AN: Set before the start of One Piece. Shanks/Makino, because Shanks is too awesome not to have a lady waiting for him somewhere, and because I am an avid supporter of this kind of romance. 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 or falling in love. Keep 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
"Your beauty is one to be envied, dearest Sara. Do not let anyone tell you differently."
The voice spoke softly in her ear, as genuine as always, sending shivers up her spine despite her anger. She spun around to face him, skirts whirling about her legs in a flurry of fabric. Her blue eyes searched his handsome face.
"More empty words. I cannot – will not – hear them!" Her voice was level, but the tears brimming behind 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, her vision blurring. He was quick to grasp her elusive hands, enclosing them tightly within his larger ones; his thumbs stroked her knuckles gently.
"I have caused you distress, and for that, I apologize," he murmured softly. She shook her head.
"Why? Why must you leave me?"
His hand reached up 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 bare 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 strong arms. His sigh fanned her cheeks.
"I cannot. My life is not for you, as much as I wish it were."
The tears were running now, pouring 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, treat you well – who can give you the children and the peace you desire," he said, and she could not stop the sob from escaping her throat.
"Is that truly what you want?" she asked. He-
The worn book dropped from her hands as she all but jumped out of her skin, yelping in surprise, and for a split 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 in the distance...
"Makino! Where are you, you foolish girl?!"
Blinking, the young girl's gaze settled on the distant horizon, and the sun's position in the sky, eyes widening almost comically as she realized what time it was.
She was late.
Gathering her skirts, Makino climbed to her feet, hissing through her teeth as her knees nearly buckled beneath her. Sometime during her girlish fantasizing, her legs must have fallen asleep, and she wobbled a bit in her attempt to stand up. Clenching her jaw, she pushed away from the tree she had been seated under and all but stumbled down the path towards the village, muttering under her breath as she went,
"Shoot, shoot, shoot, double shoot! She's going to tan my hide for this!"
Not three paces into her run, however, she skidded to a halt, backtracking hastily to pick up the novel she had been so previously engrossed in and had dropped in her hurry. Dusting it off and tucking it in the pocket of her apron, she picked up her pace despite knowing 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, Makino 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 her shoes. Hoisting her skirts higher, she sprinted the last few feet, so by the time she reached the tavern, she was completely out of breath.
And by the look on the face of the Mistress, 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 hawk-like eyes were narrowed in an unbecoming glare as she took in the sight of her flustered ward. Makino fidgeted under the scrutiny of those eyes, and nervously tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, smiling sheepishly.
"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 drop to her stomach.
"Give it to me."
The command was simple, stark, and left no room for argument. Makino sighed dejectedly, reaching down to retrieve the hidden item and handing it over reluctantly. 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 sharp 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 from pointing out that she had polished the glasses only this morning; knowing it was punishment for spending her time 'dallying in unrealistic fantasies whose only purpose was to put silly ideas into the minds of young women'. Inhaling deeply through her nose, she trudged dejectedly after her patron, not five minutes without it but already longing for the pages of her novels.
Those 'unrealistic fantasies' sure were a lot more entertaining that what went on in the real world,she mused as she lugged the wooden bucked across the common room, before turning to retrieve the mop.
She'd always been fond of reading novels – romantic novels, in particular. Books that told tales of handsome men with swords and long coats that fluttered in the wind; who rode into the lives of the protagonists on white steeds – or sailed in on grand merchant ships. The main characters were always beautiful – sometimes ladies of a court, 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 male character.
Makino sighed, leaning on her 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 had ever been asked, mind you, but there was little 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 broke her out of her thoughts, and Makino realized she had completely stilled in her ministrations. Sighing for what felt like the umpteenth time she resumed her work, wondering briefly if a man would come sauntering into the tavern to take her with him for once, but quickly throwing the idea away. It was a silly thought. Silly and romantic and utterly unrealistic. She was hardly as beautiful as the girls in her novels, for one. A girl-child barely having passed her sixteenth year, and much too pale to have lived in a seaside port her entire life. She hadn't even grown into her own skin yet – all skinny arms and gangly legs; not at all like the slim and curvaceous young women she read about in her novels. So no handsome man would be coming for her any time soon, tavern wench or not, no sir-ee. Because this was the real world – this was Fuschia, for heaven's sake! – and such things just did not happen here in the furthest reaches of the East Blue.
Yet they had once, though. Hadn't they?
Her eyes drifted to the Mistress, lingering behind the bar as she absent-mindedly went over inventory. To Makino's limited knowledge, Mistress Emiko had never married, hence having no children but herself to hand the tavern to when she retired. Whispers in the village said she'd had her heart broken by a pirate once, long before Makino was even born, and that it had left her scarred and bitter, and vowing never to fall for the passing fancy any man ever again. Others painted a more romantic picture, saying she was still waiting for that pirate – that she had given her heart to him and him alone, and that she was still in love with him after all these years.
And a hopeless romantic to heart, Makino preferred the latter version. It would certainly explain why the elderly woman spent so much time gazing out across the ocean, as though looking for something. Eyes forever searching the horizon. For a ship perhaps?
She snorted at her own thoughts. It was certainly romantic. A bit too romantic, perhaps, for such a bitter old woman.
Yet as she watched her protector since childhood – the weary frown on her ageing face that never really went away, and the coldness in her sharp, blue eyes – Makino felt a twinge of guilt in the pit of her stomach. The Mistress' story – if it were as the village rumours went – was like a tale right out of one of her favourite novels. A woman left by the man she loved, and doomed to never love again. It was heartbreaking, and if it were true, it would certainly explain the old crone's contempt for the 'ridiculous fancies' Makino so indulged herself in – romantic novels that portrayed stories just like hers.
So perhaps it wasn't too romantic, after all.
And as she watched from across the room, mop absent-mindedly sweeping the same spot over and over, Makino could not 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 and 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 tale was common knowledge by everyone in Fuschia, and every sailor and merchant who came to visit their little village.
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, girl?"
Startled out of her daydreaming, Makino averted her eyes, picking up her mopping as she cleared her throat. "N-nothing. I was...just lost in thought for a moment."
The older woman sniffed indignantly, adjusting her apron. "Well, that's what you get from reading 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 kept her gaze on her mopping, biting her lip in shame for being caught staring. Maybe she was right.
Or maybe she was speaking from experience.
"Mistress," she began tentatively, her curiosity getting the better of her, as always.
Makino inhaled deeply. "Why do you think them so...so foolish? Have you ever tried reading one?"
She half-expected to get her ears boxed for such a question, but what she got in stead took her by surprise. Emiko laughed – a chortle, short and stark, yet a sound Makino had not heard from the woman in years.
Emiko shook her head, a solemn smile on her wrinkled face. "Why remind oneself of the pains of the past?" she asked softly – to herself or to Makino, it was hard to tell. At any rate, the words were the closest thing Makino could remember of her patron speaking openly about her life. Whenever she'd asked as a child, all she had gotten had been a a scoff and a 'mind your own business', before she was sent off with extra chores and a smarting ear.
"Did...something happen?" she heard herself asking, despite the voice in her head reminding her of what usually happened to those unfortunate fools who pushed Mistress Emiko too far. She silenced it viciously; this was a chance she might never have again, and if she were punished for sticking her nose where it did not belong, it would be worth it for even a tiny piece of information. Her over-active imagination could handle it from there.
Emiko did not appear to have heard her, though, and now really did seem to be talking to herself.
"He was a fine man," she murmured. "Handsome as they came, and with a good heart." Sharp eyes stared out across the empty bar, as if seeing things Makino could not.
"I was helpless to those charms," she continued, snorting softly. "All the girls were, but for some reason..." She smiled to herself, and Makino didn't know whether to feel sympathetic or scared out of her wits. The Mistress never smiled, and certainly not like that.
Abruptly, though, she stopped speaking, as though having been awoken from a dream. The harsh light returned to her eyes as a familiar scowl settled on her face, leaving little evidence of the woman of two seconds ago. Turning to her ward, she sniffed.
"You'll be running this joint one day," she stated. "So don't be a damn fool. Get married early, and have more than one kid, so if one of them goes out to sea to get themselves killed, you'll still have someone to take over the tavern when you retire."
Dusting off her apron, she scoffed disdainfully, before giving Makino another sharp look. "Stories worth writing novels about are rarely worth living, Makino. Remember that. You only have this one life, so live wisely."
And then she turned to the stairs leading to her apartments above the bar, removing her apron and dropping it on the countertop. Makino watched her go with a sense of melancholy, but it was quickly swallowed by 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 she knew, she used them as firewood during the winter months.
Eyes lingering on the worn cover of the novel, Emiko snorted softly, before turning 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 tavern, 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 Makino was able to sneak off to continue her readings. Although the future patron of Party's Bar, 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 her 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, Makino quietly made her way from the bar and towards her favourite spot at the hillside on the outskirts of the village. The chorusing laughter and boisterous singing vanished behind her in the still night, until the tavern was but a glowing spot amongst the many sleeping houses of Fuschia, 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 had left off, her excitement barely contained as she searched the page from where she'd been interrupted.
"Is that truly what you want?" she asked. His smile was solemn.
"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 so deserve – I will love him as a brother, for he has done what I cannot."
She shook her head vigorously. "There will be no other! Never will I love a man if he is not you," she swore, grasping his hands in hers.
He shook his head. "You must, dearest Sara. For my return is unlikely."
Her shoulders shook, yet she steeled herself, a defiant glint in her eyes; blue as ice in the soft moonlight. "I will wait for you," she promised fiercely.
"I will wait!" She was resolute, her shoulders squared to punctuate her words. "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 place a 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 soft whispers against her forehead, and she fought her shaking knees from giving out on her.
Then he was turning away from her, the warmth of his body gone, leaving her hollow as the breeze from the sea cut through her like a knife. His form was rigid as he walked the path down to his ship, and his shape became unclear and blurred as tears obscured her vision.
Falling to her knees, she could not stop the sobs anymore. Like a tidal wave washing over her, sucking the air out of her lungs...
A drop of water fell on the page, blurring the inked letters, and Makino was startled out of her reverie. Bringing a hand to her eyes, she realized with another start that she was crying, and that the page she had been reading was damp with tears. She shook her head at the sight, yet in stead of wiping the tears away, she did not move an inch; allowing them to fall. No sobs racked her body – and no hiccups or wails escaped her lips. There were only tears.
And as she sat there under her special tree, noiselessly shedding her tears, she wondered briefly who they were for. Sara...or Emiko?
"Don't give your heart to a man who'll never return, girl. You're smarter than that."
Inhaling deeply through her nose, Makino snapped the book shut, steeling herself as she blinked her eyes free of the salty substance blurring her vision. Looking down on the cover, she frowned as she turned it over in her hands. It was an old novel – she'd procured it from a passing merchant a few weeks prior, without Emiko's knowledge. In truth, books were what she spent most of her 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 found her newest one, although it had cost more than she'd been entirely comfortable with. And she'd loved it. She'd loved all three hundred and forty three pages, and read it with care and precision, afraid to miss even the smallest detail. She'd loved it.
Leaning her head back against the trunk of the tree, Makino allowed her gaze to drift across the dark ocean. There were no ships to be seen, although that was a rarity even during the day, and Makino wondered briefly 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 wiped at her eyes roughly, before picking herself off the ground and starting the trek back down to the village. She wasn't going to sit there weeping like a child. 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 would not become victim to her own fantasies.
Because she was smarter than that.
AN: Smart or not – love makes fools of the best of us. Please leave a review and let me know what you think!