This chapter requires foreknowledge of the Enies Lobby arc, which is in both manga and anime.

Though A Bird Cant Fly, That Doesn't Mean It Never Will

Chapter 18: Painful Mementos

From: Ensign Tashigi

To: Captain H. C. Briggs


Congratulations on your captainship and being put in command of The Pelican. When T-Bone sensei got the news, he was so overcome with emotion he burst into tears and needed several minutes to compose himself before he could continue with training.

I heard from Smoker-san that Piers-kun is back with the crew. That's great news, I hope he really is all right after what happened in Alabasta.

I also heard that you're being sent to Ukkari Island to retrieve Kuina. Speaking of Kuina, can you believe that girl went and damaged that beautiful sword of hers fighting against some 50 million bounty head? I got a letter from her asking about sword smiths in the Marines just recently. The poor blade must be crying at such mistreatment.

Oh, I have to say I was really surprised to get your inquiry about that special request. I thought you'd given up on swords in general and especially that one in particular.

Your idea is rather exciting, and I've included my recommendations in the diagram here. The material you requested is rather difficult to source, but you should be able to get some if you submit the following requisition order to Quartermaster Skinflint.

Fortunately I happen to know the weaponsmith who did Smoker's, so I think something can be arranged once you get the material.

By the way, T-Bone sends his congratulations,


From: Captain H. C. Briggs

To: Ensign Tashigi

Dear Ensign Tashigi,

I trust your training with Captain T-Bone has been fruitful. I have been instructed by Commodore Smoker to take The Pelican to Ukkari Island where Petty Officer Kuina is to rejoin the crew. Chief Petty Officer Piers is already on board and has assumed the role of navigator.

I have also received further instructions to discuss with you the arrangement for your reintegration into the crew of The Pelican upon the conclusion of your training with Captain T-Bone. I have already checked with him and attached with this communication the schedule and itinerary. Please be ready for pickup from Water 7.


Captain Briggs

From: Ensign Tashigi

To: Captain H. C. Briggs


So the crew is getting together again? That's great! As much as I've enjoyed training with T-Bone, I would like to see everyone again, and I'd certainly love to see some real action. We've not have much pirate activity here.

By the way, what's with the formality all of sudden?


From: Captain H. C. Briggs

To: Ensign Tashigi

Dear Ensign Tashigi,

This is nothing personal. Just please be advised that as a captain, I have to maintain proper decorum when in communication with crewmembers.


Captain Briggs

From: Ensign Tashigi

To: Captain H. C. Briggs

"Proper decorum"?

I don't recall Smoker acting like he had a stick up his unmentionables when he made captain.

Whatever the reason, please drop it when you're talking to a friend.


From: Captain H. C. Briggs

To: Ensign Tashigi


Please don't be so sensitive. I do consider you a most esteemed colleague.

By the way, I really need your help with Quartermaster Skinflint. The man has an unreasonable grudge and has blocked my requisition order five times in a row for no particular reason.


Captain H. C. Briggs

From: Ensign Tashigi

To: Captain H. C. Briggs

"Esteemed colleague"?

If that is how it is, I would tell you to find instead someone you actually consider a friend to do you any favours about that requisition request of yours. Captain Barkskin, Sir.


Ensign Tashigi

From: Captain H. C. Briggs

To: Ensign Tashigi


Is something wrong? I've not received any responses to my last three letters to you.

Please get back to me as soon as you can.



From: Captain H. C. Briggs

To: Ensign Tashigi


If you're mad at me, at least say so.



From: Captain H. C. Briggs

To: Captain Tenzou

Dear Captain Tenzou,

Need to cash in on a favour. Can I impose on you for any blackmail material you may have on Quartermaster Skintflint?


Captain Briggs

From: Captain Tenzou

To: Captain H. C. Briggs

Captain Briggs,

I've sent with this letter what I have.

By the way, heard about the Ensign. I would recommend a peace offering. Normally flowers would work but in her case, maybe something more personalized to show you do pay attention.


Captain Tenzou

From: Captain H. C. Briggs

To: Captain Tenzou

To set the record straight: Ensign Tashigi and I are merely professional colleagues with a mutual respect for each other.


Captain Briggs

From: Captain Tenzou

To: Captain H. C. Briggs

Sure you are.


Captain Tenzou

The Pelican was not a new ship by any means, but it was certainly more impressive in size compared to Smoker's little brig with which they had previously sailed into the Grand Line. The faithful little vessel had been sent back to Loguetown for refits, and in the meantime, her crew had been transferred to The Pelican.

It was no coincidence that they had been given a warship either. The rumours had been flying thick and fast amongst the ranking officers- whispers of the appointment of a new warlord of the sea, a high-profile capture that was being kept under wraps, and most of all, war with one of the Yonkou imminent. The lower ranks of the Marines remained blissfully uninformed for now, but those who were aware of the rumours had started making preparations.

Commodore Smoker knew this well, which was why he'd sent the newly-reinstated Captain Briggs to regather the original crew who had come with him from the East Blue. When uncertainty loomed on the horizon, it was always best to have men you could trust by your side.

"Ukkari Island up ahead, Captain!" Navigator Piers reported as they approached. "There's something off about the dock area."

Captain Briggs peered through his spyglass and snorted. "'Off' is a bloody understatement, Mr Piers. Those are pirate ships anchored there! All hands on deck!"

True to the Captain's observation, the crew could make out the fleet of three pirate ships as The Pelican drew closer. They could also see that there was some sort of fighting going on in the docks, although whoever was fighting the pirates didn't seem to be visible from where they were.

The pirates had evidently spotted them however. The crew of the rearmost ship could be seen desperately trying to turn around so their cannons would be facing the approaching warship.

The crew of The Pelican wasn't about to give them the chance . At the command of their captain, the front cannon opened fire, and the pirate ship was rocked by a direct hit from their upgraded artillery canons. All activity on board the other ship halted as the pirates diverted their attention to the very large and very gaping hole that had appeared in their hull.

"Good! Move on to the next ship. Someone get a den-den mushi and try to contact Petty Officer Kuina. She can't be unaware of what's going on!" Briggs ordered the nearest crewman before turning his spyglass back to the first pirate ship to make sure that that group were out of the fight. "Yeah, they're dead in the water with that strike. Target the next ship!"

Piers looked concernedly at the distant battle. "We should be careful with our shots sir, Ms Kuina could be on one of the ships and we don't want be firing on one of our own."

''I don't think we need to worry about your lady swordsman, Piers," Briggs said blandly as he continued peering through his spyglass. He had apparently seen something interesting through it, for he gave a little sound that was something between a snort and a chuckle.

"Possible friendly sighted sir!" the ship's lookout shouted.

A split second later, one of the second pirate ship's lifeboats was sent flying away to smack into the first sinking pirate ship.

The thrower of lifeboats turned out to be a tall man who seemed to be charging through the air, leaving mysterious contrails behind him. The pirates around him were madly firing at him as he sent them tumbling with powerful punches, but it seemed that none of their shots were even coming close to finding their target.

"Observation Haki," was Briggs' nonchalant comment at the display. "That must be that mystery haki teacher Smoker mentioned. Ah hullo, look who finally decided to show up!"

The mast of the second pirate ship gave a groan as he said this, and came crashing down into the water, having been cleanly cut into two. Piers felt a sense of overwhelming deja vu at the sight. It was just so reminiscent of that time he and Kuina had run into Mihawk back at the Baratie.

Then his jaw dropped.

Standing on the bow of the pirate ship was a familiar figure. She was clad in a striking kimono which was white and trimmed with blue, as per navy colours, and sported the symbol for "Justice" on the back. In her hand she carried an unfamiliar sword which was far larger and war-like compared to her old shikomizue. In astonishment, Piers stared as Kuina calmly side-stepped the shot after shot from the pirates, almost as though she could see them coming.

"Ms Kuina!?" he blurted out in amazement.

At the sound of his voice, Kuina whirled around, her face lighted up in delight. Unfortunately, the exclamation was ill-timed, for even as she turned, he spotted a nearby pirate who took it as an open invitation to shoot the distracted swordswoman. His heart sank at the realisation of his own stupidity.

"Miss Kuina! Watch out!"

Piers was already halfway over the railing, ready to jump overboard and swim the distance between the two ships to go to her aid even though he knew he would be too late.

As it turned out, however it was quite unnecessary. Before he could take his shot, the pirate stumbled back, as the loud crack of a rifle firing rang over the water. The pirate collapsed backwards, a red splatter spurting from his shoulder.

"Should have spent more of that time in G-8 practising your marksmanship, Piers," Briggs remarked, lowering his rifle. "Fat lot of good knuckle dusters are going to be doing for your attempts to impress that girl of yours. You'd be better off getting a gun. Hoy, Petty-Officer Kuina! Don't get sloppy!" he turned and yelled to the figure on the other ship.

"I don't like guns, Sir," Piers replied evenly as Kuina, not missing a beat, charged into the ranks of the remaining pirates.

Briggs snorted. "Still like that are you? So naive." He gestured at the pirate ship, and then at the quicksilver form of the swordswoman, who was dealing with the remnants of resistance with little hesitance. "Buck up, Piers. Your girl's got the measure of things better than you."

With that, Briggs took aim and drilled another bullet into another unfortunate pirate. A second later, another body fell onto the deck of the pirate ship. There was a hard glint in Briggs' eye that Piers found slightly uncomfortable at seeing as he turned and spoke again:

"There's no room for the sentimental, Piers. Not for what's coming up in the oceans ahead."

"Oh, they weren't anything to worry about really," Briggs reported to Smoker later. "Just a bunch of pirates with a bone to pick with the resort. Something about the leader having been turned away previously."

"How pirates that stupid manage to survive on the Grand Line is beyond me," growled the Commodore. He sounded stressed, probably because Briggs wasn't there to do all the administrative work anymore.

"Numbers," Briggs answered immediately, not bothering to keep the smugness out of his voice. "Three ships to deal with a commercial hot springs resort would have been overkill in any other circumstances. Of course they weren't factoring in haki users."

"Speaking of haki... what's your assessment of Kuina?"

It was obvious that the blind girl had gained a good grip on her Observation Haki and Briggs promptly told Smoker as much. "Very combat capable, I almost forget she's blind from time to time. Tashigi will have some work catching up with her."

Which brought conversation around to the one person Briggs really didn't want to talk about at the moment. Naturally Smoker charged into it like a bull to the red cape.

"What the hell has been up with you and Tashigi, anyway?"

"Nothing. She's just being a moody-" he caught himself before he finished the sentence. No, that wasn't true, or fair. "I err... we may have had a disagreement," he admitted with resignation. That damn bloody stubborn Sword-nut and her silent treatment.

Of course, Smoker, King of Insensitivity, Surliness, and Brash Thoughtlessness proceeded to rub it in his face. "Just fix it. It's getting tiring, having to deal with you two being like that."

"Sir, yes sir," Briggs grumbled.

Putting the receiver down on the den-den mushi with unnecessary vim (and scaring the lights out of the poor snail), he stalked over to his desk, filled out a short form, and sent it off. He then exited the captains cabin to see Piers and Kuina pass on the way from the women's quarters, the former having just helped the latter with her luggage.

"No I don't think of it as a bad thing, I mean, I've got cool scars all over my back now!" the backwater fisherman was saying to the girl. "Well not as cool as yours, but still pretty good!"

Kuina laughed. "You really haven't changed much, Piers-san. You are the only person I know who could make scars sound like a positive thing."

Briggs rolled his eyes, noting that on hearing the girl's words Piers' ears had turned red and an extremely goofy looking grin had appeared on his face. It was so incredibly annoying Briggs felt inclined to wipe it off for him.

"I'm not ashamed of my battle scars, Ms. Kuina. Or scared of getting more. I promised back in Loguetown, didn't I? I'll go with you wherever you want to go. From now on, I'll be there, and I'll always have your back-"

Suddenly he felt an overwhelming urge to strike something.

"Navigator Piers, please remember you have a job to do. Set course to Water 7 first, comparisons of scar tissue, later." His voice came out colder than intended. A part of Briggs told him he was being a killjoy but he didn't care. He'd had enough to deal with today without being reminded of ghosts of old conversations.

"Yes, Captain Briggs!" Piers jumped to attention, flustered. "I'll get to it it right away!"

Briggs was left facing a slightly awkward Kuina in short order.

"Captain Briggs." There was a quizzical tone in her greeting. Damnit, girl had observation haki, she'd have noticed the sudden spike of killing intent from him. With an effort he calmed himself. he would not unravel as soon as he returned to command just because of a memory of that man. Not now, when justice was within grasp again.

"Petty Officer Kuina. Good to see you haven't been wasting your time in Alabasta. Nice new replacement sword, I approve..." He cast his eye over the rest of her ensemble. "Much more war-like. I can't say that outfit looks practical, however."

"It will not impede my performance in battle, sir."

"See that it doesn't. Once you get set up, you'll be assuming your new duties as an officer. I've put you in charge of the crew's sword training sessions for the duration of our voyage. For your information, this is the same role Ensign Tashigi previously conducted."

"Yes sir!" The girl looked rather surprised but pleased at this. "Piers tells me that we're on our way to meet up with Tashigi-san. Will I be continuing the trainings even after she has returned?"

"It'll be up to her," Briggs responded, trying not think about how outraged Tashigi was going to be when she found out. "By the way, you'll have to report to med bay for your medical, which is overdue since you were in Alabasta. I have no doubt Dr Francis will be pleased to see you."

"It's wonderful to see you again, Kuina-girl. I love your new uniform. Very elegant."

The infirmary of The Pelican was much bigger than the one aboard Smoker's brig. Her medical check up had proceeded smoothly, the good doctor had been even more cheerful than usual. Kuina soon found out why.

"I'll be retiring after this tour of duty. It's personal stuff, family stuff. Oh don't worry, it is good news. And I'm getting old," he admitted ruefully. "It's time I spent what was left of my time with my daughter and soon-to be family. Your see: my daughter Marie, she is getting married. "


"Thank you, thank you." Kuina was very sure Dr Francis was beaming as he said this. She could practically feel the pride radiating off him. "I have to say, it's been a good few months to see all my patients back and up on their feet. Piers seems to be doing well, too. Even that old stick-bug isn't that much worse off.

"It's a royal pain having to search for a good replacement doctor however. But I'll let Smoker and Briggs worry about that one. You'll likely get some fresh faced greenhorn with barely enough practical experience to qualify. I hope he takes proper care of you all too. Not easy to find an experienced practitioner who wants to serve as a ship's doctor, you know."

"Smoker-san was most fortunate to have you assigned to Loguetown then, Doctor-san," Kuina said with a smile.

There was a slight hesitancy in the doctor's response that Kuina couldn't quite interpret. "Well, I wouldn't say that, Kuina-girl. Let's just say we were both quite lucky and leave it at that."

"If you say so. Where will you be going after you retire, Doctor-san?"

"Back to my hometown in the Sabaody Archipelago. Serving in the East Blue is peaceful and all but it was all getting rather tame for a Grand Liner like me. Even my time serving the North Blue I considered tame, so you can imagine how it was like in the East. I nearly went mad treating soldiers for sunburns, especially when Smoker had his reign of terror in Loguetown."

The doctor proceeded to tell several long-winded tales of Smoker's exploits before she had arrived in Loguetown, and of how he had almost single-handed kept any pirates from the East Blue from reaching the Grand Line. Kuina listened in interest. She'd always known Smoker-san was a force to be reckoned with of course, but it was very interesting nevertheless.

"...and then he said to the pirate: 'Not in my town!'. Oh I'm rambling again, Kuina-girl. Why didn't you stop this chatty old man from taking up so much of your time?"

"I don't mind. I will miss listening to your rambling. Well lets hope that Smoker-san manages to find a good replacement to take care of us, and for a smooth last voyage to Sabaody for you, Doctor. "

Much to her surprise, the doctor laughed at this. "Don't take it the wrong way Kuina, but I forgot how it was like to be so young and optimistic."

"What do you mean?"

"We're on the Grand Line here, and I know better than to expect such impossible things," Dr Francis chuckled a little bit, then added a little more somberly: "It's in the news, Kuina-girl. Mark my words, the world is changing. We have rough sailing coming up ahead."

Kuina was discovering the hard way that being a good swordsman and being a good teacher of swordsmanship were not necessarily inclusive of each other.

She had thought that training her fellow marines would be something that would come naturally to her, being the daughter of a dojo master and all. Unfortunately her entire training session was turning out to be a bit of a shambles.

"Sorry ma'am, I don't understand," the marine before her sounded bewildered. "But I'm doing exactly what you told me to do!"

"No you're not! If you couldn't cut through the dummy, that means you're holding your wrist the wrong way." She demonstrated the correct grip. "You see now? The sword needs to line up with your hand and arm. When you make the cut, you must have kime; everything must line up in a harmonious movement or the blade will not cut properly."

She might as well as have been speaking a different language. The seaman exuded utter confusion. "Soo... I just need to make sure my hand's always straight?"

"I don't know how to make them understand!" she ranted to Piers later when they were both off duty and sharing a meal in the officer's section of the galley.

Piers was most sympathetic."Well, no one gets good at something right away, do they, Miss Kuina?" he said thoughtfully. "I mean I know your dad was an instructor and all but teaching ain't 'xactly the same thing as doing, and he only ever really taught you sword fighting and not sword teaching, if you get my drift. So maybe you just need more practice at the sword teaching part."

The answer was so sensible it took Kuina by surprise. Then her frustration melted away at once because it made so much sense. She smiled. "I really don't know what I'd do without you, Piers. You really do know how to make anyone feel better about anything."

Piers sounded very pleased at her praise. "You're welcome, Miss Kuina. I'm just glad we're back on the same ship again, Miss Kuina. I mean, G-8 was very nice and all, but it still doesn't beat going on adventures with you again." There was a pause where he seemed to be looking furtively around. As it was off hours, their corner of the galley was quite deserted. "By the way, there's a bit of news I've been meaning to tell you..."

" met Zoro in G-8?" Kuina repeated in amazement after he had finished. She could barely believe the coincidence. "And Zoro and the Straw-Hats escaped on a flying octopus?"

"It's hard to believe, I know," Piers said. "But that really happened!"

They both had a good laugh at that.

Kuina smiled and gave Piers a friendly nudge. "I just want to say, Piers-san, that I am extremely grateful to you for helping him escape, though I know it cannot have been easy. You truly are a great friend."

Piers seemed startled at this. But he also seemed very happy and said: "You too, Miss Kuina. You don't know how much meeting you changed my life. If it weren't for you, I'd been killed back in Loguetown. But instead I'm here in the Grand Line and having adventures and helping you, and I wouldn't have it any other way. "

Then a thought seemed to occur to him. "By the way, Zoro and me had a talk while we were running away from the base security, and he said something that well... I've been thinking about a lot." He suddenly tensed up, as if mentally gathering himself.

"Actually, I had a lot of time to think about things while I was in G-8. I mean, first I was stuck in bed and after that I did a lot of fishing with Commander Jonathan and fishing makes me think a lot and then when Zoro said that thing he said it got me thinking and I decided if I got the chance again I was going to be man about it and just get it out," he gulped out hurriedly. "Oh no, I'm prattling again and Lt. Drake said it makes me sound like an idiot when I keep talking and talking but I really want to be honest about my feelings and I need to say it now or I'll lose my nerve..."

Kuina was genuinely concerned for her friend at this point, she could sense he was extremely agitated. ''A-are you all right, Piers-san?"

Piers took a deep breath.

"Miss Kuina, you ever had feelings for someone but you never did anything about it, or said anything, then something happened and it was only when it was too late, when you realised you'd been an idiot and should have done it when you had a chance?"

And then the chance was gone.

His words were like a trigger to Kuina. Suddenly, she was back in Alubarna, the screams of war in her ears and a sword clasped in her hands.

"Do not grieve overmuch." Pell was smiling at her, she could feel the warmth of it even in her memory of the moment. "It will be all right. I will not let everyone die."

Instead he had died for everyone, and had done so never knowing...

"Yes, Piers, I know the feeling very well." She came back to the present with a grimace and was suddenly aware that she had Pell's sword tightly clasped in her hands, just as she had back on that fateful day.

"Y-you do?" he seemed rather eager for more explanation, so she elaborated.

"It was back in Alubarna, after the ship had been attacked and you were..." she trailed off, unable to finish her sentence. "I went after the men whom I thought had killed you. I was going to kill them. I was going to kill them slowly and make them suffer until they died. I nearly lost myself in all that hate but someone stopped me before I became a monster."

Piers seemed a bit taken aback. "I didn't know about that part, Miss Kuina. I'd hate for you to have done something you'd regret just because of me. But I'm kinda glad to know you cared so much..." he paused and seemed on the verge of saying something, she could sense his hesitation. "Well... it's a good thing that person stopped you, then," he said finally.

Kuina sighed. "I know, but the part that hurts most is that that person is dead. He died in the war. And there were many things I would have liked to say to him, to thank him properly, and l will never get the chance to say them now." It did still hurt, thinking of what could have been.

"I'm sorry to hear that, Miss Kuina," Piers seemed at a loss on how to react to her confession. "You know, we don't have to talk about this. It's upsetting you." Desperate for a topic other than the emotional minefield he had inadvertently walked into, he started talking about the first thing in his line of sight. "Why don't we talk about your new sword instead? It's uh...really nice! Who gave it to you?"

Her smile was bitter, despite herself. "Pell the Falcon."

"The hero of Alabasta himself? Serious? That's so frickin' cool! I read about him in Captain Briggs' report about how he saved the city from that bomb by sacrificing himself and- oh. Oh. Ohh!" Something seemed to click in Piers' mind. "I see now, Pell the Falcon was the guy who stopped you?"

"Yes," she replied.

"I'm so sorry to heard that, Miss Kuina. It's must have been really hard when you heard that he'd-"

"I was there when it happened. And yes, I know for sure he is dead. I was the one who found his body afterwards, out in the sands."

Perhaps she'd let more of her emotions show than she had intended. Piers suddenly went silent.


Piers being silent was such an unnatural and unnerving thing, that Kuina immediately felt a sense of alarm. She tried to break the silence.

"I'm sorry, Piers. We've gone and forgotten about what you were going to say after talking to Zoro ...?" she prompted.

But he didn't seem eager to talk about that now.

"Piers, it's okay, tell me!"

She reached out her hand to catch his, but any words Kuina might have said to try and convince him died in her throat as a self-conscious cough broke the silence. She jumped with a start, suddenly realising they were no longer alone. She'd been so preoccupied she'd failed to notice the presence of Captain Briggs at the door.

"It's okay, Miss Kuina," Piers said hurriedly, strangely downcast. "I don't think it's a good time to talk about that now. I need to go uh, check on the den-den mushis," he added, getting up without another word.


But Piers was gone, and she was left alone with Captain Briggs, who was radiating disapproval. There was the crinkling sound of newsprint coming from the captain's direction. Of course, he must have come for the daily newspaper.

"Good evening Captain Briggs," she began politely, still trying to comprehend what had just happened, but his cold voice cut her off.

"Kuina," he said sharply, "you're an idiot."

Without another word or explanation, he turned on his heel and left, leaving Kuina alone in the mess hall, utterly confused at what she had done to offend both men.

Captain Briggs sat at his desk, ostensibly doing his reports but in reality, he was fuming and his mind was on anything but the trivial little errands Marine High Command had sent him on, or the silly little dramas taking place all over his ship. He glared at the paper, freshly delivered by the news coo. That bastard had been at it again, and there was his smug face, plastered over the front page of the paper, in that stupid, tacky get-up that made Briggs wonder what the hell the idiot was even thinking.

Damn it all. There was a time when deducing what was going on in that man's head would have been a second nature to him but now...

A knock on his cabin door interrupted his thoughts. A young marine entered on his command, carrying a long narrow parcel.

"A delivery from the Quartermaster arrived for you, Captain. Oh, and you also have a letter, and a written message from Officer Piers from the communications room."

"Thank you, Seaman Wharf," he said idly, putting his paper aside. "Ah, my sabre. I've been expecting that. You may leave the deliveries in the corner and resume your duties."

After Seaman Wharf left, Briggs carefully slipped on a pair of gloves, unwrapped the parcel, and examined the reworked sabre. Satisfied, he drew the blade, then idly glanced at the message that had accompanied the delivery:

From: Quartermaster Skinflint

To: Captain H. C. Briggs

Your requisition and work order has been approved and completed.

Please keep your end of the agreement as promised.

The following items have been dispatched to you with this communication.

2 units weapons grade sea stone (new requisition)

Navy sabre modification work order confirmation report (expedited)

1 unit Navy sabre, Preowned (Maker: P. Rania Swordsmith, North Blue, engraved with letter B on guard.)

1 unit leather scabbard for navy sabre, with inscription:-

"What a load of rubbish," he said aloud in disgust at reading the rest of the message. On a whim, he ripped the note in two and tossed it aside in favour of drawing the weapon. Very very nice work. Maybe he ought to have a few rounds with Tashigi when he got back on board. He hadn't used swords for a while, he was bound to be rusty.

"What's a load of rubbish?"

Briggs started and swore as he turned around. Doctor Francis was at the door.

"Don't you knock?" he remarked acidly.

"Meant to, but the door was ajar and opened when I tried. What's a load of rubbish, stick-bug?"

"That's Captain Briggs to you, Francis."

"Captain Stick-Bug."

Briggs glared at the defiant doctor. The doctor had never been intimidated by rank when Smoker was in command and that hadn't changed. The damnable thing was he could get away with it too, doubly so now that Briggs was in charge. Even the sight of Briggs with a sabre in hand didn't seem to daunt him.

"You sound unusually happy, Francis," he commented, gritting his teeth and letting it slide.

"Retiring soon and my daughter's getting married. Everything an old man could ask for. By the way, Dr Bones just sent me a nagging letter. You're overdue for your checkup. I already know you're not going to come down to the infirmary to get it done on your own volition so here I am to make sure you're sound."

"There's no need, Francis. My arm's fine now. It's all regrown and I'm still—"

"Ain't talking about your arm. I know it grows back fine. I found that out the first time that happened, remember? I'm talking about that other wound of yours."

"I assure you, I made a full recovery from the broken ribs-"

Dr Francis made an sound that sounded like 'pfft'. "Don't play dumb with me. You're not the only one here who reads the news, Barkskin."

The tension in the room suddenly shot up. It was a while before Briggs broke the silence.

"Stay out of my affairs, Francis. And I'm fine. I'll come for my physical when I'm done here."

"Stubborn stick-bug," Dr Francis grumbled as he turned to leave. He stopped, then stooped down to pick up a piece of torn paper lying by his feet. With alarm, Briggs realised that of all the people on the ship, Francis was probably the only one who would understand the significance of it.


Too late. Dr Francis read the last part of the ripped note out loud:

"—sabre, with inscription: "Always had my back. Remember I've got yours. -X." The old doctor turned to look at him, then shook his head. "It's as I thought. He was the one who gave you that sword, wasn't he? What are you planning to do? Run him through with it when you find him?"

Briggs didn't answer.

The doctor suddenly lost his trademark surly look, and his expression changed to one of concern he normally reserved for the ladies in the crew. "Look, Briggs, it's not my place to say so, not after what he did to you. But hunting him down and killing him to get your revenge isn't going to make it better."

"You're right, it's not in your place, Francis." Briggs sheathed the sword put it behind his desk. "And you're wrong. It's not about vengeance. It's about responsibility. I created a monster. And I'm going to make sure my mistake is no longer allowed to run wild in the New World."

"Is that what you tell yourself now?" The scorn in his voice was grating.

"That's what it is." Briggs projected as much force in his voice as he could.

There was another moment of silence before Francis spoke again, but when he did, he didn't sound convinced.

"Fine. But I'm warning you, don't get the others caught up with your revenge. You're the one Smoker put in charge of this ship, and you have those kids and Tashigi to watch out for, Captain."

With that, the doctor left, still bristling.

Damn that old man, Briggs thought in annoyance. Just because he knew. Just because he thought he knew his history, he presumed he had the right to interfere. And he'd even assumed Briggs would neglect his duties just because of that bastard.

No, as much as he wanted that, he understood that he was the captain of the ship, and he owed Admiral Aokiji and Commodore Smoker that much. He had a responsibility towards the safety of his crew. Even if that damned Tashigi was being so difficult right now...

He retrieved the letter Seaman Wharf had left with his parcel. He already knew what it was, of course, but it didn't hurt to confirm its contents. Sure enough, it was the confirmation of his peace offering arrangement with Tashigi.

From: Tikki's Mail Order Gift Service

To: Captain H. C. Briggs

Dear Captain Briggs,

Thank you for your purchase of the following items:

1 unit - The New, Updated and Comprehensive History of the Meitou (Limited Edition with full colour plates)

The listed items will be sent by express delivery coo to your requested address as soon as possible.

We value your business!

"You'd better be right about this, Tenzou," he groused to himself. Then he picked up the last note, which was from Piers. It was a transcript of a message that had been dictated through den-den mushi. After the blind girl's cluelessness, the poor besotted backwater fisherman was probably on duty on moping in there. At least he was making himself useful.

He scanned the note header and sat up when he noticed it was a message from Tashigi. Perhaps she was finally done with the silent treatment and the peace offering would not be needed after all. Before he could start reading in earnest, there came a frantic rapping at the door.

"What now?"

It was Private Wharf again. "The command just came in from Admiral Aokiji's golden den-den mushi, sir- he's called for a Buster Call!"

A Buster Call? From Admiral Aokiji? After reading Aokiji's account of Ohara, he found it difficult to believe that a man like Aokiji would call for something so drastic out of the blue.

"The target?" Briggs kept up appearances , but inwardly his mind was racing.

"Enies Lobby."

"Are you sure?!"

"Y-yes, sir!"

Aokiji Buster Calling one of the World Governments own bastions of order? What the bloody hell was going on?

"Tell Navigator Piers to set a course for Enies Lobby. Briefing of all crew in half an hour. Go!"

Something big was going on. He frowned to himself. As important as it was to be prompt, detouring to pick up Tashigi wouldn't be a half bad idea. If there was trouble brewing in Enies Lobby, it would be reassuring to have her on hand to help. Water 7 wasn't that far away, and T-Bone would be there too.

He picked up the message from Tashigi again. Any thoughts about that whether that was a good idea to go pick her up died in a realization of horror on reading the actual content of her message:

To: Captain Briggs,

Will not be at Water 7. Captain T-Bone's unit has been assigned to escort sea-train to Enies Lobby. Please reroute for pickup there.


Ensign Tashigi

To Be Continued...

Thanks to the wonderful Aoi24 for the loan of Captain Tenzou. Sorry about the mistakes in this chapter, I didn't manage to get it betaed in the end, so this will have to do for now. And in case you are wondering, yes, I'm still working at my fics guys! -|P