Man, the One Piece manga has been on fire these last couple of weeks! I can't wait to see what comes next. I mentioned it back in the omake chapter, but I'm really hoping we'll get some more info on the Buccaneers soon.

Beta-read by Pure Red Crane and Izzu


Lesson 12: If Life Feels Upside Down, You're Either Standing Wrong or Just Drunk.


"Ahahaha! No need to send a geisha in. No one may approach this room!" The booming voice of an official with curly black hair and a beard commanded.

"Yes, sir, of course." The attendant bowed as he gently closed the screen doors, leaving to inform his coworkers of the order given. Once his footsteps were out of earshot, the dark-maned official turned to his cohort across from him, an older man with a long, white beard.

"This is the order sheet for the next round of weaponry." The old official handed over the documents to him.

"Ooh, you're a wicked fellow!" The dark-haired man chuckled darkly.

"Huh? I am?"

"This is quite a number! Is there going to be a war or what?" the younger man probed, dismissing his colleague's confusion.

"It's not our business to know what goes on overseas. All we have to do is make what is requested."

"Ooh, you're a wicked fellow! Ahahah!"

"Huh? I am?"

Above them, unbeknownst to the chatting officials, another dialogue unfolded in the shadows of the rafters.

"Pay attention, Onami. My vision isn't what it used to be. You need to observe carefully," Shinobu whispered to her newfound student. Peering through a crack with her spyglass, Nami tried to glimpse the documents below.

"I can't see past his head," she murmured, frustration evident.

"A true kunoichi must be patient, waiting for the perfect moment to come to her," Sacchan instructed her new kohai. "Trust in all your senses, not just sight."

"That's great and all, but…who are you?" The old official asked as the two men directed their attention to the violet-haired kunoichi kneeling in the far corner of the room, very much in plain sight.

"What the hell is she doing down there?!" Nami couldn't help but exclaim before quickly covering her mouth for the blunder.

Sacchan gasped as she raised a hand to her face. "Oh dear, it seems I've dropped my glasses!"

The younger official's gaze shot upward, and with a swift motion, he seized a spear and thrust it through the ceiling, narrowly missing Nami and Shinobu. "Who goes there?!

Startled by the gleaming blade, Shinobu couldn't suppress a scream. "GYAAAAAH!"

The two shinobi made a run for it as they were followed by more jabs from below, their position given away by Shinobu's incessant screaming.

"Who goes there?! Who goes there?! Who goes there?!"

"You don't have to shout so loud, Shinobu-chan!" Nami pleaded, trying to calm down her teacher, but it was to no avail. Finally, Nami tried to forcefully shut her mouth by clamping her hand around her massive lips. "Please, just be quiet!"

"Time to go." Sacchan quickly bolted out the screen doors and into the courtyard. The few guards who tried to stop her, summoned by the yelling of the officials, were met with flying kunai as the kunoichi made her escape. The officials ran outside, spears in hand.

"Intruders! One here in the courtyard and two more in the rafters! After them, you wicked fellow!" The curly-haired official bellowed.

"Okay, seriously, just what the hell did I do?! Why do you keep calling me that?!" The old official finally snapped back.

The guards scrambled about, checking the attic and probing the courtyard for any trace of the three women. "Where did they go?! I can't find anything!"

"Keep searching!" Unfortunately for the guards, the trio had already made their escape, flying high above the Flower Capital on a pair of giant kites.

"Ninpo: Great Kite!"

"Your Ninpo skills are amazing!" Nami complemented the older kunoichi as she clung to her.

"What did you manage to see, Onami?" Shinobu asked, now calmer after finally getting away.

"I saw the name of the port and the shipment day!"

"Wonderful! We'll intercept the weapons shipment right on time! By the way, Onami, did I ever tell you that I have a terrible fear of pointed objects?" Shinobu said offhand.

"You're not cut out for any kind of battle, then!"

Shinobu smiled slyly to herself. "Yet there is no weapon deadlier than a mature woman."

"Sorry, sensei, but I believe the word you're looking for is 'overripe.'" Sacchan chimed in, flying alongside them on her own kite.

"Like you're one to talk! What the hell was that?! How can you be a kunoichi if you're completely blind the moment you lose your glasses?!" Nami berated her.

"The path of a master shinobi is filled with shadows. Who better to navigate them than one who's embraced blindness as her ally?" Sacchan explained in a vain attempt to salvage her dignity.

"If stumbling around like an idiot and causing a scene is part of the path, then you're closer to being a master than you think!" Nami snapped again, not buying into it for a second.

Sacchan shook her head. "Regardless, we have what we need to steal the weapons we'll need for the rebellion! Once Raizo-dono helps save your captain and my Gin-san, we'll be that much closer to bringing down Kaido and Orochi."

The light mood suddenly soured at the mention of the silverrette. "I'm glad to hear that Raizo will be helping Luffy, but as far as that perm-headed jerk goes, I'd say we just leave him to rot," Nami said bitterly. Beside her, Shinobu's brow furrowed as she gritted her teeth viciously. Sacchan's own expression dropped, becoming unreadable.

"…You're still upset about that, I see."

"Of course we are! How could we not be?!" Nami's voice picked up. "He and Momo-kun were supposed to be friends, and he just tells him to leave? How could he do that?! Especially to a child who has everything riding on this?!"

"I have to agree with Onami, Sacchan. As a vassal for the Kozuki, I cannot forgive the insolence of that man's words. Even if he is your beloved." Shinobu added, doing her best to maintain her composure.

Sacchan sighed. "Well, I suppose I can't blame you for that. I won't try to pretend and act as if he can't be all as you describe him. But I won't stay silent while you act as if you truly know him."

"How can you defend him? You were there, too." Nami questioned her.

"How could I not? He's the man I love. Not to mention all he's done for me in the past."

"What are you talking about?"

Sacchan looked out into the distance over the cityscape. "Well, this happened a while back. An incident occurred where Gin-san had broken my glasses. To repay me, he bought me a brand-new pair. However, they were, unfortunately, the wrong prescription, so it ended up hindering me during my work."

"I remember that," Shinobu said. "You messed up on multiple jobs and even attacked your own men by accident."

Nami raised her eyebrows incredulously. "Seriously?"

Sacchan hummed. "Yes, I was stubborn. Even after my old glasses were repaired, I refused to wear them, sticking fast to the pair Gin-san bought me. I'll admit, I got a little obsessed over them, but who wouldn't get obsessed over the first gift from the man they love?"

"As a tender-hearted maiden myself, I can understand." Shinobu conceded before becoming serious again. "However, the world of shinobi seldom affords such sentiments."

Sacchan nodded. "Yes, it wasn't long before my organization decided I was a liability and attempted to cut me off. I was heavily injured, and it wouldn't have been long before they tracked me down. In the end, I was saved by Gin-san, along with Hattori-san, Shinpachi-kun, and Kagura-chan."

Nami's brow furrowed. She was surprised to hear that the man she met a few days ago was capable of something so altruistic, but she still found it hard to believe. "Even so…"

Sacchan pressed on. "He risked everything to help me, becoming a target himself. But he still stuck by me, despite all the trouble I put him through, then and even before that. He helped me realize what I was truly blind to, and see what I needed to truly treasure."

"You don't need to see a thing. It's fine to be blind right now. 'Cause the next time you wake up, everything will be crystal clear."

"...So? What is your point?" Nami finally asked after a long pause.

"My point is this: yes, Gin-san is undoubtedly a sadistic and sharp-tongued brute of a man - it's why I fell in love with him, after all." Sacchan smiled to herself before turning to face the others, her expression becoming serious. "However, he would never say that kind of thing to a friend and truly mean it. And he would never leave them out in the cold, no matter the trouble they may cause."

Nami and Shinobu frowned at this, falling into deep thought. They saw what the violet-haired ninja was trying to say. Still, they couldn't just forget everything that happened previously at the castle either. Shinobu especially was adamant on the matter. Unless she was ordered to by her lord himself, she could never forgive the man known as Gintoki for his action against him. Nami was less certain about how to feel. If Gintoki was capable of such actions, why spurn away Momonosuke, someone he was once childhood friends with?

Before anything else could be said, Shinobu noticed something happening down below in the streets. "Oh my, what is happening down there?"

The trio of flying women looked down, taking notice of an exceedingly long line forming all the way down the street.

"What's this line for, a bargain sale?" Nami wondered before suddenly grimacing. "Oh no…"

"Welcome, welcome! Come have a serving, ladies! Melts on your tongue, but al dente between your teeth! It's my special soba!" Sanji's voice carried loudly through the air, his sales pitch seemingly being picked up by every woman in the Flower Capital.

"Those aren't samurai he's recruiting!" Nami shouted in annoyance, knowing full well she was gonna have to wallop the amorous chef later for this.


"Any information about Luffy?" Robin inquired as she blew on her noodles.

"Hard to say. He's a good distance away from us. I bet he'll be outta there by the big day, though." Franky answered as he slurped up his soba.

"Hey, if he's as tough as you describe him, he ought to be fine," Gengai reassured them as he, too, chewed up his food with gusto.

"Man, this is good! It's stupid how good this tastes!" Usopp cried out, reveling in the taste. "Ahh, the chance to eat Sangoro's cooking again! I'm so glad he's back and all right!"

"I'm not interested in any of your opinions except for the ladies! How are the noodles?" Sanji asked the trio of women sitting behind him.

"Oh, they taste exquisite," Robin stated.

"You've outdone yourself again, Sanji-san. Oh, I mean, Sangoro-san." Otae smiled.

"I gotta admit, this is pretty top-tier stuff." Tsukuyo complimented the cook.

"Hearing that makes my heart soar among the clouds themselves!" Sanji danced around with hearts in his eyes.

"So he's like this all the time?" Tsukuyo sweatdropped.

Robin just chuckled. "It's endearing once you get used to it."

Franky set down his bowl momentarily. "Listen, it's good, but you're drawing in too many women, Sangoro. You gotta try a more spicy flavor, somethin' good with sake. Stuff samurai would like!"

Sanji only gave a silent but annoyed look in response.

"Why are you lookin' at me like that?! Are you even trying to recruit more allies?!" Franky retorted.

"Now, now, Franosuke-san. We still have plenty of time for that." Otae consoled the cyborg.

Tsukuyo turned towards the dark-haired geisha. "I still can't believe that you're involved with something this huge, Orobi."

Robin frowned slightly in remorse. "I apologize for not being truthful, Tsukuyo-san. But you understand why I couldn't tell you at first. If you know too much, there's a chance it would put you in danger as well. Not to mention the rest of Yoshiwara."

Tsukuyo nodded in understanding. "I get it. Truth be told, I always figured you were hiding something. Of course, after that face you made looking at the paper, that kinda cinched it."

Robin blushed slightly as she covered her mouth in embarrassment. When she first saw the paper headlines talking about the arrest of her captain, she couldn't contain her shock. It seemed her crew's influence on her was finally beginning to set in.

The aged inventor looked up from his meal. "Well, we still have plenty of time to prepare for the big day. By then, Franosuke and I here should have our little project finished, and Ginnoji and your little friend should be freed by then, too."

THUNK

Sanji forcefully brought his knife down against his chopping board as he was cutting his noodles, the echoing sound catching everyone else off guard and turning their attention to him.

"Well, we know Raizo said he'd help Luffy out, but after everything that happened back at the castle, I'd be surprised if he doesn't kill that shitty perm-head himself," Sanji said, frustration and anger lacing his tone.

The group frowned at this. Otae had heard about what happened from her brother and Kagura, who in turn passed it on to Tsukuyo and Gengai. Sanji, of course, brought his own crew up to speed.

"No kidding. SUPER uncool on that guy's part." Franky scowled in agreement.

"And they were supposed to have been friends at some point, too, right? What's up with that?" Usopp wondered aloud. The local Wanoites shared a knowing look with each other and sighed.

Gengai set down his bowl. "Well, your anger is understandable, but you shouldn't be too hard on Ginnoji."

Sanji turned to the inventor. "What? You're gonna tell us that that guy isn't actually a complete jackass?"

"Oh no, he definitely is, among other things." Otae clarified.

"He's lazy as all hell," Tsukuyo added.

"He always skips out on paying his bills." Gengai continued.

"And he's always wasting what little money he does have either on sweets, pachinko, or Jump." Otae finished with a knowing smile.

"This guy just sounds like the worst!" Usopp couldn't help but say.

"And he's supposed to be a samurai?" Franky questioned incredulously.

Gengai chuckled dryly. "Doesn't seem very impressive, does he? And yet, despite his many, MANY shortcomings, that guy always finds a way to pull through and provide a helping hand. Even when someone doesn't ask for it at first."

"What are you talking about, old man?" Franky asked.

"I never told you why I chose to work with you guys, did I? Well, long ago, my son was part of the Joui resistance against the Bakufu," Gengai said before his expression turned somber. "He went off to battle on his own and died on his own."

"Old man…" Franky started as everyone else listened closely.

Gengai pressed on. "After that, I was adrift. I thought I had moved past it, but when the chance came for me to avenge him, I couldn't help but chase it like a dog chasing a cat. During a festival one night, I damn near had a chance to end Orochi myself. I probably should've, too. But if I did, that would've only tainted the machines I put my heart and soul into, the same machines my Saburo loved so much. But at that time, I didn't care. I was just an angry old fool lashing out and looking for a place to die. But in the end, he managed to stop me."

"Gin-san, I assume?" Robin surmised.

"Hrmph, yeah. The no-good punk smashed up my precious robots to bits. At that point, I was a wreck. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with myself or how I was supposed to live my life from that point forward. You know what he said?"

"Beats me. Isn't it nice just to live a long life?"

"It's supposed to be us wrinkled old folks handing out words of wisdom to the next generation. Instead, I got it served back to me. Talk about sad." Gengai lamented humorously.

"If all of that happened, then why join us now?" Franky asked.

"Don't get me wrong, I haven't forgiven Orochi or the Bakufu for what they did to my son. But I'm not joining to get payback. It's just that after so long, I've decided that there are a couple of people living in the here and now that are worth protecting. And I wouldn't have been able to figure that out if it weren't for him."

As the Straw Hats tried to process this, Tsukuyo suddenly began speaking herself. "Yeah, as much as he complains about it, that guy really doesn't know how to keep his nose out of other people's business."

"Yes, Hinowa told me all the stories about how Gin-san had saved Yoshiwara many times," Robin stated.

Tsukuyo shook her head. "Well, you haven't heard this story. A while back, my old master came back into town. He was a powerful and cruel shinobi who taught me everything I knew about being an assassin. He made it his mission to ensure that I would follow the same path as him, even if it meant destroying all of Yoshiwara and everyone in it."

"At the time, I was terrified. Terrified that he may actually succeed and kill everyone I had come to care about. So I tried to face him alone and ended up in a rather sorry state for it. Then that man, even though he'd been beaten by him once before, even when his wounds had yet to fully heal from his last battle, still made his way over like a damn fool. I tried to tell him to run, to take everyone else with him. I tried to put on a strong front, but he just saw right through me."

"Trying to handle everything by yourself? Don't be such a stranger. Weep and ask for help. Lean on me with your runny nose. Cry when you feel like crying. Laugh when you feel like laughing. When you're tearing up with an ugly face, I'll give you a good cry with an uglier face. When you're laughing so hard your stomach hurts, I'll laugh in a louder voice. That's how it should be. It's far better to get dirty while living true to yourself than to throw away yourself and die a clean death."

Tsukuyo smiled to herself as she recalled the memory fondly. "Despite everything, he still managed to win. He showed me that even if I abandoned the idea of being a woman, that didn't mean I had to abandon the idea of relying on others."

"My, that's quite a story," Robin said, moved deeply by her friend's tale. "I can certainly understand why you would be so taken with him now."

Sanji's jaw dropped. "Wait, what?!"

"Oi, Orobi! Who the hell said it was like that?!" Tsukyo yelled, blushing furiously.

"Are you sure? Hinowa-san was actually just sharing with me a while ago another interesting story involving the two of you and a certain love potion…" Robin teased.

"What the hell is she trying to pull here?! It was just some shitty drug and nothing more!" Tsukuyo yelled, her face now completely red.

"It's not fair!" Sanji collapsed to the ground. "How does a bum like that net a babe like her?!"

"You shut up, too! No one netted anyone, got it?!"

While Sanji pounded the ground in despair, crying out at the unfairness of it all, Usopp suddenly noticed someone approaching the soba stand. "Hey, it looks like we finally got a male customer."

Gengai noticed as well, quickly ducking behind Franky's massive body as the man in the black outfit and V-shaped bangs walked to the front of the line.

"Excuse me, sir, but the line starts back there. I'm sorry, but you'll have to wait your turn like everyone else." Sanji said, quickly regaining his composure after seeing the man approach.

"Sorry about that, but could you make an exception? I'm in a bit of a time crunch." Hijikata requested formally.

Sanji's expression tightened. "No can do. These lovely ladies have been waiting all day. They come first."

Hijikata turned towards the woman behind him in the line. "Pardon me, ma'am, but do you mind if I go ahead of you? I only have 30 minutes on my lunch break."

"Oh, not at all, Hijikata-dono! Please, go right ahead! I don't mind at all." The woman offered, a blush creeping up her cheeks.

"Thank you. I appreciate it. I'll take one order of soba. And here." Hijikata placed down a generous stack of coins. "This should be enough to cover for myself and the next three behind me."

"Oh, you don't have to do that!"

"It's really no problem!"

"I insist. It's the least I can do for allowing me to cut ahead of you all." Hijikata maintained.

The ladies behind him squealed in delight at the handsome Vice Chief's courteous action, much to the annoyance of Sanji.

"Well, alright. As long as it's fine with the ladies. One soba, coming up!" Sanji said begrudgingly.

"I see you're as popular as ever, Hijikata-san," Otae remarked.

Hijikata groaned slightly at the sight of the cabaret girl. "What are you doing here?"

"It's my day off. I've just been showing some friends of mine here around the Capital."

"That so?"

Sanji handed over a bowl of soba to the police officer. "Here."

"Thanks. Now for the finishing touch." Hijikata reached into his jacket, pulling out what appeared to be a bottle of mayonnaise.

Franky cocked an eyebrow. "What is he—"

Hijikata spun the cap off before proceeding to squeeze out practically the entire bottle over his soba. Franky and Usopp gagged as they clutched their mouths in disgust, and even Robin noticeably winced at the ungodly amount of condiment the police officer was pouring over his now-ruined soba. Hijikata put the bottle back in his jacket before grabbing his chopsticks and bringing the bowl to his face.

Usopp stifled another gag. "Urk! How in the hell can he actually eat that stu–SANGORO!"

All he could see was red. Never before had his cooking been desecrated in such a way, and he sure as hell wasn't about to let this bastard live to tell about it (the fact that he reminded him of a certain shitty mosshead did not help). It took the combined effort of Usopp and Franky to hold Sanji back and keep him from killing the Vice Chief on the spot as he continued to happily slurp up his mayo-soba without a care in the world.

"So, Hijikata-san, have you heard about what happened in Kuri?" Otae asked, ignoring the scene beside her.

"Hard to ignore, especially after hearing about that bastard getting arrested alongside that rebel," Hijikata answered, taking a short break from his meal.

"So, are you a friend of Gin-san's as well?" Robin wondered.

Hijikata scoffed. "As if. If anything, I'm disappointed I couldn't slap the cuffs on him myself."

"Is it true he was taken to Udon?" Tsukuyo joined in.

Hijikata nodded. "Yeah. As I'm sure you're already aware, the reputation of that place is worse than what you hear. Not a single soul has made it out of that hellhole in one piece. Not that that makes much of a difference."

"And what the hell is that supposed to mean?" Sanji asked gruffly. He had calmed down a little after seeing that the Shinsengumi officer was actually eating his food and not wasting it, but he was still pissed off nonetheless.

"Why do you care? Are you a friend of his, too?"

"Do I sound like a friend of that asshole?" Sanji growled.

"Sounds like we have something in common then," Hijikata grunted. "I'm just saying you shouldn't worry too much. If a place like that was enough to kill that bastard, he'd have dropped dead a long time ago."

"That's true enough." Tsukuyo agreed.

"How can you be so sure?" Robin asked. Hijikata said nothing, instead reminiscing to himself about the last time that dumbass willingly walked into a situation like this.

"Inside me, there is an organ more important than my heart. Although you can't see it, I feel it going right through my head and down to my legs, and I know that it exists inside me. It's the one that lets me stand up and walk forward without ever trembling. If I stopped here, I feel like it would break…My soul would break. Even more than if my heart stops beating, to me, that is the most important. Even if I become senile and my back gets bent, I still have to walk forward."

"I just do. Thank you for the meal. If you'll excuse me, I have to get back on duty." Hijikata walked away after finishing the last of his soba, leaving the Straw Hats even more puzzled, especially a certain chef.

"I don't get it…Why does everyone have so much faith in this guy?"

"I suppose it wouldn't make much sense for you guys. That's just how Gin-san is." Otae giggled.

Sanji gasped. "Otae-chan! Don't tell me that you, too—"

"Finish that sentence, and I'll have to hurt you, Sangoro-san." Otae smiled dangerously, quickly shutting up the chef and drawing wary looks from Usopp, Gengai, and Franky.

"But no, it's not like that. Truth be told, there's not a lot we truly know about him. We know that at one point, he fought in the Joui War, but that's about it. It's strange, isn't it? I first met Gin-san two years ago after he got my brother fired from his job. At the time, I thought he was nothing more than a frivolous bum going through life without direction."

Sanji raised an eyebrow. "And now?"

"I've concluded that he's exactly that. But I've also come to learn that there's much more to him than just what's on the surface. But, at the core of who he is, Sakata Gintoki is a fool. A fool willing to face down yakuza, weapons of mass destruction, and even entire armies if it meant protecting the things he and anyone else hold dear."

Sanji and the others were taken aback by Otae's declaration. "Then why? Why would he treat his friend like that, knowing exactly what all this means to him?" The chef prodded for answers.

"I already told you. He's a fool. He believes that no one else but him should be forced to carry the burdens of the world. That if he's the only one who has to suffer, then all will be well. The Sakata Gintoki I know - the one that we all know - isn't the type to share burdens. Whenever there was trouble, he wouldn't say a word or come to us for aid. No matter what kind of threat it was, he'd just show up with a smirk on his face and a finger up his nose, make some snide comment, and sneak off by himself to solve everything before we could even realize what was going on." Otae answered with a gentle smile, before frowning slightly and turning back to the chef. "I won't try to convince you all to forgive him, but I hope that you at least understand where he came from."

Sanji extinguished the final embers of his cigarette, slipping into contemplative silence as he mulled over what Otae and the others had said. Nearby, Franky and Usopp were engrossed in their soba, their expressions a mix of confusion and curiosity. Robin, too, found herself deep in thought, her interest piqued even further by the enigmatic and bewildering man she had yet to encounter.


"Hey, if I stick around with you, friend, at least I know I'll never miss a meal!" A jovial voice rang out across the barren wasteland, belonging to a thin, short man with a thick blue afro covered by a bandana and tied in a top knot. He wore a patched-up orange kimono, with stubble around his jaw and a thin mustache on his upper lip.

"Just shut up for a bit," Zoro grunted as the man continued to dance alongside him.

"Ha ha ha! How kind of you to silence me like that! It's a clever way to spare my throat the rigors of speech, and I thankee warmly! What a man! What a stud! Surely, the ladies can't keep their hands off you, eh, my young friend?"

"Listen, I'm thankful for the sushi and all…"

"Oh, don't start thankin' me now! I merely had a bolt of inspiration out of the blue! It said, 'Follow this gentleman, he'll lead you true'! 'Twere my last few coins, and I was broke as a joke! All I had left was my pluck and my luck!"

Zoro sighed before glancing to his left. "And what about you?" Zoro turned his gaze to the other, more composed man who walked with them. Clad in a tattered, old brown outfit, his vagrant look was completed by a goatee and a pair of cheap sunglasses.

"I'm just sticking around long enough to make sure we're not getting chased by those thugs, if it ain't too much of a bother. Had I stuck around, I definitely would've been losing more than my pocket change…" the man answered truthfully before pulling out a box of cigarettes, grabbing one for himself before offering one to the green-haired ronin. "Want one?"

Zoro raised a hand to decline. "I don't smoke."

"Suit yourself." He shrugged before lighting up his own.

"That sure was spectacular, wasn't it, Hasegawa-san?! Our friend here winning big in dice! Oh, those gamblers were none too pleased, were they– all that stomping, chasing, and sword swinging! But you stood firm and cast them down...One and all! Aha ha ha ha! Though you should know, my friend, those were not fellows to be trifled with. Henchmen of the fearsome Kyoshiro family from the capital, the yakuza boogeymen! Truly an electrifying spectacle! If I were a woman, I'd be weak in the knees! Hoo-hoo!"

"Weird to see those guys all the way over in Kuri, though. You'd think the Dobonezumi group would've had something to say about that." Hasegawa commented offhand. However, it fell on deaf ears as Zoro took notice of what appeared to be a small town up ahead, the Flower Capital looming further in the backdrop.

"Hmm...? I recognize that up ahead, Assu…"

"Assu?! Ha ha ha!" Tonoyasu chortled. "The name's Yasu, though I've been called that, and worse! What you see in the distance is the Flower Capital! And just before it is my hometown, Ebisu-chō, clinging to the edges of the capital! Named after the god of prosperity and fortune, and you'll understand why once we arrive!"

Dwa ha ha ha ha!

Gya ha ha ha ha!

As the trio got closer and closer to the town, the first thing Zoro noticed was the raucous laughter filling the air. As they entered, they found themselves surrounded by the gaunt but smiling faces of the townsfolk coming to greet them.

"Well, well, ain't you a sight for sore eyes!"

"It's Tonoyasu!"

"Why'd ya come back, Yasu? We ain't got no food here! Gya ha ha ha ha!"

"Gya ha ha ha ha! I'm so hungry, I'm dyin'!"

Zoro frowned in confusion at the stark contrast between their mirthful expressions and their clearly dire situation. "Why are these people so cheerful? This place seems different from Okobore-chō…"

"Very astute, my good man! Indeed, the spirits here soar high! After all, among all creatures, only humans possess the gift of laughter. And what a gift it is! Why let it go to waste? Let those smiles ring! Aha ha ha!" Tonoyasu declared with pride.

"Hey, ma, I'm hungry!" A villager boy laughed.

"Me too, sweetheart! We're all in the same boat!" His mother laughed alongside him.

"Looky there! Another tooth fell out from malnutrition!" An old man guffawed as he held up his molar.

"Da ha ha ha! Not like there's anything around to chew on anyways!"

"Who's the ronin with you, Tonoyasu? He's got three swords at his side! Aha ha ha ha!" Another old man pointed at Zoro's sash.

"You're right! Three swords! Hey, buddy, you putting on a comedy act?! Wahahaha!"

"Now, now! Keep your hands off of this catch, folks – I saw him first!" Tonoyasu boasted as he continued to dance around.

"I feel sorry for you, stranger! You're stuck with a real weirdo!" One woman laughed.

"Hey! I'll have you know I'm the best in the whole country!" Tonoyasu defended himself in jest.

"Oh, is that so? He doesn't look too thrilled about it!" The woman walked up, placing her fingers on the edge of Zoro's mouth and pushing them up into a smile. "Come on now, crack a smile! Today's a day for joy!"

"That's right, Tonoyasu! Guess what happened last night? Ushimitsu Kozo showed up again!" Another villager exclaimed excitedly.

"He did?!"

"Oo-hee-mee-hoo?" Zoro tried to ask, despite his mouth still being forced to smile.

"Ah, the mysterious Ushimitsu Kozo. No one's quite sure who he is, but he's known to appear at the third hour of the bull during the night. He steals gold from the corrupt wealthy in the city and redistributes it to the needy in the slums, then vanishes into the night!" an elderly woman in the crowd eagerly provided the details.

"Really wonder who he could be. But no matter, he's been nothing short of a blessing for us! Ha ha ha ha! They say luck favors the joyful, so we pooled our blessings and treated ourselves to a feast today! Hee hee hee!"

As Zoro settled down, seeking a bit of distance from the spirited villagers, a young girl approached him with a cup in hand. "Here, Ronin! A cup for you! Fresh, clean water for you to enjoy! We bought it with the money we received! Hee hee hee!"

Zoro eyed the cup warily, his gaze then drifting to the expectant, yet desiccated faces of the villagers. "Thanks, but I think I'll pass..."

"Don't worry, it won't make your tummy hurt!" The child encouraged him earnestly.

"If Yasu brought you back here, then we know you must be a good person! Ga ha ha!"

"Drink up! Everyone's got a right to the water!"

Despite their generosity, Zoro hesitated, feeling the water would be better used by the villagers themselves. It was then that Hasegawa took a seat next to him, cup in hand.

"Just take it, man. You shouldn't disregard the kindness of others. It's the only way to survive in a world like this." Hasegawa advised.

After a moment of contemplation, Zoro took the cup, tasting the water slowly and appreciating its purity. The girl's grin grew wider as she giggled loudly.

"Feels refreshing, doesn't it? Let it wash over you! Ah, but you're frowning again! Remember, a smile is your best good luck charm here! In our land, they call it an 'Ebisu smile'—that's the spirit this town embodies! We refuse to be weighed down by hardship! Tears won't make us rich, so let's smile our brightest! Smile!" Tonoyasu's words filled the air as he gestured toward the entire town, encouraging everyone to embrace joy despite their circumstances. And, almost unconsciously, a small smile began to form on Zoro's lips.

Naha ha ha ha ha hahaha

"Alright, I gotta help out some of these fine folks with a couple o' things. Hasegawa-san, could you show our esteemed guest around, find him a place to stay?"

"Yeah, I guess I could manage that, pops. Come on, follow me." Hasegawa stood up, ushering Zoro forward. The duo walk away, heading deeper into town. When they were out of earshot, they began chatting.

"Cheerful bunch, aren't they?" Zoro commented.

"Yeah, well, in a world like this, what else can you do? You have to keep the spirits up somehow." Hasegawa shrugged before his own expression fell, mumbling in silence to himself, "It's not like they have much choice…"

Zoro caught the tail end of his comment, wondering what he meant by that. But before he could question him further, a crash from another house drew his attention.

"I've told you already once before, you miscreants! I don't need pity from the likes of you! Now leave me be!" A man threw a small child out the ruined door. Unlike the other villagers, the man seemed noticeably more clean, not to mention his angry tone sharply contrasted with the rest of the town.

"Hahaha, okay, mister! Have a good day!" The villager child laughed before running off, seemingly unbothered by the man's violent action.

Zoro raised an eyebrow. "It seems like you're not the only one who didn't get the message about this place."

"Oh yeah, he must be new. You'll see guys like him come through every once in a while. The shogun only allows people to live in the capital so long as they're contributing to the economy. Otherwise, you're tossed to the heap. His business must've tanked or something, or maybe he was a former official from some noble family that pissed off the wrong people." Hasegawa explained.

"Does it happen a lot?"

"More than you'd think. Take it from me."

"You?"

"Yep, there was a time when I was no different than that guy. Two years ago, I was officially known as the Head of the Bureau of Immigrations. It sounds fancy, but all it meant was me kissing up to any obnoxious pirates coming into the country. At the time, I figured that maybe there was a way to coexist, that one day we could have some degree of peace. In the end, I was just deluding myself, of course, but in spite of that, I decided it was best to just shut up and do my job for the good of myself and my wife. Until I finally had enough and got myself fired.

"Something happened?"

Hasegawa chuckled dryly to himself. "Oh, something happened, alright. My life began a fast downward spiral ever since I met a certain man with a natural perm."

Zoro paused momentarily. "...Did that natural perm happen to be silver-colored?"

Hasegawa turned in surprise. "Oh, so you've met Gin-san, too?"

"Silver perm, dead fish eyes, shitty personality? Yeah, I met him. Can't say I was impressed."

Hasegawa snorted. "Heh, I'll bet. The guy doesn't make for much of a first impression, does he?"

"The idea that anyone like that could exist and call themselves a samurai of Wano is hard to believe," Zoro grumbled.

"True, but he really isn't all that bad a guy once you get to know him."

Zoro raised an eyebrow. "Didn't you say he got you fired from your job?"

"Yep. Well, I can't really pin it all on him, though." Hasegawa began. "Two years ago, I got stuck on a certain job helping a bratty nobleman's son who had lost his pet. The only problem was that the pet in question was some ferocious monster he bought from overseas with a taste for human flesh. Naturally, it got loose, and the stupid son wanted us to bring it in unharmed. Of course, that was impossible, so we needed to showcase that to him by raising the body count. So, I hired the Yorozuya to play that role."

"Harsh."

Hasegawa rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, certainly not my finest moment, I won't deny that. But as I said, at the time, I wanted to pursue a path where Wano could live in peaceful coexistence, even if it came at the cost of my morality. I tried to make Gin-san see that. That even if it came at the expense of a single person, it was worth it if it meant saving the country. Do you know what he said?"

"I don't care whether the government or the whole nation collapses! Until my body collapses, I'm gonna live my life standing tall!"

Zoro took in his words in silence, still somewhat skeptical but intrigued. As he did, Hasegawa continued his story.

"After that, I realized that allowing my soul to become that crooked wasn't worth it. So, when the brat complained after Gin-san killed his precious pet, I snapped and sent him flying."

"Nice," Zoro smirked.

Hasegawa took a long drag of his cigarette as he looked up to the sky. "Yeah, well, unfortunately, any prospect of a future I had went flying away with him. I was set to be executed and forced on the run. My wife left and disavowed me, which honestly was for the best. No reason for her to get dragged down for her husband's stupidity."

"You have any regrets?"

"Every goddamn day. Because of my meeting with that silver-permed bastard, I lost just about everything." Hasegawa answered plainly.

"You don't sound too upset about it, though."

"Yeah, well, I may have lost a lot, but in return, I got something pretty decent as well."

"What's that?"

Hasegawa turned back to the ronin with a wry smile. "A good drinking buddy."

Zoro silently regarded this while Hasegawa picked up a half-eaten fruit and took a bite out of it as the duo continued to venture further into the dilapidated town.


"Defenses around that farm sure are tight, even for me." Brook panted as he took a breather off to the side. He was currently staying in an abandoned Kuri village with Kin'emon and Inuarashi, helping them steal from Paradise Farm.

"Even so, we are grateful for your assistance." Katsura approached the skeletal musician from behind.

"Ah, Katsura-san."

"Your wonderful ability has made acquiring essential supplies far less perilous for us," Katsura expressed, bowing slightly in gratitude.

"Thank you for your kind words. Though after seeing all those guards and weapons, I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me feel butterflies in my stomach. Oh, but I don't have a stomach. Yohohoho." Brook laughed to himself.

Katsura's expression became serious as he pondered this. "Well, as a skeleton, that makes sense. But where do the butterflies come from? Is that from another aspect of your devil fruit? The outside world beyond the seas really is full of mysteries."

"Um, no, it was just a joke, Katsura-san. Apologies. It seems like my jokes are as dry as my bones. Yohohoho…" Brook sweatdropped, suddenly feeling awkward.

"I see. It must be challenging to maintain moisture in such a condition." Katsura nodded seriously.

"Ah, no, that's not what I…"

"Regardless, with your help, we'll soon have almost everything we'll need for the big battle." Katsura interrupted.

"I'm sure Raizo-san will have secured Luffy-san by then as well." Brook reassured, deciding it was probably easier to give up trying to explain the joke.

"Indeed. I can also only hope that he will be able to look past his resentment and help release Gintoki as well. Despite his earlier stance, his involvement will be vital in the Raid."

"...Yet, even with that possibility, will he truly stand with us in battle? His words at Oden Castle linger. Even if he apologized, the other alliance members may not share that willingness to fight beside him. I confess, I share some of those reservations," Brook admitted. His gaze was cast downward and his voice carried an unusual hint of sourness. Katsura remained quiet for a beat, visibly uneasy.

Brook looked back up at the samurai. "Katsura-san, having known Gintoki-san longer than any of us, could you explain why he said what he said?"

Katsura sighed "…I have a fairly good idea why, yes. As you know, Gintoki and I fought alongside each other during the last few years of the Joui War. We had each other's backs, and we fought long and hard, but in the end, we suffered defeat. Despite how he acts, Gintoki is someone who values lives above all else. During that war, we lost many friends. People that we had known since our school days."

"Shoka Sonjuku, correct?"

A dark shadow passes over Katsura's expression momentarily. "…Yes. When the time came, and we were all of fighting age, we rushed to join the battle, to fight for the sake of our country. But Gintoki? He never cared for such things. He followed us into battle to protect the people he cherished the most. But in the end, we couldn't. For the longest time, I carried that anger and hatred with me as I continued to fight from the shadows, long after everyone else considered the war to be ended. Up until a short while ago, I was far more radical in my approach. Two years ago, I had come up with a plan to attack an important government office and tried to bring Gintoki back into the fold to aid us, our first reunion since the end of the war. But he wouldn't have it."

"Katsura, let's put an end to all this. No matter how dirty your hands get, it won't ease our comrades' death, nor will it change this era. Don't get your hands any dirtier… I don't want to lose any more cherished friends because of it. I don't want that anymore. If my life is on the line, then I'll follow my own bushido, and I'll protect what I want to protect."

"I considered him to be a heartless coward, just as Momo-kun does now, for not wanting to fight to avenge our comrades who had fought and died to save this country. But he made me realize that, in spite of everything, there were still things within the present that were worth protecting in this country, things I would have been unable to see had I simply razed everything to the ground like I originally intended. Though I do not expect you to fully understand this, if you'll forgive me for saying so." Katsura apologized as he finished his tale. Brook sat in contemplative silence for a moment.

"Katsura-san, I can understand more than you realize. I, too, have lost many friends in this long life of mine. Friends that I would give just about anything to see again. It's because of that that I place so much value on the bonds I was able to form, not only with my current crew but with the friends I still have among the living today." Brook answered, his thoughts drifting towards a certain friend still waiting for his return at the foot of Reverse Mountain. "So, in a way, I can understand well where Gintoki-san was coming from in his desire not to lose another. Even so, I can not abide by his methods of going about it."

Katsura nodded. "In that respect, we agree, Brook-dono. All we can pray for now is that Momo-kun's and Gintoki's final words to each other will not be ones of hate."

"I can only hope so as well, Katsura-san."

Katsura took a long look out over the landscape, off into the distance where the wasteland lay, smokestacks dotting the mountaintops as they spewed black clouds into the skies. "Despite what Gintoki may choose to believe, this war is not over. But I promise you it will be soon. One way or another."


"Th…this is all I get…for an entire day of work?" An old man stuttered out weakly as he stared down the single dango sitting meekly in his chipped bowl.

The Beast Pirate cook sneered. "It's one dango for every five blocks of stone you haul! Sounds like in your old age, you can't work enough to earn what you need, Old Man Hyo! Guess the end is nigh for you!

"B-but—!" The old man's objection was swiftly cut short as he was met with an iron club to the face, sending him skirting across the dirt.

"The punishment for speaking back to a jailer is amputation!" the cook yelled.

"Old Man Hyo!" another inmate rushed over, lifting Hyo's head as he tried to staunch the bleeding. "Don't fight back! Preserve your strength or it really will be the end for you!"

"Next! Ah, four tickets! Impressive work. That's four dango for…huh?" The cook was interrupted by the sudden roaring as two prisoners raced past the food line, carrying massive stone blocks over their shoulders like they weren't even there.

"Move it, move it, move it!" Luffy barked at prisoner and guard alike.

"I'll crush anyone who gets in my way!" Kid threatened as they raced each other to the boatyard.

"GRAAAAH!"

"Geez, take it easy, you idiots," Gintoki grumbled as he walked briskly behind them, carrying his own stone block with relative ease. "The food ain't gonna run away from you."

However, his words fell on deaf ears as the two captains hurled their stone loads onto the already overflowing boat.

"Stop, stop! It can't take any more! We'll capsize at this rate!" The boatman protested in panic.

"Then get the next boat over, you slowpokes!" Luffy berated them,

"S-Sorry…"

A guard observed the chaos, beads of sweat forming on his forehead. "How many blocks is that now?"

"I stopped counting after 500…" A subordinate answered.

"Don't they have seastone cuffs on?!"

"They do, sir!"

"And they still had that much strength?! What are they capable of without the cuffs?!" The overseer yelped as the two pirates and their lone samurai companion rushed over to the food line.

"We did the work, now feed us!" Luffy and Kid yelled in unison as they each slammed down an armful of food tickets.

"Wh-what?!" the cook gawked, unable to believe the sight before him. Left with no choice, he gave the three prisoners their earnings, as they each made their way back to the cell and began chowing down.

"How many times do you have to make that trip to get that much food?!" One prisoner asked offhand as he looked on with envy at the massive piles of dango in front of their new cellmates.

"I beat you! I got one more!" Luffy shouted at Kid as he stuffed his face.

"No way, fool! I had you outpaced!" Kid scoffed as he did the same.

"No, you weren't, Jaggy!"

"Are you such a brainless ape that you can't even count!?"

As the two continued to bicker, two guards watched the scene unfold from outside the cell.

"I thought they were both heavily injured?" A Beast Pirate with spiky orange hair asked.

"After a few days of working, eating, and sleeping, they seem to be the picture of health now." His companion, a guard wearing a horned helmet, answered.

"How do their bodies even work?! How are we supposed to break their spirits like this?! Go on, say something to them!"

Unsure of what else to say, he went with the first thing he thought of. "Hey! Slow down and chew your food properly!"

"What are you, their mom?!" His spiky-haired partner retorted, whacking him upside the head.

"Hey, don't go underestimating moms. You'll find there is no one more effective at knocking you down a peg than a disappointed mother. Especially if you've been bumming around all day writing fanfics instead of doing the dishes like she nagged you to an hour ago." Gintoki chimed in nonchalantly.

"And what the hell is happening over here?!"

The guard directed his gaze towards Gintoki, who was feasting on his own pile of dango. While it was only about half the size of Luffy's and Kid's respective piles, it was still pretty sizable by the usual standards of the prison. What really caught the guard's attention was the fact that the dango appeared to be coated in different types of sweet syrup.

"Well, we were having some trouble with figuring out how to break this guy, but he clued us in that the most effective way was by raising his blood sugar levels to intolerable amounts, pushing him over the edge into full-on diabetes." The horned pirate explained to his partner.

"He's obviously lying about that! He's obviously just manipulating you, moron!"

"Not so. My doctor warned me that if I have too much sugar, it will eventually mix with my urine and cause my balls to explode." Gintoki stated matter-of-factly as he continued chewing on his dango.

"What the hell kind of quack have you been seeing?!"

Luffy eyes momentarily bugged out of his head. "Seriously?! You should see Chopper. He might have something for that."

Gintoki shrugged. "Nah, I'm good. I vowed to live a rich, thick, creamy life, however short."

Before the guard could make another retort, a roar echoed throughout the prison yard.

"It's Vice Warden Dobon! His hippo fusion is really weird!" One prisoner shouted. True to the description, standing before the crowd of prisoners and guards was what appeared to be a large man sitting inside the mouth of a pink hippo. The hippo only had a pair of normal hind legs, as Dobon's legs made up the forelegs, sticking out of the bottom of its chin. In both hands, he carried a pair of swords.

"Alright, fess up! Who's the prisoner who devoured all the food in the storehouse?!" Dobon roared, stomping about. Beneath his foot, Hyo coughed up blood as the Vice Warden continued to angrily trample him without even realizing it.

"Old Man Hyo!" The prisoners cried out in distress. "He's trapped underneath his foot! Crawl away, old man!"

The spiky-haired and horned Beast Pirate duo rushed up to him. "Dobon-sama! The prisoners in question are already in their cells!"

"And the dango?!"

"...They ate them all…" The two hung their heads in shame.

"And you just stood there and watched?!" The Vice Warden bellowed in disbelief.

"But, Dobon-sama, they legitimately did the work. They earned every last bit of food we paid out, so we really can't complain…" The spiky-haired guard meekly tried to defend himself, but Dobon was far from appeased.

"Who dares to defy the vice warden of—" The rest of his tirade was cut short as the hippo's mouth suddenly closed around him. They could still hear him screaming inside, but no one could tell what he was saying.

"He's yelling about something in there, but I can't tell what…" The horned guard sweatdropped.

"Never mind that! Let's just go grab the prisoners while we can!" his spiky-haired partner said nervously as the two rushed back to the prison cells.

Finally, the hippo opened its mouth again as Dobon continued to rave. "Bring the perpetrators here!"

"Here they are! These are your culprits!" the guards presented Luffy, Kid, and Gintoki to him. However, the prison yard was stunned silent, as both prisoner and guard were left dumbstruck at the sight of the former two suddenly blown up to the size of sumo wrestlers.

"Urp…" Luffy emitted a queasy belch.

"Gurk…" Kid breathed heavily, not doing much better himself.

Gintoki shook his head in disappointment, being the only one still of normal size. "Man, I tried to warn you two to take it easy."

"They've gorged themselves to the limit!" The prisoners retorted in unison.

"I've never seen a prisoner get fat in here! I'm actually jealous!" One Prisoner commented.

Recovering from his initial shock, Dobon's anger flared anew. "So you're the culprits! Thanks to the two of you, I won't have enough for my portion! Does three measly dango sound right for a mouth this size?"

Luffy, however, was only half-listening to this as he struggled to keep focus. "Hang on, I'll digest this."

Luffy and Kid both suddenly began to inhale huge amounts of air, pausing for a moment before finally exhaling. As they did, their bodies began to shrink down with every passing second until they were once again their normal sizes.

"Eh? Eh? EEEEEHH?!" The guards and the prisoners were baffled, unable to comprehend the spectacle before them.

"Okay, seriously, how the hell do your bodies actually work? Like, I know this story is supposed to be tagged under comedy, but come on. Are you guys secretly from Namek? Do you know Piccolo? I know you do, you rubber brat," Gintoki couldn't help but quip.

Ignoring Gintoki's remarks, Luffy's attention shifted to Hyo, still trapped under Dobon's foot. Gintoki followed Luffy's gaze, his expression hardening at the sight. The seriousness on their faces was unmistakable, prompting the guards to snap out of their bewilderment.

"Just so you're clear, defying a jailer comes with severe consequences! First offense, we'll take your arms! Second offense, your legs! And if you dare to cross us a third time, you'll face execution! Consider yourselves warned!"

"That's right! You have no right to resist!" Dobon declared haughtily.

Kid frowned as he held up his still-chained hand. "Hey, we're weaklings now. Our strength's been drained by these damn cuffs. We earned that food through honest work, and that's all there is to it!"

Dobon snarled before he suddenly leaped forward. "You're guilty of eating my food! And now you must learn the consequences!"

CHOMP

In a flash, the hippo's mouth closed around the trio, swallowing them up before snorting in satisfaction.

"Aaah! They got eaten!" One prisoner shouted.

The guards smirked, believing the situation to be resolved. "They're done for. Inside that hippo lies Dobon's personal execution chamber...huh?"

WHAM!

CRACK!

BAM!

The guards' smugness faded as sounds of fighting could be heard from inside the mouth. Whatever was happening in there was violent enough that the hippo actually lifted off the ground momentarily. Finally, it came crashing back down, blood spilling from its nose, and its eyes whited out. The yard fell silent as prisoners and guards alike were left wondering about what the hell just happened. Suddenly, the hippo's mouth pried itself open as Luffy, Gintoki, and Kid walked out and cracked their necks in satisfaction, leaving behind the out-cold Vice Warden. Luffy stopped momentarily to pick up Hyo and slung him over his shoulder.

"Dobon-sama?!" The guards' jaws dropped in shock – the third time today.

The spiky-haired guard pointed at the trio, a nervous but excited sweat pouring off him. "This is it! You're definitely getting the death penalty now!"

But the trio remained unfazed, casually walking past the guard, with Kid stopping only momentarily to address him. "Where's your proof?"

"Huh?! What do you mean, 'proof'?! What the hell happened to him, then, huh?!" The guard pointed back at the beaten and bloodied Dobon.

"Toothache," Gintoki deadpanned.

"How in the hell could a toothache do that?!"

"A neglected cavity can cause a world of pain. That applies to people and hippos. If you're gonna blame anyone, blame him for not flossing." Gintoki quipped.

The guard stammered as they made their way back to their cells. Life returned to the prison yard as the prisoners were no longer able to contain their jubilation.

"Nice job, you guys!" The prisoners cheered, the first time they'd done so in years. "The shining stars of the prison yard!"

Kid and Gintoki smirked as they took in the prisoner's admiration, with Luffy breaking out into a momentary grin.

"Hey, make sure you get the old man somewhere safe for now until things calm down," Gintoki told Luffy, cutting through the cheers of the crowd.

Luffy paused, his smile slowly vanishing and a distant look forming in his eyes as he considered Gintoki's words. For a moment, his gaze lingered on the silver-haired samurai, revealing a mix of emotions that were hard to decipher.

"...Yeah, sure." And with that, Luffy continued to walk away, completely ignoring all else around him. Gintoki raised an eyebrow as a frown formed on his face.

"Hm? What's eating him?"


Can you recall where each of those Gintoki quotes came from? If you can, you get a cookie!