On a roll and I hope it keeps ON rolling! If anyone wants early access, all ya gotta do is check the Pa tre On. Same name.

Also, was BIG fucked for a good few months. No alerts for ANYTHING. I have a twitter under PrimordialFics where I'll be posting update notices to as well. Come follow me!

Hope you all enjoy!

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Chapter XV: Carried on the Desert Winds

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"The fighting!" Pell shrieked in elation, "It's stopped! Our people have stopped fighting!"

"That bright beam probably had something to do with it." Alabasta's King Nefertari Cobra had a wry smile on his face as he stated this. "I certainly wouldn't want to fight after gazing upon that."

"No." Pell shook his head, "Look, my King. Their weapons are gone too. They're cleaning up. That wouldn't have happened so quickly after that massive attack. The fight's been over for much longer."

"Then let's hope my face won't stir things up again." Cobra said, his smile dropping, "Let's find my daughter! Immediately! I must see her…"

"Yes, sir!" Pell focused his gaze panning around the city before they widened. Without a word, they dove, with Cobra jerking back from the increased speed, his cheeks pulling from the whipping winds.

"Your majesty!" There were several yelps as they landed, with Cobra hurrying off Pell's back as he transformed back into his human form.

"Daddy!" Vivi's smile could have lit the sky as she teared up, "You're alright!" She sounded so relieved, trying to keep from letting any more tears fall.

"My daughter!" Cobra said hoarsely as he took in her nearly-completely purple leg, "Oh Vivi, what have they done to you?" He took her hand in his, bringing it up to his forehead in as controlled a grip as he could.

Vivi shook her head, "Nothing." She let out a pained chuckle, putting on a brave face, "Did it to myself."

"Gods, you've mangled your leg!" He reached out to touch it, but seemed to think better of it. "What did you do?"

"What I had to." Vivi relaxed back on the stretcher, "There was a bomb." Cobra's eyes widened, "We thought we just had to stop them from firing it, but Crocodile thought of that too." She said bitterly, "There was a timer on it. Would have killed us all." She sharpened her gaze, "I did what I had to." She repeated herself.

"Damn it!" Pell punched his thigh, "I should hav-"

"Pell." Vivi's voice was sickly sweet, "I'm not the same crybaby little girl you used to take flying for treats." She paused, "Well, I'd still love to go flying." She smiled as that got several people to laugh, "But I'm serious. I gave you orders, and you followed them perfectly. Things may have worked out differently with better information, but I wouldn't change a thing. I'll heal. And even if I didn't, I would give up my leg a thousand times to save a million lives. So, stop beating yourself up. That's an order."

Pell bowed his head, letting some proud tears fall, "Yes, Princess…"

Cobra stared at her in surprise, before letting out a small smile, "You've grown so much…" He squeezed her hand gently, "I'm so proud of you."

Vivi's face scrunched up, and she threw her arm over her eyes, "Damn it, daddy. I was trying not to cry!"

Cobra chuckled in bemusement, before turning his gaze to Kōza. The blonde man could barely hold his gaze, fidgeting in place. "Kōza…"

"Your majesty." He kneeled, bowing his head, "This was all on me. If I hadn't been-" Annnnd Vivi dope-slapped him.

"Idiot." She said weakly.

"Raise your head, Kōza." Cobra said, "None of us saw the truth. We all were led about by our noses. You, me, the whole nation. We were all taken in by that charismatic schemer, thinking he had changed his ways. I won't have you chastise yourself for a mistake I could have made in your shoes." Kōza clenched his fists, letting them tremble on the dusty ground as tears prickled in his eyes. "We need to address the nation." Cobra said loudly, "Tell them that the nightmare is over. Only then, will we be able to rebuild!"

"We're in luck then, your majesty!" A Royal Guard said, carrying a Visual Den-Den Mushi, followed by others carrying broadcasting equipment. "We found this equipment in a carriage used by Crocodile." He spat the name, "Apparently he wished to address the nation once Alubarna was a smoking crater."

Cobra clenched his teeth, but gave no more signs of how angry he was over the man's duplicity. "Then it's time we clear things up." He said, "Get this equipment over to the palace! We must declare this nightmare over!" He turned back to Vivi as the men hurried to follow their orders, "You're hurting, Vivi. No one would think ill of you for sitting this out."

"I'll speak. I know the most." She smiled weakly, "I think I'll need to cover this, though." She pointed at her leg, which even now was still throbbing. She grabbed a Royal Guard, "Get a crew together and find my friends." She told him, "Tell them to meet me at the palace, or take them if you have to. They might be injured. We couldn't have done this without them. You too, Pell. You already met Nami-chan."

"O-Of course, Princess, but I, uhhh, I have no idea what they look like…" The man sounded shaken.

Vivi snorted, before quickly describing everyone. "But most importantly," She unwrapped her arm, "They'll have this mark on them. We needed a way to trick the Mane Mane no Mi user." She showed off the 'x' on her arm. "Luffy will be somewhere on the palace grounds. He was the one who killed Crocodile."

"Yes, Princess!" He grabbed a few guards and even some rebels and set off to search for his targets.

"I will find Nami-san quickly!" Pell declared, taking wing.

Later, they were all at the plaza, with Kōza looking shaken, "Gods, is it even safe to enter?" Several walls looked bowed out, pillars were cracked, the ground was gouged, everything green and good was withered and dead… At least the sand was gone. Crocodile had taken all of it for his final attack.

"Leave this to us!" Several of the former rebels stepped up, "We weren't always freedom fighters." The leader said quietly, "All of us were in the Engineering Guild once upon a time. We'll have the palace evaluated within the hour!"

"In the meantime…" Vivi said, now in a wheelchair that had been quickly put together for her. A quilt was draped over her legs, hiding the damage. "We're ready, aren't we?"

"Yes." Cobra said, "Kōza, get over here. You're speaking too." Kōza jerked, before walking over to stand with the King, looking very much like he did not want to be there.

"3, 2, 1…" The cameraman counted down, before turning on the Den-Den.

All across the country, people stopped what they were doing as projectors turned on. The people working through the smoldering rubble in Nanohana stopped sifting. The marines and people in Rainbase stopped their bustling, having already rescued everyone from Rain Dinners. All around, the people watched, some in respect, and some in anger as the king of their country appeared on the screen.

"People of Alabasta!" He began his speech with three simple words to catch everyone's attention, "I come to you today not with words of sadness or anger, but with hope for the future! Across our land, this scene is repeating itself!" He held his hand out, with the raindrops pattering on his skin, "After years missing, the rain has finally returned to our lands! Today is a day of peace! Of renewal! And I am proud to say, our nightmare is over!"

He stepped aside, gesturing to Kōza. Unlike the king, he was fidgeting, before he took a deep breath. "When I formed our rebellion against the crown, I thought I was doing the right thing. All of the evidence we had pointed to the crown stealing all of our hard-earned prosperity for themselves. But despite that, I never wanted to fight. Never wanted this to truly come to civil war. Three years we've existed, and yet we've never once fought for real. Not until today. Not until Nanohana burned. We had tried again and again to resolve this civil war peacefully, but those events made it impossible." He dropped to his knees again, staring at the ground, "I come to you today, not reluctantly victorious, nor bitterly defeated. I come to you shamed, for my role in this farce. I come to you wondering how we can ever make up for what we've done! People of Alabasta…" He looked straight at the Den-Den, "We were ALL deceived! Every act, every bit of evidence against the crown… All of it was fake! All of it was fabricated! We were all led by our noses into a trap, and if it hadn't been for the actions of less than a dozen brave souls, more than a million innocent, unsuspecting lives would have vanished today! There would have been no victor except the mastermind behind this entire plot!" He started to cry, "People of Alabasta… I cannot reveal everything that happened. I do not know everything that happened. So, I will give the floor to someone who does. Someone who risked everything to keep us from destroying ourselves! Someone who kept this tragedy from becoming a true nightmare!" He stood and walked to the right.

All across Alabasta, people gasped as they laid eyes on their Princess. Most of them had never actually seen her before, as she had never made such a public appearance. But the whispers of those who had met her immediately started to travel. And they never would have expected their gorgeous Princess to be stuck in a wheelchair, nor for her to look so exhausted and disheveled in public. They gave her their undivided attention.

But despite that exhaustion, she still smiled in true happiness, "For three years, I've been stuck in a nightmare." She licked her lips, "No, perhaps even longer than that. This started long ago when the rain started to dry up. Sandstorms pounded our cities, crops dried up, and all of our prosperity seemed to vanish. I know what it looked like. Misfortune striking almost every city except our great capital. Dance Powder creating fake rain in Alubarna, while stealing it from cities elsewhere. Shipments in my father's name. I would have believed it too if I hadn't known my father. Known he would never do such a thing. Known he was a kind, gentle man who would have readily taken on any woe so our people could remain happy and prosperous."

She clenched her fists on top of her quilt, "I knew the evidence was wrong, and so I had to prove it. With nothing more than my young, Super Spot-Billed Duck Carue, and the Captain of the Guard Igaram, I left Alabasta in search of answers, and went undercover inside a shady organization that Igaram had heard whispers about. Baroque Works was that organization." She held up a small flag, showing the entire country the emblem of Crocodile's secret society. "Baroque Works billed itself as a secret society. No one could know each other's names, and no one was allowed to know who the boss was. Everyone was given a code name, and forced to perform missions for the good of the organization." She scrunched up the small flag, "Anyone who found out about Baroque Works either had to join, or die. Anyone who failed a mission had to die. Anyone who discovered the boss's identity, you guessed it, had to die."

Kōza, Cobra, and practically half of the country clenched their fists in rage and despair over what their princess had to endure.

"That was the living nightmare that I survived for three years! I was forced to do things I never wanted to do, and never want to do again. But I had to clear my father's name. I had to stop our people from going to war with each other. It was the only path forward. I was diligent. I rose through the ranks. And finally, I had my answer!" She took a deep breath, "The leader of Baroque Works was someone we all knew too well! This bastard put on a show for all of us, acting like he was a good man! That he had reformed! All the while cackling to himself in private over the people he was playing for fools!" Her voice raised in volume with every word, and now she was yelling, "That person was this country's 'Hero!' Sir Crocodile of the Royal Shichibukai!"

All across the country, yelling began as rage and disbelief warred. The Marines still in the country all looked very chagrined and pale at her words.

Vivi allowed a few moments, before raising a hand for silence, "He did everything right. Everything that someone who wanted nothing more than to gain our trust would do! He built a bright and prosperous city, inviting everyone who wished to live there in peace! He defeated pirate crew after pirate crew! He brought wealth to the land and safety to our shores! And most damning of all, he brought back our national treasure! For the first time in HUNDREDS OF YEARS, the Suna Suna no Mi was back in Alabasta's hands! We thought he was a better man. That he truly was our savior. Our protector! And the entire time, he was working to destroy us! HE used OUR Devil Fruit to dry the skies of moisture! HE pounded city after city with sandstorms until they were buried and unlivable! HE had his stooges go around with illegal dance powder to make my father look like a villain! HE recruited powerful assassins, useful Devil Fruit users, and complete morons who thought a grand payday was waiting for them to ferment unrest in our nation!"

She accepted a glass of water from her father, taking a gulp and handing it back, "Over a decade of planning… all leading up to this day!" Vivi said softly, "Nearly a day ago, the people of Nanohana saw King Nefertari Cobra and a group of Royal Guards shoot innocent civilians. They saw the King start an uncontrollable fire in the city. They saw my father declare that he stole the rain, and that he would sacrifice Nanohana to make up for it!"

She looked to her left, and waved. A small child came into view, crying, "I was one of the people in Nanohana." He trembled, "I was so angry. Like others, I thought the king had stolen the rain. I confronted him, and he kicked me in the face, before ordering the guards to start shooting and burning." He shuddered, "A ship crashed into the harbor. A ship with thousands of guns and other weapons! While everyone else was rushing to put out the fires and arm themselves, I found myself so shaken I couldn't even speak." He started to cry, "Because in the confusion, I saw the king take off his face! It had been an imposter the entire time!" He started to wail. "EVERYONE WAS FOOLED, AND I WAS SO SCARED I COULDN'T STOP ANYONE FROM FIGHTING!"

Vivi patted him on the shoulder, before giving him a gentle hug, "You did great." She whispered to him, and Igaram gently led the boy away, "…" She bit her lip, "My father had already been missing for three weeks." She declared, "One of their top agents was the user of the Mane Mane no Mi. Anyone whose face he touched, he would be able to perfectly copy! He stole my father's face years ago, and he used it time and again to make my father look suspicious! All so that more and more of our people would join the rebellion! And not only that, but if there ever looked like there was a chance for peace, the Baroque Works members infiltrating both the Army and the Rebellion would be there to incite violence once more. For over a decade, Crocodile has been coating us in gunpowder, and yesterday he lit the fuse. The rebel army, now massive and bloated and carrying enough weapons to take down a country, rushed for Alubarna and my father's head! But for what?" She asked, looking away from the camera for a moment.

"Why do what he did? Why bother with the elaborate scheme?" She asked again, "Well, that was for his final trick." She said grimly, "A million people. All of our nation's fighting force. All of the people capable of defending us from attack. One million people gathered in a single place. In Alubarna. In our capital, with all of the city's civilians with them." She said softly, "Millions of people in the blast radius of a bomb capable of turning it all to ash. All of our people. All of his patsies. All gone, in one massive fireball."

The entire country stood still. If it wasn't for the rain, you could have heard a pin drop from any corner of the island. Several people looked sick, and others had dropped to their knees in devastation. Everyone realized where Vivi was going with this. She smiled grimly, confirming what they all thought, "And in the end, who would be the concerned citizen here to pick up the pieces? Who would be here to defend us? Who would be here to console a country in mourning? The sick bastard who caused all of it in the first place."

All across the country, millions of people lost their lunches. Millions of people cried out in sorrow. Millions of people thanked their lucky stars that clearly, something had happened to put a stop to it. "I couldn't have done it on my own." Vivi said softly, "I would have sacrificed anything to keep it from happening, but I couldn't stop it on my own. If it hadn't been for the dear friends I met on the final legs of my journey, everything would have been for naught. They fought for us. Fought for me. And taught me to fight for myself. If it hadn't been for them, I wouldn't be here right now." She started to stand.

"Vivi, what?!" Kōza started to try to force her back down, but Vivi casually put a hand on his chest and gently pushed him away. She finished standing, and the quilt dropped, revealing her completely purple leg to the country.

Her face was warped in agony, but she forced herself to keep standing, even as she trembled in place, "My friends all had opponents to fight. Baroque Works had too many members. Not a single one of us could be spared." Her voice shook, as she finally gave it up and sat back down. Her father hurried to cover her legs again, and she held his hand tightly, "And that meant the bomb had to be stopped, while the fighting was still ongoing. If I hadn't trained with them… If they hadn't made me stronger than I was when I left, I wouldn't have been able to get our people to stop fighting. I wouldn't have been able to keep the saboteurs from ruining the peace I managed to force out of the two armies. And I certainly would not have been able to destroy the bomb and my leg with it."

She smiled in exhaustion, "I can't tell you who they are, but I can tell you this. They are our heroes. Without them, none of us would be here right now. Without them, Crocodile would have had everything he wanted." Her smile sharpened, "But they were here. And because of it, I am happy to announce that Sir Crocodile is dead! He will never be able to harm us again!" She let the microphone fall, nearly falling asleep as all of her remaining strength faded.

Cobra gently took it from her white-knuckled grip, before whispering to Igaram to get her to the infirmary. "I hardly recognize her." He smiled sadly, "Because of that Government Dog's machinations, I lost three years with my wonderful daughter." He told the people. He turned from Vivi and looked at the camera. Kōza couldn't do the same, staring at his feet as tears dribbled from his eyes, "We all have regrets." Cobra said, "That's only natural. And it's even more natural for us to feel sorrowful. We've suffered terrible losses for no reason and gained nothing in return."

Kōza flinched, "Your majesty…"

"But we must now move forward and look to the future. We must all strive as best we can, to put this tragedy and these dark years behind us." He then bellowed, "It's impossible to undo the past! NOW, WE MUST LOOK TO THE FUTURE. WE MUST OVERCOME THIS WAR'S TRAGEDIES AND LIVE!" He took a deep breath, "LONG LIVE ALABASTA!"

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Without Crocodile's power artificially affecting the island's climate, rain fell for many days in the desert kingdom. Nature was trying to heal from the damage inflicted on the nation, so that things could return to normal. For the Straw Hats, things took a little while to catch up. Most of them were injured, and all of them were exhausted.

Chopper was the first one to wake. As a Zoan, he naturally healed faster than normal, even if his was the Hito Hito no Mi. He was a reindeer, so he was hardier to start with. And predictably, he also had the funniest reaction. "WAAAAH!" His eyes popped out of his skull as he laid eyes on Vivi, laid up in the infirmary with the rest of them, "YOUR LEG! DOCTOR! WE NEED A DOCTOR!"

"I think that's you, Chopper." Robin jerked awake, chuckling as she sat up despite the rude awakening. Of the Straw Hats, she was the least tired. Her fight with Hina had been tough, but relatively fast and ended easily once she found the pinkette's weakness. She was tired for different reasons, and a lot of it had to do with the sheer amount of traveling she and Zoro had to do to even get to Alubarna. She didn't think her legs had ever gotten such a workout, and she'd even needed to suffer the indignity of Zoro carrying her part of the way back once he started breathing normally again.

"Oh, right!" Chopper stopped panicking, which got a dry laugh from Vivi and the watching King.

"Excitable little tanuki, isn't he?" Cobra asked his daughter with a grin.

"BAKA! I'M A REINDEER!" Chopper roared at him, before smacking himself, "Just stay still, Vivi. I'll get you some medicine fast!"

"Nooo, I think I'll go stand and do some squats, Chopper." Vivi rolled her eyes in fond amusement.

"Don't you dare!" The sarcasm went right over his head, getting another laugh from Cobra. Little did the King know, Chopper had dealt with idiots that would start working out even in Vivi's condition on a regular basis. He pointed his hoof at the very old man who had been taking care of them, "You, show me all of your herbs and compounds!"

"Ah!" The doctor jumped a little at being addressed, "R-Right this way." He led Chopper away, and then watched in awe as the little reindeer turned into a whirlwind of medicinal knowledge, quickly grabbing various vials, stored plants, and a mortar and pestle. "M-My word! What an ingenious combination! I've never considered such a thing, but it's so logical!" Chopper twitched, "Where did you learn medicine?"

Vivi giggled as Chopper didn't really respond, shocked, "Tony-kun is from Drum Island. He trained under their best doctor for years." She smiled, "He cured me of a Kestia bite like that." She snapped her fingers.

"Kestia?! My word, how were you possibly exposed to that thing?!" The doctor yelped, "We could have done nothing for you if it happened here! Drum Island truly must be a great land of medicine! I never knew techniques like this existed despite my forty years of practice!"

"S-Shut up! Quit gawking at me, fool! Go away, asshole!" Chopper had a wide smile on his face as he worked, despite his words.

Cobra laughed, "Quite a group you fell in with, Vivi."

Vivi smiled back before turning to the doctor, "I think that means, 'please sit and share some tea with me while you watch me work,' doctor."

"Ah, quite." The doctor sat in the chair Chopper was pulling out for him.

"I have to get back to work." Cobra pecked his daughter on the forehead, "I'll leave you in their capable hands."

Robin stretched as she got out of bed, "Need a hand, Chopper?" She waved her arm, which separated into three different ones, all pointing in a different direction. The doctor jumped in shock, not having expected the Devil Fruit.

"Here!" Chopper handed her a large bowl filled with one of the compounds he had made, "Spread this all over Vivi's leg. It will help with the swelling, bruising, and pain." He turned to Vivi, "The application will hurt a bit, Vivi. Just bear with it."

"Can't be worse than doing it in the first place." Vivi said bravely, and none of them commented on her not having any adrenaline to mask it.

Robin brought the bowl over to Vivi, biting her lip a bit as she saw the angry purple bruising, "My word Vivi, what did you do?"

"Rankyaku." Vivi sighed, "I wasn't ready for it. But if I hadn't, Crocodile would have won. The bomb was on a timer."

Robin sighed, "Sorry I couldn't give you better information." She said softly, slathering her leg up as gently as she could. The bruising went nearly all the way up, which meant she had to get quite close to the younger girl's privates. But neither of them paid it any mind. Despite her brave face, it was clear that even the gentle rubbing was incredibly painful. "At least you didn't break anything."

Vivi giggled weakly, "Yeah, at least there's that."

Gradually, the crew started waking up. Zoro was next, and he was quick to remove his more constricting bandages and go out to train. Valerie, her arm in a splint, was quickly sent after him, and the two instead went into town to pick up supplies. This quickly turned into Zoro being nearly conscripted into aiding in the repairs. Wood and stone needed to be cut, and Zoro easily could take care of that, cutting faster and more precisely than the trained woodworkers and stonemasons. Valerie eventually had to put her foot down and drag him away, reminding him that the Marines might be on the lookout for him.

Usopp had been more injured than Valerie, so he took a bit longer. He then joined Valerie on any excursions out of the palace, with Zoro really being too obvious to let out. He had one of their major bounties, after all. Plus, they never knew when Zoro would turn a corner and end up in the freezing wastes of Drum Island again. Or maybe they'd just find him on the next island. It was hard to tell with the lawnmower.

Nami awoke next, and immediately went to go lay down with Vivi, tearfully apologizing for not being stronger so she could go help with the bomb. "Nami…" Vivi laughed, "It's fine. Everything worked out. If I hadn't left, we might not have found the bomb in time. And I definitely couldn't have stopped the armies from fighting!"

"How'd you do that, anyway?" Zoro asked, taking a bite of an apple. "It must have been quick, since you were able to get the whole army on evac as well as search for the bomb." He grinned, "I didn't think you had gotten that strong yet. Wanna spar?"

"DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!" Chopper and Igaram roared at him, even as Vivi started to laugh.

"Well, Mr. Bushido…" She had a 'I know something you don't' smirk on her face, "I didn't realize it until after, but…" her grin widened, "I got Haō~sho~kuuuu~" She sing-songed.

All of the members of the crew who were actually awake sputtered and sprayed anything in their mouths out. "YOU WHAT?!"

"Seriously Vivi?! You knocked a whole bunch of them out with it?!" Luffy had jerked awake while Zoro was talking.

"Luffy!" Everyone cheered as their Captain woke up. Nami got out of Vivi's bed and crawled into Luffy's. "You were asleep for a while!"

"Heh, Croc was actually a pretty tough fight." He clenched his fist with a grin, "And that last attack was a lot. I've never used my fruit that much for that long on a single attack. It was more tiring than the fight, shishishi!"

"It makes sense." Robin said, "You'll need to work on it more, Luffy. Devil Fruit abilities are like muscles. If you don't work them out, you'll get weaker. The abilities themselves don't get weaker, but your stamina does."

Luffy nodded, "Yeah, I know. It's like I told you all before. I could never really practice with it. Gramps was too strong, and everyone else was too weak. This was really the first time I was ever forced to use it in a fight." He shook his head, "And don't distract me!" He yelled, "One! FOOOOOD!" He chanted out, getting laughs from his crew and the 'guests' in the room, "Two, where's my hat!" He looked around, smiling as Valerie tossed it to him, "Thanks Val!" The blonde shot him a thumbs up and a bright grin, "And three, seriously? You have it!"

"I do!" Vivi said, before shrugging sheepishly, "Don't really know how to use it though. I was kinda mad or panicked when I did."

Zoro started to laugh, "Looks like Ace was right! You're the loser in the Haki race, Luffy!" He drew his sword, closing his eyes and focusing. A very faint sheen of black started to coat Yubashiri.

"Woaaah, you did it, Zoro!" Luffy grinned, clenching his fist in glee. "I can't wait to start training!"

"No!" Chopper made an X with his arms, "Bad! You have to get cleared by the doctor first!"

"We're fine, Chopper." Zoro rolled his eyes, "Focus on Dartbrow over there. He's actually hurt."

"Baka! Luffy has a hole in his side!" Chopper barked back, though Luffy didn't seem bothered.

"What happened to him?" Luffy asked, wincing as he saw his crewmate in such a state.

"Mr. One happened." Robin sighed as Terracotta brought out some food for Luffy. She smirked as Luffy freaked out, confusing her for her husband Igaram. And then he freaked out even more about twins, seeing them next to each other. It got all of them laughing until they blinked and realized all the fruit next to Luffy was gone. "How does he do that?" Robin muttered under her breath, "Anyway, Mr. One had some techniques that Sanji's Tekkai couldn't defend against. They basically grinded at him, so it was like getting hit with thousands of little blows rather than just one."

"Ah." Luffy grimaced, "Yeah, that would do it. Tekkai can be broken through. I've shown that before. But an attack like that would definitely suck to get hit by." He looked at Chopper, "He'll be okay though, right?"

"Baka! Who the hell do you think I am?!" Chopper stood imperiously, "He'll not only be fine, but he'll also have minimal scarring!"

"That's my doctor!" Luffy cheered, and everyone else followed. Of course, that had Chopper just doing his happy dance once more.

-]|[-

Vivi grinned in elation as she was finally given the go-ahead to stand up. She got to her feet, moving her leg around, this way and that. She stretched, and even hopped up and down a few times, "It feels great!" She kneeled and hugged Chopper, "Thank you so much, Tony-kun. I thought I'd be out for weeks!" It had been five days since her injury, and Chopper's medicine already had her on her feet. Even the bruising was gone!

"Stop praising me, stupid! That doesn't make me happy!" Chopper looked very happy.

Vivi rolled her eyes, "Of course not." She stood and patted him on the hat, "Any idea when Sanji will be awake? It's been almost a week." Sanji had definitely been the most injured of their entire crew.

"Soon, I think." Chopper said, turning to Sanji, and they both twitched in surprise as the blonde started to move, "Or now, I guess." He said dryly as Sanji groaned and sat up.

"Eurgh, anyone get the name of the elephant that ran me over?" He pressed his palm to his forehead, "Or the herd of them, rather?"

"Sanji!" Vivi cheered, walking over to him (and secretly feeling a little glad he never got to see her messed-up leg), "How are you feeling?" She smiled brightly at him.

Sanji looked up at her, and his eyes immediately turned into hearts. He launched himself up, pirouetting in the air, "Vivi-CHWAAAAAN!" He landed on one foot, "Your beautiful face fills me with energy!"

"Dumbass!" Vivi and Chopper both yelled as he winced and crumbled back into bed, "Stay in bed, stupid! You got hurt the worst out of all of us!" They yelled at him.

"Wait, I did? Not the national treasure?!" Sanji sounded horrified by this fact.

Vivi's smile was playfully cruel, "You were asleep five days, Sanji-kun. Zoro woke up right after Tony-kun and Robin."

"Grk!" Sanji nearly choked at the thought, slumping in dejection.

"Honestly." Chopper groaned as he hurried to tend to the cook, "Why does the crew have to be filled with such hotheaded morons?"

Vivi snorted, "We wouldn't have it any other way, would we?"

With Sanji finally up, the grand banquet for their victory was set for later that night. Sanji was forcibly kept in bed for a while longer, so Vivi decided to wander about. She found herself in the inner courtyard, where her crew and dozens of guards were hard at work, training. Zoro was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the square with two huge stones hovering in the air, his arms held out and holding them up. Luffy was in the sky, having an aerial duel with Pell. The sight brought both melancholy and happiness. She was ecstatic that Pell had survived, but Chaka had been cruelly slain. Her home was down one of its protectors. She pulled her eyes away and looked to the right, where Nami was currently sparring with five Royal Guards. She had a basic staff in hand, and was using it expertly to fend off the assault from the guards. Valerie was sitting near Zoro, and Vivi wasn't too sure what she was doing. She had her umbrella, but she was also facing another boulder about as big as the two Zoro was working out with. To her left, Robin was squatting in a horse stance with her arms held out. Vivi winced as two guards took turns with staves to whack at her. She was really glad Sanji was still in bed because his flaming feet would have been flying over Robin's Tekkai training. With Chopper still with him in the infirmary, the only one missing was the Longnose.

As she approached Nami, the guards stopped and saluted her. She smiled at them quickly, before turning to her girlfriend, "Where's Usopp?" She asked curiously as she sidled up to Nami and gave her a hug. "I figured Luffy would have had him working out already."

"He would, but Usopp is working on a new Clima-Tact for me." Nami replied, squeezing back, "I feel naked without it. Hopefully, he'll even be able to make some improvements."

"I would too." Vivi smiled, "It was the only reason we were able to hurt that bastard. We almost ended it by ourselves!" She said playfully. Nami grinned in return as Vivi backed away, and she refocused on the guards. They quickly attacked once more when Vivi was clear. Vivi went up to another group of soldiers, "I want to train too. Five of you, with me."

"What?!" The lead soldier looked aghast, "Your Highness, we couldn't possibly-"

"You can, and you will." Vivi said, putting on her Princess face, "It's an order. And don't hold back either."

The guard looked mulishly reluctant, "One at a time then." He said, raising his spear.

"I wouldn't have called all five of you over for one at a time." Vivi shook her head, "I was in bed for five days. I need to get back in action. Now all of you, please attack me. I'll just be dodging for now."

The guards really wanted to refuse her orders, but a quick glare from the Princess (who was starting to get a little irritated) silenced them. One of them even panicked at the glare, and quickly attacked with his spear. Vivi casually inclined her head to the left, and the weapon passed by her harmlessly. She was focusing hard on the feelings the war had generated in her mind's eye. She'd already used Kenbunshokuunconsciously. Now she needed to do it consciously. With the guards rapidly growing astonished over her agility and ability to dodge even when they actually started to try to hit her, Vivi let out a smile. She thought she had already proved she wasn't a helpless little waif, though apparently, it would take a while to stick. As she got in her groove, she even closed her eyes and let her body react, training both her budding Haki and Kami-E at the same time.

-]|[-

"N-not a shred of dignity!" One of the watching soldiers said, sweating.

Another replied, "Meals in the great hall are supposed to be stately affairs!" Another agreed, and yet that didn't change the sight of the figurative mountains of food that the pirates were consuming. Luffy had a plate of onigiri next to him, one in hand, and a whole shank of meat still on the bone in the other. Most of the rest of the crew weren't anywhere near as messy as him, but they were still eating like it was their last meal. The soldiers couldn't even see Sanji's knife as he perfectly diced his meat and consumed it while asking about various recipes. Chopper was practically inhaling a pasta dish. Zoro had an absolutely massive bottle of sake in one hand and his fork in the other. The girls at the table all had table manners like Sanji, though even they were going through the food like they hadn't eaten in days.

"E-Even the Princess is in on it." One of them gaped, with their blue-haired beauty engaging Robin in conversation as they ate so fast their arms were blurring.

As they watched, first disappointed, and weirded-out, and then increasingly amused as the night went on. The "stately" dinner turned into a party, with everyone in the room laughing gaily as Usopp stood on the table balancing a stack of plates fifteen high on the very tip of his nose. "How is he doing that? A nose shouldn't be so stiff!" The soldiers were all getting caught up in the Straw Hats' pace, joining in on the laughing and the cheering.

"My word, we're going to have to roll you out of here, Monkey-san." Cobra said in amusement as he took another sip from his mug. "I wonder if you'll even fit through the door?"

"It's just Luffy, Vivi's dad." Luffy laughed, as he continued dancing on top of the table with Chopper (chopsticks stuck in his nose) and Usopp. "And nah, watch this. MUSCLE!" He yelled, and his body distorted, the rolls of fat vanishing as he shrunk down, flexing hard. It was as if all the fat was converted into muscle in an instant.

"WAAHHHHH?! HOW DID YOU DO THAT?!" Everyone who hadn't been present to witness it on Cactus Island dropped their jaws as Luffy went from dango ball to muscled hunk in an instant. Vivi even drooled a tiny amount, which set Nami off laughing. The rest of the Straw Hats followed as the party kicked into high gear, and didn't let off for a good number of hours.

"Holy cow! We need one of these on the ship!" Luffy had stars in his eyes as they stared at the giant and beautiful marble and gold baths. He was especially excited at the lion statues that were disgorging water from their mouths.

"I don't think it would fit on the Merry, Luffy." Chopper said, looking amused.

Cobra chuckled, "These are indeed the pride of the palace. We normally only use these great baths during the rainy season. It's too much of a waste of water otherwise."

"I'm first!" Luffy yelled, starting to run forward.

"No, me!" Usopp roared, charging for the waters as well.

And they slipped, both falling simultaneously. Zoro shook his head as he began scrubbing Chopper down, and Sanji snorted, "Having fun?" He asked dryly. Of the Straw Hats, he was the last to have his bandages removed. His chest and leg had healed incredibly well due to Chopper's efforts, but he was still marred now due to Mr. One's spinning blades. And they were still in sharp contrast on his skin, rather than faded. For Zoro they would have been a source of pride, but Sanji felt a tiny bit self-conscious about them.

"I guess you guys turn everything into a party, huh? My formal dinner turned into a much more…lively affair than expected." Cobra said as he sat down on the raised edge of the baths.

"That's us." Zoro smirked, before facepalming as Sanji sidled up to Igaram.

"So, where are the women's baths?" He had a sly smile on his face.

"AS IF I'D TELL YOU!" Igaram yelled at him furiously, "The Princess is in there right now!"

"They're over there!" Cobra yelled, pointing over a wall.

"KING COBRA?!" Igaram gasped in shock, "HOW COULD YOU?!"

On the other side of the wall, Robin chuckled as Valerie scrubbed her back, "I suggest you girls cover up. The boys are about to be boys."

"Ehh?!" Vivi squeaked, "How would they even know where to look?" She quickly covered herself up. Luffy was the only man that got to see her.

"Ara, Robin-onee-sama," Nami grinned, "How would you know that they were coming? Perhaps you were doing a little watching of your own?"

Robin smiled beatifically, "I am a healthy young woman, of course, and they are certainly specimens." She tapped her chin as Vivi jaw-dropped, "I'm a little curious though. Neither Zoro nor Luffy are coming over. I'm almost disappointed."

"Well, Luffy can see me anytime he wants." Nami laughed, before she playfully groped Vivi just to the side of her breasts. "And I don't think our little Princess here would object too strenuously."

"N-Nami!" Vivi squeaked, trying to grasp her hands before her girlfriend discovered her tickle spots.

"Kyahahaha! I wonder if our swordsman isn't interested in ladies, or if he only goes for certain types?"

"He's probably sword-sexual." Nami jeered, getting the other girls to wince at the thought. "Anyone want to join me in some fun of our own?" She played with the hem of her towel.

"Wouldn't Luffy mind?" Vivi asked immediately.

Nami grinned, "How hard do you think he'd go on them in training?"

That got Valerie to laugh again, "You ready then?" She turned her head, looking at the wall of guys peeking at them.

She and Nami stood up, "Happiness punch!" They called out, opening their towels slightly. Immediately, Sanji's nose erupted in blood, and Usopp, Cobra, and Igaram followed. "That'll be a hundred-thousand Beli each, boys!"

"For each of us! Kyahahaha!" Valerie laughed as she quickly sat back down.

Luffy called out, "And get ready to get stomped once we're back on the ship!" He had an amused tone as everyone involved groaned.

The girls all started to giggle, "Hey Luffy, want to join us?" Nami called out. Vivi went bright red.

"Ehhh?" Luffy shouted, "Won't Robin and Val get mad?"

"BASTARD! WHY AREN'T YOU INCLUDING THE PRINCESS IN THAT?!" Igaram and Cobra yelled at him, both sporting bloody noses.

"Kyahahaha!" Valerie laughed, "I've got nothing to be ashamed of, and even if you're not my type, you're not exactly hard to look at either, Captain."

"Shishishi!" He grinned at the rest of the guys and pulled his eyelid down, "Later!"

"GET BACK HERE, STRAW HAT!" Igaram yelled, trying to chase the vanishing pirate.

Cobra caught him by the hair, "Vivi didn't protest, Igaram. She's old and strong enough to make her own decisions." He raised his voice, "JUST NO FUNNY BUSINESS!" He roared over the wall.

"DADDY!" Vivi squealed from the other side.

Sanji had taken his towel and was biting it like a lion, "SHITTY, STRAW HATTED-" Zoro started to roar with laughter at the sight.

Luffy landed in between Nami and Vivi and slipped into the water with them, an arm around each shoulder. "Have fun?" He asked, pecking Nami on the neck, before repeating it on Vivi who blushed some more, but snuggled up with him.

"Ehh, not more than a few seconds' amusement." Nami denied, before taking a deep breath. "I suppose this is as good a time as any, isn't it Luffy?" She asked softly.

"Yeah…" Luffy said, the merriment starting to drain away, "We'll be leaving by morning, Vivi." The Princess gasped and stiffened in his arms, "Sanji's up now, and the Marines have been sniffing at the palace for days."

Robin nodded, "Some have even tried to sneak in dressed in plainclothes. The longer we stay, the riskier it'll be."

Vivi bit her lip, "Damn it…" She said lowly. "I… what do I do, guys?" She asked, starting to tear up, "I love my country. Everything I did was for my country. But now…"

"Vivi." Luffy said, "Whether you stay or go, you'll always be a Straw Hat." He kissed her gently on the cheek, "We'll miss you, obviously. We want you with us."

"But you have to make the best decision for you, and one you can live with." Nami sighed, reaching over, and starting to run her fingers through Vivi's hair.

"I would say I am the most pragmatic one on this crew," Robin said softly, "So I will say this: Whether you're here or not, Alabasta will recover. Yes, your presence will speed things along and would be a morale boost for the people, but that's it. You not being here wouldn't be a hurdle that cannot be overcome." Vivi listened carefully, biting her bottom lip. The others let her speak, "Additionally, you must consider what the World Government will do. How they will react." She sighed, "I am admittedly spitballing here, but as the one on this crew most harmed by them, I have a rather low opinion of them. You and your father's speech was excellent for defusing tensions in Alabasta, but also has made a coverup nigh impossible. I'm sure they'll still try," Robin disparaged the government, "But it is also possible that they will be incredibly angry and attempt to take it out on your family. Your admitted infiltration of Baroque Works is certainly an avenue that they could pursue, if they so wished."

Vivi had paled to the color of milk, "O-oh no…" That made all of them sit up straighter. That looked like a much more intense reaction than pure speculation should have generated, "Y-You might be right. Gods above, they would do that." Her face hardened, "The Tenryūbito," and here, Luffy's face went cold and furious, "-have always hated my family. Ever since we refused to ascend to Marījoa with the rest of them. Ever since we refused to plant a sword in front of the Empty Throne." She huffed air through her nose in a long, heavy sigh, "I have a lot to think about. And I have to talk to Daddy." She said finally.

"You do." Valerie said, smiling at her, "Just remember. No matter what you choose, you're our friend. We'll have your back, Vivi."

The Princess smiled, "Thanks guys." She took another breath, "There's only one thing left to do, before you leave then." She turned to Robin, "I promised, Robin. I'm keeping that promise." The eldest lady's smile lit up the room.

-]|[-

"May we speak, Vivi?" Cobra asked once they were all out of the baths.

"Of course, Daddy." Vivi said, "I need to speak with you too."

"Excellent. Then-"

"But can it wait? Maybe an hour? Two at most?" She interrupted her father, causing him to raise an eyebrow in surprise and confusion.

"Don't forget protection, Vivi." He said dryly.

She flushed, "Not that!" She yelled at him. She lowered her voice and leaned in, "I'm taking Luffy, Nami, and Robin to the tomb."

Cobra almost choked on his spit, "You're what?!" He hissed in shock.

"I promised." She said gently, "Robin wants to read it. To see if she can find out what happened during the Void Century." Cobra's eyes widened even more in shocked understanding, "She doesn't care about Pluton at all. She just wants to know why her entire island and everyone on it had to burn."

Cobra clenched a fist at the revelation, "Go then. I will meet you in your room. And Vivi…" He paused, before his face hardened, "If she deigns to write down the words, I would appreciate a copy. With the actual location of the weapon redacted, of course." He said, "And once that's done, whether she writes it down or not… if Luffy can destroy it, have him do so."

"Yes!" Vivi nodded, and quickly raced away. Cobra moved as well. He had something he needed to collect.

"A secret stairway!" All four of them were cloaked, which helped them blend into the dead of night. Vivi had led them to the Royal Mausoleum, but had turned off the main path and pressed on several things in a pattern and revealed the secret entranceway.

"I never would have expected it to be here." Robin breathed, "Clever." She had never suspected a thing. They all quickly made their way inside, and Vivi closed the entrance behind them. Thankfully, to open it again, she just had to yank on a chain. They all made their way deep underground.

"These stairs are obnoxiously long." Luffy chuckled, getting grins from the rest of them.

The room they were led to was impressive, with various sarcophagi in the room, which was held up by dozens of pillars. Writings and hieroglyphs covered the walls. Vivi led them through the entry hall, and towards the final door. She pushed it open, and allowed Robin to see inside.

Robin nearly shuddered in place, "Here it is." She said in rapture. "Twenty years…" She breathed out, before quickly making her way forward.

Vivi sighed, "I hate that she's going to be disappointed…" She looked down. Luffy patted her on the shoulder.

Robin got in front of the huge stone and quickly started to read it. Immediately, bitter disappointment started to bite at her. She read faster, trying to get to what she wished to see. But it never came. She got to the final line and finally allowed her head to hang. Here, alone but for her trusted crew and the first friends she'd made in her entire life, she allowed herself this moment of weakness.

She fell to her knees, sniffling, and started to cry. Immediately, she was embraced by all three of her comrades. "Twenty years." She choked out. "Twenty years searching. Twenty years of surviving, backstabbing, being backstabbed… Twenty years of wondering if my people would die for nothing…" The tears were really pouring now, "I almost helped bring your country down, Vivi." She said brokenly, "One last act of maliciousness from the Devil Child. This was supposed to be it. It's the only one I've found in more than a decade!" She punched herself in the thigh, "And it would have been for nothing!" She spat in furious despair, "This isn't it. It's not the Rio Poneglyph. Most of it just lays out where Pluton sleeps."

"I'm sorry, Robin." Vivi sighed, resting her head on Robin's, "I did warn you, though."

"You did." Robin said, "And still, I allowed myself to get my hopes up."

"Dreams don't care about logic or facts, Robin." Nami said sadly.

"You'll find it." Luffy said quietly, "We'll make sure of it."

"Yeah…" Vivi said, "Like I said. It's probably sitting on Raftel where no one else can find it, right?" She forced a little giggle, which did put a smile on Robin's face.

"Thank you, everyone." She stood, and they did as well. She turned to them, and smiled at Luffy, "You really mean it? You'll help me find the rest of the Poneglyphs?"

"Of course!" Luffy said, pounding a fist into his chest, "I may not understand any of it myself, but it's your dream. And that makes it our dream." Vivi and Nami smiled, nodding at her.

"That's right." Nami said, "I want to map out the whole world." She told the older woman, "Every island, every rock in the sea, every river, lake, desert, and rainforest. It's got to be on one of them, doesn't it?"

Robin smiled wider, "That it does, Nami-chan." She stopped, and seemed to debate with herself for a moment. She tilted her head slightly, "It's a promise, then?"

"Of course!" The three agreed.

"Then I suppose all that's left is to seal it. Hope you don't mind, Nami, Vivi." Vivi and Nami only had half a second to wonder what she meant by that confusing statement before she stepped forward and pulled Luffy closer. All of their eyes went wide as Robin gave him an absolutely searing kiss with all the passion she could muster. Luffy floundered for a moment in shock, before kissing back.

"Really?" Vivi laughed dryly, "Below my family's tomb?"

"Don't ruin it." Robin pulled back.

"Ohoho, that was interesting, Miss Archaeologist." Nami said, looking amused, "I hope you're ready to pay for your sins." She grabbed Robin and kissed her just as passionately as Robin had kissed Luffy.

Luffy and Vivi stared, hugging one another, "By Hathor, that's hot." Vivi mumbled, much to Luffy's amusement.

Robin and Nami pulled away from each other before Robin turned to Vivi, who blushed hotly. "I'm sorry, Vivi. For everything." She hugged the younger girl, "And thank you, for being my friend."

"Oh, just shut up and kiss me." Vivi stood on her tiptoes to reach the taller woman's lips.

"Looks like three have become four." Nami laughed, leaning on Luffy, who joined her in amusement.

It took less time than she thought, but with the kissing done, Robin quickly wrote down the contents of the Poneglyph in her personal journal both in the original language and with her translation, though she didn't dare write down the actual location. She didn't even put it down as untranslated text.

"All this shit for what was on this rock." Nami breathed out, thinking of all they had been through leading up to this, "What even is Pluton?"

"A weapon of unimaginable power." Vivi said lowly.

"What she said. One of three Ancient Weapons." Robin confirmed, "It is a warship. Or rather, the warship. What took ten massive, heavily armed ships and multiple Vice Admirals to do to my home, it was said Pluton could do in one shot."

"Holy shit…" Nami cursed, looking wide-eyed at the Poneglyph. "Not that I want the thing, but out of curiosity, where is it?"

"Uhhh, isn't it dangerous for us to know?" Vivi quickly threw in.

"None of us care about the stupid thing, right?" Luffy asked, "So as long as it doesn't leave this place and we never speak of it again, it should be fine. Of course, it's up to Robin."

Robin hesitated, before crossing her arms and closing her eyes. She saw no one nearby. No one hidden. No one even approaching the entrance. Feeling comfortable, she uncrossed her arms and let out a dark sigh, "In simultaneously the best and worst possible location it could be." She rubbed the back of her neck in a very uncharacteristic nervous tick, "Somewhere that, should people find out about it, they wouldn't dare attack. Probably not even the World Government would dare."

"That's good, right?" Vivi asked hesitantly.

"Not exactly." Robin said, looking rather terrified of the knowledge, "Because the reason they wouldn't dare is because it's in Wano."

Nami paled, "Oh, you have got to be kidding me."

"Wano?" Luffy and Vivi both looked confused.

"Wano." Robin said, "Aka, Kaidō's turf. And if he finds out about it…"

No more needed to be said. Every single bit of color had drained out of Vivi's face.

"Then we never speak of it again." Luffy said, making the three girls nod in agreement. "Including after we beat Kaidō." He added nonchalantly.

All three girls choked.

-]|[-

She really should have been surprised, but Vivi still couldn't believe that Luffy hadn't been able to destroy the Poneglyph. She knew that the damn thing was tough and basically impossibly strong, but to survive the heat she had felt even from as far away as the entrance to the tomb… Still, Luffy had been able to do more than anyone else before him. Trusted artisans and scientists had occasionally been allowed in the tomb (blindfolded, of course) and allowed to try to mess with them in the past. After all, if they could replicate them, any building made of the material would be equally as tough. But nothing anyone had ever done had left even a scratch on one of them. And according to Robin, the World Government had tried, for sure. They didn't want the damn things floating around or being sources of temptation. But without knowing how they were made, no one had ever been able to replicate the material or even scratch out the messages on them.

Luffy had not been able to destroy it, but the location of the weapon was now forever destroyed by a melted handprint on its surface. His fruit truly was broken.

At the moment, she was waiting for her father. She was on her bedroom's veranda, staring at the dark horizon. It was a full moon tonight, so despite the relative chill of the desert night, she felt like breathing in her home's nice, clean air. She could also see pretty far out. The stars were gorgeous with such clear skies, especially now that many of the city's lights were out as people went to bed. This was it. Everything she had fought for. Everything she had wanted for years, as this peace was slowly chipped away at over time by her hated enemy.

So why did she feel so… conflicted? Hollow even.

It should have been simple. Save her home. Come back and help lead her people. Be the queen she was born to be.

And yet nothing was simple anymore. She had changed. Slowly at first, as she cried herself to sleep so many nights, muffling her voice on Carue's feathers. And then as time went on, she had felt almost numb over the vamp act she was forced to perform, the crimes she had to commit. Igaram had shielded her as best as he could, but eventually, they were separated. Given separate jobs. She had to wonder when she had been discovered, given that Robin allowed her to learn of Crocodile. When her act had failed.

"Used to be I couldn't keep you in the castle, with how often you ran out to explore or join your friends or meet and greet with the people." Her father's voice sounded behind her, putting a smile on her face. "How many times did I have to send the guards out chasing you?"

"Daddy!" She flung herself into his arms and hugged him for all she was worth. "It wasn't thaaaaat many times."

"Ack! Careful Vivi!" Cobra laughed, "You'll break an old man like me." Though he laughed harder at her blatant, unsuccessful lying.

She giggled and flicked his chest, "As if! You've got another couple decades in you, right?"

"If that's what the people wish." He smiled gently and patted the top of her head. His smile became slightly melancholic, which Vivi noticed immediately.

"Daddy?" She looked at him in surprise, "What's wrong?"

He smiled again, "Three years gone, and you can still read me like a book, huh?" He sat down on her bed and gestured for her to do the same. As she did, he wrapped an arm around her shoulder, "The Straw Hats are planning on leaving soon, aren't they?"

"Ah." Vivi flinched a bit, looking at her knees. Straight to it, then? "Yeah." She said finally, "Before dawn in fact…"

"I thought so…" He closed his eyes, smile more firmly on his face, "I'll miss you, my wonderful daughter."

"Bwuhh?!" She stiffened and her head jerked towards him in surprise, "Daddy I…" She hesitated, "I haven't decided that yet." She trailed off lamely.

Cobra burst out laughing, "Oh my girl, you're a couple decades too young to be pulling one over on your old man." At her puffed-up look of affront, he chuckled a bit more, "Even if you seem to be making a valiant attempt at pulling one over on yourself." He brushed her hair off of her face, "I didn't enter with those words for no reason, Vivi. From the time you learned how to run to the time you disappeared, there was scarcely a day that I didn't have to have you collected by our soldiers. You always preferred being out there. In the city. With the people." He patted her on the head, "And yet even after your leg healed, you haven't been out of the castle once, except for tonight."

With each word, Vivi flinched some more. "…I…" She trailed off lamely, knowing it was true. She had kept making excuses to herself. That she needed to spend as much time as possible with her friends before they left her behind. But her father was right. She had been lying to herself.

"I know you, Vivi." He said gently, cupping her chin, "I know how you must have suffered the past two years. How many times did you dream of being back here with us, being able to gaze upon Alubarna in its nighttime splendor? How many times did you dream of peace restored?"

She closed her eyes and let a tear fall, "Every night. Every day." She quivered, "I had Igaram of course… but no one else but Carue. No one knew the real me. No one else could be trusted. Not even the one person I could have maybe called a friend in the organization. And I was forced to do so many awful things just to keep my cover!" She shuddered, another wet tear falling and leaving a track on her face.

Cobra gently wiped it away, "And yet, now that you're back… Now that Crocodile is gone, his plans scuppered, and his organization dismantled…" He let out a sad smile, "All I see you doing is looking towards the horizon."

She opened her mouth to refute him, but the words wouldn't come. Her lips clicked shut and she started to cry, "Why?" She asked, burrowing her face in his chest, "Why?! Why does even the thought of having to watch them sail away fill me with nothing but dread?!"

He rubbed the back of her head gently, holding her as he had dreamed of doing for three long, dark, difficult years. "You set out to save Alabasta. Save your people." He kissed the top of her head, "And you did. You saved all of us. Millions of people are only alive because of you. You even brought the rain back. The tensions, the hatred, the infighting, the suspicion… you dispelled all of it, my wonderful daughter, and not even close to your twentieth birthday on top of it! You've already done more for Alabasta than dozens of past kings." A hundred years of history may have been lost, but the Nefertari had ruled Alabasta long before the formation of the World Government.

Despite herself, she let out a watery smile, still clutching his shirt in a trembling fist.

"And yet, the young Princess that left this tower long ago… is not the same one that came back. You've grown so strong, Vivi. You always had the will, but now you have the strength to back it up too." He jokingly squeezed her bicep, which made his now-crying daughter let out a wet giggle, "And now… you still love Alabasta. Still love your people. But we both know you're happiest when you're with them. You're always laughing when listening to their stories. Or when going along with one of Longnose-kun's fanciful lies. Or dancing with them in one of their wild parties. You've even found love…" He laughed as she sprang away, blushing wildly and prepared to start making blind denials, "Oh yes you have, daughter. I see it in your eyes and face every time you look at them." He cut her off at the pass, "I should know. How could I not? It was the same look your mother had whenever she looked at me."

Her head dipped and the tears started flowing freely again, "But…" Her lower lip trembled, "Alabasta needs their Princess." She said mechanically.

"Yes." He admitted, making her spine turn to ice, "Having you here would make rebuilding all the smoother." He confirmed, "And then when Alabasta is rebuilt and you yearn for nothing more than the return of your friends, their ship will have long since sailed." He gazed at her with his own watery eyes, "I love you Vivi!" he said gruffly, his own tears falling, "But if you stay here… if you don't go with them… you will regret it forever. You'll go back to having no true friends… Even Kōza can only see himself as a subject now. He's evaded the palace, evaded you, ever since the fighting ended. You'll chafe here without them. Under the rules and stuffy expectations of royalty. Forced to marry a man you'll likely never love as much as you love them."

"Damn it!" Vivi cried out, "You're supposed to be trying to convince me to stay, not GO!"

He laughed in response, "Oh Vivi, what have I always told you?"

"To follow my heart." She replied wetly, "Daddy!" She wailed and tackled him down to the bed, sobbing into his chest.

"Exactly." Again, he rubbed the back of her head, though this time he was crying in full himself. A few moments passed, where they shared what they knew could be one of the last hugs they'd ever give each other. Eventually, they forced themselves up, and he spoke again. "I'll miss you so much, Vivi. I don't want you to go, truthfully. But you must. I know you already spoke of it with them." Cobra tapped her on the nose playfully, making her scrunch her face up. "I didn't catch much of it, but I heard enough. Sound moves pretty well in the baths, after all, and I was close after our little… incident." Vivi was caught between a glare at the reminder and a snigger over the result. "Nico-san is right. After all this, it's more than possible that the Tenryūbito try to ruin this happiness we've managed to scrounge up."

"Those damn bastards." Vivi looked away, her face closing up as she tried to keep herself under control.

"For more reasons than you know." He said, sighing. He reached into his pocket, "This, my daughter…" He lowered his voice to a whisper, "-is possibly even more dangerous a secret than the Poneglyph." He handed her a folded-up letter.

Her brow furrowed after she got over her shock. She stared at it for a moment, before opening it. Her eyes quickly scanned the letter, her eyes growing, until she got to the end, "D? Nefertari D. Lili? We-"

He held his finger up to his lips, gently shushing her, "I don't know much of what it means." He sighed, "But I know there has to be a reason we've never gone public with this information. A reason every monarch is only ever shown it when crowned and sworn to secrecy." He sighed, "So yes, I hope we're wrong. But I wouldn't put it past them, and that terrifies me more than anything. Even if I didn't know you belong out there now, I'd still be pushing you to leave."

She sighed, "I guess this is it, then." She closed her eyes, biting her bottom lip, and clenching her fists. "Damn it…" She whispered lowly, before hugging him as tight as she could without hurting him. "I'm going to miss you so much!" She wailed.

"Me too!" His right arm was over his eyes. His tone was as gruff as she'd ever heard, and he was fighting his own sadness down, "Me too!" His voice cracked for a moment. For a good long time, nothing more was said as parent and child cried themselves out. They did nothing more than enjoy the other's presence for the last time in a good long while. And then Cobra let out a goofy chuckle, "Who knows, maybe once your Luffy becomes the Pirate King you can claim this island and come visit."

Vivi burst out laughing in exchange, "Great idea! We just have to wait for him to make Yonkō first! I'm sure he'd love it!" She started laughing even harder, "If for no other reason than the food!" Cobra started laughing outright. She stood, "I… I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I felt like I was being torn in two." She admitted, taking another deep breath, "But I'll be damned if I leave without preparing our people for trouble!" She declared, turning around, and marching to her closet.

Cobra looked confused, "What is that supposed to mean? You have no time to do more than you all have already done." He watched her open her closet, and deadpanned when he saw the massive pile of clothes that practically fell out and buried her before she started flinging it all into the room. "Vivi…" He groaned, "Have you still not kicked that habit?! You haven't even been back for a week and your closet ALREADY looks like that?!"

"Oh, ye of little faith." She giggled, "Trust me, this was very much on purpose. Half of this isn't even mine." That only left her father more confused. Finally, she reached it, "Finally." She said, and then pulled a chest out of the mess of strewn and piled clothes.

"A chest? Vivi… what have you done?" Cobra stood and walked over to her, meeting her at the table.

And here, he nearly flinched as he saw a smile better fitting Luffy than his daughter on her face, "A little of this…" She opened the chest, "and a little of that." She smiled even wider as she saw her father nearly choke on his own tongue.

"I-is this?!" He gazed down at it in near rapture.

"The Suna Suna no Mi." Vivi confirmed, running her finger on the fruit, being careful to avoid any of the sharp, prickly points. The fruit looked like a spherical, tan barrel cactus with two stubby arms pointing upwards. It had the typical swirls of a Devil Fruit, though in its case, the prickly spikes made up the actual pattern. The top was covered in green leaves, looking almost like a silly haircut, with a lighter green, T-shaped stem rising above the fruit, with the right side of it being longer and curling, "As soon as Robin saw Luffy's last attack, she had Zoro start carrying her so she could search for it. It took her almost twenty minutes to find it. Was a miracle no one found it first."

"Vivi, this fruit should go to you!" Cobra shook his head, realizing what she wanted, "You'll need the extra-"

"No." Vivi said. She didn't snap, but she was very firm. "First, this fruit will never be as strong out there as it is here in the desert. Here it was born-" The first known usage of it came from an Alabastan Queen, after all. "-and here it should stay. It is Alabasta's Sacred Treasure. It should be here, guarding our home. With its power to generate sandstorms, there is no greater way to defend the capital from an invading force." She sighed heavily, "I hope it never comes to that, but you never know with the World Government. I don't think they would, but if ordered by those fucking old men at the top," He didn't have the heart to scold her for her language, "Even one of the Sacred Twenty wouldn't be safe."

"We already saw that even in the desert, it can be defeated." He said softly.

"Yes." Vivi nodded, "Which is why this isn't the only thing in this chest." She pulled out a book, written by none other than Robin. She had the best handwriting, and was also the best at taking and forcing better explanations from their more… hard-headed crew and turning it into passable instructions. She placed it on the desk, "Instructions for both Haki and the Rokushiki, the martial arts Luffy has been teaching all of us." She grinned viciously, "Let's see them try to walk over us with every soldier in the country training in their precious secret techniques."

Cobra started to laugh, "Apparently I missed this little vicious streak while observing how much you had grown."

And… she was back to blushing. Typical.

He patted her hand over the book, "I'll get this to Pell. No doubt he'll be ecstatic to learn new techniques." He sighed, "And I'll have to dig Kōza out of Yuba again. With Chaka gone…" He sighed again as Vivi looked down, "If he wants to repent, I will let him. No doubt he will be one of our stronger defenders." He took a knife from her, and carved out a piece of the cactus, "Well, I suppose it's past time I got back in shape." He patted his stomach, "After your mother passed I… well… let myself go."

"Oh please." Vivi rolled her eyes, "If that's you out of shape, I'd hate to see what you call fat."

"Cheeky…" Cobra chuckled, before biting down on the fruit.

Vivi had never seen her father bawl before, so she almost felt bad about feeding the disgusting fruit to him. "At least you only need one bite?" She cringed as he glared at her, "Most people don't know that and force themselves to eat the entire fruit."

"One bite I'll never get back!" He growled, still crying crocodile tears. "Gods, that was disgusting. If I didn't know that was a Devil Fruit I'd be off to get my stomach pumped." He looked at his hand, forcing it to turn into sand. It was surprisingly easy to do, and he stared at the limb in contemplation.

"Big baby." She rolled her eyes, though she did so playfully.

"You want a piece?" His glare darkened.

"No thanks!" She chirped, chuckling. She then launched herself at him, hugging him tight. "I'll miss you, daddy." She mumbled for the nth time that night.

He held her tight, "As will I, Vivi. As will I…" He let go, looking puzzled, "Shouldn't I have turned into sand when you touched me?"

"It's not automatic." She shook her head, "You have to train yourself to do so instinctively. Any time there's danger." She grinned, "You're lucky, actually. Luffy was always on a hair trigger when he got his fruit because he was so young. Every time he felt even mildly uncomfortable, he would do it by mistake. He instead had to train himself not to transform every time something touched him. His fruit is insanely dangerous."

He cringed, "Yes, I suppose there's that."

She shifted her weight back and forth, "Will you really be okay?" She asked in a tiny voice. "Will Alabasta really be okay? You… if I leave, you'll have no heir."

"Oi!" He jabbed playfully, "My hair isn't going anywhere!"

"Oh lord, you're a goofball." She burst out laughing.

He chuckled again, "Those are an old man's worries, Vivi. You let your father worry about that." He kissed her forehead one last time, "Go…" He said softly, "You have a life to live with them. Don't let it go to waste. "

She closed her eyes and steeled herself. She gave him a beaming smile, "I'll love you forever, Daddy!" She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

He returned the favor, "You as well...my lovely Princess." He gently caressed her cheek, "Be strong, my daughter… You'll have many hurdles to overcome as a pirate." He gave her his widest smile, "With luck, one day we'll see each other again."

"Whatever it takes." She whispered, "Goodbye Daddy." With one last, lingering gaze, Vivi vanished in a whisper of wind.

"That girl." He smiled, "She's faster than the supersonic duck squad now." His voice warbled as his eyes started leaking again. He walked over to her bed and fell into it, eyes covered by his arm as he trembled. He was barely able to keep his pitiful sobs from escaping. He didn't move again for a long time.

-]|[-

"There she is!" Luffy grinned widely as the supersonic duck squadron arrived at the Going Merry. She did look like there had been a bit of a fight, putting a frown on all of their faces.

"Arf!" The Kung-Fu Dugongs all leapt out of the tributary (which was MUCH larger than it was when they arrived, after all the rain) ready for action, before realizing who was there. They immediately bowed to Luffy, some of them looking slightly injured.

"Hmm, hey guys. You protected the ship for us?" Luffy patted one on the head.

"ARF!" They all saluted.

"Good job boys. You kept the ship safe for us." Nami gave the leader a hug before standing and smirking slightly, "Any of you manage the attack Luffy showed you?"

"Arf." All of the Dugongs hunched over, looking depressed.

"Kyahahaha! Well, that's good. If you lot had managed it before me, I'd be pretty mad." Valerie couldn't help but giggle.

Luffy chuckled, "Well, I suppose that was a bit too hard for beginners." He grinned at them, "Okay then. Not a problem. You'll just have to work your way up to it! First with Soru." He vanished and appeared in the middle of the pack, getting the closest ones to jump in shock, "And then Geppō!" He began to bounce. All of them started to look starry-eyed as he landed, "We can't take any of you with us, so make sure you keep protecting Alabasta, okay?"

"ARFARFARF!" The barking sounded off as they all saluted their sensei.

Luffy turned to the ducks, "Thanks for the ride, guys. Pretty sure the Marines will have it out for us, so saving energy for the escape sure helps."

Vivi got off of Carue and pressed her forehead to his, "Thank you for everything Carue… I'm going to miss you so much…"

Carue let out a surprised and indignant-sounding quack, which Chopper didn't need to translate into 'What do you mean good-bye?! I'm coming with you, stupid!' for them to understand. He tried stepping past her and onto the ship's gangplank, but Vivi held him firm.

"Not this time, Carue." She sighed, starting to tear up, "You belong here in the desert. I can't watch you get sick over and over again. Don't you remember what Chopper said?" Once everything was said and done, Chopper had finally been able to examine the huge duck. Unfortunately, he had found long-term damage in the desert-adapted species, "You've already started damaging your lungs. Another couple years and you would have started having trouble breathing. Chopper already thinks you knocked a few years off your life expectancy…" Carue apparently realized that she was serious and started to tear up, "Oh." Vivi's face started to turn red as tears pooled in her eyes, "Damn it, please don't cry. You're going to make me cry too!" She held back a sob, wrapping her arms around Carue's neck.

Carue wrapped a wing around her, quacking mournfully. She pulled back and placed a kiss on his head, "You be good for Daddy, okay boy?" She smiled, "And make sure you help Pell kick the rest of our lazy soldiers into shape." She demanded playfully. Hands on her hips.

"QUACK!" Carue saluted her, still crying softly.

"You know the basics of our style too. We'll need you to teach the rest of the squad. Protect our home while I'm gone, okay?" Vivi asked of him, and he nodded resolutely. She broke and hugged him tight one last time, "I'll miss you, Carue. And I'll always love you, my friend. Thank you for being with me for so long." He nuzzled her back, and then she pulled away. She bit her lip, "I won't say goodbye." She took a deep breath, "We'll see each other again. So instead… I'll see you later, okay?"

The rest of the crew didn't begrudge her when she walked up the gangplank and simply stared off into the desert rather than doing work with the rest of them. They quickly got the ship unmoored and then joined her in waving at the ducks and dugongs. Nami was hugging her gently from the side, "It hurts." Vivi admitted quietly.

"It was always going to hurt, no matter what you chose." Nami sighed, "We would never have begrudged you if you stayed…" She said, "But I can't say I'm not glad you came."

Vivi let out a watery smile, leaning and pecking her girlfriend on the side of the lips. "It's so peaceful now…" She said after a few moments.

"Let's enjoy it." Robin sidled up to them with a smile, "Because I'm pretty sure we all know what will be waiting for us once we sail out of this river."

Oh, they certainly did. The only question was how big the response would be.

"Oi, oi…" Usopp looked kind of blue, "Isn't that a bit much?" He asked, looking at the Marine ships on the horizon. There were over a dozen of them. They weren't full battleships, but they most certainly were warships. And fast ships too. They were closing in fast.

"Well, we did shit in their cereal bowls." Zoro drawled, fingering Wadō with a slight smirk on their face, "Did they even release an official statement regarding Alabasta yet?"

"Nope." Nami said, pale but smirking. "I'm guessing that means they don't think a bounty increase will matter with whatever response they're sending."

"Vivi, get down below." Luffy commanded, "It's probably for the best to keep you being here quiet. At least until we're away."

"Right. They'll find out eventually, but delaying it for an island or two won't hurt. That'll give the soldiers time to train just in case." She nodded, not liking that she wouldn't be able to fight but understanding the need. "I'll help Usopp with the cannons." She grabbed their sniper and the two headed below deck.

"You guys ready for this?" Luffy asked, watching the ships grow bigger.

"Kyahahaha, all this for little old us?" Valerie's face was full of bravado. And sweat. Plenty of that too.

"They're not in my range yet." Robin reported, preparing herself for the coming fight. It felt strange to not be hiding from the Marines, but that ship had well and truly sailed now. She had shown herself with the crew in Rainbase, after all, and she doubted she wasn't heavily reported on due to it. Not that she would have hidden now anyway. Without her, they'd be strapped seriously thin. No matter how strong they were, Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Valerie, and Sanji wouldn't be able to defend Merry all by themselves. Especially if the strongest of them had to actually engage any strong opponents. The response from the Marines was bound to be big. Chopper would be helping with the cannons too, as well as patching the ship if needed.

"They are in mine." Zoro grinned, drawing Wadō slightly from its sheath.

"Then let's say hello!" Luffy called out with a grin.

Zoro took a deep breath, closing his eyes as he focused his budding Busōshoku. Wadō darkened in his hand, and then his eyes snapped open, "Ittōryū: Sanbyakurokujū Pound Hō!" An absolutely monstrous slash erupted from the tip of his blade, crossing the distance between Merry and Zoro's targeted vessel far faster than even the cannonballs could fly. The Marines panicked, trying to sail the ship out of the way, but it was too late. Zoro's attack hit the ship dead center on the prow and split the whole thing in half. It was a clean slice too, with such a nice finish that the slice seemed to shine as if it was freshly oiled.

The ship split in half and continued sailing as it parted. The port half crashed into another ship and caused a huge explosion as its powder stores detonated, but the starboard half was blown up by cannonballs shot by the ship directly starboard of it, since that crew was much more on the ball.

One of the two commanders of the marine fleet on that ship ground his teeth, "So, that's how far these rookies have come?" He growled furiously, his eyes bloodshot. He was a rather huge man dressed in a fancy suit with a cape over his shoulders. His face was heavily scarred, with four X's carved onto his flesh, and a further two on his neck. "Sensei was right to send us." He grabbed a microphone from a Den Den Mushi, "DESTROY THAT VESSEL!" He yelled furiously, "These villains will know no light nor another day! Do not fear the Captain's Logia power, for we are here, and we will make him pay for his crimes! For Absolute Justice!"

"SIR YES SIR!" The Marines roared out, before giant plumes of smoke erupted in front of each ship as they fired the forward-facing turrets.

"Here it comes!" Luffy yelled, before his brow furrowed, "Wait a minu-" His eyes widened, "CAREFUL! THEY'RE HARPOONS, NOT CANNONBALLS!" He clenched his fist, "Enten no Gatling!" His arm turned golden and started spewing out hundreds of plasma balls with a strange, warbling/throbbing sound. They intercepted dozens of the harpoons and started to melt them, but they were fairly meaty harpoons and their momentum had them still falling just short of their little ship. But some made it through, and the giant hunks of sharpened steel pierced through their little ship's hull.

"Of course," Nami growled, "They couldn't make things easy for us, could they?"

"Trescientos Fleur!" Robin crossed her arms, pushing her abilities as far as she currently could. It was already a vast, marked improvement over her maximum of one hundred arms back when she had joined the Straw Hats. She had been putting in quite the effort. Instantly, three-hundred arms bloomed on the various enemy ships, grabbing seasoned sailors and soldiers, putting them into inescapable joint locks. "Clutch!" Cries of agony rang out on every vessel as arms, legs, necks, and spines were mercilessly snapped. And even then, the arms weren't idle. They manned the cannons and turrets in place of their Marine crews, and started firing on friendly vessels. Massive bangs rang out as Robin (drilled by Usopp in preparation for this and using her Hana Hana no mi to bloom her eyes inside the enemy ship's holds) quickly located and aimed for the powder magazines.

Catastrophic damage hit half a dozen ships. The most Robin could focus on at one time. The powder magazines blew sky high, blowing the tops off ships and turned each mighty war vessel into blazing wrecks on the sea.

But one of the ships did not go according to plan. Near the other end of the line of vessels, a man drew his sword and released a flying slash at a row of arms. Robin was forced to disperse them almost immediately or else her real arms were going to get amputated! Her eyes widened in shock back on the Merry, "They have Vice Admirals?!" She gasped out in complete shock, which was quickly mirrored on the rest of the crew's faces.

Back aboard the ship, the second Vice Admiral, a rather severe man named Onigumo, growled furiously, "Come in, Doberman." He raised his own Den Den, "I can confirm that Nico Robin is indeed on that ship. I repeat, it was not a temporary alliance as the brass hoped. The Devil Child Nico Robin is now a Straw Hat Pirate." He almost crushed his poor Den Den, "Belay the order to simply destroy them. That woman is a danger to the world, but in the right hands is also a boon!"

"Agreed!" Doberman answered, "Capture her immediately. All units, damage that ship beyond repair! That woman must not escape Absolute Justice! We will take care of this ourselves!" With that, the two Vice Admirals leapt from their respective vessels, utilizing Geppō to great effect.

"They're coming!" Robin yelled out, realizing immediately that the greatest danger was on the way. "They're using Geppō!"

"Shit!" Even Luffy was sweating a bit, "Guys, I've got the one on the left! Zoro, Sanji, Nami, Val, you guys are going to have to share!" He took off without another word, utilizing Geppō to get far from the ship before stopping and simply igniting his feet.

"I'm a little busy at the moment!" Valerie cried out, utilizing her super-light weight to Geppō in front of the ship with her umbrella in hand. A spear came close, and she let out a yell of exertion, smacking it with her ten-thousand kilo umbrella and knocking it away from the Merry, before flashing and doing the same to another harpoon on the other side. "He's all yours guys!" She panted as she used Soru again.

"Go! We've got the ship!" Robin yelled as their cannon fired, Usopp's expert shot pierced Onigumo's ship right above the waterline, and the vessel immediately began taking on water. With the Vice Admiral no longer present, Robin took the opportunity to bloom arms there again and forcibly spin the wheel to ram the ship into another Marine Vessel.

High in the air, Onigumo and Luffy stopped in front of each other, "So, you're Straw Hat." The Vice Admiral spat, "I thought you'd be bigger. Surrender and your demise shall be swift!"

"You're not too good at that 'negotiating' thing, huh?" Luffy deadpanned as he floated gently in the air, "Also, damn you're ugly!"

"Fool!" Onigumo drew his two blades, which instantly blackened with Busōshoku, making Luffy tsk. "You're not ready for this stage, Straw Hat. I tried to be merciful, and you spat in my face." His eyes darkened, "Now die! For the safety and security of our world!" He flashed forward, proving he knew more of the Rokushiki than just Geppō.

Luffy held his hands out, and with a thrumming-swoosh sound, long, thin beams of his plasma solidified into dual staves in his hands. His plasma hit the man's blades with loud clangs, "Ugh, that Haki stuff sucks!" Luffy complained, seeing that his weapons were having no effect on the man's very meltable steel.

"My Busōshokuis far more powerful than most!" Onigumo growled, "You won't get through it anytime soon!"

"Oh really?" Luffy grinned, "Let's test that, shall we?" And with that, he blurred from sight. Onigumo followed a second later, and a shockwave erupted from their clash. They vanished again, and another shockwave rang out, and then another, and another. They came from all angles, completely ignoring gravity, attacking from above, below, and the sides. Again and again, the two fighters clashed, with each strike between them sounding like a bomb had gone off.

Zoro, Nami, and Sanji joined the two in the air, meeting up with Vice Admiral Doberman in the air. "Storm Empress, Demon of the Three Blades, and…" he paused, "Some riffraff I don't know."

Sanji clenched his cigarette between his teeth as Zoro chuckled. "Don't worry, you poor thing. I'll fix your face right quick."

"Arrogant fools. Surrender, and your deaths will be quick and painless." He demanded.

Nami rolled her eyes, "Has that ever actually worked?"

Doberman ignored the question, "Time to pay for your crimes, pirates!" He charged, taking Zoro aback from his speed and strength. The green-haired man grunted in shock from his sheer strength as their swords clashed, and was immediately forced back.

Sanji flashed forward, and unleashed a devastating kick directly on the man's jaw, "Joue Shoot!"

"Tekkai." Doberman growled out, steeling his facial muscles. Despite that, his head jerked back with the sound of a gunshot, and a tooth went flying from his mouth. He watched it arc through the air, before growling and backhanding Sanji as hard as he could.

"Grk!" Sanji groaned out as he caught the blow with his shin, wincing as he felt his leg throb from the impact even with his own defensive Tekkai.

"So, you're stronger than you look." Doberman growled out as he dodged a hard swipe from Nami's staff, the nimble woman sailing away easily from his swipe with his sword, "Very well then. Enjoy that kick. It's the only one you're going to land!" He raced after Sanji, aiming to cut him in half.

"ONI GIRI!" Zoro yelled as he flashed upwards, his arms crossed. He smashed clean into Doberman, cutting through his suit and coat. But his blades wouldn't penetrate his flesh, which was blackened with Busōshoku. "Shit!"

"I told you. That was the one hit you three were going to get." Doberman growled like his namesake, "You shouldn't have wasted it."

Luffy had been ramping up his speed since the fight had started, but he truly wasn't as good with two staves as he was with his pipe. He let one of them go, grabbing the single remaining (and now longer) staff in both hands. He attacked with much more skill and ferocity now, and Onigumo was starting to sweat as he realized just how much of a threat Luffy actually was. The most dangerous thing about Luffy's staff was that it could attack from angles you couldn't anticipate, since it would travel through Luffy's body without harming him, obviously. And his sheer speed… Onigumo hated to admit it, but Luffy was far better at Rokushiki than he was. The pirate wasn't even using Haki, and yet his hands were starting to get a little numb. This rookie was much stronger than rookies normally were. Onigumo also picked up the pace, launching an Air Slash at Luffy.

Luffy simply cut off his powers, allowing him to drop below the slash, and then reignited them rushing for Onigumo. The Vice Admiral ground his teeth in exertion as Luffy's devastating leg kick landed, making the limb throb in pain. His Busōshoku took most of it, but the impact plus Luffy's Devil Fruit made sure it hurt.

And it wasn't the first one he had landed. He had been aiming for it. After all, the man would be unable to Geppō and keep himself in the air with a broken knee. "Trying to cripple my mobility, you damned pirate?! You'll have to try much harder than that!" Onigumo roared as he flashed down at Luffy, his finger pointed, "Shigan!"

"Tekkai!" Luffy blocked it and allowed the blow to knock him away to create space. Onigumo chased him with an Air Slash, and Luffy launched a Rankyaku at it. The two slashes impacted, and ground against each other for a few seconds with a shrieking sound before vanishing. Luffy immediately followed up, using Kamisori to try to disorient the Vice Admiral, before coming in from below and trying to rip right through Onigumo's chin and destroy his brain with his staff.

Onigumo's block held for a moment, before his arms were flung wide and Luffy passed him, before bouncing off the air and rocketing down. Luffy raised his staff above his head and swung it down with a roar.

Onigumo growled out, and six more arms popped out of his back as he activated his Devil Fruit. These weren't like his normal arms, no, they were spindly, thin, hairy things. And each of them was holding a new sword, which crossed in front of him and blocked Luffy's blow.

"What the heck?!" Luffy burst out, "You've got eight arms?! You stupid spider!"

"That's right." Onigumo straightened out, "You were too slow, Straw Hat. Now perish!" He raced forward, all eight swords primed to cut Luffy's head off.

"You first!" Luffy raised his arm, "Enten no Taihō!" He yelled out, and a much smaller but more concentrated version of his final attack against Crocodile blasted out of his palm.

"Grk!" Onigumo grunted as he crossed all of his swords in front of him. The plasma had a solid, physical impact against his Haki, making a strange, metallic grinding noise. "You can't beat my Haki, Straw Hat!" He kept having to block, unable to slip out of the attack's path. His coat and suit started to smolder from the heat, and he began to sweat.

"JUST FUCKING WATCH ME!" Luffy cackled, roaring out as he intensified it even more. Waves upon waves of plasma erupted from him, slowly starting to get white as the heat intensified and started to flow faster and faster. He also expanded the radius of the attack, losing some heat, but ensuring Onigumo wouldn't be able to simply drop from the sky to evade it.

Sanji, Zoro, and Nami were struggling. Of the two Vice Admirals, Doberman was definitely stronger. His Busōshokuwas more refined, and he could cover more of his body with it. Onigumo had his Devil Fruit and his Hachitōryū, but Doberman did not. He focused entirely on his body and his Haki.

As such, he was stronger than Zoro even with Zoro's Ichi and Ni Gorilla techniques, faster than Sanji, and definitely nowhere near as frail as Nami. Had these been one-on-one fights instead, it was a forgone conclusion. And even three on one, the fight still wasn't in their favor. The numbers advantage barely made a difference. All three of them were hurt, with multiple bruises covering Sanji's legs, cuts littering Zoro's, and a whole bunch of grime covering Nami.

Nami hadn't dared get too close, so she wasn't hurt overly much like the other two, but her legs were starting to hurt keeping her in the air. 'We need to do something! There's no guarantee Luffy will be able to help!' She didn't want to waste her ace in the hole unless she was sure it would hit and do maximum damage. She had been spinning her Clima-Tact for a while now, spewing massive quantities of her hot and cold bubbles and generating clouds.

Zoro and Sanji, meanwhile, were doing their damndest to break through his Busōshoku. A Rankyaku from Sanji splashed on his chest, and again, the only thing marred were his clothes. "Why do you weaklings struggle?" Doberman asked, racing towards Zoro, and nearly knocking him out of the sky with a powerful swipe of his sword. "You will not win. We will drag and parade your bodies through the streets. Evil will not flourish under my watch!"

"Oh, shut up, will ya?" Nami yelled at him as a Rankyaku from her splashed on his back.

He turned to her, "Hmm? Even a waif like you is capable of our secret technique?" His face darkened, "Heresy!" He roared, blitzing towards her, and cutting her head off. His eyes widened, "What?!" She wavered like a mirage, and then he grunted. Two separate Rankyaku from Nami and Sanji both hit him in the same knee at the same time, and Sanji's rage from thinking he had just seen their beautiful navigator die empowered his blow. They didn't penetrate, but the grinding actually started to crush the man's knee between them.

Instantly, Doberman's Geppō started losing effectiveness, but now he was furious. "RAAAAGHH!" He yelled, throwing an Air Slash at Sanji. The blonde dodged, but Doberman put on a burst of speed, determined to kill at least one of them right away.

Zoro appeared in front of him, and Doberman swiped down. Zoro caught the blade on Yubashiri, but had a flash of something go through his mind, and a kick from his front leg had him fly back. It saved his life.

Doberman's katana shattered Yubashiri, sending pieces of it flying through the air. Yet much to Doberman's surprise, he was unable to accomplish his goal of cutting Zoro in half. Zoro's hasty dodge as well as his Tekkai meant even his Haki-imbued blade only managed to slash through his chest, turning Mihawk's parting gift into an 'X.' Zoro hacked as he fell out of the sky, crashing on the deck of the Going Merry. "ZORO/MARIMO!" Nami and Sanju cried out in horror.

Nami ground her teeth as she raised her weapon. They had to put the hurt on him, which meant the time to be conservative was over. She had been spinning her staff and generating small clouds for a while now, so she prepared to send a Thunder Ball at it, "Lightning La-" She started to say, but Doberman wasn't idle.

With a snap of his hand, he snagged one of the spinning, broken pieces of Yubashiri from the air and whirled around, throwing it hard and unerringly at Nami's forehead.

"NAMI-SWAN!" Sanji threw himself in its path as Nami was completely unprepared for it. He clenched his muscles as hard as he could, but it wasn't enough. His Tekkai could protect him, but his eye wasn't a muscle.

"SANJI!" Nami cried out in horror as he howled, clutching his face.

Doberman quickly appeared in his own Soru and kicked Sanji in the chest, launching him away from Nami. Sanji hacked out a bit of blood as he flew back, and then Doberman turned to Nami. "DIE, STORM EMPRESS! FOR ABSOLUTE JUSTICE!" He roared, closing in on the mikan-loving woman.

Down below, Robin had been startled as a bloody Zoro landed next to her, and turned her attention upwards. Ice flooded through her as she crossed her arms.

Normally, Doberman's Kenbunshoku would have been up to the task of seeing such a thing coming. It wasn't a matter of focus, or even just not paying attention with his victory secure. Robin's attack was just that fast. He had no time to react as the arm popped out of his chest as if it was performing Soru on its own. "SHIGAN!" Robin's voice cried out as her finger pierced straight through Doberman's throat.

Instantly, his hand clasped his throat as his injury started pouring blood, with the man rasping in panic. The arm vanished, with Robin hissing down below as she grabbed her very broken finger.

Nami saw her moment, and the clouds above them rumbled, "THUNDERBOLT TEMPO!" She screamed, directing a massive lightning bolt at Doberman. The Vice Admiral had covered himself in Haki and used Tekkai, but against a lightning strike of that magnitude, it was less than useless. His every nerve could be seen as he was electrocuted, and when the lightning finally cleared, his entire form was black not with Haki, but with soot. His muscles were spasming, and even his Haki was failing.

Sanji appeared using Soru, his hair brushed away from his other eye. His legs were on fire and blazing hot, "Diable Mouton Shot!" He yelled, his flaming legs vibrating so hard they appeared to be shaking. The impacts smashed into Doberman and lit him on fire, flinging him down towards the Merry. He crashed onto the deck and rolled, shakily trying to get to his feet.

Zoro had somehow gotten to his feet despite the wound on his chest, his face even angrier than Nami and Sanji's. He had needed to move Wadō to his right hand, and both of his remaining blades were black with Busōshoku, though he had sheathed them for some reason. He rushed forward and drew both blades with a blindingly fast motion, "Nitōryū: Shishi Kōkyōkyoku!" He slashed, appearing behind the Vice Admiral with both of his blades sliding back into their sheathes. For a moment nothing happened, and then Zoro's swords clicked home, and Doberman's chest positively erupted with blood, spilling it across the deck. The Vice Admiral's head flew through the air before landing in the ocean with a wet plop.

Zoro panted as he stood up, before stumbling and dropping to a knee.

"Zoro!" Valerie yelled as she landed, completely matted in sweat. She crawled over and gently took his face in her hands, "Fucking hell, was one gaping chest wound not enough for you?!" The battle was essentially almost over. Merry looked more like a porcupine than a sheep at the moment, but that was a far sight better than the flaming wrecks of the Marine fleet.

Nami and Sanji crashed onto the deck next, with Nami holding onto Sanji and pressing her shirt to his face. She saw the gaping wound in Zoro's chest and let out a strangled gasp, "CHOPPER!" She yelled, "CHOPPER, GET UP HERE! SANJI AND ZORO ARE HURT BAD!"

Zoro huffed and pushed her away slightly, staggering over to Doberman while dripping blood on the deck of the ship. His jaw was clenched as he stared at the dead marine. Closing his eyes, he bowed, "I wasn't strong enough. You would have won." He growled, "Thanks for the fight." He reached down and plucked the unnamed katana from Doberman's still-clenched fist. He looked at it grimly, still pissed off at losing Yubashiri. 'That was a gift. Damn it…' He grabbed the sheath as well and slid the blade home, affixing it on his belt. "I need to train more." He stumbled to his weights, before Chopper crashed into him.

"OH NO YOU DON'T!" Chopper roared in his face as he stabbed a syringe into Zoro's arm, "STAY THE HELL STILL WHILE I CLEAN THIS!" He growled, "Don't you dare move and make me prioritize you instead of Sanji!" Zoro struggled for a moment, but then the drugs started to take effect, and he started to drift off.

Up above, Onigumo was grinding his teeth in increasing panic. Luffy's beam hadn't petered out. In fact, it was only intensifying. Growing hotter, and heavier. Onigumo's Haki was starting to fail him. He couldn't get out of the beam's path because he was too busy trying to keep it from engulfing him entirely. His clothes had already mostly burned off, and the heat from his metal helmet was actually searing his head. He would have ripped it off ages ago if he could spare even a single arm. His swords were even starting to glow white hot beneath their Busōshoku coating. They were probably fused to his hands now. 'I need to do something! I won't lose here! JUSTICE CANNOT FAIL!' With a roar, he put everything into eight simultaneous Air Slashes, finally throwing the beam off of him and trying to retreat.

Luffy appeared in front of him, and Onigumo choked as he recognized the stance he was in. "No-"

"ROKUŌGAN!" Luffy roared, and his body pulsed. Blood erupted from Onigumo's mouth as he hadn't even been able to put up a minor Haki defense. Defending against the beam had been exhausting. And now his organs were pulverized. He was dead and he knew it.

'But I'll be damned if I go alone!' He turned his glowing blades to Luffy and stabbed with all eight of them. Luffy raised two staves again, and with Onigumo's weakened Haki, cut clean through six of them. The last pair got through. Both fighters howled as Luffy cut/burned off Onigumo's human arms and two of the extra pairs, while Onigumo stabbed both glowing and very lightly Haki-armored remaining blades into both of Luffy's thighs.

"GAHHH!" Luffy roared, feeling the blades sticking out of the back of his thighs. He couldn't keep Geppō up any longer, and both of them fell.

"LUFFY!" Nami, Valerie, Robin, and Chopper yelled in horror as Both fighters fell into the ocean. "NO!" Nami screamed, diving off of the Merry. The water cavitated around her as she used Soru and Geppō to reach her lover. She let out a pained hiss as the superheated water burned her a bit, but she grabbed her unconscious Captain and hauled them both out of the water. She screamed as they burst from the depths, Onigumo sinking right towards the bottom. Her legs were burning again and now there was actual burning to contend with.

It was all she could do to grab the rope Valerie tossed her and hold on. She growled in exertion as Robin and Valerie hauled them up the side of the ship, and then Robin's arms could grab them to carry them the rest of the way up. Captain and Navigator rolled onto the deck, mercifully unconscious.

The Going Merry sailed on, towards her new destination, leaving the devastation of a Marine Fleet in her wake.

-]|[-

Ever since she was a little girl and had seen her hometown invaded by pirates, Tashigi had a good opinion of the Marines. They had saved hundreds of lives fighting those scum, at the cost of their own. It had inspired her. She'd always adored the way of the sword, and had always been fascinated by the Meitō. Joining the Marines had seemed like a perfect match. Fight for justice. Defeat evil men. Confiscate the Meitō, which most certainly did not belong in evil hands.

For years, she had trained her hardest to be worthy of one day wearing a white coat of her own. She had put the Marine Organization on a pedestal. She had thought that they were the good guys. The paragons of good. The heroes. And heroes never lost, right?

And then the Straw Hats had beat their asses and saved Alabasta and headquarters tried to give them credit for it. Captain Smoker had been carved up like a turkey, Tashigi herself had been knocked out with little to no effort, and Hina had barely even gotten a few licks in before being defeated herself. And for their trouble, they'd been given promotions for doing less than nothing.

Captain Smoker had raised unholy hell over it. And why wouldn't he? Crocodile was dead. Vaporized. How the hell did HQ expect Smoker to do that? Even if he hadn't been left half dead, he couldn't have done that. The defeat hurt, but the blow to their pride was far worse. To be capable of doing nothing worthwhile and then praised for it on a bed of incredibly flimsy lies. Especially when the King and Princess of Alabasta had all but come out and given the names of their saviors and made it very clear that the Marines had nothing to do with it… Especially when all the Marines had done was try to stop the real heroes…

Tashigi couldn't have been more disappointed with the Marines if she tried. But she had kept her mouth shut, under her superior's orders. According to the newly minted (and very displeased) Commodore Smoker, he had enough vitriol for their bosses for the both of them. Smoker had raised all kinds of hell about how the marines hadn't done a thing to stop Crocodile and pirates had done all the work. Now (a day or two before the true Heroes of Alabasta even left the desert kingdom) here they were, arriving at G-2 Marine Base for what was ostensibly a resupply, but Tashigi feared was most certainly a tribunal. "Commodore Smoker, sir, doesn't this seem a bit much?"

Her ever-gruff superior simply grunted around his cigars in reply. "It'll be fine, Tashigi. Worst comes to worst, I'll have my promotion revoked." As he spoke, the sailors worked to bring the ship into port. So far as the men were aware, they were getting two days shore leave as their ship was resupplied. While they'd have preferred to spend their leave somewhere nicer than a Marine Base, any leave was fine by them.

Alongside their ship, Hina's own flagship pulled into port as well, 'also' for resupply and minor repairs. In reality, she was acting as an escort to make sure Smoker didn't pull a runner. The pink haired Captain took a drag off her cigarette as she considered the situation. Like Smoker and Tashigi, she knew why they were really there. Unlike her old friend, she was fairly certain he'd be lucky to just get demoted back to captain. More likely, he'd be facing an "honorable" discharge. After all, the World Government had already decided on who was getting credit for Crocodile's arrest. They couldn't exactly put his discharge down as dishonorable, now could they?

Forgoing the gangplank, Hina simply leapt down onto the dock to meet Smoker and his second in command. A petty officer awaited them, a young man who had replaced his standard marine cap with a white balaclava of all things. Saluting sharply, he greeted them, "Welcome Sir, Ma'ams! I am Petty Officer Machine, and I will be escorting you to the meeting!"

With an irritable grumble, Smoker said, "They just need me for the meeting. You two can go wait in our quarters."

Ignoring Machine's confused look, Hina pulled her cigarette from her mouth before answering, "Hina doesn't take orders from you, Smoker. Still, Hina is hungry and could use a good meal." Before she could move away however, Smoker grabbed her shoulder and quietly whispered something to his old classmate. She gave no reply to him, instead raising her voice and calling out to Smoker's second-in-command, "Let us go, Tashigi." She didn't even give the junior officer a chance to respond before she marched off. Quickly looking back and forth between the two, Tashigi snapped a quick salute towards her superior, before hurrying after the other woman.

-]|[-

When Smoker stepped into the room where he knew his career would be decided, he almost froze. The head of G-2 (one Vice Admiral Comil) was expected. He was the leader of the base, after all. And for a tribunal, the sight of Vice Admirals Bastille, Cancer, and Strawberry were also expected.

Admiral Kizaru sitting lazily at the head of the table was not. Smoker swallowed his surprise, "Admiral Kizaru." He greeted one of his old mentors, "It's good to see you." He bowed his head.

"I wish I could say the same, Smoker-kun." Kizaru replied, his voice as lax as ever. Despite that, Smoker nearly bowed his head. Apparently, he had already been found guilty before he'd even arrived. Though he knew it was likely the end of his career, Smoker wasn't particularly worried. Hina might ride his ass, but she'd handle his request for old times' sake. Besides, his subordinates were smart enough to keep their heads down. Regardless, he refused to be part of a bullshit coverup like this. The marines hadn't managed to do a damn thing to stop Crocodile, no matter what the World Government tried to claim. Alabasta, home to one of the original twenty founding families, had been forced to rely on pirates to save them. His attention was drawn back to Kizaru, "But it appears you've found yourself in a bit of a pickle, hasn't it?" Smoker simply nodded. "Then I suppose we're ready to begin. Are you prepared?"

"I am." Smoker said calmly.

"Very well." Admiral Kizaru let out a sigh, "Commodore Smoker, your charges are as follows: Abandoning your post in Loguetown," Smoker hid a wince. Well, that wasn't a good start, "-and for your information, it took less than a month for pirates to start swarming there again." This time, he could not hide the wince, "As such, that charge has been upgraded to Dereliction of Duty and Desertion. Further, you are charged with Theft of Government Property, forcing dozens of other Marines to follow your lead in abandoning their posts, and Insubordination." Well, that was certainly an unexpected laundry list of crimes he was being accused of. And the worst part was that he could not even deny any of it. He did abandon his post to chase the Straw Hats. But that wasn't really what was worrying him. What was worrying him was that for all their rules and regulations, cowboys like him were not uncommon. As long as a leader did what they did to serve justice and got results, generally they could get away with leaving their post. Especially if it was to chase dangerous pirates. Smoker couldn't actually remember the last time anyone in the corps had charges like these levied. "How do you plead?" Admiral Kizaru asked.

"Guilty." Smoker said, without hesitation. "I did what I thought was right and tried to bring the Straw Hats to justice."

"You did…" Kizaru drawled, "What your pride demanded." The statement made Smoker's fists tighten, "You chased the Straw Hats when you had no true hope of victory. I've read the reports. And not only that, but you also started a fight with Fire Fist Ace. I understand wanting to put pirates behind bars. I wouldn't be where I am now if I did not share that same desire." He let out a sigh, "But one must learn prudence as well. You were outmatched and the best solution was to retreat and request backup. Instead, you put the citizens of Alabasta in unnecessary danger, and later were nearly killed by a man who did not even possess an elemental counter to your own powers like Straw Hat did. His Busōshoku was unexpected, but it never should have gotten that far in the first place. And then to start raising a stink over the official story on Alabasta and again showing your insubordination rather than treating that promotion like a scar and getting stronger for it?" He tilted his head, "You understand why you are here, correct?"

Smoker clenched his teeth around his cigar, "Yes, Admiral." He refused to apologize. He refused to be rewarded for failure. Things were out of his hands now.

"Good." Kizaru sighed again, "I have heard enough." He looked around to the other Vice Admirals and got nods from all of them, "Commodore Smoker, we have reached a verdict." Kizaru stated, straightening up for the first time, "Are you prepared?"

"I am, sir." Was his simple reply.

"So be it." And then Smoker blinked, and found himself on the floor. He tried to take a breath in shock, but could only gurgle. He shakily raised his head and patted his chest, where three burning holes now smoked. "I'm sorry, Smoker-kun." Kizaru, to his credit, did look apologetic as he stared down at him. "But the higher ups can't leave a valuable Logia like yours in the hands of such an insubordinate hothead." He sighed, "Why couldn't you have swallowed your pride just this once?"

'Never.' Smoker thought to himself, but he had neither the energy nor the air to say it. Kizaru must have seen something in his face though because he closed his eyes in sadness.

"In honor of your service, you will be posthumously promoted to Rear Admiral." Smoker was growing cold. Numb. He shakily raised a hand, but he couldn't do anything, and it flopped. As his vision grew dark, he heard one last thing, "It is unfortunate that you succumbed to your injuries from stopping Crocodile, but you will be remembered as a hero."

-]|[-

Tashigi had joined Hina in the room the new Commodore had been given, and the two had sat at Hina's temporary table. Tashigi forced a giggle despite the feeling of uneasiness she had started to feel, "So, what did you think of Captain T-Bone's story?" They had mingled for a few minutes with their fellow officers in the mess, before grabbing some food and bringing it up to Hina's quarters.

Hina snorted, "Hina thinks too many pirates are obsessed with their facial hair." She snarked, thinking of how T-Bone had defeated this 'Purplebeard' by cutting the man's ship's mast in half and causing it to crash on his head. Or at least that was the claim.

Tashigi frowned, "Yeah, you're right. Everyone knows Whitebeard, but there's also Peachbeard, Brownbeard, Purplebeard, and I think I heard of a Bluebeard making waves in the South Blue."

"Hina also heard of a Blackbeard, though we don't have a picture or anything." Hina added on, "I heard he did some terrible things in the Drum Kingdom, but that was out of my jurisdiction."

They settled in companionable silence for a few moments, unable to distract themselves any longer, "How long do you think it will take?"

Hina let out a sigh as she grabbed one of the fruits (an apple specifically) and bit into it. "Not long." She said, after taking a few minutes to chew. "Hina worried." She admitted, "Smoker-kun has been insubordinate before, but they never had him escorted to a base before."

Tashigi grimaced as she took one of the cantaloupe and grabbed a knife, "You too, huh? He's never been shy on disobeying orders and has gotten in trouble before, but this feels different." She did not get the reply she expected. The strangled gasp that ripped out of Hina's throat as she surged out of her chair made Tashigi squeak. "Commodore, what are-" She looked down.

For a moment, she didn't understand what she was seeing. She gazed in complete and total miscomprehension over what her eyes were seeing. The cantaloupe she had grabbed and had been absently rolling around had changed. The bumpy, grey-green skin had smoothed out. Instead, it was now a medium-dark grey, and had swirl patterns that looked vaguely like clouds on it. The stem had regrown, with half of it curling.

Intellectually, she understood that she was looking at a Devil Fruit. She even had a pretty solid idea which fruit given its appearance. But that small rational part of her mind was being drowned out by the emotional majority that refused to acknowledge what almost certainly happened.

But the sheer look of destroyed shock on Hina's face as she whispered, "Smoker-kun…" shattered that.

"No." Tashigi started to shake her head, "No. No. Nononononono. He was fine! The doctor said he was fine!" She nearly started to hyperventilate, "No, they-" She choked back a sob, "No they can't-"

Hina reached for the fruit and the knife Tashigi had grabbed and took them from her. She raised the knife and slammed it through the fruit, her face thunderous. Another chop separated a bite-sized piece, and she picked it up and held it towards Tashigi.

The swordswoman looked ashen as she shook her head, "N-no, I, I can't, Hina."

"Tashigi." Hina said firmly, "We both know what happened. S-Smoker-kun… he…" She took a deep, furious breath, "You're the only one he would want to have it."

Tashigi bowed her head and let out a keening sound, biting her knuckle to try to muffle it. Finally, she raised her head, her eyes rimmed with red and a fury matching Hina's glaring out. She took a piece and bit down, and such was her rage that she truly blocked out the taste. She swallowed it after barely chewing, which hurt going down. She looked down at her arm, and just… touched the new feeling she had in her brain, watching as her arm dissolved into smoke.

That was it. Confirmation. "Damn them." She ground out, "DAMN THEM!" She slammed her fist into the table, and again, it just dispersed into smoke.

"Focus, Tashigi." Hina said, "And draw it in for now." Hina looked just as furious as her junior, "Go clean yourself up. We're leaving."

"…Where will we even go?" Tashigi asked, her rage extinguished by bitter despair as the full scope of the Marine's corruption became apparent to her.

"Hina doesn't know." The pink-haired Commodore said softly, "…But anywhere is better than here. Smoker asked me to look after you if his career was destroyed. I doubt he expected it to happen quite like this, but Hina will fulfill her promise."

-]|[-

Aaaaand done. Boy howdy, this one was a doozy. Hope this makes up for the last chapter being so short!

So, few things:

Firstly, I know at least a couple of you are going to complain about Vivi choosing to leave and claim I don't understand her character or whatever. I'm sure these same people knew that this was coming already, so you had plenty of time to back out. I never made it a secret that this was where things were going to go, and I've also made it clear that this is NOT canon. Because yes, Vivi's love for her country was the primary reason that Vivi chose to stay, but it was NOT the only reason. The other reason she chose not to leave was the fact that she felt inadequate, and that she was tooweak to go with them. Everything about the Alabasta saga hammered into her the feeling that she just couldn't keep up.

THAT was well and truly shot out of a cannon (kek) in my fic. In the end, she was always going to leave with them, and I wanted to do something different. I WANTED her to choose to go. Too many fics want to have their cake and eat it too. They FORCE her to leave, by giving her a bounty, or what have you. They MAKE her leave without forcing her to make that decision. They take it out of her hands. And that's a totally fine and valid way to do it, but it wasn't what I wanted to do. I gave her reasons to leave beyond just Luffy, Nami, and the rest of the crew, true, but in the end, it was her decision.

Secondly, why leave Carue behind if Vivi was leaving? Because I don't want to write the duck, and I literally wrote an entire 40k word chapter without even remembering that he existed. Expanded crews are already a pain enough to plan and write without having to worry about characters you literally forget about.

Thirdly, "WHY DID YOU KILL SMOKER, YOU MONSTER?!" Because honestly, that was his role in the story.

*shrug*

I didn't really plan that from the start, but that's what it grew into. There was never a moment in earlier versions of my plans where Smoker ever…did anything. It turned into a thing where he was just getting smoked (kek) every time he turned up, which frankly I figured was worse than just killing him. He just was never a good rival even in canon. As soon as Haki was introduced, Smoker never really did a single other thing of note besides getting Law his heart back so he could beat the guy who was beating Smoker like a bitch. And let's not forget what COBY did a few dozen chapters ago. He has honestly just been wasted potential, and the problems were even worse in Supernova.

With this, he at least serves a purpose. I'm sure it's not too hard to imagine what happens next. And to be perfectly frank, the only reason he got away with some of his shit in canon is that this is one piece. Realistically, the number of times he pulled shit in canon SHOULD have earned him a court martial.

And yeah, I know Smoke doesn't really fit Tashigi and her fighting style as presented in canon. Then again, Smoker wasn't exactly creative most of the time. I have ideas on that front, so let me cook.

So, Sanji loses an eye. Don't worry guys, between him and Pudding-chan they'll have two full sets. LOL

As for Yubashiri… *Salutes* rest easy you bastard. Since, as of this writing, Doberman's Katana has not been named, that means I'll need some ideas for it. It must be the same grade as Yubashiri, or even one lower like Sandai Kitetsu and Shigure. Come up with a name and I'll use my favorite. The current name I have in the next chapter is "Taketori."

Anyway, next month's update will NOT be Supernova. It will be Thunderous Soul 5! Again, if ya'll want early access, you can find it on my Pa tr eon. I'm posting chapter 6 there tonight, and will be posting 7 midway through the month. Managed to bang another three chapters out before the bleach muse abandoned me again. :D

PV out!

-]|[-

Oh, actually! Before I forget again, here's an omake by The Sinful, following a more canon path to the story where Robin doesn't leave Baroque Works early.

-]|[-

Good Luck With That

In some ways, Crocodile could hardly believe this moment had arrived. He had been waiting for this day for the last sixteen years, over a third of his life. All that time scheming, ingratiating himself with the locals, sowing the seeds of rebellion, was about to pay off. He and his partner, Nico Robin, had brought Nefertari Cobra to the Tomb of Kings outside Alubarna and now he was finally going to learn the location of Pluton. All he needed was for Nico Robin to read the location of the ancient superweapon off the Poneglyph hidden within the tomb.

The statuesque woman strode forward, placing one hand on the giant stone cube. For several seconds, she ran her hand over the material in silent awe, before Crocodile finally lost his patience. "Well, Miss All Sunday? Where is it? Where is Pluton?" Unseen by either of them, Cobra shuffled sideways towards a particular panel. He would not allow these monsters to unleash the ancient weapon upon the world, even if it killed him.

Something few knew about Nico Robin, and even fewer thought relevant, was that she was a speed reader. She had initially developed the skill because there was so much at the Tree of Knowledge that she wanted to learn, but twenty years on the run had caused her to hone it further until she could read and understand an entire page of text at a mere glance. As such, she had actually read the entire face of the Poneglyph well before she had even approached it. Though there was a great deal of information on the stele, including the location of Pluton, none of it was relevant to her search for the true history of the world. Initially, she had intended on lying to Crocodile, then killing him if it became necessary (it almost certainly would). But seeing just where Pluton could be found meant she didn't have to take such a risk.

With full honesty, besides pretending she had still been reading the Poneglyph the entire time, Robin offered, "It says Pluton can be found in a secret cave deep beneath Mt. Fuji." Something about that name tickled Crocodile's brain. He was almost certain he had heard of such a location before, but the specifics eluded him. Before he could demand more information, Robin brought his thoughts to a screeching halt with five little words, "In the middle of Wano."

Even Cobra stopped his attempt to reach the hidden panel on hearing her words. Crocodile froze completely, so still that it was impossible to tell if he was even breathing. He stared straight ahead but it was obvious he wasn't seeing anything. Finally, after nearly a full minute, the warlord spoke a single word. "No." That one word was filled with all the disbelief, denial, and despair imaginable.

Much like reality itself, Robin refused to acquiesce to his unspoken demands to change Pluton's location. "Yes. This line right here," She pointed at a specific part of the text, "Goes into a fair amount of detail stating that Pluton was placed in the care of the same samurai who created the Poneglyphs." Unable to help herself, she smirked impishly, "So all you have to do to become unstoppable is defeat Kaidō in the heart of his territory and steal Pluton. Good luck with that."

Crocodile's dreams once more shattered like glass stuck by a cannonball. Just like last time, it was because of an Emperor. But this time, the Emperor didn't even have the decency of doing so intentionally. It was all just… happenstance! Having some no-name rookie crew nearly unravel his entire plot was a single grain of sand in the desert compared to this. What was he supposed to do? Infiltrate Kaidō's territory and steal Pluton from under his nose?! Challenge Kaidō to a death match?!

"Hm? What's this?" Robin's voice unintentionally broke Crocodile out of his spiraling thoughts. The assassin by trade and archaeologist by passion was kneeling on the ground as she brushed sand off a previously covered line of text.

Hope, that treasonous poison of an emotion, bloomed in Crocodile's chest. Perhaps all was not lost just yet after all! He could barely force himself to wait even a few seconds before demanding, "What does it say, woman?!"

Robin cast a disdainful glance over her shoulder before going back to the text. "The grammar is atrocious. 'Possession'… 'from below'… 'all-encompassing'… and I think, yes, that's definitely a name," She muttered to herself in consternation. After a few more seconds, she spoke up, "Unless I'm very much mistaken, this says 'Nefertari D. Lili has a fat ass.'"

Once again, both men in the room were frozen. Unlike before, it was Cobra who managed to speak up, his hand just barely not touching the panel that would collapse the tomb and kill them all. Though, like Crocodile, all he could utter was a single word, "What."

Shrugging, Robin admitted, "Technically, it says 'Beneath Nefertari D. Lili is engulfing' but the rather detailed carving of a butt makes the message pretty clear."

To his complete disbelief, Crocodile was relieved when that idiot rookie came bursting in, looking for Round Three. At least he was a problem that could be murdered in the face.