"You're joining my crew."
There's a voice searing through the heat-sound. Zoro's wrists shift against their binds, ropes cutting patterns into his skin. He looks up and sees a boy in a straw hat. "Who the hell are you?"
"My crew," the boy repeats slowly, like he's talking to a moron. "We need people, so you're joining it."
"Not interested." Zoro's head rolls down; he tries to ignore the sight of the kid's sandal's as he steps closer.
"Ahh...they're gonna kill you, you know."
"They can try."
There's laughing, and when he looks up again, the boy's crossed his arms behind his head, mouth split into a grin, leaning back against the air carelessly. "You're an interesting guy! I definitely want you on my crew!"
Zoro snarls. "Go away."
The boy's eyes turn up to the sky, mouth setting into a pout. "Rrrrrrm. Yeah, I'm getting kind of hungry. That dumb pink-haired kid with the glasses didn't have any food on him." He grins, uncrossing his arms. "Yosh, I've decided! I'll go get something to eat, and you can think it over while I'm gone!"
"I told you—"
The Straw-hat's already over the wall before he can finish.
He comes back four hours later, just as the sun angles Zoro's shadow so that it spreads out in front of him like a cross. His face is set in stone, mouth drawn into a thin line with corners tugged down, and he reaches up to press the hat against his head as he comes to a stop before the swordsman.
"Hey, I changed my mind." Zoro's eyes flick upward. Straw-hat's expression is grim. "If you can't escape from a stupid stake and some ropes, you're way too weak to be on my crew."
"These are nothing," Zoro's pride says. Straw-hat's face loosens, but he still looks skeptical. "It's not like I'm here because I have no other choice."
The boy's expression turns again into something cheerful and laughing, so quickly that Zoro can't think that he's all right in the head. He takes a seat right there on the dusty ground, legs crossing, palms flat on his knees, leaning forward eagerly with a wildness in his smile. "If that's the case, I change my mind again! What'll it take to convince you to join my crew?"
It's infectious. Zoro grins. "You're the son of the devil himself."
"That's all." Zoro watches Straw-hat pull up from Morgan's ribcage, blood running down his fist in dark rivulets. "You don't owe a dead man anything."
The boy bends down once more, rifling through the marine's clothes. His eyes swivel over to Zoro's. "So you'll join my crew, then?"
"A deal's a deal." Zoro's elbow rests on the hilts of his swords, and he nudges the lifeless boy with a shock of blond hair and a stupid purple suit at his foot. If they were better people in a better world, maybe he would have lived. "I'll be a viking."
"There's something you should know," he says.
Luffy looks over, hat pressed down into his head as the ocean wind pulls at the sails.
Zoro's eyes draw down to the hilt of Wadō Ichimonji. "I've got someone I need to kill."
His captain smiles, fingers curling over the hat so slightly that anyone else might have missed it. "That's fine! So do I."
"Get in my way, and I'll kill you."
The smile turns into something wicked and unhinged. "You can try."
Kaya loves stories about danger most of all; there's a dreaminess in her eyes when he speaks of adventurers, of handsome men with square jaws and fine muscles and sharp wits and everything he doesn't have. In another life, maybe, a better world, he'd have the guts to say that it was him, to parade his own name around with heroic deeds and bravery.
In the stories he tells her, while his legs dangle from the tree branch and kick back and forth to counterbalance the wild swinging of his hands, there's always a girl. And she always has pale blonde hair and soft, dark eyes, even when he tells Kaya that she's brunette and blue-eyed, or red-headed with green eyes. Sometimes she's just "the girl" and he leaves it at that.
Because always he pretends that the girl is Kaya.
And it's not quite that the handsome, brave man is Usopp, but that Usopp is the handsome, brave man.
One day the window is not wide open in its usual invitation, but only cracked to allow some airflow. Usopp scrambles up the tree to the usual spot, waits minutes for her to meet him eagerly like she usually does—and when she doesn't, reaches forward and opens it the rest of the way.
Kaya is piled beneath the covers of her bed. A cold compress is pushed up against her forehead, her face flushed. Her breaths come short and hollow-sounding. The window creaks as it moves and her eyes tug slowly open, unfocused, usual sharpness replaced by something far too bright. They trail across all corners of the ceiling before finding their way to him. "Usopp."
He apologizes, worry twisting his stomach; he's never seen her this sick. Her head tilts towards him, a light smile on her lips as though she can't even hear. The cloth slips from her forehead and he leans forward onto the sill to adjust it. Her hand suddenly snakes up from beneath the blankets, grasps his wrist, pressing the cool palm of his hand against her cheek.
"Don't apologize." Her voice feathers from between her lips as an agonized whisper. "Tell me a story, Usopp. Like you always do."
So he does. He talks mindlessly, words coming to him in a stream of heroics and men with square jaws and girls (you Kaya, you you you), and there's danger, of course, but the man conquers it like always and saves her—
When it's over Kaya smiles again, closing her eyes and releasing her grip on his wrist. "I'd like to be the girl in your stories, Usopp," she breathes, and sounds like she doesn't quite know what she's saying. "Her hero is always so dangerous; nothing can stop him from saving her."
The Straw-hat swings his fist forward, and Klahadore's—Kuro's—glasses fly from his face in shattered pieces. The former butler's massive claws uselessly scrape the ground at his side as the boy follows up with another punch, and then another, and then another.
The swordsman in the haramaki grips his sword and slashes valleys into the ship-guards. Blood erupts from their torsos and streaks the path at their feet and something primal creeps into his smile, already pulled into something unnatural around the hilt of a sword, as his opponents scream in agony.
Usopp presses the bundle of blood and pale yellow and tears into his chest, feeling each heartbeat fade away like clockwork in her veins, and can only think how dangerous these men are, and how dangerous he should have been when it really mattered.
Luffy rests his chin on his arms, his nose wrinkling. "I dunno, you're kinda weak. Sheep Ossan gave us this ship since we didn't burn his house down and 'cause we kicked that guy's ass, but we did that on our own. You couldn't even—"
"If I sail with you, I'll get stronger, too." Usopp says. There's something hard in his voice that wasn't there nineteen hours ago.
An orange-haired girl comes and leans over the side of the ship. Usopp can't remember her doing anything useful in the fight, but doesn't dare bring that up. "What, for her? It's a bit late for that now."
"It's not like this is a fun job, you know." Zoro completes the set by popping up from behind Luffy and crossing his arms. "We steal everything that we don't burn down, and everybody's our enemy but each other. Being a viking is dangerous."
Luffy laughs, drawing himself up to full height. "I like funny guys like you! You're in!"
"It's Sanji," he corrects sharply, grabbing a bottle from the spice rack.
"What happened to your leg?"
He freezes, the bottle remaining in its tipped position a fraction too long. He curses under his breath and shoves it back onto the rack, working out how to fix the food. "None of your shitty business, Chore-boy. Get back to work."
The Straw-hat boy's eyes darken. The dish cracks between his fingers as he says, "You're lucky Nami really likes this place."
"Maybe she actually has some fucking taste. You're going to work to replace that, too."
When Zeff enters the kitchen, each footfall leaving an impossible echo above the hissing of fire and clinking silverware, there is nothing quite so hateful as the glare Sanji sends his way.
Luffy watches, never missing the way the head chef pauses over each employee's work, or the way Sanji's shoulders shake at each strike of heel against tile.
"I don't hit women." Sanji holds the unlit cigarette between his fingers, turning his head slightly to watch the boy lean against the wooden railing. Seconds pass with no reaction; he brings it to his lips and lights it. He knows he was heard.
The sun is just rising over the horizon, a trail of smoke from Sanji's cigarette creeping toward the ocean's mirror. And he's never been surer of anything in his life: he wants to go there.
"That's pretty stupid," Chore-boy finally responds, his cheek pushed into the crook of his elbow. "Why, just 'cause you don't want to?"
"In a better world, maybe. It's what I was taught." Sanji shrugs and pushes off the railing. "If that's a problem, eat shit."
Chore-boy is silent for a moment, turning back to gaze at the sun. His eyes are so wide—innocent looking, the stupider part of him thinks—but there's no sign of a squint in his expression, not the slightest pinch of skin around their corners.
He suddenly makes a humming sound, pulling away from the railing as well. His hand latches onto his hat and he smiles. "If I wanted to do that, I'd be begging you to join."
The tobacco from his cigarette is bitter when he bites down on it harshly; Sanji grips the railing with one firm hand and slams his foot into the side of Chore-boy's head. He goes flying, smashing against the wall of the building a few yards away.
Silence. Sanji pulls the torn cigarette from his mouth and flicks it over the railing, fetching another from his pocket. Chore-boy lies still on the floor. "Fuck you," Sanji finally says, and shoves his hands in his pockets as he turns to walk away.
Suddenly there's a force like a freight train slamming into his jaw, an explosion of gray-colored dots across his vision, his mind reels to some place above both of them before crashing back down in one dizzying motion. He regains his balance and swerves sharply to Chore-boy, who's calmly picking up the hat where it fell a few feet away from his position.
For a breath, he wonders if they're about to fight. But then the hat goes down over Chore-boy's head and when he looks up again, that same stupid smile is plastered along his face. "There. Like that."
Sanji's posture straightens just an inch. "Like what?"
"Every time you want to hit a woman, hit me instead." Luffy jabs his thumb into his own chest, grin turning into something feral. "Then I'll hit you back for her."
Luffy tips back in his chair, examining a goblet. "Why do you need all this money, anyway?"
"It's for someone back home." Nami snatches it out of his hands and returns it to the large sack. "He told me that he needed one-hundred million beli to keep his business above water, and if nothing else worked, he'd have to start taxing the villagers."
The viking rolls his eyes. "What? Man, what an idiot. If he needs the money that bad, he should just go take it from them."
"Don't talk about him or Cocoyashi that way!" Nami's palms hit the table loudly; she gestures wildly to the swordfish-shaped tattoo on her shoulder. "He gave me a job drawing maps for him ever since he took over years ago—it's the only way I've been able to support my mother and sister! He's protecting us all, and if he runs out of money—!"
"Is that what he told you?" Zoro opens an eyelid from his spot over on the couch and scoffs. "He's got you wrapped around his finger."
"Okay, okay, I get it. Stop screaming already," Luffy grumbles, examining something on his pinky that was just retrieved from his nose. "You're pretty good at stealing, though, so we'll still save a lot of time if we partner up. We'll split whatever we grab until you have enough to go back to Armpit or whatever."
Eight. The number of times the knife scythes hilt-deep into her shoulder, tears at muscle, rips the tattoo from skin that shreds like sheets of paper. Blood blankets the length of her arm that grows slowly cold beneath, the pool at her knees spreading lazily across the dusted path.
Eight. The number of years it's been since he took her, fooled her, turned her against her village and now this. Her family's blood on disgusting hands that have curled around hers countless times in endless promises.
There will be a ninth of one and not the other, she decides, and the next slash is aimed somewhere else entirely—
"Why?" Luffy tosses the knife to the side and surveys village, full of houses with dusted windows and bolted doors. "You talked about this place like it was your treasure or something. Didn't he do this to it?" He pauses when a cool wind blows past, the wooden frame of a gallows creaking loudly. "So why?"
Tears stream down her cheeks as she looks up at him. "I don't know how not to."
The celebration lasts well into the night, and there are only a few hours of darkness left when she pulls him into her now-empty house and closes every door. Her bed is dusty from being unused, but she pushes him down on it just the same, and he doesn't complain.
There's passion. Gratitude, mostly, but it's the most earnest she's ever felt for anyone, and in a way he senses it, even if in his mind it was only the natural thing to do—because he's hers, past agreements be damned, and he knew she knew because in those short weeks it was written in the way her eyes brightened to something more whole-hearted, fuller than he'd ever seen in them when she talked about Arlong.
He breaks off for a moment, and stares at her. "What did he really mean to you?"
She gives a slight sigh of frustration, adjusting herself to meet his gaze. It's too piercing. She looks away. "I don't know."
He pulls back sharply, beginning to sit up. "Then stop. I'm not gonna mean the same kind of thing to you as that bastard did."
"Luffy, I can't—" She reaches forward, fingers closing around his wrist. There's something broken in her voice. "I don't know what he meant anymore, but it's not the same. Let me just—please. I need this."
In a better world, he would push her away and tell her that no, she didn't, and to stop acting so weak because she wasn't like that at all.
In this one, he thinks, maybe she is, and there's no resistance as she pulls him down with her, lifting the straw hat from his head, and whatever she means to him now can't be any worse than—
He wakes up.
The air is smoky and it's hard to breathe. He swallows, tasting soot, the sky a mix of billowing grays and reds. He wipes at his face, feeling a thick liquid coat his fingers when they pass his left cheek.
Makino is curled around him; he remembers her yanking him over the bar and shoving him into the corner, fingers digging fiercely into his back as he watched the building collapse in flames around them. A support beam had snapped from the wall and he saw it coming over her shoulder, but her back was turned and—
Her arms are limp as he untangles himself from her grip and stumbles to his knees beside her. The beam is lodged through her back, her expression frozen in a cry of pain that never quite finished.
"Hey, we've got a survivor here!"
His head is full of cotton. He slowly turns and blinks at the shadow stepping over the burnt remains of the bar. It stops, gaze sliding from him to Makino and back again. "Pretty girl. Your mother?"
Makino? Makino wasn't his mom.
"Makino's dead," he slurs, and tries to figure out why he's so upset. He scrubs the cut on his left cheek again.
"You're a sharp one," the shadow-thing says. It's wearing a hat, he thinks. Too dark. Can't breathe.
"Not my mom." That's silly. Oh wait, isn't she... "M'kino's dead." That's right.
The hat-man laughs and takes a seat on one of the unscathed barrels. "It wouldn't be a pillage if nobody died, would it? Tough break, kid."
His eyebrows knit in confusion. "Pillage? Like...pirates'nn...vikings?"
"There you go." The hat-man picks a bottle of booze up from the ground and opens it, taking a long swig. "Pillage, loot, burn down buildings. It's what we do. No hard feelings, huh?"
Faintly, it registers: this man killed Makino.
He gets to his feet and stumbles forward, snatching at the shadow's coat. A snarl pounds through his throat. "M'gonna...kick your ass!"
It tips the bottle down and laughs. "I like you, kid." Something impacts against his head; he can tell it's a soft push, but it feels more like a kiss from a battering ram. He groans and lets go to grab his forehead, feeling a stiff material rubbing against his hand. Straw. "Take care of that for me, will you?"
He's still reeling, stumbling back against the bar and clutching his head before managing to look up. There's a mess of dark red hair hanging down from the man's head. "You…"
"Cool it, small fry." Red-hair drains the bottle, tosses it over his shoulder, and grins. "So much for bygones. In a better world, right?"
"Shanks! We're ready to head out!"
Red-hair stretches. "That hat was my trademark, so I'd better see you again. Don't chicken out on me."
"Bastard…!" he snarls, sliding down the counter. Hot. His head hurts. Killed Makino. Bastard.
A faint chuckle swims in his ears. "Guess that won't be a problem. Got a name, kid?"
Something wet is trailing down his cheek. Where's Makino? He was with her just a minute ago. What's on his hea—? His name? He knows his name.
"Luffy, huh? I'll remember it."
His eyes blur as he watches the footsteps fade off from under the brim of the hat, and thinks any world where he'd forgive that man is not a better one at all.
Inspired by a roleplay.
I had originally planned to do the entire crew, but resigned to the pre-Grand Line folk after a while because messing up everyone's lives even more is so depressing ;; In other words: A part two may or may not come.
I hope you enjoyed this fic!
EDIT: Added some more pagebreaks. FFnet, I hate your new pagebreak system :| It looked so much prettier in my word doc.
Um. As you were, readers! /o/