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Vivi slips away from the official Rêverie delegation two hours into the fourth day, just after pretending to eat enough breakfast to avoid worrying her father.

They've been here -here meaning Mariejois, which each second becomes more horrifying than she thought possible-  for about three days, and if the first hadn't already convinced her that Luffy punching that one Celestial Dragon was worth it, the last two definitely did.

She's not supposed to sneak out. She knows she's not, and she knows that if she gets caught she'll probably cause the ruin of her kingdom, and her people to die a fiery and unfair death, and definitely be killed herself, but-

But she traveled two months with the Strawhats, maybe more, maybe less, and she feels confident both in her ability to play the role of the innocent young maiden that's gotten lost, and in the stupidity of the World Noble. 

(Look. This might be the most reckless thing she's ever done.

But she survived in the shadows of Crocodile's army for two years, and for all his extensive and prominent faults, Crocodile wasn't stupid. And being undercover for two years taught her plenty of useful lessons.

She feels trapped in this luxurious world, without dust and sand at every corner, with no bustling streets and shouting merchants.

She feels- angry. She wouldn't have been, she thinks, if Crocodile hadn't one day torn into pieces her most treasured certainty while laughing at her all the while. If he hadn't, she would have been- saddened, and wary, but ultimately would have thought that it couldn' be helped, the corruption and hatred and suffering.

But it can. It can be changed, it can be burnt, it can be brought down and sunk and left to drown and gasp for help and finally die, and it hasn't been, not yet, and Vivi is so angry.

Her ancestors saw that, and they did nothing. Her parents saw that, and did nothin; her allies saw that, and did nothing, and she understands, because she would have done the same, had she not traveled with Luffy, who had looked at her doubting herself and called it insanity, at her doubting them and called it betrayal.

But she's so angry, and she has learned to ask for the most no matter the price, so one day the World Government will burn, even if Vivi has to set herself on fire for it happen. Even if Alabasta risks to burn, too.

She has a responsibility to her people. She has a responsibility to her principles.

And one day Crocodile had asked your people or your life, and Vivi had snarled both before she had ever learned how to snarl. She's never been one to choose the lesser evil.)

She travels endless halls and shies away from the windows, almost without thinking about it. She passes closed doors and tries their handle, lies at the ready if anyone happened to be in any of the rooms, but never encounters someone else.

Just as disappointment starts to overcome her, and as the sun continues getting higher in the sky, she comes across a door, slightly ajar. She can hear a voice inside, a man's.

"I'm there, Benn. No, I didn't kill anyone to get there, who do you take me for, Kaido? ...okay, that was only two times, and we don't talk about that."

She creeps closer to the door, and peers inside the room cautiously. It's a study, filled with gold furniture that definitely didn't need to be made of gold, and books Vivi's pretty sure haven't been opened in a long time. This close, she can hear another voice, a man's too.

The ornamented desk in the middle of the study is half-hidden by the person in front of it. It's a red-haired man, wearing a dark cloak, and talking to a Den Den Mushi; he doesn't seem to have noticed Vivi, but he doesn't seem to be a World Noble, either.

"I don't want to do this, Benn," he whines suddenly, and the Den Den Mushi hums unsympathetically.
"Well, you can't have all the booze and none of the responsibilities, captain." 

"Yes I can!" Protests Red-Haired Stranger. "That's literally what being a pirate is about!"

Vivi frowns- a pirate? On Mariejois?

"Well unluckily for you, you're not exactly an ordinary pirate. This is your own fault anyway; you didn't have to intervene in the Paramount War."

"They would have killed everyone, of course I did," hisses the man, and deflates when the Den Den Mushi raises its eyebrow and says: "How is right now any different, then?"

"Well, rescuing Whitebeard's allies was much more pleasant, for one. Mostly because I got to kick Aikanu's ass."

"You didn't even fight him, captain."

"Sure, but that didn't stop him from holding a grudge and sending all those troops after us, so I'm saying I kicked his ass. And you're my first mate, so you're on my side."

The Den Den Mushi lets out a put-upon sigh. "I suppose."

There's a moment where Vivi contemplates just ignoring what is going on in here -the mention of the Paramount War, added to the red hair and the word pirate is vaguely reminding her of something, but only vaguely, so it mustn't be that important-. Before she can actually make a decision, she hears footsteps at the end of the hall, and the unpleasantly close voice of what must be a World Noble giving orders.

She throws herself into the study before actually thinking about it, slamming the door behind her. The footsteps draw nearer, then fade away as the group continues their way; only then does Vivi catch her breath, and turn away from the door to face the man in the room.

He's staring at her, eyebrows furrowed and aura dangerously present around him; the air is hard to breathe, in a way that has nothing to do with the altitude.

"What the fuck," says Red-Hair Shanks, 4th Emperor of the New World, as he stares at her.

Vivi curses.

 

oOo

 

"Benn, hang on, things just got complicated," says one of the four most dangerous pirate in the world, and hangs up. Vivi stares. And stares. And stares.

There's a silence.

"You're Alabasta's princess that went missing for 2 years," states Red-Hair Shanks finally, eyes narrowing. Vivi, jolted out of her panic, frowns sharply and answers, very much channeling her mother: 

"And you let a 6-year-old stick a knife into his face!"

Shanks' face morphs from anger to surprise.

"You know Luffy?"

Vivi raises her eyebrows.

"Evidently," she answers, faking her confidence the way Nami had.

"How does a runaway princess know one of the World's Government brightest pain in the side?" Asks Shanks, which all things considered is a fair question to ask, really.

"I traveled with his crew for a bit," eludes Vivi, and hopes Shanks will leave it at that.

"How?"  Says Shanks, not leaving it at that.

Vivi shrugs.

"Oh, alright, I should know not to try and predict what Luffy does," laughs Shanks, after an uncomfortable length of silence, during which Vivi tries really hard not to throw herself back in the hallway and pretend she hasn't just met one of the New World's Emperors, while sneaking into this part of the world's most dangerous and only city. "And what, if I might ask, is Alabasta's long-lost finally-returned Princess doing wandering the halls of this highly confidential part of Mariejois?"

"I got lost looking for a bathroom," beams Vivi, not even trying to disguise her lie. "Silly me!"

Shanks stares at her silently, a delighted smile slowly dawning on his face.

"I can see why Luffy would like you," he says, shaking his head. "Well then, are you not going to ask what I'm doing here?"

"That would be rude."

"Princess, you just told me you sailed with pirates."

"Well, yes," and I also spent two years undercover as a mercenary, she doesn't add, hyperaware of the place she's in, "but that doesn't make asking an unprompted question less rude."

Shanks groans.

"Is this a weird political thing where you think if I tell you you have to tell me? It is, isn't it? Spare me the noble miasma, I'll be getting enough in two hours as it is."

"Will you," only hums Vivi, very ostensibly disinterested. "Well, I'd better get out of your hair, then, I wouldn't want to disturb you before your meeting."

Shanks leans forward and drops the likable-klutz act.

"Oh, no I wouldn't want to chase you out, either," he grins. "Please stay, and tell me why one of the World's Government's very own nobles is badly searching for compromising information."

"That's not what I was doing," blatantly lies Vivi, not rising to the bait in his words. She's heard worse than that. "And I'd be more interested in knowing what one of the world's most famous pirates is doing in the home of an organization you're supposed to hate. Unless you faked that?"

Shanks' grin takes on a dangerous glint. "Careful what you imply, Princess, lest you offend the dangerous pirate."

"Careful what you ask, then, lest you get unpleasant questions in return."

Vivi's so wired she feels like she won't be able to sleep for a week, while Shanks looks relaxed, even a little amused; she can't help but bristle when noticing the difference.

"Well, if you can't tell me what you were doing, surely you can tell me what you want to accomplish?" He offers, as if that's less risky to tell.

"An increasingly popular goal," she half-answers, and it's not even a lie, taking into consideration the Revolutionary Army's ever-growing ranks.

Shanks narrows his eyes.

"And what might that be, Princess? What are you reaching for? Glory? Riches? Surely not both at once, you don't seem the type to be greedy."

(Well, he's wrong, but Vivi's not about to tell him that.

Of course she's greedy; she traveled with Luffy. She doesn't know how not to reach for whatever she wants with both hands. She doesn't care to know.

Shanks says greedy and means selfish, or stupid

Vivi says greedy and means driven, or confident.

She's quite sure she has the right definition.)

"Neither," counters Vivi. "What good would those do Alabasta?"

Shanks looks taken aback.

"Ah," he mutters, "of course Luffy would like you." And then, louder: "Not fighting for your own personal gain, then?"

Well, actually yes, almost answers Vivi, because burning down the World Government would have a great many benefits to her. It really isn't that selfless of a goal.

"Not exactly, no," she hums instead.

Shanks sighs and leans backward on the still ridiculously-ornamented desk. "Well, Princess, if you don't want to tell me, you could just come right out and say it."

"Oh no, that'd be rude," smiles Vivi. "I'd hate to be rude."

Shanks scoffs. "No you wouldn't," he states.

"No I wouldn't," admits Vivi gracefully. "But I'd truly hate to be reckless, and that's exactly what telling you would be. You understand, of course, that I can't put my people in danger. Especially here. Especially when I'm quite sure you already have quite a clear idea of what I'm doing. I expect you didn't get that powerful by being stupid, or oblivious."

If Shanks is surprised by her sudden bout of honesty, he doesn't show it.

"Well, my crew would disagree with your assessment of my personality," he smiles wryly. "But I can't exactly object to the rest."

Vivi relaxes, discreetly enough that she thinks Shanks wouldn't be able to catch it; but he sends her another amused look. He visibly decides not to comment, and Vivi kinda wants to punch him, if only so he would take her seriously.

"Shouldn't you be more careful? I'm not even an acquaintance, least of all an ally. You're being very trustful."

"It's my word against yours," says Vivi, and not Luffy trusted you so I decided to, too, because even in her head it sounds foolish and naive. "A pirate against a princess, no matter how powerful you are and how young I am. The World Nobles hate us both, but I'm willing to bet they'd rather side with me than you."

"A fair assessment," laughs Shanks. "Risky bet. What's stopping them from killing us both? Certainly not laws."

"Nor human decency. Probably wouldn't know it if it held a blade to their throat," adds mid-voice Vivi, her voice dripping with venom and something too close to hate for her to be able to disguise it. She tenses when she realizes what she just said.

Shanks' eyes widen when the realization hits him.

"An increasingly popular goal," he murmurs. "Princess, you don't mean-"

Vivi takes a step back, closer to the door, and hides her hands behind her back. "I don't mean anything," she interrupts.

"No, of course not," placates the Emperor, apparently recognizing her wariness. "But-"

He stops, at a loss for words, still looking at her like he doesn't quite believe what he just understood. The silence hangs heavy above them, threatens to choke Vivi until she forgets what air and control over herself ever looked like.

"They will kill you, you realize," says Red Hair Shanks, solemn all of a sudden, the words burdened with the same weight they had when her father and her advisors and her friends and her heart whispered them. "They will kill you, you have to know. They'll kill anyone."

(They'll kill anyone, says one of the most powerful people in the world, says one of the Emperors that rule an entire ocean. They'll kill anyone, says the man that stepped in the middle of a war, of a massacre, of a tragedy, and said stop, no more, and was listened to, while Vivi screamed and screamed and was ignored when her people killed each other and a part of her heart with it.

They'll kill anyone, says the man who sailed with the Pirate King, says the man who lived an entire childhood watching dreams being fulfilled; says the child who stood, hand clenched around another, and watched his captain, who ruled his world, smile, and joke, and be forced to his knees, or maybe fall to his knees, and never get up again.

They'll kill anyone.)

Vivi breathes. This isn't anything she's not used too. This isn't anything she can't face; isn't a fear she can't crush under her anger.

"I am well aware," she responds with a dangerous intensity, with an unwavering determination that has gotten through two years undercovers and two years reigning, with a faith in her ideals that she learned from the Strawhats and has never made the mistake of letting go of. "Alabasta will stand with or without me."

(One day, Vivi will die.

One day Vivi will die and Alabasta will mourn her, maybe; and Alabasta will miss her, maybe; and Alabasta will survive, because it has survived everything, because it has to, because it's Alabasta and Vivi threw everything to the wind to ensure it'd survive, and stay, and thrive.

One day Vivi will be dead and nothing more than a name on a tombstone, on a book, on a historian's lips. One day she will mean nothing anymore, one day she will be nothing more than a grain of sand slipping down through the hourglass of her land's time; and Vivi knows that, and she has always found peace in the idea.

Whatever happens, Alabasta will survive. Even if the Nefertari dynasty fails it. Even if Vivi fails it.

There is comfort in knowing that her greatest treasure will prosper, whether with or without her. She holds on her shoulders the responsibility of her people's lives, but not Alabasta's survival. Sand is eternal, has already been broken and eroded and reduced to its simplest component; has survived the centuries despite that.

Alabasta will stand.)

"Will it, Princess?" Asks the Emperor, and his words should feel like a threat, but Vivi can only sense curiosity; maybe some amusement, maybe some sadness. The tiniest bit of respect, and she feels her chest grow warm."Your father is getting old; your people were at each other's throats not three years ago."

"They were manipulated," responds Vivi, strangely defensive. "Lied to."

Shanks only inclines slightly his head; he is looking down on her, even leaned backward on the desk. Vivi has the irrational urge to step on his foot with her heels, if only so he would stop bothering with the mysterious act.

"Yes," he hums, "that's usually what happens." And then, abruptly: " You realize, if you don't fear death, that they'll come for your kingdom? For your people?"

Vivi shivers; makes herself straighten even more.

"I have allies," she says, though the word feels too distant to qualify the Strawhats. "I have friends," she rectifies. "They'll come, if called."

(What if they come too late? Murmurs a part of her.

Then they'll avenge us, answers another, and at least the World Government will burn.)

"I don't doubt that," smiles Shanks, sounding like he's doubting it.

"They will," she insists, and the key to convincing someone is to be sure of what you're saying, so Shanks relents at the confidence in her voice.

"Well then, you have good friends, Princess. Though of course you wouldn't need them if you weren't so reckless."

"You're hardly in any position to lecture me. A pirate in Mariejois? One might call you suicidal."

"One could call me worst names," dismisses Shanks. "And less accurate ones, too. My crew did doubt my sanity for a moment, when I explained where I was going. But, Princess, you seem to forget that no one here can lay a hand on me if I do not wish them to."

He arches an eyebrow, tranquilly confident and a little mocking. Vivi arches hers right back.

"I find overconfidence an awfully common way to die, but if that's the one you chose, who am I to doubt you?" She says airily, and before he can answer moves on. "Do not pretend to lecture me. You lost your arm for a future you believed in; am I not allowed to bet my life on the same thing?"

Shanks pushes himself upright, dangerous all of a sudden. His cloak hides his body, and the scars over his eye cast strange shadows.

"I think you will find, Princess," he states, "that we are very different people; and that those were very different situations. Besides, it isn't only your life you're betting, now is it? You're putting millions on the balance."

(Like Vivi doesn't know that.

She's not afraid for herself; when has she ever been?

She's risking her people, with each step she takes further into Mariejois, with each pointed remark, with each refusal she's not allowed to say, and says still. She's risking her home and her heart and all that she's already sacrificed everything for.

It terrifies her, to the bones. It's a weight that she's never asked to bear.

She's risking the lives of every citizen who trusts her; and they've never said yes, and she's doing it still.

Her father didn't want her to come, and maybe it's because of that. Maybe it's because he wanted to spare her from the knot in her throat, from the guilt weighing her down.

(Maybe it's because he's scared, because he's maintained the status quo for so long he doesn't know how not to. Vivi doesn't think about that; it's a kind of disappointment she's not sure she's ready to face.)

But Vivi's never been one for hiding, for staying away from the fight, and he should have known, really.

She's risking millions of life, for principles. For a better world.

She's not sure it's worth it, but Seas, she has to do something. She can't live with herself, she can't lead her country, if she doesn't do anything. What's the point of power if you don't do anything with it?

Oh, but her world would have been so much simpler, so much wronger, had she never met Luffy.)

"Well, what would you want me to do?" Asks Vivi, and with each word she says she feels angrier. "Leave it at that, let the World Nobles run wild, like everyone including you has done until now? Do nothing, ignore the fact that this" -she gestures around, to the golden study, to the city in its entirety- "is built on suffering from innocent people? Get up here, negotiate a better life for my people, get back down, and pat myself in the back like I'm not despicable? Just ignore it all, leave the status quo where it is, and hope for someone else to do the job, because clearly it's too risky to do it myself, like generations and generations of people have probably thought before?"

"Now careful about giving lessons, Princess-", tries to say Shanks, his aura back and pressing down on her, like that'd be enough to stop her.

"You're the one saying I don't realize things," she snarls. "How about you stop looking down on me like I have no idea what I'm risking? Like I haven't been raised knowing what ruling meant?"

Her breathing is too loud in the room; takes up too much space, reminds the other too much of how human she is. She can't get her anger to go down.

"Willing to risk it all, then?" Asks Shanks, voice dangerously controlled. He looks down on her still, unreadable; she compares him to the stories Luffy had told her, and cannot find a resemblance to the image she had constructed in her head, which had Luffy's cheerfulness and Luffy's kindness and Luffy's disinterest in anything that he deemed unimportant, like the enemies before him or the sacrifices he'd have to make to keep a promise.

(Compares him to Luffy, standing before her in the ruin of what had once been a home; face set and determined, words hurtful and honest, unwilling to compromise. Compares him to Luffy, leaving Alabasta, watching from afar, standing tall, his crew, which Vivi had once been and always will be a part of, watching him for a cue of what to do. Compares him to Luffy, before Drum, staying by Nami's side, unmoving in a way that had been so shockingly unfamiliar and unnerving, the weight of a responsibility Vivi hadn't noticed weighing heavy on his shoulders.

And maybe it does make sense, after all.)

Vivi scoffs. "Hardly. If I was, I wouldn't just be sneaking into Mariejois and praying I don't get caught. I'm not reckless, despite what you might think. I don't want people to die."

"I never implied that."

"I want it to change."

"That's a noble goal."

"That's the bare minimum," she retorts. "I cannot make every citizen in the world happy, or safe, but they should at least be free. Just because my people are, does not mean my job is done."

(She should be terrified, she realizes distantly. She's facing Red-Hair Shanks, no weapon or allies in sight. She's going up against him, disagreeing with him, staring him down as much as she can.

She wouldn't dare to do that with most of the rulers she came here with.

But Shanks is a pirate, and most importantly he has Luffy's respect, and that counts for more than Vivi cares to admit. Pirates can be despicable, and violent, and all that Vivi seeks to rid her country of. She has faith this one isn't, at least.)

The air feels heavy, weighted by the suffering and despair hidden behind the same immaculate floors and grand corridors that decorate some part of Vivi's home, which she might not be able to face again for a while. Shanks looks at her, power and knowledge draped over his shoulders, experience etched in his scars and obvious in his posture, presence and importance undeniable no matter when, but especially then, when staring at her. Vivi stands before him and dares him to contradict her, to doubt her, to mock her.

She wills herself not to flinch away from the pressure in the air, not to shy away; wills herself to stand tall, dig deep into the resolve that had made her kill people, and betray people, and leave Igaram to burn. Shanks towers before her and radiates confidence, and she pushes herself against it and calls force her defiance.

There is a silence.

"You will make a good monarch, Princess," he murmurs, and his approval means nothing to her.

"I will," she states. "I don't have any other option. The Marines aren't going to last like this much longer. Marineford- Ace's death- well, they killed a child for the crime this father, and then Whitebeard. Even if they were criminals, they were well-liked in the New World. The Revolutionary Army is getting bolder with every second, and with the Worst Generation starting to make some waves in the New World... I want things to change, but they're going to regardless of what I want. Pirates don't care about the rest of the world, and they'll rock it to its core whenever they want. I have to be ready, if I want Alabasta to prosper in the new era."

Shanks scoffs, standing in the middle of the room, finally looking her in the eyes but still dismissing what she says.

"You seem very sure of your predictions. Roger's death didn't change the world that much, you know. Nor Whitebeard's."

"They were only one man," retorts Vivi. "Many factors are at play, here. The Revolutionaries are at the height of their power. Fishman Island finally came out of isolation and Dressrosa is rid of Doflamingo; they're both powerful, and both have a heavy grudge against the World Government. When new powers start to rise in the New World and disturb the power balance there is there, when even one Emperor falls, it'll shift the dynamic of an entire ocean. The world is on the brink of a new dawn, in a way it hasn't been in a long time."

"You're optimistic, Princess."

"I'm right. Why are you here, if things aren't changing? I can't imagine you visit Mariejois monthly. What's an Emperor doing in the homestead of the Five Elders? In the middle of the Rêverie? What is it that you want to discuss, that can't possibly wait for a less busy time, with fewer royals around?"

Shanks tilts his head. "You're also smart. It could get you killed."

It should sound like a threat, but it registers more like a warning.

"You already said that," replies Vivi impatiently. "Anything here could get me killed. Knowing what's going on is more likely to protect me, and therefore advantage Alabasta. I can't go into this blind, especially with the goals I have. Why do you think I'm sneaking around like pale imitation of a spy?"

(Information is power, has heard Vivi for every day of her life, in every lesson. It was written on her books and whispered by her father's advisors and might as well have been carved in the library's shelves.

It took her being undercover in Baroque Works to finally get it.

She came close to death so many times, not knowing things; walking into bars blind, trusting people implicitly, keeping her eyes out of people's business in the vain hope they'd do the same for her. She didn't get killed out of sheer luck, and pure determination and devotion to her country, out of a rage to survive that even then had taken root in her heart and left room for nothing else.

Information is power, and Vivi learned this too violently to ever forget it. Good intentions are good; good moves are better, especially when leading a country.)

Shanks looks at the ceiling and sighs. "That's fair," he says, and stretches. "Maybe Benn is right and we're getting old, after all. I don't remember being this fierce at your age, though."

Vivi feels vaguely offended. "Well," she says, and doesn't know how to defend herself, unbalanced by the sudden change in conversation.

"Ah, it's not a bad thing. I should expect it, really, from a friend of Luffy. The kid's never been one for moderation. How did you meet him, if you don't mind me asking?"

Vivi frowns, perplexed by Shanks' light tone.

"I traveled with him," she repeats mechanically, and he doesn't look fooled.

"So you've said. Really, if you trust me enough to announce your burning hate for the World Nobles to me, you should be able to tell me how you met the little anchor. I assume you're quite good friends, if he's told you about me."

"He helped me liberate my country," caves Vivi finally. Shanks laughs.

"From Crocodile, right?" Vivi refrains from asking why he asked her if he already knew. "Of course he did, that's just like him. Barely out of East Blue and already throwing himself at a Warlord."

"Well, he hasn't really changed, either. Just challenged Big Mom, after all."

"Oh, right. And if he defeated Doflamingo, well, Kaido won't be pleased. He's a child, and Anchor's just broken one of his favorite toys."

Yeah, that's the bowling ball thrown in the house of cards that's the New World's balance that I was talking about earlier. Why do you think I'm doing all this so early? Pointedly thinks Vivi, and says instead:

"He'll be alright." 

Shanks looks up at the faith in her voice.

"You're quite confident, aren't you, Princess?"

"I have no reason not to be. Luffy doesn't break promises, and he's promised to be Pirate King. That means he'll have to beat you, one day, doesn't it?"

Shanks frowns at her.

"Oh, I don't know about that. I guess he'll insist upon it, though."

"And he'll win."

"Anchor? Ah, maybe. That'd be interesting, wouldn't it?" Asks Shanks idly, sounding like he's making a joke she can't understand. Vivi frowns at him.

"Aren't you supposed to want to be Pirate King, too?"

"Me? Oh, no. That'd be ridiculous. I had a King, and I'd never dream of taking his crown. My former crew's first mate would kick my ass."

"Afraid?"

Shanks looks at her, utterly amused. "You won't get far if you're trying to rile me up, Princess. And no, just uninterested. I'm doing well for myself. So is my crew. There's no point in searching for more than this."

"I suppose not, no," mutters Vivi. "Well then, if you're so uninterested in politics, what are you doing here?"

"You really can't take silence for an answer, uh," mutters Shanks. Then, with a long-suffering expression: "I'm uninterested in Raftel, not in politics. Well, I am uninterested in politics, but unfortunately, my crew seems to think I should care. I can't say no to them, they're holding my alcohol hostage."

"Dreadful," deadpans Vivi.

"Show some sympathy to the dangerous pirate, Princess."

"Hmmm," vaguely agrees Vivi. "Maybe when you stop thinking that I'm a child risking too much too fast."

"I don't think anything," lies Shanks. He nods at her, then says, thoughtfully: "Be careful, next time you go up against an Emperor. The next one might not be so kind."

"Of course," agrees Vivi a little weakly, forcefully reminded that she is in fact talking to one of the most powerful pirates out there. She steps out of his way as he reaches for the door. "Good luck with whatever it is that you're trying to do."

"Ah," smiles Shanks. "But you don't know what I'm doing, Princess. Good luck with your endeavors. We've never met each other?" He adds, just before stepping out in the hallway, the air strangely heavy to breathe once again as his gaze turns sharp.

"I don't tend to concern myself with pirate affairs," says Vivi with sufficient disdain that she almost sounds like a World Noble for a moment, or as close as she's going to get.

"I don't tend to concern myself with anything," retorts Shanks. "See you around, Princess! Try not to die!"

Vivi opens her mouth to protest-

And the door shuts close behind the Emperor's back.

 

oOo

 

("Captain? What happened?"

"Luffy's not an outlier, Benn. Luffy's the normal guy," says Shanks giddily.

"No he isn't," protests Benn automatically. "Captain, what happened?"

"The World Government is going to have such a bad time, Benn. It's going to be so much fun."

"I have no idea what you're saying, you do realize that?"

"This is great." )