His face is smooshed against something hard; he's sort of in pain. He opens his eyes to an unfamiliar floor and a lot of confusion.

Picking himself up is a mistake. He falls back down immediately. Rolling over onto his back, he blinks up at the ceiling. He doesn't remember a bar with such nice wooden floors and ceilings.

He must have drunk too much last night. He brings up his hand to his face and realizes something's quite off. His hand's not that tiny or smooth looking, he thinks.

The floor begins shaking. Startled, he looks up at to find a man in a dress stomping towards him. The man opens his mouth,

"Kuina! What have I told you about playing on the stairs?"

Kuina?

He blinks up slowly at the man. The man exhales loudly and swiftly picks him up. It's a shock to be lifted like he weighs nothing, and being cradled in the man's arms brings up an important fact.

He is really, really small.

"It can't be helped. Let's get you dressed," the man mutters.

He can only grab onto the man's dress—robe maybe?—and hold on for dear life. He has no clue what's going on.

When he's taken to a child's bedroom and shoved into a dress, he thinks, oh.

He still doesn't really understand what's going on, but he's starting to piece it together. He tugs at his pink clothes and gives the man towering above him a long, searching look. He doesn't like what he sees.

Suspicious, he tugs on the man's long sleeve.

"What should I call you?"

"Hm? Are you feeling unwell, Kuina? I'm Father of course," the man gently smiles down at him.

Yeah, okay, he thinks with a sigh.

The rest of his day is spent attached to the man's leg as he learns to navigate his new house. "Father" assumes he's not feeling well and ends up teaching him everything he needs to know.

Like the fact his house sits right next to a dojo, or that his new parental figure apparently owns it. He watches the students swing around bamboo swords outside the dojo while his father pretends he no longer exists and thinks I'm getting out of here the first chance I get.

He can spot a shitty father a mile away, and this guy, no matter how pretty his smiles are, is hitting all the checkboxes on the list.

Of course, he'll need a few years to grow up before he sets off, and it wouldn't hurt to learn some self-defense since he has access to it. He's got some time to plan his life out. He curls up on the wooden porch and dozes off as children scream out with each swing of the sword.

It's the most uncomfortable nap he's ever had.

...

Being a girl is, at first, a terrible experience. Mainly it involves panicking about going to the bathroom, developing breasts, and future periods.

(Social standards for women don't factor in; he doesn't realize that this is what he should be worrying about.)

After the initial excitement of having a different body part fades away, he finds it's not so bad. There's not much of a difference in how his body moves, and he's got years to grow into his new developments.

In the end, there's no identity crisis, no tears, and no wishing to be male.

While it would be nice to have his old body back, this female one works just fine. He decides he's going to start calling himself "she" out of convenience. It doesn't bother him.

(And if he neither corrects nor confirms when someone says "he" or "she," well that's for her to worry about.)

...

Her father allows her to learn swordsmanship from the dojo when she asks, and the years pass by without much incident.

There's not much to say: she gets up, exercises, eats, trains, learns some miscellaneous thing that interests her, and trains some more.

It's a pretty boring existence.

Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if she made some friends, but there's no one worthy of the title. On this tiny island, the only children her age are her father's snobby students or girls being groomed into brides.

She slams the door on some auntie asking her to join a "Preparing for marriage" class. She thinks of the little girls arranging flowers with hearts in their eyes and snorts contemptuously.

(She shouldn't be so hypocritical. She's not inheriting the dojo, and since she's not an official student of the dojo, her father is definitely grooming her to be the inheritor's bride.)

The boys aren't much better. Full of ideas of what makes a man, they sling slurs and curse words at her for being a girl even when she beats them into the ground. Her father simply laughs and tells her to go easy on them.

She redoubles her efforts of getting off this island.

...

There are apparently pirates and Marines—each equally evil—that make up this world of islands. Both groups have amazing martial prowess, and most common people are helpless to defend themselves from them.

"There's no need to worry, Kuina." The village librarian laughs at her frowning face. "Shimotsuki is one of the safest places in East Blue."

She rolls her eyes, and the librarian doesn't take it to heart, too used to her usual grumpiness. Today's reading material tells her one thing: she was right to throw herself into her training.

Shimotsuki may be one of the safest villages in East Blue, but she has no plans of staying here. Hell, she doesn't even know if she wants to stay in East Blue, the weakest ocean in the world.

She just knows she can't stay here in this stifling place where her future is made for her with a father who would probably stay smiling at her death.

The sword is her way out, so she begins practicing even more diligently after that day. She moves on from challenging petty boys, and the older students begin fearing the glint her eye.

She doesn't have the desire to be a swordsman, doesn't pick up a sword and think, this is my life.

She doesn't love the sword, but she does love its effects. Each strike of her shinai is full of purpose, and everyone begins fearing her wrath. She's left alone to train, and her days pass by even more peacefully than the last. Life is good.

(But it's still boring.)

...

She doesn't know the story, doesn't even know she's stuck in between the pages of a manga. So when a boy with bright, green hair barges into the dojo yelling about being the greatest swordsman, she simply grabs her shinai and puts him in his place.

The fact that the kid not only joins the dojo but keeps challenging her every single day frustrates her. Roronoa Zoro, the boy exclaims, will be the greatest swordsman in the world. No amount of rubbing his face into the ground stops him from saying it every. Damn. Day.

She admits; it's kind of fun seeing him get back up from her strikes just to go down. Still, what possesses this kid to try to jump her when she's trying to read during her break?

"Get off me!" The boy cries, gnashing his teeth.

"Not until I'm done reading," she says flatly.

The boy howls underneath her, and she keeps reading on through sheer willpower. Not even her squirming seat will keep her from her goal. It's tough going, but she manages to make it a quarter of the way in before she realizes that the kid's stopped struggling.

"Why are you reading?" The boy sneers.

She taps the page with a considering hum.

"Usually people ask 'What are you reading?' " She says with humor.

"Books aren't important! You can't learn swordsmanship like that!" The boy shouts.

She closes the book with a snap and inhales deeply. Whatever higher deity is out there, grant her strength from murdering this poor, stupid child.

"Alright, be ready with your katana. We're going to do a real sword duel tonight in the training yard."

She gets off the boy who stares at her with a gaping expression. She narrows her eyes and the boy jumps up and runs off as if set on fire. Normally when she issues a challenge, her opponents run off in fear. That huge grin tells her he's the furthest thing from scared.

Tucking the book under her arm, she heads off to grab a snack. Maybe after tonight, he'll finally leave her alone. She doesn't need anyone getting in her way.

(She doesn't need anyone tying her down. It's harder to leave if you have something holding you back.)

"You ready to lose?" The boy grins, duel katana flashing under the moonlight.

"Are you?" She asks flatly, holding her single katana steady.

There's only one outcome of tonight's duel, and she's not about to break her eternal winning streak. The boy flashes her a determined look, and the air grows tense.

She inhales and then exhales. Their blades strike against each other, and then it's over. His swords go flying, and then she kicks him into the dirt.

"My win," she announces, chest heaving slightly.

She expects the kid to curse, to flail and scream. He doesn't let her down, but she does get a shock when he stops pounding his fists against the ground.

"Why did you challenge me?" The kid asks. "When you still don't care to know my name?"

It's a dirty blow from behind, a strike from a defeated opponent. It's not that she doesn't know his name—he shouts it every day—it's that she refuses to acknowledge him.

"You wanted to know why I was reading," she says, falling to the ground in exhaustion. "This is my answer."

"What the hell kind of answer is that?" The kid demands.

She should be in bed right now, sleeping so she can get up and work. She should be preparing herself for another dull day of training. So what is she even trying to do? She digs her sandals into the dirt and tries to figure out what she wants to say.

"You want to be the strongest swordsman in the world, right? What will happen when you can beat everyone on this island?" She asks.

"I'll go to the next!" The kid declares.

She stares into his eyes and asks, "How?" She's given the expected answer.

"By sailing!"

The kid plops next to her, and she can see the same determination from earlier burning away. It's almost as if she never beat him down. She feels slightly envious.

"Do you know how to sail? Do you know what to pack? Where to go? How the trade systems work? You have to learn that stuff," she says.

"I can just get someone to teach me," the boy scoffs.

"And there it is. You can, but I can't. No one will teach me, so I have to teach myself," she smiles bitterly. "I have to learn any way I can. I refuse to be stuck here."

The sentiment echoes in her sword training. No one wants to teach her or help her get stronger. She goes to the back of the class and learns even when her father has made it clear she's not actually a student.

She expects some derisive comment, but instead the kid remains silent. Again, she has no idea what she's trying to achieve here. She just wanted to be left alone, to have him understand that she isn't going to stay.

"I'm Zoro," the boy eventually says, holding out a hand, "and I'm going to be the world's greatest swordsman."

It's not a wild declaration, and there are no bamboo swords being waved about. It's a serious statement, and there's a promise of something behind those piercing dark eyes.

"Kuina," she replies, taking his hand.

It's the start of something new and dangerous, but damn if it isn't interesting.

...

Her world curves into a new direction. She's still planning on leaving, still planning to sail off with a katana and a stolen boat. It's just now she has something called a "friend."

"Bullshit."

"Watch your mouth," one of her father's adult students tells her.

"No," she narrows her eyes, "you're just mad that a girl's showing you up. My muscles still haven't finished growing. If I can take on adults now, why the hell will that change when I get stronger?"

"A man—"

"No," she says harshly, "there's more than just raw strength to swordsmanship. Not much a guy can do if there's a sword sticking through his gut before he can even move."

She sees the disapproving look from her father out of the corner of her eye and knows she's lost the argument despite winning it. She'll be told, once more, that the older she gets the weaker she is.

It's bullshit.

She remembers a woman that could go toe to toe with any man while she, the supposed greater sex, would go and pass out on the bar floor. It's not a stretch to say his previous mother was far greater than her current father in every way possible.

"Kuina will kick your ass even if she's a grandma," Zoro says from beside her and the dojo grows silent at his words.

No one knows what to make of Zoro's new attitude towards her. He still challenges her to a duel every day, still claims his eventual victory over her, but now he'll stick around and talk to her. He defends her now in a way that's humbling.

"Of course Kuina beat you. Why are you still crying over it?" He'll say to someone who thinks complaining against her will win back their pride.

It doesn't stop there either. When she opens a book, Zoro sits down next to her and asks her to read out loud. When she decides to try baking, he's there eating her food even when he really shouldn't be.

("It's too dry," Zoro tells her before shoving the rest of the pastry into his mouth.

"You little," she makes a noise in the back of her throat, "that was mine!"

He demands she bake it again, and she throws a plate at his head. He ducks, and she shoves his head into the leftover flour.

"You're helping me make another," she orders.

She soon regrets that decision. Turns out he can't bake.)

She doesn't know how to repay him for being her friend, but she's got an idea.

Wado Ichimonji, her family's sword, she doesn't dare touch it. Swordsmanship really isn't her passion, and she feels the wielder of such a great blade needs to be amazing. She has full confidence that Zoro will be the wielder Wado Ichimonji needs, can see it in his eyes.

"Which is why I want to leave the sword to Zoro," she tells her father one day.

After all these years she still doesn't understand the man and can't tell what he's thinking. She's not going to back down though; she has no intention of marrying in this life and of giving Wado Ichimonji to anyone else.

Ominously shining glasses glare down at her, and she blurts out the next line without thinking,

"As my dowry to him!"

The cup in her father's hands crack, and she tries to backpedal immediately to no avail.

"More of a pre-marriage gift? Because I can only marry the world's greatest swordsman?" Wait, wasn't the current one still single. "Because I will marry the best swordsman that's my age." She settles on.

She packs her bags that night. Three days later, she watches through the window as her father hands Wado Ichimonji to a flabbergasted Zoro. She uses money stolen from her father's students through rigged bets and pays her way onto a merchant ship that is conveniently sailing the next morning.

(Of course she timed it right. She's been ready to leave for the last six months. It's time to move on.)

"Are you going to be okay, little girl?" The captain asks her with a frown.

She shifts so the handle of her katana is visible from her outer kimono. It's not the best grade, but it'll serve her well. She gives the captain a bright smile.

"I'll be just fine, sir. Though I'd like to learn some sailing tips from your crew if it doesn't bother them."

She sails off, leaving behind two letters: one to her father and one to her friend. A part of her feels regret for being so ungrateful to what is, in all truth, a great childhood. The other part of her that only remembers being loved from a past life squashes it down ruthlessly.

"I wonder if Zoro will take being my betrothed seriously?" She mutters to herself before shaking her head with a smile. "Nah, that idiot knows me better than that!"

Well, even if he does, it's not like they'll meet again. Nope, she'll never hear from him again.

("Kuina, dear, come look at the new bounty posters!" Her boss waves at her from beside the door.

She grumbles but gets up since she's contracted to follow her boss anyway. She's got half a year before she can quit her bodyguard job, but she's debating paying the fee and cutting out early. It's not a bad job, just boring.

She follows behind her boss through the marketplace, lamenting the woman's choice in dress. The big hoop skirt knocks into countless things, and she's the one grabbing the items before they fall. It's a relief to finally get to the bounty board.

"Oh, look, dear, aren't they so handsome," her boss coos.

She rolls her eyes. Pirates would make a meal out of this woman. It's a good thing her boss is smart enough to know she needs a bodyguard.

She glances at the newest posters in disinterest before choking as familiar green hair catches her attention.

"60,000,000?" She almost shrieks. "What the hell!")


Finding Your Wings art cover was created by alluka-jpg from tumblr!