|Now We Are Six
Author: Elin B PM
The Strawhats are physically transformed into their six-year-old selves, two of them reverting mentally as well. They do their best to try to cope with this. Post-TB, spoilers up to and including chapter 489. Some coarse language, esp. in Part III.Rated: Fiction M - English - Adventure - Chapters: 4 - Words: 13,318 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 15 - Follows: 5 - Updated: 09-25-08 - Published: 09-21-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4550129
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Part IV (final part)
After the panic and excitement of fleeing and fighting boar and bear, there had first been the arduous task of dragging them back to the campsite. Once that was done Sanji had made everyone tea and they had all just taken it easy for awhile. Some of them had recounted the forest fights again to those who hadn't been present, embellishing or analysing or squabbling about who'd done what and what they should have done instead, according to their various fancies. Luffy had been mournful at the lack of crackers or anything else served with the tea, but they were out of supplies so it couldn't be helped.
Then Sanji had gone to work on chopping up the bear and the boar, directing his male crewmembers to help prepare dinner (Robin volunteered herself and Nami to help as well). Usopp was named part of the water-carrying brigade, which meant going back and forth between the campsite and a nearby creek more times than he wanted to count. By himself, he couldn't manage to carry more than half the bucket full of water, and even then he had to set it down several times on the short way. But when Robin could spare him some helping hands they could carry the whole full bucket together without needing to rest.
Funny how that worked, really. When she didn't use her devil fruit powers, Robin seemed just as weak as any other six-year-old kid. And even when she did use her powers, she was still a lot weaker than her normal adult self, since the limbs she sprouted were only as individually strong as her real six-year-old limbs were now. But multiplication still made her way stronger than any of the others right now, except maybe Chopper. And possibly Luffy, but only if he were to do some really clever moves. Of course Robin's powers worked in just the same way when she was in her normal body – but that was something Usopp had grown used to long ago. Somehow, seeing her as a small little girl made the whole thing more obvious.
"You know, in a way it's almost fun, all this… or at least it's pretty interesting, with everyone being the same age," he found himself saying to her, hurrying to keep up while trying not to spill anything. "Since we're all really still ourselves – except Nami and Franky for losing their memories – but it's still different, like if everybody woke up with wings or horns on their heads or something."
Robin smiled as if she couldn't help smiling, which was always nice to see. "That would be something to see, too," she said.
"Wouldn't it? Or if everyone turned into an animal, except Chopper of course – he'd turn into a full human, I guess… But anyway, I'm glad you guys still have your powers," he added, as they reached the campsite again and slowly trudged the final few steps to the big kettle. It was pretty large, so it wasn't that easy to raise the bucket high and pour the water down into it.
Robin helped him out with the bucket again, while Usopp went on, "I mean, otherwise we'd probably all get eaten by bears and boars and stuff. There's no way we could have tackled those things if all of us were just like normal kids. Is it full yet?"
Robin shook her head. "Not quite. One last time."
Sanji was still cutting up the big boar, eyeing it with an intense frown and not looking up at them. Frankly, Usopp thought it felt weirder to see Sanji go without a cigarette for so long than to see him as a little kid. Maybe he ought to chew on a toothpick or something, just to look more natural. Franky was standing beside the cook, occasionally helping him wrap up the chunks of meat in huge leaves. But mostly he just crossed his arms a lot and asked a lot of questions.
Robin and Usopp started to walk back to the creek, a spring in both their steps now that they were carrying empty buckets. In fact, if this hadn't been Robin Usopp might even have said they were skipping.
"I'm not sure you're right about that," said Robin now. "Even if we didn't have any powers at all, I'm not sure we'd be helpless. We've still got a lot of knowledge in our heads after all… it ought to be possible to come up with strategies that could work against simple wild animals. There are enough of us to make it work, if we thought things through. And you'd still have your slingshot, wouldn't you?"
"Yeah, that's true…" said Usopp slowly. "Although I keep missing shots now, my arms and eyes don't have their old training… Though come to think of it, Brook would still be able to do that lullaby trick that took down the boar. That's got nothing to do with being undead, far as I can tell."
"Music can be better than devil fruits at times," said Robin, lowering her bucket into the creek's cool, clear water. She flashed him a smile that Usopp thought looked just a bit wider than her smiles usually were. It occurred to him that it was easier to talk to Robin when she was like this. Both because she was his age now and because she was little. Not that she was super-hard to talk to otherwise – just sometimes a little bit intimidating.
" I guess you're right," he said, filling his own bucket as well. "Nine little kids against a bear or whatever it may be… it's almost the same as when we were all fighting Odz, isn't it? The difference in size at least was even bigger then." Size was just part of it, of course, but despite their top fighters' stupendous individual strengths they'd still had to co-operate to bring the giant zombie down.
They set off towards camp again, trudging slowly as they carried the water.
"You know, Robin," he said after a little while, "I'll be relieved when we're back to normal. It's really good that you could find us those mushrooms and that they're growing so fast, 'cause it's tough to be so small and vulnerable like this. But even so… I kinda think this is fun. I'm not sorry it happened. It feels like… like being on vacation, in some way."
"It does. I agree," she said, quietly and unexpectedly. He glanced at her: she was looking down at the uneven path thoughtfully. She smiled, again, this time a more private smile to herself. "It might not be so bad to feel that now and then," she murmured.
When they came back to the campsite, an argument between Sanji and Franky was in full swing.
"We can't eat a whole boar for dinner!" said Franky. "It's way too much!"
Sanji frowned. "Didn't you see the way Luffy ate at breakfast and tea? He's got a rubber stomach and the biggest appetite in the world."
"The whole world?" said Franky. "No way! What about giants? Or seakings?"
"Look, I've seen giants eat, and there's no contest," said Sanji. "So, yes, that boar is going to get eaten in no time. He'd eat the bear today too if only I'd had time to prepare it. But for now I'm holding off on the bear until tomorrow."
"But that's why you need to put it in the refrigerator! You said you had one on your ship! We should row over there and…"
Oh, so that was it. Franky just wanted a closer look at the Sunny. He'd been told the future him would build/had built them this marvellous ship, so of course it was pretty natural that he'd be curious and keen to check it out. Who wouldn't be?
"Forget it!" snapped Sanji. "We're too small to manage even a rowboat! Anyway, it's unnecessary – we've got the meat wrapped up well now, and they'll be fine for just one day, don't worry. I know this shit."
Franky looked sulky, and didn't back down. "Then we can ask that freaky transforming reindeer to help us, or that girl Robin with all the hands. C'mon!" He pulled at Sanji's shirt. "Don't be meeean! I wanna see!"
"No!" Sanji pulled himself free from Franky. "Chopper's done plenty today already! Just leave him alone for a while, he's gotta be tired… and don't you dare bother Robin-honey with this! Besides, who are you to talk about freaks? You're going to be a cyborg when you grow up!"
"Says you!" Franky made a face. "Anyway, it sounds pretty cool to me! I like machines!"
"It's still freaky!" insisted Sanji.
"Well, you're going to be a… a boring cook when you grow up! Just like now!"
Sanji scowled. "How would you know?"
"'Cause you're stupid! And mean!" Now Franky had grabbed a spatula and was waving it around angrily. Sanji's face darkened as he saw this.
"You're the stupid one!" yelled Sanji, leaning over to snatch back his tool from the amnesiac shipwright.
Robin sighed, took a deep breath and cleared her throat noisily. That didn't work, so she closed her eyes and then cleared ten throats noisily. Usopp left her to it and backed away from there.
Usopp felt he had had quite enough of chores for the time being after all that water-carrying – his small six-year-old arms were still aching – and decided to duck out of sight before Sanji could think up something new for him to do. He trusted Robin to say something smart to stave off the argument between Franky and Sanji and slunk away, ostensibly to check up on the mushrooms.
He picked up his bag as he went – man, it was heavy when he was this small! – in the vague thought that maybe he could do some training himself up there in the forest. Mostly he still thought it seemed rather pointless, as he'd said to Brook and Sanji before. When their bodies turned normal, they were going to get all their old muscles and training back anyway, wouldn't they? So why bother? On the other hand… what if training now could make him just a tiny little bit better, and what if there came along some new danger before they were cured, one in which that extra tiny little bit made the difference? You never knew. In any case, training would be something to do, and Usopp always found it hard to just sit around and not do anything. He'd never gotten the hang of meditation.
But when he came to the place by the huge gnarled oak not far from the forest's edge, where they'd put the Time Mushrooms in their earth-filled baskets, he found Chopper there already. He was in Brain Point as usual, and sat surrounded by pots of herbs and medicine, grinding something medical in his mortar. But his movements seemed rather slow and erratic, and he kept stopping every now and then. Now that Usopp thought about it, hadn't Chopper looked a bit down when they'd had tea, too?
Chopper jumped and gave Usopp a startled look when he shouted his hello. Then he smiled uncertainly.
"Oh, oh hi, Usopp," he said. "I didn't hear you! I, um, I'm just here mixing medicine and keeping watch and stuff." He waved towards the oak. With the help of some twigs, the crew had rigged up a sheet to cover the mushrooms from sunlight but without stopping them from growing.
"Oh, yeah." Usopp tiptoed over there to see the progress. "I'm mostly here so Sanji can't give me any more chores right now," he explained over his shoulder on the way. "And I thought maybe I could do some training, too." Although now that he turned out not to be alone he felt slightly reluctant to practice target-shooting. It was embarrassing to show his current bad marksmanship in public, especially to the normally admiring Chopper. "Are the mushrooms coming along all right?"
"Oh, yes! They're just fine," he heard Chopper assert behind him. "No animal seems to have gone near them. They probably know better than that, on this island."
Usopp lifted up the sheet and squatted down to watch the vile things – he'd always hated the taste of mushrooms and even if it turned out Sanji could disguise the taste really well he still disliked eating them, on sheer principle. But there was no help for it, apparently. He picked up the ruler that was lying in one of the baskets and measured the biggest one.
"There's one over 20 centimetres now!" He whistled. "I guess that's meant for Brook… Maybe it will be the right size tomorrow at breakfast already, if it keeps growing at this pace."
"Yeah…" mumbled Chopper quietly behind him. Usopp frowned, then started measuring and counting the others.
"I can see 13 mushrooms all in all," he said. "And besides the biggest one, there are three others that are over 15 centimetres now, and some of the rest are not that far from it either. Hm… that means once there's six mushrooms that's more than 17 centimetres high, it's either me or Luffy's turn to take the next one reaching that height. I wonder how long that will take…? If we wait too long, they're going to get too big, then we'll get too old and miss out a year of our lives. That's not cool…" He supposed they'd have to go up here several times in the evening and check the growing rates. Maybe even during the night.
He counted the bigger mushrooms again, trying to guess and calculate which might end up as his. The order would be first Brook (age uncertain, but presumably the skeleton knew it), then Franky, then Robin, then the rest of them… A thought struck Usopp, belatedly. "Say, Chopper-"
"I don't know," Chopper said shortly. Usopp started and turned around to watch him. Chopper was sitting all tense and hunched, one paw gripping the pestle tightly, the other forming a tiny fist.
"I don't know what mushroom I should eat, how big it should be!" Chopper burst out, trembling. "I don't know how old I am! Doctorine, she told me that if I were human, she thinks I'd be about fifteen, more or less – but I'm not! And the mushrooms don't care about that, they don't work that way! And I don't know what age I should really be!" He sniffled loudly, then sniffled again, wiping his eyes and mule on the back of his sleeve, looking angry to be crying.
Usopp blinked, then looked around nervously. Sanji or Robin would be better at handling this than him, he thought. But they weren't in sight. Neither was Zoro, though in any case Usopp wasn't sure if Chopper was in the right mood for one of Zoro's "Be A Man"-speeches right now. And of course Nami was out of the question at the moment.
He got up, carefully covered up the mushrooms again, and stepped closer to where his crewmate was sitting. He took a deep breath.
"I'm not sure I get it," he said. "But I know you said yesterday that you were sure you'd turned younger as well, because you're weaker than normal. Right?"
"That's true enough," mumbled Chopper, loosening his grip on the pestle and slowly, carefully putting mortar and pestle away. He wiped his eyes once more and swallowed audibly.
"Well… that means you're over six years old at least, doesn't it?" said Usopp cautiously. "Or, I mean, you should be, since right now you are six…"
"I guess…if the mushroom I ate was the same size as everyone else's." Chopper looked forlorn. "See, I know how long it's been since I first… not since I first ate the Human Human fruit, but since I got my name. Since I started to, to become someone. To talk to people. To be more than" – he swallowed again and sniffled loudly – "than just a monster. And that, that happened six years ago. So in a way you could say I am six years old. Except not really."
Chopper looked down at his hands, twiddling his thumbs. "And I don't know how long I'd lived before that happened. Because… reindeers don't think of time like that. Monsters who don't know what humans are like, they don't either."
"Hey," objected Usopp, "you're not any more monster-like than most people in this crew…"
"I guess I can't be very old," said Chopper slowly. "I'm pretty sure I wasn't a grown reindeer back when I ate the fruit… otherwise I'd be more grown-up, don't you think? But I don't know for sure."
But if that's how it is… doesn't that mean you're getting old much faster than the rest of us? thought Usopp. I had no idea. I never thought to ask.
Of course, they were pirates and they should be prepared to die tomorrow, if that was how it was. It wasn't like they planned their lives with an eye towards where they'd be at middle age and thereafter. But… Even so. It would be very strange to see Chopper aging faster than him, becoming older than him, and maybe… No. Better not to think about things like that. And maybe he was drawing the wrong conclusions.
But he was willing to bet that, whether true or not, Chopper had been thinking about these things before. Whereas Usopp had never even considered them. He blinked rapidly and swallowed tightly.
"I've been thinking…" mumbled Chopper, "that maybe I shouldn't even eat one. Maybe I should stay like this and just train myself to be as strong and fast as I used to be. Zoro trains hard all the time, even when he's all wounded and really shouldn't, and you don't hear him complaining. But I don't know how long that would take, either – and what if the crew's in trouble and all? And if I can't help out like I should, just because…" He was starting to sound panicked, talking too fast and trembling.
"Hey. Wait a minute," said Usopp. "I don't really understand. Can't you just eat a seven-centimetre mushroom first? Then you check to see if your strength is back to what it used to be. And if it isn't, well then you just eat an eight-centimetre mushroom and check after that. And so on."
"But- but that would mean a waste of mushrooms…"
"It wouldn't be a waste," said Usopp sharply. "And like I said, we've got thirteen Time Mushrooms here right now, and there's nine of us, so we have some to spare already. And there's probably going to be even more of them soon."
"Well," mumbled Chopper, not sounding wholly convinced yet. But his face looked less tight, and his movements seemed slightly easier and more assured as he took up a small bowl and started to mix some small reddish sludgey thing. "Well… maybe. If it's all right with Robin and the others."
"Of course it's all right!" said Usopp. "Hey, you could probably eat one pretty soon! You don't have to wait for the rest of us as soon as there's eight mushrooms that are over seven centimetres long. Actually," he said, as this just occurred to him, " you shouldn't wait for the rest of us. That would be wasting a mushroom for sure!"
Chopper made a small surprised sound. "Hey, that's right! I didn't think of that. Wow, you're so smart, Usopp!"
"But of course! Anyway, you can ask Robin too if you like, but I'm sure she'll agree with me."
"Yeah, I'll do that." The reindeer sounded a lot brighter now. Good job, Captain Usopp. Usopp gave himself a figurative pat on the shoulder, though that deeper matter of Chopper's age was still giving him a twinge. Which it rightfully should, since he didn't know what to do about it.
They were quiet for a while as Chopper kept mixing up sludge-like medicine, sometimes looking in a little textbook he'd brought with him, but mostly managing without it. Usopp took up his slingshot and a bag of ordinary pellets and started to practice. The first was a clear miss. The second one, too, though slightly closer.
After a while Nami came up to them from the direction of the forest, not the campsite. She had her hands clasped behind her back and looked a bit sulky, as she stood there watching them for a moment without saying anything. Then she glanced over to the covered spot under the oak.
"I dunno if I wanna eat those things," she announced haughtily.
"Then don't," said Usopp, shrugging as he aimed a little higher on his target tree and tried again. A clear hit, this time.
Nami glared at him. "They look yucky, and I don't wanna be all crazy and weird like the rest of you people," she continued.
"Of course they're yucky, they're mushrooms." He made a face at her, because that seemed to be how you got along with Nami these days. She made one right back. "But you don't have to eat them if you don't want to," he continued. After all, they could always put one into her food and have her eat it without her knowing it. Sanji would be good at that, the sneak.
Nami was looking hard at him. "Are you thinking of hiding it in my food?" She stuck her tongue out at him. "Forget it!"
Damn it! Six-year-olds shouldn't be that perspicacious, it wasn't natural. There ought to be a law. Usopp wondered for a second what it would have been like having her for a playmate, back when he'd been a little kid for real. Probably she'd ended up taking over all the games, he suspected.
"'Course not," he lied. Miss, again. "It's up to you if you eat one or not. You're gonna look pretty funny as a little kid with all us adults later, but I don't care."
Nami scowled at him suspiciously. "You've got a funny nose," she said.
Usopp grinned at her and tapped said nose proudly. "It's not just funny!" he said. "It's a most extraordinary nose, a sign of rare talent and intelligence, and does it ever have its share of strange properties! Once I sneezed a whole seaking out of the way, when I had a cold! That's how powerful it is!"
"Wow, really?!" exclaimed Chopper.
"Of course!" Usopp nodded and let fly another shot. Bullseye.
"Hmph!" Nami put her own nose into the air. "Pinwheels are cooler than noses. And anyway why don't you want me to eat one of those mushrooms? Don't you want me to be big? Huh? Is that it?"
"Are you trying to start a fight?" he said, shooting again. Damn. Wide miss, this time.
"Maybe I should say so to the others," Nami mused. "Maybe I should go to them and tell them, 'No, I'm not going to eat the magic mushrooms and become a grown-up navigator 'cause that boy with the funny nose doesn't like me and he doesn't want me to.'"
Another shot, this one almost a hit. "Yeah, yeah, you do that," said Usopp airily.
"Whaat?! Nooo! We do want you back, Nami!" cried Chopper, waving his arms frantically. "All of us! Don't listen to Usopp, he's just kidding around!"
"I just mean, we shouldn't force her," he tried to explain. "If we do she'll just throw it up! Now, that's a waste!"
Nami wasn't looking at him, though. "Are you – are you sure you really mean that, Mr. Reindeer?" she said hesitantly, her voice going all wobbly.
"Hey," said Usopp, alarmed, "I didn't mean –"
"Of course I'm sure!" wailed Chopper, looking pretty stricken by now.
Nami sniffled. "Well, I guess – I guess I might eat just one, after all," she said bravely. "If you really want me to. But only" – she sniffled again – "only if you pay me 20,000 berries to do it."
Chopper and Usopp gawked at her.
"Al- Already!" squeaked Chopper incredulously. "Nami was like that already?! So early!!"
"No, no!" Usopp burst out. "It means she's back! It's the real Nami! Nami, you're back! Aren't you?" She looked back at him with wide child-like eyes, as if he was crazy, but then the corners of her mouth twitched, and she burst out laughing. Usopp hugged her and danced around with her a couple of steps.
She grinned like a loon, sticking her tongue out. "Fooled you!"
"Nami!" Chopper hugged her too, his face shining with happiness as she hugged him back tightly. "You remember us now? Really? You remember all of it??"
"Uh-huh." She nodded, and pointed towards the forest. "I got it all back about ten minutes ago, when I was alone."
Usopp sniffled a bit and wiped his eyes. "I – I'm so glad!"
"What did it feel like?" said Chopper curiously.
"Like getting hit in the head with a sledgehammer," she said. "I had to sit down for a bit and get my bearings. But I did, and got over it."
"Think Franky's gotten himself back too?" asked Usopp, looking back over his shoulder towards the campsite.
Nami grinned again. "I don't know, but I kinda hope he hasn't, not quite yet," she said. "I want to surprise the others too. So keep this a secret for a few minutes, will you? It's more fun this way."
"Devil woman," said Usopp, but grinned widely too, unable to stop himself. It did sound fun, he had to admit.
"Oh." Chopper got slightly more subdued, but immediately brightened again, and laughed in sheer relief. "Oh, that's all right! As long as you tell them soon! We've missed you so much, Nami!"
"I'm coming down to watch," said Usopp.
"Nuh-uh, you're not," she said. "You're just going to start giggling and give me away."
"Am not!" he said indignantly.
They kept squabbling on the way back to camp, and somehow wound up in a tickling match. Maybe Nami kinda liked being on vacation too.
She was scowling as she strode towards the middle of camp, trying to keep the pretence up for a few more minutes. Usopp hang back a bit. It would be interesting to see if she could fool Robin.
He took up his slingshot and tried once again. Almost a bull's eye.
Everyone was the same size and most of them had the same meagre strength. No need to struggle to keep up for once. Instead you had to get through the day with the loss of the height and reach and strength of an adult that you'd come to take for granted. They were all doing it together and that made it easier, but it was still exhausting. By and large, it would be good to get his real age back soon. Then he couldn't worry about being stuck like this anymore.
Still, it truly had been interesting. And even though he still hated the taste of mushrooms, he found himself wondering if there'd be some of those things left once they turned back, and if he could sneak a few into his bag if so.
Just in case. You never knew.