Chapter 18: Miracle Worker
Impel Down Arc
Lina stood at the bow of their ship, her frown deepening when she heard a vocal outburst coming from behind her. After they'd escaped from the vicinity of Impel Down, several hours of useless drifting had finally convinced her that they were in an area of dead water. The ocean was as smooth as a pane of glass, with no currents to ride, not even the slightest hint of a breeze to ruffle their sails. She vaguely remembered something about there being "Calm Belt" regions on either side of the Grand Line, and this was probably it. Her compass functioned here, with the needle holding steady, and she was pretty sure they had come from the south.
Lina took solace in the fact that their ship was equipped with a pair of paddle wheels at the rear, and she had assigned Zelgadis to the task of figuring out how they worked. Once they got that going, they could return to the Grand Line without running themselves ragged casting wind spells.
"I never imagined that in the depths of hell, my life would be saved by a group of complete strangers! My friends, I'll forever treasure your kindness!" A shrill male voice said from behind.
"Yes Mr. Bon Clay! Even in hell, the flowers of love and joy bloom eternal!" Amelia's familiar voice replied.
Lina grimaced, and turned to see the man they had rescued entangled in a theatrical embrace with Amelia. With the action of the poison neutralized by the antidote, it had taken only a few more minutes to heal his remaining injuries, though he had lapsed in and out of consciousness until just a little while ago. With no more wounds, there was no longer any need for bandages, so they had given him a Marine uniform to wear, consisting of a white t-shirt and a pair of blue trousers to cover up his hairy legs.
"Alright, break it up! Break it up!" Lina approached and shoved the two apart. Who knew what kind of sappy nonsense they would start spouting if they were allowed to keep bouncing off each other.
With Bon Clay awake, they had been able to clarify his side of the story regarding what had been happening in the prison before they'd arrived. Apparently he'd been part of a jailbreak, with the goal of helping some pirate named Straw Hat Luffy rescue his brother from execution. Bon Clay himself had stayed behind, using his ability to fool the prison staff into opening the gate for the other escapees. An ability that he was all too eager to demonstrate.
"Tada!" He exclaimed as he shifted his appearance through a library of faces, then drooped when Lina just shrugged at the display. Changing appearances wasn't anything new or remarkable for her.
"Enough fooling around. Let's get something straight here." Lina said. "We didn't bust into that horrible prison because we're in the business of rescuing people for free. We got into it because we want something in return. We're looking for Emporio Ivankov because of some special cure he can do or something like that, and you said you knew where he was going, isn't that right?"
Bon Clay grinned wide, not at all put off by her demands. "Of course! Of course! There's no need to keep secrets between friends. People call Ivan a miracle worker, the queen of all queers who every queer in this world looks up to. And I saw it with my own eyes, a miracle in hell like the great heavenly garden of oh come my way."
Lina just blinked, but said nothing when Bon Clay's expression grew solemn.
"When I said goodbye to Straw Hat and Ivan, they were going to Marine Headquarters to rescue Straw Hat's brother." He said. He gazed up at the sun, which had passed the summit of its arc and was beginning to settle toward the west.
"If Ivan's still alive, he should be returning to the Momoiro Island, the pink paradise of the Grand Line where those with the hearts of maidens gather together. But alas, I know not what became of him."
"Would this help?"
Lina glanced over her shoulder to see Xellos sitting on the ship's railing, with a rolled up newspaper clutched in his free hand. He tossed it to Bon Clay, who grasped at the paper desperately, practically tearing it open in his anxiousness to begin reading. As his eyes scanned the paper they filled with tears, and he made no effort to repress or hide them. Lina could feel the shame and frustration rolling off him in waves.
"Where'd you get that thing anyway?" Lina turned to Xellos with a frown. "We've been looking around for hours and we haven't even seen a damn rock."
"A little bird sold it to me as it was passing by." Xellos said. "You might want to get into the habit of reading these, since it looks like we're going to be here for the long haul."
Lina made a thoughtful noise, which was interrupted by a low rumble from below the deck, accompanied by the sound of sloshing water. Zelgadis emerged from the cabin and shot her a quick nod, and gradually the ship began to move.
Lina's gaze returned to Bon Clay, who had finished and was sitting cross-legged on the deck, wearing a contemplative expression. When he noticed her looking, he lifted his head, and allowed the newspaper to fall from his fingers.
"Ivan's alive. That's a definite." He flashed her a smile, his melancholy at least partly dispelled. "So? How 'bout that cure guys?"
"Then this kingdom of queers." Lina crossed her arms over her chest. "You know where it is?"
The sun rose, the morning light seeping through the mist and scattering into a dazzling rainbow over Momoiro Island. Soft waves lapped at the pristine white sands while heart-shaped cliffs rose over the center of the isle, covered in pastels of pink and orange. Standing on deck, Lina leaned forward onto the railing, drifting into a relaxed tension before being jolted out of it by a rather unbecoming scream.
"Hey Lina, could you explain something to me?" Gourry said as he caught his breath, wearing an expression of disgust as he placed his hand mirror face down, cringing from it as if he were afraid of his own reflection. The carefully folded frills of his pink dress waved in the ocean breeze, and his long blonde hair had been tied up with a bright red bow. A coating of glossy lipstick completed the look.
"Why exactly are you making me wear this outfit again?!" He wailed.
Lina stifled a laugh at his expense.
"Gourry, have you even seen that island?" She pointed toward the landmass ahead of their bow. "Look at it. It's like the long-haired sparkly pretty boy of islands, or the rainbow fairy peacock of islands. Just twelve colors, not colorful enough."
"But anyway, you heard what Bon Clay said." She continued. "It's the island where those with the hearts of maidens gather, ruled by the queen of all queers. And we're here to ask for a cure so we need to make a good impression. That's why you have to wear it."
"Oh, of course you'd say that, but I know you. You just wanted to dress me up didn't you?" Gourry replied with a petulant frown.
"No really, it's not like that at all." Lina said, hiding her smirk behind a hand. Ignoring Gourry's moping, she tilted her head to look past him, where Amelia had finished up with Zelgadis and was beaming proudly beside her creation. For his part, Zelgadis looked conflicted, his expression shifting as indignation wrestled with his determination to get the cure.
Lina bit back a gasp. Zelgadis was dressed in a sapphire blue gown, tailored to highlight the feminine curves that Amelia had crafted underneath, with a pair of blue earrings that glinted in the morning light. Arm length evening gloves served to cover up his condition, matching perfectly with his makeup to produce an air of sophistication. She'd even managed to do some work on his wire-like hair, drawing it up with a headband, leaving only a few strands to frame his face. Quite frankly, he wouldn't have looked out of place as a female attendee of the annual Saillune royal ball.
"Oh this looks like so much fun, I wish I could participate. But Mr. Zelgadis, you are simply fabulous." Xellos said from his perch atop the cabin, drawing out the pronunciation of that last word and getting a growl of reply.
"Oops, I guess that's Miss Zelgadis for now." He added. "Wouldn't want to blow your cover!"
Zelgadis's outfit had cost some of Lina's treasure stash to buy, which Amelia had promised to repay once they got home. Still, Lina couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy, as if it really were a competition. There was no doubt that Amelia's involvement in Saillune's royal court had given her a big advantage in terms of experience.
Lina cursed under her breath and rummaged through her bags for more makeup, jewelry, anything to even the scales. She hadn't gotten this far by giving up easily, and now wasn't the time to start!
To his credit, Gourry immediately deduced her motive, and a terrified look fell over his eyes. He turned and sprinted down the length of the ship, nearly running into Luke and Milina when they emerged from the cabin. Luke's jaw dropped at the sight, and Milina's eyes were wide with surprise.
"Hey you're late, but I think we still have some time before we'll want to land." Lina waved to them. "Check the downstairs closet, we've got Luke's all ready too."
Luke cringed at the suggestion, and a gulp of nervous saliva inched its way down his throat. He slowly turned his head until his eyes were on Milina, waiting for her answer. A flash of amusement flickered across her face, before fading into her usual stoic expression.
"Ridiculous." Milina said. Beside her, Luke sagged in visible relief. He shifted aside as Bon Clay pranced out from the cabin, ending his movement with a quick ballerina twirl on his toes.
"Oh yeah! Looking sexy! Smooch!" He said, blowing a pair of kisses at Gourry and Zelgadis and causing both men to flinch.
Lina dropped back onto the deck after a quick aerial tour over the island, having located the palace atop the central mount. Group flight was out of the question, lest Gourry and Zelgadis's fragile disguises come apart, so the crew released the anchor by a rocky cove and hopped ashore. Once on the island, the sky quickly faded from its usual blue to a shade of bright pink. The water was pink, the grass was pink, even the roads they were walking on were all pink, pink, pink.
"If we make it out of here alive, I am never wearing pink again." Lina said, at least partially seriously. She made a face when a flock of birds flew by, with lipstick smeared on their beaks, mascara on their lashes and long blonde wigs that fluttered as they passed.
Then there was the matter of the locals that they had attracted.
Slowly, reluctantly, Lina turned back to glance at the rear of their party, where a trio of positively ogreish looking men dressed in ill-fitting women's clothing had started following them around. Xellos was gone off to who knows where, while one of the transvestites had struck up a conversation with Bon Clay. This left the other two free to accost the only male member of their party who was not disguised as a woman.
"Luke was it? You know you have such a cute face." One of them sidled up next to Luke, causing him to flinch and stumble away.
"Are you just being shy?" Luke jumped when the other man whispered in his ear. "I love that girlish modesty! Why don't you and I have a cup of tea together?"
"You two piss off!" Luke yelled back. "I'm not interested in you or you! Milina is the only one in the world for me!"
Luke's rejections only seemed to egg the two on, while Gourry and Zelgadis walked ahead, having drawn little attention thanks to their disguises. Both of them kept their heads down and their backs facing toward the squabbling trio, looking grateful and terrified as they tried their best to ignore Luke's plight. The constant sense that a fight was about to break out was starting to get on Lina's nerves, and she distracted herself by forming a small fireball in one hand, shifting it to her fingertip, splitting it apart then merging the sparks back together.
The road they were on lead them toward the clearing around the palace, and the heart-shaped tops of the castle towers rose into view over the pink foliage. A crowd could be seen gathered in front of the gates, chattering excitedly. They turned as Lina brought her group closer, and Gourry froze when he noticed nearly all of them were burly men wearing skirts and wigs. Even Zelgadis's face turned a shade or two lighter.
"Oh, are these the candies who landed here this morning?" A voice called over the congregation, its pitch straddling the line between masculine and feminine.
Lina looked up from her diversion in time to see the crowd part, making way as a tall, slim woman sauntered through. She cut a distinctive figure in her pinkish bodysuit, her purple afro swaying as she walked, a metal crown rattling from atop her head. Sharp points extended from her fingertips and she jabbed them into her sides, causing her figure to expand into the form of a man with an especially large head. Lina raised an eyebrow; this wasn't just a fleeting transformation, but actual body alteration. She was just starting to catch on who this guy was when Bon Clay bounded out from her group, giving an enthusiastic greeting that positively identified the man as Emporio Ivankov.
"What? Is that you Bon-boy?" Ivankov blinked in astonishment, then rushed forward to capture the other man in a tearful embrace, to the cheers and whoops of the crowd behind him. The two launched into a series of rapid-fire explanations regarding what had happened since their separation, while Lina tapped her toes, clamping down on her impatience as best she could.
"Hmm-hmm, I suppose I must thank you for rescuing Bon-boy and bringing him back to me. I guess that puts me in your debt." Ivankov stood and turned to face Lina. "Bon-boy says you have need of my abilities, yes? That is why you rode the peachy current and found your way here, no? Say vat change you want made, and I vill grant your wish."
Lina opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted when Zelgadis shoved his way to the front.
"I'm here for a cure." He said, drawing some approving hoots from the crowd of transvestites when they noticed the pitch of his voice. Ignoring them, he rolled up one of his sleeves and exposed his pebbly blue skin.
"I want to turn my body back to being a normal human." He said.
"Vell, I've never seen this sort of condition before." Ivankov bent down and ran a finger over Zelgadis's arm. "But a Devil Fruit's power is only limited by the imagination of its user. I ate the Horm-Horm fruit, so now I can remodel people from the inside."
"Indeed, some of the men here might once have been women." He gestured at his followers. "And some of the women could have been men, because this is the paradise of freedom! Hee-haw!"
Hormones? Something clicked together within Lina's mind, but before she could voice it, Ivankov extended the needle-points from his fingertips and swiped them across Zelgadis's arm.
"Hey!" Zelgadis cried and jerked back, falling into as good a ready stance as he could manage in his getup. His posture relaxed slightly when he noticed Ivankov fingering a patch of blue skin that he had removed.
"I vill experiment on this and get into contact with you once I've found a way." Ivankov nodded. He poked at the sample with a finger, seeming to inject something into it, then made a thoughtful noise when no visible change occurred. He motioned to one of his subordinates, who vanished and returned with one of the snail phone devices, which Ivankov picked up and plopped into Zelgadis's open hands.
"If you can manipulate hormones and change people's genders, that means you can do something to grow my chest right?" Lina interrupted.
An awkward silence fell over the group, broken by a groan from Amelia's direction. Lina shot her a venomous glare to shut her up, then felt herself blushing slightly under Ivankov's amused gaze. She shook her head to rid herself of her own doubts.
"What?!" She demanded, eliciting a round of giggles. "Was there something wrong with what I asked?"
"Hush now, candies. Don't sweat the small stuff." Ivankov said, holding up his hands in a placating gesture. "That should be easy enough to do. Just come a little closer and I vill grow your chest for you as you wish."
He motioned for Lina to approach, but as she did, Ivankov suddenly twirled around to face his admirers.
"Or not! Hee-haw!" He exclaimed, spreading his arms wide, to the cheers and laughter of the crowd.
"You're not going to do it? You were pulling my leg?" Someone said.
Lina just stared. Was he making fun of her? A part of her mind insisted that maybe this was some sort of test, and that if she persisted, then he would come around. After a short internal struggle, this part won out over her building embarrassment.
"So, what? Are you going to do it or not?" She demanded.
"Hmm-hmm, I guess if you're going to twist my arm about it, then I have no choice but to comply." Ivankov replied. Needle-points appeared on his fingertips and he waved for Lina to come closer.
"Or I won't! Hee-haw!" He somersaulted away, landing in front of his followers.
"You're such a character! You sure fooled us!" They chanted in unison.
"Alright fine! I didn't want your stupid hormones anyway!" Lina snapped, finally losing the battle to contain her temper.
"Let's go you guys. We got what we came here for, and we have places to be." She said, gathering up her party and leading them back to the ship, making a special effort not to pout on the way back to shore.
Lina looked over the ship's banister at Bon Clay, who had followed them to their ship. Behind her, Gourry stepped out from the cabin, having changed back into his normal clothing, pulling up the anchor while Zelgadis untied the sails.
Lina didn't quite know what sort of reaction she was expecting from Zelgadis, what with never having come this close to his goal and all, but silent contemplation certainly wasn't on the list of possibilities. If she didn't know better, she might even have thought he was starting to have second thoughts.
Amelia arrived, joining Lina at the railing as the ship caught the ocean breeze and began to slide away from shore.
"So what are you planning to do now? I mean, since you're free now." Amelia asked the transvestite.
"Oh, I think I'll hide out here for a while, since I'm still a wanted man you know." Bon Clay said.
"Besides." He gestured toward his left, where a black-suited man was sprinting across the beach with a small mob of locals in hot pursuit. "I spy an old friend, and we simply have so much catching up to do. And you guys?"
"Well, we were originally heading to Fishman Island before we got pulled onto all of these side-journeys." Lina said. She glanced toward Zelgadis, confirming that his Log Pose was set and pointing in the direction they should go.
"We should probably be getting back on that road now. We've got, let's call it an appointment with some treasure." She explained.
"In that case, I suppose it is time to say goodbye." Bon Clay said, bringing his hands over his head in a ballerina pose. Already they were far enough that his voice was starting to fade.
"Try not to be sad, for journeys must always end in parting." He recited. "Yet while our time together was brief, the bonds of friendship forged will last for an eternity! Farewell friends!"
The crew waved back as the wind picked up, carrying the ship forward, and soon Momoiro Island was just a pink point on the horizon. It was only then that Luke burst into a fit of laughter.
"What? What's so funny? Got something you wanna share with the class?" Lina rounded on him.
"Oh it's nothing, I just like seeing annoying girls get what they deserve." Luke replied, straightening himself out. "Trying to use our favor to fix up your washboard chest, typical selfish behavior."
"Oh yeah? I don't need to take this from you of all people." Lina said. "You know maybe we should've just abandoned you on that island before we got on the ship. Obviously you aren't getting anywhere with Milina here, but at least now you know how she feels about you."
"And hey, back there you actually had somebody who liked you." Lina cooed. "So who knows, maybe you could even learn to feel the same way about them."
Luke's face turned purple with embarrassment as he sputtered out a string of denials, and Lina flashed him a quick smirk to let him know she wasn't buying his excuses.
Author's Notes: And that's a wrap on the somewhat shorter Impel Down Arc. Thanks to all of you for reading!