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The Butcher Bird (One Piece SI)

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My captain looks at the receding shape of the Spice Archipelago, now sporting a crown of ash as the volcano he'd set off continues to burn.

He gives the island chain the finger, before turning back to me.

“You ready?”

I shrug. “Do I have a choice?”

“No.”

Vinci sounds pissed. Which is understandable. Bad enough Jabra ensured that our blood and toil and misery was pointless, but the little fu-manchu-sporting bastard didn’t even have the decency to stay around and end up on our captain’s operating table. He’d left enough blood to know he hadn’t simply been vaporized by...whatever I did while berserking, but the trail petered out so quickly even C’s nose couldn’t pick it up again.

So we had a World Government agent who knew exactly what we were capable of and who would probably make sure everything went to shit for us relatively quickly.

Maybe we could eat him.

I frown, clamping down on the intrusive thought as I follow Vinci down onto the deck. Off our starboard bow, the Gear Pirates’ ship floats, keeping to the same course as ours. Clare had been pretty pissed off when she’d woken up with a raging headache...and very carefully putting someone between me and her at all moments. Joy.

The crew, at least, doesn’t seem to have the same problem. Not even C, who’d apparently been injured by my berserk self. He’d hugged me, when we’d met up in the ruins of the Palace, blubbering about seeing his Brother again. A sociopathic maneater really shouldn’t be capable of that level of diabetes-inducing pure goodness.

On deck, the new recruits are training under the watchful eye of the Oni. Eka looks at me, and gives me a nod and a smile.

I can’t help but feel I don’t deserve it. My-

-generosity-

-failure to keep myself under control put everyone in danger. Even if the power had slaughtered the enemy...I had to learn to control it, otherwise it’d be a double-edged sword.

I return the gesture anyway, before glaring at one of the ex-Rangers who has paused in his exercises. The large, heavily bearded man pales before hurriedly resuming his work.

I follow Vinci into the bowels of the ship, squeezing past crates and piles of treasure.

Turns out, while I’d been out of it, Vinci had given the order to both take our pay from the Palace...which had quickly extended to looting everything not nailed down and most of the things that were. If there were Palace staff left after Jabra had done his thing, none of them had bothered to stop us.

I pause for a moment, examining the contents of an opened chest. It looks more like random knick-knacks than anything else...okay, well-made knick-knacks, but still. Small, interesting objects, each with their own history and use...

“Like what you see?” Vinci asks, suddenly at my shoulder.

I shrug, crouching down to look closer. “I like little things,” I say. “They’re...restful.”

“Take what you want. You fought with us, you’re still entitled to a share of the prize...well, one and a half, you’re first mate.”

I chuckle. “You know I don’t take much. And rich clothes and jewels aren’t my style.”

“So what? If you like the little things, the chest’s yours. I think we just threw whatever we couldn’t categorize as coin, food, clothing, or jewels into it anyway. Well, that and a lot of other crates.”

I nod. “Thank you, Captain.”

“Don’t thank me yet. I’m going to be cutting you open in a minute. Now come on. Jack was gracious enough not to block the door to the lab entirely.”

I close the lid of the chest - the chest itself is pretty big, I’m going to have trouble fitting it into my cabin - and follow my Captain once more.

I’ll claim my newly acquired oddities - little treasures - after he finishes his work.

It should probably bother me more that the Captain - not Vinci, not here, Vinci is not present, only the Captain is, who asks me to strip to the waist coldly, who places cold regeneration inhibitor on my back as I lay on my belly - cutting me open isn’t something that even registers as odd.

Painful? Sure. But pain is something I’ve long since been numbed to.

There’s the click of a Tone Dial, and then a faint, almost-tickling sensation as Vinci prods at something in my upper back. “Looks like those ‘wings’ C told me about came from these clusters. There were two previously, but now they’re much larger, fully developed. Two more that haven’t, though, which implies you’ve got more to accomplish. Some...newer sacs, too. Look to be along your spine, much larger than the clustered ones, and obloid rather than spheroid. Hm. Likely the source of your armored scales, if C’s report is accurate.”

“He actually gave you a detailed report?” I ask, not moving.

“Of course not. I asked, and he turned in some rambling on a Tone Dial and a crayon drawing. Albeit an incredibly lifelike one. That kid could be an artist if he had an interest beyond creative forms of murder.” There’s a sharp prick. “Alright, getting some blood and biopsy samples. Want to check your C-cell count. I have some theories…” He pauses. “Now, Kaneki, any idea you have yourself of your...other form, could be helpful. Especially why it acted the way it did. It seemed...intelligent. And very unlike you. Apparently it called C ‘Jabberwock’, of all things...so anything you could tell me could give me an idea of what happened to you, medically speaking at least.”

The words are soothing. The tone they’re delivered in is commanding. I swallow nervously.

“Sure, captain. It’s...difficult to know where to begin.”

“The beginning.”

“Right.” I close my eyes, throwing my mind back. “You know how C acts, sometimes? How he doesn’t really seem to see anyone not on the crew as people?”

“Yes.”

“That was me. But worse. I didn’t have a crew. I was...feral, for lack of a better word. Only following my instincts. Even when my master came, defeated me, and set me to follow his trail...I saw people as meat . Little else. He taught me how to control the hunger. Suppress it as much as possible, to lock it down. And he taught me how to be a person again. I’ve...held back, a great deal, repressed a lot. And I think...I think once I was hurt badly enough that I was reduced to running on instinct...that that part of me came to the fore again. The old, cunning, feral part. I don’t know for certain. But I think that’s what happened.”

There’s a tapping noise of metal on the wood of the surgical table.

“You did suffer a traumatic brain injury...could be a possibility. Your default state of mind taking over as your brain was reduced to core functions. Hm. Either that, or it’s related to the C-cells...they are capable of acting similarly to nervous tissue, after all...maybe that particular configuration of yours is simply accessed only when you’re in that state of mind. Or in distress like you were.”

“I don’t know, captain. But if that’s true...I’m going to have to learn to use it. And control it. I just…”

“We’ll put you on a boat once you’re ready, and tow you along. That way, if you do lose control while trying to figure it out, we can just have C hold you down in the ocean until you calm down. And you won’t eat a hole in the deck.”

“Eat a what?”

“Apparently you produce highly corrosive mist while deranged like you were. Until dunked in water, that is.”

Huh. That’s...problematic.

“Well, that makes practice difficult.”

“Quite.” There’s a brief burning sensation all along my back, followed quickly by sweet relief as my body heals itself. “Alright, I’ve got the samples I need for now. Can you make the wings yourself?”

I slide off the examination table. Alright. Upper back, I can feel them there... push.

There’s a thick tearing noise, and suddenly I can feel my new appendages. They’re...odd. I’m not sure how I expected wings to feel, but it wasn’t quite this...fragmented? Hm. I extend one in front of me, running my hand over the crystalline shards. If I fire these...well, it would make sense, I suppose, for them to be loosely connected in the first place.

There’s a sharp jolt of pain from the back of one wing, and I whirl. “Hey!”

Vinci grins at me, holding a crystal in one hand. “Hush, you. You’ve got a few thousand more. I’m keeping this one for analysis.”

“Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt,” I grumble, letting the wings dissolve away.

“Don’t care. Go find Lauren wherever she’s holed up after you drag your chest of miscellaneous loot up to your cabin. I need to talk over options with her.”

“Aye, captain.”

I move out into the hold, pulling the basic grey tee back on as I do so. I barely manage to squeeze the chest through some of the more cramped sections of the hold, but eventually I pull the thing into my cabin. I crack it open, then close it again as a thought occurs to me.

I have to contort myself a little to get under the bed and pull out the black box that that…’simple mask seller’...had given me. I’ve held off on opening it...but hell, I need a mask, and my previous one was destroyed.

Fuck it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The latches on the box’s side click open, and I lift up the lid.

A half-mask looks up at me. This one is a dark green glossy color, one meant to cover the mouth and nose. I can’t quite tell what it’s made of - I think crocodile? Teeth march across the front of it, a snaggly orthodontic nightmare of fangs right where my mouth would normally be.

Heh. Red, then green, newborn C as white... I suppose gold awaits somewhere else...and when we cross into the New World, will I wear an ebon mask?

I lift the thing up, and link the clasps at the back together behind my neck, letting the mask hang loosely around my neck. It feels proper to have it there, to have the weight there.

Alright. Time to go find Lauren.

Her scent is easy enough to trace, even with the dozens of new crew and the consequent muddling of everything. It’s...sharp, tinged with gunpowder and ozone in a way nobody else’s is. She’s holed up in her cabin. I knock.

“What?” Lauren replies sharply, voice muffled by the door.

“Captain wants you in the lab,” I say neutrally.

There’s a subdued curse, and then the door creaks open. Lauren looks worse than I’d expected...okay, she’d lost an arm, but still, she looks like a depressed raccoon with those dark circles under her eyes. She looks me over.

“New mask?” she asks, voice dead.

I nod.

“Right. I’ll go. You can leave. Now.”

O-kay. I beat a hasty retreat back to my own cabin.

Which has even less space in it, as there is now an extremely large canine in it. I glare at Kant. “What’re you doing in here, ya overgrown mutt?”

Kant meows, before licking my hand, his tail thumping against the wall. I sigh. “Alright. I guess you can stay here while I sort through things.”

Another meow.

“Weird damn dog,” I mutter, before sitting on the bed and cracking the chest open.

 

----

 

“So,” Vinci said, trying to inject some kindness into his voice. “Way I see it, there’s a few options. One, I get Clare to make me a bunch of parts and we try our hand at a clockwork limb of some kind. It’ll take at least a few days to make the right parts, and there’s no guarantee it’ll be as good as the original. Two, I clone you a new limb and we hope for the best when I transplant it on. That one will take at least two weeks, but there’s less chance of you suffering permanent nerve damage. Three, I inject you with this-” -he held up a syringe filled with red liquid (C-cells in suspension, old cultures from Kaneki)- “-and we see if it grows your arm back entirely.”

“If?” Lauren echoed warily.

“It’s entirely untested on living humans. And may or may not be based on the compounds I... accidentallied C with.”

“So? That’s proof enough it works. I’ll take it.”

“It might have deeper effects. The C-cells are more stable than Kaneki’s, but they could still have similar-”

“Captain. Please.”

She was interrupting. This was new.

Lauren raised her eyes to meet his. “I...I hesitated. In the fighting. A lot. And I paid for it. Paid the price for being too weak in will.” The fingers of her sole remaining hand dug into the edge of the examination table. “I couldn’t help you. At all. I was stuck with the rest of the wounded while you all fought one of the toughest assassins the World Government has , and if somehow the fighting spilled over to us I would’ve been useless. Because I wasn’t quick enough or tough enough or strong enough to keep myself from getting wounded by that bitch , because I needed someone else to come in and save me...and I won’t be able to live with myself if something like that happens again. So I don’t fucking care if it makes me like Kaneki or C, because I need to get stronger. Fast. So I’ll take your weird concoction, no matter the risks.”

Vinci smiled.

Well said, mistress of the armory. This won’t hurt a bit.

 

----

 

Jack watched out of the corner of his eye as Kaneki fiddled with a pipe. He’d probably taken the thing from the hold somewhere...granted, the tobacco pipe didn’t fit with the rest of the loot. It was well-carved, sure, almost ornate, the patterns looking like a taloned hand grasping the bowl of the pipe...but the Ducal Palace had mostly been about gold and ornamentation, and the pipe looked too practical for that.

There was the brief flare of a match in the darkness, the light spilling briefly over the ghoul’s face and chest, showing off both the new mask and a necklace threaded with jade comma-shaped beads.

Jack crossed his arms over his chest, watching more openly as Kaneki picked up his guitar and moved to the quarterdeck.

He seemed fine. At ease, almost, as the smell of tobacco filled the air. This impression was reinforced as the ghoul sat himself down and looked over the deck, mostly deserted at this time of night. Hell, Jack himself would be asleep if he hadn’t been concerned about his first mate’s mental state.

After a moment, Kaneki began to play.

 

“I've been counting all my steps

All my no's just turned to yes

Silently I must confess

My troubled history

That's washed away all my sins

Starting over once again

This is where it all begins

It's right in front of me.

Down is not where I belong

This aching heart won't turn to stone

There's a fire inside these bones

It was meant to be

I see the world still full of light

How could I ever be so blind

I still haven't lost my fight

It haunts me in my sleep…”

 

Jack smiled. He knew this song. After a moment, he found himself joining in, singing softly.

 

“I feel like waking up

I've had this dream before

I'll take these footsteps

Go higher, go higher

I've walked an empty mile

Wore down this lonely soul

I'll take these footsteps

Go higher, go higher

(Woho woho woho)

Higher, go higher

(Woho wohoooo woho)

Higher, higher…”

 

“I know only time will tell

If all the cards will treat me well

'Cause this hand that I been dealt

Keeps me wondering

So now here I turn the page

I've learned to silence all my rage

Tell me who can really say

What will tomorrow bring…”

 

“I feel like waking up

I've had this dream before

I'll take these footsteps

Go higher, go higher

I've walked an empty mile

Wore down this lonely soul

I'll take these footsteps

Go higher, go higher

(Woho woho wooho)

Higher, go higher

(Woho woho woho)

Higher, higher”

 

“I'll find you

So far away

I'll find you

After all

I'll find you

So far away

I'll find you

After all...”

 

It seemed like things would be alright, after all.

 

“I feel like waking up

(So far away) I've had this dream before

(I'll find you) I'll take these footsteps

(After all) Go higher, go higher

(I'll find you) I've walked an empty mile (I'll find you)

(So far away) Wore down this lonely soul (So far away)

(I'll find you) I'll take these footsteps

(After all) Go higher, go higher

I feel like waking up

(So far away) I've had this dream before

(I'll find you) I'll take these footsteps

(After all) Go higher, go higher

(I'll find you) I've walked an empty mile (I'll find you)

(So far away) Wore down this lonely soul (So far away)

(I'll find you) I'll take these footsteps

(After all) Go higher, go higher

I feel like waking up

I've had this dream before

I'll take these footsteps

Go higher, higher.”

 

Jack ducked as an spinning hatchet nearly rendered him bald. The weapon thunked into the mast.

“SHUT THE HELL UP!” Lauren shouted from the direction of the officer’s cabins. “PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO SLEEP!”

Jack looked at Kaneki.

Both of them started laughing.