A/N: I think I'm just always going to be one of those people who doubts their abilities no matter what. I try to motivate myself and convince myself I just have to keep writing and learn from mistakes, but all I see a lot of the time are flaws and so it's discouraging and I just don't bother trying. So, that's really all I can give you for an explanation. I'm sorry. This story is going to be finished, because I'm at that stage in writing where I realize I kind of have to use both of my middle fingers to type everything out. Finishing this story is going to be the most satisfying 'fuck you' to the skill level I had two years ago.


Ch. 15: To Whom It May Concern

The lonely, now more intimidating halls of the palace swallowed the two sets of bare feet walking through them, one shying from the front while the brain multitasked and pondered the other set of feet. The one at the forefront noticed something was wrong and turned so they could face each other.

"Aren't you going to reprimand me for walking faster than you?" he said, half jokingly, half serious, so either way she could come up with a suitable reply.

Instead, she stared at him through her hood, and then looked away at some lint near the wall. He could understand if she were too worn out to banter, but the gentle pull in his chest told him it was something heavier than physical fatigue that weighed on her. It was his fault. They had practically been forced to become friends, which he imagined wasn't an easy thing to admit for her in the first place, and then he'd gone and set them back into a place where it was uncomfortable.

He shrugged and turned to keep walking, but inside he was standing in a corner and assessing what the word 'friendship' entailed. Again. And because he didn't usually take a shit-ton of time to analyze why he thought the stuff he thought like other people probably did, it was grueling even getting basic connections let alone something profound.

Square one had been given to him; he was sexually attracted to her. His dick had told him so. Everything after that was fuzzified by seemingly needless little complications of the mind. Sexual attraction should eventually lead to sex if it's mutual. They hadn't had sex. And not just because she didn't want it. Which he was sure she didn't. Why would she. She wanted Luffy.

And branching off of that elephant in the room (his room, anyway), because of his usual reaction to not getting what he wanted, which was to immediately move on to the next thing, the overwhelming feeling of having his lungs clapped together like two fleshy cymbals probably insinuated he was jealous. Jealousy had no room to manifest over matters of sex. If a woman didn't want him, it should be easy enough to find a different one. So the next thing to wonder was if this was even about sex anymore.

He turned over his shoulder again, gazing back at her shuffling, linen covered body. The glow of the moon caught her as they passed a tall window; he felt he might be onto something. When the fuck had the celestial bodies—suddenly much more noticeable—been so hard at work presenting shit as…well, whatever she'd looked like. More than attractive, less than what he felt like acknowledging. His face burned.

Before he had time to process he had stopped walking, there was a tug at the back of his shirt. He didn't turn, but sucked in a breath and let the fabric be twisted between the fingers that had taken it into their grip.

"Something bad happened, didn't it," she said quietly, his eyes widening. "That's why you won't talk about it."

He looked towards the ceiling and said with gruff softness, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"You wouldn't let me go," she continued, feeling him grow rigid when he caught on to what she was speaking of. She bit her lip, then finished, "I've never seen you like that before. Even after the other times. Only on the stairs..."

She probably knew she was heading towards a nerve, which was why she wasn't demanding he tell her. He appreciated it. The lock on that door, however, remained intact. He turned and gave her a look that wasn't as sharp as what she would have gotten if she had been less respectful, but made her blush out of shame for asking all the same.

"I don't want to talk about it."

It wasn't mean. He had tried to say it as kindly as he could. Maybe that was the opposite of what he should've done. But he couldn't help feeling that if they had much more of this…this weird stuff that brought them closer, it would hurt somewhere else other than his gut. Which was where most of the ache buzzed when she looked away. Like she had known he would say something like that. When had he gotten so predictable? She on the other hand continued to surprise him. She let go of the shirt, folding her arms over herself.

Mouth shifting for a moment like she couldn't find the right words, she finally spoke, "I…have scars like that too."

His eyebrows raised in question, especially when one hand padded at her chest as if she hadn't said enough with her words.

"Here," she whispered, "it hurts the most." Her eyes fell on the peak of the scar he'd earned from Mihawk coming up from the shirt fabric and she shook her head slowly.

"You would never mind the ones on your body, would you…"

He listened to her speak, not able to come up with something that might stop the welling of tears over the blue of her irises. Things caught in his throat. Probably words someone else could better use to comfort.

"…because you have been hurt there. And I," she sniffled, lip quivering, "I thought you were awful. I really did."

He smiled out of inability to allow them to sink further into this sand trap. "You and I are probably both pretty awful if we spend enough time dwelling on it."

"You are not awful," she defended fiercely, offended that he would even try to put them in the same pot. "That…is why you and Luffy have such a respect for each other."

What could he say. They both understood that what she'd said wasn't far from the truth. The words had twisted enviously, no surprise, but then she slid down to her knees and rubbed her nose on the sheet, whimpering, "Who am I to claim I could judge a man better than him."

After allowing for a beat to let that sit between them, he got tired of watching her be so crumpled; he leaned down, picked her up, and hoisted her over his shoulder. She was too miserable to protest.

"You're tired's what you are…"

"Don't change the subject. You'll confuse me."

"Who's changing anything. You think you're so awful at judging while you're wide awake, I doubt crying yourself into a coma is going to help any."

"I am the cursed one," she finally cracked, "I am— wrong door, idiot…further down the hall…"

His face burned all the while, brain registering the search for 'their room', and ordering his throat to continuously feel the urge to clear itself. Never mind she was wallowing in emotional despair draped over his shoulder with only a sheet to keep her clothed; all he was thinking was that they might have to…well, not have to, but, it only felt natural that…since they were both a little down and in need of each other's company…well, not in need maybe, but…her company wouldn't be completely undesirable right now…

"Put me down now," she whined when they'd found the right room, hoisting herself up enough that he could grip her around the waist. She moved to grip his shoulders and looked down over her boobs at him. "But do you understand what I'm saying? I think you and I…well, we're not so different…like you said…we both value Luffy's friendship…if we got along better…maybe…"

He was having the hardest time trying to hear her over the glorious, flowery scent of warm, recently bathed breasts. Something about their friendship, maybe. His nose nudged at the sheet acting as a barrier to her cleavage. This was probably borderline Sanji behavior, but it didn't count if he could keep his blood in his nose, right? And she hadn't noticed yet, so he couldn't be bothered to care. He'd done a pretty good job holding back so far. Every dog expected a little incentive for behaving…

"Mm," he mumbled, pinking faintly and touching the tip of his nose to the underside of one of them.

"Put me down," she reminded him again, wriggling in his hands.

The request was simple, but he was loathe to follow through. He decided to bring her over to the bed himself. Wearily, and with a bit of expectance, she sat curled on the bed and looked up at him. He returned the look, equally weary, probably equally vulnerable.

"Swordsman," she said tiredly, rubbing at her eyes, "tell me a story…"

He blinked and gave her an amused smile. "That's a bit of an odd request."

Instead of giving a cranky retort, she smiled dreamily and laid against her pillow. "I won't have many more chances to ask you to do embarrassing things for me."

"Alright, then," he growled, an undertone of fondness camouflaged by annoyance. "Anything in particular you want it to be about?"

"As long as you make me believe it," she told him, accommodating for him when he moved to sit beside her. He put his hands on his knees and stared at the floor. With a scratch of his neck and a small sigh, he started the story.

"Once," she noticed he spoke with a bit of sadness, "there was a woman—" he rethought his statement and laughed a bit, "—a very tall woman, who wanted to be the greatest warrior the world had ever seen. With her immense strength and natural will to succeed, she was known far and wide as someone nearly impossible to defeat."

"This woman sounds very familiar," Hancock said jokingly, smirking up at him. It was replaced by a confused frown when he didn't turn to look at her.

"A man came to her one day, a very short man with the same goals and lesser skills," he continued. "She quickly made it clear he had a long way to go before he could fight her as an equal. So, he worked hard every day in order to beat her. Because he was convinced that if anyone could achieve those things they both wanted and be a worthy rival, it was her."

There was a bit of silence. Instead of the teasing interjections she'd planned on making once she realized the story might be about her somehow, Hancock laid where she was and felt the room grow smaller. Like the more he talked, the less space there was between them.

"He never did beat her in the end," he said suddenly. "He challenged her so many times…and then one day, she confided in him that she wasn't as confident as he thought she was. You see, she was starting to get shorter. Or the man…was getting taller. And, uh…it kinda pissed him off that she could waver like that. So he made her make a promise. That it would be one of them that would reach that goal. No matter what." He stopped talking, then very quietly said, "She climbed so high, and she was so young...and she fell. There wasn't anything the man could compare himself to. No way to measure his growth for sure. So he just worked as hard as he could until he couldn't breathe anymore."

Hancock gripped her pillow, somehow feeling this might be more than just a story. Perhaps it was the small but obvious strain in his voice when he had reached the end. Maybe it was the way he still hadn't looked at her the whole time he was telling it. He didn't seem the type to do those kinds of things. Unless he was too afraid to bluntly communicate something. She swallowed her sarcasm and spoke, "Then, the woman is responsible for giving the man something to work towards."

He didn't say anything.


She understood, then. He was that kind of man. There was a faint jerk in her chest, signaling she accepted the strange communications of a man trying to, if just because he was exhausted and off his guard, show her something so she could see why he did things the way he did. All while maintaining a thin wall between them. In case she wasn't interested in knowing. Like a shadow puppet show with an awkward director trying his best to keep his identity hidden.

They were both probably going to sleep and pretend none of this had happened in the morning; her and her desperate attempt to rip out the knotted confusion in the strands that made up her brain by stabbing him, and Zoro with his decision to tear some briars from something old and stinging to let her get a look at where his roots were holding fast. She wanted to say it didn't mean something to her that he didn't just think she was a crazy woman anymore. She also wanted to say that was to be expected if she wanted Luffy to accept her. Getting closer to his nakama…that was something he would want. It felt more complicated than that, though. And at the same time, more simple.

The sheets ruffled lightly with his shifting to finally look her in the face. It was dark, but their eyes had long adjusted to it. The moon did not reach here, but she radiated something he liked. It was softer, more matted on her skin. Like she'd absorbed it and made it her own. He really…really liked it…

She didn't flinch when he moved to hover closer to her. He had seemed to fold over himself enough times to fade into the dark itself, one slitted eye blinking slowly, like he wasn't sure about what he was seeing out of it.

"Maybe," he murmured, glancing across the room. "It doesn't really matter I guess. You think you can sleep now?"

"Yes. Thank you."

He stayed curved toward her, mocha hands making no move to push himself away and leave. She scraped at her pillow with one finger, breathing and thinking about how familiar, yet foreign this felt at the same time. They might have realized they were both waiting for the same thing from each other. She couldn't ask him to stay, though. And he wouldn't be the one to admit out loud that he wanted to.

He was about to get up when he caught sight of something outside the still open doors of the room. It was momentary, and the movement was small, but he immediately went from being a confused ruck sack of sentimentality to a hackled beast in less time than it took her to blink. Something was in here, and it didn't even have the decency to produce enough readable intent for him to figure out if he should kill it or not.

"What is it," she said quietly, feeling his aura change and watching him rise to put a sword in his hands. He didn't answer, so she slipped with equal stealth from the sheets and followed behind, tense with insecurity. Had someone broken in and they hadn't noticed? Who would dare such a thing with nothing but the ruthless Boa Hancock to face if they were caught?

"Looks like I panicked for nothing," Zoro muttered, walking over to the side and picking something up. Hancock watched from the door. She paled, seeing what was in Zoro's hands when he walked back to her.

"I don't know how he got in, but, this is definitely the one you kicked that day," he said gruffly, holding up the tiny dog, now growling in Hancock's face like the swordsman was holding it up to a personified nightmare. "Looks like you're no good at charming dogs, eh?"

"Get it away from me."

Zoro's brain did a double take in his skull. This was not the voice she used when telling him to do things because she thought she was better than him. This was not the authoritative voice of a woman in charge of an entire country. It was the mutter of a creature backed into a corner with violent choices to make. And his eyes soaked in the image it came with; something he would never be able to forget for the remainder of his life.

He looked past the dog, her face tightened into a snarl, terrible and knotted over her canines so that it looked like her lips were kept in place by wires. For a split second, his heart stopped for sheer unfamiliarity, and ultimately a twinge of fear. Not fear of an opponent or fear he'd done something wrong. Those were fears he had either thrown away or knew well enough to categorize. This…was a new kind of monstrosity, he felt, a fear of how the sneer would spread to the rest of her body. How it might mangle and distort the rest of her. For surely that's the only reason a facial like that comes out of hiding. To take control of every other feature. Something completely sure it has a stronghold.

He narrowed his eyes and brought the dog to his hip, a smarter instinct sensing he should not question this command. It smelt of the crazy he thought he'd just gotten rid of for the night. Before he had a chance to ask her a rational question, her hands were digging at her head, uncombed hair hanging through the spaces of her fingers and shaking with the waves of convulsing starting from her torso and burning through her arms. The sneer had advanced to the rest of her, forcing her to crinkle over herself, and all he could do was watch dumbfounded while she moved to the floor and folded herself into origami.

"Do it, Hancock-chan. If you want to protect your sisters."

"Don't be so boring, boy. Let's play with her…I'll give you a chance."

"A game?"

"Here's how it goes, my dear, since you're so pretty—"

"Oi! Wait up! Where the hell are you going?!"

Zoro stood alone in the corridor now, besides the dog, watching the sheet she'd abandoned flutter to the ground upon her hasty, clumsy retreat up the tiled floor to who knows where. By the faint, far off light of a lone torch her pale nudity glistened like a large tear drop falling from a great height. And just as dramatic. Seriously, what had that been all about?

Before he could try to maybe go for academic and think critically again, her blood curdling scream carried from where she'd disappeared to, echoing off the walls. He immediately assumed the worst; maybe somebody wanted her dead after all and had come to kill her while she was supposed to be busy playing assassin to him. She wasn't the easiest to get along with, but then again, there were only adoring women on this island. He bounded up the hall, but slowed, seeing her slam into the corner on her way back after failing to get enough traction to turn. Then she was off running again, a beast of a woman, breasts heaving and arms jostling him into a moment of hypnotized oblivion. And then she was screaming for him to MOVE, but it was too late, and they both went sprawling over the floor.

"THEY'RE EVERYWHERE," she screeched, the soft patters of what he assumed were her attackers coming up the hall. He cursed through the bump on his head, ignoring the naked woman clawing to climb over him, and blinked at the fuzzy mob coming to greet them. Dogs, many of them pups, and cats of about the same age, mewled and yipped now that they'd found humans to take responsibility for their disorientation and made moves to come and lick or nuzzle them. Hancock was having none of it.


Zoro wanted to laugh, but she sounded a bit too frantic, too scared for this to be joked about. Instead, he clasped his hands over her waist to stop her crotch's shameless ascent towards his face and squeezed his eyes shut beneath the weight of her boobs until color swirled.

"Woman, calm down. You're making a disgrace of yourself."

"LET ME GO! I DON'T WANT…I CAN'T…" And then she was sobbing, and he wished the world would just pause for a couple seconds so he could figure out how the fuck they'd gotten here.

"Nee-sama?! Nee-sama, I hear her screaming! Nee-sama!"

His ears perked at hearing the familiar voices of one of her sisters in the distance, probably the level below them. Relief flooded in, noticing Hancock had toned down the crying and was listening as well. They must have finally decided to stop letting her be a brat and break in…

He watched the first figure to appear grab the torch and walk quickly towards them through the melting dark, the massive weight of how they must've looked on the floor together making his gut lurch when more figures followed and stopped just as abruptly beside the first. Sandersonia and Marigold barreled through the bodies and ignored the dogs and cats, wearing looks that would've killed, knives in their hands for insurance.


Hancock pushed a hand over his face to muffle his freak out, and was on her feet in an instant, foot crushing into his spleen while she held up her hands. Her sisters immediately backed off, but more because of their eldest sister's fierce, unquestionable look of absolute authority. They'd gone through this already; if she was destined to have all of her rendezvous with this idiot misinterpreted, it would have to wait until they listened to what she had to say, now.

"Get them out," she quavered like the receding of waves before they come back to destroy something. "Get all of these…things…out of my sight."

"You certainly caught me off guard, Hancock," Rayleigh finally had a mind to say with knowing tiredness, everyone else in their small party either too busy ogling Hancock's nudity, or weary with the hour they'd been awoken to speak.

Hancock didn't seem particularly interested in welcoming him with more than a sneer and an attempt to punt one of the tiny beasts that was lurking near her foot into the afterlife. Zoro picked her up without thinking to subjugate her, her legs kicking out with defiance, punching at his neck while he struggled to get her to calm down. Marigold and Sandersonia didn't look pleased with how touchy feely they had gotten with nobody else around, but they didn't ask questions and took the squirming animals in their arms.

"This is the empress of this island," Rayleigh said flatly, pointing out Hancock while the young man beside him tried to put a stopper on his nosebleed. The woman beside him didn't look amused and gave him a handkerchief. Zoro raised his eyebrows when he caught sight of them.

"…Rayleigh, the hell are you doing here…"

"You're a bit slow, aren't you Roronoa. I might ask you why I've had such a hard time trying to get in here if all you were doing is canoodling with this icicle."

"It's definitely not how it looks," Zoro growled, Hancock elbowing him in the face to twist and glare at the old man herself. She tightened her jaw and tried to look down on him like she normally would have, except she had to go on tip toe to lean her full weight on Zoro's chest, him bending to accommodate and cursing her dominating height.

"The hell do you want, Rayleigh. Who told you that you could walk freely on my island."

"I did, you ungrateful brat," Nyon's voice cracked from the shadows, apparently having fallen behind the mob determined to save Hancock from the unknown horrors that had befallen her. The guards that had been hesitant to let them pass into the building, even for an emergency, now looked unsure of how to best serve their empress; their faces twisted in the opposite direction of her body and they squeezed their eyes shut. The old woman finally caught up and nodded at her discomforted subjects. "Put some clothes on before you kill everyone…"

Hancock took the comment for more than the sarcastic bite it sounded like to Zoro, instantly appreciating the way he was holding her. She didn't feel like acknowledging he'd saved her ass once again, so she instead took the liberty of giving him a final elbow to the face to loosen his grip, then in one swift motion reached back to heave his tank top over his head and over her own tits. He fell to the floor, face swollen unjustly, and didn't make any protests when she, now that her scar was covered, followed up by sliding his harameki off his waist to use as a temporary skirt.

"It has been made apparent by this recent visit of our friends the Straw Hats, that men being on the island for long periods of time is still a horrible idea," Nyon stated gravely. "Rayleigh has come with a means of moving them off the island quicker than their leisure might permit."

Hancock blinked, frowning with sudden interest. "I care not what you think of Luffy and his crew being here. Why would they have to leave more quickly than otherwise?"

"I care nyot if you 'care nyot'," the older woman spat back. "I'd rather nyot go into detail until the rest of his crew is assembled."

"If it's not too much trouble, we're all famished anyway," Rayleigh chuckled, walking past a glaring Hancock with his two unnamed associates trailing behind like they were afraid to venture too far from him. "We'll just wait for Luffy to arrive and discuss the details then."

"Do not tell me what to do, you old cretin," Hancock said with a snarl, pushing a foot into the old man's back. Zoro sweat dropped, her levels of indiscretion still unbelievable. Then he tilted his head.

"Didn't you guys have to land here at least over by where the ship is? The rest of the island is cliffs…you didn't run into anybody before you got here?" He was going to be a little peeved if the answer was 'no'. Was nobody concerned for his safety inside this locked down prison of torment? Well, that is, until that little moment they'd had before the night had (literally) gone to the dogs…not that he was going to admit he was hoping anybody cared about him getting stabbed to death…

"I'm having the appropriate refreshments prepared for you and your…friends," Hancock hissed, flicking hair over her shoulder. "Can you at least tell me who they are since you've barged into my home at such a ridiculous hour and insist on meeting everyone?"

"I guess if they'd like to introduce themselves I don't really care," Rayleigh rasped with a shrug, waving them on to an introduction if they chose to give one.

"My sister will want to wait until Straw Hat Luffy is here," the man spoke, coming forward and bowing towards Hancock and her siblings, then to Nyon. Zoro studied his tanned face and the small earring in his left ear. An onyx stud. The same color as his hair, falling into a low ponytail over a navy blue cloaked physique that suggested he was an athlete. He wore buckskin leggings and moccasins, unpainted and worn with wear and tear.

The sister's hair was the same as her brother's, but it hung in two low pigtails that went past her chest. Her face was softer than his, heart shaped with a single red paint mark running from her eye to her cheek, and down to where her chin met her neck. Her cloak was dark brown, covering a softer brown leather dress and belt, the only decoration a handsome silver buckle fastened near her hip. Her leggings and shoes matched her sibling's. Nothing extraordinary about them.

These people have probably been under cover…

He smelled 'travel' and 'covert' on them. And even if he hadn't, riding around in a boat with someone like Rayleigh through the goddamn calm belt to land and demand an audience with the crazy lady in the middle of the night was kind of suspicious.

"You don't mind me asking since he's my captain," he spoke up, lazy drawl suggesting sleep deprivation and some irritation if he wasn't answered in a satisfactory way, "but you guys don't really rub the right way, the way you look and all. I'm kind of tired. Is what we're all here for going to be something worth seeing dawn for?"

To his surprise, instead of getting a shaky response, nervous stuttering that suggested he had intimidated them, or even anything verbal, the woman raised an eyebrow at Zoro with the hardened look of a woman just about fed up with men, and flung some signs to her brother. He cringed, then glanced over to see if Zoro was watching. The swordsman narrowed his eyes.


"It's not important…"

"…That only makes me more curious…"

"I'm just the middle man, okay, my sister's a little tired anyway…"

"What'd she say."

The brother chewed his lip and gestured at the unamused woman beside him.

"She says you should just go sleep then if you're going to be such a pussy and keep complaining about it."

Zoro wilted, blushing with shame and gritting his teeth, especially when Hancock burst into laughter and started choking on the water one of her sisters had gotten her.

"Rayleigh," the Empress said through her tears, an impressed grin on her face, "that one isn't so bad."

"My sister is glad she could be of amusement to you, my lady," the brother said with just a little too much adoration in the last part. Zoro felt the veins tick under his hair. He decided to back track the conversation.

"You never answered my question. You didn't run into Luffy or anyone on the way here?"

"Well, we ran into some of your companions, but they were a little…preoccupied." Zoro wasn't exactly reassured by the way the last word had been said or Rayleigh's leering face. "And I think somebody said something about Luffy being out with a girl? I didn't know whether to hope they would find him or not…"

Zoro turned to stare at Hancock. He noticed a few things immediately, just from this seemingly innocent reaction.

First, despite the looks she was getting from multiple people in the room, she didn't seem to be registering or caring about what had just been said and remained placid while Marigold braided her hair.

Second, there was a part of himself, whatever part that happened to be, that took great satisfaction in this.

Third, whether it was emphasized by the begrudging sense of possession he was willing to admit to or just the fact that Hancock was Hancock, she looked good in his clothes.

"I'M TELLING YOU, IT'S JUST 'CAUSE IT WAS HOT OUT," Nami screamed, skin aflame and orange hair tousled with lost sleep and presumed activities. Usopp stood beside her, arms folded and completely unconvinced.

"Look, no judgement, especially because of all the weird stuff this island's got me thinking, but I guess I didn't think you were the type…"

"…What's that supposed to mean…"

"One night stands? Really? It's just weird, thinking you're human…like, need to use your vagina like other mammals…"

"It's too early for this," she ground out, letting out a yawn. "I kicked Kikyo to the floor anyway…"

"You were both naked, and the floor and the foot of your bed are two different things."

"You're just jealous because one naked woman in my room is more than you've had in your whole life…"

"Your taste is strange anyway. She looks like she's ready to kill everyone else except you if anyone speaks to her…"

"Stop talking like the best friend analyzing a new girlfriend. I have no interest."

"Will you two shut up," Chopper pleaded while tending to Sanji, the cook's face still pink with remnants of the blood that had spurted out of his nose after learning of Nami's unconventional slumber party. The two had come back, still warm with drink and fire light, to find Robin, Franky, and Brook speaking with Rayleigh and some mysterious characters he'd dragged along with him. Nami herself had come out in tiny shorts and a bra, but Kikyo could've given less fucks with her bare tits and cooch drawing every eye available for sale.

"She didn't even stick around for coffee," Usopp sniffed exaggeratedly. "I mean, the sun's gonna be up soon anyway, right? Might as well make a night of it."

"I really hate you," Nami muttered, the vein pinching her cheek growing by the second. "If you're this funny during the day I may just kill you…"

"That's too bad. And after I was considering telling you what I walked in on before Brook came back…"

Nami blinked tiredly, slower with lack of sleep. "Huh?"

"Franky and Robin…being all gross on the upper deck," he whispered, wriggling his eyebrows and puckering his huge lips. "Everyone's all love-love tonight except me…"

"Sick," Nami said bluntly, narrowing her blood shot soul windows. They burned with the effort of trying to imagine something worse than walking in on Franky and Robin's first sexual experimentation. She would have to start thinking of ways to sabotage Robin's good mood if she wanted to stay pure of sight. It didn't seem fair. Just when Luffy's more sensible flame had just assured her she wouldn't be around to entertain Luffy on the ship, an even less appealing pair was probably just gearing up to make her life hell.

"You like money," Usopp said, nudging her arm. "What do you think they're gonna walk in on?"

"I'm too ready to punch you in the face to make a bet with you." She thought for a second, losing air like a week old balloon. "You really think Margaret and Luffy are doing something that cliche?"

Usopp blinked. "What do you mean?"

She shrugged. "Making out after a dramatic make up."

"You underestimate the raw sensuality of those two," he replied sagely, like he actually had any reliably intuitive moments. "He's got eight or so years of puberty to make up for. The only thing you and I can pray for is that he sticks it in the wrong hole."

"I am going to be sick, and it will be all over you…"

"Oi, Chopper, you alright?" Usopp finally noticed the quietly calculating look on their furry friends face, having stuck ear plugs in a still passed out Sanji's ears for securities sake. He blinked up at Usopp and scratched at his neck with one hoof.

"I don't know…I was just thinking about something…it's nothing, really…"

"Every time someone says that, it comes back to bite us in the ass," Nami commented with her pupils drilling a hole in his antlered head. "Spill it. Nothing is going to sound crazier than most of the shit that's happened to us already."

"I have to disagree," Usopp said with a twirl of his finger through his hair. "It's been pretty crazy here, but all in all, I think it's just the effect of everything happening in such quick succession. Weirder stuff has happened…"

Chopper sighed and shrugged. "I've just been thinking about Luffy and the possibility of incongruent hormone levels. These experiences are different than anything he's ever dealt with. It's very interesting to think about, but I wonder if he really is able to deal with it like a normal human, what with how quick and extreme the transition's been…"

"Meat of a different sort," Usopp mused, raising an eyebrow. "Though I don't think having a devil fruit should make it that hard to…get hard."

"He's probably referring more to Luffy's personality," Nami pointed out. "Devil fruit or no, he is a man. He has feelings. Maybe the fruit inhibits that a little somehow, but I don't think there's anything to worry about." She paused and flipped a coin into Usopp's hand. "Personally, I don't think they'll even figure out they're supposed to put it inside her."

"You're on," the sniper said cheerfully.

"Glad you guys are so laid back," their doctor sighed, face tired. "Maybe I'm worrying too much."

"You think he knows enough to not do things with people watching? He isn't the sharpest bulb in the shed," Nami put in witheringly, Chopper falling over after realizing everyone had moved on from his insight.

"And if he has to do it by himself…" Usopp muttered, the thought disturbing. "He can figure out that much, right…"

"Of course," Nami deadpanned. "I am not following the future king of pirates if he doesn't know how to keep his own balls from going blue."

It had taken a lot of commotion to tear Sanji's attention away from all the attractive ladies in the room, but when it became apparent that it had something to do with Luffy, he'd kicked his rage into high gear and was prepared to finally take all of it out on his idiot captain. Then he thought better of it, confused by the sight of a tearful, frantic Margaret ushered in with Luffy's seemingly lifeless body. He might've even felt concern for him had not Hancock sprang up—faster than was necessary, in his opinion—and nearly carried him to the realm of the dead herself, she smothered him so with her chest.

Not to mention the only piece of clothing between her boobs and Luffy's un-responding face was Marimo Butt's shirt. It was like layers and layers of wrong on top of one another and his mind hadn't been able to take it all in. The natural radiance exuding off Hancock combined with the disgusting prospect of a sweaty, smelly swordsman's garment (that may or may not have hair of various shady types stuck within its rotting fabric), and the unwashed, uncouth, unashamed mug of the second dumbest person he had ever met in his life (at least Luffy remembered where the goddamn bathroom was most of the time) violating the holiest of lady melons like it was routine made him physically ill and he'd crawled to a corner to cry his weight in tears.

But now. Now was the time to communicate all the festering disease this resentment had become.

Luffy had recovered from his passed out state, Margaret tackling him in relief and trying to recount possible reasons theirPLATONICEXPERIMENTATION had turned awry, to which Sanji could only conclude it was because his evil spit had disagreed with her saintly spit and they were obviously unfit to beINTHATKINDOFRELATIONSHIPwh ichSanjiWASNEVERONGOD'SGREENEARTHGOINGTOACKNOWLEDG EASATHING.

God had preordained that Luffy was Satan spawn and Margaret was an angel and this was his subtle hint for them to stop before he—and Sanji—had a stress induced heart attack.

But digressing. Yes. Now. Now he was staring machete's across the table as Luffy stuffed his fat, seemingly starved mouth while ignoring that, once again, all the attention was focused on him. Margaret was rubbing his shoulder, a permanent rouge painting her cheeks and ears with her explanation of what had truthfully happened to get him in that state.

There were only so many ways for a goddess to appropriately explain a blow job. And unluckily for her, she was an especially ungraceful middle man. Luffy offered no help. He had forgotten everything, apparently.

Sanji was going to blow a gasket.

He was just about ready to cause one of his usual female-induced scenes, when Hancock slammed her hands to the long dinging room table and stared in red faced anger at her crew mate.

"…Correct me if I'm wrong…" she said slowly, "…but the thing you have just described…this is then…not a result of any disease…"

"That's what I wanted to better explain earlier," Chopper said sheepishly.

"This island needs a serious reality check," Zoro muttered from the far end of the room, scratching his head and blinking when Hancock turned her suspicious head to gaze in his direction. Her face glowed with anger.

Margaret had long fallen to her face in a low bow, chanting every formal apology known to man up to her captain, empress, and all around superior. Apologies for her own birth, apologies for speaking to Luffy at all, apologies for laying hands on him, apologies for whatever and wherever she had with whoever and however. Hancock was barely listening, her perfect hands moving to her forehead.

Sanji suddenly realized this might turn ugly; it was true both of these women had shown romantic interest in Luffy, for whatever reason, and now it almost looked like this was where the soap opera was supposed to take a climactic turn.

Yes. This was probably where Luffy was supposed to 'choose' someone.

Unfortunately, the only thing keeping his attention at the moment was a huge rack of ribs.

"…Could someone kindly explain what in the hell is going on."

Rayleigh's raspy question was more demand than anything, which Sanji couldn't blame him for. His two companions stood at either of his shoulders, the woman making the mistake of blinking too prettily in the cook's direction. He was by her side faster than it took Luffy to sniff out the very idea of barbecue.


"Cool it, Ass Brow," Zoro called over. "She can't even talk and tell you to get lost herself. That's hardly a fair fight."

"It's nearly dawn. Can't we agree to hold off all matters of emotion until after we have coffee…" the brother grumbled, his sister raising an eyebrow at him and flicking Sanji in the nose. He fell backwards until he reached his chair, slumping in defeat. He returned to glaring at ignorant little Lu-chan, dick-headed bastard of the high sea's with a bounty to match the fat ass he'd have if his metabolism weren't so fuck-all. He imagined tying him to a giant fish hook and dropping him in the calm belt to let the fish battle for the world's stretchiest, deadest worm.

"Hancock-san," Chopper piped up, "are you alright? You look like you might be burning up…"

Hancock swept past the doctor and over Margaret's hands, stretched out over the glistening floor. Zoro watched her leave the room, sighing heavily. Her sister's hesitated to follow, but eventually decided to slowly disappear down the hall after her.

"Basically," Sanji grunted over at Rayleigh, "everything is this idiot's fault."

Rayleigh followed his accusatory finger to where Luffy was finishing his early morning meal, Margaret still bowed a few feet away. The old man frowned.

"I didn't peg him for the type to break hearts."

"He's the worst," Sanji replied, fishing a cigarette out and sticking it between his teeth without a light.

"Eh?" Luffy finally realized everyone was talking about him and returned to his lithe self after a sound barrier-shattering belch. Everyone groaned.

"You are the one we've been looking for, in any case," the man with Rayleigh affirmed, stroking his chin. His sister suddenly appeared shy, slipping one hand in her brother's.

"I am?" Luffy asked, tilting his head. He blinked out of his question, dropping to a squat beside an unmoved Margaret and picking her up. "Anyway, does anyone know why we're here? I was talking with Margaret and kinda blacked out or something…"

"What the hell happened to your voice…" Rayleigh muttered, sweat dropping. "You sound…manlier."

Luffy made a face. "Why does everyone keep saying that…"

"He's got facial hair, too. He's finally transforming from a kid into a man," Sanji quipped. Chopper hopped up to the chair beside him and yawned, yearning for sleep.

"I'VE BEEN A MAN," Luffy screamed, feeling extra irritation towards Sanji for whatever reason he couldn't completely recall yet. He then blinked confusedly. "Hey, has anyone seen my hat?"

"It's safe enough," his cook said with a shrug, that explanation not good enough. Luffy huffed and started down out of the castle with a still frozen Margaret over his shoulder.

"Please don't leave just yet," the brother called, Luffy stopping in his tracks. "You were going to be brought here anyway. We have something to talk about."

Luffy looked back at him. "I don't know you. I'm not interested."

"You won't take another step out of here until you've spoken with them," Rayleigh said with thundering finality. Luffy, now hearing it from his former master, seemed to have a change of heart and turned to stare at him.

"Rayleigh…what are you doing here…"

"YOU'RE JUST NOW NOTICING?!" Chopper hollered, Sanji rubbing between his curled brows.

"Never mind me," Rayleigh said passively, waving a hand. "I brought these guys here. They wanted to see you no matter what."

Luffy glanced at the woman suspiciously. "What for?"

"Don't be so crass," the old man said more gently. "This is about Ace."

Margaret finally seemed to come out of her frozen state, gasping a little and feeling Luffy's grip on her waist tighten. Sanji and Chopper stared wide eyed and silent.

Zoro's reaction went un-had. He was nowhere to be seen.

"Look, I don't know how the hell you managed to find me considering your talent for all things directional," Hancock grunted, gripping the balcony railing with white knuckles while Zoro stood off at the door, "but you need to leave. You can leave. No more of this. I'm done. Get out of here."

"Look I get it," he said, misty as the sun over the still ocean and taking another uncommitted stride toward her. "You're confused. It's mostly my fault, but you're too stubborn. If you need to talk with Luffy—"

"Dammit, stop talking!" she screamed, hot tears running down her face. He gave her a shocked look, both of her hands coming up to dig at her flawless forehead.

"My head hurts so goddamn much," she wailed, him moving forward more, realizing she hadn't left the room for the reason's he had originally thought.

"You need sleep," he declared quietly, wondering now how he had actually managed to find her here, chest aching harder the longer he looked into her un-composed face. "Look, I don't know what else to tell—"

"Leave me be," she pleaded, sinking to her knees and slumping to support her weight on one arm. "I told you that you could go and you're still here. Go."

"Listen," he hissed gently, taking a chance and moving down to her level where he thumbed her temples firmly. "You're a bitch, but you freaked out in the hallway. Worse than I've ever seen you. And you freak out a whole fucking lot. You're not well, you won't eat unless someone shoves it down your throat, you pass out all the time, and now you wonder why your head hurts."

"Do not talk down to me," she moaned, eyes rolling back into her head and flushing with the pleasurable sensation that accompanies a head massage. It didn't relieve all of the pain, but she appreciated it enough to not punch him in the teeth. "I am...I am the strongest..."

"Then why have you been so unimpressive the whole time we've been here," he teased. She blinked lazily, then dropped her heavy head to his shoulder.

"I have many things to learn," she confessed. He held her head and considered that a fair answer.

"Though, it is curious I have been so consistently out of shape while you have all been here," she said with more strength. He let her rise to her feet, craning his neck to look into her pale face. She wore a grim expression, as if she had come to some conclusion that had been weighing on her for a while.

"I do not know why Rayleigh has brought these people here, but..."

Her hair caught the strongest rays of dawn, a heavenly corona worthy of her high and mighty, bitchy, malevolent, confused, childish, perfectly conditioned head. He felt like he could easily puke numerous still functioning vital organs.

I want you, you insane, arrogant little wench...

"...I think it would be best if you departed with them."

She directed it to him, specifically. As in, she probably couldn't wait to have an excuse to get him away from her.

Fair enough. His face didn't betray his stitched reply.

"...Can't wait."

A/N: I'm still iffy on the transition from the ship to the palace so I might change it, but here TAKE IT I WASH MY HANDS OF THIS CHAPTER...FOR A COUPLE DAYS ANYWAY.