Pulling Strings is still alive. Trust me. This just...isn't it.
This story is an ambition. I've only seen past-fic done well ONCE, and the author was really exceptional. I am not exceptional. But hopefully this is worth the read anyway...
This is for all the people who believe there are no mysterious beautiful women in Mihawk's past, to be blunt.
Part I: Boy
"The Past is to be respected and acknowledged, but not to be worshiped. It is our future in which we will find our greatness." -Pierre Trudeau (1919 - 2000)
He grew up in a tiny village that no one had ever heard of. He remembered gray skies (always) and dirt. Green things did not grow there. Not real green things, anyway—just sickly, yellowish things with bulbous white protuberances buried beneath their inedible tops. Before anything could be done with them, they generally died.
And there was the grain, of course. Lots of grain. Every single job in the village had to do with grain—this was no exaggeration. It was how they stayed alive, and apprenticeships were categorized by different jobs having to do with grain.
He had a knack with a scythe. Any scythe. People marveled over it, in fact, when they weren't occupied with trying not to look at him. When he was bored, he would enter the Contests with a purposely-dulled blade and invariably win. The other boys would glare and mutter, but if they were that clueless, they deserved a defeat. It wasn't luck. It was a touch. There was a difference, and he knew it. There's a certain tilt that won't make your scythe catch in the stalks, a twist that will break the most stubborn and interfering of weeds. And they would all tug and swear at their tangled blades, and he would casually work his way down the line with just enough care. That was all it took. Just enough care to watch and just enough of that touch to outpace the rest.
It wasn't really the scythe work that made the other boys hate him. It was the way he acted; it was as though he was an adult in a child's skin. The kinder men and women—there were very few of these-called him "distant". The less kind ones—of whom there were an alarming amount-said he was "arrogant and unnatural". And the majority of them just muttered obscenities under their breath as he passed, glaring at him.
It was his eyes. He knew that innately, and he didn't particularly care. He didn't care much about anything. The people here held no interest for him, and the grain and tuberous plants held even less.
And then, when he was fourteen (or maybe fifteen), it all started.
Traders stopped by the island quite often—otherwise they would all have been dead by then, with their grain-mentality. The merchants brought metal and wood and food that could actually be eaten by humans. He didn't like them, per se, but they seemed at least to have souls.
One day, the blacksmith appeared. His boat seemed small and battered among the flashy merchants' ships, and the mast was crooked. The sails had little rips and nicks in them, like a street cat's ears. There was no use for weapons in the tiny village that no one had ever heard of. In fact, such things were shunned, along with their makers.
The freak boy had suggested once, in an offhand sort of way, that perhaps it would be enough just to have a few weapons—to let people know not to mess with you. And he'd received the usual stares and muttered curses, and a woman nearby had pulled her child away, glaring at him as though he was waving a gun at the girl.
It would have been depressing if he'd cared.
On that particular day, he had glanced once at the worn little boat, frowned a little, and strode on, heading for work.
It wasn't an apprenticeship. The man, whose name he didn't know and didn't care about, was far too afraid of losing his status to call it that. It was "free labor", and he could often be heard complaining loudly that he hadn't wanted to take on that freak boy, but what choice did he have, with the winter coming on?
And the freak boy, standing in the crowd, had watched the man for a few seconds, intensifying his gaze, letting that edge of resolve build inside him, until his employer sensed it and turned. And then the boy had smiled. It was a thin smile, stretched over thin, pale lips, and it didn't come anywhere near his unnatural eyes. And the man had turned and run.
The boy picked up his scythe at the rough wooden gate, swinging the panel open with one deft hand and swinging it closed behind him. He left it unlatched, though, letting the cord loop hang limp next to its dull iron hook. Let the animals get in, if there were even any on the island that wanted to eat the foul grain.
He was barefoot, trudging through the soft, cool ground, clayish dirt building between his already filthy toes. He liked being clean, but there was honestly no way that he was going to stay that way for long in this place. So he squished his way steadily through the field, swinging absentmindedly at the swaying stalks, letting the wooden handle become an extension of his pale, wiry arms.
He noticed the man watching him only when he sent out a pulse of danger—that edge of resolve that the island boy had hitherto never experienced outside of himself. It was frightening, and yet exhilarating at the same time. It was…exciting that someone else could emit that sense of purpose, that someone else possessed such a focused soul. Except… it was far more dangerous than anything the boy had ever put out to attract attention. There was true intent to kill in that wave of emotion, and for that fraction of a second, he truly thought he was going to die.
And then the feeling was gone and so was the man, trudging along down the road, shaking his head and pulling down the wide-brimmed leather hat that sat snugly over his head. Everything about him looked battered, thought the boy, watching him leave with a shameful surge of relief. He suppressed this emotion and went back to work, putting more fluidity into his strokes so that he had more mind space to think. Who was that man, anyway? A merchant, obviously. Someone not from here. Otherwise, he wouldn't have been able to do that.
A few minutes later, because the task had grown troublesome, he pushed past the gate and leaned his scythe neatly against the fence. Then, because the man he worked for despised it, he checked to make sure that the gate had not locked behind him.
Satisfied, he set off to wander through the village, the dry, yellow-ish grass prickling the soles of his feet, a damp, cool wind—brushed in from the sea—ruffling the thin shag of his black hair.
The boys who started following him when he entered the village were not so hard to notice. They were noisy, for one thing. He could hear their breath and the brush of cloth on cloth as they moved. And he heard them plotting. One of them had a knife. It was not, from what he could tell as he listened, a particularly interesting knife—just an ordinary blade used in the kitchen. No focus there, no drive. None of the right amount of care and no touch whatsoever.
There were a lot of them, and one of them had a knife. It should have been intimidating.
But he was bored.
When he finally slowed down and turned down a grimy, airless side street, they were all brimming with anticipation of the attack. But there was no real focus there, just a dull, uninteresting need to hurt. If they had known anything about the real world, they would have known that it was enough just to win. But brutality is an unfortunate tendency carried by those who are easily unnerved by the strange, and in this village there was an inordinate amount of easily unnerved people.
He turned around.
They were all watching him. The one with the knife was pointing it at him. There were still breadcrumbs on the thing's blade, and the boy with odd eyes suddenly knew quite distinctly that it was not at all happy about doing this job. Oh, you could convince it if you had just the right touch, a little persuasiveness and the right sort of mastery. But it wasn't going to cut very well.
They were waiting for him to make a move. One of them might or might not have asked him sneeringly whether he was going to run away. He hadn't been listening. He rarely listened to ignorant people, as most of what they had to say was pure and unadulterated idiocy anyway.
"Finally," he said, in his light, hoarse monotone. "Took you long enough to get up the nerve."
The jibe wasn't really meant. He just needed to stir them into action. And it did. He had known it wouldn't take much-they hated him (or they thought they did). They loathed him for his eyes and his hair and the way he walked and the clothes he wore. They despised his lofty demeanor and poverty and his inexplicable skill with a scythe and his namelessness.
Funny little people and their petty little hates. He didn't bother to duck the first blow—just tipped his head to one side and slammed his head into the other boy's as the fist blurred past his temple, grazing his hair.
It hurt. A lot. The head butt, that was. He felt like his skull was splitting open, but there was never going to be any room for finesse anyway. Drop, turn, and kick the other boy's feet out from under him.
There were four others. He beat down two of them with a minimum of interest, acquiring a bloody nose in the process. His back and face were clammy with sweat, and his shirt scratched at his skin. He had just begun to back away to give himself some room to move in when one of the remaining attackers, the one with the kitchen knife, shifted. Preparing to stab.
Ordinarily, he would have dodged. But for that split-second, he saw for a moment how he could just tell the reluctant blade no, and he raised one commanding hand.
The feeling vanished as swiftly as it had come, and was followed by a numb chill as the knife passed through his palm and out the other side. There wasn't any pain—why was that?
But there was no time to consider that. He jerked the blade out of his own hand, and there was a slight pang as it withdrew from the wound. The pain was coming. He raised the knife, closed his eyes and pressed his lips to it, cold metal and hot blood making his skin tingle.
The boys were terrified, but tried not to show it. The freakish boy had just become even more disturbing, and people like that deserved to die, said their muddled brains.
The kitchen knife twanged and clattered on the road. He didn't need it.
One of his attackers shouted something that he certainly wouldn't have said in front of his mother and ran forward, belligerence pushing aside his fear, arm drawn back.
Oh, and, suddenly, there was the pain. It seared his arm like a wire over raw nerves, shattering his focus, and the fist sank into his solar plexus, adding to the confusion and taking the hurt up a notch. It throbbed in his skull now, burned in his hand, curled in his gut. He vomited, dropping into an unbalanced crouch, eyes watering.
"Not so tough now, are you?" No need for them to stay away anymore, now that he was on the ground. Nothing to be afraid of now.
A foot collided with his skull, hurling his world into a sparkling black and white static-scape. Agony exploded behind his temples, and he opened his mouth to scream. He might have—he might not. He couldn't hear anything through the keening in his ears. But he felt the sound scrape against his throat and he heard the laughter very clearly. That was worse than blades or fists, worse than pain. And right there, hunched on the cold, hard ground of the cramped side-street, he knew that he had to find that point, that perfect zenith of power, at which no one would laugh at him, where mocking him would be unthinkable.
A heel collided with the back of his head, and something crunched as his face was thrust deliberately into the rough pavement. His throat was clogged with blood now.
"You don't belong here!" his tormentor informed him, as though it was the worst insult in the world.
"Well, of course he doesn't," said a light, gravelly voice. "If this boy was part of your posse of twattering nitwits, the world would be an even more pathetic place. Whose blood is that on the unfortunate blade, incidentally?"
There was a pause as one of the boys took hesitant initiative in the face of an unexpected witness. "I…I…He attacked—"
"Children's fatuity increases in tedium as I grow older." There was a smack and a yelp. "Answer the question."
"I—what? The kni…I mean, it's mine! Or, I mean, I mean—"
"You're abusing a kitchen knife?"
"That," said the mysterious man, "is disappointing."
The semi-conscious boy felt fingers dig into the shag of his hair, hauling unceremoniously into a sitting position.
"A…grief, boy, what were you thinking?"
For a moment, the nameless one thought that this new arrival was speaking to him, but it then became apparent that the mysterious man had directed the words at the remaining assailants.
"A broken nose? Is that finesse? Is that subtlety?" There was another yelp, and then a thump, as of a human body falling to the ground. "I think not. That's not purpose, that's mindless nastiness. Stupid mindless nastiness."
Blood was sliding down his upper lip and the back of his throat, and it was becoming hard to breathe. "Nkhgnnnn."
His head was jerked roughly back. "Just stay like that. You'll run out of blood in a while."
Not completely certain that this was a good thing, the boy did as he was told, resisting the urge to cough. A few seconds later, he though he felt a little bit ill. And…light.
He woke up.
He turned over—it hurts.
"Ah, you're awake," said the voice. "Incidentally, you're going to clean that up. This ship barely accommodates me, and I'm not fond of the idea of sharing it with the stench of your stomach contents. What have you been eating? That is most foul."
His throat contracted painfully and, his legs cramping at the sudden movement, he scrambled forward mindlessly—ship? Sea. Throw up in the—too late.
"Grief," said the voice wearily. What a singularly bizarre expletive.
A moment later, a rough hand gripped the collar of the boy's shirt and dragged him, coughing and retching, to a hard wooden edge, whereupon he continued with the unpleasant activity until the sudden illness had apparently wrenched out all of his stomach's contents.
"Good," said the voice, and hauled him back onboard. "Now, I need you to fix the sails. There's a nasty rip in the one up front."
"Huh?" said the boy, at a loss for anything else to say.
"You heard me. I've got some cord and one of those ludicrously large needles around her someplace…"
"But I only—I mean—"
"You sound like one of those brutes I found you occupying yourself with. Stop stuttering and say something properly or do not speak at all."
The boy paused, unaccustomed to such treatment. Being seen as a dangerous adult had altered his already unusual view of the world. Now that this strange man was actually talking to him as though he was a normal child, he wasn't quite sure what to say.
He managed, "Don't you…even know what those sails are called?"
"Why should I?"
No reply came to mind. The boy stood up, trying to recall the poise he had found so easily on his home island, that sense of being a wolf in a flock of sheep (not that he'd ever seen a sheep apart from the stamp on the packages of meat from the merchants). It didn't come. Instead, he just felt a sharp jolt of pain as his legs crumpled underneath him and his skinny knees struck the rough wood of the deck.
"And I'll deign to make the first few days easy for you," said the man generously. "I'm actually going to fetch the cloth for you and drop it on you so that you can labor without moving. Try not to strain your eyes—a broken nose can be potentially harmful to the sinuses."
It was very peculiar to hear someone refer to his eyes without including some sort of curse or jibe. He wasn't sure how to feel about it, and was still considering this sudden development when a heap of heavy canvas flopped onto his head.
"There you go. And here is your fabulous length of crude, pointy iron, through which you will thread…" something hard bounced off of the boy's obscured form, leaving a patch of aching skin on his shoulder. "…a length of impossibly stiff cord from this bobbin. Having done so, you will seek out the gash in the sail and repair it with due haste, which will require you to discover some way to pierce the cloth of the sail, which should be entertaining to watch, as it ought to be something like sewing up bread with a pickle. All of this should take you at least until tomorrow night, at which point you will be well-rested and ready to scrub the deck until it is clear of this sudden mess."
There was more silence as the boy struggled to find his way out of the deep, entangling folds of canvas.
"I'll take that as a yes. Start working or your life will be abruptly and unpleasantly devoid of food."
By the time the boy had emerged from the sail, taking deep, grateful breaths in the absence of the stuffy heat, the man was gone.
He wasn't quite sure he wanted food, after the events following his awakening. On the other hand, he would almost certainly be hungry later.
He set to work.
The needle was indeed quite crude, and also almost impossibly hard to thread with the tough, fraying cord. He stopped counting how many attempts it took him after the fortieth time the stuff split as he tried to press it through the hole of the needle.
It was late evening when he finally tried to sew with his laboriously threaded needle, and he found immediately that it was just as his mysterious caretaker had said: it was like trying to mend bread with a pickle.
A few hours later, he had found a way to force the needle through the canvas. It was a long process, which involved creating a dent in the thick cloth and then worming it through the closely-knit weave of the stuff.
Eventually, it became very dark. This, the boy recalled, pulling out of his stupor, was called night. Then he felt like an idiot for having to think about it. He had gotten in about two stitches' worth of mending, and the loops of thread were messy and uneven. He tried not to think about what the finished product might look like. His impaled hand, which hadn't bothered him throughout the whole process, began to throb.
Just as the pain became nearly unbearable, a clay bowl spun wildly over the wooden floorboards of the upper deck and trundled to a halt near the edge of the limp folds of the sail. It was full of something yellow. The boy gave it a cautious look, frowned in the direction it had come from (nothing there; how odd), and picked it up, curiosity making him forget the agony for a moment. There was no sign of an eating utensil. There were two odd pieces of wood sticking out of it, like incense or something. He picked these out, examined them, and threw them overboard; remembering belatedly as they vanished over the rail that he probably should have asked the man before doing this.
Oh, well. The yellow stuff looked edible and smelled sweet, if a little acidic. He raised the bowl to his mouth and took a cautious sip of the juice. It was some kind of fruit-that was certain…
A few minutes later, he had finished the whole bowl, and considered, a little morosely, that it might have been better had he slowed his consumption to savor the meal.
The man was standing right beside him. The boy nearly yelped, and then caught himself. He glared up at his mysterious benefactor, whose expression, even in the encroaching darkness, suggested that he had noticed the unvoiced cry of surprise.
"What…was that stuff?" the boy asked, trying to sound cold. It had always come naturally before. Now he was having difficulty acting like himself. Hovering in the back of his mind was the vague and uncomfortable suspicion that he was somehow out of his league.
"That," said the man amiably, "was piiiiiiiiineapple."
"…Excuse me?" Ah, yes. Coldness. He had it, for a moment there.
"Piiiiiiiiineapple from the Grand Line."
The man gave him a look that suggested he was seeing him for the first time. "Exactly what do you know about the world, kid?"
The boy opened his mouth to give an obvious answer (There's an ocean. There are islands.), but stopped himself, frowned, and stared up at the sky. "…Nothing," he said slowly.
"Good. Let me tell you, then."
He was told about the world until late into the night. Eventually, he began to fall asleep and was cuffed when his head dropped onto his chest. He learned about the Grand Line and pirates and the four Blues and the millions of islands and Log Poses. Oh, and Gol D. Roger, the Pirate King. All of the important things, the man said.
"So you've been there. And you came back." The boy saturated the words with skepticism—after all, this old merchant with his battered little boat could hardly have ventured that far onto the alleged "most dangerous seas in the world" and come back again. Speaking of which…
"And how did you get back? The Log Pose doesn't work that way, does it?"
"No, it does not," said the man gruffly. "Mine broke when I crashed rather nastily, thanks to an enormous cyclone, which caused me to fly neatly over the Calm Belt. It may not sound possible, but, believe me, it is."
"So, basically, you're completely helpless out there," said the boy, and was cuffed soundly on the ear.
"Only directionally, boy. If I had my way I'd be free to abandon the various and sundry pretentious laws that govern the Grand Line—like this young 'World Government'. They're going nowhere very fast—and believe me, I know what I'm talking about."
"Alright," muttered the boy, feeling that he would never regain his composure on this ship, so there was no point in trying. "What's the Calm Belt, then?"
They had talked for many hours after that. The boy's head was still spinning as he slept, trying to absorb all of the fresh information.
He had expected the old man to rouse him early in the morning to perform some new chore, but when he returned to consciousness, he was alone on the deck of the ship, wrapped in the sail, the salt tang of the sea in his nostrils. The stench of dried vomit accompanied this comforting scent—not so pleasant.
The boy sat up, looking around warily in case of a sudden reprimand for sleeping in. Nothing.
The boy stood, stretched experimentally, and, for the first time, heard the muffled clanging. It seemed to be coming from below his feet. Seeing no reason not to, the boy took a step forward, towards the stairs leading onto the lower deck. At this point, the boat heaved suddenly on a swell of seawater and he toppled backward with an inelegant shout of surprise.
After several tries, he finally managed to keep his legs steady on the swaying deck. By that time, muttered swearwords accompanied the clanging. These seemed to be issuing from a trapdoor in the stained wooden deck. This hatch had been propped open, apparently to let out the sweltering heat issuing forth from the lower decks. The boy stared suspiciously into the hellish darkness for a moment, and then descended.
There was a forge on the ship. The boy stared at the setup, forgetting his usual icy poise for a moment in awe of the busy, sooty heat.
"Doesn't it make the ship heavier?" he asked, and through the hazy air, he saw the man turn to glare at him.
"I will thank you profoundly if you refrain from jabbering at me while I work," he snapped, and pulled something red-hot out of the coals with a pair of battered tongs. This object was the plunged without ado into a bucket of water. A great cloud of whistling steam issued from the bucket, obscuring the man.
"I wasn't jabbering." The boy looked around the room, eyes ranging over the various products of the man's trade, hung on walls and left to wait on tables. On the far wall, an array of gleaming steel lengths hung, flickering like flames made solid in the rippling light of the forge. If he looked long enough, the boy thought he could almost hear voices from them—small ones, like echoes, spoken heartbeats…
"Okay, kid, snap out of it! Grief, what's the—"
"Do you know how to use those?" He focused all of his intensity on the man, yellow eyes piercing in the gloom.
His reluctant savior did not seem at all bothered by this, but instead gave him an irked sideways glare. "No."
The boy scowled and backed towards the door, prepared to keep watch for however long it took an island to appear.
"Those," said the man, "are East Blue style swords. I favor West Blue myself. Did those hawk's eyes of yours miss the conspicuous scabbard on my belt?"
The boy's frown deepened at the hawk's eyes comment, but he had a purpose now and he wasn't about to let this idiotic old man discourage him. "Teach me."
There was a slow pause, during which the fire crackled and the coals hissed as though in disapproval. The man slowly put down the shapeless chunk of iron and turned to face the defiant glare.
"Was that a command?"
The sharp, arrogant part of his brain, which was still functioning from his years on his home island, said, What can he possibly do if I say yes?
He said, "Maybe." It was rather less impressive than he had hoped.
"And how do you intend to enforce that command?"
"By any means necessary." At this, even the old part of his mind noticed that this might not be the best reply, and he took an instinctive step backwards.
He stopped, stared into the grim, goateed face. "Why…what?"
A bony finger jabbed him in the chest. "Why should I teach you swordplay? If that is, in fact, what you are ordering me to teach."
The boy gaped for a moment, floundering for a reason. "I…I hear them. The swords," he blurted, and then thought to himself that this might actually make an impression…or cause the man to think he was utterly mad.
It did neither. The blacksmith snorted, clicking his tongue contemptuously as he surveyed the wiry, black-haired youth before him. "You think that's special? Let me tell you, annoying child: that particular quirk is not at all uncommon in lands that are not your isolated, backwards little island. I've met pirate's brats with better haki than you, and they were better fighters, too. You may be a novelty where you came from, but you have been shoved into a whole new league, and you are not at all peculiar here. So you might as well summon up some better reason before I forcefully eject you from my property."
The boy stared. Words failed him—in fact, they ran away like little cowards, leaving his mind blank, empty, and vulnerable to the wroth of the mysterious swordsman.
…Which didn't come. He was watching. Waiting. The boy floundered for an explanation, and found a random, desperate one from the previous day.
"I want to be the best," he said, rather desperately. And waited for a second rebuttal.
This time, the old man met his expectations. "Ah. I see. And I should train you for precisely this single reason? This is still not adequate to require an order."
"Doesn't matter," said the boy, who felt he had nothing else to lose. "I will find a teacher one way or another, and I'll be the strongest if it kills me."
"You," said the man, "have no actual conviction."
"So teach it to me." The challenging tone was unintentional. It just came out that way. Oh well, thought the boy, at least he was going to die boldly. What a stupid thing to think.
"My name," said the man, "is Jamba Curry. Just because I have gray hair does not mean that my muscles have deteriorated over my admittedly many years. Have fear for what comes after."
The boy stared for a moment, and then realized his mouth was hanging open and shut it, humiliation adding to the flush from the heat of the forge. "I don't have a name," he said.
"And you will not be given one until you've caught yourself a genuine victory," said Jamba Curry brusquely. "I shall call you Boy, because it is an accurate job description. Feel free to return to mending the sail, Boy."
Boy opened his mouth to argue, and then shut it again. He wouldn't argue until he could keep up with the old man. Master Jamba Curry… It sounded strange, so Boy decided to simply call him Curry.
Time was hard to keep track of on the sea. Boy finished with his first chore and was promptly put to another one. There were no official lessons, and even when Curry answered questions, Boy sometimes had difficulty deciphering the old man's oddly phrased replies. All in all, it wasn't what he had expected when Curry had agreed to his demand.
He slowly realized as the days passed just how stupid he had been to try to order the man around. They sometimes found an island with a port that would take Curry's business, and his new teacher was merciless in bargaining and as sharp as the blades hanging on the walls in his improbable little forge. And whenever he went onshore, he donned that wide-brimmed brown hat, tugging the fraying edge down as he stepped off of the deck.
Boy always set up the wares at the beginning of these "business days", and he always packed them away again at the end of them. It seemed to be his only purpose, as Curry didn't trust him with bartering.
One day, as Boy tossed bags of nails haphazardly into their box, the old man stated decidedly that he needed a cigarette.
Boy glared at him. The nails hadn't sold well that day, which had made it a long and boring one. Swords fetched a lot of money every time, but Curry would only sell them on certain islands. As far as Boy could see, the only thing these "certain islands" had in common was a ludicrously high crime rate.
"In fact, I think it imperative that I acquire a cigarette," his teacher reiterated, and raised his eyebrows at Boy.
Boy was not amused. "I don't know where to find them here," he informed Curry coldly, and kicked the box of nails with one leather-clad foot—one of his less important job had been to make himself shoes. This had resulted in a pair of messily-crafted, moccasin-like…things. At least they stayed on his feet.
"That is not a significant piece of information," Curry replied gravely. "Somewhere on this forsaken chunk of earth, there is a shop that sells cigarettes, and you will find it."
"Why do you need a cigarette?" snapped Boy. The throbbing in his toe from kicking solid oak was spreading through his foot, and it was definitely not improving his outlook on life.
"Because I intend to aim for the Grand Line in short order," said Curry in a bored tone of voice. "Therefore, I require nicotine to occupy my mind before it begins to stray towards the more sordid subject of near-certain death."
Boy went to find a shop selling cigarettes.
It took him most of the evening, and one of his clumsily-made shoes had begun to come apart at the seams. However, he was carrying a pack of cigarettes, and that was what counted.
Curry had settled into a rickety chair on the deck of the boat, a cup in one hand and a book in the other. He did not move as Boy strode on deck, trying to keep a stagger out of his step. Instead, he turned a page and said, thoughtfully, "Tell me, Boy, have you ever sullied a piece of literature with that peculiar brain of yours?"
"Cigarettes," said Boy sullenly, and tossed them at the man, aiming for the back of his head.
Curry caught the pack out of the air without looking and drew one out of the cheap cardboard package, examining it.
"Suitably foul, made of plants that certainly were not intended for this purpose, and preposterously cheap. Excellent. How did you acquire them?"
"I found a shop," said Boy, and tugged his torn shoe off, examining it sourly as he made his way towards his sleeping place on the upper deck.
"I gave you no money."
"I took five boxes of nails and broke something important and made of wood when the owner wasn't looking. It worked."
There was silence from Curry. It didn't matter what the old man thought, Boy grumbled mentally. He had his cigarettes.
Boy himself had a new blanket, which was actually another of his masterpieces of needlework. It was made from Curry's old clothes. Oddly enough, these were in plenty. Each and every one of the garments had smelled noxious before Boy had washed them in a tub of seawater. Now they were only semi-toxic in scent.
Boy hauled the blanket-like thing over himself, glaring at the inside of it as the night progressed outside of his smelly, dark little world.
After a while, he thought he heard Curry laughing.
Probably something in his book.
The next day, Curry began to teach him how to fight with a sword. The first lesson was a remarkably impromptu one, which consisted of Boy standing up, yawning, and suddenly finding himself in a situation that could become bloody very quickly. A prickly situation, someone with a very dry sense of humor might say.
"Should you ever find yourself in a prickly situation such as this curious predicament," said Curry, "you must be aware of the procedure in such things."
"Which is?" Boy growled, eyeing the saber blade angled at him.
"Don't let it happen," Curry stated, and attacked again.
"If it's escaped your notice, I don't have a sword!" Boy shouted, and stumbled clumsily to one side as the blade swished past his ear.
"Correct," said Curry jovially, and sheathed the sword. "Let us consume our morning meal. Break our fast, et cetera. We're almost out of Piiiiiiiiineapple, but the last port provided me with the eggs of the lesser Honku fish, which is rumored to produce the blandest taste in the world. Or, if you have the right genes, it could poison you. Let us eat. Your hand looks much better, by the way."
Boy decided not to ask what the chances were of having said genes. He was hungry, and there was no way he was going to let some poison finish him off this early. So he ate it. It was the most flavorless food he had ever eaten.
The next morning, Boy narrowly avoided impalement through the throat when he rolled over under his covers. This time he was up a little faster, adrenaline and fury wiping all traces of sleep from his mind. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I believe I enlightened you as to this yesterday," said Curry, and sent a series of lightning-fast jabs at Boy's stomach. The blade pressed through his tattered shirt, digging past his ribs—Boy could feel it draw blood, and dodged away, automatically focusing icy resolve on Curry. It was instinctive now and generally caused the victim of said resolve to go weak-kneed and walk away very fast.
The sword flicked past Boy's face, grazing his cheekbone as his own killing intent was countered by Curry's own steely will.
"Nice try, Boy, but I told you already—out here, you mean nothing." Their eyes locked for a moment, but Boy found himself turning away almost immediately, his neck twisting without consent from his mind.
"Now, then," said the old man cheerfully, as though nothing had happened, "We shall have some more curious and possibly fatal food. Every day is an adventure."
As the days went on, Boy became more and more used to the attacks, which began to occur sporadically throughout the day as well. Sometimes Curry would suddenly try to slice him open in the middle of a business deal. This usually lost him the sale and caused them to be forcefully evicted from the island, but he didn't seem to care. Boy found this extremely vexing.
One day, he awoke five seconds before Curry's first stab came, and was up on his feet as three feet of lethal steel slammed into the deck where his head had been moments before. Boy rolled, crouched, and prepared to dodge again, but his teacher had already re-sheathed the weapon and was promenading towards the lower deck with his usual yell of some complicated version of "Let's have breakfast".
What an unusual man, thought Boy, and noticed with surprise that he felt inexplicably proud.
It was a real relief to give them both names finally...I was getting so tired of not knowing what to call them. The phrasing was more than a little awkward in several places. Does "Jamba Curry" sound satisfactorily One Piece-ish? In any case, this story is constantly under construction, so any mistakes will be corrected shortly.
My pride is something I won't stake my life on, so I'm not expecting fabulous responses to this fic, but reviews are always welcome-they make my heart feel warm and fuzzy! grin
There will be other OP stories after this, but I'm going to make sure to pace myself with any chapterfics.