Pathos: an appeal to the emotions of the listener
I snapped awake to the sound of pounding feet and shouting voices. Not that I could hear what they were saying. It took me a moment to remember where I was- the rocking of the ship and the near perfect blackness of the cargo hold disoriented me. Then I remembered. Right- failed suicide, Straw Hats, makeshift bed. I rolled off my crates and ran to the ladder. There must be something major going on, with all the pounding feet and shouting. Climbing up as quickly as I could, I was blinded by the light as I emerged onto the deck.
"Wha- what's going on?" I asked blearily, looking around. Everything was fuzzy- I'd forgotten my glasses down in the hold. Oops.
Usopp stopped beside me. Dark hands reached out and grabbed my shoulders, ignoring when I flinched. "Guys, it's alright! I found her!"
"Please let go," I squeaked as the rest of my crew mates appeared one by one. The sniper either ignored me or didn't hear me. It was very uncomfortable.
"Where were you?" Zoro demanded, folding his arms. "Nami woke us all up in a panic cause she couldn't find you."
"In the cargo hold."
"Why?" Four voices spoke in near-perfect unison. Usopp shook me a little. I frowned.
"I- I can't sleep if I'm in a room with strangers. So I slept there. Sorry…" Why was Usopp still holding onto me? It was making me very uncomfortable. I stepped back and turned to the side, dropping into a low stance. That was enough to get Usopp to let go- he hadn't actually been holding very tight, so I didn't need to go further into the technique.
"Don't- don't grab me. Please. I don't like it."
Usopp nodded. Then Luffy bounced over, stopping right on the edge of my personal bubble. I knew from the manga that he usually would've come closer- he seemed a very touchy-feely captain- so he could probably sense my discomfort. The rubber captain sounded sad when he spoke. "Jones… Tell us if you're gonna do that, kay? We were worried."
"Why? I promised I'd stay, didn't I? You don't need to worry about me; I keep my promises." I bit my lip and stared down at the deck.
"You said you'd stay; you didn't say you'd stay alive."
I was surprised- Luffy wasn't the sort I'd imagined pulling the "exact words" clause on someone. It was something that came naturally to me, between my English degree and my need to conceal things- I always left myself a loophole. Luffy was the first to call me out on it. He was a low INT, high WIS character, I guess.
"Fine then. What- what do you want me to say? That I promise not to intentionally seek death unless doing so would serve some purpose?"
"No." Luffy leaned closer, making me uncomfortable again. Rubber fingers gripped my chin gently and forced me to look up and meet his eyes. "You're doing it again- leaving spaces. If you know what you say you know… You know what I asked Ace. That's the promise I want from you."
"But… I can't. Everyone dies eventually. A fight, illness, old age… I can't promise that I won't die." I rubbed my forearms, making the healing cuts sting.
"Then don't promise me that you won't die. Promise me that you'll live."
I trembled. That was way too much. It reminded me of when the Straw Hats saved Robin- except that at that point, they actually knew her. "Why?"
Luffy groaned. "Not again. I keep telling you, you're mine. My karate-ka; my crew. You said you know about us. So… you know that once I decide someone's one of us, I don't let go. You're my family now." Dark eyes bored into mine, searching for something. I couldn't tell if he found what he was looking for.
The worst part was, I knew he was right. I could remember laughing at Luffy's logic, his stubborn determination to have a pirate hunter he'd barely even heard of as a member of his crew; his refusal of Sanji's refusal had always been one of my favourite parts of the series. And soon I would be getting to see it in person. Still, Luffy logic was much less amusing when it was aimed at me. I couldn't quite understand- why would he want me? His crew didn't need me. Unless… Zoro had needed to be physically rescued. Nami needed someone to save her island from Arlong. Usopp needed to find his courage. Sanji needed a kick to chase after his dream, and someone to save him from his psychopathic birth family. Chopper needed someone to tell him it was good to be a monster. Robin needed a place where she belonged. Franky needed a crew worthy of his ship of dreams. Brook needed a family that could tie his past to his future. Maybe Luffy didn't choose crew mates because of what he needed- maybe he chose the ones who needed him.
"Okay. I swear on my honour as a practitioner of karate-do that I will not go seeking for death, and that I'll do my best to live in the time that's been given to me. Now can I go get my glasses? I forgot them in the hold."
Nodding, Luffy released me. I scurried away, shaking. As I moved, I could feel Zoro's eyes boring into my back. Of course. He would recognize that sort of vow; it was bushido, the way of the warrior. I wasn't sure if that meant I should be careful of him or not. It shouldn't… Although he might hold me to higher standards, knowing that we had similar backgrounds that way. That was worrying. Zoro's idea of high standards could be… I shuddered.
By the time I'd retrieved my glasses, Usopp was making breakfast in the galley. It smelled like eggs and bacon. Without much time before food was ready, I stood in a corner of the deck and played with my new staff. Needed to get used to the differences from the one I was used to. I started with a few simple blocking and striking drills, then moved up to various spins. This kept me occupied enough that I didn't notice Zoro wander over. He was surprisingly quiet for someone with no stealth training that I knew of.
"So, what is karate, anyway? I've never heard of an art that used sais and a bo staff."
"It's primarily an unarmed art, actually." I stopped my final spin prematurely- I could feel the angle was off. If I'd gone through with it, my staff would've slipped past my fingers and hit Zoro. "We learn staff because you can pick up a big stick just about anywhere, and sais because they're a traditional weapon from where our art originated. I'm not actually very good with weapons."
"Then you should practice more."
"I know that." Sighing, I automatically tucked my staff behind and under my arm, semi-concealing it. "But it's hard, without Sensei… There's a lot of techniques I haven't been shown yet."
Zoro shrugged. Then a shark-like smirk slowly grew on his face. "How about a spar after breakfast? Show us what you can do."
My blood ran cold. Sparring with a member of the Monster Trio? Oh no, oh no, no, no. That was a good way to get my ass handed to me. Pain and humiliation. But Zoro was using his Sensei voice again, the suggestion both a command and a challenge. My traitor mouth ignored everything my instincts and memories were saying. "Sure!"
The smirk grew into a feral grin. Tabarnak, what was I getting myself into?
Usopp called everyone in for breakfast before my common sense could panic too much. I almost got hit by a rocketing Luffy as the captain rushed for the galley. Sitting down, I waited with baited breath to see if the scene from every fanfiction I'd ever read was about to play out. It did. Rubber limbs snuck and stretched across the table, snatching at unwatched strips of bacon. I hadn't seen it last night, but that was probably because the captain hadn't liked my ramen. And then I'd fallen asleep when everyone else was eating…
It took a minute before Luffy tried to steal from me- maybe because he wasn't used to me being there. Which meant that by the time rubber fingers were encroaching on my territory, I'd gotten over my shock at the madhouse that was breakfast. And as my high school friends had learned long ago, you don't mess with my food. Especially bacon. I grabbed the creeping hand and squeezed. While it didn't hurt him, Luffy looked at me with shock.
"You… caught me?"
"Yes." I swallowed a bite of eggs and scowled at the point between Luffy's eyes. "Captain… Do not touch my food without permission. I will know, and I will make you regret it." To prove my point, I tied Luffy's fingers in a knot. And not one of the sailing knots Usopp had taught me the day before either- a complicated decorative beast I'd used for making jewellery in the past. My captain stared at the resulting Celtic Cross in confused frustration.
"Joooones." Dark eyes went shiny with tears; rubber lips quivered. But I'd babysat too many times to be caught by the puppy dog face- Luffy may have been cute and childish, but he had nothing on a set of seven-year-old twins I knew. Or my cat. Rusty had begging for food down to a science.
"Not gonna work Captain. I don't give in to whining."
Usopp whistled. "Mood whiplash. There's that spine Zoro was looking for yesterday."
I frowned at the sniper. "Food is serious business. Especially meat and sweets."
Luffy nodded agreement and understanding, and began trying to figure out how to untie his fingers. I went back to my breakfast, not making eye contact with anyone but keeping an eye out in case my captain decided that my threats just meant he needed to be sneakier. He didn't, at least not today. I was the first one finished. Cleaning my dishes and putting them away, I left to stretch and warm up before the spar I'd foolishly agreed to with Zoro.
Deep breaths; sweet tension as I moved slowly from one position to the next. By the time the rest of the crew emerged from the galley I was lost in the strain, fully focused. My feet were spread as far apart as I could- not a full split, but close- with my elbows resting on the ground, pushing my torso and hips back to increase the stretch. My legs ached and pulled; my arms burned from supporting my weight in this awkward position. I loved it.
"You ready?" Zoro unsheathed one of his swords. Not Wado Ichimonji- one of the burners that had no name. He probably didn't want to damage her if something happened in the spar. I snorted. As if could do anything that would harm a legendary blade.
"Yep!" I definitely didn't feel ready, but my mouth was a traitor again. Just like the day after my orange belt grading- Sensei asked me who I wanted to fight and I said I'd face anyone he wanted. The result was a swift loss against a blue belt and a black belt, my first time fighting one against two. I expected this to be at least as bad. Oh well, at least I didn't have to worry about controlling myself; Zoro was so high above me, I doubted I'd be able to do more than bruise him no matter how hard I hit.
Nami, Usopp, and Luffy took seats on barrels and the rail to watch. Joy. Because what everyone needs when they're about to be on the wrong end of a curbstomp is a bunch of people watching. I took a deep breath and removed my glasses, handing them to Usopp. If he was gonna use me getting my ass kicked as entertainment, he could at least make sure my eyes didn't get broken. With everything blurry, my anxiety about the fight eased up. Just like a tournament.
I settled into my fighting stance- right foot back at forty-five degrees, left hand open in a blade, right hand a fist at my hip. Then Zoro moved. Fast! I barely had time to slip to the side, turning to bring my left hand down on the side of Zoro's neck. Thick muscle and poor leverage kept my strike from doing anything noticeable. My instincts screamed for me to get away from the sword, but that was a bad idea. Zoro was taller than me, and his katana only increased his reach. I needed to be on the inside, where it was hard for him to turn the blade on me and I could target his wrists.
Shifting my weight back and rotating on the ball of my right foot, I snapped my left up into a low roundhouse kick, aiming at Zoro's ribs. He blocked with the flat of his blade, a loud tong ringing out as steel and bone met. Pain shot up my leg. It was worse than a shin-to-shin block against Sensei Alex; I could feel the bruise forming as I put my foot down. But because of the aforementioned blocks, I was used to some level of pain that way.
It didn't hinder me as I shifted again, throwing all my weight and a surprising amount of momentum into a reverse punch to the swordsman's solar plexus. That one slipped past Zoro's guard; because I was so close, he was having a hard time maneuvering his sword. Excellent. Except for the fact that my punch didn't do what I'd intended. If I'd hit someone like that in my world, they would've had the wind knocked out of them at the very least. I'd knocked men far larger than Zoro backwards before; Sensei had told me never to hit someone my size like that for fear I'd do serious damage.
My current opponent grunted and twitched a little. There was no significant change in his breathing or position. I'd expected that logically, but it still hurt my pride. I was too used to being a big fish in a small pond… Frustrated, I tried what Sensei called the Rabid Chicken Approach- rapid, less powerful punches meant to distract and annoy. Zoro ignored it completely, tanking the blows in order to slam the kashira of his katana into my head. It knocked me back, sending me staggering across the deck as I tried to keep my feet. Black spots danced across my vision. Oww… My skull throbbed. The worst part was that I knew I had a bad habit of forgetting to guard my head, but I'd never managed to change it.
And now I was at the perfect distance for Zoro to maneuver his sword. Tabarnak. Well, at least we were on the same crew, so I knew he wasn't actually trying to kill me. I was immediately on the defensive, focused on nothing but staying out of the way. This mostly consisted of skipping backwards and edging sideways, tracing an ever-larger circle around the deck. Zoro was advancing too fast for me to try to block or disarm him. If I even could; I'd never seen the swordsman drop his blade in the story.
This was pathetic- I was pathetic. I knew I couldn't beat Zoro, but I'd at least expected to put up a decent showing. At this rate, I'd be relegated to the Weakling Trio with Usopp and Nami. I refused! Punching people helped me control my anxiety; I needed to be a frontline fighter. Scowling, I lunged in at Zoro, taking a glancing blow to the arm as I closed the distance. He cut through my sleeve and sliced a shallow line on my shoulder. It burned; but my forearms were starting to sting from trapped sweat and my leg still ached, so I automatically tried to suppress the pain and keep going. I could practically feel the wash of endorphins- although that may have been a placebo effect. It helped that I could only focus properly on one source of pain at a time, and my leg was taking priority since I kept standing on it.
"TAI!" I was right in Zoro's face when I kiaied. He blinked in surprise. At the same instant, I thrust a front kick into his stomach as hard as I could. And… knocked myself back?! Come on! It was like kicking a concrete wall! Forget fighting Zoro, I should be climbing him!
Then came the sweep of a katana through my base leg, knocking me down. Cold steel rested against my forehead. "Do you yield?"
And he'd been toying with me the whole time- only one sword, no bandanna, a small smile on his face. This was humiliating. I hung my head. "I yield…"
"Good." Zoro sheathed his sword and looked at Luffy as Usopp handed me my glasses back. "So Captain, what do you think?"
"Jones needs more bandages again." Luffy picked his nose. Nami sighed and went to the galley for the first-aid kit. Not that the sword wound was bleeding much- although it was probably a good idea to keep from getting anything in it, since we didn't have a doctor yet. Dealing with an infection without Chopper would be… unpleasant.
I was standing by the time Nami returned, and I bandaged my shoulder on my own. Zoro stood beside me as the others started getting to the daily business of sailing. "I can't help with your art much, but I can tell you what I saw from an opponent's perspective."
"Eh?" Despite knowing he'd grown up in a dojo, I hadn't expected that from Zoro. Mostly because he never acted like the senseis and senpais I knew. But from his skill levels he would be at least equivalent to a second or third degree black belt from my world- and that's just his technical skill, not his monster strength- although I had no idea what rank he actually had. "I… I'd like that. Thanks."
He nodded. "Mostly, you're weird. Very precise, even when you're angry- and it's easy to tell, so don't try to tell me you weren't getting frustrated. You fight like you're used to taking the hits and facing opponents who are smaller and faster than you, even though you're pretty small yourself. Guard your head. And stop being so surprised when things don't go the way you expected. I don't know what you thought that one punch would do to me, but there was a noticeable hesitation afterwards. Overall… you think too much. Not a good idea in a fight."
Sensei had told me most of those things before. I bowed my head. "Thank you…"
"Do you need help with training? I know you asked Usopp to help you find that board…"
"Not right now, but maybe later." First, I needed to figure out exactly how far behind I was, coming from a different world. Usopp and Nami seemed to regard some of the things that had made me a freak back home as perfectly normal, so I maybe wasn't as badly off as some people would've been. But if I wanted to be on the front lines, I needed to do better than "perfectly normal."
Oh well, I always worked best when I had a challenge. Moving forward, I could outrun most of the bad feelings.
I tried to tail Usopp again and learn more about sailing the Going Merry, but the sniper told me to give it a day to give my hands a chance to grow some new skin. Nami didn't want my help with navigating either- I think I made her uncomfortable, with her knowing that I knew her past, and the struggles that she had with Arlong. Disturbing Zoro during his nap was a big no, and Luffy was busy hanging upside down from the figurehead. And of course, I wasn't allowed to cook. My captain had actually ordered me not to touch the stove when I said I was bored and thinking of making cookies.
So with nothing else to do, I trained. I started with the basics- kihon- all my stances, punches, kicks, and blocks in various combinations. Then I moved on to kihon ido and kata. It was too bad I didn't have a partner- I would've liked to work ippon kumite, waza, and self-defence as well. But even with only being able to practice half my art, it took me over an hour to get through everything. I was sweating by the end. My mind was pleasantly clear though- mushin, Sensei always called it, no mind.
And then I had something to test. Claiming two barrels, I laid my board across the space between them and placed my hand on top. Fingertips on wood, palm raised. I took a deep breath and concentrated through the board, then snapped my hand down with a flick of my wrist. No significant muscle, a focus break. I couldn't use them in fights yet, but I'd probably need to in the future. Too bad I only had the one board. It was harder than when I'd done it in class, but it still worked. Wood broke under my movement with a tremendous crack. My bandaged hand burned from the impact.
The noise made everyone jump. Luffy fell off the figurehead and splashed into the water; Zoro was over the rail before I could blink, fishing the captain out. Nami and Usopp stared at me for a moment. Then the navigator bounded down from the poop deck to hit me over the head.
"What was that for?! Warn us or something next time! You made me smear my map!"
Oww… Nami hit as hard as Kohai Naomi. Huh, and their names were only one letter apart. Did that count as irony? And with the hit I'd taken from Zoro earlier… My skull throbbed. I rubbed my head, staring at the deck. Naomi was the only girl I knew back home who was close to me in strength, and here we had one of the weakest members of the crew matching her easily. Oh yeah, I had a long way to go.
"Sorry… I didn't expect it to be so loud."
Nami sighed and rubbed her temples. "What was the point in that anyway? Now we can't use that wood."
"Actually," Usopp supplied, "It was too short for us to use in the first place. That's why I was fine with Jones taking it."
"Training. The point is training." A part of my mind wondered if Nami ever painted her nails, since she wore sandals all the time. I traced the grain on part of the deck with my foot. "I'm used to fighting where I come from, but things are different here. I have to catch up."
Nami opened her mouth, paused, then closed it again. Probably remembering the fights she'd seen Zoro and Luffy get into already, and what kind of level those were on. Impulsively, I reached out and grabbed her wrist, pulling her away from Usopp so he couldn't hear. The contact made both of us uncomfortable, so I dropped it quickly and kept my voice low.
"You- you don't have to worry Nami. In the story… If you let them help, they can. Luffy, Zoro, Usopp, Sanji… They can beat Arlong and his officers. They can free you."
Fear. Nami stared at me in horror, light brown eyes going even paler. As with Luffy's star eyes… How did that work? Trembling, the navigator took a step away from me before she realized that moving too far would allow everyone else to hear what we were saying. "You… I'd ask how you know, but you'd just cite your story about a comic book. How- do you know everything?"
"Not everything. A lot though. I know the events of people's pasts that shaped them most. I know a big chunk of our route. I know most of our allies and enemies for probably the next three or four-ish years- depends on travel time and how you count it- and how each of the fights will turn out if I don't interfere. And I know Luffy will become king of the pirates." Smiling, I glanced up at the flag. "That last one isn't from the story- it wasn't over yet. But if anyone can do it, it's him. Sorry… I don't mean to make you uncomfortable. I just thought knowing might help."
Nami looked away, producing the odd effect of two people both trying to avoid each other's gaze. "I- I want to believe you, but I can't. Maybe… If things turn out like you say, then we'll see. Until then… Please, just leave me alone."
"Okay. Sorry." The navigator took off, back to her maps. I didn't push- while I hadn't been through anything near as bad as what Arlong put Nami through, I was familiar with the feeling of wanting to get away from strangers who knew things that were supposed to be secret. And being the stranger with that knowledge wasn't pleasant either. It made me feel guilty and unclean. I retreated to the gun deck, rubbing my hands together to try and get rid of the feeling.
A distraction appeared before too long, thankfully. Grey and jagged, a rock on the horizon. I could barely see it through the gun hatch. To everyone else it was probably just an obstacle to be noted, but I remembered that rock. Plot significance. But why had Usopp shot it? Umm… Right, he and Luffy been practicing with the cannon, figuring out how it worked. So why weren't they now? The sniper was up on deck doing something with one of the lines instead, and the captain was perched atop the mainsail, singing under his breath as he tied something in a knot. Was it because I was hiding on the gun deck and they didn't want to make me uncomfortable? Tabarnak.
Since apparently me even just standing in the wrong place could change things, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Don't get me wrong- when I said "screw the butterfly effect," I meant it. But that didn't mean I wanted potential allies like Johnny and Yosaku to die- and their own stupidity would certainly kill them if they weren't rescued. Honestly, you'd think that in a world made of oceans and pirates, scurvy would be as well studied as pressure points in martial arts.
Everything I knew about loading a cannon came from old pirate movies, so it was slow going. The cannonball wasn't any heavier than a normal shot put ball from my world; whatever was different about biology and physics here, the basic elements seemed about the same. Come to think of it, if they weren't I probably would have died from the air not containing oxygen or something. Oh well, moot point. Eight pounds of iron was still eight pounds of iron. But it took me a little while to figure out how to actually get eight pounds of iron- plus gunpowder- into the cannon, as the process was rarely shown clearly in movies. By the time I'd managed, my bandages were black with dust.
And aiming? Don't make me laugh. My glasses were a centimeter thick; when I'd gone to summer camp as a child, I'd managed to shoot a bow and arrow ninety degrees to the right of where I was going for. I didn't expect to hit the rock, or even come anywhere near it.
The air exploded after I lit the cannon. My ears rang; I jumped backwards and stumbled over a coil of rope. Right, standing next to a big gun without hearing protection was a bad idea. I couldn't hear anything but the ringing. I saw the cannonball when it splashed down though, well to the left of the rock. Damn, not close enough. I didn't want to hit Johnny and Yosaku, but I did need them to think they were under attack so Johnny would come after the Merry and we could pick up the well-meaning but incompetent swordsmen.
So despite the poor idea, I loaded the cannon again. What can I say? Wisdom is my dump stat. The barrel was still hot; I was lucky that my powder-blackened bandages didn't light on fire. Or worse, that the cannon didn't go off prematurely while I was reloading. Not that I knew if that was even possible, but it seemed likely. The air exploded again; my ears intensified their ringing. But at least this time I kept me footing.
I still missed the rock, but this time the cannonball splashed down much closer, sending a wave washing over the craggy ridges. Good. Johnny and Yosaku should be fully soaked and angry now. I raced up on deck to see what happened next.
With my ears still ringing, I didn't hear Usopp come up behind me- which led to my spinning and punching him in the chest when he tapped me on the shoulder. This was slightly more effective than punching Zoro; the sniper actually staggered back and winced, rubbing his chest and taking a couple deep breaths to steady himself. Still, compared to what would've happened if I'd punched an Usopp-equivalent in my world… Yeah, no.
"Sorry." I couldn't actually hear my own voice, nor could I hear what Usopp said in reply. Trying to read his lips didn't work too well either. I'm pretty sure he wasn't trying to tell me that he was fishing for slippers.
"Can't hear you." It's possible that I was shouting at him, given the look on Usopp's face. I shook my head and rubbed my ears, hoping the ringing would go away. It did- slowly. The sniper waited politely until I indicated that I could hear again.
"What were you doing?" he demanded with much waving of arms. Yes, that made more sense than fishing for slippers. I wiped my hands on my pants in a futile attempt to get the gunpowder off.
"We have a cannon. I never really saw it used in the comics, so I wanted to know if it even worked."
"Yeah, okay, but shooting things is my job! I'm the sniper!"
"Gunner," I said quietly. "I know sniper is your fighting style, and you're good at it, but the proper term for the officer in charge of cannons and long-range combat on a pirate ship is the gunner, or master gunner. Not that the Straw Hats ever used proper officer titles…" There were too few of them for that to be viable, after all.
"Huh?" Usopp stopped waving his arms. "Master gunner? Heh, I like it. Do you think we can convince Luffy to call me that?"
"We'd have to convince him to use all the other usual officer titles too. Not sure if it'd work with him; he's not much for command hierarchy, from what I saw."
"You never know." Usopp immediately thought better of his words. "Wait… You do know, don't you?"
I shrugged. "Something that happens could always change his mind. I've already figured out that I make things different just by being here."
Something splashed below us- probably Johnny coming out of the water and climbing the hull of the Merry. How did he climb up, anyway? We didn't have any ladders or nets or anything hanging down, nor could I remember seeing any in the comic. I got my answer when the bounty hunter emerged onto the deck, dripping wet. He'd used his sword; there were nicks in the Going Merry's hull from where the blade had dug in. So the damage had started this early…
Seeing my bandages covered in gunpowder and Usopp standing beside me, Johnny charged us with a yell. "You bastards! You killed my friend!"
Since I was pretty sure Yosaku was still alive, I felt no guilt about what I did when Johnny came close enough. He wasn't nearly as skilled as Zoro; I was left with a large opening. When Usopp shrieked and jumped back, I stepped in, driving my left knee into the blue-clad bounty hunter's groin. He may have been a citizen of a world of badass, but Johnny still dropped when I assaulted his family jewels. Zoro emerged from the head just in time to see the bounty hunter fall to his knees.
"Johnny? What're you doing here? Where's Yosaku?"
"Big Bro?" Johnny groaned. He recovered quickly though, standing up and edging away from me. "Did these pirates capture you?"
Zoro snorted. "As if Jones and Usopp could manage something like that."
"Really?" Johhny looked at us with confusion. "But… They killed Yosaku. They're the ones who shot our rock."
"What were you doing on a rock?"
Johnny hung his head. "Yosaku was sick. Wounds he got days ago were still bleeding, he couldn't eat, he was turning grey… Although I guess he's not suffering anymore."
Idiot. I hadn't even hit the rock, which Usopp had in the story. Yosaku was wet and might get a fever, but it was still the scurvy he had to worry about. I ran to the whipstaff and yanked, bringing the Merry around. Usopp yelled and chased after me, hitting me on the head. Not quite as hard as Nami, but with everything still hurting from earlier… Ow.
"What're you doing?!" Usopp tried to grab the whipstaff from me. I shook my head.
"The guy Zoro and Johnny are talking about- Yosaku- he's still alive. I didn't hit the rock at all. Yosaku's pretty sick though, so we need to go get him." I was surprised how quickly I was becoming comfortable with the Straw Hats. Normally I'd never have pulled this with a group I'd only known for a day. Hell, I almost never spoke to people I'd known for less than a week. Was it because I'd read so much about them?
"Oh…" Usopp ran off to adjust the sails so we'd make better time to the rock. Not that it would've taken long to get there anyways; we were less than a kilometer away. A few minutes later, we'd dropped anchor and it was time to pick up Yosaku.
Zoro hauled the sick bounty hunter aboard. I immediately set about squeezing some lemons for juice- until Luffy saw that I was in the galley. The captain came charging in with an exaggerated look of panic on his face. "Jones! No! You're not allowed to cook! Captain's orders!"
I flinched. "Sorry Captain. But I'm not cooking; just getting some juice. Yosaku has scurvy- the lemon juice will help him feel better."
"Oh. Okay. As long as you're not cooking." Luffy picked his nose, which made a curious rubbery noise up close. Weird, but to be expected I guess. He stuck around and watched me to make sure I was only getting juice though. That hurt. I'd screwed up one time; how does that get me a lifetime ban from cooking?
Johnny was reluctant to let me approach Yosaku at first. Fair enough; I'd fired on their temporary refuge. But Zoro held the blue bounty hunter back so I could tend to his green friend. Though she was still keeping her distance from me, I saw Nami give me a look of approval. She was probably glad to know she wasn't the only one there aware of the dangers of life at sea.
Or some of them at least.
In the comic, Yosaku had jumped up immediately after being given juice and told that it would help. In reality, he groaned and rolled over. But colour was coming back to his face quickly, so he'd probably be up and about in half an hour or so. Luffy, Zoro, and Usopp applauded; Nami sighed and shook her head.
"Really… Setting sail without knowing how to prevent scurvy…"
"What's scurvy?" Luffy cocked his head to one side. It made him look like my aunt's corgi puppy.
"It's a disease you can get if you don't eat enough fruits and vegetables." Okay, that was fudging things a bit- and simplifying them too- but this was Luffy.
"So… We need a good cook so we don't get sick?"
Bless the captain's ability to understand anything if explained using food. "Yes."
Johnny no longer looked outright hostile, though he was still suspicious. "If you need a cook, there's a floating restaurant not far from here."
And then Yosaku sat up. Wow, even quicker than I thought- although he wasn't jumping around or anything yet. That certainly improved Johnny's disposition. Coughing, Yosaku nodded. His hitai-ate was crooked- how did it even stay on? It didn't look like it was tied, and he had no ponytail or anime hair spikes to hold it on. Maybe the things coming down around his jaw helped?
"We were there a couple days ago; heard that the man Big Bro Zoro's looking for was there, but we didn't see him."
Because he wasn't there yet; the rumours had been about someone else. If I remembered correctly, Johnny and Yosaku had mixed up someone named Redeye with Hawk Eyes Mihawk. But since the world's greatest swordsman would show up while we were there, there was no point raining on Zoro's parade. And parading he was, with an eager smirk that was actually kind of creepy. Especially since I was used to serious, stoic Zoro from later in the story.
I really needed to stop comparing everything to the comics. It wouldn't be good for my ability to improvise.
Getting to the Baratie took us two days- during which time I didn't become a competent sailor, but I did at least learn how to tie a decent bowline on a bight. Sailing knots were actually easier than the jewellery knots I was used to- I'd like to see Usopp tie a Guinevere knot. My hands were still in poor condition though, cracking and bleeding at the joints when I moved too much, and with a strange dry, glassy hardness to them. I'd seen it before- the same thing happened to my feet a couple times when I had blisters that burst. Judging by past experience, the new skin would take a week or two to regain a normal texture.
As well as sailing practice, I continued to train. As much as I could anyway; I still needed more boards to practice focus breaks, and a decent punching target of some sort- a sandbag or a piece of wood with cord wrapped around it. Zoro didn't offer to spar with me again. Probably because I wasn't enough of a challenge. I did manage to get a different sparring partner who was, sadly, more my speed. And I was so used to thinking of him as incompetent too…
"Whatcha doin' Sis?" Johnny and Yosaku were watching me while I did kata- mostly because no one trusted them to help sail the Merry. And when even Zoro tells you not to let them touch anything outside of an emergency, you know it's bad.
"Training. I'm a karate-ka." Conversation paused as I went through a sequence of jumps that ended with a kiai. "My katas help me practice techniques in different combinations outside a fight."
Johnny stood up, hand on the hilt of his sword. "Isn't it better to actually fight though Sis? You can't get experience without an opponent."
My pride as a martial artist took some level of offense at that, although I also knew he was right; the only way to learn how to win fights was- in the end- to win fights. "I guess. But practicing kata and basics is important too. They build muscle memory."
One blue-clad arm slung over my shoulders; I flinched and pulled away. Johnny sighed. "Look Sis, with Yosaku still not feeling the greatest, I'm out a sparring partner too. Why not go a couple rounds?"
They'd always fought off-screen in in the comics, so I had no idea what to expect when my traitor mouth agreed. Well, except for the blades. Johnny's dadao was slightly longer and heavier than Zoro's katana, giving him a greater ma-ai- sorry, attacking distance. Probably less control though, since he was nowhere near as strong. Either way, I still wanted to be inside his reach.
Where sparring with Zoro had been a waiting game of "when is he gonna kick my ass?", sparring with Johnny was an unexpectedly pleasant challenge. And that hurt. In the manga, he was portrayed as incompetent and a bit of a coward; that wasn't where I wanted to fall. When Johnny moved in, rather than barely getting out of the way, I had time to avoid the blade while still keeping close. I drove my knee into his chest and was pleased when the bounty hunter stumbled a little.
The flat of a blade smacked me in the ribs; I retaliated with a palm strike to Johnny's tattooed temple. Another strike came in, the back of the blade this time. Johnny was more cautious about hurting me than Zoro was for some reason. This time I blocked; normally I wouldn't do that against a sword, but I figured the back would be safe. It certainly took Johnny by surprise. Especially when I immediately punched him in the stomach after.
Sparring with the bounty hunter lasted a lot longer than sparring with Zoro too; unlike my crew mate, Johnny was actually working on his own skills rather than trying to asses mine. We kept it up for almost two hours without either of us really getting the upper hand. Eventually we had to stop, not because anyone won, but because we'd arrived at our destination.
More or less, at least. The Going Merry had yet to dock with the Baratie, because as we made our approach, a massive marine vessel got in our way. Right, him. I examined the ship as I tried to decide what to do about Fullbody- and Gin. Ghin? Huh. According to canon the first spelling was correct, but as an English speaker the second felt better. Maybe I should ask him which he preferred. Either way, the ship beside us was a man o'war, third class- by which I mean it had seventy-four guns to our one and was at least twice the size of the Merry.
I edged over to Luffy as I heard Fullbody's angry voice- not that I knew what the marine was saying, but he was loud. I bit my lip and hesitated; I wasn't sure how my captain would take this. But Gin/Ghin was a character who hadn't gotten nearly enough screen time, and who could be a useful ally in the future. "Luffy… Theoretically, how long could you distract the marines?"
Cocking his head to the side, the captain frowned. "Theo-what?"
"Um… How long can you make the marines focus on you so I can do mystery stuff?"
"Oh. I dunno, probably a long time. Why?"
"Because there's someone in there who might be our friend." Might. I gestured to the man o'war. "He's a prisoner right now; I want to see if I can free him." Gin/Ghin liked Sanji because the cook was the first person to be nice to him in a long time. So if our crew helped him, he'd like us. Probably. He'd still be loyal to Don Krieg during the fight, but once we won…
Luffy nodded and smiled. "Okay Jones, go get your friend. Me'n Zoro'll buy you as long as we can."
Trotting back towards the stern of the ship, I looked up. The Marines had two gun decks- one low enough to hit our gun deck and storage hold, and one about a meter above our rails. Luckily our ships were only a couple meters apart; how that had happened, I had no clue. We were actually so close together that I doubted the marines would be able to shoot the Merry the way they had in the comic- unless they were willing to risk backfire from debris. I still had total confidence that Luffy would somehow manage to damage the Baratie though. This was Luffy we were talking about.
I started at a bit of a run, using our rail as a step when I jumped off. By the time I'd crossed the distance between the two ships, I'd fallen enough that my hands were at the perfect level to grab the lower edge of the gun port I'd aimed for. My worn sneakers didn't provide the best grip on damp wood, but I was able to push my self up enough for my arms to flex rather than just hang, pulling myself up and in. Just like climbing Sorrow back home- except Sorrow didn't have a drop into the ocean below and was an open wall rather than a gun port barely wider than my shoulders. I also didn't usually hit my head on a cannon when I hauled myself up back home.
"Merde!" I rubbed my head as I squirmed over and around the steel barrel and into the ship. My poor skull was taking a beating since coming to this world. Oh well, at least I had a hard head. Unless my mother meant that in reference to my stubbornness…
It was dark inside the man o'war, and there weren't many marines around. I could hear muffled yelling through the hull; Luffy was making good on his promise of a distraction. And for things to be this clear, it must've been some distraction. There were actually too few marines around; I needed at least one to help me find the brig.
Breathing light, moving slow, I slipped between the shadows and tried to keep cannon, coils of rope, and crates of ammunition between me and any hatchways or major passages. It was relatively easy; there were a lot of shadows. This occasionally led to me tripping over things, but… well, if a Canadian spews sacres and there's no one around to hear, did they actually make a sound? Eh, maybe. Especially since eventually there was one guy around to hear me, by a ladder that ran up and down the mizzen mast. He turned and aimed his musket at me; unfortunately for him, I was a lot closer than he thought I was.
Grabbing the barrel of the musket, I jammed it back into the marine's solar plexus. I doubted that would keep him down for long though. So out came my Swiss Army Knife, blade pressing against the side of his neck. My right side, his left. The marine froze. I grabbed his right shoulder as well, stabbing my thumb into a pressure point that weakens the arm and can make your opponent drop their weapon.
"Make a sound and it'll be the last thing you ever do." That was probably I lie. I could feel my voice shaking as I delivered the ultimatum. I'd never cut someone other than myself with a knife before, and I doubted I could make myself kill in cold blood- aside from a certain character or two. And even if I could, what if reinforcements came? They'd gun me down. But my captive didn't know that. And judging by the smell that arose, my bluff was successful. That, or he had some sort of illness that messed with his control of his bowels.
Taking his need for brown pants as a yes- and seriously, why did marines wear white when the fact that they were fighters was a near guarantee that their uniforms would get soiled or covered in blood at some point?- I let loose with what I hoped was a feral pirate grin. Although knowing my face, it probably just made me look crazy. Eh, close enough. "Show me to the brig; I want to see that Krieg pirate you captured."
The marine squeaked agreeably, leading me down a couple decks until we were more or less in the bilge. Keeping him at knife point through this was hard. He actually got away from me for a second at the bottom of the ladder- by which I mean he was on the floor and I was still climbing. So I dropped off the ladder and landed on his shoulders. This time I pointed my knife at his eye, as much as the thought of stabbing someone there grossed me out.
"Don't try that again." I climbed off the fallen marine and allowed him to stand.
"Yes ma'am! I mean, no ma'am! I mean-!"
"Oh, shut it."
The marine led me to the stern of the bilge, where a few cells side by side made the brig. Not exactly what I'd been expecting, but maybe One Piece ships were laid out differently than Disney ones. That, or one or both of the above was different to how ships during Earth's age of piracy had actually been built. Irrelevant. As soon as I could see the brig cells, I needed to knock my helpful marine out so I'd have my hands free to work without worrying about him calling for help. A good chokehold did the trick, coming up behind the marine and squeezing until I'd interrupted oxygen and blood flow to his brain. I then dragged the marine to an empty, open cell and shut him in.
Only one other cell was occupied, by a too-thin man whose face somehow resembled a Great Dane. Dark, sunken eyes, slumped shoulders, a dirty grey and blue headband pulled down over his eyebrows. His hair was greasier than it had looked in animation, but that was to be expected when he'd been imprisoned for… actually, I couldn't remember if the manga had said how long Gin/Ghin was held by the marines. The scruffy goatee and sad excuse for a mustache were probably products of his imprisonment too; I doubted the marines would let a pirate have a blade, even if only to shave.
I wanted to say something witty and cool, something involving his full title so he'd be impressed and freaked out by my strange knowledge. My brain refused to come up with anything though. Instead, I stared at the Krieg Armada Combat Commander for a few minutes in silence. He didn't break it either, apparently content to stare at me too until I said or did something.
"Is it spelled G-I-N or G-H-I-N?" I asked finally, my voice shaking. He continued staring at me, with more confusion now.
"Your name- how is it spelled? I can't figure it out and it's bothering me."
"You snuck into a marine ship to ask how to spell my name?" Gin/Ghin stared at me in disbelief. I shook my head.
"Not just for that. But I need to know what I should call you in my head. So… When you write your name, do you do it with or without an H?"
He shrugged. "I don't write. Spell it however you like."
"Oh." I hadn't taken the possibility of his being illiterate into account. Well, Ghin it was then- because if I didn't use an H, I would eventually call him gin and that would just make things awkward.
I began looking around for keys. It was difficult with the low light levels, and the reek of the bilge was distracting and made my eyes water. It took Ghin a minute to figure out what I was doing; when he did, he cleared his throat loudly.
"If you're looking for the keys, you won't find them down here. The lieutenant keeps them on him all the time."
Should have expected that. Oh well. I shrugged. There was more than one way to open a door. Moving close and squinting in the poor light, I examined the hinges. Simple and old-fashioned, by my standards; the door was attached to the top half of a tube, the bottom half of the tube was bolted to the wall, and the whole thing was held together by a pin with a broad head. The pins were wedged in tight, but other than that… With appropriate leverage, I could probably have just lifted and pried the door up and off. Of course, the marines knew this and there was nothing in the brig area that I could use to get the needed leverage. And I didn't want to go exploring the ship to look for things.
Unlike the door though, the pins weren't massively heavy. Ghin watched in silence as I wiggled the blade of my Swiss Army Knife in under the head of one pin and twisted. The pin rose slightly, just enough for me to get my fingers on it and pull the pin out. There was a nasty squeaking noise as I did so, not loud, but painful. The marines obviously hadn't oiled these hinges in a while. I repeated the procedure on the second pin.
"What are you doing?" Ghin asked. In lieu of answering, I swung the door open using its lock as the hinge. Just like in one of my mom's favourite movies. The pirate inside gaped. "That- where did you learn that? It's amazing."
"Yes, I will go down in history as the woman who opened a door." Wow, it sounded a lot snarkier when I said it than when Da Vinci did. My heart pounded as I paused to listen, but I heard nothing. Whether that was because Luffy was still distracting the marines or not, I couldn't tell. "We should go now."
"Not arguing with that." Ghin followed as I led him to the ladder I'd come down and up to the top gun deck. He was a little unsteady on his feet, but only needed to lean on me once- when the whole ship shook from what sounded like a cannon shot. We both immediately froze, crouching down behind a crate of cannonballs. A few marines ran past seconds later, but none of them stopped to look around. We remained unseen.
"Merde, that was close." I led Ghin back to the gun port I'd come in by, then stopped. There was one part of this escape that I really hadn't thought through: how were we going to get back to the Merry? Or rather, how was Ghin? I could make it; if I jumped down at the right angle I could grab the rails and climb over easy. But the jump was from an awkward position- crouched in a gun port- and he was weakened by lack of food. Not to mention that we had very different training backgrounds.
Then I remembered that as far as this world was concerned, I was what was expected of an average person. Ghin, on the other hand, was capable of going toe-to-toe with Sanji. If he had to do it, he'd manage.
"Do exactly what I do as soon as I'm out of the way."
My companion nodded. I slithered forwards over and around the barrel of the cannon, until I was crouching on a narrow lip of wood with iron pressed against the back of my head. Not comfortable at all. From there it was actually more of a tumble than a jump, pushing out more than up. My hands closed over the rail of the Going Merry an instant later, while my body slammed into the hull. I coughed, hanging for a moment to get my wind back. Then my feet scrabbled for purchase on damp wood until I could push and pull myself up. Seconds later, Ghin repeated the feat- although without the coughing.
Luffy bounced over, waving. "Hi Jones' friend! You're just in time! They just tried to shoot us! Usopp said that if they'd hit, the debris or something would've sunk them too. I dunno what that means. But they didn't hit us cause I bounced the cannonball away! It hit the restaurant though…"
Of course it did. I wanted to hit the captain for his carefree attitude towards this, like Nami would have, but… I only did that with a couple of my best friends. Not comfortable enough to do that with Luffy yet. Instead, I sighed and looked over at the hole in the roof of the Baratie. "This… let me handle this Captain."
"And Ghin… There's still some lemon juice in the fridge. You should go have a drink; we can get you food in a few minutes."
The older pirate nodded and headed to the- well, I assume he meant to head for the galley, but it looked more like he was on his way to the head. Luckily Usopp was nearby and able to correct him. Those of us who weren't suffering from starvation brought the Merry in to dock well away from Fullbody's man o'war.
When we walked into the restaurant, we were immediately met by a squad of angry chefs. Neither Zeff nor Sanji was there- the former was upstairs in his room, the latter in the kitchen. Of course, Patty immediately led us upstairs where Zeff was, so location was a moot point. Also… I found the sight of a man with Popeye forearms in real life very disturbing. What kind of exercise did he do for that to happen? I decided it was best not to think about it. If I did, my brain would melt down on trying to figure out how Patty's arms even managed to work.
Upon entering Zeff's room, my throat went dry. Tabarnak, I'd forgotten one of the biggest triggers for my anxiety- unfamiliar authority figures. Luffy didn't count, despite being my captain; he was younger than me and a giant goofball. But someone like Zeff- a pirate captain/restaurant owner/parent who was several decades older than me and reminded me of my last boss? Terrifying.
"Which one of you shitty brats is responsible for this?" Yep, you could definitely tell where Sanji got his social skills from. Hell, even the hair… Zeff's was a few shades lighter and shot with grey, but close enough. Sanji would probably rather be related to him than Judge anyway.
I raised my hand, eyes fixed on the splintered stump of Zeff's peg leg, not trusting myself to speak. My crew mates, the bounty hunters, and Ghin all stared at me. I could feel them wondering why I'd take the blame for what Luffy had done. It was simple really; even though I knew we'd be out of here in a few days after Krieg attacked, we'd part on much better terms with Zeff if I worked for him instead of Luffy. I wouldn't eat or break everything, and I'd worked in restaurants before.
A braided mustache twitched. Why did Zeff even style it that way; didn't braiding it hurt? "You sure? You're not covering for anyone- say the brat with the gardening hat and the dumb face?"
Not knowing if Zeff had actually seen where the cannonball came from, I shook my head. A second later I finally found my voice, though it came out very quiet. "No. It was me."
Zeff grunted. "Then you'd best be prepared to pay damages. By my calculations, you'll be working for me for the next year."
Beside me, Luffy squawked in protest. "A year? You can't have Jones for a year! We need to go to the Grand Line! Staying here for that long is boring!"
"Don't insult my restaurant Brat!" Zeff whacked Luffy over the head with the broken off piece of his peg leg.
I reached out as if to grab my captain's shoulder, fingers barely brushing cloth before I let my arm drop, unable to bring myself to touch him. "Luffy, it's okay. Just trust me. And if what I think is coming doesn't happen, just go on without me."
Dark eyes shot me a considering look. "Jones… Are you sure something's gonna happen?"
"Yeah. Ghin's proof."
"Okay then." Luffy nodded and motioned to everyone else. "Come on guys. Let's go get lunch while Jones figures stuff out. You too Ghin."
The crew left. Alone with Zeff, I wanted to sink into the floor and hide. No such luck. The old chef fixed me with an appraising stare. "So… Miss Jones. What makes you think something's coming that will get you out of working here?"
"I- I'd rather not share that with anyone outside my crew." The wood of the Baratie was much darker than that used in the Merry. Zeff sighed in frustration at my continued inability to meet his eyes.
"Fine. I respect your loyalty at least. Now go get changed; there should be an extra uniform in the break room."
It took ten minutes and Carne noticing I looked lost for me to get to the break room, and another five to find the uniform. There were actually two uniforms there- one male, one female, both in a size that would more or less fit me. No question; I wore the men's uniform. I was not putting a skirt on. Although I couldn't figure out how to tie the tie. It would be fine undone though; I was acting as a waitress and busboy- bus girl?- so it wasn't about to fall in a pot of soup or anything.
When I emerged into the dining room, it was just in time to see Fullbody start shrieking at our crew. That should've been surprising, except I'd liberated Ghin- who was sitting between Luffy and Zoro and trying to be as invisible as possible. Why Fullbody hadn't already called in more marines to re-arrest the Krieg pirate was beyond me. Maybe he was trying to impress his girlfriend by doing it himself? Or had most of his crew gotten banned from the restaurant, and were staying away for fear of Zeff and Sanji?
"-And once Magellan's done with you, I'll have Admiral Akainu feed all of you to a rabid sea king!"
Oh, there was so much wrong with that sentence. Fullbody couldn't command either Magellan or Akainu. And I was pretty sure sea kings couldn't catch rabies. I froze, not sure what to do. It was so tempting to just kick the man, but was I allowed? Judging by the comics I'd have said that controlling unruly customers was required, but no one had told me anything. Luckily Sanji interfered while delivering a plate of pasta to another table. A black dress shoe slammed into Fullbody's side, knocking him flying.
"If you're not here to eat, get out of the way so our new waitress can take people's orders!"
It was like looking at a younger version of my dad- maybe around when my parents got married, since those pictures were the only time I'd seen him wear a suit. The shaggy blond hair, the short beard, even his voice was similar to my father's. Although I'd never seen anyone in my world whose eyebrows curled up like that. Sanji's spirals were less pronounced than in the comics, but still visible. Tabarnak, the biology student in me was having a field day in this world. How did these things work?
Turning to face me, Sanji smiled. "Sorry about that Miss. Really though, don't let any of the shitheads get in your way. If they're not gonna eat, they deserve the boot."
His words brought an immediate result in the form of indignant shouting from Patty. The Popeye expy threw a rag at Sanji's head from where he was cleaning the bar. "Don't tell her that! We need to be nice to the customers and not beat them up so they come back!"
"And what if they start harassing her like the last waitress we had? No way am I telling her to just stand there and take it! Some shitheads need a good kick in the face to understand how the world works!"
Taking a deep breath, I pasted an unfortunately familiar expression on my face. Fake smile, server's smile. Don't let them in; don't let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be. Conceal- don't feel. Put on a show. Make one wrong move and everyone will know. "It- it's fine. I've done this before; I can handle it."
Surprised, Sanji stepped out of my way. I went over to my friends to take their orders. While Luffy loudly debated what he wanted, Ghin looked around in a daze. Of course. He was surprised that someone he'd never met would rescue him, and that we'd be willing to pay for his meal. Or, well… Everyone except Nami was willing. The navigator was on edge- she'd probably seen Arlong in Johnny and Yosaku's collection of bounty posters. And even if she hadn't, she was still trying to gather money to buy her island; she wouldn't appreciate spending any extra money, even on food.
Yosaku looked at me with confusion while I was writing everyone's orders down. "Why didn't you wear the girl's uniform Sis?"
"I don't like skirts. They're uncomfortable. Nor do I look good in them, if you're asking because you wanted to see."
Instinctively ducking away from Nami, the bounty hunter shook his head. Not that the navigator even tried to hit him; she was too busy reading something under the table. Now I was sure- she'd seen Arlong's poster, and probably taken it too. I scribbled a note for her and dropped it into her lap as I took everyone's menus. Nami may not like me, but that didn't mean I wasn't going to try and help her.
In about three days the restaurant will be attacked. Take the Merry then and deal with things at home; we'll join you there. Luffy can help, I promise.
Light brown eyes scowled at me as I left the table. I shrugged and headed back to the kitchen. My fake smile hid my fear. I was only trying to help, but what if my nosiness prompted Nami to do something that alienated the crew? Then I shook my head. That was impossible. Last I'd seen of the manga, Sanji had insulted everything the crew stood for and kicked Luffy until he was black and blue, and the captain was more determined than ever to bring him back.
That was another thing that wouldn't be happening if I could help it.
After getting orders from a couple other freshly-seated tables, I trotted back to the kitchen and gave the papers to Sanji and Carne. The latter just nodded; the former stepped away from the pot he was stirring and grabbed my tie before I could step away. I stomped on his foot as soon as he touched me. Sanji ignored this and proceeded to tie my tie, huffing gently.
"Miss Jones, if you're going to wear the men's uniform, you should at least do it properly. What if the ends got into the food you're delivering?"
"Sorry… I don't know how. I've never worn a tie before."
"Then I'll teach you." Sanji smiled. "Tonight, after closing. You can bring that redheaded angel from your crew along if you're uncomfortable being alone with a strange man." The cook's visible eye shifted into a heart as he swooned over Nami. I stepped back in alarm. Seriously, what kind of messed up biology did this world have?
"O-okay. Thanks." I hoped that my inability to meet his eye didn't come off as me playing coy or anything. Instead I stared at his blue dress shirt- which was the exact same colour as mine. Yay uniforms! At least they weren't white; if something had spilled, that would've been a nightmare. Wine and things never came out of white. Or at least, I'd never found a way to get them out.
For the next little while I was mostly taking orders. When it was eventually time to start delivering, I made sure to arrange my route so I had time to talk to my friends. Which immediately led to suspicious glances from my crew mates and confusion from Ghin and the bounty hunters. Usopp poked his food cautiously.
"You didn't cook any of this, did you Jones?"
"No, just delivered. Sanji made it."
Nami's eyebrows shot up in recognition. "Sanji… You asked if I knew that name when we first found you. He's here?"
"Yeah. Sanji's one of the best cooks in the world, and with a crazy dream to match. He's the one who kicked Fullbody away so I could take your orders. If- if I hadn't rescued Ghin and he'd escaped himself, Sanji would've fed him in secret behind the restaurant after Patty kicked him out." Tabarnak, had I interfered with Sanji's recruitment by liberating Ghin? Seeing Sanji feed the Krieg pirate against orders was part of why Luffy had decided on him as the Straw Hat cook.
Zoro snorted. "The blond? He looks like a pansy."
"He looks like my father." I scowled at the swordsman. He had the good grace to look apologetic- or as apologetic as Zoro could look in any case. Which wasn't very. Honestly? The swordsman probably thought I, and by extension my father, was a pansy too and just didn't want to say it because of the twelve still-healing lines on my arms.
Luffy chewed thoughtfully on a piece of barbeque chicken. "You said Sanji has a big dream. What is it?"
"I thought you didn't want me giving out spoilers or backstory details."
"You already told us what would've happened if you weren't here," my captain pointed out.
Johnny, Yosaku, and Ghin looked horribly confused by that statement. No one bothered to explain anything to them though. Why? Not a clue. I was uncomfortable talking to people outside the crew about being from another world because I didn't want to be called crazy. It had happened enough in my old world, thank you very much. No idea why no one else said anything though. Maybe they didn't want to draw too much attention?
"No. It's best if you hear it from him. I don't wanna turn into Miss Exposition."
My captain frowned. "What's exposition? Can I eat it?"
"No. No you can't."
Over the next three days, I was on my feet until my old summer job looked relaxing. I'd never been the only waitress in a busy restaurant. At least having my friends around helped deal with the occasional perv- most of whom came in the evening and sat around the bar. It was frustrating though; I was used to being able to defend myself, but I wasn't at that point by this world's standards. Especially since working was cutting into my training time. So if I was harassed by an idiot tough enough that I couldn't take them myself yet- an annoyingly frequent occurrence- it was common to see Zoro come up and lean on the bar, fixing whoever had tried to touch me with a feral grin.
"You alright Jones?" I would nod every time, hating those words more and more.
At least I could tie a tie now. Luffy had joined me for that, since Nami refused to stay in the same room as Sanji's heart eyes and flirting. My captain hadn't gotten any backstory out of the cook, but it was only a matter of time. Sanji was already getting used to yelling at Luffy to leave him alone- an important Straw Hat skill- as my captain had taken to following him everywhere. There really wasn't a lot for a group of pirates to do around the Baratie most days.
Ghin had, after a couple meals and a good night's sleep, left to seek out his crew. Luffy had been disappointed by this; he seemed to think that me liberating the Krieg pirate meant Ghin would be our friend right away. I just shook my head at that. If this was My Little Pony instead of One Piece, Ghin would've been a prime candidate for the element of loyalty. Even knowing Krieg like he did, he wouldn't turn on the man until someone gave him a good reason.
In fact, if he did end up joining the crew, I should make Ghin an element of loyalty armband or something. That one was a red lightning bolt, so it was still manly. Plus it would match the dragons on his jacket.
I was cleaning tables after the lunch rush on the third day when I saw a huge shadow through the restaurant windows. Krieg's ship, broken and battered but still huge. Nami's eyes widened; she left while no one else was looking. The last few customers in the Baratie panicked and fled through side doors as Krieg came in the door, leaning heavily on Ghin. I briefly wondered how his threadbare coat and Saturday Night Live shirt were capable of hiding the bulky shapes of his armour, then decided that I was in the world where physics goes to die and shouldn't question such things.
"Please!" Ghin's voice was raspy and desperate. "Please, we need help. We have gold… Our men are starving…"
Patty glared from behind the bar. Merde, this was going to go down just like it did in the manga, wasn't it? "You! No way in Hell! If I'd known you were one of Krieg's I would've kicked you and the Straw Hat brats out the first day!"
Ghin's eyes widened. "No! They didn't know- it's just me."
"As if!" Patty pulled out the weird lobster gun thing he kept behind the bar and aimed it at- Luffy? Well, the cooks had gotten to know him as our captain by now. A cannonball exploded towards the rubber boy.
"Gum-Gum Balloon!" Inflating, my captain deflected the shot- thankfully out an open window. He glared at Patty as he deflated.
"We didn't know! Jones went and got Ghin cause he needed help- that's all!"
Oh, if only he knew… I saw Sanji slip into the kitchen out of the corner of my eye. Wait… Could I-? No. Sanji would kill me if I messed with the food, especially since he didn't know me yet. So, if I couldn't mess with the food, what could I do? Nothing- or at least, nothing that wouldn't result in me getting my ass handed to me with a side of toast. Tabarnak! As soon as I got the chance, I had some serious training to do.
A few minutes later Sanji emerged with a plate of fried rice and some juice. I watched, unable to do anything, as Krieg ate and then was immediately hit by some sort of placebo effect. Seriously, superhuman or not, no one digested quickly enough to recover that fast! Krieg knocked Sanji backwards with a grunt of effort as he stood. He swayed a little, but even that didn't last long.
"Nice ship you've got here! I think I'll take it!"
Several chefs stood up with weapons, Patty and Carne at the fore. Armaments varied, but all looked ridiculous. Most were giant cooking implements- Patty's shrimp-zooka was actually one of the more sensible things. But what they lacked in intimidating equipment, the cooks made up for in heart and a unified front. "No way!"
Krieg's response was to fling off his coat and disco shirt, revealing shining golden armour. I wondered if that was the normal colour of Wootz steel, or if the overconfident pirate had had his armour gold-plated. Distracted as I was, I didn't move fast enough when Krieg flicked out a few guns and fired on the restaurant. Everyone except Luffy hit the floor; bullets just bounced off my captain. A black-clothed leg swung through my knees, tripping me so I fell out of the path of the bullets. Sanji hit the dirt beside me.
"Sorry Miss Jones."
"No, it's okay. Thanks."
The rapid gunfire made my head ache. Luckily it didn't last long. Silence fell over the Baratie as Krieg stopped firing. The only sound was the rhythmic thudding steps of a peg leg approaching. Zeff appeared from the kitchen with a bag of food, which he dropped in front of Krieg. "Here. Take this and feed your men, then get out."
Krieg's eyes narrowed. "You- you're Red Leg Zeff. Years ago, you sailed the Grand Line and were feared around the world. That's it- I'm not just taking this ship, hand over your log book as well."
Zeff's stink eye was a thing to be feared; I was amazed when Krieg managed to take it without shaking. "No."
Snorting, Krieg resembled nothing so much as an angry gorilla. "That wasn't a question old man. I will have that log book. It's the last thing I need to conquer the Grand Line and become king of the pirates!"
"A shitty idiot like you can't even understand the beauty of Paradise," Zeff said quietly, "Let alone conquer the New World."
Dark brown eyes blazed. Luffy stared up at Krieg, a straw-hatted David against a steel Goliath. "You're not gonna be king of the pirates- I am!"
Krieg laughed. "You? A little kid with no weapons and a tiny crew? Go back to your fishing village. I have the best weapons, a huge armada, and still managed to lose most of my ships due to poor information. Pathetic brats like you don't stand a chance."
How dare he call my captain pathetic? I seethed. But I knew I couldn't do anything against Krieg in a head-on attack; he was tough enough to give Luffy a challenge. That didn't stop me from considering what I could do. After all, if Krieg played dirty, why shouldn't we do the same? Except I couldn't think of any weaknesses I could exploit.
Sneering, Krieg hefted the bag of food. "It'll take me a little while to feed my men. You have until then to evacuate this ship and hand over your log Red Leg- or should I say, Peg Leg." The armoured pirate stomped out the door.
Ghin looked around the restaurant sadly before following. "I'm sorry… I didn't know he'd go this far…"
Sanji growled and raced after Krieg and Ghin; everyone else still in the restaurant followed after him. Although in Patty and Carne's case, it was to try and hold Sanji back from doing anything stupid. They weren't all that successful. What was capable of freezing the future Straw Hat cook in his tracks was the sudden destruction of Krieg's ship- not that the galley had been in that good shape to begin with. Torn sails, cracked wood… All of this split apart like a sliced watermelon, accompanied by an eerie whistling noise. That must be what a flying slash sounded like.
Panicked shouts arose from the Krieg pirates as they struggled to grab fragments of wood to keep afloat. Ghin paled; Krieg himself froze. The armada captain's voice was low, so low I wasn't sure anyone else heard him. "Damn. He followed us."
Between the two largest pieces of Krieg's galley appeared a small, low sided boat of a type I couldn't identify. Was it a barge? An oddly shaped dory? What it resembled most was a coffin, especially with the massive cross that was its lone occupant's sword. Mihawk was like a character from a gothic movie, dark and terrifying in a way I'd never imagined from seeing him on a page. And his eyes… There was no question as to where he'd gotten his name. It was like if Antonio Banderas had been given the eyes of a bald eagle and told to play Dracula.
I glanced over at Zoro to see him tying his bandanna on his head. The same feral grin he used to scare away people who harassed me was spread across the swordsman's face.
"Why'd you follow us?" Krieg shouted at Mihawk over the sound of his panicked men. I couldn't tell if he was just putting on a brave front, or if he was really stupid enough to antagonize someone who could slice a ship in half.
Mihawk fixed Krieg with the sort of lazy stare a cat gives you when it can't decide whether it wants to play or just lie in the sun. "I was bored."
While the weapon-happy captain sputtered, Zoro stepped forwards. "How about a duel then, to pass the time?"
Golden eyes scanned over our swordsman, an elegant brow arched in appraisal. "Perhaps… Who are you, though, that you would challenge me? What do you hope to accomplish?"
Johnny and Yosaku squawked indignantly. "You haven't heard of Big Bro Zoro? That's impossible! He's the best swordsman in the East Blue!"
"The weakest of the seas. Until the fish moves from his river to the ocean, his true strength cannot be judged." Mihawk didn't glare at the bounty hunters as he stepped out onto one of the remaining pieces of Krieg's ship, just looked at them. Even that was enough to have the pair quaking in their boots.
Zoro leapt between pieces of flotsam until he was perched on the same chunk of deck as Mihawk. He placed Wado Ichimonji in his mouth and drew his other two katana, still smirking. That smirk vanished when, instead of drawing Yoru, the world's greatest swordsman palmed his cross necklace and unsheathed a small knife. Zoro growled. Mihawk shrugged.
"You wouldn't expect me to hunt rabbits with a cannon, would you?"
"Take this seriously dammit! Oni Giri!" Zoro charged forwards, his blades crossing over as he prepared to cut. Mihawk's block was even more impressive in reality than it had been in the manga; the precision required to stop the edge of a blade with the point of that tiny knife was phenomenal. And the strength… A one-handed block against all three of Zoro's blades, when Zoro himself was monstrously strong…
Of course, I wasn't a swordsman and was more concerned with a different part of the fight. Namely… HOW THE HELL DID ZORO TALK WITH A SWORD IN HIS MOUTH?! I'd tried that before, just to see if it would work- although with one of my sais rather than a katana. Talking with a weapon in your mouth muffled you worse than an actor in a Colgate Total commercial! Plus you couldn't swallow properly, so how was Zoro not drooling everywhere and sliding around in puddles of his own spit?
Steel rang against steel as Zoro tried to press forwards, Mihawk blocking and deflecting with very little effort. Red lines appeared on tanned skin as that tiny knife repeatedly snuck past all three katana. Unlike in the manga, Zoro's shirt tore whenever Mihawk's strikes nicked his chest- well, Oda did say on one of the SBS pages that his main reason for not drawing much clothing damage was that he didn't want to… distract people during the fight scenes.
"Tora Gari!" Zoro flicked his burners up over Wado's blade before bringing them around and down like the fangs of a hungry tiger. His strike was met by a rapid sweep from Mihawk, the elder swordsman's knife flashing black for a moment as it deflected the two burners. I narrowed my eyes. Haki. That made sense; how else would a small knife not be broken by the weight of the larger blades?
Reversing his grip on one sword, Zoro shifted his stance. His three katanas formed a pinwheel shape as he lined up for his next strike; Mihawk actually paused to let him do so, a curious expression in those golden eyes. Zoro snarled. "Sanzen Sekai!"
I couldn't see what Zoro did with his blades as he stepped forwards- his hands were too fast, and the silver arcs overlapped. What I did see was another flash of black as Mihawk once more swept his Haki-infused knife across. This time though, it wasn't a deflection. Zoro's two burner swords shattered with the combined impact, a horrible screeching sound rending the air. Fragments of steel rained down into the water.
Mihawk stepped inside Zoro's reach, safely away from the remaining katana, and pressed his small knife into Zoro's chest. Blood welled up around the blade, soaking through white cotton and tracing a long, thick line down Zoro's front. The Straw Hat swordsman scowled and hissed, still leaning forwards.
"Retreat," Mihawk ordered coolly. "If you keep pressing forwards like this, my knife may pierce your heart."
"No." Zoro coughed, but still held Wado strong between his teeth. "If I take even a single step back… I made a promise, one I'll never be able to keep if I allow myself to retreat. I could never face Kuina in the afterlife without seeing it through."
"That is the feeling of defeat, little Rabbit." Mihawk pulled his knife back, a thoughtful look on his face. "What kind of promise drives you so? Surely you knew you would lose- any swordsman worth his salt can judge his opponent's strength."
"I could…But I promised I'd become the greatest swordsman in the world or die trying- for both of us."
"Indeed. Well, Rabbit, I admire your dedication, if not your sense. Allow me to end this duel with honour." Putting his knife away, Mihawk reached over his shoulder and drew Yoru. The black blade glinted purple in the sunlight. Zoro sheathed Wado Ichimonji and spread his arms, facing his fate with a smile.
Not far from me, Luffy growled. Of course- he thought Mihawk was about to kill Zoro. Usopp was shaking, but had his slingshot loaded. As if that could do anything to the world's greatest swordsman. I considered trying to hold Luffy down, but decided against it. Not only would it likely not work, but he needed to gain Mihawk's respect with his force of personality and loyalty to his crew.
Black steel- or perhaps some stranger metal that I didn't know- arched down with a violet flash. Blood spurted through the air as Zoro was sliced deep, left shoulder to right hip. His white shirt was shredded. The Straw Hat swordsman staggered backwards, collapsing and falling into the water. Johnny immediately dove into the sea to retrieve the body.
Luffy snarled like a beast, eyes blazing as he launched himself across the open space to try and punch Mihawk in the face. The world's greatest swordsman stepped aside, grabbing my captain by the back of his vest before the rubber boy could fall into the water. Golden eyes met dark brown; I felt a spark run through the air. Mihawk shook Luffy like a naughty puppy before putting him down.
"I didn't kill him Straw Hat; it would be a waste. If he's strong, he will survive and learn from this experience."
As if on cue, Johnny burst out of the water and swam back to the Baratie, hauling a shirtless Zoro behind him. Our swordsman was barely conscious. That didn't stop him from drawing Wado Ichimonji again and holding the katana above his head. I held my breath; I was about to see one of the most emotional moments in the East Blue Saga in person. Thank the gods that I hadn't done anything that would prevent this from happening.
"Luffy!" Zoro's voice was hoarse with pain and sea water. I couldn't tell if the tears on his face were from emotion or just excess drops from his soaking. Probably both, actually. "I'm sorry! You must be so embarrassed, so… From this day on, I'll never lose a fight again! Is that alright with you, king of the pirates?!"
A pang shot through me at those words. Sabaody. How terrible must Zoro have felt when he failed to protect his crew mates and they were separated- how terrible would he feel? But maybe I wouldn't have to find out. Hopefully…
My captain went from anger at Mihawk to beaming at Zoro in the blink of an eye. "Shishishi! Whatever you say Zoro! Sounds good to me!"
From the scowl on his face, Krieg clearly hated being ignored. But unlike his men, the armada captain showed no hint of fear at Mihawk's presence. In fact, Krieg looked frustrated and cocky. He was either incredibly arrogant, deluded about his own strength, or a very good actor. Or, well, a mix of all three. That seemed most likely to me.
"So then Hawk Eyes, I take it you'll be after my head now?" Krieg readied some weapon or other concealed in his armour as he spoke.
The world's greatest swordsman shot the overconfident pirate a bored look. "Hmm… No, I think not. I've actually had some fun this afternoon; it would be a waste to ruin it by having to spend time in an awful excuse for a bounty office here in the East Blue."
Stepping back into his creepy little coffin boat, Mihawk turned to Zoro one last time. "As for you, Rabbit… Continue on your journey and become stronger. Someday we will meet again- I look forward to seeing my faith in you rewarded." The gothic figure drifted away.
Just before Mihawk was out of sight, Krieg let out a furious roar at being ignored. A hatch opened on his pauldron; the armada commander fired a missile at the swordsman. Mihawk's response was an exasperated look and a flying slash, slicing the missile in half and creating waves that sank much of the remains of Krieg's ship. When the water had calmed, the world's greatest swordsman was gone.
Johnny got to work trying to stitch Zoro's wound. It was a rough job. Yosaku, meanwhile, was in a panic. He practically jumped Luffy when my captain leapt back to the Baratie. "Big Bro Luffy! Nami's gone- she took the Going Merry! What're we gonna do?"
The rubber boy's eyes hardened. "Nami… Jones, do you know anything?"
I nodded. "She's not betraying us or anything. Nami's in trouble; she went home to try and help her family. It's Cocoyashi Village- I think the island's called Conami, but I'm not sure." Heh, Conami- Konami. DDR.
Luffy nodded. "Alright then. Zoro, Usopp, Johnny, Yosaku… You go after Nami. Help her if you can, buy time if you can't. Jones, Sanji, and I'll get there as fast as we can."
"I'm not part of your shitty crew!" the blond chef protested. "No offense Miss Jones."
It was funny, how even the two bounty hunters obeyed Luffy without question. I wondered if this had something to do with his latent Haoshoku Haki. Whether it did or not, the four were soon on their way, taking a small boat that had been left by a panicked customer when Krieg's arrival prompted their disorganized flight. Although how someone forgot a boat when leaving a floating restaurant, I wasn't sure.
With his men panicked and in the water without a ship, a good captain would've put aside his plans and helped his crew first. Not so Krieg. Enraged and prideful, he roared for the only two of his crew I expected he even knew by name. "Pearl, get up here! Ghin, plan C! We're taking this ship now!"
"You are not!" Luffy punched Krieg hard enough to send the man flying out over the sea. Krieg landed on what was left of his ship's mainmast. I saw the beginning of the fight- Luffy's next punch being blocked by a spiked cloak- before I realized what this meant.
I was still here rather than on my way to Nami's home. That meant I would have to fight someone- probably either Pearl or Ghin. Merde. I stared, momentarily frozen, as Pearl climbed out of the water. Who should I aim for? Ghin was tougher than Pearl, so logically I should leave him to Sanji. But in the manga, Ghin had been reluctant to fight Sanji because the cook had helped him, so he'd hesitated at key moments and helped him survive the poison gas in the end. That meant I should fight Ghin, as I'd been the one to help him in this version. And at least he didn't have armour. I wasn't sure I could break through Pearl's, even if I did manage to get a few seconds to use a focus break- I'd never tried metal before, only wood.
Zoro and Sensei were both right; I thought too much. By the time I'd gone over both sides of the argument in my head, Sanji was already fighting Pearl and Ghin was sneaking up behind Zeff with a gun. So I slipped through the crowd of cooks too, coming from the opposite direction. No one saw me, a small uniformed figure amongst so many larger ones. Which meant that when Ghin held his pistol to Zeff's head, he didn't know how close I was.
"Everyone, just shut up an surrender! Otherwise the old man- ah!"
Ghin was cut off by a yelp, my foot whipping up into his hand. He fired reflexively, but by then his pistol was pointed harmlessly at the sky. I moved in instantly; the last thing I wanted was to give the combat commander enough time to grab his tonfa. I'd never been taught how to counter those. A jab to the face, a reverse punch to the solar plexus, a kick to his groin. But Ghin blocked the first two easily and dodged the last. His face was full of surprise and sadness.
"Jones… I'm sorry, I really am. But I have to do this; he's my captain. Just stand down, please- I don't want to hurt you."
"I know. And I know you can beat me easy. But I can't let you take this ship."
Looking pained, Ghin tried again. "Krieg doesn't mean to let anyone here go free, not at this point. But if you surrender to me I can protect you."
Wrong words. I knew I needed protection in this world, at least for now, but I hated it. So I moved in fast again, wondering why Ghin didn't draw his weapons. Not that I wasn't grateful… Then a fist hit me in the stomach and I went flying back. A wooden wall halted my flight, probably leaving a giant bruise along my spine. Okay. Problem solved; Ghin hadn't grabbed his tonfa because he knew he didn't need them. He really was trying not to hurt me, damn him.
One deep breath to get my wind back. Tears stung my eyes, but I refused to let them fall. Not in front of so many people. I could hear Sanji and Luffy fighting in the background, shouting the names of their techniques. A few spears launched by Krieg landed near me; the Baratie shook at the first use of his bomb-on-a-stick. For a moment, all the noise threatened to overwhelm me. I wanted to curl up into a ball and hide in a corner. But I couldn't. A second deep breath to steady my trembling limbs. My vision narrowed as I tuned out all the background noise, just like at a tournament. Nothing else existed; no one else existed, just me and my opponent. Even the pink fire that sprang up when Sanji drew Pearl's blood- it was only important if Ghin or I tried to use it as a weapon.
"TAI!" I made it look like I was aiming for his head, but my real strike hit Ghin's ribcage. He grunted in surprise. It wasn't enough though. I kept hitting, punching over and over… forgetting my feet, my kicks, forgetting even to block. I was just. So. Angry. Angry at myself for not being strong enough, angry at Ghin for trying to protect me, angry at whatever had caused me to come to this world when I wanted to die. I couldn't hold the tears back any longer, once I'd tuned out the rest of the world. Ghin saw them.
And he let me hit him. Oh, he blocked or deflected the few punches that might have actually done some damage, but for the most part Ghin just stood there and took it. I pushed him gradually backwards and managed to bruise his face, but other than that? Nothing. And then, when I was tired and beginning to slow, the combat commander hit me again. One solid strike to my solar plexus; I folded and wheezed, draped over his arm. Ghin lay me gently down on the deck.
"Jones… I'm sorry. Why couldn't you have just stood down? I didn't want to hurt you."
"Can't…" I gasped. "Straw Hats… Never…. Give… Up…" It felt like I'd been hit by a train. All my focus was going towards my breathing, trying to calm it so I could get back in the fight. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sanji smash a kick through Pearl's armour, then bring his other foot down on top of the pyromaniac's head. There was a great clang as the cook's opponent fell. At least I'd delayed Ghin long enough that he couldn't interfere in that fight. Hopefully Sanji would be able to take him now.
Ghin's tonfa were out and spinning as he walked towards Sanji. Then a yell went up from the men in the water; they splashed around in panic, pulling out their gas masks. I turned my head to look at Luffy and Krieg. Both were beaten and bloody, although Krieg was in worse shape. The armada captain had just pulled out some sort of missile or bomb- I couldn't see from this angle, nor could I remember what it had been called in the manga. But I knew what it did. Poison gas. Given the average culture and technology levels of the East Blue, probably mustard gas or something similar.
Finally able to control my breathing, I rolled over and yelled at the cooks on deck. "Get inside!"
They didn't listen at first. But when the gas started to spread, there was a stampede for the door. Ghin went to put his mask on before fighting Sanji, only to freeze as his captain spoke. "Don't you dare Ghin!"
"You're going soft; I heard what you said to that girl. Well, if you're so eager to protect her, do it in the afterlife."
Paling, Ghin looked ill. He glanced at me, at Krieg… Then tossed his mask to the side. Luffy yelled and punched Krieg into the sea, bounding back towards us across the flotsam. Closer, Sanji let out a snort of outrage.
"You're really gonna do what he says? Protecting a girl's the best thing you can do with your life, especially one who's helped you like Jones has. You shouldn't be punished for it, shitty captain or no."
"But that's it. He's my captain." Ghin shook his head. "I- I know he's awful, dishonourable, cruel… But until the day he's no longer my captain, his word is everything."
Growling, Sanji grabbed Pearl's gas mask and put it on. The cloud was almost upon us now; the doors and windows of the restaurant locked. Luffy landed beside Ghin and I with a thud. And then I saw the problem. Three people- one gas mask. Because no way on the seven seas was I letting Ghin get poisoned like in canon. He might not survive in reality.
I grabbed the mask Ghin had tossed aside and put it on Luffy. He was priority one. "Don't take that off Captain, whatever you do." Not waiting for an answer, I grabbed Ghin's arm. "Hold your breath," I warned. Krieg's combat commander nodded mutely as I dragged him to the edge of the deck. Two deep breaths, a quick prayer, and I jumped in, dragging Ghin behind me.
The water was icy cold. I almost lost my breath again at the shock. My eyes burned from the salt; I had to keep them open to have some idea where we were going. Ghin was a dead weight in my hand, too stunned and confused to help me. That was… not the greatest. I've never been a particularly skilled swimmer. But I'm stubborn, and even if I was weak by the standards of this new world, I was strong in mine. And Ghin didn't weigh any more than a man of his size from Earth, no matter the differences in biology.
It was hard to see in the shadows under the Baratie. I was almost out of breath by the time I found what I was looking for. The weird little fish/boat thing. It hadn't been used in the battle, which I was pretty certain it had been in the manga; I wondered why. But at the same time, it was this difference that was going to save Ghin and I. The fish-mobile floated in the water and had a decent space around it for people getting in and out, but was roughly sealed around the front. Not airtight- the gas would get in eventually- but it would buy us some time to get into the restaurant proper. There had to be a hatch up there somewhere- how else would people get down to the fish?
It was pitch black in the hollow; I couldn't even see my hand right in front of my face. This lead to me bashing my head against the side of the small vessel as I tried to both find a handhold and keep Ghin afloat. Because apparently, I really needed more head trauma. It was my grunt of pain that finally got a reaction from my silent companion.
"I- what are you doing?"
"Saving our asses from mustard gas. Can you keep yourself up?" It would be much easier to climb the slippery vessel if I had both hands free.
"I shouldn't. I disobeyed my captain- that's punishable by death. He was right to order me to die."
"Wasn't much of a captain," I muttered. My hand closed over a damp fin of wood. Finally! I kept myself low to the hull of the fish as I crawled up the side. Even though I couldn't see, I could feel the closeness of the Baratie against my back.
"Oi! Don Krieg is-!"
"A lying, arrogant coward who believes money can buy everything, and that he can use weapons and gadgets to replace hard work and creativity. Don't get me wrong Ghin, I understand the importance of loyalty, but you should only give your loyalty to someone who deserves it. A good captain cares for his crew, helps them, and sees them like family."
Finally on top of the fish, I began feeling around on the wood above me. It was slow going; I couldn't listen for hollow noises because the whole restaurant was hollow, so I had to try and feel out the seams at the edges of the hatch. Not an easy task with hands still shiny and hard from healing. I could barely feel a thing. I could, however, hear. So I knew from the splash and dragging noises that Ghin, despite his protests of loyalty to Krieg, was climbing the fish.
"Like Straw Hat?"
"Yeah, like Luffy." I smiled, knowing it wouldn't be seen. "He's… not your average captain, but he's one of the best."
Finally, I felt them. Tiny seams in the wood, so faint that I wasn't sure they were there. I banged on the hatch as loud as I could. Seconds later it was flung open. I squinted in the sudden light, unable to stop the hiss that escaped me. Ghin was in the same boat. We both glared up at Carne, who had the decency to look sheepish as he helped me into the Baratie proper. However, the cook wasn't so keen on my companion.
"Why's he here?" Carne pointed at Ghin, returning the Krieg pirate's glare. I shook my head and helped Ghin climb up.
"He's not like his captain; he's good. Just let him stay in here til the gas is gone. It should only take about fifteen minutes or so."
"Leave it Carne." Zeff stomped over, shutting the lesser chef up. Blue eyes fixed me with a knowing look. "Miss Jones… I notice you didn't say you're staying inside."
I ran to the kitchen, my mind already on other things as I pulled cleaning supplies from under the sink. "My captain's still out there, and so's Sanji. They have gas masks, but Krieg's still there too. I don't think he's drowned, armour or not. I have to help."
At the Somme- or was it Passchendaele? I never could keep those two separate in my head- the ground troops that had first encountered German mustard gas had countered it by urinating on there handkerchiefs and covering their faces. I wasn't about to do that, but I was pretty sure an ammonia-based window cleaner would have the same effect. And if not… Well, it would be too late then. So I soaked my bandanna in the One Piece equivalent of Windex and tied it over my nose and mouth.
"Anyone have any safety goggles? You know, for cutting onions or something?" Otherwise, the gas might not get my lungs, but it would certainly hurt my eyes. Not that they ever did me much good anymore anyways, but still. All the cooks stared at me in silence. At least, until Patty pointed at a cupboard above the sink.
"There should be a few pairs in there- if Carne hasn't busted them again."
"Oi! I would never!"
"Thanks." The goggles were just large enough to fit over my glasses. Excellent. I could see and protect my eyes. Usually I had to do one or the other.
Then I had to figure out how to get out without letting the gas in. Luckily, the hole Luffy had made in the roof was both above gas level and still open. I clambered out and perched on the top of the restaurant, looking around to get an idea what was going on. It was hard to see through the gas, but I could tell enough. There were only three shadows I really needed to keep track of anyway- Luffy, Sanji, and Krieg. All the pirates in the water were unimportant, unlikely to do anything in their fear. Also, perching on the roof made me feel like Batman.
"Gum-Gum Gatling!" The gas shifted as my captain battered Krieg at an inhuman pace. I couldn't see whether this was enough to damage the armada captain's armour though. What I did see was a hand reach out and grab my stretchy captain as he finished his technique, and his being thrown into the water. Well, that was my cue. I jumped down to the deck, where Sanji was.
"Sanji? You okay?"
"Miss Jones? What're you doing out here? Go back inside where the gas can't hurt you!" The cook's voice sounded strange, muffled by his gas mask. I shook my head.
"I'm fine; I know how to neutralize the gas. But I need to go get Luffy, so keep an eye out for Krieg." Without waiting for an answer, I dove into the water.
Not the best idea I ever had. Kitchen goggles aren't water-tight. So once again I was subject to the burning of salt against my eyeballs as I searched for my anchor of a captain. Luckily it didn't take long. I grabbed Luffy by the back of his vest and hauled him to the surface, dragging him up onto a piece of flotsam. Then I glared through the still water-filled goggles, too afraid of the gas to take them off and dump them out.
"Finish him quickly please. I can't do that again." My lungs were burning from having to hold an ammonia-soaked breath, and my arms ached. I wasn't used to pulling people underwater.
Luffy nodded. Luckily his gas mask had prevented him from inhaling too much water. "Okay. Thanks Jones."
By now, Krieg had moved. He was on the deck of the Baratie, facing Sanji through the gas. I couldn't tell if they'd been fighting while I was underwater, or if Krieg had just gotten there. It was a moot point though. Two jumps had Luffy landing between them, rubber arm twisting around as he flung it back. Then came a tremendous sound, like a bullwhip being snapped mixed with someone doing donuts in a gravel parking lot.
I have no way to describe the sound of armour shattering under a spinning rubber fist. It wasn't like a plate breaking, although that's probably the closest I can come. Maybe someone who's been in a bad car crash would've heard something similar; I don't know. All I do know is that it hurt my ears worse than fingernails on a chalkboard. I flinched and covered them, scrunching my eyes shut on reflex. So I didn't get to see or hear Krieg splash down, didn't know when battle ended. At least, not until I felt someone shaking my shoulder several minutes later.
"Miss Jones! Miss Jones! You can take off the- whatever you've got on your face now. The shitty gas's gone."
Opening my eyes, I checked first. I trusted Sanji, but at the same time I wasn't certain. He might not know enough about mustard gas to know when things were safe. But as far as I could tell, he was right. There was no more oddly coloured fog in the air, and the Krieg pirates were starting to remove their masks. Sanji and Luffy had already taken theirs off. So I shifted the water-filled goggles up onto my forehead and untied my bandanna from my nose and mouth.
Almost immediately, I started coughing. Right- ammonia was almost as dangerous as the gas I'd been using it to protect myself from, especially when mixed with water. I'd forgotten about that. Well, at least I hadn't gotten it in my eyes. Sanji rubbed my back as I hacked and gasped, turning to the restaurant to call for help.
"Oi! Shitheads! I've got a lady in distress out here! Someone get ready to treat chemical burns and whatever damage she's done to her lungs and throat!"
Chemical burns? I reached up to touch my face. Sure enough, the whole lower half felt raw and tender; when I pulled my hand away, there was a little bit of blood and the places I'd touched started to sting. Oops.
By now I was coughing so hard I could barely stand. Sanji helped me back to the restaurant, passing a worried Luffy as we went inside. Carne was already waiting with a first-aid kit. He began smearing some sort of gel on my face before Sanji could say anything, while Patty prepared some concoction that involved warm water, honey, and a plant that looked kind of like horehound. I returned the cook's goggles while trying to muffle my coughs in my sleeve.
Luffy looked at me with disappointment. It was somewhere between withholding treats from my cat and failing something Sensei was sure I could do; my stomach sank to the bottom of the sea. "Jones… I thought you said you wouldn't hurt yourself."
"Actually, I only promised that I wouldn't go death-seeking." I barely managed to speak through the coughs. "This… Wasn't on purpose though. I forgot ammonia did this; I was just trying to nullify the poison gas."
I expected to be hit over the head, so I braced myself for pain and unconsciousness. Instead, I got an incredulous stare. Patty handed me a mug that smelled like home-made cough medicine; I sipped it slowly as I waited for my captain to gather his thoughts. While the coughs didn't go away completely, they did subside enough that I no longer felt like they would cause me to lose a lung. My entire chest was still burning from the inside out though.
"I don't know what a degree in English and Biology means," Luffy said after a few minutes, "But you told me you win word fights. This doesn't look like a word fight- or like you won."
"It's chemistry." Chef Zeff knelt beside me with an awkward clunk, examining the job Carne was doing tending to my face. "Sloppily done, if she didn't remember something like how dangerous ammonia can be, but chemistry- and used more creatively than anyone I've seen in a long time." I wanted to tell him that I was fine, that Sanji and Luffy needed bandages more than I needed attention, but I couldn't get the words out. Someone must've seen the look in my eyes though, as a couple of the chefs whose names I didn't know immediately went to work on my captain and the future Straw Hat cook.
"Oh. What's chemistry?"
What was this sudden urge to bang my head against the nearest solid object? Was this how Nami felt whenever she tried to explain weather or navigation to the rest of the crew? Luffy's ignorance was a lot less adorable when I had to deal with it personally. "It's a mystery thing that tells me what things are made of and how I can use that to my advantage. I didn't lie; my major was English literature and Biology- genetics and environmental biology if we want to get technical. But doing biology means I have some chemistry as well. And taking English means I had to learn a bit about history, psychology, and philosophy. Plus, I already told you I tend to research anything that interests me."
Carne whistled. "Little Miss Waitress sure is a jack of all trades."
"Ace of all and king of none," I said, gesturing to my burned face. "Just don't ask me for statistics; I hate 'em and they don't make sense to me at all. Passed that class through sheer luck."
"When did you have time to study all that?" Patty wondered. "And why? Wouldn't it be easier to stick with one thing? Become a cook or an engineer or something?"
My favourite author provided the answer for that. I reeled off the quote, proud. "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. Or at least, so says Robert A. Heinlein."
No one could come up with anything to argue with that- probably because they had no idea who Heinlein was. If I'd said that on my world, it would've immediately identified me as a giant geek. In the ensuing silence though, I- and everyone around me- realized what Luffy had said earlier. I felt the blood drain from my face. How could he have mentioned my self-harm so casually? It wasn't something random acquaintances were meant to know about! As all eyes turned to my arms, I searched my head for something I could use as a distraction.
A chef whose name I didn't know raised his eyebrows. "Wait. Those stains on your sleeves… are blood?"
Luffy looked horrified, belatedly aware of what he'd done. His immediate reaction was familiar- and probably would've made me laugh if it'd been any other topic under examination. "Um… Everyone, forget what I said! Thanks for helping Jones with her face burns; you can leave us alone now!"
Ghin stepped up. "We can't just forget something like that. It's serious. Don Krieg wouldn't even let people with those kinds of issues into his fleet because he didn't want them breaking down at the wrong time."
That earned him a hard look from my captain. "Well, Krieg was a meanie and a butt-head. Jones won't break down on me; she just needs a little help."
This was very uncomfortable. Distraction, I needed a distraction now. Mentally apologizing to the Straw Hat cook, I threw him under the bus instead. "I'm fine, really. The one who needs help is Sanji. His dream is to find the All Blue, but he can't bring himself to leave the restaurant to search for it because he feels like he owes Zeff his life for saving him from a shipwreck- even though Zeff only saved him because they have the same dream and he thought Sanji could make it a reality."
Two jaws dropped; everyone else just stared at me. I rubbed my forearms and tried to sink into my chair as Sanji and Zeff stared at me. When they eventually spoke, it was in unison, producing an odd stereo effect.
"How the Hell did you know that? Are you a mind reader?"
On second thought, revealing my comic knowledge in front of Ghin and the entire staff of the Baratie probably wasn't the best idea either. Oops. But at least no one was thinking about my cutting anymore. "Um… No…" Come on brain, don't fail me now. I need an excuse! "I'm a- a witch! My magic lets me know lots of things I shouldn't, and sometimes I can make strange things happen without a Devil Fruit!"
Weirdly, most of the cooks seemed to accept this. Patty was a skeptic though- I shouldn't have been so surprised. The Popeye expy folded his bizarre arms over his chest. "Oh yeah? Prove it."
"Fine." I coughed as I stood, but the burning in my lungs was subsiding. That was good. Since I didn't think Zeff would appreciate me proving my point by breaking part of his restaurant, I went and retrieved a large piece of Krieg's broken ship, dragging it inside. It was much bigger than what I normally trained with, so I hoped this would still work. Fingertips against the wood, focus through it, deep breath… Snap.
My small movement was followed by the sound of a tree snapping in half. Luffy smiled; I wondered if it was because he knew what I was doing, or he just liked seeing things break and explode. Patty nodded, too stunned for words. Zeff stared at me appraisingly.
"I've seen tricks like that before Miss Jones. You may or may not be a witch- but I know you're hiding something. As long as it doesn't hurt the restaurant or my Eggplant, though, I guess it doesn't matter."
"What?! How can you take this so calmly?!" Sanji looked from me to Zeff, not sure who he should be angry at. Eventually he settled on Zeff, because I'm a girl and that comes with automatic Sanji protection. Once he was on the crew, he'd really need to work on that.
"Because I've been to the Grand Line. There are far stranger things on those seas than a little girl who knows things she shouldn't. And from her actions with Straw Hat, she means well-even if she has less common sense than a turkey in a rain storm."
"I'm twenty-three," I muttered. At this point, people were too confused by everything else I'd said to pay any attention.
Luffy fiddled with one of his bandages. "Ne, well, now that Jones spilled… Sanji, join my crew!"
"What? No! I refuse!"
"And I refuse your refusal! So there!" Okay, it wasn't as funny in real life. Although that might have more to do with the situation. Still, I had to fight to keep a straight face. Especially once Zeff started laughing.
"Go with them Eggplant. Our little waitress is right; I didn't save you so you could waste your life here. I saved you so you'd have a chance to fulfill our dream."
Sanji growled. "You can't get rid of me that easily Old Geezer! I'm your sous chef; you're stuck with me until you die."
"Or until I fire you and you're not the sous chef anymore."
That made the younger blond freeze and gape. My heart sank a little; apparently I'd changed the whole heartwarming-asshole scene of all the cooks pretending Sanji's food sucked. Oh well, I did say "Screw you" to the butterfly effect. As long as Sanji still joined up, it'd be fine.
"You- you'd actually fire me? But I helped you build this place!"
Zeff nodded. "And when you were just a kid, that was fine. I didn't mind having you run around all over the place, messing up my recipes and trying to put cheese in everything. But you're not a little Eggplant anymore. You've learned enough to be a better cook than anyone else a bunch of rookie pirates could hope to recruit, and you can fight well enough now that I don't have to worry about you dying before you make it to Reverse Mountain. Probably. It's time for you to go find the All Blue- that is why I saved you all those years ago. We share the same dream; I can't go exploring anymore with this leg of mine, so you'd best do it for both of us."
"Chef Zeff…" Sanji blinked back tears. The older cook coughed and shook his head.
"Oi, none of that now. If you need to cry, go chop some onions while you're waiting. I'll have someone get a boat ready for you and your little captain- you're going after that redheaded girl, right?"
"Yep!" Luffy bounced in his seat. "Make sure whoever's packing gives us lots of meat, Old Man! And… we can take Jones now, right? Since I beat the asshole who tried to steal your restaurant?"
"Heh, of course you can Brat." Zeff snorted and shook his head. "I don't need a waitress with that little common sense wandering around. She'd probably try to clean the deep fryers while they were still running or something."
"Yes!" My captain bounced over and almost hugged me, before remembering that I don't like that. The result was that he tripped and rolled into the wall, giggling once he'd stopped. I shook my head and headed outside. If we had to wait for a boat to be prepared, I was gonna collect some scrap wood for training. It's not like the Krieg Pirates had any more use for it.
"Miss Jones, what's all that for?" Sanji stared at me and my pile of boards in confusion, swirly eyebrow raised. I shrugged as I began loading it into the little boat we'd been given.
"…Okay then." The cook went back to securing our food supplies against intrusion by our captain. As for my part, I was trying to spot said captain. Luffy was late, having disappeared somewhere once the chefs who were giving us supplies had given him the boot.
I was about to call for said captain when I head sandals slapping against damp wood. Luffy bounded over my head and landed in the boat behind me, whistling. From the way his mouth was stretched, he'd just stolen a whole ham from the kitchen. I sighed. Yep, my captain was a rubber carnivorous chipmunk.
"Let's go!" Luffy ordered, swallowing his ill-gotten gains. Sanji shook his head, but obeyed orders, casting off as I hoisted the sail. Just before the last line came free, heavy leather pounded against the deck of the Baratie. Ghin placed a foot on the rail, holding our little boat in place as he tossed his sea bag in.
"Thought you were leaving without me, did you?"
Luffy stared at him. "I didn't ask you to join, did I?"
"No. But will you stop me if that's what I want?"
"Huh?" My captain looked very confused. I had to admit, I was as well. Ghin hadn't indicated he was interested in joining us, so I'd written him off in my head, expecting that he'd take what was left of Krieg's crew and go off somewhere with them like in canon.
"Look, I owe you guys. Jones got me out, your crew paid for my food, and Sanji was willing to help Krieg even though he was an asshole and a shit captain. I don't run away from my debts."
"Oh. But you don't owe us anything. We did all that cause we wanted to." Luffy smiled. It looked like he was about to tell Ghin to go away; the former Krieg pirate could apparently sense this too, as he tried again.
"Jones said some things that got me interested- I want to see what a real captain and crew are like. And you don't have to worry that I'll get in the way; I can fight."
Instead of the expected rejection, Luffy shot Ghin an appraising look. It was long, and accompanied by an awkward silence. Sanji looked confused. But with my newfound insight into Luffy's hiring process, I thought I understood what was going on. Ghin looked lost- he was a good second-in-command, but he wasn't a leader. Or at least, this version of him wasn't. If Luffy rejected him, he might try to guide the remains of his old crew, but he would eventually end up under another man regardless, because that was what Ghin knew best. I'd just finished this assessment when Luffy nodded and beamed.
"Alright. Get in!"
Smiling with relief, Ghin stepped into the little boat and made his way over to help me with the sail. Sanji made a noise of understanding, although since I wasn't looking at him anymore, I had no idea what it was the cook had understood. Not that it mattered. I was too busy trying to think of the best way to explain my strange knowledge to the new crew members. The witch explanation was fine for people I wasn't going to be seeing every day for the foreseeable future, but Sanji and Ghin would need the truth eventually.