Never had he needed to travel so deep into the East Blue, but Katakuri knew there was no swaying Mama after she heard the rumors about Red-Haired Shanks making a base for himself within the weakest sea. This type of recon mission would normally never be given to a Sweet Commander, but travelling to the East Blue from Totto Land was a long and difficult journey, particularly when whoever goes runs the risk of crossing a Yonko.
The need for discretion helped dictate which of Big Mom’s children was chosen for the mission, as many of them couldn’t help but bring attention to themselves. Despite his size, Katakuri was quiet by nature and understood how to avoid any unnecessary conflict, one of the major reasons that Cracker had been passed over. In the end, it was decided that his mastery of all three types of Haki as well as his awakened Devil Fruit would lend him the greatest chance should Red Hair be on the island.
If word got out that a Sweet Commander of the Big Mom Pirates was sailing around this far outside her territory, it could cause problems with the Marines and the other Yonko, so Katakuri was in an unmarked ship without a jolly roger flying, a crew, or even a chef.
Sailing the East Blue was far more peaceful than the New World, he admitted, with calm waters, no sudden and unpredictable weather, and there hadn’t been a single Sea King sighting since leaving the Grand Line.
Katakuri munched on the few rations he had picked up from the last island he docked at, but thankfully it wouldn’t be long before he arrived at his destination. In fact, he could see an island on the horizon, and based on the coordinates he was given, it should be the one he’s looking for.
There was a large port just outside the Kingdom of Goa, but it wasn’t the sort of place a pirate was likely to moor, too many nearby nobles meant higher security, so Katakuri continued on. A fair amount of the shoreline was made up of cliffsides, but eventually he came across a small village with a single dock stretching out into the water. It was a secluded area, more appropriate to use as a pirate’s hiding spot, and so Katakuri adjusted his sail.
From a distance he could see people walking along the dirt path, but by the time he tied up his ship, they had disappeared. Even without flying his family’s jolly roger, Katakuri knew he cut an imposing figure at sixteen feet eight inches tall, decked out in spikes and leather, but it usually took more than simply arriving at the dock to scare all of the villagers into hiding.
The wooden planks lightly groaned beneath his weight as Katakuri made his way towards the town. With how small it was, there were no official dock hands to speak to, which would’ve been the obvious place to start asking about any other visiting pirate ships. Resisting the urge to sigh, Katakuri decided to search for a local tavern, the most likely place for Red Hair to have spent his time. Yonko or not, a pirate was still a pirate, after all.
His long legs quickly covered the distance from the shore to the village, and as he took in his surroundings, he had to admit it was a rather picturesque place. Beyond the perimeter of buildings were soft green pastures with cows and more than a few windmills. While it was no Komugi Island, he could appreciate the gentle quiet, even if a large factor was that everyone was currently hiding away in fear.
Sharp crimson eyes looked around. It was easy enough to disregard the common folk attempting to peer out their windows to catch a glimpse of him, though he kept his Observation sharp in the event someone attempted anything - not that they’d have any hope against the Sweet Commander.
Still within easy sight of the sea, there was a place called Partys Bar that Katakuri stopped outside of. While it was almost never an issue in Totto Land, a place designed to be accessible to all types, this clearly wasn’t a place built with people of his size in mind. While contemplating his next move, he sensed someone running up behind him.
“Woah! You’re huge!” Looking over his shoulder, Katakuri had to adjust his gaze even farther downward than normal to the child staring wide-eyed at him. A pale yellow tank top and jean shorts hung from the boy’s lanky body with a straw hat sitting atop a head of shaggy black hair. A scar curved beneath one of his dark eyes, and although he didn’t even reach the pirate’s knees, there wasn’t a glimmer of fear on his face. “Hey, hey! Are you a pirate?”
He didn’t confirm it, but apparently the lack of a denial was enough for the kid to let loose a continuous stream of questions so fast that Katakuri didn’t have a chance to speak even if he wanted to. Instead, he allowed the boy to ramble on. He obviously had an interest in pirates, so perhaps he’d mention something pertinent to the recon mission.
To be honest, he didn’t mind so much, because a small part of the Big Mom Pirate was reminded of his younger siblings.
The door to Partys Bar opened, and a young woman walked out. “Luffy, was that you I heard ou- oh my!” Her surprised gasp when she came face to knee with the crimson haired pirate drew the attention of both. A yellow kerchief held back most of her dark green hair, aside from two locks framing a youthful face, and she was dressed plainly, in a simple blouse and skirt.
“Makino!” The boy, Luffy, Katakuri now knew, ran over to the woman and threw his arms around her waist. He pulled back and grinned. “This guy is a pirate just like Shanks!”
Katakuri’s eyes widened imperceptibly. So Red-Haired Shanks had been here.
“Oh, is he?” As cheerfully interested as she sounded, Katakuri could sense the trepidation when she looked up at him with large brown eyes. She took a deep breath and crouched next to the young boy, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Luffy, I want you to go inside, okay? I’ll be right in to make you something.”
“What?!” His jaw dropped, and he rapidly looked between his newfound interest and her. “But-”
“Luffy.” Her stern tone made Luffy pause, but Katakuri could see the smile hidden behind the serious expression. The kid’s shoulders fell in defeat, but he perked up when she touched his cheek and promised, “I’ll cook you something in a bit.”
“Alright, Makino,” he conceded, turning to wave at Katakuri before running inside the bar. “Bye, pirate guy!”
Now that Luffy was gone, the barmaid seemed to relax, if only a little.
“Thank you for indulging him,” she made sure to say as if concerned Luffy could have irritated the pirate to the point of violence. Then Makino politely asked, with a small but fragile smile, “What brings you to Foosha Village?”
Katakuri eyed her thoughtfully. It didn’t take Observation Haki to know what she was really asking. Are you going to hurt us?
“I’m not here to cause bloodshed.” That isn’t to say he wouldn’t should the need arise. “Only seeking information.”
“And once you have it?”
“Then I will leave.”
The tension seemed to melt from her shoulders, and her smile became more sincere. For a brief moment, Katakuri appreciated how expressive she was, each emotion displayed clearly across her face, though he also frowned at her naivety for blindly taking a pirate at his word.
Seemingly content with his answers, Makino offered him a drink, a sign of good faith and a minor bribe to keep things peaceful, but she paused, perhaps realizing that he wouldn’t be able to fit comfortably inside. Taking a moment to think, she mentioned there was a grassy area behind the building that made for a pleasant spot to sit and watch the windmills.
The woman and child obviously knew Red-Haired Shanks when he came to this island, so Katakuri decided to stay close to them and accepted the offer. She led him around and waited as he sat down where he’d be able lean against the side of the bar. Once he was settled, she inclined her head and properly introduced herself. “My name is Makino.” Her eyes looked at him expectantly.
After returning her stare in stiff silence, he eventually replied, “Katakuri.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Katakuri. Is there anything you’d like to drink? We’ve also got food, if you’re hungry. It’s mostly standard bar fare, but I’m pretty quick on my feet if you’re feeling something specific.” The way she spoke was light, almost playful, and was matched by the teasing wink she gave him.
Katakuri was taken aback by the way the strange woman easily transitioned from wary of his presence to treating him like any average person visiting her bar. Her type of indiscriminate kindness was so rare amongst his siblings, even to each other, that he was honestly at a bit of a loss. He adjusted his scarf higher up his face to hide the burning sensation in his cheeks.
As for her offer of a meal...normally Katakuri would never accept, his necessity for privacy overtaking anything else, but he’d been without his chefs and a proper merienda for so long that he was developing an itch for it. Crimson eyes found her innocent brown gaze and quickly darted away.
“Tea,” he quietly grumbled. Thanks to her honest face, Katakuri could see her surprise at his choice. No doubt she was used to pirates who preferred drowning themselves in beer and sake, but never did any hint of judgement for it appear in her eyes. Makino turned to go inside through the back door but paused when he added, “And something sweet.”
She smiled, sweeter than any doughnut, and left. Closing his eyes, he let himself relax against the wooden building behind him. He reached out with his Observation, felt the dull spirits of grazing cattle, the ordinary civilians within the bar, nothing of any note, except for the tiny but strong spirit that seemed to be heading straight for him.
Katakuri cracked open his eyes and saw the boy from earlier practically vibrating in place next to him.
“So if you’re a pirate, where’s your pirate ship?”
“What are you doing in Foosha?”
“But you’re just sitting here.” The clear confusion and disappointment in Luffy’s voice almost made Katakuri chuckle. The boy really was like his little brothers and sisters. Anything short of glorious battle may as well be considered dull work that wasn’t worth doing. On reflex, Katakuri did what he would’ve done for any of his siblings: pet the top of Luffy’s head with a large finger, knocking askew the straw hat he wore, and made a large glob of mochi in the palm of his hand. Earlier disappointment forgotten, Luffy’s eyes widened in wonder. “What’s that?”
“Mochi.” With all the trust only a child could have, Luffy wasted no time snatching it and stuffing it in his mouth.
Luffy straightened his hat, tugging it down tight over his head, and swallowed the large mouthful of mochi before erupting in a snickering, “ Shishishi. So you have powers, too?!” Receiving a curious look from Katakuri, he hooked a finger in his mouth and pulled his cheek as far as he could before letting his snap back into place. “I’m a rubber person!”
A Devil Fruit user was one of the last things Katakuri expected from an island this deep in the East Blue, and especially not a child who had consumed one. This could be the opening he was looking for, though, if it came from who he suspected. “A Devil Fruit is very rare in this area. Where did you find it?”
“Shanks gave it to me!” Luffy proudly announced before his shoulders dropped at Katakuri’s disbelieving stare, and he awkwardly glanced to the side and pouted. “Well...he left it right there and didn’t say that I couldn’t eat it.” That explanation didn’t do anything to lessen the Sweet Commander’s confusion. Either the Yonko gave a random child in the East a Devil Fruit or he left it exposed for the child to find on accident.
Neither inspired much faith in Red Hair, but it did confirm his suspicions.
“Does he come around often?” Katakuri asked, watching as Luffy amused himself by stretching his arms to grab the spike on his left knee guard in order to swing from it.
“Nah, not anymore.”
“When was he last-”
“You aren’t bothering Mr. Katakuri, are you, Luffy?” The boy immediately let go and dropped to the ground wearing the worst guilty face Katakuri had ever seen, dark eyes glancing off to the side while he attempted to innocently whistle.
“No,” he lied. Makino, who had returned balancing a large, steaming teacup in one hand and a large cake in the other, simply hummed an amused affirmation.
“Well your food is on the counter inside, so go eat and then you should head back home before Ace starts to worry, okay?” The prospect of food had Luffy grinning, and he gave her a large hug, wrapping his rubber arms around her multiple times.
“Thanks, Makino! You’re the best!” Wasting no time, he went to run inside, yelling back as he went, “Bye, Katamochi-man! Hope to see you again someday! You can join my crew!”
Shaking her head and not bothering to fight a smile, Makino walked closer to Katakuri and offered up the tea and cake. The teacup was larger than normal but was still dwarfed by the size of his hand, and she giggled apologetically, explaining that it was the largest one they had. She jumped back in surprise when he made a block of mochi from the ground next to him to use as a makeshift table.
Instead of going right back inside, a part of her would admit that she was curious about what was hidden beneath the fluffy looking scarf that covered the lower half of his face, but then his eyes fell on her and sharpened until she got the hint, raising her hands in benevolent surrender.
When he was alone, Katakuri built a small room around himself out of mochi, nothing as thick or ornate as usual, but enough to give himself the privacy he needed. He leaned forward, so it could surround him entirely like a protective shell. There was slight resistance from his scarf as he shifted, but it quickly gave way before the mochi formed in its place.
Reclined and feeling more relaxed than he had in weeks, Katakuri pulled off his customary scarf and indulged himself. He groaned happily sipping on the hot tea. Even though he hadn’t specified, the oolong tea Makino had selected and sweetened with a dash of honey was perfect, and he already knew it would pair well with the dark chocolate cake she’d brought with it. Making his substitute merienda last was difficult as the taste was excellent, but there wasn’t nearly as much as he was used to gorging himself on.
However much he wished otherwise, it wasn’t long before he was finished. He replaced his scarf around his shoulders and regretfully allowed his mini mochi room to dissolve around him, maintaining the solid slope he was leaning against. It was more comfortable than leaning on the wooden building even if it didn’t offer that much more of an incline. He couldn’t be seen lying on his back, even in a small village hidden deep within the East Blue.
The bar door opened, and the barmaid poked her head out. “Finished already?” she observed, walking over. “I can bring out some more, if you’d like.”
Katakuri forced himself to shake his head, not wanting to unleash his gluttonous side. Makino fell into a curious silence and stepped closer to him, closer than she had before. Even while sitting, he towered over her, but instead of being intimidated, she was distracted by something.
“There’s a tear in your scarf,” she remarked more to herself than him, but then she reached up as if you touch it. “It should be easy to sti-” Her words were cut off by startled cry when he grabbed her. Katakuri’s hand covered most of her forearm, and there was enough pressure to warn her against what she’d attempted to do.
Her body was trembling, and Katakuri’s harsh glare softened a fraction when he saw the terror in the wide-open brown eyes that refused to look away from him. He released her and ignored the uncomfortable feeling when she immediately fled inside, tugging his scarf higher up his face. A part of him felt...guilty for scaring the kind woman as badly as he did, and another part was annoyed. She would have been his best lead for information on Red-Haired Shanks, and it was doubtful she’d return anytime soon.
So he froze when Makino returned.
In her arms was a swathe of pale blue fabric, and even if her head was bowed, eyes glancing at him before nervously darting away, she still kept moving closer. When she stood by his bent knee, he could see she was shaking.
Makino placed the empty tea cup onto the plate and picked them up, replacing their spot on the mochi table with the fabric. “In case you’d like me to fix your s-scarf,” she quietly offered before turning away, hoping to make a quick escape.
“Did I hurt you?” His deep voice froze her in her steps. She slightly turned to look at him in surprise, unconsciously touching her arm with her free hand. There was already a blue-green discoloration forming from his prior grip. Katakuri furrowed his brow. “I...apologize.”
The effect was instantaneous. Her body jerked, and her head shot up to face him fully. “I...i-it’s fine,” she hastily assured him. It was still amusing to him how easy it was to read her expressions and a relief, since he could watch some of her tension fall away. There was still a wariness that she didn’t have before he grabbed her, but he didn’t think he had to fear her running away again.
With calmer steps, Makino took the dishes inside, and Katakuri curiously picked up the blue sheet she had brought out. It didn’t take long for him to realize she’d given it to him to cover his face with should he decide to let her sew the tear in his favorite scarf, a tear he must’ve caused when it got caught on the wood earlier.
Several minutes passed before he heard a knock, and another moment passed before a head of dark green hair slipped through. Her eyes were closed.
The consideration of the gesture, particularly from a practical stranger, heated his cheeks. “You can open your eyes,” he told her, staring off towards the green fields. Makino still waited an extra beat before cracking open her eyes to see that the large pirate had wrapped the sheet around his lower face. It was an effort to hide her smile at how the pale blue fabric clashed with his crimson hair.
Clutched in his hands was his brown scarf. Walking slowly, Makino went to sit on the block of mochi he’d made and pulled out a needle and spool of chocolate brown thread from the pocket of her skirt. Her hands folded delicately in her lap as she wore a warm smile, happy to patiently wait until he handed it to her. It was obviously important to him, though she wasn’t sure how much of that was the scarf itself or his shyness regarding his face.
Tension stiffened Katakuri’s limbs even though he had used his foresight to ensure she had no ulterior motives before parting with his scarf. He carefully watched her slender hands search the fabric for the initial cause of his building stress.
It wasn’t until she found the rip and threaded the needle that Makino spoke. “I heard you talking to Luffy earlier. So you’re here about Shanks?”
All he offered was a confirming grunt.
“Well you can stop wasting your time.” Katakuri was stunned by the hardness she spoke with, but narrowed his eyes at the demand. While he didn’t wish to harm the kindhearted woman, it would be shameful for a Big Mom Pirate to allow such disrespect. Before he could say anything, however, Makino continued on. “He’s gone. He left over two years ago, and he’s not coming back.”
There was pain in her voice and a wistfulness that could be mistaken for nothing but someone missing their lover. Seeing those brown eyes mist over as they burned a hole through the cloth she was sewing was enough of a confirmation. It was a love doomed to fail from the beginning, Katakuri believed, not that he knew much on the subject. Few in his family did. Born and raised knowing they’d be married off for political reasons or to introduce a new race into the family, those that found love with their spouses were very much the exception.
Clearing her throat, Makino tied off the thread and snipped the extra length. She wiped away the tears pooling in her eyes before they could fall and put on the brightest smile she could.
“I’m sorry you came all the way out here for nothing.” Handing him back his scarf, and receiving a polite nod in gratitude, Makino went inside to give him the privacy to exchange the fabrics.
If she was surprised to see him gone when she went back out, the pale blue sheet folded atop the mochi block, then she didn’t show it. Just took a deep breath to clear her thoughts before returning to work.
The moment he returned to Whole Cake Island, Katakuri made his way to the Chateau to see Mama. She wouldn’t appreciate any delay in his report. Not only had he found the island Red Hair was rumored to dock at, but he’d spoken to two people with close, personal relationships to him.
Mama would be ecstatic.
He found her sitting in her throne room enjoying a large tray of cupcakes that sang as they were tossed inside her mouth.
“You’ve finally returned, mama mama ,” she welcomed, swallowing her treats. There was no preamble as she immediately asked, “What did you find out?”
Memories of an energetic rubber boy and of an unusually kind woman with a warm spirit and caring smile flitted through his mind.
“Nothing. The rumors were baseless.”