Hanley is essentially an experiment. We've all read stories about teens from our world landing into other dimensions of some sort, and we've all had horrible experiences with the dreaded Sue (no relation to the Dread Pirate Roberts for he is awesome). Basically, I just wanted to put my money where my mouth was—I would be the first to lament the existence of those awful characters, but who knows if I could do any better? I knew it was easier said than done, and dammit, I sorta wanted to let loose and jump on the bandwagon! So I asked myself, "Can I do it? Dare I tread down this path with nary a clue where I'll end up?" Then a friend of mine told me to go for it anyway...so I did.
I purposefully stacked the odds against myself when writing Hanley, so we'll see if I can manage a likable, or, at least a tolerable character where the audience is willing to suspend their disbelief. I'll be happy with that as well.
This is an exercise in characterization not only for my OCs, but also Oda Eiichiro's. It should also be noted that I have only started watching the anime in my spare time, so almost all of my knowledge is manga based. I don't know what the hell happens in the fillers (and I'm sure there are many with a series this long).
DISCLAIMER: Oda Eiichiro and Shounen Jump claim the rights to One Piece—I'm just using them. Note that this disclaimer will apply to all subsequent chapters for how ever long I go.
Prologue: Introducing Hanley, the Adventurous Girl or the Girl that Stumbles Upon Adventure?
Amano Hanley was merely ten years old when her life changed forever.
"I'm off, dear. I should be back by the time she gets up."
"We'll see about that, you've yet to be on time in the past 40 years we've been married. Don't forget her gift, you silly man."
"Of course not. Wish me luck, you heartless woman."
It was her birthday today; it fell on a Sunday this year so her grandmother felt kind enough to let her sleep in that morning. At ten, Hanley finally crawled out of her futon, and after spending all of three seconds in intense deliberations, decided she wasn't feeling up to putting it away properly. She had stayed up late last night, excited about her birthday on top of many other things, and ended up being unable to sleep well after midnight.
'Never making that mistake again,' she thought drowsily as she went to her dresser. She frowned at her reflection in the mirror and attempted to flatten her hair with her fingers with little success. Hanley was tall for her age, standing a good head above the other girls in her class, with straight black hair and dark green eyes. Her skin was a medium shade of brown, but she often sported a tan on top of that from spending a great deal of time outdoors.
Normally she would get dressed before heading down to breakfast—one of the rules of the house—but she figured that if she were allowed the luxury of sleeping until ten, Grandmother had probably waived this one as well. The old wooden floor creaked as she made her way down the short walkway to the den. Birthday or not, she wouldn't be allowed to laze about for too long. Her grandmother was at the stove, frying eggs and preparing tea while listening to their old clunker of a radio. The relative silence meant her grandfather was out. Hanley was a little disappointed—it was her birthday after all, and he usually was in the den at this time, reading the paper or playing with his model ships.
Still, it was incredibly bright that morning, despite the heavy rain that lasted the all throughout the previous day and well into night. It was painful to look out the sliding glass doors that faced the gardens, but it was definitely loads better seeing the sun this side of six in the morning. Her grandparents were the type to be up and ready at the crack of dawn, and they were merciless enough to make her do the same. Well, her grandmother was merciless; Grandfather was content to go with the flow as he usually did.
"Good morning, dear." Her grandmother, Mitsuko, greeted as she poured her tea. Unlike her granddaughter, Mitsuko was a rather small woman with fair skin, who possessed steel gray hair and prominent laugh-lines around her lips and eyes. When the townspeople, including her small family, were feeling charitable, they would typically describe her personality as "formidable." Hanley could only remember challenging her authority just once when she realized her grandmother had to crane her neck back just to look at her in the eye.
She could never remember what happened afterwards, but she certainly never tried again, that was for sure.
Hanley yawned and nodded, trying to overcome her drowsiness. It had been so long since she had slept in on top of staying up late, her body didn't seem to know what to do with itself.
Mitsuko sighed, "Such laziness. It's a good thing your practice isn't until the afternoon."
"Yeah," Hanley muttered as she dumped copious amounts of ketchup on her eggs, "oh, and thanks for the meal, Grandma." The last bit came sheepishly once she realized she was being a little rude. Mitsuko merely smiled and nodded.
"Your useless grandfather said he would be back by the time you woke up, but we can see how that went. That man..."
"Where is he this morning?"
"Fishing as usual. He found a new lure that he swears by, and he just had to try it out. You know how he is, dear. In any case, eat up before your food gets cold."
"Yes! It's really great."
Hanley lived with her grandparents outside the rural village of Hakube located by the sea. The compound consisted of a traditional house and garden attached to a small, yet ornate shrine to the sea god Wadatsumi. The shrine was well worn and possessed no valuables, and it was definitely outshone by the larger shrine in Kobe; however, it was one of the main sources of pride for the fishing village. It also saw quite a bit of traffic as it was located on the main road leading toward the harbor—it wasn't uncommon for the fishermen to stop by to say a prayer or leave an offering. Her grandmother's family, the Mizuno, had cared for the shrine for generations, as far back as anyone in Hakube could remember. The shrine was said to be a symbol of some kind of covenant between Wadatsumi and the Mizuno, but hell if anyone knew what that was supposed to entail. Nonetheless, Hanley would probably end up taking care of it once her grandparents had passed, but Mitsuko never mentioned any plans for her to do so, one way or another.
Mitsuko tossed the dirty dishes in the sink for her husband to clean and crossed into the den. She slid open the glass door that led into the garden before settling on the interior porch.
"Hanley, what would you like to do for your birthday? You never did say." she asked as she lit up a cigarette. Hanley wrinkled her nose at the sight of it but knew better than to say anything.
"Eh, I still don't know. My Swimming Class wanted to throw me a party, but..." Hanley paused, "I also wanted to spend my birthday with you."
"Oh? So any party they had your grandpa and I couldn't go?"
Hanley gave her a look, "No."
Mitsuko laughed and shrugged, "I can't blame you. Who knows what we'd do to embarrass you." The statement was delivered so shamelessly Hanley could only believe it was nothing but the truth.
One of their main sources of amusement was making their only grandchild squirm. Hanley supposed she was lucky to turn out as well adjusted as she did.
Mitsuko sighed, "Or, to be more specifically, you didn't want us meeting that dashing swim coach you happen to have a crush on--"
Ah, there it was. She was a fool to think she'd receive leniency today; hell, she was a fool to think she'd be able to get out of the house before Grandma had her fun. Hanley could feel her cheeks grow warm as she stared at her eggs as if they held the meaning of life. Why bother wondering how that woman found out? Chain-smoking old--
"But you would never catch his attention anyway," Mitsuko continued breezily, "even if he were the type to go for young girls, it's not like you have any kind of desirable figure. No breasts at all--"
"Argh!!!" The woman was merciless, going for the throat on the first attack!
"Gangly with bony hips--"
"WHY ARE YOU LOOKING?" Hanley shrieked, throwing her empty chawan. Mitsuko easily caught it and calmly set it down on the tatami mat. She was trying very hard not to laugh at Hanley, but it was also obvious she was doing a very bad job of it.
"Don't throw things, dear, it's quite rude. And your follow through was just sloppy on top of that. Besides, I'm just telling the truth. Oh, and before I forget, your friend Eriko phoned. They'll be by to pick you up for practice at 1130."
Hanley growled and looked at the clock, "T-That's in ten minutes! Warn me sooner!" Hanley sighed and tried to calm down. If she hurried, she could get dressed and try to flatten her bangs in only a few minutes; hopefully she wouldn't keep Eriko-sempai and the others waiting too long, and hopefully she'd be gone before Grandma found something else to laugh at her about.
Mitsuko rolled her eyes. "You're going to go swim, just put on your suit--"
"It's the principle, Grandma! Look at my hair!"
"Oh, so that's you hair. And here I thought something had crawled up there and died and you let it stay out of pity."
"...Why do you torment me?"
Mitsuko opened her mouth to answer, no doubt very prepared to tell her why her suffering was absolutely hilarious, but she was interrupted by the front door slamming open with a loud crack.
"I'm home, my lovelies!" a deep, raspy voice called from the foyer.
"Wasn't he supposed to be here hours ago?" Hanley asked as her grandfather ambled in, laden down with his fishing gear and a few bags. His favorite tackle box was perched precariously on top and looked ready to fall over at any second.
'Geez they smell, he must have caught something.' she thought. Amano Hiroto was a short, thick set man with a small goatee and a face that was well worn and wrinkled from years of sailing and fishing off the coasts. When the townspeople, including his small family, were feeling charitable, they would typically describe his personality as "carefree."
Except Mitsuko; then again, Mitsuko didn't believe in charity.
Hiroto had only retired recently, and if one asked Mitsuko's opinion, he now spent his time playing with toy boats and generally being a nuisance. Evidence of his newfound hobby could be found scattered around the house and grounds, and Hanley couldn't remember a time when he wasn't lecturing her on different ship types and other lore.
Not that she retained any of it. Though to her credit, she certainly tried.
"Maybe if we ignore him, he'll go away. You know what they say about strays, dear." Mitsuko said with a sigh of long suffering.
Hiroto only laughed and placed his bags by the kitchen table. "You are looking as bright and lovely as the morning, my love--"
"Before you start that, did you get it?" Mitsuko knew she had to nip that rant in the bud before he warmed up. It was sweet, but he tended to go on and on if you let him.
Hiroto huffed and began to dig through his parcels, "I got it, I got it. Do you see how she treats me, Han-chan?"
"I don't think that nickname quite works anymore, Grandpa," Hanley replied obediently. "More importantly, is that my birthday gift??" Her fingers definitely weren't twitching in anticipation.
"Hold on, hold on...there." Hiroto pulled out a small package wrapped in blue paper and tied in a bow.
Mitsuko blinked and puffed on her cigarette, "So you did get it. I'm quite impressed with you."
"Oh, do I get a reward?"
"Um, ew, no." Hanley interrupted as she tore open the paper. That was something she wasn't even going to consider; it'd be a sad birthday if she was permanently traumatized. Hiroto merely ruffled her hair, cheerfully ignoring her indignant shriek, and made himself comfortable on the cushion beside his wife. Mitsuko kindly gave him a small kiss as a proper greeting, causing him to grin widely. Hanley rolled her eyes and resumed ripping the gift a new one.
"Aya, and I spent such a long time on that! That's what took me so long, you know." Hiroto told his wife.
Mitsuko snorted incredulously, "That tiny box can't be the reason you were two hours late."
"Well, I also had to find the charm itself. And I had to find the box to put it in. It's pretty nice, I think, the carvings bring out the--"
"I love it!" Hanley squealed as she took out the necklace. It was quite simple, consisting of a small magatama made up of a dark blue stone on a sturdy silver chain. "Where did you get it? I don't think I've seen this sort of stone before. It wasn't expensive, was it--"
"Goodness girl, take a breath!" interrupted Mitsuko. "And, to be technical, it didn't cost us a bit. We
were just waiting to give that to you at the right time."
Hanley looked down at the magatama resting in the palm of her hand. The right time? Does that mean this was some sort of family heirloom? The stone didn't look like jadeite at least. Thank goodness, she would have felt awkward wearing that sort of jewelry—her nerves wouldn't be able to stand it. She certainly liked precious stones, but she never had a pressing urge to own them; well, that was only because she was too paranoid that she'd lose them somehow. However, the small charm did feel odd to her somehow. It was strange, something so small that could fit in the palm of her hand could cause her stomach to clench in anticipation.
Or nausea, but Hanley was sincerely hoping it was anticipation.
She ran her fingers over the smooth stone, nearly cursing in surprise when she felt a gentle shock on her fingertips. Hanley wasn't the superstitious sort, but she could swear there was something funny about the freaky little thing.
Hanley didn't notice her grandmother watching her with an odd look on her face, and even Hiroto hesitated before speaking, "Listen, Han-chan, that magatama is very special. It's looks like you've noticed that much. Er, how special or why we are not sure. But we do know it was left by your father."
Hanley's head shot up, her eyes wide from shock. The subject of Hanley's father was never really spoken of in the household. It's not exactly taboo, but neither grandparent wanted to risk causing unnecessary pain and drama. There was not a picture of Hanley's father, nor a hint of who he was or where he had gone, if he was even alive. The prevailing attitude now was that he had been dead for years (in Hanley's mind that was better than being alive and simply not caring enough to contact her). She had her fantasies, of course, but it was never the same as reality. When she was even younger, she really missed him even though he may as well have never existed.
Now this happened, literally out of nowhere.
She forced her fingers to relax once she realized she had clenched her hands into fists. The magatama remained cool to the touch, still thrumming gently with unknown energy.
'I must be imagining it,' Hanley thought, attempting to regain her balance, 'it's not alive anyway. And this was dad's? Why am I just now getting it, did they think I wasn't old enough or something? Why leave this thing instead of a note or something like a normal person?'
"I'm alright," Hanley finally responded after a long, awkward silence, "I'm just surprised, really. And confused, but that's nothing new, so..." Her attempt at humor fell flat, but Mitsuko and Hiroto gave her wide smiles regardless.
"That's much better," Hiroto sighed in relief, "we waited because, well, we were worried about your feelings. You were quite unpredictable when you were younger."
Unpredictable was pure understatement. The lack of a mother was one thing; the fact her father could have been some low-life gang banger for all anyone knew was a serious point of insecurity, and she was quite mean when she was younger as a result. She was the only one in their small school that didn't have either parent, much less not know who one of them was. Simply mentioning her father caused tantrums. Hanley couldn't remember it all, but it must have been bad when she, herself, realized how self-absorbed and mean she was. The reasons for it mattered little, as her grandmother often scolded. Even now she still grew angry over the unfairness of it all. Hanley shouldn't be so surprised they waited. She had certainly thrown things in a flash of temper before. No wonder they didn't give her a precious belonging of his.
Hanley had to believe it was precious to him.
Hanley caressed the stone once more before putting the chain around her neck. It wasn't that long, causing the magatama to lay just below the collarbone. It felt heavy, far heavier than it looked for some odd reason. The magatama was a dead weight around her neck, and Hanley actually felt a little nervous wearing it. No, that was silly, even sillier than thinking it had some spooky kind of energy field. If she wanted that kind of excitement, she'd cut on the small television and catch an anime. As it stood, her friends would be here soon—hell, they were five minutes late—so she needed to get ready. Magic magatama and mysterious gifts from mysterious parents could wait.
"I love it, thank you for giving it to me. My father--" she trailed off.
"I am sure," Mitsuko said, "there was a reason why he left it. He had given it to your mother, and she passed it along to us before she died."
That was another bit of exceedingly cliché, yet utterly depressing, drama in her life, and Hanley definitely didn't feel like going down that route either.
'I need to get over this bad mood. I'm giving the room a bad atmosphere, and I don't want to make them upset over someone I've never seen and who's never been there. I'll act better once I get back this evening.' It was a promise she often made to herself—and one that was often bent if not outright broken—but she continued to try. With that decided, Hanley collected the box her gift came in and stood.
"I'll go get dressed. I'll probably hang out with my friends after practice," she brightly. It was her birthday, she wasn't going to get moody on her damned birthday! She had her friends, her family, her health, and soon, cake. You couldn't do better than that.
Okay, technically you could, but she was trying to be mature and stuff.
"Don't spend too long out today, your grandfather won't give me any cake until you're here." Cake was obviously a serious priority of Mitsuko's as well. Not surprising—Hiroto, of all people, made a damn good double layer chocolate.
"I won't, I won't, I'll be right back." Was her favorite suit clean, now that she thought about it? She had already picked out what she wanted to wear the night before—now she just had to remember if her suit was in the wash or not. Hanley dug through her dresser, her search becoming a bit more frantic when she heard her grandfather happily greeting her friends at the front door. Her bangs were still tangled on her forehead!
In the end she couldn't find the suit, and she also had to clip her bangs down into some semblance of order. She thought she looked pretty cute in her new off white sundress, so it still worked out.
"Han-chan, are you coming??"
"Yes, I'm ready!" she called in reply, grabbing her tote and dashing to the front door. Hanley waved when she spotted her three friends.
Of the three, Yamamoto Hitomi and Nagano Natsuhiko have been her friends even before primary despite her meanness, and all three were the children of fishermen. Natsuhiko was the only one interested in the family business, and had already joined his father on two minor fishing trips. Hanley met Matsuda Eriko when she expressed an interest in taking swimming classes at the local recreational center. Eriko was a year older, and was the younger sister of one of the swimming instructors. Hitomi and Natsuhiko were quick to join the classes as well, and the rest was, as they say, history.
"You're so slow, Han," Natsuhiko complained as she hurriedly stuffed her feet into her sneakers without untying the strings, "we were waiting forever."
Hanley snorted and rolled her eyes at him, "You were also late." Why did she even bother? They didn't even notice the dress.
"Not our fault! He couldn't find his trunks, of all things." Hitomi piped up, eager to place blame on him. Eriko rolled her eyes and grinned at Hanley. Hanley felt her cheeks grow warm and beamed at her.
"Good morning, Eriko-sempai."
"Good morning, Erikwo-sempwai..." Natsuhiko mocked while Hitomi batted her eyelashes and made faces.
"S-Shut up, or you get no cake!"
Hiroto nodded, his face serious. "Indeed. I cannot condone giving chocolate cake to those that make fun of my granddaughter."
Mitsuko snickered from the background, "I guess we're not getting any cake, either."
Hanley huffed and gently grabbed Eriko's wrist.
"Let's go, they'll catch up."
Eriko giggled, "Yup, and then we'll eat all of the cake ourselves."
"Take care, Han-chan!" Her grandfather called.
"Come back soon, remember!" added her grandmother, mind still clearly on the cake.
"See you later!" she answered as they dashed outside, followed closely by the whining Hitomi and Natsuhiko. By this point, Hanley had managed to get her blush under control. She slowed down to allow Eriko to fix her clothes and tighten her ponytail, as well as grudgingly allow Hitomi and Natsuhiko to catch up. So what if she admired Eriko? She was lovely, petite, smart, popular, and very kind. Hanley knew she probably counted on Eriko's support and friendship a bit more than she should, but how could she not? Eriko was so easy to like and talk to; in her lesser moments, it was something Hanley would become jealous over.
"Happy birthday, Han-chan. That's a very pretty dress." Eriko smiled as they waited. But now, Hanley could only be grateful for her.
Hanley's blush returned and she scratched her head in embarrassment.
"We have a surprise for you, as a matter of fact," Eriko continued, not noticing Hanley's darkening face, "I hope you'll like it. Natsu-kun said you would."
'Oh hell, what did he do?' thought Hanley. Still, she found herself smiling at the thought. They were her first and only friends. Hanley was never that good at making friends—her size and her, um, forcefulness (as noted by the villagers and her family when they were feeling charitable), made it a little hard to get along with the other kids. They were warming up now that she wasn't being a terror, and have even invited her places, but that didn't change the fact that Eriko, Natsuhiko, and Hitomi were very dear to her.
Even if Hitomi and Natsuhiko drove her crazy.
Natsuhiko and Hitomi had caught up to them by then, and both were quick to scold the two for dashing off. Eriko looked apologetic, but Hanley waved her hand in a dismissive gesture.
"You're here now. So, let's get going, we're already late and Eriko's brother will get irritated."
"I bet you'd hate that," Hitomi muttered in annoyance.
"Shut up!" she found herself saying that quite a lot around those two. Surely that was some sort of sign.
"Hm? What's wrong?" Eriko asked, looking confused.
Natsuhiko snickered and shrugged, "If you haven't got it by now you never will. We got plenty of time, Han. And, look what I got!" He pulled out a tattered paperback book from his bag. From what Hanley could see, it was some kind of manga volume—she couldn't tell what it was at first glance due to the missing cover. Natsuhiko wasn't exactly the tidiest person in their group, and his things became dirty very, very quickly.
Hanley took the volume and blinked. The art was, at first glance, ugly. The proportions were weird and exaggerated, even more than normal considering the type of stylized art usually found in manga. The eyes had to be the oddest to her, and was up with their limbs? And the leg hair on the men was certainly interesting. It was, all in all, pretty funky.
'One Piece, huh...' Hanley thought. 'I've heard of it, but...'
How in the world did this guy get published?
Hanley flipped through the volume, skimming through the pages as the group of friends made their way down the rest of the stone steps onto the main road. After a few minutes of scanning, Hanley admitted the art wasn't as bad as she initially thought—it was so unique it had thrown her for a second. She didn't really pay attention to the story, however. She gathered it was centered around pirates, and some guys named Shanks and Luffy, but it didn't take long before her attention began to wander. This sort of thing really wasn't for her, after all. She checked her watch with a sigh. It was nearly noon, and while Hakube was pretty small, they wouldn't make it to the center on time at this rate.
"It's the best," Natsuhiko all but gushed as they walked, "I can't wait to get the next issue. I was hoping to go after our bo—I mean, after practice today. See, it's about this kid named Monkey D. Luffy and how he wants to become Pirate King--"
"I got that much." Hanley said as she closed the book. "Not interested."
"Oh, I forgot, you only like Western stuff."
Eriko frowned in disapproval, "Hush, Natsu-kun."
Natsuhiko blushed and smiled, "Oh, I'm sorry, Sempai! Geez, Han, try to be more ladylike like Sempai, won't you?"
"Bastard..." Hanley hissed and turned to hit him with his own manga.
"Oh, what's that?" asked Hitomi, pointing to the magatama, finally noticing the jewel around her neck. To be honest, Hanley somehow managed to forget about it herself; now that it entered her mind once more, that same heaviness seemed to drag at her neck. For a moment, she had to resist the urge to let her head and shoulders slump downwards.
'Is this thing temperamental??'
Eriko peered closer and gasped. "It's so lovely, Han-chan! Did your grandparents give it to you?"
Hanley could not help but preen a bit at the attention. She gave the magatama a soft pat.
"Yes, but more importantly, they said that my father left it for me." Hanley's mood threatened to dip, but Eriko's pleased smile at that piece of news caused it to rebound spectacularly.
"That's so wonderful! See, I told you he cared. He is your father, after all."
Natsuhiko leaned in for a better look, the bangs of his short cut briefly obstructed his view. Unlike Hitomi and Eriko, Natsuhiko could actually look her in the eye without having to crane his head back.
"It is pretty nice. Is it some kind of heirloom?"
Hitomi nodded, "Yeah, aren't authentic magatama kinda ancient or something? It certainly looks like the real thing, too! I bet you could sell it for..." she trailed off at Eriko's and Hanley's looks. "...not that you want to or anything. I'm just saying you should get it appraised."
"Yeah, I mean, what if it's just some copy from a gift shop--"
"Even if it is, my father left it for me. If this was all that he could manage, then that's the end of it." Truth be told, Hanley had considered some of same things as well when she was getting ready that morning. She highly doubted it was an authentic period piece, and it wasn't as if she was that religious either. Her stupid fantasizing about her father's identity was starting to act up again. She had thought she stopped doing that a while ago, but it seemed she still couldn't help it. Was she ever a glutton for punishment. Even if it would be awesome if her father was some kind of Indiana Jones-like archaeologist. Did he find it at a grave site? As part of a Buddhist monk's belongings?
'How stupid can I get? Besides, my grandparents are more than enough.'
Eriko lightly touched her hand and pointed. "We're nearly there."
Hanley blinked and frowned in confusion. The layout of the town was very simple. The main road ran along the coast line and connected nearly all of Hakube. There were very many side roads that branched off of it—the second largest street that held most of the stores and restaurants and bars, another that cut off into several smaller roads generally led to the houses, another for the high school and recreational center—but somehow they'd taken the wrong turn and were heading to the harbor. That just couldn't be right, practice was always held at the indoor swimming pool.
"Where are we going? I thought--"
Her friends were all grinning in excitement, and soon Hanley could figure out why.
Up ahead was Daisuke, Eriko's older brother and one of the swim instructors for their class. He taught the younger children as well as their age group, and was also the captain of the high school men's team. He had already led his team to several competitions and victories, on top of having very good looks and holding one of the top spots of his class academically. Hanley's heart beat faster at the sight of him. Was there just something in the Matsuda DNA? The whole family seemed to be talented—they had an older brother who was attending Tokyo University at that very moment.
Hanley glanced sideways at Eriko, who was smiling and waving at her brother, and felt that familiar flash of envy. It wasn't just the looks and smarts, really...
Hitomi was excitedly dragging her toward Daisuke, who jumped off the boat and walked up to greet them.
"Yo! Is that our birthday girl?"
Hanley wheezed softly and tried to answer; hopefully, it would be something intelligent and/or witty that would no doubt impress him with her maturity.
"Ee. Yeah." Riveting.
Daisuke didn't seem to notice her shyness as he greeted the rest of them. Hanley faintly heard Natsuhiko muttering about that obliviousness being hereditary. She had to clench her hands to keep from reaching back and smacking him.
'Not in front of sensei,' she thought frantically, 'not in front of Daisuke-sensei, not in front of Daisuke-sensei--'
Daisuke crossed his arms and tilted his head. "You're a little late, though. I was this close to leaving you all and eating the food for myself."
Eriko laughed, "No you weren't. Mother would have punished you for that."
"Huh, wha?" Hanley stuttered as she looked at her friends. Now that she was thinking more clearly, why was their instructor here as well?
Daisuke smiled down at her.
'ARGH, they even have the same dimples!'
"So, what do you think?"
"Great!" Hanley said quickly, without thinking. Then she blushed, "Um, but what exactly do I find so great?" She grew warmer when she heard Natsuhiko and Hitomi nearly kill themselves laughing at her.
'I'm starting to think that I need better friends.' The thought held no heat, and Hanley had to bite back a small grin at the burst of affection she felt for the two nuts.
"Your birthday gift, of course. A ride and picnic on the family yacht." Daisuke gave the boat, Rakumaru, a loving pat. "I don't think you've seen it, have you?"
"N-No...it's very nice...the design is, um, a sloop, right?" Hanley gave the main sail and jib another look. She was pretty sure her grandfather mentioned something like that before.
"Hey, you know your stuff," Daisuke said, looking pleasantly surprised. Hanley could barely keep from smiling like an idiot. Poor guy—like Eriko he was very nice, but spending a free day carting little kids around probably wasn't on the top of his list of things to do. Hanley made a mental note to thank her grandpa and his silly toy boats—no, model boats. Daisuke helped her aboard and, once he was sure they had settled down, began to untie and make preparations to disembark.
"Rakumaru is powered by sail and motor," Daisuke continued as he hopped aboard, "it's a little small, but very reliable."
"Do you need any help?" Natsuhiko asked, puffing his chest out slightly. No doubt he was eager to show off what he learned on the trips with his father.
"Thanks, but I have it," Daisuke said as he maneuvered Rakumaru out of the harbor, "maybe when we get to open water. I'm planning on switching to the main sail at that point. It's a very nice day."
"You're so lucky, Han-chan," Eriko said as she checked the food, "I looked at the forecast this morning—clear skies all day long. I was worried because it was raining so hard yesterday."
Hitomi nodded, "It came out of nowhere, didn't it? I wonder what it was."
"Hey now, the sea is a fickle thing." Natsuhiko intoned, nodding seriously.
"Ugh, will you look at this guy? Calm down, Natsu-kun."
"Captain Natsuhiko, Hitomi, call me captain."
Eriko laughed at the both of them, and even Daisuke had a smirk on his face as he expertly piloted the craft across the waves. Hanley sighed and tried to tone down on her love sickness. Sure, Daisuke didn't see her that way, she was only ten years old, but that didn't mean she couldn't indulge a bit. And who knows, maybe when she got older she could give it a try?
Well, if he hadn't found a perfect wife by that point.
After a while Daisuke halted the craft, and double checked their bearings. If she squinted, Hanley could make out the gray outline of the coast; it would seem that Daisuke didn't want to take them out too terribly far. He weighed anchor and checked the fastening of the sails before joining them. Eriko was already setting out the containers that held the food. Hanley rubbed her stomach when it growled appreciatively. Her breakfast of eggs and ketchup seemed hours ago. She began mentally staking her claim. If she knew Natsu, and she did, he would be the one to watch.
It was a good sized meal with quite a bit of Hanley's favorites. Shrimp and squid were in abundance, as were fried gyoza and onigiri. It was an unusual assortment. Hanley didn't know how Eriko's and Daisuke's mother put it together and still make it look presentable.
"I had to ask your grandmother what you liked to eat, and Mother took care of the rest." Eriko explained as she popped open a can of tea.
"It's really nice, thank you." Hanley said, touched they went through the trouble.
"Well, you've had a tough year, right?"
Hanley shuddered, "I thought we agreed never to mention that math grade. Grandma's so strict even Takamura-sensei looked sorry that he failed me. Well, it doesn't matter. Summer classes don't start in a few weeks, so I have the time to think hard about my failures and how disappointed my grandparents are."
"Oh, don't put yourself down like that."
"No, that's what Grandma said."
"Don't mind! I'll be right beside you, Han." Natsuhiko piped up around a mouthful of shrimp fried rice. Hitomi squealed a bit when she was sprayed with chewed bits of shrimp.
"Wow, how can I not be relieved?" she muttered. It was partially his fault her math score was so low to begin with, silly boy. She playfully nudged him and quickly stole his shrimp. She happily ignored his whining as she giggled with Hitomi. They chatted for a while, largely about the cute boy in the next class over—pointedly cooing to watch Natsuhiko make faces.
Daisuke laughed at him, "You won't be thinking that way for long."
"I'll think it until I die!" Natsuhiko replied forcefully.
"It won't be long then. Did you see the eyes he was making at Mariko-chan?" Hanley slyly told Hitomi and Eriko.
"No, really??" Hitomi gasped, turning to him.
Natsuhiko sputtered. "Han! Don't be like that! I told you I had something in my eye."
"That caused you to look in her direction for long tracks of time? Yeah, right!"
When Hanley moved to take another bit of Natsuhiko's food, she saw Eriko's concerned look.
'That silly worrier.' Hanley thought.
Hanley grinned, "I'm not even upset anymore, really!" Eriko still looked reluctant so Hanley continued. "I just wish I was as good in school as Sempai."
Eriko looked at her in surprise, "Really? But I always wish I were more like--"
Daisuke popped the last gyoza into his mouth and opened a large tackle box. "Hey, who wants to do some fishing?"
Natsuhiko immediately volunteered, nearly knocking the swim coach over in excitement. Hitomi also looked interested, but decided to refrain from causing bodily harm.
'I wonder what she was going to say,' Hanley thought as Eriko crossed over to join them.
If there was one thing in life Hiroto enjoyed, it was being a grandparent. It was something he never thought he would experience, and after ten years he never regretted taking Hanley in as their own. He knew Mitsuko felt the same; although neither were sure if they were doing a good job or just setting her up for the mad house.
Oh well, it was something all of them were going to find out someday!
The cake was now in its final stages and nearing completion. If you asked him, presentation was half of the battle, which is why he spent the past half hour carefully smoothing and arranging the icing. After he finally got it looking the way he thought was acceptable, he went to the small fridge and began digging for the strawberries he hid the night before. He had wanted them nice and chilled to top the cake, but something told him he had better check on them.
'Strange, though, I can't seem to find them. I know they were here this morning before I left the house. I wonder...' Hiroto straightened and looked at his wife. She was still in the same position as she was that morning, on her third cigarette and a cup of tea in her hand. He didn't like suspecting her, but this was important, and she was the most likely suspect.
"Dear, where are my strawberries?"
Mitsuko flinched and took a sip of her tea. The suspicious silence told him everything.
"What strawberries?" she finally answered, not looking at him. His wife was many things, but innocent certainly wasn't even on the list, much less near the top. One of the reasons why he married her, really.
"Please tell me you didn't eat them when I specifically said they were for Hanley's cake."
"Then I won't."
She ate them. She destroyed them and his masterpiece.
Hiroto sighed and shrugged. The market was just a five minute walk if he cut through the back and headed down the old, wooden steps leading from the shrine. Perhaps it was better this way—they would be quite fresh. He'll just keep telling himself that.
Mitsuko looked vaguely uncomfortable, "I am sorry, I forgot about that until I was halfway through them." Hiroto couldn't help but smile at her.
"Don't worry about it, love, I'll just get some more. I'll buy extra this time," he headed into the foyer and slipped on his sandals, "while I'm out, what else would you like—oh shit!" The moment he tried to take a step the thong on his sandal snapped right off, leaving him to face plant into the wall. Hiroto was quick enough to catch himself to absorb some of the shock, but he was still stunned from cracking his nose on the door frame. He gingerly touched the bridge of his nose as he checked himself for blood. Dammit, these were his favorite pair! Hell, they were actually his only pair.
"Are you alright? What happened?" Mitsuko asked as she came up, helping him sit on the low step. She looked concerned as she inspected him for injuries. Hiroto basked in that a little before giving himself a mental shake. He was a man, dammit.
"I'm fine, I'm fine, I just tripped." He picked up his broken sandal with a sigh. "The strap just broke for no damn reason. Guess I'll have to borrow Han-chan's—I'm going to get a little worried if she gets any bigger. If this keeps up she'll be rampaging across Shinjuku by age 20."
Mitsuko didn't reply, she was too busy staring at the broken leather strap. Hiroto grimaced a bit and quickly placed the sandal aside.
"It doesn't mean anything, just a bit of bad luck. She'll be home soon, and then we can celebrate her birthday properly. You've finished wrapping her other gift, right?"
Mitsuko nodded and laughed, "Yes, you're right—folly and superstition. And I'm done with that, it's on the table."
"I'll be back soon to help with decorations. I can't believe she's ten already. Time really does fly." Hiroto stood and adjusted Hanley's sandals. It was a bit of a tight fit, but they would do until Mitsuko fixed his. He glanced at the sky and frowned when he saw it was suddenly and steadily darkening.
"I better make the trip a quick one. Han-chan will love it."
Hanley didn't believe it could happen, but one moment the sun was bright and the skies were clear, and the next they were in the middle of a sudden squall. They were left to scramble for cover from the sudden downpour while Daisuke quickly made his way toward the motor. The wind, which was once a gentle breeze, quickly grew in strength, churning up the water and soon Rakumaru was being tossed about as if it were nothing more than a dinghy.
Hanley couldn't hear anything but the roar in her ears, even though she was positive she was screaming her head off from sheer terror. The water was constantly deluding the deck, and the wind stung her face and made it difficult to see. She had no idea where her friends were.
'Oh shit, what if they were thrown overboard? Oh no, oh no, what do I do I'm so scared--'
Hanley's fingers slipped from the rope and she slammed into the side of the boat. She hissed in pain and curled up on her side, dazed. She looked up and managed to make out Daisuke's shape as he fought with the motor. It wasn't responding at all from what she could barely tell.
"Eriko-sempai?? Natsu-kun?? Hitomi-chan??" No luck, her voice didn't carry at all.
The vessel spun around and around, keeping her mashed against the floor. She was going to be sick, oh hell, they were going to die she didn't want to die--
"HANLEY!" she felt Daisuke pick her up and hold her close, and in her panic she had to wonder what kind of luck she had that this was the only way he would. Her side was in absolute agony, contrasting with her cold and quickly numbing skin. It made it difficult to breathe on top of her paralyzing fear. She clutched Daisuke close, her nails were no doubt digging into his skin, but she couldn't make herself do much more than whimper and try to breathe.
Hanley's eyes were shut, so she wasn't sure what Daisuke was doing—he was stumbling and calling out and she was probably only making it more difficult for him but at that moment she didn't care at all. She managed to pry one hand off and clutched her magatama. It was burning hot and it hurt, but she couldn't force herself to let go. This was definitely the time for prayer, if nothing else.
She felt a rough hand grab her ankle, causing her to finally open her eyes. Natsuhiko was staring at her and yelling something, but she couldn't make it out. He was white faced and his face was contorted in pain and terror. It was terrible to look at. Hanley could only stare at him and then her eyes moved to his mangled leg.
She was too shocked to feel anything more than a sickening lurch of horror at the sight of it.
Daisuke lurched forward, somehow keeping a hold of her while he attempted to grab Natsuhiko as well. Hitomi and Eriko were nowhere to be found, and the yacht was only so big--
'Oh fuck they're dead oh god--'
Something had to give, and it wasn't long before a gigantic wave swept Rakumaru upward. For a moment, Hanley felt weightless—she was staring down into the sea below and the deck of the yacht was actually behind her. They were all airborne, with Natsuhiko still having a firm grip on her calf and ankle and Daisuke's arm was painfully clutched around her middle. She didn't know whether they fell in or if the water rose up to swallow them; Natsuhiko disappeared for a split second before she slammed face first into the sea.
The first sensation Hanley felt when she awoke was blistering heat and sun. When she fully regained consciousness, she could even tell how bright it was from behind her closed eyelids. She lay on her back, which was partially submerged in water while her front felt achingly dry. Her lips were chapped and she may as well as had cotton filling her mouth as it was dry and her tongue felt uncomfortably large. She tried to wet her lips, but it was a largely futile effort, only serving to cause them to pull painfully and crack even more. Her side was now throbbing furiously, and her calf stung from Natsuhiko's nails.
Hanley opened her eyes and moved her head to the side. She was in the middle of the ocean. She lay on a hard, curved surface—most likely a large piece of the Rakumaru.
Her head was pounding.
After a while, Hanley managed to turn onto her uninjured side in an attempt to protect herself from the sun, but she could already feel her skin pull and pinch. Even with her dark skin it was possible to get sunburned, especially out in the middle of the ocean with no shelter. Her dress was in tatters, her shoes were gone; however, more importantly, she was all alone. Her green eyes scanned frantically over the water. There was not a soul out here, not a hint of the coastline or anything. Hanley let out a strangled sob and pressed her hands to her eyes.
She was alone.
How could she have survived that? Every bone in her body should have shattered upon impact, and that was before drowning.
"Sempai! Natsu-kun!" Water, she needed something to drink she was going to die, "Hitomi-chan...Daisuke-sensei!..."
'I'm going to die. I wish I died when I hit the water, that would have been less painful.'
Hanley curled up into a ball, sobbing softly and desperately clinging to whatever rationality she had left. Her nails dug into her arms but that was nothing compared to starving or dehydrating—she was so thirsty, how long had she lay out here, exposed?
Lifting her head, Hanley felt her magatama fall to the front and lay against her collarbone. It was cool now, and silent—what the hell she was going crazy.
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
a tale of a fateful trip.
That started from this tropic port,
aboard this tiny ship...
Was it awful I was humming that song the entire part of the last half of the chapter? I've come to two conclusions when I finished this: one, I'm long winded with a flair for the dramatic, and two, apparently I have an inner loathing for children.
So my little tale has begun! I wonder how it'll turn out. I should have thought of that beforehand. It's also unbeta-ed, but that's hardly an excuse, I think.
Anyway, naturally reviews are welcome, but concrit even more so! Feel free to let me know if I'm pulling it off. Or, feel free to let me know if I'm doing badly. Obviously, don't put that in the form of a flame, if you don't mind.