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re:romance dawn

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Wiping sweat off her forehead, Nami grins at today’s haul of tangerines. Between Arlong and joining the Straw Hats, she’s never actually worked an orchard like her mother or Nojiko; she had three trees on the Sunny, but that’s not the same as an entire acre of crops to take care of. It’s been hard work learning how to be a proper farmer, but it’s surprisingly nice.

To just...live. With solid ground under her feet, the taste of salt in the air, and the smell of citrus wafting throughout her house. She misses her crew more than words can express, but living on the island as a farmer isn’t bad by any means. Nami has plans, of course, but now is hardly the time to act on them. She's gotten a second chance at her childhood - how many people can say that? To make sure the opportunity Luffy gave her isn’t wasted, she has to make the most of it: working the field, eating meals with Nojiko and Gen-san, visiting her mom as she pleases, and being young.

That being said…she really misses being on the Sunny with everyone else. At least she could pass her work off to someone else instead of hauling ass the whole time, damn it!

“Nojiko! I’m done with this side,” Nami calls out to her sister, lugging the heavy basket to their shed where all the produce gets packed.

“Oh? You’re way faster than you used to be,” Nojiko laughs, crouching down on the other side of the orchard with dirt all over her clothes. “When you’re done packing, come help me plant these.”

“Got it,” Nami nods, dropping the basket to the floor and stretching her aching shoulders ruefully. “Oof! No time to laze around.”

Quickly packing the fruit into the burlap sacks they use for delivery, she counts them off in a ledger and marks down the days’ results. Business isn’t exactly booming, but having all their money returned means that most people across the Conomi Islands are faring much better than they used to, and that in turn means that simple pleasures like fruit are selling a lot better among the islanders too. Most of their sales come from the other islands in the archipelago, but she’s also experimenting with a few of Sanji and Bellemere’s recipes so that she can use up more fruit and grow their profits; she’s making marmalades, liquor, powdering the zest to make flavored powders, something Sanji calls pectin, and much more.

All those recipes in Bellemere’s book were things she wanted to make for Nami and Nojiko to eat, but they’re also things that they both want to share with others so that they can understand just how amazing the fruit they grow really is. They’ve already started selling tangerine sauce, and it’s doing alright on other islands. If they can make more products and establish a connection with a few sailors who are tired of sucking on limes, they’ll be able to have a larger, steady income for the years ahead. Thankfully, their tangerines have just as much vitamin C as any orange, and they're much tastier than limes when preventing scurvy. 

Stretching her aching waist, Nami moves to go help Nojiko plant the rest of the trees. Since all the money from Arlong Park is Nojiko's, her sister decided to use it towards sprucing up the house and orchard: new beds, fixing the roof, expanding the orchard to include a whole new acre, and a few other things here and there that they couldn’t afford before.

It really has been a busy few months for the both of them. 

“I wonder what everyone else is doing?” Nami whispers, looking past the trees into the sky. She hopes they’re all doing alright, wherever that may be. Thinking of how long it’ll take before she can afford a boat and be able to visit Sanji or Usopp herself makes her sigh, but she straightens her back and keeps going.

The sooner she gets this done, the quicker that day will come. Little by little, she just has to do what she’s best at. For those beyond the East Blue and in the Grand Line...well, she’ll have much more help after they set sail together to get there.

“Nojiko-chan! Nami-chan!”

Looking up from the newly planted trees at the call of their names, the two sisters share a look of confusion when they see one of Gen-san’s daughters looking for them.

“Reiko, what’s wrong?” Nojiko asks, standing up so he can see her. “Did something happen?”

“Thank god,” Reiko gasps, her nine-year old body trembling from rushing over here as quickly as possible. “There’s an emergency! Mama sent me to find you two and bring you over.”

“An emergency? Did something happen to Gen-san?” Shooting up immediately, Nami can only think of one thing that would bring her here. “Is he okay?!”

“Dad...went to the port,” Reiko answers, biting her lip. “Someone said-”

Pale and shaky, she twists her hands miserably. “Someone said that pirates are coming!”

What? That can’t be possible. Shaking her head, Nami looks to the sea with shock. In her entire life, the only pirate that ever came to the archipelago was Arlong. All the islands here are made up of farmers and their crops, tucked away in a little corner. Even after his defeat in her last life by Luffy’s hands, no one else tried to settle down here. In the first place, pirates in the East Blue are smaller and weaker than those in the other seas; Arlong was an anomaly in these parts, and no one should be brave enough to come here after Garp’s presence here was announced in the papers. Entering Navy-ventured territory like this would be suicide.

So what the hell is going on?

Throwing off her gloves, Nami turns to Nojiko’s pale face and takes her by the shoulder. “Listen, you go with Reiko-chan to their house and stay there until me or Gen-san come back, okay?”

What? What do you mean, until you come back?! Are you an idiot? There’s nothing you can do if it’s really pirates, so you have to come with us!” Scowling, Nojiko slaps her hands off and meets brown eyes firmly.

“I have to,” Nami tells her, her resolve unwavering. “I can’t - no, I won’t let our home be lost again to someone else. I’ll be careful, I promise.”

She’s no longer a child or a teenager: on the inside, Nami’s a grown woman, and she’s been forced to take a stand against some of the most dangerous existences in the world in order to protect others and accomplish her goals. If her crewmates were here then she’d be more than happy to leave any trouble to them and stand aside, but they’re not. She has no weapons, no one to rely on, and no idea what’s going on - but whatever is happening, she has to be in front.

Because this place and all its people are hers, and that means she has to fight for them any way that she can.

“If you’re going, so am I! Reiko, thank you for coming, but you can go back alone. We’ll come and let you know if it gets dangerous.”

For a split-second, Nami wants to argue with her, but one look at Nojiko says nothing is going to change her mind.

“B-But...Mama and Dad…” Gaze flitting between the two of them with fear and concern, the little girl can’t finish her sentence.

“Don’t worry,” Nojiko comforts her with a pat on the head. “We won’t do anything stupid. Right, Nami?”

“Of course not,” Nami answers, offended. The aggressive look in her sister’s gaze screams that she thinks Nami is being reckless and stupid, but it’s not like she’s Luffy or something. Choosing not to hide does not equate getting into fisticuffs with a group of pirates, thank you very much. She’s an adult, not an imbecile. “I’m not planning on dying or getting hurt for a long, long time!”

Sending her off, the both of them make their way to the docks through the throngs of people starting to gather at the center of town.

“Pirates again?!”

“Genzo went to meet them-”

“They’re Fishmen!”

“What if they want revenge for Arlong?”

Fishmen? Fishmen pirates? Instinctively, Nami thinks of Hody Jones and the New Fishman Pirates, and she pales. Hody never came back for revenge in her last life, but there is one more difference this time around that didn’t happen before - Arlong’s death. In her last life, he was locked up in Impel Down and never saw the light of day again. In this life, Arlong died in his fight against Luffy’s grandfather, and that might mean that things have changed.

But what about Fishman Island? Would he really make his move this early when he waited so patiently last time just because of Arlong’s death even though Hody never actually cared about Arlong? Thoughts running through her head wildly, Nami squeezes between gaps and ducks under arms to see what’s happening as quickly as possible. Nojiko is just a little ways behind her, but she doesn’t have time to stop and let her catch up.

What should I do? What can I do? Is this the price for changing the past and creating a new future?

Just as these fears are welling inside her, Nami breaks through and finally sees the pirate ship that’s thrown everything into chaos. The blue, striped fish head and the red sun flapping high in the air proudly falls into her view, and the foot moving forward becomes weak so quickly that Nojiko just barely catches her before she can hit the floor.

“Nami!” Pulling her up, Nojiko looks towards the ship with clenched fists. “It’s really a pirate ship…”

“That’s not any pirate ship,” Nami says, her voice barely a whisper. “That’s - that’s the Sun Pirates!”

“The Sun Pirates?!” Voice raised out of shock, Nojiko unintentionally draws the attention of everyone around them. “Then, the person on that ship is-”

“The only Fishman to become a Warlord in history,” Nami confirms, her eyes glowing with delight. “The First Son of the Sea, Jinbei!”

All her concerns wash away and transform into joy that makes Nami want to run forward and find Jinbei at once. Just a few minutes ago the navigator was thinking about how she misses her crew, and now one of them is delivering himself at her door! On top of that, it’s the ever-reliable Jinbei - she couldn’t have asked for a more helpful and reassuring member to come and visit. He’s one of the only members who’s a full-fledged independent adult out on the sea, and having him around will make preparing for the future much easier. With him around, Nami can do so much more in these next few years!

“We...are we all going to die?” someone asks, their words dripping with terror. “We can’t...we can’t fight a Warlord.”

Brought back to the present by his words, Nami realizes she’s not thinking about this in the right way. To everyone on the island, Jinbei isn’t the familiar, kind and strong helmsman of the Straw Hat Pirates that she knows; he’s First Son of the Sea Jinbei, a Warlord, and a Fishman pirate that represents the hell they just got free from. He’s a man of power they can’t touch, and he’s someone dangerous enough that the World Government enlisted his strength for their own purposes.

More importantly, being a Warlord means that unlike Arlong, he can essentially do whatever he wants without interference from the Navy. Despite Garp’s intervention, the Conomi Islands aren’t affiliated with the World Government, and Warlords are allowed to pillage and destroy anything that isn’t affiliated within ‘reasonable’ measures. Anything shy of genocide or enslavement like Dressrossa is par for the course. In other words, Jinbei is allowed to do whatever he wants to them, and even Garp the Navy Hero might not be able to fix that before all hell breaks loose.

To everyone except Nami, the Sun Pirates' arrival is even worse than Arlong’s.

Taken aback by this epiphany, she has no time to figure out a solution that addresses their fears before a broad figure steps forward at the ship’s head, a coat fluttering behind them in the wind. Similarly, she spots Gen-san move closer to the dock and take his place in front of the town, arms crossed. Heart in her throat, she eyes the plentiful makeshift weapons in the hands of the people around her and prays the situation doesn’t escalate into violence.

“My name is Genzo, and I’m the sheriff in charge of this town,” he states loudly, facing that figure head-on despite the obvious danger in confronting a renowned pirate. “What’s your reason for coming here?”

Standing tall and firm, the Fishman answers, "I am the captain of the Sun Pirates, as well as one of the seven Warlords. I am named Jinbei."

Jumping off the ship onto the island, he lands a mere foot away from Genzo, startling the crowd and making them back up. Many of them grip the pitchforks or scythes for harvest even more tightly, straightening their backs to cover up the ground they’ve lost instinctively.

"My reason for coming here...is Arlong."

As if confirming their worst fears, alarm spreads throughout the town.

"I knew it!"

"He's here for revenge!"

"Quick, hide the children-"

Nami tries to meet Jinbei's eyes when he sweeps across the crowd to take them in, but she freezes when they pass over her without a second thought.

Huh?

Jumping up and down as if to see better, Nami tries harder to catch his attention inconspicuously so that he can spot her, but he pays her no mind. Skin going cold, Nami looks at those solemn black eyes and realizes:

Oh. He doesn't know me.

Because if this was her Jinbei, he would have known her right away, and given her a sign. A wink, a small twitch of his lips, a nod - anything and everything they're used to when communicating silently after all their time together.

She's been so happy at the idea of Jinbei arriving to the island that she never even considered that the man before her might not be the one she's expecting; he, unlike her and Luffy, hasn't received his old memories. There’s not even the slightest gleam of recognition in those eyes when they look at her, her face just another nameless canvas in the crowd to him.

Of course, he’ll definitely get his memories back just like her. She’s said it before - Straw Hats don't leave one another behind. Nami knows that, and she understands in her heart that it isn’t on purpose that he’s lost them - but she's just now realizing that she can't guarantee when he gets them. Luffy came back earlier than her, if his letter and relationship with Garp are anything to go by, and Nami came back only a few months ago. Unlike weather, there's no science or pattern to this that she can predict.

It's...lonely. Struck by a sudden and intense sorrow for just a moment, she sways on her feet. Wiping away the dampness in brown eyes when she thinks about the possibility of meeting her crew members without any knowledge of who she is and their lives together, Nami takes a deep breath and shakes her head.

"It's okay," she tells herself quietly, staring at Jinbei with a yearning. "No matter how late, they'll come."

Just like always. Because they're her friends, her crew, and the people she decided to spend her life with - they'll all come in time, loud and troublesome as they were born to be.

The crew of her old life and this life are all Nami's, damn it, whether they remember her or not!

Even though it feels like hours have already gone by for the Nami who had to face these thoughts, it's only been a minute or so for the people around here. Genzo has asked another question in her daze, but all she hears is the answer.

"I am the reason that Arlong came here and destroyed your lives. For this, I sincerely apologize."

And with that, The First Son of the Sea Jinbei gets on his knees in apology, forehead to the ground before all of Cocoyashi Village without any hesitation.

Gasps ring out everywhere, and Nami can feel a fond smile tugging on her lips as she recalls a similar situation on Fishman Island. As expected...no matter when or where, Jinbei will always be Jinbei. The unexpected and dramatic apology takes everyone off guard, with even Genzo and Nojiko left wordless with shock. On the ship, many of the Sun Pirates don't look happy at his dogeza - but none of them are speaking out to disapprove of his decision. Spotting Aladin with his arms crossed, Nami knows that they wholeheartedly respect Jinbei and understand his need to do this. It seems like they haven’t changed much either at heart.

Even so, she can’t let Jinbei do as he wishes. He might believe he’s doing the right thing, but it will only make things worse. Stepping forward despite the aborted move Nojiko makes to grab her, Nami walks until she's right in front of him. Ignoring all the attention on her, some kind and some not, she asks a question she already knows the answer to.

“Did you send him here?”

Hearing a young girl’s voice instead of Genzo’s, Jinbei lifts his head to look at her, surprised.

“Are you...the one he took?” he asks, attracting the ship’s attention as the Fishmen lean down over the bow to look at her. “Vice-Admiral Garp said-”

“That’s right,” Nami cuts him off, expressionless. “The papers said you visited Marineford, which I’m sure means you heard all about it. I’m the one he kidnapped and used as a navigator. So? Did you send Arlong here? Did you tell him to kill us if we couldn’t pay the money he wanted and take over these islands as his boss? Or did you hate humans and tell him to kill them as he pleases? Did you teach him that we’re less than Fishmen, and deserve to die if we can’t uphold you as our superiors?”

“No! No, I didn’t,” Jinbei shakes his head, his veins bulging with shame and anger at the terrible crimes Arlong’s committed against them. “I do not hate humans, and neither does anyone amongst my crew. We cannot trust that they feel the same, but we do not commit violence against innocents regardless of their race.”

“But you said you’re the reason Arlong came here,” Nami points out, all emotions wiped off her face. It hurts to do this and see Jinbei kneel in this way, but-

-just because she got closure and accepted Jinbei doesn’t mean Nami gets to make that decision for everyone here. All she can do is make it so that nobody misunderstands him and gets to make that choice on their own. Furthermore, claiming responsibility for Arlong’s actions single-mindedly takes away the villagers’ right to truly understand the situation and move on. To Nami, Jinbei was never someone who had to be forgiven in the first place, and she hopes that everyone else sees that too.

“Arlong was someone...who was like a little brother to me. We grew up together, and I couldn’t change his hatred for humans no matter what. Because of certain events and our disagreement about humans, he and the like-minded members of the crew split off and became their own group. I swore that if Arlong ever committed any wrongs, I would come and deal with him myself; little did I know that he would bribe the Navy in the area so that it never got out.”

A tear slips past and runs down shuddering blue cheeks, Jinbei’s voice choking as he explains the situation. His hands curl up into fists, and the urge to hug him swells up inside Nami.

“Th-Then, you didn’t send him?” Genzo confirms from two steps away, his bravado completely evaporated in the face of this shocking news.

“Until I received the news that Vice-Admiral Garp came here and defeated him, I did not know anything he did after leaving,” Jinbei replies, taking in a deep breath.

“Basically,” Nami summarizes, “you have nothing to do with him, and we just happened to be the first place that guy found to take over.”

Jinbei jerks his head up to look at her again, eyes wide. Among the crowd, Nojiko bites her lip with worry and observes the atmosphere of the people surrounding her to check if any of them are going to do something stupid because of her little sister’s words.

“Am I wrong?” Nami asks, turning to Genzo. “He didn’t teach Arlong to hate us and kill us, right? So, it’s not his fault that Arlong was a piece of shit. That guy made that decision all on his own.”  

Grabbing a hold of his sheriff’s hat, Gen-san tilts it down to cover his face.

“Oi, Nami!”

“What the hell are you talking about?! They’re from the same crew.”

“Don’t think we forgot you joined Arlong’s crew too, dammit!”

Ignoring Gen-san’s hiss of anger next to her, Nami only deigns to glance at them with a raised brow.

“And?”

“That means you’re one of them too! While we all worked our asses off to survive, you lived with them in that big tower!” Crossing his arms, a man in a brown shirt makes his point and comes to the forefront of the villagers. “Just because Gen-san and his family forgave you for joining the Arlong Pirates doesn’t mean all of us have.”

“You-! Why, I oughtta-”

A small hand clings onto his shirt and prevents him from stomping towards that man, but Gen-san’s tongue can only stall in his mouth when he sees Nami’s shake of the head. He falters, recalling his own fury the day she came into town with Arlong’s mark on her shoulder. Gritting his teeth, Genzo steps aside to let her speak.

Good, she thinks. This isn’t his fight. Letting this go on until now was Nami’s decision, and she can take responsibility for clearing her own name. Last time, her name was cleared by the vast amount of money she’d obviously saved up and her cries for help after Gen-san told her story, but no such thing happened when Garp came. Staying at home and avoiding everyone except Gen-san and Nojiko just because it seems like too much of a hassle to explain was a comfortable decision at the time, but it only delayed the inevitable in all of their journeys to accepting the events of the past few years. Nami might look like a child right now, but inside of her body is the mind and soul of a grown woman who’s experienced more than anyone on this island combined. Being misunderstood as a villain is just a daily part of being a pirate, and it didn’t matter to her before; it’s only that now she needs to establish the truth so that Jinbei doesn’t have to face this all alone, and so this doesn’t become a burden for her loved ones in the future.

“Why did you pay Arlong’s fees?” she asks the man, the calm, still air around her somewhat unnatural for a child.

Scowling, the man shouts, “You know why, you brat! It was the money or our lives!”

“Did you die?” Nami continues, her words causing unrest. “Did anyone in your family die?”

She knows they didn’t. Not for another six years at least, if things hadn’t changed because of Garp’s arrival.

“No, because we paid that basta-”

“My mom didn’t have enough money,” Nami interrupts him, looking at her sister with an apology in her heart. Reliving this was hard enough for the both of them a decade from now, and it’s not even been a third of that time for the Nojiko in front of her.  “It was her or me and Nojiko.”

For years, Nami wasn’t able to talk about losing her mom. Even after becoming a Straw Hat, it wasn’t easy for her to overcome the ache and lingering guilt at the idea that it was all her fault. She had managed to move on from Arlong, but the death of her mother was something that stayed with her for a long, long time. The navigator wondered over and over again in those days about how she could have been a better daughter, a better person, and been more grateful. About how the first person to ever be kind to her deserved more from her, and how Nami never delivered on that…but after all these years and the world she’s seen full of people willing to live and die for one another, she began to truly let go of the guilt and self-hatred. How could she not, when Nami understood that she would have made the exact same decision?

Bellemere made that decision because she loved the two of them, and she would have made that decision whether or not Nami was the perfect daughter. Nami, too, has made that decision for the people she loves, and she hasn’t regretted it.

Well, to be fair, it never killed her. Probably? If she did die and come back, she at least doesn’t remember the dying part. Regardless of her feelings on a daily basis about the members of her crew, she knows that perhaps even if it did end up killing her it would be okay - because it was her choice, and she made it without anyone’s interference. That’s what happens when you care about people.

When push comes to shove, you choose them; to believe in them, to wait for them, and to give yourself up for them. You trust, and you love, and if you’re a Straw Hat? You move forward with them so that you have no regrets. The worst thing in the world isn’t losing your life, but living with regrets.

Speechless, he can’t answer her.

“Did I kill anyone? Did I come to collect money from you all?” Searching the crowd, she dares any of them to reply. “I lived in the same house as the man who killed my mother, and I did everything he told me to do, just like you. To survive.”

“Someone who hated Arlong would never have his mark inked onto their skin,” a woman mutters, her eyes cold while she hugs her own daughter.

Pissed, Nojiko shoves her way through the crowd with wet eyes to find whoever said that and tear her apart – but she doesn’t have to.

“Mm, I’m sure you would have chosen your life and morals over your daughter’s,” Nami agrees, unbothered by the astounding hatred swelling around her. “If Arlong ever decided he wanted you to join his crew under the threat of killing every person you’ve ever met, you would definitely let everyone die with the safe knowledge that they were brave people fighting for a cause. Unfortunately, I’m not a brave person like you, so I told him I would join if he left everyone alone. Ah, I’ll probably also do the same thing in the future again if I’m put in the same situation, so I apologize in advance for not regretting it. If the choice had been between my life and yours, feel safe knowing I would choose mine every single time. I’m someone who can give up a lot to protect my life if necessary after all.”  

This should be enough to make it seem less altruistic, right?

Wanting to be proved innocent so that her life here is easier for the next seven years is a totally different matter from like, becoming a hero. Absolutely not! If she had to walk around while people stared at her with glowing eyes and sympathy, she’d just swim to the next island and create a new identity. Pirates like her are way more used to being the villain than the hero, and it’ll stay that way for a very long time. Concerned about her image, Nami takes a peek at Gen-san’s distraught face and tries to measure whether or not she needs more damage control as a certain someone stands in place watching her.

Stunned by the words coming out her closed-off little sister’s mouth when she confronts adults about experiences that were traumatic for them both, Nojiko feels a sour tingle in her nose. The Nami that cried until her eyes were as swollen as balloons, covered in cuts and bruises and pale from blood loss…that’s no longer the Nami in front of her. This Nami has a mouth twice as dangerous, a confidence that can’t be shaken, and a sense of life about her that’s no longer weighed down by the life they’ve lived up until now. She’s still greedy, still calculative, still unwilling to lose – but she’s built better for it. It’s a change Nojiko hadn’t seen coming at all, even if it’s one she’s glad to witness. For her to grow up so much since coming home with that tattoo in tears breaks her heart as an older sister, but makes her glad for the brighter future it means Nami will be allowed to have.

Geez, the little girl thinks while wiping at her green eyes, when did you start leaving me behind? I’ll have to do better from now on so you don’t forget this older sister of yours.

Amidst all of this, the Sun Pirates can only stare in awe at the little girl completely controlling the atmosphere with such aggressive statements. Quite a few of them grin, rooting for her; if she can manage to convince all these people that Jinbei is a bystander, maybe she can convince their captain along the way too.

“More importantly,” Nami narrows her eyes, voice sharp. “Talking about Gen-san like that after all he’s done for this village sure pisses me off. Your opinions of me don’t matter to me even a bit, but only trash would speak badly of someone who put his life on the line to protect everyone. What the hell has he ever done wrong to you?”

“Gen-san is Gen-san, but you’re still a traitor,” someone calls out from amongst the people surrounding them, their face hidden from view. Quite a few people frown at the words, clearly disagreeing with him.

Jinbei frowns as well, his blue face dark with a mix of guilt and anger. He never expected that they would treat a child so poorly in circumstances like these where she clearly couldn’t help anything, but it just goes to show how much pain Arlong has caused them to be unable to forgive anything even slightly connected to him. Such a young girl was taken out of her home and made to labor so often that she would be dripping blood over her work, but none of that entered the eyes of those mad with grief. Chest burning even more tightly with self-loathing, Jinbei’s knuckles go pale with force. He’d prepared himself after hearing Vice-Admiral Garp’s words, but it’s a terrible truth to have to face.

Unable to control his guilt-riddled anger any longer, Gen-san addresses everyone with a loud shout, “YOU don’t even know what you’re talking about! Nami here has done more for us than anything I ever did, dammit! In the first place, all that money I handed back to everyone this week came from HER-”

Smiling weakly at his sudden tantrum while he rants up and down about Garp arriving for Nami and all that she’s helped with during Arlong’s fall, Nami just lets him finish the job for her since she can’t get a word in anymore. Nojiko smiles back at her sister across the plaza, pride written all over her face at Nami’s bravery.

“That crazy little brat,” she mutters, wiping away a tear and smiling brightly. “She just can’t help herself, can she?”

“ANYWAYS!” Coughing up a storm so that Gen-san will finally stop now that she’s getting embarrassed at the way they’re all looking at her with shock, Nami circles back to Jinbei. “I don’t blame you for Arlong, so there’s no need for me to forgive you. The only person I hate is Arlong and his crew, so I also don’t need an apology from you. Everyone here might not feel the same as me, but that’s their decision.”

Tears swimming in his eyes, Jinbei chokes, “Thank you…I am not deserving of such kindness from you. I...I…!”

Wiping away his tears, he sits up and states, “For those who have lost things important to them because of Arlong, I sincerely apologize once again. Today, to show my deepest regret and condolences for his wrongs, I shall kneel here in front of you all. My actions cannot make up for what he’s done to you, but at the very least I must deliver onto you an apology that shows my sincere intentions to try my best in this regard.”  

Gaze firm and spirit determined, he straightens his back to the utmost and looks forward, his cheeks still stained by the tears that fell seconds ago.

Unable to help herself, Nami smiles, a little proud and a little wistful. “Okay. I’ll stay with you, then.”

It’s not the most surprising thing she’s done today, but it still manages to earn quite a few stares and bitten-off sounds.

“There is no need for you to accompany me,” Jinbei argues, concerned and embarrassed in equal turns. “This is something I must do as a man...and as someone who saw Arlong as a brother. Please do not burden yourself to stay here if-”

“It’s not a burden,” Nami tells him, looking over her shoulder at Gen-san to reassure him as well. “You want to kneel, and I want to stay here and watch you.”

With a lopsided quirk of her lips, Nami says quietly, “I don’t like Arlong. I hate him, and I’ll never forgive him, but. To you, he was family. If you have to apologize for what he took from us, then I should apologize for what I took from you too.”

She means it.

Arlong’s death isn’t something she regrets, per se, but it is something that she’s somewhat responsible for. Garp came here because Luffy wanted to save her, and that means that Arlong died for Nami’s safety. It’s by no means a bad trade, but it’s one that means Jinbei lost someone close to him in a way that cannot be undone. Being locked up in Impel Down and dying are two different things, and whether or not this Jinbei remembers their history together, Nami feels like she owes it to him. To her, Arlong was a living nightmare. To Jinbei, Arlong was like Nojiko. Nami doesn’t feel guilty, but she does want to acknowledge Jinbei’s loss and her own part in it. She isn’t sorry that Arlong is dead; she’s sorry that Jinbei lost someone precious to him.

Softly, so softly that Nami almost can’t hear it, Jinbei tells her, “Thank you.”

After Nami sits down, there’s a stiff silence across the village caused by their confusion: if the pirates aren’t here to attack, do they need to do anything? Should they leave the Warlord to kneel, or should they try and chase him off? Should they, like Nami, watch him until he makes another move? There’s no guarantee what he’ll do if someone doesn’t stick around to keep an eye on him, but Genzo is also standing by Nami and keeping watch. But since they’re guaranteed to lose a fight against a Warlord, isn’t it safer to just do nothing and pray he’s telling the truth? The truths that have been revealed today are still making their heads swim, and it feels like no one has any idea of what to do next.

In the midst of all the thoughts running through the village as a whole, Nojiko walks towards Nami with purpose.

“If you’re staying out here, you’re gonna need this,” she says, stuffing a wide-brim hat onto orange hair. “You’ll have to work twice as hard later to make up for ditching work, you know.”

Rolling her eyes, Nami adjusts the hat and groans. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Bug off, would you?”

Cuffing her ear and ignoring the shout it earns, Nojiko turns to Genzo. “I’ve still got more work to do in the orchard, so I’ll be leaving her in your hands, Gen-san.”

Lips twitching up knowingly, he nods. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure she doesn’t cause any more trouble.”

“Hey!” They’re treating her like she’s Luffy or something. Geez.

“I’ll drop by with dinner later,” Nojiko says as she waves farewell, turning her back on both them and the pirates as she walks home without a single glance backwards.

Nami no longer needs a hand to hold, and she’s made so much progress in the past few months. Nojiko, too, needs to work on herself more from now on.

Watching the little girl leave nonchalantly, the crowd exchanges looks with one another before slowly dispersing to resume their regular lives as well, with only a few people here and there deciding to remain and see if Jinbei is truly sincere.

And for a long, long, time, that’s all that happens. The sun rises to its peak before it begins to fall, but nothing changes. Nami, Gen-san, Jinbei, and even the Sun Pirates aboard their ship all remain still, waiting patiently on Jinbei. Sweat gathers on their skin and pools to the lower back, seagulls call around them, and the day goes on without a care. No one tries to spark a conversation, content with the quiet atmosphere. Jinbei has long since closed his eyes and dedicated himself to kneeling without distraction, and no one bothers to disturb him - that is, until Nami comes to a realization.

“Gen-san,” she asks, drawing him out of his observations of the ship before them, “does he...look off to you?”

“Who?” Eyes narrowing, Genzo scans the pirates aboard the ship for any suspicious activity, more concerned with them than the kneeling Jinbei.

“Jinbei,” she says, a frown slowly crossing her lips. “His face doesn’t seem right to me.”

Studying the purplish hue spreading across his skin, Nami wonders why it’s bugging her. Their helmsman has blue skin, which means that flushing tends to turn him more purple than red - he doesn’t tan much, and this much sun should be nothing to him.

So why is he so purple?

Staring closely, Nami notices his breath is also heavier than it should be, and the press of his brows much harsher than before. Her stomach twists, and she thinks: Oh no.

“Jinbei! Jinbei, can you hear me?” Jumping up to her feet and destroying the peaceful quiet, Nami runs to his side and tries to meet his eyes.

Almost immediately, everyone in the area turns their attention towards her, Aladin leaning over the ship to look down with alarm while Gen-san chases her.

Laying her palm across his forehead, Nami hisses and yanks it back, horrified. “He’s burning up!”

“What?!” Startled, Genzo leans in and tests his temperature as well. “Oh, boy.”

“It could be heatstroke, or, or a fever! Chopp-” Freezing in the middle of her search, Nami remembers that Chopper isn’t here, and that this isn’t the Sunny. For a second, the sheer wrongness of it all leaves her flustered, but she soon regains her calm and looks up.

“Jinbei’s sick! He needs a doctor!” she calls out, meeting Aladin’s eyes and hoping her desperation comes across to him.

And just like that, the village port becomes cacophonous. The other pirates rush around to grab Aladin’s medical supplies and lay down the ladder, worrying about Jinbei the whole time, and Nami gently lays Jinbei down with Gen-san’s help while the remaining villagers watch fearfully.

He might not have come to fight them, but who’s to say that his crew won’t get mad if Jinbei falls sick here while they all watched? Seeing one of the mermen come down with a bubble around his waist that allows him to travel the land with ease, they become even more afraid of the possible future awaiting them.

“Isn't a heatstroke much harder to get for Fishmen because your skin is so thick?” Nami asks when Aladin begins his check-up, distraught. “I don’t understand, he shouldn’t be sick!”

Looking up at her with some surprise, Aladin answers, “That’s right - Merpeople like me are just as susceptible as humans, but Fishmen like Jinbei typically have thicker skin and bodies that regulate heat much better. I’m surprised you know that, little girl.”

Waving off the strange look that earns her from Gen-san and Aladin, Nami reminds them, “I lived with a whole crew of Fishmen for a year, remember? More importantly, why is he burning up so badly if this isn’t heatstroke?”

Clicking his tongue, Aladin searches in his medical kit for an IV. “My best guess is that he’s pushed himself too far getting here so quickly and fallen into a fever because of it. For now, I’ll have to give him fluids and try to cool him down. The first course of action when treating fevers and a heatstroke is essentially the same but done with different speeds. The water in these parts is warm, right?”

“Ah, yes,” Nami nods, cushioning Jinbei’s head on her lap gently. “Do you need cool water?”

“Maybe,” Aladin sighs, almost finished with the IV. Observing the genuine concern on her face as Nami looks over his captain, the merman continues to explain the situation. “I’ll have to wipe him down and maybe even lay him in water, depending on how his temperature changes over the next hour. There’s antipyretics in the IV, so we should find out soon."

Nami nods in understanding. Cold water is no good for regular people during a fever because it just makes them burn hotter, and she knows better than to think of an ice bath. Chopper always figured that cold water would work better for Devil Fruit users because of their constitutions, but there was never a chance to test it out considering none of the Fruit users in the crew have had such serious fevers.

Brown eyes roving over Jinbei laying on the ground and the crowd surrounding them, Nami makes a decision and turns to Aladin.

"A sick person should be put in bed," Nami declares, straightening her back. "We should take him to my house."

"Nami!"

Ignoring Gen-san's incredulous shout, she continues to speak.

"I'm by the hill and close to the water, so you guys can pull your ship around if you're worried about leaving him with us. Of course, we'll still need a doctor."

Narrowing his eyes, Aladin jerks his chin towards Genzo. "Your sheriff doesn't approve of us coming onto your land like that, it seems."

"Yeah, yeah," Nami waves it off carelessly, "he's always like that. You can come too if you're so worried, you know? They won't hurt me."

"And how do you know that, huh?!" Gen-san scowls, veins bulging in his throat at her lack of fear. “Just because they haven’t done anything yet doesn’t mean you can trust them, dammit!”

A warlord, a doctor, and a situation so unexpected it could only happen to them…it’s similar. Suddenly reminded of her captain in a moment that changed so much more than they could have ever expected, Nami grins with a touch of mischief, a little nostalgic.

“Can I trust you?” Nami asks Aladin, looking him in the eye without a single ounce of wariness.

“...Yes,” Aladin says, a bit taken aback.

“See? No problem,” Nami laughs, looking at Genzo again. “I’ll be fine. It’s almost dinner time anyways, so we can all eat together.”

Pausing, Nami looks at the horizon and feels a chill down her back at the very real possibility that Nojiko might throw a fit about guests coming over without warning when she’s only cooked for two people. She might only be a teenager, but age has nothing to do with the force she can put behind a wooden spoon when she’s mad.

“Agh! Gen-san, I’m gonna go let Nojiko know to make extra food for dinner, so you bring them with you, okay?” Gently sliding Jinbei’s head off her lap, the little girl stands up and takes off without another word.

“Nami-!”

Groaning with no small amount of frustration, Genzo turns back around and glares at the two Fishmen on the ground.

“Well,” he clears his throat, “you heard her.”

Lips twitching, Aladin packs up the miscellaneous items of his medical kit and nods. He leans over to help Jinbei up only to freeze in surprise when scarred arms reach down as well.

“What?” Genzo barks, lifting one of Jinbei’s arms over his shoulder with a face that screams he’s pushing himself. “I’m not stupid enough to let another one of you on my island just to carry this guy up there! If you pull anything, I’ll be on you like a barnacle, you understand?!”

Huffing and puffing, he gestures for Aladin to start doing his share. “What the hell are you waiting around for?”

For the first time in years, Aladin thinks he might laugh because of humans again. Subtly putting away the coral in his hands, he figures Jinbei will be fine with a good old-fashioned carry instead of bubble travel.

_________

 

Ace is dreaming again.

They’re strange dreams, just like always. Snapshots of people and places he doesn’t know of, and then some he does. Luffy, and Gramps, and someone who dresses like a grown-up Sabo. Pops and his other siblings, Blackbeard. Battles that shake the ground, food that seems so delicious, and the tears of people he doesn’t know but feels overwhelmingly angry for. When he wakes up, most of it disappears like the morning mist in the forest as the sun rises, but they unsettle him all the same. Some of them leave him with a smile on his lips in the morning even as the memories fade, and others leave him unsettled in his own skin with a strange sense of foreboding. Truthfully, they feel more and more like…out of body experiences than dreams as the nights go by.

Looking around curiously, Ace notices all the complicated diagrams and textbooks laying around. There’s a skeletal model in a corner of the room with notes pinned to it; walking up to it, he sees they’re all talking about the different muscles in the body.

“Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a sex-linked recessive disease almost exclusively present in males,” a voice mutters from behind, startling him into the realization that he’s not in the room alone.

Whirling on his heels immediately, he spots a boy around his age in a humongous hat reading aloud at a desk. The words coming out of his mouth are mind-numbingly boring enough as it is but leaning over and seeing all the tiny words crammed into one page of that book makes Ace’s head hurt enough that he groans.

A single cherry wood desk, gilded bookshelves lining every wall, the models and all sorts of fancy contraptions littering the room – sure enough, it’s the image of wealth. This is either some noble’s study room, or that of a very rich commoner. Blegh. Why the heck did he have to dream of something as boring as this?

“Onii-chan!”

“Lamy?” Two pairs of eyes fall on the auburn-haired girl at the door’s entrance, the goofy hat boy’s call of her name surprised.

“Are you still studying? It’s almost dinner time,” she whines, her cheeks puffed with air. “You promised you would finish early today for my birthday.”

“I’m done, I’m done,” the boy says hurriedly, a careful hand placing a bookmark in his text before he slips off his chair to coax her. “I was just finishing up! Perfect timing, Lamy.”

Beaming, she loops her arm through his and drags him out of the room while chattering away about the cake their parents bought for tonight.

Anything’s better than this place, Ace thinks as he follows them out with relief now that he can leave all the dry medical stuff behind. As he steps through the door, however, the room isn’t what he expects.

“So how exactly can you apply your Devil Fruit in the operating room?” an excited voice asks, a furry mass in a hat twice as big as himself sitting on a chair with a notepad in his hooved hands.

Rubbing his eyes to make sure he’s seeing things right, Ace begins to smile when he recognizes who it is.

“Chopper!”

He waves hi even though Chopper can’t see him and takes in his new appearance. Mm, their little reindeer friend has definitely changed since Ace last saw him in Alabasta. Gladdened by the appearance of one of Luffy’s crew, the freckled boy turns his eyes to the other presence in the room and frowns.

“Hold on,” he says, staring at the familiar white and black hat that he last saw only seconds ago. Without the beard and sideburns, this guy looks a lot like the kid from the study. Huh.

“I’m aware that you can isolate body parts and operate on them without affecting normal body functions and switch hearts, but I’m quite curious about the details. I believe the concept is similar to a transplant, but with no requirements for shared blood type or other such factors?”

“You’re not wrong,” the nameless man agrees, flipping a pen around in his hands. “Because the isolation aspect of my ability allows function but cancels out the process of identification within the body, it also allows continuous homeostasis as long as no further outside problems occur. For example: if I switched out the liver between a heavy drinker and someone who’s never drank alcohol in their entire life, there’ll be one damaged and one perfectly fine. My ability doesn’t magically fix the issues with whatever I switch, only allows to fit in seamlessly; the drinker will have a liver that works much better than the one he had originally, and the non-alcoholic will instead face the consequences of the liver damage. Of course, it won’t get worse, but it won’t get better either.”

“What about a situation where the switched organs carry a genetic disease, or even cancer? Does the lack of identification change how it’s affected or affects the rest of the new body?” Eagerly taking notes, Chopper poses another question with a word Ace can’t help but pay attention to.

“I’m a surgeon,” the man responds, mouth quirking to one side in something like a smirk. “I don’t particularly do work outside of surgery, unlike you. Bepo and the others do more of that than me.”  

“Ah,” Chopper realizes, his furry chin dipping down sheepishly. “I didn’t think about that.”

“I don’t know about the first kind of case, but I do know about cancer,” he continues, saving them from an awkward silence. “I can operate with much better chances than a regular surgeon, of course, but anything that hasn’t formed at least a dime-sized tumor is impossible even for me. The cancer acts the same in the new body as the old one, regardless of whether it’s malignant or benign. If it was the type to metastasize in the original body, it’ll do so in the new body. However…”

With a gleam in his eyes, he looks at Chopper with a full-fledged smirk. “The new organs in the cancer patient haven’t shown any signs of regaining the cancer despite multiple tumors metastasizing throughout the body. Why do you think that is?”

“Huh? Is that possible?! I thought that it would work the same both ways,” the reindeer gasps, astounded. “The cancerous one spreads cancer, but the normal one remains unaffected…wait a moment-”

Brown eyes growing wide, he snaps his head up sharply to stare at his discussion partner.

“-everything follows the same behavior as its original host! The tumors that would spread in the original do the same in the new body, and an organ without any cancer can’t be affected by cancer because that’s not what happened in the original!”

“Fuck,” Ace says blankly, completely lost despite his attempts to keep up. “What are they even talking about?”

He feels like they’re saying some pretty important stuff right now, but he doesn’t understand over half of the conversation. Malignant? Benign? Meta-meta…whatever that word is? Despite trying his best to understand cancer after learning of Pop’s condition, the once-commander’s only knowledge of the disease is the simplified version Marco gave him long ago. In his words, it was a disease that stole resources from a person’s body and gave them to something that shouldn’t exist in the first place; even worse, the only treatment Pops could use was basically poison.

There is one thing he’s gleaned from their words: it might be something a surgeon can operate on. In a family as huge as the Whitebeard Pirates, surgeons and doctors came aplenty, but Ace had never once heard of Pops going through surgery during his time with them. He knows better than anyone else that if they thought it would help him, his siblings would have done anything to cure their father. If a surgery or transplant like Chopper and this guy are talking about right now could have fixed things, it would have been done. Pops most likely had a special type of cancer that no one could operate on, or…

Frowning in thought as he stares at the man still holding a katana across his lap while Chopper draws something on the paper, Ace thinks: Or he’s someone who can make the impossible possible.  

“Trafalgar-san, what about this?”

Trafalgar? That sounds familiar.

Raising a brow at the suddenly polite address of his name, the man leans in and taps at a specific area after looking at his work. “Hmm, I’ve done work mostly at this level. My medical skills are definitely far above any other surgeon out there, but I’ve never experimented beyond this point. If something is that complicated, I don’t even bother. I’ve had priorities that require much more work and precision than these kinds of procedures, like our alliance.”

That’s it!

He’s Tra-guy! Luffy’s Tra-guy! The surgeon. Clapping his hands as he figures it out, Ace looks at him harder. This is the guy who hooked Luffy up to a brain machine…

More importantly - he’s the guy that saved Luffy’s life after Marineford and helped him in Wano. If this guy is good enough that Chopper takes him seriously and he’s got a Devil Fruit that helps with treating patients, then maybe Pops has a chance after all!

Afraid that he’ll forget all this when he wakes up, Ace does his best to burn Trafalgar’s appearance into his brain. White hat, sideburn, tattooed knuckles, white hat, sideburn, tattooed knuckles, white hat sideburn tattooed knuckles-

Scratching his head with irritation, the thirteen year old tries to figure out if he’s ever heard anything about where this guy popped up in the beginning for good measure. He’s never met Trafalgar in their past life, and the only rookie he’s payed attention to willingly is Luffy. Thankfully, Ace has never had trouble remembering people’s names or faces like his little brother…as long as he’s paying attention, that is. His only concern is that he has no control over how much of his dreams stay with him, and this is the first time he’s actually wants to remember everything so badly. 

Chewing on the inside of his cheek from frustration, he decides to try and memorize some of the words they were talking about to in case they come handy later. Looking over Chopper’s paper, his face twists when he notices there’s only pictures on it and no words.

“Ah, shit,” Ace curses, frantically trying to remember their conversation from earlier as he sits down with his hands in his hair. “Banine, malignant, Meta-metastatus? Metastazits?”

Blaming himself for zoning out once they started using such difficult words, he closes his eyes with a deep sigh. By the time he opens them, the world around him is changing again.

Blinking as the white blurs into black and brown, the boy finds himself in a dark room with a somewhat familiar silhouette he can’t quite place yet sitting down right in front of him. Going from such a bright room to one without light hurts, and he rubs at his face for a moment before he can get his bearings. Feeling the creak and sway of the floor underneath, Ace can tell immediately that this room is on a ship. Suddenly, the door opens and a light switches on, startling him.

“Pops?” Ace chokes, stunned by the sight of his father in the chair. Scrambling to his feet, he realizes the person at the door is Mary, and she’s carrying a chart in her hands as she comes forward to scold her captain.

“We told you to take it easy, and instead you decided to entertain that little kid 24/7 for no reason,” she pouts, her cheeks puffed in consternation. “I know he’s not a bad person, but that doesn’t mean you can throw away your health!”

Laughing, Pops just waves a hand. “Gurarara! Not giving him my all when he’s doing his best is an insult to the both of us. If he’s trying so hard to fight me, I have to do my best and respect him as an opponent.”

“He tried to kill you in your sleep,” she points out helplessly, but he only laughs again. Shaking her head, she comes forward and twists the IV hooked up to his arms while muttering under her breath about pirates being terrible patients.

Tears spill down freckled cheeks unbidden, and his throat is thick with thousands of unsaid words. Watching Pops smile fondly while Mary flits about him with complaints of the crew being too excited these days with that rookie on board, he chokes on a sheepish laugh. They’re clearly talking about the days he first arrived on the Moby Dick, angry and determined to kill Whitebeard. It’s…embarrassing, and warm, and so very bittersweet to see them talking as she takes care of him during one of the rare moments of peace that Ace wasn’t trying to actively murder Pops. Bitter in the realization that Pops’ struggle with his illness was much worse than Ace thought, and that he’d made it worse by being such a brat. Sweet, because even now he can tell by the smile of Pops’ face that he was loved already. That even as annoying, loud, and rude as he was, Pops had truly loved him for so long.

Scrubbing his face clean of his tears, Ace takes a hesitant step forward. The last time he saw his father, the two of them had been a battlefield that took both their lives, and it…it still hurts. In a similar way to Gramps, looking at Pops fills him with shame, regret, and an endless gratitude. He wants to apologize, he wants to be praised, and he wants-

-he wants to be with his family again. All of them on the Moby Dick, laughing and fighting the way they used to before everything changed. Before Teach made it all change.

In all Ace’s dreams after coming to the past, they’ve never once appeared. He thought that maybe it was just a coincidence, but he thinks now that the truth is…he’s afraid. He’s afraid of having to see more people in pain because of him, and he’s afraid to see what happened to them after it all fell apart. They’re family, and they always will be, but too much was lost that day in Marineford.

Even though it hurts to leave, Ace turns away and prays to wake up. He can’t - won’t – let anything trap him in the past. The betrayal Teach put them through is unforgiveable no matter how much time passes, but he’s had to learn time and time again that no matter who you lose, you can’t forget the people you still have around you. He owes everyone in the family to be more than that, to do more than that, and if he has to take Teach down, he won’t do it alone.

Because doing things alone is exactly how he hurt them all.

The next time he sees Pops, he wants to a better, stronger Ace. The kind who can proudly ask to be his son and make up for all the mistakes he made before. An Ace who tries to let go of his anger so that he can better protect those he loves, cherish himself for them, and grow to be someone dependable no matter what the situation.

The Ace that Sabo hoped he could become, and the Ace that Luffy already thought he was.  

Everything fades to black as he walks away from the scene, his footsteps beginning to echo in an endless void. He walks, and walks, and walks, and with every step that he takes his legs grow stronger. Breaking into a run, he speeds past the memories that begin sprouting out of the darkness like camera reels, his cheeks dry again and stretched wide with a grin. In the last stretch, surrounded by the clink of sake cups and a booming voice declaring him a new son, he leaps into the unknown and thinks: Wait for me.

“Ace! That’s weird,” a loud voice falls into his ears. “He keeps smiling in his sleep. I wonder what he’s dreaming of. Meat?”

Slowly gaining consciousness, Ace looks up at the small face staring at him in confusion and feels the grin on his lips soften.

“Hey! You’re awake,” Luffy exclaims, sitting up. “I kept saying your name, but you didn’t even move. Did you have a good dream?”

Surprised, Ace tries to remember what he was dreaming of without success. For some reason, he feels like it’s something he doesn’t want to forget.

“I…think so,” he replies distractedly, brows furrowed in thought. “Hold on, I’m trying to figure it out.”

Counting to ten on his fingers the same way he does with Robin when she asks for time, Luffy perks up as his second pinky folds. “Time’s up!”

Rolling his eyes, Ace pulls him in by the neck and gives him a noogie for being so impatient. Giggles fill the treehouse as they tussle, and Luffy’s shirt nearly gets torn off by a loose nail when they roll around on the floor playfully.

“Oops,” Ace blurts out, instantly pulling him away from the nail and checking his shoulder for any scratches. “We’ll have to fix that. Watch out for the nail there, Lu.”

Taking advantage of his momentary lapse in attention, Luffy extends his limbs to wrap around Ace like a snake with a mischievous laugh. “Got you!”

Little brat, Ace thinks fondly while he raps a straw-hat covered head with his knuckles. Suddenly struck by a thought as he stares at his closed fist over the hat, Ace blurts out, “Hey, Luffy…”

“Ah?”

“Do you know a guy with a spotted white hat and tattoos over his knuckles?”