Unreliable Narrator: a narrator who, intentionally or unintentionally, fails to provide an accurate report of events, and whose credibility is therefore compromised.
A/N: Warning- this fic features a depressed POV character. Mentions of self-harm, descriptions of attempted suicides, and similar are present. Some content may be disturbing to some readers. Caution is advised. I apologize if this offends anyone. Originally posted on .
They didn't invite me to karaoke. I don't know why that's what set me off- I didn't even want to go. Maybe they knew that, or maybe they were just ignoring me… Either way, the result was the same. Unwanted. Unnecessary. Alone. I spent the rest of the class in silence, waiting for the chance to go home, to flee… to hide.
It's not like my classmates meant to be mean, I'm sure. There was no way they could know I had these issues- I was quiet even at the best of times, rarely contributing unless for a group assignment. They couldn't know that before getting into graduate school I was the teacher's pet, the freak. No, to them I was the quiet girl in the back of the class, dressed in dark colours and absorbed in my manga. They probably knew I didn't want to go to karaoke, that even stepping into a bar had a fifty percent chance of triggering a panic attack. I should've been grateful.
Being ignored still hurt.
I was up and out of my seat as soon as class was over, heavy pack up on my shoulder. It helped that I didn't have a coat to put on- it was late November, but warm enough that I was fine with just my sweater. Besides, the walk home would keep me plenty warm. Physically at least. Mentally I was cold as ice, my brain going into overdrive, bringing up every moment of pain, every time I'd ever experienced rejection. The long walk only gave me more time to think.
Ryan, on the last day we would see each other for five years, "You didn't think I actually liked you, did you? There's lots of prettier girls at my new school. Loser." He turned and walked away, leaving me alone and stunned under a blue spruce…
My sister entered the car in tears. "Mom! Everyone was being mean to me today cause I forgot dumb ended with a B."
"Well, look at it this way. If you can't spell it, you'll never be it." I bit my lip at my mother's words; tears stung my eyes. I'd gotten my spelling test back that morning- scored nineteen out of twenty. The word I misspelled? Necessary…
I paused in the coatroom to tie my shoe, listening absently as my classmates came in. A few familiar voices rose over the footsteps; I smiled. My friends were early for once. My smile turned into shock when I heard what they were saying though.
"So… How bad do I need to fake it before the Freak believes I'm sick and does my section too?"
"It doesn't have to be illness Emma. Adam said she'll take over the whole project if we make our handwriting bad enough."
Fighting back tears, I bit my lip until it bled. It was almost time for class to start before I felt safe enough to go out into the classroom proper. The teacher looked at me with concern. "Are you alright Jonesie? You're usually earlier than this."
I forced a smile, trying not to think about the fact that my so-called friends were using me. "I'm fine Miss. Just had a bit of an accident in the coatroom and wanted to clean up. I didn't sleep well last night, so I'm a little clumsy."
"Watch it Dragon-Freak!" Red hair and cold steel; Davis shoved me into my locker as he rushed past. I snapped, having finally had enough. Grabbing his wrist with one hand, I forced him to stop. He stared at me in surprise.
"Never thought the Dragon-Freak would be freaky strong too. Lemme go."
"No." All I saw was red. Davis and his group had been doing this sort of thing since kindergarten; I was sick of it. I twisted his wrist hard. He screamed; something popped. A teacher came around the corner at that moment. Mr. Aaronson- not one of the ones who liked me. Damn.
"Miss Jones, what are you doing?"
"He started it." I released Davis and stared at the floor. "He shoved me into my locker."
Mr. Aaronson ignored what I said. "Davis, go see the nurse. As for you," here Mr. Aaronson grabbed my arm and began to drag me through the halls, "We're going to see Miss Victory."
It could've been worse. Our vice-principle was weak to tears- I knew that from when I'd been accused of breaking the school's jungle gym. Not that anyone had believed it I was innocent, even though it had been Woodley who broke it. But tears had been enough to get me out of detention at least. Hopefully they would be again…
It was my first ninjutsu class. I was so proud to be there, learning a second martial art. I was determined to do well too, to be a good representative of my karate club and make both senseis proud. That dream went out the window quickly though, as soon as ninjutsu sensei asked us what it meant to be a good martial artist. I raised my hand proudly- this was something I knew, the one place I actually belonged.
"To be a good martial artist means you are loyal and a hard worker!"
My answer was greeted with a condescending smile. "That's a very samurai answer. But to a ninja, that answer is wrong."
I wasn't able to focus on the rest of class. My heart sank into the floor. How…? But that was what I'd been taught for years. How could it be wrong? Hard work and loyalty had always been the answer at karate- that was how you earned the right to learn what came next. Someone who didn't work hard couldn't master a technique…
By the time I got home I could barely hold back my tears. Grandma wasn't home yet, which was one small mercy- while my uncle and Grandpa left me to my own devices now that I was an adult, Grandma still treated me like I was ten. If she saw me crying, she'd tell my parents the next time they called. Then I'd face hours of questions about my feelings- had this happened a lot recently, had I had any more panic attacks, did I think my depression was coming back? None of these were questions I wanted to answer, even to myself. Partially because I knew the answers would only make people angry at me.
The depression had never left. I'd spent two years on medication and hated every minute of it, the pills making my head fuzzy and sleepy. So I told the doctor that I was feeling better, fudged the answers on his diagnostic quiz. My parents had been happy that I could stop with the medication and counselling, giving me more time to focus on my studies as I was heading into a Master's program.
I was beginning to regret my choice of entering graduate school though. Some of the lessons just didn't make sense. Developmental stages? Learning theories? All the ways people's brains worked seemed so complicated- and I couldn't even map them onto myself to try and make sense of them. Because apparently my brain had developed differently, meaning I had no experience with some of the things my professors were talking about. I had a paper due that night that I hadn't even started, I was so confused as to what to write. It was just too much.
Off came the sweater and stiff jeans, replaced by black track pants and a purple hoodie. Much more comfortable. I took off my school ring and the choker that matched it in favour of a longer chain with a watch inspired by my favourite manga. After a moment of thought, I tied my red bandanna around my neck too. It was comforting, the soft cotton tight against my neck. My mother hated it, but that was one of the upsides of living with my grandparents- Mom couldn't see to tell me to take it off.
Despite knowing I needed to work on that paper, I grabbed my Swiss Army Knife and headed back out the door. My head was so clouded, so full of dark thoughts… The walk home hadn't helped, but a walk in the woods might. Or… Well, I was fooling myself with that thought. I knew very well what I was planning on doing under the trees. Just couldn't let myself think the words.
Snow crunched under my running shoes- no point bothering with boots or a coat now, even though it was getting colder. I hadn't left a note even to tell anyone where I was going, let alone… No, it was best not to think about it. If I let myself think the words before I started, I would probably chicken out. Besides, if I left a note and then chickened out- or if I left a note and someone stopped me before I was done- what would it look like? A cry for attention. I didn't want that- no one should waste their time on me.
There were no leaves left on the trees as I entered the forest trail. Still, the dark branches and numerous trunks would be enough to hide me from prying eyes- no one but me would actually enter the woods when it was this cold, this close to sunset. Even so, I wanted to go well away from the road. Back to the lake. It took a couple of hours to get there, but that was alright. No one would be looking for me until Grandma got home at least. I should have plenty of time.
The ground was frozen and hard under my feet by the time I got to the lake. There was no ice in the water though, not yet. Dark grey water lapped at black stones as I approached.
I rolled up my sleeves and brought out my Swiss Army Knife. A shiver of fear ran through me- I had a high pain tolerance, but that didn't mean I liked being hurt. And doing it to myself was always different than pain received by accident or from another anyway. That said, I knew from past experiences that after the initial shock, this would distract me from the memories, make them hurt less.
The first mark was barely more than a scratch, a shallow line of red traced over a faint pre-existing scar. Each successive line was longer and deeper, a total of six on each arm. They burned. It made me flinch and twitch, but the distraction was more important. As was the feeling of floaty whiteness at the sides of my head. I rolled my sleeves back down, watching as black lines of wetness appeared on purple fabric. Blood loss made me dazed and giddy, stealing away my fear of what was coming next.
Knife back in my pocket, I waded out into the lake. My right hand clutched my watch-necklace for reassurance. I was shaking all over- from the cold, from the stinging in my arms, from the slight twang of fear that even pain and blood loss couldn't distract me from. Terror- my instincts screamed out against this. But I just wanted it to end, for all the bad memories and stresses and worries to go away.
The water was up to my armpits now, soaking through my clothes and chilling me to the bone. I wondered what could possibly possess people who didn't want to die to do this- that Polar Bear Dip thing so many did in the spring. Or maybe I was just a wimp, that I wouldn't want to do it. The kids at my elementary school always did call me a crybaby. Why though? I never let them see me cry. Crying was a private thing, only to be done in the dead of night when darkness could hide me. Because as awful as I felt, I didn't really have a good reason for all these bad thoughts, did I? In theory, I had a good life. I did well in school and at martial arts, my family was fairly well off financially and were tolerant if not affectionate or understanding. The only bad thing had been the bullying when I was younger, and that had been over for years at this point.
Too bad I could never convince my feelings of that logic. My heart couldn't understand what my brain told it.
I went out further, until I was swimming with trembling limbs. I couldn't feel my hands or feet anymore. Excellent. The numbness would lessen the pain from the next part. I didn't know if drowning would hurt or not, but I expected it might. Cold… Weak… My clothes felt so heavy. My numb arms failed, my kicks fluttering weakly. The first wave lapped over my head, filling my mouth and nose with water. I coughed and gasped, my throat burning. But this was what I was here for; it was too late to turn back now anyway. I was too far for my numb limbs to get me back to shore. Taking one last breath, I stopped struggling and sank into the grey water.
Bubbles rose from my mouth and nose, catching the orange light of the sunset and reflecting it in interesting ways. The colours changed as I sank deeper, reds and yellows fading out to leave purple, blue, and green. My glasses distorted the light even further, so every bubble sparkled like some aquatic faerie.
After a couple of minutes, my lungs demanded air. There was nothing there for them though. I swallowed a mouthful of water instead. My lungs burned; I choked and thrashed weakly, but there was nothing I could do. I had already sunk too deep. Blackness started to grow at the edges of my vision, stealing away the colours from the bubbles. My last thought before I lost consciousness was to wonder whether anyone would miss me.
A large hand pressed firmly on my chest, forcing me to cough up water. I spat and gasped, wondering what was going on. My heart pounded in my ears; it was this that made me realize I was still alive. But how? I'd been so far into the woods, and I'd made sure there had been no one nearby. Who could possibly have gotten to me in time to pull me out? My chest and throat burned too much to speak, so I couldn't ask.
I opened my eyes- not that I could see much. My glasses were still on, by some miracle, but they were covered with beads of water that distorted everything. There were four blurs above me that were probably people- one green and white, one orange and blue, one brown, and one red. Under my back I felt wood, damp and sturdy and moving gently up and down with the waves. A dock maybe? But there were no docks on the trail lake. And when did it get so warm? I shivered as the cold in my bones met the surprising warmth of the air.
The orange and blue blur hit the brown one. "Don't just stand there! Get me some bandages- can't you see she's bleeding?"
A female voice, vaguely familiar- but from where? I sat up; the green blur supported me. Ah, owner of the large hand located. A few heavy pats between my shoulder blades helped me cough up the last of the water as the brown blur came back with bandages. The orange and blue blur knelt in front of me and took off my glasses, handing them to the brown blur.
"Here Usopp, dry these off so she can see."
Usopp? I knew that name… My brain was still too fuzzy to tell me where from though. I flinched as the orange and blue blur reached for my arms. I was too sluggish to get away though, especially with the green and white blur right there and holding onto my shoulder. Small hands grabbed my right forearm. So small… Next to them, mine looked huge. I was used to that though; I'd always had giant man-hands.
She had trouble rolling up my sleeves- blood stuck them to my forearms. The orange and blue blur gasped when she finally got the stained fabric pulled back. I stared down at my cuts. They were still bleeding sluggishly, a slow, sticky seepage. So I hadn't cut deep enough to bleed out before things started clotting. I'd sort of expected that, hence the attempt to drown myself.
The grip on my shoulder tightened. "A suicide… But how'd she get all the way out here?" His voice was low and gravelly, yet strangely soothing. I flinched.
"I didn't see any boats or anything." The brown blur's- Usopp's- voice was high and reedy, but definitely male. Damn, where had I heard that name before? It was so familiar…
Tight white bandages wrapped around my arms, reigniting the sting of my cuts. I stared down at the golden wood we were sitting on. "I'm sorry…"
"Sorry for what?" The orange and blue blur finished wrapping my arms, rolling my sleeves down to hide the bandages.
"Making you waste your time on me." If I was stronger… If I hadn't let the dark thoughts get control of me… No one should have to help me. I didn't need it; wasn't worth it…
"No one's a waste of time." This was a new voice, childish and serious at the same time- the red blur. Like the others, there was something familiar about it that I couldn't quite place. My head was still so fuzzy.
Usopp handed me my glasses back, their lenses dry. It was when I put them on that I realized why all the voices seemed familiar. A shiver ran up my spine, one that had nothing to do with cold or pain. I knew these faces- knew them almost as well as I knew my own. And yet they were different too. I was used to seeing them drawn in a cartoonish, silly style, after all.
The green and white blur holding me up resolved itself into a muscular, vaguely Asian looking man with three swords. Animation hadn't done justice to his hair- there were strands of light, straw brown mixed in, giving the rich green the appearance of a slightly dry lawn. Crouched in front of me was a redheaded woman with a soft smile- but her staff was within easy reach, ready should I prove a threat. Usopp was gangly and awkward, with nut brown skin and a nose that, while not quite as ridiculous as it had appeared in drawings, was still among the largest and longest I'd ever seen. Unlike his female companion- Nami, my mind supplied- he hadn't thought to ready his weapon.
And behind them all stood the captain. Small, barely taller than me, but with a presence and personality three sizes too large for his body. His scar wasn't quite as pronounced as it had always been drawn- white instead of black, and the stitch marks nearly invisible- and the iconic straw hat was more a pale brownish-gold than yellow. But it was his eyes that caught me- such a dark brown, like a murky forest pool. Something that could hold anything or nothing, with no way of knowing until you jumped in. I shuddered and returned my gaze to the wood beneath me.
Zoro. Nami. Usopp. Luffy. That meant I wasn't on a dock- I was on a ship. The Going Merry. But how? That was fiction. My favourite…
Oh. I had died. This was some sort of afterlife. Heaven, maybe? I wasn't Christian, didn't believe in Heaven- and even if I did, no way would I be let in. But what else do you call being sent into the world of your favourite manga after death? That wasn't what I wanted though- the point of killing myself had been nothingness. I didn't want to think anymore, didn't want to feel. Frustration boiled up in my chest. I felt like sobbing, needed to cry- but I couldn't. There were people here. I couldn't cry where anyone could see.
Legs shaking, I tried to stand. Zoro held me down. A surge of fear- I needed to get out of here. Knowing who these people were didn't mean I really knew them. They weren't my friends. I never had many of those to begin with, hadn't seen any of them in two years- none of them were here, no way to get to them ever again. My breath started coming in rapid pants; I tried to focus on my heartbeat to calm myself down, but it wasn't working. I clutched at the chain of my necklace-watch, my knuckles going white.
It turned out that was a poor idea. My automatic action drew everyone's attention to the pendant. Four sets of eyes narrowed; Zoro let go of my shoulder and drew his white katana. Wado Ichimonji's blade was cold against my neck. I froze.
"Where did you get that?" I didn't need to look at Zoro's face to know he was glaring daggers. If looks could kill, I would be long dead.
Usopp let out a sharp gasp. "But I just painted the flag yesterday! Don't tell me someone else uses that symbol!"
"No." Luffy's voice was cold, hard- like when fighting someone who tried to steal a member of his crew. "No one does. Shanks would've told me."
Part of me wanted to remind Luffy that he hadn't seen Shanks in years, that it was possible for a new crew to have sprung up with a straw hat on its Jolly Roger that the red-haired pirate wouldn't have been able to warn him of. That part of my mind was drowned out by all the others. I was used to being on the spot, talking my way out of trouble in elementary and high school- whether it was my fault or not- and hiding things from my parents. But this situation was so new… My breaths came even faster and shallower, my heart pounding in my ears. Distantly, I could feel the chain in my hand digging into my skin.
Sliding my fingers down, I fiddled with the heavy brass pendant. Heavy because it was a clockwork watch- although it hadn't worked since a week after I bought it. Three words ringed the edges of the watch- pirates, navigator, Luffy. In the center of the watch's cover, large and proud, was a grinning embossed skull topped with a straw hat. The symbol of my favourite manga.
"Where did you get that?" Zoro repeated. I shook and curled in on myself as I tried to force my burning throat to speak.
"I bought it- about a year ago." My voice sounded tinny and faint to my own ears. Combined with the dizziness, shaking, whiteness on the edges of my vision- I was going to pass out soon. Just like I did when my mother was mad at me.
Cold steel pressed more firmly against my neck, drawing a tiny trickle of blood. A single drop of warmth slid down, tickling- a prompt to continue. I considered just clamming up- between my anxiety and my sore throat, talking was hard enough anyway. But if Zoro killed me, would I die? If this was the afterlife, a beheading would just hurt- couldn't die again. But if I wasn't in the afterlife, Zoro could bring the nothingness I wanted.
Of course, there was always the chance he wouldn't choose to kill me at all, merely hurt me. Punishment. That was the most likely option, if these real Straw Hats had the same personalities as the ones in the manga. Even Zoro didn't kill without a damn good reason. I forced my throat to work, hoping my need to pass out could hold off long enough. Best to tell the truth too; Luffy would probably be able to tell if I lied. Or was that just fanon? I couldn't remember… Although… Did it matter? Every book, movie, fanfic; whenever a character had a big secret they were trying to keep, it would inevitably come out- although not always to the person the audience was hoping for until too late, Merlin.
"I… I come from somewhere else- there's no good way to explain it." Maybe if I curled in on myself enough I would disappear into the deck of the Merry. Or wake up and find this was all a dream, my latest attempt at suicide a nightmare from falling asleep at my computer again. So far, no such luck. "It's another world- different map, different people, different technology. In my world, this," I waved my hand weakly, encompassing everything, "Is a comic book. A story. One of my favourites. I have no idea how I got here."
Someone snorted- without looking up, I couldn't tell who. "That sounds even crazier than some of the stuff Usopp comes up with," Zoro scoffed. "Prove it."
"Okay Zoro." I felt the swordsman tense, a minute movement of his katana's blade. Right- aside from Usopp, they hadn't used anyone's names. I moved my gaze to the captain's feet. "Luffy… Have you heard from Ace lately? Dadan?"
"How'd you- oh, mystery world thing. I guess you're telling the truth."
"HOW CAN YOU ACCEPT THAT SO EASILY?!" Nami shrieked. There was a hollow smack as she hit Luffy over the head. The captain groaned.
"She knows about Ace and Dadan. No one knows about them. Well, other than Grandpa." Luffy shuddered.
"Who are they anyway?" Usopp wanted to know. "You've never mentioned those names."
"Shishishishi! Ace is my older brother! And Dadan's the old hag who raised us- she was a mountain bandit, but she wasn't that bad." A rubber foot stretched over to nudge me. Luffy's skin was oddly shiny when stretched, though it looked normal when he was relaxing. "Ne, if you know about Ace, do you know about-?"
"Yeah," I murmured weakly. The whiteness covered most of my vision now. I swayed, fingers of cold creeping down the back of my neck. "I know about Sa-." Vision gone, ears ringing. No idea if I managed to finish the name. I was vaguely aware of falling over sideways, but I didn't feel any impact.
When I came to again, I was lying on a narrow cot in a dimly lit cabin. Nami sat on another cot against the wall opposite. She was reading by the light of a hanging oil lamp, but apparently also watching me as she put her book down within seconds of me opening my eyes. A small hand rested on my forehead.
"Well, you don't have a fever. It was probably the blood loss." The navigator shook her head. "I- I won't ask what made you do something like that. It's not my business. But if you want to talk…"
I shook my head. "You have enough to deal with without worrying about me."
Already pale skin turned a sickly, greenish shade. Then Nami shook her head, forcing her breathing to calm. "You- you said this was a story for you. How much do you know?"
"That depends… I'm not sure exactly what point in the story I'm at." Although if Usopp had just painted the flag, I couldn't be too far along. I reached up and rubbed my head. There was a slight ache growing behind my eyes, as often happened after I'd passed out. "Have you met Sanji yet?"
So that was a no then. "I guess I know a lot." Which made my blood run cold. Just my being here could change things- what if I accidentally killed someone? No, no, that was too much pressure. My breathing started to speed up again. I clutched at my necklace with one hand, fiddling with my bandanna with the other. It didn't help. Nami placed a hand awkwardly on my shoulder. At least I was already lying down, so if I passed out I wouldn't fall.
"Calm down- deep, slow breaths. We need you conscious so we can ask you some questions."
Yes, because that was going to make me more comfortable. Alone. Questions. Judging. What do I do? What do I say? What if they don't like me? What will they do? Help! Someone help! Help, help, helphelphelp! I barely heard Nami call for someone, my ears ringing with my anxiety. Why was this worse than going to a bar? Those were so much more crowded. There were only four other people on this ship- why was I panicking even more than usual? Small groups like this didn't normally bother me!
In hindsight, it was probably partly due to the blood loss and near-drowning.
Sensei would be ashamed- I was ashamed. I could face down armed opponents twice my size with a smile- why couldn't I handle talking to people? Trying to focus on my breathing wasn't helping much, so I closed my eyes and ran through katas in my head. By the time I reached my green belt katas, my heartrate and breathing had slowed enough that I was no longer in danger of passing out from hyperventilation. When I'd finished my brown belt katas and opened my eyes, all four current members of the Straw Hats were standing next to my cot. I sat up and leaned back against the bulkhead.
"S-so… Nami said you have some questions?"
"Yeah." Luffy sat beside me, far too close. I edged away as much as I could; the captain made a small, sad noise, but didn't try to approach again. "You said this was a story… What kind of story? How much do you know? But don't tell us what! I don't want spoilers."
I forced a smile at that. Luffy's antics reassured me a little, reminding me of all the laughs I'd gotten over the years from reading and watching One Piece. Such a good escape from… No, couldn't think about that right now. I'd just gotten through an attack; I didn't need another one. "It's an adventure- a fantasy. I know a lot, but it wasn't done yet when I…" I rubbed one hand along my opposite forearm. Luffy reached out hesitantly as if to touch, maybe to try and help somehow; his hand dropped halfway.
"Um…" I bit my lip, tasting blood. I wasn't biting that hard, so something must've happened when I passed out. "I- just by being here I'm changing things though. Or I might. I wasn't there in the story. I'm sorry…"
"About what?" That was Zoro, gruff and confused.
"People could die because of me." My voice was barely a whisper as it came out. "I have no idea how my being here will change things, what will happen. I didn't mean to- didn't think it was possible to- Osti d'épais de marde. I was supposed to die and not cause problems for anyone anymore, not make more…" Tears burned at the back of my eyes; I was shaking again. Why had this happened? Why couldn't I have just drowned?
"Look at me." Luffy's voice was firm and strong- a leader's voice, like Sensei. I couldn't disobey, no matter how uncomfortable I was looking people in the eye.
"You're mine." Luffy pointed at my necklace. "You bought that, you wear it… You chose to our Jolly Roger. If your story tells you as much as you say it does, you know what that means. So quit worrying."
"But what if something bad happens because of me? I'm so useless…"
"Stop thinking that- captain's orders. Besides, you're being dumb." Luffy picked his nose. I winced- being called dumb by a manga hero known for his lack of intellect hurt. "Yeah, something bad might happen- but something good might happen too."
Ace. If I played things exactly right, could I prevent his death? But what could I do? I was shaken from my thoughts by another question from my- my captain.
"Saa, so, what's your name anyway?" Luffy swung his feet back and forth, unable to sit still. I dropped my eyes from his face to the floor, thinking. What should I tell him? Should I use my real name? I didn't like it- this could be a perfect chance to change it. But I couldn't think of anything…
"Jones." I tugged at my bandanna. "Just call me Jones."
Nami tapped her foot. "Last time I checked, that wasn't a girl's name. You are a girl, right?"
"Um… technically?" Did I really have to get into this now? I wasn't comfortable talking about this with my own family, let alone strangers. I curled into a ball on one end of the cot.
Apparently my new crew mates were willing to leave well enough alone- for now at least. My wishy-washy answer to the question of gender was dropped in favour of Zoro's scowling inquiry. "Jones… You knew stuff about Luffy's past, stuff he's never told us. Do you know about the rest of us too?"
"A- a little." I stared at Wado Ichimonji- much more comfortable than trying to meet the swordsman's eye. "I know about Kuina… I know a little about Usopp's dad and why he always lied to his village about pirates coming. And I know about Bellemere."
On the last sentence, I turned slightly towards Nami. Even without looking at her face I could see her pale. The navigator let out a little gasp, her hands curling into fists. She was shaking. Right- if they hadn't met Sanji yet, she was still being forced to make maps for Arlong. It was no wonder she was the most knowledgeable about my anxiety; she probably had similar feelings herself. Except with a much more valid reason.
Usopp started to say something, but Luffy cut him off before he could get a word out. "Okay, new rule. No asking Jones about people's past without their permission- captain's orders. And Jones- no spoilers."
Everyone else protested at that. "But what if we need to know?" Usopp whined. "What if we're stuck and Jones knows a way for us to get out?"
"Or if there's a number of paths and she knows which one is safest?" Nami added.
Even Zoro chimed in. "What if she can identify who's a strong enemy? Or who's really a friend that we shouldn't fight?"
I did know all those things- up to a point, at least. But at the same time, they didn't need me. "You did fine without me in the story…" I mumbled into my bandanna.
Luffy sighed and crossed his arms. I could hear the pouting in his voice. "But it's no fun if we know what's coming."
"Sorry…" My back was starting to hurt from being curled up like this. I was too anxious to sit any other way though, especially with so many people so close. Not strangers, not friends… I didn't know what to do. "I can leave if you want. That way you don't have to worry."
"No." I was surprised by the vehemence in Luffy's voice, a sudden switch from his whining about spoilers. His forceful tone made me cringe, even though it wasn't angry.
"Why?" I could barely force the words out. "You don't know me. Why would you want me to stay?"
"Cause you chose our Jolly Roger. I already said- that means you're mine. You know us, and we can get to know you." A hesitant rubber hand reached out again, this time coming to rest on my knee rather than falling to the bed halfway. I flinched. "If you really want to leave though, I guess I won't stop you."
Did I? I knew I didn't deserve to be a Straw Hat, had nothing special to bring to the table, but did I want to leave? I should leave, but… One way or another, I seemed to be stuck in this world. Whether it was some sort of demented afterlife, or I was actually here… If I had to be in this world, wasn't it best to be with the Straw Hats? With them I could go anywhere, do anything, try whatever I wanted. They were the heroes, so if I wanted to live, sticking with them was the smart choice. And if I still wanted to die… Surely in this world of badass, something would eventually come along to grant that wish?
"I- I'll stay… Captain." Glancing up at Luffy from between my knees, I saw him smile. It was small and kind, different from the wide grin he was usually portrayed with in the comics. No one had ever smiled at me like that before- a smile that saw my fear and wrapped me in a metaphorical blanket, telling me everything was going to be okay. Or, it should have. Luffy was telling me without words that I had a place here, that I could rely on him if I needed, but… After this long, I didn't know how. I was so used to being alone… But this was Luffy. I knew how he acted, knew he would never try to hurt someone on his crew. He only wanted to help.
"Good." Luffy pulled his hand back. His nose wrinkled as he looked at my arms. "Ne, you and Nami should go shopping next time we find a town. That's what girls like to do, right? All the blood on your sleeves can't be comfy."
Zoro sighed. "Not all girls like the same things as the witch," he said, probably thinking of Kuina. Nami hissed and hit him over the head.
Luffy was right though- the drying blood on my forearms made my sleeves crusty and uncomfortable. I must've bled a lot, for that much to be left after how long I'd spent under water. Although some of the crustiness may have come from the ocean salt- there were white flecks against the black stains. Bloodstained or not, my clothes were all still damp- with the odd exception of my bandanna, which had dried out unusually quickly for being made of cotton.
"So," Usopp asked hesitantly, "What do you do? Cause we already have a navigator, a swordsman, and the master sniper- me!"
Stars filled Luffy's eyes. Wow. That was funny in a comic, but creepy in real life. It was like his eyeballs had suddenly become little flashlights- they even brightened the cabin like lamps. Did people in this world have some sort of bioluminescence? "Are you a musician?"
"N- no. Well, I mean I played trombone in high school, but I wasn't very good and it was a long time ago… I've got a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in English and Biology, and I was working on a graduate degree in science communication." Four blank stares met my words. Right, most places in One Piece didn't seem to have anything resembling the school system I grew up with. "I read things- books, letters, comics, anything really- and find the hidden messages inside. Then I write things that change the way the people reading them think about the subject. I formulate arguments- and win, when I can make myself actually speak. I'm- not good at talking in front of lots of people." That would have to do. I had no idea how to explain biology to this crew; they'd just have to see as we went along.
Nami and Usopp made noises of understanding, but Luffy and Zoro's faces were still blank. If I'd been with my friends I would've groaned; as it was, I just buried my face in my knees. "Word fights. I win word fights."
"Oh! Cool!" Luffy bounced on the cot beside me. Zoro grunted; I peeked up at him in confusion.
"That's alright, but we're pirates." The swordsman rested one hand on the hilt of Wado Ichimonji. "We're risking our lives every day; what about when you get into something words can't get you out of? Can you fight?"
Zoro's voice didn't have the same unquestionable authority Luffy's did, but he still had something. It was like Sensei when he was asking if I really believed my katas were good enough for a tournament or grading- both a command and a challenge. I reacted on instinct, startling myself as my anxiety momentarily vanished.
"I'm a brown belt in karate and an earth degree in ninjutsu- I may not be the best, but I'm not useless." As soon as the words left my mouth, cold dread shot through my stomach. I bowed my head, trembling. "Sorry…"
"Good." Zoro's voice was abrupt, but kind- not upset with me for my sudden attack of attitude. "Don't know what those mean, but at least there's a spine in there somewhere under all that fainting."
"Ninjutsu…" Luffy mused. "Nin- ninja! Are you a ninja?"
"No." I uncurled so I was sitting properly on the cot, gripping the blanket tightly with one hand. Rough, heavy cotton, but soft- it was a similar fabric to my bandanna. Comforting. "I- ninjutsu-sensei and I didn't get along. Philosophical differences- he thought I was too samurai, and I thought he was too condescending when it came to other arts. So I stopped going."
"If you're not a ninja," Luffy whined, "What are you?"
Damn. I was too used to my world, where almost everyone knew what karate was. Fishmen would here, but apparently not many others. Forget schooling systems- basic terminology was different here. It was amazing that anyone even spoke English. If I didn't figure things out quick, I'd probably get someone killed by making some giant cultural mistake or missing a cue that would be obvious to the natives. "I'm a karate-ka; a martial artist. We mostly fight unarmed, but I can also use a staff or sais a bit."
"What're sais?" Luffy asked. Zoro answered him before I got a chance.
"Sword breakers. Small, a little pointy, steel. They've got tines on the sides to catch a blade, then if you twist them just right…" The swordsman made a motion like he was snapping something with his hands. I flinched and turned my eyes down to the blanket I was sitting on. It was a dull, undyed colour- very plain.
"I would never…"
"I know you wouldn't. We're on the same crew, aren't we? Sheesh, you're jumpier than Usopp."
Not that I had any sais on me anyway- just my little Swiss Army Knife. My forearms stung just thinking about it, making me wonder if I should give my captain the blade. It was what I would've done at home- given my knife to a friend for a while after a suicide attempt so I wasn't tempted to use it again too soon. But I couldn't, not here. The knife was a comforting weight in my pocket-and what if I needed it? I was a lot more likely to need to cut a rope or something here than I was in the life I'd come from. Reaching my left hand into my pocket, I brushed my fingers over cool metal and worn resin, rubbing my thumb across the raised logo.
"All that stuff's too complicated," Luffy whined, fiddling with the brim of his hat. "Can't I just call you a ninja? It's easier to remember, and it sounds cool."
I wanted to tell him no, that names were important; I wanted to explain the differences between bushido and the way of the ninja, the importance of dojo loyalty. But I couldn't bring myself to argue with someone I barely knew. Even if I could, Zoro was the only one who'd care anyway. My knuckles went white as I clutched the blanket. "Okay, I guess."
My tone must've said what I was really thinking though. I'd have to work on that; concealing my emotions was an essential skill, even from my own friends and family. As it was, I'd barely made it through some parts of this conversation without crying. Luffy shot me a look of disappointment, which only served to make me shrink further into myself.
"Jones… It's okay to tell us if you don't like something. If you don't wanna be called a ninja, just say. What was the word you used?"
"Karate-ka." I- that was more consideration than I could remember being shown in a long time. Even my fellow students at karate- people I usually thought of as friends- enjoyed teasing me by calling me a ninja when they knew I didn't like it.
Luffy patted me on the back. I flinched, but there was no room to pull away. My captain looked sad for a moment. Then his face lit up with a huge grin, like the one he always showed in the comics. It looked painful on an actual person's face, too wide to be real. But he was rubber, so I guess it didn't hurt him. "Ne, Jones, come on! We've gotta show you how to sail the Merry!"
Rubber fingers clasped over my wrist. I tried to tug free, but Luffy's grip was too strong. None of the escapes I'd learned would work on him either; a rubber man whose limbs could be tied in knots with no problem wasn't going to be bothered by joint locks. The bouncy captain yanked me off the bed, forcing me to stumble after him and hauling me up the ladder onto the deck. I bashed my shin on one of the ladder rungs, unable to keep up properly with Luffy's enthusiastic speed. Zoro, Usopp, and Nami followed us at a more reasonable pace.
My enthusiastic captain plopped me in front of the mainmast and spread his arms wide. "You probably know this already, but this is the Going Merry! She's our home! Merry's a…" Breaking off, Luffy looked at Nami with a frown. Of course he'd forget the specs of his own ship. If he was a D&D character, intelligence would be his dump stat.
Nami hit Luffy over the head with a rubbery smack before turning to explain to me. I shook my head. "He's right; I already know. The Going Merry is a caravel with a single cannon. Crew capacity twenty, or thirty if you're willing to sacrifice cargo room. She's approximately eighteen meters long, five meters across the beam, and with a cargo capacity of up to sixty tonnes. For some reason, she was built to steer by whipstaff rather than having a proper wheel like most large ships. You were told she's lateen rig, but since your foresail is square and your mizzen is lateen, Merry's more of a caravela redonda."
My new crew mates stared at me. "You know a lot about ships," Usopp said slowly.
I bit my lip. "Remember how I said this was all a story to me?" When everyone nodded, I continued. "Well, I really like this story. And when I really like something I tend to do a lot of research- about pirates and ships in this case. The history won't be relevant, but the ships and weapons… Plus my uncle's a sailor. He tried to teach me, but it didn't go well."
To people used to a world where the sea was life, livelihood, and travel, that was apparently a very odd concept. Even Zoro and Luffy looked at me funny. "Not well how?" the swordsman asked.
"You know how some ships have a crossbar called a boom that holds the sail and part of the rigging?" Everyone nodded. "It's called a boom because that's the sound it makes when it hits the side of my head."
"Shishishi!" Luffy fell over with a thump and rolled around on the deck as he laughed. Usopp and Nami looked horrified. Right, they were probably imagining a full-sized ship, not the little training dingy my uncle had tried to teach me in. My pride wouldn't let me tell them that the boom I was referring to was only as wide as my forearm though.
"How- how many times were you hit?" Usopp asked, voice shaking. I thought for a moment. Let's see… I'd crossed the bay six times, means I'd turned at least eleven times… Plus avoiding the rocks and my uncle's main boat…
"Twenty-seven times over the course of three hours. He finally gave up after that."
"Nice." Zoro nodded approvingly. Nami shook her head.
"I'm amazed you can remember your ships so well after that much brain damage."
Shrugging, I curled up at the base of the mast. I had a hard head, and the boom I was talking about wasn't the same size as they were probably thinking of. There hadn't been much- if any- brain damage from my aborted sailing lessons. Although I'd been hit in the head a lot at karate too… But even when Senpai Will threw me and my head bounced off the floor, I'd never gotten a concussion. Never even been knocked out. By my world's standards I was made of iron- which probably made me about average in this world. But with training…
"Do we have any scrap wood around here?" I asked quietly. Usopp paused in whatever he was doing- something with lines that I didn't know- and looked at me.
"Scrap wood- stuff that's too short or oddly shaped to use for repairs. Do we have any?"
Usopp shrugged. "I dunno. We'll look tonight; you can point out if you see anything like what you mean. What for?"
"Oh. Okay. Well, um, for now… Let's get you started learning the rigging, yeah?"
"Sure." I got up and walked over to the sniper. He began explaining the lines and knots used on the Merry and what to do to change the sails.
For the rest of the afternoon I followed Usopp around as he explained and had me practice. The ropes were heavy, rough hemp- my weapon calluses weren't enough to protect my hands. Blisters grew and popped, stinging my palms. I ignored the slight pain, though I checked periodically to makes sure there were no splinters or fibres getting stuck in the wounds. Eventually though, Usopp noticed that some of the lines were becoming spotted with dark blood.
"Gah! Jones, are your arms bleeding through the bandages?"
"No." I showed the sniper my hands. So much red, raw flesh; they dripped like the time I'd skinned them biking when I was little. Usopp looked sickened and confused.
"You… You've really never sailed before. What did you do for a living?"
I shrugged. "Wrote. Fought. Gardened. Poured concrete."
Sighing, the sniper pulled me to the galley and got out more bandages to wrap my hands. "Your hands will toughen up soon, but why didn't you tell me you were hurt? We don't expect you to push yourself that hard yet; you're new, we don't know what you can do. Even Luffy won't be mad if you stop cause you're injured."
"But I know what's coming." I stared down at my hands and bit my lip. "Even if I'm not supposed to tell… I know that I need to work hard; I don't want to be a burden. And you shouldn't waste bandages on me- look, my hands already stopped bleeding."
"Well, yeah, but you'll just tear them open again if you try and do anything without wrapping them." Hah, I was right. The quick healing that my family doctor commented on was nothing out of the ordinary here.
Usopp didn't have me do anything more on the lines, but I followed him around for the rest of the afternoon anyway, watching what he did, holding things for him, and fetching tools. At least, until Nami came up and tapped me on the shoulder. "Jones, since you're new, it's your turn to cook."
The navigator shoved me gently towards the galley. Sanji's domain, or it would be in about a week, if I had my timelines right. Not that Oda had ever elaborated on how much travel time there was to get from place to place… I bit my lip as I entered the holy land. Hopefully I wouldn't screw this up too badly. But damn, without a recipe…
Well, we had buckwheat noodles, eggs, fresh fish, carrots, celery, and spices. I could make ramen with that. I set some eggs to boiling as I assembled the flavours I wanted. Ginger, garlic, salt, jalapeno pepper… We didn't have soya sauce and I didn't know how to make it, but we did have sake and miso. It wouldn't be exactly the same as the ramen I made in university, but it would be close enough.
An hour and a half later- I'm a slow cook- I opened the galley door and banged a spoon against a pot. Everyone was busy and wouldn't have heard me if I just spoken normally. When the clanging failed to attract any attention, I sighed. They were really gonna make me do this, weren't they? Well, fine. Raising my voice this soon after an episode was hard- painful- but there was no other way to make people hear me. I cleared my throat and let fly with my best Ma Kettle impersonation.
"COME AND GET IT!"
Zoro- the only one I could see- jumped so high I was surprised he didn't go over the rail. Luffy fell down from somewhere in the rigging; Nami and Usopp ran down from the poop deck. Everyone stared at me in confusion. Then Luffy burst out laughing.
"Shishishi! Jones sure can be loud!"
My face heated up; I stared at the deck. "Sorry… You didn't hear me when I banged the pots…"
"No, it's good." Zoro shook his head and smirked. "You need to be loud on this crew. You used to teach at your dojo, didn't you?"
I nodded as we went into the galley. "Sensei had me do warm-ups and work katas with the kids sometimes."
Usopp wrinkled his nose as we all sat down to eat. "Well, whatever this is, it certainly smells… interesting."
Luffy bopped him over the head. "It's ramen, dummy! Although it smells different than the last ramen I had." My captain poked his dinner with his chopsticks for a minute before picking some up and taking a bite. Then his face turned purple.
"Something wrong?" When Luffy didn't answer, Zoro took his own bite. He turned purple as well. The swordsman stopped Nami and Usopp before they could eat anything. "Don't. Just… don't. If you do, you'll be sorry."
What? What was wrong with my ramen? I took a bite, confused. Sure, it tasted different than what I'd made in the past, but it was okay. I looked up at my crew mates. Luffy and Zoro finally returned to normal colouring, the former gasping for breath.
"So spicy!" Luffy immediately gulped down water. "It hurts!"
Zoro nodded. "Jones- what's with all the ginger? It's burning my… Well, my everything."
Huh. It didn't taste that bad to me. Maybe a little on the gingery side, but not what I would call spicy. Nami and Usopp took small, cautious bites, but quickly frowned and pushed their bowls away. The sniper looked at me with something akin to awe. Nami just stared at the ramen with disbelief.
"I've never tasted food that could be used as a weapon before," Usopp whispered. "It's like my nose is dying. I bet someone who ate the whole bowl would be sick. Or maybe burn their throat out. It's like eating ginger fire."
"Really? It's that bad?" I was offended, but couldn't show it. Instead I stared at the table- I was starting to get the feeling I'd be intimately acquainted with the grain patterns of every part of the Merry in short order. The table actually had one whorl that looked kind of like a pineapple. "Sorry…"
Nami sighed. "I guess I'll cook, since I don't trust any of the men with it. Honestly though, what kind of girl are you? I'm not a great chef, but I could at least make something edible by the time I was your age."
"My- my age?" I couldn't help it- anxiety be damned, I started laughing. "Sesehihihihihi!" I couldn't stop, couldn't breathe. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy as I sat there choking on my giggles. Eventually Zoro reached over to pat me on the back. Heavy thumps encouraged my lungs to calm down.
"What was that all about?" Usopp asked once they were sure I wasn't going to pass out from laughter. I bit my lip and looked at Nami.
"Um… I'm used to people thinking I'm younger than I am, but really? When you were my age? Sorry Nami, but you've never been my age yet. You're eighteen; I'm twenty-three. Well… Almost twenty-four now."
"What?" The navigator stared at me, eyes flicking between my face and my chest. "But… You look like a kid. Fifteen or sixteen maybe."
"I know… People tell me that all the time. It's annoying. My grandma's neighbors thought I was still in high school, and when I went to the bar with my friends, I got carded by someone younger than me!"
Blank stares. I sighed and drew into myself. "Where I come from, you're not supposed to sell alcohol to people under a certain age."
"No, that's a thing here too," Nami assured me. "Not that it stops many people. I think we're more surprised at the idea of you trying to go to a bar."
"Well… Two of the times I had a panic attack, so I guess… But I was fine when I went with Senpai Tom. As long as I have a friend with me, I'm alright." I rubbed my bandaged hands nervously. "You might see later, depending on…" Depending on how much I trust you and whether I feel like you'll like me."I- I'm not always like this. Today- yesterday?- was just a really bad day."
Nami looked like she wanted to say something, but instead she shrugged and went to the stove to make something quick. Usopp and Luffy were confused; Zoro frowned. The swordsman's body language said on no uncertain terms that he had something to talk to me about later. I wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing, although it was nerve-wracking either way.
While Nami cooked, I continued to eat my ramen. I was used to flavours like that, and I couldn't let it go to waste. When I reached over and absconded with Usopp's unfinished bowl, I was met with raised eyebrows. I shrugged. "The taste doesn't bother me. I made it, after all. It's not like I don't taste things while I'm making them. And we shouldn't waste food at sea."
Luffy nodded at my comment about not wasting food, that being a general philosophy of his- even if his definition of "not wasting" usually meant eating it all at once, rather than taking rationing into account. Usopp looked disturbed. "That just makes it worse! You're used to eating this?"
"I guess? I mean, I had to cook for myself all through my undergrad, so it was probably usually like this." I slurped up that bowl and reached for the next unfinished one- Nami's.
"And you can't taste that? You're sure- you're not being dissolved from the inside out by an unholy amount of ginger?"
"Don't think so?" Why was I so hungry? I grabbed Zoro's abandoned bowl next. Maybe it had something to do with the blood loss? "Sorry…"
"It's okay!" Usopp assured me hurriedly. "Weird and scary, but okay. You don't need to keep apologizing. I just can't believe it- you must not have any taste buds."
That was possible. I'd always known I could eat things so salty they made my dad gag- although doing so made my heartrate speed up and go all funny for a few minutes, so it probably wasn't a good idea. The rush I always got from doing it was interesting though. As for the apologizing… Reaching for the last bowl- Luffy's- I tried and failed to look Usopp in the eye. Ended up looking slightly to the left of his head, which was pretty good by my standards.
"Sorry. I can't help apologizing so much. I'm Canadian; it's in our national DNA."
My stomach hurt- I'd eaten a little too much. But with how much blood I'd lost, I probably needed it. Tired, I fell asleep on the galley table while my crew mates were having a proper dinner that Nami had made. I wasn't sure what it was, but before I drifted off, I smelled chicken.
Callused hands shook me awake. I peeled my face off the table and blinked up at Usopp, wood grains imprinted on my cheek. The sniper smiled. "I know you're tired, but did you still want to look for a, er, training board before bed?"
"Eh? Oh, yeah." I stood and followed the sniper down into the hold. There wasn't a lot down there- wouldn't be until after we went to Loguetown. I was only able to find one piece of wood to fit my needs- square, about two centimeters thick, thirty centimeters on a side. It wasn't enough for actual training, but it was enough for me to test myself. I needed to know if it was just people in this world who were tougher than I was used to dealing with, or if everything would be. This wood would help me figure out how much I needed to step up in the way of training.
As we were leaving, I spotted something else useful. A long, thick dowel- almost three centimeters in diameter and the perfect length to fit in under my armpit. It was smooth and well-sanded, a light coloured and heavy wood. I pointed it out to Usopp. "Um… Do you need that for anything?"
"What? No, not that I can think of. You can have it."
"Thanks." I grabbed the dowel and swung it around a bit to test. It wasn't quite the same as my bo staff from karate, but it was close enough. Solid beech- nice. It wouldn't break easily then. I just needed a strap or holster of some kind to carry it, if I wanted to be armed at all times. Or… I supposed I could always just use it as a walking stick. Or maybe a blind man's cane if I took my glasses off.
Heading up to the cabins, I was about to go into the girls' room for more sleep when I ran into Zoro. I clutched at my necklace, jumping back and kicking myself for not noticing him standing there. The swordsman's arms were folded. To a lot of people that might seem threatening, but for me it was a relief- if someone's arms are folded, it takes them a fraction of a second longer to draw a weapon or attack. In my experience, folded arms meant a person was grumpy and closed off, but harmless. Didn't necessarily mean I could trust them or that they liked me though.
"You said you had a bad day," Zoro began, gesturing towards my bandaged arms. "I saw while Nami was fixing you up- there's other scars there. Very faint- a small, fine blade held by a steady hand. How often do those kinds of bad days happen?"
"Why does it matter?" I mumbled, burying my chin in my bandanna. Zoro shot me a hard look.
"If you're gonna be on this crew, it matters. You can't endanger everyone by losing it in the middle of a fight or something."
As harsh and gruff as he sounded, Zoro was probably just trying to show he cared- or was willing to care, as he hadn't known me long enough yet to trust me properly. Knowing that didn't keep me from flinching and rubbing my arms. But it was still better than a lot of the people back home who claimed they were trying to help. At least he hadn't said "Be happier," or something along those lines. Understanding that I had issues and trying to work around them for the sake of the crew was more productive than telling me my anxiety would go away if I socialized and smiled more.
"They're… frequent. Not regular though- I can go months without an episode usually. It's- the old scars, they're from years ago, most of them."
Zoro raised a grassy eyebrow. "And the burns on your hands? Don't try to pass them off as cooking after what happened with supper."
It took me a minute to figure out what Zoro meant. Right, tiny, almost invisible flecks of pink and white scar tissue on the back of both hands. "But they are from cooking. I was the fry cook at a local restaurant the last few summers to make money for school. Splashed myself with hot grease a lot."
Something about my tone must've convinced him. The swordsman sighed and unfolded his arms, running a hand through his hair. "Look Jones, I'm not trying to scare you. The last thing I need is to deal with you passing out again. But we need to know what to expect from you. Are you gonna break down and panic in a fight? Are you gonna throw your life away because something triggers one of these bad days? If you're gonna be one of us, we need to be able to rely on you."
"You can." I raised my chin stubbornly, staring at a point somewhere over Zoro's head. I was shaking inside, but there was no whiteness encroaching on my vision yet. "My anxiety doesn't have anything to do with fighting. Just talking." I really, really wanted to break down and cry now, but not in front of Zoro. Maybe once he left me alone I should head somewhere else for a while before trying to sleep. Yeah, that sounded good.
"If you're sure…" Zoro sounded dubious. "Just remember, I'm keeping an eye on you. And Jones…"
"I know you've got a knife in your pocket." The swordsman turned and made his way to the men's cabin.
Yep, I needed a good cry. As soon as Zoro was out of sight, I snuck up on deck and found myself a shadowy corner by the rail. Curling up into a ball, I let go of everything- my control, my fear, my confusion. My tears felt hot on my face. Or maybe the air was just cold? I always had a hard time telling that. But my hiccuping breaths were misting in front of me, so it must be a cold night. Of course, with how much I was shaking from emotion, I couldn't tell if I was shivering.
Even once I'd started crying, I was careful to keep quiet. I didn't want to disturb anyone's sleep. My eyes soon began to burn, my head throbbing behind them. Liquid snot ran from my nose, mingling with the tears. But despite the pain and grossness, it felt good. Crying was a release of pressure I so rarely allowed myself. Yes, I'd definitely needed this.
A couple of hours passed before I uncurled and stood. The trembling and anxiety had been replaced- for now- with an achy calm and determination. I knew they would be back, but until then… Until then I could handle this. I knew this world better than I knew my own- that's what happens when you're too scared of your peers to go out, and stay home reading manga every evening instead. I could use that knowledge to change things, for my favourite characters and myself. I could have fun, free from worry about law or my mother. After all, I was already a pirate, so even my existence was illegal. Maybe I could even save Ace, if I played my cards right.
And the butterfly effect? Screw it. I was a writer; asking "what if?" was my job.
Of course, this newfound resolve wasn't the same as an absence of anxiety. Halfway to the girls' cabin I changed directions, instead heading for the cargo hold. I didn't think I'd be able to sleep in the same room as Nami- as much as I knew about her, she was still a stranger personally. So instead of my cot, I pushed a couple crates together and grabbed some spare canvas for a blanket. It wasn't very comfortable, but I'd slept in worse places. At least the Going Merry's hold was relatively warm and didn't have any drafts. I could deal with the discomfort better than I could deal with sharing a room with someone I didn't really know.