Dreams Deferred

A One Piece fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah

This is a story told in the first-person about a handful of original characters that will tie-in with Oda-sensei's characters. I tried to make it as canon as I could as of December 2011. If you are reading this after that, it could be that some of the events of this story will no longer make sense in the canon sense. Thus is fanfiction. - aks

Chapter One: Hiruma Esuke

It was a raw, grey Thursday afternoon when the sisters brought a slight, heavily bandaged young woman in to the ward in which, until late, I had been the only patient. The sisters spoke to each other in hushed tones. I could catch only snippets of words like 'long time', 'such wounds' and 'pray for her'. Much to my dismay she lay quite motionless for several days. The sisters, many of whom had taken vows of silence, did not make for good company. Not that I was looking for bubbling conversation at this point. Three months of virtual silence and immobility had made a profound change in my outlook to the point that having a chat with another person was not high on my list of priorities. That being said, what I yearned for was someone with whom I could share my secret progress. I hoped against hope that when this young woman awoke, I could do just that.

When she first came around I watched and waited. It was clear that she was in a great deal of pain and the sisters fluttered around her like doves with their ministrations, a flurry of salves and bandages. Through it all, not once did she cry out, only hissed through clenched teeth and gave the occasional low moan if made to move.

In the afternoon of the day she awoke, after the sisters had gone off to roost, I heard a long, drawn-out sigh and dared open my eyes to peer at her. She lay in a bed identical to the other nine beds in the ward. Sunlight streamed in through tall, southern windows across the aisle at our feet. She stared, half-lidded at the leafy trees whose branches swayed in the breeze just outside, leaves brushing against the third-story panes, dappling the light. I sighed as well, not in fond remembrance of any sort of nostalgic feelings, but to gently alert her to my conscious presence. Her head rolled to the left and she cast a glace in my direction.

"Good afternoon," I said quietly.

Her head rolled back and she stared at the pressed-tin ceiling. "I guess," she said.

"I'm called Hiruma Esuke," I offered.

Another quiet sigh. "Ghani Maho."

"I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Maho-san." That was important, I thought, to be introduced. But I could tell she did not care for conversation at the present time. Rather than push the issue, I smiled and looked back at the same said ceiling. It had been three months, I could wait a few more hours.

After the sun went down and we had been fed, as per usual in total silence, the young woman rolled her head back over in my direction. "Na, Hiruma?" she whispered.

"Yes?" I replied, raising my eyebrows.

"What sortta place is this?"

I explained that we were patients in the Thousand Hands Holy Mountain Sanctuary for Indigent Invalids. Our lonely wing with its ten beds was reserved for cases requiring constant care. This time it took only a few moments for her to ask another question. I didn't appear to have any bandages to change, so what was the matter with me that I needed constant care? I wasn't surprised to find her go silent for a long while after I said very simply that I was paralyzed from the neck down.

"Sorry," she said a good five minutes later. "Felt kind of like a jerk for a second there. Thought I had it bad."

"It's not as bad as that," I said, positively. "I've been working on it. I should be able to walk again soon. I'm just a little afraid to practice here as the sisters will think it's the doing of their goddess and I'll never hear the end of it."

Maho-san cocked a disbelieving eyebrow. "Really," she said, sarcastically.

"Well…" I grinned. As I did so I wished the sisters hadn't trimmed my mustache so close. I don't have the best teeth and imagined they showed a bit with my prideful smile. "I can do this," I said and slowly lifted my right arm to about 45 degrees. My fingers trembled with the effort but I managed to lower it just as calmly. I then rolled my head to the right and looked directly on my roommate for the first time.

Her eyes were brown as was her long hair that the sisters had thoughtfully braided before dinner. Her skin tone was of a darker shade than my own fair complexion. She arched her eyebrows in astonishment. "How did you do that?"

"Don't tell anyone, please, but I'm one of those poor cursed fellows."

She paused before laughing quietly and briefly before the pain inhibited her mirth.

"Maho-san, may I ask why you find that humorous?"

She took a few deep breaths to help dispel her pain before answering, "Sorry. Not as uncommon as you think. Which one do you have?"

"Ito-Ito no Mi, the string-string fruit," I answered. "I've had a few months to think about my condition. I was angry at first that I couldn't use my ability to help myself in any way, but I was only thinking about my outside. Three months with nothing to do gave me ample time to contemplate my insides. I decided that if my nerves were cut off from my brain by the bullet in my back, perhaps I could by-pass the injury with tiny strings inside my body. I think that I am ready to try to walk, but that I need practice."

To my relief she nodded, completely unfazed by the idea that I was an Akuma-no-Mi user. "That's pretty impressive. You should practice, but yeah, the nuns would freak out." Maho-san folded her hands over her belly and rubbed her thumbs together. "I gotta get outta here."

"Come again?"

"Can't sit around in bed. I'm losing muscle mass every day spent lying around. I'll be able to walk tomorrow. Can't imagine that they'll want to keep me long when they see I'm healed up already." She took a deep, slow breath and sat up. "Damn it. How long was I out, do you know?"

"Three days that I am aware of."

Maho-san grimaced. "Damn it." Her movements were deliberate as she pushed the covers aside, swung her legs around to the left and stood up. We both wore hospital gowns of pale blue with frog-closures at the left shoulder. She stretched and bent and I looked away as she unashamedly examined the surgeon's stitch-work that crisscrossed her right leg, hip, and side. "Damn it," she hissed again. Her body was as I said before, slight, but well toned and as she tested out her condition I imagined that her wounds were the result of a fight she got herself into, not one in which she was a helpless victim.

"You really plan to leave tomorrow?" I asked quietly.
She pumped her fists at an invisible opponent. "Think so, yeah."

"Maho-san, could I come with you?" The fists stopped and she made a face at me. "I know I don't seem like much, but before my accident I was formidable," I lied. "And as you say, I need to practice. I want to get out of here, but I believe I need just a little help to get started."

Another slow breath. She closed her eyes briefly then slowly got back into bed. "Tell you what, I'll sleep on it." In moments, she was fast asleep and I was more energized than I had been in months with the hope that my road to recovery could begin with the sunrise.

.x.

In the morning I enjoyed what would be my final sponge bath administered by one of the more robust of the sisters by the name of Sister Mary Zojirushi. I would not miss it. Maho-san indicated that she would take two more meals before making her decision so it was not until after lunch that at last she got to her feet. She stretched a few times and looked to the doorway, listening intently for anyone who might be coming. She held up a finger - 'Wait one second' it seemed to say - and stepped lightly to the door. Like a ghost, she was gone. I watched that doorway intently for several minutes, never once doubting that finger. When she returned she was grinning a small, devious grin and gave me a small thumbs-up as she approached. "We're all set. You ready?"

I blinked at her in disbelief. "I am, but..."

Before she could answer the sisters bustled in with a wheelchair. The curtain was drawn around my bed as they dressed me quickly and efficiently in what were surely donated clothes: a pair of brown slacks, brown shoes and an ugly brown sweater with a tight collar. They situated me in my chair. As this was the first time I had been in a seated position in three months, my head swooned a bit. Maho-san was all smiles and graciousness as she thanked the sisters, vowing to repay them for their kindness as she wheeled me to the elevator and out into the sunshine.

It was then that I learned I was not allowed to keep the wheelchair. In order to secure my release, Maho-san had apparently stolen a wooden wheelbarrow she claimed was hers. As carefully as they could do without seeming rude, the sisters hefted me into the wheelbarrow. My arms were folded across my chest and my legs dangled uselessly over the front edge of the thing. Too glad to be on my way, I didn't mind the undignified manor in which I was transported. Maho-san gripped the handles and off we trundled out of town.

Once past the buildings of the city proper I asked her to stop and take a rest which she did, gladly. She sat on a rise on the side of the road so that our eyes could meet. I thanked her profusely, but she simply held up a hand. "It's nothing. Please don't," she insisted as she unbraided her hair, retying it loosely below her shoulders. At this point I admit I did become a little nervous. Here I was, paralyzed, stuck in a wheelbarrow in the middle of nowhere and in the company of a young woman who I knew next to nothing about. Would she choose this moment to part ways, leaving me to my own devices? "I know it's weird," she muttered, talking into her hands as she rubbed her face and looked to the dense forest that loomed just ahead of us. "I guess I just didn't want to be by myself. I've never really done that before. Been alone."

I tried very hard not to sigh in relief. "You will find, Maho-san, that I will not go anywhere without you."

Her eyes moved over to me and for a brief moment I was afraid my new companion might be humorless, but her lids closed and she let a chuckle escape through her hands. "Sounds good." She rocked to her feet and frowned at me. "This wheelbarrow idea just isn't cutting it though." I was about to suggest that I could attempt my first steps when she raised her right arm made a motion as if conducting an orchestra with her left. The wheelbarrow below me groaned and creaked. I could not have been more surprised if my senses returned to me and I could have felt what was happening as the wheelbarrow changed shape and became a sort of cup-shaped chair. "Hang tight. I'm going to make a cart or something," she said and turned to the trees behind her. Again, she conducted, and the branches and trunk of a large deciduous tree danced and contorted. In moments, wheels and axles, a seat and handles formed and came together in front of her in the shape of a sort of rickshaw. "And a little something for me," she added and the leftovers spun around her arms, legs and neck, forming a set of bangles that she clicked together with a look of satisfaction.

She turned her attention back to me. "I think this'll work better. At least until I start to hate it. Now, to get you in the thing." The chair lifted up and moved toward the nearby rickshaw, propelled by a wooden pillar created by the chair itself as it morphed again. Maho-san stepped up and helped me into the seat, strapping me in with a cloth belt that clicked closed across my chest.

"My," I remarked. "And I thought I was special!"

She smiled sheepishly. "Nothing, really. Just had mine for longer, probably."

"Mine…? An Akuma-no-Mi!"

She nodded, not meeting my eyes. "Mori-mori no Mi, forest-forest fruit." She hopped down gracefully and positioned herself between the two handles with her back to me. "Sun's not going to wait all day. We gotta hit the road."

"Of course..." I said dreamily, still marveling over this woman's ability. "That is, thank you!" At the time, I almost believed that Maho-san was ashamed of her powers, such was her extreme modesty. Her level of skill and craftsmanship was extraordinary, from the construction of the rickshaw to the detail of the little clasp that held my safety belt together.

Maho-san shrugged and lifted the handles. "Oh yeah, that's better," she affirmed and we set off into the woods that would become our home.

.x.

Deep in the wood we set up camp and with Maho-san's ability were able to make a small, three-room shack to keep the rain off of our heads. She told me that first night that there was a certain technique she wished to master and that this spot would do as well as any other as a training ground. She added that she could hunt and gather and help me become mobile again in the process. In exchange, I could keep her company. I wondered why she was willing to trust a total stranger.

"I know you," she answered simply. "You're Hiruma."

I worked day and night, sending the thinnest and most durable of strings, akin to wires, through my body, trying different patterns and paths. The direct line from my brain to the broken spot on my spine worked well, but in order to become truly dexterous in the broadest sense of the word I found that running the wires to the very tips of my fingers and toes worked best, especially for returning my sense of touch. However, this took a great deal of energy and in the beginning even a few steps would wipe me out. The first steps were magical. To be able to stand on my own feet by my own power again only made me want to do more. Within a few months I had no problem walking, but the fatigue would be an issue for a long time to come.

Meanwhile, Maho-san trained. She practiced a very intense sort of martial art and would leave the camp site for hours to go to a clearing about a half-mile in the distance in order to have enough space in which to work out. Where my progress was fast and improving exponentially every day, she would often return unhappy, having not gained an inch in her own efforts. After particularly bad days she would disappear for much longer periods of time, which left me very nervous. We had had a bear investigate our camp one evening and the idea that I would try to fend one off myself made me quite ill. I longed for a gun, but we had no money to buy one.

It was on one of these long days alone that I had an epiphany and developed another useful aspect of my Akuma-no-Mi ability. Simply playing around with these wire-type strings, I sent a number of them from my fingertips snaking out through the surrounding trees. As they wound through the underbrush in the quiet of the early evening I noticed that I could hear a rustling sound coming from nearby. Thinking our friend the bear had returned, I stopped my movements, but as they stopped, the sound stopped. Quickly, I dropped all but one of the strings and sent it higher up into a tree. On a branch some thirty feet off the ground a small bird was chirping to its mate and as the string got closer, the chirp grew louder.

A long while after nightfall when Maho-san returned I was hesitant to relay the amazing news as she was dark and brooding over her day's failure again. But she did ask how my day was, so I obliged by telling her that I could use my strings to listen in on things at a distance. To my surprise she was excited by the news. "Hiruma, you gotta try that on me tomorrow," she said as she chewed a bit of venison.

"On you?"

"Wire me up and see how far you can hear before it cuts off. My range is about 200 feet without touching. Touching I can do about 750. I'm trying to get it up to 1000."

I pouted. "I'm afraid I don't follow."

She put her meat down on her wooden plate. "Ok, see, I can morph anything wooden, flaxen, cotton, vegetable matter, right? I can do it about 200 feet away without even touching it," she said and demonstrated on a distant branch, changing it first to a flag, then to confetti which drifted like snow to the ground. "But if I'm on the deck of a ship, say 1000 feet long, I can morph stuff about 750 feet away as long as it's all connected. We'll see tomorrow how far you can reach. This is neat. This way you can call me if you need me, maybe." Maho-san resumed her dinner.

It was hard to sleep that night, thinking about all the exciting new things I could try when the sun came up.

.x.

We lived that way, like hermits from some folk tale, for about two years. Maho-san trained in her clearing, alone. Only once did she ask me why I had never wanted to observe her practice. I smiled and said that if it made her feel comfortable, she would have trained in front of me. One evening a few weeks before our departure from the wood, she ran back toward the camp wearing a grin from ear to ear. "I did it, Hiruma! She shouted. "I mastered the seventh skill, I can do it!" She never explained what that meant, didn't showed me what it looked like and I never asked. I would not see this skill in action for another three years.

Maho-san was then a very private person. I knew not where she came from, how she came to be so skilled in using her Akuma-no-Mi ability, nor how it was that she found herself in the Thousand Hands hospital. When she was brought in, I had asked one of the sisters where Maho-san had come from, but all they would say was that she had been found on the streets, near death.

Often, I would start a conversation with Maho-san and see where it went, but I never felt that I could ask her a direct question. I knew she would not answer, and it would only make for a tense atmosphere in which to share a space. Instead, I would say something like "when the sisters found me, I had been abandoned on the pier and left to die," to see if she would ask me about myself and then perhaps volunteer some information about herself, but this rarely lead to anything illuminating. Rather, we came to an understanding of each other in the present tense. Hiruma Esuke and Ghani Maho, two recovering invalids with dark and mysterious pasts that as time passed, meant less and less to either of them, or so I thought at the time.

I hadn't conjured the story about being left on the pier for dead out of thin air, hoping to inspire sympathy or some sort of reciprocal reaction from my companion, it was the truth. Only three months before Maho-san appeared in the bed next to mine at the Thousand Hands Holy Mountain Sanctuary for Indigent Invalids, I was found by the sisters as they were out shopping one morning for the catch of the day. A fishmonger pointed out my plight to them and I was saved perhaps moments before being flung into the sea by irritated fishermen whose dock my inanimate form was blocking.

Previous to this, I had been a pirate, and a fairly good one. I was an officer aboard a small ship that sailed under the name of the New Wave Pirates. My job was mostly hands-off in the traditional sense of piracy in that I managed the monies and other plundered items the crew took in. We were a crew of rookies from South Blue, bound together rather loosely with the common idea that we would make something of ourselves while not following the rules imposed on us by decent society. I personally felt there was more money to be had in piracy than any sort of straight profession. By the time we finally arrived on the Grand Line I began to regret my career path and looked for ways to make my life as a pirate easier. It wasn't long before I began to calculate the best plans of action based on the best possible gain our crew could make in defeating a given crew or performing other sundry acts of piracy. As our wealth grew, my captain's estimation of me grew and soon I was offered the best item from the spoils of our most recent haul - an Akuma-no-Mi.

This, I thought, would surely assist my chances for survival in this line of work on the Grand Line and so I happily accepted it. Five days later, having only just learned which power it was that I had received, I was shot in the back during a battle. I am not sure to this day if it was by a combatant or whether I was a victim of friendly fire. When my crewmates learned that I was paralyzed and could move only my head they flipped a coin as to whether to dump me over the side and let me sink like the hammer I was, or to dump me on their next stop-over on whatever island we happened to land upon. I called heads and am alive today thanks only to lady luck.

Over the time Maho-san and I shared in the forest, I was able to channel my abilities to not only control my movements and to listen in from significantly far-off distances, but to weave spider-web-like structures all around to catch not only dinner, but anyone who might stumble upon our camp. In two years we saw not one single human being, until the last day of our hermitage.

One of my snares tripped in a way that seemed too clumsy to be a deer or bear. I immediately notified Maho-san via a wire she wore tucked behind her ear. "Maho-san, I believe we have company," I said dryly. "I'm coming," she replied and sprinted to our camp from her clearing.

Three large men with large guns walked heavily toward the camp. I had been sweeping the area in front of the shack with a broom of Maho-san's design and stopped slowly as if my presence in this forlorn forest were totally natural. The men were not happy. This land, didn't I know, belonged to so-and-so of such-and-such, (who I understood to be a local noble who owned half the island) and I was a vagrant and trespassing and didn't I know what happened to trespassers, etc. I feigned innocence and invited the brutes in for tea, stalling for time as I watched Maho-san creeping in from the tree-line behind them. Something about the look in her eye took my breath away. She looked, for all intents and purposes, like she was going to kill them. I thought it was a shame my actual brain wasn't wired to hers as I wanted to shout to her to assure her that I had it under control. For a moment I was afraid that she would charge and render 'control' the least useful descriptor for the situation. She closed her eyes, slowly opened them again and the murderous look was gone. I smiled, relieved, put aside the snarky comments I was going to make to the three men, and pulled the trap. Using a combination of fine, nearly invisible wires and thick, strong fibers I yanked one of them to his knees and bound his arms behind his back. The middle one flew up into the trees feet-first and the third made a mad dash and slipped out of the third trap, but Maho was on it. The trees bent in toward the man and their branches encircled him in a bear hug.

They shouted and cursed and attempted to show bravado but their voices quivered with fear of our abilities. I doubt any of them had an idea that it wasn't magic that had ensnared them. Maho-san strode out of the trees and gave me a high-five. She smiled sadly. "Guess we gotta make ourselves scarce."

I nodded. "I believe it was only a matter of time. I'm just glad we were able to accomplish as much as we did." With the men steaming and spewing insults around us, we packed up what little we owned. Maho-san made another cart, part-rickshaw part-wagon to carry the items, and we pulled it together out of the camp. We released the men, who ran as fast as their muscular legs could carry them back from where they came, spouting promises that they would return with more of their friends. Maho-san raised a hand and our little shack exploded into confetti and swirled away in the breeze. A few days later we arrived at the port town of Storm King. As we tried to decide what we would do next, there was no discussion as to whether we would part ways. Until I met Ghani Maho, I had never had a better friend in all my life.

Next: Rose Madda