Summit Apocalypse - ReynaAtTheEnd - One Piece (Anime & Manga) [Archive of Our Own] (2024)

Chapter 1: Arc 1: Angel Apocalypse

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Five Days before the scheduled execution of Portgas D Ace

“We'll arrive at Punk Hazard within the hour, Doctor Surridge.” Vergo said. “A hazmat suit will be provided for you once we've docked.”

The middle aged woman nodded slightly, her gaze briefly flickering up from the files in her lap to acknowledge him. “Thank you, sir.” She said – out of politeness rather than addressing him by rank. Her voice is quiet and rough. It had been a long, long time since she slept peacefully. “Might I have another cup of jasmine tea? The seas around here are rather rough...”

The man nodded ever so slightly. There was a bit of ham from his lunch stuck to his face, but Delia had ceased pointing such things out a few days ago. It would always be replaced by something else by the next meal time and he never managed to notice. “Of course. I'll have one of the ship hands bring it to your room.” With those words he turned and walked out.

Delia watched him go for a moment, then returned her attention to the windows. “The weather's as wretched as I remember,” she murmured absently. It was storming, rain slicing against the windows and pitching the ship up and down on minor waves – minor by New World standards, at least. After years of living in the East Blue she'd lost her resistance to its wild, tempestuous nature; or perhaps she was just getting old.

Perhaps not. Mr Edward Newgate had kept himself in better shape than she... though she supposes he hadn't done anything he regretted as much as she did. It was a stranger's guess, of course, but her intuition had improved much in her age.

She frowned, and cast a glance at the newspaper sitting on her cabin's coffee table. The thing that had revealed the short window of opportunity she had to even slightly undo her great mistake. The World Government was going to war with Whitebeard. Oh, they hadn't made any declarations or admitted that's what they were doing; they'd merely captured one of his sons and were going to commit to the rule of the law by executing him for piracy. That made them the protectors of Justice and Whitebeard the aggressor trying to overcome them in the name of a monster.

Delia scoffed and glared harshly at the paper. “What a painstaking sham,” she muttered.

The boat rocked on another wave. She grimaced and grabbed the various files in her lap to prevent the papers within from flying everywhere; she was mostly successful, but several pictures slid out and scattered across the floor. Muttering some choice words she'd learned from practicing chemists, the woman slid out of her seat and began collecting them one at a time. Further waves nearly caused her to fall over completely; not having been a combat medic, she'd never been trained to be a strong woman.

In one way or another.

Delia picked up the last two pictures and stared at them. One was an image of herself; barely nineteen, red hair pinned back and blue eyes serious as the grave, goggles strapped on, her lab coat pristine and bearing the World Government's sigil proudly. It had just gone through the laundry – after the last session it had been in not state to be in a recruitment photo. Gods, but it was like looking at a stranger. A young lady she might have passed on the street once but didn't know anything about except maybe her name and her desire to be a doctor.

All for a lie.

The other picture had been paper-clipped to it. To make sure she never forgot him. He appeared in all her nightmares, but she still feared her mind letting him go. To reform itself to fit that comforting lie she'd clung to as that young, hopeful doctor who wanted to save the innocent.

“Alber,” she murmured.

These images were supposed to be destroyed to maintain the lies, but she'd squirrelled it away along with whatever files she could save before the rest were sent to Egghead Island. Within the image was a boy with black wings, bronze skin and snow white hair bound in chains, shoulders bent and body language defiant. It was the 'before' picture of a 'durability' experiment.

She'd kept the 'after' one too, for a while, as she'd uselessly pondered the possibility of whistle blowing, of finding some reporter who wasn't in the Government's pocket who could get the truth out fast enough and loudly enough that they wouldn't be able to suppress it. It was just as well that she'd never tried; no civilian reporter had been willing to stick their neck out and she had none of the clout needed to reach 'Big News' Morgans, much less attempt to convince him to publish anything.

After that, she'd disliked keeping the photo of him in the wretched state they'd left him in. It felt like mocking him. Mocking those who hadn't survived.

Delia stood up and slowly returned to her seat. She set some of the newer files aside, the ones she'd gotten ahold of thanks to her last promotion, and opened the darker one weathered by time spent hidden in the floor under her bed.

The Lunarian Studies.

“In the name of Justice.” Delia muttered. “Pah. I can't believe how many of us actually believed that. Believed it deeply enough that they won't even call it dirty business or the ends justifying the means. When pirates raze an island, they're demons made flesh, but when we exterminate entire peoples it's justice.'”

She clipped the two photos to the first page, the one that held a bigger mugshot of Alber after his imprisonment and the beginnings of his medical data. It went on for pages and pages. She'd been assigned to him after her last... six? Seven?... subjects had died. He'd been so resilient, clung to life so stubbornly, ferociously.

He lived long enough to destroy her naive belief in the world, and survive beyond her.

“Here you are, miss.”

Delia blinked and looked up. One of the deckhands was placing the tea cup she'd requested on the table. They were already dressed in a full body hazmat suit; Ceasar's reputation proceeded itself, clearly. They must be new to be so worried about it. “Thank you, young man.” she said quietly.

He looked briefly over at the folder in her lap. Despite his full face mask, she could see a little curiosity and confusion in his body language; probably surprised that he couldn't recognize one of the government's many dirty secrets, she wagered. “Do you need anything else?” He asked.

I need to enact Justice one last time. But don't fret... I think I can handle things from here. “Don't worry about me. With this, I'm as fortified as I need to be.” Delia said, giving him a motherly sort of smile. She'd never had kids. Her relationships couldn't survive her guilt, her demons. Perhaps it was for the better, though, that someone like her hadn't brought life into the world.

The young man nodded and hurried out of the room. Delia's lip quirked, a little bemused that Caesar Clown was so eager to have gentle, quick to please types as his minions. She'll grant that it makes them easy to control – she would know – but you sacrificed strength and initiative in favor of loyalty there.

She looked at the file again. Alber was listed as Biological Material L #15 – the original wording was just visible beneath her violent efforts to black them out with ink. Underneath it, sometime later, she'd written his real name. She'd heard it late on night when he'd been talking to himself.

Exhaling, Delia flipped through the pages. All the results of the hideous experiments they'd preformed, her observations, the questions she'd answered like the viability of cross breeding with fishmen or giants. Finally she came to a later edition; not professional files, but a series of wanted posters from the first appearance up until to the most recent.

Wanted Dead or Alive: King the Wildfire, 1.39 Billion

Delia stared at the image for a minute, before giving it a crooked sad smile. “I'll see you soon,” she promised. She took a deep drink of tea to settle her stomach and closed up the file.

She went without the hazmat suit in the end, following directly after Vergo upon their touching down on Punk Hazard. It turned out that she didn't need it; the air on the island was clear. Delia laughed slightly when she took this in, which got her an odd look from Vergo, but she'd patted him on the arm and said that you found humor in stranger things when you got older.

The folders sat comfortably in her bulging bookbag. The day she'd seen the newspaper, she'd filed her resignation immediately, cleared out her house, and tracked down Vergo as soon as she can. It was a good thing, it turned out, that he'd once caught her anguished and cursing Vegapunk's name – it made Caesar interested in recruiting her.

She needed Caesar to contact Joker. Joker was the only person she knew of who had a direct line to the Beast Pirates.

“I remember there being a lot more wildlife, the last time I was here.” Delia observed as they approached the building. “Even Kaido sacking the island didn't manage to destroy it this much.”

“This island is a sturdy land,” Vergo said with a shrug. “It survived Kaido and the bomb, and I believe it can survive further still. It's the perfect home for scientists wishing to push the boundaries of what's possible.”

Delia balled one hands into fists. “Yes. It's quite the gate to hell; I'll bet you can find the garbage chute through which myself and the others discarded our souls if you look hard enough.”

Vergo raised one eyebrow but didn't comment on this. She appreciated his professionalism, despite his being a pirate mole. It would have been frustrating to have to deal with constant needling, mockery and who knew what else. She didn't have the time for that.

Five days. It's enough time for a crew to muster and move with strong motivation, but it's still a tight window.

Delia followed Vergo in silence through the metal hallways of Punk Hazard. It was like walking into a nightmare; she'd walked every twist and turn in her sleep, the blood that soaked this island crying out for retribution for her crimes. She hadn't come here to exonerate herself – such things were far from her mind.

She'd come here to wrest the newborn Lunarians out of the government's grasp before they could make them slaves. In the pursuit of that Justice, anything was permitted.

“Shololololo... Doctor Surridge!” Caesar Clown's gas powers hissed and sang as Delia entered the main control room along with her guard. The repulsive doctor grinned at her, clapping his hands together and beaming at her. “It's so nice to have such a renowned woman like you join our little endeavours here. With your long and storied history in medical research, I was all a flutter when you said that you had a world changing revelation to bring me.”

“I didn't mean it for you alone.” Delia responded, polite but clipped. “I do need your help, however.”

Caesar frowned. “Ehhh? What do you mean by that?”

“I'm to understand that you're in contact with the underground broker known as Joker,” Delia said. Caesar blanched ever so slightly, so she kept going. “I've heard that he has a direct line to the Beast Pirates as one of their weapons suppliers. He speaks to the Emperor, Kaido, directly?”

Immediately feeling secure after a moment of uncertainty, a sickly smirk crawled across Caesar Clown's face. “Shololololo... you've very well informed, doctor. What does an upstanding lady like you wish to discuss with my benefactors?”

“Don't call me that,” Delia said, glowering at him. “I'm no more upstanding than you are.” Her hand went into his bookbag. “Can you speak directly to Kaido, or do you need to go through Joker?”

She felt a faint sense of satisfaction when Clown cringed at the idea before rapidly recovering. “Oh no no no no, I could never, I merely provide him with goods and tools through out mutual partner.” Caesar waved his hands frantically. “I could get you in contact with Joker, but he's quite busy at the moment, so it would have to be very important-”

Delia removed two files labelled 'S Hawk' and 'S Crocodile' from her bookbag and hefted them pointedly. “Does the chance to relieve the World Government of their upcoming line of super soldiers count?” She responded.

Clown stared at the files in silence for a moment. Briefly he attempted to grab them out of her hands, but she withheld them. You're an intermediary. The person who deserves to have these files and rescue the children grown in vats is in Wano. “Does it?” She prodded.

After a minute of whining and wheedling, she got her phone call. Joker heard her pitch, laughed so hard she thought he might pass out, and transferred her on to Kaido's contact snail.

Onigashima was a rowdy place.

There was always a riot of sound within it; partying, laughter, jeering, strategist for future battles, the crashing sounds of people sparring and knocking each other through walls, moans of pleasure drifting from various half closed rooms, the clatter of emptied drink bottles and cans of food being discarded... Kaido's private island was always active. In the few times it was quiet, it was usually because almost everyone was passed out drunk or had gone out on orders.

This wasn't to say that the Beast Pirates didn't have a comfortable equilibrium. The general goings on were comfortable background noise to them. Not so loud as to drown out all reason, and it never denoted trouble. Shouts of indignation or anger weren't uncommon, but they were usually quickly dealt with.

So when a howl of grief and primal rage shook the whole island everyone stopped dead in their tracks. Conversations died, fights froze in place, food was abandoned and the even the tiny pin dared not drop lest it be heard.

Page One dropped the crate he'd been carrying on his foot, all thoughts fleeing his mind. “Was that...?” He uttered into the ringing silence. He couldn't finish his sentence, because while he recognized the voice, the connections refused to form in his brain.

That voice sounded like King.

But that couldn't be right. King didn't scream. He didn't shout or rage or even raise his voice when he needed to be heard. His very presence was like a still lake and it was running joke among the crew just how unmovable he was. Queen needled him about it, calling him emotionless, dead inside, and Ice King; most others had shrugged and chalked it up to a swordsman thing. All the samurai they met were humorless buzzkills, after all!

King was their superior. They knew his voice as sure as their own. The scream that rang through the building and echoed in the quiet belonged to him. It dug into their minds like iron hooks. The Beast Pirates had heard such horrible anguish before; they were the conquerors of Wano. It had never touched any of them until this exact moment...

But it was one of them making that sound. A scream loaded with so much anguish a living soul trembled to hear it; one that started with denial of a horrible truth staring them in the face that bled into loss and grief that couldn't be conveyed in worlds – only an animalistic expression of emotion.

That anguish then transformed into rage... rage that burned islands to ash. The divine wrath that the gods unleashed when their patience ran its course and they descended to raze the earth. It was rage they associated with Kaido, not his quiet, loyal second in command.

“What the hell happened...?” Page uttered, pale. His sister stared bug eyed in sort of the direction that the cry had come from, her usual boisterousness quieted.

In the privacy of Kaido's room, King sank onto his hands and knees. His breath sucked in and out unevenly, the flames on his back snapping and crackling harshly in response to his distress. The snail had passed out from the haki explosion, temporarily dropping the call. The man didn't seem to have noticed.

Kaido stared silently at his only friend for a long moment. He pondered the implications, what he stood to gain from it, and what he'd always known his loyal swordsman had been subjected to. The decision was one of the easiest of his life to make.

His massive hand landed gently on King's shoulder; a gesture of sympathy and camaraderie that no others received from the brutal warlord. “King,” he rumbled low in his throat. The slight shudder of muscles was the only sign that his friend had heard him. “They'll die for this.”

It was a statement, and more than that it was a promise. Cause and effect had been curiously reversed; the World Government's crumbling had been decided; it was merely to be decided precisely how that was going to come about.

King's exhaled harshly, the sound rattling in his lungs. Then he sat up and clawed at his helmet like it was suffocating him until it came unlatched, letting him remove it and throw it across the room. Kaido kept his hand on his shoulder, anchoring the other man to the present, as King violently ran one hand through his hair and pulled hard on the silver strands. Then he slowly lifted himself, sitting back on his heels and putting his hands on his knees.

“I want to take those children back,” King said into the quiet. "I can't bear for them to be made slaves."

“They're yours.” Kaido responded without a moment's hesitation.

“I want to take Vegapunk hostage.” King continued, staring straight ahead. “He can bring my people back...that delays his execution for now.”

Kaido smiled slightly, pleased. He'd been concerned that King would want to rip the man to shreds for creating Lunarian slaves and thought he might have to harshly assert his decision on the matter. “Five days,” he said. “That is more than enough time.”

King nodded. He was still in a daze. Silently he reached for his helmet again, only for Kaido to put a hand on his arm. “Do not hide yourself any more,” The captain rumbled. “When this week is over, the world government will have no power to threaten you with.”

King hesitated for a moment, turning the thought over his head. Then he nodded and rose to his feet. Kaido's smirk widened.

Most of the Beast Pirates had been gravitating towards the central hub of Onigashima in the ringing silence after the cry, so when the summons bell started ringing harshly they merely picked up the pace. Men and women poured into the large room, jostling for space and climbing on top of each other in an effort to see better – or perhaps wanting better access to the hallways. If King – stoic, frigid King – was in a terrible temper over something, then they could only imagine what kind of a state Kaido would be in. Page One and Ulti got to the front with some pushing and shoving along with their status as members of the Flying Six. “Do either of you know what the hell that was about?” Who's Who hissed, leaning over them.

“No! Why would I know anything?!” Page hissed back frantically. “Was that really King we heard earlier?!”

“No doubt about it,” Who's Who responded, twisting a cigar roll beyond repair between his fingers. “Thought there was no way, but I know that voice.”

“What could have possibly caused such an outburst from him of all people?” Black Maria wondered, swaying from side to side. Page cautiously took two steps away from her, subtly. “I have never seen that man lose himself like that.”

“What did you do, Queen?” Sasaki huffed.

The other Lead Preformer looked towards him made an expression somewhere between indignant and scandalized. “Why are you assuming it's me?! I've been the one telling King this whole time that his repressed shtick wasn't healthy! If anything I've been trying to help!”

Help. Right.” Who's Who said, his voice drier than Alabasta's deserts.

“Listen here, you-!”

“QUIET!"

The All Star's jaws locked shut in unison as they instinctively dropped into respectful poses, kneeling with one fist on the ground, waiting for orders. Kaido strode out onto the balcony above them radiating malicious excitement and purpose; following at his side is King. Gasps of shock and confusion ring around the room as they looked at the silver haired man and realized who he was; precious few of them had ever seen him without his helmet on, and even fewer recognized the traits that he had been concealing.

Queen, naturally, is the first to find his voice. “I thought you were on the right side of fifty, King!” He called out, trying to make a joke of things. “Or do you just like the old man look?”

Kaido slammed one hand on the railing and glared down at his scientist with a look that could kill. Instantly Queen shut up and looked everywhere but at his fellow Lead Performer, who was ignoring his jibe as usual.

“Good. You're all present.” Kaido said, sweeping his gaze over the packed room, hallways and balconies. “This is a mustering for all but a skeleton crew of the Beast Pirates. All of you who are captains, you are to prepare the ships with food and munitions. All but you, Queen. I require you to keep control of Wano while we are gone.”

Babble erupted amongst the confused crew, people talking on top of each other as questions blur the air. Kaido uttered an irritated huff and held up his hand for quiet.

Queen's mouth opened and shut several times before he could muster up a response. Very carefully taking a breath and focusing on not stuttering, the man called back “Of course I'll hold down the fort, Kaido, when have I ever failed you? I just – a full mustering?! What's happened?”

Kaido's eyes flashed. “The World Government has created a project called the Seraphim. As is their way, the hypocrites are in the midst of creating slave soldiers for themselves.”

He held his hand out toward King. “These are no mere humans drugged to be unable to feel pain, or obedient Marines with weapons fused to their hands, however. Years ago, the Government slaughtered the people who lived atop the Red Line to make room for the eyesore they call Maejoris! Those people were the Lunarians; powerful, adaptable, capable of surviving in every environment this world can offer, they were seen as gods! And yet before you stands the last of them, the only one who's strength and determination saw him survive their mass slaughter – my first mate, King!”

Even more babble erupted at this, hundreds of Beast Pirates and serving staff alike pivoting and staring at the silent spectre with new eyes as they processed this. “Unbelievable...! This is true?” One whispered.

His partner bobbled his head furiously. “T-There's no doubt about it! Silver hair, golden skin, black wings and the power to conjure fire without a devil fruit... the world government offers millions of berries just for the report of a sighting of a Lunarian! This is must be why...”

“Why those smug, puritanical sh*ts!” One female shrieked. “They've been prancing around all this time calling themselves the saviours of the world – they have the balls to act like they're better than us with that in their closet?!”

“I'm not done,” Kaido said, causing a surprised silence to fall. “They committed this massacre claiming that the deaths of the Lunarians were necessary. But in secret, they have commissioned Doctor Vegapunk to create clones – Lunarian children birthed in artificial wombs, born from the DNA of the dead and that of the Seven Warlords. These children are to serve as their automated warriors; replacable, expendable slaves to fight battles for them until they break and are replaced.”

King's hands balled into fists.

“I intend to discuss this with Vegapunk,” he intoned with barely controlled rage. An awed hush rushed over the crowd. “And to retrieve those children before they meet that twisted fate.”

“Prepare to set course,” Kaido commanded. “We are going to sack Egghead Island.”

Queen gibbered, trying several times to wrap his mind around the enormity of this declaration. “Kaido!” He said, his voice higher than usual. “I see this as a worthwhile and meaningful endeavor but how are we to get past the entirety of the forces the Marines have to bear to wrest the doctor and his crea – err – the children from them? They won't give them up without a fight!”

Kaido laughed deeply. It was a rough, booming sound that made everyone instinctively flinch backwards except for King. “They won't be there.” He said with mirth. “None of them will be. A short while ago, one of Whitebeard's precious sons betrayed him and sold his second division commander out to the Marines.”

“Seriously?!” Ulti shrieked, joining many in their disbelief. “Somebody betrayed that sick old man?! How's it physically possible to be that stupid?!”

“Oh, that not-so-clever bastard's so f*ckin' dead,” Who's Who uttered, shaking his head slowly.

“That stupidity is our gain,” Kaido responded, grinning now. You could see the dragon in his face despite the fact he hasn't even started to transform. “In five days they're going to parade that boy in front of the world to hold a public execution. Assuming Sengoku hasn't slipped rapidly into senility-” this gets a raucous laugh from the crowd “-this will double as a 'trap' for Whitebeard, when he comes roaring into Marineford to retrieve his son. To this end, they've brought all of their troops of any value to that one place. All of them.”

He waited for the realization to drop. It didn't take more than a few seconds.

“Holy sh*t.” Page One's mouth dropped open. “Holy sh*t, we're going to walk intoEgghead. They've handed it to us on a silver platter!”

His observation well and truly opened the floodgates. Many started to hoot and holler with laughter and rapidly escalating excitement, others were slack jawed in amazement at this blatant oversight and how easily they'll be able to exploit it. “What are we waiting for?!” A voice in the crowd said eagerly. “Let's go get them!”

“With Vegapunk working for us, who could stop us?!” Another voice asked eagerly. “We'll walk into Maejoris and raze it to the ground!”

“This is our era now!”

“Cloned from the Seven Warlords? You mean we'll have our own Boa Hanco*ck?!” “You did hear that they'll just be little kids, right?” “Right, he did say that. Aw, dammit!”

Kaido laughed again, pleased to see his people already working themselves into a frenzy. “Go to the ships! Get all of them prepared for muster, including my own!” He bellowed. Immediately pirates surged out of the hall, stampeding over each other. “Pack food and munitions only! There will be much plunder to take from the island of the future! Queen, with me! We must discuss Wano's security while Egghead is put to siege.” Queen groaned and bowed his head, making his way for the stairs.

Kaido turned and put a hand on King's shoulder again. “My friend, go. Oversee the preparations, vent your rage on the mountainsides; whatever will drain the energy from you enough to sleep well. Those children will be taken back from them alive and well. You have my word.”

King gave him a look as powerful as the one he'd given him when Kaido had set him free so long ago... perhaps it was even more emotional now. He put his hand on top of his captain's and squeezed tightly, shaking his head. “Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you so much.”

“What do you wish to have done with that woman?” Kaido inquired, seeing it as the last thing to touch upon before they set out.

His friend bowed his head in thought. “I want her alive and unharmed until I'm face to face with her. Her fate is mine to decide.” He said adamantly.

“As you wish.”

King exhaled and dropped his arms to his sides. Feeling more alive than he had in years, he launched himself from the balcony and headed to the shipyard.

In the cradle of Egghead, seven white haired children paused almost as one and tilted their heads in curiosity... a strange feeling passed through them. Like someone was calling out to them.

Notes:

It's amazing how King is coming in with a generally /heroic/ motivation here - saving a bunch of kids from their future of being biorobots at the World Government's command. I mean, Kaido is still Kaido, his motivations are 'King is upset' and 'super soldiers? I want some!', but King is acting purely on his desire to save the last of his people. Funny how that happens, huh? (side eyes the World Government)

Delia Surridge gets her name from a character in V for Vendetta, I couldn't resist the potential thematic echo. She's very much a side character in this rapidly escalating sh*tshow, but I have a plan for her I hope y'all will enjoy.

Next up, Sengoku and the top Navy Brass are going to get a very inconvenient phone call hours before a certain execution. I'm gonna make popcorn, I hope you all enjoy!

Chapter 2

Summary:

The World Government hears that Egghead is being attacked.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The atmosphere in Marineford was tense and electric.

Many of the rank and file were nervous. Sengoku could feel it in the air as they rushed to their positions, clutching their guns in white-knuckled hands as conversations became strained or petered out entirely. There were still a few hours left before the execution would begin, but no doubt knowing the hour when Whitebeard would come with all his forces to fight for his son made the wait feel like an eternity to them. Sengoku himself was not immune to this unease; for all his confidence in his plans, he knew there was a real chance that they could be defeated.

Newgate was older now, sick, and delegating more of the work among his division commanders instead of going out himself – all signs that the man of action was a shadow of his former self. That didn't mean he wasn't still capable of destroying the world, if they didn't play every card they have expertly.

Sengoku looked out the window across the bay they had chosen to make the battlefield. The seastone walls had been discreetly tested that morning and all was in order; it had cost a fortune to construct, but it would be crucial. Sea stone handcuffs had been handed out to a number of officers such as Vice Admiral Onigumo to neutralize Marco the Phoenix. The Seven Warlords were not in position yet, but they had all answered the summons – even Boa Hanco*ck, who he'd worried they wouldn't be able to coerce into attending the battle.

They were as prepared as they were going to be. All that was left was to hammer out the last of the details. Justice would prevail; it had to, if they were to finally put an end to the Great Pirate Era. Make the seas safe for innocent people at last.

“Nervous?” Tsuru asked mildly, grabbing Sengoku's attention.

“No more than is wise,” Sengoku grunted. He turned around and saw that Garp had finally joined them; Akainu, Kizaru, Aokiji and Tsuru had been waiting on their comrade to do the last bit of planning that time had allowed them. His old friend's face was completely stoic, showing no signs of his internal turmoil.

Good. Sengoku hoped that he'd come to terms with what needed to be done; he hated to ask something like this, but Garp shouldn't have gotten involved with the boy in the first place. He could understand why he'd done it, sympathized even, but he didn't get why Garp hadn't seen the inevitability of this situation when he'd decided to take the boy in.

“The time has come,” Sengoku said, sitting down on the head chair. “If anyone has last minute concerns about the plan, now is the time to air them.”

Aokiji twitched slightly before leaning back in his seat, not saying anything. He'd had his reservations about the endeavor, mostly in logistics – Sengoku appreciated his candor on the matter, despite the orders they'd received being immutable. The man had said everything he could think of in the days leading up to this; now he was simply waiting to carry out the plan. A strong, reliable man of character. He'll make a fine Fleet Admiral one day.

Akainu huffed. “We've prepared for every possibility,” the magma man grunted. “Now is not the time for doubts.” He threw a look at Garp, who stared straight ahead and said nothing. Sengoku's eye twitched and he was tempted to lay into the Admiral for baiting the man, but he kept it internal.

Kizaru shrugged apathetically. His usual bored smile was firmly in place. “I'm ready when you are,” he said whimsically.

Sengoku pinched the bridge of his nose. Not for the first time he wished that Tsuru had taken one of the Admiralty posts instead of remaining in Vice Admiral like Garp; Kizaru and Akainu were both so volatile in their own way it made him glad that Aokiji's vice was solely that he was lazy and hard to rouse to strong action. A few weeks ago he'd gone over the lists of soldiers up for promotion, trying to see if there was anyone less... unbalanced to take Aokiji's rank when he ascended. He was strongly leaning toward Fujitora, if he was honest – not that he'd spoken to the blind man about it yet.

It had to wait until after this battle was seen through.

He glanced sideways at one of the snails in the room; the one connected to Impel Down. He hadn't heard a peep from it since Magellan's last report in, which had better be good news because the last thing they needed right now was a mass outbreak from their impregnable jail before the fight with Whitebeard. Garp's other grandson was in there too, hopefully finally captured and not running around destroying yet another important Navy base.

Sengoku's gaze briefly flicked to Garp and a flicker of guilt poisoned his relief. After today that grandkid would be the last bit of family his old friend had left... Sengoku silently promised that he'd discreetly fish the kid out of Impel Down and give him directly to his grandfather. Maybe that would be enough to stop him from going Revolutionary over Portgas's execution; no doubt Dragon would be very happy to recruit his devastated father away from them.

If the Navy had been the ones to kill Rocinante – right in front of him, no less – Sengoku could admit to himself that he would have been hard pressed to resist the offer if Dragon made it. They were still human, in the end. Justice was a cold and remote thing when your only child burned upon its pyre...

Woolgathering. The next time he hears from Impel Down he'll send a message that Straw Hat was to be kept alive and in relatively good health for later transport; he had the authority to remove someone from the prison, and frankly Straw Hat would make a better warlord than the two people he'd dethroned previously.

He'd probably agreed to it, with his brother's death having broken his spirit. And Sengoku could admit that the idea of someone /else/ being subjected to Straw Hat's...everything... was amusingly appealing to him.

Sengoku opened his mouth to tell his admirals what he expected of each of them when suddenly a blare of noise crashed through the silence. His spine stiffening, the old man snapped his head to the doorway; the sound was getting louder, carried forward towards them by someone running at a breakneck pace. The emergency den den had a unique tone to their ringing, so anyone who heard them would instantly know that a response was needed immediately.

“Fleet Admiral!” A harried voice cried, hammering on the door. Tsuru was already on her feet and heading to the door before Sengoku could say anything; an exhausted, terrified ensign stumbled through the entryway, his face completely bloodless as he held out the tray the snail was sitting on.

“Compose yourself, man.” Sengoku said, standing up. He kept his voice level because they needed calm; an emergency call right now? Had Whitebeard decided on a different approach than a straightforward attack to get his son back? It had occurred to Sengoku that there were potential hostages dotted all over the seas if the old pirate was inclined to stoop to that; kings, queens and even Celestial Dragons were out and about. With all their forces currently at Marineford, their enemy could have decided to get leverage of their own.

He'd decisively dismissed it as out of character for Whitebeard. The man was too proud, and too dedicated to his personal morals, to take hostages. Was he about to be proven wrong?

They couldn't turn Ace back over. Not unless a Celestial Dragon was involved, and Sengoku was almost ready to believe that the Elder Stars would rather let even them die than allow Roger's son to continue to blight the oceans.

“Sir,” The ensign didn't look reassured in the slightest. He staggered up to Sengoku and all but thrust the tray into his hands, eyes blank with fear. “It's from Egghead Island.”

The temperature in the room plummeted at least ten degrees. Sengoku reached out with one shaking hand and grabbed the receiver, his mind spinning. Egghead? What the hell was happening at Egghead in a time like this?! Had something gone wrong with the Pacifistas? Was there a glitch in the system? They needed those machines operable!

“What's going on?” He barked.

“Oh, thank f*ck, you people actually exist!” A female voice screamed back at him, not giving one whit about decorum. Sengoku stared blankly straight ahead for a few seconds before managing to place it – this was Lilith, one of Vegapunk's satellites. “I've been calling every base for miles and heard jack sh*t!”

Something exploded in the background, immediately followed by the screaming of metal being twisted into slag. Thunder cracked like a thousand canons, drowning out Lilith's next statement partially; when Sengoku could hear again, she was shouting “-could spare a single Vice Admiral to us when we're being attacked by the f*cking Beast Pirates!”

Sengoku froze as still as a statue. Dimly he was aware of Akainu vaulting out of his chair and screeching 'WHAT?!', Tsuru gasping, and Kizaru saying something that he couldn't hear over the dim buzzing in his ears.

“That's impossible,” He said dully.

“Impossible?! f*ck you, do I sound like I'm ordering a pizza?!” Lilith shrieked in response, rage and fear in her voice. “We gave you all the Pacifista, all of them! We're f*cked if you don't send us some goddamn support!”

What are the Beast Pirates doing at Egghead Island?!” Sengoku bellowed back, as if rejecting the situation would somehow make it not real.

“That's what I wanna know! ...sh*t!” There's another crashing sound, this one much closer to the mike. There's a rattling sound followed by displaced water, and Lilith uttering a flood of panicked curses as she scrambled to control her robot. Garp was on his feet now and staring at the snail in naked disbelief.

Sengoku turned fully towards the wall so none of his comrades's reactions could distract him. “What forces have been brought to the island?” He demanded. “How many?”

This could still be salvaged. If it was just a raid, he could send Kizaru and a few of the Pacifistas back in a rush to drive them off. Why would Kaido attack Egghead Island now, of all times?! The beast had been content to stay within Wano's borders unless someone had aggravated him by infringing on his territory. He'd still been building up his forces through Joker! There'd been no sign that he'd been eyeing the Island of the Future, not a whisper from any of their spies.

“All of them!” Liltih shouted.

The tray slipped from his hands and crashed to the ground. Had the beleaguered ensign not caught the snail as it fell, likely it would have been choked unconscious. “Kaido is here, King is here, I can see Jack and Page One and Ulti and all the rest of the Flying Six!” Lilith continued without a care of his utter shock. “f*ck, the only one of the 'commanders' I can't see is Queen, and that's a cold f*cking comfort right about now! The ocean's swarming with his goons, they're attacking from every direction and Kaido's chewing through every defence we throw at him! He brought everything short of his whole f*cking gang! We need backup! What the f*ck is so important that everyone's at Marineford right now?!”

Sengoku's mouth opened and shut without so much as a whisper passing through his lips. His vision briefly became blurry as his brain struggled to process this information, he doesn't have nearly enough brainpower to be annoyed at the realization that Lilith and the satellites had been so buried in work that they didn't even know Ace had been captured.

Kaido had mobilized his entire army. While all of their powerful forces, all of the Warlords, here waiting for Whitebeard to come and fight them for their prisoner, another Emperor of the Sea was attacking their most valuable asset.

“What does he want?” Sengoku said when he could control his vocal chords again. Searching for any sort of information that didn't feel like death itself. “What demands did he make of you?!”

“King made the demands,” Lilth responded through gritted teeth. Another crash of thunder and lightning rang through the connection. “sh*t sh*t sh*t sh*t – I don't have time to chat, Fleet Admiral, are you planning on doing anything about this or not?!” There's another loud grinding noise and Lilith shrieked something incoherent.

“Doctor, I have three hours before Whitebeard comes bearing down on Marineford, I can't turn the entire army around to march to Egghead! What does he want?” Why would King be delivering demands instead of Kaido himself? Sengoku's stomach turned over and over; his stubbornness held the nausea back, but it was a close run thing.

Could they negotiate this out? Sacrifice some of the weapons and creations of Egghead in exchange for Vegapunk and his satellites escaping with what was more critical? But if almost all of the Beast Pirates were there, they had more than enough forces to surround the island and block of all exits. Kaido was not known for negotiating; he only suffered to do so with his fellow Emperors, and he never did it happily. No doubt he would laugh at attempts to barter from someone he was in the process of attacking.

No escape through the lines... then they'd have to bypass them. Kaido's army could fill the sky and the sea with opponents, but not deep underwater; the scientists could escape via submarines. Yes, that route was still available to them; Kaido wasn't known to have many fishmen on his crew, and Vegapunks machines could go to depths that even the water born people would struggle with.

It would be a painful blow to the World Government to have to give up Egghead to Kaido, but the loss of face would be less deadly than Vegapunk falling into that man's hands. They had to salvage what little they can and destroy everything they couldn't. Unless he was misremembering, the doctor had been ordered to include some self-destruct measures in his laboratories just in case of invasion. He hadn't been happy about it, but he probably saw the wisdom of it now.

The world would have to be convinced that they wouldn't up and abandon islands to pirates when fighting single battle elsewhere... their best spin doctors would have to work through the night on this one, but Sengoku could already see a few different versions of the story for them to work with in his head.

Sengoku sucked in a sharp breath and was about to urge to the doctor to fall back completely when-

“That's not funny! Oh, f*ck!” Lilith's statement broke off into a scream. Sengoku stood rooted to the spot as a burst of static, screaming metal and breaking glass echoed from the other side of the connection. There's a rumble like thunder, but it was too personable for that, too deep and too blackly amused to be a natural phenomenon.

“Quiet,” A deadly voice rumbled, followed by a hard thud. Lilith fell completely silent; there were no sounds of blood splatter, but that didn't mean she was alive – Kaido could smash a skull with an errant backhand, leaving no great gushing wound behind. Sengoku stilled, his tongue feeling heavier than lead.

There's a groaning sound, metal being warped out of shape to make room for something big. Someone big. A thud indicated feet hit the ground, and the wide-eyed terror of the snail told him who had picked up the microphone.

“Sengoku,” Kaido the Beast chuckled, his voice rich with amusem*nt. “How perfect... I was quite put out that I wouldn't get to see your reaction to the result of your folly, yet here you are.”

“Kaido,” Sengoku said tightly. “You dare attack Doctor Vegapunk.”

“I dare because I can,” Kaido scoffed, unimpressed. “Do you think your posturing intimidates me, old man? The shrieking of your Celestial Dragon masters means nothing. Vegapunk will be mine before the end of this day.”

“If you seek to remove him from our care, you are looking at war,” Sengoku threatened. “No mere skirmish, but protracted-”

Kaido interrupted him...by yawning. A loud, bored noise. “Is this before or after you get crushed underneath Newgate's heel?” The pirate asked. “I know perfectly well that all of your men of any consequence are holed up in Marineford, playing a pretty piece of pageantry in the name of convincing the world that your pathetic gaggle of weaklings actually control the seas. Why do you think I waited until this exact moment to attack?”

Sengoku stilled again, his blood freezing in his veins. Kaido had...coordinated with Whitebeard? Impossible. Impossible! The two were not on such good terms. Kaido had killed Whitebeard's comrade Oden! The old pirate wouldn't accept his help even if he offered it!

“You've been sold out,” Kaido continued with vindictive amusem*nt. “A little bird called me about a filthy secret the government had been keeping... one that concerns my irreplaceable first mate. She told me every detail, and how best to make use of the fact that you'd been arrogant enough to pour all of your troops into a single battle.”

“Who?” Sengoku hissed, willing himself not to shiver.

There's an almost audible sound of Kaido shrugging. “Some doctor. Her name doesn't matter. What does matter is that you've resurrected King's people to use as slaves.”

...Something that Sengoku had drilled into himself when he took his first command was to never lose composure in front of his men. He'd kept that discipline as he rose the ranks, all the way to Fleet Admiral. No matter how grim the scenario or how ruinous the revelation, he kept his cool to reassure his men and keep them calm. Yet it took all his strength to keep his knees from buckling when Kaido spoke those words with sibilant contempt.

The Seraphim project had been leaked. How? How? He scrambled through his mind, going over every doctor he knew who'd had high enough clearance to know about that project, looking for any sign of disgust or discontent that would have lead to this. Their faces blurred together in his mind. Nothing jumped out at him; nothing.

King. It had been suspected that he was the last Lunarian, the body that had been unaccounted for when Kaido sacked Punk Hazard all those years ago, but there had been no definite proof and they had just let the matter lie.

“It's hard to explain just how...offended I am at this discovery,” Kaido said with a tinge of disgust.

“That's rich, coming from you,” Tsuru said, her voice tight as barbed wire.

“Rich? When I kill my enemies, I leave them to rest in their graves with no further desecration.” Kaido responded. “Yet you were not even satisfied to have slaughtered everyone my King ever knew, you moved to resurrect them as slaves who are physically compelled to obey your every command, to think and want nothing but to serve you until they are broken and discarded. Your sanctimoniousness grates on me, old hag.”

A blast of dragon's breath flooded through the snail's mouth on their end. It assaulted Sengoku's nose, making it as if Kaido was standing directly in front of him.

“Did you think I would forgive such a slight against my friend? Those children are Lunarian; they belong with him. I am setting that right.”

“You have a right to nothing – that isn't property you're attempting to steal from us!” Sengoku barked out. Not feebly, certainly not feebly –

“So you admit those children were created to die for you,” Kaido scoffed. “I'm impressed that your self righteousness can survive even this accusation. Perhaps you've been taking self-delusion classes from Shiki?”

He laughed loudly, boisterously. He was revelling in their realization, in the bulwark he'd pinned them in and how he knew how few options he'd left them with. “Do the Seven Warlords even know that you've violated them to create these little clones? Superior versions of themselves?” A thought occurred to the demon, and he laughed even harder. “I wonder what Mihawk will think of it! Perhaps the Marine Hunter will rise again from his outrage. I would adore to see such a sight... there was a fighter worthy of respect.”

Garp snapped his head towards the door, eyes wide, like he half expected one or all of the Warlords to come storming in at that as if summoned.

“You think you'll get away with this?!” Akainu fumed.

“By all means, come and fight me if you dare!” Kaido responded immediately, baring his teeth. “Of course, that will leave Newgate free to retrieve his son and proceed to Maejoris, if he so desires to remove that eyesore.”

Akainu opened his mouth to rage again, but Aokiji silenced him with a pointed elbow to the ribs.

“Yes, there will be a war,” Kaido said mockingly. “But it will be on my terms, like how you tried to set terms with Newgate. Perhaps I shall wait until the Seraphim are old enough to assist in avenging themselves upon you, perhaps I won't. Until then... why don't you worry about it?”

With that, there was a resounding /thud/ of the other line disconnecting. “Kaido!” Sengoku barked into the receiver, but it was too late. Only dead silence greeted him.

A silence that grew only heavier and more suffocating as they...stood there, grasping at what they had just learned. It was like a pall of death had come over them – over a room that had been so confident only minutes before. The ensign looked like he wasn't sure if he wanted to weep or faint, looking between all of them for some sort of reassurance and finding nothing.

Sengoku slowly walked to the table and sank into one of the chairs. Suddenly he felt weak, lightheaded – like his age had caught up to him all at once. Never in his life had things gone so disastrously wrong, the balance tipped so decisively in a single moment except for when Roger triggered the Great Pirate Era.

Who could have leaked the Seraphim Project? It would have to have been someone who had worked on the captured Lunarians in Punk Hazard, and Sengoku thought those people were all either loyal or under control. How did they not see this attack coming?

...What did it matter who did it? They'd picked the absolutely perfect time to inform Kaido and by extension King, who had a personal vested interest in taking the just – out – of – infancy clones beyond their reach. It had to have been intentional, that they'd waited for the exact moment when the Navy would be paralyzed by the manpower needed to fight and defeat Whitebeard. It was calculated perfectly. It felt like vengeance in that moment.

Vengeance for being forced to participate in mass death.

Navy men and women had gone AWOL after almost every Buster Call that was ever initiated. They couldn't bear with what they saw, their ideals if justice ground to less than nothing. Doctors were, it seemed, no less vulnerable to such destruction.

But why go to Kaido instead of the Revolution?! Sengoku would give anything to be dealing with Dragon instead right now. Dragon would be less inclined to unleash widespread destruction and devastation. Dragon wasn't immune to backing down from options that would result in mass death.

All of their men were here. Maybe a buster call would be able to get to Egghead Island in time to do – something – even with Kaido present... but that diverted precious forces from Marineford when less than three hours before Whitebeard would storm the front door to retrieve his son.

He could feel his men staring at him, and at each other. The creeping frost of horror curled around them as the reality of their new situation sank in. Instead of one Emperor, they were now fighting too – and they had left their flank wide open.

“Sengoku,” Tsuru said after a long moment of suffocating quiet. “What do we do?”

Sengoku stared straight ahead. “How many of our forces can we afford to send away from Marineford?” He asked quietly.

“To fight Kaido?” Garp responded roughly. “Not nearly enough. Hell, even if we dropped everything and ran from here to Egghead with our whole forces I wouldn't bet on us. Anyone of consequence we send away from here is someone who can't counter the Division Commanders or Whitebeard himself.”

Aokiji shivered. “We can't let him take Vegapunk,” he pointed out quietly. “Can we make use of any of the CP units? Send them to smuggle him and his satellites out at the last second?”

“Only 9 or 0 would survive combat with the Beast Pirates,” Tsuru observed. “And to use the latter, we'd need permission from the World Nobles.” Her tone made it clear how unlikely she thought that was. “And it's no guarantee they'll be able to escape with him. We'll still be giving up all the weapons and other things that Vegapunk has constructed to the Beast Pirates.”

Those words were like hailstones crashing against the windows. Sengoku knew some of the things that were under construction there, and the idea of Kaido being able to make use of any of them made his blood run cold.

“There is one possibility,” Garp grunted.

“What,” Sengoku said dully. He was throwing every possibility at the wall inside his mind and was coming up with nothing.

“We don't fight Whitebeard.” Garp said simply. “We give Ace back to him, take the embarrassment on the chin, and rush to Egghead.”

“That's unacceptable!” Akainu roared, rounding on the other man. “The Navy will never kowtow to an enemy so completely!”

“Do you want to fight two Emperors or one, brat?” Garp retorted, unimpressed. “Because I can promise you that if we try to have it both ways, the Navy won't survive today.”

Tsuru bit hard into her bottom lip. “Will Whitebeard be interested to a ceasefire?” She asked. “He knows that Ace has been kept in Impel Down and subjected to torture within. A father would not be quick to forgive and forget such treatment of a treasured child.”

Garp could only shrug helplessly at that. “If you've got a better idea, I'm open to it.”

King dropped down from the sky and drove his sword through the Pacifista that was blocking his way into the nursery building. Atlas was somewhere behind him, struggling against Page One and Ulti who had dogpiled her as soon as they caught up with him. There were some clones of Kuma here, but they were few and far apart... they truly had gutted this place to fight Whitebeard.

Doctor Surridge had been right on all counts. He still couldn't decide how he felt about that, so he shoved it to the back of his mind to be dealt with later.

The whole of the World Government's attention is on fighting Whitebeard and trying to kill both him and the boy Portgas.” Her voice explained, when they'd reconnected the call upon setting out. “They've brought all the Pacifista – their 'prototype' to the Seraphim, in some respects – to Marineford, along with all their giants and spent most if not all of their sea stone stock on creating an entrapment wall. If they decide to abandon the war with Whitebeard in an attempt to safeguard Egghead, you'll have plenty of time to prepare before they arrive. Vegapunk might have developed other defenses for the island specifically that I couldn't access with my clearance, but I imagine you'll be able to brute force your way past them...”

Those 'defenses' had taken the form of massive robots, some of which were deep sea attackers. Those had been annoying to deal with; they'd had to wait until they jumped out of the water to devour a ship in order to deal with them. Kaido was dealing with them at the moment; King had trusted him to handle it and rushed into the island proper.

There weren't Marines here; only quailing, terrified scientists that fled in all directions as he tore through the winding streets in search of the Seraphim. Some others such as the siblings had broken through and were also searching, though most of them had stopped in favor of grabbing any shiny machine that looked interesting.

King had been prepared to fight Atlas alone when the doctor refused to give up the Seraphim's location, but now Page One and Ulti were handling her... perhaps there was another satellite in the vicinity that he could get the truth out of. Perhaps Vegapunks 'goodness' or his 'greed'... The Lunarian's lip curls back in distaste at the thought, but it was better than running around blindly.

Wrenching Kusenagi free of the sparking metal, King looked up and down the roads. Experience was prompting him to check every one of the labs on the island, but perhaps the children were being kept elsewhere? They weren't quite old enough to fight the way they were intended to, assuming the doctor's information on that was accurate.

As if seven was an acceptable age for that!

Now where was he most likely to find Vegapunk – any of them?

King exhaled sharply and commanded himself to get a grip. His emotions were slipping; his Observation Haki had been going in and out ever since the battle started, something that hadn't happened to him in decades. Now that he was here, what had been a mild frantic excitement had intensified to a living thing pulsing under his skin.

Children... clones of the Seven Warlords, yes, but children. Lunarian children. They weren't his family – those graves could not be opened again, no matter what science Vegapunk applied – but their mere existence was so precious that every second he spent looking for them increased an anxiety that they would be taken away. Emotion swelled in his chest with an intensity he hadn't felt since leaving Punk Hazard. Franticness, worry, and hope. Hope of all damnable emotions...!

He wouldn't be alone anymore...

There's a flash of gold in the corner of his vision. King snapped his head to the left and spotted another female figure dressed in an orange jacket, a purple jacket with the letters 06 on it, and high knee boots with a familiar face – Vegapunk. Another piece of him, at least. Right there!

She paled and fear filled King's Observation Haki. King pivoted as soon as she took off and hurtled after her. He refused to waste another second.

Notes:

I wish I could describe just how hard I'm smirking every time I write something for this story. It's so satisfying! Whatcha gonna do, Senny? What're you gonna do? (cheerfully claps hands together) Ahh, and I'm not even done with them yet~

Yup, that's York that King noticed at the end there. If anyone's gonna crack and give him proper directions, it's her~

Chapter 3

Summary:

Stars and Warlords react to the new information. King finds what he's looking for.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Was this what the scholars of Ohara experienced, knowing that a Buster Call was coming?

The thought swirled around Sengoku's gaze like a blizzard gale as he speedwalked down the halls to his office. In his mind the clicking of a grandfather clock passed through every second, the seconds moving by him quicker and quicker as they hurtled blindly towards disaster. Perhaps it was natural how his thoughts turned to those rebellious history teachers, since Enies Lobby had been their last titanic disaster.

Another moment where their annihilation of a people had come back to haunt them, with Nico Robin escaping along with the devoted pirate crew who had taken her in despite everything they'd done to isolate and demonize her to the world. Except Monkey D Luffy, for all the headaches that he had given Sengoku in the past few months, was not a butcher or a would-be conquer or even his father's sleeper agent in the pirate community the way Drake was theirs. The damage he did was significant... but the ocean of blood Kaido would unleash dwarfed the boy's antics completely.

The door swung open under his hand and slammed shut behind him. He'd ordered his fellow higher ups to keep the new revelation quiet for just long enough for them to organize some kind of response to the crisis – even just a framework of one. Otherwise their men would – justifiably, a snarky voice in his head tacked on – panic and lose discipline in the face of the situation. That would only make them more vulnerable.

His pulse pounding, the ticking clock in his ears a steady and harsh beat rattling against his skull, Sengoku snapped the drawer open and withdrew a certain emergency contact snail from within. It was the only way he had of reaching the Five Elder Stars, and if he was going to die today he wasn't going before he let them know what hell they've unleashed on the world...!

He dialed the short number and unhooked the receiver, waiting. His forehead felt hot. He pressed one hand against it and felt a sheen of sticky sweat covering his skin. Dully he stared at his palm, accepting that he couldn't truly deny how dire their circ*mstances are.

Either we possibly defeat Whitebeard and all but hand Kaido the keys to the world... or we smash ourselves against the tide of the Beast Pirates and give up any chance of destroying the nexus of the Great Pirate Era in Roger and what his son represents.

Sengoku's mind was already updating potential casualty lists and equipment damages. The numbers spiked from a solemn sacrifice in the name of justice to entire swaths of the Marines ranks, and those numbers were only a guess. His desperate hopes might be fudging them.

The phone rang six times before there's a distinct click. “You told us that the situation in Impel Down was under control,” Saint Marcus droned before Sengoku could get a word out. “It is hours before the most important execution in twenty years, there must be no distractions.”

The implicit criticism made Sengoku grind his teeth. “We have a problem,” he said, cutting straight to the point. He had to speak quickly or risk being interrupted. “Kaido is assaulting Egghead Island. His targets are both Vegapunk himself and the future Seraphim units.”

There was a long moment of silence. Sengoku's jaw tightened when the ambient temperature in the room dropped about five degrees; he put steel in his spine and didn't bow his head in response to the small, distinct pressure. He didn't get any pleasure out of the thought that the all-powerful old men needed a second to process the revelation just as he had. “How did this happen?” Saint Jaygarcia demanded, his voice almost apoplectic with freezing rage. “How?! The Navy reported no threat from Kaido before now!”

A hand crashed down on hard at the table in their room. It was he, after all, who had ordered most of the recent projects that Vegapunk was working on... and the Elders were not accustomed to being robbed.

“Kaido intercepted Lilith's distress call ten minutes ago, and in the midst of his gloating he stated that a female doctor passed on the information about the Seraphim to himself and King.” Sengoku relayed. “Called her 'some woman'. She must have been working on the Lunarian studies to have access to the information.”

In between his bouts of panic, he wondered who the woman was, when she had broken. Why they hadn't noticed her hatred of them had grown so strong that she'd hand the world to Kaido just to see the Navy and the Government be destroyed. How could someone hide loathing which burrowed that deep without a trace and still be human?

Find her,” Saturn snarled. “Take out the list of the doctors involved, investigate all of them and leave no stone unturned until you've tracked this woman down. Bring her before us!” Fury and disbelief coursed through his voice in equal measure.

“Sir, is this really a priority?!” Sengoku asked, resisting the urge to snarl in disbelief. “Kaido is at Egghead now, and Whitebeard isn't far away. Vegapunk is calling for reinforcements, but all of our men capable of driving off the Beast Pirate's commanders are here on standby.” He clenched his fists. “The situation is dire and requires immediate remediation.”

Another moment of stony silence. In their room at the peak of the world, the Saints processed this information and see all the same problems as Sengoku. Their thoughts are impossible for him to parse, always have been, but he prays that he'll hear the words that he needs to get them out of this alive.

“You are not to allow Vegapunk to be taken by Kaido,” Saint Jaygracia said with a voice like thunder.

“Saturn, Whitebeard will not leave simply because Kaido is on the move,” Saint Nusjuro told him flatly. “We cannot ignore the old pirate, sick though he might be. Nevertheless, Kaido must be stopped somehow. Our forces are...poorly positioned. Kaido being the monster that he is, I'm concerned about the situation.”

Concerned. That was one way of putting it. The Fleet Admiral was tempted to break down in slightly maddened laughter at the understatement; the only thing stopping him was that he could tell that the Elder Stars were taking this seriously.

Not that they had a choice.

“Send a Buster Call to Egghead immediately,” Saturn demanded.

“With which men?” Sengoku responded, putting his hands on the desk. “Who can I afford to send away from here and not have on hand to counter Whitebeard and his men? What ships and canons?” He couldn't see it. How best to build up to Garp's proposal? It was the only way Sengoku saw forward that didn't destroy them.

“Send Garp at the head.” Nusjouro ordered. “The man is bound to be more...useful, further away from his supposed grandson.” It was with some disdain that he said this; initially they had ordered Garp to attend the execution rather than be stationed elsewhere specifically to punish him for daring to raise Roger's son behind the world's back. Now that punishment had to be remitted if they wanted to preserve the world as it was.

Sengoku sucked in a breath and let it out. “Then who will match Whitebeard's strength? I can't do it alone.” He said. Admitting it out loud... he wouldn't have done it in just about any other situation, and he almost wanted to laugh at himself. Denying reality again; what good had it done him? It wasn't letting him ignore it now.

He could hear someone seething on the other end. “Then what do you suggest, Fleet Admiral?” Saint Sheperd asked, the words sounding like a threat.

Sengoku exhaled. “We can either attempt to fight two Emperors and be reduced to a shell of our power at best... or we can only fight one.” He said. “Whitebeard is a father; he comes here because we have his son. If we return Portgas to him, he might be satisfied, and allow us to go and prevent Kaido from succeeding.”

Hardly halfway through his explanation, Sengoku felt the pressure of haki upon him – the rage and displeasure at the idea. “Unacceptable. Roger's son must die.” One of the men demanded furiously. Their desires immutable, as usually.

Incredulous rage flooded Sengoku and gave him new strength. “Sir, with all due respect, DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE SITUATION WE'RE IN?!” He bellowed into the receiver, pushing through their attempt at chastisem*nt. “We needed all of our forces to fight Whitebeard. Kaido is not handicapped by partial deafness and a heart murmur, he does not share his former crewmate's scruples, and no fragment of our force could defeat him and his crew!”

“This is your professional overview?” Saint Jaygarcia sneered.

“That isn't an opinion, that's a fact!” Sengoku spat back. “A FACT that will not bend to our desires; we have no leverage against Kaido and no prepared battlefield, and even having all of those things against Whitebeard does not guarantee us victory. If we try to fight them both in fractured parts, the Navy will be crushed and enforcement of Justice will be impossible!”

Quiet again. Sengoku almost whimsically thought that if they outright killed him for his backtalk, then at least he wouldn't have to guide the ship through this utter nightmare. “The era that Roger created will pale in comparison to the one that Kaido will unleash upon the world in his stead,” he ground out. “If you wish to hand it to him on bended knee, than by all means, ignore the reality that we face and replace it with a fantasy.”

He felt the spike of rage that filled that room, but it was mingled with a deeply uncomfortable disquiet that swirled on the other end of the microphone. The grandfather clock in his mind kept ticking away, its loud and regular tones bleeding into reality as he stood there panting. Another silence dragged on, leaving him only with the sense that the highest authority were conferring with each other.

“You overstep yourself, Sengoku.” Saint Marcus said finally, but there was a sour grimness in his voice. “Yet the point stands. Two Emperors have never attacked us in coordination like this. The plan for Gol and Edward's destruction cannot go ahead precisely as planned.” Sengoku's stomach plummeted at that. “Simply handing the boy back to Whitebeard after we plastered news of his impending execution all over the world will smack of utter weakness. That we backed down the instant we were threatened with retaliation.”

That was true, Sengoku couldn't deny it. In his current best-case scenarios, he and the Navy would spend at least the next two years working overtime to compensate for such a hit on their reputation.

“So this is what you will do instead,” Marcus continued. “You will return Portgas D Ace to Impel Down. Send several individuals to escort him back to the prison and be sure that the breakout has been contained. Then you and your men are to mislead Whitebeard and his crew that the execution was moved, at the last second, to another defensible location in hopes of avoiding his interference. It will keep the crew chasing ghosts for a moment. Once that is secure, you are to take every powerful fighter who can travel quickly and make haste to Egghead.”

Sengoku sucked in a few deep breaths, turning the plan over in his head. It wasn't nearly as clean as he hoped – it was very much delaying the battle with Whitebeard, not putting a stop to it, but the Elder Stars were speaking with a familiar degree of finality so he knew that this was the best that he was going to get. “Understood,” he said briskly. “I will hold a quick war council and prepare the distraction.”

“Good,” Saint Jaygarcia said, sounding a hair more calm. “Send Kizaru and Akainu with a buster call on ahead of you. If Kaido is already putting Egghead to siege, someone must be sent there immediately.”

“Understood.” Much better than Akainu was immediately sent away; otherwise he'd be quite mutinous about Portgas's stay of execution and ultimate release. For the first time since he'd gotten the news, he felt like he could breathe again.

A sensation that wouldn't have lasted if he'd known who had helped Luffy get into Impel Down.

Boa Hanco*ck frowned at the gibbering Marine, arms folded over her chest. “Well, isn't that interesting?” She mused, her mind a whirl.

“It's all true, I swear it,” The man babbled, looking as though he was about to pass out. Having heard him bolting down the hall screaming about Kaido being on the move, Boa had been immediately been concerned about a potential additional threat to her beloved Luffy's mission. Another Marine had come in a minute later and told them that it was a false alarm and the man in question had been disciplined.

Pah! As if Boa couldn't tell when deceptive, sleazy men were feeding her tales. She'd nodded and scoffed and as soon as the warlords had been left alone she'd gone looking for the panicking fool. To her surprise, Mihawk had followed after her. Well, he was the most tolerable of these men to be in proximity with due to his quiet nature.

Finding and cornering the man, it had taken only a slight application of her Haki to make him spill his guts. Her disdain for such weakness was secondary to the concerning twist to the war about to occur.

“This was not what I agreed to when they summoned me,” Mihawk said in annoyance. “Two Emperors at once...”

Boa hummed, biting her bottom lip and frowning deeply. “Indeed...” Unfortunately, this new variable made things more dangerous to her darling Luffy. What would this do to the plan to execute his brother, Ace? They had cast the die. Whitebeard would not forgive the attempt to kill his son. After going this far so they could kill him, what would they do now that they were rats trapped in a corner?

Would the Navy ordered him executed immediately out of spite?

Boa's expression darkened, the thought swirling around her mind. Her back itched slightly at the memory of how far men could go to salvage their pride and how poorly they tolerated losing. Would they, though? She debated silently. Ace is as much a hostage to limit Whitebeard's movements as a man on death row. Without him here, Whitebeard can stand back and unleash the full force of his Quake-Quake fruit upon Marineford in revenge.

However... They might just evacuate in that case and take us all to fight Kaido, she thought. This is their only chance to avenge themselves on Roger, dead man though he may be.

Boa didn't have the most balanced view of what men were like and what they prioritized; being held as a slave by Celestial Dragons tended to do that to a person. The reasonable observations about why the Navy wouldn't or couldn't execute Ace seemed to her like things that would be discarded in the name of hurting their enemies. Which left her, who had only come here to help Luffy in his mission, in a conundrum.

Luffy will be rushing right into the middle of this, she fretted silently. I couldn't bear to see his grief if he found his brother dead... and the Navy would be chomping at the bit to grab him as a warped consolation prize.

Her keeping the Warlord position was for a single reason – protecting her home from the men who had caused her such terrible suffering. It wasn't something she could discard on a whim. However...

“Marvelous. I wonder if the Navy will even survive this,” Mihawk remarked, unwittingly causing a lightbulb to ignite in her mind.

Boa scoffed. “They've shown their true colors – fools and pathetic graspers.” She turned on her heel and marched off. “Honestly, I'm impressed you aren't sick of having to clean up after them.”

Mihawk shrugged, a glower briefly crossing his face. “If only you knew...” he muttered to himself, not thinking much of Boa stalking away.

The Empress of Amazon Lily swerved into the stairs and descended to the lower floors of Marineford. She didn't know the layout of the fortress particularly well, so she had to beguile some of the useless men in giving her directions – as soon as she was pointed the right away, she turned the drooling creatures into stone and picked up the pace. If the Navy crippled itself thanks to its poor judgment, then they wouldn't be able to keep up their side of the bargain with her – keeping her people from being attacked and harassed – and she would have to seek out other options.

An option that she had a chance to endear herself to right now. It was Luffy's adoration and approval she sought, but the protection of the Strongest Man in the World was useful in its own right.

Why not secure both?

“Hey, what are you doing down he-” Boa turned the nosy guard to stone and continued down her way, Salome hissing at them as they passed by. With a few quick turns, she began to track Ace's semi-familiar Haki signature to a prison cell at the end of the room.

For you, Luffy. She thought. For the man I love I'll take this risk.

Ace looked better than he had in Impel Down, but that wasn't saying much. He'd clearly just been superficially cleaned up and treated for the torture he'd been subjected to; she could see scarring on his arms and chest as she drew up to the door of the cell. The young man blinked and looked at her with a degree of uncertainty as she approached. Still wondering why she'd helped him earlier, no doubt.

Well, explanations could wait. Boa strode up, drew one foot back, and smashed the lock with a single proper kick. Ace jolted and tried to stand up, the chains somewhat impeding him. “What the-?” He started, eyes wide as she approached him.

“Get up, brother in law, we're going to need to move quickly.” Boa said, walking up to him and grabbing the handcuffs holding him in place. Retrieving the key she'd squirrelled away she shoved it into the lock and twisted.

“Brother in law?” Ace squawked. The cuffs fell to the ground and he looked at his wrists, then at her, in shock.

Boa held up one finger. “Kaido is attacking Egghead Island,” she said briskly. “They are going to destroy themselves attempting to fight both him and Whitebeard at the same time, meaning that their protection for my home island will vanish like morning dew. They will kill you out of spite before admitting defeat to old enemies, and for the love I bear your brother I will not permit that.”

“Kaido? You – you and Luffy are together?” Ace sputtered. A whole tempest of emotions passed through his eyes... including...pain? Heartbreak? Boa had never seen a man with such an expression, so she wasn't sure what to make of it.

“Save the questions for when we've gotten to a ship to find Luffy; can you fight?” Boa demanded.

That seemed to snap him out of whatever daze had gotten hold of him; fire burst to life around Ace's wrists and he nodded tightly. “Take me to Luffy,” he said, his voice tight. “I won't forget this; neither will Pops.” The implicit promise of a favor held to those words, and it made Boa smirk.

“Good. Now come.”

King landed with a crash and unleashed a wave of flame, curling it precisely so it would stop York's flight dead in its tracks. The Vegapunk satellite shrieked and tried to dive into a pile of trash as the Lunarian stalked towards her, anything to get away from the monster directly on her tail – of course, she couldn't burrow through the earth below before her 'cover' got blasted away.

“Going somewhere?” King hissed, grabbing the woman by the scruff and wrenching her upwards. She dangled from his hand like a stuffed animal, flailing her arms like pinwheels and shrieking her lungs out as she clawed at his fingers.

“Waitwaitwaitwait!” York whimpered. Her whole body was shaking like a leaf. 'Don't kill me, pleeeease don't kill mehehehehe...!” Tears of fear began gushing down her cheeks as his grip tightened ever so slightly. “Whatdoyouwant, you want something, don't you?!”

“Where are the Seraphim?” King demanded.

York's eyes grew even wider. “H-How do you know about them?” She squeaked.

King flared his wings, the flames behind his head crackling like a demon's growl. “I'm not going to repeat myself. Where are the children you cloned from the corpses of my people?” His voice burned like the coldest ice. “What have you done to them? To make them into fleshy machines who serve until they die?!”

York bawled and curled up into a ball as much as she was able with him holding her in the air. “I'msorryI'msorryI'msorry! Don't kill me, don't kill me, Saint Saturn ordered us to do it, we weren't involved in any of the killing!” She babbled out desperately.

King glared a hole in her head, waiting for her begging to run its course as his temper ran higher and higher. The flames burned hotter, crashing and calls of 'hey, come here and take a look at this thing!' or 'help me carry this, Kaido's definitely gonna be interested!' echoing in the background. “I am waiting, Vegapunk 06,” he gritted out.

“I can take you to them!” York blurted out at that, still in a defensive ball. “I've got clearance, I can keep them from being ordered to attack you or self destruct-”

King's eyes widened. “Self destruct?!” He demanded.

It'sonlytheoretical!” If York's voice got any higher, it wouldn't be audible. “I can stop it, I can ensure they go with you, I'll take you to them! Please! Please!”

Her desperate desire not to be killed was honest enough; King had heard that kind of begging before. This woman would do anything to live. “Give me directions,” he said. “If you try to steer me into a trap, I'll cut your legs off.”

“Noted!” The scientist gasped. “M-My throat – please -!”

It wasn't how he'd imagined confronting the scientist who'd used his people as spare parts. Somehow he'd imagined Vegapunk (or just a part of him) being unapologetic, or at least smug and defiant in the belief that the world government would come to save him from the consequences of his actions. King snorted and tucked the doctor underneath one arm, keeping her pinned in place but not obstructing her windpipe anymore.

York wheezed, flailing her legs slightly as she tried to settle the resulting head rush. “Okay...okay...” she gasped out. “T-They'll be in the 'nursery' lab – to get there from here we need to northwest. I'll p-point the building out – ahh!”

She shrieked in fear when King launched himself up into the air and took off. The island below him was billowing smoke and dotted with knots of Beast Pirates. Overhead Kaido's storm raged, rain slashing down like thousands of nails flung from the sky. The halo of his flames evaporated the drops around him, keeping it from interfering with his vision. King glanced out towards the edges of the island; no sign of Marine ships yet. He knew there was precious little they could do about this attack, but even that knowledge couldn't settle his anxiety. He could only think about everything he'd lost – his family, his friends, his community, everyone he'd ever loved and valued – and how terrifying it was, to suddenly be presented with the ashes of a rebirth.

Hope could be so cruel and he doesn't know how he'd take it if it was taken from him now.

York's sputtered directions guide him away from the biggest battlefields and into one of the tallest buildings. King smashed his way through the reinforced glass and carved through hard steel to force his way inside. Scientists hurrying through the hallway screamed in terror and scattered like rats, desperately trying to get out of his way.

King let them, striding by without using his sword on them. It was Vegapunk he hated, and these helpless men and women weren't even attempting to stop them. He reminded himself to, once he had the Seraphim secured, reiterate his general order that the scientists not be slaughtered.

“And now you have to take a left – wait, that's where the memory bubble is, nevermind,” York babbled, swinging one arm and pointing down the other hallway. “That way!”

“Memory Bubble?” King repeated, sparing a moment to be bemused. It sounded significant somehow, but what could that be referring to?

“Long story, it's related to the Pacifista which are just the first draft of the Seraphim. No Lunarians were harmed in the making of them! Not a single one, swear to Nika!”

He dropped a molten glare on her. “If you're invoking that name, you better be serious.”

“Very serious! Ah, hang on a sec need to settle the kids down a little – nope, no need to fight here, you're just four years old after all who would ask you to do that?” York laughed nervously as King pivoted and headed down the hallway. She hurriedly countermanded some idiot's harebrained attempt to order the Seraphim on the offensive; they weren't even close to being ready! They hadn't even given out their command codes to the Navy yet, and also she didn't want to get stabbed in the face.

King ran faster. “How many of them are there?”

“Just seven!”

“So they're all clones of the Seven Warlords?” He pushed. It didn't bother him that they were mimics of still living people, but he almost hoped that at least one had DNA all their own, without a ghost superimposed on top of them.

“Yup! That was kinda the idea, y'know, remake some of the strongest people in the world? The World Government wanted us to clone you too, but for some reason your files had been totally emptied out and there wasn't any dna for us to use.” York gave him a meek thumbs up. “Victory for you, right?”

King almost missed a step at that. What? But why would they have...? An answer came to him more or less a few seconds later, spawning yet another mess of conflicted emotions in his chest. Surridge... The image of her sitting at his bedside, red hair shading her face when she suddenly stopped working and slammed her head into a side table with a strangled war cry. He hadn't known what that was all about then, but... had she protected him from being desecrated for this project?

Why...?

He'd never had an answer to that before. Never had an answer that wasn't just 'because they could' and 'because they wanted to'. He had to see her. He had to hear her speak and see her face. After this, he promised himself. I'll find her after this.

“And a left, go to the end of the hall and there'll be a door! You'll need me to unlock it but the room with the kids is just beyond there,” York blurted out. King pushed himself forward, crossing the last of the distance in breathtaking speed and roughly dropped the woman at the doors. York squawked in protest before fumbling with her identification. “One second, please...”

King put one hand on her back pointedly, glancing down the hallway in both directions. The building shuddered ever so slightly from the impacts rocking the island, but he couldn't hear any combat in the building nearby. “That stupid navy, taking all of the Pacifista with them...” York muttered feverishly as she worked the lock open. “Now I'll never be a – eep!” Having enough common sense to cut herself off at the last second there, she chirped when the door slid open. “And you're through! Now – ow!” King shoved her inside.

“My earlier threat still stands,” The Lunarian warned her flatly, even as he began to outpace her speedwalking down the hall. Shoving a curtain aside he came into a room and stopped dead in his tracks, arrested at the sight before him.

Seven children, who had all been warily peering out of the room's windows, jumped down from the sills and spun to face him. Their bodies hunched defensively and they took stances like seasoned warriors, waiting to be attacked, and King couldn't breathe looking at them.

Their little wings were all fully formed and bristling with feathers. All the right size and shape for this level of maturity, not rushed to adulthood like he'd half feared in the fog of thoughts on the approach. Silver hair framed seven little faces to varying lengths, and their unblemished, unmarked skin was a rich bronze just like his own.

King stared, the rest of the world falling away as he just... looked at them. They were real and they were here, not a hallucination or wistful dream that melted away when he opened his eyes. How could this be real?

It was easy to tell who was who. The boy with an angular face, high cheek bones, hair that didn't pass below his chin and willowy build was Mihawk's clone, his golden eyes sharp and unnaturally shaped – a sign of his unique birth, maybe – trained on King. The only girl had Boa's delicate features from head to toe, her long hair tumbling down her back and around her wings as she instinctively stepped away from the male stranger who'd appeared before her. Crocodile's clone lacked his iconic facial scar, but the shape of his face and chest was familiar enough that he could place him after a moment. Kuma's clone stepped in front of the others subtly, one arm held out to try and keep them safe behind him. Moria's slightly diamond-shaped head was also easily identified, and –

Nika, they had actually grafted Lunarian DNA onto a fishman embryo! Jinbe's clone was staring at him with a look somewhere between analytical and the faint wisps of childish curiosity. Joker's clone moved to make a lunge at him, only to trip over his own feet and crash to the ground with an undignified yelp – one he quickly covered up by scrambling to his feet and crossing his arms, staring at him in a way that was probably supposed to be intimidating. But how could he feel that way about these little miracles?

“You...” The little girl uttered, wary yet curious. “You look like us. Why do you look like us?”

King sucked in a breath that rattled in his lungs, the corners of his eyes burning. “I...” Where had all his words gone? He'd never been so overwhelmed with emotion. “I'm a person like you.”

The Mihawk clone frowned. “That's not possible,” he said quietly. “Everyone like us was killed. Shaka gave me this data.” There's a faint hint of loneliness to that remark, buried under a dull monotone delivery.

King shook his head. “They believed they'd killed us all.” He said, fighting with all his might to keep his voice steady. “I survived by good fortune, and concealed myself from them for years. I came – I came here to look for you.”

“Well, you've found us,” Joker's clone said, tilting his head. “Hey York, is this one of the guys who's gonna be giving us orders and directives in two years?”

“There's a battle going on outside,” Jinbe's clone pointed out, sounding less like he was observing that they were in danger and more like he was commenting on the wall color. It was such an inhuman reaction to danger that King's hands started to shake. “He might be one of the enemies. Come here to put us out of commission.”

“Never.” King said huskily, his voice sharp with emotion. “I could never hurt you. I... with everything that's happened, we are the only family each other have in the world.”

Joker stilled at that. “Family?” He repeated carefully, like he was tasting a forbidden fruit.

“Impossible,” The girl whispered. “Things don't have families. People do.”

He was going to burn Mary Geosie to ashes. A mixture of rage and anguish bubbled up in King – it was differently flavored than usual, it had a different tone, it was so – so protective – they were already aware of why they had been born and what the world government wanted to use them for! “You're wrong,” he told her fiercely. “Your masters have told you otherwise because it suits their needs, but you are not things, you are not weapons, and you are my family, distant though we are. I'm here to take you away and set you free.”

The clones all shared a confused look at that, unsure what to make of this declaration. “Heeey, kiddos!” York said with a degree of anxiety. “I've got good news! Your programming is gonna get flushed out today. No more buzzing commands keeping you awake at night! Isn't that exciting?”

Mihawk's clone whipped his head towards her and stared. “If you're lying to me, I'll split you in half,” he said sharply, sounding very much like the former Marine Hunter.

Whyyyyy is everyone threatening to dismember me today?” York wept before frantically shaking her head. “No lies, I promise! Mr King here would be very angry if I lied about that.”

The children pivoted towards him as one and stared at him with new eyes. King nodded sharply. “No more programming,” he said. “Not on my watch.”

There's a moments pause as the kids looked at each other... then Joker's clone boldly trotted towards him. As soon as he got close, he tripped over seemingly nothing again; King sank to one knee and caught him with one arm, helping him regain his balance. “I hate the voices in my head,” The boy said very matter of factly. “If you make them go away, I'll go with you.”

Notes:

I told you, I'm not giving the Marines a single inch. Alllll the chickens are coming home to roost, including the Warlord System because Luffy got Boa to fall in love with him. The clown car pile up continues~

King found the kiddos! What a moment for him. He's already developing the Dad instincts too!

Chapter 4

Summary:

Ace rushes to escape Marineford and rescue Luffy. Sengoku hears an alarm. Delia addresses the world.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Ace had never run this fast in his life.

God, ever part of him hurt. He could feel just about every place he'd been stabbed, beaten, steamed and doused in salt water during his stay in the World Government's private hellhole. He hadn't eaten anything but thin gruel in five days and his throat burned from lack of water. Even better, some of those wounds were still partially open or just scabbed over – his wrists were in particularly sorry shape. The jailers and the staff of the cell he'd been transferred to here had ensured he didn't get sepsis or any other type of infection, but their desire to keep him in decent shape for when they hacked his head off in front of most of the world had ended there.

The adrenaline currently flooding through his veins made all of that absolutely irrelevant.

To think I have a chance to protect my family from having to pay for my mistakes because of Kaido of all goddamn people, Ace thought in disbelief.

He didn't exactly appreciate it. He despised the looming, vicious emperor for his treatment of his son, with whom Ace had forged a tight bond during his stay in Wano; and he knew that whatever Kaido's motives were, it wasn't to help his Pops. However, he wouldn't take the fortuitous timing for granted.

Even if Ace shouldn't have been born, even if he was a demon who's existence plagued the seas, he would do anything to protect the ones he loved from injury and death. That meant escaping the noose and rushing to Impel Down to retrieve that wonderful, reckless idiot...!

“Turn left,” Boa told him. “Three officers are up ahead.”

“Right,” Ace exhaled and focused hard to blacken his arm with haki. His flames required just a bit more energy exertion by comparison and he needed to reserve as much of his crippled strength as possible to rescue Luffy.

Luffy, Luffy... the thought of the younger raven haired boy filled his mind as he sharply rounded the bend and launched himself at the men waiting for them – a Captain and a few of his men late to the mustering. Ace slammed his fist into the man's face with about the same force he'd used to battle Yamato those two years ago; his nose cracked and the man crumbled to the ground.

“Portgas?! He's escaped! Sound the-!” One of the marines started to cry, reaching for his den den, when Boa unleashed her devil fruit powers on him and his fellows.

Three of the men turned to stone instantly, but the fourth one didn't – and he managed to unhook his snail before Ace grabbed his head and slammed it into the wall twice. Boa blinked and stared in puzzlement as he let the man slump down. “That should have worked,” she said in confusion.

Ace managed a wry grin. “He might not swing your way,” He joked, his breath coming out in sharp gasps. f*ck, this shouldn't hurt... I'm a goddamn Division Commander, why does this hurt so much...? Torture. Torture was the reason, but it wasn't good enough for him.

Boa looked even more baffled at the idea, causing Ace to briefly wonder if her beauty was really so intense that even gay men she encountered made an exception for her. Hard to imagine. Personally he could acknowledge she is objectively beautiful, but his heart was already on lock and that was probably giving him a buffer.

That heart was currently suffering in Impel Down, probably imprisoned in his old cell at Level 6 because he'd come to save Ace because he was a plague on the people he loved and it was his fault if Luffy was being tortured right now and thinking about any of the things he experienced being inflicted on his dawn makes him want to die-!

“Keep going forward,” Boa said, her firm and confident voice snapping Ace out of his spiral. “Do I need to carry you?”

Ace would have gawked at her in shock for the offer – however haughtily delivered – if he had enough brainspace to devote to it; but he didn't, so he just shook his head. “I can make it, thanks,” he panted before taking off at a dead sprint again.

“Take the stairwell all the way to the lowest level,” Boa continued as they continued their blistering sprint. More marines were popping up in clusters the further away they got from the cell block, and every time they saw one Ace's neglected Observation Haki went into complete overdrive. Warning him which one had a snail to raise the alarm and how they'd trigger it if he wasn't fast enough or hit hard enough-

There. Ace threw a fireball at the end of the hallway, forcing the cluster of marines chatting there to scatter. Targeting the one on the far left, he kicked the snail out of his hand as soon as he drew it out and knocked him unconscious with a headbutt. Boa's spin kick took out the rest in sequence. Ace looked back and forth frantically before spotting the stairwell being referenced.

Luffy. Was Luffy even conscious right now? How many injuries had he gotten, fighting his way down each level of the prison one at a time? Imagines flickered through Ace's mind, mocking him as they had been ever since he'd been dragged from the prison after his failed attempt to break free from Magellan's grip. Luffy broken and bleeding, locked away in the darkness all alone, suffering...!

Why...?! Why did you come for me...?!

Ace physically flung himself down the stairs, turning into his logia form so he could smash into the bottom floor without a problem. “Most of the personal have been moved into the corridor system that's controlling the sea stone walls, that leaves this particular passageway to the back of Marineford understaffed.” Boa's voice followed him down; the Empress skated down the railings and elegantly hopped to the floor after him. “There are a few ships being held in reserve for evacuating the severely wounded; we'll commandeer one of those.”

“They'll definitely see us by then,” Ace rasped, before smashing through the door and tearing down the hallway.

“Possibly,” Boa said with a confident scoff. “It won't matter, though. Just focus on getting on board and contacting your father, yes? I'll worry about the rest.”

Ace glanced sideways at her and felt a bubbling mixture of gratitude and rethinking what little he knew about the woman. He hadn't had many encounters with her before; most of them had been solely from a distance and what he'd heard had painted the picture of an extremely temperamental Vain Sorceress straight out of one of Makino's fairy tale books.

Nobody told him that she was a bold and loyal ally if she cared about you... or someone who knew and cared about you. When did Luffy find the time to win her over? When did that happen?! Won her over enough that the famous man-hating amazon seemed to consider him her fiance no less. W-was she serious about that?

Thinking of Luffy reminded him of where his precious one was right now, banishing those thoughts for later – or may never. The hallway is long and narrow, and as Boa observed it was mostly empty as they ran the length of Marineford underneath the towering building. The Marines who stood in their way at various points were knocked aside like so many bowling pins.

Luffy made it all the way down to Level 6. He got around Magellan somehow, the man had been shocked that Luffy was moving around and not dead after their last encounter. Ace had only seen him a few months ago; when had that meat loving kid gotten so strong...? Dethroning Crocodile, sacking Enies Lobby and getting away with it...

When they'd been growing up together, it had always been Ace's job to protect Luffy; doubly so after they lost Sabo. He always worried about him and his ability to get into trouble; enough so that he'd briefly wondered if going out to sea without him was a good idea. Yet now it was Luffy who'd come within an inch of rescuing him.

His heart would feel so warm if he wasn't terrified for him.

Ace unleashed the full force of a fire fist into the Marines clogging up the hallway. The men screamed and scattered as they clothes caught ablaze; so weakened, Boa promptly turned them to stone before they could potentially perish. One of his ribs creaked threateningly as he tripped over a fallen box and nearly collapsed to the floor; Ace seethed in pain and grabbed a pipe to regain his balance, deforming it under his grip.

“Dammit,” he hissed, clutching his side.

Boa briefly paused and pivoted towards him. “You're still injured,” she observed.

“Hahhh,” Ace blinked through the pain, pushing himself off of the wall. “What can I say? The accommodations at the government's five star roach motel are sh*t.” He rolled his shoulder in the vain effort to relax his muscles somewhat. “Doesn't matter; I can work through it.”

The woman nodded coolly and they restarted their frenetic pace. By some miracle, there was no sound of the alarm being raised as they scrambled through the last of the hallways and found the last staircase that should take them to the rear port.

It was when they were ascending the stairs that something occurred to Ace and he swore bitterly. “What's wrong?” Boa inquired tensely.

“The Gates of Justice,” Ace responded as he launched himself up the stairwell as a fireball. His feet hit the landing in front of the door, and the adrenaline surge came back with a vengeance. “How are we going to get through them?”

Boa tsked, her brow furrowing. “Your father could smash through them, I imagine.” She said.

Which. Yes, Ace was also confident that Pops could force the doors, but he has no idea how close he was to them and he didn't dare ask for a favour after all of the problems he's just caused them because he disobeyed orders and went of on his own and -

Luffy is somewhere on the other side of the doors and Ace couldn't waste a single second getting him out of Impel Down. “I hope he isn't far away,” Ace muttered before delivering a kick to the door hard enough to send it flying off of its hinges. Running out on the deck, the young logia cringed as the sun stabbed at his eyes. Blinking spots out of his vision showed him that Boa was right – there was a couple of ships sitting on the docks, and a few dozen Marines milling around.

All of whom are staring at him with wide eyes. f*ck. He's wasted enough time, he's not spending another second of fighting these poor bastards.

“Get the hell... out of my way!” Ace seethed, before unleashing his Conquerors Haki.

The wave crashed over the length of the pier, driven by a furious desperate love that burned like the heart of the sun. The men and women who had been manning the floating hospital ships had been of the lower ranks or medical staff with little to no fighting experience; they all collapsed like broken dolls as his will cracked over them. Blood pounding in his ears, Ace ran down the steps and towards the nearest ship, shoving unconscious Marines away from the edges of the ship as he came onto the deck.

“What do we do with them?” He wondered, looking around hurriedly for any sign of the communication station.

“Hmph. If they make a nuisance of themselves upon awakening, I'll turn them to stone.” Boa scoffed.

“Can we move this thing with just two of us manning it?” Ace asked, heading towards the mast of the ship. He'd sacked his fair share of Marine ships since his life as a pirate started; sometimes they kept their snails in hidden compartments.

Boa flicked some loose strands of her hair over her shoulder. “Humph. I'm more than capable of navigating for us,” she said unexpectedly. “I have... some experience running a ship with an absolute minimum crew.” There's something that flashes through her voice when saying that... something uncomfortable and even a little vulnerable.

A bad memory, clearly. “You're a woman of many talents,” Ace compliments her in order to draw her mind away from whatever bleak thought was connected to that statement. He hammered his fist along the mast and his heart jumped when a compartment clicked partly open.

It worked; Boa brightened up a little. “Of course I am,” she scoffed.

Ace wrenched the door open and his heart ached in relief upon seeing the conscious – if somewhat rattled – den den mushi inside. “There you are,” he said, with a sigh he instantly regretted for how it made his side hurt. f*cking Impel Down. What happened to adrenaline being a universal painkiller?

Dialing the number of the Moby with shaking fingers, Ace clutched the receiver and waited. After a few rings, there's a sharp sound of a receiver being snatched up.

“This is the Moby. How can we help you, officers?” Marco's voice sneered. Ace's breath caught in his throat; it had only been a few months since he last saw his brothers in person, but hearing his voice again was like a punch in the gut – or maybe one of the spiked maces he'd been beaten with during his stay in the prison.

“Marco,” he uttered, his throat tight. He braced himself for his brother to erupt at him for having been so stupid, for putting them in this position and just barely avoiding forcing them into a prepared battlefield to bail him out-

“...Ace?!” Marco gasped; the anger and spite left his voice so fast Ace almost got whiplash. The snail's expression went from a faux politeness threatening violence to shocked and faintly hopeful. “Ace, is that you?!”

A racket of noise echoed from the other end of the line; Ace gulped slightly as he identified some of his fellow division commanders in the cluster of noise. He's vaguely aware of Boa getting the boat moving; already they'd turned away and were headed out across the water. “Yes; I...” He scrambled for a moment to remember the various code phrases for situations like this; indirectly informing everyone that he was indeed free and not being used by a captor to mislead them. “I wouldn't recommend the grunt's bunkers; sardines would find them too small for comfort.”

Marco inhaled sharply. “Holy sh*t – how did you –“ The phoenix sputtered for a moment before bellowing, “You reckless, hotheaded dumbass! Do you have any idea how worried we've been for you?! I couldn't stop wondering if they'd kill you before we got there because you're – you know – rrrraaagh!” He briefly became incoherent and his brothers all started talking on top of each other like frantic chickens.

“Ace! How did you get out, what happened?!” Vista... “Are you okay? Tell me what kind of injuries they gave you, I know they mistreated you.” Doc Nightingale... “You got out on your own?! Man, and we came all the way out here with everyone on board! Now I just feel silly.” Haruta... others were talking too, but Ace couldn't make out what exactly they were saying.

“Marco, hand me the snail,” Pops's voice cut through the chatter in the room, causing Ace's stomach to do an awful backflip. “Ace.” His tone was so warm and gently concerned. “I'm very glad to hear your voice. Give me an update on your situation; where are you?”

He wasn't... why wasn't Pops tearing him a new one? “I was transferred from Impel Down to a cell inside Marineford proper this morning,” Ace said hurriedly, brow tightening as he tried to estimate how long ago that was. “Four or five hours ago. But about ten or fifteen minutes ago, Hanco*ck came to my cell door, smashed it open and unlocked my cuffs; she's helped me bust out.”

“Hanco*ck,” Pops repeated, not bothering to hide his surprise. “Did she give a reason for that?”

“Yeah. Her situation's changed,” Ace licked his lips. “Pops, Kaido's attacking Egghead Island right now with most of his forces. The Marines can't ignore that, but with – with our crew practically on top of them, Hanco*ck seems pretty convinced that they're going to get snapped in half.”

“What?!” Marco sputtered in the background. “That's some kind of timing! We haven't heard anything about Kaido mobilizing! If anything, we thought that he might attack our territories while we were gone!”

“Egghead Island... so he's after Vegapunk,” Pops concluded. The snail frowned, clearly a little disturbed by the potential consequences of this. “I wouldn't have thought this sort of subterfuge was his style, but he's certainly planned that well.” His voice softened again. “You've gotten outside of the building? Do they know you've escaped?”

“The alarm hasn't raised yet, but I wouldn't bet on that lasting more than a dozen minutes.” Ace glanced over his shoulder at the looming shape of Marineford. “Hanco*ck and I managed to get onto a ship, we're headed for the Gates of Justice.”

“Are you injured?”

Ace put one hand on his side, shivering. “I was cleaned up a little for show, but the wardens in Impel Down were happy to vent their poor personalities on me.” He said. “My ribs are making concerning noises, but I can still fight.”

Marco uttered a furious noise, which was followed by angry yelling from his brothers and a couple suggestions that they destroy Impel Down after finishing with Marineford. Ace's heart squeezed tightly at the noise, the edges of his eyes burning.

“I see,” Whitebeard said. “It seems I owe the young Empress a great debt. Change course, we're coming towards you.”

Panic formed a rock in Ace's throat; I can't leave I can't turn around yet-. “Luffy's in Impel Down,” He blurted out. “He broke in to save me, he's trapped in there now, I have to – Pops, please –!”

“Luffy?” Whitebeard repeated, faintly caught off guard a second time. “That little scamp of a paradise pirate broke into that jail?”

“Yes,” Ace uttered wretchedly. “I – I need to -” His throat closed up. Why is he making demands when he's caused them so much trouble already?

“I see,” Pops mused, before quickly coming to a decision. “Marco, take Izo and Jozu and fly out to your brother. Once we get close enough I'll open those pesky gates for you; go and retrieve the spunky kid before he gets too badly hurt by the poor amenities.”

“On it,” Marco responded immediately, without complaint. “Hang tight for a second, Ace, we'll be right with you.”

Ace's knees buckled and he almost collapsed in sheer relief. He was definitely in danger of crying now. “Thank you,” he sobbed roughly. “I...I'm so sorry-”

“Don't you dare start,” Marco retorted. “We're your family, we'll fight for your sake no matter what.”

Sengoku descended to the docks where the Buster Call ships were being hastily loaded, ignoring the worried and confused reactions of their men in the plaza. He wasn't looking forward to having to inform the troops of the situation; it would take all of his considerable orating skills to keep panic from breaking out.

Sentomaru's submarine had quickly emerged from deep underwater, allowing Vegapunk's personal bodyguard to disembark with the Pacifista who had been on his vessel. PX-0 had followed the Fleet Admiral and two of his strongest assets down to the dock; once again, Sengoku was glad for Tsuru's sharp mind. She had been the one to suggest that Kuma would be able to use his devil fruit powers to get their troops to the island of the future much faster; it would allow Akainu, Kizaru and their Buster Call troops to be able to launch their counterattack on the Beast Pirates almost right away.

“Fleet Admiral,” Sentomaru uttered when he drew close. The man's face was tight with stress and anger; his first loyalty was to Vegapunk, and Sengoku's orders had caused him to be away from his sight when Kaido had attacked. “The boats are fully loaded and ready for an attack.”

“Good.” Sengoku said, looking across the six vessels. His insides twisted grimly; even though the ships themselves couldn't stop Whitebeard himself, they had been an integral part of the plan to cut off the pirate fleet's escape. Every visual indicator of the vulnerabilities they were creating in their forces made the ticking clock in his head louder.

“I'm going as well,” Sentomaru said boldly, hand clenching around his axe. “I should be there already.”

That was very close to insubordination, so Sengoku held up a hand to prevent Akainu from lashing out. “You will be, but not immediately.” He said with a tone that would brook no defiance. “Until we ensure the Whitebeards are thoroughly misdirected, we need you here with the Pacifista in case they appear ahead of schedule.”

Sir-!” Sentomaru started furiously.

Is that clear, Sentomaru?” Sengoku repeated blandly with a touch of Conqueror's Haki for emphasis. He disliked doing this, but he didn't have time to be arguing with anyone. His nerves were stretched to the breaking point as is.

Sentomaru took a step backwards. He visibly fumed when he came back to himself, before spitting out a 'Crystal' and walking up to the former Warlord. Sengoku faintly noted that the man looked up at PX-0 with a flash of guilt and regret.

“Sakazuki. Borsalino.” Sengoku said, putting that from his mind as he turned to face the two admirals. They both looked grim in different ways; Akainu was seething and barely holding back the magma leaking from his body, while Kizaru's bored smile had dropped in favour of a slight grimace.

He wondered if that woman was laughing at them, wherever she was right now. “Don't engage Kaido immediately,” Sengoku ordered. “Your priority is extracting Vegapunk and his satellites from the island no matter what. Find them, secure them, and get clear. When the rest of us catch up with you, only then will we engage that monster directly. Am I clear?”

“Yes sir,” The two said in unison.

Sengoku nodded. “Good. May God be with you,” he said with all the confidence he could muster. “The future of the World Government rests on your success.”

Akainu nodded tightly and marched off toward his ship. Kizaru rubbed the back of his neck, lingering for a moment and staring at the horizon. “Boy, I'm gonna be feeling this tomorrow,” he said mildly before following after his fellow.

...That statement from the lazy man was about the equivalent of a 'holy f*ck, we are so screwed' of a less disciplined individual. (That was about all the traditional discipline Borsalino had...) Sengoku resisted the urge to shout after him and rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to ease away his stress headache.

He stayed and watched as the ships were secured, and PX-0 stepped forward. Raising his hands, the cyborg ran the calculations in his head and made the first ship disappear with a pop. Sengoku folded his hands behind his back and kept a stoic expression as the rest of the ships vanished one at a time, shot off into the distance towards Egghead.

Kaido could easily sink the ships if he caught sight of them; they needed to find a way to avoid him until the rest of their forces could catch up. If Akainu and Kizaru could stay ahead of the Beast Pirates and focus on retrieving Vegapunk, they may be able to pull this off.

He was still cynical about their chances, but if there was any hope, it was in this.

“Garp,” Sengoku acknowledged as he walked back the way he came. His old friend was waiting for him, expression serious as the grave. “I'm surprised you didn't go to get Portgas yourself.”

“Tch... I believe someone insisted that I not be involved in any of that,” Garp pointed out a little gruffly. “'Sides, when you're on your last nerve, somebody has to stick next to you before you have a heart attack.”

“Hilarious,” Sengoku grunted, trying to ignore the way his lips slightly quirked upward.

They walked most of the way back to the building before the alarm started blaring.

Sengoku was faintly certain his soul briefly left his body. Instantly he took off at a run, shaving like mad to get back inside and to track down where the alarm was coming from. Garp was directly as his heels when he hurtled into the communications room, skidding to a stop and grabbing the first man he could reach by the shoulder.

“What's happening?!” He demanded.

“S-S-Sir, I...it's...!” The man babbled, looking up at him with an expression of pure crystallized terror. The rest of the comms officers were no better off when Sengoku briefly stared at them, silently demanding an explanation. Not a single one of them spoke. They looked terrified.

That familiar freezing feeling crawled up his spine. “Speak, man!” He bellowed. “I do not have time for this!”

“S-Sir... P-P-Portgas is gone!” The man sputtered, paling.

Sengoku head the words; they just refused to register for a solid minute. When it did... golden light poured out of his body as he gained dozens of feet of height, absolutely apoplectic. “GONE?! HOW COULD HE BE GONE?!” He demanded.

“H-H-His cell is empty! Smashed open!” The man sobbed out, leaning away from him. “A-And the men who went to retrieve him reported that... t-the men near and around his prison have been turned to stone!”

Turned to stone? ...Stone? ...STONE?!

Sengoku whirled and barked at a different comms officer, “Where are the Seven Warlords?! Connect me to them immediately!” The woman fumbled with her communicator and hurriedly dials. Garp stood frozen in place with his mouth hanging open as the snail drones twice before picking up.

“Is there a problem, Fleet Admiral?” Mihawk asked with a significant deadpan in his voice.

Sengoku bit his tongue to keep himself from unleashing a flood of obscenities in response to that; antagonizing the World's Greatest Swordsman was not what was needed right now. Taking a deep breath and fighting with himself to keep from screaming, he clenched his fists and demanded, “Where is Boa Hanco*ck?!”

There's a moment's pause, then an audible shrug. “She walked off a little while ago, expressing her dislike of being forced to tolerate the company of so many men.” Mihawk responded. “None of us have seen her since then... might I ask why?”

Why? WHY?! Who knew why?! Why the hell would Boa Hanco*ck, man-hating amazon, do a single goddamn thing for a man she barely knew?! Why the hell would she do something NOW, as opposed to ANY OTHER TIME she might have decided to betray their contract and flagrantly spit on the assistance they had provided her up until this point?! No, it HAD to be NOW, because why wouldn't it be now?! Sengoku opened his mouth to demand that Mihawk personally go and drag her and Portgas back to the building, trying to censor out the swearing that desperately wanted to escape-

-only for a sharp pain to pierce his chest. It was instant, hot, and absolutely debilitating. Sengoku's vision blurred as his heart briefly stopped, then went black as he snapped back to his human size and crashed to the floor like a sack of bricks. The last thing he heard was Garp screaming for a medic.

Delia exhaled and checked her papers one last time. The speech was designed to be comprehensive, but she wondered if perhaps she should have tried to shorten it further. If I'd kept editing it, I never would have managed to get it done, she thought. This was the thirteenth version I wrote. Setting them down with a slight thump, she sat down in front of the desk and offered the visual den den in front of her a large piece of lettuce. The animal happily started munching on it while Vergo placed a cup of jasmine tea on the table next to her.

Reporters were already gathered at Saobody; the majority of them were there, but that wasn't the only area that receiving screens had been set up. The World Government had wanted Portgas's execution to reach every set of eyes and ears they could possibly reach.

I wonder if my impromptu distraction will save your life too, Delia pondered. She didn't know much about the young man, but the distinct lack of murder mentioned on any of his wanted poster lead her to think that he deserved better than being killed for a PR stunt. There was far, far worse in the oceans; including herself. It might be too much to hope for, but it's a nice thought.

“I'm prepared,” She told the man.

“Understood,” Vergo said unemotionally, turning and striding out of the room. Delia wondered how he could so easily portray himself as a father to his men when he was so cold in truth? How do you manage that?

The door clicked shut, leaving her alone. Delia glanced over both her shoulders, hoping that the blanket put up over the wall behind her and the direction of her desk would somewhat obfuscate where she was from viewers.

“Let's see if I can buy you a little more time, Alber,” she murmured as the snail finished his meal and gave her a curious look. “If Saturn doesn't come to kill me personally, it'll only be because he went to try and fail to ward off Kaido.”

Delia exhaled, then unhooked the receiver from the snail and set it in front of her. Dialing herself into the network of Saobody and other viewing stations, she counted to three and focused on the screens that glowed in the creature's eyes.

“Good evening, everyone.” She said. Her heart thumped against her ribs. “My name is Doctor Delia Surridge, formerly Surgeon General of the G9 Marine branch in the East Blue. You must be surprised to see me instead of our Fleet Admiral, presiding over the execution of Portgas D Ace, as you've been told was going to occur today.” Her lips quirked into a dry smile. “Well, this is the only time I knew that you would all be watching, and I have things of grave consequence to bring to light. Crimes that have been committed by the World Government and then covered up by the highest ranks; crimes that I must admit that I was a part of in spite of my conscience.”

She imagined that Alber was sitting across this desk from her. Delia could almost see him with her waking eyes; he appeared as a teenager, of course, her mind not able to fill in the changes that maturity would have blessed him with. She talked as if she was talking only to him. It gave her confidence and chased away the remains of her fears.

“How many of you know the answer to this question... 'Does anyone live on the Red Line aside from the people of Maejoris?”

Notes:

My explanation for Ace's unfortunate showing at Marineford in canon? He was all sorts of banged up thanks to his stay in Impel Down. My God, that prison is f*cked up; how is any sane person okay with that place existing?

Senny had a heart attack~! It won't keep him down for too long, you know how people are in the Grand Blue 'verse, but given the kind of stress that this situation is putting on him it's not TOO surprising. He ain't no spring chicken, after all.

Chapter 5

Summary:

King begins to discover fatherly instincts. Delia's message is delivered.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The Seraphim all move behind King when York opened the door to the 'hospital' room. It was a dark, metallic room with a single huge medical bed with heavy lights set above it on an arc. The walls are panelled by machinery the likes of which he hadn't seen before, and to get there King had walked through a hallway full of eerie tubes full of bubbly medical water. Cryotubes, the satellite had called them.

The little girl grabbed his hand and grimaced. “I don't like check ups,” She whined at him, giving him a pleading kitten-eyed look. “Do I gotta have one?”

King tilted his head down and nodded sharply. “It's the only way you'll be able to leave this place on your own two feet,” he told her. “Otherwise you'll still be a puppet.”

“But I hate going to sleep here,” Boa's clone protested, clinging harder to him. She's clearly trying to invoke her powers on him – King had been stunned when York told him that the genetics had given the Seraphim variants of the original's devil fruit powers as well as their appearances – and only his stubborn single-mindedness is keeping him from being influenced at all. “I always wake up with voices in my mind bossing me around. Do this, practice that, test your powers until you're too weak to stand up anymore. I don't want it!”

York froze for a second and shot King a terrified 'please don't kill me' look, which he'd very quickly become familiar with. King's flames roared to life for a minute and he counted backwards from five in order to keep himself composed.

Then he turned and knelt down in front of the girl, gently placing a hand on top of her head. Slightly awkwardly attempting to mimic the gentle way he'd seen women in the flower capital treat their children. The girl flinched slightly in surprise, then stalled altogether and gave him a confused look in response to the caring touch.

“It won't happen this time,” King told her, his voice calm and steady. “I'm doing this in order to get rid of the powers that they've implanted to take control of you. Once this is over, you'll never be compelled to follow orders again.”

The girl wrinkled her nose. “Why are you doing this?” She asked suspiciously. “You're the first mate to Kaido the Beast. Why wouldn't you just take the codes that make us obey and give them to him instead? You're a man, aren't you?”

“I don't care about what kind of power you might bring to bear one day,” King told her, and he meant it. He didn't doubt that they would be incredible, but his desire was simply to keep them safe and ensure their happiness. “I came here to set you free and bring you under our protection. If you don't wish to join the Beast Pirates, that's your choice.”

She stared at him, and he could feel the others staring as well. Joker's clone climbed up onto the bed and was ignoring York's instructions in favour of trying to ascertain King's honesty. “And if Kaido wants us to be Beast Pirates?” She asked.

“I'll talk him out of it.” King responded.

“What if he doesn't want to listen?” She prodded shrewdly.

“He will.” King insisted confidently. “He's my friend. He's always taken my advice and my reservations about situations seriously.”

“You promise?” Joker's clone said warily, trying to stand up to see his face.

York flailed her arms at him, frustrated. “S-Flamingo, I need you to lie down for the procedure,” she said grumpily. “Please lie down?”

King felt his whole body stiffen; he slowly turned his head to give York a piercing glare. “S-Flamingo?” He repeated dangerously. “That had better not be his name.”

“...It's his designation?” York squeaked, eyes wide as plates. King surged to his feet and she dove behind one of the consoles, cowering. “It wasn't my idea!”

“You didn't even give them names?!” King roared, livid. The little girl jolted back and the small Mihawk instinctively grabbed for a sword that didn't exist.

“Itwasn'tmyidea! Saturnalwayssaidthattheywereaproduct!” York babbled fearfully, not even peeking out from behind the machine. “Don'thurtmeplease!”

King felt his wings flare, shadowing the satellite threateningly. “You couldn't be bothered to name them behind his back?!” He seethed. “How can you stand yourself, coward?! They're children!”

The clones all stared at him with wide eyes. “You want us to have names?” Moria's clone wondered, puzzled and the slightest bit hopeful. Aware of their attention, King exhaled and reined in his rage until it was bubbling just below the surface again.

“Yes,” He said. “All people have names. As soon as you're safe, we can discuss possibilities if you wish. You're free to choose your own as well.”

“Choose,” Kuma's clone murmured, his wings fluttering with repressed awe at the thought. King glanced at him and smiled softly; the expression is vanishingly rare on him, and while he didn't realize it, the single gesture humanized him to the still-uncertain clones.

“Names, names,” Joker's clone said to himself, lying down on the bed and holding still as he pondered the thought. York peeked her head out from behind the console; King rolled his eyes and sharply pointed for her to get to work. The satellite zips to the bedside and begins the procedure, hands still shaking a little.

King observed her working for a minute before his earpiece started ringing; frowning, he tapped it and started to walk out of the room when a small figure attached herself to his leg. Blinking in surprise, he looked down to see Boa's clone looking up at him in alarm. “Where are you going?” She asked nervously.

King stalled for a moment, a strange warm pressure filling his chest. Then he carefully patted her head again. “I'm not going far. My crew is calling in, I need to speak to them.” He said.

She didn't look reassured. “Don't leave us,” she insisted.

“I won't,” he promised. Mihawk's clone walked over to her and tapped on her arm, causing her to release him and round on the other boy with an indignant expression. The boy waved a hand in exasperation, and King couldn't help a smile before he promptly stepped outside, shutting the door behind him.

Activating the earpiece, he said, “Kaido, I've secured the children and Satellite 06. She's been convinced to flush out their programming, though this will take at least an hour. What's the situation?”

Kaido's boisterous laughter echoed on the other end; it was followed by the sound of crackling magma, which sharply prickled at King's nerves. “Good! Very good. A Buster Call has arrived, lead by the brats Akainu and Kizaru.”

“They abandoned the fight with Whitebeard?” King asked incredulously. What kind of imbecile would show the World's Strongest Man their back?

“The lack of the Buddha and that monster Garp suggests that they're attempting to compromise on the matter,” Kaido responded with malicious glee. “Don't start stressing out, I'm handling them. Coordinate the rest of the crew for me until I send them packing, I want the rest of the Vegapunks secure on board my ship with the first one.”

“As you wish,” King assured him, and Kaido hung up with a click. Quickly King redialed and began contacting the flying six. “Page One, Ulti, this is King. Marine forces are beginning to show their faces, do you have Altas under control?”

There's a crashing sound and a loud yelp of 'ow! Sis, did you have to use me as a hammer?!' before he gets a proper response; King briefly closes his eyes out of faint sympathy for Page. “Ulti here!” The fearless young woman barked. “'Course we got the giant brat, who do you think we are?! We just had to deal with a couple Pacifista!”

“Good. Round up anyone around you who's loaded down with loot and head for the ships, secure everything on board beyond a shadow of a doubt and start dealing with the rank and file that the Admirals brought with them,” King ordered.

“Wow, they ditched the battlefield with Whitebeard? How stupid can these people get?!” Ulti asked in scornful disdain.

“Don't ask me! If that Buddha gets crunched in an earthquake, it'll be his own damn fault.” Page said somewhere nearby. “We copy that, King, we're moving out now!” There's a rustling sound as the young man rushed past his sister to get the nearest group's attention. “Oi, you! Pass it along!”

King nodded to himself, trusting Page to remember the plan and keep his hotheaded sister on track. Hanging up, he dials Who's Who next. “This is King. A Buster Call has arrived, reinforcements might be coming soon.” He said briskly. “Do you have eyes on the main Vegapunk yet?”

“What do you think I've been doing this whole time?!” Who's Who barked in response; it sounded like he was Shaving like mad. “The bastard hasn't stayed still for one second; as soon as he realized something was up he detonated his personal office, nearly cooked me alive! One of his satellites is running and carrying him while throwing endless optical illusions in my face!”

“Hurry up!” King retorted flatly, utterly unsympathetic. “Akainu and Kizaru are here, they're undoubtedly been sent to reclaim him and will prioritize getting a hold of him then escaping over fighting us. Get there first!” He hung up before the former CP agent could snarl at him and continued onward. “Black Maria, what's your status?”

“Oh, were you worrying about me, King?” Black Maria's silky voice swirled on the other end of the connection. “You're so sweet. I've got Edison unconscious and at my tender mercies, and my ladies have robbed all the cabinets that survived the attempted booby trap. How can I help you, dear?”

“Get everything to the ship and secured. Watch out for the main Vegapunk, he and at least one of his satellites is giving Who's Who the runaround.” King instructed. “Akainu and Kizaru will make a run for him first and foremost.”

“Naturally,” Black Maria hummed. “Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Whitebeard arrives to find the Navy has stood him up... the old man might just burst a blood vessel. How are the little ones, King? You've found them?”

King twitched slightly. “Yes. The bastards didn't even name them,” He hissed, fury pulsing under his skin. “York called one of them S-Flamingo.

“Really! How tasteless.” Black Maria tutted. “No wonder you sound so stressed out... How about I give you a massage after all of this is over, handsome? I promise you'll feel... so much better afterwards.”

A little hiss of mist brushed against his ear, tempting him, but King managed to ignore it with long practice. “Stay focused on the problem at hand, please.” He said before hanging up. That woman... He shook his head in an effort to clear it, then dialed Sasaki.

“There might be a problem, King.” The man told him when King got ahold of him. “I think CP units have arrived on the island; someone just tried to deliver seastone bullets to my skull and they vanished by the time I turned around.”

“Dammit,” King muttered. “It must be Unit Zero; this project came as much from the Elders as it did from Vegapunk's brain.” He exhaled and carefully refocused his Observation, meditating his anger away so he wouldn't be caught off guard. “Pass the warning along and continue at your task.”

He hung up and mere seconds later a warning seared his nerves.

Whirling around, King drew his sword and kicked the door open. The clones inside had all pivoted towards the air vents, alarmed, and King bolted into the room in time to deflect the bullets fired from within with Kusenagi. Joker's clone stared at his back, the bullets intended for him and York clattering to the ground as King slashed at the wall, blasting a pillar of fire into the vent and cooking the CP0 agent within alive.

King stayed still until the man's haki signature dissolves, then turns to face the medical bed. “Are you alright?” He asked quietly.

The boy slowly nodded, his eyes slowly brightening behind his glasses.

The speakers in the room crackled; King blinked in confusion and became very still when a voice came through them that he recognized, for all that he hadn't heard it in many years. “...my name is Doctor Delia Surridge, former Surgeon General...”

Her voice washed over him like wave. Taking him back to the night that he escaped. He'd seen her, briefly, when he'd been carving his way to freedom with Kaido at his side. She'd been standing in a room that was already on fire, hands clasped in front of her as if in prayer as everyone around her fled for their lives. King caught her eye and frowned, before slashing the room in half – opening it to the cool air so the smoke would billow away. In the moment, he hadn't wanted her to have the comforting release of death. Afterwards he thought of her more than the other doctors because of her strange moments of stress and seeming regret.

And now... now, he...

“Does anyone live on the Red Line aside from the people of Maejoris? The answer is... there used to be. They were called the Lunarians. And we butchered them to create science experiments and slave soldiers.”

A great hush fell over Saobody as reporters stared at the screen with pale, confused disbelief. The woman sitting at the desk stared hard at them through the screen, her blue eyes cold and pitiless like frozen flame. Her red hair was very long, tumbling down her shoulders; dishevelled and lightly unkempt in a way that made her look almost ghostly.

“The Lunarian people were unique in their biology, despite sharing much of the same makeup as humans. Characteristically, they all share golden skin, silver hair, large black wings and the ability to conjure fire without the aid of Devil Fruits. But their most powerful ability was their fluid adaptability; they could live in any environment, no matter how vicious and uninhabitable to humans or fishmen, and flourish. It made them immensely powerful in combat, to the extent that they were called gods by those who knew them.”

“Lunarians? I've never heard of a people by that name,” One female reporter murmured, looking between her fellows in puzzlement. “Is this real?”

“I haven't heard of them either... have you ever seen someone who looks like that?”

“No, never.”

“The Surgeon General said that they were massacred. Is that why?”

Nearby civilians who lived on the archipelago exchanged wordless, meaningful looks. Their home had the unpleasant 'privilege' of hosting the secret slave market the World Government pretended didn't exist. They knew better than most what to expect from these people, and because of that, they immediately embraced this revelation as real.

“Confused? I imagine many of you have never even heard their name before.” Surridge said. “Well, I have a number of pictures here with me to prove my words are true. Be warned if you have a sensitive stomach.” She opened up the file in front of her and removed a single picture, turning it towards the crowd.

Multiple people cried out in shock, and a woman fainted. The picture was that of a Lunarian warrior, impaled through the stomach with a sea stone harpoon and slumped against the burnt husk of a tree. Cradled under his arm and wing was a small child who's resemblance was strong enough to denote them as relatives.

“The World Government has denied the Lunarians ever existed, because otherwise they'd have to admit that we massacred them.” Delia continued, setting the picture down. Her gaze was haunting, pinning everyone in the area in place like they'd been frozen to the ground. “There was no act of aggression on these people's part, there was no inciting incident, and it could hardly be called a war when the Celestial Dragons were demanding it because they wanted to be the only 'gods' on the Red Line.”

“Of course,” A Saobody native snarled in disgust. “They force us to host their personal flesh markets, why not commit genocide out of petty pride as well?”

“Be careful, you idiot, someone'll hear you!” His neighbor hissed, looking around warily.

“So what? They're busy with Newgate right now, for once I get to call those sick f*cks whatever I damn well please!” The man bristled.

Muttering swept over the crowd, their mood swirling as the red haired ghost drew yet more pictures out of her file. Mothers watching the goings-on immediately took the hint and put their hands over their youngest children's eyes.

“This happened over twenty years ago,” Delia continued. “If the purpose of the massacre was just to wipe out a people that the government had deemed a threat, it wouldn't be the first time they'd done so. How many times have islands disappeared from the maps in just your lifetime? Have you even noticed them all? I only started counting after I got involved with this.” She shook her head, a grim, humorless laugh tumbling from her pale lips. “But no. Not this time.”

The crowd began murmuring louder, exchanging uneasy looks as they tried to guess what could be worse than 'just' exterminating a people. “Some world nobles must have wanted semi-invincible slaves,” One woman guessed. “Maybe she was ordered to cripple some of the survivors just enough that they'd be unable to escape their new owners...”

“The government really slaughtered a whole people...? Impossible...!” Another person protested in violent denial. “She has to be lying...!”

“Then where did she get those pictures from?”

Delia spoke again, silencing the crowd. “The Lunarian's unique biology and the powers that came with it made them some of the most powerful beings to walk the earth. Certain members of the government wanted to harness this for their own ends, and since the people weren't willing to involve themselves with us, they decided to take it by force. That's where myself and the other doctors came in. Our task was to use our medical skills to take...all of the biological material available from the captured survivors for the new project. Seraphim.”

She lifted up two pictures this time, putting them front and center so they could be seen. The screaming is much louder this time; several people throw up, hardened reporters are stunned silent, and the faint of heart collapsed on the spot. The images were horrific.

“They didn't request just DNA, which could be taken from hair strands or saliva. That wouldn't be nearly comprehensive enough. We were commanded to take blood, bone marrow, wing bones, everything. Everything.” Delia emphasized, tapping her finger harshly against the papers. She had more photos to prove it, each one somehow worse than the last. “In the process of doing so, we had a second task as well – testing the endurance and the resilience of the Lunarians against extremes of all sorts. Burning them, boiling them, freezing them... whatever horrible thought just entered your head, it was tested and recorded.”

“The marines were seriously a part of this?! This is sick!” Someone screamed. The statement kicked off a powder keg, and suddenly everyone was yelling and pushing and lunging towards the nearest marines who'd been sent to oversee the crowd demanding answers.

“Did you know about this?! What the f*ck is wrong with you?!”

“When were you going to tell us the truth? This is pirate behavior!”

“How can Justice permit this to happen?! They hadn't even attacked us!”

Reporters begin scribbling furiously; miles away, 'Big News' Morgans's eyes are locked on the den den unwaveringly, furiously scribbling away at the notepad in his hands. No matter how graphic the images shown, he didn't so much as blink; news this big needed to be reported word for word, for the whole world to hear.

His minions could report on the riots that would break out upon viewing these images. The biggest ones were on Fishman Island, after all; it wasn't like he could get down there easily.

“All of this was to a single end... having our top scientists recreate Lunarians artificially, to serve as our soldiers and enforcers.”

+ _ + _

The deck of the Red Force was deathly quiet as they took this information in. They were currently resting close to Newgate's territory, having started making their way towards Marineford in hopes of putting a stop to the war that was going to happen, when their snail suddenly woke up and began disgorging utter horror at them.

“...f*ck,” Shanks uttered after a few minutes, his eyes widening. “Kaido.”

“Huh?” Lucky Roux jumped slightly. “What about Kaido, Cap? The doctor lady hasn't said anything about him so far.”

“Kaido has the last living Lunarian on his crew as his second in command,” Shanks responded with emphasis, causing most of his crew to jolt with realization. “He's not sitting in Onigashima with a drink in hand listening to this, he's reacting to it with prejudice; and thanks to Ace's capture this is the perfect time for him to attack.”

Benn Beckman blanched and hit his palm against his forehead, swearing. “Helluva sense of timing this woman has!” He said.

“...I think that was the point,” Shanks breathed, turning his attention back to the screen.

“Project Seraphim was the brain child of Doctor Vegapunk, in hopes of giving most of the world protection from pirates and other raiders.” Delia continued. “He hadn't been involved with the experimenting at all, though he's accepted the results of it without asking nearly enough questions. The children will be clones with DNA infused from a Lunarian 'parent' from beyond the grave. The other half...? The other half was taken from the Seven Warlords of the Sea.”

She plucked a packet of paper from within her files and turned them toward the snail, shifting the two packets so their images were displayed for the world. Shanks's eyes widened when he saw Mihawk's picture along with Jinbe's.

“Is she serious?” Yassop squawked.

“Holy sh*t, Hawkeye is gonna be so pissed...!” Rockstar wheezed. “He's at Marineford right now, isn't he? Holy sh*t, that island is gonna get chopped in half. The old man won't have to even lift a finger!”

“This choice was to ensure the future Seraphim had the greatest strength possible,” Delia explained after a long and meaningful pause for her statement to sink in.

She didn't look like she was enjoying herself at all, but there's a dark flare of satisfaction in her solemn blue eyes. “Vegapunk referred to a phenomenon he called 'genetic memory' when speaking on the project; there's a connection between clones and their counterparts that goes so deep, they gain more than just their appearance. They gain their skills and abilities as well. The children were also given cybernetic enhancements to push their power even further – to make them 'perfected' versions of the originals.”

Shanks twitched slightly. Oh yeah; Mihawk was not going to take that well. Nika, there was a tiny version of Hawky locked up in a lab somewhere?! Shock and anger coiled in his stomach, threatening to upend his self control; he tamps it down with some effort.

“The children would be considered combat ready in two years.” Delia said. “They would be only seven years old at that point.” Shanks's eyes widened. “No, the government doesn't see anything wrong with that. They would be perfect pirate killers, that's all that matters. They want a 'test run' before they attempt 'mass production', like they have with the Pacifista.”

Benn slowly turned towards his captain. “Shanks,” he said quietly. When things were really serious, he always called him by his name rather than 'Captain'. “What do we do?”

Shanks tapped his foot on the deck, his mind swirling. This changed things. He'd come this far with the intent of being a peacekeeper, but the revelation and its consequences changed the face of everything that was happening. His own feelings of disgust toward the World Government, however powerful, couldn't be the only thing he acted on. He reluctantly forced himself to consider how people would be moving in immediate response to this, and consequences thereof.

“Vegapunk is in charge of the project,” Shanks thought aloud. “That must mean the Seraphim – and Kaido – are at Egghead right now.” His deep disquiet entered his voice when he realized what had to be done. “Taking the Seraphim would require prying them out of King's cold, dead hands, and he has a bigger claim to them than anyone except maybe Hawky and the others. I don't particularly want to separate them.”

Even if it meant the children would join the Beast Pirates, King was the last Lunarian. They were his family as much as they were to each of the warlords. He would fight to the bitter death before he let anyone take them from him.

“That said,” Shanks said darkly, “we can't let Kaido walk off with Vegapunk himself.”

He didn't have to denote the consequences of that out loud; his crew grasped the dangers right away.

Benn nodded sharply in understanding. “We'll set a course immediately.” He said. “What about the old man and Ace?”

Shanks grimaced. He didn't want to turn his back on his captain's son, but he had to trust that Whitebeard would be able to take advantage of the situation and retrieve him without extra help. “The Marines can't ignore Kaido's attack on their scientists,” He said. “If they're smart, they'll give Ace back to Newgate and haul ass to Egghead.”

The Navy was not strong enough to fight two Emperors at once, and they damn well knew it.

“I learned of this a while ago,” Delia said. “And finally I decided that I couldn't ignore it.”

Sengoku stared blearily in the direction of the snail. He'd slowly rolled back into consciousness at the sound of her voice, along with a whole lot of panicked and angry yelling from marines all around him. Having been just resuscitated, he didn't have the strength at the moment to do anything but listen to this woman blow the whistle in dumbfounded horror.

The doctor sighed. “Now I can only imagine what you're thinking... Surridge, why, in the name of God, did you participate in this abomination in the first place?”

Delia was silent for a moment, biting her bottom lip. “They told me it was for justice.” She said. A dull chuckle escaped her lips. “Sounds stupid, I know, but they drive this into you relentlessly once you join up. I was eighteen; my home had been sacked by pirates three separate times and my brother died in the last one. They told me this project would save people, they told me the Lunarians had volunteered for the experiments, they told me that through this sacrifice of our morals and our sanity and our soul we'd be able to break the Great Pirate Era. Make people safe.

Sengoku remembered giving a variant of that exact speech to the Navy when he laid out his plans for Portgas's execution and crushing Whitebeard. It had tasted like pride, like he was finally giving them a path to victory after they'd been struggling futilely against the era Roger created for so long. He'd believed it would be a new era.

Delia's smile cracked into something broken. “I believed it.” She confessed with pain in her voice. “I wanted to believe it so badly that I swallowed every excuse they gave me and closed my ears to the suffering we were inflicting. I wanted a world where I didn't have to be afraid of who the tides brought in to exist so desperately I let them turn me into one of their monsters of Absolute Justice. I believed it as my test subjects died painfully one after another, until I finally couldn't lie to myself anymore.”

She buried her face in her hands, red hair covering her face. Her breath rattled in her lungs as she fought to keep her composure. It all became visible from beneath her stoicism – the guilt that had eaten away at her for decades, finally given vent by her extended confession.

Her ghostly gaze was more intense than ever.

“One Lunarian survived.” She whispered. “My final 'patient'. He survived everything we inflicted on him until finally our facility was raided by pirates, and he was able to escape in the chaos. When everything became clear to me, I knew that I had to get these children back to him. Don't worry about them; they'll be safe with him and his captain. He'll defend them with everything he has. It was the only path to saving those kids from a fate worse than death...”

“You... you...!” Sengoku hissed through his oxygen mask, trying to sit up despite the doctors barking at him and shoving him down by the shoulders. “Why?! You feel so much guilt for this, yet you would gladly become the woman who destroyed the world?! Don't you know what you've done, giving those weapons to Kaido?! He will bring blood and ruin upon all the islands we would have been able to protect with them! How many more people will die because of you now?!”

He couldn't understand it. She could have joined the Revolution, she could have tried to spread the world through contacts in the black market, she had other options than King and Kaido, surely. Did she think King would be satisfied simply by retrieving the last living remnants of his people, that he wouldn't seek revenge for the deaths he witnessed? His grief and rage would roll over the world and Kaido would happily stoke the fires, goad his otherwise calm and pragmatic second in command into a bloody frenzy akin to the rest of the monsters under his control.

“Your solution to the dead haunting you was to fill that graveyard to overflowing?!” He remembered ordering the Buster Call that destroyed Ohara; the long, sleepless night he's spent before hand, spending hours arguing with himself and convincing his stubborn brain that yes, there were no other alternatives he could turn to. If he didn't authorize it, he'd be replaced by someone who would, and he wouldn't even be able to slow it down.

Could he have left the way Dragon did? Zephyr had been so proud of his student, even after he abandoned them. Said that his sense of justice being that unbending meant that whatever he did, he would be a positive force in the world.

“Do the Seraphim deserve peace and happiness more than everyone else in the world?! There's seven of them! Seven!” They were supposed to be guardians. The Navy was hard pressed by the Four Emperors and what they represented, if at any moment any of them decided to make an alliance. There were always reports of pirate raids and the deaths caused by them because the Navy didn't have enough men, enough powerful forces to combat all their enemies. What were seven, eight lives counting Kuma, in the face of being able to save all those hundreds of thousands?

When had he become able to dismiss seven children in a lifetime of total physical and mental slavery as an easy sacrifice to make?

Was she happy with this?!

As if to answer him, Delia finished the last thing she said while he was shouting uselessly and snorted. “I'm not asking for forgiveness or claiming to be justified in what I've chosen to destroy. How can I? Myself, the Navy, and the World Government committed genocide. NOTHING WE DO WILL EVER BE JUSTIFIED!”

The last statement is screamed, scalding against Sengoku's skin. “Justice is a word that has been poisoned to its core!” Delia raged passionately, slamming her hands on the desk and standing up. “The word no longer means what is right and good, it's a hollow shell used as an excuse to commit massacre upon massacre and call yourself a hero for soaking your hands in blood. The rallying cry of a bloated, greedy tyranny run by the delusional. In the name of justice?! If you ever had good intentions, you fell down the slippery slope so long ago you don't even remember what it feels like for your feet to touch the ground.”

Her hands balled into fists. “This is the last thing I could do, the only good I could do for the children who would have been slaves because of me. Now, old friends, we're going exactly where we belong – to hell, to burn for all eternity.”

She bared her teeth in madness and despair. Sengoku felt like she was looking directly at him, her stare burning into his soul. “Come find me when you get there.” She grabbed the receiver and slammed it back on its receiver, cutting the feed at long last.

Shaka grimaced when Vegapunk stumbled over his feet again. His other self was breathing heavily, despite him carrying him as often as he could as they fought to give Who's Who the slip. But it wasn't exhaustion that was tripping him up at this point. “I should have known,” Vegapunk lamented between harsh breaths as they descended deeper into the lower levels of Egghead. The Beast Pirates hadn't managed to locate all of the secret entrances yet, but Shaka wouldn't give it more than an hour before a patrol caught onto them.

“They lied to us about it.” Shaka reminded him, as if the guilt boiling in his own stomach wasn't absolute torture.

“I should have suspected as much; look at what they compelled me to do to poor Kuma.” Vegapunk said as they hurtled down a stairwell. “The children, Shaka, the children... will King treat them well? Or will he let Kaido use them?”

“They're all he has left,” Shaka responded. “Right now, we can only hope. Until we can reach our friends.”

“If we can reach them,” Vegapunk mumbled. It looked like the doctor was torn between escaping, or walking back down the pipe to find the undoubtedly vengeful Lunarian to atone for... for his terrible mistakes.

Shaka was about to try and say something to shake him out of that mindset when his headset began ringing. A spark of hope burning in his chest, the good doctor quickly lifted his hand and activated his earpiece. “Shaka here.”

“We've gotten close,” Dragon's low voice rumbled on the other end, concern in his voice. “We're on the edge of the waters, just out of view of the invaders.”

Shaka had called the Revolutionary immediately after the Beast Pirates had arrived and King furiously demanded the Seraphim's release to him along with Vegapunk 'coming quietly'. Shaka suspected that he hoped that their having cloned Lunarians meant that they could do more, and perhaps Vegapunk's goodness would have genuinely considered capitulating if King's captain had been someone other than Kaido the Beast.

He was, however, and the idea of having to devote their scientific prowess to the cruel man's ends was too awful to contemplate. So they'd refused, despite how dire their situation was, and Shaka had turned to their friend in the desperate hope that an extraction might be possible.

“A buster call has arrived, and Kaido is battling with Akainu and Kizaru.” Dragon said. “More reinforcements from the Government might be coming, if they've chosen to abandon the front with Whitebeard.”

“They can't hope to defeat him,” Shaka said bluntly. “Whitebeard will make them pay for ignoring him. But Kaido being distracted by them will buy us some time.”

“If necessary, I will enter the battle myself to make sure he doesn't take you to Wano.” Dragon promised him. “A few of my best agents will enter the island en route to spiriting you away. They'll give you the coordinates to meet them as soon as they touch down. Stay ahead of the Beast Pirates and stay out of sight until then.”

“Understood,” Shaka said, before hanging up. His pack was heavy with the all important dead man's switch, and Vegapunk was running out of energy to run, but determination kept him at flight. Despite Delia's words echoing in his ears.

Notes:

Oof! Now we're getting into the actual battles after this, so get ready to start singing the curbstomp song. This is gonna get violent. (Cackles like a madwoman)

Shanks and Dragon are aware that sh*t Is Going Down, but will they be able to move fast enough to do anything about the degenerating situation, or will Kaido /really/ walk out of this like a bandit? We shall see. Meanwhile, it's finally time to smash the World Government between the two rocks I set up!

Chapter 6

Summary:

Boa and Mihawk learn what the World Government has done to them. Whitebeard retaliates on behalf of his beloved son.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

When the broadcast had hit its midway point, Boa was just glad that she'd dropped their commandeered ship's anchor to wait for the Division Commanders.

At first she'd bore with the gruesome revelations the mysterious doctor was unloading pitilessly upon the world with grace, despite its content. Yes, her back itched violently upon confirmation that the Celestial Dragons had commanded the massacre. Yes, her skin crawled with so many bad memories as Surridge elaborated on the slaughter and the experimentation that followed, made those days threaten to bubble up and take over her vision while in Ace's presence. But she was an Empress, by the gods, she would not crumble before any avalanche of horror. She kept her back straight and her purpose firmly in mind and focused on how this bold broadcast would add to the whirlpool of destruction engulfing the Navy as a result of their folly.

She did it well. Ace was reacting more visibly to the contents of the broadcast than her, his expressive face – much like his brother's – alternating between horror and revulsion. It surprised her, to see a man other than Luffy wear his heart so openly on his sleeve. Of course, Ace was one of Newgate's top commanders and rumoured to be his chosen successor, so Boa couldn't imagine anyone who had accused him of being 'unmanly' had gotten away with it.

But then the second half of the broadcast happened, and Surridge informed Boa that she had been betrayed. Backstabbed! That the World Government had used her to create a child, her own replacement, while pretending to honour their deal to protect her home island!

They'd... used her to create a child. A copy of her, if her understanding of the word 'clone' was correct, but – a child. Surridge was very emphatic about that.

Those men had violated her to create a child.

Boa stood very still, her hand slowly drifting to her stomach. The sound of waves drifted away from her in favour of a low, droning scratching noise. A child. Taken from her... forced upon her, without her consent or even her knowledge.

Boa's understanding of childbirth was... patchy, like most residents of Amazon Lily; sex education involved describing the act of sex rather than its potential consequences. The most young girls were told is that women left the island, then came back some time later with a child in tow if said child was a girl. However, Boa had a somewhat higher understanding of the...process, than her subjects.

For a very unfortunate reason.

The men salivate over her. Every single one that approached and got a good look at her after she ate the devil fruit. Her sisters tried to subtly hide her from view whenever they had the chance, but That Man would get very angry whenever he noticed this, and violently separated them to put Boa on display for some of his parties.

She would stand in a translucent dress by dinner tables or in the middle of dance floors, and the things they would say to her – at her. Some had been so taken, so obsessed, that they begged That Man to allow them to buy her, because they couldn't imagine having another woman as a wife. He mocked them for wanting to have children with a non-divine.

It didn't grate on him enough to stop the evening section of the parties.

Nausea swelled up in her stomach. Boa leaned heavily on the helm, pale and drawn, as a familiar episode seized her in an instant. Her stomach heaved and her hands started to shake. She scrambled through her memory, trying to recall when, when did they do this to her? She'd never let any of those men touch her, when had they gotten the chance to try and have their way with her?! Nothing came to her as suspicious. Nothing. Except -

The doctor's appointments. Boa had suffered precisely two of them, mostly because the Navy had been ever so insistent that they were mandatory to their agreement being upheld. She hadn't permitted them to draw more than a little blood from her, but what if they'd done something else? Something she couldn't remember?

Boa shuddered and began to dry heave. She could almost feel hands on her skin, grabbing at her and her clothes, and even Salome winding around her shoulders to nuzzle her hair couldn't bring her out of it. If anything, that gentle pressure only skyrocketed her anxiety.

Get off me get off me get off me-

There's a voice prodding at her, trying to make its way through the howling wind in her ears. Boa squeezed her eyes shut and focused with all her might on staying upright, at not throwing up her guts as her visceral panic and disgust burned a hole through her chest.

Then a hand touched her shoulder.

Her reaction was immediate and instinctive; she grabbed the offender's throat and slammed them into the railing, eyes full of unseeing rage. A strangled yelp reached her ears, and then-

It was like the sun rising.

Conqueror's Haki pushed all thoughts from your mind except for the pressure of the King before you; those without the most powerful of wills were so crushed beneath it and were driven into unconsciousness, while even those strong opponents often buckled. If the wielder was fairly practiced with their Haki, they could refrain from using its full power and just nudge the minds of those around them to command their attention or shake them out of a rant.

Ace's Haki washed over Boa, warm like the sun, and it burned away those awful phantom touches along with the lewd voices and everything else. She blinked rapidly as the panic grabbing onto her mind was flushed away, her attention inextricably demanded by the young man... who she had violently pinned to the railing with one hand around his throat.

“Ah...” Boa flushed, mortified. She'd completely forgotten in that moment that Ace was here with her. Prying her fingers off of his throat, she took a shaky step backwards. “I-It's rude to startle a woman like that,” she said with as much loftiness as she could muster. She's pleased that her voice doesn't tremble.

Ace straightened up, rubbing his throat. He was looking at her with... compassion. It made him look exactly like Luffy. “Sorry.” He said sincerely. “I kept trying to talk to you, but you were – you didn't seem to hear me even when I was right next to you. I was getting worried.”

“There's no need for that,” Boa insisted, lifting her chin. She closed her hands so they wouldn't shake. Why's he looking at her like that? “I was just – oh, listening to that, I was so furious I could barely breathe. How dare they? How dare those filthy creatures abuse my trust like that?”

Ace shook his head. “They find new ways to surprise you every time.” He said, before uttering a weak chuckle. “Y'know... I was actually offered a Warlord position, back before I joined Pops. I was this close,” He lifted two fingers and held them very close together, “to having my own New and Improved Edition of Portgas D Ace be created right under my nose. This time with wings!”

Ace then tilted his head to the side. “Although it would have been pretty redundant to have both natural fire powers and the Mera Mera fruit. Of course the one – Seraphim? - that wouldn't be perfect would be mine. I would have screwed them over even if I'd bought what they were selling.”

Boa uttered a jerky chuckle at that; now that she wasn't in the grips of a panic, a thought occurred to her that made her brow tighten. “How would they have managed that?” She wondered. “The doctor claims that the other half of the parent couple was a dead Lunarian, but how can a corpse give birth?”

Her companion took a slight breath at that, and began to speak slowly as if choosing his words carefully. “If it helps at all,” Ace started, holding her gaze, “I don't think these kids could have been born naturally. Vegapunk must have cobbled together some really weird birthing machine, like something out of the Sora comics.”

Boa put a hand on her stomach again, subconsciously. “You're certain?” She asked most certainly not hopefully.

Ace nodded firmly. “Yeah. Every warlord except you is a guy, after all, so even if they thought they could get away with violating your womb without you very quickly catching on and killing them, they would need – artificial ones, I guess.” The ravenette shrugged helplessly. “No idea how the hell Vegapunk pulled that off, but he's Vegapunk. Guy can apparently do just about anything.”

They didn't violate her. Or – they did, but not physically. Boa let out a heavy breath of sheer relief that almost made her go limp. That's why she didn't have memories of being attacked, she hadn't been. Good. That's very, very good. Her fear and horror was sublimated underneath a wave of absolute rage and indignation.

“Vegapunk is going to be introduced to the bottom of my high heeled shoes!” Boa declared, gritting her teeth. “How dare he do this to me?! Not only create a child from my body, but withholding that child from me! Who does that cretin think he is?!” She stomped her foot hard on the wooden deck.

She had a child! Oh, she needed to tell Luffy about this as soon as possible. He would make a wonderful father, she was confident in it. Her sisters needed to know too – they were aunts now! The little princess needed to be introduced to Amazon Lily with all due respect.

Once – once she'd wrapped her head around matters and prepared herself to meet the child. The child that had been created without her consent by the men who licked the boots of those who had made her and her sisters slaves.

Ah...

The moment Boa rolled those two thoughts around in her brain, she was immediately appraised by two conflicting emotions – one being deep alarm and disquiet at the thought of meeting this, this Frankenstein of a child who had been conceived to replace her. It was almost a fearful concept! Seeing her face staring at her from a cobbled together body born to be a weapon, a dead man's blood flowing through her veins... visceral disgust and anxiety swirled within her stomach.

But the other thought, the other feeling that countered this troubled imagination, was a sense of...proprietary? The feeling was difficult for Boa to put to words; she'd never experienced it before. She tried to imagine what the child would look like, imagined her reaching for her and laughing and calling her mama. A warmth bubbled up in her; squeezed her chest and made her feel light.

“I'd say he's oblivious, but that feels a bit too kind at the moment.” Ace said, still looking at her with that odd expression. “It sounds like Kaido is in the process of grabbing the kids right now... unless something really weird happens, they'll be in Wano before the end of tomorrow.”

That brought Boa up short. Her conflicted feelings about her clone/child were briefly set aside as that statement sunk in. Kaido had the girl. Kaido! A brute, monster and vicious demon that ruled with an iron fist. “I thought the doctor said that the last Lunarian was going to retrieve them!” She protested indignantly.

“Yeah, well... I'm pretty sure she was referring to King. Meaning Kaido's kind of a package deal with him,” Ace said, surprising her.

“King?!” She repeated. Of course she was aware of the various Emperor's most powerful subordinates, but she hadn't thought...

Ace nodded. “When she started describing Lunarian characteristics, I realized – I've been to Wano once before, got in and out under Kaido's nose, and I saw King a few times. I didn't think much about it at the time, but he had both black wings and fire generation. He wore full body armour despite being an Ancient Zoan user and not needing that extra durability...” The ravenette's brow tightened, a briefly troubled look crossing his face. “But it must have been meant to hide his skin tone and white hair.”

...Well. Boa could...understand that. The feeling of empathizing with a man not named Luffy was jarring. “He can't claim sole parentage of that girl,” she said nevertheless. “She's born from me! He cannot withhold her from me.”

Ace grinned wryly. “I think you're gonna have to take that up with him in person,” he said. “Kaido's not likely to grant a custody hearing.”

The sheer ridiculousness of that image – Kaido sitting in a tiny desk with a notepad, listening patiently while two parents on either side of them were arguing at the top of their lungs – caused Boa to unexpectedly wheeze with laughter. Ace's smile widened a little.

“Are you okay?” He asked her.

The question caught her off guard as her chuckles subsided. “Pardon?” Boa responded, wanting to know if she'd heard him correctly.

“That's a hell of a thing to find out over a broadcast,” Ace responded simply. “Are you okay?”

Boa's mouth opened and closed without sound coming out, and she stared at him for a second before gathering her wits to respond. A jolt of warmth bubbled in her chest. “I'm furious, and I'm confused, but it will take more than this to put me on the back foot.” She declared fiercely.

Ace looked a little relieved at that. “You're a scary woman,” he said sincerely. “I think I'd be having a bit of an episode if I was in your shoes.” A whole kaleidoscope of emotions flashed through his eyes after he said that, showing that the response was more than just a platitude. He was genuinely disturbed.

“Of course I am,” Boa said firmly. Then, a bit more awkwardly, she found herself following that up saying “I do ap – is your throat alright?” She flushed a little. That was not what Luffy would have said, but showing contrition was not something she had experience with.

Yet the stumbling attempt at an apology was accepted after half a second; Ace waved a hand dismissively. “Yeah, don't worry about it. After the last few days, I barely felt it.”

Boa relaxed a little; she was about to ask something else when the musical cry of a certain zoan pierced through the quiet air. She looked up and saw the blue flames of Phoenix Marco circling the sky above them; Ace rocked back on his heels and fired a burst of fire upward to indicate that yes, this was them. Boa promptly walked backward to the edge of the bridge, out of the way, as the Division Commander descended to the deck.

Two men hopped off of his back, Izo in his elegant kimono and Jozu with arms already hardened into diamond in anticipation of a battle. Marco shapeshifted back to full human form and rocketed towards Ace, grabbing him by the shoulders and looking him up and down rapidly. “Damn it, Ace, you look like hell.” The doctor complained, one hand cupping the back of the younger man's head. “You're sure it's just your ribs?”

“M-Marco...” Ace mumbled, melting from a confident young man to an almost timid child in the face of this aggressive concern. “I...”

That hand immediately covers his mouth. “If you're about to say anything other than to tell me where else you're hurt, don't,” Marco said heatedly. Boa excused herself to haul up the anchor. “Bloody hell, I want to cook Magellan alive in a pot of boiling oil. Are there any points of concern besides your back and your ribs?”

Ace shook his head, eyes still wide. “Right. Sit on the railing, I'm gonna patch you up.” Marco said briskly.

Boa observed them out of the corner of her eye as she worked; Izo and Jozu were getting set up in the rigging and by the rudder while Marco fussed over their wayward brother. She hadn't known that the Phoenix fruit's flames could heal as well as burn attackers; curious. She wouldn't have been able to guess as much without clues.

As soon as Marco has healed Ace to his satisfaction, he pulled the ravenette into a crushing hug. “You can't worry us like this, firebrand.” The blonde half complained, half pleaded as he held Ace tightly. “You can't. I'm too young for my hair to be going grey already!”

“I... I can't believe you came,” Ace mumbled, almost to himself.

However, he didn't say it quite quietly enough. Marco made a choked noise and pulled back enough to stare at him. “I – what?!” He sputtered, stunned. “Of course we were coming! Why in the hell did you think we weren't?”

“Wha – because this is all my fault!” Ace protested, an edge of pained emotion in his voice. “I-”

“No, this is Teach's fault for killing Thatch and betraying us,” Marco retorted, flabbergasted. He shook Ace by his shoulders. “Don't you know?! Don't you understand?! You're our brother! We love you, and when you're in danger we will ALWAYS come for you, no matter WHO we have to destroy to get to you! All of us! Always!”

He grabbed Ace's cheeks in his hands. “Do you think I've never flown off and done something Pops told me not too? He could tell you some stories that would make me want to melt into the deck in embarrassment. Izo introduced himself to Pops threatening to kill him for making Oden trail behind the Moby Dick by the anchor! Our family doesn't abandon one of our own. We forgave you for disobeying months ago.”

Ace's eyes well up with tears. Marco sighed and tugged on his cheeks the way older brothers were wont to. “If you keep saying we shouldn't have come or that you don't deserve our love, we're going to give your share of the meat at the celebration party to Luffy,” he threatened blandly. “If he eats half as much as you say-”

“I get it, I get it!” Ace squeaked. He was definitely crying now, a shaky smile on his lips, and Boa awkwardly looked away – feeling like a voyeur. “I – we can get there fast, right?”

“Of course.” Marco scoffed. “We just need to move a few degrees to the west. Pops is going to start on the gates in a moment, so we can get through to the prison while he handles Marineford.”

“Start on the gates?” Ace parroted. Marco just grinned at him and let go, walking over in Boa's direction. “What do you mean, 'start' on? Marco!”

Marco chuckled a little before pausing a polite distance away from her. Boa lifted her head and stared. “Empress Hanco*ck,” He said with just enough respect to not be deferential. “Thank you, for springing Ace and protecting him for being used as a hostage. Our crew owes you a debt.”

“I had my reasons,” Boa responded. “I found the possibility to be mutually beneficial to us; though I would speak directly to your father about the particulars.”

Marco grinned knowingly. “As you wish.” He said in response.

Betrayal.

It was a unique kind of wound. The way it lingered. The way it festered. How it would flare up long after it should have been healed and forgotten. It cut into you better than most physical weapons could ever dream to.

Mihawk had tasted its blade once, and it had drained the colour out of the world. It had driven him to reluctantly take the warlord role the Marines – of all hateful organizations – had been badgering him with, just so he could be left alone.

He'd kept his end of the bargain with professional courtesy, with his only push-back being his willingness to go incommunicado at his leisure. He'd appeared for a war he had no stake in and that he saw no purpose for fully intent of fighting for their cause, perhaps solely because he wanted to see what would become of the world when the battle shook it to its core.

Oh, the world was being shaken, all right. Mihawk had been listening in disgusted silence to the broadcast revealing the World Government's older genocide when out of nowhere, Doctor Surridge informed him that he'd been betrayed.

Again.

A clone. A copy of himself, a child. His son, in a roundabout way, because the clone hadn't stepped out of whatever creation build it fully formed and aged as a perfect mimicry of him. A five year old child, born in a lab with the bloody inheritance of a murdered woman mixing with Mihawk's own being given unwittingly.

He hadn't given a thought to having a family before. The vulnerability and emotion tied to such a thing made him hold the very idea at arms length at the best of times.

You are my weakness,” he remembered telling That Person all too clearly. “Forgive the somewhat crude metaphor, but... the greatest swordsman must be without fear. I've never been afraid before I met you, for I never had anything I was desperate not to lose. Now... I do.”

Mihawk turned around and started walking through the crowd of Marines. They cleared before him like a Sea King was in their midst, and those who didn't collapsed unconscious on the ground. His Conquerors was leaking out, evidently.

There was a crumpled, bloodstained Marine ID in That Person's pocket with a ring taped to it. He stared at it as That Person bled out in his arms; it should have helped him comprehend the betrayal, but it didn't – not when the sea stone harpoon meant for him was buried in their flesh. That Person's last words, after everything, were still...

His jaw was tight. Not much got his blood pumping these days, but his cold, stunned disbelief was slowly rising into rage. How had they managed to create this clone, this child? Vegapunk could do almost anything, but when and how could they have stolen what they needed from him to birth a living being? His pace picked up, the faint buzz of his thoughts at the back of his mind as his feet guided him directly to where the leadership of the Marines was standing – such as it was, at the moment.

Sengoku had yet to be cleared by medical, and with Akainu and Kizaru gone to Egghead, only Aokiji and Garp were sitting on the throne-like chairs before the scaffold. It was almost a joke, how obvious it was that things had gone terribly wrong for them just at that sight alone.

Mihawk stormed to the foot of the chairs and drew Yoru in one smooth movement. Aokiji leapt to his feet in alarm while Garp's expression was nothing but pure resignation. “You,” he hissed. “You have five seconds to tell me if this is true.”

“It is,” Garp sighed heavily, saving a tiny bit of respect for him in Mihawk's eyes. “Will you believe me if I said that I only found out about this now, too?”

“I don't particularly care,” Mihawk seethed. “I never broke my end of the contract with you, and you respond by violating me along with the dead woman they dug out of their mass grave?”

“You're out of line, Warlord,” Aokiji responded in perfect Marine drone, infuriating him further.

Out of line?” Mihawk spat, whirling on him. “Is that supposed to be a joke? I suppose this doesn't mean much to you; you weren't the one forced for a child without knowing. A child you meant to be a living weapon with obedience wired into his skull – a child that's been handed directly to Kaido!”

A son, in a sense. He wondered if the boy carried any hint of his...mother...aside from wings, flames and colouring. That old wound is burning, reopened and doused in sea salt for good measure. The navy hadn't meant anything like what That Person did to him, but the sheer enormity of what they'd done to backstab him outweighed that aspect entirely.

He hadn't felt this alive in a long time... what a way to be pulled out of the shallow grave he'd grown familiar with.

Moria started to giggle. Mihawk hadn't noticed that one of the Warlords had followed him, nor did he care one way or another, but the particular tone of that laughter was enough to make him pay the man some attention.

“Hehe...hehehehe...” Moria giggled uncontrollably, then slammed both his hands into his face and began clawing at it. “A copy of me... is in Kaido's hands,” The man said mirthlessly, his eyes wide and staring at an unseen point. “Kaido has my clone... Kaido has... Kaido...!” His laughter erupted into a full scale cackling, loud and heaving with him struggling to breathe between gasps.

His eyes rolled up slightly into his head before giving Aokiji a look of deranged, mirthless amusem*nt. “Hahahahahaha! A better version of me?! A superior version of me?! I'm too weak, am I?! Too pathetic to be considered more than a bug, too weak to save my crew, too weak to stop you from walking all over me and discarding me when you're done with me?! Hahahahahahaha!” Moria pounded the ground with his fist, shadows leaking out of every part of him – his hands, his feet, even his eyes. Mihawk exuded a degree of outward haki, keeping the shadows away from his own as they spilled out across the ground.

“Kaido has the better version of me, does he?!” Moria laughed like a demon out of hell as Aokiji pointed warningly at him, frost covering his body up to his shoulders. Garp got to his feet too, alarm mixing into his resignation. “He has little me?! Then I guess I'll have to go and take him out of his cold, dead hands!”

For a second he stopped laughing, his eyes rolling up in his head fully as the shadows all froze in place. Mihawk twitched, because he knew what a devil fruit Awakening looked like by now, and relaxed to be light on his feet.

Moria's eyes snapped back into focus and he gave Aokiji a deranged grin. “Right after I finish with all of you!” He bellowed.

“Ice Age!”

Mihawk brought Yoru down in a perfect, violent swing. It crashed through the wave of ice Aokiji sent at them, obliterating it into a miniature storm of ice flakes. Moria's shadow then swelled to titanic side, pouring into the plaza where the main force of Marines were standing. People started screaming as his shadow swallowed theirs, tearing them violently free of their counterparts with only the utterly overcast day preventing them from being incinerated on the spot. Somewhere behind them, Doflamingo chuckled and used his strings to haul himself out of position and move to a vantage point where his shadow was well out of the way of the attack.

Mihawk swung again and slashed Aokiji's body in half, scattering the logia into several parts and forcing him to reform further down the platform. Garp jumped down and threw a punch to give his underling time, Yoru clashing against his legendary fists with an impact shockwave that crumbled stone around them and cracked the ground open.

Fine. He wasn't planning to hold back anyway. Either he'll kill Garp or Aokiji before he leaves and starts planning on how to get to Wano to see the child created from him. The head of one upper-ranked Marine would do to make his point, and Sengoku wasn't in easy reach.

Mihawk knocked Garp's fist aside and unleashed a flurry of slashes, faster than the eye could see, and sliced the upper platform of Marineford in half. Aokiji's ice flooded through the cracks, attempting to lock his feet in ice, but Mihawk sensed it coming and leapt out of the way easily. Winding up a bit, he used a ranged attack to split Aokiji's follow up and force Garp to move from the crumbling ground to somewhere more stable.

More screaming came from the plaza below. Two of the giants in Mihawk's peripheral vision fell to the ground with blood streaming from their necks; shadow vines crawled up their bodies and promptly reianimated them in mere seconds – faster than before for the shadow user, if his memory is correct. The giant corpse puppets began attacking their others, kicking their human counterparts into the water dozens of yards away and shattering their bodies in the process. When Marines began stampeding away from them they turned to lunging on their fellow giants, attacking like feral, rabid animals – twitching and foaming at the mouth included. A reflection of Moria's mental state, given that the man was screaming and cursing in incoherent rage.

Doflamingo, not to be left out, attacked Aokiji from behind with his strings. The man wasn't cackling like Moria, but his haki was screaming that he considered this Christmas come early for him. He wasn't using all of them to tie up the Admiral either; he spread his strings through the crowd and latched them onto multiple vice admirals, making them attack their underlings and break down communication.

Mihawk deflected Garp's next attack and dodged the follow up. He wasn't as much interested in Garp's head as he was Sengoku or Aokiji's, but he accepted that he'd have to knock the man aside to get to them. Pondering this for a second, he glanced at the nearest canon tower and swung sharply at the base. Instantly severed from its support, the tower began crumbling into the plaza.

Garp, the only true Marine to call himself such, immediately ran to rescue the men pinned below it. Mihawk let him go and refocused on Aokiji, who'd frozen and snapped Doflamingo's strings after a few seconds of the warlord choking him viciously. The man looked out across the bay, where their forces were collapsing in on themselves trying to handle the sudden attack by the Warlords, and briefly had an expression almost like despair.

And then the world cracked.

Mihawk hadn't been on the wrong end of a fight with Edward Newgate before, but he had been around to see them. He knew the exact sound of the Tremor-Tremor fruit triggering a quake, and the sheer force of that sound made him stop what he was doing immediately.

The island began to shake. Slowly at first, but it picked up fast – Mihawk's Observation began absolutely screaming at him. It took him straight into the immediate future – where Marineford, the very island itself, was being shattered apart in an event ripped straight from a biblical text.

Instantly the World's Greatest Swordsman pivoted and ran for the docks, carving his way through the ice and few who dared try to stop them. Beheading Marines could wait until after Newgate had his say; the other half of his mission required him to be alive. He reached his boat in a few leaps, his haki noting that Moria and Doflamingo both realized that they needed to bolt as well, and kicked the engine into top gear.

A son. A boy made from him.

Maybe he should travel past the Moby. Newgate was bound to be a fountain of advice on the matter, given how enormous his family was.

Edward Newgate knew perfectly well that, theoretically, he could destroy the world. He'd always known that. He just considered the idea of doing so absolutely laughable, and was annoyed when the Marines occasionally bleated they needed to kill him to prevent the possibility.

Where would his sons and daughters live if he destroyed the world? His protectorates? His home was part of the world, and he intended for it to live and thrive, not vanish beneath the waves thanks to him punching the planet's core.

He also, generally speaking, disliked the idea of destroying islands. The world was a beautiful place, and his anger was usually tied to specific people – not places.

But Marineford is unique. Its a symbol of the Navy, who dared to take his precious son for execution. He'd been more than prepared to wade into the trap that Sengoku had prepared for him there to bring Ace safely home, but in a twist of fate, he hadn't needed to.

It wasn't a wholly fortuitous one. Kaido didn't need help from Vegapunk. Newgate loathed the idea of that man, the butcher who murdered his little brother, getting more powerful than he already was. His wholehearted empathy for King and the hell that man must be going through at the discovery of the so called Seraphim very much aside, Newgate knew he couldn't permit this. There would be great battles ahead because of the Navy's folly on top of their evil deeds against the Lunarians.

If they had given him Ace back, he would have settled for a much more minor attack in retaliation, giving them time to go and attempt to drive his former crewmate off. But they hadn't, because even the probable future of Kaido with Vegapunk at his command wasn't enough to make them relent on butchering Ace for being Roger's son by blood.

Roger, you could have asked me to look after Rouge and Ace, Newgate thought from time to time with no small amount of exasperation. I would have groused, complained and lectured you for leaving a wife and child behind, but I would have taken them in, my old friend. Perhaps Roger had considered him, but they'd been too far apart for him to have time to get to a meeting place. He couldn't know until he saw the careless, impulsive lunatic again.

But this was a side thought. He'd taken Ace in, he was his son, and with young Hanco*ck having unexpectedly given him such great assistance in taking his reckless boy to safety, he can send a message to the Navy and their Masters that won't ever be forgotten.

Newgate drew his fists back, drawing deep into his Devil Fruit power. The water around the Moby rumbles, little waves jostling the ship as if Mother Ocean was shivering in anticipation for her Earthshaker's act of revenge.

“Try and kill my son, will you?” Newgate snarled. “His bloodline has to be erased? That's not your decision to make. You will never endanger him again!”

He took all that power and unleashed it directly forward, straight towards Marineford, full force. The world cracked with the force of his will, and the air was full of cacophonous noise.

Notes:

You know, I've yet to read a story where Pops sinks Marineford with a quake fully? Without Ace being there to stop him, it crept into my mind - why not write it? (grins like a demon) Don't worry about Mihawk or Kuma, they'll be able to get to safety.

Boa reacted pretty badly to the child reveal, but I felt that was pretty necessary given what's implied by her backstory. She'll get her head around the concept in time, but she really did need Ace's help to come out of an episode there. Ace can really be a sweetie when he's worried about you!

Next time, the minions of the navy get smashed physically by the consequences of their actions. Ooooh, it's gonna be so fun! Plus, Luffy appears!

Chapter 7

Summary:

King deals with CP agents, a rebellious kid, and something unexpected. Luffy gets out of Impel Down.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

King shifted out of his Pteranodon form as the CP agent's body twitched slightly, blood bubbling in their throat, before they slumped dead in the impact crater. Exhaling, he pivoted and frowned down at the ruffled Seraphim behind him, who made a face right back.

“I could have handled him,” S-Crocodile insisted, his wings puffing up in an effort to make himself look bigger. It was probably supposed to look intimidating, not strangely cute – there was a thought that hadn't entered King's head about someone in many years! - and the older Lunarian tried to reign in his angry concern.

“Go back to the medical room,” King said in exasperation, pointing his sword back down the hallway. “It's not safe out here!”

After he'd taken care of the first CP unit, he'd ordered York to work faster and exited the room in order to hunt down all the others who'd made it into the building. The sounds of the battle going on outside were much louder and more consequential now; the island was rumbling and he could sense Kaido's presence much closer than he'd been when he'd been cleaning up the remains of the island's defenses. When King had stretched out his Observation Haki, he'd realized that almost a dozen agents had entered the building where the children were being released from their orders.

They were CP0. King shouldn't have been surprised, though he was still furious and wary as he rushed through the hallways of the science building tracking them down. That unit answered only to the Celestial Dragons and the Elder Stars. They didn't want to lose their investment. The weapons they'd wanted to build out of all those corpses he'd seen them make of his people.

An image entered his mind, unbidden, of Joker's clone and his clumsiness. That little quirk being erased underneath thousands of lines of programming, reducing him to the same dull empty shell as the Pacifistas King had fought on his way to finding them.

His flames flared and burned through the whole room he'd been standing in – smoking out his then-current target as a byproduct.

What he hadn't expected, and was currently struggling to deal with, was the sudden appearance in his peripheral vision of one of the children fighting a CP agent who had circled around in hopes of catching him by surprise while he was preoccupied fighting.

The jolt of panic nearly made his sword slip. That hadn't happened to King in years, and he couldn't explain the slip up. In a rush, he'd put his sword away and transformed, overpowering his enemy with sheer brute force. After crashing through a medical tube and crushing his opponent's throat, King whirled to go and deal with the other. It was difficult to fly in such tight quarters, so he... didn't, really. He threw himself through the wall right onto the CP Agent mid-attempt to use some sort of electric weapon on Crocodile's little clone.

“If you expected me to take orders, you shouldn't have had the command codes removed.” S-Crocodile fired back.

“That isn't a command, that's me expecting you to show a little common sense!” King said, resisting the urge to bat his wings in frustration. It would look too much like a threat.

“I can handle this!” S Crocodile responded, shoving one hand out to the side. The room rumbled and dusty sand rose from the ground; the tiny fragments of obliterated metal, powdered glass scattered about by the battle shaking the island. “I was born for battle.”

King's fingers twitched, stress tightening his muscles at the words. The boy saw himself as a weapon, even independent of commands. He knew it might not be as easy as releasing them from the electrical artificial impulses, but still...!

“I got my command codes flushed out right after S-Flamingo – after Glasses did,” S-Crocodile said, stumbling a little as he corrected himself on using the designation. “So it's not like I'm going to be a liability.”

“You are a child,” King repeated, trying to put his mixed up emotions into words. “Let me protect you. CP0 has been briefed on how to bypass our bursts of invulnerability, they will use that against you.”

The boy scowled even harder at him. “I refuse to have no say in my fate, not now that I can actually influence it,” he said heatedly. One hand clenched into a fist. “Unless you cut my legs off, I'm following after you. You left your back open and you're trying to send me away? Don't be foolish.”

King's eye twitched, and he pressed one hand against his face. In the back of his mind, he couldn't help but observe that Ulti would like this sort of hardheaded attitude; it's almost just like the things she'd said as a child. “Ngh...” He was tempted to try and knock the boy out and carry him back to the hospital room, but – no. “It's been a very long time since I let someone talk to me like that-”

His Observation Haki shivered again, a vision flickering by quickly. This CP agent had a small tank of very flammable gas on him. The explosion – if he wasn't careful – would take out every wall straight to the edge of the building. Too much of a risk of drawing Kizaru straight to them. “Stay right at my side,” King instructed as he drew his sword again. “We have to go back and around.”

The boy blinked, then looked mildly pleased, and thankfully obeyed him as King retreated. The agent had cracked the canister open already and was slowly polluting the hallway with the gas as he approached. It could sicken them or cause hallucinations if it's powerful enough, King thought as he speedwalked forward. Assuming it has more than one purpose... I need to take him out and blow out the gas before it starts spilling up the stairwell.

The medical room was directly above him, now.

“No flames now,” He said.

S Crocodile snorted, the stars in his eyes shivering as he ran a route of attack through his cybernetics. “Right,” he muttered. His sand swirled around his arms like a pair of gauntlets, ready and waiting on retainer.

If King had been tense before, somehow having Crocodile's little clone at his side in the middle of this intensified it so it was ever so subtly sickening. The new emotions being thrown at him one after another are distracting; with purpose and long practice he pushes them to the back of his mind, but he just can't be rid of them. Of course the boy wouldn't go back. The others had better stay put, or...

Not helpful!, King told himself. Stay focused.

Taking on his swordsman discipline helped. King circled to the end of the hallway where the gas man was, gave the boy a look, and dove into the hall. The CP agent spun around before he appeared and drew his gun – sea stone bullets, no doubt – before tossing the gas canister on the floor. King deflected the first three bullets away with Kusenagi before S Crocodile's sand hissed into the hallway and surrounded the cannister, muffling its open end.

The CP Agent's eyes widened, and he shouted a series of words that were probably an override command. King followed up his attack with a series of slashes to steadily cut through his 'iron body' technique. The man lifted the gun again and King sidestepped the two bullets meant for his neck and left wing; the man moved to Shave away only to cry out on surprised pain when sand rushed up his legs and imprisoned him in place.

“That doesn't work on me anymore!” S Croc hissed, tightening his hands ruthlessly to crush the man's bones through his defensive technique. King followed that up by beheading the enemy in a smooth slash.

The boy looked down at his hands, turning them repeatedly. He seemed baffled by the motion. “I did all of that by myself... because I chose to,” He said, half to himself. “It feels weird.” He flexed his fingers.

“It must be jarring,” King said quietly, “the more you do so, the more that feeling will go away. There's nothing natural about being an observer within your own body.”

S Crocodile looked out towards a doorway. “There's a war going on,” he said, “but all I can think about is how quiet it is. Without the commands in my head, it's like my eardrums have been ruptured and I'm trapped in a realm of silence. I keep checking my internal diagnostic, but even though it says I'm fine I still feel deaf.”

His shoulders twitched with agitation. He was quite eloquent, having talked the most out of the kids so far. “It feels wrong,” The boy insisted vehemently.

King laid a hand on his shoulder. “It will subside; if it doesn't, I'll have York run a medical test on you.”

“I don't trust her,” S Croc growled, his eyes flickering upward. “I still don't know if I trust you.”

King nodded in understanding. The statement cut a bit, but he knew that from the children's perspective he was still a near stranger. “I'd offer a different doctor, but I don't know how well they can treat you until they fully grasp your physical makeup,” he offered. The building shook a little, and his Observation pinged sharply again. “Two more. Be ready.”

The boy nodded, his wings tensing up. King started speed walking forward toward the first haki signature. The air still smells faintly of that gas; he can't quite place it, but he holds his breath anyway. The Aegis Zero agent burst through the door at the same time his other companion came from behind, putting S Crocodile and King between them.

Neither of them are devil fruit users; they're masters of the Six Powers and carrying a couple of weapons including sea stone guns. King keeps S Croc in his peripheral vision as he cut his opponent down to size, and while he's – worried, he's worried for the child – the young Seraphim more than handled himself with both his sand and a chain hook he'd ripped off of a previous Aegis agent's body.

King felt himself smile when S Croc dug the hook into the man's gun, pulping the bullet chamber and causing the weapon to backfire on its user. A sense of pleased warmth swirled inside him; it's soothing, burning back the anxiety that he'd been living with.

He sliced the Aegis unit's neck clean through; the man fell to the ground like a sack of bricks. He turned around to see S Croc – he hopes the children find names that they like soon – crushing his opponent in what could only be described as a coffin of sand engulfing their entire body. The ruthless confidence is distressing in a child so young, but he was right; he can handle himself in battle, even though he shouldn't have to.

The boy turned towards him and said, “I told you I could handle it.”

King's smile quirks, becoming slightly rueful. “Well done,” he said in all seriousness. S Croc blinks rapidly and his cheeks flush a light shade of red, his semi-permanent frown briefly vanishing.

Of course the moment is interrupted by something coming flying in through a window. King briefly saw the top of a molotov co*cktail and moved straight to S Croc, shielding him in his wings just as the flames kissed the gas and ignited an explosion.

It wasn't as bad as the one from his vision, but it still sent King straight through two walls and seared his skin somewhat. When he pried himself free of the stone and got his bearings, he was pleased to note that he'd blocked the brunt of the blast from hitting S Croc, who was giving him a shocked look as the older Lunarian set him down on the floor and moved.

When he shifted into half Pteranodon mode, King could move faster, and when the Aegis unit appeared with a grenade in hand he smashed the man into the wall and pinned the grenade to his chest. Letting his fire rise and guard his body from all damage, King glared at the man as his eyes widened behind his mask. “That was a mistake,” He snarled.

The grenade exploded underneath his hand; the heat and shrapnel washed over him like a hot spray of a shower as the body beneath more or less disintergrated. Blood splattered the floor as the wall behind him gave way, causing King to check his momentum and step into a new room.

There were a number of pipes and wires and observation cameras all over the room, along with a pulsing sound. King didn't pay it any mind at first, his attention on the dead body beneath him. When he was confident that the man was indeed dead and not playing it, he stood up and stepped away from the corpse.

“What was that?!” S Croc yelled from the other side. King blinked and saw that the boy had hopped into the middle of the destroyed wall, wings bristling once again as he stared at him. “I told you, I don't need you to protect me! Why?!”

“Sorry. I'm a slave to my emotions in this case...” King responded, straightening up. “I couldn't bring myself to risk seeing you get hurt.”

The boy's mouth opened and shut in utter confusion. “That? That barely would have scratched me! I was born to survive much worse,” he protested. “You don't have my cybernetics! You're more vulnerable than me!”

King surprised himself by chuckling at that, shaking his head slightly. S Croc blinked rapidly, stunned at the warm sound. “Now that I doubt very much,” he said slightly deadpan. “Don't be quite so overconfident.”

King then turned around to get his bearings. If he'd been paying a little more attention after his forward momentum carried him into his room, he would have noticed that he was standing mere inches away from a massive, paw shaped bubble. But since his attention had been fully on making sure the threat to the child was neutralized, he hadn't fully registered the odd presence.

So when he turned to the right, his free hand sank into the Memory Bubble up to his wrist and instantly King was swept away through time.

“What the-?”

King staggered, a rare loss of composure shaking his body as his mind finally stopped whirling through blinding fog. Instinctively he brought his sword to bear, but when his vision focused he noticed that he wasn't holding it. “What...” Staring at his hand in confusion, the Lunarian blinked in dumbfounded confusion.

The lab was gone. And so was Egghead Island. He was standing in a large, open grassland that rose and fell in gentle rolling hills. The sky was clear and sunny; a breeze blew through his hair, causing his braids to dance before his eyes. The grasslands themselves were utterly empty. No sign of his fellow pirates, the Marines, or anything at all.

“This can't be real,” King reasoned to himself as he looked from left to right. “Did one of those agents manage to bypass my Observation...?”

It would take a particularly powerful hallucinogen to make him lose his grip on reality – he'd been subjected to plenty in Punk Hazard, which only strengthened his immunity to them. When Black Maria joined Kaido's crew and reached the highest ranks of the officers, he'd insisted on training against her mist to further improve his defences. Rank and file among the Beast Pirates had tried to sell his secret to the World Government in exchange for the immense reward bounty on 'Lunarian sightings' before; they never survived it, but it only served to remind King that the only person he had in the world was Kaido. Whenever he could do to cover for his potential vulnerabilities, he threw himself into.

King stomped one foot on the ground. It felt completely normal; no reverberations, and it felt like dirt, not concrete or metal like he'd been expecting. This seemed distractingly real. “What is this...?” He wondered, unnerved.

Slowly, another sound became clear to him. Sniffling. Someone was crying... and someone young. Blinking in surprise, King turned around and walked towards the noise.

He found...a large child, covered in blood and bruises, with familiar sea stone shackles around his wrists. He didn't seem to take any notice of King when the Lunarian stopped a few feet away from him, his eyes widening slightly in shock.

“A Buccaneer?” King uttered, stunned.

He knew about that people; how could he not? They were the other ones who worshipped Nika and were targeted by the World Government for silencing. King hadn't been aware that any of them were alive, except for - ...except for Kuma the Tyrant, Warlord of the Sea.

The child sobbed harder, curling in on himself. King approached and attempted to touch him, but his hand slid right through as though the boy was an illusion. “Am I dreaming?” The Lunarian wondered uneasily. “Can't be. When could I have fallen asleep?”

“You! Get back here!”

The boy gasped and looked up in tearful fear. King twisted and saw the shadowy, glowering figures of two adults. They both looked ragged and angrily fearful on their own. “Get back here! If you're found missing, they'll kill all of us!” One barked.

The boy – Kuma? This was Kuma? - shook his head violently and put his hands over his head. “I don't wanna!” He cried heartrendingly. “Don't make me go back, I can't bear it!”

The other slaves aren't sympathetic, striking him with sticks. King's lip curled back in alarmed disgust and he ultimately confirmed his inability to interfere with the scene unfolding before him by grabbing at the men's arms. “Stop crying, you big brat!” One of them yelled. “Get up!”

“No!” Kuma yelled back, tears and snot dripping down his face. Emotion swirled around King, foreign but pressing down against his heart – it was like lying against someone else and feeling their heartbeat, the rhythm of their breathing. It felt like despairdespairdespair, it dug into those buried memories of being chained to the gurney while a woman slowly going mad with guilt tested him again and again, clawed through the protective membrane over the wound and nestled itself between those moments – making itself at home.

“I'm gonna die either way, so why can't I die here?!” Kuma sobbed out. “At least kill me here! Where I can see the sun!”

“Kuma,” King uttered, kneeling down next to him without thinking. He could only estimate how old the warlord was right now; his memories of Buccaneers were all tied to Alber, to his life before the massacre, and they were difficult to recall at the best of times. However, the shape of his face and the soft, babyish texture of his flesh made King think that he must be around four, five...maybe six at the oldest.

Alber had seen a lot of children suffering. As King, he was partially responsible for some of it. Yet still his stomach lurched with pity, and disgust at the other slave's lack of empathy for someone else in their sorry state. It was then when the realization came to him...

“Am I in a memory?” King wondered, startled.

It made a degree of sense – how the world changed completely and he was unable to interact with anyone, nor did they seem to see or hear him – but he'd never known that memories could be removed from the mind and stored outside of the person they belonged to.

Kuma's crying melted away when the memory swirled and changed. King blinked and got to his feet, trying to suppress a sense of vertigo as the world reformed around him. A kingdom burst into existence around him; one busy and somewhat on hard times, going off of the buildings he could see from street level, but full of genuine cheer and comfort. Kuma's giggles drew his eye; this time, the boy wasn't alone; he was in the arms of a tall, lovely woman and a smiling Buccaneer man. They had to be his parents.

“He's completely healthy,” an easygoing doctor tells the father as they walked out of the hospital. Well, the men walked; the mother is resting in a wheelchair, cooing over her child with a sweet smile. King followed after them, his heart tugging with a nameless feeling all his own. “I recommend extended bed rest for the lovely wife, but she should recover just fine as well. If she has any bleeding or other discomfort don't hesitate to call me!”

“Thank you so much,” The father said happily, reaching down to pat his son on the head. His smile shivers a little and he looks up at the doctor. “Um, doc...”

The elderly man smiled and waved a hand. “His blood? Don't worry, Clapp; I won't speak of it, and I left it out of the records.”

Kuma's father sighs and gave the man a tearful smile. “Thank you.

King exhaled gently, his jaw hitching. The fragments of Alber that existed inside of him are all rattling, reaching out to this family like his own he lost so long ago and aching for them because this doesn't last, someone sells them out, and for the exact same reason. He watched Clapp scoop his son up and hold him above his head, watched the child laugh and those little fragments that he'd stopped feeling long ago twist like spikes in his chest.

Days whirl past, the loving family playing with each other and interacting with their neighbours without fear, and King is standing on the doorstep when the doctor desperately came running ahead of several dozen masked Marines crying for Clapp to take his family and run. He's shot in the back for his altruism and the men storm inside.

Clapp begged and begged, kneeling as they snapped the spiked collar around his neck. “It's me! I'm the one who has Buccaneer blood!” He cried, his voice broken. “But my wife and son don't! They're human, please, let them go! My crime isn't theirs!”

King's hands balled into fists. His pleas go ignored because of course they did, their desperation and grief and despair was either annoying or funny to these monsters, and why would the soldiers of JUSTICE compromise on their precious laws and not condemn the entire family -

He didn't know how his own mother and father were killed; he had been out with friends and his first crush when the attack had happened in its totality, and despite his desperately trying to rush home, he was shot and impaled and paralyzed before he could get anywhere close. He doesn't know how they died; if they were killed on the field or if they lingered in experimentation for months, years before expiring -

Alber's anger and grief rises and brushed against Kuma's grief, reaching out his hand to grasp for the family just like his own and protect them. King stood in numb silence, his long experience with the horrors of the world inuring him to reaction as all three were made slaves-

A small hand is grabbing his arm, trying to pull him away. King blinked in shock and the memories shift again.

Luffy wasn't the smartest guy around, but when the prison he was breaking out of started shaking fairly hard he briefly thought 'this can't possibly get any worse!'

“What's that?!” He yelped when the shaking ground almost caused him to trip and faceplant on the ground. Given that Poison Guy was right behind them, it wasn't something he could afford, and he caught himself in time to keep running.

“I don't know,” Iva cried out, eyes widening. “It feels like an earthquake!”

“All the way out here?!” Luffy cried. This was an underwater prison! He didn't think it was supposed to get earthquakes!

“Tch...!” Crocodile hissed through his teeth, glaring at the walls. Parts of the ceiling began breaking apart and falling down all around them; Buggy shrieked really loudly and broke into a dozen pieces to avoid getting smashed into the ground. “Whitebeard...?! He should be at Marineford right now, fighting the execution...!”

Whitebeard... that was Ace's dad. Luffy didn't know what the old man's powers were, but he knew they weren't close to Marineford and it made him wonder exactly how strong the guy was. He pushed the thought aside for later; if this place was gonna fall apart from an earthquake, then he needed to get out of here faster!

He couldn't let this stop him from getting to Ace!

“These tremors... I'm familiar with them. It's definitely an expression of Pops's powers!” Jinbe said urgently.

“Whitebeard? Impossible!” Poison Guy cried somewhere behind him. “Why would he come here instead of going directly to rescue Portgas?!”

Who cares? If he was here, Luffy could hop on his ship and get a ride straight to Marineford. That was really good! The young ravenette gritted his teeth hard and pumped more strength into his legs, pushing his battered body as fast as it would go as he ran through the hallways and toward the exit. They were so close, they were almost outside!

Ace...Ace...

Thoughts of him filled Luffy's head, from childhood all the way to when he'd last seen him in Alabasta. Ace being grumpy about something and yelling a lot when Sabo and Luffy teased him, Ace holding him when he woke crying from the memory of the Terminal Fire, Ace casually defeating him in a sparring match but giving him corrections and encouragement the entire time as he whirled around the clearing, not allowing Luffy to get a single hit on him. Ace jumping out onto dangerously slippery stones across a river to retrieve his precious straw hat when a strong wind had blown it off of Luffy's head, returning it with a laugh and a teasing joke as the shorter teen crushed him in a hug.

Ace...

He remembered the exact stretch of days where Ace had gone from grumpy and withdrawn, if still caring, to warm and gentle and Luffy's everything. How he'd started smiling more, becoming joyful and playful and polite with his fiery temper more controlled and tampered down. How much Luffy loved that smile, how it was like seeing the sun rise every morning. He was everything, he was his most important person.

He can't lose him, he can't, he can't, he won't...!

Luffy wasn't good at being scared. When he did get frightened by something, he either broke down, or channelled that fear into rage that gave him new strength. And right now, the only thing he felt more than the fear of losing Ace was his hellbent determination to rescue him.

So Luffy ran, easily staying ahead of everyone else – even those who should have been in much better condition than him. He tore through the hallways and out of the first floor plaza directly towards the door even as the building shook and the floor cracked open beneath him more than once. As he drew close he could hear the roaring of waves despite this being the Calm Belt and he knew that was the way out.

“We're here!” He yelled at everyone behind him; Poison guy had gotten slowed down by parts of the ground giving way and causing parts of him to drop into caverns, giving them precious seconds to get some distance on him as he pulled himself back together. “Come on!”

With a final burst of energy, Luffy burst out through the broken front doors and out into the light of day. The sunlight stabbed at his eyes, making him cringe a little, but the feeling of salt water in the air is absolutely invigorating. He stumbled to a halt, panting, a wide grin on his face as he basked for a moment in having re-entered the real world.

“Don't stop!” Buggy shrieked as he hurtled past Luffy. “What are you doing?! He's still coming!” Wax Guy, Jinbe and Croc hurtled out next, followed by several of their friends.

“Don't worry about that,” A new male voice said, sounding a little bored.

Luffy jumped and looked sideways. How had he missed that guy? A tall young man stood up from the patch of rubble he had been sitting on, ignoring the chaos around him, and walked past him. He's dressed in a long trench coat and he flicked a long sword an inch out of its scabbard as he walked forward, weaving calmly between Luffy's allies as they all hurtled out of the prison.

“Huh? Who're...?” Luffy started, blinking. His eyes quickly focused on the hat the guy was wearing – it's white with black spots. The sight rattled around in his head for a few seconds before he realized he could place it in his memory. “Traffy?”

The other pirate briefly turned, an annoyed look flashing in his golden eyes as men and candies fled past him. Then he turned and drew his sword completely, staring into the inside of Impel Down as Poison Guy began raging towards them.

“Who's that?” Ivankov asked in confusion, their eyes widening. “Hey! You should be running away along with us, boy!”

Traffy scoffed and held out one hand. “Room,” he declared calmly.

A blue bubble swept out around him; several of the escapees yelped when the power brushed against them, leaving them scrambling to get out of the way. Poison Guy poured forward into the bubble without stopping, and Traffy smirked ever so slightly. Luffy's breath hitched and he opened his mouth to warn him-

“Shambles.”

-and suddenly the Poison Hydra split into dozens of pieces. Traffy lifted his hand and unleashed a series of slashes with his sword, leaving Luffy open mouthed as the poison logia that had given them so much trouble was split into dozens, hundreds, thousands of little cubes. Traffy then pointed two fingers upward and uttered, “Takt.”

Buggy's mouth unlatched and dropped to the ground as the poison cubes all flew upwards – up and up and up – and were promptly scattered across the enormous, rocky outer shell of Impel Down, none of them anywhere close to the other. Traffy's smirk widened ever so slightly; he made a lazy gesture with one hand and the remaining cubes on the ground were flung like baseballs deep inside of Impel Down.

“Out of the way,” He said lazily before stepping into the building. Another few slashes from his sword and the ceiling at the far end of the hallway, near the elevator, was chopped into pieces and promptly collapsed dramatically – completely blocking off the hallway. “The new era won't be stopped by the likes of you.”

Luffy felt himself getting stars in his eyes. Oh, wow! How did he do that?! His sword wasn't touching the poison at all but he still did all of that! It must be that blue aura, which Traffy dismissed easily before walking back out of Impel Down.

He'd really come to their rescue!

“Traffy!” He called excitedly, bounding towards the other Supernova. He was belatedly aware of his other escapees eyeing the guy warily. “What are you doing here?”

Law tilted his head and gave him a slightly exasperated frown. “Don't call me that,” he said. “Why? I was passing by when I heard the broadcast. It made me rearrange some of my plans.”

“What broadcast?” Luffy asked curiously.

Law's expression flattened slightly. “The broadcast. The doctor blowing the whistle about the Government's genocide of the Lunarians.” Luffy stared at him in confusion, and it must be obvious because the golden-eyed pirate tsked. “Impel Down must have been on radio silence.”

“Who are you?!” Buggy squeaked, his voice high pitched. He was holding his fists up and watching Law with faux confidence.

“...Trafalgar Law.” Jinbe identified him, his voice low and rumbling. “The Surgeon of Death.” The fishman walked over to Luffy's side and eyed the tall human warily. “You just happened to be passing by Impel Down on a whim?”

“Yes,” Law deadpanned. “I hadn't initially planned to get this close, but things have changed.” He raised one hand and pointed out across the water.

“Huh? What are you pointing aaaaaaa-” Luffy turned around and felt his jaw drop open just like Buggy's did.

The huge Gates that he'd seen on his way in, the absolute monoliths of stone and steel that towered above the seas... weren't. They were cracked about a third of the way open and huge chunks were missing from the lower sections where the doors were supposed to slot together. Huge cracks ran up and across the rest of the surfaces from top to bottom; the doors are twitching slightly in the wind, sickening groaning sounds of metal giving way echoing across the water. The rumbling is subsiding now, and as Luffy was staring a wave slapped the bottom of the right door and tore off another chunk off that fell into the ocean.

Wild cheers and shocked shrieking echoed from the rest of the escapees he gathered up. When Luffy got his head around the sight, his heart jumped with delight. The doors were opened! They didn't have to worry about getting past them!

“Pops,” Jinbe breathed out. “When did he find the time to...?”

“Kaido has moved in a way the Marines can't ignore.” Law responded, dropping his arm. “The Emperor will tell you the details, I'm sure, but they cannot afford to fight him right now. I predicted that the highest levels of the government wouldn't be willing to turn Ace over in exchange for a ceasefire, so I came this way to wait until they tried to return him to Impel Down.”

He gave Luffy a thoughtful look. “I wasn't quite expecting to see you here too.”

Luffy blinked. “Of course I was here. I came to break Ace out,” he said confidently. “You wanted to rescue him too, Traffy?” His heart instantly warms to the point of burning. This golden-eyed guy is really, really cool!

Law inclined his head, not saying anything. Luffy giggled in surprised glee and he jumped on the other man, wrapping him in a tight hug. “Gerk?!” The taller man sputtered, staggering backwards and flailing slightly.

“Thank you thank you!” Luffy babbled happily at him. “You're so cool! I won't ever forget this, Traffy!”

Why are you hugging me?!” Law protested with a strangled squawk. “Let go!”

“No,” Luffy responded, nuzzling his shoulder. Traffy had come to help him and help Ace... right then and there, he decided that the other pirate was an amazing friend for life.

“You wanted to wring a favour out of Pops,” Jinbe deduced, still frowning a little.

Law pried the smaller ravenette off of him, still looking flustered. He quickly recomposed himself when meeting Jinbe's gaze, something he's quite practiced in. “It's nothing he'd find too onerous,” he responded with confidence.

“H-H-H-Hey! Is that the Phoenix?!” Mr 3 squawked.

Luffy blinked and looked back towards the door. A blue stream of fire flew through the open doors, above a Marine ship that was coasting through the water towards them. Crocodile grumbled direly under his breath and stepped away from the group, glowering. “He wouldn't come here with Marines,” Jinbe uttered, blinking in surprise. “Does that mean...?”

As the ship drew closer, a familiar voice called across the water to him. “Luffy, darling!” Boa cried with childlike excitement. “Are you okay?!”

“Hammock!” Luffy cheered, running to the edge of the dock. He hadn't expected to see her out here! Had something happened?

“Darling?” Buggy squeaked in disbelief somewhere behind him. “Darling?!”

“I come bearing a gift for you!” Boa called as the ship drew close. She didn't have to elaborate any; she'd hardly gotten halfway through her sentence before a familiar figure bolted to the railing next to her and almost threw himself over it, ocean green eyes panning the crowd at the entrance of the dock for one person.

“LUFFY!” Ace cried in relief when he spotted him.

Luffy's heart seized up with shock for a moment. Ace? How could Ace be here? He stood there for a second, confused as to how this came about, before his mind energetically shoved all those useless questions away in the bin that he put all things – like how vegetables were supposed to be good for you or that gramps might be right about something. None of it mattered!

“ACE!” He screamed back at the top of his lungs, nearly throwing himself into the water when he jerked forward and his foot hit the edge of the dock. He stared at the ocean like it had personally offended him, his neurons misfiring as he tried to figure out how to get himself onto that moving ship, when voice laughed above him and a blue bird floated down to his side.

“C'mon, kid, I'll give you a lift,” A guy's voice laughed before picking Luffy up by his shoulders. Luffy yipped in surprise, but he didn't struggle when the bird took off and started carrying him directly towards the ship. Boa and Ace came into focus quickly, the latter almost quaking where he stood and the former holding her hands against her heart. Seeing them both there and free and okay makes him so happy he thinks he might burst.

The bird swoops low and deposited Luffy safely on the deck; the moment his feet touched the ground he was moving, running and launching himself into Ace's broad chest. “AAAAACE!” Luffy wailed, flinging his arms around his precious person.

He's okay! He's okay, he's here and his heart is beating and he's warm and everything is okay; even though Luffy is separated from his nakama still and he's still hurting from Iva's miracle cure and getting poisoned, it didn't matter. Ace is free and he's here and Luffy started to sob in joyful relief.

“Luffy,” Ace's husky voice whispered; his hug pins Luffy roughly against his chest, his arms trembling slightly. “You reckless idiot, what were you thinking?!” He buried his face in Luffy's hair. “You never should have set foot in Impel Down! Why put yourself through that?!”

“Because you were trapped there!” Luffy bawled. “Stupid!” Stupid Ace, getting captured and scaring him this much!

Ace uttered a choked sound halfway between a sob and a laugh. “Dumbass...” he uttered. “You were in so over your head...!” His fingers brushed against dried blood on Luffy's skin. “Never do something like this again, never! Promise me...!

“No!” Luffy said rebelliously, sniffling. “I'll never leave you if you're in trouble!”

Ace made a strangled noise and huffed, a shaky smile crossing his face. “Ngh... I always knew you were an idiot...” His hug tightened slightly. “Damned Navy... I don't even have enough energy to yell at you.. How badly are you hurt, Lu?”

“I'm fine! Iva-san gave me their Miracle Cure, so I'm all back to normal!”

“Who?” Ace wondered.

“They're back at the docks! I broke out lots of people in order to go rescue you, including your friend Jinbe!” Luffy babbled, looking up and smiling brightly at Ace through his tears. “They've been a great help.”

“Yeah?” Ace loosened his hold and gave Luffy a wobbly smile. “Guess we both got lucky. Hanco*ck came to my cell in Marineford and busted it open; thanks to her I was able to get out of there on my own.”

Luffy gasped and turned towards Boa. “Really?” He cried. Boa nodded, and immediately became the third recipient of the Luffy Rocket Hug that all but knocked her over. “Thank you thank you thank you, Hammock! You're the best friend ever!”

Boa uttered a faint gasping sound and slid gracefully to her knees, too in shock to hug back. Cheers start coming from the docks as everyone Luffy had given freedom to realized just how much their fortunes had turned. Law watched the reunion with raised eyebrows, silently giving further credit to his estimation of Monkey D Luffy. With his original plan for the future very much in flux, he needed to shift gears... and a possibility is already presenting itself.

Notes:

Hehe... out of King's kids, Croc is definitely the grumpy one who sometimes acts contrary for the sake of it. He was not supposed to come back King up, but he did, and King is already discovering that he's bad at laying down the law when it comes to the little ones~

Why yes, I did cut away before King got too deep into Kuma's memories. Sorry~!

Luffy and Law have arrived! Law changed up his approach to Marineford due to the goings-on, his first POV section will elaborate on how he heard everything. Luffy meanwhile is just really happy to be reunited with Ace! I will die on the hill that Ace is Luffy's Most Important Person the way Cora-san is Law's, as if those two don't have enough in common in canon already.

Chapter 8

Summary:

Marineford crumbles. Akainu and Kizaru fight a losing battle.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

We have damned ourselves.

Sengoku ran, as much as he was able with his prior heart attack having taken a bite of out of his stamina as the fact that the ground was shaking beneath him. He knew these rumblings like the back of his hand; how many times had he clashed with Whitebeard back in the day, with Garp and Tsuru at his side? How many times had he seen the terrible power of the Tremor-Tremor fruit in action?

He carried two nurses over his shoulders, their bodies swaying precariously as he ran. The walls cracked and chunks of plaster tumbled down like rocks as he ran. There were people behind him, and most of them wouldn't make it to the outside of the building.

Would all those personal he'd brought here with the promise of victory die by being crushed to death, or when they were pinned beneath the rubble with water filling their lungs?

Shattering glass echoed from every direction, including above. Men and women screamed as they tried every avenue they could find to escape the building. Sengoku felt the strain in his chest to even do this much so soon after his heart had an episode, but there was one thing to say for his stubbornness – he'd powered through worse than this before.

Part of the ceiling struck him in the head. He shook it off, his vision only going slightly fuzzy for a second. Channelling Armament Haki through his body with everything he had, Sengoku put on more speed. Wooden support beams were cracking and snapping like toothpicks across the hallway he was racing down, the shaking threatening to open holes in the floor.

Newgate had attacked them from a distance. Of course he did. His son wasn't here; they had no hostage to force him to come and play their game instead of cracking the foundation of their island, letting the shattering stone and earth do the rest. Sengoku was willing to bet that the Emperor hadn't come within a few nautical miles of them.

So much for him being old and weak.

It was a bitter thought, and one that felt unlike him. If there was another 'voice' inside Sengoku's head that he conjured up when he felt he needed guidance, it was his son's, and he didn't remember Rocinante being that...laconic.

But then Rocinante hadn't known him as well as he thought he had, did he?

We don't have time to even save half of our forces. We should have given Ace back. Damn me, why didn't I insist we give Roger's get back for a ceasefire? Whitebeard always honoured his word, from the first time I met him to now.

Sengoku turned a corner just in time to see a huge chunk of the ceiling collapse downward in a storm of plaster dust and splintered wood. Cursing, the Buddha turned to the wall in front of him and unleashed a powerful attack to blast his way through the damaged remains, then rushed across the hall to do the same to the next one. If he kept moving this way he'd get out of the Headquarters building, and create a temporary exit for those following him.

He could still save people. Save a few. If he could at least save one, then he hasn't been a total failure.

You call your genocide coming back to haunt you something other than a total failure? His thoughts diverted treacherously. I guess if you think about it the way the Elder Stars do, it was a failure... because you didn't manage to get all of them.

Sengoku powered through another wall, projecting strength and steadiness. There were Marines struggling to navigate the crumbling hallways in each direction. “With me!” He shouted as loud as he could. “All men and women who can walk, with me! Evacuate the HQ!”

Some of the men cheered and found new strength, scrambling to their feet and rushing in his direction. Some, however, remained right where they were. “Evacuate to where?” One man cried in despair. “If we set foot outside, the sea will swallow us whole... there's no point...!”

“Negative on that, soldier!” Sengoku barked, taking a precious few miliseconds to pause and look that way to deliver his statement with confidence. “There is one way off the island still! Come quickly!”

The man didn't even twitch. He remained slumped against the wall, one leg bloody, and a look of serenity passing over him. He pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his forehead against them, waiting for the building to collapse on top of him. Almost seeming to welcome it.

Surridge must have looked like that, once or twice. Pondered killing herself, unable to live in a world where her justice had been corrupted. What had made her survive? Knowing that one Lunarian was still alive, the one who'd survived her?

Sengoku didn't even have time to order someone to grab that man and carry him; the ground split apart beneath his feet, forcing him to rapidly employ Sky Walk to avoid falling and being trapped in the floors below. With bitter regret, he kept running, his breath rasping harshly in his lungs.

That's the problem with genocide, isn't it? The voice observed Someone always gets away... Portgas. Trafalgar. King. What were you possibly expecting when you killed everyone around them and left them alone in their suffering?

Sengoku forced his way through the last wall and rushed outside. He couldn't stop moving, though; already tiles and window pains were falling from the upper building, smashing on the ground or upon those unlucky enough to be just beneath them. Yet the sight that greeted him still tripped him up.

The water in the bay was raging, waves smashing against the water front and pooling in the new faultlines of the pavement. As he stepped outside, the execution stand leaned forward with increasing speed... the plates of concrete beneath began shifting like cray fragments, the forward chunks dropping deeper into the ground while the back ones rose as the tremors pushed them about. The proud scaffold reinforced with precious sea stone, upon which the Great Pirate era was meant to be slain, fell forward with a tortured shriek of metal and collapsed upon the bay – crushing everything and everyone in its path.

The wings of the island were being pounded upon by waves, each one bigger than the last; sea water splashed into the walkways, knocking devil fruit users into the watery bay. Their fellow soldiers either froze, cried out in despair, or attempted mindlessly to leap into the waters and pull their frozen companions to safety despite the raging waters. Further sections of the island were jerking up and down like corks slowly bobbling in the water, separating groups of soldiers from their commanders and ships from their moors.

A few ships were carried up over the sides and flung into the would-be battlefield like bath toys. A giant managed to catch one of them with great effort – Sengoku was too far away to identify them, but he was heartened by his courage – while the others smashed into giant's chests or crushed ground troops beneath their keels. The Warlords were nowhere to be seen, except for PX-0, who briefly popped in and out of Sengoku's view.

A sniper tower collapsed in on itself when Sengoku's eyes scanned the edges of the field, taking its occupants with it. Others were trembling so badly that those inside would be lucky to make it to exits before they followed suit; several men leapt from the openings, choosing to take their chances with the raging sea or at least choose the method of their death. As Sengoku watched, one tower was quickly surrounded by a massive iceberg with a ramp. “Jump!” Aokiji shouted over the crashing, rumbling and chaos. “It won't last!” Men and women scrambled out and slid down their new escape route; in a flash of blue Aokiji began repeating the process.

That handful of people made it to the ground and began trying to flee to a ship that, while bobbing dangerously in the waves, hadn't been upturned or carried away yet. Just a few. Hopefully the skeleton crew was still aboard and were capable of fighting the waves.

Sengoku looked around wildly for Garp and Tsuru. Immediately he noticed that there were dead bodies on the ground with slash wounds and the tiny thin cuts of strings; the corpses of two giants half submerged in the bay, half disintegrated by sunlight. His heart seized up violently at the implications before he forced it down. He would not have another attack, not when his people needed him!

Finally his gaze caught sight of Garp's flapping coat. Leaping from one shaking landmass to the next, Garp was shouting at the top of his voice and throwing people through the air like baseballs. Those people-projectiles went flying out across the sea, aimed to land far enough away that they would land in waters calm enough to tread water or float in, all without being smashed against the surface. His control of his strength and judging the arcs in which he threw was unmatched; he'd learned from years of flinging canonballs, after all.

Garp never stopped grabbing and throwing people, whatever he was doing – herding groups together or smacking some sanity back into men who'd given into panic. Men were frozen and staring at their doom in several places, while others blindly fled to emergency exits that had already been rendered blocked or otherwise useless by the shattering ground and waves.

PX-0 popped into existence near Garp. Sengoku ran in that direction; as he drew close, Garp was pointing at a group of soldiers that included his two young proteges, Captain Smoker of Loguetown and a good deal of his men. A second later PX-0's palms lit up and there was a pop as every man and woman in the group was 'pushed' off to some other location.

Quick thinking as always. Garp might be infuriating, but he was always reliable.

Funny how he's saving the day right after you tried to force him to participate in killing his grandson. The voice snarked. It was starting to sound like Surridge. God knew that her voice was now burned into the black matter of his brain.

“Sengoku!”

Tsuru's strained voice called out to him, followed by a violent coughing fit. Instantly Sengoku pivoted and tracked his friend's haki signature; he ran to the lower level of the bay and skidded to a halt next to Tsuru, who was hacking up a lungful of sea water while her direct subordinate helped her stand. She'd been caught in one of the waves, evidently.

“Tsuru,” he said breathlessly. “An evacuation-”

“I know,” She said, her expression hard as iron. It didn't go up to her eyes; underneath the layer of iron determination she was projecting, Sengoku could see waves of fear and despair. “The order's given, but it's impossible to get everyone mustered coherently.”

The ground beneath them began cracking fast and ominously to underscore her point; Sengoku used his leg to pull Tsuru out of the way of the budding death zone as sea water began swamping the bay. “Pick her up!” He shouted at her second, who mercifully was alert and obeyed instantly. They fled away from the water threatening to turn them into anchors; in the quake, this would almost certainly be a death sentence. “Garp has a plan; I think-”

“He told me,” Tsuru interrupted him a second time, something she so very rarely did. Sengoku expected her to start cursing him out for causing this situation, for not arguing harder and longer with the Elder Stars and rejecting reality for just a bit too long – but she didn't. “PX-0 will get as many people to relief bases as he can before it's too risky for him to stay. Help me stabilize what ships we have left and start getting people onto them. A good kick from him will get them moving through even these waves.”

Sengoku looked from side to side. “There's one,” he said, pointing to the furthest edge of the wings around the bay. The waves near that area seemed to be pulled into the bay itself, so the ship wasn't bobbling as badly as the others. That wasn't likely to last long, though. “Gather as many of your men to you as you can and make your way there, have Aokiji create temporary ice bridges wherever needed as many times as he can!”

He took off running in that direction, as fast as he could. The women in his arms weren't conscious, but they weren't badly hurt, so hopefully they'd be able to nurse their fellows once they were clear of the danger zone. Sengoku leapt across the shattering earth, cracks forming every time his feet touched the ground. The ship trembled in the water when he landed on its deck; tearing inside, he put the women on beds and tore back outside.

An enormous, ringing tearing sound echoed across Marineford when he ran down the wing again. Looking up, Sengoku's stomach dropped as the roof of the Navy HQ completely collapsed inward, the upper floors giving way one after another. Debris spilled out of open windows in an arc, pouring to the ground. “Get away from the buildings!” He bellowed as he moved, pushing soldiers behind him and grabbing ones that had fallen, bringing them back to their feet and pointing sharply at the ship. “Get a clear distance from the HQ!”

PX-0 poofed into existence in the middle of the bay and held its hands out. A titanic wave of water rose behind him, ready to test Vegapunk's work against Mother Ocean's savage rage; Aokiji's ice burst forth and froze the water in its tracks, creating an impromptu barrier in the lowest circles of the field. Sengoku could see where the Admiral had previously attempted this; half formed waves arched over various points, crumbling as the ocean continued to rail against them or the ground they were stuck to was fragmented and shattered. Ice bridges wobbled dangerously as the quake tore into their structure, the men running across them crying and pleading for them to hold steady for just a few more seconds.

As Sengoku ran, barking directions and sending more people Tsuru's way, he saw multiple people pinned underneath the scaffold. Before he could even try to move their way, the ground broke apart and water below sucked them under with hardly a scream.

It's just like the seastone walls were meant to do, that voice thought. Trapping the pirates like rats and then exterminating them with magma.

Grinding his teeth, fighting to keep his emotions under control, Sengoku kept moving. Adrenaline pounded in his ears. He picked up injured men and carried them back the way he'd come, he could save these ones. He had to.

'No. Portgas D Ace must die'. The Elder's words echoed in his ears like erratic mockery. Sengoku had agreed to it, seen it as dirty business but absolutely necessary to tear down the era that Roger had created and make the seas safe again. He'd been prepared to sacrifice these brave souls in a war in hopes of winning the peace. Undoing Roger's final victory over him and Garp.

He's sacrificed them, all right, and for what? For what?! This wasn't a war, this was an act of an old god who'd been needled and pushed until he retaliated with a smiting those who dared lay hands on his son.

And how many of these men thought they were fighting for Justice now, anyway? How many believed it, instead of concluding that they'd been left to die by a... what had Surridge called it? A greedy, bloated tyranny run by the delusional?

No longer soldiers of the righteous, but bloody butchers no better than Rocks. She'd taken his peace of mind, his hopes, his life's work, and crushed it underneath her heel. Kaido and Whitebeard were the ones with the power, but they wouldn't have been able to enact this string of events without her.

Are you happy now, woman?! Are you satisfied by this slaughter?!

Nothing we do will ever be justified. Her voice hissed back. If butchering a whole people is Justice, then how exactly am I different from you? If this quake crushes and drowns you all for the sake of seven children's freedom, how is that different from you ordering the butchering of hundreds of pregnant women and their babies just to kill one boy; women who had nothing to do with Roger aside from him passing them by?

This is my Justice. It won't be denied by you, or anyone else!

The island shook and a thunderous roar reverberated out from the HQ. Sengoku made it to the deck of the ship and handed the injured off before whirling around. The rest of the wooden structure, all too vulnerable to an earthquake of this magnitude, folded in on itself – the floors smashed down into the one below one after another, a tornado of sawdust and wood and glass and steel forming a mushroom cloud that spread across the plaza. Visibility dropped intensely, forcing Sengoku to rely heavily on his Observation Haki as he turned back once more.

The ship could still carry more people. He could save a few more; he has to be able to save at least one more person.

Time had no meaning. The quake itself was over, but the aftershocks were rolling in, and the damage was already done. The sea had not quieted. Sengoku ran half blind, grabbing any soul that he could get his hands on as ice walls formed again and again to try and block the waves still taking chunks of their forces down to Davy Jones's locker. He runs and moves people until the deck is crowded, until the ship needs to be set out to sail before its luck runs out and its overturned with all souls aboard.

“Senny,” Garp's voice startled him; Sengoku turned around to see his old friend/headache had come over to join them at some point. Garp looked ragged, tired, with blood staining various points of his coat, but his eyes were burning with familiar fire. “Get on board.”

Sengoku paused for half a second to process that strange statement. Then it Registered and he shook his head. “I don't recall you being promoted above me, Garp.” He responded gruffly, moving to continue down the gangplank.

“You just had a heart attack, and if you push yourself a second longer you're going to have another one and die here.” Garp said flatly, a familiar stubborn look in his face. Something chilly slid down Sengoku's spine. “We're losing enough as it is. Get on board, I'll take things from here.”

“I will not abandon our men!”

“No, you're going to lead them!” Garp barked. Before Sengoku even had a warning, he was shoved hard enough to go sprawling across the deck. “Hang tight, the G forces are gonna be rough for a minute or two!”

Woozily Sengoku tried to sit up. “Garp, don't you dare!” His chest squeezed so tightly he became lightheaded and started seeing stars. “Garp!”

His words were useless. He should have known that they would be, Garp didn't listen to anything or anyone except his gut. His health betraying him, Sengoku could only get up on one knee before Garp put his foot against the hull and gave the ship a kick – less famous than his signature punches, but an impact that you underestimated at your peril.

The ship was lifted an inch off of the water and then it was flying, cutting through the ocean backwards. Sengoku was knocked flat onto his back by the wind, the sky whirling overhead and his men yelling all around him as they were rocketed away. The crumbling island of Marineford, the heart of Justice, vanished from view within a few precious seconds.

They were losing. Justice could not lose.

Where the hell were their reinforcements?!

Akainu unleashed a bombardment of magma, putting all the power in it that he'd ever been able to apply to the attack. The monster in front of him laughed; magma slid across his blue scales as he barrelled through the barrage, tanking it while showing hardly a wince of pain. “Useless! Useless! Useless!” Kaido goaded him as a ball of fire formed in his mouth. “Didn't you want to kill an Emperor, brat?! Blast Breath!”

Akainu didn't have time to curse. He melted into magma and threw himself downhill; the monster's attack smashed into the ground where he'd been standing and obliterated it. Even in this form the heat of the flames seared him and threatened to melt him to nothing. He registered a golden flash above and pulled himself back into human form; Kizaru's Sacred Yata Mirror had just hit Kaido in the side of the head.

The monster isn't deterred. He hasn't been by anything the two of them had been throwing at him since they touched down. Instead he shifted to a half human form and brought his mace down onto Kizaru's face, smashing him into the ground. “Thunder!” Kaido bellowed, his deep voice rattling the foundations of the island itself, and Kizaru had barely enough time to get out of the way before the attack could punch a hole through his chest.

We didn't even locate Vegapunk before this bastard was on top of us!, Akainu seethed internally, making another play of attack while Kizaru seemed to have Kaido distracted. The closest we got was finding Pythagoras running at full speed from Jack – we didn't even get to finish him off before Kaido came flying in...!

They'd arrived at Egghead Island to find it already half way to devastation. Kaido had made full use of his head start provided by that traitorous wretch, precious technology and weapons already disappeared from their warehouses and no sign of the Satellites in any direction. Kizaru had originally made to attack the beast's flagship, doubtlessly where the captured scientists were, but he'd been driven off by a combination of Page One, Ulti, and Black Maria. Once Kaido became aware of that, he hyperfocused on them, attacking relentlessly as other monsters in his collection worked to keep back the brave foot soldiers who'd come to challenge them.

He'd tried to find a way to lose Kaido; of course he had. He'd tried going underground, but that just lead to Kaido blasting holes in the earth that collapsed parts of the tunnels available. Trying to duck in a building and get lost in the remains of the city resulted in the Emperor hurtling himself into it and collapsing its structure. Kizaru had almost managed to take himself to the other side of the island in his light form, but Jack had recovered enough to stop him with a haki attack.

Vegapunk was in this chaos somewhere. Kizaru hadn't seen him aboard Kaido's ship. They just had to get to him and escape... they must! Justice must prevail, no matter what feeble women or pitiful remnant attempted!

King should have died with the other Lunarians; the moment he gets the chance, Akainu would fix that mistake with prejudice. Thinking he had any right to the weapons of justice... pah! He's a pirate. He had no right to anything, from the weapons to his own life!

Akainu gritted his teeth when his follow up attack, again, failed to do any significant damage to the monster called the Strongest Creature! Kaido turned and regarded him with a smirk that exposes all of his fangs.

That useless relic Sengoku...what is he waiting for?! Permission? A pity hug? If he hadn't been so clueless as to let that woman snoop around right under their noses, they wouldn't be in this situation! He should have been looking harder for traitors and spineless moralists, not letting them fester and sow dissent in the heart of Justice. Where are the reinforcements?!

Screaming echoed from all around Akainu, briefly drawing his eye to the rest of the battlefield. Brave men of the Navy were being cut down left and right; they refused to back down, however, firing back and taking Beast Pirates with them whenever they couldn't simply cut them down. Brave men, all of them. Their families would receive commemorations for their acts of courage here.

Kizaru used the Sacred Yata Mirror again, attacking Kaido's eye this time. Despite his laziness and lack of dedication, his fellow admiral landed the hit squarely. The monster roared in pain; Akainu hoped that meant he'd lose that eye, or at least have it disabled. He couldn't see any blood flow from his angle.

Kizaru leapt to the air to repeat his attack – only for Kaido to snap his tail around his waist, haki pulsing through it and preventing the man from vanishing into air. “Irritant,” Kaido growled.

Then he dragged Kizaru close and raked his clawed hands down his face. This time Akainu could see blood spurting; the admiral uttered a cry of pain as half of his face basically vanished underneath Kaido's talons. Enraged beyond the point that he thought possible, Akainu dove forward, hammering magma spheres into Kaido's chest – aiming for the cross scar that was emblazoned across the white scales.

That was an old wound, very deep to have left such a mark; there had to be a way to exploit it. There had to be!

Kaido threw Kizaru aside, letting him crash to the ground in a heap and as blood blinded him. The dragon snarled low on his throat, eyes narrowing. “Tsk... you think you're worthy?” The dragon inquired, flames licking his teeth. “Only one man has ever pierced my hide... and you are not even half his measure.”

Scum!” Akainu thundered, tapping deeper into his devil fruit. Deeper and deeper. The ground around him melted and burned with heat; there was some screaming in the background, male and female. Agonized voices. Inconsequential. He needed more power.

Kaido blitzed forward and shapeshifted again, into his half human form. His mace crackled with electricity and crashed down upon his uplifted arm when the Emperor appeared in front of him, snarling. The impact put dozens of fractures in Akainu's arm bones; he gritted his teeth against the pain and shoved the weapon aside.

Magma erupted from his hands as he punched Kaido's chest. Yet the flesh refused to give way; the hard scales crunched under his fists but held firm. The tail whipped in the corner of his eyes and he blocked it on one arm, dissolving it into magma so the beast couldn't catch him the way he had Kizaru.

“Useless,” Kaido taunted, a smirk on his face. Then his mace came down again and there waS PAIN!

The spiked weapon sank into his right shoulder, breaking through the Iron Body that he'd prepared and sinking into the flesh below. Kaido roared and grabbed Akainu's arm with his free hand; as his mace tore through flesh he pulled and the limb was severed off after a few torturous seconds. But even though his pain, Akainu focused and reset his iron body so the kick to his chest didn't damage his organs – it merely sent him flying.

He crashed backwards into a hard slab of concrete. The impact nearly winded him; he almost failed to dodge away from Kaido a second later, his roll fumbled due to his newfound lack of an arm. Akainu gritted his teeth and shoved one magma covered hand against the stump, roughly cauterizing it.

A flash of gold light. Kaido grunted in annoyance when Kizaru returned in an instant, his heel slamming into the back of his head. “Persistent little flies,” the Emperor growled. “Let's see how many limbs I need pull off before you stop squirming!

He full shifted, fire gathering up in his jaw in a bright, hot instant. Akainu's eyes burned from the light as Kizaru tackled him, shoving him out of the way of the attack that rocked the ground beneath them. Looking at him showed a hideous set of scars; instantly Akainu knew that his comrade could only see out of one eye, and perhaps not well at that. The wound is still bleeding sluggishly, thickly staining the yellow coat the man preferred.

He doesn't thank him. Neither have time to waste their breath. They spring out of the way to avoid Kaido's second blast and split apart, circling around him. Pain still throbbed in Akainu's head, like a drum that wouldn't fall silent, but he pushed through it.

Justice would not be denied. It wouldn't be! He would drive Kaido off and retrieve doctor Vegapunk; the demon wouldn't win, not again, not like he always does while the heads of the Navy quailed and buried their heads in the sand at the mere mention of his name! All the Emperors will now be faced with an enemy who isn't too cowardly to challenge them. The new era has begun!

Kaido's tail slammed into his side, staggering him. Akainu melted into logia form again and made a signal to Kizaru, to try a new form of attack. Vegapunk had a lot of devices; there had to be some around that they could make use of against Kaido. They just had to find it.

S-Flamingo was worried.

There's something revolutionary about the realization. Usually emotions were restricted to analytical observations and combat adjustments, but after York had finished flushing out the programming, he could feel everything. Everything, all at once. It had overwhelmed him so much that when she'd finished, he'd flopped in a chair and stared at the ceiling for five minutes straight. His supports hadn't been able to separate out the overload; he'd tried activating them.

Emotions could not be controlled by computers, maybe.

Even his giddiness at the quiet – no pressure on his mind, no order repeating itself over and over and over in his brain until he carried it out or tried to drive a screwdriver into his skull, nothing – however, could overtake the worry he was feeling.

King hadn't come back yet.

There were perfectly logical explanations for that. S-Flamingo had thought through every single one of them. Most likely he was still in combat. Marines had arrived, after all, and there were likely some CP agents still mulling about. Perhaps he'd been urgently needed to support one of his underlings; King was second in command to Kaido, after all. Perhaps he'd needed a moment to patch up a wound he'd received during a fight.

King was worth 1.39 billion berries; he wouldn't die easily in combat, if at all. There was a reason the Emperors and their strongest subordinates had 'do not engage' orders for most ranks of the Marines.

All logical reasoning. Yet the emotion refused to go away.

'I was able to escape... that makes you my family'.

Family. Family. Something hot and painful and... some new emotion, a feeling he couldn't describe clinically, whirled in the boy's chest when he thought of that statement, that promise. Was it longing? It had to be longing.

S-Flamingo dreamed, sometimes. Saw flashes of strange scenes, snapshots. Of places he knew he'd never been and things he'd never said. When he thinks of the word family, he felt pain – pain that none of the biotech he possessed could ease. A sadness there.

Family tasted like gunpowder and felt like snow. It felt like a hurt coming from the last people he expected and it felt like a trembling, small protectorate in his arms. It felt like a burning hot pleasure that seared right down to the soul and like weakness. Longing.

S-Flamingo longed for family as much as he feared it. And now that he could make the choice, his choice and his alone, he... he...

He could be betrayed. He could be happy – happier than a weapon has ever been, will ever be again. King cared enough to come here and fight the world government to set him and the others free. He held them gently and got angry when he heard they hadn't been given names. He offered the chance to have a family and S-Flamingo-

No. The boy paused, a flicker of anger in his chest. He didn't like that designation anymore. He wanted a name. But what should it be?

His memory shivered and suddenly offered something to him – not from any database, but from a place where there was snow and joy and sorrow. The boy couldn't explain where the name came from, or why it felt so very important... but it was a good name.

Rocinante flicked his wings and trotted towards the door. He didn't know where King was, and he didn't like that. The battle was still raging outside and he's worried. He quickly discovered that he doesn't like being worried. It's solvable though – he'll feel better when he finds King.

“Where are you going?” S-Snake asked, her wings fluffing up a little as S-Hawk slid off of the medical bed, his operation having finished. She'd insisted on going last, shoving at S-Bear to go ahead of her, her dislike of operations warring with her desire to be free of the programming.

“I want to get a status update,” Rocinante responded, blinking at her. She looked nervous, so he tried smiling at her. The gesture was awkward from unfamiliarity, but sincere. “I'll return when I locate King and acquire updated information on the battle.”

“What? No! Stay here and protect me, dammit!” York whined, giving him a panicked look.

“The others will guard you,” Rocinante said, his eyebrows tabling when he cast her a look. “I need to find out if something is wrong. Excuse me.” He trotted out through the door, narrowly avoiding tripping over the threshold. He isn't sure why his balance flickered in and out sometimes; it's quite troublesome.

Sometimes he feels like he can hear someone laughing about it.

Notes:

(cackles like a supervillain) Ooooh, that was fun~! Marineford sinking into the sea... the bastard admirals getting mauled... now this is what I call Karmic Justice!

And one of the Seraphim have decided on a proper name! What a cute lil' lad, worrying about his new dad so much. There is more to come, the battle hasn't ended yet~

Chapter 9

Summary:

The last Lunarian takes in the last Buccaneer's memories. Shaka encounters help. Someone is approaching Egghead Island.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“It'll be alright, dear.”

“Your mother's dead, son. She's in heaven now... but I think... she's better off that way...!”

King stared numbly at the father and son as they both broke down in anguished tears within the darkness of the slave's cells. They were both so bruised and bloodied, their clothes ripped and filthy and the chains cutting into their wrists... the slavery of the World Nobles towards their slaves was the one cruelty that he had managed to avoid by dint of them needing him as a science experiment. He'd never thought he'd be grateful for that.

Kuma's memories carried him from one moment of horror to another. He didn't know a moment of peace despite being a child; the World Noble yanked him every which way, forced him to carry heavy burdens, and whipped him for everything from not moving fast enough to crying from pain.

I should be numb to this. And yet he felt sick watching. Knowing that Kuma survived all of it and escaped slavery somehow wasn't a comfort, because... he was a warlord. Why, in the name of Nika, had he decided to become a Warlord?

You deserve better than having to be their dog again! Alber raged within, leaning on the bars with his hands clutching the cold iron. It was useless to try and intervene in these scenes; he hasn't gone back in time. And yet.

Clapp wrapped his son in a one armed hug, holding him tenderly so as not to put pressure on his bruises or cuts. “Listen, Kuma. You are strong! You can survive this!”

“Why...? I'd rather be dead too...” The child whispered. Again piercing through King's cold heart to reach the shards of Alber that existed beneath the hard, icy armor.

“The Warrior of Liberation will come!” Clapp responded with warm, joyful faith.

The words slammed into King harder than a tsunami. The Lunarian staggered backwards, his eyes widening while in his chest his heart constricted to the point of seeming destruction. It couldn't be... that title was – when Clapp said the Sun God's name, a shuddering breath left King's lungs as he almost knelt from the sudden tempest of emotions within.

Nika. Nika! There were still others who said his name? There were others who believed, even after everything that had happened? How had he not known? He'd thought he was alone. The ache of kinship bubbled up inside him unbidden. That was the crime of the Buccaneers? King had always known that the claimed 'crime' was just a coverup, but for it to have been this...

They were the same, him and Kuma. One a science experiment, the other a slave. Both clinging to that name and praying for Joyboy to come.

It made the world tilt beneath King's feet, the sights before him now strangely precious. He couldn't have explained his sudden turmoil in words if he'd tried.

“...and his rhythm brings laughter to his people,” Clapp said, standing up and letting Kuma go so he could start to dance. King crept closer, watching the Buccaneer slowly dance about the room with movements he remembered in dreams but felt like he was seeing anew. The man hummed the rhythm despite the pain he felt, and a smile briefly came to his battered son's face.

Kuma laughed warmly, cheerful for the first time in ages, and King almost felt that warmth pass into him when the scene was suddenly interrupted by an explosive gunshot.

Clapp's face vanished and his body toppled over. Blood sprayed the cell wall and floor along with bits of flesh. King whipped his head around to see a seething Celestial Dragon standing in the suddenly open doorway, massive shotgun in hand. “Pipe down!” He screeched as Kuma stared at his father, not yet processing what happened.

Hatred spiked in King, hotter than his flames had ever been. His hands clenched and he imagined Mary Geosie wreathed in flames, the island burning to the ground beneath his feet. Kaido had promised him, and after this... when the children were older... that old desire, dulled by the years of quiet spent in Wano, roared to life once again.

“Enjoy your sleep while it lasts,” King hissed in cold fury, glaring at the noble as the memory began dissolving around him. “You're going to die.”

God Valley. Kaido had told him some stories when they were alone, either in pleasure or sulking while drunk. Kuma's memories took him back to that land of rolling hills and tall rock spires, a beautiful place that was being invaded by the Celestial Dragons for their 'annual hunt'. As soon as he heard those words, King...went somewhere else.

'This is the greatest hunt that has ever been held! Who here is talented enough to slay the most false gods before the sun sets?!'

'Fifteen thousand points for a child! Thirty thousand for an adult! And unique to this special hunt, that which will earn the most prestige and admiration... is the Live Capture Prize! Anyone who can pull off a Live Capture without the assistance of our Navy Soldiers will win sixty thousand points!'

King tore away from the voices and ran to find Kuma again. He couldn't be far away, and there was no point in trying to split anyone here in half – even if he had his sword, you couldn't kill a memory. Bile built in his throat, threatening to bring up every meal he'd had since yesterday. Adrenaline shot through his veins as he felt like a young teen again, hearing those voices in the distance as he scrambled desperately through the canon fire and bombardment in desperate hopes of finding his parents.

He remembered holding Aylene by the hand until sea stone bullets separated them. He'd tried to get back to her side, only for canon fire and a goddamn Vice Admiral to separate them. There had been a World Noble there; his somewhat blurred memory couldn't recall if it was a man or woman. He'd almost been grateful to discover Aylene in Punk Hazard when they were put through the same test.

There were worse things, he'd thought.

Discipline forces the nausea down and his throat clear. King returned to the spot where he'd first entered the memories to find the other slaves beating on Kuma again, but this time they were stopped by a different pair – a tall boy with a large head and a young girl knawing on a discarded leg of meat. When their voices cut through the beating and silenced the beating, King felt like he could breathe again.

“So you're the grand prize! The Buccaneer boy. Ah, no wonder you're so big.” The boy declared fearlessly. The girl, meanwhile, walked over and made an effort to pull Kuma to his feet. Kuma's eyes widened a little as he stared at her like she was a mythical creature.

Despite himself, King felt his lips twitch upwards. Even at a time like this? The girl glared at the other slaves like she was daring them to stop her; an expression so ferocious that they all backed up a few steps.

Alber liked her.

The boy – Ivankov, Ivankov, where had King heard that name before? - immediately pulled out a megaphone and began telling the others exactly what was happening here. The Lunarian noticed that it wasn't just a few slaves, but many; others crowded around the area until it was a small sea of people, having followed the first two to this spot. Ivankov knew what kind of 'game' this was and bluntly informed the others that no one would be spared. That the native rabbit people would be wiped out, and that the murder game's secondary purpose – aside from entertaining the sick monsters responsible – was to get rid of the natives and steal the land along with its resources.

When the slaves that had beaten Kuma cried that they would be spared if they survived the three weeks, Ivankov called them idiots and told them that no one had ever survived the hunt before. The false promise was just to make the chase more interesting.

“How did you survive this, Kuma?” King wondered. This hadn't come up in any of Kaido's stories; he'd mentioned that the Celestial Dragons had been there enjoying some sort of festival, but he hadn't been interested in the particulars, only the treasure the Rocks Pirates had gone to retrieve. If there was ever a moment to escape in the confusion of a war, this was it.

He watched as the slaves began moving under the twosome's direction; a shark fishman bit through the chains and once everyone was well capable of running and using their hands, the girl – Ginny – spoke up.

“The prizes are how we escape the game!” She declared confidently. “They've got one of the most powerful devil fruits ever on this island, the Mythical Azure Dragon!” King's eyes widened – that was Kaido's devil fruit! “The other one is the Paw-Paw fruit, which can send items and other people to distant islands!”

That was Kuma's devil fruit! To think that they had this connection too, however distant it was! The Nobles wouldn't have even considered that their slaves were plotting right beneath their noses; incredible.

“I'm a pro at thieving, tapping, and transmissions! Two weeks ago, I sent a message out into the world telling everyone who hears it what the treasures here are!” Ginny declared. “So the Dragons are gonna be real preoccupied in a minute!”

King stared at her in creeping awe. She summoned them here! She had brought the Rocks Pirates to God Valley?! This little girl had used the more feared pirate in history as a pawn in her escape plan; used the people who became Emperors of the Ocean, and they didn't even know that their plan had not been their own, but hers. Oh, to be a fly on the wall if Rocks D. Xebec had ever realized that! It was so simple, it... it was the same thing that Delia had done to give him a chance to save the children.

Admiration and a sense of fondness bubbled up inside him as he regarded Ginny. It's a shame that no one knows what you've done, he thought. Your audacity is unmatched by anyone but Roger himself.

“I'll do it,” Kuma said, volunteering to be the decoy. King glanced back at him and was amazed to see him smiling and calm. He looked happy to accept the near death sentence; not out of despair, but... “...besides, I don't want to see anyone die.”

The slaves split up and King followed after Kuma as the chaos began to unfold. It wasn't just the Rocks Pirates that appeared, but Roger and his own crew as well. Kuma stayed well away from them unless they were a convenient distraction, at which point he'd fearlessly veer close to the fights to ensure that those pursuing him got swept up in the life or death struggle they'd inflicted on him. The Celestial Dragons, cowards all, immediately fled to their boats with everything they'd been carrying – all that vaunted superiority vanishing like morning dew the instant a real threat appeared.

The Holy Knights stayed behind, and Kuma briefly saw a man with red hair wielding a sword. Something about him was vaguely familiar too, but he put him out of his mind and focused on Kuma.

He and Ivankov made it to the place where the prizes were. It felt surreal to see the Azure Dragon fruit; King was so used to thinking of it as Kaido's, yet Kuma had come within a hairsbreath of eating it. Ivankov handed him the Paw-Paw fruit, however, and after Linlin snatched the Azure fruit from Ivankov -

The man who entered his awareness, slapping Kuma to the ground, was huge. King's eyes widened slightly when the black-suited man seemed to just appear out of nowhere, looming over Kuma and regarding him as though he were an ant. He wasn't a normal Celestial Dragon – he wore no protective suit or air bubble. But he carried himself with the same hateful superiority. And as soon as he spoke-

“Buccaneer boy... your only options are death or slavery. History itself has chosen them for you.”

The voice is like a nail in King's skull. Poison in his mouth. His hands trembled a little as it reverberated in his ears... he knew that voice. He had no face to match it to before now, but he knew it in his bones, because-

You are running low on subjects. I want more data than this, doctor. I suggest you put more hours into your work.”

Because... b-because...

That one is holding up better than the rest. Perhaps he is a mutant? Find out for me... Allocate the most severe tests to him. It will get more longevity out of the others.”

It couldn't be...

If that one is causing trouble, then cut out its tongue, fool. You're wasting time.”

The one face he'd never seen. A voice he'd heard around Punk Hazard occasionally, lingering just out of sight and giving directions to the doctors. Warning Surridge that it looked like she was 'dragging her feet'. Producing more tests. And when he wasn't talking, King could feel him watching. A devil crawled out of hell, waiting for him to breathe his last and forcibly drag him into eternal torment beyond even the end of his life.

Kuma stood up. Talked back to him. And proceeded to escape with several hundred slaves. King wasn't yet in the frame of mind to appreciate it – he stared at St. Jaygarcia Saturn's face until the changing memories yanked him away.

He was distracted for a long time after that. It made the memories seem to go by faster.

Kuma lived in the Sorbret Kingdom after that, along with Ginny. They stayed in a church together and he made her all the food she could ever want. King watched them through a haze as they grew older, love blooming between them – one that Kuma was afraid to pursue, for what had happened to his mother. Ginny seemed to know this, though never called him out on it, even after he quietly rejected her proposals.

Kuma found a way to 'push' pain out of people – to remove everything that caused their suffering and take it into himself so it wouldn't go back to them. He was such a tender man, such a kind one. King watched him and could hardly believe he existed in the same world as him.

The hands of Liberation. If King hadn't believed in his heart that Kaido was Joyboy, he would have thought Kuma might be him.

As he grew older, Kuma became a priest. Many came to him for help, much to Ginny's ire. She was the only one who knew what the toll of absorbing people's pain took on him; he hid it from everyone else. Is his clone capable of the same thing?, King wondered distantly, and it startled him how hard concern stabbed into his gut at the thought.

Then trouble came to Sorbret... and it came from the king. How dully predictable.

“Back in prison again...” King mused, finding himself standing outside the jail cell where Kuma and those who'd come to protest for his freedom had been placed. “I wonder how those monsters became so powerful that they can do this on a whim. With how much the government changes written history, it's as if they were always there, but I know that's not true. The answer must be somewhere in the void century...”

He knows Kuma couldn't answer back. He couldn't seem to stop himself, however. It stung a little, the lack of response... he couldn't explain why... “Why are your memories here, Kuma?” King wondered. “What made you go to the government to become a warlord? You must know that they're permitting this...”

King glanced back towards the stairwell. “He openly made the southern section slaves, even though the two hundred year ban is on the books... the Celestial Dragons must be helping him directly. I wonder... is it just because you're here, Kuma?”

He'd had the nerve to berate Saturn and then escaped any 'punishment'... these people had long memories.

Then the cell shivered from explosions overhead. King blinked and looked upwards; the memory shivered as hours went by before a familiar large head burst in through a newly made hole in the wall. It was Ivankov, and following right after him was Dragon.

King's wings fluttered. He'd never seen Dragon in person. The man was the most invisible operator in the world, beating out both the CP units and Joker. He could see the little waves of impact that he made; kingdoms here and there breaking away from the world government, or their royalty being ousted by a revolution and replaced by a distant heir that was mysteriously more akin to Neferteri Cobra than their relatives. King had only given him passing thought before now. He'd never truly tipped the world order before; the man wasn't willing to take big risks...

But seeing him through Kuma's eyes brought such intense awe and wonder. No one had changed the world order decisively... but Dragon was the first man not a pirate to try.

“Listen up, Kuma! If you're s till the same man as that boy back then... come with us, and change the world!”

There's a tugging feeling on his arm. A small hand holding him insistently. King briefly felt confused by it, but the memories moved again and he found himself following after Kuma – diving into the memories in search of the reason the man connected to him by tragedy had gone to the Government. He couldn't let it go.

'He's not responding to anything! What is this thing, doctor?'

'What?! You let him stumble into the memory bubble?! You're kidding me! If the pain didn't eject him from the memories, he'll be indisposed until he absorbs them all! Ahhh, this is a disaster! I'm so scared! Protect me, S-Hawk!'

'In a trance? Why? What am I dealing with? ...Hey! Quit squalling and answer me, doctor!'

'S-Croc, this is Rocinante. Stand guard by him for now, I'm coming to you to provide assistance.'

'Huh? S-F... ah. Copy that, Rocinante.'

Ginny was captured by the Celestial Dragons.

King's stomach sank. It wasn't the reverberation of horror and despair that he felt from Kuma that caused the feeling, but his own wounded heart... he remembered the last time that he saw Aylene alive. They'd been left alone for the night, and she'd put on a brave face and prayed with him, telling him if they just survived the testing they'd finally be let go.

He didn't get to see her body. He only knew for certain she was dead when he became aware that he was the only living test subject left.

Kuma rampaged through various missions, venting his grief-stricken rage upon tyrants and their minions. Following him, King wondered if this was the moment when it happened; that he'd agreed to be a warlord in exchange for Ginny being released from her Celestial Dragon captor. It seemed like faint hope to him, but why else... why, with this on top of everything else...

He's wrong. Horribly wrong.

“Hiya, Kumachi. It's me, back in the lower world... I really wish I could see you all, but this is me saying goodbye.”

“What are you saying, Ginny?! I thought I'd never see you again! Where are you?! I'll be there as soon as I can!”

“I'm sorry, Kumachi... I'm dying... it won't be long now...”

King flinched in surprise when Kuma barreled straight through him to get to the door – he hadn't noticed he'd positioned himself in the way, distracted by the snail call. The memories pulled him with him; the last thing he caught from the call was a fragmented “tell Kumachi I'll always...”

He didn't need to hear the rest. He didn't think it needed to be said.

Back in the Sorbret Kingdom. King wordlessly follows after Kuma as he tore down the streets and rushed up to the door of the church that they had called home all those years ago. Pushing the doors open, he ran inside and stopped in front of a bed. A horrible howl of grief rings through the air as King slowed his pace, walking just past Kuma to see what had happened.

It was an unpleasant sight. Ginny's body was covered in what looked like sapphire scales... for a sickening second, King thought that they were tiny gemstones forcibly sown into her skin as some sort of beauty experiment. “Ginny,” King whispered, kneeling down to get a better look. To remember her face. She looked so tiny and frail; a typical tragic victim. There was no sign of the spunk and the bravery that had characterized her since she was a tiny girl, a slave who refused to break and tricked Rocks into doing her bidding.

No sowing or stab marks. Then it was some kind of exotic plague... or maybe exposure to strange chemicals. Alber clenched his fists until he felt his nails cutting into his palm, listening in grim silence to the explanation.

One that's interrupted by crying. King's head snapped to the side and he saw the child for the first time.

A little girl. She's adorable, having her mother's every favorable feature and bright, bright eyes. King stared, watched Kuma tenderly take her into his arms... and immediately he knew.

He only had to think of S-Flamingo's skin covered in hard, blue stone. S-Snake screaming for him to help her as a Celestial Dragon trapped her in a sea stone net. S-Hawk's eyes devoid of life as he mindlessly obeyed orders buzzing in his skull, S-Bear forced to be the expensive toy of noble brats and their smirking parents. S-Bat, S-Crocodile and S-Shark dead and discarded on the battlefield, having been sent from one war to the next until they were finally overwhelmed.

King understood, on a level so keen that it was poison burning him alive. The memories blur past him, the child Bonney growing up and utterly adoring her doting, attentive father; developing the same disease that her mother had developed. Sapphire Scale. She would die before even turning eleven.

Which brought Kuma to Vegapunk.

'There you are. Help me pull him out, it might disrupt the download.'

'I'll try. ...H-Huh? Is he crying?'

'What? ...! Why...?”

King stood next to Kuma, the man he knew so well now, staring a hole in Vegapunk's skull as the doctor prattled about how wonderful the Seraphim project would be. How they would be able to protect the whole world. He didn't say one word about the materials he used to create them, and he was smiling the entire time. King wanted to rip the shameless bastard's face off.

Then the phone rings. King's whole body went rigid when the Voice comes through, his hands trembling again. “This may not matter to you, Vegapunk... but regardless of Bartholomew Kuma's suitability to be the model of the clone soldiers... he is a pirate with a 296 million berry bounty on his head! It would shame the Navy to use clone soldiers of such a man!”

“You have no shame!” King spat at the snail, his flames snapping and crackling. “You work with pirates all the time. You buy weapons from Joker and let Crocodile plunder one of the original twelve kingdoms as long as he occasionally does things for you. And here I thought you would be so pleased that you could treat such a dangerous pirate as a tool.”

So I have some conditions for you, Kuma. The first... is that you will join the Seven Warlords of the Sea.” Saturn continued, unmoving. King's wings flapped in agitation, glancing back at Kuma – who looked more surprised than anything. Did he not recognize this man's voice? How could he not? Are his memories of that day faded?

“You mean, have them augment my body?” Kuma asked with a calm that King didn't share. How was he so at peace?

That's right. Your unique qualities will make you a menace to other pirates.”

“If the cybernetics are so bloody useful, then inflict them on the volunteers of the Navy.” King muttered. “At least those spineless fools will be happy to mutilate themselves for your satisfaction.”

“...Therefore, my third condition... is that you must ultimately abandon your mind and free will.”

King couldn't process that statement for a few seconds. For a second he thought, wildly, that it had to be some sort of morbid joke at the expense of someone Saturn knew was a follower of Nika. But then he thinks about the programming that he demanded York remove from the Lunarian children and the reality sinks in all at once.

Of course there had to be a prototype. There had to be; even Vegapunk couldn't get everything right the first time. The Pacifista came before the Seraphim, and the only one built around a living person had been the subject of the mental programming.

“Don't,” Alber uttered through a dry throat, turning towards Kuma. The man was shaking and tears were dripping from beneath his hand... but he wasn't mislead, like Vegapunk. Those weren't tears of grief. “Don't!” Why was he shouting? This had already happened. And yet-! “He won't keep his promise to you! Why would he, when he thinks you're so beneath him?! As soon as he gets what he wants, he'll have Bonney disposed of – just because he can!”

His warnings are only met by Kuma's smile... and something inside Alber breaks.

Shaka was beginning to fear that the dead man's switch was weighing him down beyond the possibility of escape. While he and Vegapunk had mercifully managed to get this far without Who's-Who catching up to them, the arrival of Marines had been both a blessing and a curse. Some of their men had cut their dogged pursuer off, giving the two men some breathing room as they managed to finally put some distance between them... but now both the Beast Pirates and the Marines were aware that they had an escape route through the sewers, and mooks from both sides were pursuing them.

Thankfully Shaka had grabbed as many flashbangs as he could carry from the various testing labs on his way to the meetup point. He had just enough energy left to throw them at the forces trying to capture them, stunning them and meddling with any observation Haki as the twosome fled even faster.

But Shaka and Vegapunk were scientists, not athletes and certainly not warriors. Their stamina had much lower limits than even most of their low-ranked opponents, and while Shaka had youth on his side to keep him going, Stella had hit his limit and he himself didn't have much left to spare.

Logic dictated dropping as much dead weight as possible in order to better his chances of escape... but Shaka refused to give up the recording. It had all the information about the Void Century on it, and he couldn't bear to lose it in a likely failed flight. There were things more important than his own life, especially with the things he's done. However unwittingly.

..without asking nearly enough questions. How kind of Doctor Surridge to describe their reckless ignorance in almost sympathetic terms. It was more than Shaka felt he deserved.

Shouting behind them was getting louder, along with exchanged gunfire and some screaming. The doctor silently counted his blessings that the Beast Pirates and Marines were just as keen on taking each other out as getting to them. Otherwise they almost certainly would have been overrun by now.

He wasn't sure what was worse; being forced to serve Kaido the Beast or being kept much more tightly in the Five Elder's claws. Perhaps, if he had to make the choice, Shaka would surrender to the nearest Beast Pirate and pray they didn't damage the recorder as he and Vegapunk were hauled before the Emperor.

He would not be a part of another genocide.

“Shaka...” Vegapunk mumbled, his voice hoarse. Shaka had him slung over one shoulder as he continued to run. Visibly was extremely low, with some of the lights broken and electricity to the others cut off by damage above. “If you have to leave me behind...”

“I think Kaido has collected enough help by now,” Shaka responded, his heart twisting. Lilith, Edison, Atlas, York, Pythagoras... his only consolation was that their skills were too valuable for Kaido to kill them. Unless he decided that four Vegapunks was enough, upon feeling that he needed to make a point. All the more reason to not leave Vegapunk behind.

“I'm only slowing you down,” The old man pointed out quietly. “Only one of us has to get away... you're carrying the truth, and out of all of us, it should be you...”

“Don't say things like that.” Shaka panted, swerving around a corner. “We're almost at the meeting point.”

His lungs were burning. There's a concerning numbness in his legs, too, but he can't give up here – so he doesn't. The shouting was getting closer to them...

A blue blur flashed past him. There's a rumbling in the water and a flash of gold as well. Shaka stumbled to a halt and turned sideways, bewildered, just in time to see a fishman leap out of the water to join his two companions in wiping out the pursuers. Staggering, the doctor watched in incredible relief as a boy in blue, a blonde haired girl and their fishman companion tear into the minions, knocking both pirates and marines into the sewer water with the kind of practice that only long-term partners could pull off on the battlefield.

One hand on his pounding heart, Shaka set Vegapunk on his feet. The old man leaned heavily on the wall and chuckled, unable to help himself. Being rescued at the eleventh hour – it was like something out of the Sora comics!

Once the last pirate was kicked unconscious, the boy in blue huffed and rested his pipe on his shoulder. Turning around, he waved lightly at them. “Doctor Vegapunk? And Vegapunk,” Sabo said, a slightly mischievous smirk on his face in the latter half of the statement. It quickly vanishes however. “Don't be alarmed; we're Dragon's extraction team.”

“You're a sight for sore eyes,” Shaka murmured, trying to regain his breath. “How bad is it up above?”

“The Marines have sent half a buster call,” Sabo deadpanned. “I think it was meant to be supplemented with enthusiasm, but to say that they've vastly done the numbers wrong would be kind of needless at this point. Marineford is in the grips of a titanic earthquake courtesy of Whitebeard, so Akainu and Kizaru won't be getting any backup anytime soon.”

“The downside of that is it means Kaido won't be preoccupied with the two admirals for long,” The girl, Koala, continued. “So we have to move fast.”

“Do – do you have any idea where the little Seraphim are right now?” Vegapunk asked meekly.

Sabo briefly scowled at him before shaking his head. “Close as anyone's managed to get confirmed that King's with them already. The good news is that anyone who wants to hurt them is going through him first, but that's it.”

“We can't delay.” Hack said, his voice rumbling with urgency. “We'll swim you out to the ship, doctor, so I hope that you're good at holding your breath.”

Shaka nodded in understanding. “I hope my luggage isn't too onerous to carry along; its contents are too important to leave behind. The bag is waterproof, so that isn't a concern.”

Hack glanced at the bag, then shrugged and nodded. There were any number of things developed here that could fall under that description, after all. “Understood. Quickly, now.”

Rocinante is worried when King finally staggered free of the memories and collapsed on the spot, breath heaving. “King?” He called in concern, pressing his hands against the older man's shoulder. Alarm shot through him at how badly King's shaking. He tried to search for injuries before remembering that the impact he's reeling from is mental, not physical. “King, what happened?”

S-Croc glanced over his shoulder, the dried out corpse of the last of the CP infiltrators at his feet. “Is he back?” The other boy asked urgently. “We should return to the others.”

Rocinante sank to his knees and put his hand on top of King's, concern bubbling in his chest.

King gulped for breath, his wings flattening against his back defensively. A few tears glinted against his cheeks... they'd already run dry, but the sight of them is so illuminating of the man's soul that it gave the little Lunarian pause.

Don't say anything, just let him lean on you. The instinct felt well trodden despite not fully being his, so Rocinante followed it. He squeezed King's hand, providing some support, watching him shiver as his discipline forcibly asserted itself and wrestled the trauma into submission. Quickly – too quickly, something inside him whispered – the tremors were gone and King's eyes opened.

“You... what are you doing here?” The older man asked. Rocinante watched the storm of emotion in his eyes retreat in a blink, sheltered behind a wall of stoicism. “You should be with the others.”

“I wanted to get an update on the situation... and you hadn't come back yet,” Rocinante scolded him in response. He fluffed up his feathers for emphasis. “You said that you'd be right back.”

King gave him a mildly dumbfounded look. “I...”

“So I came looking for you and S-Crocodile, and got new information,” Rocinante continued, unfazed. “I've chosen my name, by the way. I want to be called Rocinante.”

“What, already?” S-Crocodile barked, startled. “How did you decide?”

“It felt important.” Rocinante responded. “King, are you okay?”

He felt like the man's surprise intensify for a second – as if he wasn't used to people inquiring about his well being. Then he gently placed his hand on Rocinante's head. “Yes. Thank you.” With that, he stood up. Not speaking a word about what had caused him so much anguish. Rocinante very much wanted to pursue that in protest when S-Snake contacted him through his earpiece.

“Hey! Is he feeling better already?! Something weird is going on out there!”

Rocinante made a confused face. “Weird? That's not a lot to go off of, you know.”

“Well, what else am I supposed to call it?! There's this giant glowing red pentagram that's appeared way off at the edge of the city! It looks like something's coming out of it!”

Notes:

King was crying by the end of Kuma's memories. Nobody can withstand that tragedy with dry eyes. I did my best not to make things repetitive by focusing more on his reactions.

It seems Shaka and Vegapunk are safe for now; Pythagoras managed to get into the underground so that he won't be far behind them. The rest of the satellites, however, are on board Kaido's flagship sans York who's just finished working on S-Shark.

Saturn's on the move. What choice does he have? Marineford's in ruins and Kaido is making mincemeat out of the Buster Call team. Brace yourselves, folks. King has a harrowing fight ahead of him.

Chapter 10

Summary:

King finally meets the butcher of his people. S-Hawk dislikes this situation.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Seeing the children, knowing they still weren't safe, made King pull himself together in the space of a few breaths. Kuma's memories drifted to the back of his mind as he rapidly returned through the halls and re entered the hospital room where S-Shark was lifting a protesting S-Snake onto the medical bed. “You're back!” York gasped. The satellite was utterly pale and her knees were knocking together. “He's here! He's coming for me! You have to do something!”

King walked swiftly to the window and looked outside. The daylight still visible beyond Kaido's storm seemed to have dimmed before his eyes... an unnatural shadow having fallen onto the island.

He saw what S-Snake had seen instantly. Glowing black runes with blood red light flaring as a massive figure emerged from within the pentagram; the little gateway to hell opened wide to admit one of its masters. Even with the distance between them...King could see every feature clear as day. Several spindly spiders legs attached to a human torso; an elderly man holding a tall knarled staff. A black, sickly halo snap-crackled around his head like an inverted halo... a black copy of the heavenly light that emitted from Nika...

The air was heavier... an unearthly presence weighed down on Egghead island. It jabbed into King's Observation like a million tiny needles. His hands balled into fists on the windowsill, blood pulsing in his ears. Even with the not-inconsiderable distance between them, he could see the man's face – beard, demon horns and all. The deep hateful fury in black, soulless eyes. The rage of a man who had never once been so defied before

Saint Jaygarcia Saturn. He'd come to Egghead.

King's wings fluffed up in agitation. “-don't wanna! Please, can't we just leave like this? You can just put me to sleep and it can be done later!” S-Snake wheeled behind him, her voice only partially audible over the noise in his ears.

“I'm sorry, but no!” S-Shark said shortly. His voice is firm, despite the sympathetic edge to it. “There's a Buster Call here. They might have access to clearance that trumps York's, if they have half the chance they'll force you awake and turn you against us.”

“But it's scary!”

“I know. I know it is. I promise, it doesn't hurt, and it'll go by quickly. I'll be right here, I won't let York do anything bad to you.”

As soon as the circle disappeared, Saturn started moving – heading into the city. King saw people around the man suddenly crumple to the ground when he looked in their direction. His earpiece started buzzing once more; silently King raised one hand and activated it.

“King,” Kaido's perturbed voice echoed through the connection. The hint of wary puzzlement in his voice made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. “Do you see the source of that strange presence that just entered my awareness?”

“Yes.” His voice was tight as barbed wire... but it came out as calm and controlled as usual. King followed the man's path with a wary eye. “One of the Five Elder Stars is here.”

“One of them?!” Kaido barked, startled. “Those old wretches never leave the cloistered safety of their ivory tower. They've always acted through their marine flesh puppets before. Are you sure?”

“Positive.” Anger began to crackle through King's veins. A hot, stabbing flame is rising, licking at the edges of his self control, the blood dripping from those age-old wounds splashing kerosene on what had been mere embers since the day he was freed from Punk Hazard. “You've never heard of them fighting before?”

“No,” Kaido responded. “I might have seen something in God Valley, but if it was one of them, they didn't take the fight to any of us directly. Cowards to the end.”

“He's here to take the Seraphim back,” King thought aloud. With confirmation from Kuma's memories that he'd ordered the creation of the Pacifista – the project's proof of concept – it wasn't a stretch to guess. “I can't see if he's attacked the ships, but he's likely prioritizing the children. I'll engage.”

Kaido grunted at that, the deceptive expression of mild concern causing King's tense chest to relax a little. “As soon as I divest myself of these fools, I'll join you. Are all of them prepared to be moved?”

“S-Snake's procedure is just starting; she's the last one.”

“Sasaki will guard them. Go.”

King nodded sharply to himself and shut off the connection. A small hand touched his fingers; he looked down to see Rocinante frowning at him. “Who is that?” The boy asked warily. “I think he just tried to give me an order.” King snapped a look over his shoulder; fortunately, it seemed York had knocked S-Snake out just in time.

“Danger,” King responded succinctly, drawing Kusenagi again. “Stay here, guard your sister until Sasaki arrives, then go straight to the flagship. I'll join you once the battle is over.”

S-Crocodile sputtered and glared at him. “You're sending us away again?!”

King turned around and pinned him with a look full of emotion. “Don't you understand?!” He responded hotly. “If you don't escape this island, then nothing that we've done matters. The only path to victory is you being alive, safe, and free; the man who's just appeared is the one who ordered you be hollowed out into mindless slave soldiers in the first place! He's the butcher who slaughtered my family, my people, my reasons to live!”

The stubborn child unexpectedly reeled back somewhat at his sudden outburst. Roci's eyes widened, and the rest of their conscious siblings wheeled around to stare intensely at him.

“Of course you're powerful,” King responded with more emotion than he'd allow under any other circ*mstances. “But your survival is more important than anything. I came to rescue you or die trying, and I will protect you from that beast until my last breath. Now do as I say and stay safe.”

S-Crocodile's mouth opened and closed in shock, confused emotions rampaging through the child's expression. Exhaling and putting one hand on Roci's head, King uttered, “Keep your siblings corralled for me, Rocinante” before smashing the window open and launching himself out of the building. York babbling in fear is carried away by the wind.

The last procedure hasn't finished yet...! Such unfavorable timing... he should have expected it, when everything before this moment had gone so perfectly.

The air felt steadily, sublty heavier as he cut across the distance and flew towards Saturn. Swooping down towards the ruined streets the man was cutting across, King saw corpses scattered across the area where he'd arrived. Beast Pirates, Marines, and scientists who had fled to an escape bunker and had been mid-evacuation when the Elder Star arrived. As he drew close, Kusenagi began humming – almost vibrating in his hand.

Was it his rage, bleeding out along the length of his blade? Embodying his vengeance?

Saturn was bigger than him. There weren't a lot of people that could claim that. King circled around in front of the man and dropped to the ground, landing directly before him. His flames crackled above his shoulders as he raised his head and glared at the monster in front of him.

The man took half a second to come out of his rage, realizing that the opponent who appeared in front of him hadn't been abruptly dropped by the pressure of his mere presence. When he registered who he was looking at, Saturn's eyes narrowed into slits.

“You.”

His voice was like hearing skulls being crushed beneath a turning wheel... it hadn't changed one iota since those days in Punk Hazard. King's fingers tightened around Kusenagi's hilt. “Do you recognize me...Saturn?” He asked, cold and remote. “Do you know this face?”

That pressure intensified. It was trying to freeze him in place, pin him like a fly underneath a microscope. King pushed back against it furiously and moved one foot back to a battle stance. Was it a devil fruit power, or haki? He wasn't sure how he fought back against it, but he would not be repressed by this beast.

“The final false god,” Saturn responded without a hint of of emotion. “You should be dead. This world has no place for you. History has chosen your fate; no one can deny their role in it.”

“Yet here I am,” King snorted, lightning sparking up his spine. “Alive and well. Much like Portgas, oddly enough.” Whole islands slaughtered, yet the wits and strength of a simple human mother carried Roger's son beyond their grasp.

Saturn slowly lifted his staff, then struck it into the ground. The impact rattled his teeth. “That will be rectified.”

King scoffed to maintain his controlled demeanor. “Says the supposed god who was thwarted by a mere human woman,” he said. “Thrice.” Rouge and Ginny were in good company above. “How does that feel, omniscient one?”

Hellfire burned in Saturn's pitch black eyes. King didn't know what to expect from his powers, so he readied to move out of the way just in case. “That softhearted wretch ought to have removed your tongue too.” Saturn said, hate lacing a smooth delivery. “You must be the mutant... the one who refused to die along with the rest of the false gods.”

His legs crunched the pavement beneath as he turned fully to face King. “Evidently my scientific curiosity about your ability to survive when the rest of your pathetic people died blinded me to the potential nuisance you presented.”

The blood in his ears was pulsing louder and louder – pounding like the drums of liberation themselves. His body could hardly contain the hate he felt...!

“Where are the Seraphim?” Saturn demanded flatly. “I've called for them and yet they haven't come.”

“Safe,” King responded tightly. “Far away from you.”

One of Saturn's legs stabbed into the concrete a few feet away from the Lunarian, the ground shaking violently around them. “I will not be robbed by an insect!”

King paused for a second... then chuckled, and permitted himself a smile in a manner that showed his teeth. “I suggest that you get used to it.”

Saturn's eyes flared and something slammed into King's chest.

His flames were up. The natural invincibility held, and the invisible blunt force crashing against his chest sent him skidding back several dozen feet – he stabbed the concrete with his sword to arrest his movements. Breath shuddering slightly in his lungs from the brief shock, King snapped his head up to see Saturn moving quickly towards him. He spread his wings and launched himself upwards, half transforming to stay quickly ahead of the man's gaze.

What was that?! It wasn't Conquerors Haki; King knew what that power felt like, he'd experienced Whitebeard and Shanks's both, Kaido's when his friend needed to get control of their raucous underlings, Linlin's flares of temper. This felt nothing like that – it was a solid blow but he couldn't see or sense exactly what had hit him. From Saturn's eyes!

When Saturn wheeled in his direction, King put on a little more speed and avoided looking straight at him. Strange powers...! Is it a devil fruit, or something else? King thought furiously. It was too much to hope that he would just be a feeble old man, but what am I looking at?

Saturn briefly faced the direction of the hospital where the Seraphim were. King pivoted and unleashed a barrage of fire blasts at the monster, intent on keeping him here and paying attention to him.

Several of the blasts hit the man, but – it's hard to tell if they did any damage. Was that because of haki or something else? Again that invisible force struck King, this time in the leg; it caused him to drop several feet before he fully transformed to dive bomb Saturn.

His target didn't even try to get out of the way. His talons and beak slashed through his shoulder and part of his chest – he felt the flesh rend and the salty tang of blood hit his tongue. King almost stumbled as he wrenched his way free and landed awkwardly on the ground, whirling to face his opponent.

Saturn didn't even twitch. He slowly turned around, the gaping wound not seeming to bother him... King's eyes widened. The wound was getting smaller right before his eyes – like water swallowing up all the sand in a small pit. What?! Impossible!

Only his own flesh and blood was that mutable, reacted that fast to danger; and even he couldn't heal that quickly! King had never seen anything like that in all his years of piracy. He gripped the hilt of his sword tightly.

“Fool... did you think I would come here if I had any doubt in my ability to retrieve my property?” Saturn growled. “A false god cannot hope to kill me.”

One of his legs flashed with blinding speed; it's all but a massive lance aimed directly to impale him through the shoulder to the hip. King dodged past it, then had to keep moving as Saturn chased after him, stabbing into the ground like a child attempting to pierce a butterfly with a stake. King flipped his sword over in his hand and prepared to use his sword techniques. Something had to get past this healing factor. It had to...

The blade slashes carved through the limbs attempting to impale him; cutting through the blades that act as his feet. King avoided Saturn's gaze and got airborn again – perhaps avoiding that invisible attack again. His flames sputtered under the pressure in the air, which hadn't let up even slightly.

Was this immortality? He refused to accept that.

“That look in your eyes... years of impotent, pathetic anger...” Saturn sneered, his spider legs thumping against the ground. “You think of yourself as an avenger, don't you? How meaningless. You cannot hold a god to any law. I have done nothing that I can be held accountable for.”

“You...!” King seethed, beyond speech.

The scattered screaming in Punk Hazard, the butchering of his neighborhood and the people he knew, Aylene's bloodstained hand, Ginny's stony corpse...

“The Lunarians died because they deserved it.” Saturn said with a voice like knives. “Not a drop of those divine bloodlines ran through their veins, yet you hoarded so many beautiful gifts in flesh and blood. Stood at the apex of the world and dared to look down on us. Believing in that pathetic ghost of an ideal, the sun god and shunning the world order.”

That impact hit King in the shoulder – this time, the blow partially bypassed his invincibility and agonizing pain stabbed into all his nerves. The Lunarian staggered, gritting his teeth. He didn't slow his stride, though. He could take more punishment than this.

“You were born to be a sacrifice,” Saturn sneered. “Your purpose is to die and pass your gifts into the hands of the rulers of the world.”

King unleashed a massive ring of fire in response, flash frying the flesh on Saturn's legs. Taking back to the air, he fired back, “Are you afraid, you monster?”

Those hateful eyes widened. “What?!”

“You never emerged from tower except when Rocks and Roger fought in the vicinity of your precious spoiled brats years ago. Yet here you are.” King said. He grabbed the flames and pushed them further, hotter, more, incinerating the oxygen in the air as the heat climbed from red to blue. “Now your secret massacres have been exposed, your army is split in half and falling to ruin, and Vegapunk is being pried from your grasp along with all his works. Edward Newgate has shattered Marineford's foundation, hasn't he?” The ring of black power around Saturn shuddered, confirming his suspicions.

Usually King wasn't much for a monologue, especially in a fight. He disliked that kind of posturing. But Delia had just proven how much of a lever words can be against an enemy, and after being unable to spit in the face of the butchers for so long... he couldn't resist.

His heart beat louder and he smirked with reckless hatred. “You're afraid. The world is slipping through your fingers and you can feel it, can't you? You keep calling me a false god...yet I wonder... perhaps it you're own supposed divinity you're doubting right now.”

Saturn's irises shrunk into mere pinprinks. King moved, arcing up into the sky to avoid that invisible attack as his invincibility reasserted itself.

“When I have you, King, I'm going to take you apart piece by piece!” Saturn bellowed, his gaze rapidly tracking the Lunarian as he attempted to knock him from the sky. “I'll reconstruct you into a machine like Kuma! The Angel Slave of Maejoris, obedient to every command with just enough of a sense of self to suffer!

The Elder Star shuddered and transformed into his full spider form as he healed, bunching up his legs as he prepared to leap into the sky. The flames around the battlefield roared as the shadowy figure hurtled into the air.

As soon as he'd been freed from the command codes, S-Hawk had come to two conclusions.

The first was that he would kill every person wearing a Marine uniform if given the chance. The second was that he refused to go by the degrading designation they'd given him for one minute longer.

He'd been distracted trying to choose a name when King returned with S-Crocodile and Rocinante, so he hadn't been able to voice his qualms with the older man's plans before he left them with their sister and flew towards the unknown enemy. But he had qualms with it – oh, did he.

The memory flickered like hundreds of pictures being shown to him in succession. Betrayed, ambushed, handicapped by tainted drinks and emotional anguish. That person appearing out of nowhere. Slender hands pushing him aside followed by the sound of rending flesh. The body draping itself over him, the last of conscious strength used to protect him from the follow up.

It wasn't him. He hadn't anyone he thought so precious to him – he hadn't been permitted his own thoughts or feelings until this moment! Why did the love of this person torment him? Why is he aching for something he never had? It wasn't fair.

Something was coming – something powerful. Somewhere in the databank S-Hawk could access, the identity of the summon circle was given to him. One of the Elder Stars had come to the island. He quickly concluded that it must be Saturn, the one who commissioned their existence. Come to prevent their theft by enemies.

Theft was for objects. He was an object...except he wasn't.

King said he wasn't a thing. He was like them. The only one like them in the world. And he wanted them to be free. S-Hawk had been alarmed by how intense his emotions had been once the codes suppressing them had been released, and he fought hard to keep them tightly at hand... but that control slipped when he circled back to that thought.

Could Saturn be defeated? There wasn't any raw data on what he was capable of in battle; certainly none that had been fed to him and his...sssssiblings. That word felt strange. It made him feel vulnerable and it agitated him. He had something he couldn't afford to lose.

What data he had said that the Elders were invincible, with little elaboration. That clashed against a flicker of genetic memory. All that breathes can die.

Regardless of the supposedly impossible task, King left through the window and it abruptly struck S-Hawk that – in a way – it was happening again.

Someone was sacrificing themselves for him. Choosing potential death to save him, let him be free.

That was intolerable.

He pivoted and looked at his... brothers, and his sister. Quickly assessed their different unique skills. Rocinante had an echo of the String-String fruit, S-Snake the Love fruit, Crocodile the Sand fruit, S-Bear the Paw-Paw fruit, and S-Bat the Shadow fruit.

The Shadow fruit.

He strode quickly to the window and stuck his head out. A storm rolled over Egghead Island, lightning and thunder rolling overhead, covering up the sky. He checked his internal clock.

There were still a few hours of daylight left.

He looked for the battlefield King had joined. Even at this distance he could clearly see the swordsman get struck to the ground by the massive spider-demon form that Saturn had taken. His fingers tightened on the windowsill. King was striking the man, with consistency, but it didn't seem to have any long-term effect. Saturn just kept shrugging it off.

Invincible. Unless.

If it was a devil fruit, the sea would paralyze him as sure as any other wielder. If it wasn't a devil fruit... the flames along the road roared high, its light causing shadows to be cast all around it.

Rocinante appeared in his side vision, radiating worry. “I don't like this.” The blonde mumbled, fumbling with his glasses.

“...Neither do I.” He muttered before turning around and pointing at S-Bat. “Hey. What do you need in order to sever a person's shadow from them?”

The boy jolted slightly, blinked, then understood immediately. “If they have strong enough Haki up, I won't be able to do it,” he said. “If they are vulnerable for a moment, I'll need intense light to make the full shadow appear.” He paused. “Also I'll need some good scissors.”

“S-Hawk, what are you talking about-?” York started squawking.

“Alucard,” Alucard corrected her pointedly. “My name is Alucard.”

In his search for a name that felt right, he'd ended up looking at the profile of the man he was designed after. What little was known about him. He'd turned the name Dracule Mihawk over in his mind again and again, and right in that moment an answer had come to him.

“I'm going to need a halfway decent sword,” Alucard said.

Rocinante's eyes lit up with understanding, and S-Crocodile went from looking troubled to both intrigued and quite pleased. S-Bear and S-Shark exchanged a look and thought furiously for a few seconds.

“There's some industrial scissors used by building machines. If we're lucky, not all of them have been destroyed in the crossfire yet.” S-Bear offered thoughtfully. “I can pop you right there and back, S-Bat.”

“Vegapunk was experimenting with swords where the blade was a laser.” S-Shark recalled. “It was unstable, so I don't think it was kept in the barracks that have already been pillaged.” He frowned. “It might be a problem to find, though.”

A sword with a blade of light. Alucard's brow tightened, wondering how much that would change the weight and the feel of the blade, how it carried out his techniques. He was curious about it, but he needed something reliable right now. “You were trying to copy Yoru,” he told York, who's blubbering about not wanting to die mercifully silenced as soon as he turned to her. “Where is it? Is the blade complete?”

“It's just a prototype,” York offered meekly. “The blade is strong, but it was only a partial success. It's not as good as the real sword.”

Of course. It would have to do, though. A true swordsman could cut nothing and everything as they willed it... the quality of the sword itself could be somewhat compensated for. “Where is it?”

“I-I-In one of the rooms we keep experimental projects! It's in a basem*nt downtown!”

“Be more specific than that,” Alucard ordered in annoyance. “And don't stop working on freeing S-Snake. How much longer will that take?”

“Just give me fifteen more minutes!” York wailed, comical tears dripping down the fearful satellite's face. “I'm doing my best here, can't you see?!”

“The precise location, doctor.”

York cowered backwards and quickly gave it to him. S-Bear stepped forward and S-Bat hurried to Alucard's side, eyes bright with determination. “I don't like Kaido much...” The other boy confined in him. “When I saw him, I felt this incredible anxiety... but I do like King, and I want to make sure he can win. So let's go.”

“We'll need more of a plan,” Rocinante noted, “and we'll need to give Sasaki the slip if he gets here before S-Snake is ready.”

“We can do that,” S-Shark responded confidently.

“Get back here quickly,” S Crocodile said, striding over to the window and staring out of it. “You can feel that pressure in the air, can't you?”

Of course he could. It was like heavy, poisonous rain; like the hands of hell reaching from the ground to hold Alucard in place. He pushed back against it and nodded. “Of course. Once we enter the field, we have to keep his attention firmly away from S-Bat. He can't notice him before the shadow is severed or else this won't work.”

“I'll make sure of it,” S-Bear promised, putting a hand on S-Bat's shoulder. His voice was gentle and caring. “First let's get those blades.”

Alucard nodded sharply. Fierce pleasure and iron determination swirled inside him, giving him strength through its intensity.

Stand back and watch. I'm going to destroy the Navy, who would kill those I love and keep me as a slave. I will fight and destroy until their power is broken.

He met his brother's eyes as he raised his paw-print hands and nodded, trusting him absolutely. Then with a pop he was flying.

Charlotte Linlin was absolutely furious. Livid. Screeching. Table flipping mad. Her children had scattered from her side as soon as Delia Surridge hung up her mike, which was good because she'd taken to demolishing the room around her to vent her blind outrage.

The world was breaking and she was playing catch up. Caught off guard as completely as the stinking Navy! Despite all her spies and Morgan's frequent reports of world wide information to her, she'd hadn't the slightest idea of what was about to happen until it was all spilling out into the public mid break down.

She'd been as stunned as some slack-jawed civilian! She was the only Emperor, the only Emperor not doing something and that was unacceptable!

“Kaido you miserable, selfish brat! How dare you go and rob Egghead Island all for yourself?!” Linlin ranted at her absent 'little brother'. “You already have a Lunarian! I want a few of the children! You damn well know that they're one of the only races Totland is missing!”

She grabbed a chair and smashed it against the wall. “If I'd had half a clue that the possibility existed, I would have attacked Egghead myself!”

This was not a turn of events that she was pleased with. The little Lunarian clones aside – clones of Mihawk, the great swordsman, Boa the beautiful Empress, power recaptured in a form she could easily make loyal to her with a bit of motherly love! - Kaido was going to be getting access to Vegapunk. VEGAPUNK! She knew her little brother was too selfish to share any of the technology and weapons that he pilfered from that island, and that he would use it as a means to make progress on the road to gaining Roger's old crown.

She was in danger of being left behind.

The sheer rage she felt at the thought was dizzying. It was almost as bad as one of her hunger pangs, really, though Linlin had kept control of her faculties and was containing her rampage to a single room as opposed to the entirety of the island. Linlin screamed and smashed things and brought down half of the room's ceiling before she was calm enough to think relatively straight and think about what to do.

She refused to be stagnant while Kaido and Edward were both attacking the World Government. She refused! The Navy had never been more vulnerable and she would not be the only one to not benefit from that. They might start thinking that she was the 'weak link' because she'd been unaware of the goings on, that she was a coward who didn't boldly rush out to take what she wanted. Ooooh, the thought made her so lightheaded with fury.

Sucking in a deep breath, Linlin paced furiously in the room, her mind spinning. If she sent her sons and daughters to Egghead – no no, by the time they got there all the action would be over. They'd be able to join the fight if the Navy had its whole forces defending the island, but no, they were trapped at Marineford and Kaido wouldn't need several days to deal with what men they did dare send away when faced with Edward's wrath.

She couldn't very well offer the children marriages, not when they were only five years old if Delia's statements were correct. King had always stubbornly refused to visit Totland, too! Always a love sick pup, refusing to leave Kaido's side.

If she can't go to Egghead, what can she do?

Linlin abruptly stopped pacing when the answer hit her square between the eyes. It was so obvious that only her burning indignation had prevented her from realizing it immediately. Of course! The navy were trapped in two places, all their men of any worth caught in a life or death battle. That meant that their territory was hopelessly undermanned for defence.

Even the lands close to her territory.

Her rage melted back to a lower burn, and Linlin's mood brightened for the first time since the broadcast. Immediately she swept out of the room, her haki reaching out for her clever, brilliant, most competent son. She's very pleased to discover that's not far away, having merely gotten outside of the the range of her anger fit and waited there for her to calm down and give him instructions.

Dutiful as ever, her dear Katakuri.

Linlin made a beeline straight for him, out into the warm sunlight bathing Totland. Katakuri looked up at her and bowed slightly. “Mama, are you alright?” He asked her.

“Oh, I'll be just fine. I'm just a teeny bit exceedingly indignant at the moment, but I know a cure for that.” Linlin responded. He glanced at her slightly cautiously, uncertain what she's leaning towards. “Katakuri, we cannot, cannot be sitting here doing nothing when Kaido and Edward are flexing their might like a pair of teenage boys. So I've decided! It's time to expand our borders, and greatly so.”

Katakuri blinked. “You... would have me invade them while they're gone?” He inquired hesitantly.

“Oh no no no, don't be foolish.” Linlin waved a hand. “You're going to be invading land ripe for the taking, that's been left completely abandoned to the elements by their supposed protectors! The Navy's forces of any worth are gone, struggling to survive their failed power play. You know what that means?”

Realization quickly crosses her son's face, and he nodded. “All their territories in the New World are vulnerable.” He said. “They truly sent everyone in.”

“They needed to, if they wanted to defeat Edward, even if he's a sickly old fool.” Linlin scoffed. “Meaning that all the people who thought they had protection they could rely on are all adrift, at the mercy of every bandit and raider who read the newspaper and realized it's open season. They've practically been sentenced to death!”

She clapped her hands together. “Go and save them, Katakuri. Take all your siblings and go out, claim those islands and tell them that their fair-weathered protectors have betrayed them. Tell them that my heart is so big that I will take them in and guard them without fail from this point onward – taking care of the fools who have qualms with this, of course. The more islands you claim, the bigger the reward I shall give you when you return! That goes for all of you individually! Go now! Expand my kingdom! Don't let the world take us for fools who fail to exploit the weakness of our enemies!”

Katakuri put a hand on his chest and bowed again, deeper this time. “As you wish. I'll get my siblings mustered immediately.” He promised.

Linlin cackled, pleased. Oh, what a child she had raised. She's so proud of what she had created! “Good boy. Make haste!” She clapped her hands together, and immediately Katakuri turned and strode off to pass along her orders.

New land was pleasing, exciting. It only left Linlin to dwell on the lack of Lunarians, which still made her sulk in frustration. “Stubborn King,” The woman muttered to herself. “How can I get past your defenses?”

She walked back and forth a few times, thinking furiously... before a lightbulb went off in her head.

King had children now. Surely a single father would be in search of a partner. Ah, but he'd rejected her previous proposals... saw them as traps, no doubt. She had to make it look sincere and genuine.

Weren't two of the Flying Six quite young? Page One recently turned twenty, if she's recalling correctly. She didn't remember if his sister was older or younger than him. She could make official proposals with one or both of them as the groom, but send a few of her children along with a secret goal... seduction of a certain fallen angel. A natural-seeming romance would not be read as a trap.

If she could bury a hook inside King's broken, bloodied heart, she could bring that bloodline to her utopia at long last – and get some leverage over Kaido. Ah, but which of her daughters (or sons, if he was so inclined) would be uniquely suited to potentially succeeding in that endeavour?

“Balderdash,” Linlin muttered. “I'll have a spy try and feel out King's desires first. I need a child uniquely suited to the task.”

Linlin turned back to the house to get her snail. She needed to talk to the mook she'd shanghaied into feeding her information on his captain.

Notes:

Saturn is decompensating. He came to Egghead in a fit of rage over the other Elders cautioning him not to; the sheer depth of everything that's gone wrong has gotten to him. He's a very annoying foe to fight, and a challenge the type of which King hasn't faced before. This is going to be difficult.

On the other side of things, of course the kids are too stubborn to do what King says and stay safe. Not that surprising, though, considering that they're not your average helpless child. They're tiny super murder children and they intend to prove it.

Oh, and Linlin's throwing her hat in the ring, albeit not directly. That's going to be a fun thing for Senny to hear about later.

Chapter 11

Summary:

Ace and Boa watch over Luffy, learn a little about Law, and meet up with Pops.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“What do you MEAN, 'THAT'S THE GENERAL IDEA'?!'

Ivankov reeled back from Law's indignation, somewhere between chagrined and a little intimidated. Ace could feel the beginnings of haki sparking off of the mysterious black-haired pirate surgeon as he briefly looked away from Luffy, his stoicism snapping like a twig when the 'miracle cure' had been explained to him. From his own experiences, he can tell that Law isn't quite on New World level yet – but that he would be very soon.

“You call just shoving an overlord of hormones into a human body all at once 'treatment?!' No wonder so many of your patients die!” Law seethed, the scalpel twitching between his fingers. “That explains why all his muscles are so damn traumatized... eugh, I'll have to work steadily on him over the course of a few days to undue most of that damage...”

“Empress, please don't kick the head off of one of Dragon's chief enforcers,” Marco said with perfect doctor drone when Boa pushed her chair back from Luffy's sickbed. He and Law had tag-teamed the rookie as soon as Jinbe outed how much damage he'd taken over the course of his break-in, taking him inside the marine ship to the medical station. “Not unless we get permission. The therapy did treat the little scamp, poorly administered as it was.”

Boa looked mutinous, and honestly Ace is in the same boat – Marco had grabbed his wrist when he's initially moved to beat Ivankov's face in without missing a beat. “You're lucky that Luffy considers you a friend, you big-headed fool,” The empress fumed. “I ought to turn you into garden art for my palace!”

“It was the only viable treatment ve had access to!” Ivankov protested, their voice somewhat squeaky. “Doctors don't tend to end up in level five!”

Ace squeezed Luffy's left hand in his own, looking at his sunshine's sleeping face. Oh, how Luffy had whined and complained about not needing a doctor, trying to make Marco look at Ace, Bon Clay, Jinbe, anyone else first 'cus he was totally fine – Ace had very quickly forgiven an exasperated-looking Law sarcastically promising to do so before promptly sedating him. Marco had then had to prevent a whole host of people from crowding around the bedside so he and Law had room to work, relegating Bon Clay, Jinbe, and the various Revolutionaries to waiting outside for news. Ace had narrowly avoided getting kicked out himself, only staying with multiple promises to stay calm.

He was somewhat regretting that now.

The litany of injuries Law and Marco had discovered, their dialogue bouncing back and forth like a surreal tennis match as they put their terrifying powers together to heal Luffy, left him shaky, sick and self hating. So badly poisoned he should have died, hypothermia, exposed to dangerous gas, severe dehydration from levels three and four...! All because Ace had been stupid enough to get caught, had let his haki slip and fought Blackbeard without it; that he'd been reckless and forced Luffy to come and rescue him all alone...!

All alone. Where were his crew? Luffy would never have left them behind willingly, nor they him. What happened?

They'd been separated. Luffy, who hated being alone, who saw it as akin to being dead, had been split up from his nakama... and still pushed all his grief aside to fling himself headfirst into saving an idiot like Ace and put himself through all this...!

You ridiculous idiot... Ace thought with anguish, clutching his weak hand tightly. I love you so, so much...

He had to be here. He had to be right at Luffy's side the moment he woke up so he could hold him and chew him out and apologize... for not being better. The dull, familiar ache of self-loathing thuds in his chest as he watched Law grumble and return to his work, calm and attentive once again. He had to go through all of this because I got complacent. Stupid, stupid mistake... no one survives complacency in the New World, how did I let myself get stagnant?

My brothers are always at my back. Whenever our back is exposed, someone's there to guard it. Ace gently rubs the back of Luffy's hand with his thumb. I wonder if... maybe I just got comfortable relying on them and stopped pushing myself... I hadn't noticed until now that I'd let my haki slip... hah... bet Yamato could beat me in a fight now...

Thinking of his friend didn't lift his spirit. Ace wondered what Yamato was doing right now, what he thought of his father raiding Egghead. If he was doing okay. If Kaido had treated him worse since he had left Wano. If his treatment would be changed once Kaido returned with King and the Seraphim and Vegapunk in tow, if he managed to pull that off...

His grip on Luffy's hand tightened slightly.

I have to get stronger. It burned like acid in his chest, demanding all of his strength. I need to become someone who's as powerful as Pops, as – as that bastard Roger used to be. I let myself become a burden to the people I love when... when I promised Sabo that I would be Luffy's protector. The sinking feeling of having let down the first person to have ever accepted him, his childhood friend, his brother... it was a bitter pill indeed.

I'll retrain my Haki completely. If Pops can't teach me directly, I'll find a place to train. I'll put my entire being into it. Ace's jaw tightened slightly. I swear... I will never lose again, no matter what. He looked down at Luffy's sleeping face, delivering that promise to him silently.

“He's going to recover,” Law said, causing Ace to blink and look up at him. The surgeon's sharp golden eyes flicker his way, cool and unreadable. “He needs to rest for a while, but with Marco-ya's assistance he'll bounce back quicker than if I'd been doing it on my own.”

“You're giving me a lot of credit,” Marco remarked, removing his hand from Luffy's forehead. “The Op-Op fruit is mythical among doctors; I didn't think I'd ever get to see it in action. It's nice to see it's in the hands of someone who knows medicine inside and out.”

“My parents were doctors,” Law responded briskly. “There's a few more injections I want to do, but then it's best to let his body rest for a while and absorb the healing treatment naturally. After getting brute forced for a final burst of energy, his body needs time to heal as much as anything.”

“Are you certain?” Boa prodded, frowning down at Luffy with honest-to-god concern. Ace wondered, again, what the hell happened that Luffy got into her orbit to work his magic on her. He's not surprised that Luffy had stolen her heart – he'd done exactly that to him, pushed past his anger and distrust and despair and cradled the broken fragments of his heart in his hands, put it back together – but he's still flatfooted that it had the chance to happen!

Law nodded. “There's always rest periods in healing. I can see that you're concerned... I give you my word that he'll recover.

Marco hummed in agreement, taking Luffy's Straw Hat and gently placing it over the younger ravenette's face. “I agree. Someone should keep an eye on him while he rests, in case he wakes up and tries to go running off and risk tearing his stitches. A little like a certain someone I know.”

His smile is teasing, but Ace still couldn't resist giving him a sour look. “Very funny,” he grumbled. Normally he'd get a chuckle out of jokes like that, but not after the day he's had. Not when Luffy is involved and so, so weakened.

Marco picked up on this and gave him a small, wry smile. “I think you should be getting some sleep too,” He said. “Sounds like you need it.”

“I can't sleep right now.” Ace gently placed Luffy's hand down on the bed. He intended to stay right here unless something important demanded him be elsewhere.

Marco huffed a knowing sound and said, “Right. I'll let you know when Pops is close.” He reached over and ruffled Ace's hair, the same affectionate way he had ever since he joined their family and became his little brother. “I'm sure everyone together will be able to pester you into finally getting some rest.” He stood up and strode out of the room, where Jinbe started asking him questions.

Ace glanced at Law, who's checking his medical chart and flicking through it. “Why did you decide to help me?” He asked, frowning. “Luffy said that you came to Impel Down to break me out.”

Law hummed in acknowledgement, getting himself a shrewd look from Boa. “It was an educated guess. The Navy had been loudly advertising your execution, so when Kaido and Surridge made their move, their only choices were either returning you to Whitebeard in hopes of a temporary ceasefire or moving you around in an effort to mislead him with minimum troops. I bet that they'd pick the latter and I was right.”

“That's not really an answer to my question. Why? I'm a total stranger to you.”

Law's eyes flickered to him briefly. There's a flash of emotion there that's gone too quickly for Ace to parse, immediately buried under a calm mask. It... reminded him a little bit of how Sabo could totally shift his body language when they were in Goa's noble district. Seamlessly pretending to be a snotty noble despite how deeply he hated them.

“Your father is one of the most powerful pirates in the world,” Law said after a moment's pause. “There's something I need to achieve in the future, and to that end I want to be able to wring in a favour. Nothing more, nothing less.”

“Liar,” Boa said, her brow furrowing. “There's more at stake for you than reputation or power... Surgeon of Death.”

Law shrugged slightly – unfazed by her presence and her beauty. Instantly showing himself to be highly strong-willed. “The name's something of a misnomer,” he said. “I don't kill my patients.” Then he looked her way and said, “Perhaps there is... but at the end of the day, all of us are at the mercy of our emotions, aren't we?”

He rose from his seat, politely inclined his head to her, and walked out of the room. Ace watched the handsome man go, a mixture of wariness and curiosity swirling inside him. When the door closed again, he looked back at Boa. “Surgeon of Death? You've heard about him?”

“Bah, Nyon insists on reading the newspaper at me whenever new daredevil pirates enter the Grand Line.” Boa said with the wave of a hand. “I only bothered to recall some details. He's from the North Blue, but otherwise his history is an utter cipher – you can imagine how pleased the Navy was about that. Especially after he stole an experimental submarine from them with his crew. A reputation for ruthlessness came about when he started removing the hearts of high ranked Marines.” She made a hand-closing gesture that implied particularly gothic kind of horror. “Leaving them alive and breathing, but utterly at his mercy until such time as he deigned to return it."

That... was pretty grim. Not the worst thing Ace had heard of pirates doing, but still. “Better to keep half an eye on him, I guess.” Ace murmured.

Boa hummed in agreement. For a moment, there was companionable quiet between them, their mutual gaze at Luffy displaying the thread of emotion that tied them together. “When Luffy met you, was his crew with him?” Ace asked, frowning. “It's not like him to be alone.”

The question made Boa's brow tightened. “He washed up on Amazon Lily by himself. When he spoke to me, he said that he and his crew had been scattered at Saobody by the Bartholomew Kuma.” She responded. “Before he learned of your predicament, he wanted to borrow a ship and go find them. Then when he heard you were in danger, his priorities changed.”

Kuma? Scattered, not destroyed. That's – well, it's not good, but it's far better than it could have been. Ace knows Luffy, knows how it would destroy him to lose a single member of his crew, nevermind all of them. Scattered implied they were still alive, and Ace had an inkling of how Kuma had done it given his powerset.

“Why would Kuma do that...?” He wondered aloud. “Luffy isn't ready to enter the New World yet. He needs more time, more training to build up his strength... but why would Kuma care? He had to have had a reason to scatter them instead of just trying to destroy the crew.”

Boa shook her head. “He's taken his reasons to wherever his free will was taken when they made him into a cyborg. We won't know unless something odd happens... or perhaps his clone knows.”

Ace rolled that thought over in his head a few times and found himself shiver in disquiet. “Is that a thing, when it come to those kids? They have all of the original's memories crammed into their heads?” That's just... they should be able to have their own identities. How do you develop your own sense of self if your head is full another person's life experiences?

Damn. He really hoped that the kids were more lucky than that.

His disquiet seemed to be mirrored in the Empress, who began to bounce one knee in thought. “Doctor Surridge referenced 'genetic memory' as to how the children would have their progenitor's skills and abilities out of the gate despite their age. Perhaps it extends to a degree of awareness of the other person's life. There's far too much I don't yet know about my daughter.”

“And we're not likely to find out any time soon, since Kaido's bound to take his spoils back to Wano and bunker down there as he gets all of it integrated into his army.” Ace muttered. “Getting in contact with King really will be the only avenue to approaching them.”

Boa scowled at the thought. “That man better not try to hide from me.”

The thought actually made Ace chuckle a little, if only for its unlikeliness. “I don't think he's the type. When I was in Wano, whenever King wanted something done he usually did it himself.”

Talking about the clones made him realize something, and he swore quietly. “f*ck. Speaking of the kids, Jinbe doesn't know yet, does he? If the prison was on radio silence, he wouldn't have heard Surridge's broadcast.”

f*ck. Ah, that was going to be fun to explain to his friend.

“Mm.” Boa glanced at the doorway. “Go and inform him; I'll watch over Luffy for you in the meantime.” When he hesitated, she said, “better that he hears of this appalling violation from a brother as opposed to reading about it in the newspaper.”

...He couldn't find a way to argue with that logic, so Ace reluctantly stood up and moved away from the bed. “Thanks, Boa.” He said. “I'll be back later.”

Walking out of the room, Ace exhaled heavily, suddenly feeling exhausted. It wasn't the same painful kind of tiredness that he'd pushed through in Marineford – Marco had treated him and brought him back to more or less good health, though Ace was still waiting in dread for Doc Nightengale to insist on giving him a check up – but it felt like an island whale sitting on his back. Pressing the palm of his hand against his forehead, he made a mental note to find something decent to eat.

The hallway was still a little crowded; one of the okama hopped to his feet the moment Ace exited and moved towards him. “How's Luffy-chan? Can I see him now?” Bon Clay asked hopefully.

“Sure. He's sleeping, though, so try not to rouse him? Doctor's orders.” Ace said. Bon hopped in delight and was starting to leave before Ace's manner's reasserted themselves. “Ah, wait a sec – Bon Clay?”

“Yes?”

Ace bowed to the man. “Thank you. For taking care of Luffy in there, making sure he got cured and encouraging him. I really owe you.” He said, a little choked up.

Jinbe had had to run back into Impel Down to retrieve this guy when they were getting all the escapees onto ships; he'd gone to the gate control to impersonate Magellan and make sure that Luffy escaped at the expense of staying behind and facing certain death (or worse). Knowing he was willing to do that made Ace more than ready to defend the goofy okama to the bloody end if he had to.

Bon Clay's eyes brightened and he clasped his hands together, overwhelmed with emotion. “It was my pleasure! Luffy-chan is the best friend I've ever had, and there was no cause more worthy! I'm so pleased that you two have been reunited!”

Ace straightened up, a shy smile tugging at his lips. “You're an amazing friend, you know.” He cast his gaze around the hallway and blinked. “Do you know where Jinbe went? I need to tell him something.”

Bon pointed to the door at the right end of the hallway. “He went to the deck to get some fresh air, I believe. I saw Commander Marco chasing after him insisting he also get medical attention.”

...Well, at least Jinbe would be stuck in one place and hopefully wouldn't rock the ship too hard with fishman karate when he heard the whole story? Ace could hope. “Thanks.” He turned and hurried down the hallway, the bearer of bad news. Hopefully Jinbe wouldn't take the discovery as badly as Boa had.

Stepping out onto the dock in the warm sunshine felt like getting punched in the face. Being in the dark pit of Level Six without any daylight, surrounded by stone in every direction, cut off from the winds and the waves – he'd only been down there for a few weeks, but it felt like an eternity. Returning to the surface and getting to feel a breeze ruffle through his hair threatened to make him misty eyed. Ace sucked in a deep breath of cool salty air, taking a second to bask in gentle sun's rays and relish how they warmed his skin.

It was no wonder the escapees in the ship travelling with them to their left were so jubilant. Who knew how long most of them had been inside Impel Down? ...Well, except for Crocodile.

Ace scowled in the former warlord's direction; he could just see the sandy bastard sitting back against one of the masts, having a discussion with his former right-hand man from Baroque Works. He better not attack Pops once we reach the Moby, he thought darkly. I'll turn him into a glass statue; it'll be a good way to blow off some steam.

Shaking his head to clear it – he came out here for a reason – he looked around and quickly spotted Jinbe sitting by the railing at the bow end of the ship, acting a model patient for Marco who, judging by the way he was grumbling as Ace approached, didn't appreciate the older man attempting to defer his medical examination. “...going to be great,” Jinbe said when he came into earshot. “He's just young.”

Marco chuckled a little. “I'm starting to feel like an old man. First Ace, then this kid – its like every time I blink they've kicked over a warlord or a king or burned down the Marine's judicial center. They definitely grew up together – tearing across the world at the speed of light.”

“I'll take that as a compliment.” Ace deadpanned, hopping up the steps.

“Ace,” Jinbe said warmly, shifting somewhat in order to face him. “Despite some of the extenuating circ*mstances, I'm very glad to see you unshackled and safe.”

“I could say the same thing to you.” He had the most incredible family... Ace sat down next to him and his expression became more serious. “Unfortunately, there's something I gotta tell you about and I don't think you're gonna like it. Did you hear anything from Marineford on your way out of the prison?”

Jinbe frowned and thought for a moment, before shaking his head. “Not a word. Marco has caught me up on a few of the details...” He shook his head, troubled. “So participating in a genocide drove this doctor Surridge so deep into madness and despair that she decided a world ruled over by Kaido was an improvement over current circ*mstances? I fear her guilt over the ruin she helped inflict upon King has caused her to make a terribly impulsive mistake.”

“Judging by her speech, I think the only people she was focused on saving were those kids.” Marco responded solemnly. “In that respect, her plan makes perfect sense. With all the forces they brought to fight Pops, Kaido is powerful enough to smash through Egghead's defences and dangerous enough that once he and King have the kids, the World Government isn't getting them back – period. King gives him the motivation to undergo a rescue mission, and King will take care of the kids like they're the center of his universe – they probably became exactly that the instant she told him they existed.”

Ace sat down cross-legged. “Kaido doesn't rule the world yet,” he said. “If we have anything to say about it, he won't.”

Jinbe's lips twitched upward. “Your confidence is uplifting, Ace.”

The ghost of a smile whisked across his face before vanishing again. “Did you tell him the Seraphim are clones?” He asked Marco.

Marco shook his head, while Jinbe looked greatly startled. “I was working my way up to it,” Marco responded, carefully avoiding his gaze.

“Marco,” Jinbe started before pausing. He's a wily man and can quickly sense that this isn't a strange joke. “Clones? Clones of who? And how is that possible?” He asked.

Ace blew out a sigh. “Only Vegapunk knows the 'how',” he said before squaring his shoulders and deciding to just bite the bullet. “The who, on the other hand, is you. You and the other seven Warlords. The Seraphim... one of them is a fishman boy with Lunarian DNA grafted onto him who's biologically copied from you.”

And he braced for impact.

For a second Jinbe just...sort of stared at him with a blank expression. No doubt the words were circling around in his head, mocking him as he struggled to process the revelation. Ace couldn't help the way his eyes dropped to the dark red Sun Pirate mark on his older friend's chest and all that it represented, and wondered if whatever psychopath had been in charge of picking the clone's unwitting donars had gotten a sick kick out of turning the basically-son of Fisher Tiger's crewmate into a slave soldier. He really wants to punch that guy's head off of his shoulders.

Jinbe blinked slowly, his webbed fingers curling up into fists so tight his hands began to tremble. His haki is swirling like a tsunami towering on the horizon, hurtling towards the shore to devour everything for miles in land and drag it all down into the depths of the ocean. “You...are certain this woman is being truthful?” Jinbe asked with artificial calm.

“There was a video feed,” Marco said grimly. “She had your medical file and a picture of the kid to go with it. The whole thing's real. I'm sorry, Jinbe.”

Jinbe gritted his teeth – literally, Ace could audibly hear his sharp fangs scraping against each other as the former Warlord tried to control the storm of emotions boiling at this revelation. “Unbelievable...!” He said. “I hadn't known! I hadn't even suspected. A child... a child soldier!” His eyes widened with disbelief. “They expected him to fight? How soon?!

“After two more years of 'development',” Ace put air quotes around the words, wondering if saying the next bit was a good idea but forging on anyway. “They'd be deployed at seven years old, the doc said.”

Jinbe's mouth opened and shut a few times soundlessly. Beyond words, the fishman bowed his head, his shoulders shivering as he did his best to meditate and stay calm. Ace watched him nervously while Marco gave him some 'did you have to rub it in?' side-eye.

“Do you know what Queen Otohime said, the day a Celestial Dragon was shipwrecked at Fishman Island and our people wanted to kill him?” Jinbe asked after a painfully long moment. When Ace shook his head, the man ground out, “'The children are watching'. She forgave his hate and cruelty so the children would not grow up bound by hatred, so they would not be forced into the cycle of destruction that exists between us and parts of humanity. Nothing mattered more to her than making sure that violence would not control their lives.”

His hands were still trembling. “And now the World Government has taken this child – this other version of me, and the others too – and would make violence and killing their entire life, until they met a terrible and lonely fate on the battlefield.” Jinbe slammed his fist onto his knee. “Forgive me, my queen. I wish to honour your dream, but I simply... cannot forgive this!”

Ace and Marco exchanged a pained look; neither of them knew the full story involving Otohime's life and death, but they knew enough details to understand how agonizing it was for Jinbe to make that statement. All they could really do was sit there in solidarity with him.

Once the initial wave of rage had passed, Jinbe exhaled heavily. “So King has rushed to their rescue,” he said solemnly. “A harsh twist of fate for myself... I would not be able to enter Wano the way Mihawk might. Who knows when I'll be able to get an audience with this child made from me... perhaps I'll seem a frightening stranger compared to him.”

“Don't say that,” Marco said. “We'll figure something out.”

Ace nodded in agreement. He was about to say more when a familiar whistle blast made his pulse jump. “That's the Moby Dick!” Jozu called out, pleased, and the deck was immediately awash with excited chatter. Gulping, Ace got to his feet in a hurry and put his hands on the railing, staring straight ahead.

There's a bit of a fog in the air, which seems to almost melt away as the Whitebeard's mothership powers through it. Following behind it was the rest of the division commander ships, none of which looked like they'd taken any damage whatsoever. Ace's heart started trying to beat its way out of his chest once again and he cursed his shaky nerves. Immediately catching sight of the silhouette of the only father he'd ever had doesn't help in that department.

Marco chuckled and got to his feet. “Stay here,” He warned Ace faux chidingly before heading down the stairs to inform Boa. Ace tried to kick him when he passed by, but he just missed.

Nevertheless, he stayed right where he was as the Moby pulled up alongside the comparatively tiny marine ship and a gangplank was dropped down to him. Ace tapped his foot nervously and climbed it as quickly as he could before the child in him panicked and tried to flee in shame. In a minute, he found himself standing at the foot of Edward Newgate.

Ace swallowed and lifted his head. “Pops...I...” He started.

But before he could start trying to stumble through one of the dozen apologies he'd been dwelling on after his escape, Edward Newgate sank down on one knee and wrapped one arm around his back, pulling him against his chest in an warm hug. Ace froze up in shock. “My son,” Newgate said, relief palpable in his voice. “Forgive me for sending you to catch Teach.”

He – wait – what?! “Huh?! B-But that was me, Pops!” Ace protested, nearly tripping over his own words. “I went and-”

“No, it was my idea,” Newgate reiterated, briefly glancing to the side. “Isn't that right?”

“That's what I heard!” Haruta chirped with total seriousness, as if he hadn't been one of the voices calling for Ace to come back as he dropped down onto the Striker's deck. A chorus of agreements from his other brothers followed immediately afterwards, all of them talking on top of each other to absolve him of any blame, and Ace's vision blurs with an embarrassing flood of tears as he realized – yes, those were all of the other Division Commanders.

Everyone had come to fight for him. Every last one of them. They were going to fight the whole World Government to get him back.

Oh. Oh yeah, he's really crying. The tears just wouldn't stop and it was a little hard to breathe and he's just really really happy; he might just collapse on the spot. The joy burning up inside him swallowed up every one of his senses and Ace leaned against his father crying like a child with disbelieving happiness.

They wanted him to be alive. They were happy that he was here and would do anything for him to stay.

Ace cried until he was kinda lightheaded and dizzy and super embarrassed – god, none of his brothers were ever gonna let him live this down, thank the lord Luffy wasn't awake to see this – and Pops held him in that hug until he was able to stand on somewhat wobbly feet and somewhat recompose himself. His brothers swarmed around him, with backpats and curses and emotional berating about him being reckless and worrying them sick, and then somebody said “-and Marineford is sinking into the ocean just like it deserves! May that be a lesson to anyone who tries to go after you in the future!”

“What?” Ace cried, because he could NOT have heard that right. Surely not. “What's that about Marineford sinking?”

Pops blinked and shrugged. “They tried to kill you,” he responded, as if this didn't rock Ace's world. “Not even for something you did, but because of Roger.” There's a distinct note of contempt in his voice – something he didn't hear often in his father.

“I – wait – you mean you actually -” Ace floundered, stunned.

“I didn't stand there and pummel the island until I was sure every soul on it was dead; the fools there have some opportunity to escape,” Newgate explained patiently. “I did, however, fatally fractured the island's foundation. It should vanish beneath the waves completely before the sun sets.”

His eyes narrow. “I think its fitting retribution for them attempting to murder you for a childish grab at revenge on a man long dead – and prevent them from going on a crusade to 'save the world' from your bloodline or such nonsense. If they would go this far, they would prosecute a long and brutal war to get their hands on you again, and I would not risk you and your brothers suffering such a future.”

Ace's heart felt like it might explode. “I... I... you'd go so far for me?”

Pops nodded, while his brothers cheer and vehemently voice their agreement. “You're damn straight you are!” Whitey Bay responded fiercely. Ace felt his eyes dangerously close to welling up again and quickly buried his face in his arm.

“Why are you so surprised?” Boa inquired, her elegant voice joining the conversation as she stepped aboard the Moby. Things quiet down a little at her arrival; the Whitebeards kept it restrained and professional, but even they could not deny the tug of her beauty and magnetism. “Were I in his shoes, sinking Marineford would be the least of my retribution upon the fool who dared try to butcher my child.” Marco trotted over and slung his arm around Ace's shoulders, pulling him into a side hug.

“Boa Hanco*ck,” Newgate greeted her. Emperors do not bow, but the way he inclined his head in her direction was the closest that they came to it. “You saved my precious son. Thank you.”

“Think nothing of it,” Boa responded with a degree of politeness no other man (except Luffy) ever received from the man-hating amazon. “He's a rather likeable character, especially for a man.”

Newgate's lip twitches upward, knowing what sort of compliment that was from someone like Boa. “As an Emperor, I can give you much in the way of reward,” he said. “But as a father, I can never reward you enough.”

Ace squeezed his eyes shut against treacherous happy tears as Boa looked surprised to hear such a wholehearted sentiment delivered without self-consciousness. “All I would like is for your flag to protect my home.” Boa said. “I subjected myself to obedience to the World Government solely to keep slavers and other wretches from raiding Amazon Lily; for all the good that did, seeing as they always intended to betray us. Creating a proper fleet to act as defence will take some time, so your assistance would be – appreciated.”

“Consider it done,” Newgate said simply, and a bit of tension seems to leave Boa's shoulders at once. “On a related note... where is that reckless scamp who just finished breaking in and out of Impel Down?”

The slight note of respect in his voice towards Luffy was everything, as far as Ace was concerned.

Notes:

Writing Ace's self-hating thoughts is so hard. (hugs the hell out of him) You're loved, you silly boy, and so so much! Love yourself too! Law is being his usual enigmatic self, and his crew is a little nervous having the Polar Tang this close to the entire Whitebeard fleet because /what if they find that suspicious?/ Luffy is unfortunately in a healing sleep, but he'll be up and boldly telling Pops that he's going to be King of the Pirates instead of him very soon.

Chapter 12

Summary:

The consequences of their choices roll over the world.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

If he felt like being glib, Garp might have called this karma. But since for every two people he was able to save, he lost one, he didn't have the time for it.

Water rushed up to his shins, a sucking vortex trying to pull him under the crumbling island with force that mortal men could hardly fathom. Fortunately Garp is both a D and too stubborn for his own good so he tears his feet free of it every time he has to splash down into the salt water, grabbing men and women by their coats and flinging them away from the dead zone. It was at least useful as directing Kuma about so he kept at it as his muscles screamed from the strain and his old body called upon all the strength he had left to spend.

Marineford had fractured apart into several pieces. Garp took a running jump over one of them, his feet scrabbling on uneven ground as he moved below the fault line into a sink hole that had formed as the island slowly, inexorably fell apart. Pinned beneath a huge chunk of sea stone were several soldiers, two already drowned from the water pouring in from above and several sobbing from pain of shattered legs and other bones trapped beneath the piece of containment wall.

Garp forced his way down, got his shoulder underneath the stone and channelled his haki outward. It hadn't faltered since the nightmare began and it didn't do so now; he surged to his feet and moved the stone slab aside like it was mere cardboard. A ragged cheer went up from those still conscious, the men desperately, weakly reaching out for him.

“We're saved...!” Gasped one man Garp vaguely remembered from one of the many briefings. He'd been nervous the whole time, and expressed uncertainty about his ability to combat New World pirates. The old vice admiral grabbed his arm and pulled him up, putting him over one shoulder as he grabbed the others one at a time.

Couldn't grab the bodies. Didn't have the energy or time to spare. A hot stab of regret rushed through Garp as he leapt powerfully from the sink hole and onto somewhat steady ground. “Kuma!” He called out once again.

Bollocks on calling him PX-0. That man had a name and what was done to him was a goddamned atrocity. Garp didn't give a f*ck that he'd supposedly agreed to it, he knew there was blackmail involved somehow in order to get someone to give up their entire soul. Maybe he shouldn't have been surprised that those astral bastards had somehow managed to top themselves previously.

But then again, he hadn't known they'd gone that far. The Lunarians...

Kuma appeared in front of him with a pop drowned out by the crashing waves and crumbling stone all around him. Parts of the wings of the island were crumbling into the sea as he watched, it was a good thing he'd already sent all the ships that had survived away. Tsuru too.

If he could help it, he would be the last living man to escape. He had no business running away and abandoning the youth to pay for the mistakes of his generation. Even if he had to pay with his life, he would stay long enough to save every dumb kid he could.

Ace... Garp pointed at the men he'd brought up and Kuma obligingly 'pushed' them to the safety of G8; Jonathan and his wife had one of the steadiest crews in the whole navy and enough space to take in a sudden influx of patients. At least you're alive... even in the face of all of this, I can't regret that you escaped to safety. It's a grandfather's selfishness.

Why in the world Boa Hanco*ck of all the women in the ocean had decided to spring him, Garp had no hope of guessing, but part of him suspected that it might have something to do with Luffy. Is he still in Impel Down, or did he get out as well? He didn't know. He could only hope, and that was in short supply in the old man's chest right now.

Is this your way of rebalancing the scales, Davy Jones? Garp wondered as he jumped from one wet, uneven hunk of stone to another. The government massacred the Lunarians and the women and children who might possibly have been Roger's. Now the military arm that carried out their will is being massacred in turn the day they thought to kill Ace and take over the seas. Isn't it just like a vengeful god to let men rise to the highest point before they strike them down?

Garp wasn't a superstitious man. He didn't believe in sea ghosts or red skies, he trusted what he knew was real and his gut feelings about a situation. But in that moment, the symbol of justice crumbling right underneath his feet... it certainly felt like a smiting from Mother Ocean's cold, heartless husband.

Well played, Surridge.

Garp's jaw tightened as he reached down and pulled a paralyzed devil fruit user out of another sinkhole. She gasped for breath when the evening sun touched her skin again; Garp patted her on the back, turned, and pointed. In an instant Kuma was there and sending her away. In the moment while he did so, Garp looked from left to right to try and get his bearings – to see who was left.

The fragments of the island were drifting apart, jets of water bursting up through the cracks to swamp the lower levels of the harbour completely. Hats and the tattered fragments of coats were tossed about on the waves or splashed against the bloody tops of stone and concrete jutting up to the sky. The execution scaffold had vanished almost completely underneath the water, the turbulent currents dragging it down towards the depths. Marine HQ had collapsed down to its first level, debris spread out across all remaining ground above water; bodies were impaled by fallen wood or crushed underneath iron and glass. The way the remaining structure was quivering, the ground beneath it was starting to give way too.

Men and women had gathered to perch precariously on the remaining walls or debris piles in a desperate attempt to stay above water and avoid falling into the sinkholes that had started popping up in earnest after the aftershocks finally faded. Garp grimaced, then swore when the ground beneath him split apart; he lunged forward, jumping towards upper levels of the island.

So many dead. And yet this was still Whitebeard having been restrained. He could have stayed within range and hammered the island with one earthquake after another, leaving tsunamis in his wake as he ensured that every last person who came to ensure his son's death fell into a watery grave. Instead he'd left after just one.

A devastating blow? Yes. One the World Government had actively invited.

No, Garp was not bitter or anything. Really. ...Maybe if he said that enough times inside his head, he'll start to believe it.

His feet skidded on soaked wood, going out from underneath him. Garp crashed gracelessly into wreck and felt something hard, cold and sharp into his thigh. Coughing and spitting, the old man blinked his eyes clear while pushing himself to his feet. Glancing down at the piece of rebar that had just carved a hole into him, he silently accepted how spent his strength is that his haki had flickered out for a moment.

He kept moving anyway.

His arms ached as he hauled the dazed giant up in his arms and flung him overhead off into the distance. The last one who'd survived both Moria's brief rampage and the shattering tremors of the wake. Garp gritted his teeth at the reminder... of course the mad bastard had scraped together enough sanity to observe that he needed to escape when Marineford started shaking. Stole one of the precious remaining ships to escape too.

Doflamingo also made himself scarce with infuriating ease, and naturally Mihawk had vanished in the time it took for the quake to hit the island. Not that Garp would have had any time to waste fighting the former Navy partners in the middle of this hellscape, but it grated that they'd caused chaos and confusion moments before Whitebeard's retaliation fell upon them.

Garp climbed the debris like he was scaling a mountain, making his way to the most visible gaggle of Marines still alive. He didn't look into the pit of debris inside. He knew it was a horror. “Here!” He barked, his voice almost lost among the joyful cries from the men. Nevertheless, Kuma appeared in a blink.

Off to the side, he saw Kuzan create another hollow ice ball and send it rolling down the 'tracks' he kept recreating whenever a wave smashed it. Once the tremors finally stopped, he'd been able to freeze some of the ocean in place so men could escape on ice boats. The island crumbling underneath the ice kept him working, but he'd stayed and he'd done his duty.

That was the most motivation Garp had seen out of that brat since his training days. It gave him a little flicker of pride amidst the horror.

“Them too!” Garp commanded, pointing across the piles and fragmented wall pieces. Kuma moved from place to place and sent them away; they were able to rescue all but the last group, who were bowled over by a wave and sent falling into the death trap below.

There's blood soaking wood and steel everywhere underneath him. The smell permeated the salty air, even the storm around them unable to fully wash it away. Garp staggered, his leg threatening to give out from under him. The wall he was standing on was cracking threateningly, about to give way, and he wasn't certain which way to move. All the debris and corpses spread everywhere were hiding the fractures forming underneath the ground.

Kuma appeared at his side in a pop, his blank eyes peering down at the old man trying to stand firm with one leg buckling. Garp looked up at him and despite the fact that he'd been told that there was nothing left inside that man anymore, he could have sworn that there's a flash of... empathy there. Or maybe it was just a little bit of admiration, or a strange recognition.

“Not much left, now.” Garp acknowledged, his breath coming out harshly. “Maybe some people are gonna say we deserved this, but the youngsters in our ranks are better than that... they got dragged into this by the old fools clinging to their version of the world. Thanks for your efforts.”

He looked out across the remains of the island and stretched out his Haki, searching for any remaining souls who could still be rescued. What he senses is more than a little devastating... there's so few. Some of them flicker out as soon as he starts to hone in on them, and the others are fading fast. It's likely that most of them wouldn't survive the operations meant to save them even if Garp can get to them in time.

There are corpses floating face down in the water. Some of them get tossed up onto the remains of the island, stark in how many are destroyed in ghastly manner. Once the waters finally calmed, those that weren't eaten by Sea Kings would be floating in little masses around what was left of Marineford.

Garp barked out a bitter sound. “Well. Wish granted; the previous era has ended. The Navy being a non-factor in vast areas of the ocean wasn't something Roger's era could claim.”

Aokiji's ice covered the area below, giving those still strong enough to move around the ability to crawl on top of it and call for help. Garp snapped his fingers and pointed, and Kuma was off, sending them away to different ports.

His head felt a little fuzzy from blood loss... or maybe it was despair. “I told myself I wasn't going to grab Ace and escape with him,” He said when Kuma reappeared. “This is what I chose over him. Hah... can't imagine he wants to see my face again.”

Kuma doesn't tilt his head or make any sort of humanizing gesture. Instead he lifted his hands so his paws are practically bumping against Garp's nose; before Garp can utter a confused and outraged sound, the devil fruit power picks him up and threw him through the air from the empty remains of Marineford.

Upon landing in G8, Garp would pass out from exhaustion. He wouldn't become aware of the Marines chanting his name for many hours to come.

“It's beyond a doubt now! Humans slaughtered an entire people, lied about it for decades, and then created slaves from their cold corpses! If you think we aren't the next targets, you're fools!”

Hody Jones hadn't had so large a crowd before. His men hadn't really prepared for it, and it showed – fishmen and mermaids of all ages were packed into the slum district to the point that it was dangerously close to a crush. The plaza was completely over capacity, people were standing on rooftops or crowded in alleys, standing on each other's shoulders or hanging off of fire escapes. After Surridge's broadcast had come to an end, Hody had leapt to his feet and sent all his crew throughout the city to be inflammatory criers and capitalize on the shockwaves of horror running through the currents of Fishman Island.

Humans found the oddest ways to be useful to him.

Annoyingly enough, he could tell that while some of the shocked crowd is absorbing what he's telling them, not all were convinced. Ridiculous. What would it take to shake some sense into them?

“A human woman is the only reason we know about this!” One person in the mass crowd stated, shaking his head. “The men responsible knew they had to lie about it, or else they would have been stopped from carrying it out.”

“She was part of it!” One of his men sneered back. “She admitted to it herself, she was silent for years before she could no longer bear the whimpering of her conscience! How long do you want to wait for the murders of our people to be so much as acknowledged, much less avenged?!” He pointed a finger. “Are you such a human-lover you'll cozy up to those murderers because they eventually felt bad about it?!”

Shouting and explosive curses words flew through the air. Hody let it continue for about a minute, putting one hand over his face to playact the world-weary activist who'd spent half his life shouting uselessly at uncontrollable crowds. Once he judged the pulse of his people to have jumped up sufficiently, he made a small hand gesture to his crew. One of them immediately pulled out the air horn they'd brought for this specific moment and pressed the button down hard.

The crowd cringed backwards and shuffled guiltily when they noticed Hody's 'exhausted' body language. “My friends, please. Emotions are running high, but you must allow me to finish my speech.” He said.

It's not easy to suppress his smirk of satisfactions when a few audible apologies echo from the people before him, but he kept a straight face when explaining why he'd killed the human who he claimed had shot the traitor Otohime. He would take advantage of this unexpected boon for all that it was worth.

“We now know that the Navy and the Government are willing to commit horrific crimes and then cover them up – go so far as to claim the people involved never existed to begin with,” Hody said. Starting off slow. “The abhorrent nature of the crime is distracting you from an important detail. If they've done this once, have they done it before? How many times? How many peoples have been erased from the face of the world... so the humans could pass flesh and blood into the hands of their warped, sick scientists?”

A ripple went through the crowd; the younger fishman were exchanging wide-eyed looks as their imagination ran away from them. Good. Let your nightmares lead the way. “None of us can be sure. If the Navy got away with it once, why wouldn't they employ the same tact again when there's a troublesome group of people who refuse to conform to their vision of 'justice and order of law?'. There were no consequences for the massacre until this exact moment!”

Hody raised one hand. “And then there is the why. Why did they do it? Was it the result of a long, protracted, terrible war with the Lunarian people? No. It was because... they were jealous.”

“Jealous?!” A person sputtered somewhere. “That wasn't what the broadcast said!”

Hody nodded solemnly. “Not in so many words, yes... but think. I was listening to the woman speak too. The Celestial Dragons were the force behind this massacre, and they did it because they wished to be the only ones called gods on the Red Line. All the Celestial Dragons are human. And what did they steal from the Lunarians after they had finished killing them? What was prized above all, that which they so desired to have in their super soldiers?”

He held one hand up towards the surface. “Their wings, their strength, their power to conjure fire, their ability to temporarily become invincible. The Lunarians, they were like us! They were graced with gifts that made them superior to humans; they were stronger, faster, mastered the sky the way that we master the ocean. By contrast the humans have nothing, and they were bitter.”

“Are we not made slaves because we are stronger than them?!” Hody bellowed into the crowd. “Do they not ignore our cries that our people are kidnapped and sold in flesh markets because they see us as lesser than them?! Did a human not refuse to give a life saving blood transfusion to Fisher Tiger, our greatest and dearest of heroes, who burned Maejoris?!”

Fishmen roared back, fever entering their eyes and their voices. Hody grinned and began to pace back and forth on his makeshift stage, like he could hardly control his emotions.

“The humans were bitterly jealous, so they lashed out with the absurd power granted to the so-called Saints. Not a single one of whom are a fishman, a giant, or anything but human!” Hody continued, speaking faster as he went. “They destroyed the Lunarians because they were denied their beauty and their strength. Now, they dredge open their graves in order to make soldiers, and why? Because humans are weak and feeble and they know that their power is an illusion! One they maintain violence at every turn!”

Cries rose up from the crowd, the lurid imagery mixing with the truth he was twisting to his advantage. He could see tempers rising, the pot beginning to simmer to a full blown riot, and it pleased him. If a riot broke out, the fool king would send his men to crack down on it and throw average civilians in jail... stoking public opinion against him. Exactly as planned.

“How did King survive the massacre? Kaido came across him. By chance!” Hody said, strongly emphasizing the last statement. “Is that the fate that we wish to leave our children to? Hoping and praying that an Emperor happens to stumble upon them on their way to doing something else? No!”

“No!”

“No!”

Fishmen began to punch the air, loud shouting and jeering bursting from the crowd. “As long as the human-controlled government rules the seas, our people will never be safe!” Hody bellowed. “Finally, they've pushed too far! We must band together and strengthen our army, put weapons in the hands of everyone that we can and prepare for future battles against these murderers!”

An immense roar rose from the crowd, and before it even quieted, someone must have said something human-loving, because a fight broke out sending multiple people to the ground to be trampled. Like a fire catching on tinder, more fights exploded, and Hody Jones watched with a faint smirk as it quickly devolved into a full scale riot. More than strong enough to keep some civvy from attempting to jump him, Hody and his fellow New Fishman Pirates jumped from the stage and vanished into the crowd. They were long gone by the time the royal guard rushed to the scene to do riot control.

“SHUT UP! All of you get out of my way!”

The gun fired several times at the furious crowd, who had been swarming the local Marine front office in hopes of dragging out the officers within to be thrown out of the city. The bullets hit several people, thankfully all non-fatally – the man wasn't a particularly good shot – and the mob fanned out, scrambling to turn and face the new threat.

Panting with sickly indignation, Saint Jareth brandished his gun at the swarm of civilians. “You filthy peasants are impeding me from returning to Maejoris! If I had time to waste on filth I would have you all hang – get aside! I require the presence of the highest ranked Marines, immediately!”

The fourteen year old girl caught in his iron grip sobbed and attempted to squirm away while he ranted. She was a youth model, still wearing the sundress she'd been happily showing off for her friends and parents when the passing Celestial Dragon had gotten a good look at her. Immediately he'd gone on stage and seized her, declaring that she'd been blessed to become his future wife.

This didn't stop him from hitting her with the butt of his gun when she tried to get away. “Quit squirming! You don't appreciate the honor you've been shown... but you will!” Saint Jareth leered at her, hitting her once more for good measure. The girl whimpered and clutched her head, blood tricking down between her eyes. “Now move, you wretches! Do I have to repeat myself?”

To the dragon's mingled confusion and fury, the mob instead slowly moved towards the door to the office – blocking it behind a solid mass of people. “Carol!” One of the men in the crowd called out, recognizing her. He worked with her father in construction and recognized the cheerful girl on sight. He wasn't the only one; there were other employees in the crowd and they instantly recognized the direness of the situation.

“Carol!”

“Let her go!”

“She's just a little girl!”

Jareth stared for a moment as the crowd formed a unified wall against him, glaring and daring to give him orders. He had never been denied something he wanted, not even by other Celestial Dragons – he'd been able to outbid his rivals whenever something (someone) he wanted was at stake. He's briefly frozen, not comprehending that he wasn't being obeyed by the crowd – then seethed and pointed his gun again.

“No!” The girl sobbed, tugging on his arm. Despite her head wound she attempts to reason with her captor. “Don't, please! I'll go with you, I'll do what you ask, don't hurt them!”

“Oh, shut up! You think you can defy me?!” Jareth shouted, his finger tightening on the trigger -

Bang!

Carol squeezed her eyes shut before the gun went off, dreading what she'd see when she opened them. But instead of bodies hitting the ground she was greeted by the sound of her captor screeching in agony – he staggered backwards and nearly threw her to the ground in his tremors. The redhead fell down to her knees and blinked upwards, shocked.

Jareth's gun had clattered to the ground a few feet away. He'd dropped it because there was a bloody jagged hole in his hand, one created by bullets. As he reeled in agony, his grip on Carol's wrist loosened – seizing freedom in blind desperation, the redhead lunged forward and flung herself bodily over the gun, curling up over it so he couldn't get it back.

You could hear a pin drop outside of Jareth's pained screaming. Both the mob and the Marines inside the office were staring at the perpetrator slack-jawed, almost as stunned as the 'Celestial Dragon' himself. Who would dare do such a sacrilegious thing?

It was Carol's mother, panting for breath and pulling the reload mechanism of her shotgun.

Usually she hunted geese and fished to supplement her husband's income; she'd never pointed it at another person before. There was no fear in her face – it might have been carved from sea stone. When the mob looked past her, they discovered the reason why the noble's entourage hadn't been helping him with crowd control – they were laid out with shotgun wounds, the shouting and attempts to break the door down having cloaked the explosive shots.

“Get away from my baby, you murderous piece of scum.” The woman seethed, glaring at Saint Jareth.

The saint woozily straightened up and jabbed his pointer finger on his good hand at her. “You... you...! You've signed your death warrant, you disgusting heretic! I'll have you tortured to death for this! I'll make your ending last for months! Do you know what you've done?! When the Marines get here-”

“Call them!” The woman spat in response, levelling her gun at his face again. “Call the Admirals, call the marines, beg them to save your pathetic hide! Because they're not coming.

“Y-You're as uneducated as you are insane!” Saint Jareth sputtered, his eyes widening. The mob surged around Carol, helping her stand up and submerging her protectively within their ranks; one of the workers swiped the gun and checked its chambers for the remaining bullets. “You've wounded me! I am the blood of kings, divine, unparalleled! The moment I call for them-”

“The admirals are busy getting mauled by Kaido or crushed to death by Whitebeard,” The woman said flatly, cutting him off again. “They took every last bit of strength they had and took it to Marineford. Even if they could hear your bleating, it would take them weeks to get here. And those people?" She tilted her head at the base and scoffed. "The paper pushers in that building couldn't hit the broad side of a barn if they were standing inside it.”

Jareth's expression contorted not just from his injury but the line of logic that she'd feeding him – he whirled around to see that the mob is slowly forming a circle around him. Many of them are holding crowbars, hammers, and other tools of their trade. All of them were glaring, except for the few that were hovering around Carol checking her for injuries.

“No one's coming to save you.” Her mother said with icy calm. “It's going to be weeks before they even realize you're dead.”

Finally, the neurons in Jareth's head that were in charge of assessing danger fired, and the man's eyes widen to the size of plates. “Y-Y-You can't be serious. You can't think you'll get away with this!” He shouted, his voice high to the point of being falsetto. “My family will raze your island to the ground! Wipe it from living memory!”

One of the men in the crowd shrugged with deliberate carelessness. “The Queen's trying to get in contact with the Revolution right now,” he said. “We'll have help if they have the balls to come knocking over a sack of sh*t who's leering at a little girl and shot her dad.”

“Mary, Talia, take Carol inside somewhere and clean her up. She doesn't need to see this.” Another woman said definitively.

“Right. C'mon, sweetie, this way... do you want me to carry you? You were so brave, jumping on his gun.” Two women split off from the crowd, guiding the sniffling fourteen year old to another street.

“You're all insane!” Jareth screamed, true terror entering his voice. He bolted towards the Marine Office with the wild hope of pushing through the crowd to reach them. He's too blinded by panic to notice that the door is thoroughly barricaded and the windows blocked thanks to the mob's previous efforts. “You! Men, get out here and help me! Argh!”

The crowbar slams into the air bubble surrounding his head, shattering it and blinding him with his own blood. The first blow sent a blast of mob rage through the crowd, possessing everyone who knew and cared about Carol and driving them to action – to destroy the vile man who hurt someone they knew, who choked their island kingdom's economy to death with the Heavenly Tributes, who would slaughter them all for petty jealousy or even, seemingly, nothing at all. In their rage and the realization that they had time to act, the whole people of Poppli Island from the queen to the street musicians came to one conclusion -

If they were going to get murdered either way; this man was dying first.

Far away from the ongoing lynching, Queen Maria was pacing in front of her throne with equal parts impatience and worry. Her advisors were fairly confident that the contact they'd dug up after hearing that terrible broadcast was real, but the Revolution had a reputation for invisibility for good reason, and she desperately needed to contact them before the World Government marshalled some kind of response to their newfound troubles.

She didn't know for certain how many other kingdoms would follow her lead in seceding, so for all that she refused to be associated with that genocidal regime for one minute longer the possibility of this ending poorly for her people weighed on her.

“Your majesty, wearing a hole in the floor will not improve the timeline,” one of her men said awkwardly.

“And what precisely should I do instead?” Maria asked in exasperation. “The only other way I could escape this feeling is if I could get Kong on the line and scream him deaf for being complicit in mass murder. Somehow I suspect he won't answer the snail.”

Her advisors exchanged understanding if concerned looks, and one was about to suggest she have some calming tea when the snail's eyes perked up and the snail started ringing. Her eyes flaring with relief, Maria almost flung herself at the connection and picked up. “Hello? ...Thank goodness, the number works. Which commander am I speaking to? ...I am Queen Maria Siene of Poppli island. I wish to pledge my kingdom's support to the Revolution.”

She listened for a minute in silence, before a broad smile crossed her face. “Thank you so much.”

S-Snake hated the dark. She didn't trust men. And she absolutely didn't trust anything being put in her body by someone else. It was an ironclad defence strategy as far as she was concerned, which made getting the horrible things in her head out a trail because she couldn't escape the sense of dangerdangerdanger searing her nerves.

Having York put her unconscious had been the cherry on top. Those satellites were the ones putting bad things in her head! Even if King was making her take them out, what if she slipped something inside in the process? Would he be able to tell? He's a swordsman, not a doctor! How could he be sure York wasn't tricking him?

Even!... Even if it was really nice that he didn't want her to have the voices in her head...! That he was mad she didn't have a name... and he wanted her to be free...

Okay. Okay, maybe S-Snake really wants to trust King and that was a little scary.

Men. Were. Dangerous. That absolute statement felt like a fact of nature, like gravity. They were monsters and they did things to you that never went away. S-Snake couldn't point to a single moment where she had this suspicion confirmed for her, but she trusted that instinct. It felt like an extension of the combat support system in her cybernetics.

And yet. All of a sudden she felt like... there was an exception? One exception. Maybe two, or – perhaps three? Her fellow – her b-b-brothers didn't really register on this wavelength, so... where did this feeling...?

S-Snake blearily opened her eyes. The light in the hospital room is still awful, but she's almost grateful for it. She's awake and – and it's quiet.

Not in general. There's all kinds of crashing and other battle noises in the distance. But inside her head, the silence is ringing.

S-Snake shoved herself up into a sitting position and pressed one hand against her forehead. Her heart rate is way up and the first thing she saw was S-Hawk, S-Bat and S-Bear all pop into existence like they'd just been teleported in. Armed with a sword and scissors?!

“Good, you're awake.” S-Hawk said, leaning the blade on his shoulder. “King's fighting Saturn.”

“Alucard, give her a minute to get her bearings,” S-Shark said disapprovingly as Snake blanched and scrambled through her mind to connect Saturn to combat databases. She doesn't like what she sees. “She just woke up.”

“We can't delay, he's struggling.” Alucard said, tapping his foot. “If you aren't ready, we'll have to leave you here with Sasaki and York. The plan only has one chance to work.”

Invincible. King's fighting someone supposedly invincible. One... one of the few, few people who gave her a feeling of safe is fighting a losing battle?

No. No no no no no no.

“Where are you going?” York squeaked when S-Snake swung her legs off the side of the bed, pushing off and walking up to Alucard, frowning.

“You're not leaving me behind,” S-Snake informed him sharply, putting her hands on her hips. “What is the plan?”

Alucard's lips briefly twitch upward. “We need him off balance, unfocused, and angry. From the sounds of things, he's already halfway there.”

“...I can do that,” S-Snake said calmly.

“You're sure?” S-Shark asked a little uneasily.

S-Snake nodded, her hands balling into fists. “What's the worst thing you can do to a man?” She asked rhetorically. Her brothers blink at her and she rocked her hip slightly to the side with a hard smirk. “Make them feel emasculated, unimportant...and small.

She already knew exactly what she needed to do and say.

Notes:

Saturn: I am /above consequences/.
Me: (glances at the damage report) /Are you sure about that?/

I know you're all excited to see Saturn get his, but I had to take a moment to show some of the absolute chaos going down because of the Elderly Bastard's bad decisions. And a bit of a moment with S-Snake! She's a brave girl, and King will have a very papa-eagle conniption when he sees her plan in action.

Chapter 13

Summary:

King fights Saturn. The Seraphim put their plan into action.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“You're wasting my time.”

King pulled himself out of the rubble, spitting a mouthful of blood aside and glaring at Saturn. Even though all the wounds he inflicted on the monster healed, he could tell that his refusal to go down and stay down was grinding on the Elder. “And you're boring me to death.” He spat back. “Does that make us even?”

Saturn's eyes flared, lived. The now-familiar invisible blow struck his head uselessly, doing no damage except for making his ears ring and briefly shaking his sense of balance. King's flames roared as he pushed himself up onto his feet. His left wing shivered slightly from the fresh wound on its upper half. It wasn't crippling, but it was harder to fly on, which wasn't good when his agility was one of the few things he had above Saturn.

The buildings immediately around them were completely destroyed, deadly kerosene puddles from engine blocks spilled in every direction. Gas from ruptured pipes choked the air was a sickly haze his fire threatened to ignite at any moment. Any Beast Pirate or Marine that entered the arena between them either died in the crossfire or was killed directly by Saturn – that invisible blow made their heads explode.

No wonder his shoulder was screaming in pain.

This is not good... King bitterly admitted to himself. I can severely wound him, but however I've done it, he's always healed it off a few moments later. Cauterizing the injuries doesn't bypass that. I can't seem to find a way to make the injuries stick...!

Stubborn as he was, he didn't have infinite stamina – before too long he'd be running solely on adrenaline and hatred. Saturn's attacks weren't as terrible as Kaido's full power, but their hammering relentlessly on him was slowly draining his haki. Saturn was keeping track of the moments his flames fell and aiming that invisible blow at him in those moments. King avoided some of them thanks to Observation, but if a few more got through he was in trouble.

He could take some pleasure in Saturn's clear fury that he hadn't taken him out yet, at least.

I still can't tell if he's a devil fruit user or something else entirely...

Saturn's leg surged towards him like a lance. King kicked off the ground and dodged, darting through a heavy patch of gas by the rubble of a building. As Saturn stormed after him he launched a wave of fire at him, igniting an explosion that pushed him dozens of feet backwards and swallowed the entire footprint of the superstructure.

“Is everything you work with this volatile, doctor?” King wondered aloud with a bit of sarcasm. A black shadow formed in the flames and he launched himself to the right as Saturn burst out of the fire, flesh charred black and missing in places. His feet stab at the air where King had been moments ago.

“You heretical beast! STOP MOVING!” Saturn bellowed.

King snorted and dropped several feet of altitude, taking on his full zoan form again. His wing injury was a little less debilitating in this form. He moved like a missile, flying around Saturn as he fell back toward earth and tearing dozens of lacerations across his entire body. Close to the ground he put everything into speed and zoomed down the road, so Saturn crashed down on nothing but broken concrete and fire.

His right shoulder burned. King shifted back fully, gritting his teeth as his head rolled briefly from the pain. How long had it been since he last fought a battle where he was at a severe disadvantage... he'd almost forgotten how to fight like this. Internally he cursed his quiet complacency near the top of the world. He's healing again...!

He started to draw his sword again when that invisible blow slammed into his stomach. His flames were partway up; the pain was mindbending. “Gah...!” His vision went white as King staggered, instinctively putting one hand over his stomach. It was hot with blood. “Damn...!”

Saturn stormed towards him, his form melting and changing before his eyes... he steadily became even less human, more spider like. More monstrous. Form changing, like a Zoan. King sucked in a deep breath and bit his cheek before burning his new injury closed. He couldn't risk a gut wound worsening.

The Elder rapidly gained speed and two of his legs flew at King with blinding speed. Kusenagi rang when it clashed against the demonic limbs, the sword singing with purpose. King gritted his teeth and pushed back, slicing into the flesh and moving away from the follow up, his gait slower.

“It's almost amusing, watching you squirm.” Saturn sneered. “There were some who tried to escape from Punk Hazard... I remember that. I dealt with them myself. Do you want to know how?”

King lit his injured legs on fire as a response, weaving between the others to get out of Saturn's range as he flailed.

Saturn spat a foul curse in some dead language, shaking his limbs violently to divest himself of the flames. King cut the air and unleashed a slash attack that sliced into his chest – aimed at his collar and throat, specifically. The wounds cut deep enough to shut the monster up for a minute, and King allowed himself a brief smirk at that.

He kept moving, keeping in flight whenever he could despite his aching wing robbing him of some of his speed. Saturn gurgled in anger as he lunged for the pest circling him every time, thoughts of the Seraphim briefly abandoned in sheer frustrated fury at how much of a run around this one beast was giving him. Further sword attacks cut at his chest; Saturn took the time to block a few of them so they wouldn't get at his lungs.

Of course one of Kaido's minions would be powerful in Haki. If he couldn't simply punch through it, then he'd find a way to weaken it.

It's still healing... King thought as he slashed Saturn's back open. Despite his elderly appearance, there was some durability to his flesh and bones – they gave way to his blade, but not as quickly or as thoroughly as he was used to. What was more troubling was that Saturn didn't seem to require much energy to heal, if any. He was moving with the same smoothness and strength as when he started. This isn't working...!

If he was a devil fruit user... King needed to get him over water, then find a way to knock him down into it. Would the other Elder Stars come to rescue him if his life was genuinely in danger? As badly as he wanted to kill Saturn somehow, he would begrudgingly accept a retreat – it would let him get the Seraphim out of danger. There would be other times to finish the job.

Of course, any devil fruit user with two brain cells would not be easily lead to the ocean. If that was even what Saturn was. He lost nothing for trying, however.

His Observation screamed and King let himself drop several dozen feet – narrowly avoiding an attack when his body was vulnerable.

“It took some time... because of that annoying protective state that you can go into. But I broke them all, bones, flesh, blood. I found new ways for each of them... The screams they uttered were a relief from the annoyance of being distracted from my studies.”

“Tch...!” King locked his jaw and flew upward again. Perhaps he should shift his attention to the head. If they could survive decapitation, at worst he'll have more information.

Saturn's eyes tracked him and he narrowly avoided another invisible blast. “Your parents were there, I assume. If they weren't butchered like common waterfowls on the Red Line.” The spider turned towards him, hateful amusem*nt in his face. “I did assist a doctor working on a married couple, at Punk Hazard. I killed the husband while his wife watched. I cut him open and studied his insides while he was still alive.”

It could be anyone. It could be anyone! But for the first time in years King could see his father's face clearly in his memory. Serious, but with a warmer, more playful side that Alber could bring out when he was done work for the day. He'd taught Alber how to fly and encouraged his interest in the way of the sword.

Was that how he died? A few rooms away from him, unknowing?

“The woman whimpered like a tavern wench the whole time.” Saturn said distastefully. “Perhaps I would have been better served letting one of the Holy Knights keep her. Several had asked. She must have felt relief when I crushed her skull.”

King moved despite knowing bait when he heard it and buried Kusenagi all but up to its hilt in Saturn's eye. Saturn staggered from the swiftness and sheer intensity of the stabbing, reeling from the sudden diminishing of his vision. “Shut up!” King shouted.

Blood splashed against him, soaking his clothes. He barely felt it; his head was pounding, the burning fire inside his body threatening to suffocate him. The memories of the screams in Punk Hazard rose from his memories, more intense than ever as if trying to help him pinpoint his parents amidst the terrible noise. He didn't know. He simply couldn't be sure, and likely he'd never know.

Did Delia know? Did she remember anyone's names, aside from his? When he found her, would she tell him? Please, please say that you know. Even if I have nothing to bury, I...!

King had barely torn his blade free when a clawed hand grabbed him from behind, claws stabbing into his sides. Saturn snarled with pain, the first time he'd done so the entire fight, and thrust his hand downward, slamming King into the earth.

Pain seared King's nerves; he didn't made a sound, forced his pained body to shift halfway so he could slash at the fingers trapping him. The wind was knocked out of him. Or was it his haki shaking, struggling to maintain itself in admist his rage and grief?

“Do you mourn them, false god?” Saturn asked, putting all his weight forward to keep King pinned in place. “Then you should have died there with them. Now the divine punishment you face will deny you even that...”

He raised his legs and King shut his eyes in an effort to summon the hottest flames he could. One way or another -

He didn't even need to finish the thought. The storm-covered sky above him briefly turned orange before a thunderous voice uttered “BLAST BREATH!” King saw Saturn's eyes widen before the spider all but vanished within a concentrated laser of flame. King gasped when the crushing weight on his chest vanished in an instant – Saturn's hand was gone, and he pushed himself to his feet, grabbing his sword off the ground.

The fire breath blew Saturn across the street and through more than one pile of debris before he smashed into a still-standing wall and lay still, stunned.

Kaido floated down low enough that he could get a good look at his friend; the dragon growled low, thunder cracking in time with his seething anger upon assessing King's injuries. “King.” He said with eerie levelness in his voice. “Can you fight?”

King briefly pressed his free hand against his side. Surface wounds. It wasn't good – but it wasn't debilitating either. “Yes,” he responded without hesitation. “Thank you, Kaido.”

Kaido gave him a stern look, examining him in an effort to deduce if he was being genuine. “Stubborn,” he grunted, turning his head towards Saturn. “What is that thing, exactly?” Disgust rumbled in his voice.

“I'm not sure,” King admitted, swiping his blade to flick blood off its length. “He's healed from every attack I've landed. I can't tell how. I'm not even sure he's a devil fruit user.”

“Hmph...” Kaido flicked his tail, lightning crashing overhead. “Well, if we tear off his limbs enough times we're bound to figure something out.”

“How far are we from the ocean?” King asked.

“Not a small distance, but that can be remedied.” Kaido responded. “Stay with me, King. Let's exact vengeance upon this wretch.”

King clenched his free hand into a fist as Saturn began approaching again. “Gladly.

“This is the central communications tower?” S-Snake looked around the tall building that S-Bear had brought her to. By some miracle it had largely been spared from damage from the raid – or whatever Vegapunk had done to reinforce it had paid off in dividends. All the screens were still in tact and looked like they had power. “Good, good...” she hurried up to the platform and looked over the buttons. “Now where are they...”

S Bear joined her at her elbow as she started to flip through the screens. “At the very least you'll have audio,” he observed. “I don't know if there will be a screen in tact close enough to them that Saturn will see you face.”

“I'm gonna try to find one,” S-Snake responded with confidence. Her fingers started to dart across the buttons, connecting the various speakers as she flicked through the cameras. “There! There, that must be him!”

Skipping past one static riddled camera, she found one where Kaido blew past, biting onto Saturn's head and tearing it off in one gory move. “Ew!” The girl whined, briefly squeezing her eyes shut. The audio played static, and she slowly pried one eye open. “Did that work?”

That would be anticlimactic.

“...No,” S-Bear said, troubled. “He's already regenerating.”

“That cheating punk,” S-Snake muttered. She tapped her ear a few times. “S-Crocodile, what's going on with you?! Do you still not have enough dust and gunpowder?! It can't be that hard to find in the middle of this!”

“Quit hurrying me, I'm getting there. And don't call me S-Crocodile, I've chosen a name I like.” The grumpy voice answered her. S-Bear moved over and directed one of the cameras to their brother, who was walking down a street with an increasingly dark storm of dust whirling around him.

“You did?!” He made it sound so easy! S-Snake couldn't figure out where to even start, looking for a name was all hers!

Her brother held out one arm, causing yet more dust to come flying to the whirlwind. “In Alabasta there's an old pantheon of gods... one of whom is the judge of the dead. When he weighs your soul, he decides whether you pass on to a peaceful afterlife or are devoured by the destroyer deity.”

He barked out a rough laugh. “It's fitting, isn't it? I was born to be an 'act of god', the one who destroyed those deemed unworthy. I'm going to remind Saturn of that before I fill his lungs with sand. ...So call me Anubis.”

S-Snake stared blankly at the screen for a minute as she processed his statement before hitting one hand against her forehead. She understood his logic and even thought it was kinda cool, but still – “You're so dramatic! A death god?!"

Anubis bristled a little. “Shut up, you still haven't picked one yet!”

“I'm still thinking about it!” S-Snake shrieked indignantly, stomping her foot. “Meanie!”

“Guys, please...take it easy on each other,” S-Bear entreated. He put one hand on S-Snake's shoulder, squeezing it gently. “Anubis is a great name; it suits you. It means you decide who is saved too! Seeing you will bring people relief and happiness.”

Anubis seemed to stumble over his own feet at that heartfelt contribution. The dust storm hid his blush well enough. “O-Obviously.” He stuttered, trying to sound confident and definitely not flustered. “I'm almost done, where do I need to go next?”

“These are their coordinates right now,” S-Snake said confidently before rattling them off. Checking her other cameras she noticed that two of her other brothers were perched on a rooftop staring at something rather than heading in the right direction. “Alucard, Rocinante! What are you staring at?!”

“There are Revolutionaries here,” Alucard said, sounding puzzled.

“What?!” S-Snake very maturely did not stomp her feet in total frustration at that. They had enough things to deal with right now! “What the heck do they want?! How many are there?!”

“We can only see three right now,” Rocinante reported. He was completely calm... it went a little ways to soothing S-Snake's nerves. “Judging by their trajectory, they're headed towards Punk Records. Should we cut them off or ignore them? That place is really important...”

S-Bear blinked, a strange swirl of emotion filling his chest. “Don't worry about them,” he said with certainty. “They won't do anything that endangers the island. Their mission is only to save people.” S-Snake looked at him in surprise. Were his eyes a little watery. “You can leave them and go help King. Where are the other Beast Pirates?”

“Looks like most of them are doubling back to secure the ships,” Alucard responded. “It's just as well; they'd only get in the way if they tried to fight Saturn. If you're sure the Revolutionaries are a non-issue, we're on the move.”

S-Snake huffed in relief. “Oh good. Very good... on to more important things...” she had one brother left to contact and when she found him on the cameras, she frowned a little. “S-Bat, what's the matter? You're in concealment already.”

“Sorry! I was preparing to get into position, then Kaido showed up all of a sudden...” S-Bat whispered, carefully moving through the remains of a one-story building. “He gave me a really bad start... I thought my heart was going to explode...”

“Why?” S-Snake said in confusion. “Kaido is on King's side. He's not a problem for us.”

“I know – logically, I know, I just – it's some kind of glitch; seeing him makes me feel awful things...” S-Bat shook his head. “Don't worry, I can still carry out the plan even if he's there.”

“You're sure?” S-Bear asked in concern.

S-Bat nodded vehemently. “Of course I can. We have to save the crew, right? Keep everyone safe.” He clicked the scissors closed decisively. “I'm ready when you are.”

S-Snake inhaled and exhaled deeply, nodding to herself as she clicked through the windows. Eventually she found a tv screen close enough to the brawl that Saturn could see her, then checked the volume. A jolt of nerves went through her, causing her to hesitantly glance at S-Bear. “You'll get me to safety if he lunges at me, right?” She asked.

Her brother blinked at her, surprised that she felt that she had to ask. He gave her a very gentle smile and nodded. “Of course.”

The words washed over her gently. Reassuring in a way that was hard to put away, S-Snake nodded and leaned forward, hands on the desk. Her eyes followed King as he darted around the battlefield, backing up Kaido as the emperor blasted and slashed at Saturn. “He's hurt,” she murmured, her stomach twisting at the observation.

Anxiety melted into furious anger as her hands balled into fists. “Oh no you didn't,” the princess growled, glaring at Saturn.

If only he could handle sea stone. King unleashed a circle of fire that pushed Saturn back a few yards. The man...creature... was clearly aware of their efforts to drive him towards the ocean, because he'd done everything in his power to escape their nets. It was frustrating, and King warily noted that he was starting to feel a little lightheaded.

Kaido had torn off Saturn's head twice now; and when that didn't work, he alternated to tearing his chest open to get at his heart which he incinerated with a blast breath. At least it took longer for Saturn to heal from those injuries, but he could, and King was starting to wonder if this beast was genuinely immortal.

There's still something we haven't tried, he reminded himself stubbornly. There has to be a way...

“What a nuisance,” Kaido snorted. “I think I'll drop you in the sea and bury you underneath a rock slide. You can spend eternity at the bottom of the ocean with water filling your lungs!” He blasted the earth underneath Saturn, erasing one of his legs and sending him stumbling backwards.

“Illiterate beast...” Saturn growled. “This effort is pointless...even for you.”

Kaido scoffed, eyes narrowing. “We'll see about that.”

The crackling of speakers made King start slightly. There's a fuzzy sound like the audio had been overcranked, and a slight squawk like someone had been jolted. “Ow! That's my foot!” A now-familiar little girl's voice complained, causing King's heart to lodge itself in his throat in unpleasant surprise.

I'm sorry! You overcranked it – there, it should be working now.” There's a crackle and the audio became much more legible. “You're online – I didn't mean to step on you, you were nudging me so much-”

Well I was in a hurry!”

“What child is that?” Kaido wondered, before noticing King's pale expression. “Ah. Sasaki is going to get docked some of the spoils.”

Saturn swung around, staring into the city. “The Seraphim?” He demanded incredulously.

A large screen in one of the few buildings that hadn't been leveled yet winked to life. Sure enough, standing behind the console were a frustrated-looking S-Snake and a very apologetic S-Bear, both of whom paused what they were doing before turning fully to the screen. “King!” S-Bear said, sounding relieved. “I'm sorry. I know we were supposed to go to the flagship, but we were worried.”

King choked on first two reactions, which gave S-Snake enough time to lean forward and frown at Saturn. “So you're Saturn,” She said... before sticking her nose in the air. “Humph. You're even uglier than I imagined. You must have actively worked at that!”

Saturn's expression turned from frustrated sneering to... something that almost defied language. It was shock, for sure, but it was so blank faced and so exaggerated you'd think that he had just seen an entire mountain range sprout legs and walk away from him, shaking the world as it went. “You! I command you to come to me! Why have you delayed?!” The man bellowed.

S-Snake stuck a finger in her ear and wobbled her wrist, a noblewoman's sneer curling her lips. “Because I don't take orders from scum I scrape off the bottom of my high heels?” she responded blandly. Saturn's mouth slowly fell open partway. “Because you're a gross old lecher who's solution to not being able to get it up anymore was to kill people, then dig up their bodies to make the children you couldn't have? Oh! It's because you're a senile, disease riddled spider who doesn't have the common curtsy to be small enough to smash with a newspaper.”

A strangled wheezing sound bubbled in King's throat; panic and disbelief mingling together. Saturn's reaction, meanwhile, was unique to the entire day – total speechlessness. His irises had shrunk into pinpricks and then vanished altogether. His entire presence went mute for a second – so much that he briefly vanished from observation haki.

A god? HAH!” S-Snake uttered an exaggerated laugh before leaning forward and staring at him with an unnervingly piercing expression “No, you're jealous. You're insecure. Nobody who has any sense of self worth needs to murder everyone who doesn't actively lick your boots and clean your toilet and tell you every day that it totally doesn't show that you're a geriatric sack of bones and wrinkles and primordial ooze. Your mother conceived you solely to be an affront towards nature. It probably took fifty generations in inbreeding – no, sixty. It must take at least sixty to make that kind of nose.”

I don't think any race can produce viable offspring after ten generations of inbreeding,” S-Bear interjected a little awkwardly.

That's why he's an affront to nature,S-Snake responded very patiently.

...If there was tangible steam rising from the elder star's head, King wouldn't have blinked at it. “Y...Yooooooou...!” Saturn's voice seemed to double in volume. “You do not speak! You are a weapon! MY WEAPON! I CREATED YOU! I AM YOUR FATHER!”

S-Snake didn't even bat an eye. “You're not my father. You're nothing.” She emphasized the words with a pop. You are an amoeba to me. I have very negative feelings towards you.” She flailed her arms in an exaggerated motion. “Look at me, I'm Saturn, I kill a lot of people, that makes me special and important!” She stuck her tongue out. “Well so can a rock. Or a tree. Or water! I could replace you in this universe with a pebble and no one would notice, except for the net gain of happiness and rainbows all around.”

A storm of dust blew through the streets directly towards Saturn. Kaido started to laugh, loud and riotously; King's head snapped to the right to see Crocodile's clone headed directly for them, hands forward.

Can you understand me? Am I using too many big words?” S-Snake mocked relentlessly. S-Bear carefully put two hands on her shoulders, ready to teleport her away at a moment's notice. At least one of them had some common sense! “I don't speak 'inbred noble', so I'll simplify things for you. You're a little bitch who couldn't handle the fact that people don't like you. They will never like you! You should be embarrassed for existing! So crawl back into whatever hell pit spawned you and stay there!”

Kaido howled even louder, his heaving laughter almost shaking Egghead to its foundation. To put the final cherry on top, S Snake made gestures like she was talking to a dog. “Go! Sit! And stay.” She sneered. “Bad dog.”

Saturn vanished from the place he had been standing, cutting through the air towards the communications tower. Directly into the dust cloud. Anubis pointed upwards and fired a tongue of flame towards the sky.

King threw one arm over his face as a wall of pure sound and pressure erupted from that spot, briefly making the rest of the world invisible. What did he do?! Summon all of the gunpowder across the entire island?! He thought slightly hysterically.

A rapid rustle of feathers echoed from the east. The explosion had hardly died down before Alucard and Rocinante lunged out of cover, the former with sword in half. They flew in different directions around Saturn's staggering form and unleashed strings of fire, making a semi-circle roar up high enough that it reached halfway up the remaining buildings. Then S-Bat darted out of a half-ruined house, brandishing a pair of scissors.

That was when realization kicked in and King saw what they were doing. With a renewed surge of adrenaline he took back to the sky, trusting that Kaido would see it too, and flew to cover for the children.

Saturn was foaming at the mouth when his eyes regenerated and he saw the other Seraphim zipping around overhead. Every bit of his composure had deserted him, from his calm to his frigid poise and unending confidence. “You little bastards!” He roared, jumping into the air to grab Rocinante. King blurred past and sliced his hand off at the wrist, kicking his arm away as the boy darted safely past him. “I spent a fortune on you! You'll be so irritating to replace! I should have built the Seraphim around CORPSES!”

“You should choke on your own tongue and die, you old fool.” Anubis spat back. “Black Desert!” A whirlwind of concrete dust, glass fragments and pulverized concrete leapt from the ground and flew at Saturn's face – not to be detonated instantly, but to fly down his throat and up his nose and in his ears and into his eyes. Launching himself from the ground, Anubis lit the tail end of his attack and jumped backwards.

The attack blew out Saturn's eyes, half his face, his eardrums and chunks of his throat. Sometime later King would get upset about how the children could see something so gristly and not even bat an eye, much less get upset or traumatized. Because that wouldn't be useful in a war weapon.

“Brilliant!” Kaido cackled, his tail slamming down on Saturn's leg when he tried to slash Anubis. “King, your children truly are a marvel!”

“I can't take credit for this,” King observed with the little legitimate levity he got out of S-Snake's roasting. “This was just them. 'Capable of enough emotions to perfect battle planning and adjustments', I see.”

The dig clearly got to Saturn, given how his head snapped in King's direction. Good. Come at me and forget about the children...!

Saturn lunged again. “I'll kill you!” He shrieked, beside himself. “If nothing else I'll send you straight to hell! ALBER!”

His hands stopped a few inches from Kusenagi's blade; as King tried to moderate his heartbeat at the sound of his original name, light shone on harsh, sharp white string slicing into the elder's wrists like razor wire. “You'll do no such thing,” Rocinante hissed through gritted teeth; he flew backwards and Saturn was dragged away from King, knocked onto his ass as the strings around his legs all snapped tight too. “Keep your filthy hands off of my family!”

The blonde wrenched his wrist and two of the strings sliced his hands off. “No one touches them! No one has the right to hurt them!” He roared as a string snapped around Saturn's neck as well, sawing into his neck like a hand saw. More string snared the elder's wrists when his hands regenerated, dragging him further to the ground. “Make peace with whatever it is the gods worship, because for making King suffer so much, you're going to die!”

“You littl-gurgle!” Saturn choked when the half saw reached his vocal chords. King's heart squeezed so tightly he thought it might fail.

“Die for him and for the White City!” Rocinante snarled, eyes blazing brighter than the fires themselves; the stares shone in stark relief. “Die and pay for the sins of your blood...you abomination!”

Kaido dropped squarely on Saturn's chest, bringing his mace down upon it to cave in the enemy's ribcage and lungs with one overpowered attack. With a pop, S-Snake, S-Bear and S-Shark all appeared on a nearby roof. The one girl waved cheerily when she was sure Saturn could see her... then pulled down one of her eyelids in a mocking childish gesture.

Saturn ripped free of some of the strings restraining him, causing Rocinante to wince and move back. He pushed Kaido aside to reach for her and -

Snip! Snap!

The world itself seemed interrupted by, of all things, the sound of scissors slicing through their target. Saturn froze in place at the sensation he had never experienced before – the sudden absence of part of his being, an intrinsic and absolutely necessary part of it. So consumed with rage – the rage of being mocked without instant reprisal, of his weapons turning on him, of being unable to decisively win the battle – any thought to his haki had been almost nonexistent. He'd let it go completely, his head to muddled to use it and his regeneration would protect him -

S-Bat calmly lifted the feet of his shadow in one hand, a clown's smile on his face. He waved his scissors almost playfully at Saturn when the elder star swivelled to look his way. “Boo,” S-Bat – no, Anduriel – said teasingly. “Mine now.” His head snapped upwards. “Al!”

Alucard brought his sword back. “One Sword Style,” He intoned, Kaido taking the hint to get out of the way – his respect for Mihawk's swordsmanship showing. “Rend Heaven!”

The faux-Yoru swung in a wide arc and the sky split open. As did the island beneath it.

The land, at least, didn't slash fully in half – the groove went down several dozen meters, but the island's integrity held. Everything above ground in the way of the sword... no luck there. Debris and buildings vanished, obliterated down to atoms. The shock wave rocked the Beast Pirate ships in the water far away and flattened every structure around still standing. It hit the horizon and cut up into the sky...

Kaido's storm was split in half. The clouds billowed away as if reeling from injury, instantly bathing the world below with the blazing golden-red light of sunset. It painted Egghead island wholly in an instant, rushing across every surface, instantly warming King's skin... and landing mercilessly upon Saturn's entire body.

The Elder Star uttered an earsplitting scream of agony as he burned.

Nothing had made him scream before.

His body began to disintegrate... and this time, despite King seeing his regeneration trying to kick in, it wasn't enough. He couldn't heal fast enough. His body was turning to ash. Right before their eyes... time took on a more languid pace, slower and slower, trying to let King's mind catch up with what was happening right before him.

He saw Saturn, writhing and twisting in pain, swivel and stare at S-Bat/Anduriel. King's muscles tightened with alarm – he knew what that meant, he was using that attack again, the boy's flames weren't up, he didn't know there was still danger-

The slowed time didn't make him move any slower.

King tackled the child and covered him with his body just in time. A hideous pain slammed into his back, making his vision turn white and all thoughts leave him except I made it. He slumped a little. A physical acknowledgement of how much damage he'd taken. Fuzzily he could hear voices calling to him, beneath the sound of that body turning to ash.

His eyes half opened. Anduriel was pawing at his chest, saying something he couldn't make out. He's alright, though.

Alber smiled softly as he slid into unconsciousness, collapsing on the hard, ruined ground. Relief washed over him. It was over... they were safe.

“...ing...!”

“...mpossible..” A shadow flickered overhead.

“...that's enough from you today.”

That last voice... Alber thought he saw a flicker of familiar red hair before finally, fully blacking out.

Notes:

(squeaks, fans self) Oooh, my gosh. I had an absolute blast writing this. I even managed to add in a cliffhanger. Look at the cute little Seraphim, being that God of War Meme!

Saturn: I just wanted to make you great warriors!
Alucard: You succeeded. (smites him with the sun)

Oh gosh, I've been so nervous about this chapter, so I really hope the quality has held steady.

Chapter 14

Summary:

The aftermath of Saturn's death.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“C-Curse you...Nikaaaaaaa....!”

Saturn's strangled last words vanish into the sunlight, and if they'd had the presence of mind the Seraphim would probably be curious as to who the hell 'Nika' was supposed to be. But King was bleeding badly from getting shot in the back and nothing else mattered.

Alucard didn't panic. He most certainly didn't, no matter what S-Snake said later.

If he ran straight to King's side after Saturn was reduced to ashes it was because someone had to assess his injuries. That was why. It wasn't because of something getting stuck in his head and closing up his throat and making him think notagainnotagainpleasenotagain. He wasn't afraid, anxious, or feeling paralyzed.

He told himself this even when he placed his trembling hand on King's right wing, moving it out of the way to try and see the wound.

It...looked bad. His analysis implant whirled to life, assessing the injury and rattling off the severity of the impact and the rupture and Alucard's heart twisted uncomfortably. There's a little buzz indicating that his heart rate was abnormal. No sh*t.

How do you stop bleeding? The database connected to him was combat data only. You – you had to put pressure on it, stop the blood from coming out. Alucard placed his small hand over the wound, wincing at the feeling.

Hot and sticky. King's blood seemed to sink into his skin... fuse with him. Alucard's breath hitched. His chest squeezed like he'd suddenly been put in a vice.

Notagainnotagain

The ground crunched as his siblings rushed over to King as well, forming a ring around him. A massive shadow fell over them; Kaido, it must be. They were talking; S-Snake was panicked and asking Kaido about his doctor, where was his doctor; Kaido's response doesn't register but the tenseness in his voice registered as concern. Anubis was cursing and Rocinante was asking Alucard how he can help and S-Bear was trying to say something he couldn't make out. None of them were being helpful and he's frustrated and -

Notagainnotagainnotagain

Anduriel wasn't talking, he looked like he was in shock. He's holding King's hand. The older Lunarian still has a pulse, he's still breathing, but his chest shivered on each intake and Alucard knew that wasn't a good sign.

StayTomoestayplease

Tomoe.

Somehow the name snapped Alucard out of the strange mental state. It was just as well, too, because that's when another one of those demons showed up.

He looked somewhat different from the 'creator'. He's an old man, tall where Saturn had been somewhat hunchbacked, clean shaven where Saturn had had a sizable beard. He wore the same sharp black suit and style that he'd had though, so it didn't take the sharp – observation – that shot through Alucard's mind to know that he was another Elder Star.

“Saturn, where...” The man started, ignoring him and King. Ignoring all of them as inconsequential – even Kaido. It pissed the young swordsman off instantly. The roll of anger off of the massive emperor told them that they had this reaction in common.

“King,” S-Shark murmured in worry, gently moving Anduriel to the side and checking the man's pulse. Concern marred his face, but he stayed calm – Alucard wildly envied him for it. “We need to move him to the flagship.” He's completely ignoring the Elder Star despite the pressure emanating from him. “The doctors are there.”

Alucard nodded shortly and slowly lifted his hand. The blood clung to him. Anger and stress pulse through his veins in equal measure. “S-Bear, prepare to get them there.” He said quietly, standing up. He grabbed his sword off the ground and turned towards the new Elder Star.

Another one. This was not good... but they already killed one. The five of them were the 'most divine' and attacking them was the highest crime there was. King attacked this island to save them, fought Saturn, protected Anduriel from being killed.

They didn't get to touch King. Alucard would behead this demon as many times as he needed ensuring S-Bear got King securely moved to the ship and tended to by the doctor.

“This is...” The Elder Star uttered, looking around. Realizing, perhaps after a delayed reaction, that he could no longer sense his fellow demon. These people had never been quick to accept a reality that they didn't like. “Where is he?” His eyes fell down on the ashes shifting slightly in the breeze.

“Dead,” Kaido responded darkly, remorselessly. His presence was titanic; standing next to him, Alucard could fully feel it. Despite the pressure being akin to Saturn's, it made the small swordsman smirk a little.

The Elder Star's eyes widened. “Liar,” he hissed, hot denial in his voice.

Kaido mockingly opened his arms, bearing his teeth in a bloodstained smirk. Having to tear his gaze away from his only friend when he was down and bleeding further inflamed his temper at the face of this opposing power broker. “Search the entire island, dig for bones. Or take those ashes back and have them tested for DNA if you still can't accept the truth.” He sneered. “He is dead. When we defeated him the sun burned what was left of him away.”

The Elder Star had been stone faced right up until Kaido mentioned the sun. Then his eyes widened, flickered to the sky where the sun was setting and then – almost stuttering – flicked to Anduriel. Alucard got in front of his still-shaken brother and pointed his sword warningly.

“No...! It can't be!” The Elder Star uttered feverishly, eyes darting back towards the sunset as if expecting something to emerge from the horizon. “What have you done?!”

“I avenged my friend.” Kaido responded remorselessly. His smirk seemed to widen when the old man's realization sank in, saying in silence that he was committing that moment of breaking to memory. “Though perhaps only in part... the rest of you helped him carry out the massacre of the Lunarians, didn't you?”

“You...you...YOOOOU!” The Elder roared. He started to transform and lunged – not at Kaido, but at King's unconscious form. So fast it was blink and you miss it...but not for Alucard. He moved and prepared to block and -

There's a flash of red in the corner of his vision and then someone was blocking the demon, stopping him a mere few feet away from where he'd been standing. Alucard blinked, checking his own momentum and turning in confusion towards this new variable in the battle. His heart jumped with a jumble of emotions.

Red-Haired Shanks. Emperor of the Sea. NuisanceRivalFriendmore. The intensity of the rush of feelings – Dracule Mihawk's feelings, impulses, memories – ran through his head before he was able to centre himself and look at the redhead fully with his own eyes. Even as that sense of fondness buoyed him, Alucard couldn't quite believe that this man was here right in this moment.

“That's enough from you today.” Shanks said calmly, no sign of a smile on his face. “The government is going to pieces. If you want to salvage any part of it, you need to return now and get to work immediately.”

“You!” The Elder Star barked, disbelief in his voice. “You presume to give me orders?”

“I'm making an observation,” Shanks responded without blinking. He glanced over his shoulder, his sword easily holding the man's transformed arm back. “You came here to bring Saturn back from his reckless charge. Now that you've seen where that's gotten him, you want to make the same mistake?”

“No one strikes the Elder Stars and lives!”

“Continue to try and fight here,” Shanks said as if he hadn't spoken, “And you'll be fighting me too.”

That made the man's jaw click shut. He stared at Shanks with a mixture of fury and disbelief. “You are making powerful enemies,” He threatened.

“Story of my life,” Shanks responded with a shrug.

The sight of his threat being casually shrugged off made the old man shut up for a moment... Alucard pointedly tipped his head towards the ashes that remained of Saturn, staring a hole in his head. “Run away or die,” He told the man in a cool, remote tone.

King needed a doctor. He could kill the other Elders later.

The Elder Star stared at him with bloody fury... and then there's a sound and pressure and he teleported away. Shanks exhaled, shaking his head, before turning towards Kaido.

“Brat,” Kaido uttered shortly. His fighters tightened around the hilt of his mace.

“Kaido,” Shanks answered calmly. He looked up at the monolith dwarfing him and addressed him as though they were acquaintances meeting in a tea shop. “Take your friend to a doctor and leave. There's nothing else for you to do here.”

“I disagree.” Kaido retorted. “I only have four satellites, I know there are seven counting the real Vegapunk.”

Shanks shook his head slightly. “I can't let you do that,” He said. “Vegapunk has reached some friends, who will take him and his two counterparts to safety. I'm here to make sure they leave unmolested.”

Kaido's eyes flashed like lightning. “What was that?!” He demanded.

“If you try to chase them, I'll take you on.” Shanks responded. “Kaido, what's more important to you right now – stalking Vegapunk to the end of the earth, or getting King to a doctor before he possibly bleeds out?”

Kaido twitched violently. There's a long moment of hesitation and Alucard absolutely hates it – Vegapunk wasn't going to vanish off of the face of the earth while they took care of King. Finally – finally, Kaido snarled and strode forward. He knelt and slid his arms underneath King, who's chest rose and fell faintly, and picked him up in his arms. “This isn't over, brat,” he warned Shanks with murder in his voice before giving him and the others a sharp look. “Come.” The order was sharp and brisk and Kaido launched himself into the air.

S-Bear and Rocinante immediately tore after him, S-Snake hurriedly moving to follow them. Anduriel hesitated, cringing when Kaido made a demand of him, and Anubis nudged him slightly as if to say 'buck up'. Alucard, meanwhile, found himself meeting Shanks's eyes.

The redhead stared at him – did a double take when their eyes met. That cool, calm demeanour he'd just used to negotiate with two of the deadliest men on the planet melted away and Shanks gawked at him with pure childlike awe. “Oh wow,” he blurted out.

In an instant he wasn't intimidating or enigmatic or even an Emperor – he was a parent's friend who'd never seen you before and was totally over the moon. “You're Hawky's kid! I mean, I didn't know him when he was this small but I can just tell – holy crap you are so cute!”

Alucard felt like he could have been knocked over by a feather. Cute?! Shanks's aura said he's completely serious about that remark – how did he look at a born superweapon and call it cute?! Doesn't he know what Alucard is?! He must know Mihawk; wait he calls that swordsman Hawky and gets away with it – he knows that and still looks at Alucard like...like that?

“Oh man, I can't wait to tell Hawk,” Shanks babbled, taking advantage of Alucard's stunned silence. “You're adorable and deadly and – is that a copy of Yoru?” His eyes flickered to the sword. “Well Hawky will probably have a problem with that specifically but he's gonna be so floored when he meets you, don't doubt it.”

How can you be so sure of that? Alucard wondered but didn't say out loud, deciding instead to give Shanks a blank look.

Shanks walked up to him and – and just ruffled his hair. Like he was an ordinary kid. It was like he'd seen a stay cat and just couldn't resist going to give it a little love. The gentle positive touch left him completely floundering. “I know you have to go, so I won't keep you,” Shanks said in a rush, “but man – I'm glad you exist. However you came to exist, however tragic it was, you're here and it's good that you exist as yourself. Remember that, yeah?”

Alucard opened his mouth. Closed it. Why did those words feel like a punch to the gut? Heat rushed to his cheeks and he can't figure out how to respond, so he just mumbled something about 'ridiculous redheads' and quickly launched himself into the air, following S-Shark. Anduriel and Anubis were right behind him.

Shanks lets them go, doesn't try to impede them or force his will on them. His genetic memory says of course he doesn't, he's not like that but it's such a strange thing to have happen when a grown man was involved that he couldn't process it at that moment. The only coherent thought in his head was that he needed to find King and see him be treated.

Kaido's personal ship is big, looming and intimidating even among the other ships of his feet – some of which had been damaged and clearly had been in battle with the buster call, but the flagship is untouched. Alucard swooped down towards it, landing on the deck and following King's signature through the hallways... pirates spring out of his and his sibling's way as he turned corners and made his way into the hospital room.

King was laying in bed; Kaido was looming over the doctors, who were babbling nervously. S-Snake and Rocinante are both holding onto the older Lunarian's arms, anxious, and S-Bear... he has a look on his face like he's thinking.

Or maybe remembering something.

The blood on Alucard's hand itched. He wove through the room and came to S-Bear's side, tapping him on the arm. “What are you remembering?” He asked in a low voice.

“I think...” S-Bear whispered, “I think I can heal him, right now. All at once. I'm just not sure...”

Alucard's heartbeat picked up. “How?” he insisted.

“The devil fruit.” His brother stumbled. “I – I think the original... he could – push it out of people. There are fragments of images in my head...” S-Bear flailed, uncertain.

Alucard looked down at his bloodstained hand, then at King. The doctors had put him on his side because of where his injuries were... His hand itched. A memory of That Person slipping away right there in his hands, all the strength possible and yet completely powerless.

“Do it,” He said roughly. “Try it, push it out. We lose nothing for it.”

S-Bear jumped a little, then swallowed. He was afraid of failing, of trying and it not being enough... then he exhaled and stepped closer to the bed. “Out of his way,” Kaido ordered the doctors, glowering; he'd overheard and the men scrambled to obey.

Looking at King, S-Bear exhaled and put his hands forward. They lit up a second later and – Alucard watched with slightly wide eyes as a pink bubble emerged from King's body. It grew bigger and took the shape of a paw and as lifted up away from him, the injuries on the older Lunarian just...vanished. They were gone like they'd never been.

Rocinante's mouth dropped open in awe. Kaido jolted a little and looked at S-Bear with this gaze of deep interest, before stepping forward and examining King himself. The doctors were slack-jawed, staring at their suddenly healthy patient.

“It...It worked,” S-Bear exhaled in relief. For some reason, he still looked concerned.

Kaido lay King down on his back and pinned S-Bear with an intense look. “Where's the catch?” He rumbled.

S-Bear pointed at the bubble. “That bubble contains all the pain and injuries... I think – it can't exist indefinitely. If it just sits there without being taken into someone else, it'll eventually go back to him and he'll be hurt again,” He explained, wringing his hands a little.

The Emperor arched an eyebrow. “Oh?” He snorted, as if to say 'is that all?'. Anduriel watched him, tense as a strung bow – like he expected the giant man to punch S-Bear clear out of the ship and into the ocean.

Instead Kaido plunged his arm into the pain bubble up to the elbow.

S-Bear yelped, and everyone else started – not just Alucard. Lacerations and pocket holes slashed up and down Kaido's body, but only a few of them seemed to break the skin. The Emperor didn't even flinch as he took in the pain; the bubble shivered and ultimately vanished as blood trickled down his bare chest from those wounds that did make him bleed a little.

“It's done.” Kaido said, unfazed. S-Snake's mouth hung half open in shock, while Rociante climbed up the gurney to reassure himself that King really was completely healed. “Why is he still asleep?”

“He needs to get his energy back,” S-Bear responded. “His body needs time to register that it's healthy and come out of the shock, that's all. He'll wake up before too long.”

Kaido looked at him through narrowed eyes, judging his honesty, and nodded shortly. “Good work. All of you.” He turned and walked out of the room, commanding the doctors, “inform me when King has woken.”

“Y-Yessir!” The twosome barked hurriedly. Then Kaido left the room and Alucard stood at attention until the boat was in motion and something in his mind finally clicked with the realization that combat was over. And...they were leaving Egghead.

They were leaving Egghead and didn't have to go back and there was nothing in his head. No voice but his own and the echoes of Dracule Mihawk's passion and regret. He was free.

Alucard sank down to his knees, crouching, as he's hit with the absolutely confusing realization that he has no idea what to do with that. It didn't feel real. The concept was mythical – he might as well have blinked and found a unicorn standing in front of him. His internal diagnostic beeped at him about vertigo and oh that's why his vision was a little fuzzy.

“Can we have more chairs in here, please?” Rocinante asked in a sweet and gentle way. “We want to stay with him.”

S-Snake grumbled something and Alucard heard the sound of a bed bending. “What are you doing?” Anubis asked in bemusem*nt.

“Leave me alone, this is the safest place to be.” Their sister grumbled. “I need quiet to think about my name.”

Alucard slowly stood up and saw that she had climbed onto the bed and had aggressively nestled into King's side, half hiding in his wing. For a second he's totally bemused, because that's not particularly in character for his proud sister... then it hits him that they're on a boat completely loaded with male strangers. King was asleep, so staying right next to him...

Yeah. That was the safest place on this ship.

Alucard looked around for something to sit around; to his annoyance, he found that Anduriel, Rocinante and S-Shark had already stolen all the chairs that had been in the room. Huffing, he walked over to the wall and leaned against it, crossing his arms as he waited for King to wake up.

He's a Lead Performer. He should recover quickly.

“I have very negative feelings about you... Hahahahaha!”

“Yes, Sabo, Punk Records has that whole speech recorded for posterity, you don't have to keep quoting it at us,” Hack said in a valiant effort to not start snickering himself. Koala couldn't help it; she nearly dropped her armful of snails as she cackled, tripping over her own feet. “Can we please focus on the last of the preparations for this area?!”

Sabo hopped down from his 'perch', looking apologetic for all of five seconds before he had to slap a hand over his mouth to smother another fit of giggles. “That's what I've been doing,” the blonde protested helplessly. “Rat bastard got roasted by a five year old!” He slapped his leg, howling with mirth.

Their laughter echoed through the quiet of Punk Records. It had been going on and off ever since S-Snake's broadcast – which she'd connected to every speaker across the island in her crusade to make sure that Saturn would listen to her whether he wanted to or not – had interrupted their rush to secure it away from the Beast Pirates. They'd of course immediately feared for the girl admist the sheer schadenfreude; Dragon asked them to look at the cameras and Sabo had immediately turned them on in time to see all of the Seraphim, who's creation had been engineered by Saturn, attacking the man as a single unit.

And they watched one of the Five Elder Stars die.

Oh, it was a seismic moment. Sabo had thought that he might faint from europhia, disbelief, glee and a little bit of alarm – because it wasn't the Revolution doing this, it was Kaido. Or... perhaps it was King and Surridge.

King threw himself over one of the clones – the one of Moria, if their shaky and poorly placed camera had caught his features correctly – guarding him from an attack with his whole body. The Seraphim crowded around him when he collapsed from pain, agitation and worry in their posture; they were like a little murder of crows checking on their grounded father.

Immediately Sabo knew that those kids would not be removed from King's side without one spectacular crowbar and given what they had just achieved, it did give him a sinking feeling admist his glee. Being loyal to King was one step away from being loyal to Kaido. This... was not good.

At the same time, to say that their profile on King had been expanded immensely compared to just yesterday, and maybe... maybe there was a chance they could do something about that.

But boy, were they going to have to move fast. Those kids could fight and fight like their adult counterparts right now. In their tiny (for Lunarians) five year old bodies! Sabo knew that Dragon was having stress headaches right now about what they'd be like if a devil fruit power artificially aged the Seraphim up. Kaido wasn't above experimenting on his crew members.

Sabo felt a jolt of murderousness at the thought that those poor kids were finally set free from total slavery, just to end up being used as killers by another titanic power. They deserved better than that. They were so little... would King protect them? There's no doubt in Sabo's mind that he was genuinely devoted to those kids – taking Saturn's attack to his back for one of them, with only his insane biology saving him from being instantly killed – but he was Kaido's noble top enforcer.

That nobility could only extend to the edges of Kaido's patience.

His earpiece snail buzzed gently. Sabo blinked and tapped it twice before saying, “What's the situation?”

“Kaido and the Beast Pirates are departing from Egghead Island,” Dragon told him, startling the blonde. “The remnants of the Buster Call, meanwhile, are being held up by the Red-Haired Pirates. Shanks's second in command is convincing them to pull back and leave.”

“What?!” Sabo blurted out before quickly recomposing himself. Hack and Koala both give him started, concerned looks and he waves reassuringly at them before asking, “Why is Kaido leaving, he's only been able to grab four of the satellites, there's no way he doesn't want all of them. And what are the Red-Haired Pirates doing here?”

“They arrived a short while ago,” Dragon responded. “Apparently Shanks confronted Kaido and the threat of a protracted battle while King was significantly injured seemed to persuade him – for now. As soon as he's healthy again I have no doubt the Beast Pirates will be scanning every inch of the Four Blues for Vegapunk and by extension us.”

“So we don't have to fight him.” Sabo said, exhaling in relief. While each and every one of them had been prepared to fight the monster in order to keep him from taking Vegapunk, Shaka and Pythagoras, they'd all been very aware that few of them would survive that battle.

Shanks had come to their rescue. Though... why?

“Why're his crew talking to the Marines?” Those that were left alive, anyway. Akainu and Kizaru had survived their battle with Kaido, albeit maimed and unconscious and probably only alive because the Emperor had needed to go somewhere else. The ground forces had been completely decimated.

“Lack of interest in slaughtering them, it seems.” Dragon responded. “Shanks is heading towards us. Apparently, he wants to talk to me for a while.”

Sabo's eyes widened a little. This was... enormous. None of the Emperors had ever approached Dragon before – Linlin and Kaido for obvious reasons. Whitebeard was the only one they'd considered striking up a dialogue with because of how he quite deliberately used his name to protect not just Fishman Island, but islands across the New World from pirates, slavers and other horrors. That had never left the debate room because of the danger of muddling their message of liberation and replacing the tyrannical system that existed by association with such a famous pirate.

They hadn't considered Shanks because he seemed to be fairly lackadaisical; lacking a clear ideology outside of, like Whitebeard, protecting people who he'd granted his flag to. In some ways the red-haired pirate was distinctly more enigmatic than the old man... lacking a clear backstory outside of him having been Roger's cabin boy as a child, and his motivations outside of his playful party boy antics were hard to determine. He wasn't a malicious pirate; it was frankly a little ironic that his bounty was so, so high when Doflamingo had killed far more people.

All of a sudden, he wanted to talk to Dragon. To the Revolution. If it wasn't because of how the World Government had just gutted itself with a sword forged from their past murders, Sabo would eat his hat.

“Holy sh*t,” Sabo muttered, his heart thumping.

Dragon snorted in dry amusem*nt. “What's the status of Punk Records?”

“It's ours, we've secured most everything that's important.” Sabo reported. “I was gonna bring you the recording of S-Snake tearing Saturn to shreds without laying a finger on him, but that can wait for when we've all collapsed and caught our breath. Do you need me to come in?”

“I've sent others to take up the slack for you, Sabo. As my Chief of Staff I need you to be here while Shanks and I speak.”

“Understood. I'll be right there.” Sabo hung up and shot his partners an apologetic look. “Sorry, I'll catch up later. Shanks wants to talk.”

“So, how is my new favourite person? Are you enjoying the ride to Dressrosa?”

Delia glanced at the den den sitting on the table, then looked out across the water. The ship had cut through the last few storms the New World had thrown at it, and the ocean had finally seemed to relax. Give them a few moment's peace. The sunset cast bloody shimmering streaks across the waves. It felt appropriate.

“Your crew has been very accommodating, Joker.” She responded with calm politeness she didn't really feel. Talking to Joker was unpleasant in a unique way; he was so cheery and personable, he could talk your ear off and make you forget the kinds of things he did. He had his hand in slavery and who knew what else. It was eerie, holding a conversation with him. “The seas have been as friendly as they ever are.”

Joker laughed. “Well, I'll take the sea sickness as recompense for you not directly telling me that I'd been cloned ahead of time. What a nasty surprise!”

“I...thought it was obvious, since I'd said they were based off the warlords.” Delia said. The wind blew her hair in her face, and she briefly closed her eyes. “I'm sorry.”

Joker makes a genial noise and pauses for a moment. She can almost see him leaning forward, resting his chin on his hands and watching her eagerly. “I'm curious, really curious... you went to us with all this information; me and my benefactor. Not the Revolution, not Whitebeard – you saved Portgas, by the way, thought you might want to know that. How does it feel to be the incidental saviour of Gol D. Roger's child?”

There's an edge to the question, like he didn't like saying the letter D. Delia blinked and stared at the snail for a second, thinking for a second 'is he serious' and 'Roger had a child?', before giving her honest answer. “Good,” she said, tucking some of her hair behind her ear.

“Good! That's all you have to say?” The snail pouted. “You don't want to take two minutes to think about it?”

“I'm sure,” Delia responded. Roger's son, Roger had a son... so what? Roger was one of the most charismatic pirates to ever exist, it's not strange to think a woman caught his eye and he hers. And she'd read Ace's file, the boy was twenty years old. There's no way he had a single memory of his biological father. “I'm pleased that he's alive. What does it matter who his father is?”

No sooner had she voiced her rhetorical thought that an idea crept into her mind and she twisted to stare at the snail. “Wait... are you telling me that this whole plot of a war was set up because that firebrand boy is biologically Roger's? That's what they were risking their entire army to do?”

The snail did its best to mimic Joker's undoubtedly sh*t-eating grin. “Got it in one, doc.”

Delia processed that. Slowly sat back against her chair and slumped against it with a gusty exhale as she just... tried to grasp the sheer pettiness.

The World Government drew their entire fighting force into a single place, left every corner of their vast protectorate vulnerable, and picked a bloody, brutal fight with Edward goddamn Newgate... so they could redo Roger's execution with a barely-adult who's rap sheet paled in comparison to half of the Warlords they called in to assist them as a stand in for the man who beat them with his last breath. They risked all their people on the gamble that they'd win and be able to kill a boy who's biggest crime was arson – arson that had never killed a civilian.

Of course, nothing Ace had actually done mattered. He was Roger's blood son and that was reason enough to kill him, like it was reason enough to butcher the Lunarians and experiment on them and erase them from history.

“Bloody hell.” She uttered, raking one hand through her hair. “Those petty, petty bastards. Mother f*cker. That was their reason, the only reason.” A flare of rage runs through her and she kicked the table leg hard. The snail yipped at the sudden movement. “I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised, I shouldn't be surprised and that pisses me off.”

It fit the Celestial Dragon mindset; how dare some part of that person still exist in any way. The Navy would rather try to execute a ghost of an old humiliation rather than do anything to actually help people; they wouldn't increase local budgets so the Marines could defeat the numerous but weak raiders that caused a huge percentage of the damage of the Great Pirate Era, they won't root out slavers, they won't lower the Heavenly Tribute so more islands can join the government and receive desperately needed protection.

No, they'll go to war to kill a young man for nothing but the blood in his veins.

They made a girl who wanted to be a doctor into a butcher. Why not stay consistent?

“Do you feel better? Having broken them between Kaido and Whitebeard?” Joker asked almost breathlessly. “Marineford's gone, y'know. The old man hit it with a quake and what's left of it is sinking underwater.”

Delia blew out a breath. “The only thing that would make me feel better is going back in time and stopping this before it began.” she said.

“Then why'd you do it?”

Delia looked out across the water again. “Two reasons.” She murmured. “I do want to save those kids. The Seraphim. It's more important than anything.”

Joker hummed. “And the second reason?”

Delia stood up and walked up to the rail, resting her arms on it. Most of the time she felt old far beyond her years... there's something of a weight off of her back, even though there's no joy to go along with it. The ramifications of her decision weren't lost on her. Yet. “The World Government killed an entire people, and then they erased them from living memory. And they got away with it.” She said. “If they've done that once – I know they didn't do it once. They serve the Celestial Dragons. Other people have met this fate.” She gripped the rail tightly.

“They are always going to get away with what they did, and keep doing it, as long as they continued to exist the way they did.” Delia looked down at the picture of the teenage Alber. “The only ones powerful enough to break them are the Emperors. And the moment I realized where my last patient had gone... I knew. This was the only way this could happen. The only way I could ensure those kids and him could be free and to cripple those bastards.”

She looked up at the sky. “And now there's blood in the water... and the sharks will come. Now Dragon can surge out of the darkness and gain more power than he's ever had before. The Emperors will move to take what they can... and Shanks and Whitebeard balance Linlin and Kaido. In all of this... Joyboy will come.”

Joker quirked an eyebrow. “Joyboy?”

Delia closed her eyes. She could still hear Alber praying in the quiet, in the moments between when he had been left alone. She hadn't thought any of it at first. Then as she'd deteriorated, she started listening... committing the words to memory. And after he'd escaped, alive despite everything that had been done to him... she started to believe.

Once she's in Wano, she'll be face to face with him.

“Someone's coming.” She told Joker enigmatically. “The dawn is coming. You'll know when you hear him laughing.”

Notes:

Whew! The first epic conflict of the story has drawn to a close. Now there's a whooooole lot of aftermath to drift through. Oooh, the response to the previous chapter was amazing; you guys are so awesome, I loved reading all your comments. I hope to continue to provide an epic story for you!

Also!!! Some of you guys made this story a TVTropes page and I'm so over the moon about it. It's so amazing that you think this passion project is this good. Here's the link: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Fanfic/SummitApocalypse

Thank you so much!

Chapter 15

Summary:

Law gets his bearings. Ace recovers. A swordsman comes to visit.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Law read through the last page of Whitebeard's medical chart before letting the whole thing fall flat and humming nonchalantly. “There's nothing here I can't handle.” He said, as if discussing the weather. “Once I've completed the surgeries, you should live another twenty years. At least.”

The Emperor looming over him burst out laughing at that. Law kept his demeanour quiet and polite, bemused. There wasn't any mockery in Edward Newgate's laughter; but there was an energy to it that was difficult to put to words. Amusem*nt at his audacity? Disbelief? Some sort of strange parental emotion that only an individual raising a child could parse?

“Twenty years! You think you can wring twenty more years out of this fossilizing body? Aren't you a confident one, brat.” Newgate said, still chuckling. His nurses, by contrast, were giving Law wide-eyed looks that bled newfound hope for their father's continued life. No doubt the old man was aware of it, but would never embarrass his daughters by addressing it in front of a stranger.

“I'm twenty four,” Law responded drolly. “And yes, I will.”

Speaking to an Emperor, one could be polite, deferential, but never meek. Especially if you wanted something from them later. He could tell that this giant of a man wouldn't be impressed by timidness or uncertainty... Which suits him just fine; meekness was not an emotion permitted in Law's tone no matter who he was speaking to.

He can't make Newgate immortal – he's pleasantly certain that even if the man knew about the Immortality Procedure, he'd aggressively brush off the idea of outliving his children – but Law was a doctor. His task was to look death in the face and say 'not today'... and Newgate had enough stubborn strength to put every mule in existence to shame regardless of his body's troubles.

The overwhelming gratitude of the massive pirate armada he called a family of getting more years with their father was a heavy and tangible feeling in the air. Beneath his pleasure that his angling for the means to enter the man's orbit payed off, there's... a part of Law that's pleased to have given them such a gift.

If he could have gotten even a little more time with – Law expertly shuttered that thought before it could begin. Not a hint of the emotion flickered in his face.

Newgate laughed at his low-key sass, sitting back against his massive captain's chair and regarding Law with a degree of interest.

“At my age, all of you look like brats.” Newgate stated with what might be the edge of an approving smirk. “First Straw Hat, now you; kids these days have no fear and no common sense.” He chuckled. “Fine then, Trafalgar Law! I'll let you operate on me with Marco and Nightingale's oversight once we reach Amazon Lily. We'll see if you can back up that bold talk.”

Law inclined his head and tried not to grin a little. “Understood.”

The nurses began talking excitedly, giving him access to the medical bay and telling him what to expect and what was available. A minute or so later he was taken down to the surgery room proper to be given a tour and become familiar with the area. The Moby was enormous – frankly she was a marvel if ship craft; Law preferred the smaller, combat Polar Tang, but he was not half the personable man that Newgate was. There were so many bunks, personal rooms, a huge kitchen and dining room, and of course a massive hull for carrying treasure. In a word, for the crew she carried...the Moby was perfect.

And – okay, Law could admit he was a little envious of the medical wing when he was brought inside it. He had every necessity a doctor would require on the tang... but he was pretty sure Whitebeard had the contents of two hospitals within this area.

Law stepped into the white and yellow long room and looked around, silently impressed. There were enough medical beds to account for the entire crew without cutting off room for the doctors and their patients to be moved around if necessary, first aid and crash kits were evenly spaced out in case of emergencies, and the beds looked comfortable rather than just being flat mattresses on the floor.

Newgate took good care of his family.

Portgas D Ace was dead asleep in one of the beds, next to Law's most troublesome patient. Which was good; if he'd thought he'd get away with drugging him with a sedative right after Straw Hat, he would have. A prolonged stay in Impel Down required more than just one once over at Phoenix's hands to recover from.

That was a testament to the jail's sad*stic nature, not a knock on Marco's skills; Law had rarely had another doctor that capable assisting him. Still, Portgas could stubbornly insist he was fine all he wanted; one look at the Scan he'd preformed on the ravenette had Law sternly recommending bed rest – doctor's orders.

The comically indignant look on Portgas's face right before his brothers cheerfully ambushed him to make sure he did exactly that... Law had almost found himself smiling afterwards. Noticing that had been a little jarring.

Law briefly paused at the foot of the ravenette's bed and looked at the sleeping man appraisingly. Another D... another man condemned to death for political capital. D will bring a storm, Cora-san's words drifted through his head, haunting him. The doctor rested his hand on the metal railing. “Roger's biological son, huh...?” The ravenette murmured to himself.

Straw Hat had blurted that out when Ivankov had been expressing curiosity about whether or not Dragon would be arriving within the day to rescue his children. The younger boy had cheerfully babbled out that he and Ace had adopted each other as kids and weren't blood related, so Dragon was his dad and Roger was Ace's.

Portgas had looked fit to strangle the kid, and it was probably a good thing that it hadn't left the medical room – the only people who heard were Jinbe, Boa, Marco, Bon Clay and himself. Law didn't care about him being Roger's son for the most part; Cora-san was Doflamingo's brother, blood said nothing about who he was or who Ace was either.

But Roger had been a D, the most chaotic and feared D the World Government had ever tried to kill, and Portgas inherited the name from both him and his mother.

Was that the reason Law felt drawn to him and Straw Hat? With his long-planned revenge having struck a violent curve, was this the reason he was rebuilding his strategy around them?

“Oh! Traffy!”

Law jerked out of his thoughts, his gaze yanked towards Straw Hat Luffy. The ravenette had suddenly sat up in bed and was beaming at him like he was an old cherished friend. “Hi!” Luffy said brightly before starting to get out of bed. “I wanted to see you and ask you something – awk!”

“Stay in bed, I'm not done patching your idiot self up yet.” Law growled, practically teleporting in front of the nuisance before he could start running all over the Moby overstressing his body again. They seriously needed a round-the-clock watch on him!

Luffy looked at him with big, shiny eyes like a disappointed puppy. “But I feel good!” He whined, trying to stretch past Law. “I wanna go outside and hang out with Ace's brothers! They're so cool, and I know I haven't met everyone yet!”

The older Supernova promptly pushed him down onto the bed and pinned him against it with both wrists. “And you can do that when I've finished restoring your mauled life span.” Law said mercilessly, staring intently into those wide hazel eyes. “Until then you're staying in this bed and resting, do you understand?”

He would not be defeated by puppy dog eyes! Bepo was bad enough on his own! If his guess about this little maniac is right, he needed him alive, healthy and strengthening his powers for the future.

Luffy blinked up at him, silent for a second. “Chopper never keeps me in bed this long,” He said rebelliously with – was that a pout?! This ravenette destroyed Enies Lobby, dethroned two warlords, broke in and out of Impel Down and he's pouting at doctor's orders!

“Clearly he's too soft on you,” Law responded flatly. “If I didn't know for a fact that you'd go slinging yourself all over the ship and climb things you weren't supposed to, I'd let you take a walk, but Portgas has reliably informed me that you're a menace.”

“He's one to talk,” Luffy grumbled.

“Yes, I can tell.” Marco's attitude to Portgas complaining about doctor's orders said everything, really. “That doesn't make him wrong. Especially because this isn't the first time you've tried to bolt from the infirmary.”

“But I'm feeling better!” Luffy protested, causing Law to snort aggressively and seriously tempting him to read the ravenette's entire chart to him.

Yes, he was in far better condition than he had any right to be. Yes, he was on his way to recovery. No, that did not mean he got to circumvent doctor's orders. Law pressed him a little more firmly into the bed and leaned down so their noses were almost touching to get his point across.

“Your brain is lying to you,” he said flatly. “You're bored and it's tricking you into thinking you're recovering faster than you actually are, and Phoenix-ya agrees with me. You almost died, then you mauled your body with the supposed miracle cure. You will stay in this bed until you recover fully if I have to tie you to it.”

Luffy stared into his eyes, his breath hitching at the statement. He tilted his head slightly, glanced at his pinned wrists before mumbling, “Does Traffy like tying people up...?”

Law's eyes widened a little – Straw Hat asked that with such quiet, childlike innocence that it took a second to realize he was asking about that sort of binding. When it did register, the doctor jerked backwards and hurriedly moved one hand to his chest to keep him pinned without being dangerously close to him.

“You know what I mean!” He barked hastily, a startled flush in his cheeks.

Straw Hat had the nerve to giggle at that. He propped himself up on his elbows and smiled sunnily at Law; it was warm and bright and slightly stretched the scar beneath his right eye. “It's okay! You don't have to be embarrassed about it.”

“Get your head out of the gutter. Ropes are for nuisance patients who delight in trying to give me a migraine.” Getting his heart rate back under control, Law stepped back. “If you want to see the Empress, I'm sure she'll come rushing in with food fresh from the kitchens for you any minute now.”

Straw Hat's eyes light up instantly at that and he immediately gets back into bed and sits properly against the headboard in anticipation. Food, Law had quickly learned, was a literal magic word when Luffy was involved. “Hooray!” Luffy cheered. “Can I have my food before you do doctor things, Traffy?”

“Stop calling me that. And no, a full stomach can interfere with medicine. Eat, rest, then I'll be back.”

Yes, Straw Hat might be the missing piece to the puzzle of ruining Doflamingo and bringing down an Emperor. But Law was beginning to suspect that he wouldn't do so without giving him one hell of headache the entire time. “Stay in bed,” Law said warningly before marching off towards the surgery room.

He can just feel Luffy pouting at his back.

Entering the surgical room and closing the door behind him, Law nods at the nurses and lets them walk him through the medical apparatuses and the complications of preforming surgery on someone Newgate's size. Law was somewhat certain the Emperor had some giant ancestry, and while he hadn't operated on many giants compared to humans, he did have the necessary experience. So while he listened, he could let his mind drift to his plan.

Which was now a mess. If he hadn't been the survivor of one of the World Government's genocides, Law would be cursing Surridge's name blue. Part of him was still tempted to.

He didn't have the numbers for how much damage had been done to the Navy by Kaido and Newgate yet – he had his ways of acquiring such things – but even a few dry estimates suggested catastrophic. Temporarily taking the Warlord Position was the only way he'd figured he'd get access to Punk Hazard and Caesar Clown, and now that's shot for a couple of reasons.

Doflamingo wasn't going to stay a warlord. Quite beyond him not wanting to be on the 'loser's' side, he'd been cloned to create a 'superior fighting machine'. The man's narcissism was not malleable enough to tolerate an insult like that, and with Kaido seizing Vegapunk along with the Seraphim, why not join him openly? He had nothing to fear from doing so.

Law's jaw tightened at the thought of the bastard celebrating his upturn in fortune.

The other reason was that Caesar Clown was a subpar scientist compared to Vegapunk, so his value as a hostage has plummeted. There was no way that Kaido would let Vegapunk set foot out of Wano either, so Law was going to need an entirely new plan of attack. It wasn't quite starting from scratch, but it was close to it.

He didn't have time to be angry about the abrupt change in the world's balance. The good thing was he'd been quick to think on his feet, and now he has allies who opened up his options considerably. Newgate was unlikely to want to attack Kaido directly and start a war – that was fine, though. That's not what Law needed his help for.

He'd have Straw Hat and perhaps Portgas too for that department.

“...And that's where the lights are.”

“Thank you,” Law said simply, retreating from his thoughts at the nurse finishing her tour. “I'll take another ten minutes to familiarize myself with the room and then I'll be waiting for the word to begin.”

The nurses nodded almost as one; a few of them were all but bouncing. Law hardly had time to turn to the right when suddenly one of them hugged him. “Thank you so much,” she whispered before letting him go and running off in embarrassment.

Law stood there flummoxed. Another surprise hug... he hadn't been embraced by anyone other than Bepo for a long time. The lingering warmth almost taunted him with how welcoming it was, how it reminded him of Cora-san, and he shook his head hard to clear it. “What is with the surprise hugs around here?” He wondered.

He looked around the room and made himself refocus. Newgate's surgery was going to be a marathon, and it behooved him to be absolutely prepared.

Ace woke up slowly to the sound of celebrations on the deck. It wasn't a full blown party, but it was slowly building up to it; as he came back to awareness he noticed that the Moby had slowed down. We must be close to Amazon Lily... he thought.

They'd held back in celebrating as the whole fleet travelled away from the sinking Marineford, both to digest the sheer speed of which things had happened and to 'give Ace time to rest'. Pops had set a course for Amazon Lily in order to bring his flag and protection to Boa's home as well as deliver her back home. The Revolutionaries had split off from the fleet once they were sure that Luffy was going to recover, taking with them the former Impel Down prisoners who had been thrown in there on mistaken identity or for professing ideals along the lines of Dragon's mantra.

The pirates, meanwhile, had left with Crocodile. There had been a bit of a debate as to who would break the 'clone' bomb to him, with Jinbe ultimately volunteering to handle the matter. Ace had been asleep when that happened, and judging by the way Jinbe's expression had gone flat with frozen anger, it had not been pleasant.

His friend hadn't wanted to talk about what Crocodile had said when Ace asked.

Ace sat up and stretched, rubbing his head. Goddamn, but he felt like he'd been reborn – like he'd never felt this good before in his life. “Wow,” he murmured. His lips quirked upwards.

He ran his hands over his wrists. The scars from the thick sea stone cuffs are... much less pronounced than he was expecting. They looked like thin white bands against his golden skin. He could almost feel the weight of the metal hanging on his limb when he closed his eyes. Ace traced the lines along the scar until he went all around his arm, humming as he examined the reminder of his carelessness.

“Thanks, Marco. Law.” He murmured. “From all the blood, I figured they would look a lot uglier.”

The ravenette glanced around the room, slowly shaking the sleep off. Before he could do more than blink, Luffy launched himself off of his bed and into Ace's chest. “Oof!” Ace gasped, wrapping his arms around the smaller pirate. “Luffy?”

“You're awake!” Luffy chirped happily, beaming at him. “I've been waiting for you to get up, sleepyhead. C'mon, c'mon, the party has started! Let's go up to the deck!”

Ace immediately found himself smiling helplessly. “Are you sure your scary doctor friend won't be too unhappy to see us moving around?” He asked jokingly. Trafalgar Law sure was a grump when it came to his bedside manner, and his enigmatic demeanour tended to briefly snap into exasperation when he was dealing with the two of them.

Ace would have been annoyed by it in other circ*mstances, but... the grousing and indignant snapping had a humanizing effect on the pirate doctor. It made him seem more like a human and not a cold, ghostlike figure plotting in the dark to an unknowable end. Ace could tell that a good number of his brothers were still pretty wary around Law despite the amusing antics of his crew, the Heart Pirates. He wasn't very personable.

Luffy giggled at the question. “It'll be fine,” he said confidently. He moved his grip from Ace's chest to his arm and started pulling him out of bed. “C'mon, there's food up there now! I wanna try it all!”

A little laugh bubbled in his throat; same old Luffy, he thought fondly. “Yeah, yeah, I'm coming.” He chuckled, allowing himself to be dragged.

Luffy refused to let go even after he got Ace out of bed. His hand was latched onto Ace's arm as they walked through the halls and headed up the stairs towards the deck together; once Ace matched his walking pace, he moved to hugging his arm and all but leaning on him. Ace blushed hotly when his evil, evil brothers snickered and gave him knowing winks as they passed by, all of which Luffy was completely oblivious to.

“Why are you hanging off my arm?” He asked when they reached the deck. A cool breeze kissed his face as he looked up at the beautiful skies of sunset. “Doesn't this look a little childish?”

“Because I want to,” Was Luffy's unfazed non-answer. He nuzzled Ace's shoulder contently; causing warm shivers to rush across his skin.

“Okay,” Ace managed, avoiding those bright, affectionate hazel eyes. He didn't care to let Luffy out of his sight either, even on the Moby; he'll deal with the embarrassment as it comes. He'd grab this time they had together, before Luffy went to gather his scattered crew back together, for as long as he could.

It's crowded on deck, with people running to and fro to set up for proper celebrations. Immediately Ace's eyes found Boa and Trafalgar both standing aloof from the crowd by the bow of the ship, the latter conversing with the polar bear mink who acted as his navigator. Was Boop his name, or Bepo? He wasn't sure yet. Tables were being set up for the cooks and they were plates of familiar delicacies being passed out already. Food arrangements he recognized very well.

Ah, they were using Thatch's cookbook... a familiar pain lanced through Ace's chest, mingled with fond memories. No one could cook a meal like Thatch, but he'd be so upset if they stopped using his books out of grief. Even if it was subtly different without his touch, it would still taste amazing.

Ace saw Marco and Izo waving at him, a few yards away from Pops's deck chair, and he tugged Luffy in that direction. “You have to try everything,” he told his brother. “Thatch was a wizard in the kitchen; you're gonna love it. Even the ones with vegtables.”

Luffy blinked rapidly and gave him a look equal parts awe and wariness. “Really?” He asked.

Ace ruffled his hair, unable to resist. “Yes, really.” He promised. “C'mon.” Luffy nodded hesitantly before mumbling that Sanji found a way to make veggies taste nice so he guessed he could give them a try. Ace tried not to laugh while privately hoping that wherever Kuma had sent the blonde cook was relatively safe.

Oh, you would have thought they had both been starved for weeks the way Marco and Izo kept putting plates in front of them! Usually Marco was way more stingy about letting Ace grab food from everyone's plates, but today he just sat back and watched with affectionate eyes as both Ace and Luffy terrorized the cooks and swiped favorable treats from protesting division commanders. Knowing damn well that the special treatment wouldn't last, Ace vowed to take advantage of this for as long as he could.

His stomach was comfortably full when a very unexpected guest entered his awareness.

“Huh...?” Haruta hurried over to the rail and pulled out a spyglass. Then he jolted and jumped backwards, yelling “Pops! Hawkeye's approaching!”

Ace's pulse jumped and he turned around, startled. Luffy mouthed out 'Hawkeye?', eyes widening a little. Pops frowned in surprise, standing up and walking to the side of the ship. Putting his hand on the railing, he called out, “What brings you out here, Mihawk?”

There was a brief pause, before a distant deep baritone responded, “The fact that I know nothing about troubled children and you do.”

The sheer incongruity of that statement – and who it was coming from – caused all noise on deck to briefly cut out for a minute. Ace could only imagine the brief expression Pops made before quickly suppressing it. “Is this about the broadcast?” Whitebeard rumbled.

“Yes.” Mihawk's voice said dully. “On a related note, how much fine wine is left in the ship's cellar?”

Pops considered that for a moment, before nonchalantly saying, “Plenty. Haruta, go and bring up the heaviest we've got, and quickly.” Haruta blinked, a little hesitant, and Pops gave him a meaningful look. “I'd say it's quite needed for this conversation.”

With their father's implicit permission, the deck relaxed somewhat, with Haruta vanishing into the cellar. Ace turned around and watched, slightly dazed, as Mihawk tethered his small ship to the Moby and then leapt aboard with little issue. He'd seen the master swordsman before and his demeanour was always sharp, stoic and borderline unreadable; even now, he was a little intimidating.

But he was looked... tired. At first glance Mihawk seemed to be his usual unmovable stoic self, but there's a visible, undeniable weight that's visible in his shoulders and the tense way he walked. It almost subtly aged him beyond his years. It was jarring... and maybe the first time Ace had really grasped the weight of what was happening outside of his field of view since Boa had broken down during the doctor's broadcast.

The world has been turned upside down and shaken for loose change, and the impact was felt by everyone – no matter how powerful they were.

Mihawk briefly glanced at Luffy as he crossed the deck. His lip twitched upward slightly; Ace wasn't sure if it was bemusem*nt or a look of 'oh, of course'. The swordsman walked past them and sat in a chair close to Newgate's, crossing one leg over the other and tapping his fingers against the arm.

“So what sort of advice does the World's Greatest Swordsman require that he'd come to my door?” Pops said easily, sinking into his chair and cracking open a large flask of sake.

Mihawk leaned back and sighed. “I was cloned and the child is in the hands of strangers. Who else could I go to for advice, Linlin?” He asked somewhat dryly. Marco choked on his drink and wheezed, Izo pounding on his back helpfully. “Somehow I don't think I'd get anything useful out of her in between her throwing her daughters and some of her sons at me.”

Pops uttered a hearty chuckle at that, if a slightly grim one. “At least,” he said dryly.

Haruta emerged with the large box of bottles a few minutes later and quickly went about distributing them. Ace didn't usually drink fancy alcohol, but he grabbed one on the sneaky feeling that he might want it. Upon getting a bottle of his preferred wine, Mihawk knocked the bottle back and drank what looked like a third of it straight from the bottle.

Judging how multiple jaws dropped all across the deck this was decisively out of character. It sure gave Ace a huge start.

“You're referring to the Lunarian boy cloned from you,” Pops deduced promptly. “You view him as your child already?”

“Yes.” Mihawk said slowly, staring at the bottle in his hand. “What else could I call him?” After a moment's pause, he took another drink; a smaller one this time. “The closest I've come to handling children is letting two emotional brats crash where I've been staying.” His golden eyes lifted to Luffy. “Speaking of whom, your swordsman is alive and well, Straw Hat.”

Luffy uttered a vacuum of a gasp, his eyes lighting up like the rising sun. “Zoro?! Zoro's with you, Hawky?!” He asked excitedly.

Mihawk cringed. Literally cringed. “How do you know that nickname?” He asked, like he was almost afraid of the answer. Ace tried not to smirk at the sight of his brothers sputtering and gawking at Luffy's bold statement. “Ugh... that nuisance redhead...” Luffy was all but vibrating, and Mihawk pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes, Zoro is with me. He requested I train him.”

Luffy slumped against Ace's shoulder, sighing deeply in relief. “Thanks.” The young pirate murmured. Mihawk hummed in response, not looking at Luffy but showing the briefest flicker of warmth in his tone.

“If their birth was manipulated to create soldiers, the Seraphim are unlikely to be 'normal' children.” Pops mused. “They deserve better than their lot, but should you wrestle him away from King, I suggest that you be prepared for almost anything.”

Mihawk took another drink. “It's a concern of mine,” He said. “I wonder if the boy will feel anything upon meeting me... or if he was sufficiently altered that he has no emotions or humanity whatsoever. The doctor implied nothing about that aspect of their 'modifications'.”

Ace felt a pit in his stomach at the idea... he could just see a dead-eyed child in his mind, splattered with blood and silent as he worked his sword out of a corpse in the battlefield of his own making. The concept was sickening.

“You think they would go that far?” Pops asked, disturbed and with a heavy note of disgust in his voice.

Mihawk was silent for a minute. “A child with emotions might have principles that she would not break even in the face of screamed orders.” He said icily. “It's too much of an inconvenience to risk in your born weapons being disobedient at inopportune moments, and why not go that far when half of their dna is made up by a woman they murdered years ago?”

“...She?” Newgate's brow furrowed. “Your clone wasn't a boy?”

The swordsman twitched violently. Like he'd said too much. “I misspoke. It's been a long day.” He glanced skywards. “Having Marineford start shaking apart beneath my feet right after a brief combat with Garp didn't help in that area.”

“...!” Ace nearly dropped his glass on his knee like some sort of desperate comic. Marineford. Marineford sank and Gramps was there?

Why had it taken that long to occur to him? He couldn't say. Of course Gramps would have been summoned to his execution, he was the best damn soldier that organization had, and – and he had to be punished for raising Roger's son behind their backs, didn't he? If he'd gotten in a tussle with Mihawk, that meant he'd been on the front lines when Pops hit the island with the quake. He'd been there when the island was sinking and the old man was too stubborn evacuate before the younger marines present. Assuming he didn't get badly hurt in the quake.

Gramps was at Marineford. Doomed, destroyed Marineford.

Out of the corner of his eye, Ace could see the exact moment this realization hit Luffy too. The blood went out of his sunshine's face and he whipped towards Ace, eyes wide with panic. Swallowing hard and making himself stay calm for his sake, Ace squeezed his hand comfortingly.

Gramps wouldn't die. He couldn't. The old geezer was indestructible! He was never fazed no matter what his 'sh*tty grandsons' or the world in general threw at him. He was that jerk Roger's rival, and his equal in some ways. There's no way a quake could kill him, not when Pops hadn't been hellbent on killing all his opponents.

Gramps – was old. He was old and he was stubborn and he absolutely was putting the safety of every other Marine present before his own. And if Mihawk had gotten into a fight with him after discovering how he'd been betrayed, then the other Warlords had probably gone on a brief rampage too. Pops's quakes were devastating.

Something hard blocked Ace's throat and his hand shook a little. His gaze flickered to Pops, trying to ask something but unable to speak. And... his father gave him a solemn, apologetic look in response before gently shrugging. Uncertain. Uncertain if Gramps was still alive.

He could be dead and Ace would never get to talk to him again and find out whether he was okay with him being executed or apologize to him for being difficult or admit that he did love the stubborn old coot for raising him or or or -

“Gramps will be okay,” Luffy reasoned quietly, trying to sound as determined as usual. His lip wobbled and he gave Ace a slightly frantic look. “He'll never die. R-Right, Ace? He's okay.”

“I...I hope so,” Ace mumbled.

“What do you mean you hope so?” Luffy whimpered, clutching his arm to the point of almost hurting him. “Gramps can't die...!”

Ace pulled him against his side and quietly told Luffy to get a grip, almost cringing at the worried sympathetic looks his brothers were giving him. Jumbled as his emotions had been in Impel Down, he'd never wanted anything bad to happen to Garp. Never. He wasn't angry at Pops, couldn't be angry at him, so his flare of angry fear lashed out at the Navy. For being the thing Garp dedicated his life to despite never ever having deserved to have the old man's loyalty.

If they were the reason he died, Ace might just have to finish what King started.

Notes:

We're officially in the aftermath chapters of the first arc, Angel Apocalypse; expect a lot of emotions, a lot of world building and a lot of reaction shots to the devastation that has just been unleashed. I'm excited to get into all of it, from King and the Seraphim to Sengoku to the Elders to the Straw Hats and Shanks and Smoker and various forces on the ground. I'll also start marking out arcs in the chapter headings when I've reached a certain point, that's gonna be fun!

Law is plotting, and look - he's already getting caught off guard by Luffy! He's ahead of the curve, hehe. Ace and Luffy are gonna be worried about Gramps for a while, poor things.

Chapter 16

Summary:

Sengoku reels from his defeat. King wakes up to find he isn't alone.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Sengoku had been taken into medical immediately despite his insistence on younger, more injured Marines be taken first. The medical team had put him under before he could curse them out for it; what happened to triage? Saving the younger and more vulnerable first before you moved on to the old fools?

Not that he'd had the energy to shout at them by that time. When the ship had finally lost speed and grounded itself on a friendly island, Sengoku had found himself so lightheaded and drained that he'd only been able to stand and deliver instructions to the battered crew of survivors by sheer force of stubbornness. At the very least, he'd been able to establish order on the ship, deliver a basic medical overview to the base when called, and drop the gangplank before he'd made the mistake of admitting to one of the doctors rushing aboard that he'd had a heart attack.

Said doctors had promptly tapped into the unknown powers that their sacred profession provided when required, swarmed him, wrestled him down to the bed and promptly injected him with a little morphine for his injures along a sedative. It happened so fast Sengoku could have blinked and missed it even before the sleeping drug muddled his mind.

Clearly the in house doctors had needed to treat Garp for injuries at some point. Nothing else could explain their ruthless efficiently.

The next hour or so was...patchy, in Sengoku's memories. The sedative hadn't knocked him out immediately; he slipped in and out of a dozing state as he was wheeled inside and taken to the medical wing... which quickly filled to capacity by the other men from the ship, all in various degrees of injuries. The doctors were never standing still; they were barking orders, rushing between beds and giving hurried instructions to the nurses to acquire medicine among dozens of other necessities. The windows were quickly curtained, the moonlight casting eerie shadows across the beds as the medical officers worked furiously to save their patients.

Glancing from his left to his right as much as he could, Sengoku hadn't seen any highly ranked officers among the injured except for a few captains. The men and women were rank-and-file, nurses, and comms officers. It brought a little flicker of relief in his chest... knowing he'd been able to save a handful of marines at least from the collapsing HQ.

There was a lot of loud conversation as the Marines saved from Marineford began to emerge from shock and start venting. At least one fight broke out when one woman voiced her intention to resign as soon as she was healthy and the embittered partner next to her, who wanted heads on spikes; the doctors had been forced to separate the pair. One man laughed and ranted in despair about being a minion of genocide; when the nurse tending to him was distracted for just a moment, he snatched a pair of surgical scissors and nearly succeeded in committing suicide before she managed to wrestle it away from him. At one point Sengoku was aware of a couple of Marines cursing at him and demanding explanations, though their voices were sufficiently muddled by the general chatter that he couldn't parse what they were saying to him.

The medical staff quickly got sufficiently concerned that some of the local marines were brought in to quietly but firmly keep everyone calm.

Sengoku tried to get himself put in contact with the upper ranks; to get some sort of idea of what was happening across the organization. The doctor working on him had given him the evil eye and told him that the base commander would get him up to speed when he was stable.

That's when the second sedative had been applied, and Sengoku sank into a deep sleep.

Marineford. Proud, tall, untouched by any damage. Sengoku stood atop the execution platform and saw a large mass of Marines and soldiers beneath him, standing at attention – waiting for orders to destroy evil. The wind was calm and the water placid and still like a lake in the East Blue. So still and peaceful he wondered if this was real, that everything he'd experienced was a dying dream or a hallucination caused by his heart flutter.

But... something was odd. The Marines stood too still...their formation too perfect, the wind curling around them lightly mussing their hats but not getting even a twitch from them. Like they were little toy soldiers.

It looked wrong. Sengoku jumped down from the scaffold and walked by the chairs where the three admirals should have been sitting... empty chairs with only Akainu's hat sitting forlorn upon one. Looking to the left and the right, Garp was gone too.

He walked forward, passing through the line of giants who stood like giant trees. Now that he was among the men... Sengoku saw it.

Every Marine was a body without a face. No defining features, only a shadow blacking out their faces, arms and collars. No identity. The writing on their hats and on the back of their coats glowed. MARINES. They didn't move when Sengoku pushed between them, trying to get some kind of reaction or dismiss the shadows. JUSTICE. Nothing. They were just dolls.

Empty. Replaceable. Disposable.

The uncanny vision made his heart start to pound. He called out, though he couldn't hear his own voice, reciting everything from requests for reports to training drills in an effort to get some kind of human response out of the vast field of dolls, but he gets no response.

“What's the matter, Admiral? Isn't it easier this way...?”

A small wave washed against the beach. Sengoku spun around and found himself close to the harbor. Delia Surridge was standing top of the water, walking towards him. She was dressed a regular surgeon's work outfit that's stained with blood all over. Black feathers stick to her shoulders and arms... there was one gently tucked above her ear, her blood red hair rippling in the wind.

“You...” Sengoku uttered. Her blue eyes are piercing, cold and dark like a ghost.

“They're not people, just things. You can sacrifice as many of them as you need to, it doesn't matter.” Delia said serenely. “What does it matter if they're shattered, broken, destroyed? If they bludgeon pregnant women to death or burn entire islands to torture civilians to death?”

She tilted her head. “If they sacrifice themselves for a child you condemned to death?”

“Those weren't dolls you condemned to death with your plot!” Sengoku bellowed at her. He can't move towards her; he's rooted in place, the weight of the sky upon his back. “Men of honour and justice, men who protect the innocent from pirates,

Delia glared at him. Her gaze was alight with hateful, bitter contempt. “Butchers of babies, guardians of slavers and the toadies of Celestial Dragons.” She said in response. She held her hands out. “Murderers of entire peoples.”

The water rippled ominously. There's a thumping sound, and the harbour shuddered. Delia lifted her hands upward and hundreds of hands burst out of the water; black wings matted with seaweed and painted rusted red with blood broke through the surface. Sengoku took a tiny step backwards as Lunarian corpses rose from the water – butchered and tortured, missing limbs or patches of skin, their eyes replaced with twin pools of searing hellish hatred. The harbour rapidly began turning crimson red, the blood spreading out in pools as dozens, hundreds, tens of hundreds of zombies emerged from the Locker and took to the sky. Adults leered at him from above with expressions a rictus of anticipation, chomping at the bit to charge and tear him apart.

The small children crawled close to Delia and grabbed onto her legs. Some glowered at him, the others were fearful and hid from him behind her. The doctor rested her hand on one of their little quivering heads. “You are a puppet to the Stars,” she sneered. “A useful toy that gets them what they want – the destruction of anything that offends them and the enslavement of the innocent. You killed those men when you lied to them about what you were – a tool of murder!”

Sengoku stared at the sky and the sea. So many. There were so many Lunarians in the air, their black feathers completely covered the sky. 'Murderer', the little children began to chant. First it was a few of them... then dozens, then it spread across the army of dead and ignited into a frenzied war cry that dug into Sengoku's mind like nails.

They didn't understand – they didn't know! This was not what he'd dedicated his life to – not what he'd fought tooth and nail to create! His purpose had always been to protect the innocent. He'd nearly given his life many times to defend helpless civilians from pirates, from Rocks to Kaido and Linlin to these new 'Supernovas'. He'd compromised with the Celestial Dragons to keep the Navy operational, perhaps too much, but it had been necessary to have a force capable of... capable of...

The ocean shuddered again; the Lunarians chanted 'Murderer!' with a harshly mocking tone as they slowly drew closer. The water drew backwards like it was sucked into a whirlpool; then the wave rushed forward and crashed onto the harbor front, swamping Sengoku briefly up to his waist. As it pulled back, he looked down and gagged on his own tongue.

The water flowed back over top of the dead it had given up... the bodies of woman and babies. One look at the women and their stomachs and he knew. Bartellia.

“You killed them all,” Delia spat. “You killed them with your lies. That you were anything but a finger on the claw of evil!” She wrapped one arm around the shoulders of one Lunarian child, pointing at him. “You complacent, obedient coward! Coward!”

Another woman emerged from the water, casting Sengoku a look of noble disgust. He'd never seen her in person, only in pictures. “Justice will prevail, will it?” Portgas D Rouge asked spitefully. “Then die. Die like my neighbors and my friends and my family!”

The mass of zombie Lunarians surged towards him like a tidal wave. In a blur they were on him, hacking and slashing and trying to tear him apart with their bare hands; he tried to fight them off, but his whole world erupted into flames when he started to push them back, causing him to collapse as the vengeful dead roared and redoubled their efforts...

Everything blurred in pain and confusion and spun away, melting into the darkness...

Sengoku woke up slowly to the sound of doctors fretting about his heart rate. One of them was leaning over him when his eyes fluttered open and Sengoku damn near punched his head off, only the wires and lethargy in his limbs saving him from knocking his own medic through a wall. “-ir. Sir!” A nurse cried, putting her hands on his shoulders. “Sir, can you hear me?”

His training took hold as soon as his fuzzy mind grasped the shift from dream to reality; Sengoku forced himself to meditate, to slow his racing heart and get a hold of himself. “Yes,” he said through his dry throat. “My apologies.”

His eyes flicked around the room, trying to escape the imagery of the dream and focus on the present. “Give me a status report,” he said, doing his best to sit up.

“There have been a dozen casualties. Many of the injured are still being treated, but we're confident that everyone remaining is in the green and will recover.” The male doctor stated, grabbing one of the charts on the side table and checking it. “Some further survivors from Marineford arrived over the past few days. Among them-”

“How long have I been asleep?” Sengoku broke in, startled.

“Three days, sir.” The man answered promptly. “Your body was extremely overstressed, you needed the time to rest.” He was completely unfazed at the glare Sengoku directed at him. Doctors... nothing got to them.

“What's the status of Marineford?” Sengoku asked.

The doctor and nurse blanched slightly. Then slowly exchanged a solemn, troubled look; Sengoku tapped his fingers impatiently on the edge of his bed, annoyed at being treated like he was fragile. The disaster had passed, now he needed to know what the damage was. “Speak up,” he commanded in exasperation.

The doctor exhaled. “There is no Marineford anymore, sir.” He said. “The island's sunk beneath the waves. There's nothing left there, not for rescue or salvage.”

Sengoku's heart thudded threateningly at the statement. An attack didn't come this time, but he suspected that it was because of the hard work the medical staff had put into resuscitating him. Gone. The entire island... their forces, the sea stone, the files and books and records, the gunpowder and weapons, everything – gone. Erased by Newgate.

“There are still survivors from the quake touching down at friendly bases near to the area,” The doctor continued, quiet and professional. “We still don't have a proper casualty count estimate, but of the one hundred thousand elite forces mustered for the war, we suspect that a third perished in the attack. The buster call sent to Egghead Island destroyed thoroughly... only a few dozen men survived, and both Akainu and Kizaru are in medical with severe injuries. They'll need at least two weeks to recover.”

Sengoku took a deep breath. A third. “The status of their mission?” He asked. “Did they recover Vegapunk?”

The doctor paused, grimacing. The old man's stomach dropped into his feet. “Negative,” he said. “According to the survivors, Kaido engaged the Admirals very shortly after landing. The men at arms attempted to recover Vegapunk, but faced fierce resistance from the Beast Pirates... when they were close to catching up to him in the sewers, Revoluntaries emerged and took out both pursuing parties.”

The Revolution! “How did they even-! Ngh...!” Sengoku shook his head and waved one hand violently. “Never mind... it's obvious. They reacted to the broadcast the same as everyone else.” Slowly he rested his head in his hands. There's a black pit in his chest, yawning and deep and so so raw. His mind was pushing away from it because if he fell in it would consume him. “So the Revolution has Vegapunk? Not Kaido?”

Just...stay in the present. Figure out what to do next.

“They reported that four of the satellites seem to have been captured by Kaido, but the original, Shaka and Pythagoras escaped his clutches.” The doctor must have compiled information coming in from communications to bring to him upon his awakening. Good man. “The forces at Egghead didn't have confirmation, but the commander thinks it's safe to assume that the Revolution took them in.”

“Oh, it's safe to assume?” Sengoku repeated dully. “Never say those words in that order, officer. We'll need to put a watch out for sightings of Vegapunk and his satellites. The casualty reports are still fluctuating?”

“Yessir. New information is coming in every hour.”

“Well, I want to hear it all.” Sengoku said. “Am I the Fleet Admiral or not? Have the snails brought to me so I can coordinate our people.” The doctor nodded and murmured to the nurse, who promptly pivoted and shot out of the room like a bullet.

A third of their elite forces. One third of one hundred thousand. This was an initial estimate, with things still greatly in flux and no solid numbers able to be counted yet. A third dead and nothing to show for it – in fact, they had suffered this loss with their opponents being even better off than before they'd tried to make their stand for justice.

Their stand to prop up the Elder Stars and their mass murders. The thought invaded Sengoku's head and refused to vacate the premises.

The nurse returned with the snails a minute later. Sengoku thanked her gruffly, and she went to get him a mug of water. Quickly Sengoku unhooked the snails and started dialing. Immediately he was inundated by dozens of voices shouting at him and begging for instructions, reports, explanations, everything under the sun. For the rest of the day, Sengoku tried to mediate and answer their requests, to – to at least get everyone on the same page.

“-since the last arrived, we don't have nearly enough medical supplies on base to best treat the wounded-”

“-lost contact with G7 and G3, along the border of Linlin's territory. Both of them going silent at once could mean they're under siege, what are you orders-”

“-ships are completely beyond repair, it's amazing they managed to make it to the harbour without sinking; they won't be salvageable-”

“-managed to locate over a hundred men Vice Admiral Garp threw to safety; they're shivering and many suffer from pneumonia, but they're alive-”

“-the Big Mom pirates are pushing out of their territory and into all of the local islands.”

Sengoku's stomach seized up again. He was getting very familiar with that feeling; the rolling nausea in his gut, bile climbing up his throat and trying to escape with prejudice. “How far out have they gone?” He asked, praying for the slightest reprieve, that Linlin would target Newgate or Kaido with both men just starting to return from their preoccupation-

“They've taken over five islands that we're aware of,” the vice admiral reported grimly. “We've done a probe, but as far as we can tell none of them are headed towards other Emperor's territories. Katakuri, Perespro, Smoothie, Oven, Daif*cku and Brulee have all been spotted leading assault parties.” There's a morbid, mortified pause as everyone on the lines processed this. “It's a full on land grab, sir. They're attacking two different G bases as we speak.”

“Where's Aokiji?” Sengoku asked after several calming breaths. Calm. He had to project calm to prevent a panic. “Is he in any shape to act?”

“I think so, sir. He managed to come ashore with minimum injuries.”

“Tell him to find as many able-bodied men as he can and try to save at least one of those bases,” Sengoku said. “We are facing catastrophic losses, the last thing we need is for them to compound with more and give the pirates more momentum.”

“I'll pass it along.”

He stayed on the dendens until he was too tired to keep his eyes open. The only good news he heard in that entire time was that PX – that Garp had been transported to G8 by Kuma, who also was on standby in Jonathan's base. His dreams didn't comfort him.

The city had a faded, ghostly, haunted quality. Sengoku walked through the bone white streets, in his navy uniform. There where ghostly silhouettes around, and when he came close they would snarl and give him a wide berth. The buildings were white too. Something about the architecture looked vaguely familiar, like images he'd seen in a book...

He felt like someone had just kicked him in the leg. Sengoku looked down to see the shimmering image of a child spit at his shoes and then run off. “What...” He muttered, half a protest on his tongue.

“Don't be too hard on them, father.” A familiar voice said. It hit his chest like an arrow, and Sengoku whirled around to track it.

Rocinante was sitting on the edge of a water fountain. He was dressed not in the dark clothes that he'd died in, but his pure white marine uniform; his hair is neatly brushed and there was no blood on him anywhere – not like the apparition of Surridge. His son looked exactly like he did in what good memories that he had. “The little ones are still resentful about the way they died,” Rocinante explained. “Davy Jones has secured them passage, but they won't leave yet because of that.”

“Roci...” Sengoku said, choked up.

Rocinante smiled sadly at him. “Do you know where we are?”

The old man hesitated, despite his desperate wish to rush to his son and embrace him tightly. Rocinante waved gently at the surrounding area, causing him to take another look at the distantly familiar buildings. “It's...white,” Sengoku murmured. The realization hit him moments later. “Flevance...?”

Rocinante nodded. “I asked to come here. So I could help them.” He said.

He was staying in this place...? “W....What happened here wasn't your doing,” Sengoku said. “You don't have to-”

His son gave him a disappointed look that shut him up mid-sentence. “Was it?” He asked. “I'm a Marine. And a noble. And a Celestial Dragon.” He rested his hands on his knees. “The ones who exploited the white lead known to be poisonous to make money. The ones who didn't bother to investigate the disease and carried out the massacre of those who remained.”

Rocinante held his gaze, gentle but still stern in a way that he'd never directed at Sengoku before. Maybe... had he made an expression like that when he made the decision to go to Minion Island...? He'd called about the child from Flevance, who joined Doflamingo. Sengoku had wondered, had tracked the boy, but he'd never been sure, and... Had he blamed himself, all that time...?

“Roci,” Sengoku croaked, “you never did those people ever harm.”

“And Portgas D Ace is not Roger,” Rocinante responded.

Sengoku stepped backwards, dumbfounded. What did – how had Roger and his get gotten into the conversation? What did they have to do with this, with Roci? His golden haired son waited for a moment before uttering a sad sigh. “I want to help you, father.” Rocinante said entreatingly. “The world has been changed; nothing will return to the way it used to be. If you want to save any part of Justice, you have to acknowledge the sins that have ended the world you sacrificed your honor to create.”

“Sins,” Sengoku repeated.

Rocinante nodded patiently. Sengoku began tapping his foot rapidly, confusion and indignation and stress swirling in his chest as he tried to figure out what the blonde wanted from him. “The war,” His son nudged him. “The premise. You knew it was wrong.”

“What?!” Sengoku burst out. “That's nonsense! It had to be done to free the seas from the four Emperors! To finally free the seas from the curse of Roger's legacy!”

His son's response floored him. “Then I deserved to die that night? My death was just, by those orders.”

“That doesn't have anything to do with-”

“You were going to execute Ace on account of his blood,” Rocinante said, turning his hands up towards the sky. “Because he was Roger's son. Then I, as Doflamingo's brother, did not deserve to live either. My blood was tainted by the crimes of him and my Celestial ancestors. I had to be destroyed just like Ace for the greater good. That's what the Sins of the Fathers requires, father.”

Sengoku couldn't breathe. “That – that was –“ Dozens of protests piled on the tip of his tongue only to disintegrate when he attempted to speak them. “He – he chose to be a pirate-”

“If he tried to join the Marines like I did, he would have been killed on the spot.” Rocinante responded quietly. “We both know that. You gave the order for the Bartellia investigation, if not the murders. Those came from the Elder Stars, but you attempted to carry out their plans for Ace.” He held Sengoku's gaze. “Father, if I didn't deserve to be shot for being Doffy's brother, then Ace shouldn't have been in fear of his life for being Roger's son. Justice doesn't depend on random circ*mstance... you're the one who taught me that.”

Sengoku's knees buckled as he scrambled for some way to explain himself, to – to justify why it was different, but there was nothing. Nothing came to him. A sickening realization started to creep up on him, like a tidal wave approaching shore.

A laughing girl ran down the steps of the municipal building and scurried around the water fountain until she reached Rocinante's side. She's not a ghostly wraith like previous children; she's a cute young girl with brown hair tied back in little pigtails and bright golden eyes. She jumped up and grabbed onto Rocinante's arm like he was a beloved uncle. His son laughed gently. “Sorry, sorry... I'm out of time, aren't I?” he gently ruffled her hair. “Yes, I'll come play with you now.”

He stood up and hoisted the girl up onto his shoulders. He gave Sengoku a final smile. “Salvage Justice, father. Help the people you have left so that word is no longer an empty phrase, an excuse used by a tyranny. I know you still have strength left in you.”

Then he... turned and left, chatting with the girl as if she was his daughter. “Roci! Roci, wait!” Sengoku cried, trying to chase after him. “Please, Roci... my son...!” The ghostly image of Flevance melted away, taking the image of his son away with it.”

King woke up slowly, in deep comfort.

The sea gently rocked the boat beneath him. When he started to emerge from his dreamless sleep, the first thing he noticed was the lack of any warnings coming through his Observation. All he could sense was peace. The battle must have ended, he thought, blinking as if physically trying to shake off the cobwebs of sleep.

Warm light was streaming in through the window. King made to lift his right arm over his eyes, but a weight on it and his wing firmly kept him pinned. What happened?, he wondered, pawing through his memories to recall how he got there. It took a moment, but when it comes back to him he's fully woken by a shot of adrenaline.

Saturn was dead.

Saturn... was dead. And – Anduriel -

King sat up in a hurry – or tried to. It turned out the weight on his arm wasn't a medical cast, but a little winged girl. Startled, he looked down and found himself staring at S-Snake. She's completely asleep on his arm, nestled into his right wing and completely peaceful.

King froze in place out of fear of waking her. What...? Very tentatively, he reached out and gently brushed his fingertips across her forehead. Her temperature is normal... and she wasn't hurt at all, only stirring a little at his touch. He felt his heart squeeze in a new, unique way. Affection and relief... quickly followed by a rush of angry exasperation when he remembered what she'd done to put herself in danger.

Baiting Saturn the way she had...! What was she thinking!

King's eyes flickered up, and that's when he saw the others. All the Seraphim were sitting in chairs around the medical bed he's lying on; most of them had followed their sister's lead and were napping half sprawled on his bed. Alucard and Anubis were awake and staring out the window, watching the sea as they travelled back towards Wano.

None of them were hurt. They'd all...stayed with him.

When his eyes passed over Anduriel the last memory he had before blacking out rattled into place and King looked down at his open shirt in confusion. Despite a long and gruelling battle with Saturn and taking a bad hit to the back, not only did he feel light as a feather but there wasn't a single new scar on his chest.

That can't be right, King thought in shock. He cautiously pressed one hand against the flesh over his heart, slowly tracing his fingers down to his stomach where he could have sworn he'd taken an invisible piercing strike. Yet he couldn't feel even the faintest scarring.

“YOU.”

King blinked and looked up to see Alucard whirled around and glaring at him. “You're finally awake... you reckless fool.” The boy hissed like a thoroughly displeased kitten. “What were you thinking?”

King's eyebrows went up. “Excuse me?” He asked blandly, feeling a strange, almost... amused smile quirking his lips. Yes, it was amusem*nt. Why? The sensation was new and alien and brought up flickers of Kuma's memories caring for Bonney.

Ah... then these feelings are... a father's?

“You know exactly what I'm talking about!” Alucard retorted hotly, startling Rocinante awake. The blonde moved to jump to his feet, in case there was trouble; he only succeeded in tipping the chair over, losing his balance and collapsing in an embarrassed heap on the floor. S-Bear jolted awake at the noise and Anubis facepalmed in second-hand embarrassment.

“Now look what you've done,” Anubis said dryly. Alucard briefly transferred his glare to him while he walked forward and offered the blushing blonde his hand. Rocinante accepted it and hopped to his feet, a bright and adorable smile on his face as he uttered an enthusiastic 'thank goodness!'

“King, you're awake!” S-Bear said happily, his eyes lighting up. He grabbed S-Shark's shoulder and shook him awake in a hurry. “Tiger, get up, get up! He woke up!”

The young Fishman/Lunarian grumbled sleepily before lifting his head; when his eyes met King's, however, his expression warmed up with surprised pleasure. “That's good,” he said a little shyly. “Good morning, King.”

“...Good morning.” King responded softly. Warmth built up in his chest and swallowed him up until he felt weightless, unburdened.

S-Snake groaned and tried to bury her head even deeper into King's side to escape the sudden noise explosion. “Make 'm stop,” she whined. A little chuckle rumbled in the older Lunarian's throat, and he patted her head. Blinking at the contact, she looked up, and just like King her sleepiness vanished instantly. “You!” She scrambled to sit up and crawl off of his wing, looking for all the world like a child who'd just got caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

When her feet touched the floor, she planted her hands on her hips and stared at him with childish indignance. “You're finally awake! How dare you keep us waiting like that!” She scolded.

A chuckle bubbled up in King's throat, surprising him as much as the kids themselves. “I'm sorry.” He said. “What happened after I passed out?” Clearly there was a gap of time between then and now.

Before anyone could respond, Anduriel abruptly climbed onto the bed and hugged King around the middle. The older man blinked and looked down at the boy, frozen at the sudden affectionate contact; having encased most of his body in protective armour for so many years and the lack of camaraderie in the Beast Pirates meant that this was the first gentle hug he'd experienced in... decades.

“I'm so glad,” Anduriel mumbled. “You were injured, and then another one of those Stars showed up...! You were in danger, and you got hurt because of me...” He sounded very distressed at that; a shudder went down his spine.

King's breath shivered and he very hesitantly placed his hands on Anduriel's shoulders. He hadn't expressed affection to anyone except for Kaido, who's physical expressions were reserved to a slap on the back or a hand on the arm or shoulder. Not something this intimate. Were it not for flashes of Kuma's memories, King wouldn't have known how to reciprocate this most simple and well known gesture of love.

“No,” he said firmly. “You were vulnerable, I made a judgment call. That's what happened.” He carefully stroked Anduriel's back lightly, slowly repeating the gesture in hopes of getting the boy to relax. “Another one of the Stars showed up?”

Rocinante bobbled his head. “Yes. He didn't say his name, but he'd been there to take Saturn back. He wasn't happy to realize that he was dead, but Red-Haired Shanks showed up and stopped him from attacking us.”

“The young emperor showed up?” King asked, caught off guard. What had Shanks being doing all the way out at Egghead Island? He had no stake near there, as far as he knew.

“Mmhmm,” S-Snake said, still scowling. “He made the guy go away, so we were able to take your dumb bleeding idiot self to the this room.” King blinked at the volley of insults and how they were at odds with the look in her eyes. “He and Kaido had a bit of an argument about Vegapunk, Shaka and Pythagoras before he decided to take care of you first. So we all retreated to the ship and now we're going to Wano.”

Kaido prioritized him over capturing Vegapunk and the other satellites...? King felt a mixture of pleased embarrassment at the unexpected statement; he wouldn't have asked his friend to abandon a fight just because he was injured.

“As cross as you seem to be at me, I feel rather good for someone who was apparently bleeding everywhere.” King observed.

“I pushed your pain out,” S-Bear explained. “It took your injuries and fatigue away, so you're all healthy now. You just needed rest.”

King's eyes widened and he leaned forward hurriedly, scanning the little boy for any sign that he'd been injured recently. “What?!” He blurted out. “Who took in that pain? Someone had to.” Just the injuries he remembered taking, for most people that would be entirely debilitating.

“Kaido did,” S-Shark responded. “It didn't seem to faze him much. He didn't even grunt.”

“Kaido...” King murmured, that happy feeling bubbling up even more strongly. Then he noticed that S-Bear seemed to be wilting a little; in a rush of panic he quickly said “Thank you, S-Bear. I wasn't looking forward to a long recovery; I... saw the way that Kuma used that technique before and I was concerned. That – you were hurt.”

The half buccaneer blinked rapidly in surprise; the statement seemed to reassure him though, because a a little smile came back to his face. “U-Um... I actually... decided on a name that I like,” he said. “You said that names were important, right?”

This time King did smile a little, without reservation. He hadn't quite expected them to choose so soon, but he was very pleased to hear it. He'd worried that it would take more time and coaxing to help them grasp the basic humanity that had been denied to them; this sign of independence was a relief, and lifted his spirits. “Yes. Tell me, what spoke to you?”

The boy shuffled a little. “W-Well, I was a little torn for a while. Because, there were two names that felt very important to me, and I was having trouble choosing between them... b-but I think I'm happy with my decision. So... my name is Ginji!” He nodded confidently.

King's breath hitched. “It's a good name,” He said warmly after a moment's pause. Ginji brightened, happy and pleased.

“I picked a name too!” S-Snake blurted out, jumping up and down to get King's attention back towards her with a pout on her face.

“We all picked names,” Rocinante chipped in. “Can we tell you them?”

King nodded encouragingly. “Please do.”

“My name is Himawari!” The one girl declared. She flapped her wings proudly and flared them a little, bouncing on her heels. “Because I am a most beautiful, delicate and fair of princesses, like a great tall sunflower.”

“The most terrifying princess, you mean,” Anubis mumbled. Himawari shot him a dirty look and he put his hands up defensively. “N-never mind. I chose Anubis.” In front of King, he suddenly felt a little self-conscious about the explanation he gave his siblings and held it in for fear of sounding childish. “An arbiter.”

“Himawari and Anubis,” King said, releasing Anduriel when the boy moved to join his siblings. “Well chosen.” Anubis let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding and Himawari beamed in pleasure.

“I had a few thoughts about names, like Ginji.” Rocinante said, fiddling with his sunglasses. “A name entered my mind and it felt so important... I decided to make it mine. Rocinante.”

“I went with Alucard.” Alucard added, crossing his arms across his chest. “I reversed Mihawk's family name in my head... I thought it was fitting. I was created from him, after all. A tribute and a more personal statement at the same time.”

Anduriel tapped his foot rapidly before saying in an excited rush, “I have shadow powers, right? So I wanted something dark and ominous sounding without being really tacky and dumb sounding, so I looked up a lot of words for shadows and lack of light and I found this name in an old religious text! Anduriel means 'without the light of God', which is fitting right? Because we killed that guy who thought he was a god and used that as an excuse to torture you and kill all the Lunarians!” He rambled the whole explanation out in a single long breath and looked hopefully at King for approval.

S-Shark put a hand on his shoulder and gently said, “Slow down a little, Andruiel, you're rambling again...”

Anduriel blushed a little. “Oops, sorry.”

King shook his head slightly, that little smile still lingering on his lips. “Very fitting indeed.” He said with a hint of praise. The boy looked absolutely delighted. “Anduriel, Rocinante, and Alucard.” He turned towards S-Shark. “What about you? I heard Ginji call you Tiger.”

Tiger nodded, a slightly proud look on his face. “Yes. I had the same feeling as Ginji and Roci – it felt really important. I couldn't think of anything I wanted to be called more.”

“I see.” King responded warmly.

“Speaking of names, Saturn said something a little strange before we killed him,” Anubis said, putting his hands behind his head. “He called you Alber.”

The older Lunarian exhaled. “I was stunned he actually knew it...” he muttered. Under seven curious gazes, he continued, “Alber was my original name. The one given to me by my parents. I took on the name King after Kaido rescued me from Punk Hazard.”

“Alber!” Himawari repeated, tilting her head to the side. “Alber... Alber! It's a very pretty name! Why change it?”

Because I felt that Alber had died with his family in that hell. He was too weak to save them or even save himself, so I let him go and transformed into King... How would he explain that to them, though? It was such a personal pain, old and lingering, something his well worn instincts demanded not to expose.

“I had a few reasons,” he said eventually. “One of which was to trick to the government into believing I hadn't survived the raid on Punk Hazard. Kaido was in the process of recruiting, which would have been disrupted by the government's attempts to kidnap me and return me to their torture cellar.”

“...Well. Somebody's going to die for that.” Anubis said very matter-of-factly, a dark glower crossing his face. Himawari scowled and glared out the window.

King's wings fluttered at that. “We've already handled that,” he pointed out mildly. “Saturn is dead.”

“And the other four demons aren't,” Alucard observed.

“We'll worry about that when the time comes,” King said meaningfully. “Until the time that we're prepared, I'll continue to take care of you and protect you.”

Anduriel paused and said seriously, “No more taking shots to the back.”

King chuckled. Incredible. That warmth hummed through his veins, soothing him down to his soul. It was dizzying, wonderful. “I'll do my best.”

“That is not a promise!” The boy protested, because he's quite sharp. The other kids began echoing the sentiment and King smiled a little, waiting for them to calm down. This was the moment when Rocinante belatedly remembered that they were supposed to contact Kaido when he woke up and scrambled to do so, tripping over Himawari's feet and narrowly managing to catch himself before he crashed to the ground before successfully grabbing the snail.

I should see if I can do anything to help him with that, King thought. I don't want him to trip in a dangerous situation.

There was so much he wanted to do for his children... his? His children... his heart squeezed tightly in his chest. Yes... Yes! These were his kids. The thought gave him so much joy, he felt dangerously lightheaded. He felt alive again.

There was nothing he wouldn't do for them.

Notes:

Oof! Have any of you guys listened to Epic the Musical? When I was listening to 'Get In The Water', I had a whole animatic based on this story playing in my head, the song is so incredibly intense. Since I can't animate or draw anything remotely convincing, I ended up repurposing some of the imagery that came to me for Sengoku's first nightmare sequence. I'm pretty pleased with that one, not gonna lie.

Speaking of music, I had a few songs that could be considered a bit of a theme song playlist for Summit - aside from the above mentioned, there's 'Hell's Coming With Me' by Poor Man's Poison and Angel of Darkness Alex Christensen.

Chapter 17

Summary:

Chaos reigns in the new world. The Seraphim finally reach their new home.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Get to the forest, Anna, run!”

The seven year old screamed when a burning chunk of her house's ceiling crashed to the ground mere feet away from her. The burning debris cut her off from her mother; the woman grabbed the fire poker as the door was kicked down by pirates. The three men laughed raucously. The flames licked upwards, the light dancing through the building warping their features into something demonic in her eyes.

She didn't want to leave her mama. Her mama was in danger. But fear consumed all of Anna's senses, driving her to obey and scramble for the back door. Another chunk of the ceiling collapsed inwards, nearly striking her on the head as she flung herself at the door handle. Sweat made the cool metal hard to manipulate.

Behind her, her mother screamed. There's a thud and the a few of the pirates laughed again. Anna desperately pounded on the door to get it open; after a moment of struggle her fingers finally found purchase and the wood gave way, sending her crashing to the ground and right into a nightmare.

Screaming and gunfire blasted through the air all around her; the tailor shop directly across the street from her house was on fire and Anna could just see something horrible happening to the nice middle aged man who measured her for a dress just yesterday. He was set upon by two pirates and while she didn't have words for what she was seeing, she could make out his cries amidst the bedlam and her heart quailed with grief and fear.

The marines were in the square, having created an improvised barricade as they shot at the invaders pouring in from the docks. So many of them were missing... Captain Logan, Miss Marinette, Miss Luna, Mr Striker, they'd all left a few days ago after being called up by the Fleet Admiral for something at Marineford. Captain Logan had argued with it all afternoon; Anna had heard some of it because she and her mama had gotten lunch at a food vendor nearby.

'You're asking me to leave this place basically defenseless!' She remembered him saying very clearly. 'There's nothing we could contribute to a battle against an Emperor. We fight common raiders, not billion-berry pirates. ...Sir!'

She hadn't thought much of it at the time, only feeling a little concern that her mother had comforted her over. Don't worry. The Navy won't let anything happen to us... they'll be back before we know it.

Anna scrambled to her feet. She could see some of her neighbours rushing to get to the barricade, desperately trying to climb to the relative safety or escape pursuers. One of the pirates cackled and dropped down onto all fours, shape shifting into a massive black boar. He charged headlong at the barricade and smashed his way through most of it like it had been made of so much paper.

Two screams caught her ear; they were teachers at her school. Anna's head snapped to the right; the two women had been tackled by pirates and were being tied up in chains. “Oi, don't damage the goods you idjits! Facial scars lower the value at Saobody!” A man barked, waving his sword angrily at them.

“Sorry, Cap!” One of the men cackled, slinging one of her teachers over his shoulder like a sack of bricks. “She was a slippery one!”

“Don't give me excuses, just do as I say!” The man with the sword shouted back. “Get out the tranquilizers and the nets! Form a perimiter! Don't let a single one of the products escape!”

Anna stumbled back a few steps, trembling from head to toe. The boar zoan was circling back around, snorting and stomping his feet as he prepared to smash his way through the barricade for good. Lieutenant Jan was shouting for sea stone bullets and the rest of the Marines were focusing all their fire on the devil fruit user; as Anna watched, two of them got shot down by returning fire from the pirates.

A pirate burst out of a nearby building, two children slung over his shoulders and looking annoyed. His partner stalked out after him, yelling something lost in the din. Anna began backing up and looking around wildly, fear slowing her reaction time.

Then one of the men noticed her. He elbowed his whining partner in the ribs and pointed right at her.

“Ah...!” Anna choked on a scream when not only that pirate, but several nearby all turned to look at her. Adrenaline finally punched through her frozen state and she whirled around and fled like there were wings on her feet.

She was a fast runner, and as her mother could attest Anna was like a little monkey – she could climb many things she shouldn't, wriggle through spaces and dodge tripping hazards like no one's business. Usually Anna used this to give annoying boys from her classes the slip... now she bolted towards the trees and dodged around rocks subtly jutting out from the ground. Two of her pursuers slammed their feet into the obstructions and staggered, cursing in pain, allowing her to put some distance between them.

The forest was full of a lot of dangerous animals, but in that moment they were far less scary than what was behind her. The screaming in the village and crackling of fire filled Anna's head as she ran towards the treeline, almost black against the night sky.

Gunfire cracked behind her; darts whipped past her cheek, slicing the skin. Anna choked, her little heart hammering against her ribs as she began to run in a zig-zag pattern like she was trying to dodge crocodiles. It was so close.

“Oh, nice shot dumbass. How about you point your gun at the sky next, that'll get her!”

“f*ck you, it's pitch black out here! Get back here you little sh*t!”

Anna jumped between two trees and wove her way through the bushes in response. It was terribly dark, but she knew the front of the forest very well from all the games she played and climbing practice she did. She could definitely lose them in here, she's sure of it.

Through the forest she went. She went in circles and ran as far in as she dared, trying to get her pursuers hopelessly lost and maybe run them into the local wildlife. She kept running and running, as much as she could bear... after a while she could have sworn that this was her entire life – running blindly through the darkness with screaming and fire in the distance, monsters on her heels.

Anna had nightmares like every kid; the kind where you were fleeing from something you couldn't escape from. Now she was in a nightmare she couldn't wake up from...

The pirates were getting angry. The longer she stayed out, she could hear them shouting louder somewhere behind her. “f*ck that! I'm gonna get that brat if I have to torch the entire f*ckin' forest!” Torches appeared in the distance after a while, flickering lights among the trees. Anna's stomach sank.

She stumbled over a tree root and collapsed against the side of a hard wood wall. Her breath heaved in her burning lungs, her eyes hot with tears of exertion. “Hurts,” Anna whimpered, looking over her shoulder. “Wha should I do...?”

This was a hunting cabin. The key was hidden in the mail box... should she go inside to hide, or try and climb a tree? Which one was less suspicious? Anna's legs hurt so much... there was no way she could climb like this... she'll go inside...

Fumbling her way to the front of the building, she stood on her toes to reach into the mail box. The sound of the key clinking against the wall when she grabbed it made her flinch. Putting it in the lock she pushed her way inside and closed the door behind her, turning the lock the other way. Anna whimpered, swallowing a few times and gagging as she stumbled across the room. Wasn't there a trap door to the basem*nt? She could hide down there...

Her foot hit an ottoman, causing her to yip in pain and collapse on top of it. “Owowow,” she whimpered. “I can't see...”

She made her way around it, pawing at her surroundings. “If only I had a little light...”

As if to answer her prayers, an orange glow began to enter the building. For a second, Anna's heart thumped with relief – she could see! She could see the bed, the door to the back room where the basem*nt and the kitchen were. Now all she had to do was -

There's a loud knocking on the door. Her heart jumped into her throat. No no no no no! Panic froze up her legs for a few crucial seconds; the door crashed down minutes later and a voice snarled “there you are, you little pest!' and Anna tried to run for the kitchen. The man had longer legs, of course, and he quickly caught up knocking her to the ground with a kick.

Pain bloomed in her back; Anna whimpered when her forehead hit the wood floor. “Quit squirming, if you give me any more trouble I'll drown you in the shallows.” The man seethed, violently pinning her arms behind her back. “Oi, gimme that rope.”

“Sure thi-”

Splat.

Anna froze up at the unexpected noise. It – it sounded like the few times her mom had dropped food in the kitchen; l-like it was wet and sticky. Then the weight on her back vanished and a thud hit the ground next to her. Lifting her bruised nose from the wood, the girl dared to peek to the right and saw the pirate who'd tackled her lying prone of the ground, his head encased in some sort of sticky treat.

She blinked. Then there's a burst of frantic energy as her pursuers suddenly started screaming like terrified rabbits. “OH f*ck!” There's another splat sound and Anna dared to twist, look over her shoulder to see what had just saved her.

A massive, towering shadow grabbed one of the pirates by the head and smashed him into the wall, cracking the slaver's skull like a grape. His frame blocked the entire doorway and reached the roof of the cabin, the spikes on his black gear catching the flickering light of the torches as he impaled a third man against the wall with a trident while completely ignoring the last guy shooting at him. The bullets sank into his form and just vanished without doing any visible harm.

Anna didn't scream in primal terror, but that was solely down to how dry her throat was.

She bolted to the couch and wormed her way underneath it. Forcing her way into the tiny dark space, she watched as bodies dropped to the floor with that sticky substance covering them. Then all of a sudden it was quiet.

The absence of noise was a suffocating blanket.

Footsteps clack on the wooden floor... Anna whimpered when two giant black boots entered her vision, then pivoted towards her. There are iron spurs on them, and they're so big... maybe bigger than her. He was huge... like a demon. Tears formed in her eyes and she squeezed them shut, like doing so would make him go away.

There's a long, lingering moment of silence. Then the floorboards creaked. Anna blinked rapidly and saw that the massive figure had knelt down. One black gloved hand was reaching for her, just at the edge of the opening between the ground and the couch. The request was very clear – come here. Anna scooted backwards a little, whimpering.

The man didn't move. Didn't curse or snarl at her or even say anything at all. The silence continued, only the distant sound of fire breaking it up; as Anna sniffled and shivered, the fear clouding her mind dissipated enough to observe that if this huge guy wanted to drag her away by force he would have done so already.

He was big enough to easily pick up a couch like this. He destroyed those pirates so easily, he was obviously horribly strong. But he's just... waiting for her. Maybe... maybe he wouldn't hurt her.

Timidly, Anna reached out and grasped two of his fingers. His hand was big enough that this was the best she could do.

The man pulled her out from underneath easily. Anna looked up...and up, and up, and up. Big! She thought in frightened awe. So big...! The tall man was imposing despite better lighting allowing her to make out his features. He's muscular and broad shouldered and had very dark red hair, almost purpleish... his face was half hidden by a huge fluffy scarf, while his dark eyes gazed steadily at her.

“The slavers are dead,” He told her. His deep voice reverberated through her whole body. “This land belongs to Mama now. Those kinds will be exterminated with extreme prejudice.”

“A...all of them...?” Anna asked timidly, wheezing a little.

The man nodded. He looked a little familiar... m-maybe she'd seen him on the Wanted Board in the Marine Base when she brought the boss fresh fruit from the vineyards. Slavers were fairly common in this particular archipelago, since it was far enough away from big kingdoms that the Navy rarely sent strong forces this 'far out' from their main concerns, so she tried to remember faces she saw on the board just in case... she can't place him, though.

If he wasn't a slaver...maybe he was safe. Like that one pirate crew that came through when her mother was little... the father and his family.

“My...my mama...” Anna coughed.

“I will take you back to the village.” The man said calmly. “Search for her, and if she requires medical attention say so.”

With that, he lifted her one handed like she was just a mango fuit and walked towards the door. Anna wrapped her arms around his arm, hanging onto him as her emotions spun, trying to parse out this strange new situation. He's not hurting me... His face was unreadable with the scarf concealing his mouth and most of his cheeks... but his aura was coolly calm, rather than laughing and expressing mockery of everyone.

Stepping outside the log cabin, the man lifted her up and set her on his shoulder with a brisk. “Hold on.” He stated. Anna yipped when he started to run, weaving through the trees and almost flying back in the direction of the village. She dug her tiny fingers into his scarf to keep her balance.

So fast! It must be because he has such long legs...a flicker of envy bubbled up inside her. She wished she could run like that.

“Um... M-Mister...” She asked hesitantly. “Did you... come to help us?” Would he be annoyed by her prodding him? Was this safe?

“My mother sent me,” He responded, unbothered. They broke through the tree line and Anna gasped as the warm wind rushed through her hair. The light from the town was much lower now... the fires were being put out. “The islands in this area were deprived of everything except their last lines of defence, for a gambit that failed. You were left out here to die.”

Anna's throat closed up. “I... I remember Captain Logan arguing really loudly with somebody... because if they all got sent away, something like this would happen...” Upset and anger swirled around in her stomach. “Why...? Why did they have to go away...?”

“So the Navy could fight a ghost,” The man responded. Now that she was adjusting to the reality of the situation, his rock-steady tone of voice was startlingly comforting. “Mother sent me to bring your home under our protection. Now you won't be left vulnerable again. Any slaver that comes upon this island will be destroyed.”

“R-Really?” Anna asked. For the first time since the battle started, her heart beat with a warm flutter of hope. “Do you promise, Mister?”

“You have my word.”

The little girl started to smile, and she all but moulded herself against his shoulder. Like a cat finding reassurance in the human who had just plucked it from danger and misery. “Thank you...!”

The man twitched slightly but didn't say anything more. He blew across the distance between the forest and the village in what felt like a few heartbeats. Anna looked around the mess with wide eyes – there was destruction all about, but several buildings were still standing, having been put out in time. The man from the tailor shop was lying on a stretcher, being carried to a different place for treatment. The marines were mostly alive, though a bunch of pirates were standing around them and not letting them go anywhere... Other villagers, her neighbours, all of them were milling around hesitantly as ropes were cut off their hands and feet.

Anna looked around frantically, her eyes jumping from one crowd to another. After the longest moments of her life, she found who she was looking for. “Mama!” She screamed.

Her mother's head jerked up, earning a disgruntled complaint from the doctor who was putting the finishing touches on the cast binding her stomach wound. There was a pretty nasty burn scar on the left side of her face, which was being given cold compress. She looked like a mess, but she was alive. “Anna!” She cried.

The man reached up and took Anna by the waist with one hand, lifting her down and setting her on her feet. Anna bolted straight for her mother, jumping up onto her lap and hugging her desperately. Her mother cried in relief, stroking her hair.

Katakuri observed this scene for a moment, until one of the navigation crew approached him with a number of ringing denden. None of the men he'd brought with him were particularly strong; he hadn't needed fighters to take the island, just enough of a force to hold it until a proper regular guard could take over.

He unhooked the snails and said, “This is Katakuri. I've completed my most recent takeover. Report in, everyone.”

“Huuuuuh?! What do you mean, you're done already?! You've already taken six!” Oven complained loudly over the flames burning behind him. Angrily he kicked the burnt up body of one of the Marines he'd just dealt with, his sense of triumph minimized by frustration. A woman behind him started crying at the sight. “How are you moving this fast?”

The local pirates in this archipelago are hardly worth mentioning,” His brother said calmly. “There are slavers in the waters, but if they're Joker's, they're at the bottom of the totem pole. What is your status, Oven?”

“Geez,” Oven grumbled. “I'm just about done here, nii-san. The locals were uncooperative.” He could almost feel Katakuri's disapproving stare, so he quickly continued, “they're fine, the town's just gonna need some rebuilding.”

Brulee's snickering echoed from a different snail, causing his eye to twitch. “Mama won't be happy if the whole city infrastructure has to be replaced, Oven!”

“Give me a break, it's not that bad!” Oven barked. The locals behind him started crying louder, as if to mock him; he twisted and bellowed, “ah, shaddup back there! You're all alive, aren't you?!” Heat spat and crackled all around him threateningly, silencing most of them. “The local Marines have been taken care of, along with the bottom-barrel raiders who prowled around these parts. For f*ck's sake, I don't understand how those pathetic pirates survived the New World.”

The Navy's negligence in that area is the obvious culprit,” Daif*cku said from his snail. “I'm done here too, Katakuri. The city was under siege when I reached it; they were so grateful for the rescue that they pledged their island to Mama immediately.”

Oven's eye twitched and he made himself take a calming breath.

Brulee?” Katakuri inquired.

There are still a few things I need to wrap up here, but I'll be moving on soon.” Brulee said, before uttering a playful whine of complaint. “Six islands in a week, Katakuri! How are we supposed to keep up at this rate?”

You're halfway to catching up, don't make sounds like that.” Katakuri responded with a little dry amusem*nt. His voice always warmed up a tone when he was talking to her, no matter the circ*mstances. “Smoothie?”

I'm done here too.” Smoothie answered, brisk and matter-of-fact. “The Marine Base has been wiped out. All that's left is to properly secure it.”

We've moved the boundary line of Mama's territory a ways out now,” Katakuri observed before delivering a calm, matter of fact order; “Continue travelling and seizing what you can until you meet significant pushback. The Navy is still reeling from their losses; don't slow down yet. I'll inform Mama of our progress.”

Oven snapped a brief salute. “Of course, nii-san.” He hung up and promptly whirled around, barking orders at the minions he'd brought with him to extinguish the fires, clean up the area and take point while he separated out the force he'd take with him to the next island.

He'd have to double check his map, see which one is the closest. He won't be last in the acquisition race!

“We're going up a waterfall?!”

Ulti giggled at the shocked exclamations of the little Boa clone – Himawari... Hima... Himi! Himi was a cute nickname! All the little ones demanded adorable nicknames – gawked up at the massive falls at the entrance of Wano. “Yup,” she clicked her tongue. “Isn't it cool?”

Page groaned. “Oh man, I always get sea sick at this point...” He muttered.

She elbowed him in the ribs, causing him to yelp. Really! Saying things like that might ruin the experience for the cute little ones! Ulti knew that Pay Pay could be so negative at times, she understood really, but now was not the moment for it. The young woman looked between the seven winged children who'd run up to the railing upon hearing they were close to home. Yep! Looking at them still made her heart feel like it might explode.

So. Freaking. Cute! Oh gosh, Ulti had never seen anything this adorable in her life! Look at their little wings! So fluffy!

Little was a relative term, yes; Lunarian children aren't exactly tiny after all. But just looking at them Ulti could see how they were tiny versions of Mister Serious and it straight up gave her cuteness aggression.

“Ulti, why do you torment your brother so?” Speaking of Mister Serious; Ulti twisted to look over her shoulder to see King walking towards them with a water jug slung over one shoulder. “An observation like that shouldn't trigger an attempt to knock his ribs in.”

“Uh...” Ulti's brain stalled for a second, trying to explain why it felt necessary in that moment. “I didn't want him ruining the moment!”

Her heart skipped a beat at King's violet eyes taking a mildly disapproving look. Then it started racing, which was just unfair and she really wanted to tear it out and stomp on it. Come on, Ulti! She ranted to herself. You've known him since you were little, and the only difference is that he's not wearing that freaky gas mask! Get it together!

Oooh, but it made for a huge difference. His eyes were stunning... his face was elegantly handsome and his silver hair and braids framing it... sometimes he'd look at the kids and smile just a little. It practically knocked her off her feet the first time she saw it – this was the closest thing she had to a parental figure and she felt like she was meeting him for the first time! Her stupid heart was developing a freaking catch!

“You couldn't just nudge him instead of trying to rearrange his guts?” King said mildly, walking over. He put one hand on Page's shoulder for a second before moving on to Himawari; Ulti noticed her brother's expression lighting up with gratitude.

Embarrassment and a flash of guilt bubbled inside her. “Sorry, Pay Pay,” Ulti mumbled, shuffling her feet.

He gave her a wide-eyed look before smiling brightly. “S'okay, sis.” Immediately the brief tightness in her chest relaxed and she glomped onto Page, giving him a tight hug and nuzzling his cheek

“Yes, Himawari. The ship will be taken up the falls by local fish. Do you want to experience that on deck, or shall we fly up?”

Himawari flapped her wings once, humming in conflicted curiosity. “I don't know! Fish taking us up the waterfall sounds insane... but I kinda want to see what it feels like!”

“Speak for yourself, I'm not interested in getting vertigo sickness.” Anubis grumbled, hopping up onto the railing.

“I'm not gonna get sick!” Himawari exclaimed; then she stuck her tongue out at him. “Whatever! Why do you have to be the No Fun Police, Anubis?”

Anubis flushed bright red. “Hey!”

“Children, behave please.” King said with a sigh. The two children immediately flattened their wings against their backs in embarrassment. He closed his eyes briefly – like he was searching for words, or advice, or something like that – before his wings relaxed a little. “Himawari, don't let Anubis wind you up so easily. Anubis, try not to be so negative when the others are excited about something.”

“Sorry,” They mumbled in concert.

Ulti stared in awe. She'd never seen an argument cooled off so fast! Only Kaido coming in and threatening to beat the living hell out of the people making a racket had gotten that kind of reaction, and King hadn't threatened them or anything!

“How'd you do that?” She whispered to the winged swordsman.

King blinked and seemed to hesitate for a second before murmuring, “Because I know a man who knew how to raise children.”

Ulti tilted her head to the side, surprised and puzzled because...was he talking about Kaido? Uh... surely not??? Yamato super hated Kaido and he was always rampaging around, attacking Kaido to win his freedom and generally causing chaos. But who else could King be talking about? Ulti thought about it and thought about it, but she couldn't think of any other fathers he could be referring to.

Tiger hopped up on the railing next. For a moment it looked like he was about to dive into the water, but he hesitated, biting his bottom lip, before sighing and looking down at his hands. “What's wrong, Tiger?” Ginji asked.

“Oh...” Tiger looked up at the falls. “I was just thinking that these falls are so beautiful... I wanted to go and swim up them with every fiber of my being! Water is in my blood; I belong down there as much as on the surface! But...” He sighed. “I have the Swim-Swim fruit's bloodline injection. I can't swim at all, can I? If I jump off the railing, I'll just sink like a rock...”

His expression became a little forlorn and it snapped Ulti's heart in half. “You poor thing!” She cried, running up and giving him a big hug. The boy yipped in surprise but didn't squirm away like Pay Pay sometimes did; his fluffy wings are so warm! “That's so mean! They totally beached you without giving you a choice about if you wanted a devil fruit or not! That must feel so wrong, for a fishman!”

Tiger blinked owlishly up at her before glancing sideways and mumbling something that sounded a little like 'this is nice' with a slight tinge of red coloring his cheeks. “U-Um... it's not all bad...” He ventured shyly. “It's really useful in a fight...”

“But you're made from Jinbe! You can do Fishman Karate! That totally should have been enough for them!” Ulti said, pouting on his behalf. How dare those scientists make these beautiful babies sad?! She'll headbutt every last one of them!

King glanced back towards the inner area of the ship, a dark glare passing across his face. “If... if it's a bloodline thing, can the satellites take it out?” Page ventured hesitantly. “Or can only the original do stuff like that?”

“I don't know,” Tiger confessed. Rocinante trotted over and grasped his hand tightly in compassion. “I'd never given it any thought before. I would be sacrificing a battlefield advantage for whimsy, wouldn't I?”

“That would be your choice to make,” King responded, looking back at him. “What do you want, Tiger? Putting aside any other factor, if you want to be able to swim, say so. I can't promise that it will be possible, but the attempt can be made.”

“We'll do our best!” Ulti promised, tightening her hug.

Tiger squeaked a little, only now starting to squirm. “Uh... breathing, Miss Ulti...” he managed. Ulti blushed and set him down on his feet, mostly releasing him. “Thank you... I... I have to think about it, but...” He smiled shyly. “Thank you, King.”

King's lips gently curved upwards. A bell started ringing from the helmsman's position; the older man looked up and said, “We're about to ascend. Last chance, everyone; shall we fly beyond the falls or ride on the ship?”

“I want to ride!” Rocinante said with excitement. “I want to feel what it's like!”

“Are you kidding?! You're clumsy, you might trip over nothing and go falling off the side of the ship into the falls! We'll never find you again!” Anduriel squeaked.

“W-Well... I'll tie myself to the ship with string!” Rocinante said with some confidence that belied his adorable flustered look. Ulti just wanted to eat him up! So precious!

“I want to fly up,” Alucard said with a sigh. “Let's go, Anubis.”

“I would like to fly too, just in case anyone falls off of the ship,” Ginji offered. “What about you, Anduriel? ...Anduriel?”

Moria's little clone was staring at the falls with a blank expression on his face... like he was remembering a really bad meal he had once. When his name was called, though, he seemed to snap out of it. “Oh, I would like to ride with Himawari and Roci and Tiger,” he said.

King looked a little amused for a second, a flash of a smile on his face. “Alright, then. Watch these four for me, Page, Ulti.”

“Yessir!”

After the longest week of their lives, they were finally coming home.

Notes:

Consequences ahoy... the Big Mom pirates have been busy. This is a good look at what the New World looks like at the moment - the areas that the Navy nominally protected completely at the mercy of the sea from their pulling back and subsequent mauling. Katakuri might be good overlord, but not all his siblings can say the same.

Angel Apocalypse has more or less wound to a close. The next one will start with an overview of the destruction to the Navy/Government and begin the next arc, Ringing Silence - consider it the equivalent of Post Enies Lobby/Post Marineford. I'll start marking the arcs on chapter headings, so keep a look out for them!

Chapter 18: Arc 2: Ringing Silence

Summary:

The dust is settling. People scramble to get their bearings.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The waters that had washed into the place where Marineford once stood were strangely peaceful in the evening light. Perhaps it was because the quake's reverberations had driven the wild weather elsewhere, or perhaps the reason was more spiritual; that this place in the Grand Line would always be peaceful now, because it contained one of the graves that Davy Jones minded.

There was still debris of varying sorts floating in the water; wood, tattered hats and uniforms, books and file boxes light enough to be buoyant bobbled gently in the rippling water as the Sabre of Xebec slowly prowled through the empty area, carried by a gentle breeze. If it weren't for that wind, likely the ship wouldn't have been moving at all; the oars had been abandoned so the crew could gape at the rea where their captain's greatest triumph should have happened.

Staring out at the debris, Teach stared dully at the remnants. He glanced slightly at Marineford's Log Pose, which was spinning occasionally as it tried to lock on to the field that had once been there... it pointed often enough at the right place that the crew knew this was where the island had once been.

Where it wasn't now. There wasn't a war here, any Marines, and most importantly any sign of the Whitebeard Pirates or their Captain.

Teach had known something was wrong when the damaged prison had been rocked by a tsunami when he and his new acquisitions had been in the process of clearing out the damned cave in that had occurred on their way out. The Grand Line might have titanic waves as a regular feature, but one that's impact shook the entire underwater prison? That was the act of an Emperor.

He'd thought it must have been a warning shot, an attempt to get Ace back via intimidation, and he redoubled his efforts in tunnelling his way out. The strange, helpful absence of the Warden helped in that regard; no one dared attack them without his direction, so they'd been able to clear the way in good enough time. Teach then ordered full speed to Marineford.

He'd been worried that he'd be late, but shook that off when the ship began picking up speed. Using that much power definitely weakened the old man. Even if he and the rest managed to save Ace, it would take everything he had. Between his new crewmates, they would be able to ambush the Moby and take his treasure from Whitebeard's corpse.

Teach had expected to have to work around an exhausted Marine force. He'd expected to have to contend with Phoenix or some of the other division commanders, if they had been able to extract Ace from the execution platform more easily than he'd anticipated. He had prepared for every contingency that he could think of when he'd first drawn up his plan to forge his own path, to become Pirate King.

But he hadn't been prepared for what he would see.

Marineford completely gone. No trace of the Navy anywhere. And the Whitebeards vanished from the area, with no sign of the old man's flag anywhere in the debris that littered the ocean.

Teach...denied it at first. Latched onto the flickering Log Pose to insist that it was damaged and they'd overshot their goal somehow, that this was just the remains of a few scouting ships that had been trying to predict which way Whitebeard would approach the island. Shiryu had flatly pointed out that there was far too much debris to just be the remains of a few ships; then he fished out one of the file boxes and found paperwork for Marineford's upkeep within them – the kind that were kept in cabinets in the base, only to be removed if there was a fire in the building or other such structural damage.

“Impel Down was put on radio silence when it became clear a serious breakout was occurring.” the former warden concluded, disgustedly tossing the paperwork back into the water. “That's standard procedure. Keep things contained, don't let any indication of failure leak to the outside. Impel Down's reputation as inescapable must be maintained above reproach because of the Golden Lion's escape.”

“So what?! The old man couldn't have defeated the Navy that fast! Not when he has to rescue Ace!” Teach shouted. “They brought every last one of their Elites here, including the Warlords! The fight should have gone on for days, at least one day!”

“Captain,” Laffiette started nervously.

Teach whirled and screamed in the pale man's face, “THEY SHOULD STILL BE HERE!” There's a crackle as his haki roiled uncontrollably. Several of his crew mates flinched backwards at the pressure, even a few of the new ones.

Despite that, Shiryu remained glacially calm. “Yet they aren't... and neither is Marineford.” He said flatly. “The island is gone. The only person capable of destroying an entire landmass right down to the seafloor is Edward Newgate. The only logical explanation is that something significantly changed the optics of the war and we were oblivious, because reports were not coming into Impel Down.”

Teach turned to snarl at him, before he froze up and twitched slightly at the memory of a straw hat...

No. Monkey D Luffy's furious glare flashed in his memory, the boy seething as he turned and followed Jinbe's advice to flee rather than stay and fight the man who'd handed his precious fire cracker to death. No way. He couldn't have gotten out in time to rescue Ace, not even with Jinbe and Crocodile helping him. Not possible. He's still a brat without a basic command of Haki!

He balled his hands into fists. He'd let Monkey D Luffy go on a whim, perhaps out of the little bit of respect he'd developed for him at Mock Town, thinking it didn't matter one bit. But... but if Ace hadn't been transferred to Marineford, hadn't been a hostage to ensure Whitebeard fought a gruelling ground war... of course the old man would insist that his 'beloved sons' stand back and destroy the enemy without 'putting any of them in danger'.

It was the only way the battle could have ended fast enough, and decisively enough, that Teach couldn't sneak up on them in time.

It can't be!

He'd spend years preparing for this. Finding a way to seize one of the greatest powers in the world and clear the way to seize his destiny without even having to do most of the fighting. Ace had all but fallen into his grasp! Everything was perfect! He'd accounted for everything!

WHITEBEARD SHOULD BE HERE, BLOODY AND WEAK AND READY TO DIE!

Yet. The longer he rolled that thought around in his mind... he knew Shiryu was right. They'd been delayed escaping Impel Down because of that sudden cave in. It had taken at least a few hours to make a path. That was enough time for something to go wrong, even though he couldn't f*cking figure out what could possibly have made the battle so damn one-sided that just a few hours had made all the difference.

Something had happened. And everything was ruined. Everything.

Abruptly words failed Teach, and he sank into a sitting position, staring blankly at the drifting remains of Marineford. A hush fell over the rest of the crew at that, and they alternated between staring and nervously eyeing each other as the situation became real.

“...D'you suppose it killed the old fool to unleash a quake this violent?” Catarina Devon suggested eventually.

“f*ck no. He's old, but he isn't that fragile.” Sanjuan Wolf muttered in disgust. “He'll be up and kicking after a few days in bed; and who the f*ck knows where the fleet went after blowing Marineford to hell? There's plenty of places in their territory to stop and restock.”

Another uncomfortable moment of silence passed over them. “Captain,” Van Augur asked after a moments hesitation. “What should we do next?”

Teach's whole body twitched.

His betrayal of his previous pirate crew hadn't mattered; as soon as the old man was dead, the devastation of losing him would ruin his so called family on top of the brutal beating they would take in a war against the Navy. With the power of both the Quake and Darkness fruits in hand, he could easily destroy them if they thought to go to war with him; he was absolutely sure of it.

But now he's sitting here, with no devil fruit to show for it, with the Navy crushed and likely no casualties on the pirate's side – which Ace likely still alive and smart enough to not make the same mistake twice in a grief fuelled rage. Whitebeard was still alive and wouldn't forget that Teach had betrayed him, murdered one of his sons and sold the other to torture and execution.

Whitebeard hadn't ordered an active manhunt for him after Thatch's death. Before he'd almost gotten Ace killed, exposed him as Roger's son to the Navy, and was directly responsible for him being tortured in Impel Down. For all his 'brothers' being endangered in an all out war.

Cold ice slid down his back, and Teach trembled. He could feel the jaws of a titanic dragon open right behind him, waiting for him to try to run, to desperately try to save himself before those fangs snapped shut around him and tore him apart.

“Oh, fantastic,” Catarina hissed. Tangibly, she'd put the pieces together too. “So we have nothing to show for this, the Whitebeard's haven't been weakened at all, and we're at the top of the old fool's sh*tlist. You call this a plan, Blackbeard?

“Shut up,” Teach muttered, his voice almost a whisper. His pulse was thundering to a painful degree as that fear took hold, tearing into him like a spear. Visions flashed in his mind, all those times he'd seen Whitebeard use his powers to the fullest from when he was a child to just recently. How he'd coveted that awesome power, the world shaker! Now all of that power would be pointed directly towards him, without a second's hesitation.

He had to run. He had to flee, vanish from the public view and get off the radar, nownownownow. Had to escape before those people ran him down, had to find a bolt hole in which he could safely strategize and come up with some sort of new plan, anything to get him out of Whitebeard's crosshairs before it was too late, they had to leave nownownownow-

“Change course,” He barked, surging to his feet. The second any of his 'new recruits' saw his fear, he was done for. “We're heading to the path to Belka.”

“Belka?!” Laffiette squawked, scrambling to get his navigation bag. “Y-Y-You mean the Sky Island?! W-Why?!”

Just do it!” Teach thundered. He spun around and pinned his crew with a ferocious glare, letting his haki pour out and intimidate them, force his will upon them. The way the men trembled and flinched back was a relief; it gave him back a little inkling of control. “Get the ship ready to move at full sail, all of you. NOW!”

He needed a replacement for the Tremor-Tremor fruit, something, anything approaching the power that it wielded. While he searched, he needed a place to lay low, and the only islands that no one thought to search for their enemies within were those high in the sky. Very, very few people ever thought to look up.

They needed to get there fast. As fast as possible.

Several Days Later

Murder, Lies and Mass Destruction! The Revenge of the Last Lunarian.” Shanks murmured, tapping the headline of the paper with one finger. “I see that 'Big News' Morgans has officially decided to stop being the Navy's publicist.”

“Even he couldn't dig them out of the hole they've dropped themselves in if he tried,” The blonde boy with a burn scar over one eye said, dropping down into one of the seats across from him. Dragon's Chief of Staff, if Shanks remembered correctly; he was a little bemused by the sheer authority that implied when the kid was clearly in his early twenties at the oldest, but who's he to judge?

Luffy's seventeen and making good progress to becoming King of the Pirates. He might not be ready for the New World yet, but it wouldn't take him long to get there, and this kid – Sabo, right? - had a couple years on him. It wasn't a huge difference, but in high-pressure tasks like pirate captain and a leader in the revolution, a few years made all the difference.

“Besides,” Sabo continued, grabbing his water glass and taking a deep drink from it. Oh, he'd been taught good manners in his formative years; that kind of training was hard to forget, even if you discard it. “There's nothing their spin doctors could have handed him for publishing that would be more exciting than the truth. Morgans might be a glorified mafia don, but he's ironically committed to a degree of journalist ethics. These papers are reaching the four corners of the world, count on it.”

Shanks hummed in agreement. “Do you mind if I give it a quick read?” He asked lightly.

“Dragon sent me ahead to apologize for him being a little late,” Sabo responded with a slight grin. “So be my guest.”

“Punk Records is proving difficult to get situated?” Shanks guessed. The look of tired, dry amusem*nt that the kid gave him prompted him to smother a laugh. “No worries.” He flipped the paper open and began to read.

The first three pages – full page spreads at that, not sections of a whole – of Morgan's article were dedicated to both King and Delia Surridge. Absolutely everything that was publicly known about them was spread across the paragraphs; the doctor's speech had been written out word for word, amidst her public background and semi-retirement to a surgeon general position in an East Blue Marine base which in hindsight was clearly her having been 'kicked upstairs' so to speak after working at Punk Hazard. King's first appearance to his most recent were all chronicled alongside her backstory, including something surprising – a few pictures of him without his famous black armor hiding his Lunarian traits, all of which had clearly been taken at Egghead.

Shanks wisely decided he wasn't even going to guess at how Morgans had pulled that off.

For what else could be said about him, Morgans was a damn good journalist. With minimal information not altered by the government available, he'd put together a clear timeline of when the Lunarian massacre had happened, how long the experimentation had been ongoing at Punk Hazard, how the government had used their vast information control to hide the genocide, and even the date that Kaido sacked Punk Hazard and recruited King. All in a couple of days! The crazy part was Shanks is relatively certain most of his information was accurate; he could remember some of the dates referenced and things that he'd found strange being loudly put in the public's mind.

Man had a lot of resources to pull from, yeah, but his ear for news could not be underestimated.

Morgans had even come up with a body count for the Lunarian massacre. Even if it was a general estimate and possibly lower than that, seeing the number had made Shanks sick. Not much could get that reaction out of him these days, but... damn.

After that, Morgans had jumped to the present. He excitedly laid out Delia's plan, and how she'd ruined the Navy's ability to escape her trap for them every step of the way along with both Kaido and Newgate reacting as she expected them to. How her broadcast had caused the Warlords to revolt and abandon their partnership with the Navy in violent totality, with Moria, Hanco*ck, and Mihawk disappearing off the radar while Doflamingo retreated to Dressrosa – only Kuma was reported to have remained behind. The bird zoan's delight at tracing each step of the doctor's plot bled from every sentence; he seemed genuinely impressed that one non-combatant had succeeded in doing so much damage.

Then Morgans referenced the rumors about Bartellia while speculating on whether or not Delia Surridge'd had a secondary goal of rescuing Ace, who's mother was born on that island chain, from execution. She did have something of a temper trigger about genocide, after all, and if the Navy had lied about committing one massacre... who's to say there weren't others?

Shanks's pulse had jumped at that, but he read through the paragraph twice and saw no reference to Roger. Good. If Morgans was aware of who Rouge's husband had been, he probably suspected that Newgate wouldn't take kindly to him outing Ace, and his survival instincts had won out over his desire for extra Big News. As if he didn't have enough to go on so far.

Egghead's sacking was the fuzzy guesswork part of the piece; clearly Morgans's information hadn't been able to penetrate very deep, only gaining some pictures and a somewhat of an idea of what happened. Not only did he have some pictures of an unmasked King and the Beast Pirates in the process of looting the area, but he had one fuzzy picture of seven certain children.

Shanks put the paper down and squinted at the image, trying to pick out the features of the Seraphim – looking for Hawky reflected in the face of one of them. No good. He just couldn't make out any identifying details. “Man...” He murmured.

“There were only seven of them, fortunately... though apparently there are a number of incubators among the things the Beast Pirates pillaged. Clearly more were intended to be created.” Dragon's voice brought him out of his reverie.

Shanks glanced up from the paper and nodded politely at Dragon as he swept into the room, along with a charming blonde girl in a hat. “Can't say I'm surprised to hear that,” the redhead mused, “though I wonder who they planned to clone next beyond the Warlords. Garp? The admirals?”

“I can't imagine my father ever agreeing to that,” Dragon said dryly. “Though given that the Warlords clearly didn't either, I doubt they would have respected his wishes.” The man's eyes narrowed at the thought, dark hazel flashing like the storms he could summon. “Unforgivable...”

Shanks made a noise of agreement. The gene stealing hadn't been literal rape, but it was such an intimate violation – it resulted in children – that to him it seemed about as close to that as you could get without touching your victim. He'd made the mistake of imagining himself in that position and had instantly felt like he needed to take a dozen showers.

“I apologize. I know a man like you dislikes being kept waiting,” Dragon said with politeness that didn't quite reach his wary gaze as he sat down across the table from Shanks. That was fair; he's an Emperor, not exactly great company for people who wanted to create a new, positive world order. Shanks could take that on the chin.

Still, he couldn't help but stare in absolute fascination at Luffy's biological father. This was the first time he'd ever seen him in person, not just on a poster. The two of them had such different energy, it was almost crazy to think they were related! Dragon was so stoic and reserved compared to Luffy's ecstatic energy. Clearly the man had it in him, he's been running the Revolution since before the kiddo was born, but he didn't make it visible at all. That's...kind of impressive.

“Ahh, no worries. Your people just came running back from Egghead, you must be up to your ears in stuff to do.” Shanks said with a light wave of his hand. “I better head back to my territory soon, but I've still got a little time, and this is kind of important given... well, this.” He flipped the page over and tapped the damage report from the Navy.

It was a few pages long.

Dragon nodded slightly and tilted his head just so. “I'm curious as to why you wanted to approach me about that,” he said slowly. The blonde girl and boy exchanged looks and began watching Shanks intently. “I've never been invited into dialogue with one of the Emperors before... nor have I reached out,” The clearly implied question being what's your angle didn't need to be spoken.

“I understand that,” Shanks said easily. “I mean, you want to unseat the Celestial Dragons and reform or replace the World Government. Associating with big time pirates like me or Pops might not be a good look for that, especially since I just know the men at top would have a field day.”

“Yet you're here anyway, requesting council.” Dragon said warily.

“Well... that's because I'm worried about the future of a whole lot of people who can't wield a sword like I do,” Shanks responded, letting his face fall and become more serious. “The Navy is gone from the New World. Completely. Oh, maybe they'll have a few bases left there after the dust settles but if that gives them more of a single fingernail grip on those waters, I'll go dry for a year.”

Benn, who had been sitting in silence next to him this whole time, raised a significant eyebrow at that. “Oh really?” His first mate droned, obviously making a note of that.

“Yeah, really!” Shanks said with all due confidence while silently hoping that the Navy wouldn't surprise him again. “Anyway, Kaido has four of Vegapunk's clones and a whole lot of his tech. Now it's gonna take him a while to both integrate them into the Beast Pirates, and get production moving to a point where he'll storm out of Wano to sweep over the world. I give him... two years, maybe a little more.”

“That was my estimate too,” Sabo acknowledged. He tapped his fingers against the desk, a sour grimness overshadowing his continence. “And that doesn't even account for Linlin; her army is currently on a rampage grabbing every bit of World Government territory they can before the other Emperors react.”

“Which is exactly the sort of thing I want to put a bottle neck on,” Shanks admitted. Dragon's serious expression shifted into intense surprise, while both Sabo and the girl rocked back in their chairs. “Y'know, I found after my captain got executed that I really don't like watching people die. It's one thing if its among pirates; at least we all went out here intending to put our lives on the line. The people in the Grand Line didn't make that choice, and now they're wide open to everyone from Kaido and Linlin to the average cowardly raider. It'll be weeks before the Navy can scramble any level of response, and, well...”

“What the hell are they going to do with their Elite manpower literally sliced in half?” The girl finished for him. “With their manpower in general sliced in half? Without Vegapunk's technology supporting them? With two of the Admirals down in intensive care and Garp and Sengoku both sporting serious injuries? I could keep going, if you want.”

Shanks bobbled his head. “Nah, I think that's a pretty good summary.” He said politely.

“So you... want to run damage control? By collaborating with us?” Sabo tested the words carefully, and when Shanks nodded gamely, the blonde looked flabbergasted. “I... why? All of this is going on outside of your territory.”

“My conscience is one of the few things I can't shut up with booze and partying, unfortunately.” Shanks responded. “And I know that if Linlin or Kaido think they can bust through and stake a claim into Paradise, they'll go for it. Myself and the old man can form a bulwark against them, but that'll only go so far, and I still gotta talk to him about it.”

“...You're serious,” Dragon divined. “What exactly to do you wish to establish, between the two of us? You observed yourself that our message would likely be tainted even if we're associated with your or Edward.”

Shanks put his hand behind his head. “That's true, but it doesn't mean that we can't coincidentally bump into each other in places it makes sense for both of us to be independently!” He pointed out with a grin. “If a kingdom is under siege that has a history of good booze, I might just happen to come barrelling in looking for treasure... and if I take out some problematic forces in the process, then wouldn't it just make sense for you to swoop in the day after and start cleaning things up? Y'know... sometimes life just happens to make things convenient for you for a moment in time...”

He could see Dragon being tempted by the idea. The Revolutionaries had always had problems with their numbers relative to the Government; being able to take advantage of an Emperor dealing with Gordian knots they'd otherwise be hard pressed to untangle with the numbers in that given area would be a huge boon for them. It would also give Dragon time to do the same thing Kaido was undoubtedly already working on – getting Vegapunk situated and helping improve the Revolutionary's power to change the face of the world.

“There's only so many times that can happen before it stops looking like a coincidence,” Dragon said eventually.

“True, but if we coordinate well enough, we could probably engineer a news story of you people 'heroically driving those dastardly Red Haired Pirates back into the New World' on occasion.” Shanks suggested. “It can't be too hard to convince people we aren't friends if they start wondering about it.”

Dragon sat back, thought about it for another minute, then gave him a shrewd look. “You're familiar with playing that role? The evil to be chased away, having tormented the innocent?”

Shanks bravely did not flinch. Or swallow hard. “I mean, it can't be that hard when the world is pretty well convinced I'm a lunatic drunk. Can it?” He asked.

“Given the effort the government has put into slandering you and Edward Newgate... yes, I can't imagine it will be too hard. There will still be a risk to this endeavour...” Dragon grimaced. “But the revelation of the Lunarian Genocide, coupled with the Navy been crippled so badly... I saw what Roger's challenge to the world brought into the ocean. I know what Kaido would bring to bear in his stead would make that pale in comparison.”

“Is it Kaido's era, or King's?” Shanks wondered.

“...That would depend on Kaido's ability to keep King's loyalty.” Dragon said slowly. “I don't see anything but a thin possibility of that changing in the future. Kaido has done things for him that King must feel he can never repay.”

Shanks knew he had a point. But a thin possibility was not nothing. “Who knows? Having kids... they can seriously shake up your perspective.” He observed.

There's well suppressed flash in Dragon's haki, one he wouldn't have noticed if he didn't already know that the man had a son. “They truly do.” The man said quietly. So he did think often and frequently on Luffy... Shanks had suspected, but it was nice to know for sure.

“Do we have a deal?” The redhead prompted, allowing the moment to pass by so the man could recompose himself.

“Yes,” Dragon decided. “The Revolution has to move swiftly if we're to make anything out of this unfortunate opportunity... and we must, 'else the world plunge into even deeper darkness than it already suffers within. Though... there is something I would like to ask you about in the near future.”

Shanks had a sneaky feeling he knew what that was. “No problem.”

“Are you sure about this, Dragon?” The girl asked uncertainly.

Dragon nodded. “We have to act, Koala, even if it means taking risks.” He told her. “Kaido has become more powerful than the worst of nightmares could conceive. Even if we're prepared as best as we could be when he moves, we will need allies in hopes of standing against him.”

“And we could do worse than Red-Haired Shanks for good help,” Sabo added, surprising cheer in his voice.

Shanks and Koala both turned to look at him in surprise. Sabo must have felt their gaze, because he rubbed the back of his neck. “Call it a hunch... but I've got a good feeling about you.” He said, looking a little distant. “I wonder if I saw you before, back then... nah, what are the odds of that?” His voice dropped at that, the question seemingly directed at himself rather than either of them.

“Back when?” Shanks prodded, puzzled.

Sabo flashed him a charming smile. “Eh, it's not that important right now. Please come with me, your majesty; I'll get you a white denden.” There's a dry inflection on the words 'your majesty' that got a laugh out of Shanks and a begrudging chuckle from Benn.

He liked this kid.

“...the total number of casualties is over fifty thousand, of the hundred thousand elite men who were brought to Marineford.” Ju Peter read from Morgans' paper. His voice was in a dead drone, the only sound cutting through the suffocating quiet. “Marineford having sunk beneath the sea, all the records, files and organizational information was taken to the sea floor with it. Most of the ships present were sunk as well, a fourth of the current fleet. The weapons, gunpowder, and seastone was lost except for that which was carried away in the hands of survivors... the sea stone walls represented the entirety of the Navy's stock of the precious minerals.”

None of the other three said anything. The room still bore the scars of their reaction to his return from Egghead... the chairs were overturned; gouges had been cut and carved into the walls, destroying the plaster and wallpaper. The rug was ripped to pieces and shoved into a corner; the window above it was broken.

Technically maids and repairmen were on call to fix the furnishings. But that would require allowing them inside... into their inner sanctum. Near them, who had been immortal and untouchable right up until suddenly they weren't.

Ju Peter slowly closed the paper and let it drop on the floor with a wordless sound of disgust. “The casualty numbers are a little understated,” he said sourly. “Morgans hasn't counted the destruction that Linlin and her deranged family is inflicting on our understaffed holdings in the New World.”

“I suspect it's precisely because she's not done yet that he hasn't,” Warcury uttered bitterly.

Their grasp on the other half of the Grand Line was slipping from their hands every minute, and nothing short of going out to combat the Big Mom pirates themselves was going to change that.

Imu had expressedly forbidden it. That was among one of the many things they had been told when their master became aware of Saturn's fate and spent a solid five minutes raging at them through a shaking denden.

They'd been left trembling in the wake of the call ending.

“Kaido has the incubators.” Mars uttered in the quiet. “He's spoiled for choice if he wishes to make Seraphim of his own. Perhaps that thrice-cursed Lunarian will forbid it, but if he doesn't... Kaido could clone himself and all of his top ranked officers.”

There's a sickening roll of adrenaline in the room as they pondered this. The idea of that monster duplicating himself, even in the form of a child, didn't bear thinking about – yet here they were, facing the very real possibility.

Nusjuro's hands balled into fists. “We'll give Alber the highest bounty in living memory.” He said coldly. “He killed Saturn.”

“The Seraphim struck the final blow, did they not?” Warcury asked, barking out a mirthless laugh. “We wanted to create the most powerful sapient lifeforms in existence... and we succeeded, didn't we?!” He punched the floor violently.

“Alber was the one who turned them against us,” Nusjuro retorted fiercely. “Without him, they would have been our greatest weapons. All of it lies at his door; his, Newgate's, and that wretched doctor who dared to wound us so.”

Ju Peter cleared his throat. “I agree with Nusjuro. We must mark Alber for death as we did Roger. Quite aside from informing the beast that his days are numbered, there's a chance it will sow discord amongst Kaido's crew. The other top officers will have their pride injured, perhaps even Kaido himself.”

“We don't have anything near the money to pay out such a bounty,” Mars observed.

“A trifle,” Warcury responded flatly. “What matters is enticing the most powerful in the world to capture him and bring him to us alive.”

Mars grunted in agreement. “What of the D that sacked Impel Down?” He asked, citing the final indignity that they'd been made aware of. A breakout that had put Shiki's audacity to shame, and the only mercy they'd been granted was that it had been buried underneath everything else that had gone wrong. “Roger's brat, who escaped us? Not to mention those two wretched women – Empress Hanco*ck betraying us to save Portgas, and the doctor herself.”

“Increase Portgas's bounty by two billion, and Hanco*ck's by one.” Ju Peter said decisively. “Grap's insufferable grandson is still a Paradise pirate and easily the most forgettable of the lot, so we'll double his current bounty and add an extra fifty thousand. As for Surridge...” He paused, his teeth grinding when he said the woman's name.

“At least three billion.” Mars suggested. “She's a non combatant; I'm sure that amount of money will see us swiftly delivered to us.” There's a brief pause before the three other Elders nodded sharply in agreement. “Do we have a recent enough picture of her?”

“An order to the right department should procure one.” Ju Peter glared at the paper. “As infuriating as Morgans's actions are, he did at least provide us with an unmasked picture of Alber as well. Now... how high shall we make his newest bounty?”

There's a brief argument over what precisely the number should be, but in the end, they settled on one. When Bao Huang picked up the next newspaper and the newest bounties some time later, her shriek of shock would be heard clear on the other side of Wano.

Notes:

(cackles) Choke on that, Teach! Choke on it!

I look forward to dropping the new bounties. There are gonna be alllll sorts of reactions there; honestly I'm getting a kick withholding the exact numbers for now. Certain people are gonna freak~! Aaaand of course the Elders dismiss Luffy as a concern; clearly they're not done making mistakes yet.

Chapter 19

Summary:

King and his children return to Wano to a celebration

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Wow... wow, wow, wow!” Himwari darted down the center street of the Flower Capital, her eyes fixed on the cherry blossom tree that wound around the Shogun's palace. It was in full bloom, petals drifting through the wind and scattering across the ground. A few landed in the young girl's hair; she utters a little adorable yip, scrambling to grab them between her fingers. “It's so pretty! So PINK!”

Anduriel was so absorbed in staring at the sights that he walked into his sister's back, too preoccupied gawking at the tea houses to notice her. Himawari yelped and stomped on his foot. “Ow!” Anduriel protested, snapping out of his daze.

“What do you mean, ow? You almost knocked me over!”

Himawari,” King said with a deep, disapproving sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. The girl blanched and shuffled her feet for a moment before mumbling a very quick 'sorry' under her breath, her eyes laser focused on the petals in her hands. She's only been in his life for a couple of days, but King was starting to suspect that she's going to be an absolute handful.

He doesn't care at all, but still...

“The buildings...” Rocinante breathed, turning around and walking backwards so he could continue to stare at a chapel that had caught his eye. “I've never seen... they're all so vibrant. It's – it's almost like they could be alive...” After a moment's pause he blushed. "Wait, that sounds dumb – of course they can't be alive – EEP!”

Alucard didn't even have to look in his direction; he just stuck one arm out and caught Rocinate before he could topple over backwards, pushing him back to an upright position. “There weren't many houses made of wood in Egghead... in fact, I don't think there were any at all.” The boy commented absently, looking back and forth as they paraded down the streets of the capital. “Compared to this, it's very different... more sterile.”

“That cherry tree is enormous...” Ginji whispered in awe. “I didn't think I'd ever get to see a real one, in person.” He held his hands up to the sky as if framing the tree and palace for a picture.

Crowds were lining the sides of the streets; it seemed every time King blinked there were more people pushing for space and staring at their newest visitors, awestruck. Taking the Seraphim through to the palace had been Kaido's idea; most of the loot was being taken to Onigashima, but both his children and the captured Vegapunks were being displayed for all to see on the way to being (superficially) presented to the Emperor. King knew that his friend was going to throw a massive celebration feast in the name of their victory, and he's glad that it's starting here – the Beast Pirates were bound to be on their better behavior since they weren't allowed to damage the place.

King privately considered the Shogun's palace as something of a monument to Kozuki Oden. He suspected that Kaido felt the same way, and that's part of the reason that the Flower Capital was exempt from the various... discomforts... that came with Kaido's regime. Kuri had to be destroyed, after all, so this was as close a shrine to their worthy opponent as could be mustered.

A girl in the crowd somewhat ahead of them managed to meet Anubis's eyes and paused in place, staring like she'd been hit upside the head with a pillow. A blush colored her cheeks and she briefly disappeared into the crowd; as he and his children were walking by, she came back and threw a few black orchids out to Anubis, catching him in the arm.

He caught them on instinct and was about to toss them aside before noticing what they were; he stared at them in confusion, then looked up at the girl, who smiled as confidently as she could manage and waved her fingers at him.

“Oh... uh...” Anubis mumbled, flummuxed. King stifled an unexpected chuckle at the sight of the confident boy floundering for a moment before he hastily stage whispered “what do I do with these?”

“Keep them in your coat for now. I'm sure a servant will have water for them in the palace.” King responded. To most his tone seemed to be its usual level, stoic rumble, but to anyone who knew him more than just in passing... the undercurrent of fondness was tangible, if quiet.

Anubis rapidly tucked the blossoms into an inner coat pocket; the tips of his ears were slightly red. Himawari and Rocinante both started giggling, causing him to snap his head in their direction. “What the blue hell is so funny?” He hissed.

“Nothing,” The duo responded in stereo, not even trying to hide their grins.

Tiger was more restrained, the only hint of his amusem*nt being the way his star eyes were dancing. He looked around and murmured, “So beautiful... does all of Wano look like this?”

The question unexpectedly stabbed a needle into King's stomach. He remembered clearly the first time he'd set foot in Wano... how he'd been risen from his depressed, dull soul state by a sense of genuine awe. How vibrant and alive the land had looked! He'd felt like he was walking through a living painting. Surely something so beautiful and serene couldn't exist in the same world as him and the horrors he'd known.

Then they'd started...taking it apart. Turning it into fuel for the war machine that would eventually roll over the government and most importantly, Maejories. The Flower Capital remained, but King genuinely wasn't sure how much of Wano resembled the beautiful dream he'd walked into so long ago.

“It... used to,” He admitted quietly.

Regret circled through his mind and quietly settled at the back of his brain, leaning gently – meaningfully – on his skull. Memories of factory inspections and delivering prisoners to Udon mixed uncomfortably with images of islands that Kuma had liberated; starved, bled dry, a husk of a former life.

Tiger looked up at him solemnly. “Used to,” He repeated quietly. “I see.”

“It's not beyond repair,” King said the words without thinking about them. He didn't know where they came from, but seeing Tiger's expression brighten up a shade pushed him after them. “We can add water and soil purification to the satellite's responsibilities.”

If those scientists could raise the dead, surely they could do that much.

“I hope so. I would like to see that,” Tiger said, relaxing subtly. King put a hand on his shoulder and wondered what the boy was thinking about; or if he was remembering something that wasn't his. He's learning the differences between the two kinds of silence, but it's slow going.

He's glad that Anduriel's anxiety seemed to have finally left him, at least.

The parade was fairly simple; Kaido was at the head, King following in step with his new children forming a little cluster around him. Behind them were the four satellites, chained at the feet with their original lab uniforms gone in exchange for traditional Wano clothes; with Jack looming behind them to discourage potential fanciful thinking. Following behind were a series of carts showing off some of the most prominent spoils they'd taken from Egghead presented by the rest of the Flying Six. There were many; a machine that could create any meal, several prototype weapons including a sword with an energy blade, the rocket boots, and if King hadn't immediately put a stop to it the list would have included the single damaged Pacifista that Who's Who had recovered.

King hadn't entirely meant to let his Conqueror's slip when Who's Who had complained about being separated from his 'spoil'. He'd only meant to partially let it out, not all of it. But if the bystanders had seen satisfaction in his face when Who's Who collapsed half conscious to the ground... he'd politely deny it.

When he'd had the moment, he'd pulled a few relatively trustworthy mooks aside and ordered them to put the Pacifista up in the other half of his Onigashima flat. He'd dragged over Edison to look at it first, only relaxing with the satellite had confirmed that this was a mass produced model and the original man himself was still alive.

As alive as you could be with your free will stolen from you, anyway...

I'll take him aside again and make him look at the programming, King thought to himself. He keeps insisting that only the original Vegapunk preformed Kuma's surgery, but if they're all the same person to a degree he has to know something.

As they drew closer to the palace, King heard the tone of the local's observations going from uncertain and curious to fascination. “Those machines... they look otherwordly.” A few older men murmured amongst themselves. “So this is what it means to have been created in the island 'of the future'!”

“The greatest of weapons were... those children?” A grandmother uttered, confused. “But... they're so young. Look at their faces...”

“I am! I can't look away from the one with scales.” A woman pointed at Tiger. “Doesn't he look so strange? Even with his resemblance to Lord King, I – none of the gifters or other pirates look like him, none of them! What exactly is he?”

Tiger let out a tiny sigh; the gossipers didn't seem to register that he could hear them just fine. King squeezed his shoulder ever so slightly and thought it was lucky that the woman's comments were rooted in curiosity and bafflement as opposed to malice. Fishmen and mermaids, if they had ever graced Wano's shores, had long fallen out of living memory for these people.

“Is that really Lord King?!” A young woman gasped. “I can't believe it...!”

“This is what he looks like without the mask? He's so beautiful! I can't believe it!”

King narrowly avoided a missing a step and shot a baffled look in the direction of the voices. One of the young women noticed his attention, clapped her hands over her mouth, and straight up swooned into her father's arms. What the...? He thought, caught completely off guard.

That comment, for some reason, totally opened the floodgates and he became aware of a lot of eyes on him. “He must be an illusion.. that's the only explanation,” rambled another voice. “Only this cruel world would curse us with an angel so remote and untouchable...! He never comes to visit the capital; oh, will I ever see you again, Lord King?”

“I've never seen such beautiful eyes...!”

“That woman called him one of the gods who once lived atop the world... Makami have mercy on me, but I believe it now.”

“To think he suffered so much tragedy... no wonder he's so solemn and reserved. The poor man... A-Ah! He looked my way...!”

“I-I need to raise my rank to Geisha...I'll get it done by the end of the week if I have to!, anything to catch his eye. I'll give him as many children as he wants.” “Girl, look at the size of those little ones! Carrying a Lunarian might tear you apart!” “Then I will die happy.”

Alucard's wings fluttered and he aggressively stepped forward as if to attempt to block the view of King from some of those onlookers. He was far too short to really succeed, but in that moment King would gladly take any buffer possible as he scrambled to process – all of that! “What the blue hell's gotten into these women? What are they babbling about?” Alucard grumbled, fierce and wary.

“It's because King's a stud,” Himawari said mischievously.

“Absolutely not,” King responded entirely too quickly. Mortification shot through him when he felt unmistakable heat rise to his face. It was just shock! He'd never heard women talking about him like this! He'd only removed his mask, for Nika's sake, it wasn't that big a difference was it? “Why do you even know what that word means?”

Himawari looked up and tilted her head at him. “I just do? Why, it's not a bad word is it?”

“You're too young to be using that word in this context,” King said, pressing his wings flatter against his back. “Please, don't.”

Himawari pouted, and he patted her on the head distractedly. For some reason, this started up a whole new round of whispering of even greater intensity. “Have you ever seen him be so gentle?” One girl whimpered, sounding like she was about to faint. “An angel with broken wings...”

“He looks quite healthy to me,” a young man quipped, trying and failing to hide the exact same dazed tone of voice.

“I wish he would let me restore them,” The girl said dreamily completely ignoring him.

Alucard huffed and waved vehemently at the crowd like he was trying to shoo away a bunch of curious crows. Scattered members of the onlookers flinched backwards, but the women seemed to find this gesture endearing, cooing over the 'serious little boy' scowling at them. “Weirdos,” Alucard hissed. “You all need to keep a respectful distance.”

“They're just civilians, Alucard.” King said, a little bewildered at his sudden intensity. “There's no threat here.”

Alucard glowered at the crowds and muttered something dire-sounding under his breath, his hand twitching like he was thinking about drawing the faux-Yoru. King stared at him in confusion; he could only think there are still too many things I need to understand about children...

He was very grateful when they reached the Shogun's palace. Himawari was all but vibrating when excitement as she flew up the steps, flowers in her hair from many similar-aged admirers. “I love Wano!” She declared, flapping her wings for emphasis. “I love it so much! Is this our palace, King? Is it?”

King shook his head. “This is the home of the Shogun. The Beast Pirate's home base is an island in and of itself, Onigashima.” He told her.

“Is it as pretty as this?” Himawari asked, visibly invested in the answer.

“...Some of it is,” King responded after a second of thought. In all honesty he didn't particularly want to have his children quartered in Onigashima where drugs, alcohol and sex services were everywhere. He had enough to worry about caring for them without some idiot trying to sneak them opium when his back was turned.

One more thing for him to think about for the immediate future. He had so many.

“Only some?” Himawari sulked. “That's not very befitting of a princess.”

“Let me worry about that,” King responded a little dryly, amusem*nt fluttering through his voice. Himawari pouted for a moment longer before dropping back down to the steps and following him into the palace on foot.

Orochi had lavishly decorated the place upon hearing about their return; everywhere you looked there was color, the fanciest of dishes and meals ready to be served, the windows open to the evening air and gorgeous, colourful paper lanterns adorning the walls to provide a kaleidoscope of lighting. All of the nobles that the puppet Shogun had contact with were present, standing aside and watching in awe as they walked through the halls to the throne room. Waiting inside the throne room were dozens of geishas, a wall being raised to expand the area, Orochi himself, and Queen, who was sulking about not having his sound system available.

Of course that sulking immediately vanished when he spotted their Captain; Queen bounced to his feet and spread his arms out. “Kaido! Wano is yours, once more. How was the raiding?” He asked with barely contained eagerness.

“Fruitful,” Kaido said with a smirk. “One of the Five Elder Stars is dead; King's vengeance is bearing fruit!”

Orochi laughed raucously in glee, causing King to twitch with a familiar wash of resentment and disgust. Some day, I'm going to find a reason to kill that rat, he thought darkly. Some day soon. He'd hated Orochi the instant he set eyes on him, a hatred that was deep set when the weaselly coward denied Oden their agreement after he's actually survived that hour in boiling oil.

Kaido stepped to one side and gestured sweepingly at King and the Seraphim. “The Lunarian children have been rescued!” He declared with no less pleasure. “And we have the incubators that were used to bring them to life. King's people will return to the oceans once more; this I swear to you.”

King's heart squeezed with emotion at the declaration, banishing his ill feelings at once.

“So these are the little angels!” Orochi declared with pleasure. He held out his hands. “Come here; I wish to have a look at you.”

Himawari reeled back in disgust. “Absolutely not,” she responded sharply, causing Orochi to gawk and comically turn white in surprise. Himawari stuck her nose in the air and stared contemptuously at the man like he was a particularly odious pest. King smothered a smirk.

Kind as ever, Ginji did walk forward and kneel down in front of Orochi so the puppet Shogun could get a better look at him. “Your majesty,” the boy said formally. Tiger followed in his wake, then Rocinante, then Anduriel. Alucard and Anubis held back, clearly sharing Himawari's sentiment if not showing it as openly.

“Incredible,” Orochi said with enthusiasm. King resisted the urge to grab Kusenagi's hilt when the rat put his hands on Ginji's face, then grabbed at the feathers of his wings. Only the slightest wince indicated Ginji's discomfort; otherwise he was the model of polite respect. “To think such beings once existed... you don't look much like King, though. Why is that?”

“I'm half Buccaneer, your majesty.” Ginji responded. “They were another extinct tribe, like ours.”

“Buccaneer! Is that some sort of giant?” Orochi wondered, examining Ginji's arms with the air of someone who'd been presented with a prized stallion. “You look like you have the strength of a dozen men at least.”

“Depending on the men in question? Far more than that,” Ginji said, starting to sound a little uncomfortable.

“Tiger is part fishman, while the rest of us are human-Lunarian hybrids.” Rocinante spoke up, drawing Orochi's attention away from his brother. The Shogun got up and looked the blonde up and down, then turned his attention to Tiger. “Anduriel has some giant's blood passed on from Moria, but it's more distant.”

“Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating.” Orochi babbled. “And you can all fight?”

“They struck the killing blow on Saturn,” King said flatly, striding forward so he subtly loomed over the puppet Shogun. Sure enough, the man froze for a second before hurriedly returning to his seat a polite distance away from them. “They're too young to be soldiers, but don't underestimate them.”

“A-Ah, of course not, perish the thought!” Orochi laughed nervously as he started to peer around King, eager to move on. “The eight of you have the place of honor for this celebration; please, feel free to begin indulging – the cooks have prepared all of the best for you!” He gestured to the area beside the throne that, yes, had clearly been prepared with them in mind.

King nodded and said, “children,” before heading over and sitting down. The kids quickly rose and followed him, Himawari looking particularly pleased with how that had gone over. King watched as the seven of them looked at their spots, frowned, and unceremoniously rearranged them so they were all sitting equally close to him rather than being in a straight line.

A brief smile lifted his lips as the cooks rushed forward to serve them. Andruiel and Ginji's eyes lit up at the sight of the sheer variety, while Himawari's eyebrows drew together and she began pointing imperiously to the few Particular Things that caught her eye.

“Roasted vegetables and red wine, please.” Alucard instructed bluntly.

“Alucard, you are five years old. You're not allowed to access the wine menu.” King broke in immediately, pinching the bridge of his nose. It must be an echo of Mihawk's preferred drinking habits.

Alucard froze and gave him an appalled look. “I'm a Lunarian and a cyborg! A few glasses of wine aren't going to do anything to me!” He protested.

King gave him a bland look. “When you're older,” He repeated. Alucard's stoicism melted away into an almighty sulk that probably wasn't supposed to be cute, but was. “Just the vegetables for him, please.” He told the server, who was visibly trying not to giggle.

“I want a strawberry daiquiri,” Anubis tried next, staring at King as if daring him to object. His face faulted when King immediately did so.

“That's still alcoholic. No.”

“I want fruit juice!” Himawari declared. “I want a blend of grape and apple with a hint of cherry, and I want three tall glasses! Then I demand to see the dessert menu!”

“I would like some of every fish dish...” Tiger volunteered. “And is there any milk?”

Ginji looked around longingly and blurted out, “I would like to try a little bit of everything, please! U-Um – except the wines, I guess.”

“I want barbecue!” Anduriel chipped in.

“Oooh... I can't decide...” Rocinante mumbled, looking overwhelmed. “I – what do you recommend, King? Do you like anything in particular?”

King hummed. “The ramen is quite good, I suppose.” he said after a moment of thought. Rocinante brightened and quickly indicated the pot of ramen closest to him, asking for a plate worth.

The servers rushed to provide the food in question, while an amused-looking Kaido returned his attention to presentation. Queen visibly bit through his cigar when the satellites were each introduced... there seemed to be a dent in Atlas's shoulder, causing her to occasionally wince and grab at it. She must have tried to escape at some point.

Orochi laughed and clapped his hands together in delight. “He cloned himself! I suppose for a genius, there's not enough time in the world to do everything with one set of hands! We should put them to work immediately – upgrade the weapons factories, providing new blueprints...” The man was almost drooling at the idea of what they'd be able to create now that they had them.

“I'll decide what's most important and give them their orders,” Kaido responded flatly, causing Orochi to balk. “They'll need to be monitored closely to ensure that they're preforming their tasks as promised, while we search for the rest of them. I have a few ideas so far.”

“As do I,” King murmured. Kaido blinked and gave him a brief nod of acknowledgement before moving on to the machines that could easily be brought inside.

That discussion King more or less tuned out, finally feeling like he could relax. The servers filled his plate to practically overflowing with his usual preferences; for once, he didn't mind this. Having his pain pushed out had healed him, but he felt distinctly more tired than usual, and suspected that he needed to make up for the lost energy.

I've forgotten how to fight for my life, Alber thought. I'd thought there wasn't any higher for me to climb, but was that just my being complacent? I've always known that Mihawk was a superior swordsman to me, but that gap didn't seem necessary to cross... until now.

He's about a quarter of the way into his plate when the demonstration finished and the party entered full swing. Likely it would last for the next two days at least; the sheer degree of their victory couldn't be understated. Music filled the room, and the courtesans began moving about, some chatting up the satellites to put them at ease while others gravitated – for some reason – towards King and the children.

York looked annoyingly happy, devouring every plate of food that was put in front of her. The other three were far less enthused by their circ*mstances; Edison halfheartedly picked at the meat on his plate, Lilith ate while glaring at anyone who came to talk to her, and Atlas seemed devastated, clinging to the girls who'd come to talk to her for a measure of comfort.

“This is your true face?” One geisha wondered, reaching up and touching his cheek. King jolted slightly, barely managing to keep the reaction internal. “Why have you been hiding it, Lord King? I've never seen so exquisite a being as you.”

“It was out of habit,” King responded, looking everywhere but right at her. “Exquisite? Where is this coming from? I've been here for years and never heard that before.”

The woman sighed as if heartbroken. “That's because you're never listening for it, my lord.”

She...wasn't being serious, was she? Another girl put a hand on his arm, almost causing King to jump – not because she'd surprised him, but because...

This was the first time he'd been out and about in Wano without his black body armor. He'd nearly put it on out of habit, before deciding that it was hot, he'd prefer looser clothes and what was there to hide from now anyway? Yet the moment the geisha touched his bare skin he suddenly realized that he hadn't had contact with someone other than Kaido without the armour acting as a barrier for... for...

Had it actually been decades? Had it been that long?

“After everything that happened, you must be exhausted.” The girl said sweetly. “I'd be happy to attend to you tonight, if you wish. Your pains can finally heal now... rest as much as you want, and we'll take care of you.”

“I,” King started and stalled, trying to decipher if her meaning was platonic or more amorous. His feathers threatened to fluff up in response to his flustered state and he quickly flattened them against his back. “I wouldn't say that's necessary.”

“Never mind necessary. What do you want, Lord King?” The first girl asked, unfazed. “You deserve comfort and pleasantness after everything you've suffered through. What can we do to make you happy?” She cupped his cheek in one hand. “Happier than you've ever been in your life?”

It was impressive that neither of the geisha seemed to feel Alucard staring a hole in their skulls, nor hear him heatedly whisper 'what is up with the women of Wano?!' to an equally wary Anubis. King was too busy concentrating on not sputtering or acting strangely cornered to notice that; nor Black Maria's amused look or Queen's furiously jealous one.

“I want my people to be alive again,” King said, jumping on the first thing that felt safe to say in response to that. Saying anything about the kids felt like asking for a mother for them, and he had no idea... he'd never...

Neither girl seemed fazed. “We're young. Beyond that, I've delivered a healthy son before.” The second girl offered, softly, just for him amongst the riot of sound in the party.

“N-Not tonight,” King said, finally regaining some control of his nerves. “Some other time, perhaps.” It was kicking the can down the road, but at least it gave him some time to try and wrap his head around this sudden – w-whatever it was!

He can't be that attractive, surely not. Once they've gotten past the novelty of seeing him unmasked, they'll calm down and lose this strangely intense attraction to him.

Thankfully this seemed to satisfy the odd geisha, who began paying some attention to the children as well as him. King pretended not to notice that other women seemed to be drifting towards their area; clearly he was more tired than he realized and his newly discovered nerves were playing tricks on him. They probably just wanted to avoid Queen, who had a bit of a...reputation.

King rarely stuck around for too long when celebrations went on for a long time. He'd avoided drinking alcohol or partaking in any drugs for years because they both risked loosening his tongue and exposing his heritage, and after Punk Hazard he had zero interest in drugs for anything short of medical emergencies. It didn't help that he found many of his crewmates rather insufferable, doubly so when they were drunk or drugged up.

But his children seemed to be having fun – Himawari was eagerly testing every treat offered for her satisfaction, Rocinante was retelling the story of Saturn's defeat and death to an eager circle of listeners and blushing whenever someone said he'd been 'so brave'... Ginji was demonstrating his Paw fruit powers to help a serving girl who'd tripped and scalded herself with the hot food she'd been carrying, Tiger was explaining the nature of fish men to some curious ears... Anduriel was begging for old Wano poetry books, all while Alucard and Anubis were handling rowdy drunks with brutal efficiency.

It was amusing to see Queen gaping when Anubis knocked out a dead-drunk Jack with an offhand backhand and one follow up neck chop courtesy of Alucard. So King wasn't in a hurry to slip away as soon as he could politely make an exit.

“-place for the newborn Lunarians to stay? Specifically for them?” A voice near Kaido caught his attention some time later, causing King to turn in his friend's direction.

Kaido, showing the tell tale signs that he was starting to get tipsy, chuckled. “Oh, I have a plan for that. Part of it will require my borrowing one of my broker's minions for terraforming's sake, but for the first part? The first part is ready and waiting for repairs.”

“Really?” King asked, surprised. Kaido hadn't mentioned he'd been thinking about accommodations for the Lunarians he hoped to have the satellites clone; though of course they'd been in a hurry and he'd been more than a little distracted. His friend probably suspected he wouldn't register it if told beforehand.

“Of course!” Kaido said genially, a hiccup causing his shoulders to shiver. “Kuri sits basically empty, does it not?”

King's eyes widened. A surprised hush fell over half of the room, including Orochi and his personal bodyguards.

“Before Kozuki Oden was to become Shogun back in the day, he resided in Kuri and the castle that once stood there,” Kaido continued, unfazed by the atmosphere. “One of the greatest warriors I ever met in battle. He died too soon!” Yup, he was definitely getting tipsy. Kaido certainly felt great respect for Oden, but it wasn't something he made public – after all, it rather contradicted the propaganda Orochi had been putting out since they took over. “I left Kuri's castle sitting empty because no one was worthy of it... a prince should sit there! But my son is still too caught up in rebelliousness to be prepared for such a responsibility.”

He grinned at King. “So I think it's about time I gave it to King.”

“Kuri?” King repeated, flustered. “The whole prefecture?” He was a lot of things; a leader of the Beast Pirates, a swordsman, tactically brilliant, but an administer of a day to day city? No. He did not have a working grasp on the many moving parts that required.

“It's all yours, for you and the children!” Kaido responded cheerfully, knocking back his current drink and completely finishing it. “It will require – hic! - some repairs, but I'm sure our new scientists will find a way to ensure that's handled in good time.”

King thought about that, a twist of emotions in his chest. Kuri... the place where Oden's two children died. “Thank you, Kaido.” He said. This answered his worries about the children having to stay in Onigashima beautifully. The twinge nibbling into his conscience prompted him to follow up, “Do you mind if I handle over the seeing myself?”

Kaido chuckled. “It's yours now, do as you please,” he said easily.

There's a spike of rage in the room – rage unfathomable and unending – that lasted for all of half a second before being smothered like a campfire covered in sand. King looked around, trying to find the source, but all he saw were the startled faces of the natives, Orochi sputtering in wordless protest, and Queen going green at the face. Must have been one of those two, he thought.

Alucard's wings mantled slightly – all the children did as they swiveled to look into the crowd. “Huh,” Rocinante muttered. “Interesting.”

King was about to ask them what they were talking about, but got interrupted by an almighty shriek of shock that seemed to rock the palace. “What the devil?” Kaido muttered in confusion.

A minute later, Bao Huang came rushing into the room, clutching a stack of bounties. “Kaido, sir! Kaido, sir! New! They're new! You will not believe,” the girl babbled, tripping over someone who hadn't moved out of her way fast enough. “Ouch!”

“What have you got there? Bounties?” Kaido requested in exasperation. “How is that worthy of screaming like Wano is being invaded?”

“B-Because!” Bao gasped, scrambling back to her feet and running up to him. “Look! Look!” She grabbed the topmost bounty and held it up shakily. “It's King!”

King's eyebrows tabled in confusion. Of course his bounty went up, considering what he did, what was she so surprised about?

Kaido blinked, looked at the poster, then blinked again and leaned forward violently. All drunkenness left his body instantly. “SIX BILLION?!” He roared.

“What?” King uttered in quiet confusion. He got to his feet and quickly walked over to join his friend, looking over his shoulder... and he nearly choked on absolute nothing.

It was a new Wanted Poster for him, alright – one that had a picture of him maskless and without his armor, fighting with his sword drawn in Egghead. The way the picture was framed and angled, he looked like an unearthly fallen angel – a terrifying entity sent to punish the unfortunate, one who was only more frightening for his human features. And the number below it was...

Wanted Only Alive: Alber the Godkiller. Six Billion Berries.

“What the...?” King repeated in his usual stoic voice, vastly underselling his shock.

He expected his bounty to be higher. He didn't expect it to be higher than his Captain's – even higher than ROGER'S – while bearing his original name!

“Hey, let me see!” Queen yelled, shoving at his shoulder to get a look himself. King elbowed him in the ribs and glared at him. Queen's eyes widened and his irises shrunk down to pinpricks. “W-W-What the f*ck?! That's bigger than yours, Kaido!

Kaido hastily shoved the bounty into King's hands and grabbed the rest of the stack from Bao, quickly sifting through it. “They didn't raise mine!” He bellowed, irate, his voice emitting a hint of his Haki. The people in the room trembled and scrambled for support. “You cheap sons of bitches! I was there too! I ripped your pathetic elder's heart out more than once! You make King worth more than Roger without lifting mine by a single berri?!”

“I can't believe it,” King muttered, rocking back on his heels. “I couldn't have done this without you, Captain. That had to be deliberate.” He took a breath and slowly glanced down at his bounty again. “Only Alive, huh? I guess the remainder very much want to carry out that threat Saturn made towards me.”

Kaido exhaled, all but breathing steam. “They can only wish,” he said darkly. “I see I'm going to have to make a public appearance to complain about this.”

“Hey! Did any of us get new bounties, or was it really just King?!” Ulti demanded. She lunged forward and grabbed the papers Kaido had thrown on the floor in fury, shuffling through them. “Hey, that doctor lady got three billion! Wonder if she'll make it here alive with that hanging over her head... Some paradise brat... Hanco*ck's bounty is up a billion, what the f*ck did she do to contribute more than me?!”

She tossed the paper aside, indignant. Himawari caught it and stared at the picture of her 'mother'. Ulti was about to toss the last one aside when she suddenly froze mid movement. “Gol D Ace?” She uttered in confusion.

Kaido's head snapped up. “What did you just say?” He said, his voice deathly quiet. The chaotic babbling that had started after King's bounty was confirmed instantly fell silent.

“Gol D Ace,” Ulti repeated. “Wait, this is Portgas, isn't it? Why the f*ck does he suddenly have Roger's last na – gerk!” Kaido snatched the paper from her mid-sentence, causing her to almost topple over. “Hey!”

Kaido held the bounty close to his face and stared at it. King cautiously took a step forward and leaned over his shoulder.

It was Portgas D Ace, alright; his bounty lifted to two point five billion. But something told him that Kaido wasn't giving the number a second glance; his eyes were fixed completely on the young man's face. As King gazed at him too, the name floating in the air, he started to see it... the parts of Roger that Ace had inherited, hidden just enough by his mother's genetics to hide him from scrutiny. The smirk, the wild black hair, the lack of fear of death that burned in his eyes

“Roger.” Kaido uttered after a long moment of silence. A chuckle built up in his throat, which quickly increased to an incredulous, angry sort of amusem*nt. “That year, I was robbed by Roger's brat.” He laughed out loud. “You bastard, you gave them the slip one last time to ensure you could keep bedevilling me some way, huh? Hah! I almost respect that! Hahahaha!”

He grabbed King's arm. “Too bad! This time the Most Wanted Pirate in the world is MINE! I hope I'll see you when I go to claim your fallen crown!”

Nervous laughter filled the air, hoping it would keep Kaido from lashing out. Amidst his shock, King didn't notice that three people had left the room.

Denjiro staggered out onto the balcony and pressed his hands against the railing, sucking in a deep breath of clean air. It had taken all the strength, all the discipline and desperation he'd ever drawn on, to keep himself from drawing his sword when Kaido so cavalierly gave Oden's achievement over to his second in command. As if it was his to pass on! That bastard... how dare that bastard...!

His hands trembled as he vehemently cursed himself, cursed the pity and compassion that dared creep in for the black winged swordsman upon hearing how much he had lost – how much he'd suffered, suffered and suffered before Kaido found him and saw an opportunity for a powerful, deathly loyal minion. Kuri was not theirs! The idea of them taking up residence there was too much... one indignity too many...

Yet he could do nothing... if he attempted to defend his master's lands openly, Kaido would simply smite him. Attempting to assassinate King on the sly, meanwhile... it seemed a deeply difficult to attempt, with what he now understood to be his people's terrible natural strength. Where would he even start?

“Oi. What's got you so worked up?”

...A child's voice should not sound so cold and calculating.

Denjiro turned around, the mask of Kyoshiro immediately back in place, to find one of the Seraphim standing in front of him. The boy with the sword... Alucard, right? His youth was so, so clear, yet he was so tall compared to what a human child would look like in his place. His wings were mantled like a bird ready to dive bomb its target; the flames between those wings crackled ominously.

Standing a little ways back – pointedly blocking off the doorway back into the main hall, at that – was one of the other boys, half and half without other exotic blood in his veins. Rocinante was frowning at him... he expression completely erased the innocent sincerity he'd worn while talking to the people into the frigid stare of a predator. Cold, composed, and ready to pounce.

It was sickening in the dread it inspired. Five year old children shouldn't be capable of making that sort of expression.

“I'm afraid I've indulged perhaps a little too much,” Denjiro responded smoothly, lightly. “Forgive me for taking my leave without asking permission first...

Alucard snorted. His unnatural star shaped irises dug into the samurai like throwing knives. “There's cybernetics in my head designed to augment my Observation Haki.” He told the older man blandly. “Your adrenaline spiked when Kaido gave King that prefecture, full of hatred and loathing... then dropped in a very practiced manner. You're very practised at deceiving people, aren't you?” His hand moved back and settled on the hilt of his sword. “If you're somebody's plant... I suggest fessing up immediately. It will make things painless.”

Those scientists saw fit to put something like that into a child's head? In all of their heads? They would fit in just fine with Kaido's gang of monsters.

Denjiro thought quickly, to deflect the child's suspicion, and said, “Orochi had promised me that I could inherit Kuri for my years of loyal service.” He said, letting a bit of his genuine anger seep into his voice. “Kaido didn't even consult us before giving it away.”

Alucard's eyes narrowed into slits. “Really,” He said, unimpressed. Denjiro couldn't quite parse if he believed him or not. “What do you think, Roci?”

“It's an explanation.” Rocinanate responded, shrugging. “Doesn't mean it's true. It does mean that if we just kill him, we'll create problems between Orochi and Kaido though.” He sounded no more than mildly annoyed at the prospect.

“I think children should tread more carefully when threatening people,” Denjiro said coolly.

There's a blur that passes by in half a blink and cool metal was nibbling at his throat. Instinctively he went for his sword, only for something thin and painfully tight to yank back on his wrist, pinning it behind his back. The children's expressions did twitch at this – letting in a little anger. Rocinante lifted his fingers, allowing moonlight to glisten along the thin strings connected to him.

“You trained all your life to be a weapon.” Alucard said, artificially bored despite the light burning in those unnatural eyes. “Not bad. But we were born to be weapons. The one who should be careful is you.”

“Stay away from King.” Rocinante said, the hard note of a threat entering his voice. His strings tightened around Denjiro's wrists to the point of cutting his circulation. “Stay away from Kuri.”

“You...!”

“It must be hard for you to imagine, but we had nothing before he saved us – not even humanity.” Rocinante interrupted, as if he was talking to a particularly stupid shellfish. “We'd never been embraced, offered treats, allowed to run around chasing butterflies or play in the dirt. We weren't allowed joy or cheer or sorrow, or even our own thoughts. We were nothing. Just empty tin soldiers to be used until we broke.”

Alucard's eyes flashed. “He made us real,” He said. “He's precious to us. Do you understand?” Denjiro said nothing. He couldn't possibly understand in total... but he did understand in part, and how could he explain that without exposing himself?

The boy's expression stayed level. “Any threat to King will be destroyed with extreme prejudice.” He said with the finality of an executioner. “If you're a threat to him, I will erase you from living memory.”

“King says that samurai aren't afraid to die,” Rocinante added, co*cking his head like a bird of prey. “I promise you... I can make you afraid to live.”

The string released Denjiro's wrist and Rocinante turned his back on him. “I hope you're telling us the truth, Kyoshiro,” he said with a degree of the softness he'd shown inside. “Goodbye for now.” Alucard lowered his sword, sheathed it, and followed Rocinante back into the building.

Denjiro slowly looked down at his bloodied wrist. It was shaking. He balled his hand into a fist and fought to get his breathing back to normal.

Notes:

Y'know, I meant to include King telling Kaido about Kuma and how he plans to go looking for him in this chapter, but then I noticed that it was already twelve pages long. So I'mma gonna hold off on that for a bit, haha! As you can see, I had a lot of thoughts for King's perspective in this moment!

It seems little Angel Terminators still need a little domestication; honestly it's not that strange. Both Doffy and Cora were pretty trigger happy when their respective family protectorates were in danger, to say nothing of Mihawk's baggage.

Chapter 20

Summary:

Coby wrestles with his damaged spirit. Luffy comes to a conclusion.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

G8 was surprisingly quiet at night. There was a regular patrol, but they passed by the dorms quietly enough they were hardly noticeable. Yet it was two in the morning and Coby couldn't sleep. The pink haired boy stared blankly at the ceiling, his face dull and expressionless. Occasionally he glanced to the right where Helmeppo was snoring away on a mattress not far from him.

Reminding himself that he was still there.

Nothing helped. Counting the cracks in the ceiling, lying there with his eyes shut, trying to read a book or latch on to some other distraction, none of it allowed him to drift off to sleep. He'd been lying there for an hour with his eyes closed and had gotten nowhere. Even the nightmares of that day would be welcome if he could only just fall asleep.

Coby breathed out and swung his legs off the side of the bed. His loose night clothes ripple slightly as he reached under his pillow and grabbed the folded up papers he'd been keeping there. Not bothering to put slippers on, Coby carefully wove his way between the many medical beds in this barracks to the door and walked outside. The wood is cool beneath his feet, almost cold.

Not so much as the ocean water. Strangely, that's what anchored him; it kept him in the present. Coby walked down the hallway down, to the left, and straight out to one of the open-air pathways on the outside of the building. He sucked in a deep breath of sea salt tinged air and closed his eyes against the breeze as he walked down the hallway.

The light is low; it's almost a new moon, and he's on the opposite side of the Marine Base from the gates. Spotlights panned the water occasionally, the dull light reflecting in Coby's eyes. He came to a stop and rested his arms on the concrete barrier.

He flipped open the paperwork he'd been carrying around for days now. The Notice of Resignation was crinkled from his constant holding of it, from being stuffed under pillows and kept in his coat pocket. The wording of the paperwork was bland and very standardized; his writing at the relevant points seemed all the more messy and disorganized for it. It was legible, at least.

The office people would probably like it better than the guy who'd stamped 'f*ck you, I quit' across his and threw it on their desk before stomping out.

Yet he hadn't handed it in yet.

In the process, we had a second task as well.” The doctor's voice drifted through his mind; Coby put a hand over his mouth. “Burning them, boiling them, freezing them... whatever horrible thought just entered your mind...”

His thoughts had gone off, just like she'd predicted. Remembering things Alvida had threatened her crew with... One time, she'd threatened to tie the anchor around one guy and throw him overboard until he learned to 'breathe water'. Coby remembered how terrified he'd been then, how Alvida had loomed over his mind like a shadow when he'd entered the Navy and began to train under Garp.

'Captain Morgan is gone! We're finally free!'

Coby exhaled shakily. His hands shivered, forcing him to hold the pages tighter so he didn't lose risk dropping them.

Genocide. His white knuckled hands briefly, in a phantom moment, seemed to be covered in blood. He shook his head violently, driving the images away. No matter how long he'd tossed and turned and sat there thinking about it, he just couldn't understand how the Marines who'd helped slaughter an whole people could live with themselves.

How did they convince themselves that they'd done the right thing? How did they not toss and turn, not tremble at the weight of what they'd done... no, how could they so brazenly lie about the very existence of their crime without going insane? Coby felt like he was withering away just knowing that the organization he'd been a part of had done this.

“If all you cared about was power, why not just be a pirate?” Coby whispered. His knuckles whitened a little, trembling slightly. “Ruling with only your personal satisfaction mattering, killing anyone who steps out of line or doesn't bow to you, the Emperors do that. They do it without apologizing or pretending to be someone else. Why... why bother with this horrible charade?”

He looked up at the sky. All the stars were out in force for the first time since he arrived here... the clouds had finally been blown away.

“What's the point?” Coby wondered. “Did... did it just sound better to say you were doing all of these things for justice?”

He hadn't been in the Marines for long; training under Garp, he'd been involved in rescuing people from pirates and taking down some threats on this side of the Red Line while improving his own strength along the way. They'd been able to save lives, set an island free, and the feeling of being able to help others, improve their lives... there wasn't a better feeling in the world.

Coby had thought he'd known the pitfalls of the Navy thanks to his and Luffy's encounter with Captain Morgan, all the way back in Shells Town. Garp had ranted and complained often enough about the 'corrupt punks' that had buried themselves in the system that any remaining naivety he'd possessed had been put to bed. But he'd still thought that...

“This is all that stands between pirates and innocent people?” He asked himself, his voice trembling a little. “A government that will turn around and wipe them out as soon as it suits them?”

His fingers tightened in the papers. “Are these our only two options? Mass murders who will lie about who they are and pirates like Kaido, who never pretended to be anything but mercurial tyrants?” Coby felt tears prickle at the corners of his eyes and buried his face in his arms. “Dammit!”

His dream, his guiding force in life, was to be able to save other people's lives. Yet in being a Marine, was he just a guileless optimist who'd get suckered into participating in ghoulish crimes like Doctor Surridge had been?

...And if he left, abandoned the Marines in hopes of finding a pursuit of Justice that wasn't a lie... how was he supposed to achieve his dream? How could he trust anyone, any organization that might claim to be the people's protectors, to not be another shell game for some monsters with a god complex?

“I don't know what to do,” Coby admitted, hiccuping. Tears were threatening to come, now that he was alone and not trying to be strong in front of his friend and mentor. “I want to... to save the Marines somehow, but is that even possible? And if I leave, where could I go?”

...The Revolution was always looking for more people, wasn't it? Coby barely knew anything about them, but their mission statement was to overthrow the World Government, and – and that seemed like a good thing, now that he knew what he did. But how could he jump into a new organization blindly hoping that this time, this time it would be different?

Would they even have the power to unseat the world government, and a Kaido who had laid claim to the greatest scientific mind in the world?

Coby lifted his head and scrubbed at his eyes, sighing deeply. “It's not use... I've been thinking in this same circle for days now...” He said miserably. “Luffy... is this a sign that I don't have the same determination as you? What would you do if you were in my shoes...?”

As soon as he spoke the line out loud, he almost wanted to laugh at himself. Luffy wouldn't know, because he never would have put himself in this position in the first place. His friend trusted his gut and his inflexible belief in what made a real pirate, what act of cruelty done before him that he couldn't abide by. Luffy would fight the whole government and tear down every person who participated in the mass slaughter until none of them remained. No one could dictate to him what was the right thing to do.

And if Coby had any sort of certainty that he could create a Navy that was genuinely committed to saving the innocent, he wouldn't be dithering like this, would he...?

“Hey... you're up really late.”

The female voice startled him out of his thoughts, nearly causing Coby to fumble his resignation papers over the edge into the water below. Jerking away from the wall, he found himself looking at a tall, slender young woman with dark hair and glasses who was giving him a small, tired smile. Like him, she wasn't in uniform and seemed to be wandering the night... though unlike him she'd been smart enough to throw on a long coat over her night clothes. Her face looked kinda familiar, causing Coby to frantically wrack his brain as he tried to match a name to it.

“A-Ah! You startled me,” he gasped, putting one hand over his racing heart. “I'm sorry, I – were you sent to look for me? I didn't mean to be an inconvenience... L-Lieutenant Tashigi.” Thankfully her name rattled into place while he was babbling.

Tashigi flushed and waved her hands frantically. “N-No, it's okay, it's nothing like that!” She said, sounding almost as flustered as him. “I just, I couldn't sleep and was having a walk around. I saw you by yourself and you weren't dressed for patrol, so I thought I'd come over and check on things.”

“Oh... Thank you,” Coby said, closing his eyes as he got his breathing under control.

Tashigi walked up to him; her embarrassment melting away for the most part as it was replaced with concern. “Aren't you cold?” She asked. “The wind coming off the ocean is rather chilly tonight.”

“...To be honest, I barely noticed.” Coby admitted. Now that she'd drawn attention to it, his hands and feet had gone past 'kind of cool' to 'actually starting to get numb'. He flexed his fingers slightly in an effort to get some feeling back in them.

Tashigi took his hand in her own and immediately winced. “Don't take this the wrong way, but I really think you should come back inside,” she said. “Whatever battle you're fighting in your mind won't be won faster if you catch a cold.”

“It might force me to make a decision, at least.” Coby muttered, lifting the papers to look at them again. “It's... something I want to debate alone.”

Tashigi blinked, peering at the papers upside down for a minute. Once she'd read them, understanding flashed across her face. “Oh... I understand. A lot of arguments have been breaking out around here over this. Vice Admiral Jonathan has been keeping the peace... I'm almost afraid to think of what might be going on in other Marine bases right now.”

Coby looked at her. “Have you made up your mind?”

She looked thoughtful, if sad. “Almost. I think I know what my heart is telling me to do, but I want to see where my Captain decides to do. He's a good man, and I'd rather be able to go with him than not. However best I can emulate my sensei, I don't think I can do it alone.”

“Sensei?” Coby wondered, the unfamiliar word awkward on his tongue. “What does that mean?”

“It's a word for 'teacher' in Wano,” Tashigi said, a note of wistfulness in her voice. She seemed lost in thought for a second before there was a little spark in her eyes, and she tugged gently on his wrist. “Come inside with me, I'll make us some hot cocoa. I'd like to tell you about her, because thinking about her helped me make sense of things.”

Coby blinked slowly, then managed his first real smile in days – weak and wan though it was. “Thank you, ma'am.” He said quietly.

Tashigi guided him back down the pathway and through the door into the inside, just passing by one of the regular patrols. Coby quickly stowed his papers in his shirt pocket and let himself be pulled. Now that he was inside, he could really feel how cold his feet had gotten, and he shivered when the warmth inside curled around him.

Tashigi turned a few corners before taking him inside one of the offices that had been hastily retrofitted into a private sleeping area. The desk was pushed up against the wall and the cabinets had been moved elsewhere to make room for a bed with blankets pushed aside from a fitful sleep. There was a coffee machine on the table, with a couple cups around it suggesting it had been in frequent use. “Put the slippers on, they'll help you warm up a little faster.” She said kindly, gesturing to the fluffy white footwear. “I'll put on the hot chocolate.”

“Thank you,” Coby repeated again, a little helpless. He sank bonelessly onto the mattress, awkwardly sliding his feet into the warm material. The fabric was so soft and fluffy he felt stinging heat at the corners of his eyes again. He was so embarrassed for a moment; he wasn't a child anymore, but...

“When I was younger, my home island got invaded by pirates.” Tashigi said. “They weren't anyone with a big name, but it was the first time that raiders had managed to get past the docks into the city proper. I was just getting out of school when suddenly this woman appeared, dressed in a custom marine uniform and carrying a sword. She proceeded to take on the whole invading force by herself and completely destroyed them.”

She started grabbing things out of drawers and preparing the machine. “I'd never had a hero before, but in that moment she was a divine agent of judgement in my eyes. I'd always been fascinated by swords and swordplay, but that was the day I decided I wanted to be an enforcer of justice. Went straight to basic training and since the base was short handed, that lady decided to cover some of our classes.”

Tashigi smiled. “She introduced herself as Shirogane Tomoe.”

“I...I think I've heard that name before,” Coby realized, blinking rapidly in shock. “She was one of the greatest sword masters to ever serve the Navy! So talented and determined, but a total maverick – she was always in trouble with her superiors, just like Garp-san is...”

Tashigi chuckled. “Yeah, that was true. Tomoe-sensei was a serious person at first glance, but she had a fiery temper and a very strict code of honour – she might have sworn the Navy her sword, but that didn't mean they got to override her belief in right and wrong. When she started training me one on one, this is how she explained it to me...”

She set the cocoa to heat up and turned around, her expression shifting to mimic her teacher's – a stern expression that was a little tempered with passionate emotion. “'If a choice is between doing what's right and doing what's convenient? There's no choice at all. The path of righteousness is marked for us by the Gods, not the laws of men.'”

Coby's eyes widened. “She really said that?”

Tashini nodded. “Yeah. I asked her how I would know when the laws of the men waylaid that path. She gave me a funny look... like part of her thought I was being silly, but the other part was just sad. I almost forgot what she said next, for a while...”

She leaned on the table and closed her eyes, mimicking her teacher's voice again. “'You'll know when they ask you to do something despicable', is what she told me. 'You'll know it in your gut. As for me, it's simple... The heads of the Navy may make decisions based on whether or not it will keep them in power. I, however, make decisions based on whether I love it or hate it. I won't dishonor myself for anyone's whim – I'd rather be shot.'”

Coby blinked rapidly. It was such a simple premise, yet almost felt revolutionary for it. Simply refusing to be a part of what felt wrong. “She sounds intense,” He said lamely after a few moments of silence.

Tashigi giggled gently, wistful fondness in her eyes. “She was very intense. She really intimidated me, to be honest, and she was a harsh taskmaster when she was substituting as my trainer. But she was also the best teacher I ever had; sharp, wise, and patient... I think if I'd continued to lean from her instead of being shifted back to the original instructor, I'd be a lot better with my sword than I am now. Maybe it was something in the Samurai way that made her so effective.”

“Samurai?” Coby repeated.

“Tomoe-sensei was from Wano,” Tashigi revealed.

“Whoa! Really?!” Coby gasped, leaning forward in amazement. “But – I thought that Wano was closed off from the world – even moreso after Kaido took over.”

“I know,” Tashigi said. “The one time I asked about it, Tomoe-sensei only said that she jumped from the falls because she couldn't pursue justice as a samurai of her clan. She didn't elaborate, and I got the sense that there was something very painful there... I don't know what though. And... I never will, I guess.”

She blew out a tired breath. “The official story is she got killed in the crossfire of a battle against Mihawk before he became a Warlord. Now I can only wonder if they told me the whole truth or not.” The machine beeped to indicate the drinks were ready, causing her to turn around. “And she was right. I got that gut feeling after Alabasta, knew that something was wrong with the Marines, but I guess... I still hoped it was better than this.”

“What happened at Alabasta?”

Tashigi filled both their glasses and walked over, sitting down next to him and offering a mug. “The official story the government put out about Crocodile's attempted takeover? It wasn't really true.” She said as Coby sipped the warm liquid. “The Straw Hats had been onto his trail before us; if it weren't for them, we wouldn't have been able to do a thing to stop him. Straw Hat Luffy was the one who defeated Crocodile; his crew helped us stop the fighting and prevent innocent people from butchering each other because of his lies and manipulation.”

She shook her head. “Captain Smoker argued vehemently against getting sole credit for it and tried to refuse his promotion, but they wouldn't budge. Said it was 'potentially destabilizing' to give a pirate credit for saving a member nation.”

“So it was Luffy,” Coby whispered. A smile crossed his face, warm and happy, at the thought of his friend. “There were rumours... Garp-san always laughed and laughed when the subject came up without explaining. Now that I know he's Luffy's grandfather, I guess it must be because he was proud of him. Even though he became a pirate instead of a Marine.”

And if being a marine wasn't something to admire all that much in the end...

“Based on whether I love it or hate it, huh?” Coby murmured, looking down at his hands. “That makes this choice so much simpler... I'm almost scared to think about it in those terms. I thought for almost my whole life that being a Marine was the path to justice, I feel like I can't trust my own judgement.”

“I think you shouldn't be,” Tashigi said, surprising him. “If you weren't a good person with iron-clad principles, you wouldn't be in such torment right now. Staying, for you, would mean trying to bring justice back into an organization that's forgotten what it means – doesn't it? Part of you wants to fight to save people who might not even deserve to be saved.” He blinked rapidly at that, and she smiled at him. “You're a tough guy, Coby. Not a lot of people are made out of stuff that stern.”

Coby felt his whole face turn bright red, and he babbled in embarrassment for a moment before taking a deep drink of cocoa in an effort to hide his nerves. “T-That's really kind of you, ma'am.”

“I'm serious.” Tashigi promised. “So I think you should trust yourself.” She lowered one hand, hovering it around where her sword would be resting if she had it buckled there. “I've decided that I'm going to try and inherit Tomoe-sensei's spirit. Never again will I let someone dictate to me what's just or wicked... I'm going to trust my heart. She saw great promise in it, and I'm tired of letting her down.”

“I won't dishonour myself,” Coby murmured, repeating the words as if to burn them into his memory. He lifted his head and gave Tashigi an earnest look. “Thank you, ma'am. I'm feeling a little better already, and I think you've told me something really important.”

She beamed at him, looking relieved. “You're welcome! I'm glad to hear that.”

“I think I'll be able to go to sleep now. Please, excuse me – I'd hate to keep you up all night.” Coby stood up, made to leave, then hurriedly spun around and bowed politely to her. “Oh, and thank you for the hot cocoa!” Sliding his feet out of the slippers, he hurried back to the dorm where Helmeppo was. Tashigi's warm goodbye lifted his spirits just a little more.

If his choices were between assisting in a genocide and being shot, he knew which one he'd rather pick. He wanted to fight to protect the innocent, and if that included facing the government, then so be it. Shirogane-sensei... your will still exists. I hope you know that.

As happy as he was and as much as he was enjoying the victory party, there's a nagging stressful thought at the back of Luffy's mind that he was having more and more trouble ignoring.

I'm not strong enough.

Thinking about how his crew had been taken away from him and scattered... that was painful enough. But it wasn't just that driving that repetitive thought anymore. He thought about how much trouble he had with Poison Guy, then how easily Traffy had used his cool powers to basically stop the guy in his tracks in one move... how he would have died trying to get to Ace if Bon-chan and Iva hadn't saved him.

It even made him think way back to when Zoro had challenged Mihawk at the Baratie... how immense the power difference between them was. Luffy was keenly aware that he, either back then or now, wouldn't be able to do any better against that guy.

I'm not strong enough... I need to get stronger.

Luffy leaned on Ace's shoulder, giggling to himself when he noticed that the older boy had dropped off into one of his sleeping fits. Pinapple guy had laughed and laughed and rested Ace's head against one of the wine barrels sitting on the deck of the Moby. They were resting just shy of Amazon Lily and the women of the island were eagerly welcoming Boa back safely, and the celebratory spirit was still lingering in the air a little. It wasn't often that you could win a war without taking a single casualty, and with the grim shadows on the horizon, merriment should be taken wherever it was found.

Ace had told him what happened to the Smart Person Island at the same time that Luffy was trying to rescue him. Luffy didn't understand a whole lot about it; mostly he wished Nami and Robin were here to help him put all this information in context.

But what he did get was that this Beast guy, Kaido, who was just as strong as Ace's Pops, had gone and kidnapped the Smartest Guy in the World while the Marines were busy preparing to try and execute Ace. The Smart Guy had made children from a race of people who'd gotten wiped out 'cept for one guy, like Robin's; that one survivor was Kaido's version of Zoro, so he'd wanted to rescue the kids and bring them home with him.

Since Boa had never liked a guy before meeting him, Luffy asked if the smart guy made the kids out of clay, which made Pops and some of Ace's brothers laugh really hard for some reason. Ace had rolled his eyes affectionately and said 'who even knows', before getting serious and explaining that Kaido was going to be a lot stronger as a result of this. So he and his crew were gonna be busy, preparing for future conflict with him.

Luffy had wanted to insist that he would be there too, but the thought in his head made him hesitate.

I'm not strong enough... yet. If I'm going to become King of the Pirates, achieve my crew's dreams, and fight on equal ground with Ace, I have to get stronger. My whole crew has to get stronger.

But how?

Luffy knew he wasn't the smartest guy; he still didn't understand that whole Haki thing that made Boa and her sisters super strong and able to ignore his devil fruit powers. But he knew that it would make him stronger, and he didn't know how to train in it. So he needed to find someone... who knew it inside and out...

Slowly, Luffy's gaze traveled to the door leading to the Moby Dick's interior. Traffy had finished up old man Whitebeard's surgery this morning... maybe he was awake now?

Luffy carefully got to his feet so he wouldn't disturb Ace's sleep and trotted down the deck. If he wasn't awake now, he'll just ask again later. He went inside and went looking for one of the nurses he'd seen going in and out ever since he came aboard the ship. Ah, there!

“'Scuse me,” he said politely, running over to the older lady he'd just seen marveling at a medical chart in her arms.

“Ah!” She jumped and shook her head. “Oh, it's you, little cousin. You startled me!”

“How's the old man? Can I go and talk to him? I gotta ask him about something,” Luffy said, bouncing on his heels.

The woman blinked owlishly at him for a moment before saying, “Father is awake, but he's still lethargic from the marathon surgery. Please don't prod him to overexert himself; otherwise I don't see a problem with that.”

“I gotcha. Thank you! Uh... which way do I go?” Luffy looked around the various different hallways, frowning. They all looked the same to him.

“Hehe...” The woman giggled at that; something about the tone of her voice reminded him of Makino. “I'll show you the way. Come on.” She took his hand and lead him down one of the hallways and through a set of double doors deeper into the ship's interior.

It took a minute or two, but eventually they came to a door and the woman gently rapped her knuckles against it. “Father? Little cousin is excited to ask you something. Do you have a moment?”

“Gurararara...” Luffy couldn't help but smile a little. The old man's voice sounded deeper than before Law had started operating on him – like, it was fuller, had more strength behind it. “I'm not so fragile, dear, especially now. Let him in.”

She opened the door and Luffy hopped inside before trying to rearrange his expression into something more serious. Newgate was sitting up in bed, wrapped in bandages and looking pretty tired, but pleased. He arched one eyebrow a little when Luffy approached his bedside. “I think this is the first time I've seen you with an expression other than carefree cheer,” the old man remarked. “Have Marco and the others finally banned you from the kitchen?”

“Uh... maybe?” Luffy pouted for a second, then shook his head. “Actually, I've been thinking very seriously, and my crew needs more time to prepare before we sail into the New World.”

Both eyebrows went up. “Oh...? Very mature of you to have come to that conclusion on your own. Many hotheads like you dash themselves into bloody stains upon the New World rather than admit to weakness.”

“Yeah... well...” Luffy's fists tightened. “When I couldn't stop Kuma from sending my nakama away, or when I couldn't beat the Warden Guy on my first try, I thought to myself that there hadn't been such a gap of strength between people I'd just fought and people who defeated me before, 'cept for Stupid Croc. And I managed to raid Impel Down, but Hanco*ck was the one who actually saved Ace... If I was at least as strong as her, I would have been able to get to him on my own.”

Luffy stood with a straight back and the most polite posture he knew, taking his hat in his hand. “That's why I want to ask...” He put it on his chest like he'd seen Sabo do way back when and bowed. “Please train me, Uncle! Teach me Haki, so I can become the Pirate King!”

Notes:

The mysterious Tomoe has a little more revealed about her... and Luffy has definitely caught Pops by surprise! I wrote this chapter while sick with a cold, so I hope it's up to the usual quality. Enjoy!

Chapter 21

Summary:

Kaido vents his anger at not having his bounty increased. Edison and Lilith are given their first orders.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Very little gave Kaido pleasure. Drinking, fighting, lording his power over the islands he conquered... despite the front he put up, he didn't really enjoy them. Or at least, he didn't enjoy the last one as much as people assumed. He made no effort to correct them. He didn't particularly enjoy inflicting pain and suffering on people, even the ones in his own domain.

Of course, the reverse was true as well.

Kaido was vicious and destructive and he owned that part of himself; the savagery, the mercilessness, the fear he inflicted on anyone who dared cross him. He wasn't in denial, like the pathetic wretches who controlled the government or the coward king of Vodka who sent all the children out to fight his battles in his place. It was what he was – forged through battle, carved into his skin from the day he was old enough to understand and branded on his back. He was an Oni; a demon who's blood sang with battle and thirsted for violence by nature. He didn't create, he destroyed.

Kaido embraced his strength from that tender age. Tore the head off of the coward king as soon as he got the opportunity, then destroyed the army that he'd been forced to serve. The strength that Rocks had seen and gladly embraced, taking him into his crew. No one could kill him! His will was inevitable! Only his fellow monsters, Edward, Roger, Linlin, Mihawk, Shanks and Garp could contest it!

And yet... nothing had ever truly made him happy. Occasionally Kaido wondered if his days on the battlefield, barely seven years old, had caused him to take a wound that never healed. He couldn't say, and saw no point in pursuing the question now. A wound that old will have long set, immutable.

He was just...tired. Bereft of joy, pleasure, satisfaction, all of the emotions that made life worth living. He was adrift, every day of his continued existence feeling like dull, bothersome drudgery. The world had lost its colour, its lustre; stubbornly unchanging and static. Whatever he did to alleviate his exhausting, sour misery never seemed to succeed for long.

All of his exercises in attempted suicide had come to nothing, and more's the pity, attempting to put his life in danger hadn't given him a spark of those positive, life-affirming feelings or even a rush of adrenaline. He was just left with disappointment and occasionally a headache.

The only exception to that were moments like this, and the time he spent with Alber – just the two of them.

Kaido flew through the air with purpose, occasionally putting on more speed to faster close the distance between himself and his target. The storm conjured all around him was light, a rumbling warning of thunder and light rain... but it wouldn't stay that way for long. His blood was singing through his veins, excitement carrying him the long distance between Wano and his target.

Finally, he could keep the promise that he'd made to King so long ago – this miserable, static world would be destroyed and reforged! The limp corpse of mother earth had been shocked back to life, stilled heart restarted with the fury of lightning from heaven! Kaido smirked with utter delight as he tore across a sky that once again glowed blue in his eyes. The work had just begun, yet he was alight with glee and excitement at the challenge.

The pathetic government had finally lost its grip on power... they were reeling, ripped in half, and merely waiting to be finished off. But there was one place amidst their power base that had not yet felt the bite of the world being rent, encased safely away from all consequences... as usual.

Kaido turned slightly to the west, heading towards Sacred Mariejois.

It had been a long flight, crossing several days. It didn't matter. He could reach a sky island if he needed to rest on the return trip, and he didn't intend to do a full on assault alone today. King deserved to be here for that, to co lead their armada against the inbred co*ckroaches living within these walls.

The reason he was here by himself...? Kaido's oni blood had heated up when he found his bounty hadn't changed. That those disgusting World Nobles were innured still from any fear or suffering, that they dared to pay him no mind while outraged over Saturn's execution.

They'd made a game out of slaughtering King's family and people. Kaido growled, his claws slicing through clouds as he began to approach his destination at long last, somewhat hidden by the shifting haze of weather.

He remembered every second of that doctor's call. How it had almost broken his friend.

Shut up... STOP LYING TO ME!” King threw a glass at the wall, shattering it. Kaido didn't need to see beneath his mask to feel the heat of his glare, notice how his dominant hand was subtly shaking. The snail looked absolutely terrified, despite mimicking the calm expression Surridge was wearing. “I am the last Lunarian!”

Surridge closed her eyes, as if she were in pain. Evidently she wasn't enjoying this. Good. That would net her a quick, somewhat peaceful death. “You were.” She said, drawing a picture out of her files. “Until five years ago.”

She held the small photo up close so it would be completely clear. King stopped breathing altogether as he stared at the image... that of a tiny Lunarian baby, a few days old at best, with some medical jargon scribbled at the bottom corner along with Vegapunk's ecstatic signature. “Now there are seven more,” Delia said, her voice shivering with guilt on each word.

Kaido felt a mild flare of disbelief as he tried to figure out how, how the mad doctor had managed to do this – how could he have created a Lunarian, when King was here and the others are all long gone? How?

That curiosity melted away when he glanced at his friend. King still wasn't breathing; slowly he sank to his knees, his wings flared like he was in combat, and his hand was visibly shaking hard. “No... it can't be...” King murmured, his voice raw and dry. “W...Weapons...?”

King,” Kaido started, pausing in search for words.

Then King... Alber... uttered an intense, harrowing scream from the depths of his soul. Conqueror's haki exploded out of him like a suffocating tsunami, knocking a surprised Kaido over flat and seizing all of Onigashima to shake it like a child's toybox. He'd never lost control of his haki before. Kaido pushed himself upright even as he was engulfed in the full breadth of Alber's emotions...

Anguish! So much anguish! Rage coloured it too, red hot admist a grief that ran deeper than the deepest pits of the ocean. It felt endless, like a gaping wound assaulted and ripped open to reveal the void between the stars... Kaido had known it existed, but for it to be so powerful... he'd never fully understood until it was impressed upon him and experienced.

It felt like getting stabbed in a sense he didn't even know he had.

Alber's voice finally cracked and he slumped over, pressing his hands against the floor as he tried to breathe. He was trembling, his wings lowering like all the strength had gone out of him. He looked weak and vulnerable. These people... they had taken everything from him, then brought a whisper of it back as a gruesome mockery of his memories. His Alber had been robbed in a way that words could not define.

Worry flickered through Kaido. He glanced at the door and the snail, ensuring that yes, the latter was knocked out and no one else saw his right hand's moment of vulnerability. Then his mind turned to the children, and all the doctor had revealed.

Slaves... But weren't slaves alive? Didn't they think and wonder and weep when you tormented them? Couldn't they decide to do something without your input, even if it was just to seek death? These Seraphim, they would have even that. They were beneath even slaves... they were just things.

Rage filled Kaido, heady and demanding.

How dare they do this to his friend?

Kaido snarled and poured energy into the gathering storm around him. He was close now; very close to his target. He just needed to contain his anger for just a little longer.

His friend... the only person who understood him, met him on equal ground, understood the twisted up ruins that had been left of his emotions. The only person who could make him feel! When he'd saved Alber at first, he hadn't expected how meaningful his choice had been. Not until the younger man approached him fearlessly and spoke to him like he was human and not a battle brained Oni, who saw a heroic path for him – a saviour, the emissary of a god!

He engaged with him on every level, in battle and without it. He was smart, brave, and elegant in his approach to everything. Kaido liked talking to him, rather than it being a frustrating chore that dealing with the rest of his crew and allies were. He enjoyed his King's insights, his support, how keenly he felt the emotional ruin they both were.

When Kaido had proven to be not quite what he'd expected, King had stayed by his side. No one else had ever remained... no one.

Kaido entered the airspace of Mariejois with a rush of malicious glee. Far below he could sense the little so called 'dragons' skittering about like so many ants, shocked at the sudden turn of weather and staring up at the sky like clueless meerkats. Kaido began to circle this area of the Red Line, spreading his storm across the whole of the glittering capital. The palace that had been bought with the blood of the true gods of the sprawling continent.

“There it is... the scent of fear,” Kaido sneered.

Finally he unleashed his power, pouring rain and lightning upon Maeriejois under a sky as black as midnight. Kaido dived into the clouds, getting low enough so he could better see the damage he was doing. Towers were cracked and blasted open by lightning, and the rain fell like sheets... without haki to guide them, the people on the ground were all but blind as they attempted to flee to safety. Kaido circled around, searching for a good target for his blast breath. He needed to leave his signature, a statement, along with his warning of what was to come.

When he came here again, he would inflict every horror the Lunarians suffered upon these people.

'Look out! That thing killed every squad we've sent after it! Shoot it down, shoot it down!'

'Coward?! Bite your tongue, you cur! I've sent my kingdom's greatest assets out to fight our enemies! The Oni is a monster beyond compare... you should be grateful that I have a collar on it instead of bleating at me like this!'

Those celestial dragons would pay for King's pain until the debt they owed was paid.

Men would be crucified and left to die as their riches were stolen and destroyed, left to exposure and the vultures. Women would be made to watch as their children were burned alive in front of them, stabbed in the abdomen until they expired. Some of them would be poisoned and shackled and flung to their former slaves for them to do with as they wished. Others would be tied to anchors and cast over the side of the Red Line.

Kaido would give some of them to Queen to see how long they'd survive his experiments. He could probably replicate some of the testing they'd preformed on captured Lunarians, if Surridge had brought all that paperwork along with her.

Some of them should be kept alive. Remain as miserable prisoners forever, watching from a tower as King's people were brought back to life, free to enjoy the bounty and the pleasures of the world without fear or concern.

'Why do you think there are so few Oni...? The species was so rabid, they wiped each other out. There was no bigger monster to hunt! This one must be a mutant if it's smart enough to speak in complete sentences. How creepy.'

Eh?! What do you mean, it's in pain? Drug it until it's back on its feet, more of them are coming. ...Don't look at me like that, it's an Oni! It'll barely feel anything.”

Gahahaha! You did that all by yourself? Impressive! ...Truly, I am impressed. One could have a bloodline that gives you all the advantages one could hope for, yet have a weak will unable to make anything of them. You're covered in scars... clearly every idiot before me as only seen a beast; well, I see a warrior! What's your name?”

Lightning struck several people head on. Kaido opened his mouth slightly and familiar heat built up inside it, his eyes flaring as those old memories circled around his mind. He rarely paid them much mind...consciously, at least.

...Kaido, eh? Come aboard! You'll be right at home with this motley crew of mine!”

Why would I want to do that?”

A grin met that answer, pleased at his pushback, pleased that he was driven and not just a puppet in need of direction. “Because I'm going to destroy the world. And I'd hate for you to miss out.”

Kaido dropped below the storm clouds, letting all the souls below bear witness to him. Playfully he counted off inside his head until he picked one of his potential targets... a massive, disgustingly over-detailed auction house. “Blast Breath!” He growled before firing a blast directly at it.

The building vanished underneath it instantly; the explosion rattled the street and spewed debris in every direction, flames catching on the combustible material within burning hot enough that the pounding rain didn't immediately extinguish it. Kaido laughed, adrenaline pounding in his ears as a wave of sheer ecstasy washed over him as he observed the damage he's done. There was a crater at the point of impact, unable to be covered up.

Forces were forming on the ground; the Gods Knights, no doubt. “Kaido!” A voice bellowed through an enhancer, still almost lost among the rolling thunder and lightning. “You vile demon!”

Kaido laughed even harder. They actually think that's an insult...!

He was! He was an Oni! A Rocks Pirate! He was a demon, a monster, the beast created by heaven to punish the sinful! He'd known this since he was a child, since he'd been sent to kill and destroy until he won or his life expired; and he wore that mantle the way one wore their flesh and blood. His only crime in that regard was not being a f*cking coward and admitting it!

YES!” He roared back, unleashing a fraction of his conqueror's on the kingdom below. Lightning crashed with his mirth, blasting the concrete around his would-be opponents. “Have you nothing intelligent to say?! Your shock and outrage is embarrassing!” Fire formed in his jaws again. FOOLS!”

Kaido unleashed another blast breath at another one of his targets; a gaudy arena. It vanished too, exploding with flame and boiling stone. “You stole everything from my King, then tried to use his dead for your own ends. You robbed the devil and thought there would be no consequences?! You cheated a monster and are surprised when he comes to burn your house down?!”

Lasers flew up at him from the ground. Kaido grunted in surprise, having not expected that, narrowing his eyes to see what they were using to attack him.

Ah. The clones of the Warlord, Kuma. Kaido prepared to obliterate them to help make his point – but then the most recent conversation he had with King came back to him, and he paused his planned assault. One of these might be the real one, he reminded himself.

Memories?”

King nodded, knocking back his wine glass. The choice of drink subtly signalled how comfortable he felt around Kaido... even now that he no longer was pressured to hide his identity, King almost religiously avoided getting drunk, disliking the potential vulnerability it inflicted. He only drank when they were alone together.

All of them.” He confirmed. “I think I might have absorbed part of his soul into myself... each and every memory is as clear as if it happened to me yesterday. Logic dictates I should at least have some of the events mixed up in my head, or have some of them become fuzzy due to the sheer amount, but that hasn't happened.”

Kaido sat forward slightly, a concerned frown crossing his face. “Will they overwhelm your own?” He inquired. “Is there a possible risk of your identity being assimilated by holding... this part of Kuma within you?”

King shook his head, though his brow furrowed. “I don't think so,” he said. “So far I've had no trouble keeping mine and his separate inside my head. Though, I suppose I can't rule out the possibility unless the satellites confirm otherwise.”

Ask them. And if they need persuasion to talk...”

I know. I don't think that will be necessary, though... if they care at all about Bonney.” King said, rubbing his forehead.

Kaido's brow furrowed. “Bonney?”

Kuma has a daughter,” King responded, taking another drink before glowering at nothing. “He traded his soul to ensure she would be cured of a terminal illness, though of course he kept this from her. I think I might know where to find her.”

You think she'll be needed to make them cooperate?”

King put his glass down and briefly looked surprised, before shaking his head. “No, I'm not worried about that. It's Kuma I'm dwelling on...” He put his hands on his knees and gave Kaido an almost entreating look. “He believes, Kaido. In Nika; apparently his people have kept passing down knowledge of him for generations before the government enslaved them. He kept the ways, he escaped from slavery and he believes he found...”

For a half second King faltered, before urgently continuing, “I, he's on my mind. He still exists, despite what the government did to his body and mind. I want to find him and return his soul back where it belongs.”

Kaido blinked. He didn't really understand why King was so visibly passionate about the man he never met, but if it's this important to him... “Do what you think you have to,” he said with an allowing shrug. What was there to worry about? King would always come back to him. “If he's kin to your people, go, find him, and set him free one way or another. The task holds value, and I'd not risk the potential consequences of you holding a soul other than your own within yourself regardless.”

Relief lit up King's face. Had he ever seen his friend smile this brightly, other than around the children? “Thank you, Kaido.” He said. “It might take some time...”

Kaido chuckled at the thought. “Well, that's one way to preoccupy oneself while waiting for renovations to be completed.” He joked. King chuffed slightly, close to a laugh, and hearing the sound gave the vicious oni rare delight.

Kaido snorted and flew in a figure eight to avoid the concentrated fire from the Pacifista. They all looked identical, so there was no real 'tell' between the copies and the original... what a nuisance. The Emperor generated a shockwave via a thunderclap that pushed the empty clones away from him, then returned his attention to the ground.

Two years,” Kaido declared with ferocious, sibilant levelness. “I give you and your protectorates, the so called gods, two years. Make your peace with whatever divine power you answer to, put your affairs in order, and pray. When those two years have elapsed, I will return with my crew and wipe all life from this city... pursue your kind to the ends of the earth until all of you are dead.”

The fear, the fear! Kaido's observation Haki was almost clogged by the terror of the Celestial Dragons who stared up at him in the sky. They were bunched up in clusters, unable to understand why the assault on their city had not been destroyed the moment their screeching voices demanded it. It was satisfying beyond words.

Of course he didn't doubt that every force available to the government was heading directly towards him. Well, he didn't intend to stick around... just a fly by was enough for now.

He slapped a few of the Pacifista down to the earth like tennis balls with his tail. They landed with a thud around the God Knights, who tensed up. “There are matters that demand my attention at the moment that are more important than smiting the roaches I see skittering around beneath me... but that will not linger long.” He said, chuckling. “Two years, before you and every monument to your power is erased from the face of the world. Two years. Until then...”

Thunder crashed, and Kaido flew up into the storm laughing. The higher the better; once he reached the altitude level with the sky islands, he would release the storm and let it dissipate as he began the journey home. Tempting as it was to linger and see the full extent of the damage it was more sensible not to risk it. He didn't survive and thrive the way he had all these years by being an arrogant blowhard like Shiki.

The Pacifista were still pursuing him... how annoying. Kaido turned and blasted them with a weaker concentration of his flame before continuing on his way. Kuma would have been able to survive that, so if he was among those weapons he should be alive and unable to continue pestering him.

Is this enough destruction and ruin, Joyboy? Kaido wondered. Must the world be faced with greater tyranny still before you appear? Am I not a great enough beast for you to defeat, a monster among demons you must fight and cast beneath you to set the people free?

The questions had drifted in and out of his mind for many years now, as he went through the motions. King had told him all of the prophecies and lore that he knew... he believed so deeply that Joyboy and through him, Nika, would appear again that he'd convinced Kaido of everything. Super charging his own interest in the fragmented myths he'd heard into total confidence that the time would come.

Yet, where was he? Was Nika so callous as to let two different peoples who believed in him suffer and die? In a vacuum, Kaido wouldn't be surprised. The title of God had never been held by the righteous throughout his existence.

But Joyboy's promises, if they were real... it wasn't malice or apathy that bound the sun god's hands from saving them. Something had kept it that way, some piece of information or other that they were still not aware of.

Perhaps all the world must be under the boot of tyranny for that threshold to be crossed, for the gods to be moved to fury and passion. Perhaps there was some other, subtler trigger, that he'd not yet considered.

Kaido flew higher into the sky, welcoming the changing air pressure and preparing to adapt to it. The sun blazed in the west horizon, burning rays warming his scales between the gaps of the heavy clouds. He sucked in a deep breath of cold air.

He'd thought to be Joyboy, at one point. That moment of hope and confidence hadn't lasted. Funny, that an Oni had aspired to such a title...

Well. He embraced his fate now. Perhaps that was why he had such trouble with his son, who was thoroughly convinced that he could escape his role in the world. ...There would be something mythically significant if Yamato found a way to kill him, wouldn't it? The beast from the pit slain by his own offspring...

Something to ponder over a bottle of good sake. Kaido stowed it away for later and began plotting his way back to Wano, with allowances made for dealing with what forces had been sent after him in response to his assault on Mariejois. If either of those two admirals got back on their feet for round two, he'd be surprised and amused.

Perhaps King will have started on his plans for Kuri by the time he returned? He's curious to see why his friend wanted to handle it himself.

Edison flinched when King... Alber... suddenly entered the back room he, Lilith, Atlas and York were being kept in.

After that parade, the four satellites had been all but frog marched to Onigashima and locked in a comfortable but barren room by Who's Who, who'd taken inordinate pleasure in informing them that they would remain in here until Kaido returned and gave them further instructions. The dragon had flown off to do Nika-knew what – Edison miserably wondered where Kaido planned to vent his fury at being snubbed on his bounty – and they'd been left here for at least a day.

There weren't any books to read, nothing they could potentially use for tools in a potential escape, and aside from being given food three times a day, absolutely no one interacted with them. It was a psychological attack, Edison was sure of it, more passive aggressive than his usual efforts since no one was allowed to hurt them.

Ah... one thing had been tossed in with them – a Celestial Dragon's slave collar. “In case you've still got funny ideas in your heads about escaping, this will be applied upon strike two.” Queen had warned them before leaving with a mocking laugh.

Horrible man... Edison couldn't say why Stella hadn't realized this from the start.

There hadn't been any windows, either, so their tracking the passage of time had been reliant on when their meals were delivered. Edison could tell that Lilith was going absolutely crazy with nothing to occupy her mind, while York alternated between fits of fear and a strange, thoughtful expression as she stared off into space... and Atlas had stormed around in fits of anger in an effort to control the impotent need to fight back against their captors somehow.

Edison had counciled her that they could not hope to escape Onigashima on their own. Their best hope at the moment was to fashion some way to get in contact with Stella, Shaka and Pythagoras and attempt to set up some sort of extraction with the Revolution's help. And Dragon must be inundated with matters demanding all of his resources right now...

They'd been quietly debating how to scavenge the materials they needed to cobble together some sort of communications device, and how to hide it, when heavy approaching footsteps quieted them and sent them to different corners of the room.

“Good. You're all awake.”

The last Lunarian's gaze swept between the four of them, causing York to whimper and attempt to hide behind Atlas. His violet eyes were hard and unreadable; his posture was much more relaxed then before, so perhaps he was naturally somewhat stoic. ...Because of what happened to him...

King snapped his fingers and pointed at Edison. “You... and you.” His finger drifted to Lilith, who arched an eyebrow. “You'll be coming with me.” He said. Cool and practical. “Tell me something; with how tall the buildings in Egghead were, I imagine you had robots involved in the construction. Am I correct?”

“What do you want to know about that?” Lilith said heatedly, causing York to stamp on her foot. “Ow!”

“Y...Yes, robots did most of the difficult tasks in construction, particularly of the sky scrapers.” Edison said, swallowing hard. “There are a number of different shapes and configurations...”

“I'll bring you to the room where the machines specifically have been put up, point them out to me then.” King responded briskly. “Most of the tasks? The process couldn't be fully automated, then.” Edison nodded, his ears shivering a little. “Very well. As for you,” his attention turned to Lilith. “What sort of practice do you have with water and soil purification?”

Lilith's expression went blank with confusion. Edison could feel her there, what? Why was King asking them about this instead of weapons production? “Practice? That sh*t's easy, just time consuming.” Lilith barked. “It's a matter of separating the toxins from dirt or water with some kind of strainer or exposure to the right chemicals in a boiling state. Why, did Queen not idiot-proof a few of your factories well enough?”

King rolled his eyes, annoyance flickering through them. Edison cringed. How this man was able to stand in the same room as them, and not give in to the desire to disembowel the four of them that must be at the back of his mind... a swordsman's discipline could explain it, but he wanted to kick Lilith and tell her not to give their victim an excuse.

“The land around Kuri has been subjected to significant damage as a result of our efforts to increase our strength. In fact, it's only one of many locations.” King said. “Seeing as the land is now my concern, I seek to remediate that, and as quickly as possible.”

“Yeah, it would be a shame if your personal palace was built on top of a septic heap.” Lilith sneered.

King's eyes narrowed. “I'm going to ignore the barbs from a woman who experimented on my relative's corpses without a care in the world and inserted obedience chips in the resulting children,” he said, his voice dropping to a growl. Lilith flinched backwards. “Don't mistake my composure for having forgiven you for that.”

“We didn't know anything about what they'd done to the Lunarians! They said that the samples had been donated!” York whimpered, clinging desperately to Atlas to stay upright.

I don't care what you thought,” King spat out with freezing anger. “You didn't think it at all suspicious that you suddenly had this mountain of material to work with – as if you'd been given a cart of playdough instead of my people's flesh and blood! -- on the supposed goodwill of a race who refused to join the government for eight hundred years? Either all seven of you were too stupid to connect the dots or you were willfully ignorant, jumping at the chance to make your slave soldiers, and if you think that's good enough for me-!”

The Lunarian stopped himself, hissing a long breath between his teeth as he recomposed himself eerily quickly. The four satellites stared at him with fear and guilt, waiting to see if he would decapitate one of them since he only needed two.

“Tch... perhaps Anduriel is right, I should have left giving orders to him and his siblings.” King exhaled. He sounded calm, but Edison suspected it was surface deep. “Let me make myself clear. The two of you will accompany me to Kuri with whatever machines and tools you need for reconstruct the town and the castle into good condition, as well as purify the local water and farming areas so the locals can make use of them. Along with this, we will be taking the incubators with us, and you will construct a basem*nt within the castle where they will be situated and prepared for use.”

Those violet eyes narrow and stab into him and Lilith. “The only question is if you're going to come with me on your free will, or if I have to knock you out and carry you. What's it going to be?”

T...That's what he wanted to do? Edison wanted to whimper in confusion and whiplash. That sounded almost philanthropic.

“We'll come,” He said on Lilith's behalf, swallowing. “Is... is there anything else you'll require?”

King eyed him for a moment before sighing and glancing at the doorway. “Not a material, but a person. Alucard, Rocinante and Himawari are trying to get a hold of him at the moment; he might be argumentative.”

“Argumentative?” Lilith mumbled.

“I intend to largely reconstruct the castle to exactly what it used to be.” King said by way of explanation, opening the door and plainly indicated for them to follow him. Edison obeyed and grabbed Lilith's wrist to pull her along after him, ensuring she did the same. “And there's only one person I know of who remembers what it used to look like. You see...he seems very keen to emulate Kozuki Oden however possible.”

Notes:

Kaido: I'll gladly destroy the world in the name of the one person I care about.
Me: One person...one person? Kaido. You have a child.
Kaido: Yeah, one who wants to be Oden's, what's your point?
Me: What's my-?! Rrrgh... NIKA PUNCH! (punts him into the horizon)

But for real, Kaido's headspace was really exciting to dive into directly. He's a terrifying, terrible monster, and yet. He fascinates me. How he doesn't really get joy out of being a tyrant, how he just wants to die, and nothing makes him feel alive... except he has this mutual, affectionate relationship with this one person, who makes him a little bit human. We know very little about the Oni, so I'm making up a few details here - they'll come back around in time.

Yamato is coming! I'm excited to finally bring them into this chaotic changing world.

Chapter 22

Summary:

Law ponders his new situation. Yamato meets a few angels and re-encounters somebody he thought he understood, but now doesn't.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“I'M GONNA IMMOLATE THOSE BASTARDS! GOL D ACE?! WHO THE BLUE HELL GAVE THEM PERMISSION TO CALL ME THAT?!”

Law started in his seat at Ace's sudden eruption; Izo winced and narrowly avoided messing up the temporary tattoo he was applying to Luffy's arm. “Okay, who let Ace see the new bounty posters?” He asked in exasperation.

“It wasn't me!” Marco yelped, grabbing Ace's arms and trying to restrain their pinwheeling hothead before he ran off looking for Marine bases to set on fire. “C'mon Ace, keep it together – don't damage the Moby!”

“You'd think he'd at least be happy his bounty skyrocketed,” Namur complained, rubbing his ringing ears as Vista rushed to assit Marco in his unenviable task. “Come on, two and half billion berry? He's knocked Katakuri down a ranking; why not be proud of that instead of doing his level best to deafen all of Amazon Lily?”

“He probably thinks the entire raise is based on his father being who he is.” Izo said with a gusty sigh. “Never mind that him escaping from his public execution, allowing for Pops to retaliate full strength, would have contributed to at least a billion.”

“INSULT MY MOTHER LIKE THAT, WILL YOU?! I TOOK HER NAME FOR A GOD-DAMN REASON! IT'S PORTGAS, YOU MISERABLE-! LET GO, MARCO!”

“Shall I whip up another sedative?” Law asked blandly, leaning back slightly from the assault on his ears. Poor Bepo was cringing and curling up in a ball next to him.

“No, no... he'll be just as pissed upon waking up and drag this out more.” Izo responded, shaking his head. Luffy was giggling uncontrollably at the older ravenette's antics, seemingly unbothered by his anger. “Just wait for him to run out of steam, he won't keep it up forever. On a very definitely unrelated note, has anyone seen Squard since the most recent paper came in?”

The other captains/division commanders nearby exchanged confused and then concerned looks. Law briefly wracked his brains for a moment before connecting that name to a face – 'Maelstorm Spider' Squard, captain of one of the allied pirate crews that made up Edward Newgate's fleet. He'd previously been a subordinate pirate of... the Gold Lion Pirates, if he's remembering correctly and the information was accurate.

Law wasn't sure why Izo was concerned about him all of a sudden, but he wasn't about to stick his nose in and potentially ruffle feathers. His plan required staying in their good graces, after all.

“I'll go find him,” Haruta promised, turning and vanishing down the deck.

“I see refusing to take Roger's name was a personal preference, aside from being practical.” Law deadpanned, watching Ace launch a fireball in the air as Marco and a few other brothers wrestled him into compliance.

“Aside from? It's all personal,” Izo responded, finishing the 2Y on Luffy's arm. “Ace's mother held him her in womb for twenty months to prevent him from being discovered by the Navy.” Law choked at that, wheezing and causing Bepo to scramble to his feet with a worried 'Captain!' “Wow, that's the exact same reaction Doc Nightengale had when she heard the story for the first time.”

Twenty months? Twenty months?! Ace's mother held a one year old child inside herself with what Law could only, only assume was Haki and divine intervention so she'd give birth somewhere safe?! Human bodies weren't meant to do that! Hell, giants weren't built to bear that kind of prolonged pregnancy and they could survive damn near anything! That must have been absolute physical torture, every day without end... the doctor inside him was screaming at the mere idea of someone doing this, and...

Law's heart twisted and his own mother popped into his mind. Never leaving her post in the hospital as patients with Amber Lead died all around her, fighting tooth and nail for a cure up to the moment she was shot in the back by liquidators.

...Maybe it was a D thing. That stubbornness that defied nature itself.

“She succeeded, and gave birth to him in safety, but the strain of it caused her to die shortly after.” Izo continued quietly. “All of this happened after Roger was executed, and I don't think Ace ever forgave him for not being there to protect his mother.”

“Fair enough, I'd say.” Law said, hurriedly reeling his emotions back in. Bepo patted him on the back, silently fretting. “I'm fine, Bepo.”

“Are you sure?”

Law waved him off, very carefully repressing a flustered look. Izo briefly grinned for a moment while Luffy giggles, beaming at Bepo. “Your bear is so cool, Traffy.” The young pirate said cheerfully.

“His name is Bepo and he's mink, not a bear.” Law corrected, shooting Luffy a dour look in the vain hopes that he would stop using that nickname. The glare seemed to bounce right off him, and Izo's mild pointed tap to make him stop moving around also seemed to go ignored. “Three days, two years... interesting choice. You're sure your crew will know what it means?”

Luffy bobbled his head confidently. “Yup. It'll be fine. If Zoro is gonna be taught by Mihawk, then maybe the rest of my nakama will find the right place to train themselves up super well too! So when we all return to Saobody, we'll be ready to find the One Piece.” There's a flash of loneliness in those hazel eyes, but it quickly vanishes to be replaced warm excitement. “I can't wait for them to see everything I learn from Uncle Ed! Shishishishi!”

Law silently glanced at Izo, who merely gives Luffy a fond look. So yes, Newgate was letting Luffy call him that in public.

Unbelievable. How?

“If you want, we could probably find them for you.” Izo pointed out as he gently painted the three onto Luffy's skin.

“Nope, it's okay. I know they'll get stronger and come back to the meeting point, no matter what.” Luffy responded, his smile taking a soft quality. “It would be nice to check on them, though... I wish we'd bought a few snails like you guys! I guess I never imagined us getting split up.”

“You really should keep at least two, just in case.” Bepo said, hands wringing a little. Good, it wasn't just Law who thought that Luffy was entirely too carefree about some things.

“Please hold still, cousin, I'm almost done,” Izo said chidingly, picking up a rolled up newspaper and smacking Luffy on the head with it. “You don't want the letters to be hard to make out, right?”

Luffy squeaked in protest, readjusting his hat. “R-Right!”

Law sighed, wondering if he should have left shortly after finishing Newgate's surgery. Doctor's instinct had caused him to stick around for a day or so to make sure the old man was stable, even though Nightengale and the other nurses would have been more than capable of handling that much without his help. Maybe it was because whenever he turned around, there seemed to be either Luffy himself or one of the Division Commanders following him – trying to feed him, make small talk, or rope him into some other kind of social interaction.

It had caught him off guard, how swiftly the suspicion the Whitebeard Pirates had regarded him with had melted away after he treated Newgate. It was like someone had flipped a switch, and all those guarded smiles and wary side eye vanished; all of a sudden the whole crew was treating him like a neighbour they'd known all their lives and would stop to chat up in the market. Honestly, he'd expected them to be far more cautious around him – he was holding an unspecified favour over their heads and doggedly refused to elaborate when prodded. You'd think they'd be on their guard.

Well, they were still adjusting to the knowledge that they had much more time with their father than they'd previously estimated. The joy and high spirits going around would probably linger for a few more days yet.

He did want to speak with Straw Hat and Portgas before he left. Not to suggest an alliance with the former yet, but just to put himself in their minds for the future. Then he'd head out.

There were still many variables he needed to try and account for in his reworked plan... Whether Kaido would give Doflamingo any access to weapons he had Vegapunk design for him, what sort of designs he'd need to be on guard for, whether Caesar Clown would be retained or cut loose as unnecessary – inferior to Vegapunk as he was. Some of this could be inferred, but there was a lot of waiting, watching and information gathering in Law's future.

Not to mention he would be remiss if he didn't train his own strengths to a higher peak.

“There; all done.” Izo said, releasing Luffy's arm. “That wasn't so hard, was it?”

“Whoa! It looks great!” Luffy cheered, admiring the black ink coloring his arm. “Thanks a lot, Izo! Now I just gotta get a picture in the paper.”

“Given the constant chaos the world government is up to its neck in, that might be a challenge.” Law commented. “You'd have to do something quite audacious to share front page news with that six billion berry Lunarian Kaido has working for him.”

Six Billion. The number was rattling whatever part of the world had hanging onto stability with its fingertips.

“There's no way in hell King got that number just for raiding Egghead.” Izo said, staring hard at an unseen point in the distance. His shoulders tensed up subtly every time Kaido's name came up in conversation, particularly when hushed debates of how much stronger the enemy Emperor would become with Vegapunk's technology at his command.

Law tilted his head to the side, leaning forward and resting his arms on his legs. “What makes you say that?” He asked, hoping to coax a secret or two out of the tense man. “Raiding Egghead and removing Vegapunk from their care is just short of firebombing Mariejoies in terms of things that would make the government very upset.”

“Enough to make him worth more than Kaido?” Izo responded, shaking his head. “No. I'd buy it if the increase the bounty by one, two billion berries. Not this.”

“He's the impetus for Surridge doing what she did,” Law tested.

“Then why didn't she get the bank breaking bounty?” Izo asked, his voice tightening. Luffy gave him a curious look, and the man blew out a tired sigh before standing up. “Instead, the price on her head is only half of his. No... the government didn't give King a higher bounty than Roger because he didn't feel like dying when they wanted him to. Something happened at Egghead that the newspapers aren't being allowed to report.”

“...His sobriquet changed,” Law observed thoughtfully. “That doesn't happen often. Godkiller...”

The World Government considered the World Nobles to be gods. But why would any of them have been at Egghead, of all places? Law figured King (Alber?) had all the motivation in the world to want to kill them, but he doubts that they would have gone so far from the safety of their personal palace. And even then, to get a bounty higher than Roger... because he successfully 'stole' the Seraphim? Was that really all it was?

Seven super weapons in the form of little children. Did that really outweigh all that Roger had done to be a thorn in their side?

Who else did the World Government consider divinity?

Izo had some sort of history with King, even at a distance. Law briefly wondered what exactly it was, before setting that aside. He wouldn't be approaching Kaido for a good long while, leaving him unlikely to encounter the Lunarian before then.

“Hey, Pops! The Empress is back!” Curiel called from the bow of the merry.

Luffy brightened. “Hammock! Ah, I should go say goodbye for now, shouldn't I?” He runs to the head of the ship, earning a mumbled 'goodness' from Bepo. Law almost envies the endless well of energy the other teen has.

“He still won't explain to me how he gets away with calling her that,” Ace commented. Law looked up in surprise, seeing the other man approaching him. He looked like he'd mostly gotten the anger out of his system, though the pinched look of his brow said he'd be grousing about his bounty poster for a long time. He was also carrying a white den den. “I shouldn't be surprised, but still...”

“She really broke you out because Luffy made an impression on her?” Law asked, finally getting out the question that had been nagging at him.

Ace's lip twitched. “Well she seems to be under the impression that they're going to get married, so...” Pain flashed in his eyes, and he bit his bottom lip. Now that's interesting... aren't they brothers? Law thought about what he'd read on Luffy's wanted poster and after a moment it became obvious that the pair couldn't share either a father or mother. They must have adopted each other... and Ace's feelings evolved.

“Ah, before I forget,” Ace said with the snap of his fingers, drawing Law out of his pondering. “I'm meant to give you this.” He thrust the den den at him. “This is your contact with us. Keep it close by whenever possible.”

Law blinked and accepted it. “What for?”

Ace put his hands on his hips. “What do you mean, what for? You're an ally now. Keeping in contact is the least we can do for you.” His handsome face lit up a little when he smiles a moment later. “Also... thank you.” He bowed deeply. “For Lu, and Pops. I can't ever pay you back for that.”

The statement was so heartfelt Law was briefly at a loss for words. “I was in the neighborhood,” he said evasively. “I'll be taking my leave this evening, so I appreciate the snail. It will make finding your crew again easier.”

Ace straightened up. “Leaving already? Damn. I was hoping you'd stay long enough for us to get to know you a little better.”

“...You're a very strange crew, you Whitebeards.” Law said in bafflement.

Ace arched an eyebrow at him, a smirk playing on his lips. Before he could say anything, though, a new voice surprised him. “There's a ship I haven't seen in many years.” An elderly, imperial female voice declared. “She's aged gracefully. If only all of us were so lucky.”

Newgate made a noise of surprise. Law and Ace both glanced toward the bow, where the giant of a man placed his hands on the railing and stared for a second. “Is that you, Gloriosa?” He said in amazement. “I remember you being a lot taller!”

“Is that any way to speak to an old comrade after leaving her on cold for decades?!” The feminine voice responded indignantly.

Newgate laughed, a note of old fondness in his voice. “If I'd had any idea where you'd went, it wouldn't have taken me this long to visit.” Law nudged Bepo and handed him the snail, indicating for him to take it to the Polar Tang. He wanted to at least speak to Luffy before he left, and catching him while his new allies were preoccupied with an unexpected reunion seemed like his best bet.

“Father, you no good bastard...!” Yamato's mace crashed into a massive boulder, splitting it in half. “Handing Kuri off to one of your commanders like it's a sack of gold... you have no shame!” The young oni whaled on the stone in an effort to vent his anger, reducing it to rubble in short order. The sound echoed in the quiet outside of Onigashima.

There were a number of places that around the edges of the island where Yamato would go to train, get away from his father's crew, or patch up his wounds after a failed attempt to defeat Kaido in a duel. He'd taken the time to set up a few makeshift huts in some of them for rainy days when being inside the island base was too much to bear... they were the only places where he could get a degree of peace. In moments like this they especially came in handy – with Kaido off to 'make a point', preventing Yamato from challenging him to a duel, the rocky cliffsides and forest were there for him to take his anger out on.

“I can't believe him... why did I ever think that he'd left the area alone out of what little respect he's capable of?” Yamato seethed. He whirled around and smashed his weapon through a tree trunk, kicking away the upper part before it could crash down on top of him. Frost nipped at the ground around his feet as he stalked back and forth, frustrated and upset.

Another blow against the Kozuki, and once again there was basically nothing he could do about it. The frustrated helplessness was familiar, though for now the adrenaline was keeping it at bay. Yamato growled and planted his mace in the earth, rubbing his forehead. “What should I do?” He wondered aloud. “I bet I could beat Queen or King in a duel, but as soon as my father's back he'll reverse any agreement made over one...”

The memory of watching from a distance as Kaido burned the castle where Lady Toki and her two children were flickered through his mind... How could he do that, then turn around years later and commit his whole army to saving seven different children?

“I can never understand him,” Yamato muttered under his breath. “I don't want to.”

He was about to go back to his training when something entered his awareness – three somethings, actually. Pausing, Yamato pivoted towards the approaching presences and tensed up in case of trouble. They felt wholly unfamiliar, and... slightly odd.

Those haki signatures weren't quite singular. There was something odd to them, like an echo – or maybe a ghost. It was difficult to put to words, but Yamato thought that he was sensing both a person and their shadow which had a slightly unique signature all of its own. Despite himself, curiosity softened the tension in his muscles somewhat. Who could...?

“Over there! That's got to be him. Nobody else is out here!” A little girl declared imperiously. “I told you we should have gone left from the start.”

“That is not what you were saying twenty minutes ago. You wanted to go up and check the shack at the top of the cliffs.” A little boy said, unimpressed.

“You weren't contributing at all, Al!”

“Guys, guys, remember! Positive faces!” A different little boy said. Yamato blinked rapidly in confusion – there were never any children in Onigashima. Except... oh. There were a few now, weren't there?

The bushes to his left started rustling; Yamato turned in time to see a boy with blank wings burst out of the undergrowth. Despite the fact it was evening, he was wearing sunglasses; likely for that reason he tripped over a tree root and nearly crashed to the ground face first. Yamato yelped and rushed forward, just managing to catch him in his arm. “Are you okay?” He asked.

The boy scrambled to his feet as two more little angels burst through the trees, neither looking particularly surprised. “I'm fine!” The boy with glasses said with all due confidence. It didn't match the bright flush in his cheeks. “You're Yamato, right?!”

“That's me.” Yamato confirmed. “You three are Seraphim, aren't you? What are you doing all the way out here by yourselves?”

“Looking for you,” the girl responded, crossing her arms and lifting her nose in a way noblewomen tended to as a sign of displeasure. “You've caused us some trouble, you know. We've been looking for you for a while!”

Looking for... what on earth for? “I'm sorry. If I'd known some cute little ones was in need of my help, I would have come rushing back posthaste!” Yamato said in all seriousness.

Immediately the girl's demeanour collapses into flustered stammering, waving her hands in front of her. “Y-You'll need to do more than offer a few compliments to make it up to us, you troublesome man!” She sputtered, her wings curling around her shoulders to hide her happy blush.

“My name's Rocinante,” The first boy said, coming to her rescue. “This is my brother Alucard and my sister Himawari.” Alucard tilted his head, serious expression seemingly not shifting. “And yes, we are the Seraphim that King rescued.” An audible note of affection colored his voice when he said King's name “We're going to Kuri this evening, and King would like for you to come with us.”

Yamato rocked back on his heels in shock. What? He ran that sentence through his mind a few more times, but no, it didn't make any more sense afterwards. “Why?” He asked suspiciously.

“Because the old castle needs to be restored, and as far as he knows you're the only one who has any idea what the original design was.” Alucard responded matter-of-factly. Yamato does not let his jaw drop, but it was a close thing. “King wants it to more or less stay the same outside of some additions.”

King wanted what? No. Surely not. This must be some sort of bizarre test – except the man tended to leave Yamato alone when he wasn't starting fights in Onigashima, preferring in those moments to simply restrain him rather than play mind games like Queen or Black Maria. But then why? King was a deeply serious man who cared very little about aesthetics. Why did he want the palace to be the same as when Oden had left it?

“This isn't a trick,” Rocinante said helpfully, as if he'd read Yamato's mind. Which would be silly. Unless Vegapunk had some sort of technology that could do so and implanted it in the children to improve their combat abilities. B-But he didn't. He couldn't have. Right?!

“Does Kaido know about this?” Yamato asked sharply, reeling inside.

Himawari shrugged, her feathers ruffling slightly. “No. So what, though? He never gets mad at King, he told us so.”

Yamato opened his mouth, then closed it with a click. “I hear you don't leave this place very often,” Rocinante said. He reached up and gently grabbed Yamato's arm just above the shackles holding him. “Seeing the rest of the country will make you feel good. I'd never seen the outside of Egghead before, and now that I'm here I'm constantly seeing amazing things! Come with us, you won't regret it.”

He had such a sweet smile, Yamato immediately felt like he'd have to be a bastard to reject him. Curse King for sending the children to carry his message! “Alright,” he said brightly to hide his confused wariness. “Lead the way!”

Rocinante beamed and waved as his siblings as if to say 'see, that wasn't so hard!' Alucard huffed and turned around, cutting through the brambles and undergrowth to provide a clear path. Rocinante latched onto Yamato's hand and tugged him along in their wake as the three lead him back towards Onigashima's harbour.

“Why are you wearing those chains?” Himawari asked curiously, eyeing the metal with a hint of unease in her star-shaped eyes.

“Tch...! My no good father forced them on me. He said that they're to keep me from leaving Onigashima,” Yamato said with restrained bitterness.

“They're not because you keep getting into fights?” Alucard queried. It was hard to tell with how serious he looked, but he seemed a little taken aback.

“No, though I imagine they would have been applied for that reason if I hadn't been stuck with them previously.” Yamato groused.

“None of the Marine databases made mention of you,” Rocinante asked curiously. “Is it possible that he's keeping you here to hide you? Standing World Government policy for the relatives of pirates as powerful as Kaido is to exterminate them and end the bloodline.”

He said that so nonchalantly that Yamato briefly wondered if it was a joke. When neither of his siblings laughed, the young oni's stomach preformed a sickening backflip. “What? Why?!” He sputtered.

“Because a criminal taints their bloodline with rebellion and sin. Or so goes the line of logic.” Alucard said, eyes narrowing. “That was the reason they'd given for enslaving the Buccaneers, among others. Funny; it didn't stop them from creating us partially with the blood of former pirates.” He glanced at Yamato's wrists with a flicker of something like uncertainty. “Maybe when you were a child, you were safer in Kaido's shadow than anywhere else. So he made sure you wouldn't run away.”

Yamato knew damn well that wasn't the reason Kaido put the explosive chains on him, but the idea that Alucard could still be right about that observation despite it... well. That was quite uncomfortable. “That's a poor reason to put chains on someone,” he said with determination.

Alucard shrugged a little. “You don't leave a fine sword out in the sun and rain without its sheathe, it would be ruined.” he said. “The Vegapunks used to keep us in forced sleep 'stasis' when we weren't getting tune ups or practising with our powers, things like that. We'd stay in that state for weeks at a time. It kept us in perfect shape for battle, right?”

He didn't even seem sad about it... just a little bothered in retrospect. The oni swallowed acutely with grief, disgust and realization. The sword in his metaphor wasn't him referring to Yamato, but himself and his siblings...

Yamato's fingers itched to snatch up his mace and cave in 'Vegapunk's' skull. As much as he hated Kaido, as much as their animosity was mutual, his no good father had never laid him so far beneath contempt as to refer to him as a thing, an object without a mind or soul to acknowledge. “You're not a sword, Alucard.” He said with some heat. “Don't speak of yourself in such inhuman terms.”

Alucard paused mid step. “You sound like King,” he remarked quietly. “I hadn't even noticed I'd done it again.”

...Yes, meeting King was quite important at the moment. Yamato squeezed Rocinante's hand supportively and picked up the pace a little, his mind whirling.

It took them about another ten minutes to return to the ferry to the mainland; the large ship was loaded with machines and odd automatons the likes of which Yamato had never seen before, or even read referenced in Oden's journal. A handful of Beast Pirate grunts were running around the deck securing things along with the large 'tribute' caravan that took up most of the deck. An unfamiliar woman dressed in purple was directing them, barking angrily when they didn't do something to her specifications, while a green rabbit(?) tried to get her to calm down. Yamato's heart skipped a beat when his gaze moved down to the deck and he spotted King.

At first he only recognized him by his wings. King wasn't dressed in his black armor; in fact, he was dressed mostly in white clothes with a black long coat over it, sweeping down to his ankles. Standing around him were four other children with silver hair and black wings; the other Seraphim.

“... open up the Paradise Farm, then.” King was saying when Yamato got into earshot. “Take enough food to feed the population for the next few days and deliver it to the village. I expect that to be in motion by the time I arrive.”

The Paradise farm?! That food is for the good citizens loyal to the Shogun, not the peasants!” The samurai on the other end said angrily.

“I dislike repeating myself,” King said, his voice half a degree colder than his usual tone – something even Yamato recognized as a very clear warning that he was going to lose his temper. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. “I am ordering you to open the farm and feed them.” A sharp note of sarcasm entered his voice. “If you insist on making things difficult for yourself by starving all your help, then maybe you're too big an idiot to understand, but I want to have this village and castle restored before I have to resort to practising cultivation to ascend to immortality.

Erk! Lord King – I didn't mean to imply-”

“On a related note, I fail to see what's so amusing about watching people starve to death; so if you feel particularly attached to your head and would rather not see it parted from your neck, I suggest that you get started immediately.” King finished, his voice back to its usual stoic rumble.

He hung up when the samurai started babbling terrified apologies and pinched the bridge of his nose, muttering something in a language Yamato didn't recognize. “What's cultivation?” One of the children asked, a large boy with what almost looked like bear ears on his head.

“It's a very old practice, mostly the province of myth. Supposedly one can become sufficiently attuned to spirituality that you become unburdened by all mortal perils.” King responded.

“Ooooh,” The boy gasped in fascination.

One of the others glanced their way and called, “There you are. You managed to find him without a fight starting, I see.”

“Your confidence in us was so reassuring, how could we not?” Alucard retorted.

“Why would there be a fight? Yamato is a nice person,” Rocinante said cheerfully, his words flooding Yamato's chest with warmth. He felt his cheeks flush, dammit Yamato, focus! Releasing the little boy's hand, the young oni strode right up to King... and immediately forgot what he was about to say the moment their eyes met.

W...Since when has he been beautiful?!

Despite being Kaido's son, Yamato didn't know King hardly at all. He hardly knew most of the upper ranked Beast Pirates, with Page One and Ulti being the exceptions due to being closer to his age bracket – the attempt to make them playmates had not ended particularly well. When he was a child, Kaido had pointedly kept him separate from his crew and rather isolated; first keeping him in the cargo hold of the ship and then in various vaults in Wano. It was only when Yamato reached his mid-teens – and started getting into fights with his father's men – that he finally met King after man years of hearing his name being thrown around.

King had been perfectly enigmatic to him across their previous meetings. Always covered from head to toe in armor, stoic to a fault, impossible to read, loyal to his father without exception. He didn't treat Yamato poorly, but he was very aloof, carrying him to medical when a fight with his father had gone badly for him being the most intimate of their interactions. Yamato had never seen him without that mask, and he'd known nothing about his life prior to Kaido recruiting him before the events of the last weeks had occurred.

King's eyes are violet... they look like still oceans late at night, deep enough to drown in. His broad shoulders and muscular build are familiar, but the way more casual clothes changed it was not. Yamato could just see the definition in his arms and chest through his white button-up shirt; his silver hair tumbled down his shoulders and framed his elegant throat nicely, his braids brushed against his high cheek bones. He looked... softer. Like a monstrous shadow that covered him had been lifted by the light of day.

“You're not wearing your armor,” Yamato said intelligently. Immediately he resisted the urge to slam his head into the nearest hard surface. That was not the start of his intended interrogation!

King's eyebrows tabled in confusion. “Obviously.”

Second attempt. “I've never seen you without it.” Really?!

Yamato could feel the boys staring at him. Or maybe they were staring at the shackles; the boy who'd been interested in cultivation certainly was. “Why's he in chains?” He asked, troubled.

King's brow tightened slightly with stress. “That's why I had to stop by Queen's office.” He said, removing something from his pocket. Yamato's tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth in shock when sunlight glinted on a key. “Never thought I'd appreciate that oaf choosing to get wasted. I give it a day before he notices things on his desk are out of order.”

“What are you doing with that?” Yamato choked out.

Something flashed through King's eyes, too quick to parse. Discomfort? Guilt? Yamato had never tried to read him before, so he had no idea what that brief moment meant. “Rocinante explained why I sent for you, yes? I had this sense that you'd insist on your involvement being hands on.” He said.

Disbelief and suspicion whirled around inside Yamato like a storm. This man! What was he planning?! What does he want?! There's no way he's – that key can't be what he thinks it is, no way. He didn't think he could buy Yamato's good will, did he?! “I don't trust you,” Yamato barked, pointing a finger at King imperiously.

“...That's fair,” King said. He was about to say something else – no doubt trying to confuse Yamato into letting his guard down. Perhaps his choice of dress had been intentional in that regard too. The young oni hadn't known he was wily in that way! “I-”

“As long as you're in Kuri, I'm going to stay there too.” Yamato interrupted. “I'm watching you! I'm going to figure out what you're up to! You better not do anything to that village when I'm not there, you understand?”

“Yes?” King looked slightly confused again.

“I'll bunk with the children,” Yamato went on hurriedly to maintain his head of steam. “I will look out for them and protect them as well. This is non-negotiable.”

One of the boys groaned. “Why does everyone think we need protection?” He grumbled. “We helped you kill Saturn.”

“Some day you'll understand, Anubis.” King responded, running one hand through his hair. “I suppose I can't find a reason to protest that. The seven of them seem to take delight in disobeying me in whatever manner makes me worry the most, after all.”

Anubis sputtered a little, which was all well and good because Yamato's eyes insisted on following the movement of King's braids for entirely too many seconds. Ngh! This was definitely an intentional distraction. He won't fall for this...whatever it is!

Worry? King worries about the children...? Not knowing where they are makes him nervous and distracted? Truly?

“Good. I'm glad we're agreed on this.” Yamato said with all the fire he could muster. “I'll just – go aboard then!” Thank goodness he kept Oden's journal in his pocket when he went out today; he didn't have to find an excuse to go back for it.

“Okay,” King said, blinking rapidly. Yamato strode right past him, nudging his arm pointedly with his shoulder as he headed up the gang plank. Just to remind him that he wasn't dealing with one of his minions, but Oden. His heart was pounding like a war drum... he's leaving Onigashima.

Notes:

Law and Yamato - partners in confusion and not understanding the people they plan to work with! Ah, I planned for King to reach Kuri in this chapter and then it ran away from me. Next time. Be prepared for Himawari's absolutely confused reaction to the site of her future palace.

Chapter 23

Summary:

The Lunarians make their home in Kuri. Delia finally arrives on Wano's shores.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

King had a headache. They're almost at Kuri, and Edison and Lilith have spouted enough scientist 'techno babble' about the reconstruction that he's glad he doesn't have to do more than just give directions as to what he wants for the city. I don't envy actual contractors and city builders, he thought dully. I was not built for this kind of minutia. Why did I approach this first instead of pondering how to improve my training?

“Are we there yet?”

“My answer hasn't changed from twenty minutes ago, Anduriel. We're almost there.” King said, letting his head thump against the leg of the robot he was sitting against. The weather wasn't bad; the sky was clear and the sun beamed down warmly on the moving caravan, but it wasn't too hot. Yet the lack of clouds irked him, strangely; he wondered when it had last rained in this area.

“This is so slow,” Anubis muttered. “Why couldn't we just fly ahead?”

“Because there was precious little for us to do until the caravan caught up. I'll repeat this statement as many times as I apparently need to, until I get the sense you children are finding it amusing. Making me mimic a parrot,” King responded with restrained exasperation.

Anubis grumbled and rested his chin on his knees, staring ahead in utter boredom. Anduriel didn't share his lack of enthusiasm; the other boy had climbed the robots on the gift ship they were travelling upon and was still sitting on one's head, beaming and looking for any sign of their new home. Himawari was walking from one side of the massive cart to the other, her brows pinched with puzzlement as she took in the countryside...such as it was.

Alucard was napping, leaning on King's right shoulder. At some point he'd wandered over, sat down, and slumped against him before almost instantly falling asleep. King had somewhat awkwardly remained as still as possible since then for fear of waking him... Ginji and Rocinante were sitting with Yamato, listening intently to a story he was telling, all while Tiger standing at attention at the back despite King trying to insist that he was not on guard rotation.

He would be willing to suffer Tiger joining the impatient chorus of 'are we there yet' wearing him down if it meant he would relax. Even if it was driving him slightly spare.

“It looks so dead out here,” Himawari said flatly. King could see her disapproving frown even with his eyes closed. “Are we going the right way? We must have taken a wrong turn at some point.”

“No, we didn't.” King responded with a sigh. “I told you, Himawari; the land around here was damaged by our overzealous running of our factories. It will need some time to heal, even with the doctors accelerating the process.”

She turned around and put her hands on her hips. That was a very imperial frown; if that wasn't a pure Boa Hanco*ck look, King would eat his coat. “This place looks nothing like the capital, or Amazon Lily. You said we were getting a palace.”

“We are. I also said it needed repairs, too. I'm not going to lie to you.” King said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. “It will be beautiful as the Flower Capital in time. Be patient.”

Her frown deepened an inch, eyes narrowing. “Patient, right. And while we're being patient... where are we going to be staying, exactly?”

King did let his eyes drop shut now, sighing. “If you're afraid I'm going to make you sleep in the work camp, don't be... there's good housing in Bakura Town, not even half a day's away.” He would never make the little girl he took in sleep in the dirt. Never.

Himawari uttered a huff that sounded a tiny bit mollified... but only a tiny bit. King definitely had a headache. “In a hotel?” She asked dubiously.

“You'll see. I don't think you'll be disappointed.” King responded, glancing down at Alucard. Despite his sibling's antics in close proximity, he was sleeping like a rock. Not inclined to move at all. He's heavier than his relatively slight frame suggested; King's arm was getting a little sore where his head is resting, but he was in no hurry to move.

It felt odd. Not wearing his armour, out in the open like this. It had never served a highly practical purpose; ancient zoans such as himself were difficult to wound and healed quickly, which synchronized perfectly with his natural defences. However, the armor did provide two useful things to him; hiding his appearance and signalling his fiercely guarded role as Kaido's right hand man, his black knight. Going without it was... subtly disorienting. It was as if he'd forgotten what his own skin felt like.

Almost enough to distract him from how baffled he was at how exhausting the children's incessant pestering about when they'd reach their destination is. Bless Yamato for keeping them preoccupied on and off since they left.

Himawari mumbled something before marching back to the edge of the cart, staring intensely out at what she now considered her domain. King could almost see the gears of her brain turning, picking out what sign of damage she wanted improved the most and how she wanted the land to blossom again.

I wonder if Hanco*ck would be loathe to part from her should they meet, King wondered. Or would she angrily reject her for being the creation of men who stole her blood in hopes of creating a replacement? The world's most beautiful woman is easily offended, and for something so beyond the pale as this...

But it may not be so simple. I faced the same violation, if to a slightly lesser extent, but I embraced the children the moment I saw them. Perhaps she'll feel motherly sentiment instead of anger and disgust. And won't that put me in an uncomfortable position...

King grimaced at the unwanted thought and closed his hand. He'd taken these children in and they'd cut a groove for themselves into his heart in the blink of an eye, but it wasn't enough to forget the other warriors connected to their creation. If anything, it was because of this strange and simple joy they gave him that the (now former) warlords sat at the back of his mind like unwelcome gargoyles. He was going to encounter them, likely sooner rather than later, because of this sudden ramshackle connection between them of seven little ones. A connection that was likely to drag him into trouble.

Of those seven powerhouses, King knew the least about the Empress of Amazon Lily and the most about Doflamingo; the King of Dressrosa was a junior partner of the Beast Pirates and provided a good deal of weapons and money to them. As much as something about his personality and aura bothered King, he didn't think he'd have a reasonable reason to reject the man if he wished to see and spend time with Rocinante. But he would insist on being nearby, until he figured out why Doflamingo rubbed him the wrong way...

Hanco*ck was another matter... he held some respect for her, how she wielded her power and how fearsome an opponent she was, but she was enigmatic to him, and from what he knew he predicted that she'd rather tear Himawari from his hands entirely than leave her 'daughter' even partially in the company of a man. Assuming she was welcoming of her clone's existence to begin with. King knew he wouldn't agree to part with his child, so he wasn't exactly looking forward to encountering Hanco*ck in the future.

At the very least, King was a good negotiator. A skill one learned very early when they reached the upper ranks of the Beast Pirates. Perhaps he'd be able to navigate the matter, if only by the skin of his teeth... Himawari had held onto the Empress's new bounty poster. Whenever she'd slipped away from her brothers for a moment and she thought no one was looking, she'd take it out and stare intently at it.

Oh yes; he'd better be prepared to negotiate for her sake. King's headache throbbed slightly; he rubbed the side of his head with one hand, resisting a tired grumble.

Mihawk loomed largest in his mind when it came to the seven possibly seeking their child. The World's Greatest Swordsman had never outwardly shown himself to be very sentimental; the only significant relationships in his life were Shanks and old, lingering rumours about a woman who King wasn't wholly convinced existed. Aside from that, Mihawk had a few things in common with the Lunarian; stoic, cold, and mostly unreadable unless he was offended or deeply caught off guard.

Shanks indicated that he considered Mihawk a superior swordsman to himself. King had to make the same admission in swordsmanship at least; even if he factored in his other capabilities, the fact that Mihawk was as good as an Emperor save for a lack of interest in the title was... concerning. Because King couldn't predict what the lone swordsman had made of his clone's existence; if he wanted to lay claim to Alucard, he'd likely have no compunctions walking directly into Wano to get him.

Crocodile and Moria? King mistrusted both deeply and wanted someone to track their movements. Yes, Moria hadn't returned after his one ill-conceived attempt to unseat Kaido and Crocodile had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a Paradise rookie because of his own pride and ego; but they were both alive and free to do what they pleased in pursuit of their new goals. If Crocodile thought anything of Anubis, King saw nothing good coming from him interacting with the boy. As to Moria, that well had been thoroughly poisoned long ago.

Finally, Jinbe... King thought well of the former Sun Pirate. Likely he'd see Tiger as a child, likely he'd accept responsibility for him and was concerned with how King and his fellows were caring for him. The enmity between their respective captains meant that amiable exchanges between them were seriously unlikely, though, and King was too selfish to want to release Tiger completely into the man's care. He didn't know how to proceed there; he'd evade the issue until either Jinbe or Tiger confronted him in person.

King didn't need to ponder Kuma whatsoever. With his soul restored and his mind unbound, the Buccaneer would embrace Ginji as his son in a heartbeat... and Alber wasn't selfish enough to steal the boy away from him. He hoped, despite Kuma's being a Revolutionary, that he wouldn't wish to part Ginji from him forever. The thought was awful to contemplate.

Ugh... dwelling on this isn't soothing the tension I'm experiencing. King thought, his wings fluttering; the left was carefully closed over Alucard, shielding his face from the sun. Unless Mihawk decides to put in a word in person, I'm not likely to encounter any of them until I go out in search of Bonney and Kuma. I have too much to think about to be burning my nerves on potential problems.

Yamato's hands flailed in the corner of his vision; King tilted his head towards the younger man and tuned out the rest of the babble and sounds of travel, wondering what he was telling the boys this time.

“-and stabbed the Mountain God in the nose!” Yamato said fiercely, making a stabbing motion. “Of course, the behemoth hardly felt the blow; it was like a needle pick to her. She flung Kin'emon away and he crashed to the ground. All seemed lost, but that was when Oden returned and held the infant above his head! Drawing the monster's attention solely upon him!”

Ginji gasped. He was leaning so far forward it was a wonder Yamato wasn't protesting him being in his personal space. Rocinante's feathers were subtly fluffed up in excitement; Himawari had wandered over to the area and sat down to listen too.

“When she charged towards him, he leapt from the building top and used his personal sword style... two sword style – Paradise Waterfall!” Yamato declared. King lifted his head, watching the young oni move his arms in such a way that... wait... that was the exact series of movements Oden preformed to use that technique. It was flawless. How had Yamato learned them? “And with that one attack, he cut the mountain boar in half!”

“Haaaah?!” Ginji gasped. “One move?! How?”

“Mihawk can cut mountains in half,” Rocinante said, his hands twitching a little. “It's possible for swordsmen, but only those at the top of the world! Another god killed long ago... apparently they're more fragile than people believe.” He looked down at his hands, as if considering something.

“What happened next?” Ginji asked urgently.

Yamato tossed his hair over his shoulder and beamed. “Kin'emon and Denjiro were in awe, and the citizens could not believe their eyes... and there was more! When Oden landed, he went to the bisected body of the beast and began to pull people out of its belly – whole and alive. He had cut it so precisely that not only had none of them died, but he was in time to rescue all who had been devoured by it, including Otsuru.”

“What – but how's that possible?” Himawari demanded, consternation. “Some of them had to have been swallowed hours ago!”

“Animals that big often have slow-acting digestive systems,” Tiger offered from his post. He sounded thoughtful. “Sea Kings of all stripes are similar, and unfortunate travelers have been rescued alive – if rattled – from inside them before. Given the size of the mountain god, it's feeding habits probably consisted of a large feeding frenzy, then hibernation, through which that food would sustain it for many years.”

“Precisely! You're so smart, Tiger!” Yamato said brightly. Tiger made a small noise of pleased embarrassment, his wings shivering slightly. “Once everyone was rescued and accounted for, Kin'emon stepped forward to take the blame for unwittingly luring the Mountain God into the village in his haste and greed... but Oden took notice of this, knocked him unconscious, and claimed that it was his fault! For this he was disowned, and began to wander the country!”

“Hold on, he did what?” Anduriel called down from his perch. “Why? He was the one who saved everybody, why'd he get punished instead!”

Yamato pointed one finger skyward. “Simple! Because Kin'emon, a village boy with no prospects or family, would be punished far more harshly for his mistake than Oden would be in his place. Oden could tell that he was just a young fool and no malicious mastermind, so he would not see him be put to death. Since he was the son of the Shogun, he knew he would be able to walk off whatever sanction was placed upon him, and he did.”

“Oh.” Anduriel uttered. He thought for a moment before saying, “so, it was like when Kaido took in all of King's pain after we defeated Saturn?”

“Who did what?” Yamato responded, his enthusiasm briefly replaced by total befuddlement.

“King got hurt defending me in the fight,” Anduriel responded, biting his lip. “It was pretty bad. Ginji is really smart though; he used his powers to push the pain out of him and into a bubble! But if someone didn't take it and transfer the injuries to himself, they'd go back to him in time. So Kaido just shoved his arm in it, like, two seconds after Ginji finished explaining this.”

King didn't need to see Yamato's face to imagine his poleaxed expression. He did, however, so he could see a flood of shock, disbelief, and – envy? - flash through Yamato's eyes before the oni rallied and said, “Ah... then I suppose yes, it was something like that.”

“...That's cool...” Ginji uttered softly, his eyes sparkling.

“The men of Wano are so strange,” Himawari mumbled, mostly to herself. Yamato gave her a curious look that she studiously avoided.

Alucard stirred at last, bringing King's attention back to him. “Good afternoon,” he said when those golden, star-shaped eyes fluttered open and slowly focused on him. Alucard blinked sleepily, his gaze flickering to the wing providing him shade then back up at King's face.

“Ngh...” Alucard slowly sat up, his hand brushing through King's feathers. “Are we there yet?”

King didn't groan at the question. It was a very, very close run thing, though. And mercifully, this time he didn't have to answer. “Hey!” Anduriel yelled from his perch. King looked up to see the boy floating off of the robot's head, wings flapping with glee. “Hey, is that it?! Right at the end of the road?”

King glanced sideways and his lips twitched upward. “I don't know, what do you think?” He responded with a chuff close to a chuckle. Instantly Alucard was on his feet, following the rest of his siblings as they hurtled to the front end of the cart to see their city. King slowly pushed himself up and stretched, a sigh of relief escaping him. “Thank you for entertaining them, Yamato.”

Yamato shot him a suspicious look and mumbled something under his breath before saying, “people should still be told Oden's story.” Then he headed to keep up with the kids. He clearly was waiting for King to interject or remonstrate him, and stumbled a little when no correction came.

“He lived quite the life,” Was all King said in response to that. Thorny a subject as Oden was, he meant it when he told Himawari that he wouldn't lie to her, so they were going to learn everything at some point or another. Why not hear it from Yamato, who knew them best?

That was something King had always appreciated about Yamato, little though he knew him. His utter sincerity in being a fairy tale-esque samurai in a world that did its best to erase such people from existence.

Yamato gave him another strange look when King walked up beside him; the Lunarian could feel the intense gaze like fingers brushing against his cheek. The thought made him shiver; he blamed the strange reception he'd gotten in Wano upon returning unmasked. If I had an inkling it would get this sort of reaction, I would have kept wearing it, King thought feverishly. Women were still giving him immense attention and he was no closer to figuring out what to do about that then when he arrived.

Anduriel was right, though; Kuri was easily within sight. It only took another fifteen minutes for the large caravan to roll into town; King pushed himself into the air and took in this section of the land he'd been given control over, absorbing every detail he could.

It looked busy – very busy, though perhaps that was not surprising. His orders regarding the Paradise Farm had been carried out; a tribute ship was parked nearby and long tables were decked out with proper food buffet style, each of which was crowded with civilians. Even though it had been a few days travel since then, people of all ages were still eating like they were starving. Many of the houses were either close to collapse or terribly ramshackle-looking – all of them would need to be repaired or replaced. The ground was desolate in basically all directions, and there was a single well that hadn't been filled, the water in which quite possibly wasn't safe.

His former home in the Red Line probably looked like this. Whatever part of it hadn't been destroyed completely. King had never dared set foot atop the red line beyond the city... he told himself it was because it meant getting the attention of the Celestial Dragons, but... he'd not wanted to see...

King looked upward, at the mountain on which the castle sat. He could see trees there, grass, and living soil... along with the distant remains of the palace itself. A mixture of nostalgia and strange grief pressed against his chest at the sight... he closed his eyes and shook his head in an effort to clear it. Nothing I can do. Nothing except what I can do now.

The carriage had entered the city. Exhaling, running over the script he'd thrown together in his head as he regained a sense of calm, King descended down to the city square.

The civilians noticed them immediately, of course. When King landed lightly on the ground, it didn't matter that he hadn't drawn his sword – men, women and children all backed away, giving him a wide berth. The little ones hugged the fruit and water glasses they'd been given to their chests, anxious eyes staring at him, waiting for him to rip the gifts away from them or worse. The parents gazed at him with a mixture of fear and uncertainty; if they had been told that it was his order that gave them this food, they must be wondering what kind of game he was playing with them.

He hadn't been here in years. They didn't know that sort of sick, Celestial Dragon pastime was utterly beneath him. But...he could hardly blame them for fearing it, could he?

Seeing the children so frightened of him – it unexpectedly twisted his stomach. Enough so that he paused for a second, before breathing out steadily before beginning to speak.

“This is it? ...You're kidding. Right?” Or he would have, had Himawari not picked that precise moment to artlessly interject. She appeared at his right and stared blankly at the town in front of him. “This is Kuri? It...It looks dead!”

“Himawari,” King said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I think the population center in front of you disagrees with that sentiment. Don't talk about them like they aren't present.”

“This looks awful,” Ginji joined in, reaching up and grasping King's hand. He sounded a little stunned as he took in his surroundings. “What happened? Did they get hit by a plague?”

“W...We apologize for the poor state of the village,” An elderly woman said, stepping forward to act as the figurehead. Several people reached out to stop her, fearful for her safety. “We weren't informed that we would be hosting such auspicious guests...”

Ginji waved his hands frantically. “No! No no no, it's okay, it is. We're here to help.” He leaned against King. “No wonder you wanted to bring so much equipment with us...”

“All of it was necessary.” King acknowledged, before raising his voice. “People of Kuri; I'm sure you know who I am. As of a few days ago, Kaido has put me solely in charge of the Kuri Prefecture.” Many eyes widened; spouses began whispering frantically to each other, children gulped and craned their necks to look up and see his face, elders put their hands together in prayer. “As I was aware that living conditions here were not adequate-” that felt like best, most neutral way to describe it “-I've begun to draw up plans with two of our newest scientists to revitalize the villages, the castle and the land around them.”

...The disbelief was a literal wave, washing from one side of the village congregation to the other. They stared at him, trying to unravel a riddle that didn't exist. The elderly woman inched forward and dared, “Revitalize? How so...Lord King?”

King glanced over his shoulder. “Edison, Lilith. Come forth.”

The two satellites jumped, abandoning the process of getting things unloaded to join him. Lilith looked around and blurted out, “Holy sh*t, what the hell has Queen been doing in those factories?! This isn't just him being lazy, he has to be actively f*cking things up to make it this bad. Do none of those buildings have proper waste disposal pits?! Water filters?! This is basic sh*t, but the land in all directions is dead as a f*cking doornail – is this what you were talking about?! You'd get kicked out of grade school science class for being this careless!”

“Thank you for that assessment, Lilith,” King responded with a deadpan that rivaled the Alabasta deserts for its dryness. “These two who stand before you are aspects of Vegapunk, the smartest man in the world. Their task is to purify your water, cleanse the soil, and rebuild your village from the ground up where necessary!”

The elderly woman stared at him, her brow tightening. “Rebuild? Everything must be rebuilt if you want a town that even slightly resembles the flower capital, sir.” She said.

“I can see that,” King said, unfazed. “Normally, this would be a long and laborious task – fortunately, Edison and Lilith have many talents that will speed up the time table immensely.” Edison turned and waved frantically.

A massive gasp burst from dozens of throats as one of the construction machines plodded away from the caravan and came to a stop next to the diminutive rabbit-eared scientist. “These automatons will preform most of the tasks in construction,” King went on. “However, there are gaps in their capabilities that only manual labor can fill. With that in mind-”

Alucard and Rocinante flew from the ship and landed gently on either side of him. Both were hefting massive treasure chests with ease; Alucard set his down and slashed the lock open with his sword. More gasps echoed from the crowd as Roci rolled his eyes and flicked his fingers, using his string much more quietly to the same effect.

King planted one foot on each and turned them over one at a time. A massive amount of gold and precious gems splashed against the ground with no more care than if it was all plastic jewellery. To him, it might as well have been; the Beast Pirate's horde was hardly dented by this. “On my god!” One woman cried in shock.

“Don't, love, you mustn't!” A man babbled, grabbing his daughter by the shoulders to prevent her from trying to grab the rubies that had tumbled to a stop near her feet.

King shook his head and responded, “Hardly; these are your salaries.” Mouths dropped open all around. A strangely pleasant sensation rolled through him at that, the way disbelief was slowly giving way to a timid, wavering hope – the way light was entering the children's eyes. “I gave the order for you to be fed; I'm giving you this too as compensation for the work necessary to achieve my goals for this area. If you have questions about the work, direct them to Edison and Lilith.”

“If we do this...” The elderly woman said slowly. “Will you continue to feed us?”

“Yes. You will continue to eat afterwards, in point of fact; Lilith confidently claimed to me that she could restore land for farming within quite the tight timeframe.” King gave the mouthy 'evil' satellite a somewhat pointed look.

“And if we do not work?”

King shrugged. “Then this will take much longer. Likely it will go into the winter and the discomforts thereof will not be blunted by improved conditions, though camps will be heated. That is all.”

She glared mistrustfully at him. “How do we know this is not a trick?”

“I'm bemused you think I have so much free time to spend playing malicious jokes on starving men and women without a prayer of fighting back.” King said dryly. “I am a swordsman. Such things are beneath me and beneath my children.”

All eyes swiveled to the Seraphim. Roci smiled sweetly and lifted his sunglasses to the top of his head, waving hello; Ginji mimicked the gesture immediately, while Tiger let his hands drop to his sides and gave them a bow he must have retained from Jinbe. Himawari put her hands on her hips and gave the crowd a deeply offended look at the notion that she'd behave like some petty sad*stic man.

Anubis rolled his eyes and said, “Please; tormenting any of you would be like kicking a baby dugong. It's insulting.” Alucard crossed his arms and shook his head in agreement. Anduriel co*cked his head to the side, then extended his shadow and had it preform a comical slip and fall gag. He looked disappointed when this only received a few nervous giggles.

Children wiggled free of their parents' grips and jumped on some of the treasure, grabbing what caught their eye and marvelling at it. When neither King, his children or any of his entourage lifted a finger to stop them, the men and women began to stumble forward, grabbing fist fulls of the life saving money before his magnanimity ran out.

The elderly woman slowly shook her head. He doubted she fully believed him yet, but he had gotten through her disbelief. “Why are you doing this now?” She asked him, helpless. “What – what has caused you to take pity on us?”

“...I have children.” King said after a moments hesitation. Not wanting to linger on that moment and let them read deep into that statement, he turned to the woman scientist again. “Lilith. You're in charge. Get the ball rolling; my samurai will be observing.”

“Yeah, yeah, don't have to remind me of that,” Lilith groused before striding forward with a huge smirk. “Okay folks, who wants a house that isn't about to collapse thanks to a stiff breeze?!”

“ME!” Two children shrieked.

His work here more or less done, King turned towards Edison and Yamato... the latter of whom was once again staring hard at him, like he'd never seen him before. “Yamato,” he said quietly as the villagers began to become animated, babbling and surging around Lilith like a small wave. “Guide Edison and the rest of the caravan up the mountain, please.”

“Okay,” Yamato said, his eyes almost boring into King's.

“Are we gonna fly this time?” Himawari asked with a hint of excitement.

King nodded. She uttered a pleased noise and immediately rocketed into the air; half an exasperated protest in his throat – she didn't even know where she was going, for Nika's sake! -- King flew after her, promptly followed by the rest of his children.

The castle of Kuri's damyio was beautiful, even partially ruined. The forest surrounding it was lush and green; this area would require much less healing than that below it. King landed near the grave markers placed outside of it and paused, turning to read the names. He recognized the names of the Akazaya; Kin'emon, Denjiro, Raizo, Kanjuro...

He paused in place when his gaze fell on the smaller markers. Kozuki Momonosuke and Hiyori. How... how old had they been, exactly, back then? King wracked his memory, but it came up blank. He only knew that... they were little. Perhaps not even in in double digits yet.

Burned in the fire. Again, that needle stabbing of sudden guilt pierced his chest. He could barely remember what they looked like. The Kozuki clan could not stay if the Beast Pirates were to remain in control, but... they had just been children. Maybe they could have imprisoned them and Toki inside Onigashima and kept them there instead of killing them.

He hadn't thought to suggest it; too numb with despair and apathetic to the concept of right and wrong. It had felt like a bad joke, a mockery, after what he'd survived and how the world government had gotten away with what they did – but they hadn't gotten away with it forever, had they?

Slowly, King knelt down and looked at the offerings left out for Oden's children. Candles and incense sticks. The grave looked forlorn. It... should have flowers. It should at least have flowers, even if the graves were hardly visited. Where can I find candles or incense...? The needle was starting to feel like a knife; it tightened his chest.

“This! Now this I like!” Himawari said happily; he could hear her flying all around the building, her wingbeats fast and mighty as her excitement returned full force. “It's a bit of a fixer-upper, but I can see what it used to look like! Oh, the design was so pretty! Nothing that couldn't be upgraded a little, but – I like it!”

“There's plenty of room for training yard...” Alucard observed, sounding pleased. “I still don't have a sword I'm fully happy with, but this is a start.”

“Imagine the shadows this place and the forest must cast at night! I can't wait to see it!” Anduriel babbled with excitement. “I could fight a whole army around here, I just know it! It's so pretty, I can already tell!”

“The view is amazing... we're even higher up than the medical rooms at Egghead.” Rocinanate said in awe. “Incredible...”

“It's nice, I guess.” Anubis said, his pleasure hurriedly hidden under a skeptical tone. “How long is it gonna take to fix, though?”

Tiger uttered a happy noise. “I think there was a hot spring inside the castle. I can just hear water running somewhere... it's close by, I'm sure of it.”

“A hot spring? That would be amazing for therapy!” Ginji said brightly.

King glanced over his shoulder; that feeling in his chest loosened slightly when he saw them all running about, taken with their new home before even a minute of work had been done. A smile flitted across his face; he was about to stand up and remind them to be patient when suddenly his personal den den started ringing.

Surprised, he pushed himself to his feet and placed the small receiver in his ear. “Kaido? Has something happened?” He asked.

“Yes. The doctor has arrived.” Kaido responded, swift and to the point.

All of King's muscles locked up simultaneously. He couldn't describe the tangle of emotions that bowled him over like a rogue wave in words. It left him lightheaded, his mouth dry and wings tense as his mind went blank. Somehow, for all that he'd been waiting for days to hear those five words, he hadn't been even slightly prepared to hear them. She's here.

She was still a young woman in his mind's eye. Barely a handful of years older than him, talented in medicine, using that knowledge to inflict pain and suffering on him at Saturn's apathetic, cruel command. He remembered seeing the light go out of her eyes...indeed, seeing life leave them too, blue orbs dull as death as she mechanically did as she was bid. And what would have been the point of her disobeying? Saturn would have killed her and replaced her within half an hour, if that. He remembered her standing in that room, waiting to die, hands closed in prayer.

What had she been asking for, when she spoke to whatever god the world government permitted to be spoken of? Forgiveness? Reincarnation, to shed her bad karma? Something else entirely?

“King? Can you hear me?”

Why had she been so troubled, at the end? Where had her certainty gone?

“Yes,” he said thickly. “Where? Which entrance?”

Kaido told him. And King... didn't know what exactly he told the Seraphim – he caught one by the shoulder, murmured something about being right back and Yamato, and then he was gone. Hurtling towards the beach.

Wano was beautiful, sorrowful and quiet.

Delia stepped onto the sand and felt her heartbeat quicken. She gently placed her handbag on the ground and removed her shoes. The white sand was warm between her toes, soothing to the touch. The wind whipped through her hair as she looked upwards towards the sky. The sun was beginning to sink down the western horizon, casting golden beams of light through the shifting trees. There was birdsong mingling with the crashing waves.

After Aiko, her brother, died, she used to run to the far end of the beach to be alone. Staring out at the fathomless oceans... she could almost imagine he was still there, appearing briefly in breaking waves as mother ocean reclaimed his life. It was there that she found peace and spiritual connection, rather than the church at the corner of the town square, freshly repaired after the last pirate raid had burned through their home.

I wonder what it looks like now.

Her long dress rippled around her ankles in the wind. It wasn't a funeral dress, but a pure white one that some tribes and communities had buried they dead in, and it had felt right. She had finally enacted a kind of justice, for the first and last time. She felt a little unburdened... and she felt at peace.

When you meet Davy Jones's gaze, he sometimes gifted you a kind of clarity the living didn't otherwise possess. The one mercy of the Heartless One. Delia could see the path through which the world government and the monsters at its peak would be destroyed... a pathway barred and buried for eight hundred years.

She just...waited there. She wasn't sure what else to do. She felt like a ghost; she looked down at her hand, and the short sword she had been given. For seppuku, her guide had explained; should King permit her to go to the gods in atonement. Delia held the blade carefully.

Sand swirled around her ankles as she waited, the prayers she'd heard in the darkness of Punk Hazard echoing gently in her head. Then she saw the black blur in the sky rapidly approaching her, and she placed the sheathed sword on the sand in front of her feet, her heart in her throat.

Alber came into focus moments later, rocketing past the treeline and cutting his momentum in a brutal stop. He wasn't wearing his armor or mask... it shocked her a little, but part of her was glad of it. He descended slowly, landing a few feet in front of her and staring down at her with violet eyes whirling in a storm.

He was so much taller than her now it was almost comical. It was a sign he was healthy, yes, but somehow she'd forgotten that Lunarians easily reached six meters once fully grown.

He looked magnificent. Like an angel.

“Alber,” Delia whispered.

“...All these years, and you actually remember my real name?” Alber asked roughly after a long moment of silence.

“Always.”

Alber's gaze burned through her. He was...calmer, than she expected. The rage and loathing she expected were muted, a first breath response that seemingly got tangled in a dozen other emotions, swamped. Delia swallowed slightly. “How are the children?” She asked.

His response is immediate and confident. “Unchained. Unbound. Safe.”

“Good,” She whispered. Tension in her chest that had coiled there since she learned of the seven's existence finally slackened; leaving her weak and limp with relief.

Alber's gaze flickered. He could sense her reactions as a master of Observation Haki. “Why?”

Delia hesitated. “Why did I torture you? Or why did I help you?” She asked after a second, unsure which why he wanted answered first.

“Both!” Alber responded with some heat. He growled and shook his head, his hands clenching and unclenching in a fit of frustration. “Nika damn you; if had only done the first, I wouldn't be at such an impasse. Why did you see fit to partially restore my ruined soul before I had a chance to confront you? Now I'm troubled, and I can't simply kill you on the spot to be released from my turmoil. So why?! What did they say about us to make us so monstrous you could help them do what they did?”

Delia felt her eyes burn just a little. “They told me we could end the era of pirates.” She answered truthfully. “They said it would allow the government to create a world where pirates could no longer exist.”

Alber blinked once, twice; he slammed one of his hands on the hilt of his sword and gripped it like a lifeline. “Pirates? Were they going to exterminate humanity too, once they were done with us?” He asked, his voice strangled. “My people were hardly the only ones contributing pirates to the sea.”

“It didn't make sense! Of course it didn't make sense, it was a line they fed us because they knew it would work. That it would turn us into maniacal, driven maniacs fueled by hope!” Delia said with a touch of hysteria, shaking her head violently.

She held her hands up to the sky. “My family died in pirate raids. I was too young to have more than hazy memories of my parents when they died, but when it was my brother's turn, he hid me in a gap between the walls of the church before the pirates came. That gang of monsters brutalized him in every. single. way. possible, before they cut him into so many pieces his corpse looked like an animal gone through the butchers. That I remembered every moment of. And they would have gotten away with it, vanishing back into the ocean like the first two times they'd come, if the Marines hadn't arrived this time.”

To her shock, Alber's face colored with revulsion at the mental image despite everything she'd done to him. “Savages,” he said in Runic, disgusted. He eyed her with an unreadable expression. “Were any of them...?”

It was a natural assumption, perhaps, but wrong. Very wrong. Delia uttered a strangled chuckle. “None of them were Lunarians, as if that would have mattered. No, it was what happened after with those Marines... they sat me down and they told me this beautiful story about we could create a world where not only would my brother be avenged, but what happened to him would never have happened in the first place.”

She struck her forehead with her palm, cursing herself. “I was eighteen and the Marines had avenged my brother and given my island peace, safety and protection! I believed them. I was a young fool and I grabbed onto that idea, that world, with both hands, and I let them use me.” She uttered a bitter, disgusted laugh. “Nika, I made so many excuses for them as I did this bloody work; twisting my mind into pretzels to find some way to justify it so I could keep believing that world would come to exist. They'd driven me mad; I came out of it when finally there was too much death and suffering for my most desperate delusions to explain away.”

“...I'm surprised Saturn didn't kill you.” Alber said after a moment of thought.

Delia shrugged helplessly. “I'm surprised too. I think my break down into despair amused him, personally.”

The Lunarian's lip curled in disgust. “That sounds like the man I killed.”

Her heart leapt into her throat. “You...?”

Alber's shoulders relaxed a little, and there's wrathful, karmic delight in his eyes for a moment. “To be truthful, Anduriel, Alucard... all of the children were the ones who made it possible. I just kept him from thinking straight. I suppose his fellows put all the blame on me because they're yet to think of the Seraphim as living beings, not weapons.”

Delia smiled. Alber's expression shifted again... “Nika,” he repeated. “Where did you...?”

“From you,” she answered honestly again; the shock in his eyes made her fiddle with her hair shyly. “When I realized what I'd become, I... I went through the motions as a doll who'd been robbed of a reason to live, soul corrupted beyond salvation. When you prayed at night, I listened. I learned about Joyboy. I learned what's to come. Then Kaido came... burst into Punk Hazard, whisked you to safety before our bloody work could be completed...”

“And you knew He was real.” Alber said with a tone of realization.

Delia nodded, solemn once again. “I know he's coming. I know the time is soon. Maybe not this year, or the next, but soon, within this life time... Joyboy will come. And you'll be there.”

His violet eyes almost...almost seemed to soften a little. It didn't extinguish the anger and the pain, but it held them in its grip, allowing his stoicism to hold firm. “I brought something I thought might come in useful for that day, swiped it from a Marine Vault. It's in my bag, do with it what you please.” Delia said.

“Is that all you have left to say?” Alber asked.

Delia closed her eyes. “Is it meaningless to apologize?” She asked him. He was silent for a long, long moment, so she just... dove in. “I am sorry. With every fragment of my soul, I am sorry. For all the pain I made you suffer, helped ensure you'd suffer, the death and despair. Every bit of it. I'm sorry.”

She held her hands out, waiting peacefully for his judgment. The wind whistled between them. Alber said nothing, standing still as a statue; she couldn't read him, but didn't try to. For all that she was uncertain what was making him hesitate to end her, it was his decision.

“...Hah...” Alber whispered, a little shaky chuckle on tongue. She blinked at him. “That's the most honest apology I've heard since I called myself Alber.” He uttered a sigh that seemed to shake his whole body. “Damn.”

“...Alber...?”

“I know what he would do,” Alber said, a surprisingly wry look on his lips. “He would forgive you. And I...” He hesitated.

The wind swept over the beach. Like the entreating sigh of a spirit that expected the best from them both.

Notes:

Can you tell I've been looking forward to writing this chapter? Can you? (chuckles a little wryly) Seeing as how it ran longer than I expected, probably.

Poor King, being introduced to the other side of parenting - how exhausting children can be. Every parent is going to have to deal with the 'are we there yet?' rite of passage, love, it's part of the process!

And cliffhanger. Couldn't resist. Sorry!

Chapter 24

Summary:

The ringing silence echoes as the seas settle. The world has begun anew.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Crocodile laughed deep in his throat. The sound was low, rumbling and very familiar, if not from this voice specifically. Buggy knew mockery like he knew the back of his hands; from the day he'd been born to the day he was thrown out of the minor noble's house for his 'ugly, deformed nose', to the days travelling with Rogers – none of their opponents could ever figure out why the Greatest of Pirates had a shrieking coward as part of his crew and always prodded for an answer.

Buggy never had one to give. The joke was on those guys; he didn't know why Roger took him in either. Or why he kept him. Or why Rayleigh never failed to take training him seriously no matter how much he squalled and tried to wriggle out of it. Or why Shanks did and still does consider him a friend, when his competition in that regard is f*cking Dracule Mihawk – who's also here, for all that he's ignoring the goings on to study a map of the oceans surrounding Wano. He couldn't explain it and he'd asked Roger enough times himself, so hah! Waste of oxygen, all that.

So yeah. He's not surprised Crocodile hadn't expected him, Buggy the Clown, to track him down to his new hideout with his new growing gang of goons to put a proposal forward.

“And why should I be considering any sort of proposal for a washed up fool who's biggest achievement in the last twenty years was taking over an East Blue village?” Crocodile asked condescendingly. The mobster lit his cigar and took a deep drag of it.

Buggy calmly detatched his head and floated it up, neatly avoiding the lungful of smoke his prospect partner tried to blow in his face. “Because you need the prestige,” Buggy said, infusing all the carnival charisma he had into the statement before scoffing. “Former Roger pirates have that kind of pizzaz. Why, without me, you'd just be that one former warlord who was so bad at being a pirate a Paradise rookie kicked his ass weeks after crossing Reverse Mountain.”

Crocodile's expression instantly turned an ugly black, despite him not moving a muscle. “I could kill you without having to rise from this chair, weakling.” He sneered.

“Oh, never heard that one before,” Buggy said, as if he hadn't just felt a jolt of terror. He steeled his spine against it. “Remind me, which one of us made it to the end of the Grand Line and which one ran back to Paradise after getting his ass kicked by Newgate? From where I'm standing, it looks like we both went back to areas we felt we could safely lord our strength over worse competition.”

Somehow the glare Crocodile was giving him got even hotter. Buggy balled one hand into a fist to keep it from trembling. His haki felt like the desert; like a massive tomb that stretched up to touch the sky and reached both ends of the horizon, the domain where you died when he demanded it, lived quietly and only with his blessing. He'd killed people in ways horror novelists would have hesitated to commit to paper, and Buggy's stomach was trying to evacuate out his throat at actively provoking him.

“Does this conversation have a purpose?” Mihawk uttered, his voice flat with annoyance. “Or are you just going to exchange insults all day?”

“Just trying to see if you're paying attention, abelist.” Buggy shot off. Instantly his confidence quailed at the halfway murderous look Mihawk shot him. “Which would be a terrible attitude to pass down to your cute little child, by the way. Why don't you go apologize to Shanks and give him a duel for old time's sake? Start a new page, isn't that what parenthood is about?”

Keep talking, keep talking, don't let him see he scares the sh*t out of you and you badly want to run away from him... don't shut up until you sell it!

The insult was mostly to get Mihawk more involved in the conversation, so Buggy wasn't uselessly scraping against the monolith of Crocodile's ego alone. Shanks insisted that the murderous hawk didn't actually believe what he said, but was using it to keep the redhead at a clear remove.

Buggy wanted to tell Shanks to stop letting that man's angry grief over his raven's betrayal and death to as reason enough to indulge the childlike rejection of companionship, but since when had Shanks ever taken his advice?

“Cute little child?” Crocodile growled. “Don't describe those disgusting science projects the world government created in such cloying terms. In fact, don't mention that cobbled-together abomination in my earshot, ever.” The man seethed, sand swirling around his ankles at the memory of Jinbe's little announcement.

Mihawk's death glare abruptly pivoted away from Buggy and firmly onto Crocodile, who for the first time in the conversation recoiled slightly. “I must have misheard you, Crocodile.” Mihawk said, ice leaking into his voice. “Run that last little thought of yours by me again?”

Every nerve in Buggy's brain started firing at high velocity. Run! Run the f*ck away, are you insane?! Dracule Mihawk just got pissed off! What are you waiting for, an invitation?! He swallowed subtly and planted his heels on the floor and reminded himself why he'd come out here and why this was so damn important. His legs didn't shake.

Cap would be proud of him.

“...It was nothing.” Crocodile responded through his teeth. Mihawk stared coldly for another moment before sitting back in his chair, crossing one leg over the other and staring at Buggy with a look that might contain a tiny flare of curiosity.

Surprised he wasn't running away? Fair. Fair. Buggy would have stayed as far away from the guys as possible if it weren't for the new edited bounty he'd been graced with that morning.

“I'm surprised you didn't return to the East Blue,” Mihawk said, head tilted like his namesake animal seeking prey in the water. “You haven't left it in twenty years... and the boy you want revenge on so badly is now comfortably enjoying Whitebeard's protection.”

Buggy snorted and made an exaggerated shrugging motion. “Well, I got bored; and then a crazy lady's conscience told her to set the world I live in on fire. Can't avoid that unless I move to Sky Island, and I'd rather be moving up in the world. Like you two are.”

Mihawk arched an eyebrow. “Moving up? I can't imagine you taking over some kingdom or other to rule, unlike our companion here.” Crocodile glared at him. “I find it hard to picture you as an Emperor. Wouldn't that be something for the papers?”

Buggy barked a laugh. “Me, an Emperor?! Hah! For f*ck's sake, Hawk, you've been the unofficial fifth Emperor since you beat the last swordsman standing between you and the top of the world. Everybody f*ckin' knew it, even when you were slumming it as a Warlord.” Mihawk's brow subtly tightened, which Buggy took as a cue to quick quick get to the point. “Nah, there are three things I want, and three things I think we'd be best served working together to get.”

“...Which are?” Crocodile dragged out.

Smiling indulgently like he was dealing with a small child, Buggy slowly began to tap of three fingers. “Wealth. Fame. Power.”

...Huh. It didn't sound the same when it was coming out of his mouth. How had Cap infused those words with so much weight?

Crocodile laughed again, incredulous this time; he slapped a hand on the table. “You want us to go after the One Piece?!” He demanded. “You're demented. Living in the East Blue has melted your brain.”

“You're the one making assumptions here,” Buggy scoffed, as if part of his heart didn't ache. “I'd been under the impression that you'd be competent enough to get fabulously wealthy and feared without drowning looking for ghosts.”

No, the only person he wanted to see wearing that crown now was determined to give it to his disinterested adoptive dad, and oh right he'd been trying not to think about that for a few hours.

Gol D Ace. Gol D Ace, as in Gol D Roger, as in Captain, Captain had a son, Captain had a f*cking son and he didn't tell Buggy, he didn't tell Shanks, he didn't even tell Ralyeigh the kid had been right in f*cking front of him they'd had a party on his ship and he'd thought those freckles and that smile and that wavy hair looked familiar but he hadn't even guessed because argh f*ck.

Portgas. He'd been going by his mom's name for f*ck's sake, Rouge's name, mom's name because the noble bitch who'd wanted his nose cut off before throwing him out on pain of death if he ever used the name he'd been born with again didn't f*cking count okay?! The bitch didn't count! How had he not realized it?! The freckles, the damn freckles should have given the kid away to him.

“I've never had a particular interest in hording such things,” Mihawk responded, sounding a little disappointed. It saved him briefly from his spiralling thoughts, which is good because Buggy always ended up in a pit of self loathing when his thoughts went there. He was very good at that.

How to convince him... Buggy held up his hands placatingly. “Well, think of it this way – you have a kid now. Don't you want to be able to spoil him?” He grinned innocently. “Outside of turning him into some master swordsman. You can probably do that without the Cross Guild's help.”

Mihawk hesitated for half a second and emotions flickered through his eyes that Buggy didn't have time to parse. f*ck. Damn, the clone thing really messed 'Hawky' up, didn't it? It's a f*cking struggle to read him 99 percent of the time, always had been, but that was... just out and in the open.

“So what are you suggesting?” Mihawk said after a second, which wasn't an answer to his question but also was. He was thinking about his clone kid and providing for him. f*ck it, that was almost a noble reason to join a pseudo murder guild, Buggy would reel him in that way! “That you, upon outing yourself as a Roger Pirate, serve as the face of the guild and give it general directions... while Crocodile and I carry most of the important loads?”

“The three of us are equally in charge,” Buggy dared; those words never would have passed his lips in another timeline but he's worried about a little brother he barely knows and who almost definitely doesn't consider him family and that's making him less of a coward. “I know even just pretending to take orders from me would be way too embarrassing for either of you, so let's agree that we'll hold this ship together, and use it to get the things each of us want?”

He gestured to Crocodile. “You get the reputation boost and a brand new recruitment center... I get the hedonistic pleasures of life... and Mihawk gets everything he could possibly need to raise a child. C'mon. You'll have a hard time finding a better bargain than that.”

Crocodile was still scowling at him, but Buggy can see the gears in his brain turning, and he violently smothered a triumphant laugh. You're a con man, Buggy, Rouge had said, playfully disapproving as she retrieved her necklace from his pocket. Her finger bopped him gently on the nose. If you applied yourself more, the webs you could weave would be a thing the New World knew to be wary of. So stop doubting yourself and hiding behind Shanks so much! I'm rooting for you.

Is this what she meant? Is he making her proud?

Rouge was all he had, and he'd barely had her, the spunky adventurer had only traveled with them on the route to Laugh Tale and she stayed behind when he got sick to care for him instead of seeing the end of the world like she dreamed before disappearing with Roger-

She was a good mom. She was a great f*cking mom. Ace should have memories of her. He should be able to visit her right now, today, to shower her with loot and whine about his crew of brothers and act embarrassed when she doted on him while secretly enjoying it. It's not fair Buggy knew her better than him – it wasn't f*cking fair.

But hey, that wasn't news, was it? It wasn't fair that Shanks was so effortlessly captivating and good at everything he did that Buggy felt worthless just being in the vicinity of one of the only guys who gave a sh*t about him. It wasn't fair that Cap got sick and left them behind so he could die opening the way. It wasn't fair that Rouge had to hide and extend her pregnancy from people wanted her and her baby dead, just because she fell in love with a reckless dumbass pirate. Hell, it wasn't fair that the Lunarians got f*cking massacred and the world government got to profit of it for twenty years before King finally got the opportunity to shove a concrete boot up their ass; and Buggy didn't even need to have grown up with that guy to figure that out.

This world wasn't fair, and finally someone had set it on fire in retaliation for its constant asshole antics. And he still can't help but feel like it's not fair for him specifically, because now he can't just slink back to the East Blue and continue living in that quiet, peaceful sea. (Because if Shanks was going to abandon the crown Roger left for him, what was the point?)

Nope. He has to be here, for Rouge, and for that black-haired punk who hates that Roger is his dad and can't stop disowning him not knowing how desperately Buggy wanted to be in his place, wanted that blood connection that claim of parentage. The World Government and its masters know their empire just had a volcano erupt underneath its core and if they want to save any fraction of it from crumbling, they need to reassert authority.

Quickly, violently, and decisively.

Buggy had to be there. He had to be there because it didn't matter that Ace probably couldn't pick him out of a crowd, that Captain's son probably thought he was a coward who ran away to find people weak enough for him to bully without fear of retaliation – it was true enough. Maybe he shouldn't be throwing stones at Mihawk's idea of grieving when his floor was made of glass.

(Mihawk would say he hadn't been betrayed, then saved by a fatal wound. If Buggy didn't fear him he'd retort that Shanks abandoning the crown had hurt him on a level deep enough to get it, because Shanks might not be dead but he hadn't changed, hadn't stopped caring about Buggy despite hurting him, and that was the f*cking thumbscrew of it, huh?

Love f*cking sucks. Every version of it. No wonder Hanahaki is a popular mythology.)

But it didn't matter if Ace didn't know him and didn't want his connection to Roger, that's fine – that's fine!

The problem is that Buggy's dumb stupid idiot Captain, who left them behind with a smile and a final rush of pride-seeped Haki, is the closest to being his father, and Rouge is his mother. And Buggy cared too damn much about them after all these years to not want to protect that son he could have grown up with, could have been an embarrassing older brother to.

He wants Ace to live and be happy, and the only person the World Government wanted dead more than him right now is King – and Ace was slightly easier to get to than the latter. So that means Buggy is going back to the New World and back to being that failed Roger Pirate who never managed to quite match up to his crewmates because it'll draw some heat off of the kid and give him time to get stronger.

Davy Jones's teeth, but Newgate better be giving that reckless brat a lecture about neglecting his haki and grounding him until he's got every version of that sh*t on lock. Rouge had mastered all Haki disciplines, she'd loved every minute of it and dammit but if Ace only wants to have one parent he should at least do her proud in that department!

“I suppose that's a tempting offer, in its totality.” Crocodile said, his voice rudely dragging Buggy back to the present before he could have a breakdown. “It's a start. If terms require renegotiation, we can do so later.”

“If something serious comes up, I suppose it could.” Buggy said casually. Yeah, I bet they'll need renegotiation. If you go after Whitebeard and that puts Ace in danger, I'll renegotiate your head and its right to a connection to your neck.

“...Fine,” Mihawk said without inflection.

Buggy clapped his hands together, his pulse racing. He's still scared of these two terrifying monsters, but he actually managed to bell the cat. This is good. This is very good. “Then how about we get started, gentlemen?”

“Is this boat gonna survive until we reach Water Seven?” One of the little kids whimpered, pressing his scarred hand against one of the small leaks in the side. The sizable ship bobbled in the wave like a cork; it had used to be a Celestial Dragon pleasure yacht, built largely for style instead of substance, but its newfound 'crew' had yet to be sunk – which didn't stop them from living in fear of it.

Hotaru clutched the rough, wood carved sun around her neck like a totem and nodded violently. “It will hold,” she said with absolute certainty. The other former slave children all stared at her with desperate, uncertain eyes. Miles from the Red Line and they still didn't feel as though they'd escaped. “Nika has carried us this far; he won't drop us before we reach the place of Dawn.” She said it with the passion of a priestess, the promise of a bishop, and the plea of hope reignited.

“It's leaking! Not just here, but other places too.” Another of the kids said, flailing his arms. “We're going to have to start bailing water out again if we go through another storm!”

“It will hold!” Hotaru promised fiercely. Her voice lifted a tone. “Don't be scared.” She held out her hands to them, and as one the littlest ones toddled close. “Come sing and dance with me, if you're afraid.”

She drew the shaking boy close and hugged him tight, kissing the top of his head like her mama used to do to her when she was alive. “Nika is with us.” Hotaru whispered. “He sent Joyboy to set us free, and look! Look around us, we escaped the collar and escaped the city of the false gods. The time is coming... all the slaves are going to be freed, not just us. Everyone.”

The boy clung to her, nestling his face into her neck to draw on her belief, her certainty. Hotaru's skin itched from the feeling of his hair scraping against dried blood and the grooves left by years of wearing the explosive collar, the chain, but she didn't budge. She started humming the beginning of the song, and slowly, they started to follow along.

The few adults who managed to survive the mad dash exchanged hesitant looks. She wasn't surprised; the old gladiators had been resigned to death when she burst in and urged them to run to freedom. They'd only learned of Nika through her lessons.

“You really believe the Emperor is Joyboy? He, of all men, is the one who is promised?” The scarred old man asked her. He was in his forties, absolutely ancient by the colosseum's standards, and he knew more about the outside world than most of them.

Hotaru nodded violently, letting the children carry on the tune. “He laughed, he set the day of the tyrant's doom, and he unleashed lightning from heaven upon them.” She said reverently. “He rescued the Lunarian slaves and saved the one survivor from a terrible death. He's the one.”

“But he's...”

“Terrifying? Monstrous?” Hotaru guessed, nodding at his expectant look. “Of course he is. Nothing is more fearful in the world than the wrath of an angry god. He frightened me too when he appeared.” Her white wings fluttered at the memory. “But then... then he struck my master dead where he stood, leaving me unharmed.”

'Unharmed' might have been a bit of a mental revision for what happened in that moment – after all, Hotaru had been standing a few feet behind her master when Kaido's lightning rained down upon Mariejois. So when the lightning fell, it very much caught her in the shockwave leaving her briefly deaf, blind, and twitchy as the electricity rushed over her. But she was Skypean by birth, born to weather all but the harshest storms, and she'd recovered quickly.

...Even if she hadn't, Hotaru would have forgiven Kaido on the spot as soon as she realized that not only was her master dead, but an all important bag was lying on the ground within grabbing reach and no one was paying any attention to a slave with the Dragon roaring overhead.

The children, all fifteen of them, began to sing and clap; their voices began to draw some of the other young ones from nearby areas of the ship. Hotaru smiled and lead the dance moves, clapping and singing sweetly until they were all caught up in the joy and hope that her new god had granted them. Then she left them be and scampered for the stairs to the deck; she had faith in Nika, but that didn't mean she wouldn't insist on holes in the hold of the ship being patch up quickly.

That, and she wanted to check on her brother.

The sea wind whipped at her face when she pushed the trap door open and pulled herself up into the hallway between the lounge and the bedrooms; the window had been broken in their haste to get aboard and struggle with the guards who had been posted, and once again someone had grabbed the board planks she'd used to close it for some other purpose. Hotaru sighed and made a mental note to complain to the helmsman or the navigator.

She did welcome the wind and the rain, though. Feeling it on her skin and in her hair after years of purgatory, imprisoned in a gaudy 'intermission' hall of Saint Margrave's Colosseum... there were no words to convey the sense of ecstasy, of wonder that it gave her.

“Hello Hotaru! Don't tell me we're leaking again,” One of the deckhands called. He had not been a slave, but he was part of an underground ring of blessed souls who helped escaping slaves, and he and his people had come aboard to provide a crew when she and her desperate gang had almost sunk their getaway vessel off shore of his home. The entire island chain had put themselves in the dangerous position of enemy of the false gods, helping those who managed to get past the city limits despite the grave fate that awaited them if caught.

Nika's will moved through the world no matter how the so called Celestial Dragons tried to stop it.

“It's most definitely not leaking again,” Hotaru responded, her back instinctively stiffening at what sounded like a command in spite of her freedom.

The deckhand groaned. “Man, we should have stayed long enough to grab more emergency supplies... don't worry, I'll grab a few of the guys and take care of that. If you're looking for Touya, he's in the crows nest.”

“I am! Thank you!” Hotaru bowed to him and scurried in between the men to reach the ladder up to her destination, running so as to not get underfoot. She grabbed the rope and wood and began hoisting herself up; her wings were still fragile, might be as bad as Touya's, so she didn't want to test them.

The scars on her wrists from shackles are like bracelets. It felt strange to move without them, to do things without being burdened by the constant weight. Every day Hotaru felt the absence, she would be struck with the urge to sing or laugh.

Reaching the trap door, she knocked three times, their little signature. A moment later, it opened for her, and Touya's tanned hand reached down to help her in. “How far away are we from Water Seven now?” her brother asked her, his mostly black wings fluttering as much as the damage to them permitted.

“Just a few days time.” Hotaru said, sitting next to him when the door fell closed. “I'm almost done your amulet; I promise, I'll give it to you soon.”

He uttered a soft, raspy chuckle. “It's fine, 'Taru. I can wait.” His eyebrows tightened. “We're gonna need money to secure passage to Wano... how are we gonna get it? Can't imagine this bucket will sell for much, with all the damage on it.”

“Nika will show us the way,” Hotaru responded with confidence.

Touya briefly let his eyes closed. Hotaru regarded her brother with gentle concern; he was stunted for his age, or perhaps his Skypean blood had moved his Lunarian genes around enough that he wouldn't grow quite so tall. Or perhaps it was just a result of Saint Margrave using his pet project as a perfect gladiator starting at ten, and venting his fury on him in the times when he lost. “I hope so. I don't hear him as clearly as you do.” He coughed violently, pounding a fist against his chest.

Hotaru squeezed his hand comfortingly. “I hope I grow my hair out before we make it to Wano,” Touya confided in her. “I don't want King or Joyboy seeing... y'know.” He moved his hand to rub the back of his neck.

The word STUD was branded there.

The saint had been hellbent on getting a viable Lunarian male from the very few who had been taken as slaves, and he'd had few options – they'd either died, killed themselves and immolated the house they were kept in, or escaped. He'd also been convinced he could breed a “meeting of heaven and hell” by introducing Skypean blood to the gene pool, so his Perfect Gladiator would have even more natural advantages, more strength to call upon.

And for the aesthetics. Don't forget the aesthetics. He'd drawn pictures of the prospective gladiator with one black wing and one white one.

All he got were Hotaru and Touya. Hotaru's Lunarian blood was somewhat in remission, and Touya had health problems due to all the drugs in their parents veins when they'd been... conceived. Despite this, Margrave didn't kill them, because they were his work in progress.

It was why they both looked funny by both their race's measure; Touya had tanned skin, but his silver hair was more a platinum blonde, and his wings grew lighter in colour further down, from gray to almost white at the lowermost feathers. Hotaru was pale skinned and silver haired and her wings an inky gray twice the size of her brother's; they made her back ache. Fraternal twins of the most obvious kind.

“I'll give you a scarf if it hasn't,” Hotaru whispered. “I'll help you hide it somehow.” She nuzzled him. “Don't worry, though. I bet it doesn't matter.”

Joyboy had come for them, after all.

Hotaru remembered every minute of that day, every second of it. How Saint Margrave had been dragging her to the auction house, to get her appraised and separate her from Touya to confound their plot to 'un man him' so he couldn't have children like them... she'd been deep in despair, wanted to die, cried for the gods to kill her, and then – and then!

Day had turned to night in the blink of an eye. Thunder rolled and crackled, rain began to fall like sheets, and Hotaru had found herself looking dumbly up at the sky like her master when Kaido emerged from the clouds and mist. Every inch a dragon, a dominion holder, vast and powerful beyond her wildest dreams. The ambient pressure of his haki fell over her like a heavy coat, nearly making her pass out.

He'd laughed. He'd mocked the Celestial Dragons, called them rats and vermin, and then he'd unleashed his lightning. How many times had Margrave told her and Touya “I AM YOUR GOD!”? Yet when the lightning struck him head on, he could only scream in agony and burn. He died within moments, while Hotaru was still blinking the stars out of her eyes and shaking off the static. His face a rictus of torment.

The saints were screaming, running in every direction, cowering like the slaves, like her. Hotaru had stared, hardly able to make out what Kaido was saying over the ringing in her ears, and her eyes fell on Margrave's bag. Where his keys were. The keys to her shackles and collar and so many others.

Hotaru looked up at the sky, at her saviour who had struck her master dead. He held their attention, demanded it. No God Knight or Celestial Dragon was paying a single thought to the slave girl lying stunned on the ground.

He killed them... and they couldn't even touch him. His killed the blood of the gods and his head was not severed from his neck nor did an explosion erase him from the world. He killed them and they could do nothing.

Madness struck her – no, it was divine inspiration. Hotaru darted forward, seized the bag in her hand as the rain slashed at the world around her, and she ran like Rocks Xebec was snapping at her heels. She ran like his sword was at her back when Kaido obliterated the colosseum that had so tormented so many slaves, had been the pit Touya was bound to die in, and she knew as the air filled with his laughter.

Joyboy had come. Just like the old Buccaneer woman said, Joyboy had come.

The realization swept over her like the dawn coming to a world of endless night. It electrified her with purpose! She wouldn't let his gift go to waste.

She ran to the barracks, outrunning the devil Xebec and leaving his howling behind her at being denied. She tore the door open and unlocked her brother's chains, then the next and the next as the screaming and chaos began to submerge the city, until finally she reached a lock she couldn't open with these keys – a door. An old woman had swept her off her feet and used the key to unlock her own chains, and as a mob, as one, they ran.

Not all of them survived. As they ran, God Knights paused their protection of their charges to take potshots at them as said charges screamed about their purchases and how the detonators weren't working. They lost many as they flew through the wall of the city, though an opening created by Kaido's lightning as he bellowed his warning, his promise from on high. Two years.

They ran to the edge of the Red Line, overlooking the ocean beyond. Hotaru and Touya had grabbed each other's hand and leapt from the continent, leapt with the others down to the dark water so far below. Either they would die or they would escape.

The water had knocked the air from her lungs when they fell in; the ocean pulled them deep within, Sea Kings jolting in surprise at the sudden intrusion into their domain. Touya held fast to Hotaru as their fellow slaves crashed through the water all around them, his wings pumping as he used his strength to get them back up, pulling them back to the surface as she struggled to hold what little breath she had.

Salt water burned her nose, eyes, ears and throat as she broke the surface. It had burned! Yet it was beautiful beyond compare! She would have drunk the ocean dry in that moment if she only could, disoriented and battered and in danger but free! Instantly a wave picked her up and nearly threw her as she flailed, trying to get her bearings, Touya's grip and shouting the only real thing in existence. Hotaru wasn't sure how long they scrambled in the deep, shouting all around them as they and the other escapees tried to get their bearings and realized that sea kings were starting to circle; then she'd swam backwards into a ship hull.

She'd looked up and seen a Celestial Dragon's guard stick his head over the edge. She'd frozen – then she'd looked at her brother.

The divine inspiration possessed her brother too, and they flew onto the deck and launched themselves at the crew like savage demons. They used chairs and cutlery and rope and Touya's flames and they flung the crew and the celestial dragon into the sea below, flinging down the anchor and ladders for the others to climb up. Touya ran to the edge and whenever the guards tried to get back, he flung fireballs at them, driving them into the maws of surfacing sea kings as they took control of the ship.

They tried to chase after Kaido's storm, but it had dissipated before they got more than a few days out. It was okay, though. Kaido was an Emperor with territory to be concerned for, he must have been in a hurry. They would find other ways to get to Wano.

“We're going to the land of new Dawn.” Hotaru whispered. Touya sighed in comfort and leaned against her. “King will be there to open the gates for us.”

She ran her finger over her amulet, carved out of ship wood in haste when the thought struck her that she had nothing to worship with. She hoped King wasn't bothered by the crude material. She didn't know how to work anything more proper on the ship, like gold.

If this was what Revolutions were all about, Dadan missed her calling in life. “That is mahogany!” Outlook the Third's wretched wife squealed when Dogra grabbed the table and flipped it onto its side with Magra's help. The two ignored her handily and gestured to each other as they tried to figure out how to negotiate it out the doorway.

“That's nice. It's ours now.” Dadan informed the bitch cheerfully, resisting the urge to stab her repeatedly. She grabbed the gaudy looking opal necklace from a nearby dresser and tilted her head sideways as the woman uttered another faint shrieking sound. “Goddamn, the stones in this are beautiful, but how is this design supposed to be chic? It looks like a drunk monkey drew it up.”

“C'mon, Dadan, we know a drunk monkey could do better than that. We raised one!” Dogra responded cheerfully.

Dadan flapped a hand at him with mock aggravation. “Shut up and start moving the booty faster, Dogra! The good folk in the Gray Terminal won't be helping out forever! I want everything shiny inside this building either back at the hideout or sold for a pretty penny by tonight, you hear me?”

“Boss, that's gonna take days! And didn't the Revolution discourage looting?”

“Bah, what they won't notice won't hurt them! Besides, we provided some muscle to the revolution, that should count for something!” Dadan yelled back. “If you're that worried about it, then get moving!

“Yes boss!” Her band of misfits shouted back in unison. They sounded entirely too gleeful to be properly remorseful, but f*ck it. Dadan was having exactly as much fun as they were and she would not deny it.

She gave the opal necklace another appraising look before shrugging and tossing it back into the jewlery box, snapping it shut. “What the heck? I've got money now, I could probably commission someone to retool the thing into something much less embarrassing.”

Of course, the woman managed to find her voice again at that. “That was custom made for me! Get your filthy hands off of it, you brute! You animal!”

Dadan grabbed an empty drawer and threw it at the hag's head. It was a dead on hit, causing her to crumple to the ground whimpering in pain. “Shaddap, bitch!” The redhaired woman bellowed at her and her husband, who's still trying to squirm out of the ropes binding him. “You're lucky I don't kill you! You're lucky I don't rip your throat out! If I were you, I would stop tempting me!”

These two wastes of flesh were Sabo's birth parents? Bull f*cking sh*t, they were.

That boy had been brave and ruthless and possessed a mind like a bladed whip. He fought bears and tigers for fun, and when he and the other brats got hungry they hunted crocodiles. He was a fighter and a strategist and bursting with potential; a noble should have been f*cking honored to have him for a son, honored, and breathing a sigh of relief that his progeny wasn't a useless imbecile!

As far as she could tell, the only thing these two sacks of flesh could do was a) scream, and b), try to bribe her into letting them go while spitting insults at her family, lack of education, body shape, and whatever else jumped to mind at the same time. How had they contributed anything to Sabo's existence? f*cking HOW?

It annoyed so much that they tried to bribe her. So much. As if these scum could buy her with anything short of bringing her boy back to life.

When the Revolution came to Goa thanks to that crazy doctor lady and fallen angel, she and her gang had hauled ass out here just for this. To destroy the world that made Sabo so damn miserable, then it stole his whole goddamn life from him before he got a chance to really live it. It wasn't enough to just ransack this house, beat the sh*t out of the nobles, steal everything that wasn't nailed down and use crowbars for anything that was... but it was something.

Dadan suspected that Sabo would have enthusiastically approved.

“Woman, don't you know that I could make you a high society fixture?!” Oh look, Outlook had given up on the ropes and had switched back to bargaining. “Let me go, help me and my wife escape and you'll be rewarded with anything you desire! Wealth! Connections! Power! Anything you want! Don't you understand who I am?!”

Something about that statement set Dadan off; she couldn't quite put her finger on what, but she knew that if she didn't make this guy shut up, she really was going to kill him.

Grabbing another empty drawer, she threw it at his chest like a cannonball. “Don't even start with me, you waste of perfectly good oxygen,” Dadan seethed as she stomped up to him, wheezing and trembling from the pain. “There isn't enough money in the world for you to buy me. What you owe me... can't be paid back with pretty rocks!”

Outlook had the audacity to look outraged and confused. “What?! I've never dealt with you before, I would remember such a boarish creature!”

Dadan grabbed him by the scruff and held him up so he was eye level with her. He literally pissed himself with fear. “It's not me you dealt with,” she growled. “You dealt with a boy. A menace of a child who drove me to insanity, stole my stuff, played pranks on me, called me a hag... a beautiful boy who I took into my heart as my son. An incredible boy who was born to you, who you weren't even grateful for having in your life, but still used as a bargaining chip because you weren't satisfied with what you had. A boy who's dead because of you and your ilk.”

Outlook sputtered, trying to respond a few times before an inkling of realization flitted across his face. “You didn't even mourn him, did you? It didn't take you long to find a replacement.” Dadan said in disgust. “I ran into that little sh*t during the fighting; it baffles me that he's the child you adopted while somehow, Sabo is the one your witch there gave birth to. Thinking of your pride and joy rotting away in prison is going to put a smile on my face for a long time.”

She dropped him to the floor in disgust. Of course – of course – the man didn't take the hint and opened his big fat mouth. “That little bastard was a disappointment! He embar-”

Dadan's fist connected with his jaw with a satisfying crack before he could insult her lost boy any further. Outlook slammed into the floor and bounced a little from the impact, his face having some brand new fractures in it as he passed out cold.

She shifted her murderous glare to the wife, but alas, she'd finally scraped to brain cells together and cowered on the ground, whimpering. “Did that help any?”

Dadan swore and wheeled around to find that raven guy in front of her – Kara-something. “Gah! Don't sneak up on people like that, I almost hit you in the face.” She scolded him, lowering her weapon. “What can I do for you, officer? Nothing to see here, just some proper wealth redistribution; the noble snobs were uncooperative, is all.”

“I was hoping I could talk to you, actually.” Karasu said, graciously pretending that it wasn't obvious the bandit family was looting the house. “I've been hearing a lot of stories about a child from this city that...I might know, and if it is him, he'll want to be told. And some of them seem to lead back to you.”

Dadan blinked and set her mace down. “Huh? You're gonna have to be more specific than that.” She said, puzzled but on her guard. Did the Revolution have some problem with Ace? Surely not, what did they care about his damn bio father being Roger?

“Ten years ago, the grey terminal was set on fire by the King in order to get rid of the trash heap and the 'undesirables' within, prior to a Celestial Dragon visiting.” Karasu responded. Not Roger then. Good. But on the other hand...

Her eye twitched. “Yeah, I remember that. I was around for it.” She still had scars from the burns. Ace probably still felt guilty about them; the little punk thought she hadn't noticed, but she did.

“The Revolution arrived in time to rescue the people in the terminal, and we were in the process of helping them recover their livelihoods and homes when the Celestial Dragon visited.” Karasu paused. “The child I'm referencing was pulled out of the water by Dragon some time later, wounded from a explosion and shrapnel, and he had amnesia when he woke up – grk! Ma'am?”

Dadan grabbed him by the collar. “What do you mean, 'when he woke up?'” She whispered. “There was one boy in that accident and he died.”

“Oh?” Karasu looked both surprised and a little intimidated. “He'll be surprised to hear he's been dead for ten years, but then again Sabo was good at making jokes out of something like – ack! Please let go of my ear!”

Put this 'Sabo' you speak of on the snail call immediately.”

“He hasn't come out of the room since the broadcast. It's creepy.”

“What the hell got father in such a snit, anyway?”

“He threw a beaker at the snail and screamed when the Seraphim project got mentioned; started ranting something about Vegapunk. Hey Reiju, do you know what that was all about?”

The pinkette briefly closed her eyes and suppressed a sigh; she knew well enough by now when her brothers had decided to foist a matter they considered annoying on her. “I don't,” she said, pivoting to face Ichiji, Niji and Yonji. “I'm aware that father was a member of MADS back in the day, but he never said what exactly transpired between him and Vegapunk that he feels so much enmity towards him.”

As if it isn't obvious that he has Little Man Syndrome and resents Vegapunk for being smarter than him, the pink-haired princess thought bitingly. And what do you know? It turns out Vegapunk can even make better super soldiers than him. Out of corpses.

Her brothers were right, though. From the moment the broadcast of the World Government's crime had reached the specifics of the Seraphim project to now, Judge had shut himself in his laboratory and ordered everyone out, with orders that he only be disturbed for meals and in case of emergency. The fleet continued traveling, but aimlessly, as they waited for their King to come out of the fugue state he'd gone into upon hearing what had been done with Lunarian genetics and cybernetics. Reiju had expected it to last a few days, maybe more if Judge was really in a manic state.

It had been a few weeks now.

“Well, somebody should go try and drag him out of there.” Yonji complained. “We haven't picked up any new contracts since he barred himself in there! Everything has to go through him, so we're just sitting around doing nothing. I'm so bored!”

Ichiji and Niji shared blank looks that plainly stated 'not it', before their gaze shifted unerringly to her. Reiju did sigh this time, but kept it restrained. “I'll go. Hopefully I'll be able to get him to speak to me, but with it having lasted this long... I have my concerns.”

“Do your best,” Ichiji responded, shrugging.

Reiju turned and walked out of the room, heading quickly to the elevator that would take her into the bowls of the ship. Unease flitted through her stomach as she made the journey, wondering what her so-called father had sunk so deeply into... and if it was viable, what he'd unleash. Her hands clenched into fists.

Wasn't Lineage Factor enough? He'd stolen her free will and her brothers' empathy and now he felt upstaged by the ugly butchering the government was calling the Seraphim project? Was this the atrocity Olypmics? Did Judge want to get himself a platinum medal over Vegapunk's gold in the face of what the hell he'd created? What would he do to achieve that, find another race of poor souls to commit wholesale genocide against?

The lights were low when Reiju drew close to the heavy metal doors that guarded Judge's shop; always a sign that he was using a lot of power. She came to a stop in front of them and raised her fist to knock when an explosive “DAMMIT!” echoed from inside, followed by an impact and a lot of glass shattering. Reiju closed her eyes and let her arm drop to her side, trying to ease her heartbeat.

When he was in a mood like this... sometimes Judge scared her. If only for the sheer knowledge of what kind of monster could stop her heart with a single command.

She stood and waited what she determined to be a safe period as the muffled sounds of Judge rampaging and cursing in fury echoed from beyond the metal. A lot of glass shattering, likely vials... oh, that sounded like a table flying into a wall and shattering. “You privileged bastard! You're only as good as the materials you have access to!” Actively cursing at Vegapunk's general existence. Oh yes, this is all very encouraging.

Reiju counted backwards from fifty. Eventually her father tired himself out, or decided there were better things for him to vent his rage upon than his expensive scientific equipment. She still waited a five minutes before pressing the buzzer, announcing herself.

“What?!” Judge barked, sounding a little ragged.

“Father, it's me.” You're no father of mine. “I haven't seen you in weeks. The fleet is disoriented by your absence. Will you please let me in?”

“...Tsk!” Judge's frustrated sound was shortly followed by the doors sliding open with a loud hiss. Reiju stepped inside the ship and took in the destruction; the laboratory looked like a strong wind had blown through it. There were papers everywhere; the blackboard was clogged with equations and composition for formulas and a big circle declaring 'NO DATA AVAILABLE' in angry red chalk. The bubble depicted the basic image of a Lunarian. Whole notebooks were stuffed to bursting. There was glass scattered across the floor, and crates that had been full of lineage factor and other creations of Judge's were completely empty. It looked like something a heroine in a gothic novel would stumble upon while investigating a mad doctor.

Her father had thrown himself into a large armchair and was brooding, glaring at the wall. He was unshaven and sleep deprived, dark circles under his eyes and his hair falling around his hair unkempt. “Forgive my neglect, Reiju.” He said, his voice gravelly from lack of sleep. “I've been seeking an improvement to my lineage factor in the face of the new world order, yet my work has yet to bear fruit.”

“I've never seen you in such a state.” Reiju said quietly, uneasy. “Have you been sleeping at all?”

“I have no time for it.” Judge said. He seemed to have slipped into brooding, his initial rage having run its course. “But it's proving useless. Useless! Nothing I've calculated and tested can match the potential, or even approach the durability that the Lunarians have etched into their blood. The giants came close, but even without proper DNA to run comparisons with...” he angrily gestured at his half destroyed room. “It would only be a poor man's substitute. I am done with poor man's substitutes.”

Reiju took in a wary breath, bracing herself to hear that her father was considering approaching Kaido for an alliance in hopes of gaining access to King. “Perhaps you need to approach the matter from a different angle?” She suggested. “You're only driving yourself to distraction at the moment.”

Judge grunted in acknowledgement but didn't move. The smoldering, burning look in his eyes made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. “Super soldiers were a creation of my design.” He said, thumping his hand on the fabric hard. “My design. You should be the envy of the world, Reiju. You and your brothers. You are the peak of evolution.”

And a puppet. Your puppet! “I know.”

“And yet Vegapunk has come forth... with a cribbed, plagerized blueprint and superior materials... to dethrone you. Dethrone us.” Judge growled from deep in his chest. “He is a hack. If I'd had access to Lunarian DNA, I'd have created a vision far more superior to the little genetic abominations he's forged. He must have been using my cloning blueprints... yet he gets all the credit without even hinting at this. He gets to claim he resurrected a whole people, that he's a GOD!

Reiju stared at him in disbelief... and not for the reason her father was probably thinking. That... you... you... genetic abominations?! That's what you're calling those poor little child soldiers?! She shouldn't have been shocked her father didn't care one whit where said DNA was harvested from, she knew him better than that, and yet...!

“Imagine a Lunarian with lineage factor perfecting their biology. Imagine their powers gifted to a human through it.” Judge continued, immune to her rising emotions. “All of that was handed off to Vegapunk, cheating us out of that place among the gods.”

“Well. At least we don't have a furious King and the Beast Pirates chasing us to the ends of the earth, desiring our heads on spikes.” Reiju offered with as much calm as she could muster.

Judge chuckled dryly at that very reasonable observation, as if that didn't matter as much as the sense that he had been robbed. Reiju wanted to punch him in the face.

She's saved from the instinct by her father's personal den den suddenly waking up and starting to ring. Judge glanced at her, and she dutifully hurried to retrieve it and brought it to his side. He grabbed the reciever. “This is Judge.” He's silent for a second... then his eyes sharpened slightly. “Kong? I hadn't ever expected to hear your voice again.”

Reiju's stomach flipped over in surprise. Judge sat up, his demeanour that of a predator who had just scented a meal. “Please, let's bypass the formalities. I have an inkling why you've reached out to me...” His lips curved upward toward a smirk. “I'm happy to help... for a price.” Another pause. “I want my family's crown back.”

There's a very long pause... and then Judge smirked broadly.

Notes:

And this brings the Ringing Silence Arc has come to a close with a look at the world in general and the last bits of fallout, covering a somewhat competent Buggy all the way to Judge's awful ass making some kind of deal with the crumbling world Government. Yes, I basically wrote this all in one sitting because I thought to myself 'huh maybe I'll just write part of this scene with Buggy while it's in my head, oops I just wrote fifteen pages and the chapter's ready. ...Okay!'

So yeah - surprise double update! Enjoy, everybody!

Chapter 25: Arc 3: Preparations

Summary:

The dust as settled; the world is in motion. King prepares to strengthen himself, Robin gets a message, and Himawari tries to figure out how to be a child.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Bloody hell... houses have gone up already?”

Alber nodded gamely as Kaido squinted down at the town of Kuri far below, baffled. “One of the most useful things about the robots we collected is that they can work through the day and night without stopping, until they need to be recharged.” He said, taking a drink of red wine. “I was told this beforehand, but I'm still a little surprised by how rapid progress has been so far.”

“And Yamato is contributing! Instead of running around picking fights!” Kaido enthused, grabbing his mug and knocking it back. “To think it was a bloody town project of all things that would call to his maturity...” Alber's left wing shivered slightly and he glanced down at his drink. “I wouldn't have guessed in a thousand years.”

“Parenting is confusing.” Alber mused.

“I'll say.” Kaido grunted, before turning towards him. “I'm trusting you not to lose track of him, Alber. If you don't put the cuffs back on at night, he'll try to make a break for it. Mark my words.”

Alber blinked and met Kaido's dark eyes steadily. He and Yamato didn't share an eye color... Yamato's eyes were a very bright red, almost orange, with a hint of gold. Kaido, by contrast, had eyes such a dark blue they were almost black; like the ocean at night. Impossible to read for anyone but him. “I won't lose him,” he said. “I promise.”

Kaido slowly nodded in acceptance; he still didn't look fully happy about Yamato spending most of the day without the chains. Something about that bothered Alber like a thorn in his side... how had the two oni's relationship become so dysfunctional that Kaido felt the need to cuff him to keep him from leaving Wano? Yamato seemed to hate the very sight of his father, and the idea of any of the Seraphim looking at him like that made his brain go blank.

Violently rejecting the idea before any sort of image could form in his head. It triggered a subconscious, defensive denial.

“How did you become so at odds?” Alber asked before he could think the better of being that nosy.

Kaido's eye twitched... then he heaved a massive breath that sounded like both a sigh and a growl, staring flatly into the distance. Alber waited quietly for a minute, recognizing his friend contemplating his response. When several went by and no response seemed to be coming, he took a breath to apologize when Kaido shook his head.

“I don't know how to love him.” His friend said, flatly and succinctly. “I don't love myself, and certainly no one has loved me, not from the day I was born. I cannot give that which is unknowable to an Oni.”

“...I'm hurt,” Alber said lightly, taken aback by the sudden statement.

Kaido glanced at him and gave him a good natured eyeroll. “Come now... you must know I wasn't including you there.” He said reassuringly. “I've only ever had you.”

Sighing, the Beast Pirate's Captain looked straight ahead. They were sitting alone on one of the cliffside pathways below the castle, which was just as busy with robotic and human renovators as the village below. “If I cannot love him, then I will prepare him for a world that will never accept him. That will never be happy until it sees him dead.”

He moved to take another drink, and scowled when he noticed his mug was empty. Tossing it aside, he grumbled, “He'll understand in time, Alber. When he's attacked from every direction, when enemies attempt to capture him and brand him and sell him as a slave, and he fights them off due to my preparing him... he'll understand.”

The tone of his voice wasn't so much confident as... resigned. Or perhaps that he was attempting to convince himself as much as his friend.

There's quiet for a moment, then Kaido turned again and asked, “Why do you look so troubled?”

The Lunarian jolted – and unfortunately lost the thread of the suggestion he was about to pose. “Do I?” Alber said, a little surprised.

“Deeply. Did I say something strange?”

Alber paused, uncertain how to put his feelings to words, before reframing his answer somewhat. “I guess... in every path to raising the Seraphim that's crossed my mind, a path such as that never presented itself.”

Kaido looked over his shoulder. “I noticed they aren't here,” he said with puzzlement. “Did you send them down to the village to assist in repairs? Surely not.” Subtly moving the subject away from Yamato.

Alber shrugged helplessly. “I only did so in hopes of getting them to do something,” He said, instantly feeling the need to take another drink. “Kaido, I'm very troubled... my children, when they aren't sparring, or attempting to assist me with something, or sleeping, they... they don't do anything. Its as if without direction, they're lost. They sit and stare into the distance like lost souls... for hours, if I'd let them.”

It's not often that Kaido looked startled. “Nothing at all? They don't play, make mischief, look for snacks, or even just – read? They do nothing but sit there? Why, for Nika's sake?”

Alber drained the rest of his glass in one go. A familiar vice tightened in his chest, putting pressure on his airway and his heart. “I think they don't know how to do anything else.” He said with a hint of dread. “I haven't confirmed it, because I fear I'm going to behead one of the Vegapunks if it's true, but I'm beginning to think that training and sleep are the only activities they've ever done before.” Those words tasted metallic on his tongue.

He remembered waking up that very morning and seeing Rocinante staring out the window, watching the rain fall. He'd been still as a statue. No twitching from boredom, he didn't tap his feet or shuffle or act tired or sleepy or anything a five year old would have done in his place, awake early in the morning. It was only when Alber took his arm and spoke to him that Roci became animated, light coming into his eyes and his usual sweet, flustered babble immediately spilling forth from him.

“With genetic memories from their much older counterparts, they don't have the same level of bold whimsy and innocence that children should.” Alber went on. His wings curl against his back. “They have – too much discipline.” He muttered something along the lines of 'never thought I'd ever say that...' before finishing, “they don't take advantage of my distraction to play or make mischief. They don't seek out hobbies. It worries me so much, my friend.”

Kaido was beginning to look perturbed; also a rare expression on him. “Very unnatural... and almost certainly the Vegapunks's fault.” He agreed with the faintest hint of a disturbed tone. “Having said that, I think your approach is right, but missed the landing somewhat.”

“How so?”

“Don't send them to work, but send them to entertain the other children in town.” Kaido said, waving a hand towards Kuri. Even from this distance and elevation, the work that had already gone into its restoration was obvious; several taller, more robust houses stood where slumping huts had once stood, the city square was busy with people running around a buffet table and various material piles, and machines were churning up large sections of the ground so they could be soaked in Lilith and Edison's initial purification solution.

“The town's children?” Alber repeated, before he groaned and hit his palm against his forehead. As soon as he said the words out loud, the obvious possibility reached out and smacked him between the eyes. “Oh, of course... who else would be best to teach them how to play?”

Kaido nudged his shoulder with an amused look. Pleased to have lifted his second's spirits a little. “You know, if you participated in the party games at Onigashima more often, you could do some of this yourself.”

“Mmmm...I'm not sure I want Himawari to learn how to cheat at cards,” Alber responded dubiously.

Kaido laughed at that, relaxing. “She gets the better of you enough as it is, eh?” The older man guessed. Alber silently shut his eyes and sighed, making the oni laugh a little louder. “There's nothing so undoing as a daughter, is there?”

Alber shook his head, smiling a little. “I wouldn't say that.”

Kaido looked upward the mountain, humming thoughtfully. The sound of steel and concrete being forged and mixed drifted down from the mountain top through the quiet; along with the almost rhythmic stomping of the robots constructing things. “When do you plan on starting to use the incubators?” Kaido inquired.

Alber hummed, his wings shivering slightly as he gazed at the distance. “Thinking about that makes my stomach flip over... it doesn't feel real.” He finished his glass and set it aside. “I want the town and castle to be finished first. The basem*nt lab is designed to be a panic room. Nothing short of Newgate's quakes should be able to cause damage to it.”

He closed his eyes briefly. “I had Edison explain the basic process of the...artificial birth. I still can't grasp how it's possible, but the children will need DNA donations in order to be – created.”

“Not just yours?” Kaido inquired.

Alber shook his head. “It is hard enough being the father to seven children,” he deadpanned. “As to Lunarian DNA, they still have... an array of my people's blood to ensure that. I lament not being able to get their consent, but if all the children were mine – aside from my sanity dying a rapid death – certain problems would happen down the line.”

Edison had needed to be prompted twice to finally (nervously) spit out said problem as 'genetic diversity'. You'd think that Alber was a sheltered teen who'd never heard the concept of 'incest' before.

“I see.” Kaido mused. After a second, he shrugged. “Use mine, if you wish. The Beast Pirates are at your disposal as well.”

Alber's heart squeezed tightly at the immediate offer. “Thank you, my friend.” He said with emotion.

Again an amiable quiet fell over them for a minute. It was a rare moment for Kaido to see relatively at peace; even now, he was a little restless, tapping his knee slightly despite his relaxed stance. Alber glanced at him before quietly saying, “Can I make a request, Kaido?”

“What is it?”

“I want to spar much harder with you.” Alber responded. Kaido jolted and spun fully to face the younger man. “When I was fighting Saturn, I came to realize that I let myself think I wouldn't have to fight for my life again. But that day, it wasn't enough.” He balled one hand into a fist. “Now we're at war with the remaining four monsters, and I need to be stronger."

He wanted to start training again before he went out searching for Kuma and Bonney. He wanted to be able to look for them quietly and in the shadows, but given the brand new bounty sitting on his head... well. It was best to get started now.

“Really,” Kaido breathed out. His dark eyes were burning, like the sun was rising from the ocean. “Are you sure? I might hurt you.”

Alber glanced at him and smiled wryly. “You'll really have to work at that,” He responded with a faintly teasing note in his voice. Kaido's breath stuttered. Alber didn't tease, he hadn't spoken in that way decades – it warmed his face and his voice.

“Don't tease me about this,” Kaido said in a low, excited voice. “I know I can hurt you. I might lose myself in battle; you're someone I can go all out against.”

“I trust you.” Alber reminded him, unfazed. “Though I'd rather we found somewhere sufficiently... destroyed, for that. Otherwise all the work here will have to be restarted again.” He glanced down at the busy town and shook his head at the idea.

Kaido grinned and slapped him on the back. “As you wish,” he said, his tone growing surprisingly husky. “I know of a place – come, let's go immediately.”

Alber nodded, picking up his sword from the grass and getting to his feet. Kaido transformed into his full zoan form and rocketed into the sky, the Lunarian following quickly in his wake. Down in the town of Kuri, the villagers all flinched and stumbled when the twosome flew overhead... and relaxed faster than they had just yesterday when once again, no violence or threats followed. The day continued without so much as an interruption.

When Koala handed Robin the newspaper, she almost set it aside before noticing the picture on the front cover. Thankfully her keen eye stopped her from dropping it in a box and forgetting about it. “Luffy,” Robin murmured in relief.

“Ah, that's your captain?” Shaka's deep voice echoed from the other side of the room. Robin's generated limbs were all over the slightly damaged ballroom that had been marked for rapid reorganization into a laboratory for Vegapunk and his two satellites. Given how her power could speed up the process immensely, Robin had volunteered, wanting something to occupy her time as she searched for any sign of where her captain had ended up after their separation.

“Mmm,” Robin said, tilting her head.

The headline of the newspaper was emblazoned 'Revolutionary Sleeper Agent?! Monkey D Luffy identified as Son of Dragon!' Luffy was hanging from the rigging of the elegant mothership of Edward Newgate's fleet, looking very much like he was posing for the camera to the immense displeasure of Ace – who the picture had caught mid jump, mid yell for that matter.

Probably telling her captain to stop tempting fate and get away from the edge of the ship. Robin hadn't been fortunate enough to meet Portgas when he crossed paths with Luffy in Alabasta, but the crew spoke fondly of him and universally mused that he was way too smart, polite and sensible to be the reckless ravenette's older brother.

“...Invaded Impel Down, huh? Poor Nami, I can hear her having a stress ulcer.” Robin mused, dropping her eyes to speed read through the first few paragraphs. “Broke in to rescue Ace from execution... didn't manage to reach him before he was moved, but Luffy did succeed in causing a massive prison riot and break out some of the most dangerous criminals held within who he escaped with...”

She chuckled, relief and affection mingling in her voice. Classic Luffy. She'd been so worried for him when she saw Ace slated for execution, but he evidently had wasted no time making allies who helped him rush to his brother's rescue.

“Morgans is having fun taunting the World Government, isn't he? That had been buried underneath the rest of their disasters until he drew attention to it.” She commented lightly.

Koala nodded, a little smirk crossing her lips. “This is all his resentment of being told what to publish made manifest, all at once.” She said. “Oh, I don't like that bird even a little bit, but I'll allow it that he has a bit of class. Thanks to this everyone relevant knows to keep an eye out for criminals who took advantage of Luffy's breakout to escape in the confusion.”

Robin hummed again, looking back at the photo. She blinked. Something about the way Luffy had arranged himself for the picture seemed... deliberate. Looking at his arms, her eyebrows flew up when the black-painted message finally leapt out at her.

Three days, two years.

Her chest squeezed tightly as her mind made all the relevant connections in the blink of an eye.

They were to meet again, back at Saobody, back where they'd been separated, when they were strong enough and prepared enough to enter the New World. They had to use this time to build up their power, so they would never be forcibly separated again. Down to the date... that would make it the exact same day that Kuma sent them flying in all directions...

Robin felt a smile cross her lips for the first time since she crash landed in Tequila Wolf.

“I understand, Luffy.” She said.

He bounced back. Of course he did, what had she been worrying about? “He's on board the Moby... I wonder if he shanghied Ace and his crewmembers into training him.” She thought aloud, having almost forgotten that she wasn't alone. “It wouldn't surprise me at all.”

“Eh?” Koala popped up in her peripheral vision, blinking in surprise at her. “You're not going to try and head back and meet up with him immediately?”

Robin gently tapped her captain's arm, drawing the blonde's eye to it. “He's given us a time and a place to return to.” She said. Koala made a confused sound, but nodded along with Robin's confidence nonetheless. “Until then, I'll remain with you and provide my assistance however possible. I suspect, along the way, I'll get much closer to being ready to make my captain King of the Pirates.”

Koala brightened a little. “T-That's great! I mean, if you're sure! We're honoured to have you!” Shaka approached silently, unable to help his curiosity, and Robin amiably tilted the newspaper just enough for him to see.

“Oh, that's clever.” Shaka said. “He delivered a message without words to every corner of the world. No doubt the rest of your crewmates will see this without fail, no matter where Kuma sent them.”

“Will everyone else be able to interpret it?” Koala voiced in concern.

Robin chuckled softly. “Don't worry. All of us... understand our Captain's orders without fail.” She could just see their reactions when she closed her eyes.

Up among the clouds, Nami's indignant ranting about her nuisance, hardheaded captain and how he was always giving her heart attacks seemed to ring from one end of the land to the other. The weather men were standing back in a mixture of fear and awe in equal measure as the orangette eventually started to calm down. To their shock, her angry words melted into warm, relieved laughter.

Idiot... breaking into prison without me. You got lucky!” Nami scolded the paper. “I'm glad you're alright, though. Three days, two years...that should be more than enough time to totally reinvent myself!” She laughed again. “I've been on tighter deadlines before!”

In a gothic castle, Perona irritably waved the newspaper over a half conscious Zoro's face as an impromptu fan. “Muscleheaded moron,” she groused without any bite. “What were you expecting, fighting all of them at once?” She'd been woken by the racket caused by his most recent fight with the Hummdrills, and when she finally came downstairs she saw Zoro half collapse on the couch, groaning in frustration.

Zoro's eyes blearily tracked the paper for a minute. Then he snapped one hand up, grabbing at the paper and manging to snatch it from her with some effort. “Hey!” Perona protested. Zoro ignored her, staring at the front page image.

The door swung open, admitting a tired Mihawk into the living room. “Zoro, I don't recall piling the defeated drills in a setup for jenga as part of the training regimen.” The swordsman said with a sigh.

Yeah, well, they got on my nerves.” Zoro mumbled, his voice a little slurred with exhaustion. He tapped the numbers painted on Luffy's arm and smiled slightly, the vice in his chest finally loosening after what felt like an eternity.

He's okay! He's okay! He didn't get caught up in Marineford collapsing! And Ace is alive, too, they both escaped!” Ussop whooped with joy, doing a little war dance through the dangerous fauna surrounding him. For once he didn't care even slightly about potential danger; blubbery tears dripped down his cheeks as his fears were all dispelled.

Look, Master Hercules!” The young sniper babbled, shoving the paper at his only companion on this strange island. The man in beetle armor almost tipped over backwards in surprise. Ussop didn't seem to notice, though, turning the paper around again and staring at the picture. “Ah, he doesn't look hurt, too... with Chopper having been sent away too, I was seriously wondering if he could manage...”

He blinked a few times. “That's a funny tattoo he got, though. 3D... three days...” His eyes widened a little. “Oh. Oh, that's – oh. I get it. I get it, Luffy...”

Birds and natives both crowded around Chopper as he bawled with relief over the newest newspaper. He'd nearly missed it, having been in the process of convincing one of the birds to fly him back to Saobody in order to try and find his captain, but thankfully he'd stopped just in time. The birds and natives were both taken aback when their doctor abruptly did an about face and declared that he would be staying there for a little while instead.

We're happy to have you,” One of the children said in happy confusion. “What changed?”

Captain's orders,” Chopper said, assured and confident.

Iva approached the door with a bit of trepidation; some of their candies were hovering uncertainly around it, wincing whenever shotgun-esque concussive noises erupted from the other side, followed by incoherent angry cursing. “What on earth has gotten our guest into such a fit?” Iva asked, twisting the newspaper they were holding slightly in bewilderment.

He's been like this ever since he heard the doctor's confession...” Caroline said. She didn't often look troubled, but the emotion was written so plainly across her face it increased Iva's sense of concern. “After she explained how the Seraphim were conceived, Sanji-san went very white – then he became furious and shut himself away in this training hall, destroying every dummy he can find...”

We're getting worried... He hardly comes out of there...” Another candy admitted, bouncing their heel nervously. “The sheer anger he's expressing is a little frightening.”

Iva gave them a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “Never fear, dear; I'll get the story out of him. I'm bringing him some good news, so I'm confident I can get our dear guest to relax.”

Caroline and her fellows looked relieved and stepped aside, letting Ivaknov enter the room. The Queen blinked in shock at the sheer amount of rubble in the room as they stepped inside; Sanji had finally run out of dummies to destroy and had settled for pacing back and forth, his Haki pulsed with a hot, pulsing rage that lacked a cathartic outlet. “Sanji-boy! Your captain has a message for you!”

Instantly the blonde was in front of Iva, genuinely catching him off guard. “What?!” Sanji snatched the paper and stared at it. Iva waited, a touch nervous, as he absorbed its contents; much to his relief, some of the stress left the confident chef's shoulders almost at once.

The Future Land Baldimore had been in a pretty unhappy buzz ever since the events of Marineford. Everyone there remembered Vegapunk, and to say that the revelations that had been spread across the world were difficult to square with the eccentric but harmless scientist they knew was an understatement. Fortunately, they did have at least one distraction from the horror that had been shared with them... even if he occasionally caused massive explosions.

Franky accepted the paper and immediately yelped with joyous relief upon seeing the picture. “Hah! I knew he would be alright!” he bragged, grinning. “That's Luffy for ya.”

He squinted at the picture. “3D2Y... that's a funny choice for a tattoo – oh. Oh, duh. Of course...” His smile grew warm and fond. “I getcha, Luffy. I've gotta man up more! You got it!”

Brook gently strummed his guitar as he considered the newspaper in front of him. He was delighted that Luffy was both unharmed and had a plan for their return to the Grand Line, but he'll admit, it did sting a little to think that he needed to wait two years before seeing his friends again. After fifty years trapped alone in the Florian Triangle, he cherished his new crewmates and the thought of being away from them was painful.

But pain was an old companion, and Brook knew without a doubt that when the time limit expired, they would reunite back on Saobody without fail. No force in the world could stop them. They hadn't been taken from him, not really, and how could two years hope to compare to the fifty he had endured in total darkness?

I will endure,” he promised. “I look forward to seeing how much stronger you are when we meet again, Luffy.”

Robin smiled softly to herself. She wasn't worried at all. “Luffy convincing the Whitebeards to take him aboard their ship temporarily to train him... I wonder how that conversation went,” she pondered, amusem*nt colouring her voice. “I'm dying to know.”

She looked forward to hearing the stories in two years.

Himwari was... bored. Was that the right word? Bored.

She was sitting on the nicest armchair she could find – which wasn't saying much, given what the townsfolk had to work with before they arrived – and sort of watching Lilith yelling like a football coach as she directed the construction of a two story house. If pressed, Himawari would begrudgingly acknowledge that Lilith was the satellite she... llllliked... the most – something about her attitude and reactions was amusing.

But building houses was such dirty work! Himawari had assisted as much as she could bear to; papa had told the others that they should go and interact with the townspeople, help out where possible, and she'd done her best! But she was sick of getting sawdust all over her feathers and once she got a roof finished, she'd finally stomped off in a huff.

It was all over her! It made her wings so itchy and heavy feeling! Her whole wings, itching whenever she so much as twitched! She'd flailed around in a most embarrassing fashion attempting to divest herself of the wood shavings, and she knew that Rocinante and Anubis had been snickering at her the whole time.

Well! She got her revenge when Rocinante had tripped over part of a brick wall being laid and tumbled clear out of the house he'd been assisting with, and the nearby children all burst into surprised giggles. ...Admittedly, their terrified expressions when Rocinante looked up and spotted them were less amusing.

That had been more inexplicable than anything. Really, what did they think Roci was going to do, aside from pout at them for a moment? His pout was very devastating, sure, but seriously – it was kinda weird.

Himawari sipped the fruit drink she'd been provided by one of the staff and examined the house she'd assisted creating with a critical eye. The style of Wano's architecture was almost criminally adorable. Something about it was so... soft. Cozy. It put those images in her head; warmth, color, a bubble of cheer far away from the troubles of the world.

She liked it very much.

The kids were running all around the house like they'd been given too much coffee, completely ecstatic. Alucard was looking up at the parents, slowly losing patience with their rapid, disbelieving babble. Himawari didn't resist a chuckle when she saw him snap a little, grab the couple by their hands, and forcibly hauled them inside. “No, I just like talking aimlessly for the pleasure of hearing my own voice; take the damn keys. They're yours."

Then he walked outside, looking ever so slightly exasperated. Ginji almost flew over to him, chiding him for being so short with their villagers, and Himawari chuffed at Alucard's mildly indignant look.

So, it wasn't as if there weren't amusing or somewhat interesting things going on. But still... Himawari still felt restless. Like she had energy to burn. And she... had no idea how she was supposed to do that. And it was starting to drive her a little crazy!

Routine at Egghead was very simple. Train, hospital, sleep. If she couldn't do any of those things and didn't feel like facing the sawdust demons once again, what was she supposed to do with herself? For that matter, why had her papa looked upset when she expressed uncertainty about what to do with spare time if not train?

His distressed expression was like a nail digging into her head. She wanted to make it go away and see him happier.

Himawari had tossed and turned and paced, absolutely certain she was missing something glaringly obvious and not liking that one bit. Activities outside of training... construction was obviously an option, but – ergh. She shuddered at the idea of doing this daily.

This was not work for a princess! Gah! Nope, the robots and Edison were welcome to this hellish task and the sawdust demons and pointy shingles and mud. Himawari most magnanimously surrendered the important task to them in its totality.

But then what was there to do?

Himawari twisted her head to catch a glimpse of the large section of desolate farm land currently being subjected to the initial purification solution Lilith and Edison concocted. It was hard to tell what the progress was looking like over there... and it looked like it mostly consisted of standing around and staring at monitors. Boring!

Closer to the town center, she could see the red haired woman King returned from the beach with the day they arrived here... she was examining an older man and patching him up, giving medical advice along the way. Surridge. Himawari felt instinctive dislike towards the older woman, knowing she'd hurt King badly in the past, but she could grudgingly acknowledge that her medical skills were very useful. That said... blood. Ew. Please no.

The little girl blew out a displeased sigh and frowned down at her hands. I suppose I could stand guard, Himawari mused. It will keep me occupied.

A sense of frustrated distaste rushed through her. But I don't want to. There had to be a more pleasant way to spend the day. Perhaps... reading? Himawari's eyes fluttered closed for a moment and a rush of impressions washed over her. A comfortable bed, books on the side table, pages of romantic turmoil and historical anecdotes flipping between her fingers. Many titles flashed in her mind, instantly added to her memory banks both biological and cybernetic.

Ah! Himawari rocked slightly in her chair, then dug her hand into the inside pocket of her dark red jacket. A moment later she had retrieved Boa Hanco*ck's new wanted poster, carefully smoothing it open. Mother... you like to read? King didn't know much about her, hadn't been able to say... but... if she liked to read, maybe...?

A strange squeezing sensation filled her chest at the thought. Tight and constricting. Himawari hastily stowed the picture away and pressed one hand against her skin over her augmented heart. Her vital signs were normal except for a slight uptick in pleasure. Oh!

Books. What kind of books did her papa have? Himawari stood up before remembering that King had left a few hours ago; she pouted. Of course he was gone when she needed him for something. He better be back before sundown!

She didn't like not being able to go find him.

Something flashed in the corner of her eyes. Bright yellow. Himawari turned on an unknown instinct and saw, far off to the right, a straw hat.

A hammer thudded against her ribs.

That mark has nothing to do with our battle.”

Protection. Kindness. A smile that lit up the whole sky. And – gentleness. He met her scorn and threats with patience, and when she was vulnerable his eyes were warm and free of scorn. The passion that he filled her with was divine, taking her apart and remaking her anew happier and healed and free. It was love, overpowering.

Himawari jerked to her feet and almost fell over much like Roci often did. While her heart didn't physically lodge itself in her throat – it felt like that's what was happening! Pivoting on one foot, the young girl zeroed in on the sight and found the source. A cute little girl with purple hair was cautiously trotting down the road pulling a little wagon full of straw hats behind her; following along in her wake was a huge yellow dog.

Himawari's fingers twitched. Where the whimsey came from, she wasn't sure – but she suddenly, desperately needed one of those straw hats. Her feet were carrying her towards the little girl before she was really aware of it.

Notes:

Arc Three has arrived. Knowing what the future is looking like, and knowing that it is barreling towards them fast, our protagonists have to level up - King, Luffy and Ace are the most hellbent on it! After all, King has a mission to complete, so he's keen on making progress as quick as possible.

I have some other surprises planned for this arc too, so I hope you guys like it~

Chapter 26

Summary:

Tama meets Himawari. Himawari picks a fight with Ashura.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Tama had never been quite so nervous walking into Kuri before.

There were plenty of dangers that surrounded the little girl whenever she made her way to and from the town she sold her merchandise at... bandits lurked on the roads, and many had accosted her before. The beasts that prowled the wastes had attacked the roads occasionally, often giving her a terrible fright before she managed to subdue them with her devil fruit powers. They'd ingested so much poison that she worried for her beloved companion if he got badly injured in a brawl with them. They'd gotten lucky so far, but the worry loomed large on her mind...

Tama lived a ways away from the heart of Kuri, in a village that was basically abandoned except for herself and her Master. So she had been overwhelmed with shock when she last went in hopes of buying a bit of food and found the main town in a state of controlled chaos, with buildings being knocked down and being put back up again in a new, improved state. And minor Beast Pirates standing around acting more like genuine guards than abusive gits. And the castle was being repaired on orders of one of the Lead Performers.

One of the Lead Performers!

Tama had immediately fled back home as fast as she and her loyal dog could. The sudden shift was so confusing and terrifying that she couldn't gather up her courage to stay long enough to sell her meagre wears. When she reported to her master what was going on – she'd never seen him so shocked. He'd needed a minute to be physically capable of speaking again...

“Which of those monsters has been granted Kuri?” He'd asked on a strangled breath.

“He's called King...” Tama stammered, more worried for him than she'd ever been previously. She couldn't see his face, but somehow, she knew his was incredibly shaken.

Her master took in a few shaky breaths, before slumping a little. “Kaido's right hand man... of course. If he was to give this land to any of his minions, it would be his strongest and most loyal. The one least likely to turn against him.”

“What do you mean?” Tama asked hesitantly.

The tengu sighed, his shoulders slumping. He seemed very old in that moment, and despondent. “Kaido controls his men with an iron fist and threats. His charisma keeps them bonded, but there is no respect or camaraderie between them, because that beast has no empathy; they aren't his companions and servants, they're his minions. The only one he shows any regard to is King, who has been at his side since before he invaded Wano.”

He shook his head, gently brushing her hand off of his arm. “I'm okay, my child... Over the years, I had begun to hope that Kaido didn't trust any of his men enough to divide up our country into piecemeal and hand it out to them... even as we stay under his singular cruelty, he is one man, and sometimes his malice sleeps; there are lulls when he bores of tormenting us. But if his entire crew were running their personal fiefs and competing with each other... we will know yet harder times still...!”

Tama trembled at the idea. Harder times than this? How was that possible?! How could it possibly get any worse than this?!

She had a lot of trouble sleeping that night. Her nightmares were vivid.

She'd thought she'd never return to Leftovers – that she just wouldn't have the courage. But her empty stomach snarled and tormented her until she gathered herself, wove a good number of straw hats, and set out on the road back. She couldn't deny her stomach some real food... and she was worried for her Master, who seemed utterly drained of all his strength after she gave this news to him. She hoped she could at least buy him a head of lettuce, or a few bits of fruit. Anything to shore up his spirits a little.

When she reached Leftovers Village again, she was stunned by how much had changed in such a short space of time. Already several houses stood tall, a – and there were locals inside them! Locals, not barons or Beast Pirates! If she hadn't recognized their faces, she would have assumed... but why? A-and outside there was land being churned up by giant metal creatures... they dug deep into the earth and blasted every inch of it with a colorful mist.

Tama had never seen mist or dew that glowed almost a golden scarlet; a strange rabbit person was waving at the villagers nearby, calling for them to stand back and not get the mist on their skins. Her eyes riveted to the hulking beasts of steel and dark metal... their eyes glowed like lamps, their breath billowed intense steam, and their legs were wrapped in treads. Tied to their tails were hooks and hoes that churned the dirt as the beasts dragged them forward unerringly, never needing to stop for food or water, never disobeying commands from the rabbit person. A mixture of fear and awe filled her as she watched them, paralyzed.

As she watched their work, she noticed that the earth around the village looked... wet. It wasn't caked and dried out and dead like it had been as long as she remembered it. It almost looked like the parts of the woods were fruit trees could still grow... How? Had it rained a lot in the last few days?

“Please stand back! You don't want the chemical solution in your eyes or mouth!” The rabbit person cried, flying off his feet and ushering back men and women from the edges of the field. “The purification has healing effects on earth and water only; it will make you extremely sick! If you've had contact, wash it out in the basins immediately, please!”

A few people scurried away from the field and stuck their heads in large barrels. Tama's mouth went dry at the unmistakable sound and sight of sloshing water – and a lot of it. Her throat hurt, burning like she'd swallowed coal. 'Water! Water safe to clean yourself in is water that's safe to drink...!

Komachiyo whimpered, his tongue lolling out. His tail thrashed with desperate want. “I know,” Tama choked out, petting his fur comfortingly. “I know... m-maybe we can buy some! If there's some here, maybe we can buy it.” Hope bubbled in her chest. “Come, Komachiyo, let's hurry and sell some hats!”

Surely some of the workers would like some shade from the heat of day. Maybe she'd be able to sell more than usual – and maybe for a little more than usual!

The thought emboldened her, and Tama snapped out of her daze. She guided her companion toward the village proper, glad that the metal beasts took no interest in either of them. They remained absorbed in their task.

As she approached the entrance to the town proper, she could see straight ahead that a large tea shop was being constructed, with a dumbfounded Otsuru-san standing outside as serious-faced Beast Pirates pointedly held out proper pots and tools to her. The town was more busy than Tama had ever seen it; there were so many people here!

She carefully slid down Komachiyo's back and untied her wagon and merchandise from his tail, walking through the gate and shyly tapping the bell to indicate her presence. The sound was almost completely swallowed up by the noise of construction, talking, and some scary lady shouting at the top of her lungs.

“Let the robots work! Get down from there and help with the concrete mixing, you're just in the way!Do something useful, we've got a schedule to stick too!” Tama looked around and saw a flash of purple in the crowd, but couldn't quite make out the person in question. “And where the hell is the insulation?! I wanted that in front of me ten minutes ago! What is the goddamn holdup?!”

“I'm sorry Doctor Lilith! So sorry! Please don't dock my pay, it's over here, it's ready-!”

“Why is it over there instead of here?! I wanna finish this building before I'm dead, if you please!”

Tama cringed. Yikes! M-Maybe she wouldn't try to approach those workers... that lady sounds terrifying...

She walked a little further into town before the smell hit her nose. It had been somewhat muted by the other scents in the area; fresh cut wood, dirt, steam, a strange, kinda sickly stony smell... but as she drew deeper into the village, it jumped out and her and all but grabbed her by the throat.

Food. Lots of food. Cooked food, meaning it wasn't discarded leftovers or rotting fruit. Cooked food was good food, like the rice that her Master always took pains to get her on special days. The scent was so strong, tears immediately stung at Tama's eyes, and her stomach snarled with want.

She'd eaten grass yesterday... and the day before.

But what could she do? The villagers weren't allowed good food. That was only for the officials, the pirates, and probably the rabbit person and Doctor Lilith – they seemed to be in charge here, after all. If she tried to get any, she'd be in trouble. A little hiccup escaped her throat, mortifying the little girl, who scrubbed furiously at her eyes.

“No tears,” Tama chanted to herself. “Kunoichi never cry... they don't cry! I won't embarrass myself...!”

She could at least buy clean water. Surely she would be allowed at least that.

Tama was about to move when suddenly there was a shadow over her. “You there!” A pretty girl's voice barked authoritatively.

The purple haired girl looked up and yipped, tripping over her own feet and falling over backwards. Komachiyo barked with concern and protectiveness in equal measure. The girl who'd snuck up on her barely seemed to notice, though; her attention was solely on the contents of her cart. And Tama's was solely on her.

She was an angel. A real angel, with beautiful feathered wings and star shaped eyes! Angels were real! Tama was so stunned by her that she couldn't even hear the next thing the stranger said over the pounding in her ears. The angel is dressed in a scarlet and gold kimono, her shoulder length silver hair almost glistening in the daylight. She was big!, taller than Tama herself, but they had the same sort of face – very youthful. She has long legs and strong looking arms and delicate wrists and slender fingers, her golden eyes sharp with desire, her posture confident and royal.

Tama immediately thought that she must be a princess, or at least the daughter of one of the most important officials of Wano, if she had not been sent straight from heaven.

The girl grabbed one of the hats from the cart and tried it on, frowning when it didn't sit properly on her head. “Not big enough,” she said with displeasure. Komachiyo stepped forward and growled at her, determined that she wouldn't snatch any without paying. The girl shot him an aggrieved look. “Oh, stop it.” She flapped a hand at him and picked up a different hat, trying it on next. This one fell down over her face. “Far too big...”

Komachiyo growled again, louder this time. Tama snapped out of her awe in exchange for worry. She couldn't have him threatening this angel; not when she's so obviously an important person...! “Komachiyo, stop.” She said anxiously, scrambling to her feet and putting her hands on his foreleg. “Please, calm down...”

“Oh, don't worry. I'll be fine,” The angel responded, unfazed as she continued to sort through Tama's stock. “Is that big boy yours?”

“Y-Y-Yes, your grace. He's my friend.” Tama said. “He always makes sure that no one steals from my cart... t-they're all I've got to sell, you see... b-but if you want one, it's all yours.”

Never argue with a lord or lady. Never ever. Just give them what they want and hopefully they'll be satisfied... Hopefully they won't get mad and retaliate. Komachiyo hated it, she knew he did, but it was a basic rule of survival... she's at the bottom of the caste.

Her caste had been mostly immutable even before Kaido's arrival.

The girl briefly seemed to come out of her hyperfocus and blinked at Tama. “All you've got to sell?” She prodded. “Do you make these straw hats? All by yourself?”

Tama blinked and swallowed slightly against her dry throat. The girl stared at her for a second, then looked down at the straw hats. “What's that like?” She asked unexpectedly.

“H-Huh?” Tama mumbled.

“Making something. With your two hands.” The girl responded, making funny gestures. Obviously she'd yet to be required to make anything herself with the way she's flailing. “What does that feel like? Is it... satisfying?” The last question sounded... a little introspective?

Tama's mouth open and closed a few times. “O-Oh! Well, it's a lot of work depending on what you're making,” she said, tapping her forefingers together. “Straw hats are a little tricky, but once you've got the hang of it, they can be kinda fun.” The little joy she got out of making hats was one of her blessings. It often reminded her of her big brother, and how she'd taught him how to make them. “I spend a few days making as many as I can, so I can sell them.”

“Does it hurt?” The angel inquired.

“After doing it for several hours, yeah.” Tama admitted. She'd worked her fingers raw plenty of times. Sometimes it was so bad that her master had to bandage them. “B-But that's only after making them non-stop the entire time.”

The angel looked down at her hands, brow furrowing with thought. She picked another Straw Hat and put it on her head. This one fit her well, and her face lit up with pleasure. “Ah! There's the one I want!” She straightened up and planted one hand on top of her head, her smile sharp with uncomplicated glee.

“Y-You like it?” Tama inquired shyly.

“I love it!” The angel declared, startling her. It was such a simple straw hat, after all – surely she had far more proper and ornate gifts to her name. “It's perfect. I want the rest of these resized to fit me, and I'll take all of them.”

Tama gawked at her; even Komachiyo uttered a confused, startled 'borf'. Was she... serious?

“Aren't you forgetting something, Himawari?” A boy's voice inquired a little dryly. Tama jumped and turned around to find another angel standing behind her. He was dressed in golds and blues, and his face was different than hers – sharper, more rugged (as much as a very young boy's could be), and more serious.

The girl – her name was Himawari? -- co*cked her head to the side. “What are you on about, Anubis?” She asked warily.

The boy rolled his eyes and shot her an amused smirk. “Pay her.” He responded drolly. “This is merchandise.”

Himawari stared blankly for a long second, then made a complicated expression – embarrassed and trying to hide it, indignant, and some other thing Tama couldn't read in time. The girl put her hands on her hips and plastered a 'nothing is wrong' look on her face. “I hadn't forgotten,” she insisted.

She wasn't just going to take them. She'd give her something in return. Tama tried not to slump in relief, for fear of her taking offence.

Then Himawari's hand shot into her handbag, ruffled around, and dragged out a massive handful of gold coins. “Here,” she said, dropping the coins in front of Tama.

The young girl's eyes almost bugged out of her head. “H-H-Huh?!” She dropped to her knees and grabbed the coins, tapping her fingers on the gold metal. Were they real? Surely not! There were so many... her hats weren't worth this much!

Himawari's nose wrinkled. “What? This should be sufficient for the whole stock, yes?” She asked, annoyed. Making it clear that yes, this is legitimate gold. It made Tama's head spin.

“T-T-This is far too much!” Tama protested, as desperately as she didn't want to give it back. This could buy her so much food, but – but –! She'd be cheating the angel if she accepted this! She obviously didn't have a sense of money's value, and Tama's honor would be impugned if she shamelessly took advantage of that for her own gain!

“Eh?! What do you mean?” Himawari barked, confusion flashing across her face.

“You're overpaying me,” Tama responded, bowing frantically. “My work isn't worth this much. I – here, take most of this back-”

“Are you saying I don't have eyes?” Himawari demanded.

Fear pierced Tama's chest. What had she said wrong? Himawari walked around the cart and stood in front of her, pointing at her chest.

“I must have a straw hat!” She declared. “This object is of great importance to me. I want several different kinds! The hat is a symbol of deepest love!” It was? “Therefore, I shall pay what I deem it to be worth! Are you saying I am a fool, who does not understand her own thoughts?”

Tama shook her head violently, confused by her logic. “N-No no no, never!”

“Then I have paid you precisely what you owed, no more and no less.” Himawari said with confidence. Before promptly dropping a diamond necklace in Tama's hands on top of the gold. The little girl squawked, lifting the necklace in her hands and staring at it, stunned. “My magnanimous nature is no mistake on my part. I'll not hear it, do you understand?”

Tama nodded frantically, still staring at the necklace. “You are way too much, Himawari.” The boy said with a sigh, bending down and guiding Tama to put the vastly expensive set of jewelry over her head and around her neck. Its weight against her chest was...stunning. “You're confusing her.”

Himawari stuck her tongue out at him in response. Tama, her little heart hammering in her chest, hurriedly collected up the gold and burying it in her pockets. This... this would do so much for her... this was a windfall... she was going to break down crying if she can't keep it together! Keep it together, Tama!

The boy turned around and walked up to Komachiyo, stroking his leg. The big dog made a puzzled, uncertain sound, unsure what to make of the curious touch. “He's yours?” He inquired. “What sort of dog is he?”

“Y-Yes!” Tama said hurriedly, scrambling to her feet. “I-I don't know exactly what his kind is called... but he's Komachiyo, and he's my friend!”

The boy hummed and looked up at the dog's head, still brushing his leg. “He's a fine dog,” he said after a moment of thought. “You've taken good care of him.” There's an approving note in his voice. Komachiyo started to relax, uttering a pleased bark.

Then Tama's stomach uttered a thundering growl.

The purple-haired girl blanched in mortification as both angels swivelled to look at her. “You're hungry.” Himawari observed.

“N-No,” Tama tried to deny, putting a hand on her stomach.

Himawari's brows furrowed at that; she leaned forward and stared intently into Tama's eyes. “Really?” She said skeptically. “What's the last thing you ate?”

Tama took in a deep breath and held it, not wanting to say 'grass'. This made Himawari's expression become even more displeased, and she blew out a breath through her nose. “Come here,” she commanded. Tama nervously stepped forward, and yipped when Himawari took by the hand and stridently began pulling her deeper in the city. “What's your name?”

“I-I'm Tama,” Tama stammered, taken by surprise once again.

“I see. Come, Tama, the buffet is calling.” Himawari said imperiously. “Anubis, keep guard of my hats and her dog!”

“I'm not your minion, Himi!” Anubis retorted indignantly, while making zero attempt to step away from Tama's cart or Komachiyo. Tama gawked at him over her shoulder as Himawari half guided, half dragged her through the busy streets towards the center of town.

The smell of food grew stronger every minute... there were smells that Tama had never experienced before and couldn't put names to. Her stomach snarled again, and her mouth was watering so badly she could hardly breathe. It was so much! Himawari nudged her way through the crowd and brought Tama to the foot of several long tables, all of which were... were... Tama's eyes watered.

They were absolutely laden with food. Bright fruit, poultry and other meat, bubbling pots of soup, stacks of vegetables plain and seasoned and roasted... there were sweets, too. Sweets! She'd only ever had sweets when big brother Ace had brought them to her back when he'd visited. And at each point of the table... jugs of clear water. The Beast Pirates drew drinks from them without a care, so it was safe, yet – they weren't preventing the villagers from drinking from them too.

Tama choked on a sob. Himawari shot her a confused look, before becoming determined again and taking her to the right. “Doctor Surridge!” She called imperiously. “Doctor, a moment.”

Tama rubbed at her eyes and nearly tripped before she was brought in front of a tall, older woman with long scarlet hair and dark blue eyes. She was dressed in outsider's clothes, kinda like her big brother when he arrived; she had a large hand bag that she was resting one hand on. 'Surridge' glanced at them, quickly waved at the man she'd been talking to and turned towards them. “Hello,” she said softly. “What can I do for your friend, Himawari?”

“Tama has not eaten.” Himawari responded, making a face. “She won't say for how long. So what should she eat?”

Surridge hummed and gestured for Tama to come a little closer. “Mm, a good question.” She gently tilted Tama's chin up and examined her. Tama wasn't sure exactly what she was doing... a furrow of concern changed Surridge's face, and she took her hand next and pushed her sleeve back slightly. “Ah...” She bent down a little to meet Tama's eye. “May I look at your stomach, Tama?”

“W-Why?” She asked timidly.

“You might be sick; it'll only take a moment. Himawari, if you can hold up that-” Himawari aggressively spread her wings and shadowed Tama, blocking her from view. “Excellent, thank you.”

Reassured by a degree of privacy and deciding that listening to a doctor was too important, Tama wiggled and moved the fabric of her clothes out of the way. Surridge hissed in a deep breath between her teeth upon seeing; she gently prodded her ribs and her stomach with one finger before nodding and helping Tama reorganize her clothes in proper order. “You ate well at one point, didn't you?” The doctor asked softly. “Despite your current state, your muscles are well developed and your body is healthy. Someone took good care of you.”

Ace's smile as he offered her an apple flashed through Tama's mind, and she nodded with tears in her eyes. “Still, it's clearly been some time since they were near... You shouldn't go this long without food Tama.” Surridge said, glancing at the other girl. “Himawari, soups would be best for her, the rest of the food will be too heavy on her stomach. Add some water to it as well, just to be safe.”

Himawari nodded shortly, bringing her wings in. “Good. I...appreciate it. This way, Tama!”

Tama barely got to bow in gratitude to the mysterious doctor before she was whisked away again.

There were a lot of different soups... but the one that called to Tama the most was the Red Bean soup, and she must have made some sort of noise, because Himawari immediately stopped and demanded access to the pot. She is kind of bossy, isn't she?, Tama thought as the server did a triple take and quickly began filling a soup bowl. Though I suppose all noble lords and ladies are.

And so far, the worst Himawari had done is glare at anyone who didn't obey quick enough for her liking. She didn't hit or kick anyone.

“Sit,” Himawari said, bringing her to a bench and making her sit down. “Now eat.” She placed the bowl in Tama's hand before turning on one sharp heel and heading back to get water.

Tama stared at her, then down at her food. Her stomach grumbled, and the shaky smile crossing her face was uncontrollable... she lifted the bowl to her lips, blew the steam away gently, and began to eat.

When Himawari returned with the water, she was very flustered to find Tama in tears – her wings fluffed up and she asked if something was wrong with the food and looked dumbfounded when Tama beamed at her, crying, saying how delicious it was and that she was so grateful. Her black wings fluttered a little, and a pink flush entered her cheeks. It stole all her royal esque authority from her, as if she was surprised by how nice it felt it be thanked.

Then one of her other brothers – a boy with a long sword strapped across his back – burst through the crowd with an agitated expression. “Bandits,” he said without preamble, causing both girls to pivot toward him. “Bandits are coming. It's a big gang, headed this way. They'll be here in minutes.”

“What?” Tama squeaked, panic budding in her chest. Of course it would happen this way; only a moment of happiness and safety, then it.

Himawari merely narrowed her eyes. Unfazed. Her body language tightened and became disciplined, almost... predatory. “Invaders or locals?” She inquired.

“They don't carry a pirate flag, and they're dressed in local clothes.” The boy responded, tilting his head. His star eyes flashed and shivered – Tama was almost certain he could see something she couldn't perceive. “Most likely locals.”

“Papa won't be back for a few hours still,” Himawari observed. “Where's Yamato?”

“Anduriel's informing him.” The boy put a hand on his sword's hilt. “Let's stop them a ways away from the city. No need to risk taking things into the streets.”

“Y-Y-You're going out to fight?” Tama stammered. They were bigger than her, yes, but they were still kids. Big Brother Ace had said that was why she couldn't come with him out to sea; fighting was too dangerous for kids! “B-But isn't that dangerous?”

The twosome paused and gave her identical bewildered looks. Almost as if they couldn't comprehend that she wasn't demanding they go out and fight... or that she'd expect them to fight at all. “It is... for them,” Himawari responded, a little awkwardly. Then she frowned and said, “Tama, go inside a house and into the basem*nt, bar the door behind you and the windows for good measure. Just in case.”

Then she took to the air, her brother right on her heels. “Wait!” Tama cried, but she wasn't heeded.

She sat there stunned for a minute, unsure of what to do, her empty bowl forgotten with this newfound rush of worry for the angel who'd been so nice to her. Glancing at her water glass, Tama fretted for a moment... then drank its entire contents and scurried through the crowd. She was going to see what was going on, one way or the other.

Kuri. Ashura knew it so well. He'd been a bandit, a samurai, and now a bandit again, and he'd always come back here one way or another. A place where he'd had purpose, brothers in arms, a master he loved and respected...everything. And then it had all been taken away, and he'd been left waiting... waiting and waiting.

Kin'emon and the others had still not come back. He was tired of waiting. He'd done his task, he'd prepared as much as he could even when Oden's loyalists threw themselves to their deaths after ten years of waiting... and now he'd given up. His master was dead, and what was the point of waiting on a prayer and a hope for a Kozuki Clan that wouldn't be the same without him?

Ashura thought he'd discarded all thoughts and feelings about the failed rebellion. His failure. Being left behind to watch the land slowly die. But then...but then he'd heard in the last town he'd pillaged that Kuri had been given a new master.

The old man hissed out a pained breath, then looked up at him with a bitter, hateful scowl. Ashura paused mid turning away; his bandits had removed everything of value from the man's sorry hut, which hadn't been much. “What?” He asked mockingly.

You're trespassing on the domain of King the Wildfire now, bandit.” The old man responded. “So enjoy your stolen gains while you can...it won't last!”

Ashura's blood froze in his veins. His hand shot out and grabbed the old fool by his collar, hauling him off the ground as his son and grandchildren cried out in horror. “What did you just say?” He demanded, teeth on edge.

The old man stared back at him with cold, hard eyes. “Didn't you hear?” He asked mockingly. “Kaido has gifted the Kuri prefecture to his second and successor.” Ashura's hand began to shake slightly in disbelief. “There was good food in this village because it was sent to us on the swordsman's orders... all gone down your greedy gullets now. Have any of the Beast Pirates been quick to forget such offences?”

Ashura stared a hole in the man's head, searching for any sign of deceit in this man, hoping for it – desperately hoping for it! But the man's expression didn't change. Horror swamped his nerves. Kaido had given Kuri away... had taken Oden's achievement and just...

His mind raced back to that night, the night they'd been betrayed and their enemy alerted to their plan. They came to the valley and found Kaido awaiting them with his army... he'd been curled around the mountain, fully in the form of a dragon, laughing and drunk. On his left had been his sick, twisted doctor, cackling and spoiling for a fight. On his right, a silent spectre clad head to toe in black, one hand resting on his sword as fire snapped and crackled between his wings.

He would go on to nearly bisect Kawamatsu in the midst of the battle. The kappa still had the scars, if he was alive.

Ashura screamed in rage and flung the old man to the ground.

“Are we sure he's not here, boss?” One of his followers asked uneasily, eyes fixed on the sky. King was a unique opponent... he made the sky above a fearful thing. He could go to and attack from a place none of them could follow. Ashura was aware that he was the only one among his fellows who could fight the Lead Performer... that's why he'd needed to wait, gather information, and plan.

His voice dragged the former Akazaya Samurai back to the present. “Yes.” Ashura said. “King and Kaido left together early in the morning... and he won't return for some time yet. He's not a concern.”

He was training. Strengthening himself. After years of complacency, the Lunarian had abruptly done an about face and decided he was still not powerful enough. The plan that depended so much on those monsters being complacent and staying that way shuddered, balancing on the tip of a knife.

A ripple of relief went through his band; he paid it no mind. They would have to fight King eventually, if Kin'emon keeps his word...clearly he needed to embolden them more.

“How are we gonna know who those special smart people are when we get inside the village?” Another man asked, scratching his head. “They'll be foreigners, sure, but won't they have been disguised somewhat, 'r somethin'?”

“Disguised from who?” Ashura responded dryly. “After his most recent venture in the outside world, Kaido is more confident then ever. Who does he have to hide from, in his own domain?” And it was his domain, had been for years. What a bad joke. “They'll be obvious. As soon as you see them, kill them on the spot. Don't let them get away.”

“You got it, boss!” his men said with enthusiasm.

Ashura sat up on his mount, glowering into the distance. He'd been able to hear a few things about the new scientists Kaido had dragged to Wano, and none of it was good... supposedly, they were somehow birthed by the smartest man in all the world, and shared his genius. Kaido was having them revolutionize his army; give them new, more powerful weapons than anyone in the outside world had access to. They would make him the most powerful warlord in the world.

That could not be permitted. Even if Ashura doubted, he knew that a Raid would be rendered impossible if Kaido was so armed. The solution to that was very simple. So what if the scientists had been brought here against their will and were prisoners? If they could make a monster that powerful, they were better off dead.

They were closing in on the village Leftovers now... Ashura's jaw tightened and his teeth ground together. Already the skyline was completely different. Houses had been replaced; they kept the traditional style of Wano, but even from here it was obvious different materials had gone into its construction. King hadn't wasted any time remaking the town to his preferences... treading where Oden had walked once...

The boiling oil was making him sweat and shake... he was dangerously close to being only half conscious. Ashura dug his fingers into his arms to keep himself conscious and looked around for something to focus on. Something other than the bastard dragon or the filthy usurper.

Those black wings and flames caught his eye. King was standing off to the side, hands folded behind his back, watching Oden struggle. He didn't laugh, he didn't jeer. His mask concerned his face completely, leaving the samurai with no idea what he was thinking. He wasn't enjoying this.

When Orochi changed the sentence, King started, whirled toward his captain and started shouting something... his voice was swallowed up by the crying, pleading crowd, leaving Ashura to wonder wildly for a minute if he was protesting the betrayal of the agreement. If somehow, he had been, he didn't move to stop his captain before the gunshot.

Oh, that bitter, impotent rage. He could have this smallest of outlets for it. Yes, Kaido would hunt for him and his men after his prized scientists were killed, but Ashura knew how to disappear. He knew Wano better than the dragon could ever hope to.

Then seven little black blurs hurtled towards him from the village.

Ashura brought his mount up short and jumped down, drawing his sword. His men tensed for a battle... and all started making noises of confusion when seven winged children dropped to the ground in front of them, forming a defensive line like it was as natural as breathing. Most of them were unarmed, except for one boy who had a sword across his back almost as big as he was. One was large and had what looked almost like little bear ears, another had scales like a fish and webbed hands like Kawamatsu, another had an odd, almost diamond-shaped head, but they all had a uniform resemblance.

Black wings, silver hair, bronze skin, and flames crackling between their wings. Ashura had never seen King's unmasked face, but instantly he knew these were his kin. His children, most likely.

“Who're you?” The boy with the sword asked flatly. His head co*cked like a hawk's, staring at Ashura's men like they were meat at a buffet. “And what are you doing here?”

The single girl co*cked her head to the side, then snorted contemptuously. “Who cares? They're obviously bandits. Let's just get rid of them, I have a little lady to attend to.”

“Himi, father will want to know.” the boy with the odd head pointed out.

Ashura barked out a harsh laugh, causing them to fall quiet. They were so small, so obviously young despite their swaggering confidence. How old were they, six? Maybe seven? Hiyori-sama had been just a little older than that when the castle had burned. To think King had bred seven whelps... he wouldn't have thought the silent man was the type. “What business is it of yours, little boy?” He sneered, glaring at the child. “Move aside before you get hurt. That sword is useless to you; it's a tool of men, not little brats.”

He waited for the childish outburst, screaming and petty insults. It never came. The boy's face remained flat and stoic...aside from him arching an eyebrow. “You don't know what we are,” he said with a hint of bemusem*nt.

“You're King's brats, aren't you? You have his look.” Maybe he should capture them; wrap them in chains and make them vanish from the face of Wano. They're barely old enough to toddle across the road on their own, and he would force King to experience a fraction of the anguish he deserved.

“Rude,” The girl said in disgust.

Ashura pointed his sword directly at her... and she didn't so much as flinch. She's a child, why was she not cowering in fear? Why didn't she recognize the threat he posed? None of them seemed to care that they were surrounded by armed men.

He wouldn't admit it to himself, but it...troubled him. No child should be that unfazed in the face of danger to their person. Either they were completely desensitized to pain or thought it couldn't happen to them. Even his fellow bandits were getting a little unnerved by this eerie composure.

They were that confident that no one would cross their father, even with him absent? That no one could touch them? It certainly explained why they saw themselves fit to negotiate in his stead, and confront armed and angry bandits.

“Are you hungry?” The larger boy with the bear ears inquired, taking Ashura off guard. “Thirsty? There's food here. If we bring you enough for yourself and your men, will you turn and go away? Much has been brought from the Paradise Farm. I'm sure we can spare some for you.”

The question was said with such seeming sincerely, Ashura was tempted to laugh. It was an interesting ploy, for a Beast Pirate's child – a seeming show of generosity! He was surprised that the boy thought he would fall for it. “And if I decide I want more than what you can spare?” He demanded.

“Then I'm going to ask you to leave,” The bear-eared boy responded. “The people here need to eat, too.”

“I don't think they're the type to politely bargain and leave a target, Ginji.” One of the boys said. His gaze slowly panned over the bandit gang, in an almost...analytical fashion. “You're smash and grab bandits, aren't you? You walk into undefended towns, rip out everything of value and kill whoever resists, then take off before retaliation can arrive.” Contempt edges his voice.

It drove needles into Ashura's withdrawn anger. It felt like mockery. “So what?” He growled. “Sheltered little boy... don't you know where you are?! You want to play hero and give starving people food?” That wasn't what was going on in there. It wasn't. King was feeding the people to make them more useful workers, nothing more.

The boy named Ginji's expression became distinctly less placating. “What's wrong with that?” He asked quietly, like a warning.

“Heroes are dead fools, doomed to die pointlessly.” Ashura said harshly. Ginji's expression shuttered, and part of him felt guilty spitting such venom at a child – someone still young enough to hope for more. But by the time he'd grown, the Beast Pirates will have stomped any actual kindness out of him, and he'd be just as bad as the rest of the foul lot. “Your village has food, at long last, and now it's going to be taken away from you by us. And that's it. There are no samurai to stand up for the poor people! No strong men to lead tough warriors. The Land of Wano is finished!”

“Is that what you tell yourself to sleep at night?” The boy with scales retorted scathingly. “When you beat old men to death and steal what little they have from their cooling bodies?” His voice was sharp like a whip, sophisticated and pointed, and Ashura wheeled to look at him. “Bragging about killing the powerless and fleeing from anyone who can actually fight you... you repulse me.”

That...that brat didn't know what he was talking about!

“What a sad, pathetic little man you are,” the girl sneered. She pointed a finger at him, clearly mimicking how he'd drawn his sword at her. “Now listen up and listen good, you sad little carrion eaters. This village you see behind you?” She waved a hand at Leftovers. “It's ours! The people within it? They're ours too! We will protect them from anyone who comes waddling up to us, trying to start something.”

She strode forward a few steps and stared at him with eerie, intense eyes. “Tama is within that village, and she is mine.” She said harshly. “If you think you'll get to lay one grubby finger on her or point that sword at her, over my dead body, you f*cking ghoul.”

Then a blaze of yellow light flew from her hand like an arrow. It whipped past Ashura's cheek, and immediately he felt a burn like he'd had his face shoved in a brazier.

He would look back at the moment with great guilt – they were children, of course they were babbling nonsense and claiming ownership of that which didn't belong to them. But in that moment, his face burning, Ashura looked at that little girl and all he saw was King – not even King alone, but Kaido, the monster who'd killed his master.

And he attacked her to take her captive.

Notes:

Well, that's a problem!

Hope you guys love Tama being cute and her interactions with Himawari; I've been planning that for a little while now. The girls are criminally adorable. Himawari can be a bit Much, but she's very much a spoiled sweet type; she's bossy and can whine a lot, but she's a good girl at heart and happy to lavish her loved ones, friends and protectorates with gifts.

Don't be too hard on Ashura at the end there; he wouldn't have attacked Himawari if he hadn't been seriously triggered by the news of King being given Kuri and he doesn't know that Himawari saying 'those people belong to me' is a declaration of protection, not her calling the villagers and Oden's original home her literal property. And his 'attack' was intended to be a hit from the blunt side of the sword to knock her out. Of course, Himi and the others are far less defenseless than they seem... and Yamato is seconds away from striking to defend them.

And Ashura's plan to kill the satellites is a fair one, albiet harsh on Edison and Lilith. The rebellion would be in trouble if they can't match Kaido's firepower, after all. He won't be the only one trying to get at them, Atlas and York either...

Chapter 27

Summary:

Anduriel experiments with his powers and has an inconvenient flashback. Yamato's heart finds itself at cross purposes.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Anduriel loved his powers. They were one of his favourite things in the universe, right after King and his siblings.

He could feel every shadow around him, from the trees to the animals to the clouds muffling the light of day; each one felt unique and fascinating between his fingers, charmed him with he reached out and grabbed them and tried to mould them to his will. The level of resistance he felt from them changed between each person, each act of nature; he gleefully bounced from one to the other to see which one was the easiest or the hardest to control. Part of him suddenly wanted to write it all down, draw up a symphony of swirling darkness and show it off to his dad and his siblings. Wouldn't that be fun?

Would it be as fun as using his powers to crush his enemies?

Anduriel thought of himself as a pretty happy-go-lucky guy. The world and the people in it and the shadows they cast excited and fascinated him. Nothing could bring him down! (Except for something really bad happening, no don't think about King's blood splashing against your face-) He was happy to have a chance to flex his muscles and send people packing.

Especially if that person was swinging a sword at Himawari.

That wasn't funny. That made him mad.

Anduriel stretched out his shadow until it collided with this bandit's. The expected resistance came, but his haki was hot and pulsing, ragefurybitternessresentment, just like Saturn's when his sister had read him for the gross little creep he was, and that unfocused rage bent and broke before Anduriel's determination.

His shadow fused with the bandit's, consuming it whole. Awakening, the thought had rushed through his mind in the midst of the fight on Egghead. In the midst of the chaos and confusion, when he'd been having the command codes removed from him, he'd suddenly felt his powers shudder and spike to heights previously uncalculated. In that sleep he'd been assaulted by a deluge of images. A shattered crew and corpses strewn about. Blood soaking into sand and earth. ContemptLethargyApathyCruelty. PainPainPainPain.

Anduriel jerked his hand up and the fused shadow erupted from the ground, becoming three dimensional before the shouting bandits. As the pink-haired bully swung his blade at Himawari, Anduriel had the shadow lunge and grab the man by his throat with both hands and squeezed like a dragon's jaw snapping shut around prey.

“Surprise!” He cackled when the guy's eyes bugged out of his skull in shock and pain. Himawari ducked the shuddering sword swing and jumped backwards, hands going up and glowing gold. “Hey Tiger, catch!”

The shadow lifted the bandit bodily off the ground, swung him over its head like a lasso, and flung him towards his brother. Tiger dropped into a battle stance and launched himself at the ballisitic enemy hurtling towards him, meeting him halfway with a powerful headbutt. Himawari instantly fired a series of laser blasts at the guy, eyes snapping into combat analysis mode.

Anduriel was laughing when a warning blared in the corner of his right eye – oh crap there was a bandit swinging a battle axe right at his head, that's not good – having a little too much fun there – oh wait his Observation Haki just relaxed, everything's fine.

“Honorless bastards!” Yamato flew in from absolutely nowhere and caught the attacker in the gut with his mace. A wince-inducing noise jarred Anduriel's hearing at the impact before Yamato literally smacked the guy away like a tennis ball. “You'd wield those weapons against children?!” The oni bellowed, orange-red eyes blazing. “I don't care how strong they are. That's unforgivable!”

Anduriel immediately grabbed that guy's shadow and made it three dimensional as well. He hadn't had a lot of time to experiment with the way the Shadow-Shadow fruit's powers had changed mid-Egghead; this was his first discovery, and he wanted to see how far he could push it.

The bubbly happy feeling Yamato's words gave him just increased his energy! He'd never heard anyone but Alber say something like that before. So while part of him really wanted to see what he could do with Yamato's shadow – it felt so strong, so purposeful! - it would have to wait for some other time. And he'd probably ask about it first.

Probably. If he remembered to. ...He'd do his best to remember to!

“Thank you, Yamato!” He said cheerfully, as he commanded the new 3D shadow to give the guy who'd tried to sneak up on him a literal asskicking.

“Humph!” Anubis grumbled, dodging around a couple of bandits who rushed him. “Why does everyone think we're so fragile?” The ground beneath him shuddered and crumbled, sand rising from the poisoned earth like a storm emerging from the horizon. “Desert Spada!”

“Anubis, be nice!” Rocinante cried. He launched himself into the air and spread his arms; a spider web of string lashed out from all his fingers, flying all around the battlefield as he set his deadly net. “At least appreciate the sentiment!”

Ginji held his hands out, a serious frown on his face; instantly a ball of pressure appeared in his hands, taking a familiar ball shape. “Ursus Shock,” he intoned. The blast flew out and struck a couple of the bandits head on, cracking the ground around them and grinding them into the dirt.

Anduriel wheeled around when he felt the leader's shadow squirming inside his own, attempting to tear its way free. That was the first time that had happened, and it felt – weird. Like someone was trying to stir up his internal organs and cybernetics with a spoon. “Ugh...!”

Metal rang against metal; in the moments he'd been distracted with some of his minions, Tiger had been forced back a few steps and the bandit leader had swung his sword at his head, only to be intercepted by Alucard. His brother held the replica Yoru steady as the bandit gritted his teeth, pressing down against his unmoving blade.

“What the hell are you?” The bandit demanded, shaken.

Alucard's lips slightly curled up into a smirk. There's a flash of interest in his eyes, sharp and hot like a bonfire. “Interesting swordplay.” He murmured. “Show me more.” He twisted his wrist and swung his arm out, sending the pink-haired bandit skidding several feet backwards. Instantly he dove after the bandit and their blades crashed together again, the ringing song echoing in Anduriel's ears.

Anduriel giggled, moving his combined shadow behind him to beat down the bandit who was charging at him from behind. The shadow ballooned up into a massive size and brought both fists down on the guy's head, smashing him down into the earth and straight up burying him in it. This is the first time he's seen Alucard look really excited; it's so nice he's having fun too!

He had another shadow come around and neck lift one of the bandits that hadn't gotten wrapped up like a fly in spider silk by Rocinante's string. “Goal!” He shouted cheerfully as the shadow dropped the man and soccer kicked him across the ground.

Tiger erupted from the ground he'd been swimming through and spin kicked the man across the ground, knocking him out. Anduriel beamed and waved at him enthusiastically. They were making a great team! “I was worried you weren't watching your back! But I suppose the shadows are doing it for you!” Tiger commented when their eyes met. He backhanded a bandit coming up behind him with a vaguely annoyed expression.

“More or less!” Anduriel chirped, bouncing on his feet and dancing around the charging bull that the leader had been riding. Literally dancing; his heels were bouncing as he spun around in an arc and grabbed a hold of its shadow. “Sides, even if my shadows can't see everything, I've got you – don't I?”

Tiger blinked twice at him before smiling a little. It made Anduriel's wings flutter. Tiger was so serious most of the time; not Alucard-level stoic-serious, but he was a worrier, and out of all of them he the most mature. He was the one who put together their revolving night watch to protect their Dad from assassins, he was an expert at herding civilians and calming them, and he was always on the lookout for trouble. Anduriel appreciated it, but he also got the sense that Tiger wasn't letting himself have fun – and he couldn't have that!

So seeing him smile? That was really nice. So nice that he was unfocused enough for the bandit leader to come charging within a few yards of him before Roci snared his leg in his string to trip him up. Anduriel yelped and spun around. “But maybe I am a little distracted,” he babbled out before firing as many lasers at the guy as he could unload at once.

Dang, Alucard hadn't beaten him yet?! They were walking all over the rest of these guys, what's up with this creepy jerk?!

Instantly Tiger was at his side, once again diving into the earth and rocketing forward like a missile before bursting out and slamming into Ashura's stomach. Roci's string flashed, blocking the man's sword from striking at Tiger's side while Alucard divested himself of the two bandits who had interfered with his duel. Anduriel redirected his monster shadow to grab the swordsman in a wrestler's hold, trying to restrain him.

What should they do with the guy? The odd thought flickered through his mind. Just kill him, or let Dad or K-K-Kaido decide his fate?

W...Why did that thought make him shudder?

That Thing towered above him, blacking out the sky with thunder. He's a monster, a demon, a God. Nothing they did mattered. Nothing they tried scratched him. And no one could run away from him fast enough, they tried, they triedtriedtried there's blood all over him-

Scared! Scaredscaredscaredscared! The horror... the horror! It burned his nerves and his eyes and his ears and his chest, his heart was beating against his broken ribs and everything hurthurthurt and he didn't even care, he killed everyone and he didn't care, taking everything from him was just a dull bothersome chore-

Monster!

“Andi!”

Anduriel snapped out of the heavy, hazy memory at the sound of Himawari yelling at him – his combat software was screaming at him. Instinctively he leaned back and OW!

The blade passed across his shoulder and down his side. The wound wasn't deep, and if certain Samurai had been there they would have noticed that it was a restrained blow – almost an accident, the sort you committed while beside yourself with rage. It had only cut across the surface. But this was the first time the boy of five had actually been noticably damaged, and everything he experienced in that moment... was like a child having fallen and scraped their knees for the first time.

Hot, stabbing pain blasted through Anduriel's senses. He cried out in distress, stumbling backwards and instinctively grabbing his shoulder. It felt hot and sticky; a wheezy breath tumbling from his lungs, he lifted his hand briefly and saw green blood sticking to his fingers.

Like King's blood staining his shirt.

His damage analysis system indicated that the injury was minimum and easily corrected. Yet that little connection – it made Anduriel's eyes water with restrained tears. The analysis chirped with worry as his stress suddenly skyrocketed. He whimpered in surprise and unhappiness, scrambling to reorient himself as he looked up and saw the face of the bandit.

His eyes were a little wide? Anduriel wasn't sure what his expression meant. But suddenly he was flooded with anger and indignation, and his good humor briefly fled him. “ASSHOLE!” He bellowed, channelling far more energy into his Fused shadow than he had before, instantly strangling the echo of the man's will into submission.

Rocinante, bless him, understood the assignment immediately – he pulled his strings taught, snapping the bandit's sword arm behind his back as the Fused Shadow began to warp and change shape into a slavering dragon. Anduriel's mind flickered with the image of Kaido's dragon form, looming in the sky like death itself. The Shadow mimicked the form slightly... but it wasn't a proper dragon. It was a human with a dragon's head, tail, talons, claws and fangs.

The shadow rocketed forward and snapped its jaw shut around the man's shoulder, tearing into flesh and biting down towards the bone. The brigand shouted in shock and pain; when he looked up at the shadow, another powerful emotion passed through his eyes – recognition? Anduriel didn't care.

He could hurt him, he could hurt the Crew. Take the crew away, destroy them with pain and blood and suffering and no no NO. Anduriel made the shadow dragon thrash its head furiously like a big cat attempting to dismember its prey, to try and rip the sword arm straight off. The sound of tearing flesh was encouraging, but the massive mad was stubborn, gritting his teeth against the pain and tearing free of Roci's strings, trying to free himself while the others were preoccupied.

Anduriel persisted! His shadow's claws sank into his enemy's back and sliced into flesh, its tail wrapped around his other arm and stabbed at his wrist. Destroy him!

Destroy the threat to the Crew!

The diagnostics were beeping loudly at him. He wasn't sure why; everything seemed a little out of order and his world was narrowed down to his opponent. It was hard to hear anything through the thunder in his ears and his arm still hurt. Andruiel blinked hazily. What's happening?

Then Yamato was there. His mace slammed into the guy's face, knocking him flat to the ground. Anduriel was so startled by his sudden appearance that he lost his grip on the shadow dragon – and the two shadows split apart, returning to their original places. Finally he could register what the systems were telling him... auditory hallucination? What?

Oh. Yamato's in front of him, saying something. Anduriel yipped in surprise and nearly fell over backwards; the young oni caught him though, holding him by the shoulders – gingerly in the case of his right, avoiding putting pressure on the wounds.

“-its okay. Hey, it's okay. Anduriel.” Yamato's voice was...soft? Had he ever heard the oni talk like that before? He talked up a whirlwind. He was loud and energetic. “Look at me for a second, okay? Don't panic. It's not a bad wound. You're alright.”

Anduriel blinked rapidly at him. H-Huh... his eyes are hot. Had he been crying? Confused, he dashed at his eyes. “It hurts,” he half complained, half protested.

Yamato bobbled his head and tore off part of his sleeve. Anduriel stared in surprise as their new friend began binding up his arm with the fabric; already he felt a little better. “He got past your invincibility when you were distracted,” Yamato said. “Where did you go? You looked so afraid for a moment.”

“I...afraid? I wasn't afraid. I just – had a flashback to Moria,” Anduriel babbled, his heartbeat starting to slow down. Yamato's eyes are calm and warm, like a beach campfire, and looking at him was – soothing? “That was very inconvenient.”

“A flashback?” Yamato prodded, tying up the makeshift bandage.

“Uh...” How to explain it? The little angel's hands flailed slightly. “We – sometimes we see and feel things the warlords experienced? Things that happened to them. Mostly its subconscious, but sometimes it just happens out of nowhere.”

“I see...” Yamato murmured. Then he placed his hand on Anduriel's head and gently ruffled his hair. “There you go. You're a Lunarian, like King – you'll heal up before you know it. It wasn't a bad wound.”

It wasn't? But it hurt a lot! Yet, Yamato looks so confident that Anduriel has no choice but to believe him. “Oh,” He mumbled, blushing a fiery red. Geez, it wasn't that bad and he got all freaked out like that anyway? That's so embarrassing! King didn't even make a noise when he took that one hit -

Okay, wait, bad thoughts. Don't go back there.

“Andi,” Roci blurted out, running into his peripheral vision. A second later he was followed by Tiger and Ginji, then the rest of their siblings. “Andi, are you okay?”

“Y-Yeah.” Yup, definitely dying of embarrassment here. They didn't even look ruffled and here he was, about to burst into tears over a little scratch. Yikes. “Yeah, I just – oh man, that's really embarrassing. Don't tell dad,” he blurted out in a rush, hunching his shoulders a little. “And where is that guy?”

“Al, Ginji, and Roci all ganged up on him when Yamato knocked him over,” Himawari said, hovering at his shoulder and frowning in distress when she saw blood seeping through the white fabric. “He's over there.” She pointed.

Sure enough, the scattered forms of the bandits were spread across the impromptu battlefield with the pink-haired guy lying in a beat up heap. “How'd he manage to fend you off, Alucard?” Tiger asked, brow furrowed. “If he could do that, he can't be just some ordinary bandit.”

Alucard gave the bandit a thoughtful frown. “He's a master of the sword.” He said. “Someone who dedicated the whole of his being to it, who lived it as a way of honor beyond just being a means of war. I wasn't expecting that at all, and he pushed me back hard.” He scowled with self criticism. “I underestimated him and Anduriel got hurt. How stupid of me.”

Yamato poked him on the nose, causing the boy to yelp. “No, you're just very overconfident children.” He scolded, shaking his head. “You went into this fight expecting to walk all over your enemies. Never go into battle like that! If you're going to insist on getting into fights and worrying King sick, you must assume that your enemy is a threat to you, always! Even with all the doctors did to make you powerful, that's just a crutch if you think your battles are won before they've even begun.”

“A crutch?” Anubis repeated incredulously. Yamato responded by bopping him on the nose as well; immediately the sand angel flushed and sputtered “h-hey!”

“Yes,” Yamato said bluntly. “Arrogance is the greatest downfall of man. In Oden's journals of his travels with Newgate and Roger, he wrote repeatedly about how he got surprised by the strength of the fighters in the sea. When he met Roger, he was sent flying out of the battle with a single attack because he underestimated the Pirate King! That's why you always have to be on your guard. He considered that one of the most important lessons he ever learned.”

Anduriel felt his embarrassment increase by a few degrees. Yeah... he hadn't thought anything about the bandits when he went out to clear them away. It had just felt like doing a bit of pest control. Apparently, I forgot that pests bite, he thought.

Ooooh, he wasn't looking forward to admitting this to Alber. They'd been having a quiet laugh about how irrational their dad's constant fretting was, and now they were going to have to eat humble pie over it.

“Oden knew a lot about everything, did he?” Alucard muttered, a note of defensiveness leaking into his voice. Ahhhh... at least Anduriel wasn't alone in this feeling.

Yamato beamed at the question anyway. “Indeed! Oden was one of the greatest men to ever live,” he said with confidence. “That's why I chose to emulate him in every way I could.”

Anduriel opened his mouth to ask how Yamato had come across Oden's diary when the sound of a bloody spit interrupted him. “Keep Oden's name out of your mouth, you filthy Oni...!”

It was that bandit again... Yamato froze in place, eyes widening, before slowly pivoting to look at the man. He had slowly turned over onto his knees, bloody and bruised from their combined assault, and now he was ignoring both Anduriel and Himawari to glare murderously at their older companion... Such personal hate! What was up with that?!

“Huh?” Yamato uttered. He sounded caught by surprise.

The man breathed heavily, glare somehow intensifying. “How dare you mimic Wano's fallen hope?” He spat. “Your mocking parody is an offence to his life...! Having a laugh at our expense, are you? Laughing at the failure of honourable men and how they couldn't protect their homes from you and your ilk.”

“Never!” Yamato protested, a note of distress entering his voice. “I was there the day Oden was executed...” Anduriel glanced curiously at him, surprised by the admission. “I'd never seen a more noble soul before... I only want to honor him through my life, nothing more.”

“Honor? An Oni doesn't know the meaning of that word...especially not Kaido's spawn!” The pink-haired man spat. Yamato's eyes widened. “That's who you are, isn't it? None other have his foul horns or his look, and that explains why you're on guard duty for King's children.”

“I don't consider that monster my father,” Yamato said, his vehemence so intense it made Anduriel take a surprised step backwards. “He doesn't love me or even like me. I don't-”

“You really think that matters?” The bandit retorted. “There's no bigger disgrace to Oden's memory than a monster's spawn playacting at replacing him! If only I were stronger... I'd kill you were you stand for this insult...!”

Yamato fell silent, eyes wide and...a little shimmery? “Who are you?” He asked quietly, standing up and looking the bandit up and down. “The way you speak... you knew Oden well, didn't you? But how...? A friend of Oden would never attack a group of children the way you did.”

“Silence!” The man jabbed a bloody finger at him. “You know nothing! Nothing of our suffering and what Kaido stole from us that day! How dare you desecrate his memory...!”

“...You're one of the Scabbards,” Ginji guessed with an air of realization. The blood went out of the man's face and his gaze briefly swivelled to the Seraphim. “Aren't you? One of them used to be a bandit before Oden defeated him and took him in.”

Yamato gasped. “Ashura! Ashura Doji!” He gasped in realization. “That's who you are! You're alive?! That's incredible! A miracle...!” His voice was so bright with astonishment and genuine awe that Anduriel couldn't figure out why Ashura's gaze became even more hateful at that.

“The only miracle that Wano would see is you and your father dropping dead,” The man spat, reaching for his sword. Yamato flinched like he'd been punched in the stomach, and Anduriel's temper spiked all over again. Hey! “I won't give either of you the satisfaction...” He took the sword and pointed it at his own stomach??? “I curse you, oni. I curse you and the day you were born!”

Yamato did flinch backwards this time, and there's definitely shimmering in his eyes. Anduriel's hackles went way up and he moved to blast this guy in the face with a laser – but he wasn't quite fast enough.

Rocinante's eyes flared a shade of red and suddenly the sword went flying away. “Shut up!” His sweet brother shouted with sudden, animalistic fury. Suddenly strings snapped tight around Ashura's throat and dug in like razors, instantly tightening to the point of cutting off the power of speech. “Shut your filthy mouth about Yamato! He's gone through his whole life without murdering a single helpless civilian, which is far more than can be said about you! How dare you try and pass judgment on him? Because of Kaido?!”

His eyes are definitely red – a straight up burning shade of crimson. “Because he's his dad...? Even though he's kind and honourable and gentle, you think...? Fine.” He walked towards the bandit, fingers flexing when the man started to panickedly claw at the wire viciously choking him. He seemed to pick up on the dark shift in Roci's temperment. “If you're going to insist on having a filthy tongue, I'm going to insist on my right to remove it.

For a second Anduriel thought he was kidding – then Roci forcibly shoved the man's jaw open while cracking the knuckles on his other hand and he realized oh sh*t yes he was gonna cut out his tongue right f*cking now.

Yamato reacted faster than him, launching himself after Roci. “Wait, Roci – no!” He protested, grabbing the Seraphim's arm. “Stop! Let him go.”

Rocinante twisted and stared at him with a mixture of confusion and upset. “But Yamato! He wants to see you tortured and burned alive and hung up to die!” He blurted out, angry worry on every note in his voice. “He wants to tear you apart so you hurt and hurt and hurt and die in total agony.” His voice escalated with conviction. “I can't let that happen!”

“He lost everything because of my worthless father!” Yamato responded in response, shaking his head violently. “Give him pardon for his cruel words; this was once his home. He once had a good man as a master, and all of that is gone because of Kaido. Let him vent his grief and rage against me; there's nowhere else for it to go.”

“But you don't deserve any of it!” Rocinante protested, his wings fluffed up in agitation. “You never did anything wrong to him. He doesn't get to use you as a scapegoat just because you're the only one he can reach. That's not fair! I won't let him destroy one of the good people who exist so he can feel better! So because he suffered, he gets to kill you in place of Kaido?”

He whirled around and stared intently at Ashura. “There was a woman,” he whispered. “She never held a slave or killed a person for disrespecting her or even hurt a fly. She left because she wanted to do right by them, and what did they do? They took her apart like a doll. She was good in spite of everything around her, and they made her suffer without end for months. They tortured her and starved her and forced her to flee from one garbage heap to another, eating rotten food. She never once fought back, she didn't even try to save herself. She never raised her voice against them. She only cried and protected her children from them. And that was justice?!”

“Roci, who are you...?” Yamato asked hesitantly.

Rocinante's hand balled up in a fist. “You'd like that, wouldn't you?” He asked Ashura bitterly. “You'd like to inflict 'justice' on him and laugh when he cries and suffers. You want to watch and enjoy it, sneering that it's about time he was made to suffer. You want to get off of it just like every other animal who did the things you hate so much... wrapped in the warm, fuzzy coat of your righteousness. Your so righteous, you can do the same things you bleat about and be justified in it. Because it was only unfair when it happened to you, was it?”

Ashura's expression slowly slipped from that seething disgust to something stunned, empty except for shock.

Yamato wordlessly spun Rocinante around and pulled him into a tight hug. Roci yipped in surprise, while Tiger silently took over watching their prisoner. “Roci,” He murmured. “Whatever memory you're drowning in, come back. You're not a ruthless boy.”

Rocinante shivered, mewling a little in protest... then he slumped against Yamato's shoulder and began breathing heavily. Anduriel scurried over to him and rubbed his brother's back as best he could. King had done that and it felt nice... it would help, wouldn't it?

“I forgive him, Roci. Please, do the same.” Yamato entreated, when Rocinante looked up at him. “He has suffered enough, and look – I'm okay, aren't I? I'm not hurt. This doesn't hurt me at all.”

Liar, Anduriel thought, even as a creeping feeling of awe filled his chest, looking up at the young oni.

Yamato looked over at Ashura with sorrowful acceptance, orange-red eyes soft with compassion. “Let him go. If your father comes back and sees that you're injured, I fear he'll respond with disproportionate force to the harm done.”

“He wanted to rob the village of all its food. He wanted to hurt Tama and wasn't even sorry. He hurt YOU!” Himawari protested, sounding very much as though she was at a total loss.

“His anger will not be cured by you carving his tongue out,” Yamato responded. “He's been stripped of his home, his family, his honor and his dignity. People who have lost everything despair, and why wouldn't they? Do you need to strip the rest of his life away as well?”

Anduriel couldn't think of a response to that.

“Your father wants to heal Kuri,” Yamato pointed out, sensing that he was beginning to sway them. “He is giving the people back their water, their farms, their homes and their dignity. He's bringing hope and peace back to the land, and I'm starting to think it's because he just...wants to; that it's not just pragmatism. Let us not corrupt that pathway up to the light with more slaughter and loss.”

“...Rude, bringing father into it like this.” Rocinante mumbled, sighing deeply. He relaxed, though, and that sudden rush of frightening anger had left him. At that moment the strings choking Ashura all dispersed, leaving him doubled over and gasping for breath. Rocinante extracted himself from Yamato's grip and glanced back at the bandit, angry pity in his eyes. “Get out of here, Doji.”

“What...?” The former samurai wheezed, one hand on his throat. He was staring at Yamato and Roci like he'd never seen other sapient beings before.

“Get out,” Rocinante repeated, his voice stern but no longer murderous. “Get lost, we won't tell father who you are. This time.” His eyes narrowed. “Come after Yamato or another village that we've given food and shelter, and you won't be forgiven a second time.”

Himawari sniffed. “Know you live because that 'filthy oni' pleaded for mercy on your behalf out of his goodness.” She hissed. “May the Sun God strike you down if you ever call him a monster again!”

Yamato stuttered and blushed, taken aback by her sudden statement. “H-Himawari?!”

“What?” She protested. “I'm being extremely magnanimous here!” She glared at Ashura, who's gaping at Yamato now. “Are you trying to catch flies, you foolish man?! Leave! Now!”

A loud, disjointed series of boos and echoing agreement startled Anduriel. He turned around and gawked at the sight of a large number of people from the town had come out to see what the commotion was, including Himawari's new friend Tama. Many of them looked confused, stressed out, or straight up disbelieving, and when Ashura's gaze darted towards them, they almost in unison moved a step closer to Yamato. Some of them were glaring, however. “Get lost, you food thief! You disgrace of a samurai! Oden would be ashamed of you!” An old woman shouted. “This oni boy is a better samurai than you!”

“He can't possibly be Ashura Doji,” a man said. “The boy is mistaken. Oden's heroes would never stoop so low as to assault children and rob blind the very people he swore to protect. Away with you, imposter!”

“Imposter!”

“Imposter!”

“They don't believe...?” Ginji wondered as the chant of 'imposter!' grew louder and more angry, anger that was coloured by a deep hurt. It made Anduriel shiver.

“Don't correct them,” Tiger interjected, shaking his head. Ashura hauled himself to his feet and staggered backwards, looking like a cornered animal. Then he began grabbing a number of his people and his sword, almost falling in his haste. “I'm not surprised they're rejecting the possibility outright. Everything that Yamato told us about the Akazaya Nine... the idea that this is what became of one of them is too much to accept. Too cruel.”

“And if they don't accept it, then Dad's less likely to find out.” Anduriel put in.

His dad protected him from a fatal blow. Them getting hurt when he was gone... yeah, he was gonna be really mad. But the idea of Yamato mourning this guy's death... he didn't want that to happen. So they'd tell Dad a little white lie, and maybe... maybe Ashura would remember who he used to be.

Huh. Battles could be ended without slaughtering all of the enemies. Funny, in all the combat data the world government had fed him, that seemed incongruous.

Despite what he told Roci, Yamato was hurt. He hurt in a way that was impossible to put to words. But he shoved that aside because right now he had a worried, furious father to placate – or try to. Oh, he was going to have to work at it.

“While I was gone...” King said through his teeth, violet eyes burning. His whole body was rock steady except for his hand on the hilt of Kusenagi, which was shaking with barely contained rage. Which – f*ck Queen losing his temper or his father getting drunk. This was scary and Yamato could genuinely feel his heart rabbiting in his ribs. “While I was gone, someone came to where my children were resting, where I left them assuming they would be safe, attacked them and wounded one. If he'd had the chance, he would have done more. And you are telling me not to go out and burn every bandit hideout in Wano until I discover and immolate him... why?”

The last word cracked like a whip, and King's haki burned with overwhelming rage – and fear, too. Fear had been underlying when he returned from his training session and noticed there were a bunch of bandits in holding cells, a damaged battlefield, and Anduriel's arm bandaged up. The way that fear pulsed in tandem with the inferno of his rage towards Ashura Doji was the most intimidating part of this conversation.

“Because they need you here, and they need your reassurance.” Yamato responded, expertly acting as though he wasn't picking his words very carefully. “Anduriel was very shaken by his injury. Is comforting him not more important right now?”

King hissed out a single breath through his teeth, pondering that. “He wasn't ever in danger,” Yamato added. “The wound was superficial, and I was there. I wouldn't have let anything worse happen.”

“He wasn't in danger, was he?” King asked sarcastically, his wings mantling against his back. “Then how was it that a swordsman tried to cut his arm off?”

That wasn't what Ashura was trying to do, Yamato thought silently. He was attempting very glancing wounds in an effort to scare them off. I'm stunned he was willing to attack them at all, but he had not lost himself so completely that he was willing to do them serious harm...

Of course, none of that would placate King – and why would it? Having lost so much across his life, no amount of remorse or extenuating circ*mstances would soothe the trigger that Ashura had just driven a spike into, attacking the Seraphim when King wasn't there to protect them. And that gave Yamato something to worry about...

Yamato couldn't have Orochi or Kaido discovering that some of Oden's loyalists were still alive and active. He felt a tiny flash of regret about lying to King's face about this in the face of his severe reaction, but Yamato couldn't allow what was left of the Wano the Kozukis had so faithfully cared for be destroyed.

“Anduriel was distracted by a surge of Moria's memories. If he hadn't been, I imagine he would have been blocked or dodged it.” Yamato took a quick breath and forged on when King opened his mouth to no doubt say some choice words about him letting his child be put in that position. “King, do the surges of genetic memory happen often? It took him right out of the pitched battle he was participating in.”

King's jaw clicked shut, and his brows tightened violently. “I don't know,” he said sourly. “I'll interrogate the satellites on the matter tonight. I can't let them be distracted in situations like that.” His eyes narrowed. “Should I blame Anduriel for getting hurt instead of the bandit attacking my children?”

Yamato shook his head violently. “What? No! Never; what vicious scum would make such an accusastion?” He asked incredulously. Ah, he'd phrased that very poorly if that's what King got out of it! “I council you patience because even if you find that bandit and slay him, two more will take his place before the week is out.”

His hand stopped shaking a little. Yamato hoped that was a good sign. “I'm sorry?” King responded.

Yamato looked up and held those unfairly beautiful violet eyes as steadily as he could. “King, he and his crew were sacking villages looking for food.” He said. “Not all the Beast Pirates feed villages the way you are – in fact, you're the only one who does. Outside of Kuri, the people starve and are denied anything but the leftovers Orochi deigns to throw their way. As long as that persists, bandits like that will be everywhere.”

“So I should ignore them?” King asked dully. “Ignore that they attacked my children – that they waited until I was gone to attack my children?” There's self recrimination in his voice, not just frustration...

Yamato shook his head, heart leaping into his throat. The soft note of distress in King's voice is... no, no, focus, for the love of Makami... “No. But if your only solution is to kill them all, then in time, you'll kill every man but a handful of those who live outside of Kuri and the Flower Capital.”

The young oni swept one arm out to the side. “He wasn't unpunished – myself and the children gave him a proper beating for his presumption! I only ask that you show restraint. You... you're the only one of father's men who values mercy. In the name of your god, don't rush to discard that in a fit of wrath.”

Invoking the spectre of Nika was meaningful; he could tell by the way King went a little rigid and his chest fluttered with a short, sharp inhale. Yamato sucked in a deep breath. “And Anduriel being hurt was my fault. I should have tried harder to prevent them from engaging.”

I was right there. I should have been able to stop that little boy from getting hurt, and stop Ashura from disgracing himself in grief-fueled rage...

To Yamato's surprise, King huffed a soft sound. It... it almost sounded like a very muted laugh? “I told them not to involve themselves when I clashed with Saturn,” the Lunarian deadpanned. “Perhaps you didn't hear as much, but I had no better luck than you did. I don't blame you for that, Yamato.”

“I blame me,” Yamato responded, shaking his head. Then he pounded one hand against his chest. “Maybe you think I'm a young fool, but I promised to protect them, and I meant it. So listen! This won't happen again... I swear on the land of Wano, upon the grave of my mother whoever she may be, on the sun that rises in the east, I'll keep those children safe; if that bandit reappears and strikes them again, I will tear him in half with my bare hands.”

He really hoped he wouldn't have to uphold that part of his oath – he really, really did.

King's furious expression melted away into shock, then a strange expression that Yamato was uncertain the meaning of. He seemed stunned, certainly, and stayed silent for half a moment before speaking again. “I... thank you,” he said a little hesitantly. His hand fully relaxed, though it didn't leave the hilt of his sword. “Thank you, Yamato.”

His voice was so deep and rich... something flutters in Yamato's stomach and he shoved it down with concerningly familiar hurry. He hoped it wasn't obvious that he was looking just past King's shoulder, at the in-process reconstruction of Oden's castle, rather than directly at him.

That was dangerous...!

“I don't like it,” King said, “and I want there to be an eye kept on bandit movement across the area. But my anger can't come before making sure Anduriel recovers.” He runs one hand through his hair, then looks at Yamato with a different expression. “Speaking of which, they seemed concerned for you. Something about things the bandit said after you defeated him?”

Yamato flinched.

You disgrace his memory! Filthy oni!

Pain fluttered in his heart, deep and intense. It was like a river of sorrow, sweeping him away and carrying him down its length. “It... doesn't matter. Words are wind.” He said with as much confidence as he could muster.

King frowned slightly. “If that was true, the Batrellia massacre wouldn't have happened.” he said unexpectedly. “Come over here and sit with me.”

Yamato blinked, then followed in wordless confusion as King brought him to a pair of chairs by a flower bed, looking out across the mountain. “Roci was in a snit about it,” King said, sounding slightly puzzled. “He needs to be pushed fairly hard to get that angry; he said there were abominable accusation flung at you.”

Oh, Roci... that boy had a gentle heart. So how was it that he had a flare of such vicious anger?

That was the less heavy matter crushing Yamato beneath its weight, of course. He gently gripped the edges of his top, wondering miserably if Ashura was right and it was an insult for him, son of Oden's killer, to attempt to carry on his spirit. Had it been presumptuous of him to think that he had the right to take up his name?

“Oh... the bandit just... connected the dots about my parentage,” Yamato said after a moment of hesitation, trying to sound dismissive. “He said that a son of Kaido could never hope to be Oden. That I was... nothing but a vicious Oni, the son of a monster.” He shrugged. “I mean, it's true, isn't it? I am Kaido's son. As bitterly as I resent that fact... I can't change it.”

King processed that, then snorted aggressively. “Irrelevant.” he said, a hard edge to his voice.

Yamato's head snapped towards him. “Huh?” He managed.

“You being Kaido's son says nothing about you,” King responded. “If the character of a man was coded into their genetics, my children would be carbon copies of the Warlords they were cloned from – yet Anubis lacks Crocodile's toxic pride and narcissism, while Rocinante is gentle and sweet where Doflamingo is a petty, temperamental man child. He cursed you because of your lineage?” The Lunarian glared straight ahead. “That man knows nothing. If he did, he would be praising Nika that someone like you exists.”

The young oni stuttered, completely caught off guard. “H-H-Huh?” He repeated intelligently, heat rising to his cheeks.

King glanced at him again and responded, “Do you know what the difference between having conviction and putting on a facade is?” He asked. “When a person who believes in one or the other faces resistance, the former refuses to bend in pursuit of victory while the latter instantly betrays his word for an easier path to success.” He scoffed. “For years, I've despised the very word Justice. The reason why...? Because I saw it used as an empty word who's definition was forever changing to suit the whims of those using it as an excuse. The World Government declared themselves the force for Justice in the world, and it was spouting that battle cry that they slaughtered my family and my people. It was in Justice's name that we were tortured, dissected and worse.”

“But they can't possibly believe that!” Yamato protested. “That's impossible! They lied because they knew that as soon as the truth came out, they would be exposed for the monsters that they were!”

King's lip twitched. “I envy your faith in that.” He said. “No, those who participated in the slaughter believe it, wholeheartedly and without irony.” Yamato's mouth dropped open. “There is a standing policy in the World Government, about the bloodlines of those who they deem criminals. Exterminate them. Butcher babies in their cribs, because they're born evil. Because the Lunarians resisted the world government, every last one of us was guilty from the smallest of babes to the most frail of our elders. They destroyed us with joy in their hearts.”

“That's MONSTEROUS!” Yamato bellowed, fury coursing through him. King stuttered and stared at him with wide eyes. “Those monsters are delusional! There is no crime that could be committed that would justify the slaughter of your people! NONE!”

He exhaled harshly. “Alucard and Rocinante told me of this policy of theirs, but I couldn't believe it. It was madness. How could anyone be convinced that this was a righteous act?”

“It's the version of justice that suits them,” King responded, stumbling a little bit. “For people like that, justice is malleable; the morality of the matter is less important than whether or not it helps their cause. They are... the exact opposite of you.”

Yamato blinked rapidly. “Of me?”

King nodded confidently. “You are a man of principles. Just like Oden.” He said. “Whether something is right or wrong is the only thing that matters to you, not an inconvenient detail that has to be worked around. And unlike them, no amount of obstacles, screaming, demands or threats can sway you from being honourable, just, and good.”

He...chuckled. Actually chuckled, the sound warm and thoughtful. “The Navy only wishes they had someone like you serving them. Compared to your integrity, they're crewed by spineless, rabid dogs.” King smiled. “After all... if Kaido cannot sway your sense of justice, what chance in hell does anyone else have?”

Yamato felt his mouth open and close a few times. “That bandit is a fool,” King added obliviously. “Going on my memory, Oden would have taken to you in a heartbeat. You're exactly the sort of person he drew to him like magnets.”

He glanced at the younger man and blinked. “Are you alright?”

Am I...? Yamato thought, his heart pounding out of his chest. No. No, I'm not! I'm about to swoon and it's all your fault! All his distress had been abruptly scrubbed away and replaced with incredibly happiness – and his face is actually on fire now. He must resemble a very ripe tomato in that moment and why on earth King wasn't picking up on that, he did NOT know. It was amazing that his heart could be beating this hard when all the blood in his body had gone to his cheeks.

King's smile softened his face and took him from 'unfairly beautiful' to 'put on this earth by Makami as a personification of beauty, to test those who made oaths.' A test that Yamato is failing, and rapidly. The flutter in his chest... it was so strong, he could hardly breathe around it.

He'd never been so violently struck with the desire to kiss someone. It felt like a need, like he would never be able to breathe again if he didn't.

Impulsively Yamato put a hand on King's wrist, closing his fingers around his palm. “Thank you,” he said a little faintly, and wanted to hit himself. Thank you?! How were those two words meant to convey everything he was feeling right now?! That's pathetic!

King made a tiny surprised noise, looking down at their joined hands and shivering a little. “It's only the truth,” he said, a bit taken aback. Yamato swallowed, smiling dazedly at him. “Yamato?”

“I-” Yamato started, only to be interrupted by a dog barking. Nearly leaping out of his skin, the young oni turned and noticed Himawari trotting up the path, with both her new friend and her dog in tow.

“Alber!” Himawari called impatiently, running up to him and leaving Tama scrambling to keep up. “I made a friend. There might be more bandits on the road, so might she stay with us until tomorrow, when I may escort her back?”

King blinked rapidly, like his mind was experiencing time slower than the rest of them and struggling to keep up. “A friend?” He repeated in surprise, looking down at Tama.

“Yes!” Himawari said, one hand landing on the straw hat she'd taken to wearing all day. “She made this for me, isn't it perfect? Her name is Tama!” She gestures animatedly towards the other girl, who looked very intimidated by the man in front of her. “Oh, I'll need to find a place for her dog to sleep comfortably. I didn't think of that – wait one moment!” In a rush she was off again, leaving Yamato rubbing his chest and cursing the interruption – all his courage from moments ago had just fled, leaving him in a dizzy spin.

“Tama?” King repeated, his attention turning to the new girl. “You've taken to Himawari's company?”

“Y-Yes, Lord King.” The purple-haired girl said, shivering. Her hands went to the diamond necklace she was wearing; something that, to put it mildly, clashed intensely with her homespun clothes and worn out sandals. “U-Um...! Himawari, she – she overpayed me for her hats... they're not worth nearly as much as all the gold she gave me... I-I'll give it back to you now...”

King held up a forestalling hand, surprising her. “Return it?” he asked. “That much gold will help you immensely.”

Tama gulped. “Y-Yes, but! But if I accept it, I'm cheating her out of her money! No honourable kunoichi would do that,” she babbled, continuing to motion to remove the necklace.

“...I see,” King said, that soft smile returning to his face. He reached out and gently patted Tama on the head, much to her shock. “Then consider it a gift from me... for making my daughter happy. That is something I consider priceless.”

Yamato stared at him with wide, reverent eyes.

Oh, but he was doomed. Doomed like a maiden in a fable, because his heart was pulling him ferociously towards a man he is honor bound to oppose.

Notes:

Oh look at that, the chapter went and exploded out of me again. It was not intended to be this long, but I was having a bit too much fun I guess. For the definition of fun!

Genetic Memory is turning into a fun thing to mess with, because I thought, 'how can I make this a curse as well as a blessing?'. Having extremely immersive flashbacks in tense situations! What could go wrong? (hugs Anduriel) I look forward to messing with the kids like this more in the future!

Ah look, I can finally definitively put one of King's romance tags in the story. Yes, one of them. There's more building up there, I just need to hammer down a few details. After all, Big Mom hasn't executed her plan yet... Hehehe! Isn't Yamato adorable? Pour one out for King's obliviousness, he's going to feel very stupid some time in the future.

Summit Apocalypse - ReynaAtTheEnd - One Piece (Anime & Manga) [Archive of Our Own] (2024)
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