Success can be measured in many ways.
He tilts his head back, taking in the sky – cotton candy clouds. His hand lies heavy on his chest. It's hard to breathe. He can see his straw hat from the corner of his eye, riddled with holes and matted with blood. No. It's not his hat anymore. He hears footsteps slinking over the grass, earth sinking underfoot. A familiar head of red hair and tattered scars that had inspired his own. A smile that was so far away. He tightens his grip on a solid gold coin clenched in his fist, takes a deep breath. Closes his eyes.
He looks up when he hears a squeal, and his five-year-old daughter stumbles into the living room, trailing muddy spots. She is giggling, and she raises her finger to her lips before ducking under the table. His older son follows shortly after, roaring and flailing his arms. He watches as his son searches the room, face obscured by an old mask – paint peeling and faded, cracked at the edges, scratched and worn down. A mask that he hopes his children will never truly need. He turns away and returns to scanning the daily newspaper, tucking away the memories that the mask stirred. It was just a face from a life long, long ago.
He keeps going, driving his broken fingers through another throat. Pain crawls up his back, arching down his thigh. A gash across his forehead leaks pus and blood from infection, partially blinding him. Gunshots ring out against the ground beneath his feet. He takes a bullet in the leg, staggers. He claws at another Marine charging at him, digging out his eyes. He shakes his head, wishing the nausea away, kicking out with his damaged leg to trip someone else, slamming his elbow down and snapping a neck. He hears an officer bellowing in the distance, urging his men on. Funny how these Marines needed encouragement to face up two dying men. His foot snags against Jyabura's face as he's crawling forward. He tugs the Wolf Zoan's limp body up as a shield as he squeezes his eyes shut and tries to catch his breath. He feels the body shudder as bullets thuds against it. He tugs off his baseball cap, smears it over his face in an attempt in clearing his vision. He sees Lucci fold over in two as a bullet takes him in the back of his head. He watches as the shards of bone glimmer in the flickering light of gunfire. Justice was wrong. He shoves the meat shield aside, lurches to his feet for one last time.
She tucks a stray strand of hair behind her ear. She stares up at the shimmering light criss-crossing through the water from the surface. She runs a hand along an old scar on her tail, smoothing over gleaming scales. Living deep down far away in this quiet, she thinks she has forgotten how to laugh.
Pell grabbed her arm, pulling her to cover. She resisted. This was her country – and she would right this. She had done it before, so many years ago. She opens her mouth, pleading and begging. A knife jab between the ribs does not silence her, a punch bruises her cheeks and still she tells them – This is your country too! Why are you doing this? – and she takes another knife in the eye. She collapses and thinks she sees the ocean's horizon through the red creeping over her vision. Her blue hair is shredded and loose, draping over her glassy eyes. This time, there was no hand to help her up, no toothy grin.
He had always been a good swimmer. He takes his daily swim early in the morning, parting schools of sparkling fish as he drifts through the water. He rests his head against a rock, part of the border he had built to portion off a section of the legendary All Blue sea for his own. He lifts his hand to parted lips, but he doesn't smoke anymore. Someone is calling from the shore, telling him that breakfast is ready. He smiles, presses his fingerless palm to his lips. His dream lies spread out all around him, beautiful, and he can do nothing.
He isn't sure what he's doing, piling up stones. He pretends that it's a grave marker, his. He fancies the thought, because he never had one, and never will. He clasps his hands together, bones clacking against each other. He rests his back against the withering lighthouse, and looks out to the silent sea. Those fifty years he had spent wandering the mist fitted him with a purpose but now, he watches the dust settle over him. He has no more songs to sing.
A soldier snaps a smart salute as he ambles by. He squints out at the streaks stretching across the pink canvas of a sky. His glasses slide down his nose, and he adjusts them, sweeping pink bangs out of his eyes. He watches as his men usher the captured pirates aboard, steadies himself against the rumble as the canons destroyed the remains of the pirate fleet. He stares at strips of black cloth floating on the ocean surface like oily stains. All that was left of the pirate flag. An officer trudges up wearily to him, and he gestures impatiently. This is all routine now, scooping up the last dregs of the Great Age of Pirates, cleaning out the seas. At his gesture, there is gunfire and he shrugs off the shrieks as the pirates are executed. In a separate life, he had found a boy in a barrel had freed him and became his friend. That was so long ago.
She is standing on a hilltop, weaved with long waving stalks of grass. She turns when she hears someone approach. She bows, fingers her glasses nervously. Holds out a sword. She had taken it here, to its home to return it for safekeeping, and to let it rest in peace. After she has done the deed, she visits the cemetery that is only a little way from the dojo. She kneels before the grave of a girl who looks startlingly like her. Looking at the photograph, she understands the confusion and horror that could have come from that. She thanks the long-dead girl for her strength, for her dream, and for the promise she made. She looks around at the empty graveyard and walks away. She leaves behind three golden earrings on the top of the gravestone.
She peels a tangerine, licking her sticky fingers. Her husband bursts through the bushes, tangled in weeds, branches clinging to his hair. She points and laughs at his comedic expression of wide-eyed surprise. He unfolds a wrinkled yellowed map that he had found when clearing out the storage room – he had never seen an island shaped like that. She points to the clouds, and he scoffs, teasing her about her wild imagination. She smiles in reply, and shakes her head when he asks if she still needs the map. He rips it and scrunches it up into a tiny ball, lobbing it into the bushes. She smacks him lightly on the arm for littering, but he distracts her by snatching her tangerine away. They laugh as they tumble about on the grass, wrestling for the fruit. She loses – he shoves the entire fruit into his mouth and chew it messily, juice dribbling down his chin. She swipes at him in mock-disgust, smile fading as she peers up at the sky. The world had been so different – maybe it was just her imagination after all. A sweet aching chilling dear story sealed away in the lines of her unfinished world map buried in her garden.
The sea shines, a mirror surface. Lives rose and fell, raced across the world and blew away. The waves lap up gently on thousands of shores, and dreams slept beneath their eyes.
Author's Note: Set in the future. None of the paragraphs link to each other. Not really. And for those who are confused: Luffy, Ussop, Kaku, Camie, Vivi, Sanji, Brooke, Coby, Tashigi, Nami.