Zoro’s head.

“Sounds good. The world’s greatest swordsman is the least you can ask of a nakama to the king of pirates.”

The least Ruffy had asked of him was to become the world’s best swordsman…

“Tora…” he started as he prepared his next attack, raising both arms and tried to focus on the battle at hand.

Hawkeye almost rolled his eyes. This youngster had too much to learn if he left himself that open. This had been going on for long enough though, so he took a step forward and forcefully thrust his blade into the younger man’s chest.

Zoro stopped, surprised about the pain and looked down. Blood seeped out of the new wound and down his body, dropping onto the deck. Ruffy’s face once again entered his mind. She had grabbed his leg to stop him, had wanted to tell him not to go.

She had known the difference between Zoro and Hawkeye.

Still she had let him go. Because she had promised, and she had kept it against her own wish…

The sense of Kuina’s presence was suddenly much weaker.

Surprise crossed Hawkeye’s features when his challenger didn’t move. He just stood there with his arms down and blade still buried in his chest. Thoughts were flashing in his eyes, and he seemed very uncertain under the pain and confusion.

“Do you wish for me to pierce your heart? Why won’t you back down?” Hawkeye asked.

“Well… I’m really not sure…” Zoro muttered. “It feels like… an oath I swore or important promise I made… and a whole lot of other things will be irreversibly broken… if I take even a single step back now.”

“That’s right. It’s called defeat,” Hawkeye informed him calmly. He knew the taste of it, remembered it well, and had sworn to never allow it happen to him again.

“That’s why I can’t step back.”

Hawkeye stared hard at the younger. “Not even for your life?”

“Not even for my life,” the young man smirked with a fire of determination alight in his eyes.

Hawkeye had seen that look before; the look of a person who had made up their mind and betted their life on their decision. Last time Hawkeye had been humbled to the point he’d even held a private funeral for the woman who sadly hadn’t survived.

It was too early for this child though.

“Boy, tell me your name,” Hawkeye asked as he pulled the blade out of the young chest and took a step back, putting his small blade back around his neck.

“Lolonoa Zoro,” the challenger said and got into a new position, weight at his centre and all three swords held so that to Hawkeye they looked like a windmill.

“I shall remember your name,” the elder swordsman promised as he reached for the sword on his back; his pride. “Long have I searched for a strong soul like yours, and to show my respect to you as a swordsman I will defeat you with this black sword.”

If Zoro hadn’t been so scared, knowing he balanced on the thread between his goal and his death, he might have felt more pleased about Hawkeye’s acknowledgement. Sadly his mind was locked on that scale; world’s greatest or death.

“Santouryuu ougi…” He started to spin his swords around his hands and wrists in opposite directions. In theory it worked to confuse and hypnotize his enemy. Faster and faster he spun the swords, creating a wind that would conceal him once he attacked.

Hawkeye would never say, but the attack did force him to focus more than normal since his opponent didn’t hold his swords exactly and therefore made it more or less impossible to predict how this attack was going down.

Both swordsmen charged.

“…Three thousand worlds!”

There was a loud sound of shattering metal.

The sound of Zoro’s two swords shattering along with the sound of his flesh opening and blood spilling out.

‘I lost,’ Zoro realized and felt oddly calm. He knew he was going to die, and that was good. He wouldn’t have to face Ruffy now. The sense of Kuina’s presence was long gone too, because she was waiting at the top of the world, not the bottom Zoro had just hit. She wouldn’t meet him on the other side. It was okay. He had been arrogant and proud, and this was the price he paid. At least he still had Kuina’s katana and he would take it with him along with everything else it and he stood for.

Both swordsmen turned towards each other, and once again Hawkeye was coloured by surprise as Zoro spread his arms out wide with a smirk.

“Wounds on the back are a shame for a swordsman,” the young man stated clearly, the tight grip he hand on his sheathed katana the only hint he was afraid.

“Well said,” Hawkeye agreed with a smile of his own, and wielded his long sword, cutting deep into the young swordsman’s body.

Ruffy watched. She had watched the whole thing, and for every second that passed the more her world shrunk. She was already deaf to everything but the pounding of her own heart. If she was still breathing she wasn’t even sure of. All she could see was a rain of blood. Aki’s blood. Almen’s blood. Sun’s red hair and the pink water around her.

And Zoro fell into the sea.

Josack and Johnny cried out in despair and dove in to save their friend.

Usopp took the boat and steered it best he could towards the place where his crewmate had fallen.

The cooks and Don Krieg’s crew all watched with disbelief. Pirate-Hunter Zoro didn’t stand a chance against the world’s greatest swordsman.

Sanji grit his teeth. “It can’t be that hard to throw away your ambition!” he yelled at the quickly disappearing circles on the water where the green-haired idiot had disappeared under the waves.

Ruffy wasn’t aware of anything anymore other than the fact she couldn’t hear Zoro’s heartbeat anymore. Without warning she snapped completely and blacked out.

An ear- piercing screech rang over the waves.

Hawkeye was the first to realize where it came from and from whom, and he only just managed to raise his sword to block the human projectile that hit him with the weight of a comet that pushed him back several meters.

The new attacker was a young girl dressed in a red top and a familiar straw hat. An attacker that caused Hawkeye’s muscles to tense to their limits just to withstand her brute force. He was still being pushed by the pressure of the girl’s first attack when she suddenly snaked around his head, hands gripping his shoulder from the front and under his armpit from behind. His name wasn’t Hawkeye for nothing though. The girl had a short necklace, and as soon as the pressure on his sword lightened he pulled back his hand, looped two fingers around the necklace and forcefully twisted it, saving his neck from her teeth due to the sudden strangle. Hawkeye took the moment of surprise to grab the girl’s jaw, threw her over his shoulder and slammed her against the deck he stood on with enough force to crack the wood, but not enough to completely rob them of this fragile footing.

Golden eyes made of despair and fury stared blindly over an open mouth as the girl struggled to breathe.

“Calm yourself,” Hawkeye demanded soothingly. “I let him live.”

The girl blinked and looked at him, seeing him, and as her mind returned to her Hawkeye loosened his grip until he let go completely. Her scarred throat was red from his hand and had a deep line where her necklace had dug into her skin. She sat up and crawled over to the edge of the wooden deck, turning away from Hawkeye only when her hand touched the wet edge.

Josack and Johnny resurfaced with Zoro, and Ruffy saw her friend cough. He was breathing. He was alive…

He was alive.

Ruffy slapped her hands over her face to hide her expression and her tears. Zoro was alive. For the first time her friend was allowed to live.

“You let him live,” she whispered. “Even though he’s my friend.”

“I’m a pirate; I face anyone who challenges me regardless of who stands behind them,” Hawkeye said matter-of-factly.

Ruffy tried desperately to stop crying. She wanted to be able to see Zoro, but she was just so relieved he wasn't dead the tears just kept coming. But she was a pirate, and pirates don't cry, especially not in front of enemies and there were more than one around.

“Hurry up, get him up on the boat!”

Usopp’s voice just barely made it to Ruffy’s ear and she looked up. Through the blur or her tears she saw Usopp had managed to sail Josack and Johnny’s boat to the three in the water and was now helping to hoist the fallen swordsman aboard.

The young girl captain wiped her face and sniffed, knowing the danger hadn’t quite passed yet. There was so much blood. Zoro might be alive right now, but he had to survive too. Even though Hawkeye hadn’t killed him, he had still cut him.

“My name is Juraquille Mihawk. It is too early for you to die,” the man beside Ruffy spoke clearly. “Know thy self. Know thy world and become strong, Lolonoa Zoro!”

On Josack and Johnny’s boat the three men tending to Zoro’s wounds best they could were distracted by Hawkeye’s voice. Hawkeye wasn’t talking to any of them though. He spoke his feelings directly to the young swordsman’s soul. “The years may pass. I shall remain the greatest, and I will wait for you there on the top of the world. So keep your wild spirit alight and surpass my sword. SEEK TO SURPASS ME, LOLONOA ZORO‼!”

A strangled sort of cough was heard from the boat and Mihawk took it as his answer. Finally he had something to look forward to. The last time someone had left such a good impression on him it had come too much as a surprise, and their fight hadn’t lasted long enough because the blasted marines had interfered, and because of them the swordswoman he’d enjoyed the dance with was dead.

Ruffy could hear both the excitement and the anger in the heartbeats of the man beside her, and the reason for the anger shocked her, but she had much more pressing matters at hand so she couldn't ask right away.

“Hey, Usopp! Is Zoro okay?”

“No, he’s not okay, but he’s alive. If only barely,” the younger boy called back distractedly, as he was to pour disinfection over and dry blood away from the deep wound. Beside him sat Josack and Johnny crying like babies and were completely useless.

Ruffy blinked when she suddenly saw Zoro’s white katana lift from the boat and point at the sky.

“Ca… can you hear me, Ruffy?”

It was Zoro’s voice.

“I hear you,” she called back and strained her ears so she really would catch what her friend wanted to say.

“I seem to… have made you worry. Sorry. But… the world’s greatest swordsman… is the least you can ask of me, right?”

Zoro’s captain jumped to her feet when she heard another pained cough, but otherwise didn’t move. She could hear it in her nakama’s heartbeat; he was embarrassed and angry, but above all disappointed in himself. It was a moment he definitely didn’t want to be seen, so Ruffy didn’t move.

Josack and Johnny cried and begged Zoro not to talk anymore, but Zoro wasn’t done.

“I swear!” he cried out at the top of his lungs the best he could in the condition he was in. “I will never lose again! Until the day I defeat that man and become the world’s greatest, I swear I will… NEVER LOSE AGAIN! So don’t complain, Pirate King.”

Ruffy let out a relieved laugh and beamed happily at the small boat. “I won’t.”

Mihawk smiled too. It appeared his young challenger was in good hands. At least he wanted to think so. There was only one thing he needed to make sure of before he left.

“Hawk-Eyes!”

But that was not it.

The tall swordsman graced his new “challenger” with a bored and clearly annoyed look. Some people just couldn’t see past their own noses if you so shoved the truth in their faces like both Mihawk himself and young Zoro had just done.

Krieg was smirking widely, full of himself and knowing that if he took the head of this guy it would definitely spread his name across the world. The deed would also attract pirates to join his crew so he could rebuild his fleet.

“Did you come all the way here for me?  For the head of the infamous king of the East Blue?”

“I do see a king of these waters, and so a goldfish like yourself holds no interest,” Mihawk scoffed and drew his black sword.

Don brought out his guns, ready to fire. But it wasn’t his throat the swordsman held his sword against.

Ruffy had fallen to her knees again, shaky from the adrenaline kick and relief. The feel of the sword under her chin startled her mildly. She looked up and locked her own gold-coloured eyes with the amber ones of Mihawk.

“How did you survive, Golden Eye Rayla?”

Chapter Text

The right or wrong way to protect what you can’t save

Usopp was not a doctor. If he was ever faced with reality he was barely more than a kid. Sure, he had broken a bone or two during his wild, young life but that was because he fell down a tree or a cliff, and the worst wounds he’d really ever received were the ones from his failed fight with the Kuroneko pirates. He hadn’t forgotten the pain of that battle, at the same time he couldn’t remember it due to a lot of distractions and many other things Usopp couldn’t really point out without a lot of deep thinking he had yet to do. And in front of him now lay Zoro, only barely conscious with blood seeping out from a wound so deep Usopp could see the ribs in it if he looked close enough, something he only did once because if he looked again he would empty his body of anything that wasn’t stuck.

In short; Usopp had no clear idea what to do and beside him sat Josack and Johnny snivelling like babies.

“Are you gonna just sit there or are you gonna try and help?!” Usopp snapped furiously.

It was luckily all the encouragement the two bounty hunters needed, and to the younger boy’s great surprise they appeared to know exactly what to do as they brought out some medicine, checked them, threw one bottle back, brought out a needle and thread and finally got to work.

So Usopp turned back to where Ruffy was, and stopped breathing. That guy who had just brutally defeated Zoro was now holding his black sword against Ruffy’s throat.

Ruffy met Usopp’s gaze, and she smiled at him. It did very little to calm the younger boy down, but at least it stopped him from panicking completely.

“Usopp, you go on ahead and look for Nami. I’ll catch up with you as soon as I’ve paid my debt here.”

Paid her dept? Ruffy was still thinking of the dept she had for that misaimed cannonball? She had a sword ready to separate her head from her throat and she was thinking of a dept?!

“It’s okay Usopp,” Ruffy reassured with a calm and confident smile. “I will definitely catch up with you.”

The boy wanted to protest and not believe his captain, but it was too hard when she gave him that look. It didn’t help that the reason Usopp had faith in her was because he knew she was strong. But that… would that really help against that guy? Well, he had seen her first attack, which would probably have surprised him a lot more if he hadn’t been preoccupied with worrying about Zoro, but…

“I hate you, Ruffy!” Usopp cried in frustration. “I will definitely find Nami and bring her back, so don’t you dare die on me when I’m gone!”

“I promise!” she called back happily.

“Okay. Merry’s already out of sight, but we know which direction she took. Josack and Johnny, you take care of Zoro while I steer.”

“R-right!” the bounty hunters agreed, too confused about everything that was happening at the same time, and very much happy about the chance to get away from this place. Far away.

Mihawk stood passive as the young girl at his sword calmly told her friend she would survive. It was an odd thing to say with such conviction given the situation, but it did answer one question he had, though not the one he’d asked out loud.

“So?” he reminded the girl of his voiced question.

“I don’t know,” she answered and glanced up with honest though troubled eyes. “Which time are you asking about?”

“All of them. Every time people thought you were dead you had simply slipped through their fingers and survived. How?”

The girl shrugged and looked away. “I really don’t know. I think I was saved, but I don’t know how.”

“I will save her. Even if I’m dead I swear I will save her.”

Hawkeye let out a deep sigh and withdrew his sword. “Fine then. I will not speak of your survival. So tell me; what is your aim?”

“Pirate king,” the girl answered instantly.

The tall man couldn’t help the short laugh that escaped him. “That is some goal you have, Golden Eye. And the road there is even longer and more difficult than overcoming me.”

“Who cares? I’m gonna do what I want to do,” Rayla hissed with a wrinkled nose and golden eyes aflame.

“You will see her strength too. If you take a close look at her you will understand.”

Hawkeye nodded to himself. There was a part of him that had wanted that woman with the red hair to be wrong, but there was something about Rayla that was worth dying for. Something Mihawk could sense but not yet put his finger on, yet he knew the world would come to fear this something Rayla possessed.

“I will look forward to the time we meet again. Until then.”

Krieg stood there forgotten, guns still out and aimed at the retreating swordsman. He was not used to be ignored. Wherever he went people looked at him with fear, tried to hide, or worshipped him. Don Krieg was always the centre of attention. Always. So how dare these fuckers ignore him as if he was air?!

“YOU WON’T SEE ANYONE ELSE BUT THE REAPER IN THIS LIFE HAWK-EYES‼!” the large pirate of East Blue bellowed and fired.

Mihawk though had no intention of fighting the fool and instead just welded his sword, used the power of the swing to create a wall of water that would cover his withdrawal. He didn’t regret following them. In fact he was a little thankful he had decided to track them, but he knew he would soon forget them altogether. The only people he’d met that were worth remembering were Rayla and young Zoro. And he hadn’t lied. He did look forward to the day his path would once again cross with theirs.

 


 

Zeff stood at the railing of the first deck of his restaurant and watched everything. They had managed to move their floating workplace a somewhat safe distance away from the wreckage that was Don Krieg’s ship. Zeff and all his cooks, including Sanji, had watched everything. They had seen Hawkeye aim his sword at their chore girl, watched said girl wave her friends away without hearing a word, and then Hawkeye had left, just like that, and the chore girl was still in one piece. Hopefully Krieg was dead though. It was difficult to see through the water that was now raining down from Hawkeye’s last attack.

And out of nowhere, or rather out of the mist with flailing arms Ruffy came flying and just barely managed to catch the bottom of the railings. Zeff wasn’t sure if he wanted to help her up or push her off his restaurant. Having watched Hawkeye leave the girl alone the old pirate wasn’t sure what to think of her. Pirates didn’t leave each other alive by principle. On the other hand, that was Mihawk the Hawk-Eyed man, and he lived by his own rules.

The girl heaved herself up and looked at Zeff with a dumbly happy expression. “Hey, old man. If I defeat that Krieg guy, my dept will be paid, right?”

“Whatever,” the old cook huffed. He was a little thrown off balance, yes, but he still wanted to see what this girl could do, especially now when she seemed to have forgotten her fear.

 


 

“Okay men, we got a bit side-tracked there, but our goal hasn’t changed,” Don Krieg spoke to his crew, pretending the incident of the Hawk-Eyed ignoring him had never happened. In fact, that guy had gotten so scared of Krieg he turned his tail and ran away. Dare to say otherwise? Hope death would show mercy on you because Don Krieg wouldn’t.

Don’s crew knew those terms well, so while they were genuinely happy that guy was gone, none was stupid enough to say anything about why.

“Our ship got a little beaten,” Krieg continued soberly. “But we were about to abandon it anyway, so there’s no problem. And look at that. Have you ever seen such a funny ship before?”

The pirates looked over. In all honesty the floating restaurant looked a lot like a goldfish, complete with a rudder peeking out of the water like a fish’s fin and a fish figure head.

“With that ship we won’t have to fear even the Grand Line,” Krieg explained his plan. “We won’t have to pose as a marine ship or wave a white flag. We can easily get near other ships to raid them. We’ll be able to fool anyone.” Especially that Hawk-Eyed clown, he thought to himself. Next time Krieg saw the guy they would fight and Krieg would win. Because nobody was stronger than Don Krieg.

From the wreckage behind her captain Gin watched her crewmates nod and agree with their Don’s words. Gin herself was not so sure. Well of course Krieg was right about people probably not suspecting the restaurant to be a pirate ship. But what Don wanted to do… no, Gin couldn’t accept it. If only she hadn’t been such a fool and taken her crew here, but she had wanted to save them. Had wanted to save Krieg. Well, she had, or rather; the head chef of the restaurant had saved them. Because he, just like Sanji-san, knew what hunger felt like.

And this was how Don appreciated his life being saved?

A gunshot disturbed her momentarily. It appeared someone had let his fears control him and question Don. The guy was now dead and sleeping in the ocean. Such a waste. That man had been good at keeping the store room neat and in order. Nobody would be able to find anything in there now… whatever ship they boarded.

Krieg was preaching in a loud voice that the Hawk-Eyed man was not strong by himself, that his power came from a devil fruit and that’s how he’d destroyed their ship. Because the Hawk-Eyed lived in the Grand Line, and everyone there had a devil fruit power.

Gin bit her lip. What was wrong with Don? Hadn’t he seen the Hawk-Eyed?  Or maybe more importantly; what was wrong with her? It wasn’t like her to question her captain. It wasn’t like her to doubt him.

“You don’t look like you want to join the battle,” a voice said from behind her.

“What about you, Pearl?” Gin asked.

The large man shrugged his shoulders. “Doesn’t look like a job I can’t leave to the small fry. They need some confidence back, don’t you think?”

Gin glanced at the restaurant in worry. It was probably true Don’s men needed to win some battles and feel stronger. It would cause less hesitation once they… returned to the Grand Line like Don wanted.

She glanced at Pearl. Of all the people who had survived the escape from Grand Line Pearl had taken the least damage. Sure, he’d lost a few pounds, but nobody missed them, and the hardships… well, Pearl took them in stride. Gin wished she could do the same. Doubt made her weak she knew, but it just kept nibbling at her. Conscience didn’t help any either.

 


 

“Here they come,” Ruffy sang as she sat on the railing in front of the cooks. “Hey, old man, you promise right? Once I kick Krieg’s ass you’ll let me off the hook.”

“Do whatever you want.”

“Hey, you can’t let a girl fight!” Sanji objected but to deaf ears, one of them literally deaf.

Ruffy grinned and looked back towards the attacking pirates. She was feeling giddy. At first seeing Hawkeye had scared her dangerously close to heart seizure, but she’d heard Sun’s voice. When Hawkeye focussed on her Ruffy had heard a trace of Sun inside Hawkeye’s heart, as well as Hawkeye’s respect and regret. The tall swordsman had acknowledged Sun, hadn’t wanted to see her captured, and it eased a tension inside Ruffy she hadn’t fully realized she had.

Now she wasn’t afraid of Hawkeye anymore. Wasn’t angry at him. And she didn’t hate him.

Sanji glanced at the girl’s back. He really didn’t want her to get involved in this, but she looked so different now when she was faced with a battle. But she couldn’t fight! She hadn’t eaten for a week save the fruit he’d sneaked her this morning. She couldn’t be far from fainting. Fighting should definitely not be on her to-do list. Especially not after the close call with the Hawk-Eyed man. Well, he hadn’t touched her, which Sanji was immensely thankful for, because watching a woman get killed right in front of his eyes would have left a really bad taste in his mouth, one he wouldn’t be able to get rid of for as long as he lived.

“Where’s Patty and Carne?” the blond man asked the guy standing behind him who had a scar under his nose that looked a lot like a fake moustache.

“On their marks. In battle you can always rely on them,” the cook said confidently.

“Sure, but that’s the only time. You go and get the fins up.”

The cook’s confident grin faded. “Get the fins…? Are you crazy? You want to give those pirates proper footing?”

“Yes,” Sanji answered with a frown on his mouth and glared at Zeff. “If we let the pirates inside they’ll wreck the restaurant, and I don’t feel like listening to the shitty geezer whining.”

The cook sighed, threw his arms up in defeat and ran off to do as told. Zeff looked over at Sanji, trying to glare but couldn’t really wipe the grin off his face. “You say something, little shit?”

“I said you’re whiny, you shitty old fart!” Sanji said to his boss’s face, loud and clear. Normally Zeff would kick the upstart brat’s head in, but he was in too good a mood right now.

The pirates were close now and Ruffy stood on the railing. She parted her lips, clenched her teeth and let out a sharp whistle.

The attacking pirates all jerked and stopped, surprise crossing their faces, fear mixing in here and there.

Ruffy clapped with her teeth, clicked her tongue and started chirping. Sanji, Zeff and the cooks watched with mouths agape as the pirates started shaking and looking at each other. There was both fear and confusion in their eyes. Another sharp whistle sounded from the straw hat wearing girl and a pirate fell into the ocean.

Don saw his crewman fall, utterly dumbfounded. Just what the hell was happening? This wasn’t his plan! These couldn’t be his crew! He hadn’t built his fleet with weaklings!

“What are you waiting for?!” Don demanded furiously. “ATTACK!”

Once more a sharp whistle pierced the air and a pirate fell. This one had more wood to stand on though and so the one who stood beside him could check him over and declare the guy had fainted. Don glared at the girl who stood on the other side of the water that separated them. It was her. It couldn’t be anyone else. But before Krieg could make demands a voice from the restaurant yelled;

“Take off!”

Don and his crew stared, and while they were all confused about the chirping sounds’ effect, the sight that now met them was a very good distraction from… well, anything. The figurehead of Baratie detached itself from the ship and started moving forward slowly. It turned out to be a smaller ship… designed as a goldfish.

It was so small, rooming only two guys, possibly three if the guys in question were small. At the moment it was manned by Patty and Carne, and none of them were small boys. The little room they had felt crowded, even with only the two of them, and the stress and the little problem that they had to cooperate to manoeuvre the small boat made them snappier than usual.

Ruffy got distracted by the figure head moving. “Wow, that’s pretty cool,” she said and leaned forward, only to lose her balance. Luckily Zeff was right behind her and caught the waistline of her shorts.

“What did you do?” the old man asked curiously. “Have you eaten a devil fruit?”

“I have,” the girl answered, and decided against telling the old man she couldn’t use her devil fruit power.

“So what happened to them?” the elderly man nodded towards the pirates who were now all staring at Patty and Carne as they tried to manoeuvre the Tiny Fish no 1, as he’d named it.

“They’ve already been defeated,” Ruffy shrugged. “They’re just a bunch of bullies to begin with, and they’re defeated by the Grand Line.”

Zeff nodded. He’d seen the Grand Line with his own eyes, seen the strength of it, the terror, the wonders and the way it opposed logic and the laws of physics. He also knew of Krieg’s sort. A prima-donna like him who thought he was the strongest in the world, of course he would be blown away by the Grand Line itself, not to mention what the pirates there would do to him.

Patty and Carne finally managed to turn their little boat towards the staring pirates, and now that they were on course, they accelerated so fast the pirates stumbled backwards in surprise, because only now they realized the fish boat had three cannons in its mouth, and all three cannons were now firing.

Right then the water around the restaurant lifted.

Or no, it wasn’t water. As Krieg took a proper look he realized it was a platform belonging to the ship he was about to claim as his own. “I like this ship more and more,” he smirked as the rest of the cooks came out, prepared for battle.

“A platform to protect the ship’s inside,” Krieg grinned. “I want that ship more and more.”

Ruffy was first to jump on the platform and ran towards Krieg as fast as she could. Unfortunately the wood was slippery from the water she slipped and would have fallen into the ocean if she hadn’t jumped in time and caught onto a piece of Krieg’s galleon’s mast. Looking down she realized the mast was actually still connected to a piece of the deck quite far beneath the sea’s surface, but it was enough to keep the mast with Ruffy clinging to it from sinking. That Krieg took so little notice of her pissed her off though. She would show this show-off what she was made of. And so she shook off her sandals and started to climb the mast, but was once again distracted. Behind her on the platform the pirates and cooks had engaged in battle. Apparently they had more fighting spirit in them than Ruffy had thought, so her attack on their spirits hadn’t done a lot but buy them some time.

Patty and Carne were still attacking with their fish boat, and now they went straight for Krieg, shooting desperately and going for a ram. A plan that looked good in Patty’s head. Sadly, Don Krieg’s bragging about how he was the strongest wasn’t only bragging.

Patty and Carne almost spit out their insides when they suddenly hit what felt like a solid wall.

“What happened?”

“W-we’re not moving!”

Krieg glared at the cannons he’d grabbed that had now stopped their assault, along with the rest of the little boat of course. “Don’t play games with me,” he growled. “I’m the man who will rule the seas!”

“No, I will!” Ruffy yelled as she managed to catch that last line.

“I HAVE NOT TIME FOR YOUR GAMES‼!” Don Krieg roared and threw the Tiny Fish high above his head and at the restaurant.

Sanji sighed. He hadn’t fully expected those two fools to do the job. So it was really up to him to deal with the cannon food.

So the blond cook jumped and kicked the Tiny Fish off its collision course with the restaurant.

Krieg tensed. That blond had just kicked… no, it couldn’t be. Pirates take women, not the children they happen to give birth to. No, that blond prick wasn’t Aka-ashi no Zeff’s son. He had to be an apprentice or something. That was more logical.

Patty and Carne survived with a few bruises and a scare. It made both of them rather cranky as they dug themselves out of the wreckage of the Tiny Fish that was now half buried in the platform.

“Have you gone completely mad Sanji?!”

“Are you trying to kill us?!”

Sanji gave them both a look. “Yes.”

“What do you mean by ‘yes’ you stir-fried madman?!” Patty snapped.

“I should boil your brains, spaghetti-head! You almost killed two skilled fighters!” Carne followed, just as pissed as his partner.

On a distance Gin still sat with Pearl and watched the fight, something Pearl both appreciated since it gave him some company, and was confused about. Gin was normally the heart of the battle, or slaughter as it typically was, but here she was, sitting back watching. Well, Pearl was done watching now. Those two who had been in the fish boat was apparently a little more than their crew could handle.

“Seems like I have to make an appearance after all,” he sighed.

Gin said nothing. She had seen Sanji-san’s kick and for a second she had hoped he was strong enough to… she quickly shook her head free of that unfinished thought. They should run, not fight. There was no winning against Don Krieg. He had more weapons on his person than a regular battle ship. Mass destruct weapons. It didn’t matter how much the cooks fought back. Nobody could defeat Don Krieg.

Still she sat there on a piece of what used to be her home, the mother ship of Don Krieg’s fleet, and that Don was now abandoning like it wasn’t worth a shit. That was how emotionally attached Krieg was towards anything. As long as you were useful to him he would use you. When your use had run out, so did your value, and in a worst case scenario so did your life. Gin knew that. Was very well aware of it. But what could she do?

Ruffy stared wide-eyed at Gin. She had heard that sound before; the sound of a heart in chains. But Gin was a pirate, weren’t pirates supposed to be free? Why did Gin have the heartbeat of a slave?

Krieg finally glanced up. He’d seen the strange girl when she’d come stumbling like an idiot, and now she seemed to have her attention on something other than Krieg. Well, that wouldn’t do. It was him the girl had challenged so it should be him her eyes should be trained on. He wouldn’t kill her though. Until Krieg could get whatever secret about the Grand Line she knew, he wouldn’t kill her. But she needed to keep her attention on him.

“Where are you looking, little mosquito?” he called out to her as he whipped out his spiked iron ball on a chain and broke the mast just beneath the girl’s feet. He had thought she would let go of the wood, but she held on even stronger, so Krieg lashed out again, hitting the wood pressed against the girl’s body with just enough force to send her flying back towards the safety of the platform. Hopefully it didn’t kill the bitch.

On the platform Sanji had just cleaned up most of the mess and was facing a “Pearl”. Some shitty ass idiot with shields decorated with pearls and circles covering his body, as well as a pearl hat with a babyish curl of hair sticking out in the middle of his forehead. Did he have some kind of age-crisis?

“How peculiar. You just defeated all of our men with kicks only. Is that your thing?” Pearl asked curiously.

“The hands are a cook’s most important tools. They shouldn’t be used in battle. But don’t worry; I’ll let you have a taste of my feet as well,” the blond cook retorted cheekily and lifted one foot as if to show it off.

“Let me taste them?” the shield-wearing man laughed as if he’d just heard a good joke. “I doubt it so. I have been the victor of sixty one fights and never been wounded.” He didn’t mention that before those sixty one he had had a fight with Gin, but that was a memory Pearl happily swept under the rug and instead explained that one loss with how Gin was Krieg’s favourite and Pearl had gone a little too easy on her. “You may protect your precious hands, but I protect my whole body. And for all the fights I’ve been in I’ve never shed a single drop of my own blood. Not one drop. That’s the proof of my invincible strength! I am Iron Wall Pearl. And my Iron Defence makes perfect fashion sense!”

Sanji just lifted an eyebrow. Was this clown trying to be funny or rile him up? Either way it failed. “You sure talk a lot. See how long you can stay unharmed against me,” he challenged and attacked, only to be blocked by an elbow-shield.

“Don’t think too highly of yourself,” Pearl shouted, trying to psyche his opponent, which always worked in the past. “I can withstand a direct shot from a battleship cannon without batting an eye. My defence is impenetrable.”

Sanji frowned as he felt the impact of his kick against the shield in his leg, and then blinked when he saw something behind his opponent.

As Krieg knocked Ruffy back she cast a quick glance over her shoulder, adjusted her body and landed heavily on the iron dartboard with a pearl on top. She was really proud to have managed to land so smoothly and jumped down from the strange iron thing.

“That was a little scary. Lucky I didn’t land in the water.”

Sanji took his foot back and stared at the shocked face of his opponent. Ruffy had landed with all her weight, which couldn’t be a lot to be honest, on the back of Pearl’s head, resulting in the iron-covered pirate to hit his face against his own shield.

With shaking fingers Pearl brought his fingers to his nose where he felt wet.

“Blood,” he mumbled, as if the sight of the red liquid spoke of his doom. “You… you’re dangerous! Danger! Danger!”

Ruffy looked up as she heard the pirates started crying out in panic. “What’s wrong with them?”

“Beats me, but Ruffy-san you should hide inside. I’ll take care of…”

“I have to fight,” the girl cut of, and her voice didn’t leave room for arguments.

Sanji was about to object anyway when even Krieg started yelling over Pearl’s banging his shields together.

“Stop it, Pearl! Don’t go wild over a damn nosebleed! We’re not in the jungle!”

Now that Krieg mentioned it, Ruffy did think she could hear something jungle-like in the shielded man’s heartbeat. His heartbeat wasn’t very strong though so she wasn’t sure. The hearts of the old eagle and the blond beside her easily drowned that of Pearl’s.

“DANGER‼!”

The shields suddenly caught fire and Ruffy jumped back in surprise. She’d never been afraid of fire, but she knew how much it hurt to get burnt so she preferred to keep her distance. Behind her the pirates were yelling how Pearl used to live in the jungle, and how every time he sensed danger he made a fire.

“So it’s a defence technique to scare away wild animals?!” a cook roared in both disbelief and fright.

Another cook grabbed the closest pirate by the collar. “Stop him! If the fire reaches the kitchen the entire ship will blow up!”

“What? Why?”

“Because we’re using gas stoves! The kitchen is packed with enough gas to cause a wide-range explosion!”

“And you tell us this now?”

“Like we had a chance before!”

Ruffy was getting just a tad nervous with the heartbeats of the other cooks, but Sanji stood rather calm beside her, so it couldn’t be as bad as the men behind her tried to make it… right?

“Don’t come any closer!” the burning man shouted, and if anyone was frightened it was him. He was like a baby whose castle of rocks had fallen apart and he couldn’t understand why. Because rocks were the hardest material it shouldn’t fall. Because his shields were strong nothing should be able to hurt him. But now that his illusion had been popped he was crying and lashing out.

Like a child throwing a tantrum.

“Get away from me! Fire Pearl’s Special!”

Ruffy and Sanji both jumped out of the way to avoid being hit by the small burning pearls the shielded man threw wildly around him. Or at least they tried to avoid the pearls. Ruffy was hit on the side of her leg and her jeans quickly caught fire, causing her to run in circles around herself trying to kill the fire.

Sanji had managed. His suit wasn’t made of an easily flammable material to begin with. The pirates though were wearing materials that appeared to melt as much as they burned, causing loud yowls of pain as well as splashes as some threw themselves in the water. Some of the cooks tried to stomp out the fire.

“BURN!” Pearl demanded. “I’m super invincible with my burning shields!”

Sanji looked around and growled in frustration. He didn’t know how to effectively extinguish the flames, but he did know who caused them, and so he ran for the heart of the fire.

Patty saw the younger run into the flames and got up to stop him. “Sanji, you dumbass! You’ll be burnt to a crisp!”

“Don’t follow him, you idiot!” another cook stopped Patty.

Gin had seen enough. She had to take action.

Pearl, despite being frightened, felt much safer behind his burning shields. Nobody had ever gotten close to him once he made fire. That’s why he was almost shocked stupid when the black-clad blond he’d fought earlier jumped over the flames and attacked him.

“Like hell I’ll let you burn this restaurant!” Sanji yelled and kicked with all his might. Unfortunately Pearl’s defence wasn’t that easy to penetrate when he saw the attacker coming. His body reacted before his mind did. The force of the kick did shake the shielded man a lot more than normal though. And that was frightening to an invincible man.

“H-how?” Pearl demanded, sweating not only from the heat. “How dare you come near me? I am Fire Pearl! Even wild beasts flee when they see me.”

“Do I look like a wild beast to you?” the blond cook asked with a lifted eyebrow. “I’ll let you know I’m a cook, and no cook is afraid of fire.”

That information did not sit well with Pearl, because if cooks weren’t afraid of his fire, and this ship was crowded with them, then this was a very dangerous place for him.

“D-damn you… sneaky fox! Fire Pearl Present!”

Sanji dove under the attack, landed on his hands and quickly rolled his body up, his heel connecting with Pearl’s face with enough force for the heavy man to fall on his butt.

A result that greatly hurt Pearl’s confidence, pride and ego.

“My… my face! You kicked my face!” he cried out in disbelief, holding his broken nose. “Danger! Dangerous! Too dangerous! I need more fire! Fire! Fire Pearls!”

Sanji ducked and raised an arm to protect his face against the intensifying heat. It wasn’t him his opponent threw the burning pearls at though, which would have made more sense. Instead he threw them farther away from him.

Closer to the restaurant.

Since the start Zeff had stood back watching the battle with more calm than he thought he would feel. On the other hand, it was just a ship in the end. Sure, he would miss it and grieve if it was taken over or sunk, but a boat is replaceable. It didn’t mean he wouldn’t defend it though. He just wished his stupid employers and the even stupider Sanji could value their own lives as high as they did this ship.

The old eagle glanced up when the burning man threw a new set of fire pearls his way. Well, he couldn’t let the kitchen catch fire. So he wheeled his right leg in a circle in front of him, creating a strong wind with one single kick, and the slightly hot but not burning pearls hit the walls around him harmlessly.

“I can do that much even with a peg leg,” he grinned.

Ruffy admitted she was rather amazed, but she forgot it as soon as she stopped to notice it because her jeans were still burning.

“EVERYBODY JUMP INTO THE OCEAN!”

Ruffy looked up and swore. Krieg had taken out his star again and had thrown it high, aiming… for Sanji!

Without thinking she ran into the flames and jumped in front of the blond cook.

“Cursed power… Shatter Fist!”

Sanji gaped. The cooks gaped. Pearl stopped breathing. Zeff’s jaw slackened and his heart jumped. Krieg had to take back a lot of his earlier thoughts about the straw hat wearing girl being defenceless.

The spiked iron ball had, true to the attack name, shattered!

Before she even landed back on the burning deck Ruffy caught the iron ball’s now loose chain, spun it like a lasso over her head and threw it back towards Krieg. If she hadn’t been in such a hurry to get the deed done she might have aimed better. But as it was her jeans were frickin’ still burning! No matter how much she slapped the flames they just wouldn’t go out. So she did the next best thing and tore the entire leg off and threw it away.

“Ow!” she whined and looked at the red skin of her thigh. She unconsciously pulled at the necklace to loosen it.

The chain she had thrown acted like a saw, and it easily cut through a piece of mast beside the gawking Krieg.

Sanji managed to collect his wits when he saw the mast fall towards them, grabbed the distracted Ruffy and got out of the way.

Pearl didn’t even see that coming and the mast hit him right on the head… and broke in two. The blow did make Pearl a few inches shorter though. Not that he cared at the moment since he was out cold.

“H-how the shitty hell did you do that?” Sanji sputtered with a squeak to his voice.

Ruffy blinked. “Do what?”

The blond grabbed Ruffy’s wrist and held up her hand, only for both of them to realize her knuckles were bleeding, and the pain in the knuckle finally made its way to Ruffy’s brain.

“It hurts!”

“Of course it hurts! You just shattered iron with your bare fist! How’s that even possible?!”

A cry distracted them and they spun around to find the source.

“That’s enough, Sanji-san.”

Gin was a pirate under Don Krieg; a man who would do anything to win. He would raise a fake white flag to lure his enemies close enough and attack. He would pose as a marine to get close to unsuspecting prey. And they took hostages to make sure there would be little resistance. To Don Krieg every cheap trick was okay to use as long as it brought him victory. This was his “strength”.

Gin figured it was okay too, because Don had promised that the cooks who got off the ship would be allowed to live and leave. If she could just get Sanji to leave the ship she would be able to save him, the way he had saved her. So she had swum around the ship unnoticed and climbed aboard from the back. From there she had been able to sneak up on the old owner who stood in the doorway, break off his wooden leg and knock him down. Now she had a hostage at gunpoint.

“Gin you bastard,” Sanji growled at her. It was okay. He could be angry with her. She was determined to save his life. Behind the blond Gin saw Krieg smirk in satisfaction. Good. As long as Don was pleased there would be no more bloodshed.

She hoped.

“You cheating ass! You broke off Owner’s leg!” a cook Gin faintly recognized accused.

“He might have been a great pirate once, but he’s only a cook now. I can easily shoot him, so just quietly get off the ship.”

All around them the pirates calmed down and started smirking. Pearl had been taken down for now so there would be no more fire, and Gin had won the battle for them.

“Leave the ship?”

“What have you done? Your leg!”

“It’s my dream. To open a restaurant in the middle of the ocean.”

“Okay. Then I’ll help you. Just don’t die!”

“As if,” Sanji spat.

Ruffy jerked back. Gin might not have the strongest heartbeat in the area but Ruffy could tell what she wanted. And when Sanji refused… it was like Gin’s and the old man’s hearts beat in sync. It was like they were slapped as their efforts broke in their hands.

“You look pathetic, old man,” the blond cook taunted lightly. “And you’re supposed to boss over fighting cooks?”

“Hmph, I don’t need to hear that from an eggplant like you,” the elder scoffed snappily, and that set Sanji off more than anything today.

“Who are you calling an eggplant, you shitty old fart?! You can’t treat me like a kid forever!”

“I’ll treat you as a brat as long as you keep acting like one!”

“Sanji, what are you doing? Are you trying to get Owner killed?!” the cooks around them demanded.

The blond stood straight. “Listen Gin. Aim the gun at me.”

And that’s when Ruffy had heard enough. She slapped the fool clear across the face, surprising everyone who witnessed.

“Ouch! What was that for?”

“Because you’re a goddamn piece of shit that can’t even hear the voices of those who want you to live!”

“…what?”

“He won’t live,” a voice growled. Apparently they hadn’t been as lucky as to be rid of the shielded Pearl for more than a couple of minutes, and while he seemed to have come back to his senses despite his bleeding nose and lip, he didn’t seem happier. “To think Iron Wall Pearl would ever get a double nosebleed from a simple fight. You’re too dangerous. Don’t more or your precious Owner will die.”

Gin stood frozen, shocked and frustrated Sanji-san hadn’t just backed down. Everything would have been solved; each crew would go their separate ways without anyone dying. So why was Sanji-san being so stubborn?! What was he trying to do?

Pearl drew a shielded fist back. “Supernatural Pearl Present!” and smashed it against the blond fox’s face.

“That’s what you get for tarnishing my invincible record,” Pearl huffed, like a child taking revenge for being beaten in his own unfair game.

Ruffy looked around, seeing the battlefield through eyes that saw something more than only the bodies of people fighting. There were three hearts fighting here too. There were Sanji’s and Gin’s hearts that were currently in a conflict they weren’t aware of.

“You’re a cheap son of a bitch, Gin,” Sanji accused the pirate. “I can’t accept your conditions.”

“Why?! It’s just a ship! Just give it up to us and everyone will live. It can’t be worth more than that!”

The blond made a face. “This restaurant is the old fart’s treasure. I already stole everything from him. His strength. His dreams… That’s why I…! I don’t want him to lose anything else!”

Ruffy glanced at the master chef. The third heart fighting and hurting in this battle was Zeff’s, and Ruffy decided she would side with the old eagle this time. For free.

“You’re wrong,” she spoke clearly. “Old man Zeff’s treasure isn’t this ship.”

While surprised, Zeff was immensely happy about the girl’s input. “Looks like the errand girl has better eyes than you, eggplant,” he hissed at his stunned apprentice.

“Sanji, look out!” a cook cried out. Too late.

Pearl didn’t give a damn about anything but beating Sanji to a pulp. “Pearl Crush!”

Ruffy and Gin both flinched. Sanji had to be lucky or he would spend the rest of his life deaf as that attack hit him just below his ears. His neck though seemed to have enough muscles to have protected his head from flying off.

“Is this how you fight, Gin?” Ruffy asked.

Pearl jumped high.

“T…that’s right! It’s your own fault! If you just got off the ship…!”

“Is this how you protect someone?”

Gin looked into the eyes of the younger girl. Ruffy-san’s eyes were once again coloured gold, and so very strong Gin felt like she was drowning.

To protect someone?

Pearl landed all his and his shields’ weight on Sanji’s back with a loud crash.

How do you protect someone? What could Gin do? Taking a hostage hadn’t done anything at all!

She stole a glance at her captain who watched with indifferent eyes.

“He gave all the food to me… and ate his own leg.”

Everybody jumped as Sanji started to get up again. Pearl was downright offended.

Gin heard Sanji yell, but all she could see was Ruffy-san’s hard, golden eyes. Far behind her, beyond a wall of flames, stood Krieg. The red light from the fire reflected in his armour and eyes. It was how Gin had always viewed him.

How could Gin possibly protect someone Krieg wanted to see dead?

She heard Pearl laugh, and his words echoed inside her.

“The final result is all that matters. If you lose, you’re a loser. Cheap tricks? Hostages? They’re all means to win, and the last man standing is the victor! Ain’t that right, Don Krieg?”

Gin didn’t have to hear his answer to know it.

“Exactly.”

Pearl turned his head to Gin. “Right Gin? Oh, sorry. You’re the last person I need to ask. After all you’re Don Krieg’s first mate and Battle Commander, and you’re the one who took the old geezer hostage in the first place.”

That piece of information surprised both Sanji and Ruffy, but for different reasons. Ruffy was surprised to hear Gin was as high in command as the first mate when she had the heart of a slave. Sanji was surprised because if Gin was the first mate then the guy had to be quite strong. The starving puppy who was afraid of the Grand Line was the Battle Commander of the king of East Blue? He hid his true colours well, that Gin.

“So even if you stand up again, as long as we have a hostage I’ll just beat you back down until you’re dead!”

Ruffy sighed exasperatedly when Gin didn’t react fast enough. Oh well, she had decided to stick with Zeff and hadn’t changed her mind. She’d just hoped Gin would help her, since her goal was pretty much the same in the end. Besides, the fins were burning pretty bad now.

“Cursed power,” the lean girl cried, calling for that little seed of strength she saved somewhere deep within her being as she jumped and twisted around in the air to build some momentum.

“Ruffy, stop! Don’t touch him!” Sanji cried desperately. She couldn’t attack! She couldn’t do anything stupid now! She…!

Ruffy brought her heel down on the deck, “Axe!”

Water exploded underneath the girl, straight through the wood of the deck as it cracked and broke from the force.

Sanji lost his footing and landed awkwardly on his butt. “Wh-what?”

Gin was also positively shocked, and then she heard Krieg’s order to shoot the hostage. “B-but…” she protested weakly, because Ruffy-san hadn’t exactly gone against the conditions since she hadn’t attacked either Pearl or Gin.

“I haven’t touched you. If you can’t tell; I just broke the fins,” Ruffy spoke clearly. “I’m gonna sink this ship!”

And so Ruffy landed herself on the enemy-side for both fighting parties. Krieg was roaring at Gin to blow Zeff’s head off. But if the pirates and cooks just got angry, it wasn’t much compared to how Sanji felt in that moment.

“Are you mad?!” he cried and grabbed the girl’s thin arm. “I haven’t worked at this place for all these years to…!”

“If there is no ship the pirates will leave,” she cut off matter-of-factly.

Unseen by all, Zeff smiled in relief. That girl was really something. Ruffy was a little pleased when she heard that response, but she still had Sanji in her face and he was not nearly as impressed.

“You don’t know anything about this place! You don’t know what it feels like…”

“To have people sacrifice everything and die instead of me?” Ruffy harshly slapped the slackened grip of Sanji’s hand and grabbed the cook’s collar. “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU KNOW ABOUT BEING INDEPTED?! People have died to save me and let me live, but according to you I should just spit on their sacrifices and die for something that can be replaced!”

Gin listened and felt how the words sank into her consciousness. She saw Pearl smirk, heard him remind them all that they had a hostage, and how neither Sanji nor Ruffy could lift a finger because of that.

The pirate woman bit her lip and made up her mind. Ruffy-san was right; this isn’t the way to protect anything. She still wasn’t sure what to do really, but she knew she couldn’t stand and watch as the ones who had saved her life and showed her kindness were killed just because she was a coward. And so Gin dropped the gun and pulled out her iron tonfa, strengthened with extra iron balls at the end, went against her captain’s rules and attacked Pearl before he could land another burning attack on Sanji and Ruffy.

Pearl froze in fear when he saw his superior come at him. It wasn’t that uncommon for the manly woman to be pissed and attack for no reason, she had little to no temper control during her period, to the point where Krieg even gave her the nickname “Bloody Gin”, but now?

The large man felt like a spear went through his body when Gin landed her attack square in the middle of his front shield and shattered it like glass.

“Forgive me, Pearl, but I need you to stay down for a bit,” he heard her whisper right before the world went black.

Krieg couldn’t believe it. Of all the people to fail him it had to be his own bitch. That actually hurt a bit, but he was way too furious to pay that pain attention. “GIN, YOU DEVIOUS RAT! HOW DARE YOU BETRAY ME?!”

“I haven’t betrayed you, Don,” Gin called back a lot calmer than she felt. “These people saved our lives. I want to put an end to them with my own hands.”

Krieg growled. What had gotten into that woman? “Have you lost your mind? You may be my battle commander, but I can degrade you any time I want.”

“I know, Krieg, but this is how I repay a debt.”

The armoured pirate glared displeased, but slowly stepped back and sat on what used to be the base of the main mast.

Gin was grateful and turned to the people who had saved her. “So that’s the deal, Sanji-san. I had hoped you’d just leave the ship so I wouldn’t have to hurt you, but I guess that’s not happening.”

“That’s right,” the blond cook replied and searched his pocket for a package he kept there.

“I don’t get why you’re so intent on dying for this place, but if that’s how it’s gonna be then I want to be the one to kill you.”

“Why thank you, shithead,” Sanji retorted and calmly lit his cig.

“You too, Ruffy-san,” Gin turned to the younger girl. “You should have left with your friends.”

“I have a dept to pay here too,” Ruffy huffed. “And you took way too long to make up your mind, although I had hoped for a different decision.”

“I know, but I’m not going to betray my crew and my captain, so I will have to kill you too.”

“I won’t lose to a coward who’s abandoned themselves like you have,” the younger girl spoke clearly.

Gin could admit hearing that from a younger girl actually hurt her pride. She might not have a lot of that, but she was still Don Krieg’s battle commander, and that was an accomplishment she was proud of.

“How dare you!” a man from Krieg’s crew screamed angrily from the water where he held onto a floating door. “How dare you call our commander names?! He’s not a coward!”

All around him his comrades shook their fists at Ruffy and Sanji in Gin’s defence, and she was sort of moved by their input. As well as slightly embarrassed by the look Ruffy gave her. The younger had known Gin was a woman from the get-go while her own crew were all in the dark.

“We are the Krieg pirates! Strongest in all of East Blue!” the pirates yelled.

To which Ruffy answered; “What do you mean; strongest? There were only more of you.”

O-U-C-H

That was a punch straight to the balls of the pride to these men.

“These guys are rather touchy about that, huh?” Sanji commented.

“They usually are,” Ruffy shrugged.

Zeff sat on the sidelines where Patty and Carne had pulled him aside to fuss over him after the subordinate changed his mind, and he was the only one in the audience who was grinning widely. He really liked that girl. If she wasn’t so young Zeff would probably propose to her. No matter how this day ended, at least he’d gotten to see something good.

“That’s it! You’re dead! We’re gonna kill you ourselves! We’re gonna…” the Krieg pirates cried and lifted their weapons as they tried to swim over to the broken platform.

“Everybody fall back!”

Gin stiffened slightly, but relaxed almost immediately. Ruffy-san had just rubbed Krieg the wrong way and now he was going to prove himself. Gin knew the pattern well enough. It was the same as the game around the sand box in the playground where she lived her first years.

“But Don,” the men complained.

“The one who gets angry after being called weak only proves he is weak,” the captain stated clearly. “In battle the last one standing is the strongest, so don’t start whining over nothing; I’m still here.”

Ruffy cast a glance at Gin and could tell both of them knew Krieg was the one most pissed about being called weak.

“You there, cheeky little bitch,” Krieg called out and pointed at Ruffy. “Who do you really think is more fit to become pirate king? You or me?”

“Me!”

Okay, that wasn’t an answer either Krieg or Gin wanted to hear. Gin had wanted to take out Ruffy-san too, so what was the girl doing picking a fight with Krieg?! Ruffy-san might be strong, as proved by her attack on Hawkeye and the shattered iron earlier, but against Don Krieg even that strength was nothing. Just looking at them anyone could see who would be the victor if they clashed.

“Move it, men,” Krieg growled and took off his left shoulder protector. “It’s time that dreamer gets a taste of what true strength means.”

Ruffy almost laughed as that comment breached direct offence to her. “You’ve got nothing to teach anyone about strength.”

Gin couldn’t care less about if that was true or not, because when Krieg got pissed he had a tendency to go overkill. “Don, wait!” she tried. “Please let me kill her…”

“Whether you or I kill her, the result is the same. You know there’s nothing I hate more than foolishly naïve things like dept and compassion. Got it? This is a battle, and in battle you fight to win with all means necessary.”

“You talk like a bully,” Ruffy cut him off. “And there’s nothing I hate more than foolish bullies who think they’re strong because they can defeat someone who’s weaker.”

“Will you stop pushing it!” Gin cried furiously.

“Why? It’s true.”

“You’ll swallow each one of your words when my poison bomb suffocates you to death,” Krieg growled.

“P-poison?!” Ruffy heard from Sanji. She was a little confused however, because while that was a true threat she detected a lie in Krieg’s words.

“One whiff of this will leave you immobile. This is what strength is all about!”

Everybody, cooks and pirates alike, all moved away in fear of the incoming projectile, the pirates with masks over their faces. Sanji was backing too, until a flash of red passed him, going towards the danger.

“No you idiot, come back!”

Gin had her hand inside her jacket, grabbing for her own mask while trying to decide if she should wear it herself or slap it on Sanji’s face, when she noticed Krieg. He wasn’t putting his mask on.

Ruffy didn’t really have time to think, not that she ever did, but she wasn’t gonna let a cheap ass trick like poison kill anyone. Her one tactic was to slap the bomb into the sea, and she used all her strength behind her punch, only to have the damn thing explode in her face! And it hurt!

“Ow, ow, ow!” She looked at herself, noticing she bled from several cuts, but… that was it. “No gas?” she sputtered bewildered.

“You notice only now?!” she heard Sanji behind her.

Ruffy looked around. There were quite a few shiruken stuck in the wood that hadn’t been there before. She heard the haughty laugh from Krieg and realized why she thought she heard him lie earlier; he wasn’t gonna use any gas on her!

“The MH5 is enough to kill an entire city if I aim it right; it’s too valuable to waste on two pieces of trash.”

“Aha, so that’s why he got me,” Ruffy accepted and was up on her feet again and crossed her arms, as if her dignity hadn’t just gotten a blow. Which in reality it hadn’t the way she saw it. Everybody else wondered about the size of her brain. Zeff thought the save was quite good, given the situation. He knew it was impossible to see what happened when you were in the middle of things, so he didn’t exactly blame the girl for not noticing right away.

“This is how battle is fought! I can kill you in a million ways!” Krieg yelled. “So I’ll ask once again! Who is more fit to become pirate king?!”

“Me!” Ruffy stood her ground. “You can never reach that top.”

And that was Krieg’s last straw of patience. “Gin! You’re responsible for killing that cook brat. But this bitch is mine to kill.”

Gin closed her eyes and nodded. What else could she do now? Both Sanji-san and Ruffy-san were too stubborn. What were they even fighting for?

“I have promised to become strong.”

“Huh?” Gin looked up into the smiling face of Ruffy who glanced at her over her shoulder.

“To repay the people who died to protect me because I was weak, I will become strong and fight for my dream. That’s why I have to fight that guy, so you just fight Sanji. That’s what you decided to do right?”

Sanji glanced between the two. Just whose side was Ruffy on? Or was she and Gin on a different side altogether? Moreover, he couldn’t let her fight that guy alone.

“Sorry, Sanji-san, but you can’t win against me,” Gin stated, as if he read Sanji’s thoughts and was determined to stop his plans.

“Keep talking. You’re just cannon fodder to me.”

Gin gritted her teeth. She was thankful to Sanji for everything, but he was really pushing her buttons.

Throwing her feelings aside she felt the weight of her tonfa in her hands, shifted them, felt how easily they moved with her and she with them. With their weight moving in her hands she dashed forward and attacked the unstable footing in front of Sanji’s feet, throwing him off balance. She smirked when she saw him wobble and lashed out against his knees. Sanji was fast though and pulled his legs up and kicked. Gin had already shifted her weight with the help of the tonfa and spun her body under the leg.

She locked her gaze on him for a second before she followed the pulling weight, twisted again, and had Sanji flat on his back with the long end of Gin’s tonfa over his throat, locking him in place.

It had only taken her a few seconds.

“Goodbye, Sanji-san,” she mumbled. “Thank you for your kindness.”

Sanji sucked on his cigarette, admittedly taken aback by Gin’s smooth moving. He wasn’t going to let the idiot finish him off this easily though. When Gin leaned his weight over him he spit his cig into the other’s tan face, distracting him long enough for Sanji to lift his body and pull his head out of the lock.

The iron ball of the tonfa hit the wood where Sanji’s head had been just a second before, a little too close for Sanji’s comfort, but he didn’t stop his own movement of pulling his legs down and immediately kicked back up, hitting Gin square under the jaw.

His triumph was short-lived though, as he saw the tonfa move and hit the lower right half of his already mainly crushed ribcage.

Sanji gagged. It was getting a little hard to breathe under the pressure of the broken ribs. Damn that shitty Pearl had really done a number on him. It didn’t stop his mouth though.

“That’s it from Krieg’s commander? You’re way more bark than bite.”

Ruffy cast a quick glance over her shoulder. She’d told Gin to go with her decision and fight Sanji, but it appeared she really would kill the stupid cook the way he kept taunting her, and Ruffy wasn’t so cold-hearted not to be affected somehow, but didn’t want to break the two up either. Glancing back at the one she intended to fight she found him concentrating on Gin and Sanji’s fight.

“Chance,” Ruffy hissed and jumped onto the mast that connected the broken fins she stood on with the deck Krieg waited.

Krieg noticed her though, since the girl was still in the edge of his sight when she moved. “Don’t strain yourself so,” he growled and pointed his shield at her. Pushing a button made it open the outer circle to reveal a number of holes, too big to be for bullets and too small to hold cannon balls. With his weapon prepared, Krieg flicked a small bomb into the water, causing an explosion of water. “I’m gonna kill you in due time!”

Ruffy, surprised by the cascade of water ground her heels into the wood of the mast, feeing to slip into the ocean. Her eyes never fully closed though, and that’s the one thing that saved her life.

Small spears penetrated the wall of water, one coming straight for Ruffy’s left eye, and she twisted her body the other way, feeling the wind of the spear as it passed just a hair beside her head. It also threw her off balance.

With the spears still flying around her and slipping off the mast the straw hat girl protected her dear hat against her chest and pushed back towards the Baratie’s fins as hard as she could. A sharp cry escaped her when she felt the pain of one of the spears digging into the back of her thigh.

With one last, desperate push she flipped her body around and managed to land on her back, her head the only thing sticking over the edge and feeling the gentle splash of the calm waves.

Lucky.

Ruffy ground her teeth and quickly pulled out the spear buried in the back of her leg. The bleeding was worse than most wounds she’d received lately and hurt a lot, but the spear had only graced the bone, so she was still good to go. She put her hat down and stabbed the spear into the wood beside it, inside the loop to keep it from blowing away before she stood up and glared at the smirking man across from her.

“What the hell’s wrong with you? Fight me like a man!”

Krieg tilted his head. “Fight? Why should I have to fight you? All that matters is to kill, and that’s what weapons are for. People like you on the other hand, who just charge straight-ahead like a boar, are no better than a monkey.”

Her name was Monkey D. Rayla, and she was damn proud of that! “Don’t mock monkeys or they will claw your eyes out!” she cried furiously and made a face at her opponent.

A pained cry from behind distracted her, and when she turned to look she found Sanji downed, coughing up blood and holding his side. Over him stood Gin, spitting out blood, most likely due to her own nosebleed. What really got to Ruffy though wasn’t the sight. It was the cry she heard from Gin’s heart, along with words that had burnt themselves into it and that Ruffy recognized.

“Eat. A hungry person is a customer to me whether they can pay or not.”

“If you eat you will live, and then you’ll know if it was worth it or not.”

“It’s delicious.”

“Isn’t it?”

Ruffy stood frozen. Gin didn’t want to fight with Sanji to begin with, Ruffy knew that, but Gin still pressed on. Because… Ruffy’s gaze shifted over to the widely smirking, self-satisfied Krieg… because she had no other choice.

The dark-haired girl snapped her gaze back at the other two, but now Gin was the one who was down, with Sanji doubled over beside her, holding his chest and spitting blood.

“It’s no good,” she heard the cooks around Zeff by the restaurant’s entrance cry. “He’s so beat up he can’t even withstand his own attacks!”

Gin got up, pushed Sanji so he rolled around and grabbed his throat to keep him in place this time. She spun her tonfa over her head and shoulder, gaining momentum.

“Eat.”

And Gin felt all power fail her. Her weapon slowed in her slackened grip and harmlessly rolled down her arm.

All around them it grew silent, neither pirates nor cooks very sure what just happened.

“What are you waiting for Gin? Kill him!” Krieg ordered angrily.

“I can’t, Don.”

The silence grew very tight.

“I beg your pardon?” the armoured pirate demanded slowly, dangerously.

Gin leaned back, tears flowing down her face. “Don, this man saved my life. I’ve never… never been treated with kindness. That’s why… this man, I just can’t kill him. I…” she took a deep breath, used all the air and the very last fight left in her. “I never wanted to hurt him!”

Sanji stared, equally moved, surprised and stunned. At the same time it wasn’t like he didn’t understand. To the one who went out of their way to save someone who didn’t feel like they deserved it, hadn’t Sanji himself been there the past ten years of his life? But for someone else to feel that way towards him, it was a different feeling altogether, and Sanji wasn’t sure if he liked it.

“Can’t. Kill, you say?”

Krieg’s slow, disbelieving words carried over to Sanji and Ruffy.

“I’m deeply disappointed Gin. I always thought you were the one of my men who could adhere to my philosophy more than anyone else.”

Ruffy jerked when that comment hit something inside Gin that snapped with a loud, painful crack.

“But I have never been one of your men,” she growled loudly.

“What?”

Gin took in air and screamed. “I HAVE NEVER BEEN ONE OF YOUR MEN, KRIEG! I’M A WOMAN! AND I’M SICK AND TIRED OF BEING YOUR BITCH‼!”

Ruffy felt like hiding. There was something Almen had once said about the devil not being as scary as a woman’s scorn. Now Ruffy understood what he meant.

Sanji, the cooks and most of Krieg’s pirates had their mouths open in shock. The one labelled Don Krieg’s battle commander; his first mate… was a…

“You’re a woman?” Sanji asked, completely dumbfounded and hoping with all his might he’d gone crazy. If he hadn’t…

“Well, sorry if I’m not as fine and shaped and pretty as normal women!” Gin snapped at the blond, momentarily very touchy about the subject.

The pirates around were looking at each other, feeling a little betrayed, but at the same time it explained a few things. Like why Gin went “Bloody Gin” for a week a month. A lot were also a little relieved that the sounds coming from the captain’s room when everybody knew he was in there with Gin weren’t the sound of their captain… using his first mate to… relieve tension. Well, that one was probably true still, but the relief was that if Gin was a woman it was easier to accept.

Krieg wasn’t as shocked. He was downright furious. How dare that woman speak to him like that? Hadn’t he given her all she needed? She was the only woman he’d met who could withstand his force without breaking and she dared baring her fangs at him? It wasn’t even her period!

He lifted his shoulder shield again with a dark expression, and this time the gas bomb was not an empty threat meant to scare. “Gin, throw your gas mask. You are no longer a member of Krieg’s pirates.”

Gin stared at the one who she had called her captain. The one she’d wanted to save by coming here. The one she had told herself she loved. The man she had risked her life for time and again. The one she had abandoned herself for, whose child she had carried for three short months. An unborn child that had left a hollow inside Gin that would never be filled.

And this was how easily he threw her away.

She dug into her jacket and took out the mask.

But Ruffy let out a roar and jumped onto the mast again, dashing towards Krieg with blazing eyes.

Krieg swiftly turned his shield to her and fired another round of spears. “Don’t interfere!”

“I’m not falling for that twice!” Ruffy yelled back and slipped underneath the mast, using all of her twenty nails to climb forward like a spider.

Krieg grit his teeth. That girl was getting a little too annoying. “I told you, I’ll kill you in due time!” he yelled and split the mast on his side, forcing the girl to climb back around where she was a sitting duck for his spears.

Ruffy just barely avoided the projectiles this time as she dashed back towards the broken fins where Gin sat staring at the mask in her hand.

“Don’t listen to him, Gin!” the younger girl hissed. “I’m gonna send that coward flying!”

“Stop it!”

Both Ruffy and Sanji turned, startled by Gin’s outburst.

“You can’t fight him. Nobody can fight Don Krieg.”

“What the hell, Gin, why are you protecting him? He’s trying to kill you,” Sanji ground out between his teeth and grabbed the… how could this be a woman?! The woman’s arm.

“Of course,” she scoffed tonelessly. “That’s how he deals with anyone who defies him or doesn’t make him shine. As if loyalty ever meant anything to him. I knew that all along. This is my punishment for believing anything else.”

And to both Sanji and Ruffy’s horror Gin threw the mask away, and they watched it disappear into the ocean.

Krieg wasted no time. As soon as he saw Gin throw the mask he loaded his bomb. “Lethal Poison Gas Bomb. MH5!”

Ruffy dashed to the other side of the broken fins. Sanji, who had rolled over to his stomach thought with some relief the girl was trying to save herself, but realized he wouldn’t be able to.

“Damn, I’m paralyzed even before I get gassed.”

Gin sat still, but followed the other girl’s retreat with sad eyes, until she saw what Ruffy-san was really aiming for; her crewmates on the side of the ship that had put their gasmasks on.

Ruffy managed to grab two masks, tore them off the faces they sat on and quickly threw them towards Gin and Sanji. But when she turned to grab one for herself the pirates had all disappeared underneath the surface and was swimming away.

“Hey! No fair! I can’t swim!”

A sound and movement to her left caught her attention. A gasmask.

Her eyes caught the gas bomb and she slapped the mask over her face the same second it exploded in a cloud of thick, purple gas.

It was quiet, but Ruffy’s ears picked up the sound of heartbeats. Old man Zeff had disappeared from his position by the doors, so his strong heartbeat wasn’t covering all the others anymore. Ruffy picked up the faint sound of Krieg’s heart, his egoism, delusion about his greatness and strength and how he thought he was strong by himself annoying Ruffy as much now as it had from the start. He wasn’t much different from Kuro, only the bitter-butter had at least known that the crew were muscles he needed. To Krieg, his fleet was just a show; something people would admire and fear him for. People he was the centre for, like a king. All about Krieg, from his armour and weapons to how he thought about himself and the people he surrounded himself with, it was just to keep him in the spotlight. And the reason he wanted to become the King of Pirates was because then the entire world would look at him and think he was as great as he thought himself to be.

Like a diva who thought the mountains would move if she screamed at them.

Really, were captains like Buggy who loved and cared for his crew really that unusual?

Beside Krieg’s heart there was Sanji’s. He was confused for the moment, for many reasons. Ruffy hadn’t really cared to listen properly to his heart since she met him, but now that she had the time, she realized that Sanji… he had a kind heart. He had a tough attitude, but in reality his heart was really soft. He cared a lot more than he showed. Cared about the cooks he worked with, about the old man, about Gin. He cared about… Ruffy.

The girl had the shame to blush. She knew she’d been mean to the blond, hadn’t given a damn about his feelings, and here he was, caring and worrying about her, and he hadn’t asked for anything in return. In that aspect he was a lot like Zoro; he did what he felt was right, and if that paid off in a good way or not at all be damned, because he regretted nothing.

And then there was Gin. She was in pain. A lot of pain. But for some reason she was also… protecting something very small, yet very important to her.

“Isn’t it.”

“If you eat you will live, and then you’ll know if it was worth it or not.”

Ruffy’s eyes slowly widened. Gin, she couldn’t have.

The gas was fading now, and through the thinning veils Ruffy saw exactly what she didn’t want to see. Gin had really done it. She had gone with her wish to save the two who had shown her more kindness than anyone else alive.

“Gin, remove your hand,” Sanji demanded shakily. “Gin! Let go of me!”

The last hint of gas faded away and Ruffy tore the mask from her face. “Gin, I gave this mask to you!”

The older woman only glanced at her through bloodshot eyes, she smiled, happy to see Ruffy safe. And then she choked, the pain of the gas taking over now that she knew the ones she had wanted to protect were safe.

Sanji’s heart clenched as he collected the trembling, gagging form of the defeated woman into his arms.

Across from them on the wreckage of his own ship, Krieg was laughing. “What a fool. All this nonsense for some grab. Some never learn until they die.”

Nothing had changed. Gin may have protected something she wanted to save, but her heart was still crying out in pain. Pain caused solely by the man now laughing haughtily at her pathetic misery.

Chapter Text

The strength of Ruffy VS. The strength of Don Krieg

“I’m Aki, captain of the Winter Pirates.”

She was impressive too to boot. Even though she was chained to a wall and badly beaten the woman with skin so pale it almost looked blue and hair a deep, silky black, managed to look like a queen.

She had the same feel about her as Shanks.

“I’m just Ruffy.”

“How old are you?”

“Twelve.”

Aki tilted her head to the side with a strange look in her dark eyes, and strangely her heartbeats were very carefully concealed too.

“What kind of pirate are you?” she asked the chained pirate.

“What do you mean?”

“I want to be a pirate… like Shanks,” she admitted shyly. “But jii-chan said pirates are bad and evil people who burn down villages and kill people for fun.”

Aki’s eyes narrowed. “I know of Shanks of the Redhair pirates. He’s an adventurous man, and he has also killed a lot of people in his life. What do you think of that?”

What she thought? Shanks killing people? It really hurt to think that. She had seen people be killed, seen how the one who killed grinned broadly and heard the sick satisfaction it gave them. She couldn’t imagine that look on Shanks face or that sound from his heart. “But I love Shanks! And Ben-chan. And Yasopp-otou-chan. And…”

The pirate captain reached out a hand to pat the twelve-year-old girl’s hair. “Calm down, I didn’t say you shouldn’t love Shanks or anyone from his crew. It’s good to love. What is truly bad, truly evil, is to betray the ones who loves you.”

~*-*~

“Are you worried about that worthless piece of trash?”

The words echoed in Ruffy’s skull together with the sound of Gin’s broken heart and Aki’s words from long ago, her strong belief that betrayal was the worst evil. Ruffy had seen the proof of that when Kuro tried to slaughter his crew. And now she witnessed it right here where she stood. Right before her, across a stretch of water, stood a man who had committed an even worse betrayal than Kuro without batting an eye.

“A foolish idiot that has lost sight of the goal and refuse to follow my orders, I have no use for such a man. Or woman. Seeing as she was apparently sick and tired of me, killing her now is my show of love.”

“This isn’t love,” Ruffy breathed.

Sanji clenched his teeth and looked around, irresolute and desperate, and found Patty and Carne in the broken doorway of the restaurant. “Patty! Don’t we have some antidote?”

“Uh, yeah, for food poisoning. And that’s an enemy,” the other cook answered hesitantly. He didn’t need to voice this battle had taken too many turns in all sorts of directions and that he’d been lost since around when Zeff was taken hostage.

“Whatever! Bring it now!” Sanji screamed with the withering Gin in his trembling arms.

“Fools,” Zeff’s voice rang over the others, and Sanji felt greatly reassured by it, but would deny it until the day he died. “There should be a bit of antidote in the gas mask, so put it on and take that she-man to the second floor where she can breathe.”

Sanji looked around himself for the mask he’d discarded the moment Gin’s grip had relaxed and placed it over the woman’s face.

“Patty! Carne! Get a move on!”

“Why me too?” Carne whined but didn’t dare to say more or refuse. He’d always respected and feared Sanji’s strength, and certainly didn’t want to be a victim of his vengeance.

“Don’t give up, Gin.”

Sanji looked up at the dark voice beside him. Ruffy stood there with her back to them, and the cook felt a shiver run down his spine at the cold rage that rolled off the girl in waves.

“Don’t dare let that… piece of shit defeat you.”

“It’s useless!” Don Krieg’s voice reached Gin’s ears. “She’ll only hang on for another hour at best.”

“Live on, Gin!” Ruffy’s voice demanded. “This trash is not worth giving up your life for! Watch me as I send him flying!”

“Stop…” Gin whined as she realized Ruffy hadn’t given up on fighting yet, even though she had witnessed his strength time and again. But Gin couldn’t move, and she felt hands pull at her limp body. “You can’t… hope to win… against him…”

Sanji completely agreed with that and grabbed Ruffy’s arm. “Don’t be stupid! If you get hit by another of those spears you’ll die!”

Ruffy slapped his hand away. “That guy would have stood a better chance against the devil.”

“Wait! Stop!”

Krieg grinned in satisfaction as the little girl jumped onto the half-sunken mast that was the closest route to him if she just jumped far enough. This would be so easy. This win was so easy.

“I happen to know a few things about those who’ve eaten a devil fruit,” he said as he picked out a few bombs. “They earn inhuman power, but become dead weight in the sea. In short; the ocean is your grave.”

He threw the bombs into the water between them, the explosions creating a high wall of water. The girl was blinded, and with the narrow room on the mast she couldn’t really move either, so Krieg knew exactly where she was. Once again he aimed his shield and fired a round of short spears. Only one of them needed to hit their target and Krieg would have won.

Through the wall of falling water came the girl flying, a spear sticking out of her shoulder with another in her hand, blood mixing with the water, her eyes burning with something that froze Krieg in his place.

“My grave?” he heard her say, and it unlocked him from the spell long enough to realize she was aiming a punch at him.

Faster than a bunny turning its tail Krieg wiped out a cape­ – that looked a lot more like a spiked mat turned cape – from his other shoulder shield. “Want to hit me no matter what? Just try through my Kenzan cape!”

Ruffy didn’t even blink, much less stop. She tensed like a spring, propelled her entire weight coupled with her speed forward and punched Krieg square in the face. Straight through the spiked cape.

There was a scream of both utter shock and pain from all around, pirates and cooks alike. Pain from the sight of blood flying from the girl’s fist as the spikes impaled it and knowing just how much that must have hurt, and shock because…

“Krieg went down!”

“Krieg was knocked down!”

“By a girl!”

“He’s supposed to be the strongest! Why?! I haven’t even seen him on his knees even once!”

“The girl’s a monster,” a cook mumbled to someone who floated beside him.

“And I was flirting with her,” he got in answer.

Ruffy grabbed hold of the spear sticking out of her shoulder. “My grave, you say?” She pulled it out with a sucking sound and met Krieg’s glare from where he lay face down in front of her. “If this ocean is my or your grave won’t be decided by you or me, but the one who dies.” The golden-eyed girl threw the bloody spear that embedded itself right in front of Krieg’s nose, making him involuntarily flinch. “But don’t try some puny spears or spiked capes on me, you princess. I will not die here.”

On the broken fins of the Baratie Sanji had stopped breathing. Ruffy had really knocked down Krieg. He had to admit it was a feat he really didn’t believe the young girl capable of, but it hadn’t been for free. Blood was flowing down her arm and bare right leg. Besides that; she hadn’t eaten for a week save for a little fruit this morning. She couldn’t possibly keep the fight up for more than a couple of minutes, and that was a stretch.

“Watch her closely, Sanji.”

“Eh?” the blond looked up at Zeff who looked surprisingly serene. His eyes that always glared had suddenly gotten a soft hue as he smiled fondly while watching the bleeding girl. It was most certainly not a look Sanji had ever seen on the old man’s face, and definitely not one he expected to see in a moment like this.

“Here and there in the world people like that girl pops up; idiots who will fight till death when they’ve set their hearts on it.”

“That’s madness,” Sanji breathed and looked back at the scene.

“Perhaps,” Zeff shrugged. “But she’ll be the toughest opponent Krieg has ever faced, because people like her are a pain to fight. Still, whether she win or lose, I can’t deny I like her guts.”

Don Krieg had pretty much the opposite thoughts about abovementioned girl than Zeff. He was majorly pissed. Today was nothing but one mishap after the other, and he was getting hungry again. Hunger had always had a bad influence over his temper, and never one to care about keeping his temper in a leach.

“If this isn’t your grave,” he growled as he got up, tearing the cape from its fastening in his shoulder shield since it was securely stuck in the wood, grabbed his other shield and whirled around, “whose grave…” he used the force of the move to push the shield forward with all his might, hitting the annoying girl head on “…do you mean it is?!” He quickly pushed the button to fire another round of spears. “This is where you die!”

Ruffy was light and strong enough to pull her weight around. So even if Krieg’s attack knocked the breath out of her, she got a good grip on the top edge of the shield and pulled herself up over it before any spears were fired. Using the back of the weapon as support she kneed Krieg right between his eyes, knocking him down a second time. Within the same minute!

Now Krieg’s crew were all grabbing their heads aghast at what they were witnessing, wondering if somewhere along the line they might have fallen asleep or lost grip of reality.

Sanji felt dumbfounded and his mind was rather blank. With every action Ruffy had taken in this battle she was reforming the way Sanji viewed both her and the rest of the world. He might never have seen women as weak exactly; he knew there were a lot of strong-willed and fierce women out there. But Ruffy was… small. She was so thin compared to the man she was currently fighting, and yet… she had shattered iron with her bare fist and thus saved Sanji’s life. For the first time Sanji realized he’d been saved by a girl in a fight.

Scratch that; he’d been saved by two women today. Gin had also saved his life.

But to what cost?

Gin herself was barely conscious, but she’d managed to get the two guys watching over her– or at least that’s what she thought they were doing while they bickered– to hold her up so she could watch the fight, and she had a hard time registering just what was happening, or if she’d died and was seeing things.

“That little wench packs a pretty good punch, huh?” the man holding Gin stated bewildered and full of awe.

Krieg was not only greatly humiliated by now, but also furious beyond his wits. All around him his men was starting to question his strength. Well, if that’s how it’s gonna be then he’d kill the little rat-bitch with his greatest weapon!

“Shut your worthless traps!” he roared, pulled off his second shoulder protector and slammed the two of them together. Turning to the unsuspecting girl, who annoyingly enough was slick as a weasel and jumped away, Krieg slammed the now locked together shoulder shields into the wood of their footing.

“It’s the Great War Spear!” his men cried, some in triumph and some in shock. The Great War Spear was the strongest in his entire arsenal he kept on his person. To think Pirate Admiral Don Krieg would have to go that far just to fight off a girl who barely reached his chest was… overkill. But hey, his victory was only one hit away now. Even if she had managed to knock Krieg down twice, they could blame it on the fact he hadn’t eaten properly in a few weeks and was just a tad out of practice.

“What was that? It exploded,” Ruffy asked out loud where she clung onto the base of the broken mast.

“I’ll enjoy seeing how long you can avoid a hit from this, hammer bitch,” Krieg smirked as he threw off his cape so it wouldn’t get in the way. “This is an entirely different level than the measly spears you can survive a couple of hits from. One hit from my Great War Spear and you’re history!”

The armoured pirate lifted the spear over his head, tensed and brought the spear down with a roar.

Ruffy once again jumped away, this time just a tad bit late and felt a burn against her foot. Realizing she was also jumping at open water she frantically looked around and twisted her body to reach a piece of deck with some railing still stuck to it, catching it with her nails. Well, her feet landing in the water at least soothed the burn. The sea water didn’t bother her either since she was already wearing sea stone.

“What’s with that spear?! It explodes upon impact?” She crawled over the railing to the unsteady piece of deck, only for her knees to bend under her. “Eh?”

In front of her Krieg smirked. “This is the end of the line for you.”

Ruffy looked down at herself and her surroundings. There were floating debris everywhere, and nothing could be used for a proper showdown with the armoured diva. But there were good news too; her strength failing her wasn’t accompanied with pain. So she had finally healed from Kuma’s attack, or at least mostly. The fatigue was still there.

Krieg thrust his spear forward, forcing Ruffy to bend backwards to avoid it. She opened her eyes wide to take in as much of her surroundings as possible to find the floating pieces of wood and avoid jumping toward open water. She had a bigger surface off to her right, if only she could… her eyes caught a flash of metal.

“Wha!” She wobbled after dodging another swing, one foot slipping so she had to keep herself up on one unsteady leg, and it wasn’t like Krieg rested in his assault. Once again he swung the spear and Ruffy’s only choice was to pull her legs up under her. And she couldn’t move in midair. Krieg smirked as he swung the Great War Spear with all his might, roaring in accompaniment to the… explosion? The armoured pirate stared at the empty air before him where there should be a cloud of smoke and a body burnt to a crisp.

“Phew, that was close,” he heard the girl’s voice behind him, sounding way too cheerful to Krieg’s ears.

Glancing behind him only added fuel to Krieg’s rage when he realized the bitch had latched onto the handle of his spear, thus saving her own life.

“Why you little…” Krieg started as he gathered his strength to swing the spear over his head and down on the water “annoying mosquito‼!”

The girl let go and for a second she floated midair upside down. That second was all Krieg needed to pull his spear back and once again thrust it forward.

Ruffy did the smartest thing one could do in her position; she brought her fists together on the spear’s edge to stop it from tearing her open.

Sanji might have squeaked and closed his eyes for a second as the explosion swallowed Ruffy whole.

Gin let out a sigh, not believing Ruffy could have survived that.

Zeff watched quietly. And Ruffy fell out of the smoke from the explosion, coughing and gagging.

Krieg had to say he was a tad surprised the annoying girl had survived, but pleased none the less. He wanted to play with her, drag out her death as long as he could. She wouldn’t survive another hit though. There was just no way. He has also luckily managed to push her backwards and land her on yet another floating island of wood. It would have been a bit of an anticlimax if she had fallen into the ocean now.

Krieg made sure the girl was still conscious before he lifted his spear again. “When I’m through with you there won’t even be a wet spot left.”

Gold flashed in the sooty face of the girl as she opened her eyes. But rather than trying to escape the swing this time, she let out a cry and tried to counter attack. It made Don Krieg want to laugh at how very stupid she was. It was clear for all the world to see who was the strongest of him and this little ant.

The pirates floating around were smirking in victory.

The cooks were groaning, some even grieving that the battle couldn’t be won after all. Their errand girl had been the last one standing after both Sanji and Zeff had been taken out. But of course, someone so small couldn’t…

Ruffy slammed her fist against the wood she landed on and rolled her body up until she was standing again, back straight and a confident smirk on her face.

The sound of metal shattering echoed over the waves and those who were closest to the scene saw the sunlight reflect in the shards of the tip of Don Krieg’s Great War Spear as they rained around his feet.

“MY GREAT WAR SPEAR!” Krieg cried out in disbelief. “WHAT DID YOU DO TO IT?!”

“I hit it four times. It’s my turn now,” Ruffy grinned and showed a piece of rope in her hand. “This and this wide area is all I need to send you flying.”

All around them pirates and cooks were staring with their mouths open, but most closed them again after the first gulp of salt water.

Gin couldn’t believe her eyes. Ruffy was still alive! Even though she had taken two blows from the Great War Spear. Even though she was bleeding from several wounds. Even though she had to be in pain she was… smiling. She looked so calm, so sure of herself. Even though she stood before Don Krieg with all that meant she wasn’t afraid.

Ruffy wasn’t… afraid.

Krieg was not as amazed about his opponent’s lack of fear, but he knew he had to cool his temper. He wasn’t above admitting to himself that he landing in the water wasn’t a very good thing. He was heavily armed, which made it difficult for him to swim, not to mention all the gun powder on his person that would be ruined. In short; if he went berserk he might unwittingly destroy the footing even for himself. Besides, losing his cool before this cheeky bitch would put a stain on his reputation. He was Don Krieg; Pirate Admiral, and he could not let himself be provoked by women and children.

“Send me flying?” he repeated slowly. She’d perhaps managed to knock him down, but both those times she had caught him by surprise. He was calm now, so there would be no more surprises.

“Now that the tip of the spear is off, that’s nothing but a bomb on a stick,” the girl smirked. “Your power’s reduced by half.”

This time Krieg failed to take the bait he was sure the bitch was throwing at him. “Bomb on a stick, huh?” He tilted his head and took in the girl’s blackened form in more detail. “To me that sounds like more than enough a weapon to blow you to the next world. You’ve already taken two blows, you can barely stand, and you were severely wounded even before you managed to butt heads with me. Sorry to break it to you, little girl, but you’re delusional if you think you can defeat me in your state.”

“I’m not the delusional one here. Unlike you I know what strength is.”

Okay, that bait was a little harder not to take.

By now Sanji was shaking. “She won’t make it,” he whimpered. “She must be on the verge of collapsing by this point. Another hit by that spear and she…” he couldn’t finish the sentence.

“I wonder,” Zeff mused beside him.

“What’s there to wonder about?” the blond teenager demanded hotly.

The old man sighed. “The world is a strange place, full of even stranger people. Krieg may have hundreds of weapons and heavy armour, but the weapon young Ruffy has in her heart is an even mightier weapon than all of his combined. You see, in a live or die battle between pirates the one to perish is the one who fears death for even an instant.”

The younger looked bewildered. “W-what do you mean?”

“Sanji, you’ve been looking down on that girl for the entire battle, believing she’d die by every hit she took. Open your eyes, eggplant; that girl is still alive and kicking. She’s not afraid, and she won’t hesitate.”

“Y-yes, but…”

“It might be her preparedness to survive,” Zeff went on. “Or a conviction that just makes her fearless to death.”

“Conviction…?” Sanji repeated slowly and looked back at the fight.

Krieg got his breathing under control and picked his “bomb on a stick”, as the little bitch had oh so accurately labelled it, back up, wielding it with both hands. “Give up now! You were doomed the moment you went against Don Krieg.”

“I’m not going to die,” Ruffy answered and stuck her tongue out as the rope danced around her.

Krieg hit his weapon where his opponent stood, explosion following, along with the shadow of the girl disappearing upwards.

“Take me if you can!” he heard the girl sing above him. It appeared the little maggot had used the rope to catch onto the gaff of what looked like the mizzenmast and pull herself up, avoiding Krieg’s attack.

“You little monkey,” Krieg growled and attacked the base of the mast.

Ruffy was unable to hold back. Using the rope like a liana