Family Reunion

1.

The Merry Go had pulled into Port Shannon earlier today. The crew had spent most of the day in town shopping and eating. It was early evening and the sun was beginning to set as Luffy led Zoro and Sanji back to the ship. Behind him Zoro and Sanji were complaining about the prices in town. That kind of talk just bored Luffy, so he pointed his attention elsewhere. They had just passed dock 13 when Luffy spotted a familiar looking figure up ahead. Is that Sher?

Sher stood up the pier with Zack and Duke. They weren't far from the foot of the gangplank leading up to the Rose Red. Nails had already gone aboard and Duke was about to as well. She and Zack would wait for Mimi and Charlie to bring Evan back from his trip to this town's kiddie park. The little guy would be about ready for bed by the time they got back.

Luffy broke into a jog. "It is! Sher! Hey Sher!" Luffy trotted away from Sanji and Zoro and made a bee line for Sher. She turned and looked at him as he hurried over. Sher looked surprised to see him and Luffy laughed. Luffy reached Sher and gave her a big hug. He picked her up and twirled her around once before setting her on her feet again. The guys standing with Sher were looking at Luffy kind of funny. "Hey Sher! It's great to see you again!"

Sanji's eyes skipped past Luffy to Sher as he and Zoro came up behind their captain. "Holy jeez, it's Sher," he breathed.

Zoro grinned and stepped a little faster. What's she doing here? She was laughing at Luffy now and the two thugs around her seemed to lighten up. Crew mates?

Sher laughed at Luffy, she couldn't help it. "Luffy! Good to see you too!" She turned to her mates behind her. "Hey guys, this is Monkey D Luffy. I told you about him." She turned back to Luffy. "This is my first mate Zack," she elbowed Zack not taking her eyes off of Luffy. "The big guy is our very own chef Duke."

"Luffy pirate?" Duke's jaw dropped a little and Luffy giggled.

Luffy pirate! Zack's eyes moved past Luffy to the two guys coming up from behind to meet him. He saw the swordsman first, but right behind him was a blonde guy in a fancy suite puffin down a cigarette. Zack's heart stopped beating for a second. Is that Sanji! Of course that had to be Sanji. Evan looked just like that guy. Zack cut his eyes over to Sher. She hadn't noticed him yet, she was focused on Luffy. He's that weird rubber man right?

"First mate? Does that mean you're a captain Sher? Awesome!" Luffy beamed. He knew Sher would become a pirate but he was thrilled to hear that she was a captain. "A real pirate captain now! That's great!"

Sher was so busy laughing at Luffy she didn't notice Zoro and Sanji until they were to them. "Zoro, Sanji…" she was still smiling a little. Sanji…

Zoro bumped past Luffy. "Hey Sher," he opened up his arms to her and Sher moved in for a hug. "How you doin sweet cheeks?" he asked giving her a squeeze.

Sher turned Zoro to her crewmate with one arm still slung around his shoulder. She would deal with Sanji in a minute. "Zack, Duke, this is Roronoa Zoro. Zoro, these are my mates. First mate Zack and our chef Duke."

Zoro stepped up and extended a hand. Duke shook first grinning at him. Zack shook second, his hand felt funny under his glove. He nodded at Zoro and returned his attention to his captain. Zoro steered him and Sher around to face Luffy again. Sanji had come up to stand beside him. Sanji was looking at Sher kinda funny. "Look who Luffy found," Zoro directed at Sanji. Zoro gave Sher a playful push forward and shoved her into Sanji.

Instinctively Sanji wrapped his arms around Sher to keep her from falling over. It hit him like a ton of bricks to have Sher in his arms again. She had left him sailing away from Ices with a broken heart. "Hey Sher. Where ya been?"

Sanji sounded upset. He was looking at her with sad angry eyes. Sher straightened and pulled away from Sanji. "Nice to see you too Sanji."

Sanji was suddenly aware of how deep some old wounds could be. "What are you doin in the grand line Sher?" Somehow Sanji doubted she had come here to find him. She was wearing guns on her hips.

Sher forced a smile. She guessed Sanji was sore that she hadn't met up with the Luffy pirates in Ices. "Just doin what every pirate in the grand line is doin. Getting rich."

"How come you didn't meet us in Ices?"

Sher shook her head and sighed. "'cuz I was in jail thanks for askin ya big jerk." She turned her attention back to Luffy. She would rather explain to him then Sanji. "I was doing my thing when I got locked up on a 90 day stretch. You guys were long gone by the time I got out, so I just made my own way."

Knowing that there was a reason that Sher hadn't met them in Ices made Sanji feel better. He had always hoped that something had just got in the way. It was better to believe that then to think their whole relationship had meant nothing to her at all. He let out a quiet sigh of relief.

"That sucks Sher, sorry to hear that," Zoro sympathized. He knew from experience how miserable jail was.

Sher smiled at Zoro. "Yeah well," she shrugged a little. "A little while after I got out, I traded up the Avalon. I got me a ship, and I got me a crew."

"Decided you wanted to be a rich pirate after all huh?" Zoro grinned back at Sher. Sanji might be a little flustered seeing Sher again, he had pined over Sher for a while, but Zoro and Luffy were glad to see her. Zoro had always liked her. She was fun to drink with too.

"Something like that," she said.

Sanji crossed his arms over his chest. "So how long you been in the grand line Sher?"

Luffy cut in. "Yeah, when did you get here? Is this your ship? What's she called?" Luffy had a million questions for Sher too. He wasn't surprised that she had become a pirate captain, but he was excited.

Sher was laughing at Luffy again. Sanji seemed to be calm for the moment. She felt herself beginning to sweat. She tried to focus on Luffy. "We've been here a while, a little over a year. This is my ship, the Rose Red."

"Rose Red?" Luffy recognized the name. "Holy shit Sher! You mean you guys are the Bloody Thorn pirates!" Luffy's outburst snapped Zoro and Sanji to attention too.

Sher waved a hand at Luffy. "Shut up Luffy, it's not that big of a deal." Sher was regretting opening her mouth.

"I heard you guys have one of the fastest ships in the grand line!" Luffy had heard the Rose Red could outrun anything, even storms! "Did you really outrun a hurricane?"

If Sanji hadn't been standing next to Luffy Sher would have loved to gush over her accomplishments to Luffy. Hurricanes weren't the only thing they had run from out here in the grand line. She was so preoccupied staring at Luffy with her mouth open she didn't notice Mimi and Charlie bringing Evan back to the ship.

Evan was walking at Mimi's feet when he spotted his mommy with Zack and Duke up ahead. "Mama!" he ran to her with his arms outstretched to be picked up. "Mama, mama!" he demanded as he pushed through the crowd surrounding his mother.

Everybody froze, all eyes on the little blond boy that had just come running up to Sher. The little boy looked up at Sher as he grabbed for her with eyes like Sanji's.

Sher had to forget about the others for a second and do her duty as mother and captain. She hunkered beside her son. "Evan, we aren't aboard ship. What do you call me?"

Evan frowned at his mommy. "Cap'in." he pouted.

Luffy hunkered beside Sher and stared at little Evan. "Wow Sanji, he looks just like you!" Luffy grinned at Evan. "Hi there Evan, I'm Luffy."

Every cigarette Sanji had ever smoked suddenly tap danced on his heart. He lost his breath for a minute as he stared down at Luffy and Sher and Evan my son?

Evan reached over and grabbed Luffy's cheek. Mommy knew a rubber man named Luffy, this must be him. "Rubber man." He pulled Luffy's cheek out and let it snap back. It jiggled and Evan giggled delighted.

Sher looked up and her angry eyes found Mimi. Mimi looked like she had just seen a ghost, at least that was something. Damnit Mimi why weren't you carrying him! Sher stood up and faced Sanji. His cigarette had fallen into the dirt. "Sanji… look."

Sanji took a step forward and brought his eyes up to Sher. She looked guilty as sin. "Is this my son Sher?" he didn't have to ask really, it was pretty damn obvious. She had my kid and never told me! Sanji couldn't keep his rising anger out of his voice. "I think you better tell me what's goin on here right now!"

Evan didn't like yelling. He ran to Zack and let Zack scoop him up into his arms. He hooked an arm around Zack's neck. Zack took a step closer to Mimi ready to hand Evan over to her should he need to step in between Sanji and his captain. Zack wouldn't mind smashing Sanji's teeth down his throat, no problem at all there. He had developed a nice hatred of the Luffy pirate over the years.

Sanji watched his son go running to Sher's first mate. The guy picked him up and was stepping behind Sher with him. Luffy stood up so that he was shoulder to shoulder with Sanji. Sanji glared at him. "Back off Luffy."

Luffy frowned at Sanji. "Jeez Sanji chill out would ya? At least give Sher a minute to explain what's going on. There's no need to yell."

"Mimi," Sher turned to Mimi as they came over.

"Yes captain," Mimi was already moving to take Evan from Zack. She took the boy and he clung to her. Poor little guy is probably scared. "Come on buddy, it's bed time," she said soothing the child.

Zoro had an eye on Sanji too, ready to step in himself if he got belligerent with Sher. It sure as hell looked like the kid belonged to Sanji, but Zoro was up for hearing the explanation. "Don't be an asshole in front of the kid," Zoro warned his crewmate. He ignored the death glare Sanji shot him. He noticed Sher's first mate sliding protectively up beside her. He was watching Sanji with calculating eyes that burned.

Sanji held his tongue as Mimi carried Evan up the gang plank to their pirate ship. He glared at Sher waiting for an explanation. "You gonna tell me what's going on here or what?" he didn't like being left in the dark about Evan; he didn't like his son being here.

Sher sighed. "I need a drink."

"Sounds good," Luffy chimed in.

Sher looked from Sanji to Luffy and back again. "Let's go aboard. We can have a drink and catch up eh?" Sher turned toward the Rose Red and the others appeared to do the same. Suddenly she felt Sanji's hand around her wrist like a vice.

"Catch up?" Sanji was pissed. "Is that my kid Sher!" he was screaming at Sher and hadn't noticed her number one move. The guy was quick. His hand closed around Sanji's arm and he ripped his hand away from Sher. His grip was unnaturally strong, his hand felt weird. Sanji cut his angry eyes up to Sher's mate.

Zack pulled Sanji off of Sher. "Don't touch her," he growled squeezing Sanji's arm harder then he needed too to make his point. He let go of Sanji and the taller man straightened up. You wanna fight me asshole? Come on. I dare ya.

"Cool it you two," Sher ordered. She frowned at Sanji, aggravated by his behavior but not entirely surprised. He just had one hell of a bomb dropped on him. "Evan is your son Sanji. Now do you wanna come along and have a drink and talk about this, or do you want to stand here and be a fuckin jerk."

Sanji felt the anger turn over in the pit of his stomach. He really was a father, a denied father. Yes, he wanted to talk to Sher about his son. Right now. "Lead the way Madame captain," he scoffed.

Sher turned and headed back up the gangplank with Zack at her side. She could tell Zack was just looking for a reason to clobber Sanji. Sher had always dreaded this day, always dreaded this sort of reaction from Sanji she supposed. She sighed quietly and led the Luffy pirates aboard the Rose Red.

2.

Sher took them to the captain's lounge and Duke brought them fresh mugs of ale. The Luffy pirates sat on the plush couch with Sanji in the middle. Book ending him in case he got obstinate again. Sher sat in the big armed chair and Zack stood off to her right leaning against the wall. When they were all settled in, Sher began to speak.

"I was on an island a couple of days after I left Antuk. For what it's worth, I was heading to Ices to meet up with you guys." Sher took a deep drink as her eyes swept the Luffy pirates. It had been a long time since she had seen them last, a lot had happened. "I ended up paddling some kid's ass for picking on a couple of little girls. Turned out that the little punk was the constable's bratty kid so I got ninety days on some bloated up assault charge. Right before my stretch was over I got sick. That's when I found out I was pregnant for Evan. By then you guys were long gone."

Luffy was curious, but he wanted to try to smooth things over too. "So what did you do Sher?" he took a big gulp of ale. It was good.

"Did what I thought was best, started makin' some money. I knew of a few places where the treasure wasn't too heavily guarded so I went for it."

It annoyed Sanji to think of Sher burgling while carrying his child, but he had noticed the two side irons she wore on her hips. "When did you start carrying guns Sher?"

"After I found out I had something to protect. You should thank Ussop for teaching me to aim." She smiled a little remembering target practice with Ussop on the deck of the Merry Go.

Luffy grinned. "He said you were a natural marksman Sher!" he took another big gulp of his ale. He hoped that Duke would keep 'em coming.

Sher winked at Luffy. "I am." She drank with him and went on. "I met Doc Mimi first, right before I had Evan. She came aboard the Avalon with me and after Evan came along I got us a bigger ship."

"This one," Zoro was already impressed with the Rose Red. He wanted the grand tour.

Sher nodded. "This ship was a bit much for me and Mimi to pull in and out of port on our own, so first I recruited Zack," she smiled over at her first mate and he tipped his glass to her. "Once I got a crew together, I decided it was time to head for the grand line, time to make some real money."

"Are you looking for One Piece too?" Luffy could barely contain his excitement.

Sher laughed at Luffy a little. "Naw Luffy, you can have it. We've had no problem finding our own treasures out here."

"So I've heard." Luffy winked back at Sher and drank some more.

Sanji had heard of this ship and her crew before. They had taken on other pirates, even sunk a ship. He couldn't believe the captain of the Bloody Thorn pirates was Sher. He couldn't believe that his son was on this ship with these crazy dangerous bastards. He remembered hearing about the sinking of the Twin Moon well over six months ago. "How long did you say you been in the grand line Sher?"

"About a year. We hit these waters about two months ago." There was no need to hide the truth, not if the Luffy pirates had already heard of them here in the grand line.

Luffy tried to keep the conversation light. He could tell Sanji was building up to blow his top. "You been in the Jaya region yet Sher?" He drank his ale feeling a little nervous. He didn't want Sanji and Sher fighting. Done bun can't be undone.

"Not yet. Mostly Arabast this past year."

Sanji had heard enough. "Why Sher? Why didn't you find a way to tell me dat I was gonna be a father; that I am a father!" Sanji said getting to his feet. Surely she could have found someone to carry a message to him, especially after Sher got to the grand line.

Sher sipped at her ale. "What did you want me to do Sanji? Go blabbing at every port that I had the son of a Luffy pirate aboard my ship? That would be just askin for some asshole to come and try to jack my kid to get to you or Luffy. The marines sit in the bars I've hit up too ya know, its not always just pirates." She was keeping her cool. Outwardly Sher was calm as the sea on a windless day. She regarded Sanji with her best patient captain stare. It just seemed to be agitating him even further. She looked over at Luffy. "You understand what I'm talking about right?"

It was Zoro that spoke up. "Is that why you don't want Evan calling you mama in public?" Sher had become the captain of quite a pirate crew. He never would have connected Rose Red to Sher; she really had changed. She wasn't just a pirate, she was a captain. Sher had toughened up a lot. She had become wise in the ways of the world, wise in the nature of the grand line itself. She was protecting Evan.

Luffy looked at Sher. She nodded once at Zoro. The swordsman seemed relaxed, but Sanji was about to jump out of his own skin. Luffy couldn't blame him. Evan was quite the unexpected surprise. Sanji felt denied, angry at Sher Luffy supposed. "I hear ya captain," Luffy offered his support. He didn't want to turn his back on Sanji, but he wanted Sanji to see the bigger picture. As far as Luffy was concerned, Sher was right. Tales of the Bloody Thorn pirates had reached his ears as he traveled the grand line. The son of two infamous pirates would fetch a fat ransom. Zoro seemed to understand, Sanji needed to. Luffy sipped his ale and looked up at Sanji.

Sanji looked from Sher to Zoro to Luffy. He knew that they were siding with Sher. It was hard not to. She was just trying to protect Evan, but, "Why would you even bring a little guy like that to the grand line? What were you thinking Sher?" Sanji was angry. Sher had been in the grand line for over a year now with his son. This place was dangerous and it looked like the Rose Red could easily find the Merry Go. Sanji was angry she had not made any attempt to let him know about Evan. Had he not run into her this evening, he would still be clueless and his son would still be fatherless. Sanji clenched a fist. "That's my kid too Sher. How could you…!"

Zoro caught the look Luffy shot him. He nodded at his captain. He checked Sher's first mate again. The guy was agitated. It looked like he wanted to toss Sanji out on his ass. He was glaring at the chef over his mug of ale. "Sanji," Zoro commanded Sanji's attention. "Chill out partner. What's done is done. At least now ya know." Zoro sipped his ale and feigned relaxation.

Sher looked at Zoro for a minute then let her eyes go back to Sanji. "Luffy was right."

Sanji frowned at Sher. "Luffy what?" Sanji wondered if he should turn on his captain the way his captain had turned against him.

Sher tilted her head a little to the right. "Luffy was right about the grand line. It calls out to ya. You heard it too Sanji, for you it was the great blue."

Sanji straightened. He remembered Luffy talking to Sher about the grand line years ago. "I found the great blue," Sanji grumbled. The great blue was all he had ever hoped it would be, but even that didn't lighten his mood.

Sher narrowed her eyes at Sanji a little. "Then why didn't you come looking for me then Sanji? You fulfilled your dream didn't you? You told me you were going to the grand line to find the great blue. You did. So what were you doing after that?" She sipped at her ale and looked at Luffy. "Trying to make you king of the pirates I guess." She smiled at Luffy and they both drank. "Me, I came here to get rich. After I'm sure I got enough, I'll retire somewhere in east blue I think." She looked back at Sanji, still smiling a little.

You bitch. Sanji wanted a cigarette, but for the moment he refrained. Sher had come to the grand line to cash in. That would have been fine and dandy had she not brought his young son along. Sanji tried to compose himself. He sighed and sat back down to look a little less threatening. Sher's first mate was giving him the hard eyeball over his ale. He reached for a smoke and lit up. His familiar behavior seemed to relax the others. "Would you guys mind if I talked to Sher for a minute alone?" he tried to sound casual as he picked up his mug and took a drink.

Luffy stood up immediately. "No problem Sanji." He looked from Sanji to Zoro to Zack. He wondered if Zack had a problem leaving his captain with Sanji. The guy seemed pretty protective.

Sher cut her eyes over to Zack. She knew she needed to talk to Sanji alone. "Dismissed." She said and looked back at Luffy. Zoro was getting to his feet.

Zoro finished his ale. He waited for Zack to approach the door before he moved that way himself. The first mate seemed angry over his dismissal though he was trying to hide it. "Mind if I check out the ship Sher?" Zoro directed her way.

Luffy jumped in. "Me too!" He was wildly curious about the ship and her crew.

Sher looked at Zack as he retreated. "Give 'em the grand tour Zack would ya?" Zack shrugged his shoulders at her and went out without another word. She knew that he would follow her orders, but his silent reply was disquieting. She dropped her eyes to her mug of ale.

Sanji waited for the others to shuffle out and move away before he spoke again. He sat forward and ashed his cigarette. "I'm pretty pissed off here Sher. I guess you don't know how much I …" he sipped his ale trying to straighten the words out in his mind. He looked up at Sher. She had changed, a lot. "So what's the deal Sher? What's up with Mr. hard eyeball huh?" now that they were alone, Sanji could be direct. First things first, why was Sher's first mate wishing him dead with his looks?

It was weird sitting here alone with Sanji. "What?"

Sanji went on staring at his former lover. He remembered how easily his son had gone to Sher's first mate. "Zack. Youz fuckin him now?" Sanji felt anger like a tight little ball in his stomach.

Sher narrowed her eyes at Sanji. She could understand he was angry, but trying to imply that she was screwing her number one was pushing it. "Occasionally," she growled back angrily.

Sanji felt like he got hit in the gut. He stared at his ale. He was hoping that he was getting death glares because Zack was protecting his captain. It cut him to know that Sher had taken another lover. Occasionally. Sanji finished his ale and slammed the empty mug down. "Well aint that nice!" he shouted unable to contain his anger.

Sher almost felt bad for being so cold. "Come on Sanji, its not like you didn't just…" Sher was silenced when Sanji brought his eyes up to hers.

Sanji was angry, but honest. "No Sher. Yer were the one. I was …." Was what? Waiting for Sher? Over the years Sanji had tried to score, but maybe not that hard. He didn't have a lover on the side like Sher did.

She was surprised by Sanji's confession. Her defenses faltered. "Sanji…"

Sanji stood up and stepped over to Sher. He rested a hand on either armrest of her chair and brought his face close to hers. Sanji was hurting, but he was trying hard to stay calm. "You had my baby Sher and then you brought him to the grand line. Not to find me and bring us all together, but to come here and fill yer pockets. Yerz and that guy you is fuckin right!"

Sher got to her feet and pushed Sanji back. "I got every right to be here, just as much as you do!" The grand line seemed to be the perfect place to make a fortune. She told herself she owed it to Evan and her crew to make their fortune here. The pirate in her didn't want to stay silent either. "Red Rose is doing just fine out here and this ship is safe. Evan is safe! Whatever else I do is none of your godamn business!"

Sanji stared at Sher. They were toe to toe. Her hands fell instinctively to the handles of the guns on her hips. She … really is a pirate now… Sanji dropped his cigarette into the ashtray behind him and then faced Sher again. The look on her face right now reminded him of Luffy at his most railed. He rested his hands on her shoulders. She startled for a moment, it just added to Sanji's frustration and sorrow. "Sher…" Sanji hung his head. He pulled Sher up against him and held her close. He kissed her head. "Sher I'm sorry. I…" but Sanji didn't have the words. Instead he just squeezed her tighter and hoped that she would understand.

Sher understood that Sanji had a hard time expressing his feelings with words. It had always been that way for him. She sighed heavily. Seeing him this upset was hard on her too. Sher pulled back a little to look up at Sanji, but she didn't pull out of his arms. "Sanji, look. I want you to understand…"

"You and Evan should be livin' in a house with a white picket fence and a dog," he said quietly staring down into her eyes.

"Houses in the country with picket fences are expensive Sanji. That's why I'm here." Sher wanted to make a fortune for herself and Evan, and for the crew that had become their family. "So yeah, you were right when you said I came here to fill my pockets, but not just mine. My mates too. All of 'em. They're damn good people Sanji and they all treat Evan like he is their own. I couldn't ask for a better crew and I can think of no place safer for Even then here on Rose Red with us."

Sanji could remember the old saying about how it takes a village to raise a child or something like that. It had sort of been like that for him growing up on the Baratie. To Sanji it seemed that Mimi had charge of Evan most of the time. The navigator , Charlie the guy hidein a sword in that fancy walking stick a his didn't let Mimi out of his sight. Their cook Duke was as big as Luffy at his most overfed; Sanji doubted that was all blubber. Duke was your typical 'fat and happy' but there was steel in his eye. Zack, Sher's first mate and occasional fuck buddy was protective of both his captain and Sanji's boy. His grip on Sanji's arm had been unnaturally strong, his hand didn't feel normal. Evan was likely safe with all of these guardians, but that didn't make the grand line any less dangerous. "I want to see him Sher."

Sher pulled away from Sanji. "I can take you to see him now if you want Sanji."

Sanji nodded. He wanted to see Evan, to get a good look at his son. "That's good for tonight Sher, but what about tomorrow? And the day after dat and the day after dat?" Sher had the tendency to sail out of Sanji's life. He didn't want her disappearing again, especially for years at a time. Evan was his kid too. Now that Sanji knew he was a father, he wanted to be one.

Sher sighed quietly. They had been planning to pull out of port in the morning. She guessed now that they would be here a little longer. She supposed that she owed it to Sanji to let him at least spend a little time with Evan. She owed it to Evan too. "I'm not going anywhere Sanji, I'm sure we can work something out." Sher headed for the door. She heard Sanji fall in behind her. They headed down to Evan's room.

3.

Zack had given the Luffy pirates a tour of the ship, as promised. They ended up back in the kitchen and Duke was blabbering with Luffy about food. The swordsman was having another ale, so Zack had one too. He figured if he had any of the Luffy pirates to worry about, it was Zoro. Zack sipped his ale leaning against the door he had opened up out to the deck. He didn't want to be sitting here bullshitting around with these guys. He wanted to be guarding his captain.

Luffy seemed to be having a good time talking with the giant cook about fish. Zoro had been impressed with Rose Red's design. The ship was quite unique thanks to the remodeling efforts of her crew. Nails was quite the architect. Zoro supposed that ship would have no problem traversing some of the more dangerous waters of the grand line. He could tell she could hit some pretty high speeds too. Zoro stepped over to Zack. He had kept one eye on the kid since he had grabbed Sanji down by the docks. "Mind if I get a look at your sails?"

Zack was grateful for any excuse to step outside. "Sure, come on," he said turning and going out. Zoro followed as Zack walked toward the bow of the ship.

Zoro looked over the sails and the rigging as they moved over the deck. "Seven sheets," he mumbled counting the sails.

"Mmm hmm," Zach said sipping at his ale.

Zoro took another drink as they approached the prow of the ship. His eyes widened some. "Is that some kinda double boom system?"

Zack stopped and turned around to face Zoro. So the pirate was impressed. Zack grinned a little. "Yeah, she's fast and she can turn on a dime." He took another slug of ale. He was pretty damn proud of the work he and Nails had done to Rose Red.

Zoro was impressed. "Don't tell me you use those things to turn at high speeds. You're lucky you don't keel over." Zoro supposed that if they had adjusted the sails for max warp, they probably had some sort of extensive ballast system way below decks as well. He grinned at their ingenuity. Nails and Zack were young guys, Luffy's age.

Zack could tell by the look in Zoro's eyes he had figured out how the ship worked for himself. Of course he would. He's a Luffy pirate. "She's well balanced."

"I see." Zoro took another drink. If it were Luffy, he'd be gushing over his accomplishment. "Looks like you guys could outrun just about anything."

"We can." Zack wondered if Zoro was fishing for information. Trying to figure out how safe things were aboard the Rose Red for his crewmate's kid. He frowned a little, he was never any good at hiding a bad mood. "Rose Red is quick and she's hearty. She's got a good crew and a damn fine captain."

"I've heard of you guys you know. The Bloody Thorn pirates; that's what they're calling you. I heard you guys took out a couple of pirate ships and got away from the Marines too. You keep that shit up and you're all going to have a bounty on your heads."

"Keh," Zack looked away from Zoro and back at the boom. "No one can touch us and those that try, die. It's just that simple. This is the grand line, not some silly playground."

Zoro frowned a little himself. He knew exactly where he was, he didn't need to be told. The kid was obviously pissed off about something, Sanji was his guess. The rest of Sher's crew had treated the Luffy pirates as guests, but Zack hadn't really given them an inch, not even Luffy. Zoro had noticed that Zack had a hard eyeball out for Sanji all night. "You don't want Sanji around do ya Zack?" Zoro was direct. Zack turned back to him, his frown replaced by a look of surprise. Thought so. "Are you worried he's gonna try and move in on the kid?" He remembered the malice in Zack's eyes when he had pulled Sanji's hand away from Sher. "Or are you worried about your captain? Is Sher still in love with Sanji?" Zoro watched Zack's face fall as he spoke.

Zoro certainly didn't hold back when it came to speaking his mind. His questions seemed to hit Zack in the face like a slap. He couldn't say for sure how Sher really felt about Sanji anymore. He thought hoped that she was over him. "Our captain doesn't have time for boyfriends," he growled. He frowned and looked away from Zoro. "Keh, we're outta here in the morning anyway." The sooner the better. Zack wanted the Luffy pirates off this ship.

Zoro doubted that this ship was setting sail at dawn. He was pretty sure that Sanji was going to want to spend some time with his kid. Zoro would if he was in Sanji's shoes. Sher had become a good captain, but she wasn't a total bitch. She would let Sanji visit with Evan for a while. "Whether you like it or not Zack, that's Sanji's boy. He's got a right to see him. Sher knows that too. That kid is gonna know his father so you just better get used to seeing his ugly mug around."

"Whatever," Zack grumbled. He took a deep draught of ale and swallowed it down hard. He didn't want to get used to Sanji hanging around. "You guys travel different waters, I doubt we'll run into each other all that much."

Zoro doubted that too. The Bloody Thorns were beginning to make a name for themselves. If nothing else, the marines would pursue them further into the grand line. Their paths would cross often enough, Evans parents would see to that somehow. Zack didn't seem to want to accept that though. He was past annoyed and on his way to pissed off. Sanji being around Evan wasn't all that was aggravating Zack. Zoro took another swig of ale. "So you bumpin' the captain? Is that it? You don't want the ex lover in the picture huh."

Zack could feel the blood rush to his face as he cut his eyes over to Zoro. "It aint like that Luffy pirate. You better watch how you talk about my captain."

Zack's words contradicted his body language. He could tell looking at Zack's angry red cheeks in the dim light that something was going on between him and Sher. Maybe it was more of a would-be sort of thing, or maybe they just weren't doing the mattress mambo presently. "Take it easy kid, I'm just trying to figure out who's who and what's up around here. Don't wanna step on any toes ya know." He took another swig of ale and tried to look relaxed.

Zack frowned at Zoro, turning to face him a little better. "Let's just say the captain is off limits to all you Luffy pirates. This crew aint gonna let none of you guys come in here and screw up what we got going on. Pass that on to your friend Sanji." Zack took another swig of ale. Zoro wasn't the only one capable of being direct to the point of rudeness.

Zoro had to grin. Sher had quite a protective crew, especially Zack. Whatever was going on between him and Sher had made him even more protective of her, probably Evan too. The bottom line was that Sher and the kid were alright, at least for now. Zoro finished his ale. "I'll pass it on to Sanji later, how's that? For now," Zoro shook his empty mug and smiled at Zack. "Why don't we go hit a bar eh?"

Zack lifted a brow at Zoro. He hadn't expected the invitation, wasn't sure if the captain would get mad if he didn't accept. He didn't really want to leave Sanji around the captain either. Shit. "Uh… sure, why not?" He had denied his feelings and his relationship with Sher, it would look weird to stay and watch her.

Zoro thought he might get to like Zack if given the chance to know the kid. He was pretty sure Sanji's son and Sher were alright with Zack around. Zoro turned to return his mug to the kitchen and tell Luffy he was heading out. Behind him Zack finished his ale. A few minutes later they headed into town for a few drinks.

4.

Sanji stared down at his sleeping son. They were in Evan's room. There was a pass door to Mimi's room on one side, a door to Sher's on the other, and one that opened on the hall. The Rose Red had been customized for little Evan as well as for speed. Evan's bed had been customized too; there was seatbelts around snoring child.

Evan looked just like him. The hair, the nose, the eyebrows, the big hands. A mini reproduction of Sanji. It took his breath away. "Look at him," Sanji marveled quietly. "He looks just like me."

Sher hung back by the door to the hall. In a minute she would leave Sanji alone with Evan. She wanted to give him some time with the child, and she wanted a bit of time away from Sanji to collect herself as well. She had somehow always dreaded this day, the day Sanji found out about Evan. He was angry that she didn't go looking for Sanji once she got to the grand line. "I'm heading back upstairs. You stay here with him for a little bit. We can talk later, alright Sanji?"

Now that Evan was in Sanji's sights he wasn't willing to leave his side just yet. Part of him wanted her to stay, to come and stand beside him as they looked at their child; the man inside of him that still loved Sher. But he was also an angry denied father right now too. He needed to calm down so he wasn't yelling at Sher anymore. "Yeah okay. Sounds good." He tried to keep his voice low so that he wouldn't disturb Evan. He didn't look back at Sher. He couldn't right now, not with the boy he had been denied sleeping in front of him.

Sher backed out of Evan's room and headed upstairs. She could hear Duke and Luffy in the kitchen so she headed that way. They were the only two in there when she arrived. Duke was pouring out more ale for him and Luffy. He grabbed a third mug and poured one for the captain. "Hey guys," Sher greeted taking the fresh cup of ale. She took a seat on the empty stool next to Luffy. "Where are Zoro and Zack?"

Luffy downed a big gulp and answered, "They went to a bar I think."

That was a little surprising. Zack and Zoro hittin the bar together. Zack had never really liked it much when Sher had talked about the Luffy pirates before; it was strange that he had taken off with one to a bar. "Okay then," she took a drink

Luffy grinned at Sher. "I like yer crew Sher, and this ship is great! I knew you'd be a great pirate," he dropped her a wink. "I guess you forgot I was supposed to be the first to know." Luffy giggled remembering their pinky swear.

Sher looked at Luffy, he hadn't changed all that much. She found herself smiling back at him. "I remembered my promise Luffy; I'm just a little late is all." She clanked her mug against his and they both drank.

"Evan is real cute Sher. I bet Sanji is really proud. You and your crew are doing a great job with him, I can tell." The little guy had seemed happy to Luffy, and Sher's crew were all soft on the kid. Evan was lucky to have many so guardians, but he guessed he needed his parents too. "Sanji is probably going to want to see him Sher, I'm sure that us captains can arrange that right?"

So Luffy was going to speak up for Sanji after all. "I think we can come to some kind of an arrangement."

Luffy dropped an arm around Sher's shoulder and squeezed her into him grinning like a fool. "Then that means me and you can hang out more too!"

Sher had to laugh. "Sure thing Luffy."

5.

Sanji stood looking down at Evan. He thought Evan was a beautiful name for his beautiful child. He looked well taken care of; there were plenty of toys in his room. Sher and her crew probably spoiled him a little bit. "Hey there buddy," Sanji said softly to the sleeping boy. "I'm Sanji, I'm yer daddy. Sorry I didn't get to meet ya sooner." That was the truth. Evan was almost two now. He had missed his son's first tooth, first steps, and first words. Who did he get up and walk to first? What was the first thing he said? It made Sanji angry and a little sad that he didn't know. It looked to him like the woman doctor Mimi did more mothering then Sher did. That pissed him off too, though he did try to take all of her captain's duties into consideration too.

"I'm gonna be around a lot more often for you now Evan you hear me? Daddy's here now too." Now that Evan was found, Sanji wouldn't lose him again. Sher was going to have to share Evan with him too. He got the feeling she and the crew might kick up a fuss if Sanji said he wanted to have Evan over to the Merry Go, but he supposed that Rose Red could run with the Merry Go. It might be a pain in the ass to convince Sher to do that though. She had toughened up into quite a captain. Sanji doubted she would want anyone else directing her ship. Too bad ya bitch. He's my kid too.

Sanji took a deep breath and tried to calm down. Getting pissed and yelling at Sher wasn't going to get him anywhere, but he felt so betrayed. She coulda brought us all together a whole lot sooner if she wanted to. Dis ship coulda found us. Evan snored loudly and turned his head. If his eyes were open he would have been looking right at Sanji. The little one had his mother's soft pouty lips.

Sanji could remember what it felt like to kiss Sher good bye. He could still remember a lot of things like that about Sher, that was part of the problem. Sanji might be angry with Sher, but he was heartbroken too. He understood why she didn't meet them before they left Ices, he could understand it took her a while to get to the grand line. Sher had been here long enough to find him though and she hadn't even bothered to try. It was like she had just forgotten all about Sanji. She forgot enough to let that bastard Zack climb in bed wid her. Sanji scowled. It bothered him a lot to think of Sher with another man. She was the mother of his child, Sanji's girl. She didn't belong with a man other then him.

Sanji sat watching his son as he quietly debated what to do about Sher; choke her or kiss her, or maybe both. The important thing would be convincing Sher to give him some time with his boy. Sanji tried to think of that and let himself relax. After a while he was composed and ready for a smoke. He kissed Evan on the forehead and headed up to the sound of Sher's voice.

6.

Luffy and Sher were on their third round when Sanji came into the kitchen. His eyes instinctively looked the place over. "Come on over here and look at me kitchen Sanji," Duke waved him over. He was already reaching to pour Sanji a fresh mug of ale.

Sanji walked into the kitchen and looked around as Duke put a fresh drink in his hand. "Nice kitchen, well organized," Sanji was pleased with the galley. He faced Sher and Luffy on the other side of the bar. He set his drink down long enough to light up a cigarette. "I guess you guys already know what I'm about to ask ya right?"

Luffy lifted his mug. "You want the Merry Go and the Rose Red to run together for a while, right Sanji?" he took a deep drink taking notice of the look Sher was giving him.

Sanji exhaled smoke and stared at Sher. "It's a start. I'd like to spend some time with Evan. Here or aboard the Merry go after he gets used to me. I wont force myself down his throat, but the kid is gonna know dat I'm his father."

Sher didn't like the demanding tone in Sanji's voice. It seemed to put everyone in the room on edge. "Luffy and I already discussed it Sanji. We'll get the navigators together in the morning. We'll work it out so that you can be around Evan." Sher and Luffy had decided to sail someplace together, a journey long enough to give Sanji some time with Evan. It seemed the fairest solution, for now anyway.

Sanji looked from Sher to Luffy. He was pleasantly surprised that his captain had worked things out for him already. Luffy had at least bought him some time with Evan, some time to work something out with Sher too. "Alright," he picked up his mug and drank. It was then he noticed the swordsman's absence, the first mate was missing too. "Where's Zoro?" he asked Luffy.

"Went to a bar with Zack." Luffy grinned. "I got to have Sher all to myself." Luffy squeezed the other captain with one rubber arm again. She wobbled a little unsteadily on her bar stool and Luffy giggled. They were a little tipsy.

Sanji frowned at the pair. He wasn't so sure Sher should be tossing them back with Luffy with his son downstairs. Zoro and Zack hitting a bar sounded weird too, unless Zoro was just trying to keep Sher's first mate off his back. It would be easier to talk to Sher calmly if that guy wasn't around giving Sanji the hard eyeball. He took a long drag from his cigarette trying to gage how drunk Luffy and Sher were getting. They were wiggling in their seats. "I'm surrounded by alcoholics," Sanji grumbled and took a drink himself. Thanks Luffy, I owe ya one.

Zoro and Zack took a small table at the back of a busy bar just up the wharf. They were working their way through some hard cider; the whiskey in this place was terrible. Watered down to piss Zoro had explained to Zack after he opted for the hard cider instead. Zack followed Zoro's lead. Maybe Zoro had been here before or maybe he just knew crummy booze when he saw it. The cider was strong. It reminded Zack of the Meade he had drank with Sher before. He hoped that she was alright aboard the Rose Red with the other Luffy pirates. Zack didn't want Sanji putting his hands on his captain again.

Time seemed to slow down for Zack as he sat here in this smoke filled room. All the ciggy's just made him think of that damn Sanji all the more. He finished his first glass much too quickly. Zoro grinned at him as he refilled his cup.

7.

After a fresh round was poured, Duke headed off to bed and Sher led Luffy and Sanji back to the captain's lounge. She told them how she had come by each member of her crew as the night rolled on. Luffy and Sher each helped themselves to some more ale, but Sanji was done drinking for the night. Zoro had taken off leaving Sanji in charge of dragging Luffy's drunk ass back to the Merry Go. Sanji wasn't real thrilled with the idea, but he did owe Luffy something for striking up such a sweet deal with Sher for him.

He asked Sher about Evan. His first word had been Mimi, that didn't surprise Sanji but it annoyed him. Not mama or dada, Mimi. The first time Evan had walked was when he tried carrying a ruler to Zack and Nails out on the deck. Sanji tried not to think about Zack. He didn't have to like the guy boneing his baby's mother and he wasn't going to.

Luffy spent at least an hour going on about the adventures he and his crew had these past two years. He was still running his mouth when there was a thump and laughing out on deck. Luffy paused and turned toward the door. A moment later Zoro opened the door. He and Zack each had an arm around each other as they stumbled into the room giggling drunkenly. "Hey guys!" Luffy greeted too drunk himself to be mindful of his tone.

"Tone it down Luffy, jeez," Sanji barked.

Zoro looked over at Sher. He and Zack took a step her way. "Sorry captain, looks like I got yer first pretty drunk here. What can I say? The guy was thirsty." He chuckled and Zack chuckled beside him.

Zack was pretty loaded. The cider had been good and Zoro had been decent company. He pulled away from Zoro and tried to straighten up. "I'm all set captain. Showed the old guy a good time m'am."

Zoro snorted and turned to Luffy and Sanji on the couch. Zack was focused on Sher, ignoring Sanji for the time being. "You guys ready to get out of here or what."

Luffy stood up. It was getting late, time to head back to the Merry Go. Sanji stood up beside him still watching Sher. She was preoccupied looking over her drunken first mate as she got to her feet. "We'll bring Nami over in the morning," Luffy said.

Sher nodded at Luffy. "Alright Luffy. We'll see you guys then I guess."

Zoro headed out first followed by Luffy. Sanji was last to go, still looking at Sher with sad eyes. Zach sat down where Luffy had been just a minute ago and leaned back against the couch. "Everything alright captain?" things looked pretty calm, Sher was just sitting here talking with the Luffy pirates. Sanji hadn't been trying to molest her or anything. Zack supposed that was a good thing. Maybe that stupid Luffy pirate had given up on Sher. Zack could tolerate Zoro, Luffy maybe, but Sanji…probably never.

Sher moved over and sat down on the couch with Zack. "You're seven sheets to the wind there sailor. Didn't I ever warn you about drinking with Roronoa Zoro?" She set her mostly empty mug of ale down on the table and leaned back like Zack was. She and Zack had sat like this many times especially when they were wiped out from a long day's work. Of course they sat here like this in a drunken stupor more then once as well. She sat quietly for a minute wondering if Zack was going to pass out. His eyes were closed. "We're going to run with the Merry Go for a little while, a couple weeks maybe."

Zack's eyes flew open and he looked at Sher. "What?" he was stunned. He was still holding on to hope that the Rose Red would set sail in the morning. He suspected that they might stay in port for an extra day or two so that damn Sanji could see Evan a little bit, but he never thought Sher would agree to running with the Luffy pirates. Zack sat up ignoring the way the world wanted to spin around his boozed up head. "Captain! Running with the Luffy pirates! That's just asking for trouble. Those guys are bad news!"

Sher was watching Zack from the corner of her eye. "It's not a permanent thing Zack; it will only be for a little while at a time. Besides, maybe the Luffy pirates can lead us to some big treasure."

Zack was too drunk and too tired to hide his feelings. He frowned at Sher. "A little while at a time? What the hell is that supposed to mean?" He was afraid he already knew. Zoro had been right, Sanji wanted to be in little Evan's life.

Sher sighed tiredly. "It's done Z. Sanji knows about Evan now, he wants to be his father. I have to at least give him a chance. I owe it to him."

Zack got to his feet. "You don't owe that guy anything! Evan doesn't need some damn Luffy pirate screwing up his life. He's got all of us, he don't need Sanji!" he was vaguely aware that his right hand curled into a tight fist. Zack didn't like the idea of Sanji moving in and trying to father the boy. Zack, Charlie, and Duke were all the daddy's Evan needed. Zack didn't want to give Sanji the opportunity to be around Sher either. He was sure that sooner or later Sanji would try to get Sher back in the sack with him. Guys like him always did.

Sher frowned up at Zack. He was more then just a little upset. She understood how he felt about Evan, about her too she supposed. It was obvious he hated Sanji. "I will be the one that decides what Evan needs you got me Z? He's Sanji's boy, I'm not bitch enough to deny him his son. I know that sailing with the Luffy pirates could get a little dicey, but it's nothing we can't handle." She sat forward staring into Zack's angry face. There was more then just a drunken rage in his deep blue eyes. Zack looked worried, hurt. "We came to the grand line to get rich quick sailor, you haven't forgotten that have you?"

Zack was past the point of consolation now, beyond being reasoned with. All he could think of was that damn Sanji. "I haven't forgotten why we came to the grand line. We didn't come all the way here to give that bastard a chance to play daddy! The Luffy pirates were never part of the plan Sher!"

Sher could see that there would be no reasoning with Zack tonight. He was too drunk and pissed off. Part of her agreed with Zack, but her conscious wouldn't let her just take Evan away from Sanji. "Well they are now. Captain's orders," she played her trump card. No one serving her aboard the Rose Red would deny a direct order.

"You gonna order me not to smash his face in if he puts a move on ya huh captain?" Zack growled unable to hold his tongue.

"Zack!" Sher was used to Zack being straight forward with her, but this was more then she was expecting. She had been sure that Zack might be a little over protective with Sanji on board, but she hadn't expected him to be this protective of her when it came to Sanji. Zack was worrying that Sanji might want to rekindle the flames with her.

Zack scowled and looked away from Sher. He had said too much. His real feelings were showing. Zack had always tried to keep his more personal feelings for Sher to himself, an unspoken captain's order. Now that his mouth had started to run, Zack couldn't seem to stop it. "You want me to just stand aside and let you go running back to Sanji? You gonna play happy family with that fuck Sher?"

Sher got to her feet quickly. She had no intention to go running back to Sanji. For Zack to even say these things was too bold. "You are out of line sailor. I'm not your squeeze Zack, I'm your captain. I'm not Sanji's girl anymore either. That is in the past and it can stay there!" she yelled at Zack. Even as the words shot out of her mouth she could remember the way Sanji had hugged her earlier.

Since he had already crossed the line, Zack went a step further. Sher was already mad at him, might as well keep going. He needed to know. "Are you all done loving Sanji, Sher?" it hurt Zack to even ask such a thing. He could remember the way Sher had pined over the Luffy pirate. Zack had been the one Sher had turned to in her sorrow and loneliness. He could still remember the first time he took his captain to bed. This is all I can do for you Sher he had told her when he took her into his arms.

This conversation was getting uncomfortably too personal. She knew why Zack was asking too. His feelings for her were stronger then she thought, he had done a good job of hiding them from her. The only time Zack ever got mushy on her was in bed. It had been months since she had last been with Zack. She frowned a little. "I don't feel that way for Sanji anymore Zack, you should know that."

It was a relief to hear her say it. Zack put his hands on Sher's shoulders and looked into her eyes. He sighed a boozy breath into her face. "I'm trying to look out for you Sher, I hope you understand that." Zack tried to sound like he was calming down, but even holding Sher like this made his heart pound harder in his chest.

Sher could see how Zack was trying to play things off and she went along. It was easier then trying to figure out what he was making her feel. It was Zack that had helped her to get over Sanji. He had become her perpetual drinking buddy, her caretaker and eventually her lover. She and Zack had been going at it pretty hot and heavy less then a year ago. She looked away from Zack. "I appreciate your concern Zack, but you don't have anything to be concerned about. Evan and I already have our family and Sanji is no part of mine. I'll let him see Evan, but that's it. I consider the Luffy pirates my friends, nothing more then that."

That was the best news Zack had heard this long shitty night. Sher had dropped her eyes and her tone had softened some. If he took his leave now, the argument would be over and they could get a fresh start in the morning. He told himself that he should go, it was the right thing to do, but instead of stepping away from Sher he reached up with his left hand and stroked the hair out of her face. He tucked it behind her ear and she looked up at him. Sher was flush in the cheeks, from the ale or because of him Zack wasn't sure. He wanted to kiss her, to hold her. He wanted to take his captain to bed and make her forget Sanji all over again.

Sher could see what Zack wanted in his eyes. She took a step back and broke contact between them. Sher turned away from Zack and headed for her desk. "It's late Z, you should get some sleep."

Zack watched Sher go to her desk and pull out some sea charts. He was more then just a little disappointed. The past three times Zack had tried to put a move on Sher she had shot him down. It had been months since she had let him into her bed, he was beginning to worry he wasn't going to be invited back again. It was best not to push it though, when Sher wanted him she would come to him. It had just always been that way, mostly. "Right captain," he headed for the door. "Get some sleep soon Sher," Zack said and went out.

Sher sat at her desk looking at a sea chart. "Yeah, I think I will," she mumbled. Her argument with Zack had pretty much killed her buzz. She waited until she was sure Zack had hit the rack before staggering off to bed herself.

20