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Somewhere deep in the past, Luffy equated the siren song of traveling far across the ocean with his personal view of freedom. The boundless sea, the salty air, the calls of gulls in the wind, the crash of the waves against the hull. To be stationary was to be trapped, cooped up like a child in timeout. 

(Dadan did that as a punishment. It was horrible.)

Shanks introduced the concept of freedom within oneself; that it didn’t matter where you were or what you were doing, nothing could hold your beliefs back. Abiding by that, let alone understanding what the hell he meant by that took some effort on Luffy’s part--how can anyone do anything when they’re tied up or stuck in jail?

By seventeen he understood it. It didn’t really matter where you were or what you were doing if you, yourself, could make the journey fun. Joy didn’t come from things. Joy came from himself. Strength was as much of the mind as it was the body.

That great venture into the unknown, too, had changed so very significantly.

Upon setting out, he’d thought only of chasing his dream. The people who came with it were little more than silhouettes; a means of getting where he needed and what he couldn’t do, doctors and sharp-shooters, chefs and helmsmen, navigators and shipwrights, musicians and swordsmen. Faceless people with no personalities. 

Zoro changed everything.

It started with him perching upon a fence and casting his glance into the stockade, to see the monster Coby had been blubbering about. Apparently he thirsted for blood and cut down the weak. A terrible homicidal pirate hunter with no feelings.

What he found was not a horned demon or the creature hiding in Dadan’s closet, not a sea dragon or big foot. Just a man. Tied to a post. Dirty, sweaty, sunburned. 

But his gaze held that rumored power; like a stalking predator lying in wait. Patient and strong-willed. Roughly dressed but practical. His limp hands, large, clearly calloused and rough even from a distance, had a story Luffy wanted to hear. He wanted to see Zoro’s fingers clench around the hilt of his sword, to see the whites of his eyes in the heat of battle.

Hm.

He was good enough with knots. He could probably untie Zoro pretty easily and release him.

“Are you joking?!” Coby shouts. “If you let him loose, he’ll wreck the whole town!”

Zoro catches sight of them from afar and beckons Luffy closer. He’s smiling. Smiling? Despite being out in the blistering sun and bleeding?

“I’ve been here for nine days and I can’t take it anymore,” Zoro says. “If you untie me, I’ll make it worth your while. You can trust me.”

He feels Coby shudder beside him, body quivering and arms covered in goosebumps. Luffy doesn’t understand why he’s so scared. Zoro’s tough looking, but he can’t be beaten. He’d never let Zoro hurt Coby.

Not that Zoro would. Zoro’s stare says apex predator. Yet it was also brimming with the pride of a loyal hunting dog. He held face as he was insulted, stood strong even as it became clear that he was fatigued. He hadn’t eaten anything in over a week and he was still grinning as if he was stuffed full. Luffy could hardly go without food for a few hours without decaying. Zoro sure was tough.

“All I have to do is survive a month,” Zoro says. “Then I’ll be free to pursue my dream.”

Trust me.

The mushroom head guy wanted to execute Zoro. He’d made a false promise with a man of his word who’d fast and deteriorate before his very eyes to taste the freedom he wanted.

You can trust me.

The man was on the ground, jaw red, bleeding, and swollen seconds after. Coby screeches beside him, shaking his shoulder and reminding him how much trouble they were going to get in. Luffy clenches his fists and looks down at the bloodied knuckles. Not his blood, but that of the wailing adult toddler limp on the ground.

The swordsman had a face now.

“Coby, I’ve made my decision.”

The blind faith of Roronoa Zoro was a tale he wanted to hear, and a trail he needed to follow.

Chapter Text

Zoro’s hand grasps Luffy’s vest as he dangles above the sea.

“...Whoa!” Luffy clutches his hat as he looks at the dark, churning water below him. “Nice one, Zoro! I almost fell in, shishishi!”

He pulls Luffy to his feet. Luffy scampers away with a playful smile, as if he hadn’t been caught by a gust of wind that threatened to knock him overboard, where he’d have drowned at the bottom of the ocean. No, he just went back to laughing as the blustery storm blew him around on the deck, bowling him over, flopping him against the mast.

It occurs to Zoro in that moment, his heart still galloping from watching his captain be blown so easily over the rail, that the entire journey thus far could have ended that quick. Luffy could have sank like a stone deep into the storm far beyond what Zoro could see. And that would have been it. There’d be no captain, and with no captain there was no crew. Chain of command be damned, they’d all go their separate ways without Luffy. Zoro was confident in his abilities, sure, but he wasn’t even a fraction of the leader Luffy was.

There’s a spark of fear--so foreign in the face of everything they’d been through--of how simply, purely human Luffy is.

Nami warns of thunderstorms. Usopp screeches at them to get back into the Merry’s galley. Sanji is somewhere, probably. Luffy slips on seaweed that washed up onto the desk and lays in a puddle of water, groaning in disgust at the slime.

“Yuck! It’s so gross and squishy...”

Zoro takes to simply watching him, right hand resting on the sheaths of his swords. Even with the Devil Fruit, even after throttling a bunch of seasoned pirates, battle-hardened fishmen, Marines with more kills under their belt than badges, he was completely ordinary. A shorter than average guy in a hand-me-down outfit, a cheap hat, and filthy sandals. The same description fit anyone in any harbor, on any island. 

Luffy was affected by hunger, fatigue, sleeplessness, misery, and the forces of nature. Just like anyone else. Perhaps that was the most awe inspiring thing of all.

When said awe-inspiring captain does little more but whine in the brine on the deck, Zoro lifts him up under his arms. The sea’s left him limp. Defenseless. Luffy sticks his tongue out.

“Bleck! Nevermind, I wanna go inside,” he says, rubbing some grains of sand off his face. “Maybe Sanji’s making something hot...”

Zoro hums, and cradles Luffy with a gentleness he didn’t know he could still show. Luffy’s clammy, rubbery hands cling to his shoulders as he lays against him. He’s cold. It wouldn’t do to have him sick before they even found a doctor. Zoro leans forward to shield him from the rain as he walks toward the galley.

Strange, how a few weeks ago Zoro would have cut this man down without a second thought if he was standing in the way. Stranger still how they’d encountered the very man he sought to defeat, and he clung to life not only to achieve that dream, but to show the future Pirate King he’d made the right choice. 

Envisioning his triumph now was never without the proud grin of Luffy, watching him from afar. 

Somehow, it made the dream that much more delectable, imagining that Luffy could arrive on Raftel with the greatest swordsman as his right hand. That following his dream, too, was no obstacle, no sacrifice, but an extension to his own.

“Whatcha smiling about, Zoro?” Luffy asks, grinning as well.

Zoro shrugs. “Just thinking,” he replies.

“Yeah? I’m thinking too. About chili. I want some chili, Zoro!” He sways his legs back and forth. “D’ya think if we ask nicely Sanji can make some?”

“Tch, Swirlybrows would just tell us to fuck off.”

Chapter Text

At the crack of dawn, every single morning, Zoro heads out to start training again. Luffy’s not sure how he does it, really. Naps or no naps, how can anyone sleep for so little and wake up ready to do push ups? The sun’s not even up, but as far as Zoro is concerned the day started hours ago.

Luffy yawns and watches Zoro jog around the Merry’s confined space. There’s not a whole lot of room for running. Sure can’t stop Zoro, though. 

He blinks sleepily as Zoro passes him by for the second time. That’s when he notices; Zoro’s face is coarse, on the very cusp of needing to shave. Zoro always does morning stuff after he gets sweaty and gross. Which includes shaving and whatever. Luffy’s eyes widen and, when Zoro pauses to ask why Luffy is looking at him like that, he reaches out to touch it.

“Ohhh! It’s like a peach!” he declares as he rubs Zoro’s cheeks. “A really bristly peach, like a peach and a toothbrush at the same time.”

Zoro looks up at the sky and huffs, though he doesn’t seem unhappy. 

“Having fun?” he says.

“Well, y--”

Luffy pauses, palms pressed flat against Zoro’s face. Zoro hums in irritation, but doesn’t shove him away. Hmm. He furrows his eyebrows and frowns as they stand there.

Thing is, Zoro doesn’t let anyone touch him. Ever. He doesn’t even like doctors messing with him and they’re supposed to mess with people.

But here they are.

Luffy rubs his thumbs over Zoro’s cheekbones, where the skin is a bit smoother. Zoro is sticky and oily from exercising. He’s got a much more well-defined face than Luffy, sharp. A longer nose and thinner eyes. Very masculine. Handsome.

“What?” Zoro asks.

Luffy pulls out from his daze. “Hm?”

“You’re staring at me.”

“Oh.” Luffy blinks a couple times, focuses on his fingers, then squishes Zoro’s cheeks tentatively. “...Is this okay to do?”

Zoro furrows his eyebrows in a silent question, before it, too, dawns on him what Luffy means. There’ve been a lot of early mornings they’ve shared together, privately. This is the first one where they’ve sat in silence, gazing at each other like this. 

He mulls over the question before nodding firmly. Luffy accepts it as permission to continue.

Zoro’s hair is grimy, like he skipped a weekly bath, or forgot that shampoo existed. Still it’s as fuzzy and fun to touch as the rest of Zoro. He combs his fingers through Zoro’s short hair, straight down to his earlobes, then stops to play with Zoro’s dangling piercings. They jingle like a wind chime when they hit each other. In turn, Zoro reaches out with both hands to cup Luffy’s cheeks. His hands are so warm.

He pulls on Luffy’s face, noting how it stretches. Luffy makes a lopsided face. Zoro releases the skin, which snaps right back into place, and snorts out a laugh. A laugh. Not a snicker, or a chuckle, an actual, good-natured laugh

“It’s fun, isn’t it?” Luffy says, grinning.

“Ha. Kinda weird, too,” Zoro replies, seeming a bit unsure of himself.

“Shishi! Weird stuff is good, though, right?”

Hesitantly, Zoro’s hands raise back to cover Luffy’s own, making him smile wider. Gosh, they’re so big and warm.

“...Sometimes,” Zoro mutters. “First time for everything, I guess.”

Zoro’s gaze fixes on him momentarily before he looks toward the mast. How strange to see his stoic swordsman so unusually nervous, but nonetheless pleasant. It was nice to see more Zoro. He touched at the stubble, which would (sadly) be gone in half an hour. All Zoro was good Zoro.

Chapter Text

The bed is empty.

Well, duh. Luffy scrunches up his eyebrows. Zoro’s not here, he hasn’t been here, and he won’t be here. Why wouldn’t the bed be empty? 

He lets out a huff and runs his hand over the space in the bed. Franky made the beds to fit one person--twin-size, or thereabouts--but he and Zoro just barely managed to squeeze onto the one mattress comfortably every single night. Sanji joked about Luffy getting as much room as he wanted without “that damn Marimo” around.

It wasn’t funny, not really. Even if he could stretch out as much as he wanted, the bed was cold now. Cold, and quiet. And Luffy hates sleeping alone.

When he was little, he piled in with Ace and Sabo into their makeshift clubhouse for naps. He never slept well at night, there was always too much on his mind, but he always found it just a bit easier to do when he was with them. Ace had a nice, steady heartbeat, and Sabo used to cling to people in his sleep. Between the two of them, he always felt so safe and focused.

Zoro’s like that, too. He snored a lot, but he was warm, steady, and really good at hugging. He seemed to know when Luffy needed him to wake up in the middle of the night, too. Almost like he had a sorta sense for it.

Chopper doesn’t make any sounds when he sleeps, and Brook makes a really weird whistling sound. Luffy isn’t sure if Brook is actually sleeping, nothing changes between awake Brook and sleeping Brook. Sanji’s in the room, too, for once. Usually he sleeps on the couch in the galley out of habit. He’s also rather quiet.

Luffy stares at Sanji’s form from afar in the darkness. Sanji was so exhausted from the crashed wedding that the moment he laid down on the bed, he’d passed out. Luffy doesn’t wanna wake him up.

Instead, he stares up at the bunk above him, looking at the same wood grain patterns he’d stared at a thousand times before. The ship creaks slowly, shifting with the ocean. The hanging beds sway. The men’s quarters is particularly warm tonight. Not warm enough, though.

He rolls over so his face is pressed into the mattress. There’s a depression in the bed where Zoro sleeps. On the right side. Luffy’s usually on his left (or on top, or underneath, or by his feet. He moves around a lot). The sheets are clean and new, but the spot still smells like Zoro. Sweat, deodorant, iron, old linen, and something he doesn’t have a name for other than, “like Zoro”. 

The crow’s nest smells like Zoro, too.

Slowly, he sits up, puts his legs over the side of the hammock, and drops down to the floor. His feet are a bit sticky with sweat, but he doesn’t bother with his sandals. Too noisy.

The deck of the Sunny is silent. Nami, he knows, is on watch somewhere. But she doesn’t seem to be around at the moment. It’s just him out in the starry night air, alone. It’s a little breezy and still smells like cotton candy, as if the sweet aroma of Tottoland still clung to them. 

He launches himself up to the crow’s nest. It, too, is an empty space.

Since Zoro’s been gone a while, it smells less like him than usual. It’s still pretty Zoro, though. Probably because Zoro doesn’t know how to clean anything that isn’t a swords. The metal is icy on his feet. The dumbbells haven’t moved from their rests. In the corner are a few bum biscuits (seat cushions, as Nami keeps reminding him) which he flops down onto. They’re not terribly comfortable.

The silence starts to bug him. Since he’s not sleeping, he takes to humming, then singing.

“...Soo fare thee well, my own true love,” he mutters in the dark. “When I return united we will be...”

It’s cold. It’s cold, and empty, and there’s no Zoro, and he can’t sleep. He inhales deeply and then sighs loudly, glaring up at the ceiling. How long til they reach Wano? How much longer til their crew is all back together again? He buries his face in the pillows, pretending for a moment that it’s Zoro’s chest he’s laying on.

“It’s not the leaving of Loguetown that griiieves me, but my darlin’ when I think of thee...”

Chapter Text

The signature read, “ME” in plain bold. Right on Zoro’s shoulder.

Soulmate bullshit has never caught his interest, not in the slightest, and he can’t help but wonder if this is the universe’s sick sense of humor biting him in the ass for it. He picked at the mark with his fingernails. Who the hell signed their name as, “ME”?

Nobody worth his time, that’s for sure. He slipped the bandanna from his head and tied it around his upper arm. The next day he bought more sleeve shirts and a few weeks on he forgot the message was even there.

Oh, sure, he was reminded occasionally. Once in a while, when he’s lounging with the boys and a bit too drunk, one of them will point out how ridiculous it is that he’s been paired with someone named, “Me”. Most of them made jokes about how Zoro was his own soulmate. That joke was kinda funny. A little bit. He could drink to that. Better than some dumbass who couldn’t even write their own name.

There were better dumbasses to find in the world.

 


 

 

He meets one, on the bus. 

Some bright-eyed, bushy-tailed kid in overalls with a heavy-ass backpack stuffed like he was going across the country on a whirlwind tour. Of course the rest of the bus had avoided the chiseled man at the back of the bus who’d fought the driver to keep his swords with him. This kid wasn’t affected.

“Hi!” he greets, plopping down in the seat next to him. Zoro hums and focuses on the back of the driver. “My name’s Luffy! What’s yours?”

“Who cares.”

“I do!” 

Luffy says it with a smile, slipping the bag from his shoulders to set it on the floor. He’s completely carefree, as if he isn’t sitting next to an armed man. He unzips the top of his backpack. Several plastic sandwich bags filled with beef jerky and slim jims fall out. He grabs them in one big handful and drops them into his lap.

“I’m goin’ out to see my bro!” he says, stuffing the dried meats into his mouth. “He lives way far away so I don’t see him much. I’m really, really excited!”

“Hm.”

The bus pulls away from the stop with a jolt. They’re in some dead-end town in the middle of bumfuck nowhere. A rusted roadside bus stop with an old wooden bench. Nothing but prairie on one side and farms on the other, maybe some gas station and a tiny downtown in the distance. Certainly nowhere Zoro wants to be, and he’s kind of glad he didn’t get off.

“What about you?” Luffy gestures to Zoro with a slim jim. “Where ya going?”

“Somewhere,” Zoro answers with a shrug, sagging in the seat. It’s not false, really. “I come and go wherever I want to.”

“Ehhhhh?” Luffy perks up, eyes sparkling like he was in a candy store. “You can just do whatever you wanna do?!” He leans uncomfortably close to Zoro. “That’s so cool!”

Luffy has no volume control. The other passengers glare back at them. Zoro narrows his eyes at them, and they immediately look away. Luffy takes no notice, bouncing lightly in his seat, baggies of snacks falling all over the place as he does.

Zoro eyes him. There’s an expression of blind positivity and hope on Luffy’s face he’s not seen in years. When Luffy relaxes back in his seat and swings his legs back and forth, even when relaxed he’s got an overpowering youthful energy. Like the world has yet to tear it out of him and hand him the cold, harsh reality that he’s going to be a cashier somewhere.

“I wanna be like that someday,” he says, casting his gaze out the window opposite Zoro. “It sounds like so much fun! I wanna see things, and go places, and eat all the really good food, and sleep under the stars...”

Zoro arches his eyebrows. “You don’t get out much, do you?”

“Not really,” Luffy grumbles. “There’s nowhere to go around here and Grandpa’s not around, and Ace’s not around...” Then, he smiles again. “I saved up all my money to buy the bus ticket outta here, y’know! So I’m gonna make this one my big adventure!”

“Good luck with that.”

Bumfuck nowhere continues. It’s all cattle and corn. Luffy recounts stories of him and his brother in the meantime to break up the monotony. He’s just going on and on about animals they caught, things they found, people they met, a fort they built, a tree they got stuck in--

The bus driver at the other end can probably hear him loud and clear, yet--interestingly, it still feels like he’s talking exclusively to Zoro. Usually that’s irritating. 

About fifteen minutes in he stopped thinking that. He can’t figure out why.

“--Ace is super good at starting campfires,” Luffy continues rambling. “He knows what kinda wood you need and where to find the good rocks and stuff.” He glances at Zoro. “You seem like that kinda guy, too!”

“...Yeah?” Zoro blinks. “Guess I know a thing or two about taking care of myself. Otherwise I’d be dead.”

Luffy giggles at that. It’s a pleasant sound. Friendly, genuine. Zoro doesn’t know a lot of people like that.

At some point they cross over into the city again--Zoro doesn’t know for how long, he stops checking his phone in the middle of Luffy’s story about some alcoholic that gave him a hat. Luffy exhausts half his snack supply in that time despite implying that he had a long, long way to go from where they were now. Candy wrappers and empty bags littered their feet.

The next station is heavily populated. Plenty of places to find a quick, dead-end job. Lots of places to sleep for free, probably. Zoro eyes the area as they pull in. Several people disembark.

“Ohhhhh!” Luffy jumps to the other window and presses his face up against it. “It’s the big city! It’s so cool!”

Zoro looks at his small dufflebag and swords. He can get out now, he supposes. Best to do it now. Luffy even got up from the seat. He stares at his belongings, then looks at Luffy, who’s chattering on to himself excitedly about the scenery. After a moment, he looks back at Zoro curiously.

“Have you ever been in this city?” he asks.

“No,” Zoro replies.

“Oh. Do you wanna see this one?” Luffy tilts his head to the side. The question comes with a twinge of disappointment. He glances between the door and Zoro. “The bus is stopped right now. It seems like fun to explore this one!”

Zoro stares at the door. It’s wide open. He can slip out now. Nothing’s stopping--

“Eh.” Zoro shrugs. “City’s a city. Plenty more where this one came from.”

The bus fills with people. Luffy piles back into the seat, sending trash everywhere. Zoro gets pushes up against the window. The doors seal shut. Why didn’t he just get off?

“Guess we get to hang out for a while longer, huh?” Luffy says. “You gonna tell me your name then, huh?” When Zoro doesn’t respond immediately, he continues on, “I could think up a nickname for you!”

Zoro huffs. “It’s Zoro,” he says.

“Ooh! I like that name! Zoro, Zohr-row!” Luffy plays with it. “Zororo, Sword-guy Zoro, Sworo--Shishishi! Just me and Zoro on an adventure!”

Zoro rolls his eyes. As the bus rolls on, Luffy breaks into some old country song Zoro doesn’t know the lyrics to. But Zoro can tell that he sings it badly, everything slightly off-key. Nobody else on the bus enjoys Luffy’s presence, save for a couple kids who he teaches “The Moose Game” to. Zoro snorts as he watches them. This guy really is a dumbass, isn’t he?

A few more stops pass. He stays in his seat.

 


 

 

“’Sword’?” 

Ace poked at his brother’s new tattoo with a marshmallow roasting stick. 

“Pfft. What kinda girl’s name is sword, huh? You gonna make out with the knives in Makino’s kitchen, Loof?” he teased.

A younger Luffy batted it away with his own stick. 

“Shuddit!” he snapped. “I don’t do that soulmate stuff. It’s gross!” 

He stuck his tongue out. Ace and Sabo erupted into laughter. Luffy shoved his marshmallows into the tiny campfire. The burnt ones always tasted the best anyhow.

“You’re such a kid, Luffy,” Sabo said. “When you’re ten, you’ll get it.”

“No I won’t,” he said. “I don’t get it when Makino and Shanks make kissy faces and I’m not gonna get it when I’m your guys’s ages! Bleh! I don’t care whose name is Sword, but I’m not looking for ‘em!”

The marshmallows burn just right. Then too much. Luffy yelped and pulled them out, blowing the flames away. Maybe a bit too overdone, but not too bad. He shoved them right into his mouth. His brothers were muttering and giggling some more. He squinted at them. Food was better than soulmates. Adventures were better than soulmates too. 

(‘Sword’ gets hidden under his t-shirt, and stays forgotten, even as he reads it on Zoro’s luggage tag. Funny that someone labels their swords as ‘sword’, he thinks.)

Chapter Text

Luffy gave him a part of his old sash. Zoro traded his old bandanna for it.

Neither of them were really into rings. Zoro thought it felt weird on his finger when he held a sword, and Luffy would’ve just lost his after toying around with it too much. But to be completely honest, it wasn’t really a marriage. Not in the standard meaning of the word. 

On the back of an old grocery list somewhere was the legal paperwork labeling them both, “husbands”, which Nami had officiated and signed (along with the rest of the crew, for good measure). Luffy never liked that word. He associated it with old sailors complaining about their wives, as though they’d lost their free will. The old “ball and chain” or something.

Being with Zoro certainly wasn’t prison. If anything, he felt more free by his side than he’d ever been before.

People ask him on occasion if anything’s changed. He never knew what to say, really. Things were the same as ever, legal stuff or not. Whether it was two years or twenty, stuff between him and Zoro didn’t change. Side-by-side, back-to-back, in each other’s arms at night. That’s how he wanted it. That’s how it stayed.

–Well, some stuff does change. 

Zoro’s cheekbones stick out way more. He loses an arm and some of his bulky Zoro-ness. Luffy’s face gets less squishy and somewhere down the road he takes a liking to Zoro’s unshaven morning look. He also grows a little. Maybe.

(He really should’ve kept track of that somewhere.)

Still, right now isn’t a whole lot different from back then. The future doesn’t change a whole lot. Not really. His feelings don’t go away after Zoro’s hair turns completely white and he starts relying on a slew of meds to keep his health steady. Zoro’s lap is no less comfortable even when he gets all bony.

“My head feels empty, though,” Luffy comments, scratching at his hair with a frown. “It’s weird not wearing a hat.” He hums. “But I can’t just replace that hat with any ol’ hat, y’know?”

He feels Zoro press up against his back, his arm and elbow nub wrapping around him. His chin rests in his hair and makes him feel a little less hat-less.

“Do you regret handing it over?”

“No,” Luffy says immediately. “Doesn’t mean I don’t miss it.”

It was the previous wearer of that hat, after all, that made him set out. It was that hat that motivated him to keep going. It was the thing he’d clung to for so, so long as a comfort object. He sighed contentedly and relaxed in Zoro’s hold. That hat let him meet Zoro, too.

“You think there’s another hat like that out there, Zoro?” Luffy speaks up again, looking up at him. “Some cool adventure hat waiting for me to find?”

“Hard to say.” Zoro grins down at him. “We could try looking for it.”

Chapter Text

The more time Luffy spends in Wano, the more he thinks it’s completely custom-made for Zoro. Everything and everyone wants to fight. With swords.  As the dog-thing carries him and Tama off into the wilds, he scouts for more weapon-wielding animals. 

Zoro was probably off having an adventure of his own somewhere, wasn’t he? He huffs when he thinks about it. Selfish? Maybe. But is it really so selfish to wanna share all the adventures Zoro has? ...Probably. He pouts. The distance really left him itching for some quality time with his first mate. Zoro better tell him all about everything he did. Preferably while they’re eating. Damn, is he ever hungry!

Animals of the wastelands pass them by. Thugs in the distance on beasts of burden chase after a woman he doesn’t know. One of Wano’s samurai cuts him down and he swears--he swears he recognizes one of the voices...

It’s hard to tell from that far away. But luckily for him, Zoro’s distinct hair color makes him stand out against the barren Wano wasteland.

Wait.

Zoro.

The monstrous dog-thing stops running. Zoro tears the booze away from the people he just cut down. Luffy’s heart leaps into his throat. Zoro. It’s Zoro. He trembles lightly. He’s just standing right there in the middle of nowhere, like he was waiting for Luffy to come find him.

“Hey! Zoro!”

Zoro--yes, that’s definitely, without a doubt, Zoro--looks toward him. He’s got some silly haircut like the bird guy gave him, but the Wano clothes fit him so well. 

Gosh! It’s Zoro! 

He kicks at the side of the dog-thing. Zoro! It’s Zoro!!

“ZOROOOOO!” Luffy screams. 

“Huh?” Zoro blinks.

“IT’S MEEEEEEE!”

The stoic, slightly confused expression remains on Zoro’s face for a moment longer. Then, it slips away, eye wide, teeth showing in an ecstatic grin as though they were the only two people around for miles.

LUFFY!” 

It feels so good to hear his name in Zoro’s voice.

“FINALLY!” Zoro shouts, sounding positively thrilled. “TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH!”

Luffy doesn’t even wait for the dog to stop moving before he leaps from its back, launches at Zoro, and slams right into him. 

Anyone else would’ve been bowled right over. But Zoro holds him steady. He grips tightly to Zoro, laughing hysterically as they exchange boring old comments. It’s Zoro! He presses Zoro’s face into his chest. He smells a little weird; foreign and new, like Wano country, and more like blood and booze than usual. He’s got meat, too!

It’s Zoro, it’s Zoro, it’s Zoro!

Zoro pushes him back a bit to inhale a deep breath of air, yet he doesn’t reprimand Luffy for it. He’s still smiling, still so happy, and those long nights out on the open ocean are forgotten completely.

Chapter Text

Dellinger stood among his giant family impatiently. All the grown ups were discussing grown up things and it was so, so boring. Plus, it didn’t help that the entire room smelled like fish. Tasty, tasty fish. He licked his lips as his mouth watered.

“Jora, are we gonna eat yet?” he asked, tugging on Jora’s dress.

Said person glanced down to him with a small smile. “Soon Dellybean,” she said.

He pouted. Soon wasn’t soon enough.

He glanced around the room, looking for something to occupy himself with. And then he saw it: a big bubbly tank with a whole bunch of lobsters in it. His eyes widened. They were all shuffling around in the confined space, their antenna twitching.

“Kyaa!! Jora, Jora!” Dellinger said as he tugged at Jora’s skirt. “Jora!! There’s a fish tank here!”

Jora followed his finger to the large lobster tank at the front of the store. She smiled down at him.

“Would you like to pick one out, zamasu?” she asked.

“You mean I get to bring it home?” Dellinger said, eyes widening.

“No, stupid, you’re going to eat it,” Gladius said.

Dellinger frowned up at Gladius. He then wandered over to the tank and placed his hands up against the glass. It was dirty and too small of an aquarium to fit all of them comfortably. Dellinger squinted. The lobsters crawled around over and under each other. One, two, three, five, six, seven of them, Dellinger counted. He reached up to the tank’s opening and dipped a few fingers in. The water was about room temperature.

“Dellybean!” Jora called, pulling his attention away from the lobsters. “We’re going to our table!”

“Okay!” he called back. “I’ll be there in a minute!”

His eyes fell back on the lobsters. Well, Jora had said he could pick one of them out. What better time to do that than now?

With the tank being just a bit too high for him to climb into himself, he procured one of the waiting room chairs from the side and brought it up alongside the stand. It was just enough of a boost that he could climb into the tank. He stared down at the blurry shapes of the lobsters at the bottom of the tank. The water was so warm and inviting...

Water gushed over the sides as it made room for Dellinger. It was filled just enough with water that he could sit inside the tank comfortably with only his horns sticking out the top. The gills on his neck immediately took notice and activated. 

The lobsters quickly moved out of the way of him, viewing him as a threat. But, as there was nowhere for them to go, Dellinger was free to scoop the lot of them into his lap.

How was he going to pick one?

Some had smaller pincers and others had large. The majority of them were smaller but there was one very large lobster in the mix buried under the younger ones. Dellinger grabbed its carapace firmly. The lobster’s legs undulated as it tried to escape his grasp. Yep. This one was good. Maybe they could install a lobster door to fit it.

He emerged from the water and stood up. As he climbed back out, the restaurant staff hurried over to him, saying things to him that he wasn’t really paying much attention to. The lobster’s tail curled.

“Did she just jump into the tank?” One of them said.

“I dunno, I turned away for a minute and the kid was sopping wet,” another said. “Where are her parents?”

One looked down at Dellinger and extended his arm. “Give me the lobster, little girl. It’s not a toy.”

Dellinger scowled and cuddled the lobster into his pink shirt. “No,” he said. “I picked it out, so it’s my lobster!”

He sprinted away from the waitstaff and onto the dining room floor, dripping a trail of lobster water as he went. He weaved around the tables as he tried to find their table--which would be the biggest and best of them all.

A woman at another table shrieked as Dellinger’s wild wiggling friend, pincers freed from the restraints of the protective rubber bands, flexed its claws in her direction.

“Aiiiee!”

The shriek drew the attention of the other customers, and soon all eyes were on the wet child with his lobster. Many of them whispered to each other in hushed voices as he passed them by. The largest collection of tables was toward the back corner of the restaurant, and was easily identifiable by the rowdy cheering as Dellinger approached.

The men of the table laughed hysterically as Dellinger sat his soaking wet self into the free chair and unceremoniously dropped the lobster down on the white tablecloth.

“Oh, my!” Jora said. “Dellybean, why are you all wet, zamasu?”

“Behehehe! Nyeh, nyeh, Dellinger, did you work up a nice appetite at the neighborhood pool before dinner?” Trebol asked as Jora wiped at Dellinger’s face with her cloth napkin.

“Oh, hell, that’s a nice looking lobster,” Diamante said, watching it crawl backwards across the table. “I call dibs.”

“Absolutely gigantic!” Lao G said, before adding, “With a ‘G’!”

“Dellinger took the initiative, he gets to keep it,” Doflamingo said. Dellinger beamed proudly. “There should be plenty more for us to choose from.” He snapped his fingers. “Can someone get this thing cooked?”

As the waitstaff reluctantly approached to take the lobster off of the wet tablecloth, Dellinger’s head snapped up with alarm.

“No!” he yelled, immediately reaching across the table and pulling the lobster back toward him. “I don’t wanna eat him! He’s my new friend!”

“Good idea, food for the road!” Diamante said with a laugh.

“We can’t have a fucking lobster in our house,” Gladius spoke up, eyebrows knitting together. “Where the hell are we going to put it? Just eat it and be done with it.”

“No!!”

Doflamingo stared at Dellinger for a long moment. Then, he sighed, shook his head, and glanced toward the waitstaff.

“Get him a bucket.”

Chapter Text

Alvida strolled through the large tent sometime in the afternoon with a half-finished bottle of red wine in her hand. Buggy had been bothering her to come by earlier–something something “needed her help”–but, fuck it all, she did what she wanted. No Pirate Warlord title was going to make Buggy any more fierce in her eyes.

As it turned out, Buggy wasn’t in the big top. But everyone else was.

Mohji, who’d since changed his lion-themed haircut into a sheep, was giving Richie french braids. That fat lion already looked damn ridiculous, it didn’t need any help. Cabaji was above them, balancing almost effortlessly on a tightrope with his unicycle. Alvida walked closer and squinted up at him.

“And what are you doing?” Alvida asked.

“I’m practicing a new balancing routine,” Cabaji replied.

Alvida hummed and leaned up against the poll roughly. It shook just a bit and set Cabaji off balance for a moment. He glared down at her.

“You look like an accident,” she said.

She found a seat at a table in the corner where Galdino was sitting, rubbing his face worriedly as he watched Cabaji. When he spotted Alvida, he gave her a judging look.

“Are you drunk already?” Galdino asked, eyebrows raising.

Alvida shrugged, easily chugged the rest of the wine, and slouched into a seat. She crossed her legs and watched the idiots out on the floor. Richie, who was gnawing on some meat, bumped into the pole. The impact knocked Cabaji’s unicycle off the rope and sent him tumbling below, directly onto Mohji. The two began arguing about stupid shit–something something safety nets, something. Alvida let out an irritated sigh.

“This is all a fucking disaster,” she muttered, chucking the empty bottle away.

Chapter Text

It was a fairly calm day at sea. Sunny, clear skies, the perfect day...to hang over the rail and stare aimlessly out at the ocean.

The tiny Law lookalike transponder snail slithered up his arm slowly, leaving a little trail of slime in its wake. Though it resembled his namesake, it wasn’t anything like Law in personality. It didn’t mind much when Luffy toted it around on his shoulder or played with it. In that way it was sort of a Law-away-from-Law...kinda. Ish.

Luffy stared out at the sea with a glare on his face, as if glaring at it long enough would bring Law’s submarine back from the horizon it had disappeared into days ago. Law gave him the snail to keep in touch despite their distance...but with a message to not use it unless it was important. Apparently he’d known that Luffy wanted to call him immediately after he’d gone. So for now he just stared at it and hoped that it would ring on its own.

It didn’t. And that bothered him even more. Didn’t Law think it was important to call him?

“Luffy,” Nami began, giving him an annoyed look. “You’ve been sitting there looking sorry for yourself like all day. Just call him.”

“I want to, but Torao told me not to call him unless it was important,” Luffy replied with a huff.

“What does he consider important?” Zoro asked.

Luffy opened his mouth to saw something, but then he closed it again, frowned, and scratched his chin. “Y’know what? I didn’t ask,” he said. “Do you think he meant important to him or important to me? Those are two different importants.”

Zoro shrugged in response and went back to weightlifting.

“Hmmm…” Luffy eyed the snail. It stared at him. “Okay! I’ll call him and ask.”

He plucked the snail off of his arm and hurried away toward the sleeping quarters. In all honesty, he didn’t mind talking to Law out in the open where he crew could hear, but he knew Law would be annoyed if everyone was listening in on his private conversations. He opened the door, glanced around inside the room, and then, seeing the coast was clear, shut it behind him.

After plopping down on one of the beds, he placed the snail down, picked up the receiver, and called Law. As he waited for Law to pick up, he impatiently watched the face of the snail, excited for the moment when it would start transmitting his expressions as well as his voice. About a minute later, there was a click, and then--

Hello?

“Hey Law!” Luffy greeted. “It’s me, Luffy!”

The snail smiled in the same subtle way Law would. “Oh, hello,” Law said. “What is it? Is something wrong?

“Nothing’s wrong!” Luffy said in response. “I just wanted to know what you were doing today.”

What?

“I said--”

No, I heard you the first time,” Law began, “but I thought I told you not to call me unless it was important?

“This is important!” Luffy insisted. “Really important. The most important of all.”

Alright,” Law said. He paused for a moment before he continued on. “Well then, is there something wrong? Are you being chased by an enemy? Did you need information? ...Are we changing our plans?

“No, Law, I just wanted to call you,” Luffy said with a grin. “I mean, it’s important that we stay in touch, right? And I really, really like hearing from you!”

The snail’s face contorted to appear like Law’s usual annoyed look and then sighed. “Okay,” he said, defeated. “Let’s talk for a while.”

The familiar creaks of Law’s submarine came through the snail, soft yet just loud enough to be picked up. He wondered where Law might be, what he was up to. If only there was a way they could see each other through the transponder snails...

“I can hear the submarine creaking. Can you hear the Sunny?” Luffy asked.

Both of them went quiet to listen. Luffy couldn’t hear much outside of the ocean waves and a few gulls. But there was also the distinct vibrations through the floor that were telltale signs of Usopp building something. He gave the Law snail a curious glance.

Are you out at sea?” Law asked. “That’s about all I can hear.”

“Yeah, we left port a couple days ago,” Luffy said. He glanced out the porthole window at the blue sky. “The weather here’s real nice. I think you’d like it a lot! I know I like it.” Then, he looked back down at the snail, which was studying him. “What’re you up to today, Law?”

Nothing particularly interesting,” Law said. “Just trying to catch up on work while it’s quiet.”

“Oh, really? That doesn’t sound like fun,” Luffy mumbled. He thought for a moment before his face lit up. “Oh, oh! Yesterday I went fishing with Usopp, and we caught this big-ass fish! It was all spotted and it reminded me of you. I wish you could’ve seen it.”

Luffy left out a sigh as he gently pat the tiny hat on the snail’s head. It was fuzzy and squishy, just like Law’s. Had Law made the tiny hat for this snail just for him or had the snail just come with it?

Something on your mind?” Came Law’s voice through the snail.

“Huh?”

You’re unnaturally quiet.”

“Nah, I’m just petting the snail,” Luffy replied. Then, he frowned. “...Hey, Torao? What did you mean by important, anyhow? I mean, sure, there’s like alliance stuff, but there’s also emergencies like when I get super lonely and I miss you--”

Law went quiet. And through the low rumblings of the ship Luffy could’ve sworn that he hear Law’s very faint laugh.

Luffy.”

“Hm?”

I just saw you four days ago.

“Shishishi!” Luffy laughed. “So? I want to see you again. Four days is like forever when we used to be together like every day.”

The line went silent again, as it usually did when Law was thinking about something. The little snail’s face turned pensive with a thoughtful frown. Luffy laid down on the bed and stretched out, turning to look at it from eye level. He reached out and stroked its squishy body, very much wishing that it was the real Law instead.

“Do you miss me?” Luffy asked. “Cause I miss you a whole lot.”

I’ve….been trying not to think about it,” Law said finally. “Right now I do have other things to attend to as well, so I can’t have myself dwelling too much on it--

“So, you miss me.”

Law sighed again. “Yes. I do.

“Then it’d be important to call you to make sure you don’t feel sad and lonely in that big, cold submarine, right?” Luffy pointed out. “And we can talk about all kinds of things! Even if it’s just dumb stuff like weather and fish, it matters ‘cause I love you!”

Once again, the snail mirrored Law’s expressions, only this time it seemed embarrassed. It looked away from Luffy for a brief moment before it nodded.

I’d like that.” Was Law’s response.

“Great!” Luffy exclaimed, making the snail flinch. He rolled over on the bed so that he was laying on his stomach. “So tell me all about what you’ve been up to!”

Chapter Text

The strawberry patch rustles. Three screaming boys, covered in bruises and clutching bloody noses, scramble out as if they’d seen a bear. 

And perhaps they had–for moments later, a girl with a rat’s nest haircut full of twigs stomps out. She was all pudge, with chubby cheeks and squishy figure, but the muscles of her arms told a very different story; of a spoiled child who didn’t let her resources go to waste and trained her body with her mind. 

She wipes her own bleeding nose on the back of a torn sleeve. She, too, had bruises. But she wore them proudly, head up high, gaze fierce as a predator. A smirk creeps onto her face. In her left arm was a basket of strawberries that the same pack of boys she beat up with her bare hands tried to steal from her. As if she were some pathetic, porcelain doll who’d cry when confronted.

Honestly. Boys were so stupid and only good for chasing.

She dusts off her shorts and skips away, humming a little tune to herself as she contemplates strawberry cheesecake topped with preserves colored as brightly red as the frills on her favorite shirt.

They’d called her fat. They’d said her freckles were ugly and her hair was worse. She knocked three teeth from their mouths as retribution.

No one crossed Alvida and left without injury.

 


 

Now Alvida knew she was something special. Between her striking looks, her wealth of knowledge, and the fact that she could probably rip a man’s arm out of its socket (Probably? As if it hadn’t already happened several times), she was most definitely one of a kind.

For some reason, not everyone else saw it that way.

Apparently drinking contests, arm wrestling, and fighting with weapons was “unsuitable” for a woman–especially for one whom also insisted on retaining her femininity. Mother worried herself into a rut. Father shook his head and grumbled when he thought she was out of earshot about how she’d never find a husband.

Bah. Of course she’d never find a husband. In what universe was there evergoing to be a man suitable to match her, in strength, beauty, and charisma?

Especially when there were so many who sneered and muttered that she was anything less than flawless. Disgusting sea urchins running off their mouths were flung into the sea via spiked club. In what universe did the she owe it to filthy street rats to change her body type when it was nothing less than perfect?

 


 

Taking the ship was so easy it was laughable.

A sorry bunch of men who weren’t even worthy of the title “pirates” let alone something like the scourge of the sea. They’d taken one look at Alvida and laughed as though her announcement to seize the vessel was a joke. Ha. 

Seeing them on their hands and knees, foreheads to the ground as they whimpered out apologies was so utterly delicious a moment.

She’d ripped the coat and hat from the old captain (whom she’d thrown to the sharks after he’d murmured something about swine under his breath) and taken to her new quarters. The man may have been worthless scum but he did have quite the lovely flintlock pistol and gleaming golden treasure stowed away in his desk.

It didn’t make up for the pungent odor of the room. There were decaying cobwebs and dishes he’d left to gather dust, heaps of stinking laundry, trash overflowing from the bin–she turns up her nose, wrinkling her face in contempt as she opens a window.

Men were so disgusting.

“I want this ship fucking spotless!” she shouts, startling the men. “Absolutely picture-perfect! I never want to see another dust particle on this entire ship for as long as I live!”

By the way the men reacted–scrambling around for buckets and mops, brooms and cleaners, all the while tripping over their own feet to do her bidding–it may as well have been the snarl of a wolf three times their size that was threatening them.

Excellent. They knew their place.

Chapter Text

After the crisis had settled and the sickly members of the tribe were on their way to recovery, Nami decided to spend a little quality time with Wanda, who was insisting on giving her a gift. Nami had told her that she didn’t need one, but Wanda was adamant about it...and that was how Nami ended up in Wanda’s bedroom. There, Wanda presented her with some of the finest pearls she had ever seen. Pearls.

Nami wasn’t planning on milking the Mink Tribe for any kind of treasure reward; with the state of their country being what it was they were going to need everything they had in order to rebuild. So the strings of pearls that Wanda strung around her shoulders and legs was a bit of a shock. And a fresh set of clothes, too?

“You didn’t have to do all this for me, you know,” Nami said.

“I wanted to,” Wanda replied. “It’s the least I could do, really, for all that you’ve done for us…”

She trailed off, looking away for a moment before brightening up again with a smile--oh god, her smile was so cute. She approached again with yet another string of beautiful pearls and put them on Nami’s head.

“More pearls?” Nami said. “Honestly, Wanda--I mean, I love them, they’re gorgeous, I’m not going to lie to you. But this is just too much.” She looked down at the dress and the attached pearls. “And this dress definitely wasn’t cheap...”

“Think nothing of it,” Wanda said. She turned Nami around to face a long mirror that was mounted on the wall. “I think it suits you more than it does me, anyway.”

“Hmmm…” Nami made a face at her reflection. Then, she turned back around to face Wanda. “Oh, I’ve got an idea! Why don’t we do a trade?”

“A trade?”

Nami walked around Wanda to get to her old clothes, which were in a neat pile on a dresser. She scooped them up with both arms, turned on her heels, and held them out. Wanda’s ears perked up.

“I saw you admiring them before, so I’m going to give you my old clothes,” Nami said. “It’s not much in exchange for all this, but--”

Wanda accepted the little bundle of clothes...and then suddenly rushed at her, a tail-wagging, tongue-lolling happy mass of dog. She licked Nami’s face, her entire face, in one big slobbery dog kiss. Nami laughed.

“Hey, what’s the big idea, huh?” she said. Wanda looked at her, surprised. Nami put her hands on both sides of Wanda’s face and squished it a bit. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed. The way you lick me is a little different from the others.”

“Different...in a bad way?” Wanda inquired.

“No, not at all,” Nami said. She smiled widely, leaned forward, and then kissed Wanda on the nose. “Between you and me, I kinda like it.”

Chapter Text

His molten nightmares of Marineford tear him from slumber.

Luffy wakes with a start, gasping, kicking off the blankets as though they were Akainu himself. A few quick looks around the room brings him into the present; he’s on the Sunny, with his crew, lying in bed with Zoro. But his heart is still racing, he’s drenched in sweat, and he’s taking in heaving breaths.

He droops his head into his hands. Brains were dumb. That lava guy wasn’t around anymore, so how come he had to see that all over again? 

It was so real, too. He could feel the heat of the admiral’s fist on his chest, the screams of Marines and pirates alike, the splatter of Ace’s blood–he retches. Don’t think about that. Don’t think about it. Don’t. Don’t! Don’t

He thinks about it. 

Dammit.

As the dying smile on Ace’s face haunts his mind, he feels a hand reach out to touch his back. He immediately turns to face–Zoro. It’s just Zoro. Of course it’s Zoro, it’s their bed. Everyone else is sleeping in the other bunks. Zoro doesn’t say anything, and it’s a little hard to make out his face in the dark, but he knows what Zoro’s asking. With a deep inhale, then a noisy exhale, Luffy slowly lays back down on the bed. Zoro wastes no time pulling him in. The blankets stayed in a heap by their feet. Not that they were needed.

Luffy sighs, his head coming to rest just under Zoro’s collar. He was plenty warm. His heartbeat was so calm. So calm and friendly and safe and alive

Stop thinking about it.

His breath hitches. Zoro’s fingernails massage the back of his head in long, smooth strokes. Breathe. Just breathe. He focuses on the sound of Zoro’s heart, the way his chest steadily rises and falls. 

Trying to think about nothing never worked to get to sleep, especially not after these kinds of things. How did people think about nothing? That was boring. Zoro was a good thing to focus on. Think about Zoro. Focus on Zoro. He rubs his cheek on Zoro’s chest before closing his eyes. Zoro’s hands come to rest over Luffy’s shoulders–and for a second Luffy feels like it’s an impenetrable defense.

Bad stuff happens sometimes. Zoro’s there to keep it away.

Chapter Text

Some people call it a dump. 

Well. It’s a little bit dumpy. But to Kid, it’s home.

Nobody’s supposed to live in here--or so says the sign Kid can’t even read. The old man who owns the property has screamed at him about it like seven times now. It’s where everyone puts their garbage and their broken stuff and stuff that’s not so broken that they just wanna get rid of. 

The old man spends most his time sleeping and the dogs don’t patrol til nightfall. Which gives him plenty of time to rummage through piles and piles of parts. Kid’s always liked taking things apart and putting them back together. At the moment, springs are the most fun to mess with. Toasters, pens, notepads, couches--there was something satisfying about the surprise of it.

Visitors were less satisfying.

A clatter of pallets calling over wakes Kid up from a quick nap in the boot of a carriage he’s long since hollowed out. Slowly, he peeks over the edge. He wields a strut brace over his shoulder, a makeshift weapon. The wood pallets are in a heap, but there’s no one to be seen. He creeps from the trunk out into the open and--

“Hey.”

“FUCK!” 

Kid gasps and grabs his brace, ready to bash the intruder’s skull in, yet as he whirls around to do it he realizes--it’s just fucking Killer with a hub cap tied to his face with some dirty twine.

Killer!!” he shouts. “Whit th’ hell?!”

There’s no response from Killer. Just a greasy paper lunch sack held out to Kid.

“A’ve got leftovers,” he says as if his surprise homicidal murderer look didn’t nearly make Kid piss his pants five seconds earlier. “Cabbage rolls.”

Kid squints at him, makes a face, but swipes the bag from him and crawls back into the boot, aiming for the chairs inside. Offering accepted. He’ll overlook Killer’s whatthefuckery this time.

He doesn’t wait until Killer comes through to start grabbing chunks of the cold cabbage rolls and shoving them into his mouth, collecting every single scrap that drops onto his pants and the carriage seat. Killer stares at him through the holes in the hub cap but Kid doesn’t care. Killer’s mom makes some fucking incredible cabbage rolls. And most food in general. 

Kid usually laughs at Killer for being addicted to pasta and only pasta, but Killer’s picky eating habits are what score him actual food. The one downside to the junkyard is that there’s no food that hasn’t already been picked at by maggots.

“Why’re ye wearin’ that?” Kid asks, gesturing at Killer’s ‘mask’.

Killer shrugs. “Ah lik’ it,” he says simply. “Safer.”

“Safer?”

“Ye keep hitting me wi' bolts 'n' stuff.”

Kid rolls his eyes and huffs before jamming the broken screwdriver in his lap into the back of the seat, where it ripped through the fabric and hit the metal frame with a dull clang.

“Quit bein’ a baby, Killer,” he grumbles. “Tis ainlie wee bolts.”

Killer reaches down to the rusting metal floor of the carriage, picks up a spring from a ballpoint pen, and squishes it between too fingers. Then he releases it. It hits Kid square in the forehead, making him flinch.

“Tis ainlie a wee spring, Kid.”

Kid elbows him. Killer shoves him back. Seconds later, the remains of the cabbage rolls in the bag tumble from Kid’s lap. They’re laughing and rolling around on the seat, Killer trying to put him in a headlock that ultimately didn’t happen due to Killer’s spaghetti arms. Kid eventually sits atop Killer’s back while his friend tries to push him off.

It’s strange to think that this time last year, Kid didn’t have this. 

He didn’t have anyone. It was just him, alone, going day to day. He found some solace for his solitude in tinkering and reassembling machines, but machines couldn’t talk back.

Killer didn’t have siblings. He didn’t have friends, didn’t have much family other than his parents, and he didn’t get along with most people in general (Which was strange, cause Killer was cool as hell--he could do the knife game an infinite amount of times and stick his foot behind his head). But Kid wasn’t really a person. Just another nameless street kid. And he hated people too. So it worked out alright.

Eventually Kid ends up hanging upside down from the back of the seat while Killer methodically tears the stained paper bag into little pieces.

“Awright Killer?” Kid speaks up. Killer hums in response. “A’ve been thinking.”

“Ye can dae that?”

Kid bops him on the head with a laugh. “Haud yer wheesht!“ he says. “A'm trying tae be serious.”

Killer’s silence ushered him on.

“Anyway,” he continues. “Been thinking. N' a'm thinking ah gotta get oot of this junkyard.” A pause. “Not richt now. When a'm bigger maybe.”

“Yeah?” Killer lifts up his mask to peer curiously up at Kid, who drops back onto the seat as he feels all the blood in his entire body drip into his head. “Where would ye go, then?”

Kid stares up at the ceiling. The fabric and paint are peeling away, leaving dried adhesive and red stains behind. He’s been thinking, but not that much.

“Somewhere better than this.” He looks at Killer. “Just wanna have real food 'n' stuff. Yer ma's is fine, but a'm needin' mair than that...”

“Oh.”

Killer breaks eye contact to go back to tearing the bag apart. He does it slower now, halfheartedly. Kid blinks. His best friend’s always been a bit hard to read, and the mask doesn’t make it any easier, but even a lughead like Kid can tell he’s upset.

“What're ye getting dowie about?” he asks with a sneer. “A'm takin ye wi' me when I go.” 

That caught Killer’s attention immediately. The hub cap wobbled as he suddenly jerked his head up. Kid snickers and knocks on the makeshift mask.

“Ye really think a’d leave my best mate behind?”

He sees a smile through the holes of the hub cap. “No,” Killer replies, sounding more positive now. “Dinnae ken nothing aboot sailing, though.”

“Me neither.”

Which was a bit of a damper on his plans. If neither of them could sail, how were they ever gonna get off the island? Kid’s eyebrows furrow. Well, the ships down at the harbor usually have a bunch of guys doing a bunch of things. Just him and Killer couldn’t do everything...but maybe if they got some more guys who knew how to do some stuff...

“Oi, Killer, I’ve got an idea,” he says, thumping on the seat. “Let's git a crew t'gither.” Killer tilts his head to the side. Kid gestures vaguely. “That wey we got fowk tae do th' sailing 'n' we kin have all the fun.”

“Like pirates?” Killer supplies.

Now that was an even better idea. Kid’s eyes lit up. Pirates...yeah, pirates! They got to beat the shit out of people, steal stuff, and do whatever the fuck they wanted. Nobody could stop them.

“Could do,” Kid says, immediately following it with, “Dibs on bein' captain.”

His friend seems to mull this idea over for a bit, maybe weighing the pros and cons of being pirates. Not that there was a downside to doing whatever the hell they wanted whenever they wanted. Maybe they could get Killer a real mask when they had the money, and he could paint flames and spikes and skulls on it...

“Think ah kin see it.” Killer sweeps his hand through the air, in a gesture like he was reading a big old wanted poster. “Notorious Captain Kid. Keeps losing treasure thro' th' holes in his breeks.”

The next noise out of Killer is a shrieking laugh of surprise as Kid jumps on him, wrestling him into a proper headlock.

Chapter Text

Despite having an epithet like, “Massacre Soldier,” warning the public how he left mangled corpses in his path, striking fear into the hearts of pirates and Marines alike, Killer was remarkably aimless. Why did he learn how to fight with scythes, of all things? He’d shrug if asked. How come his hair’s so long? He doesn’t care enough about his looks to cut it. What’s with the mask? He just likes it.

Why wasn’t he the captain of the Kid Pirates?

It was a question he got from time to time. Usually amidst some bullshit fight their over-eager captain had started with some dumbass stupid enough to ask about his lack of eyebrows or whatever. Oh, the irony of being named, “Killer,” and having the most interest in keeping the peace.

He supposed he could see why someone would wonder why the level-headed one wasn’t calling the shots. Maybe the ship would be cleaner. Maybe they’d all get injured less in fights. Maybe, maybe.

Honestly, Killer couldn’t see himself in the position. Just not interested, was his usual response. Not false. Not wholly true either.

The dreamlike memory of a remote South Blue island came to mind. Two dirty, disgusting, forgettable boys in a junkyard full of worthless crap. In his mind’s eye, the sight of Kid standing atop a crumbled pillar in a pair of torn hand-me-down pants two sizes too big. There’s blood dripping from his nose from defending Killer in a fight.

“Doesn’t ‘urt”, Kid had said, words a bit slurred from his swollen cheek. “Ah hit ‘em twice as ‘ard.”

Killer doesn’t remember what he’d replied with anymore. Only that Kid had stood up in the moonlight, and in that moment he’d looked as though he were the most powerful person in the world. There was a spark of courage in his eyes as he grinned, revealing two missing teeth, and even with logic telling him otherwise Killer truly believed Kid overcame the pain.

That’s what he admired most about Eustass Kid. It didn’t matter how hard someone struck him down. He’d get right back up. 

When he wanted something, he’d get it. Even if it meant clawing and biting like an animal in a steel trap til his fingers bled and his teeth broke. Maybe his ferocity was off-putting to some. Killer saw in him the willpower to claim his rightful place in the sun, that sign of a natural born leader.

Kid would stop fighting only when he stopped breathing. Above anything else, Killer wanted to make sure that never happened.

Chapter Text

He waits. Silently, staying completely still, keeping even his breathing under control. The chains around his wrist do not move. He does not twitch even when the rough fabric of his clothes starts to pull against an old rash.

Things do not move. Things wait for their master’s return.

His eyes stare ahead blankly, as if he were a statue. The commotion has him curious, yet he still does not move. Years of conditioning have taught him it’s better to comply. Marines pass him by, occasionally glancing up at him as though he were a tourist attraction. None say anything. None pause to consider who he was.

Things do not have names. Things aren’t people.

“Will you come with me, Captain Jean Bart?”

Two words, so familiar and yet so foreign. The perpetual weights around his wrists that he’d long since gotten used to disappeared, as if by magic. He blinks and lifts his hands, marveling at that simple ability to do so. He looks down and sees an average man in a spotted hat looking up at him. He’s standing there with a carefree expression on his face, as though talking to an old friend.

A friend. A person. Someone worth a name. Someone worth a title.

“…I’ve not been called by that name in years,” Jean Bart croaks, his own voice new to his ears.

He slowly stands upright, shakily, for the first time in god only knows how long. He stands there relishing that simple freedom to do so. Jean Bart. He’s Jean Bart, a ferocious man of the sea. The Marines at his feet, too, seem to remember this and they all yelp in horror. Jean Bart clenches his fists, beating them down with a single blow.

Jean Bart is enough, he decides. He’s happy to delegate the title of, “Captain,” to the man willing to return his humanity.

Chapter Text

Roger said he wouldn’t die. Which might have sounded completely ridiculous coming from any other man staring at the inescapable guillotine that lay before him. Okay it still sounded absolutely ridiculous even from Roger. Yet Rayleigh, emotionally drained and head filled with static the past few years, simply chose to accept his partner’s absurdities.

I won’t die. The words echoed in his head as they lead Roger to his execution.

Rayleigh averted his eyes. Roger’s final message had the world in outrage and uproarious applause. Rayleigh merely threw back a stiff drink, tears running down his cheeks as he tried so hard to believe that his closest companion hadn’t just been slaughtered for all to see.

He’s not dead. He’s not there anymore.

So he waited.

He took to working with his hands. Boring, but it put food on the table once what little he’d saved ran out. Like the idiot he was, he then gambled all that away too and ended up another penniless washed-up pirate in Shakky’s bar. He relayed that short hopeful message from Roger. She seemed to instinctively get it. She always seemed to understand him.

(That’s what he liked most about her, really. There were seldom few people who knew him as well as she did, and with Roger gone it was one fewer. They got each other well enough that when she popped the question the words, “open relationship,” had been intermingled with it.)

So he waited some more. He got old, his hair lost its youthful color, he got worse at gambling, Shakky got better at guessing which bridges he’d pass out under.

He’s not dead. The thought came and went just as memories of Roger came and went. Not dead. Not dead. 

Then where was he? Was his next question. All the people of the world saw his head drop. No man could survive that. He wasn’t coming back from it. And Roger was a fool if he expected Rayleigh to believe in ghosts.

The next year, or five, or ten, or twenty–it’s mostly a blur of liquor and women and playing cards, fist fights, some poor decisions he can’t quite remember how he got himself into. He gets lost for six months without a clue in the world where he’d gotten to. Maybe he was just that drunk.

He waited, along with a dozen other people in chains on the auction block. They shuddered and sobbed and rattled their chains in terror. Rayleigh didn’t really care one way or the other and took up a polite conversation with the large man beside him. Life hadn’t been particularly interesting. Waiting was boring.

A boy in a straw hat punched a celestial.

That same boy bowled over dozens of Marines with a smile. A smile Rayleigh knew from long ago when he’d been that petty little thief on a houseboat.

I won’t die.

An admiral tried to kill that boy. Amazon Lily saw him rise from his wounds to stand on his own two feet again. Rayleigh met his fierce determination head on, Luffy’s eyes on his, teeth showing, body holding back the raw strength of a blazing wildfire. The era of dreams suddenly felt a bit more fitting a name.

He’s not dead.

 

Chapter Text

The ship bobs with the waves. It’s rather choppy today. Brook adjusts his cravat and calmly walks across the deck, bony feet clunking in his ill-fitting shoes. He skillfully avoids the rot spreading across the dampened planks.

“Good morning,” he says, perhaps to himself, to the ship, or to nobody in particular.

His eyeless sockets scan the murky sky. The fog, as always, blocks out the sun, the moon, the stars. Whether it’s day or night he hasn’t a clue. His pocket watch (and everyone else's’ watches) broke years ago, each eternally telling a different time. He checks it anyway, out of habit. It’s fixed on two forty-five, though the minute hand has started to jiggle a bit.

“–Or, I suppose it might not be morning. Rather difficult to tell with all this fog.”

The ship creaks as if chuckling in response. Brook approaches the rail, stares down into the murky sea. There’s nothing there but ocean, as always. He walks away to find a broom.

“Doesn’t seem like there’s anything to look at today either, hm?”

Phrased as a question, though he neither expected nor waits for a response. The broken bristles of the dirty broom catch threads of linen dropping slowly from the sail, frayed fragments of rope, and soggy, briney wooden splinters. There’s nothing to treat the wood. Even if the cleaning supplies hadn’t dried up years earlier, he hadn’t a clue how to go about using it. Neither could he sew the tears in the sail. He was a musician, an artist, not a shipwright.

“Hmhm,” he hums. He stops and stamps the broom against the deck. “A shame that you’ve been wed to a man who cannot pull his own weight. Though I’ve managed to lose some of it, if that’s any consolation. Yohoho!”

Silence. Water sloshes on the hull.

“A pretty lady such as yourself really deserves better than this old fool,” Brook continues. He swept what grimy mildew, dust, and remnants of the slowly decaying ship into a small pile. “But then again, you did choose me for my soul, not my craftsmanship.”

As he comes upon a certain section of the deck, he halts in place, shifts a bit to the side, and continues on brushing off debris. The crew was slumbering just below among what remained of their personal affects, their bunks, and instruments. There was a certain spot above the barracks which made a noisy squeak when stepped upon and never failed to wake him up. He wouldn’t want to disturb them, now would he?

“I know, I know,” he says to the ship. “I’ve gotten your aches and bruises memorized now…”

He keeps moving. Keeps walking along the pieces of his fair ship that are still solid and strong. While the dull thump from each of his footsteps, the bristly swishing of the broom, and the whistle through his teeth does little to change the status of the fog enveloping him, it’s enough of a soundtrack to keep the fog within him at bay. His bones clatter as he spins around, dusting the garbage off the side of the ship.

The ship groans again. He inwardly thanks his dutiful wife for reminding him that, should he finally cease to move, then they truly will succumb to the fog.

Chapter Text

He’s probably bored of you.

Penguin wrinkles his nose and shakes the thought from his head. He leans up against the wall of the building Killer said he’d meet him at. Yes, it’d been over an hour past the time they’d picked. No, there was absolutely no sign of his presence. He was probably just caught up with something, he’s a busy guy on a busy boat with an even busier captain.

Still. The doubtful thought echoes in his head. It’s not like he’s anyone particularly noteworthy. Anything he can give Killer he can easily find elsewhere. There were hundreds of short, stout, brunette girls that fit the bill and Killer hadn’t called in over a week.

He checks his watch. Fifteen more minutes, he thinks. Which becomes thirty more minutes after said minutes fly by.

He waits. And waits. The sun begins to set.

Killer isn’t here. It’s starting to rain.

With a long, heavy sigh, he pushes off from the bricks and starts off down the sidewalk, trudging along behind some local fishermen. Penguin wonders if he’s really cut out for a long distance relationship after all. And with a big name, infamous rival pirate at that? He bows his head and tucks his hands into his pockets, scurrying off toward the hotel he and the crew are roosting in for the night.

Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid.

He slips away to the room where he and Shachi are bunking down. It’s a hole in the wall with two twin beds. Still less cramped than the Tang, though. With a huff, he plops down face first on the bed. The rain trickling overhead becomes a monsoon. Penguin rolls onto his back to frown at the ceiling.

Why’s he so upset anyway? It’s not like they were official or anything. It’s not like he wasn’t expecting Killer to flake out eventually--ugggggh. He grabs the pillow and covers his face with it.

“Ghhhh…” he grumbles into it.

Tap tap. Tap tap tap.

He lowers the pillow and squints at the ceiling. Well that was fan-fucking-tastic. On top of everything, the roof was leaking? He huffs and sat up. Stupid cheap motel…

Tap tap tap. Tap tap.

He looks around, trying to find where the source of the noise was coming from. Usually in shitty motels there was a discolored spot on the ceiling somewhere. As far as Penguin could tell, everything seemed in order…

Tap. Tap. Tap.

A flash of lightning. The dark shape of someone perched at the window was visible.

Penguin yelps and topples from the bed. Slowly, he peeks back over the bedspread toward the window. It’s dark again. Who the actual fuck…?

Tap. Tap. Tap.

It’s the person’s fingernail on the glass. Seconds later, a familiar blue and white striped mask appears in it, its shape distorted by the window pane. Penguin is immediately on his feet, running to open it.

“Killer?!” he exclaims. “What the hell??”

He’s soaked to the bone, long blonde hair sticking to his back. He gives Penguin a casual wave.

“Hey.”

Somehow he crawls through the window despite being as wide and muscular as a gorilla. Water drips off him and spills all over the floor. As Penguin shuts the window, Killer shakes out his shaggy mane like a wet dog. Penguin attempts to shield himself from the spray with his arms. It doesn’t really work

“The bear told me you were up here,” Killer says casually.

Penguin gave him a look. “And you couldn’t use the door because…?”

Killer shrugs. “Faster this way.”

After Killer’s eyes roam around the boring motel room, they fall back on Penguin, who stares tiredly at him. Killer stares back at him through the mask, which is streaked with rainwater. Then, he removes the mask and sets it on the bed. It’s always been a bit hard to read Killer, but he appears apologetic.

“I’m late,” he states.

“Yeah,” Penguin responds.

Silence.

Before Penguin can say anything further, Killer seizes him. He’s pressed up against the wall, Killer’s lips and teeth on his jaw, then his cheek, moving onto his earlobes. Penguin wants to be mad. He so, so badly wants to be mad. Yet the absurdity of everything in combination with the hot breath on his neck is rather distracting.

“Sorry,” Killer mumbles against him. “Had to stab a few guys.”

“Oh yeah?” Penguin responds, placing his hands on Killer’s damp shoulders. “Must’ve been pretty fun if it took this long.”

“It wasn’t.”

Good ol’ blunt Killer. Penguin relaxes in his grip, choosing to savor the fleeting moments over wasting them on anger. He wasn’t bored of him, staying mad made no sense anyhow. Absentmindedly he reaches out to wring more water from Killer’s hair.

The door opens. Both turn toward it. Shachi is standing in the doorway, a box of Cheezits in his hands. He blinks twice, processing the situation at hand.

“...Oh my god,” he says. “Is that a sasquatch?”

Chapter Text

Usopp tries not to compare himself to the others. He really does.

But honestly? Honestly? It’s damn hard not to when he’s surrounded by people who are, plain and simple, better than he ever will be.

When he was young he taught himself how to cook out of necessity. Sure, he wasn’t half bad, but Sanji seemed to have been born with the encyclopedia of cooking pre-programmed. He was strong enough to heft around a normal amount for his height and weight, but it felt like twigs and pillows compared to the barges that Zoro was able to dead lift on his pinkie finger. He was unconvinced that Zoro wasn’t just a gigantic muscle from head to toe.

He could fix a boat. Stop a leak, mend a crack, sew a sail. Franky could take the whole thing apart and reassemble it like new in half that time. He knew about a variety of quick-fix medicine and how to sew up a wound in a pinch–but Chopper could probably cure a rainy day if he wanted.

Robin was stealthy, wise, and always kept her cool in battle. Nami was a more convincing liar than he’d ever be. Brook was way better at telling jokes. 

Sure, he had sharpshooting. His dad was doing that better before he was even born. That perfect image of himself in his mind–the mighty Usopp. Strong, courageous, witty, brave, handy, helpful. Someone to look up to. Someone amazing. Little more than a pipe dream.

“That’s dumb.”

Usopp gave Luffy a hard look. “C’mon, Lu, can’t you take this seriously?” he asked as Luffy rocked back and forth on the Sunny’s figurehead.

“I am being serious!” Luffy insisted, scowling.

“Just–think about it for a moment, will you?” Usopp continued. “When you put it all in perspective, there’s not really anything I’m special for.” He sighed and shook his head, staring down at his hands. “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

“Yeah! That’s what’s cool!”

Usopp looked up again to catch Luffy grinning at him. Luffy leapt from the figurehead to stand next to Usopp on the deck.

“Everyone’s really good at their thing–but you can do all kinds of stuff!” Luffy explained. “You can cook, and clean, and figure out where we are on a map, and fix stuff, and fight, and tell funny jokes!”

“I mean, I guess…”

And you can hit stuff from really far away, and you can make all these weird and cool inventions all in your head, and you grow all those cool plants–!” Luffy bounced up and down in place, shaking Usopp’s shoulder a bit. “I can’t do anyof those things!”

Usopp cracked a small smile. “Well, when you put it that way…”

“I picked only the best people ever to be on my crew!” Luffy insisted. “And you’re one of them!”

Flustered, Usopp looked away, scratching his cheek. It was flattering, but deep down he knew that Luffy was just playing him up to be way more than he actually was. Probably to make him feel a little less useless.

“Still…I wish I was the all-time best at something, y’know?” he said softly.

“You’re the best Usopp!”

Usopp shoved him away with a laugh. “Oh shut up, that’s not a title!”

Chapter Text

Law wakes up in the early hours of the morning. Even without the sun it was easy to tell; he’d memorized the intervals in which the Tang’s ventilation system kicked in years ago. Probably around five o’clock or so. The morning shift would be swapping with the graveyard shift soon. He can’t hear any boots, though. Must be too early yet.

He stares at his desk from afar, eyes on the open binder of spreadsheets. Normally he was up long before now, three cups of coffee into consciousness, filling out laboratory test results of that day’s data from their rats…

Not that he can get up. Strawhat’s got him pinned to the mattress like a locked bicycle.

When he lolls his head back to the right, he catches sight of the dormant Strawhat, nestled up on his abdomen, drying drool gluing his cheek to Law’s stomach. His arms are wrapped about his hips like the coils of a python with no signs of letting go. Their legs are tangled up in the two thin wool blankets that made up Law’s bedspread.

For the first time in ages he’s wondering when the last time he’d changed the sheets was. The stench of sweat, dandruff, and dead skin clung to them. By now the bed would be steeped in depression. The air was stale. What a miserable place for them to have fallen asleep. And yet–he caught a whiff of the savory remnants of teriyaki spam Strawhat spilled on his shorts. Denim fabric. Sea salt. Foreign skin.

The engine hums. Metal contracts. He listens as Strawhat inhales, exhales, then closes his mouth. Flush against each other like this, Law can feel his heartbeat. Steady and strong. He closes his eyes and forgets the binder.

It’s so much warmer with him there.

Chapter Text

Drawing on his arms had been a habit. In school, he’d take notes, leave reminders, or doodle abstract patterns under his long-sleeve blazer. As an adolescent, he’d tallied off the days until his thirteenth birthday. The day he was due to die. Cora thought it was morbid. Law saw no point in denying the inevitable.

Tattoos, he supposed, were the next logical step.

So the rumor goes, Law’s hands bring death upon all that he touches. It’s a bold assumption to make, but one he can ultimately live with. It keeps people away from him.

They’re merely a reminder of the inevitable. Five simple letters, one on each knuckle bobbing up and down like the innards of a well-oiled machine as he shambles patients together. Five letters silently hurrying him to work harder, work faster--that he’s seen enough loss and the number shouldn’t increase. Not if he can help it.

(They were his first tattoos. He was underage, but by then he’d visibly aged enough from stress to pass himself off as a young adult.)

He’d left it at that for a while. Little more was worth remembering than that. Everything, everyone would eventually succumb to mortality. Himself, his parents, his sister, his friends--Cora. Cora.

Cora, who’d grinned a liar’s smile and promised that they’d see so many things before he, too, had been taken from him by the limits of his physical being. Cora, whom he had nothing left to remember by but the scent of stale cigarette smoke, feather down, and the Devil Fruit power that pumped through his veins.

It started with a permanent marker.

He’d cupped his shoulders with swirling hearts big as he remembered Cora’s hands had been. A dopey grinning face circling his steadily beating heart surrounded by wisps of flame. A sloppy, rushed outline of what he still remembered of Cora that could smile back at him when he glanced in the bathroom mirror and could only see his gloomy reflection. It wasn’t enough. Still, it was something external he could see, touch.

When the ink washed off, he’d retraced it. Again. And again. Each time with small tweaks, little additions, until his body was covered in minute marks.

A needle left the ink truly permanent.

Chapter Text

The nuns taught the schoolchildren of an all-powerful God. They told stories of an entity who hung the stars in the sky and spun the planet around. Granted, Law didn’t remember much from those days. He was so young, and there were so many things yet to discover. Catching frogs and chicken pox, how to carry his baby sister, the correct way to tie his tie.

He did recall, however, a particular moment when his own teacher plucked a mouse from his hand and set it free. She’d claimed it as God’s creation. How it was special, and how all life was worth saving.

The God they spoke of was a creator. A savior. A true source of good in this world. The great overseer of the cosmos that Law was expected to usher in to his soul.

Law stared at the stiff, grey corpses of his classmates trimmed with their stale blood and wondered what sort of creator would allow this. In a moment of weak desperation he cried out to that God when they came into the hospital and gunned down his parents as they stood between the attack and their patients. He pleaded and pleaded to any celestial deity listening to please let his sister’s white splotches recede.

God watched in silence as Flevance burned to the ground.

In a cart full of rotten flesh, he held tight to his mother’s rosary in that pitiful hope that there was some spark of divine magic in the polished wood. Maybe there was. Or more likely, no one would go looking for one dirty, sickly living child in a mound of decay.

He’d later throw them in the ocean.

As he fled, he glowered up at the steeples rising above his head. The elderly religious orders pitied the poor abandoned street child, cooing like worried grandmothers that oh, if he came to their open arms and accepted god’s love--

He’d spat on their habits. How pathetic did they think he was to believe that bullshit a second time? There was no god--and if there was, he certainly didn’t give a damn about the people of this godforsaken world. There was no salvation, not for him. Not for anyone. They might as well be animals, living and dying, rot and nothingness. He was going to die. Slowly, painfully. No one would care.

He followed in the over-sized footsteps of the Young Master, grenades strapped to his chest, ready to blow the nearest cathedral sky high along with his leaden body.

He took it out on Cora instead.

(It was his own mistake, for he’d never seen what someone truly divine looked like.)

Anyone with a lick of sense would’ve passed off a chain-smoking drunken klutz as just that. A fool with little purpose, another of Doflamingo’s pawns. A fool that allowed him to live. A fool that told him there was reason still to cling tightly to life. A fool who shed tears not in pity, but in understanding.

As Law choked on his own breath, skin eating itself from the inside, his head light, vision blurring--he’d looked up and seen Cora, one hand on the sail, another blocking Law’s frail body from the biting cold and pelting rain. His teeth were grit together, body shaking, but he stood strong, all the while calling to him above the storm. In that deep state of delirium Law swore he’d seen that God his teachers had always spoken of. A savior. A healer. A guide in a cruel world still worth living in.

Not an ethereal spirit, but a flesh and blood man.

He rubbed the grinning face printed on his shirt, his ship, over his own heart, shoulders, skin--each prong sprouting from the face like a rosary bead in itself--and for a moment, he swore he could still hear Cora’s voice consoling him.

Chapter Text

The grandest of tales always begin the same way; with a, “Once upon a time,” off in a whimsical world far in the distance, always beyond reach. Knights took to arms, strode upon horses, fought for the good in the world and knelt before beautiful ladies. Quirky women showed quick wit to outsmart their enemies with riddles and rumors.

People of all ages fancied the idea of playing the heroic role. Ideas of dashing knights and beautiful ball gowns, sword fights and secret plans. To have their own moment in the sunlight, gazed upon by adoring fans.

And the monster–a dragon, an ogre, a witch, a demon, sworn enemy of the brave hero–always, always was vanquished.

A conniving witch would fall prey to her own deviousness. The dragon would be slain at the hand of the hero. Corrupt rulers toppled from their gilded thrones. Demons banished to the depths of hell from which they’d come. Villains don’t get a happy ending. Villains aren’t allowed to creep out from the shadows to stand beside heroes.

Perhaps that was why Robin so willingly bowed to the might of the government. Rather than give herself up with a bold final stand, the climactic battle between hero and villain, she’d resolved long ago that it would merely prolong the inevitable.

Happily ever after only came for those who were inherently good. And, just as the hero had their role, so too did the monster. 

It was the way things had to be.

Chapter Text

Morning. Probably. Hard to tell when submerged.

There was no difference between day and night under the surface. Merely awake and unconscious. Law long since stopped caring about exact times and took to other methods of determining what the hour was; air filtration, crew shifts, medication.

Said little orange bottle, stuck tight with tape to the counter of his closet-sized bathroom, greeted him upon entering. A party mix of pills to pass him off as a functioning human being. Something to focus, for deep-rooted depression and trauma, for the constant, irritating minute pains of his body. Another for what minute deposits of amber lead still needed scraping from the marrow of his bones.

Push down cap, quick twist. He dumped the contents into his palm, absentmindedly noting names and milligram measurements. Setraline, lisdexamfetamine, acetaminophen, dimercaptosuccinic acid.

Altogether a solemn reminder of his precarious existence.

He grimaced at the bright, cheery pills in his palm before quietly ingesting them with a swallow of treated tap water from the faucet. So friendly and happy. As if everything in his miserable life would be alright.

Overhead he heard the clattering of steel-toed work boots and tinkering of pipes. He glanced up, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. Morning, day, evening, night. Who really knew. There was always someone awake to keep the Tang sailing smoothly. At this point the crew was a well oiled machine, switching shifts with careful precision, ready and set to give one hundred and fifty percent at the drop of a hat.

Law opened the magnetic cabinet above the sink, pulling out larger, individual jars of medications to refill the tiny orange vial.

What a pity such loyal men were following a doctor that couldn’t even solve his own problems.

Chapter Text

The doctor can’t put Kid’s arm back on. The flesh is dead. Long dead. Killer has to hold him back from breaking the man’s neck. The rest of the crew has to hold him down to cauterize the wound. The scar is mangled, burnt, ugly, and he hates it.

He hates doctors. He hates wounds. But most of all, he hates Red-Haired Shanks. Especially when the full scale of what he’d lost finally sets in.

The first day without pain, he falls back into bed after trying to use a phantom arm to support him. A piece of broken rigging falls from the crow’s nest straight onto him when he tries to block it with the stump arm. Lifting shit one-handed leaves him dropping the whole load. He can’t hold fast to something and fight at the same time. Even his Devil Fruit is off balance. Can’t land a decent hit.

Can’t. Can’t can’t can’t. He fucking hates that word, too.

“I’m gonna kill him,” Kid hisses as he shatters the furniture in the galley, his good arm covered in sharp metal scraps. “I’m gonna bash his stupid face in!”

Crunch. An end table splinters under the blow. Then, a mirror shatters, sending glass shards scattered all across the floor. He beats several chairs against a wall already bearing telltale signs of the captain’s past tantrums.

“Kid, seriously, stop,” Killer pleads from somewhere behind him. “We just replaced all of this–!”

“Furniture don’t mean shit!” Kid yells. “Where’s my fucking arm, huh?! Can’t fuckin’ replace that!”

He shreds through the couch. Stuffing explodes everywhere. Springs pop out and push back against his blows to the frame. Fucking couch. Stupid fucking couch–! He bashes it right into the floor. One strike. Then two. Then finally three, when he hears the floorboards crack under the force of the blow.

He clenches, then un-clenches his fist. He swears he feels his dead hand do the same. The metal surrounding his remaining arm falls to the ground, piece by piece, until he’s left with his bare arm, the scarred stump, and a whole lot of broken stuff.

Chapter Text

He’s older . And shorter. Of course he is. It’s not as though Chiffon expected to be matched with someone her own age, let alone one that suited her taste. Mother was far too spiteful to allow her that luxury. Still. It’s one more small letdown in a never ending series of disappointments.  She’s polite. A small curtsy and a, “Pleased to meet you,” is her greeting to him. Best to simply go along with mother’s interests. God forbid she said no, like Lola, and finally paid the ultimate price for her existence.

Bege grins in response. She stifles a shudder. There’s something so devious about the look that leaves her hesitant.

“My dear Chiffon,” he says, stepping forward to take her by the hand. “You are so much more lovely in person.”

His voice is mature and raspy, no doubt from years of cigars. It’s further off-putting. Yet--when she offers her hand to him, he doesn’t seize it as a trophy, as Chiffon has seen with many of her sisters. The touch is delicate and her arm is so carefully guided toward him. As though her stubby, fatty fingers were made of porcelain. His bony hands, covered in calluses and thin golden rings from thumb to pinky, are clean and well kept.

“I must say, you truly exceed all of my expectations,” he says, and it honestly sounds genuine. Her face flushes. “From here on out, in my care you’ll want for absolutely nothing . I promise.”

“And he always keeps his promises-rero!” one of Bege’s subordinates echoes, a friendly smile on his (admittedly weird looking) face.

Bege’s bony hands clasp around hers so fondly. He’s pleased. His subordinates, too, mirror their captain, all looking upon her with awe and respect.

“Th...thank you,” she whispers, wholly unsure of what else to say.

When he leans forward and presses his lips to her fingertips, she’s speechless. Bege glances up, as if to be certain he hadn’t offended her with the gesture. His gaze is framed by wrinkles, yet his eyes are soft, almost mesmerized. Like he was gazing up at a marble sculpture. An artist’s masterpiece enshrined in a mausoleum.

It’s overwhelming. She looks away toward the ground, thoroughly embarrassed.

Perhaps this wasn’t going to be as disappointing as she thought.

Chapter Text

The little window was unlocked, as usual. Kid shoves himself through it, arms flailing, grunting as his butt gets stuck (again) and he almost falls to his death on the racks of folding chairs. Stupid fuckin’ church and its stupid tiny windows...

He climbs down the metal chairs, clattering and clanging all the way, and drops to the floor. He’s not really worried about the noise. Nobody’s around. He pulls open the door and peeks out into the corridor--

“Oh, hey. It’s you again.”

Kid yelps. Or, well. Almost nobody is around. The fucking weirdo is here, spotted hat, ugly suit and tie and all.

“Dinnae fuckin’ do tha’!” Kid snaps.

Law snickers. “You make it so easy,” he says. “I could hear you a mile away.”

Kid pushes him for that, stomping out into the hallway. Law just thinks he’s better than him ‘cause he’s older and taller and lets his nana dress him. He shoves his hands into his pockets. His index finger peeks out of the hole in his trousers. Ugh. Rather than whinge about yet another fucking hole, he focuses on the fact that the heat of the church is thawing his skinny frozen legs. God damn is it warm in here.

He and Law come out into the main room, dwarfed by sky-high pillars and artsy pews. Kid spots his usual camp-out spot--the bench off to the side, under a second floor of seats--with its usual sleeping arrangement; a couple chair cushions, a throw blanket, and--

“Bloody ‘ell --” Kid’s eyes light up when he sees that Law’s snuck in a fucking banquet’s worth of food in plastic containers. “Where’d ye get all this, aye?!”

“Mom goes overboard for Christmas dinner,” Law says. “Figured she wouldn’t notice if I brought you some.”

Immediately he races to the spot, plucking the topmost container. Then the one below it, and the one below that. Slices of glazed ham, dinner rolls, mashed tatos, vegetables (gross), and a water bottle filled with what looked to be red Koolaid. The final container had some kind of cookie. Which was, of course, the first thing he stuffs into his mouth. It’s gingerbread. With nuts and chocolate and one of those Jesus wafer things. Weird, but good.

Law settles down at the end of the pew, watches him for a bit, and then stares off at the painted glass on the far side of the room. It’s the only spot in the chapel that’s lit up. Doesn’t make sense, really. It’s not like anyone was supposed to see it this late at night.

“‘Ow come ye in ‘ere then?” he asks.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.” Kid makes more noise as he chews, earning an eye roll from Law. “I like being here. It’s quiet.”

“Ain’t ye some straight-laced Jesus freak, though?” Kid continues, ignoring the eating utensils to shove a blob of mashed potatoes in his mouth with his bare hands. “Witcha doin’ breakin’ inta church?”

“I didn’t break in,” Law replies. “I borrowed the key from the minister. He’s fine with me in here after hours so long as I lock up.”

“Tha’s stoopid,” Kid says flatly. “If I were ye, I’d stuff me pockets full’a this sparkly Jesus bullshit ‘n run off ‘fore he even knows we robbed ‘im blind, aye? Haha!”

A brilliant plan for easy cash that Law ignores in favor of eyeing up the crucifix mounted on the wall. Kid twists his face, the ham in his mouth suddenly less appetizing. Who the fuck wants to spend some miserable few hours listening to some dickhead bitch about sinners while some bloody naked corpse stares at you?

“It’s not blind if Jesus is here to see it happen,” Law remarks.

Kid shrugs and licks the honey ham glaze off his fingers. “Psh. He’s dead. Whit’s he gonnae do?”

Law blinks, then peers up into the lifeless eyes of the model Jesus. “Sorry about him,” he says. “My boyfriend doesn’t really mean any harm.”

Kid chokes. Sugary sweetness comes back to bite him in the arse as it burns in his windpipe. He coughs and sputters.

“I’M NOT YE BLEEDIN’ BOYFRIEND! STOP SAYIN’ THA’ SHITE !” Kid exclaims. It echoes in the empty room. He coughs again, then hoarsely mutters, “ Dickhead .”

Even in the darkness he can just tell that Law’s grinning--god, if the food wasn’t as good as it was he’d strangle the living daylights out of him. Stupid fuckin’ Law. Face flushed, Kid resumes stuffing his face with his eyebrows in his best menacing glare. He fucking hates Law and his stupid prissy clothes and his stupid fluffy hat and…

He looks at the food scraps in his hands, the multiple containers beside him, the half decent bed Law snuck in. It’s really hard to ignore the guilt that settles in his stomach. Law doesn’t have to do any of this. Nobody asked him to help some street kid. Anyone else would let him freeze to death outside. Not that he could blame them. All he did was break into houses and steal everyone’s shit. Fuck, Law doesn’t even know him and he brought all this food out here.

“...Oi, Law?”

“Hm?”

Kid swallows the food in his mouth, suddenly feeling less hungry. “...Even if ye no’ breakin’ in yeself, yer still lettin’ me crash ‘ere,” he whispers. “...Why d’ye do tha’?”

“I doubt the minister minds. He’s open about charity.”

“S’not whit I was askin’...”

Law frowns a bit. He lowers his gaze to his knees and swings his dangling chicken legs back and forth.

“...I don’t know. I like you, I guess,” he replies, still determinedly looking away. “Do I need a reason?”

Yeah you fucking do , is what Kid wants to say. You don’t just do shit for street trash like him for no good reason. Law has to know that there’s absolutely no fucking way that Kid can ever repay him. He doesn’t have any money, no stuff except what he can carry on his back--he doesn’t even have a steady roof over his head to try to make something of himself.

He nibbles at another cookie that’s likely worth more than he’ll ever be.

“Yer a feckin’ eejit, Law,” he mutters halfheartedly. Law forces out a quiet laugh. “Spendin’ yer time on fuckin’ holiday feedin’ criminals…”

“...Oh, right. That reminds me...”

Law starts digging through his pockets. Kid’s eyes go wide when he pulls out a (very badly) wrapped gift. It’s all red with ugly snowmen and crumpled like some soggy potato skin but he’s so bewildered by the fact that Law’s handing him a gift that he forgets to insult it. Hesitantly, he takes it, turning it over in his hands. Whatever’s inside is soft and squishy.

“Ye dinnae have to…” Kid mutters, eyes glued to the wrapping paper.

“I wanted to.”

Kid swallows thickly. He picks at the paper with a dirty fingernail and tears it open, suddenly feeling self-conscious about the echo it makes. Underneath, there’s a soft white mass. Like an empty stuffed animal. He pulls it out and looks at it. Some kind of bear? With a little clip for hanging it on things.

“It’s...ah, it’s a pouch I like to use,” Law says. “You can put things in it. There’s a zipper on the back...I noticed you don’t really have any usable pockets, so I thought…”

Law trails off, awkwardly scratching at his hair under his mushroom hat. Kid’s attention is fixed on the bear. It’s so ridiculously soft and white that when he rubs his grimy, dry thumbs over it he wonders if he’s actually worthy of holding the damn thing. Law’s gotta know he’ll just ruin it, right? It’s gonna get wet and gross and dirty and smelly and…

He presses his lips into a fine line. Fuck that. He can keep one bear white, can’t he? It can’t be that hard. Besides, Law clearly loved the thing. It was all stretched out and marked up inside.

Then, he stiffens. He needs to give Law something in exchange. He rummages through his pockets, frantically searching for anything he still has on him. Law’s curious gaze is on him, he can feel it, and that only makes him sweat when he struggles to find anything of value. Chewing gum wrappers, a few coins, some bits of metal--

--Ah.

Fastened to a belt loop on his pants was his own personal treasure; a little dangly robot keychain. It used to be red at one point, but the paint’s all worn away. It’s missing half of its left leg and it’s starting to lose its shininess. Kid holds the little robot in his hands with a grin on his face. He still loves it anyway.

After a moment of reluctance, he shifts closer to Law and holds it out to him.

“...I dinnae ‘ave nothin’ fancy, but I’ve had ‘im for a long time now,” Kid says. “One time ‘e was all shiny ‘n red but tha’s all gone now. He’s still my favourite.”

He kind of expects Law to reject the offer of this tarnished, ugly little piece of metal and throw it across the room. Yet, Law picks it up to look at it more closely. A small, friendly smile crosses his face.

“Thanks,” he says. “I like it a lot.”

Despite the growing discomfort of having given away something that special, Kid feels himself grinning. He rubs his hands over the fluffy fur of the bear. The fact that it’s something of Law’s that’s his now gives him a funny sort of feeling in his stomach. Like he’s gonna be sick but in a good way. Which makes no bloody sense.

Law slides up close to him until they’re touching. Before Kid can tell him to shove off, Law leans in and presses his lips to Kid’s cheek. Kid’s eyes go wide.

Oh, now he’s really going to be sick.

Ew !” he yelps, rubbing at his cheek as he scrambles away. “Ye feckin’ disgustin ’--!”

Chapter Text

The rain comes down in buckets. Luckily, the blue tarp they patched up with duct tape is holding strong above their heads and the walls of the massive tire Kid’s taken refuge in is keeping the rest at bay. What water collects on the tarp drizzles down one side and drains off into some glass bottles that Killer rigged up so Kid could have something to drink and bathe with.

Rain never used to bother Kid before the fruit, but now he’s feeling groggy, sluggish, and gross. He pulls his legs in close under the wool blanket Killer brought, curling up in a tight ball on his piles of old rags, worn clothes, and dirty cloth.

Rubber boots splashing loudly in large puddles followed by rain pattering against an umbrella alerts him to someone approaching. Kid looks up, immediately on guard. But, as the person passes through the pouring rain, he realizes--it’s just Killer. And he has a plastic bag full of what appears to be packaged snacks. He frowns at him as he approaches.

“Oi…” Kid tries to protest as Killer shoves his way into the tire with him. “Thought ah tellt ye tae go home?”

“Ah would’ve , bit someone insisted oan sleeping ootdoors in th' wirst thunderstorm o' th' summer,” Killer retorts.

“Ye know ah don’t belong thare, Kill,” Kid mumbles. He snatches a bag of chips from the bag, rips them open, and grabs a fistful. “‘Sides, ah lik' sleeping ootdoors. Mak's me mair free. Lik' there’s nothin’ keeping me contained.”

“I dinnae,” Killer says. “The rain’s doin’ a richt weel job o’ that.”

Kid snorts and turns his glare out at the wall of water inches from their faces. “Bleedin’ rain…”

Within minutes, darkness falls over them, leaving only the light of the moon and faint smears of lamps from the town in the distance. They chatter a bit about some things from Killer’s house and stuff their faces with snacks. Eventually, though, they both end up weary and more yawns than words, and decide to bed down for the night.

The rain is still coming, the air is frigid. But it’s a little less cold with Killer there. And Killer’s so much taller than him that he has to fold up to fit inside the tire. Kid can blame it as the reason why he’s pressed up against him, why they’re sharing the blanket.

Or, well, he would. If Killer ever brought up that it was strange.

“...This isn’t weird, richt?” Kid finally asks, glancing up at his best friend.

“Whit?”

This .”

“Oh.” He feels Killer shrug. “Nae really?”

“It's nae weird that wur bundled up in a tire richt up against each other?” Kid presses.

“Nope.”

Kid furrows his eyebrows. Okay, what the fresh hell was Killer playing at? Boys don’t just...cuddle up like this. It’s not manly. Even if it’s fucking freezing and they need to, for body heat. Killer shifts against him, propping his head up on Kid’s. He feels him hum.

“Ye've ne'er had siblings afore, hae ye?” Killer muses. “It’s nae weird when it’s brothers.”

Kid snorts and wants to gently remind Killer that they’re not related, they’re just friends...but falters. He’s never had any family. For all intents and purposes, he’d been raising himself since he was little. So when Killer says it like that, so simple, like Kid should’ve known that fact...somehow, despite the cold, he’s feeling even warmer.

“Oh,” Kid says, for back of any better response. He nestles his head into Killer’s neck. “Okay.”

For a moment, they just rest in silence, warmed by their shared body heat and lulled by the slowing rain and distant rumble of thunder. Kid’s eyes slowly shut, and just when he thinks he’s drifting off to sleep--

He ain’t heavy ,” Killer sings. “ He’s my brother-

“Oi, don’t ye dare stairt wi' that!”