I split the REALLY LONG chapter 2 into 2a and 2b. :) Hopefully now it's not as obnoxious, haha. Ch.4 is coming maybe on Wednesday? LOL

They soon reached a small café, located not in the center of the town, but in a little alcove off to the side, where business was moderate and the sound was much quieter. No longer did they have to yell to be heard. The lady welcomed them inside with a kind smile and when told that they just wanted a small area to talk, she led them over to side booth, large enough to hold all 6 people. The others ordered water (well, Lily would've ordered tea had her head still not been reeling from the sights), while Thao ordered a whiskey, to which Kiko shook her head and shot him a dirty glance. Along the way, the situation had been explained and talked over.

"At the very least, we can provide you with a ship," Ash said, turning to Kiko. "Right?"

Kiko looked a bit uncomfortable. "Well, the thing is, it's hard to just ask for a boat and get a high quality one for a cheap price, even when you put the goal down as 'shipping valuable cargo'. And especially as I'm one of the foremen- It may reflect badly on me and my Dock." she explained.

"Well, we need a boat. Mine, thought sufficiently large for me alone to use, isn't really strong enough, big enough, or safe enough, really, you know I'm not a close-range fighter, to sail in, especially," Mira pulled out a map and pointed to Mercor Island, in the East Blue, "if we're trying to get from here," she trailed her finger a considerable distance to the left. "To our destination, which is all the way over here, in West Blue."

"How did they get to Spring Island in the first place then?" Thao asked curiously.

To their surprise, Lily was the one who responded. Pointing to the map, she traced the path. "The Rains tend to marry into high-ranking Marine families. With their credentials, they went straight over the path in Reverse Mountain, reserved for those of highest rank only."

He pointed out the obvious solution. "Then why don't you just go over it was well?"

Lily rolled her eyes. "Yes, well the Rains gave us some papers and credentials, signifying that we were related and all that. However," she scowled. "It was handed over to the captain of the ship, and as they're all captured…" she let her sentence trail off.

"You have no way of proving that you are Lily Bloom." Ash finished. Lily sighed and nodded crossly.

"And that means we have to go all the way around." Mira continued. "There's no way my boat can sustain that kind of travel, and with just the three of us, that's just asking to be captured and sold into slavery. You know how big the slave industry is now, with the sudden population boom in Mariejoa." she finished.

Seeing that the two girls still looked wary, she upped the pressure, addressing the younger girl. "Come on Ash, aren't you always complaining that you want adventure? Even if it's not much, isn't it still better than working at Galley-La for months just to save up enough to travel to one or two islands? At least this way you still get to travel- and for virtually free."

"Actually, you'd probably even get paid for bringing me there. The Rains are very wealthy, after all. Then you can travel all you want." Lily dealt the finishing blow.

Kiko saw Ash's face change. "No. Oh no." She pulled Ash out of the booth and dragged her further away. "Sorry, excuse us for a minute."

The two went across the room and whispered unintelligible things to each other. Had they been closer, they would have heard this conversation.

"You aren't seriously thinking about doing it, are you?"

"Why not?"

"Leaving Galley-La? To go off on some transport mission?"

"Yeah! What about it?"

"What about the risk, Ash? What about getting killed or something?"

"What about the risk? That's part of the adventure! And we deal with fussy customers and pirates who don't like to pay up all the time. How is dealing with them on the sea any different? I might even get to be the good guy for once," she giggled.

"Why would you leave Galley-La for that?"

"For the adventure, Kiko! Don't tell me you've forgotten your own desire for adventure. Has being with Galley-La so long made you dull and boring? What happened to the girl who loved the feel of wind in her hair and fixing ships and fighting people and seeing new things? What happened to 'live without regrets?'"

"I'm still me, Ash!"

"No you aren't, not if you're protesting so much."

"Look, I worked hard to get to the position of foreman. Do you know how much prejudice I had to go through to get here because I was a woman-"

"I know, and I'm not putting it down or anything. But you'll still have a position when you get back, and think about it, Kiko. Do you really, really deep down, want to spend the rest of your life at Galley-La? You yourself said you never went anywhere because of your childhood. This could be your chance."

Ash could see her bending. "I have traveled though. I haven't just spent my whole life here." Kiko said crossly.

Ash stopped herself from rolling her eyes-just barely. "And how did that end up? You barely went anywhere before you came back, for SOME reason or other."

Seeing Kiko's face darken and close up, she hurriedly repaired. "Look, I'm not asking you to have to go through that again. I'm just asking you to take this chance. It's literally like they're paying you to travel, have your adventure that you never got to have."

"Who knows, you might even find that Prince Charming of yours on the sea." Ash teased, seeing her friends blush. The romance novels that she kept "for a friend" had not escaped her notice. She knew that way, deep down in her endless well of a heart, her friend wanted some drama of her own. Just a little. Not so much that it became obnoxious.

Kiko didn't even have to nod. She just sighed and followed Ash back to the booth.

[***]

Waiting for the two to come back, Mira stirred the ice in her water-she had drunk it all, a naturally thirsty person- with a straw and stared at Thao. "So what are you planning to do?"

He took a big gulp of his alcohol and stirred the remaining liquid in his mug (with wrist movements, not a straw) thoughtfully. "I dunno. I didn't think much beyond getting my stuff and getting off this island. Say," he spoke to Lily. "how much d'ya think your soon-to-be relatives might give for bringing you there?"

"Who knows?" she replied nonchalantly. "The Rains are very rich. Let's say…300,000 beli, give or take a couple ten thousands, and in what condition you get me back in."

His eyes widened slightly as he sipped his drink.

Lily smirked. "That is a lot of money, don't you think? It might be enough for you to start a lab of your own…"

She could see his eyes glaze as he thought about it. It quickly snapped back, as alert as ever, before giving Lily a quicksilver grin, which for him, was as good as a handshake and a contract.

Still waiting on the others, Thao took another swig of his drink and asked Mira this time. "So how do you know the other two?" he inquired.

"I traveled together with Ashling once- we only went as far as two islands, but we learned each other's fighting styles. We actually work together quite well." she quirked a grin. "Maybe you'll get to see."

He smirked too. "Maybe I will."

"I hope not," Mik spoke gravely. The subtle humor caused all three to chuckle.

"Okay," Ashling said as she slid back in the seat and finished off her water. "We're coming with you."

"But about the boat problem…? Mira pressed gently.

Kiko waved a hand. "It's different if one of Galley-La's foremen is actually on the ship, because at least they've known us for a long time and what kind of people we are. I'm sure they'll lend me one if I ask and tell them I'm going to be using it."

"Right then," Thao drank the remaining alcohol in his mug and set it down. "We can't leave until I get my shipment in an hour. How about we get our things together and meet up at your Galley-La place to leave?"

"Who said you were coming?" Kiko asked brusquely.

Fearing a confrontation before the travel even started, Mira held out her hand pleadingly as she rose from her seat, seeing the others do likewise. "Look, he's coming with us, and he might be useful. How about we split into, say three groups? Kiko can go 'borrow' the ship, Ash can help Mik and Lily grab their stuff and bring it to the ship, and Thao and I will go get his things and I'll see what supplies I can pick up along the way. Shall we meet up at the ship at 8?" She rattled off.

They nodded assent and separated.

[***]

It was late at night and Kuron Rekka shook her head once again in disbelief. 10,000 beli just for a trip to Loguetown? Heck, she could probably swim there, it was so close! This was a highway robbery! She would've called for a sea animal of some sort, but none were in the area that she could tame with her devil fruit. Strange. There usually were a few dolphins or whales that were in the area and willing to help, but there were none today.

Oh well, she though, writing it off to bad luck. And anyway, she was carrying some merchandise that she would rather not get wet.

The fact that she needed to get off the island quickly may or may not have had anything to do with said merchandise.

But the fact remained that by now someone would have noticed the missing object, and called for security who were roaming around looking for it now.

She scanned the dock timetables. There were no public ships that were leaving right now that were cheap enough for her to pay for. Maybe I should smuggle onboard as a stowaway? She had done it before, although the ride was not comfortable at all.

She looked around for another option.

"Why the hell is this so damn heavy?" she heard a girl hiss from her left. She looked over to see a black haired girl straining to push a cart loaded with crates marked with a 'CAUTION: EXPLOSIVES'. By her side, effortlessly pushing his own, similarly stacked cart, was a very tall man with a large bazooka strapped to his back. "Why are you so weak?" he asked.

"Because," she panted. "one: I have been lugging this around ALL DAY. Secondly, obviously all my power is being channeled to my brain. Anyway, my fighting style doesn't require much strength, just manual dexterity."

"Then I guess I'm just special, since I have both brain and brawn." he said smugly.

She made a 'pfft' noise, blowing the strands of loose hair from the front of her face. "I bet I'm smarter than you are. I probably possess more self-control too, since you've nearly gotten into -how many fights?- in the, what, 7 hours we've been here?"

"You have to have control though, don't you? Since you don't have enough strength to hold your own in a fight."

Mira stopped -as did he- and stared at him with narrowed eyes. "I can definitely hold my own in a fight. And anyway," she resumed the pace while throwing a smirk over her shoulder. "Isn't Thao a girl name?"

She laughed at his incredulous expression before his cheeks flushed red and he ran to catch up. "Excuse me? What the hell are you talking about?"

"I distinctly remember the heroine of a story named Thao. I think she was trying to find her father. You should read it sometime. Could be enlightening." Rekka could hear her laugh.

Rekka could hear the man splutter in frustration and anger. She laughed a little to herself and would have not paid them a second glance if she had not caught the next words that spilled out of the girl's mouth.

"So where's that ship Kiko said she would get us? We should have been there an hour ago!"

"Well we would if you weren't so insistent on buying those industrial strength fake nails! Which we wouldn't need if you didn't bite your nails in the first place."

"I need long nails to fight! It's not my fault I have a horrid bad habit. And anyway, what about you? We spent at least three-quarters of an hour at that stupid alchemy-merchant's tent! And then you nearly got into another fight! With the merchant! Do you really want to get locked up for disorderly conduct?"

"I'd like to see them try!..."

A ship? Rekka wondered, drowning out the other fragments of the conversation. They have a ship, and they're looking for it, which means its privately owned. Maybe by them? Maybe they would let me hitch a ride?

Please don't be pirates please don't be pirates please don't be pirates or oh no- slave traders or something… the thought pulsed in her head as she ran to catch up with them. She ran to beside the girl and smiled her most winning smile. "Hi! My name is Rekka. Kuron Rekka. I couldn't help overhearing your earlier conversation- please allow me to help you." She reached over and grabbed the cart. Stunned into letting go, Mira let her take the cart and she began walking, taking a few seconds to quickly observing the newcomer.

She had very wavy dark hair with a red tint. Her eyes were a golden hazel color, set in a dark-skinned face with delicate features. Her ears were pierced and upon them hung large gold earrings. She seemed to be fond of gold, dangly jewelry, as they were everywhere on her body. Necklace, bangles, and belt. She was, Mira noted again sullenly, once again taller than herself but not by too much. Her body was very slender and her outfit consisted of a top and a skirt, with the midriff left bare. Her top was off the shoulders, with the shirt itself black, but the sheer sleeves were a dark purple. Thin gold edging and other small dangly accessories outlined the top of the shirt. The skirt was a black, with a dark purple sheer material covering over it. The belt that hung on her hips was gold, designed in a triangular fishnet pattern. On her feet she wore simple tan sandals. The golden jewelry on her body shined and reflected the shop-lights, the torches, and dock lights that glowed in the night.

"What's your name?" Rekka asked the other girl.

"Ah, my name's Mira." After raising an eyebrow inquiringly towards the other companion, he answered. "Thao."

Rekka nodded and kept walking. After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, Mira broke it, saying, "Um, is there a reason you're helping us? Rather than being a good Samaritan, of course..?"

Rekka thought about the best way to proceed. After a few milliseconds of deliberation, she decided to just go and ask. They didn't look like the type to be fooled by sweet words and nice talk.

"Well," she flipped her hair back. "I couldn't help hearing that you guys have a ship. And I was just wondering if I could…"

"Hitch a ride?" Thao finished for her.

She smiled sheepishly. "Yeah."

Mira turned to Thao as he turned to her, the two having a silent conversation. "Ask the captain." he ended up saying.

Rekka's eye's widened at this information. "Wait, you're pirates?"

"No!" Mira said quickly and firmly. "We are NOT pirates. We're just bodyguards. We don't have a captain or anything, so I guess you can come with us and see if the others object to you coming. Where are you traveling, by the way?"

Rekka let out a breath of relief that they weren't pirates, off to capture her or something. "I'm just heading to Loguetown."

At her face's sudden fall, Rekka became worried. "Oh, are you not going that way?"

"No no, we are. But ah, I had uh, hoped to avoid Loguetown." Mira stammered awkwardly.

"Oh." Rekka looked crestfallen. "Is there a reason why?"

"Oh- no, not really. I suppose we can go stop there." Mira repaired quickly.

Rekka beamed- yes! "Thank you so much! I owe you guys one. I can join your pirate crew bodyguard expedition, if you guys want, as soon as I'm finished with my business in Loguetown."

"We are NOT pirates, and sure, if you don't have anything else you need to do. We could use some more help."

"You're not running from anything, are you?" Thao asked offhandedly.

Rekka blinked. The man was surprisingly perceptive when he was serious, she realized.

She put on her most honest smile and said, "No. I'm running towards something."

Thao looked at her oddly, but let it go.

Mira coughed, breaking the silence once again. "Can either of you guys see the Galley-La docks?"

"No," Rekka replied. "But there's an orange-haired girl waving at us. Could that be one of us?"

[***]

It had been a good day, Ash decided. Kiko had placed a call to the President of the Galley-La company, one of Iceburg's descendants whose personality closely mirrored his ancestor, and had successfully secured a ship for their use, with him making Kiko promise to come back, with or without the ship. Kiko had smiled and gently gave her word that she would, that it wasn't going to take that long to bring a little girl to and fro from her relatives. The two had exchanged some more parting words, and ended the call. Ash had long suspected more than friendly feelings between the two, but she never said a word, preferring to keep her body parts exactly where they were.

She quite liked her face as it was.

The ship they were borrowing was one of their "display" ships. It was a medium sized model, with one bedroom (that could and did hold multiple beds), and a large crew's sleeping quarters, with bunk beds, layered three high, and space to string a hammock if they preferred. There were all the living necessities, such as restrooms and kitchens. The captains study contained a desk and a wall with a large map of the world. The ship had two top decks. The lower desk was larger, taking up about a third of the space in the front half of the ship. The upper deck was considerably smaller in the back of the ship, with stairs connecting the two.

Because the majority of the people were, indeed female, it was given that they would inhabit the crew's quarters. The lone bedroom's original purpose was to hold sick and injured, or let the captain of the ship sleep there, but Lily steadfastly refused to share a room with the others and all but demanded that she sleep in the bedroom, which was also the only one with a closet large enough to house her remaining clothing. However, they did not know what to do with the two men. Eventually, they pulled a set of beds from the crew's quarters and pushed it into a smaller, but still reasonably spacious room that was large enough to house the two. It seemed that it was originally built for a workshop of some sort, but it doubled as a second bedroom well enough.

Mik was nice, she thought. He was quiet and helpful, and rarely spoke, only to help explain things as briefly as he could when she was confused about something or other. He kept to himself, but he never stopped keeping an eye on Lily.

Speaking of Lily.

Dear god, Ash was about to pull her hair out. The girl was driving both her and Kiko nuts. In fact, Kiko had refused to speak to Lily altogether after the fifteenth time she had demanded that they wash her clothes again because they still smelled like seawater. Well obviously it would smell like seawater- they were on the goddamn sea! And her clothes had been soaked and nearly charred. Of course it would smell like that! Kiko was so incensed she had nearly made a move to hurt the girl- before Mik stepped in smoothly and took the clothes from her and said quietly, "It's no problem. I'll wash it." at which Kiko glared at him, shoved the clothes at him, and stormed off to punch something or to carve something. Carving calmed Kiko down. Ash just smiled and took the clothes from Mik and washed them herself, as Mik started to look lost at the many buttons and knobs. She felt bad for the man, but she didn't understand him. Why put up with such a little brat? Actually, not that little, she thought. Lily was 19 to Ash's 17. But at least Ash had seen more things, traveled more, knew more of the world. Actually, to the best of her knowledge, it seemed that Thao was the oldest one, then Mik, then Kiko. A year younger was Mira, then Lily, then Ash. There was quite an age range. Thao, the oldest, was nearly double Ash's age.

But oh well, she thought. Back to wondering about Lily and Mik. The man was really duty-driven, maybe? Perhaps they were relatives? That was the only plausible reason she could think of. Kiko hated rich snobs like Lily. Ash disliked them too, but she was younger than Lily and anyway, she sort of felt bad for the girl, who had to marry someone she had never met. This seemed to be the norm among the higher-classed people, but Ash wouldn't know.

She had never been nearly that rich in her life, ever. She closed her eyes as she thought about winters with little food. She always had something to eat, even if sometimes her older siblings starved. She had never gotten along well with her older sisters, but they always let her have more, saying that didn't need it, that they were watching their figure. Her older brothers, whom she got along with better, always tried to give her something. But they needed to eat, to keep up energy to find food the next day, so they could never afford to give as much as her sisters. She remembered being cold, even though the fire was warm. But at night, when the fire was not lit, they shivered in their threadbare clothing.

Being poor kinda sucked. She and Lily, though only 2 years apart in age, were worlds apart in their past.

She sighed and got up, intending to look for Mira and Thao. She had been waiting there for an hour. Where were they? They were late.

She cursed her luck that night had fallen so early and that Mira and Thao both wore dark colors, and had dark hair. In fact, she would have never caught them if she hadn't been so distracted by the girl with all the gold jewelry walking next to them, pushing a cart stacked with crates. Walking next to her was the silhouette of a much shorter girl. The light glinted off the silver stick stuck in her hair. Beside the short figure was a very tall person, also pushing a cart. The ends of his hair glowed blonde.

That was them. She lifted her arms and waved them over.

[***]

Lily sat in a puddle of fabric. Her mind worked furiously to account the losses. She currently had nearly all her gold and jewels, but unfortunately, had lost more than half of her clothing. What she had now was about a quarter of what she had started with. She had been allowed to take a bath- finally- and change into something more befitting her status, but most of her clothes were waterlogged with seawater and goodness knows what else and required extra washing. She had chosen one of the more dry pieces of clothing, which was a plain light blue dress with a little ruffle along the neckline and ends, and settled down to inventory her things. She supposed she should be happy that she hadn't lost more, but come on.

Thao and Mira had returned, with another strange, exotic looking female. Lily didn't like having so many women on the ship. She had never felt threatened before, and she didn't like it. She didn't like Mira's calm partnership with Mik, she didn't like the easy way Kiko got along with him, and she didn't like the way Ash smiled at him.

Lily didn't like sharing her things. At all.

So with this much sudden femininity, she couldn't help but feel annoyed at Mik showing others the politeness and care he had usually shown only her. Even now, he was off somewhere, leaving her all alone in this empty bedroom -well, not entirely empty, the Chihuahua was still here, she hadn't decided what to do with it-to sulk and wallow in self-pity and doubt. Kiko was really tall and confident after all. Ashling was quite curvy and had such beautiful hair. The newcomer was darkly exotic and so slender and tall, almost a polar opposite to Lily who was petite and short and pale, like a doll. Lily didn't mind Mira as much. After all, the girl had saved them. And most importantly, no one could see her curves -if she even had any, which Lily doubted- under that shapeless, flowy black top of hers. She didn't seem like a threat.

She sighed and began hanging her own clothes. She supposed she had better get used to doing this kind of stuff on her own, unless they wanted to stop to buy a maid somewhere. Because she could bet every last beli she owned that no one on the ship but Mik would do it for her.

[***]

Most everyone took to Rekka's coming with indifference. Kiko stared a bit disapprovingly at her revealing clothing and exposed midriff, but let it go.

After a little deliberation (that literally consisted of, "So who can cook?" and seeing Kiko, Ashling and Mira look in different directions and whistle), it was decided that Rekka could stay as long as she wanted to. They pestered Thao to help, because "Alchemy is sorta like cooking, right?" but he flat out refused, assuring everyone with a sneeze and an "I'll cook if we begin starving."

As most everyone had gotten dinner already, Rekka didn't make dinner. They stocked up the fridge for enough until they got to Loguetown, which was literally the next day. The two islands were again, very close.

Mira and Kiko went to move her smaller, private ship to inside the larger ship, in the rowboat storage room in the bottom of the hold.

Thao was giddy with joy, as he found could use the long counter and sink in the workshop-turned-guy's room as a space for chemical experiments. Mik paled slightly at his roommate's almost manic joy, anyone sane would really, who wanted to get blown up by an accident in the middle of the night? but shrugged and laid on his top bunk, closing his eyes for a quick rest.

A short while later, they all met downstairs for a quick meeting about the schedule for the night and for the next day. "So who's first watch?" Rekka asked, impatient to get moving. Again, which may or may not have had something to do with previously said valuable merchandise.

"Ah- I'm not sure. Who got the most sleep last night?" Mira asked jokingly.

"Yeah, I'll take first watch. I'm not that tired." Thao offered.

Surprised at Thao's volunteering, nevertheless she nodded in acknowledgement.

"By the way, where's Mik?" she asked.

They looked around and sure enough, the tall, constant presence was not there. Lily felt a slight twinge of worry. Where was he? Thao returned to his room and came back. "He's sleeping like the dead. Shall I wake him up?" Mira shook her head.

"We'll let the man sleep," she said quietly. "I don't think he slept the entire night before, looking out for Lily and for possible attack. At least I got a few hours of rest. He got none. Just let him rest for the night." She shot a look at Thao. "Be quiet when you're getting into bed after first watch." He gave her a lazy salute before heading off, cigarillo in mouth.

It was decided that they would begin sailing tonight, so as to reach Loguetown in early noon. Thao would have first watch, and then be replaced by Ash, then Kiko, then Mira, then Rekka, who would then also make breakfast. It was an unspoken decision that Lily would not take any shifts, and Thao could take a longer shift to let Mik sleep, just for tonight.

The impromptu meeting adjourned, and the people ambled off to their respective sleeping quarters.

They were off.

I don't know if you can tell but I was having trouble with the time in the chapter. LOL in the original version, I was reading through and I realized that I jumped from like early morning to night…which means they were like wandering around for a LONG time. So I had to add a bunch of details, but I think I just made it worse. So dawn for me is around 4-5:30-ish, but the sun rises at about 6. so assume that at the time Mira found them to be like 6 AM. Then they traveled for like 3-4 hours, so they reached Mercor at around 9-10 AM. (Fun fact: Mercor is Latin for meeting, reward, recompense. Eh? Eh? Aren't I brilliant~~ *hides from thrown food*) Then Lily says that they wait for roughly quarter of an hour, so fifteen minutes. Then Thao says that it's actually been roughly 20. So at 10:20 AM Mira comes back with Ash and Kiko. Assuming introductions take ten minutes, and then rowing the boat and docking it takes ten, that's another twenty minutes. THEN they walk to the café, which is ten minutes (I like going by tens, see). Then they talk for twenty minutes, more or less. Then they split. By this time it's 11:10 AM. (Still early morning.) So then they split, Mira and Thao have to wait at least another hour before Thao can pick up his supplies, so by that time it's maybe 2 PM. Then we assumed they hang out for like 7 hours ^^ Then when Rekka meets them, its nearly 9 PM, so night has pretty much fallen. They leave the dock at like 10. And remember that Mik hasn't gotten ANY sleep since…The night before Lily left. Because he was helping the captain with navigation and whatnot, then the pirates attacked, and then he stayed awake for the ENTIRE night, unlike Mira, who dozed for about 2 hours before she met them, even thought she was trying to stay awake because she was expecting to sleep at a tavern or something. So those two got the least sleep out of all of them.

And to those of you who are like "PSH I pull all-nighters ALL DA TIME" well…you've never pulled an all-nighter while trying to protect a lot of precious things, floating in the middle of the ocean on nothing more than ash and wood glue, liable to capsize of float away at any moment, if not being attacked by pirates or something. Its quite stressful. XD its not about being awake, its about being hyper vigilant for an overextended period of time.

Let's see..what else to say? Oh yes: about romance: I tried to plant mini-seeds in this chapter LOL. BUT. Again, I can't write romance if I came and slapped me in the face, lol. If you see someone you like and you're willing to risk me writing it TT PM me and I'll see what I can do. Don't be shy ^^ eheeheeheeeheehe

AmIbeingcreepyokayI'llstopnow.