AN: Set before the start of One Piece. Shanks/Makino, because Shanks is too rad not to have a lady waiting somewhere, holding his heart, and because my own heart is terribly weak for this kind of thing. This is for everyone who spent their teenage years losing themselves to the pages of novels, closet adventuring and secretly wishing they were off somewhere kicking ass and taking names, or falling in love. Bear in mind that the story makes a not-so-subtle jab at the typical romance novel. With that said, I hope you like it!
Disclaimer: One Piece belongs to Eichiiro Oda. 'Clandestine Courtships' however, is a purposefully cliché product of my own, strange mind, made for this particular piece of fiction.
Heed the Siren's Call
by Miss Mungoe
The old page sat, gripped between slender fingers, an eagerness to the trembling pressure leaving its mark on the paper, bent slightly from the tension applied to it, but it escaped the notice of the wide eyes following the strings of inked letters reverently, completely enraptured–
'Your beauty is one to be envied, my dearest Sara. Do not let anyone convince you otherwise.'
The voice spoke softly in her ear, as genuine as always, sending a shiver up her spine despite her anger. She spun around to face him, skirts whirling about her legs in a flurry of rich blue fabric. Her eyes searched his handsome face.
'More empty words. I cannot – will not – hear them!' Her voice was level, but the tears brimming in her eyes betrayed the turmoil raging within her, threatening to burst.
His dark eyes softened, and he took a step towards her, hands reaching out for hers. She faltered in her step as she staggered back, tugging her hands away and clenching them tightly against her sides. 'I...will not–' she repeated, her voice hitching in her throat. But he was quick to grasp her elusive hands, enclosing them securely within his larger ones. His thumbs stroked her knuckles gently.
'I have caused you great distress, and for that I apologize,' he murmured softly. She shook her head.
'Why? Why must you leave me?'
His hand reached to cup her cheek, turning her head to look at him. 'I am a wanted man. You know this. Remaining here puts you in danger as well, and I could not bear it if anything were to happen to you.'
She turned her face away, closing her eyes to stop the tears from falling. Her voice was hoarse when she spoke, 'And will you not come back for me?' She turned her face back to look up at him through her tears. He leaned closer, enveloping her in his arms. His sigh fanned her cheeks.
'I cannot. My life is not for you, as much as I wish it were.'
The tears were falling now, running down her cheeks in rivulets, gleaming silver in the moonlight. He reached to wipe them away, a solemn smile on his face. 'You must continue your life as you should – find a man who can take good care of you, and treat you well. Someone who can give you the children and the peace you desire, and deserve,' he said, and she could not stop the sob from escaping.
'Is that truly what you want?' she asked. He–
The book was sent flying with a startled yelp, tearing itself from her lips as she all but leapt out of her skin, and for a single second she was at a complete loss of where she was. In fact, the only thing she could seem to discern was a coarse voice calling her name somewhere in the distance.
Or –hollering her name was more like it. "Makino! Where are you, you foolish girl?!"
Blinking, her gaze came to settle on the distant horizon, and the sun's position in the sky, eyes springing wide upon realizing what time it was. "Shoot!" Oh, she was late.
Gathering her skirts, Makino all but sprang to her feet, a hiss tearing loose of her teeth as her knees buckled pathetically beneath her. Sometime during her girlish fantasizing her legs must have fallen asleep, but with her jaw set firmly with stubbornness – and the keen knowledge of what awaited her tardiness on a good day – she pushed away from the tree she'd been seated under, stumbling down the path towards the village and muttering under her breath as she went,
"Shoot, shoot, shoot. She's going to tan my hide for this!"
But not three paces into her run she skidded to a halt, backtracking hastily to pick up the novel she'd been so previously engrossed in, and had chucked like it had burned her. Dusting it off and tucking it in the pocket of her apron, she picked up her feet, despite knowing full well she was as good as done for anyway. A few seconds more or less meant nothing when the Mistress got her hands on her, but that didn't mean she needed to dawdle.
Slipping beneath the old fence at the entrance to the village, she greeted a local fisherman on his way to the docks, fighting down a blush at his laughing remark that the old gal was in a fine frenzy, and that he was glad he wasn't in Makino's shoes. Hoisting her skirts higher, she sprinted past the last few houses, so by the time she finally reached the tavern, she was completely out of breath.
And going by the look on the face of her guardian, in for one hell of a scolding.
The elderly woman had her arms crossed over her chest – which was never a good sign, in Makino's experience – and her sharp blue eyes were narrowed in an unbecoming glare as she took in the sight of her flustered ward. Makino fidgeted under the scrutiny of that gaze, and nervously tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, discreetly flicking away a leaf that had gotten tangled with her kerchief.
"Ah. Here I am?"
The Mistress didn't say anything to that, but her eyes settled pointedly on the lump in Makino's skirts, knowing perfectly well what she'd been up to, and Makino felt her heart plummet to her stomach.
"Give it to me."
The command was simple, stark – the kind of remark that left no room for argument, because it didn't expect one. Makino sighed dejectedly, reaching down to retrieve the hidden item and handing it over with obvious reluctance. The Mistress gave the cover a quick glance – a distinctly disdainful glance that spoke volumes of what she thought about it – before scoffing and turning her keen eyes on her ward.
"The floors need cleaning and the glasses another polish before I open the bar tonight," she said simply, before turning sharply on her heel and disappearing inside the tavern. Makino clenched her hands against her sides, biting down on her lip to keep from pointing out that she'd polished the glasses only this morning, knowing it was punishment for spending her time 'dallying in unrealistic fantasies whose only purpose is to put foolish ideas into the minds of impressionable young women who ought to know better' – she'd heard that lecture enough times to have memorized it, down to the inflections.
Inhaling deeply through her nose, she trudged after her guardian, not five minutes without it but already longing for the pages of her novel. If anything, those unrealistic fantasies were a lot more entertaining that what went on in the real world.
At least in my world, she mused as she lugged the wooden bucked across the common room, before turning to retrieve the mop.
She'd always had a knack for reading, and a love of novels – romantic novels, in particular; books that told tales of handsome men with swords and long coats that fluttered in the wind, and who rode into the lives of the protagonists on white steeds, or sailed in on grand merchant ships. For their part, the main characters were always beautiful – sometimes courtly ladies, other times simple village girls longing for someone to sweep them off their feet and take them into the sunset. But lady or village wench, their stunning beauty always caught the eye of the roguishly handsome main character, without fail.
Makino sighed, leaning on the mop as her eyes swept across the interior of the small tavern. Party's Bar had been in Mistress Emiko's family for generations, and the idea was that one day Makino would be the one to take responsibility for it. Not that she'd ever been asked, mind, but there was little else she could do in a village like Fuschia without a proper education, or the guts to take to the seas by herself. Not to mention, her sense of obligation that would never have allowed her to leave even if she could. So the bar was, in essence, her future.
As was the mop in her hands and the bucket by her feet.
A true tavern wench in the making, she thought sourly, giving the bucket a small kick. Just like Sara in Clandestine Courtships, only she wasn't going to be swept off her feet by a rich and handsome pirat-
"The floors aren't going to mop themselves, girl."
The grouchy old voice dragged her roughly out of her thoughts, and Makino realized she'd completely stilled in her actions. Sighing with a touch more drama than strictly necessary, she resumed her work, wondering idly if a man would ever come sauntering into Party's to take her with him for a change, but dismissed the idea before it had had the chance to take root. It was a silly thought – silly and romantic and utterly, woefully unrealistic. She was hardly as beautiful as the girls in her novels, for one – a girl-child, as Mistress Emiko liked to point out, just shy of seventeen and far too pale to have lived in a seaside port her whole life. She hadn't even grown into her own skin yet, arms too thin and legs too gangly for grace, and nothing at all like the slender or curvaceous young women she read about. So no handsome rogue would be coming for her any time soon, tavern wench or not, because this was the real world – this was Fuschia, for heaven's sake, and things like that just didn't happen in quiet, backwater ports in the farthest reaches of the East Blue.
And yet they had once, hadn't they?
Her eyes drifted to her guardian, her broad back visible behind the bar where she was busy doing inventory. To Makino's limited knowledge, Mistress Emiko had never married, hence having no children but Makino to hand the tavern over to when she retired. Whispers in the village claimed she'd had her heart broken by a pirate once, long before Makino had been born, and that it had left her scarred and bitter, and vowing never to fall for the passing fancy of any man ever again. Others painted a far more romantic picture, saying she was still waiting for that same pirate – that she'd given her heart wholly and truly, and that she was still in love with him after all these years. A true hopeless romantic, Makino unabashedly preferred the latter version. It would certainly explain why the dour old woman spent so much time gazing out across the ocean, as though looking for something, gaze forever searching the empty horizon. For a ship?
She snorted at her own thoughts. It was certainly romantic. A touch too romantic, for such a bitter woman.
Yet as she watched her protector since childhood – the wearied frown on her severe face that never really went away, and the coldness in her sharp eyes – Makino felt a twinge of guilt. Her Mistress' story – if it were as the village rumours would have it, one way or another – was like a tale right out of one of her favourite novels; a young woman left by the man she loved, and doomed to never love again. It was heartbreaking, and if true, provided a good reason for Emiko's vocal contempt of the 'ridiculous fancies' Makino so earnestly indulged herself in – romantic novels that portrayed stories just like hers. So maybe it wasn't too romantic a tale, after all.
And as she watched from across the room, mop sweeping the same spot over and over, Makino couldn't help but wonder if the woman standing behind the counter would someday be herself. If one day, years from now, she would be the one checking inventory, idly wiping her glasses and longing for a man long gone, knowing she would never have another, with no children to care for and no husband to grow old with. An old, grumpy tavern wench whose sad story was common knowledge to everyone in Fuschia, and every sailor and merchant who came to visit.
And the one mothers pointed to as they warned their silly young daughters of the dangers of falling for the wrong me–
"What are you looking at?"
Startled out of her daydreaming, Makino was quick to avert her eyes, picking up her mopping as she cleared her throat. "N-nothing. I was, ah – just lost in thought for a moment."
Emiko sniffed at that, adjusting her apron. "Mah, that's what you get, reading all those foolish stories. Keep your head in the clouds any longer, soon you won't be able to tell what's real and what's not."
Makino resolutely kept her gaze on her mopping, biting her lip in shame for being caught staring. Maybe Mistress Emiko was right. Or maybe she's speaking from experience.
"Mistress," she began tentatively, her curiosity getting the better of her, as always.
A breath for courage, dragged deep into her lungs. "Why do you think they're so foolish? Have you ever tried reading one?" She half-expected to get her ears boxed for the insinuation alone that she'd ever deigned to, but what she got instead took her by surprise.
Emiko laughed – a chortle, short and stark, but a sound Makino hadn't heard from her in years. Then she shook her head, a strangely solemn smile curving along her grave face. "Why remind yourself of the pains of the past?" she asked gruffly, quietly – to herself or to Makino, it was hard to tell. At any rate, the words were the closest thing to her guardian speaking openly about her past that Makino had ever encountered. Whenever she'd asked as a child, all she'd gotten for her troubles had been a scoff and a 'mind your own damn business!', before being sent off with extra chores and a smarting ear.
"Did something happen?" she heard herself asking then, despite the wary little voice in her head reminding her of what usually happened to those who pushed Mistress Emiko too far. She silenced it viciously – this was an opportunity she might never have again, and if she was punished for sticking her nose where it didn't belong, it would be worth it for just the barest sliver of information. Her over-active imagination could handle it from there.
Emiko didn't appear to have heard her, though, and now really did seem to be talking to herself. "He was a fine man," she mused. "A good heart." That sharp gaze stared out across the empty common room, as though seeing things Makino could not. "And that damn charm," she continued, snorting softly. "Could have had anyone, but for some reason..." Her severe smile lifted a bit, almost fondly, and Makino didn't know whether to feel sympathetic or scared out of her wits. Mistress Emiko never smiled, and certainly not like that.
Abruptly she stopped speaking, seeming to come back to herself, and with a suddenness that made a visible impression in the air. The harsh light returned to her eyes, and the familiar scowl was quick to follow, leaving little evidence of the woman of two seconds ago. Turning to Makino, she sniffed. "You'll be running this joint one day," she stated matter-of-factly. "So don't be a damn fool. Get married early, and have more than one brat, so if one of them goes out to sea to get themselves killed, you'll still have someone to take over the place when you retire."
Dusting off her apron, she scoffed, before cutting Makino another look. "Stories worth writing novels about are rarely worth living, Makino. Remember that. You only have this one life, so live wisely."
Then she turned to the stairs leading to her apartments above the bar, removing her apron and dropping it on the counter. Makino watched her go, chest swelling with something foreign, but it was quickly swallowed by her surprise when the older woman placed her novel down beside the discarded apron. She blinked. Emiko was giving it back? She never gave her novels back. As far as Makino knew, she used them for firewood during the winter months.
Eyes lingering on the worn cover, Emiko snorted softly, before turning once more towards the stairs. "Don't give your heart to a man who'll never return, girl. It's foolish, and you're smarter than that."
And with that said she was gone, leaving Makino alone in the common room, the mop in her hands long forgotten as she stared after the retreating form of her guardian.
It was only when the sun had gone down and the tavern had been opened for business that she was able to sneak off to continue her reading. Although the future patron of Party's, she was far from old enough to be present during its opening hours, even as a serving girl, and Emiko had been strict on that since the beginning. She had no immediate plans of actually letting Makino have a hand at serving until she'd reached an appropriate age.
Climbing out of her bedroom window with practised ease, a thick shawl wrapped around her shoulders and a lit lantern dangling from her arm, she quietly made her way from the bar and towards her favourite spot at the hillside on the outskirts of the village. The chorusing din of laughter and voices vanished behind her in the still night, until the tavern was little more than a glowing speck amongst the many sleeping houses of Fuschia proper, and the peace and quiet of the chilly summer evening enveloped her with welcoming arms.
Placing the lantern down on the ground, she settled comfortably beneath the large tree, her back to the thick trunk. She wrapped her shawl tighter around herself, opening the book to where she'd left off, her excitement barely contained as she searched the page for the moment she'd been interrupted–
'Is that truly what you want?' she asked.
His smile held no joy. 'Any man you choose, I will loathe, for he will not be me. Yet if he makes you smile – if he gives you the life you deserve, I will love him as a brother, for he has done what I could not.'
She shook her head vigorously. 'There will be no other! I will never love a man if he is not you,' she swore, grasping his hands in hers.
'You must, dearest,' he spoke the words reverently. 'For my return is unlikely.'
Her shoulders shook, but she steeled herself, a defiant glint in her eyes, blue as ice in the silver moonlight. 'I will wait for you,' she vowed.
'I will wait.' She was resolute, her shoulders squared to punctuate her words. 'However unlikely your return, I will wait, for I will never have anyone else.'
He did not speak, only looked at her for a long time, before finally leaning close to press a tender kiss to her forehead. 'I cannot make your decisions for you, but I plead with you, my love, to forget about me. Do not waste your life waiting for a dead man.' The words were a fierce whisper against her brow, and she fought her shaking knees from giving out beneath her.
Then he was turning away, the warmth of his body gone, leaving her hollow as the breeze from the sea cleaved through her like a knife. His familiar frame was rigid as he walked the path down to his ship, and his shape became unclear and blurred as more tears obscured her vision. Falling to her knees, she could not stop the sobs. Like a tidal wave washing over her, sucking the air from her lungs–
A drop of water fell on the page, blotting the ink. Bringing a hand to her eyes, she realized with a start that she was crying, and that the page she'd been reading was damp with tears. She shook her head at the sight, incredulous, but instead of wiping the tears away she allowed them to fall freely. No sobs racked her body, and no hiccups or wails escaped her lips. They were only tears, silent but earnest.
And as she sat there under her favourite tree in her private grief, Makino wondered just who the tears were really for.
"Don't give your heart to a man who'll never return, girl. You're smarter than that."
Inhaling deeply through her nose, she snapped the book shut, steeling herself as she blinked her eyes free of the moisture. Glancing down at the cover, a frown marred her face as she turned it over in her hands. It was an old novel – she'd procured it from a passing merchant a few weeks earlier, without Emiko's knowledge. In truth, books were what she spent most of her pocket-money on, and if she couldn't find any she liked in the village, she would wait for the merchant ships, or ask specifically for someone headed out to sea to bring one or two back with them. She'd been overjoyed when she'd come across this particular one, even if it had cost more than she'd been entirely comfortable with. But she'd loved it – had loved all three hundred and forty three pages, and read each and every one with care and precision, afraid to miss even the smallest detail. She'd loved it, but now–
Leaning her head back against the trunk of the tree, Makino allowed her gaze to drift across the dark swathe of sea and sky in the distance. There were no ships to be seen, although that was a rare occurrence even during the day, and she wondered suddenly what it was like, constantly on the lookout for sails on the horizon, barely daring to hope but unable to do anything else.
Shaking her head, she scrubbed the heel of her hand across her eyes, before picking herself off the ground and starting on the short trek back to Party's. She wasn't going to sit there weeping like a child – like Mistress Emiko expected her to do, no doubt. She adored her novels, and her imagination had a tendency to run away with her on the best of days, but she would take Emiko's advice to heart. Future tavern wench or not, she refused to become a victim of her own fantasies, and her own foolish heart.
She was smarter than that.
AN: Oh Makino, the things I'm going to put your deeply feeling heart through...