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sweets and chains can't keep away the king's straw hat

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Unbeknownst to many, Luffy is not born to the sound of salty waters crashing against the coast, nor is he born to the sound of windmills in an unassuming village, but to the smell of sweets in a castle whose walls are made of cake.

He isn’t born laughing either, as one may believe. He’s born crying as any other baby does, with screams that bounce off the walls as the sound of drums that a handful of people claim to have heard on that day; not his mother though. Luffy’s mother is, as she had been with the rest of her kids, irritated with cries that seemed to grate her ears as nails in a chalkboard.

It’s not to say that she does not love him.

But, ah, well, that’s… not exactly it, not really. It’s a complicated situation, some might say, as an excuse for not truly grasping whatever the situation entails. He is loved, or, at least, whatever semblance of true maternal love that a monster such as Charlotte Linlin can have towards a creature of her own.

As long as the kid makes her happy, that is.

Children must listen to their parents, her own parents used to say. Good children are obedient, Mother Caramel used to say. Children are made to obey their parents, she understood.

They must obey her, as any other being should do.

Most importantly she had learned that one must obey their captain; pledge loyalty and follow without hesitation their orders because a captain’s orders —a king’s orders— can’t ever be questioned, and first and foremost, Charlotte Linlin, above all, above a mother, is a pirate.

A captain in her own volition, nonetheless.

But, truly, that’s besides the point right now.

The point is, that on the 5th of May of a certain year, in a room filled with the scent of mint and coconut, as the mother, but not the father, and a bunch of doctors become witnesses, Charlotte D. Luffy takes a breath for the first time.

━━━━━━━━━━

The very first years of Luffy’s life are spent running around between chocolate paths and gingerbread houses.

Singing flowers and talking houses, dancing teapots and smiley chandeliers, monkeys dressed in silk and white rabbits running late to a tea party with a clock in hand, such as the ones in books like Alice in Wonderland that Chiffon likes to read.

The childish wonder of a normal person at the sight of this isn't present in Luffy, not anymore.

For him, and for the dozen and hundred and thousand of siblings he has, it’s normal. The sky is blue and so is the ocean and there’s nothing extraordinary with living furniture.

Do not get things wrong, Luffy was amazed at first, at the very beginning; though, he was too young to remember a time when the doors asking him where he was going this time was a matter of wonder.

It was bound to happen, that loss of wonder, as things straight out from a fairy tale would be utterly mundane if you were to live in said fairy tale.

(Or a mockery of one, at least.)

As such, Luffy answers the doors without halting in his step, and whatever they reply falls on deaf ears. Take care and don’t run in the halls and stop slamming me closed, brat! drowned over the ‘slap, slap, slap’ that his straw sandals make echo in the empty candy halls as he runs.

The soldiers at the door of the castle don’t even bother to ask before they start to pull open the huge doors.

It’s not necessary, Oven was here today and left a hole with his shape on it.

Luffy jumps through the hole with practiced ease, letting out an ‘ouch!’ where some of his skin makes contact with the still very hot edges of melted iron, but it doesn’t stop him and neither does the yelled ‘don’t get into trouble this time, Luffy!’ of one of his siblings.

Whole Cake Island is not a small island, but it’s not huge by any means; certainly couldn’t compete with countries like Alabasta or Wano. But Totto Land, as a whole, with its bunch of islands— well, still can’t, but would be big enough to take two or three cities there. It’s not huge by any means, but it can be said that it is bigger than those like Goa Kingdom or Desdrossa.

Totto Land is huge, Whole Cake Island is big, but for a child like Luffy… not so much.

For a child like Luffy, whose hunger for adventure it’s so big that could rival Mama’s hunger episodes, that whole island takes about one year —or less— to explore in its entirety.

There wasn’t much to explore, anyways.

Gingerbread houses and chocolate paths, gummy fences and licorice grass, lollipop trees and chewing gum benches, hard candy fountains with something cloyingly sweet for water.

Sweet city takes most of the space there, plus the castle in the middle can't possibly be described as small. Still, nothing particularly exciting. As we have established before, not only is it not enticing for a person that has grown here (the street where your house is placed isn’t especially noteworthy, is it?) and Luffy lives for excitement, for adventure!

So, most of the time Luffy spends it alone exploring the Seducing Woods.

Butterfly net in hand, where there aren’t any structured paths nor gingerbread houses (other than Brûlée’s, but Luffy isn’t allowed to go in there ever since he made the big mirror fall once) and the trees rise so high to cover up the sun.

The creatures there indulge him, twisting and twisting into elaborate labyrinths as Luffy hunts for insects.

It’s fun, if a bit lonely, and the only thing that puts that ‘a bit’ instead of simply declaring that it is lonely, it’s the fact that it’s kind of hard to be alone with talking objects everywhere.

Fun, if a bit lonely, but Luffy makes it work.

It’s not like there is much else to do in the castle, anyways, and fighting with his siblings gets boring and very annoying, especially when Luffy is right and next thing he knows is that Pretzel is trying to stab his eye out with a fork and so Luffy bites her so hard that he snaps the bone of her fingers.

(Children reflect what they see, and the thing that the Charlotte children witness the most is violence, as such, childish fights escalate very, very quickly.)

Butterfly net in hand, Luffy likes to spend his time getting lost in the Seducing Woods.

━━━━━━━━━━

Luffy has caught nine chocolate beetles, a mantis made of pretzel sticks, five butterflies made from sugar, and eleven gummy caterpillars when he stumbles upon cracked pieces of glass.

He blinks at the broken crystal on the floor, letting a caramel frog hop away.

He stares at it for a second, until it dawns on him what the broken crystal is and he gasps.

If there’s something that makes Brûlée really, really angry is when people smash her mirrors.

The mirrors aren’t Brûlée’s treasure, he knows, but are important to her the same way an artist cares for their brushes. So, Luffy turns around and glares at one of the trees.

“It wasn’t me!” The tree cries. “It was like this when I found it! If you are going to blame someone, blame the flowers!”

“But it wasn’t me!” A flower yells. “Why am I getting blamed when it’s obvious that the shrubbery did it!”

“I don’t even have arms to crack the mirror! The trees did it, I saw it all! I saw it all! They should get chopped down and turned into books for it!”

“It was the flower. I tell you!” The tree cries again. “Cut them all up with a mower!”

“You should get burned into ashes for this! Why would I want to get rid of it?!” The narcissus exclaims. “If the mirror’s loss means that I won’t be able to admire my beauty?”

“Fake and cheap and a liar you are!”

“It was a man.” The road says in a lowered voice, as if it was intimidated by something, but Mama is not here, so it doesn’t make sense.

“A man?” Luffy repeats.

“An intruder.”

The trees and the flowers and the shrubbery all stumble affirmations, sing-song voices that chorus that the accusations before were just a lie, a prank! Laughing at how good friends they all are!

Luffy thinks it is quite annoying, but his mind immediately latches on to the word ‘intruder’. Ignoring as the trees and the flowers lie, calling death upon each other like some of his siblings do, he turns around and walks away.

He has far more interesting things to do than see the trees and flowers fight. An intruder in the forest! Luffy has never met an intruder before, and that can just mean one thing.

It’s an adventure!

“Take me where he is!” Luffy tells the path, and after a moment of hesitation, it starts moving. But with an ‘ah!’ Luffy immediately stomps his foot to the ground in a quick demand for it to stop as he realizes something. “No, wait! I will do it!”

Where’s the fun if the path just takes him there?

Adventures are supposed to be mysterious and exciting!

Luffy will find the intruder on his own!

Determined, Luffy takes a look at the cracked mirror, and with a nod to himself, walks past it. Avoids stepping on the pieces of mirror left. He walks, looking around the woods in search of an intruder.

He walks and walks and then walks for a little longer.

How are intruders supposed to look in the first place?

Oh, well, he will figure that out, eventually.

Caramel frogs and chocolate beetles seem to appear more and more and in every place he looks. Insistently trying to steal his attention— and succeeding.

Luffy gets sidetracked because there’s a lot and he will go back to search when he’s done catching them all.

That goes for a while until he steps on something and the sound of a ‘crack!’ reaches his ears. His head snaps down, raising a foot to see what he stepped on to be met with bits of glass cracking more under his sandals.

Brûlée would get angry at him for it, but Luffy didn’t do it on purpose and it’s not like Brûlée is here, and it was already broken!

Well, whatever, doesn’t matter.

What’s important is that there is another broken mirror!

Luffy smiles wider, running off past the broken pieces. Does he know where he is going? Not at all! But excitement for the unknown fills his veins in a way that makes energy fill his body to the brim.

“Don’t get in my way!” Luffy yells to the forest, followed by the sound of his own laughter.

Reluctantly, the living everything in the Seducing Woods does as they were told to and stay in place.

Not out of respect, nor fear, or anything like that. Luffy may have the charisma of a king but doesn’t have the authority of one —not yet— But has the blood of Charlotte Linlin running through his body and, during this time, still holds the title of Big Mom’s son as a shackle.

The Seducing Woods are obligated to obey their master, and that includes (the ones she recognizes as) her children.

Luffy runs through the woods, and this time, not a single one of the insects in his way manages to distract him. He runs, stepping on some, and the sweet substance they are made of splashes in the path and on his feet, leaving it all sticky but Luffy doesn’t particularly care.

He finds more broken mirrors quite easily, as the forest is still, and it used to be full of mirrors; none of which the intruder spared.

If Luffy had been anything other than Luffy, then the sheer amount of broken mirrors would have deterred him; make him hesitate to the point of fear then promptly made him turn around and go to Mama or one of his siblings with his shirt gripped tight in his hands and tell them about an intruder.

But as he is, his grin only gets wider.

Not once, does it occur to him that with all the mirrors cracked into tiny pieces, practically dust that Luffy is just able to know is there thanks to the sound that it makes when he steps on it, that, like this, he will find himself confined with an intruder, a possible enemy —that is well aware of his sister’s power, who is to say he doesn’t know more?— as Brûlée isn’t able to see a thing, and if she does, then she won’t be able to save him in time.

To be fair, it is not like Luffy knows that Brûlée can go through mirrors.

He just thinks she’s very, very fast but knows that she cheats with her mirrors on the few, barely there but there times they play hide-and-seek, which is more than Luffy can say about the rest of his siblings.

It doesn’t take long before Luffy finds himself closer and closer to the coast.

Until he reaches it.

He stops immediately, so abruptly that the straps of his sandals dig into his skin. It hurts a little, but Luffy doesn’t pay it any mind, too focused on the sight of a man sitting on the coast.

Luffy smiles, grabbing his butterfly net with both hands, but before he can take another step. A small lollipop flower pops up in front of him, determined eyes that don’t hold any real defiance stare at him.

“Don’t go.” The lollipop flower says, not as an order, no. A simple homie demanding something from one of Mama’s children? How outrageous would that be!

Homies have their place, their role, their job and that is obeying.

But the homies are tasked with protecting the young ones, you see, watch out for those whose force has yet to develop.

It’s not really care that it holds, it’s obedience, mixed with self-preservation, because if something were to happen to one of Mama’s kids, even more so to someone as special as Luffy, then it doesn’t matter if it was the result of his own mistake, because the homies will be the ones to face punishment.

So, the lollipop flower stands in his way, but at the end of the day, they can’t really go against direct orders. As such, when Luffy rushes past it, butterfly net in hand, it can’t do more than plead at him to not go.

Luffy is not worried, though.

He approaches the man with the opposite of subtlety. Yet the man doesn’t turn back to see him, doesn’t move, even when he felt his presence hours ago.

Though, of course, Luffy isn’t aware of that last part.

Butterfly net raised high, in one practiced motion of years upon years (two) of practice catching bugs, Luffy brings it down on him.

The net catches on his head and Luffy laughs in pride.

“You caught me.” The man says in a serious tone, way too serious considering there’s a butterfly net on his head and a kid laughing at him.

“I did!”

A beat.

“Can you let me go?”

Another beat.

“Um.”

He’s not really sure what to do.

It’s not like Mama ever lets go of the people she catches, either she kills them or puts them in a book. But Luffy doesn’t want to do either of those.

But, yeah, sure, why not, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Luffy doesn’t think he’s a bad guy. He stares at a second at the back of the man and, yep, definitely not a bad guy. He was just sitting there. “Alright!” And while he takes the net off his head, Luffy declares: “But don’t forget that I won!”

“I wasn’t aware that we were playing a game.”

“It wasn’t a game, it was a fight.”

“My bad. I wasn’t aware that we were fighting.”

“But I caught you, and that means I won, right?” Luffy nods, satisfied with his own reasoning, and walks to be in front of the man. Taking a look at his face, serious features and deep eyes. What catches Luffy’s attention is another thing. “What’s with those red lines on your face?”

One hand appears from under the green cloak he’s wearing, touching the left side of his face in consideration before he settles on an answer. “Just a tattoo.”

“Ah.” Luffy lets out, disappointed. He thought it was going to be more interesting. “Really?”

“Really.”

Luffy hums, plopping down in front of the man. “The path says you are an intruder.”

He nods. “I am.”

“Mama doesn’t like intruders.” Luffy tells him, because Luffy kind of likes the guy —Yeah, it has been less than five minutes, what does that have to do with anything?— and he thinks he should know because Mama can be really mean.

“And you?”

“What?”

“Do you like intruders?”

Luffy blinks, that’s kind of a weird thing to ask, he thinks, but he answers truthfully. “I think I would have to meet them first to see if I like them or not.”

As a child of Big Mom, his answer must have been a firm no, like his siblings (should) do, and immediately take measures to capture the intruder —or kill them— because this is their (Captain’s) Mama’s territory, and they are bound to defend it, to honor their mother and punish those who dare to disgrace her like that.

But, Luffy has never been one to care about any of that, about things like obligations or things that he’s supposed to do just because of his position in this world.

An anomaly, a special case, some would call him, with the environment he spends the first years of his life he should be one to easily obey.

Nature vs nurture, what a curious case, some would say. In Luffy’s case, the person that he is, himself, will always come on top, despite the circumstances, as such, he adds: “And you are not that bad.”

“Thank you.” The man answers, far too sincere and far too serious considering he just got the approval of a five-year-old.

If anybody else were to see this interaction: a serious-looking man whose mere presence commands respect, taking in the nonsensical words of a carefree five-year-old with the same importance one would have for the words of a king, then that anybody would definitely laugh.

As it is, the only ones here are the serious-looking man, a carefree five-year-old, a bunch of broken mirrors, and the creatures of a living forest who are far too intimidated to approach even less to laugh.

“Mama really doesn’t like intruders,” Luffy says again because he should really know. “And she’s very, very strong— and my siblings too!”

“Don’t worry, I’m strong too.”

“You are? Are you here to kill Mama?”

“I’m not.”

“Right! It’s not like you could, anyways.” Luffy nods because that’s what his siblings say, because he has heard stories of ‘that time someone tried to stab Mama and the spear broke!’ or ‘that time a giant tried to step on Mama but she held his boot and ripped out his leg!’ “Mama can’t die.”

“Everyone dies.” The man says, calm as the sea, yet, the sea holds strength even when calmest, as such, his words are strong too. It feels like a big revelation, but it doesn’t exactly dawn on him as it should as he has yet to have a taste of death —It won’t be until Sabo’s first death that Luffy will understand— “It may seem impossible, especially for those whose force can split the sky in two and for those who are born in heaven. But, power doesn’t equal being undefeated as much as it doesn’t equal being immortal. Situations change, as do relationships. The world changes, but a fact that will remain eternal, is that people die, Luffy.”

Harsh words, perhaps, to say to a kid. A harsh truth to make a five-year-old kid understand, too early, some might say. But the truth isn’t always nice, and the man —which we all should know who he is by now— is a firm believer that truth should be known, even if it hurts.

Yes, truth isn’t always nice and the world that they live in is harsh, as such, the earlier concepts like this are understood, the better.

“...Mama can lose?”

Even if not completely. But it’s alright, everything and its own time.

“She can.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not here to kill her, either way.” He assures. “I just thought you should know.”

“Oh.” Luffy says again. “Oh! Good!”

The sun is hot but, for some reason, the wind seems to have picked up out of nowhere, so it doesn’t feel too hot. His feet are still sticky with candy, and he separates his toes a couple of times, laughing at the sensation of sticky skin separating from each other.

“What are you doing here then?”

The man stares at him for a long, long second before turning his eyes to the sea. “Just on a stroll.”

And, again, if this had been any other person, the sheer absurdity of the statement would have warning bells ringing in their heads. Who the hell would be on Whole Cake Island without being a citizen, the main island of an Emperor’s territory, just on a stroll?

It’s an obvious lie.

But, of course, Luffy doesn’t think twice about any of that.

“Just that? Have you caught any bugs?”

Mister Intruder, as Luffy has decided to name him, huffs slightly in amusement, corners of his lips raising up a little before they go back to the straight line that is his mouth. “I have not.”

“What!?”

“I haven’t seen any, as a matter of fact.”

Luffy lets out an incredulous gasp. “Not even one!?”

“Not even one.”

“How!?”

For starters, the man isn’t interested in bugs, nor catching them, but he doesn’t mention that. “You could say that my presence intimidates them.” He says, pointedly staring at one of the trees that had strayed a little too close and it immediately flees to the other side of the forest.

“What about you? Have you caught many bugs?”

Still reeling from the shock that Mister Intruder hasn’t seen any bugs here —and doesn’t even have a butterfly net with him! How does he expect to catch any!?— it takes a second for the words to reach Luffy, but when they do he smiles wide. “Yes! I have caught like a thousand!”

Luffy stands up with a jump, digging one hand in his pocket and grabbing a handful of the candy bugs shoved in there (that are mostly dead by now because, you know, were shoved in his pocket) and takes it out with a sticky hand, showing them to Mister Intruder.

“That’s a lot.”

“It is!” Luffy says, laughing proudly. “I am very good.”

“So you are.”

Mister Intruder then extends a hand, gently grabbing the mantis made from pretzel sticks that, even though it’s dead, still, miraculously, remain in one piece except for one of its arms.

He stares at it for a minute, before putting it back in Luffy’s hand and next grabbing one of the (half-melted) chocolate beetles and inspecting it, and just as he did with the pretzel mantis, he puts it back in Luffy’s hand.

“You are not going to eat any?”

“Can I?”

“Sure.” Luffy nods. “There’s a bunch of bugs here, anyway, and I’m very good at catching them. It’s fun!”

“Thank you, but I will pass.” He says, grabbing a broken wing of a sugar butterfly next. It crumbles in his grasp, delicate fragments of sweet white powder falling to the ground. “Ah, my bad.” He apologizes, and as with everything he does, he apologizes seriously.

“Mister Intruder, have you never seen bugs before?” Luffy asks after watching the way he looks at the candy bugs. He had said he hadn’t seen any bugs, but Luffy didn’t think he meant he hadn’t seen one during all his life!

“Not made out of sweets, no.”

“Uh? What do you mean?” Luffy blinks, the only bugs he has ever seen are, as the rest of this place is, made out of candy. “What kind of bugs have you seen?”

“The real ones.”

Luffy takes a look at the bugs in his hand, then at the man, and back to the bugs before frowning. “These are real.”

“...Right.” Mister Intruder says and Luffy wonders if the man is stupid because he isn’t making much sense. “The kind of bugs I have seen are made of…” The man stops and frowns, as if he didn’t know either. “Aren’t made out of candy, the ones from outside.”

“Outside?”

The man hums as an answer, turning his gaze to the sea and after a beat, Luffy follows his gaze. Nothing can be seen, from here, more than salty water that, according to his siblings, at some point turns into juice.

Luffy’s eyes practically budge out of his sockets when he realizes what Mister Intruder means. Inhaling deep like a vacuum in surprise, Luffy whips his head to face the man again so fast that something in his neck cracks, bugs completely forgotten. “You aren’t from here!?”

“I did say I was an intruder.”

“But you didn’t say you were from outside!” Luffy argues before he decides that isn’t important because he told him now. “How is it!? Is it true that things aren’t made of candy!? How big is the sea!? Are there really a million islands outside of Totto Land!?” But, more importantly. “Can you take me with you!?”

The man stops, before turning to Luffy.

He doesn’t answer any of Luffy’s questions —which does piss Luffy off— instead, wise eyes search for something in Luffy’s young face.

Completely ignoring Luffy’s own questions, the man asks one of his own.

“Why do you wish to set sail?”

“I want to be a pirate!”

“If I take you out to the sea, would you wish to come back here?”

Luffy frowns. “Well, yeah.”

“Why?”

“It’s my home.”

The man sighs deeply and passes a hand through his face. Both answers don’t seem to have satisfied him, which, Luffy can’t even begin to get an idea on why because it is not as if he’s lying!

“No, Luffy.” He musters as if the words weighed tons. “I won’t take you with me.”

Luffy freezes, gaping at the man and frowning, frustration and anger swimming in circles inside of him. “Why not!? I want to go!”

His protests die in his throat in confusion when a hand is placed on Luffy’s head, big and warm, and the man ruffles his hair slightly.

It feels like an apology.

“Not yet.”

━━━━━━━━━━

Luffy is favored over a lot of his siblings.

It’s nothing weird, not really. Charlotte Linlin simply prefers some children over others, and she doesn’t even bother to pretend otherwise.

In simple terms, the favorites are the older children.

If you want the long explanation, then the ones that Charlotte Linlin prefers aren’t necessarily the older ones, but the ones that are most useful to her; those who have obtained high positions and great strength; the older ones have done it over time, which makes it nearly impossible for the younger ones to catch up by the same means. Thanks to that, the ones that wish for a higher rank now (and are desperate for attention from mommy dearest) have to resort to other methods, strategic ones.

If the older children did it through strength, then the younger children do it by brain.

Now, where does that leave little kids like Luffy that, somehow, have managed to capture her attention without being capable of anything yet?

The answer is simple: Potential. Expectations.

Now, don’t get confused, every single one of the Charlotte children has expectations thrust upon them the moment they are born, big expectations. What’s and how’s of a million dozen questions, branching out of the simple: How will they be?

How will they make Mama proud?

There are big expectations for Luffy.

And between all the differences between Luffy and his siblings, ranging from the fact that he’s more willing to disobey Mama to the fact that he rather not use weapons, this is another of the differences that set them apart.

Yes, it is true that all the Charlottes have big expectations on them, but Luffy’s ones are overly insane.

There are huge expectations for Luffy because he has the potential to fulfill them, or so Linlin (believes) knows with the certainty that comes from sailing at sea and getting to know the world, its secrets, and its anomalies.

It’s on the name, of course.

Charlotte D. Luffy.

The D’s, she had mused, are practically a race on its own. If she wants to create a nation where all races can live happily together, then at least one D must be here.

Just one, no more; no two, no three, no four. One, because Linlin has seen their ambition, has seen the clashes this causes, and has seen the aftermath in God Valley.

But it’s that same ambition, that same something that made Rocks great —and, she doesn’t like to admit this because she fucking hates Roger’s guts, especially after the Poneglyph Incident, but, yes, what made him great too— can make her greater than she already is.

Yes, would be the answer.

Yes, she specifically searched for a man with a D on his name for the sole purpose of conceiving a child with her blood and that name. It took years, decades, until she finally found Dragon, when the whispers of a dead god at his hands were no longer whispers.

It had been another battle on its own convincing him, and Linlin had been close to reaching the point for more… ah, crude methods, but the man had accepted on his own.

(Dragon had been untrustworthy, even back then, and he had not bothered to pretend otherwise, but neither did Linlin. Yet, whatever the reasons had made him say ‘yes’ remain a mystery, one of which Linlin was, and still is, extremely wary of, but as threatening as those could be, Linlin will never be as cautious as she is impatient.)

So, yeah, it is thanks to that potential, to that D, that Luffy is one of Big Mom’s favorites.

Who is to say how he will grow up to be?

A high rank, that’s for sure, they whisper; not a single one of Linlin’s kids is weak. None of them couldn’t ever hope to hold something resembling weakness. Not unless they wanted to stay and not be pulled out like a tooth that’s being holed up from the inside by a cavity.

A high rank, higher than a combatant, an officer, and perhaps, they will be lucky enough to have a new sweet general among them.

A king, Linlin is certain, like Katakuri.

A king, but not one that holds more authority than her.

A king that kneels to her and only her because she conquers them all.

Whatever the case, that kid will undoubtedly help her reach the One Piece, make her the King of the Pirates, Linlin is certain, and so the only thing left would be for the recently born Third-Eye to awaken her eye.

━━━━━━━━━━

Chiffon is a very kind person.

Weird, Luffy thinks sometimes, but kind.

Sweet in a genuine way that’s awfully weird in a place like this; A sweetness that doesn’t stick in the mouth like overly sticky taffies and leaves the teeth aching. A genuine sweetness, where you don’t stay wary of it because it won’t leave you with a sweet taste that it’s so sweet that is disgusting and leaves you retching and wondering if it actually was spoiled.

Sweet, but not cloying so.

Luffy likes her!

She isn’t his favorite sibling, nor sister. Luffy doesn’t have any favorite siblings, not really, and is not like they spend that much together. Chiffon is a Minister, she has her own island and her own things to take care of.

She’s busy, too much to actually spend more time with Luffy than he would like, too busy to spend a significant amount of time with people outside her own island.

Perhaps she would be his favorite if they spent more time together.

But it’s alright! Because the few times Chiffon is here —on Whole Cake Island— Luffy gravitates towards her with the childish excitement one has for older siblings when they finally agree to play with them.

(Which, you would think would be very common in a family as big as theirs, but, alas.)

It’s kind of an unfair analogy, as Luffy doesn’t have to insist with fervor for her to actually spend time with him because Chiffon always indulges him.

They are in the kitchen today, and, true to her name, making a Chiffon Cake— Well, more like Chiffon is making the cake and Luffy is eating the cake batter.

“Luffy, you are going to get sick if you eat all of it.”

“I’m not.” Luffy declares with all the wisdom of a stubborn (almost) six-year-old, and his oh, so wise argument is: “It tastes good.”

“I know it tastes good—”

“Yeah! I mean, everything Chiffon makes tastes good.”

Chiffon startles with a laugh, almost dropping the kitchen palette in her hand into the bowl she’s mixing. Her cheeks are red and a small smile adorns her lips. “Thank you, Luffy.” But, despite how happy it makes her hear those words, Chiffon can’t let him eat all the batter (again) “But you still can’t eat it all.”

“But it tastes good!”

“I know, Luffy.” Chiffon nods. “But your stomach will hurt if you eat it all.”

“My stomach is strong.”

Chiffon laughs, setting aside the bowl —out of reach from Luffy’s grabby hands— and turning to him with her hands on her hips. “Luffy.”

He frowns. “You can always make more.”

“Yes, but it will take a long time, and it doesn’t change that you will vomit after eating it all.”

Ah, Luffy doesn’t like throwing up. Still: “Then why does it taste nice?”

“A lot of things that taste nice are bad.”

“That’s stupid.”

“It is, right?” Chiffon smiles. “But if I make the cake then it will taste better and it won’t be bad. So, if you will?” Chiffon ends, extending a hand towards him for him to give the bowl back.

Luffy looks at her hand as if it personally offended him. “But you said that the cake was for Mama.”

Chiffon deflates, slightly. Smile falling from her face as she does every time someone mentions Mama, which is weird. Luffy frowns at it because he would rather have her happy than… whatever this is.

So he gives her the bowl back, with one condition.

“I want to lick the spoon.”

That snaps her out of it a little, with a chuckle she takes the bowl back with hesitant fingers and a small nod of thanks. “Sure.” Then it seems to think about it for a second. “I will make you a small cake for you with what’s left.”

“Really!? Thanks!”

Chiffon is still somber when she goes back to work, lethargic.

Luffy stares at her for a minute in contemplation.

“You don’t like Mama?”

Chiffon jumps out of her skin, and then turns to him with a face that’s a mix of surprise and a wince. “I— No, no, it’s not that.” Chiffon tries. “It’s just… she can be very cruel, sometimes. You know?”

Luffy does, but at the same time doesn’t.

He has seen Mama take the lives of her enemies in one single sweep, has heard her words towards some of his siblings, and he has been subject to some of her scary scolds and mean words— like that time he let go of some creature in one of the books.

But, Luffy is also pampered by her.

Favoritism plays a huge role in his treatment, and so things he has done and said, argumentably, should have ended in far worse punishments than screaming at him —that ends up in a couple broken windows— and not leaving the castle for one month.

Luffy knows she’s mean, sometimes, but he wouldn’t say cruel, because he hasn’t experienced that cruelty first hand.

Luffy doesn’t reply.

Chiffon puts the cake in the oven and goes to sit beside him on the counter, handing him the battered-covered spoon.

“Mama is just… really mad at me.” Chiffon continues after a second.

“Why?”

Chiffon opens her mouth and closes it. “...I failed to do something. Something that Mama really wanted—”

“Chiffon.” A voice says from the kitchen door, making Chiffon flinch and Luffy’s head snap at the sound. It’s the little man whose name Luffy can’t be bothered to remember, it’s hard to pronounce, and Luffy doesn’t like him, anyways. But she’s really good friends with Mama.

“Streusen!”

“What are you doing here?” A pause. “And why are you two sitting on my kitchen counters?”

“Ah! Nothing! It’s just— I’m sorry.” Chiffon jumps down the counter. Luffy doesn’t, sticks his tongue to the little man. His eye twitches. “I am making a cake! You know, for Mama before I go see her…” Little man doesn’t reply, and Chiffon’s voice gets more hesitant by the second. “I thought that maybe with something sweet she won’t—”

“You are stalling.”

Chiffon swallows, cleaning the sweat from her hands in her dress. “I—”

“Linlin will get impatient. Hurry up.” Little man cuts in, and yells: “And don’t forget to tidy up my kitchen when you are done!” Before he walks out of the room.

Chiffon’s hands are knuckled whited on her tight grasp on her dress. She’s staring insistently at her own blue shoes. Her shoulders are rigid, drawn upon herself.

She looks scared, Luffy doesn’t like that.

Luffy jumps from the counter, walking towards her and when she doesn’t react, he pulls on her white dress to grab her attention. Her wide eyes snap out to him, and Luffy extends his battered-covered spoon up to her.

Chiffon grabs it with trembling hands.

She takes a look at the oven, at the slowly growing cake inside. “It will be fine.” She mutters to herself. Luffy hears it.

“Of course it will be fine, your cakes are good!”

She smiles.

It doesn’t reach her eyes.

━━━━━━━━━━

Whenever the wind is strong, the man is here.

Somehow, Luffy is able to pick up on it after some time, a certain shift in the breeze that he can’t explain why but just feels different. Mister Intruder comes a couple of times more, sporadic and in-between, always on the coast, in the Seducing Woods.

“You are really good friends with the woods.” Luffy notes one day while drawing another board of ‘tic tac toe’ in the sand with a stick that used to be the nose of the biggest tree.

At their back, the woods are absolutely and utterly terrified of the man, scared enough to not mention to anybody the fact that an intruder has been here about three or four times and just keeps coming, but it has been about a year since it first happened, and by now, if they were to mention it, well…

For what it counts, the Seducing Woods can be smart when it really matters.

“You could say that.”

“Yeah!” Luffy agrees. “You would be lost, otherwise.”

Mister Intruder hums as an answer, watching Luffy draw the most crooked lines to ever exist in the sand and drawing an ‘x’ in the middle and turning eagerly to the man.

Wordlessly, he draws a circle with his finger in the corner.

“You are always here at the tea parties.” Mister Intruder asks. “Is there a reason for that?”

“I am not allowed there yet.” Luffy muses absently, looking where to draw the other ‘x’ because Mister Intruder is really good at this game and Luffy doesn’t want to lose again. “And you are always here at tea parties too, even though I thought grown-ups could get in.”

“People who are invited can get in.” The man draws another circle. “I—”

Luffy frowns. “Stop talking. You are distracting me.”

“My bad.”

Luffy stares at the board for a minute, and, with a nod, draws another x, and turns to see the man with a grin when he realizes that he can put another and win. “If I win this one, you will take me out to the sea.” He challenges.

The man nods, draws a circle, and in one swift motion, drags his finger through the sand making a straight line.

“I won.”

Luffy’s head snaps at the board.

“What!?”

“Good game.”

“That’s not fair! Did you cheat!?” Luffy whines, and then points at the blank space where an ‘x’ would make a diagonal line with the other two. “Look! I just needed one more!”

“Maybe next time.”

Luffy throws the stick at him, but the man’s hand shoots up before it can collide with his face and catches it with ease. He stares at Luffy for a second before he throws it back at him —though, with significantly less force than Luffy did— The stick hits him in the forehead and Luffy lets out a surprised ‘ah!’.

“Don’t glare at me like that. You are the one who threw the stick at me first.”

Ah, well, that’s true.

Luffy sighs and takes another look at the image of his defeat once again. “How are you so good at this game?”

“Practice, I would say.”

Well that’s not fair, Luffy doesn’t have anyone to practice with.

“Does this mean you are not taking me with you?”

“You were the one that set the condition,” Mister Intruder reminds him. “and you lost. So, no.”

Luffy blinks. “If I hadn’t said that—”

“Still a no.”

“Bastard!” Luffy snaps at him. “You are just like my siblings.”

Mister Intruder stays silent for a second, considering something before he speaks again. “Is that a bad thing?”

“Dunno.” Luffy shrugs. “Is it?”

“Why are you asking me? I have no way of knowing that.”

Luffy frowns, kicking a rock with his foot and when he gives no indication of saying anything, the man continues.

“Do you like them?”

“Yes.” Luffy answers immediately and then stops. “No. I mean, some of them?”

If there’s one word to describe the Charlotte Family, it would be over-complicated.

And violent, of course, can never forget about the violence.

In fact, Luffy’s first birthday present had been a pair of brass knuckles. Too big for his tiny hands, and too heavy, but —and this is a fact that Luffy remembers vividly, one of those small and specific snapshots of early memory you don’t know when they happened, but know they happened— his Mama had told reassured him with a ‘don’t worry, you will grow into them’ followed by a ‘mamamama!’

(She had also said ‘and you will become strong enough to wield them’ and that had sounded a lot less like an assurance and more like a warning. But she had laughed more after and asked how long until they ate her birthday cake, so Luffy hadn’t thought much about it.)

Luffy doesn’t use them, as it was said, too big for his hands. But is not like he liked the feeling of cold metal pressed so tightly around his fingers, and he had discovered that fighting barehanded was way more fun.

Yet the brass knuckles were never thrown away, remaining untouched on his (half-ate) cookie nightstand.

Still, that’s just another reason on the ever-growing pile of reasons why the Charlottes are such a mess.

Luffy likes his siblings!

Well, sometimes.

He likes them, except for the times he doesn’t.

Truth is, Luffy doesn’t… particularly care?

He doesn’t know more than half of his siblings, barely interacts with the rest, and the ones he does (that don’t have many options because they are around the same age) aren’t that great, too focused on other things, or too keen on winning without the fun part or are assholes because Luffy is one of Mama’s favorites.

It’s not like he doesn’t care, because he does!

They are his siblings, after all, and there are some nice moments between the violence and the indifference that Luffy clings to, that makes him feel as if he isn’t alone, where he —and probably the rest— get reminded that they really are family, that they care.

Like those few times Brûlée plays hide-and-seek with them; or Mont-d’Or tells them stories, or Chiffon comes and they do something; or those (very rare) times where one of them takes the time to tell them about their adventures at sea or (even more rare) brings them some nice trinkets secretly from Mama.

Still, a lot of them are real bastards, though.

Luffy doesn’t hate any of his siblings, per se. He just really, really doesn’t like some of them, like Pretzel, or Mint, who are very annoying, and make fun of Luffy because of his name.

“I like some of them.” Luffy concludes with a nod. “Like Chiffon— and Katakuri is very cool!”

“But you said that I was like them.”

Luffy deflates. “Ah, yeah.”

“Why?”

“They don’t really spend that much time with me.” With any of them, for that matter, Luffy belongs to that generation where they aren’t paid any attention because everyone is just too busy or just doesn’t care. Luffy spends more time talking with living objects than with his siblings. “And they don’t listen to me when I tell them something.”

“Like taking you out to the sea?”

Luffy nods. But then thinks about it for a second and turns to see the man. “But you aren’t that bad, you know. Because we are friends!”

The man smiles, slightly. “That’s nice to hear.”

━━━━━━━━━━

One day, in hushed whispers in secluded places out of the hearing range of the homies, with looks thrown over the shoulder and insistents ‘but don’t tell Mama!’ from his siblings; Luffy learns that Chiffon ended up (secretly) shoved in Galette’s old room in the castle.

She’s hurt, like, really, really hurt after seeing Mama.

They also tell him to just leave her alone for now, give her space, followed by some kind of reason that Luffy think is very stupid, because he wants to see how Chiffon is! That’s what matters! And who wants to be alone when they are sad!?

Nobody.

So, with Luffy’s usual disregard for others' opinions, he goes into Galette’s old room.

He kind of has to get in through the window because there’s a bunch of little children trying to see how Chiffon is and, as such, the door —the normal door, they did have to search for a room that didn’t have a homie that could tell Mama that Chiffon was still in the castle— casually guarded by Kato.

He can’t really open the window from outside, and he is slipping so with a jump he forces his way in. Broken glass and a broken table where Luffy lands.

It’s a good thing the walls are very thick.

He stands up with a groan and dusts off his pants. Ignoring the small cuts on his legs and arms, he raises his head.

“Chiffon!”

“Luffy?” She asks, seeing as his little brother runs up to the side of her bed. “What are you doing here?” And then her brain catches up and realizes that he entered through by smashing a window and they are on the third floor. “Are you fine!?”

“They told me you got hurt really bad. So I wanted to see you!”

Chiffon stares, and then blinks, and blinks again, a couple of times as if something got in her eyes. “Oh.” She lets out, softly and when she speaks again is a little strained. “...I’m fine.”

Luffy frowns. “You don’t look fine.”

There’s an ugly purple around her eye and her cheek that contrasts against her pink hair. White bandages that smell like gelatine and not the usual coconut of the infirmary go around her forehead, and her arms, and her neck— and a lot of places. Her lip is busted open and her nose looks twisted.

She also looks like she’s about to burst into tears.

(Again, because her eyes are very red.)

One of her (bandaged) hands goes to his head, ruffling it slightly and taking out a stick from it that tangled in his hair because he did fall a couple of times, climbing cakes is hard, you know.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“But you are hurt!” Luffy argues. “I will beat whoever did this to you!”

Chiffon stays silent for a minute, which Luffy takes advantage of to climb into the bed— more carefully when Chiffon winces when he touches her leg and sits at her side.

There’s a glass of water on the cookie night table beside her, along with a lamp and a book. The cover has a white rabbit with a clock in the cover and an Alice in Wonderland written at the bottom. Chiffon’s favorite book, she probably knows it from memory, with how many times she has read it and how many times she has read it to her siblings.

Except, it’s not her book, because hers has a girl in a blue dress surrounded by a bunch of cards in a forest.

(Distantly, Luffy wonders which one of his siblings was the one that brought her the copy.)

Chiffon follows his gaze and her eyes go soft when she sees the book.

“Do you want me to read it to you?”

Luffy doesn’t. He wants to know who and why this happened to her.

But Chiffon is beaten and eerily small, looking like she desperately wants him to say yes and her eyes are all glassy.

It’s more for herself than for him, he knows, but Luffy thinks that if that makes her eyes dry and makes her happy, then he can come to her side and listen as Alice chases a rabbit with a pocket watch for the hundredth time.

So looking away from her eyes —because Luffy can’t lie to save his life— He nods. It’s not convincing, but Chiffon’s shoulders still sag down in relief. She stretches a hand to grab it, takes out a bookmark from some page in the middle, and starts again.

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do,” She starts, as Luffy scouts closer to see the pictures in the pages. “Once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading…”

It’s as interesting as the other times. But always the same, with the same words of ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’ and ‘“Do cats eat bats? Do cats eat bats?” and sometimes, “Do bats eat cats?’” with the same characters of Alice and the White Rabbit and The Door.

It’s as interesting as Chiffon makes it to be, with different voices and different expressions that resemble more a theater play than a book tale.

It’s a good story, but Luffy has heard it a lot, and can’t think to read —reading is boring, in the first place, why should Luffy have to sit down with scribbles on paper talking about fictional stories when he can make his own?— the same tale over and over again and be as interested as Chiffon is.

Though, he does like singing, both words of his own and words from others because it’s fun; and seeing as Chiffon’s eyes light up and the tension in her shoulders drop off —momentarily— completely lost to the world as Alice fell into the rabbit hole, excitedly sharing this, perhaps is the same for Chiffon.

He half listens to the story. Luffy didn’t want to hear it in the first place, so he is more content pulling from a loose string in the blanket and hearing the way Chiffon’s voice doesn’t crack and strain every single sentence.

As always, he gets completely lost when they reach the part of the Tea Party. The Mad Hatter’s mad ramblings followed by the March Hare follow-ups and the sleepy story of the Dormouse —Plus Alice trying to make sense of all— makes the words tangle in his brain.

It’s a shame because that part is Chiffon’s favorite part, and all of it sounds very interesting, but it all is just very confusing.

(To be fair, the whole book is confusing for Luffy.)

He starts dozing off somewhere through the book, laying his head on Chiffon's shoulder and looking through half-lidded eyes the words that tangle like a ball of black wool.

Chiffon’s voice reaches a sharp stop, too sudden and too hastily for it to be the end of the story.

Luffy cracks an eye open, looking through a blurry eye at the still open book and then turning slightly to see Chiffon. He does not raise his head from her shoulder. Chiffon stares at the page, re-reading whatever she just read and laughs. It lacks humor.

“Do you ever wonder if Alice would have left Wonderland if she had the option to stay?”

Luffy blinks, sleepy. “Dunno, she seems kind of annoying.”

“Maybe.” Chiffon laughs, brighter this time. “But what do you think?”

“About what?”

“Do you think if Alice could, she would stay in Wonderland?”

“I think she would be lonely.” Luffy mumbles, getting under the blanket of the bed and laying on Chiffon again. “Wouldn’t she miss her home?”

“What if her home wasn’t very nice?”

“She would still have her sister, right? And her cat, in Wonderland she would be all alone.” Luffy says, pressed against his sister's shoulder. Chiffon is warm, at his side. “I wouldn’t like being all alone.”

“I guess you are right.” Chiffon says, dropping her head above his. “But Alice could make new friends, and not be all alone.”

Luffy hadn’t… thought about that. “Uh.”

“Well, I think the question here isn’t if Alice would have stayed,” Chiffon closes the book, leaving her thumb in between the pages to not lose where she left, and passes a hand through the cover. “Is if the sister would have.”

“Chiffon makes really weird questions.”

“I do, don’t I?”

Chiffon stays silent for a minute and Luffy closes his eyes.

“Luffy?”

“What?” He mumbles, not capable of mustering the strength to open his eyes.

“Would you leave?”

“Yeah.” He yawns. “‘Wanna be a pirate.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Chiffon sighs. “Would you come back?”

Luffy answered that question easily, before, that time with Mister Intruder, but now, for some reason he struggles to find the word yes.

Because would he? Chiffon is hurt. Mama is mean. (Almost) all his siblings don’t seem to care about him. He spends more time than not talking to living objects. Lately, he has found out that more often than not he wants to leave.

He is all alone.

But he will be lonelier if he leaves.

(But Alice could make new friends, good friends, and not be all alone. Chiffon had said.

But if she doesn’t? Would she be all on her own?)

“Dunno.” He replies. “It’s scary.”

“It is.”

For some reason, Luffy thinks they are talking about different types of scary.

“I don’t like Mama.” Chiffon admits, as if it were a big secret, fearful, as if Mama would come for her life if she admitted it— and Mama would do it if she knew Chiffon did say it. “It is late.” Chiffon adds then, too quickly, almost as if trying to bury that admission with other words, so, perhaps, Mama wouldn’t hear them that way. “I think you should be going back to your room—”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.”

The sky is dark, outside is cold and his room is too big for him, echoing every single breath he takes.

(Suddenly the thought of being alone tonight is so painful that Luffy is going to burst into tears if Chiffon leaves.)

The sky is dark, outside is cold, and buried in the blankets of Galette’s old bed that smell like gelatin, it doesn’t feel cold. Chiffon at his side is warm. The room despite being much bigger than his own doesn’t feel like that.

He pulls the blankets over his head. “Finish the story.” He says instead.

Chiffon breathes, opens the book, and re-reads the part that made her stop in the first place.

“So she sat on, with closed eyes, and half believed herself in Wonderland, though she knew she had but to open them again, and all would change to dull reality—”

━━━━━━━━━━

Luffy will be too tired in the morning to clearly remember the conversation, but the words stick to him, somehow.

━━━━━━━━━━

“Lately, a lot of my mirrors,” Brûlée starts in a high-pitched voice of fake wonder and eyes narrowed in suspicion that look at him from down her nose. “Have been broken completely multiple times.” A pause. “But you already knew that, didn’t you, Luffy?”

Luffy stares at a particularly interesting spot on the ground. “...N— no.”

Brûlée lets out a skeptic ‘mhm’ while digging holes through his head.

“Really.”

“Really.” Luffy clears his throat and nods slightly frantically to try and show he’s not lying. (It doesn’t work, he’s fucking awful at it, literally everyone has told him that he ought to get better at it, because another thing that the Charlotte’s are proud of, is deceit.) “I just— Don’t know anything at all!”

“I’m not mad.” That’s a lie, Luffy can easily tell that with the way Brûlée’s voice is constrained. “Not at all! So, if you tell me what exactly happened on why I have had to spend millions on new mirrors every couple of months and why the woods refuse to tell me anything!” The last part is screamed, directed at the woods who make a (futile) attempt to appear innocent and Brûlée snarls at them before her head snaps back at Luffy. “I won’t be mad.”

Luffy starts whistling, or attempts to, he has yet to catch the trick by this time and so is just air being blown from his mouth. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“You don’t know what I mean.” Brûlée repeats, mocking. “Not even when you are the person that spends more time in the Seducing Woods than anyone else besides me?”

“No.”

“Luffy, look at me.” She snaps, and Luffy raises his head. “In the eye, Luffy.”

For the life of him, Luffy can’t look her in the eye.

“I won’t ask again, Luffy.” She says again, but then she asks again anyways, which Luffy thinks is dumb because she just had said she wouldn’t. “Why are all my mirrors smashed?”

The branches at her side are twisted and thin, with a darkish brown bordering on green. Luffy insistently keeps his eyes on a branch at her sister’s side that… kind of looks like her.

Luffy blinks upon this realization, staring at the branch and then at his sister, whatever thing she’s blabbering falling on deaf ears as Luffy goes to the branch to her, comparing.

“Luffy! Are you listening to me!?”

She looks a lot like a branch.

“You look like a branch.”

“What.”

“What?”

There’s a minute of silence, where Brûlée stares at Luffy, speechless. Slowly turning to see the branch at her side that Luffy had been staring at and then going back to his little brother.

Luffy nods a couple of times as if saying ‘see?’ and, again, slowly, she takes out a mirror and looks at herself.

Then at the branch.

Her face turns red as a tomato.

“I don’t look like a damn branch!”

“But you do!”

“I don’t!” She screeches, one of her hands snapping to pull at one of Luffy’s ears hard enough to make it feel as if she might rip it off —which, she can, but she’s being careful… kind of, not really, alright, he’s not bleeding and that’s what matters so shut the fuck up— and ignoring Luffy’s ‘that hurts! ‘Lee!’ She continues denying the undeniable. “What makes you think that I look like a branch of all things!?”

“Have you ever looked in a mirror!?”

━━━━━━━━━━

Thing is, Luffy and Mister Intruder are friends, and even if the man never actually told him to stay silent about the mirrors, just about the fact that he comes here from time to time, but is the same thing.

Luffy doesn’t like betraying the trust that’s given to him— and if Luffy were to tell, then surely the man won’t like him anymore and Luffy is lonely, and hates it, so he doesn’t want to lose one of the little group of people he can call friends.

Selfish reasons, people might say but who is to say that is a bad thing?

Luffy has never seen any problem with selfishness.

━━━━━━━━━━

“Could you like, stop breaking the mirrors?” Luffy tells Mister Intruder, licking on his Butterfly Net. (Mind you, it’s made out of candy) “My sister got mad at me— Why do you break the mirrors anyways? Don’t you like how you look?”

“Precaution.” Mister Intruder replies. “It would be bad if someone else knew I was here.”

“Are you sure it’s not because you don’t like how you look?”

“I am rather indifferent in regards to my appearance, though, I wonder, are you implying something else with that?”

“There was this story,” Luffy licks his net. “About a monster that didn’t like how he looked, so it smashed every mirror to not see himself and he didn’t let anyone see him without a mask.”

“And how did it end?”

Luffy doesn’t remember, so he shrugs instead. “I think is dumb that you smash the mirrors. I don’t see why it is bad that you are here.”

“I’m still an intruder.”

“But aren’t you friends with the woods? And with me?” Luffy asks.

“I am.” (He’s not. The woods would say if it had the guts.) “But Big Mom won’t be happy if she knows I’m here.”

“Even though you are my friend?”

“Even though I am your friend.”

“You can stay, you know. Mama says everybody is welcome here.” At Luffy’s words, Mister Intruder lets out a snort. Luffy doesn’t see what’s so funny. “But you can never leave.” Luffy immediately frowns at his own words. “Uh, perhaps is better that you not.”

Mister Intruder gives him a contemplative look. “What do you think about that?”

“I don’t like that.”

“Why?”

Luffy thinks, then frowns, isn’t it obvious? “People should be able to leave when they want.”

“And if they aren’t able to?”

“Then, uh.” Luffy thinks, and somehow, he knows he won’t like the answer. “They aren’t…”

Mister Intruder always makes complicated questions. It makes Luffy think too much, his head always ends up hurting after. The man seems to notice his struggle. “Have you ever looked at the…” He clears his throat, scrunching his nose in distaste. “ ‘Weird’ creature collection your mother has?”

What does that have to do with anything? “Yeah?”

“How are the creatures there?”

“Fine?”

“Are they?”

“Yes?” Luffy tries and he can start to feel his head throb at how hard he is thinking. “No?”

The man looks at him, patient in a way Mama has never been. So Luffy keeps trying.

The creatures in her books are alive, so they are fine.

Probably?

Um, now that Luffy thinks (really, really hard) about it, it’s not like they ever eat, which is very bad and they can’t do what they want which is also bad. They can’t… do anything, really, stuck behind hardcovers, pinned so tightly in one place that they can barely move.

Mmm, that’s not good.

Luffy doesn’t like that so maybe he should do something about that. Then Luffy remembers how angry his Mama got when he liberated one—

“Trapped.” Luffy realizes as a bucket of cold water falls over him. “They are trapped.”

“Why?”

“Because… they can’t ever leave.” Everyone is welcome here, but they can never leave, and those who do are to be punished (by death) Mama sings. “No matter what they want.”

His skin is too tight and his throat dry. Lungs that inhale and exhale and inhale and exhale overly sweet air, it’s cloying, it’s sickening and it doesn’t quite fill his lungs.

The floor is sticky, too sticky, it is hard to raise his feet like a rat sticks to a glue trap.

Luffy—

Luffy hates to think that he isn’t free.

He looks down at his wrists, just to make sure there aren’t any of the chains the prisoners his Mama traps are there.

There aren’t any.

(But Luffy can feel them, dragging his arms down.)

Luffy breathes. “Does this mean I am trapped too?”

“How do you feel?”

Luffy doesn’t want to answer that.

He lets the breeze of wind rustling the leaves answer for him instead.

“If I take you out to the sea, would you wish to come back here?”

Luffy frowns. “Well…”

He wants to be a pirate, sing-along pirate songs and have many great adventures, he wants to taste the air of the sea.

He wants to leave, go where he wants, and do what he wants.

But the only family Luffy has ever known is here. Uncaring and indifferent except for a few.

Mama is mean, everyone is scared and Luffy is alone.

The thought of getting out to a world he has never seen with people he has never known filled with dangers to end his life is not what scares him, if anything, it fills him with excitement.

Being alone, for its part, that’s the scary thing, that’s the thing that hurts.

He is alone, but at least he has family, right?

He could be lonelier.

(But Alice could make new friends, and not be all alone.)

“...Yeah.”

“Why?”

“It’s my home.”

Luffy can’t bring himself to look into the man’s eyes as he answers, and they both know it is a lie.

━━━━━━━━━━

Ah, fear, is there anything more imprisoning than it?

━━━━━━━━━━

Don’t be fooled, though, because it’s not to say Luffy had never tried to set sail on his own before. It’s just that, back then, there was never the thought of leaving this place for good; when he pictured himself, it was with great adventures, dangerous fights, and so on, everything a pirate dreams about.

Yet, distantly, the thought that he would come back one day was always there.

Now, perhaps, is fitting to ask if that thought was born out of love, or out of fear.

If the thought was ‘I will come back’ or ‘I have to go back’.

Perhaps, that distant thought, which now is more present than ever, was born because, deep down, Luffy always knew that here, he wasn’t free.

━━━━━━━━━━

In the end, what makes him leave, predictably, is Mama’s cruelty.

It goes like this: Chiffon’s visits to Whole Cake Island were already few, but ended up turning rare, because coming here always meant visiting Mama for boring reasons Luffy doesn’t care to know.

It is probable that, if possible, Chiffon would avoid this place altogether and never set foot here ever again.

Unfortunately, she still lived in Totto Land and was a Minister, and, worst of all, was her daughter.

Still, what mattered to Luffy —other than the fact that Chiffon always was hurt and sad— was that he barely ever saw his sister anymore, and so the little times she was here Luffy had to make it count.

So, on one of those visits, Luffy eagerly waits outside Mama’s Chamber for Chiffon and Mama to end whatever they are doing.

It’s not like Luffy couldn’t get inside and wait there (again, he’s pampered) but he had done so once in the past with Perospero and that whole ordeal was boring.

The Queen’s Chamber of Charlotte Linlin is the only part of the castle that is sound-proofed, to avoid eavesdropping. As long as the door is closed, not a word gets out, and not a word gets in. You can’t even get an idea of what’s happening behind it, even if you press your ear against the door.

Charlotte Linlin does not like eavesdroppers, as such, a golden rule that’s enforced with an iron fist is whenever you go to talk to Mama in her chambers, you always close the door.

A simple rule, all in all.

A simple action to follow.

Except.

The door wasn’t closed in its entirety.

For those who are into that kind of thing, there’s something called chaos theory, which has some principles, one of those is called the butterfly effect. It consists of a small change in the initial conditions that lead to large-scale and unpredictable variation in the future state of the system.

But you are not here to hear about chaos theory, nor the butterfly effect, are you? No, not at all. But you can see how it correlates, right? Though, perhaps, the simple fact that the door wasn’t closed in its entirety is not what leads Monkey D. Luffy to be King of the Pirates.

Perhaps the flap of the wings that crown a new king happens much earlier. Perhaps it resided on something else entirely, like the path telling him there is an intruder in the woods, or the first time Luffy saw the sea.

Perhaps it happened even before he was born, with Charlotte Linlin meeting Rocks D. Xebec and seeing firsthand the Will of D.

Perhaps, it happened even earlier, 800 years ago, because if there’s one thing that characterizes the butterfly effect, it is that it is slow.

Well, whatever the flap of the monarch butterfly’s wings was. We can’t ignore the repercussions of the door that wasn’t closed in its entirety the time Charlotte Chiffon went to talk to the monster that was her mother while Charlotte D. Luffy waited outside.

(Now, if the door was left open on purpose or not, is another matter in its entirety.)

The door isn’t closed in its entirety, as such, when Charlotte Linlin loses her temper at the reminder of the treacherous idiot of her daughter that disobeyed and put a halt in her dream upon gazing at the twin sister’s face, and does what a parent mustn't; Charlotte Chiffon’s shriek of pain resonates in the hallways, for those outside to hear with terrifying clarity.

Luffy jumps when he hears it, jar with candy bugs that he caught before slipping through his fingers. It shatters into millions of little pieces, the sound of it is loud, and it would alert the people in the room that the door isn’t closed if it weren’t for Chiffon's wails of pain drowning the sound completely.

The cries echo through the hallway, followed by Mama’s angry accusations.

Realization dawns on Luffy like molten iron in his lungs. An emotion that can’t be called anything but horror painting his features. His whole body seems to lock on itself before it snaps, like a rubber band that stretched too far.

Horror turns to fury, because that’s Chiffon, sweet and nice, who is being hurt by Mama.

His whole body whips around in the direction of the door. Hands made into fists and run towards it. There’s no second of hesitation, no second thoughts and no thought other than Luffy has to do something, never mind that Mama is far more powerful than anyone he has met.

Perhaps, in another situation, he would have succeeded in stepping through that door, and the consequences would have been a completely different story.

This is not that story.

You see, the thing about the door, and the fact that it isn’t closed in its entirety, is that sound is allowed to go out, and Chiffon’s cries are so loud that it resonates through all the castle.

And Luffy isn’t the only one with ears.

A hand hasty clasps him by the back of his shirt, stopping him dead in his tracks.

A choking sound escapes him when his shirt digs into his neck. Then he’s being lifted, one arm around his stomach and he’s being pressed tightly against someone’s side.

He stares at the floor for less than a second, before he’s trying to wiggle himself out.

Luffy doesn’t have time for this! Not when Chiffon’s pleading Mama to ‘please, please, stop!’ echo as something straight out from his nightmares.

“Let me go!”

“Don’t be foolish.” A deep voice berates him and Luffy’s head snaps up, from here, the only thing he can see is the big black and white scarf and tips of his pink hair.

“Katakuri!” Luffy beams, relief fills him because Katakuri is the strongest, and he never, ever loses a fight (or so he’s been told. Truth is, this is the first time Luffy has talked to Katakuri.) and if he’s here then it means that Chiffon is going to be alright! “Quick! Mama is hitting Chiffon!”

Katakuri’s grip tightens around him at his words, and he closes the small distance in quick long steps. Once in the door, he peers through it —making sure that Luffy can’t see what’s going on inside— and breathes sharply.

His grip is so tight around him that it feels as if he might snap his ribs.

Luffy coughs.

It seems to make Katakuri react.

The grip around him loosens, letting him breathe again. Katakuri takes some steps back, and slowly, as to not alert the ones inside the room, he closes the door.

It feels like a punch to the gut.

“Katakuri! What are you doing!?” He yells, desperately looking between the door and his brother. “Hurry up! Katakuri!”

The hallway is in a silence so deafening that it scares him, only broken by Luffy’s yells.

Somehow the absence of Chiffon’s screams is worse than when he could hear her. He starts trashing in his grasp, but to no avail, he can’t get out.

“Chiffon is being hurt!”

Katakuri takes a second to reply, but when he does his voice has a hard edge on it, like something is stuck in his throat. “I know.”

Luffy's nails dig into the palms of his hands, strong enough to draw blood. He feels small, and useless, and impotent because Chiffon's being hurt and he can't do anything.

“Then do something!”

“I can’t.” He replies, and after a pause. “And neither can you.”

“Then I will!” Luffy yells, stopping slightly when he realizes Katakuri already answered him. Whatever question of ‘how did you do that?’ forsaken over the: “Why not!?”

“It’s Mama. One hit and you will be dead.”

“But Chiffon—!”

“You can’t do anything, give it up.” Then, again, as if he knew what Luffy is about to say. “Because it’s Mama.”

“And why can’t you!?” Luffy frowns, but continues. “So!?”

“She’s our captain, and our mother.”

“That doesn’t—!”

“We can’t disobey her orders, nor her wishes.”

“But Chiffon’s is our sister!”

“I know.” Katakuri replies, harshly, and then takes a couple of steps back before the door gets pushed open.

It’s not Chiffon.

Mama walks out with firm steps that, as always, shake out the whole place like an earthquake. She’s fuming, her face contorted to an angry snarl and her eyes like one of a beast. Prometheus and Zeus follow close, trying to cheer her up.

Luffy glares at her.

“Why did you do that!?”

Mama turns at him, face still scrunched in anger. But when she takes notice of both of them, her anger seems to slip off her shoulders.

She ignores his question.

“Oh, Dee.”

(It’s a nickname that formed as Charlotte Linlin only referred to her son by his middle name. If Luffy were to stay, he would have grown to despise that name as much as he prided himself in it. But he didn’t as such, the D on his name is just that, another name.)

“And Katakuri. My, how weird seeing you two together. Did you need something? I am done with Chiffon.”

“No, Mama.” Katakuri replies. At the same time, Luffy yells at her: “Why did you do that to Chiffon!?”

Mama’s eyes narrow down at him as her mouth presses into a thin line. Luffy holds her gaze, still glaring.

A pause.

“Ah, dear! Did you see? Was the door not completely closed? You should know better than to eavesdrop on your Mama, Dee.”

“But why!?”

“Luffy.” Katakuri warns.

Mama laughs. “No, no. Don’t worry Katakuri. Kids are curious.” She assures, far too leniently at the outright disrespect. “You see, Dee, Chiffon failed to do something some time ago, something very important.”

Luffy, with a frown, he asks. “What?”

“She couldn’t pass for Lola.” Mama frowns, anger returning at the reminder. “Despite being identical! How did that brainless giant even realize!?”

Luffy isn’t understanding anything.

“Who is Lola?”

That seems to rail up Mama more, spitting curses and screams. Her massive feet stomp the floor, making it tremble as if ready to break by the force. Luffy clings to Katakuri’s arm, digging nails into it —He doesn’t seem to mind— Instinctively preparing for a fall.

Mama doesn’t seem to care whether she accidentally destroys her castle.

She whines and yells and spits and cries.

It’s like a child throwing a tantrum.

After a moment, Katakuri is the one that replies. “Lola is Chiffon's twin sister. She was to marry Loki, the prince of the giants, but—”

“She didn’t want to!” Mama roars, hard enough that the walls shake. His eardrums feel as if they might explode. “She disobeyed me! She just had to do as she was told and get married! And she didn’t.”

“It’s that bad?”

Mama breathes. “Yes, Dee. It is bad, very bad because Lola was my daughter, and children are made to obey their parents.”

Luffy thinks that is stupid, and he doesn’t like that, because people should just do what they want to.

He is about to voice it when there’s a hard pinch on his stomach that has him squealing and interrupting him. He turns to glare at Katakuri, just to find his brother already glaring at him as if he knew what he was about to say and saying ‘don’t.’

“Don’t be like Lola, Dee, nor like Chiffon.” Mama says gently.

“But why are you hitting Chiffon?” Luffy asks again.

Mama frowns, annoyed. “I already told you, Dee. She couldn’t pass for Lola, she couldn’t get married in her place—”

“Why did she have to get married if she didn’t want to?”

“Because I wanted her to.”

Luffy thinks that is also stupid.

What Mama wants didn’t matter if this Lola didn’t want to, because it’s not like it’s her life and this Lola should just be able to do what she wants! But, again, before he can say it, Katakuri pinches him again.

“And all of you must do as I want.”

Luffy, really, really doesn’t like that.

“Why?”

“Because I’m your mother.”

“But why—!?”

“Because that’s how it works, Dee!” She snaps, at his side Katakuri stiffens. “Seas, are you not listening!? Hmph, just what do you have on your head!? Listen, Dee. You all do as I want because I’m your mother, and children are made to obey their parents.” She smiles, cloyingly sweet, there’s a twitch in her eye. “So, dear, do as I say.”

(And the underlying threat is not said, but it’s heard nonetheless.)

Luffy scowls. “Like not leaving?”

“Exactly!” Mama beams. “Nobody can leave! I don’t want that! All you have to do as I want.”

And, oh, how he hates that.

“That’s not fa—” Another pinch and Luffy squeals. “Stop that!”

“Katakuri, stop playing with Luffy.” She laughs. “And take Chiffon out of my chambers— and out of the castle, I don’t want to see her.”

“Yes, Mama.”

━━━━━━━━━━

Katakuri takes Chiffon out of the room with practiced efficiency.

Surprisingly, he doesn’t take her out of the castle. Instead, he carefully carries her into Galette's old room, taking a path out of the vision range of the homies.

Some of his siblings are already there, an unvoiced reunion. Luffy can see some bandages and bottles of something on the table —Chiffon isn't allowed in the infirmary— and he sees as Chiffon is put gently in the bed.

He's ushered out of the room, despite his complaints.

It’s not fair that they get to stay and Luffy doesn’t! He wants to see how she is! But Katakuri had lifted him again and promptly dragged him out; Luffy is angry at Katakuri for not doing anything, as much as he is angry at himself for not being able to do something for Chiffon.

Most importantly, he’s angry, furious, at Mama.

“Mama is stupid.”

“Luffy.”

“She is! Why hit Chiffon just because she didn’t want to get married? And why does she even want to marry this Lola so bad!? Why is it bad to do what we want!?” Then, Luffy remembers: “Ah! No! I’m mad at you! I’m not talking to you!”

“Lola is not the only one Mama wants to get to marry someone.”

Luffy blinks. “No?”

“How many of our siblings are married, Luffy?”

“Almost everyone.” He answers immediately and frowns. Something uncomfortable laches under his skin, and it’s just like that time in the forest. Skin too tight and breaths that don't fill his lungs. “All of them married because Mama wanted?”

“Yes.”

“Why? They should be able to choose!” Katakuri doesn’t answer, and it pisses Luffy off. “What if they don’t?”

“You saw Chiffon, didn’t you?”

It’s not fair, he thinks, as he turns to stare at the door.

It’s not fair that she got hurt so badly just because of something as dumb as not marrying someone, even if she tried because of Mama. It’s not fair that they don’t let him be with her.

He wonders how Chiffon is.

“She’s going to be fine.”

“You can’t say that when you didn’t help her!”

Marriage is stupid, Luffy decides, and so is Mama.

What if you don’t like the person? What if the person is boring? What if you don’t want to marry? All his siblings married because Mama wanted to? Why obey? Just because she was their Mama? That’s—

A pause.

“Katakuri.” Luffy starts, even though he’s still mad at him, but he has to know. “If a lot of our siblings have to get married because Mama wanted, does this mean that I will have to too?”

“Maybe.”

“Even if I really don’t want to?”

“Yes.”

(How are the creatures there? The man had asked.)

Luffy breathes, rolling his wrists a couple of times. They are heavy with unseen shackles.

“Katakuri.” Luffy starts again, voice eerily calm that doesn't match the desperation he’s feeling.

His body feels distant as if it wasn't his. Luffy wonders if Mama would take a limb just because she wants to. The realizations make him dizzy and he wants to scream at Katakuri to answer a single no.

“Do we have to do everything Mama tells us?”

“Yes.”

“Even if I really don’t want to?”

“Yes.”

(Trapped, Luffy had replied.)

“And what we want?”

Katakuri takes a long, long second to reply. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Why not?” Luffy asks, and there’s something ugly squeezing in his chest. A prickling feeling in his eyes and he grabs the hem of his shirt and passes it through his eyes.

It comes away wet.

“Why not?”

Whatever Katakuri replies, falls on deaf ears.

Ah, Luffy realizes, I don’t want to be here.

━━━━━━━━━━

(“Katakuri.”

“...Yes?”

“I want to be free.” A pause. “I will be free.”)

━━━━━━━━━━

Chiffon takes two days to wake up. But Luffy only sees her after three days, when the news that she’s about to leave Whole Cake Island and go back to Funwari Island reach him.

(‘Chiffon, you should not be up this early, rest a little longer.’ Katakuri had told her, but made no move to stop her as she walked through the hallway because they understood the reason for the hurry.)

Luffy runs all the way to the port when they tell him, and, for the lack of speed he holds at this age, he makes a valiant effort that pays off, because he makes it before Chiffon is gone, barely in time.

“Chiffon!” He yells when she spots her, and the relief that hits him at seeing her alive and walking can’t be put into words.

He throws himself into her arms, crashing against her. It makes Chiffon hiss in pain and put more energy than she has but she manages to catch him and not fall in the process. “You are fine!”

“I am.” She says softly, despite the raspiness of her voice. “What are you doing here?”

Luffy doesn’t answer that for a second, and then for two, and then for three. His words die in his mouth.

He stays buried in her dress, and his hands tighten around the fabric, grabbing it like a lifeline.

“Luffy?”

Seeing Chiffon awake after seeing her so hurt, seems to have unchained something. Everything suddenly seems too much, not only the thoughts and events from these past few days, but from a lifetime come to hit him one after another.

Chiffon was hurt —and all the other times before were Mama’s fault— Mama is cruel. His siblings don’t care, not for Luffy, and not for each other, it seems, not when Mama is involved. What he wants doesn’t matter, but it only matters to him. Everyone is scared. He is alone, he doesn’t want to be alone. He is trapped.

He’s not free.

Revelations too big, too cruel for a small kid to handle.

“Luffy?” Chiffon asks again. “Are you okay?”

It’s there, in the comfort of her arms, surrounded by warmth that is so, so rare, by sweetness that is genuine, and knowing the fact that she’s alive after all that, and that this may be, possibly, the only person that truly cares about him here, that everything seems to catch up.

Luffy can’t help it, he bursts into tears.

“I don’t want to be here.”

A complete loss on what to do, it takes a minute for Chiffon to react.

She places a hand on his head. “Shh? Hey, it’s going to be fine.” She says softly while untangling him from her dress, which takes a while because Luffy doesn’t want to let go.

There’s blood in her white dress.

Dry blood, but blood, nonetheless.

Luffy cries harder.

“Ah! No, no, no, it’s fine, don’t cry.” Chiffon startles. “Please don’t cry. I’m fine. It’s alright. See? Just— please, stop crying, it’s fine.”

It takes a long time for Luffy to calm down, too overwhelmed by everything, and the only thing that Chiffon can do is to let him cry in her dress until he gets tired.

“Chiffon.” He manages to say between hiccups.

“Ah, Luffy.” She replies, crouching down to see his face. “What happened?”

“You were hurt.”

Chiffon startles before her eyes seem to melt into something softer. “That’s… It’s alright, thank you for worrying, Luffy, but I am fine.”

Her face is more purple than anything, and there’s a missing tooth in her mouth. Luffy shakes his head. “It’s not fine.”

“Right— No, really, it’s fine.” Chiffon falters. “It looks worse than it is.”

That’s a lie, he knows it’s a lie.

“It’s not fair that happened to you.” Luffy sniffs. “I don’t like Mama.”

Chiffon smiles, it’s a bittersweet thing. “Neither do I.” She says quietly before her admission turns into worry. “Did she do something?”

“She hurt you.” Luffy replies, easily, obviously.

“I—” Chiffon chokes, sounding as if she will be the next one crying. “You worry too much.”

The port is empty, not a single person to tell her goodbye other than Luffy. Chiffon wanted to go away quickly and quietly, as to not alert their Mama. So she didn’t tell a soul as she maneuvered to her little ship.

It’s not as if they would have come to see her go on safely; taking care of her was already too kind for them.

“I don’t want to get married.” Luffy mumbles.

Chiffon blinks, confusion written in her face before it turns understanding, and something painful flashes in her face. “Nobody is marrying you, Luffy.” Yet, she doesn’t say, but Luffy hears it.

“I want to do what I want.”

“You…”

“I don’t want to be here.” Luffy says again, with a solemnity that doesn’t leave room for discussion, like the words of a king. But, he takes a look at his sister and adds: “But I don’t want to leave Chiffon here.”

Chiffon frowns. A second where the only sound that can be heard is the sound of waves breaking against the port passes before the words seem to dawn on her and she reaches some sort of conclusion.

“Luffy.” She says, and the soft tone of her voice gets replaced by something deeper, more serious, almost hopeful. “Is there a way for you to leave this place?” Luffy nods and Chiffon breathes sharply. “For good?”

“For good.” Luffy replies.

She doesn’t ask more, doesn’t have the privilege of worrying about methods or anything else, not in her desperation.

“Take it.”

Luffy startles. “Uh? But—”

“Listen to me, Luffy.” Chiffon interrupts. “This is not a nice place, this can’t be called a home, nor a family, nor anything of sorts, and just— you are not going to be happy in a place like this, not with Mama. If you want to leave so badly, if you have the chance, then you should just go.”

Charlotte looks at him, at his astonished face, and sighs fondly. The urgency in her tone still present but layered with something warmer. “I know you don’t like being alone. But, Luffy, aren’t you alone here?”

Luffy spends more time talking to living objects than his siblings, he doesn’t know half of them, and the ones he does know aren’t that great, aren’t his friends.

There are some nice moments between the violence and the indifference that Luffy clings to, that makes him feel as if he isn’t alone, where he gets reminded that they really are family, that they care.

Yet.

Yet.

After seeing Katakuri not help Chiffon because what Mama wants is what matters, knowing that none of them would help. Luffy doesn’t think that those moments would make him feel as if he isn’t alone, as if they cared, because he knows they don’t, or not enough, at least.

They might piss him off, more than anything.

“I am.” Luffy accepts with the resignation some would have upon their execution. “I don’t want to be alone, it hurts.”

Chiffon looks at him, her eyes turning watery before she cleans him with her sleeve. “Seas, what a terrible sister I am.”

“What? No!” Luffy argues. “You are great! You care about me and you spend time with me and—”

Chiffon laughs, is a raspy thing and it sounds more like a sob. “Luffy.” She cuts him off. “If you leave, wherever you go, I assure you, you will find people that will care about you— that won’t make you feel alone.”

Luffy stops, and the amount of hope those words give him would be more than enough to move mountains. “Really?”

“Really.”

He won't be alone.

Luffy beams, and nods, turning to the sea and, when he pictures himself it is, as always in great adventures, dangerous fights, and so on, everything a pirate dreams about. But, this time, he doesn’t think of coming back.

He imagines sailing to the sea and images being free.

He stops.

“But… What about you?”

Chiffon doesn’t make her little brother make any promises.

She doesn’t smile bitterly and tells him a ‘come and get me one day’. She doesn’t insist on going with him, because she knows he would say yes, and she doesn't know how he is planning on getting out, but she knows that, in cases like that, the fewer people, the better.

She doesn’t hand him any responsibility, nor does she place some burden on his young shoulders. No words to haunt him over the fact that he left her behind.

Promises can be as damaging as they are beneficial, make as bad as they do good, she knows. Chiffon is a kind person, who, in this hell that’s her home, manages to stay strong enough for her heart to remain and for her spirit not to break.

Chiffon cares, is the thing, and between all this terrible, fucked up people that call themselves a family. She managed to find a sibling, that other than her other half, she can say she loves with all her being.

As such, Chiffon doesn't make her little brother make any promises as much as she didn’t make her twin sister make any promises.

Instead, just as she did with Lola when she left, she stands to her full height, straightens her back and raises her head. She smiles brightly at him. “Don’t worry about me, your big sister is strong.” And, with a nod, she declares: “We won’t do it together, but, one day, I am going to leave too!”

The only promise Chiffon makes that day is to herself.

━━━━━━━━━━

The next time Luffy goes into the Seducing Woods, there is no bounce in his step nor a butterfly net in his hands. He makes a direct beeline for the coast in firm steps, completely ignoring the woods.

Luffy doesn’t greet him this time, and the man remains silent, as if he sensed something had changed, and waits for him to speak up.

“I don’t want to be here.”

Staring into Luffy’s determined eyes, the man doesn’t ask any of his usual questions this time, nor inquires how’s and why’s.

Instead, he stands up in a swift motion and makes a gesture for him to follow.

“Let’s go, then.”

Chapter Text

The monster did not brush her teeth, so her mouth was a disgusting thing.
A breath so putrid as if a skunk lived under her tongue and ate rotten eggs for lunch.
Flowers withered every time she talked.
Crooked teeth as crooked as her smile.
Yellowed teeth as yellow as a banana peel.
Holed-up teeth with more holes than swiss cheese.
The monster had never brushed her teeth, so the remains of the first meal she ever had stuck between her teeth.
One day one of the monster’s yellowed teeth fell, and in its place, another one grew.
It was different from the others, small as a mouse but white as a pearl.
The monster did not brush her teeth, so her mouth was a disgusting thing.
The little tooth didn’t like that.
‘Why don’t we leave?’ It asked the other teeth.
‘Because we are her teeth’ The others replied.
The monster did not brush her teeth, so her mouth was a disgusting thing.
‘Why don’t we leave?’ It asked the other teeth.
‘Because we love her’ The others replied.
The monster did not brush her teeth, so her mouth was a disgusting thing.
‘Why don’t we leave?’ It asked the other teeth.
‘Because we fear her’ The others replied.
The monster did not brush her teeth, so her mouth was a disgusting thing.
And so before it could turn as crooked as her smile, as yellow as a banana peel and fill with more holes than swiss cheese.
The little tooth stood up and left.

The monster that didn’t brush her teeth and the tooth that left.
From The Tales the Sea Monsters Whisper For Those Who Listen
1

━━━━━━━━━━

The man’s ship is not really a ship, but more of a very beaten-looking boat.

It is quite underwhelming if Luffy’s being honest, and very pointedly not fair because the man did say a couple of times when Luffy asked that he did have a ship (a big ship!) and his imagination might have run a little bit wild with possibilities.

But still! Luffy’s disappointment is totally justified because the man didn’t bring the big ship; though, Luffy doesn’t have time to sulk when excitement sizzles under his skin at the thought that he’s finally going out to sea, that he’s going to leave.

Luffy jumps into the boat, laughing at how his sudden weight pushes it under and makes the boat bounce a couple of times. The water splashes at the force and some falls on his face. It is salty where he passes his tongue over the skin around his mouth, and cold. It slightly burns where it gets in his left eye.

He turns eagerly to Mister Intruder —Is he still an intruder? Luffy doesn’t think so, he should come up with another name, or ask for his, whatever, not important at the moment— keen on hurrying him up.

He smiles wider when he doesn’t have to.

The man is already getting into the boat, more carefully than Luffy did, and not wobbling a bit by standing on floor that’s not still.

“Ready?”

“Ready!”

In practiced moments, he gives a strong kick to land without losing balance for the boat to start moving from where it was anchored, then he unties the sail with one pull of the rope.

It’s early morning and the wind is in their favor and as soon as the sail unravels, a strong current of wind pushes them forward.

Fast, very, very fast.

The speed catches Luffy completely off guard and he fumbles to hold on to something. He fails and with a yelp and a ‘thud’ he falls first face into the boat.

“Careful.” Luffy hears the man say.

He thinks he hears him say something else but he doesn’t manage to catch what it is. It’s hard to hear over the sound of air in his ears and the sound of water splashing as the boat breaks into its surface, bouncing in some parts.

Luffy tries to stand up with wobbling limbs. He succeeds before another bounce of the boat has him falling on his back and rolling over until he collides with something.

A noise that sounds suspiciously like laughter manages to reach his ears and Luffy’s head snaps at the man with a scowl. “Don’t laugh!” He yells at him.

Then, he stares in confusion when he sees that the man doesn’t seem to have any trouble remaining up. He’s not even holding onto something other than the rope around the wooden things in the sail. But it doesn’t seem as if it is holding his weight, it's more like he’s steering it.

“How are you doing that!?”

The man looks at him and then at his own feet briefly. Luffy follows his gaze, taking in the slightly weird position he’s standing, and then, consideringly, looks down to his own feet.

Uh.

Luffy stands up and clumsily copies the man’s posture.

He still struggles with his sea legs; he has to grab the sides of the boat with every bounce it makes. But it's significantly easier to stay upright like this. In shaky steps, he manages to reach the front part of the little boat and slot himself into the pointy part.

It’s more fun from there.

The water of the sea hits him there in irregular patterns until he’s completely soaked and more than once he has to spit when water gets in his mouth. The front part where he puts himself in is the part that lifts with the speed and goes down over and over. Luffy laughs harder every time it bounces.

It’s exciting and it’s dangerous. His heart beats so hard in his chest that it might come out and his mouth stretches into the biggest smile he has ever had.

He does not look back once. He doesn’t even think of it.

━━━━━━━━━━

Luffy isn’t quite sure how much time passes before they slow down. The day turns to night and Luffy’s eyes close and then they open again to rushing winds and bouncing wood that splashes sea water like rain.

He doesn’t have any problem falling asleep despite the racket. Day turns to night, night turns to day, and the boat carries on at speed where other islands are nothing but a colorful blur.

He falls asleep somewhere in between the sun waking up; and when he wakes up is when it is about to go to sleep. Sky tinted in orange and reds, the clouds painted in yellows and the sounds of water crashing against each other.

Luffy yawns and sits up, turning around to be met with the sat form of the man on the other edge of the boat. He doesn’t offer playful ‘good mornings’ despite the hour, nor does he bother with pointless remarks, he doesn’t say anything at all.

Owlishly blinking, not yet fully shaken remnants of sleep, Luffy stares at him; eyes tracking the way his thumb detachedly traces the palm of the other hand, tracing red imprints that the rope left. His eyes move over to the sail then, taking in the gentle, but steady, way that the wind’s pushes it, and is then that he registers the lack of speed from before and turns his eyes back to him with an unspoken question in his eyes, as if the man was the one responsible for the wind's sudden tameness.

“We have left Totto Land.” Is his answer.

Just then, and only then, Luffy looks back.

Letting a sound of surprise, he goes to the other end of the boat. He puts a hand above his eyes and squints.

He can’t see anything.

“We really left!”

“We did.” The man agrees. “Are you afraid?”

Funnily enough, all fear and doubts that had chained him once to stay between chocolate paths and gingerbread houses in a family that wasn’t really a family are completely forgotten, or perhaps overcome is a better word. Chiffon’s words gave him the courage he needed to finally go.

Luffy does not know where they are headed, or who he will meet, or what he will find, and that’s exciting - He has never been afraid of the unknown. Again, being alone is what scares him because it hurts, but he was alone there, anyways.

Yet, he can— no. He will make new friends and not be alone! He decided, and that's that.

Why should he be afraid then?

So, Luffy laughs. “No!”

Nothing can be seen of what he used to call his home from here. The wind current is still strong, but not to carry them at the frantic speed they had before, but enough to push them forward at a constant pace.

The sea breeze is fresh, pushing his damp hair and damp clothes back. The air doesn’t smell of candies and sweets; it smells of salt, and Luffy loves it. Nothing can be seen from here, nothing but the wide, blue waters of the ocean that sway the boat from side to side.

If Luffy strains his ears, he thinks he can hear it whispering him welcome.

He smiles at it; he feels at home.

Luffy was not born to the sound of salty waters crashing against the coast, but to the smell of sweets in a castle whose walls are made of cake, but it proves irrelevant, as he stares with such love and happiness at the waters surrounding him, he proves that he’s more a child of the sea than he will ever be from Charlotte Linlin.

He belongs to the seas.

(Monkey D. Dragon knows it. He stares at his son and knows that Luffy will be more a child of the sea than he will ever be his. He’s not jealous, nor scared; as the sea laughs, he turns to her waters, and with a tilt of his head, he allows it.

The seas do not need permission. The child was already hers from the moment he first saw her waters, but they are appreciative of the intention nevertheless.)

“Luffy.” The man calls, suddenly curious. “You say you wanted to be a pirate, right?”

“Yes!”

“Even now?”

“Yeah!”

“Can I ask why?”

Luffy blinks, and then beams. Nobody has asked him why! Everyone just assumed it was because that’s what Mama wanted, which Luffy thinks is, as everyting seems to be with Mama, stupid, because why what she wants him to be should be important?

Luffy, from the very beginning, always wanted to be a pirate from his own volition. The fact that’s what Mama was, was a coincidence.

“Pirates go on great adventures! They sing and sail and collect treasure!” He laughs. “Pirates do what they want!”

The man stays silent for a second, taking in the words. He seems satisfied with Luffy’s answers. “It appears I had the incorrect impression of your motives.” The man contemplates with a hum. “So, what do you think being a pirate is all about?”

The ocean is blue and the sky is orange. A seagull is flying in the sky, flying where it wants, doing what it wants, uncaged. Pirates do what they want, go where they want, and their home is a ship in the ocean, unbounded, unchained.

Luffy wants that.

He smiles, wider.

“It’s all about freedom.”

The man bursts into laughter at his words; some might say it is a weird sound coming from him but Luffy thinks it fits him just fine. He laughs, but Luffy doesn’t take offense, because, somehow, he can tell his laughter is not mocking. Luffy finds himself smiling at it.

“That’s right!” He says, and his mouth stretches into a proud smile, big and unstrained and free. Some would say it reminds them of Luffy’s. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, Luffy!”

━━━━━━━━━━

There isn’t a skull on the sail.

Luffy had noticed the moment the man had unraveled it, but the thrill of everything had made him not think twice about it. Now, when there isn’t much to do in a small boat drifting away at sea, Luffy inspects it for a second time.

It isn’t hard, the constant current of wind that comes from… somewhere makes for it to be extended completely, to the point where not a single wrinkle can be seen, where nothing can be hidden.

Luffy looks it up and down, from left to right, and from every angle possible before he realizes that, yeah, there isn’t a single skull there.

He turns to the splayed form of the man across the boat.

He doesn’t seem too concerned about the way his long hair and his feet sink slightly into the sea, nor any sea monster it might attract. Though, it seems he is wary of sunburns if the handkerchief in his face is anything to go by.

“You don’t have a skull?”

“I have one.” His voice a little muffled over the cloth on his face. He taps a long finger on his temple. “Right here.”

“That’s not a— Not that one.” Luffy scowls and then points at the sail. “I mean there.”

The man doesn’t make any move to see where he is pointing, but he knows what he is talking about nevertheless. “I’m not a pirate.”

Luffy splutters, he had always kind of assumed the man was a pirate, and after his admission, Luffy can’t… really think of any other thing that the man could possibly be; nothing seems to fit.

“You are not?”

“No.”

“Why not? Being a pirate is so cool! They have—!”

“—Great adventures and do what they want.” The man finishes for him. “So you have said.”

“Yeah! What’s better than that!?”

“Mmm, I wonder.”

“Nothing!” Luffy smiles, as always, satisfied with his reasoning. He tilts his head curiously at the man. “So why aren’t you a pirate?”

“I have things to do. Important things.”

“What things?”

Slowly, he lifts his hand towards his face, one finger getting under the cloth and he raises it, just barely, but enough for him to be able to stare at Luffy with one eye. He seems to reach some sort of conclusion as he settles on a: “Mystery things.” And lets the handkerchief fall on his face again.

Wait, what.

“Ah! No! That’s not fair! I want to know!”

“Pity.”

Luffy sticks his tongue out to him and scowls when he realizes that the man can’t see it.

“I just stuck my tongue out to you.”

“I just did it too.”

“Bastard!” Luffy snaps, but when the man doesn’t react to the insult with anything other than silence, Luffy —reluctantly— lets it go. “Can’t you do those things while being a pirate?”

“Not really.”

Luffy can’t wrap his head around that. No matter how hard he thinks, he can’t get an idea on what those things could be, and why they are such a mystery. “Are those things that important to you?” Luffy tries.

“Of course they are.” The man replies without missing a beat. “It’s for my goal— My dream, if you want to put it that way.”

“Oh!” Well, why didn’t he say that before? Dreams are very, very important! “Okay, then! I hope you can do it!”

“I will. Thank you.”

Luffy nods. He turns from the sight of the man to the sail, thinks for a second, and goes back to the man. “If you are not a pirate, what are you then?” Remembering, he adds: “Right! And what’s your name?”

Silence.

Luffy stands there, eagerly waiting for the answer until the silence stretches for far too long.

The man stays silent and very still.

He doesn’t answer.

Luffy shifts from foot to foot, impatient. “Who are you?” He asks and then frowns when he doesn’t get an answer again.

Perhaps he fell asleep.

In not so silent steps; he walks (steady, Luffy took upon walking at sea rather easily once he caught the trick) towards the man and crouches beside him. He stares for a second, and pokes his arm.

He doesn’t react.

Luffy does it again and again and again— and again when he doesn’t react. A constant poke, poke, poke, poke, poke, poke, poke, poke, poke and it says a lot about either the man’s patience or how much of a heavy sleeper he is when it’s Luffy who gets impatient first.

He pokes his arm, one last time; when he doesn’t react, he hastily pulls the handkerchief from his face - just to jump in suprise when he’s met with two deep eyes wide open staring at him with a raised eyebrow.

“You are awake!”

“I am.”

“So, who are you?”

The man doesn’t answer again, shifting his eyes to the sky before closing them from the burning light of the sun. Luffy starts poking him again, for him to not fall asleep, just in case.

Luffy doesn’t get why he’s taking so long, because it’s not like it is a difficult question.

“Let’s just say I am not a pirate.”

Luffy, in a fit of anger, kicks him with all his force.

━━━━━━━━━━

There’s really, really nothing to do in the middle of the ocean in such a small boat, anything other than stare at clouds or to the sea - which gets boring after a while, and so the only thing here that can serve as entertainment is the man.

(Truly, it’s a wonder how he hasn’t even attempted to throw Luffy off the boat, scratch that, is a damn miracle how he hasn’t even snapped at him once.)

Is in the weird lull of calmness, where energy seems to lay down like a lake instead of a hurricane in his body, that Luffy realizes that he doesn’t have any idea where they are going.

He turns his eyes to the man (who didn’t tell him his name and it pissed Luffy off so badly that he decided that he was not talking to him— until he got bored of sulking) seeing his face upside down from where Luffy is laying down is kind of funny, he thinks, before he asks: “Hey, where are we going?”

The man goes to reach something inside his coat. “You are just asking that now?” He muses, which, yeah, obviously, Luffy wouldn’t have asked otherwise, and before he voices this the man takes out a little wooden thing close to Luffy’s face.

Luffy has no idea what that is.

His confusion must be obvious.

“An Eternal Pose.” The man explains. “It’s a special compass. It tells me directly where a specific island is.”

The little arrow moves inside and letters engraved in black spell a name Luffy has never heard off.

“It’s that where we are going?”

“Yes and no; this boat is not safe to pass through Reverse Mountain, so we are going to this island,” He taps the name in the Eternal Pose. “That's close to the Red Line for us to get on board a ship.” Luffy understands half of it, the other half is lost to him (Just what is a Reverse Mountain?) But it seems enough for the man to continue. “We are headed towards the East Blue.”

Oh! That’s something Luffy has heard of as: “Everyone says that’s the weakest Blue.”

“Relatively speaking.”

Luffy doesn’t know what ‘relatively’ means. He doesn’t think it is important. “Why there?”

“Because is the weakest.”

“Relatibly.” Luffy echoes.

“Relatively, yeah.” The man concedes. “There’s a certain island there; you will be safe there.”

Luffy frowns. “Safe from what?”

The man stares at him for a second, silent. Luffy stares back, waiting for an answer, for one second to the other, this moment feels more serious. The man’s eyes seem to latch onto something before he sighs.

He puts the Eternal Pose back into his cloak, then he moves from his sitting position, and, wordlessly, Luffy moves to give him space so that he can lay down in the boat beside him. His long hair tickles Luffy’s face.

Above them, the sky is impossibly blue. Luffy finds that he likes the shade of the ocean more.

“Do you know why this world is so dangerous, Luffy?”

“You really like making questions, uh.” Luffy points out. “Weird questions.”

“Humor me.”

Luffy shrugs.

He thinks about Mama, thinks about the way not even bullets faze her, her episodes, and the way everybody seemed terrified of her. He thinks about Prometheus and his infernal flame, of Zeus and his purple electricity. He thinks about Katakuri.

“Power?”

“To an extent; from devils to people, power comes in many, many forms, some of which we may never be able to understand. It can do good as it can do bad, hurt as much as it can heal. One may think that in good hands, it will do good, but something about power is that it has the ability to corrupt.” The man sighs. “Terrifying, isn’t it?”

“I don’t get it.”

“You will, someday.”

A big white lonely, lonely cloud appears in the sky; slowly casting a shadow over Luffy’s face.

“Power plays a part, but is not the reason.”

“It’s not?”

“No.” The man replies, softly. “So, I shall ask again: Do you know why this world is so dangerous, Luffy?”

Above them, the cloud shifts and changes. The shape resembles a cage.

“It’s because it’s unfair.”

Luffy frowns at the man’s words and tries to search for another shape in the cloud.

(He thinks of Chiffon.)

“People can be cruel, for the stupidest reasons too, sometimes.” A pause, a breath, and Luffy thinks about Mama, again. “Your mother will search for you for some time, and not only that, she... and your father.” He adds after a second. “Have made a lot of enemies. Powerful enemies.”

“What does that have anything to do with me?”

“Nothing.”

“Then why…?” He’s not sure what he’s trying to ask, too many questions, too many things trying to get out of his mouth at once, all resumed in a single why.

The man seems to understand.

“Because it’s unfair.”

“I don’t like that.”

“Yeah.” The man agrees. “Me neither.”

The cloud shifts and changes. The shape resembles a boat.

“Well, I still will do what I want to.” Luffy declares. “I will be a pirate. I won’t stay on that island forever.”

“You don’t have to.” Luffy was not asking, but the answer pleases him. “I said you would be safe, not that you will be kept. Once you have the strength to do what you want, to face the unfairness of the world, you can set sail again.”

“When will that be?”

“I don’t know.” The man smiles. “But you will.”

━━━━━━━━━━

In the dead of night, when the sky is dark, the moon hangs in the sky silently surrounded in solitude by millions of white dots that are the stars.

It must be nice, Luffy thinks, sometimes, to never be alone. He would be jealous if not because the moon can’t move; it must be boring, Luffy thinks then, to never be able to go where you want, to do nothing but hang in the sky— and the stars sometimes leave, right? Because there are shooting stars; it must be sad, Luffy is certain, the loss of a friend.

More sleep than awake, he takes his eyes out from the sky and turns to blink tiredly at the candle’s flame in the glass lamp, dancing happily on its own.

It’s their only source of light, if Luffy takes his eyes out of it, the only thing he’s met with is a darkness so deep that doesn’t allow him to even see his hand.

He rubs his eyes and yawns. He drops his head down on the side of the boat before he snaps back up and shakes his head, stubbornly fighting the clutches of sleep. They are close to their destination, the man had said so, and earlier that day Luffy had been able to spot the blur of an island in the distance.

He wants to be awake when they arrive.

But it’s hard, as his eyelids feel as if they weigh tons and every blink is longer than the last, bringing respite to the slight burning in his eyes. The sea sways the boat slightly from side to side in slow motion and the sound of waves breaking against her waters seems to sing lullabies at him.

It’s a quiet thing, their arrival.

Nothing big and nothing ostentatious, just a little boat anchoring on the coast of a small village.

It’s subtle, almost gentle, as the boat lightly bumps into the edge of land announcing their arrival.

The man stands up. There’s a quiet ‘splash!’ like the one you get when jumping into a puddle when the man sets foot on land. “Is it here?” Luffy asks.

There’s a low rumble, followed by the boat being pulled forward into land, to avoid any of the sea’s mischievous fits when it decides to steal badly anchored boats. “It is.”

Luffy blinks, taking in a second for the words to dawn in his sleepiness, but when he finally understands he jumps upright. Tiredness forgotten in those moments; Luffy beams and jumps out of the boat.

It’s still dark, but considerably less dark than the complete darkness the nights at sea are. Luffy squints, shadows of houses and towers with something moving on top. There’s a small metallic sound, drowned over the sound of waves breaking on the coast.

It takes less than a second of consideration for Luffy to ditch his sandals altogether. Sinking his feet deeper into the sand, close to the sea so that the waves reach his feet while he sees the man tying the sail once more.

Pulling the hood of his cloak over his head, the man passes him the glass lamp; without a word, he starts walking with the type of certainty of someone that knows the place.

He actually might be able to navigate without the necessity of light whatsoever.

Luffy runs to catch up to him, eyeing warily the half-ripped part of the cloak draped over his arm.

They had made a couple of stops here and there, not many, as we know the wind favors the man, but the distance between Totto Land and Goa Kingdom is not small by any means, and expecting for them to not make a single stop through that journey is, frankly, stupid.

Most of those were to gather supplies, and one or two because of bad weather (It had started to rain ice of all things, Luffy had been awed until one not-so-little cube hit him in the forehead) In the first one though, the man had ripped the lower part of his cloak and drop it on Luffy’s head as a make-shift cloak.

Apparently, the man isn’t well-liked by a lot of people, and no matter how much Luffy had asked just what that even mean, the man didn’t answer —Luffy did notice the man’s constant evasion of direct answers about himself, it did not stop him from asking because Luffy is nothing but persisten— with nothing but an assurance that it was dangerous to be recognized with him, so the cloak had to stay.

Luffy had absolutely hated it; as if it was just a piece of cloth, it meant that there wasn’t a way for it to secure it around him or his head, which meant Luffy had to have a hand grabbing it all the time.

(And more than half of the time he forgot about it.)

As if sensing his contempt, the man speaks. “You don’t have to use it anymore.”

Luffy beams at his words, not bothering with the why of it.

They walk for some time, the man staring straight ahead while Luffy strays from time to time to explore, but it’s not like he can’t get a good look in the dark. The moon is full, but her light isn't the brightest and the clouds seem keen in cover it up.

It’s not long until the feeling of sand gets replaced by earth. Dust and rocks too small to actually hurt stick to his bare feet.

The feeling of grass against his skin makes him snicker.

They don’t actually get into the village, just skirting on its edge as the man makes a beeline to the first house there, the one closest to the sea.

Luffy gets ahead of him, curious, skipping the three steps onto the wooden platform, he drags his feet on it to unstick the dirt from his feet. There’s a dirty yellow hammock —full of sand— tied to the wooden pillars, a black carpet at the feet of the entrance, and a little blue anchor hung on the door.

“Is this your home?”

The man takes a long second to answer.

“No.”

Luffy hums; something moves in the corner of his eye and he whips around to see a small crab crawling in the side, next to a clay flower pot with a dry brown plant at the verge of death.

He crouches down, blinking at the crab. It’s red and white, nothing like the crabs in Totto Land, made out of a single color and hard candy. He taps it, and again and again.

Laughing as it scurries faster, he grabs it by one of its pincers.

“Hey, can you eat—” He starts, turning around just to be cut off by the loud ‘bam!’ of the door as the man kicks it open. He jumps at the sound, almost dropping the crab in his hand, and looks at the man with wide eyes.

“It was stuck.” He lies.

“Oh.” Luffy says. “Oh, okay!”

The man takes a glance at his hand. “And yes, crabs can be eaten.” He says before he walks into the house.

Luffy makes a face at the crab, tapping against the hard skin and tilts it to the side. “Really?”

“Really.” He answers, muffled through the walls. He adds something, but as he gets deeper into the house, it gets harder to hear him, so Luffy ignores him.

Luffy stares at the crab and promptly shoves it into his mouth.

It tastes like salt from the ocean, and dirt, and sand. Nothing like he expected a crab —that isn’t made out of candy— to taste like. He frowns, and chews, well, tries to. It’s hard and there’s a small crack where his teeth sink in, and it still tastes like nothing.

It’s like eating a rock, a soft rock, but still a rock.

Disappointing, really.

A sudden spike of pain from his mouth interrupts his thoughts; something digging into his inner cheek. Luffy screeches, spitting out a couple of times in reflex and squeals as the crab’s pincer stays closed around his cheek, hanging from his mouth.

He rips it out, throwing it against the floor as the man quickly pops out from the house again.

“Are you fine?”

“Stupid crab!” He glares at the crab on the floor and then at the man. “Stupid man! You say I could eat it! Liar!”

Luffy’s mouth tastes of blood and he licks his inner cheek in an attempt to smooth out the pain.

“Yeah, you can—”

“No! You liar! I tried it and it hurt me!”

“Did you put the crab… in your mouth?”

“You say I could eat it!”

“I did. Because you can eat crabs but—”

“No! Liar! You can’t! It bit me! It didn’t even taste good!”

“You have to cook them first.” The man cuts in. “And the part that’s eaten is the inside, not the outside.” He puts his open hands together and then moves them side to side, like a book being open. “You tear them open.”

“Oh.” Luffy sniffs, but not because he’s tearing up. He didn’t cry! Not even a little! But he sniffs, and then scowls at the man. “Well, you didn’t say that!”

“I thought you— Right, nevermind. I forget Totto Land’s creatures are different.” He sighs. “My bad. Are you fine?”

Luffy huffs, grabs the glass lamp on the floor, kicks the crab, kicks the man, and stomps off.

The man blinks. “Where are you going?”

Luffy sticks his tongue out, still angry at him for making him put a crab in his mouth but still declares: “I’m going to explore! - And you can’t come!”

“Wouldn’t it be better to do it in the morning?”

“But I want to do it now!” It’s a new place, after all, a new place with new things and new people with things to discover! For new adventures! Luffy is excited, why should he wait then?

“And I suppose that you aren’t tired?”

Luffy’s eyelids still feel heavy. His eyes burn a little every time he blinks. At the reminder of his tiredness, he rubs his eyes. “Not even a little.” He says, though the last part is airy when he forces it through a yawn. “I will be going to explore!”

“Have fun.” The man says simply. “Don’t get too close to the sea at night or the seas might lock you up with Davy Jones.”

With a grin, he runs off.

(No ten minutes later, Dragon finds Luffy sleeping next to the cows.)

━━━━━━━━━━

It takes him about five minutes of drowsily blinking at very worn-looking blankets and a deflated pillow for Luffy to realize that he wakes up in a bed.

He doesn’t remember ever getting into a bed.

He blinks again, remnants of sleepiness stubbornly clinging to him. He runs his hands in the blanket. It’s raspy, and Luffy snickers at the sensation. He wonders for a second how he ended up there before promptly deciding that isn’t important and jumps out of the bed.

Luffy doesn’t have time to sleep when there’s a whole new world here to explore!

The room is practically empty, with more dust than any furniture, just the bed and a wardrobe with nothing inside of it. It looks abandoned, and once Luffy determines there’s nothing interesting, he gets out.

There’s nothing that really stands out.

It looks like an average beach house, but Luffy still marvels at the simplicity of it all; at the lack of talking objects and that nothing is made out of candy.

It’s kind of small and that is already weird, considering that the castle where he used to live was a maze of swirly lollipops and sugary floors with levels upon levels of different flavors of cake.

It’s weird, but not bad.

There’s a small bathroom with the most hideous curtains Luffy has ever seen in his life. A big living room that’s also the kitchen. On one side there are a couple of low couches around a low table made out of a tree’s trunk and a big glass. On the other, a tall counter with tall stools separating it from the kitchen.

There’s nothing in the fridge, other than a (spoiled, he tasted it, but he still drank it) carton of milk and a tray of ice cubes; and the rest of the kitchen isn’t any better, other than glasses and plates and other dusty kitchen utensils.

Though, there’s one lonely bag with rice crackers in one of the cabinets at the top (Luffy may or may have not broken the stool he used to reach) that he eats.

The only left room to explore is the one on the far right and Luffy can’t bring himself to enter because once he banged open the door, a smell that can’t be described as anything other than old man's smell filled his nose and made him gag.

With another ’bang’, he closed the door immediately.

There isn’t any sign of the man anywhere. But there’s a blanket and a pillow (with strands of long black hair) thrown over the largest couch and a couple of fruits that, in contrast to the empty little house, look very out of place on the little table.

Luffy shrugs, takes one of the apples and walks out of the house.

(The door, as it is, is broken in half. Loosely hanging from one of its hinges. There’s a big chunk of cement on the floor that fell with the impact of the door against the wall; Luffy blinks at the hundred dents on the wall before thinking that the door must get stuck a lot.)

The village, which’s name Luffy can’t remember right now, is in one word, simple.

There’s no other way to describe it.

Little houses and buildings made of wood that don’t loom high above, and there isn’t a castle that reaches into the sky. Simple soil roads and simple wooden fences and simple green grass that can be eaten —Luffy has discovered that everything can be eaten if he really puts his mind to it— but doesn’t taste very good. He wonders what’s so special that the cows seem to like it so much.

Luffy actually asks them, rocking on the fence while waiting for an answer.

The silence stretches too long.

He gets angry at being ignored and demands an answer again before he remembers the man told him that, apparently, animals can’t talk.

The mockery of a fairy tale where Luffy grew up didn’t amaze him at all. But this place is simple and rustic, oh, so different from the place he used to call a home, where the flowers can’t sing and the houses can’t talk, where the monkeys aren’t dressed in silk and the white rabbits don’t go to tea parties with a clock in hand, that Luffy finds himself amazed at it all.

He laughs.

People here walk with a certain peace, with a happiness, that now Luffy realizes just… wasn’t there in Totto Land, where the citizens carried themselves tight, with wary eyes glancing at the castle and careful words because everything was heard.

It’s all so weird, so, so different and Luffy finds that he likes the simplicity and casualness of it all far more than the ostentatious and oppressive atmosphere from Totto Land.

He does, however, feel kind of bad that the animals can’t talk.

So he asks the cows if they really can’t talk and strains his ears to hear.

The cows don’t answer, but Luffy thinks he hears the mutter of a voice coming from them and decides that maybe these cows are just bastards that don’t want to talk to him— which is fine because it’s not like Luffy wanted to talk that much to them anyways!

There aren’t any chocolate paths and gingerbread houses, instead, there are soil paths and terracotta windmills.

Yes, Luffy likes it.

(He doesn’t love it, not yet, but he will grow to do so.)

And as he looks up at the fast-paced turn of the sails of a windmill as they sing with a creak, Luffy wonders if he could climb one.

He stares.

He will climb one.

━━━━━━━━━━

Luffy can’t climb it because, apparently, one isn’t allowed to climb the windmills.

Not as if Luffy cares about what he is and he isn’t allowed to do —If he was, he would have stayed to live as one of the princes of a façade of a fairy tale— but because is kind of hard when there’s an old man (“I am the mayor!”) with a bucket on his head (“It’s a hat!”) holding him by the foot and dragging him down while Luffy is trying to go up, and despite clinging onto it with all his strength— and he’s very strong!

After an hour of intense clinging and a half hour of fighting with the mayor, the thing that has Luffy desisting —at least, for that day— is the prospect of food offered by the mayor with a defeated sigh after his belly starts rumbling.

He’s not that bad, Luffy decides then, because someone that gives him food can’t possibly be bad. Yet, as he follows him into the building with a Party’s Bar engraved in a sign at the top, Luffy lets him know that he hasn’t given up.

“I will climb one of those.”

The mayor scoffs. “No, you won’t. It’s not allowed—”

“Like I care!”

One of his wrinkled hands goes up to massage his temple. He seems ready to throw him out the window. “Why do you even want to climb a windmill so much?”

“Why not?” Luffy blinks and laughs at the splutter he receives in response. “It looks fun! I bet I can see the whole village from there.”

“You— It’s dangerous!”

Luffy laughs. Doesn’t that make it even more fun? “Yeah!”

“What would you do if you fell? You could die from that height.”

“I will just not fall.” Luffy says with a ‘duh’ at the end. It’s kind of obvious if you ask him, the mayor doesn’t seem to be very smart if Luffy has to explain that.

The mayor stares, and with the certainty of a man that has given up, sighs deeply. He sits down on one of the stools, pointedly ignoring Luffy, and turns to the woman behind the bar.

“Evening, Makino. What a nice weather we have today, don’t we?”

Outside the sails of the windmill spin and spin like a yoyo, strong but light, not enough to be frightening. Yet the sound of creaking metal is audible and prominent even from inside the bar. Windy, unusually so ever since early morning, and even more unusual for this time of the year.

“It is.” Makino agrees, half amused at the little kid trying to climb into the tall stool. “Oh, hello, and who might you be?”

“I’m Luffy!”

“Garp’s grandson.” The mayor adds.

(There’s a conversation here, but as life goes, there are things that go unheard. Held between tight lips and whispered in words, too faint and too quiet that get buried in the others.

Woop Slap, the mayor of the little village at the far edge of a colorful kingdom, is nobody great: a simple old man who loved his unimportant village so much that he became mayor of it.

A simple old mayor who just happened to live in the same time at the same place as the participants of bigger stories, and he just happened to live long enough that he became witness to some details of the story of a sad old man torn between family and duty; of the story of a man too kind who couldn’t stand the sight of this unfair world and made his hands drip red with the blood of a god; and now, the beginning of a king’s story.

Woop Slap is nobody great, just a simple old man who happened to meet a hero, a criminal, and a king; just a simple old man who witnessed bits of a tragedy, a war, and a legend.

As all stories go, there are scenes that go missing, held in between words, dusty paper that has been burned, or detailed paragraphs whose ink has faded.

Early in the morning, when the sun shily peaked over the seas and a child slept in a room that was once abandoned, the wind stole all the words of a quiet conversation.

It was quite bittersweet, let me tell you, more fitting to belong in the pages of the hero’s than the ones of the criminal, the warrior, but love and family always come with that pain, more so in a world like this.

There’s a conversation here, privy only to a wanted man and a simple mayor.

We will never know more than that.)

“Oh.” Makino blinks. “I never knew Garp had a kid.”

“...Yeah.”

“Should I… not ask?”

“Do it if you are curious, I guess. But if you want to know, ask Garp.” The mayor shrugs. “Maybe he will tell you.”

“I— Oh, yeah, sure, right.” Makino stumbles out, shifting foot to foot at the somber tone under the words. She clears his throat. “I, uh, I never knew Garp had a grandson.” She tries again.

At that, the mayor snorts. “Ha! Neither does he.”

Makino chuckles, albeit awkwardly. Should— should she be worried? Should she ask? “Right! Um, now that I see him, he does look a lot like Garp.”

Luffy tilts his head. “Who’s this Garp?”

“Your grandfather.”

“Oh.” Luffy nods, and then, after a beat. “I have a grandfather?”

The mayor nods.

Well, that’s surprising, Luffy thinks and ultimately shrugs. That’s that, he supposes. He turns to Makino who looks a mix between worried and confused. “Makino?”

“Ah!” She jumps, before clearing her throat and seemingly going back to normal. “What can I get you today?”

“I’m hungry!”

Makino hums, making memory of what exactly she has to serve. It’s not that she doesn’t serve food, but it is definitely weird for people to come here to just eat and not to drink. “Uh, well, I have fish, some chicken, and potatoes. I doubt you will want a salad… I think there’s some crab left—”

“You have to cook crab.” Luffy interrupts very, very seriously, just in case she doesn't know and she serves him a raw crab and it bites his mouth again.

He still can feel the bite of the other one in his mouth.

Makino blinks before she smiles. “I will make sure it’s cooked.”

Luffy nods, satisfied, and then, because he’s thirsty and he has never been to a bar before, he asks: “What do you drink in bars?”

“Normally, things with alcohol, like wine and booze.” The mayor answers instead “But, well, those are grown-up drinks, not for little kids.”

Luffy frowns. “I’m not little.” He declares before he raises a hand with one finger up. “Makino! One booze, please!” Makino snorts, before one of her hands goes to hide her mouth. “Don’t laugh! I’m serious!”

“Sorry, sorry.” She apologizes. “I, uh, well, I would love to but you—”

“I’m not little! I am seven!”

“That’s a very big number.” Makino concedes.

“What’s the problem, then?”

“...You still are a little bit too young.”

“When will I not be too young?” Luffy asks, he doesn’t see what’s the problem with having an adult drink, he’s big, and it's just water.

“Um, I don’t know.” She smiles as she places an arm on the counter and her chin goes to rest in her hand. “When you can climb a windmill, I guess.”

And as the mayor lets out a laugh, Luffy immediately hops off his stool with renewed determination and makes a run for the closest windmill, ignoring the ‘No, wait! Luffy, I was joking!’ and the things the mayor yells his way.

Needless to say, Makino is the first friend Luffy makes in Foosha Village.

━━━━━━━━━━

It’s late noon, the sun resting on the ocean waters before it goes to sleep when a strong ‘thump, thump, thump’ rises above the sound of the wind from firm steps against wood.

Luffy lifts his head from his drawing in its direction to be met with an old man frowning at the broken door.

The old man turns his head from the door to the man sitting on the couch, who, for his part, doesn’t make any move to meet his gaze, choosing to keep his eyes on what seems to be an old children’s book.

“Brat.” The old man clicks his tongue. “The door was open.”

A turn of a page, the cover reads: The Tales the Sea Monsters Whisper For Those Who Listen. “So it was.”

The old man narrows his eyes.

There’s a beat of silence before the old man dashes with a fist raised high and a grin bordering on maniac. It’s so fast that a burst of air explodes after him and Luffy jumps in surprise.

A ‘crash!’ followed by a loud ‘bam!’ followed by silence.

Luffy opens his eyes, blinking at the empty spot where the old man used to be.

There’s a strident laugh, raspy around the edges, but no less genuine.

Luffy’s head snaps up to the source of the sound, gaping when he sees the old man in front of the couch. He scrubs his eyes, hastily standing up with his head going back and forth from the place the old man used to be to the couch.

“Ha! Be a good kid and let an old man give you the Fist of Love!”

The man doesn’t seem fazed by any of it in the slightest. Impassive eyes shift from the words in the book to the fist piercing through a wall at his side, centimeters away from his face before they shift back to the book. “I doubt destroying your home is the best way to drive a point— if this is only about the door, that is.”

“Now, don’t be talking back to me.”

“I’m not.”

“Serious as ever, aren’t we? You could be a little more animated, you know.” He laughs. “You haven’t seen your da—!”

“Garp.” He cuts in.

Luffy blinks out of his stupor and frowns, when he has heard that name before?

The old man clicks his tongue. “That’s no way to greet your d—!”

“Garp.” He cuts in again, with a force fitting of a king’s orders and punctuating it with the harsh sound of the book being closed. “Don’t.”

The old man snorts, and is more mocking than the jovial thing his laughter was before. “I see, I see.” His head turns slightly, watching Luffy from the corner of his eye before going back to the man. “It’s all this about the kid, then?” A scoff. “What stupid thing are you planning to do now, Dra—?”

“Ah!” Luffy exclaims, a fisted hand falling on his palm in realization. “You are my grandfather!”

The old man— no, wait, his grandfather, or Garp? Whatever, makes a noise no different than the one of a strangled cat in surprise. A snort escapes the man at the sound, barely managing to stifle a laugh.

“Your what?” Garp grits out, head going from the man who is cleaning spit from his face to Luffy.

“You heard him.” The man adds. His grandfather’s hand —the one that isn’t piercing the wall— shots up automatically to swat the man in the head.

He slowly retracts his fist from the wall. The man straightens in his seat, no longer angled to the left in an awkward position where he dodged the blow.

He walks up to Luffy, wood and glass of the table he broke in his rush cracking further under his shoes.

His grandfather doesn’t say anything.

Well, he looks like he isn’t sure what to do in this situation or how to react and the so clearly painted insecurity in his harsh face is off-putting. He scans Luffy head to toe. Then, he alternates between the man and Luffy in something that could almost be described as sorrow.

Outside, the wind blows strong and It’s the only thing that stops complete silence to settle in.

“...Right.” The old man says.

“Right!” Luffy repeats. He’s not really sure what he’s right but, whatever!

His grandfather opens his mouth and closes it, biting the inside of his cheek. He looks as if he wants to say something. He doesn’t; turning to stare at the man, waiting for some sort of answer.

Answer that isn’t being offered, as the man is choosing to remain as a silent spectator of this whole interaction.

(He actually looks kind of amused at all this.)

“I’m Luffy!” He says with a smile when the silence stretches too long. “Nice to meet you! I guess!”

“...Right.” His grandfather says, again, before he shakes his head. A small grin that looks more genuine breaks his face in half. “Well, then! Luffy! I’m your grandfather from now on, so you better call me Grandpa!”

“Oh, okay, Grandpa!”

Grandpa smiles with a nod. “Ha! That wasn’t so hard now, right?” He says, pointedly calling out to the man in the last part, who, for his part, just rolls his eyes. Grandpa crouches next to Luffy, leaning into his ear as if to tell a secret but not really whispering. “See what he did, Luffy? Don’t be like him.”

Luffy blinks. “Why not?”

“People ought to respect their par—“

“Cht.”

Grandpa stills. “Don’t you ‘cht’ me!” He snaps, fingers cracking in one hand in warning. “Insolent rascal. I miss when you— Alright, damn, I get it. Don’t go showing me those colors now, unless you want me to beat you into the ground, brat.”

The man doesn’t even blink.

“Now, as I was saying,” Grandpa continues with a frown. “You don’t want to be like him. He’s a criminal. He goes against the government.”

Luffy has no idea what a government is, but the words around the argument are familiar in a way that’s uncomfortably stupid.

“It’s that… supposed to be bad?” Luffy asks.

“It is.”

The man’s lips press into a tight line. “I would rather not have you indoctrinate him into a corrupt system that does not care.”

“Bah! Dramatic as always. You over-exaggerate.”

“I don’t. Let him form his own opinions.”

“It’s how this world works.” Grandpa answers, as if scolding a small child. A minute passes, and when he speaks again, there’s a harsh edge on his voice: “A criminal is a criminal.”

“According to who?”

Something seems to crack in the air, like thunder coming down in the middle of the living room.

Tension skyrockets as silent fight breaks in between glares. The drop of a pin would probably be enough to make one of them jump into action.

(Obviously, there’s a story here. It’s not a particularly nice one— The hero’s story is one of tragedy after all.)

“I don’t think he’s bad.” Luffy decides with a firm nod, breaking into the conflict with ease.

Because why would someone that helps him be bad? If it weren’t for him, Luffy would still be in with a bunch of strangers that call themselves family in a candy kingdom.

And why would someone be bad just for going against someone? Disobeying? That’s stupid, really. All this reminds him of Mama’s stupid ramblings.

“He’s a criminal.” Grandpa repeats in a way that feels desperate to get him to understand.

“So?” Luffy shrugs. “Maybe he’s bad to you, but he’s not to me!”

The man smiles, proudly, while Grandpa goes to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I never said that he’s bad. I’m saying he’s a criminal.” Luffy doesn’t think he’s making much sense, because he says both things with the same tone: as if it was very bad. “As hard as it can be, you can’t go against the government.”

“Why not?”

Grandpa stares at him for a long, long moment. He opens his mouth, closes it, and opens it again as some sort of fish before his lips turn down in a grimace.

Instead of answering, Grandpa hits him in the head, hard, and ignoring Luffy’s yelp of pain, he mutters a curse and something along the lines of ‘definitely seeing the resemblance now’ and rises from where he was crouched.

“You will understand, one day.”

“Haven’t you ever thought it’s you the one that has to—“

“Don’t.” Grandpa bites. “Don’t start with that crap.”

The man cocks his head to the side, narrowing his eyes. His gaze shifts to Luffy for a second.

He sighs.

“I’m not here looking for a fight.” He placates, even though it seems as if he wants to keep talking about the other thing. “I have a favor to ask you.”

“You want me to look after him.”

“Yes.”

“I think you already know my answer.”

The man nods. Then, he stands up, side-stepping the broken table, his steps are silent as he reaches him.

“You will be staying with your grandfather for now.” He starts, pausing slightly before he continues. “Listen to him, but don’t become anything you don’t want to.”

“Because of you, now he has to be—!“

“Understood, Luffy?”

“Of course!” He answers, even though it is not that Luffy needs to be reminded of that. He will be a pirate! No matter what anybody says!

A long arm appears from under the man’s cloak. It’s a heavy thing on his head, but warm at the same time. He ruffles his hair before he turns around, and as Luffy watches his back, something occurs to him.

His own hand shoots to grab the back of his cloak, stopping him in his tracks.

The man blinks down at him.

“You are leaving?”

“I am.”

Luffy’s heart sinks into the ground.

“Why?”

“I assure you, it’s not something you did. It’s just that I have things to do, important things. Remember?”

“Your dream.” Luffy sniffs.

“My dream.” The man agrees. “I can’t do it if I stay.”

And, yeah, that makes sense, because it’s just like Luffy can’t be a pirate if he stays on one island all his life, or how he wouldn’t be free if he stayed with Mama. But, still, still, Luffy didn’t know it meant that the man would go, that he would leave him. He doesn’t want to be alone.

“Why can’t I go with you?”

The man stays silent, and for a second, it is as if he’s actually considering it.

(Were Dragon to be more selfish, he would have said yes.

Perhaps, in another life, in another situation, Dragon was, and took his son with him, and the consequences of it would have given birth to a completely different story. Though, then again, if Dragon was to be more selfish, more self-centered, then the consequences of it may have ended in the Revolutionary Army never coming to life.

But this is not either of those stories. Luffy won’t grow to be a Sweet General as much as he won’t grow to be a Revolutionary.)

“What’s your dream, Luffy?”

“I want to be a pirate.”

Grandpa lets out an exasperated groan; both of them ignore him.

“I’m not a pirate.” The man declares once again. “Your dream it’s not mine, and mine it’s not yours. You wouldn’t want to be something you don’t want to be. You wouldn’t like chasing a dream that it’s not yours, right?”

Luffy frowns. No, he wouldn’t like it. He still doesn’t want him to leave. He pulls the cloak a couple of times. “I don’t want to be alone.”

“And you won’t be. The people here are nice, they surely will want to be friends with someone as lively as you. You already have one, don’t you?”

“Makino.” Luffy reminds him.

“Makino.” The man repeats.

“Oh.” Luffy realizes.

“Don’t let fear cloud you. Be your own person, live as you want, be free.”

A pause.

“Oh, yeah, that reminds me.” The man adds. “Would you want to change your name?”

Luffy blinks, a little bit startled at the sudden change of topics, especially when he’s taking in the man’s prior words to him, the ‘be free’ resonating through his head. But: “I can change it?”

“Sure.”

He considers it for a second. He rather likes ‘Luffy’. It’s who he is, and he can’t really picture himself as any other than that. “I am Luffy.” He lets his hands fall from where they were gripping the cloak and shrugs.

“You are.” The man agrees. “But I am talking about your last name.” Luffy blinks, confused, and the man sighs. “Would you want to stay as a Charlotte—”

“He’s a what.” Grandpa chokes out, swallowing spit and coughing a bunch of times. “You and Linlin— What the fuck? Linlin? Of all people? Why would you even— What? And he’s one of her kids?” The man stammers, pale as a sheet and looking as if somebody just punched him in the gut. It’s rather funny. He shakes his head. “A Charlotte—”

A window bangs open.

Wind blows in with the strenght of a hurricane, making sand and dust fly in and Luffy has to close his eyes to stop it from entering them. A hand settles on his shoulder, and it feels as if it is the only thing stopping him from being dragged by the wind like the sheets of papers of his drawings are.

“Yes.” The man says simply, calmly. His voice shouldn’t be able to rise through the wind, but it is as clear as glass even though he doesn’t even yell. “Would that be a problem?”

“Not at all!” Grandpa replies immediately —He does have to yell to make his words go through— and the words feel genuine. The wind dies down as suddenly as it came. “Ha! Don’t be dramatic now.” A harsh hand clasps his back with force and Luffy stumbles a couple of steps forward. “He’s my grandson, above all, and nothing will change that.”

A beat.

“Good.”

“Frankly, I’m more concerned about you.” Grandpa admits, weirdly serious all of sudden. “If she—”

“Not the time.” The man interrupts before he goes back to Luffy. “Do you want to stay as a Charlotte, or do you want to change it?”

“Change it to what?”

“Monkey.” Luffy laughs. That’s such a fun name! “Your name wouldn’t be Charlotte D. Luffy, but Monkey. D Luffy.”

“I will change it!” Luffy replies almost immediately. He doesn’t think much about it. He’s not really able to grasp what changing his last name entails, not really, not yet. He just thinks that having one of his names being ‘Monkey’ is far more fun than a simple, boring ‘Charlotte’. “I’m Monkey D. Luffy!” He tries and rather likes how it rolls on his tongue.

(It’s quite funny, really, just how easily the shackles that declared him as a Charlotte fall from his wrists. It’s a soundless liberation, there’s not the sound of chains rattling with the fall, nor trumpets as he does it. But it’s not less important.)

Luffy nods, self-satisfied.

“Well then.” The man says, and as he walks away the only vestiges that he was ever here will stay as another dent on the wall and a children’s book left on a couch. “We shall meet at sea one day.”

It’s not a farewell, or at least, Luffy doesn’t think so.

━━━━━━━━━━

(A conversation held between scenes. Late at night, a hero and a criminal, a father and a son, on a table at the far end of a bar.

“You are too paranoid!” Garp laughs. “Not every place you go is filled with spies.”

“So you say.” Dragon nods. The ice in his drink clinks against the glass as he moves it in slight circles.

“Ha! Don’t be like that! It’s not every day that your son comes breaking your door —again— You could at least act a little bit happier to see your good old dad after such a long time! I didn’t even get a good hit on you!”

“I didn’t come here to chat.”

“Do you ever?” Garp snorts. “You ought to do so, brat. I will kick bucket one day and you will look back and— Now, don’t make that face!” He laughs, it comes deep from his stomach and he reclines on his seat. “Alright, alright, have it your way, then.”

“You were the one that wanted to talk.” Dragon says. “It’s the reason I haven’t gone yet.”

“What, do you want a ‘thanks’ for indulging an old man?”

“I want you to get to the point.”

“You know what this is about.”

“Obviously.” Dragon answers, but when Garp keeps watching him with an inquisitive look, he frowns and adds: “I don’t know what you want me to say. Everything there was to say, I told it in the house.”

“Did you?”

“Yes.” Dragon says, slowly. “If you are searching for something, ask directly. I am not fond of playing mind games.”

“Ha! You said it as if I was.”

“So?”

“I’m waiting for you to explain yourself.” Garp replies, curtly. The harsh lines of his face carve deeply into his skin and his lips turn downward in a grimace. His eyes shine with either disappointment or sorrow, perhaps both. “Just what in the world would possess you to have a child?”

The light of the lamp is soft, too soft, and it casts a pleasant yellow light over the bar. The sound of voices talking over another with the yell of ‘another!’ is always overshadowed by the sound of laughter. A record turns on the corner. The needle of the turntable that connects to the snail makes it sing words of sea.

It’s nice, in simple words.

Cozy, familiar, warm.

It does not fit with the tension that falls on the table at the far end of the back of the bar.

“What exactly do you mean?”

“You know what I mean, Mister Most Wanted Criminal in the World.” Garp scoffs. “And if that wasn’t enough Linlin’s—” He cuts himself abruptly, seemingly remembering something. With a click of his tongue, he straightens in his seat. “Linlin?”

A sigh.

“Can we not?”

“Oh, don’t come at me with that crap, Dragon.” A ‘bang!’ of his hand against the table makes it rattle. “We most definitely do. It’s Linlin! Big Mom!”

“Yes, I am aware that’s who she is.”

Garp, for his part, doesn’t seem to have heard him. “That damned witch! I will beat her up so hard that she will meet Rocks in hell; just how dare she!? Laying her sticky hands all over—!”

“I don’t know what kind of conclusions you are jumping to.” Dragon quickly cuts in before it escalates. “But I would rather not have you going for round two. I don’t wish for a repetition of the Godvalley incident.”

“Ha! You think it would be as bad as Godvalley?” Garp starts, full of anger before he shuts his mouth with an audible ‘click’. He turns to Dragon, squinting at him. “How do you even know about that?”

Instead of answering, Dragon brings the glass to his lips.

“Hmph, keep your secrets, then. It does not change that these seas will have one emperor less by the end of the week— What? What’s with the look? You don’t think your old man could win?”

“I’m not doubting your capabilities in any form.” Seas know just how much of a monster Garp is. Though, the statistics of how a fight between Big Mom and the Hero of the Marine would go now is something he doesn’t wish to linger on. “I just think you are blowing this situation out of proportion.”

“In what way?”

“In every way.”

“I literally couldn’t care less what you think.”

“Yes, you have made that clear a lot of times—”

“And I don’t care,” Garp interrupts, turning a deaf ear to his son’s protests, he really doesn’t care about that right now. “If you think I’m ‘blowing this out of proportion’, or whatever. What I care about it’s that you are my son.” He points at him. “And I swear, Dragon, I swear, if that fucking witch did something to you, I will kill her with my own hands.”

A yell of ‘another round!’ rises above the bar.

“Dragon.” Garp calls, and it can’t be described as gentle, not really. Nothing about Garp is gentle. But it can be described as caring. “Did something happen?”

A pause.

“You worry too much, it’s weird.” Especially after, quite literally, everything. Their father-son relationship can barely be called a relationship, strained and ragged as it is, held by a thread that comes closer to snapping every time they see each other.

“How could I not care? You are my son and you always will be.”

Perhaps, it’s just the old man’s stubbornness that holds it together.

“No. Nothing happened. I just had my reasons.” After a second, he adds: “...But, thank you. For worrying.”

Garp stays silent for a second.

Inquisitive eyes scan Dragon’s face before they settle on something and Garp’s shoulders drop, letting out a laugh— there’s a pang of relief that can be heard as clear as day in it.

“Just what kind of father would I be if I didn’t worry?” He breathes. “I will admit, I’m pretty surprised you were even able to bring the brat with you.”

“I stole him.”

“Figured as much.”

A halt in the conversation; silence broken by music, laughter, and remnants of other conversations that drift through the air.

A drunken man sways to the rhythm of the music, hiccups making him jump every second and uncoordinated steps. You would think this was a ship, and that the man had never set foot on sea by the way he moves.

He collides with a drunken girl, carrying about five big jars of booze and it falls to the floor with a crash of shattered glass.

“You are too selfish, Dragon.”

“Maybe.” He replies. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”

Garp frowns, reclining back once again and suddenly, one can become acutely aware of his age, and the regrets this one brings, especially for a man like him. “You and Roger; you are the damn same, blabbering shit about the future just to leave.”

“I fail to see how a dead king has anything to do with this conversation.”

“He doomed a brat too.”

“Doomed?” Dragon coughs. “In what sense? For their blood?”

“What else?” A snort, it’s a painful thing. “Kid’s barely ten and the world wants him dead— The same will happen with yours, if not worse.”

“Big Mom.”

“Yes, of course, because of Linlin!” Garp passes a hand through his face. “Because of you! Because you are alive! Because you are both alive! You really had to—!”

“The parent’s sins are not the ones of the child.”

“Yes.” Garp sighs. “Roger said that too.”

“I fail to see why someone’s parents should decide if somebody is worthy of living.” Dragon emphasizes when the conversation halts.

“It’s bullshit.” Garp agrees. “I know better than anyone to tell you something like: ‘This world is cruel’ when you are damn well aware of it. What I will say is that’s how this world works.”

“And you don’t think, then, that it ought to change—”

“It can’t be changed.” Garp snarls. “It’s about time you get that through your thick skull.”

There’s not a time where Dragon can remember not being angry at something, whether be those childish tantrums that slowly turned into anger at seeing skin latch onto bones while people gobbled down more food than they could eat; anger at seeing burn marks in form of dragon’s claws; anger at seeing just how unjust this world was.

Dragon is an angry person. He is well aware of it. It’s what drives him. But he wouldn’t call himself hot-headed. Yet, dealing with people like Garp, dealing with Garp, has always managed to bring out a part of him that’s definitely impulsive, more violent than usual— Last time he allowed it, Garp ended up with stitches on his face; Dragon with a dozen surgical nails and an arm that still cracks every time he moves it and both of them with a heavy heart.

Dragon is angry, always has been, and maybe, always will be. But not hot-headed, not until these moments where he has to put the glass on the table and hold his hands together to avoid smashing the damn glass in Garp’s fucking head.

“Don’t you think,” He grits out. “That is because of people like you, with the power to change things, but refuse to do so, that this world has such a hard time changing for the better?”

“Watch it—”

“You are an accomplice.” Dragon interrupts. “Of everything the system you work for does. Don’t you think that the fact that people like you decide to sit around with their arms crossed, refusing to do something, is what allows the world to prosecute innocent children?”

Garp grits his teeth, so hard that the sound can be heard and the spot on the table his hand is grabbing smashes into pieces.

“I have been a marine longer than you have ever been alive.”

“Yes.” Dragon says, standing up. “That is the problem.”

Garp swallows, and a vein in his neck seems about to pop out. Hands made into fists, he unclenches them and clenches them, over and over again. “And here I thought, that you finally got over yourself and stopped being angry at me for such little things—”

“No. I am still angry at you.” He cuts. “I don’t think there will ever be a time where I am not angry at you, not as long as you keep being the way you are.”

“Then I guess you will stay angry at me forever.”

Dragon breathes. “Maybe so.”

He starts to walk away and a hand shots up to grab his wrist. The action is unconscious, and, in some way, could be described as vulnerable, in the way only a father and a son can be.

“Then why?” Garp doesn’t quite look him in the eye when he asks. “Why give him to me when you are so angry at me?”

“You are a decrepit old man, full of faults.” Dragon says bluntly. “You are conservative and selfish, and insensitive, and forceful, and stupid, and hypocritical, and if I stopped to list every fault you have I would probably never end.”

“Ha! What exactly are you trying here—?”

“But you love your family.” He ends, anger sizzling at the sides of his voice but the words are no less genuine and it shuts up Garp immediately. “It’s undeniable.”

“...I see.” A gulp and the hold he had on his son’s wrist falls. “And, that’s enough?”

“No, of course not.” A pause, almost hesitant. It’s a weird thing for someone like him. “I’m trusting you with this, and for both Luffy's sake, and for Roger’s kid's sake. I hope I’m not wrong in doing so.” Dragon nods, and turns around. As a goodbye, he adds: “I hope you won’t put your job before your family, Garp.”

A round of laughter explodes from somewhere through the bar.

“...Call me dad, insolent brat2.”)

━━━━━━━━━━

Luffy is Charlotte Linlin’s son.

It doesn’t change much.

He still meets a man with hair as red as blood and a carefree smile. He spends a year with him, and the dream to become a pirate gains even more strength with every tale Shanks tells.

Luffy stabs his eye, eats a fruit with a devil inside, and is made to believe that he’s only a rubber man.

Shanks loses an arm for him.

And just how the story goes, at the edges of the sea, a dream changes into something greater, from a simple pirate to the king of the pirates, and a straw hat is placed upon his head like a crown that he will treasure with all his heart.

━━━━━━━━━━

First and foremost, the Charlottes pride themselves on two things; violence and deceit, even if it is never said out loud: ‘Your tongue shall drip sweet words like rotten honey, as truth is for the naive; your hands shall drip red, as mercy is for the weak.’

A truthful person is a person easier to deceive, and a pacifist person is a person that lets his pride get wounded.

(“Be proud; as my blood runs through your veins and you carry my name, as such, an offense to you is an offense to me. Be proud; as your name is Charlotte.”)

If you can’t lie, you fight. If you can’t fight, you lie. If you can’t do either, you are nothing.

Luffy never managed to learn to lie; couldn’t ever manage to shake the feeling of guilt that it brought, as lying is taking a person’s trust and betraying it. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t try; lying can be good, sometimes, is something he can recognize, but Luffy tries a little bit too hard to make it convincing.

But violence? Oh, that’s a lesson that Luffy did learn, and he learned it very, very well.

It’s the reason that, upon meeting Ace, things start with the left foot.

Ace spits on him and Luffy’s first reaction is to bite one of his ears.

The other kid, clearly not expecting Luffy to throw himself at him without a second thought, lets out a high-pitched yell of pain once Luffy’s teeth close around the appendage.

He can hear Grandpa starting to laugh in the background and the woman, Dadan, starts spitting curses and screams.

Ace starts hitting Luffy with the pipe in his hand, but seeing that now Luffy is rubber it just bounces back. The yelp of ‘What the fuck!?” from the other is followed by hands that start scratching him and twisting Luffy’s skin. In response, Luffy bites harder.

“Garp stop laughing and do something!”

More laughter. “Don’t be so dramatic Dadan! Kids fight all the time!” He says at the same time Ace lets out a scream more desperate and painful in nature.

Luffy’s mouth tastes like copper.

He falls backwards with a ‘thump’ from where he bounces a couple of times. Something is caught between his teeth and when he spits out, red comes from his mouth and a little chunk of tanned skin.

Oops.

Heavy steps along a “Goddammit, Garp!” It’s what has Luffy’s head snapping up, just to see Dadan running where Ace is breathing heavily, with a hand on the floor and the other against the ear Luffy was biting before. Red trickles down the left side of his face, down his arm, just to fall to the floor in a slow ‘drip. drip. drip.’ “Ace, let me see, come on, stand up, let’s get it bandaged.”

Ace stands up in a sharp motion, one hand still against his ear. He starts running towards Luffy with a fist raised high. Luffy stands up just as sharply and is already bracing himself when Dadan harshly grabs Ace for the back of his shirt and lifts him.

“Don’t be so damn stubborn!”

“Let me go, hag!”

“Not until I take a look at your fucking ear!” She yells back as she starts to make her way to the wooden house, seemingly unperturbed by the kicks Ace sends at her side. “You can go throw him off a cliff or something when I am done with you—! Garp!” She barks. “Do something about the other!”

Grandpa lets out a deep, deep sigh, and starts walking up to him.

Luffy ignores him, watching as Dadan takes Ace with a frown.

Ace catches him staring and glares at him with a middle finger raised high. Luffy sticks his tongue out and Ace hisses like a wet cat before he sticks his tongue out back at him.

“Leave him alone already!” A burst of pain explodes in his head like a hammer going against it. Luffy lets out a scream; the strength of Grandpa’s fist has his face burying in the ground. He still doesn’t understand why it hurts if he’s rubber. “What’s wrong with you!?”

Luffy spits out a bunch of soil. “What!?”

“What do you mean ‘what’? You bit a chunk off his ear!”

“And he spat on me!”

Grandpa pinches the edges of his nose. “And that’s enough reason to rip off his ear!?”

“Yes!” Luffy bites. “I’m not going to let anyone spit on me!”

It’s not to say that Luffy hasn’t been spat on before. Licorice, particularly, used to spit on Luffy when he was winning some game against her; and the three milks triplets used to play who could spit more times on their sibling’s food, one even brought a blowgun with bubblegum.

Yes, it’s not to say that Luffy hasn’t been spat on before. It still makes his blood boil.

He shakes his head at the thought and he snaps at Grandpa: “You never told me he was going to be like my siblings!”

Grandpa’s eyes turn understanding. He lets up a deep sigh and sits in front of Luffy. “So that’s why— Of course, this is your mother’s fault.” He muses as he does so.

“What does Mama have to do with this?”

“Don’t call her that.” Grandpa scowls; Luffy blinks at him. “Listen, Luffy, you… I don’t know how your relationship with the rest of your siblings was but you can’t just go ripping people’s ears when they do something this small.”

“He spat on me!”

“And you bit his ear!”

Luffy stares weirdly at him. “I know. It’s not that big of a deal.” He says, and he means it. What’s a little piece of ear ripped off? It’s normal really, forks going through skin, boiling water of hot chocolate getting thrown at each other, bones snapped, teeth fallen, hair being ripped out the scalp. Luffy once had a nail pulled out! It’s just how fights go. “Mama didn’t make this fuss about it.”

(She was proud.)

Grandpa stares for a long, long second, looking unsure. “...Right. Don’t call her that.” He clears his throat. “Luffy, did you get along well with your siblings?”

“Uh? Well… no, not really.” Well, sometimes, in some weird moments, but now he knows they don’t care, or not enough. It’s fine, Luffy didn’t particularly care about most of them either. Though: “Chiffon was nice.”

Grandpa latches onto it.

“Did you fight with this Chiffon?”

What kind of question is that? “Of course not!”

“And you used to get along?”

“Yeah.” He says, and then: “Oh.”

“That’s what I thought.” Grandpa nods, self-satisfied. Before he takes a look at Luffy’s face and he sighs. “You want to make friends, don’t you?”

“Yes!”

“Do you think that being mean to them is going to make them want to be friends with you?”

Luffy’s mouth presses into a thin line, and thinks about it. Mama was mean (was cruel), his siblings were mean, and he didn’t like them.

Luffy doesn’t want to be mean.

Yet: “He spat on me.” He mumbles, stubbornly. “Wasn’t he being mean too?”

“He was.” Grandpa concedes with an indulgent shrug. “But don’t compare him to your siblings, Luffy. Ace… Ace is just hurt.”

“Well, yeah, he is now.”

Grandpa laughs at his words before he stifles it, trying very hard to remain serious. “I mean, yeah, you did rip part of his ear off.”

His mouth still tastes like copper.

“That wasn’t very nice of me.” Luffy realizes, belatedly.

“No, it wasn’t.”

A pause.

“I mean it, Luffy. Ace is hurt, but it’s a different type of hurt, one from the heart.”

Luffy frowns, cocking his head to the side. “Can’t he heal it?”

“Not alone.”

Luffy’s eyes shift to his straw hat, it went flying once he threw himself against Ace.

He remembers Shanks, in the bar, laughing after being insulted and drink spilled over him. ‘It’s not worth getting angry over such a small thing.’ He had said, and Luffy realizes how silly he himself was being.

He stands up, patting dust off his shorts, and walks to his straw hat.

“Being spat at is a very small thing, not worth getting angry over.” He repeats out loud, picking up his straw hat. “I will apologize to him!” Luffy declares as he puts his straw hat on his head again. “And we will be friends!”

━━━━━━━━━━

Ace gets out of the house, late at night, after dinner and Luffy chases after him.

“Ace!” He calls, and the other halts with rigid shoulders and turns around, pipe raised high as if ready to swat away Luffy like a fly in case he jumps at him again.

The top of his left ear is neatly bandaged in white gauze, and he had to get cauteri-something, or whatever, Luffy isn’t really sure what they did, something involved burning his ear.

Luffy thinks is dumb, because why would you burn something to heal it? Though, they had to stab his skin with a needle and thread when he cut his eye, so maybe it’s similar.

He shifts from foot to foot, seeing the little white thing in Ace’s ear does make him feel guilty.

Ace doesn’t say anything, and when the silence stretches too long he lowers the pipe and turns.

Ah! He’s going away! “No, wait, Ace!” Luffy calls again, sprinting after him.

Ace turns around to see him with a frown that Luffy is starting to think is permanent on his face, followed by a click of his tongue and his arms are crossed.

“Um,” Luffy starts, eyeing Ace’s ear before turning to see his eyes. “Sorry. For your ear, I mean. I didn’t mean to rip it off—! or for your ear to get burned for it…” Ace doesn’t answer. “Um, it must have hurt, because you screamed pretty loud—”

“I didn’t scream!” Ace snaps, seemingly wounded. “It didn’t hurt!”

Luffy blinks, before he beams, those are the first words Ace speaks to him and: “Oh! That’s a relief!” Luffy smiles. “But, still, sorry for biting your ear.”

Ace goes back to not answering and so Luffy continues. “Oh, yeah, and about earlier! I’m not mad anymore because you spat on me! It’s a little thing, after all, and it’s not worth being angry forever about it! So, it’s fine!”

Ace still doesn’t answer, but Luffy refuses to falter.

“Ah, I’m Luffy, by the way. Monkey D. Luffy!” He says, and can’t help the swirl of pride in his chest at announcing his full name, nor the giggle. Monkey is such a fun name. But that’s not important, not right now, what’s important is: “Let’s be friends!”

Ace’s eyes narrow before he starts to walk up to Luffy, which, he takes as a good sign. How easy! Really! He looks up to him, hopeful, and extends his hand out.

It’s the last thing he does before Ace throws him off the bridge.

━━━━━━━━━━

Alright! Maybe not as easy as Luffy thought.

But they are even now! Luffy bit a chunk off Ace’s ear and Ace threw Luffy off a cliff! See? Even; which means they can be friends now. Though, it doesn’t seem as if Ace knows how this works because despite that they are even now, he won’t stop running away from him.

But, it’s alright! Really. Luffy is nothing but perseverant, and he has decided that Ace will be his friend, no matter how long it takes.

━━━━━━━━━━

By the twelfth time Luffy finds himself wandering alone in a forest after losing track of Ace, he can’t help but think back to the Seducing Woods, and can’t help but miss the death threats the flowers and the trees used to spat at each other, because listening to others voices, even if it were those from objects, made it easier to ignore the deep wrenching loneliness settling on his bones, on his heart.

It can’t be called homesickness, not really. Totto Land was never his home and he never wishes to go back to Totto Land, though, no; not back to a candy kingdom that chains him and doesn’t let him be free.

Luffy’s alone, by now, but just as Chiffon said that Alice could make new friends; Luffy will make new friends, and not be all alone.

Even if by the twentieth time he looks as Ace’s back gets smaller in the distance, he can’t help but think that he’s a little bit like his siblings, maybe, but just a little.

━━━━━━━━━━

“When you told me the new kid that your grandfather dropped with you ripped a chunk out of your ear with nothing but his teeth, I expected something more…” The blond kid who seems to be Ace’s friend —which, means that he’s Luffy’s friend by default— starts; looking down on Luffy from where they tied him to a tree. “Intimidating? Dangerous? Definitely not this.”

“Where are you getting at?” Ace snaps.

“You are what? Eleven? And you lost against a five-year-old?”

“I’m eight!” Luffy defends, but the blond kid ignores him as he says: “You lost against a shrimp, Ace.”

“I didn’t lose! He just caught me by surprise!”

“Which means you lost— a chunk of your ear, that is.” The blond kid smiles, raising his hands placatively as if he wasn’t purposely railing Ace up.

“Sabo, I swear—”

“I already apologized about it!” Luffy butts in again.

Ace swivels towards Luffy so fast that he hears something in the other’s neck crack. “An apology can’t fix something like this!” He points at his left ear.

“Yes, it can! Because I am very sorry!” Luffy declares, no leaving room for discussion. “And, you threw me off a cliff! —And you didn’t apologize!— So, we are even, and now we can be friends.”

Ace splutters. “No, we are not even!”

“You kind of are.” The blond kid nods, one hand under his chin as he mulls it over. “I mean, come on, throwing him off a cliff? Isn’t that a bit— Wait, how are you alive if you got pushed off a cliff?”

Luffy is about to tell him that he’s, in fact, rubber, and even if he wasn’t a simple fall wouldn’t kill him because he still has to be the King of the Pirates but the kid speaks up again before he has the chance. “Actually, it doesn’t matter, because you discovered our secret and now Ace is going to kill you—”

“What? No! You do it! I haven’t killed anyone before!”

“I haven’t either! And you already tried to kill him once!”

“I didn’t!”

“You pushed him off a cliff.”

“But he didn’t die!”

“A cliff, Ace!”

“What did you want me to do!? He bit my ear!”

(Funny how that missing chunk of ear goes from being a reason for resentment and turns to something like a badge of honor, a fond story Ace tells to anyone who might listen about his unruly little brother.)

━━━━━━━━━━

When Luffy gets kidnapped by that bandit, he’s not expecting Ace to come for him.

He’s not mad about it, not really. If his own siblings didn’t care about him, then it is pretty stupid to think Ace would, despite how hard Luffy tries.

But, it’s fine! Because Ace is Luffy’s friend, despite Luffy not being Ace’s, and so, he will keep his secret behind tight lips even if it hurts, because if he does so, then maybe, maybe Ace will finally be his friends and Luffy will stop spending his days alone in a forest again.

━━━━━━━━━━

Ace ends up coming for him.

Ace cares.

The revelation is so big that it has Luffy bursting into tears.

━━━━━━━━━━

When he tells Grandpa that he, Ace and Sabo became brothers, Grandpa snorted and asked him: “Don’t you have enough siblings as it is?”

It had been a quiet sort of realization, that no, all those people who Luffy used to live with are more strangers than family, and those who Luffy knew couldn’t really be called siblings.

His siblings aren’t his siblings, even despite the blood that his mother used to gloat about that runs through all their veins; because Luffy knows they would never build a treehouse with him, not as Ace and Sabo did, nor they would never go with him to hunt for crocodiles to eat, not like Ace and Sabo do.

They are not his siblings, they are not his family, because Luffy knows they would leave him to die, beaten to death in some wooden hut at the hands of a bandit, and Ace and Sabo didn’t.

(Or maybe they would, depending on what Mama told them to do— and this is another thing, Luffy’s mother would never take the time to clean his wounds as Dadan did, or make him something to eat at four in the morning because he’s hungry as Makino did.)

Luffy learned what brotherhood truly is in the way of three cups of sake.

Though, there are memories of kind words and kind smiles, of stories of rabbits and tea parties that make him hesitate for a second.

Because Chiffon cared.

But maybe… no, Luffy knows the relationship they had is not the same as the relationship he has with Ace and Sabo, not when there's something so utterly special between them as the clinks of cups of sake declared.

(It’s hard to be close to someone who so desperately tries to stay away from everyone, from Big Mom. But Luffy doesn’t blame her.)

Though, even if they aren’t siblings, they still can be friends! Because Luffy still cares about her. And, in some ways, he supposes he prefers it this way.

It’s a simple concept, instead of them being chained by blood as siblings, they can choose to be friends.

As such, when he tells Grandpa that he, Ace and Sabo became brothers, he had asked him: “Don’t you have enough siblings as it is?”

Luffy had declared: “Nu-uh! The only brothers I have are Ace and Sabo!”3

It’s a truth he will live by.

━━━━━━━━━━

Luffy is Charlotte Linlin’s son.

It doesn’t change much.

He sails at seventeen and the sea whispers to him a ‘welcome back’ that he can’t hear, but resonates with him as the waves crashing against the boat does, and the first thing he does is free a pink-haired boy.

He meets his first mate, and he becomes a captain of his own. He meets his navigator, and he meets his sniper, he gets his first ship, the Going Merry, and his flag, and then he meets his cook.

He brings down Arlong Park and his navigator is finally free after eight years.

He will come to free a lot of things during his life he will find out.

(It shouldn’t be a surprise, not really.)

He reaches Loguetown, and the skies themselves seem keen on having him live as thunder comes crashing down upon his makeshift execution.

The wind picks up; in a way that’s awfully familiar for distant reasons that Luffy doesn’t have time to stop and remember, not when there’s a bunch of marines stepping at their heels and the Grand Line is so, so intimately close that Link shudders in excitement every time he thinks about the millions of adventures up ahead.

Luffy has never been the type to stop and linger on looking back when what he wants is up ahead, as such, in Loguetown, when Smokey lets him go from where he was pinning him on the ground, Luffy doesn’t wait, doesn’t linger on the why and doesn’t bother to take a proper look to the figure looming over Smokey.

He reaches the Grand Line.

He travels wide and far, from the white snow of Drum Island to the arid yellow sand of Alabasta and to the white soft clouds of Skypiea.

He fights and he fights and he wins.

In Water 7 he loses two crewmates; he fights his sniper and his historian is taken away, and after Enies Lobby he gets them back. The Merry doesn’t come out of that and the Sunny carries along her will.

He fights and he fights and he wins.

━━━━━━━━━━

In Thriller Bark, he sees monsters and zombies and his shadow is stolen, and after all is done; after he’s won, there’s a pink-haired woman with a familiar face.

Nothing particularly extraordinary happens when Lola and Luffy meet.

There’s a minute of recognition, in the middle of the party as laughter fills the air. A minute where Luffy squints at Lola and after a pause, blurts out: “You kind of look like Chiffon!” followed by a laugh.

Though, unlike Chiffon, Lola can’t be described as sweet, not really, but it’s not a bad thing. Luffy finds that he likes that.

“Of course I look like Chiffon, she’s my twin!” She laughs, delighted, with a wild swing of her arm that settles on Luffy’s neck, spilling rum on the floor from the mug in her hand. “How is she, anyways? It’s been a long time since I have seen her!”

“Dunno. I haven’t seen her in a long time either.” He shrugs, just to shake his head after. “She promised she would leave too, so I guess somewhere else!”

Lola blinks. “She wants to leave Totto Land? Why?”

A pause.

(How, is the question, how do you manage to convey someone’s suffering in words?)

“She isn’t happy there- Big Mom is cruel to her.” Luffy settles in with a frown; a distant memory of screams bouncing off a candy hallway and a voice he can’t quite remember, but knows it shaked as she read Alice in Wonderland to him in a desperate hope that a white rabbit might appear and take her to a faraway land, away from her mother.

Lola winces. “Ah, that’s probably my fault.” She sighs, regret flashing in her eyes and guilt settling on her shoulders like a rock and making her hunch over herself. Luffy doesn’t like that, but before he can say anything, Lola straightens and remembers: “But I didn’t want to marry that giant!”

Luffy grins. He likes her.

“Yeah! Don’t do anything you don’t want to!”

Lola nods with fervor. “Exactly! Why would I have to marry someone just because Mama wants to?”

“That’s stupid.”

“Right? It’s my life, after all!”

Conversations overlap around them, laughter always coming from some part of the party, accompanying the lively melody of the piano as if their laugh were the words of the song.

They stay silent, for a second. Lola’s arm is still thrown over Luffy’s shoulder, a warm presence that makes his neck sweat and his hair damp, yet, despite that, and despite the hot atmosphere in the room, Luffy doesn’t think of pushing her off.

“Sometimes, I wonder,” Lola starts, contemplative in nature, and her tone carries less of her usual strength. “How things would have been if she came with me.”

“Did she want to?”

“No.” A pause. “Well, she told me that she didn’t want to, but you are telling me she did, so who knows? She has always been too selfless.” Lola sighs.

She is. Still: “I think Chiffon was scared too.”

Lola stays silent for a second.

“Am I a bad sister for leaving her behind?”

“Dunno, that’s for Chiffon to decide, I think.” Luffy hums; cocking his head to the side, he then remembers a man asking him time and time again if he would come back. “If Chiffon wants to leave, then that’s a decision that she should take for herself, and if she didn’t when you asked her, maybe she wasn’t ready yet.”

He wonders if Chiffon already took that decision. He hopes so.

“You… you are surprisingly insightful, you know.” Lola remarks and at Luffy’s shrug, she frowns, seemingly realizing something. “Wait, how do you even know Chiffon? You said you haven’t seen her either.” A pause, where she seems to reach some sort of conclusion. “Do you come from Totto Land?”

“Yeah.”

Lola stares.

“Are you one of Mama’s kids too?”

“Yeah.”

“But your name isn’t—”

“I changed it!”

“...Right.” Lola nods, belatedly; swinging the jar in her hand towards her mouth and drinking; she chokes Luffy as he does so. She seems to be assimilating the words, and by the time she speaks again rum falls from the corners of her mouth. “Right, okay, sure! It’s alright! If that’s what you want. Don’t be anything you don’t want to be!”

Luffy grins at her. He knew she would understand. “Of course!”

“Just don’t let Mama know about it, or else she will have your head!” She grins back, though, knowing Charlotte Linlin, is not really a joke. Neither of them addresses it. “So, not from the family anymore, uh?” She muses. “Does this mean we are not siblings then?”

“Nop!”

Lola laughs and pats him on the back; her easy acceptance makes something in his chest lift, for some reason.

It makes him blurt out: “Do you think she will be mad at me for deciding that?”

Lola cocks her head to the side, before she smiles. It’s a sweet smile, but it doesn’t cloy him.

“I think,” She says. “Chiffon will be happy as long as you care.”

It’s unimportant, in the big scheme of things, barely a five-minute conversation, words drowned along by the cheerful notes of a piano, but it matters to Luffy and that is what makes that almost five-minute conversation worth it.

━━━━━━━━━━

In Sabaody, Luffy punches a god.

And he loses.

━━━━━━━━━━

Ace dies.

━━━━━━━━━━

Luffy is Charlotte Linlin’s son.

It doesn’t change much, except for the few things it does change.

The Big Mom’s pirates do not play a part in the Marineford war; like the rest of the world, they wait with eager ears for any news of the war and when Whitebeard is announced dead, it is said that Charlotte’s Linlin scream of happiness is heard throughout the New World like a war cry, as she let it out, her dutifully obedient children set sail. Eagerly hungry for new territory.

That much, is the same, what changes is this: One of her kids, one unfortunate enough to be forced by the rest to serve as the messenger of certain news, takes advantage of her good spirits and finally, finally decides to pass her the page of a newspaper.

That decision proves to be a mistake, but, then again, every decision taken here wouldn’t have been correct, thanks to the nature of the news. Poor little Bonbon was doomed from the start.

Big Mom’s good spirits are cut short so abruptly like a violin’s thread snapping in the middle of a song, and some windows crack under her sudden mood change.

“Bonbon.” She calls, with a sweet tone that does nothing to hide the venom behind it. “What’s this.”

Bonbon swallows. “A newspaper, Mama.”

“I know it is a newspaper! I am talking about this.” Big Mom roars, shaking the piece of paper. “Why is this only reaching me now— and what’s the meaning of this!?”

For all it’s worth, if there’s one good thing to say about Charlotte Linlin's motherly… aspects, is that she remembers all her children’s faces, and could recognize them everywhere, even after years of not seeing them.

Though, of course, even if she didn’t remember, the words printed in the article would have been a good reminder; as in big bold letters it reads: “Monkey D. Luffy, a.k.a Strawhat Luffy appears in the middle of Marineford!” Followed by other words that blurred together in Big Mom’s indignation.

Whatever joy Charlotte Linlin might have felt that his precious Dee is alive is completely overwritten by a simple, tiny, little fact.

“Monkey D. Luffy.” Big Mom reads again, spitting the words out, and tearing the paper in half. “It was not enough for him to escape and leave his poor, poor mother and never come back? He had to appear in the middle of that war declaring he was the brother of Roger's brat!”

And just how dare he? To haunt her like this even while dead? Just how dare that child do something like this? Does he not know how important he was to her dream!? Does he not know how Linlin had searched high and low for him for years? Does he not know the lives taken in his name?

“That ungrateful, fucking, stupid brat! How dare he do this to her own mother?”

The whole castle trembles in her fury, threatening to collapse and Big Mom grabs the edges of her throne so hard that it starts to snap.

“Ma— Mama, please calm down.” Poor Bonbon trembles in her boots, her voice nothing but a whisper. “I’m sure he—”

“He left! He betrayed me!” Big Mom yells, banging a fist against a wall. It doesn’t stand her force, exploding in millions of pieces. “Look at him! Where’s the pride in this!? Changing his name as if being my child was something of shame! This is treason!” Outside, people start dropping like flies, unable to stand a king’s wrath. Bonbon falls to her knees. “This is treason! He will pay! No mercy for the traitors! Fine by me! If he wants to use that man’s last name— that man.”

And poor little Bonbon makes the mistake of asking: “...Who?”

“Who? You stupid child!” Big Mom snaps, stomping on her kid as if she was an ant; crushing her under her weight. Prometheus flares behind her in response to her anger and the Queen’s Chamber lit on fire not a second later. “He must be the reason behind all this!”

Luffy is Charlotte Linlin’s son.

This is what changes: One day after the war of Marineford ends, newspapers around the world declare that, for seemingly no reason at all, the Big Mom’s pirates have declared war on the Revolutionary Army.

━━━━━━━━━━

Among the faint memories Luffy has of his early, early childhood, of being surrounded by chocolate paths and gingerbread houses, among a gifted pair of brass knuckles never used, seeing a pirate flag waving in the air from where it is hanged on candy ships finds itself slotted in.

It’s not to say that Big Mom’s jolly roger is burned in his mind because it is not. It didn’t stay other than a mostly pink blob of color.

Luffy finds himself in Fishman Island, back to his crew, and upon being given the information that now this is Big Mom’s territory and faced with his mother’s emblem once again, Luffy… well, in total honesty, he hadn’t felt anything in particular.

It could have been easy, perhaps a little bit cliche, to say that the remainder of his mother’s emblem caused some long-forgotten fear, dread, to build from the bottom of his stomach to the top of his throat, closing his lungs and making him forget how to breathe.

It would have been easy, maybe even cliche, and so, so stupid.

Let’s not forget, a long time ago, upon a door that wasn’t closed in its entirety and the horrifying realization that Chiffon —a sister back then, dear friend by now— was being hurt by Big Mom, there hadn't been a second of hesitation, nor second thoughts, as Luffy started running towards the chamber with the thought he had to do something.

Laughable, really, to think he would be afraid of seeing his mother’s emblem.

Luffy, through all his life, has never once feared Big Mom.

The Big Mom’s pirate flag doesn’t spark much in him, a tiny crumb of interest at best, maybe a sort of muted anger that settles in his ribs at worst. Luffy, frankly, had been more interested in where Jinbe was, and with a shrug, he had not spared any more thought on the matter.

It would have most likely stayed that way, if not because of the weird egg-guy and the little lion.

The Den Den Mushi rings; and Luffy picks up.

“You’re not Tamago, are you? Nor Pekoms.” The Den Den Mushi speaks. It is the first time that Luffy hears Big Mom’s voice in years. The only thing he can feel at the sound is anger because how come she is going to destroy a whole island —where he has friends!— just because they don’t give her candies!?

He now knows what changing his name entails fully. Still, he says it with pride, with as much pride as he says what he will be.

“I’m Monkey D. Luffy! I’m gonna become King of the Pirates!”

There’s a pause, a long, long pause.

“Monkey D.” She says, deceptively calm, deceptively sweet.

It is a threat.

(A last warning. It’s just two words, spoken with the same tone she used to say: “Do as I say, dear’ to him. Two words, that carry the world, her world; it's an unspoken: “Your name is not mine, where’s your pride? Retract that name, and come at your Mama’s side again, dear, and I shall forgive your senseless tantrums.”)

Luffy is not interested in this dance and play. Who cares what she thinks of him? Who cares what she wants. He cares that she’s threatening this place and he has to do something to stop it.

“The sweets are gone! I ate them all!”

There’s a loud crack that comes from the Den Den Mushi. Wet sounds falling like heavy rain and a chirping sound of nails scraping something.

“So it’s true that they don’t have any!” She screeches out with a heavy breath, the pretense of calmness and sweetness forgotten. “They must have ten tons of them!”

“I ate ten tons of them!” Luffy screams back.

Some would say, that the moment Charlotte Linlin had seen his son with a different name would be the moment the thread snapped. But, truth is, Charlotte Linlin is known to be slightly more lenient towards her favorite children.

‘Any mother would forgive her children.’ She would say, eyes keenly fixed on a single letter between names like a shark that smells blood. ‘Even if they had made awful mistakes that brought indescribable shame to her.’

As it is, the ‘Monkey’ scribed on top of the ‘Charlotte’, would be severely punished, but ultimately forgiven, as Charlotte Linlin is a kind, kind mother.

She was more than willing to let Dee come back.

Until this, that is.

Because this is the thing, Charlotte Linlin would rather die than put her kids above her own self-satisfaction.

She wants sweets, delicious sweets made specifically in Fishman Island because the humidity down below makes them fluffier and the salt gives an exotic but pleasant taste to the sweets.

She wants sweets and that stupid brat ate what was rightfully hers.

And on top of that, he tries to bribe her to leave it alone with some crappy treasure!

Call it necessity, two ships of hers sunk with lots of lost money. Call it the smart choice, to accept the deal and have her precious sweets in two weeks with a lot of money. Call it that Tamago’s words got to her. Call it the last instant of maternal love a monster as Charlotte Linlin can have towards a creature of her own. Call it the wish to beat that brat to death personally.

“Have it your way, instead of the Fish-man island, I’ll have my vengeance against you all!”

Call it whatever you want, really. The reason may not matter in the end, but something makes her accept.

“Monkey D. Luffy. I know your name now.” She says —and what she means is ‘you are no child of me anymore— before she challenges: “Come to the New World!”

Luffy accepts.

And not as a kid to a mother, but from one captain to another, he declares: “I will kick your ass all over the New World and make Fishman Island my territory!”