The Madman is defeated; you can hardly believe it. You're crouched behind the crumbling remains of a wall, the last one standing upright in a bed of ruin, and you've been clutching your homemade warhammer so tightly the handle's left a print in your palms. You're still shaking. The fight was like nothing you've ever seen.
But the pirate won.
His crew is just as amazing, picking off henchmen one by one, and when the Madman falls, everyone stops and glances over at the sound of his body hitting the earth, those six pirates refusing to move from position but you can see them straining to catch a glimpse of their captain through the dust and debris.
He stands incredible and tall for a long moment, the victor; and then he sways, and you cry out when he falls. As if on cue, the henchmen resume battle, refusing to accept defeat.
Two of the pirates are standing guard over you and the thirty or so villagers that survived. Your big sister was helping the reindeer doctor, but right now the little doctor is frozen, eyes blown wide. You've never seen anyone look that scared for someone else before.
"Luffy!" one of the fighting pirates calls out, and you can't tell if she's trying to rally him to his feet or if she's just desperate for him to answer.
The other pirate with you- the sniper, you thought they said- is gone.
Has he run away? You think he might have, he was pretty scared the whole time, and you don't blame him, you were too. But then you catch a glimpse of him, ducking and dodging and fighting his way up to the crest of rocks, scooping his captain up off the ground and hauling him back over his shoulder. The swordsman covers him as he makes his way back, and you think these pirates must have been together for a long, long time if they don't even need to talk to do things like that.
"Chopper," the sniper shouts urgently, and the doctor gives your sister a few instructions and abandons her with a formidable amount of medicine and gauze, hurrying over to their captain- a boy you're stunned to find isn't that much older than your sister is. "Please, tell me it's not as bad as it looks."
It's the longest two and a half minutes of your life, but finally the reindeer says, "He'll be okay. I want to get him back to the infirmary as soon as- "
A man shouts suddenly, a young woman screams, and you whip around to find a handful of henchmen rushing the cluster of survivors with weapons drawn.
The sniper pulls you behind him, settles his captain down carefully, and then- so quickly you're not sure how it happened- knocks two of the bad guys out cold with a sickening crack of bone. He aims his weapon at the third, fearless, with an economy of motion that stuns you, and fires something into his face that starts to eat him as you watch.
He falls screaming and the sniper takes two steps back, directly in front of his captain; but no more bad men break through the pirates' ranks, and soon those six are the only ones still standing.
Panting and hurt but without wasting a moment, they rush to the shelter. A few of them glance at the civilians with some interest, but none of them move a step past their captain, and most of them kneel in the dirt and broken stone around him.
The girl who fought with weather is pulling his head into her lap, the man with a cigarette reaching over to card fingers through the boy's messy hair. The swordsman is talking to them all; he only has one eye, and he's staring at the captain really hard, and you think he must be the first mate, because the way he talks is low and steady and the others are nodding and pulling themselves together.
"We're returning to our ship," the tall woman tells you kindly, her face unsmiling. "If you need anything, feel free to find us there."
A few of the villagers cry out, some of them are angry, their homes destroyed, the fabric of their lives in complete disarray; "You pirates can't just leave!"
They saved us, you don't have the courage to say. What more do you want?
The sniper is securing his weapon at his back, and he scoops his captain up off the ground when the little doctor says he can.
And the captain blinks awake; you expect the crew to cry out and clamor around him in joy. They step closer, but they don't celebrate. For some reason their expressions just get bleaker.
"Good." You think he falls asleep, but it's actually a really slow blink, and soon tired brown is peeking out under heavy eyelids again. "Goin' home?"
The sniper starts walking, the crew not even half a step behind, and he says, "Yeah, we're going home."
A couple people from behind you lurch forward desperately, shouting for them to stay, please, what are we supposed to do now-
They stop, and turn around.
The little reindeer doctor is a lot bigger all of a sudden, he's big as a horse, tossing his antlers like a proper wild animal; the living skeleton leans on his bloody guitar like it's a cane, tilting his head and staring with empty eyes. The blond man leans his head back and exhales a long plume of smoke, the metal man resting a cannon against his shoulder the way some people hold sleeping babies, the two ladies standing beautiful in their battlefield, with tangles in their hair and dark stains on their dresses. The swordsman's eye is so bright in the gloom it seems to glow, and the sniper doesn't even look over, eyes only for the burden of his arms as the boy tries to lift his head. You wonder how you could have thought him capable of abandoning the boy he's holding so close in his arms.
They don't say anything, but the villagers all fall silent.
"Usopp? Hey... Zoro, Sanji? 's goin' on?"
It's the blond who moves over to smooth a hand over the boy's forehead.
"The people were just telling us thank you," he says quietly. "They're grateful, they're saying bon voyage." You look over your shoulder; the civilians' expressions are twisting in shame. Your sister hurries to you, and you welcome the weight of her arms around your shoulders.
They don't say, "We saved you, we didn't have to."
They don't say, "We're pirates, we don't owe you a thing."
They don't say, "He's so important, and what are you?"
Because they don't have to. You're just a kid, and you can see it in every line of their bodies, the shadows on their faces. They saved you, but they didn't have to. They're pirates, and they don't owe you a thing. Their captain coughs once and starts trying to get down, and at once their attention slips away from the ruined town and its lost people. They're moving back to the sniper who never turned around to begin with; scolding, now, and fussing, and the reindeer is so little again, lifted up in the robot's arm to get a better look, the girls feeling for a temperature and kissing his hair. The swordsman and the blond man are grinning, the skeleton is laughing, and you see the captain smile, a wide, stretching, happy thing as his crew comes to life again.
He's so important, you realize. And next to him, as far as those pirates are concerned, you're not really anything.
The sniper pulls him a little closer, says something that makes him giggle, and carries him back toward their ship and the sea. Not half a step behind, the others follow.
"Figure it out for yourselves, we have better things to do," they don't say.
Because they don't really have to.