Chapter 32: Desert Hallucinations Pt.2

The sun beating down on the crew was as hot and unforgiving as it had been the entire time they'd been in Alabasta thus far. Ace was gone now, and while Luffy was sad to say goodbye for the time being, he was more worried over the fact that Haru- someone he'd only recently learned to be alive- was so much closer than he had ever anticipated.

When Sabo told him the doctor was alive and headed to the Grand Line, Luffy had been worried, nervous, even scared that they would end up crossing paths again. He only managed to push those worries and fears aside when he thought about just how big the Grand Line was. The possibility of he and Haru ending up on the same island was slim to none- or so he'd told himself.

He hadn't taken into account that Haru might be actively hunting him down.

So while Luffy had been worried before, to hear that Haru had been in Alabasta not too long ago made Luffy downright terrified. Surely the doctor knew Luffy was in the area as well, especially with all the news about Luffy's departure from the Whitebeards. Just how coincidental was it that the two of them were both in the same area of the Grand Line at the same time?

Wiping the sweat from his forehead, Luffy looked up to see what progress they'd made in walking through the desert. Maybe there were some rocks nearby and they could take a break from this horrible heat for a while.

Looking up though, he found that the desert he remembered to be in moments ago was gone. Instead, he was standing in a room lit up with so many lights, it was nearly blinding. Confused and disoriented, Luffy looked around the large room in hopes of finding out where in the world he was.

Looking around though, he saw that the room itself was empty, nothing on the floors, walls, or ceiling. There weren't even windows. There was, however, a set of stairs across the room that Luffy could see, the only other thing in this room besides him.

Before he could even move towards them though the sound of footsteps coming from the stairs stopped him as he waited to see who would appear. His eyes widened when he spotted the long white doctor's coat on the new arrival, but other than that he didn't recognize anything else about the man.

"Ah, you're finally awake!" Like lightning striking him, Luffy jolted back at the sound of the man's voice. Nothing about this situation seemed good for Luffy, and so in an attempt to distance himself, he ended up scuttling backward as far from the man that he could go until he was pressed up against something.

Something that hurt.

Spinning around in confusion, Luffy saw another doctor there- when they'd gotten behind him, he didn't know- a needle in his hand and a sadistic grin on his face as he showed the tool off. Surprised, and also petrified, Luffy felt his back with his hand, drawing it back to see that there were tiny specks of blood on it as if the needle had pierced him multiple times.

"Are you ready for the first test?" The voice was warped and did nothing to calm Luffy down from the hysteria he was very nearly experiencing.

Taking stock of his situation, Luffy noted that there were now multiple doctors in the room with him, each sporting a needle and grin of their own as they started advancing towards Luffy like predators to prey. Not wanting to get caught, Luffy bolted towards an opening in the crowd to head for the stairs, very narrowly avoiding a doctor's jab of their needle.

Running up the stairs, Luffy was met with a room that looked to be an exact replica of the one before- no windows, blindingly bright, and stairs opposite of him. Not wanting to wait, Luffy started running for this set as well, hoping that by going up he would find a way out. Like before though, he never had the chance to reach them as he heard more footsteps coming down them. Instead of a normal, no-named doctor that Luffy didn't recognize though, the face he saw was a hundred times worse.

"My, it seems I should invest in bounty hunters more often if it gets results like these." Luffy cringed back as Haru's voice drifted over to him in the silent room. Besides Luffy's heavy breathing there was no other noise to drown out Haru's laughter that started to echo around him.

"So what test should we start with, hm? You should pick. After all, you're the honored guest here." Haru began stepping slowly toward him as he spoke which only put Luffy all the more on edge as he stumbled to take a step back from him.

"Should we start with the nose? Check on that sense of smell? Perhaps the eyes like that brother of yours. Or maybe we should try something brand new!" The more he spoke, the more Luffy ached to run away, but when his fate was either running back down to the room filled with needles and doctors or staying here with Haru, the point seemed moot. Both options were horrible for him, and neither ended well.

But maybe, just maybe, he could take his chances here with Haru. After all, the man couldn't be that strong, could he?

Determination filling him like a caged animal, Luffys terror left his face only to be replaced with a snarl.

"Oh, a fight then? Well, by all means." Luffy didn't need any more invitation as he charged, intent on leaving this room whether Haru wanted him to or not.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

As the crew walked through the sweltering desert they did it with little to no conversation. After all, with how hot it was, no one had the energy or desire to attempt holding a conversation at the moment. All of them were entirely focused on getting to their destination as fast as possible, not only because Vivi needed their help, but they were desperate to get some form of relief from this never-ending heat.

So while it wasn't unusual for it to be silent as they walked, it was concerning that they hadn't heard a peep from Luffy since Ace left. While Luffy had been as hot and sapped of energy as the rest of them, he'd also managed to pipe up every once in a while to complain about how hot it was or that he was hungry.

Glancing back to the rubber man, Nami half expected him to not be there- She wouldn't be surprised to find out that he'd accidentally wandered off- but when she turned to look at him, she saw that he was still following sluggishly along. While she couldn't see his expression due to the fact that he was staring at the ground, she was relieved to know that he hadn't wandered off as she'd first thought.

However, this meant that Luffy was being uncharacteristically quiet for some reason.

Thinking back, she was reminded of the conversation he and his brother had had with Scorpion about some guy named Haru. None of the crew knew who this Haru person was, but the more they had seen and heard from that conversation, the more they could see that, whoever it was, they weren't a friend to the brothers.

So maybe that was the issue then. There was some enemy of the brothers nearby and Luffy was getting stuck in his thoughts over it.

Thinking that the issue was resolved, Nami began to turn to face forward again, only to notice Luffy looking up at the same time. Looking back at him she saw the flicker of confusion cross his face as he looked around their surroundings. Having seen that before- and knowing that it usually meant someone or something was nearby- Nami decided it was in their best interests to ask what was up rather than wait for Luffy to tell them.

"Luffy?" Her saying his name was enough to draw the rest of the crew to their Captain as well as Vivi. All of them turned to see him, but it seemed that Nami speaking had triggered a reaction out of the rubber teen, and not a good one.

The effect was instantaneous as he jolted back, freezing in place momentarily as he looked at them with wide, terrified eyes. Shocked at the sudden fear, Nami had Lashes stop his walking so that they could figure out just what was going on.

She didn't have a chance to ask though as Luffy began scuttling backward, sending sand flying into the air in his haste. It was all so fast and sudden that no one had seen the cactus or even thought to warn their captain of its proximity before he was pressing up against it.

The pain from its spines did nothing to calm the terror Luffy was experiencing though as he spun to face the cactus, a hand moving to his back and assessing the damage.

Just as quick and sudden as before, Luffy was running off towards the dunes, leaving them behind in his hurry to get away from- what seemed to be- them.

"Y-you don't think he drank more of that cactus juice, do you?" Usopp asked nervously as they watched Luffy freeze on top of a nearby dune.

"Who knows. You think he's hallucinating then?" Nami asked, worry on her face as she remembered the raw terror that had been on Luffys face.

"Looks like it. Last time he was terrified of us, just like he is now." Sanji said with a frown, keeping a close eye on Luffy to make sure he didn't run too far.

"What should we do?" Vivi asked worriedly, remembering the stories she'd heard of people running off while hallucinating.

"Ace warned us of that earlier..." Usopp realized, sweating from not only the heat now.

"He did? When?" Nami asked. She couldn't recall the eldest of the trio warning them about something like this. She was sure that she would remember if he had.

"When Luffy was hallucinating off of the cactus juice before. We didn't say it, but Luffy was having a really bad hallucination and he looked like he was about to kill us so we had to sedate him. Ace didn't want Luffy to know we sedated him though or that needles were involved so we left all of that out." Zoro told her, also frowning as he watched Luffy who was still frozen in place on top of the dune.

"So what was the warning then?" Vivi asked, her worry only growing as she heard this.

"He said that if he ever hallucinates like that again that we should try and knock him out in any way we can unless we want islands destroyed," Sanji answered, fingering his pack of cigarettes in his pocket as he contemplated taking one out.

"Please tell me he was exaggerating..." Nami moaned fearfully, worried about her captain's monstrous strength.

"I asked... He didn't give me a straight answer on that one..." Usopp whimpered in response, equally as terrified.

"Well, good news is he doesn't seem to want to fight us this time. Looks like he's more intent on running. Chopper, you think we can sedate him again?" Zoro asked, only for everyone to see that Chopper was too hot to even comprehend what was happening around him.

"I think that's a no..." Nami said as she planted her face in the palm of her hand.

"Alright Zoro, it's up to you then." She decided, raising her head determinedly and pointing to the green-haired swordsman.

"Huh? Says who?!" Zoro asked, wondering how that conclusion had been made.

"Says your debt that could use some increasing." Nami retorted with a sly grin despite the circumstances.

"Why you-" Zoro cut the snarl off with a huff as his grip on the sleds strings tightened. Without saying anything more, Zoro started to march off towards Luffy, muttering all the while.

"Alright Lashes, let's go," Nami said to the camel, patting its neck gently.

"Go? Shouldn't we wait for them?" Vivi asked, glancing towards Zoro who was nearly at Luffy now.

"Zoro'll handle it. Besides, we have to hurry. After all, no ones going to wait for us to stop the rebellion, right?" Nami asked the princess, reminding her of the reason they were here in the first place.

"I-... No, I guess not." Vivi said hesitantly, still worried for the three they were about to leave behind.

"Don't worry Vivi-chan, if they take longer than expected to catch up they can always follow our footprints," Sanji said reassuringly. This only seemed to marginally work, but it worked never-the-less as Vivi sighed and nodded.

"If you say so." She agreed, facing forward again and trying to not worry about what was going to happen between Zoro and Luffy.

Meanwhile, as Zoro was reaching the top of the dune he saw that Luffy was noticing his arrival. Just as Zoro was setting the sled string down, Luffy was spinning around to look at him with even wider eyes than before, his terror seeming to increase tenfold.

"Alright Luffy, calm down, you're hallucinating again." Zoro tried to say as soothingly as possible, hands raised up in a gesture of peace. Either Luffy didn't recognize the gesture or didn't care in his fear as he cringed back, his heavy breathing loud in the quiet desert.

"If you don't calm down you're going to give yourself a heart attack," Zoro said with a frown, wondering just how scared someone had to be to do so. If he had to take a guess, he would say Luffy wasn't too far from that threshold.

Which only led to the swordsman wondering what in the world could scare someone like Luffy this much.

Shaking away the thought, he took a tentative step forward with his hands still raised. Zoro hoped to get close enough to- well, he didn't really know yet. Whatever he could plan though was thwarted as Luffy stumbled back and away from him, increasing the distance even further.

"Luffy, everything's alright. Calm down." Zoro reiterated, growing a little frustrated now that he had been somehow suckered into doing this alone.

He didn't have much time to think about that though as the fear that had been ever-present on Luffy face suddenly flickered away, only to be replaced with a fierce determination that the swordsman recognized.

"So you want to fight then, huh? Man, what kind of Captain did I agree to follow?" Zoro asked with a sigh, gripping his sword hilt tightly. He hesitated, not wanting to do actual harm to Luffy even if the man intended to do so to Zoro. After all, Luffy wasn't in a good state of mind to even recognize who he was fighting- or so he assumed.

Ace's words rang in his head though, the Whitebeard pirate telling them that if Luffy got like this that they should try and stop him by whatever means necessary.

Still, he didn't feel right slicing and dicing Luffy because of that.

His few seconds of preparation were cut short when Luffy suddenly charged at him, fist raised and a snarl on his face.

Turns out, Luffy was damn strong.

Zoro hadn't had a chance to really appreciate just how powerful his captain was seeing as every fight he'd gotten into had been ended with only a few hits. While this should have attested to the rubber man's strength, Zoro had merely thought that it was because the people Luffy was fighting were weak.

Sure, he didn't think Luffy was weak. He knew his captain was strong- he was an ex-Whitebeard for christ's sake- he had just never known how strong. And now he was feeling just how strong that was with first-hand experience.

Luffy's first punch was enough to send Zoro flying backward into the sand, sending the tiny particles flying everywhere from his impact. Groaning, the swordsman sat back up, just in time to see Luffy running at him again. Rolling out of the way, Zoro narrowly avoided another punch that would have surely knocked him out had it connected.

Deciding his best course of action now was to evade rather than attack, Zoro did his best to avoid anything Luffy threw at him- which just so happened to be any and every body part Luffy had. From fists to feet, to even his whole head, Luffy was doing everything in his power to hit Zoro. He did manage to do so a few times, and Zoro was definitely going to have plenty of bruises to show for it, but luckily the swordsman was resistant and could take a beating.

Jumping over Luffys sweeping leg Zoro cursed Namis name once more for getting him into this without any sort of help. How long was he going to be able to keep this up? He couldn't get close enough to Luffy to even try and land a hit of his own and he couldn't get far enough away from him without the rubber man running after him. At this rate, they would both pass out from how much energy they were using up in the sweltering desert, and that would do them no good seeing as Nami and the others had left them. If they passed out, there was a slim chance of them waking up again and an even slimmer chance that they would find the group after that.

Zoro was knocked back to the reality in front of him when Luffy's fist met his right shoulder, pushing him back and onto the sandy ground for another time. Growling in annoyance, Zoro jumped to his feet as quickly as possible so that he could dodge the foot that was coming down like a hammer.

As the two of them faced each other down, Zoro saw as Luffy began preparing another attack, his fist rearing back and coating itself in that shiny black covering that Zoro had seen before. He'd forgotten to ask about it before and he was sorely regretting that now as he realized that he had no idea what kind of impact a fist covered in black like that would do to him.

Turns out, he didn't have to worry about it as Luffy's eyes went wide, that terror back for a millisecond before his expression went slack and he was slumping to the ground, unconscious. Behind him, Chopper was holding a needle and looking at Zoro with wide eyes.

"Nice one, Chopper." Zoro praised, sighing in relief that he wouldn't have to take any more of a beating from Luffy.

"T-thanks..." Chopper squeaked as he put the needle away and moved to examine Luffy.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

After Chopper had reassured that Zoro wasn't too badly damaged he changed into his heavy point so that he could carry Luffy as they walked. Seeing as subduing Luffy had taken a while, the footprints that the crew had left behind were gone now leaving Zoro and Chopper alone to try and determine how they would find them again.

Luffy stayed unconscious for a bit, but when he finally woke up it was much in the same way as before. There was that feeling of grogginess and haze like something was fogging up his mind, yet he wasn't quite sure what.

Zoro was quick to explain that he'd started hallucinating again and that thanks to him they were lost, but Luffy still had no idea how any of this had happened. Like the last time he hallucinated, all he could remember was just before the hallucinations started. He could remember talking with Scorpion about Haru, saying goodbye to Ace, and then walking through the desert again. After that, there was nothing, yet he couldn't help shake the feeling that there was something- something he wouldn't like.

Annoyed that he was once again missing something important, Luffy focused back on the conversation at hand as Chopper told them he couldn't pick up a scent of the crew.

"Wheres the wind coming from?" Zoro asked as he scanned the surrounding desert.

"I don't know the direction, but it's to the left of us." Chopper answered easily.

"Well, at least we know they're not in that direction." The swordsman determined, focusing more on their right side at this answer. Luffy gave him a skeptical look, tilting his head.

"Do you know that or are you guessing?" Luffy asked curiously, finding that while Zoro felt confident in saying this, there was something off about the feeling.

"Shut up, you!" Zoro barked, decidedly not looking at the rubber teen after that. Luffy blinked, still confused about what was even happening in the first place, but when he saw that Chopper and Zoro were starting to walk away he snapped out of it, running after them.

"Hey! Wait for me!" He cried, a little miffed that they were leaving him behind. He caught up easily though seeing as they weren't really trying to leave him behind so he decided to try and smell for his crew too, but found he had much the same results as Chopper. As far as he could tell, they hadn't been in this area, but he also couldn't really tell what area they were in now.

Shrugging, Luffy decided it wasn't worth worrying about. They would find them eventually. Somehow.

While they walked, Chopper and Zoro had a conversation amongst themselves while Luffy trailed behind, the heat draining away any energy his impromptu nap might have given him. Every once in a while the two would glance back and wait for him to catch up, but for the most part, they were making steady progress through the sandy desert.

With only the thought of getting out of the horrible sun on his mind, it's no wonder that the second Luffy found something that could provide them with some much-needed shade he went right for it.

In this case, he stretched his arms right toward it, and in the process of rocketing himself over he managed to snag Zoro and Chopper along for the ride. This didn't please Zoro who was sure to make Luffy know this once they reached the rocky overhang Luffy had rocketed them towards. Luffy only laughed off the yelling, more excited over the fact that they were in some shade finally, and when Zoro saw this he moved to sit on a nearby rock.

Only for said rock to sink into the ground along with the surrounding sand.

"Woah!" Luffy cried out in amazement as he watched Zoro get swallowed into the ground.

"Ne, Zoro!" Luffy called out as he looked down the hole the swordsman had fallen in. Chopper- who had been flung a ways away after Luffys rocket- was still recovering and had so far missed everything happening. Deciding that this mystery hole in the ground was more exciting, Luffy was quick to jump into the hole to join Zoro, looking around in wonder.

"What's that?" Luffy asked as he walked up behind Zoro who was looking at a giant square stone that was half-buried.

"What are you doing here?!" Zoro asked in surprise, not having expected Luffy to have joined him.

"I jumped down," Luffy said in non-answer.

"I'm asking why!" Zoro barked in annoyance, his grievances with his captain for the day piling too high for the swordsman's liking.

"Just cause," Luffy answered with a shrug, unperturbed by the frustration boiling in Zoro.

"You idiot! With you down here too, we might get separated from Chopper!" The swordsman said, wondering if Luffy ever used the head on his shoulders for thinking.

"Oh, that's ok!" Luffy said, smiling brightly now.

"What? Why?" Zoro asked in confusion.

"Because Chopper was falling down here too!" Luffy told him, just as a pillar of sand rained down from the ceiling and spit out Chopper.

"See?" Luffy asked, pointing to the reindeer while still smiling at Zoro.

With the three of them regrouped, they only spent a short time examining the strange stone and the dome-shaped building they were now in. Really, Chopper and Zoro were the ones to do this while Luffy basked in the fact that it was cooler in this building than outside, and when Zoro mentioned that they should probably try and leave, Luffy was sure to voice his unwillingness at the idea.

Of course, he didn't have much of a choice seeing as they still had to catch up to Namis group and Zoro was sure to show this in the form of a goose egg on Luffys head.

With that, Luffy started attempting an escape for them, and eventually, he managed to do so by wrapping around a pillar and slingshotting them out of the hole. Chopper was, naturally, terrified as he clung onto Luffy, but Zoro was used to this by now and was only annoyed at the fact that landing was not going to be fun.

And it wasn't. They all crashed into the ground, and while Luffy was perfectly fine thanks to his rubber body, Zoro and Chopper were a different story.

Out of the hole and back in the desert, they started their walking anew, and by the time the sun was beginning to set and things were cooling off Luffy had gained his energy back. It wasn't long after that that both Chopper and Luffy picked up a scent when the winds direction changed.

"This way! This way!" Luffy cheered happily as he took off in the group's direction, Zoro and Chopper hurrying to catch up.

"Oi, slow down! We don't want to get separated again!" Zoro yelled angrily, his patience for Luffy nearing its end for the day.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

Upon regrouping with the rest of the crew again, Luffy Zoro and Chopper found out that they were close to Yuba and should make it by nightfall if they continued walking. Seeing as the sun was still setting and it was cooling off, Luffy and Chopper were full of energy compared to before and saw no problem in this arrangement.

At the idea of finally being done with traveling through the scorching desert, spirits were high. Even Vivi and Nami had gotten off of Lashes and were walking with everyone else. Seeing as it was cooler, smaller conversations started amongst some of them, and one of these happened to be about Ace.

"What was it he gave you anyway? That paper." Nami asked curiously, wondering if it was important.

"Oh, his vivre card," Luffy answered, pulling out the paper as he said this.

"Vivre card? What's that?" Sanji asked, peering over Luffys shoulder to get a better look at the paper. It looked innocuous enough though, not even any writing on it.

"Its a- what was it? Um... a life paper I think is what Sabo said." Luffy said, holding his palm flat and placing the folded paper on top of it.

"A life paper?" Vivi asked, curious now as well.

"Yeah! They're tied to the owner's life, so this paper can show me where Ace is if I need him. It'll also tell me if he's in danger." Luffy explained, all of them watching as the paper crept across Luffys hand of its own volition.

"Amazing! How will you know he's in danger though?" Chopper asked, wondering how the paper could show him.

"It starts to burn if the owner's life is in danger," Luffy said, though he wouldn't need the paper to tell him if his brother was hurt. He had his own way of checking up on him.

"If you want, I can sew that into your hat's ribbon seeing as it's important." Nami offered good-naturedly. Luffy smiled brightly at that, taking off his hat.

"Yeah! Like Izo did." Luffy said, moving the ribbon to show them the other vivre card there, sewed safely into the ribbon.

"You have another one? Whose is that? Sabos?" Usopp asked, and while it was cooling off, he was still sweating profusely.

"No, I don't think Sabo has one. This one's Shanks'." Luff told them as he watched his navigator quickly sew Aces card next to the red-haired man's.

"Shanks? You mean Red-Haired Shanks, right?" Zoro asked, having heard Luffy mention him a few times now.

"Yup!" Luffy affirmed, taking his hat back from Nami once she was done and putting it back on his head.

"Luffy-san, you know him?" Vivi asked in surprise. While she knew Luffy had been with the Whitebeards- the strongest man in the world- it still surprised her to hear that he knew someone of Shanks' caliber.

"Yeah, Shanks is great!" Luffy said cheerfully as he thought about his idol. The others could see that he clearly held him in high regard from his expression alone.

"You two must be close if you have something like his vivre card," Nami said, realizing now that these papers were more important than they'd first assumed. After all, it could take you to whoever its owner was. You wouldn't hand something like that to just anyone, especially if you were someone like Shanks.

"Mm." The smile on Luffys face fell into a calmer, gentler one than before, his expression fond instead of bright and cheery now. He didn't say anything more so they were left to guess just how close the two were.

"Everyone! Yuba is just over those big rocks!" Vivi said suddenly, her excitement rising. This was enough to distract everyone from their previous conversation as they spotted the town in the distance, their own excitement rising.

"Yuba! Alright!" Luffy cheered skipping ahead as he pumped his fists in the air.

"Zoro, carry me there..." Usopp huffed out, still sweating profusely.

"Oh, Zoro! Carry me too!" Luffy asked happily.

"You two can walk just fine!" Zoro barked, ready to sleep for a nice long time after everything that had happened to him that day. Luffy pouted at his answer but was quick to go back to cheering as he chanted Yuba over and over.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

The sun had fully set by the time they were close enough to really get a good look at Yuba. Well, that is, if the sand hadn't been blowing in their faces.

It was hard to see, but they quickly noticed that the town was being ravaged by a sandstorm, and when they actually walked into the town they saw that it was much the same as Emeralu had been. They found that there didn't seem to be anyone there and the town that had once been known for being the Oasis City had no water in it whatsoever, the sand having risen up enough to cover it.

It turned out that there was someone there though who was digging in a large hole in the ground. As he continued digging he told them they could rest there but there was no water and everyone had left, including the Rebel Army that they'd come in search for. They found out that the army had moved to Katorea, a town next to Nanohana where they'd come from in the first place.

It also turned out that Vivi and the old man knew each other.

After a tearful reunion between the two, the man offered up an abandoned inn that they could stay in, to which Nami declared they should take a nap before heading out again. This was quickly agreed upon by the rest of the crew as they headed off to the inn, but Luffy instead plopped down in the hole with the old man, watching as he continued digging. It didn't seem that the crew had noticed he wasn't following as they closed the door of the inn behind them.

"Ne, old guy. There's still no water. My throats bone-dry... How can you live in a place like this?" Luffy asked as he sat cross-legged on the ground.

"There'll be water. The Yuba oasis is still alive. Yuba, you see, can't be beaten by some lousy sand! I'll dig it back up by myself if I have to! This is very important land that the king left in my hands." The man said, the conviction clear not only in his voice but his emotions. There wasn't any doubt in Luffy's mind that this man would continue to dig for water no matter how long it took.

"Oh! Okay! Then let's dig!" Luffy said with a bright smile, starting to use his hands to shovel away the sand, unknowingly putting his discarded sand in the old man's hole.

"Wait! Stop! Don't re-fill the hole I just dug! Are you trying to fill holes?!" He asked in outrage to Luffys confusion.

"No, I'm trying to dig holes," Luffy said, thinking that that had been obvious as he stood in his already shoulder-deep hole.

"No, the sand you're digging out is going into the hole I dug, so I'm trying to say that all my hard work will be for nothing!" The man explained with many hand gestures.

"Oh... Oh! So it's a mystery hole!" Luffy exclaimed, planting his fist in his palm at the realization. With that, he continued digging, filling up the old man's hole once more.

"No, it's not!" Luffy ignored the shout as he continued his digging, and when the old man realized there wasn't going to be a change, he begrudgingly went back to digging, determined to keep digging the same hole despite Luffy filling it up.

As time passed the two remained silent, seeing no need for conversation as they worked, but then Luffy realized that when they'd met the old guy there had been a recognition in him that had nothing to do with his knowing Vivi. Perking up at the memory, Luffy looked at the old man's back, realizing that that meant he'd probably recognized Luffy from his wanted poster but had said nothing about it.

"Ne, you know I'm 11097, right?" Luffy asked just to be sure. Surprised at Luffy's voice after the lengthy silence, the man stopped digging to look at Luffy with a raised eyebrow.

"I do." He confirmed, not even a hint of fear or worry in his tone or emotions. This intrigued Luffy because it wasn't often that someone who knew who he was wasn't scared of him.

"You're not scared?" Luffy asked curiously.

"Scared? Of course not. Princess Vivi wouldn't be traveling with you if what the marines have said about you and your brothers was true. I've heard enough lies in my life to recognize them when I see them." The man said with a shrug as he went back to digging. Watching his back carefully for any sign of a lie, Luffy found that the man was being entirely truthful which pleased him. Laughing heartily, Luffy went back to working as well.

"You're a good guy old man. You'll definitely find water." Luffy said with the same conviction that the man had had when he'd said it.

The answering laugh from the old man only made Luffys smile widen.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

Luffy hadn't always been a light sleeper. When he was a child he used to be able to sleep through anything, from raging thunderstorms to his grandfather's boisterous shouting.

Of course, after the facility, that changed. After waking up one too many times to a doctor pulling you out of your cell or, even worse, to an injection, Luffy and his brothers had become accustomed to waking at the slightest sound.

So that's why, when he felt someone touch his shoulder, Luffy snapped out of his slumber with wide, disoriented eyes. His hand had already been in motion to grab whoever was touching him, but the soothing voice of the old man calmed him before he could.

"Woah there, light sleeper then?" He asked, blinking away his surprise at Luffys sudden actions. It was jarring to see someone who had been sleeping so peacefully suddenly spring into action.

"Old man. Sorry, I fell asleep." Luffy said, stating the obvious as he looked around the deep hole they were in.

"I saw that. I was going to move you to the inn with your friends and Princess Vivi, but now that you're up it seems you can do it yourself." He responded good-naturedly, a pleasant smile on his face as he spoke. Blinking away the last of the foggy memories of the facility, Luffy nodded. Standing, he wrapped an arm around the old man and stretched his arm to grab the top of the hole- which made Luffy curious as to how this old guy had planned on getting himself, as well as Luffy, out of it in the first place.

"It seems there are things in this world that I've yet to see." The man said as he tried getting over the newest shock of Luffys rubber abilities. The young captain didn't bother to reply to that but smiled anyway.

"Have a good night. Maybe by morning, I'll have some water for you and your friends." He said, not bothered by Luffys silence as he patted the teen's shoulder.

"Night old man. You'll find water some time." Luffy said, knowing the words to be true. When someone was as determined as the old man was, they would accomplish whatever goal they had in mind.

He knew from experience.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

"I'm so sorry being so unseemly, Vivi-chan." The old man apologized the next morning. The crew was packed and ready to set out for another long trek through the desert they'd just traveled through and were saying their goodbyes to Yuba and its one inhabitant.

"No, you're not unseemly!" Vivi said quickly, shaking her head at the notion.

"Well, we should be off," Sanji said, looking to the sun in the distance.

"Ah, that's right, Luffy-kun, take this." The old man said, handing a mug over to Luffy who looked at it with wide eyes, a smile on his face.

"Water! You found water?!" Luffy asked, Usopp gaping beside him.

"Last night, just after you fell asleep while digging, I reached a moist layer of sand. That water is the moisture I managed to extract from it!" He explained with a cheery smile.

"Oh! That sounds kind of complicated, but thanks!" Luffy said, not understanding at all where the water had come from, but accepting it nonetheless.

"It's genuine Yuba water! I'm sorry it's all I could get..." The man apologized, but Luffy smiled, uncaring that the mug was all he had received.

"I'll drink it with care!" Luffy promised, and with some final goodbyes, the crew left Yuba behind.

The crew traveled only a short while before Luffy suddenly stopped walking, sitting against a dried-up tree with the mug of water from the old man on a string around his neck. Confused, the crew stopped to see what was wrong.

"Luffy?" Nami asked as she and Vivi got off of Lashes.

"What's wrong, Luffy-san?" Vivi asked in concern, thinking something must be wrong.

"I quit," Luffy told them all after a second of contemplation. He could feel everyone's dumbfoundedness at his words, none of them understanding the reasoning for them.

"You 'quit'?" Nami asked, both surprised and confused.

"Luffy-san... What do you mean?" Vivi asked, her eyebrows furrowed in worry and a frown on her face.

"C'mon Luffy, we don't have time to put up with your whims, you know! Get up!" Usopp said with a raised eyebrow and his hands on his hips.

"Aren't we going back?" Chopper asked from beside Usopp, using his walk point at the moment.

"Yeah. If we don't go back to Katorea the way we came and stop the revolt, a million citizens here are gonna clash and things'll get ugly quick! This is for Vivi-chan! Now let's go!" Sanji exclaimed, his words getting more heated as he went on. Despite this, Luffy didn't move from his spot against the dead tree, his expression clear besides the frown on his face. Sanji stalked up to him, dead set on pulling Luffy up himself, but the teen stopped him as he grabbed the chef's wrist and flung him easily to the side.

"That's boring." Luffy deadpanned.

"Say what?!" Sanji yelled as he jumped back to his feet.

"Vivi," Luffy said, ignoring Sanji completely.

"Yes?" Vivi asked, still unsure as to what was happening.

"I wanna kick Crocodiles' ass!" The words were said with such rage that they surprised not only Vivi but the rest of the crew as well. They weren't able to say anything on it though as Luffy continued on, the rage gone completely as if it weren't there in the first place.

"If we stop the people rebelling, will that stop Crocodile? Besides, we won't be able to do anything in Katorea anyway. We're pirates, you see. Things are better off without us around, especially me." Luffy said, knowing that everyone in Katorea wouldn't be as understanding as the old man in Yuba had been. The common reaction to Luffy's presence was fear, yelling, and more than a few calls to the world government to send Marines after him. None of that would help Vivi in the slightest, and it definitely wouldn't help Luffy find Crocodile.

"He can really get straight to the point without thinking sometimes..." Sanji said, his arms crossed over his chest as his anger disappeared at Luffys calm explanation.

"Despite it being Luffy..." Usopp added.

"You want it so nobody dies in this fight. None of the citizens and none of us! Even when we're up against a Warlord of the Sea and a million people are going wild, you hope everyone will stay safe and sound. Don't you think that's too soft-hearted?" Luffy asked, his frown still present as he looked up from under his hat to the princess. He could feel her tumultuous emotions, the rage, the indignation, the fear, the worry, all roiling into one big ball that Luffy did his best to block out.

"Hold on, Luffy! At least show some sympathy for Vivi!" Nami said, thinking Luffy was being too hard on the princess, but Sanji stopped her, holding out a hand in front of her.

"Hold on, Nami-san..." He told her, understanding shining in his own emotions as he watched both Vivi and Luffy.

"But..." Nami trailed off, turning back to watch Viv's back, noticing the princess' fists curled tightly at her side.

"And what's wrong with thinking that?! What's wrong with not wanting people to die?!" Vivi shouted, her hood flying off as she raised one of her fists now.

"People die," Luffy said evenly, thinking back to all the many, many children that he'd not only heard but had seen die back in the facility. If there was one thing Luffy knew about, it was death and how unfair it could be. Even good people, like Emily, died. There was no way around it.

"Stop talking like that!" Vivi shouted, reaching out and hitting Luffy, sending him flying in much the same way he'd sent Sanji flying earlier.

"Say that again and I'll make you pay!" Vivi continued, breathing heavily in her anger as she glared at the young captain on the sandy ground.

"That's exactly what we're trying to stop here! The rebel army, the royal army, ad the people of this kingdom haven't done anything wrong! So why do people have to die when it's all Crocodile's fault?!" Vivi shouted, the rage only increasing as she continued, her glare heating up along with the building emotion. From the ground, Luffy felt his own anger increasing, but held it back as best he could. That didn't stop him, however, from springing up and hitting Vivi back- making sure to hold back his strength considerably as to not do any serious harm.

"Then why are you putting your life on the line?!" Luffy shouted, his anger creeping into his tone as he yelled out loudly.

"Woah, Luffy! You're going too far!" Usopp shouted, eyes wide.

"Damn it Luffy!" Sanji shouted from beside the sniper, rolling his sleeves in preparation to fight Luffy himself.

Ignoring the crew completely, Vivi flew up off the ground and tackled Luffy to the ground, holding a fist up in preparation to hit him again, though holding back for the meantime.

"One look at this kingdom and even I can tell-"

"Tell what?!" Vivi interrupted, hitting Luffy again as she asked. She didn't stop at one though, continuing to repeatedly punch and slap Luffy despite the fact that he was speaking again.

"-what most needs to be done! As if putting your single life on the line is enough!" Luffy shouted back, not feeling the hits he was receiving.

"Then what should I be putting on the line?! I don't have-!" The hitting was stopped as Luffy suddenly grabbed both of the princess' arms, holding them in place. At the motion, Vivi's anger fizzled out completely, replaced instead with devastation and acceptance, knowing Luffy's words were true but not wanting to accept them.

"I don't have anything else that I can put on the line..." She said softly, the righteous anger gone completely and leaving her only dismayed. She had closed her eyes after Luffy had grabbed her, so she wasn't able to prepare herself as Luffy threw her off of himself, the princess tumbling to the ground as he stood.

"At least try putting all of our lives on the line together! Aren't we friends?!" Luffy shouted, the anger still roaring in him as he did despite Vivi's own having left. Hearing this, Vivi couldn't fight the tears as they spilled down her cheeks, a hand pressed to her mouth.

"Oh, you can cry those kinds of tears... I know you actually hate this and want to beat him up the most." Luffy said, his anger gone completely as well now only to be replaced with a soft, gentle tone the crew hadn't heard before. Sitting beside the woman, Luffy picked his hat up off the ground, patting it in an attempt to shake away the sand clinging to it. As Vivi continued crying, Nami came over to hug her gently, pulling the princess to her chest.

"Now tell me where Crocodile is!" Luffy exclaimed. There was a beat where no one spoke, only the sounds of Vivi's crying filling the air, until the princess looked up at the rest of the crew, tears still streaming.

"Everyone... Luffy-san's right. We need to go straight to Crocodile." Vivi agreed. At her words Luffy stood, placing his hat back on his head and nodding.

"That does seem to be the quickest shortcut." Nami conceded.

"Meaning no more of this annoying, roundabout traveling," Zoro said, his annoyance clear in his stance.

"So where is this damn Crocodile?" Sanji asked, holding his cigarette out between his fingers. Gathering herself, Vivi wiped the tears away and pulled out a map, everyone huddling around it as she spread it out on the ground.

"Let's see here. This is the capital city of Alubarna, where my father rules from. And the rebel army is currently here, preparing to invade Alubarna." Vivi explained as she pointed out the places as she spoke.

"So we need to take care of Crocodile before that can happen," Sanji noted.

"Crocodile is here. Rainbase." Vivi said, moving her finger to point it out on the map.

"Rainbase..." Usopp muttered, trying not to think about the fact that their plans were now to go straight to the big bad guy.

Thankfully, Luffy wanted dibs on that fight.

"It's about a day's journey north of here," Vivi told them.

And so that's where they headed.

Much like their previous travels through the desert, this one was full of whining from both Luffy and Usopp as they begged for water or a place to rest, though Nami was quick to shoot those down, knowing that if she gave in every time they asked the days journey would take weeks. Maybe months even.

Chopper was actually walking himself this time, determined to go as far as he could to which Sanji praised him, telling him he was doing a great job, pleasing the reindeer. Vivi told them that Rainbase would have water as it was a highly populated gambling town, and at those words, Nami became interested for entirely different reasons than saving the kingdom.

They were sidetracked once more when Usopp tried to take the water Luffy had gotten from the old man in Yuba, but Luffy refused, using his rubber arms to keep it out of the sniper's reach. Nami commented on her amazement that Luffy could actually restrain himself, thinking back to all the times he'd shown his lack of restraint to all of them. Of course, with the heat, lack of water, and long travel, Luffy was quick to start yelling about how rude she was. The navigator only smiled through his tirade, not taking any of the words to heart.

Somehow along the way, Vivi promised to give Luffy so much food after fighting Crocodile that he might die, and while the princess had thought this would be a simple request to fill, she didn't quite know how much in debt she was going to be in later.

All in all, the journey was as eventful as any other when the Straw Hats were involved.


On to Rainbase! We're getting closer to Crocodiles appearance now and then the big fight between him and Luffy! This arc is longer than any of the others so far and from what I can tell, we're now about half way through it now with this chapter. That doesn't mean there isn't still a lot planned though! After all, we still need to figure out Robins strange aura and save the kingdom from Crocodiles evil clutches.

Also, a quick reminder, I won't be updating for the month of July sadly. I'm going to be off camping with some friends, but if I ever happen to find some wifi I'll do my best to get a chapter up! If not, I'll be back and ready to update on August 5th! I hate that it's going to be such a long time until the next update but sometimes you've got to prioritize real life. I hope you all have a rejuvenating month and I promise to update as soon as I can!

As always, thank you all for your support as I continue with this story! I will forever be amazed that I've managed to continue sticking with this and I only have you all to thank for that insane motivation. This story is all of yours just as much as it's mine and I hope you all never forget that!

Thank you so much, and I'll see you all again August 5th!