Title: Until the Fireflies Light Up Your Sky
Fandom: One Piece
Character(s): Quinto Roronoa (OC), Zuzen Roronoa (OC)
Notes: The tie-in to Consider the Sea Beasts that no one wanted. A sort of writing exercise for the author. Shameless self-indulgence. Etc.
The little flame flickered along the surface of the pool of oil as the sky grew darker, and the shadows pressed close around him as Quinto huddled underneath the old oak in Los Pinos (a misleading name as there were no pines in Llucevoa county) with the brown lantern cradled close in his arms.
He had holed himself away in the huge grove of trees behind the family property after making sure that his older brother had been received at home by the family attendants, and in doing so he managed to escape Rosa Bella’s certain ire at the state that they were in. She would probably be too busy dealing with Desi’s care and Gio’s ill temper to come out looking for him; frankly, he was sure that no one would notice.
Well, except for one person.
His chest tightened and he tried not to hunch down any further as his father’s footsteps carried down the gravel road, slowing down when he reached the crossroads and turned off the path down into the hidden glen behind the poplars. His father didn’t even need to see his stifled movement in order to find him, but he just wanted to remain alone for a little longer.
Quinto sighed when the branches shuddered and moved out of the way, and suddenly there he was, in plain sight and ducking underneath the leafy boughs to peer down at him.
“Well, M’chico; even after all this time away I know exactly where you’re going to be, eh?” Pai gave him a tight smile and gestured at the ground. “May I join you, Quinto?”
He nodded without a word, and then his father dropped down into his retreat with a weary groan, stretching his legs out and kicking off his worn leather boots for good measure. The daylight was just clinging to night’s cool darkness now, and the air around them began to fill with the grillos’ song. His father smiled.
“Ah, los grillos tinean ea…do you remember that you wouldn’t sleep unless we came out here to listen to the crickets sing?”
“…yes, Pai,” he muttered, watching the lamplight die away in his hands as the last of the oil burned out. He hadn’t checked if the lantern had enough oil in it before he fled the house, but now it really didn’t matter. At least he wouldn’t have to see the disappointment in his father’s face when he finally confronted him about what had happened out near Caldena’s Landing.
His father’s eyes glittered in the fading light and he turned to look at his son just as the light went out. “You were so little back then, Quinto, and so precious…bello, why are you crying?”
He wasn’t able to help it. Pai’s gaze was so caring and tender and so undeserved that he felt the guilt of the past week swallow him whole all at once. “I-I’m so sorry…you trusted me to keep everyone safe, b-but I was so careless and stupid and I ruined everything! P-p-please, please don’t hate me, Pai…”
Quinto choked back a sob as his father moved closer so that they could see each other in the smoky dusk that enveloped them, and he was surprised to see that Pai was looking at him with a sad expression in his eyes. That old ugly fear rose up again, that fear of disappointing him yet again. Disappointing everyone was something Quinto was skilled at, from failing to uphold the family passions and traits to perplexing them with his very un-Roronoa-like interests and personality. Failing at the one thing that they were proud of him for—his navigating—would be the final nail in the coffin of the strange and homely Quinto Roronoa.
Pai sighed and brushed away his tears. “Quinto, I could never hate you. What on earth gave you an idea like that?”
“I should have known better! I was the one responsible for the navigation and charting a safe course home, but…” He trailed off and hung his head as more tears prickled at the corners of his eyes. “Maybe Gio was right. I’m not a good Hespenian, I’m a terrible Roronoa, and I’m a horrible brother.”
“Gio es un malcriido, and you are none of those things,” his father replied, taking the hot lantern out of his aching hands. He looked upset at the oil burns but said nothing about them, for which Quinto was grateful. Concern for his wellbeing was not something he was comfortable with right now. “Mira, look; your brother is a hotheaded man and doesn’t mean most of the things that come out of his mouth, mostly because he is a hotheaded man and doesn’t think before he speaks. But anger justifies no hurtful words, remember that.”
“But what if it’s true? I messed up and let everyone down. People could have been killed because of me…Desi almost did.”
“You are only thirteen and-” Pai stopped and gave a groan like he was realizing something. “…and I put so much pressure on my little boy. Forgive me, Quinto; my intention was not to hurt you like this.”
Quinto shook his head furiously. “No! That’s not it, Pai! I’ll just try even harder; Ipromise!”
He bit down hard on his lip and waited for the inevitable scolding that he had known was coming. His age was no excuse for how irresponsible he had been; Pai had to realize that. If anything, he should have worked harder to make up for his lack of experience.
His father sighed. “If you wish to be held accountable like a man, then you will handle things like a man.”
There it was, the stern, no-nonsense voice. He closed his eyes and let the tears trickle down his cheeks in streaks. “I know, I’m trying.”
“…and that means learning that you can change and better yourself from your falls, tuas derrotas. Your defeats will not define you unless you let them, Quinto.”
Quinto nodded, swallowing hard against the lump in his throat. “How do I make this better, Pai? Desi was in a coma, and the doctor says he might not ever get rid of the-”
His father smiled. “Don’t linger on the things you cannot change, but focus on how you can do better next time.”
His navigating…he would have to be more careful on the next trip, plan for everything, and watch all of the signs like clockwork. “Okay, I-I can do that.”
“You will try, and sometimes you may fail. You may even cry again and again, and it doesn’t make you any less of a navigator, nor any less of a good brother. And please don’t be so hard on yourself, M’chico; it worries me to see you hurting like this.”
He hugged his knees to his chest and hiccupped, “I just wanted to keep them safe, and I couldn’t because I messed up.”
“Quinto, look at me.” Pai’s smile grew bigger as he took in the sight of the faint glow surrounding the two of them, and then Quinto glanced up at the grove of trees blocking the starlit sky above them. “Do you see them?”
His eyes widened. “Las iluz-grillas.”
“Like the fireflies light up this little glen of yours, so does hope even in the darkest of times. But you see how you couldn’t see them until the light of your lantern had gone completely out?”
His father raised his hand and let a little firebug alight on the tip of his finger. “Sometimes you cannot help but wait until that last black moment before you finally get to see the most amazing and beautiful things, if you know where to look.”
Quinto felt a new wave of tears flood his eyes, and then he threw his arms around his father and sobbed, feeling relief underneath that ebbing guilt and despair from earlier. “I-I’m sorry, Pai!”
He ended up dissolving into a mess of tears and snot; even though he knew that his father had a point, he couldn’t help but cry because it still hurt right now. Feelings seldom followed rhyme and reason.
His father wrapped his arms around him and murmured softly, “Oh, my little Quinto; it’s going to be alright.”
Eventually, even if it took some time, things would be alright. For now, he just cried as his father held him and allowed it to hurt.
He would open up his eyes to the fireflies in time.