The Howling Fruit
After Gyojintou, the Mugiwara crew stumbled across a somewhat desolate-looking little island, before following their new log pose. When Nami saw the island, she had insisted they stop and ask someone what the safest course might be. Usopp, Chopper and Brook were all equally concerned, and went with her. Franky elected to watch the ship, saying he had some fun things to work on, which left the others free to wander. It wasn't a big island at all, with apparently only three small towns on it, and nothing they passed looked new or bright.
"Robin-chan. What would you say about the history of this island?" asked Sanji absently.
Robin observed for a moment. "From what I can see, there wasn't any, up until thirty or forty years ago. But that might just be this town. Or else…"
The others all looked at her. "Or else?" Sanji asked, swallowing.
She was silent, staring ahead. "Well," she said eventually. "I suppose we'll find out, if it's relevant."
Sanji and Zoro both looked a little unnerved by that, knowing how Robin often chose to leave out important and frightening information, but Luffy was aimlessly ambling along regardless.
Suddenly, CRASH! A person flew through what used to be a bar room window about a hundred feet from them. The person was clutching something to his or her chest when he landed, but no other information could be gleaned from him. That was because this person wore dark brown clothing and scarves over every conceivable inch if flesh, except for the eyes and fingers.
"A ninja!" Luffy cried, then Zoro and Sanji hit him upside the head.
The person shook off the blow surprisingly easily and stood, still holding the object to his chest. He looked in toward the bar he had come from. An extremely tall man then stepped out behind him, smirking.
"How touching," he said, folding his arms. "But I only want to see it, there's no need to get so out of sorts."
The person took just one step back, was still for a moment, and then shook his head.
The tall man's smile faded into a sneer. "Why don't you ever talk, you son of a bitch? You think you're better than me?! I'm Wes Madigan, bounty 80 million beli! I didn't come halfway across this goddamn ocean to be snubbed by a little hermit! Give me that!"
The giant reached for the wrapped up man's chest, and it looked as if he would reach his target. At the last second, the smaller one seemed to easily flip out of his grasp by walking up the other man's body and then flipping over backwards out of reach.
"Pretty fancy," snarled the tall man. "But I'm getting annoyed now. I think I'm done with you." The tall man pulled out two giant whips from his belt, either one of which was long and thick enough to break bone.
The Mugiwara crew couldn't help being concerned for the smaller man, although they still had no reason to help him. Until…
"There's no point hiding it. I know what's in there. See, we've got another in our crew from West Blue like you. He says he saw you looking at it before you went to sleep. It's a remembrance, right?"
The smaller man had almost no reaction but a quick intake of breath.
"That was what he called it. And not just any old remembrance." The tall man smirked. "He said from the pattern on the back and the way you looked at it, he was just sure it must be your lov-"
Almost faster than anyone could see, the smaller man shot into the air and kicked the man hard in the cheekbone with a crunch. Luffy, Zoro and Sanji all made the same wincing noise, looking away in odd directions. Robin lifted her eyebrows, rather impressed.
"Ahh…" the tall man cried, staggering. "That's it! You're off my ship! And don't think that's let you off the hook either!"
He snapped his whips out over and over. With one hand still clutched to his chest, the smaller man was able to just barely dodge them all, moving almost soundlessly with great agility, until one of the whips headed for Robin. Now, of course, even excluding Robin herself, there were also three men with her who were perfectly capable of stopping that whip. But unfortunately for him, the mystery man didn't know that. They all saw what he was going to do before it happened, and Sanji and Luffy gasped.
All he did was move his leg a few inches to the right. The whip lost some of its forward momentum when deflected, but it still hit hard. The man still made no noise, but gritted his teeth as the cord wrapped around his leg. While he was distracted and unable to move, the other whip blasted him backward by the chest. In the dirt, he gasped for breath. Then, the one still wrapped around his leg dragged him in the dirt. And though he reached for it as the whip dragged him into the air, the remembrance (a wood and cloth photo frame) fell from his fingers. Then he was tossed into the dirt again some distance away.
At this point, all the Mugiwara crew was getting ready to do something, when the tall man smirked and brought his whip down.
"Say goodbye to your lost love," he said.
The masked man gasped. Robin realized too late she could have moved it out of the way, but none of them was fast enough to make it there in time. And yet…
They all gazed in amazement as the masked man, now gasping for breath and holding onto a leg which might be broken, knelt over the remembrance, the imprint of the massive whip carved into his back. He still had not made a sound. With trembling fingers, the man reached down and picked up the treasure. He just managed to tuck it inside the folds of his shirt. Then, to their disbelief, he came to a shaky standing position and faced his opponent.
"I'll do it," Zoro said, stepping in front of the man, who looked at him in surprise.
"Keep dreaming," Sanji replied, stepping past the man's other side. "I'm the authority on love here, obviously I should get to do it."
"I am clearly the one in his debt," said Robin, stepping forward. "I should do it."
"GRRAH!" Luffy complained, walking quickly past the others. "I'm the most pissed off, I'm going to do it!"
"Such an unfair man," Robin said, shaking her head with a sigh.
Luffy got him instantly with a Gomu Gomu no Kane, which they hadn't seen in a while. It was pretty satisfying to see Magidan's head still shaking minutes after Luffy had hit him. Luffy dusted his hands and blew hard through his nostrils. Then he folded his arms and nodded to the smaller man. They now realized he wasn't all that small, just in comparison to the other. He was about the same height as Zoro, or perhaps a little shorter, which they realized as he was gazing around them in amazement.
Robin smiled kindly at him, to which he blushed and blinked rapidly. "My name is Robin. What is yours?"
Sadness flickered through the man's eyes, which Robin now realized were quite beautiful, and she couldn't help wondering what (apart from shyness) he was hiding under all those scarves. In any case, he did not answer.
"Oh. Am I that scary?" she asked gently.
He blushed again and hesitantly shook his head.
Next, Sanji gave a try. "I know. You're like me, huh? You're weak to ladies."
To the surprise of everyone else present, the man blushed worse than ever, and looked away.
"Okay. You can tell Robin-chan later then. Do you want to tell me your name?"
The man frowned, but looked Sanji in the eyes. It didn't appear to be mere shyness.
Zoro blinked in shock. "Hey…are you a mute?"
The man glanced at him, and there was a trace of relief in his features. Apparently, people didn't often guess that, instead believing him to be merely stubborn. All these emotions were somehow contained in his expression, and they all immediately felt another wave of endearment for him.
"Mute?" Luffy repeated. He peered at the man closely. "He doesn't look much like a mute to me. Ah, gotcha. That's why he hides his face. Because he looks like a lizar-"
"That's a 'newt', Luffy."
"In any case, we should show Shizuka-san to our young doctor. It's the least we can do," Robin said.
"Yes, because he's quiet."
"It's not his name, though."
"Will you come with us to see our doctor?"
Shizuka-san looked around worriedly, then took a shaking step back. That back and leg obviously still hurt a lot, but if he was a mute it was no wonder he never made any noises. It also might explain why he was apprehensive around doctors.
"We're not going to hurt you, dear," Robin said, and in her eyes she showed that she knew what it was to feel ostracized. "But if I don't have someone see to your wounds, how can I look myself in the mirror tomorrow morning?"
When she smiled at him, Shizuka-san blushed again. He looked away. Then he closed his eyes. Finally, the smallest of nods.
As they walked, slowly because of his injuries, Robin tried to make conversation. She felt strangely at peace with this man, perhaps because he reminded her of herself a little. "You could have died just then." He lowered his head. She smiled. "It wasn't a criticism. You would have died just to protect a photograph. You must have loved her very much."
His eyes grew moist and he looked away for a moment. Then, he tilted his head, made a vague gesture with his hands, then clasped them to his heart. Robin's lips parted, her own heart skipping a beat. Somehow, although she did not understand any verbal message in that, there was so much feeling conveyed that she almost felt like whatever it was, it had happened to her too. Shizuka-san hesitantly glanced up at her. Robin merely smiled, then continued walking silently beside him.
Nami and the others had already returned to the ship by the time they got back, and Nami was already making a fuss, saying that this island's log pose only took a few hours to reset. Nevertheless, Luffy insisted that they treat Shizuka-san before they go, which Chopper was happy to do after he heard the story.
Sniffing a bit and with a trembling lip he touched Shizuka-san gently with his hoof and said, "You're a man."
Shizuka smiled, and at that point let out a sound that was just like chinchilla chirping. All eyes turned to him. He gasped and immediately turned away, about to leave when Sanji (the closest) gently grabbed him.
He was smiling a bit. "Hey. So you're not a mute. Is it just that you're shy about your voice?"
Shizuka tilted his head. Apparently that was close, but not quite right.
"Oh, I see," said Chopper. "But how long ago was that? Have you been living as a mute that whole time?"
Another long moment of silence, which was shared by Shizuka, as they all stared at Chopper. He blinked at them. "What?" They gave him another moment to figure it out, and then he clapped his fist to his palm. "Oh. Because she was speaking rabbit language."
Sanji sighed. "You've lost us again, Chopper. Is there something we're not getting?"
But at that moment, Shizuka hesitantly limped across the deck to Chopper. In awe, he sat down before him. Then he started to sing a cicada song.
Franky gaped. "That's amazing! How many of those noises can the little silver-tongue make?!"
"Lovely," Brook said, swaying as he listened.
Chopper was nodding as Shizuka softly sang the "miiin miiin chirp chirp chirp" of Japanese cicadas. In a few moments, Shizuka grew quiet. He put in a lot of effort, and managed to turn around, so that both he and Chopper were facing the others.
"I'm going to translate, okay?" said Chopper, and he others nodded, though still in wonder. "This is Gijun."
Gijun gave a heavy, but still almost silent sigh. Apparently, it had been a long time since someone had said that name out loud.
"So, she says she ate the devil's fruit to take revenge against-"
"Woah, Chopper, wait a minute," said Nami. "You mean 'he', right?"
Gijun blushed, looking conflicted.
Chopper tilted his head. "No…you mean you didn't know? You can't tell from the smell? Not to mention her feminine personal pronouns and affectations…" His words died away as he realized no one was following.
"Ah! What a fool I've been!" Sanji cried, immediately getting down on one knee before Gijun. He took her hand and kissed it. "To have treated a lady so cavalierly, can you ever forgive me, Gijun-chan?"
She looked a little confused, though not angry or annoyed. In fact she barely seemed phased.
Nami commented softly to Robin, "That's strange. She seems so shy, but she's not reacting at all to Sanji-kun."
Robin chuckled, a little pleased. "Indeed. How interesting."
Zoro coughed. "She was blushing like crazy when Robin only smiled at her." This caused the Nami-Luffy-Usopp section to snort with contained laughter.
Sanji's smile seemed to break apart gradually. Then his memory kicked in and he asked with a trembling voice, while still holding her hand, "Gijun-chan…you're…you couldn't be…"
"Okay, leave the poor girl alone," said Usopp, as he and Nami extricated a shell-shocked Sanji from her.
"To continue," said Chopper, looking grave. He sighed. "Gijun would admit herself that her story is not a happy one." The young woman's head drooped a little, though she still looked much relieved to have someone who could speak for her. "It started when her lover was murdered by a pirate."
There was a general intake of breath, and Zoro tried to meet her eyes. "You mean…that picture you carry, the person inside was murdered?"
She nodded slightly.
"Gijun says she was already a soldier, but she knew she wasn't strong enough to cross the grand line to find her lover's killer. So she stole a devil fruit and ate it, not knowing what it was."
"What was it?" Luffy asked, blankly.
Gijun made a cooing sound like a dove.
Chopper then translated, "The Hoe Hoe no Mi. The howling fruit. She can speak with animals, and has some other powers too, she says, but in exchange, she can no longer speak human words."
Franky adjusted his sunglasses. "Them's the breaks."
"Poor thing," Nami said.
"So, my dear, are you saying you made it all the way here alone?" Brook asked, leaning down to speak softly. "It sounds all but impossible. Believe me, I know! I was stuck on my own for fifty years when I lost my nakama!"
Chopper said nothing, because Gijun was silent for a time. It wasn't clear whether she'd had that habit before or only after eating the hoe hoe fruit. Then, eventually, though she didn't seem to have made any noise, Chopper said, "She says…she survived with these."
Gijun reached into a pouch at her hip, then laid out the contents on the deck. When they saw them, they all felt a little uncomfortable. It was a stack of bounty posters. Many of them, in fact some with bounties approaching Sanji's or Robin's, had X marks on them.
Zoro scoffed. "So there was more than one, then. A pirate hunter. A pretty good one too, apparently."
Usopp cautiously backed away and tapped Luffy on the shoulder. "I think we've overstayed our welcome," he said, through one side of his mouth. "We should dump the dangerous bounty hunter and be on our way. Yes?"
Gijun nodded. She looked around at them, and again she seemed not to be making any noise, but Chopper was able to translate.
"She says…Long-nose is right. She was hesitant to come aboard anyway once she realized we were pirates. She didn't want to compound upon a debt she couldn't repay." Then Chopper himself sighed. "Of course we don't care about that." Then he became hesitant. "Though…we might…care a little about whether or not you're hunting us…"
She looked him hard in the eyes, then barked like a fox and made some chattering noises for a while.
"Oh…" Chopper said, looking embarrassed.
"What does she say, Chopper?" Luffy asked.
"She says it would be out of the question. She would never renege on a debt of honor, especially when the gummy one saved her life. Besides, she says she might be able to handle Robin, Franky or Brook individually, but with all the others, plus Sanji, Zoro and Luffy present, she's not fool enough to try." Chopper blushed. "She also…trusts us not to harm her after showing herself honestly."
Sanji bit his lip, holding his chest. "Why does my chest ache so? I know it's wrong, and yet…!"
"You're acting weirder than usual, give it a rest," Zoro growled in annoyance.
"Well, Captain, what's the verdict?" asked Robin, smiling.
Luffy frowned. "I don't really get it. But fix her up. Then we go."
Gijun met his eyes for a moment, then she bowed deeply.
"Katajikenai," Chopper translated. ("I am forever in your debt.")
Chopper brought Gijun into the infirmary, where most of the crew followed, wanting to talk to her more.
"Is it bad?" asked Luffy.
Chopper had her behind a screen while he was examining her back and thigh. "Pretty bad," he said. "This hip's not right, though I don't think the femur is fractured. Just badly bruised. It's hard to believe, considering how little pain is showing on her face, but from the way it's locked up like this, I think the hip joint is dislocated. If so, it should be fine, but it'll need surgery. It's got to be very painful. The back is worse, though. I can see internal bleeding, which needs surgery right away. Pay attention, Gijun, you would have died from this! The spine is fractured, and at least two ribs broken. If it was Zoro or Sanji, I could believe it, but these injuries are massive, considering her behavior."
Nami was biting her thumb nail anxiously. "We just met, but somehow I'm really worried about her."
"Hm," Robin commented. "Perhaps it's the way she doesn't speak. I find it adorable."
"Okay, I'm going to prep for surgery, so everybody out. I'll need an assistant for this. Maybe Nami-"
There came a series of yips like a wild dog.
"Wait…are you sure?"
"I take that back. Gijun says she'd rather a man help instead."
A few glances were exchanged around the room, and slowly, understanding crept over a few faces. Nami slapped her fist against her palm with a smile. "I figured out why I like her."
Robin chuckled. "Because she likes you, you mean."
"Maybe so. Anyway, who do you want?"
"Hmm…well, if I could have a man, a strong one would be better. Is Zoro still there?"
"No, he went up to exercise."
"I think he'd be best. I'll need someone to help me put her hip back in place."
They got a hold of Zoro, who reluctantly agreed to help. Chopper and Zoro worked in silence for a time, though neither commented on the thing that none of the others had seen. A tattoo across her back, which was merely the first kanji in her name, which held the meaning, "loyalty, honor and justice".
Zoro observed this with mild disdain. "A soldier, was it?" he muttered.
Though she had her eyes closed and was on a lot of anesthetic, he knew she heard. Yet she remained silent.
"That guy said you were from West Blue, right? Is that where they used to have all those legends about ninjas?"
Her eyes opened slightly without looking at him, but she still said nothing.
Zoro scoffed. "Hey, it's none of my business. I'm not judging. And I'm just guessing, but it wasn't your lover either, was it?"
Gijun's eyes fluttered, and several tears slowly streaks down her cheeks.
"Maybe one-sided love would be a better way to put it. Am I wrong?"
Chopper was too busy to become involved, but was looking uncomfortable with the topic.
"Is 'Gijun' even your real name, or did your elder give it to you or something?"
Her eyes closed tighter in bitter pain, and he knew he was on the mark. Several more tears fell before her eyes slowly opened again. She met his gaze as best she could white lying on her stomach. She made a soft, sad moan like a whale. Zoro watched her for a long time. He didn't need Chopper to translate that one.
He closed his good eye. "Don't worry, I won't," he muttered. Then he said, "And it's not like I don't think you're an idiot. I do. What you're doing won't help anyone. But…that's not necessarily the kind of idiocy I dislike." She watched him cautiously for a moment, then bit of tension eased from her face. "So. You've lost your ride. What are you going to do now?"
She closed her eyes with resolve, and again Chopper was not totally necessary. "Going to wait for another?" Zoro clarified. She did not react, so he assumed he was right. "I figured. You're free to do what you want. Just keep in mind, Luffy likes monkeys."
Her eyes went wide open to stare at him. He ignored her stare, and for the rest of the surgery, merely did as Chopper told him.
Surgery over, she needed a couple of hours to rest, during which time Nami was nervously watching the log pose, to make sure it didn't set. Then, without Chopper's permission, Gijun emerged from the infirmary. She walked silently and with such little presence that they found it difficult to notice her. She approached Luffy from behind and waited for him to turn around.
He did, and leapt back with a loud yell, then he returned with a grin. "I knew it, you are a ninja!"
Gijun smiled, blushing, looking a bit uncomfortable. To cover it, she gingerly bowed, still feeling pain in her back after all. Chopper walked over and translated as she said silently in deer language, "This debt will never be forgotten. In the future, you may call on me for any reason, and I will answer. You have my word. Finally…"
Luffy tilted his head.
Gijun glanced at Zoro, who was already smirking, his arms folded as he leaned on Sunny's rail behind them. Gijun took a big breath. Then she cried out in the loud, deep voice of a gorilla. It was so mismatched to her appearance that no one was able to speak for a time. She gradually grew red, feeling a fool.
Suddenly, Luffy burst into laughter and bent backward in delight. "That was amazing! What else can you do? Also, hey, want to join my crew?"
Gijun blinked in amazement. Her eyes grew teary again, she and seemed to struggle with herself. Then, to Luffy's surprise, she gingerly bent down on one knee, placed one fist on the ground and lowered her head.
Chopper, getting a little teary himself, was able to translate, "If it is your wish, I will follow you for as long as fate has allowed breath in my body. Captain."
Luffy frowned, folding his arms with slight confusion. "Hmmm…yeah, okay. But hey! Can you do a tiger?!"
Chopper bounced up and down. "I want to hear a tiger!"
Brook popped his head out from the kitchen, his face covered in what seemed to be pasta salad. "Me too, me too!"
Gijun watched them all in disbelief, as one by one they seemed to give her a nod of encouragement. Zoro was the last, who merely glanced at her, then smirked and walked away. Yet for someone who had struggled so long, simply to be heard, such small gestures meant more than she could ever say.
With a soft sniffle, Gijun held back her tears. Then he let loose a fearsome tiger's roar. The hooligans fell back from the impact, but were immediately laughing and begging for more. For the first time in the six years since she left her village, Gijun remembered what it felt like to enjoy herself.