Izuku had a hard time sleeping that night.

He had gone to Yamato's door, to ask if she was okay. But he had heard the crying..

And so Izuku had slept, badly.

Izou had tried to kill him. Izou, a Division Commander of the Whitebeard Pirates, had broken the Pirate Code in trying to kill a crewmate.

The morning came, the light through the porthole, hurting his eyes. Izuku groaned as he pulled himself out of bed; his body made heavy by his restless night.

But there was something he had to do.

"Yamato?" he called out, knocking on her door. "You okay?"

No response. Cautiously he twisted the knob. It was locked.

Izuku took a deep breath. She might be still asleep, or she might still be in a daze.

"I'm gonna find a Commander, and see what needs doing in town." He turned away and started down the hall.

Then he paused, as the door opened behind him.

"Yama-"

He turned, and Yamato erupted from the door, wrapping her arms around him and holding him tight. Izuku was momentarily stunned as, once again, his face ended up in her bosom, yet he didn't react with the usual embarrassment. He could feel her breathing; hoarse and ragged.

"Yamato," he said, patting her arm. "I'm sorry for-"

"What are you apologizing for?" Yamato murmured. "I'm the one who should be saying sorry."

Izuku looked up, and saw her amber eyes red from crying, her lower eyelids baggy from lack of sleep. They stood as they were, as Izuku accepted her hug, and hugged her back. It was something they both needed.

"Did you sleep at all?" he asked.

"Not really…" Yamato replied, rubbing at a bleary eye. "But I'll be fine. "

A bubbling growl echoed along the corridor. Yamato blushed, and Izuku couldn't help but chuckle.

"But an empty stomach could help. Come on, let's go get something to eat."

Yamato smiled, and fell in beside him. She seemed to feel better thanks to his presence.

That was more than enough for him, at least for the moment.

(X)

After a filling and much-needed breakfast in the Mess Hall, Izuku set to work delivering supply crates to the town square.

Between Flight and Black Whip, it was a task made for him.

"All right!" Teach called out, as Izuku set down a clutch of crates the size of shipping containers. "Thanks a lot Izuku!"

"No problem!" Izuku called back. "Jozu and Namur are in the shipyards! I'll go see if they need help!"

He waved, and Teach waved back. As he flew off, he saw Jiru and Rakuyo opening the crates and distributing their contents - towels, cans and boxes of food - all to the waiting townsfolk.

As Izuku flew over the town, his heart sank. Some of the streets were still flooded, and he could see broken windows and doors. Fortunately, the city seemed otherwise intact. The main issue was getting food and water to the citizenry; and that was well in hand.

He reached the shipyard and hovered, looking around. The storm had done a number on it. Cranes had been torn up and thrown around, crates smashed and spread around the docks like so much spilled coffee. Ships had capsized, or been dashed to pieces against the docks. But the cleanup was well underway. Izuku could see Whitebeard Pirates working with yard workers and dockers, clearing away the debris and righting the capsized ships.

He spotted Fossa, leading a team working on a capsized galleon. He flew down, and spread his hands; his Black Whip spreading out and forming a net under the galleon. He flew backwards, and the galleon groaned as it rose upright; water falling from its masts and gushing through its gun ports.

"Appreciate the help!" Fossa called out from below. Izuku nodded and looked around for another ship to lift. Nearby, he saw Yamato helping Jozu drag a caravel into a drydock.

The smell of grilled fish and meat filled his nostrils, making his stomach rumble. He looked down, and saw Thatch hosting a soup kitchen near the docks. His sous-chefs bustled around him, serving up bowls of hot soup and similar to grateful-looking dockers.

"Hungry?" Thatch called out, Izuku touched down and joined the line. "Whatcha like?" Izuku saw the menu on display.

"I'll go for a chicken and rice bowl with shrimp please," Izuku asked, internally a little miffed there was no pork available.

"Coming right up!" Thatch winked and set to work. Izuku looked around for Yamato, and saw her settle the caravel into place; while Jozu was talking with a flamboyantly-dressed man Izuku assumed was the captain.

"Lot on your mind?" Thatch asked, effortlessly preparing food as he spoke.

"A little," admitted Izuku, stepping away from the line and leaning on a lamppost. "This is a nice distraction though."

"Listen, what happened yesterday wasn't your fault," insisted Thatch, casually slicing up some chicken. "Not the storm-tackling mind you, that was insane." He grinned. "But the other thing."

Izuku sighed and rubbed his head. "I should have handled it better. It's just, when he kicked Yamato I just…lost my cool. Said something I shouldn't have."

"Eh," mused Thatch, momentarily checking on the rice. "It's a lot like a pot over a fire. Depending on what's inside, it takes a bit to boil over. Milk ages badly and boils easily, water remains under the top and just simmers and bubbles." He took a sip of water from a canteen.

"When you get right down to it, I'm as much to blame as anyone," he went on. "I should have been more stern with Izou, or gone to Pops there and then. But there's no guarantee that would have made a difference. People are the way they are. You can't make cinnamon into garlic, even if they are both seasonings. Excuse me." He headed back to the counter, which was still very busy. Izuku sighed, and looked out over the docks, and the blue ocean beyond.

Could he have done any better? Could he have talked Izou down peacefully?

"Here." Izuku looked up, as Thatch returned with a bowl of chicken, shrimp and rice, covered with seasonings. Izuku took it, and sat down on a convenient bench; Thatch following on.

"Thanks for this," he said, and meant it. "I just keep wondering if I could have done something differently."

"Izuku, if my words couldn't move him, what chance did you have?" retorted Thatch.

Izuku sighed, and started on his food. He saw Yamato in the line, grinning at the prospect of yummy food. He envied her. She bounced back so easily.

"They say life should be lived without regrets, but if you ask me, that's asking the impossible." Thatch mused. "Life will always be full of regrets."

"Otherwise," rumbled a low voice above him, "you'll just exist and that's the opposite of living."

Izuku saw the shadow fall over him, just as Whitebeard sat down beside him.

"Hey Pops, want anything?" Thatch asked.

"You know what I like," the old man said. Yamato waved at Whitebeard as she saw him.

"Hey Pops!" she called out.

"Yamato, are you doing okay?" Whitebeard asked, with the look of a worried father. Yamato flinched, and her good humor vanished. She hadn't bounced back as far as Izuku had thought.

"I'm getting by…" she murmured. Whitebeard sighed.

"This has really gotten to you both," he commented, sounding a little put out. "You've been told over and over that it's not your fault, yet here you are blaming yourselves. Will no words of mine convince you?"

Yamato looked hurt, and Izuku felt even worse. Now they were hurting Whitebeard's feelings. He had to find the words, the words that would explain how they both felt.

"I've seen what hatred does to people," he said, clearing his throat. "I've dealt with people like Izou, on both sides of the line. When Izou reacted to us the way he did, and when he tried to kill Yamato and me…I wasn't really surprised."

"Hmm." Whitebeard drank some more soup. "So then, why won't you accept that it wasn't your fault?"

"Because if we hadn't come to your ship, none of this would have happened." Izuku drew a breath. "We ruined Izou's life just by entering it. If we hadn't come, he would have lived on as before. If we had just left, instead of joining your crew, then maybe it wouldn't have turned out so bad for him."

Whitebeard took a long drink of soup, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"You can't live your life that way," he said, just a little sternly. "You are responsible for what you do, not for what others do, or how they feel." He sighed. "Izou is my son, and I won't forsake him. I believe he will change, but he's the only one who can do it."

Izuku ate in silence. Yamato sat down beside him, carrying an enormous hunk of meat on the bone. As she ate, she scratched at her horn with her free hand. She had been doing it all day.

"So after we fix up Melville," Izuku said, trying to break the ice. "Where are we going next?"

Whitebeard paused as he handed his empty saucer to Thatch. "Well… I was think-"

"Pops! Pops!"

Izuku looked up, and saw Haruta hurrying towards them. "Pops we got an urgent call!"

"From whom?" Whitebeard asked. Izuku sat up, and Yamato wolfed down her meat.

"It's an SOS! Snail call on all frequencies! We got a recording but it doesn't look good!"

Izuku set his bowl down and stepped in front of Yamato. On cue, she wrapped her arms around him, his Black Whip wrapping around her in turn.

"Pops, need a ride?" he asked, turning to the titan of a man. Whitebeard let out a chuckle.

"I can still walk, cheeky pup." He smirked, and then jumped; leaping into the sky, wind gusting all around. Izuku stared as he came down somewhere in Melville, then leapt off again. It was like something out of one of those old Wuxia movies, but much, much faster.

"He appreciates the sentiment, but let Pops work his legs some more" Thatch chimed in, setting the bowls and Yamato's licked-clean bone on the counter. "That said, I wouldn't mind a little air time. Hey Camron, watch things for me while I'm gone okay?"

"You got it boss!" one of the sous-chefs called back.

"It's great flying up!" Haruta exclaimed, grinning. Izuku grinned in turn, and wrapped black tendrils around both torsos, drawing them in close.

"Huh, can hardly feel a thing," Thatch commented, looking mildly amused.

"Okay, hang on." Izuku took off, rising into the sky; the amazed dockers looking on. He angled towards the Moby Dick and accelerated, Thatch chuckling all the while.

"Okay, I can see why Marco loves taking to the skies so often," Thatch mused as he looked back to Izuku. "You give rides like these for free? For shame, you could make a fortune."

"I'd rather put it to good use like this," replied Izuku, as they reached the Moby Dick.

"No complaints here." Thatch shrugged as they touched down. Whitebeard was already there, and the Division Commanders were gathered around him.

"You going to the War Room?" Izuku asked as Haruta got down, and Yamato patted herself.

"We are. And you're coming too. We could use your flight," answered Haruta, as he trotted on ahead.

They followed Thatch and Haruta to the War Room. Whitebeard and the commanders were already there. Vista and Jozu nodded to the newcomers as they entered. Izuku nodded back, and then realized that he could not see Marco. He must have been still at the field hospital.

"Good," declared Jozu. "The right man for the job. Midoriya, Pops, take a listen."

"What am I, chopped liver?" quipped Thatch, smirking. Jozu nodded to Fossa, who was standing next to Whitebeard's throne; with a set of Transponder Snails on a tray. Fossa tapped one of the larger snails, and Izuku stared as its normally expressionless face became a mask of terror.

"Mayday, mayday, we're under attack!" cried the snail. "This is the merchantman Roebuck, en route to the Jorgen Kingdom! We are under attack by Sea Beasts! We are unarmed and cannot…!" A crash interrupted the speaker. "We are passing the Nokpeg Archipelago, repeat, we are passing the Nokpeg Archipelago! Any ships who can hear this, please…!"

Another crash, and a sound like splintering wood.

"No! They're coming in! Stay away! StaAAAAAAAAAARGH!"

The sound stopped, and the face shifted back to normal. Yamato sucked in her lips. The room around them was morose, tense.

"We got this SOS about fifteen minutes ago," Fossa explained, taking a drag of his cigar.

"Where's Nokpeg?" Izuku asked. Blamenco trotted over to the map, and pointed down at it. Izuku followed, and saw his finger fall on a cluster of island.s

"There," the big man said. "About a half a day's sail in this weather. Few hours if we go at flanking speed."

"Not so long for me," Izuku spoke up, looking to Whitebeard. "Pops, I'll go and help them."

"We don't know who's attacking them," Jozu cut in. "Sea Beasts? Sea Kings usually gobble ships up, not raid them."

"But a raid this close to Melville looks bad," Vista interjected, stroking his mustache. "It might give the anklebiters ideas."

"And there are people who need help!" Izuku called out. "I'm going there!"

"I'm coming too," Yamato added, her hand on his shoulder and giving it a squeeze. "We'll face those Sea Beasts together." Izuku smirked, nodding up to her as she smiled down.

"Alright. Go." Whitebeard said.

"Hey Pops, I'll go too. Keep an eye on things," suggested Thatch, as Whitebeard quirked an eyebrow. "Plus I can ID the enemy ship."

Whitebeard nodded. "Keep them safe." Thatch gave a mock salute. He looked back to Izuku and Yamato.

"Alright team, let's go."

(X)

"I see it!"

Yamato pointed, and Izuku saw a column of smoke on the horizon. They were too late.

But Izuku's attention soon fell on the much larger ship sitting nearby. It was one of the biggest ships he had seen; comparable to a Marine Kong-Class battleship or even the Moby Dick. Its hull was different though; oval in shape, its quarterdeck crowned with a wide dome.

And flying from its mainmast was a Jolly Roger; showing a skull in a collar.

"Okay let's see." Thatch pulled out an eyeglass. "Yep, pirates alright."

"Do you recognize it?" Izuku asked as Yamato took a deep breath, her hand grasping Takeru. If they were aligned with the Beast Pirates…

"Nope. Never seen that one before." Thatch lowered the eyeglass. "Not Big Mom or Shanks, or Kaido. Big ship for an anklebiter though. Must've got lucky."

"Well his luck's run out!" declared Izuku. Nevertheless he slowed down, easing into a dusting of cloud.

"Well now… look at that," said Thatch, looking through his eyeglass again. "Those are Sea Lapins."

"Sea Lapins?" Izuku asked.

"Big scaly Sea Rabbit humanoids. They usually swim in packs. They taste bad too, not like normal Lapins. Likely comes down to their diet."

"There are Sea Rabbit Beasts?" Izuku asked dumbly, his mind briefly imagining the number Five Hero Mirko with flippers and fins.

"You're questioning that but not Sea Kings?" Thatch looked up at him with a grin.

"We've seen Sea Kings," retorted Izuku. "But anyway, what about these Sea Lapins? Do they often attack ships?"

"No, not like this." Thatch looked through the eyeglass again. "They don't normally bother with ships at all. But it looks like they're the crew."

Izuku's brow furrowed. It was a big ship, bigger than most pirate ships he had seen; yet not part of an Emperor's fleet.

"Could they have hijacked the ship and turned pirate?" he asked.

"Maybe, but I've never known them to do that before."

Izuku looked again at the burning ship. Its name was Roebuck, if he had heard right; a merchantman. A cargo ship sailing the seas, offering no insult, doing no harm; a crew of honest sailors, whose only wish was to deliver their cargo, pick up their pay, and get home safe.

The old anger flared. Who were these pirates to go attacking them like this? Stealing their wares and burning their ship? Hurting them, or killing them?

Then it hit him.

"Thatch, what about the Roebuck's crew?" he called out. "Can you see them?"

"Let's see…" Thatch looked again. "No, just the Sea Lapins."

Izuku's heart sank, as he remembered that horrid scream. Were they all dead?

"They could be down below!" Yamato cut in, seeing the look on his face. "The pirates might want to sell them!"

"Yes, almost certainly," added Thatch, looking up at him. "What're you thinking, Izuku?"

Izuku's mind was racing; as hope warred with anger in his heart, and blended into determination. If there was a chance someone was alive down there, someone he could save, then he had to take it. Except…

"We're gonna have to be careful," he replied, slowing down to reduce the noise. "They've got hostages!"

"Hostages, huh," mused Thatch. "You sound like a Marine or something."

"Izuku was a Hero by trade!" Yamato cut in, grinning. "Which is kinda like the Marines!"

"Well, you're a pirate now," replied Thatch with a smirk. "Gotta think like one to survive on these seas."

He turned back to the ship, looking through his eyeglass once again.

"Weird…very weird…" he mused. "The ship's covered in Transponder Snails, the surveillance kind. Lots of speakers too. Guess their captain likes to make their voice heard. And what's with those green collars?"

Surveillance snails. Living security cameras that could hear as well as see. This was going to be tricky.

"Try…the crows nest." Thatch pointed down to the mainmast. "I can't see any snails in there. It's our best chance."

Izuku angled down, and they slowly descended towards the ship. Izuku fixed his eyes on the deck, dreading the sight of upturned eyes, a cry of surprise, a crackle of gunfire. Guns wouldn't bother him or Yamato much, but he didn't know how tough Thatch was.

But nothing came. No one seemed to have noticed them.

"I was right, nothing here," Thatch said, as they touched down. "But they'll see us the moment we do anything."

Izuku looked down at the deck. This wasn't like at Ludeterin, where he could slam straight down and smash through the deck. If there were prisoners, they could be anywhere on the ship; even right below him. And if the ship started to sink, and the prisoners were in chains or locked up…

"They haven't seen us though," commented Thatch. Down below, the Sea Lapins were working in perfect harmony, picking up sacks and boxes from the deck and lowering them down through the deck hatches. "Funny that. Normally Lapins have good hearing."

Izuku looked down. The lapins were indeed hard at work, seemingly unaware that anything was wrong. He could see more of the snails clinging to the mast, and arranged around the deck.

He thought back to his Hero training; to hostage rescue. To sneak past cameras, one had to note their location and fields of vision. The same pretty much applied with Transponder Snails, at least as far as he knew.

His eyes flicked over the masts and the deck, his mind racing as he calculated. If the deck were clear, there would be nowhere to hide. But right now it was piled with boxes and bags; being gradually moved down into the hold. There were blind spots, but they wouldn't be around much longer.

He turned again to the lapins. They were still working as before, but scowling; as if something had annoyed them.

Then all of a sudden they paused, and as one their ears pricked up. All heads turned upwards, all eyes looking right at him. His heart jumped, and he readied himself to move, to fight.

The lapins turned away, and carried on with their work; as if nothing had happened.

"They're not doing anything," Yamato said, staring at them in amazement. "Why not?"

"Peeeetototototo!"

All three ducked out of sight at the strange cry. Izuku peered down, and saw a man emerge from a door set below the poop deck. He was broad-shouldered and square jawed, with a little goatee beard. He wore a black top hat, a blue cape with white fur trim, and a suit in blue and black. A monocle covered one narrow eye, and one hand held a thin black cane.

Izuku blinked. The man's style put him vaguely in mind of Gentle Criminal, or the people he had seen in Doyle; but it wasn't quite right. He looked vaguely like a gentleman of Doyle from the waist up, and a pirate from the waist down; with added cape.

But it was his manner that really felt wrong. Gentle Criminal, for all his faults, had always had a sad, good-natured air about him; much of it genuine. There was none of that in this man. Not in those narrow, gimlet eyes; or that hard, cruel smirk.

"Splendid! Another successful plunder!" he chortled. "This cargo will fetch a fine profit; and so will the crew!"

(X)

Yamato took a deep breath, willing herself to stay calm as she glanced at Izuku. His eyes were hard, and she knew what was going on behind them.

"Such paltry protection!" the strange-looking man went on, strutting around the deck as if it were a stage. "No match for my pets. Though I fear I may need some stronger creatures. Sea Lapins are fine and dandy, but they don't cope well with gunfire!"

He let out that strange laugh again, and began inspecting the lapins; paying particular attention to the green collars. Now that Izuku could see them clearly, there was something strange about them. They looked like they were…glowing somehow.

"If I could only tame a kraken, or a Sea King, my power would be beyond compare!" The man sighed, and shook his head. "Ah well, I suppose even I, the Great Breed, can only do so much. No matter. Get the cargo stowed, my pets, while I take a look at my fresh merchandise." He chortled. "Which to keep aboard, and which to sell? I wonder if…"

The crows nest erupted, as Izuku burst out of it; leaping down to the deck. Yamato gritted her teeth, and jumped down after him. The deck shook as Izuku landed, and Breed cried out in surprise; falling on his backside.

"Whelp, have fun whooping his ass you two!" Thatch called down from the crows nest. Yamato glowered at the stunned, blithering man; whose name apparently was Breed.

"W-Where did you come from?! Why didn't my Camera Snails spot you!?" he babbled.

"Your pirating days are over," growled Izuku, One for All crackling around him. Yamato tapped Takeru on her shoulder. What little courage Breed had vanished in an instant.

"O-Over?! N-No wait, don't kill me!" He scrambled onto all fours and cowered before them. "I-I surrender!"

"Then you'll take us to free all those slaves," Izuku ordered, striding forward and lifting him up by his shoulders. "Then we decide on your punishment."

The man's eyes widened, no doubt in dread at what awaited him.

"Yama-!"

Then Breed's hands glowed green. The green light flew from them, striking Izuku and Yamato in the neck. Yamato felt something close around her neck, and her whole body froze.

"What the-?!" She tried to move, but her body would not obey. In the corner of her eye, she could see a glowing green collar around Izuku's throat; the same collar as the lapins.

"Ha!" barked Breed, leering in triumph. "Now sit!"

Yamato gasped as her legs gave way, and she slammed down on the deck; Izuku doing likewise.

"What the-?!"

"A Devil Fruit Power!" Yamato shouted, while Izuku looked sick.

"Gotchaaaa! Peeeeetotototototo!" Breed shrieked with laughter. "Works every time! And yes indeed Missy! For I ate the Pet Pet Fruit, becoming a Taming Man in the process! My powers allow me to control any living thing; with these lovely collars that come from my hands! Be they man or beast, none can resist my power!"

Izuku's eyes blazed with defiance and rage. Yamato felt the scars on her wrists burn, as she remembered Onigashima. Breed just stood there, grinning from ear to ear; clearly enjoying their helpless fury.

"Now I have two more slaves for the market," he went on, stroking his beard. "And such an interesting specimen too." He looked Yamato up and down. "Strong, tall, easy on the eyes. Yes, yes, yes." His eyes spent a very long time on her chest. "Joker will pay me a fortune for a pretty one like you….then again perhaps I'll make a stop at Sabaody. With those exotic looks, I'm sure even a Celestial Dragon would pay a fine price for you."

Yamato's heart sank. To be sold to a World Noble…

Breed continued to smirk as stroked Yamato's cheek. Yamato snarled, her despair turning to rage at the feel of his fingers on her skin. Izuku's eyes constricted, his face murderous.

"I wonder, four hundred million? Maybe even five hundred for one like your-"

A Black Whip erupted from Izuku's mouth, catching Breed in the face. Breed cried out as the blow flung him back as Izuku whipped his head, sending him flying into the bulkhead behind him. Izuku tried to stand up, but Breed's power would not let him.

Breed erupted from the hole he'd created, his suit covered in dirt and splinters, with small cuts littering his face, which showed his livid fury.

"Face down!" Breed barked, and Izuku and Yamato slammed their faces into the deck. "And don't move!"

Yamato could hear Izuku seething as he struggled to move. But he couldn't, and she couldn't either.

"Gnnngh… you damn brat!" snapped Breed. He strode over, and kicked Izuku in the head, knocking him over.

She felt it again. Her stomach tightening, her blood running hot, her whole body tensing and swelling, as if it wanted to burst out of her flesh. Her vision sharpened, and her gums ached; her teeth starting to grow.

"You have some kind of unique ability yourself I see!" sneered Breed, coming back to himself. "Well no matter! I'll have you in a pool of water and you'll- Wait a minute!" Breed paused, and bent down to look closer. "You look…familiar."

Izuku's eyes widened, and his Black Whip retracted with a snap; knocking Breed to the ground. But Breed was ready this time, landing on his outstretched hands.

"Gnnnngh! Now I see!" he snarled, picking himself up. "Green hair and freckles!" He leered down at Izuku, and Izuku glared back. "You're that famous unknown, Deku!"

Yamato felt a pit grow in her stomach; dread cutting through the rising fury.

"Ohhhh Joker will be very happy about this!" Breed exclaimed, bouncing from one foot to the other. "Oh Slave 32, bring me my tray of Snails! I must inform Joker! Oh, Kaido is going to make me rich! Petototo-OGH?!"

His laugh became a splutter of pain and surprise, as Izuku head-butted him in the face, Black Whip pulling himself towards the man at high speeds. Both sprawled on the deck, Breed writhing and spluttering. Izuku glaring daggers, eyes wide in panic.

"Grrhggh!" The Circus Master pirate was bleeding from his mouth where Izuku's crown had struck him. "Close your mouth! And whatever that weird power is, I order you not to use it any more!"

Izuku's jaw clamped shut, and the Black Whip disappeared.

"Gnnngh…you little shit!" Breed cursed. "Kaido wants you alive, but he didn't say in what condition! Sea Lapins! Break his arms and legs, and his jaw for good measure! Can't be too careful with this one!"

Yamato struggled against her own body, yearning to break free, to crush Breed and save Izuku. But her body would not obey. She could only sit there, powerless, as the Sea Lapins advanced on her friend; their eyes blank.

She snarled and struggled, blue swimming at the edge of her vision. She felt her nails sharpen against her sides as she glared at the man.

Forget just beating him to a pulp.

She wanted to rip his fucking head off.

"Ah, Slave 32, wonderful!" declared Breed, his bonhomie suddenly returning. A hulking man was crawling across the deck towards him, head lowered, clad in rotting rags. On his back was a tray full of Transponder Snails. "Time to give ole Joker a call!"

"Yeah, no."

"Hmmm?"

A gust of wind washed over the deck, forcing Breed to grab his hat. The Sea Lapins flew backwards, bouncing and rolling. Slave 32 fell over, the snails scattering onto the deck. Thatch landed in front of Izuku, hands in his pockets, a smile on his face.

But his eyes were hard and sharp.

"That's enough out of you buddy," he said, with a casual air that belied his eyes.

"Gnngh?!" Breed gasped, visibly rattled. "Where did you come from?! Are my Snail Cameras really that useless?!"

"Should've put one up in the crows nest," Thatch commented, sauntering towards him. "But hey, good for us, not for you."

Breed snarled, face red with rage, hands glowing green.

"Thatch! Look out!" cried Yamato. "He has a Devil Fruit power!" But too late, as Breed thrust out his hands; the green glow leaping around Thatch's throat and forming into a collar.

"Now sit!" commanded Breed. Thatch obeyed, dropping lightly to his knees, his face expressionless. Yamato's heart sank, her whole body sagging with despair. Now there was no hope at all.

Why hadn't Thatch been more careful? Hadn't he seen what was happening?

"Not so cocky now, are we?!" Breed was grinning again, but his face was red and his chest was heaving. He looked like he was going to have a heart attack. "With my Pet Pet Fruit powers, I will have an army of Sea Beasts and slaves at my command! And just imagine how Kaido will reward me when I hand in Deku! Even after Joker's fee!"

He chortled, his eyes gleaming; no doubt imagining mountains of treasure and armies of scantily-clad women. It made Yamato's stomach churn.

"Oh really now," said Thatch, in an easy tone. "Seems you're pretty tight with this Joker fellow."

"Joker is only the best of the best when it comes to the Underworld Community!" Breed bragged. "You wouldn't believe the clients in his address book! All four Emperors, kingdoms of all kinds, and half the small-time pirates in the known world; and that's just the ones I know about! "

"Neat. Where is Joker based out of anyway?" asked Thatch casually.

"Not a clue! But his agents mostly work out of Dressrosa! I've even used his special underground harbor a few times!" Breed stepped closer, stroking his chin. "But that won't mean much to you, Petotototo~. Hmmm…" He looked Thatch up and down. "Strong fellow like you should net me a good hundred million. The girl though, easily four, minimum!" He snapped his fingers. "Now then, time to call Joker!"

He turned towards Slave 32, who was still lying where he had fallen.

"Not happening." Breed spun round, and gaped as Thatch rose to his feet.

"W-What?! How can you still be moving?! I order you! Sit!"

"No, I won't."

Yamato stared, amazed, as Thatch raised a black, Haki-covered hand to the green collar at his throat, and tore it away. Only then did she see the muscles bulging under his jacket. He was ripped!

"For one who has the nerve to harm my brother and sister," he said, striding up to the shaking, spluttering Breed. "For one who dares attack the children of Edward Newgate, in his own waters no less. Those were some poor last words."

"W-White…beard…" gasped Breed, only then understanding the danger into which he had cheerfully hurled himself. He tried to back away, but Thatch moved, vanishing in an eyeblink, and reappearing behind him, hands clasping Breed's head.

SNAP.

Breed slumped to his knees, and fell to the deck. His head was twisted backwards, a look of surprise fixed on its features, its eyes glazed over.

The Sea Lapins, who had been picking themselves up after Thatch's attack, paused; the green collars fading from their necks. Izuku drew a sharp breath, as his own collar crumbled into glittering dust. Yamato scrambled to her feet, her body her own once again as she went to the boy's side.

"You okay?" she asked. But Izuku didn't reply. He was staring at the corpse, his eyes wide, his face blank. He almost looked…surprised.

"Izuku?" Yamato stepped closer, and put a hand on his shoulder. She couldn't remember ever seeing him quite like this.

"You…you killed him," Izuku uttered, turning his bulging eyes on Thatch. The chef looked back at him, eyebrow quirked.

"Yeah, I did," he said, after the briefest pause. "What? Was I supposed to show mercy to a slaver like him?"

"No I mean…" Izuku paused. He was shaking. "We…we could have gotten some info about him. About this Joker character."

"No need," retorted Thatch. "The guy operates out of Dressrosa. That makes him Doflamingo, or one of his crew."

"Yeah, but…"

"And let's say we did what you wanted. Beat him black and blue, haul him back to the Moby Dick, and squeeze info out of him. What then? Do we lock him up till he dies of boredom? Let him go so he can rat us out to Kaido?"

Izuku lowered his head, humiliated by the tongue-lashing. Yamato hated to see him like that, but she knew Thatch was right. Let Breed go, and he would have run straight to Doflamingo. One snail call, and Kaido would know her and Izuku's last location, plus that they were hanging out with a known Whitebeard Pirate. The rest would be history; assuming anyone survived to write it.

"I gave him the the quick way out," Thatch went on. "Not a thousand punches, or sword slices, or some twisted Devil Fruit power. One quick snap, and it's done. He's on his way to Hell, and Doflamingo and Kaido will neither know nor care. Hell, knowing Doflamingo, he'll be more worried about this fancy ship than about a lowlife like Breed."

Yamato looked him in the eyes. There was no arrogance there, no pride or pleasure. This almost seemed normal to him.

"I just… wanted to avoid killing. I'm a Hero. Not a…" He paused, the words unsaid.

"I know, and I'm sorry this had to happen," Thatch said, and seemed to mean it. "But you're a pirate now, Izuku. You have to start thinking like one."

He paused, and let out a harsh breath. He looked suddenly haunted.

"Look, I don't like killing either. There are plenty in this world who do, but I'm not one of them." He stepped forward, and put a hand on Izuku's shoulder. "But if it's the only way I can protect my family, then I won't hesitate. I feed them in the mess hall, and I shield them on the battlefield. That's who I am. That's what it means to have a family."

Izuku looked up at him with hurt, bitter eyes. Thatch sighed.

"Don't take this the wrong way, Izuku. I overheard what you told Pops about killing, and you were right. It's a good code, and you're a good kid. There's something noble in you, both of you. That's what Pops saw in you, and that's why he wanted you."

He patted Izuku's shoulder.

"But you're one of us now, Izuku,Yamato. You're not running a double act any more. You're part of an Emperor's crew, for better or for worse. That's something you two need to get your heads around."

Izuku looked down again. Thatch turned, grabbed Breed's corpse, and tossed it over the gunwale.

"That outta feed the fish a while," he quipped.

"Thatch?"

"Wassup dude." Thatch looked back.

"Does… it get any easier?" Izuku asked. "Killing." He raised his head, and Yamato remembered.

Tenko.

"Yes, it does, if I'm honest," Thatch said. "I'm not going to justify it or deny it. Give me a free choice and I'd spend my days cooking and feeding my family, and anyone else who's hungry. If I didn't have my cooking, and my family, I don't know what I'd be."

There was that haunted look again.

"Thatch, thank you for coming down." She had to say it. "For saving us. When you got caught by his power, I was very worried!"

"No worries. Get your Haki strong enough you can break out of any Devil Fruit ability," Thatch replied, without looking at her. "Sorry for not coming sooner. I needed to see what this guy could do, and I wanted to let you two cut loose." He shrugged, and rubbed the back of his neck. "Didn't expect an annoying Paramecia User like that."

"Cut loose?" Yamato asked.

"Yeah. After the whole… Izou thing." Thatch said. "We agreed that the next pirates that tried to cross us, you'd go and fight'em. You know, blow some steam." He sighed. "Guess that's down the drain."

Izuku was looking down again; his shoulders hunched.

"Ah, don't beat yourself up," Thatch insisted, with a levity that wasn't entirely forced. "This trip wasn't for nothing.'

He nodded towards the Sea Lapins. They were standing in a huddle, regarding the trio warily.

"Sorry about that!" the chef called out, waving. "Hard times, ya know?"

One of the Sea Lapins made a trilling noise, and a thumbs-up with its paw. The pack trotted over to the gunwale, and jumped over into the water.

"Uggghn…" Slave 32 groaned. Yamato saw him lying on the deck, and cursed. In all the drama, she had completely forgotten about him.

Izuku dashed to his side, and Yamato followed.

"It's okay, you're safe now," he said, helping the man to sit up. His rags were filthy, and his knees and elbows were scuffed and bleeding. "Do you have a name?"

"My name…my name was…Martin," coughed the man, slumping into Izuku's arms. "Hungry…"

"Is there anyone else on the ship?" Yamato asked. "Any more like you?"

"Below…in the brig, under the aquarium," Martin croaked. "Sailors, pirates, random folks…"

"Don't you worry, Martin," Thatch said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "It's over. You're free, and there's food for you and the others down there." He straightened up, and pulled out a Transponder Snail. "You two free the prisoners. I need to call in Pops."

Yamato nodded, and looked towards Izuku. Izuku stood up, pausing until Martin nodded at him, then fell in beside Yamato as she headed for the poop deck door.

"Yamato," Thatch called out, and she turned towards him. "You gonna be okay?"

Was everyone going to be worried for her now? Because of what Izou did?

"I-I'll be fine. Thatch, thank you for saving me and Izuku." Thatch smirked.

"You'd do the same for me. What are family for?" He turned his attention to the snail, and Yamato headed through the door, and down the stairs to the lower decks. To her surprise, Izuku was already there, and she had to trot to catch up with him.

It was a silent walk down to the lower decks, the only light being the candles on the wall.

"We can't save anyone now," he said, his tone heavy, his eyes fixed on the deck below.

"We're saving people now," Yamato assured him. "That's why we came here."

"And we had to kill that pirate," Izuku replied, his tone suddenly harsh. "My face is all over the New World, maybe beyond. Even a lowlife like Breed knew who I am."

He drew a sharp breath, his shoulders hunched and shaking. Yamato felt bad for him, and wished she knew what to say; what would ease his pain.

Would things have been different had he left her on Onigashima? He could have slipped out, and wandered free across the world, saving anyone who needed saving, without Kaido's vengeance following in his shadow.

"Look what you've done," whispered a nasty little voice, as her horns began to itch. "Look what your freedom has cost him. A boy with his whole life ahead of him, a dream in his heart. Marked, hunted, and chained. All for your sake. Just like…"

Yamato snapped her head round, ready to smash whoever was whispering at her. But there was no one there.

"My face is out there," Izuku went on. "Sooner or later, someone will call in. Kaido will hunt for us, check any place we've been sighted." He covered his face with his hand. "Sooner or later, they'll track us down. And there'll be more killing. All because I didn't do what Thatch did from the start." Izuku scoffed. "I'm sorry about all this, Yamato."

Yamato perked up, surprised by his words.

"Izuku, don't apologize," she insisted. "This isn't your fault."

"But-"

"But nothing!" Yamato snapped, as something erupted from her heart. She was sick of seeing Izuku like this. "You didn't do it because you didn't want to become a murderer! Like Lady Nagant, or that Hawks fellow! Or Malice! You didn't want to go down that path! That's not who you are!"

She looked away, rubbing at the maddening itch in her horns.

"This is bad, Izuku. But it's not your fault. Don't go blaming yourself for it! I can't stand it when you do that!"

Yes, that was the kind of person Izuku was. She was sure of it now. He was the type who blamed himself when things went wrong; who sought answers and blame in his own actions first. It was part of what made him a Hero, driving him to get stronger, to do better, to live up to the ideal stamped upon his heart by All Might.

Even as his soul shriveled, and his heart broke.

She closed her eyes, forcing back tears. Her dream was dead, at least for now. Oden had lived a wild and free life, sailing beside Whitebeard and Roger. But Roger was dead, and while Whitebeard was the greatest man she had ever known, the only father she had ever truly wanted, he wasn't getting any younger.

Yamato loathed admitting it, sickened at the thought of it. But Kaido was called the Strongest Living Creature for a reason. If Pops were to face him…

They reached the brig and got to work; unlocking the cells and helping the prisoners out. Some of them could manage, but others were half-starved and sick, and needed to be carried up to the quarterdeck.

But even the worst-off among them had eyes bright with joy, with hope. And those eyes were turned on Izuku and Yamato; not with hatred or fear, but with gratitude.

The itch faded.

But ….

(X)

"Alright, we're on our way."

Newgate clicked off the Snail and pocketed it. Jozu was at the wheel, and in front of him, the Moby Dick was readying to sail. Below, he could hear his children singing their songs as they turned the capstan, pulling up the anchor. Above, he could see them swarming up and down the rigging and along the spars; unfurling the sails and tying them in place. The sails cracked and pulled taught as the wind caught them, and the anchor clunked into place.

Moby Dick was underway.

Newgate stood on the poop deck, legs spread, as his beloved ship made its way into the harbor, heading for the ocean beyond. If this wind kept up, they would reach Nokpeg Archipelago in a couple of hours. By then they would have the brig cleared, the cots and tables set out, and the food all prepared; ready for the prisoners freed from the late Ringmaster Breed, lately Captain of the late Breed Pirates.

"Guess Thatch's plan to help them blow off steam didn't work," commented Marco, stepping up beside him.

"It did not. And Breed knew who Izuku was," Newgate replied gravely. "As for Joker…"

He didn't bother to finish the sentence. Marco knew what he meant.

"Donquixote Doflamingo. I guess it fits the theme." Marco narrowed his eyes. "It's good information, priceless even. Still, I'm worried for Izuku and Yamato. After what happened with Izou…" He trailed off, suddenly awkward.

"I know how you feel," Newgate said. "So, we can't send them to punch up small-fry troublemakers. We'll just have to deal with this ourselves." He smirked. "Once we've brought our new family back to Melville, I know where we'll go next."

"Oh? Where?" Marco asked.

"Winner Island." His smirk became a grin. Winner was a barren rock the Whitebeards used for storage, and well off the beaten track. "There, we'll train those squirts, burn off some of that energy. And find out what they're really capable of."


Big thanks to IKnowNothing , Juubi-K and WildJoker000 for their edits and help on this one.

Here we are! Chapter 50! Can't believe we made it this far but here we are. Thank you all so much for coming along for the ride here. I have been progressing this story faster than FFESS and am in much more of a groove here and I am here for it.

Anyways, I can safely say we are at the halfway point of the Acclimation Mark.

So yeah, Yamato got a Big L yesterday, Izuku got a big one today because if it weren't for an elder Whitebeard Commander, things would have gotten A LOT worse. Either the murder of Oden's Retainer or... you know. Kaido coming down on everything in a hundred mile radius around Melville+him going to war against the Whitebeards since the two was last seen with a known Whitebeard Pirate.

And due to Yamato lying down, Breed couldn't see her arm tattoo either.

Both of our heroes are going through it right now: Izuku and the prospect that he will have to kill(he won't get a dues ex machina bullshit turtle like ATLA did, you cowards) now that he's a Pirate. He's a Hero yes, but Pirates must do what Pirates do. And Yamato well, her identity, lineage, and everything that comes with it.

Thatch is a treat to write too. We know he's a nice guy. A chill guy, and someone who took Ace under his wing. But he's not afraid to beat people up if they have to. And given he's the Fourth Division Commander, the same dude who is in the same ballpark as someone who Mihawk recognizes and praises(Vista), and two people who can deal some hurt on the Admirals(Marco and Jozu) it makes sense Thatch would be in that similar power level. Originally in my head I thought "hey, wouldn't it be awesome if he used his knives to slice off Breed's forearms?" but then "Yeah too bloody. A Chef can't get messy after all". So settled instead on the Head Snap Twist. OG Draft had him wiggling his fingers like Hunk from RE4, but it got lost so, ah well.

So yeah, bout sums it up.

Hope you all enjoyed this one. Once Juubi-K gets the next One and Only Son chapter up(read it, I write in it too. Both in the story and for the OG drafts of his sidestories too) he can do some chapters for this. Just gotta outline em. After our two fights(take bets on who is. fighting who. I'm intrigued), we'll just settle back into shorties to wind down the arc.

See ya'll in the next one, and Happy Thanksgiving.