Notes: This took way longer than I ever intended for multiple reasons, the biggest one being I am now working two jobs and finding the time in my schedule to write is a challenge. Then, when writing Usopp's scene, I caught 'can't-write-fanfic-itis'. I tried switching to Coby's pov because, while I never expected him to be a major pov character when I added him in, he's proven to be a very useful one to turn to anytime I get stuck.

Of course, Coby then informed me that I forgot an entire island adventure - which actually solved a problem I'd had with something - that I then had to plot out and not all of it could be from his pov. So when I left his pov to try and figure out which character I needed to finish that adventure, the character that spoke up and demanded I write their scenes is one that doesn't show up in the story for ages. Sometimes I hate my muses. On the plus side, I do have several more future scenes written now.

Anyway, all of that is just a tl;dr way of saying sorry this is later than intended as well as an apology that I can't guarantee the next chapter won't be just as late. I am working on it, though! Many thanks to anyone still following this.

Warning: Under-aged drinking and talks about slavery and grooming.

Chapter 4 - In Which There Is A Talking Bush And A Birthday

Mayor Poodle, much to Kuina's relief, insisted they take a fishing boat with an actual sail after he saw the dinky little rowboat they'd arrived in. Sure, it wasn't meant for long trips but it was better than their previous ride. Especially considering the Gecko Islands, while being closer than Conomi, weren't just over the horizon. In fact, it would be closer to a week.

It was going to be a week from hell. While it was bigger than the other boat, there still wasn't nearly enough room for the hyperactive rubber ball that was Captain Luffy. Zoro and Kuina herself were used to sparring to relieve tension but there wasn't nearly enough room for that, so they'd both turned towards letting their frustration out by barking at the kid (Coby, she needed to remember his name was Coby, especially since...) while training him. Except the more they snapped at him, the more the kid curled in on himself and the quieter and timider he got. Of course, that made Kuina feel guilty and she hated feeling guilty which just frustrated her more.

It didn't help that the kid tended to flinch and stay put instead of dodge like she was trying to train him to. Most beginners at dodge training didn't see the blows coming. Kuina was pretty damn certain Coby did see the blows coming and just wasn't moving.

The whole revelation in Orange Town about him previously having been owned by Alvida explained a lot, actually. Kuina had never met the woman - Alvida wouldn't still be running free if they had - but she'd heard enough and Kuina wasn't so innocent that she didn't know what 'grooming' was. And it was pretty fucking obvious some sadistic bastard had done their best to train Coby to take a hit and not fight back. This wouldn't be a problem if he was like Zoro, who could tank a hit, and not so... well, 'delicate' wasn't the right word but 'breakable' just made Kuina think of necks and stairs and nope, not going there.

So Kuina increasingly found herself taking her frustration out on her captain, who took it good-naturedly, especially if she used the excuse that she was keeping him from eating their entire food store. Which was actually the truth.

"What do you think you're doing?" Kuina demanded as she caught her captain standing by the barrel they kept food in again. She'd caught him before he could plunder it based on the fact his cheeks weren't round with stolen food nor had he quickly gulped something down at the sight of her standing menacingly over him.

"Getting a snack?" Luffy suggested hopefully.

"No," Kuina stated forcefully, emphasizing it with her fist.

Luffy's only response was to whine, "Aw! But the meals are way too small!"

"You think I don't know that?! I'd like more for each meal too but there's only so much room on this tub for the four of us and the food and water we need. Honestly, we can't carry enough to last us a week so I've been rationing it - which goes out the window if you keep trying to steal snacks! Or do you want us to starve again."

"No," Luffy replied with a much more serious demeanor before suddenly grinning. "It's good you're looking out for us!"

Kuina blinked at him in surprise as he bounced off towards the small mast and started to climb it like a monkey yet again. For a moment there, she'd seen the king she knew he'd become in the bouncy kid he was. Huh. She turned to see if Zoro had witnessed it as well but her idiot was conked out and sleeping.

Coby, on the other hand, seemed to have seen everything which really wasn't that surprising considering how small the boat was.

"You're not going to complain about short-rations too, are you?" Kuina asked a bit bitterly only to regret it when the kid flinched and shook his head rapidly.

"No. No way. Nuh-uh."

"You can stop," she suggested only for her frown to turn into a scowl when Coby did stop with a flinch and a disturbing stillness.

Damn it. She knew she was frightening when she was irritated. She'd cultivated that aspect of herself on purpose, knowing she planned on eventually joining the crew of the Future Pirate King. She had a reputation for being scary.

But it meant she had no idea how to turn it off and stop being scary in front of a kid who she now suspected had to appease a dangerous woman whenever she was upset. Which frustrated and angered Kuina and made her even more terrifying to behold, which made things worse. She wanted to hack something with Wado Ichimonji until she felt better, preferably out of sight of the kid. At least until he stopped flinching every time she was in a bad mood.

Except there was no place to do such a thing in this tiny bucket. Kuina growled and Coby scuttled as far from her as he could get while staying on the boat and damn it all! She didn't want to scare him but she couldn't seem to stop doing it on accident. Thus she felt relief when their day suddenly changed.

"Hey! I see an island! Island~! Is~land!" Luffy started singing as he shaded his eyes with his hand (by pushing his hat back like an idiot) and peered at the dark spot on the horizon. Then he grabbed the rigging, sending the boat careening in its new direction at a speed that nearly sent her and Coby overboard. Zoro actually sat up, yawning as he did.

"L-Luffy! What are you doing?! That's not Gecko!" Coby shouted.

"So? It's an adventure!"

"I wouldn't mind stopping to restock. And it's not like we're in a rush," Kuina offered but Coby wasn't having it based on the way he started shaking his head.

"It's uncharted! What if there are pirates there? What-"

"Then I'll fight them!"

"-if there are wild animals?!"

"Then I'll eat them!"

"I'm pretty certain eating pirates would be cannibalism," Zoro pointed out with a grin only to lose it as Kuina punched the back of his head and yelled, "That's not what he said, you idiot!"

It was too late, though, because Coby started crying.

"Oh, no! What if there are cannibals?! I don't want to be eaten!"

"You're not going to be eaten," Kuina insisted with a huff and roll of her eyes. "This idiot's just making shit up."

"Oi! You want a go?!" Zoro growled.

"Yes. Yes, I fucking do! You! Me! The moment we find a decent clearing on the island and the loser has to refill our food and water supply!"

"You're on!"

xXx

Luffy only waited for the closest trees to be within his reach before he sling-shotted himself from the mast to... somewhere on the island. At least, Coby hoped Luffy landed somewhere on the island. If he'd overshot the island and drowned, Coby didn't know what he'd do. Zoro and Kuina at least helped beach the boat so it wouldn't float off, sniping at each other the entire time as they did.

"Um, Zoro? Kuina? What should I do while you... fight?"

"Shore leave, squirt. Do whatever you want," Zoro replied as he stalked after Kuina into the underbrush. Then they disappeared from sight, leaving Coby to wince when he heard the sound of metal clashing and frightened birds taking to the air in the near distance not long after.

And now he was alone. On an uncharted island. That could have anything on it. With nothing to do. That's when it really struck Coby that he had absolutely no clue what to do with himself.

Alvida had kept him locked up in the ship whenever she and her men had shore leave with the exception of the times he was pressed into service as a pack mule or when they actually let him out of sight on Alvida's island. But restocking was part of Zoro and Kuina's bet and he didn't want to upset them by doing it instead and there was no need for him to attempt to build a raft here. As for what he'd done before he'd been kidnapped, well, there were no newspapers here for him to try and glean any information about Migo from, he'd forgotten to barter for fishing equipment in Orange Town - something he'd have to remedy when they reached Syrup Village - and there were no elderly people for him to assist.

So... maybe... he should explore like Luffy? Actually, finding Luffy sounded like a really good idea. With that in mind, Coby turned in the direction he thought he'd seen Luffy disappear into when he went flying and set off into the trees.

The underbrush was thicker than he'd expected but Coby persevered and managed to squeeze through. The sounds of Zoro and Kuina fighting had nearly disappeared due to distance when he stumbled upon what looked like a beaten path or possibly a game trail. He made much better progress after that and found himself actually enjoying it. There were interesting bird calls and pretty flowers and the trees provided enough shade that he wasn't too hot while the sun was high enough that it wasn't too cold either.

"This... isn't so bad. Definitely a better birthday than my last one," he said to himself, mostly to hear some sort of human sound. He'd resigned himself to celebrating on their little boat with what little food he was given when he'd realized the date, and even that would've been better than Alvida celebrating his birthday by loaning him out to the sadistic Captain Impisi for a week of 'training', which is what had happened on his last birthday.

"If I tell the others, maybe we can have a party on the beach after we restock instead of leaving right away?" he mused.

"That doesn't sound bad."

"I know, right? I-" Coby froze. He didn't recognize that voice.

"I hope you weren't planning on restocking any meat, though," the rather rusty-sounding voice suggested in an ominous tone.

"Oh, n-no! O-of course not!" Coby stammered out nervously even as he tried to see where the speaker was. There was no one there. "I'll, uh, just be going now. Nicetomeetyou!"

Then he took off running down the game trail, praying for Luffy to be somewhere up ahead. He was making great time until he tripped over a root and landed face first in the muddy bank of the stream the game trail apparently led to. He sat up and tried to wipe the mud from his face so he could see if he'd been pursued but just made the mess worse. He couldn't hear anything other than birdsong and the babbling of the stream he was practically sitting in, however.

With a sigh of relief, he took off his glasses with the intent to wash them off only to yelp and flail and lose them when the same disembodied voice from before called out, "What's the rush, kid? Someone might think you're up to something."

"I'm sorry! Please don't eat me!" Coby begged, curling up and wishing he could see whoever was following him.

"Yeah, yeah. Jeeze, scaring you is like kicking a puppy. Tell you what, promise not to harm the animals on this island and I'll let you go your way. You can even have a party to celebrate your birthday on the beach before you go. Uh, happy birthday, by the way."

"Um, thank you? A-and I promise I won't hurt any animals and I'll tell my friends not to as well," Coby promised as he squinted in the direction he thought the voice had come from.

"Good. That's good. Um, I think your glasses landed somewhere to your left?"

"Thank you," Coby replied quietly before turning to his left. He hadn't been able to see the speaker even before the loss of his glasses had left everything a blurry, green mess in the distance. Hopefully, he'd be able to see his glasses once he got close enough.

The strange voice went silent and Coby was starting to feel optimistic about a glint he could see nearby being his missing glasses when the click of a gun being cocked made him freeze.

"Well, hello there," an entirely new voice stated. "How about you do me a favor, kid, and tell me where the treasure is hidden."

xXx

Zoro's back slammed against the tree and the tip of a certain sword was under his chin before he could move, leaving him disarmed and defenseless.

"Shit," he hissed as his eyes darted to where his swords lay, none of them close enough to just grab.

"Do you yield?" Kuina demanded, still standing tall and steady for all that she was shorter than him; she was a goal he had yet to defeat.

Zoro considered her words. Had this been a real fight against someone else, he would dodge to the side and aim for the closest sword on the ground, ignoring the wound his opponent would likely cut into his side. But this was a spar against Kuina and he knew he was likely going to have to refill the supplies after they were done no matter how long he dragged this fight on for. Better to do the chore while it was still light out and he wasn't bleeding all over the place.

"Tch. Fine. I yield."

Kuina pulled back with a grin and self-congratulatory crow of, "That makes eighteen thousand, two-hundred and fifty wins in a row to me! And eighteen thousand, two-hundred and fifty losses in a row for you. You need to work harder, Zoro. If you'd gone for one of your swords, you could have kept going."

"Yeah, yeah," Zoro replied with a roll of his eyes as he gathered his swords. Like he didn't already know that.

"Come on, I'll help you with the supplies. I don't trust you to recognize edible plants or not get lost trying to find the boat."

"Screw you! I can find my way back just fine!" Zoro shot back but it was without the heat that had been slowly increasing after far too long in close quarters. Honestly, a good fight had been precisely what he'd needed to relax.

"Sure you can," Kuina drawled, teasing.

The crack of a gun going off in the distance made them both freeze even as the frightened shrieks of birds taking to the air made it clear which direction it had come from. Zoro took off running towards the birds, only for Kuina to grab him by the upper arm and drag him in a different direction with a shout of, "This way, you idiot!"

The running came to a halt when they ended up splashing unexpectedly into a stream. Kuina stepped away, hand on the hilt of her sword, even as Zoro's attention was caught by something halfway in the water resting against a rock. Moving, he fished out what he'd seen.

"Zoro? There's blood over here. A lot of it. And it looks like something... someone was dragged into the bushes."

"Oi," Zoro stated with a grimace as he held up what he'd found. Kuina took in a sharp intake of breath as she turned and recognized Coby's glasses even as her eyes turned to steel.

"We need to find him. Come on. There's a trail over here."

They followed the trail with Kuina occasionally demanding they go in a new direction and acting like he was about to get lost or something without her. Then they found what had done the dragging.

The creature's body looked like a saggy bag covered in orange fur with oddly long limbs attached. Except no ape should have that many extra limbs. Or extra eyes.

"What the hell?" he muttered even as Kuina went wide-eyed and whispered something about ape-spiders. At the sound of their voices, the spiderweb covered mass the ape-creature had been cuddling and crooning at wiggled and let out something that sounded an awful lot like a frightened whimper.

"Kuina."

"I see it. Hold on! We'll get you free!" Kuina stated, unsheathing Wado Ichimonji and pointing it at the weird-ass ape. The spider ape thing shrieked at them, baring its teeth.

"Bring it," Kuina stated with a wild grin and then the fight was on.

xXx

"Hm," Luffy hummed thoughtfully as he stared at the lizard with striped fur in front of him. One could practically see the sweatdrop by said animal's head.

"I wonder," Luffy finally said, "if a crocodiger tastes like a crocodile or a tiger? Or maybe both? Hm." He closed his eyes to think and the striped lizard creature quickly shuffled away from him and out of sight. "Oh! I know! I'll just eat it and find out! Hey, where did it go? Come back so I can eat you!"

He started searching for the animal but the sound of a gun going off in the distance made him lose that train of thought when he realized none of his crew owned a gun. He'd stumbled a few steps in the direction he'd heard the shot, eyes wide and alarmed because he was the only one immune to bullets, when voices made him turn to the right.

"Hey, you think Dean found something to hunt?"

"Shut up, Diego."

"Hey, I'm just saying something made him shoot his pistol, that's all."

"Shut up! We're not alone!"

"Eh? Hey, there's a kid!"

Two men burst out of the underbrush, the shorter one aiming a gun at Luffy even as his face twisted with a suspicious glare, while the other one waved with a friendly grin.

"Hey, kid! What are you doing here?" the friendly one asked.

"That's what I want to know," the suspicious one muttered.

"Hey, no need to be a sourpuss, Danny."

"How many times have I told you to call me Daniel?" the suspicious one rage before shaking his gun in Luffy's direction. "And you haven't answered us, brat! What are you doing here?"

"We stopped to look for something to eat. Who are you?"

"Oh, hey, I'm Diego, this is Danny, and with our third, Dean, we're the D Brothers."

"Eh?!"

"Hey, yeah, I know, but it seems to strike fear into the higher ranking Marines. How about you, kid?" the friendly Diego said, having gotten close enough to sling an arm around Luffy's shoulder, "I don't suppose you know anything about the treasure our map says is on this island?"

"There's a treasure?" Luffy demanded, eyes sparkling. "Where?"

"Hey, that's what we're trying to figure out."

"Forget it, Diego, the kid don't know nothing. But if he gets any idea he can have our treasure..." Danny or Daniel or whatever he called himself waved his gun under Luffy's nose. "Actually, you said 'we', didn't you? Where are your buddies?"

Luffy made the I-don't-know noise as he shrugged.

"Hey, Danny?" Diego stated thoughtfully, his grip on Luffy's shoulders tightening. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking."

"I believe so. Hey, kid, how would you like to help us find our treasure?"

The look on the men's faces reminded Luffy of Ace's expression whenever he came up with a good idea. If he'd had a bigger vocabulary, he would've called the expression 'sly' and would've been wary because of the negative connotations of the word. But he didn't have a bigger vocabulary and equated the expression to one of his beloved big brothers, so he wasn't worried at all. Besides, treasure-hunting sounded like fun.

"Okay!"

"Hey, great! Just stick with us. This is going to be good."

xXx

"I still can't believe you shot him," Coby stated as he followed after the man he still wasn't entirely convinced wasn't a talking bush in a planter box. It didn't help that, without his glasses, he couldn't consistently make out the details that gave away the lie that the man wasn't the shrubbery he strove to appear as. Gaimon, as the weird, rusty-voiced man had introduced himself as, huffed as he trudged along.

"What, you wanted me to let him shoot you?"

"No, no. I just... why?"

"Beats me. You're kind of annoying. But you did offer to help when I asked."

"Well, it's kind of the least I can do when you rescued me but you don't seem particularly concerned about that weird spider-ape thing that dragged him..." Coby trailed off with a shudder.

"Ah, the orangutarantula is harmless. In fact, she likes to play nursemaid and wrap living things up with her handmade silk bandages, so the lucky bastard will probably survive being shot."

"Right," Coby agreed disbelievingly and fell silent for a bit. After about a minute or so, he asked, "This thing you wanted my help with in exchange for saving my life, is it close?"

"Actually, yes. See the clearing up ahead? There's a rock formation there that I need you to climb up on top of and then tell me what you see."

"Um, okay," Coby agreed, even though he wasn't sure how much he'd be able to see without his glasses. Then he strode forward because, now that he knew where he was going, he could move faster than Gaimon's awkward but steady shuffle. Sure enough, there was a nearly sheer rock face taking up most of a fairly large clearing. Getting up wouldn't be easy at all but it would be doable. With that in mind, Coby started feeling for hand and foot grips and started climbing. About half-way up, he let out a soft huff of laughter as he realized that, out of all the things he could have done today, he'd ended up finding an older person to help out.

It wasn't until Coby reached the top that he realized why Gaimon hadn't been concerned by Coby's lack of distance vision.

"Well? What do you see?"

"There are chests up here!" he called back even as he stumbled to the first one and opened it up, only to suck in a shaky breath, shove it aside, and move to the next one.

"Yep. Found them when I first got here following a treasure map only to get stuck. And?" Gaimon called. Coby shook his head and moved to the next and the next until he had all five open. He was staring blankly at the bottom of the last one when Gaimon added in a softer tone, "They're all empty, aren't they?"

"I... yes. I'm sorry!" Coby said even as he moved to the edge and turned sad eyes down towards Gaimon. "You've spent all this time and there's nothing here."

"What are you sorry for? It's not your fault. That's the risk you run with treasure maps. And better I know now than later. Besides, I've found a better treasure in the animals on this island," Gaimon stated even as a giraffaroo hopped up to him before leaning it's long neck down to nibble at Gaimon's hair.

"Hey! Stop that! Shoo!"

It did stop with an alarmed sound before hopping at speed into the underbrush. It wasn't until Gaimon called out, "Quick, hide!" that Coby realized that Gaimon wasn't what had scared it.

Dropping to the ground, Coby then crawled forward on his elbows until he could peek at where Gaimon had been. He couldn't see the man but Coby wasn't certain if that was because Gaimon had successfully hidden in the underbrush or because everything was just a green and brown blur that far away. He did, however, make out the colorful blurs of three new people entering the clearing and he stood up and shouted a greeting because the bouncy one was obviously Luffy.

"Hey! Up here!"

"Coby!" Luffy greeted back cheerfully, waving both hands. "You found the treasure! That's great!"

Coby blinked, looked to the side where it looked like Luffy was pointing, and sweat-dropped when he realized that, when he'd shoved the first chest away, he'd accidentally shoved it close enough to the edge that it could be seen from below. Then he rubbed his head and admitted, "Uh, not exactly... wait. How did you know there's a treasure?"

Coby asked the last with narrowed eyes because he only knew about the treasure was because that one guy had nearly shot him over it. The resulting squint let him make out enough details to realize Luffy's companions, one taller than the other, weren't Zoro and Kuina like he'd originally assumed.

"These guys told me," Luffy stated simply, confirming Coby's suspicion.

"Hey, that's right! And if you get it down for us, we'll split it with you," the taller man called up.

"There's no treasure up here," Coby informed him, "And even if there were, it wouldn't belong to you. It would belong to the guardian of the island."

"'Guardian of the island'? What kind of rubbish are you going on about, kid?" the shorter man demanded gruffly even as Luffy went, "Really?"

"It's true!" Coby insisted. "There's a reason your buddy isn't here."

That was apparently the wrong thing to say as the two men froze before the taller one grabbed Luffy and put a gun to his head.

"Listen here, brat. You give us that treasure or your friend here's not going to have a brain."

Coby hesitated. He still couldn't see Gaimon and Luffy wasn't doing anything. Sure, the gun wouldn't hurt Luffy but why wasn't he doing something? It was like he was waiting for Coby to do something.

...huh. Well, Coby had managed to save Luffy from drowning the other day. Surely this couldn't be too much harder. It wasn't like Luffy was actually in danger this time. And there was a possibility the guys would leave once they realized there really wasn't any treasure. With that thought, Coby straightened his spine and walked so the chest was between him and the edge.

"Fine. You want it? You can have it," Coby snapped before kicking the chest over the edge. The shorter man squawked and ran to catch it only for the chest to land on top of him. The bottom, long rotted from years of sitting on the ground exposed to the elements, broke and the chest swallowed all but the man's legs. Said legs staggered until the man got himself back under control.

"What the hell?"

Coby knew the lid moving was likely the man trying to push his way out but damn if it didn't look like the chest just talked. Luffy doubled over laughing.

"Ahahaha! He's stuck in the box! Does this mean you're a boxer now?"

"Hey, Danny, how are you fitting in there with the treasure?"

"Diego, you idiot! There's no treasure in here. The kid must have dumped it before dropping the chest!"

"What? Hey! Give us our treasure!" Diego demanded, shaking a fist at Coby.

"I told you there isn't any!" Coby shot back.

"Fucking hell, Diego, just shoot the brats!" Danny demanded, the lid of the chest he was stuck in still flapping as if matching his words. "We can climb up there ourselves once they're out of the way."

"Right," Diego agreed, re-tightening his grip on Luffy only to be interrupted by a chase scene in progress.

"Get back here, you mangy ape!" Coby heard Kuina cry right before the orangutarantula burst into the clearing, paused to shriek angrily at her chasers, and threw a ball of webbing in the direction she had come from. This heralded Zoro's own dramatic entrance into the clearing as he leapt into view, a single sword swinging as he bisected the ball of webbing in two, causing both halves to splatter against the trees on either side of him. The orangutarantula shrieked again and moved to run only to pause and look in confusion at her empty hands.

"Ha! Got him!" Kuina announced, a person bound in webbing slung over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Then she skipped back a step to avoid the orangutarantula's angry grab.

Zoro quickly moved between them, two swords drawn and ready. The orangutarantula took a wary step back and then another until she was back at the tree line but her gaze kept flickering to the person on Kuina's shoulder. Kuina turned her back on the creature, trusting Zoro implicitly to keep the orangutarantula away, only to pause as she took in the tableau now in front of her.

"The hell? Captain, what's going on?"

"These guys took me hostage to make Coby give them a treasure but Coby said no and dropped a box on one of them and then you showed up," Luffy stated calmly.

"Eh?"

"Ahem," Coby cleared his throat before waving and calling, "Hi. Up here."

Kuina blinked up at him owlishly before saying, "If you're there, then who the hell is this?"

"Dean?" Diego half asked, half suggested. The person who'd pointed a gun at Coby earlier before his run in with Gaimon and the orangutarantula and who was now on Kuina's shoulder made an affirmative sound before letting out an oof noise as Kuina tossed him to the ground. She ripped the webbing from his face and stared at the man in consternation as he took a deep breath and started chanting, "Thank you thank you thank you!"

"Dean, get a hold of yourself," Danny commanded, who Coby was now beginning to suspect was moving the lid in time to his words on purpose.

Dean stopped his chant and took another deep breath before seeming to realize who, or rather, what was kneeling over him, judging by the way his voice took on a smarmy note.

"Wow, I must have died and gone to heaven because I see an ang- mph!"

"Ew," Kuina stated matter-of-factly as she shoved the webbing she'd pulled off of his face into Dean's mouth, effectively gagging him. Then she looked up at the orangutarantula relentlessly pacing at the edge of the trees and said, "Sorry! We thought he was someone else. You can have him back."

"Mmph?!"

"Hey, wait!"

"Damn it, Diego! Shoot someone!"

"Hey, that's right! No one move or this kid gets it," Diego demanded, threatening Luffy with the pistol.

Zoro, who was in the process of sheathing his swords, snorted and stated, "Like that would do anything to him."

Diego blinked in surprise at him only to freeze as Kuina unsheathed her sword and laid the point on the other side of Dean's neck from where she was standing, making it clear she could behead him in one quick movement.

"How about we change things up. I'm pretty certain I recognize your faces from a bounty poster and we could use the money, the way our captain eats. So we'll be taking your heads and the treasure."

"There isn't any treasure," Coby repeated yet again. "And, as I told them earlier, even if there were, it would belong to the guardian of the island."

"Guardian of the island?" Zoro muttered. Coby saw his hands go to his swords when Gaimon, voice echoing oddly, called out, "That would be me," from wherever he was hiding.

"So cool!" Luffy enthused, nearly bouncing out of the grip Diego still had on him.

"Right. And if you don't want to upset the guardian, you three will leave right now!" Coby insisted.

"That's right! Leave!" Gaimon agreed, still not visible based on the confused looks everyone else was giving their surroundings.

"Eh? But what about you, Coby?" Luffy asked.

"He means us, you idiot," Danny replied. "Me, Dean, and Diego."

"Oh. Right."

"And you're crazy if you think we're leaving without the treasure!" Danny added.

"Hey, Danny, I don't know if you can see anything outside of that box or anything but the two people who showed up with Dean and the spider monkey-" The orangutarantula let out an angry screech. "-Ape! Ape! The people who showed up with the spider ape are the Demon and the Heathen."

There was a pause as the boxed man considered this.

"And the Heathen's about to behead Dean," Diego added. Dean nodded as much as he dared, crying where he was laying under Kuina's sword.

"Well, shit. I guess you'll just have to take them out first!"

Coby felt like smacking a hand against his face because Danny had started out sounding so reasonable up until the end of that sentence. He didn't dare look away from what was happening, however, even as he wondered what he should do. He wasn't exactly in a good position to do something, stuck on top of the rock formation the way he was.

That's when Luffy proved that, much as Coby had suspected, he could've gotten out of his precarious position at any time. The moment Diego moved the gun away from Luffy's head to aim at Kuina, Luffy's hand shot out and wrapped around Diego's wrist, painfully so based on the crack and the way the man yelped and dropped his gun.

"You can shoot me all you want. I'll just laugh. But you do not harm my nakama," Luffy stated in the voice that had inspired Coby to stand up to Alvida and follow this boy on a rickety boat to who knew where as they followed their dreams. Even as he stared at Luffy with a growing smile, he vaguely saw both Kuina and Zoro straighten a bit at those words. Huh. This was their first time hearing it, wasn't it?

"And you heard Coby. Any treasure here belongs to the guardian. So leave and don't come back. Or I might get angry."

"You can't seriously believe-"

"Hey, Danny, with all due respect, shut up," Diego stated as he backed away from Luffy with a wary look, holding his injured wrist. "We're not going to win this fight."

The boxed man was silent for a long moment before making a noise of displeasure.

"Tch. Fine. We'll leave without the treasure."

Coby did facepalm at this point because that man was obviously an idiot who didn't listen.

"There isn't any treasure! How many times do I have to say that?" Coby demanded in exasperation. "Someone took it decades ago."

Meanwhile, Kuina took her sword away from Dean's neck only to swing it lengthwise at his legs. He yelped and scrambled back when it nearly reached his crotch, which is when he and everyone else realized she'd just freed his legs.

"Well," she asked, "What are you waiting for? Run."

"Yes, ma'am!" Dean squeaked even as he scrambled upright and headed for his brothers. "Go, go, go!"

Diego needed no further prompting and, between the two of them, they managed to herd Danny in a westerly direction.

"I'll make sure they take off," Gaimon offered, making Coby's friends jump and look for the source of the voice.

"Okay," Coby agreed before looking around for a safe place to get down.

"The hell is that?" Kuina wondered.

"Guardian of the island," Coby explained as he sat on the edge and then turned so he could try and find hand and foot grips.

"So there's really a guardian? Awesome!" Luffy cheered.

"That wasn't just you throwing your voice or something?" Zoro asked as he watched the orangutarantula trail after the D Brothers.

"Heh. Nah. I just got lucky and made a friend," Coby explained before letting out a yelp as his foot slipped and sent him tumbling off the rock face. Kuina caught him.

"You all right?" she asked. Coby flushed in embarrassment and nodded before he scrambled out of her hold. Then she reached into a pocket and pulled something out.

"Here. I think these are yours."

Coby blinked until the object glinted in a particularly familiar way.

"Ah! My glasses! Thank you!"

He then blinked again when Kuina's face was finally clear to him because he'd never seen such a soft smile on her face before. Then Luffy was right there taking up his attention.

"You're going to introduce us to this guardian, right? Right?" Luffy demanded eagerly.

"Hai, hai, as soon as he gets back," Coby agreed, feeling a bit dizzy as Luffy shook him only to drop to the ground when Luffy let him go to throw his hands up in the air with a whoop. When he looked at Kuina again, she and Zoro were having a conversation to the side. Huh. He wondered what they were talking about. Then Kuina put Zoro in a headlock, looking far too gleeful at having Zoro's face halfway pressed into the side of her... chest even as Zoro flailed. Ah. Yeah, he wasn't getting involved in whatever relationship those two had.

xXx

"So that's why Koshiro-sensei always failed to find someone who interested you. He wanted someone to run the dojo after you got married and you just wanted a guy who needs you to rescue him," Zoro suggested with a knowing expression.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Kuina insisted primly right before she put Zoro in a headlock. "Come on, idiot. We still have supplies to fill."

"MEAT!" Luffy suddenly demanded, likely having heard the word 'supplies'.

"Wait! I promised the guardian we wouldn't hurt any of the animals on the island. I'm sorry, Luffy. We won't be able to get any meat here," Coby insisted.

"Aw!"

"B-but he did say we could have a party on the beach to- to celebrate... my... birthday."

"Really! Happy Birthday, Coby!" Luffy cheered.

"It's your birthday?! Congratulations! How old are you?" Kuina asked.

"S-sixteen."

The other three blinked before Zoro said, "You don't look that old."

Coby wilted.

"I know," he agreed. "I was kind of expecting the growth spurts to start right about the time Alvida kidnapped me nearly two years back but they haven't happened."

"Maybe you're a late bloomer," Kuina suggested. "It's been known to happen. There was this one tiny kid at the dojo who never seemed to grow for years and years and then, one day when he was nearly seventeen, he suddenly shot upwards overnight. He's pretty tall now."

"Really?"

"Really. You even know him," Kuina stated in a teasing tone as she looked at her best friend. Zoro huffed and crossed his arms over his chest as he looked away, a hint of red dusting his cheeks and the bridge of his nose.

"Wait. Zoro was short?" Luffy demanded.

"Yep! And you better believe I took advantage of being taller than him while it lasted."

"Somehow, I'm not surprised by that," Coby muttered. Kuina twitched and shot a glare at him, making Coby eep and try and hide behind Luffy. Luffy thought it was funny and kept trying to move from out between the two of them, grinning and chuckling as Coby moved with him.

"Okay, they're gone. They're going to be dealing with the orangutarantula, though. I couldn't convince her not to stowaway," the weird voice called, making Kuina jump.

"Would you stop that and show yourself?" Kuina demanded.

"He's right there," Coby stated, pointing.

Kuina blinked because that was a freaking bush in a planter box. Except... bushes didn't normally have faces. And on closer inspection, the planter box was actually a chest like the one that one weird guy had been stuck in.

"Hey! It's another boxer!" Luffy stated with a grin.

"Ha ha, very funny," the planter box bush replied in a deadpan before saying, "My name's Gaimon and I protect the animals that live on this island. And the treasure, although there apparently hasn't been any for at least twenty years. But I suspected as much, what with this." He slapped the side of his box at that.

"Ah! I'll get you out of that," Luffy said as he hopped nearly on top of the bush-man and started pulling.

"Stop that! I've been stuck in it for twenty years now! I've basically grown into it," Bush-man growled, flailing at Luffy to make him back off.

"Really? Huh. Oh, I know! You should join my crew!" Luffy said, pounding his fist down into his open hand.

Kuina tried not to twitch. She did not recall someone this short being on the future crew. Maybe he got free of the box and ended up being the really tall one? Kuina found herself doubting that, however.

She honestly didn't know how many future crewmates they were supposed to have nor who they were. Hell, she couldn't even place Coby but at least he had the potential to grow taller and get a deeper voice as he aged.

Immediately after meeting Zoro's future self, she and Zoro had been more focused on the fighting techniques they'd been shown or Future Zoro had mentioned, like those six Marine powers they needed to figure out their own versions of including names. By the time they realized they should probably figure out as much possible about their future nakama, they realized they couldn't even agree on how many people had been there. Kuina knew there were at least nine people. Zoro insisted there were more than that.

There was their Captain with his bouncy nature, scar beneath his eye, and tendency to get into people's faces. There'd been Future Zoro. There'd been the blond cook and the sniper who's impressively long nose couldn't really be hidden. At least two women based on the voices. Two burly men, one taller and more massive than the other. The really tall but skinny one that Kuina thought was a guy. That was nine and Kuina was willing to concede that she may have missed one or two, the way they kept moving and the cloaks had kept blending into their surroundings.

But she definitely didn't remember anyone as short as Bishy. Er, Bushy. Bushy was a much better nickname.

There was the problem that Kuina herself was proof that the crewmembers could change as she'd been too dead to join previously. At least Coby being here before she ever met their Captain meant she wasn't responsible for him joining or not. But who knew what could and would change simply because she was here now? Like gaining Bushy here as a crewmate.

Ah, hell, she was going to have to remember the guy's name now, wasn't she? What had he said it was? Gooeymount? No, that wasn't right. Gaypond? Guymight? For some reason the last one made her think of green and orange and someone with sparkling teeth yelling, 'YOUTH!' and she shivered and quickly decided if that was Bushy's name then he needed a different one.

"Really? You'd do that?"

"Sure!" Luffy agreed as Bushy looked close to tears.

"Thank you! But... I have to decline. Who would look after the animals if I left? No, I'm going to stay."

"What about the one that you said stowed away?" Zoro asked. Bushy shrugged.

"She actually does that a lot. People come here for the treasure or to poach the animals, I scare them off with my spiel and any guns I managed to get off the last group to pass by, gather any dropped weapons while she follows whoever I wounded and nurses them back to health while acting as their proof it happened, then she comes back and someone follows her so I have to shoot someone else. It's never-ending, really."

There was a long moment of silence as everyone contemplated that. On second thought, she wasn't sure her Captain was thinking about anything.

Then Bushy shuffled his feet and says, "If you're going to have that party, could I join you even if I'm not joining the crew? It's been awhile since I've been to a party."

"Shishishi! Sure! Come on, guys! We need to get everything together for a party! And we need to make sure there's plenty of meat."

Kuina managed to smack Luffy upside the head at the same time Zoro did as she, Zoro, Coby, and Bushy all yelled, "NO MEAT!"

"Aw." Her captain was seriously more upset by their dietary restriction than the blunt damage they'd tried to force upon him. Unbelievable. But he bounced back quickly enough.

"All right, then food! What is there to eat here?"

"Come on. I'll show you."

They spent the remainder of the day getting the party together. Driftwood from the beach and deadwood culled from the forest, all of it collected and dried by Bushy sometime before today, was piled carefully to form a bonfire. Fruits and edible mushrooms were collected as were fish, which apparently didn't count as part of the 'no meat' rule. It also went quite a ways towards explaining how Bushy kept the carnivorous animals from eating the herbivores.

Catching the fish involved Bushy handing out sharpened sticks to use as spears as they stood waist-deep in the water of a small, fish-rich inlet. Kuina promptly got into a competition with Zoro over who could catch the most which resulted in them sabotaging each other until their captain declared their fighting looked like fun and jumped into the water, forcing her and Zoro to abandon their competition in order to save the idiot. The end result was Kuina with one more fish than Zoro and both of them soundly beaten by not only Bushy but Coby who'd ended up with the most.

Then Bushy had decided it wouldn't be a proper party unless they brought his still to the beach. Zoro had quickly agreed.

The glitter of the stars was visible past the glow of the bonfire they'd finally lit on the beach and Kuina was feeling nicely buzzed from whatever it was Bushy had managed to make out of the island's fruit in his still. Zoro was making some serious headway into the contents of the still, Luffy was dancing around with Bushy and the weird animals that had joined them for the party - Kuina could see a snake-rabbit, a lion-pig, and what Luffy insisted on calling a crocodiger without even turning her head - and Coby was... Where was Coby?

Kuina stood up, stretching as she did, and surreptitiously looked around until she spotted the boy sitting on a piece of driftwood that had been declared too wet earlier that day a ways down the beach, face turned towards the sky. She decided to wander over, but not without first filling two of the coconut shells they were using as cups at the still Zoro was steadily draining. She shoved one at Coby when she arrived, making him yelp and fumble with it as she laughed and sat beside him, nudging him with her elbow.

"You should have some. It's pretty good but alcohol never lasts long around Zoro. Bastard doesn't even have the audacity to get properly drunk, either. What're you doing over here by yourself, anyway?"

"I, uh..." Coby stopped talking and took a drink, likely to stall, only to cough and sputter at the bite of the alcohol, much to Kuina's glee.

"Lightweight, are we?" she asked even as she wondered what kind of drunk the kid would be. Probably not an angry one, what with his personality, but sometimes the quiet ones could surprise you.

"N-no, I'm not!" Coby retorted before forcing himself to take another swig. He didn't cough but he was obviously turning red from the effort not to.

"Hey, hey, sip it slowly. This is the kind of stuff that goes straight to your head and it's the only drink you're going to get the way Zoro's downing the stuff."

"So Zoro's going to be weird in the head?" Coby asked. Kuina snorted.

"There's nothing there in his head to begin with and I can't imagine him being weirder than he already is. Which might explain why I can never get him drunk. And you're avoiding my question. What are you doing over here by yourself?"

"I, uh... I was having a lot of fun. More than I've ever had before. And I found myself thinking that I didn't ever want it to end only to realize it was going to have to."

"Parties do tend to end," Kuina agreed carefully before sipping her own drink because that was what she was getting from his words but she had a feeling that wasn't what he meant. She wasn't surprised at all when Coby shook his head.

"No, I don't mean the party. Well, not just the party. It's more the realization that I won't be sharing another birthday with you guys."

"Why not?"

"Why not?! My dream involves finding and joining an entirely different group of people. At least I think Migo's a group of people. They might be just one but they'd be far too busy if that's the case. Besides, I don't know why you'd want me to stick around anyway. I'm a pathetic weakling who couldn't fight his way out of a wet paper sack. Ow!"

"You could have dodged that. I know you could," Kuina stated bluntly as she pulled her fist back from where she'd punched Coby's shoulder. "And you need to stop putting yourself down. Especially since you're one of the strongest people I've ever met."

Coby choked and sputtered and Kuina had to rescue his drink as he flailed.

"How could you even begin to believe that?" he demanded.

"It's all in the names, really. They named me the Heathen and Zoro the Demon and they named us that so people who have never even met us will consider us to be monsters. But at least monsters are living beings capable of making their own decisions. What they call you - Alvida's Compass - is an object owned by a person who isn't you. By calling you that, they're calling you less than human. An object anyone can own.

"But you're not an object. You're you. You laugh and smile and cry and shout. And for all the signs that someone tried to break you - spent the last two years trying to break you - they didn't succeed. And that right there is why you're strong. I don't know many people who could survive two years being beaten and enslaved and not break. I know I couldn't. I barely managed nine days as a prisoner before I gave in and agreed to date that utter pinhole back at Shells. I can't imagine surviving two years."

"I wasn't..." Coby started only to stop, an odd look forming.

"Wasn't what?" Kuina nudged. Coby curled up, arms wrapped around his knees, but he answered her.

"I was going to say I wasn't constantly bound like you were but I... I guess that's not really true. I remember shackles and locked doors and barred windows. And whenever I was allowed away from that, there was always someone with quick eyes and heavy hands right there watching me. The only exception was a place I could never run from, which means it was just a bigger prison than the one they kept me in when I wasn't being useful."

Coby's breath hitched at that point and he roughly shoved his glasses up to his forehead as he angrily rubbed at his eyes. He hissed, "Damn it," when it became obvious it wouldn't be a quick fix.

"My mother died when I was young," Kuina began and Coby shot her a wet and startled look. "But one of the things I remember the best was her telling me it was okay to cry. That we cry because we feel something so much - anger, sadness, joy, laughter - that it just has to spill out of us. So... so go ahead. Cry. If you're crying because it's a good emotion, then it's a good emotion being shared. And if you're crying because of a bad emotion then, well, it's better outside than in where it can fester."

It was quiet for a bit aside from the hitches in Coby's breath and Kuina's own nervous shifting. She really wasn't good at the whole comforting thing. She was used to snapping at stupid boys to quit being babies or taunting Zoro who never cried and gave back as good as he got and not, you know, this. But she didn't want to snap at Coby. She instinctively knew that snapping at him wouldn't do any good and may actually make things worse. He wasn't some prideful teenager who'd had his ego stomped on and needed to get over it. He was a kid who'd been through something awful and had every right to be upset by it.

Eventually, he stopped and rubbed his eyes and nose against his sleeve for lack of anything better. Kuina grimaced and made a mental note not to touch that sleeve until Coby washed it. And he'd better wash it. Kuina wasn't doing anyone's laundry but her own and even then she was going to see if she couldn't trick Zoro into doing it for her.

"I'm surprised you let me cry," Coby admitted, sniffling a little, "what with how you're always trying to toughen me up."

Kuina sighed as she shifted beside Coby.

"Do you know why I'm tough on you?" she asked.

Coby looked down at his feet, digging a toe into the dirt as he shrugged and shook his head.

"I'm hard on you because, when it comes to fighting, you're like me."

"Huh?" Coby sounded incredulous.

"Zoro outweighs me and he's been physically stronger for years. But I'm the one who always wins our spars. Do you know why?"

Coby shook his head, staring at Kuina with wide eyes.

"Because I know how to use my strengths to my advantage. Even though I make sure I'm no slouch in that department, I'll never be as physically strong as Zoro. But I'm faster, more flexible, have more finesse and, honestly, I'm smarter too. And I use those.

"You? You'll never be as strong as Zoro either, much less our monster of a captain. That doesn't mean the strength training is useless - some strength's better than none - but right now, when it comes down to an actual fight, your best chance at surviving is going to be your ability to dodge.

"The thing about dodging, though, is you've got to be ready to do it at any time or it's useless. All it takes is letting your guard down once... and you are nowhere near ready to tank a hit. Maybe in the future, you will be, but right now I'm making sure you survive long enough to actually see that day."

"O-oh," Coby replied, looking absolutely floored. Kuina just grinned and gave his shoulder a playful shove.

"Come on. There's still a party going on."

He followed her back to the others, who cheered when they saw them. Coby was dragged into a dance with Luffy and if Coby's smile was a bit brittle at first, no mentioned it and it grew stronger as the night wore on. After all, who could truly be sad at a party thrown by the Future Pirate King?

xXx

"Puru-puru-puru. Puru-puru-puru. Ka-cha! Hey, Boss? It's us."

"Ah. The D Brothers. Done with your little treasure hunt?" the man who answered the transponder snail asked calmly as he sat down and set one ankle on top of his other knee. Tch. His shoe was scuffed. He'd need to take care of that soon.

"Uh, sort of?" was the answer until the expression and voice coming from the snail suddenly changed to something rather... odd.

"We're done, all right, but we didn't get any treasure. Got beaten to it by these bastards that claimed there wasn't any."

"Hey, Danny, what did we say about using the den den mushi while stuck in the box?"

"Not to," was the sullen answer.

"It sounds like you have a story," their boss observed.

"Yeah. Well, those guys Daniel was talking about were the Demon and the Heathen."

Their boss's expression hardened as he demanded, "You're sure."

"Yeah, we're sure. Thing was, they weren't alone. They were calling this black-haired kid captain and seemed to think he was bullet-proof or something. Kid broke Diego's wrist like it was nothing. Then there was this scrawny pink-haired kid who's responsible for... I'm not really even sure how he did it, but he basically took me and Daniel out. Sicced a damn ape on me - who we have yet to get rid of - and we still haven't gotten Daniel out of that damn box. Shit, what did they call him? Something with a C. Coby? Yeah, I think that was it."

"Interesting. Anything else to add?"

"No, sir. I think that's it."

"EEEK!"

"Oh, uh, my nurse wants me to hurry up and finish the call so I can rest after being shot."

One of the first rules of leadership was being unflappable in the face of utter inanity, so he very carefully didn't react to that.

"Yes, yes, that's fine. Get some rest and do try and get your brother out of that... box. I'll call you with further instructions later."

"Yes, sir!"

Their boss hung up at that point and tapped his fingertips together thoughtfully. He'd been informed by Impisi himself about how he'd rescued Alvida and the woman was apparently still complaining about a black-haired young man stealing her cabin boy, although it was possible he needed to reevaluate how dangerous said cabin boy was, not mention exactly how much Alvida was hiding, if said cabin boy was capable of taking out two out of three of the D Brothers. The woman was far too cunning for her own good.

But now he finds out the two young men now had the two most notorious bounty hunters in the East Blue in tow, not least because the Demon and the Heathen had escaped every assassination attempt he'd arranged for them. He'd thought for certain he'd managed to impress upon Morgan the importance that they not survive arriving in Shells Town.

With that thought, he picked up the transponder snail to call the man.

"This is Warrant Officer Karasu calling for Captain Morgan on behalf of Captain Nezumi about some reported pirate sightings heading in his direction," he stated calmly.

"Good evening, Warrant Officer Karasu! This is Shell Town Communications Officer Tai. I take it you haven't heard the news, then?"

"News?"

"Captain Morgan was arrested a few days ago for abuse of power," Tai stated with the relish of a true gossip before lowering voice and adding, "Although, between you and me? He never would've gotten caught if it weren't for the weird pirate kid in the straw hat. The Commander was so relieved the kid took Morgan out that he let the kid wander away with the Demon and Heathen!"

"Oh? How interesting," Karasu stated before getting to 'official' business. He kept up a pleasant expression throughout the exchange but it morphed into a scowl the moment he hung up.

Orange Town was between Shells Town and where the D Brothers had been heading and the Bug Pirates were very late reporting in yet couldn't be raised by transponder snail at all. He now suspected he knew the cause. He'd have to see what strings he could pull before this newly formed crew disrupted any more of his delicate plans.

Speaking of plans... a few quickly placed calls and Karasu sat back with the confirmation that ex-Captain Morgan would soon be free. And just in time as Vice Admiral Garp had apparently been called in to deal with the transfer.

"Warrant Officer Karasu?" a voice called after a knock sounded on the door. "Captain Nezumi wants to see you."

Ah. Karasu stood and brushed some imaginary lint from his jacket before heading outside. He found Captain Nezumi on deck, frowning at the small merchant vessel in the distance.

"You wished to see me?" Karasu inquired, very purposefully not adding 'sir'.

Nezumi startled with a squeak, cast Karasu a wary look, before turning back toward the distant ship.

"Are you certain this plan will work?" Nezumi demanded.

"Now, now. Have I ever steered you wrong?" Karasu asked as he reached up and adjusted his glasses in an odd manner where he used the palm of his hand and kept his fingers carefully curved away from him.

"No," Nezumi sullenly admitted even as he shivered at the gesture, a rat reminded he was in the presence of a cat.

"That's right. And if we want to bring the Conomi Islands to heel, then we have to start by capturing her," Karasu insisted, gesturing at the boat that was now close enough just to make out the word 'Mikan' printed on the sail.

"Right. Men! Get ready to board and arrest everyone on that ship!"

"Hai!"

Karasu took a step back so he'd be out of the way of the more eager men as they attacked the ship even as he contemplated plan after plan. This one was well underway. And once they had the weather witch out of the way, Conomi would be easy enough to break. And without their trading partner... well, the Gecko Islands had put increasing amounts of land towards medicinal herbs, trusting the Conomi Islands to help out with any food they needed. Without that supply line, they wouldn't last long in a siege.

Once everything was said and done and they'd milked these islands for everything they were worth, he'd set into motion his plan where his carefully chosen scapegoats would take the fall and then he'd finally retire, rich and respected and living in the mansion he'd desired the moment he'd set his eyes upon it. It would take longer than it would have with his original plan, but not by too much, and had the advantage of taking care of a few loose ends. He was looking forward to it.

That was assuming this nasty little monkey wrench of a pirate crew he'd just found out about didn't ruin things. Nothing they'd done so far threw anything so far out of whack that he couldn't plan around it but he didn't like that their current path suggested they were heading for Syrup Village. The question was, what to do about it?

Oh, wait. That one had been complaining about not enough action lately. He would do wonderfully. Plan settling into place in his mind, the man now known as Karasu allowed a dark smile to form even as he watched the Marines drag the red-headed woman from the ship down into the hold.

Perfect.

xXx

Notes: I'm placing Coby age as fifteen-almost-sixteen at the time he was rescued and this is why. Luffy set sail on his seventeenth birthday, which would put the very beginning of his trip on May 5th. Luffy's ship definitely isn't carrying enough supplies for Luffy to last beyond a day or so. Three at most if he was wise about it (and we all know that's not likely). As such, he likely encounters Alvida and Coby either late on the 5th or early on the 6th, the 7th at the latest. Again, the boat the two boys end up in can't possibly be carrying enough supplies to last Luffy for long - although Coby's there to help restrain him a bit - so they have to make it to Shells Town sometime between the 6th and the 9th depending on when exactly Luffy and Coby met. Zoro's words about surviving for the whole month and being tied up for 9 days does, however, makes the 9th a very real possibility. Even given time to fight, rest and recover (which can't take more than a day as we see Zoro responding to his first meal in days), that still means that in canon they leave Coby on the island well before his birthday on May 13th, even if Luffy and Zoro leave as late as the 9th.

Now, cabin boys tended to be between 14 and 16 and Coby was canonically with Alvida for two years (suggesting he was either nearly or had just turned 14 when he was ganglaid). Second, he has a major growth spurt not long after joining the Marines. 16 is a late but still normal age to have a major growth spurt, especially if one factors in malnutrition while he was a captive versus people like Garp making sure he ate right once he started training. This age would also explain why Coby starts out looking much younger than Luffy and then looking about the same age once the growth spurt starts. And, considering Luffy doesn't look like he aged much at all (and thus still looks like a teenager) after the time skip, it would make sense for a then 18-year-old Coby to look older than Luffy.

This would also fit in with the 'youngest Captain in Marine history' as Coby would've been promoted somewhere between the ages of 16 and 18. Even taking the anime-only Grount into account that would still work as long as you assume that once you reach Captain it's harder to continue a meteoric rise as the only promotions we've seen/heard of for Captain and above either require an incredibly impressive feat (or being praised for one that the Marines don't dare attribute to the pirates actually responsible) or the death or retirement of the previous title holder in the case of Admirals and higher.

Also, the optician in me debated on what, exactly, is going on with Coby's eyes that he goes from wearing his glasses constantly to wearing them on his head. I narrowed it down to three possibilities and then chose the most likely:

My Coby has mild myopia so he sees up close perfectly fine but has problems the further away something is. He should be wearing the glasses all the time but started pushing them up out of the way because being hit in the face while wearing glasses hurts (I personally have a severe prescription and have to wear glasses all the time but there have been activities where I've taken them off because, unless you have a pair designed to take a beating like sports goggles, then there are times where it's safer to have them off than on, even if you can't see a darn thing).

This would also help explain why his Observation Haki seems based on sound while Usopp (who has amazing sight) seems to have his based on sight. It would make sense if he'd been using sound to make up for what he couldn't see and his Haki ended up being an extension of that. There's also the possibility that Marine tech could include contact lenses (likely hard ones if that's the case) and he could get around with wearing his glasses on his head as backup in case he lost a contact lens.