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Tell it to the Marines

Chapter Text

 

 

 

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Prologue

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"And why would you cover his bill?"

Red Leg Zeff watches the woman who sits reclined in her seat, evidentially at ease in the madhouse that is his restaurant.

How the others miss her is beyond him, those features are after all, not something easily overlooked.

The hair is enough of an indicator, a brilliant garnet that no doubt lights up something magnificently in the sunlight, framing a heart shaped face just one pleasant feature aware from being declared beautiful. She'd be quite pretty, were it not for the eyes.

A painfully defining feature, the unnerving gaze draws attention and locks it in, making it incredibly difficult to look away.

Her nose button cute and straight? Her lips pale and shapely, if just a bit thin? Sharp cheekbones rising from the slight blush of her cheeks?

All that means nothing in the face of her eyes.

The fact they are yellow is awkward enough, would have always drawn attention simply because it is the most easily noticed colour. The shape, the set and the intense dark ring that sits within the middle of her irises make them highly unpleasant to meet though, thus creating this awkward atmosphere.

They are her defining feature; there's no avoiding them.

Head cocking to a side, the half of hair not peeled back into a lazy ponytail glides across her shoulders and collarbone as a thick red curtain, obscuring half her jawline.

"Zaa, I'm always late with my birthday gifts. I'm sure Anchor will understand."

 

 

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Chapter 1

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He'd never really expected his clashes with Red Hair to lead to this.

 

 

It is the 13th of March, a leap year, and the summer island which his sister has chosen to inhabits is within the throes of spring. The Grand Line scoffs at the idea of collective islands having the same weather patterns, to the point where winter and summer islands can be found within a two hour boat ride of one another.

As things stand though, his dear sister has decided upon an island as far out of the way as possible, leaving him a treacherous two week journey navigating the fierce waters of the Grand Line, coming dangerously close to the Calm Belt. And that is the last place he wishes to be.

Of course, Dracule Mihawk will agree that the natural defences surrounding this particular island are exceptional, which is no doubt why his younger sibling singled the land out as the place to settle down upon. He had not had a problem with her choice in the past, not until it came to actually making his way to the place.

How irritating.

Regardless, his boat is docked, the locals greeting him with a cheery wave. They are a small community, close knit, and Mihawk's eyes make it painfully obvious just who he is related to.

For despite the fact they share few features, Raowl and Mihawk's eyes have always been mirror images of one another.

 

 

 

The cottage which his little sister has chosen to call home sits sensibly apart from the town. Situated at the top of the nearby hill, the position is perfectly defendable, giving an overview of all those who approach from each and every sides, and thus, ample time to prepare defensive manoeuvres. Not that there should ever be anyone looking to wish violence upon Raowl; few know of her existence when it comes to Mihawk's fame, and the handful that do, the newly minted World's Greatest Swordsman begrudgingly trusts.

Like Red Hair, whom still refuses to actually try for his title; Mihawk's not entirely sure he'd manage to hang onto it should the man actually throw his all into it.

As things stand though, the former cabin boy of the Pirate King has been focused far too much on the other Dracule in his acquaintance, much to Mohawk's bubbling fury.

Oh, if he had known of this sooner, he'd have done something. Perhaps a good decapitation- no, because then he'd lose his only able sparring partner.

Certainly though, Red Hair Shanks wouldn't have gotten away unscratched. He still won't, not when Mihawk catches up to him.

But right now, he has bigger things to focus on.

 

 

 

Raowl does not greet him at the threshold as usual, instead Mihawk finds himself informed the large wooden door is already open; clearly the woman has seen his approach from one of her many windows.

The thick, heady scent of stew lingers in the air, enticing Mihawk forwards towards the kitchen. Not before he kicks off his shoes though, leaving the boots besides the far slimmer, smaller pair that reside by the door. The floorboards are warm beneath his feet, smooth to the touch and clean in a way that indicates they've been recently washed with a mop and bucket. Perhaps within the last twenty four hours, going by the faint whiff of lemon that rises lazily from the wood.

A tiny little whimper draws Mihawk's attention and he twists on his heels, striding forwards towards the living room.

Within, his dear sister is lying upon the couch, long legs half folded over the arm so that she can rest upon the two-seater comfortably. The red fabric cushions seem unnaturally bold against the pale parlour of her skin, unhindered by the simply lilac dress she wears.

It has been near a year since he last set eyes upon his sister, too busy chasing down the final few swordsmen he needed to defeat in order to clinch his title. Little has changed since then; her long waves of black hair fall perhaps a few inches longer, though they still frame the soft features she inherited from their father, as opposed to the strong lines he carries from their mother.

As always, when her eyes meet, he understands just why he has gained the epithet 'Hawk Eyes'; they are as unsettlingly intense as he pictures his own gaze to be.

The baby is new though.

The tiny little infant is curled up, face snuggling into his little sister's collarbones with the vast majority of the baby's body hidden beneath a thick fleece wrap. The fabric is not enough to distract from the topping of wispy red hair though.

"Brother," Raowl murmurs, face carefully devoid of all emotion, her free arm rising to also coil around the tiny infant.

My, it is a tiny little thing. Are all babies this small?

Mihawk is aware they are all just as fragile, but attempting to cast his mind back to when Raowl was once so small, his memories falter, unreliable. The images are hazy, the proportions out given Mihawk's own young body during that time.

Mayhap they were both small children, though that is not to say such a thing has remained true. Mihawk is certainly taller than the average male, though Raowl has reminded upon the shorter side of the female height spectrum.

"Sister," Mihawk returns, offering a nod of his head in greeting and depositing himself into the armchair right beside the sofa. It leaves him closer to Raowl's feet than her head, but given that it allows him to see her face, to observe her every reaction, it is a fair trade off.

Especially when she sits up and adjusts the small human within her arms, allowing Mihawk to get a good glimpse of its face.

It looks nothing like them.

Nothing like Raowl, nothing like Mihawk, nothing like the child's father either.

There's a struggle to even really pick out the features, but that is just how babies are. The nose is a tiny little button thing, without the strong bridge that will perhaps someday rise from that fleshy face. The eyes are closed, lacking any defined eyelashes, and the eyebrows are pretty much nonexistent. This infant seems to be all cheeks and hair, rosy pink flesh and brilliant red hair.

That is all the indication Mihawk needs, a clear as day sign of just who the father is.

He'll hunt him down after this.

The World's Greatest Swordsman is not stupid; he's well aware that whatever occurred between his sister and Red Hair was very likely to be a temporary thing. While Mihawk is not the type to chase the man down and force him to make an honest woman of Raowl, he will ensure the man at least pulls his weight with the rearing of their offspring.

If he's even aware he's managed to procreate is another subject to be tackled later on.

"Surprise, you're an uncle," Raowl jests, and Mihawk gets the sensation that, were it not for the acknowledged fragility of babies, she'd be shaking the child in his direction.

"It doesn't look like much."

"She's two weeks old," comes the snapped retort, confirming the child as a girl and a young one at that.

Exceptionally young.

"When can she fight?" When will she become something worthy of his time.

The look his little sister graces upon him makes it all too clear she knows exactly what he is truly asking, and that she is quite unamused by it.

"She won't be talking or walking for a year yet, Mihawk, never mind fighting." Well he can find other things to occupy his time with.

Like hunting down Red Hair. And this time, not for a spar, though the information Mihawk plans to hit him with will steal all the breath from his lungs as effectively as any punch will ever manage.

Proving she knows his mind better than any other can claim to manage, Raowl smiles up at him, fingers stroking up and down the little babe's back.

"Her name is Riskua, for when you find him."

 

 

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It seems only right that when the inadvertent accident happens, it occurs with the woman who's big brother actually poses a threat to his health.

Not that Shanks discovered such a thing until the attempted decapitation is already underway.

He avoided the death blow -by the mere skin of his teeth- but the slight warning that Mihawk graced him with was indicator enough the man wasn't actually full-out trying to kill him.

Still, a half-hearted attempt on his life from Hawk Eyes is probably paramount to murder by anyone else's standards.

At first, Shanks concludes that the man has found out about his little tryst with Raowl -which is quite unfair, because in that instance he'd been the seducee, not the seducer. Even if he'd not cared enough to say no as he probably should have done- but the set of his shoulders is wrong. Mihawk isn't the kind of man to chase down all those who 'infringe' upon his sister's honour; not only would he spend a good portion of time tracking the members of such an exclusive club across the Grand Line, the man is well aware his sister's a big girl and can very well look after herself.

Plus, it's just not in his character.

As always, Shanks' suspicion proves correct, for not a second later, Mihawk sheaths his blade, and then he laughs. Actually laughs.

Which is how Shanks knows there's a little more to this tale than the age old 'you slept with my sister, now die'.

 

 

 

This is what brings him to this tiny out of the way island.

The rest of the crew are sampling the local cuisine within the centre of town, but along with the eternal log pose that Mihawk had thrown him, the man had also left the exact location Shanks was suppose to present himself at, post haste.

Thus, here Shanks stands.

The island is in the hot and sweaty grip of summer, leaving perspiration leaking down Shanks' neck from the short journey up the hill. The ship wasn't really stocked for such blistering, humid heat; even the paper thin white shirt he wears seems far too restricting.

Still, he's not quite to the point of shamelessness so as to meet a old flame sans shirt.

Especially if what Mihawk's cavalier 'congratulations' has hinted at happens to be true.

 

 

 

The cottage is a pleasant thing, two stories and a little on the small side.

However, as just Dracule Raowl and maybe one other little person resides in residency here, such a thing is understandable. There are no potted flowers upon the window, nor any flowerbeds resting beneath. It makes sense, Raowl is not the sentimental kind of woman to tend flowers. If anything, she will have a vegetable patch, certainly some fruit trees given the weather of this island.

It only takes him a moment to spot the variety of trees and brambles, all bearing a healthy yield of summer fruits.

What is perhaps more of a surprise is the little rope swing descending from one of the thicker branches, though given the size of the wooden plank that serves as a seat, it is quite easy to conclude that the swing does not see use from Raowl. What a strange vision that would be.

There's a ping on his internal radar, the sixth sense of observational Haki clicking for a moment and bringing about an alert for two presences. One significantly smaller than the other.

His sight catches up a moment later and registers the two presences that the open doorway now houses. He can barely spare a moment for Raowl, for all that she is a lovely looking woman.

Because the striking red, red he sees in the mirror and red he sees from the corner of his eye is catching all of his attention.

There is no doubt the child is his, a little girl from the plain dress she wears. In colouring she takes after him, the ruby hair, tanned skin -certainly a blessing, had she her mother's skin the child'd be in a constant state of sunburn without the appropriate protective cream, just like her mother- and Shanks' is reasonably certain he sees the knobbly knees of his childhood peeking out from beneath the hem of that dress.

As soon their eyes meet however, his brain fails to log much of anything else.

She has yet to develop the same dry amusement that both Raowl and Mihawk's gaze holds, instead the impassivity of those yellow eyes adds a different flavour to the intensity of her observation.

For the life of him, Shanks cannot tell if it is for the better or worst.

Only that it makes him as equally uncomfortable as when he first met Mihawk's gaze. Not that he'll allow such a thing to show.

Unabashed, they study one another.

The little girl cannot be more than a year old, cheeks rounded with youth and flushed from the heat of the sun. With her cute as a button features, she'd be adorable. If it were for those startling eyes. They really don't belong on a sweet little innocent face like that. Oh well, maybe she'll grow into them.

"I won't marry you." Raowl's greeting stuns, and it takes Shanks a second to get his feet under him, attention momentarily torn from his female miniature.

"Death do us part, right? Dwahahaha! I don't think I could put up with you for that long!" Shanks laughs, and if there's just the slightest tinge of relief in his tone, Raowl is kind enough to acknowledge it. By Mihawk's attitude he assumed she wasn't interested in pursuing an actual relationship, but the confirmation is nice.

Their short time as lovers had clearly been enough for her, just like it had been for him. That there are consequences of those actions are just something they're going to have to deal with.

Shanks likes to consider himself and honourable man, if not a good one in the eyes of the Marines. He's good to those he cares for, and Raowl is a good friend to have. That she just so happened to be the mother of his child means they've got all the more reason to get along.

"Of course you're not the marrying kind," Raowl grumbles, though a scratching humour leaks into those sharp eyes.
With a shrug, Shanks gets closer, noting that while his daughter shyly steps towards her mother, she never allows him to leave her sight, eyes bouncing from his hat to his face and back.

"I'm a Captain," Shanks declares, and really it's all the explanation a woman like this should need.

As expected, Raowl nods in complete agreement, one hand reaching down to accept the grasping limb that the tiny redhead extends towards her.

"And a father too. Shanks, this is Dracule Riskua."

Riskua.

Must be a family name, it isn't exactly what he'd have predicted, but then again he'd not really known what to expect if he were to be honest. Naming a child isn't something he'd ever really considered, so perhaps it's for the best Raowl has already got that part over with.

It suits the little chick though.

"Hi there, kiddo."

Squatting down to Riskua's level, Shanks offers his friendliest grin, elbows resting on his knees as the girl stares back at him from beneath that short fringe of red. It's real strange to see those eyes peering out from beneath a curtain of crimson hair. Staring out from beneath a slathering of blood would be more the kind of red surroundings he'd have expected those eyes to be paired with.

"Hello," Riskua murmurs, voice childishly high but surprisingly clear. She's what, just over a year old, he guesses. That's sort of impressive.

"I think your Tou-san owes you at least one dinner, right, Riskua-chan?"

"Wait, wha-" He doesn't even get to finish his second word before the little lady is pushed towards him and the front door closes with a 'whoomph'.

Leaving him stood there, eyes wide and head spinning just a little bit, and with a year old child stood a mere foot away.

She looks up at him with oddly musing eyes, pudgy cheeks puffing out with the pressure and fat little lips pursing. The fact her eyebrows are still quite fair means that even as they sit heavy over her eyes, her expression does not come across as the serious contemplation which it no doubt is.

Instead, she just looks sheepishly flustered.

"Would you like to get dinner with me, Riskua-chan?" Shanks asks after a moment, holding out his hand to the little red-head.

The small appendage that is placed within his own seems minute and is certainly the most delicate thing he has held in a fair number of years. Not only fragile physically, but in regards to trust as well.

Riskua looks back up at him with those ringed yellow eyes, but there's a small smile stretching across her pale lips now.

Reeling in his more exuberant traits -because this is a young child who's still cautious of the world around her and has yet to realize the joys of being truly reckless- Shanks swings the tot onto his hip as he stands, one arm wrapping around her back to hold her tight. Small fingers grasp someone effectively into the fabric of his shirt, short pudgy legs at his waist and a hesitantly smiling face looking into his.

 

And well huh, Shanks thinks as those eyes rapidly warm at the sight of him, he might actually take to this 'having a kid' business.

 

 

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Dracule Riskua is three years old.

Dracule Riskua is three years old and she is experimenting with Haki.

Mihawk stands in the shade of his sister's house, the autumn weather of this summer island finally allowing for long sleeved shirts should one care for them, and he watches his niece. He can feel the shifts in the atmosphere that already indicate she's using Haki, but the physical evidence makes it impossible to ignore or write off.

The stone she holds in her hand would be ideal for skipping across water when she first picked it up. Smooth, rounded and flat, it'd have flown and bounced beautifully across the surface until gravity took over.

What Riskua now holds is a crumpled mass of rock, the handprint not quite a perfect indentation but the rock has clearly been crumpled by something outside of natural circumstances.

One of his brows sits high above his eye, for certainly use of Haki at such a young age is not just uncommon, it is exceptionally rare. Mihawk's well aware that he was exercising his own observational Haki by the age of six; his capabilities had only expanded since.

Still, three years old is an prodigiously young age.

Riskua places the distorted rock beside her thigh, her eyes slipping closed and hands curling into the comforts of one another atop her lap. It's not quite meditation, but it's exceptionally close. Perhaps something she has picked up from her mother; certainly it is not a skill he can picture the boisterous Red Hair imparting upon a child.

That famed hair now rests atop his niece's head, no longer the light, wispy curls that used to crown her tiny head as an infant. Instead the tresses now hang around her face in thick clumps, each no longer than her small fingers, the gentlest of flicks at the tips. Once it has some length to its form, no doubt that hair will hang heavy like Red Hair's, nothing like his sister's gentle waves.

Perspiration beads down little Riskua's temples, and Mihawk has but a moment to register that the girl has felt heat far greater than this, that it should not bother her and thus she sweats from something else, when her eyes pop open. No longer as wide as they had once been as an baby, the reflection of his own gaze locks onto his form instantly.

So, observational Haki as well?

It has taken three years, but it seems at long last his little niece has finally gotten interesting. There will be no ignoring this happenstance, Mihawk will not allow it.

"Uncle?" Riskua's voice is high, nervous as she slowly makes her way to her feet. Unlike back when she was younger, the girl has now forsaken pretty dresses, opting instead for simple cream shorts and an earthy brown top. Colours that make it easier to blend into the background, he notes.

"Niece."

It is an unspoken command, hidden within the weight of her title, and while Riskua may only be three, she is far from stupid.

The little redhead makes her way towards him, brows puckering over her eyes and little nose scrunched up. She acts nothing like what he's been expecting over the years. In all honesty, he'd been expecting a miniature Shanks at first. When that larger than life personality had failed to appear, he'd expected a smaller, redder version of his own sister. And then maybe even a miniature him. They were, after all, the only adults that Riskua really interacted with.

Only, the imitation never happened; Riskua seems to have carved out her own personality without aid.

"You are experimenting with Haki."

"Yes." That is one of the only traits she's inherited from Shanks, and Mihawk greatly appreciates this fact. There are far worse things she could have picked up on than the blatant bluntness. In the very least, she doesn't try to hide uselessly when she's already caught, willing to face the consequences of her actions. It's a promising sign.

"Mama used to tell me about it, in her stories."

Because of course Raowl cannot create fairytales from off the top of her head, so of course she goes with actual tales of battles to whisk her daughter off into dreamland.

"Show me."

 

And that is how Dracule Riskua's combat training unofficially began.

 

 

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It's not that her face is ugly, in fact it'd perhaps be quite pretty to look at, were it not for the eyes. Those distinctive, startling eyes that drew all of one's gaze as if working their own gravity.

Sitting before the sole mirror in the bathroom, legs folded up to her chest and bottom resting comfortably within the dry sink basin, Dracule Riskua stares at the face that has been hers for the past four years.

She's been keeping track of it every day, from the textural changes to her hair, to the slight deepening of her tan as she spends more and more time outside in the baking sunshine. The way some resemblance of a face shape has finally risen from the depths of all that puppy fat, even if that pudgy disguise still remains. It'll be years before she can shed herself of it all anyway.

That's not the reason she looks in the mirror so often though. It's just; this face is so very different than the one she had before.

Brown eyes and brown hair, pale skin and slight freckles, it's all gone. Exchanged for vibrancy that really doesn't belong upon a human visage.

The hair is a lovely colour, Riskua thinks, taking a gentle hold of the strands and ruffling the small curls that top her head. It's cute and adorable, for all that this body lacks the freckles usually paired with such a hair colour. No, really she's cute as a button, and if it were not for that one thing, then she couldn't possibly be any happier.

The eyes throw it all off.

They're dominating her face, barely allowing for her, who has been a studying and familiarising herself with this face for years, to look away from them. They're not pretty, they're not cool, just really, really unsettling.

More than one shop owner in town talks to the air just left of her shoulder instead of looking her into her eyes, and it's really rude.

Not that Riskua can blame them; having to look her mother or uncle in the eye is difficult as hell. But she does, because she knows exactly what that's like.

Inspecting the skin of her arms, Riskua gently pokes at the patchwork of bruises that create a hotchpotch pattern up her limbs.

It has been a year since Mihawk caught her practicing with Haki, and ever since both her uncle and mother have been training her to fight.

Riskua's not stupid, she's aware of just what world she's been reborn into. The hows, the whys, that all escapes her. It's not answers she can picture herself coming across anytime soon, and as it is not imperative to know right away, she's already put those questions on the back-burner.

Instead, she's been focusing on the sensation that has been around more than the knowledge of what world she's been reborn into, has been there before what family relations she has in this body registered, even before she first realized she'd been reborn at all.

She can recall very little of her time in the womb, most of it erased in the soul scarring panic that is a natural birth.

What Riskua can remember though is being held within a tight, warm cocoon. She can remember having no idea where she is, and that her sight sees nothing, that her hearing's muffled, that she cannot stretch out. That, and the thought to figure out just where she is.

Unconsciously, she had reached for her Observational Haki, had used that sixth sense to get an idea of her situation. The feedback, that she was safe, was probably all that kept her from inducing her own birth early.

She's never quite forgotten that sense, had exercised it when searching for the yellow eyed woman that is now her closest relation whenever her new mother had left her terrible infant sight.

It hadn't been until Uncle Mihawk's second visit, until her father's first appearance a month later, that she really clicked onto where she was.

And just what kind of power she was experimenting with.

Riskua has no idea what she plans to do with this life. She knows that, as a relation to both Red Hair Shanks and Hawk Eyes Mihawk, she's in danger should anyone discover her existence. Riskua is not ignorant; there are people out there who would use her ruthlessly.

She refuses to allow such a thing to happen, and that is why she begins working with her Haki immediately.

Armament Haki is much more difficult, it doesn't come as naturally, but she's ever so slowly making progress. Training is hard, and it bites that she has to rely on other people for her safety. Pushing down all the doubt, all the insecurities, is immensely hard. Push it down she does though.

For Riskua has no idea what she wishes to do with this second life she finds herself with.

But when she does know, she wants to be strong enough to make that happen.

 

 

"Riskua-chan, breakfast!"

Perking up at the call, Riskua twists out of the sink, sliding along the counter top until she can leap down onto the tiled floor. Her bare feet slap against the sandstone tiles and the redhead forcibly tempers her steps.

When Mihawk walks, none could hear him unless he allowed it. Riskua would not allow herself to sound like an elephant in comparison.

As she makes her way down the corridor, her thoughts flash back to the world she is in, and just what the circumstances of her presence here could bring.

Did this body ever exist in the original story? There's always a possibility that Dracule Riskua and Dracule Raowl existed in the manga storyline, that they just died before the start of the series and thus never came up because they were unnecessary to mention.

That thought terrifies Riskua.

It's one thing to not know what to do with your life, another thing entirely to know you're destined for death. If that is the path she walks down though, well, Riskua'll just have to get strong enough to go off-road for a bit.

That's all there is to it.

She'll take every day as it comes, and if that means putting herself through the Dracule siblings Hell Training, then hell training it shall be.

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Chapter Text

 

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Chapter 2

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"Captain?"

Yasopp waits, watching as the man he has come to follow slowly returns mentally to their current location, though it's evident he still wants to fly away to whatever holds so much of his attention. Were he not so sharp sighted, he'd assume the fixation of Shanks' thoughts to have curves as full as the ocean and legs that stretch for miles.

However, the look his redhead captain wears is not the besotted warmth of a man madly in love, nor is it the sparking excitement of lust. It's something deeper, and Yasopp has his suspicions.

Not that he will voice them, not quite yet.

"Why do we visit this island more than the others?"

Now they have his attention, Lucky Roo voices the most important question, the one that persists for all of them.

Yasopp has come to his own tentative conclusions, but it's probably a sight away from whatever the rest of the crew have assumed. There are silent, where do you go's, who is she's, is she really worth all these visits'. All those unspoken questions float through the air and Yasopp finds himself grinning.

Shanks has a contemplative look upon his face, one hand scratching lazily at the short red stubble that emblazons his chin.

"Alright, I'll let you meet her. But only if you head to the restaurant instead of the bar."

There's a herd of grumbled complaints, but Shanks'll hear none of it, and that just cements things in Yasopp's mind. He's almost one hundred percent certain of just who this girl is.

"But Cap', if she's your girl, surely she knows you're a pirate!"

"Dahahaha! Of course she knows I'm a pirate!" Shanks' grin is wide, hands on his hips and he looks so incredibly proud. Of what, Yasopp isn't quite sure. Not right now anyway.

"But that doesn't mean she should see the lot of you as drunken bums. Not at first anyway."

And really, there's no arguing with that.

 

 

 

This island, Melring, is a lovely little place. It's right on the edge of the Grand Line, not near the turbulent entrance, but not so far in as to have the big threats show their faces. In fact, it's what could almost be considered quiet from this particular sea.

The only thing that gives the island away as one belonging to the Grand Line is the almost unbearable conditions it reaches in the height of summer. The one year Shanks had brought them here during that time, the whole crew had threatened a munity if he dared to attempt such a thing again. They were only half joking too.

Yasopp seats himself down in one of the wooden chairs their helpful waitresses have provided, all of whom seem quite happy to be feeding such a large and hungry group. Certainly they will be earning their pay today, but Yasopp knows that they'll be tipped quite well too. Shanks' rather free with his money when it comes to a party, and this seems like it's going in that direction.

As the crew dig into the dishes laid upon the table top, Benn declares they should keep the food coming.

After all, it will be a long while before any of them even begin to approach feeling full.

 

 

 

It is five minutes later when Yasopp catches a flash of red from the corner of his eye and he turns to instinctively greet his captain.

Only, he finds himself looking down instead, and then choking on the food in his mouth.

The shade of red is right on the dot, but the sweet little face it surrounds is most definitely not his captain. Even with his suspicions, to have the explicit proof before him proves blindsiding.

He isn't the only one, the rest of the crew suck in startled breaths and several of them choke a little. And by the seas, those eyes are seven shades of an eerie eldritch, no matter how curiously, how warmly they look upon them. He's seen those eyes before somewhere…

"Dahahaha! Riskua, meet crew. Crew, meet Riskua!"

Shanks appears in the aftermath of his unexpected surprise, two hands resting upon the little girl's shoulders, beaming a smile at them. There's a dark promise in that smile, a dare for them to say even one wrong thing that the little lady could take offensively and face the consequences of the Captain's wrath.

Nope, Yasopp's perfectly fine not being on Shanks' shit list.

"Nice ta meet ya, little lady Riskua," Yasopp leans around the table top, extending his hand towards his captain's daughter and doing his damn best to ignore those unsettling eyes and the malaise they inspire.

"Hello," she says and it's a cultivated tone of voice, accented to the island and a clear indication that she does indeed live here, not just travel with whomever her career may be to meet up with her father, "you're Yasopp, right?"

When he nods, the girl smiles and settles herself into one of the two spare seats, folding her hands together and seemingly quite content to let Shanks worry about getting her some food.

"Papa's told me all about his crew. You're the sniper."

Papa.

It's the damning proof, the unquestionable evidence -as if little Riskua's hair wasn't enough already- that ties both her and Shanks together. Father and daughter. His captain is a father.

Just like him.

"That I am!" Yasopp confirms, puffing out his chest in pride as the sweet little girl nods solemnly along. The excited smile gives her away though; she's just as pleased to be meeting them as they are her. Now that the shock is somewhat over.

"You know, I have a little boy just a bit younger than you! He was toddling around before he was even a year old and could throw a toy block into his playpen before he could even stand!"

Though he does not see him as much as he probably should, Yasopp is incredibly proud of his son, and that always shines through. Usopp is his first topic of choice in a conversation; it's wonderful to have someone new to tell the stories to.

"How old is he?"

And by taking an interest in his young son, Riskua easily endears herself to him. Yasopp doesn't even try to hide it.

 

 

 

"-And the dwarf king breathes out his final breath, leaving his last words, on how if everyone were to desire good food and good company, then perhaps the world would be a far better place." Riskua finishes her tale, smiling cheerfully around the spoon in her mouth with sticky toffee outlining her lips, there's even a slight smear splashed upon her cheek.

To begin with she had eaten slowly and carefully, but as she began weaving her tale and her animated gestures became more bold and courageous as the story continued on, the oblivious girl had ended up wearing more of her dessert than eating it.

"Where did you find this story, Riskua-chan?" Yasopp asks, all the while running through it in his mind. It's a long tale, intricate; he has no hope of recalling it all.

"I thought it up," she states, head bobbing up and down as if working as her own confirmation while Shanks all but glows with fatherly pride.

"Mama writes them all down and my tales are going to be made into a book soon! Uncle's gonna get someone to publish them for me!" So whoever her uncle is, he's got a lot of connections.

Something is itching at the back of Yasopp's mind, a prodding feeling that he has all the pieces, he just need to put them together so that this sensation of on-the-verge of knowing something will stop irritating him.

"That's brilliant, Gully!" It's a cute nickname the captain has come up for her with, if not quite as girly as he probably imagines it.

Still, Riskua takes no offence, instead smiling wide and leaning into Shanks' side, eyelids drooping, energy leaking away like freshwater melting from ice.

"'M tired, Papa."

"You have spent several hours telling us some wonderful stories," counsels Shanks, scooping the little lady up into his arms with a practiced ease, "let's get you back home."

And well, who knew captain made such a doting father?

 

 

 

They leave three days later, and during that time, they see very little of their captain. Not that any of them can really rightly complain, not now that they know the reason as to why Melring has become a destination held so closely to the Captain's heart.

As they are getting ready to set sail, Yasopp stares back at the docks, where the little daughter of Red Hair Shanks stands, a smile on her face as she waves goodbye to them. Their captain's old straw hat rests atop her head, too larger brim shadowing her uncanny eyes from their sight. Thank the lord for it.

The little lady was quite unfortunate to be stuck with such a feature.

Shanks is the last of them to board, kneeling before his little girl and getting in one last long hug before they head off again. He plucks the hat from her head, ruffling the lengthening curls that frame her face as he does so. Her loud proclamation for him to return soon tugs at Yasopp's heart, and for a moment he sees a little boy instead, seeing his father off into the ocean. Only, East Blue is not the kind of ocean that the Red Hair Pirates would ever come to call home. And while that hurts, he knows he son will grow into a strong, proud man. No doubt he'll become a man of the sea at some point too, Yasopp knows his blood will run true. He's already proud of Usopp.

"Thinking of your own son?" Shanks asks as he steps onto the ship, one of the cabin boy's pulling in the plank of wood they'd been using for boarding.

"Aye, Captain. Sorry to say he's cuter than your little lady."

A fist clomps down on his head, though in all honesty Yasopp was expecting it. His pride as a father would not allow him to say otherwise, regardless of the fact it's been quite a while since he last saw Usopp.

"Dahahaha! That's a lie for the ages, Yasopp. My little Gully is the most memorable girl you'll ever meet."

Well, with those eyes, that's certainly not something to be disputed.

It's not polite to point that out to the Captain though, especially when the man's so happy that his whole face seems to be splitting into a beaming grin, the trio of scars even curving under the pressure.

"Love you, Papa!"

Yasopp has no idea how Riskua manages to project her voice all the way out to them, but it's certainly impressive just how quickly it brings Shanks to manly tears.

"Papa loves you too!"

And though they know the lass wouldn't have been able to hear the words, Yasopp doesn't doubt in the slightest she knows he means them.

 

 

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It is during his next visit, the one after which he finally bit the bullet, swallowed the sword and introduced Riskua to his crew that Shanks realises just how special his little girl is.

Evidentially, Mihawk has never felt the need to inform him just what he's spending his quality time with Riskua doing.

Watching his little girl practice with Armament Haki, he can now take a good guess though.

His little girl stands in the back garden of her home, a pile of stone slabs next to her that she is steadily making her way though. Tiny hands pluck own up, taking hold of the edges before there's a surge of Haki. The stone wobbles, bending ever so slightly before it snaps, most often clearly in two. That is some impressive strength for a six year old.

"How's my little seabird?" Shanks calls, watching as she jumps and the rock in her hand crumples like cheap sails.

"Papa?" Riskua's head is cocked over her shoulder, one eyebrow arching as she slowly gets to her feet. Their hair is a matching length now, the slight curls that once topped her head now weighed down enough that they fall in gentle waves instead.

She's changed a lot from the chunky little toddler he first met, back when her cheeks were pudgy, flushing red as her temperament flared. They still do now, but it's not as noticeable given how the puppy fat is starting to slowly melt away in the face of her training.

The limbs that had once been so squatty are now beginning to hint at the length and form they will reach once Riskua becomes an adult, and oh, time is moving far too fast. He might be looking upon a six year old child right now, with her bitten nails and half-picked at scabs, but she's not going to stay that way. That's a thought to agonise over at another time though, not during his limited few days with his darling daughter.

Who appears to have lost interest in waiting for him to speak and is once again crushing a rock in her hands, leaving a perfect little imprint.

"Hawk Eyes' teaching you Haki?"

Shanks can't really complain about the World Greatest Swordsman offering some free training out -anything to keep Riskua that bit safer for that bit longer- but teaching her Haki; isn't that overdoing it a bit?

"Is he here teaching me?" Is his daughter's smart assed reply, cheeky little grin lifting the corners of her mouth as she drops the latest crushed rock to the floor. There's a scattering of them around Riskua, surrounding her feet as if fallen acorns around the base of a tree trunk.

"Alright, Gully," Shanks grumps, dropping his straw hat down upon her head until it fully covered her eyes, "how's your observation?"

As things turn out, her observation is remarkable. Mihawk has to have been teaching her longer than Shanks first assumed, she's managed to block eight pokes for every ten he directs at her. After the thirty-seventh though, Shanks grows bored and doesn't design to stop his attack after one successful poke.

Instead, he lets his fingers dance up Riskua's sides, startling a laugh from the girl. His hat flies off, and Shanks has enough consideration to flick it away from their impromptu tickle war, ensuring it would not get flattened. Riskua's giggles are the most joyful thing he's heard in a long time.

Throughout the months he's been gone, he's clashed blades with Mihawk twice, sunk three Marine ships and partied hard until dawn.

None of it was as enjoyable as rough-housing with his daughter though.

"St-Stop! I'm tr-trying ta tra-train!" Riskua chokes out, breathless between her jolted laughter, limbs laced in Haki attempting to push him back and away. But she isn't the only red-head to play about with that power, so Shanks easily keeps pace.

Only when her cheeks are as ruby red as her hair does he relinquish his assault, sitting back on the earth and grinning happily as Riskua attempts to catch her breath.

For all that she's trying to scowl at him, he can feel her joy radiating from her form. It's only now that he's consciously using Haki to look upon her that he realizes the heaviness that usually accompanies her form has disappeared. Even if only temporarily.

She's a reasonably serious child, Shanks thinks. From what he can recall of all the other little munchkins he's seen during his adventures, she's a hell of a lot more determined when it comes to training. He's seen her hand to hand, and while neither Raowl or Mihawk specialize in it, they know enough to get her started on her own path.

After all, before there were any master's to teach a style, the first had to create it themselves. That's what Riskua's doing, experimenting and learning, developing her own style of combat. He knows from his catch-ups with Raowl that their daughter seems rather taken with the idea of twin daggers, something he's going to be on the lookout for when he next heads out to resupply for weaponry.

Riskua knowing how to use some form of sharp, pointy blade will only have him sleeping easier at night. For while this is an exceptionally quiet area of the Grand Line regarding pirate activity, it always has the capacity to not remain so.

Neither he or Mihawk are particularly difficult to recognise in Riskua, and it would only take one idiot with a grudge-

But no, Raowl is here and while not as skilled as either himself or her brother, she's good enough to protect Riskua, with the added incentive to be as vicious as she can manage.

Which is, yeah, Shanks wouldn't want to be exposed to that kind of levels of righteous fury. Raowl can be scary, if she ever dares to put her mind to it.

Thankfully, she the more level-headed of the Dracule siblings.

"I have Papa's birthday present!" Riskua suddenly proclaims, shooting up into a sitting position and slamming one small fist into the palm of her other hand.

Bemused, Shanks nods, even though his birthday was actually months ago. Hell, he's closer to his next one than the one that has already passed.

Still, he allows Riskua up to go and race off to the house, well aware that this could take some time. It's not that she's careless with the possessions she has, Shanks has just long since concluded that Riskua feels safe on her mother's land and cottage.

Thus, she doesn't really think much of dropping whatever she's holding the second she finds something else to occupy her time. Misplacing items in her own territory is just a strange little quirk, and while she always finds them in the end, it's lead to some strange rediscoveries.

Like the time he almost drank the magnet at the bottom of his coffee mug, one she'd dropped into the cup weeks before hand and completely forgotten about. He hesitates to use the word scatterbrained, because it's only the misplacing of objects that the word could be attached to. Yet…

Oh well, just another strange character trait. If it becomes more of a problem, he'll bring it up then.

 

 

 

By the time he makes it to the door, Riskua is evidentially done rummaging around; with papers thrown from the coffee table and several books having been removed from the bookshelf during her search.

"Here, I made you a tankard. For when you have parties on the ship." It's a bit lopsided, but that's not what has Shanks' so intrigued. The handle is very carefully defined, and when he takes a hold of it, the grooves fit into the curve of his palm perfectly. Made specifically for him and, judging by the tiny fingerprints worked into the ceramic, created by the hands of a six year old.

Pottery isn't exactly practical on a ship, especially like this, but… But that just means he'll have to extra careful with this gift.

That the majority is painted red- his favourite colour- and brown -Riskua's favourite colour- just about finishes it off.

"Thanks, Gully. Best birthday gift yet."

Even if it is over half a year late.

 

 

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Riskua's seventh year on this strange world begins with a map book, containing all of the information on the known world. Or rather, as much of the known world as certain authorities would allow.

Uncle Mihawk had handed it over just that morning; and though it wasn't wrapped up, nor proclaimed as such, it's obviously meant to be a birthday present. A way for Riskua to look upon the world beyond her own little island and see just what is out there.

She's not sure if he's trying to tempt her into going adventuring, into becoming a pirate like him, but she appreciates the gift all the same.

While what little the World Government allows to be printed of the Grand Line is incredibly interesting, Riskua is far more focused on the Four Blues. The culture is no doubt a complete flip side of what she's used to; predictably weather patterns, a compass that actually points north, no exceptionally strange wildlife... After seven years on this island, the concept sounds strange. Interesting, but strange.

So Riskua reads.

She reads on North Blue, home to Noland the Liar and the fearsome Vinsmoke family, how the beautiful 'White City' is the sea's claim to fame. She reads of the West Blue, learns what little there is to know of Ohara and studies the islands that were once her father's playground. She learns of Karate Island and the Torino Kingdom.

What she pays the most attention to though, is the East Blue quadrant of this new world. The home of Monkey D. Luffy, the birthplace of Gol D. Roger. So many important things will happen here, even if while they occur they do not appear to be such. For the so called 'Weakest Sea', it certainly has a track record for spitting out tough nuggets. Gol D. Roger, Monkey D. Dragon, Monkey D. Luffy, Roronoa Zoro, Sabo; hell, maybe Ace even counts, given he's raised there. Being raised there... It's difficult to get her tenses right, even now.

She reads all of the politically correct information she can get her hands on, and then with Papa appears three weeks later with a belated birthday gift of his own -a gorgeous little gold locket that she plans to never take off- she interrogates him for the real truth of the world out there.

She 'learns' that 'White City' isn't all pure and good, that Shanks has his own conclusions of just went down in Ohara, that the World Government is full of propaganda to make it seem as if they're on top of everything, when in truth a lot of their control has fallen apart in this Grand Age of Piracy. For really, if they had control of everything, if everything was as well and good as they proclaimed, then surely there's be no pirates running around at all.

As she's currently looking at one of the rising stars of the pirating world, Riskua's pretty damn sure the World Government is one tiny revolution away from falling apart.

Her seventh year is spent studying this world, learning about her surroundings. Because it has been seven years, and she still does not know what she wishes to do with her life.

Maybe she can save some lives, maybe she can help some people, but it's not guaranteed. She might just make things infinitely worse.

So as much as she wants to go and help Law, wherever he may be, and as much as she wants to go and save Sabo from the clutches of his nasty noble family, as much as she wants to save all those characters that now have the potential to be people to her, all the ones who've suffered... she can't.

She could try, certainly.

But a seven year old is not going to do much good right now, even as a Haki user.

So maybe she could help Nami, and maybe she could twist things to help Vivi or Zoro or Usopp. Maybe she could even save Ace from his crippling self doubt.

But the chances of that happening are very, very low.

For all Riskua knows, she is slated for death-before-series-start.

She'll focus on survival before anything else right now, it's the only thing that assures she'll have some breathing room to actually make a solid plan in the future.

 

 

 

Riskua's seventh year is dedicated to doing little more than preparing; everything she does is dripping with purpose. She sits and she listens to her mother, Dracule Raowl who has managed to make a living on this comfortable little island so far away from any others.

She makes log poses.

Riskua doesn't quite understand the process, feels as if she never will, but she can follow the basic steps. What few she attempts making work, though nowhere as efficiently as her mother's do. They take twice as long to log, but the fact they work at all means they can sell. There is one merchant ship that makes monthly trips to the world outside of their little island, and it is he who sells them. Probably for a higher price than what her mother sells them to him for, but that's just business.

It's still enough for Raowl and Riskua to live off of in relative comfort.

Riskua learns of the islands in the Grand Line from her father and uncle, both of whom have their own collective of epic tales to tell.

Occasionally their sagas will overlap as they meet one another in battle, the ringing song which their blades dance to echoes up and down the Grand Line.

Sometimes, Riskua sits by her window and she listens with a straining ear. Perhaps it is her imagination -most of the times have to be, for her two relatives could not meet that often- but she swears that there are times she can hear the explosive melody as they meet upon the seas in battle. They are both so strong, so powerful.

And as such, they both have their own collection of powerful enemies.

Riskua cannot rely upon the threat of her relations' retaliation to keep those enemies at bay, to remain assured she will not be hurt. The only defence she can be assured of is her own ability to protect herself, for that is something she could never be without.

So Riskua's seventh year is filled with training. As is her eighth.

And perhaps that is a good thing indeed, for her immediate world changes half way into her ninth year.

 

 

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Dracule Mihawk has never considered himself a particularly soft man, and he cannot name a single soul who would proclaim such a thing aloud. Dracule Mihawk is not gentle, nor is he soft.

However, he is quite caring towards his dear little sister. And by extension, he has taken to being caring for his niece from the very day that she was born.

Yet, in recent years, now that she has developed a semblance of self and has clearly began her journey towards becoming her own person, he finds himself liking Riskua as a person. Not just because she is his sister's daughter, not for the shared blood that ties them together. No, Riskua is a very interesting little human being.

Now that she has come to resemble a miniature person instead of the pudgy, pliable chunk of flesh she was in her earlier years, he can see her potential.

Oh, she is no swordswoman, nor will she ever be, the nature of the blade escapes her. At least, regarding swordplay that is.

Instead, his sister's daughter favours daggers, a pair of short blades no longer than his palm. Though he has talked to her over the concept of secondary weapons; the girl would like a set of twin daggers with the blade perhaps two or three inches shorter than his forearm. He plans to keep an eye out for her ninth birthday present.

No, the sword will not be her life as it is his, Riskua thrives too much upon hand to hand combat for her to even default to a sabre. With her training in Haki though, the style of combat she is carefully patch-working together is proving especially efficient.

He does not plan to take a punch from now on whenever he runs her through a spar; her last one had left a crater of impact within the dry packed earth on Melring as wide as she stands tall. Discounting any young Devil Fruit users, Mihawk cannot picture Riskua having any trouble with her peers right now.

It doesn't mean it could not happen though; the Grand Line is an exceptionally dangerous place, after all. The only way to ever have a hope of remaining unsurprised is to suspect the unexpected in the first place. Even then the odds you'll come across something startling and potentially hazardous to your health is probably ninety to ten.

It's a dangerous life Mihawk leads, certainly not for everyone. His dear sister had made that clear by settling down, even if it had taken a baby for her to realise life in the Grand Line wasn't for her.

That Raowl has not returned to the open water just proves it. She wouldn't have been the first parent to abandon a child; her love for Riskua greater than her lust for adventures and the ocean's waves.

Question is, what will Dracule Riskua do with her life? Certainly all this time she spends fighting, learning of the world from her books and the adults within her life has to mean something. She is curious; it's only a matter of time before she leaves to witness the world at work in person.

Will she become a marine? A pirate? What end of the pirate spectrum will she fall upon? Closer to his own Marine aligned self, or upon the troublesome side of the scale her father resides?

He cannot see her being a marine; no one from his family, nor a child with the blood of Red Hair Shanks would bow to taking orders.

No, should his dear niece ever set sail upon the vast oceans of the world, it will no doubt be beneath the fluttering form of a Jolly Roger.

Be she a captain or a crew mate, Mihawk can see her as either. But from what personality she has portrayed so far, she will not bend to the lifestyle as a Marine.

If the tiny curling of pride that sits low in his stomach registers within his mind, well Mihawk is not a soft enough man to show it.

 

 

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"Oohh, what's that?!"

The high pitched, exuberantly over-curious tones bounce out of the little boy's mouth as he grabs for the shell.

With ease, Shanks removed the trinket from Luffy's reach, batting his hands away. It'd have been a hell of a lot harder if the boy was any older or stronger than he is now. Or if his limbs could do something incredibly stupid, like detach or even stretch.

Shanks pauses for a moment, wondering how Buggy's doing, before he goes back to fending off the little limpet.

He manages to keep the shell from those greedy grasping hands, however the meal he'd barely managed to touch takes the fall in the shell's steed. Shanks'll remember it's sacrifice with a less than warm heart and a far emptier belly.

Still, to save Riskua's -late as always- birthday gift to him from the imminent destruction at the hands of Luffy; well it's a price worth paying.

 

 

 

They've been in this town for a few months now, visiting the Blue that Shanks' old captain grew up in. Perhaps it's correct to call this place the weakest of the Blues right now, but it hadn't always been.

Only in the aftermath of Gol D. Roger's rise to fame had the East Blue become the weakest. And it was not for a lack of talent.

Instead, fearful of another pirate like Captain Roger rising, the Marines had taken to coming down hard on anyone with even a lick of talent from the East. There's only so much a pirate starting out on their adventure can do when faced with overwhelming odds of Marines.

Only the exceptional cases, be they by strength or luck, would ever get through to the Grand Line. And speaking of exceptional cases-

"You can't just grab at other people's things, Luffy."

The dark haired kid blinks those huge black eyes, lips pursing into a pout as he eyes up the shell. Even as he licks clean the plate that once housed Shanks' meal. His stomach gives a mournful grumble.

"Why not?"

"It's not polite. Like if someone stole your food."

"Ah! What?! Who's staling my food?!"

It's not amusing how his fluffy head swings around, looking for the metaphorical food an enemy presence is about to steal… Okay, so maybe it's a bit funny.

"No! I wanna eat all the meat!" This kid, he's something else.

Introduced by the bar tender as one Monkey D. Luffy, the brat has been begging to be taken out to sea for the entirety of their stay. It's not cute, and it certainly didn't have any effect whatsoever on Shanks' decision to make this town his base of operations during his stay here.

Well, okay, maybe it had a little weight behind his choice. Kid's a brat, but he's loveable about it in a way that makes him difficult to ignore.

Perhaps that's why Shanks feels the need to share his wondrous treasure with the boy, bestowed upon him a whole seven months after his actual birthday had passed.

"Alright Luffy, pay attention because this is one of the two most important treasures I have in my possession." It went without saying that the hat sat upon his infamous hair was the first.

Curiosity piped, Luffy leans so far forwards he almost falls right off the bar stool. Were it not for Yasopp catching him by the back of his shirt, he'd have ended up face planting the floor.

It doesn't surprise him that the whole crew quietens slightly, their gaze lingering on the little shell in Shanks' hand. Of course they've all got a soft spot for his darling daughter, after meeting her who wouldn't have one?

"This is a Tone Dial," Shanks explains, and just like that, the little device is activated.

"-it's autumn here now, and the leaves are starting to fall off the trees. We don't get snow though, so winter's just a bit colder than summer here. Maybe someday I'll get to visit a winter island and actually see some ice outside of those fruity cocktail drinks that Kaa-chan won't let me have-"

The recording stops as Shanks' silencing the Tone Dial.

His clever little daughter's birthday present consisted of her recorded voice, narrating as she went about her adventures upon her little home island in days past. Her thoughts when training, when thinking, just making a record of her life- Shanks loves his little girl.

But the sea calls to him, he could never stay upon dry land for long, nor would he ever forgive himself if he took her out onto the open ocean and put her in harm's way.

With this gift, he has a way to stay close to Riskua while he's away, listening to her tales of days long since past. Not that he'd expect anything else; after a few years, he's kind of gotten used to the late birthday gifts.

In front of him, Luffy looks as if he's had a sudden epiphany, staring fascinated at the shell in Shanks' hand.

"Oohh! So it's a mystery shell! A shell that talks!"

Wait-

"A shel- No Luffy, the shell doesn't talk. It's-"

"But it just spoke."

And then Luffy's finger is already digging for gold in that nasal cavity; Shanks has well and truly lost him by this point.

The shell speaking has been accepted by Luffy as universal fact and not even an act of god will change the kid's mind at this point. Shanks sure as hell isn't willing to try, the kid's as stubborn as a mule.

He can't help but sit back and compare the little tyke with his own daughter. In comparison, Riskua seems so much more mature, and he'd never really realized it until now. This little Luffy is kind of a goof, star-struck by their piracy, certainly.

Still, both he and Riskua look upon him as if it is he who raises the sun and moon, as if he hung the stars in the sky. It's a good kind of feeling.

Yeah, Luffy's a brat, but he's a loveable one at least. Even if he's blatantly ignorant in the ways of the working world. That kind of pure innocence is wonderful to see.

 

 

 

Maybe the Red Hair Pirates will stick around for a while.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

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Chapter 3

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Shanks comes back missing an arm.

Riskua cannot stop staring, even though she knows it's very impolite to do so. 

A part of her realizes his hugs won't be as warm now that there's only one limb to wrap around her shoulders.
 

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"You're dying."

It's strange, everything in this world dies, it is the one true fact of life. Shanks has long since accepted his own mortality, it's not even up for questioning now given his latest brush with death.

He just wouldn't have expected Dracule Raowl to go sleep with the fishes before him.

Well, he still might beat her there, if he's hit by an unlucky streak before she bites the bullet. Dracule Raowl is dying. He can feel it, reaching out with that sixth sense of Haki. Like a shallow rot, taking root deep inside her, some kind of disease that she's evidentially incapable of overcoming. Because if she could, she'd be better already.

Dracule Raowl is going to die. Maybe not this year, maybe not the next, but he cannot picture her lasting more than three full turns of the seasons.

"I do not wish for her to see me wither away," Raowl admits and Shanks' is reminded of just why she hadn't been a one night stand, never to be thought of again.

Dracule Raowl is a rather amazing woman, it truly is a shame that things could never have aligned for them to work out. Raowl longs for an outstanding man to become her husband, one who would devote himself completely to her.

And while Shanks most certainly qualifies as an outstanding man, his first love shall always be the sea. He would never be able to leave her for a woman.

He has a massive amount of respect for Raowl, who has raised their daughter so perfectly, and now when faced with a difficult choice, picks the road that will leave her soul tearing far worse than any other option in order to spare Riskua's feelings as much as she possibly can. To send her child away, so that the memories of her mother would only ever be true and good, to not force her to remain and watch as Raowl withered away...

Keeping her nearby would give Raowl more time with their daughter, but the strain it'd put upon Riskua, leaving her waiting for the executioner's axe to drop and sever Raowl from the waking world.

It's unthinkable.

"You want me to take her somewhere safe," Shanks finishes, hand coming up to grip at his hair.

Even now, two months afterwards, his head feels exceptionally naked without the straw hat.

As the concept of a safe place whirls about in his mind, Shanks can picture a happy little Anchor grinning up at him from beneath the brim of a too large straw hat.

"I know a place," Shanks says slowly, watching for even the slightest twitch in Raowl's face.

Nothing, though her emotions do spike.

She's doing what's best for Riskua, and though there's no doubt the girl will be unhappy about this, it truly is for the best. It's Raowl's wish to leave her with nothing but good memories, to give her a short pain rather than a long lasting scar; emotional or not, watching and waiting for her mother to die would leave its mark.

"Will she be safe?"

In the hometown of Garp the Fist? Only a pirate as ballsy as he would dare venture into that place, and those who fall into that category are far too busy to really pay any attention to East Blue, never mind that specific little island.

She'd be safe in anonymity there.

Plus, little Anchor would have someone Shanks can trust looking out for him. The benefits for Riskua? She's such a serious child, Luffy will easily counteract her more solemn moods.

"Yeah, she'll be safe."

 

 

 

To say Riskua takes the news badly is, well... she just stares blankly at him after the announcement she's basically being sent away, before turning on heels and heading out the door.

It's been two hours, and he hasn't seen her since.

Learning your mother's going to die and that she doesn't want you around in those final years, it'd be a blow for anyone, never mind a nine year old child.

Shanks just hopes she isn't too angry at them, or in the very least does not remain so.

 

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"Why don't I have conqueror's Haki?"

It had a one in a million chance of happening, but still, some part of Riskua had been expecting conqueror's Haki. Shanks, her father, had it and if it had any genetic link at all, surely that meant she'd have the same gift?

The ability to render others unconscious should they be weaker would have been exceptionally helpful.

Yet, yet that power is conspicuously absent.

Being reborn into this world with advanced knowledge had made her special, perhaps it had been big headed to expect another power-up to go along with it. Before it had all made logical sense in her brain.

Conqueror's Haki belonged to those who would change the world, and surely given that she has the memories of her past life, she will be at the very least a zephyr prompting ripples across the surface, a butterfly creating tsunamis.

It made sense at the time.

But no matter how much she's tried to tease it out, it just wasn't coming.

Dracule Riskua does not have conqueror's Haki.

Which, yeah, that sucks.


Which brings her to the reason she is thinking about conqueror's Haki in the first place.

The fact she would soon be meeting one, if not two more blessed with the afore mentioned gift.

That her father had proclaimed he was taking her to a little town in East Blue he'd just finished up visiting; she's going to be meeting Monkey D. Luffy.

She doesn't want to go.

It's not that she's against meeting Luffy, against making a life in a location where her survival is all but guaranteed.

She does not wish to leave her mother.

Nine years with someone loving you unconditionally, you grow attached. There's no two ways about it; Riskua is attached to her mother.

She's heard the woman crying late at night, when she thinks her darling daughter is asleep and unable to hear the heart-retching sobs that she chokes out. Her respect for the woman has only grown, that she puts on such a strong face, pretends all is okay just so that Riskua will not hurt any more than she can possibly avoid…

Pressing the meaty flesh of her palms to her eye sockets, Riskua strangles a cry of her own before it can fully form, warm liquid tricking down her inner wrists as her torso quivers.

It hurts.

A warm weight comes to rest on her shoulders and Riskua startles, swinging around to look at the source.

Only, Shanks is right there, face twisted with sympathy and eyes looking suspiciously shiny, though his cheeks remain dry.

All it takes is his sheer presence and Riskua is crawling into his lap, fingers curling into the soft fabric of his white shirt, nose pressing to the half-bared chest as she gives up all semblance of restraint.

There's no hiding this, not when Shanks already knows and she just doesn't have the energy to keep up a strong façade. Not like her mother, who stands there so tall and proud as if she is not already staring death in the face.

If she wishes to send Riskua away, then she probably won't be so imposingly alive for much longer, will already be growing weaker. Riskua has lived a sheltered life, hidden away on this island, and the memories of before…

In the memories of before, she'd been lucky.

None of her family had ever died, had ever gotten remotely injured. She had been the first to die in her lifetime, grandparents, parents, cousins and siblings still alive.

All she has ever known before this day was physical pain.

Emotional pain, the crushing weight of knowing that this was not something she could fight, could ever recover from and would just have to learn to live with…

"It hurts."

The pathetic whimper doesn’t sound like her in the least, but this kind of emotional breakdown is not a thing Riskua has ever experienced before.

"I know."

She can hear the sorrow in his voice, feel the rumble of his chest beneath her fingertips and the fact there's only one arm wrapped around her, holding her.

Because the other one isn't there anymore.

"No you don't! You don't know because you don't love her, not like I do!" Riskua rages, banging her fists against his shoulders, even as her own shake and shatter.

"She's my mum! My mum and she's dying and I-I-"

A hiccup bubbles through Riskua's lips, chased by a low-pitched whine as she reburies her faces into Shanks' chest, guilt surging.

Shanks might not love Raowl as much as she does, but there is a friendship like love between them.

"'M sorry," Riskua whimpers,  attempting to pull back because she's planted her face right by his still relatively fresh wound, right by the shoulder that leads to an arm that isn't there anymore.

Only a hand presses to the back of her skull, fingers threading into her hair and guiding her back.

"I had a mum once too, Gully. I know it hurts."

And the tears stream once more because of course. Everyone has a mum, it shouldn't even be a surprise Shanks knew his mum enough to feel such soul-destroying pain as she does when he lost her.

"Raowl only wants what's best for you," Shanks continues, and Riskua doesn't want to hear it, doesn't want any more confirmation but it's still coming anyway, "just like me and Hawk Eyes do. You'd have needed to leave this island at some point, little sea bird. Spread your wings, see the world beyond this little spit of land, see the whole ocean. And I know it's not the best circumstances to do it with," Shanks trails off and Riskua slowly extends her head from the shelter of his collarbone, blinking teary eyes up at the redhead man.

It's not an illusion, her head feels a bit damp too, because Shanks is crying as well. Soft tears, slow little droplets that are far and few between, but it's there.

"But you're a strong kid. You're certainly no push-over because you’re my kid, but I'm pretty sure that tough character comes from your mum."

Here the pirate tweaks her nose, Riskua recoiling in surprise as the man laughs, the sound rough and warm.

"If you want an aim though, a direction or something to do, I have an idea."

There's still a thick layer of depression sitting heavy on her shoulders, but Riskua manages to beat it back for a moment, long enough to perk up ever so slightly and lean forwards.

"You, you want me to do something?"

"Yep," Shanks confirms, shuffling her about until she's resting comfortably in his lap, surrounded by the warmth of his body. Riskua hadn't thought this'd be possible any more, but the lack of arm does not hinder Shanks in the slightest when offering comfort. His sheer presence is the strongest assurance that she could possibly receive and Riskua allows herself to relax into it.

Because for the next moment, she won't have to worry about anything. Shanks will keep her safe.

She trusts him.

"When I was over in East Blue, I met a kid."

Oh.

"He's a good kid," Shanks continues, smile warm and head still looking exceptionally naked without that famed straw hat.

Though she knows exactly where it rests right now, just who's noggin it's keeping warm.

"I don't have a brother, do I?" Riskua asks, and it's worth the slight shake in her voice to see Shanks' sheer surprise.

"What?! No, way! One brat's enough for me!"

And his fingers dance up her ribs, drumming forth a very unwilling giggle, wet and watery as it is.

"Anyway," Shanks continues, sending Riskua a stern glance to keep her from coughing up any more interruptions to his tale, "the brat's an absolute menace, could trip over trouble on a flat surface. Hell, kid ate a Devil Fruit thinking it was just a regular dessert."

Yep, that's exactly how it went down, if Riskua is recalling things correctly.

It's clear to see Shanks likes Luffy, has all but adopted him despite his claims one brat is enough. She smiles, because that is so like her father, to draw a kid in like that and become completely besotted.

"And he's got his heart set on becoming Pirate King. I know you probably don't want a baby-sitting gig, Gully, but you think maybe you could keep an eye on him for me? Kid wants to go out to sea and can't even swim."

Perhaps it's done with honest worry for Luffy, but it's also clear that Shanks is trying to take her mind off of Raowl's impending death, and maybe on an actual child it would have somewhat worked. On children that didn't understand the concept of existence outside of their immediate surroundings, then the unavoidable end of her mother's life would have become little more than an afterthought, given them.

But Riskua is cursed with an adult's understanding of the situation. She can only attempt to focus on this task and hope it will distract her somewhat.

"You want me to keep this kid from drowning?" Riskua asks, sniffling and rubbing at her cheeks, pawing at her eyes and wiping at her face. Her hands come away covered in nasty fluids, snot and tears and it's disgusting.

Shanks just laughs when she wipes the excess off on his shirt.

"You're a good swimmer, little sea bird, so don't go eating a Devil Fruit yourself."

"As if I'd be able to find one." Riskua's never really considered the powers of a Devil Fruit, and she doesn't really want to do so. She's doing just fine without one right now, and she'll only worry about the fruits of the sea and her need to consume one if she actually comes across the nasty snack.

"Right. Now come on, let's head back to the house."

Shanks gets up, making his way back towards her home, and Riskua follows.

 

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.

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Dracule Riskua is grievously clingy with her mother as they get ready to set sail.

Something clenches tight in Yasopp's chest, Usopp's face flashing before his own and he swiftly banishes it.

Shanks and the Red Hair Pirates are rising fast, and that makes enemies. Enemies that have already proven more than willing to go after what they deem to be 'bad blood', no matter how innocent the host, how pure the owner of those veins may be.

Yasopp will never be on the same level as Gol D. Roger, hell Shanks may never quite reach that sort of legend, but he does not want to risk it. For the same reason Shanks now plans on sending his daughter elsewhere, sending her somewhere safe and peaceful and quiet, Yasopp cannot risk contacting Usopp.

Every time Yasopp has met little Dracule Riskua so far, she has seemed so much greater than her actual age. Not in the same way his captain conducts himself, all loud and boisterous and impossible to ignore.

No, Riskua wears an adult's persona around her as if slipping into formal clothing. Smiles warm and friendly, the slightest tinge of exasperation whenever she's dealing with Shanks at his most... charming; the little lady doesn't act like any of the nine year olds he's seen before.

Not to say that all children are the same or anything, it's just that she's a bit.. strange.

"Yasopp! Ándale arriba! Get ya ass in gear!" Shanks flaps his arms about before manically throwing his head back and laughing proudly.

If there's just a tinge of despair in there, then Yasopp knows not to mention it, as do the rest of the crew.

This is the last time they will see Dracule Raowl alive, and while she's not part of the crew, and while she was just a short term fling of the captain's… She is the mother of their captain's child, and for that she has their loyalty.

That she raised such a pleasant child, that gives her their respect.

"I love you, Riskua!"

"I love you too, Mom!"

And there's tears streaming out of those haunting yellow eyes, cheeks flushed red with the pressure of her emotions and Riskua is not a pretty crier. In fact, there's snot and saliva all over her face, to the point where even Shanks' grimacing as he wipes her clean with one handkerchief.

Lucky Roo cringes when he's handed the soiled cloth back.

"If you need me, we'll be in Captain's Quarters," Shanks proclaims, scooping up Riskua up with his remaining arm, chin resting atop the crown of her red hair as he makes his way across the deck.

There's a moment of silence among the crew, a moment of silence for the woman that is so important to little Dracule Riskua.

And then Benn is barking orders of what needs to be done, the scent of the cresting ocean waves invades his senses, and Yasopp is home once again.

 

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It's been three days since they left the island of Melring and it is almost as if Riskua has left her spirit behind with that summery spit of land.

She trails dutifully after him, her head low and lips always pursed, turned down at the corners. Shanks doesn't know how to deal with her.

He's never had to comfort a child from anything other than simple injuries before. Not until Luffy, and even then it hadn't been over such a monumental loss. The only thing he'd ever needed to comfort Luffy over was the boy's guilt when it came to the loss of his left arm.

Trying to reassure a child over the impending death of their primary caregiver, that wasn't something he'd ever had to deal with before, nor did he particularly want to.

Yet, it appears those are the lemons life has handed him. It's just a shame Shanks' never really fancied the taste of lemonade.

Not unless it came with copious amounts of liquor. Which, maybe-

No.

Shaking his head to banished the thought of alcohol before the idea could truly take root. Now was not the time to be drinking, his little girl needed him.

Shanks doesn't have the slightest idea on how to be a dad, so far he's just been winging it and hoping for the best, and until now that has been enough.

Because he's been operating as one half of a whole. That’s not to say he and Raowl had fit together perfectly, he cannot quite picture them ever managing to become the entity that phrase seems to imply. No, he was one half of a whole in that he was one of Riskua's parents.

Perhaps if the little red-head had never happened, then Raowl would have just been another one of his past lovers, admittedly one he was on friendly terms with by sheer association to her brother.

Instead, she is the only other member of a two people only exclusive club; being Riskua's parents. The slightly less exclusive club in that there is one more member, Mihawk, consists of Riskua's relatives, her family.

But, there's always the chance for that to grow.

If she becomes close enough to someone, if she begins making her own bonds with people, then her family has the potential to grow.

Shanks hopes she'll take to Luffy, hopes she comes to hold the little anchor close, like family. Shanks likes him, knows the kid'll go far. Knows he'll look after all those he holds near and dear.

Perhaps it's a bit heavy handed of him to push the two children together, but he's certain they'll be good for one another. As much as Shanks loves all of his family, he knows he's not the best for emotional comfort.

Luffy, Luffy just has an aura about him, one that sucks you in, holds you close and makes you believe. Believe in him, in yourself, in all of the good that remains in the world.

He wants Riskua to experience that, especially during this trying time for her.

He's not using Luffy, it'll be advantageous to both kids if they were introduced to one another, if they got along.

Riskua can look after Anchor.

After all, not only is the brat a hazard to his own health, he'll probably be a lot better with an older sibling like figure in his life. Riskua's nurturing, he's seen the way she acts with kids.

Whenever he took her out to the village, if one of the little brats tripped and scraped their knee, she'd pick them up and offer comfort. If one of them looked hungry, she'd hand over whatever candy she had in her pocket.

And the one time she'd spoken of her dream- 'I want to go to sea and have lots of adventures to tell my future children about!'- was to have a brood of her own in the future.

Once Shanks'd gotten over the terrible heart attack at the very thought of what would have to happen for his daughter to have children -He wouldn't gut the man per say, but a little Conqueror's Haki to test a man's resolve never hurt anybody right? After all, not just anyone would be worthy of his little girl, and if so very few have been able to stand against his Haki so far, well those suitors are tough out of luck aren't they?- he'd been unable to suppress the little smile at the dream.

Not because of the contents of the dream -he's a bit ashamed of it, but he's ever so thankful his little girl's eyes are so damn off-putting, that'll efficiently cut down on the amount of men willing to go after her, and if they get past that there's always the threat of her male relatives to scare them off- but because she has one.

His little Gully knows what she wants from life, and has a resolve to fight for it. That's why she's getting strong, he knows. So that she can complete her dream, keep herself, and those she takes under her wing, safe.

It just seems her resolve has taken a hit in the face of her mother's illness, a wakeup call that no one is an touchable as they make themselves out to seem.

"Hey little Sea-Bird," Shanks whispers, running his hands through Riskua's slowly lengthening hair, smiling when she actually meets his gaze, "come fish with me?"

He holds out one of the fishing poles, the other half-tucked under his arm and he's getting better at this juggling two objects with only one hand business. The sea breeze is potent in the air, already soaking into every fibre of their being, the familiar scent of Melring steadily being stripped from Riskua's clothing, from her hair and skin. Free from the gentle shades of the island trees, Riskua's tan has darkened a shade or so, leaving her a glowing golden brown. It only makes the eerie yellow of her eyes stand out that much more within the confines of her face.

"Fishing?" She parrots, white feet flashing as she chews on her lower lip. One canine is gone, having deserted her mouth to make way for its adult replacement. All her teeth are still in that unfortunately humourous stage of transformation, leaving childhood milk-teeth behind to accommodate for her adult chompers. Shanks is no doctor, but from what he's seen of her little begrudging smiles so far, they look as if they're in good condition.

"Yep. You can't go out to sea without having a go at fishing in the open blue," Shanks insists, spreading his arms wide and gesturing to the grand, open space around them.

Grudgingly, Riskua's lips slowly mould into a smile, rising to her feet and accepting the sturdy fishing pole he's been offering her. Weighing the length of the tool in her small hands, she gives it a very hesitant flick, experimenting. The gesture is awkward and Shanks can't quite hide his little laugh.

"Here, watch me and do as I do."

  

 

 

They spend several hours on the railings of the ship, Riskua with a rope tying her to the ship just in case. The polished wood is comforting beneath his feet, shoes kicked off so that he may enjoy the sensation of ocean mist upon his soles.

Every so often Riskua will tilt her head into the breeze, eyes fluttering closed as she accepts light kisses from the wind upon her cheeks. The scent of fresh fish isn't so much a pleasant odour as a familiar one, their catches piling up until one of the crew takes the initiative to gather it up and take it down to the kitchen.

It's taken a few hours, but Riskua's got a hang of fishing, even come to enjoy it by her triumphant laugh at her last catch. Given the haul had been as large as she was, perhaps she has a bit of a right to feel accomplished.

"Papa?"

"Yes my little sea bird?"

Riskua's staring out to sea, eyes burning a spectacular orange in the light of the setting sun.

"Why don't I have Conqueror's Haki?"

The locket he bought her captured the sun on its surface for a moment, but it is nowhere near as blinding as the question his baby girl just voiced.

Conqueror's Haki was not something he'd ever expected her to ask about, for all that she's clearly been training in the other two throughout her life with Raowl and Mihawk's influence.

"It's a one in a million chance, Gully."

Setting down the fishing rod, Shanks lays his arm across thin shoulders, before thinking better of it and wrapping the limb around her back to reel her in.

Riskua startles, accidentally releasing the fishing rod in her hands. Flailing, Shanks catches it with his legs, but it's a near thing that almost sends the both of them tumbling into the stretch of water below.

"I just, I just wanted to know if I could change things, you know?"

No, he doesn't know.

He's got no idea where this is coming from, truthfully.

Until this very moment, Shanks had been under the impression his little girl only wished to have her adventures. He's got no idea at all what she'd wish to change, they're speaking far too broadly for him to even take a guess.

"Just because you don't have Conqueror's Haki doesn't mean you can't change the world."

And he believes that, truly. While it's true that specific brand of Haki makes things easier, the absence of it doesn't make such a thing as changing the world is impossible.

Just a little more of a struggle. Not that Shanks cannot picture Riskua going through that struggle if she were determined enough.

"I don't want to change the world..." Riskua whispers, red brows furrowing as a mask of concentration settles upon her face.

Shanks leans back, watching the younger redhead mull over the thoughts whirling through that tricky little brain of her's.

"I think I want to change things so that my friends can have better lives."

"You're friends?" Shanks hadn't known Riskua had any friends, surely Raowl would have told him if so. The woman was all for sharing important milestones with him. He still has the picture of her first steps being completed, still has the first drawing she made for him.

Even that oh so breakable mug she made for his birthday.

Even if he's had to glue it back together after one too many falls from his desk.

"It's strange, I haven't met them yet, but when I do make some friends... I think I'll want to look after them, even if it means fighting the world." She looks up at him, with those bright eyes and even brighter smile, all hopeful and adorable as can be.

And Shanks finds his own grin widening, leaning in to rub his forehead against hers.

"That's a good thing to aim for, but you don't need Conqueror's Haki for that. Got it, Riskua?"

She startled a bit at the use of her name in lieu of the usual nicknames, holding his gaze with raised brows and rounded eyes. Yet she nods, cheeks flaming with a pleased blush.

"Got it, Papa."

There's peace between them for a few more minutes, Riskua reclaiming her fishing rod and flicking it out to sea once again, content to sit with his arm still curled around her form.

Muffled sounds from the various activities of the crew make a low symphony of background noise, so commonplace that it begins to lull Shanks into a half-hearted doze. There's only the slightest hint of Observational Haki fluctuating within him, ensuring they don't accidentally hook a sealing by mistake.

"Papa, is there a way to counteract Conqueror's Haki?"

"Hmm?" As he made his interest in that question vocally clear, Riskua straightens up, shuffling about on the railing as her short legs kick forwards several times in an attempt to vanish the pins and needles that have no doubt settled in.

"Like, is there a way to project your will to show you don't consider yourself against the Conqueror's will, so that the Haki doesn't affect you. Like a defence? Why are there only three main branches of Haki anyway? Is that all there is, or did people just stop experimenting after they found those? Is there an opposite to Observational that can hide your presence? And can Armament be flipped around too?"

Well, she's certainly distracted from Raowl's situation, Shanks thinks as he finds himself scrambling to come up with any kind of answer at all for those inquisitive questions. Questions that Riskua still rambles off and damn Mihawk for starting her on this training and never fielding her questions. 

Why did his brat have to be such a smart one, he thinks with such a proud smile.

"I don't really know the answer to those questions, Gully."

There's only the slightest pause, the smallest lull in conversation as Riskua absorbs his words, and she doesn't hesitate with what she says next.

"Then I'll find those answers. Those and more. I'll have adventures and before I settle down to have a family, I'll become an expert in Haki. No, I'll be The Expert! And when I have the answers, I'll tell you."

Huh.

"That's a good dream, Gully."

When she smiles, so bright and proud, Shanks can only grin right back.

 

 

And maybe he's a bit hopeful, but well, the expert on Haki cannot really belong on any crew other than the future Pirate King's, right?

 

 

 

Chapter Text

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Chapter 4

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The ship that pulls into port is one intimately familiar to Makino, and certainly not one she expected to see again. Not for a few years, at the very least.

She spares a moment for Luffy, who will no doubt be crushed when he learns he's missed his hero's return by three days. It is such a shame Garp has dragged him off to... well, somewhere. She's just a little bit worried about the boy, but hopefully the man who's just arrived in town will be able to help with that.

Brushing down her apron, Makino pauses for a second, thinking better of it and removes the whole thing all together.

She's in a faded orange blouse, one she doesn't mind accidentally spilling a bit of liquor down, but it still flatters her figure nicely and goes quite well with the warm tan skirt she wears beneath her apron. Coupled with the worn yellow bandana she wears over her head to keep her bangs back, perhaps she looks a little too like autumn personified but at least she makes a pretty season turned human.

"Woop Slap, please watch over the bar," Makino hastily requests, already halfway out the door even as her hands wring over one another in a visual display of her nerves.

Though she had been unsure of them at first, the Red Hair Pirates had become good friends to her over the past year, Shanks especially.

Makino smiles at the thought of the red haired man who gave up an arm to ensure Luffy's safety, remembering all the times he had slouched against her bar, sharing that cheerful smile of his whenever he could pull is lips from the brim of a bottle. His good humour, his care-free attitude, it was so different than any other's in Foosha Village. So friendly and larger than life, he'd brought sunshine, just like Luffy could. That is how Makino knows the little boy now made of rubber is going to succeed in life.

Because he's just like Shanks, he draws people to him, pulls them in and cares so very fiercely for those who he loves.

 

 

Making her way down the street, Makino waves to Chiken as she passes by, trying to ignore the other woman's knowing smile. She's aware her cheeks probably glow with the blush that stains them, but she refuses to be ashamed of it.

She's a good looking woman in her early twenties, and there's a lovely man that she likes. Something might come of it, something might not, but Makino will never know if she does not try. It might not be as impressive a goal as Luffy's designs to be Pirate King, but Makino doesn't care. Just aiming to find a nice man for herself, even if it's not the one she currently has her eyes upon -though she dearly hopes it is- is enough for her.

She casts her mind back, remembering when Shanks would sit upon the bar stool, weaving tales of the world outside of her little island, of the fantastic weather upon the Grand Line that made no sense in the slightest. Of all the battles he's partaken in, of the scraps he gets into with his sort-of rival Hawk Eyes, of all the adventures he's ever been on.

She's enchanted, Makino isn't silly.

She's well aware that she's been pulled in by Shanks' magnetism, she's just got to hope that she's got a special something that makes him perk up and pay attention too.

 

 

Coming up to the docks, Makino stops before the gangplank, greeting Lucky Roo with a wide smile and cheerful wave, which the man returns without hesitation. It's a good thing she stocked up on the liquor, though with how little they're unloading it doesn't look like they'll be staying longer than a night. Yeah that hurts a bit, but she'll make the most of the time they're here, she doesn't have much choice otherwise.

"Hey Captain, look who's here!"

"Is it Anchor?"

She hears his voice before she sees him, red hair appears from over the side of the railing as his gaze locks on hers. One of those brilliant smiles lights up his face, all warm and charming as he takes her in.

"Prettier than Luffy, Captain."

"I'll say," Shanks says around his grin and he doesn't look disappointed in the slightest that the one here to greet him isn't the little boy who he'd saved. In fact, he appears just as delighted by her presence as he might have been with Luffy's.

"Makino!" She tries not to think too much on just how happy he is to see her, tries to ignore the warmth that curls in her gut but it's an impossible task.

"Who?" That, that isn't a voice that she recognises.

As Shanks emerges from behind the railings, hopping up onto the gangplank, he pulls a smaller body after him, one that Makino had guessed at existing but hadn't dared to ask for confirmation of.

She knows that most pirates aren't exactly the marrying type, and she knows it's not just pirates that enjoy the carnal pleasures of life. She herself is no blushing virgin after all. She remembers leaning against the countertop as Shanks played that strange shell for Luffy, remembers hear the voice that came out.

Obviously that voice belongs to the young girl that now stands beside Shanks' side, their hair far too similar for them to be anything other than close relatives. Father and daughter probably.

The only issue she has with this child is the very real implication that Shanks might not be as available as she'd first thought, though he'd mentioned no other half during all of their talks.

"Ah, this is Makino, little seabird," Shanks explains, effortlessly scooping the girl up with his remaining arm so that she can rest against his side. She's perhaps a little big to be doing that, but with how often Shanks' out at sea, Makino assumes she doesn't get to see much of her father.

Given how she leans into his side, looking incredibly content to be there, it's clear they have a good relationship. The nickname is quite adorable as well, and makes even more sense with Shanks introduces the girl.

"Makino, this is Riskua, my little girl." He presses a kiss to Riskua's forehead -and with name like that, the reason for her nickname is obvious- before letting the girl jump to the ground.

She looks incredibly like Shanks, if one discounts her unnerving eyes. Makino's struggling to picture the source of such strangeness, to imagine a woman Shanks took enough of a liking to in order to create the little girl before her, be Riskua the intended result of such actions or not. Tries to picture this mysterious female who has to be the source of those eyes, but she's coming up blank.

"It's nice to meet you," Riskua says quietly, holding out her hand in greeting and Makino squats down so that they're on a more even level. She's older than Luffy, by maybe two or three years and nowhere near as hyperactive.

"It's nice to meet you too, Riskua."

"Just call her Gully," Shanks flippantly proclaims with a boisterous laugh afterwards,  ruffling the girl's shoulder length hair in what is clearly a common gesture of affection. Like a trooper, the girl suffers through the motion with an exasperated smile, patting down the thick red strands once he's done.

"Now where's our little Anchor?" Her heart does not flip when he says 'our', like Luffy belongs to them or something.

That Riskua wears the same knowing smile Chiken had exhibited earlier that day, well Makino ignores that too.

"He's not in town, you just missed Garp by three days."

The man shudders slightly at the mention of the Marine, even as Riskua hides a little giggle behind the palm of her hand. She acts very little like her father, but then there's every chance she feels it unnecessary to do so in the presence of the man himself.

"Garp huh?" Shanks grumbles beneath his breath, flicking Riskua's ear when her laughter gets a little louder.

"Garp usually takes him off for training in the mountain," Makino admits, watching as her fellow female blinks and then bobs her head in acceptance.

"I'll find him," she says quietly at it takes Makino a moment to realise just what she's saying.

"Find him?" She repeats dumbly, gaining the attention of both of Foosha's visitors, their red heads tilting to a side in a manner so identical the look like one entity instead of two.

"Ah, that's right! Gully can't stay on Red Force, as much as I'd love to take her on adventures with me, so she's promised me she'll stay here, stop little Anchor from sinking if he's in any danger." Oh... oh!

So, if Shanks' never taken Riskua on any adventures, and it's only now that he needs to find her some place to stay, either the mother has never been in Riskua's life or is no longer in a position to do so. If it's the first option, then clearly her caretaker has recently become unable to look after her, which explains her presence.

Sympathy for the yellow eyed girl swells in Makino's bosom, at the same time hope blooms. Perhaps, perhaps she has a chance with Shanks after all.

"I'm gonna go look around town," Riskua muses, reaching out to snatch the hand of the first Red Hair Pirate that passes by them.

Benn startles at the gesture, but Makino's eyes are only upon the girl.

"You two catch up."

And she winks right at Makino.

The bartender has no idea what's going on, other than the fact Riskua seems quite aware of Makino's -ahem- intentions towards her father and seemingly approves.

Well, Makino thinks as she watches the little cherub walk away, she's not going to waste this opportunity she's been given in that case.

 

 

Shanks is sat up to her bar and it's almost as if he never left. Were it not for the lack of a left arm and the addition of the little girl that has just walked in through the door, Makino can almost believe no time has passed since Luffy was badgering this man to take him out to sea.

For the past three hours, she and Shanks have talked, talked about the mundane happenings of Foosha Village, about the seas he's traversed to fetch his daughter, about how he's missed this quiet little village. In low tones, he's explained the reason behind Riskua's presence, and Makino feels for the little girl who knows she won't be seeing her mother alive again.

That she's also secretly pleased that Shanks hasn't had sexual relations with the mother of his child since the girl's conception, well she's guiltily pleased about that. If the way Shanks looks at her is any indication, the way he opens doors for her and tucks her arm against his remaining appendage is any indication, then maybe she has a shot at this.

That Riskua clearly has no ill will against her probably helps too.

Pouring the girl some mango juice, her favourite according to Shanks, Makino sets the glass down beside Shanks' own as the little lady hopes up onto a stool.

"Thank you, Makino-san."

"Just Makino please."

She doesn't look at her, but Riskua does smile as she stares into her beverage, so perhaps it's not too presumptuous of Makino to believe she's somehow won the girl over already.

"So will you be visiting often, Papa?"

"You know I mostly sail the Grand Line, Gully."

"But aren't you and Makino..." She trails off and the bartender stumbles slightly at the implication that she doesn't think the nine year old should understand.

"Ah! You shouldn't know about stuff like that!" Shanks cries, shaking his head before deciding better off it and digging his knuckles into the girl's temple.

"I don't know where you learnt about stuff like that, but you can forget about it, forget it right now!"

Smugly Riskua laughs, ducking out from her father's immoderate range.

"And besides, Makino wouldn't want a dirty pirate like me, right?" But when he looks at her he's not serious with his words, instead there's an underlying question there that Makino likes a lot.

So rather than answering, she smiles and goes about cleaning the glasses, only half listening as Shanks demands to know where Riskua gained such knowledge and who he needs to go hunt down for telling her about the ways of the world that she is much too young to be knowing about.

 

 

The Red Hair Pirates cannot stay the night, not if they intend to make it to their next port of call on time.

Makino curses the tides and the wind as she whirls around the bar, watching Shanks say his goodbyes to his daughter.

Riskua stands tall, lips pursed and face quite serious as she promises to keep her Papa's 'Little Anchor' afloat, causing an eruption of a laughter from the man in question. Makino watches them both, watches them interact and comes to the heart-warming conclusion that Shanks is a good father. It's not surprising, given how easily he handled Luffy, but it's just that much more evident right now.

"Makino, I hate to ask anything of you, but-"

"Of course I'll keep an eye on her," she cuts the pirate captain off before he can even make the request, setting aside a plate of sandwiches for the girl as she plops herself down up to table. She'd have looked after Riskua regardless of who her father is, well aware how terrifying it is to be a child left all on her own. That Shanks is her father, well it just gives Makino a reason to get to know the girl a little better than she would otherwise.

"Go after him."

Though it takes her a moment to register the words are spoken by Riskua, Makino still has trouble processing them, processing that they just came out of the little redhead's mouth.

"You like him and he likes you. Just because Papa didn't woo and marry my mum, doesn't mean he can't be the prince in your fairytale romance. Or, er, pirate," she swiftly amends, smiling sheepishly with her hair falling in her face, long red strands almost blending in with the blood that rushes to her cheeks.

Makino smiles at the girl, even as the questioning thought of why the girl isn't pushing Shanks towards her mother comes to mind. Maybe the woman is dead, but either way it would be rather tactless of Makino to ask, so she'll refrain from doing so.

Riskua motions to the door, as if making a obscure gesture of 'he's getting away', and Makino doesn't need telling twice. She already regrets letting him leave the first time without offering him a proper goodbye, she won't allow that to happen again.

Scampering out the door, the bar maid takes off down the street with barely the mind to call apologies to those she almost ploughs over in her mad dash.

She gets to the docks just in time, just before Shanks is about to board his ship, the redhead turning to look at her with evident surprise in his eyes.

"Makino? What's wrong? Is it Riskua?" The worry she sees on his face vanishes, along with everything else Makino can see.

Because she's closed her eyes and took a good hold of his shirt, pulling the man down to her level so she can lay a smacked right on those lips.

Riskua's a smart child, Makino thinks, for she'd certainly have regretted letting Shanks get away from her a second time.

 

 

The sun is setting on the horizon, silhouetting the Red Force as it disappears from sight.

Makino has watched it leave, watched the ship take away the man she has come to love over the past year, and it is only as the sky burns red that she recalls the daughter of that man is no doubt waiting patiently for her in the bar.

With butterflies still dancing in her stomach, innards still warm with the fact he kisses her back, Makino pushes open the door to see Riskua has just completed her own pots, putting the last plate away to seat herself once again up to the counter. She looks smaller now, absent of her father's larger than life personality. Just like any other nine year old child. How are you suppose to act around the child of the man you're sort of dating?

"You looked after Luffy, right?" Riskua asks, head tilting to a side and thick tresses of crimson hair spilling over her face.

Nope, Makino can't just sit back and allow that to keep happening.

"I'll tell you about him, Riskua, but you have to do me a favour?"

Suspicion crosses her face, eyes narrowed and lips pursed, but she nods for Makino to continue on with her words.

"Let me find you something to keep the hair off of your face."

"Oh," she breathes, cheeks darkening with a hot flush -she blushes so easily, it's adorable- "okay then."

She hopes out of her chair, all coltish, fawn-like limbs as she makes her way over to stand beside Makino. It's strange, any other child would probably feel threatened at the presence of another in their parent's life, and yet... She'd likened Shanks to a fairytale prince. Or rather, Makino's fairytale prince. Was she that easy to read around him?

"Yep, you are. And you said that aloud."

Mortified, Makino runs a hand down the side of her face as Riskua just smiles at her, seemingly amused with the whole situation.

"And all the way here, when he wasn't talking about Luffy he told me about you instead. Papa's a good judge of character." Shoulders shrugging, Riskua follows after her cautiously, peering around Makino's room with polite interest. There's nothing scandalous in here, Makino recalls, nor is there much of anything that'll probably interest a child like Riskua, for all that she seems quite mature. She'd seen the girl flicking through a book earlier on, scribbling things down into the little notepad, and all Makiko had been able to think about was that for all she is Shanks' daughter in appearance, Luffy seemed to be his child in character. Through and through.

Perhaps she gets her personality from her mother, along with those... unique eyes.

 

 

They spend a few minutes trying all of Makino's headbands and bandanas on, even attempting to pull Riskua's hair back into some neat plaits. But none of them ever look just right.

The barmaid finds herself frowning, contemplating the little girl who stares at her reflection, both of whom look completely unimpressed with the white bandana on her head. It just doesn't fit, no matter how well red and white usually go together. They've tried on everything Makino owns now, and absolutely nothing suits her.

Running a stressed hand through her hair, Makino cocks her hips, hands resting at her waist as she thinks. They've tried everything Makino owns, but how about...

Pulling open the bedroom cabinet, Makino slowly retrieves the brown deerstalker that rests within, holding the hat up to the light. It's still in good condition, the colour perhaps a little duller than when it was first made, but it still looks well.

It looks even better when she plants it down on Riskua's head.

Sunflower yellow eyes staring out from beneath one of the two brims, the girl blinking up at her through the mirror before actually taking in the sight she makes. The hat is actually perfect, suits her incredibly well, even if the thought of allowing her to have it pains Makino.

"It's my favourite colour," whispers Riskua, running her pointer finger and thumb along the brim, still taking in her reflection.

"That hat belonged to my best friend, look after it for me, Riskua?"

The girl grins and in that moment, Makino can see Shanks in her every action.

"Of course I will!"

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Morning finds Riskua having packed her bags of everything that is essential for a hike. She leaves the trunk full of clothes, knickknacks and other items she has brought from home with Makino. Makino who is nice and warm and all that is lovely in the world.

Sitting in a quiet corner of the bar, Riskua watches all the residents of Foosha pop by to wish the woman good morning, always smiling and always genuine in their friendly greetings. She makes a game of it, stretching out her Observational Haki, trying to predict who will be coming through the door next.

There's different layers to Observation, Riskua has discovered. The first and foremost, the easiest to train, is threats to the user, immediate threats. It had taken Riskua a while to come up with a viable training method that could be completed on her lonesome, coupled with some creative thinking.

Tying rocks to tree branches in a tangle and then setting it spinning; there was no way to predict that with your eyes closed, not without Observational Haki. She'd come home for months with lumps and bumps and bruises, covered in them to the point the townspeople were worried she was off picking fights.

Slowly but surely though, it'd worked. She started to duck and move out of the way of the odd rock, then a few, then a dozen or so. Perhaps it would have been easier if it were people attacking with clear intent, but she hadn't had the resources for that.

Progress is slow, but it's still evident. At least she isn't stagnating.

The kind of experimenting she's been doing with Haki wasn't exactly something she felt comfortable doing with her parents or with Mihawk; she didn't want their preconceived notions of what Haki is to ruin her free experimentation.

 

 

The sensation of another approaching the door reaches Riskua a second before someone else crosses the threshold and she smiles around the rim of her cup. Observation has always come easier to her, Armament is still a concept she struggles with. Applying it to her strength, being able to crush rocks in the palm of her hand was something she managed aged three, but ever since then all she's been able to progress to is a palm sized Armament against injury.

Even then, only the epicentre of her focus turns black, proving itself to be true Armament Haki.

Gazing down at her hand, Riskua flexes her fingers, watching as a small black spot slowly forms within her palm. The black spot, she thinks, amused. It doesn't exist in this world, but Riskua clearly remembers the old tales from her own world, of sailors marked for death via the kraken, men to be stolen down to Davy Jones' locker.

"What time will you be setting off, Riskua?"

Snorting in surprise at the address, the redhead tilts her head up to meet Makino's eyes.

The woman doesn't flinch.

That alone is reason enough to approve of her, that she fearlessly meets Riskua's unnerving gaze, that tender smile still in place.

The dark haired woman slides into the seat across the table, placing her own breakfast down alongside a plate of bacon and beans. Empty cup now on the table, Riskua happily accepts the cutlery the bartender offers, twirling the fork between her fingers before she starts cutting up her bacon.

"After breakfast... are you sure it's okay to leave some of my stuff with you?" Taking a gentle hold of her new hat's brim, Riskua pulls it down to shadow over her eyes.

Perhaps it's a bit insecure of her, but she rather likes that it's too large right now, that it can hide her chilling eyes so effectively. Perhaps one day she won't feel disheartened when people recoil at the first meeting of her gaze, but right now, even after nine years she's still anxious of what others make of her.

It's stupid to worry about appearance, it shouldn't matter because the appearance does not make the person.

And yet, it does determine if you give that person a chance. It's stupid but that's how the world works. Makino makes such a good barmaid because her appearance is as welcoming as her demeanour.

Riskua's, Riskua's is not. Disregarding her too mature attitude, it's no wonder the other kids on Melring never approached her for friendship.

"Of course I'll look after your stuff. You just look after yourself out there."

"I will, I promise," Riskua whispers with a solemn nod, startling when Makino lifts her hat up so that she can meet her eyes.

"And don't hide yourself, okay?"

Stunned, Riskua can only nod dumbly, cheeks burning and no doubt a furious red now.

"You're eyes are yours, Riskua, and you can't trade them in for others, so you might as well like what you've got." And, well, yeah... those are nice words, and it does boost Riskua's confidence, even if only ever so slightly.

It's not enough to overcome the issues with her self confidence, but... but it's a start at least.

"Thanks, Makino."

 

 

"This island is ridiculous," growls Riskua, one foot planted securely upon the head of a bigger than average bear. It doesn't even look fully grown, can't be because an adult bear would probably have put up a much better fight. It's paws and head look too large to be a mature bear, but the very idea that they can grow bigger than this is off-putting.

What is she doing here again? Oh yeah, trying to find the hideout of bandits. God damn bandits.

Tugging the weight of her brown hat further down her face, damn Makino's kind hearted and well meaning words this morning, Riskua kicks at the bear's corpse with a disgruntled frown.

It'd been difficult to take the beast down on her own; without those five and a half years of training with Mihawk and her mother, without all that experimenting with Haki, she'd probably be dead right now. That's… Yeah, that's downright infuriating.

She won't be done in by wildlife, not when she's spent so much of this life training to survive. She's going to actually accomplish something with her life this time, instead of just completing a series of side-quests like she had in the previous one. Only to be felled before she could even truly get on with it.

The fauna of Mt. Colubo rumbles around her and Riskua hisses out a furious breath. She would like to know what, in the name of all that is good in this world, Garp was thinking when he dumped Ace and Luffy into this place.

Sure it'd make them strong, but only if they even managed to make it out of here alive.

Flipping open the compass that hangs from a leather thong around her neck, Riskua judges the little red needle, ensuring she's still heading in the right direction. She's had to readjust herself thrice while marching through this jungle, and every so often she'll climb a tree and attempt to reach out with Observational Haki, just to see if she's getting close.

So far though she hasn't been able to sense anything. Rather, unable to sense anything human.

Animals, nothing but animals.

Though granted this is the first one she's had to take down in self-defence. So far.

Flicking the blood from her dagger, Riskua ensures the blade is sheathed before it joins it's brother upon her hip. Although those daggers will become her 'short-bladed daggers' when she's fully grown, pitted with her nine year old body they work as long-bladed daggers right now. Strapped to each forearm, she has two knives that would look miniature in the hands of an adult, but work just life as a short little blade in her own fingers.

The idea of having to replace the weapons -weapons that were given to her by Mihawk, a gift upon which she had promised to always be able to defend herself with- hurts. But she doesn't have to worry about that right now, so Riskua pushes that to the back of her mind.

Looking back at the bear corpse one more time, she begrudgingly accepts that she cannot afford to drag it along after her, and while it bites having to leave the large mass of meat behind, she just doesn't have the strength to lug that around keep up the pace she desires.

So with a heavy heart, Riskua walks away from her kill, adjusting the straps of her pack as she goes.

Surely this mountain cannot have too much more to throw at her? 

 

 

Having just booted a snake -brightly coloured and probably poisonous- down into the ravine below, Riskua drops down to sit on the edge, eyeing the rope bridge that the memories from the past life would shudders at. It's her first time seeing a genuine rope bridge instead of the concrete and stone ones from those memories. It looks, quaint.

She has absolutely no desire to try crossing it though.

Flicking open one of her pack's compartments, Riskua pulls out the water bottle, frowning as the last few dregs barely manage a sloshing sound. She really doesn't want to have to move onto the second one, seeing as she's only got three on her, but climbing a mountain is thirsty work apparently.

Head tilting back, she downs the whole lot, gently placing Makino's gift upon her legs so that she can wipe the sweat from her brow. Part of her wonders if this is all worth it, for a mere second, and then her father's face flashes before her eyes. So proud and so pleased that she's willing to go look after the other kid in his life.

Yeah, she's not stopping until she actually finds Luffy.

God damn her emotional attachment to that man, and god damn her soft spot for kids.

Tucking the empty bottle back into its slot, Riskua makes a mental reminder to fill it up at the first river she finds, she's got the water filtration pills to make the fluid safe to drink.

Scratching at the back of her neck, she peers down into the ravine below. It's a pretty big drop actually, no wonder there's a rope bridge across. But, well, Riskua's not exactly a big fan of bridges. And well, climbing down the ravine will make for good training, will it not? Uncle Mihawk will be proud.

That's what Riskua tells herself and she slowly descends down the side of the cliff, footing steady and making the occasional handhold with Armament Haki infused strength.

As she's making her way down, the redhead stops, noticing the pack of wolves that're gathered at the bottom. They're far too focused on something else though, something that is attempting to scramble up the adjacent cliff and failing miserably. The slightest hint of Observational Haki at the same time the figure stops scrambling and Riskua swears.

That's not a brightly coloured animal at all.

 

 

Oh god damn it.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

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Chapter 5

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One of the wolves drops.

A muffled thump, legs collapsing out from beneath itself, and it's on the floor. That's one less for him to worry about, and six others with snappy teeth and sharp claws and hungry eyes still there to pick on him.

Luffy clings tighter to the wall.

This isn't right, he isn't the meat here, they should be the meat! His arms hurt and he's really hungry; he's been in this valley for four days and he's eaten nothing but the funny mushrooms hidden behind some rocks. The mushrooms that turned his head funny and made the steep rocks up to the jungle shake and quiver, even though nothing seems to have fallen down after all.

If he hadn't found that little stream of water, he'd probably be really thirsty right now.

What he is, is deprived of meat.

He hasn't eaten any since Grandpa dragged him all the way up to stay with the bandits by the stretchy flesh of his mouth. Even though he's made of rubber now that still hurt. Luffy doesn't understand it, when he trips and hits something it doesn't hurt anymore, not unless what he lands on is sharp and pointy, and Makino didn't like him carrying the knives and forks anyway, even before he ate the Gomu Gomu Fruit.

But Grandpa hadn't had anything sharp, it'd just been his hands. Unless his hands had lots and lots of very tiny pointy things hidden on the skin; it'd explain why his punches hurt so much.

Oh look, another wolf has dropped.

Luffy blinks, staring at the wild animal that's bleeding and not moving anymore. That's dead, definitely dead.

Does that mean he can eat it now?

Eyeing the remaining five wolves, Luffy whimpers. He can't go eat the dead wolf because then all its wolf buddies would eat him. Probably before he could get a bite of his own meat.

This sucks, he wants out of this place!

Something blurs, dropping onto one of the wolves and it goes down with a howl of pain, thick splash of blood decorating the ground.

There's a tiny adult on that wolf!

Oh no wait, it's a kid, like him!

Luffy watches as the boy with the long red hair -red like cooked meat in tomato sauce- dances back from one beast, a blade in his hand before he cuts open the jugular of another wolf. One more animal comes at the boy's back, but before the enemy can clamp his hungry jaws around the boy, the redhead spins and plants his knife in its belly. There's only one wolf left now, and it flees before the boy who's killed all the other wolves can make it dead too.

No wait, that doesn't sound right. Before the boy can kill it too? That's better.

Ah! The wolf's gone! He can eat the meat!

Leaping down from the cliff, Luffy crumbles like a cheap scone as his legs give out beneath him, stomach screaming out for the tasty meat.

"That's my meat!" Luffy bellows when the boy kicks at one of the wolves.

There's a moment of quiet as Luffy clamps a hand over his mouth.

It's his meat because he's so hungry, but this boy killed almost all the wolves but one and if he kills Luffy for shouting at him then Luffy won't get to eat the meat because he'll be dead.

"Are you okay?" The boy asks in a voice that he recognises, leaving Luffy with a sensation far too similar to a scratch that he just can't itch.

"I'm fine!" He insists quickly, wiping the tears and snot from his face to beam up at the boy, "I'm fine 'cause my punches are as strong as pistols!"

The red haired boy just nods slowly, retreating back and away from Luffy's meat.

Oh no wait, he's going towards a backpack. Is he travelling? Where's he going? Maybe if he's going to Foosha then he can say hi to Makino for him.

"Zaa, you've got some bad wounds there, kid." That funny word at the start, Luffy's heard that before! He knows his voice, it's-

"Shanks' shell!"

Pointing one finger in the shell-boy's face, Luffy smiles triumphantly.

The boy's the shell! That's so cool, how did Shanks turn his shell into a boy? Luffy wants to do that too, he can find a good shell to turn into a person and even if his shell-person doesn't talk, at least he won't be alone!

Ah, wait! If the shell-boy is here, then who's with Shanks?! Why isn't the shell-boy with Shanks?

Two hands take a careful hold of his own, the boy who used to be a shell inspecting the grazes that Luffy really wishes he had a plaster for. A lot of plasters.

"You're hurt, let me clean and bandage these. We can cook one of the wolves after that."

That sounds like a really good plan! Luffy likes that plan, though he'd like it a lot more if shell-boy would cook the meat first. Luffy doesn't know how to start a fire, otherwise he'd attempt it on his own. He's so hungry.

"Here," the boy says, funny yellow eyes rolling as he puts a brown hat on with one hand, the other digging through his backpack to present Luffy with a wrapped up something.

By the time the boy lifts a roll of bandages and wipes from his pack, Luffy has unwrapped the food -sandwiches- and scarfed every last one down. It's enough to tide him over until the wolf's cooked.

"Why is Shanks' shell here?"

"I'm not a shell, I'm a girl," the shell-person states, running the wet wipes over his arms and that stings a lot. The bandages that come after feel really nice though.

Now he can't get any sand in his boo-boos and it won't hurt anymore!

"And my name is Riskua." So she's a shell turned girl, not a shell turned boy.

Luffy nods; it makes complete sense and it's been a while since he met a girl. Shell-girl isn't grown up like Makino or a baby like Misses Gracie's little girl. So this is what a girl Luffy's age must look like.

Or is it just what a girl made from a shell looks like?

He'll has to ask Shanks next time he sees the pirate captain.

"I take it since you know Shanks, that you're Luffy, right?"

Though it takes him a moment to figure out what the girl is saying, Luffy nods proudly once he understands.

"Yep! I'm Monkey D. Luffy!"

"Dracule Riskua, my Pa- I mean, Shanks asked me to come look after you, nice to meet you kid."

"Look after?!" Luffy splutters, eyes wide and lip wobbling. Nope, no way, he doesn't need looking after! He's seven now, and was gonna be pirate king! Grandpa has already tried dumping him on the bandits, and though Shanks is way cooler than Grandpa will ever be, he doesn't need the other captain helping him out like this!

"I don't need you to look after me!" Luffy insists, sticking out his tongue. He quickly pulls it back in though when he almost slurps drool all over the place. Shell-girl has finished cutting up the wolf and is putting it on sticks over a fire. Food, at last!

"Oh yeah? How would you have managed with the wolves if I hadn't shown up? You've eaten a Devil Fruit too, you need someone to pull you out the water, Anchor."

She's definitely from Shanks, Luffy mulishly acknowledges.

"I'll have crew for that! Nakama!"

"Then can I join?"

Luffy's face plants into the ground in shock. Did shell-girl just ask- did she just-

"You wanna be on my crew?" Luffy whispers in surprise, watching as the red head pulls down the brim of her hat, hiding her weird eyes, though he can see her smile a little.

"When you set out to sea," she says carefully, fiddling with the remaining bandages that aren't already on his arms, "then I'll join. If you'll have me?"

"Yes! Nakama!" He has a Nakama! Does this make him an actual captain now, or does he have to wait until he has a ship? Does he get a share of her meat too?!

"I'm gonna be the Pirate King!" Luffy declares, watching as the girl sets her hat down on her pack and offers him the biggest chunk of meat. Ah, he gets the best meat portion!

"I want to be the World's Expert on Haki!" Shell-girl proclaims, biting down on the hunk of meat he holds even as Luffy reaches for another, "and then I wanna have a family after that." A family? She doesn't have to wait for a family, Luffy's gonna gather a good Nakama, like Shanks' got. She can get both her dreams at the same time! He's such a good captain!

It silent for a moment, shell-girl happy to let him eat all the meat, though she does slap his hand away when he tries for what little remains of her portion.

Luffy watches mournfully as she finishes off the last of it.

Only when she's done does she quietly ask, "so I can stay with you?"

"Yep!"

And that is that.

 

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Riskua gets the feeling Luffy has already forgotten her name, and come to several ill-conclusions about her. Given that he's asked what the bottom of the sea is like -she'd given him a description from the books she'd read- and if she still likes shells as she is now -she's not even going to bother trying to unravel that one- perhaps she's right to be worried.

Regardless though, she's managed to find the little trouble magnet and that's what matters. Why he's in the valley is another thing entirely. With the second wolf diced, sliced and cooked up to take with them, Riskua throws her pack back over her shoulder and cringing as her ankle protests at the weight she puts on it. Jumping down from the cliff-side to rescue Luffy was probably unnecessary, but in that moment all she'd seen was a little kid getting set upon by wild animals. A little kid already covered in his share of bumps and bruises, and she highly doubts he's learnt from them as she always has.

Sucking in a long, low breath, Riskua tests her footing again, feeling her ankle pulse against the tight swath of bandages she compressed it with.

"Do you know where to go, Luffy?" She asks, flexing the toes on her good foot. There's nothing for it, they can't stay here, Luffy can't carry her in his condition, she'll just have to continue on with the injury as it is. When they get to the bandits' hut, then she can rest and recover. Right now though, survival is all that matters.

"That way!" Luffy declares, pointing up and out of the ravine, towards the opposing side than what Riskua had traversed down. Neither of them are really in any condition to climb up the side of that crag, leaving them with no other choice but to continue walking along the bottom of the valley in hopes of a better exit.

"Right, ready then, Anchor?"

"Yep!" Luffy glances up at the cliff one more time before scampering over to her side, far more energetic than any boy who's just been hunted by wolves should be.

They walk slowly, Luffy's legs too small to really cover as much distance as what Riskua can manage usually, were it not for the sprained ankle inhibiting her stride.

They're only walking for a minute when Riskua feels a small hand curl up in hers, tiny fingers gripping at the joint of flesh between her thumb and forefinger. Riskua slides her eyes over to look at Luffy in surprise, but the boy is just grinning, head tilting back so that the brim of his hat can't quite block the overhead sun as it lights up his face. Eyes squinted shut, he looks like any other carefree child, if one ignores the bruising around one eye. His hand is sweaty in hers, warm and with an odd texture about it, probably a result of his 'rubberness'. That he's reached for her hand at all though, it's cute. Really cute Riskua doesn't even attempt to stamp down the affect that wells behind her breast bone, it's not going to work.

Even before this life she had liked kids, had always wanted at least one of her own, possibly two, preferably three. She'd just never gotten the chance in that life, hadn't even managed to find a partner before she'd ended up dead. In this life, this second chance she seems to have acquired, she'll complete the dreams of both lives. She'll become an expert on Haki, maybe even the world's best expert, and she'll have a family for the first life she never got to have. While before she had almost reached a moment of stability within which she could actually look at having children, in this world she's probably gonna have to fight tooth and nail for that kind of security that was so taken advantage of in her past life.

Especially now that she's joined Luffy's crew.

But, looking at his kid, she can't bring herself to regret it.

Maybe it's a bad method of coping, but Riskua's going to look after the little monkey. She's aware if she looks too long at her reasons for such a thing, she'll come the conclusion she wants to do this because she can't look after her mother. That maybe she's filling a void that the woman's death will cause by latching onto the first person who needs her. And from the looks of things, Luffy actually does need all the help he can get. No surprises there.

Giving the hand in hers a gentle squeeze, Riskua smiles when Luffy's attention snaps over to her.

"We'll find a way out of here, Luffy. I'll climb the valley if I have to and then pull you up with a rope." Though her ankle throbs in protest at that plan, Luffy grins with eyes sparkling, almost bouncing up and down on the spot.

"Can we eat the meat now?" They've been walking for all of two minutes. It's adorable, but Riskua wonders just how long her current perception of it will last before Luffy's seemingly bottomless stomach begins grating on her nerves instead.

"Not yet, Anchor."

"Why not? I'm hungry."

Still though, Riskua has travelled with her father across the sea for weeks; exasperation is a mental state she's quite familiar with.

"Consider it training for when you set sail. If you eat all your provisions on the first day, you'll starve getting to the next island. You can only carry so much food around, Luffy."

The boy frowns, no doubt his desire for food warring with his determination to prove himself a competent captain. Nope, still more endearing than annoying so far. Still, that he concentrates so hard when thinking has Riskua a bit worried.

Adjusting the brim of her hat with her free hand, she inspects the boy beside her, forcibly pushing down the acknowledgement of pain her ankle keeps warning her about. She knows that Luffy isn't exactly the brainiest character in the series, but is that down to unchangeable factors, or to do with the fact he had to use brawns and not brains to survive his childhood?

"Can you read and write, Luffy?" Hey, it's a fair question to ask here.

"Yep! Makino would help me read the bounty posters she keeps behind the counter!" Easily distracted as ever, Luffy bounces on the heels of his feet with obvious excitement glowing in his eyes, swinging their joined hands back and forth as he does so.

"Okay, well how do you spell your name?"

"L-U-F-F-Y." He gives her a look that implies she's quite dumb for not knowing. And yes, his finger is stuck right up his nose. Thankfully that's not on the hand she's holding. Riskua makes a mental note to ensure he always washes his hands as often as she can get him to do so.

"Well my name is spelt R-I-S-K-U-A. Riskua." If that was her subtle way of remind him of her name, then Luffy's not the sharpest sword in the barrel, he probably needs the help. Dark eyes stare at her for a moment before they crinkle under the force of his grin.

"Shanks' gave you a cool name!" And yeah, she doesn't have the energy to explain it was her mother who gave her that name, not Shanks.

At least he seems to have clicked on that Shanks is her parent. She hadn't made it completely clear, not wanting to use her connection to the pirate captain to force her way into Luffy's life, but saving him from being wolf chow is apparently good enough a reason to hold her hand. Which is still damn cute.

 

 

 

Turns out the snake she booted in the ravine survived.

Both Riskua and Luffy stand side by side, hand in hand, watching the brightly coloured reptile continue its steady progress of swallowing its prey whole. The lone wolf that had managed to escape her attack had not escaped the serpent that now has it's jaws half wrapped around it.

"I stretch, can I do that too?" Luffy whispers beside her, stars in his eyes and looking far too excited at the very prospect of being able to swallow a mass of food that exceeds his body weight.

Still, she doesn’t have the heart to shoot the kid down, not when he's been stuck in this valley for who knows how many days.

"Let's see if you can defeat some animals with your powers before we worry about you using them to eat things," she says instead, wide eyes still on the snake that watches the two of them. Yep, as far as she's concerned it's time for them to leave the bottom of this valley.

"Come on Luffy, the soon we get out of here, the sooner we can eat."

"Yeah! Food!" Pumping one fist into the air, Luffy jumps up and down several times, dragging Riskua's arm along for the ride until it's flailing up and down with the motion. She keeps the muscles relaxed, allowing the limb to flop about and instead focuses on giving her poor ankle a bit of relief by balancing on her good leg instead. Those six seconds are wonderful, if short-lived.

"Look, we can climb up here!" Luffy points to the rock-face and yeah, it does seem like they'll be able to climb up there without any really difficulties. It appears as if it will be more like climbing a steep hill than scaling a cliff and that's exactly the kind of thing her ankle can survive.

"Alright, let's do this," Riskua murmurs, releasing Luffy's hand and allowing the kid to get a head start on her in his excitement. He goes scampering up, far quicker than what he managed against the wolves. Then again, he has eaten and gotten his wounds treated.

Watching the bundle of energy leap up the last few feet to the top, Riskua inhales as deeply as she can manage and sets off after the boy. It's starting to get really dark now, the sun having long since disappeared overhead and leaving it to now dip beneath the tree-line.

"Hurry up, Riskua!" Well at least he knows her name now.

Quite unable to prevent the chuckle that leaks out from between her lips, Riskua pushes onwards, teeth sinking into her lip when she misjudged her footing and her ankle suffers for it once again. But Luffy's there and he's a kid. A kid that's watched her cut up the meat, a kid that's oohed and ahhed over her ability with the blade, a kid that has excitedly chatted her ear off about Shanks for the entire time they've been walking, as if she doesn't already know all that he's telling her about.

So with a grunt, Riskua clears the last stretch of rock, cheeks flushing red with the effort.

Stood up there, facing the next swath of jungle, she feels so incredibly tired. Only, there's no Raowl, no Mihawk or Shanks to come along and pick her up now that she's had enough. There's no one there to catch her if she falls, to watch over her and make sure she's safe. She's got her own little brat to look after now, and damn does Luffy need looking after. He's not even been on the even-ish ground for more than a minute and he seems to have already tripped.

Is that something to do with readjusting to his strange, new rubbery body? Or is he just that unfortunately clumsy?

Which brings her onto the burning question that has bothered her ever since she finished sinking her dagger into the first wolf's skull.

"Luffy, why were you in the ravine anyway?"

"What's a ravine?"

"It's another word for valley," Riskua patiently explains, watching Luffy nod in understanding before he sheepishly looks away. The reason is clearly something he doesn't wish to tell her, and while Riskua won't push yet, it does set alarm bells ringing in her head. Sets them ringing loudly.

She's missing something here.

"I fell," he finally stammers out, leaving Riskua rolling her eyes at the absolute failure of a lie.

"You suck at lying, Luffy. If you can't lie, just say you don't want to tell."

"Shishishi, okay."

 

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Luffy tears into the tasty joint of meat, absolutely starving.

Across from him, Riskua is sat, ruby hair looking even redder in the light of the fire, eyes burning orange as the flames dance in them. She's really cool; his first Nakama knows how to hunt, how to fight with those knives -they're nothing like Makino's kitchen knives, they're shaped differently and are clearly fighting knives- and she's super kind too. She's helped him out of the valley that Ace pushed him into and she's saved from the wolves and she's got him meat. Luffy likes her, he hopes she's staying for a while.

Wait, how long is she staying? Did Riskua say?

Casting his mind back as he chomps down on the meat, Luffy realises that no, she did not.

"How long is Riskua staying?"

The redhead pauses, looking up from her own share of the meat.

Luffy has the Captain's share, the biggest potion staked out on several sharpened sticks. Or rather he did, he's eaten all of it now. And since Riskua's stopped eating...

One stretchy arm snaps out towards her leg of wolf, but at the last second she changes her hands, meat from right to left, and she gives his approaching appendage a high five instead.

He didn't get the meat. Luffy pouts.

"Until you set out to sea I guess," his friend murmurs, taking another bite out of her meat before she throws him what remains. Luffy devours it in an instant.

"I haven't exactly got anywhere else to go, or much of anything to do other than train."

"Train? Train for what, to get stronger?" That makes sense to Luffy, he wants a strong crew, Riskua is part of his crew, so she'll train to get stronger.

"Train with my daggers and my Haki." There's that word again.

Luffy always listens when someone tells him about their dream, just like how he'd want everyone to listen to his dream. Luffy's not completely stupid. But he doesn't know what this Haki thing is.

"What's Haki?"

Riskua stares at him, but it's not one of those 'how're you so stupid' stares the villagers used to give him. It's more like his words make her smile. Because he's asking questions about her dream and showing some interest.

Luffy likes talking about his dream, so why wouldn't Riskua want to talk about hers?

"Haki is like willpower," Riskua explains, lifting her hands as if she can draw the meaning out of thin air. Luffy leans forwards excitedly, hands clenching around his empty meat skewers.

"Or that's what those who've used it before have come up with, I have my own hypothesis in development. From what I understand, it's some kind of energy that everyone has potential to use, but few actually manage to unlock. So far, people have discovered that it can act as a sixth sense to locate and see things with, that it can armour the body against attacks, and that it can knock weaker willed people unconscious, though that last one is really rare." That sounds like Devil Fruit powers, but Riskua says everyone can have it. Can everyone really do something like that?

Cocking his head to a side, Luffy considers her words, before it all clicks together in his mind.

"So it's like a mystery power!" Riskua blinks, rubbing her fingers across her lips before she puts her hat back on and pulls down the brim once again. It doesn’t work to hide her face, the fire light is far too bright for that. Over her shoulder, the moon is steadily rising in to the sky, looking pretty and whole among the mass of stars. Like a big block of cheese. It's not meat, but it sure does taste good with Luffy's favourite food.

"I suppose so, given that nobody has ever really come to a certified conclusion on just what it is. I doubt I'll be the one to actually do so, but maybe I'll pave the way. Maybe I'll be the Thales of this world, except that I plan to leave behind a body of work. Maybe I'll be the one to kick start an actual thinking process when it comes to Haki, because nobody seems to know what they're playing around with, only how to work it the way everyone else has before them. They're not experimenting, but I want to…"

"So you wanna be the first at something?" Luffy questions. He didn't understand half of what Riskua just said, it seems like she's really smart.

He appears to have understood enough though, because his friend grins, nodding her head and looking away with her cheeks flaming a brilliant red. Luffy freezes for a second, that doesn't look healthy at all, but the colour fades from Riskua's cheeks as quickly as it came.

"Yeah, you could sum it up that way I guess."

"Okay then! You can be the crew's Haiku expert."

"Haki, Luffy, it's Haki. A Haiku is a poem… Basically lots of words. Haki is the," she pauses, and her next words come out somewhat strangled, "mystery power."

Is Riskua okay? Is she still hungry? Luffy sort of is, maybe they should have brought more wolf meat, Riskua had killed enough of them. Luffy could have probably carried it if she couldn't. Oh! Maybe the scary bandit woman that wanted him to be a bandit would have some food for them as well!

"Come on, we're almost to the bandit's home!" Luffy cries, leaping to his feet and snatching up Riskua's hand as he does so. She hisses beneath her breath and Luffy snaps around to look at her. But she's smiling even as she digs her feet into the ground.

"Hang on, Luffy, I can't leave without my pack."

Impatient, Luffy relaxes his arm, keeping a hold of Riskua's wrist as she returns to the fire, unwilling to release his hold. His arm stretches out, taunt and ready to reel her back in the second she has a hold of her bag.

Only when he tries to do so, he ends up catapulting himself towards the girl instead. Riskua reacts instantly, dropping her bag and instead snatching him from the air in a hug, arms wrapping around his waist to catch him, even as she falls to the floor.

They lay there in a heap, Luffy feeling that nasty emotion Makino had proclaimed 'embarrassment' at his failure.

"It's okay, we'll practice with that." Yeah, improving that would probably be a good idea. But maybe he can figure out how to fling himself in different directions if he learns to control that motion?

"Can you get off me now please?"

"Shishishi, sorry."

 

 

 

It takes them another five minutes to get to the bandit hut; Riskua is so slow now. Is she tired? Luffy knows he is, he's ready to fall into bed already.

Maybe Ace'll be back by now! Luffy doesn't know how long the older boy has been out in the jungle, if he's been back since Luffy ended up on the valley floor. He's probably back, right?

If he is, then he and Luffy and Riskua can all be friends! Ace seems lonely, so maybe he'll like having two friends. Luffy knows he likes the idea, having two friends rather than one has to be like having two pieces of meat instead of one. More is better, Luffy concludes with a bright grin.

"Come on, Riskua!"

The redhead huffs behind him and one hand clamps down on his shoulder, forcing Luffy to halt in his dash for the door.

"Luffy, are you sure you want me to come live with you? Because I won't go away if you say yes right now."

That's- "Stupid. Of course I want Riskua to stay. You're Nakama, you're not allowed to leave me."

The one word explains everything to Luffy, and if the way Riskua's shoulders sag, it means the exact same for her too.

"I'm glad," she whispers, adjusting the straps of her backpack, that little smile on her lips again. She looks pleased, not the loud kind of pleased like he and Shanks are, but the quiet kind. If being happy can also mean being quiet at the same time.

Riskua's strange, a mystery person who was once a shell that Shanks wore as a necklace, and she dreams of a mystery power and she does mystery things.

But she's Nakama now, and that means she's Luffy's.

Because he's a captain, and because he's a good captain, then Luffy will look after her. And Riskua will fish him out if he falls in the ocean because he is an anchor, just like Shanks said.

He's also a captain, Riskua's captain, and he'll help her reach her dream in return, he'll find her a good family, the best. He has faith, he's determined, he'll do it.

 

Reaching out and grabbing a hold of Riskua's hand, reminding himself that she's real and that she's here and that she's his, Luffy kicks open the bandit's door and marches inside.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

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Chapter 6

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"Luffy came back!"

"Eh? He's still alive?"

"Hey, Dadan, there's another one!"

Dadan spits out her alcohol in shock, head snapping up to take the sight in that stands before her.

The boys aren't lying, there really are two kids.

One's Garp's grandson alright, the one the bastard dumped on them a few days ago and then left without a care in the world, as if he weren't giving her another mouth to feed. She doesn't know who the hell this next brat is, but she draws the line right here.

Nope, no way, she's not taking any more of the little blighters in.

There's a mess of red hair, actual red hair that's nothing like her fantastic ginger mane, hidden beneath the brim of an old deerstalker hat. Older than Garp's grandson, this kid's wearing a dark brown shirt and tan shorts.

Dadan's brain splutters to a halt when those eyes meet hers. Bright yellow, the yellow of poisonous flowers and those acid spitting frogs, stare back.

Seven hells, where's Garp's grandson found this little cretin?!

"Who the hell are you?!" Dadan snaps, folding her arms across her chest and scowling down at the brat.

Creepy eyes doesn't even flinch, doesn't balk or even take a worried step back. Just stares back with those dangerous eyes.

Beside the latest little demon, Monkey D. Luffy puffs up like an angered tiger protecting its cubs, all flailing rubbery limbs and snapping white teeth.

"This is Riskua and she's my Nakama! So she stays with me!" It explains how the brat has managed to get himself back, as well as bandages up from whatever harebrained adventures he's been off on.

Baa, Dadan hates kids.

"This is the home of the Dadan bandits, and we're not a charity case! You want her to stay with you, then you've gotta go!" Dadan will not be taking in another brat. Girl or boy, this one's probably just as big a pain as the other two. Hell, she's a girl so she's probably loud and screams and will want everything done for her like some kind of fairytale princess.

Not a fucking chance, not while Dadan's in charge.

Only, the girl takes a step forwards removing her hat and holding it calmly before her legs with both hands. Without the brim shadowing her face, those eyes are even more noticeable and Dadan thinks they should probably be familiar. There's a little scratching of something at the back of her head, like she should know them, should recall something.

"Not only would you have to deal with the fallout if Luffy dies out there on his own," she murmurs, voice surprisingly low and clear, a stark contrast to Luffy's shrill screech earlier, "but I have no doubts my uncle will want to meet up with me eventually." Why should Dadan care about whatever shit familiar this little cretin has?

Before she can voice her opinions on such a thing, the girl meets her gaze with razor sharp focus, thin red brows coming to rest heavy above toxic yellow.

"My uncle will eventually come looking for me," she says with the certainty of a man who knows the sun rises in the east, "we have the same eyes, you know? They could even be described as hawk-like." Well fuck.

Dadan knows exactly who this little brat's uncle is, he's one of the many men on the posters she keeps in her office, men to not piss off under any circumstances.

Looking at the set of those eyes, the colour and the devil damned ring around the iris, yeah, there's no mistaking it. Fuck.

"If he doesn't find me alive, he'll probably tear up the whole island to find the culprit." Double fuck.

No, Dadan will not tangle with the World's Greatest Swordsman. She's got no other option but to let the girl stay if Garp's brat is so attached.

Triple fuck.

"You're gonna do all the damn chores!"

Slowly, the brat with a dangerous living relative reaches out and pushes away the finger Dadan has just jabbed in her face, expression bland.

"No. I'm going to look after my Captain. End of."

"She's my Nakama, which means she's my crew because I'm a captain!" Luffy announces, bouncing over to wrap those rubbery limbs of his once, twice, and then thrice around the girl.

As if a switch has been flicked, so much faster than night turning into day but just as clear a change, the girl's face transforms in an instant.

Suddenly she's all smiles and sunshine, accepting Luffy's atrocity of a hug by patting at the rubber appendages her own trapped limbs can reach.

"Yep, I'm your Nakama," she confirms, attempting to wiggle out of Luffy's hold, to no avail.

"Yep. Riskua's a shell-person so she doesn't eat as much as me," the boy declares, drawing a startled glance from his so called 'Nakama'.

"Wait, Luffy, shell-person? I'm not a-"

She cuts off with a hiss as Luffy drops her back onto the floor, quickly recoiling off of one ankle. The boy doesn't even know she's injured. Some captain he is.

Dadan can't voice her thoughts though, because the moment she goes to do so, she's met with glaring yellow eyes, as if daring her to.

Fuck.

Fuck it all.

How has this become her life?!

 

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She manages to trick Luffy into carrying her bag upstairs.

It's maybe not a good start, but the boy just dropped her on her horrendously swollen ankle, so Riskua is almost past the point of caring about anything other than a comfortable bed.

The steps are a challenge, an unfortunately bad one. Especially now that the end is in sight. Riskua's arms tremble, thankfully the quivering does not extend to her legs. Any more pressure on her injured joint and she swears it's going to snap, physically possible or not.

The room in which she is to live now is nowhere near as nice as the bedroom she once inhabited on Melring, lacks all the comforts of home. There's no personal touch; Luffy hasn’t been here long enough to make his mark, and it's painfully clear Ace does not consider this place home, that it is a room within which he does nought but sleep, not a place to live and call his own.

Riskua's heart squeezes painfully tight in her chest, before the more pressing injury that is her ankle flares up once again.

"-and this is my bed, I don't know where they come from but you're Nakama so you can share with me until we get another one and I bet it's warm with two people-" Luffy's ramblings slowly meander into her ear and linger there, not quite fully registering in her brain but enough sinking in that Riskua feels no guilt dropping onto the padded mat that severs as Luffy's 'bed'. That will serve as their bed for now, it appears.

Thank god Luffy's a little squirt and she's quite lithe; she'll need to make finding her own… bed.. a priority.

Something to be dealt with as soon as she can walk and not feel as if there's a miniature explosion going off in her foot.

"Wow, is it suppose to do that?!" Luffy's face is suddenly right beside hers, peering at the ankle that looks as if she's hidden a whole tangerine beneath the skin. It's round, it's puffy and it's swollen as hell. Great.

"It's not," Riskua sighs, gently prodding at the bulge and wincing when the pressure of her finger registers. Yep, lots of swelling, and she highly doubts the bandits will be willing to hand over some ice for her. Compression and elevation it is.

Lying back on the mat, Riskua pillows her head with her arms, one leg bent with foot flat against the floor, her injured ankle balanced upon the raised knee. This'll take an unfortunate time to heal, and now that she has no reason to press on and ignore the pain, it seems to be reasserting itself threefold to make up for lost time.

"Sorry, Luffy, but I don't think I'll be walking for a few days, not until that's healed anyway."

The boy is quiet beside her, eyeing her ballooned ankle speculatively before he turns those large eyes on her.

"Is it a shell-person thing? Are your legs still new? Is that why you can't walk very far?"

Damn it, where has this come from? What's with the shell thing? He'd introduced her as a shell-person to the bandits too, where had that conclusion come from? More importantly, is there any way of talking him out of it? Or is this going to be something that sticks, worse than Band-Aid, maybe sticks like gorilla glue.

She should probably argue, Riskua realizes, but it's been a long day. She's been trekking through the jungle, she's fought off a pack of wolves, climbed out of a ravine and put up with Luffy for who knows how many hours. And while Luffy is a delight to be around, he's just so tiring right now, with far more energy than he has the right to have. Shouldn't he be passing out tired as hell right now?

"I stepped funny on my ankle and now it hurts," Riskua explains, removing her hat once again to place it upon her pack.

"Oh… Wha'did'ya do that for?"

Snorting, Riskua rolls her eyes, letting them slip close to just enjoy the sensation of not moving, of not having to go anywhere right now.

"Didn't mean to, it was an accident."

"Like when my punches miss!" Luffy exclaims beside her, and it just goes to show she's spent long enough with him already to be desensitized to those extraordinarily loud yells. Speaking of which-

"Zaa, Luffy, it's night time. Quiet voices please?" For a moment, he is indeed quiet, to the point where Riskua grudgingly opens one eye to gaze over at the kid.

He's stood beside the bed/mat, tiny little hands balled into tight fists and with a face that clearly says he's thinking hard. It's too late for this.

Sighing heavily, Riskua reaches down for the covers with one hand, resigning herself to some more pain as she slowly lowers her bad ankle back to the ground.

"Whatever it is, it can wait till morning," she insists, beckoning the boy over with the hand not clutching at the blankets, "we've had a tiring day and now we sleep."

Just like that, the look of concentration vanishes from Luffy's face and he drops onto their little makeshift bed, dark hair nesting on the limp pillow. There's space between them, but it's clear Luffy gives it reluctantly, lying on his side and just staring at her with those big dark eyes. She's never going to be able to sleep like that.

"Roll over, Anchor."

"Why?"

"Just do it." And he does.

Were he any other child, then Riskua would assume he'd noticed she is very much at the end of her rope and just ready for the day to be over. However, this is Luffy, oblivious and ignorant to everything but the promise of meat and piracy. He's probably just complied because he's a foolish human who gets attached the second a stranger shows him the slightest hint of kindness.

Hell, given how his relationship with Ace began, he'd attach himself like a limpet to the first thing that interests him. Riskua sure as hell wouldn't follow the kid who spit on her into a jungle with the intention of friendship.

The goal of beating him to a bloody pulp? Sure. But not companionship.

If that makes Luffy a better person than her, or if it makes him crazy, Riskua doesn't particularly care to figure out which the correct answer is right now.

Instead, she scoots closer to the little idiot, forcing one arm under his skinny ribs and throwing the other over his side until she has the boy wrapped up in her arms. There's enough of a height difference that she can curl up around him, press her cheek to the back of his head and just breath. She's careful to keep her bad ankle out behind her though, avoiding Luffy's kicking range.

Hey, he might be a restless sleeper, for all she knows.

"Huh?"

"Just sleep, Luffy," Riskua orders, though it honestly comes out as more of a yawn, a motion she tries to muffle in thick black hair. The soft snickering lets her know she didn't entirely succeed.

"This is nice… Like having a big sister," he whispers under his breath, thin little arms coming up to wrap around her own, rubbery fingers encircling her wrists and clinging tight.

It is nice, Riskua finds herself in agreement with the kid as she enters a lazy kind of doze, not quite asleep but halfway there. It's been years since she allowed her pride to fall enough to crawl into her mother's bed, to snuggle down into the crook of her Papa's neck with full intention of sleeping the day away.

This isn't the same though; Luffy's the younger one here, and from his words, she highly doubts he's ever really gotten the chance to experience this before. She doesn't know who raised Luffy, just that he frequented Makino's bar often enough he was all but considered a regular face.

"You'll be a troublesome little brother," her mutter ends up half in the pillow, yet Riskua's pretty sure that she's heard either way, "but I'll look after you."

Hands grip harder at her wrists and she's pretty sure Luffy's smiling far more than she is. She doesn't doubt the sincerity in both their expressions are on equal footing however. Riskua has missed having a little brother, and while Luffy shall not replace the one that came a lifetime before, the companionship is exactly what she needs right now.

It is with that thought in mind that she slips into a light snooze, Luffy's snores leading her there.

 

 

 

It's the door creaking open that rouses Riskua, her eyes sticky with sleep as it's still night time. Vision blurry, she squints in an attempt to focus on the disturbance to her sleep, quickly giving up the attempt when all she gets is murky dark matters.

Instead, she reaches for the gift of observation, Haki stretching out into the room as her half awake consciousness slowly interoperates the information it is receiving.

Human, boy, young, ball of fury and self-hatred. Ace then.

She's tired as hell, and her ankle feels both impossibly stiff and agonising all at the same time, yet she spares the effort to force her eyes open and focus on her new, well, room-mate, she supposes.

It's impossible to make out much of anything in the dark, the moon hidden somewhere behind one of the room's walls instead of shining light in through the window. Ace's figure though is just a bit darker than the rest of the room, an indication that he's close by.

There's a 'tsk' sound, the kind of noise that occurs when silent irritation just isn't enough. Then he's pulling the empty sleeping mat, which had been right beside Luffy's, all the way to the other side of the room. Right up against the wall, as physically far away as he can get without actually leaving the room.

It's obvious what happened, Luffy must have moved his own mat close to Ace's so they could sleep close to one another. Adorably cute, but clearly not appreciated.

There's a muffled amount of shuffling as Ace settles down for the night, another huff.

Squinting, Riskua can just about make out that the son of Gol D. Roger isn't facing them, a clear snub to their very presence. But with Luffy's warm weight in her arms, head tucked under her chin, Riskua really doesn't have the energy to care right now.

Ace's a kid, and if what she remembers is right, the bandits haven't been anywhere near the kind of emotional support he needs. It's no wonder he's this angry ball of fluff.

Nuzzling back into the soft wisps of Luffy's hair, Riskua promises herself she'll think more on it in the morning. A morning that comes far too fast.

 

 

 

Waking up to birdsong and brilliant autumn sunlight is wonderful. The throbbing ankle she could have done without.

A steady melody of snores has Riskua pulling her head back and away from Luffy, nose scrunching up at the noise. It's not just the Anchor that's breathing so noisily; Ace seems as competitive as she imagined, even though he's fast asleep. His own snores come dangerously close to drowning Luffy's out, and she's lying right next to the rubberman.

Pushing herself up into a sitting position, Riskua reaches for her pack, riffling through and pulling out the bundle of food that lies wrapped up within.

Okay, she might have lied to Luffy about just how much food she put on the fire -otherwise known as she'd told him the whole lot went towards dinner last night- but she hadn't exactly been optimistic about a bandit cooked breakfast. That was, if they were even going to bother feeding them in the morning. It was better be prepared than given a nasty surprise.

Within the bundle are several slabs of dried meats, along with several birds eggs she'd managed to scavenge on the way. And well, it's not quite bacon and eggs, but it's breakfast all the same.

Riskua leaves her hat with her pack, rolling to the door and then shuffling through the corridor and down the stairs on her rump. It's degrading and the Dadan bandits will probably laugh if they spot her, but her ankle hurts far too much to care. Ignoring the injury yesterday has probably done far more damage than good, she's probably gonna be benched, so to speak, for a few days at least.

Which means letting Luffy run wild and she won't be able to help him if he has any slip ups. Maybe she can talk him into taking it easy until she's in a good enough condition to pull his ass out the line of fire? Nah, that's never gonna happen.

The thought worries her, probably left over sensibilities from her previous life, but she's just going to have to let the seven year old run through the jungle on his own for a few days.

Yeah, that doesn't make her twitch at all.

 

 

 

By the time Riskua makes it to the kitchen, two things have become abundantly clear.

First, none of the bandits are particularly early risers. Second, they're not particularly clean either; the dirt all over her bottom from scooting across the floor is proof enough of that.

Thankfully, this means she has the kitchen all to herself, and after giving both pans and surfaces a wipe down, wrestling with the hob to start a little fire, breakfast is well underway. If her estimate of Luffy is correct, then he will rouse the second he scents food, and by her calculations, that will perhaps be in five to ten minutes. Ten optimistically, but she's planning for five.

Rooting around in the fridge brings her nothing but a bottle of questionable milk, the smell indicating it is well past the turn and probably better off being classed as cheese. Terrible cheese.

She dumps it in the bin right away, a grimace on her face. Yeah, she's going to have to keep an eye on the contents of the fridge; Luffy eats anything and everything, she has no desire to see him get sick if it means she can avoid it. After all, she'll be the poor sap dealing with the fallout. Yeah, no thanks to that.

The sizzle of eggs against the pan has Riskua sniffing the air, stomach giving a grumble of anticipation. Sunny side up eggs, coupled with the substitute bacon; perhaps not the most filling of breakfasts, but certainly nothing to sniff at given the quantity she's cooking.

Perhaps her annoyance at the bandits hasn't faded completely, because as Riskua rocks back on her heels she weighs up the pros and cons of verbally awakening Luffy as opposed to waiting for the aroma of food to reach him. And quite frankly, there's one option that is far more appealing than the other.

So, with an excessively large inhale, Riskua projects her voice throughout the entire building.

"Luffy! Breakfast time!"

If that just so happens to rouse the undoubtedly hungover bandits, then it serves the drunken bums right.

 

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Luffy snaps awake at the words. By the time it registers Riskua is no longer in his room, in his bed and curled protectively around him, he's already halfway down the corridor. He can hear Ace saying all those bad words Shanks' knows and Makino told him to never ever repeat, but as much as he wants to be friends with the other boy, food. Food is on offer, and all bets are off.

Scurrying down the hallway, Luffy smashes into one of the bandits that has stumbled into his path, all flailing limbs and that funny bar smell that Shanks' always had.

Only Shanks smelt way better than this guys, Shanks smelt of the sea and the wind and of warmth alongside the bar smell. These bandits just stink. The whole thing makes Luffy grimace. Now he can taste one thing alone in the air, he recognises the scent of cooking meat as surely as he knows his own face, if not better.

The door to the kitchen is open and the future Pirate King barges in, sharp eyes snapping around the whole room before they come to rest on Riskua. Riskua and the plates of food in her hands.

"Breakfast!" Luffy cheers, leaping up into a seat at the wobbly table. You can't put a full glass on this table, it's too lopsided and usually ends up spilling it everywhere. Luffy's tried it, he knows.

"Food!" He cheers once again, throwing his hands up in the air as Riskua hobbles to a stop just beside the table.

"What's the magic word, Luffy?" The magic word? Oh no, Luffy doesn't know! The panic must show on his face because before he can start making a grab for the food, Riskua rolls her eyes and slouches into a chair of her own. The mismatched furniture means that she sits far lower than what he does, to the point where she's only just tall enough to reach the table top.

"Please, Luffy. Always remember your please and thank yous, otherwise you'll upset people."

"Okay, please?!" Anything to get her to stop, his meat is getting cold!

The plate hits the table with a muffled bang and Luffy is upon it in an instant, devouring all of the food and hey look, she's made eggs too!

Woofing it all back, Luffy lets out a content little burp, satisfied with that snack to start the day.

A quick glance at his Nakama shows she's only just finishing her first forkful. Why bother with those fork thingies? It's so much easier to just grab a handful of food then to mess about like that. Why is Riskua eating so slow? Is her foot still funny?

Luffy eyes the ankle in question, comparing it to the other one his only crew member has and yes, it's still very big and puffy. That doesn't look good, Luffy's the rubberman, not Riskua, her body shouldn't change like that, should it?

"Tch."

The noise has Luffy swivelling around just in time to spot Ace, who's halfway out the door with a plate of his own, eggs and meat present but not quite as piled up as Luffy's had been. There were leftovers?! Why wasn't he given any?!

Ah! Ace is leaving!

"Hey, Ace! Wait up!" Jumping to his feet, Luffy recalls Riskua's words before she gave him his food.

"Please?! Let's be friends!"

Just as he gets to the door, Luffy pauses, twisting around to get a look at Riskua. She's sat up to table and her ankle looks like one big owie.

"Just be back by night if you're going after him. And try to catch something to bring back," she says, in that same tone Shanks used to use whenever he spoke of Luffy's chances at swimming.

Still, Riskua doesn't mind him going after Ace, doesn't mind that he wants to be friends with the other boy. Maybe she wants to be friends with him too, and that's why she left him the leftovers?!

"Okay! I'll be back soon, Riskua!" And then he's out the door.

 

This time, Ace won't leave him behind!

 

 

 

Chapter Text

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Chapter 7

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Filth stretches as far as the eyes can see, the scent penetrating even further into the landscape. Despite how close it may be to the cleanest land in all of Goa Kingdom, the Outskirts is no exception to that.

Decaying, putrescible materials are scattered across the place, making up the quintessence of the Grey Terminal. The humans that walk this place are no different, this place is populated by the scum of the land, thugs and murderers and rapists. The only thing that stops crime from running wild is the very real presence of the Marines, whispers of Garp the Fist's occasional surprise visits to the land. It is this very loose threat that keeps the tentative, straining peace in this begrimed wasteland.

It is this foul location that boarders with the Outskirts.

Sure that her face is twisted into a pinched expression, Riskua walks through the streets with her head tilted high, Haki straining beneath her calm facade. She does not like this place, it sets off every inch of paranoia within her, but infuriatingly enough the Outskirts remains closer to her new home than Foosha Village, and as such, that is the very reason she finds herself here.

 

 

It has been near a month since she found Luffy, scooped him up from the hungry jaws of a wolf pack and had come to live in the mountains with him.

During that time, she has not spoken to Ace once. It is not for a lack of trying, certainly she goes out of her way to cook enough breakfast to feed three. The brat always snatches it up when he thinks she's not paying attention, vaulting out the window without so much as a thank you, Luffy forever hot on his heels.

She forces herself to sit back and wait; she'd tried once to get involved in the clear sinking ship that is Luffy and Ace's relationship, but the little anchor had put his foot down. Insisted he can make his own friends and he needs to prove it to Ace, to prove he's worthy of being the older boy's friend. To prove that it's awful being alone, and that Ace doesn't have to be. Not with Luffy around.

Looking into those tearful determined eyes and coupled with those wobbly lips, Riskua hadn't been able to say no. Yes she's a soft touch, and she knows it.

At the very least, the mulish Luffy had been willing to compromise, promising to be back by the end of the day, otherwise she would go looking for him. And then give Ace a piece of her mind. If he comes back with more than a few cuts or bumps though, they will be having words regardless of Luffy's insistence of keeping her out of it.

The way the cards have fallen has worked out well enough for her regardless; Riskua has been able to train her Haki without interruption these past four weeks. Chained down with a severely sprained ankle that first week, she'd focused on Observational, allowing her senses to stretch and take in the vast amount of life that is the jungle around which now surrounds her. Feeling every inch of the land, sensing the sheathing of tiger claws and the snap of alligator jaws, her Observational has been coming on in leaps and bounds since she started training here.

Her Armament is as slow progressing as always however, and it is only this past week that she's dared to flex her ankle in order to ensure her knife and combat skills in general have not become rusty.

Hence why, now stripped off all its meat, she has a tiger pelt to sell. It should fetch a hefty enough price too, given how well she'd managed to skin the beast. It was the fur from her second go though; both she and Luffy would be quite warm beneath her first abysmal attempted at skinning one of the beasts in the very least.
Being this close to the trash heap though, it makes her itch.

She doesn't need to focus especially well to take note of all the unsavoury characters that wait just beyond those walls. They're like a layer of oil, sticky and uncomfortable, she wants to wash herself clean as soon as she possibly can. But she can't, because she's here and she has to sell a tiger skin in order to get some funds.

 

It is for this reason Riskua has pulled on a intangible mask. She walks tall and proud, hair carefully braided into a complex style that implies she's has more time than sense, her hat safely stored within her pack back at Dadan's and body clothed in her best dress.

Retrieved from Makino six days ago, Riskua's trunk now rests beneath the window in the bedroom back at Dadan's hut. Thankfully, none of them have dared to go through it yet. Though that could be because all she seems to have pulled out if is clothing and a collection of sea shells. Luffy had stared at the latter before cheerfully asking if they were her siblings.

No matter what she has tried, the boy refuses to believe that Riskua could have ever been born as a normal human. He's pretty set on the fact she came into being aged nine years old, all done from a single shell and a 'mystery power' Shanks apparently bargained with, according to Luffy. She's given up hope of changing his mind and just accepted it.

It's not as if such a bold misunderstanding could ever be accepted as truth by anyone else.

 

 

The store Riskua stops by appears to be one that specializes in animal skins, as much as one within the Outskirts is capable of. She had scouted out the place out a day prior, and though the man in charge will probably attempt to rip her off at first, Riskua is reasonably certain she can talk him down.

Hefting the rolled up skin higher onto her shoulder, the redhead hides her grimace as the movement pulls at her injured skin. Perhaps she'd been a bit too overconfident attempting to use Armament Haki to protect against the tiger's wicked claws; she'd been quick enough to prevent a truly deep injury, but the scratch on her back hurt all the same. Pushing open the door, Riskua walks inside.

The air is heavily scented, the stench of filthy form outside almost disappearing beneath the berry flavoured the candles give off. The little orange flames flicker in several locations around the room, but even that counter measure isn't enough to starve off the awful odour. Just deflects from it, if one allows themselves to be distracted.

"I've got a tiger pelt I'd like to sell?" Riskua calls, stopping by the counter and dropping the weighty object upon the surface top.

The man that appears from the backroom is reasonably well dressed with a shrewd look in his eyes, one that makes Riskua sigh and mentally readjust the amount of cash she'd been expected.

 

 

Not entirely unsurprising, but disappointingly enough, Riskua walks away with less money than her estimation, but more than enough for what she has planned.

She's buying flour when she takes note of a ruckus to her left, further down the street and a bit closer to the central district than she'd felt comfortable approaching on her first time, regardless of the fact she might have been able to sell the tiger skin for a higher rate. Handing over the cash for her produce, Riskua stuffs the flour into her bag, keeping a tight hold on her purse as she turns her attention towards the commotion.

There's two adults, swearing and hissing as they run after a significantly smaller human. Male, just a bit taller than her, though the hat makes it seem like there's a bigger difference in height than what there actually is. The kids holds a bag of money in one hand, clearly stolen, and the other brandishes a metal pipe, jogging Riskua's memory.

It's what has her stepping forwards, feet moving maybe not quite practiced but certainly with skill, to the point where she trips both hunters and ends up taking a tumble herself. It's easy to fall into a recovery roll, springing back up onto her feet and continuing on, not giving the downed men enough time to realize exactly what just happened.

"You with that kid?" A woman, greasy brown hair framing an otherwise pretty enough face, asks.

Blinking, Riskua turns wide eyes on her, shrugging her shoulders in the process.

"What kid? I'm just here to get some flour; we're out at home." She still gets the stink eye in response, but that's all, leaving Riskua to walk away from what is undoubtedly the scene of the crime.

She hopes Sabo enjoys his ill-gotten goods, and then prays he won't attempt to instil his sticky finger ways into Luffy when they indivertibly meet.

Until then though, Riskua has other things on her mind.

 

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His arm hurts, there's still a big bit of sharpened twig inside it, of that Luffy is sure. His feet hurt from running, the skin of his mouth aching from where those damn birds stretched it almost out of shape. He didn't even manage to catch one for dinner.

He salivates a bit at the thought before forcibly sucking the drool back in. He'll need that for later tonight after all.

The first few days had been hard, watching Ace tear into his catch of the day while he and Riskua had nothing but a bowl of rice to go at. He'd tried to get some animals to eat all on his own, but he didn’t have any pointy knives like Riskua or her mystery power. All he has is his rubberman powers and he's not had a long enough time to know how to use them well. Not yet anyway. He'll be able to use them to hunt with soon enough though, he just needs a little more practice, that's all.

Thankfully, Riskua has gotten better, her ankle no longer big and puffy but instead as slim as the other one she has. Whenever Luffy came home after Riskua started walking like a normal person again, she'd have gone out hunting and brought back meat for him to eat too. It's great, but it's not perfect. 'Cause Ace is hurting, and if Riskua wasn't here, then Luffy knows he'd be hurting just as much as the older boy has to be.

Picking at the open cut on his arm, Luffy whimpers slightly, sniffling and sucking back the snot and tears that want to escape. He's not that hurt, Shanks didn't even cry when he lost his whole arm. Luffy's not going to whimper over this little cut. No way, no how.

"Anchor? Why're you crying?" Huh, his cheeks are wet.

Luffy bursts into uncontrollable sobs, presenting his injured arm to Riskua, who unhesitatingly herds him inside. Dadan's kitchen is cleaner now that Riskua uses it, the bandits hovering about uselessly like she's gonna set the house on fire or something. Riskua wouldn't let that happen, the meat would burn if it did, and then Luffy would go hungry. Riskua wouldn't do that to him.

"Is there bark in this?" Riskua whispers under her breath and Luffy sobs again.

With a sigh, his Nakama hustles over to her pack, the one she carries every time she leaves the house, and then she's using tiny little metal grippy things to take out the wood. It still hurts, hasn't helped the pain, but knowing the wood is out calms Luffy a bit. The smell of meat does a better job of that though, as does Riskua's warm hand rubbing circles on his back. She's smiling at him, yellow eyes warm like the sun, red hair a reminder of Shanks and Luffy leans into the touch eagerly.

"I've got tiger meat today," she says and Luffy brightens, him hurts forgotten in the face of good meat. She must have taken down another tiger; part of the first one acts as their blanket now; it's really cool. Luffy likes threading his fingers through the thick fur, likes snuggling up in the covers with Riskua's reassuringly warm weight against his back. Foosha Village was peaceful, and though it's not peaceful here and the stinking bandits home, he's happy.

He has Riskua, and him and Ace'll be friends real soon, he just knows it.

"All better now?"

"Meat?" Luffy asks, watching Riskua's lips twist up at the corners. She's set his hat back, so that it hangs at his shoulder blades instead of sitting on his head, and she plants one hand firmly atop his skull to ruffle his hair.
The gesture's warm and after fighting those damn birds today, Luffy happily leans into the comforting touch.

He likes Riskua, she's warm and kind and she's always happy to give him a hug when he wants one. Not even Makino had hugged him whenever he asked for it, sometimes she was busy with the bar or customers. But even if Riskua's busy, she continue doing her thing with one hand and use the other arm to hold him when he clings to her side.

He has no idea why Ace doesn't want to be friends with to them; Luffy's gonna be Pirate King and the older boy sure doesn't get enough hugs off of Dadan, if he gets any at all. Luffy can't imagine not getting hugs, they're so warm and how else are you suppose to show someone you care about them?

That settles it, as soon as Ace accepts him, Luffy'll hug the older boy all the time.

"It's all cooked." Riskua reaches into the oven, pulling out a tray of meat in gravy, though Luffy pulls a face when he notices the leafy greens also cooking in the sauce.

"Suck it up, Anchor, if you don't eat you're greens you'll be a squirt all your life."

Luffy's pretty sure Riskua's lying, there's no way eating nothing but meat would hurt his growth.

"If you don't get the right kind of foods at sea, then you'll get ill, Luffy. What kind of Pirate King lets his crew get ill?" Oh no, Riskua's making sense!

Crossing him arms and glaring down at the plate that's set in front of him, Luffy inhales all the meat, poking obstinately at the green stuff with his fork.

Riskua's looking at him though, a frown on her face that makes Luffy's insides squirm, almost like when he'd made Makino sad by accident. He hasn't made Riskua sad, as he?

Panicking, Luffy stuffs the first green thing he can snatch up from his plate into his mouth, choking it down. It doesn't taste anywhere near as good as meat, but at least it's been cooked in meat juices. Riskua's not a cook -he'll have to recruit a cook as soon as they set sail- but she can make food that's edible and tasty, more than what Luffy can manage right now. Still-

"Do I have to eat them all?" Luffy whines, prodding the fluffy green thing and watching as it flops into the gravy.
"I think I'll settle for the one you choked down," with a sigh, Riskua shakes her head, nibbling at her own leafy thing as if it doesn't taste nasty. She swaps a small chunk of her meat for the plants on his plate though, so Luffy brightens right away. Riskua's so nice, this has to be what having a big sister is like, someone that'll give him a helping of her meat and make sure he sleeps well on a night and looks after his ouchies.

It doesn't matter that Shanks made a shell person to look after him, cause Riskua's his big sister now and his Nakama and she's his now, his more than Shanks'. And that's what matters.

Which is why he waits until Riskua has finished her meal before bouncing up from the table. He wants Riskua to tell him stories, she's got a lot of them that she just makes up on the spot. It's really cool, and maybe she can be the crew's official story teller when they sail?

Only that isn't all that Riskua is, and it doesn't have anything to do with her awesome dream of understanding and using the mystery power. Maybe she can be the expert of mystery powers? But then she might have to actually study Devil Fruit powers too and Luffy knows she doesn't want to do that.

Oh this is hard, how's he suppose to be a good captain when he doesn't even know what his Nakama is? Luffy had no idea being a captains was so hard. But he's not going to give up! No way, no how.

"Hang on."

A hand snatches at the back of his shirt before Luffy can take off towards the stairs, Riskua pulling him back in even as the momentum change to his body results in a rubbery snap as his head jolts back.

Glancing over his shoulder, Luffy grins sheepishly. His nose is already moving though, taking note of the fact there's another scent hidden beneath the meat. Now that he's eaten it all, the other smell is there and noticeable, something really sweet. It's not meat at all, it's-

"Cookies!" Luffy cries, perking up in excitement.

It's been ages since he last got some sweets, Makino didn't let him have a lot of them because they'd rot his teeth and Dadan's a mean bandit lady who doesn't have any sweets at all in the house. Luffy knows, he checked.

His Nakama is pulling a tray out of the oven and yes his nose was right, there's hot cookies on there. Luffy makes to snatch one up, but Riskua grabs his hand before he can successfully scoop one up.

"Gotta give them a minute to cool, Anchor. You don't want to burn your hand, do you?"

Huffing, Luffy steps closer to her instead of pulling his hand back, peering at the treats. It's cookies, cookies with chocolate chips in them and a gooey something oozing out of the centre. They look delicious. He can't wait anymore!

Luffy feints left, attempting to snatch up a cookie from the right. Riskua manages to catch his other arm before he can close his fingers around his prize.

"Damnit Luffy!" She snaps, though there's a grin on her face. That's all Luffy gets to think before he on the floor, Riskua's arm wrapped around his neck and knuckles digging into top of his head. Oh no, he forgot Riskua can fight!

Squirming, Luffy wraps his now free arms around Riskua, trying to push her away, but all that does is get him tangled up, the redhead sounding absolutely delighted as she surges to her feet.

"Help!"

"Okay, okay." She still snickering under her breath as she unknots his limbs, giggling when everything snap back into position. Her cheeks are red with the heat still pouring out of the oven, eyes bright and smile wide. Luffy can't help but grin back, leaning forwards so that his face is closer to hers, as if he can soak in the warmth of Riskua's expression.

"Here," she says, swiftly plating up a good amount of the cookies. Luffy wants more, there's loads left even after Riskua picks some out for herself, but he knows if he has it all now, there won't be any left for tomorrow.

Cookies aren't like meat, which his walking around right outside the hut. Cookies take time to make, and lots of powder stuff and chocolate bits and Luffy doesn't know where any of that lives, doesn't know what animal all that stuff comes from.

So as much as it hurts, he has to force himself not to ask for more, not if he wants any for tomorrow after all.

Chomping into another of the treats, Luffy chews, the warm goo and the dough tasting wonderful. Cookies are great!

The front door bangs open and a few seconds later, Ace storms into the kitchen, a crocodile thrown over his shoulder.

Luffy straightens, licking his lips at the sight. He's never tried crocodile before! Maybe he can have some if he asks nicely?!

"Evening, Ace."

Luffy pauses, swinging his head around to look at Riskua.

She's watching the older boy, Grandpa's other grandson, and her happy smile is gone. Instead, she's looking at Ace like those birds looked at Luffy this morning, as if trying to decide whether to attack or not. Luffy doesn't like that look. He doesn't like that Ace looks back at her with anger burning in his eyes. He doesn't like it at all.

"We've got some cookies, wanna come sit with us?"

Ah! Riskua's offering for Ace to come sit with them! Even though it'll mean less cookies later on, Luffy's happy with this! His gaze swings around to look at Ace and his smile freezes on his face.

That, that isn't the expression of someone who wants to have cookies.

Ace is sneering, arms folded across his chest, pipe in hand and alligator at his feet.

"Get lost," he snarls at Riskua before storming out the room, leaving a silence that makes Luffy squirm. Nonono, that wasn't how it was suppose to go! Ace was suppose to join them, and then they could all be friends!

"Brat," Riskua grumbles under her breath and Luffy's heart seizes up.

They don't like each other! No, they can't not like each other, he needs them to like each other because they're both going to be his friends! He has to fix this!

Only his eyes are drooping, wanting to shut and he's really tired.

"Come on, Luffy. You've had a big day; let's get you to bed."

Luffy whines in the back of his throat but Riskua is picking him up -even if there's a bit of a struggle involved and his big sister is so strong- so Luffy snuggles into the heat of her instead.

He can fix Ace and Riskua tomorrow. They're not going anywhere.

 

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How Luffy sleeps through the bandits' meal time, Riskua doesn't have the slightest clue.

They're noisy, shouting and laughing and with Dadan screaming at Ace once or twice for eating too much of the food. It grates her nerves.

She wants to help Ace, wants him to accept her and sure as hell wants him to accept Luffy, but pushing the cagey boy will only have the opposite effect. She doesn't have Luffy's people person magic, hell the only reason she gets on with Luffy is probably because the boy wants it to happen. She's awkward around the bandits as it is; they're just people living in the same space.

The bandits dish up a small helping of rice for her and Luffy, and Riskua lets them have a chunk of the meat she catches. That's about it. They have a working relationship, Dadan aware of the imposing threat that could descend upon her should she send Riskua outside, and Riskua fully aware of the fact she's imposing upon the curly haired woman.

Luffy snorts in his sleep, leg kicking out and a fresh waterfall of drool falls out from between his open lips. Cute the kid is, but he certainly isn't a pretty sleeper, that's for sure.

Grimacing, Riskua cringes at the feeling of the fluid on her arm, eyes flicking up to the roof above her head in a silent pray for patience. Then Luffy cuddles further into her hold and her heart melts a bit again. Right, this is why she puts up with his nastiness.

Grinning, Riskua presses her face further into Luffy's fluffy hair, inhaling slowly. He's such a cute little kid. A lot of children are cute though; Ace is a cute brat too, moody and grumpy as he is.

Her eyes flicker over to his sleeping mat, which Luffy had once again pulled their own towards. No doubt in the morning Ace'll be on the other side of the room.

The difference this time though, is that on Ace's sleeping mat is a messily wrapped package, holding the cookies he'd turned down earlier. She'd seen the flash of want on his face when he'd walked in, nose twitching like a cat in the presence of fish. Maybe the kid was too prideful to accept the cookies then, but Riskua's willing to give him another chance to not miss out.

Hence the little wrapped package on his bed.

"…meat…" Luffy moans under his breath and Riskua giggles, quite unable to help herself. He might be an ugly crier -she'd seen his face when those sobs came out earlier, had been in his general vicinity when he blubbered like a baby over that admittedly bad cut- and an active sleeper -as if the drool on her arm isn't indication enough, the foot that thumps into her shin for the third time makes it clear- but Luffy's nothing short of adorable otherwise.

It's not a hassle to look after him, to take things into account, to hunt slightly bigger beasts than she'd be otherwise comfortable with to make sure Luffy had enough to eat. Though she's beginning to suspect she could cook all the beasts on the island in one sitting and the kid would still never be full.

Shaking her head, Riskua nuzzles further into the limp pillow, breathing slowly starting to even out. Just as the door to the room opens, Ace storming in.

As routine, he snatches up one corner of his mat, dragging it all the way to the other side of the room. It is only as he comes to a halt against the other wall that he realizes everything is not following the usual pattern, that there's something extra there.

Riskua watches from beneath her eyelashes as he crouches beside his bed, picking up the package and opening it.

There's a pause, a moment of stillness, before his head swings around to look at the two of them. It feels as if every breath she takes is too loud, every heartbeat in her throat and this shouldn’t affect her so much.

Slowly, Ace carefully puts the cookies down beside his bed, burrowing under the covers. It's a strain to keep her breathing normal as she lets her eyes fully close now, pressing closer to Luffy. Sleep comes easy.

 

 

 

The next morning, Riskua wakes and at first glance, nothing seems different.

Luffy's still curled up in her arms, slumbering peacefully away, already looking forwards to the new day, no doubt. The bandages on his arm aren't red so the cut is healing nicely it seems. Getting to her feet, Riskua adjusts the loose cotton shorts and tee-shirt she wears before squatting down to tuck Luffy in with the tiger pelt. He'll probably sleep a bit longer, but as this place is starting to get nippy now that winter is looming, Riskua hurries over to her trunk to fetch her clothes for the day.

Moving Luffy's outfits, which are piled on top of it given the lack of space inside, Riskua flips the lid.

And promptly forgets all about just how cold it is.

There's cookie crumbs everywhere, broken down and smeared all throughout the trunk, over every last article of clothing, chocolate smeared into the cover of her books and her journals, it's everywhere.

She's in shock, Riskua thinks as she stares numbly down at the sight. It's going to take all day to wash all of that out, to fix the covers of her books if it's possible.

In a moment of panic, Riskua lunges for the Atlas Mihawk had given her two years prior, flicking it open. There's crumbles inside the pages too, but the hidden little slot on the inner cover is untouched, as is the picture within.

The glossy snapshot has Shanks and Raowl smiling up at her, Riskua sat between them and no older than a toddler. They look so happy, and sweet relief floods through Riskua that it has remained untouched.

The sensation quickly gives way to burning rage though. It bubbles and boils beneath her skin, sizzling and just one more spark off of erupting out.

This is not something she's ever experienced before, not in either life, to have an act of kindness thrown back in her face like this, certainly not with such bitter spite either. For what else could it possibly be?

Stumbling to her feet, Riskua stares down at the trunk once more, but there's nothing else for it. She's going to have to clean the whole lot out, and there's no reason to put it off. She needs to go put the clothes in water to soak. Then she can go find something to take her anger out on. Maybe she can do some Armament training and destroy something, that'll help her mood.

Though right now, it doesn't feel as if she'll be getting past the numb shock and near blinding rage anytime soon.

 

 

The redhead makes her way down the stairs, trunk thumping along behind her and each bang reminds her of just why she's having to do this.

As if when she gets to the hallway just in time to spot Ace by the door, pipe in hand and a truly ugly expression on his face, isn't enough of a reminder as it is.

They stare at one another for a second, Riskua's face carefully blank and fingers still flecked with little bits of melted chocolate and crumbs. Ace's hand is on the open door, his scowl fierce.

"I don't need no shitty sister."

And then he's gone, door banging against the frame and Riskua grits her teeth.

Fine then.

 

Chapter Text

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Chapter 8

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Shitty Garp, dropping those brats on the bandits, dropping those assholes into Ace's life.

Ace stalks through the jungle, pipe held in the curled grip of his fingers and his eyes darting around the underbrush, just waiting for one of the beasts to dare try making a lunge for him. His footsteps are near silent as he passes across the grass, more focused on listening to the sound of others approaching him. Be it a wild animal or a surprise attack from Sabo.

Each had potential to be as dangerous as the other, though Sabo wouldn't kill him. Just never let him live with the loss, not without never ending teasing anyway. The other boy would not be getting the drop on him.
Speaking of dropping things, he had managed to lose the more annoying intruder in his life by leading him towards the disciples of the Bear Lord; the brat's way weaker than Ace was at that age, two bears will be more than enough to keep him occupied until he can go crawling home to his 'Big Sister' to get his booboos nursed.


Ace sneers at the very thought, leaping over one of the rocks in his way. His stomach growls at the motion, one of Ace's hands going to pat at it in return.

Maybe he'd gone too far ruining the Creep's stuff. And she is a creep, Ace's never seen anyone with eyes like that but they look like they should glow in the dark. He's seen yellow eyes on tigers and bears and wolves, but never once on a human. They look like something out of the bandits' tales of myths and monsters.

Anyway, Creepy Eyes had just pissed him off. Always catching and cooking the crybaby's food, bandaging him up at the end of the day and then even tucking for him in at night, ha! The brat's a huge baby and Ace wants nothing to do with him, nothing at all. The cookies had been the last straw.

Ace doesn't need anyone else. The bandits were never there and Garp only ever turned up to beat the shit out of him, demand he become a Marine or to drop more problems on his head. Ace doesn't need her kindness and he doesn't need her cookies and he doesn't need a crappy sister. He's nothing like the crybaby and he never will be, nor does he want to be.

So he'd thrown it all back in her face, metaphorically spat on her as surely as he'd physically spat on Garp's grandson -his actual grandson, not just taken in like Ace but actually shares his blood in his veins- the day they'd first met.

Maybe a bit of Ace regrets it; maybe the face she'd given him when she'd met his gaze with those creepy eyes had made his innards squirm. But she fucking deserved it, trying to treat him like the crybaby like that.


After that day, she'd never tried to reach out to him again. And things Ace hadn't noticed before, things he'd taken for granted, suddenly stopped.


The extras from breakfast he would always steal were no longer present, and it burned him to realise she'd been allowing him to have that food, allowing him to sneak away with it and pretended as if she didn't notice.
The clean bedding he'd assumed came from Dadan ground to a halt, and after the third week Ace realises just why his sheets had been getting cleaned and why that wouldn't be happening again, hence why his bed had gotten smellier and smellier. But he grit his teeth and did his own washing because he sure as hell didn't need to be babied in any way, not like the crybaby did. Even if he could never get the sheets quite right, and even if the leftovers from dinner he's been forced to hold back so he can now eat them for breakfast are never quite filling enough.

He doesn't need anyone's help, and that's that.

Gripping the shaft of his metal pipe tighter in his hand, Ace storms forwards, one of the smaller jungle animals -the ones that don't eat meat- scurrying out of his way. Ace watches it go, the creature's dark eyes reminding him of the crybaby even more.

Sneering, Ace vaults over the final hurdle on the mountain path, feeling the muscles of his arms and legs burn with the stretch. He'd gone out of his way today to traverse across the more challenging route, building up his strength again. The hoard of treasure is getting bigger and bigger, it won't be long now until they're able to set sail. Ace grins just thinking about it.

To be out there on the open ocean, no expectations riding high on his shoulders, no pressure. He wouldn't be anyone other than Portgas D. Ace, pirate. No one's son, no one's nightmare; he'd just be known as exactly who he is. A boy who dreams of freedom, of proving to the world he exists and of making a name for himself, by his own actions. And he doesn't need anyone for that.

Not a shitty no-show Grandfather who has a real Grandson to deal with instead, not a weakling crybaby who can't even handle the jungle, and certainly not a shitty girl to tuck him in at night and patch up his wounds.


Heavy scowl deepening, Ace stops at the edge of the Grey Terminal, head swinging back and forth as he tries to locate the only person in his life he can sort of maybe depend upon.

"Sabo?"

"Up here, Ace."

Ace's neck snaps back so that he can glance in the correct direction, and sure enough there he is.
Black top hat, ratty handkerchief thing around his neck, Sabo is sat on one of the tree's many branches, scratching at a half-healed scab on his cheek.

With a grin, Ace quickly goes about scaling the bark, swinging himself up to take a seat by his good friend.

Rummaging through his pockets, Ace produces the sloppy sandwiches he'd swiped from Dadan's fridge, pushing half into Sabo's grasp. He knows the other boy lives in the Grey Terminal and that food there is scarce. Sure Sabo can hunt, sure he's almost as good at fighting as what Ace is, but almost isn't enough. Finding and catching meat is difficult for them, and he's well, worried that is partner in crime doesn't get enough to eat.
He's seen Sabo with his shirt off that one time, back when some asshole got lucky and got a good slice in on Sabo's back. Sabo's skin isn't quite stretched over his ribs, but he's not as healthy as Ace would've liked. Thankfully, that wound healed up good on its own, which was lucky. Ace knows squat about treating injuries like that, and Sabo's not much better either. They've improved since then though, he doubts any of the assholes will be able to land a blow on them now.

"This 's good, izit pickled cheese?"

"Yep, the No-Good Hag has some okay stuff in," Ace grumbles under his breath. There had been jam in the fridge too recently, strawberry. Ace hasn't ever had strawberry jam, none of the bandits like the stuff. He knows the Creep used it in her stupid baking yesterday, the crybaby's lips had been smeared with the stuff.

Gritting his teeth, Ace pushes the thought away.

He doesn't have to think on those two bastards right now, he won't let them completely take over his life, he's certainly not going to think about them when he's finally got some time away again. They already ruin half his day, he won't let them wreck the rest.

"What's with the face?" Sabo asks, suddenly so much closer, close enough that Ace can detect the underlying blue in his insanely dark eyes.

"Tch. Just those shitty brats Garp dropped on the bandits. I hate them."

Of course he's told Sabo all about them, the other boy nods his head in all the right places and always cheers him up with the proposal of a good old fashioned snatch and run. Their pirate fund is growing more and more every day.

"Well we can't have that much left until we've got enough to set sail. Then you can just leave them behind. It'll be me and you on the open ocean."

And yeah, Ace likes that mental picture. Him, Sabo and other faceless crew members all on a boat, the ocean mist kissing at his lips and the uncovered sun baking his skin. It sounds like perfection quite frankly, Ace can hardly wait.

"Ready to go?" Sabo asks, hoping to his feet, pipe in hand.

Looking out of the stretch of grounds before them, the taste of stolen sandwiches on his tongue and the thrill of the chase already starting to pump through his veins, Ace nods. All his other worries are forgotten for the next few hours as he and Sabo dart from one target to another, sticky fingers lifting wallets and fleeing with their ill-gotten goods.

 

 

Metal whistles through the air, a solid 'thwack' singing through the air as the pipe finds its target. His would be assailant goes down hard, another steady knock to the head leading him into dreamland.

Panting, Ace straightens out of his aggressive posture, gaze flicking over to his partner in crime. Sabo's nearly done though; stronger and faster and healthier than his opponent, it's only a matter of moments, seconds really, before their would-be mugger -assaulter, murderer, who knows what lives in these parts- joins his fellow on the ground.

Crouching low, Ace begins riffling through the man's pockets, pulling out a solid gold pen -shitty nobles, who throws away a pen when it runs out of ink? Especially one like this?- and a heavy coin purse. Oh yeah, this is exactly what he was looking for.

Snapping the clasp open, Ace grins at the sight of all those bills, mingling in with plentiful change. Excellent, more for the treasure pile.

As he straightens up, Ace aims a kick at the man's face, just to be sure he'll stay down until they're long gone, and then he turns to face Sabo. As expected, his opponent is on the floor, unconscious. The boy himself is rooting through the half abandoned bag, pulling out a variety of papers, half folded clothes and then the good stuff. Stolen goods. Well, maybe scavenged from the trash heap, it doesn't matter either way because that stuff now belongs to Ace and Sabo.

"Anything good?" Sabo questions, cocking his head back and Ace can't help but grin, theatrically spinning the golden pen about between his fingers in response.

Sabo' eyes follow the movement greedily, grin wide and showcasing the gap in his teeth. Of all the baby teeth the boy could end up losing last of all, it sure is rotten luck it's ended up being one of the front ones. Ace's last two are still growing in, though they've broken the surface of his gums at the back of his mouth. All the more weapons for chewing down on meat. Should he catch a boar tonight? Or try his luck and go for an alligator?

"Wanna split up? I bet we can get even more money that way." It sounds like a plan. A little friendly competition over who can bring in the most haul, yeah, Ace likes that idea a lot.

"I bet I can get more treasure."

"No way! You don't even know what's of real value!" Ace snorts, rolling his eyes, even though Sabo's sort of right in that respect.

There have been a few things that Ace had almost thrown back on the trash heap before Sabo had managed to stop him. But hell, how was Ace suppose to know that the ugly heavy thing was a paperweight belonging to some snob who'd live a couple of decades ago? Or that the nasty looking vase was actually from seven hundred years ago and could probably pay for a boat in of itself? If they managed to fetch a fair price for it that was, something they couldn't manage as ten year olds right now.

"Doesn't matter, I'll still get the best stuff," insists Ace, jabbing his thumb into the flesh of his chest and smirking when Sabo splutters in response.

And for a few hours, Ace forgets about the assholes waiting for him at home, about the crybaby that trails after him everywhere, focused solely on besting Sabo once again.

 

 

Ace's good mood persists throughout the rest of the day, even more so when he finds out he has indeed beaten Sabo, having collected the best treasure, much to the blond's irritation.

Bidding the other boy a farewell, Ace's mood plummets as reality once again slaps him harshly in the face. He's reached the summit of his good day, and now it's time to begin the habitual descent into awfulness. His face twists up in disgust at that, knuckles white as he clenches at the metal pipe in his hand.

He hates this, hates going back to the bandits who only look after him for Garp, hates the bastards who's lives would have been so much easier if he'd never been born.

They've got two new brats to look after now, though Ace would use that terminology very loosely. The bandits can't even look after their own home, never mind another living being. The only reason why Garp would even leave them with the bandits is for the same reason Ace's here; because no one would ever think to look here for the child of the Pirate King.

Well actually, Garp has only left the crybaby. Creep had come along later, having saved Crybaby's ass. Though where she came from is anybody's guess.

Ace sneers as there's a rustle, gunmetal grey eyes scanning the undergrowth before he spots the source of the sound. Boar it is for dinner then. Ace descends upon his hapless prey, pipe cracking against skull as anger sings through his blood. It won't be long now, won't be long now until he's out and sea and free as a man can possibly be. He'll sail the Grand Line, he'll make a name for himself as Ace, and he'll never think of this shitty island again.

"Ace!" Shit.

Dropping onto his carcass, Ace flicks his head towards the source of the voice, wavy bangs shadowing his eyes.

It's the crybaby, panting and looking worse for wear.

He's still baring the bandages of the Creep's patch up job, left arm a mess of white fabric and a plaster slapped across the bridge of his nose. Those stupid, wide innocent eyes stare at him in wonder and excitement and Ace feels rage boil further in his stomach.

What right does that brat have to wear such a face? He's Garp's grandson, his true grandson. That's obvious in how the old man's allowed him to live a relatively carefree existence, not like Ace, who's had to fight and struggle just for his right to live. Even then it's still an uphill battle.

But it doesn't matter, the shit job that Garp has done has made him strong, made him tough. He's got what it takes to make it out there, he'll take on the whole world and he'll win.

Not like this stinking crybaby who trails after Ace like a lost dog.

"Is that a boar? Did you catch that for tea? Riskua can probably cook it for you if you want and then you won't have the share it with the bandits, though Riskua might want a bit for cooking it, but then she catches our food and she has a bit of that and she doesn’t eat a lot either, which is strange 'cause it's meat, and I wanna eat it all-" God this brat does nothing but ramble.

Part of Ace itches to just get it over with, to just kill the kid. There's a flicker of hesitation though, and no matter how much Ace tells himself it's because he's never killed another person before, there's another reason. No matter how much he wants to dismiss it, to never acknowledge it.

Because his mind flashes back to that day two months ago, back when the Creep's eyes had met his, when her fingers had been wrapped around the handle of her trunk, his own on the door. The look on her face had been void of emotion in that brief stare down, back before Ace had stormed off into the jungle.

He'd expected anger, he'd expected her to blubber like Crybaby no doubt would have, but he hadn't gotten either reaction. The lack of it had thrown him off.

He'd pushed her, and while she had retreated, pulling back her breakfasts and the cleaning and whatever else she did that he'd not noticed yet, Ace wouldn't lie to himself.

Creep had a look in her freaky eyes, a look that said should the crybaby come to serious harm at his hand, he'd get to see just how angry she could get. That she had knives, that she could take down tigers, that made her dangerous. Ace is pretty sure he could win, but he doesn't want to chance it. Not unless the benefits outweighed the risks.

He ignores the part of him that knows he couldn't stomach killing another living being, not when it isn't in self defence. If he's going to be a pirate, he needs to forget that such feelings exist.

"Get lost," he hisses, snarling at Crybaby who just blinks innocently back at him. Fuck this kid, he's useless and he lets himself get babied far too much and he's everything Ace hates.

"Go run home and cry to your shitty sister."

Crybaby stiffens, limbs locking up and for a second, for a sheer second, Ace thinks that just maybe he's finally gotten through to the brat. The battered strawhat -and where did he find that? It's old, what kind of idiot would want that after all- shadows his face. Ace expects to see tears, he expects to see a wobbly frown and hurt splashed across those features. What he gets is very different.

What Ace get's is a seething expression, cold fury burning in those black eyes and rumbling like a summer storm at night.

"Don't talk about Riskua like that." And the boy's voice, usually so high-pitched and happy, cracks like a whip through the air, freezing Ace in place.

Crybaby looks like he wants to say more, wants to snap and scream at him, but something stills the boy.

Instead, his tiny fingers squeeze into fists before he storms off, but not without another angry, almost disappointed look at Ace. It's the first time Crybaby has ever walked away from him and it leaves Ace feeling magnificently unbalanced.

Because what the hell was that?

 

 

By the time he gets back to Dadan's place, everything appears as it should be.

The crybaby has beaten him back, once again sat up to the kitchen table with Creep, one hand held before him as the redhead wraps it up in fresh bandages. The other is steadily shovelling meat into his mouth, somehow managing to tell the tale of his adventures for the day around all that food.

Ace remains back in the shadows, just watching the two of them.

Garp's real grandson is a fair sight different than the last glimpse of him Ace had just gotten, speaking with so much energy that had he the hands free, he'd no doubt be gesturing wildly to improve his point. He's rambling on about the bears he outran today, happily explaining how he'd managed to scurry up a tree to get away, making it all seem far more impressive than it actually is.

Yet Creep is still nodding along, a small smile on her lips like what the brat's done is something to be proud of. Every so often, she'll take a chunk of meat for herself from the large bowl, though she sticks primarily to the fresh vegetables. That in itself is indicator enough she's a freak, who picks vegetables over meat after all?

"What'da'ya do today, Riskua?" Crybaby finally chokes out after he's gobbled down the last piece of meat, admiring the bandages on his hand before attempting to scratch an itch beneath their protective layering.

Creep tries batting his hand away, least those fingers ruin what she's spent the past few minutes working on, before she seemingly gives up and retreats back to the vegetable bowl. Yuck.

"Did some training, caught dinner. Knocked down a tree 'cause we're running low on firewood and winter's on its way."

Knocked down a tree? Ace mentally revaluates her threat level, remembering how long it'd taken him to figure out how to do so, to build up the strength required. She's not that much shorter than him, but her limbs are weedy. There's muscle, sure, not as much as what he has though. But he still recalls how easily she'd hefted that trunk full of stuff, no weakling would have been able to handle that.

"Okay, that's cool. The tiger fur's really warm though," Crybaby muses, reminding Ace of the current state of his room.

No doubt when he gets back up there, the interloper's bed will have been moved close to his again; it's a wonder Ace hasn't thrown all their stuff out the window yet. It's only because the next time he comes home he'll have to deal with them if he does so that it stops him.

That and the fact he doesn't want them to know that they piss him off so much. He doesn't need them butting into his life and thinking they have a right to judge him or anything. He's got enough people in his life like that.

"Tell me a story tonight?" Crybaby asks, as if Ace needs any more proof that he's the biggest baby on the face of the planet. Ace never needed stories before going to sleep, and even if he did, he'd certainly have grown out of it by the time he turned whatever age the crybaby is.

Creep just laughs though, shaking her bright head of hair about before she ruffles Crybaby's.

"Alright, Anchor," and what a stupid name that is, "go wash your face while I clean up." Tch. The brat should pull his own weight and clean up after himself. Not that Ace does that; Dadan sorts out the plates and shit because Ace brings in the meat. That's how it works, and that's how it will always work.

The freckle-faced boy leans against the doorframe, watching Creep's tense shoulders slowly roll as she washes up the plates and bowls. The scent of meat is still in the air and Ace's stomach clenches with sheer want, but as usual in the face of the Crybaby who doesn't know when to give up, there's nothing left over.

He will have to wait until Dadan gets back from her thieving because Ace sure as hell doesn't know how to cook his catches yet. He probably should figure it out soon, given the treasure fund isn't that far off. Then again, Sabo probably know how to cook, so it's a redundant point.

Creep puts the last pot on the side, flicking the residue water from her hands before she makes her way towards the hallway, no doubt heading up to his room.

Teeth grinding, Ace folds his arms over his chest, inhaling sharply. Those two in his room, with what little stuff he has to his name? The pipe is cold against his side, his trusted weapon still dotted with animal blood. Ace leans it against the door, sending his trusted tool one last glance before he darts outside.

 

 

Ace creeps out around the back of the hut, scaling the outside of the building to come to rest on the little ledge just beside the window to his room.

He doesn't trust the two brats, they're probably gonna mess with his stuff, even if he hasn't caught them at it yet. He's ready though, he knows they will do it, they're probably waiting to lure him into a false sense of security. Not gonna happen though, Ace is onto them. It's only a matter of time until the shitty siblings show their true colours.

He'd gotten a glimpse when he'd thrown Creep's cookies back in her face, it'll happen. He's sure of it.

Slouching down on the ledge, Ace hugs his arms close to his chest for warmth, taking a mental not to look out for a jacket of some kind the next time he makes it to the Grey Terminal. Winter's coming, and the bandits sure as hell aren't going to see he's properly clothed for such weather.

"Luffy, calm down!" The opposite happens, the noises in the room growing loud and Ace dares to sneak a peek. He doesn't understand why he's even bothering to hide; it's not like they have any rights to be in his room as it is.

Fury scorches hot behind his eyes and he forces himself to focus. He's not like the crybaby after all.

Nearly completely hidden by the wall, the freckles boy spots the two instantly. It seems that Creep has had enough of her overactive little brother, because she's tackled Crybaby to the floor, sat on his back. And freaking Ace the hell out, she's tied the boy's arms and legs into knots, securely fastened together and held to the boy's back with a foot. What the hell?

"Say it, Anchor. Say uncle," Psycho Creep teases, finger and thumb stretching out Crybaby's lips way past what they should go.

"Uncle! Uncle! Let me up, Riskua!"

The girl laughs, delighted and cheerful and for a moment Ace is reminded of how Sabo sounds. It's the same kind of joy the other boy exhibits after they've just outrun their latest target, the same kind of bright light that twinkles in their eyes.

Tch, comparing their eyes doesn't offset Ace as much as he expected, he'd first thought Sabo's eyes were a bit wide and glossy.

Glowing yellow is a hell of a lot creepier than dead-fish eyes though.

"This is great fun," Creep confirms, stretching out Crybaby's face with one hand as the other works free the knot of limbs. With a rubbery sounding snap, the boy whips back into the usual proportions, one hand batting Creep away while the other rubs at his lips with a pout.

"You sure ate a fun Devil Fruit, Luffy." Devil Fruit? The hell's that?

"I'm a rubberman," the unnatural boy confirms, "but that doesn't mean Riskua gets to pull my cheeks."

She laughs, warm and light, bundling the squirming boy up into her arms and flipping them across the floor until they land on their sleeping mat. Which is right beside his.

Ace bites his tongue, his jaw clicking shut so fast at the observation. That damn brat.

"So it's been a good day then, Anchor?"

"Yep! Meat for breakfast and dinner and tea, and I caught up to Ace! Even if he was on his way back, I'm getting closer."

Creep hums and Ace just knows she's remembering their little confrontation, though her face is blank. She's, she's not told the brat? Why? She should have warned Crybaby off, not unless she wants to see Ace hurt him too. Why hasn't she told him?

Why the hell hasn't she said anything?

Her face clearly says she's not a big fan of Crybaby's desire to be his 'friend', but she's letting him do so. All the other bandits leave him alone, no doubt they've told the girl to stay away too. And while she's no longer... helping him out, she's not actively sabotaging him either. She hasn't tried to hit him or yell at him, she hasn't stopped her precious little crybaby chasing after him even though she knows he's capable of ruining things.

All she's ever done is look at him with those freaky eyes and that stupid expression on her face that makes his insides squirm, that makes him want to yell and shout and even punch her until she stops with that shitty look.

"I'm glad you're getting close to your goal, Kinglet."

"Thanks! Story now?"

And the brat's snuggling into the tiger pelt, pulling Creep down after him until he's half sprawled across her, chin on her chest to beam up at her. Creep doesn't seem to mind, instead running her fingers through thick black hair and she gets comfortable.

"Okay. I'll tell you to story of a boy who had a demon sealed inside of him, and how he grew to gain the respect and love of all those who feared him."

 

 

Ace gets lost in the story.

He's a bit ashamed to admit it, but it's a good tale. All about ninja and battles and respect. Not the crappy love story that he'd have expected from a girl, it's exactly the kind of story that the Crybaby would like. The kind of story that Sabo would like.

Ace refuses to admit he liked it too. At least, out loud.

The story of the boy who overcomes the hand he's been dealt to really become someone.

She's stupid though, continuing to weave the world of the demon boy even though the crybaby has long since fallen asleep.

Ace's own eyes are starting to droop, heavy and sticky with sleep, when Creep finishes the story.

There's quiet for a moment, in which Ace's breathing sounds just a bit too loud, and then the redhead sighs.

"I'm not going to attack you if you come in, Ace."

Ace stiffens at the blatant address, muscles screaming in pain with how hard he tenses.

How the hell does she know he's outside? She's not even facing him, still lying with the now drooling Crybaby sprawled all over her. Was he too loud? Is that how she knew he was here?

Scowling, Ace jumps off the side of the building, rubbing his hands up and down the meat of his upper arms in an attempt to warm himself. When did the sun even go down? He doesn't want to go in that room, not when that Creep who can see out the back of her head is there. Hell, knowing his luck, she can probably see through walls too. It's creepy as hell. He's named her aptly.

Tch, Ace'll sleep under the kitchen table tonight, it's always warm in the kitchen.

 

He's not running from them. He's not.

 

Chapter Text

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Chapter 9

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Benn Beckman halts his strides as he comes up on deck. There's a light drizzle calm weather for the Grand Line really. It's not even enough to start to wet his hair, not unless he's an idiot and stands outside in it for too long.

An idiot like his captain.

Shanks is stood before the railings, famous red hair practically dripping onto the damp fabric of his dark cloak. It still strange, looking at the man and knowing that the space below his left shoulder is absent, that there's no longer an arm there. It's been six months now, but Benn thinks it'll take a lifetime to get used to.

"Which one are you thinking about, Captain?" It's a valid question. Shanks' gaze is to the east, eyes warm with a light that only ever burns when his thoughts are on the Anchor and the little Sea Bird.

"Both," Shanks admits grinning sheepishly as his eyes linger on the distant horizon, "wondering what they make of each other. I can see Riskua taking to Anchor, and I think my little Gully will be good for the kid.. Just…"

"You miss them."

Benn has to admit, he misses the scrappy little brats too. Misses going to Melring every three or four months to see how Riskua's getting on, to see how far she's come in her prodigious Haki training. Misses listening to Luffy yammer on about getting taken out to sea, and then later about how he's going to be Pirate King. It's not doubt worse for Shanks, for obvious reasons.

"She'll be fine captain."

There's no question about Luffy being okay, not with his grandfather looking out for him. But Riskua's out there, and while Makino's trustworthy sorts, she's not going to be much help in a fight, not going to be able to physically protect Riskua like Benn knows everyone on this crew can manage.

"My little Sea Bird's resourceful," Shanks admits, slapping his hand against the wood of the railing and grinning wider, "she'll be fine and then next time I see her, she'll probably be better at Haki than I am."

He's got a lot of trust in his daughter, that much is evident. Benn can see why, the kid's going to go far with that attitude of hers. She might not have Shanks' magnetism, but there is a little pull of something, something that makes you pay attention beyond those unnerving eyes. Dracule Riskua is a kind person. But Benn's got a good feeling that if she's pushed to the limit when her precious people are threatened, she'll be a force to reckon with.

"Crew, let's have a party!"

"Captain?"

With a devilish grin, Shanks abandons the railings, arm thrown up and gesturing to the whole girth of their new ship.

"A party, to celebrate the new chapter of Riskua's life!" Snatching up a cup of something potent from Lucky Roo, Shanks raises his glass.

"To my little Gully, and her limitless potential!"

 

 

It's four hours into the partying when Benn remembers just why he'd been looking for his captain in the first place.

"Hey, Captain. Did you ever tell Hawk Eyes just where you were dropping Riskua off?"

"…Oh shit."

 

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Riskua is doing the laundry. Once again. Luffy's adventures are adorable, and it's sweet  listening to him warble on about his day, but god damn did she wish he was a little more careful with his clothes. There's a reasonably bloody stain on this one, from where he nicked his side climbing a tree and dear lord how much blood is in one body? More importantly, how much blood can one little patch of fabric hold?

Riskua snarls under her breath, fingers working over the tee-shirt once again until finally, finally, the stain is gone.
Her own muscles sing with the pain of overuse and Riskua silently admits that maybe she went a bit far in her own training. Her knuckles are red raw from the few times she hadn't managed to cover them in Armament Haki before she hit a tree, and though the phrase is cliché, 'no pain, no gain' rings true. As always.
Withdrawing her hands from the water, Riskua carefully nurses them on a towel, patting lightly at the sore skin as she slowly gets to her feet. All their now clean clothes are hung up for drying, dinner is cooking in the oven, everything is a-okay. If one discounts her sensitive knuckles that is.

Flexing the fingers which appear half way to pins and needles status, Riskua makes her way out of the laundry room, or what the Dadan Bandits attempt to pass as one. There's a hamper full of dirty clothes that Riskua is not going anywhere near. At least with Luffy she knows where all those stains are from.

Grimacing, the redhead blows a strand of hair back from her face, mentally running through her checklist. Near three months into her stay here and she's finally, finally making significant progress on the Haki front. She's got a notebook -carefully hidden away from where Ace could possibly get at it for intentional damage, and hidden from where Luffy could cause some accidental destruction of property- and it's filled to the brim with ideas and observations.

There's far more to this Haki stuff than what the Marines and Pirates think, there has to be. Why would an energy held by all living things only give a minimum of two, potentially three max, options? It just seems like they discovered Observation and Armament, some lucky fellow had Conquerors, and then they called it quits. Where was the experimentation, the theories and the boundary pushers? It makes Riskua disappointed in the human race. Well, she's going to fix that in the very least.

Glass of mango juice in hand, Riskua kicks the fridge door shut, a yawn slipping out from between her lips. Her favourite beverage is sweet on the tongue, light and crisp, leaving her refreshed.

The glass shatters as it hits the floor.

It takes Riskua a moment to get through the haze that has suddenly clouded her mind -pain and pain and pride and pain- and by the time she manages it, she's already at the door. Her Observation is going haywire, the usually calm static suddenly blitzing brighter than a lightning storm.

Throwing open the door, Riskua freezes at the sight before her. It makes sense really, the only person she's spent enough time around to instinctively recognise the Haki of-inactive or not- is Luffy.

That still doesn't numb the sheer shock and horror that wraps around her as surely as a blanket of distress.

He looks awful.

There's no other way to describe it, the sloppy bandages make no real show of hiding the numerous wounds. Though making a valiant effort to reach the front door under his own power, his thin little legs were shaking all over the place, a gentle breeze away from folding under him like a cheap deck of cards.

Riskua closes the space between them faster than she has ever moved, scooping Luffy up into her arms. Observational Haki flares and she knows instinctively where to not put her hands, where it hurts the most and where she can support him best.

All the tears that her precious little Kinglet has been holding in burst free, skinny arms around her neck in an instant and snotty face burying itself into the sharp relief of her shoulder bone.

"Oh Luffy," Riskua whispers, pressing him as tightly to her as she dares into her, not even bothering to pay attention to the other two. Luffy's her first priority here, ensuring the bodged patch-job that barely passes for first aid won't damage Luffy's recovery any more. This isn't a few little nicks from traversing the jungle, these are serious wounds, wounds that if left to fest could kill. She can smell liquor on him, so someone's thought to clear the cuts at least.

"It's okay, Luffy, I've got you. I've got you."

"Tch, stop crying you baby, it doesn't hurt that much."

Luffy goes still in her arms, and Riskua knows she's just as motionless. For that mere moment, her patience strains. It stretches even further as she turns on heel, walking towards Dadan's hut. As carefully as she possibly can, Riskua places Luffy on the ratty sofa, taking his hat off so that she can pepper a kiss to his forehead.

"I'll be just a moment, Anchor." Wet dark eyes stare up at her, cheeks smeared with tears and snot dribbling down his chin. Oh boy, Luffy does not make a pretty sight at all.

"I'll be right back," she promises again, cupping the less swollen of Luffy's cheeks, thumb ever so gently stroking at the last tear to fall.

As soon as she can see the acceptance of her words sink into the boy, Riskua turns on her heels and heads back out.

Crossing the threshold, she can actually feel her patience snap as if it is a physical object.

The first one she reaches is Sabo, and it is only the fact she recognises him at the last second that has her pulling her punch. Instead of the Haki infusion, it's just a regular fist that meets his face with a satisfying crack.

Ace on the other hand, isn't so lucky.

Because god damn it, violence seems to be the only thing that'll get through to him in this moment, so it's a Haki coated blow that meets his cheek and sends him crashing back into the undergrowth, slamming into a tree.

"I don't know what the fuck Luffy ever did to you," Riskua seethes, feeling the rage swirl in the back of her throat, feeling it coat her teeth as she struggles to actually get the words out, tongue heavy and thick with emotion, "I don't know what he did but I do know it'd can't be enough to warrant those kind of injuries. I don't care who put them on him, but if it weren't you two, I'm pretty damn sure you didn't step in as soon as you could. He is a seven year old child and all he wanted was to be your friend."

She looks Ace right in the eyes, though it's quite difficult given the magnificent way the right side of his face is swelling up.

For once he seems to actually be seeing her as Dracule Riskua, not as the interloper who'd made a little burrow in his life. One of his hands is on his injured cheek; if she'd been less proficient in Haki that blow would have killed him, or caused some form of brain damage. Being able to temper just enough force, she doesn't know how she managed it with being so angry. Or maybe it's because she was so emotional that it came easier, wasn't that how Conqueror's was awakened? Something to look into later.

All she knows is she wants to beat this boy black and blue until the message gets through his thick head, but he's been hurt so much already. She refuses to add anymore to that, no matter what her instincts scream at her.

"And he's come stumbling back here in so much pain all because he wants to impress you. Though I don't know why. If I had any say in it, I wouldn't want him anywhere near you."

The dark haired boy flinches more from her words than her raised fist, and Riskua's heart just crumbles.
She can't keep this up, she really can't. Not when Ace is looking at her like all his worst fears have been realized, and maybe it's just the day he's had that's led to that face maybe it's everything hitting him at once, but guilt washes through her with all the crushing power of a tidal wave.

God damn it.

"So you better buck up and show some of that goodness Luffy sees in you. Because unlike him, I can't go by faith alone, I need a little proof if we're gonna be friends."

Unwilling to stick around and see just what kind of reaction Ace has to that, Riskua makes her way inside, pushing everything out of her mind, other than reassuring Luffy that while it might be a bit unstable right now, everything is going to be okay. She won't let it be anything otherwise.

 

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Holy shit, Sabo can see where Ace was coming from with his description.

His face throbs more surely than any blow he's received today and dear lord can that girl throw a punch.

Both Ace and Luffy had been open to the idea of him coming to stay at Dadan's hut, but both had forgotten to mention about the redhead demon there. Almost as if she'd sensed their approach, she'd all but flown out of the door, scooping up Luffy and the boy had just broken. He'd clung to the girl and Sabo had felt jealous zing through him.

Because where was that kind of comfort for him, back when he was Luffy's age? Back when the older nobles picked on him and his mother had just checked to make sure Sabo hadn't hurt them, never mind that he was bleeding and bruised. Where was his hug and reassurances and soft words? He doesn't begrudge Luffy for it, had seen how carefully the red head had carried him inside, the lucky kid.

Then she'd come back and delivered a smack harder than anything else he'd ever received in his life. And given his tendency to get in fights in Grey Terminal for loot, that's saying something.

Not that the punch he'd gotten seemed to have anything on the one she'd blessed Ace with.

Hell, he wouldn't be surprised if the other boy's cheekbone had broken under the force. How the hell could a girl like that punch harder than Ace?

Sabo drags his feet as he approaches the hut, quite fearful that the girl will reappear and smack him again.

She's right though, Luffy's a kid, an innocent if obnoxious one and though he needs to lose that attitude if he's going to become a pirate, throwing him so far into the deep end is bad. Real bad. The kind of beating he'd got, well Sabo's not gonna lie. If it'd have been him, he'd have cracked.

Hell, he'd probably have died from that kind of torture. Ace can call Luffy a crybaby all he wants, Sabo's got some respect for the brat.

With clammy palms, Sabo carefully pushes open the half shut door, slinking into the hallway with Ace a few steps behind him. The sight that greets him both make sense and isn't quite what he'd picture from the girl who'd just -rightfully- attacked him.

She's got Luffy's bandages off, replacing them with her own variation that already seem to be doing a better job of hiding the boy's wounds. The dark haired brat himself is gnawing on a leg of meat, clearly quite content.

"Sit down, Blondie, you're next."

Sabo really doesn't like the sound of that, but he's in no condition to try going head to head with the girl, not with only a half-battered Ace as back up. Not when she's still fresh and ready to fight.

So Sabo sits, on the same sofa as Luffy but not close enough to really be in the girl's vicinity. When she looks up again, Sabo's struck by just how correct Ace was; those eyes are alarming. Bright yellow, ringed irises, and it's not like the set of her eyes can highlight the colour pleasantly either. When she looks down and those eyes disappear behind thick lashes, she's not so terrible to look at though.

"All done, Kinglet. Eat up."

"Meat!" And then the boy's tearing into the food with a hungry that Sabo has only ever seen in his freckled friend before.

A cold something wraps around his hand and pulls his arm forwards before Sabo can react, and then the girl's removing his hastily done bandages.

"Anywhere else you're injured?" She asks, meeting his gaze and Sabo fights down a flinch.

"Forehead, ribs… Erm, I'm Sabo?" He doesn't mean for it to come out like a question, but that's how the words tumble out regardless.

And just like that, scary girl with stupidly strong punches smiles. It's warm and light and it make massive difference to just how damn nervous he feels.

"Dracule Riskua. Thank you for rescuing Luffy, even if you were a bit late to it." Her hands are soft and careful as they go about reworking his bandages with a far superior technique than what he'd managed, the only sound their soft breaths and Luffy gorging himself upon his pre-prepared dinner. It's a damn sight different to the furious girl that punched him; Luffy in pain is obviously a hot button for Dracule Riskua and Sabo makes a mental note to avoid that at all costs where possible.

The girl's knuckles are red raw, not the kind of abrasion punching two faces could result in. She trains, she has to. Sabo's never met a girl who can fight before. That's... no matter what Ace thinks of her, Sabo thinks she's pretty cool for that. He's as far away from his noble heritage as he can get; living in a bandit's hut with two scrappy orphans and a scary girl who might even be able to punch through walls. He wouldn't put it past her.

"Done," Riskua murmurs, pulling Sabo's top back down where she'd bunched it around his neck for better access at his ribs. She'd frowned when she first saw them, running her fingers over the slight ridges they make in his skin -hehe, ticklish- and then she got up and walked away.

Only to return with another bowl, though this has both vegetables and meat housed with, and it's not as piled up as Luffy's portion was.

"Eat. I wasn't expecting company so it's not a great portion, but it'll have to do." Sabo's sure as hell not complaining. The meat is still reasonably warm when he picks it up, and though there's smears of dirt on his fingers, Sabo really doesn't care right now. Very little will be capable of distracting him from this meal.

"Ace." That'll do it though.

His good friend stiffens at the address, grey meeting yellow before Riskua points to the seat between Luffy and Sabo.

"Sit."

"I ain't-"

"Ace." And there's more steel in that tone than there is in Ace's eyes.

Slowly but surely, Ace pushes off from the wall he'd been leaning against, making his way over and carefully taking his assigned seat. It's no wonder his cautious; Ace's told him all about the creepy girl with the creepy eyes, how he ruined her stuff months ago, and though he'd never explicitly said it, Sabo knows his prickly friend has been trying to drive her off. Even Sabo's not sure what to expect, but it's not a big surprise when Riskua takes a gentle hold of Ace's hand and begins unwinding the shabby bandages of his arm. It was either that or she'd slap him again.

When the other boy does try to struggle free of her grip though, Riskua doesn't hesitate to pull him onto the floor, flip him over with that monstrous strength -either Sabo's eyes are failing him or her hands turned black for a second there- and then wrestle him into a position from which she can both hold him down and work on his bandages. No matter how much Ace squirms.

It's not funny, Sabo tells himself, biting his lip in a valiant attempt to not laugh.

Beside him, Luffy isn't even trying to hide it, giggling freely. And yeah, this is nice.

 

 

It's ten minutes later, during which Riskua has given a bowl of food to Ace as well with a single demand of 'eat' that Ace can't fight against -he's been offered food after all, and his pride may be great but right now his hunger is far greater-, that the bandits return from whatever has occupied their time.

Sabo tenses up, a brief flash of all the authority figures in his life flickering before his eyes and those damn nerves -what if father finds out I'm still alive? What if someone recognises me? What if I get dragged back there and this time there's no way out?- return like the morning sun cresting the horizon. His breathing hitches, hands shake for a moment before something slips into his palm.

Sabo stares blankly at Riskua's hand as it gives his own a gentle, reassuring squeeze before she lets go.

"Bandits, this is Sabo and he'll be staying here for now. We'll cover him for food."

There's a moment of stunned silence, the good-for-nothing hag Ace had previously described stood gaping at the front of the pack.

"What the hell is this?!" She barks, eyes zeroing in on Riskua who stands tall and proud as if she isn't making herself that much more of a target. Her chin is even tilted defiantly upwards, angled right at this brute of a woman. Sabo had no idea women could come in such mannish varieties.

"This is Sabo," Riskua replies dryly, expression flat even as one hand comes to rest on his shoulder. Why does it feel like he's the younger one out of the two of them? Riskua's shorter than him by a little bit and her face is still round with youth, rounder than his anyway. She's got to be younger than him, right?

"Sabo, I know that name. You're that good-for-nothing."

His teeth grind against one another even as he grins brightly.

"And you're the good-for-nothing hag, Dadan!"

"You little shit!"

"Anyway," Riskua snaps in, smiling slightly though the warmth she showed him earlier is gone, "we're keeping Sabo. We'll feed him and everything, just don't kick him out."

"Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?!" Dadan demands, leaning in until her eyes meet Riskua's which, props to the hag for being able to meet those uncanny eyes while in a battle of wills.

"Because everyone should have somewhere they feel safe with people they trust, who care about them. Especially a child. See you in the morning."

And then, stopping only to pluck a visibly flagging Luffy up from the sofa, Riskua offers Dadan a nod and disappears into the corridor. Sabo and Ace both watch her go, take one look at the spluttering, reddening Dadan, and then they scramble after her.

His brain is spinning, Riskua's words whipping through his mind again and again and again. Somewhere safe. With people who care. People who can be trusted.

Sabo swallows around the lump in his thirst and follows after the grumpy Ace.

 

 

There's only two bed mats at the moment, and as Riskua and Luffy apparently share, Sabo has to risk sleeping next to Ace or it's the cold floor for him. Ace who'll be sleeping on his left side, so he doesn't have to put pressure on his Riskua-cultivated bruise.

It's really swollen up now, Ace's eye has almost closed up under the pressure. Sabo's own cheek still pulses occasionally with pain, and he can tell Riskua pulled her punch at the last second for him. Ace's clearly been getting to her much more than he first thought, judging by the impact he received.

Ace flops down onto his assigned sleeping mat, sparing a single glare for the other one which is perhaps a bit too close for Sabo to really be comfortable with.

"Brat," Ace grumbles under his breath, but shock of all shocks, it sounds almost fond. Sabo feels his own lips twitch up at the thought, because for as obnoxious as Luffy is, he does have a way of growing on you.

"How's your face?"

At that, said face falls mightily fast, Ace folding his arms across his chest and pointedly looking away. It doesn't help that the way he swings his head just gives Sabo a really good look at the monster bruise.

"Bet you didn't know she could punch that hard, huh?" Sabo chuckles, sitting himself down beside Ace and admiring the insides of the little hut. It's so much better than the tiny little 'home' he'd built himself in the Grey Terminal; he can't see any rats or flies and it doesn't smell either. While Sabo had no problem getting down and dirty, he appreciates living in a building that doesn't smell like all the trash in the world has been decaying there for a decade.

It's nice, it's much warmer as well now that winter's here. The cold really hits at night, it probably won't be long before it gets cold in the day as well, but Dawn Island's weather is a strange thing. Well, strange for an island outside the Grand Line.

"You shut up."

"I'm just saying," Sabo points out with a shrug, taking off his hat and running a hand through his hair. It's still tightly curled, maybe if he grows it out a bit it'll go back to being those manageable waves, but then his family might recognise him. That's not a risk Sabo wants to run really. Not when he's not strong enough to get away. Speaking of strong enough-

"Riskua has to train, she's pretty strong. Maybe we can join her?"

"Oh, so it's Riskua now?" There's acid in Ace's eyes as he swing around to look at him and Sabo does his damn best not to flinch.

"Come on, Ace. If we're going to be friends with Luffy, then we might as well be friends with Riskua. She seems nice… When you're not destroying her stuff." Or hurting Luffy, but that last one goes without being said.

Mulishly, Ace folds his arms tighter and looks away, before apparently thinking better of it and burrowing under the covers of his sleeping mat. Sabo takes a moment to glance at the other one, which has a tiger pelt thrown over it, before his gaze returns to Ace.

Who has thrown back the blankets and is clearly inviting him to join him, even if he's refusing to look at him.

"Thanks!" Slipping onto the mat beside his friend, Sabo acknowledges they'll probably have to get another one soon enough; he and Ace are growing boys after all. It shouldn't be too hard to find one though. Ace doesn't say anything, his back to him and facing the wall, but Sabo doesn't have a problem with it.

This, this is nice. He likes it here.

 

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"-and I didn't tell them where the treasure was, no matter how hard they hit me!" Luffy beams proudly up at Riskua, peering out from beneath his wet fringe. He's sat in the bathwater, and though he doesn't feel as strong as when he's out the water, it's not so bad because it's not seawater. Riskua is stood over him, clothes drenched from where he'd been splashing her with the bathwater, giggling whenever she scowled at him.

Right up until she'd dumped a bucket of the stuff over his head and began working the shampoo into his hair.

"I really wish you wouldn't have put yourself in harm's way like that, Kinglet." Luffy likes that nickname much better than 'Anchor'. It's really cool, he's got a bird name now like Riskua has, her actual name as 'skua' in it, and Luffy's not stupid. He knows that a skua is a sea bird. Riskua belongs with the sea, it's obvious. No wonder she wants to sail with him when he's older.

Grinning as more water is poured over his head, Luffy flicks his gaze up to the redhead, who's sighing again.

"Is Riskua sad?" "No, Luffy, I'm not sad. I was just really worried. I still am, those aren't just little cuts."

Her hands hover over his ouchies and Luffy has to agree. They did really hurt, but Ace hates crybabies so he couldn't cry when he wanted to. He hadn't even meant to cry on Riskua -because what if she didn't like crybabies too?- but it'd just happened. She'd pulled him into her arms and Luffy had felt safe.

Just like when Shanks saved him, he knew he could depend on Riskua. She'd helped with all his ouchies and then she'd helped Sabo and Ace too, and Luffy is so very happy to see that they're all going to be good friends.

Because an even bigger hurt has come up on Ace's face since he last saw the other boy. Maybe bruises take a while to form? Luffy can't remember how long bruises had taken to appear on him; he's been a rubberman for awhile now, he doesn't get bruises anymore which is really super cool.

"Why is Riskua not getting a bath too?"

"I'll get one after you."

"But the water'll be cold?" Why would Riskua want a cold water bath? Warm water is nice, it reminds Luffy a little less of the ocean that can now drown him. Not that he could swim before…

"I'm a girl, Kinglet. I'm suppose to bath on my own. Makino must have told you about private parts, right?"

Oh yeah, that was why Luffy wasn't allowed to run around without any clothes on. Even if he put his shirt on inside out, he's still got to wear something. Makino was really clear about that.

"So Riskua has to have a cold bath because she's a girl?"

"Well, not necessarily a cold bath, but I've got to have one separate. You really should too, the only reason I'm here is because you're injured and I don't want you to drown if you can't help yourself."

Well that makes sense, but a bath on his own would be boring. Oh, wait!

"Ace and Sabo are boys, I can bath with them!"

"If you want to," Riskua agrees and Luffy smiles, leaning into the movements of her fingers as she works the last of the shampoo from his hair.

This is nice, he likes this. He has big sister Riskua and now he has Sabo and Ace as friends and much as his body hurts, it's been a good day.

 

Chapter Text

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Chapter 10

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The glass she lifts is a hell of a lot lighter than she was expecting, and Riskua only needs a quick glance to confirm her rapid conclusion. Luffy, the greedy little glutton, has drunk her milk. 

She stares at the glass for a moment, taking note of the slight puddle of milk that rests at the bottom. Perhaps just a drop, two at a push. Hell, it's a miracle Luffy left even that much.

Riskua sighs, pressing one hand to her forehead as the other flicks Luffy's ear. The instinctive response he gives is to let out a snore, hands twitching where they're wrapped up in the pillow, before he rolls over and mumbles 'meat' into her thigh.

Riskua shuffles it away; it wouldn't be a shock if the boy tried to take a chunk out of her leg, no doubt he dreams of food when he sleeps as surely as he does when awake.

Luffy twitches again in his sleep, belly assuredly full of all the milk she'd been wanting to drink. If only he weren't so darn cute, then maybe she'd be able to hold his theft against him. She tries, she really does, laying back down and curling up around Luffy and everything.

But she needs a glass of milk to wet her lips and tongue.

The sound of Sabo's sleepy snuffles, shallow and swifter in pace than she'd have expected, ring through the air. Every so often, Luffy's thunderous snores will bracket the tempo, but it is otherwise a steady melody preformed only by Sabo.

Where Ace is, Riskua doesn't have the slightest idea. Sabo had been fast asleep by the time she and Luffy returned from the bath, quilt covers thrown squiffy around his form. He'd shivered and that was the only excuse Riskua needed to retrieve her latest fur pelt -skinned from the bear that's supplied their dinner meat- and thrown it over the blond. After a moment of adjusting to the new weight on his unconscious body, Sabo had drifted easily off into a peaceful slumber. She's quite jealous.

Squirming her way out of the bed, Riskua smoothes the strands of Luffy's hair she can reach without waking him. Greedy little glutton, she finds herself thinking far more fondly than she'd previously thought possible.

Beside Luffy, Sabo rolls over, mouth gaping wide despite the reasonably quite snuffles it produces, and Riskua finds herself attempting to smooth out his tight blond curls too. She'll look for the missing one when she goes to get her milk.

It's almost ridiculous just how attached she has already become to these three boys.

Luffy is without question her younger brother now, given the events of these past three months. And while Sabo and Ace will certainly become precious... she cannot get the image of Luffy's beaten face from her mind. That they had allowed it to happen, even if they had rescued him in the end, does not leave her mind.

She's not Luffy, she cannot trust blindly or childishly. There may not be a scar from the bite, but that doesn't mean she's not become shy of being stung twice.

It's not a new flaw, even in the before she'd always been cautious of those who hurt her, who let her down. Never quite capable of fully trusting them again. Because what if, what if they fail her again?

No. She will try, try to accept Sabo and Ace fully, but she doubts those insecurities will fly the coop anytime soon.

It doesn't stop her from wiping away the spot of dirt on Sabo's nose though. He really should have gotten washed before he crawled into bed.

Smiling, Riskua rises to her feet, and while her steps would be loud in comparison to Mihawk, they are silent among these noisy bandits. Noisy bandits who are still socialising downstairs with little care for keeping their voices low.

Thankfully it appears Sabo is as heavy a sleeper as Luffy. She and Ace? Not so much.

Riskua makes her way down the stairs, rubbing her upper arms as she goes. Stupid bandits and their penny pinching ways, cheapskates when it comes to heating this place. If she gets a bit of a kick moving so quietly around this place because several bandits always end up jumping out of their skin, then who's to judge her for that?

Lips twisting up in a smile, Riskua slips by the entrance to the living room, sneaking into the kitchen with a finesse of stealth that this home has never before witnessed. She passed by the table and its mismatching chairs, slowly pulling open the fridge to muffle any noise that comes with the action. Technology available to mountain bandits does not appear to include a fridge with an interior light, so it takes Riskua few moments of groping around to grasp at the milk bottle's glass neck. It makes a very delicate clink when she begins pouring her prize into a glass, and by that point she's almost home free.

It just so happens that, as she walking by the living room door once again, one of the nameless bandits decides to open his mouth and spew forth a few words that she just can't ignore. She doesn't remember being this hot tempered in the before, doesn't recall ever being so powerfully angry at something.

But then again, the life before had been idyllic compared to this one, without fighting and fear and death. She hadn't had such ferocious attachments in the before. Sometimes she wonders if it had been a biological fault, that simmering apathy which lingered constantly in her mind. If it had been a product of being raised in a society that considered emotional outbursts to be an evident lack of self-control.

Or maybe it's because everything is just so full of life here that she can't help but to perk up and respond.

Though that doesn't necessarily mean her reactions are good ones.

"And now there's more brats here," Dadan's gravelly voice tumbles through the room, falling out into the hallway with all the subtly of a landslide, "Garp's a right bastard. If the Marines start sniffing around and they find out the devil child really is the son of the devil, we can all kiss our asses goodbye."

Riskua is frozen by the door. Part of her mind insists she act rationally, that she pretend she didn't hear that, to continue on up to bed with her glass of milk and ignore it all. It is an admittedly small part.

Ever so carefully, Riskua places her beverage upon the floor, inhaling and then exhaling as deeply as she dares.

"What was that?" And though her tone is light, it is my no means cheerful.

The bandits all pause and Riskua is sure she looks a sight. Hair still half damp, the other half dried up in kinks and knots from lying down beside Luffy. Maybe even tired black bags under her intimidating as hell eyes.

"How much did you hear, brat?"

"Enough. You don't dislike Ace because he's a tiny ball of fury. You don't like him for something he has no control over. That's stupid."

"He's a little demon." And Riskua slams her fist into Dadan's stomach, taking great pleasure in pushing the woman completely down when she crumples as the wind is torn from her.

All the bandits scatter like cockroaches unearthed from a rock as Riskua gets another punch in. She has a lot less inhibitions when it comes to resorting to violence in this life, but violence was heavily frowned upon in the before.

Now, now it's actively encouraged.

"You're right, he is a little demon."

 

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Ace's heart is in his mouth, hammering away and rattling whatever sits in his skull. It sure can't be a brain, not a working one anyway, because then he'd have accepted the words he's just heard, accepted the words he's been expecting to hear since day one, just accepted it instead of looking for an underlying meaning when there isn't one.

But it hurts. It hurts and his chest is constricting in on itself, crushing his lungs and his heart and his stomach. It hurts.

"Yeah he's a little demon," Creep continues, her fist smacking into Dadan's palm as the bandit finally gets a hold of the short girl's hand, stopping her rapid assault, "but that's by his own behaviour. He sure as hell wasn't born a demon. If you're gonna hate him, then do it because he's mean, because he's a brat or because he hurt Luffy. Spitting on someone for something they can't control is the height of stupidity."

And then Dadan's knuckles smash into Creep's face.

Creep goes flying back and Ace is just frozen in place, still watching, still absorbing what he's just heard.

She, she doesn't dislike him because he was born? Hate him because he was born a devil child? It sounds like, it sounds like Creep doesn't like him because he's been mean, and not for anything else.

But, but she has to have heard the bandits, has to have heard the way they talk about him and why hasn't she just accepted he's a demon? Creep's made no disillusion of the fact she doesn't like him, but that she doesn't like him because of what he's done, not for who he is? That's.. that's new.

Ace doesn't know how to feel about that.

She's on her hands and knees now, crouching over with that wild red hair shadowing her face. Slowly, she turns her head, spitting a glob of blood out on the floor and shit, Dadan must have hit her harder than Ace'd noticed.

"He behaves like that 'cause he's a demon child."

"No, it's because you don't expect any different. Even though it took a while, he still saved Luffy. He can be different, if he wants to be. When he wants to be."

Leaning back against the wall, Ace slides down, no longer capable of watching the events in the living room. Legs no longer capable of holding himself up.

He can hear it all going on behind him, the shocked breath as Dadan takes another hit and then the grunt and thump as Creep goes down. But it might as well be happening an island away. His mind's in turmoil, thoroughly shaken from Creep's words.

He, he could be something other than a demon? Creep really believes that? Would physically fight the brutish hag to stand by that opinion?

Hands tremble, knees so sore and suddenly aching with the thought of having to stand. His lips have parted, and Ace slowly presses the meat of his palms to his eye sockets. He's not crying, his cheeks are clear of tears and his eyes are dry. Dry to the point where they itch, as if there's too much headwind blowing in them, as if it's far hotter a day than it actually is.

The wall is cold against his back, the chill seeping through his thin sleeping shirt. The stolen milk sits heavy in his stomach, sloshing about in an exceptionally unpleasant motion.

Who knew words could create such a reaction in him?

"Get to bed, you daft brat!" Dadan thunders, though her voice sounds far more nasal than it probably should. Looks like Creep got a face shot in. Ace almost wants to get a look, just to see what kind of damage she can really do -though his still throbbing cheek likes to remind him whenever he doesn't take pains to keep his mind occupied from the pain- but he can't drum up the willpower to rise from where he's crumpled.

His ribs still feel a bit too tight, no matter how much he expands and contracts them as he breathes.

Straining his hearing, he can pick out Sabo's quite little snores, though Ace has been forced to redefine that word since he's had the pleasure of listening to Luffy, the crybaby's equivalent. Creep is tame in comparison, little whispering breaths that are just a bit higher pitched, a bit more noticeable than usual.

There's the light scuffling on the stairs, the noise only Creep makes because the bandits are way too heavy and the other two boys move far quicker, before she disappears from his senses.

And still Ace is sat there, heart-beat slowly tapering off into its usual steady rhythm.

 

 

 

For five minutes, Ace just remains in place, listening to the muttered grumbles of the bandits as the talk about their day, their heists and hold ups, what they've managed to bring back to the hut. Not once do they whisper hateful words about him though, and after those five minutes pass, he manages to gather up enough courage to go and face the bastards that were suppose to raise him.

If kids were plants, then a hell of a lot were beautiful flowers, nurtured and loved attended to and given the plant food and sunlight and water they need to grow. Ace is a weed, a weed that's grown without any help, that's made do with minimal sunlight and found his own water, found his own food and he's stronger for it.

Pushing open the door from the entrance way, Ace beats down the urge to look towards the open window that he'd been listening, that he'd been watching through.

Instead he meets Dadan's stare and refuses to acknowledge the ugly bruising that's beginning to mark up her skin.

"Are you in for the night, brat?" She asks, but there's a little less something in her voice. It's… it's careful. Ace chews on the flesh of his lower lip, looking away and barely stops the cringe the second he does so. Damn, he looks guilty of something now.

"Yeah. I'm going to bed."

Turning on heel, Ace walks out the door, foot smacking into something that clatters against the floor and wets his foot. A quick glance confirms it's a glass of freshly poured milk, now freshly spilt. Normally Ace'd just ignore it, power on to bed and pretend he had nothing to do with the mess. Only… It's only the Creep that drinks milk before bed as far as he knows.

Sabo wouldn't help himself to the fridge, not until he's sure that his stay here is assured, and Luffy, the crybaby, would just drink it straight from the jug.

Guilt wiggles up in his stomach again; the only damn reason the redhead was down here was to refill the glass he'd drunk earlier. She'd never have overheard the bandits if not, and then Ace'd never have overheard-

'Spitting on someone for something they can't control is the height of stupidity.'

Working his tongue about in his mouth, Ace grits his teeth and grimaces, hands curled around the glass. His chest hurts.

Damn it all to hell.

 

 

 

When Ace wakes up in the morning, his fingers are threaded in the bear fur that had been covering Sabo when he returned. It's weight is a warm thing upon his thighs as he pushes it down, the chill seeping into his torso as he expose it to the morning air.

Beside him, the blond boy grumbles, attempting to roll over and get just that little bit more sleep, even though it's clearly already morning. Slowly, Ace lifts a hand to his face, touching the swollen flesh as much as he dares too. It's the worse bruising yet, it's probably gonna take forever to go down, but the well of resentment he'd had for Creep seems to have run dry. Instead there's some kind of emotion that rests in his stomach, one he doesn't really want to identify.

Things were so much easier when he was on his own.

Ever since he met Sabo things started going… Differently. When he found companionship in the blond boy, he also found reason to doubt. Would Sabo leave him when Ace's parentage is revealed to him? Would the boy stare at him with the same sneer, the same fear that enters people's eyes whenever the topic of the Pirate King's offspring comes up?

Ace hasn't breathed a word of it, has never brought the topic up even as he slowly but surely grew closer to the boy.

Then Luffy and the Creep came crashing into his life, bringing with them all sorts of pesky emotions with them. It's so much more effort and it makes him so much more vulnerable. Before he was closed off, before nothing could hurt him.

Now, now that he's growing closer to them, he's practically handing them the sticks to beat him with. As soon as they get tired of him, as soon as they decide he's not worth it, they'll know just where to strike to make it hurt. That would never have occurred before, he wouldn’t have given anyone the chance. Only…

Only he'd never have experienced what it is to trust someone either. Never have known what it's like to run with Sabo, to fight and know the other boy has his back. Would never have known what it is like to feel wanted, had Luffy not come tumbling in and pigheadedly proclaimed him a friend. Would never have known what it is like to be defended, as he found out last night when Riskua stood up to Dadan on his behalf, even though she's proclaimed to not like him.

Had he not gotten close to them, he'd never have experienced that and his life would be… lacking. It's scary, the idea of opening himself up and showing the soft underbelly of all that he is. It's not something he plans on doing anytime soon. But…

But it is something his considering doing now. That maybe, just maybe, he might be able to trust these people with the feelings that he's never allowed free before, that he's never dared to offer up because all that he's ever reached out before has attacked him in return.

"Come on, Luffy-Lu. It's morning."

Eyes snapping up to look at the source of the words, Ace's lips twitch up into a smile despite himself.

Creep is leaning over the crybaby, hands tentatively reaching out like she's trying to wake the slumbering boy up gently. Ace can't see that happening, he knows for a fact the brat'll sleep through a tropical storm if he has to, he's seen it.

She of the freaky eyes obviously thinks the same thing, because yellow rolls skywards before she jabs at the boy's ribs. For a moment nothing happens, and then Luffy squirms away, giggling under his breath, somewhere between awake and asleep. Creep's lips are in a smile of their own now and her hands descend, scrambling up and down the boy's sides.

Near deafening laughter breaks through the room as the now fully awake Luffy attempts to make his getaway, pursued by the only girl in the room. She doesn't let him get away, instead catching the boy's ankle to hold him down.

Instead of stopping him, Luffy just stretches his leg, continuing to scramble away even as the tension in his extended leg builds. Ace now understands what a Devil's Fruit is, Luffy had practically told him his life story on the way back last night, all in a futile effort to stop crying. He'd broken like an alcoholic's self-restraint before a bottle of booze the second Creep had swept him into her arms. The crybaby. …And dear god, that thought actually sounded fond inside his own head.

Ace grimaces just as the tension in Luffy's leg gives, reeling the poor boy into the clutches of his attacker.

Releasing her hold on his ankle, Freaky Eyes catches Luffy in her arms, pinning him swiftly beneath her own weight as her fingers mercilessly run up and down his ribs. They're both laughing, grinning like loons.

He wants to join in. He wants to get involved too, Ace realizes with something that's not quite shock or horror but perhaps stupefied wonder.

"When she's not punching people, Riskua's pretty nice," Sabo observes from his side, clearly woken by the noise and Ace didn't even notice. He's still a bit out of his depth, still adjusting to the change that has been brought to his life in the past twenty-four hours.

As he watches the two interlopers in his life play about, Ace slowly realizes that just maybe, if he opens himself up to the three others that surround him, he has a chance to be happy like them too.

"Come on, let's go get breakfast started."

And just like that, Luffy's already out the door, tromping down the stairs with banging footsteps that imply a man thrice Luffy's weight is making his way down to the kitchen instead.

Creep shakes her head, blatant amusement on her face, even if Ace is rather surprised by how swiftly Luffy extracted himself from her hold at the suggestion of food. She goes to get up, but then pauses as something catches her eye.

Following her line of sight, Ace spots just what she's looking at and scowls, feeling hot.

"Huh?" Sabo's questioning remark has Ace swinging around to glare at the other boy, just daring him to say anything at all.

The blond stares back before a small smile tugs at his lips, amused. Ruffling his hair until the black bangs fall around his eyes, Ace surges to his feet in a motion that feels a bit too quick, too attention grabbing.

But when he hastily glances over his shoulder just as he leaves, Riskua is still staring at the full glass of milk now in her hands.

 

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"Can we all hunt together today? Can we can we can we?" Luffy bounces up and down in his seat, still wrapped up nice and tight in bandages.

At least he's clean, Sabo grumpily thinks. He's so very much looking forwards to being able to strip the layers of filth and dirt off of his body something he hasn't been able to do ever since he first fled to the Grey Terminal. Oh sure, he's been able to clean up, but he's not managed to become fully clean and it's a sensation he misses.

Luffy bounces up and down again, fingers itching and twitching on the table top. The reason is obvious when a plate full of meat hits the table top; those rubbery hands shoot forwards at speeds Sabo hadn't thought Luffy capable of.

The blond's still distracted though, and his thoughts aren't entirely on the prospect of washing the Grey Terminal from his skin. Even as he snatches up a share of the meat, he's watching Riskua. While Ace did complain about the two of them before, it had mainly been the pushy little crybaby he focused on.

For every three snarls about Luffy under his breath, there'd been one on Riskua. Not as determined to barge into Ace's life as the seven year old, she'd been a quiet if obvious presence. Sabo isn't quite sure what to make of her. She's dotting on Luffy, that's obvious. But not to the point he or Ace suffers for it; if anything, the fact she's managed to save some meat for the freckled boy -whenever he surfaces from the bathroom- shows she's looking out for them too. She's eating what Sabo considers to be a normal person portion of food, though admittedly his time with Ace had increased Sabo's own appetite.

Luffy's powering through all this meat like a champ though.

"Everything okay, Sabo?" Riskua's eyes flicker up to meet him before they swiftly dance back to the empty milk glass that sits on the table.

It's funny, because Sabo can blatantly remember watching Ace down the beverage in question after Luffy had returned from his bath last night, back when Riskua was going through her own cleaning ritual. Is it possible that his best friend had actually felt guilty enough to refill the drink with her none the wiser?

"Sure is," and it really is, he's away from the Grey Terminal and with friends and his parents will never find him here, "thanks for the food."

An absentminded nod is his reply, Riskua too busy slapping Luffy's hands away from her own plate and that of Ace's spared meat to put much more effort in.

Luckily, the male in question strides into the room, stopping when he notes the three of them sat at the table.

"Ace! Eat breakfast and let's go hunt!" Luffy cries, almost surging out his feet in an attempt to push Ace's plate towards him.

It's a good thing that Riskua stops him in his tracks, that second sneaky hand had not been aimed at that plate with the intention of delivering it to Ace at all. With a grumble Riskua rolls her eyes, glancing up at the ceiling with a resigned expression on her face.

"The only thing you're doing today, Kinglet, is learning how to throw a proper punch."

"Huh?"

"We're going to be running around with this numbskulls," Riskua explains, jabbing her thumb in their direction even as Sabo feels himself swell up at the insult, "then you're sure as hell going to learn how to handle yourself. That goes for the both of you too."

Sabo deflates as swiftly as a popped balloon.

"We can fight!" Ace screams back, breakfast long gone, plate licked clean. His face is right in Riskua's personal space and she stares back just as evenly, the set of her face stern.

"Luffy," she says, even as she continues to look Ace right in the eye, "you want to be a pirate, right?"

"I do!" And he sounds so damn happy about it, as if Riskua is just clearing something up, showcasing that she remember what he wants to do with his life.

Sabo though, Sabo can see she's about to use the boy to prove a point, to prove her point.

"I'm not from East Blue. I was actually born on the Grand Line." What?

"What?!" Ace snaps, recoiling back and then staring at the only girl among them as if she'd just grown a second head. Well, the Grand Line is suppose to be a place where all logic and reason is twisted on its head, full of the weird and wild. It'd certainly explain Riskua's exotic colouring.

"Yep. And the further into the Grand Line you get, the more a certain power pops up, one that has the ability to counteract those with Devil Fruit powers, like Luffy here. By the time you hit the second half of the Grand Line, it's practically required, all the heavy weight pirates use it."

"Haki is the mystery power!" Luffy suddenly cries, so excited at having recognised it he knocks his straw hat from his head. There's a quick scramble as Luffy attempts to catch his hat as it falls. He only just manages it, which given how clumsy the boy is, is a shock in and of itself.

"My dream in life is to understand what Haki is, what we can do with it. I want to be the World's Greatest Expert on Haki, which means I'll be returning to the Grand Line someday. Until then though, I thought maybe I could train the three of you in what I know so far."

"Really?" Sabo slaps a hand over his mouth, but he's really excited.

Riskua's from the Grand Line, she has to know so much about it if she was born there. There's so many questions he wants to ask, but he forces himself to focus on the current topic.

Haki, whatever the hell that is, sounds important. Especially if all the top dogs of the pirate world use it on the Grand Line. Devil Fruits are something of a myth, Luffy's the first one he's ever seen and he can barely accept what the boy is capable of right now. When he gets some practice on how to use his powers; it'll probably be the kind of weird that belongs on the Grand Line.

"Yes, if you want to learn that is. Consider it preparation, or consider it something to protect yourself with." Riskua shrugs, head tilting to a side and thick red hair spilling over one cheek until she blows it back.

"Yeah! Mystery power! I wanna crush rocks like Riskua can!" Crush rocks?

Sabo glances warily at the girl but she doesn't dignify his stare with a response.

"It'll take a while to really get a grip on it, I've been at it for years and I'm nowhere near close to figuring it out. But it's something to build on before you go do what you want with your life."

Out of the corner of his eye, Sabo glances to Ace. Ace who's face is set, his jaw clenched and his eyes refusing to meet anyone else's.

"I'd like to learn," Sabo states, and then recalling those lessons from his past life -because even though he hates it, Sabo's not stupid and he knows most people like common curtsies- he tags a hasty 'please' on the end of that.

"Offer's open to you too, Ace."

A moment of quiet, and then, "this doesn't make us friends."

"Wasn't expecting it to."

And as Riskua gets to her feet and make for the skin, Sabo can hear the 'yet' in the air.

A silent promise, but a promise all the same.

 

 

Chapter Text

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Chapter 11

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"This sucks."

It's not the first time Ace has complained, and from the way things are going for them, Luffy can't see it being the last time either. He's a rubberman, so the rocks don't hurt him as much as they probably do Ace and Sabo.

But it is annoying.

Luffy has thrown himself into training, fully ready to walk out knowing how to use Riskua's mystery power. She'd said it'd take a while to learn, but Luffy had been sure 'a while' meant a few hours, and that they'd be done for tea time.

"Does this even work?!" Ace must think the same, because he sounds really mad.

Luffy tries to hide his giggle behind his hand, but a funny looking Sabo still notices. Ace is too focused on Riskua though. He looks really mad, but not angry. It's made even funny by all the bruises he's got. As well as the super swollen side of his face; it looks like he's stuffed half his breakfast in there.

Luffy pauses, licking his lips at the thought. They've been doing this since breakfast, is it lunch time yet?

"I'll prove it works," Riskua snaps back at Ace, leaping down from the tree branch she'd been sat in, the rocks on ropes still in her hands.

Excited, Luffy leans forwards and even pushes back his thoughts of lunch. Just for a minute or two. Luffy's only ever seen Riskua train the mystery power once, but it was super cool.

She stands in the centre of their clearing, Sabo hastily scampering out of range, followed by Ace shortly after. Why's he dragging his feet? Does he want to join in too? But Riskua's gonna prove how cool she is.

Lips pursing in concentration, Luffy flops onto the ground, arms folded but eyes never leaving his big sister.
Her arm is held out straight by her side, the ropes with rocks in one hand. She's still for a moment, before she swings her arm around, releasing her grip. The rocks fly, twisting and jolting at random from the rope that ties them to the tree branch. Riskua moves likes gravy dripping over meat, flowing and dipping without hesitation, she's almost as hypnotic a sight.

Luffy watches eagerly as the first rock comes at her and Riskua, with her eyes closed, ducks low with a spin. The rock sails by, and then another and another. It isn't until the rocks begin to organise themselves in the ropes, when they start coming at her as more than one, that they manage to land a hit. A single rock bounces off of Riskua's shoulder, but it's the only one. And her eyes weren't open the entire time. Riskua is so cool!

Luffy watches as Riskua catches the next rock and flicks it back to ping off another one, so that it bounces away from her. One zips past her head as she tilts it, shoulder rolling to prevent a collision with one of the lazier sweeping rocks. Her back is to them by this point, and Luffy only just realizes what Ace is doing a second after he does it.

The rock in his hand soars through the air, aimed squarely at Riskua's head and Luffy doesn't even have time to shout a warning before it's caught. Riskua has caught the rock and retreated back out of the rocks on ropes pit, opening her eyes once she's done so.

"That's a low blow," she grumbles. It's like the sun stops shining on her hand for a moment, because all her fingers go black and then the rock crumbles like crispy pig skin. Mmm, pork crackling.

Licking his lips and trying to reel in all of the drool that treks down his face, Luffy bounces forwards to Riskua, holding his arms out.

Riskua's the best, she loves hugs. Not like Ace who whacked him over the head when he tried cuddling him, and not like Sabo who got all stiff and uncomfortable while wearing the same look Luffy no doubt did whenever he dropped food. Panic, Sabo had looked panicked. Maybe it's a shell-person thing and Riskua just likes hugs?

Luffy launches himself forwards and Riskua catches him with ease, spinning them around so she doesn't tumble over instead.

"Riskua is so cool!" Luffy proclaims, beaming up at the face beneath that bright red hair, "but the mystery power is so hard to learn!"

"I told you so, Kinglet," she sets him back on his feet once she's done talking, picking her hat up from the ground and slotting it back on her head. Heh, Ace is the only one of them without a cool hat, sucks to be him.

"But it's really important you take the time to learn, okay? Everyone knows how to use Haki in the second half of the Grand Line."

"Eh?!" Perking up, Luffy tightens his grip on Riskua, staring up at her with stars in his eyes. The Grand Line? That's the sea he'll have to sail on to become Pirate King! It's the same sea Shanks left Foosha for, the greatest and most dangerous sea in the whole world!

"Hold up? How much do you know about the Grand Line?" And there's Sabo beside them now, the boy with sunshine for hair tipping his hat back so he can get a better look at Riskua. They're about the same height, Luffy realises, even though Sabo said he's ten and Riskua's only nine. Ace is still taller than both of them though.

Not that it matters; when Luffy's all grown up and an adult he's gonna be even taller than all three of them! He's decided, then he gets to look down on them for a change! He can't wait!

"I was born on the Grand Line and lived there for nine years," Riskua says slowly and Luffy lets go in surprise.

Does Riskua mean that her shell was from the Grand Line before Shanks turned her into a person, or that Shanks turned her into a girl when he got back to the Grand Line? Either way, Riskua's been on the Grand Line before! So she must know what she's talking about!

"Sugoi! Big sister has been on the Grand Line!"

Riskua's face goes a funny colour, almost like it's trying to copy her hair but that's silly, skin isn't suppose to be the same as hair, otherwise it'd be hair and they'd look like animals and then they might accidentally get eaten.

"So everyone on the Grand Line has this Haki stuff?" Ace asks, arms folded and eyes narrowed, as if he finds the whole thing funny. It the same look Makino gave him whenever Luffy ate all the cookies and tried telling her he didn't. Only Ace is looking at Riskua with that face instead.

Has Riskua eaten all the cookies?! No, his big sister wouldn't eat all the cookies without him, she's too nice for that. Also, Luffy doubts her abilities to eat that much in one sitting. Plus, he'd have noticed the smell if she'd been baking more cookies.

"Not everyone," Riskua answers, no longer smiling but watching Ace like she watches Luffy whenever she takes the food out the oven, "but the further in you get the more common it is. It's a massive advantage to have."

"Then I'll become super good at it!" Luffy proudly proclaims, aware he can't become the best at the mystery power because that's Riskua's dream. But he can get damn good at it, and then he'll hit Gramps with it and there'll be no more Fist of Love! He can use the mystery power to avoid it, or even get hit and not get hurt! That'll show him!

Only... he's a rubberman so punches aren't suppose to hurt anyway, but the Fist of Love does. Is Gramp's fists stronger than Riskua's mystery power? Luffy hopes not. But the doubt is now there.

"I'm sure you'll manage it, Kinglet. Just like I know Sabo and Ace'll get it, with practice."

At that moment, Luffy's stomach ruthlessly captured all their attention, making its displeasure at being empty known.

Placing a hand on the source of the complaint, Luffy pats his tummy several times, trying to calm it.

"I think food's in order first," Sabo murmurs, snickering when Ace's own stomach gives a warble of agreement.

 

 

 

Hunting was great! Sure Luffy almost got eaten, would probably be in the crocodile's stomach if it weren't for Ace's timely rescue, and Riskua and Sabo both got a little hurt, but they caught the beasty! Mr Snappy will snap no more, and has instead just finished crackling over the fire.

Luffy tears into the leg of meat with vicious chomps of his teeth. Serves Mr Snappy right for hurting Riskua and Sabo, and for nearly eating him. Didn't Mr Snappy understand that he was the food, not them? Food doesn't eat people, that's just silly. People eat food, which is why Luffy is now tearing into Mr Snappy's hide leg.

Understanding of the world once again reasserted, Luffy peers at the three others around him and can't hide his grin behind the meat.

Ace is eating just as fast as him, Luffy's had his hands batted away from the older boy's meal twice now, and he's focused on nothing else other than getting his fill.

Sabo and Riskua are sat a bit closer together, further away from what remains of Mr Snappy than what he and Ace are. They're comparing the ouchies on their arms, Riskua's from the slice of Mr Snappy's tooth when she'd tried rescuing him at the same time as Ace, and Sabo's from whacking their food over the head and getting smacked away by a scaly tail.

Ace was the only one to not get hurt or nearly eaten by Mr Snappy... Ace is so strong! Strong and cool!

Luffy's eyes shift over to the older boy and he bites down into the last of his meat.

Ace is awesome. Luffy doesn't know what's wrong with the older boy, why he always seems so angry and why he growls and scowls at Riskua and sometimes at Luffy himself, but if there's one thing the future Pirate King knows for sure, it's that it'll change one day.

Some day Ace'll accept that Luffy cares for him. That Sabo and Riskua care for him and maybe even the bandits in their own shitty way. Until that day though, Luffy's gonna have to keep proving to the other boy that nothing's drive him off.

"What'cha looking at, Crybaby?" He just wishes Ace'd stop calling him by that stupid name!

"I ain't a crybaby!" Luffy screams back, though careful not to lose a morsel of meat from within his mouth, "but Ace's a meanie!"

"Why you little brat!"

And Sabo laughs, loud and bright as Riskua watches on with a smile.

 

It's a good day.

 

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Heart thundering within his chest as if the epicentre of a summer storm, Sabo wakes up with every last one of his nerves feeling fried over. His cheeks are wet, sticky with sleep and tears; the darkness of the unfamiliar room has blind panic crashing through his body. He can still recall the clammy hands, the roar of his father's voice, the overly perfumed aroma that surrounds nobility. Visions of that 'house' flash before his eyes and Sabo hastily stamps them down.

He's not in Grey Terminal anymore, but this place is too hodgepodge to belong to those who share his blood. There's people here and- oh wait, he recognises those snores.

Heart still hammering away, Sabo turns his gaze to the left and, sure enough, there they are.

Both Ace and Luffy are sprawled out beneath a pelt of fur, mouths wide open and twin expressions of peaceful exhaustion on their faces. One of Ace's hands is buried into Luffy's cheek, pushing his rubbery head away, while the young boy has one leg digging into Ace's kidney, if the lumpy shapes beneath the blankets are any indication.

He's safe, he's at Dadan's hut, the bandits' hut in the mountains. His father hasn't found him, hasn't dragged him back to that heartless world. He's safe, with friends and-

'Because everyone should have somewhere they feel safe with people they trust, who care about them'.

He's not back with Outlook, he's not had his freedom torn away, everything is fine.

The heavy claws of panic still won't surrender their grip on his chest. It's crushing his ribs, pressing his organs together, it's making it difficult to breathe. He can't, he can't-

"Sabo?" He flinches at the noise before the address registers, before the voice registers. Not one of the nobles ever spoke to him with such careful tones, it was always demands and disdain, never so gentle.

Gaze flickering to the source, Sabo finds Riskua staring back. Her creepy eyes don't glow in the dark like he'd have expected, they actually rather fail to stand out in the near black of night.

"Sabo, are you okay?" And she's shuffling across the room, carefully stepping over both Ace and Luffy to come to a halt next to him. She seems to consider the situation, before giving Ace a gentle push towards Luffy.

Instantly, the sleeping rubberman latches onto the new source of heat, dragging a barely protesting Ace onto his sleeping mat and leaving Riskua room to not only seat herself on the same bed as Sabo, but throw the no longer in use bear pelt over the both of them.

She presses against his side, a solid weight, skin slightly cooler than his own.

Sabo's still frozen, fingers still curled up in the worn material of his borrowed pyjamas, palpitations still quaking through his body.

"Come here." Riskua pulls them both down until they're laid out in the mat, one arm wrapped around his waist and the other around his shoulders, pressing his face into the crook of her neck and Sabo suddenly understands why Luffy hadn't been able to stop the tears when Riskua had greeted him after that disastrous day. He can't suppress his own waterworks and he's only had a bad dream, he hasn't even been beaten up by pirate thugs like Luffy had.

"Hey, hey," Riskua's voice is in a carefully controlled whisper as she smoothes down his short hair, "it's okay. Whatever it was, it was just a bad dream. It can't really hurt you."

Is this what comfort feels like? He casts his mind back, but Sabo can't recall ever receiving it from his parents.

Riskua's body is warm, her arms strong and reassuring as she hugs him close, fingers stroking at his head still, her other hand rubbing up and down his back.

Sabo desperately tries to dam the tears, to make them stop. He used to be good at that, his noble parents had always yelled at him for such displays of emotion, such things were below their kind after all. But he can't suppress it, it's like he left the knowledge of how to do so behind as soon as he came into this hut. No, as soon as he came into this place and it somehow became home. It's ridiculous, he's been here for just over a day, but already it just feels so... safe.

"I'm fine," Sabo breathes after a moment. Internally he curses, because despite his words his shoulders are still shaking, his fingers are still wrapped tightly in Riskua's shirt, pulling the material taunt. When he opens his mouth to speak again, her hair falls into it and leaves him attempting to expel red strands instead of words.

"You're not fine," Riskua insists, hand still rubbing his back and the other one stroking gently at the back of his skull, "but it's alright to not be okay. You don't have to put up a tough front, Sabo, it'll be better if you get it all out your system now."

He wants to argue, wants to insist she's wrong -oh so very wrong, tears never help, they just bring screams and demands and sneers- but his chest shudders and he's forced to muffle a cry in her shoulder instead. The very idea of having to go back there, of being ripped away from this, terrifies him. More surely than the fear of the crocodile staring them down earlier that day, scarier than the pirates they'd beaten up the day before.

What Sabo fears most is losing this freedom he's fought so hard to achieve, of being stripped of this treasure and caged once again. Caged in a life of expectations and rules and completely devoid of all the emotions Ace and Luffy and Riskua have brought to him.

He doesn't want to go back. Ever. He'd rather die trying to stay away if he had to.

Riskua doesn't say anything else, instead just pressing his head a little bit more into the crook of her shoulder and Sabo gives up all pretence of pretending to be okay, clinging closer to the girl. Instead, he focuses on keeping as quiet as he can, unwilling to risk waking the bandits. It went without saying that it'd take a miracle -or the scent of food- to awaken both Ace and Luffy.

 

 

 

It'd sounded stupid at the time, but Riskua was right.

Lying there with his face pressed into her damp top, Sabo realises that he's cried himself out and he really does feel better for it. Not physically; physically he's bone tired, his eyes are stinging as if he's poured ocean water into them and his chest hurts from all his half-suppressed sobs. Emotionally though, emotionally he feels so much better. Not like a weight has been lifted, but more as if he's taken that boulder and smoothed it out, flattens it into something he can now overcome.

There's quiet for a little while, punctured only by the deep snores of Ace and Luffy, before Riskua finally pulls back. He cannot see much of her face on the darkness, but what is visible is soft, a gentleness that he'd never seen in his life as a noble, nor during his time at the Grey Terminal.

"Come on, we're going downstairs to the kitchen."

She gets up slowly, careful not to disturb the pile of limbs that had once been two separate beings known as Ace and Luffy. Almost every part of Sabo does not want to leave the warm nest of blankets, tired and ready to tucker out until the next morning.

The only thing that prevents him from doing so is that Riskua clearly knows what she's doing with this comforting thing. He does feel better after following her advice and giving up on repressing his fear and the tears that came with it.

It is still begrudgingly that he rises to his feet, padding across the squeaky wooden floors. Neither slumbering boy so much as twitches at the noise.

As he reaches the door, Riskua's hand wraps up in one of his, linking their fingers together and pulling him along in the darkness. The moon is absent tonight, no doubt hidden behind the thick grey clouds that'd covered the sky that afternoon with the imminent threat of rain.

He's seen Luffy reach for Riskua's hand before, intertwining their fingers and swinging the limbs back and forth as he happily babbles on about his day. It's nice, Sabo realises. Contact with another human, a physical link to show they're doing together. Pleasant even. Really, there's a lot of nice things about the way Ace and Luffy and Riskua live.

Riskua glances over her shoulder and there's a flash of white as she smiles at him, pulling a little harder as she does so.

Sabo follows after her with steady feet, making sure not to trip and drag them both down into a heap of limbs.

 

 

 

Riskua leads him to the kitchen, pulling open one of the cupboards besides the fridge. Shifting some flour out of the way, she absentmindedly flicks on the lamp upon the kitchen worktop, the both of them flinching away from the sudden light.

As his eyes adjust, Sabo watches as his companion runs her fingers along the bare back of the cupboard, right up until she manages to get a grip on the wood through what appear to be strategically placed holes. A bit of shuffling later, and she's removed what is clearly the false back of the cupboard, exposing a trove of homemade cookies.

"I have to hide a few for safe keeping after I've baked," Riskua explains as she pulls one of several bags out, placing it on the worktop before replacing the false back, "because otherwise Luffy'd eat them all before they're even done cooling. I swear there's a part of him that knows I'm hiding food, I've seen him open this cupboard before today, root around then just stare at it in confusion." Yeah, that's something Sabo can picture too. Still, a hidden space in the cupboard's pretty cool.

Riskua gets out some milk next, pouring two glasses and then hands one to him. The next thing he knows, he's being bustled upstairs, Riskua still holding his other hand as she juggled the bag of cookies and her own glass in the other.

Soon enough they're back in their room, furry pelt wrapped up around their legs and sat leaning against one of the walls. Riskua cracks open the bag, pushing a cookie into his grip before she dips one onto her milk and takes a bite.

"You can't tell the gluttons about my hiding space, it's the only cupboard with enough room to make a false back with and if they find out, we'll never have an emergency snack supply again."

Sabo nods, lips stretching into a grin around his cookie. It's not the explosion of fantastic flavours he remembers as a noble, but it's sweet and chewy and gives his mouth something to do other than talk.

"I know I'm not as much fun as Luffy and Sabo," Riskua muses, glancing over at the two boys in question as she does so.

Now that his eyes have adjusted to the darkness and now that the moon has finally emerged from its cloak of clouds, Sabo can pick up the utterly fond smile on the girl's face. She might talk tough to Ace, but that's really the only way to get through to him. She clearly cares for them, even if she's more protective of Luffy than Sabo or Ace. Understandable, seeing as the Devil Fruit user is the youngest among them and she's known him the longest.

"But if you ever need to talk about anything, I'm right here, Sabo. And I'll probably understand it more than those two knuckleheads, alright?"

He doesn't want to talk about it. Ace and Luffy are both orphans, and he doesn't know about Riskua but she's here instead of with family, so something must be going on. Sabo, Sabo's rejected all that he was born as, all that he was born with. What would they think of him if he admitted to that? The nobles, those assholes who spit on all those below them; would they still treat him as a friend if they knew where he came from?

"I don't want to talk about it," Sabo states and it's true. He doesn't want to talk about it, because for all that he likes Riskua, even in spite of her strange eyes, he doesn't trust her. Not with this.

"That's okay," she says and sounds as if she actually means it. She finishes off the last of her cookie and Sabo isn't shocked to see his ploughed through his fair share while distracted by his thoughts.

"If you just want a hug, then I'm good with those too." And... yeah, a hug sounds nice.

Leaning against Riskua's gracile shoulder, Sabo lets his eyelids slip, feeling Riskua pull the covers up with one hand as the other snakes around his back. He doesn't want to risk it, doesn't want to speak about it, but there's nothing wrong if he takes comfort in this.

 

 

 

Sabo wakes to laughter. It's loud, bright, and tinged with a mocking tone. His neck feels stiff, nose cold, and it takes a few moments for his brain to reboot.

The warmth beside him smells wrong, it isn't Ace he's been sleep on, and it takes him a moment to recall why. Ah yes, the nightmare, the raiding of the secret stash for comfort food, and then falling asleep on Riskua.

He's still quite content where he is, despite the crick in his neck, so Sabo simply opens his eyes to stare at the source of the sound.

Ace is sat up on the sleeping mat -Luffy's sleeping mat that Riskua had pushed him onto last night- and he's wearing a grin. The glint in his eyes is mocking though. Not nasty, like the higher nobles were with him, but playful. If a bit mean. Then again, Ace doesn't know Sabo had a nightmare. Hell, the other boy would have probably scowled and told him to stop being a crybaby, Luffy'd have been useless in the face of Sabo's fears, so really it's a damn good thing Riskua's is here. Otherwise he'd probably have spent the entire night awake, refusing to sleep and be dead tired right now.

"Let me in!"

And then there's Luffy, burrowing under the bottom of the covers and wedging his way between Sabo and Riskua, leading with elbows and driving his bony knees into the soft flesh of Sabo's ribs.

The blond grunts, forcibly ejected from Riskua's side to make way for the younger boy. All is not quite forgiven when the little heater throws his arms around the both of them and hugs them close, but Sabo doesn't feel as disgruntled in the face of a new heat source.

"Cuddles," Luffy mumbles, the sound muffles by either Sabo or Riskua's hair. He can't quite tell who's face is being pressed into who's.

Ace is still laughing at them, but Sabo sees the flash in his eyes. The momentary hint of longing, the slight hurt. He's close enough that when Sabo strikes as quickly as he can, the dark haired boy has no chance to react in time.

Sabo gets a solid grip on his ankle and begins reeling him in. Luffy makes a noise of discontent about the upset -it must have been his head resting on Sabo's- before he realises exactly what is going on. With a joyous giggle, he latched on too.

Ace is strong, but between Sabo and Luffy, he's struggling to escape. Really, it's all over for him when Riskua gets involved.

And then Ace is sprawled out across all three of them, Luffy happily wrapping his rubbery limbs around the older boy's torso twice, maybe thrice. Sabo's too busy flopping over his freckled friend and pressing their cheeks together to really take note.

Riskua laughs and then her arms are there, wrapped around Sabo and Ace's waists, her own face peppering a squirming Luffy's with kisses.

"Get off me!" Ace snarls and it's quickly becoming quite impossible to pick his freckles out given the shade of red his cheeks are going. It's almost the same colour as Riskua's hair.

"But Ace is so warm," Riskua purrs, drawing a near hysterical giggle from Luffy and a delight laugh from Sabo himself.

"Ace is really warm," Luffy agrees and yeah, he totally deserves this for laughing at Sabo earlier.

"And so cuddly," the blond tags on, flinching back when Ace goes to bite him in response.

Luffy giggles again before he copies Riskua, slathering sloppy kisses all over Ace's face, who screams in rage or disgust. Maybe a bit of both.

Sabo's neither a girl nor young enough to get away with doing that himself, so he settles for cheering Luffy and Riskua on, the latter of whom has taken to ticking what little of Ace's sides she can reach through Luffy's arms. He cuts off though when Luffy turns his attentions on him instead, leaving a slobbering trail all over Sabo's cheek.

"Luffy! Gross!"

Vindictive chuckles leave Ace's lips before he turns his formidable strength to breaking free of Luffy's hold in order to start fending off Riskua. Sabo himself is trying to beat back Luffy when the door bursts open.

They all pause, twisting around to look at the bandit who just stares right back.

"You brats, keep your voices down!"

Riskua laughs first, it's her fault and then Sabo can't quite stop himself, joining in.

Today is going to be a good day.

 

 

 

He's got a ratty coat on, probably the first one the bandits could find to fit him.

Over to the side of the room, Ace is forcing Luffy into a coat, insisting the younger boy cannot go out unless he adorns himself with one. Luffy squirming and snaps, chomping down on one of Ace's fingers as the older boy tries to do the zipper up and it quickly crumbles into a fight.

Sabo watches it all happen with a smile on his face; that Ace cares enough to ensure Luffy doesn't go out without warm clothes for winter, well Sabo couldn't have seen him doing that earlier this week. It's amusing, but it's also really heart-warming.

Despite how Luffy whines and complains that he can't deal with the restriction to his limbs that the coat brings, he allows Ace to stuff him into it, not quite with minimum fuss, but he's certainly not kicking up a tantrum. If anything, the younger boy appears torn on whether to be pleased with the attention or disgusted with the coat.

Looking away before the two spot him, Sabo instead turns his attention to Riskua, who's now sat on the floor of the living room with a roll of wool in a fetching shade of red. She's knitting, something that Sabo had thought only old women could do.

"Riskua?"

She gives a gentle hum of acknowledgement, but when he makes no further noise, the redhead pausing in whatever she's making to look up at him. In the light of day her eyes are back to being creepy as hell, so Sabo focuses upon the bridge of her nose instead.

"Thanks, for last night."

"You can thank me by bringing back a good haul for me to cook up," she replies, but her lips are gently curved in a smile, head ducked in a slightly sheepish gesture. Sabo couldn't fight the grin even if he wanted to.

"Come on, Sabo! Food!"

Luffy's bouncing up and down by the door, face barely visible given just how far Ace's managed to zip the coat up. The wavy haired boy is stood with his arms folded, arms folded and lips twisted into a grin at the sight.

Quite unable to help himself, Sabo pulls Luffy's hood up and tightens the string things, pulling the material taunt and leaving the boy with a small window from which his face can see the world.

"Sabo!"

Taking off in a run at Luffy's whine, Sabo flicks a glance to Ace and they share twinned expressions of amusement.

"You know, if you cling anymore to Riskua you're gonna steal Luffy's role as the crybaby," the freckles boy calls, laughing as he speeds up. Watching him go, Sabo grabs Luffy's hand to help the kid keep up with them.

 

It's the first time Ace's ever called her something other than 'Creep'.

 

Chapter Text

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Chapter 12

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Ace wakes to yellow. Not the yellow of summer flowers, not the yellow of Riskua's creep ass eyes, not even the yellow glow of the sun. No, Ace wakes to worn yellow parchment.

Scowling, he tries blowing the obstacle on his face away, but the paper just flutters about uselessly, the pressure on his forehead indicating it's stuck there by some form of tape.

Grunting, the freckled boy slowly wiggles a hand free from the blessed heat of the blankets, pawing at his forehead until half-chewed fingernails come into contact with the offending substance. He peels the tape free, pulling the paper away to better inspect it.

Ace's ability to read has never the best to begin with; the bandits had barely taught him the alphabet, he was still been sounding out letters to put them together into words when he met Sabo. He owes what ability with reading he has to the blond boy; it's obvious that wherever he was before he ended up in Grey Terminal, someone had taken the time to teach him, and teach him well. Which, you know, is a stroke of good luck for Ace. Otherwise he'd have no hope of reading these swirly squiggles.

He still squints just a little bit, head tilting to a side as if the angle will better help his conundrum when it comes to understanding this waffle. He can make out 'boys' and 'hunt' and 'treasure' and 'hints'. Oh, and in slightly larger letters than the rest, 'Riskua' is penned at the end. The hell?

"Sabo," Ace snaps, jabbing the other boy in the ribs and continuing his assault even when the blond tries batting his hand away, "wake up and read." Because like hell he'll trust Luffy with something like reading. Brat doesn't even know his left from his right yet. Shameful.

Sabo grunts, rolling over to flee as far along the sleeping mat as he can manage without disappearing completely off it.

Ace watches the blond go for a single moment, but nope, that's not gonna fly.

Sliding to his feet, Ace stalks over to his oldest friend and proceeds to kick him in the ribs. Not the full strength kick that'd wind a tiger, but enough to get its attention. So enough to launch Sabo out of bed, devoid of all blankets and pillows. Right onto the cold wooden flooring.

"Ah! What the hell, Ace?!"

In lieu of an answer, Ace thrusts the note -for that is clearly what it is- right at Sabo.

"The writing's too fancy and shit, make it make sense."

Dark blue eyes blink up at him, Sabo's nose scrunching up as his sleep-riddled brain attempts to make sense of Ace's demand. However the blond must be curious, for he takes the sheet of paper and flips it around, eyes scanning over the words. A low, impressed whistle leaves from between his lips.

"Riskua's handwriting is really neat," the boy praises, his brows furrowing as he reads, "and she's hid our pipes."

"What?!"

Sabo cackles, dancing back and out of Ace's way when the boy lunges for him. He fails to retrieve the paper, stepping on Luffy as he scrambles after Sabo. That's okay, the brat's rubber, it won't hurt him. The 'attack' still wakes him up though, and after taking one look around, Luffy launches himself into the play fight, laughing far too loudly as he does so.

Ace hits the floor as the mass of seven year old child slams into him, though he does manage to drive his elbow into the other boy's ribs. Not that it's particularly effective. Only sharp objects would actually hurt Luffy, though it's possible to stretch him into submission.

It's as he's tying the third bow out of Luffy's arms that Ace remembers just why this 'play fight' started.

"Sabo! Gimme the damn paper!"

"Nope!" Cheerily, the boy rocks back on his heels, clearing his throat as he does so. "Riskua says she's made us a treasure hunt, and that we have to complete it if we want our pipes back."

Ace doesn't feel like grinning, he really doesn't. Sure a treasure hunt sounds fun, but by stealing their pipes to force their cooperation-

"No way." Ace snaps, jamming a finger up his nostril as he looks away from Sabo.

Beneath him, Luffy giggles in obnoxious glee, attempting to stick a finger up his own nose, the motion halted by the knot-work of his arms. That Luffy feels the need to copy him, looks to his movements as if it's a favourable idea to base his own off; Ace doesn't feel warm inside at it. But it certainly does something to his innards, something he really doesn't want to explore because that way leads to feelings and he doesn't need any of that mushy crap. That shit's for girls to deal with.

"Come on, Ace, a treasure hunt sounds cool," Sabo retorts, folding his arms across his chest and cocking his head back to add to the illusion of height. It might work on Luffy, but without his hat on Sabo's still shorter than Ace and the freckle-faced boy knows it.

"And Riskua might've found us some cool stuff. We can be like real pirates then."

"Yeah! Pirates!" And that was Luffy on board. The little traitor.

Ace sneers, arms folded across his chest. It's two against one now though, and even if Ace sits himself down and refuses to move, those two idiots will still head out and follow the Creep's trail. They'll probably get in over their head too; Sabo's strong but Ace's stronger. Even with his weird-ass powers Luffy's a useless crybaby; they'll probably get eaten by a tiger and then Ace'll be stuck all on his own with Riskua, she of the freaky eyes and the too powerful punch. She who would be quite upset with the demise of Sabo and Luffy.

Ha, no thank you to that.

Not that Riskua scares him or anything, and not that he's sentimental or any of that crap, but he'd miss those two idiots if they got swallowed up by the Tiger Lord. Plus he'd have no one to keep sparring against without them. Really it's in Ace's best interest to keep them from getting hurt too badly.

"Tch, I'm coming too."

He's not looking forwards to this treasure hunt. No way.

 

 

Three hours in and Ace may be having fun. Just a little bit.

But it's a hell of a lot cooler than he'd been expecting. There's traps, not that they knew this until Ace and Sabo were at the bottom of a pitfall, Luffy only having escaped by instinctively stretching for a branch to pull himself to safety. There'd been a pit of slime at the bottom, stinky smelly slime; Ace had made sure to smear a good portion in Luffy's face once he hauled himself out of the trap.

It's like training really, following cryptic clues, fighting the dangerous foes that surround their prize, dodging Riskua's tricky traps.

He'd greatly enjoyed watching Luffy get 'tarred and feathered', even if the tar part of that had actually turned out to be honey. Where she'd even collected that much honey, Ace didn't have a bloody clue.

Their first prize had been their pipes, at which point he'd almost quit. He's glad he didn't though, because since then they've been led to a picnic basket full to bursting with sandwiches, little slingshots with hot-sauce pellets to lob at the irritating occupants of Goa Kingdom and several stashes of trinkets and treasures.

Right now they're in the process of scaling a rather large moss covered tree to get to the next location. Sabo's been solving the riddles, and Luffy's just been bouncing along in a haze of adventure induced excitement.

Ace'll never admit it, but this is perhaps the coolest thing they've done all month. It's so much closer to a real adventure than anything else he's done. Sure digging the wild animals of Dawn Island are tough and good practice for the awe inspiring battles he'll no doubt get into as a real pirate, but being a pirate isn't all about the fights. It's about seeing the world too, uncovering mysteries and exploring places he's never been before.

Ace's never ventured into this part of the jungle, given that the bandits said the smaller animals lived here he's never felt a need to go explore there.

Only there's carnivorous plants here that'll eat a man up if given the chance and that's wicked cool. The trees are insanely difficult to climb and it's easy to get lost in this new territory.

"Not a vine not a vine!" Sabo screams, tearing away from the 'vine' he'd been holding onto that hisses at his retreating form. The snake snarls, shifting and takes a lunging shot for Luffy, who laughs despite the venom that coats its fangs.

With a grunt, Ace catches the beast's tail, noting that for all that the usual animals are smaller around here, the snakes are impressively large. He's never bothered to catch snake for dinner before, never seen the point as they are barely twice his height in length. This one though could probably wrap twice around Dadan's hut and still have a few feet of tail left over.

Reeling the beast in, its vicious jaws snapping at the air mere inches from Luffy's face, Ace twists and slams the creature into the ground. He drops from the tree, ignoring Sabo's bellow of caution to slam his heels into the dazed snake's skull.

Looks like they've got their mid afternoon snack.

 

 

They make it back to the hut just as the sun sets.

Adorned in various prizes and dragging even more goodies behind them as they approach, Ace lets Sabo and Luffy race ahead of him.

It's the youngest that boots open the door, a loud 'we're home!' bellowed at the top of his lungs as he crosses the threshold.

Dirty fingers, earth trapped beneath the chewed nails, scratch lazily at the latest insect bite Ace's acquired. Ten years on this island and he's still not developed some kind of immunity to the damn mosquitoes. There's blood still oozing ever so slightly from the fresh cut on his forearm and he's gonna need to steal a bit of Dadan's alcohol to clean it up. He does not want to be risking his life with an infection again. Had Garp not shown his face when he did, then Ace'd have died thanks to the bandit's total lack of medical knowledge.

Not that Garp knew anything himself; the idiot had just thrown Ace to the closest doctor and told them to 'fix him or else'. The or else had been left hanging, but the fact Garp had ploughed right through the stone wall, ignoring the perfectly serviceable doorway to enter the hospital seemed to have put the fear of god in the doctors that day.

Ace can't really blame them, Garp terrifies him on the best of days. He'd hated to have seen how the man's behave when the brat he'd been trying to keep alive was in danger of kicking the bucket.

Not that people wouldn't have celebrated if they knew Gol D. Roger's kid had died.

Grimacing, Ace hefts the sack higher onto his shoulder, mood effectively ruined now. All that good fun today, all that exploring and adventuring with Sabo and Luffy but it still only takes one thought to ruin it all. What would they think, if they knew?

Teeth grinding against one another, Ace forcibly pushes the thought back, trying to focus on the here and now and not ponder what-if's. He doesn't need to consider what Sabo and Luffy would think of him; he can't tell them.

He can't afford to lose them.

Riskua- well she's iffy on him already, and that has nothing to do with his parentage. On one hand, he remembers her bust up with Dadan, but on the other- he hasn't exactly been nice to her and she's responded in kind. Sure she treats him better than the bandits, but compared to how damn nice she is to Sabo and Luffy -especially Luffy- it's obvious that Ace's at the bottom of her favourite people list.

He's so deep inside his own head he makes it five whole steps into the room before he realises all is not as it should be.

 

 

Riskua's sat on top of Luffy, her hands firmly pressing against the younger boy's mouth and successfully muffling whatever he's trying to shout about. His dark eyes are incredibly excited and Riskua's creep ass yellow gaze is warm with anticipation. Beside them, Sabo is sitting and grinning widely, missing tooth so painfully obvious among those sparkling whites.

It's the room though, the room is different.

There's brightly coloured streamers thrown all over and balloons, eleven of them, scattered across the floor.

Ace's eyes are all over the place, taking note of the celebratory decorations -he's seen them before on the outskirts of the noble's part of the kingdom, for whenever they throw parties- but he has no idea what they're doing here though.

At least, he doesn't have a clue until his gaze finds the banner sloppily tacked up on the kitchen wall when he steps through from the hallway.

The letters come in various sizes of block capitals, a stark contrast to the fancy words that Riskua had left on her note this morning. But he can read this a lot easier than that note. It's not like he'd ever fail to recognise his own name after all.

'Happy Birthday Ace'.

He mouths the words silently, and there's an absence of something in his chest; it takes a few moments before he realises this is quite possibly shock he's experiencing.

"Happy Birthday, Ace!" As if they haven't made it clear enough, Sabo and Riskua shout this at the top of their lungs, Luffy following a hasty second later. They're all grinning, bright and happy, lumped together in the kitchen doorway where they've followed after his dazed stumble from the front door to his favourite room in the bandit's hut.

The table is covered in food, six or so different meals all lined up for consumption. Well aware of just how long a good meal can take to cook -and there's six of them- Ace swiftly realises just why Riskua had thrown together this mass treasure hunt he's just conquered. Sabo pushing so hard for him to join in; obviously the blond has been in on this too. Not Luffy though, Luffy who can't keep a secret in the slightest, Luffy who sucks at lying. He's just as eager to join in on this hurriedly prepared party...

Ace has never attended a party before, never mind had one... had one thrown for him. He doesn't even know the exact date of his birthday, only gathering how old he was from Dadan's complaints of 'you're so many years old now, when are you gonna stop acting like a kid?'. How had they-

"I asked Dadan when your birthday was," Riskua explains, shrugging her shoulders even as her arms strain from the effort of confining Luffy. The youngest of them is eying the buffet -Ace's birthday buffet- far too hungrily for the freckled boy's liking. That's... that's his. For his birthday... he should get to try it all first, right?

"I can eat it?" Ace blurts out, face twisting into a frown at the loose words slipping unbidden from his lips.

"Yeah," Riskua grunts, footing slipping and Sabo steps forwards to help reel Luffy back in, "but better get your teeth into it quick."

The implication that Luffy doesn't care in the least it's Ace's birthday when there's food before him is not lost on the birthday boy.

He pushes down the muted shock, pushes down the whole thing about this being a painstakingly planned party for his birthday to be considered later. When food is eaten and he's away from the trio that're threatening to turn him into emotional mush, it's something to be considered then.

Instead, Ace strides to the table, cursing his limbs for betraying his eagerness but he's already got a leg of something in hand, tearing into the succulent meat. The food tastes really good, not like the fancy restaurant kind of good, but it's just... it's not the cold clinical food from the restaurants, measured out to ensure it meets customer satisfaction. This food is warm, smells warm, tastes warm, sits warm in his stomach. It's a home cooked meal, one done not just to consume food to survive but for the actually enjoyment of eating it, cooked for someone specific to enjoy eating it.

A piece of meat catches in Ace's threat and he forces it down with the practiced ease of a swift eater. It tastes great.

Then Luffy escapes the cage of Riskua's arms and it's all out war.

 

 

The bowls are all empty, licked clean with not even a single drop of gravy left over. Ace's never known what it feels like to be full, and he doubts he ever will, his appetite is just too great. But, he imagines this is as close as he will get for a long while, both hands resting comfortably upon his belly.

Luffy's half slumped across the table, smacking his lips together in quick succession, as if there's residue of meat still lingering there. Ha, as if Luffy'd ever leave leftovers behind.

"That was tasty," Sabo admits, grinning out from the brim of his hat and then sheepishly pulling the headgear off when Riskua blatantly eyeballs it. She's got a strange thing about hats off if not when indoors at least when sat up to table. Even Luffy has his precious strawhat hanging from his neck by a string.

"That's not it all."

Riskua's moving away from the table, opening the fridge and disappearing behind the door.

Ace sits up in interest, mood peeking at the idea of seconds. Cold food is as a good as hot, especially meat.

Then Sabo's hat is over his eyes, blocking his view and Ace snarls in response.

"Damn it, Sabo, what the hell-"

Something catches in his throats and this time it's certainly not a hunk of meat. No long obscured by the brim of his best friend's hat, Ace can now see that what Riskua has brought out from the fridge isn't several plates of cold cuts at all.

Rather it's bright orange, several stripes of what he assumes to be black icing sloppily decorating the surface in attempted straight lines. Almost like tiger fur.

"Zaa, happy birthday, Ace."

Forcibly tearing his gaze away from the cake -a cake with eleven candles, patterned like a tiger's pelt and placed up to table before him- to stare up at Riskua. She's smiling, clearly proud of herself.

He barely notices the commotion of Sabo restraining an awed Luffy, not quite able to see anything past his birthday cake. A birthday cake made for him.

"Blow out your candles, Ace! Before I do it instead!" Sabo snaps and Ace instinctively does so, half forgotten memories of playing with fire dancing in his mind.

Only after they're smoking does he remember that you're suppose to make some kind of birthday wish. But, but this year's looking up already, has started on a brilliant note; he's not quite sure what he'd wish for.

"Cake!" Other than for Luffy to not eat all of his damn cake!

Batting the other boy's rubbery hands away, Ace scowls, accepting the fact he'll have to wrestle with the younger boy if he wants to prevent the brat from inhaling the entire cake.

"I'll cut it!" Sabo declares and Ace sees the blond accept a knife from the redhead for the single moment he manages to hold the squirming Luffy down. It's not long until the brat is halfway out his hold, leg stretching and Ace doesn't have enough time to grapple for a better grasp on his waist.

Only Riskua's there, small hand blacker than Ace's hair as it clamps down on Luffy's hands and they stop stretching.

"Point number two in Haki's favour," she grunts, breath a bit short, "Haki is stronger than Devil Fruit powers when used right." Yeah, Ace's gonna have to put some effort into learning that if the creep is telling the truth. The Grand Line's suppose to be riddled with Devil Fruit users, and every last one of them is no doubt stronger -way stronger- than Luffy. It sucks, but it looks like he'll be spending more time with the creep after all...

 

It doesn't sound as bad an idea as it would have done yesterday.

 

.


.

.

 

Sabo had cut the cake into quarters. Uneven, massively chunky quarters.

Ace of course has gotten the biggest, with Luffy and Sabo breaking out into a fight for the second biggest.

During this time Riskua had sliced off a little bit of her own to even out the slightly smaller slice the duo had been fighting over, quite content with her own portion afterwards. Cake may be wonderful stuff, but she hadn't exactly baked a small one and eating a full quarter in one sitting just wasn't possible for her. She's not like the gluttons she lives with. Speaking of gluttons...

Riskua glances over at Ace, who's staring down at the plate he's licked clean, dirty fingernails biting into the flesh of his palms. There's not even a crumb of cake or a little flake of icing around his lips, he's devoured the whole thing. He's at least appreciated the effort she's gone to, that much is obvious.

It's also so painfully obvious that it's never happened before, that he has no idea how to respond to this situation in the slightest. The wide eyed surprise, the dazed stumble as he made his way to the kitchen earlier, the stunned confusion as they'd called out happy birthday...

Riskua had been under the impression that she couldn't dislike the bandits anymore for their hands off approach to parenting.

But it bites, it stings whenever she looks over at Ace. He deserves so much better. Not because he's a good kid, not because he's going to be a major player in upcoming events, but just because he's a child. And perhaps it's leftover ideals from her own world, but she's still a firm believer that all children should be cherished and protected. She's been lucky in this life, lucky that she's been landed with such caring parents, lucky that she not one of thousands of kids in worse situations. It grates that she can't do anything about it, that she's not in a position to do so and probably never will be.

She can help Sabo and Luffy and Ace though. So that's what she'll do.

"Shit!"

Head snapping up at the proclamation, panic races through Riskua's bones because god damn Luffy's clearly choking on something. Shooting to her feet, Riskua doesn't even bother encouraging him to cough -it's clear he's already trying- and she instead slaps him across the back five times. When that proves ineffective, she wraps her hands around his abdominals and squeezes.

There's a gurgled choke and then Luffy coughs up the little spoon Riskua had used for measuring the cake ingredients. Damn. She must have dropped it in the mixture and cooked it in the cake.

"Haha, that was close!" Luffy giggles, so painfully breathless and guilt zings through Riskua. "I want a meat cake for my birthday!"

"Shit, Luffy, don't scare us like that," Sabo hisses, his eyes still wide and face still pale. Even Ace looks a tad worried.

"Okay, I'm teaching you how to stop someone choking first thing tomorrow," she promises, only half paying attention when Sabo nods in agreement.

Her focus is still on Luffy, who's face is starting to flush with colour again and the kid has no idea just how close to death he just came.

Quite unable to help herself, Riskua folds the boy up in her arms, pressing his face into her shoulder and planting her head down onto of his. The fluffy black hair tickles her jawline, the thin limbs eagerly accepting the cuddle as they wrap around her waist but all Riskua can focus on is the constant movement of his ribcage as Luffy continues to breathe.

Hell, she'd been sure the first time she'd be unfortunate enough to see Luffy this close to death would be in his first major fight. Not, not choking on a little things she'd left lying about. To think she'd thought herself ready for the responsibilities of having a kid just before her death in the before. Nope, no way, this is such a monumental task and she's nowhere near prepared.

"Group hug!" She calls and sure enough Sabo's there in a flash. Another kid who's not got enough affection throughout his life and is no more than happy to take what he can get.

Riskua wraps one arm around the boy's shoulders and presses him into Luffy and herself, opening her eyes to stare at Ace.

The freckles boy just looks right back at her, face scrunched up with not quite disgust but a clear inclination that he has no desire to get involved. She'll let him keep his distance for now, today has been a bit of a bombardment for him after all.

Riskua presses her head back down into the warmth of Luffy and Sabo, but she doesn't miss how Ace goes back to staring at the empty cake plate once again.

 

 

"Why were you taking pictures?"

Dadan jumps at the sound of her voice, but Riskua doesn't really care. She wants answers, not to scare her fellow female out of her skin. That's just a bonus.

In the background she can hear Luffy's boisterous laughter, coupled with the slouching sound of water as the three boys wash away a week's worth of dirt. Really, Riskua wishes they'd attempt to keep clean a little more often than they actually do. How they haven't come down with some kind of illness yet, she has no idea.

"What're you talkin' about, brat." Dadan huffs, huge body shaking with the furious inhale, but she's not quick enough to hide the camera from Riskua's sight. Nor what appears to be some kind of book that's hidden behind her form.

Dashing by the woman with as much speed as she can manage, Riskua snatches the item in question up, hastily retreating back and flipping through to the first page-

She stops, staring down at the photographs there. This, this hadn't been what she had expected to find.

Dadan's snapping at her, probably demands or harsh words, but Riskua cannot tear her gaze away from the glossy images on the pages before her.

With little tuffs of black hair and a galaxy of freckles beneath his eyes, an adorable little baby stares back out at her. There's a caption below, 'Garp brought a brat', but Riskua cannot read those words without hearing a fond undertone, not now that she's staring at the physical proof that Dadan actually cares. There's more photos of Ace as a baby and a toddler than anything else, they're also the only ones taken when the boy's clearly aware of them. As he gets older there's less and they're all taken without him aware of it, that much is clear.

But there's still photos.

"You're an awful caretaker... but you actually do care about him." And it's a shock.

She knew that the Dadan of the manga got upset over Ace's death, but this is the first time she's been able to piece that Dadan with the one stood before her.

Riskua flicks her gaze up to the orange haired woman, not budging an inch when the scrapbook is swiftly snatched out of her hands. They stare at each other for a moment, the height difference so damn obvious, Riskua so tiny before this large woman. It's funny, but the stark difference in their physical statutes doesn't faze her.

Instead, Riskua finds herself remembering their fist fight over Ace and for the first time finds herself contemplating Dadan from a different angle. The bandits never kept the truth from Ace, and sure they'd handled it in the wrong fashion, but perhaps they'd been trying to toughen him up for everything the world would throw at him for being Roger's kid. Not that such a thing made it any better, but the thought might have been there.

"How much do camera's here cost?" Riskua asks quietly, because scrapbooking sounds like a fantastic idea really, capturing memories for Ace and Sabo and Luffy to look back on; the idea makes her heart swell. Maybe one day they'd appreciate it.

"Tch, I need a new model anyway," Dadan huffs, pushing the little device into Riskua's arms and then storming out the room.

The redhead doesn't miss the fact she's left with her scrapbook tucked under her arm.

 

 

Slipping into their bedroom, Riskua shakes her head at the state of the three boys. Water's dripping freely from their hair, a trail of droplets leading from the door to their sleeping mats. It's not been a very effective bath; Luffy still has dirt caking the corner of his jawline and Sabo's got the flower pollen of the winter bloomers all up one arm. They're tuckered out though, the both of them fast asleep with Luffy sprawled out and Sabo snuggling up to his side like a needy little limpet.

Grinning in amusement, Riskua snaps the first of what is sure to be many, many pictures, settling herself down as she does so. It's been a long day, she's got three burns hidden beneath the sleeve of her shirt from fighting with the oven, but to see the tender, fragile surprise on Ace's face, it'd been worth it.

"Had a good day?" She asks, flicking her eyes up to look over at the boy in question.

Gunmetal grey stare back at her for a moment before they dance away, lips drawn into something that's a half grimace and half a suppressed smile. To Riskua's absolute surprise, he actually responds, even if it's only one word muttered low and under his breath.

"Yeah."

Sabo interrupts with a loud snore, the noise right by Luffy's ear. The younger boy doesn't so much as twitch, content in his little post-food slumber.

"...Why- I don't-" Ace cuts himself off, huffing before he clambers into bed without a word, a clear indication the conversation is over.

It's rude, unbelievably so. Had it been anyone else other than a kid that clearly had never even been informed manners existed, never mind used them himself, then perhaps Riskua would have cared a little more. Ace'd probably learn one day; Riskua doesn't mind the rudeness tight now though, not this time, at least.

Flicking one last glance to the boy's back, her lips twitch up into a smile.

There might not have been any manners at all hidden in that eleven year old head, but she'd heard the gratitude in that whispered 'yeah'. And that's enough for her.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

In her previous life, she'd never have dared to do this.

One shoulder pressing into the side of the booth and the other brushing against Sabo's, Riskua sits up to the table with two darker haired boys occupying the opposite side. There are stacks of plates piled up at the centre of the table, leaning dangerously against one another and those towers are only growing higher as time goes on. The scent of hearty meat is heavy in the air, gravy smeared all around Sabo's chin and crumbs decorating Ace's cheeks.

Predictably, Luffy has not missed his mouth with a single grain and is the only one of them free of mess right now.

Reaching for a roll of bread, Riskua skilfully redirects Luffy's hand towards Ace's quarter of the spread, tearing into her still warm prize. The flavour is crisp and strong on her tongue, far tastier than any bread she's managed to cook herself. Given that they've invaded the central district of the Goa Kingdom, it's not really a surprise that the food is good.

Sat upon the second floor of the restaurant in a private booth, Riskua tries to appreciate the high class surroundings as much as she does the food. Large windows, the frames intricately decorated with a fleur de lis pattern carved into its surface, allow in a generous amount of winter sunshine. While the light isn't particularly warm on their faces, it does wonders to lift Riskua's spirits.

A half muffled belch passes from between Sabo's lips and Riskua echoes him a moment later, stomach uncomfortably heavy.

As one, the two of them sit back and watch as the Will of D go about finishing off the rest. Perhaps it is a D thing that means Luffy and Ace just eat more than Sabo and herself, it's the only significant difference between the four of them after all.

"It's a little sickening," Sabo whispers, dark blue eyes completely focused upon the duo.

Two tanned hands have landed on the same slab of meat, Luffy's teeth digging into it not a second later even as Ace tries desperately to not lose the huge chunk to the younger boy. Along with his still grasping fingers. There's an audible snap as the meat crumbles under the pressure, the freckles boy not even pausing to check if he's retained all ten digits before he's already reaching for his next piece.

"I don't think there's any 'little' about it," Riskua grumbles, folding her arms over the table to nestle her head upon. For if she does not keep them occupied, then she's going to end up rubbing at her stomach in an attempt to soothe it.

Unlike her, Sabo leans back with a chuckle, patting gingerly at his midriff all the while grinning at the duo.

"They'll run out of food shortly." What goes unsaid is that the second they do, the second they have to pay the bill, it's going to get real interesting.

It doesn't matter if her stomach is whining in discomfort, they're going to be making a dash for it, and hopefully none of them will get caught. They shouldn't do; all four of them have managed to outrun the vast majority of the local wildlife now -if the tigers and bears and alligators can really fall under such a label- and there's few humans on this island outside of trained Marines would could achieve such a speed. And really, the Marines have 'more important' things to be doing than chasing four kids.

An abnormally loud belch echoes out from Ace's mouth, Luffy scowling when he fails to summon up his own to match. With their flyaway black hair, even if one set of locks is wavy and the other straight, they look far more like siblings than should probably be allowed. The childish softness to their features aids in this; no doubt as Ace ages and grows into is straight strong nose, as he bulks out while Luffy remains light and lithe, it'll become obvious they're not blood.

But for now, it's not an idea that could be unbelievable.

Tucking away the smile that comes with the thought of the three boys declaring themselves brothers, Riskua plucks up her glass and downs the last of the cool water inside. The staff must have sensed the moment that the food had finally been demolished, for a rather square faced looking waiter made his way over, looking nervously between them. As if praying and hoping he'll find an adult's influence where there clearly is none.

"Will you be paying in cash?"

As one, the four of them look at one another, their best poker faces threatening to easily crumble. It's no surprise that Luffy's the first to crack, eyes wide and grin sheepish.

In the face of that expression, the three of them don't have a hope of keeping it together, Riskua blatantly admits to herself.

The waiter sees it right away, leaping forwards and making a grab for their weak link; Luffy.

Ace is too quick though, clamping his hand down on Luffy's wrist and throwing the both of them out of the window. Glass shatters in a rain of shards, Riskua quick to shoot out after the duo. She can hear the muffled thump of Sabo's boot hitting the table as he launches himself out a second behind her, followed by a furious bellow.

 "Leave without paying, will you? Somebody catch those little brats!"

Riskua laughs, adjusting the curve of her body until she's falling quicker, spreading out her limbs as she nears Luffy.

"Man, that was good!"

"What did I tell you?!"

She can picture Ace's smug grin at those words, even though he'd not in her current line of vision. Rubbery hands reach out and wrap around her wrist and Riskua pulls Luffy closer in return, twisting the two of them until it's her back that meets the cloth awning, Luffy wrapped up in the safety of her arms. They spring away just in time for Ace to replace them, Luffy taking the brunt of the landing on the actual street with his resistant to blunt force body.

Metal screams as Sabo uses a conveniently placed flagpole to slow his own descent, swinging around to land upon the road just ahead of them.

There are people screaming now, someone demanding they halt while another calls out for somebody, anybody to stop them. Riskua's heart is leaping about in her throat. It doesn't matter what chases them; tiger, bear, Grey Terminal criminal or whatever passes for a police force in the central district, the thrill of the chase thrums through her body all the same.

Picking up their pace as they take off down the street, Riskua catches Luffy's reaching hand in her, own, pulling the boy and his short legs along. Sabo's charging ahead of them, Ace running on Luffy's other side.

It's easy to forget what's ahead like this, easy to escape the concept of tomorrow and just keep living in the moment. It's easy to forget everything the world is going to throw at the boys she runs with, easy to ignore it all and just enjoy living with them. Like the Strawhat Pirates getting pulled into Luffy's world, it's easy to fall into the same orbit of chaos that curls around these three. She tries to keep a level head, because by god does someone in this group need to, and she keeps up her strict training regime with the daggers and her Haki.

But, sometimes it's easy to forget just what kind of threats she will now be exposed to as Dracule Riskua, especially when it all seems so far away.

"Sabo! Sabo! It's really you! Wait right there!"

Until something shatters that lovely little bubble that is.

"Who's that guy?" Luffy questions, cheeks still ballooned with food he's yet to swallow, and for a moment Riskua worries he'll choke. Only then she remembers that there's no way Luffy'll choke on food, because then he'd have to cough it up and that'd be a waste.

"He must be mistaking me for someone else, let's go!"

It's not the right time, but Riskua just find herself cracking up at the absurdity of it all.

Luffy's fingers are wrapped up tight in her's as his wild laughter mingles with her breathless giggles. Sure she feels the need to slowly coax Ace into the concept of care and affection, and sure she's got her work cut out for her undoing all that blatant neglect that Sabo's been exposed to, and sure there's so much coming t them in the future... but Luffy is a treasure that she will happily heap love upon, and she'll take every opportunity to do so.

For it seems as if the world's plot line is finally catching up to them.

 

 

 

They don't stop running until they reach the safety of the jungle, disappearing into the thick barricade of the trees, weaving in and out of the familiar routes. The whole time Luffy's hand never leaves hers and when Riskua's stamina starts to waver he's there to pull her along, even if their speed slows down as a result.

By the time they reach the clearing, the four of them are heaving for breath, Riskua crumpling to the floor and Luffy following a short second afterwards, head nestled on her stomach. Ace stands, hunched over with his hands gripping at his knees as he catches his breath while Sabo follows their example and flops out upon the ground, resting his head on her shoulder.

Riskua would really like to know when she became their personal pillow, but cannot find it in her heart to push them away.

Instead, when her limbs no longer feel like jelly, she knocks both hats from their heads and instead threads her fingers through the thick hair she finds there, nails lazily scraping at their scalps. Both boys groan in appreciation.

Still panting slightly, Ace straightens up before his gaze swings to rest on Sabo. Yes, this is a story Riskua needs to hear, and she clamps down on the handful of hair before the boy can even think to start squirming away.

"We shouldn't keep secrets from each other," Ace declares, leaning over the three of them and getting right up in Sabo's face as he does so. The sweat accumulated from the run drips off of his nose and onto Sabo's shirt; no doubt the four of them are going to smell something foul when they crawl home at the end of the day. "So spill it."

"Yeah, Sabo!" Luffy's chin digs into her stomach as he rolls over to the eye the blond, with a face that'd be fierce were it not for the significant amount of childish puppy fat.

"We don't keep secrets, and we won't judge you, right boys?"

Luffy nods along with her and the redhead grits her teeth as his chin digs deeper into the muscles of her midriff. Had Luffy's chin always been that pointy?

"What she said," Ace snaps, not looking away from Sabo as he points his finger towards Riskua, "unless you're still wetting the bed or something."

"What?! No!"

The meaty thump of Sabo's fist smacking against Ace's arm has the three of them laughing right away.

It dies in the face of Sabo's tale though. Riskua lays still and she listens as the ten year old before her weaves his tale, admitting to his still very alive parents -she tries not the think of Raowl, to question if the woman she's come to love as another mother still breaths or if it's already too late- and his noble background.

As he speaks, Riskua resumes her gentle rubbing, knowing full well the motion often calms Luffy right down, so with any luck it will provide the same effect to Sabo. It has to be doing something, for while the blond sounds bone tried and deeply resentful as he speaks of his previous life, he doesn't tense up.

When his tale is done, Riskua can feel the live wire undercurrent of anger thrumming through her veins. Perhaps she's more family inclined than what is considered usual for this world, but she just cannot picture treating her future children as Sabo's parents have done. Luffy's forcefully dislodged from her lap but she cannot focus past the blond right now.

"Sabo, sweetie," and she pulls him into her arms, pressing his face into her shoulder and clenching her eyes to stem the tears, "your parents are idiots. Every noble I've ever heard of seems to be awful and quite frankly, you were right to run away. And now you're Ace's best friend and one of Luffy's role models and I wouldn't have anyone sane to talk to without you. So don't you dare let your parents win by thinking you're worthless, okay?"

Pulling back to look him dead in the eye and make sure he gets the message, Riskua flicks her gaze to Ace once she's sure the former noble has accepted her words, wondering what it will take to get through to the freckled boy.

"Ace, Luffy, Riskua, we have to make it out to sea one day!" Sabo cries, snatching up her hand and dragging the redhead to her feet.

He declares his dream for the world to hear, Ace and Luffy getting swept up to the point they leap to their feet too. Her heart breaks just a bit at Ace's words, at the belief that the world just won't accept him, and Riskua silently vows to fix that. She'll fix Ace's self worth issues, and she'll help Sabo come to terms with the fact that he is enough for them, and she'll help Luffy by just showering him with love.

"I'm going to travel the world," Riskua asserts, fingers fisting by her sides, Sabo's grip warm on her wrist, "and I'm going to become the world's greatest Haki user, an expert on the power!"

Of course then Luffy screams his lifetime goal down their ears and the two boys completely forget all about Riskua's 'mystery power' in favour of that ridiculous goal.

 

 

 

Sabo and Ace have gone to go and bathe, leaving the recently washed Luffy sat in their room with her. He's nestled between her legs, shoulder blades against her chest and head tucked neatly under her chin.

Riskua hums low in her throat, allowing the sound to drag out far longer than necessary until she can feel Luffy's sides contract with his giggles beneath her finger tips. He's lovely and warm to hug, and though it's a bit strange for his ribs to have a bit of give to them whenever she hugs a bit too tightly -he's a rubber human, she has to keep reminding herself of this- she has no problem snuggling up to the younger boy. It's not something she can ever see stopping either; Luffy's not the kind of kid to push away affection because it's not 'cool'. He knows what he likes, and he's obliviously stubborn enough to take whatever it is he wants, screw what anyone else thinks.

Knowing that he'll always accept affection like this is a balm to Riskua's worried soul. No matter what comes her way in the future, she'll always have Luffy to cuddle until she dies, that's for certain.

"Riskua, why are Sabo's parents mean?" It's completely innocent a question, a genuine enquiry from a pure hearted child who cannot understand why another would be mean, especially to someone who he adores so much.

Leaning back against the wall, Riskua wonders how she could possibly begin to explain the true depths of deprivation humans can actually reach, how easily corrupted they can be, when something occurs to her.

"Why do you keep asking me these questions? I don't have all the answers, Luffy."

So maybe she doesn't want to taint his innocent view of the world, because no matter how adorable the future Luffy of the manga is, he understands that humans can be foul creatures. If she can protect this little Luffy, this one who has become her younger sibling just a little longer, then she will.

Raven hair tilts to a side as Luffy peers back at her, eyes wide and pulling at the scar upon his left cheek.

"But you have an idea?"

"Well yeah," she admits, scratching lazily at Luffy's side as the kid relaxes into the touch, trying to figure out just how to put this.

Slowly she tries to open the idea up to him, simplifying things down to the fact that if Sabo could marry into the royal family his parents would be able to eat far more meat than usual, but asking Sabo to do that was like asking Luffy to give up his dream to become King of the Pirates.

The little boy looks rightfully horrified, but probably more over the idea of giving up his dream to give other people, and not himself, meat. He probably doesn't even apply it to Sabo, instead just picturing himself, but for a seven year old, that's a good enough grasp on the situation at hand.

"-but that's only a guess, I could be wrong." 'Though that's highly doubtful,' Riskua thinks, trying to figure out how she's going to get them from where they're leaning back against the walls to the sleeping mats, all without losing the heat they've generated in this spot. It's going to be cold beneath the covers now.

"See, Riskua knows everything."

And Riskua belatedly realises she's been tricked by the little imp, not just into answering him but into backing up his reasoning to throw all his questions her way. The true sting comes from knowing Luffy hasn't even planned it and that the universe just aligned perfectly for him. It probably won't be the first time such a thing happens either, the redhead resignedly thinks.

Perhaps she should be a bit worried about Luffy using her as his base, his touchstone from which to interpret the world. But given that the only other options he has to emulate are Ace and Sabo, both of whom don't have the same experience she does and are twisted by their own childish perceptions of the world around them, then perhaps it's for the best.

"Not everything, but I do know more than you," she teases, prodding and poking at Luffy's ribs until he's squirming and giggling.

"Riskua! Shishishi, stop!"

 

 

 

The next day, Ace brings them all back to the clearing, a badly hidden growth beneath his top that appears to be shaped suspiciously like a bottle.

They really shouldn't be drinking alcohol, Riskua reasons, even though the horror she'd believed herself to be feeling at the sight is blatantly absent. But a few sips isn't going to hurt them, not really. Especially after that big breakfast they've just finished ploughing through.

"Did you guys know," Ace starts, slipping the booze out from beneath his top with a naughty little smile on his face, "that when you exchange drinks, you become brothers?"

It doesn't really hit her until that moment, Ace stood there with a white knuckled grip on the neck of the bottle, that the freckled boy is throwing his cards down on the table right now. He's showing his hand, opening up and is just pushing forwards the idea of brotherhood. She's well aware they're not close, she and Ace, so it's a relief to see her presence hasn't changed the ties Luffy'll form with these two boys.

Dark blue eyes light up at the mention of family, of brotherhood, Sabo eagerly accepting his sake cup.

"There's only three cups!" Luffy cries after a moment, looking between the item in his own grasp, Sabo's and Ace's.

"Tch, it wouldn't work, she's a girl, she can't be our brother."

There's a little sting, Riskua finds, to know that Ace hasn't included her. But that it's down to a technicality like gender, it lessens the blow. Besides, she's already proclaimed Luffy her younger brother. She doesn't think she can handle the other two blockheads as her brothers as well.

"I'm not your brother Luffy, I'm your sister because I'm a girl. And quite frankly, I don't think these two are mature enough to be my older brothers. I'm quite happy with just you as my sibling, Kinglet. These two can be the idiot best friends I have to keep pulling out of trouble."

Said idiots both bristle, though she doesn't miss how Ace silently mouths the words 'best friends' under his breath. Perhaps it's not something he had in his vocabulary before today.

"Oh... Do girl's poop?"

Sabo smacks a palm against his forehead with a furious sigh, the stolen alcohol jostling about in his cup.

"Not really something you talk about, Kinglet, but yeah, girl's poop."

"... What's it like?"

"…Just drink your stolen booze, Luffy."

He laughs, loud and bright as he glances back to the two boys.

Strangely enough, neither seem to be having any second thoughts about accepting Luffy as a little brother and Riskua wonders how long it'll be until they realise the full implication of taking on a little sibling.

Of having to always watch, to teach them about the world. Ace isn't exactly a great source of patience, that well had run dry long ago. While someday he will start digging deeper looking for more, today is not that day.

Sabo, well Sabo's only ever been exposed to noble family culture, where everything is about progressing the family name. While it could be put forwards that not every family is the same, it's painfully clear that Sabo's immediate family fall easily into the 'bad influence' category.

Speaking of family, does Luffy even know what it means to have older brothers? Probably not, given how he still seems a bit dazed whenever Riskua bundles him up for a super long cuddle, or dunks him in the bath for a wash, or helps him put his shirt on the right way around. And now he's going to be dealing with the teasing from three older siblings.

Laughing, Luffy downs the contents of his cup, whipping the back of his hand across his mouth before sticking his tongue out.

"That was gross!"

"Starting today, we're brothers!" Ace declares right over Luffy's complaint, cheeks flushed red with excitement and a beaming wide grin on his face. He's so excited, head swinging back and forth from Luffy's hacking form and Sabo's woozy swaying. They really shouldn't have drunk all of that so fast. They're all grinning though, all so painfully proud of themselves.

And Riskua hates to bring them down, she really does, but-

"You do realise that bottle was Dadan's best one, right?"

There's silence for a moment as the three boys look between one another and then back at her, before finally Luffy shrugs and offers up the best plan they could ever put into action.

"We'll just go home when Dadan's asleep."

 

 

 

While it has been three days since their last venture into the Central District, more than enough time for things to cool down, they still enter on the opposite side. Just in case.

The three boys have once again armed themselves with their lead pipes, but the air around them is different now. Before, it'd just been about the mischief, about the adventure and the inadvertent chase that'd come about one way or another.

Now though, now they move as a unit, three brothers exploring old territory, revelling in the fact they are now part of a very specific, special group.

Riskua'll be lying if she didn't say she was feeling left out. While she sticks to her guns, not quite capable of seeing Ace and Sabo as potential older brothers -for that is what they'd insist upon, being older than her- it doesn't mean the sting of loneliness doesn't prick at her skin.

Luffy's so focused on them though, forcibly nudging himself between their bodies last night, throwing one rubbery limb over each of them. Riskua had laid on her bed mat, staring at the trio with her heart bleeding bittersweet ichor. It was lovely to see them getting along so well, heart-warming and all that other mushy rubbish.

Perhaps she's just being selfish, Luffy's just exploring these new relationships he suddenly has, after all, it doesn't mean he's dropping her. It doesn't mean that he's pre-programmed to the two somebody's who are going to be so significant, so important in his life. It doesn't mean she's going to get tossed to a side. It doesn't.

Chewing on her lip, Riskua adjusts the lay of her hat, allowing it to slant down and shadow her eyes before she stuffs her hands into her pockets.

Perhaps it's all in her head, perhaps it's just her subconscious reminding her that she doesn't really belong here, that she's an intruder in this place, but acknowledging that thought doesn't make it any easier, doesn't kill off the insecurities that gurgle about within her stomach. She has to keep moving on though, because there's nothing else she can do right now.

It's not like she has something better to leave this place for, even if she could tear herself emotionally away from Luffy. There's no way Shanks would know to come pick her up, she'd been so resolute in her determination to help him out, to look after his little anchor. She can't even bear the thought of letting him down, never mind having to actually face him and confess she gave up because she suddenly wasn't Luffy's favourite person anymore. That's like a spoilt child throwing a tantrum because things aren't going their way; Riskua's more mature than that. Really all she can do right now is keep training with her Haki, training with her blades, and wait for Luffy's adoration of his new 'relatives' to wear off.

Releasing the inner linings of her pockets from where they'd become wrapped up in between her fingers, Riskua falls into step just behind the trio.

As such, she's in a perfect position to see the drunken man that gets right up in Luffy's face, demanding money the boy clearly doesn't have and nicking his cheek with a knife when Luffy shakes his head.

Riskua whirls on the man, snarling while Ace swings his pipe right into the man's shins. The idiot hits the floor and Riskua's on him in a second, fist smashing into the cobblestone road when he just manages to move his face in time. There's a loud multitude of cracks at the impact and the stale smell of urine permits the air as the man beneath her realises just how close he came to having his head imitate a runny egg hit by a spoon.

"You bastard!" Ace screams, aiming another swing of his pipe for the man that one of his friends steps in to deflect.

Sabo's got the dark-haired boy by the back of the shirt though, reeling him in, and Riskua begrudgingly gets up from where she's crouched over her enemy. If she happens to crush his hand beneath a Haki infused foot, then so be it.

Dark eyes snap to her at the sound and there's a single moment where she and Ace just stare at one another, a single moment of understanding passing between them. It doesn't reassure all of Riskua's worries, doesn't fix the worry that she no longer has a place to fit in with these three boys.

But it does put forwards the idea of carving out a new place.

 

For now, that'll do for Riskua. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 


Carefully placing his hat atop the door handle, Sabo stretches his arms above his head, rolling back his shoulders. Behind him he can hear Luffy's shrieks of joy as he makes for the tub, Ace's good-natured chuckle that's so much warmer now than he ever remembers it being before.

Grasping at the collar of his worn shirt, Sabo drags it up and over his head, dumping the material at his feet and frowning down at the dirty fabric. It's filthy and it has been six days since he last got it washed, so he probably should make another attempt to clean it up. It's difficult though, he never had to know how to wash clothes before he ran away and it was impossible to stay clean in the trash heap so he rarely tried.

Now though, now he has the opportunity to get somewhat clean, so perhaps he should start making a bit of an effort. Because unlike Luffy, he doesn't have a girl chasing after him, making sure he has clean clothes to wear and that he isn't going to bed with dirt behind his ears.

Speaking of Luffy and cleaning, Sabo flicks his gaze over to the boy who's straddling the side of the tub, one leg in and one leg out as Ace scoffs at him. Over what, Sabo doesn't know, he hasn't really been listening.

Instead all that's going around in his head is the conversation he had with Riskua just five minutes ago, back when Luffy declared his intentions of bathing with the boys over dinner.

'Make sure you keep an eye on Luffy. Just a bit of seawater and he's useless. It takes a lot more liquid when it's not sea water, but it still drains him. Do. Not. Let. Him. Drown.'

It's obvious she worries, perhaps rightly so. It's only been three days since they declared themselves brothers and already Sabo's only just beginning to grasp the momentous task he's accepted upon his shoulders. Luffy's not only a danger to those around him, but also to himself. It's actually a bit terrifying to realise just how much trouble he attracts, and to realise just how much Riskua was buffering from them when it comes to looking after Luffy. Sabo's respect for her has shot up, quite frankly.

It'd probably be a lot higher if she weren't stepping back and letting them deal with it all right now with nothing but an amused smirk on her face.

He'd say something, were it not for the sweeping sadness in those strange yellow eyes.

Sabo's not quite sure what Riskua has to be sad about and that's bugging him. She was fine with not joining in on their decree of brotherhood, and the blond is thankful for it. He's got two brothers and now a best friend, one who's seen so much more of the world than him and seems so mature and she knows the answer to a lot of his questions, either that or she can at least make an educated guess.

Ace and Luffy are great fun, but it's practically impossible to discuss the finer details of their future ventures; the two just get so wrapped up in the idea of becoming big name pirates -or pirate king as it may be- that they don't realise there's more to pirate life than just adventure. Sabo's already reading all the books he can find, Riskua even lent him her atlas, and though some of the pages have a few crumbs or smears on them, it's still one of the most informative reads Sabo's ever come across. Nah, he's happy Riskua's with them.

Kicking off his shorts and then stepping out of his underwear, Sabo frees the cravat from his neck and quick-steps to the tub, elbowing Ace out the way as he goes. The water is warm against his skin, deliciously so, even if it's not as clean as he'd have liked. Because come on, Luffy's already spent a few minutes in the tub and despite Riskua's best efforts he's always dirty. It's still nice though, Sabo thinks as he splashes the water up onto his face. Living in Grey Terminal there had been no baths, just attempts to not be slathered completely in whatever filth was lying around.

"Sabo's gone red!" Luffy cries with a wild grin, poking him in the cheek thrice before Sabo has a chance to bat the hand away. Just as he's fending off a front on that side, another hand starts jabbing into his side and Sabo squawks at the cold touch.

"You really have," Ace informs him with a teasing smirk, freckles crinkling under his grin as he stands naked and without a care for that fact.

"I ain't! It's just warm!" Sabo snaps and then hastily covers his eyes as Ace jumps -not a quick movement kind of jump but an actual leap and landing kind of jump- into the water. A good portion is displaced, sloshing over the side and slapping against the wooden floorboards in a wide splatter.

The three of them stare down at the wet mark for a moment before giggles slip out from between their lips, both Luffy and Ace descending into louder laughter, right up until a bandit pounds on the door and demands they 'keep it down!'.

Reclining into the water, Sabo runs a hand through his curled hair, fluffing it out. Huh, he's never had it longer than this, not since he left his noble household anyway. The longer his hair, the harder it'd been to wash, keeping it short had been a good idea. It'd also stopped a few people from recognising him whenever he and Ace invaded the posher sides of the kingdom, they'd walked by him and not considered in the slightest that he could be that noble boy presumed dead.

 

 

Somehow, it all ends with Luffy dancing around on the floor, wearing upon his head the smaller bucket that Sabo'd thrown at him previously.

Ace's losing his mind in the tub, laughing loud enough that the bandits have given up trying to silence them.

Ribs aching from his own amusement, Sabo slaps a hand against the surface of the water in an attempt to better express himself, only for a gentle knock at the door to startle him out of it.

"Do you three plan on dissolving in there?"

It's Riskua.

Instinctively, Sabo sinks lower into the water as Luffy screams in surprise and loses his footing.

Even Ace freezes at that; for all that Luffy's rubber and supposedly immune to impact, sometimes he just bursts into tears anyway, like an instinctive reaction regardless of if something hurt or not.

Sabo feels like his breath's caught in his throat as he looks to Luffy, waiting for the boy to burst out into sobs, hastily gathering the few remaining bubbles to cover himself. He doesn't know about Ace, but Sabo sure as hell doesn't want a girl seeing him in all his glory. That's a big no-no, even outside of noble life.

Only, only Luffy doesn't burst out into tears. Instead, his eyes flick to the two of them that still remain in the bath and his resolve hardens. There's an awkwardly large sniffle as Luffy forcibly inhales, drawing back the tears. His smile's still a little wobbly though.

"I'm fine!"

There's silence from the other side of the door before the lightest, most depressed sigh Sabo has ever heard echoes from behind the wood.

"Oh. Okay then. Don't stay in there too long."

Riskua sounds… Upset. Like she'd expected Luffy to start crying. She'd never want him to cry, to be hurt, that much Sabo gets, but then why-

Slowly, he thinks it all over, recalls what has happened every time Luffy's injured himself so far.

Usually he turns on the waterworks and Riskua comes running, and she bundles him up for hugs and cuddles that never fail to return his smile to his face. Sabo's gotta admit, the three times he's woke up from a nightmare so far and had Riskua just there, offering physical comfort, it's made everything easier. She wouldn't do it if she didn't like it, so…

Is Riskua just missing out on those hugs with Luffy? If Luffy's trying to copy him and Ace all the time, who'll hug Riskua then?

Understanding of the world once again cleared up, Sabo reaches over and pinches Luffy as hard as he can.

"Oww!" The boy cries, more from shock of the suddenly unexpected attack.

"If that hurt then you should go get Riskua to kiss it better," Sabo comments sagely, snatching up a towel and vigorously rubbing every inch of Luffy he can reach.

Squirming, Luffy doesn't need any more encouragement and makes for the door.

"Ack! Wait, Luffy! Pants! Pants!"

Leaping after the boy with said clothing in hand, Sabo finds himself slipping on the wet floor, skidding into Luffy's legs as he opens the door and knocking both of them out into the hallway.

The hallway that Riskua's still occupying.

There's a moment of hush where they just stare at each other, Riskua's mouth half open in surprise as she takes in the tangled arrangement of both boys.

And then Sabo recalls he's stark naked.

He will deny the screech that left his lips until his dying day. Forgetting his primary objective of covering Luffy with those pants and instead opting to shield his own dignity, Sabo retreats back to the bathroom as the most troublesome brat in existence launches himself at Riskua for cuddles.

God damn it, Sabo's never trying this whole 'being nice' thing again.

Ace hasn't stopped laughing, at all.

"He's never gonna stop being a crybaby if you do that," the dark haired boy chokes out around his chuckles, shaking his head as he does so. Wet strands of wavy black slap across his skin and Ace's hair's getting a bit long too.

"It wasn't for Luffy, it was for Riskua." Riskua who's probably laughing at him just like Ace is right now.

Damn them, Sabo thinks with a begrudging smile.

 

.

.


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.

 

Dinner at the House of Dadan is certainly a sight to see.

While Riskua has taken over the duties of cooking for the vast majority of their catches, there are some days when she just wants to be able to return to the house and relax.

As such, there's a few days every month in which they catch far more than usual, drag it all back, and then just throw it at Dadan. Of course, sitting down to a meal with the rest of the bandits usually opens up certain… Instincts within the boys.

Leaning back, Riskua grimaces at the face Luffy makes as he tears into his food, imitating a long starved tiger finally tearing into his hard won prize.

Beside him Ace is no better an example, all sharp teeth and curled fingers, narrowed eyes and defensively hunched over his meat. She wishes she could say Sabo is better, that even if he's not a good example of manners he at least retains some. But nope, none of that.

Sabo's just as vicious as the other two, chomping ferociously into the meat, all the while eyeing up his competition. It's quite obvious that Sabo has to put in far more effort than what Luffy and Ace do, just to keep pace with the duo.

Why he's even bothering to attempt keeping up, Riskua doesn't have the slightest clue.

"Uh oh," she breathes as Dadan attempts to pick up a piece of meat that's within a six foot radius of Luffy.

Instantly the boy's teeth clamp down on the meat and, subsequently, her hand too.

The woman shrieks, shaking her limb in an attempt to dislodge the boy but in the process, gets a fair share of food in her hair. Luffy's on her in a moment, a crazed glint in his eyes as he gorges himself.

"You'd think we never feed you," Riskua grumbles to the blond she's sat beside, letting out a low sigh when the boy suddenly started flailing, hands dropping the food and going to his neck. She'd probably care more over the choking thing if this weren't the third time it was happening today.

Smacking at Sabo's back, Riskua glances to Ace, who's swallowing down huge chunks of food, coughing up the occasional bone without so much of a flinch. Out of the three of them, he's probably the most efficient eater, beating Sabo out on consumption rate but not getting as terribly clingy with his food as Luffy.

Who appears to be still attempting to inhale Dadan.

Rolling her eyes, Riskua climbs up onto the table and reaches out, grabbing Luffy by the scruff of his neck and reeling him back in. He's no match for her Haki coated fingers and it's actually quite sad that the most use she's getting out of her powers right now is herding Luffy around.

"Sit down and eat your dinner… Or Ace'll do it for you."

 

 

"Was it worth it?"

Hiking Sabo further up into the comfort of her arms, Riskua pushes the bedroom door open with her foot for the third time this night.

Luffy and Ace are already inside, fast asleep and the only reason Sabo's allowed her to carry him up the stairs. For fear of the two of them laughing at him for needing her help. Now, now even if the two wake up they don't have any room to talk; Riskua had hauled them both up the stairs just moments ago, one over each shoulder. Despite being rather skinny, Ace is already all muscle, even lying relaxed across her left collarbone.

"Yes," Sabo hisses, arms coiled around his aching stomach and a rather fierce pout on his face. The sight of it has Riskua grinning in amusement because honestly he's cute when he's all grouchy. Both he and Ace; Luffy doesn't really do grouchy, only pouty. But that's cute too.

These kids are gonna be the death of her, Riskua admits to herself, shaking her head out and looking up to the ceiling, as if to ask for patience.

"Well I hope you're enjoying your stomach ache, Sabo."

"Stop that," one hand bats gently at Riskua's nose before Sabo recalls it to aid with his pains, "you're younger than me. You're not allowed to be this smug."

"Until you can beat me in a fight, I'll never stop being smug," Riskua retorts, kneeling by the bed mat and allowing Sabo to slide out her arms.

"I'll beat you when I get a hang of using Haki," Sabo promises, shrugging out of his jacket but deciding that getting fully changed would be far too much effort.

Glancing over at the dark haired duo, Riskua finds them just as she left them; curled up around one another on the same mat and in what appears to be a full out food coma.

"Thank you, for your help with Luffy," she whispers quietly, looking away from the trio of boys off to her left and gripping at the fabric of her shorts, "I didn't know how to fix it."

It's an open admission; she'd been truly clueless. There hadn't seemed to be a way to keep the open affection going, not when the younger boy wanted nothing more than to be just like Ace and Sabo, who were nowhere near as affectionate a person as Luffy. Oh sure Ace may be one day, but right now? Ha. Hahaha.

If she'd tried pushing Luffy, he'd have fought her, refused even more, creating a cycle with no end. Yet, Sabo had fixed that.

"S'okay. Luffy likes the hugs and you like to hug him, right?"

"Naw, Sabo, I like hugging you too."

Wrapping her arms around the boy's shoulders, Riskua forces her weight onto him until they're laid full out on the mats, her head resting on his shoulder as he splutters. Still though, after a moment he wraps his own arms around her, concealing his grin in her hair.

"I hope Ace doesn't figure that out for a while, I'll get less hugs when he does."

"No way, I'll always have a hug ready for you, Sabo. If you want one."

He gives a gentle hum and for a while there's no words exchanged between them, just a quiet exasperation over Ace and Luffy's background snores.

"…How about a cure for stomach ache?"

"Goodnight, Sabo."

 


 
Well, this'll be interesting. But really, it's been a long time coming.

Meeting Luffy's gaze evenly, they stare at each other from around his fringe, neither one willing to give any ground. His face is petulant, lips set in a determined purse, but Riskua refuses to allow that cute little pout to sucker her in this time.

"It needs to be done, Luffy."

"Nope, don't wanna."

And the finger is up the nose.

Groaning, Riskua presses her own fingers to her temple, trying not to break, forcibly straying her hands from where they wish to reach out and grasp his shoulders, to shake the boy until he complies.

"You can barely see, Luffy."

"Nope. I'm fine." This would have been a lot more believably had he not swung his head to a side and thus sent his fringe cascading around to rest over his eyes.

"You can either let me do it now, Luffy, or I'll cut it while you're asleep. And I make no promises on it being a good cut if you push me to that."

"Don't wanna!" Damn this kid.

Running a hand through her own hair, Riskua hastily ties it back in a high pony, folding her arms once she's done so.

"If you want to keep it long you'll have to start tying it up. What if you're fighting the Tiger Lord and it gets in your way? Then Ace and Sabo'll have to take it down for you."

"Eh?! No way! Riskua, cut my hair!" Luffy slams a hand down on the table beside him, rattling his empty breakfast plate and she lets out a breath, because finally!

"Get in the chair then while I grab some scissors."

Scampering over to the chair in question, Luffy grins back at her before plopping his little rear down as requested. It's insane how easily he can change his mind sometimes, and just how damningly stubborn he can be.

Riffling through the cupboard draw, Riskua retrieves the scissors before returning to Luffy's side, grimacing over the bird's nest he's trying to pass for hair. It's too long now, certainly getting in his way. It really does need cutting.

The metal in her hands makes quiet snipping sounds as she goes about fixing what she can. Riskua cannot claim to be a good hairdresser, but she can do a good enough job for someone with no experience. Plus, it's not like Luffy'll care what it looks like. Well, up to the point that Ace and Sabo won't tease him about it.

Brushing the fallen strands from thin shoulders, Riskua steps back to get a better look at her handiwork. It's a bit uneven, but it'll do.

"You're good, Kinglet."

"Yippie!" And he's off, making for the door and snatching up his pipe as he does so.

Watching him go, Riskua rolls her eyes, only to catch sight of a presence to her left. She turns in time to see Sabo take Luffy's vacant seat, grinning up at her as he removes his hat.

"Me next!" And yeah, Sabo's hair's getting a bit long, starting to transition from the tight curls to slight waves as it gets a bit of length to it, but it's not in need of a haircut in Riskua opinion.

"You sure?"

"Yep, nice and short please." And well, now that he's said the magic word, how could she ever deny him?

Fingers dancing through the blond locks, Riskua takes a few in hand, angling her scissors. Before she begins though, she turns to look at Ace who's leaning against the wall.

"Would you like me to cut your hair too?"

There's a pause as he looks back at her, face framed by the dark waves in question. It's not to the point it'll get in his way, but it's certainly longer than Sabo's.

He doesn't respond though, so Riskua just goes about fulfilling Sabo's request, cropping the blond strands closer to his skull than they were before. It's only as she's finished with Sabo that Ace actually moves forwards. He looks, well not nervous. More suspicious, she guesses. His eyes flick to the scissors, then to Sabo's new do, before he finally meets her eyes.

"Just... not too much." It's not really a question, but for a boy that's never done anything other than take what he needs, who's never had anyone to ask anything of, it's enough. For now.

"Just a little bit," Riskua confirms, projecting her movements before she begins brushing the black waves with her fingers.

Ace is tense beneath her touch, hands clenching into the fabric of his pants.

"I promise I won't cut your ear off," she teases, prodding Ace in the arm as she does so.

On his way out, Sabo laughs in delight, but it does get Ace to relax.

"I'll feed you to a bear if you do."

"Then it's a deal, Ace."

 

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.

.

 

Ace wakes to Luffy's never ending chatter. Not an uncommon occurrence now, but it's significantly louder and more excitable that usual. It's also about as welcomed as usual, which in the morning is not at all.

Rolling over, Ace stuffs his head into the pillow, attempting to drown out the boisterous voice and just bask in the semi-sleeping state he's determinedly clinging to.

But then Sabo's on his other side, also babbling away with clear excitement, hands shaking at Ace's arm and there's no way he's going to be able to get anymore sleep now. Damn them.

"Wake up, Ace, it's snowing!"

Luffy's words take a moment to register, but when they do Ace semi-reluctantly peers out witg one eye. Both boys are grinning wildly, excitement obvious. Ace doesn't have a damn clue why; snow is snow. It's cold, turns into slush and making hunting that much harder. Not only for traversing the island, but the animals don't want to come out with all this crap covering literally every surface. It's gonna make finding food even more difficult today, he doesn't have a bloody clue why these two idiots are excited about this.

"Snow! We can make a snowman and go sledding; Makino took me once and the old man on the hill let me use his big pan to slide down his hill and it was really cool but it hasn't snowed since and I couldn't do it again 'till now hey do you think Dadan will have a big pan?!" Luffy gasps as he finishes his sentence, sucking in as much air as he possibly can. Sabo takes the opportunity presented to him when rubbery lips come together to pinch them shut.

Head spinning after that unnecessary tale, Ace runs a hand through his slightly shorter hair in an attempt to ground himself.

"Ack!"

Luffy snatches wildly at the air as Riskua lifts the worn strawhat from his head, successfully jamming a knitted bonnet atop wild black hair in exchange.

"You don't wanna ruin Shanks' hat in the snow, do you, Kinglet?"

"Ah! Riskua's so clever!"

Grinning eagerly, Luffy presents both his tiny hands to the girl, barely holding himself back from jumping up and down upon his heels.

With a long suffering smile on her face, Riskua wedges a matching pair of gloves upon the boy, swiftly wrapping a scarf around his neck to complete a trio of brilliant yellow wool. Luffy looks ridiculous.

Ace snorts, forcing himself to stop when Sabo gives him a vicious glance, but he really does look quite silly.

"What're you laughing at?"

Head swinging around to meet Riskua's gaze, Ace holds the weight of those creepy yellow eyes without fear, a scowl set firmly across his lips. Her eyes don't waver from his either, though Ace is well aware his morning glare can and will scare aware the vast majority of the bandits.

"It took you that long to make so few things?" Ace snorts, folding his arms across his chest and angling a smug grin at the redhead.

She stares back, cocking her hips to a side and planting one hand on her waist.

"Actually, it took me that long to make these."

And then she's holding a red hat, scarf and gloves, which is quickly thrust into his chest.

Staring down at the new items in his possession, he looks up just in time to see Sabo presented with a set of his own, dark blue in colour, as Riskua pulls on a dull copper hat. Somewhere in the room, Luffy's repetitive chants of 'snow day' originate from, but Ace suddenly finds himself drained of the energy needed to look up and around for him. He can't quite bring himself to look away from the knitwear in his hands, the wool soft and thick against the sensitive pads of his fingers.

The same feeling from his birthday, that pesky emotion he's tried pushing down, surfaces again.

It's not something he likes though, this feeling thing, so Ace pushes it down and focuses on the present.

Maybe the snow will be more bearable with actual company.

 

It's not more bearable with actual company.

It's wet slush that gathers in the toes of his boots, soaking through the ratty soles -he'll have to flinch some new ones- and dampening the hem of his trousers until they stick uncomfortably to his legs. His fingers are tingling and not in the nice way, the bite of winter seeping deep beneath his skin to leave his teeth chattering rapidly against one another.

What is fun though, is nailing Sabo in the head with a snowball.

Ace laughs victoriously, leaping over a snow draped root, nearly slipping on the landing but recovering admirably. A projectile launches past his head and Ace laughs harder as Sabo swears over his near miss.

He's left Luffy behind somewhere, but he can hear the younger boy cackling in sheer joy at the scene before him. Ace twists around just in time to see Sabo give up on chasing his freckled self and instead aim for retribution from Luffy.

Of course, the youngest among them is only in the snow for a few moments before Riskua is upon Sabo, pressing his smug face into the white powder with one hand as the other dumps more and more snow down his collar. And really, Ace can't leave his oldest friend to suffer that indignity, can he?

If he just so happens to get the chance to wrestle Riskua and prove he's stronger than her, then so be it. His arms are straining from the pressure of holding her back and down, even though he's losing ground on that front, and sweat beads heavy upon Ace's forehead despite the bitter cold. Creepy yellow stares up at him in blatant challenge, the surrounding skin that makes up her face flushed an ugly red with the effort, and she's steadily gaining ground on him.

Of course that's when Luffy slips and almost falls off the side of the cliff, so that Ace and Riskua both had to abandon their competition in order to catch Sabo's legs as the blond catches Luffy's ankles in his hands.

It's ridiculous and stupid and the next time they do this Ace makes note to be far away from the ravine next time.

 

 

When they've crawled back inside, Ace feels like his fingers are gonna drop off. He dares not run them under the hot water for fear they actually will snap at the knuckles, so instead settles for jamming the ice cold digits into the warmth of his armpits. The sheer difference in temperature between the two body parts hurts, really hurts, but having some feeling in his fingers at all is a step up from the numb chill of before.

Sitting up to the kitchen table, Ace stretches his elbows across the tabletop, arms still folded in order to keep his hands in place.

There's a steaming mug of cocoa in front of him, one that Riskua's set down before she'd disappeared off to take Sabo and Luffy theirs.

The two idiots have both gone to get a warm bath, despite having just come in from the snow and he can hear their pained squeals all the way from down here. They're idiots, he thinks and the mental proclamation sounds increasingly fond the more he considers it.

Still though, he's not as cold as he would have been without the scarf and gloves.

Tentatively removing one hand, Ace reaches up and pulls the bright wool from atop his head. And the hat. He'd probably have had to come in sooner if it weren't for those. He'd not really expected Riskua to make him a set, not when he hasn't exactly been as welcoming and friendly as Sabo.

He still thinks back on her fight with Dadan, on the way she'd looked at him after he'd made Sabo and Luffy his brothers and declared his dream.

Girls are difficult to understand, Ace is coming to realise. They're not simple like Sabo -who wants to be free more than anything- and Luffy -who wants to be Pirate King and eat all the meat- are. Riskua has her goal, that Haki thingy and he knows she wants to have babies when she older -which, urk! All the babies he's ever seen seem to do nothing but cry and poop. Why does she want one of her own?- but she does things outside of her goals.

Like now, with the hot chocolate; he can hear Sabo screaming at Luffy for opening the door to the washroom and Ace smirks, remembering that last disastrous bath. The blond had been so embarrassed, though Ace has no idea why.

All that matters is it's another thing to tease the gapless wonder about. It's gonna suck when that tooth grows back, what'll Ace call him then?

"What're you smiling about?"

Head whipping up to snap back, Ace pauses when he registers the clearly teasing town, Riskua sliding onto the bench that sits opposite his side of the table. She's nursing her own mug, the liquid inside not visible beneath the mountain of whipped cream piled atop it.

"You scare Sabo."

"I don't scare him. He's just embarrassed, s'all." The delicate shrug of her thin shoulders proves Riskua doesn't care as much about this as what Sabo does, which just gives Ace even more chances to tease the other boy.

For a few minutes they sit there in silence; the bandits are out doing what they do best, while the splashes and slaps of water against wood are muffled by the numerous rooms between the kitchen and bathroom. It's getting awkward though, and while Riskua doesn't seem to notice, it makes Ace want to squirm.

She's not like Dadan who's always snapping what's on her mind, nor does she care about him like Sabo does, nor is so as damn oblivious as Luffy. And he's asked so many people, asked it so many different ways and he really shouldn't care how she answers but-

"Should I be alive?"

As soon as the words are out he almost wants to pull them back in.

This isn't like asking Luffy, who's just so damn blunt and doesn't understand what Ace's getting at. Riskua thinks, she's smart, as smart as Sabo and she's got more pieces of the puzzle than what the blond has. Dadan and her big mouth can be thanked for that.

There's a crisp clink as she sets her mug down on the table, though Ace doesn't see the motion, too absorbed in the half melted swirls of his own whipped cream in liquid chocolate.

"There's no 'should you be alive' about it, Ace. There's just the fact that you are. Everybody is judged on their actions, on where they come from, on what they'll do in the future. When you ask that question, you're going to get mixed results because everybody is different. It's like asking someone their favourite colour. Some will like red, some'll like blue, and some won't care enough to answer." This is making no sense.

Ace watches as Riskua sips at her drink again, and after a moment, he takes a gulp of his own. It's pleasantly warm, though the taste leaves his throat feeling heavy. He wonders why he feels so damn detached from this question, why for the first time it's not an answer he's waiting to hear, but a well thought out explanation. Because it seems Riskua doesn't do opinions.

"But think about it this way. If you weren't here, Sabo'd still be at Grey Terminal. He might not of ever met me or Luffy. He'd be so much worse off if you didn't exist. And Luffy, Luffy adores you. He looks up to you, you know?" She tilts her head to a side and there's a bittersweet smile on her stained lips, a blob of cream smeared in the left corner. "He thinks you're the coolest thing on this island, and I don't think someone as innocent and good as Luffy could ever look up to someone who was evil, who was so bad they don't deserve to live."

She pauses here, mug empty before standing up and retreating over to the sink, leaving Ace to think over her words.

Because really, would Sabo have been worse off without him? Yeah the boy might not have met Luffy, but he'd have eventually made it out to sea, wouldn't he? And Luffy has Riskua, if Ace'd never been born he'd never have known better. He's got no idea why he asked the creep, of course she's been no help at all, why did he even expect-

There are arms around him.

Ace stiffens as he feels a cheek -red hair in the corner of his eyes- press against his own and the arms they've snuck up on him from behind tighten around him.

"Life is all about finding people who'll answer that question with a yes, Ace. About finding people who care for you and will love you, even with your terrible temper and tendency to snap. People who'll cry and won't know what to do if you ever left their lives. So you can't ever die, okay? Because Luffy's an ugly crier and I don't think Sabo's much better. Not that I'll be able to tell."

She presses a gentle kiss to the curve of his cheekbone as she lets go, but Ace is too out of it at those words to even think about reacting to the rare affectionate gesture.

They would cry if he died?

They'd miss him?

All he's ever heard is Dadan stating life's be so much easier if he were to disappear.

"You wouldn't be able to tell?" Ace forces out, watching as Riskua pauses by the door, cocking her head back to look at him before she offers up a small smile.

It's not the beaming grin that Sabo's jokes get or the love filled affection that's always directed at Luffy.

But it is a smile for him.

"I wouldn't be able to tell if Sabo's an ugly crier, because if you died I wouldn't be able to see him through my own tears."

And then she's gone.

 

Ace sits up to the table with his mug of cold chocolate well into the night, well past when the bandits arrive home, trying to come to terms with the fact he now has three people who'd break down should he die.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

It feels like an age since she last saw that cheerful little face. Seated in the den of the Dadan Bandits' hideout, Makino forces herself to not squirm in anticipation, eager to see Luffy's little face again.

Will he have lost some of the puppy fat? Gained another scar? Will his cheeks be rounded with whatever these people pass for breakfast up here?

She can hear him, he's in the next room over, but she's determined to stay quiet and not ruin the surprise. He's probably tearing through breakfast, though Makino cringes a little at the shouts and swears from two sources apart from her little monkey.

And he is her little monkey. It's Makino that raised him, Makino that nursed his every booboo, that piled up his every plate and tucked him into bed every night. She's the one that's looked after Luffy in the wake of his mother's death, no matter how big a hole such a loss left in her. Speaking of death and mothers-

Makino's eyes flicked to a pair of girl's trousers that're hanging by the fireplace in here to dry off. Riskua has kept her word, clearly made her way up here to find Luffy. She's probably in that kitchen right now. She'd been quiet when Shanks'd dropped her off, all downcast yellow eyes and messy red hair.

Right now, Makino can hear her steady tone through the door, questioning what the plans for today are. It's a voice she doesn't recognise that answers; a young boy that either lived here before or has become a friend of Luffy's and is visiting.

She's glad Luffy's made friends; back in the village, all the other children Luffy's age had been just a bit terrified of his forwardness and his exuberance. It only got worse when he fell in with Shanks and his crew, none of the other children would so much as look at him after that, heads filled with terrifying stories from their overly-cautious parents.

Makino can understand, when she'd first looked upon Shanks, she too had been fearful. But really, he's a good man at heart, despite his chosen profession. It wasn't fair on Luffy, but life in general isn't fair.

Still, she's glad he appears to have found some good kids.

The door opens and the young boy in question comes tumbling out, eyes going round at the sight of her.

"MAKINO!" Luffy's limbs make the most sickening snapping sound as he springs across the floor to her, a blatant reminder of the Devil Fruit he'd consumed.

She's not sure if she'll ever forgive Shanks for ensuring Luffy'll never be normal, or thank him for making the boy all but immune to blunt force. He really needs such an advantage. Kneeling down to catch the little terror, Makino giggles and presses her nose into his hair. It still smells of both sweat and soap, that hasn't changed, even though she'd half expected to find Luffy unwashed and living like a wild child. She doubts the bandits have had much a hand in that, which leaves...

Glancing up, Makino's eyes land upon Riskua, who hangs back with the other two boys, clearly unsure of her welcome within this reunion.

It almost takes Makino's breath away just how much she looks like Shanks, even more so now that the curls are starting to fall out as her hair grows in both length and mass. She's very clearly the pirate captain's daughter, the only thing throwing off the whole visual is the unnatural yellow of her eyes. The same nose is slowly starting to rise from the puppy fat of childhood, hinting at the same definition Red Hair's boasts. The same skin tone, along with the same cheer to her smile, no matter how soft this grin is.

She may have stayed with Makino for only a very short amount of time, but that doesn't stop the bartender from holding one arm to invite the girl in.

Riskua blinks, face hesitant and then the blond boy happily shoves her forwards. It's all the encouragement the redhead needs and then she's in Makino's grip too, arms looping lazily around her neck and face burying into her shoulder.

For all that she is older and wiser than Luffy, Riskua seems a lot more delicate than the younger child. Both their limbs are thin but the redhead's lack the rubbery texture, the hint of power beneath.

"Who the hell are you."

Makino glances up at the not-quite-question, eyebrows rising high when she meets the glare the freckled boy directs at her.

His blond friend slaps him atop the head, but the boy who asked the question -no, it was more of a demand really- doesn't relent. He's cagey, eyes flashing from Luffy to Riskua and then back to her, lips thinning. Well, it seems the two have made a very overprotective friend.

"This Makino! Makino this is Ace and Gramps left him with Dadan like me and Ace's really strong! We're brothers now, me and Sabo swore on booze so it's really true! And Riskua's my big sister and she cooks all the meat and she's really nice, even if she does make me take too many baths."

The girl in Makino's arms giggles a little bit, stepping back and away, her cheeks flushing in embarrassment. She's very precious, but in a different way than Luffy. If Luffy's a beloved wooden figurine, capable of surviving a fall, then Riskua's something a little more delicate, a glass ornament. It's not that she's physically soft, but Makino gets the feeling that the younger female is quite like her in that emotional blows hit them harder.

"Why's Makino here?" Luffy demands her attention once again, his head tipping to a side before his dark eyes go round.

"Ah! Shanks isn't here, is he?! I'm not ready for our fight yet!"

"You're not ready to fight a rabbit yet," the blond boy scoffs, even as he ruffles Luffy's hair.

"Never mind some pirate captain."

Makino laughs, not even attempting to hide the noise behind her hand.

 

 

 

She gets the boys outfitted in new clothes, Ace and Sabo puffing out their chests, clearly trying to impress her and Makino could only smile at the both of them. Now all three of them have run out to go play, leaving the two girls sat within the living room. Riskua is slowly folding the clothes Makino has brought her, and though the older woman isn't quite sure on her colour choices, the redhead seems pleased with the mix of browns, creams and coppers.

"Not much else goes with my colouring," she admits, flicking humorous yellow eyes up to look at her. Out of the four of them, she's by far the most mature, along with the most level-headed. But that doesn't mean she's an adult; there's a tiredness to Riskua that isn't present in the boys, though she hides it well.

"Riskua… are you okay?"

There's a momentary pause as the girl sucks in a deep breath, her shoulders shuddering slightly.

"I'm fine… Just, I haven't gone this long without seeing my family before," she whispers, one hand coming up to her face to press at the curve of her cheek. "Usually I see Papa every few months since I got older, but…" But she had her mother before. And now, if she's not already dead then she soon will be.

"Riskua, sweetheart."

Just like that, she bursts into tears. Unlike Luffy though, unlike every other child Makino has ever seen, she doesn't throw herself to the nearest person for comfort though. Instead, Riskua hunches in on herself, drawing her knees up to her chest and burying her face into the cradle of her arms. With her shoulders shaking and the strangled sobs she tries to muffle; Shanks' daughter just looks so small in that moment. Maybe it's not her place, but Makino could never ignore a hurting child.

"Oh, Riskua."

Drawing the little girl forcibly into her arms, she rubs her hands up and down the girl's back. She doesn't unwind from her curl to cling to Makino, barely even leans into her comfort, but she stays.

"I'm sure no matter where they are, both your parents are very proud of you," Makino promises, because while she doesn't know her mother, Makino likes to think she knows Shanks. She's stood by the bar and listened to his every tale, she's got a good grasp upon his character. The way he'd looked into her eyes the last time he'd left the village; how he'd not quite managed to ask her to keep an eye on Riskua before she'd already agreed. She knows nothing in the world is more important to Shanks that his crew and his family.

Luffy and Riskua, they're his kids, even if Luffy isn't his biologically. It doesn't matter though, Shanks' clearly taken her little monkey under-wig. It seems only fair she take care of Riskua in the captain's absence. The little girl in her arms makes a low keening sound, sniffling weakly, and Makino goes back to gently rocking the two of them.

She's been strong for the three boys, but now it's Riskua's turn to need a rock.

 

The boys come back several hours later. Makino has long since tucked Riskua into bed, letting the girl sleep through the rest of the day. Makino'll take her some food up later.

"Hey, where's Riskua?!" Luffy bellows as soon as the last morsel of meat in consumed, peering around the table as if she'll pop up out of nowhere.

"Riskua's had a long day, so she's gone to bed early," Makino explains patiently, smoothing Luffy's hair out before retrieving his licked clean plate.

"Long day?" Ace questions, head cocking to a side with a suspicious frown. "She hasn't done anything today!"

At that, the blond, Sabo, slaps him atop the head with a scowl on his face. "Don't question Miss Makino!"

"That's not true, Riskua tried on her clothes, just like the three of you. Only clothing is very serious business for girls," Makino explains, watching as Ace's eyes narrow before they flick over to Luffy, then to Sabo, then back to her.

"If you're sure," he grumbles, not sounding convinced in the slightest and Makino can recognise a losing battle when she sees one. Well, it's a fight to be fought another day.

 

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Ace ducks low, Sabo swinging the pipe above his head and blocking the swipe of the tiger's claws. There's a war-cry from above as Luffy utilises his rubbery powers and launches Riskua down at the beast. Her feet glimmer black slightly as she crashes into the beast's back, Luffy's aim not quite capable of landing her on the tiger's head.

Ace shifts, forcing himself to focus as Riskua has explained countless times. While his own skin doesn't seem any different than usual, doesn't blacken or even darken, his punch impacts with far more force than it would have done last year. The tiger rockets to the other side of the clearing, slamming into a tree and the four of them almost huddle together, waiting to see if it'll get back up and continue its attack.

Snatching his pipe up from the ground, Ace twists it around before levelling it out before him, knees bent and ready to attack if need be. There's a long moment of silence, tension in the air. But the tiger doesn't move. Ace sucks in a breath, both the tiger doesn't. It's ribcage isn't moving, muscles aren't twitching.

"It's dead," Sabo voices Ace's conclusion aloud, a grin on his face. It's a big tiger, perfect for dinner. Licking his lips, Ace approaches the recently dead beast proudly, coming to a halt before it's large bulk and poking at its shoulder with one end of his pipe. No reaction.

"Looks like it's tiger for dinner."

"Yeah, tiger!" Luffy pumps his tiny fists into the air several times, teeth exposed with his massive smile and sparkles in his eyes. He gets so damn excited over meat it's not even funny anymore.

Throwing his pipe to Sabo, Ace grapples with one meaty leg, throwing the striped limb over his shoulder. As the other physical powerhouse -even if it is only her ability with Haki that allows her to out-power Ace-, Riskua takes the other side of their catch, startling yellow eyes flicking to him before she offers him a nod.

"Good finish shot," she acknowledges and Ace smiles back. Having two brothers is great, but so is having a best friend. He's not as close to Riskua as Sabo is, but he knows their relationship is better than what it was before. He knows she'd miss him if he died, and even though he's not at the stage of admitting it aloud, Ace'd miss Riskua if she left too. Oh, he'd get over it, but it'd take a while, that's for certain.

"Did you hear that?" Sabo's worried whisper breaks Ace from his thoughts and the freckled boy scowls, twisting to get a look at his brother, ready to snap at him. Only, he then hears exactly what Sabo's worried about. A deep growl, a growl he hasn't heard in months because both he and the blond boy agreed they weren't yet ready to face the beast.

"Tiger Lord," Ace gulps, wide eyes finding Sabo. There's nothing else for it.

"Run!" Sabo bellows, shooting off into the undergrowth, one hand clamped around Luffy's wrist to pull the short-legged boy along. Riskua startles, running after them but keeping a sure grip on the tiger they've caught. Ace matches her every step, just as determined not to drop their dinner. Behind them, he can hear the thunderous rumble of each footstep and Ace swear under his breath.

"Hell hell hell," Riskua's swearing under her breath, and while it's not the most vicious word he's ever heard, there's a hell of a lot more frustrated emotion in it than he's ever heard before.

"Never again!" She scream and Ace can only nod and agree.

 

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Ever since she woke up, Riskua has been feeling, off balance. As if there's a storm coming. She's not the only one, both Sabo and Ace feel a bit off too, looking suspiciously over their shoulders for something. Even Luffy paused for a second before tearing into his meat, head cocked to a side before he'd shivered. As if a hurricane had simultaneously passed over all their graves.

They all exchange wary glances, confirming with one another that they all felt the same thing, all had that chill fork down their spines like dry lightning.

Luffy and Ace both ignore it though, attention returning to their breakfast. As usual, she and Sabo, the most aware of the group, are the only ones who take a moment to stare around the hut. Something feels out of place, Riskua is sure of it.

"Something doesn't feel right," Sabo whispers, glaring at his plate before actually pushing what remains away. She knows how he feels, Riskua isn't too keen on eating any more either.

There's something really wrong, something just off about today.

With a frown, Riskua let's her eyes slowly shut, teeth worrying her chapped lip back and forth as she focuses on that special sense. Haki has been coming easier and easier to her now, like a muscle repeatedly put under pressure and stretched , it's quite familiar.

What isn't familiar is the approaching figure that's not even attempting to hide their aura. An aura that screams of pain and determination and brutality.

Riskua cries out in surprise as she comes back to herself, leaping forwards just in time to tackle a still eating Ace to the ground. The boy snarls in her face, but then he's distracted by something else. Or rather, they both set eyes upon the huge beast that has walked into the kitchen.

"Fist of Love!" Knuckles descend upon both Luffy and Sabo, who crumple like wet tissue paper in the face of the assault.

"Shitty Gramps," Ace hisses with true fear in his voice, scrambling back and away from the food. Were the situation not so dire, perhaps Riskua would have been astounded by the other's abandonment of the food. As things stand, she's too busy back pedalling away while trying to think up a way of rescuing Luffy. The odds aren't looking good. The man is huge though, dressed in a bold Hawaiian style shirt with arms thicker than Riskua's torso. Judging by Ace's horrified proclamation, this has to be Monkey D. Garp.

 "Wait a second."

Sabo is hoisted up by collar of his shirt, hands struggling to fight off those powerful fingers as his face slowly tinged blue.

"You're not Ace." And then dark eyes swing around to lock onto the boy in question, Sabo's dropping to the floor in the background and heaving in great big breaths in his new found freedom.

"Brat!"

And then Garp's 'bopping' Ace on the head with a heavy fist, Riskua hastily putting distance between the two of them as she retreated to Luffy's side.

She doesn't get much of a chance to see if the boy's okay though, because a huge hand clamps down on her shirt, dragging her along beside Luffy until they're out the door.

 

 

 

 

The four of them are deposited on the forest floor in a heap, Riskua finding herself at the bottom of the pile. It's not a pleasant place to be. The damp grass is unpleasant against her cheek and Riskua huffs as she waits for the boys to get off her. There's a lot of shuffling, both Ace and Sabo swearing under their breath with Luffy eagerly copying them both. One by one, the clamber off of Riskua and she rolls onto her back, lungs filling with that sweet, sweet oxygen.

"Brats! Why are there four of you?!" Garp's voice rumbles out like the crack of dry thunder, drawing a wince from the redhead on the floor. He towers over her, bushy eyebrows heavy over his sharp eyes.

She can see the moment when he takes in her most noticeable feature, the moment when he realises just who she's related to.

"Dracule, eh?" He muses, one hand rubbing at his chin before it curls into a fist and slaps against the open flesh of a second meaty palm. "You'll make a great marine!"

Jesus Christ.

"No way! Riskua can't be a marine, she's gonna be my first mate and I'm gonna be Pirate King!"

Stood tall and proud, as if he's not placed himself between her and a man three times his height, Luffy plants his hands in his hips and stares defiantly up at Garp as if he's on top of the world. The fist that descends is far too quick for Riskua to even think about moving Luffy away from and the boy drops to the ground like a stone.

"Luffy!"

Sabo, who's probably at a complete loss here, throws himself st Garp with a war-cry, Ace leaping into action not a second later. Forcing herself up and onto her feet, Riskua launches her body forwards too, rolling out of the path of Garp's improvised missile.

Ace goes sailing over Riskua's head and the redhead steals herself. Her fist blackens and she manages to smash it against the Fist of Love that's been about to grace Sabo's head. It's redirected instantly into the ground and hits with an earth shattering boom, leaving a crater of impact in its wake.

There's a moment of stunned silence as Riskua shakes out her dominant hand, doing her very best not to whimper under her breath. She'd been under the impression she'd got the hang of this Haki thing, but it's clearly not to the point she wants, otherwise that wouldn't have hurt at all.

"Such potential!" The booming voice, combined with the hand clamping around her arm and hoisting her into the air like a rag doll has Riskua shrieking in surprise, especially when she comes face to face with Garp the Hero.

"You'll definitely become a marine. Now, brat, where'd you learn that?" Blinking, Riskua stares into the man's face, quite unsure of how to respond. Garp's gaze, for all that his words were light, is razor sharp. Like when Uncle had stared at Shanks, the one day they'd been on Melring at the same time. Perhaps it's because of that comparison that Riskua finds herself breaking out into laughter that is so painfully like her father's.

"Where did I learn that?" Riskua repeats, slightly dazed and scrambling for an explanation the man's accept.

"Wow, you're worse a liar than Luffy," Sabo whispers from the side and it's at this point the two dark haired children decide they've had quite enough.

They attack Garp with bellowed screams and quick fists, and Riskua really doesn't appreciate how the man wields her captured form as the weapon to drive them off. At some point, she manages to grapple a hold of Luffy, who Sabo and Ace attempt to ground. All that achieved though is a momentary standoff before the two boys are launched via surprised-Luffy-slingshot into a nearby tree. It looks like it hurts.

That's round about the time Luffy manages to sink his teeth into Garp's meaty fist, leading him to drop her and go for his grandson instead.

It's all out war from there.

 

 

 

 

Nursing more bumps and bruises than she's ever done in her entire life, Riskua slumps into a defeated slouch, Luffy's head pillowed on her thighs and his tired arms wrapped determinedly around her waist. Night has long since fallen, their little camping party huddling around the open flames of the campfire.

Across from them, Garp looks no worse for wears, grinning broadly as he tears into his leg of meat and chews thoughtfully.

"You four brats fight good together," he finally looking at each one of them individually before he beams. "And it's good to see Ace has friends now!"

"Shut the hell up, you Shitty Gramps!" Ace's scowling, his cheeks flushing a red that has nothing to do with the energy he put into their doomed battle against the marine.

"Mr Garp sir?" Riskua asks, straightening her posture and threading one hand into Luffy's hair where she starts lazily scratching with the edge of her nails. The future pirate king all but melts against her legs, letting out a satisfied and content hum.

"Such a polite brat, you really will make a good marine!"

Grimacing at the very thought -though to see Shanks and Mihawk's face if she started hunting them down might make it worth it- Riskua forces herself not to snap out like Luffy does. She doesn't need another dose of the Fist of Love; she's had one too many of them as it is.

"With Haki, is there anything more to it other than constantly focusing it?"

Huge arms fold over one another as Garp considers Riskua, the flames dancing between the two of them. Garp the Hero cuts and intimidating figure in the firelight, his frown clear.

"Haki's in every living thing in the world," Garp begins, rubbing at the stubble of his chin. Luffy moves to sit up, but Riskua clenches her fingers in his hair to keep him still, waiting for the boy's older relative to expand upon her favourite topic. "Some say it's spiritual power, willpower manifested… When it comes for training though, you just gotta keep going at it!" Slamming his hands down onto the curve of his knees, Garp grins victoriously. "Now I'll be back in the future to give you brats more marine training, so keep getting stronger!" And with that terrifying promise, he's gone as swift as he came.

 

 

 

 

Riskua can't summon up the willpower to move; everything she tries her legs shake for a few seconds before she crumples to the floor. It's just not going to happen and she reluctantly resigns herself to a night under the stars.

As she'd asked, Sabo has already carried Luffy off to the bandit's hut, under the impression that she'll be catching up to them in a moment. But that's clearly not going to happen. She's put all her effort into keeping Garp's terror inducing fists as far away from the boys as she can, but her Armament Haki had run out after so long. She'd never gotten to that point before, and that just proves she needs to train more. She's too comfortable in her workout routine and perhaps that’s why she's not progressing as much as she had hoped to.

"Tch, you've got no stamina, have you?"

Having landed in a very ungraceful flop upon the floor, Riskua twists her head to a side, peering up at Ace. He's got his arms folded, squinting down at her with a judging frown.

"Nope, it's a character flaw I need to work on," Riskua admits, offering Ace a tired smile, cheek resting against the earth beneath.

For a moment, the dark haired boy stares down at her for a little longer before he gives a slow nod.

The next thing she knows, he's squatting down by her side, taking a not so gentle hold of her arm and slinging it up over his shoulders. Riskua watches the movement cautiously, her form limp as she allows Ace to manhandle her into some form of hold. He's not hesitant about wrapping his arm around her waist and she's reminded of the fact he probably doesn't know the implications of close contact between girls and boys. Why would Dadan have bothered to explain it to Ace? Yeah, Riskua can't see her doing that.

Which brings up the worrying question of who's going to be the one to break open that topic of conversation.

"Shitty Gramps knock your brain out your head or something?"

"Zaa, I'm just thinking, Ace," Riskua grumbles, working her legs as the older preteen supports the vast majority of her weight. It's a good thing Ace is so inherently strong, a good thing he doesn't rely on Haki like her. It's a good thing he came back for her. Smile lifting up the corners of her lips, Riskua wraps her arm around the one Ace's holding against her waist, angling her face so that the brim of her cap covers her eyes.

"Thanks for the help."

"Heh, I didn't know you were so weak to need it."

"Everybody needs help at some point in their lives," Riskua counters, trying to ignore the way Ace walks them into a big palm leaf just to see it slap against her face. Little brat's laughing at her behind those dark eyes, she just knows it.

Ace doesn't say anything else as they keep walking, and really, Riskua's got nothing more to add to the conversation right now.

 

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Blood warm with both the sun and the rum, Shanks reclines in his slouch upon the deck, head cocked back and angled to face the brilliant summer sun. They'd had a little confrontation with Big Mom three days ago, but they'd come out better for it, and now Shanks finds himself fresh from celebrating his bounty, which has increased yet again.

Brushing his bangs back from his face, Shanks shakes his head, pleased to find his old friend hangover hasn't decided to come by for a visit.

"Captain… Hawk Eyes has been tearing through loads of towns recently."

"Has he?"

Accepting the list from Lucky Roo, Shanks gives it a quick glance over, the smile slowly slipping from his face. He recognises these places, and if Mihawk's been dishing out punishment upon certain groups within them…

Then it means Raowl's no longer around to go chasing after her own justice.

Eyes slipping closed, Shanks takes a moment, hands steadily balling into fists. He might not have ever been in love with Raowl, but she had been a friend, a good friend. She'd been the mother of his only child, and he will never climb out of that debt. It might not have been planned, but she gave him his little Gully, that little bundle of absolute perfection. To know that such a strong and opinionated woman is no longer among them… It sucks. It sucks big juicy ones.

"Men, a wake," Shanks calls and everyone around him stops what they're doing, looking to their captain. Slowly, Shanks pours a good helping of booze into a saucer. This isn't something to be drinking from the neck of a bottle for, this is about respect. "To Dracule Raowl, mother of my perfect child, a badass woman in her own right, and someone who should've lived a hell of a lot longer than she got."

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"No no no, you're going in too hard and fast."

"Shut up, hard and fast is best."

"No, it's really not, technique is what you need. And that's far too big."

"There's no such thing as too big!"

"Yeah, there kind of is! It'll be uncomfortable like that."

"You keep your whore mouth shut!"

"ACE!" The two boys swing around from where they're arguing to find Riskua standing there, her arms folded and scowl on her face. She's politely ignoring just how much of that conversation could have been taken the wrong way and is instead focusing upon what's most important. "Don't you dare use that kind of language around Luffy."

"What's wrong with my language?!"

"Nothing, unless you want to explain to a curious Luffy exactly what a whore is."

There's a moment of quiet between the three of them, Sabo and Ace eyeballing her as she returns the expression unflinchingly. But she's rather firm about this; the longer she has to wait to give Luffy that particular talk, the better. Then Sabo speaks, and it's not so much the action as it is his words that surprises Riskua.

"What is a whore?"

Frowning, the red-head pulls her hat off her head, worrying it between her hands for a second. This, this is exactly what she wanted to avoid. A quick glance at Ace makes it abundantly clear that it's certainly not a word he knows the definition of either. Perhaps it's something he's overheard while running about in the slums; that or one of the bandits had used to word and Ace'd liked how it sounded.

"Ask me in a month and I'll tell you. More importantly, Sabo's right here. That nail's far too big; it'll catch whenever we turn the wheel. Though you're right that hammering fast and hard is good. Just be damn careful to aim before you start hammering."

With a scowl, Ace pulls the nail out of the wood to start again.

Mid-spring is gripping the world around them; flowers are in bloom, the sun is shining down upon their skin and they're building a treehouse.

They've finally been able to ditch their coats, scarves and gloves, instead running about in simple tee-shirts once again. It feels good, though Riskua doesn't have a damn clue on why the boys want to 'move out'. They're going from bathing facilities and kitchen equipment to... well, a fire pit and nothing at all.

Perhaps it's the sweet call of freedom that has enticed them away, but Riskua's not about to be left behind, even if it means slumming it. And they will be slumming it.

Still, she's been on a ship before, Shanks' ship to be precise. The Red Force was one of the best ships out there, and even then she'd found a few things missing. If she can grow used to living in a treehouse built by four kids, then by the time she comes to sailing across the seas, any ship at all will be a luxury. That's what Riskua keeps telling herself anyway.

"What's with all that shit?" Ace asks, waving his hand towards the pile of fabric cloths Riskua has been collecting while out scavenging these past few days.

"I was thinking we could use them to separate our sleeping rooms from the main one, cloth'll give the illusion of a wall without one actually being present. And if you three want to divvy up into a room each later, we'll be able to do so."

Both boys nod along, arms folding and considering the room before them. Riskua has helpfully drawn up one of the long sheets of cloth, holding it as high as she could in an attempt to give a clear example.

"Wait a second," Sabo suddenly orders, blond brows furrowed and a frown on his face. "What do you mean the three of us?"

"Well obviously now that we've got more options, I'm going to have a separate room."

"...Luffy's not gonna like that," Sabo concludes, looking to the entrance of the treehouse -if it could really be called as such, given the lack of one wall and a roof- as if the little menace would appear the second he became the topic of conversation.

"I'm a girl," Riskua deadpans. "I'd have to have gotten a room of my own at some point, especially in the next few years."

At that the boy's looked positively stumped and it's suddenly so painfully obvious that they have no idea what is to come in the next half a decade or so.

Before she can think too much on the matter, a tanned hand grasps at the edge of the treehouse, Luffy pulling himself up from the rope ladder with a grin on his face and... and flowers between his teeth.

"Flowers aren't for eating, idiot." Luffy blatantly ignores Ace, taking the handful of colourful spring blooms from between his lips and all but scampering over to Riskua.

"I got you flowers," he babbles, thrusting the collection at the redhead with a cheerful smile on his face. "Because Shanks gave Makino flowers, he said girls like flowers and we should give them flowers because we're happy they're in our lives, Shanks wouldn't lie about that, and even though you're a shell girl you're still a girl."

They're obnoxiously bright, some of the colours clash horribly, but Riskua's chest warms anyway. It's not so much the flowers she likes as it is the fact Luffy's thought to bring her something at all. He looks so earnest, one arm extended with the bunch and his cheeks forcibly curving round eyes into happy little squints.

"They're wonderful Luffy. Thank you."

 

 

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They're moving out tomorrow.

The treehouse -their new house- is almost finished and Luffy is terribly excited for that. All they need is a flag to put on the top, to show they're going to be pirates.

Only, Ace and Sabo are stupid and don't understand that he's going to be the Captain.

Riskua joined him first, so she's his First Mate and Sabo's smart so he can be the navigator.

Ace... isn't good at anything really, so he'll be the cabin boy. Luffy snickers to himself, pleased with the picture that makes in his mind. Ace having to do all the chores that he doesn't do now, though he'd still be in charge of carrying the food like he is now; Luffy isn't blind, he knows Ace is super strong. Ace is three years older than him, if they were the same age Luffy's sure he could beat him.

But it doesn't matter because Luffy'll grow up real soon and beat Ace and Sabo and even Riskua when he does. Because Riskua can even beat Ace when she uses her mystery power. Luffy's finally getting the hang of the mystery power; he'd been able to duck one of Ace's punches yesterday when he hadn't seen it, but that's the only time it's happened.

Still, the mystery power is really cool and he can't wait until he's got better at it. If Riskua's gonna be the best at the mystery power, then Luffy'll be the next best. He can't focus completely on it, because he wants to be Pirate King after all.

Hopping down from the rope ladder, Luffy stands next to Riskua who was the first to climb down. She's wearing the flowers he got her; she'd sat on the floor and done something funny to the green parts until they were all put together and now she wears them like a scarf around her neck. She looks really pretty with that smile on her face, with bright flowers and fiery hair and sunny eyes.

He remembers when he first saw her, when Riskua saved him from the wolves. Remembers holding her hand and feeling so warm and fuzzy, knowing he wasn't alone, that he had someone.

Reaching out, Luffy slips his hand into Riskua's wrapping her fingers around his. They're dry from the coating of the wood dust stuff that comes out whenever she cuts the planks, and there's an owie by her thumb. But she holds his hand back.

It sure is nice, having a big sister.

Ace and Sabo won't hold his hand like this, though Luffy doesn't know why they won't. Don't they like how nice it feels? Because that's silly; holding hands feels almost as nice as meat tastes. Almost.

Ace scoffs when he lands on the forest floor next to them, having jumped the last few steps. Maybe Luffy should try that next time, it looks fun.

"Why're you holding her hand, Luffy."

Luffy likes it more now that Ace's stopped calling him a crybaby. He bets Ace's lying and that the other boy cries lots and lots when he was Luffy's age.

"I like holding Riskua's hand!" Luffy defiantly retorts, jamming the finger of his free hand up his nose. He's gonna flick the booger right at Ace, the meanie.

"Please don't start a fight before dinner, Luffy."

Luffy shoots a glance to Riskua and she really does seem tired, so he begrudgingly leaves the booger up his nose. He'll drop it in Ace's drink later.

"Well, I'm ready for dinner," Sabo declares as he too drops to the ground and Luffy perks up at the words.

Right food!

 

 

 

Sabo's making the flag, a team- temp- teampa- a flag that's not gonna be there long, Luffy's forgot the fancy word Sabo used already.

He does remember what's going on the flag though. ASLR.

Sabo had wanted it in age order, but Ace'd said they should go with who's name was the shortest and work that way. Luffy just gets the feeling he wanted Riskua's name to come last for some reason. Maybe because he can't beat her in a serious spar, even if he's getting better and better. Almost as fast as Luffy is.

The seven year old determinedly ignores that he's yet to beat any of them in a fight.

Instead, he lays down on his front before the river, watching Riskua. She's being silly, swimming up and down the river with a very funny look on her face, the kind of look Sabo gets when he's plotting where they should do their next dine n' dash.

"Why is Riskua swimming so much?" Luffy asks and he's not jealous at all that he can't swim too. Even though it looks like a lot of fun and maybe Shanks was lying and he still can swim. He'd panicked in the ocean because there was a Sea King, but maybe now...

Resolute, Luffy leaps to his feet and takes a running jump into the water.

 

Shanks hadn't lied.

 

Riskua pulls him from the water and she looks really scared, Luffy realises as he hacks up the mouthful of water he swallowed. It doesn't taste nice at all.

"What the hell, Luffy?!" Sabo's abandoned the flag to come over and Luffy wishes his body didn't feel so tired. There's paint on Sabo's cheek and he wants some warpaint too.

"Why'd you jump in the river, Luffy."

Uh-oh, Riskua only calls him Luffy now when he's in trouble.

"I..." trailing off, Luffy shoots a glance to a side, hoping the two'll drop it.

Instead he ends up meeting Ace's gaze who looks down right furious, like when Gramps realised he'd eaten a Devil Fruit and that he'd met Shanks and that he's gonna become Pirate King.

"IthoughtShankswaslying," he spits out as quickly as he can, the words mumbling together until they're one big word. Like when he puts meat and potatoes in his mouth at the same time and they get chewed up into tasty mush.

"Damn it, Luffy, Shanks wouldn't lie."

Riskua looks very upset. Luffy doesn't like it.

"Don't ever do that again, do you hear me?"

Slowly, Luffy nods, something in the pit of his stomach that doesn't feel like food at all. It feels bad and he wants it to go away.

"But swimming looks fun," whimpers Luffy, risking a glance at Sabo. He's trying to look angry, but he's not quite able to hide the same expression as the redhead, so he just looks like a funny mix of Ace and Riskua.

"You can't swim, Kinglet." Oh, he's back to Kinglet. That's good.

Luffy tries to smile but it still feels wobbly. Riskua pulls him closer, then lowers his legs to the river until the water touches the soles of his feet.

"That okay?" Sabo asks and Luffy nods right away. It's cool and he doesn't feel like he's missing out anymore. They were all worried about him, Luffy realised.

"Riskua and Sabo and Ace are the best!"

And he means that, he means it so much.

 

 

 

He likes going for dinner in the city. It means Riskua doesn't have to spend so much time cooking and she can be with them.

Luffy's sat beside Sabo this time, for the first time ever, and it means Ace and Riskua are sat together. That's never happened before, and they'd both had really funny looks on their faces when Sabo had sat down next to him. Luffy can barely pay them any attention right now because there's food on the table!

But he does catch a quick glance every so often; Ace's eating real funny with his elbows sticking out, getting in Riskua's way. She's frowning over that, and when it happened again, she starts leading with her elbows too, until they're both fighting more for the space and then food.

Which is good for Luffy, because that means he gets even more meat!

Snatching a chicken leg out from under Sabo when the boy blinks, Luffy tears all the meat free, dropping the clean bone onto a steadily growing pile.

"They're like a cat and a dog that don't want to admit they get along," Sabo muses beside him, still watching Riskua and Ace. Luffy takes the opportunity to empty the blond boy's plate while he's distracted.

Ace and Riskua are funny. Sometimes Riskua's all nice and friendly, and then sometimes she's like this. Ace's taking it all seriously, he's got that same look on his face as when he's hunting or fighting. But Riskua's hiding a grin, sucking her lips into her mouth in order to keep them in a straight line.

She's not eating anymore, so that must mean she's done, right? Just as Luffy's hand snakes to the leg of meat left on her plate, the redhead deftly deflects it towards Ace and eases the food up to her mouth in one smooth motion. One of Ace's hands is on food and the other is fending off Riskua, leaving his plate undefended. Or, it seems that way.

Before Luffy can snatch up the food though, Ace's head shoots down and he licks up the last morsel, defiantly meeting Luffy's eyes. Ace is mean, Luffy thinks.

At the same time, Sabo slaps him around the head, grabbing a hold of Luffy's shirt and shaking him.

"Did you eat the last of my food?!"

And Luffy laughs.

 

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The only thing that's a surprise here, is that all three boys come down with the same sickness at once. Of course they try to do everything together, why would this be any different?

Dropping the large barrel full of water at the entrance to the treehouse, Riskua sucks in a large breath of air. Carrying that up wasn't so bad, but carrying such a heavy barrel all the way from the river? That takes a little more effort.

"Ri? I don't feel so good..." Sabo's laid out on his front, but he is the only one of the boys to force his eyes open so he can stare forlornly up at her.

Both Ace and Luffy are curled up and around each other, dark heads of hair pressing together as they shiver into the fur covers.

With a pitiful whine, Sabo shuffles closer when Riskua sits down, resting his head on her lap and drawing his own fur blanket around his shoulders.

"I'm achy and my head hurts."

"Well you have spent a the past few hours throwing up," Riskua reasons, one cold hand coming to rest over Sabo's brow as the other begins rubbing soothing circles between his shoulder blades. The blond all but melts into the touch, still shivering despite nuzzling his nose into the warmth of her stomach.

"Why aren't you ill?"

"I'm from the Grand Line. There's all sorts of diseases out there, so my immune system will have developed differently to yours. That's the thing that fights off illness and infection," clarifies Riskua when she feels Sabo's jaw work to voice his question.

Lethargically, the blond nods, throwing both arms around Riskua waist and hugging himself closer to her. Legs starting to become numb, Riskua gives her toes a wiggle and scratches gently at Sabo's scalp with one hand.

"So what makes you ill, probably won't affect me. But something that might not make you ill will probably knock me out for a few days. Understand?"

"Yeah. 'M glad you came 'ere," Sabo grumbles sluggishly. "You're smart."

"'Skua? I'm thirsty," Luffy's whine teases a sigh from Riskua and a whimper from Sabo.

Begrudgingly, the former noble wiggles free of his newly made nest, sluggishly making his way towards Ace and Luffy, whom he forces his way between.

Riskua watches it all happen with a tired smile, rising to her feet and snatching up a bottle as she goes. Filling it up with water isn't difficult once she's managed to get the lid off of the barrel, taking a mouthful of the fluid before she goes over to the three boys.

Kneeling beside Luffy, Riskua swipes his sweaty bangs back from his face, grimacing at the perspiration that sticks to her palm.

"Here, Kinglet. Drink slowly."

She ensures Luffy does so, he's spent all of the his time since waking throwing up. If there is ever a sign Luffy was ill, the blatant lack of demands for food would be the one.

Sabo happily, if not eagerly, accepts his third of the water, following her instructions and draining his share slowly, quietly rasping "thanks."

Finally, Riskua turns to Ace, who's made no move to roll over and face her. If anything, he's buried his face further into the pillow, chest rising and falling which each dry breath.

"Have a drink, Ace," Riskua says after a minute has passed and the lump of Portgas has made no indication of moving.

Still nestled in the pillow and quilts, Ace grumbles, "Not thirsty," with a terribly determined air about him.

"You've gotta stay hydrated, it'll help you get better. Now drink or I'll spill it on you."

Perhaps he notices that she's dead serious, because with a face like thunder, Ace emerges from the blanket and makes a blind grab for the bottle.

Rolling her eyes, Riskua helps Ace bring the bottle to his lips, ignoring the nails that scratch at her fingers in an attempt to make her let go. She can see how his limbs are shaking, there no way he won't spill it all over him.

When Ace finishes, he remains a stretched out for a second, eyes dropping and lips pursed. Then, as Riskua's setting the now empty bottle to a side, a weight comes to rest on her leg.

Staring, she looks down at Ace, who's eyes are closed as he resolutely ignores her reaction. He doesn't move though, so slowly, Riskua threads her fingers through his hair and begins gently stroke at the wavy strands, much like she'd been doing with Sabo earlier. His breathing's off, but in that sniffly way everyone's gets when they're sick. His cheeks have a blatant flush to them, and for the hundredth time Riskua wishes she had some way of checking their temperatures with something other than the back of her hand. She'll pull the covers off them when they go to sleep, given that she doesn't want to risk them getting too hot.

"'Skua," Luffy whines, peering up through his fringe of sweaty bangs to stare at her, lower lip jutting out in a blatant pout. "Sing me a lullaby."

She doesn't know any lullabies she could sing. The ones that were sung to her in this life are too painful to think of, especially given the uncertainty she has for the woman who once sung them.

And... and she can't remember any lullabies from her old life. Only songs, and even those are a bit hazy. Still, Luffy probably won't know the difference between those... only as she's flicking through her mind does Riskua realise she's not really sung in this body before, only in her last one.

So, she picks a Disney song, one of the ones she remembers best, and softly begins, only changing the words slightly.

"You're gonna be a mighty king, so enemies beware."

Luffy's face is pressing into her thigh, the one Ace doesn't currently occupy, and though his eyes aren't open, she knows he's listening.

"Free to run around all day, free to do it all your way."

"Budge up." Sabo's trying to join in, his nose scrunched up as he presses close to Luffy, until Riskua's forced to lie down so Luffy can occupy her stomach as Sabo forcibly captures the territory of her other thigh.

Stroking at the youngest boy's hair as  consolation prize, Riskua stares up at the ceiling and resigns herself to the position of pillow for the foreseeable future.

"Oh, you just can't wait to be king."

"Like that song," Luffy mumbles, echoed by a light snore from Ace's exhausted form. He's really down and out too, unconscious and cuddling closer to her leg. She's never gonna let him forget it.

But she'll only start teasing when he's actually well enough to respond; it's no fun otherwise.

 

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"We've got a problem."

With his top hat pulled down to shadow his eyes, Sabo stares into the faces of each of his brothers, just to make it explicitly clear how big of a problem they have.

Because Riskua is ill.

Riskua, who cooks all the food, who looks after them and makes sure all the technical stuff is done -that there's water in the treehouse and that the clothes are clean-, Riskua who's always looking out with Haki to make sure Garp's not on the horizon… Riskua is ill.

"So?" Arms folded across his chest, Ace meets his gaze, lips pressed into a firm stern line. The whole look he's going for is easily ruined by the fact he's blushing, clearly still not over his little 'softie' moment when he was ill.

Sabo may have been as sick as a dog, but he can still remember that Ace was the first to curl up against Riskua when she sung them to sleep. It was nice.

Sabo's mother never once sang him a lullaby, they had maids for that. He likes Riskua, she's a good friend. She baked him a cake for his birthday, blue with a wave pattern on, and he knows she'll get him a birthday present too. She's just late with that, like she was late giving Ace his.

The other boy uses the heavy duty boots every day since he got them though, so Sabo knows she's just looking for the perfect gift. He's happy to wait.

"So, who's gonna cook today? Who's gonna make sure we have water in the tree house? Who's gonna make sure the fever thing isn't gonna kill Riskua?"

"Kill Riskua?!" Luffy cries, his horrified eyes wide. "AH! Riskua can't die! She can't! Sabo! We've gotta do something! A fever can't kill my sister! How do I fight it!?"

Luffy's so strange, so very far away from the nobles Sabo remembers. Luffy who's so free and so loving, who's just so purely good it almost hurts to witness sometimes.

"We can't fight her fever, that's Riskua fight," Sabo explains, even though he feels the worry creeping into his bones. He's been alone before, but then he got Ace, and then Luffy and Riskua. His brotherhood with Ace and Luffy, his friendship with Riskua; they're the most important things in his life now.

When he was a noble, he owned so much stuff. Now, all he's got are the clothes on his back, the stash of treasure they've been stealing… and he's got these three. If it comes down to it, Sabo'd burn all the treasure, he'd even go back to being alone as long as it meant these three never got hurt. The bond he shares with these three, it's the most important thing in his life.

Which is why he has to do something because Riskua is not well.

"We can make it easier though. Like making sure there's water in the treehouse, or that there's food to eat."

Ace's jaw twitches a bit, his fingers curling slightly into fists, and his lets out a long, low breath.

"I'll catch some food… Dadan will cook it," the dark haired boy grunts, leaning down to pick up his metal pole.

Sabo watches the motion and does his damn best not to smile. Ace might not show it, and he might not care for Riskua as much as he does for Sabo and Luffy… but it's getting close. It makes Sabo smile to think about it, though he's careful to not show it when Ace could suspect the reason behind it. Sabo's brother's a bit of a grump like that.

"Luffy… you makes sure Riskua's happy and comfy, like she did with us, okay?"

The boy blinks and Sabo internally cringes, but really he's got no other choice. Luffy'll get in Ace's way hunting, he'll get in Sabo's way of keeping everything in line; all the younger boy can really do is try to cheer Riskua up.

And really, that's what the little bundle of sunshine is best at.

"Okay, we can do this."

 

 

 

When Sabo returns from the river with a barrel of water filled to the brim -and boy, has his respect for Ace and Riskua's strength gone up after such an endeavour, this was usually their job- he finds Luffy doing his damn hardest to keep Riskua happy.

He's brought her more flowers, no doubt because he's under the impression that they make Riskua happy. Sabo though, Sabo's not stupid. It's not so much the actual flowers as it is that Luffy has taken the time to think about Riskua enough to actually get her something; that's what she really likes.

Right now, the redhead is sat up, even if she's leaning heavily upon one of the treehouse walls, threading flower-stems together in order to create some form of necklace. Or a crown, judging by what Luffy's wearing on his head.

The boy's talking about his third favourite topic; not his future as pirate king (his first favourite topic) or about meat (his second favourite topic) but instead is rambling about Shanks, the great and amazing pirate captain. Sabo wishes he'd met the Capitan too, but if there really is anything to what Luffy's saying, then no doubt Sabo'll end up meeting him at some point. Especially if Luffy's going to be fighting him at some point in the future.

"Sabo?"

"I brought water," the blond mumbles, edging his way further into the treehouse and rolling the barrel along. Riskua's skin is pale, real pale, with a nasty looking sheen to it that can only come from sweat. Had he looked this bad when he was ill last week? Because Riskua doesn't look very well at all.

"Riskua made you a crown, Sabo!"

And then Luffy's bouncing forwards, presenting Sabo with his own flowery crown made up of white and blue flowers.

"I'm not very good at making them because the stems are too fiddly," Luffy grumbles."But Riskua's really good so she's making us all one."

And that's not exactly what Sabo meant when he said Luffy should keep Riskua comfortable and happy… but she does seem content.

 

So Sabo sits himself down and listens to the rest of Luffy's story with a smile on his face and a crown of flowers on his head.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

They're in Grey Terminal again.

His pipe is a solid weight in his hand, the metal cool against his fingers. The spring air is warm, though unfortunately it carries the distinctive scent of this trash heap with the heat.

Blowing a strand of hair back from his face, Ace adjusts his stance, keeping an eye on all the unsavoury characters that are in the general area. If he reaches inside himself, if he really focuses, Ace realises he can even sense the ones he can't quite see, as blurry and hazy a presence as they are. It's Riskua's training, though he doesn't like to admit it.

They're getting stronger with her here. Sabo's punches are more precise and they hurt like a bitch now; that's the army- armament thingy. Ace's pretty sure that's the word he's looking for, that power that Riskua can use to fell trees. That she'd punched him with that first time.

Ace isn't completely ignorant, he knows now that he probably deserved it, if not for what had happened with Luffy, then because he'd ruined all her stuff. She's not brought that up again, and though he's seen Sabo looking at the book he'd dropped all the crumbs in, the redhead has never leant it to him to look at.

Ace won't ask, his pride won't let him, so right now he stands at an impasse. It's not a sensation he particularly enjoys.

Scrunching up his nose, the freckled boy sends his most vicious glare to a guy that's been keeping a funny eye on Luffy, sending him scampering away. It's only been a few months, and already he's stupidly protective of the little bugger. He irritates the hell out of him, but Ace can't quite imagine life without him, doesn't want to contemplate it. Just like with Sabo, he doesn't know what he'll do with himself if Luffy disappeared. And… and it's getting harder and harder to picture Riskua leaving too.

The very thought of it makes him uncomfortable, but then again, so does remembering the way he acted when he was ill. It's embarrassing as hell, he just wants to forget about it. Because now whenever he does something, Riskua'll glance at him from the corner of her eye, a smug little smirk on her face and it pains Ace to see it, to know she's laughing at him.

Sabo and Luffy were just as babyish, if not more so than him. Why does she get to mock him like that? It's not fair an Ace doesn't like it one bit.

It's even more annoying that he can't forget just how… nice it'd been. He hates thinking about it, hates the fact Sabo and Luffy have been right all along that hugs are nice.

Ace's never had a hug before. Dadan's not the hugging type, and the less said about Shitty Gramps and personal space, the better. He's seen Luffy get loads of hugs, and even Sabo's been getting a few off Riskua. He only just needs to look at the girl and the redhead seems to know the former nobles wants one. Ace…

It wasn't even a proper hug, Ace tells himself. He'd just used her leg as a pillow because being sick had made him a big a baby as Luffy is. But her hand running through his hair had felt nice. If that's what a hug's like, Ace can almost see why even Sabo wants them.

He won't ask for one though; it might be nice, but he doesn't need them. He was getting along fine without them before, just because he knows how pleasant they can be now… it doesn't change anything.

Stepping closer to Sabo when the boy tenses slightly, Ace looks to Riskua and sees that she feels just as discomforted. Sometime's wrong here, though what, Ace doesn't know. It feels like there's bugs crawling under his skin, feels like there's someone watching him.

Red hair swirls around Riskua's head as she looks back and forth over her shoulders, her whole from tense.

Ace might not be her biggest fan, even if she is alright, but he respects her abilities, namely the massive advantage of that observation thing that lets her know where attacks are coming from. Does it extend to people planning to attack them too?

"Move!" Riskua throws herself at Luffy in the same instance Ace tugs Sabo to a side, both only just missing the grasping hands that come out of the trash heap.

He's got a single moment to feel proud, to feel relief they dodged that, then hands clamp down on Ace's shoulders and tear him away from Sabo.

"Get the fuck off me!" Pipe arches; it strikes true and fells the man holding onto him.

Ace drops from his grip, landing in a crouch and instantly looking to the other three. Sabo's rolling out the way of another asshole, and Riskua's just punted the bastard going for Luffy. She's not holding back on the mystery power, because he goes flying.

Readying himself for a fight, Ace draws in a breath, but it's all over before it can really begin. Riskua's busying fight off two guys on one side, and Ace isn't close enough to get between Luffy and the one that goes for him.

A knife is soon pressed to the youngest's neck and they all freeze in response. Luffy's rubber, blunt impact can't hurt him, but a knife? A sharp blade? He's as dead as a regular human with that.

"Put the pipes down, brats. Hands up, Red."

Riskua's furious as she slowly raises her hands, palms forwards and fingers level with the brim of her hat.

Pipe on the floor, Ace makes to join Luffy, only for meaty hands to clamp down on his shoulders and hold him in place.

"Hey! Let me go!" Luffy snarls, attempting to move and then pausing as the knife's blade presses a bit tighter against his jugular. That's a killing blow, Ace knows, he's seen Riskua take down a tiger with her knives slicing open the neck. He knows how much blood can pour out of that; he's got no desire to see anymore of Luffy's blood, not after that day with the pirates, the day Luffy refused to bow to all expectation and didn't tell them where the treasure was. Is that what this is about, their treasure?

"Damnit, you bastards, let him go!"

"It's the blond one, right?" What?

Ace watches, helpless, as one of the pirates inspects Sabo before throwing him towards Bluejam. Ace knows that bastard; he's made an effort to avoid stealing from him ever since the Luffy incident.

"Give Sabo back!" Luffy demands, legs flailing forwards as he tries to kick off the ground to the blond, knocking the knife from his neck in the process.

The second it's gone, Riskua explodes into motion, shooting across the space towards Luffy.

Bluejam gets a knife of his own to Sabo's neck before Riskua can do much more than punch the guy. Still, it's a solid punch, downs the bastard that's threatened Luffy's life. But Sabo's being held hostage now instead.

"Give him back?"

Ace barely listens to the guy that's talking now, too busy taking in everything that's happening, brain spinning in an attempt to figure out how the hell they're gonna get out of this. He recognises this bastard now; Sabo's father, who's an asshole. He can't hear the words, blood rushing through his ears, but he gets the meaning.

He's taking Sabo from them, ripping him away. He's trying to cage one of them, and now with a knife pressed to his own neck, knives pressed to the recaptured Luffy and Riskua, Ace's helpless to stop it. Ace understand enough when the noble bastard speaks that he's leaving them to Bluejam to off.

"Hold on a minute!" Sabo screams in absolutely panic, body shaking as his head swings from Bluejam to his noble sire. "I'll do what-"

Sabo cuts off with a choke and Ace feels the exact same.

Something has slammed into him, like a hand of ice has taken his insides and squeezed until everything's burst, until his organs are more like pulp, until his bones are jelly and his muscles water.

Ace drops to his knees, belatedly realising the guy that's been holding him captive has let go too. Riskua's screaming something, but the words are fuzzy, he can't register whatever she's saying.

When he finally manages to summon the energy to look up, Ace can believe what he's seeing.

They're unconscious. The noble, all the pirates, even Bluejam, they're all unconscious bar one.

The pirate still awake is in a worse state than Ace himself, on his hands and knees, shaking violently, pupils narrowed to pinpricks in his eyes. He looks terrified.

Drawing in a raspy breath, Ace flicks his gaze to Luffy, to Sabo, and then to Riskua. Luffy's in no better state, Sabo's actually unconscious, but Riskua... she's stood up, trembling but still stood up. She's breathing heavy, looking around with wide eyes. But, it's not confusion, it's stunned wonder.

She knows what going on.

"Ri-Risk-" Ace chokes on the last of her name, mouth completely dry.

Bright yellow eyes swing around to stare at him and she's never looked creepier, those weird ass eyes glowing in the sunlight and with bodies sprawled around them in various stages of unconsciousness. There's one or two that are even foaming at the mouth.

"'Skua?" Luffy gasps, reaching out a shaky hand and wrapping it around her ankle, the only part of her that he can seem to reach.

Across from them, the only conscious pirate rasps out a name and Ace feels his heart actually stop. He's sure he's misheard, sure he can't have heard right, but then he repeats it.

"Gold Roger."

It's little more than a croak, but Ace is frozen, Ace is so still it feels like every bit of motion in his body has broken and come to a stop. How? It's the name the idiots use, the incorrect term, but it's still so damn clear.

"King's Will," the pirate wheezes, eyes flashing with greed.

And then his throat splits open.

Riskua's standing before him and her eyes have never looked more like an animal's, blood splattered across her cheeks like morbid freckles and slathered on the knife -stolen from one of the pirates- she's just used to open the man's throat. Feral. She looks feral.

Panicked eyes glance to Luffy and then to Ace before turns on heel and just runs.

Leaving Ace surrounded by unconscious pirates, one noble, two brothers with only one of them conscious, and a dead man. A corpse. Ace's seen them before in Grey Terminal... but he's never seen someone die in front of his eyes. Not like that.

"A-Ace." Luffy's pained stutter jolts him back into reality.

His lungs scream with relief as he finally sucks in a breath of air, heart pounding in overdrive. His legs are shaky as Ace stumbles forwards, determinedly clearing the distance between him and Sabo's unconscious form. The blond's breathing just fine, he'll be fine. Ace keeps repeating it in his head, because he knows on is true and he absolutely has to believe in the other.

"'Skua, she, she..." Luffy trails off, eyes wide and unblinking as he just stares at the form of the man Riskua has just killed.

"Luffy, I need you to take Sabo home. We need to be gone before they wake up." He won't let them take Sabo away. Sabo who's his brother. He's not this bastard's son anymore. As far as Ace's concerned, he doesn't have a father. If Sabo wants to be his brother, if Sabo doesn't want a father, then who is Ace to disagree?

"Riskua," Luffy whines, looking in the direction that the redhead disappeared, worry clear on his face. Does the little brat even really have a clue on what's going on?

"Take Sabo back," Ace orders, checking Luffy over. He's not in the best of conditions, and he's certainly not the one to send after Riskua. Sabo's better at that, Sabo's better at the talking thing.

But Sabo's in no position to help right now, Sabo needs protecting and... and Ace is the big brother here. He has to protect his little brothers, and he has to help his friend.

"I'll go after Riskua. Just make sure Sabo's safe. Go back to Dadan's."

It pains him to admit it, but they can't fight pirates like this. Having the bandits as backup will improve things without doubt.

Dark brown eyes stare right at him for a moment before Luffy nods, terribly slow and clearly unhappy with the plan, but going along with it anyway.

Ace takes a moment to collect his pipe, staring down at the noble as Luffy retreats with Sabo. He feels no guilt at all when he smacks the man round the head, then several time in the side, no doubt breaking a few ribs. Whatever Riskua's done keeps them unconscious, and Ace takes the preemptive measure to break the noble bastard's leg, and gets both of Bluejam's while he's at it.

That'll slow 'em down for sure.

 

 
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It'd just built up, the panic, the horror, the realisation that she really couldn't do anything, that things were going to play out the same and everyone was going to suffer for it. That if she couldn't change anything then Ace was going to die and Luffy and Sabo would hurt so much. Her chest had been tightening in panic, had been clenching and squeezing and then it'd felt like an elastic band had snapped.

She knows what it was, what had happened. Just like she knew the potential after-effects.

Especially because of that one pirate.

That one pirate who'd recognised Conqueror's Haki, even if he'd known it under a different name. Who's likened the ability to Gol D. Roger. He'd sealed his own fate then.

Riskua couldn't let him get away, not when he'd blab about it. Word would reach the Marines, who'd no doubt be interested in any evidence of Haki outside the Grand Line. They'd come snooping. Snooping near Ace.

Unacceptable.

They couldn't afford to draw attention to Dawn Island, couldn't afford for the Marines to come looking here. If she remembers rightly, Ace is a chip off the old block when it comes to his looks, all it would take is one Marine looking a bit too close... she'd had no choice.

Still, the feel of warm blood splashing over her, of metal cutting so easily through flesh... Riskua feels sick. It's not that she regrets it, she did it to protect Ace, to protect Luffy's who's dad is so terrifying he's the most wanted man in the world. She did it to protect Sabo from more abuse and neglect, and she did it to protect herself from Marines.

But she's horrified.

Not by what she did, but how easy it was. How she hadn't even hesitated.

Is it because they don't feel like real people to her? That they'd always been characters? Expendables? Luffy and Sabo and Ace, they are the only things that feel real here.

Shanks, her Papa, is off on the Grand Line now, she's got no idea of her mother's still alive or not, and who knows what the hell Mihawk's up to. It's been so easy to get detached, to undervalue human life.

She's taken a life today.

Wiping the bile from the corners of her mouth, Riskua grimaces down at the puddle of sick, the slight chunks of undigested lunch. She feels sick, sick to the stomach with herself.

Is it normal to have such a disregard for human life in the face of her most precious people? To not even stop and consider before going in for the kill? How had that been any different to slitting a tiger's throat for dinner?

He hadn't even had the opportunity to fight back; the Conqueror's had seen to that. The Conqueror's...

Riskua forcibly turns her attention to that. The thing that's saved them, that'd given them to chance to get away. She had it.

An ability that only ever showcased itself in those that could inspire change. Really, what else could make such a grand statement? She's not part of the original plot, she's an addition who'd wriggled their way forcibly in. The only thing it is, is a reassurance that she can actually change some things. That Sabo doesn't have to go back.

Sabo who she's just left back there.

Heart in her throat as the present comes crashing down around her, Riskua shoots up to standing, swaying viciously as her body protests the movement from her steady crouch.

"The fuck was that."

There's two hands on her, one arm wrapped around her waist and the other on her arm to forcibly keep her standing.

Blinking, Riskua turns to look at Ace, suddenly so blisteringly conscious of the fact she's covered in blood and sick.

"Was what?" She parrots, clenching her eyes shut and praying the motion would stop the blinding headache that came with throwing up multiple times. It doesn't.

"That. They're all unconscious," arm gesturing back the way they'd come, Ace grunts, eyebrows drawn and lips stern. He's still supporting her though. Her legs are trembling, threatening to cave, but he's still there.

"Conqueror's Haki," begrudgingly, Riskua answers the question, one weak hand reaching up to pull the brim of her hat low. "It's the third form of Haki and it's not something you can learn. You either have it or you don't. It wakes up in really stressful situations, and it's basically imposing your will on others. That's why they're all out, because I didn't want Sabo to get taken away... I didn't want us to get torn apart." "

"And... And Gold D. Roger?" Ace chokes on the name, as if it's physically painful to voice it.

Glancing at the boy from their corner of her eyes, she can see his face is red with fury, eyes downcast. Throwing her arm over Ace's shoulders, not just to offer a bit of comfort but to steady herself, Riskua lets out a long, low sigh. She stinks, really stinks.

"One of the most famous examples of a Conqueror Haki user. He obviously saw him in action and recognised it... I had to kill him."

As soon as the words around out of her mouth, it's as if the floodgates have opened, as if she's Luffy with meat before her and she just can't stop herself. "Word would've spread, the Marines would've come to investigate and I'm not stupid, Ace. You're younger than you should be, but you're so insecure about yourself, and you can't even say his name without choking. I couldn't risk the Marines coming. We almost lost Sabo today, I'm not about to risk losing you too."

Even if it's turned her into a murderer, even if she's got blood on her hands that just won't wash off now, that never will. She's going to always carry her daggers around now, this is the last time she leaves them at the treehouse.

She doubts that noble bastard will give up now and she can't risk them taking Sabo away from them. Right now, nothing is more important than keeping the four of them together, and she'll do everything in her power to make sure that happens.

"You know... You know I'm the son of the devil?"

"I don't know if he's the devil or not, Ace. I never met him, so I can't really judge. I..." Riskua trails off, rubbing at the back of her neck, not sure in the slightest how to go about phrasing this gently. But hey, does gentle ever really work with Ace?

"My dad was a Cabin Boy on Roger's ship," she admits and if this weren't so damn serious, perhaps how fast Ace's head snaps around would be funny. "He's never had anything bad to say though, and he was there when Roger was executed, when the Golden Age of Pirates began. And he cried. I can't believe that my dad would cry for the death of a devil though. Can you really stay friends with me, Ace, knowing that my dad was close to yours?" It's quiet for a moment, the only noise their ragged breathing. Ace's hold is tight on her, fingers digging into the flesh of her hip and Riskua waits.

Finally though, Ace grimaces and starts stalking forwards, forcibly pulling her along as he goes.

"It doesn't matter then," Ace whispers, chewing ferociously enough on his lip that he completely splits the skin.

"Sabo's the son of a noble, I'm the child of a pirate and god knows what madness Luffy came from. What matters-"

"Is that I'm Ace, you're Riskua, and those idiots are Sabo and Luffy. I get it. No one else'll think like that, you're just weird." Ace speaks gruffly, strides lengthening and Riskua agrees with his hurried pace. She needs to see that Sabo and Luffy are okay.

"I'm weird," she confirms and they trudge on.

 

 

Perhaps it's the shock of what's happened hitting her, perhaps it's an after-effect of using Conqueror's Haki for the first time.

Whatever it is, Riskua cannot find the energy to talk with Ace, and the dark haired boy has never been the most vocal of people anyway. Either way, the silence that permits around the two of them feels comfortable for the first time in… what seems like forever.

They've only had a few calm moments between them, predominantly the hot chocolate they'd shared and that day the three boys were ill last month. It's only as they pass by the usual turn off to the treehouse that Riskua realises they're not going there at all.

Instead, they continue onwards towards a location they haven't visited ever since the completion of the treehouse.

"Dadan's?" It's a smart move on Ace's part, acknowledging that they probably can't fight the pirates off themselves, so to seek shelter with the mountain bandits; it's a good, solid plan.

Riskua voices her thoughts on the whole thing and Ace's goes a wonderful shade of red, flailing the one arm that's no longer supporting her but has been battling back tree-leaves with his pipe.

"Sabo was out cold and Lu's a weakling," Ace grumbles, shaking his head and smacking a leave back with a bit more force than he's been using until recently.

He's still blushing, and it's adorable.

Tucking her chin against her chest in order to hide the little smile, Riskua resolutely ignores the blood that stains her palms. Though really she should clean that off as soon as possible; who knows what kind of diseases it's carrying?

Nose crinkling, Riskua forces her legs to work and finds the movement comes a bit easier now, that she can put a bit more weight on them. The shock, from nearly losing Sabo, from the outburst of Conqueror's, whatever it was seems to have left now.

Just as Dadan's house comes into view too.

 

 

Ace drops her arm as soon as they reach the front door, and Riskua stumbles for it. Surprisingly enough though, the freckled boy reaches out and steadies her before she can tumble over though.

The door is wretched open and that's how Dadan finds them, Ace with one hand on her elbow and Riskua splattered with blood. They must make quite the sight, because the woman doesn't default to shouting at them.

"What the hell have you two been doing?" She hisses, stepping back and away to let them inside. Ace enters first, dragging the redhead in after him without hesitation.

"Got jumped by some pirates. Riskua killed a man."

Dadan's eyes her sharply and Riskua gulps. There's shame in her stomach, knowing this woman can now judge her, now that she's taken a human life. If it came down to it though, to protect the boys she lives with, Riskua would do it all again, even if she wouldn’t be happy about it. There was no other way to ensure his silence, and she's well aware of just how few people actually keep to their word. She knows, but that doesn't make it hurt any less.

Her hat is plucked from her head and Riskua darts a glance to Ace, who's carefully adjusting his grip on the deerstalker.

"I'll clean it," he mutters, disappearing off to the kitchen before she can say much of anything at all. Riskua watches him go, wondering just where this suddenly pleasant Ace has come from. If anything, she doesn't expect him to stick around for too long.

 

 

By the time all of the blood is off of her body, by the time her hair is rinsed so thoroughly that she's pulled far too many strands out in the process, Riskua feels nothing but bone tired.

She still plods out into the hallway, eyeing the collection of bandits in the room down the hall. She reaches, reaches for that explosive feeling, that core of determination that'd come into being when she'd realised she everything was going to hell.

But it's gone now, like smoke in the wind.

Perhaps it's psychosomatic; maybe because she's spent so long believing that she doesn't have it, it won't work unless she's really not trying for it? If so, that's going to be a massive pain to work around.

But perhaps it's also all in her head. She's read the manga, she knows how so much of the story should go; could a part of herself be internally warring proclaiming that it shouldn't be going like this and that things shouldn't be changing?

It's ridiculous but it makes sense as well. It's not like there's a load of case studies to refer to; no one else has ever ended up in this world as a reincarnation, to her knowledge at least. Never mind a reincarnation with future knowledge.

 

 

There's a puppy like in the centre of their old room.

Riskua stops at the door, staring in.

Ace has bundled both Luffy and Sabo up in his preteen arms as best he can. The youngest among them is clearly dead to the world, fast asleep even though the moon only rose a half hour ago. Then again, it has been a terribly long, panic inducing day.

Riskua would be lying if she claimed to have any energy left at all.

Ace's eyes are closed, his nose buried in Luffy's hair, but she's not stupid enough to assume that he's asleep. His breathing's not steady enough. Bar that though, and it's a good little act. Sabo-

Sabo is wide awake and staring at her.

"Ri?"

Kneeling down beside the boy, Riskua takes a moment to compose herself, but falters completely at the sight of her hat. It's been very carefully washed, cleaned up and is now drying upon the top of her trunk, the one they couldn't be bothered to move to the treehouse because it was too bulky and took up too much room.

There's a lump in her throat as Riskua crumples down next to Sabo, reaching out and just wrapping her limbs around him, planting her head against his shoulder. She doesn't say anything, and after a moment that Sabo spends uselessly flailing his limbs around, he settles for an unsure hug.

It's just what she needs right now.

 

 

 

Sleep comes and it goes. It's not a steady thing, she keeps waking up with red dots dancing across her vision or a sickening 'snck' as a blade slices through flesh echoing in her ear. It just won't leave her alone.

She'd been naive, thinking that it could just happen and she'd be over it. Hell, it'd have been more a cause for concern if she hadn't suffered any ill effects.

Wasn't psychopathy linked to something essential missing from the body's chemistry? Reborn, there'd been a chance she could have ended up with such a problem. There might be genetic faults within her right now, lying beneath the surface and ready to spring up at an inconvenient time in the future. Not that there's much of anything she can do about such a thing now.

Lying awake, staring up at the ceiling, Riskua becomes uncomfortably aware of the fact she's the only one awake, that the room feels too small. The wind is all but slamming at the walls, surprisingly vicious and angry compared to the gentle breeze that morning.

Or was it yesterday? Riskua's not sure if it's late night or early morning, nor does she particularly care. She just wants the sensation of blood off her hands.

Slipping out from the puppy pile -at some point during his sleep, Luffy appears to have worked his way from Ace's right to spread himself across both Ace and Sabo- Riskua makes her way to the window, before thinking better of it and heading for the one down the hall.

Washing the imaginary blood away with water hadn't done anything; it'd felt just like the sticky liquid was still trickling down her limbs.

The wind though; standing out there until it feels like the wind has stripped it all away from her sounds wonderful.

 

 

It's only when she climbs out onto the slanted roof that overhangs the front of Dadan's house that she realises there's something wrong.

This storm, it's not natural.

Tilting her head to a side, Riskua glances up at the sky, eyeing the dark grey clouds that have gathered overhead. It's been dry for days, has promised to be dry for just as long to come.

Yet, now there's a storm brewing? Something that looks particularly like a summer storm in the height of hurricane season? She hasn't seen weather this bad since leaving the Grand Line.

Chewing on her lip, Riskua settles herself, shoulders rolling back and reaching for her Haki. It comes slowly, edging forwards tentatively. Has the use of Conqueror's effected it in some way? It's slower to respond, but it still locks onto the overwhelming presence that's west of her current position. It's not one she's familiar with and it's not one she'd forget either.

It's a blistering kind of something, controlled chaos, like the centre of a storm.

Staggering to her feet, Riskua takes a single moment to check her daggers are still in place. The first thing she'd put on after her bath was not clothes, but instead the braces of her favoured weapons. She was never leaving them again.

Now, now there's something incredibly powerful on the island, right after a pirate identified a link, no matter how small, between Gol D. Roger and this island. She needs to check, needs to make sure that these people aren't here for Ace, for Luffy.

Maybe even for her.

Conqueror's isn't exactly a worthless talent, no matter her inability to use it consciously. Perhaps with training, but where would she even start with that?

Sliding down the drain pipe of the house, Riskua risks one more look back before she streaks off into the forest.

 

 

It's difficult to navigate in the dark of night, the moon now hidden behind those terrible storm clouds.

She's relying more upon touch, upon her hearing and her Haki, upon even her  memory.

Still, every few steps she trips over a root, steps on more than her fair share of beetles; it even feels like she kicks some small mammal at some point. Thankfully, it doesn't bite her in response, though it might have been dazed.

Swallowing, Riskua edges around the tree in front of her, the bark biting into her fingers as she goes. It roughs up her palms, irritates the skin.

Peering out around the trunk, she takes in the large figure that is backlit by the flickering of lights that peek out from between the trash of Grey Terminal. The smell is as horrific as ever, but the stranger stands there unflinching, unmoving.

 

And staring right at her.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 


 
 

Riskua slipped out. Why did she slip out?

Edging out over the window ledge himself, Sabo adjusts his grip on his pipe, biting his lip as he stares out into the darkness. He's got no idea why she raced off, but it's probably justified.

Luffy had explained what'd happened, and though the other boy clearly doesn't think too much on how it'd have impacted Riskua… the redhead had killed someone within the last twenty-four hours. In defence of them, to protect them, but she's still killed someone. Sabo remembers talking about killing Luffy when he saw their treasure, and he remembers exactly how much he hadn't wanted to do it.

But Luffy's innocent, if annoyingly naïve. The man Riskua killed was a pirate, probably had a bounty, no doubt had killed people himself. The world's probably better off without him.

But if Riskua thinks that or not… she shouldn't be alone right now.

Mind fully made up, Sabo shifts down the drain pipe, reaching out with his feeble Haki, but he can barely catch a glimpse of Riskua. It's like trying to see oil in water, there's only the slightest difference from what surrounds her. That's not going to stop him though.

It doesn't matter how much of a struggle it is to follow after her, Sabo does it anyway. Because Riskua's his best friend and she shouldn't be going off into the night alone without anyone to watch her back. Especially when she might be mentally fragile.

Ducking through the trees is easy, they're more familiar than the home Sabo once grew up in. There's scratches on one trunk from Ace's ill-fated attempt at using knives, back before they settled on the pipes. There's an impact crater where Sabo once managed to pin Ace settled at the roots of another tree, though grass has grown over it.

There's even a scrap of fabric from a recent hunt where Luffy ripped his shirt. Riskua hasn't noticed that one yet, the torn shirt is stuffed behind the toilet at Dadan's, they don't live there anymore so it's no wonder the redhead hasn't noticed. Even if it means she'll give them all that disappointed frown, Sabo just wants her around so that they can be frowned at.

Disappearing into the jungle in the middle of the night is not a good indication of that happening in the future.

Rounding another tree, Sabo freezes in place when he sees Riskua, only just managing to halt his forwards momentum and not alert the girl to his presence. She doesn't notice though, and after a second of confusion, Sabo realises exactly why.

Tall, intimidating with a face wreathed in shadows; there's a figure concealed beneath a black cloak. Every damn instinct Sabo has is telling him to get the hell out of there right now, but he can't. Not without Riskua.

She can't hear him screaming internally for her to back the hell up though. In a move of stupidity he'd never have expected from her, the redhead steps towards the frightful stranger. Her grip on her knives is even loosening. What the hell?!

"What is someone as strong as you doing off the Grand Line?"

Her voice isn't particularly loud, nothing more than a whisper really, but Sabo can hear it loud and clear. And so can the stranger.

The hood shifts slightly, a head tilting to a side, and then Sabo can see an absolutely crazed grin break out from the black shadows. Holy shit!

Panic seizing in the former noble's chest and he makes an aborted motion forwards, only just managing to catch himself on the tree bark. He's better help to Riskua as a surprise attack if she's in over her head. And he's pretty damn sure she's in over her head.

"What is a child capable of Haki doing all the way out here in East Blue?" Eh? This guy knows about Haki? But Riskua said that the only people who know Haki call the Grand Line horn, bar a very few exceptions. So why-

"Is this a recruitment pitch?"

What... what is Riskua talking about? Her shoulders are relaxed as she stares at the stranger, even going so far as to sheath her knives. She looks tiny compared to this guy, not even half his size, but she doesn't seem afraid. In fact, she speaks as if she knows who he is.

"...How do you know about that." It's not a question; it's a demand for answers, the man crouching down to Riskua's level. It casts his face even more into the shadows of his hood; all Sabo can see now is his hunched form, Riskua's hair a dark crimson in the dwindling light of Grey Terminal.

"I'm from the Grand Line, if you know where to listen... whispers of a revolution aren't hard. I recognised the tats." What the hell are tats?

If anything though, this just seems to please the stranger more, for he rests one forearm across his knee and seems to consider Riskua.

"Maybe a recruitment is worthwhile here," he muses, voice stern and serious and Sabo's had quite enough. He doesn't know what the hell's going on, but he's damn certain he doesn't like it.

"Hey! Get the hell away from her!" Pipe out, Sabo charges forwards, stopping beside Riskua and doing his damn best to level the pipe threateningly towards the figure. It just goes to show how off balance Riskua is because she actual startles when he appears; with her crazy Haki powers it's usually difficult as hell to get the drop on her. He wasn't even trying this time.

"You're friend?" The stranger questions, looking to Sabo for the first time and oh. Tats must mean tattoos, because that's one hell of a marking going down his face there.

Sabo stares, unable to help himself. There's something about this guy's face that's familiar, that itches at the back of his skull and the former noble just knows it's gonna drive him crazy until he figures it out.

"Sabo was a noble up in Gao Kingdom until he ran away. His father's an ass, I mean it," Riskua rants, actually rants, hands balling into fists as she strides back and forth. "He thinks kids are to live by the will of their parents, like they're not even people. And that's not what they are, children should be protected and loved and they should be free!"

She... she put it all into words.

Sabo stares at Riskua, who's thin frame is all but trembling and he doesn't disagree with a single word of that.

"You speak as if you're not a child yourself."

"What dictates being a child or not? Everyone's different and everyone matures at their own rate. I've had moments where I've felt childish, but I haven't felt like a child in a long time," Riskua admits, a bitter undertone and Sabo can only agree. He's never really felt like a child; he was always Outlook's boy, and then he'd become Sabo of Grey Terminal, who had to look out for himself. He can't actually pick out a definite period in his life that he'd call 'childhood' in all honesty.

Dark eyes consider the two of them for a moment and Sabo realised he's forgotten all about the potential dangers this stranger could present, so wrapped up in their discussion. Had Riskua been drawn in the same way?

"I've heard whispers," the stranger begins, straightening from his crouch back up to that intimidatingly tall height. "That the nobles of Goa Kingdom plan to set the surrounding slums alight tomorrow, in order to clean out all the waste, objects and humans alike."

There's a moment of absolutely stunned silence as Sabo processes this before he explodes into motion.

"We have to do something! Do you know how many people live down there?! Why would they- how could they- people are going to die!" His chest constricts, thoughts a hurricane in his mind and never before, he's never been more ashamed of what he is. "I wish I'd never been born a noble!" They're horrible, they have a complete disregard for human life and it sickens him to the point where his stomach is physically rolling with revulsion.

Self conscious, Sabo feels shame creeping up the back of his neck, even as Riskua steps closer and takes his hand in hers. His former noble status doesn't bother her, he knows it. But the stranger is another thing entirely.

Silence persists for a few more seconds and then, the cloak's hood is drawn down.

"My name, is Dragon," the newly identified Dragon explains in a crisp, deep voice. "My dream, my goal is to own day lead a revolution. A revolution against the nobles, against the World Government, to end the blatant oppression our world is stooped in." A... revolution?

The idea is almost incomprehensible to Sabo. A revolution, a world where there were no nobles looking down on everyone else? He cannot even begin to picture it.

"I will be saving those I can from tomorrow's blaze, however, aid from those who know this place would be welcome. It has been many years since I was last on this island."

Help ruin the plans of those he'd once lived with? Sabo can think of nothing better to do right now, especially after yesterday.

"It's nice to meet you, Dragon-san. I'm Sabo and I'd be happy to help."

"My name's Dracule Riskua," Riskua offers, stepping forwards and giving a slight bow. There's a nod of acknowledgement from the Revolutionary, but his eyes are fixed unnervingly on Riskua's hat, just for a moment. Which, what? "Come. Our work would best be complete under the cover of darkness."

And yeah, it really can't get much darker than this storm riddled night.

 

 

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Riskua is gone. Sabo is gone.

They're both gone and Luffy has no idea where they are.

Even worse, Ace doesn't know, and Ace knows a lot more stuff than Luffy could ever hope to.

"Where are they?" It comes out as a whine, as a sniffle, and even though Luffy knows Ace hates that he can't help it. He's worried.

The noble bastard with the funny moustache almost took Sabo away yesterday, and now Sabo and Riskua are missing.

Chewing worriedly into the hem of his shirt, Luffy follows after Ace, who's prowling through the jungle with his pipe tight in his hand. Luffy has his and there were the only two pipes left; Riskua doesn't like using one when she's got her knives instead, so that means Sabo has to have taken his with him. But why would he leave the house without them? No, why would he just take Riskua with him and leave them? They're Sabo's brothers and all their birthdays have already happened, so it can't be to plan a surprise party.

They'd waited, but neither of them had come back and now Luffy's really worried.

"Shut up, you damn crybaby. You've still got me and I'll find them," Ace snaps and Luffy recoils, even if the tight clenching in his chest relaxes. Ace doesn't lie, so if Ace says he'll find them, then Ace'll find them.

"I'm glad Ace is my big brother," Luffy whispers, and before he can stop himself, he reaches out and grabs Ace's free hand with his own. It's not the same as Riskua's hand; Ace's is bigger, warmer and comes with more healed owies that've left their marks.

The taller boy stiffens, and Luffy's sure he's going to tear his hand away. Instead, his fingers curl tighter around Luffy's and impatiently tugs him alone. But it's not Luffy's fault the wind is so strong, he's barely managing to move at all, he's just not heavy enough.

"Tch, shouldn't be my job to find you brats," Ace grumbles under his breath, Luffy ignores it because he knows Ace's just as worried as he is, he just doesn't know how to show it. They can't find Riskua and Sabo, and Luffy's not good enough to use the mystery power for anything other than hitting a bit harder. Ace, Ace isn't able to do it either. He can sense danger, but finding someone is really hard, he says, especially when they're far away.

Releasing his soaked shirt collar, Luffy smacks his lips together in quick succession, stepping closer to Ace as they stalk further into Grey Terminal. It really stinks here. Luffy was sure if he came through enough times he'd get used to the smell, but it's been ages and it still stinks as bad as the very first day he walked through here.

"Ace, why did Riskua and Sabo leave?" He doesn't understand, surely they'd have told them if they were going out hunting?

"I don't know, but I'm gonna punch 'em both when I see 'em," Ace grunts, narrow eyes sliding around the trash heap.

It's just like yesterday, only this time Luffy doesn't get tackled to the floor before the hands grab him.

No no no, Sabo's not with them, why is this happening again?

Squirming in the grip, Luffy bares his teeth at the closes person and does his damn best to sink them into the hand holding him. He can't quite angle his head right for that though.

"You damn brats, where're the other two?!" Luffy's shaken about, his head snapping back and forth with the motion until he feels really dizzy.

"The fuck! Get off Luffy!" Ace roars, furious and loud, exploding into motion from where he's caught.

"I'd be quiet if I were you two, otherwise your friends are gonna die."

Ace stills and Luffy's not much better. Because, because, what is that suppose to mean?

"You've got Sabo and Riskua," Ace says ever so slowly, his arms trembling slightly, and his knuckles are white on his pipe.

Oh no, Luffy dropped his pipe when they grabbed him!

Squirming, Luffy tries reaching down for the weapon but the pirate's got hold of him real good, he can't wiggle free.

"No, but if you don't know what's going on today, then you're all gonna die."

Luffy, Luffy doesn't think the smelly guy is lying. He stinks of sweat, but it's not the lying kind of sweat, it's the kind that says he needs a bath.

"The fuck are you talking about!?" Ace snarls, though he's strangely still, not moving in the slightest.

"You help us set a few things up, and we'll tell you exactly why you might die today. We'd have had it done earlier, but Captain can't walk." Huh, sucks to be him.

Luffy doesn't like this, he doesn't like being bullied into this, but-

'You can even spit on me, I'll just laugh it off. But, good reason or not, nobody hurts a friend of mine!'

Luffy'll do what he has to, anything at all, to make sure his brother and his sister, his Nakama, remain unhurt.

"Okay, we'll help," Luffy agrees, ignoring the look Ace sends him. The older boy's nostrils flare, just like a tiger's before it attacks.

But, as Luffy stares hard at the older boy to try and make him see, to make him realise there is no other option, he begrudgingly agrees.

 

 

 

The crates are heavy. He's not sure what's in them, but Luffy doesn't like it, not one bit.

He has to do it though, he wants, no, he needs to know why his Nakama are in danger. If he didn't find out and they get hurt because of him, because he ignored the opportunity to learn what's wrong, he'd never forgive himself.

From the face Ace wears, he knows it too. It doesn't make things any easier for Luffy though.

Setting down the final crate, the boy drops onto his haunches and wipes his sweaty brow; not even the vast amount of cool wind has made the hard labour easier to stand. But it's finally done.

"Now tell us!" He demands, hands balled into fists and shoulders squared.

When the pirate smiles down at him, it's the ugliest expression Luffy's ever seen. He didn't know smiles could be so mean.

"Heh, the nobles are setting this whole place on fire today. You'll never find your bratty friends in time to get out alive. That's what you get for messing with the Bluejam pirates!"

Luffy's frozen, his blood ice in his veins. On fire? Like, like when they cook meat? Fire hurts, Luffy's stuck his hand in more than once to try and get meat quicker and it's always hurt, just for those handful of seconds it takes to get a good grip. If all of Grey Terminal is gonna be on fire, how're they gonna get out?!

"Ace! We've gotta find Riskua and Sabo!" Wild eyes shooting to the older boy, Luffy finds him red in the face with absolute fury. An explosion rings not too far from where they put down the crate and suddenly all Luffy can see is flames. Fire racing up towards them in a wicked arch, burning his eyes.

"Ace!"

"You brats aren't going anywhere!"

And then one of the pirates is in front of Luffy, a long sword in his hand as he swings for him. Luffy screams, back-peddling but he's not gonna make it in time.

"Don't you touch Luffy!"

It smacks into him, vicious and the exact same sensation as yesterday.

The pirates go down in a wave, tumbling and falling to the ground. They're all foaming at the mouth and if it weren't for the rise and fall of their chests, Luffy'd think they were dead.

Besides him, Ace is panting, staring at the mass of unconscious bodies around them with wide eyes. Forcibly, he shakes his head and turns on heel.

"We're gonna find them," Ace insists, squaring his shoulders and running forwards. He grabs Luffy's arm as he passes him, pulling him along and away from the fire. The flames are licking at all that makes up the Grey Terminal, devouring the makeshift homes, all the rubbish that the nobles throw out.

It's eating people's lives, Luffy realises, horrified. It's eating and eating and it's not gonna leave anything behind. It's gonna eat the pirates too, all the pirates that Ace just took down with a mystery power just like Riskua's; the fire's gonna cook them until they're black and nasty. There are other people, all the people both good and bad that live in Trash Heap, all of them are running away. They're screaming and panicking, people are crying. Because their homes are being destroyed and why would the nobles do this?!

"Ace?" It's getting hard to breath, Luffy notices, but when he says this to Ace he gets snapped at.

"Suck it up, Luffy. We'll find Sabo and Riskua and we'll make it out of here, got it?!"

"Y-yeah, Ace is r-right." He can't help coughing, his throat really hurts and his eyes are stinging. Luffy doesn't want to cry but he can't stop it, the smoke is really hurting his eyes. He clutches tighter to Ace's hand, letting the older boy pull him along. He's trying to look around, searching for a long blue coat or a funny brown hat but he can't see either.

The people around them... some are giving up. They’re just stood there, openly weeping, clinging tight to their loved ones… But they've given up.

Luffy's heart hurts even more than his throat and he grips tighter at Ace's hand. They need to find Riskua and Sabo, they need to get out of this fire before it eats them too.

Spluttering, Luffy misses a step, falling to the floor and dragging Ace down with him. It's proof of just how bad things are that he doesn't get shouted out, proof of just how tired and stressed Ace must be.

His eyes are wild, tiny pinpricks that are constantly scanning the surroundings.

Luffy doesn't want to cry, he doesn't. Yet, he can't stop the fat droplets from falling, from streaking down from his aching eyes.

"Ace! I don't wanna die!" Luffy cries, struggling to his feet, pressing his forearm to the floor and doing his damn best to rise.

"It's no good, we're completely surrounded!"

"It's so hot, there's nowhere left to run!"

"We're not gonna die like this," Ace hisses, forcibly pulling Luffy to his feet, his small frame shaking. "We're gonna become great pirates and we can't die like this!"

It's like the gods hear Ace, because there's an almighty bang to the side, the greatest blast of wind that Luffy's ever seen roars forwards. Greedily he sucks in the fresh air, the lack of smoke ever so soothing on his throat.

"I can see a ship at the end!" That's all Ace needs to hear, because he's pulling Luffy along, feet pounding furiously against the newly cleared pathway.

Barely able to keep putting one foot in front of the other, Luffy forces himself to keep up with Ace. He won't let them get trapped in the ring of fire again, not because he's too slow. He won't be the reason Ace dies, because the world will be an awful place without Ace.

"Where's Riskua and Sabo?!" Luffy cries, eyes darting across every face in the crowd, but he can't find the familiar splashes of blond and red.

Instead there's only a big guy in a cloak, rallying the people to his ship with the promise of freedom. Luffy almost wants to believe him.

"They'll be fine," Ace snaps, his cheeks red and not in the funny way, his eyes bloodshot. "Sabo and Riskua are smart, they won't have got caught in that."

Sucking it up, Luffy nods and scrambles along with the rest of the people. He has to put his faith in Ace's words, because he can't, he won't believe what it'll mean if what Ace just said turns out to be a lie.

The ship seemed so close when the path was blown open to it, but every step Luffy takes feels like five and he's hurting all over. The smoke's in his eyes and he's having a hard time seeing things properly. Shouldn't the fire make everything bright? Why's the world getting so dark?

Stumbling again, Luffy sways and isn't able to even catch himself on his hands when he goes down this time. He can barely keep his eyes open, only long enough to catch a glimpse of Ace falling to the floor too.

They can't rest though, the fire'll eat them if they do. They… they need to keep going… they can't stop… they need to…

 

 

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"Thank god!"

Riskua doesn't even hesitate to approach Dragon this time, feet thundering against the grass as she clears the distance between them faster than she'd have ever thought possible.

In each of Dragon's arms is a slightly burnt boy, both dark of hair and covered in soot. She doesn't know which one to check over first, even though by the bandages on their body Dragon's already seen to that.

Instead, Riskua kneels between the two, one hand on each of the boy's head's, fingers stroking at their temples. They're both okay.

She and Sabo had returned to Dadan's place to find that the other half of their little group was gone, and it'd only taken a quick check of the treehouse to realise just how terrifying a problem they had on their hands. No doubt Luffy and Ace had gone looking for them, and they hadn't known about the Grey Terminal fire.

Riskua had barely gotten to Dragon's boat in time to beg him to go look for them, Sabo by her side.

The Revolutionary had gone as well, whether because it was his own kid out there, because she'd been such a wreck when she begged, or because he couldn't just leave them in that blaze, she wasn't sure. Still isn't. But by god is she thankful.

Sabo hovers just as uselessly as she does, navy blue eyes scanning both of his unconscious brothers before he threads his own fingers into their hair, as if to make sure they're really there.

"I found them unconscious. They were very lucky you asked me to look for them."

Riskua can't catch her breath, her head feels far too light and her palms far too sweaty. In an attempt to ground herself, she presses her forehead flat to the ground, muscles twitching and heart racing. But while she's down there-

"Thank you. Thank you, I'll never be able to repay you, Dragon-san." Tears, hot and choking, flow freely down her cheeks, dropping to the ground.

"No child should suffer through that," Dragon declares, one strong hand resting on Riskua's shoulder and ever so gently lifting her head.

She meets dark eyes, compassionate eyes, and she can't really look at him any longer. Her excitement to help, to do something productive and be part of something important; it'd almost gotten both Ace and Luffy killed. It's frightening to think just how many lives would've been worse off if that happened, just how bad things would have gotten because she'd gotten carried away.

Swallowing is impossible with her dry throat, as is wetting her lips, so Riskua settles for wiping the tear-stains from her cheeks, ignoring the fresh spill-over that only creates more.

Mercifully, Sabo presents her with a distraction.

"I want to join. The Revolution, that is." He's serious, face set and resolute. He's staring at Dragon, unhesitant in his challenging gaze.

"You're too young, and I will not tear you away from the family you have found. But," Dragon swiftly cuts Sabo's protest off before he can even voice it, shaking his head at the younger boy. "Should you still wish to free the world of this oppression when you set out to sea, you will find a place within our ranks."

Sabo's still going to be a revolutionary, it's clear from the look in his eyes. He might have dreamed of finding freedom as a pirate, but now that he knows of the Revolution, piracy is no doubt going to feel more like running away then the former noble is comfortable with. Becoming a revolutionary though; he'll actually be fighting it, combating against the very establishment and repression that has so controlled his life.

Riskua can't blame him for wanting to join that.

"We promised to set sail when he turn seventeen," Sabo whispers, fingers digging into the material of his shorts before his lips part and he bares his teeth in a grin. "I'll set sail, and I'll join your revolution, Dragon-san."

 

 

 

Dragon leaves them after that, leaves them at the base of their treehouse after he's carried both Ace and Luffy up.

In higher spirits than she, Sabo offers to run up to Dadan and let the bandits know they're okay, that they're all still alive.

When the blond get's back, Riskua is reapplying cold cloths to all of Luffy and Ace's burns, which are numerous, though thankfully not too bad. She doubts they'll scar, and even if they do, it won't be noticeable. She doesn't dare get too close to them though, unsure of just how much pain they could be in.

Instead, as soon as Sabo get's back, she tucks Ace and Luffy under one fur blanket and steals Sabo away for the other one, curling herself up around the blond as much as she can. He clings back just as tightly, and she ignores the sticky wet droplets of his tears as surely as he ignores hers.

That's how they fall asleep, clutching tightly to one another, scarcely anything more than a bundle of shaking limbs and thick tears.

 

 

 

Riskua wakes to a weight on her chest and a multitude of blunt objects stabbing at her ribs.

Hissing, she peels her eyes open, drawing her head back from where she'd been cheek to cheek with Sabo. The sight that greets her is horrific; no matter how many times she's seen it already, there's no denying Luffy is one ugly crier. More snot than tears, and even if it makes her cringe, there's no way Riskua can't draw him into a hug.

It's only as she does so that she realises the thing coiled tightly around her back is Ace's arm, that he's clinging to her and to Sabo too, and with the blond resting on her other arm, all she can do is press her forehead to Ace's and hope he gets the message.

"We thought y-you were d-dead!" Luffy wails, pressing himself even closer to Riskua, to the point he's smushing the side of her head uncomfortably into the wooden floorboards. Ace's slightly burnt face feels hot against her forehead and this really isn't comfortable.

"I-I thought A-Ace was gonna d-die in the fire!"

"Tch, shut up!" Ace bellows right in Riskua's ear, forcing a wince out of her. "I ain't gonna die by a damn f-fire!" Despite the bravado, his voice quivers slightly, his grip on her waist -and presumably the newly awakened and very confused Sabo's- tightening.

"Ace's isn't allowed to die."

"Then I promise I won't die," Ace snaps, tears of anger, of frustration -or of relief- building behind his eyes. "I won't die, and I won't let you or Sabo or Riskua die either."

"We're not allowed to die," Sabo agrees, the arm around her stretching as far as he can manage until he's only just holding Luffy as well, leaving Riskua crushed uncomfortably between the boys.

"As long as I have any say in it, all three of you will live," she breathes and it feels like the weightiest promise she's ever made. It doesn't make it any less true though.

They lay there for a minute more before everyone's muscles decide enough is enough and just give up, leading to Luffy and Ace half sprawled across them now that a multitude of limbs aren't caging them in anymore.

"No more going into the city," Riskua decides, slithering her way out from under the mass of bodies, hissing at the protest of her raw fingertips. Setting up the pipes that Dragon had used to blow that escape route from the fire hurt. "We can let your bastard father assume you died in that fire if you never see him again. We'll go visit Makino instead."

"Seconded," grunts Sabo, also extracting himself from the pile of children to shake himself free of his dirty shirt. Yeah, after yesterday, a wash sounds great.

"I'm so happy we're all alive," Luffy sobs, running one forearm across his face. For all that he's an ugly crier... his smile is as blinding as the sun.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"You okay, Captain?"

Flicking his gaze back to Benn, Shanks lets out a low, long laugh, swiping sweat from his tanned brow.

The island they're on is currently in the throes of summer, and it doesn't help that it's a summer island to begin with. It remains him of Melring, and for the first time since Raowl's death, the thought doesn't come as bittersweet as it could be. He's got some great memories of that place, of chasing a giggling toddler around a garden, of stepping on vegetables and blaming the local wildlife. Teaching his little girl how to swim as early as possible -how had he failed so badly at teaching Luffy? Maybe the brat was just always destined to be an anchor?- and just enjoying the innocence of a family life that pirates so rarely get to experience.

"Dahahaha! Mihawk's heading for East Blue."

From Benn's face, he clearly remembers the last time the World's Greatest Swordsman was onboard a mere two weeks ago. Given, the Warlord has been busy, what with him being off settling Raowl's debts, so to speak, and some of them had been harder to track down than others. Clearly that is all over and done with, because he'd appeared and demanded the location of his niece from Shanks. Something the redhead had happily handed over.

He might not be able to risk going to see his little Anchor and Gully with Garp the damn Fist hanging around, but Mihawk? Mihawk who's 'approved' of by the Government? Yeah, he can check up on them.

Unfolding the piece of paper that he keeps in his pocket, the private photo that Makino slipped him before he left, Shanks takes another glance at the form that's already immortalized in his mind. Yeah, he's got a fair few reasons to get back to Dawn Island the second he's got the chance.

 

 

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"Happy ninth Birthday, Luffy!"

Planting down the excessively large cake, Riskua stands back and plants her hands upon her hips, grinning widely as the scarred boy scrunches his eyes shut and makes his birthday wish, blowing out his candles with such force that two of them topple over.

Both Sabo and Ace laugh, stood right beside her and clutching at their plates, ready to load them up with their share of cake.

 

It's been a year and a bit since the great fire disaster, and it's not that long until it'll be Riskua's second anniversary since her arrival Dawn Island. So much has changed, and it's not just the general landscape of Grey Terminal she's talking about.

For starters, Ace isn't a brat anymore. They're actually friends now, friends that can talk about things, friends that don't need the crutch of Sabo or Luffy nearby to get along.

Admittedly, it'd started with Ace confessing to an explosion of Conqueror's Haki during the fire, and the two of them desperately trying to awaken that power again. Neither of them have had much luck, and in their disappointment at their lack of progress, they'd moved onto hunting the wildlife together in order to express their frustrations.

From there, it'd evolved into spars outside of the usual ASLR fight time, not that Sabo or Luffy knew about that. They both just thought Ace and Riskua were struggling to take down the bigger game, and neither of them are really willing to correct the other two. It's their bonding time, and if Sabo and Luffy knew about it, they'd feel left out.

It doesn't change the fact Riskua feels a little guilty about it, so she's taking to baking cookies for them once a week to alleviate the feeling. Of course Ace still get's some; it'd be suspicious if he didn't.

Riskua's had to claim she's gone off cookies to explain away why she's not having any, and she does her best not to look longingly upon the platters when the boys go about devouring them. It's terribly disheartening.

Another thing that has changed for the four of them is that they've dared to go down to Foosha Village on more than one occasion. After all, if Makino could be brave enough to come up despite Garp's clear warning not to -apparently she babied Luffy too much and according to Garp, 'it was time the youngest Monkey became a man'- then the four of them could risk their necks and make the journey down there.

The mayor had been horrified to realise the amount of troublemakers had increased three-fold, actually crying over how they were going to soil the town and island's great reputation when they set out to live their lives at sea.

Both Riskua and Sabo had been forced to grit their teeth at that, minds recalling exactly why the Goa Kingdom had such a good standing in the eyes of the World Government, and exactly what lengths they'd gone to ensure they could claim to be the 'Cleanest Kingdom'.

 

 

 

"Meat cake!"

Dropping the biggest slice onto Luffy's plate, Riskua slips back as the freshly turned nine year old goes about devouring his quarter of the leg-of-meat-shaped cake. Ace and Sabo are tucking into the treat just as swiftly, always keeping one eye on Luffy and his wandering hands throughout.

Sat on the opposite side of the table to the birthday, Riskua can't help herself; she leans forwards and snatches a forkful from each plate. It's hilarious when Sabo and Ace both take a quick glance down at their plates to notice something missing but know it couldn't possibly have been Luffy, given they'd had an eye on him the entire time.

Riskua becomes incapable of finishing her cake when the duo instantly assume the other stole from them, discounting her from the situation completely. Choking a little on the cake still in her mouth, Riskua wipes at the corner of her eyes, catching the moment when three hands from three different owners descend on her plate and snatch up a third of the cake there each.

It's the kind of ridiculous that she'd have expected to lead to a food fight, only such a thing would've been a complete waste of their favourite thing in the world, so that's never going to happen.

"Meat cake is the best!"

 

 

 

The day after Luffy's birthday, Riskua and Ace once again steal way, leaving Sabo and Luffy to make the run to Foosha village for baking supplies.

Adjusting the straps on her forearm that currently house her knives, Riskua follows after Ace's lead as he stalks through the jungle. Both he and Sabo have upgraded to a new pipe in the past three months, having grown too tall to continue using their precious one's. Their reach is far better now, though they've been taking their sweet time growing used to it.

"Why've we made no progress with this Conqueror's shit?" Ace grunts, running a hand through his hair as he bats leaves back with his pipe.

"Do you want the scientific hypothesis, or the dumbed-down version?"

The glare she gets scorches, thrown over Ace's thin shoulder by narrowed eyes.

"Sabo's the one that appreciates your fancy waffle, not me. Just explain it."

"Mainly, Conqueror's comes from high emotion situations, and there's no way to fake that." That's the main problem for their current training situation.

The main problem for Riskua's research is that not one single person in the past who'd been graced with this power had ever thought to really explore it, to actually study the damn thing, so there's squat all to actually refer to. It's no wonder the vast majority of people out there just do a Luffy and proclaim it a mystery power, whether they can actually use it or not.

"High emotions..."

"Like a threat to Luffy's life. A threat to Sabo," Riskua grumbles. Because that's how both Ace and she awakened theirs, respectively.

From the tensing of all Ace's muscles, it's painfully obvious he shares the exact same thought that she does.

They cannot recreate these situations. They will not put Luffy or Sabo's lives in such overt danger just to reawaken Conqueror's, no matter how useful it could prove to be.

"The only other thing I can think of is the same as all other Haki; either training." It's not something either of them really shy away from; all four of them still spar against one any other every day, capped at a hundred matches each. Fighting each other thirty-three times and then pairing off at random to complete their final match.

Still, it's exceptionally galling to keep trying at something, to have been trying for well over a year, and still be getting nowhere. There's been improvements with the other Haki, Luffy even managed to beat a tiger on his own with some fantastic use of Armament. But Conqueror's is being a bitch to both of them.

"Tch, this sucks."

"We'll be grateful for it when we're pirates," Riskua dully reminds him, a phrase that has left her mouth far too many times recently. It'll all pay off in the future, it's better to be prepared; sometimes it feels like she's running never-ending laps around the world's smallest track.

"Seems like ages away," Ace grunts, coming to a stop before what is clearly a large nest of some kind, planting a hand on his hip. He cocks his head to a side as Riskua comes to a stop beside him, brandishing her knives, fingers curling around their worn handles.

As previously promised, she has never once left their home without them; it'd taken weeks before she'd felt comfortable enough to sleep with them beside her bed instead of strapped to her forearms.

"It always seems like ages away until it's here, and then you just end wishing you had all the time in the world left to prepare."

"Ain't that the truth," Ace mutters, flexing the muscles of his arm as the undergrowth rustles, their prey approaching.

The tiger that greets them isn't as great in size as the Tiger Lord, but it's not that far off in all honesty.

Squaring her jaw, Riskua reaches for that well of power, that little teasing glimpse she'd gotten, but it phases through her finger like smoke, as it always does. She leaps back, falling into a cartwheel to dodge the swipe of the tiger's massive paw, springing up off her hands to approach the beast from its flank.

Ace shoots in from the other side, and she can tell by the blatant concentration on his face that he's trying as damn hard as he can to summon up his own Conqueror's. But there's nothing, no spiritual shockwave so instead the boy settles for slamming one Armament powered swipe of his pipe into the tiger's skull.

Swinging to a side, Riskua lets her eyes fall closed, focusing on her Observation. She trusts Ace to catch her slip up if she misses something. Oh, he won't stop her getting injured and not would she want him too, every wound's a lesson, after all.

But he'll prevent any serious damage, stop it if the blow'll kill her. She can feel the tiger's huge right paw slicing through the space to her left and she rolls under it, swiping up with a knife. Blood spurts across the forest floor as she hits home on a major artery, spraying up her hand in the process.

Ace leaps over her crouched form, pipe whistling through the air and slamming into the tiger's jaw. It sways, stumbling to a side and struggles to get its ruined paw beneath it.

Seeing an opening, Riskua slides under the belly of the beast, stabbing at the ground with one dagger to orienteer herself from that point. Only, she's misjudged just how steady their prey is, and the tiger comes crashing down on her. There's not enough time to get out of the way, and in a panic, Riskua grasps for her Haki and throws it up in the hopes it'll just do something.

The mass of muscle smashes into her, but there's no pain beyond the initial winding. Riskua gasps for breath, still rather in shock that her ribs are capable of pulling in any oxygen at all.

As such, she's just in time to look up and spot the tiger's maw snapping right at her.

"Fuck off!"

Riskua has never experienced a blast of Conqueror's before. She's used her own, she's heard Shanks describe it, but she's never had the force batter against her.

Sweat breaks out across her skin and her vision shakes and her limbs fall limp. It takes everything she has to not succumb to the call of unconsciousness. Riskua keeps her grasp on the waking world, but it is a very narrow thing indeed.

At her feet, the tiger is down and out, white foam still bubbling out from between the sharp teeth that'd been going for her neck not a breath ago.

Time stalls, in which Riskua accepts just how damn close she'd come to a serious injury, to a scar that'd probably be as fierce as those that currently decorate her father's face.

Once that has passed, her eyes snap up to look at Ace, who's staring at the tiger with wide, wide eyes.

"I did it," he whispers under his breath, sounding remarkably stunned, grip on his pipe loose. "Yes!" Pumping one fist into the air, Ace proceeds to perform a little dancing jig, waving his weapon above his head like a hooligan.

Riskua can only stare, and no matter how much she tries to push it down, jealousy ebbs furiously at the edge of her consciousness. She can handle it though, she's mature, she's aware this kind of thing takes time, and she's aware that everyone learns at their own pace. She can handle this.

"Ha! I did it before you, Miss Hakky Expert."

Yeah, she can't handle this.

Riskua turns away before she can sneer at the older child, stalking off into the undergrowth and ignoring Ace's proud, victorious laugh. It burns, it's like acid because she's throwing her all into understanding this Haki thing, into really studying it.

And Ace, Ace just gets it?

The world's unfair, she knows it, by god does she know it. All worlds are unfair, she wouldn't be in this one had her old world been fair and allowed her to achieve what she wanted. Why should she get beaten back here?

Gritting her teeth, Riskua slams her fist into a tree, disregarding the creaking groan it gives. She doesn't even acknowledge the thump it makes as it collapses to the ground.

 

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"So wha'did'ya do to upset Ri this time?"

"I ain't done anything," Ace snaps back, but he can't pretend to not know. It's the reason he's got dark ass smudges under his eyes, like he's been playing with coal or something.

He'd been up all damn night, and it's not that he was worried… okay, maybe he's worried a tiny little bit, and maybe he's a little guilty. Just a little bit.

God damn it, life was so much easier before Luffy and Sabo and Riskua brought all these new emotions into his world. He wouldn't trade it for anything though, because this past year has been the best of his life, Ace isn't gonna lie.

Now, now there's actually days he goes without thinking about his status as the most hated child in the world, there are days were he forgets completely that so many people had tried to stop his birth, to kill him before he really got a chance to live. There are days now, where he just feels like a normal kid.

Which is the whole problem right now.

He's done something stupid, but this time, the guilt is hurting more than his pride can ignore. He's not sure if it's because his pride has shrunk a little in the face of these three, when it's his brothers or his best friend it's up against, or if he's just slowly turning into a decent person. He won't hold his breath, Ace knows he's a little terror, soon to be a big terror if he gets his way.

But… but he doesn't want to be a terror to these three.

That doesn't mean he wants to tell Sabo exactly what he's done to upset Riskua.

At first he didn't even realise why she was so upset. He'd had to actually sit and think on it, after carting the tiger back -head bashed in via pipe just to be completely sure it was down and dead- and noticing how Riskua avoided him. She didn't do it physically, but the careless way she put the plate down in front of him for dinner, the way she'd listened to Luffy and Sabo but paid no attention to him when he spoke -not that he'd really been aiming his words at her-, well, that'd been when he noticed she was upset.

He'd stayed awake all night trying to understand why she was upset, why she'd stormed off. It wasn't until he'd taken advice Sabo had given him months ago, about flipping the situation around, that he'd understood.

He'd bragged, he'd been smug and boastful because he'd managed a blast of Conqueror's. It's a cool power, Ace's glad he's got it. He's not so glad that he managed some progress with it before Riskua though.

Because, because it's her dream to figure this thing out and it feels like he's stole something from her.

That's probably not the bit she's bothered about though, Ace knows she's more mature than the rest of them, she could and had been sucking it up. He'd just pushed her over the edge with his bragging and now she's angry at him.

It hurts more than when she was angry at him when they first meet, back before he realised that there was nothing wrong with Luffy and that the kid was far too good to be in Ace's life at all. Yeah, it hurts.

And Ace has no idea at all how to fix that. Sabo though, Sabo's smart. Not as smart as Riskua, but Ace's getting the feeling she's a bit further ahead then she should be, especially as his blond brother -who's had a noble's education- has to ask her to clarify what some of her words mean on occasion. Sabo has to have some kind of idea on how he can make things better. And it has to be Ace to make things better. He caused this, so he's gonna damn well fix it.

"I ain't telling you how I upset her, I just need you to help me fix it," Ace snaps as they stroll through Foosha Village.

Luffy and Riskua are off catching dinner; it's a Friday so it's their turn to do so. They'll have their hundred fights afterwards. It won't surprise Ace in the least if Riskua crushes him into the floor with a Haki powered punch for the first half of their matches.

Hell, the only reason it'll be the first half and not all their matches is because she can only keep her Haki powers going for so long. Otherwise he'd probably spend the entire time eating dirt. He can kick her ass whenever they fight without mystery powers; she's swift and tricky and well trained, but she just doesn't have the fighting experience he does. Okay, so she might manage to win one in five without the mystery power. But one out of five isn't great odds.

Still, better than what Luffy's managed so far though.

"I know," Sabo snorts, rolling his dark blue eyes before sending Ace a sly smirk. "Which is why we're here."

The Party Bar?

Squinting up at the building, Ace cocks his hips to a side and plants one hand on them, the other digging around in his nostril.

"So?"

"So," Sabo drawls out, adjusting the angle of his hat with a grin. "Makino's inside."

Right, Makino who's a girl. Makino's who's a girl who'll obviously know how to make a girl not be mad at him anymore. It's a good plan.

Shooting his brother a side glance, Ace smiles, punching him good-naturedly in the arm.

"Thanks, Sabo."

"Anytime, Ace."

 

 

As it turns out, there's a hell of a lot of things that Ace doesn't know about. One topic that's completely foreign to him, one that's probably never crossed Dadan's mind to teach him, one that Sabo's probably forgotten, and one that Garp has probably never learnt himself, is that of manners.

But so much crap suddenly makes sense now.

Ace didn't even know he'd need to know this 'manners' stuff until Makino had started explaining it to him. He's not got a lot of people to thank -right now, the list is really only that Shanks' guy that saved Luffy's life, there's no one else who's ever really done anything for him beside his brothers and Riskua- but when he does thank someone, he's gonna damn well do it properly.

Though thanking people is not the only thing that manners are about.

Which is why Ace's skipped out on the usual rush to the clearing from dinner. Normally he'd go charging ahead with Luffy and Sabo, eager to start while Riskua takes a quick detour to drop whatever needs cleaning by the river for later, but not this time.

Instead, he picks up the big pot the redhead had cooked the stew in, waiting until she finally notices he's still here. Confused yellow eyes flicker up to look at him, one red brow rising. Ace hasn't a clue how she came away without a bruise, especially as the tiger that'd dropped on her was one of the bigger ones they'd found in recent weeks. No swelling, no purple skin, nothing. Just when he thinks she'll stop getting strange, the girl goes and does something odd again.

"Ace, you're staring."

Snapping out of it, Ace's head lurches to a side, an uncomfortable heat bristling his cheeks. But no, he won't back out of this. He's not a coward, and he's certainly not going to be a bastard about refusing to do what's right. Riskua has done more than put up with him, she's accepted him as a friend even though he was awful to her; Ace can't change the past by he can change the present.

"I'm sorry," Ace says, voice feeling far croakier than he'd wanted it to. His friend blinks, no longer looking at the bowls in her hands but instead staring at him, her face slack but otherwise expressionless. Ace doesn't want to let her interrupt though, because otherwise he's gonna lose his nerve and he'll regret it. He's not gonna live a life of regrets, no way. "I'm sorry I'm an ass and rubbed it in." He doesn’t say he got excited, doesn't want to explain himself. He just wants this apology thing to be done and out the way, so he can bury it in the back of his mind and not have to worry about it again, wants things to go back to how they were yesterday morning.

"Ace, I-"

"No. It's not just that though. I'm sorry I trashed the stuff in your trunk too. It was ages ago, but it was a shitty move and I was an ass and I didn't know better." Shit, he's forgot all the flowery language he'd worked on with Makino.

God damn it, why is he so stupid? He practiced this, he wanted to be perfect, he wanted his first apology to be just right and then Riskua would forgive him but he's fucked it up, forgot half the words and he's pretty sure there's something else he should be apologising for but he can't remember whatever the hell it is.

"Apology accepted."

"What?" Riskua smiles at him, bowls balanced in one hand as she plants her hat atop her red hair.

"I said apology accepted. I'm stunned you apologised at all, especially about the trunk. I thought you'd forgotten about it, in all honesty." He had.

But working with Makino, he'd remembered just what he'd done, and while at the time he hadn't felt bad, he'd felt like a piece of shit looking back on it. Had anyone trashed his stuff, not that he's got much he'd actually care about getting damaged, Ace'd have beaten the offender within an inch of their life. If they were lucky.

"…Are we still friends?" His voice doesn't sound small, it doesn't.

"The best of friends."

Ace doesn't brighten at that. Not at all.

 

 

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"When are you giving them the sex talk?"

Dadan stares blankly back at her, and Riskua's pretty sure this conversation is not going to go how she wants it to based on that one look alone. 

"Sex talk?" She parrots, staring down at her. She's got a splatter of dried blood she's not quite managed to clean off yet, blood that's still on her strange axe that's resting by the door. Adjusting her stance, Riskua nods, trying to appear a lot more confident than what she's actually feeling.

"Yeah, Ace woke up with a stiffy this morning, according to Luffy. Though none of them knew what it was, Luffy just proclaimed Ace's pee-pee was stiff but went away after a bit."

"How'd you know about that stuff, brat?"

"I'll well read." It's not exactly a lie. She'd been curious in her past life, she'd looked up all sorts of stuff, and Riskua doesn't doubt for a second she knows far more on the topic of sex and the body than any kid her age should probably know. Hell, if Shanks' knew she had that kind of knowledge in her head, he'd probably have a heart attack. He's a rather over-protective father like that, she thinks fondly.

"...Garp can handle that, it's not my problem."

"Garp, really? He'll never consider them in need of that talk. If he had his way, they'd live out their lives as virgin Marines dedicated to the job." They both pause for a second, considering the old man, and it's clear by Dadan's slumping shoulders that she can't really argue against that bit of clear logic.

"If you're so worried, you do it... and I would, unlike you those boy's have pretty faces. You're right to be worried."

"..." That was not how she'd wanted that talk to go.

Watching Dadan stalk away into her house, Riskua shakes her head, turning on her heel and heading for the door. She can't leave the three of them uneducated in that particular area, and the very idea of letting them puzzle it all out themselves is a terrifying thing. The very idea of any one of her boys being taken advantage of has her blood boiling.

That doesn't mean she really wants to be the one to give them this talk though.

Still, Ace and Sabo are twelve years old now, Luffy's nine and Riskua had known about this stuff by the time she turned ten in her past life. They're gonna have to learn at some point, and it'll set her mind at ease to know they have all the facts straight, that they haven't been given any miss information.

A little upset that she's actually talked herself into doing this, Riskua pulls her hat down tighter upon her head, the biggest exhale of the month passing between her lips.

God damn it, it looks like she's actually going to be doing this.

 

 

 

She's the last one to climb up the treehouse, and all three boys look bamboozled that she's called a intervention. Not that they know it's an intervention, or even what the word means. Well, maybe Sabo'd know; Luffy'll just as if an intervention is edible and Ace'll pretend to not be avidly listening to the answer.

No, Riskua lured them here with the promise of snacks if they listen to her talk. She doesn't feel the slightest bit of guilt over trapping them into this conversation. Hell, they might not even know enough to be embarrassed about this. If she's mature and doesn't make it seem like such a big deal, maybe they'll do the same thing.

Then Riskua mentally reminds herself she's trying to slot Ace, Sabo and Luffy into the same sentence as mature and hastily discards that hope.

"Right, so Luffy's nine now and you two idiots are twelve. You need to know some stuff that Dadan's too much of a cowards to bother telling you, and that I doubt Garp will want you knowing."

"Gramps doesn't want us to know?" Ace parrots and Luffy eagerly leans forwards.

"Tell me!" The youngest demands with a grin, rocking back on his sit-bones.

"He probably doesn't want you to know 'cause it's a distraction from making you into perfect Marines. Hell, it's distracting regardless." "If it'll distract me from being Pirate King, I don't wanna know," Luffy concludes, making to stand up.

Under the weight of her glare however, he allows Ace and Sabo to pull him back to the floor.

Time to be upfront and bold.

"What do you know about your private parts?"

At this, Sabo goes a furious bright red, redder than she's ever seen him, redder even than her hair. Luffy and Ace just look confused.

"Pee comes out of it?" The youngest among them offers, confusion tainting his words, as if wondering what other magical things this organ he's not really thought too much on can actually do. Which, when put in context- No.

Shaking her head, Riskua forces herself to focus.

"That's right, Luffy," she allows, smiling encouragingly at the younger boy because at least he's contributed something.

Sabo looks like he's doing his very best to force himself into unconsciousness on sheer willpower alone, while Ace looks a strange mixture between confused, curious and a little weirded-out.

"That's not all it does though."

"Eh? It does more?! What more can it do? Riskua, tell me!"

The childish whine brings an exasperated smile to her lips before she can stop it and Riskua shakes her head.

"Right, before I go into it, do any of you know either where babies come from, the difference between a boy and a girl, or anything about sex at all?"

All three boys look completely blank, though Sabo's expression appears a bit more forced than the other two. So he has to have some kind of idea.

Then, like a slowly dawning sun, Ace starts to light up with an understanding look on his face.

"I remember Shitty Gramps saying sex is bad and to always say no. D'ya know what sex is?" Oh boy, well doesn't that just confirm her assumptions about the eldest Monkey she's met? She'll reserve full judgement for now and cling to the tiny flicker of hope that Garp had been planning to educate them when they were older.

Even if that would've been leaving it a bit late.

"Okay, you best get comfortable and for the love of meat, Luffy, you have to pay attention. Things relating to this topic can hurt someone even worse than fighting, okay?"

Seeing she has all there's attention, Riskua sucks in a breath, steeling her.

"So first off, the differs between a girl and a boy is that they have different private parts."

"Eh? You don't have a pee-pee? But then how do girls pee?"

 

 

"So it's okay to touch it?"

"Yes."

"And it's not weird for the white stuff-"

"Sperm."

"-sperm," Sabo dutifully repeats, "to come out?"

"Completely natural."

"And that stuff goes in you and makes a baby?" Ace whispers, bamboozled.

"Any girl really, and it only has the potential to make a baby."

"Why can't I do it?" Mulishly, Luffy folds his arms, looking absolutely disgruntled about the whole thing.

"Because you're not old enough yet, Kinglet."

"And it'll feel good if we do touch ourselves?"

"Yes. But it's considered a private act, only done with yourself or those you're in a romantic relationship with. Even then, only if you trust someone. Anyone ever tries to force you into something, you beat them the hell up, or get away, got it?" She waits for them to agree, and though it takes a second for the three boys to realise what she's waiting for, the all dutifully chorus an agreement.

For a moment, the four of them sit in silence, the three boys digesting all that they've just been told while Riskua mentally recounts all that she's said. Explained the sex organs and their purpose, explained masturbation and sex as a whole, explained the legal age limit -sixteen here in East Blue- and concept of consent, along with the consequences of unprotected sex -from STDs to babies- but was there anything she'd missed?

"Wait," Sabo suddenly chokes, nose scrunched up and eyes narrowed at his hands. "There were same-sex couples in Grey Terminal. Can they not have sex then?"

Great, just great. She can't do this any longer.

"Just take a week to digest it all, think up some questions, and then we'll have another talk next week if you need it." There's no way she's going into foreplay and the physical side of homosexual relationships right now, she's had quite enough on this topic.

"How'd you know all this?" Ace asks, suddenly quite suspicious if his pursed lips and considering eyes are anything to go by.

"I read a lot," Riskua deadpans.

It's around this time Luffy too decides he's had quite enough and leaps to his feet.

"Too much information! 'Skua, I'm hungry!"

And that's a problem she can fix.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

It happens just before lunch time.

The scent of roasting meat is saturating the air, the burning heat that the height of summer brings out in the sunshine burns at the back of their necks. It doesn't stop them from roasting their catch -a particularly large boar that'd come with a mean set of tusks- over an open fire. If they all still flinch a little at the flames, well there's nothing like constant, controlled exposure to get you over a fear of fire. That's what Riskua keeps telling herself anyway.

Luffy's sat to her left, Ace to the right, Sabo on the other side of the fire. It smells delicious and by this point, it's not just Luffy's who's having to watch his drool output. They've moved the hundred fights to the morning now, determined to get them done and out of the way before the midday heat descends upon them.

So as things stand, they're all terribly sweaty, covered in dirt and grass stains, and very, very hungry.

Carefully leaning forwards to adjust the roast meat thankfully puts Riskua in the perfect position to catch Ace as he tumbles forwards, almost right into the fire.

"Ahhh! The meat!"

Ignoring Luffy's strangled cry -it was drop the meat or Ace into the fire- Riskua reels the boy back, mentally reviewing all his fights but she hadn't seen a blow that could inflict a head injury, and he'd shown no signs of a concussion.

A snore rumbles through the air and Riskua stares in absolute disbelief.

"He fell asleep," Sabo choked out and then just breaks down into helpless laughter.

He's right though; Ace's fast asleep, eyes closed and sawing away like usual. Only it's the middle of the damn day and they'd been about to eat lunch for god's sake. Wait, lunch-

Riskua's head snaps around in time to see Luffy cough up the last bone of a full skeleton, the tops of his fingers charred. There's tears in his eyes but a pleased smile on his face. What the hell, she looked away for ten seconds!?

"You ate all the boar!" Sabo throws himself at Luffy, shaking him and violently demanding the other boy cough it all back up.

It just ends up with Luffy's rubbery neck slamming a headbutt into the blond and they both go down groaning, Luffy dizzy and Sabo in pain.

Shaking her head, Riskua gently runs her fingers along Ace's neck until she finds his pulse point, but it's as strong as ever, if slower than what she'd have expected. But hey, he's asleep now, that's what happened to the heartbeat when your unconscious.

"Ace's asleep," she declares, licking at the inner skin of her wrist and holding it before Ace's nose. She can feel the soft puffs of his breath against the wet skin and that's good enough for her.

"Asleep? But there was food."

"Yeah, until you ate it, damn it, Luffy," grouchily dropping to the floor, Sabo folds his arms across his chest and scowls. As if in agreement, the former noble's stomach lets out a mournful growl, something Riskua can almost feel herself, what with the way her own midsection is clenching.

"Sabo? Remember the hidey-hole back at Dadan's?" The cookies and cheese hidden there won't be as filling as a full meal, but it's damn well better than nothing. "Grab some bread from Dadan too!" She calls after him, though if Sabo hears her, Riskua doesn't have a damn clue.

Instead she manhandles Ace around until his head is resting in her lap, body sprawled out to her right still. Eh, good enough.

"Luffy, you ever steal all the meat like that again, and I'll tie you in knots and you'll eat last."

Because damn it she's hungry too.

 

 

 

It takes a few hours to explain narcolepsy to Ace, Sabo and Luffy. Mainly because Ace falls asleep again during her explanation and yeah, that's gonna get old real fast. She and Sabo make a quiet agreement to keep an eye on him for the next few weeks, but really there's not a lot more they can do about it.

They also make a very quiet agreement to see just who can subtly draw marks on Ace's face; whoever' mark goes unnoticed by the freckles boy the longest wins.

Sabo's currently in the lead with a respectable five hours twenty minutes, but Riskua's sure she can outdo him. She just has to be sneaky enough about it. You know, once they find some more ink, considering Ace threw it all in the river after Sabo's last attempt to beat his own record.

Hefting the bag of ingredients that's left over from her last baking session, Riskua strolls towards Dadan's hut, scratching at the back of her neck as she goes. The stubby little ponytail of red hair that jots out from the nape of her neck catches in her fingers. Though really, she's just glad she can pull it back off of her face, dealing with this sweltering heat would be otherwise impossible if she'd left it all free.

"Dadan? I'm here to borrow your oven!" Strolling into the hut, Riskua pokes her head into the living room, but finds it suspiciously empty of bandits. Another handful of steps later, and she realises why. It's because they've all gathered around the kitchen door.

Confused, Riskua pushes her way between their terribly smelly bodies, coming to a halt by the entrance way that none of them dare to actually approach. Riskua peeks in and... huh.

This... this is not what Riskua expected to see when she came to use Dadan's oven.

The redhead stares, too surprised to even shuffle nervously from foot to foot. Sitting up to the mismatched table, looking very much out of place in this worn building and with a very quiet bandit boss across from him, Dracule Mihawk inclines a mug of steaming tea towards her.

"Niece." His sword, Yoru, leans casually against the wall as he blatantly ignores the fearful glances whenever a bandit dares to attempt checking on their leader from around the door. It doesn't happen often. No, Mihawk appears to be very much at home right now.

Dadan looks terrified.

"Uncle... it's good to see you?"

She's taking one step forwards, then another until she's right beside Mihawk. And then there's just no stopping herself. She crawls into the older Dracule's lap, uncaring of the way she jostles his tea holding arm; she trusts her uncle to not spill anything upon her. Instead, she just takes a moment to appreciate his presence. Everything about him is familiar, the warmth his body gives off, the tough fabric of his clothes, the scent of ocean and iron that just clings to him.

Mihawk must have missed her too, because he allows the contact whereas previously he'd have shaken her off after he'd reached his very small quota for human interaction. It's such a rare and golden opportunity that Riskua takes advantage of it right away.

There's been a fair few of her interactions with Mihawk that've been tainted with awkwardness. Her uncle is the complete opposite of her father; whereas Shanks has no problem accepted or even seeking out hugs, Mihawk is in no way a brilliant beacon for physical contact. His proud head-pats are far and few between, hugs are for special occasions only. Yes, he's indebted at the moment, given two birthdays have passed since she last saw him, but she doesn't really want to use up all of that credit she's collected all at once.

Reluctantly, Riskua pulls back, slowly stumbling out of her uncle's lap to sit beside him on another chair. Even though he currently occupies the lowest seat out of all those around the table, he's by far the largest presence in the room. The six and a half foot frame probably helps towards that too.

Not that Riskua feels particularly intimidated. Though she's not completely at ease, that stems more from the worry her actions will offend her uncle more than any fear of him. He's her uncle, they've got no real dislike for each other after all.

"Not that I'm not happy to see you, but why are you here, Uncle?"

It has been so very long since Riskua saw those eyes in person. The odd glance in the mirror, the odd glimpse of a reflection in the water, it's nothing at all in the face of her uncle's gaze. Still just as haunting, still just as eye catching. She wonders if her own stare is quite that piercing yet.

"It has been two years. We will be going over your progress, and then reviewing your advancement regarding Haki." Of course.

Her uncle had always been intrigued by her approach to the power, had listened to each of her questions and allowed he to just rant about the topic to him. Well, rant as much as she'd dared to. Sabo's great to talk to, he really is. But Mihawk's not only an adult, but he also has some experience with regards to Haki, and while he doesn't influence her experiments, he is a source of knowledge she can tap every once in a while.

"Training," Riskua concludes, adjusting the strap of her braces, the knives beneath shifting in their holsters.

"I have acquired you daggers that will be better used in your teenage years. Now come."

Mihawk rises, placing his empty cup upon the uneven table. Through what is quite possibly the power of god alone, it doesn't roll or slide as every other mug has done before it.

The two Dracules leave the room with one intact cup and one shell-shocked Dadan.

 

 

 

They walk through the jungle in a comfortable silence, Yoru once again upon Mihawk's back, the blade catching what little light sinks through the overgrown leaves.

The only time Riskua has ever seen fit to pass through this portion of the jungle was a year and a bit ago, back when she was setting up Ace's birthday hunt. The animals are smaller; well, more like the mammals are smaller. The snakes are unreasonably large around here and the plants carnivorous. She barely even notices the snake coiling above them in the trees before Mihawk has slip it's skull in two with a sing swipe of his smallest blade.

Two years without a hint of Grand Line skill -if she discounts Garp that is- should not have left her as startled as she is by the motion. Has she really become so compliant to this sleepy little island? The sweltering heat is affecting Mihawk though; there's a light glisten of sweat on the back of his pale neck, though a noticeable absence of sunscreen of any kind. Sometimes, she thinks that Mihawk doesn't get sunburn through sheer force of will alone. Certainly her mother had suffered every time she ventured out without protection.

It hurts to think of Dracule Raowl and Riskua does not dare to ask after her right now, afraid of the answer. Afraid she'll get confirmation of what she fears. She doesn't want it to be true, but will not knowing hurt more than the confirmation?

Riskua mulls it over as she changes her swift walking to a steady jog, determined to keep up with her uncle's lengthy strides.

"How's Papa?" Riskua asks.

And Luffy is clearly rubbing off on her because her first instinct is to reach for Mihawk's hand. She's got the feeling he'd rather cut his own fingers off than hold hands, especially as she is no longer such a young and innocent child, so she refrains.

"Drunk and terrorising the Marines..." Eyes flicked to her, a sidelong glance and Riskua instantly knows what's coming, braces herself for it. It doesn't stop the winding, the sensation of being punched in the gut though. "He's grieving."

It goes unspoken what he grieves for and Riskua stops, clenching her eyes shut. They burn, dry and irritable, as if she no longer has any tears left to spare. Her last memory of Dracule Raowl is a healthy loving mother seeing her off into Shanks' ships. It's better than the final memory she could have had, but Riskua wishes so desperately that they'd had more time together.

Mihawk says nothing, but the reassuring pressure of one callous hand pressing against her shoulder speaks volumes.

 

 

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The death of Raowl weighs heavily upon her child.

While Mihawk had reserved judgement upon the deportation of Riskua from Melring at the time, he now sees the pain his dear sister has managed to spare her only child. She is hurt by the confirmation of her death, but not shattered. She has managed to build the foundations of a life here, and though this has rocked her, Riskua can still stand, she has not crumbled under the revelation.

Mihawk eyes his niece, taking in all that has changed since he last saw her. She's taller, her hair longer, face thinner and features steadily losing the roundness that comes hand in hand with childhood.

Meeting her eyes though, it is as if his sister never left.

Having little to no experience with emotional comfort -Raowl had been a tough woman and taken care of herself in that respect- there is little Mihawk can offer his niece in this moment.

What he can do is focus her mind on other things. Such as her capacity for greatness in regards to Haki. He is not blind, nor wilfully ignorant. He knows Riskua has little desire to chase after a life by the blade, no matter how much it may seem like a waste of potential. A child of Red Hair and his niece? The sword is within her blood.

It is with a begrudging acceptance that he settles for her chosen weapon of daggers and knives; not his first pick but they do suit her fighting style far more than a long sword would have done, more than a short sword would have done. An unparallel expert upon the sword does not make Mihawk a slacker when it comes to other blades.

So train her he shall.

He's well aware that the interactions between himself and Riskua do not flow smooth, that he does not have Red Hair's nonpareil charisma, that Riskua and himself sometimes struggle to know to respond to one another. It does not mean they do not care though; that they try at all showcases just how much they respect and favour one another's presence. While not as open and warm as her father, Riskua is far more sociable than Mihawk himself, and perhaps that is why their interactions work at all.

"Uncle, how long do you plan to keep me?" Riskua's voice isn't hesitant, despite how softly she speaks. Her shoulders are straight, her posture proud and tall. She's palming the handle of one knife and keeping a sharp eye on her surroundings.

After the size of the snake he'd been forced to kill -wildlife the size of that should not exist outside of the Grand Line and Mihawk is a little disgruntled to find it in East Blue of all places- he understands why she finds such a thing necessary though.

"A week. Any longer and the Marines will get… jumpy." They always do when one of the Shichibukai goes off radar for a while. Given that he'd been forced to ensure no one was following him before setting course for this island; maybe even a week is pushing his luck but it's not as if the Marines can go against him without incurring heavy causalities that they really cannot afford right now, given the state of the New World. It's been like that since the Pirate King's death though, so that's not really a surprise. No, he'll just get a lecture, one he won't even pay attention to, and then be waved off like they even have the power to do so.

"I need to tell the boys-"

"The bandit will take care of that," Mihawk cuts off his little niece's protest, coming a halt in the next clearing they walk into. It's reasonably sized, with enough rocks, trees and fallen trunks to offer a little bit of a challenge in regards to a fighting landscape.

"But they'll-"

"Niece."

Riskua falls silent at his words, all but her eyebrows going slack. Those thin red lines rise high, opening up the eyes they share until he can see the perfect orbs of haunting yellow. A stinging reminder of Raowl and how much he misses her presence in the world.

"It has been two years. We will have a week together." It is said as fact and Riskua has no choice other than to accept that.

There's a glint of mutiny in her eyes though and Mihawk takes note of it with a slither of glee.

Yes, she has come far from the little newborn who was not worthy of his interest.

 

 

 

They eat first. For all that the wildlife is large here, it is nowhere near as dangerous as what rests on the Grand Line and there is a large boar cooking above the fire soon enough.

Riskua eats slowly, glancing around the clearing and taking in all of her new surroundings. Good. Situational awareness is always necessary, no matter one's company. Oh, his niece is most certainly safe with him, but it is always good to be cautious.

"You've been practicing with your blades." It is not a question, Mihawk makes sure of that. He just wants Riskua to expand upon that, to tell him all that she has managed so far.

Clearly understanding his words, she nods, unsheathing the weaponry from where they remain strapped to her forearms. She will need daggers soon, something to rest at her hips.

"As much as I can, I guess. Can only do so much when the boys use pipes as their primary weapons and fisticuffs as their secondary. Don't wanna cut them up too badly. Can usually fight the wildlife with them, but scraps with people are rare nowadays," she shrugs, though from the grimace upon her face it's clear this is something she is, dissatisfied with. Well, that in the very least is something he can solve with his mere presence.  

Drawing the smallest knife he has upon his perfect, Mihawk discards his cloak and hat, allowing the scorching sun to beat down upon his hair.

Across from him, Riskua does the same, treating her hat with tender care as she places it upon a low hanging branch upon the edge of the clearing. Once done, she shuffles her daggers back into position, adjusting her hands until she has a good enough grip upon the handles. He waits patiently; this is not going to be a spar. It's an assessment, a look into just what level his little niece stands upon right now. Otherwise he would not have allowed her this moment to gather her thoughts.

Sharp yellow eyes take in every inch of his body, looking for a weakness he knows she will not find. Her eyes do not linger up the small blade he holds, there is no hurt pride in her gaze. Just determination. So very much like her father in that respect; it takes far more than a strike to her pride to ruffle her feathers.

When she powers forwards, it is with a speed greater than he remembers. It's still painfully slow to his eyes, but respectable enough for a ten year old brat.

She swipes high for the meat of his abdominals first, and when he sidesteps that, she plants the knife blade flat against the floor, fingers spreading to support her weight as she uses the limb to spin herself around, ducking low and going for his hamstrings with her other dagger wielding arm. A good strategy.

He jumps over it.

Her fingers have coiled back into to collect her weapons as she comes up in a roll, lashing out with one foot. It's coated in Haki, not quite enough to blacken it's form but enough to create a sting. Another miss and it slams into the floor, leaving a small crater behind.

With a flip, Riskua edges back, stance ready but no longer aggressive. Still coming to terms with the difference in his fighting style. Of course against his little niece he's tempering his usual levels of power, but it has been two years. Did she not expect him to change things to account for how much stronger she could have possibly grown?

Angling his knife, Mihawk shifts is weight onto his back foot, tilts his head to consider the little redhead.

"Show me you've improved, little niece."

 

 

 

Six days pass swiftly.

In each one they spar, Mihawk pushing his niece to her limits. If she is serious about following Red Hair's chosen one into the Grand Line, then her stamina needs to improve, vastly. He forced her to spar for an hour on the first day, two on the second.

Three on the third, with a half hour break after the second hour. He'd not wanted to hand that break over, but Riskua's legs had collapsed out from under her in her exhaustion, leaving her panting hopelessly for breath. Reluctantly, he had allowed the rest, forcibly reminding himself that for all the promise she shows, Riskua is still a young child, one that wouldn't even be accepted as a cabin boy -or girl, as the case may be- unless circumstances were incredibly dire.

She has time yet, and East Blue is the sleepiest of the seas when it comes to piracy. When their spars were over though, when they had eaten their fill from the animals that fell before their blades, they would talk.

Time away has done Riskua good. Before leaving Melring, she hadn't been open to talk upon her Haki experiments. Every so often she'd have asked him a question or two, but that was the extent of it.

Now, now she calmly explains all that she's been thinking on, all that she's puzzled out so far. Her logic is sound; Mihawk cannot proclaim himself all that knowledgeable upon the topic; he thought he'd understood a good deal about Haki.

But as Riskua explains her experiments with Armament, localising it to a pin point upon her body, compacting it into her fist for maximum effect, he realises how very little is actually known of this power. She has certainly picked something very interesting, something with great potential to pursue.

"What I've been able to conclude though is that there are three major layers to Observational Haki," the redhead murmurs, playing with the thigh bone she'd finished tearing the meat from. Her fingers are blooded, skin worn raw from all the time they'd spent wrapped around the handles of her daggers. He's already had her massage the palms to get the blood flowing there again, but there's not much more that can be done beyond that. "There's immediate threats to the body, that's the easiest one to pick up on. Like a knife coming at your side, you just know, right?"

Offering the girl a slight nod of his head, Mihawk relaxes into the tree his leaning against, Yoru across his lap as he lazily sharpens the famed blade.

"It's a bit harder, the second step, and that's stuff that's not immediately threatening. Like people plotting you harm, they just give off a vibe. Wildlife too. Like the tiger about fifty meters to the left of us."

Mihawk pauses, reaching for that sense and his little niece is indeed right, there is a tiger stalking around back there. He's not brilliant with recognising the presence of animals with his Haki; it appears Riskua has already outstripped him in this respect.

"After that, it's those in the general vicinity to the user, your surroundings as a whole. Every so often, I've been able to kind of click onto this, but it's mainly with Luffy and Ace and Sabo. I think it's because I know them so well that I've kind of got a feel for them by now, I'll have to really start focusing on that now."

"You are not sharing these observations with others, are you?" Mihawk questions, lazily sliding one eye open upon realising he's allowed them to calmly fall shut as the redhead talks.

"Only with the boys," she admits, running a hand through her hair, the old deerstalker she's acquired at some point resting in her lap. "But they're loyal to a fault, they won't share it because they know it's my dream."

Were he a bit more intrigued, perhaps he would go and try to talk to these boys. As things stand, however, he has no desire to do so. Kids that Riskua socialises with; they mean very little to him. She is certain they will not harm her, and he really has no interest beyond that. Well, maybe the one Red Hair has acknowledge would be worth a glance, but Mihawk is not about to go out of his way.

"Any way, I have something I want to bounce off you," Riskua continues, flicking the bone she's been swinging around into the flames of the fire.

"I know there's Observational, and Armament and Conqueror's, but do you think it's possible to take Haki and twist it the other way? Like, instead of being aware of your surroundings, twisting it so Haki conceals you instead of notifies you to the world? Like a cloak of some kind? The world works on balance, so it seems like the safest place to start, but I don't have much of an idea where to get started."

Once again, the logic of this child astounds him and Mihawk takes a moment to wonder just how this sensible being came from Red Hair and Raowl. There need not be anything said upon Red Hair's capabilities with logic, and though she is his sister, Raowl had believed a tryst with Riskua's father had been a splendid idea. That decision alone said enough.

"I do not know what help you wish to me to offer. Were I to approach it though; Observational is awareness of surroundings. Perhaps it would pay to instil a further awareness of self if you wish to continue experimenting."

"Yeah, that sounds quite promising actually."

 

 

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Riskua is gone. Riskua is gone and it has been absolutely horrible.

Luffy smells because without Riskua to enforce the bath rule, the clothes must be washed after so long rule, the youngest just hasn't bothered. Not that Ace has really stuck to it either, and Sabo's shirt's maybe not as clean as it should be. But in their defence it's hard to remember without Riskua pointedly sniffing and looking disgruntled.

Ace almost drowned when he fell asleep begrudgingly washing the pots and Luffy almost drowned too trying to save him.

Sabo wants Riskua to come back because he doesn't like being the responsible one, there's too much pressure on it all and he's got a hell of a lot of respect for his redhead best friend right now.

 

 

 

That is why today finds them scouring through the other side of the jungle, the side with the freaky-ass plants and unbelievably big snakes.

Dadan had insisted they not go, that Riskua was doing some dangerous training on her own and the woman had looked so serious that they'd actually listened. Or rather, the other bandits had tackled them on her orders when they first made a break for the tree line. Which, you know, made it kind of obvious she was really serious.

Enough is enough though and Sabo's more than ready to go and retrieve the only girl of their group -he forcibly pushes down the reminder of the talk because he sure as hell doesn't want to think about that right now- because he is done. He is so done looking after these two.

He needs a break, and he needs it now.

 

 

 

It takes them three hours of stalking through the jungle, three hours of fighting back all the trees and the creepy snakes that aren't even brightly coloured so it's easy to spot them in all the green. No, each one of them is green or brown and exceptionally sneaky.

As Ace stabs the end of his pipe into another of the damn things, Sabo stills, listening carefully. He knows that sound, the clash of metal against metal.

Spinning on heels, Sabo pulls his top hat further down his head and charges into the clearing. He's fully expecting Riskua.

What he's not expecting is the tall man that's going at her with an insultingly small sword.

"Ah! Riskua!"

"Get the fuck away from her!" Ace thunders past him, pipe ready to land a blow.

The man doesn't even flick a glance to them, dodging both Ace and Sabo's attack without so much as looking at them. A booted foot finds Sabo's back and the next thing he knows, he's eating dirt. As quick as he can, Sabo rolls over, snatching up his pipe and coming up swinging. That tiny sword -it's so damn thin, like a needle, shouldn't that have snapped by now?!- blocks him effortlessly, reflecting Sabo's blow so that it smacks against Ace's own attack, rocking Sabo's once sure foundation and sending him to tumbling to the floor again.

"Hey!"

Panicking, Sabo kicks Ace off him at Luffy's furious bellow, heart in his throat as he sees the man has caught Luffy's extended wrist. He remains rooted to the spot even as a flying mass of rubber boy is forcibly pulled to him as Luffy's arm recoils back to its usual length.

"This is him?" The man asks, his voice deep and dark as he glances at Riskua. Riskua… who's not worried about this man holding Luffy.

She's frowning, but it's not an upset frown, more of a considering one.

"Yeah. That's my Captain."

 

 

 

Sabo's not sure how those words led to the fight that came about. But he's damn sure it's those words that have him in the exhausted heap his in now.

The strange man who never introduced himself, who forced them to defend themselves yet clearly had no intention of seriously harming them has left now. Sabo hasn't a clue who he is, but he clearly knows Riskua. Their eyes… are they family?

 Sabo doesn't want to ask though. If Riskua wanted to talk about her family then she would. As she's never mentioned it -not to his knowledge at least- then Sabo leaves it well enough alone. Though he had thrown over his shoulder, not even bothering to turn his head towards the girl, that he'd be back at some point in the future.

It'd been an ominous parting from a man Sabo gets the impression is as strong as Garp. Even more reason to be wary of him.

Sprawled out and only just visible from the edge of Sabo's eye, Ace furiously runs a hand through his hair. The former noble doesn't know how the kid has the energy for even that one little motion. They'd attacked with everything they had, all four of them, and they'd not even put a scratch on that guy. Bastard.

"We need to get stronger," Ace pants, Luffy making a choked noise of agreement in the back of his throat.

Covering in cuts, scrapes and bruises, Riskua just hums and says nothing more on the matter.

Bone tired as they are, it takes them several hours to crawl back to the treehouse, and they spend the next few days moving slow and gingerly.

 

 

It doesn't stop them from throwing themselves into training once that week of recovering is over though.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"Fuck!"

All three boys snap up to look at her the second the word passes her lips, but Riskua can't quite help herself. She's dropped one of their only bowls in the shallow section of the river and it's cracked on the rocks beneath but she can't quite drum up the thought to really care right now.

"What the hell, Ri, that was our second to last bowl!" Sabo snaps, hand still holding the dishtowel Makino had lent them for an indefinite period of time, which he proceeds to whip at her. It snaps startlingly close to her face, kissing the air before her nose.

"Forget that," Riskua hisses, shooting to her feet and checking herself for her daggers. All four of them are there, her old ones on her forearms still and the new set Mihawk had sent by post -it had to be Mihawk, Shanks'd never be able to send anything by mail given his status- sheathed and strapped to her waist. "I can sense Garp."

Like a bucket of cold water had been through over them, the trio explode into action.

"To the treehouse! If we get there in time we might be able to hold him off!" The 'for a little while' isn't verbalised, but they all know the truth. Ace's just too proud to actual admit they have no hope of holding off the Vice Admiral.

Abandoning their pots -they can always get more, this is a matter of survival-, the four of them race the short distance between the river and the treehouse, hastily scrambling up the single rope ladder and they should really look into a second one. Riskua's the first one up, followed swiftly by Ace, and they don't even wait for Sabo and Luffy to finish climbing up before they're both pulling at each side of the rope, reeling the ladder along with the other two boys in.

Sabo and Luffy both tumble in quickly and don't even hesitate to begin battening down the hatches, so to speak. Which basically involves slamming the windows shut and locking them as swiftly as they can. She and Ace get the door, Ace hefting the heavy wood into position as she uses Armament to crush the metal hinges to the point of uselessness.

Not that a wooden door would stop Garp. Hell, she doubts stone walls would put a pause in his stride.

"How far away is he?" Sabo snaps as he links his fingers together, accepting her foot into the temporary step his joined digits make. Riskua jumps up, reaching just high enough to grab the rope above thanks to Sabo's extra push.

"Thirty seconds and counting."

Ace swears while Luffy, the crazy little lunatic, just laughs.

"We're gonna get 'im good this time," he declares, adjusting his stance so Ace can throw him up to her in their 'crow's nest'. Ah to be young and optimistic.

Sabo's next, jumping up off of Ace's back to grasp Luffy's hands, Riskua holding tight to the rubbery boy's feet. Ace snatches hold of Sabo's ankles and with a flare of Haki, Riskua pulls them all up.

From there, it's battle positions, peering over the edge of their hopefully secure enough hideout, armed with rocks collected for exactly this reason. They've all gotten to the point now where they can throw something mighty hard with Armament, useful little skill that it is, and they've even gone a few sharpened branches to act as spears if they tire of their earthy projectiles.

"Three seconds, to the East," Riskua grunts, reaching out to turn Luffy in the right direction at the same time Sabo leans over and adjusts Ace.

Right on cue, Garp comes crashing through the jungle, a tree falling as he powers right through his trunk like it isn't even there. Terrifying.

"Fire!" Luffy bellows, throwing his skull sized rock as hard as he possibly can.

Garp lets out a gruff kind of 'gah' sound, ducking the first attack. He blocks the next six or so, but clearly loses his patience, because-

"Return fire!" Sabo screams and they all hastily duck for cover, Ace snatching Luffy up and forcing him to stretch over the three of them.

Of course, Luffy's immune to blunt attacks and Garp's angry -oh god, she can feel it through Observation now, he's not pissed but he's irritated- enough to not think to embed them with Haki.

"Ow!" No, she takes that back.

Snatching up one of the branch spears, Riskua launches it at the marine, who bellows in rage and- and actually pounds a fist against his chest in his fury?! Is he mocking them?

"Bwahahaha! You brats think you can take me on?!"

It's like an earthquake when Garp's fist meets the base of their tree, the building rocking back and forth and they cling to one another for dear life.

"He's gonna knock us down!" Sabo cries and they all swear. There's only one way to save the treehouse and that's to-

"Flee!"

They all split from the crow's nest at Riskua's order, hastily retreating towards the thicket of jungle via the tangle of branches. It's a blessing the trees are so close together, or they'd never manage this otherwise.

"You brats! Get down here!"

A rock whizzes by unnervingly close to Riskua's head and she lets out a cry of surprise. She's echoed by another mad laugh from Luffy and when she looks at them all, the boys are grinning just as wildly as she is. It's a damn good thing they've practiced using the trees and their branches as an escape route before, because Riskua's pretty sure they'd have fallen to their death -by Garp's hand- otherwise.

Irritatingly enough, Luffy is the best out of all of them, living up to his family name and swinging effortlessly from the branches.

Ace sees this too, because he hastily latches onto Luffy's back, laughing joyfully as the younger boy eagerly puts more and more space between himself and Garp.

Garp who is swiftly catching up to them!

Riskua only just manages to get onto the next tree before the one she'd previously occupied is down by one of Garp's furious fists. God almighty!

The next twenty seconds feel like the longest of her life, and then everything just stops because she misses the next branch.

Screaming, Riskua scrambles for a better hold, lashing out with Armament in a attempt to attach herself to the nearby tree. She manages to dig her hand through the trunk like butter, leaving herself with a sure hold but accidentally snapping one of the thicker branches in her panic. The one Sabo's clinging to.

"Damn it, Riskua!"

She makes an attempt to help, and consequently loses her own hold of the tree. Both she and Sabo slam into several branches which only sort of cushion their fall to the dry earth.

They both land with a pained 'oomph' and then Garp's got a hold of the backs of their shirts, hoisting them into the air as if they're still ten and under, instead of the fourteen and thirteen they actually are.

"You damn brats! Just wait 'till I've caught the other two. You'll accept my training and become damn fine marines!"

"I ain't gonna be a marine, I'm gonna be a revolutionary!"

It’s the first time this has actual come up in conversation, and Riskua is genuinely fearing for her life with the shade of red Garp turns.

"Revolutionary?!" He thunders, furiously shaking Sabo about. Or at least, she thinks he does, given Garp apparently cannot move one arm at once and is shaking her about too.

"Yeah…" Sabo stammers off, dazed navy eyes blinking rapidly as he tries to reorient herself.

"That’s worse than a pirate!" Garp yells, hefting Sabo into position and then launching him like a missile towards the two fleeing brothers that're almost out of sight.

It's a direct hit and Riskua watches in morbid fascination as Ace loses his grip and falls to the floor, Luffy literally hanging onto the branch by the tips of his fingers.

"And you?" The snort that leaves his nose when his attention turns to her is like that of an aggressive animal right before it attacks.

"Still following Luffy!" Riskua hastily chokes out because she doesn't want Garp thinking she's gonna run off and join his troublesome son too.

 

 

 

All too soon the three of them are caught, slung over one of Garp's massive shoulders and held there by one stupidly powerful arm as the other continues to launch rocks, branches, and, at one point, a whole tree at Luffy. Showing that the gods really do smile upon him, the little brat has dodged every last one, much to their envy. It's over soon enough though, because Garp decides he's had enough and launches himself him to the air in pursuit.

They all squawk in surprise, none louder than Luffy himself, as Garp keeps kicking at the air and physically tackles his grandson down from the trees.

"What the fuck was that?!" Ace screams from beside her and Riskua's pretty sure if Luffy's terrified screech of surprise hadn't burst an eardrum, that one definitely did.

"Super secret Marine technique which is taught to Marines only! Not pirates and certainly not Revolutionaries!"

At this, he grabs Sabo by his ankles and proceeds to wave him around like a prize. The blond boy has no choice but to go limp and pray Garp didn't decide to start his career as a lumberjack, only substituting Sabo as his axe. Riskua though, Riskua sees an opportunity here.

"Well maybe we'd want to be marines if you taught us cool stuff like that." She slaps a hand over Ace's mouth and the freckled boy -proving how sharp his mind is when he's paying attention- is quick to follow suit and forcibly silence the denial Luffy's about to sprout.

"Teach you Geppo?!" Garp laughs, laughs like a manic who's been told the funniest joke in the world. Which, hey, they can't really be called jokes, they're pretty damn strong for three teenagers and one preteen. "Not a chance!"

"But think of how much safer we'd be! I mean," mentally steeling herself because she'd never bring this up unless there was any great reason to do so, Riskua continues. "Imagine how easy it'd have been to find Ace and Luffy in that fire if we could have just hopped up into the sky to take a look."

Garp goes silent at that and she can smell the burning as the rarely used gears in his brain begin to turn. Catching onto her plan, Sabo nods furiously from where he's hanging upside down in Garp's grasp, hat lost somewhere in the chase.

"Yeah! It'd be so much easier to look after each other if we had that! I might even reconsider my choice for an ability like that!"

"Please Gramps?!" Luffy whines, Ace having whispered what they're trying to do into his ear and hastily commanded 'play along'. He throws out those adorable eyes that the whole lot of them can barely ever resist, along with a pout he's been skilfully crafting with Makino. Solely because he's noticed a good pout usually gets him extra meat. Which is damn devious of him, actually.

"You brats don't have the leg strength for it," Garp snaps, clamping each hand around the meat of a thigh and absentmindedly dropping Sabo in the process.

Both she and Ace hang limply in Garp's grip, Riskua uncomfortably tugging at her shirt to keep it around her hips and not allow it to roll up -or is it down?- her torso.

"We can get leg strength," Ace points out, squinting up at Garp as all the blood rushes to his head.

"Yeah, leg strength'll be well worth working for is that's the result," Sabo mutters, running a hand through his shirt blond locks and scanning the surroundings for his missing in action hat.

"Teach me, Gramps!"

Looking into Garp's eyes, Riskua gets the feeling they're going to be taught all right. It's jus a shame Garp probably prescribes to the notion of 'pain is the best teacher'.

 

 

 

A month passes and Riskua has never felt so much pain in her legs before. She hadn't realised just how much strength, how much speed and dexterity went into Geppo. She still wants to learn it, by god does she still want to learn it. But this hurts so much.

In a full split beside Luffy -who has no problem at all with the flexibility issue, the little brat- Riskua leans forwards until she can curl her hands around her foot, forcibly pulling her torso down. While Ace and Sabo might be ahead of her in terms of strength, she's leagues ahead in flexibility, much to their disgruntlement. They all have to work for this, to keep pushing themselves past their limits. And once they're past that, they have to push even further in order to crawl back to the treehouse for the night.

Each day, Garp laughs at them and proclaims they'll never manage it, but if anything that's even more of an incentive for them to keep going. Not one of them wants to prove Garp's doubt right.

It still doesn't stop the muscles on her legs screaming in pain every time she falls asleep, and they ache from all that screaming when she wakes up. More than once she's just collapsed after climbing down from the treehouse's ladder, and she's not the only one.

It's been a month, how long does Garp plan on staying here? He's still got a job, hasn't he? Shouldn't he have left them alone by now?

"Well brats."

At the address, all four of them look up hopefully, Ace and Sabo not quite in a full split but getting close.

"If you keep this up, you'll be ready to figure out Geppo in about a year."

"A year?!" Luffy screams, looking mutinous. "I bet I can learn it in half a year!"

"Bwahahaha! Not a chance! But you will learn it before you become a Marine! You'll shoot up the ranks!"

Ace and Sabo both abandon their stretches in order to dog pile Luffy, suffocating his denial before it can really be voiced.

Riskua just offers Garp a pained smile, slowly rising her from own stretch. "We'll figure it out and then master it, and use it to look out for one another."

Tactfully, she makes no mention of using it for the Marines and Garp does call her out on it, for all this his eyebrows lower and lips twist.

"Bwahaha! Even if you brats manage it, it'll take a lot more than that to even come close to beating me."


Yeah, Riskua doesn't doubt that. But they'll be a step closer at least.

 

 

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"You little brat!" Ace bellows, waving one fist around in Luffy's general direction as the youngest among them making a swift get away. "Get back he-" Ace cuts off, his eyes going wide and mouth popping open and besides Sabo, Riskua dissolves into helpless laughter.

"Did your voice just crack?" Sabo asks, struggling to keep his own mirth under wraps. But Ace's voice had just done the funniest thing, like he'd forgotten how to speak and just fumbled and ha! That was great!

"Do it again!" Riskua demands, prodding Ace in the side as if that's actually get him to make that same embarrassingly high pitch thing he'd just done.

"Yeah, do it again, Ac-" Sabo freezes, eyes wide and disbelieving.

Riskua has given up her hopeless battle of remaining upright, crumpling to the floor with laughter as Ace turns a semi-smug grin upon Sabo.

"Do what again, Sabo? Do you mean that croaky little squeak you just made?"

Crap. This isn't fair at all.

A year ago, Garp had collared both him and Ace, dragging them off into the wilderness for a 'man's talk' which involved a lot more punching and hunting than actual talking. But as it turned out, that'd been the Vice Admiral's attempt at a sex talk, one he didn't think Luffy needed yet.

The old bastard had looked so relieved when he was informed they already knew the facts of life.

Still, he'd warned them about girls -a distraction- funny feelings -ignore 'em, they'll go away- along with a whole lot of other stuff Sabo really didn't need to know.

Which is why he knows exactly what's happening.

His and Ace's voices are breaking. He's looking forwards to a velvety smooth adult's voice, but this is not a metamorphosis he's pleased about going through.

He wants the end result now, damn it.

It's okay for Riskua; she's got a nice mature voice now, the softness of childhood left behind. But she's always been the wisest of them, it's not a surprise she also sounds the part now.

Riskua who's laughing so hard she's actually crying.

"Months," she gasps, wild eyed and looking delighted. "There's gonna be months of this. You two are so going to be losing all your arguments."

It's an unspoken rule that the one to make another laugh in an argument loses it. It's why Luffy so rarely wins any of them, once his distinct lack of logic is taken into account that is.

Sabo scowls, folding his arms across his chest and glaring. At this point though, he doesn't dare to open his mouth, because of his voice goes again it'll just prove her point even more.

"Lose them all?!" Of course, Ace isn't that smart. The dark haired male laughs, planting one hand on his hip and running the other through his hair. "I won't lose an argument because of this thing, and I won't-"

His face slams into the floor.

Both Sabo and Riskua stare for a second, the only noise between them the steadily increasing rumbles of Ace's snoring.

"You know, I was a bit worried about the Narcolepsy thing at first," Sabo muses, jabbing his foot into his brother's ribs but getting absolutely no reaction whatsoever. "But it's pretty actually great."

Riskua blinks, wiping the small pattering of tears from the corner of her eyes before she grins.

"Sabo, go get the marker."

 

 

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Luffy can't quite remember what the argument starts off from, he can't quite remember why Ace storms off in a huff.

What he does know though, is the next day Ace's built his own little home in front of Dadan's yard and declared it 'Ace Country; for Aces only'. Which meant Luffy isn't allowed in.

Like hell if Luffy was gonna sit down and take that.

So now there's 'Luffy Country' across from Ace Country because Ace isn't gonna be Pirate King, Luffy is. But Ace is gonna be a pirate, so in order to become Pirate King Luffy has to be better than Ace at everything. Including living as a country, all on his lonesome.

Three days have passed since the establishment -Luffy's got no idea what that word means but Sabo said it so he has to be using it right- of Luffy Country.

Ace's doing everything by himself, hunting all the food he eats and he's been cooking it over a fire by himself and so that's what Luffy's been doing too. They don't hunt as a group anymore. Oh, they move together, always set off at the same time and stay in the same area.

Only now, Ave and Luffy go chasing after their own meat, while Sabo and Riskua still work together. Which means they're usually done first, but they don't seem to mind.

Luffy likes it when the two watch him, he's always pleased because his big brother and big sister get to see just how much he's improved. And he's improved a lot. With the mystery power, his Devil Fruit power and that awful strength training with Gramps, he's super strong now. He'll keep getting stronger and stronger, and then when he sets sail, nothing'll stop him. He'll gather the best crew in the world; he's already got Riskua so that automatically means he's got the best first mate in the world because Riskua's just that amazing. She knows the answer to everything, there's not been one question that Luffy's asked that she hasn't been able to answer in some way.

Sabo and Ace will both be sailing, even if Sabo doesn't want to be a pirate anymore. But the blond wants to fight for freedom, he wants to take down the nobles and the Celestial Dragons. Even Riskua's only spoke of them in hushed whispers, a look on her face like she'd eaten some really nasty food. Like, Devil Fruit bad. So Luffy doesn't like them either; they sound like really horrible people and they don't want another Pirate King in the world. So they were never gonna be his friends anyway.

It's all going well, Ace Country and Luffy Country are in a state of cold war -though Luffy doesn't know how a war can be cold, war isn't meat but that's how Riskua had described the situation so it must make sense to other people- but they all still sort of train together. Though right now it's more like when Ace does something, Luffy absolutely has to do it the same or better. He cannot, will not lose to Ace anymore. Which is why he's facing a crocodile much bigger than he is, and he's certain he can take it down with the mystery power. He really is.

 

Until suddenly he's not.

 

 

 

Sitting in Dadan's living room, Luffy digs his fingers into the material of his shorts, worried eyes unmoving from the door Sabo's behind.

Sabo's hurt, Sabo's hurt because Ace was off hunting and Luffy was off hunting and Riskua had to come help Luffy hunt because the crocodile almost ate him. He's got scratches on his arms from the teeth scraping against him before Riskua managed to pull him out the way. But because she was there pulling him out the way no one was there to pull Sabo out of the way of the bear's claws.

And now Sabo's really really hurt and it's all Luffy's fault.

How is he suppose to be a good Captain, how is he suppose to look after his Nakama if he can't even make sure his own brothers are okay? His insides feel really bad, like sludge, or the earth after it's rained for days and they have to slug through the mud.

Luffy doesn't like it. He doesn't like knowing his failed, knowing that Sabo got hurt because of him. If Ace and him hadn't been so focused, then maybe they'd have noticed Sabo needed the help. He's so stupid.

Lip wobbling, Luffy bits on the flesh there, trying not to cry.

Beside him, Ace has his legs drawn up to his chest, face pressed into his knees as he hugs himself.

"We should have been paying more attention," Ace's voice is muffled but Luffy hears him anyway.

Ace's right though, Luffy's taken a while to come to the conclusion but all three of his older siblings always seem to be right when it matters. Out of them all, Riskua's always the one that's right the most, but Sabo says that's because she knows so much about the world, that she has more adventures and experience under her belt. Ace claims it's because she's a 'know-it-all-girl'.

If Riskua knows how to help Sabo's injuries though, then Luffy doesn't care at all if she's a know-it-all-girl.

"Is he gonna be okay?!"

Ace's on his feet and moving to Riskua before Luffy even realises she's come out the back room.

"Zaa, Sabo'll be fine. It was bad, but nothing that'll keep him down for too long." She runs a hand through her red hair, the other holding the brim of her funny brown hat.

At her words, the flood of nastiness in his stomach drains, but it's not completely gone. Like the muddy footprints that they've tracked into Dadan's house -no, it's Dadan's Country now- there's evidence of what happened. Luffy doesn't like it, he doesn't like the reminder of what happened to Sabo. But… but if he just ignores it, it'll happen again. Like if Dadan didn't tell them off about the mud they'd have kept doing it. Not that they wipe their feet now, but they don't live in Dadan Country anymore so it doesn't matter.

More importantly though, if he wants to Sabo to not get hurt again, Luffy's gonna have to change something.

He scowls, folding his arms and sitting on the floor again, chewing on his lips the whole time. It'd be so much nicer if it were meat, but if it were meat he'd be eating and not thinking and he actually really does have to do some thinking right now. Which sucks, but this is important.

If he doesn't want this to happen again to Sabo, if he doesn't want Sabo or Ace or Riskua to get hurt, then Luffy needs to start paying more attention. He's been getting stronger, but getting stronger hasn't helped today.

He… he was too focused on himself and because of that Sabo got hurt. So he can't do that anymore. He has to look after his brothers and sister too, he needs to be able to look after his future Nakama, to stop being so…. so…. what's the word for it? Is there a word for it?

"'Skua?"

Riskua's sat on the floor not too far away from him, bandaging a wound -ouchies are what kids call them Ace said and Luffy's not a kid anymore so he doesn't use that word anymore- on her arm.

"Yeah, Kinglet?"

"I need a word."

"Describe it?"

"I'm too focused on me, and not everything else…" Luffy trails off, not quite sure how else to explain it, other than to tell her all about what he's thinking and he doesn't want to do that. That'll take too long and the more time he spends thinking the less time he's going to be spending eating.

"Inconsiderate? Self-centred? Selfish?"

"What's that last one mean?" Luffy asks, tipping his head to a side and scowling as Ace snorts.

Ace can laugh all he wants, but when they set out to sea Luffy'll have Riskua and not him, so when Ace has problems he won't have her to help which means Luffy wins.

"It means you're only concern is really yourself. You don't consider others when you make decisions."

Luffy doesn't like the sound of that, but the more he thinks about it, the more it fits. Which is upsetting.

Grimacing, the boy tips his hat back and off his head, letting it rest on his back, hanging from the tie around his neck.

"And what's the opposite of shellfish?"

"Selfish," Riskua correct absentmindedly, wiggling a finger at Ace.

It shows how much Ace likes Riskua compared to when they first met, because he approaches without complaint and offers up his bruising forearm.

"The opposite of selfish would be selfless. Like giving all the meat away and keeping none for yourself." Nope. No way, Luffy hates that idea.

But he doesn't like selfish either.

"Isn't there a middle?!" He cries, fingers in his hair and tugging on the strands. They come away caked in mud and Luffy scowls. Damn it, Riskua'll definitely bully Sabo or Ace into getting a bath with him now. Luffy really can't be left alone in water. He'll drown.

"You just have to find the middle ground Luffy. But if you can recognise what action you consider is selfish and what would be selfless, then that's all you need to know."

He hasn't said what he's been thinking about, but the way Riskua smiles at him makes him feel like he's done the best thing in the world anyway.

 

 

 

Riskua says she's staying with Sabo for the day, and the look she gives them has Luffy Country banding together with Ace Country for just the one day. Just to take down something big enough to feed all four of them. Because they're at fault for Sabo not being well enough to hunt.

It's only for today, Luffy tells himself, lips threatening to split across his face. Because it felt really good to be hunting with Ace again, to be carrying back their catch together.

He's not happy in the least with what they come back to though.

Eyes bugging out of his head, Luffy drops his end of the catch because this wasn't here before!

Stood proudly in front of Ace Country and Luffy Country, twice the size and equipt with what looks like several different slingshots on the roof, there's another hut. Luffy's reading is probably the worst of all of them, but he's not stupid; the sign on the front doesn't say 'Sabo Country' or 'Riskua Country'.

Instead, it says 'Sabkua Country'.

And Sabo and Riskua are waving at them from the window on the top floor.

"The fuck is this?!" Ace demands, dropping the other half of their catch, stalking forwards and stopping just before the new country to scowl at them.

"This is Sabkua Country!" Sabo calls down, laughing happily even though he's still covered in bandages.

"For Sabos and Riskuas only!" Riskua adds, crossing her arms on the windowsill, chin resting in her arms and a grin on her face.

"You're not allowed to do that!"

"Who's gonna stop us? Ace Country? Because that tiny country is only half the size of Sabkua Country!" When Sabo's done shouting down to them, he holds out his hand for a high five, which Riskua happily gives him. "We're twice as large as either of you two, and that makes us twice as important!"

"Does it hell!" Ace snarls, shaking his fist up at the two. He splutters when a water balloon collides with his face, Sabo having launched it down at the older boy with one of the many slingshots.

"Shishishi! Ace got hit!"

Luffy rapidly changes his mind on how cool Sabkua Country is when one of the shots hits him in the face instead.

"Ahh! Ace, help me!"

"Help yourself, Luffy Countr- Ack!"

 

 

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'… one of preteen age and three teenagers, proving exceptionally capable in combat from local reports. Should be considered for fast-track recruitment or otherwise an advisable crack down on behaviour…'

Monkey D. Garp lowers the latest report on Dawn Island, dark eyes scanning the office for any potential witnesses.

Upon finding no one present, the Hero of the Marines rapidly inhales the paper, chewing thoroughly until Lieutenant Zoran Christno's report is condensed into a workable ball. Taking aim, Garp fires the projectile neatly into the bin on the other side of the room, grinning proudly as it lands dead centre.

It's not that he doesn't want those brats enlisted; but if they're to be Marines they need to be enlisted just right. Done under his protection, carefully slipped into the ranks without the usual through background check.

Because Ace doesn't have any registered records, and Luffy's have gone 'mysteriously' missing ever since his stupid son went off and decided to take on the whole damn world at once. It's not exactly like the red-haired brat has a clean slate to start off from either.

It's a sad state of affairs when it's the noble's son that'd cause the least problems in an open enlistment.

No, if those four are gonna become Marines, it needs to be timed just right, done at just the right time.

Which is not right now.

Which means Lieutenant Zoran needs to be given something else to focus on. Something like a winter island in the throes of winter season deep inside the Grand Line. He'll forget about the four potential Marines soon enough, Garp concludes.

Just like every other officer that's overstepped their boundaries and reported in on the island protected by Garp the Fist of all people. If Garp says the island is a-okay, then it's a-okay. Why the hell do they never believe him? It's almost like they think he's an idiot or something.

"Garp! Are you playing with spit-balls again?!"

Snapping to attention at Sengoku's voice, Garp throws his head back and laughs.

"Of course I am!"

"You're not getting paid to chew paper! Get to work!"

"Bwahahaha! I need to go see Lieutenant Zoran about his transfer anyway."

"Transfer? Why would he want to transfer out of East Blue?"

"He asked for it! Bwahahaha!"

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

When you're trying to come up with something new, when you're trying to think outside the box, trying to push those boundaries out and stretch the limits of everything you know… the only way to do that is to experiment. And sometimes in experiments, you get hurt.

Recently, instead of aimlessly trying to twist at her Haki, not knowing exactly what kind of ideals she's trying to produce with the actions, Riskua has sat down and attempted to come up with something to aim for, something she'd been playing with since Mihawk's visit but had never really been sure of how to approach. Not until now.

It means drawing conclusions on Haki, and though it grates on her to have 'dumbed it down', so to speak, that is what she's done. Summarised the basic three of Haki as much as she possibly could.

Observation, when broken down to its simplest form, is about precognition. It's the best word she's been able to come up with, an umbrella label, so to speak. It's about being able to read, and she doesn't mean letters. It's about reading intentions, reading the world around her in a language few actually ever come to pay attention to, almost being able to read the future in its greatest form. That is Observational Haki, so perhaps the opposite of it could be considered writing.

Is it possible with Haki to will certain things into existence? Not physical things, but maybe project different intentions that what is actually happening? Is it possible to take the Observational Haki that people use and upset it? To maybe use her own Haki to distort what she projects, to fog what another is reading of her intentions? Maybe it is possible to erase her intentions, her Haki, from the perception of others? To conceal herself with Haki, so Observational Haki will fail to locate her, to actually read her presence.

She's scribbled down the ideas in her notebook, but there's very few ways she can go about trying these.

She doesn't have enough of a feel for Observation yet to begin reflecting the sensation backwards. Oh sure she can use it, but using something and understanding it are two very different things.

So while the idea is there, Riskua has moved onto another concept.

Armament.

Of the three different types of Haki, Armament is perhaps the most versatile, used for both defence and offence, as opposed to Observational that focuses more on dodging. Of course, if one got good enough at Observational Haki they could probably start predicting opening in an opponent's guard, but if she follows that thought right now, she'll end up going off on a tangent.

 

Flexing her fingers, Riskua watches as the skin slowly begins to blacken, blooming from the tips down to the knuckles, slowly spreading over her entire hand. It comes far more naturally now, now that she's spent years and years practicing it. Observation is still easier, but Armament…

There's so much potential there.

As far as she's been able to deduce, Armament is about force, about increasing the force of your own body. She cannot remember much of the physics lessons from her previous life, just simple titbits and it's not exactly easy to acquire intellectual books here, not without going back to the heart of Goa Kingdom anyway.

But she does remember in the face of two objects coming at each other, the one with the greater force wins. The way she uses Armament, as far as she is able to tell because it might very well be different for others, is to change the force of her body. By increasing the force of her fist as she throws it forwards, when it meets and opposing force, it just powers right through. It makes sense, every object gives off a force, velocity can change the amount, and in a collision, the bigger force wins. She's woefully uneducated in physics though, so she's only tentatively come to these conclusion.

Of course, working from there though, Riskua finds herself with more ideas. Because if Armament is adjusting your own force, then perhaps there's a way to adjust or redirect the forces around you? To maybe have an oncoming object move off its trajectory without any need for physical interference. If she can adjust the force around her own body, what stops her from stretching it out, adjusting the force of other things?

It's possible, Riskua can feel it in her bones.

She remembers back when Ace used his Conqueror's for the first time since he'd initially awakened it, remembers how the tiger had fallen on her and she'd felt no pain. Oh, she'd been winded, but had that been from her own shock? Had she braced herself completely with Armament (something she cannot even achieve now after years have passed) or had she only used a little Armament and then something else entirely? Had she redirected the force of the tiger falling on her back on the tiger?

If the beast had taken any damage from the blow, Ace's blast of Conqueror's wouldn't have allowed her to notice, and she'd stupidly allowed her emotions to get the better of herself and not investigated the oddity while she could.

 

 

 

Which is why she's in this forest clearing right now, her fellow countryman the only other company she has.

While Ace Country and Luffy Country eventually came into an alliance given the threat they'd faced, Sabkua is still thriving. It's been nearly a year since the creation of the countries and they should probably do something to celebrate that at some point.

That's not important right now though, what's important is that she's got a partner willing to help her experiment with her Haki.

"You know, something about this seems wrong."

From where he's lazily perched upon a thick tree branch, Sabo grins down at her, juggling five rocks between his hands all at once. He's reasonably reclined, one leg crossed over the other, ankle to thigh.

"I mean, if Makino were here she'd probably tell me not to throw rocks at a girl." Riskua snorts, rolling her eyes because she knows damn well Sabo couldn't care less about her 'being a girl'.

"Please just stop talking and get on with it. Before your voice starts cracking again."

At that the blond does scowl, flipping his bangs back from his face.

Resting on the tree branch beside him is his iconic top hat, removed in an attempt to beat the heat of the summer sun. Though the fact his hair is lightly coloured compared to the heavy red and blacks of the rest of their group means he doesn't end up absorbing as much heat anyway. It's long enough now that the bangs at the front hang down to his eyebrows, stuck somewhere between wavy and curls, not quite long enough to escape the latter but still a bit too short and light to be really classified as the former.

"We both know my voice'll sound better than what Ace's does by the time I'm done. Perfection takes time." Ace's voice hasn't cracked in the past two months and they both know the freckled boy is rather hopeful he's completed that particular transition period.

"Just start throwing the rocks, oh-perfect-one."

The projectile comes in an instant and Riskua summons up her Haki, trying to twist it away from Armament and into something different, trying to reach out and grasp instead of directing in to coat and augment. The sharp bite of force against her shoulder is a clear indication she's failed on that front.

"Damn it," Riskua hisses, rubbing at the stinging skin. "Couldn't you be a little more gentle?"

Looking amused, Sabo cocks his head to a side, still juggling his artillery. "But then where would the incentive to improve be?"

She's gonna kick his ass after she figures this thing out. It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but she will be getting her revenge.

 

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Foosha Village has always been entertaining to visit, there's always some trouble they can get up to, or always something for Makino to entertain them with, or even little odd jobs for them to complete so they can earn a bit of cash. Yeah, Foosha Village is great normally.

It's become even better theses past few weeks though, and that's for one reason and one reason only.

Four weeks ago, a new couple moved into the village, having arrived from one of the nearby islands to set up their own business. Sabo couldn't care less about the couple; sure they opened up a bakery but Riskua can bake them treats if they get the urge for some.

No, the reason Sabo is absolutely delighted is that the couple brought with them their daughter, Harvell.

Harvell is a pretty fourteen year old girl just a year younger than both himself and Ace, with dark blue hair and comely green eyes. Sabo knows enough about girls to realise she has the potential to be attractive, but personally he doesn't see it. She's just another small time girl on the island.

Ace however, Ace is a mess. A blushing, stuttering mess of self-denial and it is glorious. Luffy doesn't fully understand, but even he finds Ace's sudden and strange need for baked goods, the kind too complex for Riskua to make, hilarious. And also fulfilling because he's a gluttonous opportunist when it comes to food.

Sabo and Riskua though, well the two of them can clearly see exactly what's going on and it is an absolute joy to witness every time the go trampling into the village.

At first, Ace'll pretend like they're only there to go check in on Makino (ever since Luffy had told them about that asshole bandit trashing her bar, they've grown a bit over-protective of the kind woman) and maybe even brush up on his manners while he's there. Of course, after the barmaid treats them to lunch, the freckled boy will either suggest stopping by the new bakery for dessert, or Luffy'll beat him to it, and so they'll go head over there.

Once they arrive, well, this happens.

 

Plucking his hat from his head, Sabo tuck it by his side, noticing Riskua do the same. Luffy doesn't even pretend to play at politeness, strawhat still firmly in place and Sabo doubts the gods themselves would be able to dislodge it.

"Here we go," Riskua mumbles, folding her arms across her torso in such a way that it draws attention to the slight curves of her modest chest.

Distracted by the sight, Sabo stares for a second before he regains control of his mind, tearing his gaze away to focus on the impending shipwreck that's about to happen. Right, he's noticing his best friend is a girl, so what? He's noticing every damn woman that he sees now, they don't even need to be incredibly beautiful, just one pretty feature will do. Just because he notices them doesn't mean instant attraction.

Take dear Harvell for example.

On cue, the dark haired girl steps to the front of the counter, having appeared from the back room, arms laden with freshly baked cookies.

"Oh, hello guys." She smiles and it's a sweet little thing, looking between the four of them, though Sabo's pretty sure he's not seeing things and that her eyes do linger on his older brother. Oh ho, what is this?

"Hiya Harvey!" Luffy bellows, butchering the poor girl's name almost beyond recognition, eagerly pressing his small palms to the glass showcase. His breath fogs the glass as he peers in, eyes round and mouth drooling.

"Her name's Harvell, idiot," Ace snaps, clonking Luffy around the head and then quickly looking to the girl in question to check if he'd done the right thing.

Not quite sure if he can keep watching this, Sabo takes another glance at Riskua and smirks when she looks back at him. There's a sly smile on her lips, the same one she wore when she first pitched him the idea of Sabkua Country and that'd been a damn great idea.

"Good afternoon Harvell." Elbowing her way between Luffy and Ace, the redhead beams at the other girl, laying her arms upon the glass counter and resting her chin upon them. "We'll take four packs of cookies, three éclairs and  six cream buns… That's for me, Sabo and Luffy by the way. Ace here hasn't decided what to get yet."

Oh, she's so tricky and clever and this is exactly why they're friends.

"Yep, he's pretty indecisive, you think you can help him make his pick?" It's really difficult not to look at Ace (who's probably red and spluttering by now) but Sabo somehow manages.

"O-of course," Harvell stammers, and though her cheeks are a little pink she's clearly very happy with the idea.

As silently as he can, Sabo taps his open palm against the one Riskua holds out behind her back, Luffy eagerly accepting their purchases as Harvell passes them over.

"We'll see you back at Makino's, Ace."

 

 

 

As soon as they're out the door, Sabo shares an absolutely delighted grin with Riskua, even as they both fish their desserts out of Luffy's grasp. They let him have the majority anyway, but he's sure as hell not getting it all.

"He's not gonna be happy with us later," Riskua snorts halfway through her sentence though, a clear sign she couldn't care less if Ace's displeased with the fact they've essentially just set him up.

"Why?" Ah, clueless little Luffy, so innocent, so naïve. Sabo'll do his best to corrupt him a bit, but he's rather certain the brat'll remain rather oblivious to everything no matter how much he tries.

"Ace has a crush on Harvell, he likes her."

Sabo wiggles his eyebrows after Riskua's blunt explanation, smiling at Luffy who nods understandingly.

"If he likes Harvey, then why would Ace be upset?"

"Because Ace gets embarrassed easily."

Chewing thoughtfully on his lip, Luffy eyes the both of their dessert, his own long since consumed. "Oh… Ace is silly."

"That he is, Luffy, that he is."

 

 

They've been sat in Makino's place for half an hour when Ace finally stumbles in.

Sabo is sat up the bar, one hand curled around a glass of milk (he's a growing boy after all) with Luffy occupying his stool next to him. And it is his stool; it's the one he's sat at for his whole life and that's apparently never going to change. According to Makino, he'd called it his 'special seat' as a young child, and though it no longer goes by that name anymore, it is still unquestionably 'Luffy's seat'.

Riskua has insisted upon helping Makino clean down the tables, citing that she owes the woman a favour, though when these favours were exchanged, Sabo has no idea. Hey, they might run a country together, but he doesn't keep track of Riskua's every movement and vice versa. That'd just be weird and probably fall under the label of creepy too.

"Here he is," Teases Riskua, setting aside her cloth and planting her hands on her hips. "Did you have fun, young man?"

Sabo cackles as Ace's face goes a brilliant red, scowl on his lips and he points one accusing finger at Riskua and then swinging it to Sabo.

"You two are the fucking worst and I regret ever befriending you."

"Nah you don’t." Bouncing up and off his seat, Sabo's legs carry him across the room to stand before Ace, grinning widely at him. The dark haired boy is struggling to keep the frown on his face, really struggling and Sabo laughs. "Enjoy your time with Sweet Harvell?"

"Shut up," Ace grumbles, pushing Sabo's shoulder until he's forced to step out of his way and allow the freckled boy to make his way over to the bar where Makino is waiting.

The dark haired woman smiles, already pouring Ace a glass of her preferred pineapple juice and setting it atop the counter for him as he hops into the seat Sabo had just occupied.

"Looks like someone had his first kiss," she teases and Sabo feels delight zing through him. He doesn't need to look to Riskua to know she too realises what a golden opportunity this is.

"Aww, Ace got his first kiss and we missed it?"

"Tragic, so tragic," the back of his hand against his forehead, Sabo fans himself with the other, swaying derisorily. Riskua catches him in his mock fall with an arm around his waist, gasping theoretically.

"What a shock, Sabo's delicate noble sensibilities can't take it." Yeah, it's great they can mock his noble background now, it's great he can even genuinely laugh about it.

Ah, sometimes they can be absolutely awful people, Sabo notes as Ace turns and even fierce shade of red, his muscles coiling before he leaps from the stool at them.

But it really is such good fun to press on the other boy's explosive temper.

 

 

The black eye he ends up walking back to Sabkua with is a battle wound well earned. Seeing Ace so flustered and embarrassed when he usually tries to be so cool and important at the big brother, ah, that really made his day.

Chuckling, Sabo runs his fingers through his hair, noting the increasing length. He hasn't had it this long since before he first ran away from Outlook… But perhaps it's time to stop hiding. He's always keep his hair incredibly short, for the very reason his oh-so-noble mother hated short hair. Only commoners have short hair, she'd say, because they can't afford to wash it and take care of long hair.

What bullshit; Riskua's hair is halfway down her arms now and he's never seen it looking particularly unwashed. Even Ace takes care to make sure his hair doesn't get too greasy and grotty, though he insist that it's because it feels nasty, not for looking good. Ha, he'd have believed that, but now that the other boy has a crush on a girl (has somehow even managed to actually get that girl's attention with a little help from Sabo and Riskua) the blond doesn't believe a word out of the boy's mouth about not caring for his looks.

That brings Sabo to his conundrum.

Ace has had his first kiss. This alone is not a problem, yet when paired with another crucial bit of information, it brings an issue to head.

Ace has had his first kiss.

Sabo, however, has not had his first kiss.

They're both the older brothers, so they both should be on the same standing. Ace can't become more experienced in anything than what Sabo is, that's not how being equals work. Ace and Sabo and brothers and Sabo's sure as hell the other boy will lord it over him the second he gets past the fact he's kissed a girl.

Sabo knows far more girls than Ace, knows all the noble ones that live in the Goa Kingdom, a fair few from Grey Terminal and a good number of the regular citizens that don't live in the noble district. But... it's more he knows of them; he doesn't actually know them. Perhaps he's read too many books, got carried away on too many tales, but Sabo wants his first kiss to be something special, to be given to someone special who he knows will treasure it.

Heh, Ace'll probably call him a soppy idiot, Luffy'd probably understand more than the other boy.

Scratching the itch on his cheekbone, Sabo flops back onto the pile of cushions that rest in the den of Sabkua Country, blowing his hair back and away from his eyes as an afterthought.

"Hey, Riskua, is Ace the first one of us to have had a first kiss?" Luffy hasn't had one, that much Sabo's sure of. But Riskua lived elsewhere before she was here. Come to think of it, past knowing she'd called the Grand Line home, he doesn't know a hell of a lot about Riskua's past.

Cocking his head back until he's looking towards the redhead, vision of the world completely inverted given he's lying on his back, Sabo lifts a brow at the girl staring out their window. It's summer so they don't need to worry about closing them to preserve heat like they do in winter, the light of sunset still breaking through the tree line.

"I guess he is," she finally mumbles, words struggling to escape her lips given how she's got one swollen cheek. Ace hadn't quite managed to hit her in the eye as he'd been aiming for, but the blow to her cheek is almost as ugly as Sabo's own black eye. "But then again he is the oldest, so it's not really a bad thing, is it?"

Humming form the back of his throat, Sabo lets his eyes slowly slide close, just enjoying the relaxing atmosphere of their country and contently ignoring the squabbling Ace and Luffy as they fight over borderlines and who owns so much of the land between their two countries. God he'd been so smart to enter an alliance with the calmest of their quartet.

"You even thought about kissing someone yet?" He's curious.

Sabo's not gonna lie and pretend he hasn't wondered over how it feels, especially now that Ace's gone and done it. Riskua's a girl though; do they think about it differently about these things? Girl and different to boys, but his only base-plate to go off of when it comes to the fairer sex is Riskua.

"Have I thought about it? Not recently, but yeah, I have." Not recently?

All Sabo seems to be capable of thinking right now is what it's like to kiss someone, and it's all Ace's fault. Maybe pushing him into a situation with his little crush hadn't been a good idea after all.

There's some furious giggling from outside and Ace's being suspiciously silent.

Curious, Sabo rolls off of his nest and saunters over to stand beside Riskua.

On the borders of Ace County and Luffy Country, Ace has clearly fallen asleep mid-argument and Luffy is just now returning to his side with a thick black marker, most likely retrieved from Makino's bar earlier that day. The brat's getting slipperier about his mischief, Sabo's gonna have to keep an eye out so he doesn't get caught out.

Sitting himself down on the little bench that Riskua occupies, Sabo glances at her from the corner of his eye and then pauses.

The sunlight's striking at her face, sending those usually creepy eyes ablaze. They're not beautiful, but they are damn fascinating right now.

It's a passing fancy, Sabo insists, stubbornly looking away. It's just a crush and though Garp's crazy as hell Sabo doubt's he'd lie when he said crushes go away. Besides, he's a teenager and that comes with the fluctuating hormones that push you into thinking an doing crazy things.

Hell, even sensible Riskua isn't immune. Just three weeks ago she'd began crying in frustration over not being able to work out her Haki thing as quickly as she'd wanted, only to be back to normal five minutes later.

It's just hormones.

Sabo turns around again presses his lips to Riskua's.

It's just a quick peck, it doesn't last more than a second or two before Sabo pulls back.

Wide yellow eyes stare back at him and Sabo is treated to the absolute pleasure of Riskua showcasing total shock. It's not an expression he's ever seen before and that alone makes this whole thing worth it.

"Just wanted to know what all the fuss was about," Sabo explains with a shrug. And it's true. He doesn't have a sudden and indescribable urge to kiss Riskua again and again, or to hug her, nor does he find himself blushing furiously like Ace does around Harvell. It was just hormones and curiosity.

"Well," Riskua softly blurts after a second, looking absolutely bamboozled. "Well I guess Ace can't brag about being the only one to have had his first kiss."

"Yep, that too." Sabo peers out the window at the sudden angry yell; clearly Ace has awakened midway through Luffy's feeble attempt of art.

Watching the younger boy flee the enraged Ace, Sabo doesn't even bother to smoother his grin.

His first kiss wasn't something epic and didn't set butterflies free in his stomach, but it was with his best friend and it actually did feel pretty nice.

 

 

 

"We have to have the leg strength for this by now."

Hands lying flat on the tops of his feet, Sabo valiantly does his best to ignore the burning stretch in the back of his legs. They've done nothing but train ever since Garp first showcased the skill. Because while the thought of a Garp not bound by chains of gravity had scared him shitless during that moment (and the thought of it still does frighten him to this very day) the idea of being able to use and abuse that skill for himself is absolutely wonderful. To be able to race through the air, it's the epitome of freedom right there.

"Garp said it was about kicking the air," Riskua mumbles, looking down at her feet with doubt clear on her face.

Ace has already made several attempt today, and while the height he can achieve with his jump has grown exceptionally, he's not yet managed that kicking at the air to remain off the ground. Usually he overbalances and slams right back into the earth. Riskua is over-thinking it, as usual, while Sabo doesn't have a bloody clue where to begin. It just doesn't make sense, kicking at the air to produce enough thrust to keep the body in air; the kind of power that takes when he actually thinks about it is mindboggling.

Riskua seems to be having the same problem, though she should be used to this kind of experimentation now, given all that she's been working towards with Haki.

Ace and Luffy aren't really thinkers, they just keep throwing themselves into the air, hoping their legs'll instinctively know what to do. It's never gonna w-

"What the hell was that?!" Ace screams, pointing accusingly at Luffy, who in his surprise tumbles to the ground.

Sabo had seen it too; Luffy had leapt into the air, and then taken another leap. In the air. He'd kicked at the air while on the downfall from his jump and he'd gone up.

"I did it!" The youngest among them cries, thrusting his hands in the air in delight, face an absolute picture.

"How'd you do that?" Sabo demands, striding forwards to get a better look at Luffy who's still sprawled on the ground celebrating his victory. Grabbing a hold the boy's shirt, Sabo hefts him up onto his feet and then stares at Luffy's legs, as if he'd be capable of seeing whatever method the youngest among them had used to achieve his feat.

"He's gotta be cheating," Ace glowers, eyes slits as he peers suspiciously at Luffy. Sabo disagrees, Luffy's not smart enough to find a cheat for something like this… is he?

"Of course!" Riskua slams the palm of her hand against her forehead, shoulders shaking as if she's trying to suppress her laughter. Instantly she has all of their attention. "He cheated but it's not a cheat we can copy," she explains, ambling over before she grabs a handful of Luffy's cheek and stretches it out. "Look at the amount of tension this skin has now that I'm pulling on it. My bet is Kinglet here has instinctively found a way of replicating that tension in his legs to increase the power of is kicks." She lets go of the skin and with a snap it springs back into place, the force nearly tearing Luffy from Sabo's arms.

"So my Devil Fruit is strong!" And it appears Riskua's clear explanation is lost completely on Luffy in favour of his realising he can do something they can't. For now.

"You still need to practice," Sabo points out, releasing his grip on the boy's shirt and flexing his fingers. "Because when we figure it out, we'll overtake you on it with ease."

"No way, I'm gonna master it before you!"

 

It shouldn't surprise Sabo in the least that they don't get a hell of a lot further, even though they train all the way to dusk. Luffy can manage one step in the air, but when he reaches for his second, he ends up falling flat on his face, just like the rest of them.

The former noble is pretty sure he's starting to get the hang of it, he'll swear until he's blue in the face that the last time his kick had (if not managed to propel him back up into the air) at least managed to slow his descent. Which, you know, is progress, never mind how slow it'd come.

The only downside to all this training is that his legs feel like they're gonna drop off, there's crap all down his calves and his thighs seem to be burning more than the sun.

Riskua and Ace are in no better condition. Determined not to left Luffy outshine them, they'd pushed themselves to the limits and then well beyond them. Which in retrospect was a stupid idea.

Groaning, Sabo slams his head back on the ground and tries not to whine in pain.

This sucks.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The address that Dadan has gifted her for her birthday is exactly what Riskua has secretly been wondering about, but not dared to question Makino on. If she remembers correctly, the bandit boss had been quite the beauty in her youth, so it's no surprise she'd know something about this.

Still, the Town Centre.

She's back in Goa Kingdom.

Riskua might have told a dirty lie to the three boys, insisting she was going to talk to Makino. When Luffy had demanded to come along because he misses the barmaid, Riskua had (sort of not) lied again and said she was going because she had some questions for the older woman about her girl stuff that she didn't feel comfortable talking to Dadan about. The three had instantly assumed she was referring to her period.

Even Luffy, god bless his innocent little soul, is a little freaked out by how women bleed without any kind of wound, so had begrudgingly agreed to let her go alone. Though he had wormed a promise for more cookies out of her before she left. He's come a long way from the little brat she found in that ravine.

It's been half a year since Luffy took his first steps using Geppo, and they've all finally gotten to the point where they can stay in the air for at least a minute. By some miracle, Luffy is still the only one of them that walks away from using that technique without leg pain, though that's all on his Devil Fruit.

All the same, Riskua's very jealous, not just of Luffy's capability to avoid the pain that comes after using Geppo, but of his incredibly intelligence when it comes to anything related to fighting. She's never really noticed it before, because both Ace and Sabo are very good indeed, but they're older and just have more experience than Luffy.

The little Devil Fruit user, his learning curve when it comes to fighting, it's incredible. He's not capable of beating any of them in a fight yet, but give it a few years, maybe just a little less than a decade, and his instincts will no doubt overtake her creativity, Sabo's intelligence and Ace's experience. He's going to be formidable, her little brother.

It brings a smile to her lips, but it's quick to fall in the face of reality.

Because she's fifteen right now. She's fifteen and Ace and Sabo are both sixteen. There are little under ten months left until Ace turns seventeen, and then… he'll be leaving them to set sail.

Her heart clenches at the idea and she wonders just where the years have gone.

Where has the little boy who couldn't even climb out a ravine disappear to?

Where is the blond boy with a gap in his mouth and a terrible fear of Goa nobles gone?

Her angry freckle-faced cherub who didn't know how to accept love?

They've grown though, and she loves all three of them so very much.

Luffy's her darling little brother, still struggling to find that middle ground between selfish and selfless, the boy who'd do whatever the hell he wanted screw the consequences but would jump into a fight without hesitation for those precious to him.

There's Sabo, her best friend who's found what he believes to be his calling in life, who dreams of revolution and helping out others, of tearing the corrupt system down.

And Ace, her other best friend who's still looking for the answer to his most important question, who's heard their answers but still can't quite cement the idea in his head, who's still looking for that one little push to set it all in stone. Leaving her mother all those years ago hurt, but she's glad it happened. Because otherwise, she'd never have had this. There'd be a giant gaping hole in her life and she wouldn't have survived Raowl's death stay there, not whole anyway.

It's been years since she last saw Shanks though and that's painful. Mihawk does his best to stop by every year or so, though it's always a guess which month of the year he'll appear in. Hell, one year he'd not been able to make it at all and she'd lived in constant fear of a sneak attack for the three weeks it'd taken him to appear in the new year.

Every time the World's Greatest Swordsman visits the island means she gets whisked away for a week of high intensity blade training, and every time it's interrupted near the end by the ASL trio. And every time they interrupt Mihawk beats them soundly into the ground without looking as if he's making much of an effort.

Though Luffy's ability to bounce back at him off of the air after a near miss had given him a pause last month.

Sighing, Riskua shakes her head, pulls her deerstalker more securely atop her brow and stalks onwards.

 

 

 

The shop the redhead finds herself at has no displays in the windows, though give that children and families pass by outside that's understandable. Slipping in through the open door, Riskua blinks rapidly as her eyes adjust to the room's soft lighting. So very different from the blunt sunlight outside.

"Hello, Deary, you're a little young to be here, aren't you?" There's a woman, perhaps late thirties, standing behind the front desk and watching her curiously.

Scowling, Riskua folds her arms across her chest, already well aware what the problem is. In the before, her past life that is, she'd been rather… well-endowed. A small back, but a big cup size and it'd made finding bras near impossible. Now…

Well she's fifteen, but there doesn't seem to be much going on in the chest department this life. Of all the females she remembers ever gracing the pages of One Piece… her own are tiny in comparison. She can manage a handful if she cups them, but given her petite hands, that's not saying much at all. Naturally the problem doesn't stop there. In the before it'd been difficult to find bras because big boobs had been uncommon, while here… small boobs were uncommon. It's amazing, reflecting back on it, just how her boobs had given her so much confidence before.

Now, even though she appears to be growing what are no doubt going to become a killer set of legs, and even though she's got some pretty shapely hips (and let's not even talk about what all that exercise has done to her ass because wow)… her boobs are such a letdown. She'd taken for granted that she'd be blessed with similar proportions, like what she had before. Raowl hadn't exactly been lacking in that department, Riskua recalls. It has to have come from her father's side then.

Gee, thanks Papa.

"I'm fifteen," Riskua grumbles, feels her cheeks heat uncomfortably as she shuffles from one foot to the other.

"Oh, I'm so sorry-"

"It's cool," Riskua cuts her off before she can offer her apologies because she really doesn't need to hear it, she's self-conscious enough as it is. "I heard you make custom underwear sets to order, and well…" She trails off, because god damn it, it pains her to admit…

"You can't find anything in your size," the shop owner finishes, face flashing with sympathy and that only makes the redhead scowl even more. Great, as if her eyes weren't enough to make her self-conscious.

"That pretty much sums it up," Riskua grumbles, aware she's pouting but not caring enough to reel that bottom lip in.

"Head to the changing room at the back, I'll grab a tapemeasure, Sweetheart."

 

 

 

For all that she's uncomfortable about the size of her chest, Riskua couldn’t care less about stripping off for the woman. It's nothing the other woman hasn't seen before, and yeah they're small but at least they're perky. After all that training and fighting, her body's in good shape and she's proud of the condition she has it in.

The woman (who introduces herself as Rohanna Templeton, because if you're getting naked in front of someone you should at least know their name apparently) looks enviously upon her flat and toned stomach.

Other than that though, there's nothing awkward about it at all. Rohanna is completely professional, taking note of her (pitiful) measurements.

After that, it's a whirlwind of fabrics, silks and cottons and laces, all in a vast array of colours. The payment is based on how much material is used, which is about the only bonus having small boobs has brought her. Still, she sits with Rohanna and sketches up several different designs. For all that there are female pirates out there flashing their skin, there's not a great variety in underwear designs. Then again, that might be to do with their location on a small island.

Regardless, she remembers some of the sexier, racier designs from before that she'd never have gotten away with, having to opt for practical support over appeal. Now support clearly isn't an issue for Riskua let's her mind run wild. It's not like anyone will see these for a few years, she'll probably have all new sets before they're really called into action.

 

It's with a spring in her step and a countdown to the day she can stop wearing the damn 'training bra' that she'd been so sure she'd grow out with but actually hadn't, that Riskua makes her way back home.

 

 

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It's hot, hotter than usual. This summer is being particularly nasty.

Whining, Ace downs the last of the water in his bottle, smacking his lips together. He has no desire to crawl out of the shade provided by Ace Country, but he's out of liquid, and Luffy (inhuman monster that he is) is off once again, having already caught himself some food but still has the energy to want to get things done today. Not that the animals would have been particularly difficult to beat in this weather, given how damn hot it has to be for them in all that fur. He doesn't even have the energy to fan himself.

He's already unbuttoned his shirt, and the ever so light breeze is glorious across his chest. He's gonna keep his shirt like this in everything but winter, this is so much better. Forget buttoning it up, it's not like he burns in the sun anyway.

Still, he needs more water and he has absolutely no desire to make his way to the river. That's far too long a journey, especially in this heat. God, it's blisteringly hot.

Ace pants, tongue hanging out of his mouth. It already feels dry and he needs water damn it. He can't steal any from Luffy, given the boy left to refill his own water barrel with Sabo for company. Hey, the kid might be growing up but they're sure as hell not gonna let the hammer anywhere near deep water without someone to pull him out. Ace's pretty sure Luffy could drown in an inch deep puddle if left alone for long enough. By long enough, he means about a minute. And that's being generous.

He knows it's bad, because there's food hidden over in Luffy Country ready to be cooked at ate, but Ace can't drum up the energy to go steal a leg.

He needs to find some way of dealing with the heat, especially as Riskua has informed them often enough that Dawn Island has nothing on a Grand Line Summer Island in the height of summer season. Ace doesn't like extreme heat as much as he dislikes snow. There has to be some way of dealing with it.

Why hasn't Riskua worked something out with Haki yet, that'd make things so much easier. If worse comes to worse, there's probably a Devil Fruit out there (maybe even several different ones) that'll somehow make him immune to feeling temperatures.

Hell, Luffy as a rubberman takes a while to even notice temperature change. The two know-it-alls of Sabkua-land had muttered something about conductivity(whatever the hell that means) but Ace hadn't really been paying attention. Speaking of Sabkua Country...

Sabo's off playing Lifeguard and Riskua gone down to the other half of the river for a glorious splash around that she passes off as washing. Tch, Ace hasn't missed that her trips to the river, be it for swimming practice, a 'wash' or just to fish, always increase as the temperature does.

However, the fact those two are away means one thing and one thing only. Sabkua Country, and most importantly Sabkua's Country's water supply, has been left undefended. Well, their idiocy is Ace's gain.

Strength returning to his muscles now that he knows what he desires is so close, Ace rolls onto his side, pushing himself up onto his feet and snatching up his hat as he goes.

It'd been a birthday present from Luffy, some bright orange monstrosity that'd thankfully dulled as the months went on. The strange smiley and frowny accessories on the front mean nothing to Ace, though the bull medallion thing is pretty cool. The headgear has grown on Ace though, and admittedly he doesn't feel left out anymore now that he's joined the hat crew.

Planting the gift atop his locks, the freckles teen smiles at the shade it casts over his face, glorious, glorious shade. Hats are fantastic.

Peeking out from the shelter of his self built country, Ace eyes the opposition warily because he sure as hell wouldn't put it past those two to booby-trap their place. The last thing he needs is Riskua or Sabo coming back to find him dangling in some net or something.

Cautiously Ace makes his way to the front door, left wide open in the summer breeze. He's never actually been in Sabkua Country, not since they first built them. It's been an unsung code that their countries are their private areas and that others are only allowed in with the owners permission.

Which of course means they've all got a standing invitation to invade Luffy Country whenever they like, but there's never anything of worth to take given that the only thing Luffy collects is meat and that never lasts long enough to consider stealing. Still, despite the unwritten rule, desperate times calls for desperate measures.

 

 

 

The inside is a lot nicer than he expected, but given how neatly done the outside is -they've even made vegetables gardens at the back and have window baskets filled with ripening fruit for god's sake- it shouldn't surprise him as much as it does.

What he did expect is the vast amount of papers and books, all piled up in one corner beside two nests of big cushions. Even though the candles and lamps aren't lit, it looks homely.

Climbing up the stairs, Ace ducks the low hanging beam that was no doubt installed back when they were kids and height wasn't an issue; the slight dent in the centre of the wood indicates the duo have bumped their heads upon the beam more than once and the mental image has Ace smirking.

That they've never bothered to change or remove it, have just come to live with it-

"Idiots," he fondly mutters, shaking his head and coming to a stop at the 'landing', of the three foot by three foot space can be called that.

There's been no water tank downstairs, so it makes sense for them to keep it somewhere up here. Gravity'll pull the water down to the tapes downstairs, and while the 'pipes' are without doubt the rubber tubes Ace saw snaking along the stairs' wall, he's just impressed they have some form of water system at all.

The two walls on either side of him look newer than the wood the rest of the house is built from, so the teen assumes they'd only put them in recently. Maybe they'd used cloth to separate their rooms like Riskua had done back at the treehouse until now.

Looking between the two doors (helpfully labelled with their names) Ace ponders over who would be trusted with the water supply. Really it's damningly obvious when he considers it and so it is Riskua's door he pushes open.

Her room's pretty simplistic; a simple bed-mat on the floor, clothes all stacked up in neatly folded piles and of course her Haki experiment journals. It's pretty sparse actually, though there are flowers pinned to the walls, all the brightly coloured presents Luffy brings her back. His little brother's gifts are pretty cute, Ace's old enough to acknowledge that now, and even Sabo's getting in on the act; Ace's seen the other male give Riskua the occasional bluebell when he can find one and it never fails to cheer her up.

Bastards make him look bad, he thinks with a grin.

What catches his eye though, is a not-so-little box built into the wall, a handle upon the little door it houses. Jackpot. Straining both his hearing and Haki to see if he can pick up Sabo or Riskua's approaching presence, Ace smoothly slides up to the cupboard when he fails to sense any form of their person nearby.

Triumphantly pulling the door back, Ace peeks inside.

Only, it's not water that he has found.

 

Is this what a heart attack feels like?

Ace presses a palm to his chest but the rhythm of his heartbeat isn't irregular, just ridiculously fast. His face feels hot, hotter than it was in the sun earlier and he wishes he hadn't just blindly thrust his hand inside to grab what he thought would be a barrel of water. Because what he's got his hands on is far too soft to be what he was looking for.

He squeaks, the sound horrifyingly mouse-like, and drops the offending item like it burns.

Underwear.

Objectively he knows Riskua has to wear something under her clothes, and he hadn't seen it when he was inspecting her room, but that didn't mean he had wanted such an up close and personal introduction to female undergarments.

As if that weren't bad enough, his aborted snatch and run has led to half the whole lot tumbling onto the floor and unless he puts them back, the redhead's gonna know someone's been in her room. Ace's had one serious punch off her before, and he'd very much like to not increase that track record, thank you. Which means...

He tries not to pay too much attention as he grabs hold of the unmentionables and hastily stuffs them back from whence they came, but his traitorous brain registers black and red and lace and silk and is that god damn velvet?!

Embarrassed and mission completely forgotten, Ace slams the cupboard door shut and flees.

 

 

 

 

His brain is a damn dirty traitor and he'd be better off if he just ripped it from his head right now.

Groaning, Ace presses the heels of his palms into his eyes, cringing internally. The world is as silent as can be at night. Which means he can hear Luffy's snores and the soft tweaks and twitters of the nocturnal jungle wildlife.

God he hopes he hadn't made any sounds throughout that, that'd have been embarrassing.

At least he'd woken himself up before it all got too much.

But now he has a problem and he's either gonna have to trudge all the way down to the river for a cold bath, or risk getting caught by one of Dadan's Countrymen in an attempt to use their newly installed shower.

He ignores the small, nagging part of his brain that insists he could just relieve himself right here, right now. He doesn't dare, not with those thoughts so close to the surface and he sure as hell won't risk that. He wants to be able to look Riskua in her creepy eyes, damn it... you know, once he's gotten over the shock of her owning all that crap he'd seen earlier today.

He just can't stop thinking about it, not even sleeping had helped. Because his unconscious brain had thought it was a good idea to try and take a guess at just how well those delicates fit Riskua and he can't get the images out of his head now and he feels dirty. She's his best friend, and for all the shit Riskua's put up with throughout the years, she deserves their respect.

She doesn't deserve to be the star of his dirty dreams, never mind how short and innocent they'd been. Even if he can't control his brain when he sleeps, there are some places it should know to never go, shouldn't it?

The damn traitor.

Shaking his head in disgust, Ace forces himself to his feet, snatching up a towel hanging by the entrance of Ace Country as he goes.

The river it is.


"Sooo... you're avoiding Riskua. Why?"

Metal pipe balanced across his shoulders, his blond brother lifts an eyebrow as he glances at him, walking side by side as they head to the river. Sabo's the only one of them that's actually kept his pipe; Ace had broken his after a particularly vicious swing against the Bear Lord and seen no reason to invest in another that'll only snap again, while Luffy had lost his own and been too focused on mastering his Devil Fruit powers to bother getting a new one.

When questioning why Sabo's hadn't snapped yet (he might not be as muscular as Ace, but the other teen doesn't exactly have weedy-arms) the blond had sheepishly laughed and said something about having been supplementing his weapon with Haki, like Riskua apparently does with her knives now. Ace hadn't know they were capable of that, but you learn something new every day.

"I'm not avoiding her," Ace scoffs, and then cringes because that came out too fast and just like he knows it, Sabo knows it as well. The look he gets makes that clear enough. 

The blond's dark eyes burn as they focus in on him and Ace swallows past the lump in his throat, stuffing his hands into his pockets and doing his upmost best to ignore the heavy glare.

"Ace," Sabo's voice is stern and the older male knows why. He's probably worried that Ace's gonna do something stupid, something that'll ruin the group dynamic and leave them all scrambling on how to fix it.

What the blond doesn't understand is that Ace's trying to avoid Riskua for exactly that reason. He already feels awkward enough when he goes by the bakery in Foosha.

Harvell's a nice girl, she'd gotten his first kiss and didn't hold it against him that he'd said he wasn't interested in anything more beyond that. Because after the excitement of having his first crush has worn off, he'd found it actual wasn't all that satisfying. The kiss had been nice enough, but it hadn't made him feel like mush. That's what Garp had told them love was like anyway, that it makes you feel soft, be if your first love or true love or real love or whatever.

Ace scowls to himself, brushing his hair back from his face and shoves one hand into the pocket of his shorts. It's not like he even has a crush on Riskua or anything, the underwear had just spooked him because it's proof she's not that creepy little girl Luffy dragged home all those years ago. Ace's aware they're all growing up, but to have it thrown in his face like that…

"I just realised she's a girl, is all," he grunts, praying and hoping that Sabo'll accept that answer.

The former noble cocks an eyebrow at him, head tilting to a side as if waiting for him to expand upon that, but Ace says nothing. He doesn't want the other boy to find out exactly what the problem is because he'll mock Ace relentlessly.

The idiot and his best friend do enough of that already, Ace won't give them anymore ammunition against him.

"Riskua's always been a girl," Sabo remarks, removing his hat and unbuttoning the thin white shirt as they reaches the bank of the river.

Unlike the blond though, Ace just needs to shrug his own shirt from his shoulders, no longer confined by the idea of buttoning it up, though he does take the time to fold instead of just letting it crumple to a heap. It'll get wrinkles otherwise and then it won't sit right on his shoulders.

"Yeah, but that was when she was just a girl, now she's," Ace makes a vague gesture with his hands, not quite sure how to put it into words.

He's never really interacted with women before, because Dadan sure as hell doesn't count and he's taken to just treating Makino as something close to a sister figure.

He can't do that with Riskua though, because back when he and Sabo and Luffy swore to be brothers, he'd excluded her. At the time it'd simply been because she was a girl and thus couldn't be a brother because only boys can be brothers. But he'll respect her declaration from them that she'd only be able to stand Luffy as a brother.

And Luffy is a hell of a lot of work to look after, god does Ace know that now.

He's kind of glad though, because Ace wouldn’t know what the hell to do with a sister. He's not one for soppy emotions. Not that Riskua appears to really be one for soppy emotions either, but… Where was he going with this?

"Now she's actually a girl," Sabo finishes, stressing the final word in complete understanding. "I gave her my first kiss."

Ace trips into the river.

"W-what?!" Spluttering as he surfaces from his not so intentional nosedive, the freckle-faced boy squints up at the other boy, waiting for him to drop the punch line.

"Did you really not question the fact that Riskua and I had our first kisses near enough at the same time?"

Scowling, Ace folds his arms and looks away, feet jostling for steady footing on the riverbed.

No, he hadn't really thought about it at the time, too busy trying to figure out what the hell his emotions were trying to tell him about Harvell. In the end, he'd concluded that she was pretty and attractive, but that wasn't enough for him. He'd not really given any thought to the answers Sabo and Riskua had given Luffy when the youngest had asked if they'd had their first kisses too.

"You're not secretly dating are you?" Ace hesitantly questions, mind flashing back to that damn cupboard and what was inside.

This time Sabo near falls into the river, choking up a mouthful of accidentally inhaled water before he furiously shakes his head.

"No way, it was only a kiss. Ri's my best friend." Right, good, that's good. No one if fucking up the group dynamic, things'll stay as they are. Luffy's the little brother of all of them, and Sabo and Ace are brothers, and Riskua is their best friend. Can someone have two best friends? Ace doesn't see why not, though the thought nags at him.

So he takes his usual stance on problems he can't beat his way through.

He elects to ignore it until it becomes unavoidable.

 

 

 

Sabo however, doesn't seem to get the memo.

 

 

 

"It's been a while since it's just been the two of us."

That's right, they haven't had a Conqueror's Haki meet-up session in months, even before Ace found himself with this tiny internal dilemma.

When he finds Sabo, he's gonna beat the bastard black and blue for tricking him into this.

Ace'd arrived at the edge of the jungle, closer to Grey Terminal than he's been in months, fully expecting to see his blond brother. Only it'd been Riskua waiting for him. She'd said Luffy had dragged Sabo off because he wanted to show him how much progress he'd made on Geppo, so Sabo'd asked if she'd come spend the day with him instead.

Ace can see straight through that lie the blond gave her; Sabo's set this up so he can't escape without being damn rude to Riskua.

The bastard.

"It has," Ace admits, eyeing the walls that surround Goa Kingdom. They've slowly meandered through the trash heap, their face's known enough know that no one really bothers them. Even if they've not gone out of their way to scavenge from this place or beat up the scum that prowl about here, people still remember. Thanks to that Dragon guy Sabo had told them about, more than a fair share of the people from before had survived and remained here, and it's not like the ASLR group were particularly forgettable as children. Hell, Ace spent far too much time here beating people up.

"Zaa, I know we've not really gone in here as a group since all that shit happened," Riskua begins, planting one hand on her hip and eyeing the gates with amusement flashing in her eyes. "But what's say we do another dine n' dash, for old time's sake?"

Well, he does miss their dine n' dashes.

 

 

 

They must have grown up more than Ace realised, because none of the restaurant owners seem to recognise them. As such, they go for the most expensive one they ever dared set foot in. With Riskua's hair neatly plaited and hat left at home, and Ace buttoning up his shirt and no longer sporting bruises or cuts from childhood fights, they almost look respectable. They even end up in the same booth they occupied last time they were here, right by the window they broke out of to escape.

Riskua's lips are twisted up in an amused smile and Ace can't help but grin right back. He can almost picture the younger Sabo and Riskua sat across from him, can recall fighting viciously with Luffy to get what he'd believed to be his fair share.

"Brings back memories, right?" Asks Riskua, patting fondly at the tabletop as they wait for the vast quantities of food to arrive.

"Sure does."

"Will we be exiting stage right again?"

"Of course," Ace grins once he's finished speaking as Riskua gestures to the new window that'd have been installed after they broke the old one. He'd probably have felt a bit bad about the property damage, but Sabo had long ago admitted that this was one of the restaurants Outlook owned. Now that he knows that, Ace'll be going out of his way to make as much property damage as he can. He doesn't doubt Riskua's thinking the same thing as him.

It's, it's not as awkward as he thought it'd be, and Ace can say with complete certainty that he's missed hanging out with Riskua when it's just the two of them.

Luffy's mad and a great laugh, and Sabo's a teasing bastard who brings out every inch of Ace's competitive spirit but the former noble does occasional have a good idea. Ace is still gonna punch him in the face regardless.

Riskua though, though she can tease as much as Sabo, there's something a bit softer about her and maybe that's because she's a girl, but that isn't a bad thing. Ace can relax around her and he's coming to realise he likes that. How far he's come from that bratty child who didn't dare let anyone get close.

Though it scared him to death, he's so glad he did let those three idiots in.

 

 

 

"And the bill comes to-"

Neither Ace or Riskua let the waiter finish, instead leaping up and through the window.

Riskua powers through it first, the glass shards sliding from her Haki coated form like rain sliding down a leaf, unable to stick or otherwise remain in place.

Ace follows her not even a second later, laughing as they both fall. He twists in midair, flicking open the buttons of his shirt and glancing at his accomplish from the corner of his eyes.

Red hair whips around Riskua's face as she freefalls, arms spread wide in an attempt to catch as much air as possible. He lands first, crouching low to let his body absorb the impact for a second before he transitions into a smooth roll, coming up in a sprint.

Riskua's not as subtle, crashing into the ground and leaving a large crater behind, using her Haki to absorb the impact rather than lessen the force with a tuck and roll as Ace did.

"Hey! Someone stop them!"

Riskua cackles as she picks up speed, coming to run beside him. They're both racing down the street, weaving effortlessly through the people and Ace isn't worried in the slightest. They're both well past the point of regular old guards being able to catch them, something Riskua showcases as she flips over one civilian, letting the guard that'd made a surprise grab for her crash into them instead.

Ace isn't that good at Observational Haki yet to know when someone's reaching for him in a crowd like this, so he settles for a quick two step Geppo to leap clear over the heads of the three that try to form a blockade before him.

"We really can't risk doing this again," Ace bellows, though it's more like he's trying to affirm that fact within his own head. No matter how fun this is, they can't put Sabo at risk like that. Even if Ace gets the feeling they could take on any pirate East Blue could throw at them, it's not work it.

They both duck low, knocking the legs out from under the last two guards and Ace reaches to grab Riskua's hand to pull her up quicker.

They're running hell for leather through the streets, no one's going to be capable of stopping their escape. His grin has become even wider and he flicks his gaze to Riskua, meeting her eyes.

It's like a punch in the gut.

They're still the same fierce shade of yellow, still the same intense shape, but they're not like the flash of yellow animal eyes he sees when they hunt in the dark.

Instead they're warm, just damn joyous and for all that they're not beautiful, they're suddenly, shockingly striking to look into.

Ace jerks his head back and away, picking up his pace and forcing Riskua to do the same. His face is burning and shit.

No.

Nonono.

This is exactly what he wanted to avoid because just then he'd had a simple moment of 'she looks pretty'.

Fuck.

No.

God damn it and god damn Sabo because this is all his fault! Ace isn't suppose to notice these things about his best friend. She's his best friend!

He'd noticed Harvell was pretty right away, and that single realisation had led to the blushes and the constant urge to go see her and the whole 'I wonder what it's like to kiss something' thing had come about.

He can't think things like that about Riskua.

He can't.

 

 

For the first time in his life, Ace takes his shitty Gramps' advice and pushes those feelings that've suddenly bombarded him deep, deep down. The old man better be right about them going away if he ignores them long enough.

Correcting his footing when he nearly stumbles on a loose cobble as they approach the kingdom gates, Ace forces himself faster as Riskua draws up even alongside him.

This is okay, this is competitive.

He can live with trying to beat Riskua at something, he can ignore that sudden realisation that came out of fucking nowhere. He'll only be on the Dawn Island for another six months anyway.

 

 

They're best friends, only best friends and by the power of every damn god out there, it's going to stay that way.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Apparently, scavenging on and off throughout the years can actually build up a fair amount of treasure.

Marking down the last item of interest, Riskua topples over to a side, legs finally released from where they've spent the past half an hour bent under her as she dug through the little trove that rests at the bottom of their old treehouse, cursing both Ace and Sabo as she lays there.

There'd been a vicious rock-paper-scissors tournament over who got lumped with the task of accounting and divvying up the Pirate Fund, and of course she'd lost. Why had she even been surprised?

Shaking her head, Riskua browses through the list, inspecting each item and mentally sorting them into who should get what. Coins and the more obviously golden things should probably go to Luffy to make things easier on him, the more obscure treasure should go to Sabo because with his knowledge he'd know how to flog them for the most cash.

It's not just that though, it's guessing what each bit is worth and making sure they get an even amount, while also accounting for the fact Ace's leaving first so doesn't have as much time as them to gather more treasure. Because like hell they're gonna stop looking just because one of them has already left; that'd be silly.

Adjusting the collar of her thin tee-shirt, Riskua leers at the clear blue sky, feeling somewhat cheated.

A hot gust of wind has blown in off the Grand Line, rattling all the way through East Blue and completely ruining any semblance of winter for approximately two weeks. They've had six days of glorious heat, to the point they've been able to get away with wearing summer clothes. But it's winter and they thought they'd have one more snow day before Ace left. Which means it's going to be a hell of a long while until she can get Ace back for the way he'd pushed her into a huge pile of snow last year.

Good things come to those that wait, she forcibly reminds herself, circling all the items Ace'll be getting from their treasure, as well as two fifths of the actual cash they have to hand. They'll get more of that when the oldest among them has set sail; in all likelihood, Ace is probably gonna be the one that sets off with the least amount of money.

That's what he gets for being the oldest though, concludes Riskua, forcing herself to her feet and to step back and away from the treasure. Now that she's finally done with that job, she can head back.

 

 

 

A large campfire inhabits the space in-between the four countries, a little closer to Sabkua than Riskua'd have otherwise liked. There's a bandit peeking out of the window of Dadan Country and she offers the guy a wave, chuckling when he hastily ducks back out of sight.

Already settled by the fire pit and stripping an alligator of its meat, Sabo offers her a nod in greeting, not removing his eyes from where he's working his hunting knife through bone and cartilage. A wise choice, given that the former noble already has one scar on his hand from not paying attention whilst skinning his catch in the past.

"They're not back yet?"

It's highly unlikely Luffy or Ace'd be hiding in their countries right now, she really can't see them not bringing any food back to the clearing.

The snick of blade hitting wood signals Sabo's finally done cutting up the alligator tail and he lifts his head to grin at her.

"Nope. I think Luffy's just realised what tomorrow actually means and is trying to get as much time with Ace as he possibly can." Well, she can't exactly blame him; Riskua's been doing the same for the past six or so months.

It still doesn't feel real, doesn't feel as if Ace'll be leaving them tomorrow. He might not go until midday or maybe even sunset (because god forbid that boy miss a single meal if he can help it) but when the moon rises for night, Dawn Island will no long house Portgas D Ace. And that's a thought that leaves her feeling just a bit numb.

"It's gonna be so strange without him," Riskua admits in a low whisper, head ducking down so that her chin tucks up against her chest. She sits herself down on one of the logs, felled today solely to act as benches for their campfire.

"You're telling me. I'll be the oldest here," dejectedly groaning, Sabo flops back until he rests against the severed tree trunk, long legs stretched out in front of him as he sets his prepared alligator pieces to cook in a closed top pan. The long handle means they can stick it in the fire and just pull it out when it's done; none of them will be burning their fingers tonight.

"It also means we'll get to chop Ace Country up for firewood though." She's only joking, Riskua has every intentions of leaving that little settlement (if it can really be called as such) well alone. Then maybe it won't feel like Ace is completely gone.

Sabo laughs, though the noise is not the usual boisterous thing. Instead it's muffled under his breath, half directed into the meat of his shoulder as he turns his head away. It still has Riskua smiling though. There's always a gentle atmosphere around them... well, maybe gentle's not the right word. Lighthearted perhaps? That fits in several different ways and it sounds better too.

"Why are we having a bonfire again?" It's way too warm for one. The second half of Sabo's sentence reaches her only from his tone of voice, but Riskua hears the words loud and clear. While part of her agrees...

"This is Ace's send off party," Riskua concludes, lazily waving her hand about in lieu of a further explanation. There's no way that they're not going to celebrate Ace, both the start to his new life and his seventeenth birthday. If that means staying up to usher the new year in, to usher in Ace's eighteenth year, then so be it.

"Which is why you've got a birthday cake hidden in the den."

Sticking her tongue out at Sabo's dry retort, Riskua reaches for the bags of caramel corn that she'd begged off of Makino, dropping them near the fire so that they can begin popping. She's not sure if the boy's have ever had popcorn before, but it'll be a treat either way.

"So maybe we're gonna surprise him with a birthday cake too?"

"Is it ever really a surprise when you make us one every year?"

"Sshhh, Sabo. Birthday cake is always a surprise."

The blond grins at her, warm and friendly as he flings the bones of his catch into the fire, shoulders rolling back once the motion is completed. He opens his mouth to speak again, but snaps his lips close when Ace and Luffy come trampling through the undergrowth, both victoriously lugging their catch of the day. One bear just a bit smaller than the Bear Lord itself for Luffy, and two respectably sized tigers for Ace.

"Night hunting is great!" He declares, dropping one of the beasts at Riskua's feet and flicking hopeful dark eyes at her.

"Fine, but only because it's your last night," she grumbles, reaching for her own hunting knife in order to start skinning the creature.

The eldest among them grins, planting himself down on the highest point of the log bench to begin preparing the other tiger.

 

 

 

When they're all fed, all the meat long digested, the four of them make their way up to the top of the old treehouse, Sabo last of all because he's carrying the cake and Ace's presents.

This will be the first year that she's actually on time with a gift, though she has been designing it, has been creating the damn thing, for the past four or so months.

They're all sitting on the edge of the crow's nest, Sabo to Ace's right, Luffy to Ace's left and Riskua on Ace's far left.

One of her arms is thrown over Luffy's thin, gangly shoulders, her head half cushioned against her shoulder and half against Luffy's own head. He's starting to hit a bit of a growth spurt now, slowly but steadily catching up to her five foot four. In all honestly, Riskua doesn't feel as if she'll be growing much more, and she's not sure how she feels about that. She doesn't have any problems with being 'average' height for a woman… Only what she considers average height is from the before. In this world, people can be as tall as hell for no reason at all other than the fact that it's possible for them.

If she recalls correctly, both Ace and Sabo are going to end up six feet tall, maybe an inch or so over. They'll easily stand a head over her given her current height. But there's not a hell of a lot Riskua can do about that, unless she wants to learn how to fight in high-heels, which would just be maddeningly impractical. Nah, those kinds of shoes are for special occasions only.

"Hey, Sabo, why do the nobles bother with fireworks if anyone can enjoy them?" Ace's voice draws Riskua back to the present and she curls a bit closer to Luffy, who wraps his arm around her back in return.

"It's a display of wealth. If your show's the best, has the most colours and different types of fireworks, then clearly you spent the most money on it and that obviously makes you better than anyone else." The blond grumbles, gaze flicking enviously towards Riskua. It takes her a moment to click on why, but when she does, the redhead shuffles even closer to Luffy and just basks in the shared body heat. Warm wind from the Grand Line or not, night time is cold. Ace isn't exactly one for open cuddles right now, which is a damn shame because he throws out body heat like nobody's business.

Luffy doesn't seem to want to give him a chance though because he wraps one rubbery limb around the older boy and pulls him close.

"Luffy-"

"Ace leaves tomorrow," the boy grumbles, a scowl on his face, almost as if it's completely Ace's fault for being the oldest and daring to have his seventeenth birthday tomorrow. "Which means we get all the hugs now."

"S'good with me!" Sabo chimes in, happily throwing one arm across Ace's shoulders and wiggling as close as he can, so that their ribs are all but pressed together. In all honesty, Riskua feels as if she's drawn the short straw here, not being able to stick to the very warm Ace, but she'll grin and bear it for now.

There's a soft bang in the distance and brilliant gold bursts across the sky, overpowering the presence of the night's sky in an instant.

"Fireworks!" Luffy cries joyously, leaning forwards as if that'll allow him to get a better view. Ace's hand grabs him by the back of the shirt before she can steady Luffy, who threatens to send them both toppling forwards onto the forest floor. The fall wouldn't kill them, but it'd certainly sting.

"Whoa there, Lu."

"Zaa, if there's fireworks, that means it's New Year."

"Happy Birthday, Ace!" Luffy screams it from the top of his lungs, even though it's only the four of them on here who'll care. Well, maybe Makino and Dadan would, in their own special ways. But celebrating Ace's birthday is always something they've done together. Hell, even when they're all apart Riskua doesn't plan on not sitting down with a slice of cake to celebrate the fact this lot were born, that they came into existence so she may be privileged enough to know them.

"Happy birthday, Hothead."

"Yeah, Happy Birthday, Freckle-Face."

"You both suck and Luffy is my favourite." Ace would probably have folded his arms across his chest were it not for the fact he has a brother already occupying each one.

His words, of course, inspire Luffy to just snuggle deeper into Ace's hug until he's literally pressing his nose into Ace's ribs. Riskua's been dislodged from Luffy's shoulder as a result and that's annoying as hell because now both sides of her face are cold.

As is reading her mind, Luffy forcibly man-handles her until she's sat on his lap, which is embarassing as hell but she's closer to Ace the space heater now (was he just destined from the start to become fire?) so she doesn't complain.

It's there they sit together for the last time, watching the fireworks the nobles waste all their money on explode in the night's sky.

 

 

 

.

.


 

.

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Bwahahaha, don't grow a moustache, brat. You've got his face, no need to look even more like him.

 

 

Head slanted to a side, Ace stares into the mirror before him, lips twisting as he thinks back on Garp's words. He'd never really thought about growing facial hair until that point, and from then on Ace'd sworn he'd forever remain clean-shaven.

Sabo can proudly sport his patchy beard all he wants, Ace's cheeks are never not going to be baby smooth, so help him god.

One more swipe of the razor -his razor- and his face is finally free of all the shaving cream. Tapping at the sensitive skin of his cheeks, Ace tilts his head back and forth, clenches his jaw to send the muscles there rippling, just to make sure he's got every last damn whisker. He's gotten pretty good at this though, so it's no surprise that it's all gone. Which is excellent, just damn perfect actually. He's only got a small mirror to take with him on his little boat, just to get by.

One hand curling around the edge of the sink in Dadan's hut, Ace runs a hand through his wavy black hair, staring at himself in the mirror. Garp may say that he has that bastard's face, but whenever he stares into any kind of reflective surface, all he sees is Ace squinting back at him. That's good, because if that's all he (who knows the truth) can see, then surely people who don't know his origins won't see that bastard looking back at them.

It's strange, knowing that today's the day he sets sail. While part of him is eager to go, ready and raring… there's another part that's scared shitless. He might have thought he was on his own as a kid, but he'd had Dadan looking out for him in his early years, now that he's older he's not ignorant of that fact anymore.

Then Sabo had come along, then Luffy and with him came Riskua. It's been near a decade since he was last on his own, though he'd not been as close to Sabo as he could have been, not until Luffy had battered his way through all those walls he'd painstakingly put up, fought and clawed until Ace had no other choice but to accept the boy, to accept Sabo and Riskua.

He wouldn’t change a thing though.

Ace might not know if he deserved to be born, but he does know that so far, these past seven years, he's been blessed with the company he has. Which is why he's got to head out and put his all into it, to be the best damn pirate he can be.

Because he's the trailblazer of their group, the first to set out and he's got to make it damn spectacular. He's got to set the bar for those three. Because he's the oldest so he's got to show it can be done, that dreams can be achieved.

Ace is going to become a world famous pirate, not for who his father is, but for his own actions.

He knows none of the others doubt their dreams, that they'll stop at nothing to achieve what they want, so Ace can't do this unless he goes in with one-hundred and ten percent.

Grabbing for his toothbrush, he pauses at the caress of leather against the thin skin of his inner wrist. Riskua's gift.

It's pretty damn simple, just a leather bracelet, neatly threaded together and treated with some kind of stuff that's left a distinctive smell, so he gets the feeling it'll be tough to damage. Which is perfect for him. It's more than that though, because on the inner side of the bracelet, there's one simple command, a reminder of that promise he made all those years ago, a promise that he wouldn't die. In lighter shades of leather, the word 'live' is worked into the design.

Ace won't ignore that silent request she's presented him with.

Lifting his wrist to is face, Ace inhales, the scent of leather and chemical treatment fogging his mind for a moment. It grounds him though, even as he wonders how long it'll be until the sea overtakes all that he can smell. 

A quick brush of his teeth, an adjustment to the collar of his yellow shirt and really, there's not a whole lot more he can do to postpone the inevitable now.

He's ready.

 

 

You know, he'd almost forgotten how ugly a crier Luffy is. Oh the waterworks aren't fully on yet, but it's only a matter of time. He's sniffling away, lower lip wobbling and Ave doesn't know what the hell happened to him that this sight registering as cute and heartwarming, as opposed to the absolute disgust it should inspire.

"Catch." Ace complies, wrapping his arms around the package of food (the sixth one so far) that Sabo throws down to him.

The salt of the ocean is everywhere, soaking its way into his shirt and skin, claiming all that he is. From this day on, he belongs to the sea, he will be Portgas D Ace, pirate. It'll be another title for him, one of the few he can wear proudly. Demon, the demon son of the Pirate King, brat, little bastard; he's been christened with so many titles throughout the years, knowingly or otherwise. He only has three now, three he'll wear like badges of honour.

Brother.

Best Friend.

And Pirate.

It won't be long until he adds Captain to that.

Smiling at the thought, Ace almost misses the next bag, scrambling at the side of his little boat to catch it before it disappears beneath the waves. A good thing too, given that it's his treasure, or rather more of his share of the treasure.

Everything else is on board now, all stocked up on long lasting food, fresh water, clean clothes. He's got a fishing pole in case he runs out of food (highly likely given his appetite) and then he's got a small supply of vitamins that Riskua and Sabo had managed to scavenge for him. He hadn't even know scurvy was a thing, so clearly he's going to need to find a doctor fast.

The boat rocks with the waves under his feet and it's not sickening like the villagers warned him it'd be. Instead, the gentle motion is like a welcome, a promise to, if not look after him, then to at least give him the chance to live life to the full.

Which is exactly what's going to happen.

"Permission to come aboard, Captain Ace?" Fucking hell.

It's only a little teasing, meant a joking glimpse of what's to come in the future, but it'd have been so much better if it'd come from anyone other than Riskua.

It's been six months since that sucker-punch to the chest but the feelings still keep flaring up on occasion, still keep flashing into existence whenever she does something that manages to catch him off guard. Like right now.

Still, it's the last day they'll see each other for who knows how long, and he doesn't want a crappy crush to ruin his last memories of his best friend before he sets off.

"Permission granted." He'd got to spend time with Luffy yesterday, hunting and chasing and falling into the occasional spar which he always won. He'd been with Sabo the day before as the other male had drilled him on everything he could to do with sailing, as if Ace is too stupid to do it for himself. No, he knows what he's doing, he belongs out here on the ocean. It's only fair he spends a few minutes at least with Riskua.

A small jump clears the short space between dock and boat, her summer sandals smacking against the wood. It's a good day to head off, still riding high on that hot wind from the Grand Line. It's like the most dangerous sea in the world is already urging him on.

"Got everything?" The redhead asks, uncaring of his answer as she checks it all over herself. Thin hands, scarred and callous from her work with those daggers she uses, smooth over the material of the bag Luffy bought him, the green and black animal print as strange as the cowboy hat that'd been his present last year. It's still nice though.

"Yeah, everything but my First Mate." He sends one last final snark towards Sabo up on shore, but there's no bite to it. He doesn't begrudge the other his new dream, it's just that every time he pictured setting out to sea in those early days, Sabo had been by his side.

"Sure you'll be okay in this?" Riskua's gentle question reels Ace's attention back to her. Not that he was ignoring her or anything, he'd been very aware of her presence. She kicks lightly at the mast of his little boat, as if testing its sturdiness.

"People have set off in less." Well, he doesn't know that for sure, but it's probably likely to be true, right?

A look is thrown over one shoulder towards him, yellow eyes meeting his and Ace swallows. Lunch time has come and gone, dinner has been eaten and it won't be long until the sun starts to dip beneath the horizon now, it's already making its descent. He hopes when he sees Riskua he's over this emotional mess, it's making this far more awkward than it should be.

"I'm going to miss you," Riskua whispers, pulling the brim of her deerstalker down until it hides her most noticeable feature from sight.

Ace knows she going to miss him, knows they're going to miss him because he's going to miss them too. But they share a bond that can't be broken, which is why he knows he can leave and expect to see them again.

"I'm going to miss our attempts to figure out Conqueror's, even if it just ends with you knocking out the wildlife every damn time, and I'm going to miss teasing you and I'm going to miss you falling asleep and-" she cuts off, heading snapping back and forth in a vicious shake before Ace suddenly finds himself with an armful of crying girl.

And, aw shit, Riskua's actually crying and just like Luffy, it ain't pretty. He can feel the tears and snot and because he doesn't button up his shirt it's all over his chest. Fuck, not pleasant. Why isn't this destroying his crush? Why does he just feel happy and a bit wet behind the eyes himself?

"Hey, come on, it's not like we won't all get famous enough to track each other down in the future. We'll see each other again." Ace refuses to believe in a world where he won't meet up with this lot again.

He hadn't realised just how much taller he'd gotten until now, now he can rest his head atop Riskua's if he wanted. And if she removes that damn hat.

She's smaller too. He's aware girl's don't usually bulk, that their muscles are lithe, built more for flexibility and speed, bur it's never been more apparent than as he stands here. He's trying not to focus too much on how her body feels against his, the slight curve of her breasts that aren't as developed as every other woman's he's ever seen but are now undeniable.

With how tight she's squeezing his midriff, her arms feel stronger than anything he's ever experienced right now.

"Air," Ace gasps, not entirely joking, and his best friend gives a watery laugh as she lets go and steps back out of their embrace. No, hug. Hugging is what friends do.

"Don't stop training your Haki," Riskua insists, running her forearm along her face to wipe the snot and tears away. Which yeah, thanks, it's easier to look at her now that the remnants of that disaster is gone. "And don't use Conqueror's unless it's a last resort or you can stand killing your opponent because given the track record of Conqueror users they'll be gunning for you, and..." Riskua trials off, having run out of last minute advice to give him and then she's hugging him again, arms wrapped around his neck and on her tiptoes to reach.

Another set of arms (rubbery) join a second later, followed by a final pair that's more muscular and not as familiar. He clearly doesn't hug Sabo enough if Luffy and Riskua feel more familiar. Not that he's had too many hugs off the redhead recently...

"Be careful, Freckles," Sabo says with a grin, the only one who's not pressing his face into Ace's shoulders and- ah, yes, the only one who's not crying out of his huggers. Wonderful.

The other blond is smirking knowingly, dark eyes flicker to Riskua for a second then coming back and the bastard's figured it out.

Hoping that his glare is conveying just how bad an idea it would be to voice his discovery, Ace jostles Luffy and Riskua in his arms, keeping Sabo in his sights the entire time. As nice as this is, he kind of wants to set off now. Before Sabo gets any bright ideas.

"Right, I'm going now."

Luffy whines low in the back of his throat but Ace ignores it. If he gives into the boy's every whim he'd have ended up a Cabin Boy with the Meat Pirates. Ace really can't see Luffy's crew called anything different if he's honest.

One by one they clamber out his boat, Luffy first, followed by Sabo who offers a hand to help Riskua step out.

For a moment, Ace thinks that's the end of it, that he'll be able to leave without the other mocking him, but then he spots the former noble's shit-eating grin and he just knows.

"Hey Riskua, aren't you gonna give Ace a kiss, for luck?"

He's gonna kill that bastard.

"I don't need no damn lucky kiss!" Ace snaps and before they (or he) can change their minds, the pull of the ocean current starts to draw him away from the dock as he unties the rope holding him in place. His heart is pounding, stomach flipping because this is it.

He's out at sea and now officially a pirate.

"Hey, Hothead!"

Snapping his head back around to look at the three on the dock, Ace splutters at the sight that greets him.

All three are leaning out after him, blowing kisses out to sea as if they'll actually reach him. A joint call of 'good luck' thunders through the air and a wild grin splits across Ace's face.

He's not sappy enough to tell them what they mean to him (he's pretty sure they already know) so instead Ace opts to wave back.

This isn't goodbye after all, just an 'I'll see you later'.

 

 

 

It's Ace's first day waking up out at sea, and he's never felt more alone.

Falling asleep under the vast array of stars has been great, the waves gentle and calm as they carry him onwards. But the thing is...

The first thought that crosses his mind when he woke up, still in that state of disorientation while he's half asleep, had been to wonder what kind of prank those three idiots were playing on him. Then he'd registered the rocking is not from being hoisted up in some kind of net, but that he's on a boat, his boat, and that he's out at sea.

For a moment, Ace just sits there, legs half drawn up to his chest only he aborted the motion in the end, leaving him in an awkward transition between sitting and sleeping.

He's out at sea, all on his own. Sabo and Luffy and Riskua are a day's boat ride away and even now he's putting more and more distance between the lot of them. His heart clenches, his throats feels like he's swallowed a mouthful of the Blue; it's the first time his resolve waivers.

The whole thing only lasts for a moment though. Then Ace is steadying himself.

He can't, he won't back down now.

He's going to achieve his dream, or die trying.

 

And for that, he needs to find himself a crew.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"You're not allowed to leave."

Sitting on Sabo's lap, Riskua wraps her arms tighter around his shoulders, well aware her lips are pressed into a pout but she doesn't care in the slightest.

It's been two months since Ace left and Riskua honestly doesn't know how to she's managed to keep going. All three of them had just started crying as soon as they'd returned to the clearing and seen Ace Country stood there, now lacking its only occupant.

Well, she and Luffy had burst into tears, Sabo had allowed a single manly droplet to pass down his cheeks. Didn't change the fact he'd joined both herself and Luffy in invading the little country and spending the night there. Luffy had pressed his face into Ace's pillow and whimpered on how it smelt like Ace at the time, but now, after two months have passed, Ace Country doesn't hold his scent anymore.

It does, however, now proudly hold a bounty poster on the door.

When Ace's first bounty had come through via the News Coo they'd thrown a little party, one that even the bandits had joined in on.

Now, Ace's first bounty poster, a respectable ฿25,000,000, is slapped over the front door, carefully placed behind a sheet of glass to keep the rain off of it. The last the newspaper had to say on the Spade Pirates was that they'd been seen heading for the entrance to the Grand Line, and that it appears they'll soon be out of East Blue. They're all really proud of him.

But Riskua's been worried out of her head for the past two months, worried because they'd heard no word of him. She doesn't know if she can add worrying about Sabo to it too, not without a few months to recover at least.

"I'm seventeen tomorrow, I'm leaving," Sabo grumbles into her hair, one arm wrapped around her waist and the other reaching for the bag of crisps he'd been eating before she'd decided the only way to keep the blond here was to sit on him.

"Yeah, Sabo can stay and never leave until I set sail then he can be my navigator and the Revolutionary on my ship," Luffy declares, having thrown himself over Sabo's calves. Clearly her little brother shares her sentiments about the oldest among them leaving.

Tightening her hold, Riskua stubbornly presses her nose further into Sabo's collar and violently wishes that she'd thought to do this with Ace. Wha a horrendous, missed opportunity that'd been; it's been years since they've done a full on puppy-pile, but as the muscles under her arms remind her, Sabo's not a kid anymore, none of them are. Well, aside from Luffy.

"You're going to have to get up at some point."

"No we won't."

Sabo sighs, a long exhale that carries the joy he's feeling right out into the air around them.

"Yes you will, you'll have to pee."

He's got a good point there, Riskua begrudgingly acknowledges, before she recalls it is in fact two against one.

"Luffy can still sit on you."

"Luffy'll have to pee."

"We can take shifts sitting on you."

"Damn it, Riskua, I'll have to pee at some point. Actually, I do have to pee, get off me." Sabo shakes himself, and it is with great reluctance that both Riskua and Luffy crawl off of the other Sabkua occupant. The former noble hastily climbs to his feet, clearly realising this window of opportunity will be open for only a moment and he's quick to flee from the main room.

Flopping back onto the pile of cushions, Riskua gives a wheezy exhale as Luffy throws himself down upon her, curling into her side with his head on her shoulder.

"Is 'Skua gonna leave at seventeen too?" It barely even manages to register as a question, given how grumpily it is grumbled, but the redhead hears it anyway.

"Yeah... I really like the idea of the Revolutionary Army, so if they'll have me, I'll do two years with them before meeting up with you. You think I'm gonna let you tackle the Grand Line alone, do you?"

"Nope. You're my Nakama."

Riskua hums in agreement, stroking at Luffy's coarse hair. The texture must be a result of him being a rubber-man and it begs the question of if he could ever do anything with it in regards to his Devil Fruit powers. Something to look into later on.

"I'm your First Mate and it's my job to call you out on stupid ideas. I'll go along with them, 'cause you're the Captain, but I'll still try and be the voice of reason you seem to have lost."

Luffy tilts his head to a side, huge dark eyes peering up from where his cheek is pressing into her shoulder.

"I've lost my voice of reason?"

"Pretty sure you never had one, Luffy." Sabo drops onto the cushions after he's finished saying his piece and they don't hesitate to pull him into the huddle. Luffy's half sprawled across her, face still in her shoulder but now with one arm wrapped around Sabo's chest.

One hand tangled up in Luffy's hair, Riskua reaches out and ruffles Sabo's too. It doesn't feel right though, it still feels like there's a component missing and probably always will until they all meet up once again.

God Riskua misses Ace, how faux-grumpily he'd scowl over the little cuddle pile but how eagerly he'd join in the second he got any kind of hint that he was invited to do so. Maybe by the next time she sees him he'll just hug them without trying to keep up the tough guy act.

The thought brings a smile to her face and Riskua pushes Luffy off of her until she can sit up.

"ASLR meeting," Riskua declares, prompting both boys to turn to her with raised eyebrows.

"But Ace isn't here?"

"Then as the most sensible person present, I'll make his vote for him."

Muffling a chuckle under his breath, Sabo looks delighted by this turn of events, though Riskua doesn't have any idea why.

"I'm sure you'll vote just as he would," is his amused quip and Riskua just grins because they both know that ain't true. She's gonna use his vote with his best intentions at heart, that she would never not do. But vote something he'd personally agree to?

No chance in hell.

She knows what's good for her best friend, and that is-

"I say, from here on out, whenever we meet up with one another, we have a massive group hug with however many of us are there."

"Sounds good!"

"I agree." She hadn't exactly expected that from Sabo, and his devious little smile seems just a touch too smug, but she won't look a gift horse in the mouth.

"Oh, what do you know, Ace votes yes too."

Luffy laughs, delighted, the shoulder that Sabo's pressing against her shaking as he attempts to suppress his own laughter and Riskua grins. It doesn't feel right, doesn't feel complete without Ace, but that doesn't mean they can't be happy without him here.

"How do you even plan to find the Revolutionaries anyway, Sabo?"

"I was just going to set sail and head to areas they've been spotted in first, I've been trying to keep track of their movements, but the newspapers East Blue gets..." He shrugs and Riskua can only agree.

The newspapers they get out here in East Blue, it's always about what the richest nobles have been up to, the latest Marine triumph in the area (not that they have much to do here in sleepy East Blue) or even just how pleasant the weather is today. Boring.

"Vell, vith a plan like that, it's a good thing ve've come for you-buru!"

Riskua rolls forwards, coming up in a defensive stance with Haki building in her fists. They've moved in perfect tandem, Sabo snatching up Luffy and retreating back, not only to protect their younger brother, but to snatch up his pipe from where it rests against the wall as he goes, arming himself.

Their flawless teamwork is all Riskua gets to think about at that point as she finds herself distracted, because wow that is a big head. The proportions of some people are strange here on Dawn Island, but this is an extreme she's not seen before, not even on her tiny island in the Grand Line. And all that hair; it doesn't even attempt to disguise things, to make things more subtle.

This man (is that the right term? Riskua recognises him and she really doesn't want to offend this guy) is bold as brass and loud as thunder. He's also strode right into their little country like he belongs here.

"How did you finds us and what do you want," Sabo snaps as he walks forwards, eyes narrowed and shadowed by the brim of his hat. The grip he has on his pipe is white knuckled.

"Mmmfufufu! Dragon vas right to keep an eye on you, Sabo-boy. Once ve had your name, it vas easy enough to check the nobles' records. Our spies have heard of your plans to leave the island vhen you turn seventeen, so here ve are, buru!" Hands planted upon his hips, the purple haired man just beams at them.

Riskua risks a glance behind her and worryingly enough, Luffy looks entranced.

"Drago- you're with the Revolutionaries?" While Sabo's pipe doesn't lower from its defensive position, he does visibly brighten at the intruders words, to the point Riskua tightens her stance, just in case. It's infinitesimal, but there is that tiny chance this could all be an elaborate ruse.

"I am Emporio Ivankov, of the Revolutionary Army!"

"Your hair is amazing!" Of course Luffy couldn't keep quiet for long, hell it was a miracle he'd managed to not start rambling sooner. "Hey, do you poop?"

At this point, Sabo has given up trying to stem his laughter, shoulders shaking and one arm wrapped around his ribs to support himself. Riskua doesn't know whether to hide her face or smack her future captain upside the head, so instead settles for an exasperated sigh, doing her very best to ignore the way her cheeks burn with second hand embarrassment. Maybe someday she'll be over how incredibly childish Luffy can be and just accept it with a long suffering grin. Today is not that day though.

"I do poop," Ivankov acknowledges, his grin fearsome as he focuses on Luffy. "Onto business though, I am here for Sabo-boy, if you're still serious about joining the Revolutionaries."

"I am."

"No! Sabo's not allowed to leave and we're gonna sit on him to keep him here!"

"Oomph!"

Sabo hits floor as Luffy tackles him from behind, rubbery limbs winding all around his torso and legs until he's well and truly caught. It's not so much that Luffy's sitting on him as he's curled up all around him.

Riskua's lips twitch up at the corners, though she does make a slight attempt to still the expression. Only slight though.

"Vell, you can always come join too, Strawhat-boy."

"What?! No way! I'm gonna become Pirate King!"

This feels almost surreal. For so many years, Riskua has been here upon this island, this island where Sabo, Ace and Luffy stopped being characters; they became real people to her. But with the isolation of growing up on this island... watching them interact with such a larger than life character is a bit startling.

Ivankov has a really creepy smile though, it's even stranger to see it in person. With his large head, the age old tale of Alice in Wonderland leaks back into her mind. Certainly he's as absurd as the Red Queen could be (and hey, he's a queen too, so that has to count for something, right?) but he doesn't appear to have any desire to see heads roll. Thank the lord.

"Hey, Iva, join my crew!"

 

 

 

Unsurprisingly, Ivankov turns down Luffy's offer for him to join his crew. He does however sit down to join in their farewell meal for Sabo, watching them interact with that incredibly large smile stretching across his face. His makeup is as heavy as it is daring and Riskua is torn somewhere between envy and sheer awe over just how much glorious, fantastically healthy hair he has.

"And you've vant to serve two years vith us before sailing with Strawhat-boy, Riskua-girl?"

"I believe in what you guys are doing, but I'm not so selfless as to give up my dream to do so, and I honestly believe I've got a better chance of achieving my dream with Luffy."

The boy in question full out beams at her, shimmying off of Sabo's back to come and plonk himself down in her lap instead, arms wrapping around her neck and cheek rubbing against her own.

Curling her own arms around Luffy's thin waist, Riskua peppers a kiss to the youngest male's nose, mirroring his grin.

"Of course, I have no problem sharing some of my Haki expertise with you in return."

"It's 'Skua's dream to be the World Expert on Haki!"

And though the bellow down her ear isn't really appreciated, it's nice that Luffy speaks with such conviction, as if he has absolutely no doubt in her ability to achieve her dream. She presses another kiss to his nose as thanks.

"Even someone vith a basic understand of Haki vould be velcome," Ivankov muses, rubbing his hands together with a grin. "As things are though, ve must make haste, Sabo-boy."

"So soon?"

Glancing towards the closed window shutters that shield them from the dark of night, Riskua does her best not to frown. She fails completely, can feel the emotion pulling at the corners of her mouth.

In her lap, Luffy pours just as fiercely, one arm shooting out to the blond who doesn't even try to resist, allowing Luffy to reel him in.

"Aw, guys," Sabo teases, wiggling one arm free of Luffy's grasp so he can throw it over and around her shoulders.

The hug's nice, Riskua has no problem with hugs. What she does have a problem with is one thirteen year old in her lap being joined by an approaching-six-feet-tall seventeen year old because together they are heavy.

With a huff, Riskua forces all her weight back, landing half-sprawled across the pillows and managing to shuffle Sabo and Luffy (with some Haki enchanted strength) to lay by her side instead of on her. No longer crushed by their combined weight, Riskua goes about squeezing the air from their lungs instead.

She didn't hug Ace nowhere near enough before he left; she's not about to make that same mistake with Sabo.

"Such friendship, it is so inspiring!" Ivankov's croon draws all their attention, though not one of them make any attempt to move from their tangled pile. "But this island's security has grown. Sabo-boy, ve vill have to travel vith disguises."

 

 

 

The next three minutes are the most surreal of Riskua's life. Because seeing Luffy's Devil Fruit in action, and then seeing someone like Ivankov's Devil Fruit in action are two very different things. So very different.

Sabo's not even suppose to be a girl.

So why does he get bigger boobs than her?

Staring is not polite, but it's just so very difficult to lift her eyes away from the sight before her.

The sheer horror on Sabo's face more than makes up for awkward she feels for gawking.

"I thought you said disguises!" The blond snarls, whirling on Ivankov and grabbing a hold of him by the lapels of his burgundy one-piece.

The Revolutionary allows himself to be shaken back and forth, though the grin never slips from his face.

"Vhere vill you find a better disguise than one such as this? The Nobles vill be vatching for Sabo-boy-"

"Not Sabo-girl," Riskua finishes and really, it feels as if Ace is right there in the room, egging her on. God, he's going to be heartbroken when he learns he missed this.

"Or is it Sabine-girl?"

"Shut up," hisses Sabo, features twisted in an attempt at fury, which is ruined by the burning red of his cheeks. "You're not allowed to laugh".

It is around this time that Luffy feels like adding his two cents into the mix, proudly proclaiming, "Sabo makes a very pretty girl!"

And Riskua loses her shit.

She's clutching at her ribs, trying so very hard not to cry, but this is just so delicious she can feel the liquid weaving its way down her cheeks.

"You're both horrible and Ace is my favourite right now."

 

 

 

It all ends with the two Revolutionaries, one freshly recruited and one perhaps a veteran member (as veteran a member as you can get of a newish organisation) walking out of their lives under the night's cover of darkness.

Both she and Luffy had peppered Sabo (Sabine) with kisses before he went, another thing they should have probably done with Ace.

Sat in the den of Sabkua, knowing that the blond will not be back, will perhaps never see this place again, has her heart clenching. They're just growing up, and she's sixteen now and will be spreading her wings in under a year, exploring the world and chasing her dream as best she can. Just until it's time for Luffy to set sail.

Luffy who's curled, against her side, arms wrapped thrice around her and a little pout on his lips.

"It's too quiet," he murmurs, snuggling closer. "It's too quiet and when I set sail I'm gonna have a good Nakama and they won't leave for anything." It's the whispered words of a child realising the realities upon the horizon, of how time and life changes people, that change is as indivertible as the sunrise.

But it's also the words of a young man, one who has recognised change will happen no matter what and so is determined to make sure that the only change that can occur is good change.

"Well, as soon as you set sail, Kinglet, I promise I won't leave. Not for anything. Got that?"

"Ushishi, okay, 'Skua."

 

.

.


 

.

.

 

Ducking low under the swipe of a sword, Portgas D. Ace falls into a forwards roll, springing back up as soon as his feet are under him. His heart is pumping, yellow shirt sprinkled with dirt and hair windblown from his mad dash.

The Marines still seem to be swarming everywhere. This whole island is infested with them; not entirely a surprise given that it's under Marine control and thus one of the more dangerous stops throughout the first half of the Grand Line, but the opportunity had been there, just screaming at Ace he hadn't been able to resist.

Holding out both arms, the dark haired teen effortlessly catches the white box he'd thrown into the air before his hasty tuck and roll, leaping to the left to get out of range of the next marine's swing.

There's the cock of a gun somewhere behind him and Ace feels that ripple of terror pass down his spine as the bullet roars towards him.

It passes through him with a sizzle.

Ah, that's right, he's a logia now, it still slips him mind sometimes. Thankfully his crew are always there to remind him not to jump into the sea given that he's as much a hammer as Luffy now and will sink instantly, but there have been a few close calls.

"Portgas D. Ace! Surrender yourself and the stolen goods!" Ha, not likely.

Sprinting down the street, Ace shuffles the box about until it's tucked neatly under one arm, pressing up against his side while his other hand swings around towards the Marines.

He's not had his Devil Fruit for very long, having only just consumed the sunset orange flesh (and oh boy had that tasted like regret and decay) a mere two days before he'd entered the Grand Line. Certainly he doesn't have any signature attacks like Luffy'd been working on when he left. Hell, he doesn't even have any names for his attacks yet.

A rapid punch has a stream of fire licking through the air though, scattering the marines like cockroaches faced with the sun.

"Captain?!"

Snapping to attention, Ace flicks his gaze towards his sniper, who's gesturing vaguely towards the Wild Card.

Queenston, upon first glance, had reminded Ace nostalgically of Sabo, despite the difference in colouring it's just in the way they dress and act. That he's proven to be such a sure-shot had cemented it; the man belonged on Ace's crew and the freckle-faced teen hadn't taken no for an answer. Granted it's only taken four hours of seriously courting the man to entice him into going up, but Ace doesn't like to let his thoughts linger on that too much.

The point is, he expects Queenston to watch his back, trusts him to do so.

So when the top-hat adorned male gestures vaguely to Ace's left, he doesn't hesitate to swap hands and send a jet of flames racing in the direction indicated.

"Back to the Wild Card!" Ace bellows, throwing himself forwards to slide feet first through the legs of a particularly tall marine. The poor bastard flails, arms wind-milling uselessly before he makes an attempted grab for Ace.

As he's going past, Ace hooks his free hand around the guy's ankle and toppled him, springing up onto his feet as the momentum of his slide runs out.

"What was so important that you just had to steal it anyway, Captain?!"

"You'll see, Knave, you'll see."

Clutching his prize closer to his chest, Ace can't quite stop the near feral grin that overtakes his face. Because it really had seemed like the universe declared it the perfect opportunity and he just couldn't resist, even though he'd been trying to keep a low profile on this island.

Some things are more important than a low profile though, and this certainly falls under that category.

 

 

 

Boots slapping against the worm dirt path, Ace feels his spirits lift even higher as he spots the Wild Card just where he left it.

The ship is aptly named, given that he's Ace, they're the Spade Pirates and he won this mighty vessel in a poker match. Not that the bastards he'd been up against had known he had the devil's luck at cards. Just about the only thing he was remarkably lucky with; Riskua had once mumbled how it had to come hand in hand with his name.

Personally, Ace is of the opinion it's because his father was the devil, but he knows enough about the redhead and her opinions on children taking after their parents to know she wouldn't have liked his input on that. It's one of those things they just will never agree on.

Riskua's so sure children are only what they make themselves to be, but that's too idealistic for Ace. He knows that's not true, he knows it like the sweat on his brow, the blood in his veins, the pounding in his heart.

Especially in his case.

He'll never try to argue his point though, because while he knows it's not the truth... he wants to believe the same thing, wants to be as damn sure of it as Riskua.

The world cracked his rose-tinted glasses long ago.

Back on topic though, the Wild Card is a beautiful ship, even better now that they've fixed the figurehead from that shitty bird into something as badass as a ship captained by Portgas D. Ace deserves. The cow skull reminds him of the bull one that hangs from his hat, and the flames around it is particularly epic. They've added flames to the Jolly Roger too, it seems the appropriate warning now that Ace is fire. People should know exactly who they're facing, after all. Then if they still tangle with him, even with all the clear signs that they should not, then it's on their own heads for doing so.

As he transitions into the docks, Ace swerves off course, nearly ending up taking a nose dive into the ocean in his haste. A quick blast of fire has the surface steaming but gives Ace enough momentum to pull back from a watery grave.

The bastard marine who he'd been forced to swiftly dodge grins at him, a nasty smile and teeth nothing like the perfect pearly whites he's grown use to seeing given he spent his youth with Riskua and Sabo, both of whom were quite clear on the importance of dental hygiene. He'd hated it at the time (not as much as he'd hated morning breath the one time after he'd got a whiff of Luffy's though) but he's now ever so thankful they pushed him to keep brushing his teeth. Sparkly white is so much better than the grim yellow he's become used to seeing other pirates sport.

"Portgas, you're un-"

Ace doesn't give the bastard chance to finish, darting forwards and slamming one booted foot into his meaty chest. All those years practicing for Geppo means Ace's leg strength is phenomenal even without any Haki enchantments, so the marine ends up launched straight into the ocean. Huh, if he's a Devil Fruit user then he's in trouble.

"Get the ship going, I'll hold them off!"

It's not like he won't be able to go join them when need be; while not as proficient at Geppo as Luffy, he's good enough to keep up with Riskua and Sabo, running a hundred meters or so to his ship won't be a problem. He might end up with a bit of cramp later, but that'll be all.

 

 

 

His escape from Marine Island (or whatever the hell it's call, Ace doesn't know or care right now) could not have been made any better.

He'd thrown his stolen goods into the air, fighting off three marines all at once as it curved towards to ocean's surface.

The only thing that beats the marines surprised faces as he'd leapt after it was their blatant disbelief and horrified astonishment as he'd continued to dash through the air, landing safely upon the deck of the Wild Card. He'd even offered the landlocked bastards a cheeky wave as he roasted their only seaworthy ship with fist-full of fire.

Hmm, fist of fire... fire fist? Oh yeah, that sounds a hell of a lot better than Gum Gum Pistol.

That's the first time he's showcased Geppo, no doubt that'll end up on his wanted poster at some, especially if Shitty Gramps was telling the truth and it is some top secret Marine trick. Who knows, Ace isn't exactly gonna trust the guy that's been in so many damn fist fights; his brain's probably mush by now if it wasn't already.

"So, Captain, what was so important we had to risk venturing onto a marine controlled island?" Kingsley, his first mate and owner of a hat that is almost as great as his, asks.

With a cheerful grin, Ace places the white box upon the railings, happily flipping the lid off and into the ocean. It's a little squished, but it's undeniable-

"CAKE!?!" The outraged shouts of his crew have Ace laughing.

It's iced beautifully, the same blue as the ocean on a sunny day, happy birthday artfully decorating the top in white. It's pure luck that the only words smudged are Captain What's-his-face's name, which have ended up looking like a cloud instead. It's perfect, Ace couldn't have done better himself.

"Misses my brother and best friend's birthday. When I heard there was a marine having a birthday, it was like the universe was handing me the perfect opportunity. Might as well celebrate my youngest brother's birthday in advance while I'm at it."

They stare, expressions bamboozled and Ace doesn't have the slightest idea why. It all makes perfect sense; he wanted cake, he saw the opportunity for cake, so he went and got cake. What was wrong with that?

"Is the log pose set for the next island yet?"

"Aye, Captain," a bewildered Blackjack, his trusty navigator, answers.

Ace watches him for a second, plucking up his hard earned cake absentmindedly.

"Then I'll be in my quarters. Hit me up if there are any problems."

 

 

 

His quarters are small, but it's not like Ace needs a lot of room. He's not got a vast amount of possessions to store there, nor does he particularly need a lot of room to move about in. Just somewhere to store his clothes, the few little keepsakes from Sabo, Luffy and Riskua, and of course, a genuine bed. Because he's gone without one of those for so damn long due to living with the bandits and now that he has the opportunity to actually use one, to own one, he's sure as hell not going to miss out on that.

He misses those three idiots, and now that he's got the chance... he's going to celebrate them the only way he knows how. By stuffing his face with all the food he can get his hands on.

There's one candle in his room and it's in no way appropriate to be used upon a birthday cake, but it's all that he's got so Ace's gonna make do.

Sticking the candle down at the very corner of the cake (because he's sure as hell's not gonna waste cake on the chance wax melts onto the icing, putting it in the middle would fuck up more of the cake than the corner) Ace sticks out one pointer finger and holds it above the wick.

He'll have to get better with his powers; he has no plans to meet up with Luffy again and be fumbling along as much as the rubber-brat has for the first seven years with his powers.

A little bit of focus and his finger goes up in a blast of explosive flames, lighting the wick and nearly getting the ceiling too.

Hastily shaking out his hand, Ace flexes his finger when it forms once again, though a panicked glance around the room reveals no intruder to laugh at his lack of control.

"Well," he grunts, turning back to the cake, the only picture in his room visible just beyond it. It's the four of them, one of the very few group pictures they'd managed with some quick footwork and the timer of Riskua's camera. There's more photos then he'd like to admit of one of them tripping while running back to make sure they were still included in the photo.

"Happy birthday to you guys. I'd save you some cake, but something tells me it'd spoil before we meet again. Maybe next year."

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The chances of a Yonko hanging out in Paradise are practically one in a million.

So the second Ace heard that the very Yonko he wanted to see was partying it up somewhere at the heart of a winter island, he knew what he had to do.

His crew are worried (perhaps rightly so, given Ace's hot-headedness, his bloodlust when it comes to the prospect of a good fight, and his general temper when someone dares talks hit about him, his crew or his family) given that Ace asked them to remain on the ship. But this isn't something he's doing as Portgas D. Ace, Captain of the Spade Pirates.

He's doing this as Portgas D. Ace, the older brother.

The ice and snow no longer bites at his skin and he recalls a thought from what seems like years ago but is in fact only months. A desire to not be at the mercy of the weather and it's temperamental moods. It appears as if he got his wish.

Are all other logia like this, or is it just because he is fire? Fire can never be cold, and nothing can burn fire. Fire is untouched by the world's fluctuating temperatures and Ace is fire. This snow means nothing to him.

A wry grin spread across his face as he trudged through it. Oh sure, unexpected contact with something cold shocks him, it's unpleasant, but long exposure to cold temperatures doesn't even faze him anymore. Well worth the trade off of never being about to swim again.

Not that it matters; Riskua's sailing with Luffy so she's the designated swimmer there, and Ace's got Kingsley as his designated swimmer. Come to think of it, is it an unofficial rule that all Pirate Captain's with a Devil Fruit have to have a regular old non-fruity First Mate? Makes complete sense to Ace, having the second in command as the one to fish you out of the ocean. He trusts Kingsley with his life.

But given the knowledge Ace carries (one particular secret over all others) his life ain't exactly high up on his priority list. Luffy and Sabo and Riskua's come before his own. As does the crew's, the lives of his crew. He's a good captain/brother/best-friend like that. He'd tear open the sky for them if he needed to.

Apologising to what may possibly be the most relaxed of all the Yonko is no problem, really.

Pulling the fabric of his scarf tighter around his neck, Ace peers out from beneath the protective brim of his hat, focusing on the cave before him. Or rather, the familiar light of a fire that leaks from the entrance of said cave. It casts a fantastic orange glow over the snow, warm and welcoming.

The temperature of snow might not bother him anymore, but it's still a pain in the ass to trudge through all the stuff. He's trying not to project his presence here as a threatening one; it's the only reason he's not lit the whole place up, the only reason he's not cleared his path with a quick Fire Fist.

A good thing too, considering some poor sod appears to be on watch at the mouth of the cave.

"Hey kid! What do you think you're doing here?"

Scowling at the address, Ace folds his arms across his chest, even if the motion is barely visible under his cloak.

"I want to meet Red Hair Shanks!"

"Get out of here, kid. Captain's not looking for no cabin boy."

"Ha, fuck that. I'm here to meet him, not join him."

The Red Hair Pirate scowls, rising from where he'd been sitting by the mouth of the cave. It's a hell of a lot more intimidating, especially given that this isn't some regular pirate. This is a member of a Yonko's crew and that's a different breed of pirate entirely.

"You want to greet me?"

The voice draws all of Ace's attention right off the other guy. He's a bit difficult to see, given that he stands in such a way the fire acts as a backlight, but Ace'll bet the Wild Card this is Shanks. The whole reason he's on this damn island to begin with.

Then his brain catches up with Shanks words and Ace rapidly shakes his head. A first-time pirate greeting only ever consisted of fighting and that's the last thing he's here to do.

"No, that's not what I meant! My little brother as always bragging about you, the one who saved his life. And I wanted to thank you."

Just like that, the tense atmosphere that has been building and building, disappears with no warning what so ever.

"Anchor's brother? Well why didn't you say so?! This calls for a celebration!"

The whole lot of them give out a cheer and before Ace can gather his wits, he's whisked inside the cave, stripped of his cloak and scarf, plonked down by the fire with a bottle of something in one hand and a skewer of meat in the other.

What the hell?

"How is the little Anchor doing anyway?"

Shanks' busy rummaging through one of the many crates stashed within the back of the cave, almost invisible in the shadows the fire casts. The clink of glass on glass lets Ace know exactly what is being stored in this little hideout though and he grins. Yeah, it sounds exactly like the Roaming Emperor to have crates and crates of booze stashed around the Grand Line. This has to be a supply run then, the only reason he's caught them in the first half of Paradise.

"He was good when I set off, brat'll be setting sail when he turns seventeen. Even wrangled my best friend into being his First Mate. Riskua'll take care of him though."

A sudden hush falls over the group around the fire and Ace blinks in confusion, mind hastily scrambling back through his words as he attempts to figure out just what he has said wrong.

"And how is my little Seabird doing?" Hs little what?

But then Shanks returns to the rest of them, then the firelight catches at his hair.

Yeah, Ace had known that they were called the Red Hair Pirates for a reason, but for the love of all that is good and free in this world, he hadn't been expecting that exact shade.

Fucking hell, he's gonna murder Riskua when he sees her.

This is the kind of thing he should have been warned about before he set off. Don't eat all your provision before you find land, don't pick a fight with the marines unless you've got backup or an escape plan, don't user Conqueror's Haki unless you wanna be on the government's shit list from the get go, oh and by the way my father's a Yonko.

Fucking hell.

Of course now he's remembering their every damn argument and fight and every time he's treated her with something a little less than respect now that he's face with her very powerful father. And that's not even getting into the thoughts he'd had of her just before he left.

Fuck.

But no, that bit's cool right now. Ace's been with some women since he set off, and though sex is fun, it's not something the world should revolve around.

He still can't get that enticing little idea of what would Riskua be like out of his head though and he sure as hell shouldn’t be thinking about this when he's face with her father.

Shit.

Shitshitshit.

"She's good," Ace finally manages to strangle out, taking a swig of the drink in his hand. It's a bit heavier than what he'd have expected, the flavour sitting boldly on his tongue and lingering.

"She still on about her Haki dream?"

One of the other crew members (Luffy had told him all their names, but right now Ace can barely string two words together, never mind recalls the name of some guy he's never met based on a questionable-at-best description from his younger brother) ask, smiling wistfully.

"Yeah, she is," Ace nods, grinning cheerfully now that there's a safe topic to discuss. "She taught me a bit before I set off too."

"You got a photo of her now?"

"Why would he carry a photo of her?!" Shanks snaps at the exact same time Ace bops his head up and down in agreement and reaches for the group photo that's always in his pocket.

There's another awkward moment and Ace can feel a burning heat on his person that is most certainly not coming from the fire. Shanks' glare feels heavy and foreboding.

Unfolding the photo, not all that unlike the one he keeps in the cabin, Ace hands it off to the pirate who asked. Or rather, he tries to.

Shanks snatches it up before it reaches its intended recipient.

"Boys! Look at my Little Gully! Isn't she a beaut!?" There's a round of agreements and it's clear all these harden pirates have a soft spot for Ace's best friend. He wonders what it was like to spend a childhood being visited by this lot; it's something both Luffy and Riskua have in common. Ace can't even begin to imagine how he'd have reacted at that age. Other than angrily.

"Who's this blond one?"

"That's Sabo, mine and Luffy's other brother."

"Anchor's scar's still there, huh, Captain?"

"Dahahaha, seems so." Shanks stares a bit closer at the picture, his smile softening and Ace guesses he's looking at Riskua.

"Best friend, huh? You two must be pretty close then."

"Yeah, we are," agrees Ace, a smile on his lips as he looks down into the dark liquid of his drink. He's reminded of the meat in his other hand and the pirate captain tears a large chunk from the skewer, chewing thoroughly. "Riskua said it was her father that brought her to East Blue… So thanks for that. We'd be a lot worse off without her." And it's true.

Ace dreads to think what could have happened with Sabo and his father had Riskua not been there, and with that Haki training, with her prodding Gramps into telling them all about Geppo to the point they worked out to perform it themselves… Yeah, they'd probably have gotten by without her.

But that doesn't mean Ace'd have wanted to.

 

 

 

Three hours into the party and Ace's come to the pretty solid conclusion that while Riskua's visually very alike her father, her character has to come from her mother. For the first time, he finds himself thinking of his own parents, hoping that it's the same for him.

While he'll bear wearing that bastard's face (it's not like he's got much a choice on that matter) Ace can only hope he's as good, as lovely as the woman from Garp's stories.

 

 

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Skipping through the air, Riskua leaps through the first hula-hoop, then the second, then the third as each one falls to the floor.

From where he's sat on the roof of Dadan Country throwing the toys, Luffy joyously claps his hands in celebration, whooping as Riskua hops back towards the ground.

Her legs scream from the prolonged use, but she's getting quicker with Geppo, increasing her time in the air. Out of all of them, she's the weakest when it comes to stamina, that's just how it is.

Before he'd left, Sabo had concluded it was because she's female, and she really can't dispute that point. Biologically, she's just not as impressive as the three males she trains with. It doesn't mean she'd lose to them in a fight though, doesn't mean that she's weak. It just means she has to find other ways of winning. Speed, cunning, skill, it'll all add up. It doesn't matter if someone can outlast her, not if she can deal the final blow too quickly for endurance to matter.

It's why she and Luffy'll make such a good team. If she's remembering correctly, a lot of his fights were won simply because he could outlast the other guy, because he refused to go down and stay down. She'll be the one that finishes things up quickly, and then Luffy can take over and deal with the rest in a battle of endurance. It sounds like perfection.

Touching down on the ground, Riskua hastily gathers all her hair up into her hands, thin fingers working through the red strands to pull it into a soft side-plait.

"My turn!" Luffy insists, no doubt because out of the four of them, he's the one that's best at Geppo. Not that she can really blame him for being so enthusiastic. It's the only thing he's better than them at, of course he'd take great pride in showing off his skill as often as he can.

"Alright Luffy, but since you're so good at it, you'll have to do a little better than just jumping through a few hoops."

"Bring it on, I can do anything! Ushishi!"

Lips twisting up in a smile, Riskua jumps up onto the bandits' roof, taking a seat. From the pocket of her pants, she pulls out a bag of toffees, popping open the wrapping.

As if he were a dog hearing the call of his master, Luffy snaps to attention at the sound of packaging opening, sniffing the air. He isn't a Zoan though, he doesn't have anything more than a human's sense of smell, Riskua recalls. And while things may be a bit different in this world, there's no way Luffy can smell the sweet candies from down on the ground.

"You've got to catch them in your mouth, Luffy. No hands, or you forfeit what's left of the bag. Got it?"

"Yep!"

Plucking one of the toffees out, Riskua sends it sailing in an arch to the left, Luffy leaping up into the air after the treat. Just as his teeth snap shut around that one, she flings another to the right.

 

 

 

By the time she's reaching the bottom of the bag, she's got Luffy racing around the whole place, leaping about above the four countries that occupy the large clearing.

Taking to the air herself, she throws two toffees out, smirking when Luffy panics at the fact he won't be able to catch both of them, that he's going to have to let one drop. Maybe it's a bit mean, but the kid needs to learn that you can't save everything, you can't succeed at everything… not without breaking some rules of course. Weighing up if breaking the rules is worth the fallout though, well that's-

Riskua's train of thought cuts off and she chokes, dropping the bag of toffees completely. Luffy catches one of the thrown toffees with his mouth, the other with his left hand, and the bag with his right.

"Caught 'em!"

"Fuck that, I sense Garp!"

Screaming, Luffy downs the entire bag of toffees all at once, neck working furiously to swallow the contents as he darts over to grab hold of Riskua's hand.

They both power up to the tree-line, just as their larger than life nightmare comes barrelling into the clearing.

"Brats!"

"Shit!"

Running as fast as they can, the duo skip through the air, shooting panicked looks over their shoulders.

Garp is still on the ground -for the moment- staring up at their fleeing forms in surprise.

By the time he gathers his wits, they're out of sight and the chase is on.

 

 

 

Luffy's been caught, Luffy's been caught and now Garp is coming for her. But if Riskua pulls off what she's attempting right now, then she'll be able to take this hunting thing Garp has going, and change it into a game of hide and seek that she'll never lose.

It seems like so long ago that she'd come up with the idea, the idea of being able to hide and easily as Observational Haki can seek, but putting thought into reality isn't easy in the slightest.

If Observation is reading the cues from the world around you, then what she has developed here, her tentatively named Concealment Haki, is erasing, removing the traces and cues that prove her presence. It's not so much that she disappears from sight; more that she's actively messing with the sense of perception others around her have.

As Conqueror's forces acknowledgement and then submission of will, Concealment hides that will to the point other register it as submissive and dismiss it instantly, effectively rendering the user invisible to human and animal perception.

Or, that's the end goal at least.

Right now, she can hide from people if they're not actively looking for her.

Luffy walked right past her the previous day, but the second he'd decided to come looking, the primitive variation of Concealment had failed her. If her theory is right (and it should be. Haki is based upon willpower, so that makes sense at least) then as long as the hider's need to remain hidden exceeds that of the seeker's desire to discover and find said hider… then the Concealment Haki should prove stronger.

The question is, is Garp looking for her as unfalteringly as she is determined to hide from him?

Curled up against the trunk of a tree, Riskua holds her breath as the Marine storms by, Luffy tucked under one arm that has to be enchanted with Haki; there's no other way the man'd be able to keep her captain still given how much he's thrashing.

For a moment, those dark eyes scan the undergrowth where she's hiding and Riskua stills. She's not exactly out in the open, but there's certainly no perfect covering of leaves sheltering her. And, oh boy, does red stand out something fabulous in green.

But then, his eyes actually continue onwards.

A shocked breath escaped Riskua's lips because holy hell, it worked, it actually worked.

Of course, in her shock she seems to have released the iron-clad grip of panic she had on her Haki and Garp's head snaps around to stare right at her the instant she falters.

Shit.

"There you are!"

 

 

 

After a rapid fire training session that seemed more like a creative and unusual punishment, reinforced by the fact Garp never fails to grumble over how Ace dares to have gone off and become a pirate (Lord help them when he realises what Sabo's gotten himself involved in) the three of them sit down for a late supper.

It's summer so the sun remains in the sky, though admittedly it is hanging low enough to start kissing the horizon. Chewing slowly on a mouthful of tiger meat, Riskua watches Garp watch them, ignoring how ferociously Luffy tears into all the food he can get his hands on.

"You're approaching seventeen now, aren't you, Dracule." It's not really phased like a question.

Slowly lowering the half eaten skewer from her mouth, the redhead licks her dry lips, not quite sure where the eldest Monkey she knows is going with this.

"Yes?"

"Good. I'll take you on a tour of the Marine Base in Shell Town."

That has Luffy's rubbery head snapping up from where he's stripping a leg bone bare.

"What?! No way! Riskua's my First Mate!"

"Yeah, and you're gonna be Marines!"

"No, Pirate King!"

As the two Monkeys duke it out, Riskua watches with a special kind of detachment. It's not really hit her until now, but if Luffy becomes the Pirate King… then won't that make her the new Silvers Rayleigh?

That’s… that's a scary thought.

Rayleigh is a complete badass, the epitome of badassery. If Luffy's gonna become Pirate King, then by god does she need to step up her training. She won't slack, won't fall behind as Luffy powers on, as he only grows strong.

"It doesn't matter what I do later on, if I'm gonna keep up with Luffy, I need to train. So let's train, Mr Garp."

"It's Gramps you damn brat! But at least you've some determination in that weedy frame."

Weedy?! Who the hell does he think he's talking to?!

"Yeah!" Luffy cries, pumping his fists into the air and grinning. "Round two! We're definitely gonna beat you this time!"

 

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It smells like strawberries. Luffy stares at the funky cream stuff that Riskua's slapping on her arms, smearing it into the skin. It doesn't taste like strawberries, he knows it doesn't because he's tried it before. It does not taste like strawberries. But, oh boy, does it smell like them.

Licking his lips, Luffy drops down onto the multitude of cushions that're in Sabkua Country. If there's one good thing to come out of Sabo leaving, it's that he gets to stay here because Riskua doesn't like being on her own. Riskua's got shorts on, her hands working the funny cream stuff (moiste-something, Luffy wasn't really paying attention the onetime Riskua told him them name of it) into her legs and it leaves a nice looking shine on them. Huh.

"Why'd you use that stuff, 'Skua?"

"It's moisturiser, it'll make my skin smoother and ensure it doesn't dry or flake."

Luffy doesn't really understand, his skin has never 'dried' or 'flaked', but Riskua must know what she's on about because Riskua doesn't do things without a reason.

"I wanna try." Holding out his hand, Luffy forces his best 'please gimme the thing' look onto his face. It always worked on Makino when he was a kid, but nowadays it's hit and miss. Sometimes he has to poke and prod into getting what he wants, which sucks.

It's a good day though because Riskua hands it over without complaint, scooping up a handful more to smear on her arms. It really does smell like strawberries and Luffy reminds himself that eating it will not bring about the taste of strawberries, won't bring about the satisfaction because it's not actually the fruit.

"Not sure how well it'll transition onto your rubber skin," Riskua says, smoothing her arms down and inspecting them to check for an even coating. "But I guess you can always try."

"Well I'm gonna try an-"

The door to Sabkua opens ever so quietly, nothing like the loud banging knocks Dadan makes when she declares herself, or the casual swing around that Ace or Sabo always performed when coming in. That the door opens at all is weird.

Like the time that emperor guy with the cool hair came by. Luffy'd really wanted him to join his crew, but if he's off with Sabo, then at least one of the brothers got a cool guy on their crew. Though the Revolutionaries aren't apparently a crew, or that's what Riskua says at least.

"Ah, Uncle." Uncle? That's a relative thing, right? Like family? Does that make this guy a shell-person too? Cool!

"Hey! Join my crew!"

"No." The guy with the funny eyes that always kidnaps Riskua whenever he comes by strolls into Sabkua Country as if it were his own ship, lips curling slightly as he looks around.

"I do hope you'll be providing my niece with better accommodation when you set sail."

Accomma-whatsit?

"It's only temporary," Riskua snaps back, rising to her feet and her hands reaching for the daggers strapped to her back. Luffy follows the motion eagerly. It's been two weeks since Gramps came by and fighting Riskua is fun (even if he does seem to lose all the time which sucks, he the captain and he should be, no, he will be the strongest) but this guy is always a challenge! Even without Ace and Sabo, this time Luffy's sure he'll be able to beat him.

"Are we gonna fight?!" He's excited, because fighting Gramps hurts but it's tough and good for training.

Fighting this Hawky-eyes guy is just a heart-racing; Luffy's ready and raring to go.

"Yes. We are."

 

 

 

There's a hole in Sabkua Country where Hawky-guy kicked them out of it; Luffy's probably gonna have to take wood off of Luffy Country to fix the hole. Not that it matters, because he really doesn't live there anymore anyway.

Guy with the sword isn't messing around though, even if he's using that tiny little knife again.

Riskua blocks it with a cross of her short -bladed daggers, the pressure of sword-guy's strike forcing her back. Luffy comes in for a low sweep, aiming to knock the guy's legs out for under him, but he effortlessly vaults over them both, making a swipe at Riskua's hair and shredding a few of the red locks from the back.

"Oi!" His first-mate bellows, spinning around and throwing one dagger as hard as she can. It whistles through the air and Luffy recognises that it's enchanted with the mystery power, Hawky-eyes dodging it so the blade cuts right through one tree and embeds itself in the one behind it.

"Gum Gum Pistol!" Luffy's fist rockets forwards, almost smashing into the side of their opponents face, only he tilts his head to the side at the last second and Luffy's fist keeps going.

Gritting his teeth, Luffy plants his feet firmly, recalling his arm. The force of it snapping back into place sends him tumbling backwards, but he tucks his legs close to his chest and twists the motion into a flip, regaining his balance.

By this point, Riskua's back on the attack, having exchanged her one remaining short-dagger for the twin blades that she keeps sheathed on her back now in a special container, one Sabo got her for her birthday. The metal of the blades flash in the sun, the blood in Luffy's veins is roaring with the challenge.

"Let's beat this guy, 'Skua!"

And he charges back in.

 

 

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Sabo wakes in the infirmary. There's something over his left eye, and when he reaches for it, a hand clamps down on his wrist before he can make contact. "Don't touch it, kid. It's bad." "Will I lose the eye?" "Oh no, shouldn't impact your vision too much unless you take it off too early." That's all Sabo needs to here before he allows himself to submit to the call of unconsciousness again.

 

 

 

 

When he wakes up a second time, he can see out of both eyes. The left is still a little blurry and he can't quite remember what happened which is worrying.

He is Sabo, he knows that, and he has two brothers, Monkey D. Luffy and Portgas D. Ace. His best friend is a girl called Dracule Riskua, and she will be coming to join him here, working for the Revolutionaries, on her eighteenth birthday.

No wait, seventeenth, it's the seventeenth birthday they all agreed to set sail on.

Reassured he remembers all the important stuff, Sabo struggle up into something that resembled a sitting position, throwing his arms over his half drawn up knees and hissing in pain as his left hand side protests against the movement.

It takes him a moment to get his breathing back under control (every last breath pulls at the skin of his ribs, which feels unusually tight) and only when he has regulated that dos Sabo dare to take a glance. What he can see that isn't swaddled in bandages is… well, it's not pretty, put it that way.

The skin is dark, a starburst of a burn stretching all over his ribs, the underside of his arm where he'd thrown it up in an attempt to protect his face.

He'd miscalculated, Sabo realises as he picks up the bedside mirror and takes a gander at his new face. It's almost exactly the same as the one he had before, only now there's a whopping big scar on the left hand side. His ear is intact, untouched as his arm had taken the brunt of the damage there, shielding it.

A good portion of his hair has been burnt off though.

Sabo lifts his fingers to his once exceptionally neat hairline. Good genes, he'd told Ace as the boy complained about his jagged hairline, Riskua complaining about the wisps of hair that border her own. Of course, Ace had then asked what pairs of pants had to do with it, and had gone increasingly red when Sabo and Riskua had just laughed at his words.

Sabo feels a bit mean for it now; Ace didn't have the opportunities to learn as Sabo had, as Riskua had.

They'd done their best to educate him though, to educate both him and Luffy. Neither were stupid; Luffy just didn't care for the boring bits and any facts that told him he could not achieve something.

Ace, Ace had soaked up all he could learn, while gruffly trying to inform them he didn't need it. Sabo wasn't blind though, he could see the older boy was grateful for their efforts.

"Doing okay, Sabo?"

Looking up, Sabo grins at Koala, a fellow Revolutionary. It helps that she's exceptionally easy on the eyes; she doesn't exactly make looking at her a difficult task.

"Did all the people get out?" He'd been caught up in an explosion making sure all a boat full of would-be slaves on heading for the Human Auction House suffered a loss of all it's 'cargo'. Oh no, those poor merchants.

"They're all safe, they left the infirmary days ago. You did really well, Sabo, everyone's impressed. But… are you not… upset?" She starts to lift her hand towards his face but aborts the motion at the last second, looking shyly away.

Oh right, the scar. He'd almost forgotten.

"I'm good, I actually…" Sabo confesses, checking his reflection over in the mirror. His hair'll grow back, after all.

Now, when he looks in the mirror now, he no longer see's Sabo, Outlook's runaway, the disgrace of their noble family.

"I actually quite like it."

Instead, when he gazes into the mirror again and sees the burn's dark from stretching across his face, it is Sabo, the Revolutionary who's eyes he meets.

Who's eyes he's proud to meet.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

He's heard the Hawk-Eyed man has been sighted in East Blue once again and now he's done waiting around. He will grow no stronger in this little village.

Hefting his bag up over one shoulder, Roronoa Zoro stands upon the docks of this village that he has come to call home, staring out into the endless stretch of blue ocean.

This is East Blue, East Blue which is commonly regarded as the weakest of the Four Blues. Yet, yet they have thrown out some impressive characters. Gold Roger, Monkey D. Garp, even that Dragon guy who's bounty has flat out skyrocketed in the past year is said to be from this Blue. Zoro keeps track of them all, but his focus is upon one pirate in particular, one who does not originate from here but keeps visiting.

Hawk Eyes, Dracule Mihawk.

The World's Greatest Swordsman.

Zoro's goal.

One tanned hand comes to rest upon his (Kuina's) sword, feeling it clink against the other two that are stored upon his belt.

This is it, this is the start of his journey to find that man. He's been keeping track, has heard that he has been sighted in East Blue several times over the past few years. There's no pattern behind the times he visits though, not that Zoro expects there to be. Why the World's Greatest Swordsman seems to keep returning to the sleepiest Blue, he has no idea, he's not about to question his luck on it.

Instead, he's going to give chase.

He's going to find this man, he's going to beat him. It's not just his dream, it's Kuina's dream too. It's the end goal, it's what he desires in life, all he desires in life. Becoming the World's Greatest Swordsman is what Zoro was born to do, he can feel it in his bones. It sings in his blood, the handles fit so comfortably between his hands, between his teeth.

With this step, as he boards this ship, he'll be starting his journey. He will hunt down Dracule Mihawk, he will defeat him and he'll claim that title for his own.

Nothing will stop him.

"You sure you're on the right boat, boy?"

Flicking his gaze over towards the captain of this little merchant vessel, Zoro nods, ferocious excitement churning within him.

"Sure am."

"You're heading West?" The captain asks unsurely and Zoro scowls, folding his arms across his chest and putting on his best glare. It's an expression he's gotten pretty damn good at now, it scares off all the bandits that'd thought this village an easy target in the past. He'd fought the first few of course, but now they're no challenge. He needs to get out of here, to find some real opponents.

"What of it?"

"N-nothing!" The guy stammers, gesturing for Zoro to go ahead and board.

 

 

 

 

Four weeks later and about seven islands further east of where he'd started, Roronoa Zoro finds himself short on cash and with one weak willed idiot who'd thought him an easy target in hand.

The step to bounty-hunting just seems like a natural move until he gets his bearings. It won't be for long, it's just a temporary gig.

 

 

A man's gotta eat, after all.

 

 

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No no no no no. The time has gone by way too quickly! Ah, life is so mean.

Luffy wants time to speed right on by so he can be seventeen and set sail. He's gonna be fifteen soon, he'll be old enough to set sail in just two more years once he turns fifteen.

But he's realised now that before he turns fifteen, Riskua'll be turning seventeen. And she'll be leaving to go and stay with Sabo until he's seventeen and can set sail and Luffy'll be all alone here. He hates that idea more than anything!

Only, will he really be alone? They might not be here in person, but he knows he's got Ace and Sabo now; knows even if they're out there somewhere, they still consider themselves his brothers. Speaking of brothers, it's Ace's eighteenth today, Luffy recalls.

Staring up at the clear blue sky, a thick scarf wrapped around his neck to combat the winter chill, Luffy finds himself grinning, wondering just what his oldest sibling is up to.

Is he enjoying sailing the Grand Line? Has he met a lot of interesting people? Has he got a good crew with him?

He's met that Iva-guy that Sabo left with, he knows Sabo's in good hands because that guy had been a good person. Luffy can just tell. But are Ace's crew good? He hopes so, hopes he'll get to meet them at some point in the future.

"Kinglet? You okay there?"

Cocking his head back to look at Riskua, Luffy grins, bright and cheerful. Yeah, he's got two brothers and even though they're not on the island anymore it doesn't feel like they've left him. Why would it be any different for his sister? No matter where Riskua goes, she'll still be his big sister, still be his First Mate.

Reassured, Luffy bounces up onto his feet, tugging at the edges of his coat. It's a brilliant red, the perfect colour, though it doesn't match Riskua's hair. Her hair's darker than this; this coat is the kind of red robots would be painted, the kind of red that you'd slap on the side of a ship to make it noticeable. Which is not the colour Riskua's hair is.

She's bundled up in her own coat, stopping just before him, sharp eyes inspecting his appearance. Luffy knows she just wants to make sure he's all wrapped up for the cold, so he has no problem in lifting the brim of Shanks' hat to showcase the knitted hat he's got on underneath. He doesn't even need to tilt it that far, because Riskua's just as tall as he is now.

It's strange, the redhead has always been taller than him, when she'd been eleven she'd been even taller than Sabo and Ace. Sabo'd said girls grew quicker, though they stopped growing taller sooner than boys too. They don't tend to be taller than boys either, he recalls. Ace and Sabo were both much taller than Luffy when they left, and they'd been taller that Riskua when they'd gone. It's funny, because he's at eyelevel with Riskua now, and Luffy's only fourteen. is he gonna keep growing? Is he gonna be taller than Riskua? Maybe he'll end up even taller than Ace and Sabo! They very idea has him grinning.

Sure those two are older than him, but when he's taller than them then they'll have to listen to him. Right?

"What's got you in such a good mood, Luffy-Lu?"

"I'm excited to see Ace and Sabo again, even if it'll be a while!"

"So am I. Every day feels like a cloudy one now," Riskua murmurs and yeah, she's right. They can still have fun on a cloudy day, but it just feels better in the sunshine.

"You're still gonna be my First Mate, right, 'Skua?" Luffy knows she is, Riskua's never broken a promise to him before. But he needs to hear the words, needs to hear it once again.

Fingers wrap up in his own, wool against wool, yellow against black as their gloved hands hold one another. A gentle tug and Luffy's following after Riskua, walking away from Sabkua Country and Dadan Country to go and start the day.

"I've spent nearly half my life with you, do you really think I'm going to bail on you now, Captain?"

Luffy grins and were he a regular human and not a rubberman, he has no doubt that his jaw'd be straining from the effort.

"Ushishi, that's good. You're never allowed to not be my First Mate, 'Skua."

Riskua smiles at him, her cheeks flushed with the cold, eyes squinting slightly as the smile crinkles the skin around them.

"Now enough moping around though, let's go visit Makino."

Yeah! Visiting Makino!

 

 

 

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It's three days until her birthday, three days until she turns seventeen. For the second time. There's a lot different this time. Her hair's long as opposed to the choppy haircut that had barely been any longer than her ears, she doesn't need glasses here. There's a distinct lack of cleavage compared to before.

But she's never been fitter, never been healthier. She's in so much better condition than in her first life and perhaps it's silly, but here she feels powerful.

Riskua knows that feeling's going to be beaten out of her the second she's off Dawn Island, but for now, she'll just enjoy it while it lasts. Seventeen years old in three days…

She'll be setting sail then, joining the Revolutionaries for two years. Just until Luffy's ready to start his own adventure. They'd agreed on leaving the island at seventeen and Riskua's not going to be one to break tradition there. She's not captain material, of that much she's sure. She just doesn't have that kind of inspiring charisma. Riskua's not the kind of person to lie to herself; she can get along with others just fine, can make friends and help them. But truly inspire people? No, she sucks at that, she can't do it. It's just not something she's capable of.

Supporting Luffy though, supporting someone capable of that leadership, that she can do. So, if she can't wait on the island for Luffy (she won't let herself, they both need an opportunity to grow away from each other) then helping out the Revolutionaries, people who's goals she both agrees with and respects; it makes the most sense.

It doesn't make the concept of a temporary goodbye any easier though.

"Hiya, Dadan!"

The door bangs open, Luffy racing inside, one hand planted firmly upon his hat as the other forces the door shut. It's gale force winds outside, a storm long blown off from the Grand Line is barraging the vast majority of islands on East Blue. Their oh so beautiful kingdom isn't exactly one that's going to be avoided.

"Close that damn door, you damn brat!" Dadan's voice booms, ratting the thin glass windows almost as much as the storm outside manages.

Luffy laughs, slamming the door closed at long last, scuttling over to join her up to the kitchen table where she has Dadan's scrapbook out.

"What'cha looking at, 'Skua?"

"Ace's baby photos."

"Ace's baby photos?!" Luffy parrots in a disbelieving yell, eyes wide as he forcibly muscles into her personal space.

Riskua bears with it, wiggling her shoulder a few times until Luffy gets the damn hint and stops leaning on it.

On the page, the first few pages of this scrapbook, there are the pictures of what has to be the cutest toddler she's ever seen. Maybe it's the freckles. Either way, Ace was the cutest baby in the world. Shame he crew up to be such a bratty kid.

"Ah, baby Ace," Luffy whispers in awe, peering at the page before a grin lights up across his face.

"Ushishi, we should take one each, to show him when we see him again!" That… that is a delicious idea.

"Oh Luffy, me and Sabo are rubbing off on you."

Carefully peeling the two cutest, most embarrassing photos present from their pages, Riskua inspect her choices, grinning all the while. It's a shame there's no baby photos of Sabo, she highly doubts his parents were sentimental enough to keep any.

Oh well, she'll just have to settle for teasing the hell out of Ace when she next sees him. God, she hopes it's sooner than Alabasta.

Flicking a bit further into the album, she spots one of a ten year old Sabo, fast asleep with Luffy drooling all over his chest. Yeah, she's keeping that one too.

There's less pictures as they get old, but that's because they'd have noticed Dadan taking photos as they grew more aware. There's more than Riskua was expecting though, that's for sure. The latest being of the day during summer when both she and Luffy had gone fishing in the river, the both of them dozing off on the bank, fast asleep side by side. She snatches that picture up too.

However, the most recent addition to the book-

"Where'd you get this?" Riskua asks, poking her finger against the newspaper clipping. It's shadowed, nothing more than an outline really. But it's undoubtedly Sabo, top hat on head and pipe in hand. He's been marked down as a dangerous character with potential Revolutionary ties.

A bounty of ฿35,000,000 is smeared beneath the 'Dead or Alive'.

That's 10,000,000 more than Ace's first one.

"Look, Luffy, look! Sabo's been busy!"

"Ah! Sabo's so cool! He didn't get photoed right though."

"He's a Revolutionary, Luffy, he's not suppose to get photoed right."

"Oh, okay!"

Grinning back at the boy, Riskua stares down at the photo once again, proof that Sabo is alive and well and up to some form of mischief.

It's fantastic news.

Knowing those two could make it on their own out there (not that she'd had any real doubt but they're her best friends, she has a right to be worried) Riskua feels a lot better about leaving Luffy on an island he now knows like the back of his hand. Especially because he's already so much stronger than he was in canon. Geppo, some skill with Haki in addition to what he's already got with his Devil Fruit? She's helped create a little monster and she couldn’t be more proud.

"So, ฿25,000,000, ฿35,000,000, it looks like the pressure's on Luffy. We'll be a shame if we get anything less than ฿20,000,000 slapped on our posters."

"Ah, 'Skua's right. We have to get good bounties, Ace and Sabo can't beat us if I'm gonna be the Pirate King."

"And if I'm going to be your First Mate, the only person allowed to best me is you, Luffy." He grins-no, he beams at her. Wide and bright and full of promise.

If what Gol D. Roger offered his crew was anything like this, then Riskua can see why they followed him. Outside the wind howls and she's reminded of that thing about storms and Ds. She'd known it already, known what Luffy would be capable of, known what he'd be able to do.

But this is the first time she's actually felt it, felt the knowledge, the assurance, the promise seep all the way to nestle within her bones. It creeps into her skeleton, makes itself at home in a way nothing else has ever done before and nothing else ever will.

And in that one moment, Riskua can think of nothing else but the future she's going to have with Monkey D. Luffy, her Captain.

 

 

 

 

Soaked to the bone, Riskua plods into the shelter that Sabkua Country offers, shrugging out of her coat and grimacing as it falls to the floor with a wet slap.

It's pouring it down outside, sheets and sheets of rain just shattering against the earth. There's about three new rivers running wild throughout the forest and they'd had to go out hunting in this.

"Rain is awful!" Luffy declares, dragging in the bear they'd caught. The scent of wet fur is disgusting but there's nothing to be done about it. They need to eat, because they'd foolishly thought today would be a good day, that the wind had been calming down yesterday so obviously it'd be better to go hunting today.

Wrong. Error. That'd been a huge mistake.

If she's honest, Riskua has no idea how they've even managed to capture the bear given the conditions outside. It's dreadful, so god damn dreadful.

"That's it," she declares, pulling off her hat and carefully setting it to a side to dry. It'd done her no good in the rain, had become waterlogged and thus fluid falling from the heavens had effectively soaked into all of her hair too. Gathering up the dark red strands, she twists and tightens, grimacing at all of the water that's wringed out of it. "We're not opening that door again for anything. Not until this bloody monsoon is over and done with."

There's a noise of agreement that comes from Luffy's general direction so Riskua assumes he's quite fine with it.

Making her way over to the counter where the tiny gas-camping-cooker (a recent steal from Goa Kingdom that makes life so much easier), Riskua grimaces at the very obvious Luffy and Riskua shaped hole that they'd patched up all those months ago. If she were capable, she'd skin Mihawk alive for it. As things stand though, she's not going to have the ability to follow through with that plan for a while yet. He'd ruined a perfectly built wall, one she and Sabo had put a lot of effort into.

Tch, she's remarkably attached to this little fort they created, maybe more than she should be.

Shaking her head, Riskua settles the little stove down on the floor, pulling out a frying pan and catching the carrots and onions Luffy throws her way.

A quick stir fry, throw in some noodles, it'll be enough for them to get by for the night.

 

 

 

When they've eaten and Luffy's given her his birthday gift (a lovely looking pearl on a silver clasp, it fits perfectly on her necklace alongside Shanks' locket), the two of them lay out across the pile of cushions that've steadily grown in the past year, now that it's just the two of them. The sheer mass of them almost makes up for the loss of Ace and Sabo.

Almost.

They're content as can be, ready to welcome in the month of March. Her birthday is awkward, especially given that this isn't a leap year and so she has to celebrate it a day early. What were the chances of her being born on the 29th of February anyway?

Still, she'd decided to celebrate today, leave tomorrow, as both days could technically count as her birthday. Plus, it gave her one more day with Luffy. Snuggled up together, they're happily ignoring the thunderous downpour outside.

As such, it's easy to pretend they can't hear the knocking on the front door that they've bolted shut.

"What're the bandits doing out in this?" Luffy asks, lifting his head from where it'd been snuggled into her neck and Riskua grunts in disapproval of its removal.

The knocking only becomes more insistent and Riskua scowls, listening to the rain and wind roar outside and wonder why the bandit hasn't given up yet. After a few more seconds, her curiosity gets the better of her and she tunes in to what her Haki is telling her.

Only to stop dead in her tracks.

That's familiar.

Throwing Luffy off of her, Riskua clears the distance to the door in record time, pulling it almost fully off its latches (certainly ripping the bolt they'd been using as a lock right off the door) in her excitement.

Half curled up in an attempt to stay grounded against the wind and one hand still extended to knock on the now probably broken door, the other holding tight to his hat, Sabo blinks back at her.

"Sabo!"

And she's throwing herself into his arms, ignoring the rain slicing into her skin, ignoring the way they land on the drenched earth to the chorus of a wet slap and a sharp splash of mud. He's got the appearance of a drowned rat but it is undoubtedly Sabo.

A sentiment that Luffy echoes as he too throws himself upon the blond.

Riskua doesn't even attempt to hold herself back, plastering kisses all over his face just as she did to Luffy when they were children. It seems the appropriate action right now, because it has Sabo laughing in delight.

"I'm happy to see you too. But even if this isn't quite Grand Line terrible, the weather's still pretty bad. Let me in?"

 

 

 

Riskua makes tea, three steaming hot cups that she sets down at the table. Dressed in a pair of pants he'd not taken with him when he left (that are a little too short in the hems now) Sabo grins in thanks and takes a sip. He looks good, looks happy and healthy. If one puts aside his height, then there's only one key difference from the Sabo of a year ago.

"Where'd you get the scar?"

Riskua scowls, slapping Luffy atop the head. He doesn't even flinch in the slightest and she's too soft to use Haki to actually make him feel it. But she wants to know too.

It's not quite the same as the one in the manga (then again, Riskua has no idea how extensive Sabo's scarring in the manga was) but there's still a large burn scar on the left side of Sabo's face. And his ribs. And his left underarm, curling half around the sides of his bicep but leaving the outer-side of the arm unblemished.

The blond blinks, lifting his arm to inspect the scar as if he's quite forgotten it's there. It's old then. Riskua's never really dealt with a burn scar before, certainly not one like that, so she couldn't have guessed how old the injury is just by looking at it. Old enough that Sabo's forgotten it's there, or rather, has become used to its presence on him.

"Oh, a while ago. Saved some people, blew up a ship. It was a good day."

Of course it was, Riskua thinks with a pleased smile. Slurping noisily at her tea, the redhead watches as Sabo twitches at the noise, watches him full out grimace when Luffy does the exact same only louder. Hell, they could eat as messily and rambunctiously as they wanted, but when it comes to drinking, Sabo has a… thing about doing it properly. Which means no slurping.

"Please stop," he whines, delicately sipping at his own cup of tea and Riskua has to forcibly smother her own smile.

"Well since you asked so nicely… Why are you here, Sabo?" Why you? While it makes sense that they would send the boy who knew the island to collect her, there's also the point that Outlook might still be looking for him. That he might get recognised.

And now, now Sabo carries Revolutionary secrets, just from being in contact with the army is enough for a one way ticket to Imperial Down, if not the execution platform. In that past year or two, the Marines have taken their stance upon the Revolutionaries, and while they may be like smoke it the wind, appearing and disappearing just as fast, that doesn't stop the guppies of the World Government attempting to capture them.

It's probably why Sabo's starting bounty is higher than Ace's was. Just with those connections alone Sabo's already dangerous, perhaps enough to be considered the most dangerous person in East Blue right now.

If one discounts Luffy for his heritage that is.

"I wanted to come and wouldn't take no for an answer," Sabo admits, running hand through his hair. It seems a bit shorter on the left hand side, perhaps still recovering from the after-effects of that explosion he spoke of. "Had to give Luffy his birthday present, after all."

Snootily scrunching up her nose as the blond throws Luffy a bag of some kind of candy, Riskua folds her arms across her chest and asks, "What about mine?"

"I'm your birthday present," Sabo states, wiggling his eyebrows with a grin on his face. It tugs at the corners of Riskua's lips but she forces the expression down, forces herself to keep playing along.

"Where can I exchange you then?"

"Oh, such a wound to the heart," Sabo gasps, dramatically pressing both hands over his torso and Riskua can stem her laughter no longer. The Revolutionary falls into his own round of laughter, opening his arms and accepting both her and Luffy into another hug, falling back onto the cushions as he does so. She's missed this, missed Sabo, even more than she'd first thought. What will it be like, to meet up with Ace again? She kind of hopes she'll manage to run into him before joining up with Luffy, because she knows he's out there, out fighting the whole world to find the answer to his question. But really, he shouldn't need to look past Sabo and Luffy, his two younger brothers, to know without a doubt that he's loved. That it's a good thing that he was born.

"Are you all packed up?"

"Yes, Mum, I've got all the pairs of pants I need."

"Yeah, laugh it up, when we get to base, I'll be your superior officer, so there."

Quick as lightning, Riskua pinches Sabo's tongue when he sticks it out at her, grinning when he starts scowling at her.

"When he get there, but right now, you're definitely not. What's the matter, Sabo? Cat got your tongue?"

"More like a bird," Luffy giggles, pressing his hands into Sabo's cheeks and mashing them together.

Oh it's good to have him back.

 

 

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Fuck.

His muscles are aching, his bones feel like they're shattered in about fifteen different places. Just because he's been offered a place as one of the Shichibukai, doesn't mean they're all on the same level. Fighting Jinbe has proven that.

It's been five days. Five days and Ace is tired and he's hungry and he's hurt.

Oh sure, he's a Logia, but Jinbe's been a pirate for years, a pirate on the Grand Line for years. Of course he knows how to use Haki. He's had to make use of his own Armament, make use of the Observation that Riskua has all but beaten into his head through childhood. He owes her a meal, or a new dress or something. He'd be struggling so much more if it weren't for the (as Luffy puts it) mystery power.

Jinbe can use it too, but he'd clearly not been expecting Ace, who has yet to shed his Super Rookie title, to be capable of wielding it as effectively as he has.

Placing one foot under him, Ace pushes himself up onto his arms, aware the limbs are shaking. He can still keep going though, he's got the strength for this.

Whitebeard… Whitebeard's the strongest man in the world, said to have been on the same level as that bastard Ace has for a biological father. If Ace can take Whitebeard's head… Then he'd have been able to defeat the Pirate King too. He won't be bound by that bloodline anymore, because he would be even more dangerous than that man had ever been.

Then it won't matter if people believe he should have never been born, because he'll have exceeded their expectations. He won't become a second Pirate King, but he'll prove himself greater than the man that fathered him. He'll be able to protect the people that lov- that care for him despite his demon's blood. Sabo and Luffy and Riskua. No one will touch them once he proves himself. No one will be capable of it.

He can hear his worried crew shouting as he pushes himself up, forces himself to stand. They're good men, and maybe, maybe he'll be able to tell them the truth soon. Maybe. Despite what Garp beat into him, despite the ingrained need for secrecy..

These are his men. And maybe he can trust them with that last secret about himself.

"Whitebeard!"

The call has Ace's head snapping up, despite the fact it feels as if it's full of fuzz, as if he's taken a dunk into the ocean and only just crawled out.

No.

He's suppose to face Whitebeard when he's at his peak. Not after five days of nonstop fighting, not when he's not ready. But it doesn't look like he'll get a choice in this, and Ace will not back down.

The bastard knocks down his men with barely a lick of power and Ace's blood boils, flames lick through his limbs in his anger. No one touches his men, not while he still lives and breathes.

"Blazing net!" It seethes out of him, those flames he knows so well, circling around himself and Whitebeard, a protective barrier. No one touches his men if he has any say.

"Run!" He demands, throat burning from the strength of his bellow. "Let them leave," he says to Whitebeard, feeling that same scorching fury that'd energised his bones when he and Luffy were faced with that fire. "Let them leave and I will not run."

It'll never happen again, not now that Ace is fire.

And he burns with it.

 

 

 

 

 

"So you still stand."

It hurts to do so, he's so battered and broken and he's never been pushed so far in a fight.

He's not going to win, Ace realises with a detachment quite unlike him. He's not going to win unless he uses every damn thing he can in his arsenal. He's already attempted Armament, already attempted a sneak attack with Observation and his flames. Not even Geppo had given him an edge here.

That leaves him with one last thing.

It's his mind, tired from five days of nonstop fighting that's tricking him, but he can feel Riskua's hands on his shoulders, encouraging and strong, pushing him forwards. Telling him it's now or never. Fuck getting on the Marines' shit list, he'll never get out of this alive if he doesn't. He can feel the weight of Luffy's eyes, the sound of Sabo's delighted laugh as he promises not to die.

"I won't back down!" Ace screams, drowning out Whitebeard's next words. He won't back down, he needs to win, he needs the power to protect Luffy and Sabo and Riskua and crew because if the world finds out, they'll die for just associating with him.

For loving him.

"I'll never run!"

And Conqueror's blasts out of him.

It's like removing a dam, a lake full of water that he's been blocking for too long, a feral tiger in a cage.

It explodes out of him, slamming into Whitebeard, into the Whitebeard pirates, into Jinbe and what remains of his men. They all drop like flies, one after the other.

All but Whitebeard, who staggers but remains stood tall.

 

 

 

Damn it, Ace curses as his vision blackens.

 

 

Damn it all.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"So what are we gonna do with him, yoi?"

Marco the Phoenix stares at the man (boy, he's nothing more than a boy, is he even of age yet?) that's been brought aboard. That was after everyone had been prodded awake though.

Recalling the incident, Edward 'Whitebeard' Newgate reclines back in his chair, paying the nurses as little attention as he can get away with. His breathing comes easier with their assistance, but he's not that old yet. He still has time, time to see this new age dawning, to bet on the next generation. Speaking of the next generation...

Whitebeard flicks his gaze between his oldest son and whom he hopes will become his newest. Potentially his youngest.

For all that fierce fury back there, now that the boy is unconscious, the youth his figure still boasts is clear. It's evident in the soft curves to his cheeks, the nose and chin that aren't quite as formed, aren't quite as fully developed as they could be. Something is nagging at the back of his mind as he stares at the boy's face, an itch he just can't seem to scratch.

Oh well, it'll come to him eventually.

"Guhahaha, Portgas fought bravely to save his crew." The fire in his eyes matched that in his hands, burned bright and strong and true. A pleasure to witness, but all of that self loathing, that desperate need to prove a point in one so young is worrying.

"He'd make a fine son." And he would.

But that's not what has Whitebeard most intrigued, not anymore.

That blast of Conqueror's Haki... it hadn't been the first time.

He'd seen the look on the boy's face, seen the panic, the realisation that he wasn't going to win the fight. The cool determination as he'd centred himself. It'd been like a localised explosion, the sheer magnitude of that Haki roaring out of the boy's battered form, slamming into every person around.

Yet, it'd skipped right over his retreating crew.

No, that was no untrained Haki.

Which brings up the question of just where has this boy been hiding? That kind of power, it doesn't just pop up out of nowhere, especially in East Blue.

Recalling the newspaper reports, Whitebeard's frown increases somewhat. No history, a mysterious past. They didn't know the kid's hometown, couldn't find his records in the system, only knew his name because he'd declared it so boldly. And a D at that.

"Gahahaha! The brat's got promise," he declares, amusement thrumming through his bones as Marco's face crumples in resignation. To have Conqueror's Haki capable of bringing Marco to his knees... even though it hadn't knocked the blond unconscious that was impressive. Is impressive.

"So who's going to greet him then?"

A moment of thought as Whitebeard recalls every last one of his sons and daughters, trying to pick out the right one. It'll take a gentle touch, a warm greeting...

"Bring me Thatch, Marco."

"With pleasure, Pops."

 

 

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"-And you've gotta get really strong because I'm gonna get stronger and you can't be weak, okay?!"

With her head no doubt spinning from Luffy's mile a minute speech, Riskua just nods dumbly in response to the boy. Sabo wonders with just a lick of pleasure if she's experiencing anything at all like what he and Ace both got off of her when they set off. He can barely remember what she'd said to him, but it'd felt like he'd been dealt the instructions on how to sail a battleship on his own. Confused as hell and certainly overwhelmed. 

Feet planted firmly upon the wood of Foosha Village's small dock, Sabo adjusts his grip on his pipe, trying not to smile.

Unlike when he and Ace set off, the day is miserable, like a blatant representation of Luffy's current state.

Luffy who's balling his eyes out and clinging to Riskua shoulders (she's smaller than Luffy now, the brat's grown so much since Sabo last saw him) as if he can physically ground her, force her to stay. His rubbery limbs are wrapped thrice around her, cheek against her cheek as he affectionately nuzzles against her. It's cute.

Ah, he feels so mean tearing them apart but Luffy's had Riskua to himself nearly a whole year. It's Sabot turn now, he gets to have her undivided attention until she goes back to Luffy to sail as his First Mate.

He'd be lying if he said he wasn't looking forwards to spending time with his best friend and not having to share. Selfish, he knows, but honestly Sabo doesn't particularly care.

Why can't he be selfish? The Revolutionaries are great and Sabo feels like he's making a real difference, feels like he's making good friends.

But they're not his best friend.

"I'll get stronger," Riskua agrees with a laugh, wiggling a hand free to curl around Luffy's back, holding him closer as water bounces off of their shoulders.

At least the rain's not coming down in buckets as it was yesterday. He still can't believe they made him wait out in the rain.

"Super strong?"

"Super strong. And I'll keep an eye out for anyone that you might be interested in having on the crew."

"Okay!" And Luffy's back to nuzzling.

"Right, hate to break this up, but we need to get a move on," he declares, feeling only a tiny bit guilty when Luffy's face crumples.

It doesn't last very long because instead of Luffy hugging Riskua to death, he's latched onto Sabo instead. Damn he's gotten a fair bit stronger, this is a very tight hold.

"Ah, it'll be okay, Luffy. There's no way you won't see us again, right?"

"I know. Because Sabo's my brother and 'Skua is my sister, so you'll always be there." He's so sure of his words, not a hint of doubt and that has Sabo smiling even more. A quick flick of his eyes to the left and Sabo sees Riskua's smiling too. Despite how watery it is, it's warm, and Sabo's enough of a gentleman not to point out the tear mingling with the rain.

"Right then," he tries again, trying to force his arms apart from his ribs but Luffy's grip is far too tight. Riskua knows it too, because she's grinning over Luffy's shoulder at him, rain pinging off of the brim of her hat.

"Let him go, Luffy. Time'll fly by and you'll be setting sail before you know it."

Luffy sniffles in response but finally, finally, his arms release Sabo. The Revolutionary takes no time to step back out of Luffy's reach. Well, not so much out of is reach as to give himself enough distance to actually react to those rubbery limbs.

Guilt momentarily wells up in Sabo's stomach, startling him. He hadn't felt it when he'd set sail himself, but, but this is different. This time he isn't leaving Luffy in Riskua's capable hands. Now he's leaving the kid (and god, Luffy is only fourteen) all on his own. Stood there with his thin shoulders and gangly arms, hair dripping from the downpour the sky is gracing them with, Luffy looks smaller than Sabo's ever seen him.

Before words can bubble up and out of his mouth, before he can work them past the hard knot in his throat, Luffy tips his head back and laughs.

"Riskua's gonna become awesome and Sabo's got an awesome bounty so now I have to train really hard to beat you all!"

Why was he even worried? Of course Luffy's gonna be fine, it's Luffy.

Riskua bundles him up in her arms once more, knocking his hat back and off so it hangs by the string around his neck, allowing her to place her lips to his forehead for one last time.

"Damn right we will, Kinglet. Next time we see each other, you'll be a pirate, and you'll be my captain."

"It's a promise!" Hopping into the little boat they'd be taking to the next island (not too far away, nothing more than a three day rowing trip) Sabo turns to offer Riskua his hand for balance. She takes it, stepping into the boat and they both turn back to look at Luffy.

He's standing on the docks, a few of Foosha's occupants coming to gather around him.

"Have fun, Riskua!"

"You too, Luffy!"

They grin at each other, bright and cheerful and Sabo feels his own lips twist up in response, fingers working free the knot-work that keeps their boat attached to the poor excuse of a port.

Despite the rain, it's a bright day.

 

Of course as soon as they can no longer see Luffy's waving form, Riskua bursts into tears. Real big fat ones too. Delightful. 
 

 

They've been sailing for a few hours now, the rain a gentle patter against their skin, steadily calming down from the deluge of earlier. 

Taking a glance at his company, Sabo quirks an eyebrow at the sight of her. Tears have long since dried up now and instead, Riskua leans over the side of their little raft, one arm pillowing her head upon the edge, the other outstretched to dance upon the surface of the waves. She's sailed before, Sabo recalls, has to have done in order to reach Dawn Island. Especially as she'd have travelled all the way from the Grand Line. Still, sailing on an actual ship compared to their little dingy; it's two very different things. She's not as excited as Sabo remembers being, but then again he'd set off with Ivankov. Ivankov who's now in Impel Down, having performed a heroic sacrifice in order for the rest of the Revolutionary forces to escape the approaching Marines.

That'd been back before he got his scar, Sabo remembers.

"Feeling nervous?" Just to break the tension, he throws the question out there.

Slowly, Riskua's head lifts from where it's been resting, bleary yellow eyes blinking sluggishly.

"Not really," she moans, wiping at the curves of her cheeks, attempting to remove the spray of the ocean. "I trust you and you wouldn't stick with these people if there weren't okay. I just realised how much I've missed Ace this past year, and how I'm probably gonna miss Luffy just as much, if not more."

"No sweet words for my absence?" He teases, leaning back against the belly of the boat, cushioning his head upon the plush material of his bag.

"Oh you know I missed you, Sabo, but do you really need me to reassure you of that?"

"It's always nice to hear," Sabo admits, throwing one arm up to remove his hat as his eyes slip close.

A second later Riskua's head comes to rest on the crook of his shoulder, one hand tangling in the material of his jacket.

"Missed having hugs from taller people... though Luffy's quickly fixing that now that he's growing like a weed." Yeah, Sabo'd noticed that too. And he's missed this as well.

The Revolutionaries are cool, but they're not exactly touchy feely. Outside of the sexual way that is, but for all that Sabo's a healthy male with a great appreciation for both the sexes, every so often he just needs some platonic cuddling. So he's really glad Riskua's joining up, because that's one need satisfied.

Riskua likes to cuddle, Sabo likes being cuddled, it's a win-win situation for both of them.

At the thought, Sabo places his hat over his face, a shield from the rain, and he wraps his arm tighter around Riskua's back.

They're on course, the wind (to his amateur calculations) isn't due to change anytime soon, so really they can afford to nap for a little bit. Not truly fall asleep, but enter a kind of light doze, just enjoy one another's company like they haven't been able to do for the past year.

Lips tilting up in a smile, Sabo allows his shoulders to loosen, tension draining from his body. He hasn't been able to relax like this, really relax like this since he joined the Revolutionaries. Maybe that'll change now that Riskua's around, now that he has something familiar in this exciting world he's suddenly embraced.

"I have missed this, Sabo." Yeah, even though it'd been said in jest earlier, it really is nice to hear those words.

"Missed you too."

 

 

 

Sabo startles awake when he hears the sound of footsteps unnervingly close to his head.

"You never said you were going to pick up your girlfriend, Sabo."

Koala has lifted his hat from his head, one hand on her hip as she stares down at him and Sabo grins unrepentantly up at her. Her light brown hair is half hidden under the hat he'd gotten her for her birthday, framing her pretty little face as one of her eyebrows rises up. Then Koala's words catch up and Sabo feels his grin stretch out even more.

"S'not my girlfriend, Ace's the one with a crush on her, not me." Though that might have changed, the pirate has been out at sea for a year now, who knows what wondrous people he's seen. Well, wondrous women, Sabo's reasonably certain Ace is only straight, unlike himself who doesn't really care much for the gender as for the personality. Appearance helps too though. Nuzzled in his neck, Riskua lets out a low breath, still clearly quite asleep. Heh, cute. So much for a little nap.

"You're pretty close for not being involved," Koala points out, sitting herself down on the railings of the boat, arms folded across her bountiful chest and a teasing smile on her face.

Suddenly Sabo's getting second thoughts about introducing Riskua and Koala, given their propensity to mocking him. But another friend will be good for Riskua, hell, having a female friend might be good for her, Sabo doesn't know. He's had the best of both worlds for quite a while now; two fantastic brothers and a brilliant female for a best friend. Riskua's only been hanging out with the three of them though, so perhaps some female influence will do her some good. Speaking off influence…

Sabo tilts his head back to peer up at the side of the ship that's beside them, a rope leading up and onto the deck. Must be where Koala climbed down from.

"We were in the area and Joe sensed you approaching, so we set off to shorten the journey back to Baltimore." Ah, so Bunny Joe is up on the ship too?

"I suppose we best get up there then," Sabo murmurs to himself, sitting himself up and pulling Riskua along as he goes.

Clearly reluctant to awaken, she grumbles throughout the entire movement, peering at him through narrowed eyes before she turns her attention to Koala. There's a moment where the two women size each other up, poisonous yellow meeting royal blue making assumptions of the other that Sabo can only guess at.

"So, you never told me you got a girlfriend, Sabo." Yeah, he knew this was coming and yeah he's regretting introducing these two already.

"I think we're going to get along just fine," Koala decides, offering Riskua her hand. The redhead takes it, allowing the other female to help her to her feet. Stood side by side, it's clear Riskua's taller than Koala, but not by much. There two or three inches in it, if that.

"Dracule Riskua, pirate and temporary Revolutionary, I guess."

"Koala, full time Revolutionary. It's nice to meet you."

For a moment, it looks like the start of a beautiful friendship, one that Sabo will someday look back on and be proud to have helped instigate.

Of course, the rosy imagery shatters a moment later when Koala grins and places Sabo's hat atop his head, pulling the brim down so he can't see either of them.

"Oh the embarrassing stories I can tell you about this one."

"We can swap, I've got all his childhood stored up in my head." God, why?

 

 

.

.


 

.

.

 

 

 

Riskua likes Koala. She'd been a bit worried how she'd interact with another girl her age (it's been so long) but it's actually wonderful.

The boat that the Revolutionaries have commandeered was once a Marine vessel, though now it has been painted a slate grey, devoid of any form of decoration or declaration of just whom the ship belongs to. Understandable given that Marines probably have orders to shoot first and only ask questions to defeated prisoners when the spot the red flag of revolution. That’s if they take any prisoners at all and don't just try to sink them all.

Then again, the World Government is probably scrambling for any form of information they can get their hands on when it comes to the Revolutionaries. Say what you will, but Dragon and his minions are damn good at what they do. To her knowledge, the Marines haven't made one significant breakthrough on striking at the Dragon's rising movement since it began, or hell, even found so much as a whiff of the Revolutionaries.

Every member of this temporary crew move efficiently and effectively; taking stock of stolen weapons and whatever food supplies they've gathered, either through genuine trade or theft, the latter reserved only for Marine ships (who were the unquestionable enemy) or pirate ships (who really weren't exactly innocents). Just because she hasn't officially been inducted in, doesn't mean Riskua escapes pulling her weight either, not that she's particularly bothered by this.

Ticking off the last tinned of cured meat, Riskua twists the clipboard around in her hands, tucking the sturdy equipment against her side as she turns on her heels for the door.

It doesn't take her too long to find the Revolutionary in charge of the ship's cargo, a man by the name of Farren, who wore his curly red hair tied back with a white and black patterned bandanna.

"All done, sweetheart?"

"Yep, all done. Am I good to go?" "Sure are," he lazily waves one pale hand through the air, indicating she should scamper off now, before another job pops up for her to complete.

Offering the man a smile, Riskua snaps of teasing salute before she takes off down the corridor, pocketing one hand as the other reaches up to adjust her hair. Or rather-

"The wig's still too much, in my professional opinion."

Flicking a glare towards Sabo, Riskua straightens the choppy black strands that now cover her head, lips twitching as the dark strands tickle at the curve of her cheekbones. The hime haircut of the wig is far too severe for her usual preferences, but that's the point. It's about as far away from Dracule Riskua as she can get without outright changing her eye colour, for which she has a pair of purple tinted goggles to wear on missions. Give than purple and yellow together make brown, she hopes they'll be enough to disguise her most distinguishable feature.

"Shut up," Koala snaps, whapping Sabo atop the back of his head with a frown. "Riskua's got a pretty face, it doesn't matter how her hair looks. Unless she decides to shave it all off." The look that's thrown her way lets Riskua know the other woman would not stand for such a thing happening.

"She looks weird with black hair though." Petulantly folding his arms, Sabo pouts and looks away, Koala's face crumpling slightly into an annoyed frown.

The next thing Riskua knows, the other woman has Sabo's cheek pinched between his fingers and is forcibly returning his gaze to the two of them.

"Stop being stupid and tell your best friend she looks pretty."

"Why? Riskua knows she's stunning."

Not exactly the word Riskua'd have used, unless Sabo meant stunning in the same way a golden poison dart frog's colouring made you stop and stare for a second. The kind of stunning that inspired a great deal of caution and a fear of poison.

"Women still like to be told they're pretty," Koala insisted, tugging Sabo's cheek even closer to them. Unlike Luffy who's skin would just stretch under the force, Sabo is instead dragged along with his inelastic cheek, a disgruntled grimace of pain on his face.

"Okay, okay! You're very pretty, Ri." It'd probably have meant a lot more to her had the words not been choked out while the male's under duress.

"I think that's the point you're suppose to tell Koala she's beautiful too," Riskua teases, highly entertained when Sabo's eyes narrow at her.

Between the two of them, Koala just scoffs, her free hand planted on her hip as the other still clings tight to Sabo's face. It's really quite amusing, watching the dynamic between the two of them, even as Sabo continues to glare at her.

"You shut your face."

 

 

 

 

 

 

They arrive at an island secreted away in the first half of the Grand Line, though admitted close to the entrance to the New World. After so long on a ship, Riskua finds herself dying to feel the sturdy earth beneath her feet, the grass between her toes. It seems like it's been forever, eternity with the ocean spray kissing at her face, the rolling waves rocking the ship's hull.

Though given the layer of snow covering Baltigo, she gets the terrible feeling it’s a winter island. Just the thought has her whimpering a little bit because goddamn it, hasn't she seen enough snow in this lifetime? Riskua really dislikes the idea of living in a place that's constantly surrounded by snow, she really does.

"Well, here we are," Sabo discouragingly adds, a cheery little grin on his face. Of course he loves this place, it's barren wasteland and complete lack of anything that hints at nobility probably appeals to him.

Face scrunching up, Riskua hoists her bag over her shoulder, other hand curled around the handle of her old chest. It's not fitted with wheels, and though crude as they are, it makes life easier. Or it would, if she didn't have to slug through all this damn snow.

Thankfully though, her best friend actually does take pity on her, grabbing the other handle and hefting the luggage up between them.

"Come on then, let's get inside. I know Dragon-san wants to talk shop with you."

"Talk shop with me?"

Something closely resembling a noise of agreement rumbles at the back of Sabo's throat, muffled from really springing into existence by his teeth.

"Yeah, when Ivankov told Dragon-san that you want to help out for two years and after I told him all about your goal to be the World's Expert on Haki, he got pretty interested. Don't know if he remembers you from back then…" Sabo doesn't explicitly refer to the fire, but then again, none of them do. Not Ace, not Sabo and not Luffy. She has no real desire to ever bring it up either; it's not an even that really inspires fond memories for any of them really. Past Sabo discovering his 'true calling' in life, as he'd once titled it. That had been an important revelation for her blond friend, after all.

"I take it Haki is quite highly prized then," Riskua murmurs. She'd known, of course, that few outside of the New World were capable of using it, and her Papa, Mihawk, neither of them had been able to name an expert in the field. Or hell, even say they knew someone who was studying the power. Which was damn stupid if you asked her, but no one ever had.

"Oh yeah. I think he likes the idea of having someone capable of efficiently teaching those who don't know. I mean, you did such a great job with me."

As if to prove his point, Sabo flexes the length of his arm, the slither of skin between his sleeve and gloves darkening to a fetching pitch black. He's been practicing, Riskua notes, not entirely unsurprised.

"Now come on, let's get inside the nice warm base so I can present you to the Boss."

Sounds wonderful.

 

 

 

 

Sabo leaves her with Dragon. On her own. He leaves her on her own to hash out her verbal contract for the next two years.

While she's met this man before, Riskua isn't exactly comfortable in his presence; only the knowledge that he is trying to do what is right, that he is Luffy's father, keeps her hands from the handles of her daggers. Just for a perceived sense of security. Because make no mistake about it, this is a very dangerous man before her. Quite rightly titled the 'Most Wanted Man in the World'.

Sitting across from her with intimidating dark eyes, he certainly gives off that feeling of a storm just ready to burst. Ready to throw the world into chaos, damn the consequences. The world would just have to weather the downpour, would just have to adapt to the havoc that'll rain down upon them because it's adapt or get washed away.

"Dracule Riskua, correct?"

This is the most awkward job interview she's ever had. Ever.

"Yeah, that's me. We've met before."

Monkey D. Dragon is a busy man, she wouldn't be surprised in the least if he'd forgotten meeting her. It'd been a busy few days for the both of them eight years ago, and it's probably been just as wild for the Revolutionary leader ever since.

"I recall." And yep, there it is, that terrifyingly crazy grin. "A child skilled at Haki is not something easily forgotten, especially one found in East Blue."

"Right," Riskua says, for lack of any other words. What exactly are you suppose to say to that?

"Given the lack of questions from Sabo, I take it you kept your word."

 

 

 

The panic blinds her, hands laced in a sweat she cannot rid herself of.

Climbing the ship's side, Riskua's breath comes in short, sharp panicked pants, clogging her chest and she's not getting enough air. Ribs tight, everything hurts. Smoke, billowing clouds of smoke rise from the wildfire just off the side of the coast. The noble's fire, the noble's fire that's consuming everything in its path and she doesn't know where Ace and Luffy are.

Wind blasts outwards, more powerful than the typhoons she'd witnessed sailing with her Papa. It clears a path, but Riskua cannot, will not risk this.

Hauling herself over the side of the ship, she falls onto the unforgiving surface of the deck, right at the feet of the very man she needs to see.

"Please! Please! You have to save them, please!"

Dark eyes stare down at her, a steel that'd been absent in their earlier meeting suddenly the only thing present.

"I have given them the opportunity."

Sabo's almost up now, scaling the side of the ship just like she has done. If his begging will make any difference... she doesn't have the time to wait and see.

"Please, Ace- my friend- and my brother- you have to save Luffy! He's your son, right?!"

 

 

 

"Yeah... didn't want to, but I kept it."

Fat and heavy, there's a prolonged silence in the room now, larger and bolder than a pink elephant.

Riskua doesn't really dare to meet Dragon's eyes and she wonders if he's recalling the same moment she is. Him returning with Ace and Luffy, the both of them unconscious and singed but gloriously alive. Recalling the way he had dropped both Ace as Luffy off at their treehouse, the weight of his gaze before he'd left. How she'd recognised the silent demand to stay, told Sabo she'd be right up.

How, once the blond was out of sight, Dragon had asked for her silence upon the dangerous topic of Luffy's parentage.

She'd agreed, not that she'd really had a choice.

Regardless of how heavy Dragon's threatening gaze had lingered, she'd already been aware (so painfully aware) of Luffy's inability to keep a secret. If he started out his adventures and let slip just who's son he was, her darling brother would probably never have made it to the Grand Line. His 'execution' upon the same spot Gol D. Roger died would have been the real thing. Even if Dragon might've saved him, Luffy'd be hounded for all his life, never given the opportunity to grown strong.

It's not a life she'd wish upon her younger brother, that is for sure.

And it is for that reason she has begrudgingly kept her mouth shut.

"We will offer you whatever resources we are capable of for your research into Haki, in exchange for the training of our agents in regards to what you uncover. The Army's numbers aren't as bountiful as I'd like, so you may be pulled for missions too."

"That's fine, I don't mind running some missions." Training to get stronger, learning more about Haki, actually having access to resources; it all sounds pretty good.

"Will you be wanting progress reports?"

It's incredibly off-putting to be the sole focus of Dragon's attention but Riskua forces her spine to remain straight, to not wilt or crumple beneath his stare. She's Luffy's First Mate, she's the First Mate to the future Pirate King and she will bow to the will of none other than him.

So despite the crushing sensation, Riskua does not react to the pressure.

Then, it's almost as if she's passed some kind of test because Dragon gives her that same grin, that dangerously pleased one that feels like a threat and a promise all at once. It burns with the heated flames of revolution.

"Keep them short and concise. If I want further information, I will seek you out. Find Koala, she will show you to your room."

"Room?"

It is only as Dragon quirks an eyebrow at her that Riskua realised she's blurted that thought out aloud and she feels her cheeks burn.

"All instructors and high ranking officers have their own rooms. Use the space wisely. You will get no more." Of course not, this is a military operation after all.

"Understood, Dragon-san."

"Welcome to the Revolutionary Army, Dracule Riskua."

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

"Concealment Haki?"

A whole month has passed since Riskua first found herself on Baltigo and she has made more progress with regard to Haki in those thirty or so days than she had in six months last year. She'd never have guessed she could get so much work done when given space, time and the necessary drive.

All her conclusions so far are documented, all her ideas for future experiments into possible branches of undiscovered Haki are wrote down, concepts and thoughts brainstormed onto huge sheets of paper that're stuck to the walls of her little room. It's not even as large as Sabkua Country was, but it is her's and that's the important bit.

"It's still in the prototype stages right now, but when I concentration fully on it, I managed to hide from Garp last year."

With his hand curled beneath his chin, one forefinger extended and thumb stroking his jawline, Dragon reads over her shoulder with active interest.

Starting on the Haki she thinks would be most helpful to the Revolutionary Army is the most obvious choice, so Riskua now finds herself contemplating all that her stealth Haki (or Concealment Haki, as she's tentatively named it) consists of. She hasn't been able to come up with a better way of describing Concealment than what she has already concluded; that this form of Haki is all about is erasing, removing the traces and cues that prove her presence. Instead of making the user more aware of the world around them, it's about making the world less aware of the user, upsetting the perceptions of everyone in the vicinity until they instinctively dismiss the user's presence.

Of course, even the slightest relapse in concentration leads to a break in that, as Riskua had rapidly found out with Garp.

It still feels like she has the bruises from that encounter lingering under her skin.

"I think the basics of it is that if your desire to hide is greater than the desire of the one looking for you, really looking for you, then the concealment wins out. But I haven't really had as much an opportunity to test it as I'd like." Because when he was looking for her, Luffy always, always won. Riskua would never drum up enough willpower to hide from her little brother whenever he came calling and by the time she developed Concealment, he was the only Haki user on the island.

"It's an avenue worth exploring though, right?" Tipping her head back to look at her, well, temporary boss, Riskua lifts an eyebrow as Dragon continues to scan over her notes and ideas.

"Certainly," he agrees after a moment, brow visibly heavy with thought. "It would make life a lot easier for us if we could use such a power."

"I'll keep experimenting then. Is there an island nearby with a few Haki users where I can test it?"

"Gahapne has a Marine base, small given its location on the Grand Line, but it should house enough Haki using marines for any tests you wish to conduct. Bunny Joe will take you over. Try to gather some information while you're there."

At that clear dismissal, Riskua nods, gathering up the shortened version of her notes on Haki so far and handing them over to the Revolutionary Leader. He takes them with a stern nod, twisting around on his heels and heading for the door.

Riskua watches him go with a frown, one hand coming up to toy with the brim of her hat. Well, it's her hat now. She's still in a bit of shock, given Dragon's words mere moments ago, before he'd decided to start questioning her advancements on Haki.

"That hat… A young woman used to wear it, to hide her distinctive hair colour."

He hadn't made it blatantly obvious, but Riskua can read between the lines.

The hat that she carries had once belonged to someone Makino considered a best friend, to someone Dragon evidentially knew and (from the emotion that'd been thick in his voice) had been quite close to. There only one person, to her knowledge, that can fit into those two categories, though Riskua might be wrong.

Luffy's mother.

Running one fingertip along the visor, the redhead sighs, removing the headgear and placing it carefully on the table. It's old but in good condition; it does make Riskua wonder just what happened to Luffy's mother. She's got a bit more tack than to just come out and ask now, especially because it seems to have effected Dragon so much to the point he point blank stares at her hat.

The fact he's hellishly intimidating and may or may not scare her just a bit plays only a small role in that.

With a sigh, Riskua runs a hand through her red hair, eyeing the wig that sits off to a side of her desk. If she's going to be joining the Strawhats (and the only thing that'll stop her from doing so is if she dies in these next two years) then it'll be in the best interests of both herself and her future crewmates that she finds a way to hide her activities with the Revolutionaries.

Because if the Marines figured out a revolutionary was a member of a rookie crew, Riskua doesn't doubt they'd go in for the kill, regardless of how fresh-faced that pirate crew was. She won't have her actions linked back to Luffy and his future crew; they'd be struck down before they could really get going and that's unacceptable.

So if that means wearing a disguise, if it means sporting a wig that'll distance her from her usual look, if it means hiding her eyes as effectively as she can, then that's what she'll do.

It'll come out eventually, things don't exactly stay secret for long in this world, that's for sure. But it'll give Luffy and his crew a chance to really grow strong and that's what matters. As long as she manages to keep that disguise going for the duration of her stay on Baltigo, it should all work out.

Doesn't change the fact the wig itches though.

 

 

 

 

The island of Gahapne turns out to be, much to Riskua's eternal frustration, a winter island.

Standing upon the docks she huddles further into the thick material of her coat, a grimace smeared across her face and eyes narrowed beneath the protection of her purple goggles.

Joe, wonderful person that he is, had dropped her off and stated he'd be coming back in forty eight hours, for which she'd have a half hour window to get back on the boat or he was leaving without her. It wasn't mean-spirited or anything; the Revolutionaries literally cannot afford to be seen sulking around on the islands so close to their base of operations.

Brushing the black bangs away from where they wisp over her cheekbones, Riskua adjust the strap of her goggles before she takes off towards the town, stuffing her cold hands into the pockets of her borrowed jacket.

Bringing a winter jacket hadn't really occurred to her, so the disguised redhead finds herself in a lovely maroon coat that had belonged to Koala. The older female had been planning to throw it out, but had happily donated it to Riskua's cause when she learnt Gahapne was her destination. There's only a two inch difference between them in height, so it's not like it doesn't fit, especially given they're both the same kind of petite build. It's just…

Riskua stares down at the stretch of material that hangs loose (so damn loose) around the chest area. God damn it, she's got no bust whatsoever and it grates. Maybe one day she'll be over it, but for now, getting off the island and seeing all the ample curves… It's irritating.

The snow crunches beneath the soles of her boots, brown leather she's still in the process of breaking in; she'd forced her feet (wrapped up in two pairs of socks in a preemptive measure to attempt avoiding blisters) into them on the crossing earlier, and it's about the only part of her that's not freezing. Either that or she's lost all sensation below the shin. One of two possibilities.

The little port town she's landed at is the closest to the Marine Base G-6. Of all the Marine Bases in the Grand Line, this one is the smallest, as understaffed as a Marine Base on the Grand Line can be. Which is exactly what she needs.

Saves her another long sea journey, that's for sure.

 

 

 

 

Walking into the town, Riskua flicks her (fake) hair back from her face, once again regretting the cut of her chosen wig. While the severe hime style is as far from her mess of layered red as she can reasonably get, it still reminds her of exactly why she grew her hair out long enough to pin back.

"Hi there," Riskua calls, increasing her pace until she comes to a stop before the first little vendor she set her eyes on. It's selling hot drinks and she has absolutely no problem in handing over the necessary amount for a disposable cup of hot chocolate.

"How's the piracy in this place, is it worth me taking the risk to stick around for the day?" Tipping her head to a side, Riskua peers at the woman through her tinted goggles, eagerly accepting the drink that's presented to her.

The store owner (mid-thirties, inactive, warm eyes and friendly smile) dips her head in a slight nod, totalling up Riskua's change.

"We're lucky there's a Marine base, but even then you get the odd pirate crew that stops by. There's not exactly a lot of marines here, if we're speaking truthfully."

Perfect.

"Well thanks for being honest; I don't think I'll risk sticking around too long if that's the case."

Steam rises and curls from the little opening in her cup's lid, little flickers of white in the air.

The vendor offers her another pleasant smile that Riskua easily returns because manners cost nothing and a smile doesn't take that much effort either.

Fat flakes of snow continue to fall from the sky as she makes her way through the town centre, drawing closer and closer to the Marines Base and it's ice coated battlements. It's a rather imposing building when compared against the rest of the town, she supposes, all tall dark stone instead of richly coloured wood.

Cocking her head to a side, she eyes the entrance, grand double doors locked up right and guarded by a shivering Marines recruit. The poor sod's huddled as close to the wall as he can get, arms folded across his chest as he attempts to take advantage of the large building's stature, no doubt hoping it'll buffer the effect of the frosty wind. It's not really working; if he weren't shivering so much, Riskua's pretty sure snow'd be settling on his shoulders by now.

Reaching for the Haki that nestles deep within her core is near enough second nature by now, but twisting it away from becoming Armament or focusing in on Observational proves difficult. It's new though, Riskua reminds herself, like learning to walk in high heels. She'll grow used to the sensation eventually. Though hopefully she'll prove better at using her new Haki than how her attempt at running in heels went.

Rolling her tongue back and forth between her teeth, Riskua strides forwards, slow and cautious, growing bolder the longer the Marine officer's eyes fail to lock onto her.

Placing her empty cup down by his feet, she slowly begins to back away, keeping her eyes locked upon the Marine as she does so. It's not like she's invisible, she's quite clearly there, but he's too busy glaring up at one section of the stronghold, perhaps the common room or the cafe. He doesn't once swing his head around to look at her, doesn't once seem to sense her approach.

Riskua's had that sensation before; it's not even Observational Haki, it's just that sixth sense all living creatures posses, the one that warns of an approaching sneak attack, of someone tiptoeing up behind you. That ghostly hand over the back of your neck, the one that sends those fine hairs rising. Her Concealment Haki has overridden this instinct. That or suppressed it.

A wicked grin stretching across her face, Riskua retreats back to the spot she'd started at, mind already whirling with ideas. For a quick test run, that's gone remarkably well, and maybe she's been influenced far too much by the ASL brothers, but right now, she wants to see just how far she can go.

Which means breaking into Marine Base G-6.

 

 

 

 

Waiting for night to fall, especially on a Winter Island, is a humungous pain.

Riskua spends a good portion of her time tucked away in one of the town's five bars, one hand curled around a fruity cocktail and valiantly ignoring that she's only seventeen and thus below the Marine approved drinking age.

The bar tendered hadn't asked if she was over eighteen and she has no intention of correcting him. After all, she's a Revolutionary, which is as good as a criminal in the eyes of the Marines. She highly doubts a bit of underaged drinking will change her sentence if they catch her; it'd probably be the least of her worries actually. Still, she's not a big fan of alcohol, that hasn't changed in this life.

The only reason she's drinking this to begin with is because it's more fruit juice than spirit.

Flicking her eyes over to the window, the redhead assess the night's sky, how it grows steadily darker as storm clouds roll in. Perhaps she should get a move on, before it starts to snow. Not just the light fluttering she'd been walking through earlier, but really snow, the blizzard kind.

"How much do I owe you?"

The theory of coating her eyes in Concealment Haki is there, but seeing as Riskua's not sure if it'll just lead to a misdirection of eye contact, or if it'll make her appear as if she has no eyes, she's foregone attempting that particular experiment. She'll try that one at the base with the other Revolutionaries.

Instead, she still wears her goggles, having waved the bartender off with mutters of impaired vision as an excuse.

"฿1,100, sweetheart." Not too bad for a drink and some bar food.

Digging through her pockets, Riskua pulls free the necessary amount, taking the time to actually hand it to the bartender instead of just leaving it on the side because honestly, she's in no rush to go back outside. Especially now that the delightfully warm sun is gone.

Buttoning up Koala's old coat, Riskua pulls free the brown gloves she'd found stored in the inner pockets, pulling them onto her hands as she makes for the door. Unlike the coat itself, these fit perfectly and Koala won't be getting them back. If she even remembered they existed, that is.

"Have a nice evening!"

"Thanks, you too!"

Once she's inside that Marine base, Riskua gets the feeling it'll be a lot warmer, but for now, she'll brave the harsh winter winds attempting to cut into her face.

 

 

 

 

Slipping unnoticed into the Marine Base doesn't even prove to be difficult; there's no guard outside on a night, so Riskua has no problem scaling the walls to slip in through the first storey window. There might be some slight holes in the stonework where she'd used Armament to dig her fingers in for grip, but the most important point is she's made it up and inside without even having to use any form of Concealment.

Stood in the hallway of the Marine Base, Riskua slips the borrowed coat from her shoulders, bundling it up as she creeps down the corridor.

There are sparse amounts of cupboards within the corridor, and Riskua has to open three of them before she finds out that's full of enough stuff she can hide her coat in it. If she'll remember which one holds her jacket is a different question, and just to be sure, she pressing one finger into the wall beside it, leaving a fingerprint in the surface that looks, hopefully, like a simple crack to anyone else.

"Well, I wonder what documents Dragon-san would like from here," Riskua mutters to herself, making her way down the corridor and attempting to keep her footsteps as light as she can. Growing up with Ace and Sabo and Luffy hadn't exactly inspired a great ability for silent movement after all, and the disguised redhead is painfully aware of each and every muffle thump as he boots meet the corridor floor.

There's muffles sounds coming from the corridor to the left and Riskua stills, reaching for her Haki once again.

Hopefully she's head to the offices and not the barracks.

 

 

Five hours later, eyelids heavy over her eyes and feeling particularly dead on her feet, Riskua flops back onto the bed of her rented inn room, chest heaving.

Using Haki so often, especially one she has to pay such attention to; well it turns out it's incredibly tiring. Her heart is still thundering in her chest from the run back to the inn and she feels far too paranoid to fall asleep right now.

In her lap rests a folder, filled with documents that seemed important or useful. She'd made sure not to take too many, not to take them all from one area because if the Marines notice everything that's missing them it's entirely possible they'll change everything within those documents. But, given the manpower of this particular base, it's entirely possible that they won't notice the missing information until the Revolutionaries can actually make use of it.

One of which includes a statement of marine imports on both weapons and food due over the next few months. Resources the Revolution desperately needs. Can't fight a war without any weapons, after all.

Still, Bunny Joe cannot get back here fast enough, Riskua thinks, pressing the heels of her hands into her eye-sockets. She's far too nervous to even consider going to sleep right now, despite how tired she feels.

God this is gonna suck.

 

 

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"Given the information Riskua has uncovered, I'm reassigning the two of you to intercept this ship with her."

Accepting the papers that Dragon slides across the surface of his desk, Sabo flicks through the handful of sheets, scanning the blocks of text and picking out the key information.

A Marine vessel, carrying significantly important documents that are to be stored safely away at their not so noticeable G-6 base, will be making its way through the Grand Line very shortly. The information on board, as it turns out, will include not only a rooster of Marines, but a great deal of their shipping routes. Shipping routes, especially in the Grand Line, are always incredibly useful to know, because even if the Marines do realise the Revolutionaries have discovering their usual routes, they still have to jump through a great deal of hoops to change them.

So while the information they'll be gathering will have a sell-by-date, it's fruitful enough for them to get their hands on anyway.

"Retrieve as much information as possible… and sink the ship?" Sabo reads aloud, slowing nodding his head as he considers the orders.

If they sink the ship, the Marines won't know if it was a pirate attack and thus may quite possibly assume the information has been lost to the depths of the ocean. Oh sure, they'd realise soon enough that isn't so when they lose so many of their ships to the Revolutionaries later on, will realise just how Dragon's army know just where and when to strike upon the Grand Line.

They'll change it but the Revolution will still profit for some time.

"Sink the ship," Dragon confirms, already scanning through another sheet of paper that Sabo belatedly realises is wrote in Riskua's hand. "Make sure Riskua doesn't die; this development in Haki she's onto seems promising. If it's taught to even a tenth of the army, we'll be able to get our hands on far more documents and ammunition than we're managing now."

Sabo's not entirely surprised that Riskua's already proven herself so useful. Back on Dawn Island, her experiments and training with Haki had seemed like a little pastime. It wasn't until he got out here, wasn't until he was running missions with the other Revolutionaries, that he realised just how damn far ahead of the curve he was for a Haki user.

Apparently that he even knows how to use it without having being on the Grand Line before is nothing short of a miracle. Certainly he's one of the best at using the, as dubbed by Luffy, 'mystery power'.

"Seems like things are picking up," Sabo murmurs under his breath, running a hand through his hair as he glances over the sheets of paper again. The navigators in the Revolution seem to think intercepting the ship in the first half of the Grand Line would be a good idea, given the currents and the predicted weather patterns it'll make it more believable that the weather played a factor in the 'pirates' being able to sink the ship.

"Indeed. Do keep an eye out for more recruits. Take Koala with you."

Nodding, Sabo snaps off a quick salute, turning on heel and exiting Dragon's office, a grin near splitting his lips.

He's been rather hoping for a mission with Riskua since she joined up, but until recently she's been all but chained to her research. Still, if this is what comes of her investigating Haki, then Sabo's all for it.

 

 

 

Folding the sheets over, Sabo pockets them as he makes his way down the corridors, jogging down a set of stairs as he goes. Riskua's room isn't out of the way, so to speak, but it is further from his own room than he'd have liked to have to walk. Rapping his knuckles against the door, the blond bounces from one foot to the other, pipe shifting from where it's strapped to his back.

"Just come in, Sabo!"

The door doesn't quite manage to muffle Riskua's words so the blond unhesitatingly pushes the threshold open and blinking in surprise.

Riskua's room is covered in papers, handwriting scrawled all over the sheets, brightly coloured threads connecting some to others, post-it-notes stuck between them. In fact, if Sabo had ever felt the need to picture how the brain worked, how thoughts were structured, perhaps it would be something like what he is currently looking at.

Tilting his head to a side, the former noble slides under one thread that's perhaps high enough for Riskua to just walk under but low enough that it forces him to duck.

His best friend is sat up to her desk, black wig thrown carelessly to a side as she scribbles down one thing or another.

Curiously, Sabo peeks over her shoulder, even though he can barely make out a word of her hastily scribbled words. He catches 'Concealment hides, way to change other's perceptions?' and 'reflecting force instead of emitting it?' but neither make much sense to him.

He'd struggle to make head or tails of this really, Sabo's much more of a list kind of person. This 3D diagram or whatever it is, well he wouldn’t know where to start. He likes clear boarders, a starting point and a finishing point.

This just looks like a huge mess.

"What can I do for you, Sabo?"

"You've got a mission, only this time it's with me." Grinning as Riskua excited yellow eyes snap up to look at him, Sabo scratches at the back of his neck, swearing under his breath when his arm catches at one of the many coloured threads.

"With you?"

"Well, me and Koala."

"So I'm third wheeling then?"

Snorting at the girl, Sabo folds his arms across his chest and drops back onto the bed, forcing Riskua to turn around and look at him instead of just tilting her head back.

"Can't say I haven't thought about it, but I won't ruin a working relationship with Koala just to get in her pants."

It's Riskua's turn to roll her eyes, capping her pen before setting it aside.

"That's real cute, Sabo, real cute. Never thought about having an actual relationship instead of just chasing after sex?"

"Right now? Nope," he answers, popping his 'p' with a smack of his lips. "Too busy with the Revolution. Anyway, pack your stuff, I'll go get Koala and I'll meet you down by the docks. That’s if you can make it out of this mess," Sabo grumbles, waving another hand about to indicating the general madness that Riskua's room has become.

She blinks, the motion slow and steady, before she actually looks around her quarters.

"Oh. Maybe I should tidy it…" she pauses, staring at one post-it-note in particular before reaching out and plucking it down from the web. "Some of these ideas aren't even relevant anymore." The note crumples beneath her fingers, compressed into a ball that the redhead then flicks right into his face.

Sabo scowls even as the redhead visibly brightens, cheery smile on her face.

"Yeah, get the most out of that, because on this mission I'm your superior, so there."

Sticking his tongue out at Riskua, Sabo can't quite wipe the grin off his face as he ducks out of the room, nearly taking that damn low hanging thread with him.

Riskua's laugh tells him his attempted dodge wasn't as smooth as he hoped though.

 

 


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There are times when Ace regrets eating his Devil Fruit, as few and far between they are, this is one such time.

He's surrounded, surrounded by an ocean of blue that'd once seemed so freeing, so promising.

It entraps him now, leaves him stranded on a ship with the bastard who's head he's trying- no, who's head he will take. He'll take down Whitebeard and then all the crew after that. He'll take out Whitebeard and Marco and Haruta and Izo and every damn one of them if he has to.

He's Portgas D. Ace, Fire Fist, strong enough to have been offered a place as one of the Seven Warlords. Not that he'd have ever taken them up on that offer.

It'd have brought him too close, too close to the men who ordered his mother's death (the men that say he never should have been born, who spread the news to everyone else until they all thought it too, until Ace himself thought it and now it won't leave his head, will never leave his head) too close to men who would have him killed without a moment of hesitation because he's got that man's blood in his veins.

No matter how much he scratches at his skin, until it's red and raw and until he bleed with more than just resentment; it'll never change. He is what he is, the son of a demon, the demon child who should have been drowned at birth, killed before he could become a threat, he's-

'From this day on, we're brothers!'

'Ace is my big brother!'

He's a big brother, the oldest sibling. And by god he'll do everything in his power to ensure they never end up hurt for knowing (loving) him.

Even if it means killing every last Whitebeard pirate there is.

"Hey, Ace, brought you some food."

Every last pirate but Thatch.

He's, he's okay.

"You doing okay there, buddy?" The pompadoured redhead (ginger, he's ginger, his hair's got nothing on Riskua's) squares squats down beside Ace, a bowl full of some kind of delicious smelling stew in one hand.

Hey, Ace may be determined to take Whitebeard's head, but he has absolutely no problems accepting food off them. He didn't like Riskua and Luffy at first and he'd taken food off them. Why would he not accept food from the Whitebeard pirates if they were gonna be stupid enough to give it to him?

"Thanks," Ace grumbles, remembering his manners as he rolls one shoulder back and around. The muscles there ache from his last attempt at Whitebeard and he's now no longer allowed anywhere near the weapon room. It's their own stupid fault for leaving that axe just lying around; it was practically begging for him to use it. Hadn't really helped much in the end though.

"You dropped this as well."

Gunmetal grey flicks up and then Ace darts forwards, empty bowl rattling at it hits the deck but he doesn't care.

Ever so carefully, the son of the Pirate King smoothes out the roughed up photograph, unfolding its creases so that he can peer at the four faces that grin up at him. It'd okay, he hasn't ripped it. Running his thumb over Sabo's face, tracing Luffy's scar and comparing his old bruises to Riskua's eyes, Ace lets out a sigh of relief.

He'd given one of the two photos he started out with to Shanks when the redhead had asked. He hadn't exactly been able to say no to the man who saved Luffy's life.

"Why don't you want to join? Pops likes you, I like you, you'd fit right in." Thatch is still squatting down beside him, looking so unashamedly curious that Ace can feel his teeth grinding against each other.

"I don't need no shitty father."

Fathers bring nothing but trouble, look at what Ace's dad has done for him. Hunted down before he'd even been born. Look at Sabo's dad, who sent the blond running for the Trash Heap without a second thought just after his fifth birthday. Look at Luffy's dad, who's god knows where, who left Luffy to the care of shitty Gramps.

"Everyone needs someone to rely on, Hothead," Thatch retorts, looking genuinely upset over Ace's name for his old man. The freckled teen just grimaces, jaw tense and the muscle beneath his cheek twitching.

"I've got people to rely on."

"Not from where I'm standing you don't."

He's gone before Ace can retort, before he can unleash the fire that bubbles in his veins. Sabo and Luffy and Riskua would be here in a moment if they knew Ace was in danger. It's just…

He's starting to get the feeling he's not really in danger here.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Working on the mystery power is nowhere near as fun without Riskua.

Flopping back onto the soft grass, Luffy pouts up at the clear blue sky, petulantly folding his arms across his chest. Shanks' hat blocks the sun from burning his eyes, but it doesn't cover all of his skin and it is so hot. Part of him wants to go and stick his feet in the river but Riskua had made him promise that he wouldn't do that without someone to watch him and Luffy has no desire to go up and ask one of the bandits to come stay by the river with him.

His other option for cooling down is to go see Makino and hope she's got some ice-pops or even ice-cream in the bar. But that means travelling all the way to Foosha and Luffy's certain he'll die from the heat before he gets there.

Which is why he's here instead, lying in the clearing they used to spar in before everyone grew up and left Luffy behind.

"Being the youngest sucks," Luffy moans mutinously. He doesn't even really want to keep working on the mystery power, it's way too hot to do anything, especially something that requires thinking.

But Riskua's probably working on it right now while she's with Sabo, so she and Sabo and both getting strong and Luffy doesn't doubt for a second that Ace is out there getting stronger too. He cannot, will not, fall behind.

Which means training with the mystery power because he's going to be training with his Devil Fruit powers when he goes to hunt for tonight. Though now that Riskua's not here to cook his catch, he has to catch twice as much to feed the bandits, in exchange for them cooking his meat.

Urgh, this sucks, he wants to set sail already. But Ace and Sabo and Riskua all waited until they were seventeen, they all promised to set sail when they turned seventeen. Luffy isn't about to become the only one to break that promise, no matter how much it sucks. He's just so damn bored. And it's so damn hot.

"I wanna be seventeen already!" Luffy bellows, throwing his arms up into the air, as if that'll help matters. It won't because life isn't cool like that, but it does make him feel a little better. Not by much, but it does.

 Hell, he'd give anything for something to pop up and break the monotone life has settle into since Riskua left with Sabo. Just for something interesting to happen.

"There you are, brat!"

Anything but Gramps!

Screaming in surprise, Luffy shoots to his feet, only he miscalculates the movement and ends up crumpling into a tangle of overstretched limbs. He's not got enough time to recover, never mind start to flee, before Gramps is on him, knuckles of one fist digging into the tender flesh of his skull.

"Fist of Love!"

"Ow! That hurts!" Swatting at the arm in an attempt to get it away from his head while struggling to wiggle out of the grasp of the other limb that's around his shoulders, Luffy manages to squeeze himself free, falling onto his rump in the process. He really needs to work on the Obsersation thingy. If he was as good as Riskua is at it, then he'd have had time to flee from Gramps.

Ah, he misses Riskua!

"Where's the hawk-eyed brat?" Gramps asks after a moment, eyes scanning the undergrowth as if expecting her to pop out at any second. That'd be really cool, Luffy'd like her to pop out of the jungle too.

He really misses Riskua, even though they're definitely going to meet up again. They've got to, she's his First Mate after all. 

Then he recalls what Riskua had said, about not telling Gramps where she and Sabo are going and he gulps. Gramps doesn't like pirates, but he really doesn't like Revolutionaries. Which Sabo and Riskua are. Riskua's gonna be both, so does that mean Gramps'll doubly dislike her? Oh that's a hard question.

"I don’t know," Luffy snaps off quickly, looking away from the older Monkey and sucking in his lips, as if he'll be physically capable of stopping the lie from slipping through between them. "She's not with Sabo and they're not with the Revolutionaries. Nope. Not at all."

There's a moment of still silence as the two of them realise exactly what Luffy's just said and the strawhat adorned teen slaps both hands over his mouth.

Too little, too late.

"They're where?! Damn them!" And then Gramps' angry eyes are on him. "You're not joining that damn Revolution, Luffy!"

"No way!" Crossing his arms over his chest in an 'x' like shape, Luffy vigorously shakes his head. The Revolution has to be cool for Sabo to be part of it, but it's not for Luffy.

Before Gramps can even start to get his hopes up though, Luffy slams one fist to the ground, as if to strengthen his point.

"I'm gonna be the Pirate King!"

"Like hell you are!"

Screaming in terror, Luffy doesn't even have time to think about how hot it is as Gramps tears after him, bulldozing through the jungle as he goes. Amidst the threats to tear his spine out, Luffy launches himself into the air, Geppoing five steps before throwing himself to the left, narrowly missing Gramps' grasping hands that nearly clap around his ankle like iron cuffs. If he's caught then it'll all be over.

"What horrible grandchildren I've got! How dare they run off to become Pirates and Revolutionaries! When I've come all this way to take that Hawk-eyed brat to a Marine base too!"

"Riskua's birthday was months ago!" Yells Luffy as he twists out of Gramps' reach again, one rubber hand stretching out to grab a tree branch and swing him away.

"This is the earliest I could get time off!"

"Gramps is too loud! We're not gonna be Marines!"

This time when the fist comes at his head, Luffy's too slow to dodge and it sends him crashing to the floor. He rubs at the growing lump, whining low in the back of his throat.

"Gramps, that hurts!"

"We're gonna have a week of boot camp training, brat, and then you'll become a fine Marine!"

Luffy doesn't get a chance to protest, because the Fist of Love descends towards his head once again.

 

(Line)

 

Pain explodes across Riskua's brow and she bites her lip, trying not to swear.

One large downside to Concealment is that people don't notice her and thus, tend to open heavy steel doors right into her face. She's only just managed to keep a hold on her Concealment, but it was hellishly close.

 

It hadn't taken them long to find the Marine ship when they had an idea where to look; a rather sleek looking vessel by the name of Sinnamon. Clearly someone had a poor sense of humour.

Sat in the small little stealth dingy that Koala owned, the three of them had hunched low, hidden by the bulk of their target and the rolling mass of Grand Line waves.

The Revolutionary's sole submarine had dropped them off, disappearing beneath the surface of the ocean to return to whence it came, leaving the three of them alone.

Sitting beside the two full-time Revolutionaries, Riskua had felt near naked with the absence of her hat, the choppy wind whipping through the thick black fringe that made up her current 'hair'. She can still picture Sabo smirking from the corner of her eye.

Regardless, they'd made their way over in the little dingy, the blond male leading the charge by stealthily scaling the side of the Sinnamon, years of tree climbing coming into practice. Much like her break-in of the G-6 base, Sabo leaves behind tiny little finger holds, almost unnoticeable unless one knows what to look for. As she's climbed many a thing using the same method, Riskua can spot the signs a mile off.

It's a lot easier on her limbs though to climb the rope Sabo throws down to them, the line lashing against the waves and Riskua had caught hold of the projectile before it could disappear over the side of their little dingy into the ocean below, flicking her eyes towards Koala. She'd asked if the other female had wanted to ascend first, to which the blue-eyed lady had agreed.

Arriving upon top deck, they'd split off into their assigned targets, which is where Riskua is now.

Recovering from taking a door to the face.

 

 

 

Rubbing gingerly at the smarting bridge of her nose, the disguised redhead huddles closer to the wall, inhaling as quietly as she can. When she dabs her fingertips at the base of her nose they come away red; not terribly stained but certainly a little bloody. She's going to have to start taking into consideration other peoples actions when they don't expect anyone to be around; she's lucky the Marine didn't notice her collision with the door to begin with, but she'll pay special attention to never make that mistake again.

Adjusting her footing, Riskua creeps along through the corridor, making sure to move swiftly. Even using her Concealment, she's not so sure about sticking out so blatantly in these corridors; it seems like she's asking for trouble is she doesn't try to be as sneaky as possible. Paranoia, whatever you want to call it, she's not taking any chances.

The wooden boards lead her in a straight line down the corridor, all nicely polished and well looked after; it's a terrible shame they're going to be blowing the ship up. It's actually where Sabo and Koala are now; sneaking through the hull and rigging the place with explosives.

It's Riskua's job, using her handy little Haki tricks, to sneak into whatever place in this ship constitutes as the cargo bay and heist as much confidential information as she can get her grubby little hands on. Which, hopefully, won't prove to be too difficult.

Observation is difficult to use when she's already wrapped up in Concealment, like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time. It's possible, but only with practice.

So instead of swift movement, she's slinking through the Marine ship, and that's putting her nerves n edge. It's the same rush of excitement, the same flood of adrenaline she got when they made their first dine n' dash. Her blood feels like it's ready to roar, her heart quickening in her chest and Riskua has to draw in a quick breath, to hold it there for a moment so she doesn't just go and do something stupid. Impulse control.

She's been ruined for patience, growing up  on an island where if there's anything fun or interesting, they explored it all right away. It's something she's going to have to work on.

 

 

Seventeen doors later, seventeen wrong rooms (one of which had opened up into the men's quarters and she'd frozen up like a rabbit before a fox. They'd all been asleep though) and finally, finally, Riskua has found it.

Twisting the lock, Riskua steps into the room, flicking on the lights as she goes. It's filled with documents, big folders and small folders and thanks to Marine regulations, it's all neatly organised, packed up into labelled boxes for easy transportation.

"Now let's see," Riskua whispers beneath her breath, flexing her fingers and feeling the comfortable fabric stretch over her palms in response. "Wage slips? Nope. Drills for New Recruits? Nope. Artillery suppliers? That could be useful…"

Sticking that particular folder into the big sack she had brought with her, Riskua blows the black bangs back from her face once again, grimacing. She should have gone with a different haircut, something short and explosive. Too late to change that now though.

Slipping another folder labelled 'GL Crossing Routes' into the bag, she abandons that particular box and goes over to the next.

With tricky fingers used to playing with knives and daggers, she has no problem with avoiding a papercut as she races through sheet after sheet of paper. It's when she comes to the locked with little box (more of a chest really. Why is this here?) that Riskua finds herself with a problem.

Now if something is locked up, it probably means it's relatively important, more so than the documents stored here. But that also poses the issue of will Marines be coming down to check this chest is still here? Well, they'll be too busy dealing with the explosions soon enough.

Taking a good grip of the little chest's lid, Riskua braces herself, and then with a burst of Armament Haki, the top is torn from the body with a terrible screech. Metal hinges ripped apart, the lid dropping to the floor as the disguised redhead peeks into the innards.

Okay, so it's totally understandable why this was locked up.

Plucking what can unquestioningly be a Devil Fruit free, Riskua turns it this way and take, inspecting the almost hypnotic pattern upon its surface with clear interest.

For all that she's lived on the Grand Line before, for all that she's been around a few Devil Fruit users by now, this is her first time actually seeing one of the legendary fruits, never mind holding one. It's weightier than she'd have expected it to be, sitting heavy in her palm. Yet, it's smaller than she'd have predicted too, no bigger than a large mango.

While she has no idea where her belief for it to be as big as her head came from, Riskua feels a little cheated.

There's no way she's going to be leaving this with the Marines though, and certainly she's not about to allow it to go to the bottom of the sea. While the concept of Devil Fruit powers are intriguing, she's already got her hands full with Haki. Riskua has no desire to add to her already full plate by throwing in trying to unravel a Devil Fruit's powers too.

As such, that too goes into the bag, followed by several more important looking files. Sabo had given her a few key words to look out for, because as they'd wish to, they can't exactly take everything with them.

So this'll have to do.

 

"When are we suppose to report in again?"

"Damn it, Simpson, I told you already. Every fifteen minutes."

Leaning against a wall in the tiny room the Marines are using for communication, Riskua stares at the three little treasures on the desk, her eyes lighting up from behind purple tinted goggles.

After all, a Den Den Mushi is a good find in and of itself, but this ship's cargo (or perhaps even the Devil Fruit she'd just heisted) must be pretty significant, because not only is there a Black Den Den Mushi there, but there's a White one as well. Riskua might not have much experience with this world's version of the telephone, but even she knows just how valuable a White Den Den Mushi is.

She's gonna have to knock these guys out for it, but there is no way she isn't leaving with that White Den Den.

"I'll go check it's still there then." And that's her cue to move.

Two quick steps and she drops her Concealment, one Armament coated fist crashing into the head of the Marine closest to the desk. His skull hits the table top with a thunderous bang, the surface denting. Were it not metal, it'd probably have cracked.

"Wha- Who're you!" The other Marine draws a sword, painfully surprised but his hands don't shake as he levels his blade at her.

In response, Riskua unsheathes her daggers, shifting her stance into something a little smoother.

There's no taunting words, no demands or tense build up. They just go at each other, flashes of steel as they move. It's clear this guy has no Haki training though, because when Riskua applies it to her left dagger, instead of blocking the sword it slices clean through.

The Marine recovers swiftly but not swift enough, allowing Riskua to land a solid kick to his temples. Even without Haki enchantment he goes down, hitting the floor hard and just as unconscious as his fellow. All that leg strengthening for Geppo was good for something after all.

A quick glance around shows no bag she can use, and with her own full, Riskua is forced to improvise. Stripping the first Marine of his shirt and the funny little neckerchief. The three Den Dens are quickly wrapped up in the shirt, the bundle tied shut with the blue kerchief.

"Well fellas, thanks for the prizes."

Supremely pleased with herself, Riskua makes her way to the door, sliding it shut as she pulls her Concealment back on. It's a bit of a struggle and for one heart stopping moment Riskua wonders if this variation of Haki can run out, just like Armament. It comes, as difficult as retrieving a small piece of shell from the yolk of an egg, but she's got it. And then she's away.

 

 

 

Jumping down into the boat, Riskua grins at Koala, offering her the bigger of her two bags.

"All the documents are in there, and you'll never believe what else I found!"

"I don't know," Koala responds, a light grin on her face as she reclines back into the dingy. Her hands are folded in her lap, a soft smile on her face and she's clearly quite happy with what they're accomplishing today. "A White Den Den Mushi?"

Riskua falters, staring at the other girl and had she been followed? No, surely she'd have noticed if Koala had been following her. She meant it as a joke, Riskua realised as the brunette suddenly snaps to attention, her eyes round and lips parted with surprise.

"No! A White Den Den?!" And oh boy is it a good thing they're so far down from the deck of the Marine ship.

Nodding rapidly, Riskua brandishes the bag in question at the girl, having it torn from her hands a mere moment later.

"Oh wow, it really is!" Koala has her head almost completely in the make-shift bag, held very carefully in her lap. "Dragon-san's gonna be so happy to have another one of these."

Whatever else Koala wished to say was drowned out by the dominating boom of explosions.

The both of them swing their heads around just in time to catch sight of Sabo gracefully leaping over the edge of the railings. One hand on his hat and the other one wind-milling about to keep his descent steady, the Revolutionary lands in the ocean with a large splash, though not as large as the one created by the fifth of a ship that'd just been blown off. It's an impressive explosion and instantly the vessel begins to sink, unable to keep afloat in the face of that gaping hole in its hull.

Riskua watches it happen, not quite sure how she feels about it.

People are going to die here, that is an obvious truth. But people on all sides die when the world dissolves into conflict, and as sad as it is to say, they're just numbers in the grand scheme of things. Just a handful of low ranked Marines officers in the grand scheme, and Riskua's not ignorant; some Revolutionaries will die too. But

given that there are men and women out there killing and enslaving others simply for the blood in their veins... things are going to get messy before they can clean it up.

As awful as it is to think of it, Riskua knows it is similar to what the nobles did back on Dawn Island. To them, the trash heap was a place to be cleansed, and while setting it on fire for a little bit might have caused panic, it's so much easier to just sweep the ashes away then to try moving the kindling they set aflame.

"Sabo!"

Koala is half leaning over the side of the boat, arm reaching for the blond and Riskua makes her way over to help. Between the two of them, they manage to haul the waterlogged blond up into their little dingy, allowing him to just flop out like a beached whale, taking up almost all of their space.

"That went well," he breathes, cheeks a little flushed and with strands of dark gold sticking to his face.

Riskua hadn't realised just how fluffy his hair is until this moment, weighed down with water and laying flat across his skull.

"That it did. And you'll never believe what Riskua found!"

 

 

 

 

They've made it to another island, the third closest because being too close to the wreckage would be a terrible idea. Sabo has already got their new Den Dens working, the little white one plugged in. He'd made a call to Dragon, reporting back everything and had been informed they'd be picked up by dawn, midday at the latest. Most importantly though-

"A summer island!"

Feeling no shame whatsoever (it's not like there's a hell of a lot to look at really) Riskua sheds her tee-shirt as quickly as she can manage, letting it fall to the golden sand of the beach. Stretching her arms wide, she tilts her head back, enjoying the sensation of the dipping sun kissing at her skin. It's not quite Melring (the smell isn't right and there's no little hill where her home once stood) but the temperature, the climate, it's almost there. Which is absolute perfection after what seems like eternity in winter.

"Ack! Ri!"

Flicking a look over her shoulder, Riskua raises an eyebrow at her blond friend, who doesn't quite seem to know where to put his eyes. Which is stupid; he'd seen her in less back on Dawn Island. Or has he forgotten this, with the time and distance that has passed between them?

"Sabo, you act like I haven't seen you butt-ass naked."

"Please stop reminding me of that."

"No, no. I think to admirable how hard you tried to get Luffy to put some pants on."

"I have no idea what you two are talking about."

They both pause, sliding their gaze back to Koala, who seems quite amused by the whole thing.

Feeling her cheeks burn a little (why is she even embarrassed? What has she to be embarrassed about?) Riskua huffs, her ribs expanding with the deep breath she draws in afterwards.

"Sabo's scared of seeing a little flesh," she mutters, side-eying her best friend and watching his face set into a light-hearted scowl.

"That's not true-"

"It offends his delicate noble sensibilities. He's never quite grown out of them, you see."

"Now that's certainly not true and you kno- Koala!"

Sabo's scandalised cry has Riskua swinging her attention back from the horizon and she stares in surprise. Because Koala has not only whipped off her top, but her skirt too.

"Let's go swimming!" The challenge is thrown down at the same time as her bra.

Riskua stares after the other girl in complete awe, for a moment not quite sure how to react. She tries not to let her eyes linger on the large marking on Koala's back, the marking of the Sun Pirates, and she succeeds. For the most part.

There's barely a moment to take in Sabo's absolutely stunned facial expression before Riskua is removing her own bra (significantly smaller than Koala's but no less pretty, thankfully) and flings it into Sabo's face as she dashes towards the ocean after the other girl.

"Cold!" Koala cries, cheeks pink and eyes bright. Riskua has one moment to really consider what she's about to do, but decides both these people have already seen a variation of what she's got anyway, so her panties hit the beach too.

"Riskua!"

Laughing, the disguised redhead sprints into the ocean, kicking up sprays of water as the waves smash against her shins. Despite their gentle appearance, they're actually quite tough, knocking her legs out from under her and the next thing she knows, Riskua is under water.

Spluttering as she surfaces, she wipes the liquid from her eyes, tentatively squinting in Koala's direction only to see the brunette pitch her own underwear back towards the shore, landing not too far away from the appalled Sabo.

"Come on Sabo, you're not ashamed, are you?" Oh, Riskua loves Koala. This girl is absolute perfection and it is so nice to have a female friend, to have someone to rib Sabo with.

 "I mean, I know you've got a bit of a willowy build-"

"If anyone's got a willowy build, it's you, Ri!" He fires back, hopping about on one foot as he removes his boot. It's twin follows a second after, propping up Sabo's long coat as he drops it atop them.

"Ouch, right in the non-existence breast. You wound me, Sabs."

"I wouldn't say none existent," Koala drops in, unashamedly eyeing Riskua's chest in a way that makes her want to inhale and tumefy her torso. "Small, but that doesn't always mean bad. I'm pretty sure I could cup them in my hands."

"And I'm pretty sure I'm not comfortable with that," Riskua insists, taking a quick step back. "You'll have to treat me to dinner first before I let you cop a feel, Koala."

"You two are ridiculous and I regret ever introducing you to each other."

Oh, Sabo's joined them.

A quick glance back to the beach confirms what Riskua has always known. Sabo just can't not rise to the occasion; if the two of them are naked, then he has to be equally so. True he's already made his way into the ocean until the water's level with his lower ribs, and true is cheeks are a little pink, but he's here all the same.

"Also, you're terrible influences."

"I'm not going to deny that. If we're not on the clock, we should be able to have fun though," Koala rationalises, planting one hand on her hip. Or, Riskua assumes that's what her fellow female does.

While the water might be up to Sabo's lower ribs, it just about covers both of their chests, the steadily declining amount of light attempting to preserve dignity where there remains none.

"I've never been skinny-dipping before," Riskua admits, splashing the water towards Sabo and grinning when he returns fire.

"For all that we lived in the forest, I've never really done it either."

"Seems we're all skinny-dipping virgins," Koala muses. They both startle when Sabo snorts, shoulders shaking and looking quite wild-eyed.

"Oh god, oh god."

"Sabo? You okay there?"

"Just trying to picture Ace's face if I told him I not only got your first kiss, but your virginity."

Well, when he puts it like that without any context, it does sound a bit strange, Riskua admits.

She pauses, considering the blond in front of her. There's no questioning he's attractive, that's true. But.. He's just not Riskua type. Maybe after a few years she'll be able to look past the whole appearance thing… it's just that she prefers dark and something a bit stronger than Sabo's runner's build.

Still, doing the do with Sabo would be weird. Probably light-hearted and full of laughter but… he's her friend, her best friend. She's always been comfortable with him; that doesn't mean she wants to risk stepping out of her zone like that though, doesn't want to risk adding something to their relationship when she's not sure how either of them would deal with the fallout.

"Well I suppose it would be quite shocking out of context," she agrees.

Now that she's really thinking on it though, should she be searching for a relationship? Or at least, looking into the dating thing? In the before, it'd been one of the big goals, it had seemed like her life was missing something and that a relationship would fill the void.

But… would it really?

Right now, she's never been more content. She's out here doing something, she's got her best friend, she knows the other one is out there chasing after his own dreams and goals, and she knows she's got a little brother training hard.

Does she really need something else on top of that to upset that perfect balance?

Maybe if things ever start feeling unfulfilling then she can start looking, but at the moment, Riskua realises she's actually really happy with her life right now.

She doesn't want anything to change.

The flood of acceptance that surges through her body leaves she beached on the shores of realisation better than any wave could ever manage. She barely pays any attention when Sabo shakes his head, throwing his hands up in the air and declaring her hopeless.

 

 

 

 

 

"And where is Sabo?"

"He's on his way," Koala replies, somehow managing a completely straight face as they stand before their fellow revolutionary.

Riskua, on the other hand, is struggling. Terribly.

But out of the corner of her eye she can see Koala standing there, casually adjusting the hem of the long shirt she's wearing. Of Sabo's long shirt.

Riskua snickers ever so slightly under her breath, hooking her thumbs into the belt loops of her (Sabo's) trousers, bare toes wiggling.

All her clothes are in Koala's bag, and all the things Riskua stole from the Marine ship are in the pack thrown over the disguised red-head's shoulder.

Sabo's clothes, however, are all currently in use. It's his own fault for opting to stay in the ocean a bit long, because neither she or Koala had wanted to put their own clothes on while they were still wet. It takes ages to get the salt out of the fabric.

"Please, go get properly dressed. There are also new bounty posters in your quarters to look over."

"Will do, and thanks."

Offering the man a salute, Riskua hooks her arm through Koala's, leading her fellow female down the corridor. It's strange how soft Sabo's shirt feels against the bare skin of her ribs; it's not really something Riskua has been in a position to notice before.

Yet, here she is.

"You're my new hero," Koala whispers, giggling and Riskua can only snicker in return.

"Yeah well, I'm not looking forwards to Sabo's revenge."

"You'll get by, just remember he's having to sprint onto the ship with just that hat of his."

Looking down at Sabo's trousers (the belt wrapping almost twice around her waist; when had he bulked out so much?), Riskua stuffs one hand into a deep pocket, grinning.

"Yeah, that reminder does help. I'm still gonna try and get as much sleep as I can though."

Upon arrive at their sleeping quarters, the two girls shrug out of their stolen goods, crawling into a bed each and Riskua is almost asleep as soon as her head finds the pillow.

The only thing that stops her is the sight of those bounty posters, or more specifically, the new one at the top. Well, it's not so much that it's new as that it is an updated picture of Ace, proclaiming him a Whitebeard Pirate now.

Recalling how the Ace from the manga had found a home among them, Riskua's lips tilt up into a smile.

Wherever he is out there, she knows for sure that Ace is happy.

The thought lures her into sleep, a drowsy state in which her eyes lazily drift shut and her breathing evens out.

 

 

Only to snap awake a second later. Because that tattoo on Ace's arm isn't right.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"He's a sap!" Sabo chortles beside her, a wide grin on his face and all the misadventures and clothing theft from the summer island forgotten in the face of this exciting news.

Because.

Because; ASLR.

Ace had got god damn 'ASLR' tattooed on his arm instead of the original ASCE. Which, come to think about it, it was kind of obvious he probably wouldn't get 'ASCE', what with Sabo still kicking. Or rather, Sabo avoiding the incident that would have led to Ace believing him dead.

Still; ASLR?

She'd have expected the freckled male to get his name tattooed upon his flesh, just minus the addition of the 'S'.

Instead, clear as day, black against the tanned curve of his muscular arm, Ace has 'ASLR' inked across his skin. The 'S' is still crossed out, still a reference to Sabo's pirate flag. Maybe because he left the dream of becoming a pirate behind and instead started on his calling as a revolutionary? Who knows.

Well, Ace obviously, but still.

"Sabo, we both know Ace is secretly soft as a melt in the middle chocolate pudding," she points out, but even she can't help the grin that's etched its way onto her face. Ace's tattoo is a blatant tribute to them, to Sabo and Luffy and her, a nod that no matter where he is, he's thinking of them.

Sabo's right, he is a sap.

But he's their sap.

"And a Whitebeard Pirate, huh? Do you think he's happy?"

"I think we both know Ace doesn't back down from a fight for anything, so he must have joined of his own accord."

Taking one last glance at the bounty poster, Riskua puts it down in favour of reaching for the plateful of bacon, taking four slices for herself before passing it on to Sabo.

The mess hall is abuzz with activity, various members of the Revolutionary army going about their daily business, all digging into the food that's on offer. While they're not swimming in cash, it'd be a lie to say the Revolution is short on supplies; they've got their own food sources here on Baltigo, run by the sparse population of locals, so they're never in need of consumable goods.

Which is wonderful news because no one here actually restricts their eating habits; even Dragon devours his fair share in his own serious way.

There are some commodities they don't really have access to though, and one of the compromises that Riskua had been forced to make was substituting fresh orange juice for apple juice.

Which, as her lips wrap around the glass' rim, brings her onto a rather heavy topic.

She knows what is happening on the Conomi Islands, she knows what Arlong is doing.

The question is, should she interfere?

Because Luffy needs his navigator, he'd probably have died before reaching the Grand Line without Nami, and even though Riskua can work her way around with a compass, Grand Line navigation is a whole other skill set, one she herself doesn't possess nor has any inclination to develop.

Luffy needs his navigator.

Only, Riskua can remember what it feels like to have the power stripped completely from you, to know your family's in danger and being willing to do anything, anything at all, to get help. She'd all but crawled to Dragon, giving away more than she'd wanted in order to prompt him into saving Ace and Luffy. She'd been helpless when that fire raged, and those few hours where she'd been unsure if her most precious people were safe, she'd been completely and utterly powerless, relying upon a stronger person to save those she cared for.

It'd hurt so much, knowing she wasn't enough to go save Ace and Luffy, and that sensation had lasted but a few hours.

She can only begin to imagine what Nami must feel, having lived in those conditions for years.

Swallowing hard, Riskua settles her fork down beside her now empty plate, grimacing. If she ignored the situation in Conomi, wilfully ignores it, then she's pretty sure she'll never be able to look Nami in the eyes. Not when she could have helped her.

That woman could potentially be her future crew-mate, and Riskua cannot just let her continue to suffer. Not when she can do something about it. Maybe she'll be the Dragon to Nami's Riskua this time.

Mind made up, Riskua rises from her chair, pulling the napkin from her lap and setting it on her empty plate.

"I need to talk to Dragon-san," she says in way of explanation to Sabo.

She might be screwing up Luffy and Nami's future meet n' greet, but given the circumstances... well, Riskua might not have Luffy's magnetism, but by god will she try.

If she's going to help Nami out, then she'll just have to catch the girl and reel her into the Strawhats Pirates herself while she's at it.

 

 

.

.


 

.

.

 

 

"Your luck is ridiculous."

"Sabs, this is my first instance of significant luck, and quite probably my last."

Riskua had ran a hand through her (black, it looks so wrong black) hair, rolling her eyes behind those goggles. Everyone else in the base thinks she's just incredibly short sighted and that's why she insists on wearing those goggles.

Sabo though, Sabo knows it's because she's got startling eyes, the ones that make you freeze in your step, just for a moment. Hidden behind those purple tinted goggles, they're dulled to a muted brown. A warm brown all the same, but still a brown.

Given she's shaken off her most noticeable traits, given she no longer sports the fantastic red hair or the haunting yellow eyes, she looks like a completely different person.

Hell, she could probably walk right by Luffy (and maybe even Ace) and he doubts she'd be recognised.

"But the point stands. I don't want it, and with Ace now a Devil Fruit user too... I figured you might want it instead."

 

 

 

It'd tasted awful. Like shame and disgust and jealousy had all taken on physical form in that one nasty fruit.

He hadn't really believed Luffy when the boy said it was the worst thing he'd ever eaten (because by god has Sabo seen that kid inhale some questionable stuff) but every word his younger brother spoke was unquestionably the truth.

Oh boy does Sabo regret the flavour of that 'fruit'.

As if losing the ability to swim wasn't enough, that taste would be enough to put anybody off a second bite. A good thing, given the fact that no Devil Fruit user has ever survived eating a second fruit; it's all enough to scare anyone away.

The taste hadn't left his mouth for hours afterwards, no matter what he'd eaten. Still, it's a pretty cool fruit, better than becoming a rubberman, that's for sure.

Lips tilting up in a grin, Sabo looks down at his little pack, inspecting the contents with a focused eye.

He's going back to East Blue once again, this time to liberate an island. With Riskua. And-

"I am not being left out of this," Koala snaps, standing at the threshold of his room with her arms folded across her generous chest. Her cheeks are puffed up with air and flushed, eyebrows furrowed. She looks like an adorable baby bird, one of the real fluffy ones that they never ate back on Dawn Island. Because they were too cute, there wasn't too much meat on them and, of course, it'd have taken forever to get all those feathers plucked.

"Koala-"

"No Sabo. Arlong was a Sun Pirate, so I have to be there for this."

Sabo might not have spent years besides this woman like he has Riskua, but he knows the set of those feet all the same. She won't back down from this argument, and if they try to leave without her, she'll just sneak after them. Which would put all of them at risk.

"Fine!" Defeated Sabo slouches forwards, dragging one hand down the side of his face as Koala claps her hands in excitement.

"I knew you'd see reason, which is why I've already packed up my things!" Of course she has.

"We're catching a lift from the supply run, but once we're in East Blue, it'll just be the three of us."

Arlong is a former Grand Line pirate, he's not going to be a pushover, that's for sure. But he's not going to be impossible to take down. He's spent six years in East Blue, which means his abilities will have stagnated without the constant challenge that is the Grand Line.

Six years with no serious fights; he's going to be out of practice.

Certainly he won't be expecting the three of them. Koala, who knows Fishermen's Karate, Sabo with his Haki and his Devil Fruit, and then Riskua with her daggers and much more impressive proficiency with Haki. This shouldn't prove too difficult.

"So we're just waiting on Riskua?"

"No you're not, I'm here."

Skidding to a halt just outside of his room, Riskua flicks the black bangs back from her face, dabbing at the blood that's decorating the lower half of her face.

While that Concealment Haki sure promises some wonderful things for the Revolution, Riskua spends a great deal of her time testing it now, meaning-

"Did someone open a door into your face again?" She scowls, nose scrunching up which only permits a fresh flow of blood that she's forced to stem.

"No." It's a pitiful denial, accompanied by a pouting frown.

Yeah, someone undoubtedly opened a door into her face again.

"Well let's get going. Try not to leave a red trail for the Marines to follow."

"Oh you're hilarious, Sabo."

 

 

 

East Blue is upon the cusp of summer when they arrive.

Slouched over the side of the their little boat, Riskua's eyes are downcast, focused upon the dark waves as she wrings her hands back and forth, arms leaning on their vessel's wooden edge. The muscles of her shoulders are tense, her jaw set. Preparing to go into battle.

Despite the fact they are about to burst into action under the Revolution's flag, Sabo's chest feels light, his breaths coming with an ease he could grow used to. He feels confident. A year with the Revolutionaries, and he's only ever had that one mission go wrong. Even then it hadn't been a failure.

Sabo might have come away with a few burns for it, but he's not about to give up, to go crawl under a rock just because he got a little scarred. He'll face everything that's thrown at him, and he'll walk away victorious.

"Are you going to be okay, Koala? You and Arlong have some kind of history, right?"

He's worried about his friend. While he doesn't know the full details of Koala's past, he'd have to have been blind to miss the huge marking upon the woman's back when they went skinny-dipping. Knowledgeable enough to know of the Sun Pirates, Sabo finds himself with more questions than answers.

The Sun Pirates are a bunch of Fishermen and to his knowledge, they have never once taken on a human member of the crew.

Koala's back is a clear indicator otherwise.

Sabo's not a lazy man; he's done his research on what they're up against and he knows Arlong used to be a Sun Pirate too, back before the famous Fisher Tiger (one of Sabo's personal heroes) was killed by Marines.

God, what Sabo wouldn't have given to have met that guy. Attacking Mariejois takes more than guts; it's astonishing and unbelievable… that guy would have made the best Revolutionary, that’s for sure.

"We do. I can't say I'm surprised that he's still being so horrible to humans. Captain Tiger… He wanted good relations between Fishermen and humans, something Arlong isn't even attempting. I owe it to Captain Tiger to stop him, in the very least."

The grave expression upon Koala's face is one Sabo seldom sees her wear; the grim twist to her mouth, eyes a dark navy absent of their usual sparkle of mischief. It doesn't look right. Licking slowly at his bottom lip, Sabo sucks in a deep breath, eyes on the quickly approaching land.

"Well, this is the island where we'll find Arlong Park. The closest settlement is called Cocoyasi Village."

"We'll dock there. Riskua, get some rope. Koala, raise the flag."

It's only the second time that Sabo's rode into port with the red slash of fabric whipping about through the air, but it still provokes the same amount of bubbling excitement, of burning anticipation. Sweat from his hands makes grasping the rudder more difficult than it should be, but Sabo's not really in the mood to wipe them on the fabric of his pants.

Wetting his lips, the blond locks the rudder in place, allowing their little boat to drift up towards the dock as he grabs hold of the rope.

Now aware he'll sink like a stone the second he's in the water, Sabo is a hell of a lot more aware of the great expanse of blue around him. It doesn't matter that Koala and Riskua are here to pull him out if he needs them. He does not want to experience just how badly the sea will affect him now that he is a Devil Fruit user.

As such, the former noble waits until the distance between the ship and the dock is practically nothing before casually stepping up onto the stationary surface.

"Catch!"

 Snatching the line of rope Riskua throws him, Sabo swiftly ties their little ship with secure knots, long fingers working with ease.

"Ah, sir, you don't…"

Turning to face the one who addresses him, Sabo raises an eyebrow, reaching for his pocket to pull out his own goggles. Not the ones that rest atop his head, but the ones he uses to a little identity protection.

"Yes?" Sabo visibly perks up, head tilting to a side as he leans slightly towards the man that addresses him.

"There's scary Fishermen here." A boy (brown hair, round eyes, young) peers out from behind the man's leg, who's quick to push him protectively behind him once again.

"Chabo, stay quiet… But he is right, sir. The Fishermen here-"

"It's okay, we're well aware of the Fishermen," Sabo hurriedly interrupts, holding a hand out to his side. His offering is accepted by Koala, who uses his extended limb to steady herself as she steps onto the dock beside him, Riskua following a moment afterwards.

"It's actually why we're here."

"We're with the Revolutionary Army," Riskua butts him before the man can come to the wrong conclusions.

From the fumbling and the way the man's eyebrows squish together over his nose, it's clear he has little to no idea what they're talking about.

Just how much information are these people getting of the outside world? In the year since Sabo has joined, the movement has grown tenfold and become quite the pain in the World Government's side. And they'll only continue to grow.

"A military force against the suppression of the people by the World Government and the Tenryūbito. We liberate enslaved islands and people. Like this one."

There it is. The naked hope.

The man tries to suppress it, but it's like leading a dehydrated horse to water. It doesn't even need the push, the desire to drink is already there.

"You're here to… to…"

"To hopefully kick the Arlong Pirates out of here. Take their captain into custody, certainly."

Because there's no way the Marines haven't known about this. Which means Arlong must have something on them. Even if he's not bribing/threatening higher ups, having even one foothold in that door would be a great help to the Revolutionaries.

"Now if you'll excuse us, we have a fight to start."

 

 

 

Trekking through the village, no one can see the rampant poverty more than he. He who grew up surrounded by cold luxury. These people may be oppressed, but they are so warm. This is exactly what Sabo is fighting to protect, he's fighting to free people just like this.

Every step pumps hi