Disc.: I don't own One Piece. This AU was heavily inspired by the incredible piece Bad Day, an Avatar. The last Airbender oneshot by Lisse. You should all go over there right now and read, fave and comment on that and her entire swampbender-verse.
Names are important.
Her Nan used to tell her this, back when Sol refused to move, extending her bottom lip and clutching her doll so tightly the straws pricked her skin and left imprints for hours. Then she repeated her order to gather her things and stop making such a goddamn fuss, the boat needed to be rigged up. "Nobody can find out," she'd murmur, which is a rubbish answer, no answer at all really. She never gave another, only a smack over the head if Sol didn't shut up.
Now Sol just nods and pretends she understands, even though she doesn't.
They have a cart full of odd bits and bobs, and Sol gets to drive it into the towns when the sun comes up. They offer everything the people there don't have, even sell the canned goods that Sol would rather eat herself, and a lot of folk come and bargain. They smile at her and Sol laughs right back, big and bright, telling them where they've been and what amazing things they've got, except sometimes, when they wear blue-white uniforms and stand in the shadow of a looming cyborg, then her Nan pulls her back with an iron grip to make a better deal. Sol doesn't mind. She's ten and rebellious strands of black hair break away from her braid when she turns and inspects how much food they have left, because they always pack up sooner when they meet Marines.
They never return to a place once they've left, and never stay long enough to be missed.
Sol loves the sea and the breeze and the salty taste on her lips, and leans out too far over the edge of the boat. She dreams of sinking down to the bottom of the ocean, like the fishmen did long ago, or soaring high above like a seagull, and blinks surprised when she finds herself in the water.
An old man watches her Nan fish her out from the docks and shakes his head. "Keep a better eye on your daughter," he warns, "or she'll end like the King of Straws."
Her Nan doesn't correct him - everyone always assumes she's Sol's mum, even though Sol's parents died a long long time ago - but waits with the scolding until he's gone.
"Calm down," she sighs, like always, "You're worse than your father."
She doesn't sound too upset about it, so Sol pouts and grins and spatters her with her dripping clothes. She gets a slap for her efforts, and thinks about the one they mock the "Almost-King, King of Straws" and how her Nan loathes this title they gave him. There was a war and he was in it, a long long time ago, when islands didn't have Pacifista patrolling and picking people off the streets and the Red Line was whole and the ocean bustling with pirates. A lot of things were different a long long time ago, and Sol can't figure out why they have to make it more complicated by giving long-long-ago people a load of stupid titles.
"Names are important," her Nan says.
Her Nan teaches her about the calm and rise of the waves, the flow of the wind, and how to recognize a rising storm with the same certainty as telling north from south. Then she shows her all the ways to turn a spark into a lightening arc, how to render someone harmless with less than a stick.
Sol tries to be a good student and not take an accidental dive every time. She can swim, of course - not like all the Eaters with the government, she has learned to turn the sea against them easily enough - but losing her balance while brandishing her stick like a katana is not something to be proud off. Even if she did reenact the fight they witnessed last island very authentically.
"That Marine," she asks, remembering the dark-haired swordswoman making short work of some drunk thug and taking him in, "Was she the greatest?"
A shadow flickers across her Nan's face. "Might as well be," she says. "There is no greatest swordsman in the world."
Sol considers this for a moment and frowns. "Maybe they just got lost."
Her Nan looks at her with a smile made of glass, beautiful but jagged and oh so fragile, like it might shatter with a tap of Sol's fingers.
"Yeah," she agrees and Sol almost hears the smile crack, "Maybe they have a horrible sense of direction."
Sometimes, at night, with the sea gently rocking beneath her back and the stars winking at her, she tries to imagine how they must have been like, back then - her parents and the pirates and her Nan, who treasures a box of human bones and traces invisible lines on tabletops like mapping out long lost worlds, who never ever gets lost but still stares into the distance as if she can't find the horizon. Sol makes up names for them and crowns them with titles, each more ridiculous than the next, and decrees if they had to heft them on their shoulders like chunks of the Red Line, barely able to take another step, or if they were thrown over like a coat a few sizes too big, when you have to squint up into the folds and yet are still never quite able to make out a face.
Mostly, though, Sol wishes she could have seen the islands in the deep sea and in the sky, and wonders if fishmen were as funny-looking as they say, if skypeans really did have wings, and what it was like to ride a sea king. The sea got caged and robbed and Sol can feel its anger in her bones, the way she's too strong and quick for her age, like the waves are growing restless and are trying to push her forward.
She thinks she would've liked it, being a pirate.
And then Marines start being pulled out of retirement and patrols on the ocean increase and there's more and more people asking them if they could deliver letters while casting nervous glances over their shoulders. There are rumors of problems with the Pacifista, of Eaters vanishing and of people coming out of nowhere to ambush Marine ships and disappearing again, of pirates, and Sol listens with rapt attention to someone who swears he saw a sea king, feels the ocean churning beneath her.
"Idiots." Her Nan worries her lip between her teeth and grips her left shoulder. "Now they'll start looking."
Sol barely keeps from dropping the change. "Who?" She blinks. "Looking for what?"
"Survivors." Her Nan stares into the distance, takes a breath. "Chasing monkeys."
Somehow, Sol feels that her Nan doesn't mean the old saying, even if she can't help giggling when she pictures Pacifista running after cackling monkeys. She remembers where it came from, the phrase, and wrinkles her brow. "Why? They're dead."
"Because nobody's dead until they're buried," her Nan says, swaps one saying with another without looking at her, "and idiots always get back up."
Soon after that it's forbidden to mention the pirates or the seakings or even Eaters, or look at a Pacifista twice, except everyone knows things aren't quite right anymore and the Gorosei want to hide it. Wanted Posters find their way back into the pockets of Marine's uniforms again, with real dead-or-alive captions, and her Nan more and more frequently orders Sol to guard the boat and cart and disappears. After a while Sol gives up trying to find a pattern in her departs and returns, like the push and pull of the tide, and starts tugging her makeshift katana into a sash at her waist and scratching jolly rogers into the ground.
When her Nan comes back, she kicks sand over the drawings and wraps the sword up, and tells her to stop being stupid.
One day her Nan doesn't return. Sol waits and waits and waits, minutes and hours and then days, curled up against the box of bones and clutching her sword, trying to hear footsteps over the rush of the waves and the humming against her back.
On the seventh day she has eaten the last of their provisions and her Nan will be mad when she comes back and everything's gone but she's so hungry and maybe she won't come back at all, maybe something happened to her, maybe Sol better goes into town and look.
She smiles at people and they trade with her, give her pieces of bread and cheese and apples, and her Nan is just around the corner, she swears, but that Marine won't let go of her shoulder.
"She's with me."
Sol tries to blink up through her hears, see him and lie she's fine. It's no use, though, there's a dark mask covering his face.
The Marine frowns. "Show your face."
He does, and while the Marine blanches and stumbles over his words in his haste to apologize and the Pacifista he called denies a record, Sol recognizes it.
It's a smile like glass, fragile and jagged around the edges.
There's no name. He says he used them all up, tells her this with his ear pressed against her Nan's box of bones and calloused fingers drawing fantastical scenes on the pallid wood.
"Did you know," he asks her, "that names are important?"
Sol stops tracing the features of the mask in her hands and huffs. "What does that even mean?"
He looks at her and the scar in the center of his face seems to expand before her eyes.
"I used to tell tales," he says, after a while. "Outrageous ones."
Sol feels like she's trying to keep her balance, the waves rising higher and higher above her and she wants to say that's not an answer at all but what comes out instead is: "What happened?"
He cradles the box like an infant and puts his head back, as if dedicating his answer to the sky.
"They came true."
Sol calls him the Bard after that, when he stays with her. Her Nan and her never stayed this long anywhere and they probably should leave because she'd want her to, or do something, but the Bard shakes his head when Sol says so. He would get quiet sometimes, never letting go of the box and just staring at her, his smile shining like Sol was a light reflecting on shattered windows. She wishes she could dive into the stories he hides behind the scars like the deep sea, could hear him recounting the world from a long time ago, glory and gore and kingdoms long since gone. But the only stories he would tell her are silly things about monkeys and dragons and there's something behind them, something more, just out of her reach.
Sol never really gets a chance to try and talk and talk and ambush him, ask him what is happening outside right now, what's going on, where is her Nan, because when they go to town next, two battleships are anchored and hundreds of soldiers and cyborgs are walking down the plank and Sol didn't think to be afraid if the Bard wasn't gripping her hand like his life depended on it.
Sol squeezes back and feels a little light on her feet, yearns for the ocean. "What are they doing here?" she whispers.
But the Bard just drags her back through the silent crowd, away from the main streets and the searching lens of the Pacifista. Sol stumbles behind, small legs desperately trying to keep up and she thinks of monkeys racing over windowsills and rooftops, dodging laser beams and bullets and it's not funny anymore, not funny at all.
She remembers: The King of Straws was a monkey, too.
The Bard stops in a dark alley, reaches down to tug and smooth her collar and stroke her hair. His eyes are bright, as if he can't decide wether to laugh or cry, and then he pushes the box into her arms like something final, like leaving a promise for someone else to fulfill, and that's how Sol knows that she's going away and that he's not coming with her.
But Sol isn't done yet, she needs to know–
"Come out, I know you're here," the Bard says and suddenly a shadow peels itself from the wall and there's another one, a cloak to big to see a face even if you squint up really hard into the folds.
They stare at each other like they can see what Sol tries so hard to spot, like they remember, know what's behind the folds and scars, the masks and titles. They're lost in a storm, the two of them, somewhere long ago and out at sea where Sol can't reach them.
"You should have left." The hood draws deep shadows over his face, but it's not a threat, it's disapproval, curiosity. "Why didn't you leave? You had to know she would break."
"You can't break what's already broken." The Bard opens his pack and assembles a something green and huge, and maybe in a world long past, Sol would know what it is. He looks back up at the man. "And you wouldn't have found her if she didn't want you to."
Something passes between them and suddenly they look at her, like they found the eye of the storm, and she's it, and it doesn't make sense, why does she need to leave again, she's nothing special, just some girl – she dreams too loud and falls into the sea and fights with her, like a navigator, like her Nan – and she doesn't want to run.
"Where's Nan?" She squares her shoulders and raises her chin, this time she won't move an inch without answers, and she will never know how much she looks like her father at that moment. "Who are you? Why would anyone want to find me? What's going on?"
The Bard pushes his mask up and smiles at her, this fractured, shimmering smile, and reaches around the box. "Your generation is asleep," he says. He presses something small and warm into her hand and closes her fingers around it.
"Soon it'll be time to wake up."
The mask is back down and he's turned around and gone, cape billowing behind him. He runs out of the shadows and onto the square, his steps sure and unwavering as if he's found his fate and goes to greet it with open arms and Sol doesn't like it, not one bit. She takes a step and suddenly there's a great hum in the air, vibrating down to Sol's toes, and they spill out from all directions.
Sol wants to scream but there's a hand over her mouth and she lashes out, still the cloaked man holds her down and it's like fighting against churning waves and Sol is strong but not enough, she wishes she were a swift monkey or a dragon and claw her way out. The only thing she can do is clutch the box and watch through a veil of tears, watch how the Bard is overrun in the distance until he disappears in the sea of white and blue and black and then behind a corner, while the man hauls her through the alleys, out of the town and into the trees.
He lets her down and she bolts immediately but he's fast, grabs her by the wrist and stops her. The movement throws back his hood and she glares at him red-eyed and snot-nosed, stares into his kind eyes and at the strands of pink flashing from beneath the bandana and the blue-white of his collar.
"Don't," he says, pleads. "Don't waste their efforts. Nobody can find out about you."
He looks down at her hands and there's the box of bones and they seem to sing, and when she opens the fingers of her other hand there's a small, battered slingshot. They whisper of promises and dreams and she hears monkeys laughing in the distance, and the ocean roars in her ears and lifts her up.
Suddenly Sol is little again and they're about to leave and she's grasping at the straws of her doll and desperately wants to know why they don't visit, why they can't stay, just once – "Why?"
His smile is sad and a little bit broken, like Nan's, like the Bard's.
"Because your name," he says and sighs, "Is Monkey D. Sol."
And right then, the ocean shifts, the wind changes, straw pricks her skin and Sol – Sol finally understands.
"Names are important," she whispers.