HELLO SO SO SORRY FOR THE HIATUS! It's been an incredibly tough year, and I've been finding it difficult to think about this story without feeling stressed out. I absolutely do not plan to abandon it (I love Hazel too much!), but I can't guarantee when the next chapter will be out; I'm pretty much going with the flow and just, going wherever the energy and motivation takes me right now, rather than forcing myself to work on things lol I've also been working on a few other projects, most notably a Dragon Age fanfic that I'm incredibly excited about, but the most exciting thing this week was managing to FINALLY get this chapter finished for all of you! It's longer than usual, so hopefully that helps make up for my absence lol enjoy!
"Ugh…" Hazel groaned into her pillow, pointedly ignoring the noise coming from the ceiling. Sleepytime…
"HAZEL! SANJI MADE BREAKFAST!"
Her brother's voice made the young woman groan louder, as if he could hear her through the pillows, blankets, and many floorboards between them. She didn't care. She wasn't leaving this bed. Nope. Not happening.
"AH!" Hazel bolted out of bed, turning to glare at the rubber boy who'd snuck into her shared room. "Luffy, you little shit! This is the girls' room, stay out!"
"Nami told me to come wake you up!" He said quickly, ignoring the murderous look on her face in favor of pulling her across the room. "Come ooooon, breakfast! Sanji won't let me eat until you're there!"
"Damn that man…" she muttered while shrugging off his hands, body contorting into whatever weird shapes she could make herself in an effort to stretch. "Alright, alright, I'm up, I'm coming…"
"Woo!" Hazel watched Luffy barrel back out of the room. She turned back to her bed, blankets mussed from her quick ejection, and the thought of climbing back into her nest crossed her mind. Too late, she thought, I'm already up.
She ran a brush through her curls, violet hair frizzing up around her face like a cloud, and straightened out the clothes she'd slept in, then dragged herself up the stairs towards the deck. No one was out, not that Hazel was surprised if they were apparently waiting on her, and as she made her way into the galley she fixed a rather pathetic glare in Nami and Sanji's direction.
"Hazel-chwan!~ It's so good to see you awake my darling! I've made for you a delectable spread of crepes filled with fresh fruits, bacon, eggs benedict, and seasoned potatoes. I hope you enjoy!~"
Hazel blinked and rubbed her tired eyes, sliding into her seat with a sniff. "Thanks, Sanji. Just gimme a minute for my stomach to wake up…"
"After seeing the way you two eat, I'm surprised you're not digging in right away," Usopp said from the end of the table, glancing nervously as their captain practically inhaled his plate.
"This is what happens when I'm woken up too early," Hazel groaned, glaring at the navigator trying to appear innocent next to her.
"Exactly…" She began piling her plate, not quite ready to eat it but knowing better than to leave it for Luffy to grab first.
"We were hungry," Nami pointed out. "Sanji-kun wanted to make sure everyone was at the table before eating."
"You can't honestly expect me to believe you weren't allowed to eat without me," Hazel deadpanned.
"Luffy kept screeching about the bacon," Zoro grunted across from her.
"Like that's any excuse to interfere with a woman's beauty sleep."
"Beauty sleep?" Luffy began laughing, narrowly avoiding choking when Sanji's foot landed on his head.
"Never insult a lady!" Hazel shook her head as she began to dig in.
"Lucky for all of you, this is delicious. Thank you, Sanji," she said, beaming up at the cook. The blond immediately deflated, floating through the air with sheer happiness at the compliment. Hazel turned back to her food as the crew settled into breakfast, conversation halting as they polished off their plates.
"For you, my dear," Sanji spoke near her ear, startling Hazel for a moment. With a flourish, he placed a small saucer with a cup in front of her, a bitter smell wafting through her nostrils. "I wasn't sure how you take your coffee, but I can grab cream and sugar for you if you'd like."
"Um…" Hazel trailed off, startled by his sincerity. Nowhere was the man who'd flirted with her mere moments ago, instead replaced by one clearly intent on her morning starting off right. "Thank you, I'll take both please."
The cook nodded, moving to fulfill her request. Smile still on her face, Hazel glanced up, catching Zoro's eyes. His brow was raised slightly, as if in confusion, but when he noticed her gaze he huffed and looked back at his plate. When the coffee was once again placed in front of her, Luffy peered over at the warm mug before she could take a sip. "Ooo, can I try some?"
"Did you raise the price again?" Nami accosted the large gull perched on the top deck. "You're charging too much." The poor bird raised a wing in salute, a rather dejected look on its face as the woman placed a coin in its pouch. "If you raise it again, I'm not buying from you anymore."
"Are you really threatening a bird over money?" Hazel asked, sipping her coffee with a smirk.
"What's a newspaper or two?" Usopp muttered, deep in concentration over what looked like a science experiment.
"If you read one every day, it's good for the brain, and I'm not about to let them swindle me!"
"You're done collecting money, aren't you?" Usopp asked, still not looking away from his makeshift chemistry set.
"Don't be stupid! Now that Arlong's gone, it's time to make money for myself! I don't wanna be a penniless pirate!"
"Stop squawking!" Usopp snapped, splaying his hand in Nami's direction. "I'm trying to develop the ultimate killer, the Pepper Sauce Star! Anyone who gets this in his eyes won't stand a chance!"
As if the universe was determined to help prove his statement, it sent Luffy flying into Usopp's concoction via Sanji's foot, spilling the vial's contents into the poor sniper's eyes.
"Hey, what the hell?!" Hazel yelled, frantically pouring Nami's glass of water in Usopp's eyes.
"What?! Can't I just have one?!" Luffy yelled at the cook, ignoring the chaos behind him.
"No!" Sanji yelled, standing legs spread in front of Nami's tangerine trees like a strange, suited guardian. "This is Nami-san's tangerine grove! I won't let you touch them! Nami-san, I shall guard this grove with all the love in my heart!"
"Aw, thank you Sanji-kun," Nami called behind her, attention firmly on her newspaper.
"C'mon, just one tangerine! You're such a cheapskate Sanji!" Luffy continued to whine, but Sanji held firm with a resounding "no". "Ok, I'm in too good of a mood to fight!" the rubber boy laughed, jumping onto the railing, citrus fruit forgotten for the time being.
Usopp continued to writhe on the floor, clutching his eyes. "Alright, I know you're milking it now…" Hazel muttered, ignoring Nami's glare when she realized her water was now empty. The orange-haired girl rolled her eyes, turning back to the newspaper with a sigh.
"The world is in turmoil...there was another coup d'etat in Vira."
"Another one?" Hazel hadn't even realized there was a first one. If she ever managed to get her hands on a newspaper, it was mostly to read the funny comics on page 3. The one with the fat cat always got a laugh out of her. "Hey, what is that?" she asked, noticing a page fall loose from the rest of the paper.
"It's an ad," Luffy said, picking it up for them all to glance at.
Hazel covered her ears at the deafening scream erupting from her crewmates. Nami ran towards the railing, seemingly trying to distance herself as much as possible from the offending scrap of paper. Sanji stood back, calmly puffing his cigarette while his eyes betrayed his surprise. Usopp stood close, nose practically touching the flyer in Luffy's hand. Zoro snored from across the ship.
Luffy's laugh echoed through the air, hands on his hips in pride as he showed off the flyer. The wanted poster shone bright in the sun, her captain's bright grin plastered across the front. "We're wanted criminals now! We're worth 30 million beli!"
"You're worth 30 million beli, Luff," Hazel snarked, smirking over at him from beside Nami's feet. "Little Brother's First Wanted Poster, I'm proud of you!" Though, a part of her wished she had a kickass bounty too…
"Look!" Usopp shouted, pointing to a corner of the picture. "I'm gonna be seen around the world! Girls might fall for me!"
"What?!" Sanji yelled, suddenly honing in on where Usopp was pointing. "They put long-nose in but left me out?!" He peered closer, squinting, "where are you?! I don't see you anywhere!"
"See?" Usopp moved the poster closer to the cook's face, the boast obvious in his tone. Hazel squinted to see better. Sure enough, there was the back of Usopp's head, far in the distance behind Luffy.
"It's just the back of your head," Sanji pouted, puffing further on his cigarette. "That's nothing to brag about."
"Don't be so glum! You can get on these without being captain if you get more important!"
"Just keep on trying hard!" Usopp gloated further, throwing his arm around Sanji's shoulders and joining a merry chant with Luffy.
"Let's charge for the Grand Line, men!" Hazel shook her head at their enthusiasm, smile firmly on her face.
"As usual, you guys have no idea how serious this is," Nami muttered, head in her hand. "This means our lives are in danger now! This is no time to be taking it easy and relaxing in the East Blue…"
"Nami, our lives were already in danger. Let them have their fun," Hazel told her, patting the young woman on the back in a show of comfort.
"Stop being so calm about this! The Marines and bounty hunters will be after us now!"
"Meh, let them come," Hazel grinned, spurred on by the boys' energy. Nami just groaned, burrowing further in on herself, and the crew's chants grew louder as Hazel's voice joined the mix.
"Let's go! Let's go! Grand Line!"
"We're finally nearing the Grand Line…" Nami muttered, pointing at a spot on the map. After finally wrangling the rambunctious crew together, everyone crowded around the top deck for a strategy meeting. "It looks like the only way into it is through Reverse Mountain here."
"Reverse Mountain?" Hazel murmured, peering over the girl's shoulder at the point where the seas intersect.
"What a pain. Can't we just sail straight through it?" Zoro groaned, glaring from where he sat leaning against the rail. Sanji shook his head.
"Nope, from what the geezer told me, that's the only way boats can enter."
"How come?" Usopp asked.
"Cause it's supposedly dangerous."
"But how come?!"
"I don't know any more than that!" Sanji yelled, glaring at the sniper.
"Boys, please…" Hazel scolded, trying to stop any fights before they could occur.
"The reason for that is-"
"Alright! I got it!" Luffy interrupted Nami, pointing at the map. "Then let's head straight into it!"
"Are you even paying attention?!"
"But it sounds fun!" Luffy insisted, grin never wavering. "Plus it'd feel way better going straight into it!"
"Fun or not, I'd like to actually make it to the Grand Line before we die," Hazel told him, side-eyeing her brother's enthusiasm. Nami shared the sentiment.
"Talking to you makes me feel like I'm gonna go crazy…" the navigator whined, palm to her forehead in exasperation. Luffy soldiered on, ignoring the women's concerns.
"Anyways, let's stop at an island first and get meat! Meat! Meat!" Nami reached a finger out to point at a spot on the map, and Luffy and Hazel both peered closer at the paper.
"There's a famous city on this island...Loguetown."
"Loguetown?" Luffy asked, puzzled look on his face as he tried to think. "What? Is it famous for its meat?"
"Also known as the city of the beginning and the end…" Zoro chimed in, thoughtful look on his face. "I'm pretty sure I've heard that before."
"It's where Gold Roger, the former Pirate King, was born," Hazel supplied, appearing somber, "and where he was executed."
"The town where the King of the Pirates died..." Even Luffy's voice was tame, contemplation clear in his eyes. Nami swung her gaze to meet his, sly smile finding its way across her cheeks.
"Yeah! I wanna see it!" As he spoke, his voice grew more excited, though it never lost its reverence. "I wanna see the town where the man who got the One Piece - everything this world has to offer - was born and then died!" Luffy stood up, grin fixed firmly back in place. "Nami! Set sail for Loguetown!"
As the crew scrambled to set their course, Hazel smiled at her brother's excitement, though she didn't share the enthusiasm. She didn't really harbor any opinions on the former Pirate King, good or bad; there just wasn't enough information available on who the man truly was. She had asked her grandfather once, considering what she knew about his connection to Ace, but after hours of pestering the only thing he'd told her was "don't believe everything you hear". Other than that cryptic statement, she knew about as much as anyone else: he was born in Loguetown, he circumnavigated the entire world, then turned himself in (to her grandfather, no less), and was executed in his hometown. For someone who was so famous, you'd think there'd be more to know about him.
Hazel looked down at the notebook in her hand, blank since Shells Town except for the notes she'd taken. She wasn't going to let Luffy fall into that same level of anonymity. Sure, the boy couldn't care less about the fame; his views on being the Pirate King weren't shared by most other pirates, though she found his ideals to be more admirable. What she really didn't want to happen, though, was for her baby brother's name to be smeared by the media, with nothing to counteract it.
Which meant she had a lot of work to do.
"Well, before we get to Loguetown, I have to get to work. Which means I'm shutting myself in my room until I've finished writing about our adventure so far!" Hazel stated for all to hear. She ignored the odd looks sent her way. "So no one bug me, ok?" When she'd received satisfactory nods, Hazel made her way to the girls' room, shut the door, and plopped herself down at the writing desk. She ripped out her pages of notes so she could refer to them easily as she wrote, then opened to a blank page, her pencil hovering above the paper.
An hour later and the page was still blank.
Hazel's pencil had moved, at least. It'd been set on the desk, balanced on her nose (a failure on her part, but no one could see it so she wasn't too pressed), twirled between her fingers, tucked behind her ear as she stretched in her chair (and changed position at least three times; currently she had her feet on the back of the chair with her head leaning on the desk). She'd doodled little pictures on her note pages; tiny flowers and crude renditions of her crewmates (note to self: hide these so Nami doesn't see). There's a reason she hadn't decided to illustrate this book.
Another hour later and her legs hurt from how much she'd been bouncing them. The page remained blank, her mind void of ideas, and her eyes were fixed on the picture frame hanging on the far wall. Maybe some food would help? She didn't think she ate much at breakfast…
As Hazel made her way on deck, she couldn't help but smile at the sight that greeted her. Nami was lounging in the sun on the top deck, being served some fancy drink from their newest member. Zoro was, surprise, napping beneath the mast, his swords propped in his lap. Luffy sat on the other side of the ship, watching Usopp practice with his slingshot. Oh, that could be fun!
"Whatcha guys doin'?" Hazel asked, sneaking up behind the sniper, causing Luffy to laugh at the boy's frightful shriek. "Oops! Sorry, Usopp!" He just glared at her in return.
"Usopp's practicing his slingshot! See? We set up some targets against the other side of the deck, he's really good!"
"Well, you see Luffy, I've been using a slingshot for at least 25 years," Usopp boasted, ignoring the fact that he was only 17. "Which of course makes me an expert sniper!"
"25 years, huh?" Hazel snarked. "Well, mister "expert", whaddaya say to a little contest? The closer to a bullseye gets you more points. Whoever gets the most points wins."
"Uhh, ok, Hazel. But where are you gonna get a slingshot?" Hazel just pointed to Luffy. Specifically his arms. "Hey, now, wait a minute! You can't use him!"
"Why not?" Hazel and Luffy asked, both with blank looks on their faces. The sniper spluttered.
"Because-! He's not-! And you-!"
"Ok, look - we're not going for power here, just accuracy, so it'll still be a fair contest. And we'll use the same ammo, ok?" She left no room for him to argue back, immediately grabbing one of the pellets from his hand and positioning her brother. Usopp rolled his eyes behind her, but sidled up next to the two, aiming his own slingshot at the first target.
"Ready...aim...fire!" Usopp let the pellet fly, smacking the target right in the center.
"Hey, nice job Usopp! But I'm gonna tie it up right here!" Hazel ribbed, tying Luffy's fingers together to form a sling. She pulled them back, tongue poking out between her teeth as she aimed carefully. When she felt confident in her position she nodded, waiting for Usopp to give the signal, and then let go.
The target shattered to pieces.
"WHAT ARE YOU THREE DOING?!" Nami's shrill voice called, causing all three to wince.
"Luffy did it!" Hazel immediately yelled while Usopp checked the ship for damage.
"No I didn't!"
"Now, Luffy, you know you shouldn't lie."
"ENOUGH!" Nami yelled again, interrupting the siblings. "I don't care who did it, you're just lucky the ship didn't get damaged! You and you-" she pointed to Usopp and Luffy "-clean this up! And you!" Nami pointed at Hazel, making the older woman feel suddenly small. "You're supposed to be writing right now! Not breaking things!"
"Well...you see...the thing is…" Hazel trailed off as Nami continued to glare at her. Huh. She didn't like being on the receiving end of this. "I was hungry…?"
"Then ask Sanji-kun for a snack and get back to work. You told us not to bother you and we're listening, take advantage of that!" At Hazel's huff Nami smiled. "If you'd like, you can sit in the tangerine grove. I find it very relaxing when I need to focus."
"Hmm...a change of scenery may be helpful. Thanks, Nami," Hazel smiled, rolling her neck. "I better go bug Sanji." But Nami held up a hand to stop her.
"Nope! You go sit, I'll get it. I don't want you to get distracted again." The orange-haired girl walked away without another word, and Hazel was forced at that point to just listen to her. She made her way to the upper deck, finding a nice spot under the trees to nestle in. She reopened her notebook to the still blank page, and tapped her pencil against her chin as she tried to focus. The breeze up here was nice, as well as the sounds of her crewmates (Luffy and Usopp had made a game out of cleaning up her mess). The smell of tangerines wafted over her, muddying her senses. One of her curls was tickling her forehead.
She'd made zero headway by the time Sanji appeared with a snack.
"Hazel-chwan!~ I've brought you a plate of delicious sandwiches, and a fresh glass of cabernet sauvignon," the man said, brandishing a platter on one hand and a glass of deep red liquid in the other. She looked to the glass curiously. Despite having practically lived in a bar half her life, she'd never actually tried wine. Her alcohol tended to be of a rougher variety.
"Oh, yeah, alcohol. That'll help," Hazel muttered, hoping Sanji didn't think her rude. For all she knew, it would get the creative juices flowing, so to speak. "Thank you, Sanji." She smiled at the cook, his feet practically floating off the ground in happiness. He turned to leave her, and Hazel tentatively took a sip of the wine...only to immediately cringe when the bitter liquid hit her tongue. She glanced around in panic, hoping the blond didn't see, and snuck the glass behind her back, hidden under the trees. "Ooh! Sanji, wait up!" she called, wine forgotten as she grabbed her plate and ran after him.
"Yes, my love?" Sanji asked, twirling around to gaze at her through heart-shaped eyes.
"I just realized that I never asked about what happened at the Baratie! After we left?" The cook's expression had switched to confusion at her question. "In fact," she continued, following him into the galley, "I don't actually know that much about you. Tell me, what's your dream? Your motivation? Your tragic backstory? Spare me no detail!"
For the first time since they'd met, Sanji wasn't looking at her with adoration. In fact, he almost looked a little scared. His eyes darted around for half a second while she pulled out her best pout, gray eyes shining like a puppy begging for table scraps. Later, she'd chide herself for being so mean. After all, she used to practically torture Ace with that expression. But for now, she needed answers.
"Well…" Sanji started, pulling himself together before all the blood rushed out of his nose. "I am merely a humble sea cook, mademoiselle. I fought valiantly for my former home, and for the chance to gaze upon your lovely visage once again." He flourished into a low bow.
"Uh huh," Hazel chuckled, an amused smile on her face as she raised a brow. "Definitely humble." Sanji rose back to standing, an easy grin in place at their shared humor. "Come on, lover boy. Sit with me awhile and tell me a story."
The two sat and talked for a time, Hazel's pencil scratching across the pages of her notebook as Sanji divulged all the details he felt comfortable sharing: how Luffy had bartered with Zeff for his freedom, the way he'd swatted projectiles with a single kick. She had a feeling he may've been embellishing his actions a bit, but having seen the way he'd toppled part of a building at Arlong Park, she knew it wasn't all bluster.
He told her of Pearl, the man who'd covered himself in armor, only to lose his mind (and catch fire, apparently) at the first drop of blood. How Gin, the man he'd helped, had taken the old man hostage, and how he'd been willing to die to save his mentor's dream. Hazel filed away that note for later, planning to ask about the clear devotion Sanji had for the old man, even if the blond tried to hide it behind snark.
She tried not to laugh when Sanji told her Luffy destroyed part of the ship. From what he was telling her, it was actually a brilliant stroke on Luffy's part, and definitely contributed to Sanji's outlook on the situation; but the way the blond's curly brow furrowed over his eyes at the memory was, in her opinion, hilarious.
"So, wait," Hazel started, pausing Sanji's tale of his fight with Gin. "How did you come to the Baratie in the first place? Zeff isn't your father, is he? Why so devoted to preserving his dream?"
Discomfort crossed the cook's face, as it had earlier, but whether it was his dedication to please the woman in front of him, or because he'd already come this far, he gifted her with the reason. "He saved my life," was the simple answer. The follow-up nearly brought tears to her eyes.
Hazel reached across the table, covering his hand with her own, and she sent him a soft smile. A light blush dusted his cheeks, and she allowed him to turn away to light a cigarette; she even grabbed the ashtray off the back shelf for him.
Just as they were about to continue, the door to the galley swung open, a rubbery body bouncing its way inside. "Sanji! Food!" Luffy yelled, head turning frantically before his eyes finally settled on the cook.
"You just ate, you damn animal!" The cook scolded, and the somber mood was broken as Hazel burst into laughter.
"But I'm hungry! Food!"
"I'm busy!" Hazel took that moment to step in.
"It's alright, Sanji. I can get the rest from you later. If you don't start dinner soon, we may not have a ship to sail on anymore," she laughed, drawing Luffy's attention. The boy leaped onto the bench in front of her, taking Sanji's place, and glancing at the notebook for a second without reading.
"Whatcha talkin' about? Whaddaya need Sanji for?"
"He was telling me about your fight with Don Krieg, since I missed it."
"Oh! I can tell you! There was a boom! And a woosh! And then I went 'Gum-Gum Bazooka'! And then there was poison gas, but we're fine, and then everything went boom boom boom boom! And then I got poked a lot! And then-" Hazel tuned out as her brother continued telling her all about the fight with as little detail as possible. Sanji shot her a confounded look over their captain's shoulder, and the girl replied with a nonchalant shrug. When Luffy finally finished, he looked to his sister expectantly, proud grin wide across his face.
"Thanks Luffy, I'll make sure to write that down." The boy nodded, then looked back at her notes from Sanji's story.
"Looks like you've gotten a lot done!" Hazel flinched, grimacing into her palm.
"Yes and no…" Luffy just looked at her, confusion in his eyes, and Hazel gave a heavy sigh. "To be honest, Luff...I don't really know where to start."
"At the beginning. Duh."
"Wow, I never thought about that," Hazel deadpanned. "And get your finger out of your nose!" As Luffy stuck his tongue out at her, something struck her. Hazel's eyes widened, an invisible energy urging her hand to move across the paper. "Actually, Luffy, you're a genius! Thank you!"
She vaguely heard him say something in agreement, but her mind was too focused on the idea it had. Start at the beginning...she was surprised the thought hadn't occurred to her earlier; after all, she'd only just told the story a week ago.
Foosha Village had always been a peaceful town. Even when pirates had settled their sails at its docks the year previous, the villagers had yet to deal with much past the occasional bandit or two. Our lives had been much the same, short as they were; filled with fun and laughter and play. Then one day, the stuff of legends became real, and peace would be known no more.
The sun had shown brightly that morning, though my brother and I had already been up for hours. We always had trouble sleeping the closer to Shanks' departure. In only a short time, the red-headed man had wormed his way into our lives, and our hearts, and my brother especially was determined to join him this time.
So it was that we stood on the deck of the Red-Hair Pirate's ship, the hustle and bustle of supplies and crates being loaded around us. A few of the men were singing songs - definitely inappropriate considering the children in their company - but we'd already spent the last seven years in a bar. There was nothing in those songs we hadn't heard before.
I had been listening to Benn Beckman's tale of their last voyage when Shanks' voice had called our attention to the figurehead. Standing atop the dragon's maw, my brother Luffy stood glaring down at our pirate friends. Unfortunately, none of us had taken his declaration of strength seriously. Not until he drove the knife beneath his eye.
The paragraphs flew quickly out of her hand, the day in question clear in her mind. Hazel took a moment to shake out her wrist, feeling stiff as she read over her work so far. She liked it, she really did. Now to keep up this momentum.
The door opened once again, and Usopp and Nami wandered in, talking about something she couldn't hear. Hazel was still glaring at the page, chewing her cheek as she thought about how to word her next sentence. She heard Sanji mention dinner would be ready soon, Luffy's excitement sounding through the room, then Usopp's hiss for him to be quiet.
"Don't distract her! She's scary when she's mad!" the boy whimpered out, much to Luffy's amusement.
"No she's not!" he laughed, drawing the sniper's ire.
"You didn't think that when she made you take a bath!" Hazel stifled a snort.
"Speaking of which," Nami chimed in, holding a hand to her nose. "How long ago was that?"
"Actually, Luffy, you are due for one. Zoro too," Hazel said, looking up at her surprised crewmates. What, did they think she couldn't hear them at all? "Why don't you go wash up before dinner. Please?" Luffy groaned, glaring at the navigator, but dutifully made his way to the bathroom. Despite what he said, he didn't want to push his sister. Again.
Hazel took that moment to stand up, stretching her back with a loud pop, grabbed her notebook, and made her way outside to tell their grungy swordsman his bath was after dinner. She couldn't see him at first when she stepped outside, but after glancing around for a moment, she finally spotted him. She blinked when she saw his bare back, mesmerized for a moment at the way the muscles rippled as he did push-up after push-up. A second later, she blinked the distraction away, and walked down the steps to the grass-haired man.
"Hey, your turn for a bath after dinner," she told him, practically hearing him grit his teeth at the notion. "Dinner's actually almost done, by the way, so you may wanna wrap it up here."
"Not done," he grunted, prompting her to raise a brow in his direction.
"Well find a way to be done. We're hungry, and you're sweaty."
"If I'm gonna get stronger, I can't cut training short. I need more weight." His gray eyes swung up to hers, and Hazel got the distinct sense he was sizing her up.
"What do you want me to do about that?" She regretted asking the instant she said it. Zoro gestured to his back. His extremely sweaty back.
"Excuse me? What are you insinuating here?" She crossed her arms, trying to decide if she needed to hit him for calling her fat or not. She caught him rolling his eyes.
"You're all muscle, it's heavier. Climb on." Hazel chewed her lip, weighing the pros and cons. Then, deciding she had nothing to lose except her hygiene (and really, she could do with a bath herself), she stepped closer to him, cautiously sitting down when he paused for her. He reached his arm around, causing a startled squeak as he adjusted her position, then he resumed his training, a new strain in his breath.
While he worked, Hazel puzzled once again over her notebook. Disappointment flowed through her as she stared at the four lone paragraphs, the struggle for where to take the story next staying her hand. She'd gotten nothing done today, and it was difficult not to take it to heart.
"What are you sighing about up there?" her cushion grunted below her. Hazel rolled her eyes, but decided to humor him by answering anyway.
"I've been working on this all day, and somehow I have nothing to show for it." Zoro was silent except for his heavy breathing, but for some reason she pushed on. "What kind of record-keeper am I? What kind of storyteller can't tell a damn story? I don't even have to make it all up, it's all stuff that happened…" A puff of air escaped her as her eyes began to sting. "Maybe I'm not cut out for this…"
She hadn't meant to say it, at least not out loud, and was startled when her chair suddenly stood up. She cried out as she fell, but before she could hit the floor, Zoro's arms came out to steady her. She looked up at him in shock, affronted at the small glare he sent her way. "Read it out loud," he said, pointing to the little book in her hands.
"Eh?!" Hazel shrieked, appalled at the very notion of any living being actually hearing her work out loud.
"Read it out loud," Zoro said again, shrugging his shirt back on. "Then I can tell you if it's shitty."
"No way! It's not ready for human consumption yet!" she yelled, glaring as he sat below the mast. "Besides, who are you to tell me if it's shit? You wouldn't know good literature if it waved a sword at you and said 'boy, speak your name'!" Zoro rolled his eyes at the reference, but leveled her with a steady gaze as it dawned on her the trick he was trying to pull. "Stop it, it's mine. Why should I share it with you?"
"Because I like the way you tell stories." He said it so simply, like it didn't carry nearly the weight for him that it did for her. Hazel felt the blood rush to her cheeks, but she didn't look away. Something held her gaze on his, something she couldn't possibly name.
"So how does me reading it aloud help me write it?" Her voice was so quiet, she was surprised he could even hear it.
"Just write it how you'd say it," he answered, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. And when he said it like that, it did seem obvious, and Hazel could kick herself for not thinking of it sooner. Before she knew it, she felt herself nodding, sitting beside him beneath the sail.
"Foosha Village had always been a peaceful town…." she began, reading from the beginning, and surprising herself when her voice continued past the last paragraph. He'd heard the story before, but still Zoro sat, listening with rapt attention. Her voice slowed as she wrote, not allowing herself to forget what she'd said, what phrases she used that flowed from her mouth like water.
At one point Hazel glanced beside her, surprised to see the swordsman's eyes shut. She let out a sigh, finishing her sentence, but not continuing on. She found herself rolling her eyes at the sleeping swordsman, irked that he apparently found her so boring.
"You stuck again?"
Hazel turned to him again, meeting his gaze through half-lidded eyes. She let out a half chuckle, shaking her head in amusement, before diving into the next paragraph.
It was only Luffy's call of "Dinner!" that finally drew the two inside.
The East Blue wasn't known for much. Easily considered the weakest of the four Blues, it had come as a shock to most that the most famous pirate in existence hailed from that sea. Even its towns and islands remained small, the Goa Kingdom capital being the largest city Hazel had ever seen, and most of its size had been made up by the ostentatious castle in the middle of the city.
Loguetown dwarfed it instantly.
She supposed it was rather fitting; the execution of the Pirate King would have drawn tourists from all over the world, and with its proximity to the Grand Line, the harbor alone was a hub of different peoples and cultures that made Hazel's head spin. The buildings stretched as far as the eye could see, towering over everything and serving to make her feel small; but the people moved along the streets with ease, safe in their urban jungle.
"Wow! This place is huge!" Luffy yelled, excitement beaming from him in every direction. His enthusiasm was infectious, filling Hazel with the need to run, and whoop, and holler along with him. She reigned it in, for the moment, digging into her shoes to find the money she'd stashed there ages ago.
"Where did you get that?" Nami asked, glaring at her suspiciously. Hazel smirked, counting her bills quickly while keeping them close to her chest.
"I didn't serve tables for three years just to lose all my cash to a whirlpool," she said, tucking the wad of beli into her pocket. "I've been hiding this in my shoe since we left Foosha Village."
"That's kinda gross…"
"It won't smell great," Hazel agreed with a shrug. "But it beats having to steal unnecessarily." She wasn't above stealing of course, she was a pirate after all, but a place this big, this close to the Grand Line, would definitely be crawling with Marines. She didn't need them getting arrested before they even got started, and she desperately needed some new clothes.
"Right! I'm going to see the execution scaffold!" Luffy declared, picking a direction and setting off. Sanji and Usopp were close behind, heading their separate ways in search of their own needs. Zoro stayed where he was, rubbing his chin in thought as his eyes swept the harbor.
"There's something I need to get too," he said, his other hand rubbing absently at his single sword. Hazel eyed it with a pang of sadness, the white hilt gleaming bright and lonely without its brethren.
"Oh? How are you gonna do that?" Nami asked, face lighting up in mischief. "You're flat broke, as I recall!" Zoro glared at her, eyebrow twitching, and Hazel quickly pulled the orange-haired navigator out of the way of his ire. "Of course, I'd be glad to lend you some money...at 300% interest!"
"Nami-" Hazel started, ready to scold the younger woman, when to her surprise Zoro agreed, angrily holding his hand out as the triumphant woman counted out his budget. He stormed off, moving quickly through the crowd, and it was only by virtue of his bright green head that Hazel could still see where he was.
"So, we going clothes shopping?" Nami asked, happily shoving the rest of her funds back into her pocket. Hazel tore her gaze from the swordsman's head.
"Actually," she said, thinking quickly, "if I give you the money, could you just pick up a few outfits for me? I need to go with Zoro."
Nami pouted, put out that she'd be shopping alone. "Why?"
"Well for one thing, he's going to get lost." Nami raised a brow, unimpressed, and if Hazel had been more self aware she'd realize the ridiculousness of her keeping Zoro from getting lost. "Second: I want a sword. I've decided. I need something sharp." Nami rolled her eyes, but Hazel ignored it, pushing forward as she watched Zoro grow farther and farther away. "Please, Nami. I trust you, and I'm not terribly picky about what I wear. Here's 100,000 beli, and I'll do your laundry for a month."
That got her attention. "Deal," Nami said, holding her hand out for the cash, and she counted through it quickly. "How much do you have, anyway?"
"You got 200,000 beli from waiting tables?"
"I was a very good server!" Hazel yelled, choosing not to disclose the fact that she often threatened the people who didn't tip well, and with Nami's bid to leave she tore through the crowd, easily finding Zoro's side before he turned a corner.
"Whaddaya want?" Zoro asked as she panted next to him, catching her breath. He kept walking, trusting her to keep up, his eyes sweeping the shop windows only to grimace at the high prices.
"Sword!" Hazel groaned out, stretching against a stitch in her side. "You promised," she explained at his questioning look. Zoro stared blankly at her for a moment, then understanding dawned and he grimaced, holding his forehead as his shoulders slumped in defeat.
"Fine. Keep up," he grumbled, turning away from yet another shop window. Hazel winced at the prices in the window and hurried after him. They walked in silence, dread growing between them as they saw no sign of affordable weapons, when a commotion reached their ears.
"'Monster'? How rude!"
"Aww, shut up! Our boss is behind bars all thanks to him!"
Turning towards the noise, Hazel saw a crowd gathering, surrounding a woman about her age being shouted at by a pair of garish pirates. They held their blades at the ready, leering down at the woman, who stood her ground with a package wrapped tightly in her arms. Her hair was short, dark blue, and she glared through red-framed glasses as she countered the men's words. "Have you still not learned your lesson?!"
"Nope! We ain't happy with things as they are!"
"We're gonna bring your corpse to him to see!"
"Very well," the woman said, calm despite the storm in front of her. "I will fight you."
The crowd reared back in surprise at her statement, but the pair of Straw Hats watched with a simple curiosity, inching their way closer without drawing attention. The pirates continued to mock the woman, not even a little intimidated by her conviction, and Hazel clenched and unclenched her fist in an effort to stave off the urge to hit them.
"What can a girl possibly do?!" One yelled, and Hazel clenched her jaw as Zoro gripped his sword, her arm shooting out to stop him from moving.
"Give her a chance, would ya?" she said through gritted teeth, channeling her annoyance at the other pirates towards the swordsman instead. He glared at her, but didn't get a chance to respond when the pirates descended on the woman, swords raised to strike, and her package fell away to reveal a weapon of her own. She sliced at her opponents, easily taking them out, and Hazel grinned at the display, as well as the look of surprise on Zoro's face. "Told ya."
The crowd was silent as they took in what happened, then the cheers started up, bestowing praise on the young, bespectacled woman. She turned to pick up her fallen sheath, not acknowledging the crowd's applause, and Hazel felt a weird sense of pride towards this woman she had never met.
Then she tripped and fell on her face.
"Oww!" she yelled, searching for her glasses which skated across the ground. Hazel winced as the crowd turned mocking once more, and Zoro bent to pick up the glasses at his feet.
"Hey," he called out to the woman, who was still staring fixedly at the ground, her arms sweeping around in search of her glasses. "Are these them?"
The woman looked up, apologizing, and Hazel felt Zoro freeze beside her. She turned to him in question, only to flinch back when his fist closed around the glasses in his hand, shattering the lens and sending shards of glass everywhere.
"I-I didn't mean to!" He quickly apologized, handing her the bent frames.
"Those were expensive!" the woman cried, glaring at him through her fuzzy vision. "How could you do something so horrible?!"
"Ma'am, I'm so sorry! It's not his fault he's an idiot!
"I told you, I didn't mean to-!"
"Pay me back for them!" she demanded, cutting off any more protests.
"Oh um," Hazel started, searching for a way to defuse the situation. "Well, you see, we can't really-" Zoro grabbed her hand.
"C'mon!" And he took off running, dragging Hazel behind him, the swordswoman's protests growing quieter as they put distance between them.
"That was rude, Zoro. Why'd you freeze up like that?" Hazel asked once they were far enough away. He ignored her, dropping her hand and storming off down the new street, muttering to himself with words she couldn't hear. "Oh, come on, Zoro! It can't be that embarrassing!"
"Lemme guess," Hazel persisted, riding the caffeine high from the espresso Sanji had made her that morning. "You were struck dumb by her strength and beauty?" She gasped. "Do you have a crush? Aww, Zoro, that's so sweet! Wait until Sanji hears about thi-!" His arm shot out, gripping her shoulder and pushing her against the wall of the alley. It wasn't hard, and she could easily break free, but the action shocked her and she froze, staring up at him with wide, nervous eyes.
Hazel bit her lip. She was used to an annoyed Zoro; even angry, he didn't scare her. But behind the anger and annoyance, there was a pain in his eyes, buried deep, like he didn't intend for her to see it. She swallowed, nodding once, and he pulled back, looking anywhere but at her.
"S'fine," he shrugged, burying his hands in his pockets. She stepped closer, tentatively placing her palm against his shoulder, relaxing when he leaned into it.
"We really should've found a way to pay her back for her glasses," she told him, smiling softly when he sighed.
"I doubt we'll even see her again…" he protested, sounding more like he was trying to convince himself than her, then he shrugged and finally looked her way. "Swords first." Hazel grinned, looping her arm with his and steering him back into the busy street.
"Deal. Now come on, I think I see a shop over there!"
She led him to a place helpfully named "Arms Shop", with a pair of crossed swords above the door. Weapons of all kinds lined the walls, from spears to daggers to fancy blades with filigree hilts. Armor of all sorts sat on mannequins, gleaming from a recent polish. Hazel's eyes sparkled at the way the blades shined in the light, delighted by the selection, and she hoped they'd find something suitable for them both here.
Zoro and Hazel walked up to the counter, the owner drooling behind it as he slept. He was a middle-aged man, balding with his hair pulled into two clown-like "fans" on the sides of his head. He startled awake as they announced themselves, shooting to attention with a smile, and his hands clasped in deference. "Welcome! Have a look at anything you'd like! Our shop's been in business for 200 years, you see!"
Zoro slammed his cash on the counter, the bills crumpled between his tan fist. "I got 100,000 beli. Sell me two swords."
Hazel winced as the owner deflated, glaring at the two of them for daring to enter his establishment. "50,000 a sword'll only get you some dull blades," he muttered, turning away from the pair. Hazel felt the burn of her money in her pocket, glaring down at the man, contemplating just walking out and taking her business elsewhere. She had no time for snobs.
"I'll make do with whatever," Zoro groaned. "I'm just low on cash." As he continued to haggle with the owner, Hazel mosied around the shop, searching for something that felt suitable for her. She didn't have any sword training, Garp preferring to teach with his fists, and while she was more than confident in Zoro as a teacher, she wasn't so confident that she wouldn't impale herself if the blade was too crazy.
She could vaguely hear the shop owner attempting to buy Zoro's remaining sword, trying to tempt the man with a higher budget to replace it. Hazel just snorted; Zoro wouldn't part with that sword even if he was dead, and that was something she was 100% sure of. Ignoring them, she drifted over to a rack of shortswords, dismayed at the high price tags. She didn't want anything fancy; just something to take the edge off in a fight.
"Hello!" called a familiar voice, pulling Hazel away from the elaborately-handled rapier she was admiring. "Did you finish polishing my Shigure?"
The woman from before approached the counter, and she stared blankly at Zoro for a moment, blinked, then slid her gaze to Hazel (who had drifted their way), blinked again, then shouted as recognition hit her.
"You two! You owe me for my glasses! Did you think you could just run away and avoid consequences?!"
"H-hey!" Zoro yelled, backing away as the woman glared up at him, inching closer into his space to yell at him further.
"Ma'am, we're really sorry!" Hazel jumped between them, awkwardly holding her hands up in surrender. "I promise we'll find some way to pay you back!"
"It's too late!" the woman said, pulling a brand new pair of glasses from her pockets and placing them on her nose. "I can't accept money from such careless people!" She crossed her arms, glaring at the two, before surprise swept over her and she grabbed for Zoro's sword, swiping it from the shopkeeper's hands. "Woah! That sword! Is this the Wado Ichimonji?!"
"Wado wha?" Zoro muttered as Glasses held the blade in reverence, lifting her glasses as though that would help her see it better.
"What a beautiful straight temper line!" she yelled, anger forgotten in the face of such an impressive blade. "I believe it's one of the 21 O-Wazamono swords!" She set the blade down on the counter, pulling a small book from her pocket which she began to flip through.
"21 what?" Hazel asked, leaning in and pitching her voice low. At Zoro's shrug, she huffed out a laugh. Leave it to him to have some fancy sword and not even realize it.
"See!" Glasses yelled, pointing at a page in her book. "Look at this! It's worth no less than 10 million beli!"
Hazel sputtered, coughing unceremoniously as she choked on her own saliva. Zoro pounded her back, but she went otherwise without sympathy, all the focus on this amazing, extremely expensive sword. "But what are you doing with such a legendary sword?" Glasses asked him, not a hint of suspicion in her voice.
"Curse you!" The shopkeeper yelled, slamming his fist on the counter and startling Hazel out of her fit. "You just had to blurt it all out! I'm suing for obstruction of business!"
"You were trying to swindle him!" Hazel hissed, voice raspy from coughing. "Obstruction my ass!"
"I'm sorry! Did I say something wrong?" Glasses asked, peering at the man apologetically.
"No, you didn't," Hazel assured her, clearing her throat one last time as the shopkeeper pulled another sword out from under the counter, its guard four-pointed and gorgeously shiny.
"You're here for your Shigure, right?! I'm done polishing it! Take it and get the hell out!" He tossed the sword at the woman, who reached to catch it and ended up tumbling into a rack of katana, knocking them and herself to the floor. "Why did you run straight into those?!"
"That dumb girl saved you!" the man yelled as Hazel went to help the girl up. "It's true, that sword's so legendary it'd be a waste for a guy who doesn't know its value to walk around with it." He pointed to a row of barrels near the door, each stuffed full with swords. "All the swords worth 50,000 beli are over there! Just take whatever two you want!"
"What's he so mad about?" Hazel heard Zoro mutter as he moved over to the barrels. Steadying the woman on her feet, she couldn't help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
"You alright?" she asked her, watching as she fixed her glasses. The girl nodded, smiling brightly at Hazel, all sins forgiven apparently, and glanced over at the green-haired man.
"You two must really like swords," she said, glancing between the two before settling back on Zoro. "Three swords at once, huh? Just like that bounty hunter!"
"Bounty hunter?" Zoro asked, though only Hazel heard the amusement behind it.
"Haven't you heard of him? His name's Roronoa Zoro!" Hazel bit her lip to keep from laughing.
"I know the name well," Zoro answered, smirking at the swords in the barrel he was searching through.
"I hear he's an idiot," Hazel teased, grinning at the glare Zoro sent her. Glasses ignored them.
"He's a famous swordsman all throughout the East Blue. But he's a notorious person!" Her tone turned scolding, as though prepping for a lecture. "Using swords as bounty hunting tools is unforgivable!"
Hazel looked to her in surprise. "People need to eat, don't they? Why not make money taking down bad guys?" She figured it was probably best not to mention they were some of the "bad guys".
"It's despicable!" Glasses shouted, passion coating her voice as she pressed into Hazel's personal space, peering into her eyes as though able to transplant her thoughts into the violet-haired woman's brain. "Evil is so strong in this era! All the famous sword masters are pirates or bounty hunters, and almost all of the world's legendary swords are in their hands." She turned to the sword in her hand, gazing at it sadly. "Those swords must be crying…"
"I like bad guys!" The shop owner called out from the counter, annoyed by the woman's continued presence in his store. "This shop used to be filled with men who wanted to sail the Grand Line! Then that monster took over this town, and then what happened? The customers stopped coming!"
"Captain Smoker is not a monster!" Glasses yelled, fists clenched in defiance.
"He's got the power of a devil fruit!"
"Devil fruit?" Hazel asked, sharing a look with Zoro, though she was otherwise unheard.
"In any case," Glasses continued, ignoring the owner, "with my Shigure, I'm going to polish my skills as a swordsman and someday gather all the legendary swords that are in the hands of criminals throughout the world! The 21 Top O-Wazamonos, the 21 O-Wazamonos, and the 50 Ryo-Wazamonos...I'll risk my life for them!" Her conviction was strong, unwavering even as the green-haired swordsman smirked at her from across the room, hand on his sword.
"You gonna take this sword, too? The one you call Wado Ichimonji?"
Glasses suddenly turned sheepish, waving her hands in front of her. "No, it's not that I want legendary swords! I'm just saying I don't like them being in criminals' hands!"
"Don't worry, he's not gonna bite your head off," Hazel joked, patting the woman's shoulder in an effort to calm her down. "Say, you know a thing or two about swords. Wanna help me out?"
"Truth is I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to swords, but I have 100,000 beli and find myself in need of a weapon. Wanna help a girl out?"
"O-oh!" Glasses gasped, standing straight and peering at the wall behind them, the same wall Hazel had been looking at when she arrived. "What are you looking for?"
"Nothing fancy, just something that'll be easy to learn," she answered, drifting closer to a shiny epee before deciding against it with a scrunch of her nose. "We travel around a lot, and we've found ourselves in a few rough spots lately, and it'd be nice to have that extra layer of help." Glasses nodded, eyes roaming the wall before settling on something near the door.
"Here!" She pulled a plain sword from its rack, passing it gently into Hazel's waiting hand. The blade was lighter than she expected, with just enough weight to it that she knew it would hurt even if it didn't cut, and it curved slightly upwards. Her hand wrapped around the hilt, protected by a silver basket-like guard, which curved around her hand from crossguard to pommel. Beyond that, there was no ornamentation, but still there was beauty there. "It's unfortunate that the cutlass is so commonly associated with pirates; they're a beautiful blade, and they're perfect for travelers. How does it feel?"
Hazel turned her hand, aware of Zoro's eyes on her from across the room, and tested the weight as she bent her wrist. It would take some getting used to, that was for sure, and the guard made it difficult to maneuver her hand around it - but something felt right, and Hazel wasn't one to argue with the universe when it decided to work with her.
"It feels perfect," she told Glasses, sliding the blade into its accompanying sheath. "How much, old man?"
Glasses sputtered at her rudeness as the shopkeeper called out a price, costing Hazel nearly all of her cash. Wincing only slightly, she pulled the wad of beli from her pocket, placing it on the counter, and allowed the bespectacled woman whose name she still had not asked to assist her in situating the blade on her hip. "Thank you," she told her, smiling wide at the small blush that painted the other woman's cheeks, and dragged her over to where Zoro was still digging through barrels.
"Look, look, look," she said, bouncing in place as he pulled a sword out, then shoved it back down. "I've got a sword!"
"Yeah, yeah, quit jumping around with it, dumbass!" Hazel stuck her tongue out, but was spared from responding by Glasses gasping, staring at the sword now in Zoro's hands. The swordsman was staring at it, wariness in his eyes, but from what Hazel could tell, it was just a plain sword, nothing special about it.
"That sword!" Glasses gasped, pulling her book out once again. She flipped through it, landing on a page and staring at it in horror. "I thought so! Kitetsu III! It's the Kitetsu III!"
"What happened to Kitetsu I and II?" Hazel asked, uncomfortable with the tension growing in the room.
"Its predecessor, the Kitetsu II, is an O-Wazamono sword, and the Kitetsu I before that is listed as a Top O-Wazamono sword!" Glasses answered her, staring wide eyed at the sword in Zoro's hands. Hazel's mind remained blank.
"Mister!" Glasses turned towards the shop owner, ignoring Hazel's question. "Is this sword really 50,000 beli?!"
"Y-yeah…" the shopkeeper answered with a sudden nervousness that made Hazel's eyes narrow.
"Incredible! It's a respectable Wazamono, you know!" Zoro pulled the blade free, staring at his reflection in the wave pattern marked on the blade. "That one! You have to choose that one! It normally goes for one million beli! You absolutely have to choose it!"
"N-no!" the owner yelled suddenly. "I can't sell it!"
"Then why is it in the 'For Sale' barrel?" Hazel asked, suspicion ringing clear in her voice.
"Yeah!" Glasses agreed. "Selling this for 50,000 beli is clearly strange!"
"No, that's not what I mean!"
Suddenly, Zoro shifted his stance, pointing the blade at the floor as if it were an opponent, and his voice rang clear throughout the shop: "A cursed sword, huh?"
"Maybe you should put that down before it turns you into a frog…" Hazel said, eyeing the sword warily.
"Not that kind of curse. I can just tell."
"Starting with the first, all the Kitetsu have been superior swords, but every last one is cursed!" the shopkeeper explained, all three listening with rapture. "Many famous master swordsmen have met tragic deaths after taking up Kitetsu swords. These days, there ain't a single person who uses a Kitetsu, because you'll leave this world even if you use them unknowingly!"
Well, great; now Zoro was definitely getting this sword.
"Even I wanna get rid of that thing, but I'm afraid it'll curse me…"
"I-I'm sorry!" Glasses yelped, bowing in apology. "I had no idea it was such a terrifying sword! I should've minded my own business!"
"I like it," Zoro declared, lifting the sword to point at the ceiling, and Hazel rubbed her face in exasperation. I knew it. "I'll take it!"
"A-are you a fool?!" The shopkeeper yelled, eyes bulging out of his head. "I can't sell it! If you die because of it, then it'd be like I killed you myself!"
Hazel sighed, "Well, you shouldn't have had it in the 'for sale' barrel then. Or told him the story about how he'd definitely die. That's like candy to guys like him."
"How about this, then?" Zoro grinned, and Hazel felt her heart sink as she realized he was about to do something stupid. "My luck vs this sword's curse. Let's see which is stronger."
Hazel glared at him, crossing her arms in a way that would have had her boys running from her; but Zoro paid her no mind, immune to the waves of disapproval that used to drive Ace to hysterics. "If you die, I will kill you."
"Noted." He met her glare with a smug grin, and Hazel bit her lip to keep herself from screaming at him, driving her fear over his well-being away and replacing it with indignant anger. His fight with Mihawk was too recent, the image of him nearly shredded in half too fresh in her mind...if he made her watch him get sliced to pieces again, she was going to be pissed. "If I lose, I'm not man enough to possess it...am I?"
The room grew silent as he tossed Kitetsu in the air, holding his arm straight out as the blade spun towards the ceiling. As it began its descent, Hazel's breath hitched, her heart pounding heavily in her ribs like a drum, but she refused to look away, meeting his confident gaze full on; it was the only thing keeping her from pulling him out of the way.
The blade came down, ghosting over his skin, and sank into the floorboards.
Loosening the breath from her lungs, Hazel felt dizzy, but she kept her eyes fixed on Zoro's as he grinned and said: "I'll take it."
Glasses and the shopkeeper collapsed to the floor in shock, but Hazel just shook her head in relief. "You're so stupid," she told him without any fire, and sent him a small smile he easily returned.
"Hey," Zoro called as he pulled Kitetsu from the floor. "Can you choose me another one?"
"S-sure…" Glasses answered, fixing her glasses and pushing herself shakily to stand.
"H-hold it!" The shopkeeper called suddenly, running into the room behind the counter. He was gone for only a moment, carrying something long and wrapped in a thin, blue cloth. He pulled the cloth away, revealing a pristine sword set in its display. "The make is black lacquer, and the blade's temper pattern is uneven!" He pulled the blade free, showing it off for his customers. "The Ryo-Wazamono 'Yubashiri'! My shop may not be much, but this is the finest sword I have!"
"I can't buy that," Zoro told him, turning from the barrel to stare at the sword in the shopkeeper's hands. "I already told you, I got no money."
"Forget the money. And I don't need any for the Kitetsu, either. I'm sorry for trying to cheat you earlier." The shopkeeper smiled, pride showing beneath his large eyebrows. "It's been a while since I've seen a good swordsman's eyes. They say the sword chooses the owner. I pray for your good fortune!"
Hazel snorted, choosing to keep her comments to herself about Zoro's "good fortune". Zoro thanked the shopkeeper, strapping his new swords to his belt beside his old one, and walked out the door. Before Hazel followed him, she quickly shoved the rest of her meager pile of cash into Glasses' hands, yelling a quick "thank you, sorry about your glasses!" before running out the door before she could lose her swordsman.
"Ahh," Zoro sighed with contentment as she sidled up next to him. "Having three swords makes me feel whole again…"
Hazel eyed him, her earlier annoyance ebbing away the further they were from the shop. She took in his new swords, resting comfortably at his hip, his stance relaxed as he walked through the slowly thinning crowd, the look of contentment on his face that hadn't been there since the Baratie; she grinned, a sense of peace washing over her. "I think I know exactly what you mean…"
An hour later they were back on the street, heading in what Hazel hoped was the direction to the harbor. Their task complete, and having no clue where Nami would be, she had dragged Zoro to every bookstore she could find. He had protested at first, even trying to remind her that she had no money, but with an emphatic "I can still look!" he had dropped the issue, deciding that if she was happy, then she wasn't yelling at him. She had spent the entire last hour giving him a "brief" synopsis of every book she could, and as they finally stepped back into the street, Zoro felt like he could fall asleep.
Not that that was different from any other time, of course.
It was late afternoon now, and the streets should have been teeming with life...only, they weren't. "The crowd has thinned out a lot…" Zoro said, glancing around with a critical eye. Hazel nodded her agreement, taking note of the direction people seemed to be heading, and dragged Zoro along behind her to investigate. The street opened up to a large public square, bursting with people as the crowds gathered around something she couldn't quite see. Craning her neck to look, what she found instead were her crewmates, sans Luffy, who also looked surprised to see them.
Sanji and Usopp came from one side, a gigantic fish held aloft between them, while Nami came from the middle street, two large bags held over her shoulders. Hazel eyed the bags warily, feeling her stomach sink at the realization that she was definitely out of money. But that concern could wait for later; there was a large crowd, and her brother was nowhere to be found. That could only mean trouble.
"So? Where is he?" Zoro asked, glancing behind the others as though Luffy was just being quiet.
"He said he wanted to see the execution scaffold," Nami said, shrugging.
"Isn't it supposed to be right here?" Usopp asked, and Hazel felt a chill crawl over her. As one, the five of them turned towards the center of the square, eyes crawling up the scaffold until they landed on their captain, locked in stocks, with a familiar figure standing behind him.
Hazel was running before the others could stop her, not a thought in her head beyond get Luffy out of there! Her blade bounced against her leg, a heavy weight she was unused to, but she pushed through and ignored it, drowning out the sounds of the crowd and the pirates in the square. Even Buggy the Clown's shouting didn't reach her; the only thing she could hear was her blood pounding in her ears.
A colorful pirate stepped in front of her, only to receive her fist in his jaw, knocking him to the ground in seconds, the next pirate falling in much the same way. Drawing her sword would take too long, assuming she could even use it effectively; she couldn't afford to do anything that might slow her down. She broke through a line in the crowd, still so far away from her baby brother, but the traffic was thinner here, and she glared up at the clown on the scaffolding, a roar building in her lungs.
"BUGGY!" She screamed, kicking one of his crew out of the way before he could knock her off her feet. "If you touch one hair on his head, I will rip your entrails out through your ears, I swear to god!"
She kept running, the sounds of her crew fighting behind her just barely reaching her ears, as Buggy shouted his response: "You're too late! Any last words, Straw Hat?! You've got a big audience!"
Hazel's eyes burned, but she forced them to stay open, keeping her little brother's face in her sights as he opened his mouth wide, cutting off whatever else Buggy was about to say as he declared: "I AM GOING TO BE KING OF THE PIRATES!"
Hazel felt pride swell in her, the way she always did, and she used it to push herself forward, ducking under a large mace that would look familiar if she wasn't so hellbent on reaching Luffy in time. The crowd gasped around her, shock at Luffy's statement reverberated throughout the square, but Hazel heard none of it as Buggy raised his sword above her brother's head.
"Stop the execution!"
"Sanji! Zoro!" Luffy cried out, face beaming with relief as the men fought to reach him, cutting down the pirates at Hazel's heels. If I can just reach the scaffolding! Hazel strained to push her legs harder, but it was still so far away, and there were still so many pirates between them.
I'm not gonna make it!
"Bwahahahaha! You can see the whole thing from over there!" Buggy laughed, his glee making bile rise up in Hazel's throat. She swallowed it down, ignoring the burn in her lungs as wetness spilled over her cheeks. "Your captain is dead!"
"Hazel!" She ducked an incoming fist. "Zoro!" She dodged the swing of a sword. "Sanji!" She leapt over an outstretched leg. "Usopp!" Almost there! "Nami!" Just a little further!
"Sorry," Luffy grinned as the sword approached his neck. "I died!"
Hazel's scream was swallowed by the crack in the sky as the heavens opened, lightning arcing a finger to touch Buggy's sword, and as the rain began to pour the scaffolding fell to the ground, charred to a cinder. That familiar straw hat floated gently to the ground, and as thunder boomed in the distance, Hazel watched her brother pick it up, dust it off, and place it calmly on his head.
"Hahaha! I'm alive!" Luffy grinned, ignoring the crowd around him, the electrified pirates unconscious at his feet. "Lucky me!"
Hazel surged forward, collapsing into him with her arms flung tight around his shoulders, thankful for the rain as it hid the truth of her fear. Nothing could hide the shake of her shoulders, however, and without a word Luffy hugged her back, lending her his strength long enough for her to get control of herself.
"Do you believe in a higher power?" she distantly heard Sanji ask.
"Don't talk such nonsense," Zoro answered. "Let's get outta here, we're not in the clear yet."
"Surround the square and capture the pirates!"
"Run for it!" And with Hazel's hand gripped in his, Luffy took off towards the docks, his crew close behind him.
The rain beat against them, weighing their clothes down with water and making it difficult to run; Hazel nearly slipped more than once, and if it wasn't for Luffy's firm grip on her hand, she would have gone tumbling face first into the ground. Her lungs burned from the cold and the exertion, pure adrenaline keeping her going as the sounds of Marines and pirates sounded from behind them. Eventually, it fell silent, and all they could hear was the roar of the storm, and the slap of their feet against the wet pavement. The wind shifted, urging them forward, and the Marines broke from around a corner.
"Those guys sure are persistent," Luffy commented, as though he were talking about the weather or a new restaurant. "Wanna stop and fight 'em?"
"We don't have time!" Sanji answered, voice tight as he panted around his cigarette. "Nami told us to hurry back to the ship!" Suddenly, the blonde paused, and Hazel knew what was happening before she saw it by the way his eyes lit up.
"Roronoa Zoro!" a familiar voice called, and Hazel's ears pricked. Standing in the middle of their path was Glasses, glaring them down with a fierceness that was a surprising departure from the girl who had chosen her sword.
"Sergeant Major Tashigi!" the Marines called behind them, and realization swept over her, not at all surprised by the revelation, though maybe a bit saddened by it.
"You're Zoro!" Tashigi yelled, glaring between the colorful-haired pirates. "You two didn't tell me you were pirates! You were making fun of me! I won't stand for it!"
"What did you do to that girl?!" Sanji yelled, glaring accusingly at Zoro, who ignored him easily to address the newcomer.
"Well, you never told me you were a Marine!"
"I'm going to take Wado Ichimonji away from you!" Tashigi declared, and Zoro grinned at the challenge.
"Let's see you try." He met Tashigi's blow easily with his swords, urging the others to go on ahead.
"Don't take long," Hazel warned him, allowing Luffy to drag her away. Tashigi's eyes lingered on her for only a moment, hatred in them that had once been filled with excitement, then slid away to focus on her opponent, and the pirates ran past.
"He's attacking a girl!"
"Sanji, shut up!"
They kept running, the docks nearly in sight, when a lone figure stood in their path, blocking their way once again. "Hey, who's that guy?"
"So it's you…" the man said around two cigars, his white hair plastered to his face by the rain, "...Straw Hat Luffy."
"Who are you?" Luffy asked without pausing.
"The name's Smoker. Captain Smoker of the Marines. And I'm not letting you get away!" Smoker's arms exploded in a plume of white smoke, reaching out to wrap around Luffy. His hand was ripped from Hazel's, who growled and lunged for the man, only to be swatted away.
Sanji kicked out, aiming a kick at the captain's head, but it disappeared in the same white smoke, billowing out around Sanji's foot, and with a shocking punch, Sanji was slammed against a wall.
"Sanji!" Luffy yelled out, stretching his arm back to attack his captor. "Gum-Gum Pisto - huh?"
Where Luffy's fist landed, Smoker disappeared, reappearing behind the boy with a hand on his straw hat. "You're the one worth 30 million beli?" he sneered, forcing Luffy to the ground and sitting on him.
"Hey!" Hazel yelled, pushing herself to her feet. She drew her sword, holding it awkwardly in her fist, but using any advantage she could possibly find. "Let my brother go!"
"Brother, huh?" Smoker drawled, unimpressed by her shaky stance. He shot out his hand, the smoke wrapping around her the way it had earlier with Luffy, and slammed her to the ground beside her brother, the back of her skull cracking painfully to the pavement, and her sword clattering to the ground where she'd been standing. White flashed across her vision and she winced, her head still sensitive from the recent concussions, and she vaguely registered the Marine captain drawing a weapon of some kind, holding her in place with his legs. "Looks like your luck ran out, kid."
"Whose luck did you say?"
A cloaked figure stood behind Smoker, hand on his weapon, preventing him from harming the siblings on the ground. The Marine sounded shocked, but made no move to attack, and Hazel blinked through the rain and the pain to glimpse the man beneath his hood; she could see nothing, even as the lightning flashed around him. Nothing except a peculiar facial tattoo, geometric in design, and almost familiar, but it was gone too quickly for her to be sure, and she felt too dazed to think on it further.
"The government's after your head," Smoker told the man, gritting his teeth as he glared up at him.
"The world is waiting for our answer," was the man's only response, and once again Hazel felt a sense of familiarity, quickly swept away as a burst of wind knocked Smoker off of them, the siblings tumbling a ways down the road.
"Ow…" Hazel muttered, patting the back of her head to check for blood. She found none, thankfully, and as soon as she registered that fact a hand gripped her by the shirt collar, forcing her to her feet and pulling her along at a run.
"Come on, you idiots! We gotta move!" Zoro yelled, dragging her behind him with one hand, her fallen sword clutched in the other, while Sanji half-carried Luffy. "We're gonna get trapped on the island! It's a humongous storm!" As Hazel righted herself, all thoughts of the mysterious cloaked man left her, eager to get as far away from Loguetown as she could.
The rain was torrential, and as they finally neared the docks they were nearly swept off their feet by the crashing waves, the sea rising with the rainfall. Usopp called out to them, holding the rope tying the Merry to the dock tight in his hand, losing grip as the rope grew soaking wet. "Hurry! Hurry! The rope won't hold much longer!"
"Hurry up and get on board!" Nami called above the din. "We're casting off!"
The four quickly made their way on board, heading to their stations despite any injuries they may have incurred, and pulled the Going Merry away from the Loguetown docks before any Marines could follow. Hazel gripped at the steering, fighting against the wind to keep the ship steady. The door to the galley remained open, the crew having to shout at the top of their lungs to be heard.
Though the wind still buffeted their sails, the steering finally steadied out, and Hazel allowed herself a moment to breathe at the rail of the ship with the others. "That's the Guiding Light," Nami told her as she stepped up next to her, pointing to a lighthouse in the near distance. "Beyond that light is the entrance to the Grand Line." She turned to the others, the full weight of her words hitting everyone at once. "So? What's it gonna be?"
Sanji dragged a barrel to the middle of the deck, ignoring Usopp's concerns about the storm. The Merry kept steady against the choppy waves and rough winds, the gale strong but leading them in the direction they needed, like the universe was giving them a helping hand. Together the six of them gathered around the barrel, one foot each placed on top, as they officially launched their voyage.
"I'm going to find the All Blue."
"I'm going to be King of the Pirates."
"I'm going to be the World's Greatest Swordsman!"
"I'm going to write the greatest story ever told!"
"I'm going to draw a map of the world!"
"I'm going to become a Brave Warrior of the Sea!"
The pirates grinned, faces shining in the flashes of lightning and excitement, steady against the wind that threatened to knock them off their feet. As one, the Straw Hat pirates looked to the sky, shouting their declaration to the screaming heavens.
"GRAND LINE, HERE WE COME!"