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And my fantastic Betas as well, breather and HadenXCharm, who both really fought RL circumstances to edit this for me, so sincere thanks.
Chapter 15: From Me to You
"You all have new bounties!" A member of the Franky Family starts lying out the sheets of paper, showing all of the Straw Hats. The crew and several members of the Franky Family are spread out in the entryway of the bungalow.
Chopper smiles eagerly until he sees the amount under his name.
"What?! Only 50 beri?!" Chopper exclaims.
"What?! Only 300,000,000 beri?!" Luffy cries out from beside him.
"Idiot! Don't be upset about something like that! The higher your bounty is, the more the Marines are going to be after us," Nami scolds. "It's already bad enough that I have a bounty now too. Oh god..."
"Mine's only 50 beri!" Chopper shouts. "How can you be upset with 300,000,000?!" While Chopper admits he doesn't know the bounty system on the sea very well, he's sure 300,000,000 is a nice bounty.
"It should be bigger." Luffy pouts. "I'm really strong! And at this rate I'm never going to catch up to Ace."
"Your bounty doubled and you took out a government syndicate," Zoro tells their captain. "That isn't enough for you?"
"It tripled last time," Luffy mutters.
Chopper wants to yell at the captain some more, but as a doctor, he really should check on Sanji and see if he's going to recover from his sudden depressive episode. Sanji doesn't really have a right to be upset with a 70,000,000 beri bounty, even if the drawn picture isn't exactly flattering. It isn't like he got called a pet of all things. Chopper actually kind of wants to join Sanji in the corner where he's sulking, but someone has to be an adult here.
"Don't worry, Sanji. I'm sure they'll get a picture for the next poster when your bounty increases," Chopper says.
"Even with Luffy, that'll take a few months at least." Sanji moans. "And all the while the beautiful mellorine~ will see this atrocity!" Speaking it out loud seems to have sucked his strength in a strange phenomenon Chopper attributes to psychological issues embedded deeply in the chef's psyche that the doctor should probably analyze one of these days. But for now, Sanji just collapses to the ground on his knees. Chopper winces as he pats the chef's back with his hoof. Sanji really shouldn't be resting on his knees. His legs were damaged more seriously than usual, but considering they were up against a syndicate of specialized government assassins, Chopper thinks it's fair.
That last battle was their hardest yet; they had been prepared to fight the members of CP9, Chopper never realized how seriously strong they were. Even though everything ended up going the way Luffy said it would (four members of CP9 attacking them at the hotel and effectively destroying a large part of downtown Water 7 as they all spread out in their separate fights) all of them got hurt. Even Luffy, who's barely gotten a scratch the entire adventure! To be fair, apparently Lucci was the strongest member in the history of CP9, but still... Admittedly it wasn't that much damage— nothing like what Sanji and Zoro got. Nobody's wounds were anything too damaging though, and they wouldn't have become so serious, except after CP9 fled the scene, with only Lucci and Fukuro getting fully K.O.'d, Franky came running up to them and asked for their help breaking into the headquarters of Galley-La.
Apparently, Franky was having a secret meeting with Iceberg when the mayor was assaulted by his secretary and one of his foremen. The salvager irritably raved that Iceberg then pushed him out of the window, leaving him stunned from his sudden freefall from the twenty-fifth floor. The agents of CP9 locked down the building, and it seemed like there was nothing that Franky could do— and in that moment, Chopper supposes Luffy came to mind, which isn't so surprising. Something about his captain seems to leave the impression that he's willing and able to help people make things better.
Although some of the Straw Hat members were rather beat-up, when Franky asked for their help with desperate eyes that screamed he had no one else he could turn to, Zoro shook off Chopper's attending hooves and stood up, stubborn and determined, Sanji grabbed his coat jacket, Robin carefully wiped away the blood from the scrapes on her face, and Nami pulled out her clima-tact. And Luffy wasn't making assumptions on any of their opinions when he agreed to come and help.
So everyone got a bit more battered from their second round with the CP9 agents, but they were successful. They saved the mayor's life and gained Franky's eternal gratitude. And that gratitude manifested itself in the (now self-identified) shipwright volunteering to build them what he claimed would be one of the strongest, most amazing ships on sea. Beyond that, the mayor offered them a house by the sea to rest in, which all of them are currently occupying. And beyond that, Iceberg volunteered to help Franky personally, so both of Tom's workers are currently piecing together a ship for Chopper and his crew. Their life is sometimes a little stunning to the doctor.
"Next time a group like that tries to take away or hurt one of our nakama, let's declare war on the World Government." Luffy nods to himself, seeming intent to increase his bounty.
"NO!" Chopper yells in a chorus with nearly everyone else.
Robin, seated at a nearby table, chuckles at their antics. Chopper really likes it when she laughs now. He liked it before, but now the sound is much lighter and more melodic. Everything about the archeologist is like that since CP9 got taken out. Her default mild smile reaches a deeper level in her eyes that Chopper didn't know existed. It's nice. It feels like Robin —all of Robin— belongs to them now. Even Nami has let up on her subtle dislike.
In Robin's lap is Luffy's straw hat, which she still hasn't returned, and he hasn't asked for yet, apparently. Whenever they go outside, Robin puts it on her head to avoid the bright sun, and in those moments she looks like she's glowing.
"Fine, but on our next adventure we have to take out a Shichibukai then," Luffy compromises.
"WE'RE NOT DOING THAT EITHER!"
Luffy laughs heartily at their outrage.
"Wait, maybe we should," Sanji says with sudden vigor. "That will send our bounties up, surely! New posters will have to be sent out."
"Stop it! You'll jinx us!" Nami snaps. "Honestly, you two. You're—"
The front wall explodes, sending rubble and wood flying into the room. After bracing themselves from the sudden onslaught of debris and shaking off the surprise, everyone tenses, staring at the newly-made opening with anticipation and some fear. When the dust and dirt kicked up from the small explosion clears, they all see an older man wearing a Marine uniform. Zoro places his hands on his swords, and Chopper prepares to shift forms if he needs to. The doctor glances towards their captain to see how he intends to deal with the situation.
Chopper does a double take at the absolute terror on Luffy's face.
"I forgot!" Luffy exclaims hysterically, his tone a mix of horror and despair.
The Marine shoots forward, almost faster than Chopper can see. He makes a couple grabs for Luffy, which the teen captain desperately dodges, but his steps are stuttering in his nervousness. Eventually, the old man gets a hand on the cuff of Luffy's shirt and lifts him in the air.
"How dare you forget your grandfather!" the old man shouts before slamming a fist down on Luffy's head, throwing the teen into the floor.
And all the Straw Hats present stare dumbly for a few minute before the exclamations start.
"A Marine is Luffy's—"
From outside, Chopper hears similar cries, and as he looks into the gap, he sees an entire platoon of Marines standing outside. What is happening…?
"Ouch!" Luffy sits up from his sprawl on the floor and clutches his head.
"Ouch? You're made of rubber!" Sanji's expression slowly changes to scared realization. "For it to hurt a rubber man..."
"He's strong, don't fight him." Luffy is still rubbing the massive bump on his head. "He nearly killed me a ton of times when I was a kid."
"You ungrateful grandson!" the Marine accuses. "You're the one who asked for training!"
"You didn't have to keep us awake for two weeks straight to train us!" Luffy protests.
"Endurance training," the Marine explains dismissively.
"Or throw us into a sinking rowboat in shark infested waters when neither of us could swim!"
Luffy's grandfather snorts. "That's both your and Ace's faults for eating those damn Devil's Fruit in the first place!"
"And when you abandoned us on an island of cannibals?!"
"That was a special occasion." The Marine smiles. "It was your tenth birthday! We couldn't just do training the normal way!"
"That birthday sucked," Luffy mutters.
"Are you complaining?" the Marine asks lowly, fist raising menacingly.
"No! I'm not complaining at all!" Luffy quickly assures him, scrambling on the floor to get away.
And Chopper cannot blame Luffy for his cowardly behavior if even a third of what he said is true.
"This explains so much," Nami says from the side.
"I understand Luffy's undying spirit to live now," Sanji comments, hands reaching for a cigarette.
"Luffy's grandfather is scary," Chopper says, taking a step back himself.
"Now, don't you think you owe me an apology?" the old man demands. "After all the training I gave you two so you could be strong Marines, both you and Ace leave to become worthless pirates!"
"We always told you we weren't gonna be Marines!" Luffy shouts back.
"No! No! Never!" Luffy cries. And Chopper just sighs as he watches a similar pattern taking form.
"And you all." The Marine turns on the rest of the Straw Hats, and nearly all of them jump. "You're following my stupid grandson then? You're all good for nothing pirates too, eh? Joined his crew?"
The tense, anxiety ridden feeling that comes before a battle roars back into Choppers mind and he tenses, hooves slowly reaching for his backpack to find a rumble-ball.
"Then I should introduce myself!" he says, making nearly everyone fall over from shock. "My name is Monkey D. Garp, vice-admiral for the Marines."
"G—Garp?!" Nami exclaims. "The war-hero?"
"A war hero?!" Chopper says with wide-eyes.
"He went toe-to-toe with Roger multiple times. Many said they were evenly matched," Robin elaborates.
"No wonder Luffy's scared of him," Zoro mutters.
"I might one day have the pleasure of reeling all of you in." Garp laughs. "So I think introductions are in order. Don't bother introducing yourselves though, your names have already graced my desk."
Chopper isn't a fan of the ominous way those words are spoken.
"Wait," Nami says. "'One day?' So does that mean today you're going to let us go?"
Luffy's grandfather narrows his small eyes on her and she instinctively recoils. Nami looks about to apologize just like Luffy (which Chopper neither faults nor judges her for), when Garp lets out a long sigh.
"I guess not. Taking out CP9 was damn stupid, but at least you didn't do something utterly moronic, like declare war on the World Government or something. I'd have to teach you some manners if you were that much of an idiot." Garp laughs like this is a joke, but all the Straw Hats are looking faint.
Is it possible that he overheard what Luffy said?
Speaking of, their captain looks positively pale. In fact, if Chopper wasn't well aware of Luffy's red-meat uptake, Chopper would be worried if his captain was anemic.
"Yeah..." Luffy manages after a moment.
"Between you and Ace, I don't know how I've managed to keep as young and spry as I have." Garp huffs a sigh. "I guess it's my curse to have two rude, ungrateful brats for grandsons."
Well, Chopper maybe sees how raising Luffy must have been hell, but Ace is one of the politest pirates Chopper has ever met— maybe even the politest human. Then again, with a marine for a grandfather...
"Between the two of you, that's 800,000,000 beri. You're drawing a lot of attention to yourselves," Garp says, seeming serious at this point, almost weary.
Chopper's curiosity piques at the tone. It's familiar to him; warmth shrouded by layers and layers of derision and seeming coldness. Doctor Kureha…
Chopper takes a mental step away from the image and uses his past guardian as a lens to review the conversation. After running though it through in his head, he's left with an intense sense of concern hidden within the barbs and the stories of all Garp put Luffy and Ace through as children. But concern for what? Luffy's life as a pirate? His imprisonment? Other Marines trying to claim his bounty? These are perfectly reasonable concerns, but to subject children to all that for what? For punishment? Or is he trying to make them stronger for something they have to face in the future? The way Chopper sees it, if Garp was worried about Ace and Luffy becoming pirates, then training them would be the last thing he would do— it would only make Garp's duty as a Marine messier and more difficult in the end.
Even though Ace and Luffy told their grandfather in the past that they wanted to be pirates, Garp trained them. What was he afraid of then? Something he knew they'd have to face eventually, perhaps. Maybe Garp himself?
Chopper doesn't have enough information.
He puts the thoughts and the sudden spark of homesickness away for later pondering, and instead wonders how Luffy will reply to the concern. Which it turns out, is by not replying to it.
Luffy's eyes appear serious. "I'm getting a musician next."
Garp laughs, but it's slower. "I'm glad you at least saved that for last."
"Not for lack of trying," Zoro mutters from the side. Luffy starts laughing too and Garp's chuckle builds back into the bellow they all heard before.
And even though Luffy's body still has the faintest of tremors running over it, Chopper can maybe see how they're related.
It nags at the tips of Choppers horns though, even as he starts laughing too, what their grandfather is worried Luffy will have to face in the future and why he needs the strength of a monster to do it. But whatever it is, surely Luffy is strong enough to best it, right?
Franky looks around his ship with pride. It's weird, being able to say it's his ship.
He doesn't care to do the math to figure out how long exactly it's been since he's built anything, let alone anything he's been proud of. And he is. He's so proud of what he's done. The Thousand Sunny is a ship greater than any of the fantastic dream ships he designed as a child. Maybe it's because he can sense it, feel the wood beneath his fingers, hear the lap of waves against the bow, smell the cooling tar that seals the planks. Dreams aren't supposed to be palpable, they're supposed to disappear once the sun rises. Standing atop them as the currents gently rock from side to side is the last thing a dream should be. After meeting Straw Hat and his lot, many impossible things are happening around him.
Franky sniffs as he recalls his last interaction with Straw Hat.
Franky paces outside of the bungalow for at least ten minutes, rubbing his head with frustration. He should just tell Straw Hat that he intends to build them the most magnificent ship that ever will be, free of charge, and head out. He almost sent a note, but that just isn't his style. And since he is building the most magnificent ship that ever will be, free of charge, he kind of wants to see their slack-jawed faces. He deserves that.
At the same time, something about their group makes Franky hesitate in approaching the door. They are a warm, strange family with dysfunction galore and misadventures aplenty. Even then, the love they feel for each other is unparalleled. He feels strange stepping into their circle, mostly because he gets a strange feeling of belonging that just shouldn't happen with relative strangers. Yes, they took down an elite group of assassins, saved Iceberg's life, and averted a governmental coup, but that doesn't mean he knows any of them! …Even if it feels like he does.
Franky shouldn't be putting up with this indecisiveness shit. He should be building the ship right now. He can get Iceberg to tell them later.
Franky is startled from his thoughts when he runs into someone. Due to his super girth and weight, Franky's fine, but the littler guy is laid out on his butt. The other man has a strangely long nose and curly dark hair. He mutters to himself before standing from the ground.
"Geez, watch where you're walking!" Long-nose says.
Franky narrows his eyes and starts to retort but Long-nose's expression has gone blank as he finally stares at Franky.
Franky stands up straighter. Tales of his super skills must have spread through the island.
Long-nose confirms his suspicions. "You were with them. Lu— the Straw Hat pirates when those assassins attacked."
Franky nods and strikes a pose. "Oh yeeeahhh! The super assassin slayer, at your service."
"Are you going to meet with them?"
"Huh? Yeah…maybe. I don't really know if I want to. That Straw Hat-bro is kind of an odd one."
Long-nose nods. "More than you know…" There's a pause. "You should go in there. They'll be happy to see you."
There's a dark sense of self-deprecation that has Franky frowning. Before he can say anything, Long-nose is walking away.
"Hey, did you come to meet with them too?" Franky calls, but receives no response.
Franky hesitates a moment before turning and entering the bungalow Iceberg supplied them with.
In the living room, Franky finds Chopper and Zoro, the former reading and the latter napping on the couch. Through the open French doors, Franky sees Nami and Sanji lounging outside. Straw Hat and Robin are somewhere else it seems.
"Franky!" Chopper exclaims, standing up and walking to Franky. The cyborg can see the doctor looking over his patched up body critically.
"Yo," Franky greets. "Where's Straw Hat? I need to talk to him about something."
Chopper points to one of the doors, one of the only ones that are shut. He walks over, aware of the eyes on his back. They aren't judgmental, but they are very present.
Franky enters without knocking and finds Straw Hat lying on his back on a bed, halfway over the edge of it so that he's nearly falling off. Nico Robin sits in a nearby chair, straw hat in her lap and she's reading a story to her captain when she cuts off her sentence halfway.
"Franky!" Luffy cheers, arms stretching out and nearly overbalancing him to the floor.
Nico Robin closes her book, stands and dips her head. "We'll finish up this chapter later."
Nico Robin leaves, shutting the door behind her. Luffy keeps his position, head dangling off the side of the bed and a few inches from the ground. His rubbery neck makes his head bounce with his breath and Franky gets a little sick just looking at it.
Franky puffs his chest out. "Iceberg said he'll fund your new ship, but I'm going to design and build it."
Luffy face spreads into a beaming grin and he extends his hands out in glee.
"Yes!" He laughs. "The best shipwright is going to design the ship that will take me to One Piece!"
Never let it be said that Straw Hat doesn't dream big. Franky can't help but strike a pose and smile, because it's a damn true statement, and his superness deserves recognition every now and then. Franky starts explaining about the wood he found, and some of his plans to the captain who oohs and ahhs and is impressed by everything Franky says. Franky strikes more poses.
"Anything you want in particular?" Franky asks at the end of his explanation for his preliminary ideas. "I saw that the Going Merry had a grove for mikan trees, so that has to be included. Is there anything else?"
Franky is expecting a request for a huge kitchen, or maybe a sentimental list of all the different areas his nakama need special made for them (Luffy's that kind of idiot and it doesn't make Franky cry at all, even if he is inspirational and moving), or maybe even for Luffy to blow the question off.
He isn't expecting Luffy to look up at him, upside-down on the bed and exclaim—
"Build me a ship that can circumnavigate the world!"
Franky feels like he's been launched into the air, and he's hovering at the top of that arc, floating before gravity kicks back in. For some reason, it hasn't though, not yet. His mouth falls open and he stares.
"I… I will." What else can he say?
"Good." Luffy nods to himself, like his asking this is par for the course, something he's been meaning to say all along, just hasn't gotten to it until now.
"You can't know a ship's circumnavigated the world, you know, if you aren't on it."
Frankie bristles, but not near as much as he normally would at someone suggesting he leave his family behind. Maybe because he thinks Luffy already knows about those considerations, but he's asking Franky anyway, to do this thing bigger than it all.
"I can't leave," Franky says.
"If the ship breaks and needs to be fixed, there isn't anyone in the world who can do it, but you," Straw Hat points out.
"That isn't true," he tries.
"Not the ship that's going to circumnavigate the world, not the one that'll reach One Piece," Luffy says. "Not just anyone can."
That is true. The thought of anyone adding or mending the ship he's already built in his mind makes him shift his gears uncomfortably. But he can't really be thinking of leaving the Franky Family, can he?
"You're a wanted person now, you know?" Luffy says. "Someone from the family came down and begged for us to take you so you'd be safe."
"They shoulda minded their own damn business!"
"They're family," Luffy says, shrugging his shoulders and making his elastic head bob down to the floor.
Franky grits his teeth. Hates and loves his family for sticking their noses where they don't belong, because he understands where they're coming from too well and that makes him want to swear holy hell up and down the seashore.
But the strength flows out of him. He runs a hand over his hair, growls, half-heartedly.
"Well, shit." He turns to exit, can't face the captain's piercing eyes. "I can't promise anything. I still need to talk to my sisters. But I might add space for an exceptionally super cyborg on your ship."
Luffy laughs and cheers and says thank you. Franky doesn't turn around. He leaves and shuts the door behind him. He stares at the wood floor for a long time before walking out on the veranda for some fresh air.
Nami's still lounging on a lawn chair reading a book, but Sanji has disappeared. Zoro has taken a place against a support beam on the porch, still sleeping. Franky walks past Nami and leans on the metal railing, looks out over the ocean, sees the seatrain on the horizon and wonders how Kokoro's doing.
He feels frustrated at his family and the sudden situation he's in with the law, but he feels this wave of relief. It's been a rollercoaster week with the business with CP9 and Iceberg and this weird brat who knows everything about Franky and his life, but like it's an offhand thing, instead of uncanny. To know all the information about Pluton and Tom was one impossible matter, but to say the words that float in Franky's dreams and thoughts like a wish for a future that he's never been able to build before despite all his skill—Luffy says it, and brings it about. And it's super but just impossible. He doubts he'll get a straightforward answer even if he does pry.
"Did he completely guess something no one could ever know?" Nami asks, turning a page of her book.
Franky turns and nods. "Yeah."
"He does that," Zoro says, cracking an eye open.
Sanji steps out of the house and onto the porch. He gives Nami a tropical looking drink with a little umbrella, he presses a cold beer against the samurai's head (who growls before taking it), and he offers Franky a glass of lemonade. Franky's surprised at being included, but it fits this little group. He sips, and it is delicious. Drinks dispersed, Sanji lights a cigarette and takes a drag.
Sanji says, "He does it all the time. He told us he was going to find a shipwright the next island we went to, and here we are, the shipbuilding capital of the world."
"Someone should really get him to quit it already," Nami says. "It's getting out of hand."
"Or apply it to getting more beautiful women on the crew," the chef says, eyes glazing over.
"You get used to Luffy's knowing," Nami assures as she leans towards Franky. "It stops being so weird eventually, though he still has his moments. But you'll see soon anyways, I guess."
Franky stares into his lemonade, doesn't quite know how to tell her he hasn't said 'yes' yet. But he has a feeling they'd blow off his words if he did give them a voice, because who is he kidding?
"This whole island has been a moment," Zoro says.
"So, it isn't always so crazy?" Franky asks.
Sanji chokes on his cigarette, Nami almost swallows her straw and Zoro snorts. After recovering, Nami surprises him with a merry laugh so bright he wouldn't have thought could come from her.
"This is completely normal," Zoro says. "A little more government than usual, but still about a regular adventure for us."
"Can you imagine, a normal island where Luffy doesn't find some kind of trouble?" Sanji asks, tapping his cigarette and smiling.
"Our strangest adventure yet!" Nami says. The three pirates chuckle together at that, and it's an unwinding moment Franky likes being in the middle of.
He makes his excuses for leaving; he has a feeling if he doesn't escape now, he'll be roped into some kind of party and he won't leave until this time tomorrow. Regardless of whether he'll be on the ship or not, he does need to get started on it.
This time, he meets the intent gazes of the Straw Hats and bids them goodbye with a smile and wave. He glances at the shut door and hears a rattling snore in exchange. He leaves the bungalow grinning. Franky knows the figurehead has to be something equally bright and joyous as the group, something eternal.
It's been a fantastic week, hard to completely grasp, but Franky thinks the most impossible part might just be that Monkey D. Luffy asked someone to build him a ship that can circumnavigate the world, and miraculously, he asked the only son of a gun with the chutzpah to do just that. There's certainty in Luffy's words, like he knew Franky would say yes, like he knows Franky can do it. The lack of doubt is a balm on a sore in his soul he didn't know he had.
There's been a lot of doubt in his life since Tom died, even before that. But now, all he feels is confidence.
He puts a skip in his step and scares some passersby, but he doesn't spare them a glance. He's got a masterpiece to build!
Now, nearly three weeks later, he stands on the finished project of what is without a doubt the most stunning craft to ever grace the waters. Only the details need to be added in now: the carvings on the wall molding to match the bookcases in what's to be Nico Robin's study; more leaves for the kitchen table so it can be expanded for whoever comes onto the ship and eats (whether they're there to stay, or not); making sure the straps he installed are strong enough to hold Zoro's weights and keep all of Chopper's medical supplies tacked to the wall in case of choppy weather; and a proper desk for cartography (one that can be moved if Nami wants to change where she works), etc. etc.
To make such special details, he's had to spend some time with the Straw Hats to get a grasp of their needs, to see how they move through space so he can shape the ship around them. It hasn't been a burden, spending time with them. Franky gets along well with all of them, he finds, almost better than some of them seem to get along with each other ( Zoro and Sanji), of course, that's just Franky's super personality.
There was one minor blip as he was trying to figure out how many specialized rooms there needed to be. Luffy said during dinner, blissfully offhand, that there needed to be a place to store ammunition and different kinds of slingshot ammos, as well as some spare paint for art projects. The rest of the table went quiet, and nearly all of them had different reactions, with Zoro looking dubious, Robin concerned, Chopper and Nami relieved, and Sanji smug.
Franky's heard about their crewmate, the sniper, mostly through how they talk around the subject. What they don't say leaves an impression that's slowly formed a shape and story to Franky. There was a crewmate who left the crew or was booted off. Something to do with the safety of the crew and the previous ship. Franky's curious, but he's never been one to pry. He take the measurements to build the cupboards for ammo and paint because Luffy asked him to. However it pans out, Franky isn't sure he completely cares.
Franky walks below deck and reaches an area he had, some weeks ago, made a cursory act of parsing away for himself if he were to join the crew.
He's had a lot of time to think. His family had been in united, raucous and tearful support of his leaving. Iceberg was a jerk, but seemed to think in that weirdly find way of his that Franky and the Straw Hats deserved each other. For himself, well… the past weeks, he's seen his magnificent ship come together under his and Iceberg's hands. And he can't think of anywhere else he could want to be.
Franky wants to die on this ship, if he can. So with a weighted hand, he measures out the length of his worktable, his docking system, a place for a cyborg-sized hammock, and where he can stock a minifridge of cola. It's almost solemn, and when he walks away from the ship to go to sleep that night, he still feels her gentle rocking, the Thousand Sunny's, and knows it's the rhythm of his future.
Usopp sits atop the Going Merry's figurehead and looks out at the horizon. He's assuming the pose that Luffy had taken for so many hours in their time sailing, the one facing to the horizon, where he could always spot the island before anyone else. Usopp doesn't see anything of the kind waiting for him. Merry floats benignly beside the town of Water 7, steadily anchored.
Behind him, Usopp knows people are battening down their hatches, covering their yards with tarps and adding wooden supports to their houses. Aqua Laguna is coming.
Usopp remembers hearing about it a little when they first came to town, scuttlebutt around the bait shops. He didn't think they'd be here long enough for it to be a problem for them. Now it is a problem, but he suspects only for him. Usopp heard that a man named Franky and the mayor of the city, Iceberg, are building the Straw Hat pirates a ship among ships in return for their help in a time of crisis, in addition to putting them up. The Straw Hats' most recent adventure had been the talk of the town, and Usopp had only heard about it the day after it happened.
He'd felt worry when he'd first heard, wondered if they were alright. Did anyone get seriously hurt without Usopp there to back them up? They should have told him, he would have helped… As he listened more to the townsfolk and heard all the details, a numbness set in.
They were all fine. They defeated a secret government organization supposed to be some of the strongest in history. Everyone lived. No one needed a guy with a slingshot to survive the adventure.
And didn't that just prove Luffy's words about being useless?
(Luffy's words, or his own?)
A few days after, Usopp stomped over to the bungalow where they were staying with the intention of checking up on them, making sure they were alright. And if someone begged him to stay and never ever leave them again, then perhaps he'd stick around.
He bumped into that big blue-haired cyborg that Usopp finally attached the name Franky to.
The dichotomy of their situation made Usopp sick. Franky was going to walk into the bungalow and be asked to join the crew with the warmest tones and most earnest promises Luffy keeps stored behind his eyes for special occasions (if Franky hadn't already joined the crew by that point). And Usopp had been in the crew, should have been inside with them, waiting for a new nakama to be one of them. But he was on the outside, pacing and pacing. He'd seen Franky in and then ran back to the outskirts where he's been keeping Merry docked. He locked himself in the captain's cabin and laid on his back in the dark until sunrise.
Aqua Laguna has been creeping closer and closer in his periphery for a while. Time has been flying by while he's practiced his acceptance speech over and over for Luffy's inevitable apology. He practiced an apology speech for his own actions only once (for the craft of it), but couldn't seem to make the words move past the lump in his throat, so he went back to acceptance speeches. Nearly a month has passed him by, like a brisk sea breeze, in this fashion.
Aqua Laguna, like Luffy, was something he's just been avoiding thinking about for a long time.
But not anymore. Today's the day. And he, in all his tactical mastery, has no plans.
He doesn't have the money to store the Merry in one of the higher docks— those have been booked months in advance it seems. Merry is still too sick for him to ride her out into open water, so he was forced to stay here and face Merry's inevitable destruction.
Today, Aqua Laguna is due to hit Water 7. As he understands it, the water will pull back from the edges of the island, assembling energy for one massive tidal wave that will sweep through the lower half of town. Usopp will sit on the Merry, pat her head as her keel scratches against the ocean floor when the water recedes, and weep with her when the wave finally comes for them and destroys them both.
Maybe he should be upset, as he looks into the horizon and pictures this scenario over and over, but the emotion, just like the apology, is stuck in his throat. He thinks he would have liked to help the Straw Hats on this adventure, just one last one before he and Merry went, but it didn't happen. They've moved on. And he's sitting here, waiting to be stuck here permanently, his body amid the wrecked parts of what used to be a beautiful ship that will likely wash up together eventually.
He's so wrapped up in his thoughts, that when Luffy sits next to him he nearly falls off the figurehead.
"Luffy!" He bites his tongue. He didn't want to talk first, but surprise squeezed the word out of him. Well, this just puts the ball in Luffy's court.
Except Luffy doesn't say anything, doesn't look in Usopp's direction. Instead he stares off into the horizon, like usual, and it's like he sees something, it always seems that way, anyways.
Usopp looks out too, but this time he sees something too— a building form in the distance. Aqua Laguna.
"You shouldn't be here," Usopp says, swallowing some of his pride. "You need to get somewhere safe."
"You too," Luffy says.
Usopp shakes his head, pulls his legs up so he can wrap an arm around them.
"I belong here with the Merry. I'm not leaving her behind."
"Merry wouldn't want you to die like this."
"What do you know about what Merry wants?! You wanted to scrap her!"
Luffy frowns. "You know on Skypiea, when everything was suddenly fixed after the upshot. That was Merry, right? A ship that goes so far to keep her passengers safe wants them to live."
The water level is sinking as they speak, and Usopp fights against his tears.
"What if I don't want to?"
A vein bulges in Luffy's throat, and his eyes become so intense Usopp feels he might light on fire. He waits for a shout or a punch, but it doesn't come.
"Don't," is all Luffy says.
"Why do you care?!" Usopp demands. "I can't contribute to your crew, you all did fine in the last fight without me! You don't need me, none of you do!"
"Did you ever think that we wanted you?!" Luffy finally shouts. "Did you ever think that you belonged with us because you had a dream and you wanted to be there, not because of what you can or can't do?!"
Usopp blinks, finds water covering his eyelashes and has to scrub it away.
Luffy continues, "Me and the ship, we have a job we have to do, otherwise we don't have a crew, and people can't chase their dreams. That's an expectation I choose and I want. I don't pin things on other people. I don't pin them on you."
Usopp can't think of a single counter-argument. They all chose their responsibilities. Usopp just didn't understand what his was… It was what he made it to be based on Luffy and the stories he'd heard as a kid, but reality never featured so heavily in his opinions. Now he realizes things are different than stories, and for one of the first times, it's even better.
And if Merry did have a voice, for the first time, he thinks he can actually hear what she's saying. And it sounds like live.
Luffy stands and jumps off the figurehead. He starts walking back to the town, and Usopp's mouth falls open.
"Luffy," he says, trying to get the captain's attention. It doesn't work. Luffy keeps walking. "Hey, Luffy!"
Should Usopp just follow him? Can it be the same unspoken agreement as last time? It seems a betrayal, of something.
Usopp looks down at Merry, remembers Kaya's bright smile despite her wan demeanor and all the stress and suffering she'd only just undergone. He remembers his promise to her. He wants to leave this island so dreadfully all of a sudden it nauseates him. He wants to see other islands, meet new people, and try different things. He wants to see what all is out there… and no image of that is complete without Straw Hats, his crew, without his nakama.
On the figurehead of the Going Merry, Usopp bows his head so his nose touches her weathered paint. He draws his strength from his beloved ship to break down the block in his throat and finally gets the words out.
"I'm sorry," he says, little more than a whisper. "I'm sorry." Louder now. "I was stubborn! I didn't know— Didn't realize—" He's an ugly crier and he's sure he's making an absolute mess of himself, but as he glances up, Luffy turns around. And face to face he pleads, "Please, just once more, let me be your nakama!"
Luffy's face unfolds into something beautiful, bright and happy, ringed with tears and so relieved. Usopp laughs, and gets that even if he isn't necessarily needed (not now, anyways), he is truly, very wanted.
"Join my crew," Luffy says. A rubber hand shoots up towards Usopp, and he instantly takes it. The two snap together when Luffy's hand rescinds, but running into Luffy has never hurt before and now it only feels affirming.
"We gotta hurry," Luffy says, and the two start running towards the town. Usopp risks a look back at the Going Merry, one last look, and then blanches at the astonishing sight of Aqua Laguna.
"Where are you all holed up?"
Luffy hums. Very few things end up as predicted when Luffy hums.
"We're not holed up, we're getting ready to leave right now."
"WHAT?!" Usopp nearly trips. "How can you leave when the wave is coming?! Do you have another way out? Can the ship fly? Can we please, please wait? Are we going to die?"
Luffy laughs. "Nah, it can't fly, it's much better. And we can't really stay. My Grandfather is going to try and sink us the moment the storm has cleared, so we need to leave now."
"Yeah, he's scary. He's a vice-admiral in the Marines." Luffy stops and extends his hand to a post way off in the distance.
"Wait, wha—?" Usopp screams at Luffy grabs him and the two rocket across town, past the post he grabbed, and only barely hit against the sails of a large galleon without overshooting. Usopp slides down and falls on his head. He feels his spirit leaving his body.
Luffy pulls him up, no rest for the dead it seems.
"This is Franky." Luffy formally introduces them as the rain starts coming down hard. Usopp sees the entire crew staring at him and is more than a little moved to see they're all smiling and most all glassy-eyed. "Franky, this is Usopp."
Franky offers a fist-bump. "Nice to meet you, long-nose-bro."
Usopp pauses only a second before returning the gesture. Then Franky is in a fit of motion, off to the helm which he takes assuredly.
"How are we getting out of this?" Usopp asks Nami.
"We're going to jump over the wave," Robin answers instead, genial. Luffy's hat hangs around her neck by the string and she's soaked to the bone.
"Huh?" he manages. Because even for Luffy—
"Everyone take hold of something!" Franky says. The crew automatically complies, Zoro getting rope for them to tie themselves to the ship. Usopp attaches himself and then assists Chopper, whose hooves sometimes trip over the more complicated knots, especially when there's wet weather.
Luffy's given himself enough slack that he can haul up the main sail so everything's furled and tucked in. Usopp clutches the mast as he looks up at Aqua Laguna. Franky has brought them around the island so they're facing the monstrous wave. With some kind of counter-weight system, the whole ship leans back so they're at a steep angle.
Usopp's knees knock together and he and Chopper cling to each other. He doesn't have time for a speech or a comforting story about the time he averted a wave a bit larger than this one from hitting an island of rabbit-people by challenging the nearby sea-god to a surfing competition, which Usopp happened to win by a landslide— He doesn't have time, because Franky cries out:
"Coup de Burst!" There's an explosion from the rear of the ship and suddenly, they're airborne in a tight upward arc climbing higher and higher up the wave. Between screams, Usopp glances off the side of the ship in time to see a little white and brown ship crash against the island and break apart.
"Thank you." A giggle, and soft whisper against his ear from something ethereal.
Usopp clutches the side of the ship tighter and takes a deep gasp and shouts into the wind. Luffy laughs like a maniac, Franky right along with him as the rest of them cling for dear life as they keep shooting upwards.
Usopp is two hundred percent sure they aren't going to make it until they do. The ship clips the very top of Aqua Laguna before landing on the water behind the crest and they're suddenly on their way down like it's reverse mountain and Usopp looks at his crew around his watering eyes from the rush of air. They're all here still, and then some— even if the wood isn't the same.
When they finally reach calm waters and they take a moment to catch their breaths and unwind (literally, in Chopper's case as he got all wrapped up in rope), Franky immediately starts diagnosing the ship, looking around at all the different pieces and talking aloud to himself on repairs.
And Usopp thinks, maybe it's time for him to explore different things he can be, rather than just a make-shift shipwright. What responsibilities does he want to take on? Now that he isn't limiting himself, there's a lot he can choose from.
This begs a large and well-drawn multicolored plan with different versions of himself drawn for comparison.
"Hey, are there any art supplies on the ship, and maybe somewhere dry for me to draw?" Usopp asks.
He receives smiles and multiple points towards a door off to the side on the main cabin with a white and brown ram's head carved into the center of the wood.
Late at night, when the sea finally falls quiet, Robin returns Luffy's hat. He comes up to the crow's nest during her watch shift, balancing tea and cocoa in a haphazard dance. She smiles when she sees him and takes the offered tea with quiet thanks. He seems content to spend the time in silence, looking out at the stars tonight, as they sometimes do together when he finds her in melancholy or pensive attitudes in the dark. She's a little of both right now, but to truly ponder it, she needs to talk it out this time.
Robin sets her tea down next to his hot chocolate which was empty five minutes after he sat down beside her.
She takes off the straw hat which she has cherished for nearly a month and holds it out to him. It's an extension of her captain, and it guarded her well over their turbulent stay in the city of Water 7, but now it's time for it to return to Luffy. She's safe, he doesn't have to worry about her anymore, charming as his concern is.
He goes to take it. Lingers over her hands, touches her palms.
"Ace thought so too. He didn't think he deserved to live either," Luffy says idly.
Her breath catches.
"He didn't know that he shouldn't do it alone. 'Cause sometimes only other people can see what we're really worth." Luffy takes the hat and settles it on his head. Robin's hands falter, still outstretched, and it takes a moment for her to pull them back.
She doesn't know what to say.
Luffy pulls the hat down so it covers his eyes.
"You can only die if you're happy. Now, on the sea, when you're with us and happy, you can die if you want," he says, like he has to pull the words out, and Robin's heart speeds up even as it aches, because it sounds like he understands her, understands the word suicide hanging over her head, that he can't stop her if she's made up her mind. The understanding, it's almost too much for her to consider, though she knows little of his background. Not Luffy, anyone but Luffy…
"But I won't let you die sad." Luffy adjusts his hat again and meets her eyes, fervent looking.
Robin sits in the crow's nest on the most magnificent ship on the entire sea, next to her phenomenal inimitable captain, amid treasured nakama, sailing towards their dreams with the light touch of a child who knows what the word adventure really means, and what unconditional love still looks like.
"I— I want to live," she utters for the first time in her entire life. She surprises herself, but she means it. She can't say she wants to live without them, but here and now, she wants to live with them so much her body trembles. She's… happy to still be here.
She didn't just survive the encounter with CP9 and the government this time; she won.
"Good. I do too." Luffy beams and lets out a breath. "I want you to live."
Robin smiles and laughs just a little. Luffy hums.
"I know it seems you already know my story," she says. "I don't know how, but I would like to tell it to you myself, if you're interested."
Luffy's eyes light up.
He listens attentively as she starts her story with tremulous words that grow surer as time passes. Luffy interrupts and asks her questions she never thought to explain before; what Ohara looked like, her favorite plants and flowers, what the Tree of Knowledge did, if Clover knew any good jokes, did it have tigers? It stirs a cloud of nostalgia instead of the deep throbbing pain dipping into her past has always brought on.
When she reaches the end of her narrative she takes a slow breath in and out and lets the brisk sea breeze clear out the musty air that's been lurking in her lungs. Luffy beams. Relief sweeps her, though she doesn't understand it. Luffy's known this whole time, however that happened. Telling him herself though seems to have done something to the energy around her because the tenseness from years and years of running has let go and she finds herself almost weightless without the oppressing pressure.
They sit in the dark for a while longer until they hear someone coming up— Franky, here for his first night watch.
The shipwright seems surprised to see both of them there, but smiles. Robin dips her head and says goodnight to both men. Now it's Franky's turn with the captain.
After staggering down on legs partially asleep, Robin goes back to the ladies' cabin. She slips in quietly, but realizes that Nami is still awake by her change in breathing.
"Did Luffy corner you in the crow's nest?" Nami asks.
The words clear up why the red-haired woman is still awake. Robin knows that Nami has an extremely special place in her heart for Luffy and Luffy alone. Everyone on the crew does to some extent, but the navigator's concern is more overt than any of theirs. Robin doesn't take it personally, although she had thought they were making progress.
"He did," Robin eventually answers while shrugging off her blue button down shirt in the dark.
"He likes doing that, even though he gets so sleepy in the morning." Nami's voice is that familiar mix of fondness and exasperation that anyone who knows their captain is intimate with. "Did you two talk about your dream?"
Robin pauses for a moment as she slips on her sleeping shorts.
Nami is silent after that, so Robin shrugs inwardly and lies down in her bed. Her eyes are only shut for a second when Nami speaks again.
"What— what is your dream, Robin?" Nami asks.
Robin's eyes open and widen minutely in surprise.
Nami's next words are rehearsed, adding another layer of charm. "I just realized that I never asked. As nakama, I figured it was about time I found out."
In the dark of the ship, a smile slips over Robin's face, and she knows that she's found her friends, her home.
And so she explains.
Because for someone whose island was destroyed, the wanting to know means more than she can ever say.
Ace is shoving a flank of beef into his mouth when he hears Thatch exclaim, "Hey, isn't that Ace's brother?"
The dining hall is relatively full this morning, so there are plenty of people nearby to recoil in disgust as Ace spits out the half-chewed cow. He turns towards the commander who was reading the paper beside their father's shoulder on a high stool.
"What?" Ace asks, trotting up to them.
Whitebeard pulls out a bounty from the paper and shows it to Ace, who promptly snatches it up. Ace laughs.
"Hoo, Luffy is going to be pissed!"
"What is it?" Thatch asks.
"His bounty is only 300,000,000 beri. It only doubled instead of tripling like last time," Ace says as he looks over his brother's photo.
"Tripled?" Thatch asks, and Ace freezes. He forgot that it tripled last time as in the last timeline. But Marco sighs from a nearby table.
"That's right, he was complaining about his bounty from last time even though it tripled from 50,000,000 to 150,000,000. He's kind of a brat," Marco says, and Ace pauses.
"Er, yes." Graceless. "What happened?" he asks his father, moving on. He wants to know where Luffy is in his search for nakama.
"Apparently he dispatched a governmental organization; Cipher-Pol, if you remember them. I've heard they were planning a coup, from some of my associates." There's a din from those nearby who remember the organization and all they did. Not big-fish, but certainly not small-fries.
Ace waits. And waits.
"That's it?" he asks at length. Apparently Luffy figured out how to be more subtle achieving his goals instead of attacking Enies Lobby. "No wonder it only doubled."
"That's it— that's it, he says," Marco mutters from the table.
"I dunno', I was expecting him to declare war on the World Government, or fight a Shichibukai." His words catch up to him, and he laughs, even though everyone else stares, except their father, who joins in.
"You and your brother are kind of scary," Thatch says, before he joins their cheer too.
"Well, if this young upstart is causing a fuss all on his own, perhaps it's time we stirred the waters once more. I think those recently coming into the New World haven't been properly briefed about our family," Shirohige says. Ace knows it's time now. The mourning period for Blackbeard and their family bond is over. Their father stands and throws the newspaper down.
"Which commanders would like to raid a naval base, and which would like to greet the new folks at the gate of the New World?" Shirohige asks.
Cheers rise from the men, and Ace, Thatch, Marco, Izou and all the other commanders nearby immediately start arguing and making their cases to get on the water.
It's normalcy, a new kind, that Ace never got to experience after his death and even in this new life, preoccupied as he's been.
Luffy's clearly doing well for himself, gathering his nakama and shaking up the world as he goes. It's time Ace did too.
Setting the stage for the next act...
Because I did so much AU work in Water7, I needed to go into more detail to tie up the ends and I'm pretty happy with how it looks, despite the length. In addition, I'm saying difference in time line to explain aqua laguna, and that it was Robin's presence that set off the coup, not a certain amount of time.
The way things happened with Ussopp, this is the only way I see things resolving themselves...
Also, Luffy was really struggling with life v. death at the start of this fic, so I think his opinion on Robin's view on suicide would be different.
And there will be no romantic pairings in this fic; just friendship and siblinghood. :)
Brook next time~
Thank you so much for reading!