When this Marine ship approaches, there is no excited shouting, no boasting, no challenges issued between members of the crew. There is only an unnerving silence, a stance too-rigid with tension, and eyes too-distant where Luffy has his hat pulled down low. They all know this flag. Each and every one of them.
As the small fleet approaches, the little Den-Den in the galley starts ringing.
“I’ve got it,” Franky says, quiet as he sidles up to Robin’s side. He sprouts a small hand from his palm and rests it gently on her shoulder. The shirt she is wearing today is one of his gaudy summer button-ups, appropriated with stealth and precision from an unattended basket of clean laundry.
Just this morning she delighted in the way his cyborg cheeks could still hold a fierce blush, relishing that, in this, Franky was somehow shy. The playful atmosphere is all but gone from the ship, now. The morning hangs heavy with solemn dread.
Just behind Franky’s shoulder, Brook acknowledges her with a nod.
“Stay on the canons,” Robin advises. She joins the unhurried shuffle of Luffy, Zoro, Nami, and Chopper towards the galley where the Den-Den is still ringing.
Usopp has Nami’s Clima Tact deconstructed and spread out on the kitchen table across a plain tarp to protect the precious wood’s lacquer. Sanji is already leaning against the small table that houses their transponder snail, lazily smoking and hardly giving the purru-purring device a glance, like the very sound of it is beneath him. Robin can see the tremble in his fingers, the stiff set of his shoulders. Perhaps there is a history of family conflict there, too.
Jaw set tight like he’s marching off to battle, Robin and the rest of the assembled crew watch as Luffy strides up to the snail and finally picks it up. He does not say hello.
Vice Admiral Garp requests to board the Thousand Sunny.
Usopp’s screwdriver clatters loudly onto the table as he recognizes that voice. Sanji looms a little closer, his taller frame bending just a bit more into their Captain’s space, his eyes attentive. Nami’s hand moves in an aborted twitch, like she wanted to reach out for Luffy, but stopped herself at the last moment. Where he leans against the opposite wall, Zoro thumbs the hilt of
“No,” says Luffy. He drops the Den-Den to the table with a clatter, dismissive and cold, and leaves the galley without a single other word. Robin tracks his descent into the ship, specifically, to the aquarium room, with a few intentionally-placed eyes.
“Brat,” begins Garp with the tone of a mighty scolding, but that single word has barely left his lips before Franky gets off a single warning shot. Over the open line, Robin can hear marines shouting and garbled orders ready for return-fire. She walks forward, unhurried and unconcerned, and picks up the receiver.
“I believe our Captain has made his position clear. You are not welcome on this ship, Vice Admiral.”
With the voice of a man speaking through gritted teeth, Garp growls, “I will be seeing my grandson.”
“Like Hell,” Sanji spits, grinding his cigarette into the bottom of his shoe. He shoots a significant look to Zoro, and without speaking, the two leave the galley for the deck.
“No,” Robin hums, blood rushing in a torrent past her ears, a roar only she can hear, “You will not.”
Garp, it appears, is not a man who is used to hearing no. Maybe it is due to his military background. Robin has seen the tendency in enough men who have held not-insignificant power for years—they forget a time where their words were not respected, where their voice was not the final say, and they inflate their own importance far beyond that of their actual station. Vice Admiral Garp certainly hides his own spoiled nature much better than Spandam, Robin will admit. He isn’t shallow, stupid, or greedy.
Robin isn’t prone to strong emotion. She’s always had a great handle on her temper, even as a child. She feels, of course she does, but her anger never stays for long, and her sorrows are all of an older sort. Like a remembered bruise, she can still call upon the ache of them, but they no longer haunt her. As she’s aged, she’s become lighter. Steady. In part, this is because of Luffy. Her brave, brilliant Captain, who showed her how to find joy in life again.
So, it is no small thing to admit that she
Monkey D. Garp.
After Marineford, Robin had wanted answers.
There was history, here. A history she was missing. She was not there for Luffy—none of them were, and this eats at her like a corrosive agent, a burning deep in her chest—and he faced his darkest hour alone. The least she can do is find a way to understand.
She reaches out to various contacts while conducting research of her own, and it is only days later that Ranking Officer Koala shows up at her door. The young woman is remarkably composed, considering the severity of exhaustion-bruising under her bright eyes. In her arms is a thick manilla folder.
Koala skips right over hello. “Fancy a trip to the East Blue?”
Robin hums, inviting her inside with a gesture, “I hear it’s lovely this time of year.”
Over tea, Koala presses a photo into Robin’s hands. It’s weathered by age and taken on an older, colorless Den-Den. One of these faces is one she knows well. Her heart beats hard in her chest.
Luffy, still chubby-cheeked with youth and streaked with soapy bubbles from head to toe, stands upright in a bath and flashes the camera a wave. He’s just lost a tooth, it seems, and there’s a big, gummy gap in his broad smile. Behind him, two boys are mid-tussle in the suds, mouths open on shouts. The first boy, the tallest of the two, Robin recognizes after only a moment as Ace.
She remembers suddenly that awful, terrible picture in the paper—a young man with a charred and bloody hole punched straight through his chest—and has to fight down the emotion rising in her throat. That young man who died so horrifically will forever be immortalized as a bloody, beaten body spread across the front of a paper in black and white. No one will ever see Portgas D. Ace as the sudsy, freckled boy in this picture, locked in a noogie. No one except for the boys in the photo, the photographer themselves, and now Koala and Robin.
“That’s Luffy, yeah?” Koala asks. She nods, gently setting the photo down on the table and sliding it back to Koala. “The boy with the dark hair is Ace and the third boy…” She takes a deep breath, steeling herself, “I believe the third boy is Sabo, Chief of Staff. One week ago, when the news of the execution broke, Sabo had a seizure. He’s been incoherent with fever ever since. And, in his sleep, he was crying for Ace… and for Luffy.”
Robin blinks. “They knew each other?”
Koala blows out a breath, working at her temple with the knuckle of her index finger. “Dragon-san rescued Sabo as a child after an explosion off the coast of Dawn Island. Sabo barely survived and lost a significant chunk of his memory from the associated trauma. He’s never remembered anything from his time before the explosion. He can’t even remember why he was there in the first place,” she explains. “When he collapsed, I started digging. At first, I was just looking for any kind of medical history to explain the seizure, but when I started asking around…” she taps the photo with her finger.
And Robin’s been doing research of her own, this past week. “I may have found a thing or two about Luffy and Ace’s childhood. Perhaps there are answers to be found there for Sabo, too.”
Together, they spend hours pouring over Koala’s already substantial research into, of all people, the mysterious childhood of the Army’s own Chief of Staff. Eventually, they break into Robin’s findings, and the early hours of the morning finds them hunched over a Den-Den and an East-Blue address book, calling a little tavern on Dawn Island.
“Party’s Bar,” a woman answers.
“Hello, my name is Koe,” Koala says, disarmingly kind even over the phone, “and I’m calling on behalf of a friend. I was wondering if you had a moment to talk? As a resident of Foosha, you may have the answers that I’m looking for.”
The Den-Den blinks at them with tired eyes. “Well, that depends what you’re after, Koe. I can’t promise anything, but I’m happy to help.”
“Do you know Monkey D. Luffy?” The line goes quiet.
“Who is this?” The voice asks, significantly colder. “If this is another Marine, I told your people once and I’ll tell you again, I don’t know where he is.”
“This is Nico Robin of the Strawhat pirates.” Robin isn’t prone to fidgeting, but she finds herself playing idly with the transponder’s cord. “I can tell you, without a doubt, that Luffy is safe.”
“Oh,” the voice over the phone sighs, heavy with emotion. “He’s… you’re sure?” The Den-Den’s eyes grow watery with tears. “He’s okay?”
“He is. He’s with allies.”
A sniffle. “Okay. Okay. What do you want to know?”
“We’re trying to understand what happened at Marineford,” Robin says, careful around the words like the very name of that island is a curse too awful to utter, “I regret that I never met Ace, and Luffy doesn’t often talk about his past. My friend Koe here thinks she might know someone that was important to both Ace and Luffy, but we’re unsure. We have… many questions, if you’re able to answer any of them, we’d be indebted to you.”
“What happened at Marineford,” the woman repeats, voice soft and pained. “Alright. Alright, I’ll tell you.”
They must spend another few hours on the phone with the woman, who introduces herself as Makino. She tells them about three boys that lived in the mountains under the guardianship of a bandit named Da-Dan, who cared for them deeply. They get confirmation; the third little boy was Sabo, a run-away fleeing a bad home life, and the three were brothers in all but blood. Makino sobs when Koala confirms, tearful herself, that Sabo is alive. And then, Robin and Koala find out about Garp.
“Garp knew Ace?” Robin asks again, just one more time, because it seems
She had assumed that, although Garp was Luffy’s biological grandfather, that Garp did not have a strong relationship with Ace. Afterall, he was
, sitting on the platform as the battle dragged on and on. Wouldn’t he have helped, if he had known Ace like he knew Luffy?
he have helped?
Makino laughs, but it isn’t pleasant. “Garp raised Ace.”
Koala startles, “Are you sure?”
“Roger entrusted Ace’s protection to Garp, shortly before his execution. When Ace’s mother died during birth, Garp brought Ace to Da-Dan to keep him safe.”
Robin’s hands tighten around the cord. “And he did not interfere with the execution?”
Makino sighs, ragged. “I know he’s hurting, too. I know he is. Garp… cares, in his own way. But he has a strong sense of duty. I know that it’s not an excuse, not at all. He… he did what he thought best.”
“And let a child, his child, be executed?” Robin’s anger has her breathless. “He thought that was best?”
“I think he wanted to stop it. I think he just… didn’t know how,” Makino breathes, quiet.
And Robin knows the depths of sacrifice a parent would go to for their child. Her memories of her own mother’s face are faded. She remembers how her mother smelled. She remembers her white hair. Her screams. Her memories of Saul are stronger, but not by much. And she remembers him begging her to run, remembers his dying words, remembers his tears and the sound of his great body shattering like the collapse of a glass mountain as she ran.
And she burns.
When they hang up with Makino, exchanging heartfelt goodbyes and promises to write, Robin turns to Koala and finds a similar rage in the young woman’s eyes.
“He let him die,” Koala hisses, hands clenching and unclenching into controlled fists at her sides. Robin wonders what sacrifices Koala has seen made for the sake of a child.
“Yes. He did. And I will never forgive him,” Robin swears. “Monkey D. Garp is a coward.”
“I’m going to kill him,” Koala states. She says it like one would say the sky is blue. Purely factual. Unfeeling. Just… truth. “If Sabo doesn’t, I will. I will kill him.”
She thinks of the boy she knows, the bright-eyed, bright-souled boy who believes the best of people, no matter what. The boy who refused to let her, his enemy, die. The boy who not only saved her life, but gave it back to her and taught her to find joy again. She thinks of the little boy in the picture, his freckled face, his dark eyes. She thinks of them, although she does not need to. She doesn’t need to hold them in her mind to decide what she will do if she ever finds herself before Monkey D. Garp. But she does anyway.
“I think I’d rather like to help you with that.”
No, you will not, she says, and although she’s only speaking over transponder, she feels like she is in the process of constructing a wall out of her body. A barrier that cannot be crossed, made of her own sinew and bone and fury.
“Oh? Care to inform me as to why?” Garp’s deep, booming voice rumbles across the line. The eyes of the Den-Den make his glare into something comical.
to inform him.
“Because Luffy does not want to see you. I don’t need another reason than that. But, if you’d like me to give you one… You will not be seeing Luffy because you are a coward that doesn’t deserve him.
“I am an archaeologist, Vice Admiral. If there is one thing I am ruthless in, it is the pursuit of history, and I know yours well. I have spoken with Makino. I have exchanged letters with Da-Dan. I know of your promise to Roger, and I know of your failure. That boy was in your charge, and you were prepared to watch him die. Duty is a paltry excuse for cowardice and I see through you.
“I know the sacrifice of a parent. I know loss in the name of protection. I see your failure and I do not forgive you. There is not a soul on this ship that feels differently and this is your only warning: we take Luffy’s trust seriously and we would die before we break it. He does not want to see you, so he will not be seeing you.”
Robin takes a deep breath, calming the faint shake of fury in her fingers. “I am sure you know the sort of person I am, the sort of things I have done, the things I am capable of doing. Do I make myself clear?”
The line remains silent. There is not even the faint sound of breath on the other side.
“I understand,” he says. The line goes dead.
With hands that she wills steady, Robin replaces the receiver, watching the snail’s eyes shut.
“Do you think he’ll really just… leave?” Usopp asks. He’s standing now, and his goggles are pushed up into his hair. He fiddles with the smaller slingshot at his side. Robin shrugs. If he doesn’t, they’ll take care of it.
“I didn’t know you did all that,” Nami says, voice quiet in the weighty silence of the galley.
“I wanted to understand what happened, that day. I needed to know why.” This is the only explanation she can give. It is the only one she has. Robin turns to Nami, smiling. “I have a friend I would love to introduce you to. She has baby pictures of our Captain. They’re truly incredible.”
“Baby Luffy? I bet he was so cute,” Chopper laughs, a little forceful, but the attempt at levity is appreciated. Usopp ruffles his fur with a gentle hand.
“He was. And so was Ace.”
“You know…” Nami’s eyes shine with unshed tears as she speaks, smiling tremulously, “What you said about the sacrifice of a parent? My mom, Bellemere-san, she… she gave up her life, for my sister and I. Just like that. Like it was nothing. Like there was never any question that she wouldn’t die for us.”
Robin squeezes her hand, tight as she can manage. “As did mine,” she says. Nami grips back just as hard.
When Robin enters the aquarium hours later, Zoro is already there. The lights are off, leaving only a soothing blue glow cast across the room. Zoro’s sprawled out on the couch, facing the tank with his feet kicked up on the coffee table, and Luffy sits slumped against him, gently turning Hat by its brim over and over, round and round, turn after turn. She’s timed this carefully.
Zoro is the only one that gets to see Luffy’s tears. As long as Zoro is around to offer support, she’ll honor that commitment Luffy feels to the image of Captain. Although there are many ways in which he’s unconventional, Luffy wants his crew to know he is a strong, steady leader. A Captain, through and through. He wants to be relied on. Not the other way around.
But for all that he can move mountains at only a glance, he is still only nineteen. Brook and Franky and her feel protective over him, in a sense. He is their Captain, but he’s also their Luffy. Just theirs, beyond any and all crew dynamics. Just Luffy.
And his young shoulders carry so much grief.
She sits at his other side and brushes shaggy hair out of his face idly, scratching a little at the scalp in just the way he likes.
“Everything’s taken care of, Captain,” Robin tells him. Garp’s fleet had disappeared over the horizon line an hour or so ago, which is when Zoro disappeared looking for Luffy. In the end, there was no fight to be had. The fleet had simply… left.
Not a single Strawhat had moved from the deck until Franky had given the all-clear that the ships were out of range, unable to make any sort of attack.
All at once, Luffy collapses, his face tucked into her shoulder and his rubber arms slung around her in a hug completely unlike his usual, which are all flailing, rubber-limbs and impossibly tight embraces. This is simply a collapse, an exhausted kid with too much weight on his shoulders seeking comfort. Robin embraces him, getting an extra hand in his hair to soothe even more, and holding him with all the strength he gives her.
“I just can’t,” Luffy whispers. “Not yet. I can’t forgive him yet.”
“You don’t have to,” Robin tells him. “You don’t owe him anything.”
“Ace wouldn’t want me to be upset,” he hiccups, though his eyes remain dry where they’re pressed tight into the skin of her neck.
She holds him tighter, this impossible boy. “Ace would understand.”
“I just don’t get it.” His voice aches, and here Robin finds the grief that he’s so carefully hidden from the rest of the crew. Finds the scars of Marineford that live deeper than the puckered flesh of his chest. “I don’t understand why. Or, I do… but I thought… I thought it would be different. If it was Ace.”
“He was wrong, Luffy. He wronged you both. And he knows it.” She squeezes him, tucking her face into the top of his head like she remembers her mother doing for her. “We know it.”
After another minute or two, Luffy gently pulls away, wiping his nose on his arm and sniffling, blinking red-rimmed eyes up at her before re-settling Hat where it belongs.
Robin smiles and says, “I was waiting for your birthday, but I think you’ll appreciate the surprise anyways…”
His eyes light up. “Surprise?! Is it food!?”
Zoro throws his head back and laughs.
“No, but I did hear that Sanji-kun was thinking barbecue tonight.” Luffy cheers and allows Robin to take his arm, leading him like she’d lead a lady to a fancy ball towards the Galley. “I think you’ll like this surprise anyways.”
In the galley that smells like cooking meat, crammed to bursting with their little family, Robin inputs a number in the Den-Den she’s had memorized for two-years.
The line connects with a little click.
“Party’s Bar, this is Makino.”
Luffy leaps for the receiver with a smile splitting his face ear to ear and cries, “MAKINO!”
As she leaves them to their talk, Sanji passes her an iced-tea. “How long you’ve been sitting on that one?” he asks, giving her a sly smile.
“Franky just finished boosting our call range last week. It was going to be a birthday present,” she says. “A little early gift never hurt anyone.”
Sanji rolls his eyes, grinning with all his teeth around an unlit cigarette. “You softie,” he teases her, fond.
“Wait until you see what Franky has planned for the party.” She mimes an explosion carefully, moving her lips in a soundless mimic of fireworks. Sanji groans theatrically, complaining about the inevitable mess, but the disgruntled air doesn’t reach his eyes. In the background, Luffy is carefully introducing every member of the crew to Makino over the transponder, the Den-Den’s eyes watering despite grinning wide enough to hurt.
They’re all a bit soft for Luffy, after all.