Ch 63 - I am Returning a Favor.

"For the last time, Usopp, get off and let Emmy-chan take a ride!" Sanji lectured. They were running towards the center of the city with a heavily bandaged Usopp splayed on Lashes' back while Chopper clung to Lashes' head. The first mate was being carried by the cook on piggyback while she sewed up the cut on the back of his suit jacket.

"No! It's okay. I'm not done fixing your jacket yet. I feel bad it got torn because of me," Emmy protested, "Besides, Usopp is very hurt! I mean, just look at him."

"It's nothing, Emmy-chan," Sanji said, "You heard Chopper. It's just a broken femur with potentially a busted nose, humeri, and clavicle. Plus some extreme but not fatal blood loss. Nothing to worry about."

"DOES THAT SOUND LIKE NOTHING TO YOU?!" Usopp sobbed, "Emmy...surely you feel my pain…"

"Yes," Emmy admitted, "But I have to admit...I think Zoro might be in worse shape than you. His pain is-"

"He can handle it," Usopp and Sanji stated at the same time but with the sniper blubbering it out with a snot bubble popping in the process.

"Stop crying!" Sanji snapped.

"How can I?!" Usopp hiccuped, "I'm...I'm just so relieved that Luffy is okay. I mean, when that mole hag told me he was dead, I thought the worst but if Emmy said she could still feel his bond and it's getting stronger by the minute...then…"

"My guess is he's either getting closer or he's eating a lot of meat," Emmy reported with a nod.

"Whatever the case, we need to get to the palace," Sanji said, "That's where Vivi-chan was headed and the rumblings of battle is getting louder and louder. Emmy-chan, are you sure you can handle this? We'll be running right into two armies clashing."

"Thank you for your concern but I'll be fine. Everyone's a bit tired and weakened but our bonds are still present and standing," Emmy replied and then detached her needle from her string, "There! Your jacket is all done."

Bang! Bang! Bang!

"Tch," Sanji clucked as they approached the Palace Square. There was a dust devil covering the area and the only thing the pirates could see was the sporadic sparks of gunshots and the greyed out silhouette of the men closest to them, "Hang on, Emmy-chan."

"What is with all this sand? I can barely see," Chopper said with squinted eyes. Immediately, he started to cough, "Gah! It's down my throat."

Emmy slammed her eyes shut and pressed her forehead against the cook's back. Confusion and outrage swarmed through the area just as thickly as the sand and dust in the air. With every person they passed by, Emmy could feel almost the same sentiment regardless on which side of the army they were on. However, every once in awhile, there was someone feeling a bit of glee and delight.

"Sa...Sanji?" Emmy whispered.

"Ah?"

"C...Cro..Crocodile said that there were Millions posing as royal soldiers earlier...Do you think they stayed undercover? Do you think...maybe there are also some Millions in the Rebel Army too?"

"Ah. That does sound like a shitty thing Crocodile would do," Sanji agreed.

"So...even if Vivi-sama's voice reaches her people, what about the Millions? Wouldn't they stir up more trouble?"

"Vivi-chan's voice already reached us," Sanji replied with a grin, "So we'll take them out for her. The princess can deal with her people. The pirates can handle the bounty hunters."

"Over there! The palace is over there! I can see it," Chopper shouted out and pulled Lashes' head towards his view, "Come on! Follow me!"

With every step they took towards the palace steps, Emmy's fingers dug further and further into Sanji's shoulders.

"Emmy-chan? What's wrong?"

Emmy looked past Sanji's shoulders and above his head. She ignored just how much the sand stung her eyes. The small but familiar feeling of despair and worry was hanging right above the palace roof. "Vivi-sama...She's right up there and she's in trouble."

"No! Vivi-chwan! I'm coming!" Sanji yelled as he sped up with newfound vigor, surpassing the camel.

"Sanji! I don't think we'll make it in time," Emmy shouted when she felt Vivi-sama beginning to drop down towards the square, "I think-"

She stopped herself and then her eyes watered even more but this time it was not because of the dust. She looked up almost directly at the sun just in time to see a swooping silhouette glide down and into the storm.

"Luffy! Luffy is here!" Emmy cried with relief and then felt his sun-like presence collide with Vivi somewhere up ahead.

"About damn time," Sanji grunted.

By the time they reached the palace steps, they could see their captain having a stare down with Crocodile, who was on the palace roof. Vivi and Pell, in his human form, stood behind Luffy. Both of them looked a lot more wounded than when Emmy last saw them. The same had to be said for the rubber boy, who had a barrel tied to his back for some odd reason.

"LUFFY!" Chopper cheered when he caught up to the cook and the first mate while Sanji lowered Emmy to the floor and then lit a cigarette.

"Eh! Tony-kun!" Vivi gasped as she spun around to face them.

Luffy's head turned and from under the rim of his straw hat, he looked at the first mate but before he could say anything Emmy smiled at him. "I'm okay. You scared me a little but...I knew you were alive."

"Ah! Luffy! You totally missed it. Emmy took down an agent. Of course, it was all per my brilliant instructions," Usopp started to say as he slid off the back of Lashes.

"What are you talking about? You were asleep at the beginning and then you weren't around for the rest of it!" Sanji scoffed.

"Usopp-san...Sanji-san...Miss Maid…" Vivi gasped.

Luffy looked away from Emmy and he solemnly returned to the task at hand. He laced his fingers behind his head and then threw it up to the palace roof. Emmy clasped her own hands in front of her and she gave a small bow to the princess. "Do you need Chopper to take a look at your injuries, Vivi-sama?"

Bonk!

"Usopp!"

Before Vivi could reply, Nami and Zoro came charging through the storm with the navigator giving the sniper a hard whack on the head with her new weapon.

"Who asked you to create a prop for parties?!" Nami seethed at Usopp while the swordsman looked just at angry at Nami.

"Oy! Nami! You're standing just fine!" Zoro shouted between labored breaths, "If you're leg wasn't wounded then why the hell did you make me carry you this whole time?"

"Mr. Bushido! Nami-san!" Vivi cried, "You...You're all alive!"

"ZORO!" Emmy gasped at the deep cuts across his abdomen. She already knew the extent of his injuries but it was much more gruesome to look at than she had expected. She ran to him but then he brushed her to the side.

"It's fine, Emmy. Don't heal me," Zoro grunted as Chopper tended to the twice beaten sniper.

"At least have Chopper-"

"No need."

"You can barely talk," Emmy pleaded, "And I can feel your pain. Zoro. You need to-"

"Emmy. This. Is. Nothing," Zoro hissed through clenched teeth and then took a step away from her, "And don't come so close if you can feel it too."

"Oy. You jerk. Don't talk to Emmy-chan that way and why the hell is Nami-chan injured?! You were supposed to protect her!" Sanji snapped.

"Are you kidding?! There's barely a scratch on her compared to me!"

"Stop it, you two," Emmy said, "We already have to break up a battle. Don't double my workload, please. I-"

"Emmy! Everyone!" Luffy shouted out suddenly. "I'm sorry."

The rare apology from the captain stopped everyone from what they were doing. "I lost against him earlier...But...But I won't lose again. I promise!"

Zoro smirked. "Just go already."

"If you can't win," Usopp shouted, "Then who the hell can?!"

"I'm going to put an end to all this!" Luffy cried.

"Yosh!" his crewmates yelled back.

A tear slipped down the princess' cheek. "Everyone…" she whispered.

For a moment, all hope seemed to be lost but now, seeing her friends, she was reminded that not only was the fight not over but she didn't have to go into it alone. No matter how dark and desolate she felt the future would be, somehow this ragtag group of pirates always seemed to be able to bring in some light.

"YOU BASTARD!" Luffy ground his teeth and shot himself up towards the roof.

Emmy took one last look at him before she directed her attention at another man. "Pell-san," she said with a slight nod, "Thank you...You saved Luffy earlier, didn't you?"

A small but noticeably sheepish smile crossed the Guardian's face. "No need to thank me. I just gave him some meat and flew him over to the capital. I wouldn't count that as saving."

Emmy tilted her head to the side. "Were you not there when he fought Crocodile? That's odd...The way Luffy was feeling...I thought..I thought someone came to his aid at the end of it…"

Pell shook his head. "No. When I found him, Crocodile was gone. The only person there besides Luffy was the woman from the roof top."

"Miss All Sunday?!" Emmy and Vivi asked with only the princess having any sort of malice in her question.

"Ah," Pell replied and then he bowed to the princess, "Vivi-sama. I'm sorry I didn't take the opportunity to take her out. I will not let the opportunity slide again."

Vivi shook her head and then she wrung her hands together. "Don't worry about that, Pell. There's something much more important. Crocodile is about to destroy the Square. We have to stop it before everyone here is killed!"

"WHAT?!" everyone gasped.

Vivi bit her lip and then looked up at a clock tower that stood high over their heads. "A cannonball is going to be shot at 4:30 exactly. Once it's shot, nobody in a 5 km diameter will survive"

"WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL US SOONER?!" Usopp shrieked as he looked up at the clock too, "That's 10 minutes away!"

"That damn gator," Sanji seethed.

"What should we do?" Chopper asked.

"Find the cannoneer, of course," Zoro grunted.

"Eh?" Everyone turned to face the swordsman, who had his arms crossed over his chest.

"We'll stop the attack," he stated.

"Within 10 minutes?! How?!" Nami demanded.

"No time to think! Just do it!" Zoro barked.

"Oy! If it's a 5 km diameter blast range, that must mean the guy is aiming at least 2.5 km from here. That's too much ground for us to cover!" Usopp pointed out.

Vivi shook her head. "No. That's not true. The way Crocodile was talking, the cannoneer is probably near the square."

"What?! Wouldn't that mean the cannoneer would take himself out too?" Usopp asked.

Emmy re-clasped her hands in front of her. "Crocodile is cruel enough to do something like that. Take out his own men without them knowing...After all, some of his men have already infiltrated both armies. I doubt they know about the plan to have the square destroyed."

"What a crafty bastard," Sanji clucked.

"Let's go al-," Zoro said.

"Vivi-sama! Watch out!" Emmy gasped just as a shadowy figure came up from behind the princess with a sword in hand. The first mate hurriedly pulled Vivi towards her while Sanji and Zoro blocked the attacker's blade.

"Gah!" the man grunted with his two front teeth coming loose from Sanji's harsh kick. He crumpled to the floor and his blade fell to the side.

"Yipes!" Usopp shrieked when more men came running at them.

"We found you, Princess Vivi!" roared the Billions.

One of the agents sneered. "I wonder how far I'll be promoted when I kill you."

"Tch. We can't waste any more time," Zoro sighed.

"We'll go on ahead and look for the cannoneer," Emmy said with one hand still holding tightly to the princess', "You two take care of this."

"We won't take long, Emmy-chan. We'll be right behind you," Sanji promised.

"We're already wasting time talking about it. We'll just finish it now," Zoro said, "This will be over in-"

"Two seconds," the swordsman and the cook said simultaneously. They leapt forward and attacked the Billions straight on.

Emmy sucked in a breath and raced right through the crowd with the princess in tow. Any weapon or even glare directed at them soon were taken down by a swift kick from Sanji or a quick slash from Zoro.

"Where should we go?" Emmy asked with Pell, Usopp, Nami, and Chopper running closely behind them.

"We need to split up and cover more ground. We also need to get out of this dust devil so we can see better," Usopp said.

"I'll look from above to see if I can spot anything," Pell said and flew up in his bird form.

"Emmy! Can't you sense anything? You know? The feeling of a cannoneer who is about to destroy the Palace Square?" Nami demanded.

"What emotion would that be?!" Emmy asked with bewilderment.

"How should I know?! You're the expert," Nami said.

"In any case, everyone split up, now!" Usopp shouted when they ran out of the dust devil and towards an intersection. Vivi and Emmy started to head west while Usopp went north, Chopper and Nami went east, and Sanji and Zoro went south.

The princess and the first mate ran through the city with their eyes going in every direction. They looked through every window, every rooftop, every nook and cranny for any sign of a cannon. After three minutes of running, the first mate suddenly let out a gasp and pulled her hand from the princess. Emmy stood frozen in the middle of the street with her hand pressed against her chest.

"Miss Maid! Are you okay? What's wrong" Vivi asked.

"Don't worry about me, please. Just keep looking," Emmy said. Her head was bowed and she was unable to even look up at the princess.

"But-"

"We're running out of time," Emmy said, "Just go. I'll be right behind you. I just need a moment."

"Ah...Okay," Vivi said hesitantly before she ran up ahead.

As soon as the princess was out of sight, Emmy let out a small dry cough. "L...Luffy…?" Emmy whispered and looked back in the direction of the palace. Her and Luffy's bond was suddenly weakened and it was feeling so thirsty that even Emmy's throat felt a bit scratchy.

Did Crocodile…?, Emmy thought but then suddenly, the bond returned to normal and the feeling switched to that of intense relief. Emmy frowned up at the sky. This was Luffy's second close call. He already promised he wouldn't lose again to Crocodile and yet...Was Luffy in trouble?

Thwack!

Emmy slapped herself hard across the cheek.

"No!" she shouted at herself, "Luffy said he'll do it so he will. Food! Fight! Win!"

She gave a reaffirmed nod to the sky and then continued to run through the streets. She wasn't sure where the princess went but that was not her goal, any ways. They had to find the cannoneer. That was what Emmy needed to focus on for now. Not Luffy. Not the princess.

However, when she veered around the corner of the street, she found herself facing an unexpected situation. Marines laid strewn about on the street while a familiar marine with blue hair was sprawled at the front of the group. Her glasses sat a few feet away from her with her katana the same distance away but in the opposite direction and one of her legs was bent at an unnatural angle.

Emmy blinked at the sight and then she silently went to the woman. When she knelt by the marine's side, the woman gasped.

"Pirate! Get away from me!" the marine shouted and tried to push herself up to a standing position but her arms gave out before she could even attempt to put weight on her damaged leg.

"Careful," Emmy cautioned and put her hands on the marine's calf.

"What-What are you doing?!" the marine demanded.

"Feel Feel...Pain Trade," Emmy whispered and the marine's widened her blurred eyes when she felt the pain in her leg go away while the sounds of cracking bone exerted from the pirate. The blonde then slowly got to her feet and fetched the marine's glasses, limping as she did so.

"What?! My leg!"

When Emmy returned, she slipped the glasses back on the marine's face and she smiled apologetically. "Luffy doesn't like it when I do that but I owe you one. You helped me back in Loguetown with my call to Gramps so now it's my turn to help you."

The marine was frozen in shock but only for a moment. When she came to, she grabbed Emmy roughly by the arms. "You! I am taking you into custody. You-"

"I'm sorry," Emmy said without giving any resistance to being held in place, "But could you please let me go? My nakama and I are trying to stop Crocodile from blowing up the Square. Time is of the essence and we need to find the cannoneer before 4:30. A million lives are at stake."

"Eh?" The marine stopped and her hold loosened ever so slightly, "You are helping King Cobra?"

The pirate smiled and shook her head. "I have never met the King."

"Then why are you doing this?"

"To stop Crocodile," Emmy said.

Kaboom!

A red smoke flared up from a few blocks away.

"Usopp's signal…" Emmy murmured and then she turned her attention to the marine, "Please let me go. I think my nakama has found a way to stop the explosion."

A mix of confusion, frustration, and disbelief swirled within the marine and then very abruptly, her hands fell to the side. "Go…" she said softly to the pirate, "Go stop it."

Emmy smiled and she bowed her head before racing off. "Thank you."

The marine adjusted her glasses and then took them off to clean the lens as best as she could. Maybe her vision was distorted but she could've sworn the pirate's limp was getting better with every step. Who...who is she?