A/N: Well, I couldn't hold back anymore. Sorry for the terrible summary. I'm bad with summaries to begin with, but I also didn't want to give away the whole plot or anything.

I don't know if I'll be able to do this one weekly like Kyoudai, but I already have a few chapters done (and beta'd, thanks to the wonderful Beyond Kailani) so unless I wind up homeless (I laugh but that's a real drama going on in my life right now xD ) or get horrible writer's block, I should be able to keep this one on a regular update schedule of some kind.

Please note this will be darker, include violence, angst, and eventual ridiculous amounts of fluff.

This story is also going to be pretty long, so if you're not in the mood for more of my epic junk, you may want to leave now :D

Since I'm still wrecked from chapter 792, I figured I may as well share one of my darker fics.

HUGE thanks to Beyond Kailani for being my beta on this monster, as well as pawing at me to write more of it xD It's quite motivating, and incredibly flattering.

Dedicated to Beyond Kailani, for being my awesome sister across the pond and geeking out with me on a regular basis. It'd be forever before I got this story up and going if it wasn't for you, imouto-chan :D

Okashira = Boss

(If I missed any other Japanese words or titles, sorry! I'm also really sleepy)

Bonds of Sea and Fire

Chapter 1: I Won't Cry

"I… will not run away!" Ace's voice was harsh. Amidst the roar of flames all around them, Ace's voice cut through everything else in a way Luffy had never heard before. It scared him, but not because of how angry his big brother sounded. It scared him because it meant no one would change his mind.

"Ace, what are you talking about?! Just leave it already! You know how dangerous Bluejam is! A kid like you can't beat him. He's on a totally different level!" Dogra sounded just as panicked as he felt. The words only reinforced the terror gripping his heart.

If Luffy let them carry him away from his brother's side, it felt like the flames would swallow Ace along with Bluejam, and Luffy would never be able to find him again.

"I-I'll fight too…!" he pleaded, struggling in the grip of the one who held him. A searing pain raced through his head at the movement, more blood seeping into his eye and causing him to hiss. That intake of breath had him struggling not to cough again. His wound burned, his skin felt too hot, and the air around them scorched at his lungs whenever he allowed himself to breathe.

"No, Luffy!"

Of course the one holding him protested - and of course he was strong enough to actually stop Luffy. Everything hurt too much, and even flailing in the bandit's grip was wearing him out.

It was Dadan's voice that halted them all.

"You guys… Take Luffy and go on ahead."

It was one of the most calm and authoritative moments anyone had ever seen from the older woman.


"I'll stay with Ace, and make sure he comes back with me!"

Her voice held more conviction than anyone could remember her having. It both flooded Luffy with relief and reassurance that Ace would be okay, and added a new kind of terror in the pit of his stomach. The fire could swallow them both up.



"Y-yes Ma'am!"

The bandits were moving again, snapping into action at Dadan's order. Ace hadn't once turned to look back at them, never taking his eyes off the unimpressed form of Bluejam. As Luffy found himself being pulled farther and farther away, the images of his big brother and the woman who declared herself their parent were being engulfed in flames.


No matter how many times he screamed Ace's name, even yelling for Dadan a few times, no one stopped to let him go back to them. The flames only climbed higher, blood helping to cloud his vision until he could no longer see his family. They stopped once they were clear of the carnage, but there was only fire as far as the eye could see. The flames seemed to be swirling, reaching unbelievable heights and drowning out the screams of those left behind to burn.

Over and over, Luffy began to scream for Ace. He screamed until his throat felt raw, until tears and blood blurred his vision so completely that the flames began to twist and dance.

All at once, darkness began to stretch out, smothering the flames into nothingness. Everything went silent save for the sound of Luffy screaming Ace's name. He was back on his own two feet, but moving was excruciatingly painful, and he only made it a few steps before he fell to his hands and knees. He had no idea where the other bandits had gone, or why they'd finally allowed him to go back.


Sabo's voice had him jerking in place, head snapping up to look at the other boy. He hadn't seen Sabo since the day he'd been taken away by the nobles, and the sight of his face sent a warm rush of relief through his entire body. Sabo would know exactly what to do about the fire, and Ace!

"Sabo!" Luffy cried, trying desperately to push himself up and fling himself into his brother's arms. His limbs wouldn't cooperate though, and Sabo wasn't coming closer to help him.

With a sad look, Sabo turned away from him, ignoring Luffy's questioning sound. He began walking away, and with each step he took, the darkness began to expand. Each step that took him farther away echoed in the darkness, resonating with a cold and empty feeling. The darkness began to grow heavy, suffocating and smothering Luffy.


Luffy forced himself to stand up, legs wobbling under the strain. Blood was starting to completely obscure his vision, but he could still see the outline of his brother. He lunged forward in that direction, stumbling and tripping. Despite the pain, he started to close the gap between them. His hand reached out, desperate to grasp onto Sabo's coat, but before he could reach him, a new wall of flames burst from the ground, searing through his hand and knocking him back.

When the flames finally vanished, everything was pitch black. There was no sign of Sabo, no sign of Ace, and no sign of Dadan. In that instant, Luffy felt the emptiness of losing his family. A raw, emotional scream tore through his throat. It wasn't a word, a name, or even a coherent thought. It was the only sound he could even think to make at the realization that he was completely alone, and that nothing he did would ever take that feeling away.



The seven year old boy's dark eyes flew open, wide with panic. "Ace! Sabo! Dadan!" he immediately tried to push himself into a sitting position, but just like in his dream, the pain was too intense. It didn't help that hands were immediately holding him down, stopping him from straining his body or reopening the wound on his head.

"Now now, calm down!"

Magra's voice cut through his panic, causing him to look up at the older bandit with a pleading expression. How many times had he finally fallen back asleep at their urging, only to wake up in a cold sweat, screaming for his brothers? He probably wasn't the only one who had lost count by now.

He struggled anyway, looking up with a pleading expression. "I have to go look for them!" he cried.

It didn't matter how many times they tried to calm him down, or how much his injuries hurt. Every time he fell asleep, he dreamt of the fire, and every time he woke up, he was gripped by the same panic. He needed to go look for his big brother.

"Luffy," one of the others was saying, moving to help Magra restrain him.

Luffy stared up at them through tear-filled eyes, silently pleading with them to understand. Why were they stopping him? Didn't they care about Ace and Dadan? Wasn't there anything he could do to make them see why he needed to go look for his family?

Their expressions stopped him cold, fresh tears welling up and sliding down his cheeks. In that brief moment, he'd seen the same emotions on their faces, the same grief and worry that he was holding inside. They were all worried, but there was nothing they could do yet. It was killing every single one of them not to go look.

With a soft sob, Luffy stopped struggling, whimpering Ace's name. They had him resting on a mat in the main room so they could change his bandages often, but right then all he wanted was to be back in the familiar tree house or the room he'd shared with his brothers before they'd moved out. Somewhere he could curl up and cry where no one would watch him, where a sense of familiarity would help calm him down. Or maybe it would make it worse, being surrounded by Ace and Sabo's memories with no guarantee he'd ever get to see them again.

Ace's words kept echoing. He shouldn't be crying. He was a man, and he wasn't a crybaby. Ace hated crybabies. If Ace came back and saw him crying, he'd be angry, wouldn't he? He had to be strong and stop crying.

Maybe just one more time. He'd get the rest of the tears out of his system, and then he'd prove to Ace he wasn't a crybaby. He'd be strong until he got to see Ace again.

"C-can I go to my room?" Luffy heard himself asking, his voice barely audible and still shaking from sobs.

At first it seemed like no one would listen or move him. After all, he was hurt, it would be difficult for him to get down with his injuries, and everyone was worried… but in the end, Magra carried him up to the room the boys had used. He made sure to get Luffy situated on a comfy sleeping mat, then checked his bandages and even left him some broth to drink.

Once the door shut behind Magra, Luffy sat up very carefully, taking the broth in both hands and bringing it to his mouth. He wasn't very hungry, but he needed his strength. He had to go find his family. One more day of crying, of worrying, of saving up his strength.


It was freezing. That was one of the few things Luffy registered as he hobbled his way down the path, leaning on a tree for a moment to catch his breath. He usually didn't notice when it was cold; Sabo had once explained to him that it must have been because of his rubbery body insulating against the temperature automatically, but that hadn't made much sense. He'd figured it was a mystery, and entirely unimportant.

Still, either it was colder than usual, or it was because he was all alone that the chill seemed to seep into his very bones, stalling his progress. He wished he had his hat to pull on and give him a sense of comfort, but leaving it behind had been necessary. After all, everyone knew he never went anywhere without his beloved straw hat. Leaving it behind with the bundled up clothes he'd hidden under his blanket was the only way he could buy himself time to look for Ace and Dadan before someone discovered he was missing and came to find him.

He hadn't anticipated it would take so long to put distance between himself and the house, either. Each shaky step he managed felt like a mile, but if he turned to look over his shoulder, the house would still be in sight. It was frustrating. His wounds didn't feel like they were that bad, though the cut above his right eye would sting no matter how still he tried to keep his face. He didn't feel like he should be having this much trouble, yet he was. How was he supposed to find anyone if he couldn't even walk for a few minutes without needing to rest?

It didn't matter though. He kept pushing forward, gritting his teeth when the pain became great enough that he started to cry out. Ace's face flashed through his mind then, and he hurriedly sucked in his lower lip, forcing his expression as stern as it could go. He wouldn't cry out. He wouldn't complain. He wouldn't let his pain show at all, because he was strong and he wasn't a crybaby. He was Ace and Sabo's little brother, and he was going to show them how strong he was. He absolutely would not cry, all alone in the dark forest with the remnants of the fire still casting oily textures on the trees and dampening the stars.

He wouldn't cry again until Ace was there to yell at him for it. Then maybe they could see Sabo again, and Sabo would tell Ace not to be so mean to him. They'd go home and make a mess so Dadan yelled at them until her orange mop of unruly hair turned frizzy from stress. That was what Luffy wanted desperately.

I promise, Ace, he thought, furiously blinking and biting down on his lip to hold the tears back. He tasted blood in his mouth, but he didn't lessen his biting. I promise I won't cry until you're here to yell at me for crying.

The house began to fade in the darkness, his hands feeling rough and raw from scraping against tree bark. A faint cough escaped. The smell was still thick even in the forest, and the closer he got to the Gray Terminal, the dirtier his hands became from touching the foliage. Even the animals refused to come out, making it much easier for him to continue his trek. He didn't have the energy or the time to fight anything.

Are you gonna be mad at me, Ace? Luffy wondered, vision blurring. He had to stop, scrubbing his eyes with the back of one hand and flinching when that tugged his skin and caused the cut over his eye to sting badly. He sucked in a labored breath, lowering his arm and looking ahead. It doesn't hurt, he reminded himself. He had to keep saying it, or he'd think about how much it really did hurt.

The pain had finally started to give way to a sense of numbness when he heard the sound. It was unlike any animal he'd ever heard, and it seemed to be gasping for breath. Discerning that the sound was coming from behind him, Luffy turned to see what kind of predator was shambling out of the forest to come after him. Where he expected fur and fangs, he found charred flesh and greasy hair. The eyes held no hunger or defensive warning. Only madness.

It was the dim flash of teeth in the pale moonlight that had Luffy going tense, a gap-toothed grin filled with malice and insanity. The burned face came into view as the figure lurched closer, and Luffy found himself powerless to back away more than a couple of steps before his strength gave out and he fell into a kneeling position.

The sound of metal dragging across dirt and rocks drew part of his attention, but he couldn't tear his gaze away from that inhuman smile. A smile that promised suffering and despair.

The sword lifted, and for a brief moment, everything was quiet save for their breathing. One was labored and rough from exertion, the other panicked and struggling just to continue. It was Luffy who spoke first, and his voice trembled as violently as his tired and aching body.



The feeling was unbearable. His hands itched with the urge to push himself up and begin the trip back to the house, and a restless - anxious - energy coiled through his sore body.

Steely gray eyes peered through the foliage, a hesitant hand pushing leaves and branches out of the way. The coast seemed clear, but then, recent events had him paranoid that the moment he let his guard down, they'd be ambushed. Still, he kept a careful gaze on the forest before slowly letting the leaves back into place. He took a seat next to the wounded woman with him, exhaling.

"You seem wound up."

Dadan's voice shocked him right out of his gloomy thoughts, his eyes darting to her heavily bandaged form. He'd thought she was asleep.

"Something doesn't feel right," he muttered in response, shoving a hand through his unruly black hair. Several locks fell right back into place, plastering to his skin with an oily texture. He wanted to jump back into the stream and try to wash the grime off, but that was a luxury he couldn't afford yet. He'd only taken the initial dip because he'd still reeked of smoke and sweat, and he'd been paranoid one of the soldiers would smell him even while they hid.

"Ace," Dadan's voice was serious, commanding his attention. He turned to her, their eyes meeting. "You should just go back."

"No," Ace shook his head at her, looking away again. "You said it was your responsibility to bring me home, right? I'm not going back without you."

She sighed, a sound usually reserved for moments when she was about to call him a moron or a pain in the ass, but the insult didn't come. Instead, she gave a raspy cough and shifted as much as she could without irritating the burns that covered most of her body.

A twinge of guilt raced through him as he thought back to that night. He wasn't sure what to think. One minute he's hearing her drunken rambling about how he's the child of the devil, and the next she's showing up out of nowhere at the exact moment he needs her, there to save his life, facing down a pirate that the bandits had clearly been terrified of. Her words then…

"No parent, even a foster parent, would stand by while someone tries to kill their kids!"

The silence was eating at him again, anxiety building up and making him restless. He needed a distraction.


"Mm?" she didn't look at him, didn't so much as tilt her head towards him, simply staring up at the hollow roots of the tree they were resting in.

"...nothing," Ace shook his head, unable to bring himself to say the words. "Nevermind."

"I'll go first then," she groused, sounding annoyed. That was a tone he was used to, at least. "That night…" she didn't need to clarify, and he braced himself for a question he felt he owed the answer to. "Why didn't you run?"

The frustration came back full force, but rather than brush off her inquiry, he sighed loudly. If she hadn't shown up, if she hadn't come to his defense - aided him - then he'd probably be dead. Luffy would never stop crying…

That thought sent another wave of dread through him. He forced it down and tried to ignore it. "Sometimes," he answered, thinking of how to best explain the innate feeling he'd always had in those situations. "The blood just rushes to my head, and I feel like if I run away, I'll lose something important."

He kept his gaze averted, not wanting to gauge her reaction right then. Not until he'd explained it fully. "I've always had that feeling, even when I had nothing important to lose. I guess it looks like I just don't back down, but… that night," his voice grew softer. "Luffy was right behind me."

From the corner of his eye, he saw Dadan's eyes widen just a little, as if she'd silently confirmed something he wasn't privy to. He didn't want to know, and he hoped she wouldn't explain that look. It wasn't his business what that admittance caused her to think about. He shook his head instead. "I guess that's the easiest way to explain it."

"Mm," she gave a sound to indicate she'd heard him, but she didn't press the matter otherwise. He was grateful for that. "You three brats sure have come a long way."

His eyes flickered to her face.

"Where was the other brat?" she asked, before he had a chance to look away or respond to her comment. The question caught him off guard, and then he was swallowing a guilty response.

He finally turned away and crossed his arms over his chest. "He's with his noble parents." He waited a beat, but Dadan gave no outward reaction of Sabo's heritage. Maybe it had been obvious to the adults. "They threatened Luffy and me. Sabo went with them even though he didn't want to so we'd be safe. We agreed to see if… if Sabo might be better off there…" the words sounded feeble even to his own ears, and his eyes narrowed. "There's no way Sabo's happy there. He's just as alone as I… he's alone there. When Luffy and I recover, we're going to go get him."

Dadan nodded once, returning her gaze to the roots.

"Does that sound stupid to you?" Ace found himself asking.

"Tch. Like that's the dumbest thing you've ever done." She rolled her eyes, and Ace had to fight a small smile at her words. True, he'd done some pretty crazy things… and as a trio, they'd definitely gotten involved in some dumb stunts. "I'm a bandit, Ace. We understand what it's like to have somewhere we don't want to go back to. If I didn't at least understand that, I would have sent him back to his nobles right away."

The tone of her voice, still raspy from smoke inhalation, made Ace turn to look at her again.

She sighed. "I didn't ask to raise three unruly little brats, you know."

Her words sent that uncertain feeling through him again, and he found himself looking down at his knees. For so long, he'd always felt so unwanted and unwelcome. When he'd met Sabo, he'd found a companion, and eventually a friend to share his ambitions and goals with. When Luffy had been thrown into the mix, he'd been unwillingly pulled in by the younger boy's magnetic personality.

Dadan's words from the night of the fire hadn't been a lie or a bold claim because she was facing a pirate. As unwilling as she was, as much as she acted like they were a burden that she'd be happier without, she saw them - the three of them, despite how little time Sabo had spent in her home - as hers. He didn't know how to handle that feeling, but he didn't find it as unwelcome as he once thought he would.

For a little while, the silence following their conversation was comfortable. Dadan even managed to drift off to sleep for a little while. As sunlight finally began to peek through the leaves, the anxiety was back. Why couldn't he shake the feeling of dread building within him? The other bandits would have gotten Luffy out of the fire, and Sabo was in High Town. He was personally making sure Dadan didn't die, so no one important was being lost.

At the same time, he hadn't seen Luffy since the injured and crying boy had been torn from his side. The echoes of Luffy pleading with the others to let him fight, yelling Ace's name… they caused his anxiety to spike. He needed to see Luffy and make absolutely sure his little brother was okay.

Sabo will kill me if I let Luffy get killed, he reasoned, trying to rationalize his fear. I can't let Sabo think he's the better brother now, can I?

He peeked through the leaves again, but the forest was oddly silent. If Dadan was in better shape, he was confident he could get her back to the house…

"You still worrying about the little brat?" Dadan's voice made him jump, smacking the top of his head on the root he'd been kneeling by.

He turned to scowl at her. "He got cut pretty badly before you showed up." He clenched his fists, but the anger deflated within moments. "I have a bad feeling, Dadan."

Her eyes narrowed imperceptibly. Distracting him probably wouldn't work anymore, and she could tell it was taking a lot of his energy just to keep himself from lashing out.

With a grunt, she started to push herself up, ignoring when he whirled around and scowled. "Oi! What the hell do you think you're doing? You shouldn't be moving!"

"Don't try to give me orders, kid," she griped at him, wheezing a little with the effort it took to stay sitting up. "This is nothing. Let's go."

Ace hesitated. He was positive he'd be able to carry her, positive they'd make it so long as they didn't cross paths with any soldiers… but it was going to be excruciating for her, with her burns so fresh. For a moment they just glared at each other, but his worry won out in the end, and her determination to push through the pain for his sake was something he wouldn't take for granted. "I don't want to hear you complaining, then."

"That's my line, you little shit," she muttered, but her annoyance seemed to be nothing more than exasperated endearment, and her words had no bite in them.


To say that the bandits were happy to see them was an understatement. Ace had never seen so many grown men with tears in their eyes. Magra especially seemed choked up as Dadan was hoisted off of Ace's shoulders and carefully taken inside. They were surprisingly careful with her, too, able to discern that she was in an immense amount of pain despite the fact that she hadn't complained or voiced it once since they'd left their hiding place.

His eyes scanned the assembled group, and his disappointment was obvious when he didn't see the familiar vibrant colors of a straw hat and the crybaby it belonged to. He'd expected rubbery arms to find him out of nowhere and latch on with inhuman strength while blubbering drowned out any protests he'd have to being hugged. That no such thing happened had Ace instantly on edge.

"Where's Luffy?" he demanded, walking up to the bandits without so much as a 'hello' or 'I'm back'.

It was Magra who put a hand on his shoulder and guided him inside with the others. "Now now," he said through relieved tears. "Luffy is resting. He's been worried sick about you both."

That alleviated some of the stress, but not all of it. Ace gave a curt nod, grimacing when he felt grime under his shirt from the pressure Magra had applied. He quickly took his shirt off - it wouldn't do to be smelling completely like smoke when Luffy inevitably awoke and latched onto him - and examined his own burns. They were minor, healing up nicely, and the ones that had been bandaged felt fine for the time being.

While the others got Dadan situated on a sleeping mat, Ace headed to the ladder that led to the room that hadn't been his in a long time, but still felt familiar and somehow safe. A soft sigh escaped when he opened the door and saw the familiar straw hat. Of course Luffy had gone to sleep with it on. No matter how many times Sabo tried to get him to hang it up so he wouldn't roll onto it and squish it during the night, Luffy rarely complied. For a brief moment, he considered going in to wake the boy up and then scold him for worrying, but if Luffy had been spending all of his energy crying and panicking about whether or not Ace and Dadan would make it back, there was a good chance he needed the sleep.

He was about to turn and head back down the ladder to get something to eat and change his clothes, but the sound of a woman's cry from outside got everyone's attention. Before Magra could get up to go check on the commotion, the door burst open.

Makino stood in the doorway, her hair disheveled and her eyes frantic. Save for her shoes, she seemed to be in a nightgown rather than her usual working clothes, and her hands were covered in scrapes, like she'd run the entire way up the mountain and tripped several times. The beginnings of a bruise were forming over one cheek, along with a cut that had probably been bleeding at one point.

"Makino-san?" several of the bandits asked, a few blushing at her state of mild undress. There was no denying Makino was an attractive young woman, after all.

"Makino?" Dadan's voice was sharp. "What is it?"

"Luffy!" Makino cried, tears obscuring her vision. There would be time later for her to ask why Dadan was covered in bandages, though even Windmill Village had been aware of the massive fire once it had started and the injuries could easily be attributed to that.

"He's not hurt," Magra hurried to reassure Makino, assuming that was why the young bartender seemed so distraught. "He's-"

"He was kidnapped!" Makino cried, leaning on the doorframe. She really had run nonstop, and her lungs felt like they might burst from the exertion and the panic. "A pirate came into the village late last night, and he had Luffy!"

"What the hell are you talking about?" Ace demanded. "Luffy's…" A sharp pang hit him then, and he whirled around.


There was no possible way this was happening. It couldn't be, and at the same time, it was so obvious it made his throat tighten in sheer horror. Ignoring everything else that was being said, Ace rushed fully into the room and placed his hands on the lump he'd assumed to be Luffy.

The hat rolled right off, showing a bundle of laundry carefully tucked under the blanket. No one would suspect he'd gone if he'd left his hat, and if everyone had assumed he'd needed rest, no one would have bothered him.

It hurt to breathe.

So obvious - so painfully obvious - and yet no one had seen it coming. Ace was almost completely unaware of his own movements as he slowly and carefully gathered the straw hat into his hands and stood, heading back to the doorway.

The conversation stopped at the sight of him, and he knew his eyes must have held something dark in them from the way they looked to him. Whether it was that look or the fact that he was clutching his little brother's beloved treasure in his hands, no one spoke to him at first. They waited for him to speak.

"Where's Bluejam now? Where did he take Luffy?" Ace asked in a quiet, deadly voice. He didn't think for a second it could be any other pirate. Bluejam must have survived the fire, and he must have crossed paths with Luffy while going after the pirate fund. The dread and panic that had been coiling inside him all night had finally culminated in an eerie sense of tranquil fury. Now that he had a cause - a reason for that feeling…

Makino swallowed, looking up at Ace in a mixture of concern and fear. Even in his anger, Ace could see that the fear was for Luffy. For him. "He took him from the island," she answered, voice shaking. "We tried to get him to leave Luffy with us, but he took a fishing boat and left with him as a hostage. We've tried to contact Garp-san, but-"

"But it won't be fast enough," Ace clutched the straw hat tighter. "I'm going after Luffy."

"Ace," Dadan started, but he shook his head angrily.

"Bluejam had a hand in splitting us all up," he practically snarled. "He helped Sabo's parents take him away, he nearly killed us, and now he's taken our little brother!"

The forcefulness in Ace's tone stopped anyone from arguing his words. Even Makino, who looked desperately like she wanted to intervene and say something to him could only hold her breath, a hand over her mouth.

He jumped down from the ledge and grabbed his shirt, throwing it back on and then placing the cord of the straw hat over his head so it hung on his back. "I'm going to go get Sabo, and we're going to find Luffy."

"Ace," Dadan said his name again, and this time he looked to her. Her expression was just as stormy as his. No one spoke as the two stared each other down, not wanting to interrupt the unspoken conversation they seemed to be having. At long last, Dadan simply nodded once, and a silent understanding passed between them.

She turned her gaze to Magra next. "Oi, get him a bag."

"Now now, Okashira…" Magra's eyes widened. "You're letting him go?"

"The brat's made up his mind," Dadan answered. "Garp'll kill us for losing Luffy anyway, what more is he gonna do if we lose Ace too?"

"Okashira…" several of the bandits squirmed, knowing full well that she didn't want Ace going off alone… but there was something about the look on her face that told them she knew what she was agreeing to. It was the only thing keeping Makino from speaking up. The lovely young woman was clearly still reeling from losing Luffy, and the thought of anything happening to Ace or Sabo distressed her just as much.

Before Ace could lose patience and simply leave, Magra hurried to find a satchel for him, throwing bandages, medicine, and as much preserved food as he could. In the uncomfortable silence that followed, Makino lowered her hand and swallowed, needing to speak with him while she had the chance.

"Ace," Makino moved to his side and knelt in front of him, her expression filled with concern. Concern, but also warmth. "Nothing we say is going to stop you, is it?"

"No," Ace looked to her with the same cold resolve. "If I don't go after Luffy, I'll regret it forever. I can't wait on someone else to save him when he's all alone and scared. He wasn't safe because he was out looking for me." His eyes darkened, pure pain shining through for a brief moment. It was the closest Makino had ever seen Ace to crying, and it was gone in an instant. "I'll never forgive anyone who tries to stop me."

Makino cupped his cheek then, and it was such a foreign feeling, so unexpected, that it snapped him out of his anger for a moment. Her eyes were still wet with tears, but the frantic expression she'd worn when she'd first sought Dadan out to tell her about Luffy had calmed. "I'm really happy Luffy has two big brothers who care about him so much," she said softly. "Please be careful, Ace. Luffy's not the only one we want to see come home safely. Make sure Sabo knows that too, okay?"

His cheeks burned, but he gave a short nod and looked away before she could see into his eyes and tell how much her words meant to him. He had a feeling she already knew.


The salty sting of the sea had him shielding his eyes briefly, but it wasn't harsh enough to make him turn his head. Even though it stung, he welcomed the feeling because it represented the freedom he'd been longing for.

He smiled up at the sky, tipping his hat to it as if giving a polite greeting. It wouldn't do to set sail without going about it properly, would it? The shouts of astonishment only made his grin widen, flag waving about in the breeze. Somewhere in those shouts, his parents - rather, the two who had given him life and not much else - were probably panicking. Not that he was leaving, but that people might recognize him as their embarrassment and their failure.

He was happy to be their failure. Now that he fully grasped what being their pride meant he'd have to turn into, failure was the best kind of noble he could ever hope to be.

"What a great day for setting sail," he spoke aloud, happy to be able to say whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. He wasn't sure exactly where he planned to go first, or what he planned to do when he got there, but whatever he chose, it would be his choice, and his alone.

A twinge of guilt hit him then. Maybe the first thing he would do would be write another letter. There was no doubt in his mind that his brothers would have survived the fire, but he had so much more he wanted to say to them once he had the chance. Especially for Luffy's sake.

Ace would understand, but Luffy wouldn't. It could be years before he had a chance to see either of them again, or gaze upon Luffy's smile, which could brighten any situation. Luffy wouldn't necessarily see why Sabo had no choice but to leave them. The last memory he'd have of his big brother until they reunited would be of Sabo walking away from him. Ignoring his pleas to come back.

He didn't want that to be the last impression Luffy had of him. He needed to make sure Luffy knew how much he was going to miss them, and how proud he was to be their brother. How much he wished he could be woken in the mornings by Luffy's enthusiastic - albeit painful - hugs and excited cheers for food.

He even ached to argue with Ace again.

He missed everything he'd given up that day, after walking away from his brothers in the Gray Terminal. His only real comfort was knowing he'd see them again some day, and when he did, they'd all be free. A smile touched Sabo's lips as he thought of that impossibly wide grin, arms stretching to embrace him no matter how old they were. That day couldn't come soon enough.


His entire body stilled at that voice - the one voice that he could pick out in the crowd - before he whirled around to see if he'd simply imagined it or not. The docks were far enough away that he had to strain, but sure enough, standing as close to the water as possible from the pier, he could just make out the outline of his brother.

The outline immediately vanished as an explosion rocked his stolen ship, flames leaping into his line of view and obscuring the horrified look he was sure he'd seen on Ace's face.


A/N: *evil laughter intensifies*

Sorry not sorry :D But I leave these chapters off in horrible places. Please lemme know what you think! I know it's not very different from my other works, seeing as how it's little ASL trio, but I'm really proud of my storyline for this one and interested to see what people think.

Fun fact, the title of this story comes from the Xenogears OST, and is one of my favorite tracks.