Saturday, February 27, 2016

Smoke & Mirrors, parts 1 & 2

"Smoke & Mirrors, Parts 1 & 2"

orig. September/2013
Alt. One Piece Elly x Smoker
Plot to start series, PG
One Piece based non-canon

Growling with more than irritation, Smoker chomped down on the two cigars in his mouth and forced himself to relax. With his boots scuffling the mounds of paperwork on his desk and smoke swirling lazily about him, he looked calm. His mind, however, was another matter.

The child had been unimpressive when he'd first seen her, he thought as he leaned back in his chair. Frowning, he shook his head and reached up to scrub at his temples in annoyance. Not "child", though she looked it. She was a woman, close to his age. Younger than he was, certainly, but not young enough for him to dismiss her as that word she so hated. But it was so much easier to get her out of his head when he thought of her as too young!

Too young for what? 

"Tell the ...child, to get in here," he grunted into a small communication snail. "She's late."

Elly, as usual, was angry when she stormed into his presence. Her dark eyes flashed and he could see the muscles rippling under her jaw as she ground her teeth in fury. A passing glance would show only a pale lady with short, dark hair dressed in a plain black skirt and white blouse. Yet she was unremarkable in appearance only to those that didn't know her, and certainly those that had never seen her use her power. A fine link chain around her neck swung as she stomped forward, glittering in the light from the porthole behind him. 

"How dare you talk to me like that!" She slammed a hand onto his desk, scattering papers everywhere. The seastone cabochon on her chain flapped forward, then touched her skin again. She hesitated as her strength waned.

"It's early," Smoker sighed, his voice unusually gentle. "If you don't shut up, I'll have you muzzled - you know I can do that -- so why don't you sit." A tendril of smoke tipped a chair opposite him. "Or get some coffee if you feel like it. This might take awhile."

"It always does." One minute she was screaming at the top of her lungs and the next sounding depressed, defeated. "Wait." He watched silently as she walked across the room and fixed coffee for them both without asking. Hers was a mix of cream and sugar, his obliterated with cream so much it was nearly white. "The guards in level five made me angry this morning," she offered by way of apology as she set his mug down. "Of course, not being free when I've done nothing wrong also did." 

"I was told you say that every day."

"I do." She sat down and held her coffee in front of her. Probably making a face at me behind it, he thought, amused. Elly slowly peered at him from around the cup. "Did you ever look into the charges behind me being here?"

His frown deepened. "I told you, I couldn't get clearance."

"A Vice Admiral," she drawled comically, "doesn't have clearance? Doesn't that seem odd to you?"

"What did the level five unit do this morning?" 

"Change the subject," she grumbled. "They, uh, sort of..." She trailed off, the rest inaudible. 

"They what?"

"Um." Her face was averted now, her black hair hiding her forehead and cheeks as she stared down into the mug she held. 

Smoker let the irritation he was feeling finally creep into his voice. "The hell did they do already?!"

"They said I was plain," she said quietly. "And some said 'ugly'. The rest laughed and questioned why I was here at all because I was worthless."

The big man's palm slapped against the side of his face. That unit was always breaking the rules, and this was a huge one. No one was to speak with or even at this prisoner. It was what they wanted the rest of them to believe, yes, but they all depended on her silence to reinforce the belief. If she had blurted anything out, someone might have questions. He got up and told her to be still for a minute. Speaking to a guard outside was all that was required to issue punishment for the one that had been walking her to his office and the unit that had made fun of her, as well. The orders would trickle down and he would show her as they marched outside for extra training under the soon-to-be grueling hot sun on deck.

Elly was pleased. "That's fine," she murmured. "It's just that, sometimes, I want to be something, do something. And get this damned thing off!" This last was addressed to the chain around her neck. "It looks like a necklace to almost everyone else, but I'm so freaking tired of it!"

Smoker raised an eyebrow at this foolishness. "All you have to do is agree to work with someone." He carefully sat in front of her, more papers falling as he did so. A pen clattered to the floor and they both ignored it.

"You?" Her lips quirked in a little smile. 

"I was told whoever you wanted."

"Oh, the well-known leniency of the Marines." She sneered a little at the logo on her coffee cup. "I can pick anyone I want to work with. I'm an innocent locked up on bogus charges for one reason: I have this power you guys are dying to exploit."

"We know what power you have," he admitted, drawing deeply on the cigars in his mouth while he thought. "Your charges seem authentic. Working with us would give you some status. I could remove the chain, for one... but you'd have to immediately abide by the contract at that point." He paused, turned slightly, and rummaged through the half-torn and crumpled sheets of paper still sitting on the desk. He found what he was looking for and held it out to her. "They revised it. Look."

She turned her head away. "No."


"It's always the same!"

"I'm not cut out for this!" He shoved the paper at her, spilling a little of her coffee as he did so. She grabbed it instinctively as he did. "Read the damned thing or don't. I don't care. It's what I was told to say." He set his boots back down on the floor and clumped back to his chair. "Now get out."

Elly clutched the paper in her hand and thought about throwing it at him for a moment. She sighed when she realized he'd probably just throw it right back, though - and tommorow was another day. Their morning discussions were the same, every day, a fresh contract was prepared and he'd try and persuade her to agree to their terms. She carefully set the coffee down on his sad excuse for a desk and walked back out to the guard waiting to escort her back to her cell - what they called her "quarters".

A cell is a cell, she thought dismally as they walked the corridors of the ship. They can dress things up as nice as they want, like the necklace, but in the end I still have shackles on, and my windows have bars. How depressing. And all because she had eaten some weird fruit she had found when she was starving. If she knew then what she did now, she'd have destroyed it instead and rather died of hunger. 

But it had looked so pretty.

The guard locked the door behind her as she stepped inside her quarters. The room would have been gorgeous had she been able to wander freely about. A large bed, a nice little bathing room and her own direct line to the Vice Admiral (in case she changed her mind at any time during the day or night). She had decent meals and her outfits were of good quality, though she always wore black and white only. But the curtains that Smoker's second-in-command had thoughtfully put up by the windows didn't quite hide the thick bars in them. And the chain with the cursed seastone in it around her neck, though disguised as a necklace to make those around her think she was a "normal" prisoner of sorts, still kept her docile and unable to lash out at her captors. 

It was enough to make her cry. As she peered out the barred window, she saw the level five unit laboring in their enforced exercises. They didn't look very happy, and she wondered why. They chose this life. 

She hadn't.

Part 2

At night the sea air billowed the curtains about her windows and the crescent moon lit long, long shadows of the bars on her window. They spread out, taller and longer, coating the floor with their hateful reminder of her captivity. Elly stared at them for a long time before she slowly turned her head to look at the crumpled piece of paper by the side of her bed. She'd thrown the new contract in a fit of rage at the wall, where it had bounced and rolled back to her. She'd felt it was bitterly symbolic; after all, the Marines always had a fresh one in the morning for her. It always came back down to this. She'd read the damned thing only once before declaring she would never touch any of their hideous proposals again. They didn't know what they were asking ... they couldn't! And yet she was afraid they did. That was what made it worse.

They kept transferring her from Captains to Admirals and back again, always a different person in case someone new could change her mind. She hadn't been this high up before, though. And although he was a Marine, Smoker seemed a decent sort of guy. She'd heard that he didn't always follow rules to the letter and that made her somewhat more at ease with him. And his second-in-command was a woman. That was something of a relief after having to put up with insufferable men for a five years. That thought brought her up short, her dark eyes widening. Had it really been that long? 

Moving in a daze, she reached down and picked up the paper. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to look at the damned thing.

As she started to read, a few rooms away the Vice Admiral was engaging in his favorite pastime to relax. One side of his room had a small table with sand and an aesthetically placed bonsai. A small, polished rock was in one of his large hands. One more, to the side and on top should do it. Smoker held his breath and carefully stilled his hand before placing the last rock on top of the stack he'd been balancing. It wasn't too hard on a large ship like this; he'd been without his hobby for awhile when they'd been sailing on the smaller boats for transportation, though. Wisps of vapor curled out from the ever-present cigars in his mouth, thinner as he concentrated. There.

As soon as he was finished with his latest stack, his mind started wandering again. He turned his head, careful not to upset his latest work, and blew smoke out gustily in several directions. After dinner Tashigi had come to see him and raised some disturbing questions - questions no one was supposed to ask. One had been why the girl had been placed in their care, and that was all right, because he could answer that one. 

"We were instructed to try and reason with her." He had re-crossed his legs, military-issue boots banging on his desk. "Others have failed."

"She's so ... I mean, did she really take down a Government Institution all by herself? That's the charges, isn't it? Undermining the authority and ultimately bringing down..."

"I can't say anything," he had told her firmly, refusing to look in her eye. He felt fatherly towards this slight Captain, always wanting to show her the right way to do things. In this case, however, Smoker was disgusted with himself because he didn't know what the right thing was. He held up his hands and his voice took on a tone of dismissal. "Orders. You know better to ask," he added brusquely.

From the unsatisfied look on her face, she still had questions; so did he. The problem was he wasn't allowed to ask. He could read the contracts, and he had, but they made no sense. He could understand wanting her loyalty to the Marines if she was so important, but the rest confused him. There were stipulations before anyone could take her chain off, for one, something about her picking a partner. And that partner would be the only one privy to the rest of the information. If he wasn't the one she chose, or if she never did, he would never know what her story was. That bothered him, and the fact that it did disturbed him more. And what about the special release he'd gotten about this case? It normally broke every rule to start getting involved with prisoners in any way, but this time he had been told to do "whatever it took" to get her on their side. That had the faint odor of dishonesty to it. Smoker absently began to remove his leather gloves. Maybe in the morning things would be clearer, after a good night's sleep. 

Elly sat on the edge of her bed, her eyes narrowed to slits in her anger. They hadn't changed this thing a bit! It still had her demeaning herself by becoming their pawn, and worse, doing ... that. Sure, she could choose who to do it with, but did they know how personal it was? Did they even care? She thought not. The only new bit added this time was the fact that they would allow her to remove her chain for good if she abided by the rules they set. They'd have to remove it anyway if they intended me to use my power, she thought with a sniff. 

She let the paper fall from her hand to float down to the floor. Tashigi had told her about an Officer's ball they were having soon today, an extravaganza with a banquet and softly lit globes with candles lighting up the night so couples could dance and be free under the moonlight. She bit her tongue to stay her tears. Every night she fantasized about being free. The dancing and the open night sky was too much; she wanted it. She craved it. Even a little taste, fettered by her chain, and she'd gladly accept after so many years of being cooped up in rooms. Maybe her eyes had spoken of her need because the other woman had stopped talking immediately after a glance in her direction. And Elly was sure she'd get to go if she just signed that stupid contract. Hell, they might make it in her honor at that point. With chain broken, she could make sure she was the prettiest lady there, as well. She was still young enough to want a man's attention, especially as she'd never gotten around to that when she'd been picked up. Now all she had was bad jokes and scoffs in her direction by the men that didn't understand, like Unit Five earlier. 

Groaning, she rolled over and placed a corner of the soft sheets over her head. But sleep didn't come for a long time that night.

Parts 3 & 4 >

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