“I hate you. So much.”
The statement lacked bite, sitting in the Thousand Sunny’s kitchen in her tattered wedding gown, drinking the blackest, bitterest, most delicious tea she’d ever tasted, but not saying it felt too much like she was conceding… something. Pudding couldn’t put her finger on what.
“You’re a pervert. And a moron. And—will you stop giving me food?!”
Sanji paused, plate in hand. “I’m sorry. You don’t like pasties?”
“Why are you being nice to me?” She snatched a pasty off the plate, shaking it in his face. “I tried to kill you!”
“That happens a lot,” Sanji said, casually enough that Pudding knew it was true. “Besides, you helped us get out.”
Pudding scowled; she couldn’t explain to herself anymore than she could to the Strawhats why she’d guided them out of Totto Land, or why she hadn’t disembarked when they’d passed Cacao Island. Once they’d passed the last Tarte, Luffy had just stared at her, nodded, and declared her third eye “soooo coooooool” before demanding meat, and that was that.
It felt way too easy.
“I don’t want your pity,” she said.
Sanji blinked. “You never had it.”
It was so simple, so earnest, and Pudding panicked and shoved the whole pasty in her mouth so she wouldn’t have to respond. Sanji flushed, his face taking on what she recognized as his ‘You are the cutest, most wonderful woman in the world’ expression, before he shook himself and gestured to the tray he’d been arranging.
“I’m going to give Nami-swan, Carrot-chan, and those other assholes their snacks. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like.” And he was out of the kitchen, his steps maybe a touch more hurried than usual.
Pudding sank into a chair at the dining table, her heart fluttering. Somehow, knowing that he knew what she was and was still completely sincere… she didn’t know how to handle him anymore.
I want you to go away and stop making me feel things.
Sam stepped through the time portal into 2040, took a deep breath, and fell over.
“Sam?” Nova asked, leaning over him. “What happened?”
A gloved hand landed on her shoulder, and Bridge appeared behind her. “Some people don’t react well to time travel,” Bridge said, bright and sympathetic and clearly older than the nineteen year old Sam had just left behind in 2025. Sam stared. “When I did it I had a migraine for a week.”
“I didn’t know you’d time traveled,” Sam blurted, except he did know. He could remember the panic when Bridge – the red ranger he never would have called that – disappeared mid-battle only to reappear three months later in the company of Mac Hartford.
He would swear he hadn’t had that memory two minutes ago.
“Rachel, go let the other Rangers know you two are back,” came Sky’s voice – Commander Tate that was less of a surprise – from somewhere beyond Sam’s view.
Rachel – Nova – sent the commander a dubious look but still stood up, punching Sam lightly on the shoulder as she did. “Good to have you back, Sam.”
“Good to be back,” Sam said, honestly, even though he was pretty sure he’d never been in this room before. At least, not in this time period. His memory doubled, presenting him with a parade of time spent in the room – the lab – over the past few years. “Is this how you feel all the time?” he asked Bridge plaintively.
Bridge’s smile widened and he offered Sam a hand up. “Not really.”
Same wavered for a moment once back on his feet. “Yeah, that was a stupid question.” He shook his head to clear it, letting the memories sort themselves out, and stopped to actually look at the older – former – Rangers. Looked at Bridge’s labcoat with the rolled-up sleeves and his crow’s-feet and the more controlled way he held himself. At the gray at Sky’s temples and how relaxed his shoulders were under the command coat and how he was laughing with Bridge as the two of them gave Sam time to collect himself. Saw the wedding ring on Sky’s finger, and he knew there was a matching one hidden under Bridge’s glove.
Sam felt his throat tighten. Each detail brought a wave of memories that forced back the old, dark ones, but he remembered enough to know this was exactly what he’d been sent back for.
“Commander.” Sam saluted. “I’m reporting a successful mission.”
It perhaps spoke of Walter’s growing ease with the changes in his life that he was still awake and unphased when Miss Sciacca walked into his rooms unannounced, her black curls in disarray, at two in the morning, muttering curses under her breath.
“Miss Sciacca, always a pleasure.” He stood quickly, offering her the more comfortable of his shabby chairs.
“Mr. Thorne.” She settled in the chair with a sigh. “I apologize for the late hour, but I needed a rest before I made my way home.”
“You know you’re always welcome.” Walter checked the teapot, frowning at the tepidness of the drink. “Tea will just be a minute. What brings you out at this hour?”
“Idioti,” was the flat reply. “Some smugglers lost control of the hellhounds they’d summoned to protect their warehouse. There wasn’t much left of them by the time I arrived, but at least I kept the hounds from getting out.”
“Good show.” Fresh cup of tea in hand, Walter turned back to his guest only to stop short. Miss Sciacca had her skirts hitched up and was examining a long scrape down her calf; Walter felt his face flushing and focused on the tired annoyance on her face rather than the exposed length of olive skin. “Ah, Miss Sciacca? Are you all right?”
She made a small noise and dropped her skirts back down. “It’s nothing. Thank you for asking, Mr. Thorne.”
Walter pressed the cup into her hands. “I, ah, I have bandages, if you…”
“You are a dear. Thank you.” She breathed in the steam from the tea, some tension melting from her body even as she fixed him with a fond look. “You don’t need to do all this, you know.”
A smile quirked her lips. “Dolce,” she murmured, then, at a normal volume, “the bandages, Mr. Thorne. And please, call me Clarissa.”
Jack was really getting sick of criminals attack with mysterious weapons that had weird effects when combined with morphed humans.
Case in point, the beam that all five of them had just gotten hit with—and they really needed to change their tactics from ‘everyone charge from the same direction’ for exactly this reason—left all of them on the ground, disoriented. Jack climbed to his feet as the spots faded from his eyes, glancing around to check on the rest of the team, only to see a Ranger in red pushing upright to his left. A quick look at his arm revealed green, and when he said, “You have got to be kidding me,” it was Bridge’s voice that came out.
Seriously, screw mysterious weapons.(Tumblr post)
People were staring at her. Most were at least aiming for discreet, but a few threw subtlety out the window and stared openly, whispering amongst themselves when Syd walked into cafeteria. She made a face as she scanned the room for a seat. Several people waved her over when she glanced their way, but she either saw a hint of star strike in their eyes or recognized them from earlier in the week, before she made it clear that she didn’t want to talk about her singing career. As far as she was concerned, she was always a worthwhile topic of discussion, but it was getting to be distracting. She was an SPD cadet now, just like everyone in the academy, but it would be a lot harder to get anywhere if people treated her as ‘Sydney Drew, Pop Star,’ instead of just ‘Syd, new cadet who happens to be extremely talented.’
Her gaze settled on a small table by the windows, a cadet about her age sitting alone, head bent over a book. After a moment, he glanced up, their eyes meeting for a second before he gave her a quick smile and turned back to his book. Syd started walking towards him almost immediately, somehow thankful for that moment of impersonal eye contact.
“Can I sit here?”
He looked up, pure bafflement on his face before he apparently registered what she said. “Oh, yeah, sure!”
“Thanks.” She waited until he shuffled his things off to the side before she sat, extending a hand as soon as she set her tray down. “I’m Syd.”
He smiled, but didn’t make a move to take her hand. “Bridge.”
“Oh!” The exclamation slipped out before Syd could stop it, and she immediately regretted it as wariness and resignation slipped into Bridge’s eyes. Still, knowing first hand how much rumor mills normally got wrong, she asked, “Is it true?”
Syd smiled and laid her hand on her tray. “That’s great! I thought I’d be the only one who was different.”
Bridge’s smile, when he saw her now-plastic hand, was brilliant.(Tumblr post)
Within seconds of demorphing, Bridge was attacked.
He normally wouldn’t think of it that way, but he’d just spent the better part of the day in a deathtrap; saying his nerves were a little frayed was an understatement. He doesn’t think he can be blamed for not expecting Sky to appear in front of him and pull him into a tight hug. He stiffened, brief alarm mixing with surprise that Sky, of all people, was publicly initiating affectionate contact. Then Sky shifted, brushing a feather-soft kiss across Bridge’s temple; all the adrenaline drained from Bridge’s body, and he dropped his forehead to Sky’s shoulder.
They stood like that for barely a moment before there was a shout and Syd careened around the side of the Zord, nearly trampling a technician as she threw herself at her teammates. Bridge got one arm up just in time to catch her and pull her in against his side. He wasn’t quite fast enough to catch Z as well, and the entire group stumbled as she slammed into his back. Then Jack hit as well – and it had to be intentional at that point, he’d had enough time to slow down if he’d wanted to – and they all fell.
Bridge’s nose smashed against Sky’s shoulder when they landed, accompanied by Sky’s wheezing as the entire team landed on top of him. Someone’s arm was trapped under his stomach and half-hearted squabbling was starting above his head as Syd, Jack, and Z realized just how tangled together they all were.
And in the middle of it all, wrapped in a cocoon of joyloverelief, Bridge couldn’t help but start giggling. The others quieted for a moment, and then all five of them broke into hysteria-tinged laughter. They stayed there, clinging to each other on the floor of the Zord bay, crying with laughter, until Commander Cruger came to find them.
A tickle of heat against his hip woke Sanji, idly circling his hipbone. He shifted to his stomach, burying his face in the pillow. The heat paused for a moment, glided slowly across his side, and started tracing patterns on his back.
He turned his head enough to speak clearly. “Why’re you up?”
Ace’s fingers stilled. “Couldn’t sleep.” At Sanji’s disbelieving snort, he added, “It happens.” He continued running his fingers across Sanji’s back and bit at his shoulder. “You’re not asleep, either.”
“I was.” But it lacked venom, and Ace just pressed an unrepentant grin into his neck. The heat spread lower as he moved his hand.
Sanji only opened his eyes when Ace nuzzled against his cheek, lips sliding across his jaw. Twisting slightly to meet for a lazy kiss, Sanji saw, before black hair blocked his vision, fingers of flame stroking his skin.
Nami studied her wine suspiciously, wondering who had spiked her drink and what, exactly, it had been spiked with. It was the only explanation for what she was seeing. Luffy was not staring at his plate, which had only moments before been piled with steaks rather than celery, and whimpering dejectedly. Chopper was not alternating between listening to Usopp’s story about an entire island of flying rabbits who had declared him their leader and sparkling at the new arrival. Sanji was not muttering a recipe for hasenpfeffer under his breath. Zoro was not ignoring his crewmates and the… thing in their midst to take a nap—no, wait, he was doing that. No imagination could produce snoring that loud.
Nami closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “There is not a rabbit in a superhero costume. It is not real. It is a hallucination.”
“Do I look like a hallucination?” the creature demanded, straightening to its full height and ignoring Nami’s nod. “It is I, Captain Vegetable!”
For as long as she could remember, she would sneak out to watch her guardians spar late at night. Most times Igaram or Terracotta would catch her and send her back to bed. When she did slip past, she always curled up on the edge of the balcony overlooking the courtyard they met in, watching the two soldiers below match each other speed for speed, strike for strike. She may not have understood why they would go out each night, but she did recognize a type of beauty in their motions.
Now, after two years with Baroque Works, Vivi thought she understood.
Unable to sleep, she wandered back out to that balcony; the courtyard was empty. She leaned on the railing, images of feathers and fur and fluttering robes mixing with memories of peacock slashers and baseball bats and instruments-cum-guns, all geared towards the same goal—not perfection, or even becoming the best, but just to be strong enough. Strong enough to leave home, to become an Agent, to save a country.
Strong enough to die.
Her body reacted before her brain, squatting into the shadow of the railing as she caught movement below.
Pell limped into the courtyard, Chaka easily matching his pace. They both looked better, Vivi noticed; Pell was not leaning as heavily against his crutch, and Chaka had lost the drawn look he’d worn the past few days. She watched as Pell laid aside his crutch and faced Chaka for a moment before throwing a soft punch.
It was nowhere near the ease Vivi remembered, but still they matched speed for speed, strike for strike. And when Pell’s leg twisted from under him, Chaka met him before he fell.
More than strong enough.
Cobra ran his hand over the rim of the stone ring. It seemed like an obvious question, since he’d never seen it before, but he hadn’t been in the condition to notice any extra statuary when Crocodile and Ms. All Sunday brought him down here. “And it was sealed off until this morning?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” The foreman motioned to where a support beam held up a crumbling section of ceiling. “We’d never have found the room if the ceiling hadn’t brought part of the wall down.”
Behind them, Igaram cleared his throat. “To that end, Your Majesty, is it safe for you to be down here?”
Cobra glanced back at him, then through the open wall to the bustling activity in the tomb proper. It had seemed pointless to hide its existence after Crocodile’s defeat, particularly given the gaping hole leading up to the Square. Now a miniature army of workers scurried through the space, clearing rubble and adding supports to keep the tomb from collapsing any further. Announcing the tomb’s existence was a small price to pay to keep it from bringing the city down in a slow collapse. “If it weren’t safe, these men would not be down here, Igaram.” He turned back to study the towering structure, walking through the ring to look over the other side. “Have you any idea what it is?”
“No, Your Majesty. Strange thing, though. There’s no way they could have brought this down after the tomb was built; they must have built around it.”
“Hmm.” He ran his fingers over the closest symbol one more time, a circle hovering above a bottomless triangle, before dropping his hand and stepping away.
It was a milk run, the simplest of missions to ease CP9 back into work once they finished recuperating from the events—not defeat, never within hearing distance of Lucci, whose hearing was sharp enough to pick up someone thinking the word—at Enies Lobby. Five targets, guilty of funding the rebellion, all taking a liner between islands; security was as minimum as the Grand Line would allow, and, as intelligence reported, no one with devil fruit abilities was anywhere near the liner. Kaku almost felt insulted; command may have considered it a gift, but it would never take three members of CP9 to take out five middle-age merchants with more fluff around their middles than brains in their heads.
It took less than an hour to recheck security, find their staterooms, search their belongings for any information or items helpful to the government, and find a discrete place to hide the bodies until nightfall, leaving five more days to relax.
At least, that was the idea; Kaku hadn’t felt tenser since before the Water7 mission, pinned down as he was at his table. Granted, it wasn’t anything his tablemate was doing but Kalifa’s cool look and Lucci’s glare from across the room that was setting him on edge.
“Your colleagues seem perturbed by my presence,” Mihawk stated, never looking up from his wine glass. Kaku, deciding ‘pissed off and murderous’ could count as ‘perturbed’, nodded.
“If you don’t mind me saying so, I was under the impression you had your own means of traveling.”
Mihawk considered for a moment, swishing the wine around in the glass. “I find that, on occasion, a change in routine can have beneficial results.” The golden eyes flicked up, the interest in them pinning Kaku against his chair. “More wine?"
“Are you sure you’re up for this?”
“Yes, Chaka,” Pell said, studying his face in the mirror. He rarely bothered to cover his markings, but the effect was usually worth it. Somehow, no one ever recognized him without the black lines. “It’s been two months. I can handle a patrol through the marketplace.”
“I’d still feel better if one of the other officers went instead,” Chaka said, meeting Pell’s eyes in the mirror. “They need the experience.”
“And I need the exercise.” He did not say that they’d had experience; this wasn’t the first time since the revolution they’d heard rumors of Baroque Works members within Alubarna. It was just the first time Pell had volunteered to blend with the crowds while the royal family was outside the palace. With at least three pairs of Frontier agents still unaccounted for along with the remaining Millions and Billions, some paranoia was warranted.
Giving his reflection a satisfied nod, Pell turned around. “How do I look?”
Chaka stared at him for a second, taking in the pants, jacket, and makeup before giving an aggravated sigh. “Unrecognizable.”
“Good. And I don’t know why you’re grumbling so much.” He wrapped his arms around Chaka’s waist, pushing onto his toes to kiss the taller man’s jaw. “After all, you’re the one touring Yuba with Vivi-sama, with barely healed stab wounds I might add, while I’m here under Dr. Ooh’s watchful eyes.” He dropped another kiss at the corner of Chaka’s mouth. “I’ll be worried.”
“You’ll be careful.” It wasn’t a question.
“Swear on my grave.”
Chaka shot him a dark look but turned towards the door. “I’ll let Igaram-san know we’re ready then.”
“Chaka?” Pell gave him a bright smile when he turned. “You might want to wipe the kiss marks off your face first.”
It did make sense, Kaku decided, laying on the roof of the judicial tower, to use capture the flag as a training exercise. It was easy enough to rile up the competitive spirit of a bunch of eleven- and twelve-year-old boys.
Competitive boys got creative very, very fast. Some of the strategies his classmates had come up with to hide and find the flags had been impressive.
And violent; the infirmary was already half-filled with injuries caused by careless—or, he added, allowing himself a grin, careful—rankyaku or shigan.
Still, when looked at the right way, Capture the Flag was a good, basic mission: identify and locate the target, work with team to create plan, eliminate obstacles as necessary, eliminate target. If the instructors were lucky, the trainees would remember something from this later on. It was almost perfect.
“There he is!”
It made sense, Kaku repeated, jumping off the tower, his classmates in fast pursuit, but he hated being the flag.(Tumblr post)
It has been far too long, Chaka realized, nuzzling Pell’s neck as he eased his partner back onto the makeshift blanket of their robes on the sand. Hands clawed at his back, teeth sunk into his shoulder, and Chaka reached for their pack, fingers groping to find something, anything, to make this go smoother.
—only to bump into a package he knew for certain hadn’t been there when they left their rooms.
“Someone’s been into the pack.”
Pell pulled away instantly, eyeing the pack warily. If something was planted by a rogue Baroque Works member or a stubborn rebel, it certainly wouldn’t be the first nor the best hidden. Strangely certain that anyone trying to kill them would be slightly smarter than to hide something within their… personal effects like this, Chaka pulled the paper-wrapped package out.
It wasn’t lightweight, or particularly large; tucked into one end was note, which Pell plucked off. He blanched, coughed uncomfortably, and read, “‘For the occasions I missed.—Vivi’.”
“Ah.” Both stared at the package for another moment before the paper was tossed aside and the box opened. There was a horrified silence, then it was Chaka’s turn to cough.
“She is certainly… practical.”
“Yes…. Oh, look, a book.” Paper rustled, and Pell placed it down carefully. “With pictures.”
They studiously looked past each other.
“She was being thoughtful.”
“But it would probably be best to dissuade her from giving us another gift like this.”
“Or at least,” and here Chaka glanced over, catching the faint twitching at the corner of Pell’s mouth, “keep her from buying books we already own.”
Silence reigned in the living room, occasionally broken by the rustle of paper when Mihawk turned the page of the newspaper. The rebuilding of Mariejoa was going swimmingly, according to the reports; perhaps he should travel that way when he left the island…
The door made a muffled sound as it opened. A surprising courtesy, that. He peered over the top of the paper and allowed an eyebrow to rise at the sight of Lucci standing in the center of the room, the glower he usually wore around Mihawk tempered to something that could almost be seen in polite company. Granted, he still looked at Mihawk like the swordsman was something to be scraped off the bottom of his shoe, but it was mildly less hostile than usual.
Mihawk wondered if the other man was feeling all right.
Lucci didn’t say anything. He simply stared at Mihawk for a moment before shifting his gaze to the pair of tickets sitting on the table.
“The concert’s at seven,” Mihawk said, his attention still partly on the newspaper.
The silence took on a more pointed tone. It would have been irritating, coming from any other member of the group. But it was Lucci.
“I’ll have him back early.”
There was a cough from the doorway. “Are you done trying to safeguard my virtue?” Kaku asked, pulling on a jacket as he leaned against the doorframe. “I can come in again if you need a minute.”
Lucci snorted in response, but his face smoothed into impassivity and he strode out of the room. Kaku echoed his snort, looking bemused.
“Does he do that often?” Mihawk asked, standing and setting aside the paper.
Kaku shrugged. “He’s mellowed.”
“I see.” And, as he started the odd bend-and-twist that allowed them to kiss without Kaku’s nose getting in the way, there was a flurry of wings. Hattori landed on Kaku’s shoulder, a bowtie snug around his neck.
“I’m going to accompany you,” he announced, glaring at Mihawk as well as he could (surprisingly well, actually, or not so surprisingly considering his owner).
There was a pause, then Kaku pushed away, his smile taking a distinct plastic quality. “I’ll be right back,” he said, and disappeared out the door. Mihawk sighed and picked up the paper again, resigning himself to being late to the concert. Again.(Tumblr post)
He’d been on the wall, inspecting both the rebuilding and the soldiers with Igaram, when the messenger came. He remembered a glimpse of Igaram’s shocked face before the city was a blur, splashing through puddles and wind making his eyes water was he ran through Alubarna at full speed.
That was hours ago. Now, he sat by the bed in his—their—room, patiently reading a book he’d been meaning to finish for some time now. It was a little difficult to turn the pages at times, between the constant ache in his chest and shoulder where his stitches had pulled and the necessity of using only his left hand.
The pulse beating slow and steady in the hand grasped in his right hand was too important to let go of for even a second. So Chaka sat and read and listened to the rain, only looking up when he felt eyes upon him. He set the book aside and looked into tired copper eyes.
“Sleep well?” Chaka asked, reaching forward to brush a stray lock of hair from Pell’s face. Pell made a small sound of affirmation, turning his head to nuzzle Chaka’s fingers.
“Come t’ bed,” he mumbled, eyes already drooping shut again.
Chaka blew out the reading lamp, performed the stretches needed to reach the other side of the bed without letting go of Pell’s hand, and wrapped his arms around his friend. He buried his face in Pell’s hair, tenseness washing away with the smell of feathers and medicine.
“I’m home,” Pell said through a yawn, shifting closer to the jackal.
“Welcome back,” Chaka answered.(Tumblr post)