theremedy: (Vivi)
[personal profile] theremedy
Chapter Seventeen


Present:

One Day More

Vivi shut the door to her room and leaned against it a moment, letting the quiet seep under her skin. The princess suite opened in front of her, large, elegant and hollow feeling despite its luxury. There was a large bed, draped with red velvet and covered with a gold and white patterned duvet from--oh what was her name? Vivi put a hand to her head. Madam...Desrosiers...that was right. As a thank you gift for one thing or another. Terracotta would know. She kept the ledger. Vivi could never keep it right in her head, but she knew that every stick of furniture in this suite was from some designer or another, wanting to make their impressions on the illustrious Nefertari family.

Vivi smiled somewhat sardonically as she toed off her heels and wiggled her stockinged feet in the plush carpet. They were hardly illustrious. Royal lineage or not. Even their supposed surname, evocative of some ancient Egyptian civilization, was just for show. Merely, a variation of Mother's maiden name. There were two sides to every coin, Mother had always said. But in our case, she’d elaborate. We’re a coin glued to a glass table and only those who look underneath come to know the truth. She had been a woman of wise, complex metaphors, and very big shoes. Bigger than Father’s or anyone on that side of the family.

Mother had made all this, along with Father’s help, of course. With her ambition and Father’s need for freedom, they had stitched this empire together through hard work, determination and no small amount of Mother’s family’s wealth and Father’s family’s legacy of secrets.Still—it took more than money to make a name for oneself and have it mean something. You can’t by respect, Father had said. A man of straightforward wisdom, moreover it was advice which to Vivi found was a lot simpler to follow. Well she had known Father longer than Mother, after all, and had tread in his much smaller footsteps.

Vivi picked up her shoes gingerly by the backs, still feeling as if she was walking on her tiptoes as she deposited them on the shoe rack in the walk-in closet. Then she sat at her deluxe vanity—circa some old year, care of someone or the other whose name was scrawled in the family ledger. She took stock of her wan appearance. So much for the healthy glow of pregnancy. Maybe she was working too hard. When days were so busy it was difficult to know when to stop.

She sighed and opened the little sandalwood music box that had once belonged to Mother, her mood lifting somewhat as the faint strains of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ played softly into the room. Vivi hummed softly at the old song. Father had gotten it for Mother as a wedding gift. They had danced to that song, Igaram had told her. So had Vivi at her own ceremony and so, perhaps… She let a hand drift to her stomach and felt the rush of warmth… tempered as usual by the little sting of guilt in her heart.

That she should have so much happiness when her friends suffered. That she should be bringing new life into the world when…when one who had been so full of life was…. Still, life happened regardless. Life… as well as death happened in their own time. So Mother had been taken by that illness which had robbed her life and beauty, so Luffy would.

But she wouldn’t think about that now. She would later. Her heart was already weary from it. Vivi closed the music box softly and took the pins from her hair, one by one tucking them away and then brushing her hair out, feeling the tension drain away as she worked.

After some time there was a soft quack from the little dog basket by her bed and Karoo waddled into view, greeting her with a clacking of his bill. She smiled at him in the mirror. He had been her duck since she hatched him from an egg in her room, turning it over each day as her mother taught her how to do, the scent of lilies filling the air from Mother’s perfume. They’d had lilies at her funeral, too. It was like she had never left. And in a way she hadn’t. Karoo’s warm downy behatted head against her shin reminded her of his presence and she picked up the messenger duck and held him close.

“Let’s watch some TV, hm, Karoo?” she said, moving over to the white sofa and setting him in her lap as she sat. The sensors on the Franky TV Mach IV registered her presence and flicked on, playing last night’s episode of Downton Abbey in the background while informing her she had a video call waiting from Pell. Just how long had he been waiting? And she’d just settled down for the evening, too. But… perhaps he had some good news. She combed her hand through her hair and straightened it a bit before she took the remote and started the call.

Pell looked stern as he always did these days, worried about this or that—as there was entirely too much call for unfortunately. She missed the days when he smiled more. Oh, he’d never been much—usually no more than a hint around the mouth but there was nothing even hinting at a smile today. The wall behind him was nondescript white, but judging from the slight delay before his eyes focused on her, he was some distance. But when he did focus…there it was, a slight dip at the corners of his mouth. A smile just for her reminding her of home and high green mountains and clear blue skies and the musical tones of Peruvian Spanish.

“How are you keeping, Princess,” he said and it took her a moment to adjust to the language shift but couldn’t help but smile when she did. Princess. Well technically she was—though no one counted that line of royalty anymore.

“Oh, I’m well. We’re well.” All three of us, she meant, because secrecy was another family tradition and Pell would appreciate it. “And you?”

“Well enough.” He sighed then, a light sound, and his expression became troubled. “The truth is, we can’t find anything. Or near enough to nothing as makes no difference. She’s always been difficult to track.”

“Yes… she has…” It was to be expected, really. Granted their network was not half of what it was in her Father’s time before… well… before Crocodile wormed his way in and tried to route them. Still they knew plenty about the experiments that they shouldn’t know about. Dangerous things to know about. The projects for one. Men like Enel and Ceaser Clown, transmogrified and being tested on the world at large to see what they could do. What effect they might have.

There was more, but they weren’t strong enough to look too closely. So Father had deemed and Vivi had agreed. You didn’t uncover the skeletons unless you wanted to be among them and over the years they had pulled back. Moved to a more philanthropic area. What had once been their heritage was now largely out of their control and it pained Vivi to remember that. But it was what it was.

“It’s my honor to look into this of course, Princess,” Pell said. Hesitated. Vivi waited patiently. He always said what he thought even if it was against her or Father. Chaka did as well. That was what made them such skilled retainers. “…But I thought you trusted her? And I thought…given her past reputation, as we’ve come to understand it, she’d steer away from such things.”

“Love can drive people to do anything,” Vivi murmured. And, perhaps it was the woman’s involvement with Crocodile, but even years after, Nico Robin had always seemed on the other side of the shadow. Willing to do anything to achieve her mysterious end. Vivi still wasn’t sure why Luffy had taken her in, even after all these years. Oh, she trusted his judgment. In terms of people, she always would. But Nico Robin's judgement€ was another story.

“True, Princess. You know what we’ll have to do if we find proof,” Pell said, calmly. Not an accusation though it felt like one. Yes. She knew. They had been too vocally against the use of devil's seeds to condone them now, even—no—especially for a fri—someone…more intimately connected than others. If Nico Robin was truly after one, no matter her intent, Vivi would have to expose her. What would fall on that woman’s head then…who could say? Vivi worried the inside of her lip with her teeth, stroking Karoo under the wings as the duck nuzzled up to her, concerned.

Luffy would probably be upset with her— well if he wasn’t…if he were conscious. But if he were conscious it wouldn’t matter. That woman wouldn’t need to go after a devil’s seed. Everyone would be happy and content and Vivi could have her poor baby in a world of relative peace. However ‘might-have-beens’ were not a luxury princesses or CEOS could afford.

“Princess…” Pell started and then: “Vivi… My only desire is your happiness…” He bowed from the shoulders and straightened, a furrow creasing his brows. “I just want to make sure… you risk alienating yourself. We can stop the investigation. Even if she is found out, we can plead ignorance and you will save face with your friends.”

Yes… She knew. It would be so easy to agree. To live in the hope that everything would be okay. Pay no attention to the smiling crocodile in the corner. And it could be that Nico Robin would never find a seed. It could be she would be caught in the act of procuring one. But if she did manage to procure one and plant it in Luffy… Well, it might work. It might bring him around. But there was a greater chance he would suffer from it, lost to madness or pain that they couldn’t understand or stop, short of—short of killing him themselves.

She flinched at the mental image, then straightened her shoulders. No… She understood where Nic— Where Robin was coming from. The love and hope from which that action stemmed, but Vivi would not allow her family’s heritage to be used against someone she loved so dearly.

“Everyone has a time,” Vivi said, her voice clear, her head high even as an aching sadness welled in her throat. That was a truth as well. A truth she had come to understand with the passing of her mother. A truth that Luffy understood more than anyone, as he had grinned in the face of death. Said nothing but ‘Sorry, guys. I’m dead’. If that was his fate, that was his fate and everyone would have to accept it for his sake.

“As you wish,” Pell said. “I will continue the search. Be well, my princess.”

“And you,” Vivi said, but ‘be careful’ was on her lips. It wasn’t needed, was it? Robin wouldn’t resort to that kind of violence again, would she? Well if she did, Pell was well prepared. Vivi kept her neutral smile until the man disappeared, and the call ended, only letting her expression slide into a frown when Dowton Abbey began to play. It would be alright. It would. She wouldn’t worry about the whys and wherefores until it came the time.

Vivi tried to relax, invest herself in the historical drama. When fifteen minutes had passed and she still had no idea what was going on, nor cared, she switched off the TV. Karoo had fallen asleep in her lap letting out little ducky snores. Content. It had been a while since she’d felt that way and she couldn’t help but envy him. Cuddled up. Protected. All the hard decisions made for him.

‘Will we ever get to do the easy way?’ she’d asked Father once when she was a little girl. Or perhaps not that little. A year or so before she entered the circuit so thirteen? Fourteen? Father had given her a long look and then just held her close, a better, deeper answer than anything a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ could have done. She hadn’t understood it then, but now she knew the answer was yes and no. The easy way was always an option. Letting things go. Living a life free of duty and obligation. He hadn’t said because he’d wanted her to have that choice, she also understood. With the easy way you saved yourself. With the hard way you saved the world.

But which was this decision even? What was right and what was wrong? No one could say. Only the future looking back could decide that— for right now she could only do what was in her heart at the moment. What was in front of her hands. Luffy had taught her that. Perhaps to his own detriment.

She thought of him. How he used to look. His warm smile. His enthusiasm. Sense of adventure. How he’d always worried her but made her laugh, too. Even his voice was a memory now. She could hear it again, she knew. She could see him again as he was. Nami had seen to that through some videos and a plethora of photographs.

Vivi had kept receiving them long after her part in the grand adventure was over. But it was all too painful. The juxtaposition between what it was now and what it used to be was too much on top of everything. Perhaps she was disloyal in thinking so, or perhaps just not as strong as the others. Perhaps she understood Mr. Usopp’s line of thinking entirely too well. But those thoughts were for after.

Right now she lost herself in the hazy warmth and dulled edges of memory. The good times. The bad. The day of her and Koza’s ceremony when Usopp had shown up pale and seemingly more anxious than usual, only to warm and thaw as the evening progressed. Now she realized why that had been. The decision that had been reached to leave Luffy on his own. At least until he’d gotten some kind of life.

Now she wished she could have changed it. Done something. Added her one voice to overrule the others. She could have convinced them that their idea was misplaced. She knew she could have. She would have thrown herself against their wishes as hard as she could to change their minds. But she hadn’t known and so she hadn’t. But she’d long since moved past the point of blaming any of them, or herself, for what had followed.

---

After some time there was a knock on her door. Vivi looked up, resting her cheek against the back of her fingers as her personal maid, a young, blond, woman Teracotta had handpicked, poked her head in.

“Yes?” Vivi said, lifting her head and feeling a momentary pang of guilt for feeling unprotected earlier. Of course she was protected. Of course she was. And catered to. Moreso than her dearest friends, even.

“Miss Nami wonders if you will join her for dinner.”

“Dinner?” Vivi blinked. Was it that time already? Where had the time gone? The white Cinderella clock on the wall told her it was nearing six. Outside was pitch black but the lights of the room had smoothed on so easily that she hadn’t noticed they were on. But oh, yes dinner.

“Shall I tell her you’ll be meeting her downstairs?” the young woman…oh…what was her name asked.

“Downstairs? You mean at the Crystal Palace?”

“I believe so, Ma'am."

How strange. It was very dressy for dinner and…well so far dinners between her and Nami had ranged from mostly casual to, well, eathing pizza while sitting on the bed and talking until 2am. Was there something wrong? Were they perhaps meeting someone else?

“Yes I’ll meet her down there,” Vivi said, realizing the woman was waiting for an answer.

“Very well, Ma'am. Will there be anything else?”

“Ah…no thank you…” What was it? Oh, yes. “Cindry.” Vivi smiled. “In fact you can take the rest of the night off.” Cindry gave a nod, her face professionally passive, and shut the door. Vivi took a moment to gather herself and then gently scooped Caroo off of her lap, setting him on the couch before picking out a simple black dress, not to casual, not to formal. It was one of her favorites, actually, with had a scooped neckline, and faintly reminiscent of an Audrey Hepburn movie, except for the little bit of sleeve and the slightly shorter hemline. It wasn’t quite a winter dress but it wasn’t as if they were going outside. She tucked her feet inside her heels, pulled her hair back into a loose bun, and went to meet her friend.



The Crystal Palace was busy tonight and a live musician was playing in the corner, a young redheaded woman gently playing a harp. Vivi was proud that this restaurant had become so popular with the locals— Well the locals of a certain income bracket unfortunately. But she was sure that was entirely Mr. Sanji’s doing. He’d handpicked the head chef and the two of them had put their heads together forever it seemed to select the rest of the kitchen staff.

By all rights, this restaurant should be his. She’d wanted to give it to him. Had offered. But he’d thanked her profusely—very profusely—but ultimately declined. He hadn’t said as much the reasons but it hadn’t taken much to figure out why. It was difficult to look after—someone who—needed attention while running a restaurant. But…perhaps…once…things had… Once Luffy… Well, soon, perhaps, he would feel more ready to accept such a position.

But that was then and if she thought about it now she’d just pick over it all night. Where was— Ah… Nami. There she was. Sitting at a table near the window. She was in black, too and Vivi hoped they weren’t too matchy matchy since, that was supposedly a bad thing—except when it wasn’t. But at least her hair set them apart. Nami’s hair a vibrant orange, compared to Vivi’s dull blue. And she already had a glass of wine…and a wine bottle. Oh, dear…

Vivi lifted her face into a smile and approached Nami, feeling her expression tighten only a little as the woman looked up at her with a faint smile of her own, and dark eyes. It was not…something which boded particularly well.

“Well,” Vivi said, thanking the waiter absently as he held out a chair for her. “I haven’t seen you since yesterday.”

“Time flies,” Nami said, waving away the waiter and filling Vivi’s wine glass before refreshing her own. “What did you get up to?”

“Oh…visiting some family friends,” Vivi said. Though it was more along the lines of schmoozing with some long time charity …patrons who often attended Nefertari Events and so felt free to monopolize her time with paltry stories about Horse Racing and yachting in the Caribbean. She wouldn’t mind so much if she thought they cared more than a iota about any of the charities they’d funded. She could tell Nami the truth, but the end result was the same and the woman would, perhaps rightly so, badger her for working too hard when she should be vacationing.

“And yourself?” Vivi asked quickly as Nami gave her a suspicious look.

“Balancing Spanda’s account books… Again,” Nami said dryly, eyes skimming away from her to watch the talented harpist. “If you want me to sneak in a donation or two, now’s the time to ask.”

Any conversation with that man involved was bound to go south. Vivi was tempted to say yes, but neither of them needed the trouble right now and Nami would be hit with it plenty more than Vivi would, despite the rather public scandal in her family’s past.

“I don’t know how you put up with him,” Vivi said, taking a sip of her wine. Just one sip or two should be okay. Her doctors said as much. As long as she was careful and she was always careful. Too good at playing the ruse one way or another but such was a life of any sort of diplomat or business owner, she supposed.

“It’s money in the bank,” Nami said, swirling the wine around. Despite the fact that this must be her second or third glass, the wine bottle itself didn’t look all that empty. Vivi had the feeling Nami wanted to drink more which was why she was in Vivi’s company and in public no less. Counting on others for restraint. Vivi tried not to let on that she noticed and sipped her water instead, watching Nami looking away, holding the glass but not drinking. It had been hard on her. This—five years of trying, of waiting, of paying.

Vivi wished Nami would have let her take some of the burden off of her shoulders. What was the point of so much wealth if she couldn’t help those that she cared about the most? ‘That’s not true,’ Nami had told her when Vivi first brought it up so long ago. ‘You love us and we love you but there are people more important…’ And that had been true at the time and was true even now—but more important didn’t mean she loved them more.

Or rather, there was a love for her people as a leader, and the love for those few retainers who served under her directly as a princess, the love for her father as a daughter— But the love for her nakama…as herself. That strange word. That strange feeling. The part of Vivi that was just Vivi cared about them more than anything, but couldn’t quite dig herself out of the avalanche of obligation. No…that wasn’t fair. She’d chosen this life. She hadn’t had to. But she had —only now… Only now she wanted to be Vivi and help—in these last days—to do what she could.

“Just stop,” Nami said, smacking Vivi on the head, rather hard, with the heel of her hand. Vivi flinched a little at the hit, and rubbed the spot.

“Nami, what…?”

“Stop worrying about us alright? We’ll be fine. I’ll be fine,” Nami said, with a smile that Vivi couldn’t believe no matter what the woman said. She knew better. She had been on that side of the table before. “There’s just a lot to think about…”

“I’m sorry,” Vivi said, cradling her glass between her fingers, sensing the fragility of it though she wasn’t near strong enough to break it unless she put forth a concentrated effort. “I just wish…I wish I could do more. That--” You’d let me do more, she wanted to say. Don’t shut me out of this. “—That I could do something.”

“You do plenty,” Nami said, her smile seeming more genuine only Vivi could see the tension around her eyes. “If it weren’t for you I’d probably still be sleeping on an air mattress in Sanji’s place.” Vivi breathed a soft laugh at that.

“I refuse to believe you slept in anything less than a grand master suite with breakfast in bed to boot,” she said.

“Maybe not quite so grand,” Nami said, sticking out her tongue before sipping at her wine. “But the food was good, I’ll give you that.”

“How is Mr. Sanji,” Vivi said, hating to ask but having no one else to get the truth from. She hadn’t—well really heard from him since that incident at Raymond’s when they’d all left in either frosty or uncomfortable silence. And…well…while she was on the subject of painfully ripping off bandages…might as well get them off all at once. “And…Mr. Roronoa. He…seems more dour than usual.”

“Still with the mister…” Nami said with a faint smile and Vivi wondered if she was imagining Nami’s chiding tone. It was… They were… Well of course she cared for them a great deal but it was more a habit of speech than anything but…

“Sanji will be fine,” Nami said, topping off her glass and leaning back. “It’s not the first time those two have bickered like an old married couple and broken up and it won’t be the last.”

Was that true? Vivi could only hope so. True she remembered an argument or two but none that had…had gone like that…

“Zoro is a brick wall. You can’t get anything from him. Just run into him enough and hope something shakes loose,” Nami said dryly, looking away. “But Robin has him now, apparently, so hopefully she’ll know what to do with him because I’m sure as hell out of ideas.”

“Oh, she’s here?” Vivi blurted before she thought about it. Oh… Damn. She tried to meet Nami’s eyes as the other woman gave her a shrewd look. Well there was nothing to be suspicious of! At least, not exactly. She’d— well they’d gotten along for a few Christmases now. That…woman was very good at diplomacy as well though—last Christmas had been—hardly diplomatic in anyone’s camp. Nami continued to stare at her. Seeming on the verge of saying something but holding herself back. Finally she sighed.

“Just try not to fight in front of the others okay?” Nami said, draining her glass.

“O-oh!” Vivi held up her hands. “No, I— I mean we won’t— We just—ah—had a disagreement last time.” Or, well, an animated discussion of an ongoing disagreement they’d had since…well they’d first met, no matter how much the circumstances change. Vivi wanted to assure Nami that they wouldn’t fight at all. That that was behind them now in this dark hour.

Well—and then again—if Pell did uncover— If Nico Robin was after a devil’s seed, it would turn out so much more than a fight… But… well… that was another bridge to cross. At least Nami seemed marginally relaxed. A thin margin.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m starving,” Vivi said into the tense quiet, tucking her napkin into her lap as a signal for the handsome waiter to bring the menus. Nami needed to wind down, not be wound back up and a distraction was what she needed more than anything. She’d taken so much of it—too much of it on her shoulders.

“How about this,” she told Nami. “We have a lovely dinner and then I’ll rent a limo and we can go see Christmas lights.” And due to Nami’s somewhat dubious look, added: “I’ll even spring for champagne.”

“Sounds great,” Nami said, trying to refill her glass but the bottle was empty. Oh dear… Vivi smiled tightly and gently nudged her mostly full glass closer to Nami as the waiter arrived. This—was going to be an interesting night.


Past:

It’s time to be brave…

Vivi chews on her lip and tugs the cap lower over her eyes. She’s been watching Roronoa and his friend for some time and every she’s still not sure this is a good idea. Perhaps she should find others. There are plenty of those out there who would fight with her in a crew so long as she gave them a cut of a profit. That is until Crocodile bribed them and made it more financially convenient for them to do otherwise. Or worse, they could betray her— and she can’t have that now. Not when she is so close. But…using these people…

There is Roronoa Zoro not far from her, looking sturdy enough as he watches the tank, the blue light coming over his broad shoulders. She remembers the way he so easily got out of her grip. How strong he was. She had been afraid— Sure she was going to die. That Igaram wouldn’t be able to save her but… Roronoa had let her win. Had taken the shameful fall on purpose, as if realizing somehow what it could mean for her to fail. He has the feeling of a man whose loyalty, once given, cannot be bought at any price and therefore ideal for her mission only…

Her gaze slides to the boy beside him. The frightened, long nosed, one that had hid behind Luffy when Krieg had attempted to assault the ice cream vendor. Vivi isn’t sure if she wants to risk getting the boy involved. Even tangentially. Crocodile had very little pity for anyone, not matter how thin their arms were. Moreover, he would use him against her if he were caught.

Why had Luffy brought him? She’s pretty sure she asked the boy to bring only Roronoa...maybe she hadn’t specified…? She can’t remember. There’s just too much to keep track of…. Roronoa seems to notice her and she ducks back behind the column, tugging her hat more securely, absently patting for loose blue hairs that would give her away more than anything. She’s not ready to be noticed yet. At least not until she makes a firm decision.

“I’m telling you, it’s good eating,” the long nosed boy says, distracting Roronoa so that Vivi can breathe again.

“How can anything with that many legs be good eating?” Roronoa mutters.

“It is if you have any shitty taste in seafood,” the blond man says, coming up to their side. He’s a potential candidate, too. She remembers the way he fought Gin. Poor Gin. What is he going to do now? She hasn’t been with Krieg’s stable for long but knew enough to understand that this was his only home now. Or…used to be… But she won’t think about that. There’s already too much to worry about and she can’t save everyone at once.

In any case, she’s seen the blond fight and knows he would do it well—and he had—cheered her on against his companion? He and Mr. Roronoa were companions, weren’t they? Though despite that betrayal they still seem to be friendly. Could she really disrupt such a happy team? Is it right?

“I hate seafood.”

“You’d like it if I made it,” the blond says.

“Like hell,” Roronoa says. “I wouldn’t like it if anyone made it.”

“Well I expect a shitty seaweed head like you would have the tastebuds of a chainsaw,” the blond says. “But you’d still like it.”

“The hell do you mean by that? I can taste fine, curly brow.”

“You couldn’t taste a sawhorse from a seahorse,” the blond says.

“Oh, nice,” says the long nosed boy.

“Thanks.”

“You’re both idiots,” Roronoa mutters.

“Ehh?” says the blond, getting into his face. “You wanna repeat that?” Roronoa does and as the argument continues, Vivi becomes less concerned with breaking them up. Perhaps she misread their camaraderie? In either case, all she has to do now is to convince Roronoa of the importance of her mission. Vivi pulls her hand into a fist, sealing her determination between her fingers. She doesn’t want to but she has to. For her father. For her people. For all those who’ve been injected with the devil’s seed against their will. She will convince him. Even if she has to pull him away from Luffy who has been nothing but kind to her. Even if it leads him into certain danger and probably death. She will. She must.

“Mistress.”

Vivi opens her eyes.

“Yes, Iga…ram…”

Vivi stares at him. Igaram watches her back under— heavy blue eyeshadow, a blue wig, a faux fur stole and a very—well stuffed checked dress. She puts her fingers to her lips unsure of…what to even think, really. He looks like someone’s maiden aunt come up from the beyond. It’s true she never thought he had this predilection and it’s alright but—

“Please allow me to serve as a decoy and petition in your stead,” he says in a low voice. Oh… Well…now that she looks at it…he does…somewhat resemble her in some small way. Though she’s never worn a dress quite like that. In any case she appreciates the sentiment and understands his caution but…

“But I’ve already fought with…” she peers around the cement post but Roronoa and his group have already moved on to another display, bathed in blue. The girl is missing still and Luffy but… they are at least out of earshot so she turns back to Igaram. “…with Mr. Roronoa. And the long-nosed boy has seen me before as well as the blond man. I don’t think it’s going to work.”

“That may not matter. Remember they fought Miss Wednesday. Not Princess Vivi.”

“Well that’s true, but…”

“Please, Mist- ahem ma~ ma~ ma~ Please, Mistress. They could be spies.” Igaram spreads his hands and Vivi tries not to stare at the wall-eyed alligator purse swinging from his wrist. “Or if not, they may be in danger even knowing your face.”

She presses her lips together. It’s true Luffy knows her name and face since she accidentally let it slip out when they were eating ice cream together. But it may not matter if he knows. He’s certainly under Roronoa’s care and possibly very naive. While she doubts they are spies, some caution may be necessary. She nods.

“Do your best.”

Igaram straightens and she can’t help but smile with a certain fondness at the determination that settles on his face. It’s familiar—an expression she’s known since she was very young. Everything about Igaram is, from his, currently slightly stilted, gait to his large hands which are balled into loose fists. It’s a shame he has to be here. He should be home with his wife. In his country. Not away from home for years and years for a small girl not even his own no matter what station Vivi holds back home. It makes no difference in this place. Igaram… Vivi rests her cheek against the cement pole as he clears his throat and addresses the three men who all start and stare at him with rather…strained expressions. Vivi crosses her fingers.

“Greetings,” Igaram says in a falsetto voice that makes her wince just a little but she is far too well trained to flinch. The men stare at him. It’s the long nosed one that speaks first.

“Um…hi.” He glances at Roronoa. “Friend of yours?”

“The hell is that supposed to mean?”

“My name,” Igaram says. “Is Vivi and I am here to—”

“Wait,” Roronoa says. “Luffy’s friend.”

“Shut your face, shithead!” the blond snaps. “Luffy’s friend is a gorgeous goddess!”

Vivi puts a hand to her mouth. Did the blond man somehow—

“Oi oi,” says the long nosed boy. “You don’t even know her.”

“It doesn’t matter. I know it in the heart of my man’s shitty pride,” the blond says, putting a hand to his chest. Vivi blinks. What?

“Are you an actually an idiot?” says Roronoa.

“Ahh? You want to say that again, shitty mosshead?” says the blond, getting in his face.

“Should I use smaller words?” Roronoa says and Vivi rubs her temple as she sees Igaram’s shoulders stiffen. This…is going to take a while. Roronoa and the blond start to wrestle, pushing each other back and forth with their foreheads. Vivi is seriously beginning to rethink this whole thing. She’d never heard of this side of Roronoa to be honest and who would have thought it with that serious face of his?

“Anyway,” the long nosed boy says waving a hand and jerking a thumb at himself. “I’m Usopp, Luffy’s professional handler and agent. Any public appearances will have to go through me.”

“Ah—” Igaram starts.

“I’m actually pretty famous for it you know. Have you heard of Rocky Balboa?”

“Well I ha— ahem ma- ma- ma- I have but…”

“I inspired that!”

“Hooh really?” Luffy says and Vivi watches as he comes in from behind, and then startles as he looks at Igaram. Oh! Ohhh… There is no way Luffy won’t see through the disguise. She gnaws on her lower lip. Poor Igaram. To have to go through all that and the charade to be ended so soon.

“Of course,” longnose says. “I’m actually in the movie as one of the extras if you squint.”

“Whoa! That’s amazing!”

“Of course it is!” longnose says. “By the way, Vivi’s here.”

“Ah—” Igaram starts.

“Ehhh!? Really?!” Luffy says, eyes bulging. “Wow did you get a haircut?! You look really different!”

“There’s no mistaking that face if you’ve seen it once,” longnose mutters.

Vivi can’t help but gawp at him. How—! How is it possible that he’s so gullible—! It’s hard to believe someone like that even exists but it must be or he’s the best practical joker she’s ever seen as Luffy seems enthusiastic about greeting ‘her’.

“So you wanted to see me?” Luffy asks.

“Well—”

“You want my autograph?” longnose says.

“Er—”

“Who are you calling moss headed, you curly browed freak?” Roronoa snarls.

“Who do you think, you rock headed moron?!” the blond snaps. Vivi rubs the heel of her hand against her forehead. Why are they— why are they like this? Granted she hadn’t seen them long in the arenas but— But it’s just— She needs them. She doesn’t have any time to fool around. It’s too important and yet they are just…children…

“It’s your fault for trying to negotiate with idiots,” says a hard edged voice and Vivi starts as she sees the girl that travels with them, standing not a few feet away and examining her nails, the blue of the aquarium seeming to clash with her orange hair.

“What…what do you mean…?” Vivi says, tugging down her cap.

“I mean you’re bad at keeping secrets, ‘Mistress’,” the girl says, dropping her hand and smirking at Vivi. Vivi feels her heart sink. She won’t give up. She won’t even let this girl stand in her way but…

“What do you want?” Vivi says, lifting her head, not saying: ‘What do you know’? If she knows too much… Vivi won’t let everything fall apart… Not now… Not when she’s so close… She can’t.

“It’s about what you want. These guys may not look it but they’re pretty strong,” the girl says, gesturing to them. “And I can control them. So if you want them for something enough to trick them…”

Give no quarter. Show no weakness.

“I only want Roronoa.”

“Sorry, it’s a package deal.” The girl sighs and pushes off the wall, folding her hands behind her and looking pleasant and almost vulnerable. “This doesn’t have to be hard. All I want is the green.” The girl brings a hand forward, rubs her fingers together in the ‘money’ gesture.

That’s…that’s rather forward… Vivi wants to say it but…she glances to where Roronoa and the blond are still wrestling. The long nose is writing an autograph for an Igaram who is starting to look really uncomfortable in heels, and Luffy has his nose pressed against the aquarium glass. Vivi sighs.

She’s putting them into unmentionable danger if things go wrong… But she’s running out of options so…it’s a risk she’ll have to take. And if she has to drain the savings her grandfather left her to the last penny, she will. Vivi takes a deep breath and nods.

“I don’t have much…but I’ll give you what I have.” And when the girl looks dubious adds. “But I’ll have more if we succeed.”

“All expenses paid?” the girl asks.

“W-well… we can share hotel rooms… and you can keep fifty percent of the winnings.”

“Seventy percent if I take care of you and your servant with it?” the girl says shrewdly and Vivi hesitates, and then nods. It’s a steep price but it’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make.

“Deal,” the girl says. “You have a hotel?” and to Vivi’s nod says: “Let’s talk there.” The girl walks around the concrete pole, watching Roronoa and the blond a moment before cracking their heads together with surprising strength and dusting off her hands. “Luffy, we’re going.”

“Okay!” Luffy says. Vivi feels dizzy. Who is really in charge here? It’s impossible to tell now. The girl is giving her a look and Vivi realizes she has to reveal the truth. She takes a deep breath, takes off her hat, and approaches her new, unfortunate, team.




Vivi looks around the slightly cramped room. It’s been a few hours with them and she’s still not sure what to think. It’s…well…none of them were quite what she was expecting even from the aquarium. Roronoa, who she was certain was the leader, is snoozing against a wall, wedged between the mini-fridge and the desk, his hands behind his head as if he doesn’t much care what happens. The longnose, well, Mr. Usopp is currently sitting barefooted and crosslegged on the floor beside Luffy as they take turns of playing tic-tac-toe with Karoo. Well, that isn’t unexpected exactly, but they both look so vulnerable sitting there, toes wiggling against the bare carpet. Like little boys who have only just moved up from playing in the dirt in the schoolyard, looking for worms and bugs.

“For you, mademoiselle,” the blond, Sanji says, handing her a cup of cooled tea on a saucer with a flourish. There is a slice of lemon on the rim and what looks like a fancily cut bottom of a coffee filter between the cup and the the saucer.

“You really didn’t have to go to so much trouble, Mr. Sanji,” Vivi says, feeling heat creep to her cheeks. Especially given what she is going to put him through.

“It’s my pleasure to serve a beauty like you,” Sanji says and Vivi can’t help smile even though she’s not sure how to take it. She’d be a little more awkward if Nami didn’t get the same treatment, thanking him casually before taking a sip.

Still, Vivi is glad that Igaram has slipped out to guard the door or he might mistake this as a flirtation and be tempted to hover Sanji like…a hawk with smudged eyeshadow. Vivi covers a smile by sipping at her tea.

“Hey!” Usopp says with a laugh. “This duck is pretty awesome! Did you train him on tic-tac-toe?”

“Maybe he’s just really smart,” Luffy says.

“Kweh!” Karoo says, turning his head so that the tiny goggles perched on his head flash in the light. Vivi chuckles.

“Karoo is actually very smart. He’s bred to be so. We used to use messenger ducks like him all the time…” Back when they still had a kingdom, when they all weren’t grounded from fear of being intercepted—perhaps fatally.

“Alright! It’s settled!” Luffy says, thrusting a fist into the air. “Let’s test him at Battleship!”

“Luffy, we don’t even have Battleship,” Usopp says.

“So let’s make one.”

“Yeah I guess we could do that,” Usopp says, rubbing his chin. “There’s cardboard and paper…we just need scissors…”

“Hey Sanji can we borrow your little scissors?”

“It’s a goatee trimmer and no. Use the big ones, shithead, and try not to make too much of a mess.”

“You mean air trimmers,” Usopp mutters and shields his head from Sanji’s foot. Vivi stifles another smile. They certainly are lively.

“It’s okay you know,” Nami says, voice unexpectedly soft and Vivi blinks at her. Nami is smiling, faintly but it’s there.

“Okay?”

“Mm. To laugh at them.” She looks over her shoulder, a faint font expression settling in her eyes before she sips her tea. “You’ll want to strangle them soon enough.”

It’s possible, she supposes, but it doesn’t escape her how comfortable they all seem to be with one another. Like a small family. It makes her feel even worse about will happen. Perhaps there’s still time. No…no now is the time to be hard.

“So, what’s the story,” Nami says, setting her tea to the side and folding one leg over the other. Vivi sighs and sets her own teacup down, looking into the light brown liquid.

“I’m…I may not look it, but… I’m actually a princess from a long line of royalty of an ancient kingdom in Peru.”

“Oh yeah?” Usopp says. “Como Esta?”

“Como estas,” Luffy says. And before Vivi can react to that she is caught by Nami and Sanji’s near matching expressions, hands near their faces and sparkles in their eyes.

“A princess?” they say almost together, though Sanji sort of wiggles near the end.

“Yes…”

“Then you must be pretty well off, riiight?” Nami says, flapping her hand while Sanji seems to almost coo and pirouette in place.

“A princess, I knew it. Ah~ What a glorious day.”

“I bet Usopp was a princess once,” Luffy says.

“As a matter of fact I— Oi!”

“Shishishi.”

“Princess~ Princess~”

Did they have any normal conversations around here? Vivi is a bit distracted by it all and then realizes Nami asked a question. Well sort of asked. She holds up her hands.

"Well not exactly, I’m afraid, Miss Nami,” Vivi says. “My Grandfather disbanded the kingdom in his time and gave the treasury to the people. We’re not poor but it’s certainly nothing grandiose I’m afraid.”

“Go on,” Nami says, face serious and Vivi really does wonder if she should…but go on she does.

“The legends say that our kingdom began over seven hundred years ago when some low lander refugees were driven into the mountains when their kingdom was destroyed. They wandered for many months until they braved a dangerous mountain pass and found a secret valley abundant with life. The trees were green, birds chirped, beautiful animals moved in the dappled sunlight, and everywhere there were white flowers…” the rhythms of the legend fell from her tongue like velvet and she remembers many bed times hearing this same thing, lying there looking up at Igaram or Father and a faint memory of Mother, speaking the ancient cadences of their past. It was almost too difficult to remember not to slip back into their mother tongue, English seeming too brash a language for it.

“So they settled there and because of the flowers, deemed a symbol of hope and message from the gods, called it Yuraj. For hundreds of years, the valley grew separate from the rest of the world except for merchants who would leave the valley once a year when the snow had melted on the passes. But five hundred years ago, in the time of the legendary king Calgara, the merchants brought with them an English Missionary traveling with Spanish Conquistadors. A man named Norland.”

“Hey, I heard about him,” Usopp says. “It was in a kid’s book somewhere. Didn’t he discover El Dorado?”

“El Dorado?” Luffy asks.

“Yeah it’s a city made completely of gold.”

“Gooollld?” Nami says, clasping her hands under her chin, her eyes flashing. This girl… Vivi pins her mouth into a smile and shifts the tea cup on the saucer.

“I don’t know what else he may have discovered. It’s possible, I suppose, Mr. Usopp, but there was no gold in Yuraj, nor is there now.”

Nami seems to deflate a little and on one hand Vivi hates to disappoint her but…even if there had been gold, it all belongs to the people.

“At any rate, Norland was entranced by the beauty of our valley and remained behind for many months, becoming close friends with Calgara. He refers to it in his notes as the white country or country of Alabasta, which is what it is called today. When he had been there a full year, however, he became very ill and the great King Calgara decreed that any manner of medicines should be made to save his friend. No one could find a cure and all despaired when a medicine woman, granted a vision by the gods, decided to use one of the white flowers in a potion. Norland got better, and along with it had been granted endurance, greater strength and a heightened sense of smell. Inspired by this, Norland, who it seems dabbled as an alchemist as well as a missionary, worked close with the medicine woman to develop a potion which, when taken, would make the person stronger, faster, more agile, anything you could want in a warrior.”

“I want to get my hands on some of that,” Usopp breathes. Vivi frowns faintly but lets it go. He’s just a boy after all.

“As the days passed, Norland convinced Calgara that this was something that needed to be shared with the world and, indeed would make Alabasta rich beyond imagining. They would be able to leave the valley and flourish beyond. Find a better life. Or, if nothing that, to permit Norland to bring his closest friends to see this place and what had been accomplished. Because he loved his friend dearly, Calgara agreed, but what Norland brought were not friends but conquistadors who tore up the sacred land, attacked women and children, defiled the beautiful river and slaughtered many rare beasts.

In desperation, the warriors of the kingdom ate nearly every flower they could find, even down the root and seed. Some died, some went mad, but some…shifted, becoming humans with animal form.”

A soft intake of breath pulls her out of the story. They were all watching her now. Except for Roronoa who still seems to be asleep…or is he? Usopp opens his mouth to speak and Vivi heads him off, guessing what he must be wondering.

“Yes, the man you saw in the arena that day was a victim of that plant. He is not one of our people and…to be honest even I was surprised to see him…” She isn’t even sure if he belonged to Crocodile’s group. The curse of the devil’s seed has spread far. Who knew how many use it now? Her only solace is that the flowers are very difficult to grow outside the valley and, soon, their stock will run out, leaving only that man to deal with.

“Those flowers…” Nami says, rousing Vivi from her thoughts. “Do they work on Fishmen?”

“Fish…men…?” Vivi’s not sure what she means. It doesn’t sound like fisherman and she’s pretty sure it’s something specific. Nami waves a hand.

“Nevermind. Go on.”

“Oh…ah… where was I?”

“The warriors had taken animal form,” Usopp says.

“Oh…right… They drove conquistadors out and the passes were sealed. Calagara vowed never to let another stranger into Yuraj and kings after him kept that vow, even so far as restricting merchants from leaving. The flowers were cultivated and it was eventually learned that it was not the flowers themselves that caused the transformations but the pearl like seeds which came to be known as Devil’s Seeds for all the pain they had brought to the once peaceful kingdom.

For centuries we remained in isolation. Our culture was strong but our population was shrinking. We were on the verge of extinction until my great great grandfather decided to once again allow curious visitors into our kingdom—but once again we were robbed, this time of the secret of our devil’s seeds. Though we’d cultivated them , mixed in the wrong way the potion could cause instant death and even a perfect potion offered no guarantee of survival. Those who stole it had no idea the potential destruction they could cause. Rather than retreating to isolationism, my great great grandfather decided to destroy all the flowers so that none could steal them again.

The task was done, our kingdom opened and prospered, catching up with the world until, as I said, my grandfather abolished it as a kingdom and made it a parliamentary democracy instead, the royal family remaining a figurehead. My father was the first of my people to go to a university, where he met my mother.” She can’t help but smile faintly at that part of the story and…to be honest it’s a story she would much rather be telling.

“Father became so entranced with world outside our small Kingdom, that we made frequent trips, often staying away for months at a time…and on one of these trips he met a man called Crocodile who promised that he would help our kingdom achieve financial prosperity beyond our wildest dreams.”

Roronoa grunts and Vivi finds him watching her with one eye open. She wonders why. Does he recognize any of it? Is he—?

“Let me guess,” Usopp says. “A disaster happened.”

“Happened.” Vivi nods. “Is still happening. Father went ahead, Crocodile stayed behind and… somehow or another, convinced our people that we were against them. That we were keeping the secrets of the Devil’s Seeds from them in order to hoard the profit for ourselves.” She swallows, her hand trembling faintly at the hot rage that washes through her at the nature of that man’s deceit. To so easily take away Father’s home. Their home. To abuse their people. She sets the teacup aside so she won’t drop it and laces her fingers tightly together.

“We believe that he somehow found a crop of Devil’s Seeds that survived,” she says. “We have evidence that he is using our people, our young men and women--” her friends… “having them fight in the circuit and in his stables to gather financial support for…further experimentation with these seeds. That he’s lying to them so they will. Experimenting on them even. Making profit off the experimentation and labor of my people.” Her nails are cutting through the rough fabric of her trousers, she realizes, as she’s clenching them so hard and her eyes are wet but she blinks. She refuses to shed a tear until everything is right again. Until everything is made whole. Until her people are restored to a life they wish to lead. A free life.

“So what do you want us to do?” Nami says. “We’re not an infiltration group.”

“Yeah, this guy can’t even infiltrate a supermarket,” Usopp says, lightly whacking Luffy on the head with the side of his hand.

“No, I know… I had hoped to—get at him from the inside. From the Baroque Works stable but… I hadn’t realized… Don Krieg’s reputation for violence. He’s so low grade, it’s hard to find any information on him.” She takes a deep breath. “The other alternative is to enter the Sandorea Cup. Crocodile is one of the main benefactors of that tournament and it will be easier to go up through the ranks and—”

“Kick his ass,” Luffy says. Vivi blinks at him.

“Yees or expose him for what he really is. To tell the truth to my people. Only those are mid-ranked to high-ranked tournaments and to even enter you need a crew. Only highrollers are allowed to enter singly. So I had hoped to convince Roronoa—”

“We’ll do it,” Luffy says.

“Wait a second, Luffy,” Nami says. “This sounds like a pretty dangerous guy! Just how safe are we going to be?”

And here it is, the deal breaker. She wants to lie and say it will be alright. That he’s no problem at all against the strong group they will form. But even if they are strong, Crocodile is much stronger and it’s only a matter of time before they are all over their heads. She would go it alone if she could. She would pay others if she could. But this small group, these people barely older than she is, are everyone she has to work with. Vivi takes a deep breath.

“It’s…more dangerous than you can imagine. And if—when I get discovered, the danger will grow exponentially.”

“Let’s do it!” says Luffy.

“Let’s not,” says Usopp. Vivi can’t look at them. Can’t look at Nami and the ‘no’ that will be in her expression.

“I’m guessing you can’t just call the shitty cops,” Sanji says and Vivi shakes her head.

“He is a bounty hunter of a high caliber. I suppose you could call him a privateer. What criminals he doesn’t lure into the circuit to be disposed of, he hunts down with his power and connections.” Though there is even worse news than that, from what little information her and Igaram have been able to glean from the secretive organization. “There’s rumors that he doesn’t take them down at all but integrates them into his elite fighting force. That he may be building a personal army. But…the police won’t stand against him. His circuit is sanctioned and he’s clean— but—if we can somehow expose him—not only to my people but the government than we can stop him in his tracks.”

“Yeah that is wa-a-y too big for us,” Usopp says. “Man, we barely took down a whole bunch of Fishguys at a lab. This is so out of our league.”

“I wanna punch Crocodile. He sounds annoying,” Luffy says.

“Just punch Croc- No listen, have you been paying attention?” Usopp says. “Did elite fighting force not mean anything to you?”

“I don’t care about fighting them, I just wanna punch him.”

“You’re going to care. The only one even close to getting ranked here is Zoro.”

“Oi…” Sanji says.

“And Sanji kinda but there’s no way he’s going to agree to this.”

“I can speak for myself,” Sanji says. “I don’t mind rescuing a damsel in distress no matter how many shitty gators I gotta skin. So I’ll go with Luffy if he decides. But this is not an adventure no matter how you look at it—”

“Yes it is,” Luffy says.

“—Not the kind of shitty adventure I want you going on, shitty longnose. If it goes down, you’re going on the first train home.”

“Oi! Will you stop being the cool one all the time?” Usopp says. “I don’t wanna go. But I’m not letting you go either.”

“Who said I was being the cool one? I’m looking after you, asshole.”

“Well I’m looking after you.”

“I don’t need looking after.”

“The hell you don’t!”

“Guys, take it outside,” Nami says. Vivi hears Usopp stand and click of the door of them leaving sounds like a death sentence. There is silence. A quiet room can feel so oppressive. It reminds her of her boarding school days, waiting for her Father to come for her after everyone else had already left, staring down the tree lined driveway and hoping the next car would be his, while knowing in her gut it wouldn’t be.

“It’s a no,” Vivi says.

“It’s more of a, you’re crazy,” Nami says and Vivi closes her eyes. She expected as much. She won’t let the sinking feeling take over. No. She will bear this with pride. Princess of a defunct kingdom she may be, but she is still a Princess and so--

“I understand.”

“I’m sorry about your situation but I’m not sure if we can even help. Zoro’s our only ‘A’ rank, Luffy can’t even get out of ‘D’.”

“I’m gonna punch the Crocodile guy no matter what rank I’m in,” Luffy says.

“Luffy, come on. Listen, what do you think we can do with three fighters?”

“I don’t care. I’m gonna do it,” Luffy says.

“Sounds like fun,” Roronoa says and Vivi raises her head a little to see him grinning as he looks at Luffy. Is this— if she can only get him then it—it won’t be enough but she can build around it! She can!

“Right?” Luffy says with a matching grin.

“You’re both crazy. Will you listen to sense?” Nami says. A strange look crosses Roronoa’s face. Is he reconsidering already? Vivi clenches her hands in her lap, trying to see any sign of him changing his mind. He tilts his head toward the wall and Vivi squints and then her eyes widen as she sees something that looks like a mouth set in the wall, just in his shadow. It moves. Before she can guess what it’s saying, it disappears in a single petal.

“It’s just the three of you,” Nami is saying. “I’m not going to—”

“Luffy, move,” Roronoa’s says, his voice hard. “Go get Usopp and Sanji.”

“Eh? What?”

“Do it now!” he says, giving Luffy a shove before surging to his feet. Luffy scrambles to his feet and runs to the door just as Zoro seems to be charging for them, his posture low.

“Zoro—what?”

Vivi has just enough time to see Luffy sweep up Karoo before a shuddering

BOOM

rips through the air, splintering in her ears and she instinctively covers her head. She hears Nami shriek and something slams into her before another boom sends everything into black.



She can hear breathing. The distant wail of sirens. It seems to be raining and…it’s dark. Dark and hot. Someone is pressed beside her and against her legs. She can feel an arm on her back but its too dark to see. Something is dripping on her and she wipes it away when she can think to move her hand.

“What?” she says, but she can barely hear herself over her ears ringing. “What…?”

“Oh my god.” Nami’s voice. Vivi gropes out blindly and touch her wrist, trying to comfort her—though what comfort could be given after— After whatever...just happened...

“It’s all right,” Vivi murmurs. “It’s all right." She reaches up tentatively to push away whatever is making it dark and flinches her hand back when she feels a shoulder, wet with sweat or…or blood. Somewhere outside she can hear a faint quack and a muffled: “Zoro!”

“Zoro…?” Nami says softly.

“I’m alright,” he says, but his voice is strained. What…what happened? There is a grating sound and then Vivi can feel a faint breath of fresh air, see a faint glimmer of light touch Rorona’s jaw and neck, blood running in a thin line down it. Nami looks frightened for a brief moment and then her face closes she rolls closer to Vivi.

“Excuse me,” she murmurs, before leaning her weight on Vivi’s shoulder.

“Luffy is that you? Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Stay still I’m gonna lift it.”

She can hear him grunt and then light floods as— as the chunk of dry wall lifts and then drops away off …off the side of the building. Vivi’s eyes go wide. There’s a ragged hole where the wall used to be. She can see the parking lot and the cars beyond, stopped, people staring, pointing, the wail of a siren coming closer. What could have…?

“What are you standing around for? Go look for Usopp and Sanji!” Nami says sharply.

“Oh, right!” Luffy says. Vivi is about to speak when there is a flash of a camera from below. Vivi’s heart jumps, then squeezes in her chest as she sees who is holding the camera. A tall gangly woman in dark glasses and her short partner, wearing the black and brown uniform of Baroque Works.

“No!” Vivi says, her voice feeling like rust. She reaches out for them as they walk away, wishing she could grab them, pull them back, rip the film from their camera.

“Vivi? You can let go,” Nami says softly. Vivi blinks and realizes her free hand is digging into Roronoa’s forearm.

“Oh…oh sorry,” she lets go.

“Don’t worry about it,” Roronoa says. He sits up and Vivi flinches as water from the sprinklers rains cold on her. There is blood on his face and shoulder, quickly washing away into rivers of red. The room behind him is a twisted mess. She clenches her head. Was that— Was Baroque Works—? Had Crocodile--?! Igaram…!

“Vivi, can you—?” Nami starts.

“Please, excuse me,” Vivi says, scrambling to her feet and yelping as her leg nearly gives out under her. There is blood gushing down in a straight line from her knee. It doesn’t matter. She stumbles through the room, Karoo quacking in distress as she falls against the wall— She quickly pushes off and throws open the door.

The hall is as much of a mess. Rubble strewn everywhere. In the distance someone is crying.

“Igaram!” Vivi shouts. “IGARAM!”

“Here…princess…” Vivi looks around desperately but it isn’t until Karoo waddles over that she spots her trusted and oldest friend, caught under a pile of rubble, blood gushing down his face. Tears burn her eyes and she wipes them away fiercely, and kneels to try to move the rubble off of him.

“Prince— ma~ ma~ Princess please…”

“No, it’s alright. I’ll get it off. Don’t move,” Vivi says, pushing. It’s heavy and the most she can do is move it diagonally and her fingers slip sending it falling back against him. Igaram grunts.

“Roronoa!” she calls, her voice shrill.

“Princess—”

“Roronoa, please! I need—!”

A cool hand wraps around her ankle and she looks down at Igaram, blood coming from his mouth. She won’t lose him. She won’t! She—

“Go on without me,” he says.

“No! I can’t do that!”

“You have to. My leg… I’d slow you down. Anyway once—” he coughs. “Once I heal I can throw them off your track.”

She clenches her hands into fists. She doesn’t care about that! She wants to say. Igaram is more important-! She can’t leave him to die— She can’t leave him to be an injured bird, luring the predators away from the nest!

But—

“Easy way or hard way?” he grinds out. Easy way. Giving in. Letting Crocodile do what he wants. Let him use and destroy her people. Let him spread the seeds that are Vivi’s legacy and cause chaos and madness and death. Hard way— Carrying on like a princess should. People first. Mission first. Not letting their hard work go to waste. She draws herself into herself, feeling blood trickling down her lip and nods, once, sharply.

Roronoa makes his way from the room and lifts the sheet of drywall from Igaram without much apparent trouble, though he has to brace a hand against the wall.

“Need a lift, old man?” he says. Vivi turns to face Roronoa, then Nami who is standing just at his shoulder.

“It will be dangerous,” she says, staring into the woman’s eyes. “Very dangerous. I’ll pay you what I can and be in debt to you as long as I need, just name what you want and its yours but I need your help to save my people.”

“Well every reward has a risk attached,” Nami says and there is a faint twitch of a smirk around her mouth but her eyes and face are granite.

“What about him?” Roronoa asks. Vivi closes her eyes, bites her lip. She should say to leave him behind. It’s callous. Of course it is. But that’s the price of the hard way and if she has to sacrifice that side of herself then—

“Nevermind,” Nami says. “He’ll be fine once the ambulance gets here. We’d better go.” She approaches Vivi and takes her wrist, pulling Vivi’s arm over her shoulder for support, her other hand touching Vivi’s waist.

“You good?” Nami asks. Vivi nods.

“Let’s hurry.”

They go down the hall. The blast didn’t seem to touch the other end as much but people are clustering out of their rooms, looking horrified, looking at them horrified. Vivi keeps her eyes forward, sucking in shallow breaths. A few people try to stop them to ask if they need help but Nami breezes by them with cold indifference, almost faster than Vivi can keep up.

They make their way down the steep concrete stairs and Vivi tries not to notice the blood dripping on the steps as they go. Hers and Nami’s. Just the steps. The echoing of their passage. Roronoa’s heavy comforting tread behind them. A voice is coming up the stairs, soft but insistent.

“Oh god. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.”

They come to the landing and turn and have to stop. Usopp is sitting at the bottom of the stairs, his face in his hands, rocking back and forth. Sanji she can see just out the door, smoking two cigarettes at once it seems. And then there is Luffy. Standing just in front of Usopp, facing him, but looking up at them, his face rigid.

“Let’s get outside,” Nami says. Luffy nods and then his face softens a little as he crouches.

“Come on, Usopp,” he says, putting a hand on the boy’s shoulder. Usopp shakes his head.

“I can’t. God I can’t. This is all crazy. Can’t you see this is crazy? How can you be so calm?!”

“Come on,” Luffy says. “I’ll help.” He slips his hands in Usopp’s overall straps and hauls him to his feet and then with an arm around his shoulders, guides him outside. Vivi swallows and starts down the stairs with Nami, only to remember and half turn.

“Karoo—!” he can’t stay with Igaram! They wouldn’t allow ducks! And if Crocodile got to him first—!

“I’ve got him,” Roronoa says and moves so that she can see the tiny duck tucked into the crook of his arm. Vivi nods and takes a deep breath, lets it out and they continue their way down the stairs, through the door. It’s probably warm but the faint wind makes her feel chilled. Sanji is still smoking, his back turned to them, the wind scattering through the back of his hair. Usopp’s face is in his hands but Luffy is staring up at the hotel. Even from here, Vivi can see the hole blasted in it. She can see inside some of the rooms and there…there were probably—

“We’re gonna kick his ass,” Luffy says, flatly.

“Yeah…” Nami says. Luffy looks at Usopp.

“You wanna go home?”

Usopp stiffens, curls his fingers in a little and Vivi’s heart goes out to him. But then he sniffs and straightens, surprising her.

“I wanna— wanna— fi—” He shakes his head. “I’m going to fight!” he clenches his hand into a fist, which then goes limp. “S-somehow.”

“Idiot,” Sanji says softly.

“Okay,” Luffy says, letting go of Usopp and pulling his hat onto his head from where it was resting against his back. “Let’s go.”

“Luffy,” Nami says and he half turns but it’s hard to see his eyes, shadowed by the hat. “We can’t go in recklessly. We need some time to recover before we jump in or we’ll all going to die.” He nods and starts toward the car. Roronoa moves around them, shadow passing over them for a second before he moves to walk at Luffy’s shoulder. Then Sanji who lightly punches Usopp’s shoulder.

“We’ll kick the shit out of him,” he says, before following. Usopp sniffs, wipes his nose with a handkerchief, then shoves his hands in his pockets and turns to follow. They all look so young but so strong. Nami is looking after them with something like fondness in her face… Vivi will take them all away from her. They will all die she’s sure of it.

“Forgive me, Miss Nami,” Vivi says softly.

“Shut up,” Nami says. “None of us can stand for this.”

“Yes, but… I got you involved and…”

“These guys were involved the moment they set foot in the circuit,” Nami says. “It is what it is.”

Vivi nods. She’ll have to accept that for now. She’ll have to put away emotion for now. As long…as long as it ends with her people knowing the truth, Crocodile behind bars and the devious trade in Devil’s Seeds put to an end, then their deaths won’t be in vain. She nods and tries to stand on her own but her leg throbs and she sinks a bit. Nami holds her up and together they head toward the car.

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The Remedy

March 2017

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