"Pst! Wakey wakey!"
"Time to wake up!"
"Mmmeergh... mmm... pancakes..."
"GAH!" I jolted upright with a yelp, wincing as I whipped my headphones from my ears. "Son of a- Soundbite!" I snarled at the transponder snail that was cackling on my shoulder. A quick glance at the sky reaffirmed my anger. "It's not even noon yet you little shit! What'd you wake me up for?"
The snail's response was to continue laughing for almost a minute as it did its level best to memorize my terrified expression.
I heaved a weary sigh as I waited the snail out.
This had been my life for the previous two weeks. I'd done my best to explore the island in hopes of finding some sign of civilization, but I'd come up with absolutely jack squat. There had been the occasional run-in with the odd predatory sample of fauna here and there, but Soundbite had more than shown his worth by running them off with the barrage of sound every living thing on the island had come to fear.
I'd also taken the time to get to know Soundbite, in order to discover both who he was and what his powers were like. There wasn't much to say about the snail, to be honest: he was a notorious prankster through and through, who'd give or do anything to get a good laugh. And he'd been laughing a lot since I'd provided him with a prime target of opportunity: His faithful steed, i.e. me. He also loved using his mouth. Whenever he wasn't laughing, he was chomping down, either on some leaves or, worse, me.
As for Soundbite's Noise-Noise powers, they were... well, in a word, impressive. I suppose one way to describe the snail would be as the world's most talented ventriloquist. So long as Soundbite heard a noise, any noise, he could replicate it perfectly, with his own choice in volume and explicit control over the direction it came from. Backwards, forwards, above, below, to the sides, so long as it was in Soundbite's range he could make anything sound like it was anywhere.
And as for his range, well... apparently, the Noise-Noise Fruit was a two-way street: it didn't just enhance the noise coming out of him, it enhanced what went in as well. It was hard to get an exact measurement, but from the tests we'd run on the island's beach, I'd approximate that as it stood, Soundbite could hear everything within a quarter mile of him. And so long as Soundbite could hear someone or something, he could produce noise around that someone or thing as well.
While this range might appear to be ridiculous, it made sense: from what I could remember from the SBS question corners, transponder snails communicated with one another via telepathic communication in the form of radio-waves. Unless I missed my guess, Soundbite's natural abilities as a transponder snail must have enhanced the Noise-Noise Fruit's abilities, or vice-versa. Probably something like how Eneru's powers made his 'mantra' ungodly powerful. Simply put, it was a stroke of luck that Soundbite had eaten the fruit, and not a human with less powerful sensory abilities.
And of course, that wasn't even mentioning the nigh endless array of audio that Soundbite had access to thanks to eating my iPhone and getting access to the internet... however the hell that worked. Then again: One Piece, the world where a cook could set his leg on fire for extra POW via spinning a lot and the 'power of love'.
In the end though, while it didn't seem like the most offensively-useful ability to have, I could definitely see the potential.
'Now if only its owner were actually a bit more mature...' I groused silently as I watched Soundbite calm down from cackling to just flat out snickering. "Finished?" I demanded.
Soundbite shot me the shit-eating grin I'd grown all-too-familiar with. "Never!" he crowed.
I sighed and knocked my head back against the trunk of the tree I'd been sleeping in. "You'd better have a good reason for waking me, or I swear-!"
"C'mooooon, guys! Hurry up already!"
I froze, my entire body locking up. That voice... that was... could that actually be-!? I hastily slid my headphones on in order to reaffirm what I waas hearing.
"Wait for us, Luffy! Geeze... impatient moron..."
I slowly turned my head to stare at Soundbite in sheer disbelief. I managed to catch the tail end of an exasperated smile he was wearing before he switched to a wide smirk.
"Well what did you expect? He is Luffy after all."
I sat up eagerly as Soundbite scowled, clenching his teeth together as though he were biting into something.
"The mosshead's got a point. He wouldn't be our captain if he didn't charge headfirst into the unknown, shouting his head off."
My exuberant smile was an exact opposite to the panicked expression Soundbite suddenly bore.
"Uh... guys? I-I-I don't know about you, but I think my 'I-don't-want-to-go-into-that-wild-jungle' disease might be acting up!"
I slid my headphones back around my neck and hastily scrambled to my feet, crouching on my branch with an eager smile. I could barely believe it! They were here, they were here! "Sounds like we've got company, Soundbite!" I grinned wholeheartedly. "You feel ready to entertain some guests?"
Soundbite mirrored my expression perfectly as he displayed his full set of teeth. "LLLLLLET'S GET READY TO RUUUUUMBLEEEEE!" He belted out, thumping out a rapid, energetic tune to go with it.
I slowly straightened up, preparing myself for a venture through the treetops...
"Hey, that's a pretty neat trick!"
Until a grinning, Straw Hat-clad head popped out from the leaves above me, causing me and Soundbite to shriek in terror as I jolted back in shock.
I had all of one second to realize what a bad idea that was before I started pinwheeling my arms, fighting to maintain my precarious balance on the branch under Luffy's bemused stare.
I put up a valiant effort, but eventually I felt my center of gravity slip just a little too low.
"Ah shitbiscuits..." I groaned.
"TIMBER!" Soundbite cried, snapping back into his shell as I plummeted out of the tree...
And slammed into the ground hard enough to knock the breath out of my lungs.
I was vaguely aware of someone leaping down next to me and leaning over me. "H-, -ou -ight?"
"Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do..." I slurred out.
"YANkee doodle had a FARM..." Soundbite concurred in a medley of dizzy voices.
"Shishishishi!" The blur above me solidified into a familiar face as Luffy snickered. "You two are funny!"
"Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week." I groaned as I slowly shifted myself into a sitting position, wincing as my body ached from the impact.
"You've been warned, people!" Soundbite crowed.
"HAHAHA!" Luffy outright guffawed, clutching his stomach helplessly. "I take it back, you two are really funny!"
His laughter was infectious enough that it drew a pained smile from me. "Thanks again... ah, I should introduce myself, shouldn't I?" I extended a hand to him. "Cross. Jeremiah Cross. Island bum and ex-rookie-world-traveler." I nodded my head towards my shoulder. "And this is my pet-!"
I winced as Soundbite tried to take a chunk out of my ear and hastily corrected myself. "I-I-I mean my partner, Soundbite." I shot a glare at the smirking gastropod.
Luffy chuckled as he took my hand and helped haul me to my feet. "Nice to meet you, Cross! You too, Soundbite! I'm Monkey D. Luffy! Pleased to meetcha!"
I shook his hand. "Nice to meet you too, Luffy! What brings you to this particular abandoned corner of the... East Blue?" I estimated, based on the fact that the Straw Hats were only five members strong and didn't have Vivi on board.
The captain shrugged, his expression never changing. "Me and my crew were running a little low on meat, so we came here to resupply!"
I smiled eagerly. This was my chance! "Your crew, huh?" I asked him.
"Shishishi! Yup, you bet!" Luffy nodded. "We're pirates, you see!"
"Yohoho and a bottle of rum?" Soundbite tilted his head to the side.
"Yup!" The rubber-man nodded.
I hastily morphed my expression into an uncertain one. "Pirates, huh? Just to be clear, are we talking about the 'rape, loot, pillage'kind of pirates, or the 'adventures no matter what anyone tells us' kind?"
Luffy grimaced and stuck his tongue out. "The second one! The first kind are all stupid fakers!"
I doubled over and sighed in relief. "Phew... thank god. Sorry, no offense to you or your crew, it's just that you can never be too careful, you know?"
"STRANGER DANGER! STRANGER DAN-ger...?" Soundbite concurred with a grimace before suddenly cutting off mid-sentence and peering over Luffy's shoulder curiously.
"Heh, no problem! Luffy shrugged with a chuckle. "I've dealt with those kind of jerks before!"
I nodded and chuckled along with him. "Yeah, yeah..." As I chuckled, my mind flew along.
This was it. Now was the time. Luffy had already shown interest in me, Cross the intriguing island bum and my talking snail Soundbite. If I was going to ask him if I could join his crew, now was the time.
I took a deep breath to steady myself-
"Hey, mind if I ask you something?"
Before freezing in surprise. I stared at him for a second before shrugging. "Sure?"
Soundbite worked his jaw and imitated eating popcorn, sound and all, as he watched both us and the foliage behind Luffy.
Luffy grinned from ear to ear. "Will you join my crew?"
I blinked as I processed his question. Then...
"ARE YOU SERIOUS!?" I demanded, my shocked exclamation mirrored closely by the quartet of familiar faces who erupted from the jungle, all of us screaming in shock.
"Now that's what I call ENTERTAINMENT!" Soundbite cheered, laughing himself silly on my shoulder.
I promptly shook myself out of my shock in favor of glaring at the snail. "You knew they were coming!" I accused.
"GUI~LTY~!" The transponder snail sang.
I snarled furiously as I raised a hand and held it close to his head, inches from strangling him.
Luffy, meanwhile, was not so lucky. "What the hell are you thinking, you moron, just asking every random hick and hillbilly you meet to join our damn crew?!" Nami snarled as she tried to throttle her laughing captain, shaking him back and forth by his neck.
I briefly wondered whether or not I should have been insulted at being called a hick. Then I noticed just how tightly she was gripping Luffy's neck and dismissed that train of thought with a self-conscious gulp.
"But Nami!" Luffy protested as he chortled, completely unaffected by the fact that his crewmate was trying to suffocate him. "He's not a random hick! His name's Cross and he's really funny and cool and his snail can do all kinds of tricks!"
"WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING!?"
Sanji cocked his eyebrow as he took a drag from his cigarette, watching the spectacle neutrally. "So this is pretty much how he does things around here?"
Zoro groaned and kneaded the bridge of his nose. "He found me when I was tied up and starved for nearly a month and held my swords hostage to make me join. Does that answer your question?"
The cook grimaced. "Considering how he 'refused my refusal'? All too well."
While all this was transpiring, Usopp sighed wearily and clapped his hand on Cross's free shoulder. "Sorry about Luffy. He's got a good heart, but he's... eh..." He waved a hand in search of a valid word.
I tore my attention away from my shoulder-annoyance. "A moron?" I deadpanned.
"A ding-a-ling?" Soundbite offered enthusiastically. "A goofball? A Knucklehead McSpazatron?"
"Eep!" Usopp flinched back in shock.
"Shishishishi!" Luffy bent his head backwards as he smiled at Soundbite. "See Nami? I told you that his snail is really cool!"
Nami snapped an acrid glare up at us, prompting me to flinch self-consciously. The woman had a hell of a gaze, that was for sure. I just really hoped that more of her ire was meant for Luffy than it was for me. "It's a good ventriloquist act, I'll give you that, but it's nothing to get worked up over."
I bristled at the accusation, pointing at Soundbite. "Hey, I do not have my finger up his ass!"
"I'm not your puppet!" The snail sang in agreement simultaneously with an affronted expression.
Nami's expression morphed into one of surprise. "Oooookay... that's new."
"But not impossible." Sanji said around his cigarette as he pointed at the snail. "That's a baby transponder snail, Luffy. He's got a friend somewhere on the island speaking through it."
Luffy's expression fell into one of disappointment. "Awww, really?"
I allowed myself to throw an eager smirk at Sanji. "Guess again, curly!" I gloated, holding my hand to my shoulder and allowing Soundbite to crawl onto my palm. I then held him out and twisted my hand around, displaying his shell. "Soundbite here is as free as the wind!"
The snail smirked and looked Nami over once before letting out a loud wolf-whistle.
I spat out a curse and promptly clapped my hand down on Soundbite's shell, forcing him back inside his exoskeleton he shook with laughter. "Okay, make that as free as an anarchist!" I corrected aggravatedly. I really hated it when he did stuff like this, damn it!
Sanji blinked as he slowly lowered his finger. "Alright... yeah, I got nothing."
Luffy's grin redoubled instantly. "I told you his snail was cool!"
"Oi, what am I, chopped liver?" I groused.
Zoro gave the snail a bored look before looking up at me with a flat, if calculating, look. "So how does he do it?"
I drew myself upright and took my hand off Soundbite's shell, allowing him to peek out. We locked gazes for a second before we shared a smirk. Time to shine!
"Why I'm so glad you asked!" I announced in a slightly extravagant tone of voice, intent on putting on the best show I could. "Allow me to explain in style! Soundbite?"
"Yes cap'n?" The snail asked eagerly as he looked up at me.
I snapped my fingers and pointed straight at Nami. "Hit it!"
Soundbite swung around on my hand and smirked at the orange-haired woman, who blinked back at him in curiosity.
I kept pointing at her as I smiled before starting to speak. "You see, the thing about Soundbite is that he's not an ordinary snail!"
The Straw Hats yelped in shock as my voice was drowned out by Nami's voice as it came from Soundbite's mouth.
"The heck-!?" The original sputtered.
Before they could recollect themselves, I'd swung my finger to point at Usopp. "Well, I mean, I know that he's a baby transponder snail, so he's not normal already, but he's even weirder than that!"
"Holy crap!" The long-nosed pirate breathed in shock.
I then turned my focus on Sanji. "See, Soundbite here, as a snail, eats a wide variety of plants and vegetation. But awhile back, he ate a very particular plant that put him above and beyond all other transponder snails, baby or otherwise! Care to guess?"
Sanji sucked in a puff from his cigarette as he watched me and my partner with interest. "A Devil Fruit."
"That's exactly right!" I responded in his voice before shifting Soundbite's gaze over to Zoro. "To be specific, he ate a Paramecia fruit, which I'm calling the Noise-Noise Fruit. Not only does it enhance Soundbite's range of hearing well above and beyond the norm..."
I breathed a mental sigh of relief as the swordsman grinned in response to the use of his voice, thankfully entertained.
Moving on, Luffy matched me and Soundbite's grins tooth for tooth as I pointed at him. "It lets him repeat anything he hears, any time, any where! He can use his powers in other cool ways too, like, say... putting my words in your voices! Pretty awesome, huh?"
Apparently sensing the finale, Luffy threw his arm over my shoulder and joined me as I laughed. "Shishishishi!" we chorused.
Almost instantly, half the crew deflated as exhaustion seemed to overcome them.
"Oh god there's two of them..." Nami groaned, tears streaming down her face.
"We're doomed..." Usopp concurred in the exact same position.
Zoro snorted as he looked us over with a slightly amused expression.
Sanji took in a deep drag from his cigarette as he contemplated my snail. "That was..."
"Impressive?" I shrugged with a grin as I put Soundbite back on my shoulder. "Tell me about it. And personally, that's what I consider a parlor trick. He's got a few other stunts up his shell that, in my opinion, can be put to pretty good use."
"GREEAAAH!" Soundbite howled without warning. The noise originated directly behind Usopp, causing the poor guy to jump a full five feet in the air as he shrieked in terror.
I dropped my face into my hand with a groan as Soundbite laughed himself shitless. "When he isn't screwing around for the absolute hell of it..." I snarled out.
To Usopp's credit, he managed to bounce back with frightening fortitude, leaping to his feet and sticking his infuriated face into Soundbite's. "WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT FOR YOU STUPID SNAIL!?"
My eyes widened in panic as I caught sight of the snail's grin all but doubling in size. "Oh nonono wait don't-!"
Too late. Before anyone could react, Soundbite seemed to split his head in half as he opened his maw...
And bit down on Usopp's nose, hanging on for dear life as he was swung around and around by the pirate's pained flailing, his by-now-trademark cacophony of laughter echoing throughout the clearing.
I could feel, feel my eye twitching as I watched the spectacle. "As you can see, I didn't name him without reason." I explained in a deadpan tone of voice.
"You have our sympathy." Zoro, Sanji and Nami chorused with the exact same amount of emotion.
Luffy was too busy rolling on the floor laughing to say much of anything.
"GET! HIM! OOOOOFF!" Usopp howled, tugging at the gastropod furiously.
Ultimately, I took pity on the sniper by pursing my lips and blowing a sharp whistle. "Soundbite! Let him go, now!" I then raised my hand and barely even flinched as Soundbite's shell slapped into my palm, vibrating with laughter. "Thank you." I told him without so much as a shred of gratitude as I slapped him back onto my shoulder.
"You're WELcome!" He sang gleefully.
Nami pursed her lips for a second as she looked me over before shooting a flat look at her captain. "Look, Luffy," she started slowly. "While I can appreciate Cross and Soundbite's talents, and while I'm sure that they're ... that Cross is relatively decent..."
"Thank you!" I piped up.
"BITE ME!" Soundbite offered, smiling nonetheless.
"But the fact remains that... well… he hasn't even agreed to this!" Nami snapped. "Besides, he's a normal guy, Luffy! I'm sure he's got a normal life, normal dreams! There's no reason why he'd want to sail with us!"
"Besides the fact that I've been stranded here for the past two weeks, subsisting on whatever fruits and whatnot that Soundbite could direct me to?" I asked with a grimace. That stuff had not been kind to me. I wanted my meat, damn-! ...holy hell I was turning into Luffy.
Nami rolled her eyes as she looked at me. "Well obviously we're going to give you a ride off the island, but-!"
A quick and meaningful glance at Soundbite prompted him to produce a loud buzzing noise that interrupted Nami.
"If I could try getting a word in edgewise?" I asked her politely.
Sanji looked like he was ready to pop a blood vessel, but Nami blinked at me in confusion before shrugging. "Ah... sure, go ahead."
"Thank you..." I nodded in gratitude before turning my attention to Luffy. "Now then... Mister Monkey D. Luffy... I've got a question for you."
Luffy blinked and tilted his head to the side curiously. "Yeah? What is it?"
"You said that you were an adventuring pirate, right? Out to sail the seas in search of the most fun and awesome escapades you can think of?"
That prompted Luffy to grin eagerly. "Yup! Totally!"
I nodded slowly in understanding. "Alright, alright... then... tell me..." I looked him dead in the eye. "What exactly drove you to fly the Jolly Roger? What's the endgame, the big picture? Simply put..." I spread my arms wide and shrugged. "What's your dream?"
Luffy's expression became blank for a second before he raised a hand to clamp down on his hat as he grinned from ear to ear. "That's easy!"
"I'm gonna be king of the pirates!"
My plan was to smile and nod. To agree with his crazy but all-too-probable dream and just roll with it. To just... accept it.
That wasn't what happened.
Instead, the world just seemed to... stop. Those words... they resonated with me. Struck a chord, deep, deep down within, and made it sing. It was... clarity. It was obvious, it was simple, it was...
It was fact.
And just as quickly as it came, it went.
I hastily gave myself a mental shake before grinning wholeheartedly. "King of the pirates, huh? That means you'll be searching for the One Piece, right? In the Grand Line?"
Luffy's grin remained in place as he nodded eagerly. "Uh-huh! It's gonna be super dangerous! We'll probably die on the way!"
"DON'T SAY IT LIKE THAT, MORON!" Nami and Usopp roared as they slammed their fists over his skull, while Sanji and Zoro merely rolled their eyes.
I widened my grin as I ignored the antics. "Well then... let me tell you my dream," I took a calming breath as I hastily reviewed the relatively simple story I'd concocted in my head during my relatively solitary confinement. "First and foremost, can you all keep a secret?"
The Straw Hats exchanged bemused glances before nodding their assent.
"Perfect. See, the thing is, my home? You won't ever find it on any written maps. 'Cause as far as the rest of the world knows?" I snickered lightly. "There aren't any countries on the Red Line!"
That drew looks of awe and disbelief from the pirates.
"Are you serious?" Nami breathed.
I nodded solemnly. "Indeed. A small country, more a city-state than anything, known as Florida, located on the part of the Red Line that borders the North Blue and the East Blue. Our ancestors founded it somewhere around... eh..." I waved my hand in a 'so-so' manner. "Four, five hundred years ago? I was never much of a history buff."
I shook my head. "Anyways, the reason my ancestors founded it was that they were sick of living under the oppressive thumbs of varying kingdoms and factions of the World Government, so little by little they gathered together before scaling the Red Line and founding a nation for themselves. They then made certain to keep Florida nice and secret, so that they would never have to live under the World Government's tyranny again! We've kept tabs on the rest of the world, of course, wouldn't do to become estranged from our roots, but the fact remains that you guys are some of the very few people in the word who can claim to know about our existence!"
"Wooow..." Luffy breathed in awe.
Zoro, however, was far less impressed. "And what does all this have to do with anything?" He asked in a bored tone of voice.
I raised my hands in surrender. "Well... the fact is, for all we've kept up on current events and whatnot... we don't really have a lot of first hand information. People rarely go down to the ocean. But..." My eyes took on a slightly wistful dream as I stared into the distance. "We do... have stories. Stories about wonderful islands far beyond the imagination, of sights more beautiful than anything ever seen before... a literal ocean of possibilities."
I chuckled lightly as I came back down to earth. "I've... never been satisfied with those stories, you know? I've... I've always wanted... more." I snapped my fists up as I grinned, a true and honest smile. "My dream... is to explore the ocean I've heard so much about! I want to experience those wonders for myself! I want to see those beautiful sights! I want to visit those islands, see everything that they have to offer!"
The crew stared at me with slightly eager expressions, a new look of evaluation in their eyes as they took me in.
As my moxy slowly flowed out of my, I grinned sheepishly and scratched the back of my head. "In order to accomplish that goal, I left Florida and came down here, into the East Blue. I was sailing around on a passenger ship when a particularly nasty Sea King attacked. I fell overboard in the middle of all the chaos, wound up washing ashore and, well..." I clapped my hands together and spread them wide. "Here we are!"
"Anyways... how does this all matter, you might ask? Well..." I chuckled as I smiled happily at Luffy. "You say you're going to the Grand Line. You say you're going to be King of the Pirates. You say you're going to have the greatest adventure of our entire generation. And before all that... you asked me if I wanted to join your crew. Am I right?"
Luffy nodded eagerly in agreement, excitement radiating from his being.
I glanced at Soundbite with a smile, which he returned with a smirk, before I looked back at Luffy. "Well in that case, how the heck could I possibly say no?"
"We're in, BABY!" Soundbite whooped.
Luffy's reaction was instantaneous as he flung his arms into the air with a shout of joy. "WOOHOO! WE'VE GOT A NEW CREWMATE!" he hollered, swiftly entrapping me in a one-armed hug.
As if on cue, the rest of the crew let out tired groans.
"That's our captain, always reckless..." Nami groused, the heel of her palm that she was grinding into her forehead doing nothing to hide her grin.
"Yeah, but it wouldn't be Luffy any other way, would it?" Sanji chuckled melancholically as he puffed on his cigarette.
Usopp muttered something under his breath before pointing at Soundbite. "You're alright, Cross, but that snail of yours had better watch his back!"
Soundbite's smirk took on a predatory overtone as he met Usopp's gaze. "Bring it, biotch!"
Zoro rolled his eyes at his crew's antics with a scoff before jerking his thumb over his shoulder. "Alright, enough fun and games. It's getting late, might as well head back to the Merry. Fair warning, Cross, you're going to want to brace your stomach. The shit-cook's food-!"
Zoro blocked a kick from the blond cook with Wado Ichimonji's sheath.
"Watch your damn mouth, you crap-GRGH!" Sanji cut himself off as both he and Zoro suddenly doubled over, twitching in pain.
I blinked in surprise, though I suspected I knew what the problem was. "Are... they alright?"
Nami growled darkly under her breath as she glared at the pair. "Nothing important. Just a couple of morons forgetting that they were in a life and death struggle a week ago!" she snapped at them.
"Ouch." I winced. "My deepest of sympathies." I meant it, too. Arlong might have been half-way decently justified, but he was still a sadistic fuck, and Mihawk hadn't done Zoro any favors either.
"Psh!" Zoro scoffed as he righted himself, albeit with minor tremors racking his body. "What, this? This is nothing."
Nami stared at him with a decidedly unimpressed expression for a second before jabbing him straight in his chest. The swordsman's face immediately twisted in a grimace as he barely managed to suck in a grunt of pain.
The navigator scowled and rolled her eyes at the green-haired man's show of machismo before addressing me, adopting a pleasant facial expression with unnerving ease. "Anyways... I think it's high time we were introduced." She held her hand out. "I'm Nami, our - and now your, I suppose - crew's navigator."
I smiled politely as I shook her hand. "Cross, Jeremiah Cross. It's nice to meet you, Nami. I look forward to sailing with you."
Nami nodded politely before scowling over her shoulder. "As for everyone else, Moron the First," she jabbed her thumb at Zoro, who flipped her off in response. "Is Roronoa Zoro, while Moron the Second," she indicated the blond cook, who flipped from snarling at Zoro to preening with hearts in his eyes, "Is Sanji. He's Usopp," she pointed at the long-nosed sniper, who didn't break his staring contest with Soundbite before waving her hand at Luffy. "And you've already met Monkey D. Luffy, our fearless-to-a-fault captain."
I smiled and raised a hand in greeting. "Pleased to meet you all, I hope we can all become good friends," I then proceeded to adopt a plaintive expression. "And please, for the love of god, don't blame me for whatever shit Soundbite pulls. He's my partner, not my pet. I only wish I had a more reliable degree of control over him."
Usopp jolted in panic as a car horn seemed to blare directly behind his head before scowling at the seemingly ever-hysterical culprit perched on my shoulder.
"For the record, so long as it doesn't incapacitate, maim or kill him, he's fair game in terms of retribution." I deadpanned.
"TraiTOR!" Soundbite barked as he shot a glare at me.
"Bite me." I growled.
Through it all, Luffy all but broke down in hysterics. "You guys are hilarious!" he wheezed.
While the sniper and navigator turned on our captain under the watchful eyes of our cook and swordsman, I heaved a heavy internal sigh.
Well... looked like that was that.
I was officially, now and forever, a Straw Hat Pirate.
Now... I could only hope things would be smooth sailing from here.
I let out a rapturous moan as I savored the meat I was chewing on. Oh yeah, definitely smooth sailing.
"Th'nk- ulp- you!" I managed to get out as I chewed and swallowed, eagerly cutting into another slice of sausage. "This is legitimately, legitimately delicious! Thank you so much!"
"Mmhmm!" Soundbite murmured in agreement as he chowed down on a bowl of oats that had been provided to him.
Sanji chuckled in appreciation as he watched us gorge ourselves. "It's no problem. It is my job after all; I'd be a joke of a chef if I couldn't satisfy my diners. Though, fair warning-!"
Both Sanji and Luffy froze in surprise as I buried my knife in the table, an inch from the rubber-man's slowly creeping fingers. I slowly turned my head to stare at my captain, my face completely devoid of emotion.
"Luffy." I stated frigidly. "I have been subsisting on roots, nuts, berries, fruits and 'shrooms for the past. Fourteen. Days. If you even so much as attempt to touch the first sizable amount of protein I've had in two weeks, I will set a global land-speed record for mutiny. In short, remove your hand or I will remove it for you."
Silence fell on the Merry's meager dining room as the rest of the crew stared at me in shock. Slowly, Luffy withdrew his limb, although, worryingly enough, his gaze never swayed from my plate.
Finally, Sanji took a contemplative tug from his cigarette. "Well. That was a first."
"The first time someone's reacted to his antics like that, or the first time he's actually listened?" I queried before putting the rest of my sausage in my mouth.
Sanji's smirk widened slightly. "Yes."
I jerked as a heavy hand fell on my shoulder, prompting me to look up at Zoro as he grinned at me. "You'll fit in just fine, kid."
I shot him a flat frown. "'or t'e 'ecord..." I swallowed the bite in my mouth. "I'm eighteen."
Zoro's grin turned into an uneven smirk. "Whatever you say, brat."
I stared at him for a second before sweeping my gaze over the rest of the crew. "This-this is going to be a thing, isn't it? I am never going to shake that, am I?"
Luffy, Usopp, Nami and - much to my exasperation - Soundbite's reactions were to smile at me knowingly.
I sighed and rolled my eyes as I jabbed my fork into my plate. "Perfect," I muttered good-humoredly, shoving a large serving of food into my mouth and swallowing it swiftly. "Just, freaking, perf-!"
I promptly froze as my mind caught up with my tastebuds. "Uh oh..."
Soundbite's smile expanded exponentially as he snapped his gaze to me. "Dun dun dun!"
Luffy blinked in confusion. "Huh? What's wrong?"
With an immense amount of trepidation, I turned my gaze down towards my plate. My eyes settled on the object I logically knew I would see, staring at it as though it were a live bomb. Which, to me, it might as well have been.
"Is that a biscuit?" I asked miserably.
Sanji blinked at me in confusion. "Uh... yeah? Why, what does that matter?"
In response, my stomach roared like a small Sea King, causing my face to take on a no-doubt-unhealthy tone of gray. "That's why." I whimpered. I snapped my attention over to Nami. "Which way to the head?"
"Uh..." Nami blinked as she was caught flat-footed before hastily rallying her wits. "The deck below us. Go down the stairs, through the door and it's straight-!"
I didn't wait for her to finish, instead hastily shoving my way out from around the table and out through the kitchen's door. I vaulted over the railing, landed on the deck below and shouldered my way through both doors before leaping on the porcelain god I was about to become far too intimate with.
And thus was my first half hour on the Going Merry spent in intestinal agony, haunted by Soundbite's ever-present and ever-aggravating mirth.