Chapter 1: Prologue
"There is no world for me without them."
A young child was standing alone on the pier of Foosha Village and staring at the open sea before him. The soft wind ruffled his black, unruly hair. The warm sun shined on his unprotected head. Obsidian colored eyes watched the horizon with unyielding determination.
The child's lips split into wide, toothy grin. In the future everybody will recognize it as the trademark smile of the second Pirate King, but now it once again belonged to the unknown 6 year old boy from the backwater island in East Blue whose name was Monkey D. Luffy.
Already 6 years old, he reminded himself. And that's why Luffy was in a hurry. As much as he wanted to climb up Mt. Colubo and tackle Ace and Sabo into history's longest hug, he knew that they were safe for now. As much as he didn't want to miss Shanks' arrival to Foosha, there were more urgent matters Luffy needed to attend to.
The problem was how to get to the place he wished to reach, in time. He could take one of the villager's fishing boats, but Luffy was way too small and currently too physically weak to sail on his own. He could probably hijack a ship, preferably a pirate vessel, but it might turn into too much trouble.
Luffy's gaze shifted onto the Foosha's bay. His face lit up from a sudden thought. This will be perfect!
The boy glanced at the distant horizon once again. "Just wait for me, guys," he said in a firm voice, reaching for his hat just to remember that he still hadn't even met Shanks this time around. Luffy giggled. It felt so good to be back at the beginning!
The world better be prepared for the child with the will of the Pirate King's magnitude and who wanted to achieve his wish at all cost.
-in the future (past?)-
Luffy walked through the forest in light steps, following a path he already knew so well. The warm, gentle breeze softly rustled leaves of trees and bushes around him. Birds were singing their melodies, bringing a pleasant and harmonious feeling to the surroundings. Brilliant early morning sun was shining through the branches, causing shadows of leaves dance around on the ground as the wind brushed over them.
The 32 years old Pirate King spotted a small clearing ahead, and tightened his grip on the large nodachi sword, propped on his shoulder. Soon he left the playful shadows of the Raftel's forest and stopped in front of the vertically standing stone in the middle of the clearing. He glanced over the various items, lying around it.
"Guys, I'm back," Luffy said, smiling softly.
He looked at the blue cap with the white X symbol on pink. "Don't worry, Chopper, my wounds are not that bad this time."
Luffy shifted his gaze on several books. "Ah, Robin, I accidentally found one more stone you were searching for."
The Pirate King chuckled. "I bet you would have liked that island where I found it, Usopp," he said, glancing at the black slingshot and goggles next to it.
"But," Luffy sighed at the blue metallic Bo staff, propped against the stone, "it was really hard to come back here without you, Nami."
Luffy turned to the three katanas, resting on the other side of the stone, and smiled. "It wasn't because I got lost on the way here like you would have, Zoro."
He patted his stomach, looking at the pack of cigarettes. "Don't worry, Sanji, I ate properly. I miss your delicious food a lot, mine tastes like crap."
The Pirate King looked at the purple cane, propped next to Zoro's swords. "Brook, you would be proud of me, I learned a new song."
He lightly chuckled again. "But I'm sure that song would make you cry, Franky," he admitted to the sunglasses and light blue metal plate with blue star painted on it.
"Ace," Luffy said softly, staring at the orange cowboy hat, "I'm sure I made you worry." His eyes drifted at the black top hat right next to it. "You too, Sabo."
The Pirate King sat on the ground, crossing his legs, still holding the nodachi tightly. He thought about 10 years back, when everything started to snowball down. When his first nakama died. And then the second. The third… until none was left. He lost them all one by one during several long years full of fighting war with the Navy who wanted to make the world to submit itself to them.
But the Pirate King and his nakama would have never agreed to bow down to anyone. They were free spirits, wandering the seas driven by their own dreams and desires.
When the first of them died, they created this grave to honor the memory of the fallen. It was Luffy who brought here the memento of his last nakama 5 years ago.
"They still can't find my dad, Sabo," he finally said quietly. "No one knows where he is, or even if he's still alive. Shanks and Marco are dead, though." Luffy fell silent again before he sighed. "Jinbe too. And so many others…"
The Pirate King lifted his head and looked at the sky. "Law and I were on the run from the moment we left Raftel when I brought Robin here after that battle 5 years ago, but…" he paused, gripping the nodachi harder. "Well, that's why I'm back. He will be joining you now, guys."
Luffy lifted the sword and put it down carefully right in front of the gravestone. He gently caressed its sheath. Law was his ally, his partner, his friend, his nakama, his…
A sole tear ran down the Pirate King's cheek, but he brushed it off quickly. Luffy closed his eyes, feeling the soft wind and warm sunshine on his skin.
"Yohohoho~ Yohohohoo~" he sang silently before smiling. After so many years it still was his favorite song, and the only one which could at least if only for a while, elate his tired soul.
"Going to deliver Binks' Sake~
Following the sea breeze, riding on the waves~
Far across the salty depths, the merry evening sun~
The birds sing as they draw circles in the sky~"
The Pirate King kept singing as salty tears rolled over his cheeks.
"Going to deliver Binks' Sake~
Let's all sing it with a Don, a song of the waves~
Doesn't matter who you are, someday you'll just be bones~
His voice cracked, abruptly stopping the singing. Luffy was silent for a while, staring at the bright blue sky.
"Never-ending, ever-wandering, our funny traveling tale…" he finally finished in a whisper, closing his eyes again.
But even after the last word of the song, he hadn't moved, just kept sitting there, in front of the grave of his most precious people.
Luffy was familiar with that voice behind him. They met the first time he came to this island and took the man's title from him. "Roger," he acknowledged the ghost presence, but didn't turn to face him.
"If you had to choose, what would you save: the world or your friends?"
The Pirate King couldn't hold in the laughter which welled up inside him from hearing that. Ah, it was such a long time from the last time he truly laughed.
"That's a silly question," Luffy replied finally. He took his beloved straw hat off, stared at it for a bit and then placed it on Law's nodachi into the collective pile of mementos for the departed. "There is no world for me without them."
The ghost grinned. He knew that it was not without reasons this man became his successor and the owner of One Piece. The Will of D was burning strongly in him.
"If your will is strong," Roger said, putting his hand on now bare head of the Pirate King, "you'll be able to save them. For better or for worse."
-back in the past (present?)-
Garp downed another shot of sake, slammed the cup on the bar and looked at Makino. "One more, please... No," he shook his head before rubbing his face with his hands, "give me the whole bottle."
Makino stared at him with worry written all over her face. She never saw the old marine drink so much and in such messy manner. She put a bottle in front of him, but kept her hand on it, preventing the man to just grab it and down it with one gulp.
"Garp-san, what's the matter?" Makino asked.
"It's just…" the marine hero ran his hand across his hair. "My grandson…"
The barmaid blinked. "Something happened to Luffy?" she hastily questioned.
"Bwahahaha!" Garp burst into laughter, startling the woman and throwing her into confusion. The man grabbed the bottle out of her hand, and took a long gulp. "No, he's alright," he said, falling deep into thoughts.
-few hours ago-
Garp observed his 6 years old grandson sparring with the monkeys while smiling in satisfaction. Luffy made a good progress from the last time he forced him to fight these beasts. He was right by thinking that it was a good training for a little boy.
Suddenly Luffy stopped moving, and the old man's smile faltered. He motioned to the monkeys to stop their attacks. Apparently his grandson needed some Fist of Love to remind him that this was necessary to make him into good marine.
Garp stood up, and only then noticed violent shivers running over Luffy's body. Before he could question what was wrong, there was an unexpected explosion of the Supreme King's Haki with the boy at the epicentre. The wave of dominant will swept through the area, rendering all the animals around unconscious, bending the trees and leaving deep cracks in their trunks and across the earth.
Garp himself felt his hair stand on end, sweat rolled across his forehead, and he gritted his teeth, kneeling down, unable to fully withstand the enormous pressure of this overpowering Haki. He had to summon all his willpower just to stay conscious, then suddenly the pressure vanished.
"Shishishishi! I'M BACK!" Luffy screamed at the top of his lungs, fist-pumping the air.
Garp groaned and sat on the ground, feeling weak in his knees. The boy turned around and peered right into him.
"GAH!" he suddenly yelled, recoiling from the man in shock. "Grandpa?!"
"Luffy…" The old marine was so confused on what was happening. Chills from getting hit by Conqueror's Haki still raced up and down his spine. "Do you know what you just did?"
His grandson only stared at him for a while. "Ah," he smiled softly, "sorry, grandpa. I think you got caught up into the after-effect of the travel." His expression suddenly shifted into a determined one, the eyes hardened. "I guess it's even better, because I need to tell you something very important, so listen carefully," he said. It sounded more like an order than a request.
So Garp listened.
And that's why now Garp was emptying Makino's bar, because his young, only 6 years old grandson, suddenly spun such an unbelievable and incredible story that the old sea dog had no other option but to actually believe him.
Everyone knew that Luffy couldn't lie to save his life, but he told his story with such intense details, including many of the Navy secrets which only the highest in ranks knew about. It was mind-boggling! His grandson was a time traveler?! It topped out even the Grand Line weirdness.
Garp took another long gulp from the bottle. "I guess anything could have happened at Raftel…" he mumbled under his breath. After all, nobody knew exactly what secrets the last island of the Grand Line held as the only person who ever reached it was the Pirate King. Kings, he corrected himself.
Makino sighed. Now she was worried not only about Garp, but about Luffy too.
The door burst open and breathless man tumbled inside. "Garp-san!"
"Hm?" Garp turned to look at him.
"It's horrible, Garp-san!" screamed the villager in panic. "Luffy..! Your grandson! He… He took off to the sea and… and the Lord of the Coast...!" he explained in half coherent sentences.
Makino paled, placing her hand over her mouth in horror.
"Bwahahaha!" the old marine bellowed with laughter, confusing both people who just stared at him. "Did he now?"
Garp stood up from the stool and went outside. He casually strolled to the pier where a huge group of villagers were trying to decide the course of actions.
"Garp-san!" the mayor called him. "Luffy just–"
"Yeah, I know," the man interrupted him, glancing over the bay where he spotted the lone dinghy swaying on the waves. "So, where is my grandson?"
"Luffy took one of the small boats and drifted in the middle of the bay," recalled the events one of the people from the crowd.
"And then Lord of the Coast suddenly jumped from the water and attacked him!" continued another.
"But suddenly an incredible thing happened!" shouted a third, flailing his arms around. "The beast stopped!"
"Luffy jumped onto its head, and the Lord swam away together with him," finished Woop Slap.
"Bwahahaha!" Garp burst into jolly laughter, his eyes tearing because of it.
"We need to do something!" panicked Makino who had followed him from the bar.
"There is no need, he will not go down so easily," the marine hero grinned at the distant horizon, completely ignoring the shocked people around him. "I'm just interested in where that brat wandered off to."
Chapter 2: I. D will surely bring us another storm.
"D will surely bring us another storm."
A man in black was dashing through snowy fields like a dark shadow gliding without making any sound. A huge, happy grin slowly appeared on his face, and his eyes started to tear up as the blonde glanced at the precious item he was holding.
He did it! The Op-Op Fruit! Corazon tightened his grip on the strange, heart-shaped object. Now they would be able to cure Law's illness!
The man's smile widened. He blinked back tears of happiness as he hopped over snowdrifts, thinking about the small, sick boy he left in one of the empty houses. Everything went so we–
Suddenly his foot slipped, and Corazon stumbled forward. He pressed the Devil Fruit to his chest, trying not to lose or damage it. The ex-marine rolled down the hill, slid across the slope and finally landed into the snowdrift right in the middle of an armed pirate group.
"What the…?" one of them exclaimed, startled.
"Who's this?! He freaked me out!" fumed another. "Where did he tumble down from?"
The men surrounded Corazon who was still trying to stop his head spinning.
"OOOOII!" a yell came from above, drawing the attention of the group. "Some bastard in a black coat has stolen the damn Op-Op Fruit! Don't let him get away!"
"A guy in a black coat?" repeated one pirate as all their eyes landed on the man in front of them. "It's him!"
Corazon opened his eyes in time to see several rifles being pointed at him. He clenched his teeth. There was no way he would die here like that, just because of his own clumsiness. Law needed him! Law needed the fruit to survive!
The blonde grabbed the nearest barrel of a rifle and pushed it, smashing the gun's handle into its user's mug. Gunshots echoed across the silent snowy hills. Ignoring the pain from several injuries, Corazon spun around, whacking a fist onto another pirate. The rest of the group fired again. The former marine nimbly avoided most of the bullets, letting only one to graze his arm.
The red, heart-shaped fruit slipped through his fingers, and dropped in the snow. Corazon's eyes widened. He couldn't lose it! He reached for the fruit, but suddenly a gun was shoved straight at his face, and he froze. The pirate who was holding it smirked smugly as he started to pull the trigger…
An abrupt wave of power swept across the area. Corazon felt like an avalanche landed right on him. His heart thumped violently against his ribcage, a bone-chilling shudder ran down his spine. The blonde rested his arms on his knees, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth as he tried to withstand the enormous pressure on his psyche. A part of his consciousness registered several thuds around him.
The overwhelming pressure disappeared as quickly as it came. Corazon took a shaky breath, still unable to think clearly or explain what had happened.
"So, you withstood that."
A high pitched voice startled him. The ex-marine lifted his head, and blinked at unexpected sight.
A child in well-worn, red mantle stood in front of him, observing him warily. He was definitely younger than Law, 5 or 6 years old, maybe 7 if he pushed it. The short mop of unruly, black hair was covered by snow, and… Was that really only sandals on his bare feet in this kind of weather?!
Corazon's eyes fell on the Devil Fruit in the boy's hands, and he winced. Hopefully, the kid will not run away from him with it. He tried to smile, but whatever came from his struggle, probably wasn't a friendly looking smile, because the child stepped back.
"That," the blond man pointed at the fruit which was tightly and securely pressed against boy's chest, "is very important for me. Can you give it back?"
"No," the kid replied with unexpected finality. "I'm pretty sure this Devil Fruit belongs to my friend."
Corazon's eyes widened from surprise. So, the boy knew what he was holding! Was he from the pirate crew from whom he stole it? If he was, this was a tight situation. The blonde didn't want to harm such a small child. He pressed a hand on the wound on his abdomen, feeling a warm blood seeping from it, and pondered what to do. These wounds weren't enough to kill him, but they certainly slowed him down.
"Who are you anyways?" the boy asked, curiously eyeing his black feathered coat. "You're so huge, and you look like Mingo, just… not pink. Are you his black bunshin or something?"
"Mingo?" Corazon repeated. After a moment, realization hit him like a wall of bricks. "How… how do you know my brother Doflamingo?!" he yelled in shock. The former marine felt so lost in this strange situation.
"Brother?" the kid narrowed his eyes, hugging the fruit even tighter. A silence hung between them while the boy was thinking something over, frowning in deep concentration.
"Traffy, what does that word on your coat's back mean? Cora… Corazon?"
"It's the name of the man who saved me. He was Doflamingo's biological younger brother, but… was killed by him. Cora-san was one of my most important people."
A huge, sunny grin spread across Luffy's face, confusing the man in front of him even more. "AH! You're Corazon!" he exclaimed happily. "Shishishishi! I came in time then! I was so worried!" The boy looked around. "Where's Law?"
"Uh… You know Law?"
"Of course!" Luffy grinned at him. "He's my nakama! Oh!" He walked over Corazon and extended hands with the fruit upwards. "You keep this safe until we get to him."
The blonde cautiously took the Op-Op Fruit from the tiny hands of the child who still had that bright grin on his face. This was the strangest thing that had ever happened to him. Now that he thought about it, was it this boy who knocked the pirates out? It can't be that…
"Come on! Hurry up!" Luffy tugged at the man's pants. "I want to see Traffy again!"
"He's… uh… he's in that direction." Corazon pointed at the ghostly houses at the distant, eliciting a cheerful 'Yay!' from the kid. "Wait… How do you know my name?"
Luffy gave him incredulous glance. "Traffy told me about you, of course."
"When did he–"
"Who cares!" the boy interrupted him with impatience. "Let's just go!" He was barely able to hold in his excitement as he tugged the man again to get him to hurry up.
Luffy giggled uncontrollably as they made their way towards the ruins. He will be able to see Traffy again! And this time he would assure Law's happiness by doing everything in his capability that his most important person could survive. He peeked at Corazon. The man still held his hand on one of the gunshot wounds. Luffy noticed the blood seeping through his fingers, and frowned. "How're your wounds?"
Corazon looked down at the kid. He wasn't sure who he was, but one thing was certain – this boy was much more than he seemed. "It's not enough to kill me," he answered, smiling. This time Luffy grinned back at him.
"That's good! Traffy will be so happy!"
"Are you… from the same town as us? Spider Miles?" the blonde guessed. The boy didn't have any visible white patches on his skin, so he crossed out the possibility of him being from Flevance.
"Nah!" Luffy denied cheerfully. "I came here from East Blue!"
Corazon felt his jaw drop. "How..?" He was so confused. What was going on? Maybe he was dreaming. "Who are you?" he asked, his mind was completely empty of any other questions.
"I'm Monkey D. Luffy!" the boy introduced, turning his head to grin at Corazon who was walking slightly behind him. "The Pirate King!" he exclaimed proudly. Suddenly Luffy tripped over something on the path, and fell flat on his face into the snow. "Ow…"
He really needed to do some intense training to get his body and agility back into the previous form. It will be so fun to do that all over again with others!
Ace squatted down, gripping his pipe more firmly. He glanced at Sabo, and the blond boy nodded at him. Ace smirked, tensing his leg muscles for a pounce on the huge boar... and suddenly faltered as his hair stood at end and he broke into a cold sweat.
Ace spun around, pipe at a ready, as if there was someone behind him. He heard a loud squeal followed by a scared yelp and then crash sounds.
"Ace, what the hell?!" Sabo yelled from where he was flung by the boar.
"Sorry, Sabo," Ace mumbled, looking around for the unknown enemies. "I swear I felt like someone wanted to kick my ass."
"I'M gonna kick your ass if you ever do that again!"
"No, maybe it's more like…" Ace scratched his head, confused. "It was like a feeling of a storm coming."
Corazon picked Luffy up from the snow by his collar, and lifted him to his eye height. "The Pirate King, huh?" He watched the boy break into goofy grin, seemingly not paying any attention that he was now dangling in the air.
"Yep!" Luffy chirped.
The blonde heaved a heavy sigh and started walking towards the place where he left Law. He stared intensely at the boy in his hand. The brat introduced himself as a D. So, one more person with that secret name showed up. Was it D's fate to be drawn by the blood of the gods, flowing in his and Doffy's veins? "D will surely bring us another storm." Corazon frowned. He couldn't let his older brother get his hands on neither of these two kids.
"Ohhh! I see Traffy!" the boy exclaimed once they entered ruins. He wiggled in the man's grip, and finally slipped from his fingers, landing on his butt. Luffy instantly jumped on his feet. "TRAFYYYY~!" he screamed at the top of his lungs.
Corazon cringed from his shout, and grabbed the child by his collar again at the last moment before he could bolt from his spot. "You're too loud!" He flicked his fingers and an invisible bubble stretched around them.
"Shishishishi!" Luffy chuckled. "There isn't anyone arou–" he cut himself off, a firm scowl finding its way on his childish features. "Pinkbrain is here."
"Pink… You mean Doflamingo?"
Luffy nodded. "I can sense him in that direction," he pointed somewhere at the island, before peering straight into the man's eyes. "You two need to get out of here as soon as possible."
Corazon stopped near the stairs, where Law was leaning against the wall, and put the younger kid back on the ground. "You're a Haki user, aren't you?" he asked, while squatting before the older of the two boys and checking on him. He sighed with relief, noticing that Law was just sleeping.
Luffy stared at Law's exhausted form, his gaze wandering along white patches across his face. "Is he… How bad is he sick? Will he be alright?" he questioned, glancing at the blond man who carefully scooped his friend and cradled him on his arms.
Corazon smiled widely at the red-mantled child, showing him the heart-shaped fruit. "He'll be fine as soon as he eats this Devil Fruit!"
A bright grin grew on Luffy's face. Law looked so weak and fragile, seeing him like that filled Luffy's heart with worry. Even though he knew that he survived this ordeal once already, he still couldn't help but be anxious. He was also determined to save Corazon for him. The man seemed like a really kind guy, a total opposite of his jerk brother. No wonder Law liked him so much.
Decided on his goal, Luffy reached for his hat, just to realize that it was not there. He giggled. Habits were really hard to get rid off. He glanced at Law one more time, smiling softly. Law's spotted hat caught his eyes. An idea popped in his mind, and Luffy grinned again.
Suddenly several men rounded the corner and stopped in their tracks, noticing the man in black coat. They recognized the thief by the description they received, but the pirates didn't have a chance even to say a word as their eyes rolled back, foams started to stream from their mouths and they all dropped on the ground like flies.
Corazon blinked at that. That kind of thing was hard to process. He cautiously glanced at the self-proclaimed Pirate King who glowered at the already down men. Could it be that this 5-6 years old child had a full control over Haki of the Supreme King?
"Small fries…" Luffy muttered, turning to Corazon who was sitting on the stairs with sleeping Law in his lap. "Cora-san," he addressed the man by the name he heard Law using in the past, "I'll draw Mingo's attention, so bring Law out of here." Luffy snatched other boy's hat and tried it on. "Whoa, so warm!" he cheered.
"Wait! What are you planning?! You can't face Doflamingo!"
"Shishishishi! Don't worry, I'm the Pirate King! I'll think of something."
"You're just a small kid! Doffy will kill you!"
Luffy stared at him with unreadable expression on his face before grinning at him brightly. "You're a good guy, I like you!" he suddenly proclaimed.
Corazon faltered as a blush graced his cheeks.
Luffy placed a hand on Law's burning forehead while peering at the blond man. He hadn't noticed how the older boy stirred from the touch, slowly opening his eyes and glancing around. "For Law's sake, I'll not allow you to die here," Luffy said in a grave tone, the heaviness of his words reflecting in his steady, unyielding gaze. "That's the reason I came here, after all," he added, flashing his usual sunny smile.
Corazon felt stunned. He could only stare speechless at the small child as he turned around and hopped through the snowdrifts towards the inner island.
"Cora-san… W-who was that?"
A faint voice snapped the former marine out of the daze. He looked at the boy in his lap and smiled heartily. "He said that he's your friend."
"My friend?" Law glanced back where the child disappeared. "I don't have any friends… Not anymore. They are all dead now..."
Corazon's smile fell. He stood up, settled Law on the stairs and showed him the Devil Fruit, grinning happily. "Look, Law! It's the Op-Op Fruit!"
"He stole my hat…" still looking at the side the boy mumbled.
"Oi! That's beside the point!" the blonde yelled, drawing Law's attention. "This Devil Fruit will save your life! And you'll be able to find lots of friends!"
The boy's eyes focused on the fruit. His breathing was shallow and heavy, he felt light-headed because of the fever. "But just by eating that… Is my illness going to be healed?" he asked weakly.
"What are you talking about?! Of course, it will!" Corazon jammed the fruit into Law's mouth. "Go on! Scarf it down!"
"Mmff! What're you– Gross!"
The bad tasting fruit in his throat prevented Law to say more. He could just choke and gag as Corazon stuffed it deeper with urge, "Now bite it and swallow it!"
Finally the boy gulped down the fruit. He was slightly trembling as he stared at his hands, discolored with white patches. "Wait, Cora-san! Becoming a Devil Fruit user all of a sudden... I haven't even prepared myself!" he exclaimed, slight panic gripping him.
Corazon laughed softly at his words. "You want to live, don't you? You should be able to heal yourself and be free from the illness now," he said, affectionately ruffling Law's hair. "Just live as your heart desire."
"We've outsmarted Doflamingo! This is our victory!" the blonde shouted with glee.
Law scowled before yelling in anger, "We still haven't run away! Stop celebrating!"
Suddenly Corazon groaned when pain surged through his injuries, setting alarms off in the boy's head.
"Oi, Cora-san, what's wrong? Is that blood?" Law asked, noticing red smears on the man's shirt.
"It's nothing," the ex-marine smiled at him. "If it wasn't for your friend, it would have been much worse."
"I told you that I don't have any friends. They all… died." The boy lowered his head to stare at the ground.
Corazon glanced at the inner island. He was worried about Law, but he also was worried about Luffy. He scooped Law into his arms, and smiled at him again. "Well, I'm alive, and we're friends, aren't we?"
The boy's cheeks flushed as he averted his eyes, gripping the man's shirt. "Thank you, Cora-san," he mumbled under his breath.
"And that boy… if he's not your friend, maybe he's your little guardian angel?" Corazon teased.
"What the hell are you talking about?! He stole my hat!"
Corazon laughed again as he started to walk towards the shore where they left their boat. "I'm sure he had his reasons," he tried to assure the boy in his arms. "Listen, Law, I'll have to leave you alone again for a bit."
Law's eyes widened. "What? Why?"
"I know it's hard for you, but that kid went to face Doffy for our sake. I can't just abandon him."
"Didn't you just say that he's a guardian angel? He should be able to defend himself!"
"It's Doflamingo we're talking about!" Corazon chided. "A young child of D with ability to use at least two forms of Haki would become a prized possession for Doffy. I can't let him get his hands on him!"
Law bit his lip. He didn't understand what this Haki was, but he remembered how concerned Cora became when he learned that Law was a D. The man even risked to blow his cover telling Law to run away from Doflamingo. "For Law's sake, I'll not allow you to die here." The kid's words rang in his head. "Fine!" he finally squeezed through clenched teeth, tightening his grip on the blonde's shirt. "Just… please be careful, Cora-san…"
Corazon chuckled lightly. "I will."
Luffy rounded the corner and flattened himself against the house's wall, trying to catch his breath. It wasn't that hard to get the attention of the Donquixote Pirates by making them notice spotted Law's hat. And it was a good thing that they weren't that keen on catching him right away as the pirates kept chasing the boy around the ghost town. The longer they played, the more time Cora and Law had to get away from here.
"That's where you're hiding, our little lamb."
Luffy flinched from the smug voice above him. A lanky man was peeking over the corner, and stared down on him with a creepy smile on his face. The boy promptly pounced to sprint away, but he slipped and tumbled right into the snowdrift.
Oh, how Luffy hated to be stuck in his 6 years old body right now. He could take care of all these bastards if he had his past body. He will have to train a lot, and this time he was determined not to lose to either of his brothers.
Sabo licked his lips as he added salt and peppers to the roasting meat. They finally managed to catch their prey, and he couldn't wait till he could sink his teeth into it.
Suddenly a shiver ran over his body, and Sabo's eyes were blown wide. He spun around, pouring out all the salt on the meat in the process, and scanned the surroundings.
"Sabo, watch what you're doing!" Ace yelled at him.
The blonde glanced back at the meat. "Oh, shit!" he berated.
Ace scowled. "Is something wrong?"
Sabo looked around once again. "It's like… uh… I suddenly got a feeling of imminent doom coming at us."
"The hell are you–" Ace cut himself off before his eyes widened. "Oi, the same happened to me earlier!"
Sabo lifted his head to observe the sky. "Maybe a storm is really coming?" he wondered.
The lanky pirate grabbed the kid from the snow. "Law, you've been really–" The man blinked at the unfamiliar face under the spotted hat. "You're not Law," he stated, glaring at the boy in his grip.
Luffy squirmed and shouted, "Let me go, you bastard!"
"Oh, so full of life, this one," the pirate laughed, walking with the boy dangling in his hand. "Oiii, Doffy!"
Doflamingo and the rest of the Family turned to face him. Doffy's eyes landed on the boy, and he smirked. "Good job on catching Law, Diamante."
"This one is not Law," the lanky man said, showing Luffy to his captain, "just some brat with his hat."
Luffy stuck his tongue at the pink-feathered blonde, causing a vein to pop on his forehead. "Show some respect, brat!" Doflamingo growled, slapping the boy. Luffy just clenched his teeth, not allowing even a slight whimper escape his mouth. The pirate captain stared at the kid. "Where did you get that hat?" he asked, after a moment.
"Not saying!" Luffy screamed.
Another vein popped on Doflamingo's forehead, and he slapped the boy again. Blood trickled from his nose, but he stubbornly stayed silent. "Where's Law?!" the blond man put forward a question again.
"I don't know!"
"You little shit!" Diamante seethed with outrage. He slammed the boy onto the ground and kicked him with all his might. "Just answer to Young Master if he's asking you a question!"
Luffy groaned as he slid across the ground from the impact. Damn, that hurt! He gulped down the urge to release a wave of Haki as currently it was his only way to defend himself. He could probably knock out all of them, except Doflamingo himself.
Mingo would definitely kill him on spot if Luffy showed that he possessed the Conqueror's Haki, and that would be bad. The boy almost giggled, thinking about how his nakama would scold him that he hadn't thought the plan through as always.
Someone rolled him on his back and pressed the boy to the ground, gripping him by his neck. "You will tell us where you met Law," the man with spiky grey hair, a mask on his mouth and goggles said, while pulling out a knife and shoving it to Luffy's face.
"No!" Luffy objected, struggling against the iron grip.
The pirate slowly brought his knife to the child's face, and stabbed it right under his left eye in cold blood. Luffy gritted his teeth, still refusing to cry out. The warm life liquid seeped from the wound, streaming across the side of his face and dripped onto the white ground. The man pulled the knife out, and got ready to stab it again...
Everyone's eyes got drawn to the ringing Den Den Mushi. With an irritated scowl on his face, Doflamingo grabbed the receiver and answered the call, "Yeah?"
"Doffy, it's me," the snail spoke in a deep, stoic voice. "I'm on the island. What're your orders?"
"Wait." Doflamingo turned to face his comrade with goggles. "Gladius, take the brat to the ship, we'll deal with him later."
The pink-feathered pirate looked at the snail again. "Search the outskirts of the island for Corazon and the brat from the White Town," he ordered. "I'll make sure they won't escape the inner island if they are there."
Gladius grabbed the boy, tucked him firmly under his arm and strolled away. Luffy pulled Law's hat down, trying to hide a smile, tugging the edges of his mouth. Lucky~! Stupid Mingo! Now he just had to wait till they were far enough from the rest of the enemies, so that he could knock out this bastard and slip away. It should have been enough time for Corazon to run away with Law.
Luffy's smile fell. He didn't want to be separated from his friend right after he got to see him again. It had been several years since his last nakama death. Law's death. Several very long and lonely years… But Luffy was happy that he managed to save Traffy's important person. Maybe they'll meet again sometime in the future.
Luffy lifted his head just in time to see Doflamingo Birdcage's strings slam down, closing the area from where they just came. Well, there probably won't be any better time to–
A black shadow, without making any sound, nearing them caught Luffy's attention. His eyes widened as he recognized it.
Suddenly Gladius chuckled. "You're very quiet brat," he commented. "Are you so scared that you won't even try to escape, eh?"
Luffy shot a glare at him. What a jerk! He glanced at the Corazon again, and their eyes met. The grey-haired pirate turned his head, but at that moment the boy sunk his teeth into his forearm.
"Gah!" Gladius screamed, as he let go of his prisoner and gripped his hurt hand. The brat bit him! Even through his coat it freaking hurt!
Luffy landed in the snow, and instantly received a kick into his stomach, followed by a furious shout, "THAT HURT, YOU LITTLE SHIT!"
Holding his belly, Luffy opened one eye as he followed Corazon who appeared right behind Gladius. The blonde swung the rifle and smashed it at the pirate's head. Luffy released a strong pulse of Conqueror's Haki, timing it with an impact, successfully rendering the Doflamingo's executive unconscious.
Corazon stared at lying enemy, then glanced at the rifle. He really didn't expect to knock Gladius out that easily. The blonde looked at the boy and the gun slipped from his grip. "Luffy!"
Corazon gently picked Luffy from the ground. "Hey, stay with me!" he pleaded, eyeing his bloody cheek, trying to determine the seriousness of his injuries.
"Shishishishi," Luffy giggled quietly. "I'm fine. More importantly… Where's Traffy? Is he safe?"
Corazon stared at the boy. He was such a mystery. It was so strange that Law didn't know him, though it seemed that Luffy had only him in his mind. "I left him at the shore near where our boat is," the man explained, pressing the child safely to his chest as he walked towards the place he just spoke off.
"Shore?" Luffy mumbled thoughtfully. Realization slowly dawned on him, and he felt dread creeping in. "This is bad!" he suddenly shouted, startling Cora. "He's in danger! I heard Mingo talking with someone and ordering him to search the outskirts of the island!" He gripped the man's coat with both hands, and peered at him with pleading eyes. "I can't… I can't lose my nakama again! Please, hurry up!"
But Corazon didn't need to hear more. 'Law' and 'danger' in one sentence was enough to make him madly dash through the fields.
Law stared at the man in a marine uniform and a piece of sausage on his cheek. The boy was slightly shaking. He hated the World Government and the Navy, so he hadn't any trust in marines. They scared him. And Law couldn't even understand what this marine was thinking, as his face was emotionless, eyes hidden under dark sunglasses.
"You're Law from the White Town," the marine noted. That wasn't even a question, more as a statement.
Law heart almost stopped. He stepped back from the adult, towering him. He wished for Cora-san to be here with him right now.
The marine suddenly grabbed the child by the neck and lifted him high into the air. "Where's Corazon?" he questioned.
Law struggled in his grip, not saying a word.
"Where's Corazon?" the man repeated.
"I-I don't know!" the boy screamed, helplessly trying to free himself.
The marine was silent for a moment. "Is that so?" He swung his arm and threw Law into one of the rocky walls, surrounding this spot on the shore.
Law groaned when he hit the rock with his head and pain surged through it. He managed to get on his knees, resting hands on the ground. A trickle of blood ran down the side of his face.
"LAW!" a loud shout of a familiar voice rang across the area.
Law lifted his head and registered only black, feathered coat jumping in front of him in a defensive manner. A young boy wearing his spotted hat and with a bloody cheek rushed to him, but suddenly froze in his spot.
Luffy felt like the ground swayed under his feet. Blood. With a trembling hand, he brushed across the older boy's side of the face, and looked at his own fingers. Law's blood. Luffy's face was drained from all color as for a moment the same image of his hands dyed with Law's blood from several years back emerged before his eyes.
The heartbreaking scream snapped Luffy back to reality. He looked at Law again.
When he traveled back, Luffy swore to save them all. He hated to watch his nakama cry, so he swore to assure their happiness, to do everything that he would never have to witness them shed a tear again.
And now Law was crying.
Luffy clenched his fists as he lowered his head so that the brim of Law's hat would shadow his eyes.
Vergo grabbed Corazon by his neck, and pulled his arm back to deliver a finishing blow.
"NO! Stop! Stop it!" Law pleaded, tears running across his cheeks.
"You heard him," Luffy said before glaring at the marine. "Let Cora-san go."
A shiver ran through Vergo's body as he met the younger boy's eyes. Unable to tear his gaze from him, he let go Corazon, without even realizing what he was doing.
Law heaved a shaky sigh of relief, when he saw Corazon struggling to stand up. He glanced at the boy near him, and his breath suddenly hitched in his throat.
Corazon groaned, trying to haul himself up. He looked at the kids to make sure they were safe. His eyes went wide, and jaw dropped from the view he saw.
Vergo felt fear creeping into his mind. There was something behind the child. No, someone.
A man, wearing red shirt with a black coat draped over his shoulders and yellow sash tied around his waist, was standing proudly, crossing his arms in front of him and cockily smirking under the straw hat.
"There will be no forgiveness for those who make my nakama cry," Luffy said before his lips curled up into the same cocky smirk. "I wish I could deal with you myself, but it's rather impossible. So…" The boy turned to the sea, took a deep breath and screamed at the top of his lungs, "KIIIIINTOOOO-UUUUN!"
The image of the straw hatted man slowly dissipated into thin air, and Vergo gritted his teeth in frustration. He couldn't believe himself. He just got scared of the small kid! The marine started walking towards Luffy, cracking his knuckles, his face screwed with malice.
"Wait…" Corazon shakily stood on his feet, stepping between him and the boys.
"So these kids are more important to you than the Family?" Vergo growled, swinging his arm for a punch. His body stiffened, as his mind was once again assaulted by the overpowering pressure.
"I thought I told you not to touch him," Luffy stated in a calm and composed tone.
The surface of the ocean suddenly broke and an enormous shadow rose from the depth. A brown-grey colored Sea King with a blue fin on its head towered over the humans on the coast, narrowing its crimson eyes on the smallest of them.
Corazon's jaw dropped. He bolted from where he was standing and grabbed the shell-shocked Law into his arms. He reached for Luffy…
"Hey, Kinto-un," the younger boy grinned brightly at the beast, "can you eat that guy for me, please?" He pointed at dumbstruck Vergo. "He's a jerk."
The Sea King's eyes shifted onto the black-haired man.
Vergo shook off the stiffness of his body, but instead of attacking the Sea King who already bared its teeth at him he unexpectedly knelt down when another wave of Conqueror's Haki easily broke his own will. He glanced at the younger boy for the last time before the beast's jaw snapped on him.
Only cold, unmerciful eyes met his gaze. Eyes which have already seen too much and definitely couldn't belong to the young child.
Horrified, Corazon slapped a hand on Law's eyes when the Sea King grabbed Vergo and started to leisurely chew on him.
"Cora-san!" Law squirmed in his arms, trying to pry off the hand. He managed to do that just in time to witness the beast gulp down its prey.
A light-hearted giggle startled them both. Their eyes fell on Luffy who strolled to the Sea King, waving for it to lower its head. "Good boy," he praised, petting the great sea beast who closed its eyes from delight. "Kinto-un, where is the item I left with you for safekeeping?"
The Sea King opened his eyes, and growled quietly before diving back into the water. Corazon slowly put Law back on the ground.
Luffy turned around and grinned at them. "TRAFYYYY~!" he shouted in glee. Luffy literally slammed into the older boy, hugging him as strong as possible. He really missed his Devil Fruit right now, because he certainly wanted to wind his arms around his nakama several times. "I missed you so much!"
Law almost stumbled down, but Corazon's legs stopped his fall. He glanced up. The blonde was smiling softly at him, and he frowned. "Get off me!" Law ordered to the younger boy.
"Nuh-uh!" Luffy refused, snuggling even closer.
The older boy's frown deepened. "Who are you anyways?! I don't even know you!" he bristled.
"It doesn't matter," Luffy grinned at him again, "because I know you!"
"That doesn't make any sense!" Law fumed. "And give back my hat!" He snatched the hat off the younger one's head and put it back on.
Corazon laughed at their antics. Luffy was really like a little guardian angel. He didn't want to even begin thinking what would have happened if the boy hadn't showed up today.
The surface of the ocean broke again, and the Sea King emerged, holding something in his muzzle.
"Oh!" Luffy finally jumped away from Law and reached for the item in the beast's mouth. Kinto-un lowered his head so that he could take it. "Thanks!"
It was a big nodachi sword, sheathed in a black scabbard decorated by white crosses along its whole length, and with a piece of red rope tied near its opening.
"Your sword, Luffy?" Corazon asked, amused by the idea, because the blade was almost three times bigger than the kid himself.
"Nah, it's Law's!" Luffy cheered. Suddenly he looked at the inner island and frowned. "The cage is disappearing," he noted. "We need to get out of here."
Corazon also looked at the slowly shrinking string cage, picked up Law who couldn't tear his eyes from the blade and walked to the cliff where below was their boat. He slid onto it, put down Law and turned around to climb the rope again to pick up Luffy.
The blonde's mind went blank when he looked up. He only managed to register the sunny grin and instinctively lifted his hands to catch the boy as the latter crashed right at him together with the sword.
Corazon slipped and fell down on his back. "Urgh…" he groaned, rubbing his head, while Luffy on his chest just smiled blissfully.
Law snorted, but he wasn't able to hold it in. His hearty laugh rang across the boat.
Luffy grinned at him. To hear Law laughing was such a rare treat! He was hoping that this time Law would laugh and enjoy life much more.
Corazon was in a daze. It was the first time he ever heard Law laughing in such a carefree manner, and it sounded like a sweet melody to his ears.
Kinto-un emerged from the sea, scaring Cora and Law again. It bit the rope, tying the boat to the tree, and started pulling it away.
"Where are we going?" Law wondered.
Corazon blinked at him. He actually didn't think about it. Healing the boy was the only thing occupying his head for the past half year. "Somewhere safe?" he suggested.
Luffy grinned. "How about to the East Blue with me?" he chirped innocently. "Ah, but before that I need to visit one more place."
Chapter 3: II. To always keep you safe and sound.
"To always keep you safe and sound."
"I had to go somewhere I saw~
When I was so young and immature~
Fate that you owe is full of flaws~
But I can only watch and endure~"
Law stirred from his sleep when the quiet singing reached his ears. He slowly sat up and rubbed his eyes.
"Time will tell us gently~
How powerless we used to be~
Yet we stand ground at ready~
To shake bounds; to become free~"
The preteen drowsily looked around the boat until he spotted a small, black-haired figure sitting on the bowsprit.
"I meant to be your peace until I die~
No one wants to be alone~
I'll leave my soul by your side~
To always keep you safe and sound~"
Law stared at Luffy's back, seeming so small and lonely now, with wide eyes. That song didn't suit the younger boy, whose smile could equal the sun itself.
Luffy watched the dawn breaking at the horizon, as a gentle breeze ruffled his hair. "To always keep you safe and sound…" he repeated a line from the song, his dead nakamas faces flashing through his mind.
Law stood up from where he was curled up beside Corazon, snuggled into his feathered coat. The blonde was still asleep, exhausted from all what had happened at Minion Island. The older boy walked closer to the bow. "What was that song about?" he asked.
Luffy flinched at the sound of the voice behind, and turned around to look at Law. Light from the sunrise illuminated the wound under his left eye with a bloody red color. The few bandages that they had, they used on Corazon's bullet wounds, so Law had to sew the gash and hope for the best. It would probably leave a scar.
Suddenly Luffy pounced from the bowsprit, and in the blink of an eye tackled the preteen into tight hug.
"Oi!" Law growled annoyed, but Luffy only tightened his arms around him.
"It was hard… so hard to be alone, Law," he muttered, voice muffled because of his face buried into the older boy's chest. "They all died one after another, and I was left alone."
Law stiffened. The memories of bodies of his family, classmates, neighbors and everyone he ever cared about flashed before his eyes. The smell of burning flesh and blood, the heat from the fire and an overwhelming despair forever left a deep wound in his mind. He couldn't agree more. To be left alone was the hardest thing the person could experience.
"What was that song about?" Law asked again, much softer this time.
"I learned it after–" Luffy cut himself off. The moment of silence slowly stretched between them, but Law didn't push the younger to continue. "It was the last song I learned. Brook would have been proud of me," Luffy finally said.
The preteen could feel the boy smiling against his chest. A smile tugged his own lips as he ruffled Luffy's hair like he used to do with his sister Lami.
"Oh, now that I think about it, he's alive again! As much as it's possible for him! Shishishishi!"
Law frowned. "What are you talking about?" he fumed. "I swear, sometimes you speak like you repeating your life, or something."
Luffy blinked at him, surprised. "Traffy's so smart!" he stated in awe.
"Oh, shut up!" Law pushed the kid away, slightly embarrassed by the unexpected praise, and turned around from him, just to see Corazon watching them with a soft smile. The man's smile grew even wider as he lifted his hand to show a peace sign. Law just rolled his eyes at that. "Did we wake you up, Cora-san?"
"No," Corazon replied, a goofy grin still plastered across his face. He never saw Law acting so affectionately with anyone before, looking so at peace. It surprised the blonde, but at the same time he was cheering for this little boy. Luffy was definitely earning a title of his guardian angel, lifting the weight from the boy's shoulders without as much as an effort.
Corazon shifted his gaze to Luffy. It seemed like a silent conversation passed between them because the kid grinned at the man and also showed a peace sign. Law's eyebrow twitched as they just kept grinning at each other. "Stop smiling like idiots!" he yelled, unable to hold in his frustration.
Suddenly the preteen swayed as the dizziness clouded his mind. The ache in the chest he hadn't paid much attention till now grew into numb, but insistent pain, and Law unconsciously moaned, gripping his t-shirt into tight grasp.
Both his companions were next to him in a second. Corazon laid him on his coat, checking his forehead for a fever. Luffy bit his lower lip in a worry, fidgeting anxiously nearby.
"I'm fine," Law wheezed out. "Just got dizzy for a moment."
"I thought the Devil Fruit should have helped him," Luffy said, peering into Corazon.
The blonde sighed. "The Fruit itself only helps a little," he explained, solemn eyes watching the older of the two boys. "Law needs to use its power to take the white lead from his body, and do a surgery on himself."
Law's brows knitted into thoughtful frown. "I don't even know how to use my fruit."
"Ah!" Luffy squealed, startling the other two, as he darted to the bow and retrieved that freakishly long nodachi sword. "Use this," he said, grinning brightly.
"How can a sword help me learn that?"
Luffy blinked at him. "You do it like this," he said in a matter-of-fact tone as he lifted his hand, narrowed his eyes and with great concentration muttered 'Room'. "And then SWOOSH! This blue bubble appears out of nowhere. And then you take this," the boy motioned at the sword, and then frantically flailed his arms around, "and CHOP-CHOP-CHOP you can chop anything into pieces and put them together however you want. And then," Luffy's happy face darkened as he wiggled his fingers in front of him, "Shambles!" He burst out laughing after that. "It's so cool! Your fruit is so cool, Traffy!" the boy exclaimed finally.
Corazon and Law stared at him dumbly. They didn't really understand much of the kid's babble, there were too many emotions involved in whatever Luffy wanted to explain, but the fact that apparently he knew how to use Op-Op fruit hadn't gone unnoticed.
"You know how Law's Devil Fruit works?" the blonde asked, to make sure.
"Of course!" The raven grinned. "I saw it in use so many times!"
Corazon's mind was working a mile a minute. The Op-Op Fruit had disappeared a long time ago before it showed up again on the hands of those pirates. No one knew where it was. Maybe it belonged to someone this kid knew, together with that sword. "Where did you get that sword, Luffy?" he put forward a question.
"I found Kikoku on one of the islands where I thought Traffy might be."
"Kikoku?" Law echoed.
"Its name." Luffy smiled at the sword. "My nakama taught me that every blade must be respected, especially a Meito, even if it's a cursed one."
"Don't worry, Traffy. Kikoku is sleeping right now, I can't hear its voice."
Corazon sat down. He grabbed a cigarette and lighted it up. After exhaling a puff of smoke, the blonde rubbed his temple with a free hand, observing Law eagerly asking more questions about the sword. A puzzle by the name Monkey D. Luffy just got so much more complicated.
"Why you were looking for me? How do you know me?" Law questioned.
"Ehhhh," Luffy whined, screwing his face with displeasure. "It's boring to think about it, and it doesn't matter now. More importantly – I'm hungry!"
Corazon sighed. So much more complicated.
"Ne, ne, Cora-san!" The younger boy tugged his pants to get his attention, completely ignoring scowl and glare Law was throwing his way. "How far are we?"
"If your…" the man trailed off. He couldn't say 'pet', he just couldn't. What normal 5-6 years old had a Sea King as a pet? It was too bizarre. "…friend will pull us like before, it should take about couple of hours."
"Yay!" Luffy cheered, then ran to the bowsprit and yelled towards the sea, "KINTOOOO-UUUUN!"
A Sea King emerged from the depth of the North Blue after several moments, staring intensely at the small figure on the boat's front.
"Time to go," the boy said, and motioned the beast closer. It lowered its head, the snout almost touching the human.
Corazon's and Law's eyes widened and jaws dropped once Luffy started to climb the Sea King. He grabbed its lower lip and pulled himself onto its mouth, over its protruding sharp teeth and up the snout. The boy suddenly slipped, but managed to regain his footing by grabbing the beast's nostril. Both humans on the boat cringed, yet Kinto-un only huffed in what looked like a mild exasperation. Luffy giggled at the puff of warm air blown from its nose.
Finally the boy reached the top and sat cross-legged in the middle of the beast's muzzle. "Alright, let's go!" he ordered, pointing at the horizon.
During the journey, Law snuggled back into Cora's feathered coat and dozed off, unconsciously hugging the nodachi to his chest. He was woken from his sleep by a whiny, "But I'm hungryyyyy~!"
Law sat up, groggily rubbing his eyes.
"It's not cooked yet! You can't eat it raw, you'll get sick!"
The boat was pulled up the shore and tied up to the tree. The preteen looked around, and his eyes got drawn by a huge fish, grilling above the fire. Luffy was drooling over the fish, while Corazon tried to shoo him away.
Law climbed off the boat and walked to them. "Where did you get such a big fish?" he asked, honestly curious about it.
"Kinto-un helped!" Luffy beamed at him, at the same time trying to stretch the hand to the fish.
"Oh, right," Law deadpanned as he watched Luffy sulk once he realized that his hand wasn't made of rubber and couldn't stretch. Seriously, sometimes this kid was such an idiot.
Corazon eyed the older of the two boys, and asked, "How're you feeling, Law?"
Law shrugged. He felt pretty normal, maybe a bit still wary, but definitely not like he was dying.
"Traffy, you should try to do the 'Room' thing," Luffy suggested. "The sooner you learn to use your powers, the quicker you could get better. There are several things I want to teach you once we'll be back at the East Blue."
And sometimes this kid became so serious and mature, that Law wondered whether he really was as young as he looked like. He remembered the illusion appearing behind the boy. "What're your powers? You do have a Devil Fruit too, right?"
Luffy shook his head. "No. Not yet."
Law furrowed his brows in confusion. "At that time, how did you stop that marine with just words?"
"Oh, that's called Haki," explained the smaller boy. "There are three forms of it. The one I used is called Conqueror's Haki. It's the only one you can't really learn, you need to have be born with it."
"And the other two forms?" Law asked after a moment of thinking.
Luffy smiled. "Those are the things that I wanted to teach you."
"Who taught you, Luffy?" Corazon inquired, joining the conversation. Luffy's words confirmed his suspicion, that the kid was a proficient Haki user. He must have be a true genius to learn it at such a young age and use it so naturally.
Luffy's face lit up with delight as he exclaimed, "Rayleigh!"
"Rayleigh? Ray–" the blonde choked on his words, the knife he used to poke at the fish slipped from his fingers, and his eyes were blown impossibly wide. "Silvers Rayleigh?! The Dark King Rayleigh?!"
"Yep!" the boy chirped cheerfully.
"Cora-san, you know that person?"
"He's… uh, he's…" the ex-marine stumbled over his words. "He's the pirate, the former first mate of the Roger Pirates, known as the 'Right Hand of the Pirate King'." A thought popped into his mind. So that's why Luffy insisted about being the Pirate King. This kid was probably considered the successor of the title by Silvers Rayleigh himself.
"Ne, Cora-san." A tug on his pants woke Corazon out of his stupor. Luffy was looking at him, a drool running from the corner of his mouth. "I think the fish is already cooked."
Before the man could say anything, Luffy suddenly took a sharp turn to the side and started to stare intensely at the tree line, surrounding their spot on the shore. Something white flashed between the branches, and immediately disappeared into the forest.
"Wait, wait, WAIT!" Luffy screamed, bolting from his spot and sprinting towards whatever was hiding there. "OOOOIIIII! WAIT!"
As he vanished into the forest, Corazon leaped after him with a worried shout, "Luffy, don't run into the forest!"
Law observed both of them disappearing across the tree line into the darkness under the trees with indifferent expression on his face. After several minutes, he picked up a knife the blonde dropped and sliced off a piece of fish for himself. The preteen slowly ate his meal, but neither of his companions returned.
Law lifted his hand into position Luffy imitated earlier on the boat, and focused on activating his Devil Fruit. He tried to create a blue bubble the boy talked about, but nothing happened. He shook his hand and tried again. After a while he managed to form a small blue bubble, encompassing his palm. It wasn't big enough that you could chop someone in it, but Law was thrilled about succeeding in invoking his powers.
Law was so emerged into deep concentration, that he hadn't noticed someone sneaking up on him. Rough hands grabbed him from behind. The attacker snaked one arm over his neck, and another across his body, holding him tightly in place.
"Easy, boy, and I won't gonna hurt you much," said a sleazy man right into Law's ear. The preteen could feel his smug smirk in his voice.
"Let me go!" he demanded, squirming as much as he could.
"Shut up!" the man growled, and tightened his hold on the kid's neck. Law felt a pressure on his pipe, and he choked. His lungs started to scream in demand of air, and black spots danced in his vision.
"What do you have there?" another man asked, approaching Law and his attacker from behind.
"Oh, captain!" The pressure lifted a bit, and Law sucked in a ragged breath, immediately followed by a painful cough. His attacker turned around to face a small group of shady looking men. "I found a boy here."
"A boy?" echoed the man in front of the group, with a crude face, shaggy beard and cold grey eyes under an old looking cocked hat, decorated with ratty white feather. "Alone?"
The man grabbed Law's chin and roughly tilted his head up so he could see the boy's face. "Interesting. I never had seen a human with these white patches. He could fetch a price." The captain scrutinized the prisoner a bit longer, ignoring his deathly glare, then let his chin go and waved at his subordinate who held the boy. "Alright, Vance, bring him to the base. You two," he said to the guys on his left, "search his boat."
The man holding Law was already walking away when the voice drifted from the shore, "There is nothing valuable, just this huge ass sword."
"No!" Law suddenly yelled, fighting against the strong arms of his assaulter. "It's mine! Don't touch it!" He heard only an angry 'Shut up!' before the strong blow to his head forced him to sink into darkness.
"I lost him…" Luffy pouted, dangling in Corazon's hand by his t-shirt's collar.
They were walking through the forest back to their camp on the shore.
"Why have you taken off like that? It's dangerous for a child to be alone in the forest."
A stern scowl found its way on the boy's childish features. "I may look like that, but I'm not a child! I'm the Pirate King!"
Corazon rolled his eyes and sighed, lifting the kid to his eye level. "You're what? Five years old?"
Luffy beamed at him proudly. "I'm six!" he exclaimed, before falling into pout again. "Still, I lost him…"
"What you were chasing anyway? That furry beast?"
"He's not a beast!" The kid flailed his arms and legs angrily in what supposed to be punches and kicks.
Cora couldn't fight the fond smile growing on his face. He knew Luffy for only a day, but the boy had already managed to wiggle his way into his heart.
They stepped out of the forest, and suddenly froze. The cigarette fell from the blonde's mouth as he swept over the area. There were lots of footprints all over the place, several bags they had were ransacked and thrown off the boat. The fish was gone too.
"Law?!" Corazon yelled, putting Luffy on the ground. "Law, where are you?!"
Luffy's face grew fierce. "He's not here."
Corazon walked to the boat, looked inside. "They took the sword too."
Luffy turned his back to the sea, and faced the rest of the island, determination etched on his face. Then he took a deep breath, and closed his eyes.
The ex-marine understood that he was using his Observation Haki to find whatever else was on the island, but honestly he didn't have high hopes that the kid would be able to find the culprits. This island was a big one. If the humans moved too far into it, there would be no way that–
"Found them," Luffy's voice interrupted the blonde's thoughts. "They are about an hour from here in that direction." Not waiting for a confirmation from an adult that he heard him, the boy started to stride towards his destination. He suppressed the news that he couldn't find the signature of Law's presence, but it was the only place with humans on the island. Hopefully his nakama was only knocked out. If those bastards hurt him, or worse…
Luffy clenched his fists. The dangerous glint sparked in his obsidian eyes, and suddenly they were not the innocent eyes of the young child, but the ones of the seasoned warrior, cold and dark, the eyes of the latest Pirate King who's the only intention was to keep his nakama safe now that he had them all back. And people on this island threatened and probably hurt one of them.
Corazon followed Luffy a step behind, uneasiness and worry eating him from inside. Panic started to well up in his mind, when suddenly an unexpected chill settled over him, and a small tremble ran across his body. The blonde glanced around, but there was no reason for such a drop of temperature, unless… Cora's blue eyes shifted to look at the kid, walking in front.
Luffy was extremely pissed, and that led a sliver of his own Conqueror's Haki to leak out and manifest itself as a chill around the host.
Corazon really was glad that Luffy was on their side, and that Doffy didn't get his hands on him. He remembered the pressure of the kid's Conqueror's Haki back at their first meeting. That was probably not even a full extent of what this mystery boy was capable of.
"We'll get him back," Corazon stated.
"Of course." There was no hint of doubt in the kid's voice. It was calm and laced with steel, like there was no turmoil boiling in his mind.
The blonde scooped Luffy from the ground, muttering, "This will be faster."
Luffy didn't say a word, just pointed at the right direction for an adult to run.
Law slowly stirred from the unconsciousness into awareness. He groaned as pain surged through his head. Reluctantly the preteen opened his eyes. After the blur from his vision cleared, he sat up. A wet cloth dropped from his forehead into his lap, and Law frowned at it.
"Ah, y-you shouldn't get up yet."
Law's head snapped to the side where the unfamiliar voice came from. He blinked at the sight, his mind going completely blank.
A small white bear cub stared at him with his round, black eyes, looking scared and uncertain. It stood on its hind legs like a human, and even had pants on. Between its hands, no, paws, it held a metal bowl with water which probably was used to wet the cloth.
"You talk," Law noted dumbly.
The cub dipped its head down, and wow Law hadn't known that bears could get embarrassed, but that was exactly how it looked like. "Sorry…" it muttered.
The boy stared at it for a bit longer. "Well, it's fine. Good for you," he finally said. Talking bear was strange, but Law wasn't really that put off by it. More importantly was to get the information where he was, where his sword was and also… where the hell his hat was! Law glanced around, and heaved a sigh as he spotted his hat on the floor nearby. He grabbed it and put it on his head.
"Y-you're not afraid of me? O-or disgusted?" the cub stuttered, completely caught off guard by the human's indifference.
"No," Law answered, smirking in amusement. "Why would I?"
"B-because I'm a monster?"
The boy looked at the bear, narrowing his eyes at it, trying to understand this strange talking beast. "If anyone here should be called a monster, it should be me," he finally stated while briefly glancing around the small room he was in before his eyes focused on the bear again. "With all this…" Law waved at himself, "… discolored skin."
The cub seemed startled by his statement. "But you're human!"
"Yes, it's… it's because of an illness," Law confessed carefully observing its reaction, but got just a silent 'Oh.' "But I know the cure now, just need to get out of here." He stood up, and instantly swayed when his head started to spin.
The bear was next to him in a second to help to keep the boy from planting face first at the floor.
Finally Law vision stopped swimming and he found his footing again. "Thanks," he mumbled. "I'm Trafalgar Law, by the way."
The cub gawked at him like he saw a human for a first time ever. "Bepo."
"Nice to meet you, Bepo."
The bear's black-rimmed lips curled into shy smile as he stared at the boy with wide eyes full of awe. The pirates snatched him from his home several months ago, and they were the only humans he ever met. Bepo was started to think that all humans were malicious, nefarious and hated everything what didn't look like them. The pirate crew, he was forced to work for as a chore boy and an occasional subject of entertainment, always treated him as an animal and yelled or sometimes even beat him when the cub spoke. That's why he ran away from the people on the shore once they spotted him, even though the smell from that fish was so yummy…
But this human youngling hadn't done any of that.
"C-can I come with you?" Bepo asked without a second thought, in a pleading tone.
Law turned from the window he was inspecting to look at the bear, confused by his question. "What?"
Before Bepo could tell him that he really, really didn't want to stay here with these people, that he just wanted to go back home, and even if he couldn't do that he would better be with Law than here, the door suddenly slammed open with a loud bang. Both kids flinched with a startle, and snapped their attention to the man in the doorway.
The pirate squinted at Law. "Heere yor'ue, 'ittle urchin…" he slurred, stumbling over his own words. "Come 'ere, 'aptain wants to s–" hiccup, "you."
Law eyed the drunk, taking note of the short sword at his waistband. Without a word, he obeyed the order and stepped closer to the man. Bepo gasped, and moved to interfere. He knew that it was a very bad idea to go to see the captain when the crew was so drunk.
The pirate aggressively glared at the bear. "Yor damn beast stay 'ere!" he yelled, lifting a hand to hit the cub.
Not waiting for it to happen, Law kicked the back of the man's knee. The drunkard lost his balance and knelt down. The preteen grabbed the blade, and backed away, dragging Bepo with him.
"Oh, yor 'astard!" the pirate howled in fury, stumbling up. Law's eyes widened as the man pulled a pistol from behind. "I'll show–" hiccup, "yor!"
Bepo stepped in front of the human, instinctively trying to protect him. Law gritted his teeth. There was no way that he would let that stupid drunk hurt him or the bear, there was only one thing he could do now before the pistol went off.
Law lifted his hand, silently praying that it would work. "Room," he muttered.
Corazon slowed down as he spied the clearing ahead.
"That's there they are," Luffy confirmed, jumping down from his lap.
They both crouched behind the bushes, and surveyed the area. An old, abandoned military building was serving as a base for the kidnappers. There were three guards outside, lounging around the front door, bored out of their minds.
Luffy suddenly perked up as he felt Law's presence sparking in the building. He also felt Bepo right next to him, so both his nakama was alright. A small, relieved smile spread across his face. Now what's left was just to rescue them safely.
"So, how we'll do–" Corazon cut himself off the moment he glanced at the side and saw that Luffy was nowhere to be seen. His jaw dropped as he spotted the boy casually strolling towards the armed guards.
Luffy smirked wickedly once the men noticed him and straightened up to meet them, as they threw confused glances between each other. Before they decided what to do with the stray child, a burst of Conqueror's Haki knocked them all out. The boy passed the collapsing unconscious enemies not even sparing them a glance.
Luffy was not there to play games.
He entered the building, and crossed several different rooms until he found one with a bunch of people in it. They were sitting around the table full of various food and booze, some already passed out under it. With all the noise none of the pirates noticed a small boy walking into room.
Luffy eyed every person, and finally focused on the one who looked like the most important here. A wave of power rolled through the room. As everyone, except the man Luffy had eyes on, fell down with foam streaming from their mouths, a dead silence settled around.
"Wha–!" the captain jumped on his feet, wildly looking around.
"Where's Law?" Luffy asked in a calm, composed tone, but his eyes trained on the man were anything but calm.
The pirate whipped his head at the kid, and for a while just stared at him dumbly. He almost jumped out of his skin when the boy growled out an order. "Answer me!" His mind was screaming to be wary of this kid. While looking at those fiery obsidian orbs, the captain felt like a little mouse under a tiger's gaze.
"W-who's Law?" he finally stuttered out a question.
"A boy with a spotted hat that you've taken. I know he's here, show me the way."
The kidnapper gulped nervously, and nodded stiffly.
A ring of energy formed under Law's palm, and suddenly exploded. A blue dome stretched across the room.
"Bepo, down!" Law ordered, already unsheathing a short sword he took from the drunkard.
The bear ducked without any hesitation. The blade sliced the air above his head. For a moment nothing happened, but then the pirate's torso suddenly cleaved in two and both parts dropped on the floor.
"AAAAAAAAAAAHHH!" the man screamed in absolute horror, suddenly miraculously sober. He stared at his lower body, lying nearby. "I'VE BEEN CUT IN HALF! I'M DYING! HELP MEEEE!"
"Huh," Law mused, curiously observing the dome slowly shrinking down into nothingness. He scrutinized the pirate on the floor – he didn't seem like dying, just cut in two pieces. There was not even a drop of blood. The preteen poked the man's butt with a tip of his sword.
"STOP THAT!" the pirate yelled in rage, grabbing a pistol which he dropped when Law cut him. "It hurts!"
Suddenly Bepo appeared behind him and smashed a metal bowl into his head with all his might. The man's eyes rolled back and his upper part of body crumpled down.
Law smirked. "Nice team work," he remarked, sheathing his new acquired weapon. "Okay, now let's go, Bepo."
The bear lightened up instantly. "Aye, aye!"
To Law's joy, they found his nodachi in the next room. It was used as storage for a various weapons, including Kikoku. He really liked that sword, even though he didn't see any specific reason for it. It was way too big for him to use right now. After Law got rid of the Amber Lead Syndrome which was halting his physical development he should hit a growth spurt. Till then, the preteen decided to use the short sword as it worked great for him earlier.
"This is mine," Law said, showing the nodachi to Bepo. "Those bastards took it when they kidnapped me. Can you carry it for me?"
"Okay." Bepo took the sword being extra careful. It seemed that the human cared about it a lot, so it meant that he was given an important task. The bear was really happy. All he did for those pirates was chores they didn't want to do themselves, never had he got to fulfill something what mattered. But Law trusted him with his possession. Bepo liked this human youngling more and more.
Suddenly the door to the next room opened, revealing the captain himself. Law mentally groaned, and prepared for the fight.
A black blur suddenly slammed into the preteen, almost knocking him off his feet. Law blinked at the raven-haired child, snuggling into his chest. "Luffy?"
"I was so worried! I thought something happened to you!" Luffy sniffled. "Don't scare me like that ever again…"
Law sighed. He ruffled the smaller boy's hair and smiled at him. "I'm alright. But you… have you been kidnapped too?"
"Nope!" Luffy chirped. "I came searching for you." He glanced behind the older boy, and a huge, bright grin grew on his face. "Bepo!" he exclaimed in pure delight, untangling himself from Law and assaulting the cub with the hug.
Bepo was totally frozen in a spot. He didn't even dare to take a breather as the younger human kept squeezing him in an affectionate hug.
"You know him, Luffy?" Law inquired.
"Of course! Bepo's a nakama!" Luffy beamed at them both.
"Really? You just decided that randomly, don't you?"
Luffy just giggled.
"YOU BASTARD!" Corazon's outraged shout drew the attention of the kids to the door and just at that moment the blonde threw a punch into captain's mug. A rifle slipped from the latter's fingers and clattered on the floor. "Don't you–" Cora kicked the fallen man, "dare–" kick, "to hurt–" kick, "MY BOYS!" With the last kick, the ex-marine huffed in disgust.
The boys just stared at him, stunned. Luffy was the first one to wake from his stupor – he grinned at the blonde and flashed him a thumbs up. "Nicely done, Cora-san!"
Law's mind was still transfixed on Corazon's words. They went around in a circle: my boys, my boys, my boys… He never thought about having another family, after his true one was murdered, but this… this felt like a family. A blissful smile spread across his face.
"Luffy!" Corazon yelled. "Don't you ever run away like that again, do you hear me, brat?!"
"Shishishishi!" Luffy chuckled while awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck. "I'm sorry." He bowed down, not that he sounded apologetic in the slightest.
The blonde heaved a sigh. "Law, are you alright? Are you hurt?" he questioned, worriedly eyeing the preteen, trying to determine the answer himself.
"No, I'm fine, Cora-san."
Corazon blew another sigh. His eyes wondered around the room until stopping at the bear cub. "And who's this?"
"This is Bepo!" Luffy introduced. "He's a nakama! He's coming with us to the East Blue, right, Bepo?"
"I…" Bepo hesitated, but these people seemed like good ones. He mustered all the courage and hastily muttered, "I would like to go home."
Luffy's smile faltered at that. "I'm sorry, Bepo, we can't bring you home. We're not strong enough yet to traverse the Grand Line, especially the New World."
That was the reason why Luffy decided against going to fetch Brook from his overwhelming loneliness in the darkness of the Florian Triangle. His nakama wasn't in immediate danger, but Luffy could endanger himself and his companions while trying to reach him. Robin was still in the West Blue, but the boy didn't have knowledge there exactly she was or what islands she visited. It would take too much time to track her down, if at all possible. He couldn't afford that, regardless how he wanted to lighten up his nakama burdens. The rest of them were safe for now.
Law raised an eyebrow in surprise. "You know where his home is?"
"Bepo's a minkman. Mink Tribe lives in the Zou Island in the New World, the second half of the Grand Line. You can't even track that island with a Log Pose, so it would be too dangerous to try that now."
"How do you know that?" Bepo asked, slightly in awe that this new human new about his home.
"I visited it. That's one cool island!" Luffy smiled. "Bepo, I can't get you home right now, but I promise to get you there one day when I'm strong enough to protect us in our journey."
Corazon bit down his question about when or how Luffy visited that island. The bear was really happy to hear his words, and he didn't want to spoil their mood. He once heard marines talking about Mink Tribe. Their knowledge was rather lacking, but at least Cora knew that minks were intelligent beings, very similar to humans. And Bepo was still a child.
Law mused, closely observing Luffy. A theory born in his mind, but he pushed it away for now. He needed more proof before he even started to entertain that idea. "We should get out of here," he suggested.
Luffy nodded. He stretched out a hand to Bepo, and smiled at him again. "Are you coming?"
Bepo stared at his hand before reaching for it with his paw. This small human promised to bring him home one day, and that was good enough for him.
-Couple weeks later somewhere in the East Blue-
"Traffy, I'm hungryyyyy~!" Luffy whined for what seemed like was the zillionth time.
Law rolled his eyes, unfazed by the youngest boy's sufferings. "You shouldn't have eaten all our food then."
Luffy turned to Corazon. "Cora-san, I'm hungry!"
The blonde just threw a pitying glance towards him. He would gladly give food for the whiny, six years old, but there was none left. The same whiny, six years old had scarfed down all their provisions. He wondered there all that food went.
"Don't involve Cora-san in your misery, you spoiled brat!" Law reprimanded.
The boy's lips formed into pout, "Traffy's so mean!" Luffy glanced over their small boat, and his eyes got drawn by a bundle of white fur. Two black eyes were carefully observing his every movement. The boy stared, until a drool started to form in the corner of his mouth.
"Luffy," Law squeezed through clenched teeth, "I've told you already, Bepo is not food."
"I know!" Luffy huffed. "Who do you think I am? I don't eat my nakama."
"Then stop drooling!" The older boy smacked him over his head, and crossed his arms, daring Luffy to whine further.
Luffy glared at him, rubbing the spot where he was hit. Suddenly he perked up, hastily scanning the sea around their boat. His eyes lit up with joy, and he threw himself at the edge of the boat, looking at something.
Everybody followed his line of sight. There was a ship, so far away, that it was still just a speck on the horizon. Corazon and Law shared a glance. Luffy's smile transformed into the hugest, sunniest grin they had ever seen on the kid's face.
Chapter 4: III. Never drink a shady merchant's booze.
"Never drink a shady merchant's booze."
Shanks moaned as he slowly came into awareness. It seemed like his head wanted to split in half, while his throat felt so dry that he barely managed to swallow the bile threatening to rise up. The redhead cracked open one eye. Once the light touched his retina, he immediately screwed it shut as it seemed like it had caught on fire.
For the life of him, Shanks couldn't remember anything from the moment he and his crew started to drink that strange, exotic rum they liberated from a merchant's ship. When did it happen? This morning? Yesterday? The day before yesterday?
A door creaked as it opened, and from the sound of it, Shanks knew that he was in the captain's quarters. That meant that there was only one person brave enough to disturb his rest when he nursed this mother of all hangovers. "Benn…" the redhead croaked and instantly regretted even saying one word, his own voice pierced his skull painfully.
"Oh, you're alive," a cheerful answer came from the door. "I came to check how you were doing."
"You're gonna kill me… Speak quieter," Shanks whispered, putting a forearm over his eyes. "Also, please breathe much quieter… Or even better – try to exist much quieter."
The first mate chuckled. "That bad, eh?"
"Well, then," Benn said. There was no sympathy in his voice for his captain's misery, only pure amusement. "It's good that a visiting doctor offered his help with our crew's hangovers."
"Wha..?" Shanks dared a peek, squinting at his friend. "Visiting doctor?"
"Yeah. Remember those guys who suddenly appeared out of nowhere yesterday? Lucky Roo said that the concoction the young doctor cooked was great. We just need to get you to the infirmary."
The redhead screwed his face up, willing his brains to recall the previous day, but he got nothing. "I don't remember anything…" he confessed.
"Really?" Benn smiled widely with a touch of mischief. "This ought to be interesting then."
"Who are they?" Shanks asked, ignoring the teasing note in his first mate's voice. "Why are strangers on my ship?"
"You invited them to stay. Captain's orders." The black-haired man shrugged, eliciting a frustrated groan from the captain. "But they turned out to be an extremely interesting bunch."
-Yesterday early afternoon-
Benn scowled at the crew, merrily partying without any care in the world. Some of the men were already snoring, sprawled on the deck; a bunch were singing some kind of a pirate song, totally off key, at the same time trying to outshout each other; the rest were drinking and laughing, not paying attention to anything beyond their mug of rum. And the captain sat among them, laughing the loudest of them all, with flushed cheeks and the drunken bliss glazing his eyes.
The first mate lifted his own mug that was full of the rum they got in their unexpected raid of the merchant ship and sniffed it. The smell was simply alluring, sweet and savory. Benn put the mug away with a sigh. They were still in the middle of the sea, and with the crew in this state he couldn't get drunk. Someone needed to stay sober to keep an eye open for any danger.
Benn glanced up at the crow's nest. At least the watcher was able to abstain from drinking on dut–
"A Sea King with a person on its head approaches off the port beam!"
Or not. The vice-captain heaved another sigh. "You shouldn't drink so much if you start seeing such ridiculous things!" he yelled to him.
"I'm not THAT drunk!" the watcher sulked. "Yet…" he added silently, looking at his almost empty mug with longing in his eyes.
Benn knitted his brow in worry, gripping tighter his rifle which rested at his side. People didn't simply ride Sea Kings, not in the East Blue at least. He made his way to the port side and stopped beside Shanks who apparently was still sober enough to take notice of watcher's warning shout.
And there really was a mid-sized Sea King approaching with a small figure standing on its muzzle. The first mate stared stunned, then squinted at the person. Was that a child?
"SHAAAAAAAAAAANKS!" a joyful cry came from the strange kid, once the beast drew closer.
The pirates stared dumbly at the Sea King, towering over their vessel. It didn't seem that it was inclined on attacking, so no one made a move against it.
Suddenly the little boy leaped from its muzzle and crash-landed on top of Shanks. Benn reacted on instincts – his rifle was pointed at his captain's assailant in a flash, but a deep growl from the Sea King made him halt.
"Shanks! I missed you so much!" the kid exclaimed, wrapping his small hands around the redhead's waist and snuggling to his chest.
"Huh?" Shanks gawked at the boy. "You know me, brat?"
"Of course!" The unexpected visitor beamed at him. "You're an amazing pirate! One of the strongest in the world!"
"Dahahahaha!" Shanks burst into laughter. All the seriousness and distrust instantly had been forgotten. He ruffled the child's black hair. "You sure know your stuff, boy!"
"Shishishishi! I'm Monkey D. Luffy, the Pirate King!"
"Oh, the Pirate King?"
"Yep!" the boy replied without any hesitation, like his declaration of being the Pirate King was the most common thing for him. All of a sudden, Luffy blinked at Shanks, his gaze flickering between his hands. Even bigger, wider grin stretched across his face. "Ah, that's right, you have two arms again!"
"Of course, I have two arms!" Shanks exclaimed. "And two legs! And two heads!" He frowned at his own words. "No, wait, I have only one head."
The kid's eyes grew wide, pure awe sparkling in them. "That's so cool!"
"Dahahahaha! I like you, kid!"
Benn heaved an amenable sigh. Whoever this boy was, he'd managed to befriend their captain in a blink of an eye. His name sounded familiar, though, but the first mate couldn't remember where he heard it. And there were more urgent matters to think about, like the Sea King, still lurking nearby. Luffy didn't seem older than six or seven. How the kid had tamed it was a mystery he genuinely wanted to unravel. "Luffy, right?" Benn spoke, getting the attention of their young visitor. "What's up with the Sea King?"
"Kinto-un is a friend," the kid deadpanned before turning to the redhead again. "Ne, Ne, Shanks, can my nakama come on board too?"
"Sure! Invite them all here!"
"Captain–" Benn wanted to object, but he was interrupted by Shanks jubilant cry, "The more, the merrier! Let's party, guys!"
And the crew roared to life once again. "Aye, aye, captain!"
That piqued Shanks' curiosity. Benn Beckman was a smart man, certainly the smartest one in the Red-Hair Pirates' crew, and there were not a lot of things that usually caught his attention. Words as 'extremely interesting' were rarely used in his vocabulary.
"Alright, let's go to get that miracle medicine," Shanks said as he slowly sat up, and then looked around. "Where is my hat?"
"I think it's up on the main deck," the first mate replied, that mischievous smile not dimming in a slightest.
The redhead stood up and crossed the room. "What is it doing there?"
Shanks frowned at that, opening the door to the passageway. "Hats don't slee–" he cut himself off, blinking at the sight before him.
A small white bear cub was just then passing the entrance to the captain's quarters, carrying a tray with several empty glasses. He glanced at the redhead human, nodded at him and muttered a polite, "Good morning," before disappearing around the corner.
Shanks stared at that spot, unable to comprehend what he just saw. A polar bear cub? A talking polar bear cub? A talking polar bear cub that walked on two and wore clothes?!
"What is it?" Benn inquired, standing beside his captain and observing him with an amused glint in his eyes.
"Is that..? Did you..?" Shanks stuttered incoherently, waving and pointing foolishly at the corner where the talking bear disappeared. "Have I..?"
The first mate's smile grew even wider. "You can start to make sense anytime now, captain."
"Ah, never mind," Shanks grumbled, starting to get annoyed by the other man's attitude. Benn had too much fun with his memory loss predicament. It didn't seem that his first mate noticed the talking bear, so it was probably just a hallucination created by the remnants of alcohol in his blood.
To reach the infirmary they had to go past the kitchen and food storage room. The door to the storage was opened, and Shanks glanced inside before continuing along the passageway. After couple steps he froze, frowned, and backtracked his steps to the food storage entrance. He gawked at the room for a while.
It was pretty much empty. There was only a couple of boxes and barrels left.
"Benn," Shanks said, "I thought we had filled the storage with food from those marines we met after the raid on that shady merchant's ship."
"We did," confirmed the first mate.
"So there is all that food? It can't be that the crew ate all of it!"
"Well, we do have Lucky Roo," Benn pointed out, "but yeah, the crew ate only half of it, the rest was eaten by Luffy."
The redhead looked at his friend. "Who's Luffy?"
"Oh, that's right, you don't remember him." A smug expression appeared on Benn's face. "He's one of our guests."
"Who the hell let him eat all our food?!"
"Of course, I did," Shanks muttered under his breath, dismissing the matter of food storage with a wave of his hand and starting to stroll to the infirmary again. "That Luffy guy must be really huge man to eat that much."
Benn hadn't corrected him, only snickered into his hand quietly. He couldn't destroy the opportunity to see his captain's reaction once he'd meet Luffy again. That should be priceless.
There were only two other men in the infirmary, nursing their hangover after the crazy party previous day. Shanks and Benn entered the room, and the little bear immediately approached them. He stopped right in front of the redhead captain who promptly stiffened from the sight of him.
"Did you come here for a drink too?" the hallucination asked.
Shanks simply stared at him with his mouth agape. He rubbed his eyes, but the bear was still there. "Benn, I keep seeing this little white bear that talks, walks on two, and wears clothes," the captain confessed. "I swear that booze gives me the strangest hallucination."
The hallucination dipped his head, muttering, "Sorry…"
Benn put a hand on the bear's head and gently petted him. "Don't mind him, Bepo. The captain has a terrible hangover. Can you ask Law to prepare him a glass of that concoction the rest of the crew drank?"
Bepo smiled at the black-haired man. "Okay," he said and quickly scurried to the back room.
"You can see him too?" Shanks asked, unable to believe that his hallucination actually was a real thing. "A talking bear?"
"His name is Bepo, one of our guests."
Before Shanks could retort, a boy with a spotted hat emerged from the back room with a glass full of green liquid. The bear followed him closely.
Benn smiled at the kid. "Law-kun, good morning."
"Good morning, Benn-ya," the preteen replied. He eyed Shanks, visibly unimpressed. "So, the captain of this ship finally decided to wake up, huh? Here, this is for you."
The redhead took the glass from the boy's hands, taking notice of the discolored patches on his skin and settling on asking about it later. He sniffed the concoction and scrunched his face in disgust. "What's that?"
Law rolled his eyes. "Don't be a child," he said in a scolding manner. "It's not that bad. Certainly not worse than that thing you all drank yesterday."
Benn coughed in his fist in an attempt to hide his laughter. The other two crewmembers weren't that subtle and burst out laughing, seeing their captain scolded by a young boy.
Shanks felt gobsmacked. "Wait a minute–" he started to bristle but was silenced when Law lifted a hand with one outstretched finger.
"No. You came here for it, so down it goes."
Shanks threw a pitiful glance at Benn who just shrugged. Damn, no help from that side. The captain scowled at the drink. Clearly, his first mate trusted this strange kid, and he trusted his first mate. Shanks took a deep breath, closed his eyes and downed the content of the glass in one quick motion.
Law smirked. "Good job," he commended. "Now, if you will excuse me, I want to finish reading those books your crew's doctors lend for me before we'd have to leave."
"I think," Bepo chimed in, "you're already very knowledgeable in medicine."
"There is always room for improvement," the preteen replied. "I remember you saying that you wanted to learn navigation. We could go ask the navigator of this ship for a book."
The bear's eyes lit up with excitement. "Aye, aye!"
"I'm sure Orman will gladly help you with that." Benn smiled at two kids. "When do you plan to leave?"
Law shrugged. "You should ask Luffy. He's the reason we're here in the first place."
"And where is that troublemaker?"
"Up on the deck, still sleeping probably. Just don't wake up Kinto-un before Luffy. That would be bad."
"Really bad," the bear added.
"Alright. Have fun, Law-kun, Bepo."
"See you later, Benn-ya," Law said. Bepo waved his paw, and both boys disappeared into the back room again.
The first mate looked at his captain and couldn't fight an amused smile. He might have even felt a bit of sympathy for Shanks now, seeing him so lost and stunned. "I told you that our guests were an extremely interesting bunch."
Shanks tore his eyes from the door of the back room and fixed them on Benn. "Law-kun? Benn-ya? …Pfft!"
Yep, Benn mused, that was Shanks' sulking expression. Ah, this guy. He always was proud of his ability to befriend children. Shanks was a carefree and childish person, and despite being a pirate, he loved kids. And now he was sulking because Benn was more acquainted with these two boys than he.
"Law is a smart kid," Benn said, nudging his captain to move out. "We had a nice chat yesterday."
"Speaking of," Shanks was serious all of a sudden, "what's wrong with the brat? Those white patches aren't normal."
"I was also curious. He was quite reluctant but told me that it was from an illness which he already cured himself. He said that discoloration of his skin should wear off with time."
"The topic was very sensitive for him, so I hadn't pushed for more information."
"And the talking bear?"
"Bepo is a minkman from the New World."
"What?!" Shanks exclaimed, shocked by this piece of information. "How's the minkman got so far from his home? And a child no less."
"Apparently, he was kidnapped by pirates. Luffy, Law and their guardian rescued him and took him with them. I guess that's the reason why Bepo is so attached to them."
Shanks didn't say anything to that. Those two kids went through a lot in their short life. It was a good thing that they now had each other to depend on. The redhead opened the door leading to the stern deck, and he froze in a doorway, every thought in his mind puffing out of existence in a flash.
There was a huge mast lying across the deck, broken at the base. White sails helplessly hung at the side, but Shanks could see a distinctive blue seagull sign and a word "MARINE" written on them.
"What the…?" he squeezed out, absolutely shocked.
Benn glanced over his shoulder outside. "Oh, that," he deadpanned.
Shanks looked at him incredulously. "'Oh, that'? 'Oh, that'!? Is that your reaction to this?!" He flailed his arms, trying to get a point to his first mate. "What the hell happened yesterday on my ship?!"
But the other man only grinned at him. "Luffy and his friends happened."
"YOHOHOHO~ YOHOHOHOO~" boomed a song through the Red-Hair Pirates' ship, making it vibrate from the deafening cacophony of voices.
"Going to deliver Binks' Sake~!
We are pirates sailing through the Sea~!"
Shanks' and Luffy's shouting echoed above all of the rest. How the little boy managed to sing that loudly with a mouth full of meat was a mystery.
"The waves are our pillows, the ship our roost~!
Flying the proud skull on our flags and our sails~!"
After Law succeeded in rescuing Bepo from being squashed by drunken pirates who just wanted to hug 'a cute fluffy bear', they settled on the stern deck together with Corazon. Soon Benn joined them with a sake bottle to share with the only adult between their unexpected guests. All four of them got into a friendly conversation, quickly switching between various topics, none of the sides revealing any crucial information about each other.
The peace was disturbed by several cannonballs, suddenly plummeting into the water around the ship. Everyone who still was able to jumped on their feet and piled up onto the stern deck once they noticed a marine ship approaching.
Benn stood up, musing how lucky they were that marines decided to engage in close combat and not bombard them from afar. With the crew in this state, he doubted that they would manage to give them a slip unscathed.
Luffy observed the marine ship nearing them while nonchalantly picking his nose. He knew that even as drunk as they were, the Red-Hair Pirates would not lose to the Government's dogs. The boy tuned out the pompous speech of the marine captain, thinking how lucky he was that he accidently met Shanks on the open sea. They almost passed each other as the pirates had just left Dawn Island, and actually hadn't planned to return to it soon.
Luffy was woken from his musings with a jolt. An alarm went off in his head when his Observation Haki picked up an overwhelming fear radiating from one of his nakama, and he snapped his attention to the three of them.
Law knew that he was relatively safe on this ship. There was no reason to be afraid, but long-buried memories from Flevance of soldiers of the World Government shooting, and slashing, all the while smiling with the blood dripping from their weapons, emerged from the darkness of his mind one after another. Overwhelming fear sunk its claws and teeth into his soul, and all the preteen could do was clench a fist into the fabric of Corazon's pants and try to anchor himself to the reality.
All of a sudden arms wrapped around Law as Luffy hugged him tightly. "Don't be afraid, Law," he said, lifting his head up and smiling brightly at the older boy. "I'm gonna protect you this time, that's why I came to find you. I'm gonna protect all of my nakama! That's my oath as the Pirate King!"
Law took a shaky breath as he peered right into Luffy's eyes and saw no lie in them. A hand landed on his head, and he glanced up. Corazon was smiling softly at him. The boy also felt Bepo clutching the back of his shirt. The tears started to gather in his eyes, and Law pulled his hat down, hiding it from everyone around. "Thank you…" he whispered finally.
Luffy grinned at his nakama, but when he turned around his happy expression melted away like it hadn't been there at all. He pursed his lips into a thin line, eyes darkening with fury. "Move!" he ordered the adults with such authority that no one even thought about disobeying it.
Benn noticed the youngest boy as he stopped by the railing. "Luffy, what are you doing? You should stay back. Let the adults take care of this."
"I can't do that, Benn," the kid replied, climbing up. "I'm sorry that I'm taking your target, but these marines are pissing me off." He straightened up on the top of the railing, glowering at the enemy vessel. "Oi, marine scum!" Luffy yelled while the black-haired pirate was rendered speechless by his not so childish tone and words. The marine captain sputtered from the insult, but the boy ignored that and continued, "Just go away! We had such a good time until you showed up."
"Oh, you lowly..! I don't care that you're just a child, you will die with these filthy pirates!"
"Or you can stay," Luffy said, not fazed by the threat at all. A smirk tugged his lips. "I prefer you staying anyways."
If anyone ever would had wanted to know how an evil smile looked like on a child's face, now they had a perfect example of that image.
"Men!" the marine captain bellowed. "Prepare for an attack!"
The soldiers roared a battle cry, surged forward and promptly fell flat on their faces with foams dripping from their mouths as a wave of power rolled throughout the area. The only one left standing was the pompous captain whose eyes almost jumped from their sockets in surprise.
"Wha..?! What happened?! Men?! Men!"
"That's for scaring my nakama, you jerks," Luffy muttered, glaring scornfully at the enemies.
The pirates gawked at the small child dumbfounded for a bit, before they burst into awed cheers.
Benn couldn't believe his eyes, but there it was – the unconscious marines littering their own deck. He nudged Shanks and asked, "Was that..?" He didn't finish his question, figuring that his captain would understand what he was asking.
"Yeah, that was…" Shanks nodded, before grinning like a madman and exclaiming, "That was amazing, Luffy!"
"Shishishishi!" the boy giggled from the praise. Then he cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted at the sea, "KINTO-UN!"
Yasopp sidled to Benn, leaned closer and silently asked, "Was that what I think it was?"
"I think so. And it was a controlled burst, not random." The first mate lit up a new cigarette and smiled. "How very interesting."
"I wonder why he hadn't knocked out that idiot," the sniper pointed at the marine captain, currently spewing curses and threats at them.
The surface of the ocean broke, and an all too familiar brown-grey Sea King emerged. It yawned, displaying all its sharp teeth for every human watching it, then smacked its lips several times before finally looking at the person who called it.
Luffy grinned at his friend. "Sorry for disturbing you, Kinto-un," he apologized, "but these marines are jerks. Can you cripple their ship so they won't bother us anymore?"
The Sea King dived back into the water; emerged a bit further from the enemy ship and suddenly rammed one of the masts with his head.
Corazon gasped as the pirate ship swayed and Luffy slipped from the railing. It was impossible to reach him in time, and being a Devil Fruit user himself meant that he couldn't just dive into the sea after him…
A blue dome stretched across the deck. "Shambles," Law muttered, using his powers to swap Luffy with a random barrel nearby. The boy popped into existence a bit confused but realizing what had just happened he simply started to giggle. "You idiot," the preteen scolded him, "be more careful next time."
The Sea King smashed into the mast again. Ropes of the yard arms snapped; the mast creaked, unable to withstand the power of the Sea King, and it broke at the base, falling down straight on the pirate ship.
Corazon reacted instantly: he grabbed all three kids and sprinted as far from the stern as possible. He hooked one arm over the stairs railing, with the other arm pulling his boys to his chest.
As the ship finally stopped violently jerking around, Corazon lifted his head and looked around. The broken mast crashed on the stern deck and lay there, slightly tilting the ship.
"Cora-san, you're squeezing us too hard," Law complained.
Corazon put the kids back on the floor with a heavy sigh. Their antics would definitely be a death of him one day.
"You'll pay for this, you little devil!" the marine captain screamed in fury from his wrecked ship. "I'll tell them about you! You'll not have a safe place to hide!"
"Sure! Tell them how a six years old kid kicked your ass!" Shanks yelled back to him and promptly burst into laughter, soon followed by the rest of his crew.
The marine's face reddened from anger and embarrassment when suddenly his ship jerked forward and kept moving. Everyone's eyes glued at the Sea King who rammed his head into the back of the ship and started to push it away.
"Hurray for Kinto-un!" someone shouted, and soon all the pirates were joyfully chanting, "Kin-to-un! Kin-to-un! Kin-to-un!"
"Dahahahaha!" Shanks laughed, clapping Luffy over his back. "That was amazing!"
The boy beamed at him. "No one messes with our nakama or friends and leaves unscathed, right, Shanks?"
"That's right, brat!" the redhead agreed. He stared at the boy, a contemplating expression on his face. Then he took his straw hat off his head and put it on Luffy's. The latter's eyes widened, and he stared at Shanks confused. The pirate captain smirked at him. "That's a gift from me. This hat is very important, so take good care of it."
Luffy's mouth formed a huge, face-splitting grin as he tugged the straw hat down and nodded. He had his hat back!
"And now," Shanks said, pulling a mug of rum from seemingly out of nowhere, "we celebrate Luffy's victory against the marines!"
"Lu-ffy! Lu-ffy! Lu-ffy!" the crew started to chant.
"Here, here," Shanks pushed a mug into Luffy's hands. "Even if you're still a kid, you deserve a drink of an adult after that kind of battle!"
"Oi!" Corazon suddenly cried out, snatching a mug from Luffy's grasp. "Don't you dare to give that to my boy!"
"Then you'll have to drink for him!"
"Sooo…" Shanks drawled after hearing a short version of what happened here yesterday and how the mast from the marine ship ended up on their ship. "This Luffy guy intimidated marines to run away, while his friend broke the mast?"
"Yep, sounds about right," Benn agreed.
"How did this man intimidate them? And who the hell is his friend?"
The first mate smiled while lighting up a new cigarette. "Luffy used his guts and willpower to do that. As for his friend… well, you need to meet him to get an opinion about him."
Shanks narrowed his eyes. Something was off here. Benn was certainly hiding something from him, or playing with him. Either way, he definitely needed to meet this mysterious Luffy.
Benn spotted Yasopp and waved him over. "Why haven't you moved this mast yet?" he asked once the sniper approached them.
"We can't," Yasopp answered, shrugging. "If we pushed it into the water, the ship would tilt and that would wake Kinto-un up. I heard that it's a really bad thing, and, quite frankly, I'm inclined to believe it."
"Why is everyone so scared of waking up that guy?" Shanks inquired, totally baffled.
Yassop raised an eyebrow. "A guy?"
"Yeah! And that man, Luffy? Who does he think he is by pushing my crew like that? No, that's it! I'm going to have a talk with him!" Shanks declared, turning around and stomping towards the amidship.
"The man?" the sniper echoed. He looked at Benn. "What's wrong with the captain?"
"He doesn't remember a thing."
"Oh, like some of the others in the crew." Yasopp smirked. "And I bet you haven't told him who Luffy or what his friend is."
Benn's smile widened. "That piece of information might have slipped my mind."
The sniper laughed. "You're a cruel man, Benn Beckman. Poor captain."
"C'mon, let's go enjoy the show," the first mate said, eliciting another laughter from Yasopp.
Shanks stomped forward, annoyed. Those strangers came out of nowhere and wreaked havoc on his ship, and he couldn't remember anything! That was the most frustrating thing for him.
Then he saw him. Luffy.
At least Shanks thought it was Luffy. Who else could have been this tall, bulky blonde man, casually leaning on the railing and smoking? Looking at him, the redhead could finally understand how this man was able to intimidate marines, or eat half of all their food supply. Yeah, this couldn't be anyone but Luffy.
The stranger heaved a sigh, threw finished cigarette into the sea and pulled a new one. While lighting it up, he set his own black feathered coat on fire.
What a weirdo, Shanks thought as 'Luffy' extinguished fire on his shoulder and pretty much collapsed on the railing again. "Oi!" he called out, drawing the man's attention. "You're Luffy, right?"
The blonde only blinked at him dumbly. Damn, he was tall! Shanks had to cock his head up to keep looking at the man's face. His make-up or tattoos, whatever it was, was really eccentric too.
"I'm sorry," the stranger finally spoke, "but I'm not Luffy."
This time, Shanks stared at him speechless for a full minute. Then, "…What?"
"I'm not Luffy."
The redhead scratched the back of his head awkwardly. "Oh!" he exclaimed. "You must be Kinto-un then! Let me tell you, the thing you did with that mast–!"
The blonde snorted. "I'm not Kinto-un either."
Two chuckles behind the dumbfounded Shanks announced Benn's and Yasopp's arrival.
"Then who are you?"
"He's the guardian of the kids," Benn supplied.
"Oh, those two," Shanks said, getting a confused look from Corazon.
"Luffy and Kinto-un are up ahead, captain," Yasopp informed, trying and failing to keep an amusement out of his voice.
"Right…" Shanks muttered. He felt like the whole world decided to conspire against him this morning. Together with his own crew nonetheless.
"Just try to be careful and not wake up Kinto-un before Luffy," Corazon warned. "That would be a problem you really don't want right now."
"I'm the captain of this ship… I can wake up anyone I want," Shanks mumbled under his breath, making his way to the amidship. He stopped dead in his track as soon as he rounded the corner, his eyes blown wide and his mind going blank.
A Sea King – a freaking Sea King – was sleeping on the deck of his ship. Not fully on, only its head and the tail lay on top of it, wrapping around the bow like some surreal scarf. A child was sprawled on its muzzle with his limbs stretched in all different directions and the straw hat covering his head. The boy was snoring peacefully without a care in a world.
"HOLY SHIT!" a surprisingly loud shout came from Shanks' mouth before he could bite it down.
Benn, Yasopp, and Corazon cringed as the Sea King stirred from its sleep. It lifted its head up, growling aggressively at whoever dared to wake it up. The sleeping kid slid off from his muzzle and smashed onto the deck. Kinto-un unwrapped his body, and the ship suddenly tilted backward causing everyone to grab onto walls or railings for support.
"Careful! It's sliding your way!" an alarmed yell came from the stern.
"It's coming down!"
There was a loud water splash, and after several violent jerks, the ship stopped swaying. Then a roar vibrated through it as the Sea King readied for an attack–
–and promptly froze mid-move, crimson eyes filling with fear from one word, uttered by a raven-haired boy.
Luffy glared at his friend, rubbing his head where he bumped into a wall after sliding across the deck. The Sea King dipped his head and whined.
"No, I don't want to hear you're sorry," the boy said. "I want to hear that you're not gonna do it again."
Kinto-un released a pathetically sounding trill, trying to look as innocent as possible. Luffy put the straw hat on his head and grinned. "Good boy! Now go and catch yourself something to eat." He turned to Corazon and the pirates as the Sea King dived down into the water, lifted one hand and said, "Yo!"
"Good morning, Luffy," Yasopp greeted him cheerfully. "How was your sleep?"
"Wait!" Shanks exclaimed. "This shrimp is Luffy?"
"I'm Luffy, and I'm not a shrimp!"
The redhead stared at him like he saw a child for the first time. Law and Bepo came from inside and all three kids fell into conversation. Shanks glanced at Benn. "The same Luffy who…" he waved a hand towards the stern "…did all that?"
"Yeah," Benn confirmed.
"How did this chibi manage to intimidate marines?!"
"I told you, captain," the first mate said with a smile, "he used his willpower to do it."
"You're not telling me that…"
"That's right," the sniper chimed in. "We all saw that. It was definitely Conqueror's Haki."
"And a controlled burst, too," Benn added. "This kid is strange. From the moment he arrived at our ship, it felt like he knew every each of us."
Shanks looked back at the boy, eyes sliding over the straw hat. "Oi, brat!" he called. "You know Haki?"
"Who taught you that?"
Luffy beamed at him before he replied with delight, "Rayleigh!"
"What?! Don't lie to me!"
"I'm not lying!"
"Where is no way that Ray-san taught a snot-nosed brat like you!"
"Well, he did! Even before I became the Pirate King!"
Shanks was taken aback by the boy's words. This sounded like… His eyes widened as an incredible theory sparked in his mind. It would certainly explain all the weirdness about the kid. "You used it, didn't you?"
Luffy clamped his mouth shut and stared at Shanks for a while. Then he lowered his head just enough for a brim of the straw hat shadow his eyes. "It wasn't me who used it." Slowly a huge, sunny grin stretched across his face. "It was Roger!"
The Red Hair pirates glanced between each other, their captain who apparently was rendered speechless, and the strangest guest they had ever had on their ship.
"Used what?" Yasopp wondered.
"No idea," Corazon answered.
"Title of the Pirate King, maybe?" someone suggested.
An awkward stillness fell on the crowd as Luffy and Shanks kept staring at each other without saying a word, a silent conversation exchanged between them. Eventually, Shanks grinned. "Dahahahaha!" he laughed mirthfully. "We need to share stories later, kid!"
With the silence broken, usual noise erupted on the ship. Shanks retreated to the corner, keeping a keen eye on the straw-hatted boy. "That straw hat suits him," he said to Benn who leaned on the wall next to him. "I gave it to him myself, didn't I?"
"Yeah, you did." Benn smiled. "He's a special kid."
"You have no idea." Shanks chuckled. "You know, there is a lesson in all this," he admitted after a pause.
"Oh? What kind of lesson?"
The Red-Haired captain grinned at his first mate. "Never drink a shady merchant's booze!"
When the sunset colored the sky and waters of the East Blue, Shanks found Luffy sitting alone on the ship's figurehead and fondly observing the palette of red, orange and yellow painted on the horizon.
"Red as my shirt, orange as Ace's fire and yellow as Sabo's hair…" Luffy whispered before giggling. "Roger said you were a smart brat and should figure it out on your own," he said to Shanks, not diverting his eyes from the faraway horizon. "But I'm surprised you did that so quickly, especially when I heard you don't remember anything from yesterday. Too much booze, eh?"
Shanks actually felt a bit embarrassed. He rested his back at the base of the figurehead and coughed into his fist. "I don't understand one thing, though," he said. "How Roger could have used it? He died a long time ago."
Luffy smirked. "Legends don't die. I met his ghost at Raftel."
"Strange island... That Raftel," Shanks noted thoughtfully.
"It sure is."
Two pirate captains fell into companionable silence. Shanks spoke first, "So, why did he do that?"
Luffy hummed. "I guess he liked my answer to his question."
"What kind of question?"
"If I had to choose, what I would save: the world or my nakama." The boy chuckled, but it sounded more bitter than happy. "A silly question really. There is no world for me without them."
Shanks smiled softly. That was something his old captain would ask, and he would definitely like that kind of answer. His smile faltered. But that kind of answer meant that Luffy hadn't had any nakama left. "What happened?" he put forward an indirect question, leaving an option for the kid to not respond at all.
There was a silence before Luffy replied, "A war."
A shudder ran up and down Shanks' spine from that one word, because Luffy's voice was raw with emotions, telling more than he would have ever wanted to know.
"But that's why I'm back," the boy remarked, sliding down from his spot to stand on the railing next to the redhead. He put a hand on top of the straw hat and grinned under it. "I'll protect them all this time! That's a promise, an oath and a dream of mine."
"Can you really do that?" the man challenged.
"Yeah!" Luffy peered right into his eyes, and Shanks was mesmerized by the fire of determination, stubbornness, and power burning fiercely in those obsidian orbs. He remembered seeing that kind of fire in another person's eyes – the former Pirate King Gol D. Roger. Shanks realized what he called his old captain with a jolt. Even though he was in the child's body, the person before him was undoubtedly the Pirate King and the legacy of his beloved captain.
Shanks' lips curled into a smile. He took the straw hat off the kid's head, startling Luffy. But the latter didn't make a move to take it back. If Shanks would decide that he wasn't worthy of it, he'd live with that.
The redhead juggled the straw hat several times, and then suddenly put it back on Luffy's head, fixing it firmly in place. "Alright, our chibi Pirate King, the Red-Hair Pirates will be your ally from now on."
Luffy scowled at him. "I'm not chibi! I'm even older than you!"
"Not anymore!" Shanks stuck his tongue out at him. "Now you're five years old!"
"Dahahahaha! See? You've said that yourself!"
Luffy gritted his teeth from frustration. "Shanks, you bastard!"
"Easy, kid, easy," the redhead said, grinning happily. "So, what's your plan?"
The boy's brows knitted into a contemplative frown. "First, I need to get my Devil Fruit back."
"What fruit is that?"
"A Gum-Gum Fruit."
"Eh? Rubber?" Shanks face fell from disappointment. "That's so lame."
"Don't call my powers lame! My punches are as powerful as a pistol with it!"
"A pistol, huh? Is that so…" Shanks seemed even more disappointed and uninterested, but all of a sudden Luffy burst into merry laughter. He remembered having the same conversation last time. Damn, he really needed to stop falling for Shanks' teasing.
"The Fruit is actually in the East Blue and I know where it is," Luffy said, ignoring a puzzled gaze from his friend. "Can you retrieve it for me?"
"It shouldn't be too hard."
"Thanks!" The straw-hatted boy beamed at the adult. "But can you first bring us back to Foosha Village? I want to see my brothers!"
Luffy waved lively at the Red-Hair Pirates' ship. The crew raised an anchor and unfurled the sails, preparing to leave Foosha Village.
"See you soon, everyone!" the boy cried out.
"We'll be back soon!" Shanks yelled back at him.
Corazon sighed, also looking at the sea and departing pirate vessel. "So, this is your village, Luffy?"
The smallest boy beamed at him. "Yep! I want you all to meet Makino, and then Ace and Sabo. Dadan and the rest of the gang too!"
Law and Bepo were already looking around at the small village. "Looks peaceful," the bear commented.
"Who's that creepy looking old man? I think he's coming our way," Law observed.
"Bwahahahaha!" an extremely loud laughter boomed across the pier. "So, you're back, Luffy?! Where have you been, eh?"
Luffy and Corazon cringed from the voice. They both swiveled around in unison, absolute horror etched on their faces.
"Oh?" The old man stopped right in front of their small group. "Aren't you Commander Rosinante, Sengoku's brat? Rosi-kun, what are you doing here?"
Chapter 5: IV. This island can keep its secrets safe.
"This island can keep its secrets safe."
"Grandpa, what are you still doing here?!" Luffy demanded, stepping forward.
"Is that the way to talk to your grandpa?!" Garp shouted back. "Where is your 'Hi, grandpa. How are you, grandpa? I love you, grandpa', eh?!"
The boy's eyes grew wide. "Are you insane?! I've never said that!"
"That's right! You've never said that, brat!"
A Fist of Love collided with Luffy's head, causing his eyes to spin. The boy nursed his lump and groaned from the pain. He actually forgot how painful grandpa's punches really were.
Law, Bepo, and Corazon just stared at the scene before them, rendered speechless. Slowly, the older boy tugged the pants of the adult, getting his attention. "Shouldn't we help Luffy?"
"Against Vice admiral Garp?!" The blonde looked at him like he grown a second head. "Luffy called him 'grandpa', so… he should be okay. I hope."
Luffy bounced back after a moment and pointed a finger at Garp in accusation. "All you ever do is beat me! What kind of grandpa does that, you crappy old geezer?!"
"Gahhh!" Garp let out a frustrated noise, readying another Fist of Love. "I see that Ace's attitude had rubbed off on you! I don't care that you're the Pirate King, I will make you into a fine marine this time!"
"That doesn't make any– Geh!" Luffy paled as he saw grandpa's fist blackening with Armament Haki. He suddenly turned around and fled.
"Come back here!" the old marine shouted, leaping after him, and they both disappeared around the nearest house corner.
Silence settled on the pier. The warm wind blew from the sea, rustling leaves of the nearby trees. Seagulls were squealing playfully high in the sky.
"Well," Law broke the silence, "what should we do now, Commander?"
Corazon cringed. He knew how Law hated marines and the World Government. He was aware of the reason behind it. Although, Corazon noticed that the nightmares which plagued his boy's sleep was becoming few and far between from the moment Luffy stormed into their lives. Despite that, Law still had an extreme fear of any Navy soldier, and for him to learn that the person he started to trust was also one of those people must have been shocking news.
The blonde peeked at Law who was staring at the village. The kid was not even able to look at him anymore, and it broke Corazon's heart.
"Look, Law, I…" the man trailed off, not sure what he should say, how he should explain. "I–"
"Cora-san," Law said, turning to him, "I already knew."
Corazon blinked in disbelief. "You… knew?"
"How stupid you think I am?" The preteen rolled his eyes. "But you lied to me, and I hate marines," he stated.
The man winced. "Sorry for lying…" he said, shifting awkwardly on his feet. "I-I did it because I didn't want you to hate me, and…"
Law sighed. "It's fine, Cora-san." Then he smiled at the adult. "I hate marines, but you're an exception."
Corazon felt his jaw drop. Law was not mad at him, he didn't hate him. That smile was the biggest and the brightest one he had ever seen on his boy's face, and that was… that was… The blonde's vision blurred from tears as relief washed over him.
Luffy rounded the same house's corner laughing merrily like a little crazy maniac. He grabbed Law's hand and Bepo's paw as he passed them. They both yelped when the straw-hatted boy dragged them away with him.
"We'll be at Makino's place, grandpa! See ya!" Luffy exclaimed, flashing a sunny grin over his shoulder to the old marine.
"Bwahahahaha!" Garp bellowed with laughter, stopping next to Corazon. "What a cheeky brat."
The blonde stared at the older man dumbfounded. Did the six years old kid really just outrun the vice admiral? "You hadn't caught him on purpose," he blurted out.
Garp glanced at him, then back at the spot where Luffy disappeared. He remembered the haunting look in the boy's eyes when he was telling him about the things that happened in the future. The eyes of a person who had seen too much, who was already broken once, and who experienced the loss of hope. "I might not be the best grandpa in the world, but… I prefer my grandsons smiling." A soft smile tugged the old sea dog's lips before he slapped the younger marine on his back. "So, Rosi-kun, what are you doing here with my grandson?"
Corazon almost tumbled forward from Garp's slap. Law's nodachi slipped from his grip, but he managed to catch it again and hugged it for dear life. A tornado of thoughts raged in his head as he desperately searched for a way to explain his actions to the vice admiral.
He'd betrayed the Navy and everything he worked for to save a life of the child. How should he even start to explain that?
Corazon sighed. "Maybe I should just start from the beginning…"
"That was fun!" Luffy exclaimed, still unable to calm his laughter.
"Did you really outrun that old man?" Law asked, doubt layering his voice.
"Nah! Grandpa hadn't even tried to catch me, not sure why," the straw-hatted boy explained, shrugging. "If he really wanted, he could have beaten me to a bloody pulp."
"That's sounds like a crappy thing for a grandfather to do…"
"Maybe he just tried to cheer you up," Bepo chimed in, quietly.
Luffy hummed. "Maybe," he agreed. They stopped in front of the tavern's door and Luffy pushed it inside as he entered.
"Welcome!" a female's voice greeted them. The green-haired barmaid's face suddenly lit up when she saw who just came in. "Luffy!"
"Makino!" the boy exclaimed in mirth. He jumped right into the approaching woman's embrace and hugged her tightly.
"Luffy, I'm so glad you're alright," Makino said, brushing a stray tear of joy and smiling brightly at the kid in her arms. "Where have you been?"
"I went to help my nakama!" Luffy declared, wiggling from her hug and jumping down. He pointed at the boy and the bear, beaming at the barmaid. "This is Traffy and Bepo!"
Makino just blinked at the two kids. Bepo quickly bowed down and uttered in a whisper, "H-hello…"
The green-haired woman clapped her hands together, instantly charmed by him. "Oh my! How cute!" she asserted, squatting down in front of both kids and smiling warmly at them. "Hello, Bepo-kun, Traffy-kun."
Bepo's black rimmed lips also curled into a smile, but Law only glared at the woman. "My name is Trafalgar Law," he said in an angry tone.
Makino was not fazed by his aggressive behavior in the slightest. Working at the tavern and dealing with drunken men all the time taught her not to take such things into the heart. "Well then, hello, Law-kun," she concurred before reaching with her hand about to touch the preteen's cheek. "This color of your skin doesn't seem health–"
Law slapped her hand. "Don't touch me," he hissed, taking a step away from her. He had enough encounters with people who were all sweet and friendly at first until they learned of Law's illness. There was no way he was falling for that again.
"Traffy was sick, but he's aaaaaaall better now!" Luffy piped in, getting a death glare from the older boy.
"Oh, I see…" Makino put her chin in her palm and leaned her arm on her knee. "So, Law-kun is a shy one."
"I'm not– I'm not shy…" Law stumbled over his words, suddenly thrown from his comfort zone by the barmaid's small, affectionate smile and genuine concern sparkling in her eyes. This woman wasn't mocking him. The way she was looking at him with warmth and love, reminded Law of his dead mother. It seemed like ages had passed since the last time he was looked upon with that kind of fondness.
Makino chuckled when a small blush appeared on the boy's cheeks. "And a cute one, too!" she noted.
Law's blush intensified, and he tugged his hat down. "…Am not," he mumbled, but couldn't fight a small pleased smile from appearing on his face.
Luffy let out a silent 'Shishishishi'. Even Bepo was unable to hold in a snicker from seeing his friend so embarrassed but happy at the same time.
Law glared at them, but the usual heat of fury was missing from his eyes. "Shut up you two!"
Makino laughed, standing up. "Alright, boys, would you like to drink some juice?"
"Yay!" Luffy cheered, bouncing to the bar.
Bepo followed after the youngest. "I-I want to try it, too," he said.
"…Yeah," Law agreed, still feeling a bit dazed by everything that was happening around him.
"Bwahahahaha!" Garp laughed once Corazon finished his tale. "So, you saved that brat's life by feeding him a Devil Fruit?"
The blonde sighed. "Yeah…"
"Good job, kid!" The vice admiral slapped him on his back again, much stronger than before.
This time, Corazon lost his balance and tumbled down. He didn't try to get up, just made himself comfortable on the ground in a sitting position, propped Law's sword on his shoulder and changed his cigarette into a new one. "I betrayed the Navy…" he uttered quietly as he blew a puff of smoke into the air.
Corazon expected Garp to punch him, yell at him or at least agree with what he just said. He hadn't expected a contemplative expression all of a sudden to settle on the older man's face as he gazed thoughtfully at the mountain behind the village.
"You saved an innocent child's life," Garp finally said. "Do you regret doing it?"
"Of course not!" Corazon denied without a second thought.
The marine hero grinned at him. "So, everything is fine! Bwahahahaha!" The younger man still looked deflated, so Garp added, "Good thing that Luffy brought you here. This island can keep its secrets safe." He rummaged through his pockets and pulled out a Den Den Mushi.
Corazon frowned, trying to understand the meaning behind the vice admiral's words. He snapped out of his thoughts when a sharp familiar voice rang from the snail, "Garp!"
"Sengoku! How have you–" Garp started cheerily but was interrupted without any ceremony.
"Cut the crap, Garp! You should have been here for your inauguration a week ago! I can't stall them for much longer!"
"Bwahahahaha! Listen, Sengoku, you won't believe who I met!"
Corazon scowled. The island can keep its secrets, his ass. Maybe it was for the better, though.
"I don't care who…"
"…you've met, you need–" the admiral abruptly stopped talking and there was a pregnant pause before he asked, "…What?" with a voice full of disbelief.
Corazon sighed. "Hello, Sengoku-san," he said, taking the Den Den Mushi from the vice admiral's hands.
"Ro-Rosinante?! But… What are you doing…? Are you alright?!"
"The Minion Island was a disaster! Doflamingo escaped our clutches, and we lost the track of the Op-Op fruit. There was a report about missing marine officer…" Sengoku babbled absent-mindedly.
"If it's Vergo who's missing… he was Doflamingo's spy."
There was another pause. "What?"
"He was eaten by a Sea King."
"WHAT?!" Sengoku shrieked while Garp bellowed with laughter. The admiral took a deep breath to calm himself. "How did that happen? No, wait. First, how do you know?"
Corazon looked up at the sky before heaving another sigh and steeling himself for whatever reaction his adoptive father would have. "I was there on the Minion Island that night." A silence met his confession, and it stretched for much longer than the blonde was comfortable with. "Sengoku-san?" he called carefully.
"So, reports that Doflamingo is tearing the North Blue apart in a hunt for you, because you took Op-Op fruit, were true after all." There was a disappointment in the old man's voice, but mostly he sounded tired. "Was it for that kid, the survivor of the White City?"
"I told you not to get attached to that boy…"
"I know, Sir."
Corazon could practically imagine Sengoku pinching his nose bridge. "Did the fruit help?"
"How did you two even manage to run away from that island unnoticed?"
The blonde glanced at Garp who pulled a bag of rice crackers seemingly out of nowhere a couple of minutes ago and was now munching happily on them. "I had an unexpected help," Corazon decided to say. "We're now in the East Blue."
"Bwahahahaha!" Garp laughed, flashing thumbs up. "I'm so proud of my grandson!"
The admiral let out a frustrated noise at Garp's nonsense. "I hope you understand that you can't keep your rank in the Navy after all this, Rosinante. Top brass will demand your head for stealing that Devil Fruit."
Corazon clenched his teeth. "Yes, Sir… I will ride back with–"
"That's why you should stay where you are," Sengoku interrupted. "I'll deal with the top brass, so just stay away. Lay low, take care of that boy of yours. From this moment you're not a marine anymore."
The cigarette dropped from Corazon's opened mouth. He was rendered completely speechless. Not because he was just kicked from the Navy, that outcome was clear from the beginning, but because he was allowed to stay with his boys.
"And, Rosinante? I'm…" the admiral trailed off. A distinctive sound of sniffle could have been heard through the Den Den Mushi. "I'm so glad to hear that you're alive and well... son. Stay safe."
That did it. Corazon's vision blurred again, and he covered his eyes with his hand unable to keep tears from spilling. "Thank you… Sengoku-san," he managed to squeeze out.
"Bwahahahaha!" Garp let out another loud laughter, pushing the last rice cracker into the younger man's palm. "Here you can have it," he stated.
"Garp!" Sengoku snapped. "Just get your ass here as quickly as possible!" he ordered before the connection disappeared and the snail fell asleep.
The old marine burst into laughter again, and patted Corazon over his shoulder, softly urging him, "Come, let's go see what those brats are doing."
"Wait, Garp-san," Corazon stopped him. He brushed the tears off and pulled out a small tube marked with the Navy seagull, extending it to the vice admiral. "This is all the information I gathered which will help to save the Kingdom of Dressrosa from Doflamingo."
Garp nodded, took the tube and placed it safely into his inner pocket.
Luffy was babbling nonstop from the moment he sat at the bar and got his glass of juice. The only short pauses he made were when he took a sip of his drink. Bepo was staring at the youngest boy with an awed expression on his face while Luffy recalled his supposed adventure on the Sky Island.
Law rolled his eyes. Only kids could have believed such nonsense, but he could certainly compliment the younger raven for his imagination. The details he put into his story was truly remarkable.
Makino observed the boys, smiling softly at their interactions. Luffy seemed like a completely different child around these two, simply shining with pure delight. She didn't know there they came from, but seeing that boy so happy with them warmed her heart.
The doors of the tavern opened and the all so familiar laughter boomed across it as Garp stepped inside. "Oh! That's there you ran off, Luffy!" he exclaimed, causing the boy to grin at him sheepishly.
"Welcome, Garp-san," Makino greeted him.
Corazon followed the vice admiral inside, but with the first step he slipped and plunked down in his seemingly usual clumsy way.
"Oh my, are you alright?" Makino asked, rushing to help him, but the blonde simply waved her off.
"I'm fine," he said.
Law frowned. For some reason, this fall felt different, like Corazon was more distracted than normally, and that made him worried. He jumped from the stool. "Cora-san, are you sure you're feeling alright?" the preteen inquired as he approached the man.
Corazon just stared at him, surprised by such an open concern.
Law's frown deepened as he glanced at the vice admiral. "You didn't get into trouble for helping me, did you?" He remembered Corazon saying that if they managed to steal the Op-Op fruit they would be running not only from Doflamingo, but from the marines too. Law blanched when the thought occurred to him. "Do you… need to go back to the Navy?" he half whispered.
Corazon chuckled. "No, silly," he denied, putting a hand on the worried boy's head. "Everything is fine. We'll be staying here together."
A huge relieved grin spread on Law's face before he quietly snickered too.
"This is for you," the blonde stated, giving Law a rice cracker and causing a quizzical frown appear on the latter's forehead.
"So, Luffy, what were you talking about?" Garp asked.
The boy beamed at him. "I was telling them about the Skypiea!"
"Oh? You've visited the White Sea?" Seeing his grandson nod, the old marine grinned. "Have you seen the Golden Bell?"
"Yeah!" the straw-hatted kid confirmed before giggling. "I kicked the false god's ass and rang it!"
"Luffy!" Makino suddenly exclaimed. "Your language!"
"Bwahahahaha!" Garp bellowed with laughter. "I'm so proud of you!"
The green-haired woman glared at him. "Garp-san! Please stop encouraging him to use such language!"
"Ne, ne, grandpa, let's go see Ace!" Luffy urged. "And Dadan, too!"
Makino only huffed in frustration as the gang of two adults and three kids moved to the exit, completely ignoring her.
Luffy and Law were the last ones to leave. The older raven offered the rice cracker to the younger. "Do you want it?"
Luffy stopped in the doorway to look at it. "Sure," he said, grabbing the cracker and waving with it to the barmaid. "See you later, Makino!"
The group was scaling Mt. Colubo for a good hour already. Luffy and Bepo were running around chasing each other or random butterflies that were unlucky enough to cross their path. Law was looking around, curiosity shining in his eyes. This forest was so thick, and he could swear he heard some kind of huge predator roaring.
"Garp-san," Corazon broke the silence, "what kind of inauguration was Sengoku-san talking about?"
"Oh, that's right. Luffy, you should hear this too," Garp called his grandson, drawing his attention.
"Hear what?" Luffy replied as he frolicked by.
The marine grinned. "Your grandpa is becoming an admiral!"
Luffy abruptly stopped, and Bepo who was running behind him suddenly crashed into his back. The boy tumbled forward, rolled on the ground and stopped, causing a cloud of dust to scatter in the air.
The bear yelped in alarm, rushing towards his friend. "Sorry, Luffy! Are you alright?"
Luffy bounced on his feet like nothing had happened. "Whoa! Really, grandpa?" he exclaimed, but then scratched his head confused. "But why?"
"Bwahahahaha! Well, I was thinking during these past weeks… Someone needs to keep an eye on that damn dog!"
The straw-hatted boy's mouth formed 'O' as he stared at his grandfather with wide eyes. "Awesome!" he cried out. He wasn't expecting that when he told Garp about the future, but having an ally in the Navy would definitely help.
"What dog?" Corazon asked out of curiosity.
"A rabid dog," Luffy and Garp deadpanned in unison. They blinked at each other before bursting together into laughter.
"Sorry, Luffy, for tripping you…" Bepo apologized again.
"Don't worry about it, Bepo. Cheer up," Luffy said, giving his friend the rice cracker, when turned towards the mountain's peak, fist-pumping the air, and yelled as loud as his juvenile lungs allowed him, "Ace! Sabo! Here I come!"
Dadan's bandits' hut was exactly like Luffy remembered. It had been almost ten years from the last time he visited this place. After he and his crew reached Raftel for the first time and he inherited the title of the Pirate King, they traversed the Red Line, allowing Brook and Laboon to meet again. Next, the infamous Straw Hats came to visit the East Blue. He met with Sabo, and together they came here to celebrate a fulfillment of his dream and to give a tribute to their lost brother.
A toothy grin split Luffy's face in two as Dadan opened the door with a bang and started screaming on whoever was knocking on it. The same Dadan with her curly, orange hair, only with no gray locks, the same Dogra with his dictionary in hand, the same Magra with his funny mustaches and beard.
With a happy yell "Dadan!" Luffy jumped on the bandit boss, but because of his small height managed to reach only her fat stomach. Not paying attention to that, the boy squeezed it in an affectionate hug.
Dadan grabbed the kid by his t-shirt collar and tore him away from her abdomen, staring at him completely dumbfounded.
"Ah, this is my grandson," Garp said while picking his nose. "Take care of him from now on."
All three bandits were now staring at the boy dangling in Dadan's hand. Luffy grinned at them. "Yo!"
"And them, too," the marine added nonchalantly, stepping aside and motioning to the group standing behind him.
Bandits blinked at the very tall blond man who smiled shyly and waved a hand, then their gazes dropped down at yet another boy who glared at them and finally all three pairs of eyes stopped at the polar bear cub.
Bepo lowered his head into the polite bow. "Hello," he said.
Dadan, Dogra, and Magra stared, and stared, without even blinking.
"Bwahahahaha!" Garp laughed, turning around to leave. "That's all from me. I'll stop by when I have time!"
The bandits were still frozen in shock – from seeing a talking bear or from the fact that Garp just dumped four more people on them.
Luffy squirmed in the woman's grip, and she finally let him go. The straw-hatted boy sprinted after his grandfather. "Grandpa, wait!" he called out.
Garp was already strolling downhill. He glanced back over his shoulder.
Luffy didn't remember if he ever said it in his previous life. Probably not. It never seemed important, but losing everyone he ever loved made him realize how essential those words actually were.
Luffy flashed his trademark sunny grin before exclaiming, "I love you, grandpa!" He noticed a startled expression appearing on Garp's face, and then he burst laughing when the old man walked straight into the tree. "See ya!" Luffy waved his hand and still giggling returned to his friends.
"You all are gonna work pretty hard from tomorrow," Dadan passionately was explaining the life of the mountain bandit to the newbies. "Cleaning, laundry, polishing shoes and weapons, burglary, robbery, fraud, and murder!"
Corazon paled in horror. "That is not a way to raise kids!" he flared.
"This is not a day-care, blondie!" the woman yelled back. "This is a den of the Dadan family, mountain bandits that rule Mt. Colubo!"
"I have no problem with burglary, robbery, fraud, and murder," Law suddenly deadpanned with such a serious expression that bandits almost toppled over from shock. "But I'm not cleaning after you all."
"No, no, no!" the ex-marine shook his head furiously. "I will take care of my boys myself! I will not let them turn into bandits!"
"That's right!" Luffy chimed in. "We're pirates, not bandits!"
Law smirked. "You got that right." Even Bepo nodded in agreement to that.
"Fine then!" Dadan accepted. "You've gotta get everything by yourselves!"
"Okay!" the youngest boy chirped cheerfully. "This will be so fun! Shishishishi!"
The curly bandit's jaw dropped witnessing such a carefree attitude of these kids. Suddenly she felt a tug on her pants. A pair of black adorable eyes was staring at her from below.
"Thank you for allowing us to stay," Bepo said, extending his paws with the rice cracker. "This is for you."
All three bandits felt their hearts melting from the sight.
Luffy was antsy for the rest of the day. He helped with the others prepare the living place for them in the unused back room, but then the straw-hatted boy just sat outside, glancing at the forest every other minute.
When the sun started to set down, the person Luffy was waiting for finally emerged from the shadows of the trees, dragging a bison behind him.
Luffy wanted to cry from grief and scream from joy at the same time. For him, Ace died fifteen years ago. The first one of the many. Losing him had almost cost Luffy his own sanity.
Luffy hadn't seen his brother for fifteen years, but there he was.
A memory of Ace's bloody corpse lying on the ground with a burned hole in his torso and a feeling of his brother's blood dripping from Luffy's own hands slithered from the darkness of his mind. The boy immediately chased it away.
Because Ace was here. Not a smidgen of blood on his freckled face, no hole in his body, no smell of burning flesh in the air. Just breathing, warm, whole, alive Ace. Luffy wanted to wrap his arms around him, squeeze him tightly, hear a heart beating strongly in his chest, and never let him go again.
Luffy took a shaky breath. He meant to yell his brother's name at the top of his lungs, but what came out of his mouth was a choked, "Ace…" There was a lump in his throat all of a sudden as he blinked back tears.
Luffy took a step forward, ready to throw himself on his brother, consequences were damned, but then Ace looked at him, and the boy froze in his spot. There was so much hate and loathing in his eyes and all that was directed at Luffy. The younger raven felt like someone dropped a bucket of icy cold water on his head.
"Who the heck are you?!" Ace demanded.
Luffy stared. Oh, he completely forgot how Ace was at first, how he hated everything and everyone, himself including. It broke Luffy's heart to see his brother in that kind of state again.
"Haven't you heard me?!" the freckled boy hissed, approaching the younger menacingly. "I asked who you are!"
"His name is Luffy."
Ace halted and glowered at the second stranger who appeared from behind the straw-hatted kid – a creepy preteen with creepy spotted hat, creepy narrowed eyes and creepy dim white patches on his skin.
"And I'm Law."
"What are you doing here?!"
"We are supposed to be living here from today," Law informed, crossing his arms in front and keeping a steady eye contact with the overly aggressive boy. "An insane old man dumped all four of us here."
"Four?" Ace ground out. "Damn old geezer…" He threw the last glare full of venom at the two and dragged his prey into the hut.
Luffy's eyes followed the freckled boy till he disappeared inside. Law observed the youngest, knitting his brow in worry.
"That's quite a brother you have…" the preteen commented.
"Remember how you felt before you met Cora-san?" Luffy asked in a hushed tone. "Ace is similar."
Law didn't even question how the other boy knew about it. He learned that it was so much easier just to go with a flow when dealing with this specific kid. Also, it was safer for his sanity just to accept that Luffy knew about a lot of things, especially about random people he had been referring as his nakama.
The preteen closed his eyes, recalling his warped view at the rest of the world right after the purge of Flevance. He was so lost in darkness then. It was Corazon who forced him to see the light again, saving not only his life, but his soul and heart, too.
"So, what are you gonna do?"
"Save him, of course." A determination flared in Luffy's black orbs as he grinned confidently. "Even if it's just his own delusions he needs to be saved from."
Luffy felt like his heart shattering into pieces every morning Ace disappeared into the forest without uttering a single word. He couldn't just follow him, he was yet too weak for that. If his brother suddenly would decide to drop a tree or boulder on him, not even his Haki would have been of any use. And if he died, he couldn't help anyone. So, Luffy summoned all his patience to wait till Shanks came back with the Gum-Gum Devil Fruit. For now, it was enough for him to see Ace alive and well.
After a week, on the day his pirate friend should have returned, Luffy pretty much flew down to the Foosha Village. He stormed into Partys Bar but suddenly stopped dead in his tracks.
The tavern was wrecked. Some tables and chairs were broken, wooden pieces mixing with lots of glass shards, spilled drinks and scattered food. Makino was sitting on one of the intact stools and sobbed quietly. The mayor was there with her, trying to comfort and calm the woman down.
Makino whipped her head to look at the straw-hatted boy. Her lip was split and there was a bluish bruise on the side of her face.
Luffy felt rage bubbling inside of him. His face darkened. "Who did that?"
"Luffy, it's nothing… It's–"
The boy shook his head and repeated, "Who?"
"It was Higuma and his bandit group. Damn bastards!" Woop Slap grumbled. "Marines are useless! Bah! Can't take care of one bandit!"
"Higuma, huh?" Luffy muttered. Something dangerous flashed in his eyes. "I'll be back in a bit."
"Luffy, wait!" Makino jumped on her feet, but the kid was already gone.
Luffy slammed open the door to the Dadan's hut and quickly swept the room with his eyes. Several bandits winced at the unexpected bang and turned to see who did that.
Dadan was not there. Magra was also missing. "Dogra," the boy called, "do you know where Higuma's hideout is?"
The man raised an eyebrow. "I do. Why?"
"I need you to show me the way."
"It's suicide, Luffy. Higuma doesn't care if you're a child or–" Dogra didn't finish, because a low growl from Garp's grandson made him shut up, sending goosebumps through his body.
At that moment, Law entered the room. Spotting the younger boy, he halted. "Luffy? I thought you already went down to Foosha," he said, confused.
"Something came up," Luffy replied. "There is someone I need to deal with first."
The straw-hatted boy clenched his fists. "He hit Makino."
Law narrowed his eyes. "I'm coming with you," he stated. "Give me a moment to grab my sword."
The next time Luffy slammed open the door to Dadan's house, he was already laughing mirthfully. Law was smirking smugly next to him, his short sword propped on his shoulder. Dogra trailed behind, looking extremely pale and had his wide, terrified eyes glued to the two kids in front.
This time, everyone was home, even Ace. The freckled boy glared at them from his corner.
"Oh, hey, Cora-san, Bepo!" Luffy beamed at the two. "Are you ready to go to Foosha?"
Corazon's eyes slid over Law's weapon. "Where have you been?" he inquired.
"Pest control," the preteen deadpanned.
Corazon blinked at him. "With… a sword?"
Law shrugged in nonchalant. "It was a big pest."
"Several of them!" Luffy piped in gleefully.
Law nodded. "Several of big pests," he agreed. "Had to chop them into pieces."
"Good riddance!" the younger one cheered again. "I told you your powers were cool, Traffy!"
The preteen gave him a lop-sided smile. "You're not so bad in a fight yourself. Did I see your fist blacken?"
"Yeah! It's the Armament Haki. You can also use it on your weapon," Luffy explained as they both turned to leave the hut, not paying attention to all the strange looks they were getting from everyone in the room.
"Really? Interesting. What's the third form then?"
"It's called the Observation Haki, and it's–"
The door closed behind the boys, and there was a complete silence for a while. Corazon cleared his throat. "Well, then," he said. "Let's go, Bepo."
A silence settled in the room again once those two left. Dogra staggered to where Dadan was sitting and crumpled on the floor, still with that terrified expression on his face.
"What happened to you?" the bandit boss asked.
The bandit glanced at her and suddenly chuckled on a brink of hysteria. "Pest control... apparently," he answered.
Dadan furrowed her brow in bafflement. "What kind of pests?"
"Higuma and his group," Dogra said, chuckling nervously again. "That kid really chopped them into pieces, while Garp's grandson pounded adult men into the ground with ease. Literally."
The rest of the bandits and Ace stared at him incredulously, until the door slammed open one more time.
"Dogra!" Luffy yelled, causing bandits to flinch. "Forgot to tell you – thanks!" And he was gone again.
The room was silent for a while. Everyone could hear a fly buzzing somewhere near the window.
"Those kids are monsters," someone whispered.
"Hmph," Ace huffed in his corner. "What kind of bullshit are they talking about…" he mumbled before biting into his lump of meat.
Corazon and three kids were stepping across Partys Bar's threshold when they heard an angry voice inside, "Who did that?!"
Shanks was standing in front of Makino, gently holding her chin in his hand, and glowered at the bruise on her face. His crew was scattered around the tavern. Most of them were collecting pieces of smashed furniture or glasses, while three men were sweeping the food, trying to clean the floor.
"Shanks!" Luffy exclaimed, grinning widely at his friend.
The red-haired pirate looked at him. "Luffy!"
"Luffy!" Makino cried out at the same time, slipping from the worried man's reach. "Are you alright?"
"Of course," the straw-hatted boy replied, confused by why she asked it in the first place. "Law and I took care of those bandits."
"Bandits?" Shanks echoed. "Was it them who did that to Makino?"
"Yeah, but they will not bother Makino anymore." Luffy flashed an innocent grin. "Or anyone else, at that matter."
The barmaid was really uncertain how to react to that. "Thank you, boys," she said.
"Dahahahaha! God job, kids!" Shanks praised.
Corazon looked at Law. "Pest control, huh?"
The preteen simply shrugged in response and smirked mischievously.
"Ne, Shanks, did you find it?" Luffy asked, too excited to think about anything else.
The pirate grinned. "Of course! It was where you said it will be." He then turned and yelled, "Oi, Lucky Roo, where did you put the chest?"
"On the bar!" came an answer.
"Found what?" Corazon inquired.
The youngest boy beamed at him. "My Devil Fruit!" He jumped on the stool and opened the small chest.
There it was. A violet, spherical shaped fruit with a stem sprouting out of the top and swirls that went in a curly 'S' like-pattern. The Gum-Gum fruit. His fruit.
"This is your Devil Fruit?" Law asked, looking at the strange thing. "Looks completely different than mine."
"Doesn't look tasty," Bepo pointed out.
Luffy's smile fell after hearing his words. He glared at the fruit. "You're right. I forgot how bad it actually tastes."
Law scrunched his face in disgust. "True," he agreed.
"I agree on that too," Corazon also added.
Shanks looked at the blond man in surprise. "You're a Devil Fruit user, Corazon?"
"His fruit powers are really cool!" Luffy cheered, causing Cora-san grin joyfully at his praise.
Law shook his head. "No, it's not. It's lame and useless."
"It's not useless!" the straw-hatted boy denied. "Remember that time than we were at that bar and an old lady offered us that strange dish?" Law suddenly winced, and his ears' tips dyed in red. "And you–"
"Just eat your damn fruit!" the older boy shouted, shoving the Devil Fruit into Luffy's open mouth, successfully stopping whatever the younger boy wanted to tell.
Luffy flailed his arms as he choked on the fruit. When he finally managed to gulp it down, he glared at his nakama. "Do you want to kill me?!"
"Yeah," deadpanned Law.
"Okay then," Luffy accepted, causing others to laugh. He started to rotate one of his arms, and after a moment he added as an afterthought, "I love you, too."
Law's eyes widened. He was taken aback by those words, and his little sister's smiling face popping into his mind had caught him unawares. The preteen tugged his hat down. "…Idiot," he muttered to Luffy who offered him a goofy smile for that.
Corazon couldn't fight a happy grin. Seeing that boy, Ace, for the past week reminded him of the state Law was in when he first joined the Donquixote Family. The kid had been on the verge of madness, completely consumed by hatred and grief. He changed, and it became so evident after the events on the Minion Island. The ex-marine was so pleased to see this clearly different Trafalgar Law.
Ah, his little boy was growing so fast!
Now that he thought about it, Corazon looked at Law even more carefully. The preteen was also growing physically – he seemed a bit taller than he was before. It appeared that his body was finally recovering from the fatal illness and the stress from its removal. White patches on Law's skin were so dim already that if a person didn't know what to look for he would have certainly missed it.
"So, what kind of powers did you get?" the bear wondered curiously.
"Shishishishi," Luffy giggled in bliss before he fist-pumped the air and exclaimed, "I'm a rubber man now!"
"Rubber?" Corazon, Law, and Bepo asked together.
The straw-hatted boy only laughed merrily and then ran through the door outside. The small group glanced at each other and decided to follow him. They stopped at the sideline, observing how Luffy rotated his arm again. He shoved it forward and it started to stretch.
Everyone oohed as Luffy's arm stretched all the way till the house's roof from across the street, allowing him to grab the edge of it. Then they cringed when his arm suddenly snapped back, and Luffy soared through the air, crashed into the wall and dropped on the ground below.
"Oh, my god! Luffy!" Shanks screamed in panic. "I killed Luffy! I brought that fruit here and allowed him to eat it! What are we gonna do now?!"
Law blinked stunned by such an ungraceful display of panic. "Calm down, Shanks-ya," he chided. "It's not a time to panic."
That moment Luffy bounced back on his feet and burst into laughter. "That was fun! I missed it so much!"
The red-haired pirate sagged in relief seeing that the youngest kid was alright. "Dahahahaha!" he laughed. "I told you, Makino, that there is nothing to panic about!"
The green-haired barmaid simply chuckled while Corazon, Law, and even Bepo gave Shanks a stare.
"Luffy, are you alright?" Makino called out.
The rubber boy's mouth formed a perfect 'D' shaped grin. "I'm great! Now, I can go after Ace! And see Sabo!" He bolted from where he was standing. Before he disappeared from his friend's sight however, Luffy turned and yelled, "Thanks, Shanks! See you later!" And with that, he was gone.
The street was silent, only wind brushed over branches of the trees and seagulls squealed high above the roofs.
Makino clapped her hands together, smiling brightly at all the males, big and small. "Who wants a glass of juice?"
Chapter 6: V. You're not the only son of the devil here.
"You're not the only son of the devil here."
Luffy jerked from his sleep, his breathing rapid and erratic. He quickly swept the room with his eyes, at the same time checking the surroundings with Observation Haki, searching for an immediate threat.
There was none.
Luffy heaved a heavy sigh and brushed a hand over his sweaty face, trying to get rid of images from the nightmare, stubbornly clinging to his mind. The boy slid from under his blanket, picked up his straw hat and quietly walked to the other two lying forms in the room.
Law and Bepo were peacefully sleeping on their respective futons, safe and well. Luffy smiled softly at them, then carefully opened the door and slipped to the corridor. He made his way through the house to the room where Ace was sleeping and sneaked in.
Luffy stood at the foot of Ace's bed, simply observing the calm and steady movement of his older brother's chest. After a while, the last remnants of this night's nightmare finally retreated into the darkness of his psyche. The rubber boy put his hat on and grinned. Then he left the room and walked out of the house to check on the last person he came to care about dearly.
Corazon was sitting on the ground, leaning against the old tree stump at the edge of the clearing in front of the Dadan's hut. There was a lit cigarette between his lips like usual, and in one hand he held a bottle of sake, sipping from it from time to time. The blonde was bareheaded, wrapped in his black feathered coat, shielding him from the coldness of the night.
"What are you doing here, Cora-san?"
Corazon got startled by an unexpected voice. He turned to the side and saw Luffy who had his head tilted in curiosity. "I'm… stargazing," he replied, smiling sheepishly.
Luffy looked up at the sky. "See anything interesting?"
"I do, actually." Corazon also lifted his eyes up. "The Second Brother Constellation. You can't see it in the North Blue, but here it's right there." He pointed his finger at the specific spot in the sky, but Luffy frowned confused as he followed the direction and saw only stars.
"Where is the first brother?" the boy asked.
Corazon chuckled. "There is a small chain of islands in the North Blue called the First Brother's Archipelago." A contemplative expression settled on his features. "Ironic, isn't it?" The blonde paused, taking a gulp from his bottle. "They say two brothers lived a long time ago. The first brother, the older one, caught an incurable heart disease and was doomed to die, but the younger one ripped his own heart out and gave it to his brother. The gods were deeply moved by his sacrifice and bestowed a divine gift upon his soul, allowing him to enter the sky and become a star constellation."
Luffy stared at the man with wide eyes full of eagerness. "What happened to the first brother? Did he survive?"
"He did," Corazon answered. He was silent for a moment, before continuing, "He became a ruler of his kingdom, a tyrant who robbed from his own people and killed anyone daring to speak against him. The same gods got furious at him for wasting the sacrifice of his younger sibling, and sank his kingdom into the sea, creating the First Brother's Archipelago."
"Eeeeh? What a jerk!" Luffy screwed his face in disdain but then smiled brightly. "I like the second brother!"
Corazon couldn't help but let out a genuine laughter as it welled up inside his chest. "But maybe it was the heart of his sibling what made the first brother do what he did," he said thoughtfully, once he calmed down.
A light frown suddenly marred Luffy's face. "You're not responsible for Mingo's actions," he said in a serious tone.
Corazon spit out a gulp of his booze he'd just taken and just gawked at the kid with his mouth slightly open from shock, unable to catch any palpable thought buzzing in his head.
Luffy took his straw hat off, climbed on the man's lap and put it onto his head. Then the boy snuggled into his chest, pressing his ear at the place where Corazon's heart was. "I can hear your heart. You haven't given it away," he stated. "Stop blaming yourself and thinking that you could have changed anything. What's done is done. Don't live in the past, so that you wouldn't lose the sight of your future." Luffy made a pause, before adding, "Unless you'll be the only one left alive… but I'm here to make sure that it won't happen."
That Corazon was stunned was an understatement. He knew that the kid sometimes got serious and blurted out things beyond his age wisdom, but this was something else. It even felt like Luffy was talking from experience, as stupid as it sounded. If he really ended up completely alone at some point in his short life, there was no wonder why he was so inclined towards physical contact – with every touch and hug, the boy just wanted to assure himself that there was someone next to him.
Corazon smiled gently at Luffy. He covered him with the sleeve of his coat, keeping him in place because the boy didn't give any sign of wanting to move. Luffy snuggled even closer, muttering, "So warm…" under his breath as he dozed off.
The blonde glanced up at the Second Brother Constellation again and took a good swig of sake. "Not responsible, huh?" he said out loud with a small smile gracing his lips.
Luffy slightly stirred. "Meat…" he mumbled in his sleep. "Hat…"
Corazon chuckled, reaching for the straw hat and putting it back on its rightful owner's head. Yeah, the future was definitely so much more interesting than the past.
Luffy got bored chasing Ace to the forest after a week. It wasn't like he gave up on befriending his older brother once again. Ace needed patience and time, but there was no way that Luffy could have waited for three months or longer till the stubborn idiot would start to accept him, if at all. Last time, a fortunate turn of events led them to finally becoming brothers. This time, Luffy got here earlier, it was different. It's not like he would have repeated the same stuff with Bluejam anyways.
So, Luffy resolved to start with Sabo. His blond brother always was more level-headed, open-minded, and easier to approach.
Luffy ditched Ace mid-way to the Gray Terminal one day and went there alone. Even after so many years, he remembered the path to that place so clearly like he was following it only a day ago. As he was standing on a hill at the edge of the forest and gazed at the Gray Terminal, Luffy realized that he certainly didn't miss this place. The stench which filled his lungs and the despair which he could feel emitting from every living person were suffocating.
Luffy didn't find Sabo that day. When he sensed Ace entering the Gray Terminal, he retreated back to go hunting and do training with Law and Bepo. On the third day, Luffy spotted the familiar mop of curly blond hair under a large black top hat with a pair of blue goggles wrapped around it, and he couldn't stop the excited grin spreading on his face. Young Sabo's presence felt so different from the Revolutionary army's Second-in-command he'd known so well, it was no wonder that Luffy was unable to recognize him. Not that it mattered. Sabo was his older brother, and nothing would have changed that.
Sabo was not having a good day. He found a lone thug with a bag of money and thought he'd be an easy target. What he hadn't expected was a full blown ambush of the said thug's friends. So, that's why he was standing surrounded by five grown-ups, clenching his pipe firmly in his hands, while his brains whirred with a possible escape plan. Before he could come up with anything, the thugs attacked. One moment, Sabo had to fend and avoid all five of them, the next moment he was fighting only one man. Wondering what the rest of them were doing, he finished off his opponent and swiveled around.
The other four were lying sprawled on the ground out cold. A young black-haired kid with a battered straw hat on his head was standing in the middle, glaring at them darkly. When he looked at Sabo, there was a worried frown on his face. "Are you alright? Are you hurt?" the kid asked, eyeing him carefully.
"I'm… fine," Sabo replied, still stunned by an unexpected and unlikely savior. "Uh… thanks. I guess."
The kid's mouth stretched into wide, bright grin equaling the sun itself. A split second later the blonde found himself in a bone-crushing hug. He ignored the fact that the kid's arms wrapped around him two or three times because that did NOT happen. That was biologically impossible. It was probably just an illusion, created by the adrenaline flowing through his veins from the fight.
"Saboooo~!" the straw-hatted boy drawled. "I missed you so much!"
"You know me?" Sabo asked. "And could you please get off of me?"
"Well, duh." The boy rolled his eyes. "Of course, I know you." He clung to him for a bit longer, then finally reluctantly let him go.
The blonde narrowed his eyes suspiciously at that goofy smile. "Where have we met?"
"We're meeting for the first time!"
"But you had just said–"
"I'm Monkey D. Luffy! The Pirate King! Nice to meet you!" the kid exclaimed, still grinning blissfully.
"Let's be friends! That way you could meet Traffy, Bepo, and Cora-san! And we aaaaaall could be friends!"
"We could hunt, and train, and play together! With Ace, too! Can't forget about Ace! Shishishishi!"
"We could build a tree house! That would be so awesome! And we could fly a joint black flag until we all go out to the sea!"
"Oh!" Luffy suddenly perked up. "Ace finally reached the Gray Terminal. It's time for me to go!" he stated and turned to leave, waving. "I'll come to visit you tomorrow. See you soon, Sabo!"
Sabo just stared dumbfounded at the younger kid's back until he disappeared over the hill of trash. That was the most bizarre encounter he had ever had in his life so far.
Ace was so confused. Those new people Garp had brought were really strange, to say the least.
First, the adult blonde was the tallest human Ace had ever seen. And the clumsiest. It was a mystery how he had even survived till now and hadn't broken his neck or burned himself to crisp. The way that man looked at him unnerved Ace. It was neither pity nor hate, simply a sadness which was strange because no one usually looked at him like that. Despite that, Ace knew better than to put his trust in a grown-up, because in the end, they were all the same – trying to beat him or whispering nasty things behind his back.
Then, there was that creep. His dark narrowed eyes always followed Ace every time he entered the room like he was a rabid dog that could have attacked any moment for no reason. Well, Ace was suspicious of him too! The thing was that his usual threatening manner, aggressive behavior, and murderous glares weren't working on the creep. Ace didn't want to admit, but truthfully the glares he had got in return sent shivers down his spine. For some reason, the image of being dissected always popped into his head, and that was, well, creepy.
The bear. In all honesty, the talking bear was freaking Ace out. Not that he would say it out loud or even think about it. He was not aware of the reason why the bear was able to speak, and even if he was curious, there was no way he'd ask those people. Other than that, the bear was the quietest of them all, never getting in Ace's way.
The worst, though, was the youngest kid. He boldly refused to leave Ace alone much to the latter's annoyance. The first week was bearable, apart strange solemn glances and occasional 'Let's become friends!' the kid mostly kept to himself. And then the chase started. What confused Ace the most, however, was how after another week of the empty chase and a lot of failed attempts to kill him the straw-hatted kid showed no signs of giving up. Then suddenly he started to follow the older boy only half-way and to disappear soon after. One moment he was behind and another he was already gone. It baffled Ace to no end. Later Sabo told him that he met the kid in the Grey Terminal and apparently was unable to hide from him.
Ace slipped on a wet ground as he landed on a rocky plateau, too deep in his thoughts to see where he was putting his foot. He flailed his arms, trying to find his balance again, and heaved a sigh when he managed to do so.
The freckled boy gritted his teeth as the loud shout rang throughout the forest. He quickly hid behind the nearby bush. That moment the straw-hatted kid stumbled into a small clearing and stopped to look around.
Suddenly an ear-splitting roar shook the air and a huge tiger stepped in front of Luffy, baring its teeth and staring hungrily at a prey before its eyes. The boy stared back right at it with his hands on his hips seemingly relaxed like the huge carnivore was nothing to worry about.
"Well, that will teach this idiot…" Ace muttered.
There was a second roar and a huge bear emerged from the other side, flanking the kid from behind. Luffy glanced at it.
Ace clenched his pipe tighter. "Why is he not running away?" he whispered.
An unexpected giggle escaped Luffy. "Shishishishi. This feels familiar," he said, grinning happily. The boy whipped a drool from the corner of his mouth. "Now, which one of you I should eat?"
The older boy felt his jaw drop. Had he just heard correctly?
Two predators growled at each other, circling the prey they both wanted. Luffy's eyes flickered between them. "I guess a bear won't do with Bepo here… as much as I like its meat," he pouted. Then he glared at the bear. "You! Go away!"
Ace knees gave out from absolute shock, causing him to sit on the ground as the bear – a huge, aggressive, powerful beast, lord of the Mt. Colubo – all of a sudden cowered, gawking at the small child with wide eyes full of fear, turned around and fled like it was on fire. What. The. Heck.
Luffy faced the tiger with a wicked smirk. The beast smashed its huge paw into the ground, trying to squish its prey, but the boy jumped to the side. He stretched his arm backward and brought it back as a punch, straight into the tiger's jaw. The beast stepped back, shook its head and then suddenly wiped at the kid with its paw again. This time, Luffy was not fast enough. The strike flung him at the tree with such force that it broke the trunk in half.
Ace tsked. "That's what you get for–" His voice hitched in his throat, because the kid simply stood up, dusted himself and frowned at the predator.
"I guess, simple punches are still too weak to bring you down," Luffy observed, before nodding. "Alright." He lifted one of his hands and it slowly blackened.
Luffy grinned darkly. He stretched his black arm behind him and snapped it back, punching the tiger into its jaw again. The beast staggered, its eyes rolled back and it collapsed on the ground.
Ace blinked one more time. What the heck?!
"Victory!" Luffy cheered, fist pumping the air.
"So, that's where you are. I was looking for you."
The straw-hatted boy turned his head to a new person who appeared in the clearing. "Traffy!"
Law stopped next to him. He had his short sword propped on his shoulder like usual these days as he fell into a habit to carry it like that. "Cora-san is worried every time you go into this forest alone. He and Dadan sit near the window and sulk until you–" The older boy suddenly trailed off and frowned. "You're injured," he stated.
"Eh?" Luffy glanced over himself. There was a small gash on his left shoulder, with a trail of blood along the hand. "Ah, it's nothing serious."
"It needs to be looked at immediately," Law announced, slipping into his doctor mode. Luffy opened his mouth to refuse, but the preteen quickly cut him off even before he could speak: "No ifs or buts."
The rubber boy pouted again. "Okay, I'll just grab my meat and–"
"No grabbing anything with that injury."
"But, Traffyyyy~! My meat!"
Law rolled his eyes. "Alright, alright. I'm gonna warp us both and your meat back home. Just this one time. Deal?"
Luffy beamed. "Deal!" he exclaimed before turning towards the direction where Ace was hiding and waving his hand. "Bye, Ace!"
Ace almost smacked himself – of course, the little brat knew he was there, Sabo warned him about it. Some kind of transparent sphere engulfed the area, and the freckled boy rubbed his eyes in disbelief when the other boys and the tiger's body suddenly vanished, leaving only two stones and a rotten tree trunk in their place.
No, seriously. What the hell was going on?!
Ace and Sabo were dashing through the forest like madmen, followed closely by exploding trees and a thundering roar as a huge, pissed looking tiger chased them, seething with pure rage.
"If it's not going to kill us, I'm going to kill you, Ace!" Sabo screamed, holding his top hat in place and ducking under the arched tree root.
"Just run, idiot!" Ace yelled back, hopping over the same root.
The tiger jumped forward and crushed the tree root simply by its own weight. The boys took a sharp turn to the left along an elevated rocky plateau. The beast was not able to make a turn in time and slid straight into the rock, destroying it in the process. It pounced from the rubble a moment later completely unharmed.
"What made you think that we could defeat this thing?!" Sabo shouted again.
Ace gritted his teeth. Shit. That was not how he imagined the ending of attacking one of the Mt. Colubo beast lords. How that scrawny straw-hatted kid took down such a mountain of raw muscles was beyond his comprehension. With a single punch no less. It must have been a fluke. "Shut up and run!" he retorted.
Suddenly they spotted a person ahead, just standing in the open. He was looking at the different direction and didn't see them approaching.
"Luffy!" both boys exclaimed together surprised when they came closer and recognized the person. Sabo added, "Run!"
The straw-hatted boy turned around. A huge, sunny grin grew on his face. "Ace! Sabo!" His eyes widened as the tiger came crashing through the trees right behind its two fleeing preys.
What happened next was a matter of few seconds.
Ace and Sabo passed Luffy who was seemingly frozen in his spot. Ace tsked and slightly turned his head to yell at the idiot, but then he noticed one of the gigantic Mt. Colubo trees collapsing right on top of their heads. The freckled boy slid to a halt, grabbing his blond friend by his sleeve, and they half jumped, half rolled backward, barely escaping being squished. A tree crashed down, sending a small earthquake throughout surrounding territory. For a moment both boys just sat on the ground, trying to catch their breath, and dumbly stared at the thick trunk, now blocking their way.
"I think we crushed someone."
Ace and Sabo both whipped their heads at the voices and saw a boy with a spotted hat coming towards them, closely followed by a white bear cub.
"Ah, no. They are okay," Law corrected himself, noticing the other two. Ace and Sabo could swear they had heard the disappointment in his tone. "No need to apologize, Bepo."
"Oh, that's good," Bepo replied.
While Sabo was observing the talking bear curiously, Ace glared at them. "What are you doing here?" he demanded.
"Getting firewood," Law answered without skipping a beat. He motioned at the fallen tree nonchalantly.
"Fire… wood?" Sabo muttered. There was a roar nearby and he tensed. "The lord…!" he yelled in alarm which was echoed by Ace too.
Luffy was high up in the air above the tiger. It was unknown how he got there, but the boy was grinning happily and had both his arms stretched far behind him, gleaming in black.
"Gomu gomu no…" he said as he snapped his arms straight into the beast's head. "…Bazooka!" His attack slammed the tiger into the ground, creating a small crater on the impact spot and sending another vibration throughout the area. "Shishishishi," Luffy giggled as he landed on his beaten opponent. "I got us dinner!"
Ace's and Sabo's jaws dropped. This whole situation was turning into something out of the reality of this world.
"Cora-san is preparing an alligator soup for dinner today," Law informed his younger friend.
"OOOH! It's my favorite!" Luffy exclaimed in delight.
Bepo's face lit up. "Mine too!"
"Yeah, the only thing that he can actually cook," the Op-Op user noted, smirking. "Who could have known?"
"We can eat this meat for a dessert!"
Law slightly frowned. "You don't eat meat for a dessert."
"You can eat meat for the main dish and for a dessert, and it'll still not be enough of it!" Luffy countered.
The preteen snorted. "That's not how the rest of us humans are functioning."
"Um…" Bepo piped in shyly. "If Cora-san is cooking today and all three of us are here... Who's looking after him?"
Law and Luffy stared at him for a bit, then shared an alarmed glance between each other. "Crap!" they cursed in unison.
Law immediately looked up. "I don't see any smoke yet, but I have a limited view from here."
"We should hurry!" Bepo urged.
"We can pick up firewood later," Luffy decided. "But we need to take this thing now." He patted the dead tiger. "Someone might take it."
Law sighed. He knew better than to argue with the younger raven over the meat. "Fine. Let me chop it so it would be easier for us to carry it." He activated his powers, unsheathed his sword and with two quick swings chopped the tiger in three pieces. He, Luffy, and Bepo grabbed a different piece and turned to leave.
"Can't wait for Cora-san's soup!" Luffy said, a drool forming in the corner of his mouth.
"There might be no house left to eat it in anymore," Law remarked sarcastically.
Suddenly a loud rumble rang from behind, and the group of three stopped, turning back. Ace and Sabo were standing at the same spot, too stunned to move. The blonde rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly and flashed a sheepish smile as his stomach growled again. "I guess I'm a bit hungry…" he confessed.
Luffy beamed at him. "Wanna join us? You too, Ace! Cora-san's alligator soup is the best!"
"Can we?" Sabo asked, shooting an uncertain glance towards Law.
The preteen shrugged indifferently. "Sure." He smirked. "Just a little warning – this little monkey here doesn't have any table manners. You'll have to fight for your food."
Sabo grinned. "No problem!" he replied. "Let me help carry that," he offered to Luffy, grabbing at the kid's piece of the quarry. "Also, thanks for saving us! You're really strong!"
A 'D' shaped grin appeared on Luffy's face. "Thanks!"
Ace only glared at them all. He felt a sting of betrayal. Sabo befriended those guys so fast!
Law didn't move. He was looking in Ace's eye and could see the same lonely darkness which almost consumed him in the past until Cora-san came. A soft smile tugged his lips. No, until Cora-san came and also Luffy stormed into his life, dragging Bepo with him. "You coming?" the preteen inquired the freckled boy, not fazed by his aggressive glare.
"Tch," Ace clicked his tongue, then shoved his hands into his pockets and stalked after the others.
Luffy slammed the door open with a joyful, "We're home!"
"STOP SLAMMING THE DOOR!" the bandits roared in the chore.
"Law! Luffy! Bepo!" Dadan shouted suddenly appearing in front of them. "You should look after your guardian! He had almost burned down the house! We're not babysitters, you know?!"
"Shishishishi! Sorry, sorry!" Luffy apologized.
"Yeah, we were careless, Dadan-ya. I apologize."
Bepo bowed down. "I'm sorry…"
"Wait," the bandit boss muttered, blinking at the gang of children crowding the entrance. "Law, Luffy, Bepo, Ace… huh? Law, Luffy, Bepo, Ace… huh? Why is there one brat too many of you here?!"
Sabo flashed a charming, wide smile. "Hi! I'm Sabo! You must be the Dadan I heard so much about!"
"Sabo?" Dadan tilted her head in thought. "I heard about you too… Wait! What did you hear about me?"
"I heard that you're a truly manly worthless old bag!" Sabo said cheerfully, the charming smile still in place.
"'Truly manly'?" the curly bandit sputtered. "I'm a woman, you know!"
Corazon decided at that moment pop in from the kitchen, he and the kids set up for their personal use. "Boys, you're back!" he exclaimed with a happy smile. He wore a pink apron with white hearts, looking ridiculous and endearing at the same time. "Dinner is ready!"
"Yay!" Luffy bounced towards him. "Ne, Cora-san, can Sabo and Ace eat with us?"
Corazon blinked at him, then glanced at the two kids he mentioned. He had never seen the blond boy before, although he heard a lot about him from Luffy. But mostly he was surprised about Ace joining them too. "Of course," he agreed, eliciting a giggle from the youngest.
They all piled up into the room where they usually ate. While Luffy drooled over the soup with Corazon standing guard so that he wouldn't touch it yet, Law and Bepo served the table.
Sabo beset them with questions. Why was Corazon so tall? How tall was he? Why did Bepo talk? Where was a home island of Minks? How old were Law and Luffy? How come they were so strong? What was a Devil Fruit? With every answer to his question, the little blonde grew even more curious.
Ace stood leaning on the wall next to the door and glowered at their friendly and casual interactions. He didn't want to admit, but he was feeling a bit jealous towards them, so happy and carefree. They probably hadn't a day of hardship in their lives, especially that annoying straw-hatted brat who grinned like an idiot every time he looked at his direction.
They were different from him.
When soup finally was served, Ace just glared hatefully at Corazon who offered him a plate of it and left the room. He went outside and was stomping towards the forest when a shout stopped him.
"Ace, wait!" Luffy came after him with the same plate of soup and extended it to him, with his usual big smile across his face. "This is for you. I'm sure you'll like it!"
"You know nothing about me!" Ace snapped, knocking the plate out of his hands. It smashed into the ground and fragmented into small pieces, spilling the soup on the grass.
Luffy's smile fell, but he said nothing. He just looked at the older raven, a downright sorrowful expression on his face, eyes full of hurt and sadness.
It made Ace uncomfortable. Why was this kid looking at him like that?
"I know you," Luffy finally said slowly. "You probably don't believe me, but I know you."
"Give me a question."
Ace blinked. "What?"
"Ask me any question about yourself." Luffy fixed him with a sharp gaze, fierce determination burning in his black eyes.
"Oh, yeah?" The freckled boy narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms in front defenselessly. "What would you say if Gold Roger had a son?" he asked without really thinking and immediately facepalmed. Stupid! How could he just blurt this out?!
Luffy smiled. It was a small smile, just a shadow of his usual face-splitting grin. "I would say that his dad was awesome!" he exclaimed, his smile widening. "Roger cared about his nakama and family a lot. He never turned his back to enemies if there was a chance of them going after his crewmates or friends. Everyone who truly knew Roger loved and highly respected him. I know what you heard about him and yourself, but do you really think that one's enemies would tell you the truth about your dad?"
Ace gawked at him with wide eyes, a surprise, confusion and disbelief written all over his face. That was not what he had expected to hear, like at all.
Luffy's smile suddenly took a fond edge and a nostalgic expression settled on his features. "I can never be thankful enough for Roger."
"Thankful?! For what?"
Luffy looked him dead in the eye and deadpanned, "For allowing me to meet you."
"He has a point, you know," Sabo's voice suddenly chimed in. The blonde was standing nearby and also looked into Ace's eyes. "About hearing things from your father's enemies."
Ace gritted his teeth. That was not what he was used to hearing!
"Besides," Luffy smirked, "you're not the only son of the devil here."
Those words took the freckled boy by surprise. "…What?"
Luffy's smirk grew into wide, proud grin. "My dad is the Revolutionary Dragon."
Sabo jaw dropped, but Ace simply frowned in confusion. "Re-Revolutionary Dragon?! That Dragon?!" Sabo asked in absolute disbelief.
"Who's that?" Ace inquired.
Sabo shot him an incredulous glance. "You don't know who Revolutionary Dragon is? He's the most wanted person in the world! They say that he's not even a fully human!"
Ace's frown deepened. "The most wanted person in the world?"
Sabo was staring at Luffy. "Whoa, I can't believe that you're the son of thee Dragon."
Ace felt frustration welling inside him. There was no way that the little brat was in the same situation as he was, that he was hated by everyone like he was. He had a people who cared about him within an arm's reach! "It's still not the same!" Ace yelled angrily. He clenched his hands into tight fists, at the brink of lashing out.
"If the World Government would know about your or mine existence, they would put a huge bounty on both of our heads, despite our age," Luffy stated. Such serious words sounded strange coming from the six years old kid. "If they would get their hands on you or me, they would hold a public execution for sure, just to show the world that they can purge the lines of a 'bad blood'. Not even grandpa could save us from that." Luffy grinned. "But that is why I'm gonna protect you!"
Ace's pride flared from hearing that proclamation. "Protect me? I don't need protection from a weak, spoiled brat like you!"
"Weak, eh? Okay, let's have a fight then. If I win, you'll have to eat with us from now on," the straw-hatted boy challenged, a wicked smirk playing on his lips.
"Fine!" the older one agreed. "And if I win, you'll leave me alone forever!"
Sabo leaned closer to his friend and hissed, "Are you insane? Have you forgotten what you've seen so far? This kid had beaten two tiger lords with one punch and scared a bear lord with only a glare!"
Ace furrowed his brow as he glowered at the beaming younger boy. "That was a fluke. I'm not gonna fall for that," he declared. "He's going down."
"You're an idiot."
That was a result of their fifty fights.
Ace scored one point because in the middle of the fight Luffy got distracted by a big horned beetle that landed on a tree nearby. While he cheered "Heracles came to watch our fight!" Ace punched him in the face. It gave him a win, but also served as a fact that the younger boy wasn't taking him seriously at all.
And, damn, that kid could pack a punch! Ace was feeling sore all over his body. His gut was telling him that Luffy actually held back; at least he didn't use his black fists which seemingly did a lot more damage.
This squirt was far stronger than Ace. That made no sense whatsoever!
"Yay! Ace will be eating with us from now on!" Luffy rejoiced, ignoring a death glare from his soon-to-be-brother. "Sabo, too!"
The blond boy simply chuckled. He wasn't going to decline the invitation because frankly, he liked these people. All four had seen more of the world than he could have ever imagined, so Sabo was really intrigued in hearing more of their tales.
Ace begrudgingly accepted the fact that he'd lost and had to keep his words. So, when Luffy and Sabo started to walk back to the house, he reluctantly followed them, sulking like a dark rain cloud.
Sabo was in the shadows, leaning against the tree, waiting for Ace to show up for their usual morning trip to the Grey Terminal. He was getting so bored!
In the past month, he got used to eating with Ace and the other four. Deep down in his heart, Sabo was so happy! He couldn't shake the idea that maybe that's how it felt having a true family. He and Bepo learned that they shared the same hobby – traveling and navigation. They were frequently discussing various topics from the books they'd read, sometimes even during dinner, causing Corazon to scold them both. At first, the little blonde went back to the Grey Terminal for the night, but after some sleepovers and Luffy's annoying nagging Sabo finally gave up and moved in.
Although, he was starting to worry about Ace. They still went to the Grey Terminal every morning, but his friend was getting grumpier every day, too prideful to admit that he actually liked those guys aswell.
Suddenly, the door of the house opened with a bang and giggling Luffy stormed out. He ran off to the opposite direction, towards the sea cliff. Sabo got curious. During these past weeks as he started to live here, he noticed that quite often Luffy, either alone or with the others, went to that place in the morning. He wondered what they were doing.
Sabo looked around, but Ace was nowhere to be seen. Curiosity getting better of him, he sneakily followed the youngest boy all the way to the cliff. As Luffy stopped at the edge, the blonde hid behind the big boulder nearby.
Luffy cupped his mouth with his hands and yelled as loud as possible, "KINTO-UN!"
There was nothing happening for a moment, then the sea surface broke and a huge shadow rose from it. Sabo felt dread creeping in as the Sea King towered over the cliff and the small child on it. The sea beast lowered his head, those huge sharp teeth getting closer to Luffy…
Adrenaline rushed into his veins, and Sabo leaped out from his hiding spot with an alarmed, "Luffy!"
The boy turned around right at the same time when the Sea King gently nudged him.
Sabo's eyes almost jumped out of their sockets. "W-What...?" he stuttered out, his mind still fixed on the fact that the Sea King nudged the kid. Nudged. Gently and careful. Like a normal friend would do, but not a dreadful beast of the sea.
"Hey, Sabo!" Luffy greeted him cheerfully, absent-mindedly reaching and starting to pet Kinto-un. "I thought you went to the Grey Terminal with Ace."
Sabo marveled at the scene. The Sea King let out a content sound akin to a purr as the straw-hatted boy stroked his muzzle. "What… Who…" he couldn't form a coherent question because of the surreal sight before his own eyes. "Your… friend?" he asked.
"Shishishishi! Yep!" Luffy confirmed. "Sabo, this is Kinto-un! Kinto-un, this is Sabo!"
The Sea King glanced at the blond human boy, who showed a small awkward smile to him, and promptly dismissed him, returning to more enjoyable activities.
"Can I… Can I touch him too?" Sabo wondered in a subdued voice.
Kinto-un suddenly growled threateningly, narrowing his crimson eyes at the unfamiliar human.
Luffy smacked him. Not strong enough to hurt his friend, but enough that he felt it. "Be nice, Sabo is my nakama," he scolded the creature, causing him to let out a whine. Luffy rolled his eyes. "I swear, your attitude is even worse than Ace's. That's why you don't have a lot of friends."
The Sea King huffed, nudging the kid again.
"Yeah, I'm your friend. Traffy, Bepo, and Cora-san, too, but Sabo also wants to be your friend. Right, Sabo?"
"Eh? Y-Yes. Yes, of course."
Luffy beamed at him. "Come closer. Kinto-un actually likes to cuddle."
Sabo laughed nervously. The Sea King liked to cuddle. Who would have thought? He carefully sidled up to Kinto-un and with a trembling hand reached to touch him. His skin was rough and wet, but Sabo felt warmth under his palm. He brushed his hand across the muzzle of the great beast, fascinated.
He was actually petting the Sea King! It was definitely the most exciting and bizarre thing that he had done in his life.
The next seemingly innocent question from Luffy made Sabo doubt his previous conclusion.
"Wanna ride him?"
Ace was furious. Sabo was nowhere to be found this morning. Lately, he spent more and more time with those other guys, even started to train with them. Ace had to admit that they were strong, especially the most annoying one, but he believed that he and Sabo could get stronger without their help.
The worst thing was that a few times Ace caught himself getting interested in things the others were talking or doing. The thought that he might have started to get attached to these people, scared him. That brat already knew who Ace really was, and with that big mouth of his, the kid had probably blabbered it to his friends on the same day. It was strange that there were no spiteful glances or whispers behind his back.
Maybe those guys really cared about him despite the fact that his whole existence was a sin.
Ace shook his head, getting rid of that line of thoughts. He rounded the house corner and spotted Sabo coming from the forest, excitedly chatting with Luffy. The raven glowered at them, his temper flaring as he felt betrayed once again.
Sabo noticed him and waved his hand. "Oh, Ace! You won't believe what happened! Luffy just introduced me to his friend–"
"No need to explain, Sabo," Ace interrupted him, cold gaze drilling into the blonde. "I get it now."
Sabo's smile fell. Something felt wrong about his friend. He was too tense, his eyes too dark and voice too cold. "Get what?"
"That you're not my friend," Ace spat out hatefully. "You were just using me until it was convenient, but the moment you found someone stronger, you abandoned me like everyone else."
Sabo's eyes widened. He felt like someone just slapped him and punched him in the gut at the same time. He opened his mouth to say something, but there wasn't a coherent thought in his head.
"Ace, that's a really mean thing to tell your friend," Luffy said, his brow furrowing in worry.
"He's not my friend!" the older raven snapped, eliciting a sharp gasp from Sabo. "And neither are you! I don't need you! I don't need anyone!" Ace gritted his teeth. The naked hurt on the blond boy's face actually stung. He suddenly felt so bad for saying those words, but he was too prideful to take it back. No, Sabo was the one who betrayed him. "I trusted you, traitor…" he hissed to his former friend, turned around and stormed into the forest.
Sabo stared after him, feeling weak in his knees. Rubber arms wrapped around him as Luffy hugged him tightly. "Ace didn't mean any of that," the younger boy said quietly, but the blonde stayed silent, too shocked from what had happened. "I'm sorry…" Luffy whispered, tightening his embrace.
"It's not– It's not your fault," Sabo finally stammered out, blue eyes still trained on the spot where Ace disappeared.
"It might be." Luffy un-winded his arms and stepped away, a thoughtful frown marring his childish features. "I'll bring him back."
"Shit…" Ace cursed under his breath as he ran through the forest. "What am I doing…?"
He blurted all those nasty words to Sabo in the heat of the moment. He hurt the only person who might have really cared about him. Every time Ace closed his eyes, he saw that last pained expression on the blonde's face. Oh, he hurt him so badly…
He really was an idiot like Sabo had insisted.
Ace stopped at the edge of the Grey Terminal, catching his breath. "Dammit!" he cried out frustrated. The turmoil inside of him only grew more chaotic. "Shit! Shit! Shit!" The boy was so confused on what he should do now.
A group of men suddenly appeared in front of Ace, and the latter glared at them. "Who the heck are you?! What do you want?!" he demanded, just now noticing that he actually was unarmed. Not that it mattered. He was so angry and frustrated, and these men were the perfect target to let it all out.
A tall man with short hair on the top of his head that was fashioned in a striped manner, while the rest of it was kept in a loose, with a traditional captain's jacket over a white shirt smiled an uncanny kind of smile. "I'm Bluejam, the captain of the Bluejam Pirates. We just landed here and decided to make this island our main base," he informed before his whole demeanor grew cold. "So, show us some respect, brat."
Luffy was worried. Ace had never been so harsh and obnoxious with his words before. He would have never said that to Sabo. The only thing that had changed was the fact that Luffy befriended Sabo first and probably made Ace feel lonely and left out. His actions caused harm to both of his brothers.
"Idiot!" Luffy cursed himself as he quickened his pace.
The boy emerged from the forest and quickly scanned the surroundings. His Haki picked up Ace's presence just over the hill with several unfamiliar ones. Luffy hurried towards that direction. He climbed on the hill, his eyes landing on his brother at the moment when a flintlock pistol shot echoed across the area.
Luffy's brain short-circuited. He saw the bullet reaching Ace in slow-motion and boring itself into his body. He saw his brother falling down while he stood helplessly at the side. He saw Ace's blood slowly seeping into the ground.
All of a sudden, Luffy was back in the Marineford, people screaming all around him and the smell of burning flesh – oh, that horrible smell – was once again in the air, clinging to his skin like invisible filth he couldn't hope to wash away. Akainu was here again, the squelching sound of his arm sliding from the flesh was deafening in the midst of the raging war.
Luffy saw the bastard lifting his hand for another attack.
And something inside him snapped.
Chapter 7: VI. The choices we make, that's what defines us.
"The choices we make, that's what defines us."
The Red-Hair Pirates had a great party going in their favorite bar of Foosha Village. While one table was howling a pirate song with their drunken, slurring voices, another still had a drinking contest going while the rest of the crew cheered for the last two participants.
Their captain, however, was missing from all the singing and drinking action this time. He stood at a corner, his outstretched arm resting on the wall above Makino's shoulder. The barmaid had her back against the wall and she blushed as the redhead whispered something into her ear.
Suddenly a wave of overpowering will rolled through, making even Shanks' hair stand at end. Makino instantly went limp, and the redhead captain swiftly scooped her body into his arms before she hit the floor. Shanks quickly scanned the bar in alarm. His men collapsed one after another, spilling their rum mugs all over the place. The sudden silence was deafening in his ears.
"Benn?!" Shanks called.
"Still awake!" came the answer and a moment later the first mate strolled into his captain's line of sight with a worried and confused frown on his face.
"What happened?" Yasopp wondered out loud, checking on his table neighbor and scowling at the foam streaming from his mouth.
"Haki…" Lucky Roo replied, wiping off the sweat bead from his forehead.
Shanks scanned the bar one more time and confirmed that the rest of his crew got knocked out. The magnitude of this Conqueror's Haki was definitely not common, even on the Grand Line. There was only one person who could have had such power in this part of the world and he wouldn't have done it without a good reason.
Shanks swiftly brushed off the foam from Makino's face with his thumb and gently laid her down on the floor. "Benn, you're with me. Yasopp, Lucky Roo, take care of the crew," he ordered with a stern tone, not even waiting for confirmation and already moving towards the doors.
Benn fell into step with his captain. "Something must have happened to Luffy for him to use Haki like that," he muttered, looking around as they exited Partys bar.
An eerie silence shrouded the village like a heavy blanket. There were bodies as far as two pirates could see – people collapsed in the middle of streets or on the benches next to their houses. Unconscious birds were still falling from the sky with a dull 'thud' sound every time they'd hit the ground.
Shanks' scowl deepened. The longer he thought about it, the more he came to a conclusion that this was a berserk burst of Haki rather than a conscious one. His stomach churned as his mind went through the list of reasons why a boy like Luffy would go into berserk mode. None of them were particularly good, the next always worse than the previous one.
The redhead pointed at the Mt. Colubo in the distance. "Corazon said that they're now living on that mountain," he said to his first mate. "We should hurry. I have a bad feeling about this."
"Aye, captain," Benn agreed.
The two men promptly started to run. They soon found a path leading up the mountain and started following it without any delay. The forest around them was unnaturally quiet – a devastating blast of Conqueror's Haki rendering all the wildlife unconscious. A few times, the pirates came upon such animals which only redoubled their uneasiness.
Soon enough they reached the clearing with a hut in a middle of it. Without a word, the pirates entered. They both ignored the unfamiliar men, lying all around the first room, and separated to save time on checking the building.
Shanks was checking what looked like a kitchen, when he heard Benn calling him, "Captain, found them!" He rushed to the room where his first mate was, but before he could even ask, Benn already replied, "Luffy is not here."
The black-haired man was squatting next to Law and shaking him gently by his shoulder, trying to wake him up. Shanks looked at unconscious Bepo but decided to leave him be. He walked over slumped form of Corazon and shook him.
"Wha…? Benn-ya?" Law's sleepy voice rang in a silent house. He shuddered as he felt the chill settling in his whole body. "What happened?"
Corazon also stirred. He groaned and brought a hand to his face.
"Where's Luffy?" Shanks put forward a question. Every minute they delayed could have had horrible consequences.
Law knitted his brow in a frown. "I… I don't know." He looked around and his eyes widened when they fell on Bepo. "Bepo!"
"He's fine, Law-kun, don't worry," Benn assured. "Luffy's Haki simply knocked him out."
The boy's attention was now fully on the pirate in front of him. "Luffy's Haki? Why would he use it on us?"
"Something must have happened, that's why we need to find him," Shanks said, an urge underlying his tone.
Corazon sat up unsteadily. "I think I saw him outside with Sabo and Ace earlier," he informed.
Shanks was up and out of the room in a mere second. As soon as he exited the hut, the redhead surveyed the surroundings. He walked around the building and spotted a child in blue clothes on the ground.
It took a minute for him to arouse from his Haki induced sleep, but the boy's eyes finally fluttered open and he blinked a few times. Shanks felt the kid's body tense up in his arms as those blue orbs focused on him. The blonde instantly wiggled from his hold and went into a defensive stance, although he was still somewhat unsteady on his feet.
"Who are you?" the boy demanded.
"Relax, Sabo, they are our friends," Law explained as he, Benn, and Corazon approached from behind Shanks.
"Oh." The blonde lowered his fists and now stared at the two unfamiliar adults curiously.
"Where's Luffy?" the redhead asked.
"He followed Ace after…" Sabo trailed off, hurt flashing through his eyes. "Why? What's going on? Why I was on the ground, unconscious? And why are you all looking for Luffy? Is he in trouble?" The whole situation apparently was catching up with him pretty fast with every inquiry he put forward.
Shanks was starting to get impatient. "Do you know where they went?"
The blond boy thought for a moment. "The Gray Terminal probably," he replied.
"Can you guide us there?"
Sabo held out a hand and pointed at some direction. "That way."
Shanks sprung forward. The blond boy let out a short scream in alarm as the man grabbed him as he passed by and tucked him under his arm. Benn once again fell into step with his captain, running right next to him. Corazon with Law in his arms was not far behind them, surprisingly agile for the usually extremely clumsy man.
After few more pointers from Sabo, Shanks could finally feel it. He glanced at his first mate, and the latter nodded – he felt it too.
It felt wrong. Chaotic, furious, despaired. Nothing like a bright ball of sunshine they'd came to associate Luffy with.
The group emerged from the forest to the outskirts of the Gray Terminal and everyone froze, the sight in front of their eyes causing their minds screeched to a halt.
More than twenty bodies of men were lying around, probably knocked out by the burst of Conqueror's Haki. But that was not what made Sabo jump from the redhead's arms and to throw up as soon as his feet touched the ground. The men were unharmed, they could see that clearly.
But the whole area was covered by blood which definitely came from one person, because there was only one pair of each limb, scattered far from each other. The rest of the person was unrecognizable mush in the middle of a bloody circle.
Blood also covered Luffy who was kneeling next to the gory remains with Ace's lifeless body in his arms. He pressed Ace to his chest, hugging him tightly, but not too strong. The kid's head was bowed, his forehead gently touching the forehead of the older boy as the tears dripped from Luffy's nose on the pale freckled cheeks. The straw hat was resting peacefully nearby, the only bright and clean thing in the whole gruesome picture.
"Luffy!" Law exclaimed.
Luffy's head snapped up. Dark eyes glinted dangerously as the boy glared at them, his gaze more of a madman's than that of a sane person's.
Law frowned at that, but still bravely stepped forward only to be stopped by Shanks. "Wait, kid, I'll go first," he said in a tone which hadn't left any room for disobedience.
The preteen simply nodded. He understood that Luffy might have been dangerous in his current state, regardless of his own urge to check him for injuries. The priority, however, was Ace. Something had happened to him to push Luffy over the edge. Law wasn't that attached to the freckled raven, but concern for his life still pricked at his heart hard.
Shanks walked carefully towards Luffy who kept his eyes on him all the time. As the pirate stopped only a step away, the boy tightened his arms around Ace protectively. "Luffy, it's me, Shanks. Can you hear me?" the redhead started softly.
Recognition flashed in those dark orbs. Luffy blinked as, though, seeing a man in front of him for the first time. "Shanks?" he asked in a small voice.
"That's right, Luffy." Shanks took the last step and squatted down.
"Shanks, Ace is… Ace is…"
"I know, Luffy, but you need to let him go, so that the others could help him," the red-haired captain soothed, slowly prying off the kid's hands from the other boy, noting that the latter's skin wasn't yet deathly cold. Perhaps, they weren't too late.
Shanks lifted Luffy up, pulling him into a tight embrace, and the boy in return grabbed his shirt into a death grip. The pirate also picked the straw hat from the ground.
Law was next to Ace in a flash, quickly checking him for life signs.
Sabo was still retching, unable to suppress shivers shaking his body. It was the first time he saw so much blood and… He absentmindedly wondered how Law wasn't affected by it. The boy flinched when a gentle hand landed on his back. He turned his head and met warm brown-reddish eyes of Corazon. "Ace…?" he whispered, not trusting himself to say more than the name of his best friend.
"He's alive!" a shout from Law rang sharply, instantly lifting the extreme tightness in the air. The preteen smiled briefly as he felt a heartbeat pulsing under his fingers. Pretty strong at that, considering that Ace had a gunshot wound just an inch from his heart. Stubborn idiot. "We need to bring him back home, I can't do anything out here. Benn-ya, can you help me?"
"You heard that?" Shanks asked quietly, but Luffy was still rather unresponsive in his arms. When they eyes met, the pirate nodded to his first mate. The latter had picked up the injured kid and together with the young doctor disappeared into the forest. Then his eyes met Corazon's and he nodded again. The blonde with another boy followed after the first two, leaving them alone.
"I killed him…" Shanks heard Luffy whisper. "I killed Ace… again."
The redhead frowned slightly at his words as he also started walking back, much slower, though. "Luffy, Ace is alive."
That gave a desirable effect, because the boy suddenly lifted his head and looked straight into his eyes. "Really?" His voice was so full of hope, but still sounded so broken that Shanks felt his heart ache for this child.
"Yeah. Law will take care of him," the pirate assured.
"Law? Yeah… Yeah. I trust Law. He saved me so many times."
"So, you see? Your friend is in good hands."
"Yeah," Luffy said, a tiny smile ghosting his lips. "Thanks, Shanks."
Shanks looked at the boy. Despite all his overwhelming power and his old, scarred mind of the Pirate King, Luffy was still a child now. A child with heavier than the world burden on his shoulders.
Shanks smirked good-heartedly and ruffled Luffy's hair, ignoring all the grime in it. "Anytime, little anchor."
The corridor next to the door, leading into the room where Law and Benn had been taking care of Ace, was packed.
Dadan, Dogra, and Magra loitered about at the side of the corridor. They were briefed on what had happened earlier by Shanks and Corazon and now were shooting uncertain glances towards the youngest child from time to time.
Still covered in blood and dirt, Luffy refused to leave his spot before he got news about the condition of Ace. He was seating on the floor, leaning against the wall, right in front of the door with his knees to his chest and arms around them, but his eyes were fixed on the door. Sometimes it seemed that the boy hadn't even blinked in all the time he waited there patiently.
Bepo was next to him, lost on what to do. His eyes darted from the raven to Sabo at his other side, but the bear didn't know how to comfort his friends, so he resolved to simply keep them company in silence.
Shanks leaned on the opposite wall, a small scowl marring his scarred face and his arms crossed tightly over his chest as he clenched the straw hat in one of his hands. Corazon also was seated on the floor. There was a cigarette in his mouth and he blankly observed the white smoke slowly curving up in the air from it.
An uneasy calmness which had settled among them was nerve-wracking. It wasn't a surprise that when the door finally opened, everyone leaped to their feet, with the exception of Corazon who slipped and plunked back down.
Law halted in the doorway as the eight pairs of anxious eyes were suddenly staring at him. A small tired smile graced his lips as he announced, "He'll be fine."
The relief that washed everyone in the corridor was downright heavenly. The bandits sagged down with a huge sigh; Shanks and Corazon both laughed; Sabo grinned and hugged Bepo, squeezing him tight.
"Can I see him?" Luffy asked.
Law glanced back at the room and frowned. Benn appeared behind him. "Not right now, the kid needs to rest," he said with a smile. "And you need to bath, Luffy."
The boy blinked and looked over himself, a confused expression on his face.
"Dahahahaha!" Shanks laughed. "Come, I'll help you." He put a hand on the small of Luffy's back and gently guided him along the corridor. "We don't want you to drown now, eh, anchor?"
Luffy's eyebrow twitched at the old nickname. "Don't call me that… stupid ossan!"
"Don't call me ossan, you brat! I'm not that old!"
Bickering back and forth, the two walked out of sight.
Law turned his attention to the rest of the group. "I need someone to go to Goa and collect some medicine supplies. Does anyone have a paper and a pen?"
"I can do it. I need to take a breather, anyways," Sabo volunteered. "But… I don't have any money."
"I do, so I'll accompany you," said Benn. "What supplies do you need, Law-kun?"
The preteen finished scribbling the list on the paper given to him by Dogra and extended it to Benn.
"Alright." The pirate took the list. "Let's go, Sabo."
"Thanks, uh, mister…?" The boy looked up at the adult in question as they walked in the different direction than Shanks and Luffy.
Benn chuckled. "Name's Benn Beckman, the first mate of the Red-Hair pirates."
Sabo's eyes almost popped out of their sockets. "You're a pirate?!" he exclaimed in awe.
"That I am," the man confirmed, grinning.
Law glanced back into the room again. "The rest of you will have to help me clean the room before Luffy and Sabo come back."
Sabo was absolutely shocked.
Benn and he were walking along the street in the Goa Kingdom towards their destination. The whole city was eerily silent. There was no sound of people chattering, no random barking of dogs or mewing of cats, not even chirping of birds. It was completely silent, almost like every living being just up and vanished leaving behind an empty ghost town.
But bodies were sprawled all over the place. Sabo knew that they were alive, he got knocked out like that himself. Although, he pondered how come he woke up so quickly and these people were still out of it even after a couple of hours.
"So, all that is Luffy's doing?" Sabo asked in disbelief of the man walking next to him.
"Yeah," Benn answered, taking a drag of his cigarette. "The village on the other side of the island is in the same condition."
The first mate of the Red-Hair pirates was actually quite surprised to see that the whole Goa Kingdom succumbed to the little kid's Conqueror's Haki. The blast was so much more powerful that he'd imagined at first. Even his captain probably wouldn't be able to knock out so many people at once, Benn mused, and in such an enormous territory.
An amused smirk appeared on the pirate's lips. "That kid is extraordinary," he said more to himself than to Sabo, a slight awe underlying his voice. "I'm interested to see what future he'll bring to us."
The blonde frowned, but then he noticed a pharmacy they'd been walking to. He smiled and skipped forward, eager to collect medicine for his best friend. "This way, Benn-san!"
Ace woke up in the late evening.
At first, he was extremely confused, staring at the shadowed wooden ceiling above him and unable to remember where he was or even what happened to him. Ace grimaced, willing his brain to recall anything. A memory of the pirate, Bluejam, grinning at him smugly and leveling a pistol at him slowly slipped back in, and his body tensed, fight or flee instinct kicking in.
Ace shot into a sitting position and instantly almost blacked out as pain surged throughout his body.
Ace registered several alarmed voices ringing from both his sides. As the pain subsided, he blinked several times, clearing his vision, and looked around. He was in an empty dark room, illuminated only by a couple of oil lamps, casting strange shadows on the walls. Sabo was sitting at his right. Behind him, Ace noticed Corazon slumped in the corner. From the position of the man's head and closed eyes, it was obvious that he was sleeping.
"Ace, are you alright?"
The question drew his attention to his left side where he met obsidian orbs of that annoying little brat as the latter stared at him, a small frown pulling his eyebrows together. He seemed scared, uncertain, and concerned. For him, Ace realized with a start.
"You should drink," Bepo said to Ace, shoving a glass of water for him to take. "Law said that you'll need to drink a lot, because you lost a lot of blood."
The freckled boy took the glass and gulped it down, thankful for the water as it did a miracle to his sore and dry throat. "What happened?" he finally spoke for the first time, giving the glass back to the bear. "Where am I?"
"Back at Dadan's," Sabo replied. "Ace, you… you almost died. You–" his voice cracked and tears appeared in his bright blue eyes. "You got shot… and if not for Luffy and Law, you'd be dead!" Tears now were rolling down his cheeks, and the blonde angrily tried to whip them away.
Ace just stared at his friend, his brain drawing a blank, because Sabo was crying. He'd never seen him cry, ever.
"What were you thinking, idiot?" It was supposed to be an angry question, but Sabo almost whispered it out, unable to keep his voice from shaking. "I know that you don't see me as your friend anymore, but–"
Ace paled, feeling those words like a stab directly into his heart. "I'm sorry!" he blurted in a hurry, interrupting his friend. "I'm sorry," he repeated softly once he caught the gaze of Sabo and held it. "I shouldn't have said all that. You're my friend. The best friend. Nothing could change that."
There was a sound of a choked sob at his left. Ace turned and glowered at Luffy who was sobbing under his oversized straw hat. "Ah, stop it! I hate crybabies like that!" he suddenly yelled as his temper flared. But as soon as his words left his mouth, Ace felt like a complete scumbag. These boys were worried sick for him, even he could see that.
Sabo simply laughed, brushing last tears from his eyes. "Yeah, you would hate that."
Luffy, though, flinched from his words. He lowered his head so that the shadow from the hat would hide his face fully and sniffled. "Hate me if you want," he said, just loud enough for them to hear, "but please don't die. Please, Ace… I want you to live."
Bepo who was sitting next to the youngest suddenly pulled him into a hug. Luffy wound his arms around the bear, snuggling closer for the so needed comfort.
Those words felt like a punch to Ace's gut. After all that he put that kid through, Luffy still bore absolutely no ill will towards him. He felt like an even bigger scumbag, although, he couldn't stop the pleased feeling to wash over him from hearing such words.
"Well, I'm alive, aren't I?" Ace pointed out softly, the usual heat from his words and eyes gone without a trace.
"An inch to the leftand you wouldn't be here."
Law's voice startled Ace and he glanced at the door to see preteen standing there with a bunch of blankets in his arms. "What do you mean?"
Law closed the door and quickly walked over to him. "This," he said, extending his hand as if giving something.
The freckled raven frowned and held his hand out. A small, but rather heavy, slightly deformed lead ball fell into his palm. "What's this?" he asked, narrowing his eyes at the ball.
"The bullet from your chest," the preteen deadpanned, crossing the room and putting one blanket over sleeping form of Corazon.
Ace stared at the ball, words 'An inch to the left and you wouldn't be here' echoing in his mind. His other hand unconsciously drifted to his chest.
Law noticed that as he passed his bedding. "It will probably leave a scar," he informed dryly, then crouched down beside Bepo and asked quietly, "Luffy fell asleep?" The cub nodded, causing the preteen smile. "Exhausted himself completely, little idiot," he murmured, covering the younger boy with a blanket. "You should sleep too, Bepo."
Ace was still staring at the bullet in his palm. Suddenly another hand landed on it breaking the line of sight. The boy looked up and blinked at his best friend.
"I was asking how're you feeling?" Sabo repeated.
"Let me see your wound," Law requested, coming around Ace's bed and dropping a blanket on Sabo's head, eliciting an annoyed 'Oi!' from him.
Ace's temper flared again, but this time he squished it, keeping his mouth shut as the preteen leaned closer to check on him. "Why is Corazon here?" he inquired instead.
Law hummed under his breath, busy with a check-up, and it was Sabo who replied, "Cora-san was also worried."
"Why would that man be worried about me?"
Sabo shot him an incredulous stare, the question 'Are you really that stupid?' written in his blue eyes.
Law chuckled as he finished and leaned away. "Cora-san worries about everybody," he said, glancing briefly at the tall blonde. "His heart is too big for his own good. Are you hungry?"
Ace started at such a sudden topic change. "Not really."
The preteen nodded and pulled closer a tray with various medicine supplies and a jug of water. He took several different pills, filled the glass with water and offered both to the injured boy. "Take this and go to sleep."
Ace grimaced but didn't object. He threw pills into his mouth and washed it down with the water. Then he lay down, feeling bone-deep fatigue gnawing at every inch of his body.
Satisfied, Law turned to Sabo. "You, too."
"You really like to boss us around…" the blonde grumbled, narrowing his eyes at the preteen. He hadn't even imagined that the latter had such a 'mother hen' mode.
Law plucked one of the several pillows from Ace's bedding. "I'm the eldest," he deadpanned, throwing the pillow at Sabo. It smacked right into his face, and the preteen smirked in victory. The blond boy glared at him, opened his mouth to retort something, but Law added, "And a doctor. It was an exhaustive day for everyone, we need to rest."
Sabo's mouth clamped up. That was a fair reasoning he couldn't challenge. "Fine!" The blonde pushed the pillow on the floor and collapsed on it with the tired 'oof', cocooning himself into the blanket. "Hey, Law?"
"M?" the preteen hummed in reply, draping his own blanket over his shoulders.
"For saving Ace."
Law looked at him and just stared for a bit. Finally, he sighed and muttered, "Just sleep, idiot."
Sabo simply grinned at him.
Corazon was sulking.
Earlier this morning he actually got a smack from Law for trying to lit a cigarette in the room where Ace was sleeping, and then had been scolded for smoking altogether. He was too dazed to object. It melted Corazon's heart that his boy cared so much about him, but he wanted a smoke, dammit!
So when Ace opened his eyes that morning, that's how he found the man – still sulking and chewing on a carrot, of all things, as he perused something on the newspaper.
"Good morning, Ace," Corazon greeted, putting newspaper at the side and flashing one of those crazily wide grins of his.
The boy scanned the room. Luffy and Bepo were still sleeping at the same spot as yesterday, yet Sabo and Law were missing. "Where's Sabo?" he asked.
"Sabo went to find something for you to eat," the blonde informed. "And I sent Law to sleep. He stayed up all night to make sure you were okay."
Ace frowned. He fiddled with the corner of this blanket before finally asking, "Corazon?"
Truthfully, Ace was a bit scared of asking. He never admitted it out loud or showed it in any way, but he thought that Corazon was rather a cool guy for an adult. The raven didn't trust grown-ups, because even Dadan, his supposed caretaker, called him 'a demon'. He actually really preferred not hear that from this man, but he needed to know. With a sigh, steeling himself for any kind of answer, Ace put forward a question.
"What would you say if you met the Gold Roger's son?"
Corazon blinked owlishly, completely baffled by such strange and random question. "Uh…" He scratched the back of his head, a bit unnerved by the intensity of the stare he was receiving from the kid. "What I would say if I met… Probably, 'hello'."
Ace recoiled from surprise. "…What? 'Hello'?" he echoed in absolute disbelief. "You would say 'Hello' to the son of Gold Roger?"
"Well, isn't that what people say when they meet each other?" Corazon answered, smiling again.
Ace simply gawked at him, shocked into silence. He pondered on what was wrong with this man. As much as he wanted to believe that Corazon was mocking or tricking him, he could see only pure honesty on his face.
"What would you say to him?" the blonde wondered in return.
"That he is a child of the devil who didn't deserve to live and it would have been better if he hadn't been born in the first place," Ace recited without skipping a beat.
A deep scowl creased Corazon's face, anger flaring in his eyes. "And why would you say that?! You can't tell such things to a person you don't know!"
"He's the son of Gold Roger!"
"So?" When Corazon didn't hear any arguments, he sighed. His thoughts veered towards his own parents and brother. "Look, Ace," he started. "Sometimes a very bad person can be born from very gentle and loving parents. And sometimes an extremely good person can be a child born from a devil." He paused. "What we do, how we do it and what choices we make, that's what defines us, not our parentage."
Ace didn't reply anything. He stared intently at the wall in front of him, as if the answers he was looking for were, somehow, written there. A soft shuffling drew his attention to the left.
A disheveled mop of black popped from under the blanket, and Luffy blearily looked around. "Ace…?" he mumbled while lazily rubbing his eye.
"Good morning, Luffy," Corazon greeted him.
"Mornin'…" the boy slurred, still too drowsy. "Is Ace okay?"
Ace's shoulders relaxed in defeat. His wall which he'd build to protect himself cracked and crumbled as Luffy's words from yesterday emerged in his mind: 'Hate me if you want, but please don't die. Please, Ace… I want you to live.' These people were crazy and strange, but Ace suddenly felt safe and needed.
Ace swiftly slipped a hand under his pillow and grabbed a bullet Law gave him yesterday. It would work as a reminder for him that his life actually mattered, regardless what the rest of the world had been telling him all this time.
"Ace, are you okay?" Luffy repeated, once his gaze focused on the older raven.
Ace folded his arms in front of his chest. "I'm fine," he huffed. "Ask me that again and I'm gonna punch you."
The grin he received from the kid was so impossibly bright that it made the sun appear bleak and dim.
Ace was a patient person and was able to sit calmly in one place if he wanted to. Or when a creepy teen-doctor said so.
It was the evening of the second day after Ace had been shot. He was feeling just fine! But Law ordered not to overstrain, said it was his honor as a doctor to keep the patient from hurting himself and threatened to hide his head if he wouldn't listen. Both Ace and Sabo laughed at that.
They were so naïve.
Law immediately suggested showing them a demonstration. Luffy, of course, volunteered.
To put it mildly, the boys certainly hadn't appreciated the sight of evilly smirking Law with maniacally laughing Luffy's head in his hand while his headless body was running around and bumping into trees.
So, Ace was patient and listened to his doctor's orders while the others went into the forest to collect firewood and hunt. Corazon was left behind to look after him.
Earlier that day, Sabo told Ace everything what had happened, what Luffy did after he had been shot, and about two pirates who helped them. He was shocked, to say the least, once he learned that Luffy knocked the whole island unconscious. Soon after that, Shanks visited their place to see how the brats were doing. To celebrate Ace's ongoing recovery, they had decided to have a night out and camp outside.
That's what they were doing now. Once the boys were back with enough firewood to last them a whole winter and maybe enough meat to feed Luffy and the rest of them, no time was wasted to start a feast. They didn't even wait for Shanks.
As everything had already been eaten and the bonfire was dancing merrily, the boys settled in their beddings for story time. Luffy was seated in the middle, Ace at his right and Law at his left with Sabo and Bepo at their other sides respectively. Corazon was right in front of them across the bonfire.
"I hope we're not intruding," a female voice suddenly spoke from the darkness of the forest, and shortly after Makino and Shanks entered the lighted area.
"Sorry for being late." Shanks grinned. "It's all Makino's fault." The woman smacked him playfully for that remark, causing him to grin even wider.
"Makino! Shanks!" Luffy exclaimed, greeting them with a toothy grin. "You've made it!"
The barmaid returned the smile. "Hello, boys, Corazon." She put a wicker basket in front of the kids. "I heard that one of Luffy's friends got hurt, so I've baked some sweets."
Luffy sucked in a drool already accumulating at the corner of his mouth. "Makino's sweets are the best!" he cheered.
"It smells delicious!" Sabo agreed.
The kids leaned forward, eagerly peeking inside as Ace uncovered the content. There was a lot of 'ooh' and 'ahh' for the next minute as they all marveled at the different shapes and icing of the cookies.
The moment they were ready to dig in, a stern "Boys!" stopped them. Five pairs of confused eyes looked up to stare at their blond guardian.
"What do you need to say first?"
The adults could literally see question marks appear above the kids' heads.
"Time to eat?" Luffy tried, cocking his head to the side.
Shanks burst into laughter, and Makino giggled beside him. "No, Luffy," she said. "You need to say 'thank you'."
"Oh." The straw-hatted boy paused. "Ooooh," he drawled as understanding finally dawned on him. He grinned from ear to ear. "Thanks, Makino!"
Slightly embarrassed, Law mumbled, "Thank you, Makino-ya."
Bepo bowed his head. "Thank you… and sorry!"
Sabo sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck with a smile on his face. "Thank you!"
"Thanks…" Ace muttered, not even looking at the woman.
And then for the next half an hour there was only sounds of munching, and crunching, and slapping Luffy's rubbery appendages away.
When all cookies had been eaten, Luffy giggled all of a sudden. "Ne, Shanks," he said with his usual sunny grin. "Tell us a story about Gold Roger!"
The pleased expression on Ace's features instantly transformed into a grimace. He started to stand up, but rubbery arms suddenly wrapped around his middle and yanked him down.
"No!" Luffy said before the older boy could even open his mouth to shout at him. "You'll sit and listen how awesome your dad is!"
Shanks' eyes widened at Luffy's words for a moment, and then he smiled fondly at the raven. They all heard of the search arranged by the World Government, of so many babies killed or vanishing without a trace. It was a real miracle to meet his captain's son alive and well.
Corazon choked on the smoke of his cigarette the moment those words sunk into his mind. Now it was clear why Ace asked that question in the morning, though, recalling the boy's own answer to the same question broke the man's heart.
"I don't want to!" Ace yelled and bonked Luffy on his head. "And don't shout who my father is so loud, dumbass!"
"I don't see you screaming who your own father is! Now, get off of me!"
Luffy blinked at him. "Shishishishi," he snickered quietly and then loudly announced, "My dad is the Revolutionary Dragon!"
Corazon choked again, this time on the sake he decided to drink to ease the slight discomfort in his throat from the previous news, while Shanks simply bellowed with laughter.
"Who's Dragon?" Bepo whispered to Law.
Law thought for a moment. "I think I heard him being called 'The most wanted person in the world'," he replied.
The bear's black rimmed lips formed 'O' as he glanced at his youngest friend.
"Ace, I was a cabin boy on Roger's ship," Shanks told him, and the boy stilled, looking at him with a mix of surprise, curiosity, and hate. "Rouge, right? Your mother's name."
"You knew my mother?"
"Yeah," Shanks answered. "She was a very kind and loving woman. The story behind how we met her is not known to many. Want to hear it?"
Ace was curious about his mother, but agreeing meant that he would need to hear how his father met her and he didn't want to hear anything about him. But this pirate might be his only chance to hear anything about her from a person who actually knew her…
Ace felt his head spin from trying to decide on what to say. He was saved from it when Shanks started his story without waiting for his assent.
"We were sailing across the Grand Line, trying to reach the next island when a sudden storm caught us by surprise. While storms on the Grand Line are usually fierce and sudden, this one was definitely on the different level. Roger and Rayleigh, the first mate of Roger pirates, decided that… "
Ace simply relaxed in his sitting position, listening intently, with Luffy still wrapped around him. The straw-hatted boy let out a silent giggle and Ace absentmindedly hit him over his head again, shushing him.
The story went for a couple of hours. No one even noticed how Shanks from Rouge jumped to telling them about the adventures they had. At some point, Makino ended up nestling up against the pirate, her head on his shoulder while his arm rested on her back.
Luffy was the first one to fall asleep. He was still hugging Ace, but his arms had shrunk into their normal length sometime during the story.
Bepo was the second, soon followed by Law who used him as his pillow.
Sabo was nodding repeatedly from drowsiness, trying to stay awake, but finally succumbed to the sleep, slumping on Ace's shoulder.
Ace was still awake and alert. He was so engrossed in listening to the story, that he hadn't even noticed others dozing off. He stared wide-eyed at Shanks because Roger just now managed to beat his opponent and free his crew.
"And then?" he asked, eagerness shining in his whole presence.
Shanks smiled. "I was hurt but tried to put a brave face. Captain saw through my lies, simply scooped me up and carried me to the ship princess style. It was so embarrassing! But after all that we had had the biggest party ever!"
Ace grinned. At that moment, Sabo slid from his shoulder and fell into his bedding with a loud snore. The freckled raven looked at one side, then at another. "When did they all fall asleep?"
The adults burst into laughter, causing the boy glower at them.
"You should go to sleep too, Ace," Corazon urged softly.
Now, that he thought about it, Ace felt tired. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. "Yeah, sleep sounds good right about now…" he agreed, untangling Luffy off himself and laying down.
Makino was smiling at the kids. "They are so cute…" she whispered as Ace's breath evened out, indicating him also falling asleep.
"Dahahahaha! Those little monsters?" Shanks asked teasingly and received an elbow to his side.
"Shhh!" Corazon shushed him. "Calm." He snapped his fingers over the sleeping boys, enveloping them in an invisible sound-proof bubble.
"But, really, Corazon, I praise your bravery for deciding to become a father to these kids," the pirate said, opening his sake bottle he just now had a chance to start drinking.
The blonde blushed, suddenly embarrassed. "I'm… I didn't become their father! I'm just looking after them!"
"Yeah, and it's called becoming a parent," Shanks argued.
"I think you'll be a great father to them," Makino added.
Corazon's blush intensified. His gaze darted to the boys and he sighed. "No, no, I don't think the kids would ever think of me like that."
"If you ever need help, Corazon, you know where to find me," Makino offered.
"Thank you, Makino."
"Well, I also don't envy you. With two Ds among them…" the redhead drawled amused. "You'll have your hands full."
"Three Ds among them," Corazon specified with a sigh. "Law is also one of them."
"Oh?" Shanks glanced at the eldest and laughed again. "As I said – don't envy you."
The blonde's eyebrows furrowed slightly. "They are good kids."
"I don't doubt that, but do you know the saying about the D? 'D will surely bring a storm upon the world'. With three Ds at one place, especially with Luffy among them," he motioned at the youngest who, at this point, managed to snuggle back up to Ace's side, "they'll stir the biggest storm ever seen in this world, for better or for worse. Be ready for that, papa Corazon," Shanks finished with a teasing smirk and mischievous sparks twinkling in his eyes.
Corazon's tattooed face instantly flushed bright pink again.
"I think you'd make a good father, too, Shanks," Makino said, tilting her head slightly and peering straight into the pirate's eyes with a small smile.
"Oh, really?" Shanks replied, looking at her. "Well, my dear lady, you'd make a wonderful mother yourself."
The barmaid's smile grew wider and she leaned forward to catch the man's lips with her own.
Corazon awkwardly turned his gaze from the couple and chose better to watch the sleeping kids. Luffy had shifted in his position and now was lying on his stomach with both arms draped over the other boys almost protectively.
With everything those kids had gone through, Corazon didn't have any illusions on being called a father by them. It was enough for him to be their friend and simply look after them when needed. They were pretty self-dependent, after all.
Corazon chuckled thinking that it was rather funny how he, the former top executive of Donquixote Pirates, known for his hatred for children, ended up raising a whole five of them.
Life was full of irony.
Shanks and Yasopp traversed through the forest in a hurry.
It had been a few days after the captain of the Red-Hair pirates spent the night with the kids, Corazon, and Makino at the bonfire. He had planned to do some business for a week or longer up North of the East Blue, but due to some unexpected circumstances they'd turned around and came back to Dawn Island.
Shanks needed to find Luffy as soon as possible.
Two pirates entered the small clearing and stopped, their gazes falling on three of the five kids. Sabo and Bepo were sitting on the ground, blindfolded, while Ace whacked them with a wooden stick.
Shanks smiled in amusement. "Haki training, huh?"
Ace looked up at the direction of a sudden voice. Sabo lifted a blindfold from one of his eyes and peeked at the men. "Shanks-san? What are you doing here so soon?"
"I'm looking for Luffy."
A loud creak drew everyone's attention to the other side of the clearing. One of the Mt. Colubo trees suddenly toppled over and tumbled down, scattering a flock of birds and shaking the earth.
A familiar merry laughter rang from the forest and soon two boys appeared in the clearing.
"Almost got it, Traffy!" Luffy cheered, putting his hands behind his head nonchalantly.
Law's mouth twitched into a smirk. "Yeah, thanks to you."
"Shishishishi." The straw-hatted boy noticed the pirates and came to a halt. His eyebrows drew into a frown as though sensing something bad, and his arms fell back at his sides. "Shanks?"
"Luffy, I bring news."
"What kind of news?"
"Your little outburst caught the World Government's attention," Shanks told him, his tone serious. "They are sending a team to investigate the reason behind the incident."
Luffy's eyes widened as the realization settled in. "How bad?" he inquired in a hushed voice.
"We spotted a ship half a day from here with a Cipher Pol's sails," Yasopp informed, speaking for the first time.
The youngest bit his lower lip. "Crap," he muttered. "Which number is coming?"
Luffy visibly relaxed. "At least it's not Zero or Nine," he exhaled with a sigh.
"It's probably the nearest Cipher Pol's team they had," the redhead mused loudly.
The other boys could only stare at the exchange as they had no idea what the pirates were talking with their friend.
"What's a Cipher Pol?" Sabo asked.
"It's an Intelligence Agency, working directly under the employ of the World Government," Shanks explained.
"They are bad news," Luffy mumbled, already berating himself for losing control like that. He stared at Ace, making him shift on his feet uncomfortably. "If they find us, they might found out who Ace and I are." His gaze jumped on the eldest boy. "Not to mention, that we can't let them see Cora-san or Traffy," he said and Law frowned, understanding the implication of those words.
"You should all leave the island for a while," Shanks suggested. "If need be, I'll take responsibility for what happened here."
Luffy was startled by his words and he whipped his head instantly to stare at his friend with frightened and concerned eyes.
Shanks only grinned at him. "I meant it when I said that the Red-Hair pirates will be your ally, our chibi Pirate King." He reached to ruffle the boy's hair, the latter's straw hat hanging on a rope around his neck. "And allies always help each other in trouble."
Luffy beamed at him. "Thanks, Shanks! You're the best!"
"Dahahahaha! Of course, I am!"
"You should decide where you'll go quickly," Yasopp urged. "You have less than an hour to leave before they'll be too close for you to go unnoticed."
"Oh, I know where we'll go. It's not too far from here, but far enough that they wouldn't come investigating." The straw-hatted boy smirked. "The Syrup Village!"
The sniper blinked a few times before squeezing out a surprised, "Eh?"
"Dahahahaha!" the redhead burst into laughter again, clapping his crewmate over his shoulder. "Aren't you a lucky bastard? Alright, Luffy. We'll come as soon as those Government's dogs leave."
Luffy grinned wide and bright. "I bet Usopp will be thrilled to see his dad!"
Chapter 8: VII. Starting today… We're brothers!
"Starting today… We're brothers!"
A middle-sized, unexceptional fishing boat was peacefully rocking on the calm surface of the East Blue. It had a mast and a sail but the latter was currently rolled-up, so the boat wasn't going anywhere.
"Ha!" Ace exclaimed triumphantly as he smacked the last card on the boat's floor. "I won!"
Law rolled his eyes and put his last two cards down, then glanced at Luffy and sniggered.
The youngest struggled to hold a bunch of cards in his small hands as he studied them with an intent frown. "I still don't get this game…" he mumbled after a moment.
Corazon put his newspaper at the side and shifted his position to sit behind Luffy. Then he lifted the boy and placed him in his lap. Luffy looked up in confusion and the blonde smiled at him. "We can play together," he suggested and the boy beamed at him.
"Luffy," Bepo called from another side of the boat, where he was sitting next to Sabo with a thick book leaned against their bent legs. "How did you manage to travel to the North Blue?"
Luffy cocked his head to the side, confused. "What do you mean?"
"According to this world map, it's on the other side of the Red Line and there is no access to it from the East Blue," Sabo explained.
"Ah! Kinto-un got me there," the youngest replied with a grin. "We crossed the Calm Belt to the Grand Line, and then I hid in his mouth and – woosh," he suddenly made a quick motion down with his hand, "we passed by the Fishman Island," Luffy jerked his hand up, "emerged on the other side and crossed the Calm Belt again into the North Blue."
Everyone was staring at him. Law frowned before asking, "Hid in his mouth?"
"Wasn't it… strange? In there?" Sabo inquired.
"Shishishishi! Nope! Not like it was my first time," Luffy declared proudly. "One time I accidentally got stuck inside this huuuuge snake. I thought I was in the mystery cave! But we found so much gold in there!" he recalled, giddy with excitement. "Or that time when I had to hide inside the shark, but that was all part of the plan to save the king! Oh, oh! Can't forget that time when we got swallowed by–"
"Okay, okay! We got it!" Sabo interrupted his happy ramble. "Your imagination is amazing as always," he added quietly with a resigned sigh.
"And you weren't concerned that he would just eat you?" Ace asked.
Luffy shot him an incredulous stare. "Of course not! Kinto-un is my pet and my friend!"
At that moment, the sea surface broke and the Sea King rose from the depths, his crimson eyes immediately landing on the boat and its passengers. Ace and Sabo both stiffened, not yet used by the presence of such being, especially Ace who had been introduced to Luffy's special friend only a few hours ago.
The rubber boy jumped from Corazon's lap and grinned at the Sea King. "Right, Kinto-un? We're friends!"
The Sea King suddenly bared his teeth: his nose crinkled as he pulled his upper lip up and his lower lip stuck forward, completely exposing his menacing rows of sharp teeth.
Corazon's and the boys' eyes widened and they scrambled to their feet, going into defensive positions in an instant.
Luffy, however, stared at his friend with sparkles in his eyes. "Ooooooh!" he exclaimed in awe. "You've been practicing your smile! Good job!"
"S-S-Smile?" Sabo stuttered out in shock.
"I bet you can get more friends now!" the straw-hatted boy stated and burst into merry laughter. The rest of them gawked at him like he'd just go completely bonkers.
Ace narrowed his eyes at the Kinto-un. "Is that… a human's arm?" he asked, pointing at a spot in the Sea King's 'smile'.
"Hm?" Luffy also looked more careful. There really was something lodged in between the beast's teeth. "Come here, boy," he said to Kinto-un, motioning to him to lean closer. After a short struggle, he yanked the thing out and stared at it dumbly.
It really was a human arm, now only bare bones with some flesh still hanging from it, wrapped in dirty white cloth.
Luffy scrunched his face in disgust before grumbling, "I think it's the guy from that time. Such a persistent jerk!" He tossed the arm into the water with an irked, "Hmpf!"
"The guy from that time?" Corazon mumbled, frowning in thought. He winced as events on the Minion Island came into his mind. Luffy's casual order, 'Hey, Kinto-un, can you eat that guy for me, please? He's a jerk,' rang in his head and the blonde glanced at Law. The preteen seemed tense and his face was paler than usual. Corazon put a hand on his head to get his attention and then smiled at him. The boy smiled weakly in return.
After Luffy told Kinto-un to proceed towards Gecko Islands where Syrup Village was located, he declared that he was going to take a nap and decided that the best spot for that was leaning on Law's side. None of them commented on that, knowing well how touchy-feely the youngest was.
Law himself didn't say a word against it. The feeling of Luffy sleeping at his side brought a comfortable sense of safety and he reveled in its warmth.
Everyone perked up at the shout of Luffy who was sitting on top of Kinto-un's muzzle as the Sea King pulled their boat. They could hear an excited laugh from up there, when suddenly hands latched onto the Sea King's head fin and Luffy flew over it. He ran along the beast's neck, his arms stretching behind him.
"I'm going on ahead!" Luffy exclaimed with a wide grin as he pushed himself off of Kinto-un and into an air, stretching his arms even more and sending himself further back.
"Wait, Luffy!" Corazon yelled, jumping to his feet. The rubbery appendages snapped back and catapulted madly cackling boy towards the island. "Damn brat never listens!" the blonde fumed. "I told him not to run off like that!"
"He'll be fine," Bepo said.
Corazon wasn't assured by that. "What if he falls into the sea?!"
"I see a cloud of dust rising from the island," Sabo informed, lowering the binoculars down. "Luffy landed successfully." He paused. "He might have destroyed a part of the forest with his landing, though."
"What if someone tries to bully him?!"
Four boys looked at the adult like he suddenly grew a second head. Ace snorted, "I pity whoever would try that."
"But what if–"
Law rolled his eyes, slightly irritated, but at the same time pleased by their guardian's concern. "Don't be stupid, Cora-san, that kid is stronger than all of us added together," he deadpanned.
The boys nodded, even Ace who had already accepted the fact that Luffy was far stronger than him. The others told him about Haki and he was aware that Luffy mastered all three forms of it, although no one knew how he managed to do it. Luffy himself told them that it could take a decade to fully master Haki. If asked, he always had spun such an incredible story about how he'd already trained for almost two decades which was, of course, complete and utter nonsense, because the boy was just a few months shy from seven years old.
Luffy also did physical training many times harder than any of them. When they all would collapse from exhaustion, the youngest would cast the rest four boys a strange sad look and he'd force himself to stand up and train even more. His conviction and willpower to achieve his goals were immeasurable and, honestly, frightening.
Corazon's shoulders slumped in surrender. "Yeah, you're right." He heaved a long, deep sigh. "Raising kids is more stressful than being undercover…" he muttered under his breath.
The boat stopped, and Kinto-un let go of the rope, turned around and huffed softly, indicating that they had arrived.
"Thanks, Kinto-un! We'll be fine from here," Sabo said with a grin. It faltered, and he went rigid as the Sea King smiled back before diving into the water.
"Well, that will take some time to get used to," Law commented, lightly shaking his head with a small amused smirk on his face.
"No kidding," Ace grumbled. "I still can't believe that Luffy has a pet Sea King."
Corazon sighed, rubbing the back of his head. "I think we need to tell Luffy not to teach Kinto-un weird things."
A reply came in a chorus of voices: "Agreed!"
Luffy stood up and casually dusted himself off, not even glancing at the path with broken trees his rough landing had caused. He put the straw hat on his head and a wide, excited grin slowly stretched under it.
"Now, where is Usopp?" the boy mumbled, spreading his Observation Haki to cover the whole village and its outskirts. He sighed in disappointment when like the rest of his nakama he couldn't recognize current Usopp's life signature.
Shrugging nonchalantly and with the thought that eventually he was bound to bump into his long-nosed sniper, Luffy ran to the village. He wandered around for a while, when suddenly an idea popped in his head and he rushed towards his new destination.
Luffy reached the lone house on the hill at the outskirts of the Syrup Village and barged in without even knocking. As the door slammed open with a loud bang, it shook the whole house and the boy laughed.
"Usopp, is that you?"
A soft, female voice from another room made Luffy pause. He didn't remember anyone living with his friend unless it was… He gasped when the realization who exactly it was hit him and the young Pirate King couldn't fight a gigantic grin from splitting his face in two.
A woman appeared in the doorway and stopped, looking at the unfamiliar kid in her kitchen with confusion. One glance at her and Luffy didn't have any doubt of her identity. "Hey, oba-chan!" he exclaimed cheerily. "You're Usopp's mom, right?"
The black-haired woman with a distinctive long nose blinked at him. "That's right," she replied. "And who you might be?"
"I'm Luffy, Usopp's friend!"
Banchina smiled warmly at the exuberant child, her pale face brightening up. "Usopp's friend? He never told me that he found a friend," she said. "I don't remember seeing you in our village before."
"I came from another island to visit Usopp, but I can't find him."
"Ah, he's running around somewhere. Such a lively boy," the woman huffed, but that affectionate smile was still present. "Wait. If you're from another island, how did you befriend my son?"
"Yasopp told me about him," Luffy said. "And I decided that we'll be friends!"
Banchina started from his words and her eyes widened. "You know my husband?"
"Yep! I met Shanks and his crew not long ago."
"Can you tell me more while you're waiting for Usopp?" the woman asked, crossing the kitchen and opening one of the cupboards. "Would you like some tea or cocoa?"
Luffy beamed. With a joyful "Sure!" he immediately bounced to sit at the table.
Corazon scanned the small village in front of him, while taking a puff of his cigarette. "I guess it leaves us two to find an inn here," he said, glancing down at the freckled boy next to him.
Law left them as soon as the boat was safely dragged on the shore to find Luffy. When they reached the outskirts of the village, Sabo and Bepo went on their own to see if there was library or bookshop. For some reason, Ace decided to stay back. Corazon wondered if the boy's injury was hurting, because he'd been frowning these past few minutes.
Ace absentmindedly nodded, and the blond sighed. He didn't know how to approach this kid, even if he'd seemed to mellow down considerably after the incident. It felt like dealing with old Law all over again. "Alright then," Corazon mumbled and started walking.
"Coraz–" Ace cut himself off, cleared his throat and spoke again, "Cora-san."
Corazon froze mid-step, a cigarette falling from his suddenly open mouth. He spun around, eyes almost jumping out of their sockets as his heart did a full somersault in his ribcage. There was a fleeting feeling that he'd already experienced something similar once, but he pushed it aside.
Ace instantly grew wary by seeing the shell-shocked expression on the adult's face, folding his arms in subconscious defense. "What?!" he demanded.
The blonde sat on the ground, so that he could be on the kid's eye level. He lifted his trembling hand and pointed at himself. "You– You just called me Cora-san…!"
A deep scowl creased the raven's brow. "So what?!" he snapped. "Others call you that all the time!"
Slowly, a bright elated grin spread across Corazon's tattooed face, his eyes closing in bliss. "I'm so happy!" he stated with the tone full of delight.
Ace glared at the blonde, but then closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Whatever," he muttered, before turning his head to the side and pointedly was not looking at the man as he said, "I just wanted to say thanks. That's all."
Corazon blinked in surprise. "For what?"
The boy peeked at him, uncertainty with a tinge of embarrassment etched on his features, and opened his mouth to say something–
An unexpected loud yell drew their attention to the long-nosed boy who dashed through the village shouting at the top of his lungs.
"PIRATES ARE COMING!"
Ace and Corazon stared after the kid, noticing peeved glares and angry whispers from other villagers following him. "It's a bit early for Shanks to show up," the blonde muttered, standing up.
"PIRATES!" high-pitched screams grew quieter before the boy disappeared over the hill and they couldn't hear him at all.
Corazon and Ace looked at the old man who stopped next to them. "Pay no mind to that boy," he said. "Usopp has been going on about pirates for a few days now. His own father ran off to the sea to become one, and now that his mother has fallen ill, the boy tries to cheer her up. Bah!" The man jerked his hand in a frustrated manner. "Like crying wolf will help her!"
As the villager walked away, grumbling bitterly under his breath, Ace scratched his cheek in thought. "Isn't Usopp the name of that friend Luffy was babbling about?"
"Yeah, I think so," the blonde agreed. "Come, let's find the others and go where that boy lives. Luffy is probably there as well."
The freckled raven only grunted in assent, shoved his hands in pockets and trailed after Corazon.
Usopp slowed his dash a bit as he neared his home. Tears stung his eyes and he blinked rapidly trying to clear them out. When it didn't help, the boy angrily rubbed his eyes, schooling his expression into a happy one with a huge toothy grin on top of it.
Usopp burst into his home with a prepared cry already leaving his mouth even before he fully entered, "Mom! Dad will soon be coming home! Did you– Ooof!" Something – no, someone – suddenly collided with him, sending them both rolling through the dusty path and landing in a heap on the grass across it. The long-nosed boy groaned.
"Shishishishi!" There was a distinctive giggle on top of him and Usopp found himself tackled into a bone-crushing hug. "Usopp! Usopp! Usopp! I missed you so much!"
The long-nosed boy flailed his arms in a vain attempt to free himself from an extremely strong embrace, feeling the last air leaving his lungs. "B-B-Breath…!" he wheezed out.
"Oh! Sorry!" The other person released him from his clutches and Usopp greedily gulped in air. "Shishishishi! I'm just so excited to see you again!"
"Eh?" The boy looked up and blinked in surprise. The kid of the same age as he with the disheveled black mop and a small scar under his left eye was grinning like there was no tomorrow, a straw hat hanging on his back. "Who are you?"
The boy's stood up, plopped his straw hat on his head and his grin shifted into a cocky smirk. "I'm Monkey D. Luffy, the Pirate King!"
"The Pirate King?" Usopp repeated quietly before he sprung on his feet, an excitement rolling from him in waves. "You're a pirate?!"
"The Pirate King? Really?!"
"Does that mean that you've found One Piece?!"
Usopp just stared at the straw-hatted kid in awe with stars in his eyes.
Luffy grinned again. "Ne, Usopp, join my crew!"
That seemed to snap the long-nosed boy out of whatever fascinated trance he had been in. "Your crew?" he asked.
"Yeah," Luffy nodded, all of a sudden a serious air surrounding him. "For the time being, we will be training and getting stronger, so that we could defeat our enemies and protect each other when the time comes. There are a lot of strong guys out there." He paused. "I won't let the same things happen again," he whispered the last sentence as he glared at the distance, a ferocious snarl forming on his face.
Usopp unconsciously stepped back, feeling a chill settling on his shoulders and he shivered. But then Luffy looked back at him and smiled, the curve full of so much warmth, it took his breath away.
"So, what do you say?" the straw-hatted boy asked, his eyes glinted knowingly for a moment. "Will the bravest warrior of the sea join the Pirate King?"
A huge, pleased grin stretched on the other boy's face and he cocked his nose up. "Because you're asking so fervently, this bravest warrior of the sea," he jabbed his finger at his chest for the more dramatic effect, "will join your crew!"
A soft chuckle drew both their attention to the house. Banchina was standing in the doorway, a small smile curled on her lips. "Isn't this great, Usopp? You found such an amazing friend."
"Mom!" Usopp exclaimed, quickly rushing over her. "You shouldn't be up! Doctor said–"
"I know, I know," she waved him off, then patted his head gently causing him to smile at her. "I was just chatting with Luffy-kun. He's such a bright child." Usopp glanced at Luffy, who was again grinning, and wondered if he'd ever gotten cramps because of such a wide grin so often plastered on his face. "Besides, apparently your father might come visit us soon."
"Of course! I told you he'll come!" Usopp stated happily, but then paused, his eyes growing wide. "EEEEEEHHH?!" he shrieked in alarm. "Dad is coming home? When?!"
"Probably in a few days," Luffy replied.
Suddenly Banchina swayed and would have fallen if she hadn't been standing in the doorway as she leaned on it and closed her eyes, waiting for the dizziness to pass.
A cry of angst caused her to look down at her son, and the woman smiled reassuringly. "I'm okay."
A frown on Usopp's face and a concerned gaze showed that he didn't actually believe it, but because he didn't want to bother her with his unnecessary whining, he stayed quiet.
Luffy turned to the side from where the call had come and a bright smile instantly appeared again. He waved lively to his nakama and exclaimed, "Hey, guys!"
Sabo and Bepo waved back, Corazon smiled, while Law and Ace didn't react at all.
Upon seeing Law, an idea suddenly popped into Luffy's head. He glanced at Usopp's mother, then back at the preteen, and grinned. "Oooooi, Traffy! Oi! Oi!"
Law was looking around the rural surroundings as their group neared the little house of Luffy's friend. When he heard the youngest calling him by that annoying nickname, he merely glanced at him and instantly regretted not paying any attention to the little menace. At that moment, a rubbery appendage latched onto his shirt and yanked him forward, sending him soaring through the air at high speed. Law didn't even have a chance to activate his powers to get himself out of this predicament before he crashed into Luffy, and they tumbled down, slid across the field and finally stopped, scattering a cloud of dust.
Luffy promptly burst into laughter. Law jumped to his feet and smashed a fist into the younger raven's head. "You dumbass!" he yelled, frustration seeping out of his voice. "Be more careful!"
"I just wanted to get you here quicker!" Luffy argued, not losing his mirthful expression at all. "You need to check Usopp's mom. She's sick!"
The preteen paused. "Sick?" He shot a glance at the woman standing behind the long-nosed child. "Alright," he sighed, picking up his sword from the ground, propping it against his shoulder and then offering his other hand to the younger boy who was still sitting where he had fallen.
Luffy beamed at his action, grabbed Law's hand, and let himself be pulled up.
"Y-Y-Your arm! W-W-What was that?!" Usopp shouted, now absolutely freaked out by these strangers.
"I'm a rubber man!" Luffy stated proudly, hooking a finger around the edge of his mouth and extending it.
Banchina blinked. "Is that a Devil Fruit?"
The straw-hatted boy released his cheek and it snapped back. "Yep!"
Usopp looked up at his mother. "You know about it, mom?"
"A little," the woman said. "I heard a bit from your father's captain before they left."
"Ne, ne, oba-chan, this is Traffy!" Luffy motioned to the preteen at his side. "He's one of the two best doctors in the world! He's gonna fix you right away!"
"I'll see what I can do," Law responded. Banchina chuckled, and he thought that she was going to refuse to be checked by such a young doctor. To his surprise, the woman simply waved him to go inside and entered herself first. The preteen followed.
"Luffy! How many times I need to tell you not to run off like that!" Corazon scolded as they little group finally came to a stop right next to him.
Luffy grinned. "Sorry, sorry!"
"You don't sound sorry at all," Bepo pointed out, but the youngest simply chuckled happily.
Corazon let out an exasperated sigh. "I give up…" he muttered, his head dropping and his shoulders slumping in surrender.
"His brains probably turned into rubber too after he ate that Devil Fruit," Ace teased with a smirk.
That caused Luffy to burst into full blown laughter. Everyone just stared at him dumbly.
"I don't think he even realized that your words weren't a compliment, Ace," Sabo commented, and the freckled raven's palm instantly met his forehead.
"Cora-san, wait up!"
Corazon stopped and looked over his shoulder. As soon as Law reached him, they started to walk alongside each other.
"So, how's Usopp's mother doing?" the blonde inquired.
"She should be fine, it's just an Arctic disease*. I'm really surprised doctor of this village couldn't identify it, but I guess it's not a common disease in this type of milder climate," Law explained. "It's well known in the North Blue."
Law nodded. "It's a common disease among farmers and field workers, caused by working barefoot outside at night or early morning when the soil and grass are covered by dew. Chilled air enters the body which in turn blocks the veins and disturbs the normal blood circulation and oxygen distribution, leading to hypoxia. If not treated, it can be lethal." He smiled, satisfaction warming his heart, knowing that he was able to help. "So, I massaged the bruises of those blockages, but because I'm not very good in medicine making, I've decided to wait for the arrival of Shanks' crew. Haig-ya definitely has more expertise in that area than I."
Corazon stared at his eldest boy with awe, still a bit dazed from the medical speech the latter had just delivered. Pride slowly blossomed in his chest. "Law, you're so smart!" he praised as an affectionate, almost fatherly grin appeared on his face. "I'm so proud of you!"
The preteen's gaze snapped up to look at his guardian, shock clearly visible in his wide eyes. A faint tinge of red dusted his pale cheeks, and Law ducked his head, his hand coming to tug his hat down at the same time as he mumbled a soft, "Thank you."
They walked in a comfortable silence for a bit, until the preteen spoke again. "I was wondering where you'd all disappeared," he said, eyeing the several bags in the adult's hands. "Have you been shopping?"
"Yeah. Usopp said that there are no inns in this village, so that means we're gonna need to camp out during our stay here," the blonde replied. "Luffy, Ace, and Usopp went to ask Kinto-un for help to catch some food. Sabo and Bepo went to gather firewood, and because growing boys can't survive only on fish and meat, I went to buy vegetables and fruits!" he finished cheerily.
Law rolled his eyes. They had been butting their heads over this particular topic for a few months already. Of course, Luffy boldly declared that meat was the only food he would eat, and it took a lot of coaxing and reasoning from Corazon to make him start eating greenery too. That day, the young doctor was reminded that the goofy blonde really was Doflamingo's blood brother with the dark chuckling, smug expression and an aura of self-satisfaction.
Law shook his head, dispersing that creepy image.
They both came to a halt and turned in unison towards the direction of the scream.
The howl of doom drew closer, and they squinted at the cloud of dust nearing them, trying to see who was wailing so loudly.
Usopp flew past them like the devil itself was on his heels, shrieking at the top of his lungs, leaving only dust scattered behind him.
The boy's scream grew quieter as he moved further and soon his silhouette disappeared over the hill. Law and Corazon stared after him in a sheer bewilderment. They had never seen someone run so fast before.
"What happened?" the blonde asked no one in particular.
The preteen hummed in thought, glancing at the direction from where Usopp came. "You said, that he went with Luffy and Ace to meet Kinto-un, right?" he recalled, suddenly feeling amused by that idea and he sniggered. "I have a sneaking suspicion that Usopp just witnessed Luffy's pet Sea King smiling."
Corazon couldn't help himself – he burst out laughing.
All six boys were sprawled in the shadow of the tree, enjoying the short break. It had been more than a week after the group from Dawn Island came to the Syrup Village, and the boys didn't want to stop their training, so they trained here as well.
When the others informed Usopp about the existence of Haki, he hardly could wrap his mind around its concept. When they told him that Luffy already fully mastered all three forms, it totally blew his mind. When Sabo accounted the incident of Luffy's berserk blast of Conqueror's Haki and the said boy demonstrated other two forms, Usopp's admiration towards his new captain shot through the roof.
He didn't wish to be left even further behind, so he joined them in their arduous training regime, fully determined to become stronger so that he could earnestly pull his own weight in the young Pirate King's crew.
Luffy abruptly sat up from where he was rolling and giggling around in the grass as carefree as the child of his age could get. "This is…" he murmured, before his lips stretched into a D-shaped grin. "Oi, guys, this is Shanks and the gang!" he exclaimed, jumping to his feet and dashing around the tree towards the direction of the sea.
Luffy skidded to a stop at the cliff, his eyes zeroing on the pirate group standing on the shore. "Shanks! Guys!" he cried out happily, leaping from the cliff and landing gracefully on the sand.
"Anchor!" The captain of the Red-Hairs smiled brightly upon seeing the boy. "There you are!"
Luffy eyed his friend carefully with narrowed eyes, his sharp gaze taking in every detail of the man's body and clothes, trying to determine if he had been injured. He couldn't be able to forget himself if anything bad would have happened to Shanks again because of his stupidity and incapability of self-control in a dangerous situation.
The rest of the Red-Hair crew was also put under his heavy scrutiny. The pressure of that look from the child's black orbs making some of them shift uncomfortably.
Satisfied with his observations, Luffy grinned and asked, "Did you chase the dogs away?"
"Dahahahaha! Of course!"
"Nah!" Shanks waved his hand dismissively, but then he paused, stroking his chin in thought. "However, I don't think we can hang around the East Blue for much longer. In a month or two, we'll be leaving for the Grand Line."
The men behind the redhead erupted into triumphant cheers, but Luffy's grin faltered and he adopted a sad expression. Shanks didn't say anything, rather sure that the little Pirate King knew that he was bound to leave sooner or later. The man ruffled the boy's hair, smiling gently down at him.
After a moment, the usual grin returned on the raven's face. "That's right, you need to gain your Yonko title again," he stated cheerfully.
"Yonko?" Shanks and Benn asked together curiously, while others were busy celebrating the news.
"Becoming one of the Yonko, huh?" The red-haired captain stroked his chin, thinking something over. "That does sound appealing."
Luffy flashed a blinding grin, but then he folded his arms in front of him and his smile shifted into a cocky smirk. "But I'm not telling you more. Don't wanna spoil things for you."
Benn chuckled, and Shanks' expression melted into a childish pout.
The pirates looked up at the cliff. A long-nosed boy was standing there, trying to catch his breath, at the same time scanning the crowd for a face he had barely remembered.
Yasopp broke into a huge smile. He pushed his way through his nakama and cried out, "Son!"
Usopp eyes widened upon seeing the man. "Dad!" he exclaimed happily, ready to jump… Suddenly his feet slipped, and with a yelp, he rolled downhill.
"Ah! Usopp!" the blonde sniper yelled in alarm, rushing over to the boy. "Are you okay?! Son?! Talk to me!"
Usopp leaped to his feet like nothing had happened with a wide grin. "Dad! I became a pirate! Just like you!" he declared proudly. "The bravest warrior of the sea!"
"I joined Luffy's crew!"
Yasopp blinked, stunned. He was one who knew about Luffy's situation, been informed by his captain a few days after they boarded the ship. It actually wasn't that hard to believe that the little boy with perfect control of his Conqueror's Haki was from the future. The incident on the Dawn Island whipped off the last remnants of the doubt that he truly was the Pirate King.
The sniper glanced at the said Pirate King and was treated with a blinding smile.
"He's my nakama," Luffy stated simply. "The best sniper in the world."
Yasopp's chest swelled with pride. He patted his boy's head fondly. "That's amazing, Usopp! Daddy is very proud of you!"
Usopp beamed at him.
"I can show you some tricks later. Would you like that?" the blond sniper offered.
Yasopp laughed. "Alright! Let's go meet your mother first and then we'll see what tips I could give you."
"Speaking of his mother…" another voice chimed in and a moment later Law landed smoothly next to the duo. He turned to look at the other men. "Haig-ya, do you know how to create medicine for the Arctic disease?"
"Arctic disease?" The ginger-haired doctor of the Red-Hair Pirates scratched the back of his head thoughtfully. "Yeah, I believe I saw the recipe for that in one of the books. Why?"
"Banchina-ya has it."
Yasopp paled. "What?! Banchina is sick?!"
Law glanced at him. "She'll be fine."
"Did you massage the bruises?" Haig asked. When the preteen nodded in affirmation, the man smiled. "With the medicine, she should make full recovery then," he assured.
Usopp grabbed his father's hand. "Mom is already feeling better," he said and tugged him to start walking. "Come on, dad! She'll be so happy to see you!"
Yasopp shot a glance towards his captain, a question clearly written in his expression.
Shanks smiled. "Go ahead, Yasopp, spend some time with your brat." He waved his hand, shooing his crewmate away.
"Thanks, captain!" the sniper exclaimed. He scooped his son from the ground and plopped him on his shoulders. "Let's go!"
Luffy observed them walking away with a small smile. His eyes flickered at Law and Haig. They were on their way back onto the ship in a small boat the crew used to land. He was pleased with how things were unfolding so far.
"I guess his mother hadn't survived last time."
Luffy looked up to meet the inquisitive gaze of Benn. "No," he replied. "Usopp grew up alone."
"Good job, Anchor," Shanks piped in, grinning.
"Thanks!" The boy thought for a moment. "Hey, Shanks, can you help me train?"
"Eh? I was thinking to get some booze and then have a nice rest."
"You really are just an old man," Luffy pouted.
The redhead's eyebrow twitched. "Didn't you say that you're older than me?"
"What are you talking about?" The young Pirate King smirked teasingly. "I'm not even seven."
"You're such a cheeky brat," Shanks said, roughly ruffling his hair, but there was a fond quirk on his lips. "Alright, come on. I'll play with you for a bit."
The Red-Hair Pirates spent a week on Gecko Island before leaving again to continue their previous business up North. Yasopp spent most of that time with his son, teaching the boy various tricks and giving lots of tips to assure his success as a sniper in the future.
Luffy and the gang left after yet another week, with a promise to come for a visit soon, and, once Banchina was fully healed, to take Usopp with them to the Dawn Island to train together for a while.
-a month later-
"This is it, Anchor. We'll be moving on ahead to the Grand Line."
Luffy grinned under his oversized straw hat. "That's alright," he said, looking strangely tranquil and peaceful despite his bright smiling face. His obsidian orbs flicked past him and onto the Red-Hair crew, zipping up and down the ship's bridge with the last batch of supply crates and barrels.
After a brief moment of staring, the boy looked back at Shanks. "I will recruit my crew of dreamers again and then we'll take the world by storm," he stated as a mere fact, then tilted his head to the side, adopting an astute expression. "And I'll take the title of the Pirate King again," he added nonchalantly as an afterthought.
The redhead captain erupted into a laugh. "Dahahahaha! Can't wait for that, brat!"
"Ne, Shanks, I want to ask something of you."
"Hm? What is it?"
Luffy glanced over his shoulder to Corazon and the other four boys waiting patiently for him. He motioned the pirate to lean closer and began quietly, "Can you…"
Half an hour later Luffy and the gang together with several villagers were waving their goodbyes as the Red-Hairs' ship unmoored from the pier of Foosha Village and started to sail across the bay. When it disappeared over the horizon, the young Pirate King turned around and looked at his soon-to-be-brothers and their caretaker, who were talking between each other. The happiness inside of him threatened to spill over.
Unable to hold it in, with a cheerful "Group hug!" he stretched his rubbery arms around their group and pulling them all into one big heap.
"Argh! Luffy, what are you–?"
"Wait! No! Stop!"
The youngest raven tightened his embrace and chuckled to himself.
"Ew! My mouth is full of fur!"
"Aaaah! Cora-san is on fire!"
"LUFFY, YOU MORON!"
-half a year later-
Luffy was barely containing his excitement. This had to be it! The moment he waited for so long already! He wished to do it right off the bat, but he decided to wait to let the others choose it instead of forcing such an important thing on them.
"What are you laughing about?" Sabo asked, suspiciously eyeing him. "You know something?" Instead of an answer, he received full blown laughter. The blond boy sighed.
Ace grinned. "Just wait till Law comes back, Sabo," he said, not at all surprised that the youngest knew what he was about to propose. In all this time they'd learned just to roll with Luffy's uncanny knowledge and stop questioning it.
Bepo was hovering uncertainly, from time to time glancing at five sakazuki cups on the stump in the middle of the clearing.
Finally, Law strolled out of the forest and promptly raised an eyebrow at the cups. "So, that's why you asked me to take a sake bottle from Cora-san," he decided. "What's the occasion?"
Ace's grin grew wider as he snatched the bottle from the teen's hand. "Did you know," he said, plucking cork out and starting to fill the cups. "If you exchange sake cups, even when you are not related by blood, you can become sworn brothers."
Law's, Sabo's, and Bepo's eyes widened, while Luffy only closed his in bliss, grinning from ear to ear.
"One day, we'll become pirates and no one knows what future has for all of us…" Ace trailed off, his gaze landing on the straw-hatted menace as he finished pouring the sake. "Well, almost no one," he corrected himself, pushing one cup towards Luffy. "But the bond of brotherhood we're going to share will never die." Ace pushed the cup for Sabo who now had a huge smile plastered on his face. Law picked his cup by himself and smirked.
"No matter where we are, or what we do," Luffy continued suddenly, "this is one bond that can never be broken!"
Bepo stared at the sake cup which was offered for him. "B-but I'm not human."
The others blinked in surprise. "It doesn't really matter," Sabo pointed out.
"Yeah!" Luffy agreed. "We don't care about that!"
"It's like they say, it doesn't matter, Bepo," Law also added his two cents. "If we can become brothers with this brute here," he motioned dismissively at Ace, "you don't have to worry about yourself."
Said brute scowled at him. "What's that supposed to mean?!" he demanded, folding his arms and glaring. "You're much worse than me, you creep!"
The teen smirked, his golden eyes shining with mirth. "Well, that's so original."
Ace huffed in indignation.
"Shishishishi," Luffy chuckled. "You guys love each other so much!"
Law visibly faltered, and Ace's cheeks reddened slightly in embarrassment. They had never been good at expressing their emotions, especially fondness and affection.
"I-I don't love him! He's just a creep who soon will become my brother!" Ace spluttered.
"That's what I was talking about!" Luffy exclaimed.
The freckled boy stared at him. "Oh."
The young doctor snorted and was instantly on the receiving end of Ace's intense glare.
Sabo nudged Bepo at his side. "Does it look like anyone cares you're human or not?" he asked. The black-rimmed lips of the bear curved upwards, and the blonde smiled too before facing the others. "Okay, okay, guys, calm down," he urged softly. "Let's do this and when you can kick each other's asses."
Ace pointed at his soon-to-be-brother and a predatory smile appeared on his face. "After this, we hit the training ground. You're going down, Law."
The teen rolled his eyes. "I would like to see you trying, red cheeks."
Ace narrowed his eyes, trying to come up with a new nickname, but came up empty. "Whatever… Let's do this."
They picked up their full sakazuki cups again, glanced at each other and grinned.
"Starting today…" Ace began.
"We're brothers!" they finished in unison.
The brotherhood cups clinked loudly, drops of sake spilling over the edges into the other cups, mixing together and creating the bond strong enough to defy the death and time itself. And then the boys gulped their drinks down, feeling the warmth traveling down into their stomachs and tying the knot of their new bond.
All of a sudden, a shadow fell over them. All five whipped around and froze at the sight of extremely pissed looking Corazon.
"And what do you think you lot are doing here?" he squeezed through the clenched teeth. "Drinking sake at your age?"
An angry and dark voice made the kids wince. Corazon's eyebrow twitched when Luffy and Sabo simply broke into a sheepish smile, Bepo lowered his head, Ace stared at him with defiance, while Law didn't even have the decency to look guilty.
"Oh, you brats–!"
"RUN!" Luffy suddenly squalled at the top of his lungs and instantaneously bolted from his spot, cackling like a madman.
That snapped his new brothers from their daze and, in a blink of an eye, they all fled the clearing.
Corazon eyed now empty spots where his boys had been just a moment ago, knowing too well that it was a lost cause trying to go after any of them. His gaze fell on the sake bottle and he growled, "Damn brats… Don't they know that alcohol is not healthy for them?"
He plopped down on the stump, grabbed the bottle and took a long swig to calm his nerves.
Luffy collected his scattered brothers by using Haki to pinpoint their each exact location. Now they had gathered a safe distance from the clearing and were peeking over the tree at Corazon who was drinking their brotherhood sake.
"Does that mean that he will become our brother too?"
Everyone turned to stare at Bepo dumbly.
"No way!" Ace cried out.
Sabo glanced back at the clearing. "Wow, he's drinking a lot."
"Shishishishi. Maybe he can become our parent!"
Promptly Luffy found himself at the disbelieving stares of four pairs of eyes, then they all looked back at Corazon.
Sabo shrugged noncommittally. "I would have him as my father any day."
"…Me too," Ace confessed quietly, a small frown marring his face.
"I-I… love Cora-san!" Bepo declared.
Amused and slightly surprised, Law chuckled. "Then it's decided," he announced.
Luffy lifted his now empty sakazuki cup which he didn't have a chance to put down. The others mirrored his action, and a moment later another 'clink' sound echoed throughout the forest.
"Who's gonna tell Cora-san the news?" Sabo wondered, highly entertained by an idea of telling the man that he had just become a father of five kids.
Law waved his hand. "Nah, he doesn't need to know."
That made the boys burst out laughing. After it died out, Ace faced Law. "Now we go to our training ground," he said with confidence. "Today I'll beat you, pale butt."
Law narrowed his eyes at the new nickname. "How eloquent," he stated dryly. "For how long have you been staring at my butt to notice what color it is?"
Ace jaw dropped. "It's not– It's not like that!" he stammered, his face heating. "ARGH! I hate you!"
A smirk pulled at the corners of the doctor's mouth. "Of course you do, red cheeks."
Sabo observed them with a dejected expression. "Uh, guys, stop fighting. We're brothers now."
"Yeah!" Luffy agreed with full force. His next words sent shivers down their spines, successfully ending any further bickering. "Let's have a group hug!"
Law, Ace, and Sabo were staring at the Kinto-un, his distinct silhouette standing out in the sunset colored horizon and easily recognizable even from such a great distance. However, the Sea King was far enough already that they couldn't see two smaller forms riding on his head anymore.
"Who wants to bet that Luffy went to meet one more of his nakama who have never seen him before?" Law asked nonchalantly.
Sabo hummed thoughtfully. "I bet it's a female this time."
"Oh?" The teen raised his eyebrow in curiosity. "And why would you think that?"
"He took Bepo with him."
Law blinked, his mind whirring with possibilities. "That's… a fair point," he allowed, then smirked. "I still think it's another guy."
"And I say that they probably just went for a ride," Ace chimed in. "I don't see how Bepo is connected with what you two are saying."
"Alright, three-sided bet then." Sabo grinned. "The winner will be allowed to skip Luffy's group hug sessions for a month."
Both ravens' eyes flashed with a need to win. "Deal!"
*Arctic disease is taken from 'Tales of Demons and Gods' manhua.
Chapter 9: VIII. Join my crew! It will be fun!
Hey, peeps, it's been a while, but I got horrible writer's block in the middle of this chapter and just couldn't finish it, to the point that I even considered deleting a big chunk of this chapter just because I couldn't get any idea how to proceed. And with all the screaming 'plz update!' I panicked, got stressed even more. Constant headache and depression didn't help in this matter either. So, yeah, all this pressure doesn't help, it actually makes worse. I appreciate reviews, of course, but ease the pressure, okay? It would be great.
But, hey, at least this chapter is the longest I've ever written, so enjoy!
"Join my crew! It will be fun!"
(Luffy/Usopp ~7.5, Nami ~8.5, Zoro/Sanji ~9.5, Bepo/Ace/Sabo ~10.5, Law ~14.5 y.o.)
Zoro felt way beyond frustrated. He was absolutely livid – on himself, on Kuina, on his sensei, on the whole world around him.
One thousand five hundred fights. One thousand five hundred losses. How could that be? He trained harder than anyone else, he could even beat grown-ups, but that one girl was like a mountain he was incapable of climbing over, separating the young swordsman from his dream and with every defeat making it appear more and more unreachable.
"Dammit!" Zoro yelled in outrage, punching a random tree in the forest where he ran off to pour out his disappointment at his failure. "Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!" With every punch the tree shook violently, the bark cracking under the assault and its small chips flying to the sides.
"Please, stop that!"
Zoro flinched at the unexpected voice, his fist connecting to the tree one last time before he spun around to look at the speaker, a question already leaving his throat, "Who–?!"
There was an inconspicuous sound of branches rustling above in the canopy of the tree, a loud snore, and suddenly a weight crashed on top of Zoro, sending them both to the ground.
"Ah, too late," the unfamiliar person spoke again, closer this time.
Groaning, the green-haired boy sat up and pushed something – someone – off of him, or tried to because that someone latched onto him like some kind of baby monkey and didn't seem to be thinking about letting him go anytime soon. Zoro looked down at the peacefully sleeping black-haired boy with a straw hat dangling around his neck with a frown.
The kid's nose twitched, sniffing the smell of the other boy. Slowly, a small serene smile grew on his face. "Zoro…" he mumbled under his breath in his sleep.
The young swordsman's expression twisted into a scowl. "Oi," he growled. "Who are you and how do you know me?" He moved to remove the stranger from his person again, but suddenly the kid's hands shot forward and grabbed his t-shirt into a death grip.
"No… Don't…" the boy's silent panicked plea reached Zoro's ears, leaving him dumbfounded. "Not you too… Please…"
"Oh no!" a worried yelp came from the first speaker and a moment later he rushed into view. The green-haired boy froze, his mind going blank at the sight of a talking bear. The latter put a paw on his friend's shoulder and shook it. "Luffy, wake up! It's just a dream!"
Luffy jerked back with a scared, "NO!" tearing from his throat, but then his wide eyes drooped and he slumped in his sitting spot, yawning. "Bepo..?" the boy asked, rubbing his eyes sleepily before showing a lazy smile. "Have you guys come for a visit?"
"We're visiting the island you wanted to come, remember?" the bear reminded softly. "Everyone is safe, don't worry."
Luffy hummed under his breath, his gaze drifting to the side and settling on the gaping green-haired boy. "Zoro!" he cheered, but then blinked in surprise. "Why are you so tiny?"
That woke the swordsman out of his shocked stupor as he spluttered, "I-I'm not tiny!"
The other boy cocked his head to the side. "Have you pissed Bonney off?" he wondered, an amused smirk curling on his lips. "Shishishishi! You should have known better after Sanji did that last time!"
"I have no idea what you're talking about!"
"Luffy, I think you're daydreaming again," Bepo pointed out.
The youngest brother knitted his brow in confusion. "Am I?" he muttered quietly, glancing at his own hand. "Oh, right. I traveled back…" A huge grin split Luffy's face in two and he jumped to his feet. "Yosh! Let's do this!" He nodded to himself, putting his hands on his hips and fixing his past first mate with an intense stare.
Zoro felt those onyx black eyes drilling into him, and he couldn't help but think that he'd never seen such black eyes before. Black as two deep wells, an immense power lurking in their depths. The young swordsman felt the hair on his neck prickling. He wasn't used to such weighty scrutiny and it unnerved him.
And then the kid blinked and the spell broke, leaving Zoro wondering if he really saw a glimpse of all that hidden massive strength or if he was simply seeing things.
"Zoro, join my crew!"
There was a short silence. "…What?"
"Join my pirate crew!"
"Tch," Zoro clicked his tongue in annoyance, standing up from the ground and brushing grass and specks of dirt off his clothes. "Like I'd ever be a bad guy." He smirked. "I'm gonna sail the seas and become the greatest swordsman in the world!"
Luffy stared at him. This reminded of their first, original meeting so much, that he couldn't help but laugh. His nakama didn't change at all!
Zoro observed the younger boy's mirth, squinting in suspicion. "Who are you anyway?"
"Oh, right, right." Luffy grabbed his straw hat, put it back on his head, and grinned radiantly. "I'm Monkey D. Luffy, the Pirate King!" He motioned to the bear standing next to him. "This is my brother, Bepo."
The mink did a quick half-bow in greeting. "Hello."
"Your brother?" Zoro glanced at Bepo, sheer confusion crossing his features. "The Pirate King?" He stared dumbly as the small boy bobbed his head up and down and shouted a cheerful 'Yep!' just for the heck of it. Zoro gawked, before groaning, his palm meeting his forehead. "I don't have time for this," he stated angrily, turning around and stomping away.
Luffy started from his abrupt departure. "Whoa, wait! Zoro!" he yelled, rushing after him. "Come on, join my crew! It will be fun!"
"I don't have time for your childish games!" the swordsman yelled, not even glancing back. "I need to train. I need to beat Kuina!"
The straw-hatted boy put his hands behind his head as he trailed after his nakama, Bepo at his side. "I could train you," he said, with an upward curve on his lips as if he knew something nobody else did. "I'm strong, y'know."
Zoro snorted. "Yeah, right," he muttered. They emerged from the forest and started walking along the dirt road.
"Luffy is strong," Bepo chimed in, causing his human brother to beam at him.
A deep scowl etched on the young swordsman's face and he growled, "I don't believe you! Bears aren't even supposed to be talking!"
"Hey, don't be so mean," Luffy pouted. "Bepo is strong too!"
Zoro clenched his fists, gritting his teeth in frustration. Were these clowns mocking him?
"Zoroooo~," the little annoyance whined right behind him, "join my crew!"
Something snapped inside of the older boy and he instantly stopped in his marching, turning around, ready to beat into the irritating brat that he wasn't interested–
"Well, well, isn't this Roronoa Zoro and his little friend and their pet?"
Zoro glowered at the six men standing next to the annoying kid and his bear. The leader had a smug smirk playing on his lips and casually held a real sword on his shoulder, its naked blade shimmering against the sun.
The boy knew that man. He defeated him a few days ago as he and his gang went to the Dojo to challenge its master and lost miserably.
Zoro's eyes scanned over the rest of the group, taking in their mocking smiles and drawn weapons, and stifled a growl. This was not a good situation. He didn't have any kind of weapon on him at the moment or even anything else what he could use as one.
"Ne, Zoro," Luffy called, seemingly not worried about the armed adults towering over them, "you know these guys?"
"Yeah," the older boy muttered through clenched teeth. "They are losers who–"
"Oi, oi," the man interrupted, a displeased grimace replacing his previous smirk. He lowered his sword and put it an inch from Luffy's neck. "Be careful with the name calling, boy. Or your friend here might have an unfortunate accident."
Zoro tightened his fists until his knuckles were white, a furious snarl on his features. Bepo glanced at his brother in worry, but seeing him so completely relaxed, he let his tension ease up a bit too.
Luffy hummed. "Well, whatever." He shoved a finger into his nose, heedless of supposed danger he was in. "So, will you join me?"
Zoro observed as the kid plucked out a booger, grimaced at it and then flicked it away with a shrug before fixing him with an expectant gaze again.
He was speechless. Maybe the little idiot didn't understand that he had been taken as a hostage and had a sharp blade next to his neck? For a moment, the young swordsman had an intense inner debate to let the bastard kill him. There would be one fool less in this world. But he couldn't do that, regardless how stupid and annoying that brat was. It was his fault that they were in this situation.
"He's not my friend," Zoro said, glaring at the man. "He has nothing to do with me. Let him go."
The man chuckled darkly. "Even if he's not your friend, you wouldn't let anything happened to this kid, eh, Roronoa Zoro?"
"You bastard…" Zoro growled out.
"Tsk-tsk-tsk," the assailant shook his head in disappointment. "I said to be careful with the name calling," he reminded, putting a hand on Luffy's shoulder and bringing the blade to touch his neck. His gang snickered, amused by their leader's antics.
The straw-hatted boy glanced sideways at the stranger's hand and then at the sword, his eyebrows drawing together into a slightly irked expression.
"Fine! Dammit!" Zoro snapped. "Just leave him alone! What do you want?!"
Luffy looked back at his nakama, his mouth stretching into a huge grin. Always a hero, his first mate, never thinking twice before jumping to help another person. Zoro really didn't change at all from his childhood to the moment he joined the future Pirate King's crew, became the greatest swordsman in the world, and all the way until his death, taking a lethal hit intended for his captain.
A cruel smile appeared on the man's face. "We're gonna teach you a lesson, so don't move," he ordered. "Or this brat is gonna lose his head. No cheating for you this time!"
"Cheating? I beat you fair and square, you–" Zoro bit down an insult, his eyes sliding over the sword in the grown-up's hand. He quickly glanced around, trying to find something, anything he could use as a substitute weapon.
"Oh? So, you're gonna kill me?"
An amused voice drew the young swordsman's attention back to the scene in front of him.
The straw hat shadowed Luffy's eyes and, though, he was still grinning, that curve of his lips had a strange, dangerous edge to it. The boy's hand shot upward and grabbed the naked blade, then he tilted his head to the side so that he could peer at the man behind him. "Bepo."
Only his name was uttered, but Bepo understood it for what it truly was – a command from his captain. He rushed from his spot where he was thoroughly ignored by everyone as a non-threat and landed a kick on one of the men, easily sending him flying past Zoro. The moment his feet touched the ground, he swung around, pivoting on his heel and delivering another kick to the second human. The latter crashed into his friend and they both tumbled down in a heap. "Hyah!" Bepo let out a lively cry, flinging another enemy into the roadside tree.
The last man dropped his sword, raising his hands in surrender. "I give up! I give up!"
Bepo stopped, but didn't lower his offensive stance, glancing back at his captain for further instructions.
"Wha… WHAT?!" the leader shrieked, his voice laced with panic.
With his fingers gleaming in black, Luffy tightened his hold on the sword's edge until it cracked and finally shattered, the sharp pieces of metal falling to the ground, clean of any blood drops. The wide grin vanished and his lips thinned, his eyes darkening into a glare.
The attacker stumbled backward, all blood draining from his face. Beads of sweat rolled down his forehead as he watched the small boy in front of him with wide eyes like he was some kind of raptorial monster.
The men were gone a fraction of a second later, fleeing as if the devil itself was at their heels.
Zoro could only stare with his mouth agape and disbelief etched into his features. He rubbed his eyes and then blinked rapidly a few times just to make sure that he truly was seeing this right.
"Shishishishi!" Luffy giggled, turning to his brother and lifting his hand up. "Good job, Bepo!" The bear smiled back and high fived him. The straw-hatted boy looked at his green-haired nakama and grinned brightly again. "So, how about joining my crew, Zoro?"
"You're insane!" the words were out of his mouth before Zoro could even think anything else, still unable to believe what had happened a moment ago.
Luffy frowned. Knowing that Zoro's childhood friend would die sometime in the upcoming year, he had to find a way to convince him to come with him to the Dawn Island for a while. His swordsman shared these fond memories about her with his captain after he finally fulfilled his dream, and Luffy was determined to try and keep that person safe for him. But she died in an accident after one of their duels, and as such there was no good way to save her. The Pirate King figured that if Zoro wasn't around for that particular fight, maybe she wouldn't die. It was worth trying.
"How did you do that?!"
Luffy blinked, snapping out of his musings by the unexpected question from Zoro. The latter's eyes were shining with determination as he peered right into the other boy, his fists clenched tightly at his sides, eagerly waiting for a reply.
"It's called Haki," Luffy said. "Ability to sense the presence of others, use your life force as armor and intimidate enemies by your willpower alone."
"Intimidate enemies by your willpower alone?" Zoro repeated in disbelief. That would explain why those idiots ran away so fast, but… was that even possible? "Alright. Hit me with it," he stated boldly.
The young Pirate King quirked an eyebrow at his request, a smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth. It sure was typical of his fearless first mate – always ready for a challenge. Luffy put a hand on his straw hat, sliding it over his eyes, blocking Zoro from his view. His smirk widened into a cheeky smile as though he was ready to do something incredible.
For a moment, nothing happened. The young swordsman narrowed his eyes, thinking that this strange kid was bluffing and thus mocking him, but then he felt it. A light chill pricking his skin was his only warning before a wave of dominant will slammed into his psyche with the power of an avalanche. Instantly, the air seemed to thicken and his lungs couldn't or wouldn't pull it in. Zoro gasped as the feeling of pure terror caused his heart to beat painfully hard, and his knees started to shake before promptly giving in, bringing him down face first into the dust.
"Luffy, you're gonna knock him out!"
"Shishishishi. No worries, no worries. Zoro can handle this much."
The pressure disappeared, and the green-haired boy took a deep, shaky breath, trying to suppress the trembling. Knock him out? This much, but not all of it? This was no joke. Even without knowledge of what Haki actually was, he suddenly knew that a gap in strength between him and this strange kid was tremendous.
"You can learn two forms of Haki, Zoro. I can teach you," he heard Luffy saying.
Zoro's muscles quivered under the strain as he used his arms to push himself up into sitting position, still in a daze after such an experience. His mind, however, was already whirling with a possibility to get stronger under this kid's care.
Zoro looked up and met the onyx black orbs of the self-proclaimed Pirate King. As he stared into those bottomless wells with all that power lurking in their depths, he realized that he didn't have any doubts about what to do next.
Luffy's mouth slowly stretched into his trademark grin as if sensing the other boy's conviction. He extended his hand towards him. "Join my pirate crew." It wasn't even an invitation anymore, simply a statement. "The Pirate King needs the world's greatest swordsman right beside him."
Becoming a pirate never was on Zoro's to do list, but screw that. His life was his own, and he did what he wanted, always trusting his gut feeling and never regretting anything. And now, future greatest swordsman knew that by accepting this hand he would be hurled into the most amazing and incredible adventure.
Zoro clasped Luffy's palm, showing a grin of his own. "Sure thing, captain."
….A few hours later, after getting introduced to Kinto-un and Luffy's means of transportation, Zoro came to regret his decision for the very first time.
"Guys, this is Zoro! Zoro, this is my brothers!"
Law, Ace, and Sabo stared at the green-haired boy with two katanas in his hands who held their intense gazes without flinching. Then all three glanced at Luffy and were met with a blinding smile.
Law smirked, turning slightly to face the other two. "I won," he stated.
Ace facepalmed, but Sabo only eyed the newcomer curiously. "Zoro, right?" he asked him. "Do you like fluffy things?"
The young swordsman tore his eyes from the long nodachi sword, propped against Law's shoulder, and blinked at the blond's question. "What?"
Sabo waved towards Bepo and repeated patiently, "Do you like fluffy things?"
A scowl creased Zoro's brow. "What kind of question is that?!"
"A simple one," the blue-clothed preteen stated with a shrug. "Do you like to snuggle and hug cute little fluffy bears?"
Mortified, speechless, and already regretting of coming here for the second time, Zoro gawked at him like the blond totally lost his marbles.
"No? Huh," Sabo uttered, scratching his head in thought with a puzzled expression. "Luffy, why did you take Bepo with you?"
"Why?" The youngest seemed to consider it for a moment before smiling happily. "No reason!" he chirped. "Met him on my way to Kinto-un!"
"I told you, Sabo, you give Luffy too much credit," the young doctor chimed in.
Sabo heaved a sigh. "I was so sure of my theory, though…" he mumbled.
"This little idiot doesn't know how to use the thing on his shoulders!" Ace quipped with a grin as he grabbed the said idiot in a loose chokehold and pulled him closer, ruffling his hair harshly. Luffy laughed merrily, doing nothing to free himself from his brother's arms.
Suddenly, the doors to the bandit hut slammed open and Corazon popped in the doorway. Upon seeing the youngest raven, a wide grin appeared on his face. "Luffy! You're back!" he exclaimed, beaming with happiness.
"Yep!" Luffy smiled back. "I brought nakama with me!"
"Oh? And who–" his question was cut short as Dadan swiftly shoved him to the side and leaped outside, quickly scanning through the group of kids until her eyes landed on Luffy.
"You're back! Finally! Garp would– Wait." The bandit boss abruptly stopped, her gaze flicking at each boy in front of her. "One, two, three, four, five, six… huh? Six?" she mumbled, knitting her brow in confusion.
"It seems that there is one extra kid," Dogra pointed out with a sigh. "Again…"
"No way!" Dadan waved him off, eliciting snickers from some of the brothers. "One, two, three, four, five, six… One, two, three, four, five, six…" she counted them all, again and again, feeling a foreboding sense of déjà-vu. "Why is there one brat too many of you here?!"
"This is Zoro!" Luffy introduced his nakama. "He's gonna stay with us for a while."
"Stay with us?! B-but this is not a day-care center…" Dadan trailed off as the youngest boy just kept grinning at her, and she fought an urge to shield her eyes from how bright it was. "Fine!" she exhaled, her frame slumping in surrender. "He can stay…"
"Yay! Shishishishi!" Luffy cheered.
"No one cares that this is the home of the fearsome Dadan family, the mountain bandits that rule over Mt. Colubo…" the woman complained, sniffling miserably. "It's not a kindergarten, you know?"
Corazon patted gently over her shoulder. "There, there," he said with a consoling smile on his lips.
"Oh, everyone is here already!"
A new voice drew the gang's attention to the path coming from the mountain base. A green-haired woman with a wicker basket hooked on one of her arms was walking towards them, smiling warmly at all of them.
"Makino!" Luffy exclaimed in delight.
"Luffy! You're back!"
"Yep! I went to pick up my nakama."
Makino chuckled. "Then it's good thing that I brought some sweets with me. Here," she extended a basket to the boy, "share it with your brothers and friend."
Luffy beamed. "Thanks, Makino! You're the best!"
The woman observed in amusement as the kids shuffled closer to the youngest to peek into the basket and see what the barmaid baked for them this time. Then they all thanked her in their usual way, and Makino couldn't help but laugh at the Corazon who radiated the absolute pride while watching his boys showing at least some manners.
"Yosh!" Luffy grinned. "Let's eat and then we're gonna start our training!"
-half a year later-
(Luffy/Usopp ~8, Nami ~9, Zoro/Sanji ~10, Bepo/Ace/Sabo ~11, Law ~15 y.o.)
Law leaned against the corner of an alley with one of his shoulders, waiting. His golden eyes scanned the street in front of him, not picking on anything interesting in particular. Goa Kingdom's main city was boring like that – all the stuffy nobles with their pretty clothes and stupid decorum. The teen smirked. Nothing like Mt. Colubo where they had been living the past two years.
Angry shouts suddenly rang just around the corner of another street, drawing young doctor's attention. His grip on his nodachi sword tightened, but when two other boys emerged from the mayhem, cackling like crazy, he let himself relax and rolled his eyes.
"Hurry up, Ace!" the blond yelled, adjusting a bag thrown over his shoulder and shooting a quick glance back. "Fatty is here already!"
Ace who was also carrying a similar bag looked back at the corner they had just rounded and his eyes widened. "Whoa! How he can be so fast?!"
"Thieves!" A rotund guy with a baker's apron stumbled out, screeching after them. "Stop, you damn brats! Someone stop them! They're criminals! Thieves! Thieves!"
Law stepped forward to intercept his two brothers with a mischievous smile playing on his lips. "Have you forgotten Cora-san's lessons?" he asked as the two skidded to a halt.
With matching toothy grins, Ace and Sabo spun around in unison and took a deep bow. "Thank you very much for the food!" they intoned together and then promptly bolted away with Law laughing hot on their heels.
The baker's face turned bright red in absolute fury. It was a sheer miracle that he didn't actually explode. His enraged yells got quieter as the three brothers rushed through the streets towards the gate of Gray Terminal.
A sudden voice stopped the boys in their mad dash, and all three whirled around instinctively only to see a man gawking at them. Certainly a noble, judging by his fancy garb and the pompous aura that surrounded him.
"It's really you, Sabo!" the stranger exclaimed, utter shock across his features.
"Who's that?" Ace asked, squinting at the man in suspicion.
Law's eyes flickered to his blond brother and he managed to catch the terrified expression settling on his face before the younger boy turned around and sprinted away. "Let's go!" he yelled, not even glancing back to make sure that his brothers were following him.
"Sabo, wait right there!" the man screamed. "You're alive?! You need to come back home! Sabo!"
Sabo peeked over his shoulder. As soon as his blue orbs met cautious gazes of two ravens, he quickly looked forward again. "He must be mistaking me for someone else!" he reasoned quickly. "Hurry up!"
Law was intrigued, but he wasn't really concerned about how or why that noble knew Sabo. Heck, the latter might even be a runaway noble, for all he cared. After all, the blond was too educated and well-mannered to be a simple orphan from Gray Terminal. Yet, they all accepted Law without knowing his past, and thus the young doctor was not prone to pry into the personal history of others.
Ace, however, didn't have that kind of restraints. He watched Sabo with narrowed eyes as they made their way through the gates, crossed the Gray Terminal, and when the trio reached the forest of Mt. Colubo, he finally asked, "What was that about, Sabo?"
"I told you already!" the blue-clothed boy snapped. "It's nothing."
"Oh, really?" the freckled raven drawled. "You're not gonna spill it, are you?" Silence was his only answer. "Fine then," he said curtly, quickening his pace to bypass his blond brother and rush forward. "I'll ask Luffy. He probably knows."
Law's eyes shifted between Ace's retreating form to Sabo scowling. "It would have been easier just to tell us," he pointed out.
The other boy sighed. "Yeah, probably," he muttered, looking both troubled and upset.
Law didn't push further. He knew that everyone has skeletons in their closets and that some things might be better left unspoken.
Luffy wiggled slightly in his sitting position to get more comfortable where he was leaning against the lying Bepo and sighed in content. He pushed his straw hat down to cover his eyes from the sunlight, his mouth stretching into a lazy smile.
Zoro was sprawled on the other side of the bear, only quiet snores coming from his side. It was an arduous half year for the boy, but after seeing the strength of the five brothers, he was completely dedicated to the training, not wanting to be the weakest of them.
Now they were taking a break on the cliff, Luffy's favorite place, while waiting for the other three to return from the city.
The young Pirate King was satisfied with everyone's progress. Even Usopp who had visited their island for a few months before going back had been coming along nicely. They were definitely going to be stronger once the Straw Hat Pirates set sail again.
Luffy chuckled quietly to himself before suddenly lifting his head to look at Ace. The boy emerged from the forest and dropped the bag with an irate huff. The youngest grinned and jumped to his feet, a drool already forming at the corner of his mouth. Bepo stirred, waking up Zoro too. The green-haired boy sat up and yawned, rubbing his eyes.
Law and Sabo soon followed the freckled raven, and the blond put his bag next to Ace's. The latter glowered at him. "So? Are you gonna spill or not?" he asked harshly.
Sabo bit his lower lip, turning his head to the side.
Ace waited for a moment, then turned to his little brother who was more interested in the content of their bags than whatever they were talking about. "Luffy, do you know why some random noble in Goa knows Sabo?"
That question wiped the grin clear off of Luffy's face, and his head snapped up to look at Ace so fast that if he wasn't had been made out of rubber he would have surely broken his neck. "That man saw Sabo?" he demanded with a distinctive urgency in his voice.
Everyone was taken aback by a sudden seriousness their usually goofy brother was radiating. Those onyx, hardened eyes drilled into Ace, causing him to frown, his stomach starting to churn in worry. "Yeah," he replied. "Do you know who he is?"
Luffy shifted his eyes to stare at the boy in question with a hard scowl on his face. An awkward silence settled on the cliff.
Ace groaned, frustration making his temper flare. "Just tell us, you idiot!" he yelled at Sabo. "Or I'm gonna kick your ass!"
The blond's lip trembled before he took a deep breath to compose himself. "That was my father… the real one," he spoke in a small voice. "The truth is… Both of my biological parents are still alive. I'm not a real orphan, and I wasn't born in Gray Terminal either…" He paused. "I'm the son of a noble," he added, lowering his head in shame.
Law raised his eyebrow. "That's a surprise," he commented. "If you're a noble, why did you live in that trash heap?"
"That's definitely what I'd like to know, too," Ace grumbled.
Sabo seemed even more distressed by that question. "All they ever cared about was having an heir to protect the family status and fortune. They never cared about me!" he spat out, gritting his teeth in anger. "If I couldn't marry into a royal family, I was worthless. I was never good enough for them! There was never place for me in that house! I always felt alone, even though I had parents…"
Law's and Ace's eyes narrowed at his rant. Loneliness and feeling unwanted, like the whole world could care less about if you live or die, those emotions were too familiar for both of them. And that was one of the reasons they accepted this makeshift family – to never be alone or feel unwanted again.
"It doesn't really matter, does it?" Bepo's voice broke the silence. "It's the same as me not being human. It doesn't matter."
Ace smirked. "That's right," he said, gently nudging the blond boy's shoulder with his fist. "You're my stupid little brother, noble or not."
"Little?" Sabo echoed, frowning. "Aren't you my little brother instead?" he asked teasingly, punching Ace back.
"No way!" The raven landed another punch, this time considerably stronger.
"Yeah, you are!" Sabo retaliated with a hit of his own.
"Oh, you! Take that!"
"No! You take that!"
Law sighed as two boys suddenly jumped on each other and started brawling, all the uproar giving him a headache. He glanced at the youngest boy.
Luffy was strangely silent during all this talking, staring somewhere over the forest. "Is it that time already?" he mumbled under his breath, his gaze quickly flicking over everyone present at the cliff and coming back to rest on Sabo.
The young Pirate King planned to have a talk with his father when he came here during the Celestial Dragon's visit, but it changed the moment Sabo's parent noticed him. He couldn't risk it. Luffy doubted that everything would go the way it had previously, but if there was even a sliver of a chance that either of his brothers and nakama could get hurt, he needed to think of something else. It was selfish of him, but there was no way he was going to let Sabo go, the Revolutionary Army be damned.
Ace and Sabo instantly halted their fight, blinking in surprise. Everyone glanced at Luffy, confused about his sudden statement. Zoro was the one to voice the question everyone had in their heads, "Leaving?"
"Yeah, we're leaving the Dawn Island for a bit. Cora-san comes with us," the boy stated firmly. "I'm not gonna take any chances."
Sabo frowned, pushing Ace off of him and shifting into sitting position. "Where are we going?"
Luffy grinned, and the others shuddered at that wolfish curve of his. "We need money," he said, turning around to look at the horizon. "So, first we go pest hunting."
"Pest hunting?" everyone repeated in unison, except Law, who simply smirked knowingly.
Every legend starts from somewhere. Some begin when someone tells their fantasy to the others, maybe even lie to them. Some grow from a misunderstanding, from a real event, changed by people as it jumps from one mouth to another. Each person adds their own twist and details to the story when they pass it down, and, eventually, it evolves into existence of its own with its roots long forgotten.
The most popular fable in the East Blue was one of those stories. No one could remember where it started or how much true it was. It was the tale known by every citizen throughout all islands in this Blue, told to the children before they are tucked safely into their beds for the night. Over time, it spread even into the first half of the Grand Line.
The legend of six monstrous bounty hunters.
The wandering swordsman who leaves only cries of despair in his wake.
Zoro was strolling through the village without a care in the world. He knew where he was going and how to get where, despite what the rest of the gang were telling him. He had his three katanas strapped to his back, because they were too long yet to carry them at his waist.
The boy with weapons drew a lot of attention from the residents of this quiet fishing village, where he and Sabo were supposed to be hunting bandits. But, of course, Sabo just had to go and get himself lost!
Zoro came upon the crossroad and stopped, looking around.
"Zoro! Here you are! I've finally found you!"
The green-haired boy turned around at the speaker. "Sabo," he said as the angry blond neared him. "Where have you been? I mean, getting lost soon after Luffy dropped us here..." he trailed off, shaking his head in disappointment.
"YOU–" Sabo caught himself in time before he could explode and clenched his teeth. After a moment, he took a calming breath. "Just… stay here. Don't wander off by yourself. I'm gonna ask someone the way to that bandit's hideout."
The blond eyed him suspiciously, but then turned around and yelled to the passerby, "Excuse me!" As the man stopped, curiously looking at the kid, Sabo flashed a charming smile. "Can you please tell us how to get to…"
Zoro scanned the crossroad while his companion spoke with the villager. "I'm pretty sure we need to go this way," he mumbled, promptly moving where he thought they needed to go.
"Thank you!" Sabo said cheerfully as he waved goodbye to the helpful man and swiveled around, already opening his mouth to repeat what he said… just to see an empty spot. His jaw dropped. He asked that idiot to stay still!
The blond spotted the green-haired mop and three swords disappearing around the corner. "ARGH! That damn Zoro!" he screamed in frustration, bolting after him. "WAIT, YOU DIRECTIONALLY CHALLENGED MORON!"
The short-tempered, destructive man who loves playing with fire.
Ace was whistling a happy tune as he exited the burning pub, dragging the bandit leader by his leg. He was quite satisfied with this hunt, despite some hiccups. One of them being that the idiot set the pub on fire while trying to save his hide. Not that it helped him. It just annoyed Ace more and he might have put more Haki into his punches than it was necessary. The man had it coming though.
Ignoring roaring flames behind him and the panicked people, Ace strolled through the crowd with a particular spring in his steps. He completely brushed off all the glances, stares, and glares, but still kept an eye on his surroundings, so that no surprises would come his way.
Still whistling, the boy walked forward. His gaze landed on the rack of hats for sale at the side of the street, and he stopped. His eyes quickly scanned all the items on display and paused at one specific cowboy hat with two smiling faces on it.
Ace smirked. Luffy had his straw hat, Law – his strange fluffy, mushroom-like hat, and Sabo had his black top hat. Bepo didn't have one, but he was a furry bear, so that was okay. Bepo was unique in his own way.
Still with a smirk on his lips, Ace approached the rack where he spotted the seller. A young woman was staring at the burning pub down the street with wide, terrified eyes. "Excuse me!" the raven called out, getting the woman's attention, and her eyes widened even more. "How much for–"
"Aaaah! It's you who put Blue Boar on fire!" she screeched.
Ace twitched. "No, it wasn't–"
The bandit leader that moment stirred. His eyes shot open and the first thing he saw was that damn brat who had beaten his whole gang to bloody pulps. "YOU!" he roared, trying to stand up, but his legs weren't really listening. "You have guts, lil' brat–!"
A punch to his mug slammed the bandit into the ground and back into the blissful unconsciousness. "Shut up!" Ace yelled before letting out an irritated huff. He turned to the seller. "So, how much for–"
Ace cringed as the woman's high pitched, almost deafening scream filled the surroundings. After a moment, another scream, this time an angry one, resounded from somewhere afar. The raven glanced at that direction and tsked when he noticed a group of policemen running towards him. "Whatever," he said, snatching the cowboy hat from the rack and putting it on his head, grinning. Then Ace grabbed his bounty and took off again. "Thanks for the hat!" he shouted cheerfully, waving goodbye to the seller.
The charming devil who can deceive anyone and everyone, even his own shadow.
Aiken didn't consider himself being a very good bounty hunter. Even if he was quite a good fighter, if he would be allowed to say so himself, he was content going after low bounties. No need to endanger himself for a bag of cash.
But his current target, Seabert the Kraken, appeared to be way out of his league. The pirate was certainly laying low, not wanting to attract too much attention to himself, probably cooking something big and nasty. And that's why Aiken ended up in this backwater island, in this small fishing village and in this situation where the pirate and his goons were threatening the innocent people.
"Calm down," Aiken tried to reason with a fuming man. "I'll leave you at peace, just calm down."
Suddenly some random kid in blue clothes rushed in, stopped right between them, and looked around, scowling fiercely under his black top hat. "Where the heck is he?" he mumbled, not even noticing an infuriated pirate looming over him.
"Are ya lost, kid?"
The little blond looked up at the man, blinked, then shoved a hand into his pocket and brought out a piece of paper. Briefly glancing at it and back at the man, he shoved it back and flashed a wide smile. "Ah, no. I'm looking for someone, but thank you for asking."
Aiken decided that the boy was not all there in his head.
"Oh?" Seabert cracked a smile of his own. "I can help ya, if ya help me."
"I don't think a kid like me could help you in any way."
"Nonsense!" the pirate declared, turning to his three goons. "Right, boys?"
"No, no. No need to go out of your way to help me, really." The preteen said, still with that calm smile on his face. "I'll be fine on my own, thank you."
Yep, Aiken nodded to himself, the kid was surely not right in his head.
"Didn't yer parents teach ya not to refuse an offer of help?"
"Hahaha," the blond laughed awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. "Cora-san taught me many things."
"Sounds like a smart man."
"He sure is. So," the boy made a half-step backward, "I'll be going now. It was nice to meet you, sir!"
Seabert's face suddenly twisted into a cruel sneer. "Ya not goin' anywhere, runt!" He reached to grab him.
Aiken's heart plummeted into his stomach. He started to move forward to save the poor child… but before he could even make a single step, the boy's hand twisted behind his back, gripping a pipe attached there, and then in a blink of an eye, its one end was already hitting the gut of the pirate captain, rendering him completely useless as he dry gagged and writhed on the ground. With the fluid spin, the kid swiped the legs of one the goons from under him, swung his weapon around in the same move and smacked the other man, sending him flying. The third one was already on him, and there was no time to swirl the pipe back. The boy lifted one of his hands up, putting his fingers into some strange, claw-like position the moment his whole arm became black and jabbed it into the grown-ups' stomach. The kid jumped back, letting his unconscious opponent fall.
There was silence while the people tried to get their jaws back in their natural position.
"I said I don't need help," the little blond huffed in indignation. When he pulled out the paper again, and – was that a bounty poster?! – looked at it more carefully. "Nope, definitely not the guy I need..." he trailed off, his eyes following someone in the crowd. "Found you!" he cried out and immediately dashed away like nothing strange had happened at all.
The overly polite bear who can electrocute anyone standing in his path.
Bepo was sure he would make a decent pirate, considering Luffy's and Shanks' eccentricities, but he didn't know how to be a bounty hunter. He thought that they were supposed to be different than pirates, but Luffy just waved his concerns away and said to look at Zoro for an example. Did all of the bounty hunters take an unreasonable amount of naps in awkward places and manage to get lost on a straight path?
The mink didn't get it, but it was okay, though. His youngest brother was just strange like that, and people drawn into his gravity field weren't stranger any less.
Bepo took a deep breath as he scanned the group of bandits in front of him, threatening and then laughing mockingly from the cowering people in the center of the small village.
The small bear stepped from between the houses and made his way towards the man whose mug was on his bounty poster. He easily weaved through the thugs, stopping only next to his target, easily identified by his amazing height.
"Hey." One of the bandits elbowed his friend, blinking at the unexpected sight. "Is that a bear?"
"Beer?" replied his fellow, already a bit tipsy. "Yeah, I could drink some beer right about now…"
"Idiot!" the bandit snapped. He turned to his boss and called, "Leader! There is a bear standing behind you!"
"What?! Beer?!" The man swiveled around and as soon as his eyes landed on Bepo froze. "…Eh?"
"Hello," the mink greeted, giving his usual half-bow. "My name's Bepo. I came for your bounty."
There was a stunned silence, before it was broken by loud bellows of laughter.
"Just look at that!" the leader cackled. "A talking bear!" Bepo winded his arm for a punch... "We could make a nice amount of mooooooooo–!" The last word was dragged out in a high-pitched girly voice when a punch smashed into his crotch and he doubled over, stars exploding before his eyes.
The mink jumped in surprise, his eyes widening. "I'm sorry!" That was not where he targeted, but because of the man's height, that was where his punch landed. "It was an accident!"
All the bandits roared in anger and leaped on Bepo, their swords drawn. The mink's instincts kicked in, forcing him to unconsciously tap into his inherent power swirling deep inside him. The air crackled as it got filled with energized matter, coating the mink's fist. And then Bepo punched the closest guy in his gut, the electrical discharge bursting from that point at every direction, electrocuting all the bandits.
There was a deathly silence for a mere second before all the unconscious bodies dropped on the ground all at once. "Ah!" Bepo gasped. "That was an accident too! Sorry!" He deep bowed as an apology, then quickly grabbed completely dazed bandit leader and bolted from his spot.
Bepo halted at the edge of the square, Corazon's lessons about manners suddenly flashing through his mind. He spun around, facing totally flabbergasted villagers, and bowed again. "Have a nice day!" And then he was gone with his bounty in tow.
"The w'rst beer I'd in m'life…" one of the bandits slurred before passing out again.
The man, known as the Beheader, who can chop your head off without you actually realizing it.
Law entered the dingy pub, completely ignoring all the stares his present drew from the usual visitors, and made his way to the bar in a confident stride. He dropped a middle-sized bag next to the stool as he sat down on it, putting his nodachi on the other side.
"Hey, punk! Be more careful!" an angry voice suddenly rang from somewhere.
The teen rolled his eyes looking so done with the bodiless whining and waved the barman over. The latter came to him, narrowed eyes shining with suspicion. "What do you want, boy?" he asked, barely able to conceal a mocking tone.
"One water, please," Law replied coolly. When the barman nodded after a moment, the teen opened his mouth to say something more, but was interrupted by another enraged voice.
"You damn snot-nosed brat! I better get that sake you promised or I'll…" the speaker trailed off.
"You what?" the young doctor inquired in a bored tone. "Talk me to death?"
"Yea! That's right!"
"Try that and I will cut your tongue out," Law retorted calmly, glancing down at his bag.
"You idiot," the third voice hissed. "Stop it before he leaves us without our last sake shot!"
"Shut up! Do you even know who I am?!"
"Yea, I know you! You're that loser from the neighboring–"
Law kicked the sack and smirked at the painful 'Ow!' and a tirade of curses. The barman raised his eyebrow, leaning to peek at it. "Three sake shots," the teen ordered as he hefted the bag on the bar. He opened it revealing three separate heads.
A sudden silence in the room was deafening. Eyes widening, the barman stumbled back.
"Hey, you!" one of the head yelled. "Where is our sake?"
"Yea! Give us sake!" another added.
"This is our last chance, man," the third pleaded. "Before this kid brings us to the marines."
The barman fumbled blindly for cups, unable to tear his gaze from the bizarre sight. Soon three shots of sake were put in front of them and a cup of water in front of Law.
"How we're supposed to drink it without our bodies?" one head asked with a small frown on his face, staring at the drink and willing it to fly into his mouth.
"That's a good question…" agreed the second, while the third used his tongue to pull itself closer to the cup. The moment he tried to lick the sake, he was roughly grabbed by its hair and thrown into the bag again.
"Time to go," Law said, flicking a few coins to the barman. "Thank you."
"Oi, oi, oi!" one of the heads yelled as it was packed up into the sack with the other two.
"Hey, jerk, you promised!"
Another smirk crossed the teen's lips as he picked up his sword and turned towards the exit. "I never said that I'll help you drink it."
"You little urchin! When I get my hands on you…!"
Law chuckled. "Your hands are far, far away from here," he noted darkly, leaving the deathly silent bar behind.
And the worst of them all, the leader of these monsters, better known as Smiley.
Duke yawned, flipping a page of the newspaper and scanning the content of it, not really interested in what was written. Working behind the reception desk on this small marine post was the most boring job ever, but Duke was content. He wasn't a kind of guy to seek adventures or excitements, so lazing around all day without the need to move a finger was good enough for him.
A child-like voice shook Duke out of his musings. He put the newspaper away and blinked in confusion when he didn't see anyone standing in front of the reception desk.
"Are these three the only bandit bosses around here with bounties?"
There was shuffling of papers, and the Marine's gaze dropped down. A small child with a battered, seemingly too big straw hat on his black mop was peering over the top of the desk.
Still a bit befuddled, Duke glanced at the three bounty posters perched on the desk for him to look at. "Uh… Yeah," he replied.
The perfectly D-shaped grin on the boy's face was blinding. "Thanks!" he exclaimed cheerily, grabbing the posters before ducking out of the office in a blink of an eye.
The man blinked one more time, then shrugged, and lifted his newspaper to read it again with a yawn.
A few hours later, Duke was peacefully snoring sprawled on his desk, a drool of an amazing length stretching from the corner of his mouth. A tug on his sleeve jolted him from his nap, and the marine sat straight, a yawn threatening to tear his face in half.
With a frown, Duke turned to the side to see the same kid with a straw hat peering up at him. Before he could open his mouth to say anything, the boy grinned, shoving the same three bounty posters into his hands. "I want my money!"
"Wha…? Money?" the man muttered unintelligible, his frown deepening as he gazed into the bounty posters, willing his brains to comprehend what to do with it.
"Yep!" the kid cheered, skipping to the entrance and immediately returning with three unconscious men in tow as he dragged their bodies in.
Duke's jaw almost hit the desk. His eyes dropped down to the three bounty posters, then back to the three bodies, then again at bounty posters, the bodies, the bounty posters, the bodies… "This– I'm– It's–You–" he stuttered. After a moment he pinched himself, thinking that maybe it was just some kind of weird dream. "We don't pay out bounties of this amount in here!" he exclaimed finally.
"Eh?" The boy cocked his head to the side. "So, where do I go to get it?"
"The… the m-main base in the East Blue, Loguetown!"
"Okay!" And with that, the kid grabbed his prey and was gone in a flash.
Duke sat frozen with his eyes wide and three bounty posters clutched in his hand for a few moments, then promptly rushed outside. He followed the crowd to the pier and started pushing through all the people to get closer.
A huge form rose from the depth of the ocean, easily towering over the small boy in that over-sized straw hat at the end of the pier. The people were too stunned to even react to a sudden appearance of the Sea King.
"Hey, Kinto-un, just look how many came to bid us a goodbye!" the boy cried out in delight. "Just smile! Like I taught you."
The Sea King bared its teeth.
Someone screamed. A woman next to Duke fainted.
"Hey!" the kid this time addressed the crowd with that enormous, ridiculous grin splitting his face in two. "Does anyone have a boat I could use?"
No one knew where the legend of six monstrous bounty hunters started, but it was passed down from one generation to another, taking decades to form into the story every child and adult know now.
And there is no secret that from all the Blues, the East has the least number of bandits because of it.
A small vessel was soaring the East Blue with Loguetown as its final destination.
"How did you get this ship, Luffy?"
The boy turned to look at Corazon from his spot on a bowsprit and grinned. "Kinto-un's friends gave it to us!"
Ace choked on water he was drinking, Law frowned, Bepo's jaw dropped, Sabo put a finger into his ear and tried to clear it, thinking that he'd misheard it, and Zoro snored louder. Corazon could only stare at the small raven completely dumbfounded.
"And, uh, how did Kinto-un manage to find friends?" Sabo asked carefully.
Luffy's grin didn't dim in a slightest when he replied, "Because he learned to smile, of course!"
"Oh. Of course," the blond boy repeated in a deadpan manner. Ace melted into a fit of laughter, while Law only chuckled.
Corazon pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed tiredly. "Listen, Luffy–"
But the boy was not listening. He suddenly whipped his head to the side, his eyes widening. After a split second, Luffy stretched his arm to grab the railing of the crow's nest and pulled himself up, ignoring worried questions from his family.
The young Pirate King squinted at the horizon, at the same time zeroing his Haki at that particular spot: the plain rock island where he could feel the presence of two persons. A huge grin appeared on his face.
One of the presences was somewhat familiar, Luffy could recognize it, and therefore he definitely knew who the second one was.
Chapter 10: IX. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH! ACE IS ON FIRE!
Few things I wanted to say.
First of all, thank you for all the support, guys. And thank you for sticking with me, despite my super slow and extremely sporadic updates. You're totally awesome! Nothing is abandoned, and never will be until I'm alive. I'll finish my stories even if I'll be the only one writing fics for that fandom!
Second, you can find me on Tumblr now under syluk-sky name.
Third, this story now has its own Tv Tropes page! Thank you Nyame for creating it! The link: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/FanFic/ForBetterOrForWorseOnePiece
Betaread by DemonicWhispers
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH! ACE IS ON FIRE!"
(Luffy/Usopp ~8, Nami ~9, Zoro/Sanji ~10, Bepo/Ace/Sabo ~11, Law ~15 y.o.)
Sanji was absolutely sure that he was going to die. He didn't want to, of course, but his wish couldn't change the fact that he was now barely holding onto his consciousness. There was no strength left to even be afraid.
He was lying on his back, his hollow gaze fixed on the endless blue, stretching above. Like the legendary sea – the All Blue.
He wanted to find it! He wanted to prove that it existed to unbelievers! He wanted to cook the best meal from ingredients found in that sea and then share it with the nakama that he would have inevitably met on the journey.
Now, it truly seemed like an unreachable dream.
If Sanji had any energy or fluids left in his body, he would have cried right now.
Suddenly, a black-haired boy's head covered by a straw hat popped into his line of sight, his face etched with open concern. "Sanji?" he spoke slowly.
The blond blinked. He didn't know that starving to death actually made the person see hallucinations. Even if it did, he mused, it would definitely be some kind of food. Maybe a juicy roast, freshly baked bread, or even an appetizing–
"Law!" the boy yelled, looking up and to the side. "Law, hurry up!"
Sanji got curious. Mustering all his leftover strength, he turned his head toward the direction his illusion was looking.
Another boy appeared out of thin air at the edge of the rock, this time older, probably in his mid-teen years. His keen gaze quickly scanned the area, taking in every detail, gauging the situation before meeting Sanji's blank stare. With his brow furrowed, the teen turned around. "Cora-san, catch!" he said, dropping down the sword he carried.
There was a surprised yelp, and then something heavy falling. "Law, you brat!"
Law smirked, but then he looked back at Sanji, all the mirth was replaced with a serious and worried expression. A moment later, he was already leaning above him. The straw-hatted kid was still here too, hovering anxiously nearby, but giving space for the guy.
Sanji drew a sharp breath when two fingers pressed at the side of his neck, checking his pulse. This felt so real. He tried to open his mouth, a question if they were real or simply a product of his deteriorating brain on the tip of his tongue, but nothing happened. Parched lips refused to move, and no sound left his caked throat.
"Will Sanji be fine?" the younger boy asked.
The teen hummed softly under his breath, counting the heartbeat. "He's severally dehydrated and has been starving for several months if I have to guess." He pursed his lips and his scowl became more profound as he pulled his hand away from Sanji's neck. Golden eyes quickly scanned the emaciated body, mare bones, and skin at this point. "How do you know his name, Luffy?"
That was a good question. Sanji was positive that he had never seen that kid.
"He's nakama," was an instant reply with a subtle, invisible 'obviously' hanging somewhere in the air.
Oh. So the moment he thought about reaching All Blue with his nakama, his mind decided to conjure the image of them. How cruel.
"Right," Law sighed as he stood up.
Sanji watched him walk towards the old geezer and squatting down to check on him. His attention was drawn by two more kids with different hats on their heads and... a bear? Why a bear?
"This is a lot of treasure," the boy with a cowboy hat noted, examining the old pirate's bag.
Sanji's blood ran cold. All that gold and jewelry were supposed to fund the construction of the sea restaurant Zeff dreamed about. He destroyed his life as a pirate, there was no way he would allow someone to even touch that money. Illusion or not, he needed to stop them at any cost. "No…" he croaked out. With the help of a sudden surge of adrenaline, he actually managed to flip his body on his stomach. "Don't tou–" A dry heave interrupted his sentence, sending his fragile frame into a painful convulsion.
"Sanji!" the straw-hatted boy gasped in alarm. Rubbery arms embraced Sanji from behind into a gentle hug, holding him in place. "Don't worry, we'll take care of you. You're safe now. I'll protect you. Everything will be fine. You'll be fine. Law's gonna fix you. You and cook-ossan are gonna be okay," Luffy babbled into the blond boy's ear.
His quiet voice was comforting and soothing. It wrapped around Sanji and carried him off to a world where nothing was wrong. Slowly, he relaxed. This was supposed to be his imaginary nakama, so he could trust them, right?
"We'll get stronger. All of us. Together," the kid continued. And while the volume of his voice stayed the same, a sheer conviction in that statement spurred Sanji's heart into an excited flutter. "And then we'll leave for our journey, have tons of fun adventures, meet a lot of people, defeat all our enemies, and this time you'll reach All Blue. I'll make sure of that, I promise."
Sanji shifted, trying to look behind. The embrace loosened up, and Luffy moved so that he could see his face and the wide, bright grin that adorned it. The blond stared, a spark of emotions – joy, awe, hope, gratitude – flickering through his dull blue eyes.
A Sea King arose from the ocean, fixing his curious gaze on the kids scattered around the rock. No one even twitched at the sudden appearance of the powerful sea creature, and Sanji had to admit that he was completely losing his mind.
Sadness swept over him, and he wanted to cry again. None of this was real. All of them were just a creation of his dying brain that were bound to disappear any moment.
Sanji glanced back at the straw-hatted boy. The latter's smile was gone, replaced by the concerned frown. He wanted to tell him that it was fine, that he didn't want to die, but he accepted that and he was glad that despite his hallucination being so bizarre, it turned out absolutely amazing.
But there was no energy left, so all Sanji could muster was a faint quirk up of his lips before he closed his eyes and slipped into a blissful darkness.
When Sanji slumped in his arms, Luffy panicked.
He knew Sanji's story, of course, but hearing about it and experiencing it by holding such a frail body of his nakama was two entirely different things. What if changing events of the past caused the absence of the ship that was supposed to save them? What if it was too late now? What if he can't help Sanji?
…What if Sanji died?
"Law!" Luffy cried out desperately, extreme terror coursing through his veins. "Sanji is… Please, help Sanji!"
Alarmed by his tone, Law's attention snapped from giving instructions to Corazon and Zoro down on their ship to his youngest brother, then immediately moved on the unconscious boy in his arms. He quickly walked closer and gripped the blond's wrist, checking his pulse.
"Calm down," he said to Luffy, flicking his forehead in order to ground the boy. "He's alive. Nobody is dying on my watch. Once Cora-san and Zoro are done, we'll bring them to the ship and I'll take care of them."
With a sigh, the teen took Luffy's hand and guided it to Sanji's wrist, setting his fingers above the vein. "Can you feel the heartbeat?" The younger raven's expression hardened as he focused on the pulsing sensation under his fingers before giving a small nod. "Now count it."
Law observed his brother, how his lips moved with a soundless counting, and how with every higher number his posture lost its stiffness and wild panic in his eyes receded. He looked at the blond boy again, his eyebrows drawing together.
Despite what he told Luffy, this was a tough situation. He had already taken account of medical supply that came with a ship – the first thing he did when Luffy showed up with it – and it wasn't enough to save these people. Stabilize for a day, maybe two, yeah, but they needed hospital as soon as possible.
Law tsked. He hated hospitals.
Turning around, he noticed Sabo standing at the edge of the rock. Ace and Bepo were nowhere to be seen, probably already down on the ship with the treasure they collected to safeguard.
"Sabo," he called as he walked closer. "They need a hospital. How far is the nearest inhabited island?"
The blond scrunched up his face in thought. "At this point, our best bet would be Loguetown," he said. "All other villages in this area are too small to have anything other than a tiny doctor office."
"How long till Loguetown?"
"Two days if the wind is favorable."
"Hmm," Law hummed, glancing briefly over his shoulder to Luffy. "Hey, Kinto-un!" The Sea King's red eyes narrowed as he aimed his attention at the teen. "Can you pull the ship of this size?"
Kinto-un cocked his head to the side, considering. After a moment, he looked at the ship, then at Luffy, back at Law, and gave a firm nod.
"Everything's prepared!" Zoro yelled from below.
"Alright," Law breathed out. "Luffy, bring your friend to the ship." The younger boy wordlessly went into motion, carefully picking Sanji up to carry him. "Zoro, gather Ace with Bepo and put harnesses on Kinto-un." The future swordsman grunted an affirmative, already strolling inside the galley to look for two brothers. The Sea King submerged in water and appeared again in front of the vessel, in position to be tackled for the job. "Sabo, you help me with the old man."
Sanji woke up.
An impossible feat on its own really, because he should have been a dry corpse on that godforsaken rock by now. An annoying beeping on both of his sides, an equally annoying, weirdly shaped smudge on the white ceiling, and the smell of antiseptics stated otherwise.
There was no sky above or stone under, no salty breeze, no scorching sun. Sanji was not in pain and actually felt quite good, despite the inability to muster enough strength to move his limbs. He was also lying in a comfy bed. Just how long was it since the last time he slept in a bed?
Sanji could hear murmuring and half whispering somewhere in the room, but the words eluded him. He was about to drift back into peaceful sleep when a sharp "But he's a pirate!" jolted him into full awareness again. Wide-eyed in surprise and confusion, he turned his head slightly to the side.
The old geezer was in the hospital bed next to his, an IV and a heart monitor attached to his withered body, and the boy realized that he would see the same equipment on his left. Four people were gathered near the closed door, the sight that made Sanji pause.
Two boys – the straw-hatted kid and the teen with a sword – that he had seen already and considered to be an illusion were glowering at the middle-aged man in a white coat, definitely a doctor. A giant blond man, wearing a black feathered coat, was leaning over the poor doctor with a stormy expression on his tattooed face.
"He's Red-Leg Zeff, the famous pirate from the Grand Line. Even in this condition, even without his leg, he's easy to recognize," the doctor insisted feverishly, taking a defensive step back. "The Marines will know about him being brought here sooner or later. There's nothing I can do!"
Luffy outright growled, his fists tightening, and the doctor backed off even more. However, his only escape route was blocked by the blond man.
"Tch," Law clicked his tongue, clearly irritated. His eyes narrowed into furious slits as he glared at the doctor. "This is why I hate hospitals. No one ever cares about patients in these places."
"Pirates or not, they need help!" the giant added.
The man heaved a deep sigh, lifting his hand to rub his forehead. "Look," he said in a defeated voice. "I can withhold informing the Marines till tomorrow, but that's it. The boy is in a stable condition now, so I suggest you take him with you and leave the pira–"
It was uttered in a quiet voice, almost whispered by Luffy, but Sanji felt his hair stand on end, and he wasn't even a recipient of that order. The doctor seemed to freeze in his spot, the color draining from his face. His eyes were like saucers, unadulterated fear swimming in them.
Luffy leveled a death glare at the man. "We don't leave our own behind," he stated after a moment. "No matter what."
The tension in the room was palpable. The air seemed to thicken, and its pressure weighted more heavily on everyone's shoulders. The atmosphere was so brittle that it threatened to snap any moment into something uncontrollable and violent.
The blond giant's sigh finally broke it. "Boys," he prompted.
"We'll leave," Law hissed, tapping the sword against his shoulder and inevitably drawing the man's terrified eyes on it. "You better keep your word and don't snitch on us till tomorrow."
"Y-yes!" the doctor squeaked. He immediately darted through the door when the opportunity presented itself.
The blond leaned against the wall and slid down, plopping on the floor. He absentmindedly started rummage through the inner pockets, earning a disapproving scowl from the teen.
"No smoking, Cora-san," he chided.
The man froze like a child caught with his hand in a cookie jar. His mouth stretched into a sheepish smile as he quickly pulled his hand from inside the coat and rubbed the back of his neck. "Sorry, sorry."
Law rolled his eyes.
Luffy clutched the corner of the teen's hoodie, helplessly staring up at him. With small and pleading voice, he mumbled, "Traffy…"
A flicker of concern crossed Law's face as he glanced at the boy before a warm smile replaced it. He pushed the straw hat from Luffy's head with his free hand and ruffled his hair. "Hey, everything's fine," he spoke softly. "You have me, and you trust your brother, don't you?"
The younger raven perked up. "Of course!"
"Once Ace and Sabo collect the bounty money, I'm gonna buy all the necessary medical supply and we'll be good to go. Quit worrying. I told you that nobody is dying on my watch."
Luffy beamed. "Okay!"
"Still, was it a good idea to threaten the doctor?" Corazon wondered.
Law looked at him with disbelief. "Said the man who had destroyed all hospitals he visited back in the North Blue."
A light hue of pink spread across the man's cheeks. After a moment he cleared his throat. "That was different," he defended himself.
"Why would Cora-san destroy hospitals?" Luffy asked curiously.
"What? You don't know?" Law shot back, raising an amused eyebrow. It was quite rare for the little menace not know something about their past. "He tried to find a doctor who would treat me. But the moment they heard that it was Amber Lead, they all freaked out, called me a monster, and tried to kill me."
Luffy's face darkened. "Jerks!"
"Agreed," the blond muttered.
"Besides, if Marines come, we can just beat them," Law stated nonchalantly.
"I know you can," Corazon sighed. "But it would attract too much unnecessary attention."
"We can be subtle about it."
Law's and Corazon's eyes were blown wide, their jaws slackening as they gawked at Luffy. "Who are you and what did you do to Luffy?!" both demanded at the same time.
"Oi! I can be subtle when I want to!" The proclamation pushed the two of them into merry laughter. Luffy crossed his arms in front of him with a pout. "I can!" he huffed.
"Yeah, yeah, sure," the teen agreed with a grin, giving another fond ruffle to his younger brother's black mop.
Watching the three of them interact, Sanji didn't notice tears that gathered in his eyes. So, this was how real family looked like. They comforted, defended, and playfully teased each other; they laughed, fought, and spend time together. Definitely nothing like–
Sanji mentally shook himself. Now was not the time to think about that, if there even was a good time for such a thing.
"So, are you bounty hunters or outlaws?"
The trio looked at the old pirate in the bed, meeting his intense stare.
Law smirked. The Pirate King, the son of Gol D. Roger, the runaway noble, the strayed mink, the survivor of Flevance, hunted by one of the most powerful pirate in the world, the said pirate's younger brother who also was a deserter from the Navy, and a bunch of kids that their little Pirate King deemed nakama and recruited to his crew… "Definitely outlaws," he replied. "Currently doing some bandit cleaning duty."
"And why would a group of outlaws care this much about two random starving people?" Zeff inquired. "Who are you exactly?"
Luffy reached for his straw hat and put it back on his head, tipping it a bit forward. Only his grin was visible as it grew into a perfect D shape. "I'm Monkey D. Luffy, the Pirate King," he introduced before pointing at the boy in the bed next to the window. "And Sanji's nakama."
Everyone glanced at Sanji. Startled blue eyes met theirs. Luffy's smile amplitude immediately cranked up past the million. "Sanji!" he cheered.
"Wha–" the boy coughed feebly, getting the feeling of his own voice back. "Why? I don't know you."
"Doesn't matter," the straw-hatted boy declared. "You're the cook in my crew. That's what's most important."
Sanji blinked. It was delivered as a mere fact, in the same manner as if saying the sky was blue and grass was green. "…Huh?"
Zeff let out a deep rumbling laughter. "What a selfish Pirate King," he commented with a crooked smile.
"You have no idea…" Corazon and Law groaned together.
"But a King who cares about his subjects…" he trailed off, eyes glazing over as he reminisced about something. "I can accept that."
Ace pushed his cowboy hat up with one of his fingers so that he could look at the five-storey building in front of him. Walls were painted blue, and a big sign board with a seagull and 'MARINE' written under was attached to it between third storey's windows.
"So, this is Marine headquarters in the East Blue?" Sabo wondered next to Ace. His hand was holding the brim of his top hat so that it wouldn't fall down as he also gazed at the house. "Not really that grand."
The freckled raven snorted, adjusting a bag thrown over his shoulder. That was true: this building was neither impressive nor imposing. "Doesn't matter," he said. "Let's just hope that they'll pay the money for all our bounties."
They entered the base and quickly walked to the free reception desk. There were only a few people milling about: two scruffy men stared at the board of bounty posters and whispered something among themselves in sharp hisses as if arguing; the woman was filling some papers at the other reception desk with a boy of Ace's and Sabo's age sitting on the chair next to her and seemingly bored out of his mind; a couple Marines working behind their respective desks, and an old man cleaning the floor.
"Hello," Sabo greeted the marine. A toothy smile instantly appeared on his face, giving him that childishly charming and innocent look.
The man glanced at the two kids lazily. "Hi, are you here to report something?"
"No," Ace replied as he hefted the bag on the reception desk and opened it, revealing its content.
"We're here to collect bounty money," Sabo said at the same time putting three bounty posters next to the bag.
The Marine gawked at the three heads which in return were glaring at him. All people present stared at the scene with wide eyes.
"Watcha looking at, eh?!" one of the heads snapped. "Wanna fight?!"
The other one rolled his eyes. "Like you could fight in this condition."
"I can do headbutts!" the first head huffed angrily.
"AAAAAAAH!" the third head suddenly yelled out, startling everyone. "Something just bit me in my ass! Shit! That hurts!"
"Shut up!" Ace bonked the screaming bandit causing him to bit his tongue, and then looked at the Marine expectantly. "Can we get our money?"
The Marine sprang from his chair like he was electrocuted. "J-J-Just w-wait!" he stuttered out, immediately scrambling out of the room with a shout, "Cap… CAPTAIN!"
Few minutes later, a female Marine entered the room with the receptionist in tow. She was wearing a light blue formal outfit, a Captain's coat draped over her shoulders, with a sandy blond hair tied into a loose bun. She quickly swept the entire room with her eyes and scowled at the two kids and three separate heads.
The Captain wasn't shocked though. She transferred here from the main HQ in the Grand Line, so it wasn't the strangest sight she had ever witnessed. Though, to see a Devil Fruit user in the East Blue was still quite surprising.
"Are you the ones who brought these bounties down?" the Captain asked as she walked to the desk, her gaze quickly flickering through all three posters on it.
"Of course not," Sabo confessed with a smile. "We're just kids. Our older brother and adoptive father caught them all, we're just helping guard the bounties."
"Why they aren't here?"
"While traveling we found a starving boy on one of the bare rock islands. He shipwrecked there. Luckily we were passing by and rescued him. Cora-san and our oldest brother brought him to the hospital while we offered to help by collecting money for their work and guarding the rest of the captives on our ship," Sabo explained smoothly.
The female Marine blinked. "The rest of the captives?"
"Yeah. We still have seven bounties. With bodies attached."
The silence in the room was deafening.
"All of us were found by Cora-san and adopted by him. We're a big family and we need quite a sum of beli to buy food, clothes, blankets, medical supplies, and all other necessities," the blond continued. The smile was still plastered on his face, and his tone was polite and sincere. "While we're already learning how to fight to protect ourselves and help our dad, only our oldest brother follow him to the job. Despite that, everyone pulls their own weight in our family. Even our cute little brother help with small jobs that are suitable for him."
Sabo talked and talked and talked, telling how Cora-san found their oldest brother when he was sick and nursed him to health; how he himself was abused by his real parents, ran away from home and was eventually found by Cora-san too; how they met Ace who was just a wild boy abandoned in the jungles (Ace swore to himself to kick Sabo's ass for that story); how they saved a mink, the member of the Grand Line tribe, kidnapped by the pirates, and welcomed him into their ragtag family; and finally how they discovered an orphaned boy in the bandit's nest where he was kept to do chores and usually kept locked up, even though he was only an adorable small kid who couldn't hurt a butterfly.
At this point, the room was already crowded by people, civilians and Marines alike, most of them crying and sniffling, moved by everything these boys went through, and muttering in awe what a great guy this Cora was.
Sabo didn't stop there. Speaking in half-truths and half-fantasies, he winded a tearful life story of their everyday struggles to survive, added Zoro and Sanji into the mix for a good measure, and once all the listeners were bawling their eyes out, he ended it all with a blink of his big, dewy blue eyes and an innocent question.
"So, can we get the bounty money?"
The female Captain was also moved by the story, but at least managed to compose herself enough not to cry. She instantly snapped out of her emotional state, straightened up, and commanded her soldiers: "Commander! Get a group of men to help detain all these criminals! Lieutenant! Take care of these three bounties!"
"Yes, ma'am!" both men chorused together, saluting.
"Boys," she turned to Sabo and Ace, smiling kindly. "Once we get all your captives in custody, we will pay down the grand total for them all, alright?"
They both grinned. "Yeah!"
Luffy stepped through the door and looked around. The roof was empty. The hospital was one of the highest buildings in the Loguetown, and bustling city panorama opened before him. He walked to the faraway edge and sat down cross-legged.
Luffy watched Loguetown for a while, observing people scurrying around in a rush or strolling slowly, enjoying the warm and sunny day. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. The city noise gradually faded into nothingness, leaving the young Pirate King suspended in a bubble of silence.
And when he heard it. The Voice.
'Heard' was a term used loosely here, because the Voice never uttered words or sentences. Instead, it conveyed intentions, purposes, and impressions. Most of it was diluted, only bleak tired wisps of all the houses and pavement, stomped by thousands of feet every day. Some of them were more vivid, expressed by the objects that were more loved and cared for. And very rarely, the Voice would ripple with echoes of profound intent by the things that evolved sentience and the soul of their own.
Luffy tilted his head slightly to the side, surprised by hearing two such ripples in Loguetown.
One was speaking of rage and massacre, accompanied by an unhealthy amount of bloodlust and permeated with murderous intent. It was a distant echo, but it seemed like the Voice was talking inside his head, whispering at the back of his mind, tempting to act, to kill, to slaughter–
Luffy's lips curled into a wry smile.
Always awake, endlessly craving to devour the weak and unprepared, Sandai Kitetsu was as wild and bloodthirsty as he remembered. The same sword that sung from pure satisfaction in his first mate's hand, cleaving through the mob and bathing in the blood of their enemies. The same sword that roared out all its excruciating fury the moment some random Marine picked it up, overjoyed by the opportunity to obtain a trophy of the infamous Pirate Hunter after he fell in battle. The same sword that brought victory to them that day by slaying hundreds of Marines and eventually falling into deep slumber.
The indomitable cursed blade that Zoro managed to tame and make his most trusted ally. Luffy was definitely eager to obtain it before leaving.
When he focused on the second ripple, it soaked him in familiar warmth and the sound of burning fire. The Voice carried the impression of flames and ashes, and Luffy's heart quickened as a bright grin grew on his face. He felt excited! He didn't think that he would find it so soon and in Loguetown of all places!
The boy opened his eyes and looked over his shoulder. He already knew that Ace and Sabo had been waiting for a few minutes, undecided whether to disturb him or not.
"Did everything go well with collecting the money?" Luffy asked as he stood up to speak with his brothers face to face.
"Yep," Sabo replied with a pleased smile.
"He made them all cry," Ace deadpanned.
Luffy cocked his head to the side, confused. "Cry?"
"Hahahaha," the blond laughed, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "It worked better than I thought it would."
"Sabo was scary there," the freckled raven admitted, eyeing his brother warily.
Sabo shot a brief glare his way. "Anyway!" he said forcefully, looking back at Luffy. "Law took the money and went to buy medical supplies. He said that we need to leave tomorrow at the latest?"
Luffy's face darkened. "Yeah," he said, frowning. "Before that, I want to pick a few things in the town. Where's Zoro?"
"He's guarding the ship."
The young Pirate King thought for a bit, and then muttered, "Well, I can always grab Sandai Kitetsu later." He started to walk to the exit before turning around to call for his brothers: "Come on, Ace! Sabo! Let's go!"
Two preteens glanced at each other, puzzled by Luffy's mischievous grin. "Where are we going?" Ace asked curiously as they followed the younger boy through the door and down the staircase.
"To pick up the Devil Fruit."
The eyes of both boys widened. "Devil Fruit?" Sabo echoed, while Ace at the same time inquired, "What kind?"
Luffy hopped over the last few stairs and burst outside, already listening from where the Voice was calling. "This way!"
-almost an hour later-
Three boys were panting with their hands on their knees, trying to catch their breaths after running the whole way here.
Luffy managed to even out his breathing first, and he regarded the mansion in front of him with his eyes shining in delight.
Sabo looked around. Luxurious mansions with their perfectly mowed lawns, fancy gardens, and fenced yards flanked both sides of the wide, cobbled street. Not a single person walked it as far as he could see.
The blond scrunched his face in distaste. A view of this place was too familiar, too suffocating, too painful. "Why are we here?" he asked, his voice easily betraying his anxiety and irritation.
Ace shot him a strange glance. Luffy pointed at the mansion he was staring at and cheerfully exclaimed, "The fruit is there!"
"Oh? So how we're gonna–" Sabo trailed off when he saw the younger raven suddenly stretch his arms and grab the top of the fence. "Whoa! Wait wait wait wait wait!" he yelled in alarm.
Ace also noticed Luffy's actions. "Shit!"
They both grabbed onto their little brother, trying to stop him, but the latter's arms snapped back, sending all three soaring through the air at high speed. They flew through the window on the second floor, across the whole room and crashed into the wall, destroying it in the process.
When the cloud of dust settled down, debris moved and three heads popped out of it.
"You moron!" Ace yelled, smacking the little idiot upside his head.
Sabo climbed from the remnants of the wall and blew the air out of his lungs. "Well, I guess that's one way to break and enter," he commented coolly while dusting himself off and looking around. His gaze fell on a glass display on the other side of the room.
"We should hurry up before people show up here," Ace grumbled, pushing the rubble away to free himself.
"Hey, Luffy, isn't that the fruit you were talking about?"
Luffy looked at Sabo, then followed his gaze to the display, and his face lit up.
There it was – a round orange fruit, composed of many flame-shaped components with swirl patterns on each one, and a swirled stem on the top. Flame-Flame Fruit. Ace's Devil Fruit.
"Yep!" the straw-hatted boy cried out, leaping out of the debris and rushing to the display.
"So, what kind of fruit is this?" Ace asked again as he and Sabo stopped right behind their brother.
Luffy punched the glass and picked up the Devil Fruit with one hand. "This is the Flame-Flame Fruit, a Logia-type Devil Fruit that allows the user to create, control, and transform into fire at will," he explained, extending the fruit towards them. "A very powerful one. One of you should eat it."
Sabo raised his eyebrow at Luffy's statement, then noticed how Ace's eyes simmered with interest. He folded his arms. "I don't want it," he declared.
"Really?" the freckled raven asked, barely concealing his excitement.
Sabo smirked. "I'd rather save your drowning asses than become one myself."
"Suit yourself," Ace huffed, snatching it from Luffy. "Flame fruit sounds cool. I'm definitely gonna kick the creep's ass with this!" He took a big bite, chew on it a bit, and then suddenly paled. He struggled between throwing it up and swallowing it. Eventually, the prospect of beating Law won, and Ace gulped it down. "It's disgusting!" he growled, glaring at the rest of the fruit.
Sabo burst into merry laughter.
"Ace," Luffy called. His brow was furrowed and his eyes were intense as he stared at his older brother. "Fire is dangerous. It can hurt and it can kill. Before you take full control of your fruit's power, I'll be the only one to spar with you."
Ace held his gaze before nodding. "Okay," he agreed. As much as he wanted to beat Law, he didn't want to hurt him or anyone else. He glared at the fruit again. "Do I need to eat all of it?"
"Shishishishi, nope. One bite is enough."
At that moment, a group of armed men stormed into the room. They lined up and cocked their guns at the intruders, not even blinking at the fact that it was just three kids.
The group parted, allowing a pompous noble to step through. He opened his mouth to say something, but when he saw the bitten Devil Fruit in Ace's hand his jaw dropped and eyes bulged out. "Kill them all!" he ordered, his face flushing red with anger. "I want them all dead!"
"Oh, they finally found us," Sabo remarked nonchalantly. "It took them a while."
"Shishishishi!" Luffy chuckled. "Time to run away!"
In a blink of an eye, the three brothers jumped through the broken window, smoothly landed on the ground and bolted.
"Whoa, this is the second floor!" one of the soldiers exclaimed.
"Dammit! After them! After them!" the noble roared and the group scrambled to catch up.
Luffy, Ace, and Sabo were leisurely strolling through Loguetown, chatting and laughing.
"Here they are! Catch them!"
They turned around to see the noble and armed group of soldiers gaining on them.
"How did they find us?!" Ace gritted his teeth.
"Doesn't matter… Run!" Sabo grabbed Luffy's hand and dragged him with him.
"Can't we just beat them up?" the younger raven complained.
"If we want to keep a low profile, we can't," the blond explained causing Luffy to pout.
They ran for a few minutes, but soldiers didn't want to give up. Suddenly, the towering figure of Cora-san appeared in the crowd ahead, and Sabo's face lit up. "I have an idea!" he exclaimed. "Luffy, can you pretend to cry? You know, like a real eight years old?"
Ace whipped his head to look at Sabo like he was crazy. "Luffy and pretend in one sentence, Sabo?"
The blond's face blanked out before his palm hit his forehead in realization. "Ah! You're right!"
Luffy scowled at them. It was true that previously he couldn't lie to save his life, but not anymore. During all those years on the run, his nakama, mostly Robin, taught him a lot of things. He learned from the best. Luffy just chose not to lie. "I can," he stated in such a serious tone, that the other two boys were taken aback.
Without waiting for their replies, Luffy kicked off the ground, increasing his speed, and darted through all the people towards Cora-san. "DAAAAAAD!" he screamed in a teary voice, slamming into the man's leg and hugging it for dear life.
Ace and Sabo almost tripped in surprise as they heard it. They shared a wide-eyed glance, unable to believe that Luffy – their idiot, overpowered little brother with nothing but a fantasy filled head – could actually act so well.
But this was not a time to think about that. They both skidded to a halt in front of Corazon and Bepo, turning around to face their pursuers.
Corazon, though, was caught completely off guard by Luffy's actions. His body froze, and mind stopped functioning with a word 'Dad' going on an endless loop. He stiffly looked down at the kid. A cigarette fell from his open mouth when he registered that Luffy was probably crying. Crying? Luffy was crying?! Who the hell dared to make his boy cry?!
Just as the soldiers and, surprisingly, a noble finally came closer, Sabo yelled at the top of his lungs, "Stop chasing us, you pervert! Stop forcing yourself on our little brother!"
Pursuers gaped at him, while the whole street snapped their attention at the scene, dissatisfied whispers spreading among them.
"What?! Forcing yourself on the little boy?!" screamed a woman as she pushed her young daughter behind her.
"A pervert!" another woman shouted horrified.
"What do you want from these kids?!" a man with two little kids of his own demanded.
"See what he did to my little brother?!" Sabo exclaimed, pointing at Luffy who had his face buried in Corazon's leg. "This pervert scarred him for life!"
"That's not true!" the noble sputtered, finding himself as the main target of dozens of infuriated glares from the crowd.
"F-F-Forcing yourself on Luffy?" Corazon muttered, his face twisting into an ugly, dark expression. This kind of act was unforgivable! Luffy yelped when Corazon suddenly scooped him into his arms and pressed him securely against his chest.
"They are thieves!" the noble screamed, red-faced, pointing at Ace and Sabo. Corazon appeared in front of him in that instant, his eyes burning with unfathomable rage. The man shivered and gulped nervously. "Y-You… What do you want?!"
The blond lashed out with his leg and landed a kick right between the man's legs with a sickening cracking sound.
The noble's face contracted and paled, his whole body froze, arms blindly trying to sooth the damaged parts before he fell down, moaning and writhing in pain.
Everyone cringed. A life-changing injury for sure.
Luffy watched the noble, then buried his face into the blond's neck. His whole body trembled in his struggle to stifle the laughter. Corazon just scoffed at the man, gently patting Luffy over his back, comforting him.
"Hmpf! He had it coming!"
"That's what you get trying to force yourself on a child!"
Bepo was completely confused on what was happening. Ace and Sabo watched the scene stupefied. None of them expected Cora-san to go full righteous avenger mode on the man because of their lies.
"What's happening here?" A crowd parted and a group of Marines stepped in, led by the female Captain Ace and Sabo already had met.
"Those people are trying to force themselves on these boys!" someone yelled.
"Yeah! Arrest these perverts!"
"How are we're supposed to let our children walk our town's streets if this kind of person harms kids in the middle of daylight!"
The Captain frowned, looking at the lying noble, his soldiers, then at Corazon, and the boys around him. Sabo flashed a grin when their eyes met, and she blinked in surprise. Her eyes went back up again to stare at Corazon for a bit longer.
"Can someone tell me what exactly happened?"
"We brought our little brother to sightsee," Sabo began, motioning to Luffy in Corazon's arms. "When we were walking around, having fun, that man," he pointed accusingly at the noble, "burst through the gates of a nearby mansion with a bunch of his guards and tried to grab my little brother!" Another wave of angry, heated murmurs rolled throughout the surrounding crowd. "We got scared, so we took Luffy and ran, but that pervert kept chasing us!"
"Lie… Lying!" the noble squeezed out, his voice definitely a few octaves higher than it was before. "T-They stole fr-fr– an it-tem and f-fled!"
The female Marine rolled her eyes. "And how had these little kids managed to flee from your security?"
"They jumped from the second floor window!" one of the soldiers exclaimed, trying to help his boss.
"Really?" the Captain looked back at the kids and they just blinked innocently at her.
"I'll be disappointed if you believe this pervert, Marines!"
"Just leave those boys alone!"
"Yeah! Arrest that pervert!"
Sabo turned to Bepo, quickly whispered something into his ear, and pushed him closer to the female Captain.
The mink tugged her coat. Once she looked down at him, he shyly asked, "You believe us, right?"
The Captain stared at him, her face blank, but a light hue of pink slowly spreading across her cheeks. After a moment, she coughed into her fist, composing herself, pointed at the noble and his entourage, and ordered, "Men, arrest these criminals!"
Happy cheers exploded as the Marines packed the sputtering offenders and led them away.
"So, this is your father, boys?" the Captain asked, smiling gently.
"Yeah," Sabo confirmed without skipping a beat.
"Sir, I really admire your work and what you do for these boys," the woman said respectfully, giving a slight bow to the bewildered Corazon. "Please, have a nice stay in our town."
"Umm… Thank you."
People also started to disperse, but not before praising the boys for protecting their little brother and giving thumbs up to Corazon for educating his kids so well.
The blond just nodded, absolutely clueless about what was even happening.
Sabo glanced left and right. Noticing an empty alley not far from where they were standing he motioned for their group to move there.
Just as they stepped into it, Luffy couldn't hold himself any longer and melted into a loud fit of laughter. Sabo and Ace grinned and high fived each other.
"So, what exactly happened?" Corazon asked. Seeing that Luffy was actually more than okay and definitely not stressed or in need of crying, he put him back on his feet.
"He caught us in breaking and entering," Sabo informed dryly.
"And stealing," Ace added in the same nonchalant tone.
"And destroying his house!" Luffy chimed in merrily.
"That was just you!" Ace and Sabo yelled at him.
Corazon blinked. "So, you really stole something from him?"
"It's Ace's Devil Fruit!" Luffy cheered.
"So, you were all acting?" Bepo inquired. "I thought it was weird that you didn't simply beat them up."
Sabo shrugged. "It would have brought us unnecessary attention."
Corazon felt lightheaded. "Acting?" he asked, looking in disbelief at Luffy who grinned at him. Oh. So calling him 'Dad' and 'father' was just an act, obviously. His shoulders slumped. He'd be lying to himself if he said that he wasn't disappointed. "And… Devil Fruit? Ace now is a fruit user?!"
Said new fruit user smirked.
Corazon sighed and grabbed a new cigarette from his pocket, thinking that even God couldn't save the world from these kids now. Of course, there was no way for him to know that god already got his own ass kicked by Luffy once, and would experience the same fate yet again in the future.
Ace suddenly felt an itch in his nose. He sneezed and instantly burst into flames.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH! ACE IS ON FIRE!" Corazon screamed in panic, his newly lit cigarette falling on the ground once more. "WATER! WE NEED WATER!"
-Dawn Island, Goa Kingdom-
Outlook III pulled a small, round watch from his pocket and flicked it open. Taking in the time, he furrowed his brow, irritated.
It was already late evening. The park where he waited was almost empty, only a few civilians wandered around, mostly couples, chatting and chuckling among themselves.
Outlook III tapped his foot against the stone path when he finally saw a tall, middle-aged, muscled man coming towards him. He wore sleeveless t-shirt and pants, colored in camouflage patterns, and heavy combat boots. A big hunting knife was attached to his belt together with crossbow and bolt holster.
A mercenary through and through.
"Sir," the man greeted in a monotone.
Outlook III snared in disgust. He was truly falling low, forced to associate with these kind of people. "Your money," he said, throwing the mercenary a purse, jingling with coins.
The man easily caught it, opened it and looked inside. Satisfied, he tied it to his belt. "Do you have a photo?"
"Yes," the noble replied, pulling out a small photo and giving it to the man. "I don't care how you do it, find him! He's somewhere on this island, I just know it."
"What if he's staying with someone?"
Outlook III pursed his lips. "Accidents do happen."
The mercenary's mouth stretched into a savage grin as he pushed the photo in the back pocket. "Don't worry, my team will find your son."
"You better." And with that, Outlook III turned around and quickly walked away. He glowered at nothing in particular and muttered under his breath, voice dripping with venom, "You're costing me more than you're worth, Sabo."
Chapter 11: X. You shouldn't waste the kindness of others.
Betaread by DemonicWhispers!
"You shouldn't waste the kindness of others."
(Luffy/Usopp ~8, Nami ~9, Zoro/Sanji ~10, Bepo/Ace/Sabo ~11, Law ~15 y.o.)
Luffy, Zoro, and Law were gazing at the open wooden gates in front of them. A tall wooden fence enclosed the whole perimeter of the yard with several buildings and a neat garden surrounding them. A signboard above the entrance stated that this was Seikeikan Dojo.
"It's bigger than Isshin Dojo," Zoro said in awe.
Luffy tilted his head, puzzled. "I remember it being in a shop, not a Dojo," he mumbled under his breath.
Law glanced at the younger raven. After a moment, he carefully commented, "You never know where things or people might end up in the future."
A small, knowing smile touched the corners of Luffy's mouth. "You're right, Law," the boy agreed easily. "Let's go inside!"
The teen narrowed his eyes at his youngest brother's back, but said nothing more and followed soon after. They crossed the garden and entered the Dojo.
The hall was well lit and clean with incense filling the air, practice swords and other tools tidily organized in the corner. There was a man kneeling behind a small table in one corner, frowning at the sheet of paper in his hand. His face was stern, a few grey strands were mixed between his dark hair, and the right sleeve of his royal blue kimono was lying flat at the side – the man was missing his whole arm.
The stranger looked up at the kids, his gaze lingering on Law's nodachi for a bit longer, and a few more wrinkles joined his frown. "Come with parents if you want to join the Dojo," he said dismissively, returning back to glaring at the paper.
"Not here to join," Luffy responded. "We're here for the sword."
The man's eyes snapped up at them again, but none of the three boys seemed to be intimidated by his sharp and keen glower. He put the paper down on the table with a sigh. "Has Haijen sent children to do his bidding now?" he wondered, a barely perceptible anger layering his voice. "Go back and tell him that I haven't changed my mind and the sword is still not for sale."
The trio stared at him blankly. Luffy folded his arms and tilted his head to the side, furrowing his brow, as he usually did when he was confused about something. "Who's that?" he asked. "And who are you, ossan?"
The Dojo master was taken aback by his words. He scrutinized the kids for a while, his expression giving away a feeling that he knew that they were much more than his eyes could perceive. "If you're not here on Haijen's orders," he spoke carefully, "what sword are you talking about?"
"Sandai Kitetsu," Luffy replied as he looked at the furthermost cupboard with a small grin.
The man followed his line of sight and his eyes widened. "How do you know about it?"
"It's Zoro's sword, of course, I know about it," the boy responded with a distinct 'well, duh' tone.
Law couldn't help but smile in amusement. "You know, this isn't how you convince people of something."
"But it's the truth!"
Zoro scowled at the youngest boy. "Is that sword as good as you say?" he asked skeptically.
"If you can control it," Luffy said, scrunching his face a bit in displeasure. "It may be a bit too much of a jerk for you right now."
"Too much of a jerk?" The young swordsman blinked at the younger boy. "You understand that you're talking about a sword, right?"
Luffy glanced at him, and the corner of his mouth twitched up. "You'll understand once you have it in your hands." He turned back to the man, who observed them in silence, and asked, "Hey, can we buy it?"
The Dojo master stayed quiet, his gaze calculating and contemplating. "I already told you that it's not for sale," he finally said.
"Eeeh?" Luffy's jaw dropped. After a moment, he scratched his head. "Well, that's a problem…"
"We have money," Law informed.
The man sighed. "Money is not the issue here," he admitted, his hand unconsciously brushing along the empty kimono sleeve. "Sandai Kitetsu is the cursed sword. It's too dangerous."
"Luffy, didn't you say that this is also the cursed sword?" Law asked after a short pause as he brought his nodachi forward and frowned at it, ignoring the Dojo master's surprised 'What?!'. "Feels like an ordinary blade to me."
"Yep," Luffy answered nonchalantly. "But Kikoku is different. Besides, it's still sleeping. Once it wakes up, you'll know."
"How intriguing," Law said softly with a smirk forming on his lips. He stared at his weapon for a bit longer, then put it back on his shoulder. "Well, it feels right to have it."
"Of course it does!" the little Pirate King cheered. "You're not Traffy without Kikoku, your cool attitude, and tattoos!"
Law scowled at his little brother and simply stared with the unreadable look in his eyes. "Tattoos, huh?" he murmured thoughtfully. He was thinking about getting some body art done on himself, but hadn't told anyone about it yet. Nevertheless, he didn't comment, just flicked Luffy's forehead, eliciting a joyous 'shishishishi'.
"You kids… Who are you?" the man asked, watching them in disbelief.
Luffy put his hand on the top of the straw hat and grinned, wide and bright. "I'm Mon–"
"Hirotada-saaaaan!" a yell suddenly echoed throughout an empty Dojo as the door was ripped open and a group of men entered like they owned the place. Each of them sported mocking smiles on their faces and had katanas either in their hands or attached to their waists.
"Haijen," the Dojo master, Hirotada, growled. There was a distinct undertone of animosity, and as he slowly rose up, even his body language betrayed hostility towards the group.
The burly guy in front laughed. "Hirotada-san," he said again, sarcasm dripping from his voice. "I'm gonna get that sword from you today."
"Over my dead body!"
"What can you do with only one arm?!" the man laughed again, grabbing his katana to unsheathe it, but stopped when he noticed three kids gawking at him. His mouth stretched into a menacing grin. "Oh, you even have such cute pupils here! Are you sure that you don't want to give that useless sword to me?"
Hirotada gritted his teeth. "They are not my pupils, just random kids that wandered in here. Don't touch them."
"Hmm," Luffy hummed with his arms behind his head – the picture of relaxed indifference. "They remind me of those guys we met on your island, Zoro."
The green-haired boy rolled his eyes. "At least I know now that you can't be taken as a hostage."
Law raised an eyebrow at Zoro. "Taken as a hostage?"
"Tch, I thought that he was in danger… Little bastard."
Luffy laughed, as carefree as the wind.
"Stop ignoring me!" the burly man roared, drawing his sword and slashing it at the smallest kid.
"Watch out!" Hirotada yelled in alarm, grabbing his own katana from under the table, but there was no way that he would be fast enough to protect the boys.
Law's eyes flashed with a chilling murderous intent. Kikoku easily slid from its sheath and met the blade of the enemy with a sharp ding. "While I know that there is no way weaklings like you would ever even touch a hair on Luffy's head," he said in a dangerously low voice as he effortlessly pushed the attacker away. "But as an older brother, I don't take kindly to anyone threatening him." He smiled, vicious and unforgiving, and lifted his left hand with an energy already swirling under his palm. "Room."
The moment the blue transparent bubble stopped expanding, Law swung his blade several times through the air in front of him. Everyone, except Luffy who grinned and Zoro who folded his arms with a huff, stared at him in confusion, unable to understand what he was actually doing. The cursed nodachi went back into its sheath with a soft click.
That's when the world tilted for Haijen and his goons and their bodies fell apart.
"We were cut!"
"What the hell is going on?!"
"Aaaaaah! Save me!"
Hearing them all scream, Law's smile sharpened into an evil one. "Let's play," he said softly.
As body parts started flying around followed by terrified cries, Zoro tsked. "Dammit," he muttered. "I wish I had my swords with me."
Luffy tore his eyes from the torsos, flailing limbs, and screaming heads getting attached to the walls of the Dojo into some kind of macabre gallery, and looked at his swordsman. "Why don't you have them?"
"Sabo took them away," Zoro grumbled. "Said something about our cover story and that it would be bad if Marines saw me with them."
"But he's right. It's better not to get Marines attention until we get Sanji and cook-ossan out of here."
"I already got everything I need to get the both of them on their feet," Law chimed in as the room disappeared and he turned around to face the other two boys with the last head resting on his palm. "We need to pick some extra stuff as we go back, and then we can leave whenever."
Zoro eyed the head, looking slightly disturbed, but didn't comment. Law walked towards the Dojo master.
The latter hadn't moved or said anything from the moment the teen blocked Haijen's attack, just stared at the three kids with an unreadable expression. When Haijen's separate head landed on his table with a thud and a tirade of curses from its mouth, Hirotada's gaze flickered down at it and his brow furrowed.
"Apologize for making a mess," Law ordered coldly, bonking the head with the tip of Kikoku's sheath.
"It was you who made the mess!" the man shouted back, momentarily forgetting his current predicament.
The evil smile returned with a vengeance together with a dark, amused gleam in those amber eyes. "Ooh, you wish to be cut into even smaller pieces, don't you, Haijen-ya?"
The thug blanched, wide eyes following the teen's hand slowly rising towards his sword's hilt, and he immediately squeaked, "Sorry!"
Law dropped his arm back to his side with a scoff.
"Who are you, kids?" Hirotada asked again.
Luffy stepped beside his older brother, a brilliant grin stretching under the straw hat. "I'm Monkey D. Luffy, the Pirate King."
"Roronoa Zoro," the green-haired boy grunted.
Law was silent for a second as if considering something. "…Trafalgar D. Water Law."
The man's eyes widened. "Two Ds?" And then he suddenly burst into a merry laughter. The three boys simply blinked at him. The mirth died out as quickly as it started and Hirotada brushed the back of his hand across his eyes. "Is it fate?" he wondered in a whisper. "Must be." He looked at the kids again, his gaze alight with resolve. Putting back the katana under the table, he motioned them to follow him.
"Ne, ossan, you really won't sell us Sandai Kitetsu?" Luffy inquired as they walked across the hall.
"I already told you that it's not for sale," the Dojo master replied. Luffy's face fell, but before he could say anything, the man spoke again, "But you can have Sandai Kitetsu free of charge."
The straw-hatted boy started. "Huh?"
"Free of charge?" Law echoed, eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"Yes," Hirotada confirmed without skipping a beat. He opened the cupboard and took out a long package, rolled-up in a red cloth. "I believe it can finally do something good in the hands of D's companion."
Luffy grinned at his words. Zoro accepted the package and carefully unwrapped the cloth to reveal a sheath of a deep red color and a reddish-brown sword hilt with golden tsuba and pommel.
The moment Zoro touched it, he felt it calling out to him, inviting and seducing to set it free, to draw it. Without really realizing what he was doing, his fingers curled tightly around the hilt and pulled the sword half out of its sheath. The light blade sat nicely in his grip, perfect length and weight to slash and cut, to murder and slaughter, to dye the streets with the blood of the innocent–
A dominant willpower suddenly pressed down on Zoro and the whispers in the back of his mind receded. But as much as he wanted to let go of that accursed sword, he couldn't. A sweat broke on the young swordsman's forehead as he struggled to keep himself from succumbing to those dark temptations.
A hand landed gently on the top of his, another wave of the familiar power washed over him, and the whispers hushed completely. Zoro lifted his head, meeting the intense black eyes staring at him. "Luffy…" he choked out, his body shaking from such an unexpected experience.
"Sorry, Zoro," Luffy said earnestly. He pried his nakama's fingers from Sandai Kitetsu, pushed it back into its sheath and then re-wrapped into the cloth again. "I haven't realized just how strong it is for you right now." He observed the other boy, a worried crease in his brow. "You okay?"
Zoro took a few deep breaths to stabilize himself. "Yeah… I think so," he mumbled unsurely. "I…" He bit his lip. Despite his inability to control such a sword, for that brief moment when he had held it, Zoro felt its untamed terrifying power. A sword with its own soul – such a frightening entity – could either be a curse or a blessing for a swordsman, depending on their knowledge and skills.
Finally, reaching a decision, Zoro looked up, meeting Luffy's eyes again. "I will get stronger so that I can use this sword," he declared with nothing but pure conviction etched across his features. "I swear on my dream of becoming the World's Greatest Swordsman! Any problems with that, Pirate King?!"
A grin crept onto Luffy's face, stretching from one side to the other, showing every single tooth. "Nope! I believe in you, Zoro." He propped Sandai Kitetsu against his shoulder in the same manner as Law had carried his nodachi, and turned to the Dojo master. "We'll be going now. Thank you!"
Zoro turned to the man too and gave a deep bow. Law dipped his head in respectful goodbye, and all three left.
Hirotada stared at the door, shocked from encountering such fascinating children. After a minute, he sighed, glanced around his Dojo, and grimaced at all the body parts stuck on its walls. "What should I do with this mess?"
Next time Sanji woke up it was already evening. The sun dipped closer to the horizon, painting the sky with a vivid palette of colors of the approaching dusk.
The room was empty, save for the old geezer who was sleeping. Those strange boys and their giant companion were gone. Sanji felt his heart clenching. Either they truly were just an illusion or they had already abandoned him. Honestly, he couldn't decide which option was worse.
Well, of course, they had abandoned him. He was just a good-for-nothing fail–
That's when the door of their room flew open with a bang. The boy flinched, startled, his depressing thoughts puffing out of existence.
Luffy dashed in with a dazzling grin plastered across his face, and Sanji's heart spurred into an excited flutter that this straw-hatted whirlwind was real and still around.
"Time to go!" the latter exclaimed cheerfully, sliding to a halt right next to the blond's bed.
His words slowly sunk into Sanji's mind, and his face blanked out. He could barely lift his limbs at this point, not to mention walking anywhere. "Go where?" he asked as he tried to sit up and would have failed if not for Luffy who propped him against pillows.
"Home," was the quick reply. The exuberant boy glanced at the others who pushed two wheelchairs into the room as they entered, then faced Sanji again, his grin widening beyond the capabilities of a normal human being. "We're going home!"
"H-Home?" The concept of home was such a foreign thing to him that for a moment the blond couldn't even comprehend Luffy's words. "What do you mean?"
"Home is home. It's where your family stays most of the time and, currently, that's the Dawn Island. What else I could mean?"
"Am I also… f-family?" Sanji asked quietly, carefully, bracing himself for an inevitable rejection.
However, Luffy's smile didn't falter, it actually grew even wider and immeasurably warmer. "Of course," the answer was delivered firmly, without any doubt or delay, with a distinct 'obviously' undertone.
Sanji let out a quiet, "Oh." Because, seriously, what else he could say to that?
"Careful," Law warned as he helped Corazon transfer Zeff from the bed into the wheelchair. "Ace, give me the blanket. Also, can you get that pillow?"
Sabo came around Zeff's bed with the second wheelchair while Ace snatched the pillow from the bed. …And instantly set it on fire.
"Very nice, Flamebrain," Law quipped, unamused.
"Hey, not my fault!" the other boy shouted, his cheeks slightly flushed as he stomped on the burning pillow. "It's hard to control…"
"Hahahaha!" Sabo laughed. "You're like Cora-san now!"
Corazon grinned, almost proudly, but Ace wasn't having any of that. "Am not! I don't set myself on fire!"
"Oh, really?" Law asked as he tucked the blanket around the old pirate's legs and straightened up to look at him, his amber eyes shining with mirth. "You're on fire right now."
Ace glanced at himself and, lo and behold, fire sizzled along his whole left arm. "Damn," he cursed silently, willing it away, but then another fire sprung on his right shoulder. His three present brothers burst out laughing. "Shut it!"
"Even I'm not that bad," Cora said with a smile.
"You're worse!" the brothers yelled together.
"Am not!" the giant blond defended himself, a hint of blush creeping up his face, and earned another bout of laughter from his boys, this time with Ace joining in.
"Alright, your turn," Law said as he walked towards Sanji and Luffy, his voice still carrying the cheerful tone.
"What? No, wait–"
"Little eggplant!" Zeff who was quiet till now suddenly yelled angrily at him.
Sanji flinched, instinctively closing his eyes and hunching on himself as if waiting for a blow. It never came. Surprised and confused, he slowly opened his eyes.
"You shouldn't waste the kindness of others," Zeff continued the moment he had the boy's attention, "like you shouldn't waste food."
Tears instantly appeared in Sanji's eyes before he nodded. He would never ever waste food again. He would not waste the kindness of others either.
As Luffy pulled him into a much-needed hug, Sanji remembered his sister, her tears and her last words. I think I found them, Reiju, the people you talked about!
-next morning, Luffy's & Co temporary ship, the waters of the Polestar Islands-
Sanji watched the scene unfold in front of his eyes, trying to collect his jaw from his lap. Zeff next to him had a similar expression, albeit a more composed one. Corazon, standing behind their wheelchairs, seemed unperturbed as he calmly smoked his cigarette.
Not paying any attention to the loud whining, Law licked his finger and flipped a page of the medicine book that he had picked up in Loguetown, leaning comfortably against sleeping Bepo in the middle of the deck with his nodachi safely resting on his shoulder.
"I know that! I'll do it later!"
Zoro was sprawled nearby, snoring without a care in a world, hugging all three of his swords. Sabo had a bunch of maps spread around him and studied them with a dedicated concentration. Ace was up in the crow's nest, leaning on its railing, and seemed to be dozing off as he observed his youngest brother on the ship's front.
"We need to get out of here faster because of Marines and there's no wind!"
And Luffy? Well, Luffy was in a heated argument with his pet Sea King.
Kinto-un just grumbled something in return and cocked his nose away and up in a dramatic gesture of 'Nope!'.
"Argh!" the boy suddenly groaned in frustration. "Fine!" he snapped, throwing his hands up in surrender. "Belly rubs for pulling our ship it is!"
Kinto-un's face lit up and he immediately plopped on his back with a smile – literally – looking relaxed, content, and happy. Luffy leaped off the ship and onto his belly. With both his arms coated in Haki for a stronger effect, he stretched them all the way to the other side, dragging fingers across, and then back, and to the other side again, and back, and to the other side, and back, and–
"A child with a Devil Fruit giving belly rubs to a Sea King…" Zeff muttered in disbelief before laughing. "Now I've seen it all!"
Cora breathed out a puff of smoke and smirked while Law, Sabo, and Ace snorted. "No, you haven't," all four said in unison.
-a week later, Dawn Island, Foosha Village-
Rust was bored. So far, this mission turned out to be the dullest their elite mercenary group, the Mad Dogs, had ever received. The payment was good, though, so he understood why their boss, Zaros-aniki, accepted it.
Find one kid on this single island. Just how hard could it be? The thing was that they couldn't find him.
They scoured the whole Goa Kingdom from the ground up, inspected every nook and cranny, checked this remote village, and came up empty. The people that lived in the Gray Terminal before it burned down said that they had seen the kid from the photo going out and into the forest, but after combing it back and forth several times they found only a few bandit hideouts. One of them was empty, seemed to be raided a few years back, so they made it their temporary camp.
They still couldn't find that goddamn brat! Zaros figured that he must have left the island or burned in the Grey Terminal, and informed the client, but the latter just offered more money and ordered to keep looking.
That's why Rust was here in Foosha Village, keeping an eye on the pier, bored to death. If the target left the island, he might return, so they posted lookouts in Goa port and here, just in case.
Rust was lifting his bottle of water (damn that Aniki for forbidding sake while on duty!) to take a gulp, when he spotted a small vessel sailing towards the shore. It wasn't the first one, so he didn't pay much attention to it until a bunch of kids jumped from the ship the moment it docked.
And their target – the blond brat – was among them.
Rust quickly ducked behind the tree he was previously leaning against and pulled a small Den Den Mushi out of his pocket. "Aniki, I have eyes on the target," he immediately informed once it connected. "He just came back from outside the island."
"Bingo!" Zaros cheered. "Is he alone?"
"No, but there's nothing to worry about," the mercenary reported, sneaking behind a building as he followed the merry group through the village. "The group consists of two adult men, with one of them being an old crippled guy in a wheelchair, a bunch of kids, and a bear cub that seems to tag along with them. The oldest of the kids might pose a slight threat, but others are just brats."
The snail's mouth stretched into a wicked smile, reflecting Zaros' satisfaction. "Doesn't seem that we'll have a problem then of picking the kid up and delivering him to the client."
Rust grinned too, peeking around the corner. The group stopped in front of the bar and the adults went inside. The green-haired boy who carried three swords on his back pushed the kid in a wheelchair after them.
"Those kids are kinda cute, carrying weapons with them," the mercenary chuckled mockingly before the rest of those cute kids and the bear suddenly turned around and looked straight at him with matching expressions of fierceness. Cursing, Rust hid behind the house.
"What is it?" Zaros questioned, alarmed.
The man took a breath and spoke while carefully sliding to look around the corner again, "It's noth–" He abruptly ceased talking because one of the kids – the youngest one, with a straw hat on his head – was right in front of him, staring. The others didn't move closer, but were still there, also staring.
"Ne, mister," the boy called out, his childish voice light and innocent, "why are you following us?"
"I'm not following you," Rust denied clumsily. "I was, uh, sightseeing."
"Hmmm…" the kid drawled out thoughtfully, putting his arms behind his head in a relaxed posture, watching him.
Rust felt those black eyes boring into his face, through his skin and flesh, directly into his soul. Those eyes didn't belong to a child; they were too dark, too intense, too powerful, too dangerous – the eyes of the being that dwelled on the top of the food chain, of the apex predator, staring down at the prey that really wasn't worth its time.
Honestly, Rust didn't feel any shame of stumbling a step back. "I-Is that a problem?" he asked, barely able to keep a tremble out of his voice.
"Nope," the boy popped 'p'. "Just," he paused and his gaze flicked down at the Den Den Mushi on the man's palm. "Don't wander up the mountain," he cautioned, his teeth flashing in a feral grin. "You might die."
And then the little brat turned around and skipped back to his friends. After a moment, they all disappeared into the bar, but not without sending last warning glares Rust's way.
"A-Aniki," Rust exhaled out as he pressed his back against the wall to steady himself, his heart hammering in his ribcage. "We might have a complication."
-a few hours later, Mt. Colubo, Dadan's bandit hut-
Luffy grinned from ear to ear.
Dadan's lips twisted downwards into a frown.
Luffy's grin didn't waver in the slightest.
Dadan lit up a new cigarette, glowering at the boy.
Luffy motioned at Sanji and Zeff behind him and exclaimed, "They're gonna live with us for a while!"
Dadan gritted her teeth in anger. "Look, brat!" she snapped. "The kid is fine! …I can't even keep up with you brats multiplying every now and then. One more or one less, there's no difference," she grumbled. "But now you brought an old cripple with you too?! You're worse than Garp! This is neither a kindergarten nor a nursing home!"
Luffy kept grinning at her.
Luffy's grin brightened even more, and Dadan's stern expression started to falter.
"B-Bandits don't take in kids or elderly!"
"Why is she even trying?" Sabo questioned, shaking his head.
"She'll end up accepting whatever Luffy asks anyway," Ace agreed.
"Such a pointless endeavor," Law deadpanned.
"Trying to keep up her image," Bepo also added his two cents.
Corazon could only smile helplessly at his boys sassing poor Dadan. At least the others had the decency to stay out of it.
"YOU FOUR SHUT UP! You too, Cora!" the bandit leader screamed at them, eliciting sniggers from the brothers and a confused 'What did I do?' from their adoptive father. "And you!" She turned to Luffy, ready to drill her point through his thick skull.
"They are nakama, Dadan!" Luffy declared, beaming with a smile as bright as the sun and powerful enough to stop the world from spinning. "Family! Just like you!"
Dadan capitulated in an instant.
After Sanji and Zeff were successfully settled into one of the rooms, so that they could rest in peace, Luffy found Dadan again.
The burly woman was drinking sake and smoking and complaining to whoever listened to her about what her hideout and bandit group had turned into.
One glance at her and Luffy knew that she was already too drunk to give him answers. He turned to Dogra and Magra who sat nearby, sighing helplessly. "Hey, guys," he greeted them. "How's the situation in the Gray Terminal?"
"It burned, like you said," Dogra replied. "How did you know?"
"The fire was so big, the sky turned completely red," Magra recalled grimly. "We've never seen anything like that."
Luffy frowned, closing his eyes. He had seen a sight like that, and not once or twice – too many times if you ask him. "Did you warn the people?" he asked, stuffing all those horrible memories somewhere into the darkest corner of his mind.
The short bandit heaved a heavy sigh. "Yeah, but only a handful believed us."
"We even lied that we got the information from a guard we bribed," Magra said with a shake of his head. "Didn't help much."
"Well, it's better than doing nothing," Luffy pointed out. "And they wouldn't have believed a kid like me anyways."
"Yeah, you good for nothing brat!" Dadan suddenly chimed in, her words slurring a bit from her drunken state. "Bringing brats here, and more brats, and even more brats! And then the old man! We're bandits, y'know!"
"Ma, ma, boss, calm down."
"We're forced to look after kids like– like we're some sort of good people! We're bandits, dammit!"
Luffy observed her with a neutral face. "But you are good people," he finally said softly before his usual grin flared up. "And I love you all!"
They all froze, staring at him with wide eyes.
Dadan turned around, pulling out a handkerchief from under her blouse as a waterfall broke from her eyes. "Go away, you damn rascal!" she yelled with a teary voice. "W-Who cares about your opinion?!"
-a few days later, The Mad Dogs temporary camp in the abandoned bandit hideout-
Zaros tipped back on the rear legs of his chair, threw his feet on the table, put his arms behind his head, and closed his eyes with a sigh. There were few maps and journals spread around on the table, together with a whiskey bottle, a glass with some of the liquor in it, and a middle-sized Den Den Mushi.
There was no one else in the room at the moment, either resting, preparing food, or cleaning weapons. Lately, the group started to get a bit impatient, wanting nothing more than just storm the place where the target was, grab him, and be done with the mission.
Zaros cracked open one eye when he heard soft rustling at the window. A chestnut colored squirrel ran along the windowsill, then slipped through the crack in the glass, and jumped down.
"You're early, Pippin," the mercenary boss commented lazily.
The squirrel sprinted across the room and darted inside the clothes that were neatly laid down in a corner. Suddenly, it shifted, its form getting bigger. Limbs slid into the sleeves, a head popped through the t-shirt's collar. A moment later, a very short adult man was standing there fully clothed.
"Any longer and they would have pinpointed my presence," Pippin replied, smoothing out the wrinkles on his clothes before looking back at the boss with a serious expression on his round, childish face. "Aniki, those kids are the real deal."
"Are they as good as Rust claimed them to be?"
"Yes. Probably better."
Zaros raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
Pippin sighed, brushing his hand through his brown hair. "I've seen them train, and, believe me, that was not training children do. There're at least three Devil Fruit users among them, two paramecias and a fire logia."
The other man whistled. "Well, if we catch that logia brat off guard, even he can be taken down," he argued. "And with him down, the others shouldn't really pose a threat."
"Not quite, Aniki," the squirrel Zoan chuckled nervously. "The problem is that logia brat is not the most dangerous one."
"So, the eldest then?"
"No, on the contrary, actually. Two days ago, all the brats, minus the sickly one, did group training, and... Well, they all went against the youngest." Pippin furrowed his brow as if trying to make sense of what he had witnessed. "I couldn't even get close enough to observe that fight – it was that intense – but even from afar it was such an amazing sight to behold," he said with a faint awed smile on his face, then fixed his aniki with a hard stare. "None of them pulled any punches either. The logia brat got kicked and was sent flying, literally. He almost crashed into me when he flew past me." The mercenary paused. "And all five still lost. Honestly, the fight wasn't even fair."
A menacing grin spread across Zaros' face as he dropped his feet from the table and leaned forward, hungry eagerness sparkling in his dark eyes. 'Don't wander up the mountain. You might die'. "Figures that the kid who had the balls to threaten us would be a little monster," he muttered before throwing his head up and laughing loudly. "Hahahaha! Never could have imagined that we'd run into such monsters when those royals invited us into this backwater island to do the job for them!"
"At least we cashed in nicely from carrying some boxes with explosions around," Pippin added smugly.
Zaros laughed again. "And that noble jumped in with even more beli!"
"Ah, speaking about money," the Zoan mercenary said with a greedy grin. "I snooped around the bandits' house where those kids live and found a big bag of treasure."
"Nice! Good job, Pippin," the boss praised, and the other man preened. "And I know exactly how we go about this without setting those monsters on ourselves," Zaros continued as he pulled the Den Den Mushi closer, took the receiver off, and punched a number in.
-several more days later, Dadan's bandit hut-
"Boys!" Cora called out as they all piled at the door to leave. "I'm going down to Foosha's market. Anything you want me to pick up?"
"Why?" Ace asked. "We just went there a week ago."
The giant blond took off his apron and hung it on the wall. "Zeff-san is a cook and he wrote me a list of food that is good for him and Sanji, and also for growing boys." His eyes flashed with something that made the kids shudder. "That means – fruits and vegetables!" he exclaimed gleefully.
"Eeeeeeh?! But I hate vegetables!" Luffy whined.
Cora put his hands on his hips and pinned the youngest with a stern gaze. "If you want to be the Pirate King–"
"I'm already the Pirate King!"
"If you want to continue being the Pirate King," the man corrected himself immediately, "you need to grow up as a strong boy–"
"I'm already pretty strong!"
"You need to grow up even stronger," Cora once again adjusted his words, "and for that, you can't eat just meat. We've talked about that, Luffy. The same goes for you all."
"Aaaaaaye…" they all drawled without any enthusiasm, except Zoro who just smirked at their misery.
"You too, Zoro."
"No problem," the young swordsman replied coolly. "A true swordsman is not afraid to eat some greenery."
Ace smacked him over his head. "Stop sounding so cool!" he yelled.
Zoro glared at him while the others laughed.
"Don't worry, guys!" Sanji suddenly piped in with a bright smile. "Soon I'll become the best cook in the world and even vegetables will taste good!"
Drool started to form at the corner of Luffy's mouth and he wiped it with the back of his hand. "Can't wait to eat Sanji's food again."
Law's eyes flickered to him. No one else paid much attention to his precise words, but the teen caught on the use 'again', even though Sanji had never prepared a meal for them yet.
"You still have a long way to go, little eggplant," Zeff commented from the corner where he sat in his wheelchair.
Sanji's face fell.
Cora patted his head gently, ignoring the visible flinch his action had evoked. "You can do it if you'll try hard enough," he encouraged the boy and got a beaming grin for that.
"Speaking of being healthy and all," Law spoke up, narrowing his eyes at their adoptive father's cigarette. "When are you gonna quit smoking, Cora-san?"
"Eh?" Cora looked like a deer caught in a bright light. "Uhhh…" he drawled, searching for a good excuse, but came up empty. "I'm not a growing boy anymore!"
Law rolled his eyes and the others just simply burst out laughing.
The giant blond rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "We should go now!" he stated, swiftly changing the topic. "Bepo, you ready?"
"Let's go then."
"We should be going too," Luffy said after those two left and then looked at Sabo. "Sabo, you're guarding home today, right?"
Sanji glanced up at him, then quickly dropped his gaze down to his lap. "Sorry…"
"Huh?" Sabo blinked. "Hey, that's fine. This isn't because of you," he said, reaching to ruffle the younger boy's mop, ignoring the even more violent flinch the moment his hand made contact with his hair.
During the time Sanji had been with them, they all had noticed that despite him wanting physical interaction, from all people who had touched him, only Luffy and Makino didn't raise such a reaction. Law theorized that it was due to his body's current condition and mental fragility after such a stressful ordeal adding up on top of the past trauma and that it should go away once he was at full health. So, everyone made an effort to ignore it. They all knew what it meant to have the past coming back to haunt them.
Hopeful blue orbs slowly slid up to Sabo's face. "We can play cards," the latter suggested.
The younger blond's smile bloomed in full power again. "Okay!"
"I don't think whoever was watching us left just yet," Luffy stated with a slight furrow in his brow. "It's not the guy that was following us in Foosha and I can't seem to find them," he growled in frustration. "We should all be careful."
"I didn't notice anything," Ace murmured and Law nodded in agreement.
"Me neither," Zoro admitted.
Luffy's wide grin was instantly up in all its megawatt glaring glory. "That's why I'm the youngest! Shishishishi!"
"That makes no sense whatsoever," the others intoned, sweatdropping.
-three hours later, somewhere in the forest of Mt. Colubo-
"How the hell are you so strong?!" Ace complained loudly as he laid sprawled on the ground on his back, trying to catch his breath.
Luffy was sitting on the branch high up in the tree cross-legged with one of his arms propped on his knee and his chin nestled on his palm. The straw hat rested on his back and warm wind ruffled his unruly black hair. His eyes were closed and mouth curled into a serene smile – a perfect picture of content. "Because I have a lot to protect," he replied in a soft voice.
Ace glared up at him as he sat there, calmly enjoying the peaceful moment without the decency to be even sweating while Ace himself was fully drenched and already exhausted. Throwing an arm over his eyes, the fire user groaned at the unfairness of it all.
Luffy sniggered, opening his eyes to look down at his brother. Dark tendrils of smoke rising from the forest caught his attention and he jumped to his feet in alarm. "Ace!" he yelled out. "I see smoke coming from our house! We need to go!"
"Huh?" the older raven grunted, peeking over his arm. A rubbery appendage suddenly wrapped around his waist and he blanched. "Wait! Luffyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaahhh!" The name of the little menace dragged out into the scream as Ace was yanked from the ground and catapulted after Luffy who rocketed himself across the forest.
The moment Luffy touched the ground of the clearing in front of Dadan's hut, dropping Ace down unceremoniously, a blue sphere expended from somewhere within the forest and Law with Zoro appeared right next to him. With terrified eyes, all four stared at the house engulfed by fire, spewing pillars of smoke into the sky.
"W-Why is no one outside?" Ace whispered in horror.
A power wave exploded from Luffy and rolled throughout the area, kicking up dust from the ground and leaving cracks on the tree trunks and the frame of the house. It swept through the fire, pressing it down until it died under its overwhelming force, leaving only stray wisps and smoldering embers.
Even though they were excluded from their little Pirate King's surge of Conqueror's Haki, it was powerful enough to manifest itself in a physical world, and three boys felt their breath involuntarily rush from their lungs and their visions blur for a split second. They managed to gather their bearings quickly though, just in time to see Luffy disappear inside the half-burned house.
The air inside was hot and suffocating. Luffy coughed, his heartbeat reaching a frightening speed as he saw bodies scattered randomly on the floor. His Observation Haki was useless, and it took him a few moments – excruciating long seconds – to tune into the Voice.
The relief that washed over him as he heard everyone's Voices was heavenly. They were alive, just unconscious. Luffy quickly scanned the room. Dadan was fine, Dogra was fine, Magra was fine, he noted absentmindedly, his gaze lingering on every single person for a briefest of the moment to confirm that they were alive and then moved on to the next one. Zeff was fine, Sanji was…
The others had already started to drag everyone out, when Luffy's eyes fell on Sanji. His breath hitched in his throat.
He heard no Voice. No familiar sound of waves lapping, no impression of freedom and sea breeze. Only a silent void.
Luffy scrambled closer. His trembling hands cupped those pale cheeks and it seemed like the world stopped. Panicking, the boy looked around wildly as if searching for something, anything that would help. Sabo's top hat lying abandoned on the floor without his blond brother anywhere in sight caught his attention.
And he instantly knew who exactly was responsible for this.
Luffy scooped Sanji – his small, fragile, limp, lifeless nakama – into his arms and burst outside, barely registering Cora's and Bepo's presences, all his focus on only one person. "Law! He's not breathing! Sanji's not breathing! Please, save him!"
Chapter 12: XI. Cora-san is the only father I have.
Betaread by DemonicWhispers!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Cora-san is the only father I have."
(Luffy/Usopp ~8, Nami ~9, Zoro/Sanji ~10, Bepo/Ace/Sabo ~11, Law ~15 y.o.)
Luffy scooped Sanji into his arms and burst outside, barely registering Cora's and Bepo's presences, all his focus on only one person. "Law! He's not breathing! Sanji's not breathing! Please, save him!"
In the time Luffy took to put Sanji down on the ground carefully, his eldest brother was already there, pushing him away so that he could press fingers to the blond's neck. A deep frown creased his face when he couldn't feel a pulse.
Law placed the heel of one hand on the center of Sanji's chest and the other hand on top, with fingers interlocked. After positioning himself, he pushed straight down on the chest several times, then tilted the boy's head back, pinched closed his nose, and gave two rescue breaths.
Luffy observed the teen as he repeated the same actions over and over again, the downward turn of his mouth and a furrowed brow the only indication of his concern.
At this point, all the bandits had been dragged outside from the smoke-filled, half-burned house and the others were moving around, checking on them. But besides quiet offers of water to those who had already regained their consciousness, no one spoke, weighted by the palpable tension that permeated the air.
Luffy's fists tightened, nails digging into his palms. Onyx eyes didn't waver from the scene in front, not even for a split second.
That's when Sanji finally took a breath.
Law halted, his fingers reaching to check the blond's pulse again. After a moment, a small smile tugged the corner of his mouth. "He'll be fine," he informed.
Luffy let out a long, slow exhale, allowing the fear to fade away with the last drop of air from his lungs.
Law scanned the clearing. "Bepo, bring that oxygen here!" he hollered the moment he saw what he was searching for. Looking back at his patient, the teen noticed unfocused and unseeing blue irises staring up at nothing and he ran his hand through the boy's golden hair to soothe him. "You'll be just fine," he said softly.
The mink came with the oxygen balloon – thank god, Law had a bright idea to buy that thing in Loguetown just in case they'd needed it – and they hooked Sanji on it. He had the worse smoke inhalation from everyone that had been inside due to his age and his body's current condition, thus needed it the most.
Ace sidled to Luffy with a grim expression. "I can't find Sabo," he informed, his tone carrying a big amount of worry. "And the old man's treasure is also gone."
"I think Sabo was kidnapped," the younger raven replied in a quiet and calm manner, still not lowering his gaze from his blond nakama.
Law and Ace shared an alarmed glance. And it wasn't just because of what their little brother said.
Luffy seemed way too placid for this kind of situation.
"Kidnapped?" Ace echoed. "By who?"
"His father." Ultimately, the boy looked up. Narrowed eyes glared at the forest in front, towards the direction of Goa Kingdom.
Ace took an instinctive step back. Law and Bepo stood up from their crouched positions, unintentionally taking defensive stances. They didn't mean to, hadn't even registered doing so. It was an unconscious move, coming from somewhere deep inside their cells, a primal instinct to be on guard in front of a stronger predator.
For what stood before them was not their cheerful little brother, but the person he always claimed to be – the Pirate King. A very, very angry Pirate King. So angry, that his fury passed over the boiling point and condensed into the sheer, brutal killing intent reflecting in those cold onyx orbs.
"After making sure that everyone here is safe, we'll get him back."
Luffy's voice was still solid, even. It didn't waver, and he wasn't speaking through clenched teeth. No brush of Haki either. Absolutely no indication of him being angry in the slightest. Except his eyes.
Keeping one's full reason while angered to this point was a deadly combination. Anger clouded one's mind, caused them to make mistakes or overlook essential details. Or simply go berserk, without any thought about consequences whatsoever, like Luffy did when Ace got shot.
It appeared that the boy had learned from his blunders.
And that made him far more dangerous than he already was, Law decided as he watched his brother cautiously. This didn't bode well for whoever he had sight on.
Sabo sat at the desk with his chin resting on his hand and stared through the window passively, bulky steel bars heavily obscuring the view of the street that was already covered by the late evening's dimness.
He remembered the cylinder-shaped object suddenly flying through the window of Dadan's hut and gas filling the whole interior. He remembered trying to open the door, but it didn't budge. He remembered his vision going blurry, his mind foggy, and his eyelids heavier.
And then he woke up back in this hellhole with his father towering over him.
Sabo hoped that everyone was okay.
He dropped his arm with a sigh. The golden bracelet on his wrist clinked when it came in contact with the hard surface of the table.
Explosive bracelets, his father had told him, the method used by the World Nobles to control their slaves.
A slave. That's what his status in this family had been reduced to.
He wasn't worried about the bracelets though; just frustrated that he couldn't leave and return to his true family, a family that wholeheartedly cared for him. All that he could do was sit tight until his brothers came – his trust that they would come was absolute – with Law's powers, these were merely a nuisance.
A creak of the door startled him. The blond turned in his seat to look at who entered his room.
"Hey there, brother."
Sabo's expression twisted into a fierce scowl the moment he heard Stelly addressing him with that mock title and he fought against the need to bare his teeth and show this spoiled brat that he was no brother to him.
"I've heard the things father and mother say about you…" the boy drawled smugly.
"What kind of things?" Sabo asked, shifting to look through the window again. He wasn't particularly interested, but Stelly would rub it in his face either way. No chance to avoid it, so at least he stole the opportunity to do so against his will. You had to win small battles to win the war.
"Oh, you know," Stelly replied lightly, plopping down on the bed with a smirk. "That you're stupid and don't know what's best for you."
Sabo rolled his eyes. Like those two had ever wanted what's best for him.
"Father tries so hard to save you from becoming a criminal. Just how naive can you be to abandon your real family for those kind of people?"
The blond tightened his jaw, his body going rigid. He stayed silent though.
Stelly pursed his lips, displeased by the fact that he failed to get a rise from his step-brother. Then he smirked again. "Those filthy criminals really got a hold of you, haven't they, brother?" he said slyly. "They are not even worth the dirt on our shoes. I wish they would have burned together with all the trash–"
Sabo was suddenly in front of him, his eyes blazing with fury. A solid fist planted itself into that ugly mug, and though there was no Haki in the punch, the preteen's raw muscle power was enough to send the smaller boy flying over the bed and into the wall.
Stelly cried in pain. Fountains of blood gushed out of his broken nose and he vainly tried to stop the flow. As a shadow fell over him, the boy lifted his head and froze in fear at the sight of his absolutely livid step-brother.
"Never talk about them like that," Sabo growled, glaring down at the scum who dared to insult his family. "It's you who isn't worth even the dirt on their shoes."
Stelly stared at him with terrified eyes, his frilly white shirt now a red, wet mess, before he leaned to the side and started backing away in a crawl. The blond's gaze followed, but he didn't move to stop him. "I-I-I'll tell father about th-this!" the boy stuttered, lifting his trembling body from the floor.
"Go ahead. See if I care," Sabo scoffed, turning around to sit at the desk again.
The moment he turned his back to Stelly, the latter glared at it, suddenly feeling brave again. "He's not going to forgive you for hurting me," he hissed. "You'll pay for this! You savage dog–"
Sabo shot a glare over his shoulder.
Stelly flinched. Quickly fumbling with the knob, he ripped open the door and darted out, afraid to receive another punch in the face. The door slammed closed, rattling the whole mansion, and the preteen turned back to the window.
The peace lasted maybe five minutes.
Soon Outlook III burst into the room, eyes wild, face red from outrage. "Sabo!" he bellowed, marching to his son and yanking him up from his seat by his elbow. When the boy's grey-blue eyes lit up with a spark of defiance, he gritted his teeth and backhanded him. Sabo stumbled, but did not fall. "How dare you raise a hand against Stelly! You good for nothing brat!"
With the back of his hand, the blond swiped the few drops of blood from the cut across his cheek left by the man's ring, spit out the red saliva from the cut inside his mouth, and glared at his father, pouring every ounce of resentment into it.
"You're definitely costing me more than you're worth," Outlook III scorned with a shake of his head. "I should have left you to rot with those animals."
"Yeah, you should have." Sabo bared his teeth. "I'm ashamed to be born a noble!"
The man glowered at him. "Regardless, they are gone now," he said nonchalantly as if it didn't really matter, and for him, it didn't. "And you will do what I told you! I might still find some uses for you."
"What do you mean gone?!" the boy demanded, dread twisting his gut into a knot.
"Hmpf, gone is gone," Outlook III snapped. "The man I hired set a fire to that rat's nest you were staying." He paused, smirked. "They burned like the trashes they were."
Sabo's eyes widened. "No…" he whispered. Fear and horror and sorrow gripped him, because Sanji, Zeff-san, Dadan, and the rest… just gone?
Bluejam's bloody remains and the whole kingdom brought to its knees suddenly flashed before his eyes, and his already pale face blanched even more.
"Do you even realize what have you done?" Sabo asked breathlessly.
Because Luffy would definitely be out for blood after this. And an angry Luffy was not someone to be trifled with. Honestly, sometimes his little brother scared the hell out of Sabo.
A flicker of annoyance and confusion crossed Outlook III's face. He opened his mouth to say something when suddenly a blue film-like screen soundlessly emerged from outside, passing building's walls, furniture and humans without issues. It slid across the whole room and disappeared behind the inner walls.
Sabo's mouth stretched into a wide grin.
"What's this?" Outlook III wondered, looking around.
Some kind of invisible power slash came next. It went through the room at the rising angle, just above everyone heads, cutting walls and furniture like butter. Slashed in half painting dropped down with a loud rattle. The mansion shook, the dust and small pieces of debris falling from the incisions around its frame's whole perimeter.
The group of bodyguards rushed into the room. At the same moment four small figures appeared out of thin air by the window.
Two of them immediately dashed forward, rounding the bodyguards from both sides.
Ace exploded into flames and spread it around the room, blocking the exit. Men shouted in surprise, retreating until they were herded into the smaller group, surrounded by fire from three sides.
The electricity crackled around Bepo's paw as he smashed it at the floor in front of that group, and it crumbled under his power. The upper part of the mansion slid slightly sideways from the shock, causing another round of dust to fill the interior. "Don't move," the mink all but growled, blue sparks discharging around his whole body.
"W-Who are you?!" Outlook III demanded.
None of the kids paid him any attention.
Luffy walked up to Sabo, his face a well-constructed blank mask. As his brother turned to face him, his eyes narrowed at the wound on his cheek and his split lip. Then, as if feeling something off, his gaze flicked down to his wrists. A tiny frown found its way onto his brow. "Law," he said quietly. "The bracelets. Take them off."
"The bracelets?" the teen inquired, stopping right next to the youngest. Amber eyes quickly found what they were talking about and he scowled.
"They, uh, they are explosives," Sabo explained, feeling a bit thrown off by Luffy's calm demeanor. Too calm. It sent goosebumps throughout his skin. For some reason, this Luffy felt far more dangerous than an enraged Luffy.
"Answer me!" Outlook III ordered, stepping closer.
Luffy was between Sabo and his father before anyone could so much as blink, standing protectively in front of his brother, shielding him, his lips pulled into a barely perceptible snarl.
A Haki wave came without warning, washing every living thing in the immediate vicinity, commanding and oppressive. It wasn't much of a wave, really, more like a massive ocean of the King's will descended upon the room, demanding everyone to bow to it and threatening to crush the ones who dared to disobey.
And while the boys had been excluded from it like usual, the fragments, the bare drops of Luffy's Haki that spilled over the tight lid he kept on it were enough to make them feel acute fear, even when they reminded themselves that this was their little brother and he would never hurt them.
Every single bodyguard dropped like puppets with their strings cut, but not Outlook III. Oh, no. Luffy had no such blessing to offer for this damn bastard.
The noble's knees buckled under him from the frightening power pressing down at him. Not unable to fight it, he dropped to the floor, staring in pure terror.
"You," Luffy said as he walked towards him, voice soft, merely above a whisper, but sounding more deadly than anyone present had ever heard. He stopped one step away and while their eyes were on the same level, the boy loomed over the man like a colossal mountain, ready to squash him as though he was nothing but a bug.
"I'll let you live. No child should see their parent getting killed in front of them, even if you're not worth being called a parent," Luffy spoke coldly, onyx eyes drilling into the noble, judging him and finding him guilty. "But if you ever come after Sabo again, if you send people after him, if you so much as look at the direction he's at, or anyone else of mine," he continued, his tone slow and menacing. "I will come back."
For the briefest moment, the Haki's pressure spiked, slamming onto the man like an avalanche. It was powerful, suffocating, pushing him to teeter on the brink of unconsciousness. But not yet enough, never enough to pull under.
"And I will dye this mansion in crimson."
Outlook III knew that it was not an empty threat. For he could see the kid's hand twitching up – wanting to reach, to rip him apart – before he reigned in his bloodlust and fingers curled into a tight fist instead.
A yellow puddle spread from the noble's suddenly wet crotch.
Luffy was not done yet. "The guys who set our house on fire, where are they?"
Sabo drew a sharp breath, his wide eyes finally tearing from the Pirate King and shifting to look at his brothers around him. Ace and Bepo had returned to his side sometime after Luffy rendered the guards unconscious. "Is… Is everyone alright?" he asked quietly.
"Yeah. It was a touch-and-go situation with Sanji, but he'll be fine now," Law replied, unsheathing Kikoku. "Extend your arms so I can take those off."
Sabo did as he was asked .
"Where?" Luffy growled when the noble failed to answer him.
"I-I-I– I d-don't– Don't know!" Outlook III stuttered out. "They said– said something about leav-leaving this island!"
The boy observed him. Two clinks resounded throughout the deathly silent mansion behind and he turned around. The moment his eyes landed on his brothers, they softened, leaving only immense warmth and fondness, as if they were his entire world and nothing else really mattered. "You okay, Sabo?" he asked.
"Yeah," the blond replied with a small smile, rubbing his finally free wrists. "Just give me a moment," he said, brushing past Luffy and stopping in front of his father.
No. A man who called himself his father.
"We may be blood-related, but we are no family," Sabo stated flatly, glowering down at the once proud noble, but now reduced into this pitiful state, having the fear of the King ingrained into his very soul forever. Not that the boy had any sympathy to offer. "Cora-san is the only father I have. And you? You are nobody."
And with that he turned his back to Outlook III, to all the torment and name calling, loneliness and neglect, despair and pain, only to meet a sight of Luffy, Law, Ace, and Bepo waiting patiently for him.
"Let's go home," Luffy said, lips curled into a tender smile, as he took the blond's hand and tugged him into the protective circle of his brothers.
Happy tears stung Sabo's eyes. "Yes!" He already felt at home.
"I'm sorry!" Sabo apologized with a deep bow the moment they stepped from the forest's darkness and into the light of the bonfire.
Everyone looked at him, surprised and confused by his unexpected apology.
"It was my entire fault," the boy continued, still bowing regretfully in front of everyone. "And I–"
"Shut up!" It was Dadan who snapped from where she sat at the fire, a couple of smoldering cigarettes hanging from her mouth. "Don't wanna hear it," she said, spitting them out with a relieved sigh. "Just… be glad that everyone is fine."
"Sabo!" Cora was suddenly in front of him, his huge palms coming to rest on his shoulders, startling him. Brown worried eyes narrowed at the bruise on the boy's cheek, then scanned his body searching for other injuries. "Are you okay? Are you hurt? They didn't touch you, did they?" the giant shot one question after another. "Those bastards!" he growled when Sabo shook his head no. "If I ever get my hands on them…" he trailed off, letting the threat hang somewhere in the air. Looking back at the boy, he sighed. "I'm so happy that you're alright! Aaaah, so happy. I was so worried."
Sabo's eyes widened. "I'm sorry," he blurted out, not even sure what he was apologizing for anymore.
Cora grinned at him and ruffled his hair as he straightened up.
His top hat was suddenly placed on his head, and Sabo turned to look at Ace. The raven punched his shoulder lightly with a smirk and then walked off.
Law and Bepo were already making their way through where the bandits were resting, with the former inquiring if anyone felt weird or dizzy and the latter offering them a cup of water. Zoro was sleeping under one of the trees, cocooned into a blanket.
A sudden roar of laughter brought the blond's attention to laughing Zeff and very annoyed, very embarrassed looking Dadan, and he wondered what that was about. "Go to hell!" she cursed at the old man sending him to another bout of mirthful guffaw. "Damn freeloader…"
"Ma, ma, boss, calm down." As always Magra was the one who tried to defuse the situation.
Sabo shook his head at their antics and a smile graced his lips, brightening his whole face up. Looking around, he noticed Sanji nestled into the mountain of blankets that the others salvaged from the half-burned hideout, and he walked to him.
Without saying anything, Sanji watched as the older blond approached and took a seat on the ground next to his resting spot.
"I'm sorry," Sabo uttered in a hushed voice, staring straight into those sky blue eyes, trying to convey how truly sorry he felt for this whole situation. "I, uh… Because of me, you suffered like this."
"I heard it was your father," Sanji said, his voice weak, just a mere wisp.
Sabo stiffened, face scrunching in disgust. "He likes to call himself that… But the only father I have is Cora-san."
"'Tis fine," the boy whispered. "Not your fault."
Sabo observed him before heaving a long, tired sigh. "You should get some sleep," he urged in a gentle tone, adjusting the blankets and absent-mindedly brushing his hand through the younger boy's long hair.
Surprisingly, Sanji didn't flinch from his touch this time. Instead, his lips twitched up into a tiny, genuine smile as he closed his eyes to rest.
Meanwhile, Ace looked around, feeling something missing. Or, more precisely, someone. "Where's Luffy?"
-early hours of the next morning, somewhere on the East Blue waters-
Silence reigned on the ship of the Mad Dogs mercenary company. The whole team was on the deck, yet no one moved, no one spoke, no one dared to blink. Each of them held their weapons at a ready, clenching them tightly with sweaty hands, eyes trained on the monster in front of them.
The mercenaries weren't afraid of the Sea King that towered over their small vessel. No, the monster, in this case, was a small child standing on top of the beast's muzzle. While they couldn't quite see his eyes, because they were shadowed by a straw hat, everyone could feel his gaze on them. And for some reason, it was much scarier than the bloody red eyes of the creature that accompanied him.
"I finally found you," the boy said calmly. "The treasure you stole. Give it back."
Zaros gritted his teeth. He didn't like this sudden feeling of danger. Seeing this kid with his own eyes, he realized just how greatly he screwed up by underestimating him. Who knew that this kind of monster was lurking in such a remote island.
Still, the leader of Mad Dogs was unwilling to show his fear or to acknowledge the fact that he was afraid of this brat. As if a kid or a mere Sea King could ever pose a threat to him! "Who the hell do you think you are?!" he yelled in outrage.
The boy cocked his head to the side and the rising sun lighted up his face. His eyes were as dark as the twilight sky above and they stared straight at Zaros, sucking him deep and leaving him with the overwhelming feeling of inferiority.
Zaros' muscles tensed, fighting against the need to step back and bare his neck.
"Monkey D. Luffy," the boy introduced. "The treasure–"
"Is ours!" the boss of mercenaries interrupted and then laughed. However, there was a distinct tinge of hysteria in it. "And what are you gonna do now, kid?!"
The Sea King's chest rumbled with a deep growl, its lips pulling slightly up, revealing the whiteness of his fangs.
Luffy's eyes narrowed for a fraction and the air around seemed to practically hum with excessive intent. "I told you not to go up the mountain, that you might die," he reminded. "You didn't listen."
In one blink of an eye, he was still standing on the top of his beast and in another – he wasn't.
A choking sound drew mercenaries' attention to one of their members, Rust. The boy was there, one of his arms buried into the man's stomach. The latter's gun dropped on the deck, and, as Luffy withdrew, its owner followed with a gush of bloody vomit spurting out of his mouth. His body hit the wood with a thud and didn't move again.
The silence blanketed the whole ship again. No one moved, no one spoke, no one dared to even breathe, lest they draw this terrifying monster's attention to themselves.
"Kinto-un," Luffy called, sliding his straw hat back on his head, hiding his eyes in its shadow once more. He cracked his knuckles, black sheens slowly coating his arms. "Leave no survivors."
And the Sea King bared its teeth into a gleeful grin.
It was already late morning when Luffy returned into the gang's temporary camp, made a beeline to Zeff, and dropped the latter's treasure bag in front of him.
"Got your treasure for the sea restaurant back," the boy deadpanned. "And something extra for Dadan."
The old cook stared at him for a bit before a crooked smirk appeared on his face. "You have my thanks."
Sanji beamed at Luffy from where he was resting, and the young Pirate King's mouth stretched into a wide grin.
Everyone present gathered around them. Dadan and the rest of the bandits were missing though.
"Didn't that man say that those people ran off to the sea?" Sabo asked. "Not that I'm not happy, but how did you manage to find them, Luffy?"
"I asked the sea where they are."
"You… asked the sea?"
"Well, yeah," the youngest raven answered lightly like it was the most common thing. "It's a bit hard to hear the Voice of the ocean, because of its massive size, but it's not impossible. Besides, there are fish and other beings there. Although, fishes tend to ramble nonsense. I don't like talking with them... And then Kinto-un just carried me," he finished, grinning.
Everyone stared blankly, except Cora whose eyes widened after a realization hit him like a ton of bricks.
"Voice of All Things?!" he blurted out and then immediately facepalmed, feeling exasperated by his own senselessness. "Well, of course, you would have that and of course you would know how to use it. You were talking with your Sea King all this time," he muttered under his breath. "Why am I even surprised…"
Sabo turned to his adoptive father. "What's that?"
The blond rubbed a hand across his face. "It's…" He paused, shrugged. "I have no idea."
"What the hell are you saying?" Ace grumbled.
"No, I mean… It's such an extraordinarily rare and mysterious power that I have no idea how it really works. No one does." Cora gazed at Luffy, a small thoughtful frown etched into his brow. "They say that the ability to hear the Voice of All Things is a unique power that only a few people in the world possess. The user can understand and communicate with other creatures and even inanimate objects."
"Whoa…" Sabo breathed out in awe.
Law raised an eyebrow, a smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth. "One more mystery of Luffy, gotcha."
Ace gave a withering look to Luffy when the little menace had the gall to giggle.
Zoro snorted. "Talk about being overpowered."
"That's Luffy for you," Bepo mumbled.
"Rumors say that Gol D. Roger possessed this ability," Cora added.
"He did," the second Pirate King confirmed cheerfully. "He read those strange stones with it and that was how he found Raftel!"
Ace grimaced when the talk veered towards his biological father. He folded his arms in front of his chest. "Say, Luffy, you claim to be the Pirate King, so it means that you've been at Raftel, right?" he inquired with a sly smile. "What kind of island is that?"
Luffy hummed, his eyes wondering to look at the sky. Feeling the soft breeze and warm sunshine on his tanned skin, he closed his eyes. This reminded him of that moment in front of his nakama memorial, the moment Roger gave him the second chance, the moment his hope was reignited and colors returned to his world. "Peaceful," he replied quietly. "Raftel is peaceful."
His family stared at him, taken aback. None of them expected that kind of answer. A miles-long tale of how cool that island was, sure, but not this. Luffy seemed so relaxed, so elated – so peaceful.
Law noticed something on his youngest brother's t-shirt and he squinted. "Is that blood?" he asked instantly alarmed. "Are you hurt?"
Luffy glanced down and frowned. "Not mine."
"They were pretty strong for the East Blue, but still not a problem."
"Did you… kill them?"
Luffy turned to look at Cora and met his intense gaze with an equally serious gaze of his own. "Yes." The boy tilted his head, confused about the sudden crestfallen expression on the man's face.
"Look, Luffy, I understand that these bastards had it coming, that you were angry," Cora began as he ground his cigarette into the ground with his shoe. "But you're still a child. I understand that you have strength above anyone of your age and it's probably hard to control and easy to slip... but you can't go killing people. You can't…" He took a deep breath, looking straight into Luffy's eyes. Such dark eyes of such young child. "I don't want to see you become a monster." 'Like my brother' was left unsaid.
Law furrowed his brow, recognizing the plea from that fateful day. Cora looked and sounded as desperate as he did back then. No, he seemed much, much more desperate now.
Luffy was silent for one long minute. Then he reached for his straw hat and fixed it to sit more firmly on his head. "I'm a pirate. It's not a game and I'm fully aware what it means," he stated. "Even if I don't like it, I can't avoid collateral damage and some bastards are too dangerous to be left alive. I'm neither a saint nor a hero... But I'm not Doflamingo either."
Suddenly there was Haki, just a gentle brush, light enough to be noticeable but carrying no violence, no threat – only the ferocious need to protect, to guard, to keep them safe. It was gone as quickly as it appeared.
"Those guys were monitoring us for quite some time," Luffy continued. "They knew about us, what we can do, and if they went to the Marines with all that information… I'm not yet strong enough to keep you all safe in that case." His face crumbled, revealing a heart-wrenching, gut-twisting grief. "I once lost everyone, and I don't– I can't let that happen to you all again. I–" The boy's voice cracked and at that moment he looked broken and so damn lonely. "I'll try, but… I'd rather become a monster than live through that kind of hell again. I almost failed twice already. First Ace, now Sanji. I even let Sabo get kidnapped. I should have been more careful, shouldn't have let my guard down, should have– should have known! It's all on me. My fau–"
Luffy wasn't allowed to finish his feverish babbling because Bepo was suddenly pulling him into a literal bear hug. Law pushed the straw hat back on his head when it flew off with a quiet, "No, it isn't."
"Hey, hey, Luffy, we're here now with you. You don't have to do it alone," Sabo reassured softly while Ace glared at Corazon for causing their little brother's mental-breakdown.
Zoro was in the battle alert, fingering his katana as if whatever was haunting his future captain would come out and he could slice it in half. Even Sanji managed to lift himself up into sitting position, wishing nothing more but to go to that whirlwind-like boy and assure him that he was absolutely alright.
It was Zeff who broke the silence. "Really now, Cora, do you even see any true monsters here?"
"No," the blond chuckled, palpable relief evident in his laugh and in his whole posture. Sometimes a person was forced to do something against his very nature, he knew that feeling. He wasn't completely at peace with Luffy killing other humans, but at least the boy did that out of necessity and not because he enjoyed bloodshed or just for the heck of it. "No, I don't."
-half a year later-
(Luffy/Usopp ~8.5, Nami ~9.5, Zoro/Sanji ~10.5, Bepo/Ace/Sabo ~11.5, Kuina ~13.5, Law ~15.5 y.o.)
The pier of Foosha Village was usually a quiet and relatively empty place, frequented only by fishermen and an occasional cargo ship that brought supplies to the village. Today, though, it was crowded.
Apart from a bunch of kids and few adults among them, almost every villager was here, gawking at the sight not seen so often – a local monster, the Lord of the Coast, sticking his head out of the water and looming over the pier without any malicious intent whatsoever.
"I have swords, so you better not swallow me whole because I'm gonna slice your stomach open!" Zoro threatened, glaring up at Kinto-un as he prepared to climb the beast for a ride home.
The Sea King let out a snort that sounded suspiciously like laughter and rolled his eyes in an over dramatic manner.
The young swordsman glared harder.
"Iiiiiiidiot," Sanji drawled, standing nearby. "You literally told him to chew on you. Why would you tell your opponent the way to kill you?"
Kinto-un grinned evilly.
Villagers paled at that horrible image. Some of them turned around and outright ran for their lives.
"Shut up!" Zoro snapped at the blond, then pointed a finger at the Sea King accusingly. "And you! Stop grinning like an idiot!"
Sanji scoffed, "You're the only idiot here."
"Wanna fight, curly brow?!"
"Bring it on, puppy chow!"
They rammed their foreheads and snarled at each other with sparks flying where their heated glares met.
"Boys! No fighting!" Makino reprimanded them, sounding already way too exasperated for such an early morning.
Ignoring the commotion behind him, with his hands on his hips, Luffy observed his brothers bringing the last supplies into their temporary ship which he acquired in their previous journey for the travel ahead. Cora and Zeff were already inside.
"Be careful," Luffy said to Law who at that moment came to his side.
"Everything will be fine," the teen assured. "Neal Key Island is not that far. You shouldn't be worried about this so much. You know how strong we are."
The younger raven nodded without a word, but stiff shoulders and pursed lips betrayed his deeply set agitation.
Luffy was still on edge after the whole debacle with Sabo's father and those mercenaries, not letting them out of his sight for long, watching over his family like a hawk. This would be the first time they would separate: Luffy and Zoro were going back to Shimotsuki Village on Kinto-un, and the rest were taking the ship to the best shipyard in the East Blue to coordinate the construction of Zeff's sea restaurant.
"What happened to your family in the past, won't happen again," Law said resolutely.
Luffy's brow creased. He closed his eyes and breathed in the salty sea air to calm his turmoil and fear. After a moment, black orbs – as powerful as ever – were staring into Law's amber ones.
"Keep each other safe."
It was an order and a plea wrapped up in one. Law could feel the unconditional trust their tiny Pirate King put in him by those words alone and he smirked. "Always."
-Shimotsuki Village, the Isshin Dojo-
Luffy grinned, excitement pouring out of him in waves as he waited.
The other pupils of Dojo eyed him, suspicious and curious about the outsider watching the private duel between two students. Upon his return, Zoro requested to allow the kid to stay and, surprisingly, the master of the Dojo granted the permission. They even sat next to each other.
"Kuina, I challenge you to a duel," Zoro declared, his voice firm and his stance relaxed, but composed. "Our one thousand five hundred and first duel."
The older girl on the other side of the room cocked her chin up, an action of arrogance and contempt. "And here I thought that you finally gave up and ran away," she scoffed. If she was trying to get a rise from her rival, she had to be very disappointed. "Where have you been hiding for the whole year anyway?"
"Training," was Zoro's clipped reply. He lifted one of the two bamboo swords he held and pointed it at Kuina. "Do you accept?"
The girl stared him down, albeit unsuccessfully because, while the green-haired boy was still shorter than her, his aura alone grew tremendously in the past year and now easily towered over her own. She could feel uneasiness twisting her gut.
Ignoring her instincts, Kuina whipped her shinai downward and it sliced the air with a whizz. "As you wish."
-the gang's temporary ship, waters of the East Blue-
"Alright, time to see how well I can use this kitchen," Zeff declared as he rolled his shirt sleeves up, a fond smile dancing on his lips.
Sanji was standing next to him with a contemplative frown. "Ne, old geezer," he called out quietly.
"What is it, lil' eggplant?" the ex-pirate asked without looking at the boy. He pulled out a pot from the cupboard and walked across the ship's kitchen area, his wooden peg-leg click-clacking every time it hit the floor.
Sanji took a deep breath, looking at Zeff with determination plastered across his features. "I have a favor to ask."
Law climbed a few stairs to reach the ship's bow where Ace, Sabo, and Bepo were already waiting for him. "Where's Cora-san?" he asked as he lowered himself to sit on the deck, leaning against the inner railing with Kikoku resting on his shoulder as usual.
"Taking a nap," Sabo replied. "His hangover seems pretty rough."
"I wonder what was in that newspaper that upset him so much," Bepo pondered.
"We should try to get a copy once we land," Sabo suggested and other boys nodded in agreement.
Turning to the eldest, Ace inquired curiously, "So, what did you want to talk about?"
Law looked at each of his brothers' face. His expression was extremely serious, bordering on being somber, when he answered, "Luffy."
So, that's it. I had a blast writing this chapter and hope you enjoyed it too! Leave your opinion in a comment. And, hey, there isn't even an evil cliffhanger this time! ...Or there are three of them, depends on how you look at it, hahahaha!
This story has its own TV Tropes page: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/FanFic/ForBetterOrForWorseOnePiece