CHAPTER 2: LATE NIGHT CLANDESTINE MEETINGS
How To Not Be A Ninja 101
Warnings: Crack. Mental issues.
A/N: IT'S FINALLY POSTED WAHAHAHA
Zoro was here. In Shell Town.
I crouched on the roof, lying low, gears in my head creaking as they tried to process this information. The sun beat down on me, unrelenting in it's quest to fry me alive, but I refused to back down to the likes of it. My eyes were glued onto Zoro's musculature- I mean, Zoro's form in general, tracking his every movement, partly because he had a very nice and firm body, but mainly due to the fear that if I take my eyes off him for just one second, he would have mysteriously wandered off into the distance via incomprehensible marimo superpowers.
As I admired Zoro's finely toned abs, I was hit with a startling realization.
Zoro was right here, in Shell Town. That meant that the Strawhats did not exist yet. Luffy was probably wreaking havoc of Alvida's ship or perhaps on his way here. My eyes widened.
I didn't have a goal in life back then, and I still didn't have one now. I had simply existed, drifting along with the metaphorical winds, not going anywhere or doing anything with my life. But now, at the end of the tunnel that I walked, I saw a light. I was in One Piece. It would be a damn waste if I didn't enjoy myself to the fullest. I already died a meaningless death once, this time, I was going to die happy, goal or no goal.
And the best way to do that? Be where the fun always was. The Straw Hats.
Sure, I could live a tame life out here in the blue seas, or I could join the marines and uphold their bullshit justice and integrity, but that would be boring. I would probably be fired after two days of joining. And I was never a stickler for rules anyway; I preferred to bend them to their limits. Besides the Straw Hats, there were many other crews I could choose from. Whitebeard was a good selection. But bearing in mind how most other pirate crews were mainly comprised of useless riff-raff and scumbags, and Whitebeard and the other pirate crews were more than a few hundred nautical miles too far for me to even consider worming my way in, the Straw Hats would appear to be my best shot at living the life I wanted to have.
Besides, I didn't just want a life of excitement. I wanted insanity and utter madness. I wanted to be where the heart, soul, and life of the story was. I wanted to be with the tide that would shake the foundations of the world with it's ferocity and will, destroying all that would dare to stand in it's path. And to get that, there was one thing I could do: Be a Straw Hat. I could see it now- my dream.
I teetered to the left as a bout of dizziness overcame me, barely managing to stabilize myself. I assume that the light-headedness I was feeling right now wasn't from happiness at discovering a motivation to live (because if it was, then I sure was pathetic) but from excessive exposure to the sun.
Time to find shelter.
As I stood up unsteadily, my injured thigh decided that now would be a great time to rebel against me. A pulse of pain caused my whole left leg to spasm. Supported by only my right leg, I staggered forward. There was a rush and displacement of air, and I pitched right off the building. A single thought was prevalent in my mind throughout this entire scenario: Fuck.
At this moment, Zoro's head snapped up, eyes meeting mine as I fell.
Adrenaline pumped through my veins. I forced an arm to move and reach out, grabbing onto the edge of the roof, barely saving myself from becoming a grease stain on the ground. After hanging precariously for a few seconds, I hauled myself up with some effort, grimacing as the movement made my head pound.
Zoro was staring at me with judging eyes. I was this close to flipping him off, but I wisely choose not to. I'll save the pleasantries for later, when we will be better acquainted and he would be less likely to skewer me with his sword if I were to insult his manhood.
I re-orientated myself, choosing to sit with my legs dangling off the roof rather than crouching, not wanting a repeat performance of what just happened. I loved prancing across rooftops as the next ninja, but right now it was just far too hot for any jumping to be done. This must be why ninjas are typically inactive in the day time- to avoid being baked alive under the infernal sun. The black suit they typically wear would have made them really feel the heat.
Oh, Zoro's still looking here. What does he want? I stared back, not wanting to be outdone. If I took the opportunity to give him an exceptionally subtle once over, well, no one was there to stop me.
Howls and barks filled the air. I would like to imagine that a silent agreement passed between Zoro and I to continue our staring contest at a later date, and we both turned around in tandem to face where the sounds were coming from.
The crowds were once again doing a great reenactment of Moses parting the red sea, though this time, Moses in question was a smarmy blond bastard with a wolf snapping at everyone who dared get close. I presumed that it was just Helmeppo and his pet, causing a ruckus around town.
Ah, Helmeppo. Though you did become less of an arse later on in the story, I never did like you.
At this moment, the girl who I had had practically roasted myself under the hot sun looking for, chose to skip into the vicinity. Conveniently into Helmeppo's line of sight. What was her name again? Reiki? Roka? She's plot relevant somehow. My memories on the first few episodes were a little fuzzy, so I couldn't quite recall just what happened that got Zoro unlawfully arrested and tied to a pole. Something about killing Helmeppo's wolf? Ah. That flashback scene... which seemed to be occurring now.
My attention was drawn back to the situation unfolding a couple feet below me. From my position all the way up here, I wasn't able to hear what was being said, but Helmeppo's smarmy smirk was all I needed to interpret that he was plotting something nefarious. I watched with narrowed eyes, fingering a shurikan thoughtfully.
My conscience screamed at me to intervene before anything nasty happened, but logic told me not to. Just one simple action - me interceding the wolf instead of Zoro - could cause great changes further down the road. Zoro might not be imprisoned. Consequently, Luffy probably wouldn't bust in to wreck shit up and recruit Zoro.
Yeah. That would be bad. I stilled my twitchy fingers and shoved the shurikan back in a pouch.
Helmeppo's pet wolf then lunged forward, snapping at the girl's heels, and she screamed, her legs giving way. I barely restrained myself from leaping down and landing on Helmeppo's face boot first.
There was a flash of steel, a glint from where the light met metal, and the wolf collapsed in a spray of blood. Zoro stood in front of the girl like a green headed sentinel, sheathing his sword slowly, ennui reflected on his face.
On the other hand, Helmeppo looked like he had just swallowed a particularly sour lemon, and wasn't sure whether to pop a nerve or start hopping around madly. Or both.
I slowly unclenched my fist. Red half moons bloomed to life on my palm. I turned away, sweeping non-existent dust off my shoulders. There was nothing noteworthy to see here besides Zoro, and if I stayed any longer, I would be liable to throwing myself at Helmeppo and punching the living daylights out of him. Following through would only end with me tied to a stake right beside Zoro, waiting for Luffy to come save our sorry asses. I'd rather be the one doing the rescuing.
...It's fine. I'll just pay a visit to Zoro, later in the night, just in case he gets lonely, and do my best to endear myself to him. Right now, it is time for me to find food.
I stumbled around, still light-headed, but found my balance and resumed prancing across the rooftops.
Where was that restaurant again...
Zoro scanned the rooftops for that scarf wearing weirdo, but he was gone, with no sign of ever being there in the first place. What the hell was he doing up there in the first place?
"-any idea who I am? I am Helmep-"
He dug a pinky into his left ear.
"-father is Captain Morgan! I'll have you executed for you crimes- LOOK AT ME WHEN I'M TALKING DAMN IT!" Zoro turned back lazily to face the speaker, choosing to push any thought of the mysterious man to the back of his head. A blond wimp scowled back at him.
"You are annoying me," Zoro groused.
Evening was drawing near. The streets were relatively empty. The sun dipped down into the horizon, done with frying this portion of the oceans for now and moving on to torment the poor souls on the other side of the world. Good riddance, in my opinion.
I gazed listlessly at the evening sunset, perched on the restaurant roof and nibbling on a slice of bread. My fingers moved on their own accord, twirling a kunai round and round. Ai seemed to have a habit of doing that, and passed it on to me. Had I attempted to do what I was doing now in my old body, I would have likely found myself missing a finger or two.
Heavy shuffling and grunting startled me out of my silent contemplation. Instinct compelled me to unsheathe my daggers and lope off the head of the unfortunate passerby. All those years of Ai's paranoia got to me; my hand had already begun drawing my weapons. I flexed my fingers against the hilt, trembling slightly.
Something was off. For a moment there, I could sense Ai within me, controlling my movements- that wasn't right, he wasn't trying to take back the reins of his body. I could barely feel his presence- his will to live had long since snuffed out, and all that was left behind was just a mere shade of himself. For an instant, we were one and the same, in spirit, body and soul, Ai's shade and I. When I closed my hand around the hilt of the dagger, he moved with me-
- The sickle sliced though the air, spinning right towards your head. At that very moment, time seemed to slow down. You could see everything with unusual perception and clarity. The blade of the weapon neared you, moving sluggishly, it's edge glinting menacingly. Your pupils dilated, and adrenaline roared through your veins. Your heart rate sped up. Every single inch of your body screamed at you to movemovemove-
I threw myself to the right, but wasn't fast enough to escape unscathed. The blade brushed over the surface of my skin, right under my left eye, leaving a thin, red cut in it's wake- huh?
There was no attacker, no sickle flying towards my face, ready to destroy my -or Ai's- exceptionally good looks. Yet, it felt too real to be a mere hallucination. I rubbed the place where the cut was supposed to be, but my hands came back dry. The non-existent injury pulsed with a phantom pain.
Oh, right. Flashback. Ai's memories. Cognitive dissonance and identity issues. Damn it all to hell. I introduced my face to my palm.
If this was going to happen often, especially in fights, then I had to either get used to it until it couldn't affect me, or find a way to assimilate Ai's memories into my own. As of now, I didn't know whether the second option would have any drawbacks. On the surface, it sounded like a pretty good idea- take in his memories and never get migraine inducing flashbacks for the rest of your life- but there were many probable consequences. It could result in larger migraines, issues with differentiating our memories, or worse, I could lose my identity entirely, forgetting who I initially was, living life under the mistaken impression that I was Ai.
The first option didn't sound that impressive either. Nevertheless, as impossible as it seemed, it struck me as the safer choice. Getting used to constant bombardment of traumatic memories? Not happening any time soon. Will it result in me being too constantly distracted to not notice a sword ready to stab my guts out? Obviously. Is it going to slowly drive me insane in the long run? Probably. Still better then getting pseudo amnesia and living the rest of my second life as a tragic and freakishly depressed dude? Definitely.
I was probably speculating too much on this.
Option one it is then, until I find alternative methods to deal with the problem.
I mentally congratulated myself on a job well done for having come to a temporary and rather useless solution, turning full circle back to square one, and resumed staring at the isolated streets.
My ear caught the sound of light pitter-pattering of feet. I didn't react violently like I did just a few minutes ago. Although my fingers itched for a form of defense, they remained still, so I chalked it up as a win. I scanned the area for any for disparities and spotted one.
The plot-relevant-girl was standing right in the middle of the street, a rice ball that is no doubt not safe for consumption held in her hand. I assumed that she was planning to sneak off to the marine base to feed Zoro her self-made rice balls filled with sugar and love. She openly inspected her surroundings for any watchers, but completely failed to spot me. She had all the makings of a terrible ninja.
Since I couldn't remember this happening in the anime, it either took place behind the scenes or my presence here actually affected things to such an extent. Where was her mother, and how did she even managed to sneak past her? Either way, what she was doing was dangerous and I probably should stop her. But first let me pull up my mask- I got to keep that mystery going.
"Hey kid, go home," I ordered. "It's dangerous at night," The vacant streets helped project my voice, giving it an eerie echo. The girl yelped, fumbling with the rice ball. She glanced around wildly. I chuckled creepily, thoroughly entertained by her comical reaction.
The girl finally looked up, probably guided to my location by my sinister laughter. She gaped at me for a few seconds, before scowling impudently. "I don't want to! I have to give these rice balls to big brother, so don't try to stop me!"
...Where did that polite brat disappear to? I frowned. If demanding that she leave politely (not so politely) didn't work, then I had no choice but to pull out the big guns.
"If you go, Captain Morgan will capture you and roast you alive for dinner," I threatened, narrowing my eyes for effect just like how Grandma used to do to the snotty kid next door. It worked. The girl froze up and turned a few shades paler. I smirked triumphantly, but kept my voice apathetic and even. "Your big brother Zoro won't be there to save you."
Her lower lip trembled. My psychotic grin faded away.
Tears began to well up in her eyes.
Shit. For fuck's sake. Don't cry, please don't cry. Fortunately, the restaurant building had only two levels, allowing me to jump off without crippling my legs. I leaped down, landing without a sound, hovering around her uncertainly.
I absolutely loathed crying children. They were terrible to deal with, and their wailing never failed to give me a headache. What I hated even more were children on the verge of tears. Trying to get them to stop is like attempting to get a speeding bullet train to turn around using pure mental strength- it didn't work.
"I'll take the food to him for you," I offered impulsively. She turned her large, watery eyes on me, hope sparkling within them. My stone cold inner core melted just a little bit on the inside. As much as I disliked children, even one such as I was not immune to puppy dog eyes of that level.
I was going to regret this, wasn't I?
"Really?" She sniffed and wiped away the tears collecting at the corners of her eyes. "Thank you so much for helping me, big brother!"
...Right, I was a guy now.
She passed me the undoubtedly inedible rice ball with reverence, and I held it gingerly with a hand, wondering if I should just dispose of them prematurely to save Zoro's taste buds from misfortune. I still had a whole sack of fruits back in my boat that I am all too willing to share.
"Stay away from the marine base, okay?" I instructed her sternly. She nodded obediently.
"Rika? Dinner is ready- Where are you? Rika!" A woman's voice called out from the restaurant. Probably her mother.
"Good, now go home," I hesitantly reached out and gave her a few soft pats on the head. This was how one typically handled kids right? Indulge them a little and let them run back to whichever hole they crawled out from?
Regardless, my method seemed to have worked. The girl cheerily skipped back into the restaurant, leaving me to deal with the rice ball she made. I wasted no time relocating to the rooftops once again, examining the riceball for any defects. There were none that I could visibly discern.
I sniffed it tentatively, and choked on my own saliva. A bizarrely sweet stench that I was certain riceballs were not supposed to have assaulted olfactory system, confirming my suspicions.
What should I do with the riceballs? Dispose of them? Nah. The girl did put lots of effort and sincerity into making her riceballs. I would be a terrible person if I were to just trash them in a bin or chuck them into the ocean.
Feed them to Zoro?
The marine base was situated near the centre of the island. It stuck out like a sore thumb, literally looming over the comparatively smaller buildings; a monumental beacon of ugliness and impracticality. It's gargantuan nature removed any possibility of getting lost on the way there, unless you happened to beridiculously directionally challenged, much like a certain green-head.
I crouched right in front of the gates, a sugar filled riceball carefully held within my hand. A gust of wind blew past, sending my scarf flapping along with it. I felt appropriately dramatized, right up to the point where my scarf slapped me in the face.
Apparently Captain Morgan had not seen fit to include any night security, and from what I could briefly recall from the manga, neither did he have any in the day. Looking at it from a different angle, I could understand why- there was unlikely to be anyone on this island to have the guts to consider trespassing.
Pity he didn't factor people like Luffy and I into account.
I scaled up the walls with relative ease, landing on top in a defensive crouch despite the noticeable lack of attackers. James Bond's theme began playing in my head.
Tonight, what little light from the moon had been blotted out by the bountiful clouds. Barely anything could be seen, but to me, the darkness was not an enemy, but a friend. A ninja dwells within the shadows. Night is his domain. Under the covers of the darkness, I sprinted on the walls, my footsteps inaudible, feeling like a total badass.
It came to my attention that my new body's eyes were exceptionally hypersensitive to the light, much more so than my previous body. Before, I was still able to stare at the morning sky as long as the sun was hidden behind clouds, but now I could barely do so without my eyes burning up and watering. On the other hand, I now had insanely powerful vision, as long as it wasn't bright. And that was what allowed me to bounce around in the dark without a single hitch and effortlessly spot Zoro's ludicrously green hair.
I leapt from the wall, tempted to do a barrel roll but was unsure if I would fail epically and land flat on my face- right in front of Zoro, so I settled for an ordinary landing. I glanced up.
There he was, in all his sexiness, firm musculature and green-headed glory. A fictional character brought to life. Roronoa Zoro.
I cautiously approached from the right side. Zoro's eyes were closed, but I didn't dare assume that he was sleeping. You know what they say about completely hardass characters: They do not sleep, they merely rest. On a closer look, I could see multiple bruises on his body that he probably had Helmeppo - that son of a bitch- to thank for.
I stood right in front of him, casually admiring the eye candy while patiently waiting for him to open his eyes. He didn't seem to have noticed my approach, which once again reminded me of how high-spec Ai's body was. Or maybe it was thanks to the skills I unlawfully inherited? Regardless, I should be able to use this to my advantage in future battles. Compared to monsters on Luffy and Zoro's level, I had no chance in hell of keeping up with them unless I fought dirty, quick and shamelessly.
A minute or so passed by. During that interval, I messed around, blatantly admiring him in a no doubt inappropriate manner and coming up with ridiculous theories about the relation between his hair and his horrendous sense of direction, generally acting like the lunatic I was. Zoro's eyes remained closed. He didn't appear to be waking up anytime soon.
Saying something should do the trick. A devious grin stretched across my face and I leaned foward.
"Ciao, Roronoa," I hissed with glee, right into his ear. His eyes shot open wide and he flinched away from me, struggling to get away but was held restrained by the ropes, shock evident on his face. I pushed down the urge to snicker, but was unable to stop my lips from curving up into a mocking smile. Never before was I so glad that Ai's body came pre-ordered with a mask, averting what would be my intermittent death via sword in the near future. Judging from his heated glare though, he could probably tell that I was giggling over his startled reaction.
Curiously, his glare abated slightly to give way to slight intrigue. "You... You are that guy who almost fell off the roof," He noted, voice raspy. I glowered. Now, that wasn't one of my best moments, and definitely not how I wanted to be remembered by him. I would very much prefer 'Coolest ninja alive.
Taking my stony silence as confirmation, he groused, "What are you doing here? The heck do you want?"
"For the record, that stumble was entirely justified," I informed him sulkily, choosing to disregard his inquiry. Zoro remained unimpressed. "I was dehydrated, injured, burning alive under the sun and dizzy from the heat."
"Wear less clothing then, idiot," He snipped back. "You didn't answer my question. What the heck are you doing here in the middle of the night?"
I deigned not to speak, and raised the rice ball up in lieu of a response. If I hadn't been paying attention, I would have missed the hunger that flashed across his face for a bare millisecond, swiftly covered up with a death stare.
"I don't want it. Now get lost-"
"The little girl you herded away like some mama hen made it for you, so just eat it," I cut off. He jerked away, disbelief almost palpable, but chose to intensify his glare. If I were a lesser man, I would have pissed myself, but I was an equally stubborn fucker on the same level as him, whose stubbornness can only be out done by those that carry the will of fucking D. Our fierce, smouldering gazes met in an incredible clash of willpower. I could have sworn that there were sparks for a moment there- dismissed as a product of my overactive imagination.
"Do I look like I give a shit? Leave-"
"Don't reject her sincerity, asshat," I shoved the rice ball in his face. He growled. Cute.
"I said that I-" Zoro made yet another stubborn attempt to chase me off. I was mildly touched by the good will hidden behind his scathing words, but it got exasperating real quick.
"EAT." I smashed the rice ball into his open mouth, and quickly retracted my hand in fear of losing any vital body parts - my fingers. Strike one!
Zoro looked like he wanted to rip out my spleen out for about one second, which would have been much more intimidating had his face not been covered by rice grains. He chewed with great difficulty, tiny beads of sweat forming on his forehead. From the painful expression he was making, I could surmise that the riceballs were really that unappetizing. Nonetheless, he ate it all up.
As soon as he finished, I whipped out a bottle of water from where it was hooked to my belt. This time he didn't protest. Perhaps the rice ball was honestly that repugnant that he would compliantly accept the water, or he was giving in to my stubborn refusal to stop bugging him. I would like to think that it was the latter.
Having accomplished what I came here for, I resisted the urge to flip him off, proceeded to make my epic departure and fade away into the shadows, hopefully making a better impression then 'That Rooftop Guy that Almost Fell Off'. Zoro's voice stopped me in my tracks.
"Hey... Tell the kid that the food was delicious..." He rasped. Hm? My lips involuntarily twitched up.
...Oh Zoro. You're just a big softie on the inside, aren't you?
The next few days was, in summary, a test of patience. Mornings were generally wasted on avoiding the infernal rays of the accursed sun, and nights spent on some productive observation (stalking) of Zoro or Helmeppo's collective goons. On the whole, I readjusted to my living status again while waiting for Luffy's arrival. Ai's memories and ingrained reflexes allowed me to easily adapt to the differences in height and movements, thus there wasn't much of an issue when it came to moving around or using his weapons, I just needed to practice often. Having a male body, oh the other hand...
Lets just say I got some first hand experience and leave it at that... and that just sounded wrong didn't it?
Beyond that, I didn't have any problems with being a dude. I am of the opinion that we are all living creatures who inhabit this world. Male, female, genderless, transgendered, plant, alien, it doesn't matter... Going off point.
What troubled me was the memories that evidently had nothing else better to do than to bombard me on an average rate of twice per day. They always managed to catch me off guard and in the most inconvenient situations; for instance, when I happened to be dashing across the rooftops, messing around with Ai's vast collection of weaponary, or even taking a shit. It's a miracle I have not outright stumbled over the edge of the roofs or maimed my own finger yet.
As there was nothing I could do to circumvent the memory problem, I did the only thing I could do in my situation: try my hardest to ignore it.
Judging from how his memories were showing up even in my dreams (giving rise to sleepless nights spent staring creepily at Zoro with two bloodshot eyes), they didn't like to be disregarded. Well, screw them too.
Anyway, the next nine days passed by at a snail's crawling pace. Luffy still had not arrived. Like I had previously mentioned, time spent here was a test on my god damned patience. Even amusing myself by trolling the marines and town people got pretty old fast. By the end of it all, I was ready to murder someone just for mental stimulation, preferably Helmeppo.
Now, wasn't that a nice thought?
My fingers twitched involuntarily.
-Fuck. I slapped myself in the face. No murdering of any living human beings for now. No maiming either. Not even the tiniest of cuts. Not to mention that if I even dared to lay a single hand on Morgan's pansy ass son, I would probably have the whole marine force of this town bearing down on my arse, and I wasn't so sure that I could take them all head on along with Captain 'Watch Me Stroke My Axe' Morgan.
...Still, I could probably get away with a little bit of trolling, right? A banana peel here, a bucket of water there...
...I reintroduced my face to my palm. This place was driving to the edge of my sanity. The longer I stayed, the more my thoughts frayed, and the higher the chance of me having a boredom and Ai's memory induced psychotic break.
LUFFY, WHERE ART THOU?! HURRY AND RETRIEVE THE MARIMO SO I CAN SUBTLY INSERT MYSELF INTO YE CREW BEFORE I LOSE MY MIND TO MY OWN FUCKING MIND!
I stood at the edge of the docks, facing the ocean, arms wide open and head tilted up at just the right angle to express my grievances. A gust of wind blew by, carrying with it the calls of seagulls. An ocean wave came crashing down at just the right moment, sending a spray of water right in my face.
...Holy shit, was that sparkles?
I quickly withdrew from my stance, glancing around with incredulity. The seagulls ceased their squawks, and the waves died down to a reasonable level. A random fisherman shuffled passed, glancing at me with a look that told me he strongly doubted my mental faculties. I disregarded him with the grace of someone who had been on the receiving end of such a look one too many times.
No sparkles. Hmm. I resumed my position.
The wind miraculously picked speed again, and the ocean waves began surging forward for no apparent reason. Sparkles shimmered into existence, breaking all the laws of reality.
Oh, right, I was in One Piece. An anime. Which meant that physics were generally screwed to hell.
...Since I apparently qualify as an actual ninja now, does this mean that I can become one with the darkness now?
I dashed towards the nearest shadow, and began my overt attempts at physically melding with it.
In the middle of my fruitless endeavours to unite with the darkness, a boat rocked across the ocean, still a tiny dot across the vast expanse of water, but growing larger as the seconds ticked pass.
Was that boat what I think it was...?
I squinted at the vessel, trying to discern any recognizable people. Unfortunately, Ai's supernatural vision did not seem to function in the presence of light. All I succeeded in getting was a headache.
A few agonizing minutes passed by. I flailed about wildly, anticipation making my nerves jittery. As the boat drew closer, I could faintly perceive a spot of shocking pink hair, and a figure dressed in red and blue hopping up and down madly. The boat they were on rocked about precariously under his hyperactivity. My eyes were drawn to the signature straw hat resting upon his head.
I breathed in sharply. A grin slowly crept across my face.
There could only be one person with that call sign.
Monkey D. Luffy.
...Oh, and Coby was there too, wasn't he?
Fucking finally. I was getting tired of staying in this boring shithole. Don't get me wrong, Shell Town is a pretty nice place - ignoring the ugliness incarnate that is the marine base- but I doubt I would survive living here for the rest of my days- it reminded me of History with Professor Zennor again: basically hell. The monotony and repetition would only feed the insanity lurking deep within the dark recessions of my mind. Ai didn't like keeping to one place for a long period of time, nor was he the type to settle down. Similarly, I hated being grounded and busted out of my gilded cage the moment I had my first taste of freedom, making sure to leave a metaphorical shoe imprint on my father's face as I did, because fuck that arseface.
Now, Mother, on the other hand, was similar to me. Every so often, she would leave the village to stretch her wings. She'd never told we where she went, but she would always come back and I was content with the knowledge that she would always return to me. There are times where I would catch her gazing into the distance, eyes glinting with nostalgia, and sometimes, a burning hunger. I could see that she longed to set sail into the horizon, like she did in the stories she told of her past, but she would always turn away from the beauty of the ocean and usher me back into the house with a smile. I could tell that I was holding her back. If she had decided to sail once more and leave the village behind, we would be dead, I would be dead, but she would be alive-
-but I didn't fucking know my mother and she sure as hell wasn't a sailor so what the hell-
I dragged a hand through my hair. It probably resembled a bird's nest that had been through a storm and a brief clip with a tornado. Yearning for a past long lost that didn't even belong to me echoed through my chest along with the beat of my heart. Phantom weariness settled in my bones.
I missed Moth- That woman isn't my fucking mother. I am not Ai. I need no mother.
Looking at it from a rational angle, I knew that we barely shared any relations with each other beyond the body I was currently hijacking. Yet...
Rational thinking did not change how I feel about her. Rational thinking didn't stop Ai's memories from surfacing and messing with my head. I wanted to stop feeling this way. It was foreign and unneeded; I couldn't quite understand it or fully express it but it ached-
"Hey!" A grinning face loomed right in front of me, invading my much cherished personal space. "You look funny! Are you a swordsman too?"
-Initiate evasive maneuvers! Instincts demanded that I drop down and dodge left. A second later, I was a good ten feet away from my would be assailant, daggers drawn and ready for blood. I glanced up.
Luffy's dumb smile stared back at me. He bounced back and forth on his heels.
Did I almost go all Ninja on Luffy and attacked him?
Was I so deep into my existential crisis that I didn't even notice his approach?
WAS THE UNIVERSE CONSPIRING AGAINST ME?!
I withdrew from my stance, sheathing my daggers. What did he ask me again? Something about me being a swordsman?
"I am... Not?" I replied hesitantly. Ai's experience with swords did not extend beyond wildly swinging it around and hoping it hits something. And me? ...Does messing around with the allegedly ancestral sword hanging somewhere in my father's mansion count as experience?
Luffy seemed to deflate a little, but true to his nature, nothing could keep him down for long. He perked up again. "You were really fast though! Are you sure you aren't a swordsman?" He scooted behind me to stare at my daggers, which were positioned fairly close to my posterior. I shuffled around to face him before some random passerby gets the wrong idea. "See, you have swords. So you must be a swordsman!"
Ah. This must be the famed 'Luffy Logic'.
...Also, they are daggers. Not swords. I reintroduced my palm to my face.
"Luffy!" A voice called out. We turned in synchronization towards the speaker, who was none other than Coby. "Don't just jump from the boat like that! You could have fallen into the sea!"
"Shishishishi. It's alright because I stretched across!" Luffy laughed. Coby twitched with mild exasperation. I watched the play of emotions flash across his face - worry, 'I'm so fucking done with life' and resignation.
Seconds passed between us. Coby slowly wilted under my steady stare.
Man, he was one wimpy kid before becoming marine, wasn't he? Or was it me who was just that intimidating?
I glanced away, choosing to disregard the sigh of relief he gave off, focusing on Luffy once more.
Time for How to Join the Strawhats 101: Gain Luffy's attention. Make yourself so goddamn interesting he just can't leave you the hell alone until you give in to his constant pestering and invitations to become one of his hapless crewmates.
"I am no swordsman," I informed him, using the same lifeless monotone Ai typically spoke with to address him, making sure to pause dramatically. "I'm a ninja."
The correct term here was probably 'Assassin' but meh.
All was silent. Like a dam, the waters burst forth.
"REALLY?" He literally vibrated with enthusiasm and childish excitement. "THAT'S AWESOME!"
Coby, on the other hand, did not appear to share the same exuberance about my status as a ninja. He seemed to waver between slight skepticism and fear.
I fought the compulsion to flip him off.
"Well then, not that this hasn't been an absolutely vivifying conversation," I drawled with feigned indifference, "But I really must be going."
Luffy blinked. "Ah! Wait-"
I dashed away, scaling up a wall and vaulting over the roof. It may be rude of me to leave them hanging like this, but I must preserve my identity as the mysterious masked ninja.
Absently, I rubbed my chest.
Strange. The hollow ache from before was gone.
"Where did he go?" Luffy pouted. He wasn't done speaking yet. "Why did he have to leave so fast?"
"Lu-Luffy, he looks dangerous. It's a good thing that he left us alone-" Coby stuttered.
"I wanted to ask him to join my crew!"
"-and we shouldn't bother him either... Wait, what?"
A/N: Once again, a warning: Posting schedule will never be regular. Mostly because I'll be too busy juggling life and dealing with writers block.